Moraine: Metamorphic Rock – Live at NEARfest 2010
  • Production
  • Composition
  • Musicianship
  • Freshness
  • Cool Chinese Influences

Although Seattle based instrumental rock band Moraine, as a whole, is fairly new to the progressive scene, delivering their own interesting brand of rock which incorporates elements of world music, jazz, and pyschedelic, among other styles, these musicians are no rookies. With the mix of Dennis Ray (former Earthstar member who has also collaborated with the likes of Hector Zazou, Ministry, Pearl Jam, and King Crimson band members), Alicia and James DeJoie (violin/baritone sax, flute),  Kevin Millard (bass), and Stephen Cavit (drums), Moraine’s line up brings loads of experience and diversity to the table. While it is a bit unconventional for a band to release only one album and then follow up with a live recording, as is the case of Metamorphic Rock, Moraine shows that they are no noobs as they incorporate tracks from their debut record as well as a number of other new and unreleased songs for their set at the widely acclaimed and NEARfest of June 2010.

Metamorphic Rock captures the band’s high energy NEARfest performance in ways that shows Moraine’s high level of musicianship. Honestly, these guys sound very comfortable playing with each other. When I listen to this recording I don’t necessarily get the distinct impression that this would have to be an onstage performance. The way the musicians interact with each other makes me think of a band that could have recorded this in any given session, be it on stage, in the studio, or in practice. In other words, the recording feels like a group of jazz guys who got together for a session, said, “okay, here’s what we’re playing” and went at it, delivering cool improvisations and melodic interpretations. Moraine’s brand of jazz-rock reminds us of a sort of blend of Mahavishnu Orchestra and Crimson, but spiced up with some very distinguishing elements of world music, perhaps what I consider the band’s greatest strength.

Let’s take the performance of “Disoriental Suite” for an example. Basically what we get is a really cool fusion of rock, jazz, and Chinese folk music. The way Moraine passes along the melodies and improvisations between guitar, flute, and sax is awesome to say the least, but what is really stunning about the piece is how you never quite lose the sense of the ethnic Chinese music, despite the really neat jazz chords that make their way in and out of the piece. The use of violin is superb, recalling the classic flavor of one of my favorite Chinese instruments, the erhu (a bowed instrument which essentially the Chinese equivalent of the violin). The Seattle quintet’s delivery of the piece is flawless and evocative, exercising the perfect balance of restraint and innovation.

Overall, the NEARfest set dishes out a pretty consistent feel but with a little something special in each song. We get some ultra heavy moments in “Kuru” and “Waylaid” (which also features a great pyschedelic feel) while “Irreducible Complexity,” the short, opening track, combines dark atmosphere with a slight Asian feel. “Uncle Tang’s Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” produces menacing and frantic use of chromatics along with wild improvisations and slight avant-garde leanings, before moving on to “Blues for a Bruised Planet,” perhaps the most mellow song played on Moraine’s set, a very somber/moody piece. While I wasn’t a big fan of the drum solo on Middlebrau, it was a solid piece to finish off the set, especially due to fantastic melodic lines and Moraine’s signature incorporation of eastern influences. Not having been able to make it to NEARfest 2010 to see Moraine because of the impossibility of the long distance travel, I can say that Metamorphic Rock was able to provide me with a good insight into their set; based on this recording, it seems that Moraine is definitely a band to see live if you get the chance.