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Re-issues Reviews

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CLARK-HUTCHINSON -
Free To Be Stoned
Decca 1969-1971
Esoteric 2010

The heavy-hitting raga pioneers get anthologized. Here's hoping they'll finally receive their long overdue honor.

If Jimi saw his stone free, the band the guitarist's English follower Mick Hutchinson created with organist and reeds player Andy Clark felt no need for superficial euphemisms to set out their wares on the ensemble's third album, 1970's "Retribution", their second out of three laid down for Decca and spread here over two discs. Both men graduated from SAM GOPAL'S DREAM, and the raga vibe they caught from the Malaysian-born tabla-driver is all over the duo's debut on this label, 1969's "A=MH2", but on tracks like "Improvisation On An Indian Scale" and "Improvisation On A Modal Scale" that bookend the album, Hutchinson took it much further, lining sharp riffs, adventurous solos and relentlessly funky strum over Clark's brass-and-percussion bedrock. Way ahead of its time with the world music almost scientific exploration, it induces a trance-like state, so there's no need for acid to go space-out in the instrumental - save for the choir in "Impromptu In E Minor" - swirl.

An infectious flamenco of the baroque-tinged "Acapulco Gold" from "Retribution" and "Man's Best Friend" from 1971's "Gestalt" show that the guitarist could apply his classical skills on acoustic ever so straight, like no other rock axeman in the late '60s, yet the title track rages in the bluesy sea where Clark delivers demented Hendrixesque mantra before leading the now-quartet into an Ellington-like piano journey. Here, "stoned" can also mean "rock solid", and "Death, The Lover" effectively stalks the SABBATH swamp, while organ solo in "Best Suit" reveals a prog thread in this "Little Wing" rewrite. And then "Gestalt" tackles much more experimental matters, from the pure jazz of "Disorientated" - in two Part One's for the dizziest of effects - to the heavy folk of "The Light Burns On", rough 'n' sweet acoustic ballads such as "Boat In The Morning Mist" and the sitar-imitating "Orientated" to swing it all back to the East drones.

Yet towards the end, the initial impetus was clearly lost, as was the direction, so the demise must have been inescapable. But obscurity for a band so bold and adventurous? This compilation should take CLARK-HUTCHINSON out from the dark recesses of the Brit rock pantheon and place them closer to the pedestal.

****1/2
KINGDOM COME -
Journey
Polydor 1973
Esoteric 2010

Going aerial with a drum machine for a motor, Arthur Brown proves he was born to be wild.

If you're not Bowie, sharing with him only the first letters of your surname and the chameleon penchant, constant reinvention isn't the best way to inhabit the charts. Not that The God of Fire cared much: he always preferred tuning his inner antenna to the quirks of his own mind rather than popular trends. A decade later, his latest quirk - drum machine as the heart of the band - could have zipped the Zeitgeist, but in 1973 it was too progressive an idea to many which eclipsed the drive of this outstanding experiment. But with only the sprightly "Spirit Of Joy" single pandering to the tune-seekers, the album still rings revolutionary.

While sharp riffs and heavy bass propel "Gypsy" close to the hard rock hall of maim, showing KINGDOM COME were a real band and not just Brown's vehicle, the buzz and hypnotic chant over the white noise of "Time Captives" can make "Journey" a fave of industrial pop fans. Yet the three-part art-trek that is "Superficial Roadblocks" comes on as eclectic, rather than eccentric, centerpiece of the record, and "Come Alive" captures Arthur at the peak of his split-personality, bent on blues mode, where electricity fights electronica. And if less powerful artists might be shy to deliver it live, this drumless collective went down with a blast on-stage, as prove three tracks from the BBC vault that sit on a bonus CD alongside other alternative cuts. Thus ended the story of one wonderful ensemble - on high note.

***4/5
WIGWAM -
Live Music From The Twilight Zone
Love 1975
Esoteric 2010

The title says it all - the Finnish best bow out in a different style.

In 1974, WIGWAM were falling under their own heavy weight, with too much talent in the band's tight framework, so it was agreed the players would go their separate ways - but not before the farewell tour that this record documents. While other artists would go for the "best of" package in such circumstances, the Finnish proggers decided to give their fans the jam-packed collection of their favorite tunes, including the majestic "Let It Be" which reflected the similar situation in other ensemble and "The Moon Struck One", one of THE BAND's greatest covers, for Jukka Gustavson's organ-smoothed soft start that turns funky as it goes. There was a lot of energy left in the ranks, after all.

