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The Archaic Revival: Transformation Number Nine
2002, Psycho Audible Records, PA-0004

Transformation Number Nine by The Archaic Revival is a collection of progressive, instrumental compositions that feature unusual instrumentation and musical style. The sonic texture is a combination of pure toned piano, acoustic bass, and percussionry that is complimented by the contrasting electric violin and guitar voicings. The level of instrumental depth that these voicings are set is fairly complex and gives this effort its merit. Though the compositions articulate unusual themes and progressive musical ideas, the music has a compelling aspect to it because these unusual elements that have a tendency towards the abstract and complex, are woven in a manner that is coherent. Some of the arrangements are more easily accessible than others, but the some of the ones that are not so easily accessible are intriguing because of the interesting musical ideas that are explored. The effort explores some complex, modern musical motifs that demonstrate the depth of musical knowledge that the group possesses. And though the album has a distinctive medieval and Irish feel to it, the complexity of the chord structuring, harmonization, and timing is far beyond anything from the medieval period. The music takes motifs from the medieval and Irish styles and modernizes them with 20th century tonality, structuring, dynamics, and meters. The end result is more intellectually impressive than easily accessible, but the music is absorbable and digestible so it makes for an interesting balance. The technicianry involved to execute the complex composition is also impressive giving hint that these players are most likely accomplished musicians with formal training.

The Archaic Revival has struck a compelling balance between complex musical technicianry and compositional excellence on their 2002 release Transformation Number Nine. This album is geared towards a musically educated audience that is capable of digesting and understanding the complexities that they have mastered. Though the music has some basis in accessible medieval themes, the integration of these themes with the complex modern musical elements catapults the musical experience far beyond any relatively primitive medieval foundations. Due to the unusual nature of the musical character of this CD, it is difficult to determine what listeners constitute the potential audience. But, I suspect that fans of instrumental music that enjoy the provocative exploration that is intrinsic in exploratory, modern progressive music will take an interest in this CD. The balance that the group has achieved between provocative exploration and coherent composition is truly compelling.

Guitars Bill Curtis
Electric Violin Anna Hubbell
Drums Victor Williams
Acoustic Bass Jon Nazdin
Electric Piano Jeremy Cubert
1) The Beginning
2) Iquitos
3) Drowsy
4) Afterlife
5) Desert Sky
6) Cryptic Notes
7) SOS (Suspension of Disbelief)
8) Dim Sum Hora
9) The Raven's Return
10) Don Fransisco
11) Suite Nine Eleven
12) The End

~ Christopher Ruel ~ ~ ~ Chris Ruel's Monthly Spotlight

Acoustic Tales: The Archaic Revival (CD, 68:30) (PA-0002) PA-0002

OK, we're going to start today's review off with a riddle. Here goes:

What do you get when you mix blues guitar, Indian percussion, and new age

A. A tasteful and delicate mesh of disparate world styles.
B. A brain-splitting headache.
C. Acoustic Tales' airey release The Archaic Revival
D. McDonald's new "McScrapple" breakfast sandwich.

What's the answer? Well, that depends. "C" is definitely the right answer no
matter who you are. However, if your musical tastes lean towards more
soothing and relaxing fare, than "A" may be correct. However, if you're like
me (except for the six toes on each foot and the copious amounts of back
hair), "B" is more likely the right answer. (If you chose "D", please get
your head checked). I make no bones about the fact that "new age" isn't
exactly my cup of tea, but as long as my Editor keeps sending me this stuff
I've gotta review it. And so, with open ears and open mind I began on my
journey into Acoustic Tales' not-so-subtle mixture of widely-varying styles.
I traveled up and down its rivers of violin. I dug down into the earthy
tones of the blues-inspired guitars. I floated ethereally along with the
Indian-inspired percussion. I tinkered tinkerfully with the pianific
soundages of the Steinway (OK, so that was weak...).

And do you know what? I still don't like it.

Acoustic Tales is primarily made up of multi-instrumentalist Bill Curtis and
violinist Anna Hubbell - both very talented musicians. They are supported on
this journey by a few side musicians including percussionist Victor Williams
who, according to a sticker located on the back of the CD case which
obscured the track information causing me to have to pop out the little
plastic thingy in order to read the $*^%( track names almost resulting in a
lost finger, is a fellow who once traveled in the same musical circles as
John McLaughlin. The original guitar and violin tracks were recorded live at
a Borders' bookstore in Gaithersburg, MD - an establishment that yours truly
has shopped at on many occasions. So I do at least have to give "props" to
my hometown "peeps" before I start complaining about their album.
Gaithersburg, Maryland - TOP OF THE FOOD CHAIN! Yo Yo Yo!!!

