Three-Layer Cake is the latest project by bassist Mike Watt. You know him from Minutemen and fIREHOSE, from solo spots and cameos – including a stint with Iggy & The Stooges. So whilst indie and punk might be where he made his name, playing adventurous is absolutely his game. And this trio takes Watt further towards jazz than previously has been the case. That’s thanks in large part to drummer Mike Pride (Millions of Dead Cops) who was part of Anthony Braxton’s free-jazz ensemble for a time. And guitarist/banjoist Brandon Seabrook (Seabrook Power Plant) who also spent time with Braxton among others in the avant-jazz world.
Debut album Stove Top was cooked on three separate hobs; assembled after from the pieces cooked in remote kitchens this very well might not be to your taste at all. If you’re coming here primarily for the Mike Watt factor, you will get his creaming-fill of bass (A Durable Quest) and whilst you’ll get shards of what he is better known for (Big Burner) you will be hearing something less cohesive than you’re probably used to (Beatified, Bedraggled and Bombed).
But, if you’re a free-jazzer of any length – from a toe-dipper to the full-body immersion you will click with this just nicely. Pride really holds things together and allows for plenty of punk noises to take shape around him (Primary Fuel) while Seabrook’s shrieks of noise can recall Buckethead’s excursions into Zappa-esque funk (Tiller) or Bill Frisell’s more shreddy takes (Ballad of the Gobsmacked).
I kept thinking of Frisell’s work with the Ginger Baker Trio. And Bill Orcutt’s duos with Chris Corsano and saw and heard this as a happy middle ground. So it absolutely works for me. A slightly punk-ish free-jazz, a freer version of the hardcore/indie/punk worlds that Watt usually wades through – but an enjoyable traipse for sure. The banjo textures are wonderful, and weird – in precisely that order. And when the collective groove is established – no mean feat given the remote recording and assembly after – there’s something very impressive sounding here, makes you want them to hit up a stage or head into a studio together for even more magic. Fingers crossed, eh.