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CD REVIEW: Conveniens - Conveniens
By Alex Jasperse - 07/21/2007 - 09:38 PM EDT

Artist: Band: Conveniens
Album: Conveniens [remastered 2006]
Label: Convenience Records
Genre: Avant-Garde, Electro-Jazz and Jazz-Fusion
Production/Musicianship Grade: 7.0/10
Songwriting Skills: 6.5/10
Performance Skill: 7.5/10
CD Review:

Although impossible, try to do what hasn't been done before and keep it accessible,” was Conveniens’s philosophy. And as valid as it is, these are the words of musical uncertainty. Should new music be reserved for the musicians, or for the listeners?

Remastered, Conveniens’s self-titled 1984 debut is an avant-garde meets sci-fi jazz soundscape experiment. Between John Maz (percussion) and Stearling Smith (keys/synths), nine compositions attempt to blur the lines that were drawn and redrawn by artists such as Mahavishnu Orchestra, Emerson Lake & Palmer and Miles Davis throughout the 70s and early 80s.

Open-minded and favouring the experimental, Conveniens’s compositions speak in different genres and languages that were only being spoken by a select few during the mid-80s. Percussive and thunderous, the first two tracks, “Rain Kite” and “Know it Ain’t,” craft atmospheres that effortlessly transcend time and place. “Know it Ain’t,” in particular, begins with Maz’s freight train drumming that’s powered by Smith’s hauntingly beautiful and hypnotic soundscapes. As the three-minute mark passes by, the hypnotizing speed at which things had been traveling starts to slow down. Within seconds, the overhead clouds have darkened, and percussive drops of rain furiously scratch at the windows.

For a moment, everything becomes quiet and stable. Then, the scattered drum beats and wavering keys in “Morning Lobotomy” and “Barney Clark” stretch the boundaries of what can be created with nothing more than a synth and a drum kit. Unhurried in their exposition, their exploration, and their communication, both tracks become a lesson in the art of free improvisation.

As though to remind us that the calm always comes with some degree of struggle, what feels like a return to the familiar in “Regular Grind,” doesn’t suggest (or make any promises) that the dissonance is about to be replaced with the melodic. Its conveyor belt rhythmic motion chugs forwards, inching the listener closer and closer to the internal machine that has been steering the entire journey. Synthetic saxophone and piano lines deviously whisper and hide in the background, and then the doors to “Druhm Rum” open.

But that’s when it all comes to a disappointing finale...

What could have been an epic and fiery drum piece – a showcase of Maz’s innermost creative drive – turns out to be a tedious and tiresome three minutes of repetitive rhythms. Max’s steady concentration on the snare, ride and crash symbols becomes fast-forward worthy and disjointed. There’s a taste of confusion everywhere – this underlying reservation to unleash all of the creative energy that had led up to this moment. And then it hits: “accessibility” was deliberately factored into this equation.

From the three-quarter’s mark onwards, you can feel the album make a deliberate shift in a structured direction. The free thoughts that flowed throughout the first few pieces get lost in (stereotypical) 80s piano lines in “Afrisha’nki” and “Blink.” All the lines that were being crossed reappear, and Conveniens takes several steps back, which indicate that these tracks were designed for the listeners.

Much of the difficulty in understanding and judging Conveniens’s work has to do with the year it was released. It would be a fair assessment to label them as ‘innovators’ in jazz-fusion, however, in order to substantiate that today, it would require a listener to actively search for that meaning because it’s easily lost in the past twenty-three years of music that has since gone by. They did prove that they could do some things that hadn’t been done before, but trying to keep it accessible for both musicians and listeners is what unnecessarily confuses their debut. While Conveniens’s philosophy does place some restrictions on their work, this is an album that’s more than worth several listens for those who want to hear the foundations of the avant-garde and jazz-fusion.

The Verdict:

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