****Alan Kinsman has written liner notes for a few of Gentle Giant's CDs. We are happy and proud that Alan also wrote the liner notes for A Reflection. Read on and enjoy!****
So here it is—the fifth CD in a series that began with "Only Giants Will Do" back in 2004. That first (double) CD included a short note from Andy Kubicki in which he stated “There are differing levels of the Gentle Giant inspiration on these pieces, as well as differing levels of technical prowess.”
Four years on, and in terms of inspiration, things are “just the same”. Some of the pieces on this CD have clear lines of descent from the music we all know and love, while others offer no more than a passing nod. No surprise, then, that this is such a varied collection. To the outside world, the idea of a CD of music inspired by, or in tribute to, a specific band might imply a fairly uniform end-product, but when the band in question is Gentle Giant, any such notion is instantly rendered redundant…
I can think of no-one better to get the ball rolling than DAN BORNEMARK, whose tireless dedication to preserving Gentle Giant's legacy for future generations is the stuff of legend. “Playing The Boys” has been painstakingly assembled from fragments of original Gentle Giant music, spliced, twisted and re-arranged into a glorious funky mess (Dan's choice of word, not mine…) Short and sweet, and a perfect introduction to this collection.
TOMAS STARK’s “Wood Nymphs” has a gentler, medieval ambience ideally suited to Ant Bowles’ lyrics about an encounter with the mysterious creatures of the title. You can certainly hear Gentle Giant’s influence at work, but at several points I was also reminded of Tim Blake’s New Jerusalem, and there's more than a hint of Steve Hackett about the tasteful instrumental passages towards the end of the piece. Above it all, Tomas’ characteristically delicate vocal delivery perfectly matches the song’s pastoral mood.
BACH & LEONARD OVERDRIVE's “Four Doors” initially continues the medieval theme, with recorder and tin whistle intertwined over a harpsichord-like keyboard figure, before the same musical motifs are repeated and expanded using a wider range of sounds. Composer Kevin Leonard says: “Gentle Giant's music has always reminded me of a well-coordinated, multi-faceted single being… An 'Octopus', if you will. In this track, we fuse the Olde English with the New Funk. Both are admirable elements of the Giant.” The reference work here is definitely Octopus, although the overall feel is rather more contemporary. Things groove along nicely for two minutes or so before a distinctly Gentle Giant break is followed by what I can only describe as the sound of the Boys in the Band with Keith Emerson on additional keyboards, and Spike Jones on percussion and sound effects. It’s all great fun, leading back into a reprise of the main theme and a final re-statement of the song’s introduction.
As its name might imply, BLISSFUL BEHEMOTH (aka Adam Levin) performs wonderfully affectionate Gentle Giant tributes, described by their creator as “tongue-in-cheek… parodying Gentle Giant’s style, sound and other idiosyncrasies”. Tongue-in-cheek they may be, but these are no throwaways. In the first of three parodies on this CD, “Giantessence” marries Kerry Minnear’s keyboard style to a funky, fractured bass-line reminiscent of Ray Shulman’s work around the time of In’terview, cleverly encapsulating several key elements of Gentle Giant’s unique sonic tapestry in a delightfully playful piece.
The 'B' section, in 7/4 time, was originally written in 1979, while Adam was at Berklee and Indiana University music schools. Originally conceived as a piece for string quartet, it lay dormant for more than a quarter of a century, as Adam explains - “It was completed and arranged in 2006, inspired by GORGG and the re-emergence of Gentle Giant's music, at which time the other sections were written. Thus, the music stretches from Gentle Giant's last year as a band to our 2006 tribute projects.”
Following it is ADAM LEVIN's own “Fanfare,” an excellent piece that twists and turns, refusing to be tied down for more than a few seconds, and not letting the listener’s attention wander for a single moment. This deft musical collage builds a number of short, often relatively simple musical figures into an intriguing whole.
ERIC BAUMGARTNER seems to be a newcomer to the GORGG CD’s, but if “Echoes of Portsmouth” is anything to go by, he’ll be welcome back any time. He describes it as “my humble tip of the hat to the lads from Portsmouth who continue to inspire, amaze, amuse and joyously confound me” and offers “special thanks to Jerry McCarthy for the title and gentle prodding.” Perhaps we should draw a discrete veil over the gentle prodding … This is an infuriatingly catchy piece, drawing its inspiration from so many different aspects of Gentle Giant’s oeuvre that I was having far too much fun listening to catalogue all the points of reference—suffice to say that “Echoes of Portsmouth” will surely amaze and amuse all those who hear it.
ZED’s “Off Bass” was written while composer Alan Mallery was at college, originally for the CU Denver Fusion ensemble. When Alan joined Zed, he presented the idea to the band, and the number was given a new lease of life. With fresh input from everyone involved, “Off Bass” quickly developed into the piece you can hear on this CD, with its very Minnear-like organ intro, and a second solo passage the band refer to affectionately as the “Gentle Giant” section.
