Darius Jones Alto sax, Jason Nazary Drums, Travis Laplante Tenor sax, Andrew Smiley Axe
While on the surface one might perceive a Little Women performance as chaos and mayhem, it is really the band’s very soul to let emotions run loose. Unlike many of their contemporaries, Little Women don’t hide under the ‘head music’ umbrella. “My Heart isn’t healthy” for example is easily the most beautiful piece of music coming out of Brooklyn in the last five years. My calling it the ‘emo song’ brings a big fat grin to Laplante’s face every time the subject matter comes up. What makes this particular composition so remarkably outstanding is its courageous use of melody. Not in a cheesy popular music context of course. Radio-conditioned mainstream listeners will still run screaming from anything this band will ever produce. What Little Women have so skillfully overcome are the limitations of abstraction by infusing an unfiltered stream of heartthrob into their catatonic onslaught. This is music that deeply moves me, to a level that is almost too pathetic to admit.
Below are a/v time capsules ranging from the early years all the way to the present. Additional text narrative comes from Charlie Looker/Extra Life, Weasel Walter/Flying Luttenbachers, Hank Shteamer/STATS, Matthew Mehlan/Skeletons and MV Carbon/Metalux.
Right now, Little Women is one of the most unique bands around who bridge the gap between high-energy free jazz influences and gnarly noise rock bombast. Their odd, angular compositions shoot beyond idiomatic constraints, made from sets of foreboding blocks containing intense molecular activity, rammed up against each other in inexplicable manners. The music seems to objectively reflect the internal behavior of the components of each sonic cell – the various instruments fighting, mocking each other, trying to mate in awkward counterpoint or slamming together in unexpected unision. There is a tortured feel to the music of Little Women, possibly the result of some very sick notion of black humor shared amongst its members. It slices like a hundred rusty razor blades, the wound cauterized by the hot wind from subway vents and spashed in half-drank cans of Red Bull . . . jittery, squirming and totally alive.
What truly differentiates them from the mass of identi-skronk units is their extremely sophisticated approach to total dissonance. The group is alarmingly full sounding despite their bass-less twin-saxophones, guitar and drums line-up because what we hear is not only the voices of the separate instruments, but the chaotic beating of difference tones created by aggressively manipulated microtonal intonation. To some this will be an annoyance – it creates a strong physiological sensation of panic, not unlike screaming babies or speeding ambulances! To some of us, it’s a conjuration of something beyond what can be heard or seen – Little Women create a jarring form of music inhabited by ghosts. Fucked up, weird, frantic ghosts. If you wake up screaming in the middle of the night after listening to their music, I’d call it a success.
Weasel Walter | Brooklyn, February 2010
[Matthew Mehlan | Skeletons]
When I was many years younger (before the internet existed as it does now) you used to be able to read or hear about all kinds of music without IMMEDIATELY hearing it in a pop up/embedded/blah blah or iTunes 30 seconds in 30 second sample… SO I used to take those words and or comments from friends and imagine these INTENSE kinds of musics I had always wanted to hear. I had this huge list of records that I would take to the library – you know records that were “cutting edge” “avant garde” “darkest of [blank’s] career” – but I’d check em out and usually say “This is too eighties” or “THIS is dark? It just sounds like…” or “I’ve heard Jazz before… I mean, I bought Kind of Blue last Christmas with my Tower Records gift card” or “THIS is “hardcore” punk? …sounds like jocks singing Green Day but poorly recorded!” And though my musical horizons have broadened enormously since then, it’s still how I approach hearing music – going to shows, checking out records or snippets on the internet: THIS HAS GOT TO BE SOMETHING THAT TAKES ME OUTTA THIS MOMENT! Something capital B – Beyond the normal amount of energy, Beyond our social nice-ities, Beyond the comfort zone! Which is what I like about Little Women.
There’s sooo much music in the world! And so much that is happy to flitter around in that background. When I first saw Little Women play, the air was snapped outta the room and everybody’s face / Facebook status turned to “OMFGWTF!” One moment I felt like I was watching a car accident, then I was Little Mac from Mike Tyson’s Punch out and I just beat Soda Popinski and Doc is taking me for a jog to my new password, then some little brat stole my candy and is singing “Nah nah ne nah nah you can’t catch me!”, then they start screaming and sobbing into their horns and the set’s over and there’s that great feeling in the air where everyones wondering whether to clap and the sound guy has no idea what kind of music to put on. Their record “Teeth” is equally tight, purposeful, intense: 20 minute one-sided LP recorded live to two-track?!
A band like Little Women gives me time travel fantasies: that I could take this music back in time and give it to some poor writer to try and explain it on a page, so I could read it and imagine what it sounds like and then finally hear it. Or that I could travel back in time and hand music like this to my 14 year old self and say “SERIOUSLY DUDE YOU’RE GONNA LOVE THIS!” And if the world were mine, kids all over the world today would be wearing Little Women t-shirts and blasting this music like Macaulay Calkin in Michael Jackson’s (RIP) “Black or White” video, parents screaming.
