Machine Mass

Inti

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Recorded live in the studio, Machine Mass' 2014 sophomore album presents a fine example of saxophonist Dave Liebman cutting loose in an electric quintet setting. Wait, scratch that -- while Inti might sometimes sound like a five-piece featuring saxophone, guitar, drums, bass, and keyboards, Liebman is actually joined only by the simpatico pair of drummer Tony Bianco and guitarist Michel Delville. Bianco and Delville are up to the same tricks they demonstrated on Machine Mass' 2011 debut, As Real as Thinking: namely, sounding like a larger group than they really are. The debut was credited to the Machine Mass Trio, comprising Bianco, Delville, and saxophonist Jordi Grognard; now, as John Kelman indicates in Inti's liner notes, the group bills itself as "Machine Mass featuring Dave Liebman." The name might attract attention from potential listeners who are more familiar with the veteran saxophonist than his two bandmates, and if Lieb's fans spot his name and snatch Inti up, they surely won't be disappointed, as he gives a fully committed performance, forceful and robust, sensitive and lyrical, unfettered and exploratory. Still, like As Real as Thinking, Inti is a showcase for Bianco and Delville's astonishing meld of live virtuosity with real-time looping and electronics, the drummer and guitarist following the same template they did with Grognard -- who, by the way, was no slouch on the debut.

Kelman's liners reveal how Bianco's bass loops escape a rigid, mechanical sound; the writer quotes Delville describing some of those loops as over 100 bars long, stretching well beyond brief repetitions. Coupled with Bianco's swinging drum and cymbal work, "Centipede"'s racing bass loop is an animating force, its deeply resonant timbre adding a further naturalistic element. A vehement guitar/tenor sax unison theme enters at off-kilter moments before Delville and Liebman step out with solos, the guitarist channeling Zappa and the saxophonist (on tenor) escalating to squalling multiphonics. Liebman's wooden flute dances and floats over deep rolling drums and a tanpura-mimicking electronic drone to commence Joe Zawinul's "In a Silent Way" (the set's only non-original), before Delville's raga-flavored guitar is joined by the saxophonist on soprano, playing the familiar melody in tender contrast to Bianco's roiling undercurrents. Tinges of electric Miles and Zawinul emerge in the funk-jazz and fusion textures of "Lloyd" and "A Sight"; the latter track's bass loop even has a "Birdland" quality to start -- but soon Bianco's flailing drumwork and Delville's guitar pyrotechnics pull the music into a free jazz-metal hybrid. Drones, soundscapes, and tumbling drums fill the nearly 13-minute "Elizabeth," Liebman hanging back until just the right moment to enter with his fluttering soprano, until Delville takes the track out with a wah-wah and thick harmonics-laden roar. Listeners may hear guest Saba Tewelde's melismatic spiritual soul vocal on "The Secret Place" as a curious left turn -- or perhaps as a humanizing, organic element. Regardless, no avant jazz group -- of whatever size -- imbues electronics with an organic, mercurial touch better than Machine Mass.

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