Sunday, August 16, 2015

Kevin Fisher - 1977 - The First of Fisher

Kevin Fisher 
The First of Fisher

01. Overture (instrumental)   (Kevin Fisher) - 4:41
02. Lullabye  (Kevin Fisher) - 3:45
03. Flying   (Kevin Fisher) - 1:36
04. Pirate's Song   (Kevin Fisher) - 6:24
05. A House for Wendy   (Kevin Fisher) - 5:04
06. Indian Dance   (Kevin Fisher) - 5:13
07. In Search   (Kevin Fisher) - 7:36

For some reason, judging by the homemade cover, I thought this baby was going to be an outing in progressive excesses ...  The leadoff instrumental "Overture" didn't exactly change my impressions, but so much for first impressions ...

So what do we know about namesake Kevin Fisher and 1977's "The First of Fisher"?  Next to nothing.  It's clearly a home grown vanity project and what few references we can find indicate that only 75 copies were pressed.  As far as we know, this hasn't seen a CD reissue.  Technically the album has a fairly primitive sound, but in musical terms it's all over the spectrum.  The acoustic ballad "Lullabye" has a heavy classical feel (Pentangle came to mind the first time we heard it), while "Flying" sports a 1950s' vocal group feel and the horn-propelled "Pirate's Song" recalls a post-David Clayton Thomas Blood, Sweat and Tears.  Of course first impressions are seldom entirely wrong and in this case the second side sports some mundane progressive moves in the form of "Indian Dance" and "In Search".  Again it's fairly raw, but not without it's low-keyed charms, including the pretty ballad "A House for Wendy".  

Ram - 1972 - Where (In Conclusion)

Where (In Conclusion)

01. The Want In You (Ron Terry/Michael Rodriguez) - 4:18
02. Stoned Silence (Ron Terry/John DeMartino/Ralph DeMartino) - 5:24
03. Odyssey (Ron Terry/Michael Rodriguez) - 3:39
04. The Mothers Day Song (Ron Terry/Ralph DeMartino) - 6:15
05. Aza (Ron Terry/Ram) - 20:53 including:
    a) Spiral Paths
    b) Bound
    c) Peril And Fearer
    d) Where? (In Conclusion)

- John DeMartino - saxophone, flute, clarinet
- Ralph DeMartino - guitar, vocals
- Michael Rodriguez - bass, vocals
- Bob Steeler - drums
- Dennis Carbone - piano, vocals

Fluffy goat with spiralling horns beckons you

Ram's sole album Where (In Conclusion) is a bit of a head scratcher, not because of its rather lame title, but because of it living in anonymity in all of these years. Normally I'll be suggesting you to pick up some out-there Krautrock obscurity, which in all fairness does have a narrow and small following - even within the psychedelic listening fold, but here there is absolutely no excuse not to get excited, wild and rambunctious(ho ho). Ram was a short-lived American band who played a form of heavy rock meets psych - in a manner that should feel right at home to all you Atomic Rooster, Uriah Heep and T2 aficionados. This is fantastic stuff - and I'll stake my portion of the space station Mir, that every rock n roller out there over 35 with a penchant for any of the aforementioned bands probably will adore this very album like they do a well served glass of beer.

Ram were not out to reinvent the wheel. They didn't break the rules - make up their own perimeters with trail blazing froggy emanations of belching oboe sections, but what they do, they do incredibly well. Consisting of two different personalities, Where (In Conclusion) takes the listener through a well oiled hard prog machine with grunt, power and balls to the walls attitude in all the right places. The other side of the equation delivers the umphh - the progressive tendencies - just like the space pistol wah wah, the shepherd flute, the Canterburian sax ornamentations on top of the beat, and a series of furious drum sections that snarl and roar with the confidence of an urban black panther.

