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29 Aug 2016

Pocket Orchestra “Phoenix” 2011 2CD US Prog Rock,Jazz Rock Experimental,Avant Garde.

Pocket Orchestra “Phoenix” 2011 2CD US Prog Rock,Jazz Rock Experimental,Avant Garde. 


An unknown yet phenomenal American rock-in-opposition band with strong similarities with compadres Cartoon and Grits, Pocket Orchestra has had a rough life. And yet the band’s music endures and ages very well – especially when Udi Koomran is brought in to give it a face lift. Phoenix is a 2-CD set. Disc 1 reprises all of the material MIO Records had released as Knebnagaujie a few years ago. Disc 2 adds 80 minutes of previously unreleased live recordings, and that’s where this set is a gem: very different takes on ultra-complex songs and a handful of compositions that had not been released before, in any form! Avant-prog drawing inspiration from Henry Cow and Univers Zero, pieces with impossible time signatures, zigzaguing themes, and palpable madness……..

The Phoenix is (re)born. This 2 cd box set recollects for the first time the two faces of Pocket Orchestra, a cult RIO band from the USA: the «studio side», a re-mastered version of theKnebnagäujecd, and the «live side», nine tracks taken from original live performance (Udi Koomran gave new life to both sides). These are not just a mere document of the era: besides different (and enlarged) versions of well-known songs, here you can find rarities and unreleased tracks. But, most of all, finally you can listen to a Pocket Orchestra show: powerful sound, virtuosity, craziness, improvisations and an unexpected live quality for such a complex music. ……

Listeners familiar with the Italian AltrOck label shouldn’t be surprised by Phoenix: two CDs of complex avant-prog with inventive multi-instrumental arrangements and stupendous musicianship. And the fact that Pocket Orchestra formed in Phoenix, Arizona shouldn’t come as a jaw-dropper either; AltrOck has recently issued stellar albums proving that the U.S. can be fertile ground for avant-proggers like Dave Willey, miRthkon, and the Nerve Institute. No, the big surprise is that this music has remained largely unknown since its recording between 1978 and 1984. The Israeli MIO label released the studio-recorded first disc in 2005 (remastered by Udi Koomran here); Phoenix’s second disc expands upon that album with a selection of previously unreleased live tracks. There were similar U.S. bands in the ‘70s and '80s (e.g., Cartoon, the Muffins), but Pocket Orchestra was arguably in a class by itself. At times on Phoenix, guitarist Tim Parr, reedman Joe Halajian, cellist Bill Johnston, drummer Bob Stearman, keyboardist Craig Bork, and bassist Tim Lyons uncannily match the compositional styles and density, technical skills, and even wildly varied textures of the era’s European Rock in Opposition collective. And yet this is truly a band in its own right because – at the very least – who else combined these sounds in this particular way?Disc one’s first four tracks were recorded using a mobile studio in San Francisco during 1983, and leadoff “Imam Bialdi” perfectly melds Leg End-era Henry Cow (with Halajian on saxes in Geoff Leigh/Tim Hodgkinson mode), Triskaidekaphobie-era Present (with Bork nailing Alain Rochette’s keyboard tone), and 1313-era Univers Zero (with Johnston’s cello imparting an appropriately somber chamberesque feeling). The jaunty “RV” is a Samlas-styled tune with Bork ably capturing Lars Hollmer’s Familjesprickor-era keyboard approach, while guitarist Parr, matching Fred Frith’s inventiveness on the preceding track, is not dissimilar to Eino Haapala here. The 15-minute “Regiments” unfolds through a head-spinning array of compositional changes and is as impressive as anything Henry Cow ever put to wax, while the disc’s next lengthy opus, “Letters,” throws a hint of Canterbury-esque National Health into the blend, Parr coming off like a jaggedly fired-up Phil Miller. The remaining four studio tracks were recorded in Olympia, Washington in 1978-1979, when the band was named Knebnagäujie. This material is more Canterbury-esque than the 1983 music, a bit rougher, noisier, and electric jazz-rockish, recalling the Alan Gowen edition of National Health and the post-Soft Machine quartet Soft Heap in the 17-minute “Bagon.” The live CD sometimes dips toward bootleg quality, but reveals a band capable of unleashing sometimes frantic jazz-rock, assaultive noise, and unexpected avant-prog compositional turns. In the 2005 reprinted liners, Scott Brazieal (of Cartoon) claims that the group’s live version of King Crimson’s “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Pt. 2” “was way better than any of the KC versions,” which seems plausible. Sadly, Tim Parr, Tim Lyons, and Bob Stearman have all passed on; Phoenix is a fitting memorial that they never had the opportunity to see. allmusic….

