Animation – Machine Language ★★★★

Bob Belden (ss, fl), Kurt Elling (voice), Peter Clagett (t), Roberto Verastegui (kys), Bill Laswell (b) and Matt Young (d). Rec. date not stated

This ambitious production by Bob Belden with his group Animation, plus guests Kurt Elling and Bill Laswell (probably the first and last time they will ever appear on the same album), turned out to be his Parthian shot before his untimely death on 20 May this year. Belden was something of a Renaissance man, astonishingly well read, a film buff par excellence, a composer, arranger, producer and A&R man who possessed an unparalleled knowledge of jazz.

Thus it comes as no surprise to learn that this project draws inspiration from sources both literary (Philip K. Dick, Iain M. Banks), and musical (Miles Davis’ Get Up With It, Big Fun and In a Silent Way) all woven into a dense musical mix that has elements of ambient and drum’n’bass swirling through it. It is framed within a narrative arc written by Belden and narrated convincingly by Elling that describes the evolution over time of the relationship between the human mind and artificial intelligence. Over 12 tracks this relationship is developed from ‘A Child’s Dream’ ending with ‘A Machine’s Dream’.

In part inscrutable, in part inspired, Belden tantalisingly leaves the dialectic unresolved save for the postlude: ‘the only constant is the universal power of imagination, which transcends all distinctions’. Well done RareNoise for giving him the canvas on which to paint this picture when others were daunted by the sheer breadth of his imagination. He will be missed.

– Stuart Nicholson

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