Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Gong - 1978 [1989] "Expresso II"

Expresso II is an album by Pierre Moerlen's Gong, issued in 1978.
Like the other Pierre Moerlen's Gong albums, the album is predominantly jazz-fusion and has little to do with the psychedelic space rock of Daevid Allen's Gong, even though the bands share a common history.
Expresso II is a companion piece to the band's previous release, Gazeuse! (called Expresso in North America). It is an extension of the melodic mallet percussion infused progressive jazz/rock that dominated this incarnation of Gong, and would be the last album released on the band's Virgin contract before Pierre Moerlen changed the name to Pierre Moerlen's Gong to distinguish this incarnation from that of the Daevid Allen-led chapter.

As interesting and fun as the Daevid Allen period was, the name Gong became more meaningful in the context of the music as percussionist Pierre Moerlen assumed the role of bandleader. An emphasis on percussives of all sorts became clear on Gazeuse!, the band's first completely instrumental album, and the music became much jazzier, though never considered jazz. Expresso II finds Pierre Moerlen's Gong at their peak. Like their previous studio release, Gazeuse!, the album is instrumental, the music is very polished, the sound very clean. Vibes and xylophone dominate on this album, somewhat reminiscent of the sound Zappa achieved through Ruth Underwood on One Size Fits All just three years earlier. The first two tracks, "Heavy Tune" and "Golden Dilemma," are the highlights here, partially due to the fact that the rest of the cuts all blend together and sound quite similar. The listener is pleasantly assaulted with a barrage of vibes, yet what a unique sound it is when heard on a rock-oriented album. Guitar combos rarely get much better than on "Heavy Tune," as Mick Taylor rips out leads over Allan Holdsworth's grinding rhythm guitar. The collective guitar sound achieved is one of restrained power; however, the piece can comparatively be considered a rocker. Gong shifts to a different gear with the following track, "Golden Dilemma," a faster-paced, jazzy piece with incredible solos from guitarist Bon Lozaga. Formerly of Curved Air, Darryl Way's violin is a highlight on "Sleepy" and "Boring" (neither of which apply). "Sleepy," which combines Way's violin with Holdsworth's guitar leads, prefigures the sound of the first U.K. album (Holdsworth went on to form U.K. with violinist Eddie Jobson). A very short album, Expresso II is possibly the strongest of the post-Allen Gong, and an essential album. 

This was my introduction to Gong. After all I'd read about stoned-out pixies and the like, this was the first Gong I ever heard. I was surprised, to say the least. This was not what I'd expected. I was not disappointed, however. To the contrary, Gong exposed me to a whole new form and style of music that I hadn't known before. To this day, even after having collected the major (and a few offshoot) Gong releases, it is the '76-'78 Gong and the '80's Pierre Moerlen's Gong that I love most. Jazz-fusion in my experience isn't usually so percussion-oriented as Gong; and nothing is as awe-inspiring. This is very, very ahead-of-it's- time material, and certainly does not fit in with earlier Gong. Basically, true Gong (as opposed to the many splinter bands) are two completely different bands. You just have to choose, or not, but there are many differences. I enjoy all Gong. But the version led by Piere is the ruling class, and all of their albums are essential. I can recommend "Expresso 2" as your first Gong purchase, because it has obviously worked for me.

Track listing

1.     "Heavy Tune"       Pierre Moerlen     6:22
2.     "Golden Dilemma"       Hansford Rowe     4:51
3.     "Sleepy"       Mireille Bauer     7:17
4.     "Soli"       Hansford Rowe     7:37
5.     "Boring"       Mireille Bauer     6:23
6.     "Three Blind Mice"       Benoît Moerlen     4:47

Personnel

    Pierre Moerlen - drums, glockenspiel, xylophone, tubular bells, tympani, vibraphone
    Hansford Rowe - bass, rhythm guitar (2, possibly also at the end of track 3)
    Mireille Bauer - marimba, vibraphone
    Benoît Moerlen - glockenspiel, vibes, xylophone, tubular bells, claves
    François Causse - congas

Additional personnel

    Allan Holdsworth - guitar (1,3,4)
    Mick Taylor - lead guitar (1)
    Darryl Way - violin (3,5)
    Bon Lozaga - guitar (2,3)

1 comment:

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