About here, things get complicated. “Preludia,” “Chalk Farm” and “Islandia” (which is itself an amalgam of three pieces—“Departure,” “Nightfall At Sea” and “Sunrise”) weren’t originally conceived as a single entity, but that’s how they’ve ended up. It’s probably best if I let ANDY KUBICKI take up the story…
“GLENN LILJEBLAD wrote ‘Departure’ which he originally called ‘Islandia.’ I added ‘Nightfall At Sea’ and ‘Sunrise,’ and now we have ‘Islandia’ in three parts … One of my friends suggested we do an alternate mix to highlight Tomas Stark’s great piano part, which is in the mix, but kind of buried. Instead, I had the idea of doing ‘Preludia’ as a separate song previewing what’s to come in ‘Islandia’ … it’s the actual track from ‘Departure,’ but shortened, and the mix allows Tomas’ part to be heard better.” There are other cross-references—“Preludia” features a theme that re-appears during “Nightfall At Sea,” where it is underpinned by a tune based on the chords from “Departure”. Well, I did say things got complicated…
“Preludia” was originally intended to preface “Departure,” but Andy had the idea of taking ANT BOWLES’ “Chalk Farm,” with its distinctly ethnic feel, and using it as a bridge between the two pieces. “Chalk Farm” itself came about after Dan Bornemark contacted Ant and asked him to buy some kalimbas (finger pianos) from a shop he’d seen on a visit to Chalk Farm, an area just north of central London. Before shipping them to Dan, Ant sampled them, and the samples were used on this track. Some simple percussion and multi-tracked vocals completed the piece.
ALAN BENJAMIN's “We're Not Home” dates from the mid-1990's, when a simple two-track guitar and vocal version briefly graced the family's telephone answering machine. In December 2007, Alan was looking for something to record to test out some new studio equipment, and decided on a re-recording of “We're Not Home”… Realising that Gentle Giant's music had subconsciously influenced the re-working, Alan sent a copy to Andy Kubicki for possible inclusion here, and it's Alan's version that closes the CD. Andy, meanwhile, liked it so much that he did this remix, cleverly accentuating the hidden depths of this charming, slightly whimsical piece.
DAN BORNEMARK’s second contribution is “Attitudes and Lonelitudes”. The title - a play on the words “latitudes and longitudes” - was inspired by Dan's observation that successful social interaction so often depends on projecting an acceptable image, or “attitude”, rather than simply being oneself, which can sometimes lead to a rather isolated existence, or “lonelitude”, to coin a phrase. The softly pulsing backing track and understated delivery give this largely instrumental piece an almost hypnotic feel, an impression strengthened by the eerie, wordless vocal harmonies that fill out the overall sound.
JOHN EYRE’s “The Rose” is another strikingly unusual piece, telling a somewhat disturbing tale of obsessive love over a gently insistent backing track underpinned by Pugwash’s characteristic (albeit programmed) percussion. John’s distinctly English intonation initially reminded me of Jona Lewie, but there's arguably a hint of Peter Gabriel here, too. The electric guitars that appear towards the end of the song are once again reminiscent of Steve Hackett, circa Selling England… John even throws in a clever medieval-style middle section, but it all comes together splendidly, and I found myself coming back to this track more than once.
Next up is ADAM LEVIN's excellent “House On A Hill”. Adam cites Canterbury legend Dave Stewart as one of its influences, but I also detect something of Tony Banks' style. Dramatic and atmospheric by turns, with some neat changes of pace and mood, this enormously expressive performance has all the necessary impact to make it a successful film theme. There are some pieces of music that are just perfect for the piano - this is one of them.
The TYLER ADMINISTRATION’s “Allegro Assi” couldn’t be more of a contrast—a driving bass-line provides the momentum for a busy number that bears many of the hallmarks of late-60’s prog/psychedelic crossover. This has a curiously English feel, with the vocal delivery for some reason putting me in mind of Mont Campbell from Egg. Some of Bill Tyler’s bass playing echoes Mike Wedgwood’s work with Curved Air and Caravan, although there are several short funky bass excursions and Jonathan Roberts’ guitar solo to provide a distinctly more American flavour.
ANT BOWLES’ “Test 5.5” is another short piece, originally written as an electronic music training demonstration for John Weathers, who was getting to grips with some new music software. “I set up a basic track as a demo,” Ant explained, “and called it ‘Test.’ I decided it justified a bit of extra work to turn it into a fully-fledged track, and this is version 5.5” Simple, really…
BLISSFUL BEHEMOTH's “Giantology” brings us full circle from the earlier “Giantessence”, echoing the latter but with a few surprises à la Giant, aptly marking the end of the main body of music on this collection.
“Giantology” would have been the final piece on the CD were it not for the fact that a few more pieces became available for inclusion during the project's lengthy gestation period. Two of these are vintage live recordings, with the limitations in sound quality that implies, while the other two are different versions of songs heard elsewhere, so they have been included as bonus items - “extra reflections” as Dan Bornemark called them - rather than being integrated into the main programme.
The live material is by J'ART, a Canadian band whose Italian prog-rock and Gentle Giant influences can clearly be heard on "Liberté" and "Naissance", recorded at Le Petit Théatre du Centre Socio in Quebec in May 1978. "We played in a small auditorium that night... The balance was good in the room, but not on the tape. We didn't have to mic the guitar and bass amplifiers because they were already loud in the venue, but it was the opposite for the keyboards. That's why the tape mix seems unbalanced.” Nevertheless, these two blasts from the past remain worthy additions to this compilation.
To close, we have two more short pieces, BLISSFUL BEHEMOTH’s “Still As Young As I’m Old,” an instrumental sequel to “As Young As I’m Old” from "Giant For Another Hour", and finally ALAN BENJAMIN's 2007 version of "We're Not Home" .
Everyone involved in the production of this CD should be proud of their efforts—the quality shines through every composition and every performance. There’s passion, professionalism and pure enjoyment in equal measure, and the end result is a joy...
What more can I say?—Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you A REFLECTION, the 2008 GORGG CD!
Mastered by Dan Bornemark at Studio McBuddha, Sweden
Cover art by Nick Haus