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Moksha – moke-shah, skt. (1) liberation or freedom from samsara (the suffering of the endless cycle of death and rebirth); (2) performing the action of liberation, a practice to liberate consciousness (from samsara) into the field of vast awakening. (Adapted from the glossary of The Words of My Perfect Teacher, by Patrul Rinpoche)
Moksha – literally “release” (both from a root muc “to let loose, let go”), is the liberation from samsara and the concomitant suffering involved in being subject to the cycle of repeated death and rebirth (reincarnation).
While the members of Moksha sheepishly admit to “dabbling” in eastern religions, their music doesn’t overtly suggest an eastern influence, although clearly the name is meant to suggest that the music is itself a vehicle for their own liberation of sorts. The instrumentation is decidedly western in its orientation, though within that paradigm the music is prone itself to dabble in, combine, and discard any number of genres not just on the album, but within each song. Structurally, many of the songs proceed in distinct movements, though it sounds little like the progressive rock of the 1970s which perhaps drew more decidedly from the classical vein. Too much time and music has passed since those days, and Moksha’s members have steeped in so many genres and traditions that it seems their jammy dance through the vast fields of musical genres is utterly free and devoid of premeditation. And yet the music definitely bears repeated listening and deep study, upon which one discerns layer upon layer of intent and malice aforethought.
Track 3, entitled Interface, puts forth the lyric from which Moksha’s debut album’s title, Mammal or Machine, is derived.
Come clean, Are you mammal or machine?
Well, truthfully you seem to be in between
Toward which are you prone to lean?
If ever you get confused
just choose to peruse the seam
And maybe then you’ll see
they share a common dream
This livid interface in redbluegreen
It’s not the black side
It’s not the white
It’s the Interface
It’s not your dark side
Nor your light
It’s the interface
These lyrics are both penned and sung by Moksha’s putative fifth member, Sam Lemos of the band, F.I.N. At once deep, thoughtful, oblique, informed, and insightful, though at the same time somewhat quirky, the lyrics mirror the music not just in tone and structure, but as metaphor. They point most obviously to the connection between mammal and machine, evoking on the one hand connotations of man’s emerging cyborg nature, and on the other hand the Renaissance view of man as machine. But the words go even further, nodding also to the historical thesis of man as divine creation to which the Renaissance view was antithesis, forming a dialectic now culminating in a fusion both “mundane yet divine.” And having touched this topic of divinity, they also playfully invoke not just the ethics of interracial relations (as in the chorus above), but the competing themes of evolution and creation:
Touch stone to electric flesh and bone
Step into that mirror see how you’ve grown
And how far from home you’ve flown
If ever you feel sub par see, star, beneath your own dome
Just cock your crown and take that throne, please
Come clean, Are you mammal or machine?
If that’s too subtle for you, the spiritual connection is made more overt in the final verse, itself a prayer of sorts:
God help the girl who develops a pearl
& is killed upon collection
Gaia help the boy who’s in love with the toy
that’s burned after infection
God help the gal who hasn’t a pal
Yet gets all of the attention
Gaia help the man who developed the plan
That’s been doomed since its conception
Witty and literate, these infectious lyrics fit the music perfectly, and fashion something completely new and unexpected for those who have been following Moksha’s live shows for the past three years. You’ll find yourself singing along to the chorus before the end of your first listening, and the depth and complexity of the music, itself a fusion of musical genres, will keep you coming back for more, and still singing the chorus even when there’s no music playing. All this makes Interface the perfect choice for the first single from the album.
Following the departure last year of Moksha’s lead singer, Angela Kerfoot, the band was compelled to reinvent itself in several ways, resulting in bass player John Heishman and keyboard player Brian Triola stepping more solidly into their roles as vocalists (featured on Blind To The Time, Morning Fog, and Trouble).
