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Alcatraz - Vampire State Building CD (album) cover




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Honorary Collaborator / Band Submissions
4 stars Oh set them free out of Alcatraz ...

The debut of this german band which was founded early 1969 in Hamburg. In summary the music is Jazz Rock oriented but also with some Hard Rock and Folk/Hippie elements. Of course there are many impressions from other artists coming together here. But I'm quite sure this album from 1971 also must have influenced bands like EMBRYO or MISSUS BEASTLY. A wide range of instruments is used which provides variety to the songs. We have a fuzzy guitar which brings some psych moments, the rhythm section and saxophone for a fusion/jazzrock orientation, nice percussion work and a flute for a folk feeling.

So the first long track Simple Headphone Mind unites all this elements. The result is a very good song which in parts sounds like a collaboration between SANTANA, TRAFFIC and SOFT MACHINE. Your Chance Of A Lifetime contains vocals which are not really satisfying. But the rest is exciting though with a crazy piano part. Where The Wild Things Are is a short jazz rocking piece which might be an impression how they were able to jam live on the stage. Vampire State Building of course contains a drum solo which was compelling at that time, just a sacred duty. This song is another highlight of the album because of a great variety. Marvellous piano and guitar work - even the vocals are impressive.

With Piss Off a heavy and crazy guitar is striking, weird or maybe one could say Avant. Duelling with a sax accompanied by a simple drum rhythm - fantastic! Change Will Come is one of three songs which were recorded three months later and therefore appears only on the CD version. It's a good one, very jazzy and partially up-tempo.

As for a conclusion this album is recommended to Krautrock fans which prefer a Jazz Rock trend.

Report this review (#135713)
Posted Saturday, September 1, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Vampire State Building is a killer release from 70's Germany underground. The band delivers a bunch of bombastic, extremely freaked out fuzzy improvisations including jazzy tendencies. Simple Headphone Mind opens the album with a surprising hippie like groovy jazz variation that features powerful piano bases, enchanting flute line and a very catchy rhythm. The break session provides endless screaming fuzzy guitar solos accompanied by a very jazzy instrumentation. Tour chance of a Lifetime is a heartbreaking, cloudy compositions for dense, spacious melodies with beautifully dramatic vocals. Where the wild things are is an hyperactive freak 'n roll piece with killer riffs, mysteriously atmospheric jazz fusion links. Piss off is a bizarre, curious, fuzzy & druggy jam making a large part to atonal guitar / sax dialogues. Change will come is a retro jazz rockin' piece including a nice groove and agitated stoned vocals. Dirty, Heavy druggy psychedelica. An important musical document.
Report this review (#163602)
Posted Sunday, March 9, 2008 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars This album was a huge surprise for me. It's one of those obscure gems that i'm so glad I took a chance on. ALCATRAZ were fom Hamburg, Germany and originally did covers of bands like VANILLA FUDGE, TEN YEARS AFTER, BLACK SABBATH, URIAH HEEP etc. Over time they decided they didn't want to that anymore as they became more interested in Jazz-Avant-gardists like SOFT MACHINE, COLOSSEUM and TONY WILLIAMS LIFETIME. When they started to compose their own material they united the Jazz and Rock elements. For example in the liner notes it says the band mixed music fragments of Cannonball Adderley with influences of DEEP PURPLE. I didn't hear any of the latters sound here but I love the way they combine the Jazz with the raw guitar.This band refused to compromise back then with promoters, managers, record lables whatever. It was their way or no way, their music would be played and recorded the way they wanted.You can hear their thoughts about that in the lyrics of the second track. Anyway they played live with bands such as BIRTH CONTROL, IKARUS, NEU !, JANE and many others.

"Simple Headphone Mind" is one of my favourite all-time tracks. It reminds me so much of that NUCLEUS song called "Torrid Zone". It took me a long time to figure out what song it sounded like but that's it. It opens with drums which are joined by piano, bass and flute.This is classic Jazz , it sounds so good. Then after 2 minutes the guitar comes in changing the mood completely. This is just as good only different. These contrasts continue.The tasteful guitar 5 1/2 minutes in reminds me of Santana, sax follows. Bongos come in late. Amazing tune. "Your Chance Of A Lifetime" has lyrics which talk about the lies bands are told about becoming rich and famous by managers and record labels who in reality care nothing for them personally, in fact they're just using them for their own gain. The drums and guitar sound great early then sax joins in around a minute replacing the guitar. Incredible sound here. The guitar is back lighting it up 2 1/2 minutes in to the end.

