I preface this with a warning: This is not an easy listen. Nor is this easy listening, for that matter.
Do you ever wake up in the morning and drive to work, listening to the weather reports and wondering what effect the weatherman has on your day? I don't. Alan Licht apparently does. The opening piece of his massive 2-disc set, "A New York Minute" features 15 minutes of snippets from radio weathermen. From what I understand, it attempts to show how said weathermen (or weatherpeople as the PC-folks would like me to say) use improvisation and how they want to have a positive influence on your day. Really? Am I missing something here? Whenever I see or hear weather reports, I don't get any of that from it. I get the weather forecast and some annoying comments. Color me confused. This piece drags on and is pretty boring. I get my weather reports from the internet for a reason.
"Freaky Friday" has two parts to it. The beginning is a circus organist playing after hours. His job bores the fuck out of him, so he just sits around improvising on his instrument. You can tell he has fond feelings towards his instrument and that he started out with grandiose dreams. However, it drags. Bad. After 8 minutes of organ noodling, I want to claw my eyes out. It seems to go nowhere and doesn't do much for me. Licht is a crafty one, though. Just when you're about to go crazy, he mixes it up and brings in layers of beautiful, crisp guitars. It's a very subtle piece reminiscent of Tortoise. The gentle strums paint a landscape rich in blue tones, sheltered by a sky polka-dotted with stars. As a cold breeze flows over your skin, you crawl into your sleeping bag for warmth and listen to the ambience of nature. This is "Muhammad Ali & The Crickets." Backed by a chorus of crickets, Licht blends an eclectic mix of horns which eventually fuse into heavy metal guitar riffs. I wouldn't exactly call it good. The most interesting, and perhaps best, part of the piece is the African tribal chanting which is put on top of this bizarre music. Thankfully, the awful metal/classical/whatever fusion stops, and we listen to the crickets and what sounds like an African peasant rally. It's visual in its impact; you feel like you're sitting in the middle of this meeting taking place, but nobody can actually see you. You're a ghost. "Another Sky" lulls you out of disc one and into a deep sleep. Our circus organist returns to drone us away.
Disc two is what makes the rest of the album worth it. Two live pieces, "14, Second, Fifth" and "Remington Khan" comprise the 75 minutes of music on disc two alone. It's monumental and not easy to get through, but worth the effort it takes. The former piece is a harsh, Alastair Galbraith-tinged drone. It's long, just under 38 minutes. Imagine the opening of the first flower of spring, and then being able to watch the full life of that flower. That is "14, Second, Fifth." It crawls along until bursting open with distortion so the sunlight can seep in. Heavily distorted guitars mask the ringing tones underneath, but don't overpower the piece. It's a tidal wave of sound and it fully encompasses you. It's a stunning amount of sound, but so warm that it won't turn you off. Once the rush is over and the pollination has occurred, it slowly descends into its ultimate demise. This is a sensational piece of music. "Remington Khan" is its antithesis; it's barely audible until about 7 minutes in. With hints of post-rock and space-rock, this 39 minute (!) track somehow manages to remain interesting. It's mostly a duel between two guitar tracks; one plays a more chord-like structure while the other hints at playing lead parts. The two intermingle like a social butterfly at her wedding reception. It's a very subtle track, but Licht keeps it flowing naturally. His talent at improvisation is undeniable. The harsh, distorted bass signifies the end and reduces the piece to a growl.
I would have been happier with two separate albums instead of a 2-disc set. While it works as a whole, the two seem better on their own. Disc 1 is more of an experimental work with multiple focuses. Disc 2 is all about improvising and letting his guitar do the talking for him. Licht's live sets must be fantastic if these two cuts are any indication. His guitar is full of life and emotion, and the fact he improvises most (if not all) of this work is remarkable. These compositions are complex by nature and almost flawless in execution. Alan Licht is a modern-day troubadour. 6/10 -- Brad Rose (25 May, 2005)