Saturday, March 3, 2012

New Music: Dream Theater, Brand X, John Hassell

Score: 20th Anniversary World Tour by Dream Theater

After years of encountering Dream Theater or its band members on Pandora and other forums I decided to get my first Dream Theater album. As I tend to do in cases like this, I chose a live album hoping to get a wide selection of tunes from various eras. Hence, Score. Part of my interest in progressive metal comes from Norway's Circus Maximus and Poland's Riverside, two bands in which a friend and I have shared an interest.

Certainly, the members of Dream Theater (John Petrucci, guitar; John Myung, bass; Jordan Rudess, keyboards; Mike Mangini, drums) are technical masters of their instruments. I've heard recordings of them performing with other artists that are truly impressive. So don't read "metal" and think knuckle-dragging, 2 chords, 3 minutes and 4/4 time.

Perhaps I chose the wrong album. This live album includes 3 CDs, two of which include lengthy performances of concept pieces with the Octavarium Orchestra. While I have nothing against concept works, rock bands performing with orchestras tend to rub me the wrong way. Disc 2 includes the 41 minute piece Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence and Disc 3 includes 26 minutes of Octavarium. At least Disc 1 has 8 tunes of no more than 12 minutes.

Unfortunately, I have decided that I'm not a fan of vocalist James LaBrie. When he confines himself to the lower octaves he's OK. But he has a tendency to push into the higher register where, at the risk of sounding like Randy Jackson, he's a bit pitchy. The way he slurs into each high note trying to find the correct pitch is annoying. Worse yet, he has a habit of applying vibrato to those higher notes which only emphasizes the pitchiness. It's almost like the vibrato is a cover for his inability to hit the high notes.

So while I don't regret buying Dream Theater's Score, I won't be rushing out to by another CD by them anytime soon.

Moroccan Roll by Brand X

A couple of weeks ago, probably after listening to Spyrogyra and and Return to Forever, I realized that I really had to get some Brand X on CD. I hadn't listened to any in over a decade, since my turntable broke. If you're not familiar with Brand X (and you probably aren't) it's a jazz fusion band from the late 1970s. Moroccan Roll (1977) is their second album and features John Goodsall on guitar, Percy Jones on bass, Robin Lumley on piano, Phil Collins on drums, (yes, Phil Collins from Genesis), and Morris Pert who, according to the liner notes performed "percussion and a vast number of bits and things that he hit while the tape was running including: The QE2, Idi Amin, and undiscovered parts of Scotland."

That last bit and the album's title should give you the idea that this is a fun album. It's fun and funky, open and jazzy, punchy and laid back. Collins' drumming has a light jazz touch that contrasts with what he was playing with Genesis at the time. The band performs as a true ensemble.

I just dug around in the closet and found my Brand X LPs: Unorthodox Behavior (1976), Moroccan Roll (1977), Product (1979), Do They Hurt? (1980), and Is There Anything About (1982). I also found a Pat Benatar, but we'll skip that. Which album should I buy next?

Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street by Jon Hassell 

The gem in this little group is Jon Hassell's Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street that I picked up based on a friend's recommendation (thanks Ted!).

Hassell is a trumpet player and composer with whom I was only slightly familiar because of his collaboration with Brian Eno. He's said to be known for his work with "world music" (a term which I don't like as it means very little) but his virtuosity, at least as demonstrated on Last Night..., are his trumpet playing and his minimalist composing. When you read "trumpet player" do not think Maynard Ferguson. Instead imagine the offspring of Miles Davis and Brian Eno. The performance and its electronic treatments are almost vocal. The composition reminds me only a little of Steve Reich. It's definitely post-modern, unstructured, ambient, enchanting.

As luck would have it, the last track on the CD was irreparably damaged by my computer's CD drive when I was importing it into iTunes so I've already re-added it to my wish list at

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