"Vampire State Building" has a good beat as sax joins in. Nice bass and drum work before 1 1/2 minutes. Guitar arrives a minute later. Drum solo 3 minutes in. Piano after 4 minutes with a different soundscape. It turns psychedelic with flute 6 1/2 minutes in. Jazzy a minute later with guitar and flute as vocals also join in. The tempo picks up 12 minutes in, then sax joins in. "Piss Off" is a good title for the "in your face" guitar and drums early on. The sax and flute start to trade solos with the guitar, back and forth with some dissonance as well. Cool song.

Easily 4 stars and i'm proud to own this.

Report this review (#228209)
Posted Friday, July 24, 2009 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Talking about obscure and underrated releases, this Alcatraz album runs ahead of the pack. This album sounds as shabby and loose as a Kraut album should sound, but it is spiced with jazz, hard rocking psychedelics and some avant-garde. Or if you like, a mix of early Can, Colosseum and Soft Machine.

Simple Headphone Mind is a beautiful jazzy track, somewhat similar to Miles Davis' In A Silent Way. Your Chance of a Lifetime is more psychedelic. Spacey guitars and rough echoing vocals complement the jazzy rhythmic standard. At the end of the track they rock out in true anarchistic kraut fashion, seemingly sloppy and unfocussed but still engaging due to its freely rocking vibe.

More heavy psych blues kicks off Where The Wild Things Are, at least till it settles for a swinging jazz groove with saxophone and guitar solos. A loose free-jazz vibe is maintained throughout. Too bad it fades out after only 3 minutes.

No such premature fade on the 13 minute Vampire State Building. Memorable riffs and inspired soloing keep this one going effortless. Even the drum solo is quite fun. The song goes in all directions, jazzy, avant-garde, pastoral, spacey and even a part with very compelling vocals, not unlike Colosseum. Piss Off if full of aggressive and weird psychedelic effects. Change Will Come is more traditionally jazz rock.

The album art and goofy title may not have been their best idea, but the boys in the band sure know how to make a tasty jazzy psych kraut album. It may not be the most recognized album in the scene but they sure made a very unique album that is inspiring and enjoyable all the way.

Report this review (#284476)
Posted Tuesday, June 1, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars A fair to middling Krautrock album. A sometimes uneventful recording that switches instantly to that corrosive guitar sound you'd expect from a band from Germany at this time.

It's not particularly cohesive and not that well produced but does have that something or other which keeps it afloat and prevents it sinking like a lead weight. The vocals are quite good, though nothing spectacular and are suitable to this type of music - not that there's that many of them anyway. There's also quite a few sax-jazz parts that are pleasing to the ear.

Like most Kraut bands - there's a fair bit of experamentalism going on. None more so than the mental drum solo in the title track - which is a good one to annoy your neighbours with. There's a decent array of instruments used which is always a good thing. A good enough album that has many Jazzy Krautrock moments and is actually better than the sum of its parts.

I'd rather listen to 'Out of Focus' though, if truth be told.

Report this review (#299548)
Posted Friday, September 17, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Alcatraz debut album is real joy for early krautrock lovers! Obscure German band is almost forgotten, and only evidence, available for fans often is their debut album, re-released on CD in 2002.

Music there is a bit naive and raw psychedelic bluesy jazz rock with characteristic German sound of early 70-s. Sound mix is usual for that time, and I love it! Besides of main band's musicianship with Can-like drumming, music is full of scratching electric guitar soloing (left channel), some flute and not too complex, but very enthusiastic sax sound!

Compositions are a bit raw, but very melodic. And I love this atmosphere - relaxed freaky air of early 70-s. Plenty of piano, good vocals. But first of all - that fantastic atmosphere! This album's music wouldn't catch you by complexity or musicianship level, but you will just disappear in that atmosphere!

Really great album for fans or early psychedelic jazz-rock / krautrock. CD comes with one bonus track.

Report this review (#300845)
Posted Wednesday, September 29, 2010 | Review Permalink
Retired Admin
4 stars A small dog

There is something indescribably charming about this release. It is naive in a way that reminds me of Italian band Semiramis. Not because of the similar sound, language or instrumentation, but because of the approach and the heartfelt ambiance of the whole thing. Some sort of youthful exuberance attached to the thing, that hearkens back to the freedom of summer vacations away from the imprisoning school cell bathing in overly polluted lakes. Alcatraz' Vampire State Building feels and sounds like a love affair. It's like walking inside a studio run by long haired hippies, where every dark corner hides a couple of tripped out Germans with closed eyes asking kindly for some more music. The studio is filled to the brim with marijuana smoke, and you find it difficult seeing anything that's more than 5 feet away. Everything is cosy, warm, friendly - inviting you to shed all of your fears and social phobias. -And then the jamming starts...

