In 1964, in the Kentish destination of pilgrimages of olde, the cathedral town of Canterbury, a group of teenage boys found serious inspiration in both the American jazz scene and the infectious spirit of joy and liberation coming from Timothy Leary and America's blossoming peace and human liberation movements. The arrival of slightly older, more worldly, and wiser Aussie-by-way of France, Daevid Allen with his collection of jazz albums, beatnik ways, and inspiring example of starting his own jazz combo, (The Daevid Allen Trio--in London), gave courage to the boys to start their own band, which they called The Wilde Flowers. Allen had left for France (leaving Daevid Allen Trio members HUGH HOPPER and ROBERT WYATT to fend for themselves). London was the scene for any musical life to take flight, and so it was for The Wilde Flowers with members ROBERT WYATT, KEVIN AYERS, HUGH HOPPER, BRIAN HOPPER and RICHARD SINCLAIR (and later and sometimes-members PYE HASTINGS, Richard Sinclair's brother, DAVID, and RICHARD COUGHLIN) meeting there to gig, rehearse, see other bands, and try to find a record label.
The Wilde Flowers evolved through five different variations and permutations before disbanding--out of which came two very successful bands: THE SOFT MACHINE and CARAVAN. The musical sounds and stylings of that came from these two bands pretty much defined the so-called "Canterbury Scene" of progressive rock music for all who followed. There is an serious silliness, or a silly seriousness, or perhaps a whimsical psychedelia, in the light-hearted jazz fusion practiced by these bands. They boldly fuse new jazz structures with 'psychedelic' electronic enhancements with humorous yet-intelligent, tongue-in-cheek lyrics. One can imagine that their clever use of satire and double entendre and pun that came oozing out of their lyrics and song titles came from their immersion in the British satirical humor of radio and television shows like Beyond the Fringe, That Was The Week That Was, and At Last the 1948 Show (all predecessors to 1969's Monty Python's Flying Circus).
A lot of music that has been produced in the art rock/progressive rock umbrella which displays this light, happiness of spirit while conveying serious attitudes in both the exploration of complex musical structures and satirical social commentary has been unceremoniously but respectfully lumped under the name of Canterbury Scene or Canterbury Style progressive rock music. This has occurred despite the fact that only six members of The Wilde Flowers--the original Canterbury band--including members--came from anywhere near Canterbury. But, they had a sound and voice that slowly spread and attracted the attention and interest of other musicians--mostly from the London scene which members of The Wilde Flowers, The Soft Machine and Caravan and Gong came in contact with through college attendance, concert performances, and recording studio and record label contacts.
As an aside, it is interesting to note that most of the Canterbury band members remained quite active in the music industry for decades--and many of these remained integral to the perpetuation of this light, humorous expression of creative sound entertainment.
The fact that not all Canterbury Scene bands or musicians came from, or ever even lived in, Canterbury did not prevent the Soft Machine/Caravan sound and style from being labeled the "Canterbury style" from the "Canterbury Scene." They did, it must be admitted, carve out such a distinctive sound that it remains an active and viable reference point for the description and categorization of new musicians--despite their intentions--to this day.
The second generation of Canterbury Scene bands inspired or started by The Wilde Flowers and Daevid Allen Trio members include Soft Machine, Caravan, and Gong. From there the rest is history. Delivery, Uriel/Arzachel, Egg, Matching Mole, Camel, Khan, Hatfield and the North, Quiet Sun, Gilgamesh, Steve Hillage, National Health, Bruford, as well as myriad solo and collaborative one-offs can claim direct lineage to, from, or, primary inspiration from their Canterbury predecessors.
The upbeat, humorous and psychedelic jazz music of these Canterbury bands also inspired several contemporary bands internationally, including The Netherlands' Supersister, France's Moving Gelatine Plates, Belgium's Cos, Italy's Daedalus and Picchio dal Pozzo, America's The Muffins, Germany's Zyma, and, later, to a lesser degree, Japan's Mr. Sirius.
Over their long careers, Daevid Allen, Robert Wyatt, and even Dave Stewart, Hugh Hopper, Roy Ayers, Steve Hillage, Mike Ratledge, as well as the Miller, Sinclair and Hastings brothers have all carried forward the Canterbury spirit . . . whether they think they have or not. And their music has on occasion proved influential and inspirational to younger generations of aspiring musicians including Andy Partridge and XTC and Tim Smith and The Cardiacs as well as Americans Volaré (two releases in the 1990s), Stereolab, Brazilians Violeta de Outono, and Britain's Antique Seeking Nuns/Sanguine Hum.
In the past five years the Canterbury style has seen the rise of several new youth groups who seem to embody the spirit and sound once relegated to the progeny of The Wilde Flowers, including Spain's Amoeba Split, France's Setna, Britain's Antique Seeking Nuns, Magic Bus and Syd Arthur, America's Inner Ear Brigade and The Nerve Institute, Belgium's Humble Grumble, and Italy's Homunculus Res and The Winstons and France's ALCO Frisbass. Beyond-O-Matic and even the spinoff of Antique Seeking Nuns, Sanguine Hum, may also qualify. I, personally would love to see more bands attempt to adopt the wonderful sounds, stylings, or spirit of the Canterbury Scene. The world could use more whimsy and pun.
The CANTERBURY SCENE Hall of Fame
ROBERT WYATT (drummer, singer, trumpet) Daevid Allen Trio, The Wilde Flowers, The Soft Machine, Centipede, Matching Mole, long and rich solo career in which he contributed to many, many albums of others (including those of Hatfield and the North, Henry Cow, Brian Eno, and Phil Manzanera).
HUGH HOPPER (bass) Daevid Allen Trio, The Wilde Flowers, The Soft Machine, Syd Barrett, Kevin Ayers, Robert Wyatt, Stomu Yamash'ta's East Wind, Isotope, Gilgamesh, Carla Bley Band, Elton Dean, Soft Heap, Equipe Out, In Cahoots, Brainville, and various and sundry solo projects.
KEVIN AYERS (guitarist, singer, bass, et al.) The Wilde Flowers, The Soft Machine, The Whole World, as well as an extensive albeit interrupted (by self-imposed reclusive retirement) solo career as well as contributions to many albums by other artists (most famously, the recording of a one-off concert with Nico, J.J. Cale and Eno called June 1, 1974).
MIKE RATLEDGE (keyboards) The Wilde Flowers, The Soft Machine 1966-1976.
PYE HASTINGS (guitars, vocals) The Wilde Flowers, Caravan 1968-2015.
JIMMY HASTINGS (woodwinds) Caravan, Soft Machine, Hatfield and the North, National Health
DAVID SINCLAIR (keyboards) Caravan, Matching Mole, Hatfield and the North, The Polite Force, Camel.
RICHARD SINCLAIR (bass, guitars and vocals) The Wilde Flowers, Caravan, Hatfield and the North, Camel, Caravan of Dreams
RICHARD COUGHLAN (drummer, percussionist) The Wilde Flowers; Caravan 1968-2013.
DAEVID ALLEN (guitars) The Daevid Allen Trio, The Soft Machine, Gong and its many variations, various solo and Gong side projects.
BRIAN HOPPER (guitar, multi-instrumentalist) The Wilde Flowers, Soft Machine 1968-70.
PHIL MILLER (guitar) Bruno's Blues Band/Delivery, Matching Mole, Hatfield and the North, National Health, Short Wave
STEVE MILLER (piano, keyboards) Bruno's Blues Band/Delivery, Caravan, Hatfield and the North
DAVE STEWART (organ, keyboards) Uriel/Arzachel, Egg, Khan, Hatfield and the North, National Health, Bruford
PIP PYLE (drums) Bruno's Blues Band/Delivery, Khan, Gong, Hatfield and the North, Soft Heap
MONT CAMPBELL (bass guitar, vocals) Uriel/Arzachel, Egg, Gilgamesh, National Health
STEVE HILLAGE (guitar) Uriel/Arzachel, Khan, Gong, Steve Hillage
ALAN GOWAN (keyboards) Gilgamesh, National Health, Soft Head, Soft Heap
NICHOLAS GREENWOOD (bass) The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Khan, solo, Steve Hillage
Clive BROOKS (drums) Arzachel/Egg
Peter BLEGVAD (guitar) John Greaves, Slapp Happy, Rhone, The Lodge
John GREAVES (bass) Henry Cow, National Health, Pip Pyle, extensive solo and Peter Blegvad association.
Carla BLEY (keyboards) adventurous jazz artist who appeared or collaborated with several of the above artists.
John G. PERRY (bass) Caravan, solo, studio guest on many albums
One off bands: KHAN Space Shanty (1972), QUIET SUN Mainstream (1976), JOHN G. PERRY Sunset Wading (1976), PATRICK FORGAS Cocktail (1977)
Non-British Contributors to the "classic" Canterbury lexicon of music:
The Netherlands' SUPERSISTER, France's MOVING GELATINE PLATES and PATRICK FORGAS, Belgium's COS, Italy's PICCHIO DAL POZZO and DEDALUS, America's THE MUFFINS, Germany's ZYMA.
Fringe Bands: KEVIN AYERS, CAMEL, BRUFORD, Japan's MR. SIRIUS.
The Most Critically Acclaimed Albums:
1. CARAVAN In the Land of Grey and Pink (1971)
2. ROBERT WYATT Rock Bottom (1974)
3. GONG Radio Gnome Invisible, Vol. 3: You (1974)
4. HATFIELD AND THE NORTH Hatfield and the North (1973)
5. CARAVAN If I Could Do It All Over Again, I'd Do It All Over You (1970)
6. KHAN Space Shanty (1972)
7. SOFT MACHINE Third (1970)
*8. NATIONAL HEALTH Of Queues and Cures (1978)
9. CARAVAN For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night (1973)
10. HATFIELD AND THE NORTH The Rotters' Club (1975)
*11. QUIET SUN Mainstream (1976)
12. GONG Radio Gnome Invisible, Vol. 2: Angel's Egg (1973)
13. EGG The Polite Force (1970)
14. STEVE HILLAGE Fish Rising (1975)
15. SUPERSISTER To the Highest Bidder (1971)
16. COS Viva Boma (1976)
*17. NATIONAL HEALTH National Health (1977)
18. SOFT MACHINE The Soft Machine (1968)
19. SOFT MACHINE Volume Two (1969)
20. PICCHIO DAL PAZZO Picchio dal Pozzo (1976)
Other Recommended Albums:
SUPERSISTER Present from Nancy (1970)
MOVING GELATINE PLATES The World of Genius Hans (1972)
MOVING GELATINE PLATES Moving Gelatine Plates (1971)
MATCHING MOLE Matching Mole (1971)
MATCHING MOLE Little Red Record (1972)
GILGAMESH Gilgamesh (1975)
*HUGH HOPPER/ALAN GOWAN Two Rainbows Daily (1980)
EGG Egg (1970)
*STEVE HILLAGE Green (1978)
COS Postaeolian Train Robbery (1974)
ZYMA Thoughts (1978)
SUPERSISTER Pudding en gisteren (1972)
*GONG Radio Gnome Invisible, Vol. 1: Flying Teapot (1973)
*STEVE HILLAGE L (1976)
*THE MUFFINS Manna/Mirage (1978)
DEDALUS Dedalus (1973)
*NICK GREENWOOD Cold Cuts (1972)
GONG Camembert Electrique (1971)
*JOHN GREAVES Kew Rhone (1977)
*JOHN G. PERRY Sunset Wading (1976)
*PHIL MILLER Cutting Both Ways (1987)
*PATRICK FORGAS Cocktail (1977)
*SUPERSISTER Iskander (1973)
*CAMEL Mirage (1974)
My Personal Favorite Canterbury Albums from the "classic" period (1966-1980):
1. PICCHIO DAL POZZO Picchio dal Pozzo (1976) In 1976, this debut album caught everyone by surprise for its unmistakable Canterbury feel and familiarity--and this from a group of Italians! I mean, Dutch, French, and even Belgian and German 'members' of the Canterbury Scene might be understandable. They are, after all, just across La Manche from County Kent and the great cathedral town of Canterbury. But Italy?!!
