Sunday, April 19, 2020

Philip Cohran and the Artistic Heritage Ensemble - 2009 - The Spanish Suite

Philip Cohran and the Artistic Heritage Ensemble 
The Spanish Suite (Martina, Delores, & Marguirite)

01. The Spanish Suite 39:32

Alto Saxophone – Charles James Williams
Baritone Saxophone – Donald Myrick
Bass – Louis Satterfield
Cornet [Coronet] – Phillip Cohran
Congas – Master Henry Gibson
Drums [Trap Drums] – Bob Crowder Jr.
Guitar – Pete Cosey
Musette [Chinese], Trumpet – Charles Handy
Tenor Saxophone – Eugene Easton
Trombone – Willie Woods
Tuba – Aaron Dodd

Written in 1965 and first performed in December of that year at an AACM performance at the St. John Grand Lodge located at 7439 S. Ingleside in Chicago.
This particular performance was at the Afro Arts Theatre at 3900 S. Drexel in February of 1968.
Never released until this CD edition.

"The Spanish Suite was written to magnify the contribution that Moorish Spain made on the European Renaissance. The relationship of music to cosmic rhythms and harmony was altered from the original state of Spanish music and eventually distorted down to the 12 tone equi-temperment system of tuning. The Artistic Heritage Ensemble was taught to play outside of the 12-tone system and to recognize natural tone relationships. The musicians had to be dedicated to music for life in order to reach the level they obtained. 

Philip Cohran and the Artistic Heritage Ensemble - 2007 - Singles

Philip Cohran and the Artistic Heritage Ensemble 

01. The African Look 3:36
02. Loud Mouth 5:22
03. Frankiphone Blues 4:14
04. El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz 7:36
05. Detroit Red 7:57
06. New Frankiphone Blues 7:09
07. Black Beauty 2:53

Alto Saxophone – Charles J. Williams
Baritone Saxophone – Donald Myrick
Bass – L. E. Satterfield
Congas, Timbales – Master Henry Gibson
Cornet, Kalimba [Frankiphone] – Philip Cohran
Guitar – Pete Cosey
Percussion [Trap Drums] – Bob Crowder, Jr.
Tenor Saxophone – Eugene Easton
Trumpet, Musette [Chinese Musette] – Charles Handy
Vocals – Mrs. Ella Pearl Jackson

This Japanese CD collection brings together all the tracks from Philip Cohran's thrilling Zulu label 45s. While some of his and the Artistic Heritage Ensemble album tracks can be a bit sprawling, the limitations of the 7" format seems to have focused the Chicago jazz group's minds on creating some succinct but still impressive pieces. From the tribal Afro-jazz opener "The African Look", via the wickedly funky extended thumb-piano jam on "Loud Mouth" and Egyptian melodies on "El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz", the distillation of the AHE sound is absolutely fantastic.

Another absolutely faultless offering from Philip Cohran and the Artistic Heritage Ensemble. As it clearly says, this is a compilation of all his singles, so some of them are available on the other two releases, but who cares, they're so bloody good I'm happy to have them twice. Of the new tracks, there's quite an element of funk developing to them, but still with all that Afro-centric magic you expect from these guys. Like the On the Beach album, this one is just so energising that you just walk away from it on a total high afterwards.

As an aside, this album's release is probably due to one musically passionate RateYourMusic user contacting Mr. Cohran and politely bombarding him with requests to consider re-releasing these singles. So, if it wasn't for RYM and its music obsessed users, this release may never have seen the light of day.

Enough talk, go out and buy this truly magical album, your life is incomplete without it.

Philip Cohran and the Artistic Heritage Ensemble - 1968 - The Malcolm X Memorial

Philip Cohran and the Artistic Heritage Ensemble
The Malcolm X Memorial (A Tribute In Music)

01. Malcolm Little 7:45
02. Detroit Red 10:15
03. Malcolm X 5:20
04. El Hajj Malik El Shabazz 8:20

Alto Saxophone – Charles James Williams
Baritone Saxophone – Donald Myrick
Bass – Louis Satterfield
Cornet – Philip Cohran
Congas – Master Henry Gibson
Drums [Trap Drums] – Bob Crowder Jr.
Guitar – Pete Cosey
Musette [Chinese], Trumpet – Charles Handy
Tenor Saxophone – Eugene Easton
Trombone – Willie Woods
Tuba – Aaron Dodd
Vocals – Sister Ella Pearl Jackson

This record was taken from a live performance in the Affro-Arts Theater on February 25, 1968 with the technical assistance of Brothers Clarence Bridges, Nora, and "Jack" Chapman.

[Note: The Mississippi Records vinyl reissue unfortunately, and erroneously, reverses the Side order: Side A features 1) "Malcolm X" and 2) "El Hajj Malik El Shabazz; Side B features 1) "Malcolm Little" and 2) "Detroit Red."  If you get this version, make sure you play Side B first to preserve the intended track sequence.]

The Malcolm X Memorial is a live album of four long tracks that pay tribute to four parts of Malcolm X’s life. As I could never have the understanding of what, plus I wouldn’t want to be disrespectful with my modern day take, I’ve copied identically the text from the back cover explaining the motivation behind each of the pieces of music.

“Malcolm Little” – the first song or stage is “Malcolm Little” which represents Malcolm as a little boy, quite helpless but with good eyes to see and a clear memory. This stage is identical with the condition of Black people when they were brought to America against their will.

“Detroit Red” – was the second stage which represented escape through pleasure and forgetting the past. Many Black Americans are still in this stage of dope, alcohol, self-abuse, and refusal to deal with the problem.

“Malcolm X” – is the awakening and embracing of Black values as the result of Mr. Elijah Muhammad’s teaching. This combination was heard around the world and gave many Blacks a choice of ways to live.

“El Hajj Malik El Shabazz” – was the pinnacle of Malcolm’s Development. Through his pilgrimage to Mecca, Malcolm returned to his Asiatic homeland. If focused international attention on the Black American’s struggle for a separate way of life.

“Malcolm Little” is more of a blues based piece that has the hopeful feel of childhood and innocence. This piece starts with the raw blues feel, but then picks up pace with the inclusion of the Tuba that adds the bouncy hopeful feel, and the highlight of the piece a beautiful flute solo from Eugene Easton. There’s a very pastoral feel to this piece that has a wonderful positivity to it.

“Detroit Red” has a big-band swing feel and represents the lindy hopping zoot suit wearing part of Malcolm X’s life, or as the cover says his hedonistic period.  Musically this piece has a slow, but forceful pace that has a real film soundtrack quality to it. What adds the more contemporary feel is the heavy percussion and an excellent tenor solo by Eugene Easton. You can hear a bit of a Sun Ra influence in this piece.

“Malcolm X” is a chant piece that does not pull it’s punches in telling the white man he’s no good. This is probably the most forceful piece, and once again has a real early Sun Ra feel.

