ProgressoR / Uzbekistan Progressive Rock Pages


Merge - 1998 - "Merge"

(49 min, 'Merge')

TRACK LIST:                             

1.  Intro 2:11
2.  Reng 7:25
3.  Tap Space 5:05
4.  Fragments 3:30
5.  Canopy 1:00
6.  Motion 5:19
7.  Float 6:40
8.  Noise Complaint 1:10
9.  From Within 5:31
10. I Left Behind 3:46
11. Resistance 7:00


Nima Rezai - Chapman Stick
Dan Hetlin - saxophones
Murray Gusseck - drums
Chip Webster - keyboards; percussion
Halez Modirzadeh - Ney & Clarinet

Prolusion. MERGE was formed some a decade ago and is the brainchild of Nima Rezai, a Persian musician and composer living in the USA. The band's discography is comprised of three releases to date: "Merge" (1998), "Live in London" (2004) and "Separate Worlds" (2005, coming as Nima & Merge), the first studio album to be viewed here.

Analysis. I'd like to begin with the track, which has nothing to do with the rest of the material. This is Canopy, the strange 1-minute 'experiment' of eliciting sound effects from a modern synthesizer. Overall, the music on the eponymous Merge debut album is Jazz-Fusion, which, in their case, is rooted in the domain of a traditional swingy Jazz, whose open manifestations, though, reveal themselves not that often; they can be found in places on about a half of the tracks. There also are Persian and Kurdish tunes on a few tracks, but only the opening one, Intro, is just Oriental music, in a general sense. That said, there is nothing but the distinctive solos of Ney, which is a sort of flute widespread in West and Central Asian countries: from Turkey to Iran and beyond, e.g. Uzbekistan and the other former USSR republics located in Asia. From Within, another track featuring Ney, is also abundant in Oriental colorings and patterns, but here they are intermixed with European Art-Rock textures and those of Jazz, whose motherland is surely America. This is the most diverse and compelling track on the album, which I sincerely consider a masterwork. On the other compositions the flavors of music of Nima's land either appear episodically, such as on the second track Reng, or are just barely perceptible, at best. (Which is just a remark, not criticism of course!) While done within the framework of the album's overall style, this very Reng is inferior to any of those so far unnamed, at least from a progressive standpoint, as it's poor even in quasi improvisations. Although original and beautiful, this is instantly accessible stuff with numerous repetitions and a rather misplaced drum solo closer to the end. The refined melodies are mostly at the fore on Fragments, too, but this is a fully cohesive composition, in spite of what the title may suggest. Save the aforementioned Canopy, all the other compositions are good, at least, the short Noise Compliant included. For all that the band at times appeals to jazz standards, their music is distinctly original and is closer to Jazz/Prog-Fusion, as they also have Art-Rock-like arrangements and time signature changes that are more typical of Symphonic Prog, the amount of composed improvisations always exceeding that of those done on the spur of the moment. The pieces: Float, I Left Behind and Resistance well suit the picture I've sketched above, while Tap Space, From Within and Motion each features also intense jams, the saxophone improvisations being at times greatly impetuous and positively wild. That said, saxophonist Dan Hetlin and Nima Rezai himself are the primary soloing forces on this album, shining with mastery and inventiveness throughout. Chip Webster's keyboards are remarkably diverse on Tap Space, Motion, From Within and Resistance, the latter featuring even a kind of a piano-meets-strings postlude.

Conclusion. This is a good debut effort, though the album's second half (starting with the sixth track) is compiled almost exclusively of excellent works.

VM: November 20, 2005

Merge - 1998 - "Merge"


Analysis. Intro opens with a sense of mystery, low swirling (almost growling) chords from the keyboards, overlaid with the Ney, a Persian end-blown flute, which has a distinctly Mid Eastern sound (played by Hafez Modirzadeh). Nima Rezai, imbues much of the music of Merge with sounds of the Mid East, truly a merging of east and west. Overall, the music of this debut CD is Jazz-Fusion meets Prog, with World Music flavorings. Soprano sax takes center stage for most of Reng, as it does through much of the album. It is a flowing and melodic piece that comes close, but doesn't quite cross the line into a Smooth Jazz format. What makes the Merge sound particularly identifiable is the marriage of sax and Chapman Stick. Throughout the album much of the rhythm is created not only by Gusseck's drum set, but the syncopation of Rezai's Stick playing. Tap Space is anchored by the distinctive tonality of the stick, setting the syncopated rhythms in tandem with the drums, played with a certain looseness, yet maintaining a very determined tempo. Canopy is something of an anomaly within the established framework of the album, consisting of a brief minute of synthesized tones and rhythms, serving as an interlude to Motion, the opening measures of which could easily have come from a Jean Luc Ponty album. The keyboard figures more prominently into this track. Float is a gentle waltz with a pleasant, lilting melody. Noise Compliant is a short stick solo (which I'd like to hear much more of), bridging to From Within. This track is full of energy and complex rhythmic structures and, I get my wish, as Rezai's Stick is much more prominently featured here as a solo instrument. The music is playful and full of life. I Left Behind is one of the quietest tracks on the album, but full of drive and sense of purpose, beginning with Stick, which has an almost harp-like quality here. About midway, the sax comes in and is joined by keyboard. Resistance twists and turns, full of interplay between the instruments. The theme has a sense of mystery and urgency, which could serve as a detective theme. The ensemble work here is some of the most interesting, paying attention to the various things that are going on, the music at times loose and fluid and then pulling together into a tight structure. The drumming is particularly unrestrained, yet never drawing undue attention. Resistance is an excellent closer for the album.

Conclusion. "Merge" is a strong album of melodic Jazz-Fusion that should appeal to those who like ethnic seasonings to their music. Truly, this is part of what I find so enjoyable about this album, the merging of styles. It is energetic and upbeat from beginning to end. Those who like The Yellow Jackets, Weather Report or Jean Luc Ponty would be likely to be pleased by this album. If you are not a lover of sax music, though, this album might not be for you, as sax figures so prominently in the mix, generally being the vehicle for the melodies.

KW: December 2, 2005

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