THE MUFFINS

Fusion • United States
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Almost entirely instrumental, the Muffins' music was a unique blend of Canterbury progressive, fusion, improvisation and much more. The group was formed in the Washington, DC area in the early '70s by Dave Newhouse (keyboards), Billy Swan (vocals, bass and guitar), Tom Scott (woodwinds) and Michael Zentner (guitar and violin). Stuart Abramowitz played drums from August 1975 until July 1976. This group recorded the home and studio demo recordings heard on the Chronometers CD. Zentner and Abramowitz left in July 1976. Drummer Paul Sears joined the next month, setting the stage for the group's most popular period. The group released Manna/Mirage in 1978, and soon after released a limited-edition, live LP called Air Fiction. The band also worked with Fred Frith on his solo LP, Gravity. Frith produced the band's next LP, 185, in late 1980. The Muffins disbanded six months later. In the early '90s, the band played at read more...
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THE MUFFINS Discography

THE MUFFINS albums / top albums

THE MUFFINS Manna/Mirage album cover 4.30 | 11 ratings
Manna/Mirage
Fusion 1978
THE MUFFINS Air - Fiction album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Air - Fiction
Fusion 1979
THE MUFFINS 185 album cover 2.50 | 1 ratings
185
Fusion 1981
THE MUFFINS Open City album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Open City
Fusion 1985
THE MUFFINS Chronometers album cover 3.48 | 6 ratings
Chronometers
Fusion 1993
THE MUFFINS Bandwidth album cover 3.32 | 5 ratings
Bandwidth
Fusion 2002
THE MUFFINS Double Negative album cover 3.07 | 6 ratings
Double Negative
Fusion 2004
THE MUFFINS Loveletter #2: The Ra Sessions album cover 4.00 | 1 ratings
Loveletter #2: The Ra Sessions
Fusion 2005
THE MUFFINS Palindrome album cover 4.00 | 1 ratings
Palindrome
Fusion 2010
THE MUFFINS Mother Tongue album cover 4.00 | 1 ratings
Mother Tongue
Fusion 2012

THE MUFFINS EPs & splits

THE MUFFINS live albums

THE MUFFINS Secret Signals 1 album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Secret Signals 1
Fusion 1989
THE MUFFINS Secret Signals 2 album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Secret Signals 2
Fusion 1992
THE MUFFINS Secret Signals 3 album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Secret Signals 3
Fusion 1996
THE MUFFINS Loveletter #1 album cover 0.00 | 0 ratings
Loveletter #1
Fusion 2001

THE MUFFINS demos, promos, fans club and other releases (no bootlegs)

THE MUFFINS re-issues & compilations

THE MUFFINS singles (0)

THE MUFFINS movies (DVD, Blu-Ray or VHS)

THE MUFFINS Reviews

THE MUFFINS Manna/Mirage

Album · 1978 · Fusion
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ALotOfBottle
The Muffins were formed in 1973, in Washington D. C., soon after a keyboardist and saxophonist Dave Newhouse, a guitarist Michael Zentner, and a bassist Billy Swann found a common unorthodox and anti-commercial approach to music. The group, however, remained nameless until a few months later when they named themselves The Muffins, allegedly after one friend of theirs shouted, "The muffins are here!" while bringing them blueberry muffins and more importantly giving an idea for the name of the band. One year after their formation, they were joined by Thomas Scott, a saxophonist with a big-band background. In 1975, Stuart Abramowitz on drums joined, only to leave one year later with Michael Zentner. While playing a concert in 1976, they stumbled upon a drummer Paul Sears, who stayed in the band. The Muffins founded their own independent recording label, Random Radar Records, under which they released their debut album, Manna/Mirage, in 1978.

