The Wally Shoup Trio
Fallout Records,
Sat Dec 1, free.

Fiftysomething Seattleite Wally Shoup's saxophone playing careens from lilting lyrical passages to brisk, brusque, powerhouse blasts that sound like razorblades whizzing straight toward you. But close your eyes and you'd swear that angels have come down from the sky to dance about your head and just generally fuck with you. This is improvised music, "free jazz," but no post-y muck or cool-ass smoosion. When this guy is really on, he's fabulous. You have no idea what's going to happen next; it's a roller coaster for your brain. And not to get all New Agey on you, but it's weirdly cleansing for the soul, too.

Shoup, who's been at this stuff since 1974, has a résumé long as your arm. He's toured and recorded with Thurston Moore (himself a fan of Shoup since 1983). His combo Project W's debut made the jazz mag Cadence's Top 10 for 1996. He's played with Nels Cline and John Oswald and a bunch of other improv heavyweights. He's toured Europe several times and has made a bunch of recordings, including the brand-new, wide-ranging Rescue Mission, a duo recording made with percussionist Jeph Jerman. In addition, Shoup regularly puts together shows for others, organizing both the Seattle Improvised Music Festival and the Other Sounds Series. Plus, Wally's a visual artist and exhibits his richly textured, Dubuffet/Chaissac-ish paintings locally at the Garde Rail Gallery in Columbia City. Dude, are you impressed yet?

The kicker is that Wally Shoup is so sweet it's crazy. A native of Charlotte, NC, he wears a tattered old ball cap, holds on to hints of his Southern accent like--well, like a tattered old ball cap--and manages to be disarmingly intelligent and totally sincere at the same time (no easy feat--try it). "In the late '60s when I heard Albert Ayler, Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, et al., I was struck by the music's ferocity and its connection to the black R&B I grew up on in the South. It sounded like a rawer version of what Hendrix and Beefheart were doing at the time. The Stooges' Funhouse had that primal sound as well, but with simple rock rhythms. Free jazz had so many more rhythms going on at once, which I found liberating. I bought a saxophone and taught myself to play."

Like any number of local out-there musicians (Amy Denio, Climax Golden Twins, Tripod, Bill Horist, Sun City Girls), Shoup's sounds are often better received outside Seattle. It's not that there is no audience here, but rather a lack of venues (and if you do find a place to play, it's almost always on some damn Monday night). Shoup laments the closing of the OK Hotel and the Speakeasy but remains optimistic, if not upbeat, about the state of the scene. "Seattle has always had an experimental underbelly, and that continues as usual," he allows.

His new combo is called the Wally Shoup Trio, with Shiva-armed drummer Bobby Rees and journeyman bassist Reuben Radding, and they are far more exciting than their name. They represent one of the most fierce, free, and intuitive groups in the Pacific Northwest. Shoup enthuses about the players, both younger: "Reuben knew what was up musically with no unrealistic expectations about where playing this music will take you in the music dream-world, but [was] dedicated and serious about it nonetheless. Reuben introduced me to Bob, who has a great deal of drum training and experience but is relatively new to playing free, so his style is fresh and unpredictable. Together, they're flexible, full of energy, and very open-minded: ready to explore, yet grounded in their instruments.

"This group allows me to work in the 'tradition' of alto-led trios, but in a way that suits my style, which is subject to the whims of the moment," Shoup says. "Their flexibility and listening skills are such that no matter where I go, they already seem to be there, so I can really go for it, wherever 'it' happens to be. When you take into account the room, the audience, the players, the weather, the vibe, everything, that particular moment is full and uniquely so. I try to trust it, get inside it and articulate how it feels. I just think of it as music--perhaps more reliant on intuition and responsiveness than on memorization or reading scores--but still music. Music is magic, even more so when you don't have it all pre-planned."