Well. Before we begin to look over a flawed yet brillant new Prime Time Sublime release (the last one, rivetingly named ( ), is covered in our May 2003 issue), a word on satire. Walt Kelly (1913-1973), creator of the POGO comic strip, when interviewed by CBS in 1962, said the following: "Satire, in the hands of most cartoonists, including this one, becomes at best sarcasm -- at worst, ridicule... We might come close to parody, perhaps unwittingly, in our search for fun, but true satire is beyond us... It must be remembered that satire is a subtle science. Nothing that we have done reminds me in the least of Anatole France's PENGUIN ISLAND, or of the Reverend Dodgson's ALICE IN WONDERLAND."*
I bring up this odd quote because I feel that in the previous Prime Time Sublime CD, the golden level of 'satire' was easily and repeatedly achieved because Prime Time Konzertmeister and composer Paul Minotto, a tonal cartoonist of the first rank, allowed the music itself to do the lion's share of the carriage of his opinions. And such glorious music it is! Equal dollops of Zappa, hip-hop drumbeats, Stravinsky, marching bands, Varese, soul rhythm sections, and let's not forget one diverting moment in which we witness with shocked ears, as I put it then, "the group mowing down a country ballad with the orchestral equivalent of an Apache gunship." Really. And compatibility issues were wisely thrown to the winds, exhibiting also how aerodynamically sound Mr. Minotto's concept was, and is. What was satirized, anyway? The simple fact that divisions and boundaries between musical styles and approaches are largely imposed onto the art from without. It's the old 'rack divider" argument. 'Geez, Clive, If we don't put the 'classical music' in a separate room, the kids won't realize that they should avoid it!' As my daughter says, "Well, duh..."
However, though the music on A LIFE IN A DAY remains as magisterial and eccentric as before, more varying verbal exchanges and infixes are introduced than previous and they lower the efficacy of the whole. Far more specific targets are rounded upon as well, not always to good effect. It's here that the sarcasm and ridicule come in and the satire goes out. Thanks but we have enough ridicule in the world already.
Incidentally, whatever is this review doing in JAZZ NOW and not in, say, THE WIRE? I'm sure THE WIRE will review it if they haven't already, but the stellar writing and arranging for synthesized and actual percussion, strings and horns on this CD (there would appear to be fewer non-virtual group members this time around) does owe an appreciable debt as well to the Third Stream experimentations of Gunther Schuller or George Russell (remember JAZZ IN THE SPACE AGE? Something Mr. Minotto could have fun with. And, I'm sure, will when he gets to it), among others. Luckily, it is almost always strong enough to win out over the verbal bits and save the day. That includes the concluding 28-minute title piece, which I'll evaluate shortly.
Best parts of the CD are the largely instrumental "Bimbo Mambo" and "Fashion Flag for a Part-Time Patriot." Both are smart, convoluted, and hilarious: "Fashion Flag" is a sort of fanfare that I dare President Bush to use one day in place of "Hail To the Chief" (but for the central recitative for synthesized hurdy-gurdys and choir), while "Mambo" is more a delirious soup of industrial noise, "Petrushka" and Scriabin's "Poeme d'Extase." Too, there's a lengthy Tony Macaroni (?) piano outrage, doelike skipping strings, and the odd voice repeating the title again and again. I don't mind the verbal insertions here, but what's being made fun of? The concept of the 'bimbo,' or the idiots (largely male) who made up the concept? See, Gloria Estefan was right; sometimes the words do get in the way.
I admit I am assuming that satire is what is intended here, but the closing "A Life In A Day of a Micro-Organism" does have that reassuring air of a 1950s/1960s high school civics class educational film soundtrack, something both "The Simpsons" and avant-gardists have mercilessly repositioned for their own ends. The recitation, however cheerily "Welcome To the Present, Gateway To The Future" it may be, must be intended in some sort of jest. I think we've all come to admit on one level or another that the consumer-oriented culture our grandfathers and grandmothers - and their bosses - invented to give us all the material things we could possibly ask for (with a bit of time left over on Friday or Saturday or Sunday to wind G-d back up again) is not the best system for our long-term health. Unfortunately, no one's been able to come up with anything that all will accept more readily, so we continue to fortify our little castles (look at it this way: during the barbarian invasions, Rome built walls. Today, we buy SUVs. Largely for a similar reason) for want of a better route. And as a result, the attemptedly double-edged recitation ("The purpose of school is to make money so one will not have to go to school," et al) here simply does not carry its weight. It has been done, and done. One verbal point I do like is how "micro-organisms" (read 'humanity in the grip of its own society,' I think) supposedly use the concept of time as a method or excuse of propping up civilization and making sense of their life span. And there's also a witty expansion herein on Zappa's comment to ROLLING STONE in 1968: "People are stupid. They never stop to question anything. They just accept. Can you imagine a society that never questions the validity of cheerleaders with pom-poms?" Not that I entirely agree with Frankie there, but that's a topic for another day.
But if one has the patience to listen, the music remains as brilliant as ever. Synthesized string writing in "A Life In A Day" is especially good, diving and swooping with a logic all Minotto's own (for all the influences I have name- dropped, I admit). Bell trees chime, silences lengthen, distant horns ask what the point of all this is. As I've said, that's the main problem I have with this still-quite good CD. I really think that if Mr. Minotto had allowed the music to deliver the satire, its natural subtlety would have carried the day. Let's not forget Gully Jimson's still-outrageous advice from the 1958 Alec Guiness movie THE HORSE'S MOUTH: "Paint pictures, Nosey; all talk is lies."
by Ken Egbert
* Copyright 1962 by Walt Kelly, from the preface of INSTANT POGO. Simon & Schuster, NYC.
Jazz Now Interactive June 2004 Vol 14 No. 2 - Table of Contents
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