Saturday, November 12, 2016

Hydravion - Stratos Airlines. 1979 France

Hydravion - Stratos Airlines. 1979 Carrere

CD reissue: 2016 Purple Pyramid (USA 4 CD OAS)

Hydravion's second album is probably one of the most misunderstood albums one can find. Of course, the cover art contributes greatly to buyer confusion. On first glance, one can be forgiven to think this to be yet another late 70s Parisian coke filled disco party extravaganza. Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir? And then the opening misspelled 'Passadena Airport', with its repetitive beat, seems to feed the bias, leaving only the most dedicated listener to persevere. Once 'Telecom' begins though, suddenly the party is over, and the nightmarish world of Philippe Besombes begins. The French narration of 'Ligne Equateur' takes you further down the dark tunnel where it lands at the album's high water mark: The one-two punch of 'Carolyn Sud' and 'Santander'. Here we're as close to Heldon's Interface as any mere mortal will ever get. The positively haunting closer, with its biting psychedelic guitar, leaves a lasting mark on a truly great piece of art.

Perhaps had they named the album Stratospherique, with a Hipgnosis cover similar to the first, would the album be held in higher esteem today. Blame the marketing department.

The only CD is on the Philippe Besombes 4 CD set Anthology. On close listen, I believe this title is also taken from vinyl, though not near as obvious as the debut album. As is the case with that album, I have no intention of selling my Carrere LP, that I first purchased in 1988(!)

Hydravion - s/t. 1977 France

Hydravion - s/t. 1977 Cobra

CD reissue: 2016 Purple Pyramid (USA 4 CD OAS)

LP 2nd issue: 1977 Decca (UK)

After a handful of dark, complex, and remarkable electronic rock albums on the Pole label, Philippe Besombes created a more accessible vehicle for his talents. Thus was born Hydravion. 'Métropolitain' starts with a slightly bouncy, disco tinged, electronic sound - a style that was quite popular in Paris in the late 1970s. But this being Besombes, it doesn't take long for Hydravion to sound more Heldon than Chic. Starting with 'Triste Fin', Hydravion's debut features anguished fuzz guitar leads, bizarre interludes, alien voices, and a whole lot of invention. Many folks tend to overlook Hydravion, but give the album a few minutes to settle in, and you'll see this as a top tier French progressive electronic work.

The only CD is on the Philippe Besombes 4 CD set Anthology (2016). Unfortunately this CD is taken from vinyl, and obviously so. Better than nothing, even though I would never sell my Cobra LP in any case (which I bought in 1987 while still in college!)

Arktis - s/t. 1974 Germany

Arktis - s/t. 1974 private

CD reissues: 1993 Penner; 1998 Garden of Delights

LP reissue: 2005 Amber Soundroom

Arktis were a band from Bonn, that are more known for their countless tape sessions, than actual proper albums. This debut is in reality a demo, pressed in a whopping set of 300, and sent everywhere in West Germany. The strategy actually worked, and next thing you know they are working with Conny Plank and trying to secure a deal with a new label. But it all fell apart, and Arktis were just a hazy memory, saved from obscurity by the good folks at Garden of Delights, who have dutifully released everything under the sun recorded by the band.

It was over 20 years ago that I first heard the Penner CD (GoD V. 1.0). I quickly dismissed it as "yucky Janis Joplin like stuff" (yes, I do relate to the younger, more opinionated folk on music chat boards). Now I hear a band that is a perfect fit for my Post psychedelic, proto progressive with female vocals list! 1974 is way late in the game for an album such as this (recorded Oct 1973), and it may explain why record deals were not at the ready. But it's that sound. Side 2's opus is a lengthy Krautrock guitar based jam, that would be well accepted if it were 1971, but a bit cliched by this point. There are no keyboards here, so another minus for fans of the genre. But this is miles better than my memory had recalled. A winner from a time and place perspective. Otherwise, you would be best steered away. Perhaps that would have been good advice for me while still in my 20s...

Worth noting that the 3 studio bonus tracks here were recorded under Plank's guidance (Dec 1974), and it has his trademark studio phasing and trickery. The compositions are a bit straightforward hard rock though. Not sure the band was heading in the right direction honestly...

Original LPs are handmade with paste on labels and are super rare.

