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John Greaves - John Greaves, Peter Blegvad & Lisa Herman: Kew. Rhone. CD (album) cover

JOHN GREAVES, PETER BLEGVAD & LISA HERMAN: KEW. RHONE.

John Greaves

 

Canterbury Scene

4.17 | 53 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
5 stars Tucked away amongst the plethora of stellar output from the progressive rock scene of the 1970s is this unusual musical specimen that defies all logic and expectations in about every way. First of all the artist listing is the first bout with ambiguity. This is really a huge band effort but the cover only credits JOHN GREAVES, PETER BLEGVAD and LISA HERMAN, however on the record, CD and spine of both appears only GREAVES (who wrote the music) and BLEGVAD (who wrote the lyrics.) In reality this release contained a staggering eight extra musicians who contributed percussion, trumpet, trombone, tenor sax, violin, viola, flute, clave and additional vocals. JOHN GREAVES, of course, was the bassist of Henry Cow as well as participating in National Health and Soft Heap. PETER BLEGVAD, of course, was the mastermind behind the avant-pop group Slapp Happy but also joined Henry Cow for a fleeting moment in time but always retained a connection with GREAVES and worked together on many projects. I'm not sure where LISA HERMAN comes into the picture as she was an American singer who somehow ended up performing vocals on this release as well as with another GREAVES / BLEGVAD group called The Lodge.

What's that title all about? Not sure. As far as i can figure it out: KEW is a suburban district in the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames while RHONE is either a major river in Switzerland or a wine producing region in France. Since this album is an intellect's paradise incorporating all kinds of anagrams, palindromes, verbal sophistication and mind bleeps, then i can only admit that i have not been able to figure out (nor taken the time) to decipher all the embedded cleverness that has been implanted into this album. The fact is that this is the product of musical nerds who had too much time on their hands and is probably one of those albums where you could literally listen to for your entire lifespan on the planet and constantly be having new insights whether true or perceived about what exactly this album represents. I prefer not to look too deeply into it for i've discovered that my insights are not exactly those that were intended by the artists involved. And it is totally unnecessary to glean these nuances to enjoy this album. The music stands on its own on many levels including just digging the avant-grooviness on display. This is one of those extremely rare albums that combines the complexities of avant-prog with the sensibilities of catchy almost ear-wormy pop hooks which shows the genius of the two masters in action with the help of an army of extremely talented musicians to pull it off. However, deepness is a virtue. This album of many levels can suck you in upon first listen but keep you guessing about all kinds of things.

Not a bad long term strategy i do say although this one was pretty much a commercial dud upon release. One important trivial fact is that it was not only released on the same day as The Sex Pistols' "Never Mind The Bollocks" album which was the big bang of the punk scene but it was also released on the very same LABEL! It seems Virgin Records (UK) was covering all grounds by not only releasing the last relics of the fading prog scene of the 70s but also picking up on the new pulse of the British youth that would capture a new generation of discontents not willing to delve into the complexities of prog where you have to listen multiple times to figure it out. While KEW. RHONE. isn't exactly a "Tales From Topographic Oceans" in prog complexity, it does embed within its initial catchiness several layers that can be deciphered. I'll only cover the basics as this one requires some effort if you want to dig deeper. On the surface this is a typical Canterbury Scene inspired jazz-fusion extravaganza that incorporates avant-prog as well as various strains of jazz music into the mix.

Right from the start this feels like a complete fusion of Rock In Opposition initiators Henry Cow's avant-prog approaches on such albums as "Western Culture" only with LISA HERMAN's vocals on board really reminds me of Lindsay Cooper and her various projects ranging from Art Bears to News From Babel. While the avant-prog is on full display stylistically, there is a strong connection on many tracks to the Hatfield And The North as LISA HERMAN delivers her vocal style with a strong Northette way of phrasing which shows a link to Barbara Gaskin, Amanda Parsons and Ann Rosenthal's angelic contributions of the Hatfield And The North albums. At times there is also a subtle Return To Forever vibe from the Flora Purim era as well as incorporating a plethora of jazz history ranging from hard bop to marching band type segments. In short, this is a beautiful and intricate and highly sophisticated album on many levels and for sure one of those underrated and short changed masterpieces of the 70s. I surmise that this is the case not only because of the ambiguities that spring forth from its weird and unassuming first impressions but also from a introverted passive aggressive form of jealousy that can emerge from the discovery of a sophistication so sublime that it literally scars the emotionally unprepared for such magnanimity. Whatever the case, if you LOOOOOVE the Canterbury Scene and crave avant-prog more than processed sugar and really secretly hoped that the two styles would have a salacious love affair, then look no further than KEW. RHONE. This is an amazingly brilliant album on so many levels that it should be banned for its sheer tenacity and utmost boldness. OK, maybe not. I'm just glad it exists.

siLLy puPPy | 5/5 |

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