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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

TU

Live From Russia

Review by Grant Hill

Russia bears mystery and curious allure to many advanced musicians from the West. Perhaps this is a result of the positive attention Russian audiences give to progressive rock, especially when prog focuses upon expanding musical boundaries and bold creativity. Adrian Belew, for one, has related his humble excitement to performing in front of Russian crowds in excess of 100,000 attendees. So, it's no surprise that TU, the likely yet compelling duo of King Crimson stalwarts Pat Mastelotto and Trey Gunn, has also made a strong creative impression throughout cities across the Russian landscape. Live in Russia captures the musical essence of this journey.

With Mastelotto featured on drums, both acoustic and electronic, and his usual array of programmed buttons to paint the artistic aural canvas, of course punctuated by Gunn's tasteful intricacies on the touch guitar, this is an experience to add to the value of one's art rock collection. I have enjoyed the EP greatly. I hope the reader will take the time to buy it and give it some spins, likely to lead to more listens than originally intended, especially for the progressively minded aficionado of great collectible music!

The EP also includes a radio interview with The Voice of Russia recorded during the tour which runs somewhere north of twenty minutes in length. Gunn and Mastelotto give solid insight into their relationship with Russian audiences as well as the musical interactions that drive the focus of TU. It gives a look into the creative process of this dynamic duo of ambient, avant-garde prog. There are plenty of American cultural faux pas humorously noted with anecdotal stories, as well. It's a good interview, solidly informative and entertaining.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2012  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.
Track by Track Review
Snowblind
The album opens to programmed cathedral bells, avant-garde intervals, rhythms, layers and textures. Mystery and tension build along with a very legato crescendo that grows with impending power, percussive rhythms building with equal intensity. Very good communication is established between the players. As the piece progresses, it seems to evoke calmness, oddly so in that the musical tension crescendos simultaneously. This is probably because the musical changes gradually become tonal and ambient. An excellent trap groove slowly becomes dominant, finally morphing into a hard syncopated groove for the final portion of the nearly ten-minute escapade.
Sitting on the Bank
The piece begins with a raw electronic patch, followed by a drone. The female vocal is compelling.  There is a Middle Eastern or sub-continental feel to introduced sonorities, percussive fills and patterns with great interplay, ebb and flow. At the halfway point, the tabla style interjections grow. Good dynamic range and intensity is exhibited throughout. It is ambient, but thought provoking more than dream inducing. This is quite unique and highly interesting work!
Zooecium
This might interest Varese if he were living. A repeating loop dominates the piece, variations in additional instrumentalities layering to add to the rhythmic complexity as it develops. By the halfway point, my head was bobbing to the rock groove underneath the evolving legato sonorities. As bass tones gain some prominence on Gunn's touch playing, it is ironically an almost minimalist’s approach to the touch guitar that plays well underneath the upper register parts. Some of the loops and patches play out in legato long tones; other parts are played articulated sixteenth note patterns. There is great interaction!
Kolokol
This is a short composition at less than two-minutes. Bell tones, kick drum and toms skillfully play themselves out in gradually accentuating subdivisions. This is as refreshing as sorbet mid-meal.
My Father He is the Factory
This is the most purely song-like offering to this point in the release. Intriguing cymbal work, traps, bells and buttons dominate the song. I love the developing ambient groove, strikingly reminiscent of some Ozric Tentacles compositions I've heard. Beautifully resonating string chords from the stick dance brilliantly through the song. Uplifting and relaxing performance, indeed!
Dark Crossing
Starting with cosmic synth space chords, this is very ethereal and beautiful. The synthetic vocal choir is elegant and pure, meshing well with strings. While electronic percussion tones and multi- tuned toms develop, gradual lower voicing from the stick plays off the percussion parts. The stick works well at this mezzo forte dynamic level. I like the modern choral styling to the mid-tempo dark funk jazz groove in the pocket. This is musically emotive.
Bells (with Azam Ali)
The song feels tense and stressful with tight upper register dissonance. Percussive bells and congas enter, followed by Ali's Middle Eastern modal vocal melody.  Her control, pitch, dynamics and resonance are enchantingly evocative. Really brilliant phrasing is executed. Gunn supports and plays off the vocal line tastefully. Mastelotto's dynamic control is superlative, as well. The entire release is extremely tasteful and so musically executed. 
Fandango (with Azam Ali)
The piece starts with industrial sounding cymbals and Ali's vocals once again executing perfect dynamic phrasing, rich tonal qualities and striking range. The stick punctuates throughout its register. The song feels dreamlike and drone-like, but the rhythmic interest grooves in a very western way. This song could be described as world music ambience, and draws upon very many styles, not completely unlike some of the multicultural creations from the Pat Metheny Group, albeit in the more experimental King Crimson tradition. I would say this song is advancing into new and different musical frontiers. Effective and affective; it is very well done!
 
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