In the very darkest days of progressive music, Cartoon were one of the very brightest stars of U.S. classical/progressive rock. Originally a trio (keyboards, guitar, drums), and expanding to a quintet for their 2nd lp (add reeds and violin), they used classical form and influences along with more avant prog influences like Zamla and Univers Zero. Sortie is both their lps (minus one track that wouldn't fit) directly off the masters.
"Their music is just as amazing now as it was ten years ago, not being dated or outmoded in any way."
"...one of the hidden gems of American progressive rock."
– Laser's Edge
“ Well performed, dense exiting music… This CD combines their two albums minus one song. What we get is a mix of avant-garde keyboards, RIO arrangements, jazz-rock flavorings mixed with classical and cartoon themes. Great stuff from the dark-age of progressive music”
Unable to apply "standard formulas,” the music biz stuffed Cartoon into some very unlikely pigeonholes.
•• Befuddled album merchants filed our records under rock, jazz, imports, independents and once alongside comedian George Carlin.
•• Radio DJs programmed Cartoon along with Miles Davis, The Dead Kennedys or Kitaro.
These incongruities were further exaggerated when we played live.
•• Suburban teenyboppers who came to see techno-pop act A Flock of Seagulls looked to one another for clues as to how to react to the opening act.
•• As one of the first electric bands to play the San Francisco Conservatory’s recital hall, we had to shatter its formal atmosphere, overcoming the tension left by years of juries and judgment.
•• Our Sunday afternoon concert, at the Golden Gate park band shell where municipal bands play Sousa marches, was heartily applauded by a wide range of passers-by.
Instead of retreating as “misunderstood artists”, we embraced these awkward situations, fanatically performing whenever and wherever we could. Triumphs over the conventional reinforced our youthful arrogance with an illusion of invincibility that would later prove to be our downfall.
Cartoon's beginnings can be traced back to Camelback High School in Phoenix, AZ., where Scott and Mark shared a fascination with music that pushed the boundaries of convention, progressive rock, moder classical, free jazz and especially the incidental music from afternoon cartoons. After graduation, their musical collaboration came to fruition in coping with the malaise of the 9-to-5 world. The regimen began with musical discussion over Mexican food at the Tee Pee Tap Room which would later be applied to guitars and keyboards into the wee hours of the morning.
Cartoon's first pieces, Shredded Wheat (track 7), Apathy in America (track 5) and Shark (track 1), emerged after several months of playing and reworking. In contrast, Scott used his classical training to score Ptomaine Poisoning track 2) and Anemic Bolero (track 3), which rely on precise, thematic material and structured development.
Auditions for a sorely needed percussionist proved troublesome. None of the drummers could grasp the demanding structures and shifting meters requiring consistent execution. Eventually, Mark met Gary Parra who stocked the latest European imports for a local record
store. Playing drums professionally since he was 12, Gary had bounced between popular bands of every style, never really satisfied. During the audition, we instantly struck a mutual rapport based on the improbable event of finding others sharing the same musical esthetic, especially in the sterile desert plateau we called home.
In May of 1979, Flotsam and Apathy in America were recorded at Synchestra Studios for submission to a sampler of Arizona bands. Both songs were refused for being too “eclectic.” They were repackaged as a demo and sent to local clubs and a few daring record companies. Club managers quickly shook their heads, unable to gauge the unfamiliar style's popularity. The concerts we organized in defiance of this cold reception drew enthusiastic crowds, including our debut at a Scottsdale Unitarian church. The few record companies who answered our letters gave the same discouraging replies as the club owners, with one exception. Steve Feigenbaum, then at Random Radar Records, was impressed by the demo and managed to keep our spirits up while conveying the bleak prospects of
independents in the music biz. He convinced us to produce our album independently and offered distribution through his Wayside Music mail order catalog. Buoyed by the live shows and Steve's enthusiasm, we focused on recording in the studio, continually refining the realization of our material to tape. Producers Jon Wilson and Ed Van Fleet successfully commandeered Synchestra to capture each song's complexity on only eight tracks. The final mix of "Cartoon" was completed in 1980; but with depleted finances, post-production and packaging would await a miracle.
Feeling Phoenix had no more to offer, Scott broke his hometown ties and relocated to San Francisco. Starting fall semester of 1980 at the Conservatory of Music, his hectic
schedule included composition with John Adams and piano performance. Counterbalancing his studies were frequent freewheeling improv sessions with roommate, drummer Randy Sanders in their “Third Floor" apartment. Randy fatefully recruited Herb for one of these wild musical sessions. Immediately intrigued by the unlikely combination of instruments and the ease of the spontaneous musical dialogue, Herb was hooked.
Meanwhile, back in Phoenix...
Craig Fry had approached Mark and Gary in response to queries for adventurous classical musicians. Guided by their demented teachings, Craig began retooling his violin training to progressive rock ways.
It all started coming together during the summer of '81. Mark, Gary and Craig relocated to
a San Francisco apartment near Scott and Herb, with soundman Joe Corrao and his recording equipment crammed into the "Crow's Nest” on the balcony of 1465 Oak Street. The roar of traffic, sympathetic neighbors and an incredibly tolerant landlord allowed frequent hassle-free
rehearsals. The addition of violin, bassoon and digital synthesizers expanded Cartoon’s range of timbre and dynamics. This inspired revised arrangements of old favorites, enabling the complex layering in the studio recordings to be performed live.
