Machine Mass – Machine Mass Plays Hendrix – MoonJune Records

Machine Mass – Machine Mass Plays Hendrix – MoonJune Records MJR 084, 59:27 ****:

Updated technical shout-out to a true rock legend! 

(Michel Delville – guitar, Roland GR09, loops, stylophone, electronics, samples; Tony Bianco – drums, percussion; Antoine Guenet – keyboards, synth, acoustic piano)

It would have been difficult to predict the ascension of Jimi Hendrix. After his unsuccessful supporting band work in the early Sixties (most notably with The Isley Brothers and Little Richard), a chance meeting with former Animals bassist Chas Chandler at Cafe Wha changed rock music. Hendrix went to England, conquered the British isle and returned to the States. Then memorable performances at Monterey Pop and Woodstock made him a legend. His first three releases, Are You Experienced?, Axis: Bold As Love, and Electric Ladyland were highlights of a career cut short in 1970.

Paying homage to an artist with as indelible a style as Jimi Hendrix is difficult and ambitious. Machine Head and in particular guitarist Michel Delville approaches this challenge with determination and originality. With a variety of guitar sounds, electronics, loops, drums and keyboards, the band seizes on the Hendrix spirit. Opening this unusual tribute is “Third Stone from The Sun”, the space jam instrumental from Are You Experienced? The song was known for its psychedelic and improvisational style. Delville starts out with a softer effect-laden guitar run as drummer Tony Bianco brings a jazz fusion rhythm with a healthy dose of cymbal. But the addition of electric piano (Antoine Guenet) adds a jazzy nuance. The free-form and jagged guitar tonalities are stellar. There is a distinct underlying pulse. The intros to the songs are as compelling as the covers. Guenet and Bianco connect on an ethereal 3 1/2 minute jam before the trio picks up the unmistakable hook to “Purple Haze”. With the basic chords handled on piano, Delville can cut loose with wah-wah and powers to a screeching climax.

“Little Wing” has seen many covers, with varying tempos. Machine Mass (with a muted sampling of Hendrix spoken word) aligns with the meditative essence. The melodic verve is never lost. But the layered mix creates a denser template. Echo and reverb guitar are head-spinning and dream-like. Amazingly, the album was recorded live with no overdubs! Drawing on Axis: Bold As Love, the autobiographical “Spanish Castle Magic” pushes the sonic limits to extremes before settling into a driving groove. The 0:50 syncopated lead into “Fire” is unpredictable. Then a Deep Purple-infused organ riff complements Delville’s  furious electric guitar lines. They maintain some of the compositional structure, but rely on improvisational skill. When Hendrix recorded “Voodoo Chile” (for Electric Ladyland), it ended up with a 15:00 running time. Machine Mass substitutes electronics for the opening guitar line in this abridged (just under 7 minutes) version, before Delville tears into the melody with distorted guitar histrionics.

Another Electric Ladyland opus, “Burning Of The Midnight Lamp” clocks in at a brisk 3:24 and includes a surprising moody classical piano at the beginning. In contrast, the epic “You Got Me Floatin’” seizes on the explosive, psychedelic edginess of the song from Axis: Bold As Love. At 10:57, this is easily the longest cut on the album. The propulsive drumming, exotic keyboards, shrill guitar licks and science-fiction effects capture the swirling intensity of Hendrix, but in the unique context of Machine Mass. The finale (“The Wind Cries Mary”) seems the most “faithful” arrangement of JH. A gospel piano sets up a final Delville guitar assault.

The audio quality of this recording is very good. The higher volume, dense mix doesn’t sound muddled. The guitar tonalities emphasize sharpness and effects such as distortion, echo and reverberation fit the musical vibe. Atmospheric moments of guitar and piano are not “under-mixed” and provide nimble changes to the aesthetics. Machine Mass Plays Hendrix takes no prisoners!

TrackList:
Third Stone from The Sun
Purple Haze
Little Wing
Spanish Castle Magic
Fire
Voodoo Chile
Burning Of The Midnight Lamp
You Got Me Floatin’
The Wind Cries Mary

-Robbie Gerson

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