Reed Turchi & His Kudzu Orkestra – Live At Soulshine Featuring Art Edmaiston

Reed Turchi
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by Sean Jewell::

The worst thing is the dust. The airborne silt, and stinging grit, that burns the eyes. It blows in giant storms, all the way around the equator, and along the horse latitudes, in a cloud of talcum fine, sterile, soil. It was lifted from the earth after the climate change and mono-culture farming disasters of the early 21st century. It’s what brought about the “first great die-off” and the great migration. Fear for national security, and of hordes of North American refugees fleeing the waste lands from Central America to Northern California migrating north and south, to the more habitable climes of Alaska, and Argentina caused great “civil” wars.

When the borders closed at Canada, and the Alaska Territory seceded, the United States broke into regions governed by bands of roving militias. Most people became trappers, or nomads, some became homesteaders. Some stayed in the desert zone, they are the nomadic peoples of what was “America”. These desert folk move through the radioactive dust (radioactive as a result of the wars now known as the “second great die-off”) that blot out the sun. Like living shadows, they drift in and out of the zone as guides. Some mine the cities of the Midwest territories for their goods –glass, wiring, tubing, scrap metals. Some seek the fossil fuel engines, or computer components. Resources are torn from the great skyscrapers the industrial de-evolution left behind. Not even man’s greatest feats of engineering are tall enough to peek beyond the great haboob hanging over all of civilization. The biggest things have ceased to be symbols of status. Instead these cities serve as radioactive dead zones, and great above-ground mines. Dead, wind-whipped, windowless, remnants.  Perhaps this is why the collection of music and building of great libraries began. It was the only way to try and understand.

One surviving city serving these wanderers is Nashville. Perhaps due to it’s centrality, Nashville, in the center of what was “Tennessee”, has become a popular outpost, an eye in the storm.

It’s theorized that because of it’s history it was more prepared for the collapse. The citizens of Nashville had been mostly musicians descended from agrarian people. They’d come in off the of the once fertile land to share and record their songs since before the time of the Victrola talking box (the orginal analogue phono recording device). From the Piedmont, and down from the Appalachians, and the Great Smoky Mountains came a string driven mountain music. From the original, small deserts of the west came cosmic vocal harmonies. From the north came electrified blues, from the south a mix of gospel and soul. The great temple that was the Ryman Auditorium first served as a musical gathering place dubbed “The Grand Ol’ Opry”. It sprawled the Cumberland River and its basin, and once great festivals were held to celebrate the lasting power of music. Researches think it may have also become such an outpost because it’s citizens, mostly musicians, were the first true nomads of the new American Desert. They were indigent, non territorial people, moving around the nations of the world wherever music took them. Selfless ambassadors of culture. They were ready for post-capitalism because money hadn’t served them. They were prepared for the collapse because the only things left: history, mythology, and music –made by man since time immemorial– were already with them.

A great archival effort still takes place there in the new Nashville. Music –devalued long before the collapse– was in no danger of theft from hordes or pirates. It simply sat in great libraries, or amassed in personal collections, occasionally played or sought after by those seeking to reconstruct some history of the Americas. Among them, the early gems recorded by men like A.P. Carter –an archivist working for the great Lesley Riddle –the father of Country Music. There is also music by America’s it’s first canonized saint, Hank Williams –a guitar player and drifter taught by Tee Tot Payne and Audrey Williams to write, play guitar, and sing. Also among them –and in better condition, are efforts like Reed Turchi‘s Kudzu Orkestra..

For reference, Kudzu was an invasive species of plant from island nations of the great dead oceans that once covered the South of America in an effort to hold the soil down and prevent it from going airborne. The name is fitting. The album’s worth of songs was recorded live at one gathering of such nomadic tribesmen (who would drink alcohol based brews, and pay a sum of “money” to witness the event). The orchestra of musicians was remembered by historian, and enthusiast (and veteran of the early revolutionary wars) Sean Jewell as such:

Turchi’s ability to assemble an orchestra comes from his many roots in the South. From Houston to Memphis, in North Mississippi and Central Tennessee he’s played, produced and recorded constantly for over a decade now. For Live at Soulshine, Turchi features the saxophone of Art Edmaiston, and atleast nine other musicians playing various electric pianos, synthesizers, and percussion.

(ed. note: the “saxophone” was a brass aerophone that derived it’s sound via a wooden reed, hence the name for instruments “woodwinds”). He continiues:

It’s a future-blues, featuring synthesizer and guitar effects that soar through the air like a bullrush, and use the saxophone like a voice, as much as blues based guitars. It’s a new Nashville sound that abandons the puritanism of country-politan recordings before it, nurturing itself on the roots of black music: gospel, soul, blues, then swelling and spreading in tense ascension, wrapping itself like some clinging vine around preconceived notions of jazz, blues, and rock, coiling it’s tendrils into every genre, and bursting forth as a new species…

…Much like Sun-Ra had predicted the birth of an electronic, poly-rhythmic jazz –a third generation of hip-hop– decades before, Live at Soulshine sounds like a precursor to a new kind of American music, or a third folk revival. One where the sounds of roots music are seamlessly fused with electronic instruments, never abandoning or beguiling the organic feel that has rooted itself in our souls. Reed is at the tip of the spear of the vanguard with other musicians in 2017 who have done the same like South Carolina’s SUSTO, Louisiana’s Hurray For The Riff Raff, and Mississippi’s Cory Branan, to name a few.

