Archive | June, 2018

I Suppose There’s A Little Bit of A Gentle Giant In All of Us

29 Jun

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One of those things that hasn’t clicked with me since my teen years in pursuit of progressive rock greatness is a band formed at the tail end of the sixties (1970) hailing from Portsmouth, England by the name of Gentle Giant. I only listened to a few albums scattered here and there such as Octopus & The Power & the Glory that I bought at a second-hand drug store in Lake Parsippany for 2 buck in the album clearance section, I haven’t really ravaged followed their concept album exploits much as I ravished pursued Genesis, Yes, King Crimson, ELP, and Jethro Tull. And now smack dab into my mid-fifties, I’m beginning to learn just how brilliant they were back in the day.

No thanks to Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree, Blackfield, and solo artist fame. As I have explained countless times in the past; Wilson runs a job on the side as a remix engineer of classic albums by Yes, XTC, Marillion, Jethro Tull, and King Crimson in modern state of the art 5.1 surround sound when he’s not out crafting beautiful songs and concept albums. The recent “Three Piece Suite”  is Wilson’s third outing in re-engineering the Gentle Giant sound with their 4th album Octopus released in 1972 and their sixth released in 1974 entitled the Power and The Glory. This time, however – Wilson tackles the first three albums: 1970’s self titled album, 1971’s sophomore effort Acquiring the Taste, and the early 1972’s Three Friends – but only gives the final polish to selected tracks from those albums to sort of form a long-playing suite with dazzling video accompaniments – if you happened to have splurged for the blu ray edition (It’s also available as a plain CD). IF you DID splurged for  the same blu ray edition as I did, you get the full three albums included in the bonus section (NOT remastered by Wilson) AND 5.1 remixes of the instrumental versions of all the songs (for those who can’t handle Derek Shulman’s sporadic jumping around lead vocals) and a rare virtually unheard of track called “Freedom’s Child” that was recorded for some UK record pre contract compilation.

I have a distant memory of the time when I spent my 1978 summer in Laguna Beach when I heard the new single of “Giant For A Day” being played on FM radio while staying at my aunt’s house, but I was too busy discovering Van Halen’s debut album (which I vividly remember buying a cassette copy down the street from my aunt’s house in Westminster, California at a neighborhood Licorice Pizza) , Rush’s Farewell To Kings , Jethro Tull’s Heavy Horse, Foreigner’s Double Vision, and two Yes cassettes I picked up at the long defunct Record Shed along the Pacific Coast highway called Tales From Topographic Oceans and Relayer to give it any real serious consideration. I ended up listening to the entire album when I checked it out at my local library in Lake Hiawatha after I unfortunately had to come back to New Jersey to enroll in high school.

Giant for a Day initially didn’t grab me. Neither did Octopus.

I generally think that I was way much too young to understand it. Come to think of it, NOT a lot of Frank Zappa’s instrumentals didn’t really whoa me over back then either. I just became a fan of Frank Zappa because it sounded funny when he used profanity in lyrics.  But looking back at it along with a multitude of  a lot of other progressive rock bands that applied a heavy dose of organic and multi-instrument sounds (think Camel, Caravan, Fairport Convention; etc; etc – that whole Canterbury jazz rock sound scene) is much more appreciative and relaxing as you mellow with age, as you’re no longer pursuing that majestic grandiose mellotron chord in the sky.

Now in my mid-fifties, I need something easy-going in my musical pursuits. And now that I have in possession this Three Piece Suite, along with Octopus blu ray I bought last year now has a new profound proclamation for me.

Gentle Giant is my missing piece (if you pardon the 1977 album pun) in my arsenal of progressive rock perusal perfection. I’m usually spending my lunch hour these days these going over old youtube performance and discovering some of those whole albums I missed out during grade school and mid-high. Gentle Giant had pretty much called it quits during my sophomore year of high school.

I have no logical explanation as to why they click with me now, other than Porcupine Tree founder Steven Wilson’s infatuation with them and mixing their back catalogue in 5.1 surround sound like he does with other influential progressive acts such as Yes, Jethro Tull, and King Crimson. Other than purchasing a cassette copy of Power and the Glory at a record store in Encinitas in lieu after I had seen a progressive rock tribute at the La Jolla Conservatory of Music that played a rare video concert performance of the song “So Sincere” and wanted some documentation of that event. My boss at the vitamin packaging factory that I slummed at for four years in Solana Beach had told me he was a fan of them back in the day, even saw them sell out a tour billed with fifties do-wop tribute band Sha Na Na and Gentle Giant was the opening act. AND it had only cost $2.00!  Years later, one of my collaborators on the Deposit Man sent me a taped copy of the live album, Playing the Fool and I think basically that was all I needed on the band at the time.