And an amazingly excellent album did Picchio dal Pozzo come up with!
1. "Merta" (3:18) Whenever this song comes on my iPod playlist (which is quite often) I find myself thinking that this is a Robert WYATT song! The vocals, unusual weave of instruments, lack of drums, and Andrea BECCARI's odd horns sound just like something RW would have done in his SOFT MACHINE/MATCHING MOLE days. (10/10)
2. "Cocomelastico" (4:25) is another song that always tricks me into thinking I'm listening to SOFT MACHINE. I love the way the horns play off of each other, and I love the odd synth playing far in the background throughout. Even the odd vocal is not unlike some of the Spanish stuff Robert Wyatt has done. The laid back, jazzy feel placed within the bar/cantina setting is brilliant. Just like the Softs or Caravan! Awesome song that I could listen to forever! (10/10)
3. "Seppia" (10:17) opens with some TANGERINE DREAM-like repeating synthesizer arpeggio which is soon joined by some oddly treated tuned percussion. When the vuvuzela-sounding horns enter with the big bass notes and, eventually, a kind of hypnotic driving rhythm, it's as if the band is trying to either drive the listener crazy or display what a drug trip or psychotic breakdown might feel like! It's actually quite fun--and very much like the feel and effect of a GONG or even Robert WYATT song. The band must have had a lot of fun doing this one. Wild, cacophonous, and random. Then there is a flute-filled break in the music, with a visit to a barnyard, followed by a pretty foundational weave of arpeggios from two electric guitars while a woman recites something dramatic over the top. Horns and then electric piano and tuned percussion then join in before some "Wah-wah" vocals enter the weave with several woodwinds. Gorgeous!
This song unfolds similar to, though the opposite of countrymates YUGEN. (9/10)
4. "Napier" (7:28) opens with multiple woodwinds creating sustained cords before relinquishing the reins to a circus band. The use of dissonance here is wonderful--very Robert FRIPP/KING CRIMSON-esque. Soon the circus band moves more toward a MIKE OLDFIELD medieval troubadour sound before everything drops out at the 3:00 mark for a little odd piano play. Organ-backed male vocal singing in Italian moves us into a new section?one that is much more Canterbury jazz with the awesome multiple horns all soloing and weaving with voices, cymbals, octave climbing bass notes and piano. Horns, cymbals and electric Rhodes piano take us through a full minute before the jazzy quintet plays out the final half minute (which is faded out rather suddenly--poor engineering). (9/10)
5. "La floriculture di Tschincinnata" (4:24) is a rapidly changing and diverse song that would be very fitting among the CARAVAN or SOFT MACHINE repertoire. Several really awesome melodies and chord progressions are explored here as well as some really fun crazed soloing--all at the same time--from the horn, Casio-sounding synthesizer, electric guitar, and drums--all while the bass keeps the steady time that provides the foundation for the song to rest upon. (9/10)
6. "La bolla" (4:31) repeats the Robert WYATT wordless vocal style that I heard in the album's opening song, "Merta"--creating over a melody line that is played over a repetitive JOHN COLTRANE-like piano chord progression--a melody line that will eventually become picked up by the horn and acoustic guitar before being woven in with the voice. (10/10)
7. "Off" (4:48) opens like another JOHN COLTRANE tune with harp-like arpeggiated piano play covered by mellifluous flute play. Absolutely gorgeous! At 1:56 a male voice enters up front and center singing more wordless "wah-wah"s into the tapestry. Gentle, beautiful, pastoral song that would be fitting if performed out-of-doors. Definitely one of my favorite Canterbury songs. (10/10)
Over all this is an album of playful, fun, gorgeous melodies, and wild and at times complicated jazzy instrumental weaves very much in the Canterbury vein of musical approach. Due to the joyful emotional reaction I get when each and every song comes into my ear, Picchio dal Pozzo has supplanted KHAN's Space Shanty as my favorite Canterbury Scene album.
2. KHAN Space Shanty (1972) My slow and gradual testing of the waters of Canterbury Scene of 1970s progressive rock music is now up to nine records: Caravan's "Grey and Pink" and "Girls Who Plump," Soft Machine's "Third," Steve Hillage's "Fish Rising," Hatfield and the North's "Rotter's Club," Robert Wyatt's "Rock Bottom," Gong's "You," and Zyma's "Thoughts" (though I might also ask to include Camel's "Mirage"). Overall, I am very much enjoying the sub-genre's light, upbeat, happy-go-lucky feel--it makes me wish I'd been in the thick of the 60s' psychedlic hippie generation. Of the above albums I must say that "Space Shanty" is my favorite. Why? It's the vocals! There is something very special in the vocals of both Steve Hillage and Nick Greenwood. "Stranded" (10/10), "Mixed Up Man of the Mountains" (10/10), and "Driving to Amsterdam" (10/10), and "Hollow Stone" (10/10) are all/each absolutely gorgeous masterpieces. The vocals in "Stranded" and "Stargazers" remind me so much of why I love MOTH VELLUM, while "Mixed Up Man" reminds me of my friend MARK FARNER's "I'm Your Captain/Closer to Home/" from his GRAND FUNK RAILROAD days. Absolutely beautiful works!
My only reservation in giving this album five stars is that I never like it when an album is so reliant on a guitarist's use of multiple tracks (à la "Thick as a Brick"). At times I found myself thinking (wishing) it was two guitarists that I was listening to. And the compositions are not perfectly polished but, again, these amazing vocals and melodies make it such a transendent listening experience I cannot really rate it anything less than a masterpiece. I am in awe. And in love.
1. "Golf Girl" (5:01) is just poppy fun--like something out of the "Hair!" soundtrack. And memorable--it's tough to get out of one's head once you've heard it! (8/10)
2. "Winter Wine" (7:37) is beautiful song built on some fairly straightforward guitar chord sequences. The delicate section beginning at the 2:50 mark shows something different, something special. Unfortunately, Pye Hasting's first solo is rather weak, but vastly improved upon as the rhythm section picks up both the volume and pace. Some very nice melodic moments and key and tempo changes. The song gets stronger--brings me in deeper and deeper as it goes. Love the background "Oooo's." (9/10)
3. "Love to Love You (and Tonight Pigs Will Fly)" (3:06) is a poppy song with prominent cowbell and a Pye HASTINGS vocal! (7/10)
4. "In the Land of Grey and Pink" (4:51) opens like a TRAFFIC song before Richard SINCLAIR and support crew take things into their own. A wonderfully whimsical lyric of psychedelia and lips bubble making--previews of things to come in 1973's HATFIELD AND THE NORTH's debut. (9/10)
5. The side-long "Nine Feet Underground" (22:44) is, of course, the album's jewel--especially in terms of Caravan's contributions to the Canterbury scene, specifically, and progressive rock music, in general. Purely engaging melodies, pacing and soli--even if the mix/engineering is a bit inconsistent and, let's face it: shoddy. RC's bass work really stands out on this one. Also find Pye Hastings' lead vocal and the accompanying harmonies quite enjoyable. A definite highlight of prog rock. (10/10)
"Easy listening" prog rock at it's finest. Not quite 5 stars, but close. 4.5 rated down for inconsistent production.
Amended 4/26/14: The 2001 CD release includes some awesome bonus material which would easily put In The Land of Grey and Pink into the "masterpiece" category were they including on the original release. Though this album has continued to grow on me and remains one of my four or five most played Canterbury Scene albums, in my opinion "Love to Love You," "Winter Wine" and even "Golf Girl" weaken this album a bit.
Bonus (previously unreleased) material:
"I Don't Know It's Name (Alias The Word)" (6:10) (10/10) has one of Richard Sinclair's best vocals of all-time. Simply a beautiful song.
"Aristocracy" (3:43) (8/10) has a Kinks' "Lola"-like vocal melody. Interesting and different.
"It's Likely to Have a Name Next Week (Winter Wine Instrumental)" (7:49) is much prettier and has much more feeling and flow to it than the later 'more evolved' version known as "Winter Wine." I love Richard's "scatting" vocal melody explorations. (10/10)
"Group Girl" (First version of "Golf Girl" with different lyrics) (5:03) is much more free-form and somber than the fun-bordering on silly final version. (9/10)
"Dissassociation 100% Proof" (New Mix) (8:34) (10/10) is an intoxicatingly engaging version of Nine Feet Underground" containing several of the main themes from the longer album version. Richard's voice is absolutely gorgeous as is the flute playing.
This doesn't change my rating for the original album, but I'm trying to make the point that this is the version to try to get.
