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McDonald & Giles - McDonald & Giles CD (album) cover


McDonald & Giles


Crossover Prog

3.36 | 137 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars 10/15P.: A great, but not really essential buy: a mixture of Caravan and King Crimson with more folk and jazz - and a slight tendency to be 'more style than substance' on the side of concept & creativity. Still this album is the first in prog history to feature a 20-minutes-plus epic!

1969 saw the first incarnation of the highly influential and progressive British group King Crimson go down. At first consisting of guitarist and composer Robert Fripp, bassist-singer Greg Lake, drummer Michael Giles and multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald, the line-up-roundabout turned so that only Giles and Fripp were left in 1970, except for Greg Lake who still provided some vocals for King Crimson's second album, In the Wake of Poseidon. On that aforementioned record Michael Giles's brother Peter (the second Giles in "Giles, Giles and Fripp", the band existing in the late 60s that is considered to be the first King Crimson incarnation) was featured as the bassist.

The now solo-musician Ian McDonald, actually being able to play everything but the drums, then planned to record an LP with Michael Giles on drums and Peter Giles on bass guitar, and the result of this effort can be heard on this record McDonald & Giles.

At a glance, this album is the lighter pendant to the In the Court of the Crimson King-album, without many of the symphonic and elaborated elements like Mellotron and heavy use of the electric guitar, but with a jazzier and more psychedelic approach. The big fascination of the record are mainly the great and transparent arrangements: at many places only bass guitar, drums, vocals and acoustic guitar are to be heard. And who knows the rhythm section of King Crimson on songs like the title track of In the Wake of Poseidon knows well how fresh and simply great this sounds; and the very clear remaster makes this even better.

Michael Giles explains in the booklet how he manipulated his drum sound by mic-ing his drum set very closely - without adding any special effects (except for some tape delay bits). In combination with his elegant and innovative drumming style and with the cut-down arrangement, this is the most transparent drum sound which I have ever heard - listen to the crystal-clear saw-meets-wood-rhythm in Suite in C or the groovy samba rhythm in Tomorrow's People.

But unfortunately there are some minor problems with the music. The ideas are entirely brilliant, but especially in the big longtrack McDonald seems to have overburdened it all a bit: he somehow loses the overview about the compositions sometimes and hence cannot keep these fragilely structured pieces together. I know about the central motif of the piece which is repeated in many different contexts throughout the piece, and it's composed quite nicely, but cohesion sounds too formulaic.

The opener Suite in C, written in the winter '69/'70 and kind of a hymn for McDonald's then-girlfriend, actually works out fine as a relaxed psych-jazz-piece. The track begins with McDonald's thin, but suitable vocals and some discreet clean electric guitars, later accompanied by the sounds of a saw and nice acoustic guitar licks Turnham Green. During the textless, folk-orientated refrain the already mentioned rhythm section plus McDonald's rhythm guitar enter, jolting brilliantly in the background: one of the highlights of the record. The next refrain brings in some unobtrusive orchestra music until the band begins a crescending jazz improvisation featuring "Traffic"-keyboarder Steve Winwood on a mean piano-plus-organ-solo and McDonald on flute. Very fascinating is the way how Giles changes from a simple 4/4-beat to a much faster jazz rhythm by simply putting in more beats into a bar. Into the slowly retarding jam break McDonald's high vocals (Here I Am) which return the piece into the psychedelic/folk realms, again with effective orchestra background. The next part is a funky section including some multi-tracked saxophones and a nice rhythm with handclaps and a scrooping bass guitar by Peter Giles. Unhappily, the vocals are mixed completely into the background which leaves the listener asking what the actual effect of the lyrics shall be then. They aren't the best, but I believe that they should either be mixed loudly enough to be heard or left out completely. The bluesy doo-wop ending somehow is the top of the lyrical crown (...Come inside and have some tea, brewed by me for thee, my love...): optimistic, naive hippy poetry which doesn't hurt. At first, I thought this piece to be kind of unstructured, but - given that it was planned as a piece like the Beatles's Abbey Road Medley - I have given it a try more often and think it to be big fun, even though it sounds heavily 'zeitgeisty'.

Flight of the Ibis is the original version of Cadence and Cascade and is one of my personal favorites with its delicately arranged sound. Contrary to the version that was issued later by King Crimson, this track features drums and bass guitar and is an optimistic folk-pop-track in the late-60s-style. I like the prominent use of the zither (fine solo in the middle) and the electric piano here, as well as the great rhythm section again. A great song and probably the one of the LP that I listen to most frequently.

Is She Waiting?, written in the summer of '69, is a melancholic Beatles-She's Leaving Home-type ballad with notable baroque-influences featuring McDonald singing and playing along on the acoustic guitar and the piano. The different melodies that counterpoint each other here are quite trickily linked.