A collective glance had been cast even further back, to the blues classic "Checking Up On My Baby", and individual past tapped into with vocalist Jim Pembroke's reflective epic "Grass For Blades" and bassist Pekka Pohjola's aerially deep "Nipistys", yet guitarist Pekka Rechardt, who joined only some months before, brought in not only his imaginative soloing which adds to the record's charge, but also the quiet piece "Groundswell" and the raging "Pigstorm". It would feature, in somewhat reigned-in form, on the reformed WIGWAM's next LP, their masterpiece. Which means, it was worth entering the twilight zone to burst into the light and do the phoenix.

****3/4
GREG LAKE -
Live At The King Biscuit Flower Hour
King Biscuit 1996
Lemon 2010

The dinosaur rips the joint - all classics included - in the heavy company.

Possessing a top status as a progressive player, Greg Lake's rock credentials were close to zero for a long time, so the line-up of his own band in 1981 couldn't be more surprising, especially to those who missed on the artist's self-titled solo debut and who failed to notice prog credentials of Lake's new foil, Gary Moore, previously not only with THIN LIZZY but also with Jon Hiseman's COLOSSEUM II. The guitarist receives his share of spotlight during this concert, taped at the Hammersmith, in the perennial "Parisienne Walkways", voiced here by Greg with uncanny resemblance to its original singer, Phil Lynott, and packs the weighty riffs into "21st Century Schizoid Man", yet for the most part Gary's work pinpoints the art of the main man.

Starting with the blast of ELP's signature salvo, "Fanfare For The Common Man", that flows into the groovy embrace of "Karn Evil 9", and bringing the spectacle to a close with the baroque sway of "In The Court Of The Crimson King", the band are in fine form throughout. They put the jovial jammy flame into Smokey Robinson's "You Really Got A Hold On Me", and the hard rock mode suits Lake well, as prove "Retribution Drive", "Love You Too Much", co-written with Bob Dylan, and "Nuclear Attack" which Moore later reclaimed for himself. But there's an equal surge of energy in the romanticism of "The Lie" or "Lucky Man" that, with the help of Tommy Eyre's keyboards, turns into the spiritual folk tune. Even in ELP Greg didn't shine as brightly as he does, ruling a den of his own and rocking at his most powerful, on this invaluable historic document.

*****
JADE WARRIOR -
Way Of The Sun
Island 1978
Esoteric 2010

The rarefied sonic air embraces luminosity - a time for celebration.

Quietude with some splashes seemed to have been the rule JADE WARRIOR steered their sailing by, yet there always was an inherent joie de vivre that zoomed in to the full view on the band's fourth, and last, album for Island. Don't blame it on punk, but at that point of their career this band must have shared the "Do or die" maxim with the "No future" crowd, and there's always a place for a desperate dance on the brink. Just tune into "Sun Ra" where the web of Jon Field's flutes and Tony Duhig's guitars bring on a refreshing effect not unlike that of Grieg's "Morning Mood" - here, though, the folky tension is more palpable, the free-flowing Arcadian texture of "Moontears" taking the flow onto the European pastures, the Egyptian narrative notwithstanding. And soon the party relocates to the New World.

While the "Death Of Ra" aerial ballet lays out its majestic dirge on the familiar open-air plains, the percussion-rich "Carnival" and the jiving title track is where it's really at. Here's the genuine spirit of Latin America festivities, with the obvious influence of Carlos Santana, although the same joy flowers in the silky tranquility of "Heaven Stone" and "Dance Of The Sun" with its harmony guitar sound patented by Steve Hackett. All this goes to show that, for all their uniqueness, JADE WARRIOR weren't averse to join the progressive throng. Unfortunately, they had nowhere to go, and their sun shone for a few connoisseurs then. Yet now, it's still blindingly bright.

****4/5
ARTHUR BROWN -
Kingdom Come
Polydor 1972
Esoteric 2010

Ship ahoy! The God of Fire takes a nautical adventure and comes out the other end all steamy.

