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Mats Morgan Band - 2010 - "The Music or the Money"

(133:14 2CD, Cuneiform Records)


*****

Prolusion. MATS/MORGAN BAND (MMB hereinafter) is a widely known Swedish outfit, co-led by keyboardist Mats Oberg and drummer Morgan Agren. This set of two discs, “The Music or the Money”, is its latest outing, following the combined CD+DVD release “Heat Beats Live & Tourbook” from 2008.

Disc 1 (68:53)
****+

TRACK LIST:

1.  You Have to Wait It in the Rain 1:19
2.  If I Only Had a Clavinet 4:57
3.  Fotsat Mats 1:40
4.  Sylox 4:44
5.  Asaw X 2:32
6.  Watch Me Pleasure 3:56
7.  Spinning Around 4:14
8.  Jeriko 8:05
9.  Coco 3:05
10. Inget Har Hant 4:03
11. Tyrachon 2:42
12. Nordic Ice 2:01
13. Third Movement Farmor Marta 2:54
14. I Wanna 4:56
15. Let’s Stay Positive 1:26
16. Harmonium IV 3:01
17. The Difference between Powerful and Loud 3:43
18. Baader Puff 9:23

LINEUP:

Mats Oberg – keyboards; harmonica; vocals
Morgan Agren – drums; keyboards
Jimmy Agren – guitar, mandolin
Eric Carlsson – keyboards  
Patrick Ogren – cello; bass
Tommy Thordsson – bass; melodica 
With:
Gustaf Hielm – bass 
Lelo Nica – accordion 
&:
A few more participants
Analysis. It would be safe to note that the first disc is trended musically towards the instrumental end, since only 4 of the 18 tracks here contain a real singing or full-fledged vocals, if you will. The overall style embraces Jazz Rock, Space Fusion and space music along with elements of electronic and bits of avant-garde, albeit there are also some folk motifs to be found on a few of the compositions. Fotsat Mats, Nordic Ice, Let’s Stay Positive, Harmonium IV and You Have to Wait It in the Rain are all keyboards-based pieces, none featuring a rhythm section. The first four of them each paint a picture of a cosmic landscape, while the latter is a refined interplay between piano and violin, done in a jazz-fusion manner. On most of the other instrumentals the leads go equally to Mats’ keyboards and Morgan’s drums and percussion, the man normally playing both the acoustic and electronic types of those. Six of the instrumentals, Asaw X, Inget Har Hant, Tyrachon, The Difference between Powerful and Loud, Third Movement Farmor Marta and Watch Me Pleasure bring to mind such different bands/periods as early-‘80s Gong, mid-‘80s Zappa, Hawkwind’s “Out and Intake” and even late Tangerine Dream. The music can be labeled as Jazz Rock, but only with reservations. There are quite a few of moves that, while being complicated, aren’t too effective in terms of arrangement, and it is often hard to understand which of the leads are, say, classically improvised and which are done randomly. The keyboards at times try to take the music into symphonic realms as well, but without any support on the part of the battery, whose – seemingly numerous – solos appear as unvectored. The involvement of electronic percussion in the proceedings is also a problem to my mind. Any high quality music deserves to be played with acoustic drums and percussion or at least with an electric drum kit. In addition, most of these tracks contain varied, sampled and real voices, most of which are done in the e-music tradition, which is to say they are rarely impressive. Jeriko is an excellent composition, suggesting Space Fusion as its basic style. There are multiple percussion lines on here too, but those are provided by the acoustic drum kit, besides which Matt and Morgan often share the leads with Patrick Ogren, whose cello adds a lot of extra variety to the stuff, along the way imbuing it with colorations of Indian music. The same words would have been totally relevant regarding both Sylox and Baader Puff had these tracks not featured a harmonica – as one of the leading instruments. Performed in a jovial way, its solos most often bring to mind country music, which is altogether unneeded here. Two of the vocal tracks, If I Only Had a Clavinet and I Wanna, are excellent, dynamically evolving compositions, frequently changing in theme and pace. Within the vocals sections of each the music is avant-tinged Art-Rock, while the instrumental ones (which are in both cases several in number and are all performed up-tempo) suggest classic Jazz-Fusion – at its best. I wasn’t reminded of anything else while listening to the former track, while the latter really calls to mind both UK and the John Wetton-era King Crimson, on all levels. Finally, Spinning Around and Coco are both vocals-based throughout (i.e. merely songs), the first of which has a full-band sound, and another only features piano and vocals, being strongly reminiscent of The Beatles.

