If you were at Justin’s in Albany last Friday night, you probably noticed the white-haired gentleman crouched over the over-sized mixing board. While jazz guitar master Ron Petrides was firing up his six-string alongside dynamic Castleton drummer David Calarco and bassist extraordinaire John Menegon, engineer Malcolm Cecil was busy recording and filming the evening’s musical magic for an upcoming live DVD release.
This Saturday night, Cecil will take off his headphones, pick up his bass and step into the spotlight to join Petrides and cellist Garfield Moore as they kick off the 2010 concert season at the Sand Lake Center for the Arts in Averill Park. The trio calls themselves SuperStringz.
But that’s only the latest chapter in the long and revolutionary musical career of London-born Malcolm Cecil.
What you might not know about Cecil is that he and his equally madcap musical partner Robert Margouleff ushered in a whole new era of sonic exploration as the pioneering electronic music duo Tonto’s Expanding Head Band.
In fact, Cecil designed and built TONTO – The Original New Timbral Orchestra – which was the world’s first and still the largest multi-timbral, polyphonic analog audio synthesizer.
As Tonto’s Expanding Head Band, Cecil and Margouleff coaxed and cajoled a stunning array of sounds from TONTO to create the mind-blowing 1971 super-synth album, “Zero Time,” which became a staple of late-night DJs on the underground FM radio stations of the day.
In The All Music Guide, Steven McDonald hails the album as “a revolutionary piece of work that set out to explore the capabilities of the synthesizer with no regard for conceptions of pop success. ‘Zero Time’ is still considered to be a turning point in the use of synthesizers in contemporary music.”
Also in the Guide, Jim Brenholts bluntly declares, “‘Zero Time’ is one of the first – and perhaps best – of all electronic albums.”
As Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo says, “Once upon a time, Tonto represented the cutting edge of artificial intelligence in the world of music – Robert and Malcolm are the mad chefs of aural cuisine with beefy tones and cheesy timbres, making brain chili for those brave enough and hungry enough. Consequently, back in the cultural wasteland of the Midwest, the release of Tonto’s Expanding Head Band was an inspirational indicator for starving Spudboys who had grown tired of the soup du jour. It was official – noise was now Muzak, and Muzak was now noise. The masses are asses who need Tonto’s glasses.”
Continuing to work with TONTO, Cecil’s post-Expanding Head Band days found him crawling out of the underground and into the Top Ten. He engineered and co-produced a string of Stevie Wonder’s finest albums – “Music of My Mind”, “Talking Book” “Fulfillingness’ First Finale” and “Innervisions” – which earned him a Grammy Award for Best Engineered Non-Classical Recording (’73), as well as awards for engineering the Album of the Year two years running (’73 & ’74).
Want to hear more credits? Cecil’s got lots of them. He also produced, engineered, played bass and/or created unique electronic musical soundscapes on groundbreaking albums by such diverse artists as T-Rex, Minnie Ripperton, Rogue Wave, Stan Getz, Joan Baez, Ginger Baker, the Isley Brothers, Steve Hillage, James Taylor, Weather Report, Little Feat, Richie Havens, Stephen Stills, Gil Scott-Heron, Van Dyke Parks, Quincy Jones, Randy Newman and many more.
SuperStringz – featuring Malcolm Cecil, Ron Petrides and Garfield Moore – will perform at the Sand Lake Center for the Arts in Averill Park at 8pm on Saturday. Tix are $16.