Thursday, April 3, 2008

MR MiNT

Sometimes an album comes along that really surprises you. pfMentum is a jazz-orientated label which has regularly appeared here. MR MiNT Visions and Nightmares (pfcd49) arrived, identified as a one take, no edit recording of five people (whose initials are capitalised in the name) on drums, bass, guitar, sax and trumpet. The mind thinks groovy or edgy is the norm for this sort of ensemble. But what we get is closer to rock - in fact it was King Crimson - both the first incarnation and Larks Tongue in Aspic that came to mind while listening to this

the album is broken into two suites, which were each recorded in a single take, with further subdivisions for ease of listening based on changes in the music. A few general points before diving into this maelstrom
  • These are people who can actually play - rather than being interested in squeezing noises out of their instruments.
  • They have a great understanding of dynamics and have structured these pieces amazingly well, and have allowed the 'correct' balance of instruments take the running
  • At heart this is rock to me - the drumming is full on percussive and the guitar solos burn
  • The bedrock is the rhythm supplied by the drum and bass - I may not mention them much as we go through, but they are the driving force and a constant throughout the changes
The first piece is called Visions and Nightmares and opens with First light, a slowly emerging bass, some light guitar and bell-like percussion, with a little squonky sax. This builds through Gathering with more wind, some guitar and then a wind duo through to a long balanced group explosion in Fire flight. Here a lovely sax solo slips into a burning guitar piece and then a group, especially wind, crescendo that is let down into a soft bass solo. As this runs though into Submerge gentle trumpet and then sax provide a lacunae of quiet before a second explosion in Duel in the deep. The duel is between the wind, getting very wild before the guitar rings in again to take us into another blazing solo. The balance is restored with Breach where subtle sax and slow bass wevae around a cycling percussion and a hypnotic scrunching noise - the first obvious tape effect, which sounds like someone trudging through gravel. Some long held tones appear before Waiting which starts with fast percussion and then gives way to some brass repeated riffs before a fade. A nice surprise as with a set like this you might expect a big bang conclusion. What reminded me of Crimson? The intensity, the rhythms, the changes, the sax sound, the guitar - not fripplike but similarly powerful. This piece got my blood pumping.

And straight into Apocalyptica, and my one complaint about this album. These are two separate works that need to be absorbed individually. A short break between the 2 suites would allow a much more considered listening. OK you can turn it off, pause, whatever - but I think the experience would have been improved by a short break (see my review of Jeffrey Roden for more on this issue).

Prophecy is a short burst of group noise to kick things off before a bass solo, with a bit of guitar support and a touch of percussion (Soma) and there is perhaps more of a jazz feel. In Chasing dreams the brass joins the others, blowing long tones, building into a sax solo, segueing into a trumpet solo and then a melodically driven band excursion. The excitement eases to the rhythm unit and a percussion solo at the start of Rift - into which the guitar sidles and the hits a fiery wild solo, joined by the brass to burn some more before again dropping back to rhythm and choppy guitar. The brass come to the fore again in Dance of the fire reign, initially with some blowy noises, then squalling and puttering into a mix of solos and duets, building until the sax slithers though with the drum and bass into The horseman rides. Here sax and trumpet exchange parallel smooth lines, with some guitar trills that together with some long sax lines, emerges from a group blow into a very KC/Fripp like solo as the wind flutters around. A Wasteland shows us another of the eletronica-loops as a dislocated space of gentle sounds, subtleties provides a springboard into the final Summon of the shadow sun. Another jazzy brass period builds, sirens playing to match the trumpet, out of which another huge guitar solo leverages a group crescendo whose climax breaths into the silence.

An amazing album - each listening has emphasised it's strength to me, and provided more highlights. One hell of an ride.

(OK, enough of the KC comparison - but this makes me think what they could have been if the Red era continued with some influence from the first. And am I seeing too much in Dance for the fire reign as being a composite of Return of the fire witch and The dance of the puppets from In the court? Or Summon the shadow sun as relating to the line 'summon back the fire witch'? - probably. Let alone the fact they don't name check KC on their myspace page, and there aren't any vocals...)