Sometimes the strangest things happen in the strangest places. If you were to say that a new chamber rock outfit, comfortably blending a classical music approach with a more aggressive rock stance, had come out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, you might be laughed out of the room. Nothing against Milwaukee, it's just that when one thinks of musical progression, one thinks more of established centres like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles or San Francisco. But the truth is that music is where you make it, and if Milwaukee is the setting for an intriguing new group that manages to combine styles that bring to mind early Emerson, Lake and Palmer, King Crimson, Univers Zero and Present, then the response is: why not?
Far Corner the album, and Far Corner the band, are the brainchild of keyboardist Dan Maske, a player who, by favouring grand piano first, Hammond organ second, and synthesizers a distant third, brings to mind early Keith Emerson, but with a less caricaturist personality. While Emerson bombastically stole from popular classics and "rocked them up," Maske uses an obviously broad knowledge in contemporary classical music to create his own compositions, which teem with complex time changes, frequent shifts in feel, and dynamics that range from the gentle yet dramatic opening to "The Turning" to the pseudo-metal introduction of "Silly Whim," where cellist Angela Schmidt uses a fuzz box to substitute for the thrashing electric guitar we all know should be there but isn't.
Rounding out the quartet are percussionist Craig Walkner, a fine drummer who navigates odd metres and rapid changes with aplomb, and bassist William Kopecky, who is an absolute find on fretless electric bass. Kopecky, who is well-known in progressive rock circles, playing with groups including the Par Lindh Project, Tempest and Parallel Mind, is able to anchor the band when necessary, but is just as likely to be called upon to dominate a piece, acting as its melodic centre.
While the majority of the album is focused on Maske's complex yet always engaging writing, Far Corner is more than just a band of highly skilled performers of detailed composition. Centred around basic structures, the 17-minute, three-part "Something Out There" suite demonstrates that the group is equally capable of collective improvisation, a facet that is also a part of their live performance. From abstract, open-ended passages to more direct rhythmic motifs, the group may favour structured form but they also show themselves to have the subtlety and intuition to interact and speak with a single voice in a freer setting.
What separates Far Corner from some of its progenitors is its apparent lack of ego. While this work is as challenging as it comes, there doesn't seem to be any of the "look at me" kind of ego-stroking that so many of the early progressive groups seemed to be about. Far Corner seems more about dedication to the writing, and to creating a vibe that says more by implication than by overt display.
Visit Far Corner on the web.
Personnel: William Kopecky (electric bass - fretless and fretful); Dan Maske (grand piano, Hammond organ, synthesizers, additional percussion), Angela Schmidt (acoustic and electric cello), Craig Walkner (percussion)
Additional musicians: Frederick Schmidt (clarinet), Heather Schmidt (flute)