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Progrock: Doubt, Dennis Rea, Sun Ra, Univers Zero

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DOUBT: Never Pet a Burning Dog (CD on Moonjune Records)

This release from 2010 offers 53 minutes of progressive jazz music.

Doubt is: Alex Maguire (on Fender Rhodes piano, Hammond organ, mellotron, and synthesizer), Michel Delville (on guitar and Roland GR-09), and Tony Bianco (on drums), with special guest Richard Sinclair (from Caravan) (contributing vocals and bass to a few tracks).

Jazz tuneage of the type one might expect from a Canterbury cafe.

The keyboards are lilting and hyperactive. Riffs slide from the keys in a liquid manner, drenching the listener with chords that are often so compressed that they reside just on the line dividing chaos from coherency. The result tends to be more the latter, though, achieving an animated presence that is quite engaging.

The percussion is compact and nimble, providing complex locomotion to the cerebral songs. Frequently (as is the way in jazz) the rhythms explore embroiled tempos that often seem at odds with the flow of everything else.

The guitar is spry and expresses riffs in a shrill fashion that tempers its lively growl with an appealing resonance. A touch of feedback is contained in each phrase, suppressed so that it is mainly noticeable as a piercing aspect of the notes.

The bass is very subtle, lurking deeply immersed in the gestalt of the other instruments.

While generally keyboard driven, these compositions achieve a delightful energy while retaining an intellectual edge. They are lively but hardly overt. The tunes glisten with a smoldering charm, expertly balancing bounce with smooth liberation.

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DENNIS REA: Views from Chicheng Precipice (CD on Moonjune Records)

This release from 2010 offers 47 minutes of Chinese music.

Over the years, Rea has led or been a key contributor to such diverse bands as Moraine, Land (with Jeff Greinke), Stackpole, Iron Kim Style, Savant (with K.Leimer), Earthstar, Identity Crisis, and Ting Bu Dong. He plays electric and resonator guitars, melodica, Naxi jew harp, kalimba and dan bau. Here, he is joined by: Alicia Allen (on violin), Greg Campbell (on drums and percussion), Ruth Davidson (on cello), James DaJoie (on flutes and clarinet), Caterina De Re (on voice), Stuart Dempster (on trombone and conch shell), Will Dowd (on drums and percussion), Elizabeth Falconer (on koto), John Falconer (on shakubachi), Jay Jaskot (on drums), Paul Kikuchi (on percussion), and Kevin Millard (on baliset).

Mostly a blend of traditional Chinese music given a progressive touch that is restrained to the point that the Oriental aspects remain dominant.

The first track begins with a pastoral passage of ethnic strings. This slides into a hesitant structure comprising numerous instruments, each contributing to achieve a classical Oriental pastiche punctuated by guitar stylings and jazz drums.

The next piece is the longest one on the album. Here, the demeanor is similarly sedate, with melancholic violin blending with other ethnic stringed instruments and flutes. Some horns and woodwinds offer a Western touch. While melodic, the tune tends to meander with an emphasis on pensive intentions.

Track three (the album's shortest piece) features guitar with a hint of gusto that becomes subservient to the reserved mode of the strings.

Track four employs some distinct riffing, albeit soft and seasoned by a mountaintop mien complete with birdcalls and non-lyrical vocal gymnastics.

The last piece begins with erratic percussives, then enters a stretch of strictly traditional strings. The melody has slight romantic tinges filtered through a teahouse sensibility. Delicate guitarwork occupies the next minimal passage and carries the track to its gentle conclusion.

These compositions are primarily targeted for audiophiles with an interest in traditional Chines tuneage that has been subjected to a feathery progressive delivery.

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SUN RA AND HIS OMNIVERSE JET-SET ARKESTRA: Detroit Jazz Center 1980 (CD on Art Yard, distributed by ReR Megacorp)

This release from 2010 offers 53 minutes of space jazz. It is a combined reissue of two rare Saturn Records releases, Beyond the Purple Star Zone and Oblique Parallax.

