Following Colosseum's demise after their US tour in 1971, drummer Jon Hiseman retained bassist Mark Clarke for his next project: the considerably hard-rocking Tempest. With Paul Williams providing lead vocals, the ace in the hole was guitarist Allan Holdsworth. He had previously played in 'Igginbottom, a band that recorded an obscure (and unexciting) album for Deram Records in 1969, and had just played on Ian Carr's Belladonna album. Their self-titled debut, Tempest, opens with "Gorgon," revealing the band's heavy mix of blues and rock. Williams has a strong but not necessarily original voice: The track owes more than a passing reference to Jimi Hendrix (both guitar and voice). However, Holdsworth's "Up and On" is more interesting, allowing the guitarist's distinctive technique to shine. Clarke handles all of the vocals for his "Grey and Black," with Williams switching to keyboards. "Strangeher" is a straight-up swinger, with some impressive guitar from Holdsworth; but the album's closing number, "Upon Tomorrow," is the standout. Written with Clem Clempson, the angle is much more progressive. Clarke and Hiseman are a powerful rhythm section; but unfortunately, the material doesn't always live up to their promise. Not to be missed, however, is a session for BBC Radio 1's Pop Spectacular from June 1973; it's a legato slugfest between Holdsworth and second guitarist Ollie Halsall, who joined Tempest just days before! Reduced to a trio, Hiseman, Clarke and Halsall would perform at 1973's Reading festival, opening for Genesis. Holdsworth would next join drummer Tony Williams—first for the unreleased Wildlife recordings (also with Jack Bruce), and then on to the New Lifetime proper in 1975 for a pair of fusion albums.
Rick Wakeman drew a solo contract with A&M Records while he was a member of the Strawbs; and while things were taking off with Yes, he found both time and inspiration for his debut solo record in a paperback book, The Private Life of Henry VIII. It's with no surprise then to find that every track on The Six Wives Of Henry VIII is dedicated to each of the infamous king's wives. Musically speaking, Wakeman's solo career had little to do with Yes music, as he composed very little for that band. The album does, however, build on what Wakeman first presented on his solo track, "Cans and Brahms," from Yes' Fragile album. That, of course, is Wakeman the performer. In fact, the album's lead track, "Catherine of Aragon," is said to have been originally slotted for Fragile, under the aegis of "Handle with Care." In early 1972, Wakeman reworked the track, which features Chris Squire, Bill Bruford and Steve Howe. It's perhaps the most memorable piece on the album; yet after the choral break, it quickly becomes ineffectual as progressive rock. And therein lies the album's weakness: Wakeman's technique is nothing short of fantastic; but as is often the case, technique can only take a recording so far. The instrumental dexterity on "Anne of Cleves" and ornate arrangements of "Catherine Parr" approach Yes-glory, but "Catherine Howard" suffers from too many ideas and too little substance holding them together. All told, Wakeman's live solo segment with Yes, "Excerpts from the Six Wives of Henry VIII," (first appearing on the triple-album Yessongs) accomplishes the same effect as the entire album, but in less than seven minutes! That said, the album was a huge success, earning him gold records on both sides of the Atlantic. In the UK it would reach No. 7; while in the US, it would settle at No. 30.
