Who says free improv can't be a gas? A Doughnut in One Hand is only the second solo album by vocalist Phil Minton. This seems strange considering how long he's been around, and how many records he's appeared on, but according to Paul Dutton's liner notes on this FMP release, it's the "sequel" to A Doughnut in Both Hands, which was issued on the tiny Rift imprint some 17 years previously in 1981. There are 30 pieces on this set, all of them recorded without technical special effects, so the multiphonics and polytonality are all from the mouth of Minton as they happened. This is the freest of free improvisation out there. It is as spontaneous as it is engaging, hilarious, irritating, engaging, provocative, and utterly mind-blowing. From throat singing to burping, from duck calls to indescribable vocal acrobatics, the discipline and the physicality in Minton's voice on these short works are rather astonishing. He has an enormous range, which is impressive in its own right -- and those who've heard him sing "proper" songs will no doubt be familiar with it (some of it really shines on "Dough Song 10"). But range doesn't begin to tell the story, because the story is in the bodily discipline and projectile wrangling Minton gets from the depths of his belly, from the matter in his throat, and from incredible breath, lip, tongue, and muscle control. While a recording this extreme may not be everyone's cup of soup, the bottom line is that Minton's art is not only profound -- it's fun, full of humor and unpretentious glee. The listener can be utterly captivated by the material and method in these "songs," but they can delight as well. The only records that come close, in fact, to the sheer wonder of this set are John Zorn's Classic Guide to Strategy volumes, on which he too sings -- albeit through dozens of duck calls. No matter what your take on improv is -- and if you've got no opinion so much the better for you -- this is simply grand music no matter how unconventional and truly "new." It's brilliant from start to finish.
A Doughnut in One Hand Review
by Thom Jurek