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As Real As Thinking

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Album Review

The credits for As Real as Thinking proclaim that the album was "recorded live in the studio with no overdubs," although after listening to the leadoff track, the average listener might very well respond, "Really?" Machine Mass Trio are essentially a bass-less guitar-sax-drums electric jazz outfit, but "Cuckoo" sounds like a quartet at the very least, if not a quintet. Certainly, looping and electronics figure strongly in the group's approach, and yes, it's uncanny how a skilled group can use such devices these days to make itself seem larger than it really is. However, "Cuckoo" still remains a head scratcher given the band's lineup: guitarist Michel Delville, reedman Jordi Grognard, and drummer Tony Bianco. The tune stretches out to a nine-and-a-half-minute cruiser that remains subtly off-kilter given its ever-shifting bassline (but there is no bass, right?) and Rhodes-ish vamping (but there are no keyboards, right?), with enlivening, even agitated drumming from Bianco pushing the music ever forward. The underpinnings are both busy and electric Miles spacy, as Grognard blows strongly on tenor, his phrasing opening up to make room in the mix for the apparent rhythm section. Delville enters with a rock-ish solo, followed by some nice interplay with Grognard as the number concludes — and that rhythm section churns away throughout, or so it seems. Given the consistent backing behind the shifting engagements of Delville and Grognard, amateur musical sleuths might conclude that drummer Bianco's loops are responsible for the trio's mysterious lineup expansion; in any case, the results are far from repetitive, creating a flowing, full-band sound that seems remarkably organic.

The same approach is taken — but with the bass sounding more synthy — on "Hero," featuring Hugh Hopper-esque angularity and Grognard facing off on bass clarinet against Delville's explorative soundscapes, and on "UFO-RA," whose inspiration seems obvious. The latter tune swings madly as guitarist Delville — presumably — makes like a crazed organist swirling around the keys and pitch bending with the start switch; the tune features a boppish head from Grognard and unison guitar/sax work leading back to the theme's quick wrap-up. Notwithstanding these numbers, this group does not always mask its identity as a mere threesome, and indeed, the bass-less architecture of the Paul Motian/Bill Frisell/Joe Lovano trio would seem to inform "Knowledge" (with Bianco asserting himself more like Rashied Ali than the subtle Motian), while the skronky "Let Go" could easily fit among the most heavy metal-ish tunes by Hilmar Jensson's guitar/sax/drums trio Tyft. And the lineup (but not the sound!) seems to shrink even further on the effects-laden 18-minute "Falling Up," at its core a guitar/drums duo improvisation with an antecedent in the Nels Cline/Gregg Bendian homage to Coltrane's (and Ali's) Interstellar Space. Meanwhile, "Khajurao" and "Palitana Mood" feature Delville playing bouzouki and Grognard on bansuri flute over Bianco's tumbling drums and the drone of Grognard's "electronic tempura," offering interludes of pure cosmic float.


Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '10s

Improvising electric jazz trio Machine Mass began as a side project of douBt, a British-Belgian avant jazz-rock outfit — also highly improvisational — featuring American-born drummer Tony Bianco (who moved to Berlin and then to London in the 1990s) and Belgian guitarist Michel Delville as well as British keyboardist Alex Maguire. Machine Mass and douBt are both signed to the New York City-based MoonJune label, which released douBt's debut album, a sometimes Canterbury-esque recording...
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As Real As Thinking, Machine Mass Trio
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