This album is one of those clear musical links that remind us of the invisible link between blues and jazz. The playful lightness of these sonic moods swing and rock simultaneously between these two ancient lovers. The bass walks slowly along to a cymbal chiming bird teetering, and then you get soft and angelic flute bits that glue feathers onto the given piece. It's soft, mellow, lovable like an old mutt and then some. As I said, the tunes float between blues and jazz, but even more so do they challenge the very fabric of those genres. The textures here are more loosey goosey and experimental, and while you always feel invited to the party - are reminded of the sweetness of melody and composition, the tracks have a way of sneaking up on you and changing pace and posture. Without really thinking too much about it, I actually just gave away the first track here, that just so happens to sound like a wonderful hybrid of Nucleus and the early Santana track Treat.

It is basically a jam album, but built up around distinctive sound patterns, - meaning that some form of compositional thought was implemented before these Germans visited the studio. Still the best thing about Vampire State Building is that naive touch. It feels like music of the moment, while still retaining that melodic feel. I think every little note hiding away beneath this beautiful art work came into fruition through democracy, weed and a sense of do whatever the hell you want to, as long as it flows like a lubricated dolphin. -And everything does, it has that smooth slick jazz feel to it, like one of those cool cats walking along the highway - completely stoned, high as a kite - his feet miles above the very earth - walking fluidly along, and all he's getting is this organic naive Krautrock jazz that tickles his fancy like one of those feather boas with a sense of rhythm.

On the whole the natural blend of blues, hard rock, jazz, Krautrock tempers and this charming playfulness amounts to a homogeneous and organic beast, which I just adore. It's one of those albums that feels like a part of the family, and even if you can spot the occasional flaw - you still love it like a second elbow. Maybe it's the musical equivalent of a small dog....?

Only down falls are the times, when the long hairs start thinking about vocals. Perhaps a bit too abrasive and clumsy for a record like this, and thank goodness that they only pop up in the music on a few occasions. So if you want a taste of just how melodic and warm the Krautrock scene could be, and furthermore want music that you can snap your fingers to, whilst still looking cool as a cucumber, then Alcatraz' debut should fit your tastes like a latex glove.

Report this review (#672969)
Posted Wednesday, March 21, 2012 | Review Permalink
RIO/Avant/Zeuhl,Neo & Post/Math Teams
4 stars By coincidence, while I was looking for Bio info about this band I've found a legal download of their debut album. The band story is quite unusual: an excellent debut album followed by years of silence and a number of further releases for a story which starts in 1971 and arrives up to 2002.

The band started as a cover band of VANILLA FUDGE and TEN YEARS AFTER and the influence of classic rock and early prog is huge, but what is more surprising is the use of the flute which is not too different from what in the same year Jimmy Hastings was doing with CARAVAN. The sounds are heavier, more acid, especially the guitar but the connection with the Canterbury sound is present in the more jazzy moments, like the sax solo over funky guitar in the chaotic second part of the first track.

There are improvised sessions as usual with Krautrock, and the bongos add a touch of hippy trippy, luckily very far from the out-of-mind/poor-of-skill debut of AMON DUUL. The five elements show a concrete skill even without loosing the spontaneity of the first Kraut bands,

The album is also very well recorded for the time and the place. It's likely that it has been made in a non-professional study with at maximum an 8-track recorder, but the balance in the volumes gives the idea of a band who knows what is doing.

I have read a review, I don't remember if on PA or somewhere else saying that the vocals are the band's weakness. I don't think so. Of course that kind of singing appears dated but it's very well inserted in the songs.

On "Your Chance Of A Lifetime" it's like a Chappo Chapman without vibrato screaming over a very high-volume acid-blues guitar. The second part of the song is very rocking and reminds a little to WISHBONE ASH (Pilgrimage as album).

There are also heavy moments like the intro of "Where The Wild Things Are" (still Wishbone Ash in my mind), even if the twin-guitar band has never been mentioned in the band's influences. URIAH HEEP and BLACK SABBATH instead were bands the Alcatraz were used to play covers of.

The Title track is the longest, scoring over 13 minutes. The structure is similar to that of the first track, the second in length, for it's being composed by a sort of very well jointed patchwork of different things (and genres). In a word a progressive mini-suite which to me appears more English than German even in the most improvised parts, around a long drum solo, as they remind more to the skilled free-jazz of SOFT MACHINES than to the trippy crazyness of CAN. However is effectively in this track that they play the improvised section which is more in line with what we are used to call Krautrock, while the following "Piss Off" could be fitting for today's noisy AVANTGARDE.