With influences of acts such as Hatfield and the North, Henry Cow, National Health, Soft Machine, Frank Zappa's Mothers Of Invention, and even Caravan, The Muffins have shaped their own, distinctive Canterbury scene-inspired style. Although the United States has always been far from being the heartland of the subgenre and recognized it relatively late, the group's music sounds incredibly natural and authentic. Characterized by strong emphasis put on improvisation, The Muffins go far beyond being just another Canterbury-tinged jam band. The extensive use of woodwind instruments such as clarinets, flutes, recorders, and oboes, rather than brass winds, gives the band a varied, unique, almost chamber-like sound, at times reminiscent of Henry Cow's Legend. Keyboard instruments also play a prominent role with smooth, dreamy Fender Rhodes electric piano, reminiscent of Dave Stewart and Tim Hodgkinson-inspired Farfisa organ. Free jazz passages, very much in the vein of Sun Ra or Albert Ayler, are also common, enriching the album with even more of a diverse, varied style. In short: Manna/Mirage is a perfectly balanced mélange between classy avant-garde progressive rock and jazz-influenced Canterbury sound.

The album opens with "Monkey with the Golden Eyes". A calm repeating passage on electric piano is supported by a great interplay of flute and clarinet. Gradually, more instruments are added - xylophone, drums, organ, resulting in an almost ambient texture. In the beginning, "Hobart Got Burned" features just a little part of the previous track until it loses itself in chaotic, quirky, free-form mayhem. At one point, all of the instruments participating in the madness meet and, as if finally entering the same alley, present a theme which would not be out of place on an album by Hatfield and the North. Side One closes with the 15-minute "Amelia Earhart". The piece starts out with mystic, meditative sounds of a wide plethora of percussion instruments, which dissolve into a merry Caravan-like melody. Later, the listener encounters a brief free passage and various different segments of the piece, perfectly displaying the flawless work of every instrument in different musical circumstances. Side Two is fully occupied by a nearly 23-minute suite "The Adventures Of Captain Boomerang". The track begins with an interaction of woodwind instruments supplemented by accompaniment on Fender Rhodes. Then, a more energetic, louder motif dominated by saxophones kicks in. What follows is really inexplicable. Let me just say that the piece is dripping with complex arrangements, contrasted segments, dynamically, rhythmically, and instrumentally varied parts, numerous different themes, lengthy improvisational passages, and proficient instrumental work. The Muffins seem to have a well-thought plan for every second of the suite and make use of their recording time perfectly.

Manna/Mirage is an absolutely exceptional record in the history of the Canterbury scene. While in 1978, its sound might have radically drifted towards jazz fusion, this one American band, that seemingly appeared out of nowhere, skillfully carries on traditions set by bands such as Henry Cow, Soft Machine, and Hatfield and the North. The release is incredibly consistent, mature, and most of all deeply fascinating. A true gem of the Canterbury scene. Highly recommended!

THE MUFFINS Manna/Mirage

Album · 1978 · Fusion
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Warthur
The Muffins played a deliberately Canterbury-influenced style of music, which on this album approaches the standards of Hatfield and the North and other giants of the genre. With plentiful references to more mainstream varieties of jazz, the band clearly possess chops aplenty; rather than simply being a clone band mimicing their betters simply because that's all they know how to do, they're very obviously a set of capable jazz players who play in this mode because they have a genuine passion for it. More mellow and laid back than many of their British contemporaries, the Muffins sound on here reminds me a little of a significantly more interesting and adventurous Gilgamesh.

THE MUFFINS Double Negative

Album · 2004 · Fusion
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Sean Trane
The Washington quartet's latest album on Cuneiform is yet another proof that they are one of RIO's more prominent and impressive groups, with their now well into the third decade career, even if there was a big gap in between their two phases. The Scott and Newhouse lead quartet is still basically the same as it was in the late 70's and most members still play more than one instrument even if sears and Swann only play their respective bass and drums and share the acoustic and electric guitar duties respectively. Among the guest are a brass section and a strings section, and the recording took place over a two-year gap between 02 and 04. So in terms of non-posthumous release, this album is maybe (not exactly sure) only their third one and comes two years after their Bandwidth, which saw them return to affairs. Another typical Muffin album that ranges sonically from Mirage to 185, although the harsh sounds of the latter are rarely present, preferring Canterburian soundscapes, slight Zeuhl touches (Angel From Lebanon and Stethorus Punctum), and the slight RIO of Unknown Rights. Some of the tracks are spine tingling, like the opening Highlands or its follow-up Writing Blind, while others can appear to be lost in the shuffle. On of the small gripes I could have is that one of the synth's sound is not always the most inspired and unfortunately it comes back a bit too many times for me. Another gripe is that their derivative sound was fun in Bandwidth, here sounds less interesting .. and more. derivative!!! (are you sure you're following me?)

