Sunday, January 29, 2017

Ozric Tentacles - Jurassic Shift. 1993 England


Ozric Tentacles - Jurassic Shift. 1993 Dovetail

Select CD issues: 1993 Dovetail; 1993 IRS (USA); 2004 Recall/Snapper (w/Erpland); 2008 Snapper;

LP reissue: 2013 Madfish (Germany)

While listening to any album, I tend to read other reviews of what I'm listening to. I get the feeling that most reviews of Jurassic Shift were penned considerably later than the actual listen, or they weren't paying attention. For me, the most telling is the short shrift that 'Feng Shui' receives. To me it's one of their most innovative tracks, and the type of composition I'd like to see Ozric focus on more. In general I read things like "their requisite boring reggae song", "dull", and "spacey soft new age music". Did they actually listen to the whole song? Not only did they mix in traditional Chinese themes (new for them), but the last half of the track is the heaviest Ozric EVER got on tape. Ed Wynne tears it up - it's almost metal, something that Ozric stays (fortunately) away from, but in this context is breathtaking. I didn't see one review that even noted it. Wow.

By 1993, Ozric had already made quite a splash worldwide. Enough so that they were signed to a relatively large US label called IRS, and this was the debut for the label. I decided to stick with the original UK import. The big deal, at least made at the time, was that the cover of the CD and LP were made from a blend of straw and hemp. The latter sort of being wink wink I suppose. I still have the original insert that discusses the full process and that it didn't involve any trees. It was considered an ecological breakthrough! And then neither Ozric, nor anyone else, ever used the process again. You think it wasn't cost effective? You know it.

Ange - Caricatures. 1972 France


Ange - Caricatures. 1972 Philips

CD reissues: 1989 Disques Marianne; 1995 Musea; 2013 Mercury/Universal (Japan mini-LP)

It all starts here for the French theatrical progressive rock movement. Prior to Ange landing on the scene, most of the French bands of the era were singing in English and, more or less, were copying their European brethren across the Channel. Anyone who knows their history should know that isn't going to last long. And Ange is French with a capital F, despite originally forming from the borderlands of Switzerland and Germany. The music is as much about the language than it is the instrumentation. Even for those who don't speak French, the intonations, drama, and enunciation of words is fascinating. The general assumption is that Ange were looking to emulate Genesis, and there's some truth to that. It's a guidepost, but it doesn't tell the whole story. Ange brought back national pride, and arguably are the most famous progressive rock group to have ever emerged from France - not counting those who speak Kobaian of course. So if all instrumental albums are your bag, you've definitely arrived at the wrong place. But that's not to say there aren't long stretches of vocal silence, and one can certainly appreciate Ange strictly on that level too. The sound is raw and grimy, especially the organ, and is closer to what we now call proto-prog than a fully fledged Foxtrot. Yes, the production is muddy (see last paragraph), but that's part of its charm. Ange were to improve from here, but this is a very fine debut that has aged well.

The LP basically stayed in print for many years. Technically I think I own the 1973 pressing, so I probably should hunt for a real original one of these days. (Feb 2017 update: OK, mission accomplished!). An easy to find record, especially in France. The CD I own is part of a 7 CD mini-LP box set that is gorgeous (the box is Au-Dela du Delire). That was probably my last big purchase for mini-LPs, as I paid retail when it first came out. And it was worth every single penny. I had been limping along with that Disques Marianne CD prior. Believe me, the Japanese CD kicked its ass. When I went to sell it, I thought I might get 10 cents for it. On the contrary, it's quite collectible. OK then.

On this listen I heard the Japanese mini and the original LP one after the other. No matter what format and version you listen to, it will not clear up the production. So don't try too hard to find the perfect copy. It is what it is, as they say.

Last update: February 18, 2017

Jane - III. 1974 Germany


Jane - III. 1974 Brain

LP reissues: 1975 Capitol (USA); 1976 Brain; 1977 Brain (Japan); 1981 Brain

CD reissues: 1997 Repertoire; 2004 Brain/SPV; 2005 Brain/Universal (Japan mini-LP)

Hanover's finest come back with their 3rd album, a marked changed from the blues rock of Here We Are and further from the Krautrock sounds of the debut. Keyboards were a big part of Jane's early day (and latter day) music, and with those out of the way, the band got down to a straightforward hard rock style. Like their neighbors, the Scorpions, Jane was gobbled up for international release - including the USA. Jane got a slot on Capitol while the Scorpions found themselves on RCA. Well we know who won that battle, now don't we? Even still, their albums aren't that far apart in terms of general mindset. With Uli Roth on board, the Scorpions did not let go of their psychedelic past for many years. And the same can be said for Jane here, and tracks like 'Comin' Again', and the first three songs on Side 2 are all winners that point out that, yes, Jane are a Krautrock band indeed. The music is still drenched in psychedelics and phasing, and there's much to enjoy here. Given that they got booted off the US roster in one year, Jane began to look toward Pink Floyd for inspiration going forward. So an interesting one-off experiment from Jane, whose 15 minutes of fame in the US were used up. A good hard rock album on the whole, but often times misunderstood given Jane's progressive rock pedigree.

