|Reviews for Earth is a Cruel Master:
"The sound is excellent, wide and clear, rich in all layers of fresh and lively. The jazz-rock has become more thoughtful. Although with Marc Wagnon the jazz rock has always been thoughtful, it is now on the whole, even more powerful and juicy- a thoughtful patina." Volkmar Mantei, Ragazzi (Germany) it's been quiet for a Buckyball records, the adventurous label Marc Wagnon (Doctor Nerve, Brand X, Tunnels, solo). A few reprints of the late Morris in 2008 after Pert, Natural selection was the last of tunnels in 2006 featuring him. Wagnon himself breaks the silence with Earth is a Cruel Master, the successor of An Afterthought from 1999 (io32). compared with that CD, which (MIDI)-vibraphonist was accompanied by an eight-member ensemble, his new album is pretty simple in design. Besides his trusty guitarist Van Manakas which fully showcases his versatility again, and Leo Traversa and Danny Stone respectively electric and acoustic bass are accompanying him. Although the general feel of the whole atmosphere is relaxed, this trio knows how to produce a full sound. Wagnon, who this time also excels as a drummer, and wrote the compositions who are enriched with subtle accompaniment lines on keyboards and electronic effects . Echo Star ope the CD with an acoustic and a sliding double-bass pattern, for example, contains fragments of spacey electronic elements combining nicely with the expansive sound of the vibraphone. those alien sounds are also audible in the stately rocker Embarquement and the progressive jazz is engaging, the groovy a concept that suggests Osiris Pre-Science. In beautiful Dark Matters the marimba and vibra-phone regularly reminds Pierre Moerlen's Gong, the full sound is especially achieved by the intrigue-reducing distorted guitar sounds, especially the climax colors. Beautiful is the contrast between the only bass, guitar and drums used in the modern jazz song Baksheesh and the almost symphonic Eye of the Skies: A Farewell, in which key traits like eruptions of horn hits underlies them. Despite the small cast Wagnon has delivered a rich sounding album, which he once again brings about a fusion of contemporary jazz, jazz rock and progressive music . Welcome back! René Yemada Stiching IO (Holland)
"…the result is a nu-jazz spaciousness with an airy atmosphere....the elegant stride of cat-paw power that is determined when it strikes, very significant."
Renato Zoppo, movimentiprog.net (Italy)
"The eight themes that make up this album are all written by the leader and mark a territory full of refined 'chiaroscuro' where energy and stillness never fail funkiness. The horizon expands into space to seek out the mysteries of the world. Or rather, of the worlds."
Maurizio Comandini, allaboutjazz.it (Italy)
It took multi-instrumentalist Mark Wagnon an entire year to record and mix Earth is a Cruel Master, an engaging collection of original jazz-rock grooves with whirlwind melodic themes and robust improvisations. Known primarily as a vibraphonist, the New York-based Wagnon also plays drums, marimba, keyboards and various percussion instruments throughout the recording. Aided by guitarist Van Manakas, electric bassist Leo Traversa and, on a couple of tunes, upright bassist Danny Stone, the disc has the raw sound of a live band with the benefit of overdubbing and electronic embellishment.
Wagnon's compositions utilize a layering of complementary themes, incorporating the instrumentation at hand, mainly guitar and vibraphone, but at times bass and even drum set with vibrant backbeats that take on a melodic flair. As with much of the so-called fusion genre, Wagnon's music eschews traditional song forms in favor of compositions consisting of various sections, sometimes connected to one another as with the opening "Echo Star" and sometimes seemingly unconnected as with the almost danceable "Embarquement."
There's an exciting element of unpredictability throughout the recording with no one piece sounding alike. The deep-groove of the atmospheric "Osiris Pre-science," which gradually unfolds into an explosive medium for Wagnon and Manakas to improvise over, sits like a distinctly flavored course among the soulful, odd-metered funk of "Dark Matters" and the anxious intensity of "Backsheesh."
