By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
The man known as Little Jack Melody is flattered by the nice mention in a recent issue of New York magazine, a write-up promoting several shows in Manhattan; the writer referred to the band as "one of the lovelier pop combos in the land...also one of the oddest," paying particular attention to the "tragicomic" music that provides a backdrop for Little Jack's "painfully acute observations on modern life." But he is baffled somewhat by the comment that he's a "Kurt Weill for the Tarantino age."
"I'm not sure what that means, not having seen any of Quentin Tarantino's films," says Little Jack (neŽ Steve Carter). "Reservoir Dogs, right? Pulp Fiction? People tell me to see them, but I'm just not sure what that's supposed to mean--'Weill for a Tarantino age.' That's good, right?"
Nothing comes easy for Little Jack, not even the compliments. And especially not running a band: Two new players have come through the rotating door that is Little Jack Melody and His Young Turks, semi-regular personnel changes that have forced a temporary halt to the completion of the band's third album, the follow-up to last year's World of Fireworks. Former Mildred keyboard player Jim Cocke has replaced Jerome Rossen (departed for New York City via a cruise-ship gig) on the all-important harmonium, and 20-year-old Jacob Duncan has stepped in to fill the saxophone spot abandoned a few weeks ago by Mike Stinnett. "He's a fire-breather," Carter says of Duncan, who "plays like John Coltrane squaring off with Ornette Coleman."
Yet despite the delays in recording their own album, Little Jack and His Young Turks have just completed recording Carter's original music for a radio theater piece called love is a place, based upon the life and work of poet e.e. cummings. Carter says the piece--written by "Firesign Theatre" member David Ossman and starring the likes of David Ogden Steirs (best known as Charles Winchester on "M*A*S*H") and "Firesign Theatre" player Philip Proctor--will likely air on various National Public Radio stations on Valentine's Day, with a possible CD release and stage show to follow shortly after that. "Though what route we'll take with that, I don't know," Carter says. "They're working with NEA money, which is quickly evaporating, so there's some sense of urgency about getting it finished before the end of the year.
"Ossen just heard us on the radio in Seattle and thought, 'This is what I need,'" Carter says of his involvement with the project. "He said, 'I'm working on this, and you're the guys I need to write the music,' because one of the things about the play is it involves a certain amount of a circus atmosphere, and he thought this is the guy...The music provides an underpinning, a setting, mostly for poems and occasionally for a scene. The poems are all worked into the script, so it's more of a seamless texture."
By spring of next year, the band figures to have recorded and released the third Little Jack album, tentatively titled Songs for the Imaginary Theater. Little Jack is also sitting on a tape the band recorded in April at New York's Knitting Factory, a tiny venue renowned as the home to Manhattan's avant-garde rock movement and such musicians as John Zorn and John Lurie's Lounge Lizards. Carter says he is considering selling the 14-song tape--a mixture of Little Jack material, plus stellar covers of "Is That All There Is?" and Nino Rota's "Theme from 8 1/2"--at shows, but he's concerned that by doing so, he'll "deflate the impact" of the next studio album.
"Part of me also says it's just time to get something out, but at the same time I don't know," Carter says. "I can't figure it out."
Either way, Little Jack and the Turks will definitely usher in the holiday season with their third annual "Salvation Army Style Christmas Event," which will resound through the Cosmic Cup at 10 p.m. on December 9. Featuring some assistance from plate spinner-juggler-all-around entertainer Kumar, the Turks will, as always, delight the crowd with their neo-cabaret-cum-street-corner renditions of Christmas standards, a delightful treat for all.
Lost in space rock
Mazinga Phaser, leaders of Denton's space-rock movement--"space" because it's ambient lo-fi techno, "rock" only because it's partially played on guitars--are finishing work on their debut EP, titled Pre-Dawn, and shooting for an early 1996 release. The band, which has already recorded at least five tracks for the album, will record more tracks in Denton in January or February with Grifters guitarist Scott Taylor producing.
Mazinga Phaser co-founder Wanz Dover says Pre-Dawn will be released either in February or March on the Fort Worth-based No Fun label--which is owned by Fort Worth Star-Telegram music/children's writer Malcolm Mayhew (conflict of interest? you be the judge); the previous No Fun release was a seven-inch single by Record Player.
"It's supposed to be out in February, but I'll say March because being former co-owner at a label, I know no stuff runs on time," Dover says. "It should have been out by now, but the recording process took a little longer than we thought. Plus, we're taking our time on it."