New Trolls - Searching for a Land. 1972 Italy

New Trolls - Searching for a Land. 1972 Cetra (2 LP set)

CD reissues: 1991 Fonit Cetra; 1999 Warner Fonit; 2006 Arcangelo (Japan mini-LP); 2008 Vinyl Magic/BTF (mini-LP); 2015 Warner (Japan SHM)

LP reissues: 1977 Fonit Cetra; 1977 Zafiro (Spain); 1984 Nexus (Japan); 1991 Fonit Cetra; 2008 Vinyl Magic/BTF

The biggest challenge facing the New Trolls, at least for contemporary fans, is that they had (have?) absolutely no identity. And no album in their discography underscores this fact more than Searching for a Land - a title which be can interpreted figuratively. As such, when I first bought the LP 25 years ago, I hated it and promptly sold back into the marketplace. As is often the case, I decided to buy the CD again, and reevaluate properly - and hopefully more objective this go round.

And so yes, I can hear the merits of the album in a different light. Album #1 is a folk / psych / prog amalgamation. Not too distant from what was happening in the UK during that era, as one might find on the Transatlantic label for example. Singing in English was a highly unusual move for Italians back then, and unfortunately it loses something in translation. The vocals are oddly affected, though I find them interesting all the same. Album #2 is a live recording that brings out the band's inner Deep Purple. The phony piped in audience noise is ridiculous, as if they recorded the album in front of a bunch of 13 year old girls - and they were Frank Sinatra. Ha! All the same, the New Trolls were accomplished musicians and the album has a kinetic energy that is infectious, even if it's entirely unoriginal.

The band would go on from here to release their most progressive album in UT, before splintering/devolving into various fusion and/or pop rock incarnations. As I said in the prelude: The New Trolls never had an identity for anyone to relate with. And thus they haven't aged well.

All the LP reissues are 2 LP sets like the original. An easy album to find in either format.

Kayak - Merlin. 1981 Netherlands

Kayak - Merlin. 1981 Vertigo

CD reissues: 1994 Pseudonym; 1995 Nexus (Japan); 1996 Si-Wan (Korea); 2011 Belle Antique (Japan mini-LP)

Merlin is perhaps the ultimate example of an album that needs a prelude that reads something like: For 1981.... As in "For 1981, this was a great progressive rock album." But it certainly wouldn't be considered such for 1973... or 2016 for that matter. And in reality, there was plenty of great progressive rock in 1981 - it's just few knew about it (Dun, Eskaton, and Kultivator are hardly household names for anyone but hardcore prog rock nerds). For a relatively mainstream band like Kayak (though for Americans they always had more of a cult-like following, rather than being a true commercial smash hit group), putting out a semi concept album around the legend of King Arthur is as anachronistic as it gets (in 1981?). No matter that the album sounds like the Alan Parsons Project (another for 1981 type band) with its blend of radio friendly pop and semi-prog rock ambition. It's certainly a pleasant album that grows on you over time, and one can easily see the allure, especially for fans at the time. But with history on our side, it's hard to imagine this one capturing fans of future generations. Of course, the original fans will likely state its masterpiece status. We all do that with favorites from our youth, yours truly no exception to that rule.

The original LP was pressed in many countries initially, and is easy to find. The CD had a good run in the 90s, but has fallen out of print and is mainly in the hands of pirates now. The Belle  Antque CD being the lone exception, but of course they come with a high price point. I lucked into a cheap legit one on ebay earlier in the year.

McChurch Soundroom - Delusion. 1971 Switzerland

McChurch Soundroom - Delusion. 1971 Pilz

CD reissue: 1993 Ohrwaschl; 2011 Ohrwaschl

LP reissue: 2005 Ohrwachl

One of the most prized Krautrock albums from a collector's standpoint. McChurch Soundroom were one of the early albums on Pilz, before the label became a bastion of Germanic folk psych. You won't find a more dedicated and enthusiastic fan of classic 70's Krautrock than moi, but even for a biased cheerleader like me, this album has to rank as a slight disappointment. In the end, it's pretty much basic UK styled heavy rock, with some flute and a few progressive rock moves. Rather generic overall, and certainly puzzling how it's gained such a lofty reputation.

Originals are super expensive (upwards to $2,000), and the most treasured original LP on the legendary Pilz label. Oddly, there is a Venezuelan press as well.  It was never reissued on LP by Pop Import like most Pilz albums in the 1980s were. Ohrwaschl owns the reissue market here, and it's bare bones all the way. The album is basically in production. The 2011 CD is a digi-pak, if that matters. The LP listed is the first reissue pressing, but nowadays you can get the album in your favorite color, presumably to match with your latest Smart Phone. Ay-yi-yi.

