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Alcatraz - Vampire State Building CD (album) cover





3.83 | 79 ratings

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4 stars Early Seventies German five-piece band Alcatraz hailed from Hamburg, and somewhat cheesy pun title and slightly silly cover art aside, their 1971 debut `Vampire State Building' held some cracking music. The band offered a mix of heavy rock with fiery acid and bluesy guitar soloing, with much attention given to jazzy extended improvised passages courtesy of plentiful sax and flute breaks, plus some light `krautrock' flavours worked in as well. Embryo, Missus Beastly, the Santana band and even the more overt jamming jazz moments of Out of Focus come to mind, and jazz- rock/fusion fans are especially going to love this predominantly instrumental one.

The unhurried ten-minute opener `Simple Headphone Mind' sets much of the template for the disc, moving seamlessly between mellow come-downs and scorching jagged outbursts. Breezy flute and gentle piano themes float through the air until peppy drumming, dirty huffing sax and erupting electric guitar noodling rush forward, helping the piece softly remind of the lovely obscure 1976 Abraxis album from Belgium with its sparkling piano dominance, and it shares a similar spontaneous vigour and chilled energy.

`Your Chance Of A Lifetime's contemplative, lightly melancholic piano and ruminative bass is punctured by cutting electric guitar stabbings around a raspy English language vocal delivering a cynical downbeat lyric. It slowly morphs into a bluesy shuffle, and trickles of runaway electric piano turn out to be mere fleeting teases, but there's a tasty up-tempo wild rocking blast in the final moments that hits out of nowhere. The shorter `Where The Wild Things Are' is bookended with chugging fuzzy guitar wailing in between dreamier breaks and nimble sax blasts to close the first side.

The title track `Vampire State Building' is bookended with peppy, vibrant and relentlessly up-tempo instrumental flourishes, pulsing with an Out of Focus-like energy and momentum to its grumbling guitars, mucky sax wafting, manic electric piano distortions, unceasing grumbling bass and flighty flute twirlings. The lightest of dusty eastern themes permeates the thirteen minute improvisation when it settles into more contemplative moods, and it even throws in a smooth vocal with a sultry lyric and one of those oh-so-Seventies obligatory drawn-out drum solos! Closer `Piss Off' is lusty and sweaty, wrapping the disc on blustery scuzzy reverb-drenched guitar strangulations duelling with dying sax dirges back and forth.

Years later the group would explore a different sound with a focus on political lyrics, but `Vampire State Building' is the one that has proven to be their enduring musical statement. It might lack the dirtier hallucinogenic edge and true wild abandon to fully appeal to Krautrock fans, but the fact that it was recorded over only three days ensures it retains a frenetic lively energy, and it's still simply a top-notch German rock album full of memorable arrangements and great playing.

Three and a half stars.

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 4/5 |


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