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(54:40 / Cuneiform Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Inhuman 3:47 2. Do You Think I'm Spooky? 6:41 3. Creature Council 10:17 4. Claws 5:14 5. Not From Around Here 8:57 6. Endangered 19:50 LINEUP: Dan Maske - keyboards; trumpet; melodica; percussion Angela Schmidt - ac. & el. cellos, violin; bamboo flute William Kopecky - el. basses; spring drum Craig Walkner - drums & percussion
Prolusion. FAR CORNER is a quartet from the American state of Wisconsin, formed by classically trained pianist and trumpet player Dan Maske in 2003. A follow-up to their eponymous debut album from 2004, "Endangered" is my first encounter with their work.
Analysis. It is difficult to know how to describe Far Corner, because there is really no one like them, so please, readers, don't take too seriously any points of comparison you might meet in this review. "Endangered" comprises six instrumental tracks ranging roughly from four to twenty minutes, and it is only the shortest two, Inhuman and Claws, that are incompatible with my understanding of a musical masterwork, though it's a matter of taste in the end. There is one strong, intelligent, fully structured movement to be found on the former, but otherwise the group is in both cases usually occupied with eliciting various strange effects from their instruments and pedals, creating dark soundscapes that may bring to mind the name of their label mates Guapo. The primary songwriter is Dan Maske whose keyboard equipment includes organ, piano, harpsichord and synthesizers (listed in the line of descent according to their weight in the album's soloing department), and whose other compositions, while basking in stylistic diversity, are emotionally for the most part still dark, although not as gloomy as those in early Univers Zero or Present. Taken overall, the remaining four pieces, Do You Think I'm Spooky?, Creature Council, Not From Around Here and the title track, all manifest they have enough common ground between them to be subsumed under a single definition, although the subsequent investigation of each particular case is inevitable. My vision of the album's prevalent musical picture is as follows: this is a unique amalgamation of several, often seemingly incompatible directions where, yet, all the ingredients harmoniously coexist with each other. To be more precise, it would be a complex conglomeration which places Neoclassical music alongside Chamber Rock and classic Symphonic Progressive, all these three genres in their pure form and quasi Jazz-Fusion, plus rather solid metal injections and RIO-like moves, the latter being instantly recognizable despite the absence of clearly schizoid freaks of the genre:-) there. In other words, the band is not afraid of dissonance, and they use it resourcefully each time they find it to be necessary - now to darken or even eliminate the frontiers between the styles they use, now just to heighten the tension of events. The main provider of metal intonations, Angela Schmidt, from time to time hooks up her electric violoncello to the Distortion box, very convincingly imitating aggressive guitar riffs. Indeed, the quantity of fresh ideas in Far Corner's bag seems to be endless, and the flight of their fantasy at times exceeds all bounds - meaning in a positive sense for sure. The pieces where the genre components much more often merge into a single whole than alternate with each other include Do You Think I'm Spooky and Not From Around Here, whilst Creature Council and the title track are both the other way round, the first three being all notable for their highly dynamic thematic development. There are plenty of arrangements strictly in the classic progressive rock mode(s) to be found on Creature Council: those both mainly symphonic and organ-driven evoke ELP, while the heavier and, at once, more angular ones King Crimson. Angela's riffs at times remind me of a growling monster that finds itself being surrounded by lighter entities whirling in a beautiful dance, everlastingly changing its outline - until one of these begins aggressively snarling at it which happens when Dan cuts in the distortion mode on his organ, too. Do You Think I'm Spooky is just one of the many examples of how masterfully the band slackens and/or accelerates their pace, now steadily forcing intensity, moving higher and higher, now suddenly falling into a kind of vault teemed with ghostly creatures. The one track relatively light in mood, Not From Around Here, often has a distinct jazz-rock feel to it, the central violin solo being reminiscent of the work of Jean-Luc Ponty. The tremendously long title number features almost all the instruments credited, meaning also trumpet, bamboo flute and spring drum (whilst melodica is present only on Claws). That being said, it's a container of all the styles and forms available on the recording. The attentive reader certainly doesn't need any additional explanation on the matter, as everything has already been said or at least implied. Finally it must be noted that while it's Dan Maske who composed all the tracks (at least fundamentally), none of his partners play from scores, each usually having enough room to demonstrate his/her improvisational skill.
Conclusion. Neo heads, beware! Adventurers (especially those for whom the names of Stravinsky or Bartok aren't mere empty words), attention, eyes right! Here comes the mighty Far Corner whose "Endangered" CD might become a cornerstone creation in the future development of any style with Neoclassical music in its basis. There are no less than 45 minutes of mind-blowing, exceptionally exciting, simply brilliant music on this album, as the four long tracks are all true pieces of art. All in all, this is a dish that any profound music lover will relish whenever he/she desires to taste it again.
VM: April 19, 2007
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