2. "Contrasong" (4:25) is an uptempo, odd-timed piano-based, horn accompanied song over which Mont Campbell tries to sing. The voice, unfortunately, gets kind of lost in the cacophony of the rest of the music. Obviously an experimental jazzy song that the trio (bassist Campbell, keyboard whiz Dave Stewart and drummer Clive Brooks) wanted to try. (8/10)
3. "Boilk" (9:23) is a song that turns a lot of listeners away but which I love! It opens with the sound of running water (like a faucet filling a sink) before yielding to an organ chord and some tubular bell and glockenspiel play. In the third minute reversed tapes of percussion and organ play take over in a "Waiting Room" way. (This song preceded Genesis' ascendence to prog rock heights much less their experimental play on 1974's The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.) In the eighth minute the soundscape turns much more into keyboard sound experimentation much in the way that Electronica bands would be doing soon. The final two minutes are "filled" by a distant-sounding church-like organ solo. I really love musical experimentation like this! I listen to "Boilk" often and with equal interest and enjoyment each time. (9/10)
4. "The Long Piece No. 3. Part 1" (5:08) is another of EGG's ventures into musical structures and forms from classical music while using jazz/rock instruments (drums, bass and a variety of organ/keyboards). The fast piano arpeggios that take over at the three minute mark usher in a different time signature and a different exercise--this one even more classical in its sound and orientation. Awesome! (9/10)
5. "The Long Piece No. 3. Part 2" (7:38) opens with another display of those amazingly memorable melodic organ chord sequences as we had in "A Visit to Newport Hospital." At 1:42 everything shifts into a more dreamy, ethereal, even disturbing sound. It's like listening to the soundtrack of a nightmare. Then, at 3:45, we shift back into a simplistic piano, crazy synthesizer in the background, with organ accompaniment for about 40 seconds before a gorgeous organ chord sequence becomes the dominant sound up front. Playing back and forth between beauty and discord is the prevailing theme for the remainder of the song. So interesting! And amazing: Two of these guys (Stewart and main composer Campbell) were not yet 20 years old when they made their first two albums! Truly astonishing!! (9/10)
6. "The Long Piece No. 3. Part 3" (5:04) opens a bit like a VINCE GURALDI jazz piece before a KEITH EMERSON-like organ and ELP "Tarkus"-like section takes over. (Though, again, this album was released well before Tarkus.) At 1:40 another section starts with that buzz-saw-sounding organ that Stewart, Mike RATLEDGE and Steve WINWOOD liked to use so much. Though the ensuing sections are very much in classical music structures, the instrument sounds used are not at all what classical music is used to using. (8/10)
7. "The Long Piece No. 3. Part 4" (2:51) ends the opus with some amazing keyboard work over some really nice bass play, and steady drumming. This song really puts the prowess of each of the band members on full display. Teenagers! (9/10)
I cannot express vociferously enough what an amazing album of crazy-complex songs this is--and yet they remain able to create truly enjoyable and often melodic themes throughout! What an album! A DEFINITE masterpiece of progressive rock music if ever there was one! Mega kudos to these three "boys"!
5. COS Postaeolian Train Robbery (1974) As I was completing my post for a "Best of Sub-genres" list I realized that I've been remiss in posting a review for this, one of my favorite Canterbury albums of all-time. I do have to admit that I've only known of COS for the past year or so, and that the CD version I have of Postaeolian Train Robbery contains the four CLASSROOM songs that pre-date the official formation of COS, AND that those four songs definitely add to the power of PTR, IMO. Were I to rate this album based solely on the six songs that came on the original vinyl I might not be so keen to proclaim this the best or my favorite Canterbury album.
1. "Postaeolian Train Robbery" (4:14) is a perfect introduction of the band (though why Pascale's voice is mixed so far in the background I'm not sure). (10/10)
2. "Cocalnut" (7:20) showcases the amazing talents of keyboardist, Charles Loos, as well as the incredible voice of Pascale Son. Also, the fast pace allows the rhythm section to show off their tightness. (9/10)
3. "Amafam" ((8:24)) starts off showing off the talents of drummer Robert Dartsch. Then flutist Daniel Schell and Pascale share lead melody scats--which then amazingly transfer to that of Pascale mimicking/duelling with percussionist Steve Leduc. She is amazing! Reminds me of the Indian raga voice scats on SHAKTI's albums. Unfortunately, the drums and bass are relegated to a very repetitive two-note/two chord rhythm so that the others can solo-- including a rather long one by the electric keyboards. Poor bass player! The final minute allows the drummer to go out just as he came in: showing off. Amazing talent. Not the greatest song. (7/10)
4. "Populi" (3:31) begins with a bouncy clavinet (?) before the band and Pascale join in--this time with actual lyrics! (For a while!) Flutist Daniel Schell takes a turn on electric guitar as Pascal's amazing chicken-like scatting bridges solos from guitar, electric piano, and bass. (8/10)
5. "Halucal" (3:51) uses a flute's arpeggios to establish a kind of standard jazz chord progression! The band joins in with wonderful bass, keys, and drums throughout. Keyboard work reminds me of CHICK COREA. Bass player Alain Goutier is really allowed to strut his stuff on this one. (8/10)
6. "Coloc" (9:44) begins with a piano and a background laugh from Pascale. Then the piano takes over (with a little support from the drummer's cymbol play and, later, chorded bass play). Again I am reminded of CHICK COREA here--"The Mad Hatter suite" (which came later, in 1978). Then at 2:20 Pascale takes over. Wordless vocal acrobatics with one of the nimblest, jazziest voices I've ever heard. Her "instrument," in fact, is probably more expressive and versatile than 99% of the jazz instruments I've ever heard (including that of famed jazz vocalist BOBBY McFERRIN). Daniel Schell performs a few admirable somewhat JOHN McLAUGHLIN-like soli, though his mastery of both finger speed and the volume pedal is in the future. (8/10)
Again, were I rating this album on these first six songs alone, I would not put it so high. But, let's continue.
7. CLASSROOM's "La partie (d'Echecs)" (2:39) is breathtaking, stunning, stupefying. It defies all previous conceptions for possibilities of the human voice in song. Her precision with pronunciation is unbelievable. And this one has lyrics. Throughout! One of the most amazing songs I've ever heard. Ever. (10/10)
8. CLASSROOM's "Sur deux" (4:32) showcases a four piece instrumental jazz combo in which xylophone and guitar work with and off of one another and a very fast-moving bass gets a vast amount of show-time. No Pascale. A very good lounge jazz song with some very nice melodies. (9/10)
9. "Achille" (10:05) starts out displaying a tenderer side of the band--of Pascal. Long sustained notes replace the speed we're becoming used to. But as the one minute mark approaches the band kicks into a kind of BURT BACHARACH Latin-influenced rhythm and structure. Before the end of the second minute things slow down and most instrumental support drops out while Pascale stretches out a little. Then around 2:20 the band reintegrates into a fairly conssitent groove for over a minute while Pascale sings. At 3:40 everybody breaks but Pascale and the drummer. The two play, he with his toms and cymbols while Pascale plays with Achille's name and, a little later, a particular sentence, "Où est la fin de cette forêt?" The guitar solo in the ninth minute is the song's only weak spot--though it is not bad for a more traditional European jazz guitar solo. A very entertaining and yet surprisingly serious song. More like an exercise with time, form and structure. And a test to see if Pascale can keep up with . . . anybody! (9/10)
10. "L'admirable amas cellulaire orangé" (2:13) employs the same four-piece jazz combo to support another masterful performance by Pascale. She is a veritable wonder of musicality. (10/10)
6. CARAVAN If I Could Do It All Over Again, I'd Do It All Over You (1970) After all the raves for In the Land of Grey and Pink I bought it and love it. Truly thought it couldn't get any better than that, but recent explorations within the Canterbury Scene keep turning up gem after gem--and here is another one! Though the album starts off with a couple lighter tunes (shades of things to come), I find this album much more pleasant, pleasurable, musical, and melodic, and definitely more breadth in the emotional spectrum than Pink and Grey or Plump in the Night. My only reservation is that because I do think Richard's voice is quite good--despite his hippy stream-of-consciousness style--on this album he hasn't quite developed his confidence or up-front 'leading man' presence yet. That begins with Pink and Grey. Love "Brother James"' contributions of flute and sax.
Why is it that so often the earlier into a band's career I explore the more I like them, the more I get them?
5 star songs: "Can't Be Long Now/Francoise/For Richard/Warlock" (14:25) (10/10), "As I Feel Die" (5:17) (9/10), "With an Ear to the Ground..." (9:30) (9/10), and "Limits" (1:33) (9/10).
7. SUPERSISTER To the Highest Bidder (1971) replicates the upbeat, happy-go-lucky yet quite tight and complex instrumental weave as their previous album, their debut, Present from Nancy. The difference with To the Highest Bidder is that the songs are longer (three of the four songs are over seven minutes long) and there is a greater variety of keyboard instrument sounds used. But, like a SOFT MACHINE suite, the long songs seem more to be made up of a collection of short songs all spliced into one suite. There are some "songs" within the four titles that are eminently enjoyable, some laughable, many quite memorable. Overall all four songs earn five star ratings from me, though there are specific high points within the opener, "A Girl Named You" (10:11) (9/10) and the epic on Side Two, "Energy," that I would single out for praise.
2. "No Tree Will Grow (On Too High a Mountain)" (7:40) is founded throughout upon a drone of some kind of Tibetan/Tuvan-like overtone throat vocal. The Canterbury jazz music builds and builds--in tempo over the final 90 seconds. Though very Canterburian--especially the English vocal spoken/sung mid-song--there is a bit of a BEATLES psychedelia feel to it as well. (9/10)
3. "Energy (Out of Future)" (15:01) is another tom-based tribal sounding rhythm over which two very breathy, trilly flutes are playing their solos. At the two minute mark a new theme and style take over--reminiscent of the carnival song at the end of "Dona Nobis Pacem" on Present from Nancy. Then at 3:45 the band breaks into one of their happy up tempo grooves--over which a treated voice sings his psychedelic hippy lyric. Quite an infectious groove, this. I could listen to this all day! And feel happy and get so much done! A drum solo at the six minute mark has a kind of Pierre Van der LINDEN/FOCUS "Eruption"-just-before-"Tommy" feel to it (though, obviously, this came first.) The solo comes to an end to allow the buzz-saw organ to solo a bit before the Snoopy-theme piano melody returns and gets support from flutes and organ. At 8:55 the song devolves into a kind of scary carnival ride--fast-paced polka-like rhythm. But then in the eleventh minute it comes back toward classical--though the treated vocal sounds like a Circus Master speaking through a blow horn. The carnival merry-go-round sound starts up again, at first slowly but then rapidly picking up it s speed till it culminates in a crescendo crash of backwards tapes. What a trip! Psychedelia at its craziest! And this is what we get to the end! (9/10)
4. "Higher" (2:47) brings us back to Earth with a pleasantly jazzy pop vocal. (9/10)
Overall this album takes the listener on one wild ride! A perfect example of considerable Canterbury instrumental prowess with all of the psychedelia to well represent the era.
8. SUPERSISTER Present from Nancy (1970) This is one of the most upbeat, happy-happy, joy-joy albums of the Canterbury subgenre of progressive rock music. From it's opening notes of Latin-sounding drum rhythms played on the toms to the rocket speed piano and breathy staccato flutes and rolling bass lines, the first two songs, "Introductions" (2:58) and the title song "Present from Nancy" (5:15) flow one into the other while maintaining the happy jazzy breakneck speed until the final 15 seconds. (10/10)
3. "Memories Are New (Boomchick)" (3:48) is another fast-paced piece, this time organ-driven and supporting a very Canterbury-sounding vocal. At 1:35 the music shifts into scary-weird land with some odd organ/keyboard noises being supported by a steady rapid-fire cymbal play on the hi-hat. At 3:20 we return to the opening section with vocals as if nothing had happened there. Weird but great! (9/10)
4. "11/8" (3:17) sounds like one of Robert FRIPP's guitar and tempo exercises. Screeching dissonance! I love it! (8/10) You can really see how much THE SOFT MACHINE influenced these guys.
