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(52:01 CD + 110 min DVD, Cuneiform Records)
Prolusion. Basically a duo of keyboardist Mats Oberg and drummer Morgan Agren, the Swedish outfit MATS/MORGAN BAND (MMB hereinafter) has existed since the early ‘80s and has eight albums to its credit. This combined CD+DVD release, “Heat Beats Live & Tourbook” (two selections of the live recordings the musicians did from 2005 to 2007), is my first encounter with their work – better late than never!
TRACK LIST: 1. The Return of Advokaten 7:58 2. Rhinecliff Hotel 6:01 3. Mats Jingle 5:02 4. Pulse 1:59 5. Friis 0:47 6. Tvingle 5:52 7. Watch Me Pleasure 3:35 8. Hermetoast 0:20 9. The Bosendorfer of Advokaten 11:19 10. Riff at Play 0:13 11. Truvas Rumba 5:08 12. Cry of Laika 3:43 LINEUP: Mats Oberg – piano, analog & digital keyboards Morgan Agren – drums; additional keyboards Tommy Tordson – bass With: Jimmy Agren – guitar (4) Erik Sternberg – tenor sax (9) Martin Sternberg – alto sax (9) Simon Steensland – baritone horn (9)
Analysis. The booklet doesn’t specify which of the twelve tracks that the CD is compiled of feature bassist Tommy Tordson, suggesting he is a full member of the MMB, which I don’t call into question, although I can say for sure that he is absent on Hermetoast, Cry of Laika and Rhinecliff Hotel. Involving only Mats and Morgan, these three tunes strongly differ from the rest of the material, and so all shall be viewed first. Made up of a few tiny cuts, the 20-second Hermetoast is generally a track too short to be classified in any manner. Cry of Laika has a harmonica-sounding synthesizer register at its fore throughout and so comes across as a jazz-tinged folk piece. Finally, Rhinecliff Hotel is a sort of concerto for acoustic piano and drums and is a wonderful, ever-changing composition combining jazzy, symphonic and classical motifs and colorations. With the exception of Friis (an intro to Tvingle, it finds Mats emulating a brass section via a synth), the other tracks, Riff at Play (another intro – to Truvas Rumba) included, all have a full-blown sound. On the majority of those Mats usually handles two different items from his set of keyboards simultaneously, the organ – Farfisa, as far as I can determine – working as a lead instrument more frequently than any of the others. There are two more compositions that shall be described separately, Watch Me Pleasure and The Bosendorfer of Advokaten, as both somewhat fall out from what I see as the album’s prevalent style. Despite featuring quite a few eclectic jams, the first of these appears as the most disciplined creation in a way, partly because one of the synthesizer solos deployed has a cyclical, loop-like, quality to it. Not counting Pulse, which is marked with a brief appearance by Morgan’s brother, guitarist Jimmy Agren, the latter is the sole track on which the MMB is accompanied by side participants, all of whom are brass players. All over the first movement of the piece Matt plays an acoustic piano – much in the same way he does on the aforesaid Rhinecliff Hotel, with ease jumping from jazzy to near-symphonic passages and beyond. However, as soon as the other players join him the music takes an excessively improvised character, with everyone seemingly doing whatever comes to his mind right before the piece’s finale where the musicians’ joint performance gets into shape, generally speaking. Otherwise MMB works as a classic jazz-fusion trio: by pushing what is essentially jazz in a progressive jazz-rock direction, they often eliminate the border between improvisation and composition – not with any intent to make the listeners scratch their heads while trying to catch whether what they hear bears a quasi jazz or quasi symphonic character, but exclusively with a desire to please them with at once intricate and highly imaginative music. What has been said concerns each of the following pieces, The Return of Advokaten, Mats Jingle, Pulse, Tvingle, Riff at Play and Truvas Rumba, no matter that the disc’s opener (the first of these) begins as a conventional, swingy, jazz-rock opus: already its second movement finds the band accelerating its pace, after which, well, everything goes on smoothly, meaning in terms of progression, of course. The press kit offers a number of widely known, though mostly American, bands and performers as our men’s influences, but I won’t repeat those, as personally I find this stuff to be much closer to the British school of the genre, from time to time even hearing echoes of ELP and Manfred Mann’s Earth Band at their jazziest. I believe you won’t consider my vision of the matter to be wrong, let alone blasphemous, if you lend an attentive ear to the primary-style pieces, though the list of the reference points can be continued, of course. In any event, the material presented on the CD is for the most part both fresh and compelling, the highlights including the last named five tracks, and also Rhinecliff Hotel.
TRACK LIST: Too long to place it here LINEUP (Mats/Morgan Band): Mats Oberg – keyboards, piano; harmonica Morgan Agren – drums Jimmy Agren – guitar Tommy Tordson – bass Robert Elovsson – keyboards
Analysis. The visual part of this twofold release, titled “Tourbook”, is basically Morgan Agren’s effort, and it’s a tough egg to crack to review it. In fact, the DVD's contents are too eclectic even to give you a complete overview of it: while lasting for 110 minutes, it contains about 70 items of a variety of scenarios. To be more precise, this is a collection of brief video clips of the following features: Morgan’s drum solos (shot both in the studio and on stage at different locations, these are the most numerous), spots from the MMB, Magma and Captain Beefheart tribute acts as well as several other outfits, some backstage footage and more. Since the DVD nominally covers Morgan’s entire career, the quality of the sound/picture varies from semi-amateurish to near-excellent, depending on the situation in which any particular track was recorded and shot. All in all, the MMB-related tracks are in a minority here, only totaling nine, although those are the most recent (from 2007) and generally the best performances presented, at least in my humble opinion. The problem is that the pieces are scattered about the DVD, whereas if they had been grouped together they would have given the watcher a much more fulfilling idea of the onstage performance of the band whose name gives the title of the whole output. The same words apply just as much to the rest of the material: whether videos of Morgan throning his drum kit or those of the other bands’ spots, I think all should have been located within their own subsections – for best effect, to put it simply and unpretentiously. When such differing features are frequently, at times almost kaleidoscopically, changing one to another the overall picture comes across much more as a mosaic of vignettes than as a traditional, well-considered, video production. In any event, the DVD seems to have been designed as a sort of platform for Morgan’s benefit performance. If you take it this way (as I do), you’ll definitely appreciate its main personage, as he is an original and highly skilled battery commander who, moreover, covers a really wide variety of musical styles. I just doubt if any of Agren’s potential apprentices could use it as a training aid – because of the brevity of lessons, for sure.
Conclusion. “Heat Live Beats” is a very good, bordering on excellent effort by a truly remarkable outfit, despite the fact that the CD is not exclusively compiled from their masterworks (of which I believe there are plenty, on their eight-album discography). The DVD, however, fails to harmonize with its companion to form a really nice, conceptually-related, pair. That being said, this is the first time ever I haven't been completely satisfied with a release from Cuneiform Records – my favorite modern prog rock label.
VM=Vitaly Menshikov: April 16 & 21, 2009
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