Thursday, February 22, 2018

Marsupilami - 1971 - Arena


01. Prelude To the Arena (5:23)
02. Peace Of Rome (7:01)
03. The Arena (12:55)
04. Time Shadows (11:16)
05. Spring (9:16)

- Fred Hasson / lead vocals, percussion, harmonica
- Dave Laverock / electric, acoustic & bowed guitars, percussion, vocals
- Leary Hasson / piano & electric piano, organ, Mellotron, tubular bells
- Jessica Stanley-Clarke / flute, vocals
- Richard Hicks / bass
- Mike Fouracre / drums, timpani, percussion

- Bob West / vocals
- Mandi Riedelbauch / tenor & alto saxes, flute (5), percussion
- Peter Bardens / percussion, producer

Second album by MARSUPILAMI was an ambitious concept one about the brutality of the ancient Roman culture involving not less than eight musicians. BTW it has been produced by Peter Bardens whose band CAMEL was still waiting for their big success at that time. On ARENA the band had refined and further improved their sound by adding Mellotron, sax, electric piano, more woodwinds and percussion. But central instrument is still the Hammond played incredibly skillful by Leary Hasson covering its full potential spectre.

Apart of the involvement of more instruments the most striking difference to their debut is that the compositions on here are much less catchy and very intricate with a rather strong jazz influence at times almost towards RIO. Thus this one needs definitively a few spins to get into it. Prelude to the Arena opens the albums with a fluttery organ sound followed by narrative vocals by Fred Hasson leading to a quite heavy part with screaming, furious drumming and guitar but as well more quiet parts with e-piano, Mellotron or flute. First track is already a highlight! Second song Peace of Rome is as well a very versatile one varying between mellow, beautiful sections and more savage ones. Thereafter the very intricate epic songThe Arena is following with 13 minutes of timing and including awesome solos on Hammond and flute. Initially the track has a very oriental inspired sound developing more into a Canterbury vein. Time Shadow is the one where the sax comes into play and probably the best one with an incredibly intricate interplay between flute, sax and Hammond. It starts with psychedelic sounding spoken vocals then a dramatic intro with organ and drums which segues into a rather quiet part with flute, organ and short amazing solo on Harmonica (!) before vocals come in. This track has a very strong jazzy Canterbury touch not mainly due to the sax playing. Really an absolute highlight! The initial part of The Spring is the weirdest and oddest one of the album with a strange and disharmonic Hammond sound and a savage free jazz jamming, then it segues into a very pleasant theme on flute followed by a solo by Harmonica and the song switches more into a psychedelic folksy vein with mesmerizing vocals not unlike the band Quintessence. The final part is a reprise of the flute theme with tubular bells added on.

This concept album about the drama of the gladiator's arena during the Roman Empire is the second of two intriguing albums Marupilami recorded in the early 70s. The pair of proto-prog albums are of almost equal strength, and both are worth investigating. While the first album wins marks for being such a unique work and sounding like very little like anything that came before it, Arena's greater variety in terms of instrumentation probably tips the scale in its favour.
Prelude To the Arena: The Undertones Of Violence In A Drifting Generation begins with some threatening noises from lead vocalist Fred Hasson over some frenzied attacks but soon settles down into a truly beautiful melancholic passage with acoustic guitar, flute and mellotron. Fast-paced jazzy vocals and a great electric piano solo from Leary Hasson take this piece home

The second track Peace Of Rome: They Manufactured Death To Keep The Peace, has a nice, dark mid-section led of course by organ and flute, before a searing special from Dave Laverock (actually the best guitar solo I've heard from him) takes the music to a new level. Marsupillami's longest song The Arena (The Fighting, The Killing, The Mother Of Fornication) doesn't start off so well but after a couple of minutes becomes an outstanding organ-dominated psychedelic improvisation, drawing heavily from Eastern themes, with drummer Mike Fouracre also making his presence felt. This track loses momentum, but again resolves itself towards the end, even if the very last notes of the song seem unbearably harsh

Time Shadows (Lay Low The Past, The Future Brings Hope) is a sombre, almost eerie affair, with Jessica Stanley Clarke's flute and Leary Harsson's organ doing a good job in building up an atmosphere (Fred Hasson's harmonica works rather less well). It eventually breaks into jazzy flute driven prog. There's some nice piano playing, and another pleasing surprise when a saxophone kicks in to good effect. Laverock's jazz guitar solo is also of note, while the ferentic stomping conclusion to the piece ensures that a good time is had by all.