Disc 2 (65:19)
*****+

TRACK LIST:

1.  Dr. Thor 7:13
2.  Advokaten and the Jazz 6:53
3.  Daisy 5:34
4.  Banned Again 5:02
5.  Griefen 4:15
6.  Secret Room Outtakes 2:47
7.  Resp Rush 0:33
8.  Hjortron Fran Mars 7:05
9.  If I Only Had a Pianet 00:38
10. Q 3:01
11. I Know Where I Have It 4:25
12. Zepp 2:20
13. Bass 2:26
14. Advokaten le Messian 3.13
15. Paltsug 2:13
16. Slut-text 7:32

LINEUP:

Mats Oberg – keyboards; harmonica; vocals
Morgan Agren – drums; keyboards
Jimmy Agren – guitar, mandolin
Patrick Ogren – cello; bass
Tommy Thordsson – bass; melodica
Eric Karlsson – keyboards, accordion
With:
Gustaf Hielm – bass (2, 7, 12, 15)
Simon Steensland – keyboards (4, 11)
Gunnar Persson – bassoon (4, 5, 11)
Fredrik Sohngen – oboe (4, 5, 11)
Jonas Lindgren – violin (8)
Analysis. The second disc is better than the first one in terms of quality of music. It reveals fewer tracks that use electronic percussion at their bottom end, as well as those featuring bizarre narratives. What particularly gladdens the ear, however, is that, despite the – sometimes – clearly loose playing, the music almost always has a sense of purpose, unlike that on the album’s first item. Keyboardist/harmonica player Mats Oberg and drummer/keyboardist Morgan Agren are still the featured musicians, but the other participants shine as well – by no means throughout, but obviously more often then they did (or maybe were allowed to do) on Disc 1. Apart from Secret Room Outtakes and Zepp, plain pieces with only harmonica, synthesizer and electronic percussion in the arrangement, only disc opener Dr. Thor and its follow-up Advokaten and the Jazz (the first half of the track, to be more precise) are performed by the duo alone, in both cases deploying acoustic pianos and drums, which are played in a quasi-jazz manner. The rest of the latter piece finds Tommy Thordsson’s bass joining the above duet of instruments, and is an intense, up-tempo, purely improvisational jazz, reminiscent in delivery of that by the Chick Corea Trio – the one that featured bassist Dave Holland and drummer Barry Altschulz besides Chick himself. This is a highly impressive opus in its own way, displaying that the band has outstanding mastery of that particular field of making music. Being married to the power of rock, this approach finds its continuation within the last third of the disc. Secret Room Outtakes and Bass are both creations of classic Jazz-Fusion somewhere in the style of Return To Forever circa “Light As a Feather”. Jimmy Agren on guitar and Patrick Ogren on cello are frequently on the spot here, as they also are on most of the remaining compositions, doing a lot more than merely supporting the above trio. Only in terms of overall style Hjortron Fran Mars would be similar to the previously described tracks, as the music is slow-paced and fairly smooth alike – think the band favors melody over structural development. Banned Again and Advokaten le Messian are each a multi-section work of two distinctive genres, RIO and Jazz-Fusion, while Daisy reminds me most of the time of a chamber rock take on one of the pieces from Modest Mussorgsky’s famous piano cycle “Pictures at an Exhibition”. Full of original chord progressions and dramatic dynamics, all three of these are remarkable creations, the latter being an absolute winner to my mind. I feel free to declare that Griefen, Q and I Know Where I Have It all blend RIO with e-music, since the chamber rock arrangements (which are fine in themselves) develop over a monotonous groove ‘provided’ by electronic percussion, if not a drum machine. Oh, almost forgot to tell you about Slut-text, Resp Rush and If I Only Had a Pianet, the first of which is the longest track here (too long for such a plain ambient piece as it is), and the latter two the keyboard sketches, each of which barely exceeds 30 seconds in length. In other words, it didn’t do without makeweights ‘this time’ either.

Conclusion. This release, where excellent tracks adjoin mediocrities and so on, brings me back to Frank Zappa’s discography, most of the items of which are similar in this respect. Frank, however, could allow himself to do anything else with/within his outings, as he was a rich man, who had his own studio and a recording company as well. Back to the hero of this occasion: This is a very long album (133:15) and comes across as being artificially overextended. However, it could have been excellent throughout – if it would have been issued as a single disc, consisting exclusively of compositions that feature the entire Mats/Morgan band lineup-sextet.

VM=Vitaly Menshikov: May 15 & 16, 2011
The Rating Room


Related Links:

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