Monday, June 19, 2017

7: Gong (1976)

Artwork: Jacques Moitoret
Jump to Musical Analysis:
Back to London
     After the tour mishaps with Tony Williams' band in San Francisco, Holdsworth returned to London.  There, Allan reestablished ties with guitar luthiers Dick and Gordon Knight:

     "I got Dick to make a decent neck for the body that I had and then I cut out a cardboard scratchplate and generally started work on turning it into the guitar that I wanted. Eventually I cut out the tone controls and reduced the Fender system to just one tone and one volume because I find simple guitars that much more effective.  What I've got now is effectively a Strat with two humbuckers fitted and arranged so that I can have either pickup but not both. Those original pickups that I fitted were genuine Gibson P.A.F.'s which I'd taken off previous S.G's that I'd had. The sound really came up to expectations - it was a very bright guitar, just what I'd always hoped it would be."  (5)

     Stylistically, he found time to do some wood-shedding as well:

     "I find it rather hard to talk about my technique to a great extent. I can't say that I sit and think that much about it although, of course, I do think about music. Like, I'm fascinated by scales. Recently, for example, I sat down and played around with chords and scales trying to find as many different ways of running into chords using different scales as I could. Like I'll take two triads and play them against each other with as many different notes as I like the sound of between them. Then I tried mixed triads like a major and a minor in different keys so I did one set keeping one key as constant."  (5)

Gong - "Gazeuse!" (renamed "Expresso" in the US)
     Allan also obtained new management with Nikolas Powell (formerly with Virgin records) and began a relatively short stint as a member of the latest incarnation of Gong.  Just as in his collaborations with Nucleus and Soft Machine, Allan always seemed to find himself in the "twilight" years of these prog-rock bands for some reason...

     "So that's when this thing came about with Gong. I got this call from Nikolas Powell, who actually managed me for a while. He split from Virgin Records and wanted to get involved in the video stuff. He really helped me out. In fact, it was Nicholas Powell who gave me the free studio time on the barge to record the IOU album.  Anyway, Nicholas Powell said that he had this band, Gong, on their label who were looking for a guitar player, so I said, sure. Because at that time it didn't look promising going back to the land of pawning guitars!  So I did. I played with them and was intrigued with the line-up... I thought it was a fascinating group. So we did that first album. And then I got another call from Tony to go back again, and it was a really tough one, and this time I decided not to go. And then I guess I went from Gong to UK, because I met Bill during that period....They were all French. It was great – they would have these terrible arguments and I would have no idea what they were going on about! In fact it was a good thing I couldn't get involved... in fact they were all probably talking about me..!"  (40)

Musical Analysis

Percussion ensemble:
Pierre Moerlen: drums, vibraphone, marimba, timpani, glockenspiel
Benoit Moerlen: vibraphone
Mireille Bauer: vibraphone, marimba, glockenspiel, toms
Mino Cinelou: ethnic percussion (congas, African bell-gong, cuica, triangle, maracas, talking drums, temple blocks)

Strings and Winds
Allan Holdsworth: electric and acoustic guitars, violin, pedal steel guitar
Francis Moze: Fretless bass, gong, acoustic and electric piano
Didier Malherbe: tenor sax, flute
Artwork: John Thompson

Gazeuse! (Expresso)
     This collaboration between Holdsworth and the tuned-percussion-based Gong (of this period) is a true "fusion" record, although I think there's more tension between the two entities than mutual support.  Allan's tendency towards more and more "synthetic" scales isn't particularly well-balanced by the "natural" percussion sounds of marimba and vibraphone.  The most interesting thing here for me is the development of Allan's use of the tremolo bar and extended harmony in his solos.  

     Up until this point, one could say Allan was a brilliant guitarist, with stunning technique and an individual legato style.  However, from his first solo here in "Expresso", he essentially establishes himself as one of the great 20th century innovators.  Prior to this album, the use of tremolo bar articulation and extended harmony had never really been employed in such a lyrical style.  This concept would make huge leaps in the ensuing years, but I think this is where a "thread of lunacy" really begins (it's probably worth noting that his new custom Dick Knight Strat might have inspired him to explore some new territory).
Trk Title Dur Song Breakdown
1 Expresso 5:50 (P. Moerlen)

Somewhat "Mediterranean", galloping groove (often treated with flanging) featuring an exotic solo from Allan against a backdrop of sparkling vibraphones.

0:00: Intro: descending harmony line.
0:04: Accented rising figures expand to main melody groove with added brass ornaments.
0:35: Descending figures lead to power chord cadence.
1:01: Allan's guitar solo over 5/4 modal vamp and vibraphone ostinati.
2:48: Guitar melody develops into variations of the power chord cadence.
3:37: Sax/bass accents lead to percussion/congas cadenza.
4:18: Reprise of accented rising figures into main melody groove.
4:41: Descending figures lead to power chord cadence developed into accented rhythms.
5:30: Coda based on melody variations, ending with opening harmony line variation.
2 Night Illusion 3:38 (Allan Holdsworth)

Hard rock riffing leads into some rhythmic intricacies during Allan's swooping solo.  In some ways the heavy riffing here foreshadows the song "Metal Fatigue" (off "Metal Fatigue").

