Palindrome Music with Poems
M. Starr | Kansas City | 05/26/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"To a degree, Rodd Keith is somewhat of a fictional character to me. At very least, he's one of the most intriguing musicians I've researched. This is largely due to the fact that there is very little information available about his life and music. His son, saxophonist Ellery Eskelin, has attempted to document the bits of knowledge that are known, and this album, Ecstacy to Frenzy, is a portion of that documentation. In the figurative sense, Eskelin and Keith never truly met. Keith died at a young age and the two missed the opportunity to bond in a "normal" sense. To this day, one of the only tangible things Eskelin has had to relate to his father was with a few lost recordings of his father's song-poems. Song-poems were also known as "send us your lyrics" and the approach usually consisted of unmemorable short songs with playful undertones. Ecstacy to Frenzy is work that was found at a later date in Eskelin's journey for more information. However, these are not the usual song-poems that everyone was familiar with before. A lot of people even question if these songs were meant for public display. It's understandable that the music contained within this album should be released. In a lot of ways, it's very acceptable at this point in time for improvisational music to find its way to the world. Like Arne Nordheim's Dodeka album, Ecstacy to Frenzy is more of an archeological discovery than a conventional release. "Shome Howe Jehovason Plays" is the primary highlight here, and is presented in two parts. The interesting part is in the design and recording process of the song itself. No one is for sure if the intent was to have the songs appear as they do, but what actually transpires is occasionally mesmerizing. The song is split between two channels; wherein the left channel plays the song forward while the other is played backwards. The same is true for the second version except the tape is reversed. Sound confusing? Well, it is. And these are two songs that explore some of the quirkiest noises imaginable. You'll hear everything from a simple organ to screaming, burping, and general voice explorations. At times it's hard to think what was going through Keith's head while making this recording. It's obvious, though, that he exercised his artistic demons to the fullest.Another aspect of Keith's art that might be worth exposing is his fascination with wordplay. Keith was an etymologist (one who studies the roots of words) and spent a good deal of his time exploring various combinations. "Shome Howe Jehovason Plays" translates to "Show `em how Jehovah's son plays." Though not a direct etymological statement, it does show the playful wit of Keith's humoristic character. The two songs mentioned here are separated by three song-poems, including "Ecstacy to Frenzy" itself. My guess is that these were added to expose anyone who might not be familiar with the style to the lost art form. To be honest, they're only slightly entertaining compared to the bookends of the album. As a whole, there's not really much on Ecstacy to Frenzy that could be considered overly important to the average listener. Rather, it's an indirect documentation of one man's search for a connection to his father. I'll say that, aside from the song-poems, the two longer experiments are worth hearing at least once. And the story behind Keith himself is one of fantastic originality. It's unfortunate that his life ended before it should have, but therein lies the intriguing aura that surrounds the works on this album."