Thursday, July 6, 2017

Minus Two - 2010 - SWF-Session 1972

Minus Two
SWF-Session 1972 

02. Differences - 9:05
03. First Romance is - 12:42
04. the Welcome For You - 7:22
05. Differences (Live) - 4:56

Günter Kühlwein - Hammond organ, vocals
Walter Helbig - drums, percussion, vocals

What Germany was really good at was producing keyboard/drum duos like the one presented here.Minus Two came from Viernheim near Mannheim, a music project formed by keyboardist and singer Günter Kuehlwein and drummer Walter Helbig, both playing in 1971 (time of Minus Two's formation) in local groups, Kuehlwein had also appeared as a guest keyboardist in Dzyan's self-titled debut.As with many acts of the time they failed to create a proper album, but had the chance to record a session at SWF Studios, which was released in 2010 on Long Hair Music.

The only true instruments in the album is a Hammond organ and a drum kit, so what music could produce such a formation else than jamming organ-driven Psychedelic Rock with Classical and Jazz touches, akin to E.L.P., THE NICE or BRIAN AUGER'S OBLIVION EXPRESS.They sound as a clone of compatriots SIXTY-NINE, but they appear to be a very tight duo with Kuehlwein often displaying his GREG LAKE-like voice.The music varies from organ masturbations to extended psychedelic backgrounds with a romantic atmosphere to powerful Classical-like Rock with many interludes and preludes, eventually leading to dynamic fanfares with a drummer having a rather jazzy-spiced style of playing.As a result the music is far from boring, it comes in dramatic, poetic and virtuosic fashions in about equal doses, the jamming parts are typical of a Kraut Rock band of the time and the absence of bass is hardly notable due to the very rich organ enviroment.On the other hand all these keyboard/drums duos presented Experimental Rock at its deepest form, 30 minutes of music are long enough to capture the formation's free musical spirit, but any minute beyond this sounds like an excess.All tracks were recorded at SWF Studios except the last one, ''Differences'', which was a shortened, live version of the already presented piece, recorded in the Baden-Baden area.

After Minus Two Heblig was involved for a brief time in Nine Days Wonder's and Aera's line-ups, while Kuehlwein became a music lecturer, participated in several albums as a guest and collaborated with many Americans Jazz and Soul musicians.

Hammond organ orgasms with jazzy drumming craziness in a supertight but hardly essential offering.Recommended for lovers of keyboards, old-styled psych manifests and virtuosic plays.

Perhaps a better title would be He's the Keyboardist, I'm the Drummer. The keyboard-and-drums lineup will probably make you think of Billy Joel's Attila, whose only record was described by AMG (in a ridiculous moment of hyperbole) as the worst album in the history of recorded music. Minus Two, I'm glad to say, do not come close to those depths. 

There's just something slightly absurd about the concept of a duo consisting only of a keyboardist and a drummer. They both look pretty bummed out on the cover, maybe they're thinking "we could have been lawyers or doctors but instead we're a keyboard and drum duo that nobody's heard of". It also sounds pretty funny when they both put on high pitched voices and start scat-singing at once. 

Even though there are only two instruments there is absolutely no self-indulgence. There's not a single drum solo chucked in for the hell of it, the drums are far more impactive in their skilful supportive role. The keyboard playing is inventive and melodic - dig that sizzling solo at the start of "Welcome For You"! It's a testament to their skills as songwriters that the near-13 minute epic "First Romance" doesn't even contain any extended solos! The sad thing is there's probably some poor sod out there whose first romance was soundtracked by this very song...

Will I listen to this again any time soon? Probably not. But for 37 minutes of German prog-jazz this is very entertaining. And slightly absurd too, which is all part of the fun (did I mention the silly lyrics?). Another draw would be this album's status as a genuine obscurity - it seems pretty much all lost Krautrock/Prog gems have now been unearthed, but not this one! Maybe the world is scared of a keyboard and drum duo, I dunno.

The last track is live on stage, which hints that there might be more to come from this band - 3 disc live boxset, maybe?

