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Secret Oyster - 2008 - "Live in the USA"

(52:01, Calibrated Records)



1.  Sirenerne 5:20
2.  Oysterjungle 3:20
3.  Black Mist 4:00
4.  Rubber Star 4:42
5.  Paella 4:41
6.  Leda & the Dog 6:37
7.  Pajamamafia 8:00
8.  Traffic & Elephants 6:46
9.  Mind Movie 8:38


Karsten Vogel – saxophones 
Claus Bohling – guitar 
Assi Roar – bass 
Ole Streenberg – drums 
Daniel Fridell – keyboards 

Prolusion. I sincerely consider Denmark’s SECRET OYSTER to be one of the planet’s most interesting jazz-fusion bands. If I’m not mistaken, their discography embraces four studio recordings (of which I have “Vidunderlige Kaelling” and “Sea Son”) and two live albums, this one, “Live in the USA”, documenting their performance at NEAR-Fest-2007. The bandleader, multi-instrumentalist and composer, Karsten Vogel – besides those (numerous) works he has recorded with Robin Taylor and Burning Red Ivanhoe as well as some other artists – also has several solo creations to his credit. The interview with the musician can, if wished, be read here.

Analysis. Previously I only heard about a half of the nine tracks presented, but nonetheless I can tell you for sure that this live album isn’t an overview of the band’s back catalog (or career, if you will), since it doesn’t contain a single piece from their third outing, “Vidunderlige Kaelling”. A couple of live versions of the compositions that I’m acquainted with are rather different from the originals, but if you desire :-) to learn which exactly you should also read this review, as at least at the moment I’m going to describe those without making comparisons between them and their studio counterparts. Traditionally, these Danes don’t use any modern multifunction synthesizers, let alone sequencers – a matter that should instantly win the sympathy of any true connoisseur of Progressive Rock. In short, the recording has the classic Secret Oyster sound, proving that those behind it are still true to the vintage forms of the genre. The compositions vary in style (or rather in sub-style, as none of them leave the domain of Jazz Rock/Fusion, not completely), which is also typical of this outfit, though. Being the sole track that’s performed without the rhythm section, Rubber Star distinctly differs from the others, so it was wise of the band to place it in the middle of the disc. Only involving Karsten Vogel on sax, Claus Bohling on semi-acoustic guitar and Daniel Fridell on electric piano (which is generally a leading keyboard voice in this show), this is an airy quasi jazz-fusion piece, not without a sense of magic. The other highlights include Sirenerne, Leda & the Dog, Oysterjungle, Paella and Black Mist, of which the first two are classic jazz-rock compositions done in the band’s most typical manner. Oysterjungle and Paella, both from the “Sea Son” album, find the musicians entering the realm of Space Fusion, and I would’ve been certain that these two were inspired by Gong’s “You” (1974) had I been unaware that the latter outing was released a few months later than the previously mentioned one. Finally, Black Mist reveals a lot of hard guitar riffs, suggesting a cross between Soft Machine’s “Bundles” and “Nightingales & Bombers” by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band in a way, while in fact both the said albums saw the light of day only in 1975. What unites these five compositions is that all of them have a multi-colored palette (think several spiraling, complexly interwoven soloing lines), each standing out for its frequent shifts in theme and pace as well as the excellent work of all the band members, but particularly so Karsten Vogel’s ability to impart some sort of wildness to the music via his dexterous, at times positively stormy improvisations. Of the three concluding pieces, Pajamamafia and Traffic & Elephants each is a more traditional jazz arrangement where improvised solos (on a few prearranged themes) alternate with syncopated, unison leads-based moves as well as some other conventional jazz devices. Thankfully the playing is in both cases as inspired as on any of the previously described compositions. The last track on the disc, Mind Movie, fairly often sounding like a benefit performance for bass, is surprisingly very poor in saxophone solos and reminds me for the most part of a kind of balladic take on its original version.

Conclusion. Not all of the compositions here are equally strong to a progressive mind, but the topic would’ve been much less striking if the implied ones had been evenly dispersed on the CD instead of forming the last third if its contents. (Yeah, on the latest Taylor’s Universe release we meet with practically the same problem.) Nonetheless this album shows that Secret Oyster still flies high (instead of crawling :-), as a live band in particular. I thank the band for their work as well as their creative longevity, and long live Jazz-Fusion!

VM=Vitaly Menshikov: July 7, 2009
The Rating Room

Related Links:

Karsten Vogel
Calibrated Records


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