The last piece is “El Hajj Malik El Shabazz” which represents his shift from the Nation Of Islam to more spiritual teachings. This piece has a real Eastern feel to it and has some similarity to the Mulatu Astatke albums that were recently reissued. There’s two pieces to this tune, the first having an up-tempo percussive busy feel, which is meant to represent the Eastern market place, and in the second there is heavy use of Trap drums to represent the confusion in the hall where Malcolm X was assassinated followed with a vocal tribute to the “ultimate meaning of Malcolm’s sacrifice:  IMMORTALITY”.

Like Philip Cohran & The Artistic Heritage Ensemble’s other album On the Beach this is an incredible musical experience. As far as I know this outfit only made two albums, and those albums are two of the finest blues/jazz explorations I’ve ever heard; both are five star essentials. Also, on this CD reissue they have not used those awful plastic gel cases, the cover art is a miniature representation of the original cover. In fact I think they must have used the image from an original cover as there is yellowing and the mark where the vinyl has been.

The quality of this album is not immediately apparent: it creeps up on the listener.  Cohran and his Artistic Heritage Ensemble follow up the excellent On the Beach with a live suite that pays homage to the novelistic arc of Malcolm X's extraordinary life.  Each distinct phase of it is charted musically here. As with the previous album, Cohran's music is difficult to pin down: it incorporates obvious elements of African music and American jazz, but it also draws on rock, blues (the album begins with a bluesy intro by future Miles Davis guitarist Pete Cosey), and Euro-classical song structure.  In addition to the superb, seamless instrumentation here, the ambience of the room (recorded at the Affro-Arts Theater on February 25, 1968 in Chicago) makes the recording sound like a lost document, a bootleg, a piece of our musical heritage that we weren't supposed to hear.  Usually I'm not a big fan of jazz suites (Mingus's highly regarding The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady bores me to tears and Coltrane's A Love Supreme is about my seventh favorite album of his), but this one works quite well, enacting young Malcolm Little's turbulent younger years, his exciting but dangerous years as Detroit Red in Boston and New York City, his conversion to the spirituality espoused by The Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam as Malcolm X, and, lastly, his more general and multicultural embrace of Islam as El Hajj Malik El Shabazz.  This set is for fans of jazz, and great music in general, whether they revere Malcolm X or detest him.

Philip Cohran and the Artistic Heritage Ensemble - 1968 - Armageddon

Philip Cohran and the Artistic Heritage Ensemble 

01. Motherless Child
02. Creation Of The Beast
03. The Warning
04. The Window
05. Armageddon

Alto Saxophone – Charles James Williams
Baritone Saxophone – Donald Myrick
Bass – Louis Satterfield
Composed By, Arranged By, Cornet – Phillip Cohran
Congas – Master Henry Gibson
Drums [Trap Drums] – Bob Crowder Jr.
Guitar – Pete Cosey
Musette [Chinese Musette], Trumpet – Charles Handy
Tenor Saxophone – Eugene Easton
Transferred By, Edited By, Mastered By – Dennis Tousana
Trombone – Willie Woods
Tuba – Aaron Dodd
Vocals – Cary Jackson, Elaine Jackson, Ella Pearl Jackson, Spencer Jackson Sr., Spencer Jackson, Jr., The Spencer Jackson Family

Armageddon was conceived in 1958 and written down in 1963. After performing with Sun Ra and benefitting from the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Phil Cohran's compositions changed decidedly, and he began to focus on cosmology and culture.

This particular performance was recorded live at the Affro Arts Theatre at 3900 S. Drexel, Chicago, IL on February 11th, 1968.

Contrast and conflict is how Philip Cohran paints his picture of Armageddon. Fear and hope, destruction and rebirth all co-exist and struggle for supremacy on this stunning live recording. From first contact, we are greeted with the harrowing rendition of the Negro-Spiritual ‘Motherless Child’ by a powerful and commanding male bass vocalist. Not what one is accustomed to if they have ever heard any other rendition of the song. To hear a voice with such presence sound so vulnerable is as beautiful as it is unnerving, foreboding of the themes and musical conflict to come.

The contrast is amplified by a maternal female vocalists rendition singing the second refrain of the song. A comparatively tender and loving rendition, filled with hope and comfort- thus summerising Cohran’s view of the aremmegedon he believes is soon upon us. For everyone- the strong and powerful, the pure and loving will be feel like a motherless child once cast into its chaos.

Beauty and violence collide in an uneasy marriage on the following tracks- Funky jams provided by an afro-inspired rhythm sections and relentless bass lines are accompanied by punchy foreboding horns which descend into anarchy. Soft fluttering drums transform into chaos and piercing saxophones pervert ethereal atmospheres, providing a self-perpetuating battle for dominion.

Whilst one might think (myself included) the title track would be the final descent into the abyss, my expectations were subverted- Whilst Cohran's words of warning give birth to the climatic conflict of the album, the conflict gives birth to the most spiritual and hopeful ending. Almost like an exorcism, Cohran’s preaching over the chaos purges the conflict. The once violent horns become tender, akin to the nurturing voice at the beginning. The shrill saxophones become a warm blanket. The eruptting drums metamorphosis into almost Buddhist like prayer chimes. Peace, love and beauty prevails.

“There must be a total upheaval of the earth to cleanse it, so life can be lived again.” - Philip Cohran, Armmegedon

Philip Cohran and the Artistic Heritage Ensemble - 1967 - On The Beach

Philip Cohran and the Artistic Heritage Ensemble
Philip Cohran and the Artistic Heritage Ensemble

01. On The Beach
02. Motherhood
03. The Minstrel
04. Unity

Alto Saxophone – Charles James Williams
Baritone Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone – Donald Myrick
Bass, Trombone – Louis Satterfield
Congas, Timbales – Master Henry Gibson
Cornet, Kalimba [Frankiphone], Violin [Violin Uke] – Philip Cohran
Drums [Trap Drums] – Bob Crowder, Jr.
Guitar – Pete Cosey
Tenor Saxophone, Flute, Oboe – Eugene Easton
Trombone – Steven Galloway
Trumpet, Musette [Chinese] – Charles Handy
Tuba – Aaron Dodd
Vocals – Mrs. Ella Pearl Jackson, Patricia Smith

Cohran was born in Oxford, Mississippi, on May 8, 1927. When he was about nine, he moved with his family to Missouri. There, his father became a cook in a restaurant in Troy, while the rest of the family stayed in St. Louis. Cohran played trumpet in bands led by Jay McShann in the early 1950s, and then in a U.S. Navy band.

He was introduced to the Sun Ra Arkestra by John Gilmore in 1959. He appeared on the albums Fate In A Pleasant Mood and Angels and Demons at Play among others. He played mostly trumpet and sometimes stringed instruments such as the zither.

By the mid-1960s Mr. Cohran had spent three years playing trumpet and cornet in the pioneering Sun Ra Arkestra, and was established as both a bandleader in his own right and a galvanizing force on the Chicago scene. On May 8, 1965, his birthday, Mr. Cohran and three other local musicians called a meeting at his home in response to a series of nightclub closings, part of a broader economic downturn in the city’s black community.