Vega - Sol de Oscuridad. 1981 Spain

Vega - Sol de Oscuridad. 1981 Movieplay

No reissues!

Sol de Oscuridad is Vega's 3rd album, and is a move from Rock Andaluz over to more traditional jazz fusion. The album cover is the first giveaway, as the stunning Puebla paintings are replaced by... well what is that anyway? Side 1 also contains some vocals that add little value. Side 2 gets back to what Vega does best, and the traditional sounds of southern Spain are reintroduced, though a bit more watered down than prior. Side 2 saves the game, and I probably should give to 3 stars (Gnosis 9), but I'm a fan so... half point/full point more it goes.

Marsupilami - Arena. 1971 England

Marsupilami - Arena. 1971 Transtlantic

CD reissues: 1989 Line (Germany); 2005 Arcangelo (Japan mini-LP); 2007 Esoteric; 2016 Belle Antique (Japan mini-LP)

LP reissue: 2000 Get Back (Italy)

If you ever wondered what the prog rock scene would've sounded like had it existed during the Roman Empire, and who wouldn't think about that, then Arena is as close a facsimile as the imagination allows.

I'll probably go to my grave never understanding why this album isn't as highly revered as I think it should be. One of a kind greatness, that is only bettered by their debut album. Personally, I feel Leary Hasson is among the finest progressive rock composers ever. He had one more great composition to contribute after this (on CMU's Space Cabaret), and then off into the wilds he went. Yet another creative genius that will likely be noted as such - but sadly many years in the future after we're all long dead.

The original is housed in a thin, but nicely textured, single sleeve cover. The Arcangelo CD replicates this cover to the finest detail. For a long while, Arena was strictly the fodder for pirates, as the Line CD had been OOP for many years. Not until the Esoteric CD reissue, did it return back to general supply.

Asia Minor - Between Flesh and Divine. 1980 France

Asia Minor - Between Flesh and Divine. 1980 WAM

CD reissues: 1991 Musea; 2009 Belle Antique (Japan mini-LP)

LP reissues: 1989 Musea; 1992 Si-Wan (Korea); 2016 Rainbow 45 (Turkey)

Between Flesh and Divine is the second and last album (of the original incarnation) from Paris based Asia Minor. The band name is appropriate given the leaders are Turkish, though there is no mistaking this is a group born from the late 70s French symphonic progressive rock tradition. They are certainly one of the most well known and respected among the prog rock faithful, and history has been kind to Asia Minor. And for good reason. Understanding the scene in which Asia Minor derived from will go a long way to erasing the "80s stigma" - France was the one country successfully holding on to the glorious 70s at this time. And I for one do not hear Asia Minor as a "band of the 80s".

The music has a kinetic crispness to it, with flute and psychedelic tinged guitar, and a hyperactive rhythm section propelling the proceedings forward. Camel is often thrown out as a reference, and its probably the most accurate, especially when one considers albums like Mirage, and the fact that Camel were more psychedelic than usually given credit for. If the opening two tracks don't grab you, then I would suggest going no further, as these are arguably the highlights. 'Boundless' sounds like a rougher version of The Alan Parsons Project circa Pyramid, and the murkiness makes it more enjoyable. Side 2 is a mirror image stylistically speaking, though perhaps just a bit lesser in quality. An album worthy of its lofty reputation.

The original LP is a private press that didn't sell that well initially. There were two factors that pushed Asia Minor into the limelight among collectors of the day. One was the British mail order channel Lotus Records. This drew the attention of an 80s cash rich Japan. And subsequently the remaining backstock was purchase in bulk and brought back home. So if you're in the market for one, look at the Japanese market where you're likely to find one at a very reasonable price. And sure enough, my mint copy came from there. The Musea CD is excellent, and comes with a full history and excellent sound from the master tapes. There are no bonus tracks unfortunately.

Stern Combo Meissen - Reise Zum Mittelpunkt des Menschen. 1980 Germany

Stern Combo Meissen - Reise Zum Mittelpunkt des Menschen. 1980 Amiga

CD Reissues: 1993 DSB (Deutsche Schallplatten Berlin); 2011 Sechzehnzehn Musikproduktion (7 CD OAS)

The Stars of Meissen, who hail from the namesake town near Dresden, were arguably East Germany's most accomplished progressive rock group. Reise zum Mittelpunkt des Menschen is the second of their two recognized progressive rock classics and is a keyboard extravaganza. There are three distinct types of compositions present here, each defined by the predominant keyboard of choice.