The loop-based, world music vibe of "Eye of the Skies: a Farewell" and the heavy-handed 6/8 pulse of "Light at the End" give Wagnon an opportunity to showcase his staggering technique on the vibes. His solos lines are fluid and full of fresh ideas. Equally impressive as a soloist is Manakas who creates an exuberant noise on the closing track "Selective Memories."
Earth is a Cruel Master is a first-rate release of creative, forward-thinking composing supported by spectacular musicianship. John Barron allaboutjazz.com
Swiss born vibraphonist / percussionist Marc Wagnon is probably best known as a member of Tunnels during their five-album run, or perhaps as a member of Doctor Nerve before that. but all through that time he has released several solo albums of his own compositions Shadowlines from about a dozen or so years ago was one of these that I recall well. On Earth Is a Cruel Master, he is joined by guitarist Van Manakas, electric bassist Leo Traversa, and acoustic bassist Danny Stone, for an instrumental set that straddles the poles of jazz and electric jazz-rock, skillfully avoiding the two f-words. Wagnon plays everything else, including the drum kit, all mallet percussion and the occasional background synths (or are they mallets processed to sound like keyboards?), plus all the cool electronic effects that pop into the mix from time to time. While Manakas does some outstanding time in the spotlight, it s really Wagnon's everpresent vibraphone work. coupled with his thoughtful compositions that give the eight tracks here their character, as well as the many confluent interchanges between all the players involved. On "Eye of the Skies: Farewell." the multiple layers of vibraphone work are nothing short of amazing. The complex shifts and changes within all the compositions are natural and always feel right, occasionally stretching out into some amazing grooves (as on the ten-minute "Osiris Pre-Science"'). but jumping back in again just as seamlessly. Overall, this is an exemplary set that delivers the goods on many levels. - Peter Thelen Exposé Magazine
Known previously os the master mind behind inventive fusion group Tunnels, vibraphonist/percussionist/composer Marc Wagnon realizes solo aspirations with Earth is a Cruel Master - eight tracks of impressionistic, improv-driven fusion with a twist. That twist, of course, is Wagnon's use of vibes as lead instrument, an approach that can't help sounding upbeat regardless of context. Wagnon also plays drums, marimba, keyboards and percussion here, assisted by guests Van Manakas (guitar) plus Leo Traversa (electric bass) and Danny Stone (acoustic bass).
Each track has accompanying liner notes from Marc on his Conceptual inspiration, helping set mood and appropriate visions in the minds eye. The music is lush, regardless of whatever pace is established. And to his credit, Wagnon employs an ensemble orientation that lets his supporting cast shine; especially Manakas, who gets ample spotlight time.
The deft noodling is jaw-drop-pingly good, especially on speedier fare a la Selective Memories" and "Eye of the Skies: A Farewell." Also worth noting is Marc's percussion work (check out his busy undercurrents on "Light at the End"). Massive talent all around.