In a series of meetings that month, the group established the A.A.C.M., whose goal was to create original music and raise public consciousness through performances and events on the South Side.

He later left the organization because, he said, he had been uninspired by its focus on free improvisation. But the A.A.C.M. thrived, becoming an internationally known symbol of the avant-garde and artistic self-reliance. It still exists.

In 1967, Mr. Cohran formed the Artistic Heritage Ensemble, a large group whose trancelike, communitarian music seemed to unite modern funk with Southern ring shouts, and both big-band and experimental jazz. The outdoor concerts he organized at the 63rd Street Beach, where dance troupes performed and vegetarian food was sold, became a citywide phenomenon, with crowds often numbering in the thousands.

The poet Gwendolyn Brooks memorialized these events, which came to be known as the On the Beach concerts, in “The Wall”:

Women in wool hair chant their poetry.
Phil Cohran gives us messages and music
made of developed bone and polished and honed cult.
It is the Hour of tribe and of vibration,
the day-long Hour.

The Artistic Heritage Ensemble released a number of albums on Mr. Cohran’s Zulu Records. Its first, “On the Beach,” was reissued in 2001 by Aestuarium Records and is considered part of the avant-garde canon.

For all his life Mr. Cohran was a ravenous autodidact, studying world history, astrology, health science and musicology and passing that knowledge on to students. He also constructed instruments, including what he called the Frankiphone, an amplified version of the West African mbira, or thumb piano.

Mr. Cohran belonged to a generation of artists who exhumed vast amounts of cultural history that had been widely suppressed since the beginning of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Speaking of his early forays into African history, he told the art historian Rebecca Zorach in 2011, “It was like discovering a gold mine in the garbage can.”

A long-neglected masterpiece, Philip Cohran and the Artistic Heritage Ensemble's On the Beach is finally getting some of the recognition it has long deserved.  Cohran is an impressive multi-instrumentalist, composer, and visionary, with an impressive lineage--both hailing from the Chicago years of Sun Ra's Arkestra (1955-1960), as well as fronting a group that contained members that would go on to greater fame with Miles Davis (guitarist Pete Cosey) and Motown (Master Henry Gibson).  Also, he purportedly introduced Maurice White (later of Earth, Wind & Fire) to the kalimba.  

What makes the first two tracks of On the Beach so impressive is their defiance of all and any genre classifications.  Our instinct is to consider this music jazz because of the preponderance of horns.  On "The Minstrel," however, we will notice Eastern drone elements, Egyptian and African instrumentation, electric bass playing pre-figuring funk, and the soul-singing of Sister Ella Pearl Jackson and Patricia Ann Smith.  "The Minstrel" does feature soloing, but is far too composed to fit loosely into the category of post-bop jazz.  Whatever we choose to call it, it remains a stellar piece of music.  "Unity," though minus singing, continues in this vein.  Cohran and the Artistic Heritage Ensemble are already producing the syncretic music Miles Davis was yet to record.  Unfortunately, the title track nor the closer, "Motherhood," are nowhere near as engaging.  "On the Beach" is much lengthier, less focused, and more solemn.  "Motherhood" is another stab at oblique soul music, but its sentimental lyric renders it far less effective than "The Minstrel."  Still, this is a "jazz" record that is strange without the necessary trappings of strangeness that inhabited Sun Ra or Albert Ayler's records of the time.  Every listener interested in great multicultural American music should hear On the Beach (and its just-as-good-if-not-better follow-up, The Malcolm X Memorial) for its singular blend of musical influences and its exemplary execution.

Long sought after reissue of this 1967 avant-populist Chicago jazz classic. Includes 2 tracks never before released on vinyl. Phil Cohran is one of America’s resounding jazz survivors. In the late 50s he was introduced into the fold of Sun Ra’s legendary Arkestra, but it is with his own ‘Artistic Heritage Ensemble’ that he really made his name. This record (usually referred to as ‘On the Beach’) is where his virtuoso skill really stands out, and his steadfast desire to create a sound that was different from his peers is obvious from even the opening bars. This is where Chicago jazz (rather than its then way more popular New York counterpart) came into its own, and Cohren is still considered a crucial player in the scene. These days he can be spotted flexing his chops at a local Egyptian restaurant, and he is as much a part of the city’s rich history as Al Capone or the Sears Tower. From the pioneering ‘New Frankiphone Blues’ which used an amplified kalimba as its lead instrument to the smoky vocal-led ‘Motherhood’ ‘On The Beach’ is a gold standard in far-reaching out sound. As AllMusicGuide reviews says "There are too few records like this, too few moments in musical time where everything converges and marries the past to the future in the heart of the now. This is one album no one with a pulse should be without"

The Pharaohs - 1996 - In The Basement

The Pharaohs
In The Basement

01. In The Basement 10:40
02. People Make The World Go 'Round 11:06
03. African Roots 7:20
04. Tha Pharaohs Love Y'all 5:05
05. Drum Suite 10:46
06. Love And Happiness 3:02

Alto Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone, Baritone Saxophone, Flute, Cowbell – Don "Hippmo" (Myrick)
Bass, Cowbell, Vocals, Mixed By – Ealee Satterfield
Drums [African], Cowbell, Congas, Tambourine – Oye Bisi (Nalls)
Drums [African], Percussion [Tumba], Gong, Vocals – Shango Njoko Adefumi
Drums [Quinto], Congas – Kewu Oya (Gogins)
Drums [Trap] – Derrick Morris
Guitar – Warren Bingham
Lead Vocals – Sulanya (Sue Conway)
Trombone, Bassoon, Vocals, Horns [Baritone], Flute [Indian Snake Charmers] – (Big) Willie Woods
Trumpet – Rahm Lee (Davis)

1, 2, 3, 5 were recorded live at High Chaparral, Chicago
4 was found on the original master tapes for "THE AWAKENING" album
6 taken from Scarab Records 45rpm / B side: "Freedom Road"
5 - Derf Reklaw Raheem and Black Herman does not appear in this version of "Drum Suite". While still an incredible find, The Pharaohs would like you to know that this was just a dry run with the tape rolling. We have chosen to include it here for documentary purposes only.

In The Basement is compiled of live tracks, b sides and a track that never got used for the Awakening album. These guys made a fantastic noise, whether it is the hard driving funk of "In The Basement", the Sun Ra infused groove of "People Make The World Go Round" or the heartfelt soul of "African Roots" -  all righteous stuff. Unfortunately there's the crazy inclusion of a ten plus minute drum jam. This I do not get at all. It's not like they had a shortage of material, the CD had one more track than the album, an instrumental take on Al Green's "Love & Happiness". Why not put that track on here and have the drum tune as the CD only bonus track. I don't want to be ungrateful to Luv N' Haight for re-introducing this incredible lost band to the world, but ten minutes of drumming for me is just excruciatingly dull. Five out of five for the music, but taking into consideration the drum tune this album unfortunately doesn't get the top marks it deserves.

