The Wrong Object – After the Exhibition – MoonJune MJR055, 59:37 [6/4/13] ***1/2:
(Michel Delville – guitar, Roland GR-09; Antoine Guenet – keyboards, vocals; Marti Melia – tenor and bass saxophone, clarinet; François Lourtie – tenor, alto & soprano saxophone, voice; Pierre Mottet – bass; Laurent Delchambre – drums, percussion, objects, samples; Benoit Moerlen – marimba, electronic vibraphone (tracks 2-3, 5-7, 11); Susan Clynes – vocals (track 8))
Hearing the Wrong Object, listeners will not be surprised the instrumental group started as a Frank Zappa tribute band: the Wrong Object share the rebellious and creative bent which marked Zappa’s best moments. But since 2002 the Wrong Object, led by Belgian guitarist Michel Delville, has evolved into a prime exponent of the Rock in Opposition (or RIO) movement, a loosely-connected collective of progressive, liberal artists united in opposition to the corporate music industry. RIO was initiated by English avant-rockers Henry Cow in the late ‘70s. Current adherents include Univers Zéro, Guapo, Thinking Plague and likeminded performers.
After a half-decade hiatus, the Wrong Object is back with new studio project, After the Exhibition (which can be streamed here), and a new line-up. Alongside Delville and fellow co-founder/drummer Laurent Delchambre are keyboardist Antoine Guenet (who is also in avant-metal-jazz outfit Sh.tg.n. [not a typo]; he also recently joined Univers Zéro), saxophonists François Lourtie and Marti Melia (also on clarinet), and bassist Pierre Mottet. Gong/Gongzilla participant Benoit Moerlen (marimba, electronic vibraphone) guests on five tracks, while vocalist Susan Clynes appears on one tune. To say this music is eclectic and adventurous is an understatement: there are free-form sections, fiery angularity, elusive melodies, and auditory terrain which can be bumpy, slippery and irregular.
The Wrong Object opens with Delville’s jazz-metal piece, “Detox Gruel,” driven by two unruly saxes, hyphenated organ lines, and Delville’s sometimes shrill guitar pyrotechnics. Delchambre’s “Yantra” (Sanskrit for “instrument” or “machine”) begins atmospherically, with low-toned sax, cinematic clarinet and the twinned, rhythmic support of drums and marimba. About two minutes in, the sax takes on a gritty quality, the guitar heats up, and a fitful inflection becomes the pivot point. Electric bass, honking sax, uninhibited electronics and digital vibes (reminiscent of Zappa alum Ruth Underwood) coalesce into a broth where modern classical, improvised jazz, Middle Eastern accents and rock music elements combine. “Spanish Fly” zigzags through comparable topography which features Melia’s earthy sax blurts, Guenet’s turbulent keys and Delville’s guitar bursts. A highlight is Moerlen and Lourtie’s marimba/soprano sax interchange.
The literal and musical centerpiece is the triple-decker “Jungle Cow” suite, a 16-minute-plus excursion. Part one is crowded with sounds which include eerie vocalizations, eddying electronics, watery percussion and unusual sax noises. It is unconventional but not without a certain idiosyncratic form and logic. The second part has a jazz-rock groove heightened by Guenet’s classically-tinged acoustic piano and Delchambre’s accumulative drumming as well as Mottet’s stuttering bass, Moerlen’s vivid vibes and marimba, and Delville’s slashing guitar. There’s a definite moment when the third section kicks in, as the rock influence becomes paramount: the hefty guitar intro hints at Led Zeppelin, and when the rest of the musicians join in, King Crimson is evoked. The arrangement then eases intensity, and glides along with melodious guitar, sax and vibes. The most unexpected presentation is Guenet’s relatively straightforward “Glass Cubes,” an eight-and-a-half-minute track which initiates with acoustic piano and Clynes’ precise singing, akin to Kurt Elling’s focused style. “Glass Cubes” has an enigmatic dreamlike demeanor, emphasized by Clynes and Guenet’s harmonizing, and later in the tune’s development, a U.K. progressive-rock stance similar to Canterbury bands like Caravan or Soft Machine. The record concludes with the art-rock number “Stammtisch,” which is the closest the Wrong Object gets to the Zappa-homage days. The tune’s title is German for an informal group meeting held on a regular basis. That is the mood the closing cut conjures: not a structured gathering, but rather a responsive get-together, in this case an ensemble whose raison d’être is musical diversity and controlled defiance which results in inventive, engaging creativity which challenges genre boundaries.
TrackList: Detox Gruel; Spanish Fly; Yantra; Frank Nuts; Jungle Cow Part I; Jungle Cow Part II; Jungle Cow Part III; Glass Cubes; Wrong but not False; Flashlight into Black Hole; Stammtisch.