I still remember how pleasantly surprised I was, about four years ago, upon
listening to the album by The Wurli Trio titled Non-Functionals! for the first time (the CD cover showed
the album as released by Michiel Braam's Wurli Trio, Braam being the group's
leader, and its only composer).
I argued at length in my review, listening to this group (this was the
first time I was presented with such an opportunity) made me file the music
under "electric fusion of the non-tacky kind" (a definition that
I'm sure some will regard as being an oxymoron). The name of the Trio coming
from the instrument that here acted as the main sonic glue of the work:
the famous Wurlitzer electric piano model 200A.
years later, there's a new album, titled 3, under a new name, eBraam, though
the line-up is the same as before: Michiel Braam on keyboards (on the CD
cover they are listed as "keys"); Pieter Douma on electric basses;
Dirk-Peter Kölsch on drums. Again, Braam penned all the original compositions.
The album was recorded by Marcel van de Beeten. Dirk-Peter Kölsch dealt
"editing and programming". The music was mixed by van de Beeten
and Pieter Douma. The album was mastered by van de Beeten and Jos van de
stating that "eBraam is the continuation of the Wurli Trio",
the press release I received with the CD adds that 3 is inspired by Soft
Machine's third album, Third. With the theme 3 popping up in the compositions,
and their titles.
of Soft Machine, Ten Years After and George Duke can be heard throughout
the music" is something that I think should be taken with (more than)
a pinch of salt: sure, a few traces of George Duke remain; while my knowledge
of the music of Ten Years After, though far from exhaustive, should be
good enough to make me wonder if this is a slight exaggeration; about Soft
Machine... well, I dunno. It's true that I last listened to Third about
twenty years ago, but I really think that, with just a couple of minor
exceptions I'll mention later, the real influence when it comes to the
music of this album appears to be the music penned by Hugh Hopper, with
more than a few "sonic pictures"
which reminded me of those "funky" moments of the album that showed
the full maturity (while maybe being the high point) reached by post-Machine
Hopper, i.e., the album titled Hopper Tunity Box - think about such tracks
as Gnat Prong and Mobile Mobile, where the leader's bass is ably assisted
by Dave Stewart on keyboards and Mike Travis and Nigel Morris on drums.
about similarities, I have to say that in those moments that combine
"funk" and "space" elements I was reminded of the first
album (of same name) released by US trio Vida Blue (2002), a group where
the keyboard player from Phish, Page McConnell, played alongside bass player
Oteil Burbridge and drummer Russell Batiste.
are a couple of things I'd like to say about the synthetic/sound source
dimension of this album (be sure to take a deep breath).
they're listed as "keys", the quantity and variety of the sounds
featured on this album (also my deep uncertainty about the true nature
of those sounds I still consider as coming from "real" Hammonds,
Leslies, and Mellotrons) made me think hard and deep about their origin.
Here and there I seemed to detect a sound - the "roundness" of
a Minimoog coupled to the "cutting edge" of an ARP Odyssey -
that reminded of the name Clavia (whose model called Nord Lead I heard
as featured on a few albums by Wayne Horvitz's Zony Mash). So I had a look
at Michiel Braam's website, and I saw the instrument listed as Clavia Nord
so, in the course of my listening sessions, I found myself thinking about
such things as "virtual analog", "split points",
"multi-timbrality", "attack velocity", and so on. So
I had a blast consulting Wikipedia, also reading fine reviews which appeared
on magazines such as Sound On Sound and Keyboard, which made me listen to
this album with fresh ears.
point to ponder: While watching some concert excerpts of the Trio which
I found online made it apparent to me that the featured keyboard is without
a doubt a real Wurtlitzer 200A, could it be that the what appears on Non-Functionals! is just the instrument's sampled sound,
courtesy of a Clavia? Here I have to admit that the keyboard's "feel"
and attack sounded to me as more suited to a Fender Rhodes, ably assisted
"custom" add-on such as the famous Dyna-Mo Piano.)
perfectly aware that for some this discussion could be just a snooze-fest,
but I'll say this: besides being a fine album (also varied, vivacious,
surprising, and so on), 3 takes us back to a time when good keyboard players
all had their own sound - also in their exploration of synthesis. Thanks
to their individual approach to filters and wheels, one could tell if the
player one was listening to was Keith Emerson, Jan Hammer, Josef Zawinul,
George Duke, Roger Powell, or indeed Brian Eno when he played the VCS3.