Jane III basically stayed in print throughout the original Brain Records life cycle (Green Metronome, Green, Orange/Multi-color, Black). However on the CD front it was bootleg city until Repertoire came in with their first set of fine reissues of the Brain label. The LP is generally easy to find, especially the US version, but it did take me awhile to secure the original Green Brain Metronome gatefold version in nice condition. The 2004 CD is a digi-pak with full liners, the same as used for the Repertoire CD.

Morse Code - Je Suis le Temps. 1977 Canada


Morse Code - Je Suis le Temps. 1977 Capitol

CD reissues: 2007 ProgQuebec; 2011 Belle Antique (Japan mini-LP)

Je Suis le Temps is the 3rd album by the renovated Morse Code sans Transmission band. Recorded in England with the hopes that they would somehow break out with an international hit record (and sung in French? Yea, good luck with that). Fortunately for the historical journal, they did sing in their native tongue, and the album avoids most of the pitfalls that befell many a great group before them. Je Suis le Temps is streamlined, but subtle. Despite the language, Morse Code are Anglicizing their sound, which sounds awkward. The pop bits seem forced, and the band's heart isn't into it. The good news is that almost every song wrestles out of its tight grip to let out a fine instrumental progressive passage. Even their homage to the disco mirror ball 'Picadilly Circus' (sic) has glorious mellotron, which by the way is all over this album like a dense fog. The beautiful 'Sommeil' recalls early PFM and is the highlight track of a very good, though not great, album. File next to Le Match's sole album.

Like most major label albums from Quebec, original LPs are easy to find. The CD on ProgQuebec is excellent, containing liner notes unique to this particular album, with photos and a nice sound. No bonus tracks could be found.

Armaggedon - s/t. 1970 Germany


Armaggedon - s/t. 1970 Kuckuk

CD reissues: 1991 Kuckuk; 2011 Reactive/Esoteric (UK)

LP reissue: 2009 Missing Vinyl (Greece)

Truth be told, much of what we now revere as Krautrock, was nothing more than simple blues rock drenched heavily in psychedelics. Whether with studio trickery or the band's ingestion before performances. Armeggedon gives us an example of what that sound contains prior to treatment. This is raw and heavy blues rock played with passion. Frank Diez is on fire here, laying out incendiary guitar licks anywhere he can. Interesting to note that their cover of Spooky Tooth's 'Better by You, Better than Me' is just as heavy as Judas Priest's version some 8 years later. These guys weren't kidding around. Of course, one can fantasize what their sound would have been in an early Guru Guru like setting. And it's because this album wasn't the Kosmische I was so enamored with, it took me many years to get my head around this one. But if the UK blues rock underground is your bag, starting with Cream and ending with Elias Hulk, then Armaggedon is a sure fire bet.

Here & Now - Give and Take. 1978 England


Here & Now - Give and Take. 1978 Charly

LP reissue: 1981 Oxford (Italy)

CD reissues: 1990 Decal; 2001 Tin Toy; 2002 Voiceprint (Japan); 2009 Victor (Japan mini-LP); 2010 Esoteric

The more I listen to Here and Now's debut, the more I realize just how groundbreaking an album it is. Certainly Gong provides the original base recipe, but Here and Now modernized it with new ingredients, more spicy and relevant. When looking at the UK Festival Psych scene of the 1980s, it becomes more and more apparent that Here and Now were the primary influence, though Gong usually gets the credit (which is fair too). Whether it be the free concerts, the trippy female vocals, the hard rocking Hawkwind styled riffing, or the psychedelic solos - Here and Now's stamp is all over the future scene that remains with us to this day. Ozric Tentacles, Omnia Opera, Mandragora, Soma, and countless others borrowed heavily from Here and Now. In addition, their influence could be found further in faraway Italy - with the superb band St. Tropez (a fine archival release from Mellow). For 1978, this is an extraordinary release for music of this kind.

Stud - s/t. 1975 USA


Stud - s/t. 1975 Baron

CD reissue: 2015 Out-Sider/Guerssen (Spain)

LP reissue: 2016 Out-Sider/Guerssen (Spain)

One of the better underground hard rock albums from the mid 1970s American scene. Stud is a band from Houston, Texas and who deserve special mention given that they aren't solely dedicated to booze, broads, and rock 'n roll. There's some of that - of course there is - but there's also 3 lengthy pieces (including two over 12 minutes) and one impassioned folk rock number. The songwriting isn't particularly memorable, and Stud are the band you went to go see last on your pub crawl - when you wanted to vegetate to jammin' sounds. A hard rock album is usually only as good as the guitar player, and here Stud shines mightily. Sit back and enjoy the moment. A point in time to reflect upon.

Originals were pressed in a run of 200, and are extinct. The CD from Spanish label Out-Sider (Guerssen) is their usual great job with full historical liner notes. Instead of adding the LP cover, I put the CD scan up this time to show the more vibrant colors.

