Monday, 22 April 2019

Albert Alan Owen's beautiful follow up to Keyboards: Following the Light from 1982

The album is slightly more electronic, minimalist, less tight, versus the masterpiece inaugural album which was so packed with interesting ideas.  From the database you can see there is really only 1 composition here, separated into 3 movements.  The violinist Katherine Sweeney reappears here but is less in prominence.  As sample track, I just put up the shortest one, the middle movement:

The thing is, had I been introduced to him just from this work alone I would have definitely been enchanted.  But nonetheless the first born son is the genius here.
And as we know from his discography, from now on-- so far as I know-- he sold his soul to the commercial library record devil.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Albert Alan Owen's Keyboards and Strings (1979) -- Masterpiece alert

This remarkable Welsh artist is probably mostly known for his 1980s library albums, of which there are quite a few, to me, mostly generic to the point of inexcusable.  I'll add a couple at the bottom.  On the other hand, as a young man (aged 29) full of promise and obviously full of university musical education, he created this light magical chamber music masterpiece, in 1979, mostly acoustic piano with melodies on violin very emotionally played by Katherine Sweeney, but with the addition of some electronic keyboards.  It's very similar to the advanced, classical modern compositions of Francis Monkman or the Krark composition by Tony Hymas.  It's almost as good as the earlier masterpiece by the latter I posted long ago called Aspects of Paragon.

Side a is called Mysteries and for once the blurb on the back is right on the money with the comment: "this work is a concept of startling originality."  Its first part:

Side b, called On Muted Strings, opening with a clear evocation of Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit, is in memory of his father who is described as "distinguished Latvian composer, Albert Jerums."  Note that on discogs his name is spelled slightly differently.

As usual it's important to read the blurb on the back with all the bio info.  Of note is the following passage:

Albert Alan Owen's music has now reached a point where, while still tonal, it is free from many of the formal limitations imposed by the tonic-dominant axis. He believes that tonality, thus freed, provides the means of writing music that is at once modern, with new forms, harmonic relationships and rhythmic structures, but is still expressive and spontaneous.  In this, and other respects, A A O's music presents an important and interesting approach to the problems facing the present day musical scene.  He is a new breed of composer whose language is not the exclusive product of a tired European tradition, but rather represents a successful amalgam of many cultural traditions.

It's such a good description of what we're looking for here on this blog.  Freed tonality is indeed one of the keys to progressive composition.  It would've been hard to believe back then that rather than pointing to a way forward for both European traditional classical and popular music, the glorious era of inventive and creative progressive music that began in the fifties in jazz and sixties in rock was soon to end completely with a disgusted, disgustingly dumb populace for whom 'prog' and 'fusion' would become dirty words, nostalgic for the pure simplicity of the most basic tonal music along the lines of I-IV-V, simpler even than Mozart, who always put key modulations into his pieces no matter how short.  And tell me how much more stupid has music become now 40 years later?

Those who listen carefully to the entirety of the first side, Mysteries, will notice how accurate that description is of changing tonalities. Notice there is a wikipedia page for him with surprisingly detailed information.

Thursday, 18 April 2019

VA's Jazz&Rock from Sweden 1979 and the unknown Stetson Cody Group

Masterpiece too? Sure, at least for the space of a few songs.  One that came completely out of left field for me, and then, curiously enough, proceeded to hit one right out of the ballpark, perhaps by ricocheting off the umpire's noggin.  And then landing in the lap of a baby in the topmost stands.  Don't know if that's even possible, but I could say the same about some of the music on this LP.  Here's the database information.

The Stetson Cody Group's Kraftrock is the singular home run I'm referring to:

Like, wow. Note the tritonal riff opener, played relentlessly, hammered into our entirely willing heads, overtaken by a wonderful solo which leads into a chorus passage or bridge, who knows which it is, with even more dissonance underlying some odd chord changes.  The brilliant guitarist then quotes the standard electric guitar pentatonic blues scale cliches in the most bizarre overlay creating both a point of reference in our memory but drawing it into a bizarre world of its own, as if some mutant birds flew in a normal sky.

The Stetson Cody Group was led by either Swedish guitarist Kjell Lovbom or Swedish guitarist Kee Marcello, or on the single, Rzell Dafbam, all of whom seem to have reverted back to pop after the 1970s ended.  What a tragedy!  There was not to be a full-length studio album.

Note that here on youtube someone posted that same track in a high-energy live performance.  I'm amazed at how much it foreshadows the most creative and best punk / proto-alternative that was to come a decade later, as in the earliest Nirvana, Bleach and Insecticide.  Sometimes these musicians are so so far ahead of their time.