Having explored the flaming element on his first hit and the earthy matter on "Galactic Zoo Dossier", his first album with a band called KINGDOM COME, Arthur Brown's next step had to be into the luqid and into a doubt, as here's the ensemble name appears as the record's title. Such shaky backround aside, this LP might be the master's magnum opus combining a good concept, a strong music in the progressive vein and a statement of intent which may serve as the ringleader's personal motto: "Captain I am and Captain I stay!"

Brown's baritone has never sound so velvety - and never as gothically solemn as in "The Hymn" or "City Melody". More so, in-between the rolling waves of guitar and keyboards and alongside a Grieg quote we discover Arthur The Crooner here, in the bluesy blue "Love Is A Spirit That Will Never Die" or the serene shanty of "Water". Of course, the sarcastic don is also between the notes - it's him rollicking in "The Teacher" - and the sonic assault of the Mad Scientist is always around the bend, as in the marvellous puppet theater of "The Experiment". If the master has ever been lovable, it's on "Kingdom Come", an album that still can evoke ebb and flow in any psyche, while a smattering on alternative versions on this re-issue allows a peek into the mastermind's soul.

*****
JOHNNY WARMAN -
Walking Into Mirrors
Rocket 1981
Angel Air 2010

The classic that weathered so bad it became a classic again. That's the way reflections go.

If the '70s weren't too good for Johnny Warman, that didn't mean his songs were bad; they just had to take more time to bloom in full, and their time has come at the dawn of the '80s. With a patchier path, he could have been as huge as Bowie who'd gone a similar way sound-wise at that decade's start: Warman's floating guitar and Tony Levin's throbbing bass fondle the velvet vocals in the hit of the title track that also wears a paisley 1967-hued band on its swirling axis, and the seductive "Martian Summer" is spaced-out and warm contrasting the overall cold aura. For the most part, there's a sense of dread which peaks on the reggae of "Screaming Jets" written after watching "Apocalypse Now" and featuring the idiosyncratic Peter Gabriel vocals, but "SOS (Sending Out Signals)" rolls out its optimism on a pop route, and there's much vigor in the bonus tracks, one live. Sadly, still active as a songwriter, Johnny's never gone through the looking glass with such panache again.

***1/2
WIGWAM - Being
Love 1974
Esoteric 2010

The existence on the verge turns organic and saves the ensemble.

By 1974 the best Finnish band were a spent force - at least, in their own eyes. Having expressed most of their arsenal on "Fairyport" two years earlier, matching its scale seemed almost impossible, and creative cul-de-sac was not an option for a prog rock band. Jukka Gustavson thought differently, though, and approached the leader, Jim Pembroke, with a plan of his own which, alongside compositional ideas, envisaged usurping - for good - most of the keyboard duties as it was at the band's organ-driven start. He left after the "Being" release anyway, but the trick worked.

The playfulness ripples through Pembroke's "Petty-Bourgeois" shot through with bass by Pekka Pohjola whose classical inclinations come celestial in the Bach-shaped "Pride Of The Biosphere", the embodiment of the album's seriousness, and whose violin and Mini-Moog take "Planetist" spacewards. Yet even though it's hard to get the gist of the stream-of-consciousness melodies in the class-pointed pieces like "InspiRed Machine", the songs are mostly kept short and monotonely grandiose or, in case of fusioney tapestry that is "Pedagogue", deeply soulful. "Maestro Mercy" is a tremulous ballad descibing both the ways of humanity and the band's situation. They solved the "make it or break it" dilemma positively, this album leading straight to "Nuclear Nightclub".

***1/3
SFF -
Ticket To Everywhere
Brain 1979
Reactive 2010

Arthouse on the dancefloor, or how the electric power got seduced by disco.

If Krautrock was a German answer to British prog rock, then SCHICKE, FUHRS & FROHLING were the continental version of ELP. That's a simplistic view, but their line-up and symphonic scope looked as ambitious. Yet SFF's most ambitious move might be their third album where the trio embraced the dance trend of the day.