Horse - s/t. 1970 England



Horse - s/t. 1970 RCA

CD reissue: 2016 Rise Above (as For Twisted Minds Only)

LP reissue: 2016 Rise Above (2 LP as For Twisted Minds Only)

Horse were a legendary hard rock band from England, with a growly charismatic lead singer, and a ripping guitarist who was one of the first to play in a metal riffing style. They purposely eschewed the blues, to try for something more aggressive and different. Turns out a nasty head cold had much to do with the vocal performance, due to RCA forcing a time schedule to get the album out by 1969. Being the corporate sloths they were, they didn't release it until the summer of 1970, to no fanfare, and the album was quickly forgotten, with RCA later questioning their value and dropping them from their stable (did I really just say that?). Which lead to their demise. Might have helped had they put a little support behind it, and ensuring the best performance possible. So into the ledgers of history Horse went. In some ways, one can hear a proto Judas Priest, especially when Halford was in lower register mode. At times the album can be a bit ordinary and trend sideways, but there's nothing that goes south. Despite all the imagery and groundbreaking references, this is not an album that will necessarily surprise historians.

The only official reissue is entitled For Twisted Minds Only (the band refers to themselves in the liner notes as (in effect) off-center, and they played often with Comus, which is telling in of itself). There's copious bonus tracks which demonstrate a complete different sound for Horse. Here they possess a psychedelic sound, and one can hear a definitive Doors influence - very unusual sound for a British band at that time.

Not a mindblowing album per se, but overall an essential purchase if interested in pursuing the roots of hard rock and heavy metal.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Dragonwyck - s/t. 1970 USA


Dragonwyck - s/t. 1970 private

LP reissues: 1990 Rockadelic; 2004 World in Sound (Germany); 2008 World in Sound (Germany); 2014 World in Sound (Germany)

CD reissues: 1996 Rockadelic; 2004 World in Sound (Germany); 2008 World in Sound (Germany)

Superb heavy psych from Cleveland circa 1970. The influence of the Doors looms large here, mostly because of the vocal tenor, but far more heavy and psychedelic than that may imply on first blush. One could also see this album as a precursor to the Phantom Divine's Comedy album that was to be released 4 years later. They too (Walpurgis) were a Midwest band operating in a similar hazy and mysterious hard rocking psych territory. Essential listening for those who enjoy that unique sounding crossover from 60s psych to 70s hard rock.

The Rockadelic reissue (2nd scan) is taken straight from one of the few demo LPs in existence, and it has crackle because of it. The first CD reissue was horrible sounding, so I sold it, And it's my understanding that the World in Sound ones are no better (3rd scan), but I haven't heard them to be fair.

My LP copy is #308, and was a gift handed to me directly from Rockadelic label owner Rich Haupt back in 1990. Kindness like that is not forgotten, and as such the album will stay with me to the end of days.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Pan & Regaliz- s/t. 1971 Spain

Pan & Regaliz- s/t. 1971 Dimension

LP reissues: 1979 Arlequin/Orange (as I Can Fly); 2000 Wah Wah

CD reissue: 2003 Wah Wah

If someone blindfolded me and asked where this band was from, I'd say Germany around 1971 or so. There's almost nothing here to point to its Spanish heritage, not even towards other bands operating in those days under the Franco regime. No, this is squarely in the Krautrock school of music, with flute as the lead melodic instrument, some droning-almost spoken vocals, and at least one freaky jam. A mixture of Rufus Zuphall, first album Mythos, Haze and even some early Amon Duul II can be heard here.

Gatefold originals are very rare and sought after. The 1979 reissue comes in a single sleeve. The Wah Wah reissue restores the FOC to glory.

Totem - III: Corrupcion. 1973 Uruguay


Totem - III: Corrupcion. 1973 Discos De La Planta

CD reissue: 1998 Posdata

The 3rd album from Totem is quite a sophisticated album for the time and place. Uruguay in 1973, like other Southern Cone countries, were in the midst of creative-crushing dictatorships. Interesting then, that the sound of Totem mirrors that of Flamengo in Czechoslovakia. These are bands that seemingly inherited traits of obscure UK bands such as Tonton Macoute and Raw Material, and infused those with indigenous elements, to make for an historically superb album. Of course, it's highly unlikely that Totem would even be aware of obscure albums on the Neon and Transatlantic labels, but rather they drew a similar musical conclusion, based on psychedelic, jazz, and hard rock to create their own recipe of progressive rock. Totem mixes long form jazz with funky rhythms, song based romantic ballads, complex sax and flute driven prog, and Latin Rock with biting psychedelic fuzz guitar, for a truly compelling mix. At times the solos linger, and the subsequent songcraft isn't deep enough to hold the weight, but the overall output is strong. And the best track is saved for last: the moody and lengthy 'Caspita'. I'd place Totem comfortably in the collection near fellow countrymen Psiglo, Som Imaginario (Brazil), and Los Baroccos (Argentina). Don't miss this one.

An obscure album on both LP and CD, my copy is the Posdata CD from 1998, which I bought not too long after initial release. This was part of their 30 year Uruguay Music anniversary series. Also features two bonus tracks, one 'Mi Pueblo' taken from a 1972, and the other 'Orejas', performed by Mario "Chicito" Cabral, originally released on the album La Tocata.

