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Posts Tagged ‘Markus Reuter’

SETLIST:
Vroom Vroom
Smudge
Relentless
Slowglide
Cusp
Breathless
Open Pt. 3
Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Pt. II
Firebird Suite Pt. 1-4
Indiscipline
Red

Jammin’ Java, the quaint coffee house/bar doubling up as music venue located in the charming neighbourhood of Vienna, in the Washington DC metro area, seems to have become a firm favourite with Tony Levin and his Stick Men bandmates, Pat Mastelotto and Markus Reuter – even though the Boston-born bass/Chapman stick wizard must be used to much larger, flashier venues. Judging by his happy demeanour, Levin seems to have a soft spot for the place (as does his friend and former King Crimson partner, Adrian Belew) – even when, as in this case, the gig involves some considerable juggling.  Indeed, the April 27 date (following the triumphant, sold-out appearance by Two of a Perfect Trio in September 2011) had been rather oddly sandwiched between a date in Connecticut and one in upstate New York – forcing the band to cut their show rather shorter than usual to allow them to hit the road in good time.

The screen at the back of the stage proudly displayed the banner of the DC Society of Art Rock (DC-SOAR), a group that for the past few years has been quite active in promoting progressive music in the Washington/Baltimore area . Unfortunately, attendance was not what such a relatively high-profile outfit would usually command, and the long, dimly lit space before the stage was nowhere as crowded as it might have been in different circumstances. Indeed, having a concert start at 7.30 on a Friday night in a high-traffic area is quite likely to keep away quite a few prospective attendees.  Though all of the 25 VIP tickets had been sold, they were not really worth the extra $15, as the only advantage they gave was to be able to get inside early and listen to the soundcheck while partaking of food or drink in the Lobby Bar. The VIP seating area was also quite cramped, while the tables and seats that had been arranged in the general admission area were much more comfortable, and allowed a great view of the stage. Luckily, as I observed in my review of the Two of a Perfect Trio gig, the ear-shattering volume that had characterized my first two visits to the venue in 2009 has been toned down, so that people will not find themselves stunned by the sheer impact of an almost physical wall of sound.

For those who are still pining about the demise of King Crimson (at least in terms of live performances), bands like Stick Men are a godsend, as they retain all the energy and complexity of the original, coupled with a much more open, friendly attitude towards their audience. Although I have never seen Mr Fripp in action, I am well aware of his inflexible stance about taking pictures during concerts – which was replicated by Eddie Jobson’s Ultimate Zero Project at NEARfest 2010 (much to the dismay of the audience). Seeing Levin, Mastelotto and Reuter smile and wave at the fans, take pictures of the audience at the end of the concert, take some time to chat with the fans, and generally enjoy themselves on stage – all the while retaining a thoroughly professional attitude – was incredibly refreshing, and a boon to everyone who had bought a ticket in spite of the inconvenient scheduling of the gig.

In spite of the time constraints, Stick Men produced a richly satisfying setlist, expanded from their September performance, and including enough King Crimson material to please the more nostalgic component of the crowd. However, their own compositions definitely stand up to comparisons with the “mother band”, following in its footsteps while avoiding the clone-like feel that occasionally mars the output of celebrated acts’ side projects. While highly proficient in the technical department, Stick Men’s music is powerful, muscular and strikingly modern –  the endless range of expressive possibilities offered by two polyphonic instruments such as the Chapman stick and Reuter’s custom-made touch guitar (a glossy red number deceptively looking like a traditional guitar) supported by Mastelotto’s rhythmic powerhouse.

In spite of their extensive touring schedule, Stich Men are busy working on their new album, which is slated for a fall release. In the meantime, they have been writing other material: Levin jokingly stated that they had written an album last Friday, and the audience was treated to one of those new pieces, titled “Open Pt. 3”. All the original compositions were very strong, ranging from the evenly paced, atmospheric “Slowglide” (featuring Levin on vocals, and an entrancing, effects-laden middle section) to the aptly titled “Relentless”, a hard-hitting piece reminiscent of King Crimson’s late ‘90s incarnation.