There's a catchy rock grit in the guitar orchestra of the title track, even bolder in the bonus concert version, and enough spaceness in the breezy "Open Doors", as new agey as it gets - think the Wakeman-Jarre duel - yet too ephemeral to etch itself in memory, the folky thread notwithstanding. In the same vein, the panorama of cinematic "Slow Motion" seems too wide and thin for all its aural thickness to embrace. The real kick in the mirror balls comes with "Song From India", the four-on-the-floor groove which grates more than raves in a repetitive way if your feet stand still, whilst "Spain Span Spanish" takes flamenco to a discotheque and is worth the price of admission alone. Equally adorable, if less captivating, feels the flow of "Here And Now" where acoustic guitar weaves into the soulful electric jive, and the Renaissance-lite "Folk n' Roll" is the most elegant piece on offer.

Earthbound and therefore - here's your progressive paradox! - experimental, the album is easy to dismiss on the first spin, but give the record some time to grow on you, and you'll love it.

****
ALAN BOWN -
Stretching Out
Island 1971
Esoteric 2010

Flexed muscle, strained tendon and a break up: a telling title and a sad demise of a great band.

With a previous album having made obvious Alan Bown's jazz pull and with progressive tendecies in full swing, the direction of the trumpeter's band's next move looked predictable. Not that everyone in the ensemble wanted to follow his route, yet they tried, and this time Gordon Neville didn't have to lay his voice in someone else's Procrustean bed. So "The Messenger" opens the proceedings smooth and easy, the rest rolling their wares over Jeff Bannisters's barrelhouse piano, while the shift of time signatures turns the brass-stricken boogie into the Hammond-pressed art rock epic of skin-zipping proportions. The wind blowers take their revenge later - the leader in the Miles-indebted solo of the title track and John Helliwell in the boppy fusion of "Turning Point" with its infectious riff, both not instrumental - but Richie Havens' funky "Up Above My Hobby Horse's Head" doesn't seem the best vehicle to show the players' jam inclinations. In between, the band sculpts a soulful ballad "Build Me A Stage" and another one, "Find A Melody", which grows from the repetitive ivories line into celestial celebration of love that rages around the ears.

Too many ideas and too many directions to reach out, even hard rock if bonus "Thru The Night" is anything to go by, maybe the musicians knew it would be their last joint work - after this album, everyone went their separate ways, Helliwell most notably joining SUPERTRAMP - and they did the fantastic job. A pity, there wasn't another one.

****3/4
TOMMY JAMES -
Hold The Fire /
Live And On Fire
Aura 2006
Angel Air 2010

The SHONDELLS' leader crosses the great divide between his great past and the bright future.

With his songs constantly covered by such revered figures as Billy Idol and Dolly Parton, Tommy James could afford himself quiet '80s and '90s to start recording actively again in the Noughties. "Hold The Fire" rightfully proves there's still enough flame in the veteran's heart, what with revving up the beat of "Give It All" and taking of "Sweet Cherry Wine" from the time's cellar to serve this old hit the choir-sprayed gospel way, but the production values here, echo and all, seem to be taken from those "lost" decades.

25 years ago the summery "Amy" and "Megamation Man" would have been topping the charts. Today, it's too innocent, as is "Love Words" that's just beautiful. Yet go past the plodding "Isn't That The Guy", and the echo of THE RIGHTEOUS BROTHERS' "Little Latin Lupe Lu" and the "Angels And Strangers" delicious harmonies harken back to the blessed '60s. That's where James truly belongs but, as suggests the companion DVD "Live And On Fire", the man still can rip the joint (see the audio version here). He just has to align himself with the times.

***
P.F.M. -
Chocolate Kings
Manticore 1976 / 2010

Going West against the tide: America gets critisized from the Old World, with the harsh words coated sweetly.

In cultural terms, PREMIATA FORNERIA MARCONI might been the greatest Italian export since Pinocchio, and in the mid-'70s the band felt confident enough to strike a blow to the wide expanse beyond their homeland and the U.K. Cue lyrics only in English, not also in Italian as it was before, and a standalone vocalist, Bernardo Lanzetti, to deliver them while the others stuck to their tuneful guns. And it was guns, the U.S. military-oriented economics, the subject matter of the group's fourth LP, still very relevant.

