New York-based guitarist
Steve MacLean, briefly a member of
and a co-founder of the Portland Experimental Music Collective,
formed his own quartet
(with Tim Inman on keyboards, Jim McGirr on bass, and Dave Fields on drums)
and released the all-instrumental album
The Opposite of War (ReR, 1999).
The lively chamber jazz-rock music of Windows Pt 2 and
Windows Pt 1
is modulated by a frenzy of tempo shifts, with more than a hint of
Frank Zappa's influence.
The other tracks, notably Branches, walk a fine line between
and exotic rhythms.
Radial Circuit (Mobius)
Bridges (ReR, 2007) compiles works spanning two decades and several
styles, from the mechanic ballet No Jazz (1989) to
the piano sonata In and Around Susan (2006)
to the symphonic poem Maneuvers (1990)
to the King Crimson-ian prog-rock of One Little Life (2001).
The second disc, devoted to electronic experiments, runs the gamut from ambient music to musique concrete. The highlights are the
haunting soundscapes of Guitar Loom 1 (1997) and 2 Short (2004),
and the symphonic pastiche Bridges (1994).
Frog Bug Guitar Computer (ReR, 2008) presents another facet of the
guitarist. Here MacLean coins a form of chamber music that unites the
three fundamental elements: nature, music and computer. Each piece is
the outcome of a carefully crafted "improvisation" between field recordings
(of frogs and insects), MacLean's guitar and the computer's software.
MacLean doesn't focus on sound for the sake of sound, but seems intent in
unraveling a rational discource between these elements. His approach is more
similar to the collective soundsculpting of a jazz ensemble than to the
approach of abstract art or to the collage-like audio assembly of musique
concrete. Emotionally speaking, the main thrust to the composition comes from
a sense of loneliness that probably reflects the way the music was created
but also enables for the first time in a fully accomplished manner to
penetrate the soul of the artist.
The Indian-tinged ecstasy of Reflections on the Bay is particularly
powerful in encapsulating a moment's pathos.
The guitar unleashes a sorrowful melody in Communications over a bed of
reverbs and frog croaking.
The austere electroacoustic counterpoint of Night Time centers on the
passage of time.
MacLean's background in progressive-rock and jazz emerges from the
dissonant scales and angular rhythms Bug Time.
The Long Road Home is just a multi-faceted cacophonous drone that winds
its way into a parallel universe.
One just wished that he had spent more time expanding these ideas to become
longer works, concertos and symphonies.
The most obvious reference, Brian Eno's Before and After Science, was
a reflection of the zeitgeist but also of the new electronic media.
MacLean's work is a reflection of a new form of art that has been maturing
since computer music became a popular medium of expression.
Expressions On Piano (2010) is a collection of piano solos that
explore various techniques and settings,
occasionally sounding like cubistic deconstructions of classical, progressive,
jazz and lounge styles.
Notable are the cinematic Impressions on Piano and the
playful One Gliss.
Maclean returned to music for ensemble on
GPS (ReR, 2011), but this sounded like a version of his ideas for a
lightweight Broadway musical. The
relaxed new-age tropical fusion Warm Up and
the poppy theme and gentle repetition of Wind In Our Hair set the pace.
Maclean's impeccable knack for timbre and dynamics shines in the
sophisticated eerie atmosphere of Ocean Tales, crafted by sinister drumming, fractured guitar phrases, jazzy piano figures, and slight dissonance.
The loose and abstract intermezzo Resonations and
the longer Tranquility
are intriguing, not to mention the futuristic Whale Wars, but overall
the work sounds less intense and focused than past ones.
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