MICHAEL STEARNS: Plunge (1986)
“Of course Plunge is totally different! But we have to go over our prejudices and let ourselves charm by this amazing sonic journey”
1 Splash 3:34 2 Two Memories 3:26 3 Penguins on Mars 4:35 4 Dark Passage 4:38 5 Space Grass 4:19 6 Tickle 1:46 7 Entry 4:00 8 Plunge 5:21 9 Whoosh! 7:15 10 Bell Tear 1:50 11 Exit 2:20 12 Loose Ends 0:59
(CD 44:03) (Eclectic, folk, ambient , New Age EM)
More direct and more accessible to ears unused to long cosmic musical reflections, PLUNGE is a little treat that Michael Stearns offered himself. It's a tulip in his garden of roses. It's nice but it's also clashing. It's the album of the diversity for the synthman of Tucson, Arizona, who abandons the musical ambiospherical frescoes such as Chronos and M'Ocean to caress an eclectic musical universe where funky jazz, country-grass, blues and electronic melodies cross each other in a musical mishmash which, if the first listening makes flee, is not that bad that our ears, that are astounded, want to let us believe.
Splash kicks things off to this musical diversity with an explosion which leads the track towards a lively and jerky rhythm with a scent of funky jazz. Keyboard keys are nervous. Hopping on-the-spot, they drum a sweet line of melody which is sometimes linear and sometimes circular that some saxophones are harpooning of their hoarse and musical airs on a rebel structure which offers an interesting duel synth/saxophone. Two Memories is a nice lunar lullaby stamped with a nostalgia which kisses a delicate joy of life in its 2nd half. This is one of the tracks, the others being Entry, and Bell Tear, which breathes the most of Michael Stearns' ethereal ambiences on PLUNGE. One listens to Penguins on Mars and one cannot find of a better naming to designate this ballet of gleaming arpeggios which roam in an awkward way. The track is brilliant of freshness and we really feel this wintry mood with a very visual sonic approach where arpeggios ring such as prismic ice cubes tumbling down over abrupt dunes of snow. Intense and dark, Dark Passage plunges us into the somber cosmic atmospheres of Stearns with a slow procession which inhales some fragrances forgotten of Chronos. Space Grass leads us towards another register with a very EM country music mood. It's a rhythm of funfair dance with a nervous guitar which harmonizes its riffs and chords in the bluish reflections of the synth lines of which the arrangements make flowering the harmonious laments of a violin hidden in this surprising electronic Hillbilly boogie which overflows beyond the borders of Tickle.
After a first portion which calls back the cosmic wanderings of Chronos, Entry embraces an upward rhythmic structure with clanic tom-toms thundering over an ambiguous melodic pattern where groans of sax, smooth guitar riffs and breezes of synth crystallized in forgetting are interlacing in a crazy race against its four minutes. The title-track is one of ambiences with a bass line which pods its meditation in the pensive harmonies of a violin with Arabian tears and the thousand twinkling melancholic reflections of a synth and a saxophone. Furious, Whoosh! shakes our passivity with a carousel of arpeggios which swirl such as snips of scissors in the wind. One would say a pace cut out in curt knocks on a glass anvil that a heavy bass line slowed down to scatter a tempo which cherishes all the sound and rhythmic trickeries of PLUNGE. Exit is the perfect example to describe the gradual bewitchment which seizes our ears while listening to this much diversified album from Michael Stearns. The heavy tom-toms which drum a trance of Hopis' manitou are suspending time whereas guitar chords walking on this linear rhythm add a Country touch which harmonizes its clanic cachet with the breaths of glass from synth fed by despair. It's a great track which goes unnoticed when listen to it without paying much attention, but which ends to forges a bewitching musical itch when we listen to it deeply. And I would say that it applies to two-thirds of PLUNGE. Loose Ends ends this misunderstood album of Stearns with a short intrusion in the atmospheres of jazz and blues of the American cabarets in the 50's.
Twelve tracks for 44 minutes! We have to admit that there is something to questioning about. But it's necessary to go over our prejudices and to throw a very attentive ear to each of 12 tracks in PLUNGE in order to seize all of its nuances and charms. I remember very well my first listening. I hadn't gone up to face B, after Tickle I had enough and put the vinyl into its sleeve! But the big advantage of reviewing musical works is to dive completely in it to write an objective chronicle. And that's how I fell under the charms of PLUNGE. Michael Stearns amazes with a rhythmic and melodic approach embroidered in the shadow of his keyboards and synths where the ambiences of an American folklore are returned with so correctness that we cannot pale of the ears. Even short, each track is carefully elaborated, demonstrating a surprising control of Stearns for structures more concise than his frescoes with perfumes of cosmic improvisations.
Sylvain Lupari (February 20th, 2008) ***½**
Available at Groove nl