Thursday, May 18, 2017

REVIEW - Roger Ebner: New World

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Chicago-based multi-instrumentalist Roger Ebner is one of the quietest and most unassuming cats you’ll ever meet - until you let your guard down and he hits you over the head with an aural sledgehammer.

An avid musician for more than four decades, Ebner was one of the 30-plus musicians who comprised the “25th Anniversary” lineup of Pigface that brought magic and madness to audiences at Reggie’s and the House of Blues in Chicago last Black Friday and Thanksgiving. As seen below, his contributions to this most recent incarnation of the infamous revolving-door musical maelstrom ranged from the incendiary (the show-opening “Insemination”) to the serene (the transcendental “Closer To Heaven”). At times, his saxophone wails were just as powerful as the multitude of drummers keeping the beat throughout the proceedings.

Ebner’s participation in the Pigface circus was not just an opportunity to explore sound with a few dozen new friends; for him, stepping on stage for those two nights meant overcoming an obstacle that once threatened to destroy his life.

After suffering from a mysterious physical ailment that robbed him of his ability to play music for several years, Ebner was finally diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2010. After a few months of proper medication and therapy, he slowly regained his ability to play saxophone (his primary instrument). Ebner’s extensive post-therapy musical output includes the fourth album by his long-running band Yeti Rain (Stars Fall Darkly), the Irresolution album by the Progressive Improv project Ebner/Kopecky/Walkner/Blake and collaborations with Chicago House DJs on the Pool House and Aathee labels. Along the way, he started Music For Movement, an entity founded to raise awareness and funding for Parkinson’s research. Most recently, WGN-TV hosted the below segment on Ebner as part of its Living Healthy Chicago series:

With a portion of the profits from its sale going directly to the cause, Ebner’s latest release, the six-song New World, is an extraordinary statement on the healing power of music and one man’s willingness to pour his passions, struggles and successes into song. Ambient and often quite relaxing, New World easily fits in more with the World music-driven Bill Laswell/M.O.D. Technologies camp (or the less abrasive side of the RareNoise Records stable) than with the typical aggression of Pigface. He is joined on the recording by guests Joe and William Kopecky (both of the Wisconsin-based group of the same name) and percussionists Craig Walkner (Yeti Rain/Fringe Character/Bascom Hill/Far Corner/Snarling Adjective Convention) and Dimitar Dimitrov (who credits include the Black Metal project Haiku Funeral with William Kopecky and the equally dark Corpus Diavolis).

Considering Ebner’s connections to the Chicago House/Industrial world, it’s little surprise that the excellent “Redline” (featuring Joe Kopecky on guitar) effortlessly mixes his Jazzy sax with a Wax Trax!-flavored electronic pulse. Exceptional (and often dirge-like) guitar work from Joe Kopecky, bass playing by William Kopecky (also of Yeti Rain) and percussion from Walkner and Dimitrov add considerable power to “As The Sun Rises” as it grows in intensity over seven minutes, while William Kopecky adds his low-end skills to the equally percussion-driven “Walkabout.”

New World’s finest moment, “Louise,” finds a completely solo Ebner delivering the same kind of Jazzy, smoke-filled-room-at-3am vibe you’d expect to hear on a really good Bad Seeds song, while a soothing piano/keyboard mix (augmented by some fantastic wind synth) drives the one-man-band title track. Ebner also completely oversees the exquisite “Morocco Night,” a nine-minute number highlighted by Eno-esque ambience and tasteful percussion.

One of the magical things about the Pigface experience is that there are literally dozens (hell, hundreds) of individuals involved who have their own unique stories to tell and musical gifts to share. Roger Ebner is among the best of the lot, and New World serves as a brilliant introduction to what he has to offer.   

New World is available at Roger Ebner’s official website.


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