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Pocket Orchestra: Phoenix

Trust AltrOck Productions to dig out this album from the vaults of obscurity. Pocket Orchestra formed in Phoenix, Arizona in the '70s and have always been relegated to underground status partly because they never put out a proper album. The band, who were originally known as Knebnagäuje, released two demo tapes in 1979 and 1984. The band disbanded in the mid '80s having never released an official album. However, in 2005 MIO Records combined both demo tapes and released Knebnagäuge. That label is no longer around but thank goodness AltrOck Productions is to let the Phoenix rise up out of the ashes.

The players on this release are Tim Parr (guitars), Rob Stearman (drums), Craig Bork (keyboards), Tim Lyons (bass), Joe Halajian (saxophones, clarinets, horns, vocals) and Bill Johnston (cello). Guest musicians include Craig Fry (flute), Warren Ashford (tablas) and Jack Chandler (saxophones). It is unfortunate to note that Tim Parr, Tim Lyons and Rob Stearman are no longer with us.

Pocket Orchestra can definitely be placed in the RIO camp of artists with their music probably best described as avant-garde jazz although it can also be thought of as being truly progressive, if that makes any sense. They are a tough band 'to get' as it were and are not for the progressive newbie. However, if you like innovative and experimental music that has characteristics of bands like Henry Cow there is a lot for you to absorb.

I found this album difficult to get into at first as it does take some patience. Over time I found this to be a refreshing listen and one that reveals itself gradually over time. The melodies may be hard to find a first but they are there amidst the disorganized chaos. I do find it somewhat difficult to describe individual songs mainly because there is so much going on it is a tad overwhelming. The musicianship is excellent and the band's music is very complex.

The songs are quite varied; multi-faceted explorations into the nether region where the line between harmonious discord and melodic tonality is blurred. The most melodic offering is probably "Letter" where the band lessens their assault on the senses and offers some pretty nice melodies including some fantastic organ. In "Grandma" the initial circus section merges into chaos before unleashing some pretty guitar and flute and whimsical keyboards. The band's melodic sensibility really shines in both tracks. CD one ends with the seventeen minute epic "Ragon" featuring chaotic instrumental noodling, fuzzed out guitar leads, purely experimental rhythmic structures, complex drum patterns, melodic keyboards and nice sax runs. The band combines all their facets in a "throw everything in but the kitchen sink" approach. There is even a pretty cool drum solo.

I should also give kudos to the production team of Marcello Marinone and Francesco Zago as well as the mastering job of Udi Koomran as the studio disc sounds excellent.

The live CD's sound quality is not as good as the first but that is to be expected. I do think this live performance does capture the band at the top of their game. Their musical complexity is not lost in a live setting one iota and in fact may even be kicked up a notch or two.

While Phoenix is clearly not for everyone, as an avant-garde piece it is essential listening and for that earns a very solid four stars. In the annals of avant-garde music this is an important piece indeed.

Track Listing:
CD 1 (Studio)
1. Imam Rialdi (6:24)
2. R.V. (7:04)
3. Regiments (14:59)
4. Letters (13:53)
5. Blueing (7:10)
6. White Organ Meats (7:03)
7. Grandma Coming Down The Hall With A Hatchet (5:32)
8. Ragon (16:52)

CD 2 (Live)
1. Annex (5:56)
2. Ragon/Wandering Aimlessly (14:48)
3. Blirt (4:05)
4. Blueing (12:01)
5. Letters (19:12)
6. Parade (5:23)
7. Regiments (parts 1,2 and 3) (11:32)
8. Corn Fed (5:37)
9. Sound Check Bonus (0:43)

Added: January 19th 2012
Reviewer: Jon Neudorf
Related Link: Label's Official Site
Hits: 2229
Language: english

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