On the "modern" front, one will hear the latest polysynths of the day, which many now call "cheesy", though I suspect as time moves forward, this particular sound will take on a life of its own. The music here has a certain Iron Curtain patriotic vibe, as the working man stands proud with his rigid face looking upwards. It's a type of progressive one might hear in the Soviet Union, somewhat like Edward Artemiev, or even Horizont. There's a bit of Eloy here too, in regards to the spaciness.

The second type of composition is driven by the trusty Hammond organ, and represents some of the best material here. In fact, the choppy manner of playing and irregular rhythms recalls the much unheralded (west) German band Trilogy. Though the shadow of Keith Emerson looms large as expected.

And then finally, and perhaps most surprising, is the heavy dosage of mellotron. It's a surprising sound coming from the East, and its usage is dominant in places - to the point of Jose Cid / Quarteto 1111 territory. You have to feel sorry for the poor sap who had to go in front of Procurement to justify how the mellotron is an essential purchase for the State. If only to have been there as they roll the mellotron through Checkpoint Charlie...

So overall a superb example of 70s Eastern European progressive rock. All the lyrics are in German, as was every album on the other side of the Wall.

The album's original copyright date is 1980 (on the State run Amiga label). Like Trabant's, one will often find the LP beaten, and left by the side of the road. As such, it's highly recommended to secure a CD, though there's only one legit pressing and it's tough to find (of course it is...). I'm not 100% certain here, but I believe DSB is the renamed Amiga label.  I bought mine not long after it was released. In doing research for this entry, I see the album has been reissued with most of their discography in an Original Album Series type format. But since most of their other albums are not of interest to progressive rock fans, it's still a costly endeavor.

Originally published January 30, 2010 and pushed forward to current date with completely rewritten notes.

Brainstorm - Smile a While. 1972 Germany

Brainstorm - Smile a While. 1972 Spiegelei

CD reissues: 1996 Musea (France); 2005 MALS (Russia); 2009 Lion (USA)

LP reissue: Think Progressive

Fashion Pink were a band from Baden-Baden, in southwest Germany, not far from Strasbourg, France. Before recording their debut album Smile a While, the group suffered a debilitating road accident, which lead to a band name change - and Brainstorm was born (named after the business technique of "brainstorming" of all things). Their brand of music was clearly influenced by Soft Machine, in that legendary period between "II"and "III" (think Noisette here), and it's a brilliant blend of sophisticated progressive jazz rock, mixed with a whimsical psychedelic pop streak that is irresistible. They were clearly Germany's answer to the nearby French Genius Hans of Moving Gelatine Plates. The title track then goes off into Krautrock land just to ensure we don't forget the influential psychedelia aspects of the early 70s, similar to how Eiliff would do on occasion. So basically in the world of Ashratom, it's absolutely the perfect type of album. Sophisticated, edgy, melodic, memorable, and oh yea, it rocks hard too.

Presumably I don't need to explain why I haven't pursued  an original LP of this... (though I wouldn't pass it up if I was offered one at a good price). The Musea CD is the first official reissue and features a nice sound (though there is some scratchy dropout here and there on the title track and 'You are What's...'), with excellent historical liner notes, photos, and 3 superb bonus tracks (which I believe were also on the Fashion Pink SWF Sessions later released by Long Hair (and also comes highly recommended)). The notes above actually came from the 2009 Lion release that I sourced for comparison. I was hoping for a different presentation, but other than a layout tweak, liner note grammar fixes, and a bit of extra verbiage, it is basically the same in every way (including not fixing the sound flaws), and was fully licensed from Musea. Not a necessary addition if already owning the Musea copy, so off to the sell bin it goes. But if you don't own it, be sure to nail the Lion copy as the other is OOP.  Interesting to note that the only native reissue of this album is the Think Progressive LP.