Gryphon - 2003 - Glastonbury Carol

Glastonbury Carol

01. Kemp's Jig (2:56)
02. Sir Gavin Grimbold (2:51)
03. Touch & Go (1:33)
04. Astrologer (3:11)
05. Estampie (7:42)
06. Opening Number (4:02)
07. Midnight Mushrumps, 1st Movement (6:21)
08. Midnight Mushrumps, 2nd Movement (5:45)
09. Midnight Mushrumps, 3rd Movement (6:54)
10. Glastonbury Carol (4:56)

- Richard Harvey / harmonium, keyboards, recorder, crumhorn
- Brian Gulland / bassoon, recorder, vocals
- Philip Nestor / bass
- David Oberle / percussion, drums, vocals
- Graeme Taylor / guitars, vocals

This release can be seen as the BBC sessions (I think Hux Records took over the old BBC Radio 1 series) and for Gryphonheads , this is a real must. The tracks are taken from three different sessions and obviously , the live versions are definitely more passionate and exciting than the studio versions.

The first five tracks come off the first album and are much livelier especially Estampie which now becomes a classic must hear under this form. The next four tracks are from a 1974 show just after the release of their second album Midnight Mushrumps. Again here, the tracks (actually only two since three of them make for the entire Mushrumps suite ) are much livelier , merry and alltogether more fascinating than the studio album. the last track was done as a "commercial " jingle for the BBC show they were appearing on and apparently was unreleased as of yet.

Gryphon - 2002 - About As Curious As It Can Be (Live 1974-1975)

About As Curious As It Can Be (Live 1974-1975)

01. Renaissance Dance Medley
02. Midnight Mushrumps
03. Ethelion
04. Wallbanger
05. The Last Flash Of Gaberdine Tailor
06. Le Cambrioleur Est Dans Le Mouchoir
07. Ein Klein Heldenleben
08. Jigs

- Tracks 1-3 recorded for 'Radio 1 In Concert' 3.5.1974 Hippodrome, Golders Green.
- Tracks 4-8 recorded for 'Radio 1 In Concert' 13.11.1975 Paris Theatre, London.

- Richard Harvey / keyboards, recorders, crumhorn, harmonium
- Brian Gulland / bassoon, bass krumhorn
- David Oberlé / drums, glockenspiel
- Graeme Taylor / guitar, mandolin
- Philip Nestor / bass guitar (tracks 1-3)
- Malcolm Bennett (Markovich) / bass guitar, flute (tracks 4-8)

One of the two BBC recording albums that were released lately about this seminal band. From different sessions but there are tracks present on both albums and to have both albums would mean you have too much cash on your hands (or space shelf) .
The major advantage of this album is the Raindances track sessions and especially Heldenleben (which I consider their best work ever) but overall I like the Glastonbury album better because of the recording quality. Comparering the tracks that are present on both albums (and even comparing them to the original studio albums) the recording quality and collective enthusiasm is definitely more audible in Glastonbury Carol , than on the other two. This is also very valid for Ethelion and Heldenleben.

Gryphon - 1998 - Ethelion


01. Ethelion* (7:01)
02. Midnight Mushrumps* (7:31)
03. Sailor's Jig* (4:20)
04. Wallbanger** (3:50)
05. The Last Flash of Gaberdine Tailor** (4:05)
06. "Le Cabrioleur Est Dans Le Mouchoir"** (2:14)
07. (Ein Klein) Heldenleben** (16:37)

* King Biscuit Flour Hour, recorded live at Boston Gardens, USA, December 11, 1974
** BBC Sessions, 1975.

- Richard Harvey / keyboards, recorders, crumhorn
- Brian Gulland / bassoon, crumhorns
- David Oberlé / drums, timpani, percussion,
- Graeme Taylor / guitars
- Philip Nestor / bass guitar

It's a boot, but it has unreleased interesting stuff...

Gryphon - 1977 - Treason


01. Spring Song (10:00)
02. Round & Round (4:30)
03. Flash in the Pantry (4:57)
04. Falero Lady (4:08)
05. Snakes and Ladders (5:15)
06. Fall of the Leaf (4:22)
07. Major Disaster (4:04)

- David Oberlé / lead vocals, percussion
- Bob Foster / guitars, backing vocals
- Richard Harvey / piano, sax, recorder, keyboards
- Brian Gulland / bassoon, English horn, recorders, backing vocals
- Jonathan Davie / bass
- Alex Baird / drums

Gryphon's last album is absolutely a masterpiece! Yes, ok their sound is different, and one might say they have sold their soul for satan (money), but I can't agree on that. This is one of another breathtakingly album by this superior band! The folk elements and instruments are still there, the great musicship hasn't gone anywhere and the compositions are still brilliantly amazing. Each song sounds totally different from the previous one, and each song is splendidly exciting! No need to mention that this is the band that has made me like prog since it's such a unique and talented band. this is an absolute masterpiece provided by GRYPHON which is the finest prog folk band around, although it becomes a bit more commerical than the previous albums. However, the band keeps on being amazingly awesome. I can keep on like this forever, but let's sum this review by saying that this is a remarkable album that must be heard!

