Kronomyth 1.0: HIS TOWERING ACHIEVEMENT. Progressive rock keyboardists, many of them trained in the classics, often go the route of program music on their own, creating complex concept albums that fall prey to convoluted plots. On the surface, Patrick Moraz’ Story of I fits that description: the “story” takes place in a huge hotel where guests exchange their life for the pursuit of pleasure, following the lives of a man and woman who accidentally fall in love while thus occupied. Throw into the mix all manner of musical styles (prog rock, jazz, Latin music), the painstaking personification of various instruments to drive the plot, and fourteen separate sections that connect the story seamlessly from point to point… well, you see the potential for this tower to topple over. And yet Story of I succeeds against overwhelming odds: Moraz’ keyboard wizardry conjures plenty of magical moments, from the opening “Impact” (which sounds like a saucer landing in a jungle) to a miniature battle between guitar and mini-moog on “Indoors.” Equally important, Moraz carefully scripts the action from piece to piece while ensuring that principle themes and sounds give the work a unifying structure. The liner notes, which look chaotic, actually reveal Story of I to be calculated art. There are even a handful of songs here, some featuring Patrick himself on vocals without ill effect, that break up the instrumental action nicely. The supporting musicians are outstanding, aiding Moraz in the pursuit of a new sort of fusion that draws from prog rock, jazz, and Brazilian music (Chick Corea may be the closest parallel). Although listeners might be expecting something along the lines of Rick Wakeman (and there are some moments where the two cross paths), Story of I is closer in construct to Tony Banks’ A Curious Feeling. However, Moraz aspires to (and achieves) much more here. In fact, Story of I may well be the keyboardist’s towering achievement. Ambitious in the extreme, engaging at every turn, this deserves a place among such impressive declarations of independence as Olias of Sunhillow, The Six Wives of Henry VIII and Voyage of the Acolyte.
After the ambitious conceptual tower of I, Patrick Moraz scaled things down for an album of progressive pop music. Again recorded in Brazil with many of Story’s characters (John McBurnie, Ray Gomez, Andy Newmark), Out In The Sun suggests Elton John south of the border. Outside of the ending on “Silver Screen” (shades of “Starship Trooper”), nothing under this Sun inherits anything from Yes. Those looking for a link to progressive rock will have to settle for a Steve Hillage soundalike (“Love-Hate-Sun-Rain-You”), a Wakemanic walk along the Steinway (“Time For A Change”) and a nod to Jon Anderson’s poppier pursuits (“Out in the Sun”). Progressive rock keyboardists usually try their hand at a mediocre pop album at some point: Tony Banks, Pete Bardens, Anthony Phillips, Eddie Jobson. These tend to fall into the more successful DIY camp (The Green Album, 1984, The Fugitive) or the generally awful ad hoc band approach (Sides, A Curious Feeling, Speed of Light). Out in the Sun is the latter, kind of a Jackson Lights what with McBurnie on vocals. “Tentacles” and “Nervous Breakdown” are pretty terrible, “Silver Screen” and “Back to Nature” too. Honestly, I’d probably be ripping this one a new sunspot if it weren’t for the instrumentals. “Kabala” is a sweet Corean confection and the instrumental half of “Time For A Change” offers some mind candy for contemplation. The rest of the record, if not regrettable, is forgettable. Tellingly, Moraz waited seven years before reuniting with McBurnie for the equally coolly received Timecode.
Patrick Moraz’ tale of the clash between “primitive” and “civilized” cultures brings together the seemingly disparate elements of Brazilian jazz and the burgeoning field of electronic music. As might be expected, the album runs hot and cold; the melodies are often warm and ingratiating (something he shares with Pat Metheny, along with a hair stylist apparently), but the more synthetic sections fail to fuse with the “primitive” percussion of Djalma Correia et al. Moraz himself seems to be ambivalent toward electronics, assigning them the role of the aggressor in this battle. Despite the somewhat dour subject matter, the music is often upbeat and enjoyable, with the opening “Jungles of the World” and “Temples of Joy” providing the album’s most memorable moments. Things fall into disarray on “The Conflict,” recalling the very early work of Vangelis and limiting the synthesizers to stereotypical sounds. The machines take over on “Primitivisation,” a funky number with some effective vocals (via vocoder) from Moraz, giving way to human voices (courtesy of Joy Yates) on “Keep the Children Alive.” An acoustic piano improvisation follows, “Intentions,” which allegedly recycles some of the themes from the album so far and gives the best indication of Moraz’ ability. The earlier, joyful themes resurface on “Realization” with a reconciliation between primitive and civilized cultures. As concept albums go, it’s an interesting idea (although I can’t recall the last time a concept album didn’t have a title), but its appeal is limited by the decision to phrase all of the action with keyboards and percussion. What could have been a colorful canvas is instead a bit too monochromatic, although still not without merit.
