Screwed Anthologies with Koboku Senju
8 p.m. Monday
Fair Grinds Coffee House, 3313 Ponce de Leon St., 913-9072; www.fairgrinds.com
It's estimated that Houston's DJ Screw recorded between 600 and 1,000 mixtapes. Over a 16-year period (1984-2000), that's an average of about one per week. "To me those are like improvised music," says David Dove, a Houston trombonist, music educator and improviser himself. "The accidents are in there. Like improvised music, the accidents are a really important part of the music. The unpredictability is there. I'm sure they're about whatever he was feeling that day. It's almost like folk music; it's functional. They have the same kind of urgency and the same timeliness. It's meant to be about that moment, because the next day he's going to make another one."
Screw died of a drug overdose in 2000, but in those hundreds of "Screw tapes" he left a jigsaw legacy — one Dove isn't so much piecing together as further deconstructing. Screwed Anthologies, a new improvisational project with guitarist Lucas Gorham, was born in November 2009 as part of a tribute concert of the same name commissioned by the Houston art gallery Labotanica. "Different artists doing pieces in different mediums, inspired by or based on or echoing something about the work of DJ Screw," Dove explains. "We just got super into it."
In the early 1990s, Screw's slowed-down, cut-up sound — eventually dubbed "chopped and screwed" hip-hop — had permeated the heavy Houston air before Dove knew what it was. "What the hell is this thick bass thump oozing out of these car stereos?" he recalls wondering. "It really sounded like Houston. The whole feel of it made sense to me. I feel like it has a similar feel to a lot of other Houston music, psychedelic music and noise music. It has the same kind of thickness to it, low and slow. It's very humid music."
Something so powerful, and so regional, should translate across genre lines, Dove hypothesized, and the freeform Screwed Anthologies sessions are his form of a musical proof. Using pitch shifters and effects pedals, he and Gorham transmute their instruments and Screw's samples into something that's not quite free jazz, not quite hip-hop. It's an aural Escher drawing in which analog music layers with digital music that contains even more layers of analog music. In one sequence on the duo's self-titled debut, a 100-minute double disc modeled after a Screw tape, snail-like trombone snippets from Diana Ross' "I'm Coming Out" — cut out by Screw a la Notorious B.I.G.'s "Mo Money Mo Problems" — are drowned out by Dove's barge-horn blows and Gorham's lap-steel helicopter drones.
"A DJ Screw CD is like a collage," Dove says. "We're taking that collage and adding it to our own collage. We're not really looking to appropriate a certain element; we're just looking to get that feel. I think in exploring it we find connections. One is that there is a seriously bluesy element to Houston hip-hop that is not in New York hip-hop or California stuff. We discovered that's there because we have that in our sound too."
This tour, which reaches up the East Coast and into Canada, is the first time the music will be performed outside Texas. "Not everyone knows who DJ Screw is," Dove says. "Some people will probably be pretty puzzled." After only six shows, the duo is "getting more stretched out, getting deeper," he adds. "Since the last concert I've been going through more and more Screw CDs. Our source material has increased. I have like 10 hours of it now."
And the 250 issued tapes only scratch the surface. "There are 300, 400, 500 they haven't released yet," Dove says. "You could listen to 10 of them and the more you listen, the more you realize that you're just kind of dipping your toe into this whole universe."