Gryphon - 1975 - Raindance


01. Down the Dog (2:44)
02. Raindance (5:37)
03. Mother Nature's Son (3:08)
04. Le Cambrioleur Est Dans Le Mouchoir (2:14)
05. Ormolu (1:00)
06. Fontinental Version (5:36)
07. Wallbanger (3:33)
08. Don't Say Go (1:48)
09. (Ein Klein) Heldenleben (16:03)

- Brian Gulland / bassoon, lead (6) & backing vocals
- Richard Harvey / grand piano, Rhodes, RMI & Crumar electric pianos, Mini-Moog, Copeman Hart organ, Mellotron, clavinet, glockenspiel, recorders, crumhorns, penny whistle, clarinet (4)
- Graeme Taylor / guitars, backing vocals
- Malcolm Bennett / bass, flute
- David Oberlé / drums, percussion, lead vocals (3,6,8)

Raindance is an eclectic excursion in many different (only slightly more commercial) directions for Gryphon. Far from ignoble, this album suffers mainly due to comparisons with its masterpiece predecessor "Red Queen to Gryphon Three".
"Down the Dog" is funky, fusion-y, powerful, catchy and "to the point". As far as "instrumental" tunes garnering AOR airplay in the 70's, this is the type tune that could have done it.

The band seems interested in integrating sounds into their music on this album. "Raindances" is a nice mood piece that begins and ends with the sound of rainfall. The song "Ormolu" conveys the mood of an ornate gold-plated clock consistently tracking time. Is it mere coincidence that this song clocks in at exactly 1 minute? Not a second more nor a second less!

Even before their first album was released, Gryphon was known for performing medieval/renaissance style adaptations of Beatles songs. This "style-sampler"' album afforded them the opportunity to cover "Mother Nature's Son" as only Gryphon could do!

"Raindances" closes on a high note with "(Ein Klein) Heldenleben", a 16+ minute piece that takes the band's medieval sound even deeper into Progressive Rock territory than much of the material on Red Queen to Gryphon Three.

Gryphon - 1974 - Red Queen to Gryphon Three

Red Queen to Gryphon Three

01. Opening Move (9:42)
02. Second Spasm (8:15)
03. Lament (10:45)
04. Checkmate (9:50)

- Richard Harvey / keyboards, recorders, crumhorn
- Brian Gulland / bassoon, crumhorn
- Graeme Taylor / guitars
- Philip Nestor / bass
- David Oberlé / drums, percussion & tympani

- Ernest Hart / organ
- Peter Redding / acoustic bass

Complex and beautiful, an amazing work.
Someone mentioned that this band was nicknamed "Gentle Jethro" because of their supposed mimicry of Tull and Giant. I'll get controversial right off the bat and admit that I'll take this album over any album by Tull or Giant for a number of reasons. I love the fact that I can have this classy, complex, and incredibly performed music free from what I consider the occasionally obnoxious vocals of those two legendary bands. But Red Queen is so much more than just a good instrumental album. It is one of the most musically articulate and painstakingly arranged feasts ever assembled. It merges progressive folk and symphonic rock with both renaissance longings but also crisp modern chops and attitude. With long well-planned compositions and virtuoso performances taking the place of vocal distractions Red Queen is the perfect album for allowing yourself to be carried away to. Never listen to this album while distracted by other people or tasks. This is music that requires your full attention and should really be heard on headphones with eyes closed and mind engaged in listening mode. There is simply too much happening and changing too quickly to do a proper track by track description of the songs. Suffice to say that each song builds and winds back and forth through moments of symphonic and folk prog grandeur, lush keyboard and piano passages, elegant guitars and percussion, and of course we cannot forget the krumhorns and bassoon! The production is just outstanding and the sound quality of the Japanese remaster is breathtaking. The wonderful album cover art only adds to the completeness of what many consider a masterpiece of 1970s prog.

