Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Percy Howard's Meridiem in a Third Outing

Percy Howard and his Project Band Meridiem has two CDs out there, one from 1998, one from 2000. I have not yet heard them. However his third, A Pleasant Fiction, Meridiem Volume Three (Voiceprint/Pangea) has been grabbing my ears for a week. It is time to report in on it.

Percy gathers together a fairly large group of musicians for this current volume, most notably Vernon Reid, Bill Laswell and Buckethead. Percy Howard does most of the vocals and he has soul. I believe it is Jill Tracy that is also a vocalist here and she contrasts Percy well. There may be others vocalists appearing too, but I don't know and it doesn't matter, really.

What we have is a musical trip that circumnavigates all kinds of progressive, alt and metallic-fusion realms. There is a story line that threads its way throughout and it has a romantic flavor. It is the well-crafted and excellently performed songs that musically stand out. The ensemble is top notch, guitar work notable and everything gels in a way conducive to the ears of 2009. I am sometimes reminded of Kip Hanrahan's imagery of love on the hot griddle. This is in Percy's own bag, though.

The songs are sophisticated and complicated enough that a single hearing does not do them justice. (And I sometimes wonder what reviewers think they are doing when they react to a recording based on a single listen, if there are any out there who still do that. OK if you know the music more or less beforehand. Not OK for a virgin slab of music.) Repeated listening reveals the content and puts the songs firmly in the memory. They are the sort of things Carla Bley, Mike Mantler and others pioneered in the '70s, art-rock songs, if you will.

Anybody who wants something with a lot of thought and care put into it, who likes rock but doesn't like the more banal versions, who looks for the edgier forms, would do well to hear this CD at least two or three times, or ten. . . .

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