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Gowen - Miller - Sinclair - Tomkins - Before A Word Is Said CD (album) cover


Gowen - Miller - Sinclair - Tomkins

Canterbury Scene

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3 stars BEFORE A WORD IS SAID was recorded in Alan Gowen's London flat, just weeks before Gowen died of leukemia at the age of 33.

Any review that's disrespectful of music recorded under such circumstances may come across as bad taste. The wonder isn't just that this album was recorded, but that Gowen's keyboard playing is one of the sprightliest things on it! National Health fans will love Gowen for all the music he wrote, and especially for his gorgeous minimoog playing. BEFORE A WORD IS SAID proves that, even in the last days of his life, Gowen's musical gift was undiminished. As always, his splendid solos sound like nobody else's.

BEFORE A WORD IS SAID will also be of interest to admirers of Richard Sinclair, who plays some marvellous fretless bass on "Nowadays a silhouette" and "Umbrellas". And Phil Miller fans won't be disappointed, since Phil does some superb (very Hatfield-like) things on "Fourfold" and "A Fleeting glance". The latter starts out disconsolately but is lifted out of the mire by what must be one of Phil's best ever solos. If you really like the musicians involved in this project, I'd definitely recommend you to get a copy of this album.

When all is said and done, I must admit some of the tracks (e.g. "Reflexes in the Margin" and "Silver Star") have an unfinished air about them and seem little more than demos. As for the chime-like title track - that just sounds immensely sad. Thank you, Alan, for all the lovely music you gave us.

Report this review (#131689)
Posted Saturday, August 4, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars 3.5 stars

Recorded at Alan Gowen's flat in South London just weeks before his untimely death, this album is a fine piece of work from the sometime Gilgamesh and National Health keyboards player and composer and is a real treat for Canterbury fans. On these recordings he was accompanied by Phil Miller, Richard Sinclair and drummer Trevor Tomkins, and the sound is like a lighter, breezier version of National Health.

The sound quality is good but not brilliant; it sounds more like a collection of high quality demos rather than a fully produced studio album. If you accept that, however, it's a splendid slice of the very English version of jazz rock fusion that emanated from the Canterbury scene. All of the musicians are in fine form and the general vibe is relaxed and good natured, with Phil Miller turning in some particularly good performances on guitar. Richard Sinclair's bass anchors the arrangements and he adds some of his trademark (wordless) vocals here and there, notably on the opening track and Umbrellas. Former Gilgamesh member Trevor Tomkins plays with the light touch of a seasoned jazz drummer (he remains a key player on the UK jazz scene to this day) but lays down a solid beat when the music demands it. Above all there is the keyboard work of Alan Gowen; anybody who enjoyed his Minimoog contributions to National Health will love this album. The words 'jazz' and 'synthesiser' rarely sound credible when joined together in the same sentence, but Gowen's synth solos have the fluidity and lyricism of Elton Dean's alto sax or Didier Malherbe's flute, and crucially he knew when to stop playing and share the spotlight - one of the many delights of this album is his interplay with Phil Miller and Richard Sinclair, all being equally happy to play in the background or to take a searing solo. The standard of composition and musicianship is excellent throughout but the highlight of the album is probably the title track, a downbeat piece with the sound of children playing outside in the background. It comes across as more elegiac than mournful, but it has an added poignancy given the circumstances under which it was recorded.

This was Alan Gowen's final musical statement and is a fitting musical epitaph for a strangely overlooked musician and composer. Round it up to 4 stars if you're into Canterbury and especially if you're a National Health fan, but if you're a newcomer start with National Health's debut.

Report this review (#155143)
Posted Tuesday, December 11, 2007 | Review Permalink
4 stars The listening of this album always leaves me with the wanting more syndrome. I admit to the other reviewers saying that the overall quality has a bit, and I mean an ever so tiny bit, of a demoish feel to it.

But who cares! How lucky we are to have this final statement from the genius of Alan Gowen! In fact, it's down right eerie, the playing is still brightly executed, and the writing is hauntingly beautiful. I just love Mr. Gowen's body of work, and am moved every time I listen to this final musical summation.

Long live Alan Gowen, and thanks Alan for your kindly musical taste and exectution - lost in our times I'm afraid!

