Index

 

Rock Around the World September, 1976

REFLECTIONS IN A VINYL DISC

Imports:

SECRET OYSTER "Astarte"

CBS 81208

A few years ago, when the phrase 'Euro-Rock' became almost as dirty as 'glitter-Rock', it seemed that any group with a European heritage and an almost unlistenable sound was guaranteed a look-see by British and American record companies; the result, inevitable in this business of market saturation of any musical idiom, was the rapid demise of Europe (especially France. Italy and Scandanavia) as a recording hotbed. Secret Oyster emerged from Denmark during the early Seventies with a brand of music that blended Soft Machine-type rhythmns with Roxy Musicish traits; for two years, they remained an import-buyer's band, someone you could amaze your friends with, 'cuz after all, who the hell ever made it from Denmark. outside of Hamlet? (And he blew it in the end. . .)

Anyway, The Oysters signed with Peters International. the New York-based importers who released their first two LPs on the Cosmos label in America; the band was well-received by radio people, but never quite made a big impression here.

All that might change with 'Astarte', however; Astarte, or Ishtar, or any of other various names throughout the word, is the ancient Mesopotamian Goddess of love, and is the subject of a modern Danish ballet for which Secret Oyster was commissioned to write the music. It's an intriguing concept; Denmark, home of the sexually liberated mind, is the site for a ballet about the Goddess of love. Secret Oyster's music is, for this production, all instrumental as they help set the arena for the scenes of the ballet. Not having had the pleasure of viewing this production, I can only guess that the theme of the ballet is the omnipresence of Astarte throughout the world, and the Oyster's music locates the viewer not only in place but mood as well. The title track of the album, for example, leads with a sitar passage from Claus Bohling, reflecting the Mid-Eastern origins of Astarte. "Solitude" is a contemplative piano solo, reminding the listener that love comes in mono as well as stereo while "Tango-Bourgeoisie" and "Valle Du Soir" harken a Parisian evening spent at an outdoor cafe, savouring life.

Secret Oyster has done a very credible job at one of the modern musician's more difficult tasks—that of creating a soundtrack for a visual presentation that neither distracts from the production nor gets lost in its own anonymity. The music of Secret Oyster fuses elements of jazz, rock, classical and electronic forms into a structure that does sound European; in retrospect, it's a lucky thing the band was saved from the trampling hordes by picking an American label carefully, and evolving

at their own rate. As the liner notes to their first album, "Furtive Pearl'. state, ". . .Secret Oyster belongs to that part of the future which has already begun."

OYSTER'S SECRET PEARLS: Intro; The Stars In The Streets; Solitude; Outro.

JIM KOLL (W. ski

AUTOMATIC MAN "Automatic Man" Island Ilps 9397

Quite often these days. a new group will emerge out of various recording sessions, late-hour jams. etc. Such is the case with Automatic Man; backboned by the drums and percussion of Michael Shrieve (ex-Santana) and the multikeyboards of Bayete, Automatic Man has exploded on a music scene that's been waiting for something new and exciting.

After deciding that life with Santana was becoming less and less challenging. Michael Shrieve left two years ago and proceeded to start the recording of a solo album; during the sessions, he encountered Bayete, a keyboards wizard of no small reputation in San Francisco. Sparks, as they say, flew, and the first components of Automatic Man had been assembled. (Shrieve's solo LP, by the way. never has been released). In London last year for the Stomu Yamashta/Stevie Winwood `Go' project, Michael heard of Pat Thrall, a Hendrix-influenced guitarist and bassist Doni Harvey; upon returning to San Francisco, the remaining components were fitted, and Automatic Man was born.

The band chose to record and play in England first, and the press reaction (always more critical in England) has been, to date, impressive. The album contains an energy and feel that marks this unit as Island Records' best signing since Roxy Music; Pat Thrall's guitar calls to mind Jimi Hendrix to be sure, but his adaptability to the diverse material on the album distinguishes this man as a force to be reckoned with.

