Jasun Martz
The Pillory/The Battle

(Under The Asphalt)

I was quite surprised when, a few weeks ago, I found a "mysterious package" inside my mailbox: coming from New York, presenting a sender I didn't know, it contained a double CD and a thick press release package that on its cover announced "115 musicians!", "2 1/2 hours of music!" and "200 million years into the future...". The artist? Jasun Martz, with The Intercontinental Philharmonic Orchestra and The Royal Intercontinental Choir. Reading the printed material I learned of a rich and quite varied artistic biography; one episode that immediately attracted my attention was Martz's collaboration with... Frank Zappa! Being a long-time Zappa fan, the fact that I didn't remember Martz looked more than a bit strange. Careful reading told me that Martz's role had been that of programmer of Zappa's big modular synthesizer made by Emu Systems that Zappa brought on tour in 1977 and that was played by Eddie Jobson. Jobson's - and Ruth Underwood's - participation to Martz's album The Pillory had its seeds planted during that tour. From what I understand, The Pillory could be defined as a Mellotron + Orchestra multistylistic adventure, one that was much lauded the three (!) times the album was released: in 1978, 1981 and 1994.

Martz's background is that of your "typical American maverick": young drummer, multi-instrumentalist, synth wiz, this and that, sculptor and painter (painting appears to be his main occupation nowadays). If progressive rock, modern classical, and electronic music appear as being Martz's main influences, I'd say that a "pictorical" concept (think: Mnemonists, circa Horde) is at the foundation of this album. The Pillory/The Battle is not a work that's easy to "file under"... whatever. But this is not necessarily a bad thing, in an age when most music seems quite worried about not appearing too ambiguous in order to find its audience more easily. The only sure thing is that the album requires a long attention span on the part of the listener: Martz likes to work on big canvases, track 5 being - at 5'40" - the "single"; while track # 7 - at 74' - fills the second CD.

If I understand correctly, some musicians recorded their parts in Martz's studio, while others sent their parts from all over the world, in the form of digital files. Though this is not something really revolutionary nowadays, it's a way of working that seems to go well with the "episodic" nature of this music (in the only track that has a very strict rhythmic feel - a bit like a prog arrangement of Zappa's King Kong, with a violin and keyboard solo - almost all the instruments are played by Martz).

It could maybe be argued that while the album is always stimulating, it's not always successful. The strange thing is that, while a lot of things happen quite a lot of the time, the "more conventionally musical" moments appear as lacking a quality I'd call "necessity of development". While "soundscapes" - the first part of track one, the first thirty minutes of track seven - are quite successful, the same can't be said of the more "orchestra-enhanced" moments; it goes without saying that the movement we could call "minimalistic" - for the amount of instruments used, if not for the underlying philosophy - and which goes from 29' to 42' on the second CD requires a precise disposition on the part of the listener.

I found the concept that is said to be behind the work - and which explains why the seven tracks are all called Battle - to be not terribly useful; but it doesn't matter, really, because the music works (or doesn't) without it. At 22', Battle 1 moves through soundscapes, choirs and the Mellotron, while the orchestral Battle 2 didn't sound entirely convincing to me. I've already said of Battle 3, a quasi-progressive which flows into Battle 4, which has a nice percussive climax. Mellotron and pipe organ dominate Battle 5, while the more "abstract" climates of Battle 6 close the first CD. I consider the long track that occupies CD 2 in its entirety to be the best thing here, provided one is ready to walk at the right pace. It's not a "new age" album, by the way, its climates being most of the time very tense. A violin and vocals interlude, at about 67', nicely brings the album to its close. If not entirely successful, this is an original work that deserves a listen.

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2005

CloudsandClocks.net | June 5, 2005