Yet it's the music that's truly stood the test of time, the songs' complex interplay sounding both adventurous and cozy from the innocent flow of "From Under", with its floating planes of intense, folk-and-funk-rippled emotions, to the multi-faceted iridescence of "Paper Charms", the opening blast of the Nottingham show on the second disc of this re-issue which catches the ensemble at their peak. And then there's delicate "Harlequin", one of the most quietly grandiose pieces PFM have dreamed up and realized: its web of Franco Mussida's guitar and Mauro Pagani's oboe and violin create a mesmerizing picture of troubled Edem that's ripped apart by the rocking anger - one to crack a smile on the starred-and-striped Jolly Roger of the title track. But whereas on most of the album lurk the ghosts of Brit prog, "Out On The Roundabout" has purely Italian take on the genre and is all the better for its tarantella swirl and fusion scent.

Whether the criticism of the Western ways could endear PFM to the American heart is a questionable matter, but their boldness and the beauty of their melodies deserve respect and admiration.

****1/2
WIGWAM - Fairyport
Love 1971
Esoteric 2010

Grand scheme of things takes on the grand scale: as progressive as it gets.

It wasn't a common thing back in the '70s to stretch one's third album over two LPs, but such was belief in this band's strength that "Fairyport" became a double - with a live jam taking the whole of the last side and an acoustic ballad added at the eleventh hour. What lies in between the dark heaviness and the light grace is a fantasy flight a bit tangled in the lyrical gumbo but tasty in its faux-classicism.

Organ and bass may let loose on "Losing Hold" and there's an elegant humor in the playful waltz of "P.K.'s Super Market" and the acidic, acid-spiked Latin-fest of "How To Make It Big In Hospital", yet when rock sags, the purest proggy brew bubbles for its own groovy sake. That's how it is in the GENESIS-like suite starting with the title epic which is saved by its live feel spearheaded with leader Jim Pembroke's jazz piano solo, while "Rockin' Ol' Galway" rides a different horse, with a bluesy gallop in its stride. The eclectic flow shows the influence of Zappa - just listen to the brass in the spiritual lift of "May Your Will Be Done, Dear Lord" - and "Hot Mice" is not-so-subtle, if delicious, nod towards the great mousctachio.

There's enough hairiness of its own on this record which means a lot of dandruff, too. One LP cut of these two, now on single CD, would be better, but the ambition is adorable.

***
ROBIN GEORGE -
Dangerous Music
Bronze 1985
Angel Air 2010

The licks pose no threat but rock wild and vital.

As far as the guitar heroes' star treks go, this British axeman seems to have failed to made the grade. George had, and still has, the looks and the chops to become a six-string idol but he preferred to play a second fiddle to the stellar pipes of the likes of Robert Plant and Phil Lynott. So it's, perhaps, no coincidence that Robin's solo debut, featuring the latter on the buzzy "Showdown", is based around songs, not the instrumental virtuosity. It's there yet well hidden, as shows the guitar orchestra of the opener, "Heartline", under the smart pop hooks that are generously scattered throughout the LP.

The main man's vocal limitations, the only weak point here, pale in the shadow of such infectious confections as "No News Is Good News" which swings much wilder in the live version tagged to the CD as a bonus track, and even the '80s polish doesn't sound too dated, although the heavy slant that "Spy" acquired later serves its sarcasm better. But this record, bolstered with Mark Stanway's keyboards alongside the bare-bone riffs of "Hit List", and with anthemic "Don't Turn Away" and its exquisite solo on board, feels bigger. And it's nice to have it back.

****
GREG LAKE -
From The Underground Vol. II
Greg Lake 1998
Lemon 2010

Subtitled "Deeper Into The Mine", the second installment of the artist's rarities somehow lacks depth - but the surface is fine.

While the first "Underground" collection painted Greg Lake's creative life's picture in broad strokes, its follow-up fills the gaps most of us weren't aware of. Sure, the July 1969's Hyde Park concert in memory of Brian Jones has a legendary aura about it, and KING CRIMSON didn't let the audience down as the elegant "Epitaph" proves here, and then, the veteran's 1981's band more than does justice to "Fanfare For The Common Man" with sharp six-strings courtesy of Gary Moore. But those cuts, as well as the ELP's highly energetic "Preacher Blues" from 1971 and insipid concert take on "Black Moon", are worth having within the context of live shows many of which are available not only on bootlegs now. That means the genuine attraction of this disc - although only for the core fans - lies in the studio material.

