Monday, April 13, 2015

Arkham - 1994 - Arkham


01. Upstairs In The Granery (5:11)
02. Eve's Eventful Day (part 5 & 6) (3:22)
03. Monolithic Progression With Anticipated Rupture (8:00)
04. Brussels Shortly After (8:30)
05. Bleriot: Visibility Poor (8:18)
06. With Assays Of Bias (10:21)
07. Eve's Eventful Day (part 3) (4:45)
08. Riff 14 (8:48)
09. Tight Trousers (4:37)

- Jean-Luc Manderlier / hammond organ, electric piano, clavioline
- Daniel Denis / drums, whistles
- Patrick Cogneaux / bass and some strange frequency modulations

Additional musicians:
- Claude "Piccolo" Berkovitch / bass (track 3)
- Claude Deron / electric flugelhorn (tracks 8 & 9)
- Christian "Djoum" Ramon / bass (tracks 8 & 9)

Recorded July 4th, 1971 at M.J.C., Feluy, Belgium (1,2)
Recorded June, 1970 at RTB, Brussels, Belgium (3)
Recorded November, 1970 at "The Recreation", Brussels, Belgium (4)
Recorded 1971, Brussels, Belgium (5,7)
Recorded June 26th, 1971 at the "Cocoripop Festival", Charleroi, Belgium (6)
Recorded April 28th, 1972 at M.J.C., Verviers, Belgium (8,9)
ARKHAM are an early 70's prog band that featured keyboard player Jean-Luc Manderlier who would later join MAGMA, drummer Daniel Denis who would also move on to MAGMA as well as UNIVERS ZERO, and drummer Patrick Cogneaux. As you will have guessed, their music is highly reminiscent of the avant-garde giants. This all-instrumental trio (keyboards, bass and drums) never actually recorded any official album, although tapes of their many shows and rehearsals between 1970-72 resulted in the compilation of a cd, released in1994 by Cuneiform.

ARKHAM aren't nearly as dark as MAGMA or UNIVERS ZERO, their jazzy overtones placing them a little closer to SOFT MACHINE. The three musicians, who show some maturity, are obviously pouring their hearts out through out the album, which exudes an intensity that can't be ignored. The material, however, hasn't aged very well - and not only technically speaking. The spirit of improvisation and heavy jamming that were the life force of so many similar bands in the early 70's sound tedious and a little contrived nowadays. For this reason, "Arkham"'s most successful tracks are the shorter ones. The historical value of this cd is not to be underestimated. Not only has it got its place in the Euro-prog family tree, but it shows a group of young musicians who weren't afraid to experiment with offbeat musical styles and were the precursors of a lot of good things to come.

 I think long-lost band Arkham have been confusingly placed under the Zeuhl tag because of including future Magma and Univers Zero musicians Jean-Luc Manderlier and Daniel Denis in the band. Don't get me wrong, there's occasional darker passages and creeping atmospheres that would explain why everyone's favourite French alien cult came calling, but what we have here is a full blown band in the Canterbury style, frequently comparable to the Soft Machine and Egg, as well as early Pink Floyd in a few spots. Best to mention right from the start, the biggest issue with this release is that much of the sound quality here rarely rises above that of a bootleg. Some listeners will instantly dismiss this right away, but I ask you to please persevere! Were it not for these technical issues, as well as the fact this is actually a compilation of live performances other a three year period and not a proper studio album, I truly believe the music here would be spoken of as highly as some of the classics by the other Canterbury legends.

Just listen to the blistering fuzz organ, murky bass and rollicking Robert Wyatt-styled hearty drumming that dominates punchy opener `Upstairs in the Granary' to know you're in deep Canterbury town! `Eve's Eventful Day part 5+6' comes close to the maddening repetition of Egg, as does the groovy `Monolithic Progression With Anticipated Rupture', a perfectly titled slow-builder of glistening jazzy electric piano, rattling drumming before a boisterous fuzz-organ explosion in the middle before a disorientating psych period Pink Floyd finale!

`Brussels Shortly After' has an impossibly soulful and reflective organ passage before turning into a foot-tapping groover with a `Saucerful of Secrets/Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast' uplifting close. I'm willing to be forgiving and say that the `recorded-in-a-toilet' sound quality of `Bleriot: Visibility Poor' actually enhances the dingy and slightly malevolent mood of this piece perfectly. It's all sinister creeping mystery full of organ reverberation and feedback. `With Assays of Bias' is thankfully more upbeat and keeps building in intensity with some manic drumwork and spiraling keyboard runs before an excessive and typically 70's overlong drum solo! `Eve's Eventful Day (part 3)' is a solemn yet somewhat uplifting electric piano piece than truly shines, very moving and thoughtful. `Riff 14' and `Tight Trousers' are sourced from a later line-up that included Claude Deron on Fluglehorn, the first is a hypnotic electronic experiment that morphs into a smoky drowsy shuffle that reminds of Italian fusioners Perigeo, where the latter is a short perky jazz tune that makes me wonder if the `tight trousers' of the band were caused by their love of Egg - sorry, couldn't resist!

The latest Japanese Mini LP SHM-CD reissue comes with three bonus pieces, and it's probably worth tracking down this particular version for these special extra fragments. The cute and endlessly upbeat `Shortly After (part 2)' will have you on such a natural high you'll float up to the clouds and want it to go on forever - the three minutes here is such a tease! `Exhibition 47 - Penelope' is more psychedelic and mysterious, the humming organ reminding again of the Floyd's early days before the band tears through a maniacal loopy run. The trio kick up a furious storm in the wild and delirious `Eve's Eventual Day (part 4 and 5). Just listen to this and shed a tear for a wonderful band we never got to hear more of.

If you can persist with the frequent bootleg-level audio quality of some of the pieces, you'll realize how tragic it is that the band never recorded this material in a proper studio setting, and also that these live recordings were not better committed to tape and preserved in the first place. The band would definitely have been down the scuzzier end of the Canterbury style, their occasionally darker sound would have made them really stand out with a unique contribution to the genre.

What we have left is a spectacular example of a missed opportunity, and progressive rock being robbed of a potentially exciting Canterbury styled band with wonderful music to offer the world. Luckily there's plenty of jaw dropping moments for you to discover throughout this compilation, and if you can look past the audio deficiencies and focus on the actual arrangements and talented playing, you may find this to something of a real treasure. I know I certainly do, and it's become an essential part of my Canterbury collection.

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