Issue #15 Extra!: New Releases

Surge - "For the Time Being"
Bill Bruford with Ralph Towner and Eddie Gomez - "If Summer Had Its Ghosts"
Steve Gorn, Tony Levin, Jerry Marotta - "From the Caves of the Iron Mountain"
Quarkspace - "Spacefolds 3"
Mani Neumeier - "Privat"
Alejandro Lomelin - "Luz De Intenso Azul"
Mani Neumeier - "Privat"
Ancient Curse - "The Landing"
Stips - "Egotrip"
You Are Here - "You Are Here"
(Tom Newman) - "Variations on a Rhythm of Mike Oldfield - David Bedford"

Surge - "For the Time Being"

(LJ Records LJCD 5213, 1996, CD)

Why is European mainland jazz ignored or worse yet, simply prejudiced as being lesser than US contemporaries? And does jazz have to be black to be good? These questions have been asked by reviewers since whitey decided to play like Charlie Parker. In Sweden, at least for the group, Surge the core of improvisation has been embraced with stark empathy stemming from a winter cultural environment. You'd be moody too if you didn't see sun for almost three months of the year, so why not instead play impressionistic jazz? The group is a Swedish ECM (former home to Pat Metheny, Oregon and Eberhard Weber among others) type trio consisting of drums, keyboards and trumpet. Horn player, Staffan Svenson's main contribution is Ode, the standout track utilizing film music of a Gypsy song sung by children as an intro into an aggressive late period Miles Davis. I can also detect influences of Isham and Hassell's world music explorations in Svenson's attack and interjections. The other two primary pieces on the disc are Perpetual Motion (the only live track) and Oracular Influx which together take up half the disc. Perpetual Motion is drummer, Per Ekblad's song beginning from drum solo and transitioning into a pastel weary backdrop. Oracular Influx is part successful group improv (with Bo Wirkland's synth stabs chopping up the tempo) starting from a lonely overblown trumpet solo. So my answers to the initial questions are: I don't know and no respectively; but this large trio stirs up an endearing temperament for late evenings of introspection and debate. - Jeff Melton

Bill Bruford with Ralph Towner and Eddie Gomez - "If Summer Had Its Ghosts"

(Discipline DGM9705, 1997, CD)

When Bill Bruford is on break from his drum duties with King Crimson, what would you expect him to do? Should he go on vacation or work in another less hectic, but rewarding mode? If Summer Had Its Ghosts is the result of one week's playing with two other world class players. Featured prominently in the eleven pieces is Ralph Towner of Oregon, also a noted solo artist and collaborator with John Abercrombie. Eddie Gomez is known for ten years of stand up bass work as one third of the Bill Evans trio. And yes this is a jazz trio album, and nearly a quartet due to Towner's doubling up on both guitar and piano. Stylistically the disc is Bruford's first ECM label 'mood' album as a leader, one of tone and color not necessarily hot chops. Bill is the primary composer except for Amethyst (Gomez) and the album's closing piece, Now is the Next Time (Towner). Melody lines are indistinct between improv and composition which is the stamp of a healthy creative dialog between listening contributors. Pulse varies based on individual tracks so don't expect any weird time signature showcase; Bruford uses many subtle facets of his percussive palette throughout the disc. However, he continues to deliver through his on-going compositional education. Notable tracks include Never The Same Way Once which features a spirited string bass solo by Gomez. Forgiveness is an unreleased Earthworks ballad featuring Towner's classical guitar and sparsely understated piano. It's disappointing that they won't be touring soon since the master drummer has re-formed Earthworks 2 and is playing throughout Europe for a few months. Although the disc may be slow to warm up to, if you like sophisticated jazz, then you'll be pleased by the nuances and spirited interplay. - Jeff Melton

Steve Gorn, Tony Levin, Jerry Marotta - "From the Caves of the Iron Mountain"

(Papa Bear PBCD2, 1997, CD)