The Pharaohs only managed one release during their short lifetime, 1971's masterful Awakening. But when the San Francisco-based jazz-funk reissue label Luv N Haight reissued Awakening in 1996, they also came out with a brand-new CD of mostly previously unreleased material called In the Basement. Most of this album was recorded live in 1972, after the already enormous 11-piece band had grown to include four more players, including a sixth drummer. The live tracks are fascinating, because where Awakening sounds like an earthier and more Afrocentric version of Earth, Wind & Fire (which several members of the Pharaohs would go on to found in 1973), the much loopier and more jazz-oriented tracks here sound more like Sun Ra jamming with the P-Funk All Stars. The 11-minute take on the Stylistics' "People Make the World Go Round" is absolutely indescribable, a mix of otherworldly horns and psychedelic guitars over a non-stop African-style groove. Other highlights include the all-rhythm "Drum Suite," a hypnotic blend of organic polyrhythms and chanting, and a stunning cover of Al Green's "Love and Happiness" that's the only studio track here. Not quite as wonderful as Awakening, In the Basement nonetheless makes one wish that the Pharaohs had lasted longer, just to see what would have happened next.

The Pharaohs - 1971 - Awakening

The Pharaohs

01. Damballa 7:50
02. Ibo 3:43
03. Tracks Of My Tears 3:45
04. Black Enuff 2:55
05. Somebody’s Been Sleeping 3:30
06. Freedom Road 5:15
07. Great House 12:14

Saxophones, Flute, Cowbell – Pharaoh - Don "Hippmo" (Myrick)
Bass, Cowbell, Vocals – Pharaoh - Ealee Satterfield
Drum [Quinto Drum], Alto Saxophone – Pharaoh - Black Herman (Waterford)
Drums, Flute, Congas, Cowbell, Vocals – Pharaoh - Derf Reklaw Raheem (Fred Walker)
Drums [African Drums, Tumba], Vocals – Pharaoh - Shango Njoko
Drums [African], Cowbell, Congas, Tambourine – Pharaoh - (Oye Bisi Nalls)
Drums [Trap Drums, Tumba] – Pharaoh Alious (Watkins)
Guitar, Lead Vocals – Pharaoh - Yehudah Ben Israel
Trombone, Bassoon, Horn [Baritone], Vocals, Drum [Big Black] – Pharaoh - (Big) Willie Woods
Trumpet, Horn, Shawm, Flugelhorn, Percussion, Vocals – Pharaoh - Ki (Charlesleesunnychuckkiyahuhandyki)
Tuba, Tambourine, Horn [Baritone] – Pharaoh - Aaron Ifad Dodd

Recorded at: RCA Studios - 1 N. Wacker, Chgo., Ill.

The Pharaohs, a soul/jazz/funk group, were formed in 1962 out of a student band, The Jazzmen, at Crane Junior College in Chicago. This early incarnation comprised Louis Satterfield on trombone, Charles Handy on trumpet, and Don Myrick on alto saxophone. They were joined by Fred Humphrey on piano, Ernest McCarthy on bass guitar and Maurice White on drums. Satterfield, White, and Handy were studio musicians at Chess Records in Chicago.
On the South Side of Chicago the Affro-Arts Theater offered concerts, as well as classes in music and dance. As the name suggests the theater represented the strong African-American nature of the area and the times. It was here that the Jazzmen merged with the Artistic Heritage Ensemble to form The Pharaohs.
In 1971 the band recorded The Awakening, and in 1972 In the Basement. With cuts like The Pharaohs Love Ya'll and In the Basement these albums established The Pharaohs as a force, if only on the cult level, for several years. Many of the Afro-Sheen commercials from this period featured music of the Pharaohs.
By the early seventies, Maurice White had had some success with the Ramsey Lewis Trio and recorded a demo with several Chicago musicians. After signing with Warner Brothers he assembled the band which was to become Earth, Wind & Fire. Some of the other members of the band released another album under the name Sky in 1979.

This is drummer Maurice White’s previous group to the better-known Earth Wind & Fire, and Awakening is their sole album, but this writer finds it superior to anything EW&F ever did. Indeed this excellent fusion of funk and jazz is one of the genre’s best, but it shouldn’t be mixed with stuff like Hancock’s Head Hunters or Miles’ On The Corner album, because Pharaohs’ works is somehow closer to brass funk rock than to real jazz-derived fusion. Well they sound like an ethnic African or world version of Chicago or early Kool & The Gang stuff, but Mombassa albums are not sonically far away either. With as much as eight wind players and some five percussion beaters (some are thankfully combining the two), you’ll easily understand just how rhythmic their 18-men music can be.

Fast and furious percussions, funky bass and enthralling jazzy horns are opening the outstanding 8-mins Damballa, which also features some short tribal chants interventions between spell-binding trumpet and sax solos for added drama. AWESOME!! No less impressive is the almost exclusively percussion track Ibo, but unfortunately the following Tracks Of My Tears is a sappy soul Motown affair ala future Commodores, which is out of the album’s context, if you ask me. The interesting ultra-funky Black Enuff is unfortunately a little short for my tastes, but can these guys rawk, dude!!

On the flipside, only two tracks, the first of which is the 6-mins Freedom Road, which could find space on an early Chicago album, probably where the guitar sweats out most from the group’s pores. The 13-mins+ closer Great House is the second real highlight of the album, a mainly-instrumental funky groove that allows a superb series of interplay between all concerned, but the band is really tightly bound into the given direction.

Yes,yes this is what can be done by a band when left to their own devices and free from label constraints.The Pharaohs were a great band that blended heavy funk with a touch of free jazz and lots of African themes and spirituality.A painfully short lived project which contained future stars such as thhe hugely talented Derf Reklaw.Sounding like a solid funk ensemble one minute,a sharp cover band the next and then like the funk offspring of the Art Ensemble of Chicago.Here was a band that let everything hang out on this seminal release.Side one is all about the funk and mixes a couple of stunning cover versions with three high quality originals.Listen to a great version of "Tracks Of My Tears".Side two is where the jazz is spliced with the funk with "Great House" being the grand finale to fully highlight the wonderful power and skill of thsi band.It is this spirit and wonderful energy that is so often missing from the majority of music today.Occasionally music this good does make it to the ears of the mainstream but sadly The Pharaohs were yet another band that slipped into obscurity.

