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Leap Second Neutral

Machine and the Synergetic Nuts

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Album Review

The recent proliferation of Japanese bands with wacky names is sometimes explained away as a language problem, but the playful absurdity of many of the names is more likely a gesture toward the 1960s American psychedelia of the Strawberry Alarm Clock, Electric Prunes, and yes, even the Grateful Dead. Unlike some other strangely named Japanese counterparts, Machine & the Synergetic Nuts is not really a psychedelic or neo-psyche band, although the use of the word "machine" could well be intended as an oblique nod to the Soft Machine, whose music is perhaps closest to what is presented on this CD. And the model here is not the earliest and strangest phase of the Softs, but the fusion years, after they lost vocalists Kevin Ayers and Robert Wyatt and were striving for a British equivalent of an electric Miles Davis Bitches Brew-type sound. In fact, the first track on Leap Second Neutral, "M-B," is very much in the electric Davis mode, introduced by the staccato brushwork of drummer Sudoh Toshiaki, a funky bass pattern from Suzuki Hiroyuki, and feathery Fender Rhodes tinkling from keyboardist Iwata Noriya. With guest guitarist Matsue Jun adding a nice crunch, the band eventually eases into a slinky melodic line that sounds like a cross between "Caravan" and Ravel's Bolero. When the mysteriously named Mahi-mahi starts noodling on soprano sax on the next track, both Elton Dean and Wayne Shorter become obvious points of reference. Mercifully, Machine & the Synergetic Nuts avoid the twin perils of bland fuzak (fusion lite) and the tedious bravura display of rock/jazz/speed metal chops. All nine tracks maintain the same general lineup and sound — sax (soprano and tenor), drums, bass, and keyboards, plus the guest guitarist on four pieces — but the music has a nice mix of rhythmic accents ranging from nimble jazz fusion to funk and even relatively heavy prog rock. The bandmembers' original compositions have some interesting twists and turns without getting caught up in their own cleverness, and the last two pieces, in particular, display the group's more experimental edge with their use of hypnotic trance elements. Keyboardist Noriya asserts himself on these final pieces, coaxing some squalling distortions from his instruments on "Texas," and then moving the initially normal "Normal" into more adventurous territory with the use of various keyboard loops and timbres. Given the apparent youth of the bandmembers (judging from their promotional photo), their playing on this CD is amazingly mature and assured. Let's hope they find a large enough audience to allow themselves further musical growth and prosperity.

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