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SBB - Karlstad Live CD (album) cover




Eclectic Prog

4.67 | 70 ratings

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Retired Admin
5 stars Shivers

Before I venture into the northern pastures of Scandinavia for my upcoming reviews, I'd like to make a short trip to Poland to highlight an album, I personally rank among the very best live albums ever made. I may even prefer it over King Crimson's The Great Deceiver, and part of the reason for this is the 'imminence' of this concert - the overpowering urge to play music you sense from the musicians involved.

Back when SBB started out as Czeslav Niemen's "backing band", and indeed all throughout their heyday, Poland was under a Communistic rule. Everything was under wraps and music should preferably consider itself with anything but the thriving reckless prog rock sneaking in from the decadent west. SBB, or Silesian Blues Band, were as a consequence basically outlaws during the first leg of their existence. In spite of this, they continued to play what they wanted - developing a distinct style of their own based around the close bond between the jazz and blues rock world. What came out at the other end though had both of these music styles completely bend out of shape, sounding like a fiery take on The Mahavishnu Orchestra teaming up with Gong, Secret Oyster and a couple of the more melodically inclined RPI acts of the day.

Coming from a country as iron-clouded as Poland, and then travelling across Europe to play gigs, must've felt like freedom. - I am talking about the very essence of the word here. The amount of artistic relief these guys suddenly felt is beyond immeasurable. The group said so themselves; they were overwhelmed with the freedom they experienced coming into Sweden in 1975. Anyway, you don't need to read any of this for you to understand - all you need to do is listen to this awe inspiring release.

There's an emotional power running through this recording equivalent to a couple of Hiroshima bombs - and then some! Main man Józef Skrzek actually instigates the gig by stating, in his slightly tainted English, that the show will be a special one "it will never repeat" as he so aptly puts it. Taking care of bass guitar, piano, moog, Hammond, synthesizers and vocals - he is a real poster child of music eclecticism. With only 3 band members, one could be lead into thinking that a live album like this could suffer from underdeveloped musical ideas and whatnot, but that is so far from being the case - it literally defies belief.

In many ways this Karlstad release features SBB in both a highly familiar dressing, and then quite the opposite. There's an exuberance here shrouding everything they do in a superman like zeitgeist. Add to that, guitarist Antymos Apostolis, who normally tends to reside in shadow, is right up front and fully in charge on this baby. It's a welcoming pleasure to hear him going all out. It really is. Whether the band is going through the more fusion based blues pieces, or they're just throwing out these incredibly fiery jams - he's always there. On SBB's studio albums you almost never get to hear that, and may I just add, what a damn shame, because this dude can cook! Boy does he ever cook on this album!

Last but not least, we find one of my drumming idols: Jerzy Piotrowski. Hell, he may just be my all- time favourite drummer. With his imaginative poly-rhythms and orgiastic tom usage, this guy is perhaps one of the rare percussionists out there who understands the subtle beauty of mixing insane complexity with improvisational power. He genuinely sounds like a mix between Billy Cobham and Area drummer extraordinaire Giulio Capiozzo - that is without ever losing his endearing melodic feel. I can listen to this man's drumming for days on end - he's got a natural understanding of the beat that you just can't learn. It feels like it emanates from the very pores of his skin. I bet his mom went to some proto-stomp classes, back when he was bobbing around inside her belly oven.

The entire Karlstad gig seems to float together as one unassuming fluid piece of music. The different tracks all weave together in a seemingly uncomplicated fashion. The opener, for instance, called Pretty Face - with all of it's speeding fusion vibes, ferocious beat and loud guitar screams, still manages to die down to a mere whisper with a soulful yearning organ, before slowly setting sails on the serene waters of Born To Die. With a frail and goosebumps inducing feel to it, the tune develops vocals - and you suddenly get to hear just how beautiful of a singer Skrzek really is. This bridging between the first two tracks makes the small hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. If I were a girl I'd probably find a comfortable place to sit down and cry happy tears for a week.

I find countless of these moments on Karlstad. Small odes to the rare glimpses in life that send shivers down your spine and makes your soul orgasm. I'd recommend this facet of sonic life to everybody with ears, yet we all seem to find these life invigorating jolts in different parts of the musical world. If you're into classic prog though, then this might just turn out to be the mistress of your life.

Guldbamsen | 5/5 |


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