Machine & the Synergetic Nuts – Leap Second Neutral (2005)

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by Pico

“Machine & the Synergetic Nuts”. What kind of music does that band moniker conjure up in your mind? New wave? Neo-prog? Goth metal? Vintage psychedelic rock?

How about avant jazz-rock? At least that’s the closest I can come to describing this compelling instrumental music.

This isn’t the first time this space was used to pimp an album that was off the beaten path jazz, from Japan, and released in 2005. Nope, Otomo Yoshihide took that prize. But Otomo is well off that path. In contrast, withering sonic assaults are not central to Machine & the Synergetic Nuts’ game plan. That’s not to say that there isn’t anything fascinating going on, however, on Machine & The Synergetic Nuts’ first and only stateside release, Leap Second Neutral.

If you need touchstones, instrumental progressive rock outfits like The Soft Machine, Don Cabellero and that movie soundtrack supergroup Tuatara come to mind. Other times one can hear echoes of aggressive jazz combos like The Bad Plus. And those horn charts give off impressions of those Scandinavian new fusion stylists, Jaga Jazzist.

Which is to say, the Nuts remind me of many others but sound like nobody else.

As to their history or background…there’s nothing to pass along, actually. They’ve seem to have come out of nowhere. They haven’t, of course, but while the picture suggests youth, the music hints of much woodshedding.

This is a band that takes a lot of chances, but they’re always carefully considered ones. They change the modulations and time signatures frequently, but rarely in a disruptive way. When guitarist Matsue Jun turns up his amp and everyone gets worked up into a frenzy, they’re apt to quickly back off before it gets annoying and move on to the next section. The saxes provided by a dude only identified as “Mahi Mahi” takes just enough edge off the sound when they’re feeling frisky, anyway. And there’s no overly long solos here; everyone has their turn (and sometimes simultaneously), but it’s usually in bite size pieces. After all, another unexpected turn in the melody might be just around the corner.

The interplay of these guys is much better than average. Their keyboardist Iwata Noriya prefers the more timeless weapons of choice like piano, Fender Rhodes and organ, and the band as a whole stays away from trendy sampling and hip hop beats. This record doesn’t sound as if it’s got a short shelf life.

In short, there’s a lot of interesting details that reward close listening, but even casual listening is rewarded.

Take the initial track “M-B” for instance. It starts off sounding like background music for a B-grade early seventies detective film, gradually building up in intensity until suddenly giving way to a piano-led melodic interlude and the song resumes it’s prior intensity on a different time signature and key. Mahi Mahi, sounding a lot like Elton Dean, enters the picture and gradually, the tempo builds up some considerable intensity before returning to the piano interlude. Somehow, this insanity works while sounding quite agreeable. And that’s just the first song.

“Monaco” is a short, frenetic piece with a walking bassline. “Trout” again employs an odd signature over which Noriya’s piano and Fender Rhodes plays. Both “Neutral” and “Stum” combines a James Brown inspired groove with some deft improvisions. “Oz” continues that trend, but ends with a cleverly circular chord progression.

“Solid Box” is perhaps the hardest rocking of the batch, with a massively heavy organ making a simple but imposing Jon Lord riff. “Texas” (not the the Chris Rea song) is where the lads come closest to getting unhinged, with a rapidly repeated form dominating the melody and little change-ups this time. A mellotron appearing near the climatic end adds more vintage prog rock to the stew. “Normal” is built around a nimble rock bass line and eventually segues into a brief reprise of “M-B”, bringing the album full circle.

So if you’re hunting for sounds that are vaguely familiar but fresh, raw, challenging and sophisticated, Machine & The Synergetic Nuts might be worth checking out. For music that’s hard to describe, it’s very easy to recommend.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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