Last Exit

When it comes to avant-garde jazz-rock noise, few bands kicked out the jams better than did Last Exit. A who's who of jazz players with punk-ass attitudes, Last Exit -- guitarist Sonny Sharrock, bassist Bill Laswell, drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson, and saxophonist Peter Brötzmann -- could swing, rock, and create an all-out free jazz din all in the blink of an eye. More important, Last Exit were about the thrill and danger of total improvisation; so much did they believe in this concept that their debut performance in Zurich in 1986 was completely improvised and unrehearsed. Granted, one person's free improvisation is another's tuneless chaos, but Last Exit, due primarily to the skill of the individuals involved, only infrequently fell off the precipice into the netherworld of arty wanking. These four men belonged together emotionally, intellectually, and musically: Sharrock had gotten his start playing blues, but rebelled against structured, proper guitar technique, preferring to play sheets of atonal metallic distortion; Shannon Jackson grew up playing Texas blues, but through working with players such as James Blood Ulmer, explored a percussive world that was not regimented by time and meter; Bill Laswell played and produced rock, funk, and "straight" jazz, and in Last Exit he mashed all of these influences into one feral ball of noise and rhythm; and Peter Brötzmann didn't simply blow sax, he blew it to bits as if his life depended on it.