Absolutely one of the finest funk albums of the early '70s, and one of the most unfairly neglected, 1971's Awakening is as important and exciting as any of Funkadelic's early albums from the same period. It doesn't have the mordant humor of George Clinton's best work, but these seven lengthy tracks are as powerful as early funk gets. A Chicago-based 11-piece ensemble (many members of which would go on to found Earth, Wind & Fire with Maurice White), the Pharaohs were led by their five-man-strong drum section, which included future world jazz pioneer Derf Reklaw and two percussionists specializing in African drumming. This polyrhythmic powerhouse takes center stage on all of the tracks, even the jazzy, ballad-tempo version of Smokey Robinson & the Miracles' "Tracks of My Tears." Every track is a winner, from the purely Afro-centric "Ibo" to the soulful groove of "Freedom Road," but the winner is the 13-and-a-half-minute closer, "Great House," on which the drums and horn section hurry each other along an expansive, loose-limbed groove while guitarist Yehudah Ben Israel unleashes some acid-style guitar solos similar to what Eddie Hazel was doing on tracks like Funkadelic's "Wars of Armageddon." This is as good as Afro-funk gets.

Sky - 1979 - Sky


01. Boogie 7:05
02. Little Darlin' 5:55
03. Big Willie 5:54
04. Love Came Along 4:16
05. Put Some Love In What You Do 8:11
06. Love Is Forever And For All 5:53

Congas – Oye Bisi, E. Songojoko Adefumi*
Drums – Ira Gates
Guitar – Warren Bingham
Keyboards – Dean Gant, Xavier (tracks: B2)
Lead Guitar – Dale Williams , Gary Thompson
Tenor Saxophone, Lead Vocals – Donald Myrick
Trombone [Tenor] – Willie Woods
Trombone, Lead Vocals – Louis Ealee Satterfield
Trumpet – Michael Harris
Violin [Electric] – Queenie (tracks: B2)

All the info I can find online about this outfits comes down to: 
“Nice boogie funky album recorded at chicago but only issued in Europe. This group is not the same as the band named “Skyy” and the guitarist is “Gary Thompson”, maybe the guitarist of Funkadelic”.
Some search on the names of band members gives us a bunch of very very seasoned session cats and pretty much all the members of The Pharaos a band that would more or less evolve into The Phenix Horns, Earth, Wind & Fire's original horn sectionas well as Donald Myrick  an active session musician, working with artists such as Bobby Bland, Heaven 17 and Phil Collins...So the quest continues... Please if you know more about this lot let me know!!!!

Sky - 1971 - Sailor's Delight

Sailor's Delight

01. Make It Tight 4:09
02. Don't Want Nobody 3:15
03. Let It Lie Low 3:12
04. Taking The Long Way Home 3:13
05. Come Back 4:02
06. Bring It On Back 4:14
07. Tooly 3:47
08. Sing For Me 4:27
09. Low Down 5:21
10. Make It Tight (Mono Mix) 3:24
11. Taking The Long Way Home (Mono Mix) 3:16
12. Mama I Feel Your Sadness 2:52

Bass, Guitar, Vocals – Douglas Fieger
Drums, Percussion – Robby Stawinski
Guitar [Electric] – John Uribe
Guitar, Keyboards, Flute, Vocals – John Coury
Horns – Jim Price
Piano – Ian Stewart

The second album by the Knack's Doug Fieger was produced by Jimmy Miller with Andy Johns, eight years before producer Mike Chapman would unleash "My Sharona" on the world. Fieger's "Don't Want Nobody" has all the elements that Miller put into his Stones hits and Traffic classic album cuts -- piano and flute supplement the folk guitar and vocal, giving the singer an enviable platform. The album is a solid representation of Fieger's song compositions and pre-Knack efforts; "Let It Lie Low" is a nice bit of pop/rock that foretells what was to come, a happy-go-lucky drumbeat by Robby Stawinski exploding when the Rolling Stones' horn section of Bobby Keys and Jim Price kicks in. Young Fieger's letter to producer Miller not only landed him the two albums on RCA, it enabled the group to get the great players here, like guitarist John Uribe and the Stones' pianist Ian Stewart, continuing the tradition of the stellar guests who showed up for Sky's first album. "Taking the Long Way Home" definitely sounds like an American version of Traffic, with conga drums that help the transition from this song to the piano ballad "Come Back." Again, the Stones' horns come in to add a touch of class, creating a nice bed for the powerful song-title chorus to emphasize Feiger's slinky vocal. This track is outstanding, and should have been a staple on 1971 FM radio. Miller was quite busy in the early '70s with Locomotiv GT, the Savage Rose, the Rolling Stones, Delaney & Bonnie, George Harrison, and Ginger Baker's Air Force, among others. Sailor's Delight, with its beautiful red sunrise/sunset cover, is a lost gem from the major producer at the peak of his powers as well as from his discovery Fieger, who went on to create the hit of the summer of 1979, "My Sharona." Inside these grooves are melodies and performances that verify Miller's genius; "Tooly" has an island feel while John Coury's "Sing for Me" comes off like the serious side of Tommy James. "Sing for Me," "Come Back," and "Low Down" from this disc would be perfect Sky contributions for the inevitable Jimmy Miller production box set. As entertaining as it is historical, Sailor's Delight is creative work from the master producer and the musicians he believed in enough to sign. How many "name" producers on a hot streak would gamble on an unknown singer, with validation coming years later as the singer went on to worldwide fame?

Doug Fieger's high school band, Sky. Every song on the first album should have been a top ten hit, and then they made this album, maybe even better. Doug went on to create The Knack, and made some great music in later years before he died that sounded more like this sweet, rocking early Sky stuff.

Sky - 1970 - Don't Hold Back

Don't Hold Back

01. Goodie Two Shoes 2:51
02. Take Off And Fly 4:37
03. Rockin' Me Yet 3:06
04. I Still Do 3:24
05. Make It In Time 4:13
06. One Love 2:52
07. There In Greenbriar 4:05
08. How's That Treatin' Your Mouth Babe ? 2:55
09. Homin' Ground 1:57
10. Feels Like 1,000 Years 5:01
11. You Are The One (Bonus Track) 3:59
12.  Anomona Getcha (Bonus Track) 2:45
13.  Whatcha Gonna Do (Bonus Track) 2:20

Bass – Doug Fieger
Drums – Bob Greenfield, Rob Stawinski
Guitar, Keyboards – John Coury

"Certain portions of this album may not be suitable for broadcast".

In 1970, Sky, whose members included Fieger, John Coury and Robert Greenfield, was achieving local success in Detroit. Although underage, the band was frequently booked at the concert venue, The Grande Ballroom, as the opening act for a powerhouse succession of groups including The Who, Joe Cocker and Jeff Beck. In a display of youthful bravado Fieger and Coury sent a letter to legendary producer, Jimmy Miller (Rolling Stones, Spencer Davis Group, Traffic, Blind Faith), saying that if he ever found himself in Detroit he should come by and listen to their band, and to everyone’s surprise, Miller took them up on the offer.

“On his way to LA he made a pit-stop in Detroit,” recalls Greenfield. “He came to Doug's parents’ house and we played for him in their basement. The next day Jimmy Miller told us he would like us to come to London to produce us. That was the goal we had worked so hard for.”

Within weeks of graduating from high school, a seventeen year-old Fieger and his bandmates were on a plane to London and Olympic Studios with a recording contract on RCA records.

