Toshiaki Yokota & The Beat Generation - Flute Adventure. 1971 King
CD reissue: 2007 King
Packaging notes: An insanely rare album in original form, the surprise CD reissue from King was an instant purchase for yours truly.
Notes: I first heard about this Japanese album nearly 20 years ago, from a rarities catalog called Turbulence. Some of you old-timers I'm sure recall those great Greg Pawelko lists. (Greg, you still out there man? Get in touch!) Greg stated it reminded him of Yatha Sidhra’s “Meditation Mass” or maybe some other underground Krautrock album from the great Ohr label. Well, I have to tell you folks - that most certainly grabbed my attention!
Except I never saw it listed again.
I began to doubt its existence after while, since no one ever claimed they knew anything about it. Part of the problem was that I had Mr. Yokota's name spelled wrong. I knew he was on the Love Live Life + 1 album (I always presumed he was the "+ 1" but I'm not sure of that). He was also a guest on Kimio Mizutani's excellent "A Path Through Haze" as well as Hiro Yanagida's "Milk Time". He was definitely embedded in the Japanese underground brain-scorched Rat Pack that's for sure.
So you can imagine my shock when I found out that "Flute Adventure" was not only out on CD, but a legitimate press on one of Japan’s major labels: King Records. This revelation of its existence came to me in early 2007 (the CD was officially released on March 7, 2007), to which I couldn't hand my money over fast enough. The funny thing is it was released under their "Jazz Swing" series. Uh, yea... that's what this is! Not.
"Flute Adventure" is exactly as was touted by Greg – a mix of flute based underground acid psych and ethnic woodwind journeys drizzled with a dash of cocktail lounge. So, yes, a little Yatha Sidhra, a little Bjorn J:Son Lindh, some Jeremy Steig, even a smattering of Herbie Mann – all through the Ohr label aesthetic of phased out monsters like Annexus Quam. And it’s a full band effort, not just an album with solo flute. No, this one has plenty of fuzz guitar and tribal percussion to add to the party.
Absolutely essential for the freakshow hidden deep within you.
Interesting to note that all the tracks are in either French or Portuguese (thanks Isabel!).
1. Suites "Le Soleil Etait Encore Chaud"
--Bal Des Pendus
--Nuit De L'enfer
3. Samba De Orfeu
4. Orfeu Negro
Macondo- s/t. 1972 Atlantic Records (Canada)
CD reissue: 2010 Wounded Bird
Packaging details: Wounded Bird are one of the last of the die hard, old school, reissue labels. No information, photos, history, bonus tracks... no nuthin'. But it's a legit reissue taken from the master tapes, which is better than no CD reissue at all. Like those old One Way reissues that everyone is in a hurry to upgrade away from today. I also own the LP and there's no info on it as well. Note the original LP pressing was Canadian. Not sure what the story behind that is either.
* 1. Do It to Me 2:50
* 2. Why 3:15
3. Sneaking in the Back Door 3:15
4. Wishes 5:00
* 5. Can't Make Love Alone 3:59
* 6. Cayuco 5:10
* 7. Battery 3:34
8. Never Thought I'd See You Gone 3:36
* 9. Almendra 3:42
10. Get It on Girl 3:55
Because this is a bare bones issue (see release info above), I don't know much about Macondo. Reading online, it appears they were from East L.A. and discovered by Sergio Mendes (and it's produced by his company). Macondo were one of many Latin rock groups playing in the early 1970s, hoping to cash in on the success of Santana or even local California favorites like Malo and El Chicano. A typical "one and done" band that time forgot.
Other than 6) and, to a lesser extent 9), Macondo do not really attempt a Santana like sound. Macondo are more a gritty street-level fighting group. Probably 1) and 10) are the most bare knuckle tracks on the album, and are here to let you know Macondo mean business. 2) is the most out of place song here, sounding like a Latin rock version of Crosby Stills and Nash. I found it a highly appealing combination myself. 3) & 4) are rock n' roll throwaways and forced me to deduct a point from the album's score. 5) & 7) are what define Macondo best. A heavy rocking sound, nothing too complicated, with some great grooves and organ/guitar solos. In fact both could be considered a proto-Chango, and for us at UMR there is no better Latin rock album than Chango's debut. 8) is the other odd track out along with 2). There's a distinct late 60s Haight-Ashbury hippy vibe, but with some very interesting heavy Hammond organ leads.
Naked Lunch - s/t. 2009 World in Sound. Archival recordings from 1969-1972. LP and CD
I only have the CD version and it's a wonderful issue with a full booklet of liner notes, history and pictures.
* 1. Love is Everywhere 3:10 (1969)
* 2. Changes 5:41 (1969)
3. Endless Night 4:09 (1969)
* 4. Virgin Woman 5:17 (1969)
* 5. Ozone 5:21 (1969)
6. Your Song / Time Trip 6:29 (1970 - live)
* 7. Encore 4:21 (1970 - live)
8. All I Want To Do 3:11 (1972 - Banda de Jesus)
9. Better Days 3:47 (1972 - Banda de Jesus)
* 10. Lovely Day 5:57 (1972 - Banda de Jesus)
* 11. Livin' is Funky 4:50 (1972 - Banda de Jesus)
12. Ozone 4:48 (1970 - live)
San Francisco based Latin rock / horn rock hybrid that is absolutely sublime. No question the Santana influences here, though the band were in reality peers of Carlos rather than followers. The brass rock component gives us a view into another window that wasn't explored much on vinyl during the era, at least when talking Santana inspired acid rock. This may be the closest we ever get to hear the "Chicago meets Santana" sound, such as found on 2), 5) & 7). This band should have been huge, but as happens so often, the breaks just weren't there. 1) features a superb horn break and the melody reminds me of the group The Ides of March. It's exactly the kind of song that was a hit in its era, but for whatever reason, Naked Lunch didn't get their break. 4) displays a frenetic guitar solo. 8) - 11) are from the successor band Banda de Jesus, named after the band leader's surname, is a bit more upbeat, poppy and lyrically more predictable. Perhaps not an ideal addition, though musically not as far removed as it may first appear. The music actually reminds me more of a band like Malo, and features some lively horn breaks such as on 10). The sound quality is noticeably better, especially when the CD backtracks to the live 12), which sounds worse here than had it naturally followed 7).
The Antiques - Sincerely Antique. 1973 Funny 502
CD Reissue: 1994 Funny (Manufactured and distributed by Big World Distributors. Miami, FL).
Packaging details: The CD is as bare bones as it gets, with a single plain insert featuring only the front cover. Looks like a bootleg, but given all the distribution info, plus the band's own recognition of it, this is completely legit (and sounds like it's from the master tapes). Not an ideal reissue, but better than nothing. The original vinyl is highly sought after and pretty expensive. I've never seen one personally.
* 1. Chaucha
2. Don't Let Me Down
* 3. Esta Melodia
* 4. Feel It
* 5. Taboo
* 6. Batuka
7. Dias Como Hoy
* 8. Crumbs Off The Table
9. Tu Me Acostumbraste
** 10. Juntos
If it weren't for Ken Golden over at the Laser's Edge, this is one title I probably would never have heard of. We're both fans of 70's Santana influenced Latin rock, and The Antiques fit squarely in that mold. A mix of kick ass instrumentals, bluesy hard rock workouts with Gregg Rolie like vocals, and soulful Latin pop numbers similar to Malo's more commercial efforts. I like all of it, but the first two categories are more to my taste (naturally enough I guess). Not quite as powerful as Chango or Dakila, but better than many in the genre like Broth, Azteca and Malo themselves. Lots of great organ and loud guitar leads here. 1) is a great instrumental opener and shows that The Antiques mean business, with some killer organ and guitar leads. 2) is a good example of one of their more commercial efforts. It's a bit sappy, but I like it in a Malo sort of way. Like driving in a convertible low rider through East LA (believe it or not, I've actually done just that). 3), 4) & 8) represent the third and final style of the album, where the The Antiques play a harder Santana rock style similar to their first 3 albums. 5) sounds like a track lifted from "Abraxas", and is a killer. 6) is the same tune that opens "Santana III". 7) & 9) are traditional Latin pop songs, that folks from the Old Country are going to be fond of (my wife recognized them as favorites from her Mom's generation). 10) closes the album in an absolute smoking way, similar to Chango really, and makes you wish the whole album would have been like it.
Probe 10 - There is a Universe. 1975 Blue Universe #PR92673 (Pennsylvania)
Reissue details here
1. There Is A Universe
2. Invasion Of The Mallaroids:
B.) Fields Of Malladroy
C.) A Battle
E.) Will There Never Be An End?
