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November 2005

Stich Wynston's Modern Surfaces
Transparent Horizons
The Montreux Jazz Label

This Canadian crew straddles the line between formalism and all-out freedom. But rather than having fun with it, the music on Transparent Horizons is some pretty oppressive stuff. Produced by fellow Canadian drummer Barry Romberg, Transparent Horizons showcases the chemistry and experimental tendencies of drummer-composer-bandleader Stich Wynston, saxophonist Mike Murley, bassist Jim Vivian and guitarist Geoff Young (a member of Romberg's Three Sisters group and the other principal composer here).

"Existential Departures" is about as moody and ponderous as the title implies, while "Surf Aces" is riddled with tedious group unison lines not heard since the days of Frank Zappa's computer-driven Jazz From Hell. And as dreary as "Existential Departures" is, "Automatic Entry," "Outward Bound" and "Intergalactic Spheres" are even worse (please, no more minor-key arco-bass lines!).

Wynston's powerhouse drumming is so dominant in the mix on "I Think This Party's Over" and "Outward Bound" that it may have crossover appeal in the rock camp, while the more open-ended "Evanescence" involves some nice conversation between the four participants. The other saving grace here is the closer, "New One," which juxtaposes touches of light along with the oppressive gloom and doom, showing that there's a difference between being poignant and merely maudlin.

Originally published in November 2005
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