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Quadrangle by Mercury Falls

The word 'fusion' is a pretty good descriptor of a style of music only when you know what sorts of music are being fused. I suppose that one could describe Mercury Falls' impressive debut CD, Quadrangle, as 'fusion' – but that would only be 1/10th of the story (if that!). In today's increasingly chopped-up and micro-pigeonholed landscape of music sub-sub-sub genres, it is well-nigh impossible to describe the Bay Area-based quartet's music without resorting to terms that most jazz fans will not know what to make heads or tails of. Add to this the musicians' own extensive experiences playing non-jazz music - a welcome phenomenon that is becoming more and more commonplace these days. This is a product, perhaps, of the economic realities that face young musicians, as well as their desire to pursue artistic opportunities unfettered by the constraints of style and genre. To give you an idea of Mercury Falls' musical breadth, The band's members have recorded and worked with diverse artists such as Tom Waits, freak-folk harpist / vocalist Joanna Newsome, and jam-band favorites The String Cheese Incident. This sort of stylistic cross-fertilization yields much fruit on “Quadrangle.”

The music's plaintive melodies and dark, pensive atmosphere are reminiscent of Bill Frisell's early efforts for the ECM label. Tim Bulkley's dynamic drumming also reminds me a bit of Joey Baron's from around the same time period. These guys have also clearly been influenced by the music of genre-busting 'post-rock' bands such as Tortoise, The Album Leaf, Tristeza, and Sigur Ros. Yet, even the most cursory listen reveals that there's quite a bit of other stuff going on here as well. Rhythms are largely moderate-to-slow, and melodies are often introduced halfway through the tune – after the mood is established. This gives the music an otherworldly, dream-like feel that enhances its pervasively turbulent, dark tone. Electronics – applied primarily by guitarist Ryan Francesconi - are used judiciously throughout the CD. But they never get goopy or overbearing. Their unusual and unexpected timbres (as on the ghostly ballad 'Years Without Speech') belie Francesconi's years of experience with electronic sound generation of various types. Francesconi's musical breadth is also evident in his electric guitar playing – he can fire off cleanly articulated jazzy runs and provide dense, effects-laden curtains of harmony for saxophonist Patrick Cress to solo over with equal ease. Cress - whose primary influence seems to be Jan Garbarek – tends to be the primary melodic and improvisational focus here. He's a thoughtful, patient soloist with a strong melodic sense. The rhythm section is quite accomplished as well. Both drummer Tim Bulkley and bassist Eric Perney are highly attuned to the atmospheric / colorific possibilities of their respective instruments while providing an unflagging forward motion throughout. Quadrangle is an impressive and artistically significant debut.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Mercury Falls
  • CD Title: Quadrangle
  • Genre: Fusion
  • Year Released: 2010
  • Record Label: Porto Franco Records
  • Rating: Four Stars
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