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(Note: *This and a few of the other Francis Monkman solo albums will be re-released by the UK's "Voiceprint" label in the fall-winter 2001.)
Line-up: Francis Monkman - guitars, keyboards (the former member of Curved Air*) Florian Pilkington-Miksa - drums & percussion (same*) Rob Martin - bass (same*) Guest musicians: Mike Gore - guitars Mike Cooper - guitars
Prologue. Frankly, I thought I was already familiar with all albums Francis Monkman has ever recorded and released as a Solo Pilot, as one of the masterminds of Curved Air and Sky, let alone all the other star projects he was involved in, beginning with Phil Manzanera's 801 of 1976. Yet another Francis' album lies now in my hands. "Jam" is by far not a new album - it was recorded back in 1991, so I wonder how I could miss it? It seems to me that Francis has a kind of musical box, in which he keeps some of his works for the time being, so I think "Jam" must be just one of them.
The Album. The very beginning of the 1990s was a time for the reunion of Curved Air's classic line-up with Sonja Kristina on lead vocals. At the time the legendary band performed a few remarkable live shows, one of which was rendered on the "Alive" double CD of 1990. So it's not by chance that we see the three Curved Air former members in the line-up of the "Jam" album. It's a bit strange perhaps, but musically, "Jam" most of all reminds me of classic albums of Progressive Space Rock. (The latter sub-genre has nothing to do with just a prog-tinged "spacey" style, but represents quite a heavy, on the whole, music, that at the same time contains a lot of spacey episodes and is marked with clear prints of Progressive almost throughout. The most known bands - the real high-weights of Progressive Space Rock are, probably, the UK's Clear Blue Sky and Hawkwind.) At the same time, "Jam" is the first all instrumental work within the frame of sub-genre that this writer became familiar with. Really, as well as in the case with most albums by the bands that I mention above, more than a half of the eight compositions, featuring the "Jam" album, contain all those essential ingredients that form true (hard-edged!) Progressive Space Rock. Hypnotic, yet quite rich in diversity, riffs-moves are changed with excellent solos, going along with spacey echo effects; wonderful interplays between two soloing guitars unexpectedly fall into other Spacey dimensions, where only some strange signals and flashes from parallel worlds sound enigmatically and fantastically, etc, again and again: these are the characters of at least the album's five pieces. While there are obviously no overdubs on "Jam" at all, three electric guitars, supported by an excellent work of the rhythm-section, fill in the space of the album very effectively. Only two compositions on "Jam" (tracks 2 and 4) have pure spacey structures (with some psychedelic additions, though) in their compositional schemes. The last track is the only piece on the album that shines with excellent keyboard solos, while powerful guitar riffs with anthem-alike intonations make out of the ending of the album a grand finale.
Summary. The more Francis Monkman's albums I hear the more I wonder how many musical genres are in his creative arsenal. "Dweller On the Threshold" (1981) represents Symphonic Art Rock (or simply Progressive Rock); the stylistics of "Urdance" (1994) is a unique, extremely innovative blend of contemporary Classical Music and RIO; "21st Century Blues" is nothing else but the first album of Progressive Blues - the only such phenomenon in the whole Progressive genre; a couple albums that Francis released in the first half of the 1990s wholly consist of pieces of contemporary Classical Music. Now "Jam", whose contents are equally suitable to be defined either as Progressive Space Rock or as Progressively Aggressive Spacey Psychedelic Heavy Metal. All in all, "Jam" is one of the best albums ever created under the banner of one of the most significant sub-genres of Progressive Rock.
VM. August 23, 2001
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