Monday, October 06, 2014

CD Review: The Group - The Feed Back

The Group
The Feed-Back

Sometime around 1970, soundtrack maven Ennio Morricone and a group of musicians known as Gruppo D'Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza tumbled into a studio full of instruments, picked them up and let tapes capture what happened. A mere 27 minutes of music was released on Italy's RCA imprint that year, and has become an extremely collectible album. Recently, originals have gone for between $700 and $1700 on eBay and Discogs.

Schema has reissued it both on vinyl (which comes with a CD version) and a stand-alone CD, complete with a gatefold cover. At the time of its release, a freely improvising ensemble was a new "trend," according to the translated liner notes. It goes on to say most groups like that would either come at it from a jazz perspective or a classical perspective. Presumably the Group was there to bring a new approach to it. Awkward translation aside, this sentiment seems awfully quaint 44 years later.

Today, the music sounds very close to a band like Can, thanks to Renzo Restuccia's steady drumming, which adds form to these tracks. In "The Feed Back," Morricone squirts and squeals on trumpet, in the manner of Lester Bowie or Bill Dixon, a comparison that was probably coincidental. The intention here seems to be getting unconventional sounds out of conventional instruments (which has come to be known as "extended technique"). A squeaky violin highlights "Quasars," along with a percussive noise that sounds like a guitar with an effects pedal being shifted on and off, creating feedback for seconds at a time. Just when the whole thing starts to get really unbearable, the drums kick in.

"Kumbalo," the 14-minute piece that took up the second side, gets more sonically interesting. Cross-fading is the standard here, with a sitar (or something very close) buzzing away as it moves from channel to channel. Additional percussion moves in and out, mixed in a way that makes you wonder if the sounds are coming from the speakers or from a stack of boxes falling down in the next room. Like the other side of the album, a prominent bass line could have complemented the drums and elevated the music.

Fans of '70s Kraut-rock should be interested to hear an Italian counterpoint to those bands. But, brief as they are, the tracks feel a little closer to Moby Grape's meandering Grape Jam album where there's not a lot happening. The Feed Back shows what happens when you let a bunch of musicians ran amok in a studio: Playing this way is often more fun than listening to it, and what might have been new and uncharted at that time was bypassed in the ensuing years.

Hopefully my thoughts are shared by the person who paid four figures for an original copy.

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