The Upshot: Challenging improv, Prog-jazz, and experimental sounds from a criminally obscure Cleveland band—part of the Pere Ubu extended family, no less.
BY FRED MILLS
A few months back, the estimable Smog Veil label, archivist of all things Cleveland and vicinity, issued a terrific red vinyl/one-sided 12” EP, Terminal Drive, by Pere Ubu synth maven Allen Ravenstine and percussionist Albert Dennis, as part of the label’s “Platters Du Cuyahoga” series, which to date has included titles from the Schwartz Fox Blues Crusade (reviewed HERE), the Mr. Stress Blues Band, and the Robert Bensick Band. It’s been an impressive and revealing series to date, connecting a lot of musical dots that no doubt have proven elusive thus far to all but the most plugged-in Clevo die-hards (or longtime residents). Folks like yours truly typically know about Ubu, Rocket From the Tombs, and the other usual suspects, but the available knowledge and resources have always been relatively slim, which is why Smog Veil—particular kudos to stalwart liner notesman Nick Blakey and his research partners Frank Mauceri and Andrew Russ—has become THE go-to resource. Without the label’s ongoing diligence (obsession?), a crucial chapter in American pre-punk history might’ve gone permanently lost, or at very least, overlooked.
Which brings us to Hy Maya, whose complete 1972-73 output—shows caught on tape, a few rehearsals and demos, plus a “proper” Cleveland studio session—are collected as The Mysticism of Sound & Cosmic Language on CD and vinyl (gorgeous blue/marbled wax at that, as a double-LP gatefold set with insightful liner notes from Andrew Russ), which also includes a thick booklet boasting plenty of rare archival photos and gig posters alongside an extensive oral history from members Bensick, Ravenstine, and Cynthia Black, plus journalist Charlotte Pressler. The lineup was apparently in constant flux, Bensick being the sole constant, at pints not featuring Ravenstine—Black was an occasional member—while including, variously, bassist Albert Dennis, Pere Ubu drummer Scott Krauss, pianist Bob Friedhofer, and percussionist Richard Schneider. Yeah, this was the proverbial “art-rock” collective, and perhaps its essential instability was what prevented Bensick’s outfit from earning more than a few brief mentions from journalists over the years—and also prevented any music being officially released, until now. Kudos to the label and studio whiz Paul Hamann, who tackled the daunting task of tape transferring and mastering, along with Sam Habash, who was responsible for the actual tape restoration.
The Mysticism also makes for the proverbial “uneasy listening,” in part because it’s sourced from both live and studio material rather than being an actual “album” in the conception/execution sense. That’s not to say it isn’t a fascinating listen, however. From moments of raw improvisation to more textured drones and injections of industrial noise to backwards passages—the minimalist track “Left Brain Reflexions” features exotic percussion flourishes, searing electronics, and even a person whistling— Hy Maya clearly had been kissed by the creative muse.
That they probably confused as many as they entranced didn’t do ‘em any favors, but my bet is that the members had the ability to surprise one another each time they rehearsed or performed, and that’s something you can’t quantify, artistically. Oh, did I mention that this is the kind of album that has the ability to surprise every Clevo-attuned listener – and make ’em believers? Utterly, transcendentally, essential.
DOWNLOAD: “A Quantum Mechanic Mambo” (1972 studio recording, featuring flute, jazz bass, world percussion), “Hold the Holograph” (1972 home recording at Ravenstine’s house), “Ship of Fools” (1972 live recording, possibly the most “straightforward” track in terms of having a full band arrangement and spoken word vocals—like a poetry recitation—from Bensick), “Dance of Illusion” (1972 rehearsal, a 16-minute slice of piano/bass/drums Prog-jazz with Bensick vocals).