As always, thanks for listening fellow prog music searchers!

Report this review (#182576)
Posted Tuesday, September 16, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars Alan Gowen was involved in some of my favorite albums. He more or less made them to what they are. He is most known for his decisive influence on the likes of National Health and Gilgamesh. Alan Gowen was diagnosed with leukemia back in 1980. His illness was fatal. But before he passed away, he invited his friends Phil Miller, Richard Sinclair and Trevor Tomkins to a recording session in his own flat. The result was his epitaph and final farewell to a music scene he had served so well. Alan Gowen passed away only weeks after this recording, later released as this album after his death.

The making of this album makes this a very poignant album. Those of us into the Canterbury Scene owes Alan Gowen a huge debt of gratitude. It is therefore not easy to write a 100 % objective review. Well, this review is a failure in that respect. But I am only a human being and it is my right to, in my own way, mourn the passing of a man who died in 1981. People still mourn the passing of Ludwig Van Bethoven when they listen to the symphony which he wrote as his own epitaph. Noone of his mourners attended his funeral of obvious biological reasons. So please forgive my tears......

This album is pretty much dominated by Alan Gowen's keyboards and his playing is flawless. The rest of the musicians do a brilliant job too and this album is a credit to their superb musicianship too. This album was recorded in a flat where a man was dying. So the sound is therefore surprisingly flawless. I cannot find anything wrong with it. But if you have a $ 10 000 sound system, you may find some flaws. I suspect the tapes was heavy doctored in a proper studio.

The music is in the Gilgamesh vein. That means laidback jazz with a quirky Canterbury slant. Some influences from National Health can be detected too. The best song here is the title track and it is a funeral dirge. A very haunting, dark funeral dirge too with some children voices at the end. The symbolism is obvious. Overall, the album does have a dark, sad feeling over it. This is not a happy album. It is what it was meant to be; an epitaph.

Quality wise, this album is very strong at times. The title track has been mentioned and it is among the best songs Alan Gowen ever did. Songs like Umbrellas and Above & Below is very strong too. I have difficulties finding any flaws with this album. It has become one of my favorite Canterbury Scene albums during the last weeks. That is not due to sentimentalism. It is due to the music here makes my heart strings sings. Yes, the music is sad and somber. But this album has it's own identity which I feel the two proper studio albums from Gilgamesh was sadly lacking. The label "dark Canterbury Scene jazz" may apply to this album.

This is an excellent album from the Canterbury Scene. I do not think I am overly sentimental or too influenced by the tears in my eyes when I give it four stars. I honestly think this is a great album. Alan Gowen got his fitting epitaph and we can only be grateful with his decission to invite his three friends into his flat during the final weeks of his life. R.I.P.

4 stars

Report this review (#255572)
Posted Friday, December 11, 2009 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars The only album of this Canterbury Scene project, and the one with sad story around it. Alan Gowan, ex-Gilgamesh and ex - National Health keyboard player recorded this album with his friends and known British jazz musicians at his home just some weeks before his death (he died at age of 33 of leukemia).

And this sad ,nostalgic atmosphere is presented on this album in full. Not usual complex and slightly psychedelic jazz fusion, known under "Canterbury sound"name, but more melodic, not so complex, very jazzy, full of sadness nand melancholy music.

I believe the story about Gowan last release and his death has it's influence, but even if don't know nothing about it, from very first sounds you feel this very special album's atmosphere. And I believe that this release is that rare case, when you FEEL music much stronger than you HEAR it.

Thinking about separate musical components, I can't say why this quite simple jazz rock has such emotional power. But I listen this album again and again, and it looks that music just hypnotises you!

Sound quality is not bad, but mix could really be better. Some songs sound unfinished. But - you don't pay attention when the music plays. What a magical release!

My rating is 3,5, rounded to 4!

