What happens when musicians decide to investigate genres or styles of music that differ from their normal sonic territory?
AMOEBA: Pivot (CD on Release Records)
Amoeba is Rick Davies and ambient luminary Robert Rich. This union produces 49 minutes of vocal-rich soft rock to stimulate the mind.
Rich's seasoned electronics and ethereal flutes blend with Davies' acoustic and electric guitars and the instruments of guesting musicians (among them Forrest Fang): dense basslines, languid cafe drums, cello, tuba, and violin. These orchestral elements lend a haunting quality to the music.
The guitars are delicate and romantic, illuminating the songs like the fresh rays of dawn filtering through leave-shrouded trees gently stirring in a morning breeze.
The electronics are cleverly hidden, lurking between the more traditional instruments. Piano passages have more substantial presence here.
With backbeats that remain unhurried, this music luxuriates with artfully applied sentiments.
Rich's vocals are extremely lush and relaxed, quite reminiscent of Peter Blegvad or David Sylvian. This comparison does not stop there, but carries over into much of the musical quality of Amoeba's tuneage, evoking the stark serenity of Nick Drake, Dead Can Dance, or Durutti Column. The songs are quietly energetic just beneath a sinuous veneer.
Although it may display many aspects of soft rock, Amoeba's style is more comfortable art rock...with slight hints of intellectual folk ballads.
JEFF GREINKE & ANISA ROMERO: Hana (CD on First World Music)
Jeff Geinke has been an soundscaper for many years, releasing numerous ambient albums. Anisa Romero is the vocalist with Sky Cries Mary. Their collaboration produces 50 minutes of sultry and hypnotic music.
Soothing synthesizers dominate the sonic palate: soft and atmospheric and pleasantly melodic. Percussives are mild and muted, functioning more as enhancement than backbeat.
Loops and treatments are employed in relation to everything. One song ("Lizard Opera") is comprised entirely of manipulations of Romeo's voice; despite the apparent presence of keyboard tones, all the source material is vocal.
Usually quite strong and emotional with Sky Cries Mary, Romero's vocals here are quite ethereal and generally non-lyrical in nature, lending modern airs to Eastern scales. Despite this very light presence, her vocals are often the central focus of the melodies. There are two songs which feature actual lyrics, both are sedate and esoteric in nature.
This music is quite delicate, yet possessing a distinct shimmer of passion and vigor. While the overall tone is relaxed, there is a constant power and sensuality stirring in the tuneage.
HUGH HOPPER & LISA S. KLOSSNER: Cryptids (CD on Voiceprint Records)
Normally known for his prog rock jazz fusion work, ex-Soft Machine bassist Hugh Hopper teams up with vocalist Lisa S. Klossner to produce 57 minutes of lyrical music.
Accompanying them on some tracks are Pip Pyle, Frank Van Der Kooy, Elton Dean, and others. During this music, Hopper expands his instrumental repertoire to include guitar and programming to his bass virtuosity.
The music here is progressive jazz, often with a dense and eerie mood. Guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, and voice establish the sound. There are some brilliant outbursts of fuzz bass and demonstrative drumming throughout the songs.
Klossner's vocals are clear and appealing, her lyrics often oblique and cryptic as they detail aspects of interpersonal relationships.
BILL RIEFLIN: Birth of a Giant (CD on First World Music)
Rieflin may be best known as a drummer from the circle of bands which branch out from Alan Jourgensen's Ministry, effecting a strong core of bands responsible for the agro rock scene in America in the Nineties. Leaving such savage turf behind, Rieflin goes multi-instrumentalist on this 51 minute excursion into art rock.
Joining him for this intriguing sonic voyage are (King Crimson's guitar god) Robert Fripp, Trey Gunn (from King Crimson), and Chris Connelly (another graduate of the Ministry training ground).
While the general sound kicks off in agro turf, this tuneage slyly slithers into more mature ground with the application of progressive tendencies. The result is a rather intense dose of gritty music that glistens with an oily allure.
Grating E-perc is tinted with a harmonious glow that attributes these harsh rhythms greater appeal. Monstrous guitar and thundering basslines soar without restraint, expanding riffs into massive audible clouds that forbid disinterest. Electronics are everywhere: sometimes taking front-stage with shrill command, other times oozing from deceptive sonic niches to enhance with their subliminal presence. Vocals are employed with regularity, tailored in a dreamy manner despite their urgency.
STEVE STEVENS: Flamenco.A.Go.Go (CD on Ark 21 Records)
Steve Stevens is probably best known as Billy Idol's guitarist during the Eighties. Besides contributing songs to numerous movie soundtracks, like Big, Ace Ventura, Speed, and Top Gun (for which he won a Grammy), Stevens has also worked with Joni Mitchell, Robert Palmer, Michael Jackson, and Ric Ocasek.
This 55 minute CD is quite different from Stevens' past efforts. Although packed with a definite punch and jammed with intensely catchy riffs, this music takes the concept of instrumental rock into decidedly strange territory with its strong fusion of power-chords and flamenco-style guitar.
The songs bristle with inventive passages and dynamic licks. A full range of instruments accompany the surging guitars, including a variety of sneaky treatments and amusing voice snippets. The percussives are luminous and intricate, often pounding in your face.
There are a few mild songs, but overall the tempo is relentless and intensely infused with energy. This music is a superb example of celebratory rock, obsessed with maximum delivery and crashing peaks.
It goes without saying that Stevens' fingers are ultra-nimble. His compositional chops are in equally fine form, as he belts out appealing song after enthralling song.
Genius comes in many guises, and this CD is certainly one of them.
This CD includes various graphic files, and a lovely live video of Stevens performing a sedate and romantic piece.
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