01. Two Songs In Space
02. Ode To A Seraph Chamber Fellow
03. Hey Now Mama
04. Paper People
05. Empyreal Souls
06. I've Been Blue
07. Better Way
08. You're The Guru
Alberto DeAlmar: guitar (ex-Pods, Leaves of Grass, Celebration)
Bill Sabella: keyboards/vocals (ex-Amen/Burgundy Blues, Leaves of Grass, Celebration)
Steve Margolis: bass
Robbie Hansen: drums
Privately pressed double album
Okay, here it is. By far the biggest discovery of my record collecting "career" (so to speak), and one that may go down as among the more significant finds in American prog history..... But, something like this really does make you wonder what could still be lurking out there, languishing undiscovered in some dusty warehouse, on the very brink of extinction.
"Part 1: The band Metaphysical Animation was first formed in 1968 in Gainesville, Florida, and later ended up in the Miami area. Their sound and lineup evolved gradually over this time, eventually coalescing around the core of guitarist Alberto de Almar and keyboardist Bill Sabella. They gigged around the small clubs of the area regularly, and by 1972 were ready to record an album. By then the lineup consisted of de Almar and Sabella, along with drummer Robbie Hanson and bassist Steve Margolis (another bassist, Larry Jessup, also played with them around this time). The album was recorded that same year at a professional studio in the area, over the course of one or two sessions. They had a test pressing made of it, but were never able to secure a record deal and soon disbanded. The musicians went their own separate ways, with Alberto de Almar ending up in another local band named Faustus, who opened up for some of the larger rock acts that toured the area. By 1976 they too had called it quits, and I believe de Almar then left Florida to pursue more advanced musical education elsewhere.
Part 2: The album: Less than 50 copies were pressed, housed in a plain white demo sleeve with the band name hand-written in pen on the cover. Now here's where we get to the most amazing part: It's a double LP set, clocking in at nearly 65 minutes in total! I'm not sure if I know of any other instance where an unreleased test press of an underground band like this was done as a double LP. Anyway it seems that they had a sort of uncompromising attitude and never really did try to market it too hard. After failing to be signed, they sold most of the few remaining copies at local gigs, which might account for why no other examples seem to have survived. A few comments on this album's actual discovery: The seller who ended up with this apparently dug it up in a warehouse find that may have been associated with the particular (long defunct) pressing plant where these LPs were actually made, which would explain how it managed to survive these 40 years at all. This lone copy was buried amongst a bunch of other test presses, all the rest of which were just various 45s of local radio jingles and other such ephemera.
Part 3: The music I'll say right now that I think this album is fantastic, pretty much from start to finish, which is quite an accomplishment considering its unusual length. The basic style here could probably be summed up as classic 70s prog, with significant elements of fusion and psychedelic rock. But this band really had its own identifiable sound, which holds firm over the course of the entire sprawling opus, even though there's quite a bit of diversity displayed here as well. Being a bit more specific, the then-recent works of Yes and Mahavishnu Orchestra seem to be obvious building blocks for their style, as well as the more advanced forms of jamming psychedelic rock. Some of their early roots in blues-rock and jazz also peek through just a bit at times, as you might expect from an exploratory band of the era. Finally, Alberto's background as a Spanish guitar player can be heard informing some of the phrasing and rhythms on this album as well. What's really refreshing is that they seem to have come to this synthesis very naturally. As probably only an early 70s group could do, these guys were sort of making it up as they went along, using their influences as a starting point, rather than the be-all end-all. In that sense, they were following the same path of many of their own chronological peers over in continental Europe, especially in Italy and Germany. With all that in mind, let's talk about the individual instrumental performances a bit. First, there's de Almar. His guitar is phenomenal, and often loaded with cool effects, lending a very psychedelic tone. Along with the occasional hint at his Spanish guitar background, there's a sort of "Mclaughlin gone prog" feel to his playing. Then there's the rhythm section, which is very active and nimble, never allowing the music to get stuck in a rut, but also capable of locking into a steady, hypnotic pulse for the intense jamming that frequently breaks out overhead. Last but not least are the keyboards. Oh man... Anyone who's into vintage keys is just going to keel over when they hear this album. The most noticeable thing is Sabella's organ work, which is just over the top incredible. He's able to alternate between dark, spacey textures and extremely intense, choppy soloing like it's second nature to him. Then there's the mellotron. I'm only half kidding when I say that there must be more mellotron on this one album than the entire King Crimson back catalog put together. It seems to be going almost constantly in the background, and other little flourishes are added here and there to great effect. And of course there are plenty of classic synth lines as well. As for the vocals, here is where you'll see the strongest Yes influence. They're definitely Anderson-like, but not in that overly high-pitched and strained style that some Yes-influenced bands insisted on. The lyrics are also mostly in the Anderson mold, with lots of crazy made-up words and weird turns of phrase, spaced-out hippy dippy mysticism, etc. The vocals most definitely take a back seat to the instrumental work, but when they're there, they fit the mood perfectly. As for the sound quality, it's quite good, all things considered. Obviously a bit raw, but still better than many private prog albums that actually did see wide release. To use a relevant example, I'd say that this album actually has a much more pleasing, vital sound than the otherwise excellent Polyphony LP, which I've always thought suffers from a very dull, lifeless production job.
