Monday, November 24, 2014

Spontaneous Combustion - s/t + Triad. 1972 England



Spontaneous Combustion - s/t. 1972 Harvest; 1972 Capitol (USA)
Spontaneous Combustion - Triad. 1972 Harvest; 1972 Capitol (USA)

CD reissues for each: 1997 See For Miles (both albums on 1 CD); 2008 EMI (Japan mini-LP) (released separately); 2012 Esoteric (released separately)

Release details: These two albums are inextricably linked to each other it appears. The debut features a fine gatefold cover and cool cartoon artwork. Of course the US version had to be altered to look worse (second photo), not to mention the easy-to-get-ringwear type cardboard cover. "Triad" fortunately maintained the original artwork in the US, though once again with cheaper materials. Prices are all over the lot for UK originals.  I've seen them as low as $50 and all the way up to $400 or so. "Triad" appears to be the rarer of the two in original form. There does appear to be ample supply, so be patient if in the market for one. The first CD to hit the shelves was the two for one See For Miles reissue, which I'm sure is excellent per label standard, and all that would be needed. This was followed a decade later by the Japanese mini's. For whatever reason, Spontaneous Combustion fell under my personal radar, and I only discovered these albums within the last 7 years or so. Since then I purchased the Esoteric CDs and they are great as usual, with detailed liner notes, and bonus tracks for each (more on Triad than the debut).

Notes: Spontaneous Combustion's debut sounds more like an album from 1969/70, and still has clear psychedelic overtones, especially considering the hazy vocal approach, and melodic disposition. The album is a mixture of styles that includes hard rock, pop, progressive, folk, and ballads. The last two long form tracks demonstrates that Spontaneous Combustion are an experimental bunch at heart, and the album becomes more unpredictable, progressive, and interesting. It's clear this guitar trio are very talented, and could really pack many ideas into a small window when they wanted to. A fine debut, but patchy. "Triad", released later in 1972, picks up where "Spontaneous Combustion" leaves off, and is more in line with that era's music. There is still some psychedelia left in the recipe, but "Triad" is geared more towards hard rock, as well as showcasing their progressive compositional acumen. It would seem that Spontaneous Combustion's Achilles' heel was their inability to focus on what they did best, and their albums can be confusing to listeners. Perhaps that's what they hoped to achieve, but history tells us they failed to gain an audience - and only were later discovered by curious collectors of early 70s UK underground rock. Many consider "Triad" the better of the two albums, and I'm inclined to agree, though they grade out roughly the same regardless. Three years later, the band reformed into the group Time, and it was there the group showed their true colors of being an all-out progressive rock outfit. Though it too never caught an audience (and given its current lack of a legit reissue, as noted on the CDRWL, it still sadly remains unknown).

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Fermata - s/t + Pieseň z hôľ. 1975-1977 Slovakia



Fermata - s/t. 1975 Opus
Fermata - Pieseň z hôľ. 1977 Opus

CD reissue: 1997 Bonton (Fermata + Pieseň z hôľ); 2009 Opus (Fermata + Pieseň z hôľ)

Release details: When I started collecting in earnest in the middle 1980s, one of the best points of entry was Eastern Europe. This is because the albums could still be had for a low price, especially fusion albums from Poland, Hungary, and the former Czechoslovakia. I know many bemoan the digitization of music, but if there was ever a region that the CD benefited most, it was the former Eastern Bloc. The final vinyl product usually was a disaster (cheap materials), but as we've come to find out, the recordings themselves were usually of a very high quality, and the master tapes all carefully stored by the State. So I quickly moved the LPs out once the first CD hit the market (3rd image). Unfortunately this CD compilation leaves off the 11 minute track 'Perpetuum III' from the first album. The 1999 CD of "Dunajská Legenda" does include this piece. And that's the way I own the first album as a whole. Not ideal for sure. All of the second album is here though. Apparently the 2009 CD (last image) is a 2 CD set that fixes this issue, but I haven't seen or heard it myself. As indicated prior, the sound quality of the first CD is fantastic - much better than any original vinyl of these titles.

Notes for Fermata: Hard hitting fusion from arguably Slovakia's finest group. Where Fermata creates separation from many of their peers is they never take their eye off of the composition, and actually know how to craft a memorable melody. So it's not just pyrotechnics, though there's plenty of that here too. Some fine psych edged guitar, Rhodes Electric Piano, and fat 70s analog synthesizers to bathe in here. Great debut.

