CHRIS OPPERMAN, Chamber Music from Hell
It’s not hard to spot a Frank Zappa devotee. Their music contains trippy, intricate notes in odd time signatures that require precision-based musicians to execute. But to be a Zappa-influenced composer, one cannot merely be derivative. One must find his own voice within the din of complexity. Chris Opperman offers us precisely that. Chamber Music from Hell is a blend of high-wire composition, avant-garde exploration, and delightful absurdity. The music is given additional legitimacy by Zappa band alum Mike Keneally (guitar) and Kurt Morgan, who plays bass in Dweezil Zappa’s band. Also in the mix is drummer Marco Minneman (The Aristocrats, Steven Wilson, et al), meaning there is no shortage of well-placed, off-center notes. The conception of this music is just as impressive as its execution, with Opperman contributing to the din by way of piano and Synclavier (Frank’s compositional device of choice in his later years). This is not music for the faint of heart, but it offers great rewards via multiple listens. It’s an hour-long neo-classical journey well worth taking.
YUVAL RON, Somewhere in This Universe, Somebody Hits a Drum
Grand in scope and execution, guitarist Yuval Ron digs in to the progressive rock landscape to bring forth and album titled more like a musical axiom. Indeed, Somewhere in This Universe, Somebody Hits a Drum. In this particular case, it is the ubiquitous Marco Minnemann, whose talents are widely sought for a reason. The space-themed art is augmented by “out of this world” playing by keyboardist Matt Paull, whose playful single-note runs are an excellent foil for Ron’s riffing. “Gravitational Lensing” puts Ron in touch with his inner Holst, while “Kuiper Belt” has the feel of the right accompaniment for a walk outside the spacecraft. Come to think of it, this entire album could have been called Music for the EVA. It truly fires up the imagination and makes one eager to take the cosmic voyage.
TODD RUNDGREN (FEATURING RIVERS CUOMO), “Down with the Ship” (Cleopatra Records)
Legendary producer/composer/musician Todd Rundgren and Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo are creating something delightfully irreverent for Rundgren’s forthcoming project, Space Force. “Down with the Ship,” the first single, is an exercise in wonderfully whacked-out calypso disguised as pop music. The music is about as far-removed from anything trending on the charts these days. Rundgren describes the song as “a little parable about what happens when you align yourself with a treacherous leader,” which sums things up as well as any review could. The album is due in early 2021.
SUSAN ALCORN, Pedernal (Relative Pitch Records)
Pedal steel guitar and jazz don’t find themselves in the same room at the same time every day. Yet here we are. Susan Alcorn has found a unique way to express her voice with Pedernal, taking an instrument most often associated with Country music and showing just how unimportant genres can be as she and her quintet find their way through jazz, the avant-garde, and back. This is one of those ideas that may not make a lot of sense to some, but comes together nicely once its actually heard.
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