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Music Review: Martin Rev – Stigmata

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It is hard to imagine a less likely moniker for a band in 1971 than Suicide. The duo of Martin Rev and Alan Vega were tremendously influential among the nascent “downtown” scene in New York during the mid 1970s, but their music never caught fire with the general public. It is unfortunate, because their self-titled debut (1977) is an absolute classic.

The duo never looked back though, continuing to release groundbreaking records both as Suicide and as solo artists for the next three decades. The latest from keyboardist Martin Rev, Stigmata, is another bold leap into the future.

The disc is almost all instrumental, except for a couple of instances of chants being incorporated. It also reflects a remarkable new interest for the artist. While the first three tracks, “Laudamus,“ “Te Deum,“ and “Jubilate,“ are all Martin Rev compositions, they share titles with an unlikely compatriot. As a founding father of the Baroque movement, Handel published pieces with these very names back in 1713.

In fact, nearly every song on the 14-track collection features a Latin title. There is “Dona Nobis Pacem,” (Give Us Peace), “Sanctus,” (Holy), and “Magnum Mysterium,” (Great Mystery), to name just a few. Except for the brevity of the individual tracks, the music of Stigmata does have a bit in common with the Baroque and chamber works so identified with the Catholic church.

But the sound Rev evokes is much too futuristic to be identified with the old masters. And not all of it is as soothing as “Gloria” either. “Exultate” is a very nervous-sounding three minutes of music, as is “Spiritus.” “Sinbad’s Voyage” is the most adventurous cut on Stigmata, reflecting the title’s conceit, I suppose.

There is an interesting dedication on the sleeve: “Angel Mari, spread your wings in joy and fly to the loving arms of the Divine.” “Mari” was the title of the first song on Martin Rev, his first solo album (1980). Although he is not offering any concrete clues, Stigmata seems to be addressing a significant occurrence in the world of Martin Rev.

For the rest of us, the record stands as a fascinating glimpse into the present state of mind of one of the most interesting musicians to emerge from NYC in the past 40 years. Stigmata may be a mystery wrapped in an enigma, but it is a most enjoyable puzzle to delve into.

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