Sunday, January 22, 2017

Abiogenesi - Le Notti di Salem. 2000 Italy

Abiogenesi - Le Notti di Salem. 2000 Black Widow

CD issue: 2000 Black Widow

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

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

Agora - Live in Montreux. 1976 Italy

Agora - Live in Montreux. 1976 Atlantic

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

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

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

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

Nova - Wings of Love. 1977 Italy-England

Nova - Wings of Love. 1977 Arista (UK)

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

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

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

Free System Projekt - Atmospheric Conditions. 2002 Netherlands

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

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

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

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

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

Holocausto - Aleluya. 1974 Puerto Rico

Holocausto - Aleluya. 1974 Roka

No reissues!

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

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

Melisma - Like Trolls. 1978 USA

Melisma - Like Trolls. 1978 private

No reissues!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Golden Dragon - s/t. 1981 USA

Golden Dragon - s/t. 1981 private

No reissues!

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

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

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

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

Kjol - Take It On. 1979 Switzerland

Kjol - Take It On. 1979 Tonstudio Zuckerfabrik

No reissues!

Kjol were a Swiss based jazz rock quartet, lead by renowned saxophonist Brigeen Doran, and her brother Dave on drums. That would be her image on the front cover. Kjol is a Swedish word for "skirt", so it appears this is how the band wanted to announce their feminine leanings. Whether it was an inside joke, or a sincere defiant statement, it's safe to say the moniker hasn't aged well in these politically correct times.

Musically, Kjol are playing a mid 70s styled jazz rock, as one might hear on the German MPS label during this era. Other than the somewhat trite funky opener, the remainder is long form, sax driven, heavy fusion with some fine guitar and keyboard leads. A good one for the genre, and a new addition for my Kraut Fusion list!

I do not own a copy of this, just a CD-R for now.

Ides of March - Common Bond. 1971 USA

Ides of March - Common Bond. 1971 Warner Bros.

CD reissues: 2003 Rhino Handmade/Warner Bros (as Friendly Strangers: The Warner Bros. Recordings w/ Vehicle); 2006 Collectors' Choice

The Ides of March's second album could be described as a mix of Crosby, Stills, and Nash with Blood, Sweat, and Tears. Definitely a prototypical North American pop rock sound of its era. There are two great tracks here though, that make it well worthwhile. First is 'Superman', which was the mandatory followup to their massive hit 'Vehicle'. It may be similar, but it rocks out in the same fashion, and the horn charts are killer here. Second is the lengthy progressive jam of 'Tie-Dye Princess'. It's too bad we have such few examples of The Ides of March performing long form music, because in each case, they are a very entertaining unit with expert musicianship. Personally I find the lyrics charmingly antiquated. 'Ogre' is also a good track, with its raunchy soulful hard rock sound. As for the rest, it's mostly folk based pop rock. Contrary to the "Rolling Stone standard" type review, I find the horns are about the only saving grace to what are otherwise ordinary compositions.

The Friendly Strangers CD is an excellent compilation that includes all of Ides Of March's first two LPs Vehicle and Common Bond, as well as a handful of singles and B Sides. Package is filled out with full liner notes, photos, and great sound. Encompasses one full CD plus a 3" mini CD. The CD could only be purchased from Warner Bros direct marketing, which I dutifully accomplished not long after its release in 2003. Today its quite rare and not even in Discogs as I post this. I was going to add it myself, but there's no easy way to enter large compilations like this, and I didn't want to take 30+ minutes to do it. Original LPs, on the other hand, are easy to find.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

VIII Strada - Babylon. 2015 Italy

VIII Strada - Babylon. 2015 Fading (CD)

VIII Strada are an Italian prog band trapped in a power metal body. Or are they a power metal band trapped in an Italian prog body? Hmmm. Either way, I've more or less described the album for you. And no, it's not prog metal either. The Italian vocals and sophisticated structures point to their progressive rock heritage. The melodic songwriting with choruses and (slightly) metal tone give them the power metal edge. I'd say they are 65% prog / 35% power metal. Not that genres only matter, but it does give some guidance at least. Oh - yes - the music is quite good actually. There's a mid 70s vibe to their melodies that I find highly appealing. Personally I would wish for more of a "retro prog" feel, but who asked? Nobody. For those who like "fusion" restaurants, and I don't mean jazz.