While maybe not the best Muffins album, Double Negative (this makes a Positive) is certainly an album to own if you are more than a casual fan of the band, even if not groundbreaking or even innovative. I'd suggest most wanting to check the new Muffins sound to start with Bandwidth, which was

THE MUFFINS Bandwidth

Album · 2002 · Fusion
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Sean Trane
After a 20 years hiatus, the famous Washington DC group The Muffins regrouped and recorded a new album on the great Cuneiform label (where their previous albums have been reissued since along with two archives/sessions compilation), the historical quartet recording this over a two years period between 99 and 01. The amazing thing with The Muffins is that they've released only one album while they were together (the debut Mana/mirage) but have released some four or five albums posthumously from the period where they were indeed a group. So when Bandwidth (and later Double Negative) was released, this was actually their second real time release (or non-posthumous release), to my knowledge anyway. Have The Muffins retained their original impetus after an almost 20 years absence. Well not really, but it doesn't make the recordings from their second career anyless interesting, even if they have less energy. Yes, they have veered a little Soft, while avoid sounding too much like a Machine, but not really being able to avoid it. Soooooo, I guess you understood that there were still some Kentish attitudes that still pervades and seep through their calm fusion. Indeed tracks like Military Road, Dear Mona and People In The Snow sound like modernized National Health, Keith Tippett Group or even Nucleus, and I'll be damned if this is not to thrill me, especially with the more complex World Maps. Actually half the fun of this album and its follow-up is being able to see who influenced their writing on which tracks. You might get the impression that The Muffins' latest albums might be derivative, and I guess that to a certain extent, this is exactly the case, but they manage to be progressive enough to grace us with some more progressive moments (the middle section of Out Of The Boot). Another small beauty is East Of Diamond with its small string section, and its successor Sam's Room leaves it nothing to be desired.

An honest comeback album that will not displease demanding progheads, but is not likely to enthusiasm them like their early stuff. Solid enough to warrant a satisfaction guaranteed, but certainly not enough for a trip to the stratosphere

THE MUFFINS Chronometers

Album · 1993 · Fusion
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Sean Trane
This album is more of a compilation of various recordings that took place before The Muffins released their debut album. So as an album/unit, this one is not really flowing that well together, but named after the lengthy Chronometers, to which the Cuneiform label gave it (in 93) the great artwork, it represents the early "formative" years of the Muffins as a quintet: Newhouse, Swann and Scott were there, but Abramowitz was holding the drum stool (instead of Sears) and there was an extra Zentner (guitar, violin) player.

The overall feeling is still one of Canterbury's spirits meeting with the Cow from Henry and the Mother of Zappa. The title track is of course the single most impressive track, but is hardly without its share of flaws, but certainly for an early summer of 76, this is still quite a feat given that it was not to be released.

Most of the other tracks (all dating from the previous fall) are under the 3'30" length (except for two that are around 5 minutes) and we are struck with the sense that they are not entirely finished, most likely waiting for a future assembling that never came. Molten Clouds and Apparently are both excellent tracks that National Health would not disown, but if the much shorter Interest Span and Dr. Fischer mesh quite well as a unit (so do Blind Cave and Evening later in the album), not the same can be said about the rest of the tracks, even if there is some obvious care at the sequence they are presented in. However disjointed this album maybe, most of the excerpts are quite enjoyable (Toxic Planet, Bush, the spoken lyrics of Three Days and the superb Peacocks), but others are much less interesting and sound completely unrefined or unfinished (Manilla Robots, Size Of That Sponge and Mammoth Hide) or some lack interest (Creature Comfort, Early American Ears and the weak Pears).

After these sessions, Abramowitz and Zentner would leave the group, leaving The Muffins to tour as an improvising trio, before Paul Sears would then join them. While not as exhilarating as their proper debut album Mirage, Chronometers might be the second most essential Muffins icon you should own, even if Open City (yet another pre- debut recording session) and 185 have their own arguments.

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