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by Ian Mann

January 10, 2009


An interesting blend of esoteric subject matter and pure funk grooves.

This album was forwarded to the Jazzmann by Mark Huggett of Jazz Direct who also happens to be the drummer on this recording. Huggett and Tartaglia both appeared on the 2006 release “Max Roach Park” credited to the Dan Wilson/Mark Huggett Project which is reviewed elsewhere on this site.

The music and lyrics on “Dark Metaphysic” all come from the pen of London based tenor saxophonist Tartaglia.  His Herefordian roots give him local hero status as far as the Jazzmann is concerned. It’s always good to see one of our own doing well.

“Dark Metaphysic” is a most unusual funk record. It is inspired by Tartaglia’s fascination with figures such as Eduard Von Hartmann, F.W.J. Schelling, and Arthur Schopenhauer the “Dark Metaphysicians” of yore who, as far as I can tell, explored the murky areas where science meets philosophy. It’s certainly not the usual “get down, lets party” fluff.

Tartaglia cites John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman as key influences but there is also a surreal humour in the music and lyrics that owes something to both Frank Zappa and the more English Django Bates.

Not that the music sounds like any of the names mentioned above. Most of the album is full of big fat funk grooves courtesy of Huggett, electric bassist Jennifer Maidman and keyboards man Matt Ratcliffe. These provide the platform for powerful riffs and solos from the horns-Tartaglia, trumpeter Ben Thomas (from West Wales, now based in Hereford) and high profile guest Whitehead on trombone. Most of the seven tracks also incorporate vocals, delivered in the main in tandem by singers Sonja Morgenstern and Lizzi Wood.

The opener “Priests In White Coats” explores the idea that the modern belief in science is akin to religious faith by comparing the white lab coats of scientists to the vestments of priests. The propulsive grooves frame solos from pretty much the whole band i.e. Whitehead, Thomas Tartaglia, Ratcliffe and Maidman. The two singers sing/chant Tartaglia’s lyrics with glee and the whole thing makes for an attention grabbing opener. 

The lengthy “Rhythm Pitch” is an instrumental based around funk rhythms but with sudden changes of pace and with a more avant garde contribution from the horns. Tartaglia’s tenor squeals and shrieks, Thomas plays in a more exploratory way than I’ve ever heard him before (usually I see him playing standards at local gigs) and Whitehead is immense as usual. Ratcliffe adds colour and texture and the rhythm team pack a mighty punch.

“Silent Soliloquy” temporarily abandons the funk idiom. Featuring wordless vocals and the pinched tone of the leader’s tenor it’s the nearest the album gets to a ballad. Thomas also solos gracefully.

“Tribute To The Artist Bruce Nauman” is inspired both by the conceptual artist and by the music of Anthony Braxton. With driving rhythms, wailing saxophone and bizarre lyrics Tartaglia sees this as the centre piece of the album. It’s certainly easy to get caught up in this synthesis of the arty and the earthy with Thomas and Whitehead both delivering major solos.

Tartaglia describes “Pornographer Scum” as a “disco number” but at eleven minutes it’s more of a dance marathon. It’s a major feature for Whitehead and the singers get to simulate orgasm to the backdrop of Tartaglia’s dirty tenor.
“Hermetic Emanations” summons the spirit of the black magician Hermes Trismegistus. It’s probably the most bizarre track on an already perplexing record with Morgenstern’s unsettling vocals adding to an already deranged atmosphere.

“That Boy Were Going To Play A Solo” closes the album and almost comes as a bit of light relief.
It’s bossa rhythm conceals a bitter jibe at the jazz establishment delivered by Lizzi Wood. Tartaglia’s album notes make it clear that the story related in the lyrics is a true one but he doesn’t name names and doesn’t appear to be one of the protagonists. The tenor man certainly gets to solo here.

“Dark Metaphysic” is a highly distinctive record; funk music doesn’t normally deal in such esoteric subject matter. There is some great playing on these idiosyncratic tunes with some fine horn solos and a pulsating groove from an exemplary rhythm team.

On the downside I feel that the voices and the rather repetitive lyrics may begin to lose their appeal after a while. Also some of the individual tunes and certainly the album as a whole are rather too long. Tartaglia certainly believes in wringing the maximum amount out of any given idea.

It’s still an interesting project though and the presence of Whitehead gives the album a major boost. It would be interesting to hear this stuff performed live.

The album is available from Jazz CDs Mark’s record label website is

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