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MORAINE Manifest Destiny MoonJune Records MJR 028 (2010)


'Manifest Density' is a hugely enjoyable album that breathes fresh life into the fusion genre without falling into the pitfalls of overextended virtuosity or pointless free form noodling.

This is an album that lives or dies by the dictum, 'let's see what we can do and explore what is possible'. Sure there are some opaque melodies on a stop-start album full of themes, riffs and musical tensions that don't often find their resolution until much later in the album.

The 11 tracks somehow all fit together like hikers without a map, but with just enough compass skills to keep them on the right track. There's a lovely balance between complex compositional structures and an ever present sense of adventure that leads to inspired solos and subtle interplay. You could label this album 'Heavy Chamber Music' by a drum heavy electric string quartet.

But what makes Moraine more than just another fusion outfit is their willingness to experiment and bind together widely different elements of folk, jazz, rock and world music. And in so doing they successfully redefine the term fusion.

In many respects the band's name 'Manifest' (apparent) and 'Density' (hard) is a bit of a shallow catch all. It may allude to the intensity of the players, but it peripheralises the wide ranging musical explorations of a project that grows exponentially track by track.

Led by guitarist Denis Rea - Seattle's answer to Robert Fripp - Moraine make the most of Alicia Allen's violin and Ruth Davidson's cello as front line instruments with a rock rhythm section, though not necessarily in a way you might expect.

In fact it is Jay Jaskot's propulsive drumming that holds the key to unlocking so many of the eclectic musical strands that make this album so enjoyable. There are moments of real brooding musical intensity such as on the partly cacophonous 'Ephebus Amoebus', when you have to use the crisp cymbal work as a reference point. The track leaves itself open to the whims of the lead violin line on a composition full of fractured stop-start tempos.

Equally impressive is the shifting layered sound and wavering melody on the marvellously titled '$9 Pay-per-View Lifetime TV Movie' It's a slowly evolving piece on which Dennis's buzz guitar quietly emerges from behind the sonorous violin line, as Jay Jaskot shapes the piece with some expansive percussive splashes. And while the band briefly finds itself in an apparent cacophonous cul-de-sac, the guitar steps up centre stage to lead the ensemble back to the thematic thread. It's a marvellous meeting of understated eloquence predicated on a floating melody line that gently comes to rest on the outro.

Each number incorporates disparate elements, especially the title track on which the violin, guitar and cello briefly play triple lines before more spiralling guitar and a cascade of whirling strings evoke a musical carousel.

The interestingly titled 'Disillusioned Avatar' is the closest the band comes to a dist illed melody, albeit one punctuated with psychedelic noodles. 'Kuru' by contrast, is a Mahavisnu Orchestra meets King Crimson fusion sounding piece with possibly the heaviest riff on the album. This track broaches the band's musical mission with several dynamic moments and some magnificent ensemble playing on a breathtaking outing.

The jazzy and portentously titled 'Staggerin' is musical equivalent of a swaying, punch drunk boxer who staggers around in search of his equilibrium, and has a jam feel to it.. It's neatly juxtaposed by the contrasting clarity and jazz/rock influenced 'Middlebrau'. The sudden guitar, violin and drum break acts as the perfect resolution to everything that has gone before and Dennis's final solo leads the band home with a flourish.

You may struggle to find a label for this music outside of the hoary old cliché of fusion. Electric chamber music for adventurous rock fans perhaps? But it doesn't really matter as 'Manifest Density' is simply great music. 'Manifest Density' is adventurous, intense, challenging and full of all those good things that made prog rock so exciting in the first place.


Review by Pete Feenstra


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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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