With Miller on board, the lineup of musicians that came in to work with Sky reads like a Who’s Who of 60s rock and roll: Bobby Keys on sax, Jim Price on trumpet, Nicky Hopkins on keyboards as well as Gary Wright (who also produced), Chris Wood (Traffic) on woodwinds, and Ian Stewart on piano. Andy Johns (Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main St., Goat's Head Soup and Led Zeppelin IV) engineered and shared producer credit.

Don’t Hold Back was released that year and work on the second album Sailor’s Delight began almost immediately (in LA and at the Rolling Stones’ mobile studio at Mick Jagger’s mansion, Stargroves); this time with a new drummer, 16 year-old Rob Stawinski. Sky returned to LA for the 1971 release of the album, but marketing was weak and sales were tepid. The band broke up and went their separate ways. Fieger went on to co-found The Knack, but he remained close friends with Coury, who also found success in the music business, recording with Don Henley and co-writing the hit “Last Worthless Evening.” In 1994 he played on The Eagles’ Hell Freezes Over and continued to tour with them until 2000. Stawinski toured with Badfinger before returning to his hometown near Detroit. Of his time with Sky Stawinski comments, “I am proud, to this day, of what we accomplished.”

After Fieger’s death in 2010 his family decided to go about obtaining the rights from RCA. However, this project was not purely sentimental. Not only did they believe in the quality of the material (all written by Fieger and Coury), but having seen that Sky was frequently referenced on Knack message boards, the family concluded that there was also general interest in the music and wanted to make it available to fans.

Long-time Knack producer Richard Bosworth was called in to digitally re-master the songs. The project interested him immediately; despite having worked so closely with Doug he knew of Sky, but had never heard the songs before. He was not disappointed. “I (was) impressed with the quality of songs Sky composed for theses two albums,” he says. “I've become a fan.”

Discovered among the recordings were some titles and mixes that did not appear on the original albums. They have been included as bonus tracks on the re-releases as a treat for those fans from long ago who never expected to hear a “new” Sky song after all these years.

Undoubtedly, one of the most successful power pop bands of all time is the Knack. Their debut single, “My Sharona,” sat atop the Billboard singles chart for six weeks and was the best-selling single of 1979. The accompanying album, Get the Knack, went platinum a mere seven weeks after its release. Yet the Knack is also one of the most controversial power pop bands, with critics accusing frontman Doug Fieger of channeling the sexual maturity of a fourteen year-old and grave-robbing the music of 1960s icons like the Beatles—and listening to songs like “My Sharona” and “Good Girls Don’t,” it was hard to disagree. What many people don’t know, however, is that this was no cynical pandering or knowing  kitsch—indeed, Fieger had already been writing and performing music with the same themes and musical approach for over a decade; since he was, say, just about fourteen.

The earliest recorded evidence of Fieger’s modus operandi appears on the two albums released by his first band, Sky: Don’t Hold Back and Sailor’s Delight, released on RCA in 1970 and 1971 respectively. The band was formed in suburban Detroit by Fieger and John Coury. Though both were guitar players, Fieger switched to bass to form a trio with drummer Bob Greenfield. Still in high school, Fieger and Sky were opening for major acts such as the Who, Jethro Tull and Joe Cocker at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom. With a combination of hubris and naïveté, Coury and Fieger wrote to Rolling Stones producer Jimmy Miller, suggesting he come to Detroit to hear the band. He did. After an audition in the basement of Fieger’s parents’ house, Sky went to London to be recorded and produced by Miller at Olympic Studios. The results of those sessions appear on Sky’s debut, Don’t Hold Back.

If anything, Don’t Look Back was a more powerhouse undertaking than Get the Knack. Miller, fresh from his work with the Stones, Traffic and Blind Faith, brought in an impressive array of support musicians: Bobby Keys, Jim Price, Alan White, P.P. Arnold, and Doris Troy. And, of course, at that time, Olympic Studios was perhaps even more highly regarded than Abbey Road. In terms of sales and airplay, however, it was all for naught and the recorded went largely unnoticed.

The songs on Don’t Hold Back are not quite as economical or as hooky as those on Get the Knack, but they are certainly cut from the same cloth. More Liverpool than Detroit, more AM than FM, and nearly straining to be received as a hit record. Fieger’s prurient interests are also well-represented, most notably on “How’s That Treating Your Mouth Babe?,” an unabashed ode to oral sex that predates Lil’ Kim and 50 Cent by almost thirty years. What is very much different, however, is the scope and texture of the arrangements and the production. Get the Knack is nearly a live album—the sound of the band changing very little from one track to another and barely augmented by overdubs or other studio sweetening. Don’t Look Back is much richer and more diverse in its production. “Goodie Two Shoes” is a horn-laden slow grinder with a chorus of female background singers. “Take Off and Fly” is a country-rocker that would have fit right in on the first Brinsley Schwartz album. “Rocking Me Yet” boasts rollicking sax solos over traditional 1950s rock riffs. “I Still Do” is the most Beatle-esque track complete with double-tracked vocals and a major 6th chord ending. Despite this cafeteria approach to arrangement and production, virtually all of the songs on Don’t Look Back can be easily imagined as performed by the Knack and most benefit from such a listening.

Shortly after Don’t Look Back was recorded, Sky replaced Greenfield with new drummer Robby Stawinski and headed back into the studio with Miller to record the follow-up, Sailor’s Delight. The second record is more of the same time, this time adding guitarist John Uribe and Stones sideman Ian Stewart on piano. The songs are a little more sophisticated and a little less Knack-like—or rather more like the Knack of Round Trip than the Knack of Get the Knack. The standout track, “Taking the Long Way Home,” bears a strong Traffic influence and features a prominent flute part.

Sky called it quits shortly after the release of Sailor’s Delight, due to the usual creative differences and poor sales. Fieger, of course, went on to fame with the Knack. Coury worked with Don Henley and Randy Meisner on both Eagles and solo projects. Stawinski briefly subbed for Mike Gibbins in Badfinger during a 1972 tour of America.

Both Don’t Look Back and Sailor’s Delight have been recently reissued by Doug Fieger’s estate and are readily available on amazon and other internet sites. Each disc includes a few interesting but nonessential bonus tracks. If you’re a Knack fan, track ’em down and check ’em out—and maybe someday later we’ll take a look at Fieger’s other pre-Knack work with the Sunset Bombers.

I was so happy to see both Sky albums, "Don't Hold Back" and "Sailor's Delight" finally being released for the first time in digital form. I've owned both of these albums on vinyl since they were released in 1970/71, and they have become two of my favorites in my collection. Sky was Doug Fieger's first recording group before going on to form The Knack ("My Sharona"). Sadly Doug passed away from a long battle with cancer in 2010. But these albums present the early talent Fieger and fellow bandmates John Courey and Rob Stawinski possessed as a very tight and solid band. Back in the day, some track lyrics were considered too risque and potentially offensive to be aired on the radio, such as the track "How's That Treatin' Your Mouth Babe?", but today would be G rated.