Roy Harper's life story up until this time could fill pages. He started his career during the skiffle boom of England's late 50s; and by the mid-60s, his busking had landed him a regular slot at the influential Les Cousins folk club. His first album was released in late 1966, and a couple of other albums followed for various labels, all produced by Shel Talmy. Equally notable was the track dedicated to him on Led Zeppelin's III, "Hats Off (To Roy Harper)." By 1970, however, Harper had signed with Peter Jenner and EMI's Harvest label, releasing the excellent Flat, Baroque And Berserk, and began a creative peak with his next several albums. Ostensibly a soundtrack for the movie Made (in which Harper also starred), Lifemask was released in February 1973. The first side features a selection of Harper's songs, from the rocking "Highway Blues" to the tuneful "Bank of the Dead" to the closing ode to the anti-apartheid movement, "South Africa." All accentuate Harper's songwriting talent; it's somewhere near folk in nature, yet too dark, too poetic and, ultimately, very progressive. The second side encompasses the epic "The Lord's Prayer"—"spontaneous interpretations of how we are interacting with the planet." Harper's poetry opens the piece, his spoken words manipulated by tape, before yielding to his acoustic guitar. As the song traverses the side, he adds a little synthesizer, and among others, Jimmy Page's lead guitar and Brian Davison's drumming; they shift from section to section, reprising the main theme. There's something seductive here in Harper's craft, particularly in the combination of his layered guitar and transcendent vocal. His next release, Valentine, featured shorter tracks than on his previous albums, and managed to enter the UK charts at No. 27. Following a live album, Harper transitioned to rock music for HQ and Bullinamingvase, released in 1975 and 1977, respectively; both also entered the UK charts. By the end of the decade though, his contract with Harvest had come to an end, yet his career was still in full bloom.
Following his exit from Yes in August of 1971, organist Tony Kaye quickly reunited with his former Yes bandmate Peter Banks for the first Flash album. However, Kaye didn't last with the band; and by the end of 1972, he had moved on to form Badger with bassist David Foster, a former associate of Jon Anderson in The Warriors. Kaye and Foster teamed up with Roy Dyke (of Ashton, Gardner & Dyke) and guitarist Brian Parrish. Their debut album One Live Badger was recorded live at the Rainbow Theatre in December 1972, at a show opening for none other than Yes. Add to that a Roger Dean album cover and Jon Anderson in the producer's chair, and you have the potential for a prog rock masterpiece—though Badger at this stage were a jam-type band, perhaps most like Traffic. Both "Wheel of Fortune" and "Fountain" reveal Kaye's underappreciated command of the organ, Mellotron and synthesizer; he never got his due with Yes, but he's front and center here, and he delivers. "River" gives Parrish a chance to shine but overall the preachy lyrics and forward-leaning rhythms lend a kind of monotony to the album. Prior to recording their next album, Kaye and Dyke split, while former The Creation bassist Kim Gardner and singer Jackie Lomax came aboard. With New Orleans legend Allen Toussaint producing and Lomax writing, it's no wonder that their 1974 release White Lady shifted gears to a mostly soulful approach. After Badger's demise, Kaye would move to Los Angeles, where he would form Detective with Michael Des Barres. A hard rock outfit, they'd most famously sign with Swan Song Records; however, with success not in the cards, Kaye would work as a hired hand for David Bowie and Badfinger before eventually resurfacing with his former Yes cohort Chris Squire in Cinema in 1982.
Built on the keyboard talents of its namesake, Dave Greenslade and bassist Tony Reeves had previously been together in Colosseum. Reuniting here, the pair rounded out their lineup with former King Crimson and Kingdom Come drummer Andrew McCulloch and, quite uniquely, a second keyboardist, Dave Lawson, who had previously played in both Web and Samurai. The debut album from Greenslade is nothing short of classic. Don't let the Roger Dean cover fool you; there is no cosmic slop inside, just hard-driving progressive rock. The melancholic "Feathered Friends" opens the album, revealing a rich sonic texture straight from the analog keyboard era. The classically-inspired "An English Western" follows, but with an uncluttered arrangement; the dual keyboard approach never gets too busy and remains effective throughout. "Drowning Man" goes liturgical, while "Temple Song" offers something gentler. The second side features the unabashed prog rock of "Mélange" and "Sundance." Replete with keyboards and time signature changes, it approaches Yes territory, but without the baggage. The album's sleeper is the Lawson-penned "What Are You Doin' to Me." His vocal delivery is superb (as is his voice), while the eastern-tinged Mellotron line predates Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" by a few years. The album was well-received, and was followed quickly by a second effort, Bedside Manners Are Extra. Guitarist Clem Clempson and violinist Graham Smith joined up for the following year's Spyglass Guest, which reached the UK Top 40. Reeves left for Curved Air by the time 1975's Time And Tide rolled around. Greenslade, however, disbanded the group in 1976, just before releasing a solo album, Cactus Choir. Though all of Greenslade's later records were highly original and appealing, none match the songwriting (or impact) of the band's debut.
