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).

As 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.

Four 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 with "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 Broek.

After 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.

"Influences 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.

Talking 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.

Here 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).

While 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 Stage EX.

And 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.

(A 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 by a "custom" add-on such as the famous Dyna-Mo Piano.)

I'm 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.

Let's have a quick look at the tracks.

1B44, 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 again, close.

The 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.

Augmented 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.

Pythagorean 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.

Triple 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 bass.

Triad 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.

The 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.

3 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, 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. Fine, "Bach-like", start and close, as per the original version.

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2013

CloudsandClocks.net | Apr. 22, 2013