The closer Spring is another strange one With a pastoral acoustic guitar/organ/flute opening giving way to a veritable cacophany of sound for more than a minute before a beautiful almost soft-rock passage comes into play. This portion is rather remiscent of Camel's tamest moments which is perhaps no surprise given that future Camel stalwart Peter Bardens produced this album. There's a harmonica solo, a powerful jam with an eerie conclusion and a restatement of the soft-rock passage before the show shuts down.

By and large Arena is an album that doesn't really follow any precedents, which is exactly what makes it, to my mind, so darned fresh.

Marsupilami - 1970 - Marsupilami


01. Dorian Deep (7:40)
02. Born To Be Free (5:45)
03. And The Eagle Chased The Dove To Its Ruin (6:38)
04. Ab Initio Ad Finem (The Opera) (10:54)
05. Facilis Descencus Averni (9:37)

- Fred Hasson / vocals, harmonica, bongos
- Dave Laverock / acoustic, electric & bowed guitars, vocals
- Leary Hasson / organ
- Jessica Stanley-Clarke / flute, vocals
- Richard Hicks / bass
- Mike Fouracre / percussion

MARSUPILAMI were an English proto-prog outfit who relocated to the Netherlands. The complexity of their music is quite unusual for the times - we're talking 1970 here, when the big guns such as YES, GENESIS and CRIMSON were barely coming out of the woodwork. A mixture of blues, experimental jazz and hints of folk, their music is often dark and foreboding, favouring perilously complex structures. Try to imagine a mixture of KING CRIMSON, JETHRO TULL, the STRAWBS and EAST OF EDEN.

Their two albums feature weird/oblique melodies and harmonies, lots of heavy keyboards, electric guitar and flute (at times purposely off key), with the drummer pounding on his skins as if his life depended on it. This is very early prog and you particularly feel this in the organ work, which has a typical early 70's psych feel. Their second album, which features an additional member on flute and sax as well as the appearance of the Mellotron, is an ambitious concept album about the brutal culture of ancien Rome - quite a sordid affair, really, but well done. It has a slightly better sound than the first album although most progsters generally favour the first.

 One of those early 70's group that should've emerged but didn't , like Audience, Comus, Gnidrolog and a few more, this south-west England sextet, built around the Hasson brothers Fred (vocals) and Leary (keyboards) and the latter's girlfriend Jessica Clarke (flute and vocals), released two superb albums that have gone way too long without being noticed. The group toured in 68 & 69 heavily in the UK and Continental Europe (from Denmark to Switzerland), even opening the first Isle of Wight Festival that year and played in the first Glastonbury fest the following year. They finally secured a record deal with the folk-specialist Transatlantic label (Pentangle amongst others) and recorded their self-titled album in June 69 (ITCOTCK is still months away), but for some reason, it was only released on April 70. Would've things changed heavily if the album had been released before KC's debut? We'll never know, but Marsipulami's sombre and slightly spooky flute- laden music, often evoking mythology, certainly was groundbreaking stuff and should've caught many more "underground public" ears, but the offer was plentiful in those times and the places in the sunshine a bit scarce.
Back in 69, the sextet's sound was definitely anchored in the 70's, even if the guitars still had a fuzz thing, and groups like Purple or The Nice were not as "modern", but the songwriting was maybe a little too close from one song to another, or the band wasn't able to arrange that the tracks had each its own proper atmosphere, precisely like ITCOFTCK or Nursery Cryme. Indeed, from the opening Dorian Deep, the atmosphere is often sombre and brooding, heavy and borderline angry (Hasson's sometimes off-key and perfectible vocals induce this), organ-driven, with the fuzz guitar and the flute (sounding more like Latimer than anderson) adding more drama, Fouracre's drumming being very strong, this leaves Hicks' bass playing often the anchoring role, but does it brilliantly. The A-side is made of three semi-lengthy tracks, building the group's overall sound, but the flipside's two epics are what the group is all about

By the time of the second-last track Ad Initio (an instrumental), despite their own little intro, we're sort of lost as to where we are as all the tracks have the same ring to them, but here there is also a bunch of classical music themes revisited, the whole thing going down in a chaos of eternal damnation and hell promised, but alas Leary's organ is resurrected through the apocalyptic end and provides a suitable outro. The last track has a more brilliant passage where a cello appears and gives directly another colour to the last minutes of Descencus Aveni., which in its opening stages was reminiscent of early Wishbone Ash despite Jessica's flute, and if it disappears for a while, it comes back as soon as the singing returns (WA's debut was released in early 70, but remember this album is early 69)

The first track here, Dorian Deep begins on a pretty ominous note that doesn't quite let up throughout the album. Eventually a powerful bass-driven song unfolds, with the organ and drums helping to build up the atmosphere while the vocals (always melodramatic and occasionally downright manic!) sing an unusual melody. Dorian Deep is a fantastic piece with Mike Fouracre's frantic drums occasionally being quite tribal in nature, and Jessica Stanley Clarke's flute flittering about constantly ... there's even time for a bit of poetry before a high octane jam takes over.