5. "Dreaming Weelwhile" (2:53) is a floating meditative play on Ravel's "Bolero" flute melody using flanged bass, cymbal crescendos and soft organ to support the distant-seeming solo flute. (10/10)
6. "Corporation Combo Boys" (1:22) opens as an a cappela exercise with several male voices singing "Do-do-do-do-do" in harmony before a humorous play on a Bond theme with lyrics takes over. (9/10)
7. "Mexico" (4:22) opens with "buzz-saw" organ and tribal drumming pattern before everything quiets down in a soft movie soundtrack-like organ instrumental. The song proceeds with opening "tribal" Section and second "movie soundtrack" themes alternating equally until at 2:35 it turns into a BACH-like organ and flute duet with light tongue-twisting Canterbury lyric sung over and with. This C "waiting" Section plays out to the song's end. (8/10).
8. "Metamorphosis" (3:28) is a very metronomic drum, bass and left hand of the organ play while the "buzz-saw" playing the jazzy, improvisational lead on the right. At the start of the third minute the left channel organ takes over the lead--at times two-hands mirroring one another. (8/10)
9. "Eight Miles High" (0:23) is a funny 23 seconds of the final measure of the classic BYRDS song blending into the famous "and the living is easy" lyric of GERSHWIN's "Summertime." Funny!
10. "Dona Nobis Pacem" (8:36) is a slow tempo solo organ exercise for its first three minutes. Then the flute enters giving the song truly a Porgy and Bess feel to it. Some of the incidental and background melody ditties around the five minute mark and thereafter have YES "Awaken" and "Nights in White Satin" sounds. At 6:30 the tempo picks up as the song transforms into a carnival-like/Nutcracker-like sound with ever-increasing tempo. Interesting--and humorous--but not my favorite. (8/10)
An album that starts off so strongly and melodically, but then begins to falter and slide after the sixth song, still rates as one of the best Canterbury albums--and one of my favorites--ever.
9. CARAVAN For Girls Who Plump in the Night (1973)This album reminds me of a scenario in which the 70s group AMERICA tried to play like THE WHO, or if HARRY NILSSON joined up with THE MOODY BLUES, or if THE OZARK MOUNTAIN DAREDEVILS decided to play CROSBY, STILLS, NASH & YOUNG. It has such a different feel from In the Land of Grey and Pink. It has a very countrified, bluesified, folked-up, 'Southern Rock' like feel to it. I can't help but notice the greater importance lyrics have in this version of Caravan. Clever lyrics. Nice vocal harmonies. I love Hasting and Sinclair's playing off of the beautiful orchestration in "L'auberge..." (a longer "Macarthur's Park"). I also love the addition/presence of Geoff Richardson's viola as well as the orchestra.
It's a very nice album; very enjoyable listening experience. Solid drumming and well recorded. Definitely a poppier side of prog. Solid 4 stars--excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection.
Personal faves: "L'auberge du sanglier" (10:06) (10/10), "Memory Lain, Hugh/Headloss" (9:24) (9/10), "Be Alright/Chance of a lifetime" (6:39) (9/10), and "Derek's Long Thing" (11:00) (9/10).
10. GONG Radio Gnome Invisible Part 2: Angel's Egg (1973)
The second Gong album with guitarist Steve Hillage, but, more importantly, the first album with virtuoso drummer/percussionist, Pierre Moerlin. When one hears the work of Pierre Moerlin one cannot help but notice. His timing and fluidity is on a par with only a handful of other percussionists I've ever heard. It's something extraordinary. It makes all other drummer/percussionists seem/feel like horses, clods, and pugilists. What Pierre adds is special, effortless and otherworldly--as if we are privileged to call ourselves witnesses to his work.
11. COS Viva Boma (1976) A new discovery that brings me great joy! I really like the more laid back Canterbury approach--of which I am happy to find on many albums from the subgenre--and I love the excellent contributions and mix of all instruments on this album--with the added bonus of some really fun, beautiful and excellent female vocals. I have to admit that the album's opener, "Perhaps the Next Record (7/10)--with its Kraftwerk-like computer percussion, synths and Jaco Pastorius-like bass toying around threw me off a bit. Not quite what I was expecting. But the next one, the album's title track (8/10), has some great hand percussion and world rhythms--not unlike the music of one of my all-time favorite albums: JONI MITCHELL's Don Juan's Reckless Daughter! (minus the Björk-like vocal.) Though the two versions of "Nog Verder" (9/10) are both awesome, there really is not a weak tune on this album! "Boehme" (8/10) starts with a great Zeuhl feel to it before getting a little RTF-like; the stripped down "Flamboya" (9/10) reminds me of the most accessible of a Bruford/Stewart/ Annette Peacock collaboration (very cool keyboard & pitch experimentation!); "Lulu" (10/10) has the beautiful and awesome Santana guitar & supporting keyboard feel; "L'idiot Léon" (10/10) is totally awesome prog rock start to finish-- probably my favorite on the album. The original album's closer, "Ixelles" (7/10) is a little disjointed--an odd puzzle to try to piece together, but still interesting. (Odd mixing of the cello!) If this were the end of the album that I purchased, it would be enough--unquestionably a masterpiece of prog--Canterbury or no. But there are four bonus songs on my version--ones that couldn't fit into the old 40-minute time constraint of a 13-inch vinyl record (unless you were Todd Rundgren). "Mon Rebis" (6/10) starts out prettily enough with Mike Oldfield-like acoustic guitar playing, but then takes on an unpolished, unfinished feel to it once the other instruments are added into the mix. Same for "Reine de la vallée" (6/10). The demo version of "Nog Verder" is great--maybe even better than the 'polished' album version, and "Fanfan La Tulipe" (8/10) is actually quite charming and entertaining (in a Robert Plant/Led Zeppelin kind of way).
If you've never heard this one, pick it up, add it to your collection. Yes, Margaret, there was still some great music being put out after 1975!
Phil Miller on guitars, Pip Pyle on drums, Richard Sinclair on bass and vocals, and Dave Stewart on organ and piano with adjunct participation of Geoff Leigh on saxophones and flute, Jeremy Baines on pixiephone and the wonderful "Northettes" on background vocals (Barbara Gaskin, Amanda Parsons, and Ann Rosenthal). The album also featured on the fourth song the talents of guest vocalist Robert Wyatt before his paralyzing accident.
The album is lots of fun, with lots of short collective explorations, lots of experimentations with editing and mixing. Richard and Robert (on "Calyx") are at the peak of their vocal confidences--though I wish "The Northettes" got a little more air time (like their amazing work on "Lobster in Cleavage Probe"). We get a preview of some of the sounds made famous on Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein" and Todd Rundgren's "Adventures in Utopia" on "Rifferama."
The album has only two longer songs, "Son of 'There's No Place Like Homerton'" (10:10) and "Shaving is Boring" (8:47), which are actually two of my least favorite songs on the album. I love the nonsensical tongue-in-cheek 'classical' vocal harmonies of "Fol de Roi" (3:09)--especially the "call-in" reprise over the telephone line at the end!
There is great bass play throughout the album from Richard, as well as top notch guitar and drum play. The wide variety of keyboard sounds Dave Stewart was experimenting with on this album don't get much traction from him on successive recordings but are fun and interesting here. Not quite as jazzy or proggy as others from this sub genre. Still, there's a lot packed into this album. Check it out!
Five star songs: 2. "Big Jobs (Poo Poo Extract)" (0:38); 4. "Calyx" (1:06); 5. "Aigrette" (1:39); 6. "Rifferama" (2:58); 11. "Big Jobs No. 2 (By Poo and The Wee Wees)" (2:16); 12. "Lobster in Cleavage Probe" (3:58), and; 13. "Gigantic Land-Crabs in Earth Takeover Bid" (3:22).
Overall, Hatfield's debut is a stellar example of the best of what the Canterbury Scene has to offer the Progressive Rock genre. A bit silly at times but otherwise this album stands up well over time. Not quite the type of album that draws me back as much as some others from the sub-genre, but pretty nearly a masterpiece. 4.5 stars.
13. THE SOFT MACHINE Just hearing Soft Machine for the first time (I had never even heard of "Canterbury Scene" until joining ProgArchives in 2009!) What an awesome song is "Slightly All the Time"! (10/10) I can see where their influences come from (Miles) and who was influenced by them (Magma, Brian Auger, Caravan, Traffic, Gong, Hatfield and the North, Brainbox, Focus, Supertramp, and so many others). And so much of "Moon in June" (8/10) sounds/feels like early RPI music--as well as Focus and early Supertramp. So melodic, emotional, and theatric--as well as bluesy. While I became used to "Facelift" (7/10) after a few listenings, it doesn't have quite the same warmth and exploratory freshness as the others. "Out-Bloody-Rageous" (9/10) has some awesome experimental keyboard work serving as intro, outro, and foundation to the up-tempo jam in the mid-section. My favorite section is that which starts with the return to solo keyboards at the very middle of the song (synth & then piano). The song then builds on a more-traditional jazz motif--MILES DAVIS/JOHN COLTRANE- like--and then builds into an all-out jam--with kind of a "Love Supreme" feel to it. Beautiful! The outro sounds so much like future CAMEL! I love all the tempo and melody changes in this music. Great performances on each of the instruments.
I can see why so many consider this an essential album--but I fear that the reason for this is as much for its historic influence as it is the legacy of its four songs. I'm inclined to give this only 4 stars as it is definitely, IMHO, an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection and perhaps not essential for its songs, but I do believe it is 'essential' for true music lovers for the understanding and appreciation of the history of this, our beloved 'progressive rock.'
14. ZYMA Thoughts (1978)
Outstanding recording engineering and sound clarity to support great performances from all musicians, great vocals from both Greg Lake-like male vocalist Meinrad HIRT and Amanda Parsons-like female vocalist (and violin, flute and percussion contributor), Dorle FERBER. The keyboard work from Günter HORNUNG is top notch throughout and the bass work from Bodo BRANDL also stands out.
1. "Thoughts" (8:19) flows along beautifully, superlatively, for the first six minutes. And then the odd vocals join in. (9/10)
2. "Businessman" (12:33) (9/10)
3. "One Way Street" (8:04) oddly weird and, unfortunately, dated, but stands up due to great clarity and cohesiveness among the band members--unified focus. (8/10)
4. "We Got Time" (3:43) sounds like a little flower child pop songs like something from Britain's Sonja Kirsten (CURVED AIR), Lulu or Dusty Springfield. Catchy and upbeat if not wholly prog. (8/10)
5. "Wasting Time" (9:39) one for the ages! I LOVE FLANGED DRUMS! Awesome bass line, drumming and piano work throughout this classic. One of the best, most definitive Canterbury songs ever. (10/10)
15. SUPERSISTER Pudding en Gisteren (1972) The original lineup of this band put together three albums in rapid fire succession: 1971-72 before losing a few members (one of which was leader, keyboard player, and producer Robert Jan Stips--who would go on to join Golden Earring through their monster hit album, Moontan). This is the third of that trilogy.