3. Intergalactic Crossfire
4. Solar Winds
5. To Improvise A Dream
6. Galaxy Five
Wow. Where did this come from? (turns out to be the Lehigh Valley area of Pennsylvania). After some research, I think Probe 10 were (are?) an alien cult who dabbled in time travel. Let's start with the date. Is someone trying to tell me this is from 1975? NO FRIGGIN WAY! Yet on the album they thank Return to Forever, giving credibility to the date, not to mention my theory given the name Return to Forever - think about it ("Damn, Furious is DEEP man, DEEP" - credit Boyz in the Hood). Let me put it this way, so that I'm entirely clear here: Listening to this album will NOT make you think of Return to Forever. Hey, I like RTF as much as the next guy. But don't be thinking incredible chops with a perfect production. No, you better be thinking a low budget garage psych production circa 1968/1969. But this isn't 3 chord basement rock, but rather a highly complex and creative masterpiece. I'd heard about this album for years, from psych collectors PRAISING its virtues. Now that's hardly unusual of course. But Probe 10 possess two qualities that psych collectors absolutely abhor: It's "Progressive rock" and it has trumpet! Horns on a psych album is like banjo and harmonica on a Genesis album. And no psych collector is going on and on about Return to Forever let me assure you of that.
So what the hell is going on here? If you look at the cover, it's pretty obvious they have a clear idea of what American Science Fiction is all about - circa 1936. Dude, closely look at that cover! They can go back in time and they can go forward. As of yet, I really haven't addressed the music, and it's truly something to behold. Trumpet is a dominating instrument here - almost in a Herb Alpert and Tijuana Brass meets Maynard Ferguson sort of way (and we KNOW psych collectors love that! not). I'm reminded of that other anachronistic wonder Oz Knozz, though this dabbling in horn rock only existed on a couple of choice cuts - not all the way through! I guess CA Quintet always got a pass, and apparently so does Probe 10. Let's get serious and talk about the electric guitar - which is COMPLETELY COMPRESSED AND FUZZED TO THE MAXIMUM. Are you kidding me? If you've heard the Plastic Cloud album, or just about any album coming out of psychedelic France, then you know what to expect. and just for good measure they decided to give the same treatment to bass. I'm talking to YOU, Hugh Hopper (rest in peace). The female vocals have that pure innocence vibe, as if they're fresh recruits for the Holy Shree Baba Yaba Krishna Probe Ten Guru. It's the same sweet soul sound one hears on the multitude of Christian (coincidence?) prog rock albums, especially of the German variety (Eden, Credemus, Werwolf, Rebekka, etc...). Or maybe those perfumed gardens of the English countryside, where we find Ithaca, Agincourt, and Stone Angel. And don't forget the jazzy flute over the chaotic drums. 1975? SHUT UP!
Early on, there's a drum piece trying to mask a radio signal, which is obviously trying to reach their home planet. And when the radio broadcast from their home planet starts buzzing back through, you realize this isn't the Twilight Zone anymore, but something VERY REAL. It should scare you. I'm scared. This isn't on CBS, NBC, Fox or ABC. It EXISTS. Any careful scientific study should reveal that "There is a Universe" was recorded in 1975 by people from 1968. They then released the album and went back to 1969 excited to see how much their album would sell 6 years later. It didn't. Had they released it in 2035, then it's audience may be found. Of course they already know that. Do you?
# James McGee: Electric Bass, Electric Guitar, Flute, Twelve String Guitar, Remix, Producer, Arrangements
# Jeff Saussier: Trumpet, Coronet
# Bill Jones: Electric Guitar
# Barry L. Bachman: Percussives
# Tom Nicholson: Rhodes Piano
# Brian Gerhab: Flute
# Diane DuBois: Flute, Cover Design
# Samuel Creyer: Flute, Alto Flute
# Mason Profit: Recorders
# Linda Kistler: Violins
# Susan Rudelitch: Vocal
# David Robert Scheirer: Vocal, Babbling Brook, Remix, Producer
# Stirling E. Woodin: Engineer, Remix
"Probe 10 was a group of high school students in the Lehigh Valley area of Pennsylvania. Two schools in particular that I am sure of are Emmaus and Parkland. When the album was released back in 1975, my best friend at the time (Steve Kroninger – now an artist in NYC) was attending Lehigh County Vo-Tech as an art student with either Jim McGee or a friend of Jim’s (Kim). Anyway, it was and still is a great album. This one certainly has passed the test of time. I don’t think any of the people on this album went on to do much more professionally in the music industry. That is a great injustice."
Special thanks to Tigger2 on ebay for all this great info!
Session - Unikuva. 1974 EMI / Odeon
CD reissue: 2010 Rocket Records
LP reissue : 2014 Shadoks (Germany)
Packaging details: To this day, I still don't know anyone who actually owns an original LP (6/25/11 - My friend Heavyrock now has one and I've now seen and held the LP). I only was able to hear it due to a very good friend in Eastern Europe, who made me a CD-R a few years ago. And it seemed I was one of only a handful in the world who had heard it. But that's no longer the case, as the Rocket Records CD is now widely available, and it sounds outstanding (from the master tapes). Probably the most surprising CD reissue in the last few years. English translated liner notes at the bottom.
1. Unikuva 7:19
* 2. Sunny Blue 4:12
* 3. Jäätelöprinsessa 3:37
* 4. Tahdon olla kanssasi 2:43
* 5. Torstin tanssi 3:06
* 6. Persialaisella torilla 6:34
* 7. Syksy 4:32
* 8. Serenadi huomiselle 2:57
My original review from the CDRWL said: "A strong progressive rock album with loud guitar solos, organ, electric piano, horns and most significant, a fiercely driving bass. In fact the bass playing reminds me quite a bit of Trettioariga Kriget's first album. The occasional happy chorus lines call to mind Haikara circa "Geafar" mixed with a quaint late 60s psychedelic style. Lots of cool vocals in Finnish. And there's more than a nod to Wigwam from their "Fairyport" days. For a major label effort, this has to be considered one of the most obscure. I spent time with some big time Finnish collectors about 16 years ago and pretty much heard every progressive album from the country (I can say that with some authority now that so much time has passed). The Scapa Flow and Sepi Kuu titles from the original list are but a mite two examples of that experience. Except no one mentioned this title and I have to wonder if they even knew of it. A seriously obscure album."
One of the typical criticism's leveled at hardcore collectors (like me) is our apparent disregard for the quality of music all for the sake of the rarity itself. I can only speak for myself, but it's something I'm very conscious of when listening to rarities. The CDRWL is filled to the brim with albums that very few have heard, and in many cases I don't think they're very good. And I say so. The old cliche "the albums are rare for a reason" usually does apply. But it doesn't ALWAYS apply, and that's important to understand. Session is one of those albums that makes the search worth it. It really is good, and it remains unclear why it is so rare. I had thought for some time that maybe EMI didn't actually release it, or that they only distributed it. But the liner notes below clearly contradict that notion.
Now part 2 of the same theme: We tend to exaggerate how great something like this is, because it's a new discovery. Imagine yourself as a longtime gold miner. When you first start out, the gold is right there for the taking. It's pure and it's easy to find. But as you keep digging, it gets harder and harder to find anything of merit. But when you do find a decent sized nugget, it's exciting and you want to tell others of what you found deep in the mine. Unfortunately many do not share your enthusiasm - for a variety of reasons (including jealousy, argumentative dispositions, difficult personalities) - but the primary reason (and a very valid one) is that it's not near as great a nugget as the ones you found 20 years ago. That's usually true. So it's all about setting expectations. I cannot stress how important that is when presenting an obscurity like this. Session is an excellent album. What I would call a total classic 12 on Gnosis (or 4.5 stars on Rateyourmusic). But it's not a Hall of Fame 13, 14 or 15 (or perfect 5 stars). And I'm probably going to rate it higher than most people, but to understand that, you must read on.
"Unikuva" is one of those albums that doesn't squarely fit in the progressive rock camp. This isn't a band that was influenced by Yes, Genesis, ELP, etc... It's more a rock oriented effort in an era when interesting instrumental breaks were crowd pleasers, and solos on organ and guitar were expected. So much of the European progressive rock from the 1970s is just this - 70s rock music with a few more ideas than the AM radio bubblegummers. This is true whether we're talking Kalevala, Junipher Greene, Ache, November, or hundreds of others from Scandinavia or elsewhere in Europe.
I think the hardest song to get into is the title track 1). It's definitely one of the most dated of all the songs, with a heritage that sounds more like 1969 than 1974. The organ and bass lines absolutely jam, but the vocal and brass sections are awkward, and very poppy. Technically one could argue this is the most progressive track on the album, especially some of the darker VDGG sax moves that are intertwined throughout. Starting with 2), Session begin to show their more poppy ambitions. I just happen to think they are great songwriters, with melodies that are memorable. And of course, the superb organ and guitar solos with tight sax charts don't hurt either. And this is a good a place as any to talk about the bass player. He is a MONSTER! I know there are many out there who struggle with anything but English vocals, but I cannot imagine this without the Finnish language. It fits so perfectly well and adds a unique dimension. 4) is a kickass rock instrumental, and not commercial at all. 5) is completely the opposite. Even more dated than 1), this track reminds me of Strawberry Alarm Clock circa "Wake Up... It's Tomorrow". And I absolutely adore the pop psych of SAC, so bear that in mind. 6) starts by showing off bassist Hannu Kaikko, and that's a good thing believe me. After which, the group launches into a rather intense, but fun, progressive rock instrumental. 7) may be the best representative of the album as a whole. This would be my pick for one sample on MySpace. 8) is another one of their commercial songs that has a great melody - and I can't help but give it a one star highlight.
Translated liner notes (a HUGE THANKS to Kai from Finland for these).
