TERRY RILEY — Church of Anthrax (with John Cale) (review)

TERRY RILEY — Church of Anthrax (with John Cale) album cover Album · 1971 · Jazz Related Rock Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
js
Of the small handful of albums that have been made by pop 'stars' working in conjunction with renowned composers, 'Church of Anthrax' is easily the most successful, and enjoyable as well. It helps that it was not a far leap from Riley's groovy beatnik flavored Indo-Minimalism to Cale's minimal influenced avant-garde drone-rock. The two fit together to create a proto fusion raga groove that is way ahead of it's time in relation to all the trip-hop, world beat, ambient techno and acid jazz that followed in it's wake a couple decades later. Having said all that, if I had to pick one band that comes to mind when listening to this, it would be The Soft Machine on their first three records, there is a similar mix of 60s beatnik-jazz and electronic flavored experimentation. Side one kicks off with the title cut that sets the mood for Indian influenced hippie jazz/rock with Cale and Riley's droning modal solos interweaving with each other while the drummers work up a sweat. This is followed by 'Hall of Mirrors', a vast sound canvas of minimalistic wash filled with tape echo multi-tracked soprano saxophones. Mike Ratledge and Elton Dean have said that Terry Riley was a big influence on them and you can really here it on this track.

Side two opens with a classic John Cale haunting vocal melody, 'The Soul of Patrick Lee', that shows once again that in his prime Cale was probably the finest art rock composer ever. My favorite cut on the album though is 'Ides of March'. An absolute ironic masterpiece that combines hypnotic minimalist repeating rhythmic figures with tacky hillbilly honky-tonk piano riffs and lot's of rock-n-roll pounding on the keys while the drummers rock out acid hippy style. This is a one-of-a-kind cut that answers the question, what it would sound like if a drunken Steve Reich led NRBQ for a jam at a rowdy biker bar in the country.

The album closes with 'The Protégé', another piano number, this time with a Velvet Underground primitive groove while the classically trained Riley and Cale pound out their favorite RnB flavored piano riffs that are layered in that expected Terry Riley way. This album does have a very late 60s sound to it, but ironically enough, that doesn't stop it from sounding modern and ahead of it's time to this day.
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