Monday, March 30, 2015

Agitation Free - 2011 - Shibuya Nights

Agitation Free
Shibuya Nights

01. You Play For Us Today - 6:12
02. Sahara City - 2:48
03. In The Silence Of The Morning Sunrise - 6:22
04. Shibuya Nights - 6:15
05. First Communication - 6:25
06. Dialogue & Random - 1:22
07. Ala Tul - 6:15
08. Laila - 7:38
09. Nomads - 6:47
10. A Quiet Walk - 6:27
11. Das Kleine Uhrwerk - 4:48
12. Malesch - 5:42
13. Drifting - 3:54
14. Rücksturz - 2:57

- Michael Hoenig / keyboards, synths
- Gustl Lütjens / acoustic & electric guitars
- Burghard Rausch / drums, percussion
- Michael 'Fame' Günther / bass
- Lutz 'Lüül' Ulbrich / acoustic & electric guitars, ukelele

guest musician:
- Issey Ogata / ukelele

 AGITATION FREE were invited to play three gigs in Shibuya/Tokio some years ago, February 2007 exactly. It was a passionated Japanese fan who sponsered their mini tour. This also connoted the first band reunion since 1974, at least when speaking of the line-up consisting of Lutz 'Lüül' Ulbrich, Michael Hoenig, Burghard Rausch, Gustl Lütjens and Michael 'Fame' Günther. So this should be regarded as a sensation for sure, so much the more in Japan. The band has a relatively big reputation there, Hoenig and Lüül both are immortalized in the prog rock section of the Tokyo Tower Wax museum for example.

Their song compilation predominantly represents the first two studio albums 'Malesch' and 'Second', besides the legendary live performances highly acclaimed while certainly contributing to the establishment of the krautrock genre. But also two new elaborations are given, which therefore even means something new to the table. 'I'll fly the airplane ... and you play for us today' - it all starts with the original airport samples recorded on their 1971 tour in North Africa. Die-hard fans will adore this renewed intro, I'm sure. However, I took the chance to see them live in Berlin March 2012 ... and the lift-off there has been way more extended and experimental - a revelation really.

Now back to Japan 2007, the origin ... or maybe 2011 because some years are admittedly gone in the meanwhile when considering the release date. No hurry, the band took all the time in the world to offer a technically flawless production finally, an amalgamation handed out by Michael Hoenig. Musically they turn into a tribal groove with excellent spacey guitar and synth interaction where the short Sahara City appears in an oriental and hallucinogenic outfit. Shibuya Nights is a completely new song, a reminiscence to the gig location called 'Shibuya O-West'.

The songs often live from the interaction between both guitars and are trimmed with a modernized approach a bit. However the spirit of the good old days is still noticeable for sure. AGITATION FREE deliver a prolific presentation of their musical legacy on 'Shibuya Nights' after more than 30 years. And there's still a shimmer of hope that this won't be the end of the story.

Of all the German prog-rock bands, Agitation Free was certainly one of the most musically adventurous. Their sound featured the pioneering electronics of Michael Hoenig, one of Germany's best at creating atmospheric melodies and powerful, layered soundscapes which both enhanced and defined the bands style. Also featured were guitarists Lutz Ulbrich and Gustl Lutjens whose magic fingers could conjure up exotic Eastern scales or soaring melodic melodies with ease. Drummer Burghard Rausch and bassist Michael "Fame" Gunter were a polyrhythmic rhythm section extraordinaire that propelled the music.

The original band that recorded the early 70's LP's split up in 1974. In 1999, a reunion album was recorded without Michael Hoenig who could not participate because of prior Hollywood engagements.

It was almost 35 years after first disbanding, in February 2007, when the original band reconnected to perform a series of concerts in Tokyo on the occasion of Hoenigs addition to the Prog-Rock section of the Tokyo Tower Wax Museum. Lutz Ulbrich had already been a wax-presence there for several years. As fate would have it, all came together perfectly. Unbenounced to them, a multitrack recording was made of all 3 concerts at Shibuya O'West, which led to Hoenig compiling an edit in the original musical sequence of the 3 concerts. After applying some "digital sonic archaeology" the resulting recording offers clear evidence, if there was ever any question, that Agitation Free is the best of the German bands.