Mountain Ash - Moments. 1980 Germany

Mountain Ash - Moments. 1980 No Fun

No reissues!

Mountain Ash were an obscure German band who play a very simplistic form of late 70s rock, but with long stretches of instrumental work, thus giving off a whiff of progressive rock, or even fusion, styles. There's an enormous amount of what sounds like an ARP Solina String Ensemble on display as well, which dates the heck out of this one. It's a very pleasant and inoffensive album, with a reasonable amount of quality melodic composition interspersed throughout. But, of course, every time they open their mouth, trouble is around the corner. Apparently the band have ties to Jane - at the very least it was recorded in their studio. And honestly, it's not much different than what they were doing during this era. So you now have - what they call in the corporate world - Guidance.

This would have been a CDRWL blog feature, and would have received a Priority None. Not a bad album at all. I only have a CD-R.

Manfred Wieczorke - Transfer. 1987 Germany

Manfred Wieczorke - Transfer. 1987 In-Akustik (CD)

When I saw this rather obscure CD come across the wire, I was most intrigued. I hadn't realized Manfred Wieczorke had any solo albums, and given that his work with Eloy and Jane in the 70s was exemplary, I was most curious what this would be like, so I snapped it up. Looking at the cover, it was apparent this would be of the electronic music variety. And indeed that is exactly what it is. Of course, anything from 1987 comes with the hazard of thin sounding digital tones. And while there is certainly some of that here, in particular the opener and closer, I think many will be surprised at the quality put forth. There's some nice sequencer work, most notably on 'Qued', but I wouldn't necessarily categorize the album as from the Berlin School. The compositions are well thought out, with plenty of variety, and an eye on melody. Not a classic of the genre by a long shot, but certainly no better or worse than what Klaus Schulze was releasing in the mid to late 80s.

Fragile - Phantom. 2006 Japan

Fragile - Phantom. 2006 VEGA Music (CD)

Fragile are a long running fusion band from Japan, and Phantom is my first encounter with the group, a mere decade after its initial release. Fragile are from the modern school of Japanese fusion, where the technical ability is astounding, and the compositions are strictly a foundation to support that. Rather than the other way around, which would be my preference. It's a tough genre to break new ground, as many before them have tread similar paths with varying results. So it was with much surprise that the opening two tracks caught my attention. Indeed this is inventive fusion, and as expected, the playing is exemplary, in particular the guitarist. However, as the disc continues on, ear fatigue begins to set in. And despite the band's best attempts at lightening the mood with intervals, one begins to look for a bit more depth in the songwriting department. Experience tells me that albums like Phantom are best heard in snippets to best appreciate. It seems an EP length would serve them better. In any case, this one rises near the top for an album such as this. If bands like Prism, Side Steps, and Exhivision get your heart started, then it would appear Fragile should go straight to your buy/want list. At least based on the strength of Phantom.

This is a very obscure CD that I added to Discogs myself a few months back. I remain the sole owner and contributor.

Opa - Goldenwings. 1976 Uruguay

Opa - Goldenwings. 1976 Milestone

CD reissues: 1996 BMG (Argentina); 2011 BGP (UK)

If you read enough of my reviews (painful as it may be), you'll note I often refer to certain fusion albums as "light, breezy, and tropical". One would have to go to great lengths to find a more apt group that fits this description than Uruguay's Opa. These terms should not be viewed upon as a pejorative however. When done right, as is the case on Goldenwings, the results can be sublime. The melodies are superb here, and I find the songwriting to be considerably above average. This is a borderline 4 star release, and the only thing holding it back is the stubborn reliance on certain late 70s cliches and tonalities. Overall, Goldenwings makes a fine soundtrack to your next Love Boat excursion, whether on a tropical island or watching it on TV...