Report this review (#294059)
Posted Tuesday, August 10, 2010 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars I've enjoyed listening to this album so much all of this past week and again one more time this morning. It's a positive and relaxing album for the most part which is surprising given the circumstances. I just love listening to these guys play. They're all legends as far as i'm concerned. Richard Sinclair the great CARAVAN vocalist and bass player who would go on to play with HATFIELD AND THE NORTH. Phil Miller the guitarist who's played in so many projects over the years including MATCHING MOLE, NATIONAL HEALTH and HATFIELD AND THE NORTH. Trevor Tomkins on drums also played with GILGAMESH, NUCLEUS and many others. Then there's the man of the hour in Alan Gowen. It's difficult for me not to get emotional when you consider this was his last recording before he died of leukemia only weeks after this at 33 years of age. He was in his prime. He was very ill during these sessions that were held in his South London flat that he shared with his wife. Playing in Alan's flat wasn't something new as various lineups of NATIONAL HEALTH and GILGAMESH had rehearsed there many times over the years. For this project the band played in the back bedroom while the engineer set up his equipment in Alan's music room. Words from Phil Miller : "It is a testament to his stoicism, and to his love of music that he could even contemplate embarking on a recording project, let alone embue it with a combination of relaxed enjoyment and steely eyed detemination. Implicit in the title is the idea that here was a man composing his own musical epitaph, a sad thought, but Alan would have been quick to discourage such sadness." And it's true that listening to this album does not bring sadness, only joy. Now contemplating the circumstances of this recording as I am now is a different story.

"Above & Below" is intricate and laid back then the guitar starts to lead in a relaxed manner. Love this stuff. Keyboards and cymbals lead after 2 1/2 minutes. There's some vocal melodies from Richard in this one too. A gorgeous track.

"Reflexes In The Margin" is a more dynamic track with throbbing bass and prominant drums and keyboards.The guitar leads briefly after 3 minutes.

"Nowadays A Silhouette" is a mellow tune with bass out front then keyboards.The bass returns to the fore as the keys and cymbals continue.

"Silver Star" is more passionate with the drums and guitar leading as the bass throbs. The keys join in and we get some fuzz too. Nice.

"Fourfold" has so much going on with all these intricate sounds. "Before A Word Is Said" is different with the dark soundscape while children can be heard in the background to start and end the song. A very meaningful number.

"Umbrellas" is light with vocal melodies. "A Fleeting Glance" has some excellent guitar before 3 minutes that starts to solo as keys, bass and drums support. Cool section.The keyboards then lead before 4 minutes.

For me this is a 4 star album on it's own. No sympathy stars here because the music is amazing.

Report this review (#522200)
Posted Tuesday, September 13, 2011 | Review Permalink
RIO/Avant/Zeuhl,Neo & Post/Math Teams
4 stars I don't think that we can separate the reason why this album was conceived from what it contains. Any art is made of messages and know what the artists has in mind when making his work surely helps in receiving and interpreting the messages.

For this reason "Before A Word Is Said" can be disclosed with two different keys.

First of all it's an amazing collection of Canterbury music from some of the most representative artists of the genre, but it's also the musical testament of a dying artist who called three firends at his home to help him writing this testament before passing away for a severe leukemia. I have to say that the only one track on which this can be caught, the one containing a message of death is the title track. There are no lyrics, and without knowing the story it could be intended just as a dark track on which is not clear why it's opened and closed by children's voices.

The impression that I have is that Gowen may have wanted to make a "real" testament, leaving the description of his tragic situation to one track only, and using the rest of the album to show down some of his actual musical ideas, maybe to have them exploited more by somebody else.

The other tracks apparently don't contain so tragic "messages".

"Above and Below" gives room to Sinclair's bass and it's a clear example of that jazzy music that was named with its city of origin. "Reflexes in Margin" sees bass and drums swinging on chords that are more common in bop and free-jazz. "Nowadays A Silhouette" starts lead by fretless bass and is closer to fusion, specially when keyboard first, then guitar become the leading instrument. A very great track, this one. "Silver Star" is a short piece that reminds a bit to Soft Machine but is also one of the easiest tracks with an impressive keyboard solo. Some space to guitar on "Fourfold" that's funky-fusion oriented (another great track). "Umbrella" is a relaxing moment with just a hint of darkness and "A Fleeting Glance" is not too different but features a fantastic keyboard riff in its 7 minutes of length.

The excellent musicianship makes this album highly enjoyable and adds more regret for the missing keyboardist and what he could have had created if he wasn't passed away so early.

4 fully deserved stars, not to be missed.

Report this review (#529752)
Posted Friday, September 23, 2011 | Review Permalink

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