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Pocket Orchestra biography
Formed in the late seventies in Phoenix, Arizona, this long-lost RIO band originally went under the name Knebnagäuje (and indeed released their first demo tape as such) and unfortunately never managed to garner much in the way of attention at the time. Little did the world know what they were missing; namely some of the most intense, creative, densely composed RIO ever made.

They released two demo tapes, one near the start of their career (Knebnagäuje, 1979) and the other towards the end (Pocket Orchestra, 1984). This end, incidentally, was sadly brought about by the group's lead guitarist and originator, Tim Parr, suffering an early death that same year. Had this not occurred, it is quite possible that Pocket Orchestra would have become much better-known and respected within the RIO community.

Pocket Orchestra clearly played RIO for the love of RIO, and they used every trick in the book to maximum effect - complex time signatures and jerky rhythms, expanded instrumentation that included clarinet, saxophone and cello, playful humour, discordant harmonies coupled with surprisingly catchy melodies and hooks. Their sound was one that will hold instant appeal for any self-respecting RIO fan and will instantly repel just about everyone else. If I had to name names I suppose their closest stylistic cousins would be the SAMLA MAMMAS MANNA family tree (Pocket Orchestra's hard-edged qualities make them more akin to the Zamla era albums than the earlier, lighter Samla ones, though). Other influences include HENRY COW and UNIVERS ZERO. All the usual suspects, really. However, I must stress, Pocket Orchestra has a sound utterly distinct from all these influences.

The two tapes the band managed to record during their active years were compiled in 2005 onto one CD (with amazingly high sound quality too!) by MIO records, coupled with heartfelt liner notes from the band's friend and fellow RIO musician Scott Brazieal of Cartoon. It serves as a fitting testament to the band's exemplary skill, creativity and sheer gusto.

: : : David Beris Edwards (aka Trouserpress), United Kingdom : : :

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 Knebnagäuje by POCKET ORCHESTRA album cover Studio Album, 2005
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Pocket Orchestra RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by Cesar Inca
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

4 stars Pocket Orchestra is the name of an unsung pillar of USA's ever prolific progressive avant- garde scene. Together with Cartoon and a few other names from the late 70s/early 80s, this band initially named Knebnagäuje and later re-baptized as Pocket Orchestra recorded demo material that, luckily for us all avid collectors, has been issued in a digital format. It is a pity that the untimely death of Tim Parr, guitarist and leader of the band, had to lead to the ultimate abortion of Pocket Orchestra's musical vision. The first 4 tracks belong to a 1984 demo tape (soon before Parr's demise), the remaining ones come from a 1979 demo. What do we have here in the whole CD? Well, 'Imam Bialdi' starts on a very Univers Zero- related mood, properly augmented with a sense of constrained agility not unlike the Miriodor standard (a few years later). The main body shifts to a more explicitely playfoll mood, closer to Zappa and SMM. 'R.V.' starts with a less extroverted atmosphere, more focused on elements from avant-garde jazz (a-la Keith Tippett), with added touches of Latin- like swings. As the track progresses on, the mood becomes gradually more neurotic, just like a demented variation of Canterbury sonorities. Once the climax is being built up and achieved, the sense of madness has already exploded in a kaleidoscope of exciting flames that light up the darkest skies of the human heart. The disturbance is really diabolic, in the most literal sense of the word. 'Regiments' gets in next to occupy a less than 15 minute space. The initial section is quite reflective, focused on soft piano motifs and gentle flourishes on sax. Further on, the instrumentation gains a bigger vitality although there is not a complete exaltation at the end of the day. The musicians indulge on occasional reflex acts a-la "Grand Wazzoo"-era Zappa, fluidly intertwined with grayish tones of somber darkness. A few seconds before the 6 minute mark, a surreal passage incorporates elements of minimalism and experimental percussions. The 11 minute mark finds the track moving toward a controlled climax that shows off its most bizarre facets, ultimately leading to a very lyrical coda. 'Letters' has a more relaxed cadence, overall. The occasional playful moments are akin to Hatfield and not so much to the usual suspects-heroes of RIO (and chamber rock): especially the closing section, which features a very optimistic mood plus an astonishing guitar solo. The album's second half starts with the very punchy 'Blueing', which could be well describes ad the missing link between Samla and Zamla. Even though PO know how to add a somber element to the typical colorfulness of the aforesaid Swedish counterparts, this track is undeniable connected to humor. 'White Organ Meats' does not spray too far from this musical framework, but you can tell that the dose of extravagance is wider. The jazzy nuances may remind us of early Henry Cow, as do the deconstructive variations that take hold of the track's finale. 'Grandma Coming Down the Hall With a Hatchet' bears a very funny title, and so it happens to bear a deep circus feel to it (in a Dadaist manner), but that's not the whoel story. This piece also comprises some lyrically driven jazzy moments (something like Hatfield-meets-Gilgamesh): the resulting warmth is based on the solid interaction between flute and electric piano. The 16 ¾ minute long 'Bagon' closes down the album providing PO's most explicit progressive extravaganza. Its combination of R.I.O., Canterbury (a-la Matching Mole), fusion, musique concrete and Gong-related spacey ornaments is proficiently ordained in a bizarre palette where weirdness and beauty become one single quality. These 1979 tracks show that Parr & co. were yet to find a focused artistic ideal, but nonetheless, the band was enormously talented and abundantly versatile. Pocket Orchestra's legacy is really important to understand and appreciate the special magic that was generated under the wings of the R.I.O. ideology in the margins of U.S.A.'s musical scene. Great, a real great progressive item this is.
Thanks to ProgLucky for the artist addition.

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