11 Songs, 47 Minutes

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About Universal Congress Of

Led by ex-Saccharine Trust axewielder Joe Baiza, Universal Congress Of began as the title for Baiza's 1987 solo record later becoming the name of his fine, funky backing band. Although on his debut solo LP he was still playing semi-improvised, avant-garde jazz-rock similar to what he was exploring in Saccharine Trust, Baiza/UCO's later (and for my money better) work was more structured and song-oriented. Although he continued to show a talent for all-out free playing and gnarled, aural jazz damage, when Baiza added funk to the mix and kept the songs under ten minutes, he became a much more interesting musician and UCO became a much more interesting band.

Although I'm uncomfortable using the term (because I'm not quite sure what it means), UCO, especially their early-'90s records, falls into the category of "fake jazz." But UCO, paced by excellent bass/drum combinations like Bob Fitzer and Paul Lines, and Steve Gaeta and A. P. Gonzalez, played rockish jazz/jazzish rock not unlike that of Blood Ulmer and Ornette Coleman. But whereas those two wandered freely into the world of dissonance and (especially in Ornette's case) harmolodics, UCO deeply anchored their music in heavy funk. This, however, did not mean that Baiza's guitar playing became less intriguing, nor did it mean that UCO's fine sax player, Steve Moss, stopped blowing up a storm; what it meant was that they limited the screwing around and focused on substance rather than style. Not what you'd expect from a bunch of former SoCal punks, UCO was (is still?) a band that realized that less, especially when played with a feisty verve, is always more. ~ John Dougan

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