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(63 min, 'Merge Music')
TRACK LIST: 1. Road to Hana 5:40 2. From Within 5:10 3. Float 7:16 4. Tap Space 5:05 5. Fire Eyes 6:57 6. Moon Struck 4:34 7. Resistance 7:36 8. Driven 8:33 9. Once Loved 2:26 10. Never More 3:04 11. Kurdish Dance 7:09 PERSONNEL: Nima Rezai - Stick; Stick-synth Dan Heflin - saxophone Brad Ranola - drums
Prolusion. MERGE was formed ten years ago and is the brainchild of Nima Rezai, a Persian musician and composer living in the USA. They have two studio CDs, "Merge" and "Separate Worlds", and one live album, which documents one of the concerts they gave during the Summer Jazz festival in London in 2004.
Analysis. "Live in London" was brought out not long before "Separate Worlds" and features seven tracks that were destined to become parts of the latter album. The other four are from the band's debut outing. But while there are no unfamiliar compositions in this set, all of them sound vastly different from their studio counterparts, some being nearly unrecognizable in places. Of course, this matter is in many ways explained by the fact that Merge played as a trio on the festival, with no accustomed guests on woodwinds and violin, not to mention 'staff' musicians: a guitarist and keyboardist. What is surprising is that the men could have managed to benefit from this situation, if only all of that wasn't intended primordially. In any event, the material would have hardly sounded so fresh and distinctive had Merge performed it in their more traditional lineup configuration. A true live band, Merge wasn't embarrassed by those limitations, and they didn't disappoint the experienced English audience. Nima Resai uses the whole gamut of possibilities of his Stick and Stick-synthesizer, much more widely than he did in the studio. What unites most of the presented compositions is his ability to simultaneously reproduce two different solos (in tempo, in tone, just in everything), one of which serves as bass. The other, sounding not unlike an acoustic guitar, displays how dexterous Nima's fingers are and is one of the most driving soloing forces here - along with Dan Heflin's saxophone. The rotor of this powerful musical engine, drummer Brad Ranola will never offer you even meters, but is very lavish in pounding beats and staccatos. So it's no surprise that the trio sounds often like a quartet. Stylistically, most compositions represent a hugely uncommon, yet fully cohesive Jazz-Fusion richly flavored with elements of what is generally regarded as Oriental music, although these particular tunes are mainly of a Kurdish origin. As for peculiarities, the first two tracks: Road to Hana and From Within reveal traditional jazz features here and there (unison solos, syncopations, repetitions), unlike the others, but their relative accessibility should stand in good stead to the untried listener, in comprehending the entire thing. Float, Fire Eyes and Moon Struck are full of beauty and memorable melodies, as also is Resistance, although this is one of the most intricate compositions in the set. Tap Space, Kurdish Dance and the Flamenco-inflected Driven are fast, intense and dynamic almost throughout, finding Merge at their most adventurous. The two shorter tracks, Once Loved and Never More, are in fact one monolithic piece, which begins and develops as a melodic interplay between Stick and sax, and concludes with a drum solo. Finally, here is a note for the adherents of a strongly structured Jazz-Fusion. Saxophonist Dan Heflin is the only provider of genuinely jazzy passages in this material, only occasionally starting on a free improvisational flight.
Conclusion. "Live in London" depicts Merge as a truly many-sided group, whose ambitions to constantly change the outlines of their music just cannot be overlooked. Highly recommended to the connoisseurs of Jazz-Fusion. Perhaps just those owning both of the band's studio releases will especially be delighted with this CD.
VM: May 10, 2006
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