1. Cuckoo (9:23)
2. Knowledge (6:09)
3. Let Go (4:54)
4. Khajurao (5:22)
5. Hero (10:13)
6. UFO-RA (6:44)
7. Falling Up (18:03)
8. Palitana Mood (3:05)
Tony Bianco – drums, loops, percussion
Michel Delville – electric guitar, bouzouki, electronics
Jordi Grognard – tenor sax, bass clarinet, flute, bansuri, electronic tempura
Machine Mass Trio was originally born as a side project of douBt, the electric jazz trio formed by Belgian guitarist Michel Delville whose acclaimed debut album, Never Pet a Burning Dog, was released in 2009 by influential New York-based label Moonjune Records. For this project, Delville and renowned NYC drummer Tony Bianco recruited a rising star of the modern jazz scene, Belgian reedist/saxophonist Jordi Grognard, who is also well-versed in non-Western woodwind instruments. Machine Mass Trio’s debut, As Real As Thinking, recorded live in the studio in October 2010, was released in November 2011 with the support of the Belgian French Community.
Like most of Moonjune Records’ output, As Real As Thinking is definitely not an immediately accessible album – sophisticated and multilayered, yet permeated with a sense of sharp urgency that surfaces when you would least expect it. In a veritable melting pot of diverse influences, the album merges the raw power of free jazz and guitar-based progressive rock à la King Crimson with the heady mysticism of Eastern music filtered through the electronic experimentalism of Krautrock. The three band members alternating in the spotlight or blending their collective strengths together to produce music that is constantly challenging but always rewarding, contribute in equal measure to the success of the final product.
At the core of Machine Mass Trio’s sound lies Tony Bianco’s astonishing drumming, a concentrate of pure energy and flawless time-keeping. He lays down an unflagging beat for the whole 10 minutes of the jammy, deceptively sedate “Hero”, providing a steady rhythmic backdrop for Delville and Grognard’s exertions. On the other hand, in the spectacular 18 minutes of “Falling Up Nº 9” – a tour de force that marries intoxicating psychedelic suggestions with chaotic free-jazz improvisation – he unleashes the pyrotechnics, the drums starting out in a subdued fashion, then gradually gaining intensity, sparring with Delville’s guitar and eerie electronic effects in an exhilarating crescendo.
Delville’s guitar runs the gamut from the blistering riffage of “Let Go”, with its almost metallic edge coupled with Grognard’s unbridled, highly emotional sax, to the intriguingly laid-back textures and staggered rhythms of “Knowledge”. The distinctive sound of the bouzouki, with its haunting, sitar-like twang, replaces the guitar in the Eastern-inspired “Khajurao” (named after the Hindu temple complex famous for its erotic sculptures) and album closer “Palitana Mood” – sinuously intertwining with Grognard’s breathy flutes, discreet percussion and buzzing electronic effects; while “UFO-RA” revolves around Delville’s slightly dissonant synth guitar, emoting over the lively pace set by drums, piano and sax.
A classy blend of stunning technical prowess, energy and creativity, As Real As Thinking is never predictable, and will not disappoint fans of independent labels such as ECM and Cuneiform, which, like Moonjune, comfortably straddle the lines between jazz, avant-garde, world music and progressive rock. In spite of the collective talent gathered here, the album celebrates the joy of unfettered playing, in a spirit that is both collaborative and mindful of each musician’s background and inclination. Though the album may be a daunting prospect for those who prize flowing melodies and carefully structured compositions, it is highly recommended to adventurous listeners and anyone who supports genuinely progressive music-making.