If there's a single attribute that Automatic Man has, it's the ability to play at a high level of virtuosity while keeping hold of a damn fine melody line; it's a gift that few bands operating in this corner of the music cosmos have. In addition, this is a young band, but an experienced one—they've got the imagination to try new things as well as the ability to bring those ideas to life.

Bayete is responsible for most of the writing and lyrics, but he by no means hogs the spotlight. This is, most definitely, a band of equal partnerships, not too much unlike Bad Co. in its internal structure. Musically, the songs range from the Electric Lady-inspired GeniGeni' (why not an Electric Lady for an Automatic Man? . . .sorry, folks, I couldn't resist), to the Journey-flavoured 'Comin' Thru', but through it all, the band maintains an identity that stamps them as unique. Certainly, mating the

jazz synthesizer excursions of Bayete (who's played with Herbie Hancock and John Klemmer, among others) with Shreive's Latin rhythmns, Pat Thrall's rock guitar and Doni Harvey's sturdy bass is quite an experiment in that oft-kicked around phrase, 'fusion music'. Couple the talent of this band with the engineering mastery of Keith Harwood (Stones, Zep) and Chris Kimsey (Peter Frampton), add a gorgeous album cover. and you've got a smash album and group on your hands—it's automatic. man.

AUTOMATIC STANDARDS: Comin' Thru. My Pearl, Right Back Down, Automatic Man

—JIM KOZTOMS1(11-.

BRAND X

"Unorthodox Behaviour" Charisma CAS 117

11.011MINIMMENI•111111v INUM111111111111•1■11•1111•16.I.   

111111111•11111......*.   

Just a few years ago. drummer Phil Collins found himself in a strange position. His group. Genesis, was making a big splash in the British charts and the resultant ripples were extending fast over the rest of Europe. A large American label had negotiated to distribute the band's product on this continent. As for our intrepid percussionist, his fast rising reputation was garnering him sessions with the likes of Jan Akkerman and Peter Banks. Phil's future seemed skybound to say the least, but as he confided to me on that particular occasion, he was restless to tread new paths and he had some doubts as to his continuing future within the band. He looked longingly at his contemporaries, particularly Billy Cobham and good friend Bill Bruford, and envied their freedom within the framework of their bands.

Only six months later, during another interview, Phil enthusiastically produced a cassette, explaining he had come across three musicians in need of a drummer and after a number of jams, they had formed the basis of a group called Brand X. What I then heard were the rough beginnings of UNORTHODOX BEHAVIOUR, their vinyl debut. Brand X is John Goodsall: guitars, Percy Jones: basses, Robin Lumley: keyboards, and Phil handling the percussion. UNORTHODOX BEHAVIOUR is probably the most mature first recording from any new band in many a year. Early listening bring to mind such company as Tony Williams, early Mahvishou, and Isotope (which Robin Lumley produced for a spell), but it quickly becomes apparent that they are, undoubtably, Brand X playing tight, but fluid arrangements of jazz/rock. These boys can COOK, and while Collins provides the backbone, the co-members show that there are plenty of appendages working around him. There is a feeling of relaxation permeating every track which makes this LP a rare pleasure for listening.

The happy fact about all this is that Phil didn't have to leave Genesis to find other outlets, and

in fact enjoys a comfortable position with both groups simultaneously. He's having his cake and eating it, and the debut explosion of this quartet shows Brand X to be the superior product.

BEST CUTS: Nuclear Burn; Euthanasia Waltz; Smacks of Euphoric Hysteria.

—JON'S BURHACF--

NINE DAYS WONDER "Sonnet to Billy Frost" Bellaphon 19234

nine days' wonder

Nine Days Wonder have released four albums in Germany (& England) which have intermittently found their way to American import outlets. Who are they? Why, even their line-up has changed from LP to LP, save for their lead singer, writer. Walter Seyffer and his master percussionist, Sidhatta Gautama. Their earlier albums reveal a well-chosen pastiche of influences: Jethro Tull. Genesis, Audience, Peter Ham-mill, and a cross of other progressive carpet crawlers. Now, they have decided to become a harder outfit—sporting two very energetic lead guitarists—that takes ideals from Bowie, Pretty Things, and the Kinks while still maintaining spastic overtones (marimba break on "I Need a Rest") and Progresso-tendencies for panoramic instrumentals ("Silver Forest")..