People - Ceremony: Buddha Meet Rock. 1971 Japan

People - Ceremony: Buddha Meet Rock. 1971 Teichiku

CD reissues: 2000 P-Vine; 2009 Super Fuji (Japan mini-LP)

People's sole album is the "front door" for most folks hearing the Japanese underground sounds of 1971 for the first time. There were a series of albums from this era that mixed various indigenous cultural music with that of psychedelic rock. And almost all of them involved the "busiest man in Japan" - guitarist Kimio Mizutani, who seemingly played on an album a day back then. In this case, one hears the Tibetan Buddhist tradition blended with loose jams and fuzz guitar. In Japan, albums like this are often regarded as "exploitation" similar to what us Americans perceive albums like Psychedelia - A Musical Light Show to be. But to my ears, predictably I suppose being the xenophile I am, these albums are far more intriguing.

As an introduction to the style, Ceremony: Buddha Meet Rock is a good one. If looking to deep dive further, and in some cases better, I would suggest Primitive Community, the Rock Joint albums from Hiromasa Suzuki, Akira Ishikawa and the Count Buffaloes' African Rock, Naniwaya Tatsumaru & Warner Beatniks, and Azabu Ongaku Shudan (among others). Have fun!

The original LP is impossibly rare as are all the original albums in this particular space (none could be found in Popsike for example). But it's had good reissue coverage, starting with the P-Vine CD release in 2000. This CD is rare in that the liner notes are in English and give a full explanation of the album and the tracks. Though as one RYM user states, there is no mention of the David Axelrod samples, which is very strange (perhaps they didn't know it either?).

Watch out for bootlegs of this title - as there are many. If it's not pressed in Japan, it is likely not authorized, including one LP from an otherwise legitimate enterprise, who shall remain nameless.

Think - Variety. 1973 Germany


Think - Variety. 1973 Menga

LP reissues: 1991 Little Wing; 2004 Amber Soundroom

CD reissue: 2002 Garden of Delights

Variety is a good title for this album. Not in the macro sense of the term, but rather within the tight confines that Think occupied. And that would be early 1970s Germany. There's a bit of that UK hard rock underground, as you would hear on a Nosferatu album for example. And then there's some of that stoned 1971 Krautrock sound, perhaps best exemplified on Virus' Revelation album. And going further, you can hear that patented unpolished progressive rock / Krautrock hybrid - like you might hear on the Erlkoenig album. So yes, this is definitely for fans who are digging deep into the Fatherland's copious mines. Not a good album for "album scanners" and "file collectors". It's definitely not an immediately likable work, but if you have absorbed the proper context, this album will reveal its strengths.

Originals on Menga are very rare. I personally own the Garden of Delights CD which replaced the LP reissue on Little Wing (which had a different cover (second scan), per their ill-advised protocol). It's from the CD that we learn that the Little Wing LP was actually unauthorized. Not the label's fault (completely legitimate enterprise), but rather the unscrupulous dealings from the person who possessed (not owned) the master tapes. Apparently the same person then entered into a legal agreement with the members of the band and properly licensed the rights to Garden of Delights, and further with Amber Soundroom on their LP reissue.

The original features that all-important BBB styled cover: Bare Breasted Babes.

Nu - A Golpe de Latigo. 1979 Spain


Ñu - A Golpe de Latigo. 1979 Chapa Discos

LP reissues: 1986 Zafiro; 1988 Chapa Discos

CD reissues: 1991 Zafiro; 2002 Zafiro

Ñu's sophomore effort A Golpe de Látigo sees the band streamlining their sound further, as the music here is heavier and more compact than their stunning debut. All the same, Ñu is still very much a progressive rock band with Jose Carlos Molina continuing to sport a mean flute, and the violin touches have yet to disappear. But for 1979, this is an incredibly heavy album. The raw proto-metal guitar sound, and the Halford-esque en Español shrieks of Molina, all have a passing resemblance to same era Judas Priest. So imagine perhaps Ian Anderson walking into the studio for the Hell Bent for Leather sessions, while contributing to the songwriting - and after listening to a Bloque album perhaps - and you have an idea of what Ñu has accomplished here. Groundbreaking stuff.

I Califfi - Fiore di Metallo. 1973 Italy

I Califfi - Fiore di Metallo. 1973 Cetra

CD reissues: 1991 Fonit Cetra; 2000 Warner / Fonit; 2004 Strange Days (Japan mini-LP); 2008 BTF (mini-LP)

LP reissues: 1991 Fonit Cetra; 2008 Vinyl Magic

I Califfi are yet another band that spawned from the beat/pop tree of Italian prog rock. "The Caliphs" were actually quite popular in the 1960s, having released up to 11 singles. They reformed in 1972 right at the heart of the progressive movement happening in Italy. As such, their sound bridges the gap between the two eras. Their sound is somewhat similar to other bands of its ilk like I Santoni, Capricorn College, and Delirium's debut. It's a mixed effort with all-in progressive rock, singer songwriter ballads, and straight up rock n' roll. But there's a lot of "great" in this one, especially the instrumentals, so it's not one to overlook when doing your doctoral studies in Rock Progressivo Italiano.

