Saturday, October 10, 2015

Alex Machacek Feat. Marco Minnemann - 2010 "24 Tales"

Unusual in concept and execution, this joint project between multi-instrumentalist Alex Machacek and drummer Marco Minnemann crosses over many boundaries of jazz fusion as well as production techniques. Minnemann recorded a single continuous drum track over which Machacek then dubbed guitar, keyboards, and other instruments. The result is a continuous music made up of many snippets of thought and sound projection, some song styles, improvisation, and solos on occasion. While the music is complex, minimalist, or even kinetic, it is far from tame or commonplace. Primarily an electric guitarist, Machacek is capable of some amazing sounds whether he approaches rock or jazz fusion, even minimalism or looped-type techniques. His musical portrait of the "Tour de France" encompasses the gamut of emotions a cyclist can experience during the three-week race, while "At the Club" is both comical and busy, with help from trombonist Martin Ptak. There are maddeningly kinetic moments, down-in-the-dumps blues, mysterious elements, and Machacek's acoustic piano on occasion. Minnemann's drumming can be sparse or full of girth, but more up and down as energy surges and disperses. While some might find this lacking in cohesion and true communality, there's a good spirit present, listenable and tuneful in spots, and inspired for many others.

Guitarist Alex Machacek is one of the most innovative composers in jazz and fusion. Though he does write a lot of music from scratch as most composers do, his most striking compositional device is to write "around" a pre-existing piece of music such as a drum solo (e.g., "Djon Don" and the title track from [sic]), or an improvised studio jam (e.g., practically the entire Improvision album with Matt Garrison and Jeff Sipe). With his latest album 24 Tales , Machacek has taken this writing technique to new heights. The foundation for 24 Tales is a 52 minute improvised drum solo by long-time Machacek cohort Marco Minnemann. Machacek took the solo, and composed his own music on top of it using a wide variety of instruments and styles. The result is a single 52 minute piece of continuous music that is divided into 24 gapless tracks on the album. These individual tracks (with run-times ranging from half a minute to 4 minutes plus) work both as stand-alone songs or as pieces of the larger composition. It's a remarkable achievement that's as entertaining as it is impressive. 

This album's journey from a single idea to a finished product you can hold in your hand has been a long strange trip. When I interviewed Machacek in 2006, he spoke of doing an entire album consisting of  composed-over drum solos from various drummers. Minnemann contributed a solo for the project, but it was 52 minutes long. After originally intending to compose around only a small portion of the solo, Machacek decided to tackle the whole thing when Minnemann launched his own project (which he dubbed Normalizer 2), where he gave this same drum solo to several other musicians to write over as well. The result was to be a massive set that would essentially be the opposite of Machacek's original idea - many composers for one drum solo, as opposed to many drum solos for one composer. Like Machacek, these other composers (John Czajkowski, Trey Gunn, Mike Keneally and others) are now releasing their Normalizer 2 contributions as stand-alone albums.

24 Tales is impossible to pin down stylistically. Jazz, fusion, classical, rock and funk are all present here, but Machacek utilizes other, harder-to-define styles as well. Rhythmically, the album is all over the map too (Minnemann seems to play every meter known to man in his solo). With all the twists and turns, the album often has the feel of a progressive rock-based film score.

Machacek does play a lot of guitar on the album, but I wouldn't call this a "guitar" record per se. Piano is used quite frequently, as are many other instruments and electronica-type sounds. And there aren't a lot of guitar "solos" on the album either, though there are plenty of insane guitar lines and runs - some played live by Machacek, some programmed via computer. Some of the best guitar playing on the album can be heard in it's jazz fusion-oriented pieces - "Feel Me!," "Blender," and "Anamika" (possibly the album's best and most dramatic stand-alone track) are good examples. There's an abundance of effective subtle guitar work as well, such as the acoustic slide melody in "Sit Back and Chillax." Overall though, 24 Tales isn't about Machacek's playing, it's about his writing.

Remarkably, as seemingly random and adventurous as Minnemann's original solo is (in terms of time and mood shifts), Machacek manages to inject some common melodic threads throughout the 52 minute piece - simply motifs that are introduced early and re-visited at various points on the album, regardless of the rhythmic and harmonic conditions. For example - the main melody from the opening track "On Your Marks..." can be heard again later in other sections, most notably in track 19, "Run, Fusion!," where it's reworked effectively over a completely different groove and tempo from when it was first heard. It's interesting too that at certain points, such as the high-hat tour-de-force "Air," Machacek largely stays out of Minnemann's way, adding only small touches to enhance what was already present in the drum solo. Also notable is the album's humorous side - "Minnemaus in da House" is a great example, especially during it's voiced-over tutorial for navigating the perils of odd times such as 13/16.

24 Tales is one of those albums that keeps revealing more of itself upon further listenings. There's an awful lot of music packed into this disc, and it's impossible to take it all in in one sitting. With this album, Machacek has resoundingly achieved the goal of bringing Minnemann's incredible drum solo to life as a fully fleshed out composition. Highly recommended.

Tracklisting:

1. On Your Marks
2. Sit Back and Chillax
3. Tour De France
4. Dancing with the Baby Bear
5. Anamika
6. Pros and Cons of Depression
7. Little Man
8. Tranquillo
9. Tranquilizer
10. Sweet Torture
11. She Likes It
12. See You There
13. X-Mas
14. Feel Me
15. At the Club
16. Eu De Conlon
17. Doldrums
18. Minnemaus in da House
19. Run, Fusion!
20. Air
21. Sexy
22. Blender
23. Quotes
24. Over and Out 

Personnel:

Alex Machacek (Guitars and everything else)
Marco Minnemann (Drums)
Sumitra (Vocals-1 track)
Martin Ptak (Trombone-3 tracks)

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