Notes for  Pieseň z hôľ (Song From Ridges): "Pieseň z hôľ" sees Fermata taking the debut and amping it up a bit. A little bit more diverse this go round from a compositional perspective, but difficult to imagine fans of the debut - or of the hard hitting Mahavishnu Orchestra styled progressive fusion - being disappointed here. And 'Priadky' has one of those kind of hard driving bass riffs you're not likely to forget soon. What a groove. Great guitar and keyboard work as expected. Another splendid album from Slovakia's finest.

Pocket Size - Exposed Undercurrents. 2014 Sweden

Pocket Size - Exposed Undercurrents. 2014 MillHill

CD issue: 2014 MillHill

Contemporary 2014 Sweden is loaded - and I mean loaded - with rock bands emulating the sounds of the early 1970s. Most are of the US/UK hard rock variety, or they go for that "turn the amps to 11" stoner pseudo-metal sound. There are fewer bands that are making a try for the true progressive rock era sound of the early 70s era. I don't mean the all-in-proggy-prog Anglagard type either, but rather the more common sound of the day coming from Sweden like November, Saga, Flasket Brinner, and Trettioariga Kriget. There's a real psychedelic element to Pocket Size's sound as well, and that can only be considered a plus to the UTR's world.

The band themselves seem to possess a confused identity. In effect, the group is the vision of guitarist Peter Pedersen. Depending on which site you are reading (including their own), you're likely to see the band listed as Pocket Size, Pocket Size Sthlm, or Pocket Size Stockholm. No matter, as what's most important is that Pedersen brings in no less than 9 participants for his creative work. So this isn't a solo work with a monolithic viewpoint - or worse - a sterile digital sound. Not even close. What you get here is exactly what you would expect from a studio effort circa 1972, complete with all the requisite analog instruments and a certain je ne sais quoi attitude. Hammond organ, saxophone, electric guitar with a multitude of effects, spacey vocals (much of it in glorious Swedish), theremin, vibraphone, and flute give one an idea of what to expect. Put that together with a planned structure and a few melodies, a handful of complicated breaks, and some solo sections. This was the way music was presented years ago, when the last thought on Earth was obtaining a radio hit or falling in line with whatever scene a band was perceived to be associated with. A knowledge of jazz, classical, blues, and early rock and roll was all that was needed - and a strange desire to actually progress from there. Give me more of this.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Bernd Kistenmacher - Outlines. 1991 Germany

Bernd Kistenmacher - Outlines. 1991 Musique Intemporelle (CD)

CD reissue: 1998 Green Tree

Bernd Kistenmacher was one of the leading lights of the new wave of Berlin School electronic solo artists coming from Germany in the middle 1980s. Comparisons to Klaus Schulze are unavoidable, though Kistenmacher wisely borrowed from Schulze's late 70s output rather than the programmed sound he preferred at that time. By 1991, Kistenmacher himself was somewhat marginalized as his influence - and others - ushered in a boatload of new artists in the genre. This was a good time for Kistenmacher to take a break, as his sound was beginning to sound all too familiar, just as his idol had done before him. This is a nice, and varied, elektronik album performed by a seasoned veteran, and well worth the expenditure to own.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Zakarrias - s/t. 1971 England

Zakarrias - s/t. 1971 Deram

CD reissues: 1990 Deram (Japan); 2006 Universal (Japan mini-LP); 2010 Cherry Red

Release details: This is one of the real biggies, and originals are truly scarce, with demand extremely high. Originals usually sell for well over $1K and have sold for as much as $3,500 (within the last year). Why anyone would pay that much for a good, not great, album with a single sleeve cover that looks like Howard Stern is anyone's guess. I'm kidding of course. Certainly I understand the collecting mentality, and for those who want every UK Deram release, this album will prove to be an obstacle. I didn't hear Zakarrias myself until about a decade ago, and only via a CD-R someone sent me, as even the first Japanese CD was extinct by that time. The Cherry Red CD is the definitive version to own. From the master tapes, with a much needed history to tell (see notes below). Cherry Red is the parent of Esoteric, and the material is similar to what Esoteric would normally reissue, so not sure why it wasn't to be honest.