Original LPs are very rare, more so than even the usual case. It's generally attributed to the lack of initial sales.

Shingetsu - s/t. 1979 Japan


Shingetsu - s/t. 1979 Zen

CD reissues: 1989 Victor; 2010 Belle Antique (mini-LP)

LP reissue: 1989 Made in Japan

It all starts here when talking the 1980s Japanese symphonic progressive movement. While certainly Japan had tons of underground, hard rock, jazz, fusion, and psychedelic bands throughout the 70s, most of them were informed by the German Krautrock underground and UK hard rock bands, along with a strong amount of indigenous injection. This is a genre that is still being mined even today as I write this. But the more known 1980s Japanese music took the sounds of Genesis, Yes, and the European symphonic bands of Western Europe (Netherlands, France, Italy, etc...) for a new style of "warm" progressive rock. Mellotrons and melodies are where it's at with the new breed that came along, right at the time when the LP collector boom hit Tokyo by storm. But in 1979 Shingetsu still stood alone. It's Genesis filtered through that patented Japanese video game styled bounciness. If 'Oni' doesn't raise the goosebumps on your arm at least twice, you may want to consult your doctor. You may be missing your ability to feel.

I've had this on CD since it first came out in 1989. The original vinyl was something of a legend back then, only because it was such an unknown and the mail order channels hadn't opened up yet.

Out of Focus - Four Letter Monday Afternoon. 1972 Germany


Out of Focus - Four Letter Monday Afternoon. 1972 Kuckuk (2 LP)

CD reissues: 1992 Kuckuk (2 CD); 2010 Reactive/Esoteric (UK 2 CD)

LP reissue: 2009 Missing Vinyl (2 LP)

When I was first introduced to Four Letter Monday Afternoon in the 1980s, it had been described to me as a Krautrock version of Soft Machine. A local friend at the time, who is a huge fan of Soft Machine, vehemently disagreed with such an assertion, and found it somewhat offensive to compare. And while I can understand his perspective, it's also not a wild stretch to make such a claim. There is a bit of Canterbury whimsy within some of the songs, most notably 'Where Have You Been' and 'When I'm Sleeping' (bonus track). And taking the comparison further, there are long stretches of experimental rock with a jazz underpinning. But the keyword here is Krautrock, and it's clear that Out of Focus were heavily influenced by their own local contemporaries more so than what was happening in England. There's a considerable amount of stinging psychedelic guitar, echoed flutes, horn charts, and jamming Hammond throughout. And it remarkably stays within the rails for most of the duration (Side 4 the sole exception), with plenty of melodic interludes, despite being improvisational in nature. I could see this album as the logical conclusion of where Xhol Caravan was heading post Electrip, though that group decided to trip out further instead. Deep divers will also hear bands as diverse as Eiliff, Roundhouse, and Kollektiv. Honestly, I think Four Letter Monday Afternoon is entirely unique, even different from their own work, and is a great example of the exploratory spirit to be found in Germany at that time.

La Torre dell'Alchimista - Neo. 2007 Italy

La Torre dell'Alchimista - Neo. 2007 Ma.Ra.Cash (CD)

La Torre dell’Alchimista (LTdA) are one of the many current Italian progressive rock acts that are recreating the sounds of the past and moving it forward to the 21st century. LTdA are a bit more purist than most groups in this space, eschewing modern tendencies such as metal, electronica and post rock. Keyboards are the focal point, like with many of the 1970s classic groups, and bandleader Michele Mutti possesses an impressive array of vintage gear including Hammond C3, Mini Moog, Mellotron and a 1973 Fender Rhodes amongst many others. However, unlike fellow Italian retro rockers Wicked Minds, modern production techniques are in full force, and there’s no question that LTdA are a band from the current age. All of these historical references don’t matter if the music compositions aren’t there - and LTdA come through on this front. As students of the Italian progressive rock genre are keenly aware, the options of creating exciting and unique music is immense, and LTdA have found their little slice of the big pie. And fortunately they use the Italian language which goes so naturally with the style. File along with La Maschera di Cera as the current torchbearers of the original Italian progressive rock sound.

Kenso - Kenso II. 1982 Japan

Kenso - Kenso II. 1982 Pam

CD reissues: 1993 King; 2002 Pathograph (mini-LP)

Kenso II sees the band absorbing from their debut the most European instrumental progressive rock side of their sound. Flute is more dominant, keyboards are confident, and the guitar tones are stronger. The songwriting and melody quotient are off the charts in terms of successful execution. The Asia Minor, Camel, and Rousseau influences that penetrated some of the debut is given more focus, but taken to the next level of intricacy and complexity. And tracks like 'Hyoto' demonstrate that Kenso have not abandoned their Japanese roots and recall the wondrous 'Umi' from the debut. 'Brand Shiko' forecasts their future with its blazing fusion sound. One can see where Kenso may have as well influenced the up and coming talented Hungarian group Solaris. Already by their sophomore work, Kenso were creating beautiful tapestries of sound. This is the definition of instrumental symphonic rock. A magical album.