To Be Free starts off as languid flute-driven piece before suddenly exploding into another frenzied jam, although the Leary Hasson organ solo gives this one a jazz tinge ... that is until the harmonica solo comes in! Finally the flute reclaims the piece and the listener is thrown back to that now seemingly distant melllow beginning

The imagery in And The Eagle Chased The Dove To Its Ruin is pretty neat (although I'd be lying if I said that lyrics were Marsupilami's greatest strength). I must say that though that this is probably my least favourite track, and I think that's because it's the one with the most vocals and the least instrumental interludes.

This minor aberration is more than made up for by Ab Intio Ad Finem (The Opera) which runs for nearly 11 minutes. It begins with a musical box kind of sound before a march gradually takes over. Some churchy organ creeps in and after 2 minutes, an excellent organ/tribal drum jam ensues and after a minute or two, some delightful flute chips in. It then becomes a guitar freak out, before flute leads the band back into a pastoral section, before everything takes off again on a wild jazzy jam at around the 7 minute mark. Although the churchy organ outro seems a tad predictable when it arrives, I still think this is probably my favourite tune.

Facilis Descencus Averni is a different beast altogether, perhaps even more jarring than the most manic moments of Dorian Deep. There's crazed laughter, more poetry, a garish instrument (I can't figure out what ... perhaps a distorted organ) that reaches in and almost tears at one's ears, and a another high-powered jam, with a drastic switch to a meditative flute passage ... before the great jazzy vocal part restates itself.

There is a vibe that reminds me occasionally of Quintessence and at other times of Iron Butterfly, but Marsupilami probably has more to offer the average prog fan than either of these two bands. The intermitently off-key vocals may put some off, but I love these sort of rare prog albums, by bands who were indisputably prog, yet were done before the likes of Yes, Genesis and ELP hit their peak.

Wapassou - 1978 - Ludwig: Un Roi Pour l'Eternite

Ludwig: Un Roi Pour l'Eternite

01. Ludwig (34:02)
02. Le Lac de Starnberg 1886 (1:16)
03. L'Adieu au Roi (2:10)
04. Hymne au Nouveau Romantisme (6:25)

- Freddy Brua / keyboards
- Karin Nickerl / guitars
- Jacques Lichti / violin
- Veronique Nickerl / vocals
- Marc Dolisi / synthesizers

Ludwig, as might be expected, is the more overtly classically influenced of their albums, and uses synthesizers to a greater degree than the previous two, as well as plenty of organs and keyboard bass, and vocals by Véronique Nickerl. Mostly consisting of one long piece "Un Roi pour Eternité" (now fused into one continuous 34 minute track), it also features a short cover of Wagner's "Lac de Starnberg," a shorter track, "L'Adieu du Roi," which features Marc Dolisi guesting on ARP synthesizer, and for good measure Musea has even included a bonus track, the six-minute "Hymne au Nouveau Romanticisme." Three great discs, all highly recommended, although folks addicted to the steady beat of rock drums might be advised to proceed with caution

Wapassou - 1977 - Salammbo


01. Salammbo Part 1 (18:04)
02. Salammbo Part 2 (19:05)

- Freddy Brua / keyboards
- Jacques Lichti / violin
- Karen Nickerl / guitars

Taken after Gustave Flaubert's book, this is the group's third album and as you might have guessed a conceptual one. Two tracks only each filling up a side of vinyl, both of them highly theatrical musically speaking, and no bass and drums, this is a rather puzzling but very charming, oscillating between classical music and rockier moments (the synthesisers moments). If the words descriptive music can ring you something, this might just a fitting definition of it.

Enhanced by another Gustave's artworks (Doré on this one) as a sleeve, this trio (violin, (sometimes) fuzzy guitars, KBs ranging from piano, organs and synths) augmented by Mrs Fizelson's vocals here and there, is achieving quite an impressive show of mastery of their musical propos. The music peaks between the 11 th and 13 th minutes of the second track, sometimes reminding you of a much-happier Univers Zero.