In addition to a native press, originals can be found in the US and Japan. I added the BMG disc to Discogs a few months back and I remain the sole owner and contributor. However, 3 have since added it to their want list.

Trampled Underfoot - s/t. 1998 USA

Trampled Underfoot - s/t. 1998 Pony Canyon (Japan CD)

CD reissue: 2003 Steelheart (Italy)

Trampled Underfoot were an obscure metal band from Charlotte, North Carolina, who were lead by guitar instructor Kyle Harrison. Contrary to what one would think knowing this tidbit, the album is actually a really fine melodic heavy metal album, with some added complexity, along the lines of mid 80s Iron Maiden or Savatage. There's a few "lookee what I can do" moments of shred, but they are placed tastefully, so fortunately this isn't a guitar hero album, which are often boring to anyone but students of the instrument. The songs are well written, the tones are heavy (in an 80s way), and the vocals are fantastic*. An interesting moniker the band chose, but unfortunately there are no links musically to Led Zeppelin's hard rock staple.

One reason the album is so obscure, is the only release it obtained initially was via Pony Canyon in Japan (first scan), which would have guaranteed it to be an expensive import for most fans at the time (and still not in Discogs as I write this). And 1998 was not a good year commercially for this kind of metal anyway. 5 years later, the Italian label Steelheart picked it up for wider distribution. But with the band in mothballs and metal not quite in "nostalgia mode" yet, the audience was predictably light, and into the mists of obscurity Trampled Underfoot went to be discovered at a later date. And it will be, mark my words. I have to say the Japanese cover is more alluring.

* - An interesting footnote here. Based on internet comments from singer Shawn Perlata,he states that he only sang on three of the songs. He goes on to note that the singer on the other vocal tracks was a gentleman named Rod Hendrix. Hendrix himself is not listed anywhere in the credits of the Steelheart CD, and Perlata is the only person photoed and credited with vocals. Bizarre.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Naniwaya Tatsumaru & Warner Beatniks - Keiantaiheiki (Yoshitatsu Kyounobori) Rock Roukyoku Rock. 1971 Japan

Naniwaya Tatsumaru & Warner Beatniks - Keiantaiheiki (Yoshitatsu Kyounobori) Rock Roukyoku Rock. 1971 Reprise

No reissues!

Such a catchy title, eh?

In any case, Tatsumaru is performing what is known as Roukyoku, which is a narrative type of singing accompanied by a 3 stringed lute known as the shamisen, providing an aural incense-burn like setting. For those cultural neanderthals like myself, the only way I can describe his performance here is to imagine an anguished JA Seazer (well, that's self-defining isn't it?)... on his 6th bourbon.

But of course, there's more than traditional Japanese music here. It's the early 70s, so the "Warner Beatniks" is yet another name for guitarist Kimio Mizutani (who must have played on one album a day back then) and his motley crew of studio performers. The psychedelic rock bits are exciting, but all too short, and leaves the listener wanting more. Way more.

An interesting artifact for certain, and definitely one to find if doing the deep dig in Japanese archeological rock studies. Might require a few extra shovels to actually find however... If looking for an original, there's currently one coipy available on Discogs for the low low price of $2,200. I think I'll await a reissue... This would have scored a Priority 0/None,though once again, it's a very interesting listen.

