Rock Around the World • November, 1976   27

MANFRED MANN'S EARTH BAND

"The Roaring Silence"

VVB BS 2965

The Sixties produced a flock of keyboard players, some of whom achieved great fame, others, great obscurity; those who didn't become gods often headed up bands where the quality of the music came uppermost. Three of the more noteworthy examples of this are Brian Auger, Dave Greenslade and Manfred Mann. All three have formed bands that were more 'musician's bands' than 'fans bands'; all three have released numerous excellent albums. But now, it seems, is the time for Manfred Mann to attain the great success due him with The Earth Band.

Success would be nothing new to Manfred Mann, of course; he was responsible for such Brit-rock masterpieces as "Ha Ha Said The Clown", "Duo Wah Diddy" and "The Mighty Quinn", but that was on a singles level. The current Mann is much more album-conscious; "The Roaring Silence" is perhaps the best Earth Band album to date, and appears to have achieved that precarious balance between commerciality and virtuosity.

The Earth Band has always been noted for its instrumental prowess, with vocals relegated to the background; with the release of "The Roaring Silence", there's a new vocalist (Chris Thompson) and guitarist (Dave Flett), and this new combination opens the arrangements for more emphasis on singing. There's a set of background singers as well as a choir, an interesting contrast to Manfred's beautifully-taped choir Mellotron. Unquestionably, this new shading to the material has made the entire sound of the band more. . .approachable.

Instrumentally, there's hardly a note out of place; Dave Flett is one fine guitarist, balancing jazz tones with well-constructed rock patterns. The rhythm section of Chris Slade (drums) and Colin Pattenden (bass) has become an integral part of the Earth Band's sound, nudging it along, occasionally prodding, occasionally kicking the hell out of it. And Manfred, of course, manages to be both everywhere and nowhere, both at the same time. His keyboard playing has always been pure pleasure, as he's the kind of guy who needs to challenge himself at all times, but not by trying to play 30 different keyboards at once.

The songs are well-chosen; the Earth Band's version of Springsteen's "Blinded By The Light" is superb, the choir fills out "The

Road To Babylon" and the band, as a unit, moves easily, and intelligently, from form to form. It's a polished album; do yourself a favor and pick it up. It's guaranteed to keep your ears from yawning.

SOUNDS OF SILENCE:

Blinded By The Light (gotta be the single), Questions, The Road to Babylon, Singing The Dolphin Through.

VANGELIS

"Albedo 0.39" RCA RS 1080

On the other hand, there are a handful of keyboardists running around loose who are able to create sprawling msuical landscapes via the many types of keyboards available to them. Such a creator is Vangelis Papathanassiou, master of synthesizer, organ, mellotron, etc., and., and, incidentally, the first choice to replace Rick Wakeman in Yes (he turned 'em down, tho'); Vangelis has eschewed a group structure ever since departing Greece's Aphrodite's Child, choosing to erect his own visions of things in a true solo setting.

"Albedo 0.39" is the latest opus for Vangelis. 'Albedo' is defined as ". . .the reflecting power of a planet. . .the Earth's Albedo is 39%, or 0.39." It is in such a solar atmosphere that Vangelis weaves the delicate music of this album; where his musical concepts differ from the British masters (Emerson, Wakeman, Moraz et al) is in his heritage. There's more use of the cathedral organ sound familiar throughout the southern half of Europe on this album than others of its ilk. The presence of this almost religious tone in the compositions lends a perspective that compels the listener to acknowledge his/her insignificance with regards to the universe, a sobering thought.

For the most part, Vangelis relies on synthesized layers of sound to depict the relationship between the Earth and The Sun, yet there's a melodious content to each number that follows a given pattern without revealing explicitly just what that pattern is. (It's not unlike a ship sailing for some distant point of land by navigating according to the stars.) Again, his judicious use of the more traditional keyboard instruments helps keep a rein on the pro-xedings.

As with most albums with a futuristic bent, "Albedo 0.39" can be, at times, boring; it's said that creatures of the future will have control over their emotions to the point of seeming emotionless. Vangelis is the kind of person who is not pigeon-holeable. The passages that he writes that flirt with redundancy have a more

frightened air about them than anything else, a fear that without emotions, we are essentially essenceless.

He's a sensitive man, this Vangelis; the music he creates is both intensely personal yet universal in its attitudes. And if that isn't a definition of 'space', then we're all missing the point.

SONGS FOR REFLECTION: Pulstar, Freefall, Alpha, Albedo 0.39.

FIREBALLET

"Two, Too. . ."

Passport PPSD-98016

Well, well, well, what have we here? Can this be a (gasp) American band playing such. . . progressive music? Yup, Fireballet has delivered their second effort, and I'm pleased to report that "Two, Too. . ." stands on its own charts with apologies to no one.

It's been rather an embarrassment that this country has lagged far behind England and Europe when it came to progressive music (sorry 'bout the cliche, folks, but it is descriptive of the genre). Groups like Yes, King Crimson, PFM, and a literal host of others have trotted over to America and found no competition here; a large part of that situation was due to the classical, traditional and downright odd forms of music that fired young Keith Emersons, Peter Gabriels, and Jon Andersons in England. Now, at last, young musicians in the United States are absorbing the trans-Atlantic cosmic boogie and creating fine music for themselves.