So here’s what I’ve learned about the band from a casual stroll through wikipedia  :

Three founding members were brothers: Phil, Derek, and Ray Shulman – first known as Simon Dupree and the Big Sound.  Derek is the crazy sporadic vocalist who sings melodies in odd syncopated repetative naunces and phrases – like if avant-garde composers John Cage (if he were alive today) or Phillip Glass had needed a vocalist in their minimalist approach to composing , Derek would certainly be on top of their speed dial  For some reason there is still no one on this earth to this day who can imitate him. Ray is a violinist and bass guitarist who went to even bigger fame as a record label executive who discovered and signed Dream Theater to the Atlantic family of labels and produced The Sugarcubes. Oldest brother Phil was a multi-instrumentalist, pulling anything from his musical anal repetorie such as a alto sax, a clarinet, percussion, a xylophone and doubled on mellotron and keyboards. He had quit the band after touring for the fourth album entitled Octopus and is the oldest living progressive rock musician still living to this day at 81 years of age that I know of.

Ad placements in Melody Maker lured keyboardist Kerry Minnear, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music (just like fellow alumni Yes and Strawbs‘ Rick Wakeman) forefront to the majority of the writing of most of the band’s eleven studio albums along with Ray Shulman.

There were three drummers with the group, first was Martin Smith who later was replaced by Malcolm Mortimore after the first two albums, but only to suffer injuries from a motorcycle accident after the recording of the third album, Three Friends and was replaced by John Weathers, who was wise enough not to get on a motorbike and remained with the group until their final studio album, Civilian. Incidentally, Malcolm Mortimore tours to this day as the drummer in a Gentle Giant tribute band (who actually knew there was one?)

Guitarist Gary Green was recruited from the beginning and remained through the entire decade long run and even recorded with UK founder/Roxy Music/ Jethro Tull/Yes keyboardist Eddie Jobson on his Green Album solo album released in 1983. I’ve had that album for so long, I never made that connection until this very day. Occasionally, Gary Green contributes here and there to current Yes bassist Billy Sherwood’s solo projects (and there are too many this day to keep an accurate count).

Kerry Minnear currently handles all re-issues for the band, unreleased material special projects, and live bootleg concerts, and Steven Wilson’s 5.1 remix project through his label, Alucard Music.

Gentle Giant once got booed offstage at a Black Sabbath concert at the Hollywood Bowl only to return a year later selling out their Octopus tour.

Tony Visconti, who produced the first two albums went on to worldwide acclaim as David Bowie’s producer and collaborator for most of his output in the seventies and eighties and returned for his final three albums with Blackstar being Bowie’s last in 2016. Visconti also had a hand in producing The Moody Blues’s last platinum selling album, The Other Side of Life in 1986, along with their two follow-ups Sur La Mer in 1988 and The Keys to The Kingdom in 1991. Tony Visconti recently produced the first The Damned album recorded in 10 years entitled Evil Spirits released just this last April.

The components that make up the sound of Gentle Giant music are as follows: (paraphrasing through Wikipedia)

  • multi-part vocal harmonies
  • complex lyrics
  • organisation into concept album form (on occasion)
  • frequent changes in tempo
  • frequent use of syncopation and non-standard time signatures, including polymeters (two or more time signatures played simultaneously)
  • use of complex melodies, frequently contrasting harmonies with dissonance
  • extensive use of instrumental and vocal counterpoint
  • use of musical structures typically associated with classical music (for example, madrigal form on “Knots”, fugal exposition in “On Reflection” and the consistent use of stated, exchanged and recapitulated musical themes exchanged between instruments)
  • use of classical and medieval instrumentation not generally associated with rock music
  • polyphony
  • hocketing
  • unusual chord progressions
  • breaking up and tonally re-voicing patterns of initially simple chords (with the chords subtly altering from repetition to repetition)
  • accelerating and decelerating duration of musical themes
  • rapid and frequent key changes (sometimes within a single bar)
  • division of vocal lines between different singers (including staggered rhythms)
  • clever handling of transitions between sections (such as a hard-rock guitar riff being immediately substituted by a medieval choral)