Matthew Mehlan | Brooklyn, February 2010
[Charlie Looker | Extra Life]
Like all of the music which I find profoundly revealing, the music of Little Women embraces and consolidates vibes which are normally considered in opposition. The band renders these vibes non-dual, non-opposing, returning to the original place where they are one to begin with. This is the basis of magick in both the East and West, from the Tao to the Hermetic and alchemical traditions.
The main dualism which the band subverts is that of intellect vs. emotion. After all this time, our culture still regards the mind and heart as not only separate but at war. The new Diesel jeans ad campaign spells this out literally: Smart = brain / Stupid = heart , so “Be Stupid”. In a less crude but similar way, Indie music culture often subscribes to this. Bands play stereotyped roles : Witty College Nerds (smart), Primitive Psych Nature Children (stupid), etc. Little Women do not play this game.
Little Women’s roots in jazz music are most alive not in their instrumentation or sound, but more in their overall holistic artistic value system. Jazz culture has always upheld as values both instrumental proficiency and raw soul power; tradition and personal voice; structure and spontaneity; intellectual contemplation and pure violent action; the church (or college) and the streets; divine spiritual love and base sexual depravity; books and drugs. In the heyday of Bebop, these currents were seen as part of the same river and it was assumed that an artist would deal with all streams, striving for the universal. It is with this orientation that Little Women approach their music.
The band’s cosmic scope is also at work on a more specific stylistic level. Elements of punk, jazz, gospel and classical music are absorbed in the music without any sense of pastiche, juxtaposition or the demand of “reconciliation”. These styles are one in their music, as they are one at their source (the human Unconscious, God, etc). This non-duality can only be the result of monumental labor, not only of instrumental practice and group rehearsal, but moreover of rigorous personal soul-searching and the discipline of imagination. These musicians flex every artistic muscle they have, mind, body and spirit, as one.
To use the simplest platitude, Little Women is four musicians just being themselves. The intense beauty of their music demonstrates what a powerful force is unleashed when people search for the whole Self, non-divided, one. Looking around at how few musicians actually even attempt this shows how difficult and epic an undertaking it is just to be oneself. I love this band and I would encourage anyone who wants to experience deep artistic conviction to check them out.
Charlie Looker | Brooklyn, February 2010
[Hank Shteamer | Dark Forces Swing Blind Punches]
NYC’s own Little Women purvey noise-punk-jazz, performed by individuals who understand–would you believe it?–noise, punk and jazz. Crossover/fusion/what have you, it’s more difficult than it sounds. You’ve got Mahavishnu Orchestra, Last Exit, Black Flag (The Process of Weeding Out!), Coptic Light (RIP), the Thing and not too many others, in terms of ensembles who have truly comprehended and internalized the whole balls-vs.-improvisational-acumen concept. This is an extremely HARD ensemble. The music is built of spastic splatterpunk riffs–intricate yet whiplash-bestowing–played by a quartet (Travis Laplante on tenor, Darius Jones on alto, Andrew Smiley on guitar and Jason Nazary on drums) and fleshed out with various group atomizations. There are elements of necromantic Free Jazz at work here, certainly, but what really excites me about the band is the way they emphasize all kinds of subgroupings and plotted freedoms.
The most furious sparks often come from Laplante and Jones, who have an insane mental and sonic lockup. They “duo” in the way that soloists “solo,” namely they’ve perfected a method wherein they can both rocket forward headlong and intertwine with absolutely sound logic yet without obvious response cues or clichéd interactivity. They blow OVER each other more than WITH each other; watching them play–often actually staring each other down—is like watching two rams in one of those epic eternal headbutt battles. Constant, lavalike flow but both voices are there and distinct. Don’t even get me started on the ultraperverse, somehow weirdly Pissed Jeans-esque sobbing-and-vomiting-into-upturned-horns with which they have often concluded their sets. Smiley and Nazary lend a barbed-wire framework, gnarled yet sturdy.
Scary and incredible, the REAL punkjazz. Keep a peeled eye out for Throat, Little Women’s upcoming full-length, due in April 2010 on the great Aum Fidelity label (also home to Man’ish Boy, Jones’s great 2009 debut as a bandleader).
Hank Shteamer | Brooklyn, February 2010
P.S. The above is adapted from this Little Women review, which I wrote after catching one of their gigs in 2008. Having checked in with them in ’09, I can verify that they are still killing it along similar lines.
[MV Carbon | Metalux]
The drum is a viscous, patterned surface that lays heavy on top of uncontainable fluids. Thick beats counterbalance and ride high on metallic waves keeping them from splashing out all of their juices at once. You can float for a long time in these waters without feeling breathless. The initial panic is soothed when you realize that the players have gills and will keep you floating continuously on top of their well-structured chaos. Just when you feel you can sink below the surface to a silent and muffled place, you find yourself shot out of a silver blowhole into the prismatic mist of another whirlpool.
MV Carbon | Brooklyn, March 2010