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Gong - Expresso II CD (album) cover

EXPRESSO II

Gong

 

Canterbury Scene

3.71 | 260 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
3 stars Continuing the post David Allen era of GONG, Pierre Moerlen took on the role as band leader and steered the band in a completely new direction, namely a vibraphone rich jazz-fusion smorgasbord that borrowed from past greats and added new updated sensibilities brought to the work table by the myriad musicians who came and went. Three albums in past the "Radio Gnome Invisible" found the transition from the whimsical psychedelic rock tinged Canterbury jazz to the more earnest entirely instrumental guitar fueled fusion workouts, GONG found yet another cast of musical members departing and a whole new crew joining the ranks which at this point seems like a rotating cast.

While top dog Pierre Moerlen led the way once again, on GONG's ninth album EXPRESSO II, he not only continued his role as percussionist in chief with yet more stellar workouts on drums, glockenpiel, xylophone, tubular bells, tympani and the divine vibraphone but expanded their roles. While "Gazeuse!" was already a percussion rich paradise of intrigue polyrhythms, EXPRESSO II takes all the prior album's cues and adds even more as both fellow percussionists Mirielle Bauer and Benoît Moerlen return adding even more of the same percussive instruments to give one their percussive drive money's worth. As if that wasn't enough hammering and pounding, Françoise Causse joins in on congas. Another album, another bassist. This time Hansford Rowe takes the reins from a recently departed Francis Moze, who unfortunately took his fretless bass work along with him.

EXPRESSO II is named such because the previous album "Gazeuse!" was released in the US as "Expresso," which explains the mystery for those of us who didn't know that all this time. This was the last album for VIrgin Records who demanded the GONG brand fulfill its contract hence the band carrying on under Moerlen's helm under the GONG moniker despite it being a completely new project. Starting with the following "Downwind," the band would be called PIERE MOERLEN'S GONG and signed on Arista Records. The old Daevid Allen GONG would be resurrected but not until 1992's "Shapeshifter." In the meantime the GONG universe splintered into myriad forms producing a dizzying wealth of GONGdom: Mother Gong, Gongzilla, Planet Gong, Gongmaison.

While "Gazeuse!" went full-on jazz fusion mode that somewhat resided in between the tender soft airy style of Weather Report and the more rambunctious freneticism of Mahavishnu Orchestra (especially in the violin parts), EXPRESSO II takes a noticeably more jazzed up funky groove approach. Without Moze's stellar slinky fretless bass slides, Rowe takes the completely different approach by offering up an incessant supply of crisp chunky funk riffs that provide a sinewy zest that allows the spruced up percussion have a heyday as it whizzes around the main groove. While Allan Holdsworth didn't entirely stick around for the sequel, he did contribute his guitar work to four of the six tracks. The other two shared by Bon Lozaga and the introductory track "Heavy Tune" showcasing the Rolling Stones' own Mick Taylor providing the most rock oriented track on the album.

While EXPRESSO II is a decent enough album, for me its a step down in terms of the jazz-fusion qualities. While "Gazeuse!" delivered stellar time signature changes and jazzy chops from the divine, EXPRESSO II tends to chug along in funky groove territory for much of the time and exhibits a much more accessible and dare i even say commercial approach that tames the wild aspects while retaining the percussion and other instrumental accoutrements including the occasional violin which has been relegated to a mere two track by Darryl Way. It seems many find the EXPRESSO II era to be the strongest of the Moerlen led GONG years but personally i find this one a major step down from "Gazeuse!" in just about every way. While this one is a decent listen with more rock elements included, i miss the sheer intricacy that created the magic on "Gazeuse." "The tracks "Sleepy" and "Boring" do have a little truth in advertising as this one becomes monotonous at times whereas "Gazeuse! remained an enigmatic jazz-fusionistic tour de force. Still though, this one's not bad.

3.5 rounded down

siLLy puPPy | 3/5 |

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