“It has always been my dream and ambition… to be able to paint and sculpt sonic structures which could in fact be described as instant compositions.” That’s Patrick Moraz talking in the opening liner notes to Future Memories. Now, this is me talking: It has never been my dream or ambition to pay perfectly good money for sonic structures which could in fact be described as pulled out of somebody’s ass. But, since this is where we find ourselves tonight, let’s make the best of it. In November 1979, Swiss television broadcast Patrick Moraz spontaneously composing, on what I’m guessing could only have been a Wednesday. The very, very strange keyboardist surrounded himself with an arsenal of electronic keyboards and proceeded to “(organize) the conscience in order to convey and transcend the ideas into organized sonic architecture,” which I’m assuming involved a Coke can, a thumbtack and at least a quarter-ounce of really good Swiss pot. In its defense, Future Memories isn’t much worse than most of Moraz’ music, which always sounded suspiciously spontaneous to me. “Eastern Sundays” was mixed on the following day and thus is more polished than the side-long “Metamorphoses,” while “Black Silk” was recorded on the Bosendorfer and goes off without a hitch. Personally, I have no trouble filing this under E for Ephemera and getting on with my life. As a live exercise, Future Memories was a success… thirty years ago. Not everything needs to be preserved on plastic; as long as they’ve got a copy of this in the Library of Congress, I can sleep at night. In 1984, Patrick Moraz repeated the exercise on Swiss television. Apparently, the Swiss still hadn’t figured out that you could use old episodes of The Honeymooners to fill in dead air time.
Ah, the pan flute: the thinking man’s kazoo. Not to belittle the artistry behind Syrinx’ muse, but there’s a reason young boys and girls aren’t chapping their lips late at night practicing the pan flute. Patrick Moraz’ spacey synthesizers and Syrinx’ antiquated instrument make strange bedfellows on Coexistence, although some of the time they also make beautiful music together. On the first side, the music might be too beautiful for some tastes, like “Boonoonoonoos” (which, I kid you not, would have worked well on Sesame Street) and the new age/muzak sounds of “Mind Your Body.” The side-long “Coexistence” suite is a better match for Moraz, allowing his advanced arsenal of synthetic sounds to shine, with Syrinx eschewing his delicate touch for an aggressive, jazzier tone. Other electronic keyboardists, Vangelis among them, have made the mistake of pairing raw and primitive sounds with electronics, perhaps overestimating the expressiveness of their own instruments. Usually, too wide a chasm exists between the two, and the primitive components come off sounding hokey, the futuristic components bloodless. That said, the “Coexistence” suite does arrive at an organic union, and Moraz fans will appreciate the idea and the effort. As for the first side of music, it may appeal only to the Yanni- and the Tesh-less. Unless you thought the Jon Anderson/Vangelis ventures were a good idea (and some did), save your money for something less flutey, like Story of I.
The second and last album from Moraz and Bruford, seeing as how the pair had plumbed their musical possibilities after two albums of improvisational jazz. Flags is probably the better of the two efforts. I say “probably” because my slightly more favorable disposition to Flags could simply be the result of well-tempered expectations. Music For Piano And Drums was somewhat unexpected: a dry and academic approach to the music that Moraz and Bruford were making on their own. Coming from the perspective of this Music, I’m more likely to salute Flags as a successful fusion of their individual styles in a ready-made jazz mold. Moraz still sounds like a poor man’s Chick Corea: Latin themes, lots of notes, a surfeit of synthetic sounds some of the time. Bruford gets in better beats this time, so that the pair remain on equal footing. Highlights include “Karu,” in which Moraz does a very good Vangelis impersonation, and the closing “Everything You’ve Heard Is True.” When listening to Flags (and the earlier Music), I’m apt to think my time would be better spent in the company of Wakeman, or especially sailing the solo catalog of Bruford. One of a Kind and Gradually Going Tornado are far more fun; even the moody Earthworks stuff has more to capture the imagination. Flags is best left to well-heeled wonderers who don’t mind spending $20 (and forty minutes) to answer the musical question: What are Bruford and Moraz up to now? Otherwise, you’d really need to buy into the idea that Moraz and Bruford are capable of frequent, spontaneous jazz genius to pledge any kind of allegiance to this album.
More songs from the attic, although it appears that Steve Howe’s attic is bigger than most peoples’ homes. Common sense told me that Homebrew 2 would be a collection of leftover leftovers, but I’ve never been one to listen to common sense. Instead, the first and second Homebrew collections are very similar in terms of quality and ancestry. You’ll find home versions of Yes songs (“Masquerade,” “The Serpentine”) and Steve Howe solo songs (“Surface Tension”), new age instrumentals (“Together,” “The Spiral”), old chestnuts lost to time (“Every Time You Look Over Your Shoulder”) and the sort of fleshed-out ideas that Howe would typically bring to the next Yes project (“Rhythm of the Road,” “Separate Ways”). Highlights (and Homebrew 2 has them) include a duet of Howe and Patrick Moraz on the classic “Beginnings” and the lost songs (Howe’s voice notwithstanding), which includes “Resistance Day.” Yes fans will enjoy the extra time in Howe’s attic, rummaging through old souvenirs and half-completed songs. The Homebrew discs are vanity releases, however, so if the idea of hearing part of Relayer in its earliest form (“The Serpentine”) doesn’t excite you (and, honestly, I’m not saying it should), then these aren’t your cup of tea. As I’ve mused elsewhere (probably in the previous Homebrew review, and likely in all future Homebrew reviews), I could listen to Steve Howe play the guitar for hours, so I enjoy these collections. It may be the history lesson that draws me in, but it’s the music that keeps me coming back. I’m actually excited to hear the third installament of this. Of course, I said the same thing about Anthony Phillips’ Private Parts & Pieces but, as I noted earlier, common sense and I are passing strangers.