Sun Ra (on synth, organ, and voice) is joined by: John Gilmore (on tenor saxophone, percussion and voice), Marshall Allen (alto saxophone and percussion), Michael Ray (on trumpet and vocals), Danny Thompson (on baritone saxophone, flute and percussion), Noel Scott (on alto saxophone and vocals), June Tyson (on vocals), Tyrone Hill (on trombone and vocals), Eloe Omoe (on bass clarinet), Craig Harris (on drums), Tommy "Bugs" Hunter (on drums), Al Evans (on flugelhorn), Jaribu Shahid (on bass), Samarai Celestial (on drums), Vincent Chancey (on french horn), Francisco "Alu" Mora (on drums and percussion), Tani Tabbal (on drums and percussion), Bright Moments (on congas), the Bell Brothers (on bells), John Ore (on bass), and James Jacson (on vocals and ancient Egyptian infinity lightning drum), with (probably either) Skeeter McFarlan or Taylor Richardson (on electric guitar on one track).

The material was recorded live at a 6-day festival at the Detroit Jazz Center from the day after Christmas through New Year's Eve, 1980.

Sun Ra's music establishes a bridge between crazy jazz and space music, coaxing celestial tuneage from traditional instruments with a sideways twist of unpredictability.

The keyboards are distinctly the most conventional aspect of this music, delineating slippery riffs with punctuated sustains and nimble-fingered delivery. Squealing synthesizers lend an astral touch with passages that possess nostalgic appeal despite their crude definition.

The horns are soulful and often convey an urgency with their brassy outcries. But there are occasions where the horns shine with a velvety smooth presence.

The percussion walks a fine line between chaos and judicious propulsion.

There are vocals, delivered in chants devoted to announcing space launches.

These compositions take traditional jazz stylings and fling them far beyond the Earth's atmosphere, capturing moods that were considered crazy in those days but have become classic in retrospect. This music is mostly dominated by keyboards with horn embellishment.

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UNIVERS ZERO: Clivages (CD on Cuneiform Records)

This release from 2010 offers 66 minutes of dark chamber music music.

Univers Zero is: Michel Berckmans (on bassoon, English horn, oboe, and melodica), Kurt Bude (on clarinets and saxophone), Pierre Chevalier (on keyboards and glockenspiel), Daniel Denis (on drums, percussion, and sampler), Dimitri Evers (on electric and fretless bass), Andy Kirk (on guitar and percussion), and Martin Lauwers (on violin). They are joined on a few tracks by: Nicolas Denis (on drums), Philippe Thuriot (on accordion), and Aurelia Boven (on cello).

Notably, this is Univers Zero's first studio album in over twenty years. Not to imply that the band has been silent, instead they've devoted several releases to new material recorded live. Here, though, they've returned with a rigorous in-studio performance that exudes all the fervor of their live concerts.

Univers Zero excel at applying classical instruments to structures that glisten with haunted sensibilities. These songs exhibit more than just a dark temperament, they delve deep into the listener's psyche to stimulate a sense of unease that is quite enjoyable.

Horns and woodwinds generate lavish panoramas of moody disposition, tempering dronish passages with animated desolation.

The percussion is crisp and spry, dedicated to establishing a sense of rhythmic agitation while providing lively tempos.

Keyboards contribute fluid sweeps that seep through the tuneage with a devilish afterburn.

The violin evokes a classical air that is wholly willing to join the rest of the instruments in their eerie cadence.

The guitar wails, illuminating the dark landscape with a searing dazzle.

The bass smolders deep in the mix, establishing a foundation of rumbling vibrations.

The true appeal is the manner in which these instruments brilliantly mesh to express tuneage of an apocalyptic nature.

Usually, Univers Zero's music has been dominated by compositions by the band's leader, Daniel Denis. With this release, though, there are songs penned by other members (Kirk, Berechmans, and Bude), expressing diverse stylings that each fall into the class of dark chamber music. Another difference is the profusion of shorter tracks, allowing the music's diversity the opportunity to shine in compressed selections that offer alternative takes on the band's signature sound.

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