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Martin Gretch - Open Heart Zoo

Martin Gretch - Open Heart ZooHave you ever read a review that threatens to 'shatter preconceptions'? Well this is another one. This man explores in a playful way then subjects his finds to methodical experimentation. The results don't wear a strait jacket as you might expect, but roll like night air over a moonlit field or beach.

In other times Martin Gretch might have been labelled 'punk' due to his idiosyncratic vocals but that's just coincidence. They are the core of his works, a delicate armature that wears the well-woven texture of mood and instrumentation. Gretch is something altogether different. It's my responsibility to let you know what you can expect from this CD and I've never found it so difficult! You might place him somewhere between Peter Gabriel and Laurie Anderson living in Twin Peaks with Alice Cooper for a neighbour! Strange but strangely engaging. Frightening but deliciously so. Sometimes he floats, sometimes he hammers but even the heavier tracks have intricate patterns that make the drums themselves very listenable. As a prog writer I have little to compare with what I'm listening to. As a prog writer I also like to be surprised and seduced and I'm frankly bloody amazed by this. Gretch has to be the most original talent I've heard in 25 years and it doesn't take the effort of forbearance to get into that you might expect from something so unusual. He'll switch within a song from heavy or thickly layered harmonies to a single forlorn voice before building back up. Sometimes it's sudden sometimes you might hardly realise it's happening.

But is it Prog? Probably not as we know it. The signature time changes and solos are not there in any recognisable that would be familiar to Proggists (you can use this word, it's okay) but if you are of the school of thought that progressive rock in it's original aims was to explore and expand musical boundaries then I would definitely have to give that nice Mr. Gretch my vote for pushing the envelope while keeping the melodic element intact. The criteria of Prog Rock as determined by popular opinion would seem to be something that involves a large element of the technically intricate and emotionally involving, a virtuoso performance combined with a strong spiritual charge. I think Martin Gretch meets that agenda too but I doubt he would include himself in that or any other classification. His source, method and execution of his art are unlike anything I've known before but the product of this alchemy is remarkable. Surprising then, that something so unlike mainstream music should make it's way into TV commercials. Track 1 'Open Heart Zoo' was used for the Lexus car commercial. Yes, that one. It had me wondering too until I hunted it down online.

The way he records is to begin with a microphone and an empty page, pouring out what comes into his head ad lib onto tape which of course runs the risk of sounding like 'nutter mumbling in a corner' but it's a calculated risk. He then distils and builds on that. A scary way to work normally but guaranteed to be fulfilling to an artist who's looking to surprise himself and genuinely mine what's within by only catching it in the corner of his mind's eye. He knows himself well and how to work with what he finds. Jackson Pollock with sound? It might be easier to compare Martin Gretch with painters than musicians for the spontaneity of his approach. If his indulges himself in his work it is not as a performer but as someone who acknowledges the inevitable responsibility of an artist to wear his art on his sleeve with all that may provoke and to investigate his art and tell his story regardless with the courage of his convictions. The CD title 'Open Heart Zoo' is the core of that statement. A professional approach and nothing less than a listener has a right to expect, you might think, but from a musician who made his first recording (track 11 'Ill') at the age of 16 it's an expression of artistic maturity and sophistication that promises even greater things to come!

Chris White



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