Sometime during the late 1960s, adventurous European rock musicians led by the likes of Gong
, Soft Machine
, and Arzachel
began incorporating elements of avant-garde jazz, contemporary classical and various ethnic musics into their own original progressive rock music. The result varied somewhat from region to region, but the most important thing was that very little of this hybrid music fit neatly into the existing parameters of fusion music, then known generically as jazz-rock. Sure, there were stacks of analogue keyboards, long virtuosic solos, convoluted and labyrinthine compositions, and numerous appearances by electrified non-rock instruments such as violin, flute, and vibraphone; but the music wasn't a take-off on the ostensibly jazz- based American variant of the sub-genre. Despite their admitted pre- eminence, Weather Report
references were, in fact, few and far-between.
Despite its niche appeal and chronic commercial non- viability, this sub-sub genre has persisted and even flourished as fans have aged and become ever more ardent music consumers. These days, the branding is so profligate, that one often views claims of avant-prog, Rock-In- Opposition, and Canterbury influences with a jaundiced eye. Belgium's The Wrong Object
is, however, very, very much the real deal. After The Exhibition
, the band's seventh full-length release, is heady and strong stuff, indeed. Over the group's decade-plus of existence, the two remaining members are drummer Laurent Delchambre
and guitarist Michel Delville
. Currently a sextet comprising two reed players, keyboards and bass in addition to drums and guitar, The Wrong Object started out as a Frank Zappa
tribute band, and subsequently developed strong ties to the UK jazz scene via collaborations with trombonist Annie Whitehead
, trumpeter Harry Beckett
, and ex-Soft Machine reedman Elton Dean
. The band's propensity for working with heavy friends continues on After The Exhibition
with Benoit Moerlen
, formerly with Gong, playing mallets on six tracks. However, an unheralded guest makes the biggest splash here; vocalist Susan Clynes
pours luscious syrupy Northette-inspired gold onto "Glass Cubes."
The majority of the tracks were written by guitarist Michel Delville
or keyboardist Antoine Guenet
, or both. Their complex, multi-sectioned compositions don't tend to stay in one place too long, yet manage to give the soloists ample space to have their say. "Detox Gruel" starts off the album with measured aggression; its heavy guitar / saxophone leads hearken back to the days when Allan Holdsworth
teamed up with Didier Malherbe
in Gong. The manic "Spanish Fly" is capped by a madcap clarinet / saxophone duet, while Guenet lights up Delchambre's Moorish-sounding, minor-key "Yantra" with spooky Rhodes solo. "Glass Cubes" takes a completely different turn. Featuring dual vocals by Guenet and Clynes, this is the one track that evokes the Canterbury spirit of groups like National Health
and Hatfield and the North
most fully. The centerpiece of After The Exhibition
is "Jungle Cow," a three-part suite that opens with an extraordinarily cohesive group improvisation which gives way to a hypnotic 5/4 groove. Delville takes an absolutely scorching solo (over an entirely different groove, of course) that breaks down into Pierre Mottet
's wild fuzz-wah bass intro to Part 3, which naturallymellows out for some inspired saxophone soloing by Marti Melia
and Francois Lourtie
. "Wrong but Not False" occupies a mellower space, with prominent Rhodes and clarinet and another fine solo from Delville. "Flashlight Into A Black Hole" might be the most hard-rocking piece on the album, with Melia's tenor saxophone riding Delville's wall-of-sound guitar into oblivion. The album closes on a whimsical note with Benoit Moerlen's "Stammtisch." Here, comparisons to Moerlen's former group are no coincidence, though The Wrong Object takes the tune much further "out" than Gong would have.
Though I've dropped a lot of names here, The Wrong Object is a band that's truly come into its own, offering up a solid hour of extraordinary original music. Those who know Delville's work with largely free-improvising groups such as DouBt
and Machine Mass Trio
will be pleasantly surprised by his playing in a more structured setting.