Sunday, March 4, 2018

Esperanto - 1975 - Last Tango

Last Tango

01. Eleanor Rigby 7:43
02. Still Life 7:27
03. Painted Lady 3:26
04. Obsession 4:33
05. The Rape 12:07
06. Last Tango 3:29

- Roger Meakin / vocals
- Kim Moore / vocals
- Bruno Libert / keyboards
- Gino Malisan / bass
- Tony Malisan / drums
- Raymond Vincent 1st violin
- Godfrey Salmon / 2nd violin
- Timothy Kraemer / cello

The line-up of Esperanto changed considerably for the third album. Keith Christmas had left for musical reasons and the band was looking for a more energetic frontman. They met this time in London and published some ads in the music press, including in the Melody Maker (Genesis had recruited Steve Hackett through that channel). Esperanto auditioned and took on board their next singer Roger Meakin. His special vocal timbre made him an ideal partner for Kim Moore, female singer recruited in the same way, as their voices blended perfectly. The recording of the third album took place partly in London and partly at the famous chateau of Herouville near Paris where Jethro Tull, Elton John and many others recorded in the seventies. The album “Last Tango” was produced by Robin Geoffrey Cable (engineer and producer, notably for Queen, Genesis, Van Der Graaf Generator, Elton John and Carly Simon). It was released in 1975.

This time, the group seemed to have found its musical and personnel equilibrium and the tour which followed was very successful. They played at numerous famous festivals, including Reading, Newcastle and Bilzen among other engagements. The band also had a residence at the Marquee: an Esperanto concert was automatically programmed every 10 to 15 days in the famous London club for several months. The European tours were also quite successful, with memorable concerts at the Paradiso in Amsterdam and at the Festival de Montreux (Switzerland), with PFM.

Although the band seemed to have found its cruising speed and success was obviously on the horizon (they were still in complete ignorance of sales figures), A&M did not renew their contract. Esperanto band members were flabbergasted as they knew their music had real appeal, particularly given the growing success of their concerts. One of the negative factors was that situation in England in 1973-1974. Following the oil crises, the cost of vinyl manufacturing increased dramatically (note that the weight of records fell substantially) and labels were tending not to sign new artists or take any risks in this very unfavourable period. It was also the time of the miners’ strike which lasted 9 months, paralysed the country and certainly did not contribute to improving the economic climate in England.

Esperanto was probably also a victim of it’s formula as, even with a reduced line-up on the last album, it still had eight musicians and  large technical staff who had to be housed, fed and watered. The cost of touring was very high and the technical problems linked to this sophisticated musical genre necessitated a lot of complex equipment for the era (difficulties of amplifying strings mixed with electronic instruments, etc.). The band was thus expensive to run and, as it is often the case, the law of immediate profits justified A&M’s decision and overruled artistic quality.

This rupture marked the end of Esperanto. Nevertheless, they left as a heritage three remarkable albums, all different and full of qualities that this beautiful re-release will allow you to discover or rediscover. Some people compared Esperanto to a band like ELO because of the two violins and the cello but it is clear that Esperanto’s repertoire is much more varied and inventive and that is has its roots in numerous influences, like its musicians.

We can only regret one thing: considering the talent of the musicians and their musical evolution, the group had probably not said its last word. Although several important prog rock bands had already produced their main opus back in 1975, the door was still open for many talented bands as it was the golden age of prog, which faded several years later.

Many years have passed and we should simply enjoy this re-release. After a decade of patient searching and efforts, you now have in your possession a rare testimony of the past. I hope you will have as much pleasure listening to it as the musicians had playing it in the early seventies.

For Esperanto's last album, gone is singer Keith Christmas (and to a lesser extent 2nd violin Tony Harris) and in comes the duo of Kim Moore and Roger Meakin. But the core of the group again remains intact, and still they don't find the need for a guitarist. With a disturbing artwork about a disturbed dancer, this album is even more impressive than the previous Danse Macabre. It was also recorded in the famous French studios of Hérouville, and does it ever sound like it. Read the excellent bio to see why this group stopped on top of their art.
Starting the album on one of the craziest version of Eleanor Rigby, the least we can say is that Esperanto starts all four wheel and eight cylinders biting the asphalt on the highway to your heart. But hat to say of the sublime Still Life with plenty of drama and intense string interventions. The weird Painted Lady is sonically sticking out of the rest of the album, but crazy little features (like those sardonic laughs) are making still not out of line. The stunning Obsession is another beauty of a track, even if playing on an easy-to-please terrain, but the execution is so immaculate and they're pulling all the right c(h)ords that it's close to perfection.

On the flipside, in comes the disturbing 12-mins The Rape, where the groups climbs up and down every alley of sanity with their string section and the lyrics referring to Manson's rape and murder Sunday afternoon ballads and we're hearing the Helter Skelter stolen to Eleanor Rigby's creators. The closing section of this epic is a lengthy crescendo, which allows to recuperate from the previous madness. The album-closing title track is indeed a tango, one that could've been sung by Queen, if it hadn't been for the string section.

Difficult to make a better album than this Last Tango, especially given the group's inhabitual construction of the group. While not perfect, I find few albums that I keep coming back to over the last 30 years and listen with such delight, even if the periodicity of spinning is down to a couple times per year. Much recommended.

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