Sunday, February 8, 2009

Precious fluid being wasted over there, Pablo

Chris Squire, "Lucky Seven," Fish Out of Water (1975): Squire's always represented a certain element of dodgy taste in Yes; he was the motivating force behind the group's early '80s transformation into an insipid stadium-rock outfit, and his outside ventures with Billy Sherwood tend toward seriously regrettable "adult contemporary" territory. His only proper solo album, however, is the gem that it doesn't really have any right to be, certainly the best of the independent ventures that Yes' members undertook in their post-Relayer hiatus from '75 to '77 (although if you can get past the half-baked Erich von Däniken-style storyline of Jon Anderson's Olias of Sunhillow, there's a lot to recommend it in sheerly sonic terms). Bill Bruford provides some of his tightest work on this dark-hued, slippery fusion track.

Jon Anderson, "Moon Ra," Olias of Sunhillow (1976): Speaking of which, there's a definite aura of Anderson's perennial post-Relayer soft-focus "spirituality" to his first solo disc, but the layering of percussion, chanting, and simple keyboard and guitar lines into a sort of futuristic ritual music provides for at least a few fascinating moments. If it seems important to educate yourself about Anderson's fictional language and the storyline he derived from Roger Dean's album artwork for Yes' Fragile--and even against anyone's best judgment, I understand that at some point it may seem that way--then by all means, dive in.

Nik Bärtsch & Ronin, "Modul 42," Holon (2008): There's really nothing on Earth that sounds quite like the Swiss pianist Nik Bärtsch's group Ronin, a quintet comprised of keys, electric bass, clarinets, drum kit, and hand percussion that its leader refers to as a "Zen funk" outfit. The band plays a moody, spare sort of textured and tactile minimalist art music, influenced by post-bop jazz and fusion in its tonalities and rare improvised solos, by funk in the fantastic drummer Kaspar Rast's geometric timekeeping, by the Reich/Riley/Glass contingent in the tendency to transpose and oppose hypnotic and asymmetrical "modules" against each other in a kind of post-Stravinskian recombinant non-linearity (which is, of course, African and Afro-Latin in derivation as well). They're either the most mathematical jazz quintet or the funkiest chamber ensemble on the planet, and Bärtsch has a rare sensitivity to the rhythmic and atmospheric specificities that the right touch can bring out of an acoustic or electric piano.

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