Notes: After many years of mystery, turns out Zakarrias is an alias for an obscure Austrian singer slumming in London named Bobby Haumer, and most of the material came from a former power trio known as Salt. That band featured Hawkwind's Huw Lloyd-Langton on guitar and future Steamhammer member John Lingwood on drums. After Salt fell apart, Haumer was surprisingly offered a deal with Deram, where he re-purposed the material with a makeshift band including winds player Geoff Leigh (later of Henry Cow) and Peter Robinson (Quatermass) on keyboards. There's way more to the story of course, as told in great detail with the Cherry Red CD, but in effect that's the backdrop. The album wasn't promoted, and as such it barely sold any copies, hence its incredible rarity today. The music is certainly an odd mix of folk, blues, hard rock, and progressive. Haumer's vocals really do possess a Robert Plant tone, and thus the Led Zeppelin references are credible (think LZ III). And knowing these tracks were initially written with a hard rock band in mind, the compositions do make more sense. But given all the acoustic guitars, piano, and flute, the material seems just a bit off from the presentation. And that's the charm I guess. An album I definitely enjoy and recommend, but certainly lower-tier stuff when talking 1971 progressive rock from the UK underground.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Poobah - U.S. Rock. 1976 USA

Poobah - U.S. Rock. 1976 Anchor

And this completes the trio of original Poobah albums. We featured Let Me In and Steamroller in years past.

CD reissue: 2014 Ripple

LP reissue: 2014 Ripple

Release details: The easiest to find and least expensive of the 3 original 70s Poobah albums. As one can see, it features a ridiculous cover, and one presumes it's honoring or making fun of the US Bicentennial that was all the rage in 1976. Originals are usually anywhere between $75 and $150 depending on timing and condition. The CD is excellent, as is usual for Ripple. I had to laugh at the photos, which reminded me of my own high school's yearbook! There are an additional 23 minutes of fine live material added as bonus tracks. Still no liner notes though, which is a pity.

Notes: Carrying on from the debut "Let Me In", "U.S. Rock" adds in keyboards, and there’s a distinct move to an AOR / radio friendly sound. In fact, listening to these tracks with modern ears, it’s almost beyond belief that Poobah weren’t one of the big names of the day. Catchy melodies, powerful and technical guitars, and that sound that made every major band in the 1976/1977 a hit on FM radio. But due to a remarkable run of bad luck, they once again were resigned to releasing the album themselves (and one would presume a major label would advise against the hilariously bad cover).

Monday, November 10, 2014

Probe 10 - There is a Universe. 1975 USA

Probe 10 - There is a Universe. 1975 Blue Universe

CD reissue: 2014 Lion Productions (mini-LP)

LP reissue: 2014 Lion Productions

Release details: Where to even start? I first heard about this album from a rarities catalog in the late 1980s, and it wouldn't be until about 2007 or so until I finally heard a copy via CD-R. It was rare in 1988, and it never became an affordable item. Almost all ebay auctions to date have netted between $500 and $800 for an original (some sealed). I featured this album extensively on the CDRWL and I wrote a rather "outside" review of it in 2007, which I then published on this UMR site. Despite what it might read like, I wrote it sober as a judge during my lunch break at work (can't say that about all my reviews :-) ). It was this review that got me in touch with band leader Jim McGee, and that lead to virtual introductions to Vincent at Lion. And from there, those guys did all the heavy lifting that lead to this wonderful reissue. While awaiting the reissue, I was offered an original LP at a very fair price - not cheap by any means - but much lower than going rates and I nailed it quickly. I rarely pay high dollar for albums, but this one is special I feel. As for the reissues, I picked up the CD as fast as possible. Housed in a Japanese styled mini-LP, with a booklet that contains a full history from Jim McGee and fellow band member Buzz Bachman, and the best possible sound. There are also 5 short bonus tracks that are similar in style. Without question, this is the definitive version to own. I presume the LP to be of similar quality, but since I do have the original, I haven't investigated further.

Notes: I'll go ahead and leave my original review up for those that are curious. It is interesting to note that the band does indeed credit Return to Forever (the band) as motivation to record this album, after having seeing them live. Without trying to be stubborn, I really don't hear any Return to Forever in their sound despite reading the contrary from others. Probe 10 are way more psychedelic to my ears, and not near as tight, slick, and professional. And for me, that's a good thing that they aren't those things.