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(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 LINEUP: Nima Rezai - Chapman Stick Dan Hetlin - saxophones Murray Gusseck - drums Chip Webster - keyboards; percussion With: 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