Naked Elf - "Yi"
(Solution Science Systems 2002)
From Aural Innovations #21 (October 2002)
Some time ago, I ventured into the domain of www.mp3.com to see what morsels of goodness I could find amongst the heaps of middling demo recordings and drum-machine-laden DIY material that no doubt existed there (I heard some of that too). I also did some keyword searches on some basic words like 'krautrock' or 'Hawkwind' I think. I dunno - it was a long time ago.
At some point, I found a few bands that were intriguing enough to download a track or two, and then go to the trouble of burning onto a separate CD to take home and play on my computer there that actually had a sound card. Upon finishing that task, I happily discovered two wonderful improvisational bands that A.I. readers should definitely know about. (And a third, Big Block 454, which was rather fun too.) One was Tungsten 74 from Brooklyn NY, and who were already written about here in this very e-zine, as I soon learned myself. The other was Naked Elf, a trio from Rome, GA who are involved in several different forms (also including Taybacks and Solution Science Systems), with this one the outlet for pure instrumental improv-type works. The lineup for 'YI' is Rob MacGrogran (G), Kelly Shane (D), and Andy Tegethoff (B, K).
The first Naked Elf tune I heard via mp3.com was "Orion: New Genesis," the finale here on 'YI.' This piece is a full seven-and-a-half minutes of inspired psychedelic-rock, beginning with a Roger Waters-like sense of dread or perhaps "nervous urgency." After the long intro, it settles into a 6/8 version of the same opening motif, and then gets to work with the intertwining guitars and synths, and also some random crossfire on bass. The final stately space-march outro brings it all back to a controlled, albeit heavy, landing. A great tune, and I didn't need to hear more to know this was not a band to pass over. Oh yeah, on the album there are 10 other tracks before we get to this point, so maybe I shouldn't have jumped the gun. "Books of Bokonon" is the opener, a more progressive yet funkish entity; hard to get a handle on this one - and that keeps it interesting throughout. Track 3 was originally called "3rd Electron from the Nucleus" (on my promo CD), but it's since been renamed "Electric Bread" apparently. Naked Elf manage here again to cram three tracks into one 5-minute piece, with the light and airy mid-section having a "Norwegian Wood" feel to it. More often, boisterous drumming, piercing and swirling synths and f/X-laden guitars are to be expected.
"In the Domain of the Dread Dormammu" is the first of several tracks that reminded me of some of the wonderful things that Djam Karet produce. This one begins with a deliberate pounding beat, and later morphs into more reggae/dub territory... and it's quite cosmic all the while. The herky-jerky "Malphas Inaugurated" also ranks highly, and features a passage of glissando-like, yet harder and fuzzier, guitar that I really liked. "CircuSSS- The Performing Bestiary" is a bunch of silliness as a diversionary tactic I suppose - carnival music put forth with synthesized percussion and various bleeps and blips. Before reaching the awesome finale though, there are some more high moments in very spacey "Socks, Clocks," starting off with an up-tempo free-form jam with all instrumental voices represented, shifting then into prog mode with a heavily-syncopated bridge section, and then finally wrapping up like something off Pink Floyd's 'Animals' ("Sheep" is it?). Very nice.
I couldn't imagine anyone who likes Djam Karet, Alien Planetscapes, Escapade, etc. not taking immediately to this band as well. The musicianship is top-notch and the works seem well-rehearsed even though they might only be partially scripted beforehand, I'm not sure. I had actually to go back and play the album through to make sure the music was purely instrumental before writing this review, which is a sign that there's nothing seemingly 'missing' to Naked Elf's repertoire. Often, with a less-talented or maybe 'incomplete' instrumental group, I find myself hoping for some vocals (or at least something 'song-like') to appear just for something to grab onto amidst the perpetual non-structured flotsam and jetsam. Just as with Djam Karet, I never got that feeling listening to Naked Elf.
In addition to http://www.mp3.com/nakedelf, Naked Elf music is available on the web through http://solutionsciencesystems.com. It's worth the few minutes of your day to make that virtual trip.
Reviewed by Keith Henderson