As could be expected, however, it was the King Crimson stuff that drew the most applause. Classics like “Red” and “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Pt II” were rendered in a heavier, though perhaps less subtle fashion, proving once again the essential role played by King Crimson in the development of progressive metal. Reuter filled Fripp’s role with aplomb, and Levin’s Chapman stick was all over the place, aided and abetted by Mastelotto’s unflagging beat. A particularly intense version of “Indiscipline”, with a slo-mo, drawn-out introduction and Levin doing a decent Belew impersonation, was one of the undisputed highlights of the show, together with the stunning “Firebird Suite (Pt. 1-4)”. Mastelotto’s imperious drumming paralleled Stravinsky’s trademark percussive firepower, while Levin and Reuter seamlessly worked their way through the intricate orchestral arrangements, debunking the myth that banks of keyboards are indispensable to any reinterpretation of great classical music.

In a few months, those who missed out on Friday’s gig will be able to see Stick Men perform again with Adrian Belew’s Power Trio (under the handle of Crimson ProjecKct), when they open for Dream Theater on their Washington DC date (July 13, Warner Theatre). Levin’s former partnership with John Petrucci, Mike Portnoy and Jordan Rudess in Liquid Tension Experiment should be enough to explain this apparently odd pairing. It is to be hoped that this slot on a much longer and higher-profile tour will create more interest in Stick Men’s own original material, which deserves all the exposure it can get.

Links:
http://www.papabear.com/

http://www.dc-soar.org/

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A few months ago, fans of King Crimson had reason to rejoice when the amusingly-named Two of a Perfect Trio tour was announced – an extensive North American tour that would feature Adrian Belew and Tony Levin with their respective bands, Adrian Belew’s Power Trio (AB3 for short) and Stick Men. Many of those fans (including myself) had been waiting in vain for a full-fledged 40th anniversary tour, and in 2009 news of its cancellation had caused widespread consternation among the ranks of those who had been unable to attend any of the four 2008 concerts. Even if the release of A Scarcity of Miracles earlier this year brought some respite to the starved Crimson fans, the lack of live action and the uncertainty about the future of the band were discouraging to say the least.

Not surprisingly, about a week before the event, tickets for the date in the Washington DC metro area were already sold out . While other dates of the tour had been booked in medium-sized theatres, the DC gig was slated to take place at a rather unlikely venue, considering the relative fame of the artists involved. In fact, the Jammin’ Java  (as its name suggests) is a café/bar that doubles up as a music club with a regular schedule of evening concerts. Incidentally, Adrian Belew’s Power Trio had performed there in the summer of 2009 (a week or so after the near-legendary performance of Eddie Jobson’s U-Z with Marco Minnemann, Simon Phillips, Greg Howe and Trey Gunn), so the venue was a known quantity at least to one of the artists involved.

Anyway, though rather unconventional and far from capacious, the Jammin’ Java is very conveniently situated for anyone living in the DC metro area, and also quite pleasant and full of character – even if the dim, cellar-like lighting does not allow for a lot of social interaction. For the occasion, though, the venue had been redesigned in order to allow as many people inside as possible: the seating had been removed, with the exception of the small, fenced “VIP area” and the bar benches at the entrance for those who were partaking of food bought on the premises. On my two previous visits to the club, the volume of the music had approached eardrum-shattering proportions; this time around, however, the sound system operated at a manageable decibel level, rendering the use of earplugs unnecessary even when standing very close to the stage. To be perfectly honest, I would have enjoyed the concert even more if I had been able to sit down, but the music was so incredibly good (and plentiful) that even the mild discomfort of having to stand up was considerably lessened.

The morning before the concert, as a warm-up, my husband and I had played the complete “red-blue-yellow” trilogy, and were expecting  an evening to remember, encouraged by some of the comments already available on the Internet. However, the concert exceeded those expectations, with nearly three hours of incredible music and a very warm, friendly atmosphere – and that in spite of its rather stripped-down nature. With no gimmicks or special effects besides a few well-placed lights, the two trios relied only on their considerable experience and creativity – letting the music do the talking, as clichéd as it may sound.

