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Classic Progrock: Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, Isotope, Univers Zero

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BIRDSONGS OF THE MESOZOIC: Dawn of the Cycads (double CD on Cuneiform Records)

This release from 2008 offers 123 minutes of rollicking keyboard-dominated progrock.

Birdsongs of the Mesozoic is: Roger Miller (on grand piano, Yamaha CP-70, piano, percussion, and organ), Erik Lindgren (on mimimoog, memorymoog, rhythm machines, and percussion), Rick Scott (on Farfisa, DX-7 synthesizer, percussion, and piano), and Martin Swope (on guitar and percussion).

What you get here is a collection of long out-of-print Birdsongs releases (the Birdsongs of the Mesozoic debut EP from 1983, their Magnetic Flip album from 1984, and the Beat of the Mesozoic release from 1986), along with Between Fires (featuring live material from Nightstage in 1987), and a few previously unreleased bonus tracks.

As one might expect from the instrumentation (listed above), keyboards are the central vehicle for this tuneage. The range of sounds stretches from traditional to electronic. Majestic piano coexists with crackling synths. Lively chords crash out in tandem with sashaying riffs of sweeping scope. Delicate passages evoke an endearing tenderness.

Spry percussion augments this music, but the rhythms are not constant, choosing instead to appear when needed and mute their beats if necessary. When the tempos get going, though, they cook with inspired fervor. As the songs move from EP to EP, the percussive involvement increases until the rhythms are integral the pieces.

In the beginning, the guitar contributes a searing presence that is often immersed in the keyboard dominance. As time passes, the guitar becomes a regular participant, shining with a blazing glory that lends a rock mien to the music.

These compositions generally flavor modern tuneage with classical overtones, adopting more of a progressive attitude than going off into electronic territory. Highly melodic pieces stray dangerously close to emphatic cacophony before swerving back into cohesion. Melodic integrity is keynote in this music.

The band treat The Rocky and Bullwinkle Theme with the same adroit reverence as they do The Rite of Spring. Yet a sense of humor is contained in every song and expressed with a sincere expertise. This jocularity is evenly tempered by the bandís propensity for titles that show a fascination for archeological science.

Itís extremely nice to have all these old tunes together, documenting Birdsongsí early years. One can experience the bandís path to maturity and delight as they progress from novice whimsy to cerebral mirth.

The second disc features graphic files viewable with any computer.

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ISOTOPE: Golden Section (CD on Cuneiform Records)

This CD from 2008 offers 47 minutes of lively fusion jazz music recorded live in Bremen and NYC in 1975 and some studio tracks from 1974.

Isotope is: Gary Boyle (on guitar), Hugh Hopper (on bass), Nigel Morris (on drums, and Laurence Scott (on keyboards), with Aureo de Souza (on percussion on six tracks).

Nimble jazz flourishes with this music. An upbeat quality exudes from each tune.

The guitar is agile and funky, producing riffs that glisten with ambrosial sentiment. Cheery notes spill forth as fast as the guitaristís fingers can manage.

The drums are equally energetic, belting out rhythms of snappy fluidity. The tempos are durable and tasty.

The keyboards possess their own liquid character. Each chord flows with bouncy personality, utilizing a profusion of keys to rouse the melody to greater celebration.

Instead of hiding in the mix, the bass rumbles with fiery passion, expressing its presence with geological vibrations.

There is little difference between the quality and performance of the live and studio tracks, revealing the bandís tight unity.

While never straying into giddy territory, these compositions are characterized by an exhilaration that digs deeper than mere mirth, stimulating a sense of optimistic contentment in the audience.

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UNIVERS ZERO: Univers Zero (CD on Cuneiform Records)

Originally released as the bandís debut album (aka ď1313Ē) in 1977, this CD from 2008 offers 66 minutes of dark chamber music. Included is a previously unreleased 28 minute track recorded live for Belgie Radio Televisie on April 5, 1979.

Univers Zero is: Michel Berckmans (on bassoon), Daniel Denis (on drums and percussion), Marcel Dufrane (on violin), Christian Genet (on bass), Patrick Hanappier (on violin, viola, and pocket cello). Emmanuel Nicaise (on harmonium and spinet), and Roger Trigaux (on guitar). For the bonus track, the personnel are: Michel Berckmans (on bassoon and oboe), Daniel Denis (on drums), Patrich Hanappier (on violin), Guy Segers (on bass, vague rumblings, and interstellar chaotic speech), and Roger Trigaux (on harmonium and guitar).

Imagine chamber music spawned in the depths of a haunted forest, where each breeze carries a weight of dire omens along with the resonance of spooky orchestral instruments.

Brass and woodwinds achieve eerie definition with each fervent breath. Their outcries signal the advent of clouds of crows that threaten to blot out the sun with their impending swarm.

Violins conjure an intellectual flair that leans more toward momentous trepidation. Tension mounts with each sawing chord.

The percussion is complex and notably spry considering the dark sonic pool. The locomotion provided by the drums can be unpredictable, launching off into crashing variations or going still to allow the other instruments to define the stygian desperation.

The guitar blazes with deadly fervor, expressing manís spirit of determined survival amid these ominous elements. Meanwhile, the bass restrains itself to subliminal rumblings that densen the mix.

Being generally antique in design, the keyboards only enhance the abstrusely whimsical character of the tunes with their sweeping phrases and droning tones.

These compositions are slick and cerebral, dragging chamber music into a modern context and then dimming the lights to enhance a subtle uneasiness.

The bonus track exemplifies this edgy tension. Ponderous textures stem from the violins, establishing a glutinous pressure that is punctuated by erratic beats and those vague vocal mumblings. This leads to a stretch of calm in which the horns strive to reassert a sense of emotional constriction. Naturally, the darkness prevails, producing palpable stress as the instruments rally in support of the eternal night.

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