* Billy Cobham: Moon Germs, The Moon Ain't Made of Green Cheese, Sea of Tranquility, all from TOTAL ECLIPSE. Upbeat mid-'70s jazz-rock from the Mahavishnu Orchestra drummer and a backup band full of stars. Nice keyboards and sax, actually better when it's quieter. Reminded in places of David Sancious, Soft Machine. And Mahavishnu, or course. The sparkly parts are nice. Cobham's band included Mike Brecker on saxes, John Abercrombie on guitar. Never heard of the keyboard-player, Milcho Leviev. "Sea of Tranquility" runs almost 11 minutes and gets pretty loud. OK, not offensive -- it all moves nicely despite the lack of tunes.
-- Read at Sid Smith's POSTCARDS FROM THE YELLOW ROOM website that Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit died today. He was pretty propulsive. He really made early Can tracks like "Father Cannot Yell" and "Yoo Doo Right" MOVE. Amazing, complex, hypnotic rhythms. On some of their later stuff I get lost in the noise, but the early tracks really do it. Some of their best stuff is on their 2-disc ANTHOLOGY.
* Billy Cobham: "Last Frontier" from TOTAL ECLIPSE. Uh oh, here comes The Dreaded Drum Solo. Think I'll probably make it through this side anyway....
* Mahavishnu Orchestra: A Lotus on Irish Streams, from THE INNER MOUNTING FLAME. Always had a soft spot for these guys' softer moments. If they'd done more stuff like this, I woulda been a bigger fan.
* Mahavishnu Orchestra: Awakening, from INNER MOUNTING FLAME. And here's the big beast coming to life again, with lightning-fast runs on the guitar and torturous high-speed unison riffs. And as pretty as Jerry Goodman's viola was on the last track, here he screeches along with everybody else. The mix of Goodman and Jan Hammer's keyboards grates a bit. Then John McLaughlin comes in and out-screeches everybody, Billy Cobham thrashing all over the drum kit in the background. What are those -- 67th notes? This is played in 67/4 time. At least it's over fast.
* Brand X: Born Ugly, from UNORTHODOX BEHAVIOUR. Starts out pretty funky for a bunch of English white guys. They play the same riff over and OVER for so long that after the 97th repeat I was CONVINCED the record was stuck -- and it wasn't. Tricky. That made me laugh out loud. Nice sparkly keyboards from Robin Lumley. The drummer hardly sounds like The Phil Collins we came to know and ... uh.... Then a nice spacey, dreamy midsection. I'm actually enjoying this more than Mahavishnu. Nice guitar from John Goodsall, more blinding-fast runs. Nice unison riff at the end. Very nice. A quick eight minutes.
* Brand X: Euthanasia Waltz, from BEHAVIOUR. More sparkly keyboards, with very active drumming behind. These guys are very lively, and don't mainly seem worried about how fast they can play, like Mahavishnu did. A light touch, with varying moods on display in each song.
* Brand X: Smacks of Euphoric Hysteria, from BEHAVIOUR. Despite the title, this is a little more standard jazz-rock, though nice. Punchy bass from Percy Jones, standout guitar from John Goodsall. More sparkly, atmospheric keybs from Robin Lumley. You can tell The Phil Collins drums on this, he brings a little more attention to himself. But these guys work well together, and everybody gets a bit in the spotlight. Nicely balanced. Not worried about being pretty, not afraid to be abrasive.
* Matrix: King Weasel Stomp, from WIZARD. This is way-lighter jazz-rock, from a nine-man band with lots of horns. Very lite keyboards. OK background music, not actually that far from Brand X. In the midsection, the horns pick it up and it starts to sound like something by Maynard Ferguson. Or Chuck Mangione. Six horn players, no guitar. But ... not bad. Hmmm.
* Peter Bardens: The Answer, from THE ANSWER. Nice dreamy keyboards lead into some hot guitar allegedly played by Fleetwood Mac's Peter Green under a pseudonym. Then some maybe-too-passionate over-the-top vocals that certainly aren't by Bardens -- he was much more laid-back than this. He might be doing the murmured backing vocal. The words mean nothing. This was done back around 1970, before Bardens helped form Camel.
* Peter Bardens: I Don't Want to Go Home, from THE ANSWER. More nice guitar, some pretty good flute, laid-back vocal, later a girlie chorus joins in on the vocals. The guitar's pretty good, I don't hear much of Bardens' keyboards on this, though there is a LONG flute break -- which made The Girlfriend's dog howl. The singing pretty much sucks.