Following six months off to regroup, Robert Fripp's next move was forming a completely new King Crimson, coaxing away drummer Bill Bruford from Yes and bassist John Wetton from Family. Whether Fripp knew it at the time or not, the rhythm section that was the core of the new lineup would go down as one of the finest in rock history. Violinist David Cross and ex-Sunship percussionist Jamie Muir rounded out the lineup. Save for the gentle track "Exiles," the album contains little of the former Crim sound. Fripp's raison d'être for resurrecting the band was something much different: rock improvisation. The album opens with the loose form of "Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part One" as testament. Shifting and complex, the track moves between moments of beauty and fury with equal conviction. "Easy Money" exposes the fierce underbelly of the rhythm section in a more conventional form. Cross's violin seems like an uneasy sounding proposition, but it was meant that way, right? Fortunately, he also plays Mellotron. Wetton is a distinctive vocalist; his stately delivery of Richard Palmer-James's lyrics on "Book of Saturday" is refreshing. Wetton and Palmer-James share the same Bournemouth birthplace—the latter also was a founding member of Supertramp. But rising from the ashes of "The Talking Drum" is the angular guitar riff of "Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part Two," which is both a signature song for the lineup and a perfect close to this new chapter in Crimson history. The band made its live debut in October 13th, 1972 in Frankfurt; however, Muir left to join a monastery prior to the album's release. Larks' Tongues In Aspic was well-received critically and commercially, reaching No. 20 in the UK and No. 61 in the US.
Having recently parted ways with Robert Fripp, Pete Sinfield entered Command Studios in London with just about every other King Crimson alumnus to record his first (and only) solo record. And although he'd already capably filled the producer's chair for Roxy Music and PFM, on Still, he had assistance from Greg Lake and Mel Collins. The album's opener, "The Song of the Seagoat," takes its theme from Antonio Vivaldi's well-known Lute Concerto in D Major and offers a good glimpse at what to expect: a very feminine album, with lots of words and a vocal delivery that you will probably either like or hate. It's hard to say when Sinfield is in his element: Songs like "A House of Hopes of Dreams," "Envelopes of Yesterday" and "The Night People" definitely work; none would have sounded out of place on the previous two King Crimson albums. Even "Under the Sky," co-written with Ian McDonald, passes; though Sinfield's hand at rock 'n' roll, "Wholefood Boogie," falls way short of the mark. And perhaps it goes without saying that by 1973, no one should have been recording songs called "The Piper." But all told, the album is a final slice of Sinfield's romanticized art and another glimpse into his piece of the greater King Crimson puzzle. The album was released on ELP's Manticore label to no particular acclaim. Sinfield would continue producing and composing before being "seduced" into working with ELP on a semi-permanent basis.
There probably isn't a whole lot of need to introduce this album; chances are good that you are one of the countless millions who either own the record, or had one of its two enclosed posters on your bedroom wall or stickers on your notebook. The Dark Side Of The Moon refined a suite of songs Pink Floyd debuted live a year prior as "Eclipse." The band then spent the second half of 1972 recording the album, though recording was interrupted for a US tour. And yet, as the prism on the cover suggests, this was a new direction for the band. Gone were the psychedelic references and lengthy jams, but certainly not the experimentation: Interspersed dialogue, tape effects and the VCS3 added a great deal of imagery to the album's sonic landscape. Ironically, engineer Alan Parsons claimed, "We recorded everything very simply. The album sounds more complex than it actually is." Though the album featured significant contributions from the other members, Roger Waters would begin his mark as Floyd's preeminent songwriter. Here he presents Floyd's most direct and terrestrial collection since their debut. His lyrics, which straddle the various states of the human condition, certainly have universal appeal; and it's no wonder that songs like "Time" and "Money" became radio staples. David Gilmour, on the other hand, shines through as the performer, delivering his most powerful vocal and guitar work on record. The album reached No. 1 in the US shortly after its release, but would have to settle for the No. 2 slot in the UK. The recording is one of the few rock albums that are simply perfect; perhaps even a logical heir to Sgt. Pepper's throne. It would spend the next 14 years on the US album charts, eventually selling over 34 million copies. Floyd, however, would spend the next two years dealing with the aftereffects of this monumental success.
