Graded on a Curve:
Hy Maya,
The Mysticism of Sound & Cosmic Language

It was once concisely stated that before Pere Ubu and the Dead Boys, there was Rocket from the Tombs. Cleveland’s underground genealogy has grown considerably more complex however, and Smog Veil’s Platters du Cuyahoga series, its second installment having just concluded with Hy Maya’s The Mysticism of Sound & Cosmic Language, only reinforces this circumstance. Connected to Ubu through Allen Ravenstine and Scott Krauss, Hy Maya’s uncovered recordings drive home Robert Bensick as the project-concept’s guiding light and illuminate with loving diligence another pocket of Ohio’s subterranean musical history. It’s out now on compact disc and double blue marbled vinyl with download.

Smog Veil has always been a regional label, and the output rounded up under the Platters du Cuyahoga banner considerably amplifies this fact. Now six releases deep in two volumes, at all kicked off with Albert Ayler’s Ghosts Live at the Yellow Ghetto by x_x. Featuring John Morton (formerly of Electric Eels) and Andrew Klimek, it documented a wild, concise, and recent (circa 2014-’15) plunge into punkish free rock from an underappreciated and vital Cleveland band.

Since then, Platters du Cuyahoga has reached much farther back and followed a couple of thematic threads, one being a spotlight thrown upon the region’s blues-rock activity through a pair of albums, Live at the Brick Cottage 1972-1973 by the Mr. Stress Blues Band and Sunday Morning Revival by The Schwartz-Fox Blues Crusade. The other releases unveil previously unheard Pere Ubu pre-history; they are The Robert Bensick Band’s French Pictures in London (with participants including Scott Kraus and Tom Herman), Allen Ravenstine + Albert Dennis’ Terminal Drive, and now Hy Maya.

Of the three, The Mysticism of Sound & Cosmic Language is the oldest, corralling a June ’72 performance at Bensick’s alma mater Cleveland State University, a subsequent show at Sandusky, OH’s The Cellar, a summertime rehearsal, a visit to Cleveland’s Motion Picture Sound Studios, a fall/ winter ’72 recording at Ravenstine’s house, and an early ’73 demo.

The results are assembled non-chronologically, but don’t worry, as the sources and participants are all notated. This does mean we don’t get to hear Bensick address the assembled at Cleveland State (“we’re going to try and take you places top 40 radio doesn’t”) until deep into the first CD (a bonus track, in fact; it’s found on the 2LP’s download), but the choice to blend Hy Maya’s tight timeframe is a smart one, as the endeavor had developed a somewhat two-pronged artistic approach.

The event at Cleveland State occurred due to Bensick being awarded “artist of the year” by the school, and he conceived it as a “sound performance piece” rather than any sorta standard live gig. Still, it and the other public portions of this set are decidedly more rock tangible, and by extension foster a more audience friendly atmosphere, a quality that also applies to the sole inclusion from the summer rehearsal (anything else from that day isn’t here, which suggests a discerning hand in the assemblage of this material).

After a bit of quibbling between members, “Dance of Illusion (Camel Song)” establishes a palpable post-psych ambience befitting the title of both the track and the album, riding a raw and tough (and flute imbued) groove for 16 minutes. The CD bonus Cleveland State extract “Dissolving the Contradiction” reinforces this side of Hy Maya’s personality.

In the notes to French Pictures in London, Hy Maya contributor Cynthia Black states that Bensick was not punk, and The Mysticism of Sound & Cosmic Language pretty much cinches it. But with this said, “Neurons Fire” is roughly 15 years ahead of its time and would’ve fit right into the ’80s rock underground. “Is this the Moment? (Antimatter Does Matter)” does reveal the group taking it more “outside” in performance, betraying the possible influence of free jazz amid copious guitar feedback.

But overall, the mysticism of the title underlines Bensick as a child of the ’60s. This is nowhere more prevalent than “Albert’s Lullaby,” which finds Albert Dennis singing a sleep-inducing number as a simulated brook burbles behind him, and “Just One Day (The Illusion of Time),” a decidedly flute-folky number exuding a hint of Kevin Ayers.

“Consumption of the Core Self” and “The Fabric of Time & Space” underscore abstract and sometimes forthright avant-garde tendencies, the former offering a pleasant piano-bass interlude and the latter wielding a considerably wilder electronic tangle. Captured at Ravenstine’s digs, “The Fabric of Time & Space” contrasts with the more methodical exploration of “Left Brain Reflexions (Quantum Entanglement),” as the environment of Motion Picture Sound Studios was clearly beneficial to the collective’s intent. It’s also where Ravenstine shines (he’s not on the live stuff).

The first disc concludes with a double dip into those studio sessions, “Amplified for Clarity” and “Orb Overview” both loaded with Bensick’s flute. He’s solid on an oft-annoying instrument, also playing guitar, percussion, tapes, synth, and singing, but I really appreciate his saxophone blowing in “General Relativity Is Relative.” Oozing a somewhat Velvety aura, that song is one of the few live cuts sprinkled into the studio dominated second disc.

No doubt many footnotes deserve to stay that way, but like the other Platters du Cuyahoga entries (there’s yet to be one that’s not worth having) The Mysticism of Sound & Cosmic Language transcends the historical. Akin to Terminal Drive, nothing here is jaw-dropping, but that’s in large part because so much has happened musically since. The sounds collected here are diverse yet cohesive, surprisingly coherent, and the whole rewards repeated listening. And who really thought we’d ever get to hear Hy Maya? It’s indeed a find.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+

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  • Robert Bensick

    Thanks for your in depth review and kind words!!!
    Blessings to you all……Robert Bensick

  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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