BB Davis: drums, flute, percussion, beatvoxdrums, vox humanis/vocals; Dan Biro: keyboards, percussion; Mark Smith: bass; Yussuf Squeeze Out Ali: vocals (7).
Thankfully, fusion is no longer the dirty word it has been since the neoconservative jazz movement 1980s ended its 1970s glory days. Consequently, being influenced by artists like Weather Report, 1970s Miles Davis and Head Hunters-era Herbie Hancock is no longer a dirty secret--or a guilty pleasure. Mysteries of the Revolution--formed from of the core of British composer/multi-instrumentalist BB Davis' Red Orchidstra--possesses elements of all these and more, but its trippy self-titled debut also fits comfortably alongside the contemporary semi-psychedelia jamming of groups like Benevento/Russo duo and Medeski, Martin & Wood.
It's also not a sin to reference progressive rock anymore and, for all its jazz-centric references, Mysteries of the Revolution is also a descendent of groups like Emerson, Lake & Palmer, but with the egos checked at the door. Keyboardist Dan Biro fires up a tasty B3 (or very reasonable facsimile) on the high velocity The Crunch and, while it may not possess the pure bombast of ELP (and drummer Davis has the unshakably good sense of time that Carl Palmer never did), he's also more capable of soloing interactively with his band mates during the viscerally slow funk of the song's middle section, bolstered by Mark Smith's deep, greasy bass lines.
Biro's orchestral synths and Smith's dominant fretless bass give Strorius Sensorius a Weather Report vibe, but as clearly composed as it is, there's a looser jamband feel, especially when Davis and Smith kick into double time for a Rhodes-like solo from Biro that finds rapid-fire lines flitting across the stereo field while, at the same time, becoming increasingly processed sonically. The Elevation of Mr Handy suggests that Mysteries of the Revolution has also spent some serious time listening to Canterbury groups like Hatfield and the North, Caravan and Soft Machine.
But for all its undeniable influences, Mysteries of the Revolution occupies its own space, somewhere in the nooks and crannies between all these references. The beauty of fusion's heyday was that it wasn't out of the ordinary to find progressive acts sharing the bill with fusion acts--Return to Forever's Romantic Warrior (Legacy, 1976) was, after all, an album heavily influenced by progressive rock groups like Yes, and one looking for the nexus of jazz and rock weighted more towards the rock side. If the difference between Herbie Hancock's Head Hunters and ELP was that one approached rock from a primary position of jazz, while the other occasionally entered into jazz-like territory from a fundamentally rock place, Mysteries of the Revolution seems less singularly disposed to either position. Instead, tracks like Bug Buddah find a way to mesh ambient music, electronica, world music and Beatvox with a vibrant tribute to the late Rahsaan Roland Kirk, featuring a stunning in tandem flute and bass solo by Davis and Smith.
Mysteries of the Revolution may largely favor groove, but it's equally capable of lyrical elegance. Have You Seen Enough? is a tender ballad, featuring Davis' bass as the initial melodic lead that leads into a delicate electric piano solo from Brio. But as is the case with most of Mysteries of the Revolution's longer tracks, it's an episodic composition that ultimately morphs into a more powerful, Mahavishnu Orchestra-like, arpeggio-driven end section that features another blues-tinged organ solo, building to--literally--thunderstorm intensity that settles down as it segues to the album's ethereal closer, Evolution.
What exactly is this mysterious revolution? In the hands of Davis, Biro and Smith Mysteries of the Revolution is a unique combination of musical genres that avoids any trappings of excess, performed with aplomb by a trio that has nothing to prove but plenty to say.
Tracks: Welcome; The Crunch; Storius Sensorius; The Elevation of Mr Handy; Moonfrog's Tucker; Nico; Secret Fire; Romantica; Big Buddah; Have You Seen Enough?; Evolutuon.
Review by John Kelman