"Session came together in Kouvola in 1971, out of the ashes of the group Horizon, which had existed for a couple of years. Session initially looked up to The Band and the Allman Brothers Band for inspiration. They took part in the third ever Finnish Rock Championship contest in December 1972 and came third. Session's line-up was Jorma Seppälä (vocals, guitar), Timo Heikkilä (guitar), Hannu Kaikko (bass) and Juha Tykkälä (drums).
Love Records offered the group a recording contract. They released their debut single "Sanni Blue" / "Pääsky" ["the swallow"] in the summer of 1973. Both songs were composed and written by Hannu Kaikko. They also recorded a version of Albert W. Ketelbey's "In a Persian Marker", which appeared on a 1974 Love Records compilation Rock & Roll juhlaa 5. Session began to get gigs and often opened for Wigwam and Hurriganes, among others.
At this stage, Jorma Seppälä left and keyboard-player Osmo Seppälä entered. Juha Tykkälä started singing from behind his drums.
Record companies were hesitant about singing the new line-up. They started recording an album at their own expense at the [famous two-/four-track basement studio] Microvox studio in Lahti. The finished album was their debut Unikuva. EMI finally agreed to release it.
For the album, Session were augmented by saxophonists Ari Pukkila and Mane Hyytiä, and vocalist Leena Wiehn, who appears on the title track.
Unikuva comprises eight songs. The versions "Persialaisella torilla" and "Sanni Blue" (note the changed spelling) are new recordings. EMI released "Torstin tanssi" ["Torsti's dance"] and "Jäätelöprinsessa" ["the ice-cream princess"] as a single in 1974. Hannu Kaikko wrote arranged all songs and wrote all of them, except "Persialaisella torilla". The lyrics were by Juha Tykkälä and Kaikko.
Finnish progressive rock was still commercially viable in 1974, but Unikuva received little attention from the media or the public.
Session's line-up changed rapidly after the album's release. In short time, the group featured guitarists Juha Björninen and Harri Louhensuo, drummer Ari Ahlren and vocalist-guitarist Esa Pajunen. Heikkilä was the only original member in the final line-up. The end came in 1976, when it became commercially untenable to go on.
Session's music began to appear on compilation albums in the 1990s. The 1990 vinyl compilation by Impulse, Kymijokibeats 1965-1981, contains "Tahdon olla kanssasi" ["I wanna be with you"] from Unikuva. The compilation's 1991 sequel contains the Love Record version of "Sanni Blue". "Pääsky" appears on Siboney's 4 CD compilation Anna mulle Lovee from 1994, "Persialaisella torilla" on 1996's Love Proge and "Sanni Blue" on Love Proge 2 in 1998.
The rarity of Unikuva has made it one of the most collectible Finnish records. Copies in good condition have commanded the price of several hundred Euro. This is the first time any of the album tracks have appeared on CD. The CD was mastered from the original master tapes and co-produced by Rocket Records and EMI Finland Ab."
Scapa Flow - Uuteen Aikaan. 1980 Kompass
CD reissue: 2010 Rocket Records
LP reissue: 2014 Viima
Packaging: As stated in the blog post for Fantasia: Rocket Records has become the de facto leader in Finnish progressive rock obscurities. They focus on other genres, but fortunately they cover what the UMR loves - and they seem to have no regard for popularity. And, best of all, they do a GREAT JOB at mastering. Only bummer is the lack of bonus tracks. The timings provided are from the CD version as they differ from the LP (and these are also shown on the CD). I've had the original LP since the 90s that I obtained in a trade - and will likely keep for the duration. Translated liner notes in English provided at the bottom.
* 1. Valmiina Heräämään 4:28
2. Salaisuuksien Satiiniverhot 6:17
* 3. Mikä Aamu 6:01
4. Uuteen Aikaan 4:21
5. Tuuleen Kaiverretut Portaat 4:44
* 6. Koi 2:19
* 7. Askel Ylöspäin 6:06
On the surface, Scapa Flow are a folk rock band. But then when you consider the flute, acid guitar leads and organ, it begins to take on a psychedelic folk sound, similar to maybe Carol of Harvest. But that's not quite right either. As you hear the sweet female vocals, one begins to think of the Christian progressive rock movement of Germany in the early 80s - bands like Eden and Credemus. But this isn't a message album, nor Christian - and it's slightly darker in tone. I also tend to think of the airy progressive rock of Sweden's Autumn Breeze, but Scapa Flow are folkier. And there's really no other band from Finland to compare to either. So Scapa Flow, even though they are well within the confines of familiar borders, are somewhat unique. That's a plus.
There are no weak tracks here, and the highlighted ones are only slightly better. One can only wish for more material and extended versions, but it doesn't appear they exist anywhere. 1) is probably the best representative of Scapa Flow's entire sound. If you need Cliff Notes, this would be my pick. 3) & 7) are the most complex and involved of "Uuteen Aikaan"'s seven songs. 6) is my personal favorite from a melody perspective, and I'd love to hear them flesh this out over 7 or 8 minutes.
Translated liner notes (a HUGE thanks to Kai in Finland for these):
"Uuteen aikaan ["into a new age"] from 1980 is one of the most requested Finnish progressive rock CD re-releases. The album received next to no attention on its original release, as did its creator, the group Scapa Flow.
Scapa Flow was formed in Helsinki in 1976. The group traveled down folky and progressive paths, with influences from, among others, Frank Zappa, Jethro Tull and Camel. Live they played mostly their own English-language songs and a couple of Bach covers.
Like other Finnish progressive rock bands in the late 1970s, Scapa Flow were having a hard time with New Wave at the peak of its popularity. However, Chriss Schwindt [one of the original founders of the now bankrupt Love Records] maintained a very liberal release policy with his Kompass Records and he signed Scapa Flow.
Scapa Flow's only album Uuteen aikaan was recorded in spring 1980 and released later that year. Recording line-up comprised Timo Seppänen (guitar), Asko Ahonen (bass), Ismo Järvinen (saxophone, flute), Eero Kolehmainen (keyboards), Leevi Leppänen (drums) and Pia-Maria Noponen (vocals, flute and keyboards). The last three joined the group just before the release. Leppänen replaced earlier drummer Olavi Kyllönen and Kolehmainen Kari Jaksola.
Uuteen aikaan was produced by Lasse Rönkä ja recorded at the Birdland studio in Helsinki. The original English lyrics were translated into Finnish with the help of Seppo Parkkinen and Esko Salervo.
The Back Beat magazine on the group before the album's release: "Scapa Flow's music is carefully composed and thought-out, though solos allow room for some improvisation. Vocals are rather prominent and the group are determined to make their harmonies work. Four of the members sing, so Scapa Flow seem to have a quite versatile range of musical expression."
The Soundi magazine's Hannu Tervaharju reviewed the album. He thought that the lyrics were so fragile and sensitive that they made the love poetry of Tommy Taberman [one of the most popular and syrupy poets at the time] look like letters to a porn magazine [he obviously hadn't paid attention to the title track, then]. Tervaharju wished that Scapa Flow's would make their next album equally beautiful but a little tougher.
The group never got the chance to make a second album, because the record-buying public barely noticed their first. Scapa Flow ended as quietly as they had begun.
After Scapa Flow, Leevi Leppänen has played with the Pekka Pohjola Group, among others, and taught at the Pop-Jazz Conservatory and the Sibelius Academy. Asko Ahonen and Timo Seppänen joined the group Taxi, which released only one single. During the 1980s, Pia-Maria Noponen played with, among others, Limousine, Threshold [semi-progressive electronic rock band who made the album Paradise Now in 1981] and Tavaramarkkinat. She moved to Spain in mid-1980s and died in 1996.
Uuteen aikaan has become a wanted collector's item over the years. A copy in good condition may command a couple of hundred Euro, and copies are far and few between. The CD release is from the original master tapes."
Fantasia - s/t. 1975 Hi-Hat
CD reissue: 2010 Rocket Records
Release details: Originals come in a fine single sleeve, and has always been sought after and expensive (at least since I've been collecting). I traded for my personal LP copy in the mid 1990s. It took many years, but the first CD as finally arrived! Rocket Records has become the de facto leader in Finnish progressive rock obscurities. They focus on other genres, but fortunately they cover what the UMR loves - and they seem to have no regard for popularity. And, best of all, they do a GREAT JOB at mastering. I was blown away by how much better Fantasia sounds than the original LP (which I will continue to own regardless). Only bummer is the lack of bonus tracks. Liner notes in English translated at the bottom of this post.
1. Pilvien takaa 4:27
* 2. Unikuva 3:36
** 3. Huutokauppa 2:51
** 4. Suihkuliidolla 3:45
5. Hautausmaani rannoilla 3:06
* 6. Tulen pisara 5:49
* 7. Aggressio 2:39
* 8. Härmä jazz 1:27
* 9. Depressio 6:50
Right away, the first thing I noticed is how much better the CD sounds than the original LP (I had the opposite experience recently with Aquarelle's debut from Belle Antique). This version is bringing out the instrumentation as it was meant to be. Guitar and violin are the primary lead soloists, with some tasteful Moog, Rhodes, sax and flute as accompaniment. I want to quote my CDRWL site, as after hearing this album a few times in a row, this still encapsulates my thoughts: "They possess the instrumental dexterity of Finnforest combined with the songwriting talents of the Swedish band Atlas (who arrived later, but I feel there are similarities here). Contains 9 short tracks, each packed with many ideas. Fantasia is not an album that lends itself to easy comparisons, yet it's all vaguely familiar. Definitely Scandinavian from a compositional and melodic perspective." Of course, one cannot ignore Camel or King Crimson here, as no doubt these more familiar bands were an influence on Fantasia, as were the big stars from their homeland: Wigwam.
