23 January 2007

NMT: 23 JAN 07 Exploding Star Orchestra --- We Are All From Somewhere Else.

Exploding Star Orchestra --- We Are All From Somewhere Else.

For this week's dose of New Music Tuesday, thought I'd venture into some avant-jazz territory. Seriously, like I could refuse listening to a band with the name "Exploding Star Orchestra".

Is it good? Funny you should ask that question, sometimes there is no simple answer as to the 'goodness' or 'not-goodness' of an album. Some albums sit on a plane outside of any sort of metric system where merit based on the entertainment value of the sounds contained can be measured.

This is one such album.

Influences are pretty clearly, Bitches Brew era Miles Davis, some Sun Ra Arkestra, Jaco Pastorius, Can (lots and lots of Can, actually), and lots of other prog/funk/jazz that existed in the late 60s and early 70s but has long since receded to a forgotten corner of the music world.

I'm a sucker for that kind of stuff when played well and with a slight sense of humor. This is that.

For an idea of what this album is like, I'll pull directly from the album's webpage
“Psycho-Tropic Electric Eel Dream” is a group improvisation centered around the sound of electric eels. The electric eel tanks Mazurek recorded at INPA contain two species of eels, Pulsating and Waveform. The sound was recorded in a special tank of 15-20 eels of various sub-species, each with its own tone. The results are fascinating tonal clusters not unlike the sound of violins. This track reveals the beauty of these fine creatures and juxtaposes our improvisation with them, and concludes with spoken word by Rob Mazurek (“Robert Ashley was in my head during this part”), some ARP by Jim Baker and some final cascades of Nicole’s flute, which was snuck into the recording on the bass amp mic sitting in the hallway while Nicole was playing in another room. “Black Sun” features Jim Baker’s lovely piano playing. “This piece was originally written for the great French pianist Jeanne-Pierre Armengaud,” says Mazurek, “who I had the pleasure of working with at Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud in France during my residency there.” What you hear is Jim’s emotionally charged and understated improvisation on the theme of the composition. The sound corresponds perfectly to the text/poem of the recording in which the death of the stingray is a new re-birth of the bird and eventually a new star.

It's so nice to see that musicians still take massive quantities of various drugs. Some things should never change.

On to the album's tracks.

1) Sting Ray And The Beginning Of Time, Part 1
Did you say you wanted some flute? This song has lots and lots of jazz flute. Hell, Yeah!! A deep percussive horn holds down the rhythm while the flute floats above and around the solid bass. The drums are also let free to go crazy and not just keep the beat. Good stuff, or possibly really, really, really annoying, depends on your taste for this sort of freeform improvisational composition.

2) Sting Ray And The Beginning Of Time, Part 2
Part two adds some feedback noise to the mix, and goes for a more acid-bop feel than the more proggy first track. Sorry if my language doesn't make much sense, all these words mean something to me, and if they don't convey meaning to you, then this probably isn't an album you'll like.

3) Sting Ray And The Beginning Of Time, Part 3 (Psycho-Tropic Electric Eel Dream)
More electronic noises, supposedly provided by actual eels (somehow doubtful). This is pure tuneless noisy experimentation. And that's not always a bad thing. Not for use as a mood setter for some 'action', and definitely not some morning commute background music, but for a challenging aural assault, it's not a bad listen. Does it sound like the dreams of eels? I can't say that it doesn't, so maybe so. Who knew LSD was still popular in Chicago?

4) Sting Ray And The Beginning Of Time, Part 4
The final movement of the first piece on this album, it's a return to musicality. This track even approaches lush tropicality, but from an askew angle. The flute and cornet interplay is beautiful. Not instruments you often see co-featured, but it works. A nice walking bass line keeps the whole thing from running off too far afield.

5) Black Sun
A pretty piano solo to break up the two main movements of this recording. Still some odd notes thrown in, it has some odd patterns thrown in, but works well.

6) Cosmic Tomes For Sleep Walking Lovers, Part 1
This starts with what sounds like the ending. Begins with one of those big loose, everyone seeming to solo jazz/improvisation moments that either drive you crazy or excite you in ways that are hard to describe. I could go either way on this one, I like for this kind of stuff to move somewhere and settle into something that resembles a rhythm more quickly than this one does. Sometimes testing the boundaries of composition, tonality and rhythmic structures is a worthy challenge to the audience that can be given some leeway to find its way, other times it's just orchestral onanism that tries the patience of anyone willing to listen. I'm leaning to the latter rather than the former on this track.

7) Cosmic Tomes For Sleep Walking Lovers, Part 2
Maybe the noise of the first movement was all a psych-out to get you ready for the tighter tonal and rhythmic structure of this second part? Sounds like this composition might have actually been written on paper before being performed, imagine that! As rigid and formal as the previous piece was loose. A phrase repeated with small, but interesting variations. Hypnotic, but not sleepy, I like it.

8) Cosmic Tomes For Sleep Walking Lovers, Part 3
Again, another track that practically sounds like a song. Another solid bass line, with some great drum work floating around the beat. Bop, but not bop, but not, not bop, either, if you get my drift. Miles-ish in a Kind of Blue kind of way, but with electric guitars (which is definitely not something that would have happen on Miles from that period in his career). Great horns on this track, really, really good stuff.

9) Cosmic Tomes For Sleep Walking Lovers, Part 4 (Fifteen Ways Towards A Finite Universe)
It takes longer to type the title for the track then, it does for the track to play (it's all of 11 seconds).

10) Cosmic Tomes For Sleep Walking Lovers, Part 5
Spacey, which is to be expected given the track's title. Really seems like this whole movement was assembled backwards, if you listen to it Part 5 through to Part 1 then the structure follows a more typical compositional pattern, but the order is reversed on the album. Go figure. More good flute. I like me some good jazz flute in a lush dreamy setting. I'm easy, what else can I say?

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