The second track, Kulturnyckel, is also fantastic, less so:

Subsequently I rooted around a little deeper to see what else there is to hear from these Swedish masters, and found a sole single from 1979 which I bought and ripped too.  It's more traditional hard rock and commercial-oriented though it does have some interesting moments too.  The side a will give you some sense:

Monday, 15 April 2019

Xcranieum' s Moodgraft, USA 1991 -- cassette only

As I've said many times before, I don't think you can go wrong with a bizarre cover drawing like that one.  It reminds me a lot of the surrealists' random-drawing process of the early 20th century called cadavre exquis which is what it may be is.  Doesn't matter, the point here is that the musical contents, which is what drew us here like moths to a streetlight, or hungry dogs to a bone, or scavenging crows to a rotten carcass, are just as surprisingly interesting and inventive.

From the seller's online blurb:

Artist: Xcranieum (but see Other Info, below) • Album Title: Moodgraft • Format: Cassette • Label: Nub-Tones Music • Country and Year of Release: USA, 1991 • Inlay/Cassette Grade: M-/Plays Perfectly

Here’s an odd one but it’s pretty great, too.  The first side contains the Xcranieum Moodgraft album (about 24 minutes worth of music).  The information on the inlay card is for this group, and, as stated above, the music is prog rock with fusion touches.  This is supposed to be a one-sided cassette, so I was surprised to see that the label on the B-side is not blank but says Surfaces – This State…  I have no idea who the band Surfaces is (could be Xcranieum using another name for all I know) but I can tell you that they are mainly electronic with some prog rock touches—and they’re outstanding.  This side lasts maybe 27 or 28 minutes, I think.

It's not exactly the commonest album on the tawdry rateyourmusic, which to me is a good thing.  On the other hand, the work of including database information including artists' names has been done on discogs, to our happy surprise.  Thus, for what it's worth, the Xcranieum group seems to comprise Greg Gunthner (bass), Phil Williams (guitar), John Wells on keyboards plus drums, plus 2 others for percussion credits.  And artwork is by J.M. Levine.

The first and title track:

Notice that in typical prog rock fashion halfway through, the song completely changes direction and tonality, slowing down to a whisper and carrying on in a more discernable A minor compared to the quasi-atonal arpeggiated opening or first movement.

Altogether reminds me the most of the Radio Piece III group posted not long ago.

The second side must be the same band, toning it down and creating a Tangerine Dream-like side-long piece that drifts a bit but overall seems too soporific to compare to the stunning first side's work.

Thanks again to my wonderful friends who search out these rarities, like the most expensive and savory white truffles, dug deep from out of the ground.  Beautiful find.

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Hobo - Child of the Earth, 1978 Australia

We again interrupt the regularly scheduled programming to fill you in on this much-requested rarity.
Not sure either who we is, since there's only one of me here.

From a discogs reviewer/seller:

Hobo’s 'Child of the Earth' is one of the most elusive and rare progressive releases from Australia’s 1970s scene, seemingly unknown to even the most knowledgeable Australian music historians. After appearing in one of Han Pokora’s books, the album has been placed on many wish lists created by record collectors around the world. The record is so phenomenally obscure that it has evidently never even appeared on ebay in the last decade or so. This obscurity may be attributed to the fact that the album supposedly sunk without a trace upon release in 1978, due to the small Sydney-based ‘Down Under’ label folding immediately after release. The only notable musician in Hobo is bassist Henry Correy who had been in the Australian Jazz-Rock band, Sun with Renee Geyer, releasing a rare album on RCA Victor in 1973.

Now you can buy the vinyl for 440 euros from Hungary (not on ebay though) or you could just listen to the free digital rendering that was just made available, god bless the wonderful guy who ripped and shared it so we can assess the quality of the music.  Partially, because he craftily recorded in mono to keep the stereo worth those hundreds of euros to the Hungarian economy.  Doesn't matter, the verdict is in for most of us, it's an overhyped ordinary rock album that would never have been worth anything without the stupid rants of those obscurities collectors the basement dwellers as my wife calls them.

The first track is just straight high school band rock with nothing, nothing original to redeem it:

Similarly, the songs are relatively benign and by the numbers.  So much so that it's hard to find a better song, ironically, than that one.  Certainly the genre designation prog rock seems wildly inappropriate here.  I mean, this is even less proggy than the Renee Geyer albums, and nothing like Sun.  Similar to my complaint about the Italian Piero Enzo Marco Luigi etc. record there is a complete lack of dissonance, chord changes, original instrumentation or arrangement, etc., you get the picture.

