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Birdsongs Of The Mesozoic

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Biography All Music Guide

Group Members: Ken Field's Revolutionary Snake Ensemble, Ken Field

All Music Guide:

Formed in 1980, Birdsongs of the Mesozoic play a unique mix of rock, punk, classical, minimalism, and free-form music, with occasional forays into even more unexpected directions, including spoken word performance and African-American spirituals. The group's diverse instrumentation has included piano, synthesizers, guitar, saxophones, flutes, and electronic and acoustic percussion. Birdsongs began as a side project by Roger Miller and Martin Swope, who were members of the Boston band Mission of Burma. They were joined by Rick Scott and Erik Lindgren for their debut recording, a self-titled EP, in 1983. With Mission of Burma dissolving at about this time, Birdsongs became a full-time band. The group released the LP Magnetic Flip in 1985 and an EP, Beat of the Mesozoic, in 1986. Miller left the group in 1988 and was briefly replaced by saxophonist Steve Adams, who had scarcely joined the fold before being invited to join the Rova Saxophone Quartet; Adams was then replaced by Ken Field. The new lineup released 1989's Faultline (which also featured Adams prior to his departure) and 1992's Pyroclastics for the Cuneiform label. Swope left the group and was replaced by guitarist Michael Bierylo, and this lineup continued recording for Cuneiform, which released the Dancing on A'A CD in 1995. Previously unreleased music by the band's original formation was also featured on The Fossil Record 1980-1987 collection, issued in 1993. This CD includes music the band composed for To a Random, a film by Boston filmmaker Michael Burlingame.

Birdsongs of the Mesozoic have also collaborated with New York City's "Wooster Group" and composed music for two PBS series, Nova and Sesame Street. In 1994, members of the group were invited to be Artists-in-Residence at Dartmouth College, Massachusetts College of Art, and Emory University. During 1998, the group collaborated with NPR commentator David Greenberger to present the spoken word/music performance 1001 Real Apes for a five-city tour. The work was expanded into a new Greenberger/Birdsongs album, ultimately released in 2006 on Pel Pel Recordings. In 2000, Birdsongs -- with a stable lineup now consisting of Lindgren, Bierylo, Field, and Scott -- celebrated the group's 20th anniversary with a new release on Cuneiform entitled Petrophonics. The quartet opened the NEARfest progressive rock festival the following year; the performance was released on CD by NEARfest Records as 2001 Live Birds. Two years later, Birdsongs were back with The Iridium Controversy, another studio recording on Cuneiform, featuring the core quartet as well as appearances by founding member Roger Miller and four percussionists. Proving themselves always capable of surprising their listeners, Birdsongs of the Mesozoic collaborated with bass-baritone vocalist Oral Moses on the group's 13th album, Extreme Spirituals, released by Cuneiform in 2006. As its title suggests, the album features the group's interpretations of traditional African-American spirituals, with a track listing including such favorites as "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child," "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," "A Little More Faith in Jesus," and "Wayfaring Stranger," uncannily retaining the Birdsongs avant-gardist sound in an utterly new context that in no way diminishes the gospel spirit of the original material (thanks also to the synergies with Moses' powerful singing).

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