Fireballet is playing some of the freshest music these ears have chanced upon in quite a while; mixing an impressive array of sounds together coherently is an exercise in subtlety, and these guys do it very well. But the music of Fireballet goes beyond the usual imitations of the progressive `biggies'; blessed with three singers able to achieve high harmonies, the lyrics take on almost a choir effect. (For you import buffs in the audience, the vocals of Fireballet resemble Capability Brown.) Again, though, it doesn't stop there. The arrangements of the string section and the voices is right off Broadway (`Chinatown Boulevards' is perhaps the best example of this on the album).

It should be mentioned here, in all fairness, that it's a temptation to dismiss Fireballet simply as a bunch of mimics, citing Yes, Nektar, Flash, Genesis and others as the real sources of the material. But Larry Fast (Synergy and Nektar) worked with this band to help evolve a sound that feeds from identifiable roots but also follows its own lead once started.

"Two, too. . ." is a most intriguing album; if you're fed up with power chording and mindless riffing, check out Fireballet. It's two, too much.

FLAMING PIROUETTES: Great Expectations, Desiree, Chinatowp Boulevards, Carrollon.

FRED FRITH "Guitar Solos 2" Caroline C1518

Last year's Guitar Solos represented the most significant advance in guitar technique and possibilities since Jimi Hendrix burst out in 1967. Henry Cow's Fred Frith utilized such unorthodox techniques as: putting alligator clips on the strings, playing strings behind a capo to a pickup mounted over the nut, picking with glass prisms or steel razor blades, or leaving the guitar on the floor and striking the strings with mallets. Some of the resultants were pleasing to the ear; some not so pretty. More importantly, some represented real extensions of the guitar's expressive capacity—while some blatantly recall the booby traps of John Cage.

Well, here he is again, and on this outing he blueprints precisely what he does to make those amazing noises. One number, for example, is played on two guitars at once, both with neck pickups, plus echoplex and ambient miking—a total of nine tracks, all in real time (i.e. no studio trickery—that he can get up on stage and do it all again before your very eyes was the whole point of the first album).

But there's more at stake this disc. Your reviewer encountered an old Henry Cow promotional handbill, politely explaining their politicas as "Death to the individual!" Here Frith shares the podium with three other players. Derek Bailey, a noted British free-jazzer (see his two duet albums with Anthony Braxton), turns in three exercises in the grotesque manipulation of an untreated acoustic guitar. Hans Reichel, a German crusader, produces sinuous Eastern licks on a homemade beast comprised of two abutting guitar necks with pickups hung between. G.F. Fitzgerald, a completely unknown hobbyist, has devised (and diagrammed) an electroacoustical system with ample opportunities for uncontrollable feedback, gross distortion and stochastic effects. Frith wants to make himself irrelevant to his own albums, and by Guitar Solos 4 or so he will leave things completely in the hands of players like the above and disappear altogether.

RAMPANT MIND SPEW: Water/Struggle/The North, Avant-lore, Only Reflect, Brixton Winter 1976.

—Michael Bloom BABY

"Where Did All The Money Go" Chelsea CHL 517

Baby is a relatively new band with two albums to their credit thus far. Their debut disc, "Baby", was overbalanced on the hard rock side, but "Where Did All The Money Go" features the band in a much more musically mature setting. Whereas it's often difficult to determine just where a band is from, there's no doubt with Baby. This here's a dyed-in-the-wool American band, with roots sunk in Crosby/Nash, The Eagles, and L.A. in general; too, the presence of Tom Scott on sundry horns does absolutely nothing to harm the band's sound on record.

To the details, then: it should be remembered that these guys do know their way around a power chord, and they ably demonstrate that ability on the middle section of 'L.A. Lady', one of the album's most intricate numbers. Unlike their earlier work, however, they're now coloring the sound with acoustic guitars, mellotron, and a better sense of internal dynamics to allow the arrangements the room to develop.

The album opens with the title track, a tale of a musician's disappearing bank account due to mismanagement, not an uncommon theme; however, Baby incorporates other famous 'money' lyrics and melodies (specifically The Beatles), just to remind us that the rip-off of which they sing ain't a new one.

'Still In Love' comes across as pure California rock, while '101 Turndowns' explodes with an Allman Bros.-like fury, and that's really the secret to this album. There's a lot of variation from track to track, which gives each number its own space to work in.

When each song is different in arrangement and feel from the one before and after it, then each song stands out much more. It's not an unusual procedure for a band to follow in setting the running order of an album, but it can backfire if the material that's being exhibited in such a bright light isn't up to snuff.

For Baby, that worry won't materialize; they've written a good set of numbers and recorded them with more feeling and less volume. Where did all the money go? It's in the bank, baby. . .

BABY'S BOUNCERS: 101 Turndowns, Brown-Eyed Lady, L.A. Lady.

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