1), 5) and 6) are the only vocal tracks, and as you can see, two of them are the only ones I didn't star. But the good news is these are still fine progressive rock tracks, with plenty of changes, but not quite up to the same standard as the instrumental ones. 2) recalls the great Secret Oyster, primarily due to the soprano sax holding the melody line, coupled with some delicious wah wah guitar soloing. I feel 3) represents the highlight of the entire album. The deep throbbing bass line, with the melancholic guitar melody, is so very Scandinavian in its approach. Perhaps "Fjärilar I Magen" era Ragnarök is a good reference here. The guitar solo over the wah wah rhythm is exhilarating. It's not even 3 minutes long, but it seems as if they packed 7 minutes of material in there. 4) starts pleasant enough, with some fine synthesizer overlays over the funky rhythm, definitely playing off the ominous atmosphere. And then there's this wicked Italian progressive rock style meter break, which is really surprising in this context. The track closes masterfully with a wonderful violin solo. Another brilliant track. 5) is about the only song on here that could be called a "throwaway", and even at that, it's pretty good. 6) starts off with that dark narrative singing that is popular in Finland (just listen to Nimbus "Obus" sometime). This is followed by an outstanding Rhodes break which leads to some more excellent guitar soloing. Closes somewhat similar to the opening. A fine work, and proves Fantasia could work a vocal tune into their repertoire without ruining the song. 7) & 8) are two short instrumentals, that are both highly melodic and rock hard. Would love to here both of these stretched out a few minutes more each. 9) is just that - an extended instrumental showing that Fantasia is not just content to sit on a groove and solo endlessly, but rather they pack many ideas and textures into one song. And they are all related musically, not a pile of disparate ideas that go nowhere. Splendid album!
Translation of the booklet kindly provided by Kai from Finland. Thanks a million for this Kai!
"Fantasia's roots lie with the St. Marcus Blues Band, which was formed in Pietarsaari in 1967. As their music became more experimental, the group changed their name to Fantasia in 1973. Bassist Markku Lönngren took the name from Amazing Blondel's 1971 album Fantasia Lindum. Early Fantasia described their music as a mixture of hard rock and progressive rock. To prove their commitment, the band members told that they had invested FIM 40 000 into musical equipment and were practicing almost every night.
Early Fantasia comprised Hannu Lindblom (vocals, guitar), Jukka Halttunen (guitar), Markku Lönngren (bass), Paavo Osola (keyboards) and Karl-Erik Rönngård (drums). However, musical differences caused rifts, and in 1973 only Lindblom and Rönngård were left. Fantasia became a quartet with the addition of Harri Piha (bass) and Roul Helantie (keyboards, guitar, violin).
The new Fantasia took part in the Finnish Rock Championship contest, which was held at Kulttuuritalo in Helsinki in December 1974. The decision to take part had not been unanimous. It was only reached after some members threatened to leave the group if Fantasia skipped the contest.
It was a good move in retrospect, for the jury liked Fantasia's style and the group won the contest. Their poor gig situation improved considerably as a result. In 1975 they were signed by Hi-Hat, a new record company set up by Finnlevy. [Finnlevy was one of the few large record companies dominating Finnish record industry at the time. Hi-Hat was their attempt to capture a piece of the young, progressive music market, which had been largely Love Records' domain.]
Fantasia's eponymous album came out in late 1975, as the new company's seventh LP release. The album was produced by [Wigwam drummer] Ronnie Österberg and Mikael Wiik. It was recorded at Finnlevy's studio in Helsinki. Additional musicians were Mikael Wiik, who played the guitar solo on "Depressio", and saxophonist Pekka Pöyry [of Tasavallan Presidentti, among others].
University of Turku's student magazine described the album: "Influenced by Wigwam, but with an honest and idiomatic approach. Fantasia want to create impressions, raise social awareness and make people listen and develop their relationship to music."
Wigwam comparisons were unavoidable. Waldemar Wallenius [one of the founding fathers of Finnish independent rock journalism] wrote in the Soundi magazine: "Some nitwit may fault the album for being too monotonous, but I for one enjoy its cohesion and harmoniousness. Some other blockhead probably spots clear Wigwam or even Tabula Rasa influences, which again I don't mind, because the album sounds pure and pleasing - and not too derivative of anyone. Yet another lamebrain might take offense on the lyrics, which may feel a bit pretentious. But the lyrics are mercifully few and they don't call much attention to themselves. And while not fantastic, they are not too bad."
Fantasia sold about 2000 copies, which fell well short of what the record company had expected from this rising new group. Hi-Hat may have been open-minded and ambitious in signing new artists, but the company was less patient about the artists' commercial success. Hence Fantasia and most of the other early signings never got to make a second album. After 1976 Hi-Hat's activity was heavily curtailed and the company soon shrunk into Finnlevy's sub-label that had to heavily rationalize its release policy.
With the album's failure and the public's ebbing interest in progressive rock, Fantasia's line-up began to change. First to leave was bassist Harri Piha. Roul Helantie took over bass duties, while keyboard player Paavo Osala re-joined the band.
In 1976 Fantasia toured the Soviet Union, with concerts in Leningrad, Moscow and Riga. Afterwards their line-up went into flux, while their music allegedly became more danceable. After various stylistic and line-up changes, Fantasia was buried at the turn of the decade and the St. Marcus Blues Band resurrected. The group is still touring and recording music today, but that is a different story."
Last update: July 8, 2015
Time - s/t. 1975 Buk (1975 England and Germany)
Probably the highest profile UK album still on my CD Reissue Wishlist. I'm truly surprised this album hasn't been reissued to date. There isn't even a bootleg (and no way in hell am I encouraging that - but worth noting all the same). I just bought the original LP (UK version) and thus thought I'd share a quick review. Very nice 70s vintage black and white cover. This one is a no-brainer for Esoteric to reissue.
* 1. Shady Lady 4.25
* 2. Turn Around 6.30
* 3. Violence 3.20
* 4. Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow 4.25
* 5. Dragonfly 8.09
6. Liar 2.53
7. Hideout 1.25
* 8. Steal Away 5.05
Time were formed by ex Spontaneous Combustion members, and is considerably more complex than their former group. Flash, that wonderful post-Yes band that Peter Banks formed, is the most obvious influence. Especially in the vocal department. And the guitars have that certain raw chord sound with runny clean solos that Banks seemed to favor. But in reality Time is even more complex than that. On the instrumental sections (which are plentiful), they are like a distilled Yes circa "Relayer" without all the hoity-toity bits (and yea, I admit to liking all that extra Yes fluff too). But if you're in a hurry, and don't have time for a sit down meal, then Time is some really good fast food. Non-chain, healthy, and thoughtful - but quick counter service with no waiting. While not quite as off-the-rails-nutty, the closest comparison to Time I can make is Yezda Urfa's "Boris", another 1975 wonder. Which tells me some musicians were sitting around the world, after digesting "Tales From Topographic Oceans" and "Relayer", saying "I like Twinkies, but more the cream filling than the sponge part".
Perhaps a bit useless to have my star system in place here. I pretty much love every track on the album. Side 1 is definitely stronger, perhaps because the sound is fresher to my ears, and I've grown accustomed by Side 2. 1) and 2) pretty much sums up all you need to know if you're really in a drive-through hurry. Counterpoint is one of Time's favorite tools to utilize and you will hear it often. I happen to love counterpoint, so that may explain why I score Time higher than others. I also like a good woody bass sound and Time also plants that wherever they can. Plenty of keyboards and tuned percussion also in the mix. And vocals are also played off of each other, ala Gentle Giant (another obvious influence at play here). Highly recommended.
For the most part this is a fluffy AOR / progressive rock hybrid. The highlight here is some fine guitar work, both in the melody and solo sections. A heavier, almost proto-metal component gives off more than a whiff to classic late 70's era Scorpions. Because I'm a sucker for the commercial sounds of this time frame, I'll probably rate this higher than I should, as I find this both fun and nostalgic. If what I'm saying resonates, then you should check it out for a listen or two yourself.
I only own a CD-R.
Ibis - Sun Supreme. 1974 Polydor
CD reissues: 1989 Edison (Japan); 2001 Universal (Japan mini-LP); 2003 Vinyl Magic; 2010 Universal (Japan mini-LP)
LP reissue: 1982 Polydor (Japan)
Packaging: I've had an original LP of this for many years - finding a new copy at a record convention in the late 1980's. It's a single sleeve but with a wonderful textured cover. As I look over the CD issues, I'm surprised to see it was never reissued legit in Italy before 2003 - especially when considering that the self-titled second was put out by Mellow in 1992 and "Canti d'Innocenza, Canti d'Esperienza" came out in 1991 from Fonit-Cetra (Vinyl Magic). But then again, I can't think of any Italian issues from the 1990s either. I originally picked up a copy of the 2001 mini-LP but was shocked (really, shocked) that the cover wasn't textured so I sent it back. The new 2010 mini-LP version fixes that issue, and so I now have a CD to supplement the LP. To the best of my knowledge, "Sun Supreme" hasn't been reissued on vinyl in recent years.
