In the last CD review I took a drive with Trance Mission. This time I’m taking a spin in their third model from 1996. There’s no doubt, Trance Mission has an identity. They have a feel and a style you can recognize from a distance. It’s no secret that an artist’s style is like one’s personal handwriting. It’s the unique combination of elements that blend together making his or her work distinguishable from the crowd. Take Picasso for example. There’s a certain way in which he draws a line that’s similar through all his work, from his early years, through his Cubist phase with Braque, and on to his later years. It even shows up in his sculpture. His unique way of shaping forms tells you, even before you read the signature, “That’s a Picasso.” Most artists are recognizable by their individual way of drawing, or applying paint, or their melodic/harmonic structure, or compositional construction; by repeated elements that thread through their work to bind together a one-of-a-kind style. It becomes evident, too, that artists without a clearly, easily distinguishable style won’t get as much attention, or fame. Artists whose talents are multifaceted are shunned. Art collectors, gallery operators, museum curators unconsciously clutch onto strong identifying styles. Something by which they can prop up their judgement, and pin with the label “important.”
But there’s another aspect of style that is not recognized. Style is a double-edged sword. The talent that forges style is a set of habits, learned, developed, and innate, that the artist cannot escape. That collection of traits is not actually genius. The style that says “Hemingway,” “Matisse,” “Mozart,” “Adams,” or “Trance Mission” is actually a set of limitations. Limitations the artist is bound and gagged by, and unable to break free. It’s the prison cell where we can reliably find an artist. Conversely, there are those whose talent is in imitation. Those who are able to impersonate almost perfectly other styles. They don’t get respect. They haven’t developed their own view point, and therefore, invisible. Artists struggle with this dichotomy. Some go so far into contriving a unique identity that in the attempt they lose sight of their own self, and the purpose of art.
However, originality isn’t all original. It’s an illusive blend of the familiar and the foreign, the anticipated and the unexpected, the conventional and the revolutionary. Talent hides at the fulcrum between the known and the unknown. This may explain why Trance Mission only produced four albums. They were beginning to play out their teeter-totter of new and old, and becoming too predictable. Yet, to see one’s own limits, and pull the plug, shows real talent. To know when a work or series is finished is part of what separates the good from the great. The good keep on repeating themselves, the great know how to self edit and move on.
There are packages of originality on Head Light. Here are a few shining examples—
In Frog Pyjamas—
Since the ’90s the members have moved on. Stephen Kent has moved on to do solo albums, collaborations with other musicians, and performs around the world. Beth Custer continues to teach and play in the Bay Area with her own Beth Custer Ensemble, and with Clarinet Thing. John Loose still plays an assortment of drums and drumming styles, and he’s also moved into surround sound and HD video production at Dolby Labs. Kenneth Newby seems to have retreated back to the great white north and evaded the grid—little web presence to be found.
Although Trance Mission hasn’t released a recording in recent years, they do occasionally regroup to perform in San Fransisco. (Don’t know if Newby joins them. Sometimes it’s listed as the Trance Mission Trio.) Check out their schedule on Beth’s website.
(||) Rating — Music : A ║ Performance : A ║ Recording : A ║ Trance Mission, Head Light, City of Tribes, 1996