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City of Mirrors

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Album Review

In late 1997, James Grigsby resurrected the Motor Totemist Guild — a unit that had disbanded in 1989 when Grigsby and Emily Hay formed U Totem with 5uu's members David Kerman and Sanjay Kumar — and expanded it to a 14-piece big-band outfit. This new and improved Motor Totemist Guild includes former Totemists Hay (voice, flute), Lynn Johnston (clarinets, saxes), and Eric Johnson-Tamai (bassoon), along with musicians from the 1990s West Coast new jazz scene such as Vinny Golia (clarinets, saxes), Jeff Kaiser (trumpet), and Brad Dutz (marimba and vibraphone). City of Mirrors is an eclectic collection of works. There are three main pieces, "Scarfnet," "Narcotic Lollipop," and "Bixby Slough," respectively 15, 14, and 28 minutes. These are the big-band tracks. The first two are incredibly intricate works blending elements of contemporary classic, bebop, swing, and avant-prog in a way never heard before. Wowing. The latter is like a long bebop jam where musicians trade solos for half an hour. It gets repetitive. Contrasting, the album opens and closes with an avant-pop song dipped in classical inflections, "Tower of London" (sung by Curt Wilson). The second version, entitled "Blood in the Tower," is said to be the karaoke mix and is indeed instrumental. With its strong jazz influence and positive attitude, City of Mirrors is light years away from Motor Totemist Guild's follow-up, All America City, a dark and abstract work leaning more toward neo-classical music. ~ François Couture, Rovi


Genre: Rock

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

The Orange County collective known as Motor Totemist Guild began in 1984 under the leadership of James Grigsby. The ramshackle experimental group toured and self-released albums through 1989, when Grigsby and vocalist Emily Hay formed U Totem. The duo reunited the group in 1997 with a largely expanded lineup, including former members Lynn Johnston (clarinets, saxes) and Eric Johnson-Tamai (bassoon), along with musicians from the '90s West Coast new jazz scene such as Vinny Golia (clarinets, saxes),...
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City of Mirrors, Motor Totemist Guild
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