Nov 10 2012
For myself, there has always been a strong connection between music and reading. It’s very rare that I read anything without music accompaniment, and I often start a long day of music writing (and listening) by reading first. But the connection is far denser than that. There are books, dear to me, of which I would struggle to recall most of the basic plot points and players, and yet I can vividly recall the music playing as I read those stories. Novels by William Gibson, Thomas McGuane, Jerzy Kosinski, Clarence Cooper Jr. and Ursula Le Guin and comic series by Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Paul Jenkins, Mike Mignola, and Frank Miller.. the basic facts of those stories will fade from my memory over time, but I’ll always associate them with albums by Bill Frisell, Clifford Jordan, Mercury Rev, Benjamin Koppel, Marcin Wasilewski, Esbjorn Svensson Trio, Spiritualized, Brian Blade, and Men at Work (yes, Men at Work… I was just 12 years old, so don’t start; besides, their music paired amazingly well with Le Guin’s The Tombs of Atuan).
And though doubtlessly some stories pair better with some music more than others, I think that, ultimately, a bond between music and story will form if they’re the real deal, if they, as creative pieces, incite our imagination and inspire creativity within us as readers and listeners. Because, if so, then our imaginations will be the hand that intertwines story and music. Creativity is a highly flammable concept, and god bless all those who throw matches up in the air.
Anyways, when I saw the premise behind Scott Robinson Doctette‘s Bronze Nemesis, I was instantly hooked by the premise alone. Originally a set of compositions performed live in 2001, the music is based around Robinson’s love of the Doc Savage pulp fiction novels. Robinson has built compositions and song titles around the Doc Savage stories, including “storyline” notes associated with each album track, which come included with the booklet in the CD package. All of this makes for a nifty premise and an endearing effort.
Plus, the music is just plain fun.
I’m talking about the kind of fun that comes from a good story. Characters and plot and setting that pull you right into the words if you just allow yourself to be taken away. That’s what the music of Scott Robinson Doctette’s Bronze Nemesis asks of you. Enjoy the zeal with which Robinson pursued this music and the obvious love he has for its subject, both in the notes that float out of the speakers, but also in the care he took in how the CD booklet and art was presented. Allow yourself to get swept up in his enthusiasm. Why wouldn’t you? It’s fun.
Can a person enjoy this album without knowing the premise and composition attributes and references? Sure, of course. It’s sort of oddball music, in that mad scientist way… you’re not exactly sure what potion is in the vial or what the robot’s raison d’etre is, but there’s no denying the genius that went into their creation. Interesting, and maybe dangerous.
Your album personnel: Scott Robinson (composer, tenor, bass, mezzo-soprano and contra-bass saxophones, alto clarinet, flute, theremins, bird whistle, fish rattle, gong, euphonium, slap-stick, bells, chime tree, magic wand, various other percussion and instruments), Randy Sandke (trumpet), Ted Rosenthal (piano, harpsichord), Pat O’Leary (bass), Dennis Irwin (bass), and Dennis Mackrel (drums, metal tubes, treme tera).
The deep growl of menacing woodwinds commingles with theremin trills and bird whistles. Trumpets sometimes comfort, sometimes warn of dangerous times ahead. Often this music keeps its rhythmic intentions a secret, revealing itself to the listener suddenly and without warning, as if launching a hunting net. When the music does swing or bop, it evokes imagery of late night jazz clubs when the evening is young and the calendar has only barely left the 1950s behind.
Contra-bass saxophone stirs the pot on “Fortress of Solitude,” bringing its gruff, but lively energy. This album is an intricate tapestry of percussion, particularly on “The Metal Master.” The music weighs heavily toward the eccentric (and to grand effect), but the bass solo of “The Golden Man” is refreshingly succinct, and a nice plateau before the story returns to the complex. The “Land of Always-Night” opens and returns with alluring flute sections, a nifty piano reverie between the two. “The Living Fire” is an explosion of saxes and trumpet, a brief but intense conflagration. Deep voiced and resonant instruments set the tone on “The Man Who Shook the Earth.” The album ends with “The Mental Wizard,” the music providing a satisfying sense of finality to its revelry, that life goes on even after the last note has sounded.
Of course, with characters like Doc Savage, the story never ends. Fictional characters are borne from a solitary writer’s imagination, but eventually, they become part of a collective imagination, an amalgamation of the thoughts and dreams and hopes of anybody who comes in contact with that particular character. It’s a way that stories grow into something much bigger than what is encapsulated by words on a sheet of paper. Scott Robinson added his own chapter to the Doc Savage story, and it’s a richer tableau because of it.
Released on the Doc-Tone Records label.
It appears that the album is only available for purchase as CD and Vinyl, from the label site HERE. And also from the Downtown Music Gallery site HERE. The album may become available at CDBaby and/or other outlets at some future date.
And now, for the director’s cut of this review:
As mentioned earlier, when I heard the premise of Bronze Nemesis, I was already hooked. For my own amusement (and, perhaps, yours too), I decided to jot down some stream-of-conscious notes as I listened to the album for the first time. I did this before reading the liner notes or even perusing the song titles. I decided to do a one-draft music-to-word association on my first album listen. I include those below as I initially wrote them, editing only for egregious crimes against grammar. I also include with them the actual song titles and a few of Robinson’s notes from the CD booklet.
Track One, Dave Sumner (me): Something evil, slithering through the darkness. A force rises up to challenge it.
