Sunday, February 05, 2017

CD Review: Bobby Previte - Mass

Bobby Previte

Bobby Previte has never been a musician to stay in one place. Feel free to jump back to a review of his 2010 album Pan Atlantic here, to get a full grasp of his oeuvre, and my thoughts on it.

If you don't read the link, that's fine too because nothing will prepare the ears for Mass, which re-imagines 15th-century composer Guillaume Dufay's choral piece Missa Sancti Jacobi in tandem with the inspiration of Olivier Messiaen's pipe organ music. The Rose Ensemble, a 11-piece chamber vocal group appears throughout the whole album. Their performance and the blend of inspirations, in and of themselves, don't sound too far-fetched.

The group Previte put together is another story altogether. Guitarists Stephen O'Malley, of Sunn O))) and Don McGreevy, of Earth, factor heavily into the music. In fact, they threaten to mow it down, along with Jamie Saft (guitar, keyboards), Mike Gambale (guitar), Marco Benevento (keyboards) and the leader himself (on his usual drums, although he doubles on everything else at some point throughout the sermon).

It wouldn't be too out of line to say the band plays metal - progressive metal or just plain old heavy metal. These are definitely power chords that build thick musical slabs. Of course, being Bobby Previte, the music is more than that type of description. Only one song features anything close to a stock metal solo, with hammered fretwork and sprays of notes. "Offering" briefly goes into that, but it comes halfway through the album, and O'Malley also steeps his solo in feedback. The cliche factor is nonexistent.

The music shifts between the tranquility of the choir - indeed they sing beautifully, almost as if they're oblivious to the rabid guitars that surround them, sometimes playing in completely different time than the voices. Benevento alternates between the Messiaen-inspired pipe organ and the Rheem organ, which in nothing else recalls Richard Wright's textures with Pink Floyd. While things shift frequently between dynamics and textures, the various sections get repetitive at times. Of course, this shouldn't be surprising because Dufay didn't know about verse-chorus-bridge structures back in the 1400s. Besides, the way the guitars bounce, in "Offering," between a chugging power chord and stop on a time for a 3/4 break gets catchy after awhile. Previte adds some other striking sections, like "Agnus Dei" where the Rose Ensemble is accompanied only by his wild drumming. And the pipe organ ends that movement on an ominous note.

The heaviest, most challenging track is the final one. "Communion" starts with a droning pedal chord that sustains for the entire 12 minutes. O'Malley unleashes a vicious solo of feedback (created with a wall of amps in the studio), followed by two solid minutes of nothing but the droning organ, creating suspense - or exhaustion. After the choir returns to bring it all together, O'Malley goes back for a little more noise, and the moment that seemed inevitable from the beginning finally happens: The 11 members of the Rose Ensemble scream like the cathedral is collapsing onto them.

Then there's 17 seconds of silence.

Then it's over.

Mass is not an easy album to listen to. But no one said expressing maintaining faith is easy. (Somehow the release of this album so close to Martin Scorsese's Silence seems like more than coincidence.) Besides, this is hard to turn off, even in the most brutal moments.

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