Good things are expected from a fellow who poses jamming with monkeys on his front CD cover and also includes photos of a grasshopper and somebody feeding an apple to a bunny. Bradford Reed rewards sympathetic listeners with highly creative, borderline virtuoso performances on instruments that in some cases he invented and designed himself. He also wrote all the music, including arrangements for a string quartet. While some listeners may find the total experience of Reed's music inevitably something of a letdown, there is no denying that he has created a unique one-man band set-up. As is often the case, a highly stylized form of music goes along with it that really couldn't be played on any other instrument, or by any other performer save Reed. Frank Pahl's oft-repeated comment about audiences accepting much more awkward or clumsy rhythms from one-man bands than from a combo of players is not really relevant here. Reed plays as if he has classical training, approaching both the acoustic piano and percussion with precision, and placing accents and other rhythmic commentary exactly where he wants it. That can pretty much be said about everything in this collection of 11 instrumental pieces. This Reed-in-control vibe emanates from the performer's self-invented "pencilina" in conjunction with a one-man band display that includes hi-hat, bass drum, snare drum, and an effects rack of some sort; this set-up is considered interesting enough to be included in the album cover art without bothering to herd animal or insect into the picture.
The pencilina itself is a slab-like string thing with electric pickups similar to homemade axes played by Elliott Sharp, Hans Reichel, et al. In its position within the one-man band, it allows Reed easy enough access that synchronizing drumming and other effects seems effortless. The sound is similar to performers who are good at overdubbing entire rhythm tracks on several instruments, and is only the nerve center of a larger musical physiology that also includes keyboards, aspects of musique concrète, and bits of brass along with the aforementioned strings. "The Whimsical Prowler" and "Pajama Syndrome" are several of the better pieces, aspects of which are as melodic as they are surprising. What is lacking is the sense of mystery that can develop when a performer knows what to leave out; since Reed technically is able to orchestrate matters so proficiently, he tends to be there literally with bells on his toes at points where not showing up at all might have been wiser. In terms of the percussion, some of the results are similar to a piece of cake that is being served with too much fudge frosting. Reed has the talent to get where he is going, so perhaps this disc's title should be brought to the attention of music lovers at NASA.