AMN Reviews: Strictly Missionary – Heisse Scheisse (2021; Astral Spirits)

It has been a while since I’ve heard an outside skronky rock-inflected jazz album quite like this. Naked City, Captain Beefheart, Henry Cow…comparisons are possible but don’t quite hit the mark. Strictly Missionary is a genuine supergroup of NYC-based creative musicians, including guitarist Wendy Eisenberg (who seems to be everywhere these days, do they sleep?), saxophonist Chris Pitsiokos, bassist Richard Lenz, drummer Kevin Murray, and percussionist Nick Neuburg. Pitsiokos also contributes electronics, recorder, whistle, harmonica, and drum samples.

At its best moments – throughout most of the album in fact – Heisse Scheisse is joyous chaos. The quintet seems to relish playing two or three different overlapping pieces of music. Case in point, Lapsarian begins with a labyrinthine riff-like structure that rapidly deteriorates into Eisenberg and Neuburg heading in their own directions. After a relatively calm and short interlude, Pitsiokos and Eisenberg both solo at the same time, but in an orthogonal fashion, before the overall structure is loosened once again to a more free-form exploration.

This simultaneous adherence to form and discarding thereof is not easy to pull off, but is found throughout the album. Eisenberg, in particular, drives the group from within by way of gritty tone, speed picking, and note bending. Pitsiokis’s wailing on the recorder and whistle just adds to the weirdness. Elements of punk, funk, electronica, and blues pop up now and then. Nothing is out of bounds for Strictly Missionary.

Heisse Scheisse is information-dense, creative, and just plain fun. The album comes out October 29 on Astral Spirits. In the mean time, check out their set from this year’s Moers Festival.

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