John Greaves, Peter Blegvad and Lisa Herman—KEW.RHONE (1977)

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Assigned by Andreas Georgi

Reviewed by Roland Bruynesteyn

After half a minute I thought “This reminds me of Escalator Over The Hill!” And lo, and behold, Carla Bley is involved (with some singing in the first 30 second song no less). So expect big band arrangements with some electric guitar and creative singing. And that’s what you get, although Carla seems more present for the vibe and the street cred, as this is really the John Greaves (ex-Henry Cow) and Peter Blegvad (ex-Slap Happy) project, starring Lisa Herman. And as I never heard anything by either Henry Cow or Slap Happy, this is pretty new to me, and I’ll try to listen with open ears.

The opening track is just 30 seconds, but then it starts: imagine half the choir from Atom Heart Mother with half the choir from Magma singing Jesus Christ Superstar outtakes as arranged for a jazz orchestra and you get the idea. It is a challenging listen, especially the horn section goes all out.

The third song, Seven Scenes From The Painting “Exhuming The First American Mastodon” By C.W. Peale, is mostly sung by Lisa Harman over a jazzy piano. Although I am not so much a fan of songs where the voice exactly follows the instrumental melody (seems a bit lazy), this is still a nice song. Sounds a little like a Renaissance ballad, with the singer singing an octave lower than Anne.

The title song is again a rather quiet song, if no ballad. A walking bass, some strings and some male backing vocals are added, but as a title song it does not really stand out. Pipeline has somewhat huskier vocals and again sounds quite jazzy in places. On the other hand, take out the horn section and add a flute and Peter Gabriel could have sung it on Lamb Lies Down as it has some symphonic stylings as well.

Catalogue Of Fifteen Objects And Their Titles, the next song, is a bit more up tempo and quite a bit more avant-garde with piano, sax, strings and a compelling vocal delivery all trying to catch your attention, leaving you somewhat confused and exasperated.

One Footnote (To Kew. Rhone.) starts like a big band playing a march. Some chanting follows; I think it really should be heard as the original beginning to side 2. Three Tenses Onanism (what’s up with these titles) sounds modern classical with great solo piano, bordering on minimal music. When the cymbals start, it becomes more jazzy, but still in an introverted way. The singing (by a man this time) more or less interrupts the flow, but functions as the intro to the wilder, chanting second part.

After a little bass solo an organ pays a little motif in the background, very Genesis-like circa Foxtrot. Nine Mineral Emblems is ambitious and ‘difficult’, with for the first time electric guitar featured quite prominently. Although Lisa sings a quite difficult melody, it’s really the horn section that convinces most in this tune (where I use the term ‘tune’ in a broad sense. Although it sounds totally different, it is a bit comparable to The Trial off The Wall in a way: a difficult song for a musical, needed to get some necessary info across.

Apricot is sung by a man and is again quite busy: great drumming and piano playing, some guitar picking and possibly a trombone taking the lead. The singing, and the song in general, remind me of Caravan or Gentle Giant in an extremely jazzy mode. There are definitely some Canterbury overtones here.

The last song, Gegenstand, starts with some nice bass playing. Lisa starts to sing, but not much other instrumentation is added. A nice epilogue to the album.

What to make of it? This is an amazing album! It is not always nice on the ears, it is not easy, comforting background music. You can hardly sing along and the sound is somewhat messy in places. Still, for me it opened up a whole universe of artists I will have to investigate. Do not just buy it on my advice, but I strongly urge you to listen to these artists and the bands they came from, if you haven’t already.

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