In his outstanding review at ProgressiveWorld, Tom Karr notes "This is intelligent art rock, with the group producing a work that is absent most of the clichés of the genre. Their affinity for the electric sound they had only recently added is nothing short of amazing, and their sound is exciting and blends their previous acoustic focus well with their new synthesizers and electric is the best example of this odd, eclectic style of mid 70s British folk/prog.. Bands like The Strawbs and Steeleye Span produced some interesting blends of early English music and rock, but no one came anywhere close to the mastery of Gryphon, and Gryphon made their premiere musical statement with this release." [Tom Karr]

An essential prog classic that should easily be on ones "desert island" album list. Recommended to anyone who loves complex music that is lively in nature and presented with great flair and superb artistry. I suggest that even Rio/Avant fans of things like Miasma or Gatto Marte try this out for size, it has the unique instruments, complexity, and sense of adventure that would appeal to those fans.

Gryphon - 1974 - Midnight Mushrumps

Midnight Mushrumps

01. Midnight Mushrumps (18:58)
02. The Ploughboy's Dream (3:02)
03. The Last Flash of Gaberdine Tailor (3:58)
04. Gulland Rock (5:21)
05. Dubbel Dutch (5:36)
06. Ethelion (5:15)

- Richard Harvey / recorders, soprano, alto & tenor crumhorns, harmonium, pipe organ, grand piano, harpsicord, electric piano, toy-piano, glockenspiel, mandolin, vocals
- Brian Gulland / bassoon, bass crumhorn, tenor recorder, keyboards (4), vocals
- Graeme Taylor / guitars (acoustic, electric, semi-acoustic, 12-string & classical), vocals
- Philip Nestor / bass guitar, vocals
- David Oberlé / drums, timpani, percussion, lead vocals

The passion to recreate authentic medieval folk music which began on the first album becomes corrupted by the exponentially exploding world of progressive rock on the second album MIDNIGHT MUSHRUMPS and is a veritable transition between the authentic period style of the eponymous debut release to the fully fledged progressive rock folk behemoth "Red Queen To Gryphon Three" which would emerge a mere few months later. With this second release GRYPHON caught the attention of Steve Howe, who fell for the sprawling title track (which clocks in at 18:58 and took up side one) and offered them the coveted spot of opening for Yes' 1975 tour allowing the band to gain a much larger audience. With this new album came a new full-time bassist with Philip Nestor who undeniably added the proper crossover aspects in the rock / folk hybridization.
MIDNIGHT MUSHRUMPS is an exponential leap in sophistication for unsuspecting GRYPHON fans. Whereas the debut album was solely a collection of medieval English folk songs performed in a bona fide period style complete with authentic instrumentation, album number two steps up their cross-pollinating process with progressive rock aspects. At this point all of the medieval folk instruments are still on board performing their retrospective duties in creating an authentic achronistic snapshot of the past but with the addition of Philip Nestor's rock oriented bass skills and Richard Harvey's symphonic prog sensibilities on pipe organ, harpsichord and piano, they all conspire to create an impression of time traveling having occurred of a true blue medieval folk band having suddenly popped into a 70s symphonic prog band's rehearsal and suddenly spontaneously bringing a totally new strange hybrid of music into existence. Richard Harvey would also become the main composer of the band leading the sextet deeper into the contemporary world.

The sprawling title track which swallows up half the album is a progressive folk rock masterpiece that never strays from the mood building medieval folk music that the band is famous for but it seriously revs it up with ever changing passages, progressive time signature and tempo changes like there's no tomorrow sounding like they are making up for lost time in catching the prog rock wave of the era. The music is serenely ambitious never sounding forced. For two disparate unrelated genres being mashed together, it all sound quite natural which is quite the major feat if you ask me. Like the debut album, MIDNIGHT MUSHRUMPS is entirely instrumental with the mere exception being the traditional "The Plough Boys Dream" sounding more like a hangover from the pure folk covers of the debut.

You can feel the energy gestating on MIDNIGHT MUSHRUMPS and as exciting as the development from the first album is with the marriage with progressive rock and all, it really feels like the band is only beginning. As the album progresses it seems like the tracks get more audacious with their bold time signatures and tempo changes. The band tackle these challenges with grace and the odd juxtaposition of authentic folk instrumentation with progressive rock compositional styles makes this utterly unique in the musical world for there is no comparing this band to Jethro Tull, Comus or other English folk rock bands of the era. GRYPHON sounds like no other and likewise MIDNIGHT MUSHRUMPS sounds like no other album in their very own discography. Perhaps not as sophisticated and completely satisfying as "Red Queen" but i find this to be an exciting album that in the midst of their gold rush progification process which creates an incomparable yet satisfying ratio of prog rock and medieval folk aspects.

