Back in October of 2006 I had the opportunity to review the re-issued 1984 self-titled Conveniens debut album and critiqued their work as unique, challenging, and experimental - but graded the effort as uneven. While the musicianship was outstanding, many of the compositions were constructed as a collection of helter skelter random snippets of sound textures rather than a cohesive piece of music.
On the follow-up album “Clear”, the duo of keyboardist Sterling Smith and drummer/percussionist John Maz remained the driving force behind this re-issued 1987 hardcore/progressive/new age/jazz project; expanding the sound pallet with the inclusion of sessions players Tom Jonusaitis (accordion , bass, vocals) Ted Blood Buchanan (tenor sax), Gerraid Hill (flute) and Lori Payn (banshee vocals).
Their second album sees the group take a more balanced approach to their musical compositions, tightening up the over all arrangements yet retaining the smoking energetic free-form jam sensibilities found in the best jazz groups.
John Maz is a crazed kinetic drummer providing some of the most energetic moments on the album; while Sterling Smith provides a nice blend of piano interludes augmented by macabre twisted synthesized soundscapes.
Jazz great John Zorn immediately comes to mind when listening to the track “Rowte 66”, as well as the Zeuhl groups such as Magma. As a matter of fact, many comparisons can be drawn between this album and Christian Vander’s group Magma.
Unfortunately, mixed among the rock solid gems are mediocre tracks like “Death By Poetry” which went on way too long, and appeared to be recorded by a group of drunken Indians at a powwow, complete with mumbling, grunting, garbled words, and Indian war drums. Sorry guys – it didn’t work for me.
“Cadium Red” is a real departure from many of the other tunes on the album, and a delightful stand out track that brings to mind the quiet melodic piano and flute moments of early Camel ("The Snow Goose").
The inclusion of Ted Blood Buchanan (sax) provides a real boost to the group, as in evidence on the track “Rolling”. I was reminded of the outstanding German jazz ensemble Passport. I sure hope he was along for the ride on the band’s third release.
Once again I find myself grading this as ‘uneven’ in spots – but for altogether different reasons. The musicianship is still as outstanding as ever, and the band now seems to have a firm handle on composing and arranging a cohesive piece of music – but just a few tunes on the disc are not up to the musical standards the band is clearly capable of producing. There is some great energetic material on “Clear” – marred only by a few weaker moments – so don’t let these momentary faux pas keep you from listening and making a decision for yourself. After all that’s what the ‘skip track’ button is for on your CD player.
Reviewed by Joseph Shingler on March 20th, 2008