Secret Signals 3
(2019 - New House Music - USA)
The 3rd and final of the rare cassette only issues from archive series, now presented on limited edition of 300 compact disc. Nicely cleaned and digitally transferred by Joe Paradiso (who did the same for Secret Signals 1 & 2). More live and studio recordings by this American innovative jazz/avant/experimental band that fans of Soft Machine, Henry Cow, 'Out Jazz' and even a touch of early Gong, did and always will love. Add a liberal dose of Frank Zappa and you have what I think is the most balanced and accurate picture of what The Muffins did best. Mixing humor with studious instrumental jazz of many shapes and colors.
The line up on '3' is: Scott Raffel - saxophone, bass clarinet / Billy Swann - bass, guitar, vocals, tape [Uncle Don Tapes], tenor saxophone / Doug Elliott - trombone / Tom Scott - winds, percussion / Paul Sears - drums, bass trombone / and Dave Newhouse - keyboards and winds. Compositions are divided and further details are included in notes of this nice physical package.
The beginning track 'Uncle Don (At The Helm)' instantly gives any newcomer a dose of delicious avant-garde jazz, fit for Kings. As strong as anything the band has ever done, this sets the stage and pace for the entire release. With the 2nd song 'Children and Art', you get another side of the group. A strumming, quasi psychedelic ditty from slumberland. One aspect of The Muffins with this lineup (example 'World Maps 1') features multiple winds, that come in configurations of double sax, bass trombone, bass clarinet, and other varied brass/winds formations. The versatility on this end of the trilogy is outstanding and certainly a strong point. With all the looks at what the band can do, it still remains very consistent with a flow as if it was originally recorded as a concept album.
'Secret Signals 3' is like taking a journey on record. In fact, it becomes clear that all 17 tracks are flawless and performed by excellent musicians with a sky high skill level. As a unit, The Muffins seem to make this salad of good things without breaking a sweat. I suspect it was not so easy as they make it sound, but the effortless feel coming to the ears of the audience, makes it softer in reception. The comedy is superb, and tidbits like a loop of "Do you know the Muffin Man" hits all the right spots. Followed by a marching wind ensemble delight 'March of the Suburban Blow-Hards' is proof that anything can happen at a Muffins concert or on record. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Reviewed by Lee Henderson 7 - 8 - 2019