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Caravan - Waterloo Lily CD (album) cover




Canterbury Scene

3.77 | 613 ratings

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4 stars 11/15P. A disorganized album which partly seems like a perfectly produced demo in which some musicians don't really know where to go. Get it for more than a few wicked moments of finest Canterbury jazz pop spread throughout the album. Get it too for Steve Miller who unknowingly dominates the band quite a lot, guiding them in some stellar moments of jazz fusion, but also losing the track sometimes.

Demos prove that Caravan were stuck somewhere after In The Land Of Grey and Pink on which Pye Hastings had already seemed a little bit underchallenged. He denies this, arguing that in late 1970 the Sinclair cousins had a huge backlog of song ideas which had to be recorded, but you simply don't hear Hastings playing some substantial guitar anywhere on In The Land of Grey and Pink, except for some power chords here and there. Most acoustic guitars were even, to my knowledge, played by Richard Sinclair. The early version of Aristocracy and Dave Sinclair's Doesn't Take A Lot came into being in the late album sessions. And whilst they are nice cuts, I doubt that the band had great fun recording them.

Waterloo Lily makes a considerable difference. I strongly oppose the common opinion that this 1972 album is 'jazzier' than their previous work. Nonetheless it is very much defined by the late Steve Miller, the piano-playing replacement for David Sinclair. Miller was heavily influenced by American boogie and R&B music, but I always felt he played this music like a classical musician, giving it a most unusual and quite 'cerebral' sound.

Surprisingly, at least in the case of the shy and self-conscious Miller, the success of this album is determined by his playing. The song Waterloo Lily, for instance, is a genuine masterpiece. Richard Sinclair contributes a multitude of quirky little riffs and perfect lead vocals, Pye Hastings proves how beautifully his voice harmonizes with Sinclair's, and Pye Hastings - previously the rhythm guitarist of the band - plays a fine fuzzy jazz guitar solo which comes up pretty unexpectedly, especially after his ultra-restrained playing on the previous Caravan albums. But the real stunner in fact is Steve Miller on keyboards who gives the piece the fierce power it deserves. The Wurlitzer electric piano doubles the bass riffs effectively and provides some gritty jazz chords in the verses, but it's his solo at 2:14 which really immortalises Miller as a talented improviser. Effortlessly he carries himself through strangely syncopated vamps on the heavily distorted Wurlitzer - less sophisticated in the melodic architecture than Dave Sinclair's and Dave Stewart's solos, but amazingly compelling within the scope of the boogie vocabulary which you don't find too often in the Canterbury scene. A second solo spot, again adorned by Richard Sinclair's inspiringly sinuous bass lines, is taken by guest saxophonist Lol Coxhill who brings in his typical mixture of pastoral (and quasi-folk-ish) expression and jazz melodies on top of a smooth and quiet band backing which gradually gets louder until the reprise of the vocal part. A masterful song, definitely the best one on this album and also one of the very best Caravan tracks.

(I'd really like to acknowledge some concrete musicians for composing this wonderful riff which propels the lengthy instrumental part, but it's hard to reconstruct for me who it was. Curiously, Matching Mole already jammed on a modified version of this riff in 1971 (including a really cranky Dave Sinclair organ arrangement), eventually releasing it somewhere on their latest reissues. I don't want to spoil the fun and say where you can find it - just find it out for yourself if you wish. It also took me quite a long time until I knew where that riff material came from, but it was a minor revelation to me.)

There's even more spotting fun in Songs & Signs, a lovely little bossa nova/pop shuffle written by Steve Miller - and released by Miller & Coxhill under a different title in a very different arrangement. It's quite a strange tune in fact because of its interwoven vocal melodies by Sinclair and Hastings (while Hastings sings constantly in his highest register) and due to the unusual sound of the electric harpsichord, an instrument with a certain baroque ring, albeit with sharply reduced high frequencies - that's a kind of instrument which could be built more often! Apart from that there's more of Steve Miller's gorgeous Wurlitzer soloing here, this time without the distortion and wah-wah techniques.

In the folky pop song The World Is Yours, commonly ignored in most reviews of this album, there's a different kind of spotting fun: spotting what exactly Steve Miller plays. This time there's no risk to spoil anything so that I take the liberty of mentioning that Miller in fact ''only'' doubles the bass part on the electric piano. And the bass part neither consists of the root notes, nor of elaborate melodies. In fact, it is rather built around inversions of the chords used. Hence, the bass track is at least equivalent in the mix to the vocal melody, giving the whole song a kind of primitive polyphony in the vein of the 15th/16th century Renaissance-era composers. Take the hymnic melody and the soothing vocal harmonies by Richard Sinclair into account as well, and I think you'll have to admit that there's something special about this song, even if you don't agree with my far-fetched Renaissance associations. It has a late-hippie love message and there's not a single solo or puzzling arrangement here, but it's substantially clever songwriting augmented a lot by Miller's minimal contributions.

I already mentioned the In The Land Of Grey And Pink outtake Aristocracy. It appears here in accelerated speed and a slightly glam-rock-ish arrangement (wah-wah guitars, vocal FX, reverberated drums). Steve Miller is on Hammond organ again, this time providing some background chords played through the Leslie - that's perfectly alright and really adds something to the song. Note Pye Hastings' relaxed wah-wah guitar solos as well, and there you have a wonderful art-pop song, a bit along the line of Tommy James' 1968 hit Crimson And Clover.