Kingdom Come entered Rockfield Studios at the end of 1972 to record what would be their third album, Journey. Joining Arthur Brown, Andy Dalby and Phil Shutt were two new additions: Victor Peraino on keyboards and the band's so-called fifth member, the Bentley Rhythm Ace. Operated by Brown, the Bentley was, of course, one of the first drum machines; and coupled with the synthesizer work of Peraino, the two brought an original texture to the record. This pioneering effect is immediately apparent on the opening track "Time Captives." Given the context, this was no cheap trick either; the Bentley is as integrated into their sound as well as any other instrument. The arrangements here are more open and spacious, and the pace even subdued, particularly on the following instrumental "Triangles." Dalby's underrated guitar work features prominently on "Gypsy," while "Superficial Roadblocks" benefits from Peraino's Mellotron. The requisite R&B-tinged anthem is Brown's "Spirit of Joy," which also served as the album's single; and it's as good a song as Brown would ever deliver. The album ends with the bluesy and bold "Come Alive." Unfortunately, the lifestyle and pressures that came with leading the band would cause Brown to abandon Kingdom Come for the spiritual retreat of the then-popular George Gurdjieff's Fourth Way—but not before turning up in Ken Russell's film version of Tommy. Under the guidance of Peraino, Kingdom Come would record No Man's Land album in 1975 before calling it a day. Shutt ended up in Kiki Dee's band, while Dalby appeared in a much later version of Camel. In 1975, Brown would record the first of two more commercial albums for the Gull label, and then disappear until the end of the timeline.
Following the departure of Darryl Way and Francis Monkman, Sonja Kristina and Mike Wedgwood regrouped as Curved Air and recruited two young prodigies: guitarist Kirby Gregory and keyboardist/violinist Eddie Jobson. Along with drummer Jim Russell, they made their debut on the 1973 album Air Cut. "The Purple Speed Queen" kicks off the album, propelled by Jobson's heavy organ and Gregory's up-in-the-mix guitar runs. "Elfin Boy" is a stark contrast: a gentle folk number with Kristina's voice to the fore. Yet it's the appreciably heavy rock of the lengthy Jobson-penned "Metamorphosis" that finally fulfills Curved Air's promise: full of Jobson's keyboard acrobatics, the song is veritable prog rock. For "Armin," Jobson switches to violin, again revealing his prodigious talent on the fiery instrumental; while Gregory steps out with some cool Leslie-effected guitar on his "U.H.F." The latter is a relatively straightforward guitar rock number, but with an odd yet effective break in the middle. Wedgwood steps up to the microphone on his "Two-Three-Two," revealing his pop sensibilities that would later grace Caravan. But the overwrought arrangement of the closing "Easy" reveals the album's weakness: The "over the top" sound here is simply way over the top. This would be the only release from the lineup, though another record would remain in the vault. The original Curved Air, with Kristina, Way, Monkman and Florian Pilkington-Miksa, reunited in late 1974 for a live album and tour, and thus managed to pay off an outstanding tax bill. Way and Kristina would then recruit new blood for their final two records, 1975's Midnight Wire and 1976's Airborne, both on RCA. Stewart Copeland, brother of manager Miles Copeland and future husband of Kristina, joined on drums, while Mick Jacques played guitar. However, without much success, Way split from the group in 1976; and after one final tour, the band broke up for good. Stewart would then join up with Gong alumnus Mike Howlett in the pre-Police Strontium 90.
