Sunday, March 4, 2018

Esperanto - 1974 - Danse Macabre

Danse Macabre

01. The Journey 10:13
02. The Castle 3:31
03. The Duel 7:03
04. The Cloister 5:28
05. The Decision 5:57
06. The Prisoner 7:25
07. Danse Macabre 1:58

- Keith Christmas / lead vocals
- Glenn Shorrock / backing vocals
- Bruno Libert / piano, organ, ARP Odyssey, harpsichord, vibes, backing vocals, arrangements
- Gino Malisan / bass
- Tony Malisan / drums
- Raymond Vincent / violin, arrangements
- Godfrey Salmon / 2nd violin, tenor vocals
- Tony Harris / viola
- Timothy Kraemer / cello

- Bridget Lokelani Dudoit / vocals
- Brian Holloway / guitar

Back in England, the twelve musicians met up again, this time in a castle in Wales, and started to prepare the next album. The band always had to meet in farms and castles because of the large number of musicians and of the logistic difficulties of gathering the whole crowd in London. The Welsh castle was of course haunted and its strange atmosphere permeated the music of what would become the band’s second album (featuring a track called “The Castle”). After several weeks of rehearsals, the group recorded the first tapes and made an acetate which they presented to A&M, but the project was rejected by the record company. The situation then became difficult in the band, Glenn Shorrock, hit by nostalgia, decided to go back to Australia (he was well inspired as he later became very successful, notably in the United States, with Little River Band). A&M then asked Peter Sinfield (poet and song writer for King Crimson and ELP, and translator of Premiata Forniera Marconi’s work – PFM) to produce the new album. Peter accepted and brought with him a new singer: Keith Christmas. Keith Christmas, who had a career as a solo singer afterwards, had a very different style and was more folk music oriented but he did take over from Glenn Shorrock as the frontman. A new demo was then presented to A&M with different or rearranged pieces sang by Keith Christmas (on the acetate it was Glenn Shorrock – there are also unpublished pieces on this re-release). This time, A&M endorsed it. The three singers were still in the band but they were soon to leave, as would Brian Holloway, which explains why these four members of Esperanto are not (even though they play on the album) in the picture on the backsleeve of “Danse Macabre”.

The second Esperanto record, “Danse Macabre”, was released in 1974. If, on the first album, the band was obviously in search of its style, with pop, rock, classical and progressive influences, this new opus was much more homogenous, progressive, with a quite brooding atmosphere… The Welsh climate and the haunted castle had a great influence on the musicians and permeated Esperanto’s music. It is worth noting that the album was released in France without the piece “Danse Macabre” as the Saint-Saëns copyright-owners refused to agree to its publication in that country. Peter Sinfield put so much energy into the making of this album that he later declared in an interview that he declined an offer to produce the first Supertramp album after the Esperanto experience.

Meanwhile, Esperanto’s and its managers were preparing the next tour. Magma (another A&M artist, then little know in England) was to be supporting act. The tour took the two bands to most of the large universities in Britain. Again, Esperanto had no information on the album sales and were never paid any royalties for it by the label. They had to rely on the success of the tours to evaluate their impact on the public.

Very much an improvement on their debut album, Danse Macabre is probably the result of the group's taking their destiny in their own hands. While there were much changes amongst the singing casts, the core of the group remained stable, becoming tighter and musically more interactive. Produced by ex-Crimson Pete Sinfield, this album goes through several states of madness especially when it comes to the string section and it is a concept album. Indeed Raymond Vincent was now leading a four-man string section that was used as the main lead instrument . Starting on the small epic instrumental The Journey a demented trip flying on violin bows and wild paces, we then reach a Castle, a short sung soft and slow track by Keith Christmas. Ensues The Duel, a wild fight between the concerned instruments and some exciting scat choirs and a slight early Crimson influence. The flipside opens on the ecclesiastic and Gregorian The Cloister, but it is all a show, because the track is certainly not as peaceful as its title would have you believe. After an unremarkable Decision, I suppose that the more interesting moments of the Prisoner (those dark slow brooding gothic moments mean that there s some yummy torture, with a little Arabian touch later. The short title track closes the albums with a very weird screechy, almost dissonant violin section showing all signs of losing its marbles musically as they're all over the place. Impressive but perfectible.

What an improvement over the previous album, but then again, wait until their final album to know how much better they could get. In either case, Esperanto's DM is an excellent trip through one of the most visited clichés in the genre. Almost as essential as its follow-up album.

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