Animation — Machine Language
(RareNoise RNR055, 2015, CD)
by Jon Davis, Published 2015-10-19
Storytelling and music have been combined for so long that it’s impossible to say who first had the idea to tell a story with music. Maybe that was the original purpose of music – who knows? From traveling bards to classical opera to Broadway musicals to progressive rock concept albums, it’s something that’s been going on for a long time. But composer / saxophonist Bob Belden came up with something not quite like anything I’ve heard before. The story part of Machine Language is narrated by Kurt Elling, telling a story inspired by many science fictional sources (Philip K. Dick and Iain M. Banks are mentioned specifically, as is Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and I'll throw in some Isaac Asimov as well). The music portion takes off from Miles Davis’s early 70s work, especially Big Fun and Get up with It. This is a musical vein that can still yield high-quality ore, and in the hands of these musicians, the result is grooving and out there, without sounding derivative. Matt Young is the drummer, and his playing is funky without losing the jazz core, built up from space and sensitive listening. The bass is handled by Bill Laswell, and his tones at times add a distinctly modern flair, with some effects that just didn’t exist when Miles was doing it. Roberto Verastegui’s keyboards are frequently the star of the show, with electric piano dominating, including some stellar freaked-out ring-modulated parts. Peter Clagett takes on the trumpet parts; I’m unfamiliar with his name, but he nails it, whether with open bell or muted. He can go moody and spaced-out, or solo with the best of them, often with echo or other effects. Belden’s sax and flute are excellent as well; I particularly like when he mangles his tone with a touch of distortion. I would guess that some music fans might be put off by the narration – it does kind of jump out at you, and really necessitates listening to the album as a whole – but in its favor, the story is actually engaging, and works both as intelligent science fiction and as a kind of poetry. I’ll admit to being a bit slow to take to this one, but in the end, I’ll say it’s among the best jazz releases of the year. Belden’s death in May of this year is a tragic loss, and Machine Language is testament to the singular talent he was.
Ennio Morricone RIP – Famed composer Ennio Morricone has died at the age of 91. The creator of scores for more than 500 movies, some of his works have become the most recognizable sounds in the history of cinema. His soundtracks for Sergio Leone's Westerns made from 1964 to 1971, are iconic landmarks in film music, but he also composed for dramas, comedies, and other genres. He won the Academy Award for Best Original Score in 2016 for The Hateful Eight. » Read more
Keith Tippett RIP – One of the giants of British jazz has left us. Keith Graham Tippetts, known professionally as Keith Tippett, died today at the age of 72. His work from the late 60s into the 70s and beyond includes some of the greatest jazz produced in the UK, and stands as an impressive oevre to this day. » Read more
Phil May of The Pretty Things RIP – We were saddened to learn that Phil May, lead singer and founding member of The Pretty Things, has died at the age of 75. The band's 1968 album S.F. Sorrow is one of the enduring classics of the psychedelic era, and the group existed in various forms until finally retiring in 2018. » Read more
Jorge Santana RIP – Jorge Santana, noted guitarist, leader of the band Malo and brother to Carlos Santana, died on May 14 at the age of 68. Jorge and Carlos worked together on a number of occasions, though Jorge's career was centered around Malo, solo work, and with Fania All-Stars. » Read more