Museo Rosenbach were another Ligurian band, formed from the legendary Il Sistemi by guitarist Enzo Merogno and Leonard Lagorio in 1972. But Lagorio eventually dropped out (forming Celeste with another Il Sistemi alumnus, Ciro Perrino), and Merogno teamed up with Giancarlo Golzi on drums, Alberto Moreno on bass, Pit Corradi on keyboards and Stefano Galifi on vocals. The band's debut album, Zarathustra, takes its concept from Nietzsche's Also sprach Zarathustra and was released on the Dischi Ricordi label. Though arranged by the band, Moreno wrote the album's compositions and Mauro La Luce, a collaborator with another Genoan band Delirium, wrote the lyrics. The first side contains the epic five-part "Zarathustra," a high-flying and flowing piece of progressive rock. Mellotrons galore kick off the opening "L'ultimo uomo," which alternates between gentle, English-inspired prog rock and the more bombastic English-inspired prog rock. Galifi has a virile voice well-suited for the music; however, as he sings in Italian, his message is lost on these ears. The second side features another three tracks that maintain the album's continuity, both sonically and thematically: "Of Men," "Of Nature" and "Of the Eternal Return." Layers of keyboards, guitar and synthesizer, spiritedly and aggressively performed, offer a grand and progressive epic, classically constructed and expertly executed. Despite the critical success of the album, the cover image (Mussolini bust) and lyrical content engendered some controversy, and the album was reputedly boycotted by the RAI (Italian government radio). Museo Rosenbach broke up after a final festival gig in 1973. Nevertheless, the album is another prime example of rock progressivo Italiano in the early 70s.
Violinist Darryl Way left Curved Air earlier in the year to form Wolf, and assembled a remarkably talented group: young guitarist John Etheridge had his professional start here, while Ian Mosley had previously drummed for Walrus. Canadian Dek Messecar joined on bass and vocals, and King Crimson's Ian McDonald produced Wolf's ensuing debut album, Canis Lupus. Needless to say, expectations were high. Way carried on his brand of progressive music, predictably mixing classical elements with heavy rock. The first side contains vocal numbers; though unfortunately, Messecar's voice proves nondescript. "The Void" clicks along, while "Isolation Waltz" gets heavy; there's a slightly psychedelic and spooky feel they're aiming for and ultimately achieve. The second side is instrumental (with democratic composition credits) and proves more successful. "Cadenza" is a regular hoot, highlighting Way's acoustic violin and some nice, clean guitar lines from Etheridge; while "Chanson Sans Paroles" features Way's considerable keyboard skills. The band recorded a second album, Saturation Point, shortly after; it also was released by Deram in 1972. Wolf then added John W. Hodgkinson from If on vocals and cut what would be the band's final album, Night Music. In mid-1974, Way returned to Curved Air, for a reunion tour to pay off an outstanding tax bill; however, he ultimately stayed on, which brought Wolf to an end. Etheridge joined Soft Machine and Messecar went on to Caravan. Mosley recorded an album with Dutch progressives Trace and ex-Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett before becoming a member of the neo-progressive heavyweight Marillion in 1983.
While 1971 had been a busy year for Gong (recording three albums), the band spent the majority of 1972 touring and then dealing with lineup changes. Drummers came and went, as did almost everyone else—except for Daevid Allen, Gilli Smyth and Didier Malherbe. In late 1972, the band attended a Kevin Ayers gig in France, where they were introduced to guitarist Steve Hillage. Ladbroke Grove's Tim Blake, around during Allen's Banana Moon sessions, was invited first as a soundman, before returning with a synthesizer. Ex-Magma bassist Francis Moze also joined up, while Laurie Allan returned long enough to play drums on the album. With Gong reconstituted, Allen penned the first installment of the Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy. Part mystic, thoroughly humorous and most certainly psychedelic, Flying Teapot is perhaps the ultimate manifestation of the Gong trip. On the surface, the cabaret of "Radio Gnome Invisible" is plain silly, but the slow-rising mantra rhythm of the title track is pure invocation. The opening lines of "The Pot Head Pixies" say it all: Allen's penchant for writing hilarious lyrics is as natural as his infectious melodies. Blake's "The Octave Doctors and the Crystal Machine" reveals his unique synthesizer talent as well as Malherbe's sublime alto sax, while "Zero the Hero and the Witch's Spell" broods under the much-overlooked rhythm section of Moze and Allan. Smyth's "Witch Song/I Am Your Pussy" concludes in her own inimitable (and sexy) space whisper. All in all, the album remains one of the most consistent albums of the trilogy and a fan favorite, despite somewhat awkward production and substandard recording. Soon after the album was recorded, Allen and Smyth would temporarily take their leave to Majorca for parenthood, while further personnel changes would engage the band for the rest of the year. Gong were one of the first bands to be offered a contract with Richard Branson's new Virgin Records, though legal ties with BYG Records would dog them for years to come.
