Written by 4:18 am Audiophile Music

VyZ: Visualizing the Joy of Improvisation

Mark Smotroff floats upstream with a little help from his friends…

One of the cool things about 21st Century communications is that it enables us to re-connect with people from our past in ways we never imagined before.  That said, in the past several years I’ve re-connected with numerous old friends from way back via social media (a good thing about those platforms, I must admit).  

AR-VyZPromoPic225.jpgCatching up with one of these folks recently on the flip-side of life — me on the West Coast, he in the North East — I have learned that since graduating high school, my friend John Pritchard went on to become a noted videographer, producer and film maker. He also continued his life long passion for music — which is how we first met back in the day as like-minded music geeks — cross pollinating it with his video arts, releasing several albums of improvised music video.  His band is called VyZ (as in “improVISed”), with John on drums, Rich Damone on bass, Charlie Tokarz on woodwinds, and a very special guest performer in Miles Davis alumnus Adam Holzman (now on tour with the great producer and modern day prog rock visionary Steven Wilson).

The concept behind VyZ is that they make music together in the moment and then create impressionistic films that reflect the mood and spirit of the music. 

To support the band’s latest release, Freedom: See The Music, Pritchard recently opened a virtual art gallery , displaying and offering some of the beautiful and phantasmagorical art prints created out of the improvs on their new album (which, by the way, is also available for streaming or on DVD). Its really fun stuff that I think some of you, Dear Readers of Audiophilereview.com, might enjoy. 

AR-VyZGraphicA225.jpgThe visuals revolve around computerized technology called Aeon by SoundSpectrum. Indeed, the pulsing, shape-shifting modern psychedelic images seem to dance in perfect synergy with the music, which is no small feat given that what they are playing is largely free form, jazz type music. The visuals have been augmented with really cool snippet imagery from nature, everything from worker Ants clamoring out of their nests to Rams bucking horns to people dancing. Somehow, the images complement the wordless music to deliver a higher message.

“My purpose for creating art is to surprise and inspire both the viewer and myself,” said Pritchard in a statement from the band’s website. “I constantly improvise and experiment with visual-musical form, motion, light and energy. This originates from my deep love for fusing music into art.”

Thus…VyZ’s tagline:  “See The Music!”  

So, what IS the music like, you ask?

AR-VyZJohnPritchard225.jpgWell, it is a series of improvised, free form jams which traverse a variety of styles and forms. For example, there are spacey explorations not unlike The Grateful Dead’s “Dark Star,” a piece which develops a theme which allows the band to drive on from there into the stratosphere.  There are other jams that are a bit more rhythmic and groove oriented in the vein of cross over jazz/jam band  Medeski, Martin and Wood or perhaps some recordings by another Miles Davis alum, John Scofield.  

I’ll put it this way: if you like some of the more exploratory modern jazz albums released by the legendary European label ECM, you may well dig VyZ.

There is an overall mood created by this music and I suggest you make some time late at night to put it on and just let yourself flow into its current. Freedom : See The Music is presented in a pleasing basic Dolby 5.1 surround mix (as well as two-channel stereo).  I’d love to hear a version of VyZ created for higher resolution formats, perhaps put out on Blu-ray and with a very discrete Dolby TrueHD or DTS HD Master Audio quality soundtrack. Hopefully for the next release!

Some of my favorite tracks on Freedom : See The Music so far are:

AR-VyZLogo225.jpg“On The Border,” which blends world-beat and hip hop flavors to the jazzy improvs while mining some tonalities this side of vintage Return To Forever (classic Fender Rhodes keyboard sounds played in a wonderful Chick Corea-like flavor) by way of some darker edges ala early King Crimson. It gets a little intense at times (as Ants climb out of their nest and Rams butt their heads!)

“The Milky Way” is appropriately titled because the music — and visuals — take you on a trip into outer space…. 

“The Climb” delivers a lovely sense of air and floating amidst perky rhythm beds, sounds which no doubt inspired the choice of above-the-world visuals.  

“Freedom March” dances around keyboard and saxophone riffing before morphing into a quiet, peaceful and timely closing reflection on our times. 

And, yes, I was able to pull that sort of deeper meaning out of VyZ’s compelling combination of improvised music and visuals… and you can too!  

John Lennon’s classic Beatles tune “Tomorrow Never Knows” once urged people to “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream…”

AR-VyZAdamHolzman225.jpgWell, relating to VyZ, I would modify that phrase a little bit: “Turn on your mind, relax and float upstream…”

If you like free form expression and supporting independent music of a high caliber, VyZ could be a cool thing for you.

Check it out.

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