Birdsongs of the Mesozoic
The first time I heard this, it reminded me of Supertramp in the way the piano leads the rhythms, rather than trying to supply a melody. Some of it is almost over the edge into the “avant-garde jazz” land of instrumental wankery. Only focus and the rock feel of the bank keeps it in the region of what I would loosely call progressive jazz.
Review by: Stephanie Sollow, July 2001
Birdsongs Of The Mesozoic are somewhat what I expected from their name. I say somewhat because I couldn’t truly guess from the name alone, but would have gathered that they weren’t metal, though there are some angular edges on Petrophonics. While I had first heard Birdsongs Of The Mesozoic at NEARFest 2001 (aside from a sample track I heard a few days before), I had heard of them years before, often seeing their CDs in one of local music sources. There is just something about the name that suggests something different from the ordinary progressive rock — whatever that means (what I mean is something other than rock based prog, like jazz based prog, for instance). A higher level of arty-ness, perhaps; but also something with a lot more percussion in the arrangements. Though, now knowing what they do sound like, it’s hard to really say what I thought before since I didn’t give all that much thought before. I do know that I thought maybe they’d be a little too abstract for me, maybe a little too arty.
The bands or artists that came to mind whilst listening to Petrophonics (their most recent) were King Crimson, ELP, Supersister, early Steve Roach, and Djam Karet. The Supersister thought came to me with “Nevergreen,” a Lindgren composed piece – there is a sense of humour and playfulness in the arrangement, even if there are also some very serious passages, as there is about 4 minutes in when saxophonist Ken Fields takes the lead. This moment of serious reflection is slowly subsumed by a pulsating guitar tone, snappy and crisp percussion, which takes the track out. In contrast, you get the very moody, atmospheric, and dark “Study Of Unintended Consuences” (composed by Rick Scott) – think of a collaboration between Steve Roach and Robert Fripp, though with added sax honks and bleets, there’d be one other element to add. There are moments of experimentalism, too, or at least how I think of experimentalism – a combination of sounds that don’t, on the surface, go together, but of ultimately do.
I mentioned ELP above, but really it is more just E part of that acronym, as there are plenty of very percussive keyboard parts here. By which we can name Tarkus as a touchstone, but don’t think that if you listen to this you’ll find a copped riffs or anything. And speaking of percussion, there is some very interesting sounding electronic percussion on “Birdhead,” a song that band say was “composed around the pre-recorded track ‘Autobody’ which appears on Drumhead’s 1998 CD release” (Drumhead are Sheila McCarthy and Josh Matthews on percussion and Tony Maimone (Pere Ubu) on bass).
Another contrast is “Allswell That Endswell In Roswell” is a gentle keyboard and flute piece composed by guitarist Michael Bierylo. It is the kind of piece one might find on a Miramar or Narada soundtrack to some digital film or documentary. I though of such synthesists as James Reynolds, pieces from a Paul Speer/David Lanz collaboration, or even a touch of Tangerine Dream. The analog instruments add a warmth that is often lacking in Tangerine Dream, but certainly felt very much in Speer/Lanz. All of which means you can’t simply say Birdsongs Of The Mesozoic are a jazz-rock band, as the opening track and bits elsewhere suggest.
Tracks 8 – 11 are pieces that form the “Music Inspired By 1001 Real Apes.” The suite opens with “Time Marches On Theme” which is a gentle, lilting acoustic based piece of guitar, flute, and piano. There is a sound texture to it that makes it feel like a live performance on a warm summer evening. “Dinosaurs Theme” is a darkly, churning piece, with a percussive edge. Bierylo’s jagged guitar adds a bit of menace. Maybe I’ve been watching too many dinosaur specials, but there comes a point where things are a bit more relaxed and I see a curious dinosaur watching, head cocked, not quite sure if we’re harmless or harmful. “Gravity Theme” has loping southwestern flavour. The last part is “Quincy Sore Throat Theme.” Jack Klugman, TV’s Quincy, had throat cancer and now has a very harsh and rough voice as a result – it is to this that Lingren refers. There are echoes of the show’s theme here, too — well, at least I think so, it’s been quite a long time since I heard the theme, but something sounds familiar (other than I’ve been playing this nearly everyday since NEARfest). As the liner notes explain, “‘Music Inspired By 1001 Real Apes’ came out of a collaboration between David Greenburger and Birdsongs […] The original sixty-five minute work consists of thirty stories drawn from Greenburger’s publication The Duplex Planet. This suite expands upon the musical direction taken by four of the selections from the soundtrack composed by Birdsongs.”
Tracks 12 – 14 form a three part suite called “The Insidious Revenge Of Ultima Thule,” also all composed by Lindgren, which at times sound like very warm, smooth jazz (not, however “smooth jazz”).
Well, I can tell you was very impressed by their live performance at NEARFest to pick up this and their Dancing On A’A CD, and have been impressed enough by this to just other day pick up Faultline and Pyroclatics). So this is another band I recommend.