There are three pieces from RIDE THE TIGER, an angular pop project Lake embarked on in 1988 with Geoff Downes whom he briefly played with in ASIA: pure '80s, the demos could have been upgraded to strong hits, especially the ballad "Blue Light" and danceable "Check It Out", but they possess no catchy groove. Such poise marks the jazzy "Step Aside" recorded in rehearsal with Keith Emerson and Cozy Powell in 1986 and thus augmenting "The Sprocket Sessions", yet much more viable sound three songs committed to tape with TOTO musicians for Greg's first solo album - thanks to Steve Lukather and Jeff Porcaro's vim, "You're Good With Your Love" bubbles joyfully and "You Really Got A Hold On Me", a staple of Lake's concerts for many years, is decidedly soulful. Yet Lake's no slouch himself when it comes to weaving an acoustic guitar lace as shows the flamenco-tinged lighweight of a song which is "Hold Me", dropped from his second solo LP.

What this curious collection proves is that Greg Lake's a great artist. Yet we knew that anyway.

***
ALAN BOWN - Listen
Island 1970
Esoteric 2010

A blistering slab of blue-eyed rhythm-and-blues with a silver lining.

It's quite a time to recognize the specialness of ALAN BOWN: led by a namesake trumpeter, at the turn of '70s the ensemble emerged the missing link between the brass bands and the likes of AVERAGE WHITE BAND, which means their music screamed "soul". Yet this particular collective seemed to have a problem with their screamer. With Jess Roden off just before the previous album's release and Robert Palmer having stepped in, the history repeated itself - Palmer left before "Listen" made it to the pressing plant, and Gordon Neville was presented with the task of re-dubbing the vocals over the backing tracks. Not the MO to be proud of, but Alan Bown could be proud of his choice of singers who could do the trick with no computers or George Martin at their disposal. The more impressive this album is in such a light.

A looking-forward product of its time, its centerpiece, "Forever", bears a clear Miles Davis imprint, the trumpet painting a sophisticated, if sparse, echo-laden picture on the hazy piano line, and the space between the sounds creates the tension for the winds to kick in and raise the roof everywhere else. That's why it's hard to not get sucked in "Pyramid" with its mariachi hints or the "Loosen Up" swirl. For the most part the groove is tight and somehow laid-back at the same time, from the predatory jive of "Wanted Man" to the velvet caress-cum-grip of "Get Myself Straight". Oiled riffs in abundance, there's a wider stylistic range to it all, so the acoustic "Make Us All Believe" is a wonderful piece of baroque folk turning spiritual, while "Crash Landing", which starts as the proto-prog ballad, unfurls into the SANTANA-like slow burn thanks to Tony Catchpole's guitar ignited by John Helliwell's sax and Bown's horn. The leader applies his jazz ear to the heavy roll of "Make Up Your Mind" that predates fusion for a good few years. What this record lacked to be hailed as a pioneering work at the time of its release was a hit. Now, though, is a time to listen and praise it.

****1/3
ROCOCO -
Run From The Wildfire
Angel Air 2010

How an untamed ambition can be thwarted by its own cleverness.

Most of the music journalists think they know better than the artists, yet they rarely try to prove it. Roy Shipston of "Disc & Music Echo" and Geoff Ward of "Melody Maker" did. The two young Brits, keyboardist and guitarist, wrote songs together and even started a band that the latter couldn't play with as he had a group of his own, but ROCOCO, led by the former, was as good as an outlet. Still, with no sonic concept to unify many stylistic strains, the ensemble left the legacy of just three singles and a collection of unreleased tracks that are collected here to present the whole picture - or the puzzle.

The streamline riffage of "Hoodlum Fun" makes it clear why ROCOCO were heaped in with THIN LIZZY, while the alluring prog camp of "The Hollywood Brats", as high on piano drama as the romantic "Midsummer Hill", shows there were only QUEEN to match their wide swing in the '70s. But when it comes to ballads it's surprising why the breezy calypso didn't blow "Out In The World" into the Top 20 and how such harmony-packers as "Bellatrix" and "Home Town Girls" with their vaudevillian kicks didn't bark in the charts. Throw in the bluegrass-informed guitar solo on the 10-minute-plus "The Living Rock", and you have a blast in your hands. For the band's bassist, John Edwards, to have joined STATUS QUO must have been a step down from the adventure...

