Gary Husband’s Force Majeure
Gary Husband – Drums, Piano, Composer
Jerry Goodman – Violin
Randy Brecker – Trumpet
Elliot Mason – Trombone, Bass Trumpet
Matt Garrison – Bass
Jim Beard – Keyboards, Piano
Arto Tuncboyaciyan – Percussion, Voice
– Of Burt Bacharach
– Of Bjork
– Of John McLaughlin
– Wings Over City Square
– Final Curtain
– The Grand Old Lady of the Sea
– Sky Rise
I’d like to preface this review by first mentioning that I’m a sucker for Surround Sound. I would look at a 12-inch black & white TV screen if it meant that I could have six speakers, a sub-woofer, and 600 watts of power. Audio has finally arrived in a format that delivers the goods, and more. The creative possibilities for mixing sound in this format are at a new level. And higher sampling rates mean the fidelity of the audio has improved as well. The record companies seem to have abandoned DVD-Audio discs. So movies on DVD provide the best platform for Surround Sound. But there’s a hitch. And that comes in the form of videos or films of live concert performances.
In my opinion, the main culprit that produces a bad concert film or video is the editing. There appear to be three laws that concert videos, produced in the age of the MTV attention span, must obey in order to be released:
– 1. No single shot will last more that five seconds. Additionally: 5 one-second shots are better than 1 five-second shot.
– 2. Any shot that does last more than five seconds must be an extreme close-up of someone’s head or hands. Anybody’s: band, audience, crew, ushers…
– 3. During anyone’s solo, show anything other than the performing of the solo. These include but are not limited to unnecessary audience reaction shots, someone making more noise than the soloist, non-concert shots (i.e., the ceiling of the theater), “fancy playing action shots��?, more unnecessary audience reaction shots, the director’s home movies of his kids and pets, etc.
Because of the strict adherence to these “laws��?, I cannot stand to look at most concert videos. Directors and Editors are so hell bent on bringing “the concert experience��? to the viewer, that they crosscut every single frame of footage to the point that the visuals are distracting and annoying; and the MUSIC is an after thought.
So what does any of this have to do with uber drummer/pianist Gary Husband’s “Force Majeure��? DVD? After viewing disc-1, it was very obvious the three laws were in effect. I also knew that I couldn’t enjoy the music because of what was going on with the video. So, I turned off the monitor and only listened to the music. Therefore, this review will only address the music and audio of the DVD set. This isn’t a new idea: before there were concert videos, we used to buy these things called “live albums��?.
At this point, I’d like to say that I bought my DVD set. I was not given a free copy or promo to review.
I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Gary Husband in concert, twice. Each time he was playing with guitarist Allan Holdsworth. He seemed to have a lot of freedom playing with Allan; and he made the most of it. His drumming made my jaw drop quite a few times. I believe the technical music term that describes him is “Monster��?. And for those that don’t know, he is also an accomplished pianist. With the music on “Force Majeure��?, we can add the title of “Composer��? after his name.
Force Majeure is French for “Superior Force��?. And while the definition usually applies to a legal term regarding contracts, Gary applies the words to convey the “realization of a dream��?.
I would say it also applies to the music and the band. The music was written with the musical “voices��? and styles of each musician that makes up the ensemble. For a group of musicians that was “assembled��? for the music, they sound like a band that has been performing together for a long time. Especially trumpeter Randy Brecker, who is on fire during each solo he plays. And while he’s sounding better than ever, there haven’t been many opportunities to hear Jerry Goodman play; and he is one of the reasons I wanted this DVD.
Two works are presented on the DVD. Disc-1 features a suite of “evocations��? which honor people that Gary considers as important influences in his life. The Contemporary Music Network commissioned this piece. Disc-2 features a suite of themes that represent Gary’s love of building and architecture. BBC Radio 3 commissioned this piece.
The Evocations suite is divided into three parts. In order they are ‘Of Burt Bacharach’, ‘Of Bjork’, and ‘Of John McLaughlin’. Gary considers songwriter Bacharach to be a person who not only broke conventional rules of popular music, but advanced the form as well. Gary admires singer Bjork for being a person with a true vision that she doesn’t compromise, and for her relentless creative spirit. Gary finds in guitar great John McLaughlin a certain quality that he relates to, calling him “the eternal jagged edge��?. These are wide-ranging influences, and they make for some wide-ranging music as well.
The Bacharach piece is centered on ‘The moment I wake up’ lyric of the melody to ‘Say A Little Prayer’. The beginning of the piece actually reminds this listener of the opening piano chords of ‘Power Of Love’ from John McLaughlin’s “Apocalypse��? record. After a wash of synthesizer chords and sounds with the soloists playing on top, the piece breaks into a bass propelled groove. This section is in 11/8, which might be Gary’s rhythmic nod to Bacharach’s using odd time signatures in his music. Both horn players deliver hot solos. This is followed by a Goodman solo which starts with Jim Beard comping, and builds up with the ensemble rejoining. The piece ends with a beautiful coda where the horns play a melody that sounds like Burt himself wrote it.
