The Muffins

The Muffins were an American jazz-rock band that released two proper albums: the Canterbury-style Manna / Mirage (1978) and the No Wave-inspired 185, both on the avant-garde DC label Random Radar Records. Tracks from their earlier incarnation (circa 1975–76) later surfaced on the Cuneiform CD Chronometers.

They backed Fred Frith on his 1980 Ralph Records release Gravity. Multi-reedist Tom Scott teamed with RRR partner (and subsequent Cuneiform founder) Steven Feigenbaum on the duo album Things Are More Like They Are Now Than They Ever Were Before. Drummer Paul Sears later surfaced in Chainsaw Jazz.

Members: David Newhouse (piano, organ, baritone saxophone, tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, percussion), Billy Swann (bass, guitar, percussion, vocals), Michael Zentner (guitar, violin, 1973-76), Tom Scott (alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, alto clarinet, soprano clarinet, oboe, bassoon, cantor, trumpet, flute, percussion, keyboards, 1974-present), Stuart Abramowitz (drums, 1975-76), Paul Sears (drums, percussion, guitar, trombone, 1976-present)


Background

The Muffins arose from jam sessions between three DC-area musicians: bassist Billy Swann, guitarist–violinist Michael Zentner, and saxophonist–keyboardist Dave Newhouse. They bonded over a shared love for English jazz-rock of the Canterbury school (Soft Machine, Caravan, Egg, Gong, Matching Mole) and rehearsed at Buba Flirf, their communal farmhouse in Gaithersburg, Maryland. After some months as a nameless trio, a friend walked in with a tray and said “The muffins are here!”

In 1974, The Muffins welcomed Tom Scott*, a multi-reedist with a background in classical and big-band jazz who shared the band’s Canterbury fixation. They filtered through multiple drummers before Stewart Abramowitz joined as a fifth member. (*Not the jazz-funk saxophonist and theme composer from Los Angeles who led L.A. Express.)

In November 1975, they entered Paragon Studios in Silver Spring, Maryland, and recorded twenty Newhouse compositions (many under two minutes) on half-track stereo tape. Another round of sessions occurred in May–June 1976 at Buba Flirf, where they recorded Dave’s “Chronometers,” a 23-minute suite. Soon after, Abramowitz and Zentner left the band, which continued as a bass|reed trio with shared percussion roles until the late 1976 arrival of drummer Paul Sears, whose adventurous style galvanized The Muffins.

In 1977, they co-founded Random Radar Records, a DC-area record label operated between multiple parties, including Steven Feigenbaum, a local enthusiast of international avant-garde music. The Muffins made their vinyl debut with “Peacocks, Leopards, and Glass,” a Paragon cut included on Radar’s inaugural release, A Random Sampler (RRR 666), which also features tracks by Feigenbaum (“Borrowed Inspiration,” “Enharmonic Toads”) and Scott’s side project Logproof (“Monster Comes to the City”), plus contributions by fellow DC outsiders Mars Everywhere, English saxophonist Lol Coxhill (ex-Delivery), and guitarist Fred Frith, a co-founder of Henry Cow, the musical forefather of RRR’s output.


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