review page 6

Simon Steensland ('09)
Moraine ('09)
Project Trio ('09)
Algernon ('10)
Alain Weber ('11)
The Nerve Institute ('11)
Pocket Orchestra ('11)
Altrock Chamber Orchestra ('12)
Five-Storey Ensemble ('13)

Pikapika Teart ('10) (link), Stabat Akish ('12) (link), Sh.Tg.N. ('12) (link)
Ensemble ('11), Parallel 41 ('12) (link)

grading : * ok ** g  ***vg ****perf *****no better example than this: must-have heard
with additional ° some tracks better  ; with ' possibly better for some (viewpoints)
Altrock  Simon Steensland : Fat Again (S,rec.2005-2008,pub.2009)***'

I have not heard Simon Steensland since 1995, on “The Zombie Hunter” which had some elements of the R.I.O. orientation, without taking it too far. A comparable fundament I recognise here as well, with some developments. The music is assembled from 3 years of recording and producing. The style definitely has something of the Univers Zero area, while the driving bass and some of the rhythmic tenses have inspirations from the Zeuhl area. The music most often is clearly composed, with some of its linear character still visible, especially in following certain counts on triple beats of the rhythms. This is however well compensated by the great Univers Zero/Zeuhl influenced “sound” of the participating band and also, by a few second layers which appear from the electric bass lines and sometimes drums areas (just like in Magma). What is new and an original addition are some female vocal arrangements (two voices or choral-like), which are an original, to a degree a more Swedish flavoured addition, an extra touch which also makes the music better. From Simon Steensland I think this sounds more interesting than his ten year earlier album. The form of the music still very much hangs on a certain tradition, while what surely is completely his is only sparsely added. For R.I.O. fans this must sound easy and pleasant to the ears.

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Moonjune Rec.      Moraine : Manifest DeNsity (US,2009)***°

Morraine is a Seattle-based quintet led by guitarist who worked before with Jeff Greinke, Hector Zazou and had one foot in China for a long while. The quintet itself also had many collaborators from progressive, jazzrock, contemporary post-rock and avant-jazz milieu (and cooperated with names like Jeff Greinke, K.Leimer, members from King Krimson, REM, Pearl Jam, Ministry and occasional members from Chinese origin).
The compositions sound like chamber-music rock improvisations with an instrumental rock fundament. The evolution is clear as from a one composer’s vision (so not like a group’s challenge) composing with a combination of instruments, changing in time perspective its rather jazz-lyrical inspired melodic evolutions. There are some progressive and semi-R.I.O. complexity of rhythmic changes but also these still sound rather lyrical in its rhythmical evolution. This is only at times a bit more classical in nature. Mostly and more clearly are the inspirations of a jazz-rock nature and developments and ideas which came from playing and developing melody on the guitar, on rather steady jazzy rhythms which most often remain available in the developments of the compositions. The violin improvisations give of course more chamber feeling, while instrumental rock and guitar ideas remain the main melodic focus underneath. A smooth and nicely entertaining album. 

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private release     PROJECT Trio (US,2009)***°

This is the third recording of this Brooklyn band, having developed a style of their own, which became a sort of crossover chamber music with a professional (-classically educated-) but light and entertaining attraction. While double bass and cello take care of a rhythmic jazzy swing more often it is especially the flute player’s technique which attracts a special attention. With the kind of pushing breaths on the flute (most like Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull), Greg Patillo even adds rap and elements of a beatbox to the flute playing as well. A few tracks have a few more classical themes while cello and bass prefer the more swinging jazz rhythms most obviously, in which they are convincing performers. One of the reworked themes is “Blue Rondo a la Turk” by Dave Brubeck, as if split a bit into two themes and approaches. Lastly, a tune by Guns ‘n Roses has been put into chamber music arrangement, (which reminds me automatically of Apocalyptica’s or String Quartet metal interpretations, but Project Trio takes the tune a bit more melodically as inter-logical arrangements). The only track I didn’t like so much was “City of Dreams” because it used rather to me an aggressive street language voice, breaking the happy classically grounded freedom of the band. 

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Cuneiform Rec.   Algernon : Ghost Surveillance (US,2010)***'

Description : "Very intellectual instrumental rock according a certain formula, similar at every stage, similarly looking in every slice of time. This is a kind of personalised new rock style, not jazz, not progressive, not RIO but somewhere in those directions. Another, still recently formed, Chicago based band.

The band is led by guitarist/composer Dave Miller, with Toby Summerfield (Larval) on second guitar,  Katie Wiegman on vibes, Tom Perona on bass Cory Healey on drums."

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Poor Rec.   Alain Weber : Hoover Cover (CH,2011)**°'

Producer Alain Weber has conceived a second album just recently. The first few tracks are based upon emotional simplified-minimalism on piano and covered-over-layers of moody classical strings. A part of  such an approach I could eventually call neo-minimalism. The compositions are based on simple tunes, with these classical harmony layers, it makes this work very well. Further on, it sounds like no longer real strings but also synthesizers replace their part, which changes, almost weakens the sonic range a bit towards a neo-classical level, without however ever becoming Gothic. Alain Weber succeeds with his vision on the production to have just enough sound variations inbedded to keep a filmic attraction into the music, so that this concept still works well for a bit over 40 minutes. Obviously interest in some pop standards has played an influence in his sources of inspiration, from which he mentions names like Yello, Ruichi Sakomoto but also Michel Nyman (which can of course be heard in the earliest piano led tracks). Incorporated were instrumental interpretations of Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” and Joe Dassin's Indian Summer. 

