Back in the 1970s, progressive music swept through the music industry like a tidal wave, leaking Canterbury influences which overwhelmed several "commercial" bands (like Yes and Genesis). Meanwhile, many groups avoided commercial success by remaining true to the prog-rock ethos.
With their fusion of musical styles ranging from rock to medieval to jazz, their multi-layered vocal harmonies, and their predilection for unpredictable time signature changes, Gentle Giant was definitely a band that eluded corporate marketability. Even so (or more precisely because of this adherence to craft), the band enjoyed a strong following among people looking for music that offered sincere differences from Top 40 airplay.
Gone for too long, Gentle Giant are back, and finally the band's old releases have been dragged out of the vaults and remastered for CD reissue.
GENTLE GIANT: Three Friends (CD on Alucard Records)
This release from 2011 offers 48 minutes of eclectic music. Originally released in 1972, this CD reissue features 12 minutes of bonus material (a live track from 1972, and three outtakes) and an eight-page booklet featuring photos and insights from the band.
Gentle Giant line-up: Kerry Minnear (on keyboards, vibraphone, percussion, moog, and vocals), Ray Shulman (on bass, violin, 12-string guitar, and vocals), Gary Green (on guitars and percussion), Derek Shulman (on vocals), Malcolm Mortimore (on drums), and Philip Shulman (on saxophone and vocals).
This is a concept album chronicling the tale of three childhood friends who become inevitably separated by chance, skill and fate. While the lyrics outline this tale, the music reflects a comfortable kinship that gradually sets off in diverse (but self-satisfying) directions.
The keyboards are lilting and crisp, issuing melodies that flow like easygoing streams. Passages of progressive organ are seasoned by instances of more regal piano, thus combining a fanciful sound with more serious inclinations.
The percussion is relaxed, yet features quite intricate rhythms tempered by bouncy xylophone threads.
The guitar functions from a subtle vantage, delivering quirky chords that excellently serve to support the other instruments. Ah, but then there are occasions in which the guitar bursts forth with dazzling hard riffs, nimble-fingered and eclectic in definition.
Horns and violin serve to lend the tuneage with classical hints, but like the rock sensibilities, these classical elements become lost in a delightful fusion of genres into a cohesive new sound (that many may mistake as Celtic where it was actually the foundation stone for what would grow over the years into progrock).
One of the keynote aspects of Gentle Giant's sound is their perfectly blended euphonies, and this amalgamation is most prominent in the vocals. This meticulous blend of multiple voices into luscious harmonies is wondrous to behold.
As hinted at above, these compositions draw upon various influences, mixing everything together into a glistening new sonic entity that elicits appeal from different audiences. The band's ability to do this was a core aspect of their charm.
The live track is quite tasty, but the outtakes are true winners, exemplifying key elements from the music. Two display the band's vocal harmonies, while the remaining outtake features some gloriously searing guitarwork.
GENTLE GIANT: Octopus (CD on Alucard Records)
This release from 2011 offers 50 minutes of complex music. Originally released in 1973, this CD reissue features a bonus 15 minute live selections from this album's material. It also sports the original UK wraparound cover art by Roger Dean the USA cover art is included on the insert There's also an eight-page booklet featuring photos and commentaries by the band members.
Gentle Giant line-up: Kerry Minnear (on keyboards, vibraphone, percussion, cello, moog, and lead vocals), Raymond Shulman (on bass, violin, guitar, percussion, and vocals), Gary Green (on guitars and percussion), Derek Shulman (on lead vocals and saxophone), Philip Shulman (on saxophone, trumpet, mellotron, and vocals), and John Weathers (on drums, congas, and percussion).
This album excellently exhibits the band's spry stylings with energetic melodies and intricate vocal harmonies. Here, the instruments all flow together to form a superb mesh, a cohesion that is greater than the sum of its components.
Keyboards and guitar function on equal levels, delivering tuneage of an enticing nature. Each are triggered by agile fingers that deliver elaborate melodies. The keys are slippery and twinkling. Meanwhile, mellotron offers a celestial air that often turns delectably guttural. The guitar balances growling notes with sparkling chords, generating a lavish scope of expression.
The percussion has never been livelier, belting out rhythms of endearing complexity that herald many of the band's quirky halt-and-resume pacing. Xylophones provide a plethora of softer tempos.
As usual, Gentle Giant's vocals produce an intricacy of outstanding harmonies. The manner in which lead vocals swim amid a sea of supporting harmonies is fantastic and unparalleled by any other band.
Again, violin and horns inject emotional emphasis to numerous passages.
While generally lurking deep in the mix, the bass gets to burst free with some visceral snarling on the live track.
These compositions serve as beautiful fusions of modern rock and renaissance tuneage, blending rock and folk and jazz to form a glittering new sound that draws one in like a siren's call. The tunes are all sprightly, bristling with delightful animation in the form of captivating riffs and engaging rhythms.
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