Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Patrick Moraz in Princeton

Patrick Moraz in Princeton

by Jesse Schmitt

Patrick Moraz starts his “Live in Princeton” DVD beating not on the keys of his piano but on the top of the piano; then on the strings of his piano; then on the sides of his piano. Maybe Mr. Moraz had wanted to join the drum corps at some point in his auspicious career.

Those who recognize the name will remember his playing keyboard and touring with the band Yes, in the 1970’s and “The Moody Blues” in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. It could just be that this talented keyboard player was just showing off his understanding of and respect for the importance of rhythm and beat; irregardless of how outlandish his playing style is.

Moraz would go back to that beating before this evening was done; but his piano playing was all this talented artist needed and he obviously played to a beat all his own. Just having a look at his wild shock of black hair or the crystals which hung round his neck let you know that this was a guy who marched to his own beat.

His “Princeton” DVD opens up with “Aural Contact I: Sacrifices” an eight and a half minute introduction that begins with establishing his tempo, continues with his rumbled, garbled, conflicted, yet crystal clear intonations as he dances across the ivories. At times you feel like you are listening to a song you have heard before; maybe a classical tune, maybe some bit of pop snuck in there, maybe even elevator music; but then that distinctive hand of Moraz dices it all up and fakes you out by serving you something you undoubtedly have not heard before. That is the cunning of progressive rock and progress in general; taking you places you have never been before. This is what Moraz does with such finesse.

For fans there are obvious influences; through his long career he came up with the likes of Billy Joel and Elton John; certainly those ghosts are tinged in his seemingly random rants. Moraz’ trick that you will soon familiarize yourself with is that you will only hear it for a moment before it’s gone.

Then, of course, there are the masters. Moraz does a seemingly harried interpretation of the Duke Ellington’s “Talisman.” While the Duke played it slow and close to the chest, Moraz seems a bit impatient to get it out as fast as possible. In spite of his impetuousness, there is definite spirit and respect.

Moraz also attacks Monk in his nine and a half minute tribute to “Blue Monk.” This version was a bit more recognizable and to tempo. Moraz still is able to let his jazzy side shine when he would duck through the side door and totally go off during the breaks; still always careful to return to the melody.

“Patrick Moraz in Princeton” is a colorful and worthwhile showcase of a classical progressive musician in a progressively progressive time and is certainly worth a viewing.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Monster Island Re-Issue 2001's "Dream Tiger"

Taking Control of Their Destiny; In Re-Release

By Jesse Schmitt

There is not really all that much written about the band Monster Island and in this narrow and growing narrower by the heartbeat music climate, that is just too bad. Just to listen to the lyrics on their re-release from 2001, “Dream Tiger” and I’m immediately taken back to a very familiar place; a place we’ve all been before; a place of shame, insecurity, misdirected rage, curious indignation, sought approval, and the ultimate disappointment that these actions are never forthcoming.

This album sounds to me, in my guesstimation, as a freshman effort from a sophomore band. We all remember the pain and humiliation of being just on the cusp of something much greater; this thing called “adult life” and the constant frustration when we’d always just come up short.

This is what this album sounds like to me; a picture in a frame of a person we once were years before. This picture may be embarrassing to look at today, but if you’d closely examine it, you might see some greater hints of the person you’d come to be. The slight turn in your head and the angle at which the brim of your cap was cocked; the way your head turned away with disinterest yet your body lunged forward in yearning and need says so much about the person you have become. Or the laser stare which cuts through the camera lens and had taken you from your Junior Prom all the way to the bright lights of Hollywood; just as you’d always imagined. Maybe not in the way you’d imagined but the tests of time are present.

So listening to this album which features strange sounds and haunting vocals I was immediately taken back to my grandmothers porch. The initial cling and clang of instruments and the hypnotic hum of an organ made me feel as though I were on the back porch with Grandma, whiling away the early summer days of my youth as the wind chimes tinkled in the still air. This is the way for this band all throughout.The idea that this outfit somehow “needs” to keep their instruments going throughout an entire song seems not the point to these musicians as they play when they want to. This says a great deal about this band as well. We are always struck between our own impression of ourselves cast against the prejudices and preconceptions allotted to how the rest of the world looks at us; this seems to be the same for Monster Island.

