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.