Divine Mountain / Journey of Life
1. Part 1 - Vision of Majesty 3:42
2. Part 2 - Travelling the Spectrum of the Soul: 5:59
a. Flow of the River of the Mind
b. A Magical Cavern
c. On the Edge of it All
3. Part 3 - The Valley of Mists: 5:00
a. Song of the Valley Deep
b. The Elements Clash - Storm of Life
4. Part 4 - Vision Fulfilled 4:33
a. Jungle - Rythm Colour (Steam, Sweet, Pulse, Throb, Vibrate)
b. Over the Crest
a. Part 1 4:00
b. Part 2 7:12
c. Part 3 6:06
Ibis were made up of ex-New Trolls members (and a former drummer from Atomic Rooster - and whose name is not Carl Palmer) and this was their debut album (though technically the first album was under the name Nico, Gianni, Frank, Maurizio). It was far more geared towards symphonic progressive rock, heavily influenced by Yes, especially when compared against their second, more straightforward, hard rock album.
So you'll notice I didn't highlight any tracks for "Sun Supreme". Honestly, I'm amazed this album gets the praise it does, especially since it walks right into the usual "prog is pretentious" argument (an argument that I absolutely disagree with, even here at its most obvious). And yet this album - of all albums - somehow gets a pass from the critics. For starters this has nothing to do with the Italian progressive rock movement (indigenous melodies are missing, English vocals, really everything about what is now called RPI - is not here). Not that one should get automatic demerits for that, but it is worth mentioning given the time and place. What we have with "Sun Supreme" is a huge heaping mess of Yes. And I mean mess as in "Tales From Topographic Oceans" Yes (disclaimer: I really like TFTO - but not necessarily going to fawn over a copycat attempt that falls short). From the song titles to the "higher key" religious aspects (oh hello Satguru Maharaji and his followers: Did you like this album dedicated to you? How come nothing like this from the home country, anyway?). I should offer minuses too, since 5b) is nothing but a very long, and very dull, drum solo. That's 7 minutes of boredom right there. God, even Yes managed to avoid that on a double album (percussion pieces do not equal drum solos for the first smart ass who points it out) - at least in the studio.
So it seems I'm really down on "Sun Supreme" then? Well, no, that's not true. I do like it - as I do appreciate a good Yes imitation (hell, I adore Druid's "Towards the Sun"). It's hardly a style that is easy to emulate, and it's good entertainment taken on its own if you can ignore the influences. But it's barely above the "I'll keep it level". I'm loathe to use terms like overrated, since albums like this are barely rated in the first place (it's not like the NY Times was pushing this down everyone's throat as the next big thing). But I have to say that I disagree with those that claim this is a classic work. It's not a classic by my estimation. Unless you want a somewhat tepid response to Yes' "Tales From Topographic Oceans". It screams New Trolls cash-in. Probably because that is exactly what it is. Buy it only if you can't get enough of that sound. And perhaps I fall into that category. I can't help it.
Aquarelle - Sous un Arbre. 1978 Atlantic
CD reissue: 2010 Belle Antique (Japan mini-LP)
Packaging details: I found a sealed LP in a Kansas City record store back in 1991. Ah, the days when the classic Midwest cities all had cool record stores with import gems like this - all for under $10. KC was one of the great record store towns, with many excellent stores in the Westport district alone. No more of course. I miss those days of traveling to cities for the sole purpose of buying records (and eating the local cuisine and drinking the local swill - fortunately we can still do this!). Oh sure, some of these stores still exist, but are a mere skeleton of what they once were. Anyway, I will be keeping the LP, especially given that this CD is taken from vinyl. Until 2010, no other LP or CD presses existed. So I was much surprised when I heard that Belle Antique managed to obtain the licenses for both of the Aquarelle albums. I know there had been some talk of ProgQuebec reissuing these, and they still might. But I decided not to wait and pulled the trigger for the higher priced mini-LP. This isn't the type of album I typically collect in this format (single sleeve, rather boring cover), but I'm not chancing the fact it may never come out legitimately again. Not the kind of title that is likely to sell much anyway. Also, note that this CD is taken from vinyl (licensed from main songwriter and keyboardist Pierre Lescaut). Because of this, I think I'll wait if PQ will reissue the live album. If someone finds the master tapes, I will consider replacing this CD as well.
Notes: My original review for both Aquarelle albums can be found here on Gnosis.
* 1. La Magie des Sons 6:40
** 2. Francoise 4:54
3. Bridge 6:22
* 4. Sous un Arbre 4:38
* 5. Aquarelle (Part 1,2,3) 8:22
** 6. Volupte 4:37
7. Esperanto 5:53
As stated in the Gnosis review above, Aquarelle's debut is far from a typical jazz fusion album. In the late 1970's, there were literally hundreds of albums that featured musicians showing off their technical chops. They couldn't help but parade their considerable talent on the latest synthesizer, while trading solos back and forth with the next Allan Holdsworth, Al Di Meola or Bill Connors. To many listeners, including yours truly, this was met with a big yawn. Might be great listening to those wanting to learn the trade, or were participants in the scene, but I want something more. Like songs for example. Or compositions. And Aquarelle delivers on both fronts. They are the antithesis to the normal fare of the era. As I review, I begin to think of band leader and primary composer Pierre Lescaut as some sort of genius. It's the blending of the instruments that make the album so special. Violin, flute, sax, female wordless voice, and mostly Pierre's piano that stand out, but in ensemble form. Guitar, bass and drums give it the rock feeling they were striving for, but only that - as an underlying structure.
Despite the profound statements from the last paragraph, I wouldn't say it's all that obvious on a casual listen. Read some reviews online and you'll see terms like "dated fusion", or "nothing out of the ordinary". Indeed, it is just that - out of the ordinary. I didn't recognize it myself for many years. In fact, not until the Gnosis review some 15 years after initial purchase, did I register in my memory banks that this wasn't a garden variety late 70's Quebec fusion band.
It was only for 1) that I recalled anything different. A smoking violin led piece, and what seemed to me to be the most progressive song on the album. Today, I scratch my head on why I would think that. Perhaps it's the most obvious song on the album. But on multiple spins, it's really 4) and 5) that are the truly progressive oriented numbers. 4) takes a bit to get going, but features a wonderful mid-track break with a complex meter and some fine rhythm guitar work. 5) gives off more than a whiff of classical chamber music all within the context of jazz and rock. Splendid really. It's only on 3) and closer 7) that there are any hints of the funky fusion of the day. Even still, these are far from cheap skeletons on which to solo endlessly on. And both are fine tracks, if only less exceptional than the others.
That leaves the two brilliant pieces in my estimation. 2) features a stunning flute melody, and is as happy a song as you will ever hear. The Caribbean festival bit on the last third of the track embodies the spirit of the mood, while adding a progressive twist to an already great song. But it's 6) that wins the grand prize. Words cannot describe the stunning beauty of this composition. How could I not hear it 20 years ago? Or even 4 years ago on a deep dive review for Gnosis? It's the kind of mid-album piece one would discover on an Italian progressive rock album. The moment that hits you and you can only utter "it's brilliant!". Ah, the beauty of discovering what you already have.
Though not released until 1976, Last is in reality an archival release, more similar to the type of albums that we are seeing coming to light for the first time today. The first two tracks are from a live concert circa March, 1973, while 'Looping IV' is a studio recording from Feb, 1974. The bonus track 'Schwingspule' is a live recording from December of 1971.
'Soundpool' is yet another version of 'Rücksturz' from Malesch, this time hidden behind a raft full of electronics. As if to prove that Agitation Free's two best melodies were 'Rücksturz' and 'Laila' (from 2nd", both make their appearance here and 'Laila II' has the most extended version of the classic piece. And it's brilliant with plenty of references to Malesch blended into the psychedelic jamming. At 17 minutes, there's a little bit of aimless experimentation to endure, but overall still a great variation of the classic tune. 'Looping IV' is yet another new chapter in the Agitation Free book. Just as 2nd finished with two distinct tracks of innovation, thus so does the 1974 version of the band. For those who would like to hear another possible variation on the 1971 Tangerine Dream Alpha Centauri sound, then 'Looping IV' is for you. This track goes way out there, with plenty of echoed organ, bass, drums, electronics, voices, guitars - all, naturally enough, looped over and over for a mesmerizing psychedelic experience. One can only hope there is far more Agitation Free sitting in the vaults (not counting the already excellent At the Cliffs of River Rhine and Fragments archival albums). An Ohr or Kosmische classic that never was released. 'Schwingspule' is a great find and my favorite of the bonus tracks that SPV originally pressed across the three original albums. A fitting followup to the experimental 'Looping IV' but with a closing psychedelic guitar jam that recalls Malesch especially on its bonus track. If only high quality tape versions of this era of the band existed!
