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New York duo Talibam! might be remembered in a variety of ways: as a classic keys/drums free jazz duo, as obnoxious Dadaist provocateurs with an uncanny sense of musical history, as members of the D.I.Y. Brooklyn underground. Given their name and occasionally lo-fi surrealism, they might also be just as easily written off as goofballs, but keyboardist Matthew Mottel and drummer Kevin Shea could never be accused of slacking.
Mottel, raised in Manhattan and present on the downtown jazz scene as a teenager, crossed paths with Shea, born in Pittsburgh, in Brooklyn, members of the first generation of the post-downtown jazz diaspora. The duo formed Talibam! in 2003, and their earliest CD-Rs were packaged in cut-up Bruce Springsteen LP jackets and sounded, despite the attitude, like the groove-heavy organ trio Medeski, Martin & Wood. They toured and worked frequently, playing multiple times a week in New York in a way that was almost unthinkable in that era, moving between under-the-radar Brooklyn parties and the dwindling Manhattan jazz scene, including the late, lamented venue Tonic. Some releases came packaged in folded-up pages from Vice magazine, or blasted with spray paint, sometimes to the point of making the CD-Rs unplayable.
Collaborations were frequent, including live work with the Karole Armitage dance company, trumpet player and sometimes bandmember Ed Bear, free jazz saxophonist Daniel Carter (on 2009's The New Nixon Tapes), and others. Their live show was a spastic attack of obscene improvised comedy, song fragments, and start-stop free jams. In 2009, the duo signed with the legendary New York avant-garde label ESP-Disk and recorded Boogie in the Breeze Blocks, which realized Mottel and Shea's surreal vision with a rich palette of horns, vocalists, guitars, studio layerings, skits, and field recordings. Active by themselves as well, Mottel worked with the USA Is a Monster founder Colin Matthews in the CSC Funk Band, and Shea toured with bassist Moppa Elliott's Mostly Other People Do the Killing.
Following collaborative albums with Peeesseye and Sam Kulik, Talibam! signed to Critical Heights for the release of 2012's Puff Up the Volume. A vast departure from their previous work, the album was an exercise in absurdist hip-hop, bringing to mind indie rap acts like Grand Buffet. Polyp, a collaboration with Weasel Walter, was released in 2014. Talibam! then collaborated with Kulik and glitch pioneer Yasunao Tone for a mind-bending LP titled Double Automatism, which was issued by Karlrecords in 2015. It Is Dangerous to Lean Out, a collaboration with British saxophonist Alan Wilkinson, was issued on cassette by Monofonus Press in 2016. Talibam! returned to ESP-Disk in 2017 with two vastly different releases. Endgame of the Anthropocene, created almost entirely on analog synthesizers, was a sci-fi concept album about the battle for control over Antarctica's resources in 2048. The other album, Hard Vibe, was a hypnotic avant-rock/jazz session with Battle Trance's Matt Nelson and Mostly Other People's Ron Stabinsky. ~ Jesse Jarnow
- New York City, NY
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