I somehow managed to own each release of this album. Guess I like it, huh? Well, I do... The 3 bonus tracks on the 1993 CD are all from the debut album. The 2002 CD features as bonus two cover tracks performed live: 'Power of the Glory', a unique instrumental based on Gentle Giant's works, and PFM's 'Four Holes in the Ground'.

Country Lane - Substratum. 1973 Switzerland

Country Lane - Substratum. 1973 Splendid

CD reissues: 1995 Music Emporium (Belgium); 2000 Musea (France)

Country Lane are a Swiss group from the French cantons, an area without much representation in the progressive rock annals (Docmec, Pyranha, Sicher, and the modern group Galaad are all that leap to mind). Substratum contains a diverse set of tunes, drawing anywhere from heavy proto-prog, jazzy bits, amateurish humor, to post psychedelia, and all in between. Clearly influenced by the more known UK artists of the day, one could also easily draw a dotted line with the Belgian underground scene. Bands like Shampoo, Waterloo, or even Lagger Blues Machine. Frank Zappa is, as to be expected, the quoted reference by the band and a good guidepost as well. Perhaps not groundbreaking, but solid fare all around, and worthy of ownership status.

Cai - Noche Abierta. 1980 Spain

Cai - Noche Abierta. 1980 Epic

CD reissues: 1995 Sony (w/ Cancion De La Primavera); 1997 Sony

Cai are from the beautiful Andalusian city of Cadiz, and their sound very much represents the region it originates from. Noche Abierta is their second album, and first for major label CBS/Epic. Cai's music is one of the more overtly flamenco influenced albums with dramatic Arabian vocals, Spanish guitar, and the irregular rhythms associated with the art form. The rock elements are brought forth with stinging electric guitar, choppy piano, and the driving bass and drums. The majority of the keyboards come from a variation of the ARP String Synthesizer, and are a bit thin sounding to modern ears. Overall the album is a fine mixture of flamenco, jazz fusion, and progressive rock. The latter represented most by the closing 'La Roca del Diablo'. A very good album for those predisposed to the southern Spanish style of progressive rock, which includes this listener. Otherwise, Noche Abierta is unlikely to be the album to sway one's opinion in its direction.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Clearlight - Forever Blowing Bubbles. 1975 France


Clearlight - Forever Blowing Bubbles. 1975 Virgin (UK)

Select LP issues: 1975 Virgin; 1976 Virgin (Japan); 1982 Virgin (Japan)

CD reissues: 1989 Virgin (Japan); 1990 Mantra; 1997 Virgin (UK); 2000 Clearlight (USA); 2001 Spalax; 2003 Arcangelo (Japan mini-LP); 2008 Captain Trip (Japan mini-LP); 2014 Gonzo (UK)

Following the success of their debut, Clearlight (the Symphony moniker removed) continued on where the '2nd Movement' (from the debut) dropped off, with an emphasis on more rocked out cosmic themes. 1975's Forever Blowing Bubbles opens with 'Chanson', a bizarre five minute piece, and quite a bit different from anything found on the debut. Somewhat of a straight song with vocals, electric violin (from King Crimson's David Cross), and flute. The listener must have been surprised by this new found interest in traditional songwriting (for Clearlight anyway). 'Without Words' has Clearlight back on the path towards heavy duty space jamming, driven by Cyrille's piano and plenty of overlays from guitar, synths, mellotron, and saxophone. And so it goes through the course of the album: Tripped out jam sequences offset by more somber songcraft. Listen for the "synth bubbles" that connect each composition. This album certainly has more variety, in terms of both songwriting and instrumentation, than the debut. Though perhaps not quite up to the same standard consistently throughout. A classic all the same, and a must own.

As an original LP, Clearlight's second is about as easy and inexpensive to find as any European import will ever be. If you're just getting into vinyl, this is a great entry point, considering the quality of the music. I've had my copy since the mid 80s. Even though there is a domestic French press on Virgin, the UK release is generally regarded as a true original. There are multiple Japanese presses as well. The Arcangelo Japanese mini-LP is the same mastering as the Spalax CD from 2001. I didn't do a sound comparison against the Clearlight reissue before selling it years ago. Oh well.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Abiogenesi - Le Notti di Salem. 2000 Italy

Abiogenesi - Le Notti di Salem. 2000 Black Widow

CD issue: 2000 Black Widow

I wasn’t expecting much after being underwhelmed by Abiogenesi's first 2 albums. Careful inspection shows the band had recruited winds player Clive Jones for this album, an original member of the British band Black Widow (and perhaps the blueprint group for the same-titled label). To me, this seems like a more professional recording than before. And perhaps because I understand more what they are trying to accomplish, I can appreciate this outing a bit more than prior. Really, it’s not much more than old fashioned UK heavy rock (sung in Italian mind you) with progressive touches such as (sampled) mellotron, organ, flute, acoustic guitar, and vibes. So classic Italian progressive rock it’s not, but then again no bands up to that point on the Black Widow label were so anyway (they've since added a few). Highlights are the fine guitar work augmented by some well chosen Hammond sounds. The vocals, fortunately in Italian but infrequent, aren’t award winning but not too hard to digest. If there’s a problem here, it’s that the drummer plays it too nonchalantly. This kind of music requires a hyperactive base, with fills galore.

