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Don Preston / Jeff Boynton / Philip Mantione: TriAngular Bent

Dave Wayne By

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A lot of artists Don Preston's age, with a similar musical pedigree, are revered as "national treasures." For whatever reason, this hasn't yet happened for the veteran sonic explorer, still going strong after 84 years on the planet. Perpetually a "Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition," he's most frequently remembered for his groundbreaking work with Frank Zappa. He contributed significantly to all of the iconoclastic guitarist / composer's tours and recordings through the mid-1970s. In collaboration with Bunk Gardner, Tom Fowler, Walt Fowler, Arthur Barrow, and other ex-Mothers, he's continued to work with Zappa's music, often to unstintingly positive reactions from critics and fans alike. His oeuvre as a jazz improviser and collaborator with John Carter, Meredith Monk, Peter Erskine, Andrea Centazzo, Michael Mantler, and Carla Bley is equally deep and distinctive. Don Preston the jazz pianist developed a unique improvisational style in parallel with contemporaries such as Paul Bley, Denny Zeitlin and, most significantly, Cecil Taylor. So, naturally, he sounds like none of those guys. This was completely borne out on his most recent piano trio recording Transformation (Cryptogramophone Records, 2001), with Alex Cline and Joel Hamilton. A follow-up is long overdue.

Less well-documented is Preston's crucial role in the development of electronic music as-we-know-it. Actively dealing with oscillators, ring modulators, and such during the mid-1960s, Preston was on the leading edge of the first wave of jazz and rock musicians to get their mitts on the Moog synthesizer. Zappa, of course, wholeheartedly encouraged this sort of experimentation, documented most spectacularly on the track "Lonesome Electric Turkey" off of The Mothers -Fillmore East -June 1971 (Bizarre / Reprise Records, 1971). Preston's electronics also caught a toehold in both Carter's and Mantler's music, as well as that of Meredith Monk. Sadly, much of Preston's own work in electronic music has either found no commercial outlet, or has been relegated to a intermittent trickle of self-released albums and CD-Rs. The well-produced, beautifully packaged first album by Preston's co-operative trio, TriAngular Bent, goes quite a long way towards righting this artistic wrong.

Triangular Bent finds Preston in the company of two similarly minded Los Angeles-based sound experimentalists; Philip Mantione and Jeff Boynton. Like Preston, each plays a "conventional" instrument: Mantione is a guitarist, and Boynton a cellist. And, like Preston, both have dedicated themselves equally to the practice of electronically-generated sound. Perfunctorily titled, much of the music is rather dark and spooky-sounding. "Set 1" and "Set 2," rife with big metallic gong-sounds, doomy harmonies, tick-tock rhythms and startling percussives, has all the earmarks of a horror movie soundtrack. "Set 1B" is more varied and engaging, and Boynton's cello gets a brief solo over interwoven, almost EDM-sounding, electronic rhythms. This eventually gives way to a desolate ambient soundscape littered with sampled voices. The backdrop slowly changes as Preston plays some spooky Morton Feldman-inspired piano lines over a grimy, dystopian electronic wash. EDM-type rhythms figure prominently on "Set 7," which seems to be an extension of the themes explored during the opening section of "Set 1B." Again, the buzzing, beeping, and sputtering rhythms give way to a rubato section, only this time the atmosphere is more ghostly and spectral; almost Eno-like.

The remaining pieces more-or-less telegraph their content via their titles. Mantione's heavily processed, and quite impressively wielded, guitar comprises pretty much the entirety of "Guitar and Other Stuff," while Preston takes us on a comparatively lighthearted excursion with his Moog Voyager on "Don and the Voyager." Preston's piano solo ("Piano Solo") and his electronically processed duet with Boynton's cello ("Don and Jeff") are primo stuff. Engaging and multi-dimensional, both could have been expanded to twice their length and would still leave us wanting more.

Oftentimes, albums like Triangular Bent are a boring, self-indulgent mess dominated by the efforts of each participant to showcase their own new favorite toy. Happily, this is not the case here. The sonic experimentation and soundcraft serves the music, and the trio's electronic co-inventions are rarely static. The result has an organic, jazzy-flow and a truly spontaneous feel. When the "real" instruments—Preston's piano and Moogs, Boynton's cello, and Mantione's guitars—appear, they surprise the listener with lively, conversational interplay.

Track Listing: Set 1; Set 2; Don and Jeff; Set 1B; Guitar and Other Stuff; Don and the Voyager; Set 7; Piano Solo.

Personnel: Don Preston: piano, MiniMoog, Moog Voyager, computer, electronics, gong; Jeff Boynton: cello, bent circuit instruments; Philip Mantione: guitars, electronics, computer, software.

Title: TriAngular Bent | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Self Produced


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