“When I grow up I want to be a jazz musician,” says the poet Milton – no, not that one (he of Paradise Lost, “Of Man’s first disobedience and the fruit of that forbidden tree” but THIS one – Ted Milton – he of, “Giant Lizards on high strapped into their pink parachutes”. I had just invited Ted to a jazz event and believe his tongue was planted firmly in cheek when he responded.
Ted Milton – poet, puppeteer and musician – founded Blurt in the late 70′s. Their music is not definable and that is a good thing, although it veers towards freer jazz in many references (also a good thing). Blurt’s first single ‘My Mother Was a Friend of an Enemy of the People’ (1982 Blackhill records) was followed by the live album ‘In Berlin (1981 Armagedon). Since then more than 20 recordings have followed including vinyl albums, EPs and CDs. They are still touring and have a new album ‘Bomb’ out on Salamander Records. Ted Milton has also created artworks which have been exhibited in Paris and the UK and is a puppeteer with contributions to Terry Gilliam’s film ‘Jabberwocky’ and his poems have been published both on their own and as parts of an anthology. Somehow, I have passed Blurt by until now but in many ways, the discovery of this music is a joy.
Ted Milton is poetical leader, sax player and vocalist of Blurt, one of the best combos I have heard. This CD was recorded at Cafe Oto, Dalston, London and starts with ‘Let Them Be’ which is driven by relentless guitar and drums, thrashing out the beat into which Ted Milton inserts his manic sax playing and rampant vocals. Energetic, vibrant and bringing with it a sort of mania, which brings grins and smiles, this is a wonderful opening track. The drum is key and emerges several times in short solos, which emphasise and drive the music. The vocals are mad; words like, ‘Secrete them in an alabaster cove, with the Da Vinci Code, Known only to the Sheik of Araby – and eat them! ‘but it is not the sense of them that matters, rather their shape and how they are used to extend and emphasise the textures in the sound provided by the instruments.
‘Giant Lizards on High’ is fast, crazy, driven and bonkers but there again is that wonderful juxtaposed playing of Milton, here mixed with harmonic runs too over the steady, thunking drums and guitar. The final section sees the texture laid down as a second vocal line is introduced and the track ends on a high.
‘I Wan See Ella’ is beautiful, crazy sax and vocals over a funky, blues-influenced guitar and drums. Ted’s loose-tongued sax is allowed complete freedom in short bursts and offers the perfect contrast to the rhythm kept by the rest of the band. The middle section where Ted’s whiney vocals talk of Ella staying in his arms forever and a day are perfectly foiled by the sound, flowing guitar work. The vocals are reminiscent of John Lydon at his whinging best but somehow even better – and I mean that in a very positive way.
‘Where’s The Blue Gone?’ is drum-led with a constant, 4/4/,4/8 translation of the rhythm going right the way through the track, which adds ear-candy to this beautifully worked track. The vocals are again weirdly wonderful with lines like, ‘ Lenin weighed 6000 tons and his index finger was 6 meters long’ but who cares about facts? The music is pure and energy incarnate there is so much truth in the sound, the words become meaningless, used largely for their rhythmic and aesthetic qualities to enhance the music. There is a lovely sweet spot where the vocals and drums interact to create an empty, spacier place before the guitar works in again. Absolutely wonderful.
‘Stella By Arc Light’ starts with drums, setting up the rhythmic background onto which the music scape is carefully crafted, first guitar, then a bit of vocals, then a bit of perfectly off-key sax and the guitar builds from background to forefront, finally creating the wonderful sound landscape of the track. This is art, this is music and this is completely something else. The use of harmonics is verging on the exquisite and Milton’s soaring on sax, his placement of the notes, which jar, and those which blend is nigh on miraculous.
‘Fresh Meat for Martys’ begins with a funky beat, gentle and swaying – until the sax enters and makes you smile with its discordance and perfectly off-beat notes. Ted’s style is so loose at times, there could be two Saxes and his ear for placing flattened blues notes is extraordinary. The vocals include lines like, ‘So I swivel my crutch and squeeze off a round and the crowds part screaming’, “People before Prophets, Fresh Meat for Martyrs.” Nice. This track develops and evolves as it plays out. The sax sees the track out, fading into its own musically dyslexic maelstrom. Wonderful.
‘Oh Look Who’s Out On Parole’ begins with instrumental from the band, sax over drum and guitar creating a deep, dark atmosphere before the vocals speak of the trading in of the soul for drink, drugs and despair. The relentless drums, the soaring, searing guitar notes, the rasping, skin-singeing, angry vocals from Ted Milton and the final section of unfettered, free rolling sax playing before the almost incoherent final explosion from the voice lift the atmosphere of this track someplace else.