****1/2
JADE WARRIOR -
Kites
Island 1976
Esoteric 2010

Aerial floating the aural way, beyond the Great Wall and ahead of the time.

A sound too often is a temporal notion, marking the calendar period of its creation: the more amazing, then, is the music of this English band whose '70s albums chime in with moderinity while too many a today's group tap into the retro. JADE WARRIOR came into bloom with Island Records who demanded flautist Jon Field and guitarist Tony Duhig get rid of their singer to be handed a free reign in the instrumental realm which expanded immensely on the group's sixth LP. "Kites" bestows on the listener a rewarding ambient experience that gets richer with every new spin like a lotus swirling on the water. Its two side-long suites are that abstract and that mesmerizing.

With a slight Chinese influence all over, the reeds sing the dawn in "Songs Of The Forest" which slowly unfurls into an orchestra-embroidered tapestry - iridescent yet pastel-hued. The sonics wrap around one's ears, with ebbs and flows and strange, if beautiful strokes giving it the exciting ripples. "The Emperor Kite" is where the Oriental folk clearly comes in from the blackened skies to add anxiety to the serenity, the ticking which permeates the record setting a feel of urgency that turns into a Latino buzz with the fusion guitar crawl and flight in "Wind Borne". The drift gets angular and sometimes more intense in the "Teh Ch'eng" seven-part cycle that paints the story of an ancient Zen master: after the breezy whiff of "Quietly By The River Bank", heavy electric riffs spliced with Fred Frith's violins announce the dramatic "Arrival Of The Emperor" only to dive into the whale calls and blissful ascend of "Arrival Of Chia Shan" later on. The rarefied air dissolve the tension in "Towards The Mountain" where the adventure ends begging for a new, more attentive start. A masterpiece.

*****
JERRY JENNINGS -
Shortcut To The Center
Jerry Jennings
2005 / 2010

A secret guitar hero cuts to the core one more time, with Ronnie Montrose at the helm.

Six-string masters who prefer to strut their stuff instrumentally are today's weapon of mass destruction, so it's always nice when a genuine, multistrata item comes forward from one of these. Jerry Jennings is one of the American best-hidden slingers, then, for his debut album was produced by Ronnie Montrose who even added his own axe to the opening cuts: one sharp thread in the funky angularity of "One Blue Lady" and an acoustic counterpoint to the main man's electric on the reggae-bent "Observation".

But for the most part Jennings weaves the fusion fuse with his own skilful hands, the Jeff Beck-inspired liquid loneliness of "She's" suiting him well and building high and tense, whereas "Bones" spastically waltzes in space revealing the depth of guitar tone. The panorama of the tapestry unfolds its playful entirety only after a few spins, yet it's hard to resist the adventurous zigzags in "The Next Line" even on the first ride, and the "Meltdown" crawls likeably smooth to make the blues aficionados follow its route. The reward comes in the epic form of "A Dime For The Phone", a delicate piece with some frivolous bits, which must enter every guitar tutorial there is. And hopefully, with the album's second coming it will.

****
APRODITE'S CHILD -
It's Five O'Clock
Mercury 1969
Esoteric 2010

A tea-time as the opportunity to let the blooming imagination run free and asunder.

Encouraged by the success of their debut LP and the shift from psychedelia to progressive rock, the Greek trio solidified their act, and delivered a much stronger work with "It's Five O'Clock". Preceded by two saccharin Italian songs recorded for the San Remo Song Festival and included here alongside other single cuts, now the album makes clear the styles which Vangelis and especially Demis Roussos fully realized solo, but also shows how special their collaboration was.

Paisley pop can still be felt in the centerpiece, "Let Me Love, Let Me Live", and even Paul McCartney wouldn't be ashamed to have written the vaudevillian "Good Time So Fine", but the title track, modelled on "A Whiter Shade Of Pale", and the surging ballad "Annabella" are both romantically majestic and cosmic in their organ-framed scope. They're offset by the homespun hoedown of "Take Your Time" sung with much panache by drummer Lucas Sideras who reigns in the African percussive fest that is "Funky Mary". But then Demis delivers his most passionate vocals in the silky "Marie Jolie" and there's finally a pure Greek acoustic lining to the light walk of "Such A Funny Night" which leaves a lasting aftertaste to the album that's impossible not to like and even love.

****1/4
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