Though the music associated with King Crimson projects an aura of intellectualism and near-unapproachability, and is often indicted of being very “masculine”, lacking the necessary melodic quotient to attract women, there was quite a fair number of ladies crowding around the stage, and none of them appeared to be suffering. Personally, I believe that melody is a very important component of music, and do not generally enjoy “noise” for its own sake. However, King Crimson and its related projects simply transcend any specious conflict between  “accessible” and “difficult” progressive rock. Indeed,  the concert proved once again that King Crimson’s music possesses a freshness and cutting-edge appeal that have not been dimmed one whit by time. Not surprisingly, the music of both trios is indebted to the “mother band”, though not in an overtly derivative way, but rather as a form of development. I firmly believe that, while it is perfectly feasible to sound identical to Yes or Genesis (check the latest Wobbler album for confirmation), sounding exactly like King Crimson is next to impossible – due to the fluid, ever-evolving nature of the band’s musical output.

The concert was opened by Tony Levin’s Stick Men, introducing their new member Markus Reuter, who had replaced Michael Bernier earlier this year. Levin’s warm, gracious interaction with the enthusiastic crowd subtly complemented the sheer intensity of the music – as did his vocals, definitely not “beautiful” in any conventional sense, but still an oddly successful fit for the  band’s sound. Alongside tracks from his 2007  solo album Stick Man and the trio’s latest release, Soup, Levin surprised the audience with a blistering version of “VROOM” that  anticipated what would happen in the last half an hour or so of the show. The trio’s astonishing rendition of Stravinsky’s Firebird suite proved once again progressive rock’s affinity for the works of the great Russian composer; while the rap intro and funky suggestions of  “Soup” were also warmly greeted by an audience clearly more open to all sorts of contaminations than the average fan of traditional prog. Markus Reuter, his serious mien occasionally softened by a friendly smile, with his touch guitar (designed and built by himself) offered a perfect foil for Levin’s acrobatic excursions on the Chapman stick – which included using a bow, Jimmy Page-style, as well as his famed “funk fingers”. With the supreme ease and confidence born of a long partnership, Pat Mastelotto provided an impeccable backbeat, meshing with the riveting patterns woven by the two string instruments, and creating textures of astounding beauty.

After a short break, Adrian Belew and his cohorts – Julie Slick on bass and Tobias Ralph (who had replaced Julie’s brother, Eric) on drums – took to the stage for some more humour-laced mayhem. Belew, ever the genial host, looked in excellent shape, his voice still capable of delivering the goods with confidence and flair, while the instrumental firepower unleashed by the three musicians was quite awe-inspiring.  In some ways, AB3’s music has an even sharper edge than Stick Men’s, as amply proved by the almost 10 minutes of  e, the title-track of the trio’s latest recording effort. Adrian’s twangy, trebly guitar tone, like his voice, may be an acquired taste, but makes for a gripping listening experience, especially when assisted by such an impeccable rhythm section – redefining the old warhorse of the power trio in thoroughly modern terms. As far as I am concerned, however, the real focal point of the trio’s performance was Julie Slick, a monster bassist with an uncanny sense of rhythm, perfectly integrating with Tobias Ralph’s powerful yet restrained drumming– and a refreshing example of a new generation of women artists who are in the business of making great music rather than flaunting their physical charms. Though a very attractive young woman, with her bare feet and mop of curly hair, Julie is a musician first and foremost, who amply deserves all the respect due to any musician as skilled and dedicated as she is.

And then it was time for the “extended Crim-centric encore” everyone in the audience had been waiting for. Though I am usually a bit harsh on people whom I perceive as “living in the past” – failing thus to appreciate the excellent music put out by modern acts – I will proudly admit to not practicing what I preach when it comes to anything King Crimson-related. Having never been so lucky as to see them perform live (when they played in Rome in 2003 I had to give the concert a miss because I was not feeling well), this was the closest I had got to “real” Crimson live action. Moreover, unlike some more conservative proggers, I am a staunch fan of the Eighties trilogy, and Discipline ranks as one of my all-time favourite albums –  so I was understandably stoked at the very idea of witnessing a live performance of some of those classic songs.