‘Listen To Me Shirley’ is sung over a constant rising and falling rivulet from the guitar – hard working and in competition at times with the totally glorious sax but it is that rhythmic riff which keeps emerging, settling the rhythm and keeping the track together. ‘Female Thugs with latex gloves, The Frog swallowed the Chevy Impala’ go the words at one point and in this world of maniacal music where sounds are turned inside out and upside down it is possible to believe. Milton’s high notes on sax could strip paint at 30 paces – glorious!
‘Beneath Discordant Skies’ is next and if there was a highlight of the album, this is it, though it is difficult to pick out any one track from this glorious ear fest. Started by a throbbing drum, over which the steely notes of the guitar enter and set up the prevailing riff which pervades this number, the sax enters, announcing itself in completely discordant notes – the point entirely- and this track then develops into a most satisfying mix of discordia ever put to an audience. The marginally off-tune vocals, that pounding beat, the energy, the vibe, the drama it brings all meld to make this an outstanding track – and it never stops building. As the vocals rise so does the emphasis of the beat. This is almost the perfect noise.
‘They’ll be Here Soon’ ’closes’ the album (but wait) and begins with drums first, then guitar offering an opposing rhythm which takes on the sax as it enters with typical atonal, yet perfectly pitched notes which , though not aligned tune-wise are keyed to tune into those parts of the brain other notes cannot reach. The playing on this track from Ted Milton, I think, offers an insight into his mind and how he feels music. He can pitch the perfect off key notes in such a way they make perfect sense and don’t jar in the way they might in the hands of a lesser player. Honed playing like this is rare and beautiful.
There are 10 tracks listed on the CD cover but there are 4 additional tracks (joy of joy). The first is ‘What’s This Mission All About?’ which is rocky, fast and driven by the rhythm. A journey into the poetic music of Mr Milton. The track comes to an end – so you think – before taking off on a completely different tangent with a change of beat, pace and far more vocals before finishing with an ‘epic’ sax ending.
‘Amour Do Ma Vie’ follows and this includes some great guitar solo work and again that steadfast, never ceasing drumming over which the sax flows, disrupts, contradicts the flow of the chords and it all comes together to create wonder and beauty.
‘ The Fish Needs A Bike’ is totally lovely, with a constant walking riff from guitar over steady drum beats with Mr Milton creating merry hell with off the wall vocals, screams and screeches from his voice and sax. ‘Violin Sherbet’, the final track is noisesome, fullsome with sax over simple but driving beats and guitar, fizzing with energy and the beat never ceasing across which the vocals and sax spin, almost out of control but yet carefully moulded around the framework set by the drums and guitar. Sherbet perfectionary.
What drives the sound and underpins it all is the steadfast, resolute guitar and drums from Steve Eagles and David Aylward. Over this strong foundation, Ted Milton’s sax and vocals can be shown to their full, glorious extent because they clash completely for the most part- which is an art itself, yet to be effective both sax and vocals in this style need a steadfast foundation on which to paint and here, this is provided in spades. This album is a revelation and complete joy. It crosses so many boundaries it makes any attempt at genre assignment meaningless. This is funk, this is punk, this is jazz but above all this is free, arty music performed by musicians who know exactly what they intend to achieve. Ted Milton is one of the freest, most exceptional players with an ear and a knack of placing notes perfectly, both on voice but especially on sax. His way of playing is a gift, which few players have, and it brings to the music something exceptional and completely distinctive.
What was impressive is that even from a distance, the voice is still heard and Ted Milton uses his voice much the same way as he uses his sax – for rhythm, for emphasis and to add to the range of sounds. The words are verging on the insane at times but they are used in a really intelligent way because they are chosen to add to the texture, the rhythm and the very essence of the tracks on this album due to the way they are used and spoken, screamed, spat out or gently stated. Each word is used in different ways, almost as part of the music itself and crystal in their clarity. At times words and music meld so Milton’s sax playing acts like a second vocalist that is completely engrossing.
The music is old fashioned in some ways and the structure semi-predictable but what I like about the music is that presentation and detail is important and this makes a different. Those perfectly placed discordant notes over stolid background work, the small details in the voice; all make a difference to the texture and feel. Blurt have embraced modernity but only in part. A bit like the emails, I get from Ted – sent from a modern hand-held device but the text ranges from ordinary typeface, through bold to an alarming vivid blue in bold type. Yet it is the content that is important and the message is paramount, just like the music.
It is impossible to get over in narrative just how wondrous this music is. It needs listening to. It is, for me at least, almost the perfect noise. Did I say I like this?
Ted Milton – sax and vocals
Steve eagles – guitar
David Aylward – drums
label: Salamander records firstname.lastname@example.org
Images courtesy of: Ted Milton