"...close to masterpiece album by a new group. ... Excellent record. HIGHLY recommended!"
- Alice, Collector's Corner (Russia)
“A great album, I strongly recommend this without hesitation.”
- Roberto Vanali, Arlequins (Italy)
"...music that seems modern in every way..."
- Baby Sue
"...should certainly appeal to fans of adventurous progressive music.”
- Boston Prog
"If you live in that lonely world where contemporary Chinese music, free improvisation jazz, Univers Zero, The Dillinger Escape Plan, and Ornette Coleman matter more than the latest dumbo from The X Factor then the news is good: this debut album from Seattle guitarist Dennis Rea’s chamber prog quintet is probably the answer to your prayers. The ensemble—you feel that calling them ‘the band’ is a bit beneath them—comprises of guitar, bass, drums, cello and violin, a struggle of equals intent on forging new music that occasionally sounds like rock or jazz but really isn’t. ... It sounds at times like you might imagine the Mahavishnu Orchestra would if they had formed in Kazakhstan or some other far-off land of which we know little. At others they sound like a 1920s Klingon cabaret band. But on the whole you’d never be able to slot them into any neat categories; you can only respond with the sort of perplexed awe you feel when confronted for the first time by something that's actually original.”
- Tommy Udo, Classic Rock Presents Prog (U.K.; Print Media)
"...fusion music, but there's more innovation at its heart, more daring, a willingness to explore but knowing that the listener wants things to be kept on the straight and narrow."
- Andy Garibaldi, Dead Earnest (Scotland)
"…very satisfying on all sorts of artistic and musical levels. … ‘Uncle Tang’s Cabinet of Dr Caligari’ is a Rea composition that I’m sure the late great Frank Zappa would look down on with admiration and perhaps a little puzzlement at a mesmerizingly good band that pulls no punches!”
- Acid Dragon (France; Print Media)
"Perhaps Moraine can save progressive music in some way..."
- I. Sandgrouse, Distrito Jazz (Spain)
“…with its combination of rock energy, chamber classicism, and sophisticated jazz harmonies, Manifest Density is simply good music—at times, great music—played by an unusually configured collective. Like a square peg and a round hole, Moraine defies reductionist categorization…”
- John Kelman, All About Jazz
The city of Seattle has long been known as a hotbed for innovative music, from Jimi Hendrix to the grunge movement through progressive metal pioneers Queensryche. For several decades, it has also been the home of globe-trotting guitarist and composer Dennis Rea, originally from upstate New York, but now a full-fledged member of the Pacific Northwest artistic community. While Rea, in his many years of tireless activity in the realms of creative music-making, has gathered an impressive discography (especially in terms of quality), he has never become a household name as he would have amply deserved. Luckily, the release of Moraine’s debut album in 2009, as well as his first solo album proper, View from Chicheng Precipice, and Iron Kim Style’s debut in 2010, have contributed to putting Rea’s name on the sprawling map of the progressive music scene.
Indeed, Moraine were selected for the 2010 edition of NEARfest, where they elicited quite a lot of interest – in spite of having been described as ‘avant-garde’ on the festival’s press material, a definition which (coupled with their placement in the opening Sunday slot, also known as the ‘rude awakening’, and generally reserved for rather idiosyncratic bands) kept the more conservative members of the audience away from their set. The members of the band, and Rea in particular, were somewhat amused at having been lumped together with much more ‘mainstream’ bands under the all-encompassing prog banner. In these times of derivative acts being peddled as the best thing since sliced bread, Moraine were possibly the most genuinely progressive band on the bill – though, as purveyors of hard-to-pinpoint music, they left some of the more label-happy members of the audience a tad baffled.
Although instrumental albums are seemingly a dime a dozen these days, Manifest Density (a brilliant pun on one of the most obnoxious aspects of US history) is not your average cookie-cutter instance of amazing chops unencumbered by soul and emotion. With a total of 11 tracks averaging 5 minutes in length (the longest running at under 7 minutes), and all of the five band members but drummer Jay Jaskot contributing to the compositional process, it is very much an ensemble effort, a collection of contemporary chamber rock pieces that comes with a liberal helping of almost Canterbury-like dry wit – though more geared to 21st-century American society. The essential input of the violin may draw comparisons with bands such as King Crimson circa Larks’ Tongue in Aspic or Mahavishnu Orchestra, while the pervasive presence of the cello may bring to mind Swedish Gothic proggers Anekdoten. However, in Moraine’s sound the cello’s unmistakable drone does not create the same kind of claustrophobic atmosphere, but rather adds that kind of depth that is generally supplied by the keyboards in the output of more conventional prog bands.
Since the individual members of Moraine have parallel involvements in a number of very diverse projects, ranging from jazz to stoner rock, it will not come as a surprise that eclecticism is the name of the game on Manifest Density. However, those anticipating a hodge-podge of disparate ideas that ultimately do not coalesce would be making the wrong assumption: the album as a whole impresses for its cohesion, even allowing for the different compositional styles of each band member. While Dennis Rea’s compositions (such as “Kuru” or “Staggerin’”) tend to favour a jazzier, more experimental style, two of the three tracks penned by co-founder Ruth Davidson (“$9 Pay-Per-View Lifetime TV Movie” and “Revenge Grandmother”) possess a wistful, low-key quality, shared by Alicia Allen’s deeply lyrical “Disillusioned Avatar”. On the other hand, album opener “Save the Yuppie Breeding Grounds”, also written by Davidson, is an energetic yet haunting number with a strong Crimsonian vibe; while bassist Kevin Millard’s “Ephebus Amoebus” opens in a slow, atmospheric fashion, then develops into a frenzied workout, with guitar and violin sparring with each other.
