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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Jasper van't Hof's Pork Pie

Transitory

Review by Julie Knispel

Fusion is perhaps progressive rock's more white collar cousin.  Arising from the jazz scene at the tail end of the 1960's, fusion co-opted the energy and electricity and volume of rock and roll and added it to an already diverse set of influences and styles.  While one might be forgiven in thinking that fusion was primarily an English and American phenomenon (bands like Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, Return to Forever and the electric Miles Davis bands come to mind immediately), the continental European scene featured some smoking hot fusion groups as well.

Dutch meyboard maestro Jaspar van't Hof had just left the progressive band Association P.C. in 1972, having also worked with such luminaries as Archie Shepp, Jean Luc-Ponty and George Gruntz.  Piecing together a band to carry on the electric/fusion angles he had been exploring, van't Hof brought together Charlie Mariano (saxes. flutes), Philip Catherine (guitar), J.F. Jenny-Clark (bass) and Aldo Romano (drums) under the Pork Pie aegis, alluding to the famous Lester Young jazz standard.  Though Transitory would be the first release by this short lived combo (Pork Pie remained together ffrom 1973 to 1976), it features a band fully formed in its style, bridging the gaps between rock and jazz, psychedelia, Indian and Brazilian musics, and doing so effortlessly.

The 2008 re-issue of Pork Pie's debut release on Promising Music is an eye-opener.  The album is packaged in the currently popular mini-LP fomat, complete with gatefold cardboard sleeve.  Furthermore, the CD itself is printed to look like a vinyl LP, and packaged in a jacked that mimics the traditional sleeve that LPs would have.  The album has been carefully mastered, keeping in mind the importance of dynamics and sound quality.  You'll not get any brick wall remastering here...quiet passages retain their gentle quiet, while heavier segments pop from the speakers without inducing ear fatigue.  This is the way reissues and remasters should be done...taking utmost care to maintain the integrity of the original source. Jazz fans will find this release much to their liking, but it also serves as a great appetizer for rock listeners interested in dipping their toes into the fusion pool.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Epoch
Transitory opens with an upbeat, percolating little number written by band leader van't Hof.  Charlie Mariano's sax playing is right on the brink of chaos, while the main theme, reiterated several times through the composition as a sort of waypoint and launching pad for each solo section, is eminently memorable and hummable.  Van't Hof's electric piano chops are incredible; if you thought Rick Wakeman had some pretty dexterous moments on piano, you need to hear van't Hof's playing on this piece.  Philip Catherine adds some brief bursts of electric guitar that almost seem to come out of nowhere, yet add just enough that their absence would be felt strongly.  Not over-long at 7:45, this is an impressive lead off composition for this album.
Transitory (Part I)

An ominous low-pitched rumble and some odd, not quite identifiable sounds (I think it's slide guitar, but I can't be one hundred percent sure) lead into the first part of the album's title piece.  Mariano's flute playing is keening, not gentle as one often expects flute work to be.  One would be excused for thinking this piece might fit well on a 1973-1974 Hawkwind album, as the combination of flute playing and ambient/space sounds would not at all be out of place on an album like Hall of the Mountain Grill or Warrior on the Edge of Time.  Three minutes in sax playing almost evokes a bagpipe sound comparison, with backing that sounds somewhat like a Fripp soundscape...

Transitory (Part II)
Part II arises from the same ambient backing that was the foundation for the first half of "Transitory."  Mariano's sax playing is darker, lower in timbre and richer, mixing well with treated organ from van't Hof.  Taken together, parts I and II are almost two sides of the same coin, showing light and shade, exploring the vast possibilities of musical colour and shape and sound that the same set of instruments are capable of creating.  "Transitory" is about as far away from rock as one can get compared to album opener "Epoch," yet the piece fits the exploratory, searching nature this album seeks to provide.
Angel Wings
Written by guitarist Philip Catherine, this piece sees a return to more rock based song structures.  The rhythm section (Aldo Romano and J.F. Jenny-Clark) practically percolates along, their playing bubbly and almost joyful.  Catherine gets an extended opportunity to show off some fluid guitar playing skills, his instrument heavily treated and sounding as itf it could have been lifted from some early 1960's garage band classic, but with far more skill and ability than any garage band could muster.  Ivanir Do Nascimento guests here, contributing hand percussion that only adds to the bubbling rhythm that drives this composition along.
Pudu Kkottai

This traditional was arranged by Charlie Mariano, and features him on bamboo flute.  Originally the opening track on side 2 of Transitory, this piece sees the group moving in a more free jazz direction, with the opening 3 to 4 minutes having next to no rhythmic or tonal center to hold on to.  A foundation finally begins to rise, almost organically, from the musical chaos, introducing some significant eastern/Indian musical influences to Pork Pie's bubbling musical pot.

Something Wrong
Van't Hof's gentle electric piano intros this composition, which sounds as if it has been placed here as a direct reaction to the chaos that typified "Pudu Kkottai."  Quieter, gentler, "Something Wrong" is still a showcase for some almost psychic instrumental interplay.  The second half of this song would not at all be out of place on one of Frank Zappa's instrumental/jazz based albums of similar vintage, showing that he was far from the only musician making this kind of music at the time.
Bassamba (Part I)
Pork Pie moves to South America for the next two tracks, two parts making up a piece called "Bassamba."  As the name implies, this first part is a showcase for bassist J.F. Jenny-Clark, and his playing does not disappoint.  This first part is mostly bass solo, with some drumming and keys to tie everything together.  One hears very little samba in the track. – at least the half presented here.
Bassamba (Part II)
Suddenly the listener is transported south of the equator, where Latin percussion and bet-you-can't-not-dance-to-it grooves drag you out of your seat and onto the dance floor.  Charlie Mariano contributes some tasty alto sax, and the band simmers along behind him.
March of the Oil-Sheiks
This is such an appropriate title, even today - perhaps especially today.  One can't help but visualize puppets or marionettes being jerked wildly back and forth on their strings to the jerky rhythms coaxed out by van't Hof and his group.  There's an edgy, almost avant-garde feel to this composition, with choppy guitar, pulsing bass, and skittering electric piano playing.  Bursts of sax and flute add to the chaos, and one is left wondering...is this jazz?  Is this rock?  Does it matter?  It's impressive how a piece that sounds so chaotic can actually tie together nicely, and under less skilled hands, it might not have happened.  Van't Hof and his group show that they can handle anything thrown at them over the course of this debut album, and "March of the Oil-Sheiks" is a daring and impressive closer for this release.
 
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