While searching for the label name to Crab People by Barry Romberg's Random Access, I couldn't help but note that the CD set is another great release helped out by the Canadian Council for the Arts, and, man!, that government bureau has fostered a hell of a lot of really great music for a long long time. I wish the U.S. had an agency half so perspicacious and imaginative. But the issuing label it turns out, is Romberg's own, Romhog, and the man's music lies halfway between prime period ECM (Terje Rypdal, Pepe Mtoto, Bill Connors, etc.) and Leo Pavkovic's MoonJune progfusion releases. In fact, guitarist Geoff Young favors a slo-mo Alan Holdsworthian style, almost be-boppin' the esteemed fretbender into a Mick Rogers-y (Manfred Mann's Earth Band) incarnation hybrid. Crab People is decidedly fusion, but fusion with an icy cool demeanor underlying all the chops.
Romberg's the drummer of the ensemble (abetted by Ravi Naimpally's tabla and frame drum), and he has a rolling style that keeps the narrative foundations moving while forever literate and picturesque…albeit of a Dalinian nature rather than Norman Rockwell. The intro to the long second cut of the first disc gives him plenty of room to groove, and he does just that, laying down an ominous fundament that bucks and shifts as twin saxists Kelly Jefferson and Kirk MacDonald ply mournful liturgies above, floating in the skies, with Robi Botos' keyboards orchestrating backdrops that keep tilting between ashenly terrene melancholy and purgatory.
Then Ben Moder wanders in. His Rypdalian guitar is both kindred to and contrastive of Young's axe, but more steeped in the far-side Hendrix moods of, say, Third Stone from the Sun while just as darkly luminous as Young's. In fact, 'moody' is the best adjective to paint this twofer with, as not a cut on it is elevated too much above the 'thoughtful but cynical' estate, most of it plainly Stygian and earthy, with electric bassist Rich Brown going delightfully nuts on the fourth cut, Play Electric, Think Acoustic (there are two acoustic bassists as well on the CD). More than once, I was reminded of John Orsi's work (Knitting by Twilight, etc.), as, though Romberg's sound is as noticeably a blend of many progressive ingredients as John's, it also carries its own distinctive signature.
I'd love to say these two discs are going to go over great guns, but that'd be a wishful lie. They're way too arty and intelligent for that but will make their mark among fellow musicians and connoissieurs of the adventurous—Brand X aficionados, for one, are going to love it. Shelve this bad boy with your McGill / Manring / Stevens CDs and other such sophisticated works. A third of it is spontaneous improv, the rest is composed but wide open, and the entire package is something you know you'd kill God to get ahold of.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2012, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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