Sky - 1987 - Mozart


01. The Marriage Of Figaro: Overture 3:45
02. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik: Rondo 2:35
03. The Marriage Of Figaro: Non So Piu, Cosa Son 2:25
04. Symphony No. 34: Last Movement 3:40
05. Symphony No. 35: (Haffner): Andante 5:15
06. The Magic Flute: Overture 6:35
07. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik: Romanza 5:20
08. Horn Concert No. 4 In Eь: Rondo 3:25
09. Don Giovanni: La Ci Darem La Mano 2:50
10. A Musical Joke: Presto 3:50
11. Come, Sweet May 2:50
12. Alla Turka: Rondo 6:17

Acoustic Guitar – Kevin Peek
Bass Guitar – Herbie Flowers
Drums – Tristan Fry
Electric Guitar – Kevin Peek
Harpsichord, Synthesize, Piano – Steve Gray

Orchestra – The Academy Of St. Martin-in-the-Fields

This album sank like a stone on its release in 1987, and was the last piece of musical product from Sky. I wouldn't say it's *bad*, exactly, but it seems a long way in feel from the band's original output. Basically Tristram Fry roped in his mates at The Acadamy of St Martin in the Fields to play a bunch of Mozart numbers in poppy arrangements, whilst he and Herbie Flowers trucked along with a 'pop-rock rhythm section' behind them. There's the odd guitar part for Kevin Peek, but mostly it's breezy strings. Obviously there are some "good tunes" on here, as Mozart wrote 'em! And it's all very slickly well played and recorded. It all sounds quite fun and jolly, almost verging on a "light entertainment orchestra" vibe at times - twee, if one wanted to be cruel. The best LOLs are probably to be had when the lads add some electro-sequencer-drum-machine bits to Mozart's "Presto - A Musical Joke" (the BBC Showjumping music). But really, I think the Sky project had run its course by this point!
Esoteric's reissue is of a high quality - the remaster sounds pristine and the CD booklet reproduces the original sleeve notes and adds a new interview, so full marks there. I'm glad they've made this album available again, even if it's hardly the highpoint of Sky's catalogue

Sky - 1985 - The Great Balloon Race

The Great Balloon Race

01. Desperate For Your Love 6:37
02. Allegro 3:34
03. The Land 3:19
04. Peter's Wedding 7:19
05. The Great Balloon Race 4:50
06. The Lady & The Imp 5:39
07. Caldando 4:34
08. Roleystone 3:24
09. Night Sky 2:31

Kevin Peek / guitars
Steve Gray / keyboards
Herbie Flowers / bass
Tristan Fry / percussion

Guest Musicians:
Ron Aspery / saxophones & flutes on "Peter's Wedding"
Adrian Brett / pan pipes
Lee Fothergill / guitars
Tony Hymas / synthesiser & vocals on "Desperate For Your Love"
Clare Torry / Vocals

Without the classical guitar maestro, few expected SKY to soldier on. But they did, and I for one am glad. This album was a pleasant surprise: it moves away from SKY's increasingly irrelevant instrumental formula, incorporating new instruments (synthesiser, flute and pan pipes, for example), and some interesting songs. The opener, 'Desperate for your Love' is a lazy, slow-building number unlike anything else SKY did, with a spoken vocal, and they almost pull it off. The rest of the first side and much of the second is well-played but ultimately unmemorable.

The power of this record comes from two pieces: the achingly beautiful 'Caldando' and the following rocker 'Roleystone'. These pieces, along with the first and title track, could have formed the basis for a major departure for SKY, had they but shown the courage to completely abandon their tried and true formula.

You don't need this record, but if you see it lying around somewhere, dust it off and slap it on your turntable. It's worth an hour of your time.

Sky - 1983 - Five Live

Five Live

01. The Animals
02. The Swan
03. KP I
04. Dance of the Little Fairies
05. Love Duet
06. The Bathroom Song
07. KP II
08. Antigua
09. Sahara
10. Sakura Variations
11. Meheeco
12. Hotta

"The Animals" is missing on the Single CD release.

Line-up / Musicians
- Steve Gray / grand piano, harpsichord, synthesizers, organ
- John Williams / acoustic guitar
- Kevin Peek / acoustic & electric guitars
- Herbie Flowers / bass guitar, string bass, uncredited vocals on 6
- Tristan Fry / drums, marimbaphone, waterphone

Recorded live at :
The Comedy Theatre, The Concert Hall - Melbourne, The Concert Hall - Perth,
The Festival Theatre - Adelaide,
The Capitol Theatre - Sydney.

There are at least two different CD issues, one omits The Animals (MCCD 251, 1996), and the other is two discs (Esoldun, 1995) and contains other tracks not on the original LP - most probably previously available studio tracks from the Sky studio albums.

As a teenager I used to borrow vinyls from a library and that way learn new bands, and Five Live was such first-acquaintance album to me, and possibly my first INSTRUMENTAL pop/rock album in general. The totally atypical live experience (almost devoid of any interaction between the group and the audience), , well, it did make a peculiar impression on me, though not a very lasting one, for some time later I overtaped it. Something like a decade later I bought SKY2 -- generally seen as their best -- which I removed from my shelf a couple of years later. Even in my enormously prog-expansive recent years SKY has escaped my radar, until this year I received Esoteric Recordings' re-releases of the albums # 2-5 to be reviewed in a prog magazine. It probably helps being now a middle-aged man to better appreciate the academically stiff style of SKY, ha ha!
The roughly 95-minute set starts with a 20+ minute, admittedly narcotic wandering of 'Animals'. In my teens I couldn't quite decide whether it was an over-extended bore or a fascinating piece of music painting inner images to my mind. It sure demands a friendly and patient attitude from the listener but at least partially it is rewarding. The next track is a very delicate Tristan Fry arrangement of Camille Saint-Saëns' 'The Swan' starring marimba. Not bad, actually.

'KP I' (written by, you guessed, Kevin Peek) has a rockier flavour and tastes more like the Sky2 material. Tristan Fry's marimba starts 'Dance of the Little Fairies', joined soon by piano, acoustic guitars and rhythm section. This joyfully galloping tune is a good example of the SKY music operating between the no-man's land of "pop" and "art" music. 'Love Duet' is a beautiful, romantic track starring guitars.

The second CD opens with a naive 'Bathroom Song' which has its own humorous charm, even if musically it is a throwaway tune. "Ignore!!! Except for the Glitterball", writes Herbie Flowers about it. 'KP II' is a lively fast-tempo tune offering the "rock" aspect which is so scarce in this set in general -- which doesn't mean I'd prefer it over the rockless tracks. 'Antigua', a moody classical guitar number of John Williams, is among the finest moments here. The rest of the set varies between narcotic and disappointing. But summa summarum: if you appreciate SKY also when they don't rock at all, there's no solid reason not to enjoy this double album as well. Just don't expect it to capture the "live energy" normally felt on live albums. SKY was not a rock band in that sense!