These are the first gathered thoughts on what became the new American folk music. What Turchi, Jewell, et. al could not have predicted (their generations were horribly ignorant of the coming climate disasters –or atleast unable to avoid them) was that this music would become the celebratory music of the grand American Desert. Anywhere the trade winds blow, from the African Continent to the American one you can hear music like this. Inside the tent of any chief of any territory you can hear this celebratory music night after night as tribesmen gather, to tell the stories of a life gone by. It’s estimated the essence of the music first crossed the Atlantic ocean on slave ships, and survived in African American communities throughout the south. One such style, commonly referred to as Hill Country Blues (a reference to it’s separate-ness from the Delta Blues) Jewell gave insight to Turchi’s work thusly:

The best thing about Reed Turchi is that he is an iconoclast. His connections throughout the music world, and the attention he’s able to consistently attract doesn’t result in watering down of his experiments with music. He’s instead propelled by some unseen force to break your idea of what form music should take. Early success with southern rock, work as a label head, as a post-rock band leader, and a few national tours have not caused him to settle into a groove that keeps the machine running, instead he’s constantly dismantling it. He last toured with just a slide guitar to attempt a re-visitation to the hill country blues, something he achieved. He continues to punch holes in the idea of genre, knocking the metaphorical noses off the statues of established musical tradition. On Live At Soulshine the student of R.L. Burnside has fused himself to a student of Pharoah Sanders, to a student of Phillip Glass, to students of Max Roach at a launch party for a new kind of music…

…”Kudzu Raga” hands the keys to the keyboard players who drive woozy, meandering pianos in and out of Turchi and Edmaiston’s tirades…

…”Skinny Woman” is given new life with Rhodes backing the jam like a creeping mist. Turchi leads off with the skeleton of the song, and the rhytm section follows suit, but the saxophone eases it’s way in, as if from down the street, and begins to play call and response with electric slide guitar. The Rhythm section becomes the beat of a city street at night. Guitar and Saxophone eventually clash and explode into a suprise rhythm that unites the entire Kudzu orchestra into a juke joint boogie replete with tingling high notes and and thudding low end…

…”Floristella” –one of Turchi’s own compositions changes from a trance-y southern rock song into a jumping jazz, where the saxophone harmonizes with Heather Moulder, and Reed Turchi’s vocals, as well as wah wah electric. Keyboard tones experiment contrary to the rhythm. While Turchi is motivated by Hill Country Blues, his work is not a pastiche of it. Neither has the group sought to “integrate” sounds. Instead they’ve approached it as an orchestra might, allowing the different instruments –including synthesizers, to spring up where they might occur naturally, to drive the groove. This is how the album can employ principally experimental electronic devices and remain human.

…”Jumper On The Line” by R.L. Burnside has gone from a hill country-juke to a ten minute psych freakout full of synthesizer and saxophone riffs. There’s crying horn, the relentless thud of the rhythm section, guitars trailing off wildly into solos represent the calamity, the disorganization, the lost feeling of our time. Inside this re-imagined version you can relate. You feel the blues, in the modern world….

Art Edmaiston’s saxophone work her comes in riffs, overblown, cascading runs of notes. A jazz fugue, contrapuntal to Turchi’s blues, and the orkestra’s experiments. Edmaiston achieves Jazz truth here, in a free expression of saxophone genius.

It’s this evasive free expression that drives all of Turchi’s experiments. As blues and jazz were invented to do, his music serves as a language for things which cannot be said. While it will be difficult to categorize, this will not prevent it from being understood wherever it is played. This is because it adheres to the ideal of free expression and to no other whims.

Because they lived around the time of the conflagration of the singularity that destroyed the man-made internet (a worldwide system of computer networks humans had access to), the climate change, and the wars, little else is known about Turchi, or the people who documented him. How they lived, and how they died remains a mystery, but because of their advances in technology some remnants of their culture survived.

What little there is left of Turchi’s work symbolizes a connection to our past. One where men and women gathered, in peace, to play music. What was once believed to be some spiritual healing device, has become recognized worldwide as an artful communication. The story of someone’s past is contained therein. In the old world men separated themselves with borders, and lived along lines of class, financial worth, and caste –vulgar luxuries of the past. Back then you could only safely cross borders into another region or culture only by listening to, and playing, music. Now there are so few people left that we gather and play music to remember what we were. As always music still serves as a spiritual salve: to forget the pain, to remember the past fondly. Because of work like Turchi’s we also remember to look towards the future –incorporating technology harmoniously into our lives, instead of using it to battle our nature. Perhaps these are lessons we learned too late.