lee rockey
lee rockey music lp

lee rockey was a hardswinging jazzbo who had mastered the modern style by '46, and became known as one of the vancouver whiz kids. he went to the city in '53, jammed with neil hefti, and appeared on the first few herbie mann recs ( plays bethlehem BCP-58, east coast jazz / 4 bethlehem BCP-1018). upon his left coast return, he began developing his own sound / style, with an intent of transcending traditional musical forms / expectations.

ju suk reet meate caught one of his performances in early '76, and lee became a figure of big inspiration. he'd eventually invite lee to play on a few early smegma recs. aside from a few record booth lathes cut in the 40s / 50s, this is his first solo release.

on first spin there are a few brief moments when the sounds of toshi ichiyanagi come to mind, but these sounds inhabit a universe that is entirely that of lee rockey. tho the pieces contained on this rec were recorded from the yrs '59 to '73, they own a keen third eye prescience that portends the likes of c spencer yeh and axolotl.


Jazz drummer Lee Rockey is an unlikely floating member of the Smegma cult and one who has served to connect the group to a parallel jazz stream. Rockey first cut his teeth with jazz flautist Herbie Mann in the 1950s before dedicating himself to free improvisation and multi-disciplinary avant garde sweat. His scattered appearances across a bunch of Smegma records - most noticeably on 1996’s The Mad Excitement, The Barbaric Pulsations, The Incomparable Rhythms Of Smegma - have helped contribute to his critical rehabilitation, although he remains relatively unknown outside his native Portland. “Lee Rockey remains my biggest inspiration and one of the most mindblowing people I’ve ever met,” Smegma’s Ju Suk Reet Meate insists. “He was a guy who had been a jazz musician starting in, like, 1945, moved to New York and lived on 52nd Street in 1955, is on the first Herbie Mann record, just a true jazz musician, unbelievable. In the 1960s, kind of inspired by Ornette Coleman, he didn’t want to play bebop any more, and by the time we met him he was one of the best jazz drummers you ever heard, in the kinda Gene Krupa style, a free, open swing drummer, but he refused to play any jazz or anything normal. When you played with him he would just drag you along on this journey, playing things on three different layers at once, all the time, and you could just pick how you wanted to interact with it, fast, slow, medium, whatever. He was somebody who made us realise that Portland had something that was real. When we arrived in Portland, the city was just dying, but we made that connection with Lee Rockey and that just changed our life. Rockey has never had a real job in his life. He was just a musician. Totally inspirational. For our first show in Portland we had him and his friend do a piece that we kind of played along with - this was back in 1977. He was the kind of guy that you’d think would see us as just a bunch of dumb hippies, but no, he heard something in us and he was right on it. That was some kind of validation. He knew what was what.”

Lee Rockey Music is the first ever document of Rockey’s amazing, intuitive multi-disciplinary approach to liberated musical form culled from recordings made between 1959 and 1973 that might well have originated in 2008. The combination of loops, home made electronics, horns, violin, cello and drums births the kind of modern art/punk hybrid that would’ve sat just as well at a late-60s Fluxus happening as at a late-90s Chocolate Monk event. Alongside the kind of (instant) compositional rigour that composers like Takehisa Kosugi, Toshi Ichiyanagi and Cosey Fanni Tutti brought to 20th century materials there’s the kind of wild, loose, ass-slapping edge that occasionally took possession of jazz players like Ornette Coleman (especially his ESP Town Hall disk) and Anthony Braxton as well as the classic hobbyist glue-tape-and-found-sound feel that the Los Angeles Free Music Society built much of its foundations on, with fluttering delayed violin hovering over time-lag accumulations of electronic sound, Industrial scale dissonance and analogue squonk that could almost be Todd Dockstader. Due to an uncompromising commitment to the arc of his own muse Rockey is virtually unknown in the field of liminal free jazz/modern composition/American primitive that would surely have embraced him decades ago. But now’s your chance, so don’t pass it up. Comes with full-colour paste-on wraparound sleeve and insert featuring notes by Ju Suk Reet Meate. Highly recommended.

~ David Keenan
Volcanic Tongue