Mike Cooper - Places I Know/The Machine Gun Co. with Mike Cooper LP
(Paradise of Bachelors, 2014)
“Listening to Cooper’s recordings retrospectively in sequence reveals a rangy narrative of perennial reinvention from document to document through a playful approach to the deconstruction of “folk” musics and all that gross genre signifier implies and denies. By the time the Rolling Stones invited him to join the band in the early ’60s, and he politely declined (true story; Brian Jones took the gig), he had already progressed far beyond the circumscribed bounds of their early, hip-histrionic Albionic blues. By the time he was rumored to have retired from music in the mid ’70s, disappearing from his home in Southern England into Southern Spain to become a fisherman (an amusing fiction; he suffers from seasickness), he had already moved beyond his heady homebrew of progressive, free jazz-framed songcraft into increasingly less conventionally structured frontiers of open improvisation and later, electronic composition.
The Machine Gun Co. band (named for the 1968 Peter Brötzmann album) coalesced around Cooper’s desire to continue the improvisatory path forged on Trout Steel in a more sustainable manner, with a steady core group of likeminded musicians able to buttress its daring, long-form improvisatory vaults with a bedrock foundation. Peter Eden (Donovan, Bill Fay, Clive Palmer) produced the historic sessions, which veered from the impeccable conceptual folk-rock artistry of Places I Know (as Cooper explains, “the secret of the title of this record is that it was meant as a kind of covers record, or an homage to some musicians and songwriters that I liked at the time, the ‘places’ in the title—I was interested in seeing if I could emulate some other people without actually sounding like them”) to the utterly singular “songmaking” deconstructions of the more radical The Machine Gun Co., wherein the band erects lapidary arrangements reminiscent of Tim Buckley, only to dismantle them into virtuosic passages of Beefheartian free-jazz scree and skronk.”