Extreme Measures - Vialij Kuprij

Extremism In The Name of Prog-Fusion Is No Virtue

ExtremeMeasures (Shrapnel)
Vitalij Kuprij

By Jeff Kallman

In 1970, perhaps, this kind ofthing was somewhat extreme. But nowadays extreme is what someonechooses to call it (and, let's get real, most of what is called ‘extreme' in music nowadays is little more than a morehistrionic variation of things which went before, alternative rockbeing but one vivid piece of evidence). And, in 1970, we had not yetgot the full measure of what came to be called "prog-rock"and what was known right off as "fusion " -- at least, notuntil Emerson, Lake and Palmer let the world know (with theperipatetic Tarkus)that they weren'tkidding the first time around, Yes discovered that a set of Orientalscriptures could (and, with TalesFrom Topographic Oceans, did)make for wonderfully expansive boredom and the Mahavishnu Orchestramade the late-Coltrane mistake of presuming that spiritualaspirations excused musical discombobulation.

Kuprij has all the rightingredients to have been something of a second-line arena attractionin the original prog-fusion milieu. Not the least of them is anapparent inability to turn down the furnace once in awhile. ExtremeMeasures, in fact,comes across as sounding very much like the work of someone obsessedwith having been born too late to play in that league. He is at leastas histrionic a keyboardsman as Keith Emerson, and he likewiseindulges periodic flirtations alone at the keys with the classicalrepertoire when the pyrotechnics get too wearing.

In fact, the opening "Prologue " is actually very charming, if not necessarilyinspired, and his delivery of Chopin's "Etude 11 in A Minor"would probably have gained him at least a polite response in recital,albeit from an audience unaccustomed to Chopin being pinned to thewall and thrashed to within an inch of his life. And you could saylikewise for his takes on Chopin's "Etude 12 in C Minor,""32 Variations in C Minor " (Beethoven) and "Improvisationon a Theme By J.S.Bach " -- Horowitz he ain't, but neither is hetedious in these moments. But, alas, he hasgot this band andthese bombastic compositions to blow off his chest with them.

Guitarist George Bellas has all the mannerisms and the scale skills of hisprog-fusion predecessors. And, like those musicians at their mostself-possessed, he plays as though the only thing to do whenever hecatches himself spinning a potentially engaging melodic or harmonicidea out of his guitar is to drown it in an upchuck of noisy scalejumping. Drummer Jon Doman seems to have been absent when it was timefor him to learn about colourism and shadings inBeat-the-Pots-and-Pans-Like-Bruford School, although to his credithe, like Bruford, has a knack for recovering from apparent mistakeswith it-was-supposed-to-be-there aplomb. And bassist John Ondersounds as though he's half out of ideas to keep the mayhem under somesemblance of reasonable control.

Ishould have known better, of course, based upon the titles: "Destination, " "Extreme Measures, " "Depression, " "Crying In The Shadows," "Track On Fire, " "Intrigue. " I'd like to think Kuprij knows better as well.But he composes and plays, based on the evidence here, as though hehas learned nothing of what sent prog-fusion into disrepute in thefirst place. You would almost like to strap him to a chair, lock himin a closet, and give him nothing to hear but Herbie Hancock'sThrust. Itmight not teach him anything about cutting a deep and wide groove,but it just might teach him a thing or three about the uses ofsubtlety.