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MeTaL-O-PHoNe - MeTaL-O-PHoNe CD (album) cover





4.45 | 5 ratings

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Anthony H.
Prog Reviewer
4 stars MeTaL-O-PHoNe: MeTaL-O-PHoNe [2009]

Rating: 7/10

There were two things that initially intrigued me about this French avant-jazz trio. First was the involvement of bassist Joachim Florent. Being a moderate fan of Florent's main group Jean Louis, I was interested to see what this exceptionally skilled bass player could do in a different context. The other thing that intrigued me about MeTaL-O-PHoNe was the band setup: vibraphone, bass, and drums. Needless to say, this is an unorthodox lineup of instruments; lacking piano, guitar, or sax, I wondered what the band could come up with. The result is an album that manages to both be intense and ambient at the same time. The intensity comes from the amount of sounds that band manages to cram together into a single sonic moment; the ambience comes from the fact that these sounds consist mainly of quiet "dings" and "dongs". It goes without saying that this is a unique album. It's difficult not to think of Zappa while listening to mallet-heavy jazz-fusion, but "Unplugged Jean Louis Meets Larks Tongues in Aspic" would probably be the most fitting description of the music here.

"Vision I" begins the album in an ominous and minimalistic fashion. This sounds like something that would be played during some sort of dark religious ceremony. The feedback-heavy "Roms" consists mainly of an almost doom-metalesque motif being repeated with growing intensity. It's fairly cool, but "Steve Reich in Babylone" is where the album really starts to get awesome. As with many songs on this album, this track builds upon certain vibe "riffs", adding increasing intensity and textures. The last two-and-a-half minutes of this track are probably the best on the album. "Vision II" is an interlude featuring what sounds like homemade percussion. "Karter" sounds like some sort of lost Larks Tongues outtake. The stand-up bass is played like a cello, and the vibes increase the ambience. This is great stuff. The awesomeness dies down a bit on "Improvisation Zen", a rather boring track consisting of even more "dings" and "dongs", along with some bass twanging. It's not bad, but it doesn't really go anywhere. "Papouilles" improves things. This almost sounds like something from a film-noir soundtrack. "Mutation I" is yet another interlude consisting of doorbell-like sounds. The vibes in "Bama" sound like the soundtrack to a dream sequence. The excellent drums and bass echo traditional jazz. "Mutation II" is another chime-filled interlude. "Robosticks" is probably the most electric track on the album. I love the funky bass and the dissonant vibes. "Tahiti" is a somewhat dull closing number, featuring more ambient percussion and bass twangs. The bass near the end of the song is strong enough to save the track, though.

As solid as MeTaL-O-PHoNe's debut is, it's plagued by inconsistency. There are basically two albums here: one in which the band plays groovy, engaging, and innovative avant-garde jazz, and one in which haphazard doorbell sounds dominate the music. The former is fantastic, and if the entire album consisted of these moments, then we would be within range of five-star territory (although not quite there). The latter, however, is boring. Pseudo-ambient dissonant chiming simply isn't very entertaining for me. While these tracks do next to nothing for me, the strong moments here ("Steve Reich in Babylone", "Karter", and to a slightly lesser extent "Papouilles", "Bama", and "Robosticks") are so excellent that it would be a crime to give this album anything less than a four-star rating. Although far from perfect, this is a very strong album that I would recommend to fans of avant-garde music, jazz-fusion, or Larks Tongues era Crimson.

Anthony H. | 4/5 |


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