Reviewed by Dave Goodman, April 1st, 2015
From the first note to the last, this album establishes unequivocally that the Sydney-based Daryl Pratt Band is a stimulating collective of virtuosi. Indeed, it is a wise choice of players, as Pratt’s elaborate compositions demand a high degree of sensitivity, awareness and stamina balanced in wide variety and contrast throughout the album. Individually, each band member’s part from each track could be abstracted from the whole and stand alone as a complete composition in its own right. Together, the band’s impressive blend of sensibilities and care yields a high degree of musical cohesiveness that admirably blurs the lines between electronic and acoustic sounds, composed and improvised passages, and sampled and live performance.
Listeners to Pratt’s previous ensemble Sonic Fiction will immediately recognise in the opening Mantra that the unique stamp fashioned by Pratt and South’s percussive rapport, built up through more than a decade of performance together, has only intensified with the passage of time. This is evinced in the frenzied romp of Mantra’s introduction – an integrated sonic soundscape combining affected digital samples and blended with acoustic percussion. Also in the percussion section is formidable drummer Jared Underwood, previously a long-term student of Pratt’s at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music where Pratt is the chair of the percussion unit. Underwood’s contribution throughout is aesthetically perfect and rhythmically visceral, particularly on Sub Tropic.
At times, the aptly titled First Intersection emits overtones of Frank Zappa’s frenetic 200 Motels intersecting with a subtle blend of Maegraith’s gorgeous tenor tone that is beautifully supported by accompaniment from Pratt and McMahon. McMahon shines with reckless abandon in the piece’s introduction.
The melody of South’s A Berocca for a Broken Leg bears a similarity to the quality of rhythmic invention produced in the repertoire of brilliant Belgian outfit Aka Moon. His Intro to Josef Was Here is a highly inventive feature showing a glimpse into the mind of a highly intelligent creative artist.
Maegraith distinguishes himself as a supremely versatile reedman during his fiery alto feature on …Bell, an adaptation of the theme from If I Were A Bell. His alto slices through the densely populated percussion section with as much ease on this track as the breathiness of his tenor nests gently into the dreamy night-time textures of Second Intersection.
With its busy uptempo ostinato, Low Zone features bassist Emile Nelson soloing in his element with an extremely clear and punchy tone. Finally, with an intricately hocket-style melodic introduction, Flower at the Gate closes the album in a way that recapitulates the best of the thematic variety from the preceding tracks.
A band of this size and varied instrumentation sees Pratt very adroitly take advantage of many interesting and colourful textures and timbral combinations. At one hour and thirteen minutes, however, this is a long disc. While the individual tracks are admirable, programmatically there is insufficient variety to sustain interest. I found my concentration flagging towards the end. Live in concert, this band is spectacular, but it is unfortunate that Maegraith is now residing in Berlin, thus leaving the band without a saxophonist for the foreseeable future.
(All compositions by Daryl Pratt (APRA) except A Berocca for a Broken Leg and Intro to Josef by Philip South (skinnywalletmusic/APRA))
Disclaimer: Dave Goodman has personal and professional associations with most members of this band.