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A Sophisticated Face

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Album Review

Blast's two preceding Cuneiform albums, Wire Stitched Ears and Stringy Rugs, admirably extended the best of '70s-era progressive music traditions into the '90s, demonstrating that artistically valid statements could still be made in the genre a quarter century after its heyday. While its preceding releases have much to recommend them, the Dutch ensemble ups the ante significantly with A Sophisticated Face. Five guest artists join the band this time: percussionist Rob Snijders and marimbist Cor Links from Stringy Rugs, as well as former X-Legged Sally trumpeter/flugelhornist Bart Maris, violinist Jan Erik van Regteren-Altena, and Michiel Weidner on cello and cymbalom. This instrumentation, particularly the strings and the Eastern European-flavored cymbalom (related to the hammer dulcimer), give Blast a sound that is much closer to a contemporary chamber ensemble than avant rock band. The group's composers are more than up to the challenges presented by the extended lineup, and strains of modern classical music are now fully integrated with Blast's rock and creative improvisational leanings.

The ensemble moves into extended-form, episodic territory with the guitarist's "Visceral Ooze." This piece begins slowly and mysteriously with gradually escalating tension, pitting slowly evolving horn and reed lines against bumps and bursts from the rhythm section. Violin and cymbalom are added to the mix, and the gathering energy breaks through into an effervescent groove fueled by percolating marimba and a pumping guitar and bass riff. "Metrolodic" is an absolute stunner: tightly structured counterpoint gives way to a looser Euro-jazz polyphony among the many instruments, which then permutes into a wild, rolling, and clattering big band workout. "Transversal" is another high point, repeatedly turning from calm to tumultuous and back again, before ending with a jumping riff reminiscent of "Teenbeat" from the first Virgin Records album by Henry Cow.

Much of A Sophisticated Face is densely structured but composed and executed with considerable attention to the timbral possibilities presented by varied instrumental groupings. The listener's attention is free to move through many sound layers, all crisply detailed. The most ambitious and fully realized of Blast's recordings on the Cuneiform label, A Sophisticated Face arguably stands as one of the best contemporary music releases of 1999.


Formed: 1989 in The Netherlands

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '90s, '00s

Formed in 1989, European avant ensemble Blast play both scored and improvised music with a distinct Rock in Opposition edge. Most often a quartet and as of 2009 comprised of Dutch saxophonist Dirk Bruinsma and guitarist Frank Crijns (both of whom are featured on all of the group's discs thus far), Swiss bassist Paed Conca, and Italian drummer Fabrizio Spera, Blast perform music often centered in avant rock while ranging from total improvisation to complex written passages and extensive use of counterpoint....
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A Sophisticated Face, Blast
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