Mike Keneally/Marco Minnemann
Evidence Of Humanity


Quite funny thinking about this, but I have to admit that the first few times that I listened to Evidence Of Humanity (which I did quite often in the course of the last two weeks: 'cause I liked it, also to make sure that the wave of enthusiasm that this music made me feel would not prove to be just a transitory pleasure) my first thoughts were not about the music, per se. Instead, I thought about those who say "today they don't make records like they used to", meaning they can't seem to be able to find any works that are (relatively speaking) accessible, and at the same time offering a (highly stimulating) sense of surprise. Not an easy task, I know, but to me this album sounds like one of the few that are currently available.

Some very peculiar circumstances are the basis for this work: After recording a completely improvised 50'+ drum solo (but it's a solo that right from the start implicitly saw various orchestration procedures as possibilities), drummer Marco Minnemann sent the solo to a few chosen musicians, inviting them to "fill the picture". Evidence Of Humanity is the name of the joint work of Minnemann and multi-instrumentalist Mike Keneally (other versions are already available, comparisons should be prove to be interesting). As stated in the course of the joint interview that appears in the DVD-V that's featured alongside the album (I'll get to it in a minute or two), it was Keneally's intention to follow the improvisational spirit of Minnemann's performance; so he worked "in the moment", i.e., listening to very brief segments of the actual performance, playing what came into his mind without second-guessing his intentions; then he proceeded to eventually harmonize what he had played when performing the "fragment". (Kudos to John Czajkowski, who did a fantastic job engineering and mixing the whole thing.)

I have to admit that listening to Evidence Of Humanity made me aware of the fact that I had unconsciously developed something of a "so what?" attitude about this album, which was conceived and recorded in parallel with the great piece of work called Scambot 1. It appears I was accepting as a given that a work conceived in such a "casual" way could be good, yes, but great? Here, as usual, readers are invited to judge for themselves, but in my opinion the fact of having to react to something unfamiliar (also, in a way, "inflexible") had a part in having Keneally invent themes and climates that sound quite different and diverse than per his (excellent) usual: it all sounds like him, of course, but a bit more... stimulating and fresh. The music here is quite fragmented, with an internal variety that makes pieces appear longer than they really are.

I often asked myself if what I was listening to was really something that was already familiar to me. As a good for instance check the ghost of the second part (the instrumental part) of Captain's Beefheart Veteran's Day Poppy (from Trout Mask Replica, of course) that seems to appear in Now. There are also tracks that feature the acoustic guitar and the piano that reminded me of the excellent Keneally work, Wooden Smoke: check Three People Ran Naked Through School, with fine drums; Bad Friday, with wood flutes; and Whoa, with a beautiful melody, piano/drums unison, and a slow acoustic guitar over a speeding hi-hat. There's a fine, multi-part opening track, Respect?, which starting from about 0' 54" reminded me of the live dialogues of Frank Zappa and Vinnie Colaiuta; there's a fine electric bass/piano unison, acoustic guitars, and the "essence" of a string quartet.

Maybe this is due to Minnemann's drum style, which one can easily investigate in the long duo improvisation that's featured in the DVD-V (I'll get to it in a minute), but to me sometimes Keneally sounded a lot more Beck-like than it's usual for him: check the harmony guitars from about 1' 03" of Evidence Of Humanity, after that frenetic guitar part over the fast hi-hat. Or the "Turkish" air at the start of Bastards Into Battle. Or the whole guitar performance in the first part of Clown Removal, with those echoes, trills, and bends, that sound as having Tony Hymas's keyboards and polyrhythms sounding like a mix of Terry Bozzio and Simon Phillips as their backing. (And what about that echo guitar that appears on Trying, doesn't it remind you of Jerry Garcia's classic-period psychedelia?)

It goes without saying that the whole definitely sounds Keneally-like, of course. Just check the cartoon-like music of Tooth And Cold Stone Pew, where the electric guitar with wha-wha on the left is doubled by the acoustic guitar on the right; there's also vibes, the drums coming to the fore in the second part. Check the "space jam" in Rough Time At The Hotel, with echo guitar, "big" drums, and a keyboard ostinato. The very funny "hit single" Kaa. The melodic development on the guitar in Forgive And Remember. The strange sounds in Apex Music. Those "clarinets" that appear in Our Collected Wisdom To Date. The "open-ended" tracks, Trying and A Place To Stay For The Night, feature what are maybe the most moving ten minutes of the whole album: there's echo guitar, piano, snare drum with clear snares, an excellent crescendo from the drums, and a growing feeling of sadness; a dry groove from the drums, piano, acoustic guitars, the electric guitar with echo, a strong rimshot, all take us to the album's conclusion.

The featured DVD-V offers an interesting interview with Keneally and Minnemann: it was shot on a motor vehicle, but the noise is not that strong as to make the conversation difficult to understand even for those, like this writer, whose first language is not English; there's also a studio improvisation shot in real time of about 1h., with fine electric bass overdubs by Keneally, who sometimes also appears in "split screen".

Beppe Colli

Beppe Colli 2010

CloudsandClocks.net | Oct. 21, 2010