|Greg Northrup||8-November-2001||Hatfield and the North|
Hatfield & the North - Hatfield & the North (1974)
This album is quickly becoming a favorite of mine, though I perhaps might just prefer their next masterpiece, The Rotters' Club. Still, I find myself playing this one all the time, a truly imaginative, unconventional and sweetly relaxing slab of shimmering prog-fusion. Every musician on the album turns in an amazing performance, especially the core quartet of Sinclair, Stewart, Pyle and Miller. Perhaps a little more downbeat, breezy, and relaxed than The Rotters' Club but still very much in a similar style. The self-titled is perhaps a little more ornate, more guest musicians provide for a consistently wider instrumental palette, as opposed to a relatively stripped down and more energetic approach on the next release. The album flows together as sort of an extended suite, with exquisite, melodic solos, crisp rhythms and interlocking parts. Wonderful vocal textures drench the album, from Richard Sinclair's distinctively off kilter poetry, to wordless chanting, soothing female backing vocals courtesy of the "Northettes." "Calyx" features Robert Wyatt's enchanting wordless vocals, before segueing into the keyboard romp of lengthy "Son of 'There's No Place like Homerton'", which in turn segues back into nonsensical chants in "Aigrette". Sinclair's bass playing on "Rifferama" is so perfect, employing punchy lines the weave flawlessly in and out of the various solos, extraordinarily complex yet seemingly effortless. The whole album is linked together in this fashion, making it difficult, not to mention pointless, to distinguish between the different tracks. The album is a long piece of truly wonderful, melodic, jazzy progressive that is unimaginably rich in texture, emotion and just plain fun. You won't even come close to grasping it in a few listens, as themes and motifs crop up unexpectedly throughout. This is an album you really need to explore gradually, every listen has become more and more enjoyable as I've been able to latch on to and anticipate various themes. I've had this album in my changer for weeks and look forward to fully unraveling its brilliance. If you're into the Canterbury sub-genre, you probably already have this album. If you aren't yet, you should be, and you should probably pick this one up right after The Rotters' Club.
Greg Northrup [May 2001]
|Jeff Melton||17-May-2001||Live 1990|
Japanese television programming decided to film several Canterbury bands as part of their 1990 Bedrock show including Caravan, Gong and a reformed Hatfield and the North. Live 1990 is a large portion of the show, which features Miller, Pyle, Sinclair and French jazz keyboardist Sophia Domancich (replacing Dave Stewart who refused the invite). What we find in this performance is a well-rehearsed group going through a few "standards" such as "Share It" and "Underdub" from The Rotter's Club. Domancich excels on several new tracks including Pyle's "Shipwrecked" (much later on Pip's solo album Seven Year Itch) and "Chinese Eyes". Her piano work is excellent and reflects a honed skill based in part on her work with her own trio and Pyle's own band Equipe Out. Miller and Sinclair are in fine form, especially on other new songs including Sinclair's "Going for a Song" (from his first solo album) and Domancich's fusion contribution "Blott". The only complaints I have is that the entire show is not available on the disc or video of the group, since there was also a great version of Matching Mole's "Oh Caroline". Too bad this line-up didn't stay together long enough to do some studio work. Even though Stewart was missed, it didn't taint the performance significantly, and the group could have been successfully resurrected for more than one stellar performance.
|Jeff Melton||14-April-2001||The Rotters Club|
Simply put, this is my all-time favorite LP of the progressive rock genre. I can't think of a better synthesis of elements from semi-classical influenced music merged together with jazz and rock to form a strange and wonderful amalgam. Keyboardist Dave Stewart (Ex-Egg) is largely responsible for the weird and wacky arrangements which run the gamut of so many influences that it's hard to tell where one ends and another begins. Plus you have to factor in that group was English and had a sense of humor which spills over politely into the attitudes evidenced in these themes. Phil Miller (ex-Matching Mole) excels as lead guitarist and composer in so many ways on the album including his classic piece, "Underdub." a cleverly titled piece which also features the uplifting flute of Jimmy Hastings. Richard Sinclair (now two LPs removed from Caravan) finds his most dapper delivery since In the Land of Grey and Pink while teasing the listener with topics of sex ("Share It") and spelling ("The Alphabet Song" section of "Mumps"). Pip Pyle (ex-Gong) throws off any previous restriction he had on claiming a drum chops award across the entire LP. The core of the work is fiercely instilled with unique chemistry between players and instruments that had fulfilled the promise of their previous bands and progressed to this milestone in their careers. Stewart is also responsible for charting the vocal passages of a trio of angelic voices, known affectionately as the Northettes, in his classic masterwork, "Mumps". Overall, there is no album or band which captures the English muse better. Over time, the album continues to hold up under close analytic scrutiny even to the present day.
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