The band has grown. Their experimental nature has been nurtured further but they are also putting here on display a greater maturity in their lyrical content and a greater command and confidence in the polishing department and recording/engineering departments.
As I listen to Pudding en Gisteren I find myself wishing that their first two albums were rehearsed, recorded and produced as well as this one. The opening song, "Radio" (4:00) is full of silliness--not the least of which is the end segment with "radio narrator" speaking over the band's appropriate "soundtrack" music. It's an okay song, despite its entertainment value. (7/10)
The second song, "Supersisteretsisrepus" (0:16) is one of those silly throw-away songs so common to early (pre-paralysis) Robert Wyatt project albums--this one a keyboard solo.
Song 3, "Psychopath" (3:58) is a tongue-in-cheek cabaret-like song in the Monty Python Life of Brian vein. Humorous, intelligent lyrics sung/spoken over piano and then piano and harpsichord duet in the middle section and then joined by Mellotron strings for the final third. (8/10)
4. "Judy Goes on Holiday" (12:38) is the epic that completes Side 1 of the album. It opens with a very catchy synthesizer/flute riff, which is then periodically repeated throughout the song in order to bring the band back to center before venturing off into some of the more EGG-heavy or CAMEL-light passages that make up the body of the song.
I find the mix of this song interesting for the consistent "compartmentalization" of each of the individual performers--keys in left, bass center up front, drums center in back, flute center-right and guitars full right.
An odd slow, spacious section begins in the fifth minute that allows the band some percussive playfulness. Then a slow keyboard and flute duet begins mid-song that is absolutely gorgeous--very much in a CAMEL/Latimer-Bardens or Hackett-Hackett way. Like Satie "Gymnopedia," I could listen to this forever.
The song eventually returns to the opening riff and pacing. (9/10)
5. Side 2 is filled with one song, one epic--one of the finest epics Canterbury music has to offer, the title song "...(Music for Ballet)" (21:00). From the opening riff and its variations which fill the first two minutes, to the organ and flute interplay and rolling bass lines in the more varied tempos of the second movement, to the smooth, cool grooves and key sounds in the CAMEL-esque third movement, this is an absolute masterpiece of instrumental music. I do love the way Supersister can cough up so many catchy and memorable and fun melodic riffs. Each section/movement of this piece is grounded in at least one of them. There must be about 20 of them through the course of this song!
I can often hear sections appropriate for ballet, as the title indicates, but not the majority--though there are a few themes that feel like variations on already-existing classic ballet themes. I mean, I know dancers can dance to just about anything, but as for your typical musical score intended specifically for ballet, I don't see this one as one of those. I'd like to see it staged as such. (10/10)
Definitely a weird and diverse album with questionable lows but with equally solid, mature, and memorable highs--namely the two epics; they are not to be missed. Accordingly, I think this album must claim its place among the pantheon of prog masterpieces.
16. EGG The Civil Surface (1974) Mont CAMPBELL, Dave STEWART, and Clive BROOKS' final EGG album was released over a year after the the band had broken up and the trio had gone separate ways. It was the incessant insistence of a small but vocal fan base that got the band to finally record some of the as-yet unrecorded material--which had been fan favorites from their live performances--that Dave gathered Clive and Mont back into the studio with a bunch of his current band members from Hatfield and the North, as well as a few other friends with whom he had recently worked--like Steve Hillage (on "Wring Out the Ground") from their KHAN collaboration.
1. "Germ Patrol" (8:32) opens with a cute Alice and Wonderland feel to it--even as the calliope-like organ, walking bass line and beating of the toms play along in a kind of circus way. I think, from it's title, that it's supposed to sound millitaristic but it's too fun and quirky to do so. Definitely in the "tongue-in-cheek" realm of musical renderings. Even the 'conversation' of multiple keyboards in the sixth minute seem comical. The ensuing "buzz bass" solo is the song's most serious moment but it is bookended by Dave's circus-like organ and piano play. I like the horns around 6:50 and the French horn solo to fade. A very memorable if not awfully melodic song suite. (10/10)
2. "Wind Quartet 1" (2:20) is, truly, a wind quartet, complete with flute, clarinet, bassoon, and French horn (though I swear I hear an oboe, too). Nice piece with a nice, very British, more classical than jazz, arrangement. (9/10)
3. "Enneagram" (4:13) has Dave Stewart using an organ sound that is much familiar to us for its bombastic use by Keith Emerson around the same time in his early ELP concerts and recordings. A rather exciting uptempo song with wide dynamic variation. (9/10)
4. "Prelude" (4:18) has some of that classical church organ sound dating back to EGG's first album. Dave's cerebral experimentation is matched by Mont's bass play with no drum or percussion play until the 1:15 mark. The surprise entry of the odd choral section as presented by the future "Northettes" is a bit discordant and disruptive, but no weirder than the solo organ play to the song's end. I guess it all works in the scheme of the whole "prelude" thing. (8/10)
5. "Wring Out the Ground (Loosely Now)" (8:11) is a cool song that opens with some very odd lyrics being sung out by Mont and then a section of experimental sound/noises before the actual song foundations are allowed to be established--over which some nice keyboard soloing occurs before everything slows down again at the 5:50 mark for Mont's vocal to continue. This is a very strong section of the song--very solid and confident sounding. (9/10)
6. "Nearch" (3:12) is another neochamber piece with Mont's French horn, Clive's precision drum accompaniment, Lindsay Cooper's bassoon and Tom Hodgkinson's clarinet, with Dave Stewart playing bass! Interesting exercise/étude. (8/10)
7. "Wind Quartet 2" (4:48) finds us returning to the flute-dominated winds of the third song. Some nice medieval-like melodies and moods evoked here. (9/10)
My only problem with The Civil Surface is that it feels so cerebral--as if Mont and Dave were working out very complex mathematical formulae together through their musical collaboration. This just makes the music a little colder, a little less accessible to me, the listener. No wonder Clive wanted his drums to be loud and forward in the mix!
This concludes the band's last album. Egg were a short-lived Canterbury band that definitely displayed the more classical side of the Canterbury jazz experimentation--and this while the members were only in their late teens and early, early 20s! They just happened to produce, however, some of the most interesting and some of my favorite music from the Canterbury Scene.
17. PATRICK FORGAS Cocktail (1977) Patrick was a huge fan of the Canterbury Scene and especially the work of Robert WYATT. A drummer, he worked hard at his craft in order to try to emulate his heroes. Of course, Patrick couldn't help but make his music sound his own. Cocktail was his first release as an artist/bandleader. Though he played a lot of the instruments himself, he did bring in other professionals for the recording sessions. Side 1, made up of nine short pieces, used one cast of musicians while the recording of the single, side-long song of Side 2, "My Trip," used a different cast performing in a kind of live format. Cocktail is notable for it's funky rhythm tracks (drums, rhythm guitars, and very active bass), use of piano and multi-voice chords to set melody structures, use of violins, flutes, and saxophones for solos over the top, and its heavy use of flange--on just about everything--even drums!
1. Automne 69 (0:50) (9/10)
2. Monks (La danse des moines) (4:20) a funky repetitive groove with some Jean-Luc PONTY-like violin and Hubert LAWS-like flute flashing in and out over the top. (9/10)
3. Reflet d'ail (1:05) (10/10)
4. Coeur violon (1:10) (9/10)
5. Orgueil (1:35) more fast-paced funk with some odd incidental instruments interjecting their slow delivery of single notes to create the harmony. (9/10)
6. Vol d'Hirondelles (1:25) funky bass, electric guitar arpeggi and flanged drums with violin soloing over the top with choral voices singing wordlessly. (9/10)
7. Cocktail (3:35) is a bit more laid back and jazzy though still happy and upbeat. The horns and piano and rhythm guitar chords are carrying the melody over the prominent bass and drums until the flute and alto sax enter at the end of the second minute. The shift at that point is very poppy-peppy but the song settles back into the original groove to the end. (9/10)
8. Rituel (1:15) flanged rhythm guitar and steady drum beat over Percy JONES-like bass guitar playing until guitar solo at end. (9/10)
9. Rhume des foins (5:30) opens slowly with a single bass arpeggio, joined by guitar and then keyboard also playing arpeggi in the mix before drums and bass line, rhythm guitar, horn hits and flute play fill the sonic space. Thought the song has solid rhythmic structure, the very breathy, fast flute play gives it a kind of dreamy psychedelic trippiness. In the fourth minute Forgas' breathy vocals add to this drug trip feel. I wish I had words to properly express what the flute and vocal are doing--it's just so weird and wonderful! (9/10)
10. My Trip (18:30) is a wild ride with a lot of Robert WYATT-like voice/vocalizations throughout, solid drumming (flanged?) and keys, wild Percy JONES-like rapid fire bass riffing (grace à former ZAO-member Gérard Prévost), flangey rhythm guitars (both acoustic and electric), melodic piano play, and very Jean-Luc PONTY-like violin soloing throughout. The song has many, many tempo and stylistic shifts throughout, making it a marvel of musician concentration. Many other instruments make sudden and quick appearances, including electric piano, flute, saxophone, as well as layers of Forgas' singing voice. A prog epic masterpiece. (10/10)
The rhythm guitars and backbeat of the drums throughout this album remind me of the disco music that was to come and dominate French and European club scene for the next 40 years--kind of pre-CHIC/Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards. Yet, the overall reed and voice contributions and jazzy bass play keep this album's music firmly based in the Canterbury Scene that Forgas so loved and emulated.
18. EGG Egg (1970) I came into knowing the Mont CAMPBELL, Dave STEWART, Clive BROOKS project known as Egg with the followup to this one, The Polite Force, which is one of my favorite Canterbury albums. So, the self-titled debut had a bit of a hill to climb to please me. But it does! I love hearing some of the sounds and rhythms that will later come into make the amazing music of The Polite Force! "I Will Be Absorbed" (5:12) (9/10) is an incredible song: great melodies, great singing, pretty tight musicianship. Definitely a favorite!
The Bach "Fugue in D minor" (2:45) (9/10) and their own Stravinsky-influenced "Concerto" (20:41) (8/10) are both quite enjoyable--even the trippy, experimental parts of "Blane" are interesting. But the highlight for me is the piano/organ experimental piece, "They Laughed When I Sat Down at the Piano" (1:21) Perhaps a little autobiographical?
The two other vocal pieces, "While Growing My Hair" (4:03) (8/10) and "The Song of McGullicudie the Pusillanimous" (5:10) (8/10) sound a bit dated but, again, this is amazing stuff for 19 year olds!