Take a woodwind player and the early eighties rhythm section for Peter Gabriel (circa Security), put them together in a cave and youíd be surprised what they come up with! The second release from King Crimson member Tony Levinís label is an adventure in recording within an abandoned mine complete with a lake, some water fowl and a crazy sound engineer on a boat! But the disc is simply wonderful! At times it reminds me of the eastern and jazz influences which pervade the music of ECM band, Oregon: at times moody and exotic but uplifting. Levin is the not-so-obvious ring leader; his playing is open and resonant on all tracks for his simple fluidity and keen interaction with the other players. Marotta is somewhat subdued most of the disk, having been known as strong kit player and not so much as a percussionist. Nevertheless his sensitivity to the surroundings gives the disk a cavernous depth. The disk also recalls the work of Paul Horn who recorded albums in the Great Pyramid of Giza and The Taj Mahal where a distinct ambience was achieved while recording in an exotic location. Exotic instrumentation is used on tracks such as Glass Beads which features the primary wood flute instrument, the bansari. From the Caves comes with an ornate package containing narrative liner notes which complete a list of all instrumentation by Levin. A companion video is available for purchase: http://www.papabear.com. In closing, the atmospheric textures created by this sympathetic trio may just have you searching out a deserted cave to experience just how well music can be created and interpreted in a not-so sterile recording environment. - Jeff Melton

Quarkspace - "Spacefolds 3"

(Eternity's Jest EJ0010, 1997, K7)

Space-rockers from Columbus, Ohio, Quarkspace are back with volume three in their Spacefolds series. This four track EP, while rooted in traditional space rock a-la Hawkwind nevertheless manages to display stylistic variety, from the bluesy "Freakin' with the Qboyz" to the funky "Sky & The Family Stoned". Despite some nods toward chordal structures and melodic themes, these are primarily loose jams that also sound as if they were recorded live, warts and all. While I've read good things about this quintet live, these recordings are, to my ears, a bit rough around the edge. The drums are severely dry and nearly artificial sounding and the bass is deeply buried in the overly-compressed mix. Guitar and keys lead the way, the latter focused mainly on digital piano rather than the standard bubbling synths so common in this genre. As is common in improvised music, some parts of the jams work better than others and at times the guitar and keys trip over one another resulting in muddy instrumental separation. For my money, I'd stick with the real thing (Ozrics and Hawkwind) though I'd still give these guys a try in concert. - Paul Hightower

Mani Neumeier - "Privat"

(Admission to Music ATM 3803, 1993, CD)

Guru Guru drummer Mani is still going strong, to which two recent Japan visits will attest. Through the 80's and 90's he has kept busy with projects such as L.S. Bearforce, and Tiere de Nacht. This solo release brings us to 1993. Now an album of drum-based music may not be everyone's cup of tea, but Mani has done his best to insure at least that the eighteen separate pieces give the listener a good variety of styles and approaches. One thing that was revealing for me was his softer side, which finds him visiting territories previously mapped out by Yas Kaz, if you want to stretch the imagination. There are also some experimental moments in which he mixes in found sounds, voice, and sequential patterns. Along the way some interesting combinations come flying out of the woodwork. Ghanaian drums (or what sound like such), are used on one track, for a tribalistic air, backed by finger cymbals, something that would of course never happen in the indigenous environment of these instruments. Another unorthodox method was his way of using steel drums to simulate a Balinese gamelan effect. Counterfeit ethnic music though it may be, it is effective nonetheless. My favorites were the quiet percussion solos emphasizing bells, cymbals, rainstick, and bird sounds. Mani's drum kit has a unique and identifiable character which he exploits magnificently: with a plethora of tuned tom-toms and bells and you can almost hum the melodies he seems to be implying once he is let loose upon the skins. An album like "Privat" is every drummer's dream. While the audience for such is diminutive, most of the material is quite appealing and non-experts can still find plenty in here to sink their ears into. - Mike Ezzo

Alejandro Lomelin - "Luz De Intenso Azul"

(Koradi CDKR 001, 1997, CD)

"Luz" is the instrumental solo project of keyboardist Alejandro Lomelin, of the Mexican band Caja De Pandora. For the most part this is a work of simpler repetitive piano figures and introspective melodies, laced with some symphonic tendencies. While the music herein is generally inoffensive, it isnít particularly groundbreaking either, residing somewhere between a modern electronic new-age style and milder progressive rock. The instrumentation and production are definitely demo level, and a trifle unconvincing overall. Some further attention to arrangement and a greater variety of sounds would have gone far to make it more interesting. Compositions tend to be on the simple and predictable side, even though there are plenty of moments of brilliance - which leads one to believe that with a bit more attention to writing and production this could have been much better than it is. Maybe next time. - Peter Thelen

