The Muffins — Bandwidth
(Cuneiform Rune 161, 2002, CD)
by David Ashcraft, 2002-09-01:
Many bands from the 70s and 80s that reform do so for strictly financial reasons. They might hit the concert circuit to cash in, and the results can range from pleasantly nostalgic to downright embarrassing. The Muffins are the rare band that has done the exact opposite. They’ve regrouped for artistic rather than monetary reasons, and instead of rehashing prior compositions they have come up with a fresh approach that is stylistically different from the music that they created over 20 years ago. Albums like Manna / Mirage explored an American take on the beloved Canterbury school, and until Volare came along several years ago no stateside band had done as good a job of evoking this style. Bandwidth, on the other hand, is dominated by the sound of multiple layers of horns and woodwinds that bring to mind the World Saxophone Quartet or Curlew more than any Canterbury band. Having said that, the proceedings are anchored by a snarling fuzz bass reminiscent of Richard Sinclair in the wilder moments of Hatfield and the North’s debut album. In addition, when Dave Newhouse migrates from horns back to keyboards (as he does on several of the albums last few tracks) the album sounds more like The Muffins of old. The twelve tracks are all tightly composed, and the band is well honed with excellent intonation on all of the various horns and woodwinds. It is obvious that the band took their time with the arrangements and multi-tracked recording, as the final product is sonically very impressive. Bandwidth is a tremendous success and the music will undoubtedly be a pleasure to hear during one of their carefully selected live performances.
by Roel Steverink, 2002-09-01:
The Muffins are back! Really?! Yes, after 17 years of dead silence, they are back from the grave. I’m curious what changes will have taken place. Only few bands are capable of recreating that vigorous sound, after so long an interruption. Halfway through the album it’s obvious that their sound has undergone major changes and that the shuffle has destroyed the avant-garde richness of the past. Upfront we hear a more mainstream jazz; gone are the fruity Canterbury rhythms, and the complex time signatures which forced the listener in hearing it over and over again without losing its magic. Gone with the wind are the fine progressive rock stylings. And sad but true, even the clownesque humor has dissolved. No matter how small a piece, they knew how to bend it and come up with something fresh and stimulating. Now, we hear nice music with mid-tempo rhythms or slower, predictable structures and dearly miss the surprise this group was famous for. Only here and there we get a glimpse of past glory with that typical chaotic babbling sax. I hope the next album can prove I was wrong, so we are overwhelmed again by superbly crafted intricate music, as it should be.
by Jeff Melton, 2002-09-01:
The Muffins were one of those seminal East Coast US groups who started life entrenched in one style (Canterbury / ReR influenced rock jazz) before migrating into a variant style (experimental free jazz). The first official re-union recording of the group (disregarding the recent Loveletter #1), proves that the band does sound as vital as they were during their late 70s heyday. The complete set of original members have returned, including the oft-times mean spirited rhythm section of Swann and Sears. Jazz motifs are worn on the sleeve as evidenced on “World Maps,” where a slow introduction leads into the twin saxes of Tom Scott (not the longtime LA Session man) and Dave Newhouse that is possibly the showcase piece on the disk. It’s easy to hear how this group of unfashionable musicians influenced a legion of Cuneiform artists such as Curlew, Amy Denio, and possibly even Paul Dunmall’s recent big band works. Clearly the group has taken the initiative to refine their sound as heard on “People in the Snow” with its echoey flute solo and the overt swing mode of “Essay R.” Fleshing out the brass arrangements is Doug Eliot on trombone, adding support on four of the tracks. “Out of the Boot” even reminds me of those old Jimmy Hastings flights of fancy (playing flute as he did on Hatfield’s The Rotters' Club). Closing out the album is Newhouse’s sad but precious piano piece, “Pennies.” Bandwidth is a welcome return for a true icon of US-based experimental rock as well as a keen reminder that old jazzmen don’t just fade away — they mutate!
Eurock Documentary Seeks Funding – We've been fans and fellow travelers with Archie Patterson and his Eurock project on the journey to discover great music. After many years of promoting and trying to spread the word,a new phase is beginning: a documentary film. Things like this don't just happen, and money does not magically appear to make it happen, so it's up to the fans to get it done. » Read more
Marty Balin RIP – One of the architects of the 60s psychedelic sound of San Francisco has died at the age of 76. Marty Balin was a singer, songwriter, and guitarist who was one of the founders of Jefferson Airplane. After the split of the original Airplane, Balin went on to form the highly successful Jefferson Starship. » Read more
Krautrock Documentary Seeks Funding – The next installment of the Progressive Warriors documentary series will focus on the vast body of music that falls under the banner of "krautrock." As most of our readers will know, previous films have tackled RIO and the Canterbury scene, as well as what we might call "mainstream" prog rock. » Read more
Tomasz Stańko RIP – Tomasz Stańko, one of the greats of Eastern European jazz, has died at the age of 76. Stańko's career started in Krzysztof Komeda's quintet, where he contributed trumpet from 1963-1967, when he formed his own group. He worked extensively with Edward Vesala, Don Cherry, Zbigniew Seifert, Chico Freeman, Howard Johnson, Cecil Taylor, and many others. Many of his recordings have been released by ECM, an association that began in the mid-70s. » Read more
Alquimia & Jose Luis Fernandez Ledesma - Dead Tongues – Alquimia is a vocalist, composer and multi-instrumentalist who has three previous albums to her credit in the pre-hispanic/new electronic music area, while Fernandez Ledesma is the de-facto leader of... (1996) » Read more
Asia Featuring John Payne - Scandinavia (AKA Extended Versions) – Among the finite number of prog fans who are Asia fans there is a subset that enjoys the lineup with singer/bassist John Payne (i.e., the non-original Asia that’s been on tour recently). This... (2008) » Read more
Simon Mayor and the Mandolinquents - Dance of the Comedians – The Mandolinquents are an acoustic, mandolin based (how did you guess?) quartet that’s been playing together off and on for a dozen years or more, and this – documenting one of their live... (2008) » Read more