Review by Bruce Lee Gallanter, Downtown Music Gallery
METAL CHAOS ENSEMBLE with PEK / MARK CAGLIANONE / BOB MOORES / ERIC WOODS / MIKE GRUEN / JOEL SIMCHES / YURI ZBITNOV - The Riddle of Steel (Evil Clown 9244; USA) Featuring PEK on saxes, clarinets, tarota, game calls, malletkat & assorted percussion; Mike Caglianone on soprano, alto & tenor saxes, game calls & percussion; Bob Moores on space trumpet, guitar, synth & processing; Eric Woods on analogue synth; Mike Gruen on el. bass; Yuri Zbitnov on drums & assorted percussion and Joel Simches signal processing. This was recorded at Evil Clown Headquarters and it was probably of the last sessions to includes longtime Leap of Faith drummer, Yuri Zbitnov, who is now retired from the Evil Clown collective. This disc begins with soft spaciousness with small bits of electronics, reeds sounds and soon dark spoken word recitation of some mildly disturbing science fiction/cartoon verbiage. This is short and just an intro. In the next section, Bob Moores plays electric guitar and starts to get into cool, somewhat funky space groove with sly rhythm team support. The space jam gets better as trumpet and saxes are added while Mr. Zbitnov’s great drumming kicks up a storm. There is another short recitation which is more like a short segueway to the next section. Metal Chaos soon break into another great spacey/funk groove with soprano sax and el. trumpet up front. The short recitations seem to be part of a theme that runs throughout this disc and being short they work to bridge the different connected sections. Much of this is closer to space/rock than any other sort of jazz/rock jamming. - Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG
Composer and multi-instrumentalist, PEK, set his sights on something bigger with the Leap of Faith Orchestra's Supernovae. The previous incarnation of the LOFO expands from the fifteen musicians on The Expanding Universe (Evil Clown, 2016) to twenty-one players on this new outing. Another noteworthy element of this project is PEK's use of Frame Notation where the score is seen in written descriptions and straight-forward symbols within Duration Bars. The system provides the musicians with immediate understanding of their own parts and the higher-level arrangement of the music.
Supernovae consists of a single track composition running just under eighty minutes. The digital download includes a bonus track. Though the extended piece is not broken out by formal movements, there are clear delineations within the score. PEK's ensemble—not surprisingly—includes enough non-traditional and weird instruments to compete with a Dr. Seuss orchestra. Though they are not playing in a vacuum, that group of instruments dominates the first ten minutes before strings and reeds make themselves more clearly heard. Forty-five minutes in, we have the first case of prolonged melody, darker and more subdued than the overall tone of the first half.
Supernovae gives way to free improvisation overlaying the melody. Eventually the piece introduces a brilliant percussion passage before it reintroduces the non-traditional music elements, but here in a more refined manner. As with all of PEK's compositions, there is—behind the scenes—a painstaking amount of organization that is not always evident in the listening. That is part of the beauty of this album; the non-traditional approach to instrumentation and the lack of adherence to Western structure continue to make the various iterations of Leap of Faith consistently interesting. And interesting look at the written score can be viewed at http://www.evilclown.rocks/lofo-supernovae-score.html.
Audio CD Evil Clown 9244
Metal Chaos Ensemble - The Riddle of Steel
Squidco CD Orders
The Riddle of Steel - 1:09:57
LIVESTREAMED to YouTube
From Evil Clown Headquarters
Waltham MA, 5 March 2020
PEK - alto & tenor saxophones, clarinet & contralto clarinet, tarota, game calls, [d]ronin, orchestral chimes, glockenspiel, gongs, castanets, Tibetan bells & bowls, brontosaurus & tank bells, maletkat/moog subsequent, recitation, Ableton mix*
Yuri Zbitnov - drums, Englephone, kazoo, crotales, gongs, daiko, brontosaurus & tank bells, orchestral chimes, recitation
Bob Moores - space trumpet, guitar, synthesizers, gong, crotales, signal processing
Mike Gruen - electric bass, signal processing
Joel Simches - Live to 2 track recording, real -time signal processing
*Samples from the Evil Clown catalog and specially recorded at Evil Clown Headquarters
On Leap of Faith: "Alien yet familiar, bizarre yet completely fascinating. Expanding, contracting, erupting, settling down, always as one force..." - Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG
Liner Notes by PEK
Metal Chaos Ensemble was formed in early 2015 by PEK and Yuri Zbitnov as a working project to explore chaotic rhythms on metallic instruments. I had started to amass the Evil Clown Arsenal of percussion, electronic and wind instruments and we needed a workshop to develop this universe of sounds for the Leap of Faith Orchestra. It was immediately obvious that Metal Chaos Ensemble had a sound to itself and over the last three years has been one of the most prolific Evil Clown ensembles. We have produced a bunch of albums covering a wide range of sonority sets, but always with the presence of gongs, chimes, glockenspiel, Tibetan bowls and many other metallic sounds and the horns of PEK. All Metal Chaos Ensemble sessions include at least me and Yuri, along with a whole bunch of different guests.
MCE has always contained more rock elements that the other Evil Clown projects. This aspect of the project has really come into focus in the sessions over the last year or two. Recently, the group has stabilized a bit, with the same sextet doing a string of albums (a bit unusual for an Evil Clown ensemble) … This band has three horns doubling percussion and electronics, analog synthesis, and the killer driving drums and bass of Yuri Zbitnov and Mike Gruen. Leveraging the Evil Clown Arsenal, we craft concert length improvisations that cover a sonority scope of huge extent… See The Call of Cthulhu (12/19), The Nameless City (8/19), and Proteus IV (7/19) for the earlier work by this sextet.
