The most recent phenomenom from Firepool Records is this instrumental project featuring the multifarious musical wizardry of Mark Cook and his emphatic applications of the touch-style Warr guitar combined with the well tempered lyrical drumming of Bill Bachman. Prior to being confronted with this jewel I was only familiar with Mark Cook through his involvement on the two Herd of Instinct albums and sort of expected an implementation from that musicality. I had never heard of Bachman but was summarily impressed with his knife-edged executions and wasn’t surprised to learn of his prolific credentials as a teacher, performer and innovator as well as possessing a degree from the distinguished Berklee College of Music. Prudently selected synergists from liberal musical backgrounds were invited to add their individual musical voices and a beyond category fusion brainchild emerged with contrastive vibes that are way cool, futuristic and displaying musicianship of the highest caliber.
The opening track, Dominion, introduces the work with the first noticeable attribute being the discordant guitar lines and imposing chordal barrages that recall the vicissitudes of King Crimson’s 80s & 90s work. It features only Cook and Bachman with the other players adding their own ornamentations throughout the following 11 compositions. The piece is sort of a statement which establishes the intentions of the work which fluctuates through periods of frantic sonic onslaught countered by worldly piano and flute passages with laminous synth and mellotron backdrops.The uniquitous Warr guitar is in masterly hands with Mark Cook and comes off as less of a novelty and more of an artist’s brush that enables the pieces to breathe with visceral melodies, counter melodies and sympathetic rhythms. The impossible chaos of Harbinger, the mood swings of Pain Map, the uneasiness of Dichotomy with it’s angry synths and mellotrons and the furious temperament of Tilting At Windmills are like compact operatic symphonies with shifting atmospheres. Compositionally they are way out there off the grid and sometimes the methodology reminds me of how British band Gentle Giant structured their idiosyncratic progressive music during the 1970s with jarring time signatures, musical inversions, clashing musical ideas and other craziness even though it sounds nothing like them. The shorter reflective pieces break up some of the furiousness and confusion that occurs on the aforementioned pieces. One Day, The Lost One, Accord and Persona convey sensual individual musical thoughts. Splendid Sisters is a bit different and features some intricate dialogue in that each instrument seems to be conversing with one another other. Its fretless bass and reversed Warr guitar combination are just one example of the level of artistry that is encountered throughout Spoke of Shadows. The concluding piece Drama of Display is peculiar and wonderfully strange and has an almost humourous carnival-like waltz impression leaving the listener smiling with contentment after digesting 48 minutes of pure sonic intoxication.
Embracing many modernistic musical attitudes and mentalities Spoke of Shadows follows no specific matrix. Progressive music for the 21st century with an intuitive melodious orchestral approach would be an appropriate way to classify this musical anomaly. Inspired and meticulously constructed, these guys didn’t come up with this absorbing collection of musical expressions down at the local Friday night open stage jam session. As the title implies Spoke of Shadows visits mysterious places. Rather than functioning merely as a showcase for the immense talents represented, the work is more of a wonderfully sculpted musical vision painted on a canvass of penetrating intensity that astonishes and awes the unsuspecting listener with every turn. Spoke of Shadows is an album that implores multiple listens, preferably when burning the midnight oil.
Tilting at Windmills
Drama of Display
* Bill Bachman – drums
* Mark Cook – Warr guitar, ADG fretless bass, guitar, keyboards
* Joe Blair: guitar
* Gayle Ellett – mellotron and Rhodes
* Bob Fisher – flute
* Michael Harris – guitar
* Tony Rohrbough – guitar
* Dave Streett – Warr guitar
* Shannon Wickline – piano