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MRC Trio: That Magic Thread

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The hardest-working musician in Canada just might be drummer Barry Romberg, who, in addition to various sideman gigs, plays in the Barry Romberg Group, the Three Sisters, Inside Out, and the MRC Trio—and distributes recordings by these ensembles on his own Romhog Records. The MRC Trio, a collaborative group with violinist Hugh Marsh and five-string cellist Rufus Cappadocia, shows off Romberg's more experimental, electric side, and their second CD, That Magic Thread , is something of a headphone masterpiece: equal parts jazz, rock, and world music.

That Magic Thread is a sixty-minute movie for the ears (this is made especially apparent by the track listings, which divide the disc into "acts" and "scenes") in which Romberg's skills as a producer are as important as his ability behind his kit. Marsh's violin and Cappadocia's cello—plucked as often as bowed—are amplified, distorted, filtered, and often made to mimic and do the musical work of basses and electric guitars; distinguishing which of them is playing what part is considerably more challenging at times than, say, hearing the difference between an alto and tenor sax on a straight jazz record. The two string players work through various musical ideas from pastoral to out-and-out wailing—all over various dense polyrhythmic stews of Romberg's acoustic and electronic drums and tuned percussion. This is studio music, but you can always hear Romberg in there working at his traps: there's a strong real-time element to this music.

While the album is obviously meant to be listened to as a whole, the "acts" do have separate identities. Much of Act 1 has a world-music feeling, and Act 3 at times recalls nothing so much as the more improvisational moments of Red -era King Crimson, with Marsh's sustained, distorted violin acting as the Robert Fripp—yes, I know he was the guitarist —to Romberg's jazz-accented but hard-driving Bill Bruford. Guest musicians Kevin Turcotte on trumpet and Rob Mosher on soprano sax appear at the ends of Acts 2 and 4 to give this "movie" a pair of well-timed climaxes.

All of this sounds more fun and more playful on disc than it seems described on paper. It's also more original; nothing on That Magic Thread sounds very much like any contemporary electric jazz/rock (can we call this fusion music? Is that term still used?), be it the Dylan Group, Craig Taborn or Tortoise. The MRC Trio's uniqueness and musical prowess combine to make That Magic Thread a fascinating listen. Great movie!

Track Listing: Act 1 (Scenes 1-4). Act 2. Act 3 (Scenes 1-5). Act 4 (Scenes 1-3).

Personnel: Hugh Marsh: violin/effects; Barry Romberg: drums/percussion/electronic percussion; Rufus Cappadocia: 5-string cello.

Title: That Magic Thread | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Romhog Records

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