As the 10th anniversary of Matt Corbett's death approached, his younger brother Todd was feeling restless. "I was in a full-on manic state of mind and somewhat bored musically," the bassist explains. "I had some money and wanted to do something as a tribute to Matt. He was a badass drummer and I learned a shitload from him. When I was fortunate enough to play with him, he'd always ride my ass to get better and I've never forgotten that."
So on July 26, 2007, Todd assembled a group of friends and musicians at Type Foundry Studio, with his former Tracker bandmate John Askew manning the boards. "They were killer musicians I've been fortunate to play with in various bands and situations over the years," says Todd. "Since we all knew each other personally and musically, it seemed obvious to me that if I could get them all together in the same room to make some music something pretty cool could happen."
The impromptu ensemble included guitarist Kelly Bauman, keyboardist Cory Gray, vibraphonist Victor Nash, and drummers Jordan Hudson and Brian Wright—the dual drum setup paying specific homage to Matt. "I figured getting them into a studio would be easier than having them come play in my basement," Todd says. "I didn't know what the fuck would happen but I knew it'd be fun. I brought in two bass lines but had no idea how they'd be translated. The rest was completely 'influenced' improvisation."
Those heady, dense improvisations make up Stiffwiff's first album, Un, released on vinyl (with a CD insert) as a joint effort between Portland-based labels Arena Rock Recording Company and Jealous Butcher. It's instrumental, drum-heavy, jazz-rock fusion that never for one second devolves into boring jam wankery or limpid grooving. Instead, it's a ferocious gallop through moods and shades, celebrating the life of Matt Corbett through the ecstasy of spontaneously created music.
Un's four long tracks each have shape and form, at times evoking the albums that jazz producer Teo Macero sculpted out of studio sessions with Miles Davis during the late '60s and '70s. "We did focus on certain, more magical moments and felt free to edit," explains Askew, who also contributed guitar. "We all played in one room together; however, by allowing editing to be a part of the process, we found really great new ideas came by juxtaposing two or more moments together."
Stiffwiff has also been influenced by the obscure progressive and psychedelic bands Todd discovered while rummaging through the bins of SE Hawthorne's Exiled Records—not the least of which is French progressive rock group Magma (who, incidentally, sang in their own invented language decades before Sigur Rós ever erected their glacial elf-rock). The free-form collective mentality of Stiffwiff also carries over to the album's artwork, which incorporates painting, photography, and poetry from different contributors.
The long-overdue release show of Un is the loose collective's fourth show to date, including a one-off gig backing former Can vocalist Damo Suzuki last year. However, another Stiffwiff record is already in the works, due on Arena Rock early next year. "Everyone that played on the album will be playing the release show," says Todd. "Considering everything is mostly improvised, I can guarantee that every Stiffwiff show and recording session will be different from the last. Unless, I guess, someone actually remembers something they played before."