The closer starts as a swing song. If it wasn't for the Uriah Heep like choir. The vocals on this song (the only other with vocals) unite with the heavy guitar and the uptime bluesy bass and guitar remind very much to Hendrix. After the first sung part there's a very nice duel of guitar and sax, then a sort of uptime jazz section with dissonant piano (respect to the bass) leads to an excellent succession of different parts all of them driven by the sax. Honestly this is a track that must be heard. Describing it is ineffective as it's so full of things that a lot is lost in the description.

Anyway this has been a very lucky coincidence. I didn't know anything of this obscure and underrated band, previously. Now I'm happy to tell you how lucky I've been in discovering this little jewel.

Report this review (#841335)
Posted Sunday, October 21, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars Alcatraz was an obscure, yet long-lived German band who's debut, "Vampire State Building," is an exciting blend of Krautrock and jazzrock that must be heard by aficionados of German rock music from the 70's. Every song is great, with a mix of heavy rock and jazz guitars, jazzy sax and/or flute, and a lively rhythm section. My favorite tracks are, well all of them. To be honest, my least favorite song is "Your Chance of a Lifetime," but it is still a great tune. The vocals are somewhat typical for the genre, not bad or good, just "unique." Probably the best song is actually the bonus track on the CD version. Most CD bonus tracks are usually poor quality live or demo recordings, but "Change Will Come" is a well-recorded, mind-blowing, 6 minute, adventure into Alcatraz's Kraut/jazz/prog/rock lunacy. One of the great, and unfortunately lesser known, classic albums of Krautrock. Five stars, seriously.
Report this review (#1647302)
Posted Monday, November 21, 2016 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Early Seventies German five-piece band Alcatraz hailed from Hamburg, and somewhat cheesy pun title and slightly silly cover art aside, their 1971 debut `Vampire State Building' held some cracking music. The band offered a mix of heavy rock with fiery acid and bluesy guitar soloing, with much attention given to jazzy extended improvised passages courtesy of plentiful sax and flute breaks, plus some light `krautrock' flavours worked in as well. Embryo, Missus Beastly, the Santana band and even the more overt jamming jazz moments of Out of Focus come to mind, and jazz- rock/fusion fans are especially going to love this predominantly instrumental one.

The unhurried ten-minute opener `Simple Headphone Mind' sets much of the template for the disc, moving seamlessly between mellow come-downs and scorching jagged outbursts. Breezy flute and gentle piano themes float through the air until peppy drumming, dirty huffing sax and erupting electric guitar noodling rush forward, helping the piece softly remind of the lovely obscure 1976 Abraxis album from Belgium with its sparkling piano dominance, and it shares a similar spontaneous vigour and chilled energy.

`Your Chance Of A Lifetime's contemplative, lightly melancholic piano and ruminative bass is punctured by cutting electric guitar stabbings around a raspy English language vocal delivering a cynical downbeat lyric. It slowly morphs into a bluesy shuffle, and trickles of runaway electric piano turn out to be mere fleeting teases, but there's a tasty up-tempo wild rocking blast in the final moments that hits out of nowhere. The shorter `Where The Wild Things Are' is bookended with chugging fuzzy guitar wailing in between dreamier breaks and nimble sax blasts to close the first side.

The title track `Vampire State Building' is bookended with peppy, vibrant and relentlessly up-tempo instrumental flourishes, pulsing with an Out of Focus-like energy and momentum to its grumbling guitars, mucky sax wafting, manic electric piano distortions, unceasing grumbling bass and flighty flute twirlings. The lightest of dusty eastern themes permeates the thirteen minute improvisation when it settles into more contemplative moods, and it even throws in a smooth vocal with a sultry lyric and one of those oh-so-Seventies obligatory drawn-out drum solos! Closer `Piss Off' is lusty and sweaty, wrapping the disc on blustery scuzzy reverb-drenched guitar strangulations duelling with dying sax dirges back and forth.

Years later the group would explore a different sound with a focus on political lyrics, but `Vampire State Building' is the one that has proven to be their enduring musical statement. It might lack the dirtier hallucinogenic edge and true wild abandon to fully appeal to Krautrock fans, but the fact that it was recorded over only three days ensures it retains a frenetic lively energy, and it's still simply a top-notch German rock album full of memorable arrangements and great playing.

Three and a half stars.

Report this review (#1912501)
Posted Friday, April 6, 2018 | Review Permalink

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