The third part of the show began with only the three tenured KC members on stage, effortlessly running through the funky pace and engagingly nonsensical vocals of “Elephant Talk” (in which the influence of Talking Heads’ take on afrobeat was hard to miss) and the more laid-back strains of “Three of a Perfect Pair”. When the trio was joined by Reuter, the audience was treated to a barnstorming rendition of the iconic “Red”, beefed up by the distinctive contribution of the touch guitar. The infectious “Dinosaur” and the angular “Frame by Frame” had the crowd eating out of the two combined trio’s hands; while  the eerie soundscapes and double-drum spot of “B’Boom” (the latter reminding me of Simon Phillips and Marco Minnemann’s drum duel during the Eddie Jobson set in 2009) and the soothing, almost seductive “One Time” laid the groundwork for the show’s white-hot climax.

Though women are not generally expected to like such stuff, “Indiscipline” ranks as one of my all-time favourite King Crimson tracks, so you can imagine my delight when I heard Levin (assisted by Slick and Reuter) sketch the song’s unmistakable intro – this time stretched into an almost unbearable build-up of tension and false starts, then exploding into a maelstrom of slashing, wailing guitar. Heavier than the heaviest metal, and totally mind-blowing, the song oozed with the pure beauty of chaos. After briefly bowing out, leaving the audience wrung out but deliriously happy, the two bands came back on stage and got everyone to dance and sing along with the irrestistible “Thela Hun Ginjeet”. Who said you cannot dance at a prog gig?

If I wanted to nitpick, I might say that I missed some of my favourites – particularly “Level Five” and “Sleepless” with its killer bass line – but I suppose that, after such a performance, quibbling would sound a bit excessive. Almost three hours of music at that level of quality and intensity are anything but an everyday occurrence, and the two trios delivered everything their dedicated fans were expecting – and then some. They made music written over 30 years ago sound as fresh and relevant as if it had been released today, reaffirming King Crimson’s essential role in the continuing evolution of progressive rock.

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TRACKLISTING:

1. Transformation (2.01)
2. Room Without Shadows (4.49)
3. Road To Asheville (5.40)
4. Hex (4.35)
5. Blood Sky (5.01)
6. Anamnesis (5.50)
7. Vibrissa (4.47)
8. Possession (4.22)
9. S. Karma (4.43)
10. The Face Of Another (4.20)

LINEUP:
Mark Cook – Warr guitar, fretless bass, fretless guitar, ebow, synth, acoustic and nylon string guitars, chunk guitar, programming, synth treatments, loops, keyboards
Mike Davison – guitars, guitar synth, nylon string guitar, sitar
Jason Spradlin – drums, marimba, camel bells, low synth drone

With:
Gayle Ellett – mellotron (5), guitar (5, 6, 7), upright bass, bouzouki (7)
Bob Fisher – flute (3, 9)
Gavin Harrison – drums (7, 8 )
Jerry Marotta – drums, percussion (5)
Pat Mastelotto – drums, electronics, percussion (6)
Martin McCall – percussion (3)
Mike McGary – keyboards, additional synth treatments (7)
Markus Reuter – touch guitar, guitar, loops (6, 8 )
Dave Streett – Warr guitar (3, 5), bass guitar (6, 7, 10)
Kris Swenson – vocals (5), vocal samples (8)

A trio of musicians based in Arlington (Texas), Herd of Instinct are one of the hottest new names on the vast progressive rock scene. The band was formed in 2007 by guitarist Mark Cook and drummer Jason Spradlin after the demise of their previous band, 99 Names of God, and started work on their self-titled debut immediately after the addtion of guitarist Mike Davison. The album, finally released in May 2011 on Djam Karet’s new label, Firepool Record, sees the collaboration of an impressive roster of guest musicians, including Djam Karet’s Gayle Ellett, German guitarist and composer Markus Reuter, and celebrated drummers Gavin Harrison, Jerry Marotta and Pat Mastelotto.

