Not so long ago the stork came for a visit to my home. I was not at all ready for this, and I had no idea it was even possible. With a little trepidation I opened the “bundle of joy”, half expecting to hear the sound of a hungry child, but I was quite mistaken. What I held in my hands was the key to a new world, a new place to explore, something fresh and original. I breathed a sigh of relief and sat down to have a look.
The very first thing that caught my eye was some of the best artwork I had seen in many years, and it immediately brought to mind the first and third Jade Warrior albums Jade Warrior (1971) and Last Autumn's Dream(1972), both of which are still near and dear to my heart over 40 years after their initial release. What a great start, my mouth was watering already. If this music was as innovative and inspirational as the aforementioned JW releases, I was sure to fall in love immediately, and I had to know more.
The band is called Ut Gret, and consists of Stephen Roberts (piano, organ, Mellotron, mallets), Jackie Royce (bassoon, flute), Steve Good (clarinet), Gary Pahler (drums, percussion) and Joee Conroy (bass, Chapman Stick, guitars, electronics).With furthermore Gregory Acker (sax, flute, percussion), Cheyenne Mize (voice, violin) and Sydney Simpson (bass) as guest musicians. They hail from Louisville, Kentucky in America according to the press release. That was something of a surprise, as I normally associate that region of the world with country music, but that simply couldn't be the sound with an album cover like this one. The same release went on to suggest that this was a truly eclectic group, crossing over into styles as diverse as improvisational and experimental jazz, folk, avant-garde rock, and even classical music. It then suggested bands like Universe Zero, Rational Diet, Gong, and even King Crimson as references. A tall order indeed, this had to be something truly special, so without further delay I popped it into my player to find out what this was really all about.
The first thing that struck me is the obvious connection to the RIO (Rock In Opposition) movement, and after multiple listens I am still not clear on why the press release did not offer that as a connection, to my ears this is RIO at its very finest. In fact, it took me several weeks to actually be able to write this review because I was so overwhelmed with the music I couldn't seem to tear myself away from enjoying it. Perhaps the most striking part is how “attainable” it can be. That is a concept that often is intentionally not used in RIO works, and I've always felt it to be the weak link for the genre. By “attainable”, I am indeed suggesting that this album has plenty of passages that you will be able to close your eyes and play in your head even when the music is off. The melodies can be quite memorable and satisfying. That applies to a new-comer or a seasoned RIO listener, and they are well developed and nicely divided up amongst the many different instruments this band takes to full advantage. Yes, for those of us with a taste for exploratory music, it's THAT good. I could not even begin to take apart each piece, it would literally take a small book to examine it in such depth, instead I strongly suggest you give it a try and come join us in the world of Ancestor's Tale. Consider that an invitation. My next decision was an easy one, I have ordered the rest of their catalogue and am anxiously awaiting the stork to return.
As I reflected upon where this band hails from it occurred to me that there is in face another noteworthy RIO/ Avant-Garde outfit hailing from Louisville, KY in the group French TV. I am beginning to think that there is something of an underground reaction to the “norm” of country music in that part of the world, and it is most welcome. The music world needs some visionaries, and certainly both bands qualify. I am now curious to learn if there are others. Ut Gret has absolutely secured a most-favored band position with me, and I am excited to hear their previous works, the future works, and who knows, maybe they will grace us with a European tour someday!
***** Thomas Rhymer
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