Last October, one of the acts to grace the stage at Progstock was Reuter Motzer Grohowski, Marcus Reuter has a CV that spans everything from Stick Men to contemporary classical to being the designer of the Touch Guitar. Tim Motzer, not to be outdone, has worked with artists as diverse as David Sylvian, Vernon Reid and PAKT. Kenny Grohowski holds down a day job drumming for Brand X while providing the backbeat for artists in the jazz, classical and metal genres as well. Each one of them is also noted, collectively and individually, for their improvisational chops. Knowing that their set was likely to feature the latter, I admit to a bit of trepidation. What I heard was both beautiful and horrifying. Tender and brutal. Satisfying and incredibly confusing. In other words, an apt introduction to the new album, Bleed.
Improvisational music is not, as some would lead you to believe, a group of disparate musicians each doing his or her own thing. In the Venn Diagram of music, the overlap between what each musician is doing is the larger part of the diagram as everyone needs to be actively listening to what the others are playing; to complement it, to augment it, to build upon and take flight from it. Not an easy task, and only those who truly hear what is going on around them pull it off successfully.
Opening title track Bleed is a case in point. It begins with a juxtaposition of delicate electric piano and a distorted guitar drone, opening up to Reuter’s very Frippian lead work. The busy drumming creates a sense of tension that never seems to resolve, making for a jittery atmosphere where you are always waiting for the other shoe to drop. The only moments of respite come courtesy of Motzer’s guitar work, particularly when he uses the slide to generate some beautifully rendered effects. For most of the piece, Reuter’s guitar provides the shock and awe to counter Motzer’s largely subtle colouring. It’s the latter though that ultimately adds interest and makes the piece work. Without Motzer’s contributions, Bleed would sound like an epic battle between Reuter’s Touch Guitar and Grohowski’s aggressive drumming.
For someone who’s work initially appears to be happening mainly in the background, it is in fact Motzer’s guitar that holds these pieces together and gives them interest. His acoustic guitar work on songs like Causatum is never conventional, yet is the bedrock upon which Reuter is able to build. Grohowski wisely holds back, using only cymbals and light percussion for the first three minutes. When the drums do come in, it is much more sympathetic to what the guitars are playing. The same holds true for the drums on Sibylline, where they are mere accent for the first half of the song before unleashing their power. In contrast, Motzer’s guitar parts start weird and angular and atonal, resolving into lovely acoustic again when the drums take over.
Epic Monolith could be the soundtrack to a movie about a haunted house. Beginning with random guitar sounds over a sinister drone, when Reuter comes roaring in it sounds for all the world as if the band is about to launch into Lark’s Tongues In Aspic Part I. However, instead of the burst of energy that releases the tension on that track, this one piles on the creep factor until each measure is so taut you fear the song will snap under its own weight. Blink-and-you’ll-miss-it touches of organ, Mellotron and Rhodes are like the ghosts you barely see out of the corner of your eye, yet their presence is surely felt. This is Grohowski’s best performance on the album because it never threatens to overwhelm the rest of the music. In the final minutes, the ghosts – in the guise of Reuter’s Touch Guitar – finally attack. If you didn’t believe in the power of improvised music before, you will now.
Oracle Chamber is as close as the album comes to a conventional song. Opening with a strangled series of bass notes and kick drum, the rhythm holds a steady four beat while Reuter conjures up Middle Eastern tonalities on his instrument. Midway through, Grohowski unleashes his inner Animal (as in Muppets drummer), threatening once more to derail the roller coaster before settling down. By contrast, Impenetrable lives up to its title, sounding dangerously close to as if no one is listening to anyone else. This is far and away the most challenging listen, but it is not without its odd rewards. Cacophony as symphony.
Sometimes, though, noise is just noise. The drumming on Free in the Now at times crosses that threshold. Instead of allowing the guitars to step out front, Grohowski resorts to the hit everything all at once approach. As if to atone for his sins, he spends the first half of nearly nine-minute closer Externalities of the Truest Universality using only cymbal washes to enhance the spaciness that the piece’s title suggests. Close listening is consistently rewarded by what sounds like a sitar riff bubbling under the slide guitar. Sounds come at the listener from every angle, bathing one in a stoned-out bliss.
Because this is not a song-oriented album, per se, but rather a series of moods, it is truly about the journey, not the destination. On that journey, the tourist traps are forsaken for out-of-the-way local experiences. Like most journeys of the sort, this is recommended for the adventurous and open-minded. Not for everyone, but if you go, guaranteed there will be stories to tell.
01. Bleed (11:21)
02. Causatum (8:14)
03. Sibylline (11:31)
04. Monolith (14:30)
05. Oracle Chamber (7:03)
06. Impenetrable (6:01)
07. Free in the Now (6:20)
08. Externalities of the Truest Universality (8:39)
Total Time – 73:39
Kenny Grohowski – Drums, Percussion
Tim Motzer – Acoustic-Electric 6 & 12-string Guitars, Baritone Electric, Electric Guitar, Bow, Electronics, Looping
Markus Reuter – Touch Guitars AU8, Looping
Reuter, Motzer & Grohowski: Rhodes, Mellotron & Hammond overdubs
Record Label: MoonJune Records
Country of Origin: International
Date of Release: 4th November 2022
Reuter Motzer Grohowski – Bandcamp
Markus Reuter – Website | Facebook | Twitter
Kenny Grohowski – Website | Twitter | YouTube
Tom Motzer – Website | Facebook | Twitter
MoonJune Records – Facebook | Bandcamp | Twitter