Trust AltrOck Productions to dig out this album from the vaults of obscurity. Pocket Orchestra formed in Phoenix, Arizona in the '70s and have always been relegated to underground status partly because they never put out a proper album. The band, who were originally known as Knebnagäuje, released two demo tapes in 1979 and 1984. The band disbanded in the mid '80s having never released an official album. However, in 2005 MIO Records combined both demo tapes and released Knebnagäuge. That label is no longer around but thank goodness AltrOck Productions is to let the Phoenix rise up out of the ashes.

The players on this release are Tim Parr (guitars), Rob Stearman (drums), Craig Bork (keyboards), Tim Lyons (bass), Joe Halajian (saxophones, clarinets, horns, vocals) and Bill Johnston (cello). Guest musicians include Craig Fry (flute), Warren Ashford (tablas) and Jack Chandler (saxophones). It is unfortunate to note that Tim Parr, Tim Lyons and Rob Stearman are no longer with us.Pocket Orchestra can definitely be placed in the RIO camp of artists with their music probably best described as avant-garde jazz although it can also be thought of as being truly progressive, if that makes any sense. They are a tough band 'to get’ as it were and are not for the progressive newbie. However, if you like innovative and experimental music that has characteristics of bands like Henry Cow there is a lot for you to absorb.I found this album difficult to get into at first as it does take some patience. Over time I found this to be a refreshing listen and one that reveals itself gradually over time. The melodies may be hard to find a first but they are there amidst the disorganized chaos. I do find it somewhat difficult to describe individual songs mainly because there is so much going on it is a tad overwhelming. The musicianship is excellent and the band’s music is very complex.The songs are quite varied; multi-faceted explorations into the nether region where the line between harmonious discord and melodic tonality is blurred. The most melodic offering is probably “Letter” where the band lessens their assault on the senses and offers some pretty nice melodies including some fantastic organ. In “Grandma” the initial circus section merges into chaos before unleashing some pretty guitar and flute and whimsical keyboards. The band’s melodic sensibility really shines in both tracks. CD one ends with the seventeen minute epic “Ragon” featuring chaotic instrumental noodling, fuzzed out guitar leads, purely experimental rhythmic structures, complex drum patterns, melodic keyboards and nice sax runs. The band combines all their facets in a “throw everything in but the kitchen sink” approach. There is even a pretty cool drum solo.I should also give kudos to the production team of Marcello Marinone and Francesco Zago as well as the mastering job of Udi Koomran as the studio disc sounds excellent.The live CD’s sound quality is not as good as the first but that is to be expected. I do think this live performance does capture the band at the top of their game. Their musical complexity is not lost in a live setting one iota and in fact may even be kicked up a notch or two.While


is clearly not for everyone, as an avant-garde piece it is essential listening and for that earns a very solid four stars. In the annals of avant-garde music this is an important piece indeed….review by Sea of Tranquility….

If a contest was held for the unluckiest band on the progressive rock scene, Pocket Orchestra would have quite a few chances of winning first prize. In fact, only three members are left of the original six-piece lineup that recorded two demos between 1979 and 1984. What looked like a promising career for one the trailblazers of the RIO/Avant movement in the United States was cut short first by saxophonist Joe Halajian’s family problems (which led to the band going into hiatus), then by guitarist and main composer Tim Parr’s untimely demise in 1988. Thanks to the unstinting effort of Scott Brazieal, leader of Cartoon and a personal friend of the band, the material they had recorded in those short but intense five years finally saw the light in 2005, with the release of the CD Knēbnagäujie (the original name of the band). In the meantime, bassist Tim Lyons had passed away in 1998, while drummer Bob Stearman (who had had a stroke in 2004) followed suit in 2010.

In spite of those unfortunate circumstances, Pocket Orchestra’s reputation remained very high in RIO/Avant circles, lending them a near-legendary aura in a context that often thrives on cult status. In 2011, Marcello Marinone and Francesco Zago of Italian label AltrOck Productions , assisted by such luminaries as Cuneiform Records’ Steve Feigenbaum and renowned sound engineer Udi Koomran, brought to light some of Pocket Orchestra’s unreleased recordings – including almost 80 minutes of live material – which eventually became the double CD set Phoenix, released in the second half of the year.

The album’s title, reinforced by Paolo “Ske” Botta’s striking cover artwork, refers to the band’s hometown in Arizona, as well as to the almost miraculous reemergence of recordings that had seemed fated to remain buried in oblivion. SinceKnēbnagäujie was sold out, the release of Phoenix was greeted enthusiastically by dedicated RIO/Avant followers, especially those interested in the US scene. While such archival operations rarely claim to present material in truly organic and cohesive form, Koomran’s state-of-the-art mastering has given new life to those 30-year-old live tapes, as well as to the contents of the original Knēbnagäujie CD. Brazieal’s detailed liner notes, complemented by vintage photos of the band on stage and other memorabilia, complete this lovingly assembled tribute to the “Phoenix reborn”.