0:00: Leisurely but heavy guitar boogie riff.
0:23: Melody line in guitar, harmony cadence on multiple guitars.
0:57: Reprise opening boogie, melody line, harmony cadence.
1:42: Guitar solo over modulating vamp with some abrupt time changes (includes a harmony cadence interlude).
2:47: Slow boogie, melody line figure, ending harmony cadence.
3 Percolations Part 1 3:51 (P. Moerlen)

Textural, floating piece becoming a vibraphone and marimba duet.

0:00: Vibraphone and percussion, joined by violins (overdubbed by Allan).
0:31: Main groove, modulating.
1:03: 2nd refrain with Allan's added pedal steel guitar harmonies.
2:06: Uptempo drums enter for a brief groove.
2:22: Vibraphone/marimba highlighted in interlude, eventually slowing down.
4 Percolations Part 2 6:02 This section features vibraphones, drums and timpani, followed by a drum solo.

3:53: Gong accent signals rapid marimba ostinato joined by vibraphone, then drums, timpani, building in intensity.
6:54: Marimba and vibraphone drop out, leaving drum and timpani showcase, then snare, followed by full drum solo.
5 Shadows Of 7:43 (Allan Holdsworth)

This is another arrangement of the melody line first heard in "'Igginbottom's Wrench"'s "Golden Lakes" and in "Velvet Darkness".  Allan plays a twisted electric guitar solo in the first part and an acoustic one in the second.

0:00: Part 1: Guitar lead line over various grooves/tempos.
1:06: Malherbe's flute solo over dense uptempo rhythm groove/vamp with vibraphone ornaments, ending in cadence figure.
2:43: Allan's guitar solo (some sections with harmonizer effect) over vamp, cadence.
4:40: Descending melodic figure developed from solo end cadence figure.
5:36: Part 2: Textural/tropical percussion leads to solo vamp reprise with brief acoustic guitar lead.
5:52: Flute solo over chromatic bass vamp from "Velvet Darkness", then cadence figure.
6:28: Fleet-fingered acoustic guitar solo over vamp, cadences.
6:59: Head figure reprise.
6 Esnuria 7:54 (P. Moerlen)

This fusion-ey piece highlights Malherbe's tenor sax and Bauer's marimba.

0:00: Lively drum/percussion groove.
0:42: Syncopated power chords with added sax ornaments, lead guitar variation, power chords.
1:33: Bridge with power chords/brass accents.
1:59: Syncopated power chords, bridge with added guitar/sax ornaments.
2:41: Pedal harmony with cascading vibraphones, bass and sax ornaments.
3:19: Flanged sax motif drives a new figure and leads to variations and a solo.
4:51: Marimba cadenza leads to accented power chords mixed with sax motif.
5:52: Marimba featured over groove, joined by processed sax accents/cadences.
7:00: Gradually rising harmony groove with processed sax ornaments, ending in a final rhythmic cadence.
7 Mirielle 4:02 (Francis Moze)

Allan loosely improvises on acoustic guitar over Moze's ruminative electric piano, followed by Moze on solo piano.

0:00: Acoustic guitar solo over  impressionistic electric piano, each "refrain" often leading to rising chromatic chords and then resolving. 
2:48: Acoustic piano solo develops previous textures.


Gong - "Expresso II"
     Holdsworth only recorded and toured with Gong for about 5 months in the latter half of 1976, but he soon returned to play on a few tracks of the band's next album, "Expresso II" (1978).  It's interesting to chart the development of Allan's solo style here into more exotic harmonic territory (although he didn't contribute any full songs).  Bassist/guitarist Hansford Rowe recalls the experience:

     "When Pierre played "Gazuese!" for me in New York City, I heard Allan for the first time. I was into Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Steely Dan, and Earth, Wind and Fire. When I heard Allan’s guitar playing and Pierre’s drumming, I was ready to drop everything and head off to the unknown in Paris. I wrote “Soli” knowing Allan would be soloing. He was as idiosyncratic in the studio then as ever but also jovial and funny as hell.  Allan didn’t really enjoy recording in the normal sense. Recording is a paradox. When being creative, you have to risk breaking things and having accidents. It’s not really creative without some destruction and that causes stress and suffering. We all find ways of managing this. If you don’t, nothing gets finished. Once when we played a show in London with Allan, he had at least 10 pints before going onstage. He played great. We all were pretty resilient in those days." - Hansford Rowe interview with Innerviews (Anil Prasad, 2017)

Musical Analysis
Gong:
Pierre Moerlen: Drums, Glockenspiel, Vibraphone, Tubular Bells
Benoit Moerlen: Vibraphone, Marimba, Percussion, Claves, Xylophone
Mireille Bauer: Marimba, Vibraphone
Hansford Rowe: Bass, guitar

Guests:
Allan Holdsworth: Guitar
Mick Taylor: Guitar
Bon Lozaga: Guitar
Francois Causse: Congas
Darryl Way: Violin

Expresso II
     Allan only contributes solos to "Sleepy", "Soli" and "Three Blind Mice" on this album.  However they are all excellent solos. Aside from that, Darryl Way's violin leads are pretty appealing.
Trk Title Dur Song Breakdown
1 Heavy Tune 6:22 Allan's only contribution to this song is some chunky rhythm guitar.  Mick Taylor plays lead guitar here.