This album is especially noteworthy in that within the next nine months you have the release of the much more 'mature' The Polite Force! Amazing! Also, I like Mont Campbell's voice! 3.5 stars rated up for astonishment factor. (Dave Stewart was Uriel's original guitarist?!!!)
19. ROBERT WYATT Rock Bottom (1974) I've owned and listened to this album regularly for a few years now but to this day fail to feel the sadness others associate with listening to it. I know the story, and I can imagine Robert's mood and mindset whilst creating this album (how cathartic and, hopefully, healing!) To hear the man's shift in instrumental orientation is quite extraordinary. And the emotion in his voice is quite raw and beautifully, expressively carefree. The contributing band members must have been quite focused in the making of this one. The contributions of Richard Sinclair, Mongeza Feza, Gary Windo and Mike Oldfield are especially notable, though Fred Frith's viola play in the second half of "Little Red Robin Hood Hit The Road" is exemplarily of the album's seriousness.
1. "Sea Song" (6:32) is plaintively beautiful if a bit monotonous. (9/10)
2. "Last Straw" (5:47) is most remarkable to me for Robert's vocalized 'trumpet' play-- something I quite enjoy. (9/10)
3. "Little Red Riding Hood Hit The Road" (7:41) is a gorgeous song with amazing piano chord play, bass lines, and multiple tracked trumpets weaving among and beyond the tick-tocking percussive play. The distorted and reverse-effected keys, guitars and vocals are used to amazing effect. The Hedgehog is just weird. (10/10)
4. "Alifib" (6:55) is probably the album's oddest, saddest foray into self-pity and opiate- induced nonsense. (8/10) Thank goodness it shifts into some more expressive free-form jazz with
5. "Alifie" (6:32), an excursion into some deeper, darker expressiveness primarily via the inspired saxophone play of Gary Windo. (8/10)
6. "Little Red Robin Hood Hit The Road" (6:09) is highlighted by some vintage Mike Oldfield guitar work (on multiple tracks) as well as some of Robert's cleverest wordplay. (9/10)
Definitely a better listen if on headphones and while giving it one's full attention. It has a timelessness to it that makes it rise above the 4 stars it might otherwise deserve. The Hedgehog is just weird.
"Dinsdale!" . . . "Dinsdale!"
21. NATIONAL HEALTH Of Queues and Cures (1978) A band of serious, mature musicians who desire to make challenging, sophisticated music. Though all coming from Canterbury roots, I consider this album more akin to good jazz fusion than spacey, psychedelic experimentalist fun and silliness that some of the Canterbury stuff was. (Though by this time, as we all know, the Canterbury flower-power era was all but over.)
1. The Bryden 2-step (for Amphibians)" (8:55) begins with some floating instruments, finally gelling into a tightly woven, fast-paced collaborative piece. The recording quality is far superior to most of the Canterbury sounds coming before it, which is a big plus. Also, the instrumental mix is quite balanced with no one really going off to become the central show- person. The use of brass and woodwinds are effective. (8/10)
2. "The Collapso" (6:19) is fun experiment with Carribbean 'callypso' instrumentation and styles--more of a parody or play on them, really. Not any really memorable melodies or soli (maybe the fuzzed bass solo in the last minute?), it is another fairly tight group collaboration. (8/10)
3. "Squarer for Maud" (11:50) begins like 1960s European murder-mystery soundtrack: bass, piano, symbol play, cello, sustained electric guitar chords. With the rhythm-cum-melody established, Phil Miller takes the first lead with his electric guitar. At 2:15 arrives a little bridge to re-direct. The tones get heavier, more aggressive, as the sound effects on the stringed instruments get rougher around the edges. 4:07 another shift, this time into a more avant-jazz horn-led rhythm. Pip Pyle's drumming here is very tight, the glue that holds it all together--and continues to do so, along with Dave Stewart's wizardry at maintaining "controlled chaos"--Break! "Numinousness!" Quelle surprise! Slowed down piano chord progression but more frantic drum playing! The guitarist, too, brings his playing under control. The shift at 8:30 plays out into a frenetic, MAGMA-like frenzy of reckless abandon-- speed like that of a runaway train! Everybody's on board, now, they can't be stopped! Stewart and Miller are shining! the background accompanying brass is awesome! Then, spurt and sputter, it's a UNIVERS ZERO ending! Incredible song! (10/10)
4. "Dreams Wide Awake" (8:50) begins on the heavier side, like a MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA piece. The first soloist, Phil MIller, is awesome and ear-catching while his accompanists groove gets a little stale (this is jazz!) A rapid succession of key changes at 2:20 shift the music into Dave's World--organ and keyboard sounds we have all become quite used to associating with his work. The soloing is okay, but it's interesting to listen to Phil Miller's (too far up in the mix) accompanying rhythm guitar work. At 4:55 the band comes back together to give Phil and a couple of different guitar sounds another chance. At this point I'm realizing that the song is really just a basic jazz song trying to provide solid set ups for the two principle soloists to do their thing. Unfortunately, neither of the soloists is quite as captivating or mind-blowing as, say, a Lester Brown or John Coltrane. Good song. (7/10)
5. "Binoculars" (11:46) begins with multiple layered organs and horns(?) going through a beautiful progression of chords. At 1:08 Pip Pyle establishes a drum backbeat over which the others organize their chord progression (Those horns were Phil Miller's guitar!) over which some male voice sings a typically unforgettable flow-of-consciousness lyric. Nice delicate keyboard, bass, cymbol and flute work in the fourth minute lull section--and nice transition (by Pip Pyle) at the 3:53 mark taking the same melodic "pretty' part onto the expressway. 4:50 begins Dave's brief solo, before everything comes to a slowly rolling stop. (Very prettily, I might add--like a full orchestra! Is this a variation on that opening chord progression?) Horns and cacaphony until 7:55's return to bare-bones organ, cymbols and the singer's tribute to John Wayne and Rip Torn.
Very well recorded, this song! Excellent mix, balance and blend. Love the bass, drum and keyboard interplay in the tenth minute. Woodwinds and, later, Phil's screeching distorted guitar round out this final section of this beautiful song. Listen to John Greaves' bass work! Sublime. (9/10)
6. "Phlakaton" at 0:09, is this really a 'song?'
7. "The Bryden 2-step (for Amphibians) Part 2" (5:34) opens with 'Jaws' rolling bass line, around which drums, organ, and fuzz guitar weave aggressively. By the end of the third minute the song has developed into a tight combo presenting with the same clarity and unity as they did on the opening number. Npt sure I'd end the album with the same spacey 'random' instrument play as they started, but, there you have it. They've come around full circle. (8/10)
As an example of the twilight evolution of the Canterbury bands, this is a positve note: maturity, (relative) sobriety, music to be taken serious, to be admired, not just to be amused by. If everything was quite at the level of the two masterpieces, "Squarer for Maud" and "Binoculars" we'd have an uncontested masterpiece. As it is, I appreciate Dave Stewart's reserve on this one, love the work of Pip Pyle, am duly impressed with that of bassist John Greaves, but, unfortunately, don't see that Phil Miller's work did anything to make him rise up with the cream. He's good but lacks that je ne sais quoi that makes one great.
4.5 stars, marked up for its quality at a time when quality was lacking (in production) or waning (in progressive rock).
22. DEDALUS Dedalus (1973) From Italy--and pre-dating acclaimed compatriots Picchio dal Pozzo by three years--comes this very well produced album of very cool, very hip jazz--much of which reflects the mood and style of Eumir Deodato's huge international hit album, Prelude (which was released just the year before), but which also contains a lot of the playfulness and melodic as well as stylistic sensibilities of ROBERT WYATT and SOFT MACHINE. The brilliantly selfless keyboard work of Fiorenzo Bonansone provides the foundation for all songs--over which all of the other instrumentalists (drums, electric bass, electric guitar, saxophone, African percussion, electric cello) are allowed to shine. Likewise, the Robert Wyatt-like drummer, Enrico Grosso, is often the rock upon which all songs and all musicians are allowed to depend; he's not too flashy but rock solid.
There is a fullness, a richness, to the sound, to the music as a whole on this album that is really appealing to me. I think it might be the way in which the percussion is so full and prominent (and important). Plus, the album is so well recorded and engineered (except for the drums--they're a little dull and in the back of the mix).
23. HATFIELD AND THE NORTH The Rotters' Club (1975)
1. "Share It" (3:02) is a poppy tune that opens with some very CARAVAN-like music--complete with Richard Sinclair's unique voice taking center stage from the opening note through to the end (aside from a synth solo in the song's C part). Nothing too special here. (8/10)
2. "Lounging There Trying" (3:10) is an instrumental that sounds quite like an instrumental practice session for the opening song. A little more enjoyable than the opener due to the prominence of the instruments--especially the bass and unusual syncopation on the drums. (8/10)
3. "(Big) John Wayne Socks Psychology on the Jaw (0:46) sounds like a brief intro or overture into something else.
4. "Chaos at the Greasy Spoon" (0:30) which is another intro into something else.
5. "The Yes No Interlude" (7:02) is an odd fast-paced instrumental piece.
6. "Fitter Stoke Has a Bath" (7:38) employs Richard Sinclair's now-famous underwater vocal technique while flutes, vocal scat and keyboards take turns weaving the melodic tapestry. In the fifth minute guitar is given its time--a rather Ernie Isley sound (if not the technique or effect). A pregnant time standstill occurs in the sixth minute as the instruments wind things down before a psycho-dream plays out to the end. (8/10)
7. "Didn't Matter Anyway" (3:03) seems to complete the previous song--flute and Richard singing to take us out of the nightmare sequence. (8/10)
8. "Underdub" (3:55) is a fast-paced jazz dittie that feels like some of the work being done in American R & B-influenced jazz fusion of the time. Great Fender Rhodes work, grooving upbeat rhythm section--not unlike some of JOE SAMPLE's great stuff of the time. One of my favorites from this album. (9/10)
9. "Mumps" (20:06) the highlight of the album is the (extremely) long playing "Mumps" suite--complete with the voice play of The Northettes and the inimitable Richard Sinclair.
a) "Your Majesty Is Like a Cream Donut (quiet)" (1:59) is a kind of keyboard chordal study with the The Northettes' vocalese at play far in the background.
b) "Lumps" (12:35) has the full band jumping into full gear. Some really nice clarity in the recording of this section--guitar, bass, keys, and drums are all sounding like they're right in front of you in the same room. In the middle section a three-part vocal weave from The Northettes gets featured with some bassoon! Then Richard sings for the first time at the 10:20 mark. The lyrics here found here sound rehearsed, not extemporaneously spewed forth as others of his do. The music remains interesting beneath and around Richard's vocal work--which is, to me, quite remarkable. By 12:42 he's done, drums kick into full and multiple tracks are devoted to guitar soli. Sax takes a turn with yet another, different (flange) effect on the soloing guitar.
c) "Prenut" (3:55) notes a complete shift into a softer sound, flute, electric piano and female vocals filling the delicate, tension-filled soundscape. Very nice.
d) "Your Majesty Is Like a Cream Donut (loud)" (1:37)
Overall, "Mumps" is truly a masterpiece of performance and composition--showing a maturity that is sometimes missing in the earlier Canterbury works. (9/10)
24. MOVING GELATINE PLATES The World of Genius Hans (1972) Definitely more on the jazzy side of what we call Canterbury music. Moving Gelatine Plates' second album--released only a year after their surprisingly mature debut--displayed a better quality of recording and engineering to equally mature and accomplished instrumental jazz arrangements. Other than the debut's "London Cab," I like this album hands down over the debut. There is more warmth in the songs and performances here--and a feeling that the band is more relaxed, as if they are just grooving and enjoying themselves and their unique sound.
