Lol Coxhill

Ear of the Beholder

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The avant-garde is an odd beast. In the case of saxophonist/singer Lol Coxhill, that can range from the virtually unlistenable squawk of "Feedback" (which is exactly what the title says) to '30s music hall songs performed with keyboard player David Bedford. Cobbled together from live tapes and a few studio sessions, much of the backing comes from the Whole World, the Kevin Ayers backing band of which Coxhill was a member. But not all: "Rasa-Moods," a 20-minute spontaneous performance taped in Holland, brings in Dutch free musicians for something that travels through moods; "A Conversation With Children" is exactly that; and the cover of "I Am the Walrus" is sung by kids, to offer an odd, disquieting effect. Some pieces work better than others; the solo railway bridge improvisations of "Hungerford," punctuated by passing trains, is the perfect plunge into this record, while "The Rhythmic Hooter" is as close to something normal as it gets here, before descending into "That's Why...Darkies Were Born," an ironic, deliberately anti-racist performance of an old vaudeville hit (as the notes emphasize). The standard "Lover Man" gets a working over, not always with the best result, while "Open Picadilly" is just that, recorded in the open in London's Picadilly. It's a challenging record, and as Coxhill admits at the very beginning (on "Introduction" he disarmingly discusses the disc's successes and failures), it doesn't all work. When it hits, it's excellent; when it doesn't, attention wanders all too easily. But for 1971, aimed at the rock audience via John Peel's Dandelion label, it was decidedly adventurous and daring -- and still is.

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