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(158:22 2CD, Altrock Records)
Prolusion. America’s POCKET ORCHESTRA is a so-called one-shot endeavor, whose sole studio album, “Knebnagauje”, was released by Israeli MIO Records in 2005. The material under review, a double-CD outing titled “Phoenix”, embraces everything the band has ever recorded. Apart from the said album, it features a set of the band’s live tracks, most of which were previously unreleased. Oh, almost forgot: the outfit was formed back in 1979, but was creatively active only during the first half of the next decade.
CD 1 (79:01)
TRACK LIST: 1. Imam Bialdi 6:24 2. RV 7:04 3. Regiments 14:59 4. Letters 13:53 5. Blueing 7:10 6. White Organ Meats 7:03 7. Grandma Coming Down 5:32 8. Bagon 16:52 LINEUP: Joe Halajan – clarinets, saxophones Bill Johnston – violoncello Craig Bork – keyboards Tim Parr – guitars Tim Lyons – bass Bob Stearman – drums
Analysis. Running for almost 80 minutes, the studio album is made up of eight instrumental tracks. Three of those are long, epic-like, pieces, of which the two that follow each other somewhere in its middle, namely Regiments and Letters, are brilliant in all senses. Both of them are very balanced, almost totally structured compositions, where all of the musicians smoothly drift in and out of the spotlight. The style is RIO overall, in the vein of Henry Cow at its least jazziest or bizarre either: think “Western Culture” without vocals, in short. The former piece begins with a beautiful, classical music-evoking interplay between piano and clarinet, but very soon is transformed into a majestic chamber rock chorus of guitar, cello, saxophone, bass, keyboards and drums. Save one of its mid-sections, which brings to mind a sort of sympho-industrial avant-garde, and, well, another brief episode with a classical feel to it, the music follows the classic chamber rock rule that allows many of the players perform any specific part simultaneously or, in other words, although many solos are vectored differently, in total they create a highly cohesive musical palette. Another epic develops in a similar manner as the previous one, albeit it’s more melodically rooted, also revealing some folk music motifs along the way. In terms of intensity, it really does blossom out only within its third fourth, but nevertheless, even where the energy level is comparatively low it arrives at several wholesale thematic changes, always ‘keeping’ the musicians busy – all six of them most of the time. Then follow three more remarkable compositions, Blueing, White Organ Meats and Grandma Coming Down. All of them bring together RIO and avant-garde Art-Rock, which is somewhat reminiscent of King Crimson circa “The ConstrucKtion of Light”, and are for the most part structurally as dense as the piece described first. Imam Bialdi and RV normally alternate chamber rock moves with typically jazz-rock, emotionally jovial, ones, though each of them additionally contains some moments that I find over-eclectic: reminiscent of the more bizarre elements of Zappa, those growing increasingly (like mushrooms after the rain, in a way) on the recording’s last track. Titled Bagon (16:52), it sounds improvisational much of the time, and although there are a few sections – all referring to the RIO genre – that evince skilled compositional craftsmanship, the music often goes into a maelstrom of spontaneous improvisations. So, the CD contains two good pieces and five excellent compositions: located right at its core, the latter run for 43+ minutes – already enough for a full-fledged album. As for the one that I dislike, I think I can easily omit it while weighing the rating of the disc which, after all, exceeds one hour in length even without it.
CD 2 (79:21)
The first disc is overall excellent, and I’d recommend you repeated listens: given time, most of its compositions will blow you away. The live album is inferior to the studio one both musically and (particularly so) in sound, which in quality is far from modern standards. Anyhow, the whole package is worth buying – above all, because it covers the entire work of this unusual ensemble.
CD 2 (79:21)
Conclusion. The first disc is overall excellent, and I’d recommend you repeated listens: given time, most of its compositions will blow you away. The live album is inferior to the studio one both musically and (particularly so) in sound, which in quality is far from modern standards. Anyhow, the whole package is worth buying – above all, because it covers the entire work of this unusual ensemble.
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