As anyone who has read my other reviews knows, I’m not one for genre labelling. The songs are described in the properties of the MP3 files I used for the review as “General Jazz”. What an innocuous, and probably inaccurate term. I dare say it will scare off some people off! I just call it “music”.
So who are Bernier-DeCarlo?
Ritchie DeCarlo is as good as any drummer who you care to name. He also plays other instruments, including keyboards, Theremin and Chapman Stick! He has worked with Percy Jones, not just one of the best bassists to ever have come out of Wales, but one of the best bass players ever. Ritchie also played drums on a couple of tracks for Josh Goldberg’s side/solo project as The Afro Circus, Journey To The Centre Of The Ear, which I reviewed back in March of this year (my first ever review for The Progressive Aspect).
Michael Bernier is as good as any Chapman Stick player you could name. He is also a really good drummer, as you can hear on the track Scrambled Eggs that is shown in the snappily-entitled little video: “A visit with Chapman Stick player and composer Michael Bernier – two-handed tapping”, which you can find HERE. It is enlightening. Once I remind you of what a Stick is – that weird instrument that Tony Levin plays – many people would struggle to name any more Stick players. In fact, Michael was in the original Stick Men line-up with Tony Levin and some bloke called Pat Mastelotto who is best known for his drumming on the theme tune to that rather successful T.V. show; Friends (I thinKC Mr Mastelotto may have gone on to do some other things…). Michael Bernier’s solo work on albums such as Leviathan and Veil shows just how capable and versatile a composer and musician he is. Michael cites Alan Holdsworth as one of his influences, in fact Mr. Holdsworth has given his secret recipe for guitar sounds to Michael. You can hear it on some of the tracks, I think.
So Ritchie and Michael are astonishing musicians, both multi-instrumentalists, both used to rubbing shoulders with other astonishing musicians. This album, therefore, has pedigree. It references some great work by other artists, but crucially, it is fresh, original, provocative and multi-faceted.
Right from the start Cattrophist grabbed me and shook me, violently. It took a few listens before a pattern started to emerge. Even then when I think I have a handle on it… “Ah it’s 7/8! …wait…er… no… Damn… YES! 7/8 again – NAILED IT”! It is almost as if Ritchie is playing in one time signature, Michael’s left hand a second and his right hand a third. But I Chapman Stuck with it (see what I did there?) and heard that it was good.
Still reeling, but intrigued, I was rewarded with a more conventional feeling jazz-rock-fusion track, reminiscent of Brand-X, Electric Sheep, complete with fretless bass a la Percy Jones.
Canterbury Undertow, or as I like to call it: “In-your-bloody-face-in-probably-9/16” is just downright heavy in many places and in all ways. If you proudly state that you like music to be challenging then you should love this! This isn’t a track-by-track analysis, but if you make it to Fugue you should have an idea of whether this album is for you. Even if you find the music too challenging [EDITOR: That there’s fighting talk!] this is worth having just so that you can marvel at the technical brilliance of it all. If all you do is marvel at the technical brilliance, however, then you are missing the melodies that emerge from what initially sounds like chaos in the bass-lines and lead lines.
The solo drumming (note solo drumming, not drum solo) on Cyber Toothed is, frankly and for want of a better word, awesome.
Finally, the soundscapes created in the last track, Approaching The Gates, with loops, effects and bowed stick, plus the tabla and other percussion, show another dimension to this duo that should just tip the balance for you. I think it is the best track on the album.
I want to hear more collaborations from Bernier-DeCarlo.
01. Cattrophist (5:09)
02. Electric Sheep (4:00)
03. Canterbury Undertow (5:52)
04. After Noon (5:56)
05. Fugue (6:34)
06. Cyber Toothed (4:10)
07. Approaching The Gates (10:50)
Total time – 42:31
Michael Bernier – Chapman Stick & Soft Synths
Ritchie DeCarlo – Drums, Electric Percussion & Analogue Synthesizers
Record Label: Independent release
Released: December 2014
Written by: Bernier-DeCarlo
Artwork: Michael Bernier