Modry Efekt - 33. 1981 Czech Republic

Modry Efekt - 33. 1981 Supraphon

CD reissues: 2001 Bonton; 2009 Supraphon (as The Blue Effect 1969-1989 9 CD compilation)

33 is Modry Efekt's final studio album, and they exited in fine fashion. Musically, Modry Efekt continues along from their earlier efforts, with blistering guitar leads, and fine synthesizer soloing. The 4 long tracks give the band plenty of space to try many ideas within a composition. Unfortunately the vocals are getting to be too obtrusive at this point, and the term "over dramatic" does begin to leap into one's mind. Though the album is mostly instrumental, the finale of each track tends to drag with unnecessary crooning, which drops this album down a half star from the others.

Is it just me or does the album cover overtly celebrate individual achievement and comfort? Seems they missed a key point of the Revolution... Well, the Czechs always had the best beer, so perhaps the Authorities were a bit preoccupied (hmm-hmmmm...)

This is our last entry for the 9 CD box set, though I did leave out a couple of albums, which I probably will report on at a later time (including my favorite A Benefit of Radim Hladik).

Just a few words about the box itself: If you don't own any Modry Efekt, then this box set will take care of everything you need. It includes all their albums except the English language version of Meditace (Kingdom of Life). They each come in a nice slip cover resembling the original LP design. It also comes with a fine booklet, all written in Czech, but with some neat photos and you can generally figure out what the text is.

The only unique material here is the 9th disc titled Singly & Bonusy. I don't speak Czech, but I think I can figure this one out... In any case, it's a fine addition, though it's not something you'd want to purchase the box set for if you're already in possession of their other discs. The best material is taken from their Snakes EP from 1969, and is similar to Meditace. They also include both sides of another single from 1969 that is quite good. Interestingly, the band only recorded one single in their 1970s heyday (from 1973), and it's pretty good, though not really resembling their move to progressive / jazz rock. After that it's... the 80s. Yea... that's a problem. And it sounds every bit of it too. So that by 1989, one is inclined to shoot the horse just to put it out of its misery. It's interesting all the same, and you can see the band is desperately trying to stay relevant, but it's clearly not their strong suit. The bonus section includes one rough demo of a 1969 track, and then 2 live extended pieces from the band's best period of the late 1970s. The recording is bootleg standard, but is enjoyable from an historical perspective.

Galaxy-Lin - s/t + G. 1974-1975 Netherlands

Galaxy-Lin - s/t. 1974 Polydor
Galaxy-Lin - G. 1975 Polydor

CD reissue for both on 1 CD: 2002 Rotation; 2013 Polydor (2 CD OAS)

Galaxy-Lin were a side project of Dutch superstars Shocking Blue, and is a mix of progressive rock and vocal pop tracks. One unique aspect is the use of mandolin as a lead instrument. The vocal tracks are more commercial in nature (of course they are) and tend to drag the album down a bit. But the instrumentals are particularly well written (especially 'Utopia'). The band were to improve on their 1975 followup "G".

I don't have any notes for "G", but they graded out about the same, but did note that the edge went to "G".

The Rotation CD (titled "G" and utilizing its cover) is actually a compilation of both Galaxy-Lin albums in full - and they still had room for a B-Side single! Why the label doesn't advertise it as such, is anyone's guess. Without knowing any better, you would think you were only getting the second album "G" with bonus tracks (even the artwork is the second LP only). This a straight reissue with no liner notes or anything else. The Polydor release is done in the "Original Album Series" slipcase style and comes in their original sleeves.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Formula 3 - Sognando e Risognando. 1972 Italy

Formula 3 - Sognando e Risognando. 1972 Numero Uno

Select CD reissues: 1987 Nexus (Japan); 1990 BMG; 1993 Si-Wan (Korea); 2003 BMG (Japan mini-LP); 2014 Sony/RCA

LP issues & reissues: 1972 RCA (Brazil); 1972 Vogue (France); 1973 Numero Uno (Germany); 1981 Seven Seas (Japan); 1990 Numero Uno; 1993 Si-Wan (Korea)

Formula 3 were a band from Milan, and who were actually the most popular rock band in Italy prior to PFM landing on the scene. Primarily they served as a vehicle for famous pop singer Lucio Battisti, and as such, their music was embraced by various generations of Italians at the time.  Sognando e Risognando is their 3rd effort, and is a radical departure from what came before it. Mostly the music on this album is a mix of progressive hard rock (with some wonderful guitar breaks) and space rock, with some of that feel-of-Italy singer-songwriter sprinkled throughout. It's a unique blend, more about the atmosphere than pyrotechnics. As such the album tends to be dismissed by scan-through-listeners wowed by the razzle-dazzle of classic Italian prog. Given that it's an early effort, prior to the Italian progressive rock machine really taking off, deep divers will recognize the sounds of early Il Rovescio della Medaglia, Panna Fredda, Planetarium, and even Garybaldi. History hasn't been kind to Formula 3 however.  Whereas fellow popular artists of their era such as Premiata Forneria Marconi and Banco del Mutuo Succorso continue to be lauded as eternal classics, Formula 3 has largely been cast aside and forgotten. While it's true they were no match for the other two listed, they certainly are in league with more obscure artists that today are held in high esteem. Don't ignore this one - and give it a fair listen, without expecting the next Semiramis or Museo Rosenbach.