0:00: Hi-hat opens leisurely-paced funk bass, joined by bluesy guitar riffing.  Groove is joined by vibraphone and a brief electric guitar ornament.
1:35: Vibraphone melody supported by bass-driven groove.
2:17: Cadence, groove joined by by broad lead guitar textures.
3:04: Groove begins modulating (syncopated with added vibraphone line).  Guitar lead develops.
4:49: Bluesy guitar riffing as lead guitar solos.
2 Golden Dilemma 4:52 This track features Bon Lozaga on lead guitar and Hansford Rowe on rhythm guitar.

0:00: Frenetic rhythm opening, accents lead to syncopated groove.
0:48: B section driven by vibraphone motif, returning to main groove.
1:11: B section (more aggressive), leading to Rowe's fast muted funk guitar riffing, more vibraphone motif
1:59: B section rearranged, casual muted funk guitar riffing.joined by vibraphone melody.
2:55: Lozaga's guitar solo over funky groove, becoming more rhythmic.
4:27: Accented rhythm figures.
3 Sleepy 7:18 Allan solos on this track.  It also features Lozaga on rhythm guitar and Darryl Way's violin solo.

0:00: Hypnotic vibraphone ostinati.
0:20: Funky bass and drums enter with textural guitar elements.
0:38: Allan's guitar solo over groove.  Groove gradually opens up.
1:40: Guitar textures (Allan?) lead to power chords and Darryl Way's violin solo, punctuated by fast rhythmic figures.
2:54: Vibraphone-driven groove, drums relax, leading to Rowe's filtered bass solo.
4:11: Bass solo becomes rhythmic pulses, violin solo returns.
5:11: Accented cadence transition based on rising harmony.
5:48: Syncopated bass groove, joined by vibraphone motives, Lozaga's clipped funk guitar chords.
4 Soli 7:37 This song features a meaty solo from Allan (he is the only guitarist on this song) and he has a nice solo-trading section with Benoit's vibraphone.

0:00: Processed mid-tempo bass groove joined by vibraphone and drums.
0:15: Guitar lead line enters, later with added accents.
0:47: Accented cadences, bass solo over cascading vibraphone, ending in accented cadences.
2:21: Benoit's vibraphone solo, ending in accented motifs.
3:49: Allan's guitar solo.
5:35: Vibraphone and guitar trade solo lines (punctuated by accented motif).
6:36: Accented cadence leading to lead line reprise, final accented cadence.
5 Boring 6:22 This track features more violin solos and an ending bass solo.

0:00: Marimba ostinato joined by syncopated rhythm, developed.
0:53: Violin solo enters alternating with tubular bells.
2:01: Rhythmic figure leads to full violin solo.
2:49: Bass-heavy accents lead to more groove and more violin soloing.
5:08: Accents lead to bass solo, final cadence with more solo violin.
6 Three Blind Mice 4:50 Allan's solo here (uncredited) navigates through some interesting rhythmic figures.A recent "Gong Expresso" Pledgemusic release (2017) also included a live 1979 version of this tune with Allan's playing on it.

0:00: Vibraphone figures lead to syncopated uptempo groove.
0:31: Allan's guitar solo over groove vamp in 7/8.
1:00: Solo continues over syncopated, accented groove variation (still 7/8).  Additional guitar harmony layers enter.
1:39: Syncopated groove variation, vibraphone solo over groove/variation structure.
3:00: Accents develop into conga solo over truncated syncopated groove.
3:42: Vibraphone ostinato over groove, leading to more rhythmic figures/cadences.

     Allan also drops in a solo on track 9 ("Arabesque Intro") of Gong's "Time Is the Key" (1979).  His contribution there is only a little over a minute long, but it's a nicely idiosyncratic solo, also reflective of the further, more exotic harmonic areas he was exploring at that time.  There's a weirdly harmonized solo on track 11's "Esnuria Two" which is probably Allan as well, althought it almost sounds more like a guitar synth than a guitar.  Contrary to the album credits however he is not obviously heard on any other tracks.


Next: John Stevens and the Spontaneous Music Ensemble
Previous Chapter: Velvet Darkness and Million Dollar Legs

The numbers in parentheses after Allan's quotes above refer to sources listed in the Bibliography
For more detailed information on this chapter, see the Annotated Chronology.

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