Bobby Previte puts the massive into a Mass.
Bobby Previte – Mass [TrackList follows] – RareNoise RNR072, 69:27 [11/8/16] ****:
(The Rose Ensemble – 11-member chamber vocal group conducted by Jordan Sramek; Stephen O’Malley, Jamie Saft, Don McGreevy, Mike Gamble – electric guitar; Marco Benevento – pipe organ, Rheem organ, electronics; Reed Mathis – electric bass; Bobby Previte – drums, electric guitar, pipe organ, combo organ, synthesizer bass, Farfisa organ)
Taking medieval-era music and incorporating it into modern songcraft is nothing new. Examples: British blues revival group the Yardbirds fused Gregorian chants into one of their singles; goth rock duo Dead Can Dance blended music from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance into their popular ambient alt-pop; and psychedelic pop band HP Lovecraft closed their 1967 debut LP with a version of the “Gloria Patria.” Drummer Bobby Previte (one of the stalwarts of the NYC downtown jazz scene) has taken the notion of coalescing choral music from the Middle Ages into a modern arrangement to a whole new (and heavy) level on his RareNoise album, Mass. Basically, Previte has used 15th century composer Guillaume Dufay’s choral mass, Missa Sancti Jacobi, and re-imagined it as a 70-minute transformation which melds a chamber vocal group; a cathedral pipe organ; electric guitars; electronics; electric bass; drums; and electric organs. Typical classical music fans may find this music too deafening and thundering due to amplified instrumentation which puts an unusual spin on music which was initially created to be performed in churches.
Previte took his time tailoring this large-format piece into shape. Previte states “I’ve been thinking about this idea for at least 12 or 13 years now.” He scored an early adaptation of Dufay’s opus in the early 2000s, but later trashed that and re-started. He presented another rendering in 2007 as a theater production, and was inspired to keep working on his creation when he met the 11-member Rose Ensemble, who specialize in choral music from different time eras and geographical locations. For his latest variant of Mass, Previte recruited Marco Benevento on pipe organ; guitarists Don McGreevy, Stephen O’Malley (cofounder of Sunn O))), the doom and black metal group), Jamie Saft (who has been in current and previous Previte projects), and Mike Gamble; Reed Mathis on bass; and Previte utilized drums, guitar, pipe organ, combo organ, synth bass and Farfisa organ. The Rose Ensemble handles the nine-part vocal liturgy, while Previte and his band of noisy cohorts add instrumental punch and audio pugilism. Previte explains that “In the context of its time I believe it was a powerful, soul-shaking, transportive, otherworldly music. And I needed to match that power, so I had to go to Metal – a reviled music that somehow still keeps coming.” For anyone who assumes this might just be loud guitars strung over a chorus, it’s not. Previte clarifies, “Each of the three pillars of the piece—choir, metal trio, and pipe organ—are operating within their own algorithms, their own keys, time and tempo. And the piece is written for them to be on parallel tracks but making a different fourth thing, dovetailing together on the cadence.” Dufay’s melody is sustained throughout the nine sections, but Previte augments the melody with his original harmonic and rhythmic elements, and a sense of rock-based dramatics and coarseness.
Some tracks are equal in noise intensity, while others have an overwhelming quality. The introductory “Introit” employs funereal voices and four forceful organs, with interposed Previte percussion, Mathis’ distorted electric bass, and two guitars. “Kyrie” commences with spooky solo bass, and gradually builds along a 7:34 trajectory where different musicians take the spotlight, including an unaccompanied a capella segment for the Rose Ensemble; and an echoing pipe organ improvisation. The stomping guitar, drums and bass become weighty by the third tune, “Gloria,” where Previte’s auditory design bonds together the pillars of chorus, organ and rock trio. A discordant upsurge can be heard during “Alleluia,” where emotive and complex vocals are juxtaposed against blaring guitar riffs, pulsing bass and (at times) thumping drums. Near the end of “Gloria,” Benevento supplies some intriguing organ reinforcement to the Rose Ensemble’s vocalizations. Throughout the booming, ten-minute “Offering,” there is more Led Zeppelin and/or Black Sabbath metal music than Dufay, with lots of tempest-tossed electric guitars (especially O’Malley’s feedback-drenched solo) and Previte’s hurtling percussive rhythms. The two closing pieces, the restrained “Agnus Dei” and the shifting “Communion” showcase contrasts. During the first third of “Agnus Dei” the Rose Ensemble is at the forefront with a capella singing, and later Mathis imparts a low bass foundation, as Previte furnishes lithe and ticking cymbals. About three minutes into the tune, Benevento changes the arrangement a bit with his slightly strange organ sounds. The lengthy, 12:20 “Communion” varies and adjusts several times and includes a profusion of improvisational aspects, comprising Benevento’s pipe organ and eerie electronics, and O’Malley’s lacerating guitar. The Rose Ensemble disappears among the turmoil but whenever they rise out of the raucous clamor, they offer safe haven from the vortex. Bobby Previte’s Mass is a distinctively inspired record, but not for all tastes. The unconventional assembly of a gigantic wall of noise (organ, drums, guitars) put adjacent to medieval choral music is not the easiest approach to embrace, but does prove a broadminded bravura can be memorable and remarkable.
TrackList: Introit; Kyrie; Gloria; Alleluia; Credo; Offering; Sanctus; Agnus Dei; Communion