The lyrics go back and forth and sometimes meet in between. There is the flighty and airy vocals of Cary Loren who sounds as though she may just be a small girl skipping rope. The male singer (Matthew Smith) sings with darker, more direct, more aggressive intonations but seems similarly caught in the trap of this new to testosterone manner about which he sings. Erika Hoffman also sings and plays violin and harmonium; Warn Defever plays the drums, shakuhachi, and rocks out on the toy piano.

Music is artistry and I like to think of all the music in the world the same way many people view gallery art. Unfortunately music has gotten so commercialized and our tastes are all so fickle that it seems just when something good comes along; something worthwhile and revolutionary, huge money interests are right there to exploit whatever uniqueness was once there and they craft and groom the musician, sucking all the talent right from their bones until they are but a shell.

Monster Island say that they use a variety of influences in their sound including “oud, sitar, tanpura, harmonium, shakuhachi, djembe, gamelan, guitars, bass, cello, flute, drums, Chinese organ, water harp, mini-moog, and gongs.” These musical influences go right along with their lyrical content of “artist and literary biographies, social protest, ecology, apocalyptic verse, long narrations, regional histories, spiritualism, conspiracy theory, Zen, UFOs, Japanese monsters, Haiku death poems and Voodoo.”

This all makes for an interesting listen. So if you are fed up with the standard fare which is offered for you on commercial radio and you want to hear something real and something raw then you should check out Monster Island.

Fame 4 at Fuel Rock Out!

Seeking It Out In Studio City

By Jesse Schmitt

We all, somewhere down deep in our heart of hearts, want to be famous. It’s intrinsic; it’s the way we’re brought up, it’s part of that dreaded envy/expectation gene which is split to believe that not only do we want what we see that others have, but that somehow, we’re entitled to it.

So it goes that one of the biggest proponents of this high style of envy is American Idol. Many people watch it; many people enjoy it; a surprisingly larger number of people strive to participate in this contest/slaughterhouse. In the end it turns into a contest; in the beginning though it is just like a bunch of pigs led to slaughter as the large majority of those who all have a singular goal on their minds are shown the door rather than the glitz and glam of the camera and the limelight of the stage.

It was with this in mind that my wife and I attended the most recent production of “Fame 4” at the bar Fuel (11608 Ventura Blvd) in Studio City. “Fame” we’ll all remember, was a 1980 movie which was thus adapted into a musical; along the way it was a television series and a reality TV program before “reality TV” had entered the public lexicon. Any child of the 1980’s no doubt was up early Saturday morning, dancing around their living room in their Pac-Man pajama’s singing “Fame! I’m gonna’ live forever” softly, so as not to awaken the parents. The fact that I lived next to the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Performing Arts for four years should not be lost on this reading audience; the fact is that even thought the program had been off the air for years, I thought it was a little endearing that there had been the actual dream coming to life on my street – just across the street, coincidently (and just to the rear of my building) from what I’d affectionately dubbed the “Lincoln Center Projects;” the vast public housing units were what made the whole thing real. A reference is mentioned to the area by Jason Mraz in his song “Curbside Prophet:” (“You see it started way back in NYC; When I stole my first rhyme from the M-I-C; At a West End Avenue at 63”).

Back to the subject at hand, though; we had attended this “Fame 4” spectacular hoping to just get an idea for what was going on. In the world of performance, there are definitely some who belong and some who maybe not so much. I won’t get into any specifics on any of the individual performers just because I wasn’t jotting down names; I will say though that performance is really all about interpretation.

I have a very extensive music collection and a fairly diverse knowledge of pop music popularity and history; Phil Collins, John Cougar Mellencamp, Michael Stipe, Elvis (!) all stood shoulder to shoulder with Lisa Loeb, Linda Rondstat, Nena, and musical theatre in the invocations of these folks. The truly refreshing thing about this experience was that I was able to hear the individual performer’s voice despite the fact that these were very popular tunes (I know you know ”99 Luftballoons”)

I can sometimes be a stickler for the details and I found myself sitting right to the front, more interested in the screen which displayed the words and the subtle differences in the recorded versions of these songs and the karaoke versions. I spoil things for myself sometimes by being such a cad, but I have the non-alcoholic hangover headache today as my reward.

An enjoyable time was had by all. I must say, in complete deference to all the rest of the performers, my wife had to be the best one I’d heard all night. That is with no implicit bias whatsoever.

“Fame 4” goes on for the next several weeks or so in Studio City CA so if you are out on the town and are looking for something a little bit different, why not head on over to Fuel on Ventura Blvd?