The new album is truly an Agitation Free "best of." It features five tracks from their 1972 release Malesch and five from 2nd (1973). It also includes three new compositions, plus "Nomads," my favorite track from their 1999 reunion album, River of Return. Programmed perfectly, the track sequence creates a magical, mystical tour through those halcyon days when inspiration flowed freely, guitars and imaginative synthesizer soundscapes comingled to conjure up sonic panoramas of far-off imaginary lands.

The album's production features a flawless mix and immaculate mastering, employing a superb mixture of audio-verite effects which are partly original sound recordings from their 1971 Egypt-Middle East tour. Airplanes, conversations, trains and synthesized segue ways create a non-stop listening experience which completely captures your imagination. Musically, it also features a multitude of highlights, as virtually every track explodes from the speakers.

The opening track "You Play for Us Today," gets the album off to a running start with its deep, loping percussive beats underpinned by Gustl's sizzling guitar and Michael's synthesizer interplay.

"Sahara City" begins with original Arabian percussion, which disappears into a dense multi-layered soundscape of ambient synthe textures laced with the Eastern overtones and sonic exotica.

"Shibuya Nights" is a new composition that rattles your eardrums with Michael's and Burghard's deep primal drumming. Gustl's layered guitar twang and sustained notes literally ooze from the speakers, propelled by the heavy undulating rhythm. The whole thing underscored by Hoenig's modal electronic textures.

"Laila" opens with a crash; leading into some beautifully layered dual guitar soloing that conjures up visions of the improvisational mojo once created by Quicksilver's Duncan and Cipollina. A powerful heavy jam, it serves as the album's centerpiece.

That track flows right into "Nomads," which once again revolves around amazing ritualistic rhythms and percussion. They serve as the backbeat for another celestial-music mantra overflowing with multiple layers of Lutz's spiraling lead guitar and Michael's synthetic textures. The rhythm section throughout the album is truly outstanding.

"Das Kleine Uhrwerk", from "River of Return", is a nice exotic change of pace featuring dual Ukuleles played by Lutz and and special guest, actor Issey Ogata and electric slide guitar by Gustl. Together, they intertwine weaving a sonic tapestry of delicate folk/jazz fusion that dances lightly over a nimble rhythm section.

The album closer, "Riicksturz," is pure prime-era Floydian power surge. A heavy, dramatic guitar piece, it again features Gustl's sustained lead lines spiraling high over a dense, dramatic musical arrangement climaxing with crash-and-burn synthesizer/ guitar feedback. Fade to applause....

The album's ultimate triumph is that much of the music, first performed four decades ago, serves not only as an excellent reminder of those times, but, as played here makes for even more compelling listening in today's homogenized environment.

Gustl reflects on the concert experience, Back in the 70's, at the tender age of 20, we where "trying" to tell a story, today we are able to do so. I remember that in Tokyo I was experiencing moments when "IT" was playing with me, as if everything I ever learned about music was available at this very moment. All kinds of licks and phrases fell into the right place. While playing I visualized Woodstock and Jimi s "All Along the Watchtower" Santana, Duane Allman, Jack Kerouac, Carlos Castaneda... The freedom of improvisation AF built on stage summing up my vision of that time. It all came true in those Shibuya nights with that band and that audience, the fantastic stage crew, and last, but not least our amazing host, Gen Fujita-san...

I think when you listen to this album you might well experience the same effect. The five musicians of Agitation Free came together again and after almost 40 years have reincarnated their creative vision. That says something universal about not only the music, but also the musicians who performed it. It is a rare accomplishment in these days of cash-in reformations and rock-until-you-drop old-timers. This is one of those special recordings, which provides ample proof that music indeed can be timeless.

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