Lev Gankine 18 July 2004 Alle Türen Offen

The sole album by this odd German/Austrian collaboration could well make my "surprises of the year" list. Adapting the name of the German poet Peter Paul Zahl (born in 1944), this mysterious ensemble used the stale device of setting the existing lyrics to a newly recorded musical background (think Novalis). Though the story behind it all is unclear to me because of my limited knowledge of the German language, I assume the lyrics might deal with political issues, and the band thus deserves the "polit-rock" labelling (yet we all know that this term is a social rather than a stylistic indicator). Besides, all members of P. P. Zahl seem to have a polit-rock background - they came partly from the German band Oktober, and partly from theatrical Austrian group Schmetterlinge. So supposedly Alle Türen Offen has a political message in it as well.

Musically this one is all over the map. The LP has a short intro ("Meinen kultivierten Bekannten" is just about 3 minutes long), then a 22-minute long track "Ninguneo", and finally the second side consists of the five-part title-track with the total duration of over 25 minutes. Complex as hell, the short opening song gives you a clue what it's all about - starting with some weird laughs, whispers and excerpts from a studio talk, it proceeds to a Novalis-like melodic part (the German vocals can't help but draw reminiscences to "Wer Schmetterlinge Lachen Hört"), then comes a slightly Yes-like fragment (with the pedal steel part not unlike Steve Howe's in "Soon") only to segue into a catchy, yet accomplished piano-driven coda. Around the world in less than 3 minutes, that's how I can call it. The whole LP is like this: "Ninguneo" features a brilliant Spanish guitar intro, a solo-piano part, a full-blown symphonic mid-section (with synthesizer sounding exactly like a Mellotron!), an odd reggae part, and a folky segment with flute, acoustic guitar and handclaps. While such amazing diversity is sure to have its flaws (that reggae part sounds a bit out of place, for instance), Alle Türen Offen is still a surprising example of the cohesive mosaic made out of the disparate pieces. And albeit one might be confused at the first listen, the album is guaranteed to reveal its beauty upon further acquaintance.

The title-track is probably P. P. Zahl's greatest success. It takes off quite unexpectedly from the heavily synthesized part, with a technoid rhythm reminding of Pink Floyd's "Welcome to the Machine". Then an excellent rocking riff is thrown in, but after a while it turns into a disharmonic jazzy part with busy drumming and inventive piano. A heavy symphonic fragment follows, bringing some bands from Sky label to my mind (most notably Octopus), while shortly thereafter it unexpectedly shifts to a weird orchestral showoff with multilayered vocals on the top (imagine Velvet Underground's "Murder Mystery" being played over an Art Zoyd tune!). Then comes a climactic piano crescendo, and finally a gorgeous reprise of the opening riff. Do you think the piece ends here? Nope! There will yet be one catchy part (let's call it a postscript), where the vocalist yells "ALLE TÜREN OFFEN" over a complex synth/guitar duel.

There are only a few prog bands who manage to combine the absolutely different musical elements with such enviable ease. I'm happy to report that P. P. Zahl sure belong to this chosen few. How such a professional, well-played, richly arranged and musically competent album could pass totally unnoticed is beyond me, as it is undoubtedly one of the Germany's strongest musical statements of the second half of the 1970s.

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