This was another late era CDRWL submission from the AC. His notes below:

"Another of the many "New Rock" era attempts at a cross-cultural fusion between rock and traditional Japanese music, in this case roukyoku, a type of narrative singing usually accompanied by the shamisen. Tatsumaru barks, growls and whines out the running monologue, alternating between sly humor and extreme agitation as the text calls for, accompanied by his tsugaru-shamisen strumming/thrashing and occasional heavy prog/psych outbursts, or more cinematic sounding backdrops of strings, flute, etc. The rock sections come courtesy of the Warner Beatniks, which was just another name for the "usual suspects" studio crew of Yusuke Hoguchi, Kimio Mizutani, etc. It's a fairly interesting experiment, but does have some serious drawbacks. The main problem being that the rock bits tend to kind of jump in and out rather quickly, making for a somewhat disjointed sound, and leaving the listener to sit through lengthy sections of traditional unaccompanied roukyoku narration and shamisen plucking. Which is fine if you're a dedicated fan of the style, but will probably try the patience of the more general prog/psych listener. It's an expensive item these days (more so once it gets into the hands of hyperbolic western record dealers than in its native Japan), so I feel a "buyer beware" is in order here, despite my own general amusement with it. Great sinister cover art, duplicated in even more evil looking red on the back. As a side note, the sleeve states this is the second release in the "Bikkuri Series" ("surprising series"). If memory serves correctly, the first was the thoroughly ridiculous (but entertaining) "Rock Christmas Rock", which as you might have guessed is an album of rocked-out Christmas songs performed by the Warner Beatniks and featuring one of the most hideously eye-scarring record covers in human history."

Tatsuya Takahashi & Tokyo Union Orchestra - The Rock Seasons. 1972 Japan

Tatsuya Takahashi & Tokyo Union Orchestra - The Rock Seasons. 1972 Toshiba-Express

No reissues!

Lead by saxophonist Tatsuya Takahashi, The Rock Seasons is basically instrumental electric big band music. There's a minor fuzz edge here, but in principle, this is rock music for the coat and tie set. The themes are decidedly mid 60s, and one could hear this as being a soundtrack to a frivolous film of that era. Being a former stage band performer myself, music like this can be challenging to play, and the horn charts are often complicated. It's all a bit of good fun though, and truth be told, there isn't a whole a lot of this kind of music on the open market.

Like many Japanese rock albums from the early 70s, The Rock Seasons is about as common as finding government employees working on official holidays.

This was one of the last CDRWL submissions from the AC (early 2015), who has gone missing since. We definitely miss his contributions - not just to that blog, but to my overall knowledge. Come back man!

His comments are: "Late saxophonist and band leader Takahashi appeared on about a million different recordings in his heyday, but seems to be most known outside of Japan for some of his mid 70s work on the Three Blind Mice label. From my perspective however, his most interesting work might be this obscure set recorded with his Tokyo Union big band during the height of Japan's "New Rock" era of major label experimentation. There's some kind of seasonal/elemental theme going on here, but it's not too relevant honestly, as what we're presented with is a fun sequence of instrumental electric big band/jazz rock pieces that are propelled along by melodic sax/flute, tight horn charts, groovy bass lines and even the occasional fuzz/wah guitar lick. Lacks the depth and atmosphere of a contemporaneous work like Toshiyuki Miyama's "Tsuchi no Ne", but is quite an entertaining listen nonetheless."

This would have received a Priority 0, though close to a 3.

WintherStormer - Woodwork. 2007 Norway

WintherStormer - Woodwork. 2007 Bajkal (CD)

Norway's WintherStormer is a name that represents the combination of the two main protagonists' Terje Winther and Eric Stormer, both of whom play a large array of analog and digital keyboards. The duo perform an old fashioned Berlin School styled music with plenty of cosmic alien textures and complex darkened sequencer lines. They're augmented on this album by an additional electric guitarist and drummer, which adds some needed fire and affords the group many more composition options to pursue. Overall, definitely on par with Radio Massacre International during this era and/or the genre's founding brain trust of Tangerine Dream-Klaus Schulze's 1970s rock based efforts. 76 minutes of progressive electronic goodness is packed within.