Track One Song Title: “Man of Bronze”
Track One, Scott Robinson notes: “A musical portrait of the amazing Doc Savage, the ‘arch enemy of evil’… [the conclusion] serves as a transition which portends the looming dangers Doc will face.”
T2, DS: Exotic locales, mystery in the air, can you trust the helpful person? Perhaps they work for the bad guy. Be careful, an alien presence is near. A beautiful woman steps into the center of the room. She gestures to you to come dance. You dance for minutes that go on for a glorious eternity. You are about to kiss, when the an evil presence reveals itself.
T2 Song Title: “The Secret in the Sky”
T2, SR notes: “An amazing intelligence… streaks of fire and destruction…”
T3, DS: The bleak winter landscape is worsened by the incessant blizzard hampering your progress through the mountainous countryside. The dark castle awaits. Is she there, held captive? And what casts the shadow that is not far behind?
T3 Song Title: “He Could Stop the World”
T3, SR notes: “A crazed genius wields an unopposable force… which can halt all forms of communication, alter men’s minds and even affect the climate…”
T4, DS: Your sports car races through the early dusk night. The city lights are just ahead. You will be meeting the secret contact at Nellie’s bar on the west side. That is where you will be told the secret location. It’s a happy bar, and you are a bit sad to be there strictly for business. The pianist plays cheery tunes.
T4 Song Title: “Fortress of Solitude”
T4, SR notes: “…Doc’s secret laboratory retreat, hidden away… in the Arctic wastes… Here he can work, free of any distractions…”
T5, DS: What lies behind the glowing door? An inhuman sound issues forth. Bravely, you step through. Swirling mist, it seems to speak to you. For such an ominous presence, the words are soft and calming. Some monsters are really friends. It seeks revenge, and it asks you to help it.
T5 Song Title: “Mad Eyes”
T5, SR notes: “…suddenly the air is filled with hideous creatures, where seemingly nothing was before! …the approach of impending madness.”
T6, DS: [Editor’s Note: This song begins with a voice announcing, “The Metal Master!”]. A futuristic iron creature with antique adornments creaks to life. Its joints ache, its gears shift unwillingly, and rust scratches and scrapes in metal veins. The metal man moves slowly, then picks up steam. He is almost lifelike. He approaches to within a foot of you. He looks you over grimly, matching your gaze, a grim look upon his metal face. He smiles. Hero and sidekick are re-united. You kick back with a beer and talk about old adventures and plans for new ones. Drunkenly, you walk off together, into the night and what it may bring.
T6 Song Title: “The Metal Master”
T6, SR notes: “A power hungry scientist develops a machine… the world is helpless before the Metal Master.”
T7, DS: Rain hits the shelter, accentuating the loneliness of the mission. Even heroes get the blues.
T7 Song Title: “The Golden Man”
T7, SR notes: “A golden man rises miraculously from the sea with the power to peer into the future…”
T8, DS: The moonlight calls out sweet notes of cold comfort. The breeze is gentle, brings comfort to an injured body and bruised soul. The light of the moon coalesces, and a bridge is cut from it. Moon creates, small and lithe, come down from the moon and help the hero along, carrying you to your destination. Even as you see all about you as it happens, you dream. And in dream, you find relief from the pain, and understanding of what’s at stake if you fail. Wisdom doesn’t always come easy or make sense, but you understand more now than you did then. When you wake, the moon creatures are gone, and the sun bares down on you mercilessly.
T8 Song Title: “The Land of Always-Night”
T8, SR notes: “A hidden underground world of perpetual darkness… a Land of the Lost where mushrooms grow as big as men.
T9, DS: Alien sounds in a graveyard. Is the final conflict near? Weapons are raised. Shouts heard around the world. The clash ensues. Heroes rise, heroes fall, it is the endless war.
T9 Song Title: “The Living Fire”
T9 SR notes: “A terrified man must get to Doc Savage with an awful secret…”
T10, DS: The windstorm lashes at your brow, steals the water from your mouth, and blinds you from your path. Demons afoot.
T10 Song Title: “The Man Who Shook the Earth”
T10, SR notes: “The title says it all.”
T11, DS: The battle is won. Wounds bandaged, scars sealed. He sits at a bar, keeping to his thoughts, and thinking of her. Furtive glances from his drink to the door across the room. The bartender pours you another. You tell him to make it a double. The door across the room never moves.
T11 Song Title: “Weird Valley”
T11, SR notes: “Is the secret to eternal life hidden away in the remote Weird Valley?”
T12, DS: Back at HQ, the gang is all there. It’s a celebration, though muted. The Professor has rigged up a new distillation machine which makes 100 proof gin fizzies. The hero has a smile, but is sullen. But wait, who is that slender figure in silhouette? It’s her! She’s here! And so is the band. They dance. And when the dance is over, they finally get that kiss.
T12 Song Title: “The Mental Wizard”
T12, SR notes: “Doc encounters a golden-haired beauty from a hidden civilization…”
Stream-of-conscious analysis of my stream-of-conscious notes: Robinson got his thoughts and themes across pretty damn well. I nailed it a few times, especially in recognizing allusions to weather or evil creatures revealing themselves. However, I believe I misinterpreted the evil robot as a drinking buddy, and now as I write this out, I probably had Doc Savage around alcohol more in this review than in the entire fiction series. Of course, all of that pales in comparison to my astute observation of the appearance of the mysterious lady in the final chapter/song. In fact, I think I’ll stop right there, on that note.