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Ian Gillan

Band – Clear Air Turbulence

Review by Larry Toering

This record takes a few words to describe what’s really going on with it, and being a fan of Ian Gillan it’s appropriate to explain a few things in the process of reviewing this with as much of an unbiased approach as possible. So to put it as lightly as possible, there are three phases of Ian Gillan’s solo career, Ian Gillan Band, Gillan, and several releases where he is listed simply as “Ian Gillan.” All of them fit different categories or genres if you prefer to call it that, for the most part. The first was the Ian Gillan Band (IGB) which produced three very remarkably different albums. The first was his debut record as a solo artist in 1976, which has a jazz/rock fusion approach and sports the title “Child In Time.” That solo debut featured the epic Deep Purple tune covered as the title track. The second was this fine release in 1977 which showed a side to him and that band that maintained a jazz/rock fusion approach but was closer to progressive rock, as it dwelled in a more lyrically and musically intellectual vibe. This is a long player that consisted of only six tracks. To these ears, that easily renders it a prog record with its near Pink Floyd type dreary keyboard work. Most of his albums tend to feature no less than seven tracks, which, interestingly, every album he recorded with Deep Purple in the 70s did exactly that. Call Ian Gillan what you want, but he is mostly referred to as a progressive-inclined hard rock singer who has managed to step a foot into many styles over the years. This disc is one of the most testifying accounts of such a conclusion. Neither Gillan himself nor Deep Purple and their many phases should be considered to be simply categorized as classic rock, but radio formats tend to group any band or artist that achieved radio hit success long enough ago, to be fitting of that category. Clear Air Turbulence has an extremely well-fused approach. Here is a review of the original vinyl release, although it has been re-released in various formats, including the more recently released version, titled The Rockenfield Mixes which contains rough mixes and an out take. The overall concept was of clearing the mind and letting the music do the thinking. The outcome was quite musically spacey while very vocally and lyrically dramatic

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2011  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Clear Air Turbulence

This fine opener starts off with some atmospheric noise before the bass and guitar driven riff blast the listener into space. “Get a leg up” before the “peaceful as a bygone age” refrain suggests getting “into deluth” and then a lovely guitar solo is featured by the great, but sadly neglected Ray Fenwick. This is the debut appearance of Gillan’s long time writing partner Colin Towns on keyboards, and he takes no back seat on this and some of the proceeding numbers. He takes the track out before an abrupt ending that proves it’s better to burn out than fade away.  Many consider this to be among Gillan’s finest solo tracks. I tend to agree with this.

Five Moons
This opens with Colin Towns playing a lovely flute as he fuses it into a piano motif. Gillan sings in his usually beautiful falsetto as he delivers from a more “above the clouds” range, continuing the previous track’s approach. This is more of a melodramatic tune in every way, though. The bass and guitar are once again in the forefront of the arrangement. A sax is applied and it really helps bring things up, as this is an otherwise very melancholy track with excellent double tracked vocals. “It’s going to rain tonight / It’ll be alright with / Five moons in the sky.”
Money Lender
This much more rocking track opens with a great keyboard and bass heavy riff before Gillan quickly enters the picture. He sings about a loan shark of sorts of whom he was once a victim, or so the story goes. More horns enter the picture on this track, and Gillan holds a few long notes in a very husky tone, as well as mixing it up with more of that trademark falsetto. A few screams help the diverse vocal approach. Between the big riffing and addition of flute and horns, including trumpet, this track finds its way through a lot of styles, and funk is definitely one of them. This is another fan favorite from this period in his illustrious career. Feel the danger!
Over The Hill
This track features more up-front bass from the great John Gustafson, most known for Jesus Christ Superstar and Roxy Music. In fact, with Roxy Music he played the famous bass line for “Love Is the Drug.” There is no mistaking the prog factor here with its fantastic Moog synth work. On this outstanding number, there are nice guitar lines featured among all of the fusion. Lots of Gillan’s trademark screaming puts a heavier stamp on things, maintaining the husky low range as well as some high pitch notes from the wide range of this amazing vocalist extraordinaire.
Good Hand Liza
This interesting track begins with congas from Gillan and is blended with some heavy percussion from Mark Nauseef. I’ve always loved the atmosphere and drama that fills this. Gillan sings about a very generous provider he once knew. There is more double tracking on the high register vocals, a touch that dominates the whole disc. It’s about soul providing and salvation from another that is often found during life’s ups and downs. There are more killer bass lines featured here. This is all over the place, once again, as far as categories go. This and the proceeding track feature a narrative story telling approach.
Angel Manchenio
This is another great story that’s about a once good friend turned foe. Beautiful guitar sets it up and the fun starts after some flute bits and high hat. Gillan starts in about a blood brother who he wound up opposite in a fight that apparently included a knife. I love this one in particular. It’s one of my favorite Ian Gillan Band tracks. He sings about a recollection of some table dancing in a bar, and it makes for a fine closer to this loosely conceptually based record which rates as one of Gillan’s finest hidden gems.
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