Following the release of Doremi Fasol Latido the previous November, Hawkwind staged the concerts from which the live double-album Space Ritual was comprised. Hawkwind's visual side was always a large part of their concert event, from Liquid Len's (Jonathan Smeeton) kaleidoscopic light show to Amazonian dancer Stacia (Blake), the so-called "Barbarella of Notting Hill Gate." Although this visual artistry was reduced to a foldout gatefold cover, the album still presents the full-on live Hawkwind experience over four glorious sides of vinyl. Some of the material came from previous albums, and some of it was new, but none of that really matters. Throughout, Lemmy and Simon King's chug-a-chug rhythm is relentless as Hawkwind's space rock drives forward; the atmospheric synthesizers of Dik Mik and Del Dettmar and the spoken word of Robert Calvert, quite reminiscent of Arthur Brown here, provide interlude. Certainly closer to heavy metal than anything prog rock, Hawkwind's sound is guilty of being monochromatic—but never mind. The songs never really begin or end; the whole ship takes off, and at the end of the journey it stops, its grittiness always rendering it both genuine and enduring. The album reached No. 9 in the UK. Another single, the Calvert sung "Urban Guerilla" b/w "Brainbox Pollution," looked promising upon release, but was scuttled due to an IRA bombing campaign that coincided with its release. Hawkwind would spend the bulk of 1973 touring, reaching the US for the first time in the late fall. December saw a new tour begin, entitled The Ridiculous Roadshow.
Imagine a young musician trying to interest you in a 20-minute cassette of instrumental music, on which he played every instrument. Such was the case when Virgin Records boss Richard Branson first encountered Mike Oldfield. Not that the young Oldfield didn't have credentials: He'd been in a folk band with his older sister Sally since he was 14, and spent the past few years in Kevin Ayers's band, the Whole World. His original composition eventually was recorded at Virgin's The Manor Studio, with Tom Newman producing and Oldfield playing nearly every instrument heard on the album. The rest, as they say, is history. The first release on Virgin Records (catalog V2001), Tubular Bells, was an overnight sensation. It rose to No. 1 in the UK and No. 3 in the US. That the album garnered such immediate success was a sign of the times: Oldfield was presented as a multi-instrumentalist savant, and the "more" of it only added to his appeal. He takes near-Celtic themes and weaves them together in a gentle and naïve fashion that inches towards minimalism, yet as he piles on the layers, it remains accessible. The first side opens with the hook of a lifetime; the piece ebbs sideways more than forward, gradually building momentum until the resplendent finale, where Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band's Vivian Stanshall introduces each instrument. The second side works similarly: Only the "Moribund" vocals and the bootleg chorus interrupt the circular motion of the acoustic instruments. It's a serene extension of the first side, except with a Looney Tunes ending (actually the traditional melody of "The Salior's Hornpipe") this time around. Early in the following year, an excerpt used as the theme for the movie The Exorcist would break the Top 10 in the US singles charts. (Virgin Records was paid a flat fee for its use, but the success of the album sealed Branson's fortune with the label.) And it didn't end there: An orchestrated version, courtesy of composer David Bedford, followed in 1975 and also charted in the UK; but a live version from June 1973 (with a host of Virgin labelmates) remained unreleased. Oldfield released Tubular Bells II in 1992 and Tubular Bells III in 1998. He re-recorded the original in 2003, as Tubular Bells 2003.