The Love In Your Eye is a more ambivalent affair, at least to my ears. While many people rate this piece highly due to the improvised parts and the lush orchestral arrangements, I admittedly have some problems with the second half of the track in which the band rely heavily on some pretty basic soul/R&B chord progressions without filling these harmonic frames with sufficiently inspired ideas. The vocal part of the song is quite beautiful - it's a bit pompous in the chorus (in the Webber/Jesus Christ Superstar way), but still retains a charming pastoral component in the verses. The chorus, however, has this ultra-groovy percussion track running along which is really crisp, and which I definitely missed on later live versions. Overall I am pretty satisfied with that vocal part; I also am about the rousing Jimmy Hastings flute solo which follows soon after. But the solos which follow, especially the multiple Pye Hastings guitar solos, border quite a bit on uninspired noodling, eminently the very last one. After the powerful coda with these very huge piano chords and the fierce wah-wah bass by Richard Sinclair the band explodes into that funky groove again until it fades out after yet another minute of further wah-wah rhythm guitar strumming. Maybe it's really the wah-wah overload which I don't like. Anyway - it's still far from being a dull piece of music because it grooves along quite well, and the choice of tone in all of the instruments is particularly entertaining: Steve Miller uses his spacy delay+ring-modulation+whatever effect combination on the electric piano which you also find on the excellent Miller & Coxhill album The Story So Far...Oh Really? (and which Steven Wilson Band keyboarder Adam Holzman used on Luminol as well - coincidence or no coincidence?). Furthermore he's on that strange electric harpsichord again while Richard Sinclair adds a lavish amount of fuzz to the bass guitar and Pye Hastings experiments with the Leslie cabinet. Overall the track really doesn't get boring, but nonetheless it's slightly inconsistent.

The (mainly) improvised track Nothing At All/It's Coming Soon finally shows you what happens if a band manager forces a musician to be somebody else; or, to put it differently, forces a dedicated pianist to be an organist. So, what happens? To me, this brief organ solo in the very end of the track is one of the worst organ solos I've heard - a bit like the Mellotron part on Lynyrd Skynyrd's Freebird: bad tone, a complete lack of inspiration, pointless. This criticism doesn't concern Steve Miller, but mainly the management who wanted Steve Miller to be the new David Sinclair. This eventually - as the liner notes state - led to Miller's early departure from the band.

In the very same piece, however, you also find one of Steve Miller's finest compositions, seemingly the It's Coming Soon part. It's a laid-back and slightly psychedelic instrumental jazz part with a hugely sophisticated melody and harmonic pattern. Pye Hastings doubles the melody on electric guitar, and in combination with the slow-motion work this results in a perfectly soothing and dreamy atmosphere. But this part is in fact the briefest one in the piece; most of it is actually based on a steady R&B/boogie/jazz vamp with lots of improvisation by Lol Coxhill on sax, Pye Hastings and Matching Mole guitarist Phil Miller, allowing you to focus on the strikingly different playing styles of the two guitarists. When you listen to this track for the first time you might ask yourself how all of these parts can be convenient with each other. I asked this question to myself as well, and I also found an answer. Just listen to the huge contrast between the jaunty improvisation part and the bittersweet melancholia of Steve Miller's piano piece. Interestingly - and that's what I concealed until now - the band do not maintain this contrast, but rather disperse it by coupling Miller's sad melody with a reprise of the easy-going jam part. Hermeneutics would perhaps call this a dialectic synthesis of the thesis and antithesis. I'd rather prefer regarding this little twist as an inspired and inspiring reinterpretation of melodies, or rather as a 'jam with a purpose'. It would, however, been a lot better if the organ solo had been left out - it's just not the kind of towering conclusion which the band seemingly intended it to be.

The quality of the bonus material is slighty varying. Pye Hastings' little acoustic demos Ferdinand and Pye's June Thing are pretty rough and basic, but are remarkably close in their composition to what modern indie rock bands record today. One could really make good pop hits out of them in 2013. Pye's June Thing would become a power pop ballad like something by Sunrise Avenue or 3 Doors Down; Ferdinand rather goes into the laid-back direction of Jack Johnson or the famous Over The Rainbow singer Israel Kamakawiwo'ole. Looking Left, Looking Right is a funky pop song with a tricky and wicked acoustic guitar riff and a full band arrangement, featuring Steve Miller and Richard Sinclair in top form - and featuring acclaimed session player Henry Lowther on trumpet. This would have been a great album track, especially because Pye Hastings' voice had grown really tight and stable here by the time of the 1972 sessions.

The real deal, however, is Any Advance On Carpet. Unfortunately, it isn't featured on this CD, but merely on the The World Is Yours compilation. It was, however, recorded during the Waterloo Lily sessions and is an extended take on some jazzy Richard Sinclair fragments, including an early version of the Hatfield & The North piece Big Jobs and (maybe) some others. I downloaded it via Amazon and programmed it as a bonus track to Waterloo Lily; of course, I cannot rate it as part of this CD, but I can (and do!) recommend those who are interested in this line-up (or in the Canterbury Scene in general) to get hold of this track, too. Steve Miller is in fine form on that one again.

Overall this is a thoroughly enjoyable album which might not be an essential listen to everyone, but an entertaining and musically interesting addition to a jazz rock music collection. The combination of Pye Hastings' big songwriting talent and the jazz improvisation did work out very well, even though the result is quite inconsistent in places. I think I will place this one somewhere between the 3 and 4 star area, but since there's quite a lot of interesting experimentation and great songwriting here, a 4 star rating seems very appropriate.

(By the way - I've also reviewed the Coxhill & Miller catalogue here on ProgArchives, hoping that more people will explore it. Their recordings took place at roughly the same time as Waterloo Lily and give a multilateral insight into the Canterbury Scene.)

Einsetumadur | 4/5 |


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