The band has also taken a queue from Thievery Corporation, ushering, Andy Warhol-style, a parade of vocalists and guest performers across the stage in its live performances. The album mirrors this development. The album features a fantastic performance by Angela Kerfoot on the atmospheric and groovy Open The Door, as well as guests Sam Lemos (on Interface) and Windy Karigianes (on Say U Will). Jazz Singer Windy Karigianes’ performance is at once sexy, sultry, funky, ethereal and understated, and the band delivers a performance in which one can discern the influences of Pink Floyd, Paul Simon, and Maria Muldaur, to name just a few.
In addition to guest vocalists, Mammal or Machine also features a number of guest musicians including Brian Stoltz (the Neville Brothers, Bob Dylan, The Meters) on guitar; D.J. Logic on turntables; Peter Apfelbaum (Hieroglyphics Ensemble) on tenor sax, along with members of Carlos Santana’s horn section: Bill Ortiz on trumpet, Jeff Cressman on on trombone, and Eddie Rich on baritone sax. This all-star horn section is featured on the first five of the album’s 11 tracks, and Peter Apfelbaum delivers a tenor sax solo on Morning Fog, a track which gets my vote for the album’s second single.
Here’s a live version of a track that didn’t make the album, but which may make their upcoming live album, and which features the lyrical and vocal contributions of Same Lemos and F.I.N., along with Peter Apfelbaum on tenor sax, D.J. Logic on turntables, and Brian Stoltz on guitar, recorded live at the Hard Rock Cafe on the Las Vegas Strip.
From this one can get a sense that there’s definitely a lot going on with these guys, and they have a tendency to want to throw everything into the mix, including the proverbial kitchen sink. The boys were smart enough to recruit James “Banzai” Caruso (Bob Marley & the Wailers, Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley, and Julian Marley) to mix the tracks and distill the sound. Finally, the boys scored big in securing the legendary mastering talents of Gavin Lurssen, for whom the short list of artists he has mastered reads like a who’s who of music over the past 70 years. Lurssen has won Grammys for O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Album of the Year, 2001), Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues: A Musical Journey (Best Historical Album, 2003), and Robert Plant/Alison Krauss – Raising Sand (Album of the Year, 2008).
To be sure, however, the four musicians who form the core of Moksha – Jeremy Parks on guitar, John Heishman on bass and vocals, Pat Grey on drums, and Brian Triola on keys and vocals – should not be understood to rely on the admirable talents of those they have recruited for this album. Rather, the contributions of the artists and masters who assist on this effort should be understood as tribute to the superb musicianship and musical sensibility of the Moksha core. And the band was wise enough to put forth the stripped down core for the second half of the album. They shine best on tracks like Morning Fog, Easy A, Bobbin’ On The Sea, and God’s Country. Here’s MOKSHA performing Bobbin on the Sea live at Sinister Rock Club in Las Vegas.
The first few times I heard Moksha perform Morning Fog live I was certain they were covering a track by Medeski, Martin & Wood, the name of which must surely have been just on the tip of my tongue. But no, this track is pure Moksha. Here they are performing Morning Fog live at The Hard Rock Cafe on the Las Vegas Strip:
Does this not simply crush your brain?
Mammal or Machine is an album which is far from being the first effort by some local band. Rather, Moksha has put forth a sound that is both mature and professional, emerging like Athena, fully formed, from the forehead of Zeus. Indeed, on the whole this album holds its own among the ranks of first albums by now legendary artists. In fact, after having heard only the first few tracks, the sound was so astonishingly ballsy, bold, and new that I was pone to compare it to Led Zeppelin’s first album – admittedly a musical sacrilege if ever there was one. But this album is not only worthy, it is truly a masterpiece. Just as the lyrics of Interface are laced with literary and cultural references through which they weave a startling braid of concepts of man, machine, and divinity, so is the music on this entire album laced with musical genres and allusions, weaving its own startling braid of jazz, funk, rock, hip-hop and more, truly offering a path of liberation and musical transcendence for the listener. Let go, and be liberated through Moksha’s Mammal or Machine.
Mammal or Machine is or soon will be available through the band’s website, mokshatime.com, The Home Grown Music Network, iTunes, eMusic, Amazon, Nugs.net, Rhapsody, Lala, Slacker, and many others. And of course, you can always pick up their album when you see them live.