I should probably revisit their earlier albums. I haven't heard them since they came out real time in the mid 90s. They also have a couple of other albums since this one I wouldn't mind hearing.

Agora - Live in Montreux. 1976 Italy

Agora - Live in Montreux. 1976 Atlantic

LP reissues: 1977 Atlantic (Japan); 2013 BTF/Atlantic

CD reissues: 2003 Vinyl Magic (mini-LP); 2007 Atlantic (Japan mini-LP)

Agora's debut is an instrumental jazz rock album, as was common for the time and place. Mahavishnu Orchestra is once again a primary influence along with Weather Report and Holdsworth-era Soft Machine. Since this is a live recording, it's considerably rawer then their peers like Il Baricentro, Perigeo, and Nova, which gives it an extra bite these albums so often need. An excellent example of the style with emotive guitar, electric piano, and saxophone. Easy recommendation for jazz rock and fusion fans.

Originals come with a pop up tree cover. It's difficult to find those in good shape. Otherwise, not too expensive of an album. I ended up with the Japanese LP years ago, and it does not feature the gimmix cover. Nor does the Italian mini-LP which I recently sourced on the cheap. I presume the Japanese version does.

Nova - Wings of Love. 1977 Italy-England


Nova - Wings of Love. 1977 Arista (UK)

CD reissues: 2006 Arista/BMG (Japan mini-LP); 2013 Northworld (UK)

Nova's 3rd album Wings of Love sees the band heading further out in commercial waters. It would be easy to slag off Wings of Love on that fact alone, except this is a wonderful serious fusion album, with a couple of well-written radio styled jazz pop tunes mixed within. In other words, Nova is still more Mahavishnu Orchestra than George Benson. And besides how many Italian-UK combos have a song about the TV show Gunsmoke? A diamond in the rough if there ever was one, and if on a budget, lesser condition US LP's (second scan - different cover) can still be found cheap in used record stores for less than a milkshake.

On this latter note, there were close to a dozen pressings initially given the band's relative commercial success. Until the Northworld release, finding Wings of Love on CD was a challenge with only the expensive Japanese mini as an option. I recently picked that one up myself on a good deal. I'm sure I had the US LP at some point, but I think I can live without it....

Free System Projekt - Atmospheric Conditions. 2002 Netherlands

Free System Projekt - Atmospheric Conditions. 2002 Quantum (2 CD)

Atmospheric Conditions is a 2 CD set compiled of various outings from 2001 and 2002, including live stints in the USA and England. The Dutch collective Free System Projekt have long been considered one of the finest groups playing in the Berlin School revivalist style. Raging sequencers, mellotron overlays, and analog synthesizer soloing are the order of the day. Though the various tracks are all improvised, the sound is remarkably consistent, and the end result seem like variations on Tangerine Dream's Rubycon. In my mind, that is T. Dream's finest moment, so any group who can emulate that same composition style are much welcome here.

Fortunately I bought the CD when it came out. Today it's become prohibitively expensive.

From Discogs: Instruments used: Access Virus A, Arrick Synthesizers.com modular system, Yamaha A 3000 sampler/w Mellotron set, Yamaha A 4000 sampler/w Mellotron set, Doepfer MAQ 16/3 sequencers (2x), Clavia Nord Modular, Clavia Nordlead II, Eminent Solina Strings, Elka Rhapsody 610, EMS Synthi A, Arp Pro Soloist, Roland JP 8080, Korg MS-20, Korg MS 2000R, Yamaha S-30, Yamaha TG 500, Boss CE-1, Boss SE-50, Boss SE-70, Ensoniq DP/2, Lexicon MPX 100, MXR Phase 100

Track 1-1 played live at the Gathering, Ocober 13th, 2001.
Track 1-2 played live at Jodrell Bank, March 30th, 2002.
Track 1-3 played live at WDIY EMUSIC, October 12th, 2001.
Track 1-4 played live at Hampshire Jam, October 27th, 2001.
Track 2-1 played live at Ruud Heij's studio during the sessions of summer 2001.
Track 2-2 played live at Star's End radioshow, October 14th, 2001.
Track 2-3 played live at Ruud Heij's studio during the sessions of summer 2001.
Track 2-4 played live at Jodrell Bank, March 30th, 2002.
Track 2-5 Echoes feature: Free System Projekt's Spontaneous Creations. Produced for Echoes, the radio program of ambient and world fusion music heard on stations across the United States.

Holocausto - Aleluya. 1974 Puerto Rico

Holocausto - Aleluya. 1974 Roka

No reissues!

Holocausto are an obscure Christian band from Puerto Rico who released this one very intriguing album. At times, there are bursts of complex and heavy Italian styled prog with guitars and keyboards raging over the crazy rhythms. At others, there's a bit of machismo Latin soul rock, that is obviously more song based. Overall, it reminds me somewhat of the Peruvian band Tarkus. It's a very rough recording, but the reckless abandon of youthful exuberance takes this one up a notch. Apparently the band had started to work on a remix for a possible reissue, but no recent word has surfaced that I could find anyway. I could see this easily going up a half point or more with repeated listens. Definitely recommended for a CD reissue.

