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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Robert Fripp—EXPOSURE (1979)

cover_11151421102008Review by Charles Caloia

Assigned by Roland Bruynesteyn

Every time King Crimson dissolved, Robert Fripp, our ever-astute guitar hero/studio whiz, at least knew where to fall back to. After Red, Fripp was done with blazing through the land of schizoid men, larks, and fallen angels. Now he was sucked through that starless sky into the semi-mainstream of the mid-70’s: catchy for radio, experimental for new wave, but not too much of either. Even with Frippertronics, Robert still tempered his ambitions so everything was more than just processed tape loops.

In between Blondie, Bowie, Byrne, and Brian (Eno), Fripp was that certain technician to perfectly complement a performer who needed that edge. Without his treatments, “Heroes” would probably be a straighter homage to German cabaret. Eno would have to busk while endlessly resampling Phil Manzanera’s guitar. David Byrne would be fighting Stevie Ray Vaughan for the title of best blues guitarist with endless takes on “Take Me To The River”! (I may be wrong about all that, but wouldn’t Let’s Dance kick more ass with Byrne producing and playing some solos?) Sure, it helped to have him, but how could he represent himself after leaving the Crimson King’s court behind?

Fripp’s Exposure lends that crucial insight. Here, like much of his post-Red/pre-Discipline KC work, Fripp acts as a civil engineer: constructing soundscapes around what his singer/songwriter-sideshow brings together. Be it Daryl Hall’s nutty boogie (“You Burn Me Up, I’m A Cigarette”), Peter Hammill’s maniacal wailing (“Disengage”), or Terre Roche’s shrieks (the title track), Exposure marks the transition from bearded, eccentric hermit to tailor-made session man: ready (suit, scowl, and all) to be your molecular gastronomist (of sound).

Much of the album’s packed with abrasive songs and instrumentals, though none of it’s more eccentric than, say, Henry Cow or Van der Graaf Generator. It’s Fripp using his unique approach to the circle of fifths for his riffs (maybe that was Brian Eno calling out that “incredibly dismal, pathetic chord sequence” on “Hååden Two”. Maybe they didn’t get along so well after all.), as he did prior but now with less fuzz.

Past the semi-jazz-fusion and semi-hard-rock (even semi-blues-croon with “Chicago”), the album’s best moments are its softest. Fripp’s then-lady friend and lyricist Joanna Walton contributes some solid poetry to Daryl Hall’s “North Star” and the Terre Roche-sung “Mary”. Not the most memorable songs, but they have some very touching deliveries. Peter Gabriel’s “Here Comes The Flood” originally fell short due to Bob Ezrin’s overproduction, adding unnecessary gospel cheese on top of an already minimal, tender ballad. Here, however, it remains as is: better raw and only with some processed guitar (bookended by both parts of “Water Music”).

Exposure makes for a hell of a demo reel. Here’s Robert Fripp playing with some of New Wave’s best and brightest (and Daryl Hall!) and a crapload of session players cobbled from Peter Gabriel’s band and more. It shows that the guy who started with apocalyptic jazz noodlings has grown up quite a bit, more content with new age soundscapes possibly inspired by watching Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris at 3 in the morning. He’s still kooky with his textures, so expect some daring inventions with jazz fusion players, tapes of J.G. Bennett lectures, and Peter Hammill having a breakdown. Altogether adventurous, bold, and incredible. Just get past some inane academia to arrive at Discipline few years later.  

Trapeze—MEDUSA (1970)

220px-medusatrapezeAssigned by Charles Caloia

Reviewed by Roland Bruynesteyn

Never heard of this group. It was apparently an English group, and this was their second album. Trapeze is a power trio on this album, as they lost both their lead singer and keyboardist after the debut album.

The cover looks a little as if Picasso wanted to redo the iconic first King Crimson cover, but the music has nothing whatsoever to do with King Crimson. In the hard rock spectrum, they are more on the Americana end than on the dark, proggy end, and indeed they were more successful in the (Southern) United States than in their home country England.

Because Glenn Hughes, the bass player (and one of two singers) also plays (rudimentary) piano, the sound is actually a little fuller than you’d expect. A few years later, Glenn would join Deep Purple for some time and this album does sound more classic Deep Purplish than Deep Purple’s first three albums.