The vocals here are heartfelt, soulful and not entirely unlike those you'd find on a Grateful Dead album from around the same time, albeit with a decisively more meaty expression to them. What I'm reminded most of though is German obscurity Nosferatu - especially in the way the wind instruments compliment those vocals. It's all part of the big rock n roll picture here, even if things are quieted down a bit with the breezy and psychedelic Odyssey, where the band opts for a slicker ethereal atmosphere that celebrates the natural progression of the whole thing.

My absolute favourite thing about this album is when it throws away the linear storytelling of the first couple of tracks. Like I said previously, the album dabbles in alternate musical expressions, and to some extent we are facing a two headed horse here. -Or let me rephrase that: a two headed ram. The ram is actually a pretty cool image to mirror this music in, and if you can picture this band riding over stock and stone on this testosterone filled creature, that crashes down doors like a hot knife slices through butter, then you're not entirely far off. It's that kind of rock music we're facing here, at least in the first couple of tracks leading up to the big kahouna. It feels earthy, rocking, streamlined and American like chewing tobacco and driving a big roaring Ford Mustang. Then for the final epic my guess is that the band went for a little walk around the studio -lighted up a doobie and bought a fish tank they would somehow incorporate into the music. Something certainly happened that's for sure...

Aza is where things get really interesting - at least to this listener, and sticking to the ram illustration here, it truly feels like the band throws away the harness - letting this creature run free out on great majestic planes - whilst being reduced to mere passengers tagging along for the duration of the ride. The music transforms into a space rock excursion with foggy ethereal vocal bits, lofty flute accompaniment and a looser and more wobbly guitar that puts the gelatine into this sponge cake. The track doesn't sound like it's bereft of focus or coherence, but rather like it takes these individuals through a multitude of alternating sections, that are every bit as funky and tight as the preceding songs, though Aza feels much more like a feat - like a voyage on its own premises. This is also where you encounter the most progressive material within this album - like the sudden jazzy polyrhythmic outbursts from the drums or the trippy stuttering keyboard section at the very end, which slowly and comfortably segues into this beautiful liquid surface of sonic experimentation, where the keys take on the hybrid form of a supernatural harmonica mixed with a yearning viola(?). It all ends with the moaning cries of the lead singer that melt the way into this otherworldly organ exorcise, and you wonder where those 21 minutes went.

This album is recommended to every progressive rock fan out there, and just now thinking about pears and other fruits, I suddenly remember which other act these guys remind me off: Polyphony! Yet another American obscurity that mixed hard rock with psych tendencies, back when your dad looked like a girl. If you want a hot sweaty slice of the 70s complete with the proverbial space excursion, high soaring guitar solos, mojo filled vocals and a band that propels itself forward like a fluffy goat with spiralling horns, then do yourself a favour and watch out for Ram. This is one smoking album!

Metaphysical Animation - 1973 - Metaphysical Animation

Metaphysical Animation 
Metaphysical Animation

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

Well, after much ado, here we are. You know, we all hear so many rarities... so many things that just don't live up to expectations, that it seems unreal something as sublime as Metaphysical Animation's sole album can actually even exist. We often see the term HOLY GRAIL used in ebay auctions. And yet, if it's available for auction, how can it be a Holy Grail? My definition of a Holy Grail is Metaphysical Animation. That is, something you're not likely to ever witness. We are talking about an album that has existed for over 40 years in the wilds of the record stores/flea markets/warehouses throughout the world, and it is just now being discovered for the first time. And did I actually discover it? No, I did not. Someone I know invested over $160 of his own money on some demo LP listed on ebay that no one had heard of, nor ever spoke of. It wasn't listed with any key terms that we all look for. It was just a demo album thrown out there and by pure happenstance. Right time, right place. Fortunately, three short samples were put up, which helped mitigate the risk somewhat, but not too many folks are going to blow a good amount of money on a few snippets of sound. So he was taking a big chance. But the payoff on this one is the equivalent of a Vegas multi-casino jackpot.

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.