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Rascal Reporters - The Foul-Tempered Clavier CD (album) cover

THE FOUL-TEMPERED CLAVIER

Rascal Reporters

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.07 | 11 ratings

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Finnforest
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars All I know is I like it

I always feel way over my head when writing about certain genres whose histories I'm not all that up on. Thankfully Rascal Reporters do not strike me as the kind of guys to look down their noses at those of us who like Who albums. While I'm absolutely no expert on this kind of weirdo music, and while my favorite Zappa is the early stuff, even I know this is a phenomenal recording. My question is, with all of the avant-RIO fans we have around these parts, how in the hell is this album not worshiped around here? Geoff Logdon's and his Pleasant Green Records deserve huge kudos for the high quality CD issue of this modern classic. Rascal Reporters (the duo of Steve Gore and Steve Kretzmer) were formed in 1974 in Michigan and have released a handful of albums over the years, influenced by the likes of Zappa, Henry Cow, Beatles, Gentle Giant, Egg, Soft Machine, The Residents, Gryphon, Stackridge, Univers Zero, Art Zoyd, The Muffins, Burt Bacharach, Bela Bartok, PFM, Van Dyke Parks, Brian Wilson, U-Totem, Bread, The Regeneration, Herman Szobel, and Magma, according to their official bio. Sadly, founding Rascal Steve Gore passed away in 2009 in an unfortunate accident.

"Rascal Reporters are a quirky duo from Michigan that have been recording since the mid-seventies. On their sixth album, 2001's "The Foul-Tempered Clavier," their Gentle Giant & Zappa influences really shine through their dense & witty instrumental compositions." -Music by Gentle Giant Fans

"The complexity of the compositions and ideas here will thrill and astonish fans of rehearsal intensive rock. The opening track is so wonderful that even at 2:15, it's almost alone worth the price of the album." -Cuneiform

"If memory serves, I met Steve Gore during a mid afternoon high school fire drill. Out in the parking lot I held a copy of 'Uncle Meat.' As if somebody would want to steal this record from my school desk! We conversed, and quickly became friends." -Steve Kretzmer

The music of "The Foul-Tempered Clavier" seems to attempt to merge the most free forms of avant music and rock/jazz/Canterbury with pleasing melodies. For all the craziness that ensues in these songs there is that same desire to enjoy music that Zappa or Supersister had. The RR's never cross the line into unlistenable murk or dissonance, there is always something pleasant in the melodic sense fighting for the right to exist. As complex as it can get, there is also a minimalist or sparse tendency which makes things easy to grasp. Here they are joined by guest musician (and some say unofficial third member) Dave Newhouse who contributes wonderful brass and woodwind performances, as well as co-writing a few numbers. Mostly instrumental, the music of FTC was about 5 years in the making according to the liner notes. The album is dedicated to Frank Zappa.

The basic song structures are built on keyboards and drums/percussion with significant doses of Newhouse's brass and woodwinds. There is some guitar but it never dominates. The tracks develop into brisk jams with great interplay between members ("it's always a pleasure to work with a musician who's influenced your own writing" -S. Gore). The music is quirky and smart, filled with humor certainly but more important a great joy for creative performance. Sharp-witted runs and counterpoint fill the songs with the occasional drop of a part that sounds quite traditional, or even a bit of pop standard you will recognize, then it will shift again to drum solo or some other completely different line of thought. "Shoe Salad" features these amazingly fast keyboard runs from Kretzmer which were performed in real time, no sequencing. On the flip side, "Efrem Cymbalist, Jr" intentionally attempts to challenge the limits of the sequencing tools they used at the time. According to Gore, they did succeed is maxing out to the point where some of the notes "refused to play." Very chaotic listening, but pieces like this are balanced with more psyche-soothing tracks, the blending of the album's personalities was very successful. "Klezmer's Ragu" is purportedly what the Johnny Carson theme would have sounded like had it been written by Kretzmer/Newhouse. "The Cymbalist" is another favorite, a 10-minute "attempt to create a structured time-signature-defiant piece of music" which can sound as simple as a game-show theme but ultimately strings together an unbelievable quantity of various musical ideas. I think I even heard a Carpenters reference in there. Epic spirit in that one.

The album closes with Steve Gore's haunting "Tomorrow" which is a complete change of pace. This is very 60s sounding storytelling that sounds like something McCartney would have written in 1967, coming close to the vibe of "She's Leaving Home." Even a certain bit of Syd Barrett feeling to it. It's a beautiful and affecting piece about a woman suddenly left alone, dealing with loneliness, with a psych-flavored distant vocal, soft acoustic guitar, and sad high brass notes.

As I said, I'm no expert on this stuff so I hope one of our avant-experts will give it the proper critical review it deserves. But if I were a Zappa/G.Giant freak or a big "avant-prog" fan, I'd be running to track down a copy of this CD while you still can, it is currently easy to find. Four bonus tracks from the 1970s are also included from the RR vault. My sincere condolences to Steve Kretzmer for the no doubt unbearable loss of his long time musical partner and friend. Reading Gore's liner notes and some of the info on the web, it is apparent that the Rascal Reporters was very special to these two guys, more than just "a band", a great friendship as well.

I'm much more impressed with "heart" than any other aspect of music, and this album is filled with heart and DIY attitude. What the Minutemen did for "punk" music, the Rascal Reporters do for "avant-prog" (this album reminds me of "Double Nickels on the Dime" in spirit). Great joy, interesting songs, and no compromise-a special recording.

Finnforest | 4/5 |

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