Review of original Important Records CD version of 'Basilica'
Please note 'Basilica Origins (Deluxe) does not include the remixes referenced here
The band name Rameses III and album name Basilica bring to mind something majestic and eternal.
Even more so when the gatefold CD cover displays a stunning, misty waterfall. And even more so
when you know that the group plays instrumental music, "post-rock" or what-have-you, which by
necessity is unsullied by lyrics that would pin them down to fads, trends, or current events.
The music on both discs of the 2-disc Basilica fits this impression of something grand and monumental,
though probably not in the expected way. But well, wait, it's important to separate what exactly
is going on here. Disc 1 is Basilica, a remix album. Disc 2 is Origins, parts I through V, five
tracks of Ramses III playing live, on four different dates, in four different clubs within their
city, London. The four remixes on Basilica, the first disc, are of this live material, done by
the musicians Robert Horton, Keith Berry, Gregg Kowalsky. Yet the story hardly ends there.
Horton's remix has been remixed again by Ramses III themselves. Kowalsky's remix was constructed
for use in a live improvisational event, in San Francisco. And Campell's remix was built from a
live performance by Astral Social Club, using the Ramses III material.
So it's all complicated but at the same time simple. Ramses III's playing on Origins seems simple
in form: a guitar slowly wails, another shakingly enters, it all glides together in a pretty,
anticipatory way. It's simple in appearance, but powerful in effect. It's music that sets a mood,
but not mood music. That is, it's easier to be swept up in than to ignore. The closer you listen
the more you notice, yet it also generates an atmosphere that slowly moves forward, full of
feeling, telling a story without spelling out what it is. It's tempting to compare this music to
nature – but not just for its aura of stillness, for the wildness raging underneath. The Valdimir
Mayakovsky quotation in the cover does seem appropriate: "In the church of my heart the choir is
on fire!" Yet it's gorgeously calm music too, not relying on the tricks of volume shifts and tempo
changes that pull too much instrumental music asunder.
The Basilica remixes do not radically alter any of these traits, any of what makes the performances
on Origins special. But yet they've worked the music over in interesting ways. The Rameses III
remix of Robert Horton's remix, "After the Red Rose", makes a glimmering, shimmering entrance,
the closest the CD set gets to an audio imitation of the waterfall on the cover. I hear animal
sounds in this, whether they're there or not (probably not). Keith Berry's "Basilica" remix is
similar, but threatens to completely disappear at first, to evaporate, and eventually it does.
Yet it has a constant presence, gloomy but hard to put a finger on. Gregg Kowalsky's "Rose Blood"
remix comes close to just being one quiet but insistent tone, one note, held out. Eventually more
rises up around it, completing a picture. The Neil Campbell remix of the Astral Social Club
performance, "Tigers in the Snake Pit" similarly seems more static than it is. It's a quiet yet
wild jungle: gentle on top but insane underneath. Beneath the top level there's a sea of squirming
souls; the choir is on fire.
Tuesday 1 April 2008