Andy Voelker / Dennis WarrenOctober 14, 2002
Drimala DR 02-347-03
Somewhere in the world, it’s still 1969, and jazz musicians are creating protracted improvisations that reference the unknowns of outer space and the percussive tradition of ancient civilizations. For two days in late 2001 and early 2002, 1960 was located in a club in Somerville, Mass., where the Boston-based Full Metal Revolutionary Jazz Ensemble (FMRJE) recorded this disc.
First constituted under the leadership of drummer Dennis Warren in the late 1980s, the FMRJE has grown and shifted personnel over the years with such outstanding players as saxophonist Glenn Spearman, trumpeter/composer Raphe Malik and guitarist Tor Snyder in the fold. In concept and performance, the FMRJE’s closest antecedent would seem to be Sun Ra’s multi-faceted Arkestra, and similarly, over the years, it has released self-produced sessions. Yet, the three long jams that make up this disc also recalls times in the 1960s when percussion-heavy aggregations led by the likes of Gary Bartz, Archie Shepp and Pharoah Sanders would appear in concert and perform seemingly endless vamps of molten, intoxicating sound.
Warren, who studied with Black music theorists like trumpeter Bill Dixon and drummer Milford Graves, was around to experience the tail end of that Free Jazz psychedelic epoch. The FMRJE draws on those ideas to produce a gyrating, hypnotic sound, which as he says “demonstrates our ancient roots and our future communications, swirling through our biochemical spheres and igniting our souls for the hope of love in humanity”.
These sentiments aside, the most remarkable circumstance about the FMRJE on this, its first release in four years, is how few members it has. Besides Warren on drums and timbales, the massive, surging output is created by only four other musicians: Jose M. Arroyo on congas and percussion; Chris Florio on guitar and electronics; Albey Balgochian on electrified stand-up bass; and the over-the-top saxophone lines of Andy Voelker.
Balgochian, who has also played in drummer Jackson Krall’s Secret Music Society and is a veteran R&B, blues and reggae performer, has been with the band since 1997. The idea of every one of the tunes here, is for him and Arroyo, who has been a Full Metaler for about two years, to combine with Warren to create a resolute pulse over which Voelker’s harsh, overblown notes explode and Florio’s flailing, repetitive adornments soar. Although there are brief solos, no one member ever creates in isolation. So, for instance, if the guitarist explores some high-pitched, neo-acid-jazz fingering, he’s shadowed by the bassist’s constant rolling motion and Warren exercising all parts of his kit.
Voice samples from Martin Luther King Jr., a choir, and someone who sounds suspiciously like LSD guru Timothy Leary, appear on a couple of tracks among the electronic wiggles, guitar freak-outs and dense rhythms, giving the session even more of a 1960s feel. Also, with what band members describe as a total commitment to the maximum possibility of sound, there’s very little breathing room here. It’s sort of taking both “Ascension” and “A Love Supreme” on step further at the same time. At times, in fact, you begin to feel as if you’re hearing one of those legendary all-night blowouts in which half Energy jazz/half heavy metal pioneers like guitarist Sonny Sharrock, an avowed FMRJE icon, participated.
With one of the tunes almost hitting the 34 minute mark and the other two not that much shorter, this disc, which is only available from www.drimala.com will no doubt appeal to those who miss the 1960s and music that was experienced as a communal, quasi-religious, cleansing experience. There’s no doubting the sincerity of Warren and the FMRJEers. However whether such naïve art can co-exist in the cynical 21st century is another question. Decide for yourself.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Event 120401A 2. Event 120401B 3. Event 012202
Personnel: Andy Voelker (alto saxophone); Chris Florio (guitar and electronics); Albey Balgochian (electric bass); Jose M. Arroyo (congas, percussion); Dennis Warren (drums, timbales)