This is hard rock as played in 1970. For some reason, the first track (Black Cloud), also the single at the time, strongly reminds me of the Black Crowes, circa Amorica. Could be the vocals. In other tracks, like Your Love Is Alright, the singer goes in full Robert Plant mode, failing as a carbon copy, but definitely getting the energy across. Actually, the drummer may be the weakest link when they try to emulate Led Zeppelin. In other places (Touch My Life) they do resemble Paul Rodgers and Free.

The way most songs start as ballads and then soon become ‘trad hard rock’ becomes a little predictable, but overall this is a nice little album. Is this album essential? No, definitely not. It is not a forgotten masterpiece, and, even for lovers of the genre, it would probably not be in your top 20. It is neither hard enough nor sophisticated enough. If you compare it to, say, Death Walks Behind You by Atomic Rooster, the better musicians, the better production and the greater variation of the latter album beat Trapeze to a pulp.

But I like it! It goes to show that even second-rate artists that may lack originality and major instrumental or compositional talent could turn out nice little albums in the first half of the 70’s. With nice guitar work and some great singing, it is a little nugget that is not out of place in a larger collection of 70’s music, which is why I will buy this at some time in the future.

Alphataurus—ALPHATAURUS (1973)

cover_255372572009Review by Syd Spence

Assigned by Roland Bruynesteyn

Ah, third rate prog rock! It’s the only instance where I don’t use the phrase ‘third rate’ to mean something bad. This is because prog rock (at least in the ‘70s) is always great. It’s true that first rate prog rock is played by gods, and that second rate prog is played by demigods. Now third rate prog is only played by mere mortals, but they are fantastic humans, truly our champions. So let us salute today’s third rate prog heroes Alphataurus and their debut.

So Alphataurus is one of those italian prog bands. Italy’s prog scene is lesser known than their european contemporaries. I believe the ranking of the scenes goes as following. The first is of course England with their Genesis and ELPs. The second is Germany’s with their Cans and Kraftwerks. I believe France and Italy compete for third spot. Personally, I think France wins out simply because I can name two french prog groups (Magma and Gong) and would have to look up the leaders of Italian prog. I think there is band called mutual bank or something, oh, oh, and Goblin. Most people know Goblin, they did the soundtrack to Suspiria and Dawn of the Dead.

Listening to Alphataurus really makes me understand why italy is so low in the consciousness of rock listeners. Alphataurus plays keyboard driven symphonic rock, with a bit of jazz and hard rock here and there. If the lyrics weren’t in Italian, the fellas could have easily opened up for Van Der Graft Generator or ELP. This just isn’t anything as unique as Magma or Can. I would thus imagine most english speakers would more likely exhaust the british symphonic prog groups before they would explore their mediterranean equivalents. Plus the language barrier would not help.

Though, I doubt, even if Alphataurus did have english vocals, they would get big. They’d probably poke around where Fruupp sits on the progger’s mind, good but not great. As I mentioned earlier they are third rate, mere mortals, and their mortality is evident with their instrument playing. Now don’t get me wrong, everyone in the group is a good musician, but this is prog! I’ve heard prog fans mock the technical abilities of Rush. BLOODY RUSH! This genre is filled with the most dazzling expressions of musicianship this side Liszt, and Alphataurus play okay. Oh, sure they occasionally change time signatures, and have multiple parts in their songs, but a lot of them seem to a riff or two that doesn’t really boggle the mind. Personally though, I think this humanity is a good thing. They play keyboard driven symphonic prog with lots of different keyboards, not unlike a certain Emerson of ELP fame. Unlike Emerson, these guys won’t use 12 chords when only three is necessary. Their solos are short and stately and not ungodly long and meandering. Mortality keeps the ego in check and thus makes music way, way more palettable, than the pompous nonsense of keyboard gods.