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Alt Rock Prod.   The Nerve Institute : Architects of Flesh-Density (US,2011)****'

Incredible, but this album is a one-man project, carefully composed and recorded with an 8-track channel, a work of ultimate perfection. Mike Judge says he’s more inspired by literature and cinema (such as Alain Robbe-Grillet’s writing and G.W. Pabst’s films). Although you can say there is a very good balance between a lot of instruments, the main dominance is by a rhythmical complexity (drums) and electric guitars, which in this case is a very good and convincing, with this style well fitting fact. There’s an overall rhythmic and melodic complexity, with a few harmonic progressions with it, and a great spontaneously sounding flow driven by the really good drumming. The song parts give some peace and can be more acoustic too, with a bit of mellotron for instance. Elsewhere for instance a deformed voice is singing with backing of Rhodes and harpsichord-synths accents and interesting rhythms. Most of the time it is an instrumental approach. There are in fact several more musical ideas incorporated and attached into the fluency of the overall composition. In “Tooth & Flea Korowòd” for instance I hear a Punjabi rhythm on acoustic guitar, later another ethnic guitar effect comes in as well, combined with polyrhythmic percussion, several electric guitars are over-layered with this and then the theme changes again after this. The avant-electric guitar solos can be freaking in a technically interesting way, never it gets too exhausting beside all the complexity involved. So, very good !

Mike Judge pcomposed and recorded this and played electric and acoustic guitars, bass guitar, drums, percussion, piano, Rhodes electric piano, Wurlitzer electric piano, organ, synthesizers, Mellotron, banjo, mandolin, bowed strings, thumb piano, scrap metal, tin cans, tenor saxophone, vocals, tape loops, electronics, digital manipulation. 

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Alt Rock Prod.  Pocket Orchestra : Phoenix (=Knebnagauje+) -2cd-(US,1978-1984,re.2011)****

First Phoenix, Arizona, based then in Olympia, Washington, the Pocket Orchestra were one of the earliest R.I.O. groups who were only able to release two tapes during their 10-year career (including the first 4 years of preparations), the first as Knēbnagäuje, recorded in 1978/79, the second, from the time they were renamed to Pocket Orchestra, in 1983. In 1985 the band split up. Guitarist Tim Parr died in a car accident in 1988, followed by bass player Tim Lyons in 1998. In 2005 the Israeli label MIO Records released both tapes on CD in 2005. Now, some more live recordings were remastered by Udi Koomran (from the former MIO records) for which Alt Rock Productions decided to release all of this on a double CD this year.

Except for the two mentioned musicians we further had drummer Bob Stearman, keyboardist Craig Bork, cellist Bill Johnston, reed player Joe Halajian with guests Craig Fry on flute and Warren Ishford on tablas on one studio track, and, for the live concert, with Jack Chandler on sax for two tracks.

Not included but mentioned in the booklet is that the band also played live “Rats & Monkeys” by Art Bears, “Larks Tongues in Aspic pt.2” by King Crimson, “Schlagens Mystik” by Samla Mammas Manna. 

The first studio album starts with the latest Pocket Orchestra tape release. This is the band at its most tight/dense and composed, There are short hints to Univers Zero and Samlas Mannas Manna. The rhythms are often complex, the music is pretty much sheet music with a lot of change of instruments during the melodic progressions, giving a balance of intelligence and skill with melody/rhythm/sound alternations. There’s some of use of contemporary harmonies and melodies and new classical inspired composition.  But also there appears some jazz-rock flavours, with an occasional stint to Zappa, Pocket Orchestra seems to know and master this all. This also reveals that they must have got some ideas by improvisation, skill and good ears. While the first tape has a certain intensity in a classically composed sense, especially on the early tape which reveals this improvised factor better. While the most composed sense is saturating, and amazes for its perfection, the more basic core reveals its creative process, the choices made from a compositional level out of more free cores. In the live recording both aspects come together well. There are even larger improvisations for several lead instruments (keyboards, guitars, drums), while contemporary harmonies succeed to be added instantly on the spot. There are a few more experimental moments with sound-exploring keyboards for instance, free but with a jazz mind for improvisation., before melody takes over again. The full release is 160 minutes long. The live recordings makes it work well to extend that sense of this period of experience.

The booklet explains some background history and memories from the band and some notes by Scott Brazieal of Cartoon.

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Alt Rock Prod.  Altrock Chamber Quartet : Sonata Islands goes RIO...(I,2012)****

Classically trained flutist Emilio Galante always had an admiration for the Rock In Opposition movement and its related releases, and the ReR label and its distributed titles specifically. He now arranged and performed a full album dedicated to that movement but rearranged in a real classical sense. It reminds me a bit of how some classical quartets started to interpret metal as proving with it how interesting compositions have been involved, only perhaps it is more obvious that Rock In Opposition does not need that kind of proof. 
Rearranged were compositions by guitarist Fred Frith, by Zorzanello, Popoli, Giuntoli, Univers Zero and Yugen. The result in fact still gives a complete new perspective on the Rock In Opposition way of composing. Here these compositions sounds vivid, driven by flute and violin mostly, and rhythmically progressed by bass, and bass clarinette for instance, interesting for its melodic, harmonic as well as its rhythmic progressions. Check it out if RIO still sounds a bit difficult to get into when heard played by orchestras and when acoustic and classically arranged music instead : this is a chance to renew one’s perspectives.

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Alt Rock Prod.  Five-Storey Ensemble : Not That City (BL,2013)****

review will be added later

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