Sky - 1983 - Cadmium


01. Troika 2:58
02. Fayre 3:07
03. A Girl In Winter 3:35
04. Mother Russia 6:57
05. Telex From Peru 8:11
06. The Boy From Dundee 5:30
07. Night 4:07
08. Then & Now 3:21
09. Return To Me 3:38
10. Son Of Hotta 7:07

Bonus Tracks
11. Troika 4:03
12. Why Don't We 4:23
13. Fool On The Hill 2:48

Herbie Flowers / basses
Tristan Fry / drums, percussion, bells, trumpet
Steve Gray / keyboards
Kevin Peek / guitars
John Williams / guitars

Cadmium marked the end of the road for Sky as far as John Williams went. He quit the band after this one, and probably took a lot of fans with him, including me, as I didn't bother with either the Great Balloon Race or the Mozart album. Cadmium is a pleasant enough album, but with a prevalance of shorter tracks, often driven by quite basic themes, you can see why Williams might have thought it was time to move on. It's certainly some way from the more accessible prog-rock tracks of the first two Sky albums. That said, the material here holds up well enough, and Kevin Peek could certainly compose a decent tune. Son of Hotta is perhaps the best track here, a kind of optimistic finale to the John Williams era; and overall it is excellent to see this album available again after so long. For me, a hugely nostalgic listen.

Digital remastering, faithfully re-produced liner notes and photos from the original Cadmium LP all add to the quality of the release, plus a bonus DVD of a Sky concert from 1983 and some bonus audio tracks. It all adds up to another well-crafted release as part of the Sky back catalogue, and again, Esoteric records deserve nothing but praise for putting these out there. From the number of reviews the album re-releases have garnered on Amazon so far, there's clearly been a market for them after such a long period of time when they simply weren't available.

Sky - 1982 - Sky 4

Sky 4 (Forthcoming)

01. Masquerade 3:20
02. Ride Of The Valkyries 5:07
03. March To The Scaffold 5:00
04. To Yelasto Pedi (Theme From 'Z') 4:00
05. Waltz No. 2 2:35
06. Fantasy 3:14
07. My Giselle 4:36
08. Xango 5:07
09. Fantasia 3:43
10. Skylark 3:10

- Herbie Flowers / bass, tuba
- Tristan Fry / drums, marimba, celeste
- Steve Gray / keyboards
- Kevin Peek / guitars
- John Williams / guitars

The music of SKY has been referred as "granny prog", and that amusing tag is indeed very accurate. Their classically influenced instrumental rock is technically perfect, clean, relatively free of big surprises - and quite sterile to the ears of acquainted prog listeners. It's probably the 2nd album (a double on a full-length CD) that has the most to offer for us. After that work keyboardist Francis Monkman (formerly of CURVED AIR) left Sky and was replaced by Steve Gray, who in my opinion was a very good choice. Funny how much he looks like greyed Tony Banks... But now onto the Forthcoming: this time Sky, featuring the classical guitar virtuoso John Williams, decided to make an all-covers album concentrating on the works of art music composers. To some this seems to be reason enough to malign the results, but I see no point to do so. Sky remains faithful to their own style, and this shortish album isn't so bad at all. Had they chosen only the best-known classical pieces that everyone would recognize, it would have been a totally different situation, closer to tasteless things like Hooked On Classics.

The danceable 'Masquerade' (Khatchaturian) sounds like it was written by - or for - this group. 'Ride of the Valkyries', the dramatic Wagner tune known also from the film Apocalypse Now, suffers from the popularity of the piece, and the electric guitar focussed sound is definitely not Sky at its best, nor is the drama captured very well. 'March to the Scaffold' (from Hector Berlioz' Fantastic Symphony) is percussionist Tristan Fry's choice, a favourite tune since his youth. The percussion comes to the fore in this strong arrangement. The next tune 'To Yelasto Pedi' is taken from the film "Z", familiar to many also as a sung version. This rhythmic track contains a small delicate moment for acoustic guitar and marimba.

'Waltz No. 2' (Ravel) is an excellent choice, especially as it isn't so worn-out. The nocturnal arrangement gives it a Satie-like spirit. I like the harpsichord and rich guitar texture on 'Fantasy' (Bach) but Baroque music suits much worse for crossover treatment. The version of a Spanish tune 'My Giselle', in which Kevin Peek's arrangement favours electric guitar, is poignantly compared to ALAN PARSONS PROJECT by Kenethlevine. 'Xango' of Brazilian origin leans on Fry's moody marimba but remains rather sleepy. 'Skylark', an evergreen composed by Hoagy Carmichael, has a nice classical guitar arrangement.

Sky - 1981 - Sky 3

Sky 3

01. The Grace 0:30
02. Chiropodie No. 1 4:22
03. Westwind 6:22
04. Sarabande 3:03
05. Connecting Rooms 7:10
06. Moonroof 4:03
07. Sister Rose 4:31
08. Hello 4:12
09. Dance Of The Big Fairies 3:30
10. Meheeco 6:35
11. Keep Me Safe And Keep Me Warm, Shelter Me From Darkness 0:54

Bass Guitar, Double Bass, Tuba [Boosey & Hawkes] – Herbie Flowers
Drums [Premium], Marimba [Premium], Vibraphone [Premium], Waterphone – Tristan Fry
Guitar [Ovation Classical, Adanas Acoustic, Fender Stratocaster, Gibson L5s] – Kevin Peek
Guitar [Ovation Classical, Fleta Spanish, Gibson Les Paul] – John Williams
Synthesizer, Grand Piano [Steinway], Harpsichord, Clavinet – Steve Gray

The disc is translucent Red when held up to the light.

While parts of the excellent "Sky 2" implied a certain commercial concession to "classical pop", those aspects are virtually dispensed with on "Sky 3", perhaps the influence of newcomer Steve Gray. Moreover, while the group's relatively tame style may be irksome to some, within the context of its time this is still a rather bold endeavour.

Apart from its more understated nature - just listen to the marvelous and dignified "Chiropodie" and Handel's "Sarabande" if you need proof - the other major progression is in the jazzier accents, which suit this formation to a T. Tunes like "Westwind" and "Sister Rose" more than suggest a pull towards that idiom, and even the relatively rocking "Moonroof". While "Dance of the Big Fairies" is like "Tuba Smarties Part 2", "Meheeco" is not nearly what the bastardized title suggests. It's a full fledged prog number with spanish guitars, a worldly beat, and a kitchen sink approach to a finale that stands as SKY's ultimate moment as a band.

Some of the material is a bit more languid than most of us would like, in particular "Hello", which sounds like CAMEL on downers, if you get my drift. "Connecting Rooms" is,the quantitative centerpiece, but unfortunately that's all that can be said, as it abruptly switches between mundane themes. But on the whole this is the equal if not the peer of its predecessor, even if it might not propel the demanding progger skyward.