To reiterate:  In 2017, “Three Piece Suite” was released. It contained tracks from the first three albums: “Gentle Giant” 1970 “Acquiring the Taste” 1971 “Three Friends” 1972. These tracks were re-mixed by Steven Wilson from the available multi-track tapes. Some songs from the first three albums were not included in the set as the multi-tracks for those specific songs have been lost. The set was available as a CD of the re-mixed songs and a Blu-Ray disk. The BluRay disk had 96/24 Stereo LPCM and DTS-HD 5.1 Surround Sound versions of the re-mixed tracks, additional bonus tracks, instrumental versions of some tracks, and Original Album Mixes from Flat Transfers of Mint Condition Original LPs. There were also new video animations included on the 5.1 Surround tracks. This release came packaged as a single Digipack with the two disks, a 16 page booklet, new artwork and was approved by the band for release.

Last year during a trip to Las Vegas, My sister, my long time friend from high school Mike Zullo, and I went on a birthday spending spree for me over at Zia Records which is in the same category of great record store stratosphere as Amoeba is out here in and Lou’s Records down in Encinitas going towards San Diego and I stumbled across the Octopus 5.1 remix package and immediately threw it in my shopping basket along with other prog related oddities and rarities.

Having not heard the quirky a cappella “Knots” since the time I left New Jersey as a young adult, hearing it in 5.1 in surround speakers was a recent aural exploding experience in 5.1 stereo with the individual voices panning from speaker to speaker, and Jeez, Minnear’s piercing stabbing piano chords on top of it. Holy shit. I should have pursued being a total fan all along.

Below are some of the Blu ray images from the 5.1 Octopus remixes by Steven Wilson.

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That come equipped with fun scrolling Gentle Giant musical facts

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…contributed by the band members themselves. Yeah, it’s really nothing to write your local aquarium about. It’s just a little octopus swimming around while the music plays. It’s a whole homage to the Christmas Yuletide Log Channel on Demand (Hey, junior! Can you throw another octopus into the fish tank?)  Hopefully Wilson will give 1973’s In A Glass House a quick 5.1 surround sound Windex cleaner polish.

Next up: The May Super Hero Show Sweeps Slugfest.

 

 

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MY 2018 DIARY OF NOTHING IS EVER REALLY FREE ON FREE COMIC BOOK DAY – THE CHILLING CLIMAX

1 Jun

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I’m surely and slowly getting there – but as of last count in my previous three installments, we reached the very ripe young age of 42 Free Comic Book Day editions that I have personally inspected and analyzed for you, to let you know that it is safe to proceed with the last remaining 10, COUNT ‘EM 10 – 10 books left in the stack to read.

My employers were kicking me out of the office early last Friday and I couldn’t quite get around to reviewing two books that I had read that previous night. Hopefully, with the completion of this last chapter, I’ll be on my way on a luxury cruise to going back to my regular bank man’s blogging holiday of posting two blogs a month.

Since my office was closed this past Memorial Day, I won’t have time to delve into a little history of my local comic book shop, Earth 2 here in Sherman Oaks, California. I can still remember as if it were yesterday when the tiny little shop started by Hollywood producer and Starlog magazine contributor Carr D’Angelo first opened his doors in 2000 when I only lived a few short blocks away at a house once owned by Wizard of Oz’s Tinman Jack Haley. I would need at least half this blog to gush over Carr’s achievements and contributions he has made to the local comic book retailer community.

Thursday May 24th DISNEY PRINCESS (Joe Books Ltd) IMG_2550Submitted in Letterbox for your approval, much like how Image Comics did their sneak peek of Barriers. This book is absolutely meant for the little princess in your life. It’s a running gag series of four grid cartoons mashed together, with a lot focusing on Ariel’s inability to carry on tune or playing hooky on her undersea music lessons. Boys won’t like it. That’s what SpongeBob Squarepants is for.