Novalis took not only their namesake from German poet Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg, but also drew from his concepts of lyricism and romanticism to form their highly original music. The band was unique among German progressives in that they generally bypassed the British idiom of prog rock to offer something uniquely their own. The band formed in the early 70s in Hamburg, combining the talents of bassist Heino Schünzel, vocalist Jürgen Wenzel, keyboardist Lutz Rahn and drummer Hartwig Biereichel. Their debut album Banished Bridge was released on the Brain label in 1973. Drenched in classical flourishes, the album's side-long title track presents their music: Delicate strokes of acoustic and folk music brush the wide musical landscape, slowly evolving (but avoiding lethargy) until the band finally ignites with broad symphonic splashes of melody. Sonically, Rahn's keyboards paint the canvas. "High Evolution" starts the second side, with organ bubbling underneath the brisk rhythm section; while "Laughing," despite its folksy start, gains momentum after the classically-inspired interlude, with Rahn's organ again dominating the picture. The closing track, "Inside of Me (Inside of You)," with its instrumental passage and long symphonic refrain, also relies on classical structures (à la Procol Harum) to get its point across. Unfortunately, Wenzel is not a terribly strong vocalist, and there's a particular 60s vibe to the record. After a subsequently grueling tour, Wenzel left the band and later, when recording sessions (again with producer Jochen Petersen) were canceled, the band collapsed.
Munich was an especially fertile breeding ground for rock music in the late 60s, perhaps because of its reputation as a jazz center in Europe; also, groups as diverse as Amon Düül I & II, Popol Vuh, Passport and Embryo all called it home. Percussionist Christian Burchard founded Embryo in late 1969, following a brief stint in Amon Düül II. After releasing their debut album Opal on Ohr, the group essentially solidified with drummer/vocalist Burchard, bassist Roman Bunka, flautist Hansi Fischer and saxophonist/violinist Edgar Hofmann. Signed to United Artists, the band released a couple more albums before the label dropped them for not being commercial enough; recordings made in the interim were subsequently released by the more liberal-minded Brain label. These albums featured American pianist Mal Waldron as a guest; he originally worked with Burchard in the late 60s. In late 1972, Embryo hooked up with another iconic jazz musician, American saxophonist Charlie Mariano. Signed to BASF, Embryo was now a quartet, comprised of Burchard, Bunka, Mariano and keyboardist Dieter Miekautsch from Missus Beastly, another Munich jazz-rock outfit. Their first issue on the label, We Keep On, is one of the most inspired fusion albums of the era. The record kicks off with the electrifying groove of "No Place to Go." Under the rhythm of Miekautsch's crisp electric piano and Burchard's persistent drumming, both Mariano and Bunka let loose on their respective instruments; it's got a krautrock vibe, with an intensity that's heavier than any contemporary fusion. "Flute and Saz" is exactly that, featuring the lute-like instrument from Turkey. "Ehna, Ehna, Abu Lele" again goes for intense fusion, but this time with far more ethnic flavoring in the beat; while "Hackbrett-Dance" features Mariano on nagaswaram, an oboe-like instrument from India. The final two tracks, "Abdul Malek" and "Don't Come Tomorrow," recall Can, which was probably a coincidence. The collaboration with Mariano brought considerable attention to the band; the album was even billed as "featuring Charlie Mariano" and saw a US release in 1974. Embryo would release another album for BASF before Burchard co-founded April/Schneeball Records in 1976 with Ton Steine Scherben, Sparifankal and Missus Beastly. His interest in ethnic music would lead him to extended sabbaticals throughout the world, including India, Nigeria and Japan; and with constantly fluid lineups, Embryo also moved toward a worldlier fusion of sound.