As can be expected from their checkered history, while undeniably gifted and dedicated to their craft, Pocket Orchestra had not yet fully developed their potential when circumstances forced them to call it a day. Their compositions suffer from occasional bouts of patchiness, added to some of those features that generally make the whole RIO/Avant subgenre so daunting (often unnecessarily so) to newcomers. Indeed, both the eight tracks on the studio CD and the nine on the live CD are nothing but ambitious and unpredictable, packed with twists and turns of every description.

While the founding fathers of the RIO movement such as Henry Cow and Univers Zero are inevitably referenced, the main influence that can be detected on Phoenixis that of Samla Mannas Manna, another band belonging to the original RIO contingent – something that earned Pocket Orchestra the tag of “Samla of the desert”. However, Pocket Orchestra’s music is completely instrumental, and also decidedly less melodic, though imbued by a similar brand of playful light-heartedness, embodied by the use of circus music in “Grandma Coming Down the Hall With a Hatchet” . Sudden blasts of saxophone and clarinet and wailing, piercing guitar excursions seem to be the rule, with Bob Stearman engaging in a mind-boggling range of intricate rhythmic patterns to propel the sound forward.

The word “anarchic” is probably the best description of Pocket Orchestra’s approach. The average composition can suddenly shift from a laid-back, almost meditative pace to unrelieved chaos – as exemplified by “R.V”, whose first half is deceptively mellow, then erupts into an intense, free-form maelstrom of sound. The sedate, piano-driven passages in the 14-minute, Canterbury-influenced “Letters” are bound to bring to mind the easy elegance of Hatfield and the North or National Health, offset by Parr’s aggressive guitar solo at the end. On the other hand, album closer “Bagon” marries the lovely, melodic Canterbury feel with more typical RIO features such as blaring sax and strident guitar. As a whole, the first four tracks –dating back from 1983, immediately before Pocket Orchestra went on hiatus – come across as more accomplished, showing a band well on its way to reining in the in-your-face dissonance and chaos that instead emerge in the studio CD’s second half.

The second CD offers an invaluable testimony of the band’s brisk live activity in the years 1980-1984, and includes a number of previously unreleased tracks, as well as noteworthy versions of “Letters” and “Regiments”. Udi Koomran’s experience in the studio managed to bring out the best in recordings whose original quality was less than ideal, presenting a band that was definitely at home on stage. While some of the longer tracks may still reveal a bit of self-indulgence, the shorter ones, such as “Parade” or “Corn Fed”, show how Pocket Orchestra were gradually but clearly finding their own unique voice and direction, and at the same time tightening up on the compositional aspect.

Though somewhat clichéd, the definition of “rollercoaster ride” seems to be a perfect fit for an album like Phoenix, which probably should come with a warning sticker. While its blend of dignified chamber rock, wild, wacky all-out experimentation and the occasional foray into sophisticated, Canterbury-style jazz-rock will not fail to appeal to fans of everything RIO/Avant, even a cursory listen to opener “Imam Bialdi” will send the average “mainstream” prog fan running for the exits. While bands like Miriodor or Yugen might have a broader crossover appeal and win over staunch devotees of symphonic prog, Pocket Orchestra, as captured on this double set, were definitely raw and uncompromising. All in all, though not exactly a comfortable listen, Phoenix is a moving tribute to a band that might have grown into a force to be reckoned with, had not fate got in the way….review by Fire of Unknown Origin…

Line-up / Musicians 

- Craig Bork / keyboards 
- Joe Halajan / clarinets, saxes, incidental vocals 
- Bill Johnston / cello 
- Tim Lyons / bass
- Tim Parr / guitars
- Bob Stearman / drums

- Craig Fry / flute (CD 1, track 7)
- Warren Ashford / tablas (CD 1, track 7)
- Jack Chandler / saxes (CD 2, tracks 5 and 6)

CD 1 - Studio

1. Imam Bialdi (6:24)
2. R. V. (7:04)
3. Regiments (14:59)
4. Letters (13:53)
5. Blueing (7:10)
6. White Organ Meats (7:03)
7. Grandma Coming Down The Hall With A Hatchet (5:32)
8. Bagon (16:52)

Total Time: 79:02

CD 2 - Live

1. Annex (5:56)
2. Bagon/Wandering Aimlessly (14:48)
3. Blirt (4:05)
4. Blueing (12:01)
5. Letters (19:12)
6. Parade (5:23)
7. Regiments (Parts 1, 2 and 3) (11:32)
8. Corn Fed (5:37)
9. Sound Check Bonus (0:43)

johnkatsmc5, welcome music..





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