The connection with Djam Karet, one of the few genuine cult bands on the whole progressive rock scene, undoubtedly creates expectations of intricate yet dynamic instrumental music – and this is exactly what Herd of Instinct offer in their debut (in spite of the presence of one track with vocals). Instrumental prog bands are often outstanding, and also tend to branch out far more than bands that prominently feature vocals. In a way, the instrumental dimension, fuelling the eclecticism that is an essential component of truly progressive music, allows musicians to explore avenues that sometimes are limited by the presence of a singer, and experiment with different aspects of sound (including pauses of silence) and the creation of a wide range of moods.

Gloriously omnivorous and unabashedly bold, Herd of Instinct stake their claim on the territory where King Crimson held sway for 35 years. Even if Fripp has made a comeback of sorts in very recent times with the excellent A Scarcity of Miracles, Herd of Instinct’s debut brings back memories of state-of-the-art instrumental masterpieces such as “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic”, “Fracture” or “The Sheltering Sky”-  a towering, multilayered achievement marrying flawless technical skill with a healthy dose of emotion, a feast of haunting soundscapes and jagged rhythms that seems to epitomize the very idea of progressiveness.

Clocking in at about 48 minutes, Herd of Instinct features 10 relatively short tracks that are nevertheless packed with changes in tempo and mood, striking an admirable balance between edginess, melody and atmosphere “Transformation” introduces the album in brooding, highly cinematic fashion, with pounding drums and piano, ominously surging keyboard waves and tinkling bells. With the following track, “Room Without Shadows”, things take a decidedly heavier turn, the spacious orchestral effects already featured in the previous number blending with borderline metal riffing, and a stunning guitar solo that would not be out of place on an album like Starless and Bible Black. The gorgeously muted, Eastern-tinged opening to “Road to Asheville”, with its haunting flute, sitar and ethnic percussion, suddenly shifts into a crushingly heavy, riff-driven passage, ending on a mournful note with slow, acoustic guitar chords: while the aptly-titled “Hex” (the perfect soundtrack for some horror movie) opens with eerie electronic effects and then, slowly but inexorably, gains intensity, with crashing cymbals and spiky riffing opening in a marvellous guitar solo. “Anamnesis” is very much in a similar vein, a veritable feast for guitar lovers fuelled by spectacular drum work (courtesy of King Crimson’s very own Pat Mastelotto), with loops and other electronic effects depicting a richly emotional soundscape.

“Blood Sky”, the only track featuring vocals, is one of the undisputed highlights of the album, a haunting showcase for the husky, understated vocals of former 99 Names of God singer Kris Swenson. Mellotron and marimba add subtle atmospheric layers to the spectacular guitar interplay, fleshed out by stunning percussion patterns.”Vibrissa” and “Possession” pursue a similar route, the former slow and measured, with interlocking guitar lines and soloing alternating between wildness and melody; the latter sparse and percussion-driven, with understated guitar work enhanced by snippets of wailing vocal samples. On “S. Karma”, the echoing, almost liquid sound of Mike Cook’s Warr guitar comes into its own, offset by an uncharacteristically aggressive flute solo that seems to mimic the heavy riffing. Closing track “The Face of Another” presents a basic power trio configuration assisted by electronics that provide a range of interesting effects as a background for Cook’s splendid guitar excursions – like a 21st-century take on King Crimson’s iconic “Discipline”.

Herd of Instinct is one of those rare debut albums that are practically perfect in every respect, and need no suggestions for further improvement. An absolute must for fans of King Crimson, it will delight devotees of complex, hard-edged yet atmospheric prog, and those who are somewhat weary of technically competent bands that are sorely lacking in the originality department. With outstanding (though slightly disturbing) cover artwork and photography,  as well as excellent production by guest bassist/Warr guitarist Dave Streett, Herd of Instinct can be hailed as a serious contender for best release of 2011.

Links:
http://www.wix.com/herdofinstinct/herdofinstinct

http://www.myspace.com/herdofinstinctband

http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/HerdofInstinct

http://www.djamkaret.com/disc-fr001.php

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