on 5 February 2001
How does one describe the undescribable? "Kew. Rhone" really defies all classification - in fact, it defies everything that's conventional or orthodox. It is a treasure trove of highly original music that has got elements of jazz, (progressive) rock, classical, Kurt Weill & several other styles rolled into an intriguing hybrid which nevertheless makes sense - probably in a similar way Lewis Carroll does make sense, I must add. As to the lyrical content, Peter Blegvad's highly literate texts are probably the most profoundly artistic "lyrics" ever to have been sung on a popular music recording. Superlatives are often empty and misleading, but this is probably as close as anything can get in being "the best ever recording" on my list.
on 26 October 2007
What a superb record. A consistently experimental and very highly listenable recording that melds avant garde jazz, progressive rock and contemporary classical music with a lyrical interest in lists, diagrams and palindromes. The playing, singing and composition/arrangements are generally first rate.
The album opens with a slightly clumsy intro which stacks some main thematic ideas in a kind of big band arrangement - then after the inauspicious start we are into the superbly energetic "Twenty Two Proverbs", in which a list of aphorisms are set with chromatic chord progressions and wonderful points of arrangement (close vocal harmonies and mixtures of solo and ensemble singing). This also has a blistering heavy electric guitar solo by Peter Blegvad in its centre.
"Seven Scenes..." is introspective and atmospheric with a lilting jazzy middle section... this is music with wide ranging expressive vocal melodies. The piano playing by John Greaves is also especially notable on this track.
"Kew.Rhone" and "Pipeline" - these pieces are real highlights - great playing, great compositions, great rhythm and feel, great complex melodic and harmonic progressions. And... Mike Mantler's trumpet solo on "Pipeline" - awesome!
"Catalogue..." returns to introspection at the start and runs through some quite demented ostinatos and virtuosic fast singing... always growing in intensity throughout the piece
There is a bit of a dip in quality with "One Footnote" which is short, brash and humorous. "Three Tenses Onanism" has a nice piano intro but ultimately comes across as unnecessarily rambling and atonal - it is perhaps the most extremely avant garde piece on the album with a vocal by Peter Blegvad.
"Nine Mineral Emblems" is back on form - introspective at the start and then with a change to some very tasty jazzy energetic playing dominated by some outstanding drumming and bass playing.
"Apricot" isn't of the quality of the rest of the album, although Mike Mantler's trumpet solo is excellent.
"Gegenstand" is an enigmatic, mysterious and spare but melodically complex epilogue - it leaves the album on a pensive note.
The version I have also has a CD Rom component with music, text and visuals allowing those interested to unpick some of the conceptual underpinnings of the work.
This music is unique as it represents the fusing of American experimental ensemble jazz (a la Carla Bley/Mike Mantler/Frank Zappa (in his big band jazzish works) with an English avant jazz rock sensibility that would include Henry Cow, National Health etc. Many more people should know about this excellent and unique music.