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Wigwam - Fresh Garbage - Rarities 1969-1977 CD (album) cover




Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.78 | 23 ratings

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4 stars One not very profound notion argues that, often, the most interesting bands are those where the individual members are pulling in different musical directions. Somehow, they just manage to hold it together - for a time, at least. The Beatles spring to mind, obviously. But lesser lights fit the bill also - Buffalo Springfield, the great 5-piece version of Spirit, the first incarnation of Weather Report with Vitous and Gravatt, the original Mahavishnu Orchestra. Wigwam are cut from the same cloth. The classic 4-piece line-up featured a tasteful, jazzy drummer; a proggy Zappa-esque bassist/composer; a soulful, Winwood-influenced organist/vocalist (albeit one with a penchant for complex song structures); and a gifted, if uneven, songwriter/vocalist with pop leanings. This line-up, with help from a mate or two, produced two of the finest examples of 70's Scandanavian prog.: 'Being' and the somewhat patchier 'Fairyport'. ('Being' is the better of the two quite simply because the variety of musical impulses are integrated more effectively than on 'Fairyport', where they tend to lie side by side, generating a kind of schizophrenia - or should that be quadrophenia? - from track to track.)

The later incarnation of the Wigwam - from late '74 onwards - tends to confirm another not very profound notion - that once things have blown apart, members of interesting bands, or re-jigged versions of the same, find it difficult to match up to the legacy created first time around. The constituent parts/later versions of the Beatles, Spirit and the Mahavishnus (McLaughlin excepted) clearly didn't, though we might quibble about Springfield and Weather Report. In Wigwam's case, with the possible exception of 'Nuclear Nightclub' (my entry point into the band, and thus a record for which I have a bit of a soft spot), later output never quite reached the exalted heights of the earlier albums.

Anyway, what do we have here? The first CD is the more interesting. It gets off to an inauspicious start with 3 pieces of rather average, psychedelically tinged rock from '69. Jukka Gustavson nudges the band into a more distinctive mode with the fine 'Pedagogi' (track 4); but it's early bassist Mats Hulden who really gets things moving with his 'Haato' from 1970, an entirely successful multi-sectioned effort. Quality drops for the next 3 tracks - all covers: the Band's 'Chest Fever' and 'King Harvest' and Spirit's 'Fresh Garbage'. The rest of the CD - tracks 9-15, also live - is first rate, featuring the classic line-up. Standouts include a blistering 'Losing Hold' from '71 and a genuinely magnificent reading of Jukka Gustavson's 'Fairyport' from '73. The vocal performance here is much more confident than the rather tentative effort on the studio album. This track - by turns, both deeply touching and irresistibly swinging - is worth the (fairly hefty) asking price alone.

The second CD, mostly featuring the post-'74 version of the band, is less compelling. Jim Pembroke's songwriting dominates and whilst the band is never guilty of producing anything less than tasteful, well- arranged rock, it lacks the quirkiness of Wigwam's best stuff. Guitar solos, hardly featured on the early material, tend to outstay their welcome. Tracks 8 and 9, though, see a partial reunion of the classic formation (minus Pohjola) and matters lift considerably.

As the distance in years becomes steadily greater, the '70's seems less a falling off from the high point of the '60's than a musical golden age in its own right. That is, at least until the combined forces of punk and technology made musicianship unfashionable/unnecessary. What other age produced output as interesting and diverse as that of Van Der Graaf Generator, King Crimson, Eno's Roxy Music, Genesis, Steely Dan, Bowie, the superb Italian prog. bands (Banco, PFM, Area and others), the Canterbury set (the Hatfields, the Softs, Caravan, Gilgamesh, et al), Magma, the Mahavishnus, early Weather Report and Return to Forever, Gentle Giant, Tasavallan Presidentti, the whole gamut of 'Krautrock' - and Wigwam?

In summary: not perhaps a set for the uninitiated, who would be better advised to start, like I did, with the more user-friendly 'Nuclear Nightclub' and work backwards. For me, though, this is 20 quid well and truly spent.

tads51 | 4/5 |


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