EVER SINCE his days with Yes, Patrick Moraz has been one of those keyboardists whose setup would stock a small music store. In his last area appearance, with the Moody Blues, he was surrounded by synthesizers, drum machines, pianos and organs. With so much music-making machinery, some wondered why Moraz brought along a band.
"Timecode," his new album, has the answer: Without other players, Moraz is pretty boring. Sure, he knows how to wring an almost orchestral array of sounds from his electronic gizmos, and his abilities as an arranger are well-suited to the colors and textures of his keyboards. But as is made clear by "Black Brains of Positronic Africa," an instrumental ballet that leaves Moraz wandering through a morass of melodic deadends, his solo playing can become frightfully indulgent.
Of course, it helps if those others have more to say for themselves than Moraz, which is hardly the case here. On most of the songs he works with longtime collaborator John McBurnie, whose versatile voice and platitudinous poesy seem perfectly matched to Moraz's glibness. The result is progressive rock pabulum that sports enough technology and fashionable sound effects to seem quite current, but which rarely ventures beyond the merely listenable. Only ocasionally, as in "Life in the Underworld," do sparks fly.
Which is a shame, because Moraz's solos haven't always been so dull. "Future Memories," an album of "instant compositions" recorded from a 1977 French broadcast and recently issued in America, has its share of instrumental foundering but the Gamelan-inspired "Eastern Sundays" more than compensates. "Coexistence," a 1980 collaboration with the band "Syrinx" that has also just earned American release, rambles a bit but is blessed with a lyric sensibility that suggests the pastoral eloquence of Ennio Morricone. PATRICK MORAZ -- "Timecode" (Passport B6039); "Future Memories" (PVC 8922); "Coexistence" (PVC 8923); appearing Friday with Bill Bruford at the University of Maryland's Grand Ballroom.