Mumpbeak – Mumpbeak (2013)

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Oslo-based UK expatriate Roy Powell refuses to believe that prog-fusion has run its course, and it’s clear from his recorded work that he’s dedicated his musical career challenging that notion. The artful keyboardist is pushing the boundaries on several fronts, whether it’s the cold, futuristic atmospherics of the supergroup quartet Naked Truth or a melding of Tony Williams’ Lifetime with vintage Terje Rypdal with the forward-thinking organ trio InterStatic.

Powell’s latest project Mumpbeak is built upon a single, powerful idea, too: modifying his Hohner clavinet to sound like an electric guitar, with the help of running it through guitar effects and amps. Enlisting Naked Truth band mate Pat Mastelotto to provide the drum parts and Bill Laswell to add elemental bass parts and mixing, the trans-Atlantic correspondence trio is largely supplemented by the upfront, leading bass of Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz (Abraxas, John Zorn).

Many times I got fooled into thinking an electric guitar was playing, as Powell convincingly emulates metal guitar on heavier tracks such as “Forelock,” “Oak Room” and “Piehole,” taking Jan Hammer’s guitar-like keyboard approach a step further on the plastic prog-funk “Biscuit,” or going legato Allan Holdsworth style on “Monocle.”

That whammy pedal is a good part of his secret, making his notes arc like the bending of strings. The note contortion on display within “Nork” is especially remarkable, made more delicious by the give-and-take with like-minded bassist and Naked Truth leader Lorenzo Feliciati.

“Chain,” presumably named because it’s off the chain, is Mumpbeak’s freakiest tune. Tony Levin sits in to play a simple melody on his bass along with a synth organ loop, but Powell makes spooky, bizarre noises like a pedal steel guitar gone berserk, and Mastelotto’s drums thunders in unexpectedly near the end to break up the atonal ambience.

Mastelotto’s role in shaping the unique Mumpbeak sound can’t be discounted at all. His loose, unrestrictive style drives this music in defiance of the clinical nature of most of their prog-rock contemporaries. He plays with the moxie of a fearless jazz drummer on “Piehole” and brings a loping, odd-metered funk that keeps “Biscuit” chugging right along. Credit goes to Laswell for capturing the improvisation spirit of a collective unit while he put together the contributions of performers who were each recording their parts in a different studio.

Mumpbeak germinated from the fertile mind of Roy Powell, and when other fertile minds got involved, his singular idea was enhanced by a bunch of smaller ones. Perhaps the greatest success of Mumpbeak is that the whole idea of Frankesteining a clavinet is nowhere near as gimmicky in practice as it seems on paper. Certainly not with these guys involved.

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Mumpbeak will be released November 28, by RareNoise Records. Visit Roy Powell’s blog for more info.

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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