[ SHORT REVIEWS | DETAILED REVIEWS
(49 min, The Laser's Edge)
TRACK LIST: 1. Oysterjungle 3:01 2. Mind Movie 9:16 3. Pajamamafia 6:12 4. Black Mist 3:41 5. Painforest 5:32 6. Paella 8:27 7. Sea Son 5:25 8. Alfresco-I 5:39 9. Alfresco-II 2:07 LINEUP: Karsten Vogel - saxophones; ARP string ensemble Kenneth Knudsen - ac. & el. pianos, Moog, ARP Claus Bohling - guitars, sitar Ole Streenberg - drums Jess Staehr - bass With: Finn Ziegler - violin Hans Nielsen - violin Bjarne Boie Rasmussen - viola Erling Christensen - cello Palle Mikkelborg - trumpet Kasper Winding - congas
Prolusion. The Laser's Edge label continues reissuing on CD the legacy of Denmark's best vintage era band, SECRET OYSTER. To learn some really curious details of the history of this outfit's birth, read the preamble to the review of "Vidunderlige Kaelling", the successor to "Sea Son", which in turn takes the second position in their discography. The original "Sea Son" LP is a six-track recording, whereas this reissue includes three bonus numbers, all being placed at the end of the CD of course. About half of the tracks are Karsten Vogel's creations, while the others are credited to Kenneth Knudsen and Claus Behling. Vogel has been an integral part of the creatively most remarkable contemporary Danish outfit (musical conglomerate actually) Taylor's Universe since 1993, and also has numerous solo and collaborative albums to his credit, one of which is with the golden violin of India, Dr. Lakshminarayana Subramaniam.
Analysis. Although Secret Oyster is commonly considered to be a classic Jazz-Fusion ensemble, they're much less jazzy than Soft Machine or even Brand X, not to mention Return To Forever or Weather Report. In fact, their music exceeds by far the bounds of that idiom, having more often an indirect connection than perfectly matching it. Taking the original "Sea Son" LP in its general appearance, I can't describe the album otherwise than as follows. This is classic Progressive Rock at the peak of its glory and, at the same time, at one of its culminatory creative manifestations, executed with a remarkable mastery, filled with plenty of innovative discoveries, still sounding both fresh and topical nowadays - 32 years after its release (in which is no surprise though - it was the blessed 1974 after all). Secret Oyster's music is inimitably unique, their stylistic horizon being very broad, embracing the harmonic sophistication of Symphonic Prog, the superfine aesthetic of European Classical music, the transcendental elegancy of Space Fusion, the Jazz Rock grooves, the Hard Rock energy, elements of Blues, Oriental motifs and more. Even when they move strictly within a Jazz-Rock framework, as is in the case of Black Mist and Alfresco-I, their play is based not on their intuition, but on their conceptual, thoroughly prepared, almost-mathematically structured compositional models - which however is the flaw of these two. Both should be highly attractive for those enjoying Soft Machine's "Bundles", but not for me, sorry. They possess the power to exert an instant effect on the listener, but being abundant in repetitions and - therefore - predictable, they lose much of their charm already after a couple successive listens. On each, the sax, guitar and piano either improvise on the primordially set theme provided by the rhythm section or they all together do one joint unison refrain-movement which, while being puzzling in its construction, never changes its general thematic outline. Sounding more interesting, although much less bright, is the third bonus track, Alfresco-II, which, to be brief, reveals a surprisingly cohesive combination of melody and eclecticism. All the other compositions though, are masterworks. "Erasing the border between symphonic and jazz harmonies" could've been an apt epigraph for Paella, Pajamamafia and Sea Son, even though their literal content is nothing other than composed Space Fusion, steadily intensifying and gathering momentum throughout each, and finally transforming into an avalanche-like yet still totally coordinated jam. To get some idea of these, imagine a cross between "You" by Gong and Hawkwind's "Astounding Sounds Amazing Music", but don't forget that the album under review was released before any of those cited by way of example. Well, the title track (coming as the first bonus track) first seems to be just a rockier rather than a really alternative version of Pajamamafia, but the appearance of Karsten Vogel's sax at the fore brings a solid dose of additional intrigue, and just listen to how both blazingly and passionately the man plays here. Unlike those he does on the prototype cut, Claus Bohling directs his guitar in a totally different direction this time around. Kenneth Knudsen in his turn more frequently changes the timbres of his keyboards, at times astonishing me with a really unexpected combination of sounds from his rich analog arsenal. The long Mind Movie reposes exclusively on symphonic 'pillows', most of the arrangements having a direct relationship with Art-Rock as well. You would never regard this piece as a work of Jazz-Fusion unless you were to think the same about classic Pink Floyd and Yes (both bands can serve as relative points of comparison in this case). It's quite another matter that rock improvisations have always been part of Symphonic Progressive. The first two movements on Oysterjungle seem to be clearly in Jazz-Fusion traditions, but then the tune's stylistic scope begins widening right in front of the very eyes (sorry, ears), soon obtaining the shape of Art-Rock of the first water, which can be strict or heavy or classically-influenced, now revealing spacey tendencies, now some bluesy overtones, but always retaining a pronounced symphonic sound. You hit the bullseye if you are certain that the band didn't make even a single attempt to overcome the pronounced non-jazz nature of a violin quartet, because Secret Oyster are not 'your' average jazz-rockers indeed, but are a collective of open-minded musicians with a profound understanding of their direction in progressive music. Painforest is pure magic and is the same story overall, save the mere:-) fact the piece's first half is a concerto of Classical music for a classic violin quartet and still classic acoustic piano. The cello overtones just send shivers down my spine - maybe it is played via a piezoelectric pick-up?
Conclusion. "Sea Son" is a must have for all the omnivorous Prog heads - without whom our beloved genre would have become extinct already many years ago. I wonder if those praising AOR and Neo do understand how tactless it is (and dangerous - regarding the entire Prog Rock movement) to summon their readers to support what they like, while avoiding anything which lies beyond their comprehension.
VM: December 7, 2006
[ SHORT REVIEWS | DETAILED REVIEWS - LIST | BANDLISTS ]