Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Bill of Rock

Having known Bill Rayner for many years, I had never heard him perform in his true setting of a rock band conceived in New Paltz in the 80s and still going strong. I had known him as a doctoral student who created inventive concoctions on the Fairlight, and composed contemporary music of all styles and genre. I knew of his background in Rock, but I didn't know it. At that time for me, he was the Bill of Composition and Contemporary Music. I knew he played a mean guitar, but I never really heard him play.

Recently he performed a gig at Wicked Willy's, and I had the good fortune to be there for a non-stop two-hour feast of music from the heart and soul of Last Generation with Billy Rayner (guitar, vocals), Dave Ostram (bass), and Mark Flynn (drums).

Billy has an immediacy and energy that infuses the space with electricity. His music is outstanding, much more insightful than the crowd at Wicked Willy's expects, but there were a number who realized that Last Generation is something special. Of course there are the others who don't care, as long as the music is loud and constant. His vocals are often lyrical and smooth or punching and driving. He slips in and out of voices in chimerical fashion, and his guitar provides raucous timbres or smooth and mellow vibes, more kinds of vibratos and right hand technique than one might hear in other bands, and it all is connected with the past while carving out a niche in the here and now.

His bassist, Dave Ostrom, is, as Rayner referred to him, awesome. He bass lines are pure liquid, original, with such shape and range that I was constantly amazed at his inventiveness. He creates a driving energy that Billy and the drummer, Mark Flynn, assimilate and fuse with their own work so that the ensemble is tight and yet incredibly open and versatile. Every moment is incandescent, vibrant, and even amidst the clamor of a come-and-go style bar like Willy's, thoughtful and perceptive. Standing in the middle of the band, his work took on a fusional role, constantly responding and commenting, and adding to and transforming the mix.

Mark Flynn is another musician that I knew of but had never heard his professional work. His contribution was integral, obviously attuned to the mood and ambiance of each work. He was often a catalyst to get things started, or to establish the song. His performance captured and propelled every moment. He also did backup vocals. Some believe that the driving force of a rock band is the drummer, and Flynn's perceptive empathic sense of what is going on and his anticipation of texture and expression might reinforce that perception. His work was very musical, at times, even lyrical.

Last Generation has gone through many iterations and generations. Billy has evolved over time and his work has no doubt deepened. His inspiration comes from his life and his connection with the past, his friends and family. It is work that I wished I had known earlier. It is of the past and present, and searching for a vision for the future. If you check out Last Generation, you will get a taste of the group, but only the spontaneity of the live moment can really give you a sense of the dynamism and charisma of the man that I have come to know now as the Bill of Rock.

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