Ancient Curse - "The Landing"

(WMMS 140,1997, CD)

The strains of an acoustic guitar, a soft vocal, then comes the barrage. If I was to contain this review to only word, it would be: Metallica. Ancient Curse do not appear to make any claim's at "prog-metal", this is straight metal. Straight from the Metallica songbook. You get deep throated growly vocals, rapid machine gun guitar riffs, ballistic drumming. Yes it's all here, even a few slow numbers. It is far more "proggy" I suppose than Metallica will ever be, with the 15 minute "Reborn in Fantasy" and it's Unicorn fantasy lyrics. The singer Peter Pietrzinski is not quite the harsh wailer of metal standards, but his guitar playing is. Suffice it to say, if you like metal riffery and just can't get enough of that Metallica sound, Ancient Curse should fit the bill nicely. - Dane Carlson

Stips - "Egotrip"

(Dureco 11-62362, 1996, CD)

Originally I thought this album was a throwaway, but a shrewd scheme unfolds after a few passes through the disc. You see, itís interesting how far people stray (or evolve) from seventies roots into a band that survives, and remains current. What kind of sacrifices and changes are undertaken without losing musical integrity? R.J. Stips is the former member of Supersister, who along with brothers, Roy and Martin Bakker make up the self-named trio. Songwriting style for all the tracks varies from the earliest period (1970) to the present (from prog to Euro-pop) . So there is some seventies tint to a few pieces, but with after-the-fact variances. For example, Memories are New 1 incorporates a sound collage sampling from the Beatles Revolution #9. But Memories are New 3, composed fifteen years later is no more than a moody ballad. The common thread through the development of the album is commercial renderings of older pieces. Dance Your Dance has a great violin part which suffices as one of the more interesting songs. Think It Over is similar to Joe Jackson but less pumped up. The keyboard work is good, but the songs are not very intricate for someone who has been in the scene for awhile: A Girl Named You at least has a spirited intro. I donít know what the Egotrip has been for RJ, but it certainly isnít bitter or tainted for twenty five years of mostly minor obscurity. The albumís closer, Pop25 states his position clearly ĎDonít make me choose between pop and classics, pop25 but no gymnasticsí. By not taking a stand, Egotrip winds up in music limbo where former supporters who are probably wondering why they even bothered. - Jeff Melton

You Are Here - "You Are Here"

(YAH 00001, 1996, CDEP)

You Are Here are a new band out of Toronto with this eponymous EP as their debut. First off, I should point out that while a keyboard player is present, this quintet have a much newer and younger sound that has more to do with bands like the Chili Peppers or Faith No More than Yes or Marillion. Faith No More would be my strongest point of comparison, though singer Ed Beliczynski avoids any rapping. Songs like "Love and Other Atrocities" and "Twisting in the Wind" bop along to solid funk bass lines while "To The Sun" has an almost naive sixties retro-psych grooviness to it. Overall Iíd say You Are Here should find an audience amongst the mosh set with their aggro-funk attack. However, those who enjoy the simple pleasures of a tight, energy-packed modern rock band should find plenty here to enjoy as well. Recommended. - Paul Hightower

(Tom Newman) - "Variations on a Rhythm of Mike Oldfield - David Bedford"

(Voiceprint BP191CD 1995, CDEP)

This is a four track EP, and is basically a Tom Newman album. It's confusing I know. This is some of that stuff you know Oldfield and Co. did for laughs (when perhaps beer and worse entered the studio!) The concept of this release is far better than the execution. For the title track, Newman, Bedford and Oldfield all have a "kit"; comprised of bottles, squeaky toys, clay pots, percussion, and other odd things. It comes off as the nightmare of percussion it was meant to be, its father claims to be a theme from "Tubular Bells", thus the title of this album. The rest of the songs are essentially Tom Newman demos. There's "Superman" a reggae-like piece of no really substance, or necessity. "Day of the Percherons" which features a very wee bit of trademark Oldfield guitar. And last (thankfully, though misnamed) "Have Mercy on My Eyes". It's all very dated, I have heard far better from all the names that appear here. If you are a Virgin completist, looking for that last piece of Oldfield's work, or just a masochist, you may want to get this. Voiceprint will love you for it. - Dane Carlson