My early observations from a comparison standpoint: As you noted, I think Polyphony is about as close as anything. Polyphony itself is an anomaly, since we have so few examples of progressive rock in the US during the early 70s. That statement alone is almost mind blowing. How the US ended up missing on the entire progressive movement in the early 1970s would be a great doctoral study (not even one label like Silence, Brain, Ohr, Trident or any major stepped up). So in some ways, Polyphony was the only one that really got out there. The other album that MA could relate with is the-beyond-underrated Ram "Where in Conclusion" album. That album has the unfortunate street rock opening, but by the time of the side long suite, it features some of the intensity and creativity I hear on MA. And I'd also throw in the Baltimore group Id on "Where are We Going?" Not so much in the song craft (because there really isn't any with Id...), but in the overall guitar / mellotron aural backdrop. One aspect that links all these bands together is the awkward American vocal delivery, that was still prevalent well into the early 1980s.
And the Santana observation you made is astute, and dare I say I hear some Chango here? The organ/guitar rave-ups of Chango are unrivaled anywhere (with the exception of an occasional live Santana show), and yet I hear MA doing the same kind of thing. There are a couple of places where I catch an early Chicago Transit Authority vibe, especially in the vocal song portions. And I feel Chicago was a huge influence on American bands in the early 70s."
As for Alberto de Almar, he is something of a local Miami legend. Alberto de Almar is simply one of the best guitarists around. Anyone who has listened to Alberto's music or seen Alberto's live performances is struck by his amazing talent and his diverse, inventive and emotionally charged guitar playing.
Though primarily known for his contemporary Flamenco/Fusion style, Alberto's multifaceted fret work cuts across musical genres incorporating both acoustic and electric guitar.
Alberto began playing guitar at age 11 in his home town of Miami. After mastering rock, jazz and classical guitar styles, he fronted groups opening for The Allman Bros., The Grateful Dead, Edgar & Johnny Winter, Sly and The Family Stone, The Blues Image, NRBQ and others.
His reputation as a young, versatile and innovative guitarist caught the attention of legendary music genius, Frank Zappa, who invited Alberto to Los Angeles where he worked with Terry Bozzio, Don Preston, Freddie Hubbard, Jaco Pastorius, Minnie Ripperton and several other prominent musicians.
While he continued to work in the eclectic Los Angeles rock scene, Alberto's cousin, Jorge Strunz (Strunz and Farah) introduced him to the world of Flamenco. Alberto diligently pursued his passion for Flamenco and created his own unique style integrating contemporary characteristics of rock and jazz with traditional Flamenco.
He moved to Spain, met the legendary Paco de Luca and began working for Paco transcribing and copyrighting Paco's original compositions including the guitar arrangements on Chick Corea's album "Touchstone." He spent the next few years in Spain touring with Manolo Sanlcar and working with other Flamenco luminaries including Enrique de Melchor, Enrique Morente and Paco Corts.
After returning to the US, Alberto worked with such notable Flamenco and World Music artists as Pepe Habichuela, Rafael Riqueni, Javier Ruibal, Jos Miguel Carmona, Agustn Carbonell "Bola", Zakir Hussain, Prince Diabate, Cheb Khaleb, Manoocher Sadeghi and Don Preston. Alberto also brought his signature Flamenco/Fusion sound to a host of other recording artists including Julio Iglesias, Charo, Doug Cameron, Los Crucificados (with Randy Castillo, Carmine Rojas and Django Porter) and Alicia Keys on her remix single called "A Woman's Worth" that Alicia performed at the Grammy Awards with Spain's top flamenco dancer Joaquin Cortez.
Alberto's vast repertoire also encompasses composing and performing on the soundtracks for several feature films, television shows and commercials including the Sidney Sheldon mini-series "The Sands Of Time" and Spike Lee's "Love and Basketball."
In addition to his performance and studio work, Alberto has led a series of Flamenco guitar clinics at the acclaimed Guitar Institute of Technology/MIT. He has also taught classical and jazz guitar and music theory at Dade Community College and at the University of Florida.
In 2003, Alberto began recording and touring with renowed contemporary jazz pianist, Keiko Matsui. He continues peforming in venues around the world with Keiko and band members Eric Baines (bass), Steve Reid (percussion), Chad Wright (drums) and Michael Ghegan (saxophone). When he's not on the road with Keiko, Alberto performs both as a solo artist and with other recording artists. He also keeps busy in the studio working on his own projects as well a those of other artists.
Alberto has released three CD's: The spirited FURIA, the rock/metal infused BENT MARBLE and the ethereal ALMA PURA on which he collaborated with international music producer and composer, Claudio Collino.