Seyffer juggles this synthetic with amazing deftness, allowing each song to fully develop a melodic and instrumental attack that proves truly memorable.A lot of the attraction for the music is because of the guitarists' untiring efforts to rock out in harmonic counterpoint. Seyffer has an unquenchable air for concept tunes that entail lotta lyrics, so the sudden intrusion of guitar bursts add a lotta spice. . .well, EUREKA!!—another twin guitar band in the great grand tradition of Thin Lizzy, Alice Cooper, MC5, early Allmans, Hunter-Wagner. . .decent dextrous duos are a rare commodity.. .

Lyricists Seyffer and Ray Opper present varied experiences, rich in imagery and situation. I get a big kick outta Walter squeezin' so many words into a measure and not choosing to rhyme the ends of lines, but having the natural cadence of words invoke the metrical possibilities. . .their harmonies also add extra texture, giving a soul-like quality to a chorus or a bridge. The usage of Cockney-voices in "Five Minute Musical" (similar to the girl in Simon & Garfunkel's "Fakin' It") adds an international feel that could help propel the band past their current status as curiousity item via import bins in liberal record stores around the U.S.. . .thus, I would be very surprised if Nine Days Wonder ever appears here, let alone get one of their albums out. Along with other hot neglects (Kevin Ayers? Nutt? Can? Curved Air? Ron Geesin? Robert Wyatt? etc. etc.

. .), I place my sympathies. Maybe music is indigenous and these bands won't ever be accepted

by American taste. More power to them, in any case. . .1 hope their labels continue to comfort them...

"Alchemists are off again/On the road in their VW van To learn the secrets of old/For turning cold plastic into gold."

WONDERFUL SONGS: "Turn and Go On"; "Empty Frame"; "Alchemists"; "In Memory of Sir Hillary"; and the rest. . .(Hit Sleeper LP of the Month)

—MR. CURT

CAN

"Unlimited Edition" Caroline CAD 3001

(. . .where to start???). . .With an entire, all-encompassing, ever-changing repertoire at their fingertips, Can have responded to the modern technocracy only insinuated by other contemporary progressive bands. Similar in approach to Tangerine Dream due to their extensive improvisation, Can very rarely repeat performances. (And if such facts are promoted, does the group gain or lose creedence?). . .

Now, obviously, in European countries this band is hailed for their disturbing quality of melding spacey rock-jazz, free-classical techniques, and avant-lyricism into a truly original style. . 'nobody sounds like Can, once the listener has grown accustomed to their habits, except, perhaps, the British eccentrics: Henry Cow, but only at times.. .

There are some very funny moments on this double-disc, especially 'Mother Upduff ', an ad-lib story created by early vocalist, Malcom Mooney, about a sixty year old lady from Dusseldorf who takes a trip to Italy, gets ripped off, and is shipped back to Germany in her own luggage.. . the band's burst of energy at the song's conclusion (especially drummer Jaki Liebezeit) is unrestrained and very powerful. That cut was from the band's early period, and contrasts sharply with the newer material, circa 1974/75, which presents a lead-vocalist-less ensemble more closely attuned, and presenting a fresh facet of •an-progresso-rock with emphasis on suites of gorgeous melodies and instrumental virtuosity.. .

(For some extraordinary Can-music, their last American release on U.A.. "Soon Over Babaluma" should shed some light on "whatthey're-like". . .)As pioneers of the German rock scene, Can have moved to the forefront most successfully, making bold, sure statements whilst challenging the frontiers of improvisatory-rock. The distinction between rehearsal, recording, and performance becomes, as they say, academic.. . the band exists only to have landed between our ears. . .aaaaah!. . . PLEASE COME TO AMERICA, AT LEAST ONCE. . .Can do???

CAN-DID CUTS: "Gomorrha" (12/73); "Cutaway" (3/69); "Ibis" (9/74); "I'm Too Leise" (3/72)

—MR. CURT-

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