Pierre Moerlen's Gong - Leave it Open. 1981 USA

Pierre Moerlen's Gong - Leave it Open. 1981 Arista (Germany)

CD reissues: 2006 BMG/Arista (Japan mini-LP); 2011 Esoteric (UK)

Late in the game fusion album from one of the big names of the genre. Given the date, and other intangibles, I just presumed this would be yet another American styled fuzak album that dominated the record bins of the day. So I never bothered to hear it until now, when the Japanese mini-LP just showed up (2016). This is anything but fuzak. Leave it Open is a very fine jazz rock album, like the kind you might hear in France during this era, with some superb gritty guitar leads from Bon Lozaga. Moerlen's tuned percussion is integral to the music, and doesn't sound gimmicky, which it often can. And you can almost never go wrong when Charlie Mariano is present on saxophone. Best of all, the songwriting is stellar, and the 17 minute track is never boring, nor does it sound like a bunch of ideas pasted together. There's a moment at the 12 to 13 minute mark that sent my hair on end. The only track here that sounded like I first expected is 'It's About Time' with its predictable funky business. And even at that, it's fairly well done and better than average. But the rest is excellent throughout. A major surprise for me.

Wind Wraith - The Fortune Teller's Gaze. 2001 USA

Wind Wraith - The Fortune Teller's Gaze. 2001 private (CD)

CD reissue: 2004 Iron Glory (Germany)

Wind Wraith were an obscure metal band from Long Island, who like many, were lost in the shuffle when seemingly 100's of these albums were coming out every week during this era. The couple of reviews I did find were somewhat middling, though it would appear they were hoping for a power metal classic, which I believe were the fans the album was marketed to. To my ears, this sounds like old fashioned mid 80s post-NWOBHM metal, particularly Iron Maiden around the time of Piece of Mind or Powerslave. There is a certain epicness to their songwriting, even if the track lengths are relatively modest. I was quite impressed with the performance, production, and composition style here - and the concept of melody was never lost. A very nice surprise.

Iron Glory were also responsible for many of the Manilla Road albums/reissues. They folded roughly around 2005 or so.

Opus 1 - Opus. 1983 Germany

Opus 1 - Opus. 1983 Peak

CD reissue: 1990 Intercord (as the band Pur)

Opus (aka Pur) were an obscure German band from the early 80s who released this one quite intriguing album. Imagine Marillion doing their updated take-on-Genesis bit, but as a Neue Deutsche Welle band singing in German, rather than as a neo prog outfit. Yea, I know, but try.... There..... Now you get it... right? There's even mellotron on a few tracks. Jeez, these guys were hedging bets all over the place.

Discogs has the original as 1981, and RYM as 1983. The latter is the copyright date on the CD, and the music certainly sounds more like 1983 to me. I do not own any copy beyond a CD-R which was submitted for the CDRWL. I had no idea it was already reissued on CD, because of the name switch. Discogs put that together for me (RYM doesn't list it). I'm not sure it's worth pursuing to be honest, but an interesting album all the same. I'd keep the CD if it showed up. They should have stuck with the original artwork though.

Rittenhouse Square - s/t. 1972 USA

Rittenhouse Square - s/t. 1972 R 2

No reissues!

Rittenhouse Square were a band from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, that were named, best I can discern, from a popular rock nightclub in the area at that time. The name itself comes from Philadelphia, and is one of the first natural parks in the area, dating back to the 1600's.

With that forensic data out of the way, the band Rittenhouse Square were primarily a straight rock and roll band, done up early 70s style. The two notable tracks here are 'King Battle of the Bands', which is an excellent hard rock number... and 'The Plant Song' which features some superb extended jamming, though the song itself is fairly pedestrian.  A nice find for deep divers (like myself), but certainly not exceptional.

