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Henry Cow - Legend CD (album) cover

LEGEND

Henry Cow

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

4.11 | 168 ratings

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James Lee
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars It's not fusion, and it's not quite Canterbury...but if you're a fan of either genre, LegEnd may definitely appeal to you.

Time for a big However: RIO/ avant-garde fans may find this a little less to their tastes than other HC albums. There's plenty of the darker, more experimental leanings that one would expect from the RIO founder- but given that RIO was as yet un-proclaimed, it's understandable that this is somewhat of an embryonic album, even for a band known for regular stylistic instabilities.

Not that the songs are rough, nor the playing undeveloped- quite the opposite. Virtuosity oozes from the saxes and drums, and Frith is unique and impeccable on the frets as always. I find his violin/ viola work here to be more interesting when used as an effect, but even in the more strictly melodic passages his multi-instrumental talent is impressive. They're unmistakably up to the task of carrying out the tricky merger of discipline and wild exploration.

Song structure, on the other hand, is a bit hit-and-miss; the album develops many fascinating and evocative harmonic and dynamic shifts, but just as often seems adrift. Unlike most later HC releases, LegEnd struggles to develop and maintain distinctive passages. HC tantalizes me with intriguing setups but just as frequently lets me down by moving back into more (relatively) familiar experimental jazz-rock territory (case in point: "Nirvana for Mice" and "Amygdala", both alternately brilliant and bland). "Bellycan" also embodies my reluctance to really bond with this album; the beginning is tantalizing, but loses me during the latter half- I'd rather listen to Coltrane when I want spiraling sax. However, I readily admit that SOFT MACHINE/ HATFIELD fans will have no trouble getting into Henry Cow's first album, nor will fans of ZAPPA's jazzier offerings. And the confirmed UNIVERS ZERO- style RIO fans will find "Yellow Half-Moon" a perfect precursor (though it does little for me, surprisingly).

High points for me: "Teenbeat Introduction" and "Tenth Chaffinch" are both eerie and chaotically ethereal, hinting at complex structures lurking deep between the notes- exactly what I look for in the RIO genre. "Nine Funerals" is whimsically menacing (or is that menacingly whimisical?) and contain some of the album's finest string moments as well as an uncharacteristic vocal center. Fans of PONTY or KING CRIMSON (of the "Lizard" period, at least), should take to this piece like a duck to water. Given the extreme boldness and talent, as well as historical importance, I should be giving this no less than four...but as a whole, it simply refuses to grow on me as much as other Henry Cow albums.

James Lee | 3/5 |

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