1/ A Child's Dream (Belden) 3.28 2/ Machine Language (Belden) 7.02 3/ Eternality (Belden) 3.14 4/ Consistent Imperfection (Belden) 6.32 5/ Soul of a Machine (Belden) 3.19 6/ Genesis Code (Belden) 8.46 7/ Evolved Virtual Entity (Belden) 3.00 8/ Disappearannihilation (Belden) 3.58 9/ The Evolution of Machine Culture (Belden) 5.50 10/ Dark Matter (Belden) 8.28 11/ Technomelancolia (Belden) 2.37 12/ A Machine's Dream (Belden) 2.43 Recorded October 31 & November 1, 2014 at Orange Music, West Orange, New Jersey Recorded and mixed by James Dellatacoma Produced by Bob Belden Executive Producer: Giacomo Bruzzo Mastered by Michael Fossenkemper at Turtletone Studio, NYCBob Belden: sax, flute, arrangements, sound design; Pete Clagett: trumpet; Bill Laswell: bass; Roberto Verastegui: keyboards; Matt Young: drums; Kurt Elling: spoken word.
2015 - RareNoise Records (UK), RNR055 (Vinyl) 2015 - RareNoise Records (UK), RNR055 (CD)
Thus, the September 25, 2015 release of this last Animation project Machine Language (Rare Noise Records) is a bittersweet occasion, and the music will probably always be linked to the mortality of its maker. Although he’s no longer around to tell us so, the theme of Machine Language is clear: a pondering of the notion of whether machines can have the capability to dream as humans do, ultimately ending with the question, “will a machine dream lead to the same destiny as a human dream?”
Ruminations of that depth requires words, and renowned singer Kurt Elling, assuming his best Rod Serling character, provides that via narration that peppers the instrumentals at strategic spots. The music itself is provided by Bob Belden’s Animation group, a young group of crack musicians who play with a lot of imagination themselves: keyboardist Roberto Verastegui, trumpeter Pete Clagett and drummer Matt Young. Replacing Jacob Smith on bass for this endeavor is the eminent Mr. Laswell.
Bob Belden, of course, wrote all of these connected pieces, but gave the musicians an enormous amount of leeway; he must have, because the preponderance of free and unpredictable playing borders on group improv. When Elling does his recitation of the philosophy behind man vs. machine — beginning with the first track “A Child’s Dream” — the band retreats into an ambient backdrop that’s dreamlike, but with just enough techno to hint at the mechanical nature of computer behavior.
Continuing with using Animation as a vehicle for advancing the ideas for put forth by Miles Davis in his early electric period, evoking at some point each of the classic albums from 1969-75 era but carrying forward those concepts to where they might have landed in the present day. For instance, the jerky rhythms of On The Corner has evolved to real loosened drum’n bass pulses, while the dreamy but dark textures of “In A Silent Way” is established nearly everywhere by Verastegui’s keyboard colorations and the suspended, floating and often-muted trumpet of Clagett.
Within this setting, Laswell slides right in with electric bass that bears his unmistakable stamp but falling well within the context of these sessions. His murky bottom is somewhat mathematical on “Machine Language,” a sure sign he understands the idea behind the title, and offers up an interesting contrast against the dissonant, barren synth backdrop. It’s one hell of a groove. He makes a lot of subtle moves for “DisappearAnnihilation,” knowing just where to leave spaces and where to place his notes. He teases us with “The Evolution of Machine Culture” by emitting almost the same bass pulse that commences “Bitches Brew,” the song , a performance that takes off and gallops away when you least expect it to.
Belden’s role as the architect of this rock-jazz opera looms so large, it’s easy to forget that the guy could, well, play. He only shows what he’s got in saxophone playing department on two spots but he makes them count. For “Genesis Code,” he plays his soprano sax with a odd, slightly raspy tone, with intent. He wastes no notes soloing during the loose jam “Dark Matter.”
Bob Belden will surely be remembered as a man who deeply respected the greats and the greatness of music history while pushing forward ambitiously with his own music. His final gift leaves no doubt that while the man is gone, his adventurous spirit lives on. Hopefully, forever.
S. Victor Aaron (courtesy of the Something Else! website)
Machine Language is a suite of connected pieces that evoke the thrilling moods Miles Davis conjured from his early 1970s bands and records. There are long solos for trumpet and leader Bob Belden’s soprano sax, linear, spacey grooves, and layered textures for keyboards, notably the distinctive Rhodes electric piano of Roberto Verastegui. Bill Laswell plays bass guitar as if the Miles Davis gig was the one he always wanted – he even quotes ‘Ife’ (from Davis’s Big Fun) at one moment. The album scores high on atmosphere, and it sounds as if the five players who made up Animation, completed by drummer Matt Young and trumpeter Pete Clagett, had a lot of fun devising the twelve tracks. Sadly the project has acquired an extra gravitas, for it is the last album Bob Belden completed before his untimely death in May 2015 at the age of 58.
