Stick Men — Absalom
(7d Media 7D1314, 2011, CD)
Stick Men — Soup
(Stick Man Records SMN2309, 2010, CD)
by Jon Davis, Published 2013-05-15
It's been a number of years since the Tony Levin Band was active, though of course Mr. Levin himself has been busy, with a couple of solo albums and frequent work as bassist-for-hire. Stick Men is his current going concern, and these two CDs comprise two slightly different configurations. Soup places Levin with fellow King Crimson alum Pat Mastelotto on drums and new guy Michael Bernier as a second Chapman Stick player (hence the name). The music does share some qualities with the 90s incarnation of Crimson, with lots of tricky rhythmic patterns, virtuosic passages casually tossed off, and crunchy dissonance. And Levin's vocal tunes even have a playful quality like some of Adrian Belew's exhibited. Given the limited instrumentation, they manage an incredible variety of tones and colors, from the kind of bright percussive sound the Stick is known for to any number of heavily distorted and modified tones resulting from either effects devices or unconventional techniques like bowing the strings. There's also a wide variety of moods and tempos, keeping proceedings from falling into any ruts. With two guys playing the same instrument, there are times when it's hard to tell who's doing what, though some of the bass lines have that famous Levin sound to them. (I'll avoid possible embarrassment by not calling out any titles.) Every track is a winner, with the three-part "Hands" suite being a favorite. They provide a nod to the history of progressive rock by doing an impressive arrangement of Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite." The tight coordination is peppered with little moments of chaos to keep things interesting.
Absalom comes a year later, and now Levin and Mastelotto are joined by Markus Reuter, who plays touch guitars of his own design rather than Chapman's Stick. The overal style is quite similar, with much impressive playing that avoids being showoffy. If I think of some of the qualities I enjoy most in music, Stick Men hit (or tap) a lot of them just right: killer riffs — check, complex arrangements — check, catchy melodies — check, odd meters — check, wide variety of tone colors — check, balance of arrangement and improvisation — check. It's like they looked into my head and designed their music to lure me in. I willingly give in, Stick Men. One thing about a lot of complex music is that it doesn't groove — things change so much that the rhythmic momentum doesn't fall into the kind of patterns that are so nice to hear. Stick Men's music may be complex, but it sure as hell grooves.
Holger Czukay RIP – Holger Czukay, a musical experimentalist without boundaries who has been involved with expanding the sound palette of rock music since the late 60s, has died at the age of 79. After studying with Karlheinz Stockhausen in the early 60s, he became fascinated with the possibilities of rock music, and was a co-founder of the pioneering group Can. He leaves behind an impressive body of work both as musician and producer. » Read more
John Abercrombie RIP – Another of the greats of jazz guitar has left us. John Abercrombie plied his way through a beautiful series of albums on the ECM label as well as bringing his talent to bear on albums by many of jazz's greatest artists. From his early work in the group Dreams to Gateway and outstanding work with Billy Cobham, Jack DeJohnette, Kenny Wheeler, and many more to his own trios and quartets, he brought a unique instrumental voice to the world. » Read more
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
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
Lard Free - Gilbert Artman's Lard Free, I'm Around About Midnight & Third – Artman's Lard Free project has received considerable amount of documentation in progressive periodicals, so I won't bore you with the details. Here's a quick overview; all are essential listens —... (1994) » Read more