Title: Power Play
Artist: Stick Men
Release Date: 2014 March 14
License: CC BY-NC
Label: 7d Media
There’s a magic power play in the sticks. Giving Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto anything with sticks to play isn’t fair to most other musicians. And in this case the trio of Levin, Mastelotto and Markus Reuter prove there is a lot of ground to explore, especially with talented musicians with unique instrumentation.
On this release Tony Levin plays the little seen Chapman Stick (essentially a wide necked 10 or 12 string bass guitar played by tapping / fretting the strings), and Markus Reuter performs using Touch Guitars of his own design. The only “normal” instrumentation comes from Pat Mastelotto performing on acoustic and electric drums.
Magic Power Play In The Sticks
With a trio of musicians with such a long track record in the music industry (I got a shock just looking at Tony Levin’s discography), and their own choice of unique instrumentation, it’s no surprise their two studio releases Soup and DEEP are ripe with challenging material that could only come from musicians of their background.
On Power Play the complexity and experimentation of their studios is translated into live performances. This would be a challenge for a lesser group of performers, but in this trios exceptionally capable hands, we have a release that bristles with the energy that the studio releases could capture.
For example ‘Nude Ascending Staircase’ and ‘Cusp’ groove with a ferocious intensity that wasn’t quite captured on DEEP. These are recordings that really stand out, and immediately transcend the complexity of the compositions and pull you in with the energy Power Play gets from playing to an audience.
However, not every track fares as well. ‘Crack in the Sky’ loses the edge of a film noir that was present on the studio version. Instead the live version comes across as a more mid-tempo wash of soundscape with a guitar bass and a nondescript vocal by Tony. But, this is the weakest spot of the release, leaving us with a lot more to listen to.
Some other exceptional tracks on this release ‘Firebird Suite’, ‘Breathless’ (a cover of a rarely heard Robert Fripp tune), and ‘Whale Watch’. These are tunes that will keep the listener on the edge of their seat. ‘Whale Watch’ is a particularly interesting piece with its multi-part structure that feels like a progressive classical suite for the trio, but with a style that is new and unique.
The progressive power-trio of Levin, Mastelotto and Reuter is something of a dream for many of us progressive rock fans. With both Levin and Mastelotto being members of King Crimson the unique style they bring to this trio bears some unsurprising resemblance to Crimson. The addition of Reuter is excellent for the more experimental nature of this group.
While some of the performances feel a little on the standard side, there is only one piece that I found it difficult to listen to (‘Crack in the Sky’). There were many exceptional pieces on this release, especially ones like ‘Nude Ascending Staircase’ and ‘Cusp’ that I felt were actually better than the original studio recordings.
Definitely a release worth checking out.