* Renaissance: Jekyll and Hyde, from AZURE D'OR. The Return of Really Bad Prog? This is too streamlined, there's no contrast between the verses and choruses, they relied too much on Annie Haslam's vocals to carry the song. It sounds like they're rushing it, caught up in the New Wave. Where's their sense of drama? First time I've heard this since about 1979....
* Renaissance: Forever Changing, from AZURE D'OR. Co-written by drummer Terry Sullivan. This is actually pretty, though it's way lower-key than they usually were.
* Renaissance: The Flood at Lyons, from AZURE D'OR. The Big Finish? Starts off all complicated like Gentle Giant. Then Annie Haslam's voice used for color. If the keyboards had more depth, the choruses might have a little majesty to them. Then back to the jumpy verses. Doesn't build much, because the production has nowhere else to go. Was any band ever LESS prepared for the invasion of the barbarians?
* Mott the Hoople: Death May be Your Santa Claus, from BRAIN CAPERS. OK, this keeps trying to turn into Kiss's "Rock and Roll All Nite." Guy Stevens' production is muddy, but the choruses are kinda funny. There might be some cool things going on here, but the sound's so bass-heavy, how can you tell? Some nice keybs from Ian Hunter, but that Kiss hook keeps coming through....
* Mott the Hoople: Your Own Back Yard, from BRAIN CAPERS. Dion's anti-addiction song. Moving, but it would help if the production was clearer, so I could actually HEAR what all's going on....
* Dory Previn: Lady With a Braid, from MYTHICAL KINGS AND IGUANAS. Sounds a little like Janis Ian.... Pretty direct-though-light seduction song. Produced by Nik Venet, who allegedly produced the first few Beach Boys singles, among other things.
* Dory Previn: Her Mother's Daughter, from MYTHICAL KINGS. Now THIS is twisted.
* Curved Air: Vivaldi, from LIVE. Genuinely noisy. You should check it out if you like screechy violins. But it got the crowd off. Sonja Kristina's bluesy voice comes in about halfway through. I've never liked her much. Not sure a blues singer actually works in this arty context. Then some noise from my hero Francis Monkman's synthesizers. This is weird -- Sky does a superior version of this piece with no violins, and Monkman plays on that. But he started out here. Ferociously fast in places. Then it gets faster. More Really Bad Prog. I've yet to hear one good song by Curved Air. Heard they were popular back in the day....
* Kayak: Turn the Tide, from STARLIGHT DANCER. Pleasant, almost straight pop. Sounds vaguely like 1978-era Genesis. Some mildly arty lite keyboards. Attempt at a hit single?
* Kayak: Irene, from STARLIGHT DANCER. Instrumental. Lightly pretty. A little nice guitar toward the end, but still. Very light background music.
* Jade Warrior: WAVES. Two full sides of mostly VERY mellow flute and guitar music, with fake environmental sounds (instrumentally-imitated whale songs, etc). A low-key vocal or two by Steve Winwood. Gets funky near the end of Side 2, then drifts off. Very pleasant and enjoyable mood music, but not high-energy.
* Flash: Lifetime, from IN THE CAN. Instrumentally, sounds very much like early Yes, where lead guitarist Peter Banks came from. Lead singer Colin Carter's voice is lower and gruffer than Yes's Jon Anderson. Some nice guitar work, as you might expect. Not bad. Keep hearing sections that tune-wise and development-wise remind me of Yes's general sound. Might be more impressive if this album-opening track didn't last 10 minutes.
* Flash: Monday Morning Eyes, from IN THE CAN. Shorter, at least, and not so Yes-like. OK, but not distinctive. Forgettable. Ends abruptly.
* Synergy: On Presuming to be Modern, from CORDS. Ice-cold synthesizer tones from keyboard whiz Larry Fast. Like looking out over a glacial landscape.... Nice, dramatic pounding-drums ending.
* Synergy: Phobos and Deimos Go to Mars, from CORDS. More fun.... Rather bouncy, with bits of a nice tune.
* Synergy: Sketches of Mythical Beasts, from CORDS. This is kind of icy and gothic. Synergy usually features synthesizer works that are actual TUNES. I especially recommend "Warriors" on ELECTRONIC REALIZATIONS FOR ROCK ORCHESTRA, and "S-Scape" and "Classical Gas" on SEQUENCER.
* Synergy: "Disruption in World Communications," from CORDS. This is tricky and sneaky, and mildly annoying. But at least there's more going on here than icy musical landscapes. Has a vaguely Middle-Eastern tune buried among the shrieking keyboards....
* Synergy: On Presuming to be Modern II, from CORDS. And I just sat through an entire side. Fairly melodic. Been awhile since I'd heard any of Mr. Fast's work. This is not bad, if you're into synthesized stuff.