If you love grandiose ambiances, with aerial atmospheres, this little gem can be right up your alley, digging up a highway to your musical orgasmic fields. Do I make sense?

Wapassou - 1976 - Messe En Ré Mineur

Messe En Ré Mineur

01. La Messe En Ré (39:57)

- Freddy Brua / keyboards
- Karin Nickerl / guitar
- Jacques Lichti / violin
- Eurydice / vocals

If anyone is looking for a starting point in over the top prog, this might be a good place. Not that it's just a jumble of noise, it's not. There are passing melodies, haunting violin solos, and organ riffs, echoing female choral singing. Sometimes chaos, resolving into soundscapes that prog electronic groups would kill for .

At the 15:30 mark, you actually have what seems is going to be either a wedding march or the Ave Maria. Then a tape looped riff, first by the violin, then guitar, and then bass, with the return of the female vocals that slowly go from angelic to Gong like yelping, with a male voice singing counter melody. Then it comes full circle and once more, are we in church ?

18:43, the organ and violin take over for a bit ... I'm imagining Nektar at its' best (outside of Recycled) , but this music still gives merit to its' title Mass in Re Minor. Maybe this is a 70s reply to Handel ???

At 26 plus minutes, Wapassou introduce some Raga to the mix. Yet, it brings to mind a spanish born raga (???). It could be the guitar backing, it could be the guitar & keyboard meshing. It could be the moorish underpinning of some spanish culture. This is a french group ?

The final ten minutes the group comes to its' chamber rock climax. The organ, the violin, the female vocals once more building in emotion, the male coming in proclaiming , until we end in an almost post-coital peace, we've fulfilled this service's spiritual mission. We're preparing to re-join the outside world. Re-energized ? Enthralled ? Joyful ? Sated !

Yes, if you're going to start somewhere in avant-garde, this is a great place ...

Wapassou - 1974 - Wapassou


01. Melopée (4:05)
02. Rien (10:44)
03. Musillusion (4:00)
04. Châtiment (6:56)
05. Trip (13:45)

CD reissue:
01. Femmes-Fleurs (bonus track) (2:48)
02. Borgia (bonus track) (2:31)
03. Melopée (4:05)
04. Rien (10:44)
05. Musillusion (4:00)
06. Châtiment (6:56)
07. Trip (13:45)

- Freddy Brua / organ, electric piano, piano, synthesizer
- Karin Nickerl / vocals, acoustic guitar
- Jacques Lichti / violin
- Fernand Landmann / acoustic equipment

Guest musicians:
- Geneviève Moerlen / flute on `Melopée', `Châtiment'
- Benoît Moerlen / percussion on `Trip'
- Jean-Pierre Schaal / bass on `Trip'
- Jean-Jacques Bacquet / clarinet on `Musillusion', `Châtiment'
- Jean-Michel Biger / drums on `Trip', `Châtiment'
- Christian Laurent / electric guitar, sitar on `Trip'.

Wapassou is one of those hard to classify prog group, not really on the rock side of prog, but it would be a shame not to include it, the same way Art Zoyd or Univers Zero are in the archives. Their music is a mix of classical with meditative (almost hippie) moments and spacey ethereal music. Their line-up is just about as unconventional as there is no drums and bass guitar, concentrating between violin, electric guitars and organs. Sounds intriguing? Well it is. 

 A fascinating debut album from a male and female member Seventies musical collective with a skewed split personality of styles and sounds, French group Wapassou would eventually become an avant-garde/chamber prog/rock-in-opposition act of note in the second half of that decade. But while there's the first emerging signs of that on their self-titled first album from 1974, the band were also experimenting with psychedelic, Krautrock, folk, raga and symphonic passages, making for an exploratory work searching musically in so many teasing little glimpses of schizophrenic directions.
Opening instrumental `Melopée' is a melancholic but wistful searing violin, flute and classical guitar folk rumination, keyboards shimmering gently with restraint in the background. The churning and senses-rattling `Rien' races in and out of a wealth of fascinating little themes in almost eleven minutes, Karin Nickerl's breathy pained vocal both reflective and weary over despondent piano, straining synths and scratchy violin responses. The piece quickly turns frantic and dangerous as electric piano and manic acoustic guitar picking grows in urgency, and pulsing electronics and mischievous droning organ brings a nightmarish mood. `Musillusion' closes the first side and is a shorter medieval-flavoured folk lament with droning choir-like vocals, Karin's slightly flat voice giving the piece an eerie despondent quality.

