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TRACK LIST: 1. Black Hills Jam 15:27 2. Wormhole 4:23 3. Westside Highway 7:03 4. Trees 10:42 5. Groove Monkey 8:39 6. Swamp Gas & Moonshine 15:15 7. Dangerous in Need 7:50 All tracks: by Jam Camp, except 2: Broyles, 4: Munger, & 5: Smith. LINE-UP: Joel Veatch - drums David Broyles - guitar Michael Smith - guitar Steven Munger - sax Jess White - bass Produced by Veatch. Engineered by M. Tortorello.
Prolusion. "Black Hills Jam", subtitled "Preserves Vol. II", is the second outing by the US band JAM CAMP. Please note that while the album as such is the group's joint effort, the drummer carries out the production duties, which is a rather rare case. As for the first volume of "Preserves", I haven't heard it, though I doubt that it sounds like a revelation:-).
Synopsis. Archetype: Jazz. Benefactor(s): uncertain. Creed: Classic Jazz-Fusion. Of course, any kind of music has a right to exist, but while being the most universal international language, music is also the most complex of existent languages. Otherwise most people, and not only a few, would certainly prefer Prog to pop, generally speaking. Progressive music demands patience from people before presenting them with magical pleasure, and patience is a virtue already as such. Yes, these remarks directly concern the hero of this review as well. You need a generous amount of patience to get into Jam Camp's music and mine the riches that await the dedicated listener. Using simplistic language, this is not your typical Art-Rock (etc) and isn't Art-Rock as such in general. The band presents a really unique and, for the most part, highly eclectic music, which, in addition, is in the state of constant development throughout the album. Their approach to combine composition and improvisation is evident on each of the seven tracks, though most pieces are notable for established basic textures, which, in this case, is the department of rhythm section and one of the guitarists, who plays passages, chords (mainly multiple chords) and, sometimes, riffs. Another guitarist provides solos, as well as a saxophonist, but while the former plays composed, improvised-like and, less frequently, real improvised solos, the latter is usually the supplier of pure improvisations, even if some of them sound too melodious to immediately recognize their true nature. As mentioned above, the basic themes are structured almost everywhere on the album. The only striking exception is Wormhole (2). Here, practically everything is submitted to the laws of jazz, and the parts of saxophone are always at the helm, although it's guitarist David Broyler who composed the piece, and not Steven Munger. The other two of the first three compositions: Black Hills Jam and Westside Highway (1 & 3) are much closer to the predominant stylistics of the album. Nevertheless, they're a bit more abstract than any of the other pieces, which, at least partly, is also due to the domination of improvisations over composed soloing parts and the little quantity of more or less fixed arrangements in general. The musical events usually develop from rather quiet, through moderately dense, to highly intensive (here: jams). Well, if there is Jazz-Fusion with elements of guitar Art-Rock on the album's title track and Westside Highway and those of free jazz on Wormhole, each of the other compositions represents a well-balanced blend of the first two of the said music directions and is brilliant from probably any standpoint (read classic progressive, though). Especially wonderful are Trees, Groove Monkey, and Swamp Gas & Moonshine (4, 5, & 6), each being not only thoroughly composed, at least for the most part, but also filled with clearly perceptible and, what are central, genuine emotion and some highly innovative and impressive guitar and sax solos. The dramatic story of Trees is my favorite, and by the way, this is the brainchild of a saxophonist! Though of course, it's clear that all the arrangements on the album represent the band's joint effort. As if in contrast to Wormhole, Groove Monkey contains little solos of saxophone, while on the other tracks, the number of guitar and sax solos, taking the lead, is approximately equal. Dangerous in Need (7) is also an excellent composition, but there are a bit fewer tempo changes. Finally, I think it needs to be mentioned that some slow, yet, pronouncedly heavy guitar riffs, i.e. elements of Cathedral Metal, can be found on most of the tracks here.
Conclusion. Overall, "Black Hills Jam" is definitely a masterpiece, which will please any profound and open-minded Prog-head. Although the music is original, I'll dare to provide you with some reference points, just in case. Here they are: Djam Karet's "Reflections from the Firepool" and "No Commercial Potential" (regardless of the vast difference between them), the eponymous Shadowfax debut ('75, their only really remarkable album), Soft Machine's "VI" and, perhaps, "Abracadabra" by Soft Works (a contemporary supergroup consisting exclusively of ex-members of Soft Machine). Heartily recommended!
VM: June 20, 2004
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