Thursday May 24th MIRACULOUS (Action Lab)IMG_2551I’ve been curious about this series since I’ve seen scores of DVDs in Target, and it always to find its’ way in the suggestion queue of my Netflix animated section. But after exposure to this issue, I’m glad I don’t partake. This more growing girl stuff than I can handle. Ladybug and Cat Noir hardly don their costumes. I did enjoy the preview of Sami, the Samurai Squirrel in the back. Perhaps one day it could give Usagi Yojimbo a run for its’ money.

Saturday May 26th RELAY #0 (Aftershock Comics)IMG_2585Remember last year, I was bitchin’ and moanin’ of how local comic book publisher Aftershock didn’t participate in last year’s FCBD festivities? This year, they certainly made up for it, by offering this preview of Huffington Post contributor Zac Thompson & Judge Dredd comic strip artist Andy Clarke’s sci-fi opus, Relay with story contributions by Eric Bromberg and Donny Cates, whose name I see mainly associated with a few Marvel Comics here and there on the Venom series. It’s intriguing main plot deals with an interstellar farmer who tries to teach an alien race to irrigate and cultivate a food supply on a desolate planet that come with tragic consequences, such as being worshipped as a god when one doesn’t want to be. The main series (the book doesn’t specify if it’s an ongoing or mini-series) starts in July.

Aftershock puts out some great quality products. I’m a great fan of their Rough Riders min-series, and I had to budget to spare, I’d be scoffing up a lot of their titles which is sort of like Vertigo Comics started out in its’ infancy. PLUS – they are my local publisher here in Sherman Oaks, just a stone’s throw away from Earth 2 (and please don’t throw stones at Earth 2. You might break a window. And that would Carr very mad), and they’re located in nice sprawling skyscraper in the cool part of the San Fernando Valley off of Ventura Blvd, WHERE I used to work for Paramount Pictures tallying up box offices totals, and it was once the location of where an agency sent me to my first gig at Warner Bros. So lots of history in that building for me as well.

 

Saturday May 26th DIE KITTY DIE I Love You to Death (Chapterhouse)IMG_2586What if Archie Comics had a steamy slutty one night stand with Harvey Comics? Probably the result would be this. Veteran Archie Comics artists Dan Parent & Fernando Ruiz come up with some really silly scary stuff that would make even Sabrina, The Teenage Witch running an oriental massage parlor to even blush. Love the Charlie Chaplin and Charles Manson cameos. Wish I had I thought of that mash-up while I was writing my Deposit Man comic book. My memory is a little clouded, but I think I encountered the Kitty character in a few FCBD editions a few year back, but I’m not sure Chapterhouse was the publisher back then. It’s quirky fun with teenage monsters in the mature teen arena of social commentary made popular today by the Riverdale show crowd.

Saturday May 26th OVERWATCH (Dark Horse Comics) IMG_2587I know I give most of the video game based property offered this year a hard pass, but the Dark Horse Comics’ licensed book written by Andrew Robinson & Joelle Sellner and art by Kate Niemczyk is an unexpected surprisingly different and fun read. Heavily armed Russian assassin Sgt. Aleksandra Zaryanova is dispatched on a world-wide mission to bring to justice someone who tried an assassination attempt on a high KBG official, who also happens to be a dangerous hacker. Unbeknownst to her, they have paired her with a robot assistant who turns out to be an overbearing pain in a ass. Unfortunately for the back up feature, I’m a Black Hammer virgin. This is officially my first exposure to the much-lauded Eisner award-winning galore fest written and created by Jeff Lemire, and boy, I’m going to have to rectify that gapping oversight in my ever comic book consuming past time this summer at San Diego and haul home some of those back issue trades. Because I don’t want to feel left out for too long.

Monday May 28th INVADER ZIM (Oni Press) IMG_2588Invader Zim is a cartoon I have yet to see an episode of. Is it on Hulu? Is it on Netflix? I dunno. I’m going to have a little extra cartoon watching time this summer with my Fox favs, The Simpsons, Bob’s Burgers and Family Guy all on hiatus for a few months, so this might occupy me until their new seasons begin. Invader Zim is created by Jhonen Vasquez, the same indie mastermind behind Johnny the Homicidal Maniac – which would not be a cartoon safe for kids. However, both of Vasquez’s creations share the same demented qualities, as Zim is heck bent on conquering and subjugating every thing in his path. This issue although blah I thought in its’ execution, i.e; too much going on in the artwork provided by Warren Wucinich did a good thing in reminding me about this blog I wrote from a couple of years expressing my disdain for anyone bingewatching their favorite television streaming series and the attempt to eye gobble it in one sitting is not in the best interest of your health and social inadequacies. So message received.