LP: 1976 Barclay (France)
CD: 2010 Belle Antique (Japan)
LP: 2013 Made in Germany
When I first started collecting progressive rock in earnest around 1985 or so, Last was considered one of the holy grails. In those days, even rare albums cost about $40 or $50 - and Last was a whopping $75! Way beyond my budget (budget = number of skipped meals). Perhaps because it was an afterthought release, not even available in their home country, that the album was thought to be so rare (not to mention original sales were probably weak). The single sleeve original was only released in France, and is now by far the cheapest of the three as an original, but still hardly cheap. Unlike the first two albums, there was no second LP press on IRI nor did Amber Soundroom bother to reissue it. In 2013, Made in Germany finally repressed this one on vinyl. I was able to source one cheap, but it's a straight reissue (with nice liner notes though - and utilizes the SPV cover. I bought the Spalax CD the minute it came out (1992), and had been satisfied with it. However, a good friend of this site told me that the SPV version is far superior in sound and I had planned to upgrade to that version. However, just like the other two Agitation Free albums, the Belle Antique mini-LP is taken from the SPV remaster, and so I splurged for that instead and sold off the Spalax CD. Only misstep from Marquee (Belle Antique) is the missing of English liner notes as is the case with most of their reissues (which makes sense since they are supposed to be for sale in Japan only).
'First Communication' defines the new ethos of Agitation Free. One that is considerably looser, more laid back and well, free. Generally this is where the West Coast term is applied. The late 1960's psychedelic scene of the San Francisco Bay Area as defined by The Grateful Dead and Quicksilver Messenger Service. A pleasant guitar lead jam, if not exactly a great way to state "we're back!". 'Dialogue and Random' recalls the experimental aspects of 'Pulse' from Malesch and is somewhat of a waste of time. It's the two part 'Laila' where things become interesting, with a fine loud guitar solo among the somewhat peaceful surroundings. 'Laila, Part II' has a killer drum and bass line, followed by a stunning acid guitar melody, certainly Agitation Free's most recognized after 'Rücksturz' from their debut. The return of the swirling organ from the Malesch era is also much welcome. A stone classic of a song. 'In the Silence of the Morning Sunrise' brings us another strong Agitation Free styled melody, in a more laid back setting that typifies 2nd. A sweet, serene song. 'A Quiet Walk' is the odd bird in Agitation Free's catalog, sounding like a lost outtake from an Ohr label recording session. Part one's 'Listening' is an exercise in soundscape and atmosphere. With echoed found sounds, and layers of background organ, the feel is one of meditation and reflection. I think if there wasn't a payoff at the end, this could be seen as somewhat boring in the same way as 'Dialogue and Random'. But at roughly the 5 minute mark I suspect we hit the 'Not of the Same Kind' portion of the track, which provides the climax to the plot set out in part one. Acoustic guitar strumming lay the bed of rice for the main course - some mighty fine electric guitar runs (with studio effects) and percussion. Not an immediately likable song, but one whose hidden qualities come after multiple listens. If 'A Quiet Walk' pulls us out of the creative station, then 'Haunted Island' is off the rails. And it's a stunner. Here we get Agitation Free in hard blues rock territory complete with narrative vocals, some treated with a Leslie ala Brainticket's Cottonwood Hill and some really mean fuzz guitar solos. A closer that is at complete odds with anything else on this album, or even Malesch. A whole album of this style would have been amazing to behold. Bonus track 'Laila 74' takes us back to 2nd's finest melody - here in a live setting (decent quality) where the structure is looser and the jam more intense. An awesome addition to an already great album.
LP: 1973 Vertigo
CD: 2010 Belle Antique (Japan)
CD reissues: 1992 Spalax (France); 2002 Garden of Delights; 2008 SPV / Revisited; 2010 Belle Antique (Japan mini-LP)
LP reissues: 1979 IRI (France); 2004 Amber Soundroom; 2012 Made in Germany
Packaging details: Originals have skyrocketed in price over the years, and can easily run well over $600 (though I saw one go nearly for $5K - though that seems it might be an auction mistake). To this day, the original LP that I found back in the mid 1980s is one of my collection's treasures. The IRI press out of France was a cheaply made single cover (though maintained the original art design). But for most folks, it was the only affordable option in the 1970s & 80s. The high quality, but now defunct Amber Soundroom label, also released this on vinyl - and would be the recommended and cheaper alternative to the original. Made in Germany has followed with a new single sleeve edition, and uses the SPV redesigned cover (2nd scan). As for CD's, I bought the Spalax version immediately upon release for playing purposes (1992). As is usual with the label, the packaging is bare bones, especially their earlier issues. No doubt the GoD version is far superior, especially in the packaging department, but I never upgraded and haven't seen one myself. The SPV/Revisited version is considered by many to be the best sounding and was the first to feature a bonus track (and a new cover). Because of this, I was pleased to learn that the Japanese mini-LP version on Belle Antique was taken from the same mastering including the bonus. So with that, I finally put the Spalax CD in the sell bin and upgraded. One of those albums that is essential to have in this format - if you love packaging as much as I do. The only unfortunate aspect, and this is typical of Marquee, is they leave out the crucial English language history that both GoD and SPV provided.
Notes: I first discovered Agitation Free by accident in the mid 1980s. One of those albums I bought because it looked cool and was cheap. It had such a profound impact on me at the time, that it was one of those albums that helped shape my musical tastes for the future.
* 1. You Play for Us Today 6:08
**2. Sahara City 7:42
** 3. Ala Tul 4:50
4. Pulse 4:43
5. Khan El Khalili 5:30
** 6. Malesch 8:10
** 7. Rücksturz 2:09
* 8. Music Factory Live 15:15 (bonus track)
1) starts with "I fly the airplane, and you play for us, indeed?". And with that field recording of the small aircraft pilot, an organ overlay is applied with haunting voice and the bass starts to rumble a rhythm. A synthesizer floats a melody on top and the first sounds of acid guitar enter in, while pounding drums and the percussion adds an exotic air. The organ begins to swirl, the intensity builds, and the guitar goes into a frenzied but melodic solo. After what seems like only 2 minutes, but is actually well over 6, the field recording of the pilot's intercom interjects with spoken Arabic and leads to... 2) Recordings of a market in Egypt with percussion and wind instruments. This takes us back to the studio and a percussive synthesized sound. Haunting winds of sound with fuzz box guitar leads, while pounding symbols deliver you to the desert of unknown myths. After returning from the abyss, the band congeals into an incredible jam with superb guitar and bass jamming. By the time we get to 3), if you're not completely immersed into the Sahara desert mystique of this album, there's probably little chance it will resonate at this point. 'Ala Tul' is what the album is about: Atmosphere, intensity, mystery, exoticism, experimental, intrigue. It's another world, and one that wasn't explored prior, or hasn't been since. 4) demonstrates Agitation Free at their most experimental, though the piece begins to take form in the latter half in the classic Krautrock jam tradition. 5) brings us back to the Middle East, though for most of the piece, the emphasis is a light breezy instrumental, and gives us the best clue of where Agitation Free would go for their next album "2nd". 6) is the perfect encapsulation of all that has proceeded it. If there's one piece that defines the album, it is indeed the title track itself. This leads to 7) and the most memorable piece on the album, with a striking melody that was the centerpiece to many of their live jams during this era. This can be best demonstrated by the 15 minute bonus track 8), a stellar piece of Krautrock experimentalism mixed with psychedelic jamming. The kind of music that has your imagination wandering to some obscure artist club in Berlin circa 1972 and wishing you could transport back. This issue also features a short 6 minute video with yet another variation of the 7) theme. Video quality will remind you of the home reels of your youth, but it only adds to the aura.
1. Munju - I Feel So Blue Without You
2. Out of Focus - Sommer '58
3. Real Ax Band - Never Never Again
4. Good Food - Take It
5. Embryo - Wir sind alle politische Gefangene
6. Aera - Herr Siebert & die sieben Siebe
7. Mathea Wlömsk - Bahama Mama
8. High Crack - Anina
9. Porta Westfalica Allstars - Airto
10. Das Dritte Ohr - Don't Use Your Spray
11. Hammerfest - Wilde Zeit
12. Molle - Bildertraum
13. Checkpoint Charlie - Smogalarm
14. Porta Westfalica Allstars - Keine Macht für Niemand
15. Spacebox - Tape Talk
16. Julius Schittenhelm - Er dreht sich hinein ins Hirn
17. Airbreak - Crossover
18. Missus Beastly - Porta Erotica
19. Brühwarm - Tango
20. Brühwarm - Fummelrock
1) No better way to open than with some electric sax in the Xhol Caravan, "Hot Rats" era Zappa sort of way. Excellent opener. This track came from Munju's "Moon You" album.
2) Out of Focus make their first festival appearance. One of the legendary bands from the early Krautrock era of 1970-1974. Out of Focus proved to have quite a bit of archival material as they have not only one, but two full CDs of studio music plus one live concert. But none of it extends as far as 1978, where the band was about to become Kontrast. And here they prove to be the veterans they are, with a superb piece, complete with a beautiful melody driven by the flute. I want to hear more of Out of Focus from this era!