The album I feel is divided in two. The first half is more rock and the second half is more symphonic. The band is worse at playing the more rock oriented stuff When listening the first track, Peccato D’Orgoglio, I kept feeling that the sound just wasn’t thick enough, that the guitars didn’t have enough crunch or there weren’t enough keyboards. Also, the music was mostly instrumental and yet the vocals dwarfed the other instruments. Plus, the song is based on one riff that never really got me. The next track is similar but with a more heavy hard rock riff, that, again, just wasn’t heavy enough. I feel like the producers should have turned the amps to 10 or something. Plus, one of the sudden prog changes sounds a bit corny.

Luckily the second half is fantastic. It starts with Croma, an instrumental which sounds like something Procol Harum would have composed if they had access to Emerson’s keyboard collection. They use every type of keyboard there is on this album, synthesizers, pianos, harpisichord, organs, mellotrons, etc. It’s got it all. Alphataurus layers different keyboard lines to make these fantastic keyboard symphonies. It’s marvelous. I do feel sorry for the guitarist, he’s mainly confined to rhythm or the tiniest of guitar solos on this second half. My favorite track is the second to last, “la Mente Vola,” where they do the keyboard symphony, but this time add a really catchy chorus with vocal harmony. The last track follows in a similar suit and is also good.

Overall it was a good third rate prog album. I’d give the first half an optimistic 3 out of 5, and the second a delighted 4 out of five. Combine the two and you get 3.5.

Museo Rosenbach—ZARATHUSTRA (1973)

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Review By Logan Kono

Assigned by Roland Bruynesteyn

Italian progressive rock is bold, and like this album, it’s niche disposition of being stuck in obscurity allows it to sound a lot different than rock – even a lot of other progressive rock of the time. One possibility for the unique sounding musical ideas might be the fact that the singer, Giancarlo Golzi is the drummer (and percussionist who played the timpini) which leads to excellent dynamics. I keep using vague words like “unique” so let me explain how this album sounds different than most progressive rock that I myself listen to (and I consider myself a “mainstream” progressive rock fan, if there are those type of people) – Primus, Jethro Tull, Rush, Tool, King Crimson, Yes, Gentle Giant etc. I’m sure these bands ring several [Xanadu] bells. There are NO memorable hooks that stick with me from this album – yet on the other side of this – the album does not conform to a particular style (there is even a certain eccentric punk esque breakdown at the 27 minute mark that is awesome and has some kick-ass serenading Italian vocals on top).

The mellotron is fun – Jon Lordy improvisational Frippian atmosphere, and the keyboards are almost as unrestrained as the frontman.The drums are indulgent, as they should be if this ambitious Italian drummer wishes to tackle vocals at the same time. Which he does (with overdubs, I don’t quite know how many but some are obvious and necessary. There is no way you can sing operatic Italian long phrases while playing the drums like a madman as he does on this record). The drums are untamed, produced almost like drums from that progressive German band, Can. Very loose – it almost doesn’t work with the classic Italian vocals. Guitar and bass take a backseat to drums and the keys on this one. Although they are pushed back, I do enjoy some crunching minor chords throughout – and the bass is usually in a walking pattern that keeps the thing grounded enough to listen to.

Do not listen to Museo Rosenbach if you want hooks or anything to keep long-term, but if you are a fan of theatrical Italian vocals (I never thought I’d be recommending something like that in a progressive rock context), progressive 70’s rock, give Zarathustra a try. This band obviously didn’t care about commercial appeal – and decided to go crazy on a drum set and a keyboard in a very, very Italian way. I give it 7 Classic Italian Subs out of 10.

Astor Piazzolla—PIAZZOLLA INTERPRETA A PIAZZOLLA (1961)

r-5319701-1433278688-6334-jpegReview by Roland Bruynesteyn

Assigned by Francelino de Avezedo

I only knew Astor Piazzolla as a traditional tango guy, who became more famous in the Netherlands 02-02-02, when prince Willem-Alexander (our current king) married an Argentinean lady by the name of Maxima. At the wedding, a Dutch bandoneon player, Carel Kraayenhoff, played Adios Nonino, Maxima cried a little (and became our favorite member of the royal family at that very moment), and the tango conquered the Netherlands all over again.

Upon listening, I am surprised that it is not traditional tango at all! Yes, there are tango structures and it still has a percussive tango feel in places, partly because for the instrumentation (a quintet, consisting of violin, piano, bass, and electric guitar as well Piazzolla on bandoneon).

