Review Summary: Expresso II go! Expresso II go!
Let's talk about the context of Expresso II
, the second album of the Pierre Moerlen Gong incarnation. Technically and conceptually speaking, it's the second accompaniment to previous album Gazeuse!
, that particular in America entitled Expresso
instead. So, that makes things a little clearer as to why this album is called Expresso II
. Of course, this album also serves as a perfect continuation of Gong's further adventures into jazz fusion and progressive rock territory, attempting to experiment more and more as the albums rolled out.
Musically, Expresso II
is a little different to its predecessor. There's more of a light-hearted instrumental approach, a more relaxed vibe throughout which generally makes the listener want to lie back and go into a hazy yet colourful daydream. That's practically the effect you get with all of Expresso II
's six songs, each one somewhat different to the other but not so much that you lose track of the group's direction. The most prominent instrumental aspect of the album is the tubular bell rhythms and the percussion, which take a very prominent role in most of the songs here. For instance, the main bodies of "Heavy Tune", "Golden Dilemma" and beautiful closer "Three Blind Mice" all seem to be controlled by a mixture of carefully orchestrated percussion and tubular bell performances. Instead of merely continuing to experiment with every instrument provided-as in, to a certain extent, Shamal
-Pierre Moerlen and his merry men (and women) strongly develop a concentrated contribution through the use of different percussive dynamics and generally hearty instrumentation. Matter of fact, it all sounds so, well, happy
, for want of a better word.
The structure of all six songs is important to note as well. The slower, more groove-inflected likes of opener "Heavy Tune" (appropriately titled thanks to Allan Holdsworth's guitar-based input) and longest song "Soli" all adapt to a progressive rock environment which begin with a basic bass and drum rhythm, slowly integrating more and more instruments until the outro of each song seems to explode with the musical version of soulful, heartfelt laughter. Holdsworth, indeed, excels himself on this album, just as he has done on any other album. His guitar playing is eccentric, passionate, and genuinely gives you the impression that he's thoroughly enjoyed his part in the production of Expresso II
Other instruments are here in spades as well, namely the beautiful use of the violin and, to a lesser extent, the more unique instruments such as tympani and xylophone. Whilst the former is naturally more expressive in Expresso II
than the latter, both instruments provide an almost perfect accompaniment to the surrounding sounds. The violin, which has its own isolated part of "Sleepy" (albeit brief), is performed to maximum effect and presents a dream-like rhythm before the main rhythm section returns triumphantly. In the background, the instrument is also as effective. The tympani and xylophone aren't quite as interesting, and almost at times feel as if shoehorned into "Soli" and "Boring". Naturally, the band wanted to experiment further with the jazz fusion and progressive rock elements inherent in previous albums, but here at times it seemed a little too lackluster.
Yet Expresso II
more than proves its legacy to be as important as the transitional record Shamal
, the introduction to the Pierre Moerlen incarnation of Gong. The reason why is that this second album with Pierre Moerlen seems like a perfect counterpart to its predecessor, and though vastly different in parts, presents itself as the ideal continuation of Gong's musical direction.