I like the power and flexibility of this ensemble and plan to continue to schedule sessions for this exact band. I expect we will get even tighter and more unpredictable as we continue performing as a fixed unit. One thing I really like in this version of MCE, fundamentally absent in all the other Evil Clown projects, is the combination of a deep groove in the rhythm section with chaotic accompaniment from the electronics, guitar, horns & percussion. Leap of Faith and the other bands do not have this rock-oriented element, and while sharing generally the same improvisation technique, occupy a completely different sound-world.
We now LIVESTREAM to YouTube all of the Evil Clown Headquarters recording sessions. With the help of Joel Simches at the audio mixing console and Raffi at the video mixing console, we’re pushing a real quality 8 channel Stream! Subscribe to my YouTube for notifications https://www.youtube.com/channel/UClfRlTeeHnSxRsJTkFakiJw/videos)
Raffi Photos & video grabs
PEK, the mastermind behind the Leap of Faith collective, produces a lot of music. Each release is not necessarily the definitive release, but, as I have written before, each is an incremental expansion on the greater project which is PEK's oeuvre. Per the man himself, each seeks to find "solutions to aesthetic problems posed by big ideas," through focusing one dimension of musical inquiry or configuration of musical forces. Each is therefore a statement in its own right, but also inseparable from the greater picture, which is the relentless drive to create strange beauty out of chaos, or sometimes just to embrace that chaos as a wonderful disorder in and of itself.
The Riddle of Steel rests firmly in PEK's characteristic heavy free jazz aesthetic but is still a deviation from much of the rest of his catalog. The riddle (or ritual) commences with gongs, chimes, and various other metallic instruments and this unsteady exploration of resonance maintains for the first couple of minutes. Gradually, layers of synth, guitar (I think) and other manipulated sounds intermingle with the percussive clangor. Then like that of a shofar, the sounding of an unrecognized horn over warped electronics awakens the listener as PEK barks out an epic of creation and destruction (really, a series of spontaneously chosen excerpts from the Conan films and novels) in a guttural voice reminiscent of Oderus Urungus. (And, yes, there is something heavily metal about the way this odd and pounding piece is shaped by a reworked Conan narrative.) Then, the steel, horns, guitar, and electronics swell in affirmation and fade as the ceremony enters its second of numerous stages.
What follows is the peak-trough dynamic that PEK has spent so many years mapping, even if it is somewhat tempered here. Notable about this ensemble and, really, this specific recording is the underlying plodding rock rhythms laid by Mike Gruen on bass, Yuri Zbitnov on drums, and Bob Moores on guitar. Sure, PEK and Mike Caglianone's arsenal of horns and Eric Woods' and Joel Simches electronic contortions fill this trio out. PEK, of course, is aware of this direction and notes it several times on the release website, but the precise permutation of elements and inspirations remains somewhat elusive. At the risk playing the sounds-like game, Riddle of Steel evokes manic Zorn-inspired fusion, or contemporary Acid Mothers Temple with all the trippy spaciness and freak-rock proclivities but minus the relentless dance-hall drive. The periodic recitations, moreover, seem as much ritual as radio play that crosses Ornette's Science Fiction, Beefheart's absurdism, Zappa's strange musical theatrics and, as always, the Arkestra at their least melodic. The result is spirited but somewhat dark and perplexing.
I am still trying to figure out what this "riddle" actually means. Given the deep chthonic pretensions and the cut-and-paste approach to the sprawling Conan saga, however, I am not sure the riddle is really meant to be solved. Or, maybe I just need to listen more closely to the narrative. Anyway, somehow, like any good postmodern work, The Riddle of Steel is rewarding in its peculiarities and inscrutability rather than despite them, an album of good music. It is bizarre but oddly coherent in its ritualistic flow. And, it is gripping, through and through.
- Nick Ostrum, Squid's Ear
Metal Chaos Ensemble
- The Riddle of Steel
Evil Clown Headquarters, Waltham MA - 5 March 2020
PEK Tweak of a Video Grab
On Metal Chaos Ensemble: "... using unique strategies to yield densely active and eerily surreal music, an incredible excursion through experimental improvisation." - Squidco website staff
Review by Nick Ostrum, Squid's Ear(full text below)
"… Anyway, somehow, like any good postmodern work, The Riddle of Steel is rewarding in its peculiarities and inscrutability rather than despite them, an album of good music. It is bizarre but oddly coherent in its ritualistic flow. And, it is gripping, through and through.”
Review by Bruce Lee Gallanter,
Downtown Music Gallery (full text below)
"...Metal Chaos soon break into another great spacey/funk groove with soprano sax and el. trumpet up front. The short recitations seem to be part of a theme that runs throughout this disc and being short they work to bridge the different connected sections. Much of this is closer to space/rock than any other sort of jazz/rock jamming." - Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG
This Boston-area collective ensemble explores chaotic rhythms on metallic instruments, heard in this 2019 recordings with three horns, doubled percussion and electronics, analog synthesis, and driving drum and bass work from Yuri Zbitnov and Mike Gruen, leveraging the Evil Clown arsenal of percussive devices as they perform an extended improvisations covering a wide scope of sonority and concept.
Liner Notes by PEK (full text below)
“… One thing I really like in this version of MCE, fundamentally absent in all the other Evil Clown projects, is the combination of a deep groove in the rhythm section with chaotic accompaniment from the electronics, guitar, horns & percussion. Leap of Faith and the other bands do not have this rock-oriented element, and while sharing generally the same improvisation technique, occupy a completely different sound-world. ...Subscribe to my YouTube for notifications…”