Machine Mass Trio: As Real As Thinking
  • Musicianship
  • Arrangement
  • Improvisation
  • Production
  • Making me think of Spinal Tap's jazz odyssey

I’ve been neglecting my first love, jazz, for entirely too long, instead opting to explore all of the new music coming out in the progressive rock scene. It’s high time to change that – bring on them II-V’s!! MoonJune Records was good enough to send me a copy of Machine Mass Trio’s debut, a genre-bending album with heavy jazz tendencies by some very gifted musicians.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first – to just call the musical style on this album “jazz” would be an insult to the creativity of Machine Mass Trio. What I’m trying to say is that this isn’t your high school band teacher’s jazz. I’m not an expert on the genre, but I know a thing or two; I’ve been listening to jazz longer than any other musical style, it’s my primary playing style on the piano, and I’ve even had the opportunity to have a chart I composed be premiered by a combo at the Bernardo Winery in San Diego. On a related note, if the terms “chart” and “combo” are unfamiliar to you in this context… you need to listen to more jazz.

First things first: if you love consistent rhythmic structure and require it to enjoy music… stay the hell away from this album. Seriously. This album is only intended for open-minded music lovers who appreciate virtuosity and exploration, and certainly not for the stubborn musical pricks out there. Remember that scene from Spinal Tap where the band plays a “jazz odyssey” at the fair? That’s always my greatest fear when it comes to “free-form jazz explorations.”

Luckily, “As Real As Thinking” does exactly what I hoped it would: combine the imagination, eccentricities and improvisation of three talented artists and package them together in a well-played, well-produced recorded work. It’s far too easy to throw this record in the jazz pile, though – rock, avant-garde, and ethnic sounds are given fair treatment in the eight-track debut.

I’d be curious to hear from Tony Bianco just how much fun he had drumming on this album. The man certainly has some traditional jazz drumming chops, and the evidence exists on the track “UFO-RA” to prove it, but his drumming on this album can’t possibly be pigeon-holed to one style. You’ll hear some jazzy beats, some free-form solo-style playing, some droning tom work, some fusion, some rock, and even some ethnic rhythms. Expansive and innovative would be the two words I would use. There were no points on the album that I didn’t enjoy the percussion elements, and several of his rhythms, especially on the aforementioned “UFO-RA” and “Khajurao”, were simply excellent.

Michel Delville’s guitar playing was fun for me because it was slightly reminiscent of early-70’s Jeff Beck, at least in terms of tone. Right from the first track, you get some of that sassy muff associated with British blues of a bygone era, and he owns it as he aptly improvises on the instrument. Of course, Delville experiments with tone and effects through the album (see “Knowledge” or “Falling Up No. 9”), and his guitar and electronics always add to the music, either through a good solo or some moody atmosphere or comping. And speaking of comping, I don’t know who handled the keyboards, but they did a good job. The comping throughout was excellent, and I loved the chord experimentation.

Jordi Grognard’s woodwind playing was excellent. Many players can hit notes and runs with precision and crispness, but Grognard’s playing also exuded the emotion I’ve come to expect from my favorite sax players. I know that’s ambiguous, but it’s hard to quantify emotion in musicians. Suffice it to say that his softer notes are clear and heartfelt, and the his vibrato on each instrument is spot on (I hate excessive vibrato). At several points, in fact, Grognard’s playing retained the jazz feel while the other two musicians diverted.

My favorite track was probably “Falling Up No. 9”, which is basically a giant, 19-minute free-form clusterbomb of improvisation, electronics, and back-and-forth between Delville’s guitar effects and Bianco’s drums. I don’t have a specific reason for liking the tune, other than maybe the length and the curiosity of what’s coming next. And that’s the beauty of this album: I’m confident that on the next listen through, another tune will come to the forefront for me.

I’d like to give Kudos to the guys at Machine Mass Trio and to MoonJune Records for giving birth to this piece of music. Experimental musical styles like this have too few fans, which is truly unfortunate. I urge any open-minded listeners who wants to try something new to give “As Real As Thinking” a chance. Give in to the jazz odyssey.