Exposé Online banner

Animation — Machine Language
(RareNoise RNR055, 2015, CD)

by Jon Davis, Published 2015-10-19

Machine Language Cover art

Storytelling and music have been combined for so long that it’s impossible to say who first had the idea to tell a story with music. Maybe that was the original purpose of music – who knows? From traveling bards to classical opera to Broadway musicals to progressive rock concept albums, it’s something that’s been going on for a long time. But composer / saxophonist Bob Belden came up with something not quite like anything I’ve heard before. The story part of Machine Language is narrated by Kurt Elling, telling a story inspired by many science fictional sources (Philip K. Dick and Iain M. Banks are mentioned specifically, as is Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and I'll throw in some Isaac Asimov as well). The music portion takes off from Miles Davis’s early 70s work, especially Big Fun and Get up with It. This is a musical vein that can still yield high-quality ore, and in the hands of these musicians, the result is grooving and out there, without sounding derivative. Matt Young is the drummer, and his playing is funky without losing the jazz core, built up from space and sensitive listening. The bass is handled by Bill Laswell, and his tones at times add a distinctly modern flair, with some effects that just didn’t exist when Miles was doing it. Roberto Verastegui’s keyboards are frequently the star of the show, with electric piano dominating, including some stellar freaked-out ring-modulated parts. Peter Clagett takes on the trumpet parts; I’m unfamiliar with his name, but he nails it, whether with open bell or muted. He can go moody and spaced-out, or solo with the best of them, often with echo or other effects. Belden’s sax and flute are excellent as well; I particularly like when he mangles his tone with a touch of distortion. I would guess that some music fans might be put off by the narration – it does kind of jump out at you, and really necessitates listening to the album as a whole – but in its favor, the story is actually engaging, and works both as intelligent science fiction and as a kind of poetry. I’ll admit to being a bit slow to take to this one, but in the end, I’ll say it’s among the best jazz releases of the year. Belden’s death in May of this year is a tragic loss, and Machine Language is testament to the singular talent he was.


Filed under: New releases, 2015 releases

Related artist(s): Bill Laswell, Bob Belden / Animation

Latest news

2018-05-14
Glenn Branca RIP – Experimental guitarist and composer Glenn Branca has died at the age of 69. He was known for compositions featuring large ensembles of guitars, and for the use of feedback. He founded his band Theoretical Girls in the mid-70s as an art-punk answer to what he saw as the increasing commercialization of punk music. His compositions were highly influential, with such figures as David Bowie, Thurston Moore, and John Lurie among his fans. » Read more

2018-04-05
OBEY Convention XI Set for May 24-28 in Halifax – As the 2018 festival season rapidly approaches, we’d like you to be aware of a real treasure of diverse and creative music that’s going to take place in Halifax, Nova Scotia, next month. The OBEY Convention is on its 11th outing, and features a wide range of artists from around the world. From avant-industrial noise to experimental takes on Classical Chinese music, from chamber jazz to doom metal, from ambient soundscapes to Canadian First Nations drumming, you’d be hard pressed to find a festival with more variety in sound anywhere in the world. » Read more

2018-04-04
Close to the Rain Festival in Bergen Announces Lineup – Now in its second year, the Close to the Rain Festival of progressive music is scheduled to take place in Bergen, Norway, on June 7 - 9. They've got an amazing slate of bands lined up, including such powerhouses as Anekdoten, Major Parkinson, Arabs in Aspic, Tusmørke, and many more. » Read more

2018-03-01
Seaprog 2018 Artist Announcements Raise Festival's Profile – Seattle's Seaprog festival has been going since 2013, and the 2018 edition features a slate of artists that's sure to bring more attention to the event. Cheer-Accident, Bubblemath, and Free Salamander Exhibit are in the first round announcement of performers. In keeping with their tradition of focusing on regional artists, they will also present a number of artists from Washington and Oregon. [Edit: Just added: Inner Ear Brigade] » Read more

2018-02-26
Adelbert von Deyen RIP – Word reaches us that German electronic musician Adelbert von Deyen has died. His recorded legacy reaches back to 1978, when Sky Records released Sternzeit. Von Deyen, who was born October 25, 1953 in Süderbrarup, was also known as a painter and graphic artist. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

Praise Space Electric - Mushroom Jazz – This is progressive rock with a groove. The title Mushroom Jazz is actually a pretty apt name, as this is not too stylistically far away from Acid Jazz. Weird analog synth sounds, funky bass and...  (1999) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues