Haiku Salut - The General - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Haiku Salut - The General

by Bill Golembeski Rating:9 Release Date:2019-08-02
Haiku Salut - The General
Haiku Salut - The General

This is a lovely bit of music. It manages to time eternity.

Haiku Salut has written a new and very vital score for a re-issue of Buster Keaton’s movie, The General, which has been given a brand-new restoration by Cohen Media. This music unearths the punch line from a Cuneiform joke, a joke that’s still, thankfully, very clever today.

Two ideas: First, Haiku Salut is an adventurous trio of three women—Gemma Bakerwood, Sophie Bakerwood, and Louise Croft—who play an electronically enhanced folk-chamber music that is minute in detail and expansive in melodic construct. (Is that an oxymoron?) And the other idea: Do yourself a favor and get this music; find Buster Keaton’s The General on YouTube; mute the original soundtrack; push a few play buttons, and then simply and slowly enjoy the wonderous show that explodes like a quiet night on a lake’s shore with time enough to appreciate and ponder the numerous falling stars in the dark sky. Art always finds its time.

Caution: Serious rock ‘n’ roll devotees look elsewhere.  This is, at times, gentle music. This is profound music. It’s music that manages to cut melodies from history, war, and oddly enough, the comic genius of Buster Keaton. This is very modern silent movie music. (Is that another oxymoron?)

Now, for the initiate, Buster Keaton was a silent film star of the 20’s who made his fame with truly dangerous stunts performed in real-time and deadpan humor. The General is a feature film which details the heroic tale of Johnny Gray (aka Buster Keaton) who, because he is a much-needed engineer on the Confederate train The General, is not accepted into the Southern army. His true love, one Annabel Lee, rejects his advances because he cannot wear the uniform. But, to make a long story even longer, his beloved train The General is highjacked by nasty Union soldiers who want to disrupt the South’s rail system. A chase follows because Johnny Gary (aka Buster Keaton) wants his beloved General back. (Quite frankly, I don’t blame him!) Then, to make the longer story even longer, he gets his General back and the Union forces chase him! And, of course, after dangerous (and funny) stunts galore, Johnny Gray (aka Buster Keaton) saves the Southern army, gets a fancy uniform, and wins the heart (and kisses) of his true love, Miss Annabel Lee. So there!

Ah, but what about the music? Well, there are lovely piano pieces. And there are an equal number of deep percussion beats. There are electronics that hover and bounce in sainthood over the songs. And then they dapple over dappled melodies that include the band’s unique instrumental front of accordion, piano, glockenspiel, trumpet, guitar, ukulele, drums, and melodica. As said, this isn’t rock music; it’s not folk or jazz; it’s just sort of spooky soundtrack stuff that evokes a pause in the heart and a pulse in the brain. And it is music that manages to frame a good joke.

There are twenty-three tracks, so a condensed overview (and perhaps the mention of a few favorites!) will give a general feel for the album.

It’s a quiet start. The first three tunes, “Start,” “Intro,” and “Love,” are quiet piano-driven pieces that serve to set the landscape. Ah, then “Enlist” is a gorgeous piano melody with a dark electronic specter that captures poor Johnny Gray’s disappointment in not making the Confederate Army grade due to his railroad engineering skill.

There’s eerie stuff like “Chattanooga,” which quite frankly (to these old prog ears echoes) possesses the quiet tension of the great Tony Banks (in early Genesis mode) during the soft moments of their lengthy epics. And “Traction” sounds like an instrumental bit from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. There is a lot here for prog people to enjoy. Tony Banks was the master of musical moods. Ditto for the keys on this record.

There are bouncy bits, like “Train Steel” with its percolating electronics, definite drum beat, and the appropriate chug of the song’s rhythm. There’s even an echo of the electronic sounds that begin The Who’s “Baba O’ Riley.” “Deserters” squiggles all over the place and comes close to some of the German spacey stuff from the 70’s. “Cannon” rides with a rough percussive sound that is juxtaposed to pulsing keyboards. Incidentally, this is the musical depiction of the hilarious scene when Johnny loads (what may actually be a mortar), only to be, by a bump in the rail line, the very object of his weapon. Watch the film. This is Buster Keaton at his clever best, and it will make the faces on Mount Rushmore laugh.

Now to be fair, the before-mentioned instruments—accordion, piano, glockenspiel, trumpet, guitar, ukulele, drums, and melodica—are pretty much re-arranged like musical chess pieces from song to song. This isn’t pop or rock. Of course, it never pretends to be pop or rock. This is arty (and very clever) modern music that now frames a classic film from the Twenties.

“Hide” and “Reunion” are lovely pieces of music. The first depicts poor Johnny Gray hiding (behind the lines) in the rain. It’s a complex, very rhythmic, and dramatic piece of (I’ll say it again) prog music. And “Reunited” is stoically beautiful, with big piano chords, and it captures the cinematic moment when Johnny saves his beloved Annabel Lee from the Union ruffians, and the two are “Reunited.” This is tender stuff.

“Going Back” rides a musical curve like a Larry Fast Synergy carnival ride. And then, of course, in keeping with the title, the music suddenly inverts its self with backward tapes. Clever!

And one more comment about the music. “The Crash,” which depicts the moment when a Union train crumbles while attempting to cross a bridge—a bridge set on fire by our hero, Johnny Gray—should perhaps be upbeat and exciting. It was a pretty costly scene that’s a universe away from Edward Muybridge’s galloping horse. Yet the music is sad and introspective, which is great artistic call by The Haiku Salut, because death in war, whichever the side, should have a soundtrack that is sad and respectful.

But, of course, any comedy must have a happy ending. You know, All’s Well That Ends Well. And the final tune, “Finish,” restates the opening drama, a drama of love and war. And thank goodness for the comedy of Buster Keaton and the music of this arty record, because without this stuff, this lovely clever stuff, we are left with what Bob Dylan once called, “the carnival on Desolation Row.”

And, truly, there’s nothing sad or desolate about this record. As said, this manages to time eternity. This music stops stuff and demands attention. Buster Keaton did that, too. He once hung on a clock and weighted a passing moment, so time shook hands with comedic patience. My friend, Kilda Defnut, always says, “Jokes breathe time.” What? Watch an hour plus silent movie? What? Listen to an hour plus soundtrack that requires the brain’s synapses to navigate new mental territory? Sure. And it takes the melodic time to unearth the punch line from a great artistic soul, a soul who inspired a strange band to create music that does justice to that beloved comedic genius of Joseph Francis Keaton, simply known as Buster to the world—a guy who made great movies, movies that still can conjure, even after all these years, a patient pause and pretty good laugh.

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