Fittingly enough, the first sound heard on Kip Hanrahan's premier release is that of the conga and the first word sung is "sex," two leitmotifs that would appear consistently in his ensuing work. Coup de Tete burst on the scene in the early '80s as an entirely fresh, invigorating amalgam of Cuban percussion (much of it Santeria-based), free jazz, funk, and intimate, confrontational lyrics. Hanrahan had worked at New Music Distribution Service, a project run by Carla Bley and Michael Mantler (both of whom appear on this album), and had established contacts with numerous musicians from varied fields who he threw together in a glorious New York City melting pot. With the percussion and electric bass laying down thick and delicious grooves, the cream of the younger avant saxophonists in New York at the time wail over the top, accompanying some of the most brutally uncomfortable lyrics ever put to wax. The relationships Hanrahan details are turbulent to say the least, often intertwined with economic concerns as well as a general sense of the impossibility of understanding one's mate. After asking him for abuse and being refused, his lover (sung wonderfully by Lisa Herman) taunts, "When you could only sulk/I had more contempt for you than I ever thought I could have." Interspersed among the bitter love harangues and ecstatic percussion-driven numbers are two stunningly lovely pieces, Marguerite Duras' "India Song" and Teo Macero's "Heart on My Sleeve," both aching with romanticism. Coup de Tete is a superb record, an impressive debut, and, arguably, one of the finest moments in Hanrahan's career along with the following release, Desire Develops an Edge. Highly recommended.
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AllMusic Review by Brian Olewnick