Exposé Online banner

Animation — Machine Language
(RareNoise RNR, 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

2017-05-19
First ProgStock Festival Set for October – October 2017 will see the inaugural edition of a festival called ProgStock in Rahway, New Jersey at the Union County Performing Arts Center. With a definite slant towards neo-progressive music, the event is sure to please many fans with the inclusion of such artists as Echolyn, Glass Hammer, and Aisles. The festival will take place October 13-15. » Read more

2017-05-05
Clive Brooks RIP – Word reaches us today of another sad passing in the music world. Drummer Clive Brooks, best known as a member of such Canterbury bands as Egg, Uriel / Arzachel, and Groundhogs, has died at the age of 67. Details are sketchy at this point. The news was reported on Nick Mason's Facebook page — Brooks was Mason's drum tech. » Read more

2017-05-02
Col. Bruce Hampton RIP – The phrase "He died doing what he loved" is almost a cliche, but in the case of Col. Bruce Hampton, it couldn't be more true. Hampton, who was born Gustav Berglund III, collapsed on stage at his own 70th birthday celebration and later passed away. The event took place at the Fox Theater in Atlanta. » Read more

2017-04-16
ProgDay 2017 Announces First Bands – Flor de Loto, Sonar, and Infinien are the first three performers to be announced for the 2017 edition of the long-running ProgDay Festival. The 23rd ProgDay takes place Saturday and Sunday, September 2nd and 3rd, at Storybook Farm in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. » Read more

2017-04-16
Allan Holdsworth RIP – Surely in the list of artists who have contributed to the sound of modern music, there is a special spot for guitarist Allan Holdsworth. His name is known to virtually every student of the instrument in jazz and rock, and his style has been so widely emulated that it's hardly worth mentioning anymore — we can just assume that every guitarist has Holdsworth as an influence. » Read more


Previously in Exposé...

Alexander Vogel & Collaborators - Eight Releases from 2004 – Alexander Vogel is your atypical teenager with an affinity for percussion and English improvisational icons. In late 2004 he took it upon himself to begin solo home recordings which soon evolved into...  (2005) » Read more



Listen & discover



Print issues