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(54:19, Moonjune Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Save the Yuppie Brooding Grounds 4:12 2. Ephebes Amoebus 4:55 3. Nacho Sunset 4:29 4. $9 Pay-per-View Lifetime TV Movie 5:51 5. Manifest Density 3:55 6. Uncle Tang’s Cabinet of Dr. Calligari 4:01 7. Disillusioned Avatar 5:15 8. Kuru 5:02 9. Revenge Grandmother 5:11 10. Staggering 4:41 11. Middlebrau 6:46 LINEUP: Denis Rea – el. guitars Ruth Davidson – cello Alicia Allen – violin Jay Jaskot – drums Kevin Millard – bass; baliset
Prolusion. Here is MORAINE, a quintet from Seattle, USA, and its debut release, titled “Manifest Density”. (Shall we applaud the one who hit upon the idea to adapt “manifest destiny”?) By the way, Tashkent and Seattle are twin cities, and one of the – biggest, central – public gardens in the capital of UZ bears the same name that the Washington state’s town does. It was parked by Seattlers some 20 years ago.
Analysis. As you can see above, there are no vocals on this outing. No keyboards either. The press kit says Moraine plays “heavy chamber music” and that the center of the band’s sound is its guitarist, Denis Rea. Although nearly half of the eleven tracks presented are penned by Denis, the album appears as a true group effort almost throughout, since the other players have very solidly contributed to it as well, in terms of both composition and performance. On the other hand, while Rea’s instrument never really overshadows his partners’ ones, it is exactly due to its – sort of everlasting – presence in the proceedings here that the music appears as being woven of mixed, acoustically-electric fabrics and is indeed as much chamber as it is rock, though it is rarely heavy as a matter of fact. Besides, many of the tracks additionally deploy jazz, some of those as one of theirs main stylistic components. Staggering, Ephebes Amoebus, Nacho Sunset and Disillusioned Avatar are all largely improvisational in nature, but inasmuch as most of the arrangements on the first three of these grow from the (skeletal, mainly drums-based) swing framework, each reveals quite a few standard jazz tricks as well. With the latter track, however, the quintet gets into more adventurous territory. Totally cohesive despite featuring few unison soloing lines and no recurring themes at all, Disillusioned Avatar is a refined jazz-fusion phenomenon and sounds interesting throughout. However it is chamber rock-related compositions that are the real highlights of this effort, even though some of those are inferior to the others. Revenge Grandmother and the title track are brilliant from start to finish, each plunging the listener into an amazing musical journey, full of pleasing surprises. Stylistically, both represent a blend of the Belgian RIO-school and, hmm, probably the same which, yet, is done by means of classical music. Now steering towards classic, early Univers Zero-style RIO, now towards Zeuhl, evoking Zao circa 1974-‘75, Save the Yuppie Brooding Grounds, $9 Pay-per-View Lifetime TV Movie, Uncle Tang’s Cabinet of Dr. Calligari and Kuru all gladden the ear most of the time, yet not throughout, as within one of the moves on each the group’s playing is to my mind excessively eclectic. Anyway, the variation of theme and dynamics within the pieces, the fascinating cello and violin work (courtesy of Ruth Davidson and Alicia Allen, respectively) and twisted counter-rhythms make for some truly compelling listening. The string-women create complex, yet highly cohesive collages of leads, and are both obviously much more strongly attracted to academic music than any of their partners in the band. I believe the ladies would name several classical and neoclassical composers as theirs sources of inspiration, but I’d better abstain from trying to further develop the thought, as only while hearing – some of – their passages on the two winning tracks am I really reminded of one of those, namely Modest Mussorgsky. The guitar often has a tone which instantly brings me back to early Allan Holdsworth recordings. However, this doesn’t mean that Denis’s playing itself arouses any associations – it doesn’t. Originality is generally one of the main merits of Moraine’s work, and while the above two ensembles are cited certainly not at random, the differences are more plentiful than the similarities. As for the remaining track (the one that the disc ends with), Middlebrau is a fairly sophisticated art-rock ballad and is the only item in the set that leaves a sense of being Rea’s benefit performance of a sort.
Conclusion. Moraine’s “Manifest Density” is a solid debut effort and would have been excellent if the band had less frequently flirted with conventional stylings than it does – for sure, I mean the three tracks described first. Anyhow, this is definitely one worth seeking out, especially for those listeners who have inclinations to both Jazz-Fusion and Chamber Rock.
VM=Vitaly Menshikov: February 14, 2010
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