As you can see, I've had quite a bit of various ownership of this title. I first bought the original in the late 1980s when one could still be found in a nicely stocked used record store. While originals are certainly not as expensive as the biggees, it's not a common album either, and has become costly over time. The gatefold has an opening at the top for the LP itself. The Japanese LP is a standard gatefold but otherwise it's the same. I haven't done a sound check to compare the two. The Japanese mini-LP replicates the Numero Uno to the last exact detail. I recently sourced the 2014 Sony remaster (which triggered this latest listen), and did a side by side sound compare to the Japan mini. Contrary to those who believe all mini's sound poor (a silly notion anyway, as if packaging makes a mastering sound bad), the Japanese master easily wins this time. So into the sell bin went the 2014 copy. 

The original French LP uses the same cover. The 3rd photo is the Brazilian press. Until doing research for this entry, I didn't realize Numero Uno even had an office in Germany, much less sporting a different cover (last photo). Guessing the wheel-through-the-woman cover was a bit much for some local audiences back then....

Il Baricentro - Sconcerto. 1976 Italy

Il Baricentro - Sconcerto. 1976 EMI

CD reissues: 1991 Mellow/EMI; 2000 Vinyl Magic/BTF

Il Baricentro were lead by the Boccuzzi brothers, and was their next venture after the folding of the excellent progressive rock band Festa Mobile. The moniker is an homage to the homeland of the brothers who were initially from Bari, Puglia in the south, before relocating to Rome with Festa Mobile.

Sconcerto is their debut album, and comes at a time in Italy when prog was out and jazz fusion was in. And as such, Il Baricentro fits squarely within the movement. The opener is a barnburner with irregular rhythms and dynamic soloing, similar to how the New Trolls Atomic System might do occasionally. Sadly this would be the only track in this style across both Il Baricentro albums. Had they done more music like this, I think the album would be held in better esteem today. That being said, this is not a poor effort at all, and I disagree with those that say it's cheesy. It's very much a product of its era, and the fusion is pleasant, a bit funky as to be expected, with plenty of great analog gear pushing it along. The melodies are nice, and it's clear the band took their time on the compositions. Perhaps not as dynamic as Napoli Centrale, Etna, or Nova, but definitely Il Baricentro belongs on that page of the encyclopedia.

Modry Efekt - Svet Hledacu. 1979 Czech Republic

Modry Efekt - Svět Hledačů. 1979 Panton

CD reissues: 1999 Bonton; 2009 Supraphon (as The Blue Effect 1969-1989 9 CD compilation); 2014 Belle Antique (Japan mini-LP)

Svět Hledačů is the 6th album from Modry Efekt (not counting split and English language re-recordings). The band continues their journey down the symphonic fusion path, both looking forward and backward. On the forward side, and I mean that historically not artistically, the group displays more of a late 70s funky feel into the music. On the backward side, or what we would now call "retro", Modry Efekt peppers in some early 70s progressive rock themes. There's a couple of places I recognized the type of composition Genesis might come up with in 1972 - sung in Czech mind you. Through it all, Hladik continues to demonstrate his supreme guitar acumen. And the production is outstanding with a particularly fat sound that is highly appealing to the modern ear I would like to think. Not their best album, but certainly in the conversation.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Epitaph - Outside the Law. 1974 Germany

Epitaph - Outside the Law. 1974 Billingsgate (USA)

CD reissues: 2000 Repertoire; 2010 Made in Germany; 2015 Made in Germany

LP reissues: 1974 Membran; 1978 Babylon

Outside the Law is the 3rd effort from German rock band Epitaph. Recorded in Chicago, this album really stretches the definition of the term "Krautrock". At this point, it is very clear the band is aiming their sound towards American audiences, and even the titles refer to common southern "redneck" themes. Couple that with the twin guitar attack, and one cannot ignore The Allman Brothers reference here, though as others have stated, Wishbone Ash is also a fair guideline - especially when one considers bandleader Cliff Jackson is British. A fine album (especially side 2), though not at the level of its two heavy rock predecessors, most notably the debut.