Belden’s previous achievements include jazz albums based on the music of The Beatles and Sting, on The Black Dahlia murder case and the wonderful Miles From India . He also helped compile and annotate Columbia’s extraordinarily obsessive series of ‘Complete Recordings’.
A Bob Belden production is never just a bunch of guys jamming in a room. There is always a high concept. The underlying theme of Machine Language, indicated by titles such as ‘Soul of a Machine’ and ‘Genesis Code’, is the uneasy relationship between people and computers.
So Machine Language is full of good stuff, if a little less than the sum of its parts. If you hear a fragment, say, on Mike Chadwick’s JazzFM show, its detail – the grain of the sound Belden and his colleagues achieve – promises a listening experience that’s not fully realised when you listen all the way through. The most perfect track may be ‘Constant Imperfection’, which recalls the Bitches Brew sessions in feel – long lines for sax and trumpet underpinned by a choppy rhythm section, with lashings of ring modulation on the Rhodes piano.
For my taste, there is a problem in the lengthy spoken-word passages read out by Kurt Elling in his best ‘Twilight Zone’ tones. I yield to no one in my admiration for Elling’s vocal timbres, but there are too many words.
A point of comparison is perhaps in the final moments of ‘Yesternow’ on Davis’s Jack Johnson, when the relentless jazz-rock gives way to a fragment of jazz orchestra. Brock Peters, speaking the words of black boxer Jack Johnson, grabs our attention in the last sixteen seconds. This creates instant drama, but it also works on repeated listening. Machine Language’s spoken segments, by contrast, interrupt the flow just a little too often.
Yet in other ways Belden learned an awful lot from his extensive studies of Davis’s music, and the best moments in the album evoke his thrilling interweaving of background and foreground, of live performance and studio magic. The legacy of Davis’s early 1970s music still casts its spell over musicians who weren’t even born when he stopped playing this music, and whose technology is (in theory) several generations more advanced.
Belden’s own legacy is that of an organiser, a ringmaster, and a highly original backstage person who only occasionally stepped up front. Happily there are sax solos on Machine Language – on ‘Genesis Code’ and ‘Dark Matter’ – that remind us he was also a fine player in an idiom that’s still worth exploring.
John L. Waters courtesy of the London Jazz News website
Storytelling and music have been combined for so long that it’s impossible to say who first had the idea to tell a story with music. Maybe that was the original purpose of music – who knows? From traveling bards to classical opera to Broadway musicals to progressive rock concept albums, it’s something that’s been going on for a long time. But composer / saxophonist Bob Belden came up with something not quite like anything I’ve heard before. The story part of Machine Languageis narrated by Kurt Elling, telling a story inspired by many science fictional sources (Philip K. Dick and Iain M. Banks are mentioned specifically, as is Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and I'll throw in some Isaac Asimov as well). The music portion takes off from Miles Davis’s early 70s work, especially Big Fun and Get up with It. This is a musical vein that can still yield high-quality ore, and in the hands of these musicians, the result is grooving and out there, without sounding derivative. Matt Young is the drummer, and his playing is funky without losing the jazz core, built up from space and sensitive listening. The bass is handled by Bill Laswell, and his tones at times add a distinctly modern flair, with some effects that just didn’t exist when Miles was doing it. Roberto Verastegui’s keyboards are frequently the star of the show, with electric piano dominating, including some stellar freaked-out ring-modulated parts. Peter Clagett takes on the trumpet parts; I’m unfamiliar with his name, but he nails it, whether with open bell or muted. He can go moody and spaced-out, or solo with the best of them, often with echo or other effects. Belden’s sax and flute are excellent as well; I particularly like when he mangles his tone with a touch of distortion. I would guess that some music fans might be put off by the narration – it does kind of jump out at you, and really necessitates listening to the album as a whole – but in its favor, the story is actually engaging, and works both as intelligent science fiction and as a kind of poetry. I’ll admit to being a bit slow to take to this one, but in the end, I’ll say it’s among the best jazz releases of the year. Belden’s death in May of this year is a tragic loss, and Machine Language is testament to the singular talent he was.
Jon Davis (courtesy of the Expose website)