Jethro Tull headed off to Michel Magne's famous Château d'Hérouville studio in France to record the follow-up to the previous year's Thick As A Brick. Unfortunately, the sessions were abandoned, and the band returned to England without a record. (The sessions were ultimately released on CD in 1993 as Nightcap.) Reconstituted in London, Tull started anew and recorded another album-length epic, this time centering on the altogether heavier topic of life and death. Though a concise edit (#8) was found for a single, A Passion Play is best taken whole. The band is again in prime form and exceptionally tight—running throughout the more elaborate arrangement is a dense meter that is unmistakably Tull. Ian Anderson adds saxophone this time around, and John Evan reaches his hands across a few additional keyboards, which both give the album a more varied sound. The Lewis Carroll-esque "The Story of the Hare Who Lost His Spectacles" (co-written by Evan and Jeffrey Hammond) is good-humored, while the musical passage that immediately frames it is quite light and refreshing, pulsing gently over a simple beat. Obviously writing a passion play in a rock context left Anderson and company wide open for criticism, especially on the heels of the preceding extravaganza. Some of the self-deprecating Python-esque humor too was absent (the album's promotional movie notwithstanding), not to mention the affable hook of the predecessor's glorious refrain. So guess what: The music press was nothing but hostile towards it. Yet despite universal panning, the album shot to No. 1 in the US and No. 13 in the UK, again proving that the band had delivered more of what their fans wanted. The band toured the US in support of the album, performing "A Passion Play" in its entirety. However, Anderson didn't weather the hostility well, and threatened to give Jethro Tull a rethink.
Le Orme's third album, Felona & Sorona, was a concept album: a sci-fi saga concerning two planets and their eventual destruction. An English-language version of the album, recorded at Charisma boss Tony Stratton-Smith's request, sports a translation by none other than Van der Graaf Generator's Peter Hammill, but still features the same production of Gian Piero Reverberi's original mix. The record combines gentle progressive music with Le Orme's highly original and Italian feel, and it's certainly one of the finest examples of rock progressivo Italiano. Tony Pagliuca's keyboards dominate, avoiding the English derivation of earlier works, and his use of layered synthesizer lines is unique. Aldo Tagliapietra's acoustic guitar lends a Mediterranean feel to tracks like "Felona" and "The Balance." His vocals are slightly accented, which only add to the album's charm. Drummer Michi Dei Rossi is particularly inventive and mixed to the foreground. The band toured the UK in support of the album; however, this would be their only English-language record. Next, Le Orme released two albums in 1974. First up was a rather poorly-recorded live album In Concert, its highlight being the (until then unreleased) two-part song "Truck of Fire." The studio album Contrappunti followed later in the year, capping the band's trajectory up to this point; perhaps even a little too much so. Le Orme would then change course, adding a guitarist, Tolo Marton, to their lineup and headed to Los Angeles to record the more rock-orientated Smogmagica, released in 1975. A US compilation, Beyond Leng, would appear the same year, compiling tracks from the trio era. Another similar album Verita Nascoste ("Secret Truths"), recorded in London's Nemo Studio, followed in 1976 with Germano Serafin now on guitar. In 1977, the band retired from touring to concentrate on a highly unconventional album, named after a cafe in Venice. Florian was a complete departure from progressive rock, instead offering an acoustic album of chamber music. Though critically acclaimed, it would be the last collaboration with Reverberi. Le Orme recorded two more albums; but by 1982, they had called it a day.
First things first: The band did not derive their name from American composer Henry Cowell, and the album, released in the US as Henry Cow, is also known as The Henry Cow Leg End (get the sock covers now?). The band began in 1968 when guitarist Fred Frith, alto saxophonist/organist Tim Hodgkinson and bassist John Greaves were students at Cambridge University. Andrew Powell, who would later work with The Alan Parsons Project and others, was an early member. By October 1972, drummer Chris Cutler had joined. That year, they played concerts under the name Cabaret Voltaire and The Explorers' Club. Their distinctive sound represents some of the most avant-garde in the timeline, and certainly the highest brow of the era, especially for a bunch of leftists! "Nirvana for Mice" is trademarked by Frith's sideways electric guitar and Geoff Leigh's woodwinds (bassoon was overdubbed for the 1990 remix). The improvisational "Teenbeat Introduction" gives way to the complicated arrangement of "Teenbeat;" clever titles and all, the band was not without humor. Of course, this was not easy listening by any stretch; although a track like "Amygdala" isn't that far off from the free and jazzy styling of their Virgin labelmates Hatfield and the North. And underneath it all is an amazing rhythm section, one that helps "Teenbeat Reprise" approach rock music. Signed to Virgin Records, the band toured extensively with labelmate Faust.