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Karen Cooper Complex

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The Karen Cooper Complex story begins with Big Naptar, a six-piece band featuring two sax players, formed in 1970 in Richmond, Virginia, that Frank Daniel, Steve Bernard and Bill Altice all played in. In those days, Naptar was attempting to forge a marriage between elemental rock and free jazz. At the same time, Wm. Burke (aka Key Ring Torch) and Bo Jacob (aka Bo Janne Valvoline) were playing with local oddball legends, the Titfield Thunderbolt. Jacob eventually left to go on the road as a sound man for Parliament/Funkadelic and Burke later went solo, calling his act, Wm. Burke’s Hideous Truth.

In the late 70’s Steve Bernard and a rotating cast of musicians and non-musicians who called themselves I Saw a Bulldozer, recorded a series of private party tapes, organized around three or four female vocalists who wrote Surrealist-style “Exquisite Corpse” lyrics and chanted them in unison in front of a band, coming across something like a female, beatnik version of the Last Poets, who were more interested in art than politics.

Frank Daniel then plucked Karen Cooper out of the Bulldozer lineup and made her an integral, impulsive instrument in a band that played loosely structured, improvisational rock that was more “Bitches Brew” than Grateful Dead, if that makes sense. Now, in retrospect, Karen sounds like an unbridled outsider artist who’s simultaneously sending and receiving while the band churns around her. This isn’t jazz, and it wasn’t intended to be, but the band was obviously listening, responding and playing off of each other in the same way more technically proficient improvisers do.

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