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Progrock: Geoff Leigh & Yumi Hara, Moraine, Slivovitz

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GEOFF LEIGH & YUMI HARA: Upstream (CD on Moonjune Records)

This release from 2009 offers 59 minutes of jarringly ethereal music.

Leigh (an original member of Henry Cow who has also spent time playing with Slapp Happy, Hatfield & the North, and Mike Oldfield) plays flute, saxophone, zither, percussion, nose flute, voice drone, and electronics. Hara (who has performed with Hugh Hopper and King Crimson alumni David Cross) plays keyboards and vocals.

Ethereal moods are generated and then subjected to startling crescendos of unexpected density.

Flute is quite dominant throughout, pursuing cavorting phrases that strive far beyond any gentle mien. Sometimes Leigh subjects his instrument to electronic processing that results in blurring the notes into a taste of celestial harmony.

Hara’s keyboards are diverse. One track may employ classical piano, blending lilting melodies with discordant breaks, while the next piece switches to electric organ for a moody excursion into subterranean territory. Her fingers dance across the keys, producing melodies of jarring demeanor as easily as she captures the delicate path of a leaf fluttering on a breeze.

The occurrence of saxophone lends a strident voice to some tunes, injecting a passionate jazz flair to the freeform motif.

Some vocal effects are utilized to bestow a haunted presence to the music. In one piece, vocal crooning is accompanied by breathy flute, resulting in a dire quasi-religious fervor.

These compositions tend to come across as improvised with their wandering paths, but when a piece is done it is quite clear that its course was carefully guided through the ephemeral miasma to achieve a crisp culmination.

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MORAINE: Manifest Density (CD on Moonjune Records)

This release from 2009 offers 54 minutes of thought-provoking jazz-rock music.

Moraine is: Alicia Allen (on violin), Ruth Davidson (on cello), Jay Jaskot (on drums), Kevin Millard (on bass and baliset), and Dennis Rea (on guitar).

Searing guitar, urgent drums and sinuous violin mesh to generate powerful jazz-rock tuneage.

Every band’s sound has to have a center, and the most obvious nucleus of Moraine’s music is probably the guitar. Rea coaxes lively chords and blazing passion from his ax, fusing old school and modern styles into a unique flavor that shines with an emphatic luster--the type of luster that eats through metal.

The percussion is insistent and commanding. Complex rhythms pound away, then slide into lazy dalliance while the other instruments indulge in grating ambience, then the tempos surge in your face with cerebral delight.

The violin expresses itself with a pyrotechnic fury so intense that one expects the bow to saw right through the instrument. Its resonance captures dreamily pastoral evenings one minute, then erupts into dramatic pinnacles the next.

The bass and cello are quite present, but often in a supportive role, lurking within the mix and lending an apt boost the other instruments. While habitually invisible, the bottom is essential if the music is to soar.

To be perfectly honest, the true core of Moraine’s sound is the perfect unity of all the instruments, and these musicians know how to compress their performances to create a lush style that bristles with animation while keeping things suitably intellectual.

These compositions maintain a lovely balance of peppy frenzy and mental stimulation. The songs growl with puissance, yet retain a jazzy smoothness even when things burst into controlled chaos.

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SLIVOVITZ: Hubris (CD on Moonjune Records)

This release from 2009 offers 71 minutes of bouncy progressive jazz music.

Slivovitz is: Domenico Angarano (on bass), Stefano Costanzo (on drums and percussion), Marcello Giannini (on electric and acoustic guitar), Ludovica Manzo (on vocals), Derek Di Perri (on harmonica), Pietro Santangelo (on saxophones and vocals), and Riccardo Villari (on violin), with guests Giovanni Imparato (on bata, percussion, and vocals), Marco Pezzenati (on vibraphone), and Ugo Santangelo (on acoustic guitar).

An alluring dose of fusion jazz blending with Canterbury influences, and the result has been crammed through a Zappaesque needle’s eye.

Enthusiastic horns describe frisky melodies in conjunction with oily basslines and sturdy percussion. Then there’s a taste of Caribbean sensibilities laced with sultry guitar stylings and Middle Eastern vocal crooning.

The guitars provide a tastily wide range of chords, from cheerfully strummed strings to painfully sustained notes to artfully crafted riffs that slide across the ice with adroit grace.

The percussion is steadfast and nimble, willing to switch from rock tempos to ethnic beats with comfortable ease.

The basslines are slippery and stain the bottoms of the other riffs with a suave groove. At other times, the bass adopts a note-popping character that smells slightly like funk.

The horns pursue a jubilant demeanor as they delineate bouncy streams that divide any on-coming twilight.

Violin strains are employed to lend a classic Canterbury touch to the melodies, boosting the genial music into the sunlight.

Vocals of a lyrical nature (in Italian) are present in one track, while in the rest of the pieces the singing is confined to festive chorales.

These compositions posses a spry fancy that can be quite infectious. The songs display a tendency for unpredictability, shooting off in delightfully unexpected directions; while sudden, these diversions wholly suit the sonic flow once they’ve been made, ultimately enhancing the entertaining ride.

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