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(60 min, 'Merge')
TRACK LIST: 1. Fire Eyes 4:39 2. Road to Hana 5:53 3. Moon Struck 4:47 4. Driven 9:21 5. Once Loved 3:14 6. Never More 4:39 7. Kurdish Dance 7:28 8. Masaek 0:31 9. Reng-II 8:42 10. Ittf 3:16 11. Movement 1 2:34 12. Movement 2 1:04 13. Movement 3 2:12 14. Movement 4 2:09 LINEUP: Nima Rezai - Stick; Stick-synth Dan Hetlin - saxophones Brad Ranola - drums, percussion Randy Graves - guitars; didgeridoo With: Jesus Florida - 7-string violin (2, 6, 9, 13) Masaru Koga - flutes (2, 5, 9) Ali Shayesteh - Saz & Bouzouki (11, 14)
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 second studio album to be viewed here.
Analysis. "Separate Worlds" is a mind-blowing album, an absolute monster. I was listening to it with bated breath, trying not to miss anything running down from this progressive cornucopia, and yet, I fear I won't be able to embrace all the magnificence of this music and to put all its beauties into the cold framework of typed words. Tracks 4 to 10 form the Separate World Suite, and those from 11 to 14 come under the common title of To Be Free, but I think it would be better to take the album in its panto-musical appearance, without dividing it into parts according to its makers' scheme, because there are more similarities than differences between the sections. Not counting the very short Masaek, a kind of an airy sound-lock between its neighbors, and an acoustic guitar sketch entitled Movement II (which is good, though), the second Merge effort is an ultimately unique and unimaginably impressive music, most of the tracks being Masterworks with a capital letter. Ittf, the dynamic interplay between either acoustic or electric guitar and Stick, and Fire Eyes, which is a full-fledged quasi Jazz-Fusion with lots of symphonic patterns, are the two of the so far unnamed tracks, on which Oriental colorings exist only in latent form. The other ten compositions each is a bright example of what makes this material unique above all. There is the strong presence of Persian and related tunes, this time around being so well interlaced with, say, Western musical textures, that the whole picture appears like it always were a single, fully cohesive whole. Due to the extensive arrangements with the active use of acoustic guitar, violin, flute and saxophone, Road to Hana and Reng-II have a strong acoustic sense throughout, although the music is for the most part intense and rapid, with lots of eclectic jams and the ever-changing overall picture. The violin-driven themes may remind you of the names of Lakshminarayana Subramaniam and Stefan Grapelli in the context of their famous collaboration "Conversations", though the successful formula "East meets West", which is a trademark of that project, runs all through each of the ten compositions uniting the separate worlds implied in the album's title, each being a true feast for progressive ears. Although relatively short, Movements 1, 3 & 4, rushing almost non-stop, are also intense throughout, the East's messengers being this time around Saz (a kind of guitar with somewhat Sitar-like overtones) and Bouzouki. Kurdish Dance is loaded with many genre components, Hard Rock included, and is too complex in general to quickly recognize its oriental origin. Moon Struck, and especially Driven are profound multi-sectional compositions, whose massive brass maneuvers evoke distant associations with Weather Report, though Driven is more intriguing and compelling to me than anything I've heard from the US Jazz Rock legend's repertoire. Once Loved and Never More appear as one monolithic, logically developing composition rather than two separate tracks. Flute, sax, real violin and synthetic strings, elicited by Nima Rezai via his Stick-synthesizer, interact with each other, sliding between European classicism and Persian music, later on being joined by drums, Didgeridoo and percussion. The coda is just a powerful solo on drums. Being a follower of the enlargement of analogous forms, and not vice versa, I would have not become separating Once Loved and Never More, as well as the Movements, but well, it's just a matter of taste.
Conclusion. The music on this album is normally genuinely intricate, but being so fruitfully arranged and possessing what I would call a divine spark, it's so highly (and immediately!) attractive that I think no one Prog lover will resist its spell, and even the untried one might love it for its splendor and beauty. "Separate Worlds" is an absolute killer, the best Jazz-Fusion album of the year and one of the most unique works of the genre I've heard in years. Top-20-2005
VM: November 21, 2005