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Published: 2002/11/23
by Michael Lello

The Only Juan – Jerry Granelli/Jamie SaftIron Sky – Jerry Granelli/Jeff Reilly

Love Slave Records 105

Love Slave Records 106

To say that experimental percussionist Jerry Granelli's most recent releases
are avant-garde would be like calling Barry Bonds a home run hitter. You
wouldn't be inaccurate, but youreally be selling both parties short.

Granelli, who teams up with Jamie Saft for The Only Juan and
clarinetist Jeff Reilly for Iron Sky, conjures up dark, atmospheric
images, garnished only occasionally with a discernible melody line. Is there
artistic merit here? You bet. Is this accessible music, even for the
high-minded rock fan? That's a more challenging question. Most of the
material is esoteric and doesn't sound much like anything on the jam scene,
never mind the alternative or mainstream rock scenes. But the material does
evoke various feelings and does hint at a journey that runs a gamut of
feelings, mostly of the dark variety.

After "Solo Bells", a quick intro, "Baby San" kicks off the proceedings on
"The Only Juan" with a cacophony of percussion and pounding, gurgling,
nightmarish organs. Granelli deploys a toy box full of percussion elements,
from Chinese cymbals to vibra slap before eerie whispering in the background
builds to demonic screams. Scary stuff indeed. Equally disturbing is "Gong,"
which features oddball, intensely whispered vocals like "You're not using
the books properly, you're looking at the pictures but not reading the

"Difficult Dread" features an upbeat piano line, finally a hint at a ray of
light beyond the dark horizon. "Difficult Dread", up to this point the most
accessible track on The Only Juan foreshadows a few even more poppy
songs, like "Rainy Night House", which has a clear piano melody juxtaposed
with some loud, but not out of place drums.

One of the album's more compelling moments follows with "Soloduet". Granelli
shows his jazz chops on the drum kit before locking into a loping groove.
About three minutes into the track, Saft's distant piano trills fade in,
using a minimalist approach to build an attention-grabbing canopy of sound.
Just when you are lulled into the belief that things are taking a turn for
the normal, here comes Clear The Room, with its odd vocal outbursts
sounding like a riot in a mental hospital.

But two tracks later, the riot is quelled and what do we have? A cover of
Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'". No kidding. The piano line from the
original pop-rock classic is intact, but the vocals are distant and the
drums grow louder and more dissonant and bass-heavy until the melody is for
all intents and purposes dead. But trickling through the rubble, the piano
line reemerges and fades out.

Iron Sky, Granelli's collaboration with Jeff Reilly, is arguably even
more ambitious than The Only Juan. For this record, in addition to
its percussion/clarinet breakdown, the duo plays on iron und sculptures
created by John Little. The album was partially recorded at East Dover Iron
Works in Nova Scotia, Canada. The 10 tracks, titled "Movement 1" through
"Movement 10", are at times reminiscent of American composer Harry Partch,
who invented his own instruments to convey his bizarre and intriguing

"Movement 2" finds a plaintive clarinet more classical sounding than jazz,
but of course all genre descriptions are null and void when you're
accompanied by banging on iron sculptures. Reilly's clarinet is backed by
industrial, metallic humming and later some clanging on the sound
sculptures. "Movement 5" features a sprightly clarinet figure before a sonic
meltdown and "Movement 7" begins like a less in-your-face, darker "Stomp".

Strangely, while Iron Sky may be a more ambitious undertaking than
The Only Juan, at least in its instrumentation, it could be
considered to be more listenable. Or at least, less challenging to listen
to. The soundscapes Granelli and Reilly create will likely never be included
on one of those soothing new age compilations including Enya and Enigma, but
there is a steady, compelling emotional quality throughout the disc, and the
sounds are rarely jarring.

Both albums are worthy of critical recognition. Of course, that's not saying
all that much; these are the types of high-brow creations critics tend to
drool over. As for the casual fan, it might be worth a try, but don't think
yourself a boor if you don't get it.

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