3) is an unreleased track by the Embryo offshoot group Real Ax Band. This one is a slow burn, with a deep funk groove and wah wah guitar solos. The Barry White vocal attempt was.... not a good idea. Where's Ms. Archer? Vocals aside, I'd love to hear more of this session.
4) Don't know who Good Food is, but this is a really swell primarily instrumental Latin inspired fusion piece driven by some great rhythm work and Rhodes piano leads the solo and melody lines. At 7 minutes, this is also the longest piece on the entire 2 LP set. Definitely a band I'd like to know more about.
5) Schneeball/April heroes Embryo weigh in with a deep funk piece, also a bit of a slow burn similar to the Real Ax Band, with almost scat like vocals. A different sound from Embryo, but one I found highly appealing. Amazing guitar solo from Bunka. Maybe I'd be interested in Garden of Delights releasing this concert first - rather the '77 one!
6) Well, it was about time Aera showed up! Another "name" band, and by 1978, a group who already had a couple of albums under their belt. Oddly, they only featured a primarily percussion piece (excepting a few ensemble seconds at the end). Hardly representative of the band, who are fine progenitors of jazz fusion.
7) Mathea Wlömsk is another new name for me. I suppose it should be no surprise they are yet another fusion band. The driving bass and phased guitar solos recall the excellent obscure group Mosaik. I definitely want to hear more from this band!
8) Yet again, we hear a new group - High Crack. They are a bit more in the typical funky fusion genre that was all the rage in Germany at this time. A bit more generic than their festival peers - at least on this one piece. I'd still like to hear what else they have to offer.
10) Das Dritte Ohr have a few albums, of which I know nothing about. Here they provide an old time got-the-blues-real-bad-oh-yea-I-do complete with amplified harmonica. It's awful... next!
11) Hammerfest, as mentioned before, are one of the sponsors of the festival - so they of course get their space. They're a bit eclectic, and here they offer yet another got-the-blues-real-bad track - though at a faster pace than Das Dritte Ohr. OK, so they're a mover and shaker of the scene, what are you going to do? Next...
12) And here we have Molle, who started the 1977 album off inauspiciously. Contrary to that piece, the music here is quite good, dominated by a nice flute line and an excellent guitar solo. There's quite a bit of German vocals, which I suspect is politically motivated, but not sure.
13) And now for Germany's most prolific polit-rocker Checkpoint Charlie. Apparently an hilarious song about ecological destruction. And what says funny like left wing political Germans? OK, no fair, I'm not German (well, I am actually - but 3rd generation American...), so let's move on... next!
9) & 14) The Porta All-Stars is obviously a collective gathered for the concert. On the first track they present a sort of acoustic blues, with some nice flute, acoustic guitar and wordless voice. No Power for Nobody is what the second title translates to. IIRC, Ton Steine Scherben also had an album by that name. Yea, baby, ANARCHY RULES! Apparently we're in the midst of the hardcore polit-rock section of the LP. Next!
15) Uli Trepte's Spacebox is a big fave with my more avant minded music friends. For me, they leave a lot be desired. 'Tape Talk' is a track from their self-titled 1979 album. Pretty much mindless drivel as far as I'm concerned. OK, NEXT!!!
16) Producer and folk busker Schittenhelm pushed through another irrelevant track. NEXT!!
17) OK, back on solid ground with Airbreak, a funky fusion band with wah wah rhythm guitar driving the sax & guitar leads. A typical tropical and sunny sound dominates here. Probably not a group that would be overly special on LP, though I'd be interested in hearing more anyway. Not that much different than the High Crack group earlier in the album.
18) UMR's favorite Missus Beastly contributes an unreleased track, that if we were to go by name only would appear to be background music for a, ahem, "blue" film. In reality it's pretty much in the genre of all of MB's work, with a solid groove and great instrumentals provided by electric piano, guitar and flute. Definitely one of the highlight of the entire set.
19) The less said about Brühwarm the better.
Despite a great opening, the festival has clearly taken a turn for the political, at least on vinyl. My least favorite set of the 1975-1978 festivals.
Unfortunately this was the end of the classic era of the Umsonst and Draussen festivals on vinyl. The festival itself continues on to this day. There was one more album released in 1983, but it's a huge drop off in quality. Not only musically, at least for fans of the classic Kraut fusion sound like myself, but primarily the sound quality is awful. Which seems inexcusable, given the date - but alas it is what it is.
1. Molle - The Joker 4:30
2. Hammerfest - Jung Siegfried 5:35
3. ES - Today 5:15
4. Checkpoint Charlie - Ausschnitt aus der Geschichte von Herrn Müller 3:55
5. Julius Schittenhelm - Drei Orchideen 3:30
6. Munju - Patscha Menga Underground 8:48
7. Moira - Improvisationen 6:15
8. Funky Bone & The Gang - Higher 7:30
9. Embryo - Getalongwithasong 6:40
10. Real Ax Band - Move Your Ass in Time 5:40
11. Skyline - The Journey 7:49
12. Sadja - Daka Dhin 2:30
13. Einhorn - Einhorn Thema 5:55
14. ES - Fee Forever 1:30
15. Missus Beastly - For Flü 7:28
16. Release Music Orchestra - Sonntag 6:25
17. Ihr - Give Peace a Chance 1:27
1) Gets things off on the wrong foot with an awful cover of the Steve Miller Band classic complete with harmonica leads. Don't know Molle and don't need to. OK, looks like they managed an album called "Kotten". Next...
2) Hammerfest are obviously a core band of the festival, and the April/Schneeball kollektiv. This group has proven hit and miss so far, and I'm ignorant of their actual albums, so what do we get this time? We get the good Hammerfest, where music comes first. Here they show their hand at a more sophisticated progressive blues rock style, with some nice organ and guitar work. Even the vocals are soft focused and not offensive as would normally be the case. Hey, the crowd liked it too!
3) Well, lookee here. I've got a copy of ES' "Wham Bang" album, which is actually not bad at all. ES is made up of members of Tomorrow's Gift and their follow-on group Release Music Orchestra (who are also at this festival). With the funky fusion sounds and female vocals, it appears ES are heavily influenced by Embryo's "Bad Heads and Bad Cats" album as well as The Real Ax Band. 14) is a short thrown in, a harmless female vocal lead piece. Not sure why they felt obligated to toss this in.
4) Checkpoint Charlie are the very definition of politrock. I've had a couple of their albums in the past and they mix complex aggressive punk rock with virulent lyrics. Similar to fellow Germans Oktober. Almost like the Cardiacs but even more angry. Here we pretty much have a spoken word (in German) entry with some nice fusion moves underneath. It would be interesting to hear Checkpoint Charlie with an instrumental album. But that's not what they're about...
5) Features the former Ohr record producer. Even before Dieter Dirks was doing the insane knob twiddling in Berlin, Schittenhelm was phasing bands like Annexus Quam through the hazy fields of madness. As an artist, Schittenhelm is a folk singer - hey, gotta throw a bone to the masters once in awhile and keep them happy.
6) Second year in a row for one of Schneeball's most stalwart bands. As with the '76 concert, Munju covers another track from their debut "High Speed Kindergarten". Here they add an extended percussion sequence as a prequel. Munju were near the top tier of Kraut fusion bands of the era, perhaps slightly behind only Embryo, Missus Beastly and Moira.
7) And speaking of Moira, here's their first appearance on one of these compilations. No points for figuring out this is a loose jam. A quite good one with freaky guitar, flute solos and a driving rhythm. Both of their albums are well worth seeking out. Hopefully one of the great German labels will see fit to reissue them in the near future.
8) Funky Bone & the Gang. I wonder what style of music they'll play? This is their only appearance and not sure if they're related to 1975's The Jack Bone Group. Well they don't sound like they are anyway. Despite the funky disposition, this is pretty tight, with some good sax charts and a little wailing as well. Plenty of guitar soloing thrown in for good measure. Another band I'd like to hear more of.
9) Is the requisite Embryo appearance. They are certainly the "name" band in these festivals and they let absolutely no one down. This is a track that would show up on "Apo Calypso" but in an extended 14 minutes form at that point. Garden of Delights has announced their intention to release Embryo's entire Umsonst concert on CD.
10) Is the title track to Real Ax Band's sole album. They catch a groove early and run with it. If you're unfamiliar with this band, I highly recommend the CD that came out about a decade ago. Definitely recommended to fans of Embryo's "Bad Heads and Bad Cats" and both feature Maria Archer, a superb female vocalist from Ghana.
11) Skyline is back for their second appearance in a row. Again, their live material is far superior to their rather static studio LP. Like the '76 song, this track was also added by GoD on the CD release of "Louise For One Night". I would love hearing these concerts in full, rather than these two snippets.
12) Sadja are an Indian acoustic offshoot of Embryo, and foreshadows their later world fusion efforts that they would pursue more steadfastly in the 1980 and beyond.
13) For me, Einhorn was the big revelation of the 1976 concert. Here, they get a bit more fast and loose with the structure, and there's plenty of unhinged free blow. Though I was a bit unimpressed with this piece, I'd still be most curious if the group has any tapes in storage waiting to be reissued.