This is another late era submission from The AC.  His notes to me were: "This Christian-themed underground Latin American rarity is an interesting blend of progressive, psychedelic, hard rock/proto metal and latin rock styles.  Heavy riffing, organ/keys, flute/sax and impassioned vocals battle it out over a set of relatively concise but atmospheric and thoughtfully constructed tracks, where the undeniably cool "aura" of the whole thing helps to make up for the somewhat primitive execution. Great cover art as well (both front and back). However, the sound here could really use a good cleaning up, as it's hard to even hear some of the more interesting instrumental details at times. It seems the band themselves were working on doing just that a few years back, but I'm not sure if this is still an ongoing effort. Lets hope so, because this one is definitely worth it."

Melisma - Like Trolls. 1978 USA

Melisma - Like Trolls. 1978 private

No reissues!

Like the Mercury Magic album, Like Trolls features an eye-popping cover that promises an undiscovered prog rock gem. And once again, that is not what you'll find here. But it is a very interesting album all the same. Melisma is a group from Philadelphia lead by academically trained composers, and that's the disposition of the entire album. The word Melisma means "a group of notes sung to one syllable of text". That should give you an idea of what we're dealing with here. Best genre description I could tag for it is "Classical Pop", but all original material, not some Hooked-on-the-Classics cash in job. At its best, it has this Gentle Giant meets The 5th Dimension type sound. Very complex, but yet highly melodic and radio friendly - if it were 1968 that is. The rock components are almost nil, but most welcome when they do arrive. This is an album I wanted to like more than I did, and that's primarily due to the overabundance of female/male vocals that become very annoying over the course of the album. It's quite Glee Club-ish, and eventually one starts envisioning the Oral Roberts show with way too many white teeth smiles and fancy gowns. You lose points for that.

Not one I'm recommending for a CD reissue, but thought it worthy of featuring in case the description sounds interesting to you, my faithful readers.

The Great Imperial Yo-Yo - Chicken Island. 1996 England

The Great Imperial Yo-Yo - Chicken Island. 1996 Bongheads (CD)

With a name like The Great Imperial Yo Yo, an album titled Chicken Island, a label named Bongheads, and a booklet filled with cartoons that look like Dilbert on acid, one can be forgiven in presuming this album will sound like part of Gong's Flying Teapot trilogy. And in some ways it does, except mercifully without so much of that Pothead Pixie silliness. What you do get is coherence where it is most needed, and that's with the instrumental component. This is more Hillage's Gong than Allen's, that is to say. And while the icons of the UK Festival movement - that of the Ozric Tentacles - are definitely in the same ballpark, Great Imperial Yo Yo's sound is tilted towards the 70s, with more jazz rock influences than most of their peers.

Chicken Island came along very late in the game for the primary round of the UK Festival Psych scene, and few noticed its existence initially. Bongheads is the cultural magazine Crohinga Well's (Belgium) own label. It took me some years to finally secure my own copy for a decent price, so don't miss out if you happen to run across it.

Hopefully someone will also reissue the Blink! cassette as well (from 1993). I have it on CD-R and it's just as good as Chicken Island.

Golden Dragon - s/t. 1981 USA


Golden Dragon - s/t. 1981 private

No reissues!

I had wondered what had happened to any of the members from the San Francisco based Filipino community band Dakila. In my mind, they were close to the top of the stack when talking Latin rock as first proposed by Santana. So I was thrilled to see the connection here, on this fine effort by the very obscure Golden Dragon.

In 1981, you still had a few artists hanging onto the original Jimi Hendrix experience as it were. Most notably Frank Marino, but even Robin Trower with his Victims of the Fury, paid homage. Of course, by 1981, this type of music was just as informed by 70s hard rock as it was late 60s heavy psych. And this is where Golden Dragon finds their sound as well. Perhaps fellow San Francisco artist Leland provides another guidepost. There was much more of this type of music to be found in the clubs of the day, but very little recorded material. A nice little LP, that could certainly use a reissue. The album is only 26 minutes, so hopefully there's more in the can, as they say.

From an original LP standpoint, this is one confusing release. There are multiple covers, some are just 45 singles taken from the LP. The second cover is the most common, and it's a one sided LP "single" (33 RPM). An ebay auction informs us: "GD 1027.  Rare San Francisco private press hard rock record from guitarist/bassist Freddy Mabuhay.  This is a one song record.  Side 2 is blank....  ...Front and back covers were originally the same but a paste-on picture and information sheet was added to the back cover.  Record label has two cutouts (looks like someone did this by hand with a razor blade), one of which has 12" SINGLE TOO LATE stamped on it." When he says "one song", is it just 'Too Late', or does it have the full EP on it anyway? I dunno.

The first cover I think is the original. It's a regular two sided LP and is definitely the most expensive. In any case, I only possess a CD-R. This is a perfect candidate for a CD reissue with bonus tracks and liner notes to explain what the heck is going on!