After a first side that was entirely devoid of drums altogether or anything except the lightest of percussive elements, the symphonic `Châtiment' maintains a nicely clipping beat (with almost an accidently modern trip-hop kick to it decades too early!) as Karin's breathy spoken-word purr drifts in and out of aching violin, dancing flute and spectral Ange-like keyboards. The almost fourteen- minute instrumental closer `Trip' sounds like nothing else on the disc (partly due to the addition of several guest musicians), with a Krautrock, raga and psych-rock flavour to the constant spacey electronic drones, lengthy jamming keyboard runs over lively drumming, hypnotic percussion and relentless snaking bass. Acid-fried electric guitar jamming simmers in the background, and sitar groans to life and builds wildly in the climax.

Oddly (and rather frustratingly, because there shouldn't be this kind of `re-writing of history'), the reissue licensed from Musea Records not only adds two instrumental recordings from a 1974 single to the front of the album (they should at least be tacked onto the end of the disc as `bonus tracks'), but it fails to even list them on the back cover. A bit of internet sleuthing reveals they are `Femmes-Fleurs', an easy to enjoy mix of plodding electronics and fuzzy distorted guitars that remind of the title-track opener of Pink Floyd's `Obscured by Clouds', and `Borgia', a throwaway but upbeat jig-like psych-lite rocker full of sprightly Hammond organ and spirited violin.

Initially confusing on first listen, `Wapassou' proves to be an unpredictable and exciting curio if you can connect with the somewhat gloomy mood of the pieces. Each track has a sparse, low-key production and is full of interesting (if not always the most skilled) playing, and there's a constant tasty roughness and natural fragility to the entire set that creates a very permeating and highly distinctive atmosphere. Don't instantly dismiss the album, let it take its time to reveal its precious secrets, and you'll likely find a welcome little unexpected gem.

Hungry Wolf - 1970 - Hungry Wolf

Hungry Wolf 
Hungry Wolf

01. Melanie
02. Watching And Waiting
03. Custards Last Stand
04. Country Wild
05. Waiting For The Morning Sun
06. Like Now
07. Hole In My Shoe
08. Sleepy
09. The Drifter
10. Revolution???

Alan Hawkshaw - Keyboards
Alan Parker - Guitar
Clem Cattini - Drums
Peter Lee Stirling - Vocals
Herbie Flowers - Bass

John Edwards - Trombone
Tony Fisher - Trumpet
Ken Gouldie - Trombone
Cliff Hardy - Trombone
Bobby Haughey - Trumpet
Derek Watkins - Trumpet

Hungry Wolf was not so much a rock band, but a one off project by some of England's studio musicians put together by Alan Hawkshaw and Alan Parker, which makes me wonder if this album qualifies in the category of library music. It is also unclear how one is to distinguish this from the bands Rumpelstiltskin and Ugly Custard as this is essentially the same line up as both bands and the song "Custard's Last Stand" appears here as well as the Ugly Custard LP. This is an interesting album as these are all fantastic musicians, yet there is something strangely contrived about it as well. If you like this, check out CCS, Rumpelstiltskin or other recordings by Alan Hawkshaw. Nothing profound or earth shattering here. It's one of those albums to guarantee lots of cheezy fun.

Great album from 1970 by this short lived UK progressive rock band featuring Alan Parker, who played with Blue Mink, David Bowie, CCS, Elton John, Gerry Rafferty, and Alan Hawkshaw, who played with Cliff Richard, The Shadows, Madeline Bell, Donovan, and Family Dogg. In a similar vein to Blue Phantom, Ugly Custard, and other "progsploitation" groups it's a pleasing selection of jazzy mainly instrumental progressive rock with lots of keyboards, ripping guitar and big band backing. A big shiny funky sound with weird experimental flashes. There are many musical influences here. Shades of the jazz-funk sound of BS&T, and CCS can be heard, and many psychedelic prog. rock touches also influence the album. Altogether, the sometimes experimental sound works wonderfully well. The album featured vocals by Peter Lee Stirling, aka Daniel Boone, who had a couple of pop hits in the early seventies. The musicians included future members of Rumplestiltskin who recorded one great s/t blues rock album in 1970, and well worth checking out. Most of the nusic on the album is original, inventive, and ahead of it's time. It doesn't sound like an album recorded nearly 40 tears ago. An exceptional, and unusual album from 1970!