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It was my considerable pleasure to be present at After Crying’s first U.S. concert, at Baltimore’s intimate Orion Studios. The band presented more than two and a half hour’s worth of music, and then hung around signing autographs and talking to us for another hour.

It was illuminating to watch six men (with the assistance of two more from the soundboard, one of whom played flute) perform this orchestral music not only flawlessly, but with considerable passion. Later bassist/cellist Peter Pejtsik talked animatedly about "the spirit of rock and roll," and it was clear that despite the Hungarian musicians’ conservatory training they do not lack that spirit, which drove their virtuoso performances.

Basically, most of the musicians doubled on keyboards. Trumpeter Balazs Winkler occasionally played a keyboard with one hand while holding and playing his trumpet with the other. Winkler’s trumpet was so sharp and precise, even when he was double-and triple-tonguing it, that you might be forgiven for thinking it was a sample played from a keyboard. Even more startling was guitarist Ferenc Torma’s solo performance of "Crash and Cry:" he played his guitar, capoed at the 7th fret, with his left hand, using the tap/touch method while playing synthesizer accompaniment with his right hand.

Pejtsek confined himself to either bass or cello. He was all over the cello, pulling sounds from it with his fingers and bow and looking the very picture of that old cliché about playing an instrument as though making passionate love to a woman.

The concert was one of the best and most satisfying I have ever attended, and confirmed to me my already high opinion of After Crying.

Two new CDs were available, both live albums, both titled STRUGGLE FOR LIFE. Both use the same artwork and packaging design, but the "essential" single-CD renders the art in tones of red, while the two-CD set renders it in tones of blue (which looks more realistic to the painting of a corked bottle, crammed with musical instruments, floating in a sea).

The single-CD album is not simply an edited-down version of the two-CD album and completists will want both. But if you intend to get only one album, either has its own rewards.

The two-CD set is the more complete one, of course, and offers a parallel to the concert I attended (including Torma’s "Crash and Cry," although it’s not specifically identified as a solo performance). Additionally, its second CD has a "data track," playable in your computer, which offers "pictures, lyrics, memories, reviews" and MP3 versions of three additional songs, "Don’t Betray Me," "Radio Rarotonga" and "Shadow Song." There is a lot of music in this set: 135:55 or over two and a half hours – not including the three songs on MP3s, which collectively run another 13 and a half minutes.

Two of those songs, available only as MP3 files on the two-CD set, are part of the lineup of material on the single-CD album, however: "Radio Rarotonga" and "Shadow Song." (This album has no "data tracks."). The "essential" CD runs 73:56, or about an hour and a quarter, and otherwise features a selection of material from the 2-CD set

Both albums include one 1997 recording (from Budapest): After Crying’s second recorded King Crimson cover, "Starless." This performance is enhanced by the guest appearance of "Starless"’s original vocalist and bassist, John Wetton, who recapitulates his original role. The rest of the performances are from 1999.

Also on sale at the Orion concert was Csaba Vedres’ recent album, MESEK, LEVELEK. It was Vedres who originally organized After Crying to play his music, and Vedres’ musical vision still persists in the band. I asked Peter Pejtsek about Vedres, and he said that after Vedres had assembled the musicians who would be After Crying, they began contributing musically and this forced Vedres into a reexamination of his own role in the band. He ultimately left After Crying (after their third album) amicably, Peter said, giving them close to a year to prepare for his departure.

Vedres then formed Townscream (reviewed elsewhere here), and released one album. A second was recorded (with Balazs Winkler guesting on trumpet), but apparently will not be released. In the meantime, we have MESEK, LEVELEK to fall back on. A production of Magyar Radio, it is 66 and a half minutes of mostly solo piano recorded in late 1997 and early 1998. The album is divided into two parts, "Tales" and "Letters," separated by a remixed version of "Igy szolt a madar (And The Bird Said)" from the Townscream album. (That piece uses recorded birdsong.) The first nine tracks are "A stet szoba mesei (The Tales Of A Dark Room)", while "Levelek (Letters)" occupies tracks 11 through 22.

This is not rock and roll music. Rather, it is modern concert music, covering the same broad spectrum found in After Crying’s music, and Vedres demonstrates his accomplished touch in these performances. Typically, each piece in these two suites of music runs two to four minutes. The album opens with a piece which sounds almost like the Peanuts theme, but the next piece sounds like pure After Crying – something they might have performed at their concert, in fact.

Listening to this album I am struck by the way in which the line which once existed between classical/"serious" music and popular/"rock" music has disappeared. This album can be enjoyed as a piano recital by classical music aficionados and equally by those who follow the "rock" of After Crying. Bartok’s "Mikrokosmos" meets King Crimson here.

I recommend either version of the After Crying LIVE album and Vedres’ solo piano album wholeheartedly.

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