Anyway, regarding the music on Archaic Revivial (Ed: I was wondering
when you were getting to that...), my problem is not with execution but
rather with planning. There is nothing at all wrong with Curtis and
Hubbell's musical abilities - they are both very good "players". However,
their compositions - for the most part - didn't really hold my interest for
very long. Quite frankly, blues guitar doesn't really mix well with new age
violin and Indian percussion. There were times when Curtis would rip into a
blues-y acoustic riff right on top of some spacey new age violin-ing (???)
by Hubbell, resulting in a cacophonic mish-mash of textures that go about as
well together as peanut butter and bananas (no offense to Elvis). I swear I
heard Howlin' Wolf rise from his Mississippi grave and begin a long undead
jaunt to Gaithersburg to put an end to this misuse of the blues.

That is not to say that the entire CD is bad - there are actually a few
moments towards the middle of the album where the musicians show they are
quite capable of composing some nice music. On the sub 2-minute "Melting
Pot", the guitar and violin engage in a bit of "math music" similar to the
interlocking guitars of 1980's King Crimson that was very effective and
interesting. "'Sae'" is a delicate and beautiful piece that manages to stay
simple enough to be engaging. And the track "The Raven" actually throws
Latin-inspired rhythms into the mix to create a surprisingly engaging and
very emotionally played piece. There is also a bit in the middle of the
otherwise uninspiring piece "Zero Point" where the intensity of the playing
picked up tremendously causing me to awaken out of my violin-induced daze
and take notice. Even though I didn't enjoy most of the CD, these few tracks
were very good indeed and made it clear that the musicians were clearly
playing with passion and emotion. That definitely gets points in my book.

Unfortunately, the rest of the album has a certain "sameness" that makes it
difficult to listen to the whole way through. The first track "Nun Ziata" is
a gear-shifting piece that has some unintentionally-comical sounding "blues
violin" that is terribly out of place. On "Kani" you have your stock new age
waterfall sounds accompanied by a very multicultural Ocarina (or something
that sounds like what my wife told me ocarinas sound like) that is too
clichéd to be taken very seriously (despite the delicate piano work from
Jeremy Cubert). Finally, the track "Rising Sun" brings some synthesized
Oriental textures to the mix, a mood that is immediately destroyed by the
entrance of Hubbell's overbearing violin. Too many moments like these ruin
any chance of the album hitting full stride.

There are some instrumental moments that stand out and deserve mention. On
several of the tracks, Jeremy Cubert's grand piano really shines and is
played with just the right amount of grace and subtlety. His playing is
excellent throughout. Also, when not stuck in "blues mode" Bill Curtis'
guitar work is quite nice. Unfortunately, most of his best work is buried
beneath Hubbell's violin, so you really have to listen hard to notice his

I must also mention that the CD I was sent was unable to play the track
"Nagual", so for all I know it could rival Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" or Three
Dog Night's "Momma Told Me Not To Come" in its majesty. Sadly, I will never

So in short, I didn't like The Archaic Revival very much, but I
definitely have respect for the musicians abilities and the passion with
which they play their music. The band does show some very good compositional
skills at certain points of the album, but unfortunately fall into "new age
cliché" territory too often (a fate that most similar bands I've heard
succumb to as well). So unless you've really in the mood for some easy
listening ear candy, I'd pass on this one.

- Michael Askounes (

Bill Curtis - Guitars, Guitar Synthesizer, Flute, Percussion
Anna Hubbell - Electric Violin
John Nazdin - Upright Electric Bass
Jeremy Cubert - Steinway grand piano
Victor Williams: Percussion

1. Nun Ziata (3:42)
2. Kani (5:41)
3. Zero Point (7:30)
4. Nagual (3:45)
5. Little Kilie (5:11)
6. Melting Pot (1:59)
7. Red Tide (3:50)
8. "Sae" (3:22)
9. The Raven (7:46)
10. Rising Sun (5:48)
11. Blues O.D.C. (3:40)
12. Sunny Afternoon (1:31)
13. Zombie (3:44)
14. The Inquisition (5:22)

EER Editor's note: Bill Curtis and Anna Hubbell are best know for their fine fusion work in ZAPOTEC. They sound like a collision between Curved Air, Boud Deun, and Ozone Quartet but Zapotec tends to towards a much Mahavishnu guitar rock.




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