Tomorrow's People, written by Michael Giles in 1967, is for me easily the best track on the album. A typical King Crimson brass introduction with many overdubs (trombone, saxophone, organ) leads into a really fat groove with smashing cymbals, Giles's edgy vocals, nice Hammond organs and simple, but astonishing guitar licks. After a short highspeed drum fill-in the brass also enters until after two minutes a funky jam with plenty of percussion and an awesome samba rhythm starts while the flute improvises along. In this song, the quality of the drum sound reaches its peak: each rattle, tom, cymbal or whatever can be defined very well. You should really listen to that with a good pair of headphones, especially the first stanza (0:16) with some powerful hi-hat-strokes. The second part could be a lost part of I Talk to The Wind - with lush trombones, flutes and discreet ride cymbal hits - which is however only a connection to another reprise of the stanza. The soft ending takes its time and fades out gradually, then fading in again and ending with a pleasing major chord. Great, as one seldom hears the three of them play that 'straightly'.

Birdman, the sidelong piece of the album, is actually not the best epic. But I have to admit that it is one of the first - I sometimes tend to forget that. The different sections, lasting from 40 seconds to six and a half minutes and the only thing that holds this bunch of tracks together is a loose topic based on Pete Sinfield's lyrics about man's wish of flying. There seems to be a certain melody which reoccurs in this piece, but even this doesn't change it that this is no epic, but a collection of (good) ideas. Probably the division of the longtrack into several programmable tracks on the CD is a sign for that as well, that this is meant to be just a suite, a 'suivre' of several ideas, but this doesn't make it more successful. But of course it isn't as bad as it might sound now as the parts regarded solely are mostly quite okay. The first section, The Inventor's Dream is based on quite intelligent vocal choirs with lots of reverb by McDonald and Giles, creating a mighty church-like atmosphere. Dissonances that solve in consonances in an interesting manner and the way how McDonald's high and Giles's low voice harmonize together are quite impressing here. Then sound effects come in, something like the spring reverb in combination with pulling out the drawbars of the Hammond organ as an illustration for the dream of flying until synthesizers, zithers and percussion fade into the soundscape to show how the inventor wakes up. This 'mickey-mousing', the effect when the music does exactly what is happening in the text just like the melody descends when Mickey Mouse falls down the stairway, can be found everywhere in the longtrack and ranges somewhere between inventive and predictable. McDonald probably seems to have clinged to the lyrics too much. An oddly minimal, but very interesting part follows, with very exact fourths played on the organ accompanied by a slightly offset rhythm which creates a nice triolic sound. The vocals provide a somewhat dadaistic Canterbury mood which fits nicely to the year when the piece was mainly composed (1968). In the end of the piece we get to hear fast acoustic guitars to illustrate the sound of a pencil (formulaic, ain't it?) while the next part The Workshop is a fast-paced blues jam with nice saxophone work by McDonald and again a fascinating rhythm section consisting of McDonald on electric guitar and the two Giles brothers on saw, drums and bass. Wishbone Ascension lifts the piece up with sacral Hammond organ and prepares the listener for the bombastic parts of "Birdman". A jazzy part features Giles again on vocals and prominent saxophones and leads into the next section via some fine towering vocals. Then we get into the very lengthy Birdman Flies section where a chord progression is exercised with the orchestra, starting with simple electric piano, organ and ride cymbals and going on (chronologically) with flute, drums, acoustic guitar, leslied electric guitar and then the orchestra which succeeds in adding texture to the piece. It might be a bit long, but it doesn't become boring either. Wings In The Sunset serves as a very short segue to the last part by exposing its (second) main theme in a vocal version. The piano-dominated, romantic The Reflection is a nice way of ending the longtrack. The general character of this section is similar to "Birdman Flies" as at first there is only the piano playing a melody and later drums, textless vocals, drums, saxophones and orchestra are added. A trumpet is looped in the very end and slowly fades out. It's pretty much similar to Anthony Phillips' Sleepfall which ends his The Geese and the Ghost album: similar melody and similar arrangement.

All in all this is a good record, one that I love listening to, but also one that is - seen from the progressive point of view - somehow mediocre on side B. Especially the "Birdman" suite has got some problems with the fluency as there are often very homogeneous longer parts linked with shorter parts. But which other band from the progressive rock realms had recorded an epic side-long track at that time? Birdman was recorded in May-June 1970 - and King Crimson's Lizard in autumn 1970. The only inspiration could have been Pink Floyd's masterwork Atom Heart Mother (performed live without orchestra in April 1970) and Soft Machine's Rivmic Melodies (but which isn't an epic), but in fact most of the Birdman parts were already conceived between 1967 and 1969. All in all a historic recording, in a way.

Nevertheless, I recommend the record to everyone who is interested in the early King Crimson, Canterbury and jazz rock, and to those who are interested in delicate arrangements because this one is extremely impressing. I would give 10/15 points for this record, which means a really good 3/5 points-rating.

Einsetumadur | 3/5 |


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