Monday May 28th MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS – Shattered Grid (Boom! Studios) IMG_2589I didn’t even bother with seeing the fucking movie last year, so of course I found reading this a complete and utter bore, which is what I totally expected before diving into this. What I couldn’t stand most about it was the whole Jim Starlin Cosmic Marvel mode it made an instant beeline for with the Silver Surfer clone. A lot of the story tries to make sense of  twenty-five years of mindless children television canon we’ve so painfully endured in the past on the Fox Kids Channel.

Monday May 28th THE ONLY LIVING BOY (Papercutz)IMG_2590 I would assume that editor Jim Salicup, other than resembling more and more like David Letterman and getting out of the Smurfing business, is expanding his line’s horizon and this excellent sample comic book of THE ONLY LIVING BOY needs no introduction. Apparently, I arrived way too late for the launch of this series created by David Gallaher & Steve Ellis which has proved in 20 short pages to be par excellence in what little boys crave for in adventure. In parts, it’s a great homage to Hanna Barbera cartoons such as Jonny Quest, Dino-boy, or Samson and Goliath, and I can detect a twinge of Secret Saturdays in it too. It has freaking dinosaurs, abhorrent villains, friendly cavemen and damsels to the rescue rather the other away around – and in other parts, I see it’s a gigantic love letter to Jack Kirby’s Kamandi, The Last Boy on Earth.  I love it and I don’t even know the premise of the entire thing. It’s just goddamn wonderful to look at. I’m so freaking far behind that I see advertise a 400 page omnibus. Better put it on the San Diego Comic Con International Christmas wish list.

Tuesday May 29th THE TICK (New England Press) IMG_2592What is a Free Comic Boy Day without a free Tick comic book? Well, when back in the old FCBD days, when I used to hop one Los Angeles area comic book shop to another, The Tick ones have always been under ordered.  New England Press, however has a solution to that – you can backorder any FCBD edition of the Tick that you may have missed just for the price of postage with the help of their inside front cover ad (make sure you photocopy it first before you go fumbling for the scissors to clip it out – which is a terrible idea if you want to keep your front cover intact).  The show I’m watching currently on Amazon is nothing like the comic you read or the cartoon that used to run on Fox Saturday mornings back in the mid-nineties- not a lot of Ben Edlund’s original comic book issues never used such salty language as The Terror (portrayed by Jackie Earle Haley – the original Tinman’s grandson) does and the whole mature audience approach takes a little getting used to. I may dedicate a entire blog to it after I’m done watching the second half of the freshman season. But for those craving the Fox cartoon version, such as I, then this is the book for you. It has new stories featuring the Tick channeling his inner Robert E. Howard in a fevered dream that winds up of all places at a Renaissance festival, the Tick helping out a pizza delivery boy which defies all explanation, and closes out with the Tick becoming best man at a friend’s wedding, who’s getting cold feet or not only skipping out on his bride to be, but is not really forthcoming of being an actual super-hero.

Tuesday May 29th THE METABARON – BOOK 3 THE META-GUARDIANESS & THE TECHNO-BARON (Humanoids Inc) IMG_2594Did I ever tell you the story about the time that Alejandro Jodorowsky tried to get a 12 hour movie version of Dune off the ground and every studio practically laughed at his face, but yet his unseen version adaptation of the late Frank Herbert classic was ripped off practically by every famous filmmaker in Hollywood, including Steven Spielberg & Ridley Scott when it came time to release their classics such as Raiders of the Lost Ark and Alien. Read my fascinating discovery of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune here. Humanoids does fabulous hardcover novel reprints of Jodorowsky’s collaborations with Moebius and Manuel Moro. Those titles, in the Jodorverse include the Incals, Exo, and The Technopriests. This is a new story featuring the world of the Metabarons contributed by writer Jerry Frissen with eyepopping art by artists Valentin Secher and Mukesh Singh, based on Jororowsky’s story. It’s like a cross between Heavy Metal’s Den and Barbarella. The graphic that these pages previews is coming out in September.

And that’s a wrap. See ya at next year’s Free Comic Book Day!!