Both RYM and Discogs continue to maintain that the German release on Membran is the primary, though I don't think that is historically correct. Especially when one considers the Membran label says "An Billingsgate Production" (grammatical mistake understandable), and that Membran was primarily a distributor. The US label went bankrupt not long after this, and left Epitaph in a lurch for awhile. The original comes in a gatefold cover, though it's somewhat basic in its presentation. I bought the Billingsgate LP while still in college in the middle 80s (used, on the cheap - of course), but it wasn't much to my liking back then. I currently own the Repertoire CD, which features fine sound, and full liner notes that explain much about the band and recording. The Made in Germany reissues add 7 bonus tracks, which I haven't heard yet of course.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Slauter Xstroyes - Free the Beast. 1987 USA

Slauter Xstroyes - Free the Beast. 1987. Archival

CD issues: 1998 Monster; 2009 Forged in Fire/Rockadrome

LP issue: 2009 Forged in Fire/Steel Legacy

Slauter Xstroyes were a metal band from Chicago that toiled in the 80s underground for a few years before dissipating into the wilds. Free the Beast is an archival recording made up of primarily what was to be their second album in 1987. In addition to the 33 minutes of quality studio material, the album is doubled in length with demo's going back as far as 1981. The metal music on display here is highly inventive, at the earliest days of what would be later known as prog metal, but much rawer and authentic than that tag usually implies. SX (as they were often referred as) were created from the same cloth as Fates Warning, Brocas Helm, Manilla Road, and others who were adding unique elements to a traditional metal sound. The riffs are crunching, and meter shifts are exciting and natural. This is the kind of music that takes many listens to absorb. John Stewart's screaming vocals will break glass, while Brent Sullivan's bass work predates John Myung's jazz fusion style. Somewhere between 70s Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Fates Warning, Helstar, Mercyful Fate, and even Watchtower, one will find the sound of Slauter Xstroyes. Superb.

An interesting side note, for me at least, is that I never even heard of this band back in the 1980s. Now I'm sure that might seem obvious on first glance, except I had a voracious appetite for metal in the middle 80s while still in college, and I was reading every English language magazine I could get my hands on back then (Metal Forces, Kerrang, and any cheap looking rag). Even bands like Sacred Blade hit my radar. But not Slauter Xstroyes. And sure enough, apparently the only media coverage the band received was from the Dutch mag Aardschok. I mention it, because Free the Beast (and presumably their debut Winter Kill, though I have yet to hear it) is exactly the type of metal I was looking for. I was tired of the norm, and bands like Fates Warning were much more interesting to me. The exciting aspect about it for a collector like me is that there were others just like SX back in the day, and they have been (or probably will be) exposed.

The CD on Forged in Fire (Rockadrome - Monster V 2.0) is awesome, with great sound, a history, and two lengthy interviews from the founding band members that are very insightful.

Modry Efekt - Svitanie. 1977 Czech Republic

Modry Efekt - Svitanie. 1977 Opus

CD reissues: 1998 Opus; 2009 Supraphon (as The Blue Effect 1969-1989 9 CD compilation); 2012 Opus w/ Gattch; 2014 Belle Antique (Japan mini-LP)

Svitanie is the 5th studio album from Modry Efekt, and is one of their finer outings. Instrumental rock/jazz fusion is the music of choice, though there's still a small hint of their big band Nova Synteza days that creep in (especially on the title track). Guidepost sounds include nearby comrades Fermata, the Dutch groups Focus and Finch, and even Sunburst-era SFF, when one considers the synthesizer work. Have to agree with others here regarding the synth tones, which are definitely pleasing. Radim Hladik continues to light each of his recordings on fire with his exemplary guitar work. An excellent album.

Like most Eastern European albums, LP copies remained in print for many years, so finding an original isn't too tough. The CDs will sound way better in these cases anyway, as we've spoken about many times about Eastern Europe during the Communist era.

Iliad - Distances. 1976 USA

Iliad - Distances. 1976 Northern Lights

No reissues!