Work on the first album's stalled production gained unexpected momentum when a trifecta bet at the horse races placed by long time friend Alex Alvarez miraculously paid out enough to cover the remaining bills. Thanks to Little Expert. Gaddy’s Hope and Coppertonian, the
first album was released in late '81. With distribution ranging from San Francisco to Paris, U.S. reviews were generally positive with an occasional warning to the conventional listener. European critics noted us as an American band following in the footsteps of such European
greats as Magma, Henry Cow and Univers Zero.
Cartoon initially performed to sparse audiences at small Bay Area establishments such as The Hotel Utah and Sleeping Lady Cafe. Amidst anti-disciplined punk and the heavy dance beat of the early 80's, most people were hearing this unusual music for the first time. Undaunted by empty seats, we continued to play energetic shows. Our patience was rewarded one night when one of the spectators was KPFA's program director, Mary Tilson. The resulting live broadcast from the station's studio reached new fans. This performance was later released on cassette as "Boot-Legged”, the first recording of the quintet. A loyal
following gradually amassed as news spread of Cartoon's unusual and captivating performances. With this support, we graduated to larger venues, opening for local new music acts such as Snakefinger, Negativland and Rova Saxophone Quartet. Impressed by our perseverance and professionalism, Rod McDonald of The Stone gambled by scheduling us to open for national acts, including Allan Holdsworth, Renaissance and Fred Frith, peaking with over 1000 witnessing a memorable show opening for Jon Anderson's Animation.
A confident Cartoon retumed to Synchestra with an orchestral sound and compositional approach different from the first album. The pieces on "Music from Left Field" are improvised within a preconceived form or song structure. Each song was assembled in the studio based on a predetermined sketch of moods. motifs and transitions, growing in complexity as each musician's overdub was added. This approach tapped into the spontaneity and interplay between improvising musicians that often disappears with the search for perfection in the studio. Classical sonata form defined the overall structure of side
two (tracks 9-12): Bedlam was improvised within the traditional form of a Sonata-Allegro movement. Light in August, the only scored composition, is the Adagio movement. Scherzo was improvised in the same form as a Scherzo and Bottom of the Ninth as a Rondo. Quotes [track 8] is the harvest from an improvisation carefully tended over 8 months of rehearsals and shows.
European reviews for "Music from Left Field" extended beyond the reliably supportive altemative press, appearing in national music magazines and the popular press. Personally more satisfying were the invitations to perform at universities in Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Yugoslavia. These financially-forlom, logistically-unlikely appeals piqued our quixotic ideals, making dreams of a European tour irresistible. Our applications to two prestigious new music festivals in France were accepted, thanks to help from contact and friend Bernard Gueffier.
In May of '84 we embarked on this small European tour, shipping instruments by boat, renting larger items such as the piano, mixing console and amps in Amsterdam. The support crew included sound engineer Mike Aiken, long-time ally Kriss Grigg who would record the shows on a brand new multi-track deck, and the dedicated, unheralded girlfriends who handled concessions and a multitude of miscellaneous tasks. Transporting this unwieldy entourage required a truck, a van, two automobiles, and a large measure of patience. The French festival line-ups were magnificent: In Nancy/Vandoevre, Cartoon joined Cassiber,
Camberwell Now and Lol Coxhill among others. In Reims: Zamla, Skeleton Crew, Christian Vander, John Greaves, etc... Cartoon's showmanship was at its peak. Themes from Rocky & Bullwinkle, Peabody & Sherman, and dramatic covers of Webern, Stravinsky and Bartok String Quartets bridged a concise selection of our most powerful compositions. We were in heaven: dinner and ales with Lars Holimer and Zamla, jamming back stage with Univers
Zero, privy to a hearing of the unreleased Art Zoyd ballet. The effect was intoxicating. We felt unstoppable.
Arriving the next afternoon in Paris, the entourage split up. One half settled into a Champs Elysées hotel, with the others maneuvering the equipment van towards a friend's
house in Clichy, a poor Paris suburb. After enjoying a pleasant evening of Paris coffee houses and cathedrals, we returned to Clichy to discover that the van and everything in it had been stolen. Instruments owned for 20 years, audio gear, clothes, LP’s, even the recording of the previous evening's concert; Everything was gone. Shocked by the quick tum of events, we alternated between desperate searches and the comforts of a potent Belgian Ale, Chimay. All frantic efforts of recovery, including posting rewards, contacting the police, pleading with the American Embassy, plying the media, and scanning pawn shops, went for naught. A disoriented, disgruntled and depressed entourage limped back home never to play as Cartoon again. To add insult to injury, the French government billed Cartoon for import taxes on the equipment "sold" while in France.
Although instruments could be replaced, Cartoon would never recover its bold spirit. Mark and Craig left to pursue other musical directions. Scott, Gary and Herb regrouped
as PFS, further exploring music improvised on preconceived forms.
"Th...Th...Th.... ... That's All Folks!"
- Herb Diamant / Scott Brazieal
released January 1, 1994
“Cartoon” recorded 1979
“Music From Left Field” recorded 1983
Scott Brazieal : keyboards
Mark Innocenti : guitars (bass on 2)
Gary Parra : percussion
Herbert Diamant : woodwinds (8-12)
Craig Fry : violin, French horn (8-12)