A former ebay auction informs us (which is where the photo above comes from): "1972 self-released six-song 12" EP on their own R-2 (or R-Squared) Records label, with a catalog number of CCSS 1214... The band featured Mitch Easter (later of Let's Active), Peter Holsapple (of The DB's), Chris Stamey (The DB's) and drummer Bobby Locke who also produced the record. The music featured is not at all like the later work of its most famous trio. It's kind of blues rock dueling guitar riffs and progressive rock stylings, mixed with some Beatles harmonies and hand claps in places, and crazy drumming throughout. I believe that Mitch Easter sings on the five songs that he wrote and Peter Holsapple sings on his. I hear that the band were in high school when this record was released. That's some serious skills for a bunch of kids if that's what they were. It's very much a music of its time... Of the sleeve so much has been written about the many versions that it's tricky to place its value with the different editions of the EP that were made. My front cover features the R-2 logo and the back cover has a reverse of this logo. As far as I can tell from research and from a comment by Easter my custom-made version of the sleeve with the R-2 logo is a silk screen that raises the print slightly from the card cover. The ink sits on top of the card rather than printed into it. This may be an extremely rare version of the cover, as Easter quotes elsewhere that only twenty were made, but was it of this version? I could not say. The blue duct tape that covers two sides of the sleeve was also of the bands' invention, with Peter Holsapple acknowledging elsewhere that they made the sleeves slightly larger and with the duct tape in order to ensure that it would not fit on to your record shelves. Some versions of the EP came with an insert featuring a photo of the band but I don't have that here."

This would have been labeled a Priority 0 on the old CDRWL, but I thought it worth mentioning, given its rarity. I only have a CD-R rip myself.

The Way We Live - A Candle For Judith. 1971 England

The Way We Live - A Candle For Judith. 1971 Dandelion

CD reissues: 1988 SPM (Germany); 1992 SPM/World Wide (as Tractor... Including The Way We Live. Germany); 1993 Repertoire (Germany); 2003 Ozit; 2009 Air Mail (Japan mini-LP)

LP reissue: 2008 Ozit

The Way We Live was Version 1.0 of Tractor. A solid mix of prog, hard rock, psych, and folk is what you'll find in these grooves. Some really good ragers in 'King Dick II' and 'Willow', though most of the album could be considered somewhat mellow. Not a particularly riveting album, but not egregious either. Worth your time to hear for certain. They were to improve as Tractor, but the roots are clearly planted on A Candle for Judith.

The CD I own is a real crap job (no info, single card), and I really need to upgrade here. My experience with Ozit and their Tractor reissues is nothing but fantastic, and I'm sure that is the best route to take here. Originals are scarce and very expensive.

Jan Akkerman - Profile. 1972 Netherlands

Jan Akkerman - Profile. 1972 Harvest

Select LP issues: 1972 Sire (USA); 1972 Harvest (UK); 1983 EMI

CD reissues: 1988 EMI (as A Talent's Profile w/ Talent for Sale); 1996 EMI (same as 1988 CD); 2000 BGO (UK); 2009 Wounded Bird (USA)

Profile is a somewhat bizarre solo album from Akkerman, coming at a time when his band Focus was at its commercial peak. One side is mostly sleepy acoustic numbers, though well done and a certain respect should be appropriately afforded. 'Blue Boy' and 'Stick' point to the earlier blues based Talent For Sale, but are livelier and much more kinetic. 'Maybe Just a Dream' sounds like any one of the Focus 'x' instrumentals. And then there's the side long 'Fresh Air'. Which sounds like Brainbox playing 'Anonymous II' from Focus 3, and is quite the exhilarating psychedelic tour de force. Akkerman's guitar is superb here, and perhaps is his finest moment on record.

As for the Talent for Sale album (1968), it's really just a straight up instrumental guitar blues rock work from Jan Akkerman, with a bit of orchestration. Gives absolutely no indication whatsoever what he would later accomplish with Brainbox, and in particular Focus. Other than he's an accomplished guitarist... of course. Wish there was more to add here, but there really isn't.

As noted above, Akkerman was a known quantity in 1972, so this album was originally pressed in many countries, and is still very easy to find. The EMI copy I own is something I first purchased at the time of release, and I only keep it for that reason. CDs are easy to find as well, though the 2-for-1 might be tougher to score in the States.