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Meat Beat Manifesto: At the Center

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Meat Beat Manifesto, aka Jack Dangers, has been working in electronic music since the late 1980s; his recordings on labels like Wax Trax! and Sweatbox seemed to capture the zeitgeist of the club sound of the era, while retaining an innate musicality and playfulness that some of his peers lacked. At the Center is the latest salvo from Thirsty Ear's Blue Series and, as is the series' wont, blends jazz with Dangers' electronic/club sound. Flautist Peter Gordon, keyboardist Craig Taborn, and Bad Plus drummer Dave King—label mainstays all—add their contributions to Dangers' multiinstrumentalism and production, and the results are fascinating.

While At the Center is as jazzily abstract in its way as, say, Taborn's Junk Magic or Matthew Shipp's Harmony and Abyss, it's still grounded in club beats and studio murk, not interactive jazz. A listener hearing the adamant, smacking hip-hop snare of "Flute Thang or "Blind might wonder why a real drummer was even used when the drums are this looped and rigid. But there's a human being playing those parts—at least initially, before Dangers starts cutting them up—and that animal warmth gives them a resonance that mere drum programming couldn't.

"Flute Thang might be the name of the second song, but much of the album's a flute thang, really; Gordon's prominent throughout the CD. The star instrument of the album, though, is the studio. Taborn's keys and Gordon's flute rise from dense, reverb-heavy mixes over King's persistent, static drum parts and Dangers' pocket bass, then recede back into the gooey stew of delay and studio ambience. Songs like "The Water Margin and "Wild have Danger's droning, purple bass clarinet in the mix—and its distinctive sound, Taborn's chiming Fender Rhodes, and the overall chromaticism of the music strongly recall Miles Davis' Bitches Brew.

"Murtita Cycles has a dub feel with effected but live-sounding snare and cymbal work from King—the CD's jazziest drumming—and wobbly, echoey grand piano from Taborn. The whole song is built on a repetitive left-hand piano vamp and has a simultaneous flute/piano phrase that sounds utterly vocal. There's a spookiness here, and lots of the reverby ambience that feels simultaneously expansive and unnervingly claustrophobic—both qualities typical of the CD as a whole.

"Want Ads One and "Want Ads Two have Beat writer Kenneth Rexroth reading want ads aloud (from a 1957 recording) over—on the former—Dangers' acoustic bass and King's looped kit and percussion, and—on the latter—rhythmless musique concrète and Taborn's melancholy Fender Rhodes. Rexroth's nasal delivery underlines the surreal horror of some of the ads ("I offer permanent space in a tomb... never used ) and the minimal accompaniment provides a less cluttered atmosphere between club-groovers like "United Nations Etc. Etc. or "Shotgun!

Not that those two songs' overall brittleness wouldn't send many clubgoers to the bar for an anxiety-assuaging vodka or three. Jazz lovers, too, might be nonplussed by the static, layered, studio-built quality of the music. But both camps should keep listening.


Track Listing: Wild; Flute Thang; Murita Cycles; Want Ads One; Blind; Musica Classica; Bohemian Grove; United Nations etc. etc.; Want Ads Two; The Water Margin; Shotgun! (Blast to the Brain); Granulation 1

Personnel: Jack Dangers (bass, bass flute, bass clarinet, everything else); Peter Gordon (flute); Dave King (drums, percussion); Craig Taborn (Steinway grand piano, Fender Rhodes, clavinet, Hammond B3)

Title: At The Center | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Thirsty Ear Recordings


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