-John Collinge Progression Magazine
INCREDIBLE new release from Marc Wagnon (Tunnels)! Perhaps the best album his label Buckyball Records have released to date - and that is saying something since they have all of the Tunnels releases (Marc's band with Percy Jones!) and several great fusion CDs including the new release by Jake Hertzog. "Earth Is a Cruel Master" finds Wagnon in complete control playing everything except the guitars & bass himself, revealing that he is not only an incredible mallet player but also a first rate drummer! He contributes drums, vibraphone, marimba, percussion & keyboards. He is joined by the ever amazing Van Manakas on guitar and two bassists. Leo Traversa on electric bass (sounding a bit like Percy Jones at times!) and Danny Stone on acoustic bass. Of course all of the compositions are by Wagnon as well and they range from intricate written structures sometimes recalling Zappa's best work to loose framework pieces for soloing. Manakas contributes some mindblowing solos but the focus is on Wagnon's nimble and masterful use of vibes & marimba both in ensemble parts and in jaw-dropping solo sections that recall the best players you can think of! Absolutely essential for fans of great fusion, mallet percussion and fine jazz composition! Of course those who are already Tunnels fans shouldn't think twice either. I will conclude by saying that the drumming is also stunning and it is a great pity Wagnon can't find a way to plays drums and vibes simultaneously in Tunnels as he would be the perfect drummer for them as well! ZNR.com
Marc Wagnon comes from the world of rock and funk rather than straight-ahead jazz, making this contemporary fusion effort unique unto itself. Overdubbing drums, percussion, and keyboards alongside his ever-present vibraphone, Wagnon adds a spacy feeling to these original compositions, along with a beat-driven pulse. Guitarist Van Manakas, himself no stranger to commercial product, gives good account of himself as a team player or improviser when the need for it is called. While not formulaic in the strictest sense, there's good common sense employed, with a darker edge and muscular rhythms that allow Manakas and Wagnon freedom to produce a bigger sound. Where "Embarquement" is in a slowed funk with Manakas stepping up, "Backsheesh" is more involved with a backbeat supplying the foundation for a little swing and old-school-style '70s fusion. Wagnon is not so much stretching because of the overdubbing, but lays out ideas that are much more than afterthoughts. His marimba playing is pithy and warm on tracks like "Light at the End" in 6/8 time, more in the ethnic or jungle realm, while "Selective Memories" is similar, but Wagnon's marimba is much more pronounced and intricately woven into the fabric of the music. While the synthesizers added are more window dressing, and the beat a bit predictable, Wagnon strives for making modern music that is interesting, if not innovative. His previous recordings are better, but this one holds weight in terms credibility and taking calculated risks.by Michael G. Nastos All Music Guide
O's Notes: Wagnon shows his versatility and talent as a composer, producer and musician on Earth is A Cruel Master. He plays drums, marimba, keyboards and percussion. Van Manakas (g), Leo Traversa (electric bass) and Danny Stone (acoustic bass) support his efforts through eight songs. The music is very introspective with many transitions. "Embarquement" starts with a relaxed groove that morphs into a funky club beat. Marc successfully creates a musical picture of the molecules and mysteries of our planet.
D. Oscar Groomes O's Place Jazz Magazine
After playing with Headhunters, Brand X and Tunnels, the only thing left for a percussionist to do is go solo and step into the shoes Bill Bruford is leaving behind as he trots off into retirement. It’s too easy to call him Bruford’s heir apparent, but it does fit the bill. Playing with a wide range of interests and textures, Wagnon is the new progressive darling to watch now that he’s calling his own shots. Right in that progressive/jazz/rock pocket, you know who you are if you’re a fan of this, and if you are, you will be a fan of this. Right on the money throughout. Chris Spector Midwest Records
Marc Wagnon - EARTH IS A CRUEL MASTER: If you feel like "floating" for awhile, this superbly talented multi-instrumentalist can help, to be sure... he does drums, vibraphone, marimba, keyboard and percussion... he's joined by guitarist Van Manakas, electric bassist Leo Traversa and acoustic bassist Danny Stone in one of the most texturally rich music weaves I've heard this year. All original composition lends a certain weight to the energy quotient they generate, but it's clearly talent that distinguishes the music they play... yes, you've heard this "kind of" music before, as in exploratory and full of intrigue; but there's nothing "tired" or clichéd in any of their excursions. I'll be the first to admit that the CD title threw me for a loop... certainly didn't expect this level of intrigue from that title, and it would have been nice to have something more explained about where they came up with that title on the CD jacket... but you'll discover just how misleading title can be when you catch your first listen to the beautiful and totally engaging "embarquement". Solid rhythms and excellent changes all through this 6:33 masterpiece... there's a section about 2 minutes from the end where Marc is doing vibes that remind me a lot of Ruth Underwood's classic stuff on Zappa's old albums. For pure and raw energy, though, my favorite piece on the CD was "Eye Of The Skies: A Farewell"... Marc and crew will hold your attention on every tune on this album - it gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED from me, to be sure... "EQ" (energy quotient) rating is 4.96. Rotcod Zzaj improvijazznation<