Gryphon - 1973 - Gryphon


01. Kemp's Jig (3:07)
02. Sir Gavin Grimbold (2:45)
03. Touch and Go (1:29)
04. Three Jolly Butchers (3:54)
05. Pastime with Good Company (1:31)
06. The Unquiet Grave (5:40)
07. Estampie (4:53)
08. Crossing the Stiles (2:22)
09. The Astrologer (3:12)
10. Tea Wrecks (1:06)
11. Juniper Suite (4:49)
12. The Devil and the Farmer's Wife (1:55)

- Brian Gulland / bassoon, bass & tenor crumhorns, recorders, keyboards, vocals
- Richard Harvey / recorders, soprano, alto & tenor crumhorns, organ, harpsichord, harmonium, glockenspiel, mandolin, classical guitar, vocals
- Graeme Taylor / guitar, harpsichord, organ, recorder, vocals
- David Oberlé / drums, percussion, glockenspiel, vocals

Gryphon was formed in the early seventies, soon after two graduates of Royal Academy of Music, a multiinstrumentalist Richard Harvey and a woodwind player Brian Gulland, met, finding a mutual approach to music. The duo played a few local concerts and were soon joined by a guitarist Graeme Taylor and a drummer and percussionist Dave Oberlé. In March of 1973, the quartet entered the studio to record the first tracks for what would become their self-titled debut album, which was released in June of the same year under the Transatlantic label. The cover art, portraying a mighty, masculine creature, half an eagle, half a lion, Gryphon, was designed by Transatlantic's artist, Dan Pearce.
Since its very first days, Gryphon's aim was to put the original English folk of the middle ages and renaissance into the framework of modern folk music, reminiscent of the sixties folk revival, artists like Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, and even Bob Dylan. The results are absolutely charming. The interplay of a wide plethora of instruments like recorders, flutes, crumhorns, a bassoon, a mandolin, a guitar, a harpsichord, a harmonium, organ, and various percussion instruments gives the album a rich, majestic sound. Furthermore, Gryphon is dripping with cascading, labyrinthine arrangements. Everything, as technical and sophisticated as it could be, is often executed in a tongue-in-cheek manner. All these elements do not give an impression of overabundance. Everything seems to have its own place in the musical layers, while the minimalistic factor makes Gryphon's material sound authentic. The emotion, character, spirit, and atmosphere of this album are dense enough to fire up listener's imagination and put their "alter ego" on a busy street of the 14th century London. With this release, Gryphon created an image of medieval troubadours with incredible instrumental skill.

What undoubtedly shaped Gryphon's sound to a high degree, was its members' classical training. The previously mentioned variety of wind instruments works in favor of the band's unique sound. The instruments are played with great precision and passion. Dave Oberlé's percussion playing is versatile, he finds himself incredibly proficient in rapid rhythmic play on many types of drums at once. While a good most of folk bands at the time usually used two acoustic guitars, Gryphon only needed one - Graeme Taylor's traditional, percussive style covers all guitar parts needed. Harmony vocals, which play a crucial role in the band's sound, range from deep, washy bass, to baritone, to a high, tounge-in-cheek, almost Monty Python-like countertenor.

The album opens with an instrumental piece "Kemp's Jig". Although the title suggests so, this is not a jig in the traditional meaning of the word. Nonetheless, it proficiently sets up the right atmosphere for the rest of the album. "Sir Gavin Grimbold" is the most comedic of the songs, telling a story of an adventurer, who set out on a journey never to be seen again. "Three Jolly Butchers" is quite similar in appeal, showcasing the fantastic harmony vocals of the band's members. "The Unquiet Grave" is less cheerful than the previous tracks, with its meditative, pastoral feel. "Juniper Suite" is in fact not a suite, but only a five minute track with great interaction of various wind instruments and a moody harpsichord. "The Devil and the Farmer's Wife" is another comedic, short-format story song, which closes the album with a quick allusion to Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" on harmonium.

Gryphon are most often associated with their instrumental 1974 release Red Queen to Gryphon Three, which showcased the more classical-oriented, electric folk sound. However, just one year before that, the group had recorded their all-acoustic self-titled debut. It could shortly be described as an incredibly moody take on music of the middle ages and renaissance. The album is an incredibly pleasing journey through medieval England and should be a pleasing experience for folk fans! Highly recommended!