15) The other big hitter in the Schneeball lineup along with Embryo, is of course my pet fave group Missus Beastly. This is a track that would show up on their superb "Spaceguerilla",and is a fine representation of their infectious and complex progressive fusion sound.
16) Release Music Orchestra is a relative big name, and this is their first appearance for the free concerts. Only Kraan is missing at this point! Here, they offer a slow and atmospheric jazz piece.
17) is a crowd chant to close the album out.
This set features more released material than prior ones, but overall is still quite good!
The second in the series, and also only a single disc.
1. Munju - Talk to Me 5:37
2. Embryo - The Bad Times are Gone 5:56
3. Einhorn - Wer hat Angst vor Adalbert Wenstein 5:20
4. Hammerfest - Cross 5:29
5. Missus Beastly - Slow One 6:38
6. Real Ax Band - Nylon Receycled 6:16
7. Skyline - Tashiro 5:26
8. Sparifankal - I mechd di gean amoi nackad seng
1) Munju opens the album with their fiery brand of jazz rock, with some great guitar soloing. Reminded me of their "Moon You" album, though this is one of their songs from "High Speed Kindergarten". This was the only previously released track found on this compilation.
2) Embryo followed with a funky piece in the "Bad Heads and Bad Cats" vein, BUT Roman Bunka really lets loose on the guitar here recalling the "We Keep On" era (similar to the 1975 concert). Fantastic! I'd love to hear the full concert here. Embryo were one of only 2 bands to have vocals on this album.
3) Wow this was a welcome surprise! Einhorn's is probably the best track of the entire album and follows Embryo nicely. The composition here is heavily influenced by early Soft Machine, with a nice sax solo followed by the best guitar solo of the album. I'd love to hear more from this band!
4) Hammerfest. Similar to the 1975 concert, they provide an instrumental to finish out Side 1. Starts and ends with an excellent organ/guitar symphonic prog section. In the middle we get some of the worst harmonica/blues one can imagine. I can see this band will be completely hit and miss.
5) Side 2 starts with Missus Beastly who are operating in funky fusion territory similar to "Dr Aftershave and the Mixed Pickles". This is probably the weakest era of the 70's version of the band (1978's "Space Guerillas" was a return to their classic 1974/75 jazz rock style). Still there is some amazing Rhodes piano work here. I miss the dual winds players found on the '74 album though.
6) Real Ax Band followed with a spirited instrumental funk fusion piece. I always liked their one album and feel this is what Aera on "Turkis" for example is not. Some smoking acid guitar can be found here.
7) Skyline provides another fusion track with a funky edge. Again, the guitar playing is sublime and this one had a deep groove, for some slow headbanging. This is much better than the rather generic "Louise For One Night" album (1976) that Garden of Delights reissued a few years back. Fortunately they added this track as a bonus.
8) Sparifankal is the odd group out and closes the album. Basically this is German hillbilly music sung in the ancient Bayern language. Hideous, but not my scene either, and fits perfectly with the concert outlook and vision.
Another very good set overall!
The first of many LP releases of the free Umsonst und Draußen concerts in Germany. This was boiled down to a single disc. Later ones were 2 LP sets.
1 Hammerfest - Lokomotive
2 Missus Beastly - Vloflutho
3 Jack Bone Group - Himalaya Erdbeernuss
4 Embryo - Sidetrack
5 Atzen Wehmeyer - Arbeiterjugendblues
6 Hammerfest - That's What I Say
7 Buttergasse - Sonny
8 Johannislust Orchester - In the Beginning
1) & 6) are from Hammerfest, a good times rock n roll band with a politrock slant. 1) is uncharacteristic and is primarily instrumental with driving rhythm guitar, and a little harmonica. A good opener to the album. 6) is old fashioned 50's style rock and is quite tedious.
2) is the fantastic Missus Beastly, a band I fawn over endlessly, especially from this era. This track was issued as a bonus track on their 1974 masterpiece self-titled album (from Garden of Delights) - an album that is indispensable for any Kraut fusion fan. Anyway, as you can surmise from the title, this is a free form flute driven jazz rock jam. Awesome.
3) is the only recorded output I'm aware of from the Jack Bone Group. And with a name like that, I'm expecting blues rock. And that's pretty much what we get. But it's a swell example of the style, an instrumental upbeat variation with guitar (with nice fuzz tone leads), piano, bells, bass and drums. I would most definitely be interested in hearing more material from this group, if it exists.
4) like Missus Beastly, I can't get enough of Embryo, especially from 1970 til about 1984 or so. And to think they're still going strong with their world music vision, never having once sold out. If you're an artist true to your ideals, Embryo is the gold standard. Bear that in mind before starting out - almost EVERYONE sells out at least once, but not Embryo. This track is clearly in their jazz funk stage that they launched with the brilliant "Bad Heads and Bad Cats" album. No missing Roman Bunka's impassioned vocals - I love his style. Not to mention his incredible phased fuzz guitar solo that has to be heard to be believed. I don't think this track has been issued anywhere else - hard to know without heavy research, as they have so much recorded output. Garden of Delights plans on releasing at least one full Umsonst concert of Embryo ('77), maybe they'll also do this one. I hope so.
5) Well, no surprises here based on the title. Even I could translate it and I know less than 10 German words. Yea, it's pretty awful, but hey that was the SCENE, MAN. At least it's finished in 3 minutes.
7) Buttergasse is a new name for me. Ooh, I like this! Hard driving vocal rock with some absolutely shredding violin and a couple of rhythm changes. Rare I like a German vocalist, but this guy is good. Great guitar solo half way in. Dueling with the violin at points. I bet Buttergasse had a copy of High Tide's "Sea Shanties" in their closet. I would love to hear more material from this band during this era.
8) Johannislust Orchester is another new name to me. Looks like they're related with Einhorn and Skyline, two of the best artists on the following Vlotho '76 album. Well, they have the right influences. Fellow festival groups Embryo and Missus Beastly - and also some Latin percussion via Santana. Excellent sax driven melody, and kudos to the bass who keeps driving the rhythm in a choppy manner - keeping everyone bouncing on the dance floor (or field I'm sure). Another band I'd love to hear more from.
On the vaunted Kerston label (Gaa, Tyll, Epidermis), Proton 1 features five bands over a 2 LP set, of which Sun and Zyma recorded albums many years later. Zyma managed two albums actually.
1. Zyma - Law Like Love 7:02
2. Zyma - Tango Enough 6:02
3. Andorra - I've Been Waiting 7:10
4. Andorra - Mr. Congresman 2:47
5. Andorra - On My Way 4:29
6. Penicillin - Das Kleine Zahnrad 2:51
7. Penicillin - Die Fledermaus 4:39
8. Penicillin - Für Elise 6:07
9. Nexus - Always Fluffy 3:08
10. Nexus - Plexus 4:41
11. Nexus - Ignis 7:55
12. Sun - Leisure 10:44
13. Sun - To Celia 8:35
1) & 2) are from Zyma and are both excellent. At this stage they have a female and male vocalist, and the music is hard hitting bluesy post Jefferson Airplane rock, similar to Joy Unlimited and Frumpy. Much rawer than their later, more refined Canterbury efforts. One can only hope there is a full canister of tape here for a future reissue. I'd love to hear a whole album of Zyma at this stage of their career.
3)-5) are from the band named for the obscure tiny country between Spain and France. Musically speaking, sadly no ethnic elements are present. 3) is a decent straightforward acid rocker with nice guitar work. 4) is a short CSN/Byrds like rural folk rock number. 5) is the highlight of Andorra's set, and features a nice groove with some excellent guitar soloing and shaker percussion. This track recalls Missing Link, Nosferatu and early Epitaph. Andorra show enough potential, that if an archival release presented itself, I'd be most interested.
6)-8) features Penicillin, the odd group out in this bunch. They're basically a German language, commercially oriented, bluesy rock band. 8) is an instrumental classical rip similar to Ekseption, Trace or Amos Key. Other than some decent Hammond organ work, overall there's not a lot to grab hold on here. Weakest band on the set, no doubt.
9)-11) moves us into the jazz rock realm with Nexus. The addition of flute and sax to the palette makes for a more interesting ride. 9) has vocals and is the catchiest of their three tracks. 10) is the highlight of the entire Proton set and is an absolutely wonderful instrumental jazz rock piece. 11) is more atmospheric with electric piano, electric guitar (featuring an excellent wah wah solo), sax and flute. Nexus are a very mature band at this point, and another group that I hope has more in storage for a future archival issue.
12) & 13) are for Sun and somewhat maintains the jazz flavor set forth by Nexus. 12) is the longest track on Proton 1, and has a few different movements between jazz, bluesy rock, moody folk and progressive sections. Vocals and Hammond organ are fairly dominant here. A thoughtful piece. 13) breaks out the violin. Flute and acoustic guitar accompany along with harmony vocals, before breaking into heavier movements. Sun are definitely the most progressive minded of the bands present on this set, though not as mature or professional as Nexus or Zyma. Much different than their rather breezy fusion album from 1980. Another archival set that one hopes is sitting idly by waiting for a reissue label to release.
Overall, definitely a set well worth seeking out.
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