I don’t know enough about Icelandic singer Bjork’s music to recognize whether any melodic variations of her songs are being used in this piece. But I’ve heard enough to know that she is a very unique vocalist who puts a distinctive and indelible stamp on her music: no matter the genre. The overall feel of the piece seems heavily connected to her electronica/techno and dance oriented songs. Starting slowly with a sustained synth-drone and effects. After a piano/voice interlude, a melody is played by the horns and violin that resembles Bjork crooning the words to a ballad or love song. This shifts into a tribal drumbeat based groove. The phrasings of the horns emulate the inflections, shrieks, yelps, and vocalese that Bjork is known for. At the end, Goodman later plays a riff that sounds like a variation from ‘Mama’, unto which the horns create a weave of “vocals��? and then abruptly stop. This is a short piece, but by conjuring her voice, Gary presents the essence of Bjork.
I heard more melodic variations in the McLaughlin piece; and I will mention what they sound like to me. The piece starts off with percussionist Arto Tuncboyaciyan playing a metal pan filled with water. The water is used to bend the pitch of the sound of his fingers tapping against the pan. This effect recreates the sound of the tabla and ghatam intros on the early Shakti records. Gary enters on piano, playing the opening chords of ‘Acid Jazz’. Then, a short piano/violin duet. The keyboards enter, and then the horns and violin playing a variation of ‘The Sunlit Path’ opening of ‘Trilogy’. The entire ensemble joins in, playing the opening fanfare to ‘Meeting Of Spirits’; which settles into a funk groove. The horns play quick quotes from ‘Jazz Jungle’ and ‘Radioactivity’. Randy breaks into another great solo. But the real treat comes when Elliot Mason takes a solo on bass trumpet. His phrasing actually sounds like McLaughlin guitar licks! Gary joins in on drums, and they take off: sounding just like a McLaughlin/Cobham duet! Jim Beard takes a solo using a Rhodes sound on his keyboard; the groove and theme resembles ‘One Word’. Jerry Goodman, who played with McLaughlin in the Mahavishnu Orchestra, even tosses in a few riffs that he played on ‘Dream’. The piece changes direction, with Jerry soloing through a slow section that has traces of ‘You Know You Know’. The ensemble joins back in on an up tempo section that recalls ‘The Noonward Race’; which ends with the soloists trading lines back and forth like the MO. This piece truly captures the spirit of John McLaughlin’s music, and is a high point of the DVD set.
There is a saying that goes “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture��? (apparently, the “talking about music…��? variant came later). Gary Husband has put a new spin on this by writing music about architecture; the five-part suite called “Stone Souls��?. The title comes from Gary’s childhood belief that “somehow when bricks and mortar came together, therein was born a soul or spirit in the place��?. According to Gary, the suite is “directly inspired by my love of buildings and architecture – past, present, demolished or not yet built.��?
“Stone Souls��? is harder to comment on than the evocations of disc-1: this piece is more subject to the personal tastes of the individual listener. And for the most part, I like it. There were parts I liked a lot, and some bits I just didn’t get. The parts I didn’t get were on the edge of being a little too “out��? for my taste. But the parts I like, I listen to frequently. Some personal highlights include:
– Jim Beard’s synth work, and Brecker and Mason trading solos on ‘Wings Over City Square’.
– The horns and violin arrangement 2/3’s into ‘Final Curtain’.
– Gary playing solo piano on ‘The Grand Old Lady of the Sea’, which is a melancholy yet pretty piece.
– ‘Sky Rise’, which has some nice blowing by the entire band, and features a drum solo by Gary.
It’s unfortunate Gary didn’t take advantage of the DVD format and record a commentary track. Watching the concert and hearing him explain his inspirations, writing processes, and thoughts on the performance would have provided some extra insight into his music.
The set ends with ‘Chiapas’, which is a tribute to big band leader Stan Kenton. Kenton is another of Gary’s early heroes. I’ve never heard the original, but if it’s as good as the version on this DVD, I’d buy it. This is a great piece, and I play it a lot!
Sound-wise, the audio on this DVD is excellent! For a live concert, the clarity and separation of each instrument is amazing. I wouldn’t be exaggerating in saying you hear every note made by everyone. Bassist Matt Garrison was usually buried in the mix on the McLaughlin recordings he played on. On this set, he’s up in the mix. And I have a new appreciation and better understanding of his playing, given the chance not to strain in order to hear him. As mentioned before, I love Surround Sound, and that was another attraction for my getting this DVD. And the 5.1 mix is fantastic! Jim Beard’s keyboards just float all around you. Arto’s percussion comes from all directions; his vocals subtlety panned. The whole concert is pure ear candy. Even if you don’t have Surround, the Dolby Stereo mix also sounds great!
The two concert sets clock in around an hour each. Throw in 75 minutes of extra music, various outtake and highlight footage, some demos, and a video interview with Gary: and you have close to four hours worth of great music and sound.
“Force Majeure��? is a nice DVD package and highly recommended.