The opening song, the fourteen-minute epic title song, 1. "The World of Genius Hans" (14:05), is a very jazzy piece with some quite technically challenging ensemble sequences all working coherently and cohesively together. (9/10)
2. "Funny Doll" (4:29) opens with some light, bouncy interplay between sax and lead guitar with snappy bass and drum play beneath. Towards the end of the first minute the band gels into a full sound just before a male voice sings to us in a kind of Benmont TENCH kind of raspy way. The following jazz section is quite lovely, with the band playing really tightly and with some awesome multi-insturmental melodies. In the fourth minute it starts to get a little more mathematical just before a very fun section with a circus-master like vocal saying "good-bye" to us. Awesome song! (10/10)
3. "Astromonster" (6:20) opens with a rolling bass playing beneath some guitar, bassoon, and percussive oriental-sounding staccato melody weave. Then things slow down for a bit, as if to reset, before opening the third minute with some more straightforward, driving ensemble jazz with organ and fuzz bass. The fourth minute then brings in another shift--almost a bolero kind of Latin section with a very Santana sound and feel to it (except for the drums). The Santana-like melody is carried forward by the guitar until, at the end of the fifth minute, a faster paced start-and-slow alternating pattern is established for about a minute. The final minute sees a very slowed down regurgitation of one of the song's main melodies--from the flute! Weird but awesome song. (9/10)
The next song, 4. "Moving Theme" (3:56), feels like an étude, like a song created to exercise the group's dexterity and entrainment timing. Not particularly melodic or enjoyable except in the way one can appreciate the band members' command of their instruments and their ability to play tightly. It could just be what its title says: a theme for moving! (7/10)
5. "Cauchemar" (3:53) is a fast-paced piece that kind of follows one format for its entire four minutes--even trying to establish a melody line that follows the pop ABACAB-type of flow. (8/10)
6. "We Were Loving Her" (3:19) is a slow-to-unveil-itself piece that has a kind of MATCHING MOLE/SOFT MACHINE experimental feel to it. The song has nice melodies expressed by the saxophone in the last minute. (8/10)
7. "Un jour..." (1:30) has quite a SATIE feel to it despite it's being a bass and saxophone duet.
Perhaps not as silly as their debut but not as serious either. While not my favorite type of Canterbury music--I go for the more melodic fun stuff of Caravan and Supersister--it is not my least. The musicians and compositional team of MGP are definitely amazingly good and awesomely confident. What feels like their step forward in World of Genius Hans is how relaxed and fun the band feels to be on this album. Too bad they never generated the interest or fan base to sustain their passion.
25. GILGAMESH Gilgamesh (1975) keyboard whiz Alan GOWEN's own project in the 70s, Gilgamesh is an obvious attempt to make a late stab at the Canterbury sound though none of the players are from any of the original bands from the Sixties. This album is produced, however, by none other than Dave Stewart--late of Hatfield and the North--whose sound this quite resembles.
1. "One End More / Phil's Little Dance - For Phil Miller's Trousers / Worlds Of Zin" (10:20) collects several sounds and styles being used in the then current jazz world including the clavinet, Eric Gale/John Tropea-like guitar play (think Deodato's "Also Sprach Zarathustra") and some more laid back drumming with tight, quiet fills and lots of quirky accessory (cymbals, etc.) play.
The finale, "Worlds Of Zin," is the suite's shining moment in which a bluesy Santana-like guitar solos over some absolutely gorgeous support from the rest of the band--keyboards, bass, and drums.
This one gets a (9/10) from me for its memorable melodic hooks and nice compositional organization--though the final section is a full 10/10.
2. "Lady and Friend" (3:44) opens with an acoustic guitar and Fender Rhodes playing off their gentle play to establish a melody. Then a rather dynamic section interrupts for a few seconds before we return to a very nice, gentle keyboard and bass interplay--which is later joined by gentle jazz electric guitar in a kind of Jan AKKERMAN style. The final 45 seconds shifts into a definite FOCUS sound and structure. Nice piece! (10/10)
3. "Notwithstanding" (4:45) is a bit more Herbie Hancock-like in its keyboard sounds and with some rather weak drumming and an Eric GALE-like guitar sound and style feeling as if it is detracting from the high caliber of skill required of the composition. (8/10)
4. "Arriving Twice" (1:36) revives the melodic theme from the album's opening song only in a slightly different arrangement and with a variation in the instruments used. (9/10)
5. "Island Of Rhodes / Paper Boat - For Doris / As If Your Eyes Were Open" (6:39) The opening section, "Island Of Rhodes," uses a repeated bass line as its rather simple foundation, but then the second section, "Paper Boat - For Doris" builds over this with the drums mixed quite a bit behind the dominant multiple keyboards and bass. The final section, "As If Your Eyes Were Open," allows the guitarist to so his chops (not bad!) over a bouncy clavinet and fast-paced drum play. Nice development and composition! (Especially considering its rather weak start.) (9/10)
6. "For Absent Friends" (1:11) is a pleasant acoustic guitar solo of the pseudo-classical vein.
7. "We Are All / Someone Else's Food / Jamo And Other Boating Disasters - From The Holiday Of The Same Name" (7:48) opens with the electric guitar establishing the melody and tempo in the first section, "We Are All." I really enjoy the jazz rhythm guitar play beneath the Fender Rhodes electric piano solo toward the end of the movement. The bass play is a little simplistic but it does a nice job of holding the song together in terms of pace. And I LOVE the drum and guitar play at the end of the fourth minute--just before the transition into the brief countrified second section, "Someone Else's Food."
The third section, "Jamo And Other Boating Disasters - From The Holiday Of The Same Name," is an odd piece in which the keyboard goes from clavinet to piano and then Aarp-like synth while in this last part, being accompanied by layers of vocals as done by future 'Northette' Amanda Parsons.
Overall, this is probably the piece in which the band shines most instrumentally and compositionally--when they are at their most original and most technically proficient as well as tightest as a band. This is a song well worth repeated listens. (9/10)
8. "Just C (0:45) is a brief piano solo to close out the album.
This is a very nice album full-on representative of the quirky jazz being produced in the style of the Canterbury masters at this point (1975) in the evolution of the music of the Scene. A 3.5 star album rated up for its consistency and its compositional maturity. Alan Gowan can play keyboards! Many!
26. THE MUFFINS Manna/Mirage (1978) America's only entry into the Canterbury style of music issued their debut in 1978, as the real Canterbury movement was fizzling out and/or filtering into other realms (jazz, new age, avant, eclectic, etc.) but a true gem in the true Canterbury style. Though I'm familiar with this album after repeated listenings to recognize each song and smile, I do not seem to be able to recall the Muffins sound when I am away from their music--when I am just trying to conjure up the "essence" of the band and their sound. All nice music, eminently listenable--and enjoyable--just, for some reason, not memorable. This is why this album isn't higher in my personal favorites.
Favorite songs: 4. "The Adventures of Captain Boomerang" (22:48) (9/10); 1. "Monkey with Golden Eyes" (4:02) (9/10), and; 3. "Amelia Earhart" (15:45) (8/10).
27. GONG Radio Gnome Invisible, Vol. 3: You (1974) The inclusion of Gong among the list Canterbury Scene members has never felt quite right to me. The music of Gong feels and sounds quite different from the jazzier stuff that came out of Soft Machine, Caravan, Egg, National Health, and Hatfield and the North. I guess Gong's inclusion allows for the Canterbury scope to be broader, thereby allowing the presence of a greater number of bands--which is a good thing. Interestingly, I find far fewer imitators of the Gong sound than I do of the other afore-named Canterbury Scene bands.
You is definitely a space/psychedelia album. This incarnation of Gong is the one with Daevid Allen on his glissando guitar, percussionists Mireille Bauer, Benoît Moerlen and Pierre Moerlen, Tim Blake on Moog & EMS synths and Mellotron, Steve Hillage on lead guitar, Mike Howlett on bass, Didier Malherbe on saxes, flute, vocals, and Gilli Smyth on wee voices and b vox. A lineup of veritable Canterbury all-stars, to be sure, but, to my ears, it only begins to sound somewhat Canterbury-ish with the middle of the fourth song, "Master Builder" (6:08) (8/10). I love the synth and effects uses throughout this album and while the vocals are fair, the hippie lyrics make me smile. Again, it is my opinion that the space/psychedelic element of You far eclipse the Canterbury-ness of the album.
5. "A Sprinkling of Clouds" (8:55) is where the album really starts to stand up and shine. Part TANGERINE DREAM, part Indian raga, part CSN&Y/JESSE COULTER YOUNG, until it morphs into a driving groove by the 4:30 mark and then into a more Canterbury sound with the electric guitar and sax soli soon thereafter. (9/10)
6. "Perfect Mystery" (2:27) is only notable for its percussion.
The next long song, 7. "The Isle of Everywhere" (10:22) is another pleasant space groove with GILLI SMYTH's ethereal vocals floating all around us, giving way to some very nice, subdued sax work around the 3:30 mark. Steve Hillage solos next--playing out to the song's fade out (the master fade makes it sound like the jam went on for quite some time longer). (9/10)
8. "You Never Blow Yr Trip Forever" (11:23) starts like the precursor to NEWCLEUS's Ewok voices in "Jam On It" before it shifts, late in the song, to a nice jazz piece. Odd vocals and lyrics return. The song is just a little too surreal, silly, and . . . well, pointless for my tastes. (6/10)
Overall, the guitars, drums, vocals, lyrics, and saxes fail to impress. The synths, percussion, and mix/engineering are the real stars of this album. I could never call this an essential masterpiece of music, but it is a very interesting experience that.
28. SUPERSISTER Iskander (1973) Gone are founding members Marco Vrolijk and Sacha van Geest, drummer and flute-sax player, respectively. Still, Robert Jan Stips and company manage to focus and take on a concept album, no less--a musical rendering and homage to the historical figure, Alexander the Great. I think they do it exceedingly well--and still in a very Canterburian way, despite their growth and the inputs of two new, jazz-oriented members. Though I miss the predominance of the flutes from the previous albums, I love the various saxes as played by Charlie Mariano. Ron van Eck's chunky bass feels and sounds more at home, more integrated within this new music--which is mixed much more thickly, with less separation and differentiation (pointing to Robert Jan's development on the engineering/production side of things). though there is definitely a stronger commitment to jazz tendencies the keyboard and chordal structures are still very much anchored in the Canterbury sound.
