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Animation: Machine Language

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In the wake of musician-composer Bob Belden’s sudden passing by heart attack at 58 last May, we are at least left with the satisfaction that his swan song is this eminently fascinating “cyberpunk opera,” a glorious twining of Philip K. Dick and electric Miles Davis that might well be subtitled 2015: A Jazz Space Odyssey. Narrated by Kurt Elling with a clipped, chilling cadence Rod Serling would have envied, Belden’s text for Machine Language examines the paradoxical struggle of machine vs. human in a manner worthy of the best and smartest science fiction: It’s the most surprising triumph of the record. And while the soundtrack is not always so inspired-who would have thought a song entitled “Disappear Annihilation” could be so boring?-Belden’s ensemble Animation gets a welcome boost from guest electric bassist Bill Laswell and his renowned mixer, James Dellatacoma.

Because the verbal tale is so compelling, the music is most memorable in tandem with the story-Peter Clagett’s forlorn trumpet as a child’s lonely dream in “Soul of a Machine,” or the quickening of a “Genesis Code” that finds Belden’s soprano sax sparring with drummer Matt Young while Laswell throbs. The sprawling Miles jams of Bitches Brew and Big Fun and Get Up With It stand as both a template for the basic tunes and a fulcrum for their drum-and-bass and ambient interludes. Yet when Laswell’s heartbeat-like bass riff is joined by warm brushes and cymbals from Young, the listener is grateful for the grace notes of humanity-on a song entitled “The Evolution of Machine Culture,” no less. Those were the ironies Belden appreciated, and fostered, God bless him.

Originally Published