In my long experience of modern prog I have come to the conclusion that there are three variants that apply in the vast majority of cases when one is presented with the long form piece. “What are they, then?”, you probably didn’t ask. Well, firstly a composer has a ridiculous amount of ideas that probably shouldn’t belong on the same page, and cackhandedly staples them together for fan appeasement – they are suckers for the “long un” after all. Secondly, we have the one idea stretched way beyond the point of reasonableness, which is usually around the ten minute mark, and lastly the long and rambling formless noodle that may as well have been recorded by accident, guaranteed to send one into deep coma.
FACE is an album containing just the one 35-minute track. Given my reputation for disliking the prog “long un”, that should be enough to instantly put me off, don’t you think? Ah, but this is Markus Reuter, a man whose long form excursions are rooted in classical music methodology, applied to both composition and arrangements. He’s even written a modern classical symphony, the utterly fascinating Todmorden 513. Therefore one should expect a defined structure, with both obvious and cleverly buried themes making their presence known at strategic points, and as a result one’s attention is held from start to finish. Let’s jump in and have a swim…
Firstly, the cover art by Tool’s Adam Jones is as fearsome as I would expect from this highly talented designer. See the KoMaRa album cover for some recent evidence of his visceral style. As for the musicians, Markus Reuter and Pat Mastelotto have a long history of collaboration, both in various projects and as the rhythm section of bands involving others. They have also made music in the past as a duo by the name of TUNER. For FACE they are joined by a small army of guest players on what must rank as the most conventionally “prog” composition Markus has ever composed. Don’t be fooled by that, as this is not in the slightest “prog” by numbers, although the piece is played out with a mathematical precision as if it is following a chart into places hitherto undiscovered.
Markus maps out the journey over 385 bars of music, and one can imagine him in the captain’s quarters of a three-master from the 18th Century, pouring over the charts with First Mate Mastelotto, before setting off on a quest into unknown waters. Given Markus’ history, especially with the Todmorden outing, it is no surprise that this piece of music has symphonic qualities, as it moves through changes with themes coming and going.
In typically erudite fashion Markus explains the basis for the years of groundwork the duo put into this piece, which Pat reckons was the most challenging to make of his entire career, and the origins of the title “FACE”, thus: “We have the notes F, A, C, and E as a theme within the piece. The idea was to play with the idea that you can look at a piece of music from different sides. It’s all deep, heady stuff!” he laughs.
Once the grid was laid down, Markus’ agile playing and Pat’s instantly recognisable and very natural percussive style were fleshed out by the numerous guest players. “I wanted something organic going on,” Mastelotto explains. “That’s why there’s all sorts of different instruments appearing; strings, trombone, banjo and so on. Instead of getting those sounds on a synth we wanted to give it a little human touch.” ‘Little’ is something of an understatement, as these guests add all manner of emotional subtleties to proceedings.
This is a fantastically intricate piece of music that is dense while being simultaneously fleet of foot. There is some of the ethos of Mike Oldfield in here, brought bang up to date for the 21st Century. Instrumental highlights rise and fall in the mix, brass sections, guitars, saxophones, voices, and all the while Markus and Pat steer proceedings with a high degree of clarity. Pat’s percussion is deft and powerful, there is always the beat to fall back on.
Being but the one track, you will need to set aside 35 minutes where you know you will not be disturbed – turn the bloody phone off! Pour yourself a large one, sit back, turn it up, and lose yourself in the complexities of the mapped route. You will arrive at the destination tired but elated. Ten years in the making, this is so obviously a labour of love, and deserves to be a success. Hopefully the conventional prog fan will appreciate its worth, as this is probably the best progressive rock record I have heard this year.
01. FACE (35:11)
Total Time – 35:11
Markus Reuter – Touch Guitars, Bass Guitar, Electric Guitar, Acoustic Guitars, Melodica, Grand Piano, Banjo, Bulbul Tarang, Omnichord, Synthesizer
Pat Mastelotto – Acoustic & Electronic Drums & Percussives
Fabio Trentini – Electric Guitars, Guitar Synth, Fretless Bass
Tim Motzer – Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Ukulele
Mark Williams – Mandocello, Fretless Bass, Cello, Voice
Monica Champion – Clarinet, Saxophone, Voice
Steven Wilson – Vocal Chords
Annette Franzen – Violin
Adrian Benavides – Electric Guitar
Michael Mordecai – Trombone
Marcus Graf – Trumpet
Chrysta Bell – Voice
Brad Houser – Bass Clarinet
Luca Calabrese – Flügelhorn
Michael Bernier – Bowed Stick
Danny Wilde – Voice
Yoshi Hampl – Voice
Renée Stieger – Voice
Record Label: Tempus Fugit
Catalogue#: SPV 80602 CD
Date of Release: 24th March 2017