A solid four star album from this wonderful Dutch band--and their best engineered album to date.
29. CAMEL Mirage (1974) Though I purchased 1976's Moonmadness in the year of its release and have played Side 2 fondly throughout my life, the rest of the Camel discography has only become known to me in the past ten years. None of it drew me in the way "Air Born" and "Lunar Sea" did. But it is growing on me.
Mirage is the band's most universally acclaimed album due to the presence of several longer suites, the Tolkein suite, "Nimrodel/The Procession/The White Rider" and "Lady Fantasy." I have included Mirage here in the list of Canterbury greats because I hear and feel many of the sounds and stylings in Camel's music that I associate with the Canterbury Scene sounds. They aren't really considered a Canterbury band, but they could be if one were willing to expand the definition a bit.
1. "Freefall" (5:47) starts the album off showing a blues-rock/Canterbury side of Camel. Some nice, complicated tempo changes. (7/10)
2. "Supertwister" 3:20) has a bit more melody and mood to suck the listener in--almost too syrupy pretty--like a DEODATO or FOCUS song. (8/10)
3. "Nimrodel / The Procession / The White Rider" (9:12) exemplifies perfectly why I will never be able to grant a Camel album masterpiece status: the vocals and drums in the slow parts (and when does a fast part of a Camel song have vocals) are dull, ordinary, soporific. Much better drums once the tempo picks back up, however, Michael Giles and Ward are two drummers I've never really appreciated. Perhaps they make it sound so easy,so straightforward, that they sound boring. (8/10)
4. "Earthrise" (6:42) is another Canterbury jam--one in which, IMO, the bass player stands out most. He's no Percy Jones, but he's good! Otherwise, nothing so very special here. (7/10)
5. "Lady Fantasy: Encounter / Smiles For You / Lady Fantasy" (12:46) let's me know that STARCASTLE wasn't only YES-inspired. Nice recording and mix of this DOORS-like song. As a mater of fact, if I didn't know better, I would have guessed that Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger were sitting in on this one--a symphonic update of "Light My Fire." I do like all of the song's shifts and changes--they do work rather well--or "seemlessly" as another reviewer here on PA wrote. The music, however, is lacking the stunning soli and/or melodic 'hooks' necessary to draw me in. I've tried listening to this song over and over and over and, save but for a few moments here and there, without emotional impact. The ending has got to be one of the poorest ever--especially after coming right off that hard driving rhythm section part. (7/10)
A band I like but don't love. Of the second tier of "classic" prog "greats," I would invariably choose FOCUS, RENAISSANCE, CARAVAN or even SUPERTRAMP before I'd choose Camel.
IMHO, Moonmadness is their best--and that not even close to being a masterpiece. This one is good, but certainly not essential. 3.5 stars.
30. MOVING GELATINE PLATES Moving Gelatine Plates (1971) Bursting onto the Canterbury Scene from across La Manche in 1971 came Moving Gelatine Plates with a much more dynamic, jazz foundation but with all the requisite quirky, silliness that The Softs had given the world in the previous two or three years. A quartet, the band was greatly enhanced by the multi-instrumental talents of organ and reed player Maurice HEMLINGER. The rhythm section is quite skilled and the compositional content is quite mature. Guitarist Gerard BERTRAM is quite creative and versatile.
In my opinion the only song deserving of a full five star rating is the rollicking, hillarious, rollercoaster-ride that is "London Cab" (7:34) (10/10)--though the flute-dominated instrumental "Memories" (3:21) is quite nice. The other songs are far more technically jazz tunes with some experimental production techniques and Canterbury structures. The down-tempo vocal section and final five minutes of "Last Song" is less jazzy and more experimental oddness, but not as fun or engaging as the like from EGG, The Softs, or NATIONAL HEALTH. Culturally, this album is quite an amazing accomplishment to come out of France after all of the political upheaval they had been through.
Based on the musicianship alone this album earns a four star rating.
31. NATIONAL HEALTH National Health (1977) This much acclaimed album from a virtual all-star band of Canterbury stars with the likes of Phil Miller, Pip Pyle, Dave Stewart, Alan Gowen, Jimmy Hastings, and Amanda Parsons helping out but this album has always left me feeling a bit on the outside, that is, I have problems engaging with (and, thus, enjoying) the music on this album.
1. "Tenemos Roads" (14:32) Chunky rambling bass, a drumming style that seems very imitative of Bill BRUFORD, and the by-now "old"-sounding buzz organ. It's not until 5:50 that anything new or fresh or even Canterburian begins to happen. Even Amanda Parsons' crystalline voice is not enough to bring warmth to this experiment in dissonance. How dissonant, how jazzy can Canterbury get and still be called Canterbury? This is one example. Even Dave Stewart's solo Mr. Rogers electric piano doodling in the tenth and eleventh minutes fails to allow the listener hear consonance. Finally at the end of the twelfth minute Amanda and flute are given permission to use pleasurable Occidental harmonic structures for their melodies. (7/10)
2. "Brujo" (10:13) opens with Amanda's distant high-register vocal scatting interplaying with the dissonant melodies being played by the bass and guitar in the foreground. In the second minute, slow, quiet piano arpeggi and random percussives provide a background for flute and then Amanda, to try to engage the listener with their slightly comforting melodies. At 4:11 the full band kicks into full gear with an uptempo section that puts Pip PYLE's drumming skills on display. Awesome! Then a kind of Chick COREA/RETURN TO FOREVER Latin-flavored section with mini-moog solo and awesome cymbal play and chunky bass lines in the WEATHER REPORT fashion helping out. Dave Stewart's nice buzz organ solo is then followed by a brief Phil Miller guitar solo before the band shifts gears again--signalled by the return of Amanda's high voice scatting. Piano and synth play again sound so much like Chick COREA. Decent song if derivative and imitative. (8/10)
3. "Borogroves (Excerpt from Part Two)" (4:12) does have a kind of Lewis Carroll feel to it in the way the keys, bass, and guitars toy around with their odd sounds in kind of childish experimentalist fashion. Everybody (even flutes) is just messing around seemingly in their own little world of make-believe. Then, around 2:30, the clavinet appears to signal integration and set up a foundation for Phil Miller to use his wah-pedal-effected guitar during an extended solo to the song's end. Not my cup of tea--no matter how deep into the rabbit hole I choose to venture. (7/10)
4. "Borogroves (Part One)" (6:29) Why these two Borogrove songs are ordered "part two" before the arrival of "part one" I can only surmise has everything to do with the Lewis Carroll theme alluded to in the title. Whether or not this was an alternative take on the same musical ideas I do not know. Could be. This version is much more structured in a rock band format with piano chords and steady, forward moving drum and bass lines. Though the music does have a kind of carnival Fun House feel to it, dissonance is still the rule, which continues to leave me feeling left out. (7/10)
5. "Elephants" (14:32) opens with more independent masturbatory instrument play from four musicians. For all I know, the four could very well have recorded these tracks in separate studios and then tried to splice them together later--that's how disparate they sound to me. And then at 4:11 they all come together for six brief seconds of cohesive harmony. Heaven!
The ensuing RETURN TO FOREVER jazz fusion section laying a steady base for the Moog to solo is at least familiar and coherent to me. Call me a musical retard, but I just don't get the joy and enjoyment of playing/performing the discordant dissonant parts. Is it all mental masturbation? Technical posturing?
The softer, dreamy section beginning at the end of the eleventh minute at least lets my nerves relax--which is a change of pace. But to have to go forty minutes into an album to final feel this? This is not the kind of album for me. (8/10)
I don't think of myself as a musical expert. Nor do I pretend to understand musical theory. But I do know when music fails to bring me into its fold--and this music does that for me. Oddly, there is a LOT of modern music from the jazz and classical realms that use dissonance and odd time signatures and structural formats that I love. This just happens to not be one of them.
32. MATCHING MOLE Little Red Record (1972)
Robert Wyatt's brief post-SOFT MACHINE project has never really drawn me in. I can appreciate some of the humour, political commentary, and certainly the musicianship, it just never feels like something that I want to come back to. I tire of his tongue-in-cheek approach to singing and of some of the obtuse challenges his music poses to the listener. It's as if he purposely wants to test his fans for their loyalty by, at times, producing grating or cerebral music.
1. "Starting in the Middle of the Day, We Can Drink Our Politics Away" (2:31) opens the album in a very positive, exciting fashion with 'operatic' vocals of M. Wyatt performing some awesome vocalese over Dave McRAE's pretty piano play backed by Brian ENO's synthesizers. (10/10)
2. "Marchides" (8:25) is a funky, fuzzy, fuguy feeling song of avant jazz leanings. The musicianship is excellent; the bass annoys. (7/10)
3. "Nan True's Hole" (3:36) psycho-sexual scene played out in the foreground that not even the presence of the guitar of Robert Fripp (7/10)
4. "Righteous Rhumba" (2:50) or the "King Crimson" sound can save these two songs. (8/10)
5. "Brandy as in Benj" (4:24)
6. "Gloria Gloom" (8:06) more psycho-sexuality issues on full display while the music loses its lustre and momentum a bit. (7/10)
7. "God Song" (2:59) acoustic guitar and electric bass play behind Robert's plaintive voice. The three sound a bit out of sync and uninspired. (6/10)
8. "Flora Fidgit" (3:26) sounds like a demo or outtake of some excercise that was decided to be used at the last minute to fill space on the final album. The keyboard work in the second minute is nice. I don't like the bass mimicking the lead melodies from guitar and keys. (6/10)
9. "Smoke Signal" (6:37) the album's excellent finale does it's best to save the otherwise mono-focused album. Nice percussion play in the first two minutes, great keyboard-led dreamscape in the middle three, and nice chord base for the finale. (9/10)
33. MATCHING MOLE Matching Mole (1972)
Robert Wyatt and company's first effort with Robert playing a part in over half of the compositions. The music is often complex and avant/experimental (the last three songs, "Dedicated to Hugh, But You Weren't Listening," "Beer as in Braindeer" and "Immediate Curtain") but then it can also be very simple and melodic (the first half of the album, "O Caroline," "Instant Pussy," "Signed Curtain"). The middle two songs are so obviously David Sinclair's, they sound like they could be off of a CARAVAN album.
34. GONG Camembert Electrique (1971)
Let the silliness begin. The rhythms are still a bit too rock'n'roll-like with Pip Pyle on batterie, but one great song, "Fohat Digs Holes in Space" (6:23) (10/10), reveals some of Gong's great space/trance stuff to come.