It sounds more like a mix of jazz (especially when the electric guitar is featured a bit more prominently, as in Guitarrazo) and classical chamber music (by a somewhat unusual quintet, I admit).

The different songs convey different moods, and the sparse instrumentation does not bore at all. It sounds actually more varied than you would expect. Still, you can listen to the album in one go as nice background music while doing some administrative stuff, or in a more focused manner, listening to the music and thinking about your plans for the day (or the night).

It is more contemplative and less sad or serious than traditional tango or what I assumed traditional tango sounds like. Recommended for adventurous listeners that are willing to explore ‘new’ sounds.

The Legendary Pink Dots–CRUSHED VELVET APOCALYPSE (1990)

0001475488_10Review by Roland Bruynesteyn

Assigned by Franco Micale

When I looked the band up, I found it apparently has a Dutch connection. Some Dutch players went through its ranks and they are (or were) based in Amsterdam for part of their career. Hmm…

First song, I Love You In Your Tragic Beauty, sounds as you would it expect it to sound: somewhat naïve singer / song writer territory with an acoustic guitar. Halfway, more instruments are added, giving it a somewhat classical folky touch. Although not ambitious in any way, it’s a nice way to start the album.

Green Gang starts annoyingly with lots of sitar and tabla shit. Could be my ears, but I have seldom, if ever, heard nice songs with this instrumentation. It also sounds very dated, as if it’s made to entertain their guru, and unfortunately, like most sitar-based songs, it’s way too long, because they want to get that drony feeling across. Halfway through the sitar takes a back seat and some seagulls join in. The last part has some strange singing (“Here comes the Green Gang” repeated over and over again) and sounds like it’s produced by Eno on steroids. The song actually improves as it moves along, but cannot be compared (favorably) with the first one.

Hellsville starts with Pink Floyd sound effects and soon turns quite electronic, not unlike Roger Waters’ latest solo album actually. The voice resembles Roger as well, but that may be the recording. Not much actual melody and not much lyrical development, but groovily atmospheric.

Hellowe’en is a very short interlude, with some industrial sounds. Could be music for some scene in a horror movie.

The Safe Way starts out like a proper song again, a bit like Mercury Rev meets On The Run from Dark Side of The Moon, with a little Clare Torry (being tortured) thrown in for good measure. The song sounds actually good to me, but I think the vocals are lacking in quality and character and (therefore?) mixed in the background.

Just A Lifetime starts nicely with some harpsichord type piano (or guitar). Drums sound like cardboard boxes, but again a nice folksy melody. Vocals sound a little Syd Barrett while living through something quite unpleasant. The song has a strong 60’s vibe and is quite good as the sitars have disappeared. Especially the extended coda may be the best part of the album and sounds like a (better) prequel to Jacco Gardner.

The Death Of Jack The Ripper was unfortunately not available at YT

New Tomorrow starts off with almost Gregorian chanting and some ambient synth tones. Just over a minute in, some vaguely oriental music starts a little folksy melody. Singing voice is, again, a little weak and sounds a little like 80-ish UK indy pop. The music is more ambitious and takes a turn left after 4,5 minutes: there may not be much development but it does not overstay its welcome with me. Nice song.

Princess Coldheart is again a very 60’s sounding song that could have been sung by Syd, partly because of the way the voice is recorded here, but also because of the actual lyrics: In the courtyard flowers bloomed, they draped themselves ‘round tombs and rows of crosses … etc. Again a long coda that is very nice (with a majestically ascending line) and probably the best part of the song.

The Pleasure Palace starts quite industrial and riffy and soon adds processed voices. Sort of a slowed-down Woman And Man by Ween in places. It is a song I do not like, but I can respect it.

The Collector goes for the nice harpsichord sound again, although it may not be a real one. The whispering part is a little silly, but this is one groovy song.

C.V.A. could not be located at YT, but it’s only a 1.15 minute snippet.

What to make of it? It’s an interesting band for sure, and I like the way they structured this album, with some less accessible songs hidden between the twangy psych-folk. It doesn’t all work however, especially the singing voice leaves me wanting. Although you should proceed with caution, and at your own risk, chances are you might like one of their albums and I’ll certainly be investigating them some more.