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Secret Oyster - Straight To The Krankenhaus  CD (album) cover

STRAIGHT TO THE KRANKENHAUS

Secret Oyster

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.18 | 50 ratings

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HolyMoly
Special Collaborator
RIO/Avant/Zeuhl and Canterbury Teams
5 stars It's not jazz, it's instrumental melodic prog with lead sax

^ Just wanted to get that out of the way first. "Jazz Rock" and "Fusion" as terms conjure images in my mind that are almost entirely inconsistent with the meat of this album, so let this heading serve as an ad-hoc quasi genre for the purposes of this review.

After listening to this for the 298th (give or take a few dozen) time the other day, I figured the time was right to write a formal review that tries to convey my feelings for this, one of my all- time favorite albums. Long before it became available on CD, I had a muddy sounding cassette copy of this album that I got from a friend of a friend, and I was absolutely addicted to this tape. To my ears, it was a tastefully played collection of concise, tightly melodic instrumental pieces that still allowed some breathing space for the excellent soloists. I'm always impressed with bands that really have a way with melody, because as an amateur musician myself, I have an awful hard time coming up with an original melody. Something that carries you on an emotional arc, has a beginning and an end, and doesn't quite sound like anything you've heard before. Secret Oyster had specialized in high-energy instrumental jazzy rock (oops, there's that word again) for several years before this, their 4th and final album, and the maturity of their craft by this point had reached a peak.

Beginning as it does with a thundering synthesized number, the brief "Lindance", you may at this point be having your doubts. As it happens, it's merely a "dramatic overture" to the pieces ahead. Next of which is the briskly paced (also brief) title track, which feels a little like a continuation of the first track, but introduces a catchy, almost playful new theme on the electric piano, as well as little 8-bar bursts of invention by electric guitarist Claus Bøling.

After this one-two punch of light entertainment, the album really kicks into gear with "My Second Hand Rose", the first spot that alto sax player, bandleader, and primary composer Karsten Vogel really gets to shine. Vogel's approach to his instrument is like that of a singer to his voice. Throughout the song and most of the album, he is basically singing lead with his sax, and it so happens that he is an incredible vocalist - bending notes ever so subtly, vibrato in just the right amount, pouring years of technical mastery into a simple melody line, giving it extra layers of meaning and nuance. And then later in the track, Bøling gets another solo, 24 bars of utter perfection. And despite all this musicality going on, the piece still sounds as fun and spontaneous as a Saturday Night Live band after-hours jam. Brilliant.

And the album only gets better from there. "High Luminant Silver Patterns" (penned by keyboardist Kenneth Knudsen) lays down a furious space groove as Bøling once again sets the world on fire. "Delveaux" is an extended meditation piece, sans percussion, highlighting some nice Moog work in the first half, and Vogel's plaintive sax melody in the second half. "Stalled Angel" (also by Knudsen) introduces some funk into the mix. "Rubber Star" (Knudsen again) is... deserving of its own paragraph, but this is already getting long. Another meditative piece, with gentle guitar arpeggios holding down the rhythm, as bass, electric piano, and sax take turns gently pushing the melody through its sad yet hopeful emotional arc, providing counterpoint for each other along the way. One of my favorite songs.

Closing things out are yet two more highlights: Vogel's exciting "Traffic and Elephants", a quick groove framing a slowly ascending bass line, providing Vogel with lots of space to tell us a story on the sax. The music gets louder and more frantic as it goes, culminating in an ecstatic finale. The final track, Bøling's "Leda and the Dog", almost feels anticlimactic in this context, but closer listening reveals this to be one of the more emotionally involving pieces on the album. Understated but incredibly vital, with a strange yet effective song structure.

Nine songs, and barely a moment wasted. These songs all have a clear forward direction (not always a given with fusion), fantastic nontrivial melodies, great solos, all played by players who have mastered their instruments so well they have no need to show off. About as good as it gets.

HolyMoly | 5/5 |

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