Though the fact of living at a time when all experimentation is discouraged
has to be taken into consideration, it's entirely possible that the growing
complexity of those instruments we still call "keyboards" made
it inevitable for the majority to adopt the "preset" mind-set.
And it's true that the adoption of the
"plug-in" model so prevalent nowadays is not a factor that favours
the growth of "individuality" in players.
have a quick look at the tracks.
Please starts staccato, with a "Hammond", then it's Hopper echoes
off Hopper Tunity Box with Dave Stewart, some "funky"/"English
Jazz" moments, the bass coming to the fore; the track's second part
has traces of George Duke in his Zappa/Roxy & Elsewhere period. Theme
Pindaric Ode starts with solo synth, maybe glide plus ring modulator (or
a cross modulation of the oscillators? Time to blow the dust off my copy
of The Complete Synthesizer), an effect the reminded me of Brian Eno when
he tried to impersonate Tod Dockstader. Cut, then a strong attack from
the rhythm section, a fine melody on the keyboard, with a "micro-robotic" partner.
Fine solo. Starting at about 5', a "pedal" of notes sounding
halfway between a Mellotron and a Prophet 5 with filter modulation is paired
with an almost-techno "stillness" from the rhythm section. There's
an excellent "dry" snare, a "noisy", shrill, hi-hat.
Seconds starts with a Hopper-influenced melody, then it's accelerando and
ritardando, then it's time for a "funky" mid-tempo. There's a
fine theme, starring a "Hammond", ŕ la Dave Stewart. Starting
at about 3', a "repetitive" phrase, ŕ la Terry Riley, sounds
quite similar to those figures that open and close Out-Bloody-Rageous,
the long track featured on Side Four on Soft Machine's Third.
Theorem features a very melancholic theme, quite Hopper-like. There are
fine cymbals played arco, sounding harmonics. This track could be maybe
said to resemble the Hopper-penned track M C on Soft Machine's Fifth, with
Phil Howard's resonating skins played brushes. Here the track has fine
brushes on the snare drum with snare, and a deep bass. There's a fine solo
by (semi-acoustic?) bass.
Jump has a "circular" theme played by the synth, with a "metal
sheet" backing. In the background, the Mellotron/Prophet combination.
There's a solo part on a synth, with "filter modulation". Fine
is a very rhythmic track, with "Hammond" with "Leslie",
and vibrato. It's a "Hammond on steroids" which combines diverse
identities (Brian Auger! Mike Ratledge! Ray Manzarek!). There's a very
agile, and quite appropriate, figure, on drums.
Mind is made of many different elements: percussion, snare drum, electric
piano, white noise, "ethnic" percussion. This is the most
"abstract" piece of the album. Starting at about 3' 10", a
sad-sounding melody, which would not definitely sound out of place played
on a French accordion, reminded me of melodies that Robert Wyatt sang on
Soft Machine's Volume II.
Sheets To The Wind opens with a long intro with glide and vibrato animation
that really reminded me of Quatermass by Tod Dockstader. Theme. Enter the
rhythm section. Keyboards fade in. There's a theme on the "Hammond",
then an explosion of "Leslie" and vibrato. Then it's time for
an organ solo that reminded me of Jimmy Smith, Larry Young, and (!) Steve
Winwood on the live side of Last Exit by Traffic.
surprise! A Certain Kind. A cover, of course, of the Hopper-penned song
that originally appeared as the last track of Side One of Soft Machine's
first album of same name, recorded as a time when Hopper was not a member
of the group. Here the arrangement takes the song - which on the album
is sung by Robert Wyatt - back to its dimension of 60s "Soul Ballad".
Fine vocals by Pieter Douma and Marcel van de Beeten, and a fine instrumental
pairing of Ulrike von Meier's harp with a synth sounding like a Theremin.
"Bach-like", start and close, as per the original version.
© Beppe Colli 2013
CloudsandClocks.net | Apr. 22, 2013