Lead by keyboardist Sandy Owen, Los Angeles based Iliad present a fairly mellow and relaxed symphonic progressive album. At times the tranquil piano and flute give off a proto New Age feel. Features a couple of rockin' rave-ups, as well as an extended jazzy improvisation on the familiar Beatles chestnut Norwegian Wood. The mixed classical-progressive-jazz-new age style recalls Minnesota's Sailor (1974) in many places. Two groups from completely different regions drawing a somewhat similar musical conclusion.

According to Owen's website, the album release is clearly set to 1976 (there's absolutely no date to be found anywhere on the LP proper).

Iliad - Sapphire House. 1978 USA

Iliad - Sapphire House. 1978 Northern Lights

No reissues!

A stunningly beautiful album. I've already written about the debut Distances, but Sapphire House takes everything to a new level. Piano remains the primary instrument, and the music is a mix of deep grooves, high flying jazz fusion, and melancholic atmospheric numbers with oboe and wordless female vocals. 'Beyond the North Wind' is a jaw dropper - a sixth dimension type of composition that will leave you speechless in wake of its beauty. This is an album still awaiting its discovery and audience. There's enough breaks and grooves here, that even the DJ crowd would find plenty to latch onto.

I just bought a mint original vinyl of this for the price of a hamburger (yes, in Feb of 2016). It's completely unknown and not sought after. If you are reading this review, and still have a turntable, then I highly suggest grabbing one before it does eventually get discovered.

Fuchsia -s/t. 1971 England

Fuchsia -s/t. 1971 Pegasus/Kingdom

CD reissues: 2003 Night Wings (Italy); 2015 Esoteric

LP reissue: 2011 Anazitisi (Greece)

Fuchsia's sole album can be described as thus: It's less pure folk rock than the Trees; not as lush as Mellow Candle; or as off the wall like Jan Dukes de Grey, or Comus, can often be. But somewhere within those parameters exist Fuchsia, an essential slice of that distinctly UK progressive folk rock sound. A very fine example of the genre.

The CD on Night Wings is excellent. It's housed in a fine digi-pak, and features liner notes from band leader Tony Durant, who also oversaw this reissue. I see that Esoteric has since reissued it in 2014, and I'll be curious if they improved on the sound. And there is room here for just that.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Jupu Group - Jazz Liisa 05. 1974 Finland

Jupu Group - Jazz Liisa 05. Archival

LP issue: 2016 Svart

CD issue: 2016 Svart w/ Jukka Linkola Octet

Jupu Group's contribution to the Jazz Liisa sessions is a good one. Lead by violinist Juhani (Jupu) Poutanen, the jazz rock flavor of the day is once again clearly informed by Mahavishnu Orchestra. Considerably rawer than their studio album that was to surface one year later, the listener will be treated to the rough and ready jazz rock sound of classic early 70's Miles Davis with Jean-Luc Ponty guesting on violin. Or so it seems. Closing number 'Lokki' sounds like an outtake from any number of Soft Machine's 1971 concerts, with its raw fuzz bass and soprano saxophone leads. It's a bit loose in places, as to be expected from a live improvisation such as this. Overall, if the name Jerry Goodman gets your heart started, then most assuredly you will not want to miss Jupu Group's Jazz Liisa 05 album.

Holding Pattern - s/t. 1981 USA

Holding Pattern - s/t. 1981 Savy (EP)

CD reissue: 1991 Art Sublime (full sized LP cover) titled Majestic; 1998 Cleefo

Holding Pattern are a very good progressive rock band from Hartford, Connecticut, and who released one EP in 1981, and resurfaced again in 2007 with their first full length album. Majestic is the first CD reissue of the EP, and also includes roughly 50 minutes of unique archival material - live and studio - from 1981 to 1990. Given its hodgepodge nature (modern home recordings with drum machines, live tracks from the early 80s, a lonely commercial styled single), the overall CD is not near as consistent or as satisfying as the EP itself. The highlights are clearly the live material from the band's progressive rock heyday (tracks 10-14) and represent ~30 minutes of music, making this CD clearly worth the effort to find.  Of course, you can expect the quality of the live recordings to be varied, but certainly more than acceptable.

The CD on Art Sublime is... well, sublime. It is housed in a full sized gatefold LP jacket, with new artwork (second cover scan), and a full history of the band inside the FOC. The CD is housed in a unique holder, custom made as an LP insert. It's a concept I loved back in the day, but the idea never really took off. I bought this package right after it was released, and today is extinct and goes for big sums. Not selling mine in any case.