Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Blues Project - 1968 - Planned Obsolescence

The Blues Project 
Planned Obsolescence

01. If You Got To Make A Fool Of Someone     4:31
02. Calypso     3:41
03. Frank 'N' Curt Incensed     3:26
04. Turtle Dove     3:24
05. Mojo Hannah     3:26
06. Niartaes Hornpipe     2:09
07. The Endless Sleep     3:53
08. She Raised Her Hand     3:39
09. Dakota Recollection     12:32

Bass – Andy Kulberg, Donald Kretmar
Drums – Roy Blumenfeld
Flute – Andy Kulberg
Guitar – John Gregory
Piano – Andy Kulberg
Saxophone – Donald Kretmar
Violin – Richard Greene
Vocals – John Gregory

Somewhere on the spectrum between contract filler and normal album lies Planned Obsolescence.   It is a shame that nobody really remembers this album, because it shows that America did make progressive rock. The Blues Project started with an album that showed their stylistic diversity (Live at the Cafe Au Go Go), and to live up to their name the group mixes the blues into the sound in various ways.  Planned Obsolescence was really a group effort, and with violin (Greene), sax (Kretmar) and flute (Kulberg) at their disposal a great mix of blues, jazz and folk was at play. This incarnation can deliver "Mojo Hannah," a fascinating kick-butt slice of blues and soul, and then follow it up with "Niartaes Hornpipe" a folky tune that incorporates some bluegrass from Greene.   They generally stuck with the same jazz-blues vibe that contemporary Jethro Tull used, although without the same drive or force ("She Raised Her Hand", "If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody").  Yet, they also predict where Jethro Tull was headed, playing traditional classical/folk music in other spots ("Calypso, "Turtle Dove" a traditional folk song arranged into a well-disguised blues number).  Planned Obsolscence has a very loose feeling, perhaps caused the fact that this was a contract-fulfilling album.  I do not know how to explain Gregory's "Frank 'N' Curt: Incensed" which is blues-rock with Dylan-esque lyrics, fuzz guitar and a decent jazz line by Kretmar plopped in the middle, or Gregory's off-the-cuff vocals during "Endless Sleep."  Still, the "contract fulfilling" flags are raised throughout.  Only "Calypso," "She Raised Her Hand" and "Frank 'N' Curt: Incensed" are songs written by the group.  The first two bear the hallmark of Seatrain - poetic lyrics by Jim Roberts.  Another flashing light is the 10 minute traditional jazzy jam which closes out the album ("Dakota Recollection").  Fear not - the core band was a good live act with enough playing skills to pull it off. "Dakota Recollection" was traditional in that everyone a chance to step out and solo, before pulling back and supporting the others.  Nobody's going to mistake this for an English band, although few rock bands were delving this far into jazz, outside of Spirit or Soft Machine's Third.  Even though it was 1968, only a few inoffensive production tricks appear (backwards music at the end of "Calypso" for example) and one pretty bold one - having Kulberg play against a delayed tape of himself ("Dakota Recollections"), like he did live at the Town Hall.  The final warning flag is that the album jacket credits the production and arranging to the Blues Project, while the actual record gives it to Seatrain.  The arrangements aren't quite up to the level of Seatrain's official debut, but are still good.  It's a shame it did not sell - maybe it lacked the braying horns of their sister group.

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