Saturday, September 1, 2007

John Greaves & Peter Blegvad - Kew Rhône (1977) [320kbps]

1. Good Evening (0:33)
2. Twenty-Two Proverbs (4:08)
3. Seven Scenes From The Painting (3:32)
4. Kew Rhône (3:04)
5. Pipeline (3:41)
6. Catalogue Of Fifteen Objects & Their Titles (3:36)
7. One Footnote (to Kew Rhône) (1:29)
8. Three Tenses Onanism (4:07)
9. Nine Mineral Emblems (5:51)
10. Apricot (3:05)
11. Gegenstand (3:46)

Lisa Herman - Vocals
John Greaves - Piano, Organ, Bass, Vocals, Percussion ( Tr.7)
Peter Blegvad - Vocals, Guitar, Tenor Sax (Tr. 5)
Andrew Cyrille - Drums, percussion
Mike Mantler - Trumpet, Trombone
Carla Bley - Vocals, Tenor Sax (Tr. 1 & 7)
Michael Levine - Violin, Viola, Vocals ( 9 )
Vito Rendace - Alto & Tenor Saxes, Flute
April Lang - Vocals (Tr. 5 & 8)
Dana Johnson - Vocals (Tr. 2)
Boris Kinberg - Clave (Tr. 5)

Greaves left Henry Cow to work on a project, Kew. Rhone. with Slapp Happy's Peter Blegvad in New York City. Greaves had met and worked with Blegvad during the brief merger of Henry Cow and Slapp Happy between November 1974 and April 1975. Kew. Rhone. was a song cycle with all the music composed by Greaves and the lyrics written by Blegvad. In addition to bass guitar, Greaves also played keyboards and sang. The album was released in 1977 and credited to Greaves, Blegvad and Lisa Herman, the lead vocalist. It was well received by critics: All Music Guide described it as "An unfortunately neglected masterpiece of '70s progressive rock ..."; and Robert Wyatt reportedly liked it so much he bought two copies "just in case the first got worn out!" (wikipedia)

When Henry Cow amalgamated with Slapp Happy in 1975, recording two acclaimed albums before parting ways again, John Greaves began a writing relationship with Peter Blegvad, which came to fruition after Greaves left Henry Cow the following year. Together they recorded the Kew.Rhône album, a marriage of words and music of unprecedented, almost surreal, complexity. A critical success, it suffered commercially from the anti-intellectual zeitgeist of late 70s England, not to mention the fact that it came out on the same day (and same label) as the Sex Pistols' Never Mind The Bollocks ! (

An unfortunately neglected masterpiece of '70s progressive rock, the first extended collaboration by John Greaves and Peter Blegvad (formerly of Henry Cow and Slapp Happy, respectively) is a brilliant amalgam of Slapp Happy's skewed pop sense, the collective improvisation approach of Henry Cow, the sly wit of the Canterbury prog rock scene, and (most fruitfully) Carla Bley's inimitably skewed progressive jazz. Although Bley's contributions are purely instrumental and vocal (the album was written entirely by Greaves and Blegvad), songs like the rushing, choral "Twenty-Two Proverbs" sound heavily influenced by her early-'70s work with Paul Haines and Michael Mantler (who engineered this album; there is no producer credit). Most of the lead vocals are taken by Lisa Herman, whose lovely, clear voice delivers Blegvad's playful, often surreal lyrics (filled with anagrams, palindromes, and other verbal games) in a tone that suggests a deeper emotional core to songs that might otherwise have been merely clever. One of the most satisfying albums that any of the principals have been involved with, Kew. Rhone. is a challenging but surprisingly accessible album that rewards as much attention as the listener offers it. (AMG)

Side 1 of the vinyl original opened with "Good Evening", which functioned like the opening tune of a Broadway musical - some of the main musical themes of the album are played in a short but highly effective big band arrangement. This leads straight into "Twenty Two Proverbs", which is just that - a collection of proverbs from a variety of sources set to music and sung by Lisa Herman with occasional interjections from other voices - John Greaves' delivery of 'What have I to do with Bradshaw's windmill?' is one of the album's early highlights. The proverbs sometimes seem to relate to each other; 'A cat may look at a king' is juxtaposed with 'By night all cats are grey', while 'Names are not the pledge for things but things for names' flags up one of the album's main lyrical concerns. "7 Scenes From 'Exhuming The First American Mastodon' By CW Peale" follows, the lyrics based on the cover painting, itself based on CW Peale's painting of his own scientific project. This track has some remarkable brass by Mike Mantler, which plays off Lisa Herman's lead vocal to stunning effect. "Pipeline" follows, which pulls off the rare feat of having a line such as 'Figure b. illustrates the assertion 'Ambiguity can't be measured like a change in temperature' and making it melodic and catchy. The lyrics refer back to "7 Scenes"; objects mentioned in that song reappear here in a different guise (Names are not the pledge for things...). Again, despite the apparent complexity this a breezy, melodic song which will linger in the mind for a long time. The title track is the album's centrepiece, another hummable gem with opaque lyrics. The first part of the song is written solely using the letters in Kew.Rhone, for example 'We who knew no woe', and the second features a lengthy palindrome: 'Peel's foe, not a set animal, laminates a tone of sleep'. Once again all this is sung to some extremely memorable music, with some wonderful strings by Michael Levine and a superb vocal arrangement with another sterling contribution from John Greaves' pleasing Welsh tenor. The first half of the album culminated with Catalogue of Fifteen Objects and their Titles (Names again...), which is also referred to obliquely on 'Squarer for Maud' by National Health.

Side 2 kicked off with another short track, "One Footnote", which suggests further anagrams from the title and invites the listener to think of some more. "Three Tenses Onanism" is a highly poetic paen to the pleasures of self gratification and sees the music move more towards RIO/Avant prog territory, each of the three tenses being represented by a different musical idea. Peter Blegvad is the main vocalist here, his knowing New York drawl adding an extra dimension to the lyrics. 'Nine Mineral Emblems' returns to the jazz tinged Canterbury stylings of the first half of the album, and contains some accurate information about mineralogy given an unlikely but effective erotic subtext: 'When heated, SCOLECITE lengthens, squirms - not unlike the worm that looks for lodgings in a pearly urn'. "Apricot" feature's Blegvad's second lead vocal, and is probably the closest the album comes to a straightforward rocker (not very close, admittedly, but there's something of Lou Reed in the vocals and it has the album's most prominent electric guitar)."Gegenstand" brought the album to a subdued close - this track has the sparsest arrangement on the album, dominated by John Greaves' bass playing. (