Sunday, January 10, 2016

Aurora - 1977 - Aurora


01. Opus 8 (11:53)
02. Within (5:56)
03. Dancing on a Plain in Spain (8:14)
04. Is There Any More? (4:27)
05. Off-Blue (4:54)
06. Eurhythmia (5:02)
07. Savage Lust (6:55)
08. Polyfolk Dance (5:05)
09. Khartouhm (9:58)
010. Jubilee (10:40)

Tracks 1-3 were recorded at January Sound Studios 5/27/1977.
Tracks 4-10 were recorded live at January Sound Studios in 1977 for broadcast on KZEW-FM in Dallas.

- Mark Menikos / violin
- Skip Sorelle / guitars
- Martin McCall / drums
- Roy Vogt / bass
- John Sharp / keyboards

This mid-70's Texas outfit was inspired by the music of Jean-Luc Ponty (the band was indeed named after Ponty's album "Aurora"). During their short existence (1976-80), they never actually released any official album. The two founders of AURORA are volinist Mark Menikos and guitarist Skip SoRelle. Menikos' mentors are Jean-Luc Ponty and Stéphane Grapelli, whereas SoRelle draws his influence from jazz legends John Coltrane, Chick Corea and Larry Coryell. Although playing in different bands, the two somehow met up - Menikos had invited SoRelle to play some ZAPPA and MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA material. They hit it off so instantly that they decided to embark on their own musical venture together. Bassist Roy Vogt, keyboardist John Sharp and drummer Martin McCall were eventually added to the roster.

Their eponymous cd, released in 1999, is a mixture of studio recordings and live gigs. A hunk of burning prog jazz-fusion, the album clearly shows the two founders' respective styles, where Menikos' violin-dominated pieces are easily distinguisable from SoRelle's fusion numbers. There are also a couple of relaxed pieces on the album, sort of Pat Metheny laid-back style, courtosy of keyboardist John Sharp. Finally, the album also features some live material taped during a 1977 radio broadcast in Dallas.

There's often a very a fine line between certain jazz elements and progressive rock. And if your brand of prog includes the likes of Jean-Luc Ponty and MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA, or if you are fond of the Coltrane/Coryell/Corea family, you will definitely enjoy this material. It is packed with energy and performed with gusto by highly skilled musicians.

Continuing on my current "return to Jazz-rock" phase, with a bevy of albums to receive, listen and review, I was tempted to revisit some on my current, dust gathering jazz-rock discs , mostly of British persuasion to find some existing bliss. Aurora has been sitting there, lonely like a beauty queen (sly humor!) , they were 1977 Yanks and I had only given the album a cursory audition, surely distracted by gourmet cooking of some kind I was preparing, and knew that its day would come. I have read reviews that kindle a sense of Mahavishnu Orchestra, Curved Air, Jean-Luc Ponty and Nucleus and those prominent references were more than enough to catch my new found curiosity and attention.
This is truly astute music, a swift and talkative violin leading the orchestra into atmospheric zones of influence, fusing all the classic aromas such as jazz, jam, funk, world, latin and rock influences, while unafraid to solo away in improvisational mode. On the opener "Opus 8", the band sets the bar high for all to witness, intruding a sassy intro that morphs into a groove that provides the dais on which Mark Menikos' soaring violin, the guitar stylings of Skip Sorelle and jagged John Sharp keys can strut their stuff with complete artistic freedom. Clocking in near 12 minutes, this is a primo first salvo.

"Within" is a dreamy set of melodies that first seek to hypnotize before exploding into a more laid back groove with a sunny disposition (they were from Texas after all!) , Sorelle picking away in a very breezy style, imitated by a synth solo that parallels the axe work, a bold move on many levels. This is a slow cooking jazz gumbo that just breathes fresh air!

"Dancing on a Plain in Spain" winks at the classic movie My Fair Lady (a rage back then) and the mood is jazzier, creating a more JL Ponty feel, the violin carving a large part of the sweat cake, soloing but displaying a strong sense of interplay, as with bassist Roy Vogt's subtle interval performances, with a few slick guitar dashes that weaves cleverly through the subsonic drumming, as well as the oiliest synth solo this side of Manfred Mann (just faster!). From this point on, a sense of sameness seems to appear that will keep the bar level but nothing more. "Is There Any More?" is playful at best, a pedestrian opportunity to solo rather aimlessly. This is where the Curved Air scent is stronger even though there are no vocals of any kind. Good but dispensable.

"Off Blue" masons down a rapid rut and the violin slithers like a coiled snake, again very jazzy now, almost lounge bar style (just faster!), again fine but disposable.

"Eurthmia" is back to frantic playing, veering into maniacal speed zones, (these cats can play fast) and riffing like no tomorrow. There is even some crafty "country fiddlin' that is cute to boot.

"Savage Lust" is like the title implies, a searing little ditty that exudes coy sensuality and digital prowess (tsk, tsk) mainly from the bubbly bassist who likes to pop like vintage Larry Graham. Serious guitar noodlings also increase the tension while the chin-held cat-skin violin screeches amorously. The playing is technical yet emotive especially in the high note leaps. Formidable! "Polyfolk Dance" is quirky and electronically charged, with a superior guitar lunge and within its deep folds, a pastorally joyous feel to it. Definitely up-beat and canny (a little Beethoven hint) , this is again a successful track!

"Khartoum" is narratively introduced, spicy Middle eastern aromas , hissing percussives and swirling sonic mists making this a high appeal track, full of lush experimentation. The mood is slow and calm with a hint of potential fury, as is often the case in that mystifying part of the world as Menikos finds himself going all out on his instrument, dazzling and ethereal. The ensemble playing is also highly suggestive, earning high marks for artistic impression from all judges, straddling that pleasure zone between mind and body we all cherish as sacred. "Jubilee" scripts a more local statement, these boys are from Texas after all and what is more "suthn'" than barbeque, hoedown and jubilee. As such, this tune appeals to me mostly in a technical sense as these jazz guys tear up some standard instrumental country music by forging ahead with woozy synths while the violin guy plays the sheriff. This is again at the risk of repeating myself, a positive approach that should have benefited with a strong future. That was not the case.

All in all, a pleasant addition and a worthy second-tier quality one shot wonder, especially you violin fans out there. The artwork is ultra Dali-esque , which is fine by me!



  2. rick mason and rare feelings ... can u help