Hana - "Omen" (First World Music 2001, FWD01.11)
Land - "Road Movies" (First World Music 2001, FWD011.09)
From Aural Innovations #18 (January 2002)
The first release by the duo of Jeff Greinke (solo artist and Land frontman) and Anisa Romero (ex-Sky Cries Mary) was entitled 'Hana,' and now they've elevated that moniker to bandname status. In the process, the two have enlisted the help of Land's Fred Chalenor on acoustic bass (and occasionally electric bass and also 'stick') and also Anisa's former Sky Cries Mary bandmates Ben Ireland (drums) and Roderick Romero (guesting on one track). I can't really say the formation of a more formalized 'band' was the important step that led them from the disappointing debut to 'Omen,' but something is definitely different 'cause 'Omen' is really a fantastic piece of work. Greinke is an electronic soundscapist type, and his solo work is a little too sparse for my tastes, but I can't argue that the guy isn't capable of creating a proper mood for others to further enhance.
And as it turns out, Anisa Romero I discover now has the perfect voice for Greinke's tapestry of aural delights. On the first album, she hardly sang any lyrics so all the effort seemed to go into cute sampling effects of her let's say... vocalization experiments, and I just didn't feel it was working. Here, on just one of the nine tracks Romero does merely the ole' space whispery trick ("Asab") whereas the other eight all have full-fledged lyrics. And although the lines are short and sweet, and slowly-delivered with frequent bouts of emotive expressionism, the words just seem to pour out elegantly and meld instantly with the artful organick-electronic mixture underneath. Much of the time, there are multiple lines of her voice, harmonizing with or sometimes answering herself, and I haven't heard her voice work so well, even with my beloved Sky Cries Mary (RIP). The opening two tracks are both outstanding...the programmed rhythms of "Falling" are seemingly close to a 78rpm techno 12" played at 33 1/3, but the whole work drips with a strange gloomy ambience that is conversely warmly comforting. "Close My Mind" finds Chalenor opting for the electric bass, with the drums similarly going all-electronic, but the result is still wholeheartedly positive. In fact, oddly I find myself indifferent to whether (semi-)acoustic or electronic devices are employed on this album, and that's highly unusual. It's just that the earthiness of the music is sustained throughout this work no matter how 'artificially' it might have been done. A rare feat. (I have always found it to be rather peculiar that so-called 'new age' music or anything that uses nature as inspiration is most often created by the most advanced devices of our technocracy. But back to the topic...)
Although the whole 53-minute work runs together seamlessly like one long symphony, there are rhythmic mode shifts in places. "Too Much" comes off like a krautrock 'bossa-nova' with decidedly Liebezeit-esque drumming, and prominent acoustic bass and spacey synths. Very nice. "Death" (following the dark, dreamy intro) is uptempo and hardly dirge-like but rather more like Korai Orom, with a cool smooth bassline (perhaps that's actually the stick-playing here?), and an effective thumpy real/fake drum synthesis. There are also a few more techno-ish passages that appear in 'Omen,' but they are never of the mind-assaulting type. In essence, 'Omen' might seem like a sullen and introverting affair (which I guess it may be), but I found the whole thing rather inspiring rather than depressing. I don't often take to overtly 'non-rock' formulations (nary a guitar to be heard here), but when I do...well, this album has the same effect on me as Cluster's 'Sowiesoso.' One of my choices for the year's best.
While I'm at it, I'll say a few words about Greinke's other band project Land, a somewhat similar five-piece band also including bassist Chalenor mainly on electric here. 'Road Movies' came out earlier last year I think, this one an all-instrumental affair with a variety of influences invading the predominantly (I suppose) 'groovy jazz' style. Unlike Hana, there's guitar here (Dennis Rea) but hardly any riffing, the cool basslines and Greinke's electronic rhythms still the dominant force. Drummer Bill Rieflin mixes in his fills and such smoothly with the e-beats. But without vocals and only limited lead lines, the music struggles to find an identity for much of the 48 minutes. Two tracks in particular do work really nicely though. "Frolic" is tribal and 'ethnic-sounding' (great bass soloing here) and "Sauce" features a 'rosin-y' drone backing and great spacey effects (and more cool bass). The synth rhythms on this one I'd classify as tolerable - not the strongest point of the music here. Other tracks have a bit of 'cool jazz' flavor, elsewhere a bit of funkiness and a smidgeon of reggae. "Strife" was also quite good with lots of (seemingly) jungle sound effects. My biggest personal beef with 'Road Movies' is the frequent bits of trumpet, which I am hardly ever happy to hear.... but maybe that's just me. Overall, it's a decent enough album, but against the new improved Hana it seems a little secondary. I suppose I might make the suggestion that the two bands combine into one (given the two common members already), but I'm not sure that's really necessary since Hana (as it is now) is working so well.
First World Music is at PO Box 30932, Seattle WA 98103 and on the web at http://www.firstworldmusic.com, where not surprisingly you can also find out about Greinke's other works and also Roderick's post-SCM project No Futuro (also including SCM guitarist Bill Bernhard).
Reviewed by Keith Henderson