Here's another completely benign song which shockingly never leaves the two chords of A major 7 and D major 7:

I mean, come on guys.  It isn't that hard to stick another chord in there.  Even by mistake, it isn't hard.

So go ahead and buy that record now, I dare you to... as my kids always say nowadays.
I would have some trepidation about buying from Hungary too, a country which seems to have the same nostalgia for Stalin that Italy has for Mussolini.  I've never bought anything from there, so I have no idea if Hungary is Germany-like or Russia-like in economical practices, but I'm guessing it must be the latter.  Of course, as the Italian commenter said, everyone in a country is not all the same.  (Unfortunately for those Hungarians, who I'm sure would prefer all non-white people not to exist in their country.)

Friday, 12 April 2019

East from Japan (1972)

Note the beautiful artwork from the promo LP (the third picture on down with Beatlesian foldouts).

I'm not sure if this one-off album is well known or not, but it's worth hearing again if you heard it before.

Early in the seventies you can accept a high influence of Beatles, as in the Ken Narita albums I posted earlier.  But there are definite progressive tendencies here and there, let's say, 30 percent of the time, we are not referring here to full-out dissonance and tempo changes obviously, rather, just very original and unique chord changes or structures.  The song called She exemplifies this process, it was written by one Ted Yoshikawa:

There is also a bit of traditional Japanese music which is both discardable for me and politically incorrect to say.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Piero Ezio e Tino's Mi Chiamo Piero, from 1972

Long ago, back in January, I was reading the fascinating top records sold for the month list on the discogs blog when I saw this album, described in genre as prog and moreover released during the golden age of Italian prog in the early 70s, which I'd never heard of, selling for 1609 dollars.  Today, if you want to buy it for your collection you have your choice between getting it from a probably corrupt Russian troll for 1650 euros or a likely small-time Italian huckster for 2000 euros.  The choice is a tough one.  I've never bought a record from an Italian since many years back when a purchase arrived broken into a million pieces and it was blamed upon the Italian post rather than the seller's inadequate packaging in a used pizza delivery box that still smelled of tomatoes and mozzarella.  For me, I would go for the free digital mp3 version and forget about the actual analog copy made of real physical matter whose grading has probably been exaggerated from unlistenable good, more scratchy than a nut-allergic kid with generalized hives, magically to mint on discogs.  Doesn't much matter in the case where you short-sightedly buy from the Russian guy, Igor Ripoffov, because you'll never get the record anyways to hear how it sounds.

In any case this group of musicians whose first names are quite transparent made only one record which has all the trappings, the outward appearances with arrangements (added flute, hammond organ), conceptual lyrics, spoken word passages, the all-over feeling of a classic vocal prog album along the lines of for example well-known masterpieces Alusa Fallax, Cervello, my favourite but little-known Triade, etc.  So it's clear the ambition derives from those fertile and inventive times.  Unfortunately what is lacking here is the competence, or composition quality, so if I were to be scientific about it I would point out the lack of unique chord changes, the lack of never-before-heard solos or instrumentals, the lack of dissonance, the lack of odd melody, the relative lack of sudden tempo changes, etc.  Quite a few attempts at creative surprises fall flat.  Having said that, there are occasionally some bright ideas, most of which are collected together on the one honest-to-god prog track called Rugged Gelato (Rugiada Gelato):

Because it includes most of those elements that I mentioned earlier as relatively lacking in the entirety.

So what do you think, will you pay enough for a small vacation for one vinyl record from a dirty man who, like the taxi driver we hailed in Naples, charged us 20 euros (off the meter of course) for a 2-minute drive to a museum that turned out to be closed as it is every Monday, something he must have known 100 percent without bothering to tell us as he sped off down the hill with his precious precious money, his unbelievable hoard of 20 euros (twenty! can you imagine the fortune he made off us! wow!!) along pickpockets on vespas through the garbage-strewn slums filled with dirty children skipping school, with bathrobes and underwear hanging from laundry lines, where everyone begged us for the smallest coins and thanked us like kings every time we threw them a penny, and where the blessed train to depart from that infernal city which we were so desperately anxious to board having cut our trip short had to, of course, be two hours late, this being Italy, as we wasted those hours sitting in the station just as we wasted an hour standing by the closed museum we'll never see in our lives waiting for another ripoff cab to rip us off again... ah, bella Italia... really, you must go someday.
But I don't think I'll be going back to Naples ever again.

Btw note that Led Zep's 2006 box set was the most expensive record sold in that month (6250$).  Wild.  But check out that beautiful photo of young Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.  Reminds me of high school when my walls were covered with posters of Jimmy and his beautiful golden Les Paul...