Mats/Morgan Band – The Music or the Money? [remastered edition 2-CD set with bonus tracks] – Cuneiform Rune 301-302, CD1: 68:43. CD2: 65:19 ***1/2:
(Mats Öberg – synthesizer, piano, mellotron, harmonica, accordion, vocals; Morgan Ågren – drums, programming, keyboards, voice; Jimmy Ågren – guitar, slide guitar, mandolin, triangle; Tommy Tordsson – bass, melodica; Patrik Ögren – cello, bass; Eric Karlsson – keyboards, accordion; Gustaf Hielm – bass (CD 1: tracks 3, 8, 12, 15-16; CD 2: tracks 2, 7, 12, 15); Simon Steensland – anklung, Farfisa organ (CD 2: track 4), bass, guitar, keyboards (CD 2: track 11); Jonas Lindgren – violin (CD 2: track 8); Gunnar Persson – bassoon (CD 1: track 14; CD 2: tracks 5, 11); Fredrik Söhngen – oboe (CD 2: tracks 5, 11); Sten Sandell – voice/chants (CD 1: track 18); Jan Hellman – stick (CD 1: track 11); Lelo Nika – accordion (CD 1: track 6); Jannis Eliasson – guitar (CD 1: track 10))
The Mats/Morgan Band is a Swedish group led by keyboardist Mats Öberg and drummer/keyboardist Morgan Ågren along with whomever they can corral into their multi-genre mosaic, which careens from progressive rock to fusion-fueled jazz rock and from Frank Zappa-esque pop spoofery to rock-etched avant-garde. As evidenced on this 2-CD, remastered and expanded reissue of The Music or the Money? – previously only available as a self-released title sold at shows – Öberg and Ågren are never content to focus on just one or two musical identities, but rather they schizophrenically hopscotch from one genre to another, often on the same track.
Zappa’s later projects, such as Jazz from Hell, come to mind when hearing the 34 tracks which total more than two hours. That’s appropriate since Öberg and Ågren were once in a Zappa tribute band and eventually took part in the Zappa memorial effort, Zappa’s Universe. There is a lot more to The Mats/Morgan Band than Zappa influences, but his eclectic taste and far-reaching resourcefulness certainly color the proceedings.
Like Zappa, Öberg and Ågren pepper their compositions and improvisations with familiar musical quotations which are tweaked or mocked. Even Zappa’s legacy shows up in unexpected places, like the musique concrete concoction, “Asaw X,” where elements clash against each other. The hyper-sped “Watch Me Pleasure” also appears to echo Zappa somewhat in its application of rapid electronic keyboards and in Zappa’s use of the Synclavier as a compositional and performance tool. On the other hand, French composer Olivier Messiaen gets twisted and pulled apart like taffy during the rhythmically intricate “Advokaten Le Messiaen,” a rock/classical crossover light years removed from the usual Emerson, Lake and Palmer-inspired pomposity.
There are also instances when The Mats/Morgan Band emulate or simulate the distorted pop of archetypes such as The Residents, particularly during the melodic but warped pop piece, “Coco,” which marries 1960s psychedelic pop with decidedly odd auditory left turns. “Spinning Around” is also a pop-hued cut which sounds as if it could have graced any number of The Residents or other Ralph Records releases.
There is nearly 45 minutes of hitherto unreleased material which is interspersed through the two compact discs and several of those include extended live performances which jam band and prog rock fans will gravitate toward. The eight-minute “Jeriko,” named after the club where the music was recorded, is a keyboard-driven improvisation which has a King Crimson flavor, with Öberg’s electronics taking the place of Robert Fripp’s guitar theatrics. The live “Dr. Thor,” which alludes to the Norse god of thunder, starts out as a placid solo piano jazz jaunt which shares a bit of Keith Jarrett’s style and then arrives at a freer approach akin to Cecil Taylor, when Ågren’s drums weave and buckle and he and Öberg lay out complex improvised sounds. The collective, ensemble piece “Advokaten and the Jazz,” as the name implies, also utilizes jazz as a jumping off point, but more like Zappa rather than Weather Report.
Small doses of The Mats/Morgan Band prove to be the best way to appreciate The Music or the Money?. Taken in brief blocks of time, the music can be listened to with concentration and satisfaction. But experiencing the two albums in one sitting can cause sonic blurring as the pacing, heterogeneous arrangements and multi-tiered tunes tend to compete against each together while a tangible repetitive factor settles in, despite the wide-ranging creativity.
1. You Have to Wait in the Rain
2. If I Only Had a Clavinet
3. Fortsätt Mats!
5. Asaw X
6. Watch Me Pleasure
7. Spinning Around
10. Inget Har Hänt
12. Nordic Ice
13. Third Movement Farmor Märta
14. I Wanna
15. Let’s Stay Positive
16. Harmonium 4
17. The Difference between Powerful and Loud
18. Baader Puff
1. Dr. Thor
2. Advokaten and the Jazz
4. Banned Again
6. Secret Room Out-takes
7. Resp Rush
8. Hjortron Frän Mars
9. If I Only Had a Planet
11. I Know Where I Have It
14. Advokaten Le Messiaen
— Doug Simpson