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(49 min, The Laser's Edge)
TRACK LIST: 1. Intro 2:10 2. Stjernerne pa Gaden 5:41 3. Sirenerne 5:03 4. Astarte 6:28 5. Solitude 4:07 6. Tango-Bourgoisie 2:47 7. Bellevue 3:20 8. Vlase du Soir 1:55 9. Outro 5:06 Bonus tracks: 10. Sleep Music 6:12 11. Circus Sax 4:42 12. Intro to Act-II 0:50 LINEUP: Karsten Vogel - saxophones; string ensemble Kenneth Knudsen - ac./el. pianos, Moog, ARP Claus Bohling - el./ac. guitars, Sitar Jess Staehr - electric bass Ole Streenberg - drums With: Kasper Winding - percussion (3, 7) Palle Mikkelborg - trumpet (6) Keld Jenssen - mandolin (8)
Prolusion. The Laser's Edge label has begun reissuing on CD the first six LPs by the legendary Jazz Rock ensemble, SECRET OYSTER. Probably the first Danish supergroup, it was formed in 1973 by Karsten Vogel, who later became a permanent member of Taylor's Universe in 1995. Secret Oyster was actually a continuation of another remarkable Danish group, Burnin' Red Ivanhoe (BRI hereafter), who split in 1972, following disputes over their future music between Vogel and other members. For the new band, Karsten engaged keyboardist Kenneth Knudsen, drummer Ole Streenberg (both from Coronarias Dans) and guitarist Claus Bohling (ex-Hurdy Gurdy). After bassist Jess Staehr (also of BRI) joined, the five found themselves being responsible for two groups simultaneously - Secret Oyster and BRI. At the beginning of 1975 the men decided to concentrate on Secret Oyster, so BRI's time came to an end, but with two more albums. The first CD in the series, "Vidunderlige Kaelling", is the third Secret Oyster album and is actually the music the band had written especially for the eponymous ballet by noted Danish choreographer Flemming Flindt. Previously I had a chance to hear "Burnin' Live" by BRI and the second Secret Oyster LP "Sea Son" (both from 1974), which I consider a Jazz-Fusion masterpiece.
Analysis. On this album Secret Oyster leans towards shorter compositions, whose general stylistic spectrum are much wider than that of "Sea Son", touching several directions of Prog and related styles. What distinguishes it most from its predecessor, however, is the absence of authentic improvisations. I am certain the band then had knowingly taken a step towards the largest, symphonic, camp of Prog lovers, which, of course, is not of great significance as such. What is really important is that Secret Oyster didn't commit a gaffe with the change of their style, having kept intact all their constants, among which is the uniqueness of their sound and their ability to fill their works with what we normally perceive as a musical magic are in the first place. Although relatively short on the average, all twelve compositions are satisfying, due to excellent writing and arranging, use of dynamic contrasts and an irrefutable fascination in their overall delivery. The brightest representatives of complex, intense quasi Jazz-Fusion with smoking Rock and, to a lesser degree, Blues-oriented guitar solos, which is close to earlier Secret Oyster stuff, would be Sirenerne, Outro and Bellevue, although the former begins in the vein of Classical music, and the latter features a funky section with only drum and percussion solos. The longest pieces, Astarte and Sleep Music, are probably the most colorful, sliding between Space Rock and Space Fusion, the former being filled with flavors of Oriental music and the charming Sitar sounds in particular. The closing track, Intro to Act-II, is somewhat correlated with each of those four, but is too short to be placed on the same level as any of them. Performed without drums, Stjernerne pa Gaden is a lush, beautiful symphonic Space Rock with a classical sense in places, while Solitude, featuring acoustic piano passages at times lightly accentuated by the bass, has that very sense throughout. Intro is Art-Rock in almost a pure form, because even the main supplier of a jazz spirit on this recording, Mr. Vogel, rarely exceeds the bounds of the primordially set themes. Tango-Bourgeois is just Tango or, to be more precise, Tango performed by dints of Art-Rock. The accordion reigns all over Vlase du Soir, building a typically French chanson texture, the concurrent instruments being acoustic guitar and bass. Finally, Circus Sax is Karsten's benefit performance. This is a long, both quirky and melodic, composed improvisation for saxophone. The music of Secret Oyster is incomparable with anything, but in the case of "Vidunderlige Kaelling" I think I should provide you, dear readers, at least with one rough comparison. This would be Manfred Mann's Earth Band at their most glorious and adventurous: "Nightingales & Bombers" and "Solar Fire".
Conclusion. The homeland of the great (yet, still remaining unnoticed by the general progressive audience) King Diamond and >Robin Taylor, Denmark has always been an important part of the world's Prog Rock culture. Secret Oyster was among the first to put the country in the genre's international orbit. Overall, "Vidunderlige Kaelling" is a bit less compelling than "Sea Son", and nevertheless, it's a very alluring album, one of the best albums released in 1975, to my taste. Hopefully, we'll wait till the BRI legacy is also reissued on CD.
VM: November 7, 2005
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