GENTLE GIANT: EDGE OF TWILIGHT(Vertigo 534 101-2) (2-CD set)Gentle Giant is one of the (sometimes overlooked) cornerstones of progressive rock, along with King Crimson, Genesis and Yes. The band was active for eleven years, coming into existence in 1970 and finally disbanding in 1980. In that time they produced 11 studio albums, of which the first six are generally regarded as their best. I met them in 1979 when they played a local venue, Louie's
The core of Gentle Giant was three brothers: Phil, Derek, and Ray Shulman. Together, they'd been the core of Simon Dupree And The Big Sound, a quasi-soul band which chased hits from 1967 through 1969. As Gentle Giant -- with the addition of keyboardist Kerry Minnear and guitarist Gary Green, plus several drummers -- they pursued loftier musical goals, creating their own unique sound and approach (and one which has inspired countless bands since then). The Shulmans were multi-instrumentalists, and all could sing. This led to music which was both instrumentally and vocally complex and multifaceted. Gentle Giant were known for jumpy, angular melodic lines and rich counterpoint. But they were never abstract or inaccessible, and sometimes they were quite Beatlesque.
The first four albums -- GENTLE GIANT, AQUIRING THE TASTE, THREE FRIENDS, and OCTOPUS -- stand together as essentially one continuous body of work, and all four are essential for anyone seriously involved in progressive rock. The first album was never released in the
Phil Shulman (who had played saxes, recorders and trumpet) left the band after OCTOPUS, and in his departure severely diminished it. He took with him the diversity of instrumentation, the complexly harmonized vocals, and a great deal of what I can only call "finesse." The surviving Gentle Giant had a rawer, thinner sound and played less ambitious music. Phil was ten years older than Derek, twelve years older than Ray.
The band's fifth album, IN A GLASS HOUSE, was never released in the U.S., but Capitol picked them up with their sixth album, THE POWER AND THE GLORY, which marked a fresh start and gained them new popularity. From that point on, it was all downhill. Each subsequent album was a little less ambitious and consequently less successful. The final album, CIVILIAN, is generally disregarded as an embarrassment.
Now British Vertigo has released a two-CD set in their Chronicles series, EDGE OF TWILIGHT. It's a "best of," and if you don't have those early albums this will make an adequate substitute, in terms of material. The album is being imported and sold in the
(Collectors will want UNDER CONSTRUCTION, a "limited" but unnumbered edition 2-CD set released by Alucard, apparently a Gentle Giant fan label, with the catalog number of ALU-GG-01. "Alucard" -- "dracula" spelled backward -- is the title of a piece on Gentle Giant's first album.... Disc one is identified as "Entirely Unreleased Material," disc two as "Demos and Out-takes," and the material ranges from late-sixties demos to rehearsals and experiments that span the band's career, including a "sample archive" of Gentle Giant sounds, ready for sampling. This collection is everything EDGE OF TWILIGHT is not: it is a patchwork of bits and pieces, doodlings intermixed with full-fledged songs, and relatively little of it likely to appeal to someone new to Gentle Giant. But for those who have all the live albums -- both legal and bootleg -- and the Simon Dupree CD, however, UNDER CONSTRUCTION fills in the picture and adds footnotes to the original albums. The liner-note recollections by the band -- circa 1997 -- are an added plus.)
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