The quirky track titles inject a welcome dose of humour into the proceedings – a recurring feature in the work of other modern instrumental bands, but which Moraine (and especially Dennis Rea) seem to have got down to a fine art. Actually, the titles fit the musical content astonishingly well: “Uncle Tang’s Cabinet of Dr Caligari” is suitably dissonant, at times chaotic, with subtle Gothic undertones; while the upbeat “Nacho Sunset”, embellished by stunningly clear, lilting guitar work and gentle violin, has a relaxed, almost Latin feel. Though the album’s sound is mostly driven by the flawlessly intricate interplay between Rea’s distinctive guitar and Allen’s versatile violin lyrical and assertive in turns, none of the other instruments is confined to a mere supporting role, and each of them contributes in keeping the sonic texture tight. An excellent example of this is album closer (and personal favourite) “Middlebräu”: after a funky first half, propelled by magnificent bass and drums (very much in classic jazz-rock vein), a pause signals an abrupt change of pace, and the beginning of a simply magnificent, almost slo-mo coda featuring an intense, meditative guitar solo (the closest Rea comes to a traditional rock solo).
When Moraine performed at NEARfest, their lineup had changed, with obvious consequences for their sound. Ruth Davidson and Jay Jaskot had moved away from Seattle, and been replaced by drummer Stephen T Cavit (also an award-winning composer of film and TV scores), and woodwind player Jim DeJoie ( now Alicia Allen’s husband). The switch from cello to woodwinds lent the music a brighter, but also slightly more angular quality, reminiscent of those bands, such as Henry Cow, on the more experimental end of the Canterbury scene. This bodes well for the band’s second album, which is already in the works at the time of writing. In the spring of 2011 Moraine will also embark on a tour of the US East Coast, with dates at the New Jersey Proghouse and the legendary Orion Studios in Baltimore already confirmed. Catch them if you can – they are a very entertaining live act, and Manifest Density qualifies as one of the most promising debut albums of the past decade in the progressive music field.
- Rafaella Berry, ProgMistress
Make sure you read that title correctly or you may end up purchasing this heavily progressive title thinking you'd instead stumbled onto Rush Limbaugh's old garage band Goobucket (William Buckley Jr.—yelping, David Horowitz—Jew's harp and electric toothpick, David Frum—amplified polecat, and Rush Hisself—flagellophone). No, this is a masterfully twisted quintet crushing five pounds of prog and symph-metal into a two-pound neoclassicalist bag. Think *Groon* period Crimso, Univers Zero, Bone, David Cross, and Gawd only knows who else - even traces of Beefheart and Mallard in hideously distorted form - and you'll be skimming the surface.
Dennis Rea and his guitar are the central fractures here, but the co-players are every inch his equals (Ruth Davidson—cello, Alicia Allen—violin, Kevin Millard—bass & baliset, Jay Jaskot—drums) in a completely instrumental, fusiony, abstract chops fest and compositionally jazzy avant affair. In fact, quite honestly, Rea, though he's deserving of applause in many many ways, is presently being singled out critically, and Sturgeon's Law 2009 plainly states that 95% of all prog crits are braindead idiots, so I've no doubt even he'd be the first to admit the over-centralization is inapt. Though his leadership is of a Rypdalian flavor, he's just one in five, playing-wise and writing-wise, and his willingness not to dominate imbues this bunch with the verve and intelligence it boasts, completely unfettered. There's not an ounce of ego or gloryhogging anywhere, just the sheer exuberance of playing in ensemble.
However, let's detour anyway, as even I, a prog-head from the word "Go!", had no idea Rea was this involved and historied. The guy has collaborated with Jeff Greinke (a lower-case Vidna Obmana guy), Stuart Dempster, Klaus Schulze, Pearl Jam, REM, the Sun Ra Arkestra, and a healthy percentage of the most important contempo-Chinese music figures. He's a huge proponent of free improv and has conducted the longest running forum for it, the Seattle Improvised Music Festival, a quarter-century gig. He also co-edited the creative music journal The Tentacle and has written a book on up-to-the-minute Chinese and Taiwanese musics, acting as an unofficial arts ambassador for the U.S.
Small wonder, then, that Manifest Density is what it is, a hurtling juggernaut of grace and insanity that re-orients the listener's perceptics and frays his nerves while revving up the temporal lobes and ectoplasm. None of this, thank God, is normal, all of it slippery and elusive while penetrant and entrancing. Even the 'balladic' fare, such as Disillusioned Avatar, is unorthodox, more composed of existential thoughtlines and convolutions than Romantic narrative, Alicia Allen's David Cross / Jerry Goodman violin skewing to the mid-East in a balmy Garuda flight extending over to the Mahavishnu-ey Kuru. Any track here is a sure-fire attention getter, but my suggestion is that you start with Kuru and work out from there. It's the most coherent, but that's not to say it's the best cut. They're all the best cut.
- Mark S. Tucker, FAME
"Moraine ... provides instrumental music that is passionate and emotional but complex, challenging, and abstract. ... Moraine's appreciation of world music is definitely one of their strong points; during the course of this 54-minute CD, they incorporate elements of everything from Asian music to Middle Eastern/Arabic music to East European gypsy music - and those world music influences only add to Manifest Density's richness. ... adventurous listeners who have some patience will find that the more they listen to Manifest Density, the more this album reveals its excellence.
- Alex Henderson, All Music