Review Summary: Pierre Moerlen’s Gong is born
Progressive rock fans will be aware of the Daevid Allen led band Gong
. It had a strong presence in the psychedelic/progressive rock scene during the 70s, releasing a number of critically acclaimed albums. The French drummer and percussionist Pierre Moerlen was a member of the original Gong between 1973 and 1975 before the departure of several members eventually led him to lead his own iteration of the band. This incarnation of Gong is far removed from the psychedelic/progressive inclinations of the original version. Rather it is deeply entrenched in jazz fusion/progressive rock territory, with there being a considerable focus on percussions.
The album wastes no time introducing the listener to most of the elements that are present during its 40 minute length. The title track features the instantly recognizable lead guitar work of Allan Holdsworth mixed with energetic bass work, fluid drumming, and a flurry of percussions. The vibraphone, miramba, and glockenspiel in particular are very refreshing aspects of the music with their colourful and bright timbres complementing the more “standard” instruments rather well. This track is very enjoyable and its strength lies in the free flowing style and musicality, aspects that are sprinkled through a large portion of the album.
Tracks such as the title track, “Night Illusion”, and "Esnuria" are more in line with traditional jazz fusion, but it’s the remaining tracks where Pierre Moerlen’s other influences are brought to the fore. No track represents this more than the centre piece of the album “Percolations”. This is a 10 minute display of Moerlen’s more eclectic tastes and solely features him on various instruments. There is an absence of all string and wind instruments, and represents a change of pace for the album. It’s a very fascinating journey through the world of percussive music split into two parts of contrasting tempo and intensity. It’s different, and very good.
There are a host of instruments present on the album including the timpani, vibraphone, and numerous percussive instruments that add elements of flair to the music, even if only subtly. Other more recognisable instruments of the genre are also present including the saxophone and flute. Production is good and feels organic with the guitar shining the most, having several rich tones on offer. The drums sound a tad timid and had the bass and snare drums been slightly higher in the mix, there would be a better balance overall. With members including Allan Hordsworth and Pierre Moerlen you would expect the musicianship to do justice to the names, and indeed it does, with the chemistry between the musicians also evident.
Even with all these instruments present however, at times the music can seem stagnant and a little repetitive. This is where the album is let down. The novelty of the percussions wears out as the album progresses because they are used more or less in the same manner throughout the album, at the periphery of the music. A little more variety in the instrumentation would definitely be welcome. It’s also a shame that there are a lack guitar oriented hooks on the album since they add so much personality to the music. Night Illusion and Esnuria represent this very well, and make the relative absence of hooks on the rest of the album more apparent.
Gripes aside, this album certainly provides a refreshing listening experience in the context of jazz fusion music and should be explored by fans of the genre looking for a few novel elements.