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Jazz Rock/Fusion

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Sean Trane
Prog Folk
4 stars Debut album of this JR/F quartet that recorded three albums in the mid-70's and somewhat related to the Canterbury scene (via Hopper) but also to Brand X (via Pert) on the later albums. But this unit is first the union of guitarist Gary Boyle (ex-Auger's Trinity), bassist Jeff Clyne (ex-Nucleus), drummer Nigel Morris and keyboardist and main songwriter Brian Miller (no relation to Canterbury scene's Steve & Phil Miller >> they are brothers). Their debut album received a release on Gull records (label mates were Judas Priest) in early 74 and sported a very scientific artwork. And while I agree somewhat with Philo's opening statement on the liner note of this album, Isotope is still a good band in the JR/F genre, even if they brought absolutely nothing new to it, and were never groundbreaking, but more like those that helped consolidate the genre.

Musically speaking, it appears that there is no real leader despite the songwriting credits and both Miller and Boyle share lead about equally and provide plenty of rhythmic support while the other soloes away. Right from the opening Then There Were Four, the tone is set, a wild instrumental JR/F living in the fast lane, cruising at speeds nearing the 100 MPH, where even a short drum solo appears. The very problem with this kind of quartet of single instrumentalist is that repetition will appear very quickly and the jams appear quickly, but this won't do much for variety. If Miller had played something else than the electric piano (outside a few rarely noticeable synths), if Boyle had toyed with some acoustic guitar (he does, but in the most boring Waterfall track), if Clyne had put a bow to the contrabass and if Morris played congas, that might have changed the scope and spectrum of the music, although soon or later the problem would've surfaced anyway. Hiring a wind instrument player might have helped a great deal.

Anyway the tracks succeeds at a furious rate, with some (Little Fat Man, Bite on This, Upward Curve, Retracing My Steps) retaining much more attention than others (Do The Business, Sunshine Park), while the only non-Miller penned track Honkey Donkey shows more diversity and finally some synths. At times Boyle appears to take charge (Little Fat Man and the Honkey track), but it's obvious he can't do it all of the time, Miller never really coming through (especially on the album-low and slow Windmills & Waterfalls), and the cause of this album is not helped by a fairly flat production, but nothing shameful as some of you would have you believe.

Despite the negative elements I just finished giving you, Isotope's debut album gained some critical and artistic recognition in its homeland, along with some sales, but apparently this scared Brian Miller and Jeff Clyne, both returning to the straight jazz scene. Still a worthy album to hear, but I suggest you start with the much better Illusion album.

Report this review (#29447)
Posted Thursday, April 15, 2004 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
1 stars Jam anyone?

Not my cup of tea at all this one. In essence, it is 4 guys who've got together and jammed for 40 minutes. The dominant instruments are guitar and electric piano, which take turns to lead, or to provide backing while the other does so.

The tracks are pretty much the same as each other both in terms of content and beat, with the exception of the slower "Windmills and Waterfalls". I'm sure the band members are very proficient, but for me, for an album to be worth listening to, there has to be an element of composition.

Nominally, with the exception of "Honkey donkey", the tracks are all written by keyboard player Brian Miller. In reality, all the band members appear to contribute whatever they feel like playing at the time, perhaps Miller came up with the titles! Interestingly, "Honkey Donkey" fades in, implying they left out the rest of that particular jam leaving the best bit?

There's nothing progressive about the album, it's straight jazz rock, and dull as ditch-water, not helped by the complete absence of vocals.

Report this review (#29448)
Posted Wednesday, April 21, 2004 | Review Permalink
2 stars While the back cover notes make claims that the band never live up to, Isotope are the forgotten fusion act with good reason. They were never actually that good. On the back of the album, Melody Maker's Steve Lake noted, concerning the rock energy and musical intelligence, "...only two bands have ever achieved that balance. One was the Tony Williams Lifetime, the other is Isotope" Lake must have got well paid for that blurb but even he must have been somewhat embarrassed while alone and in front of his typewriter at the time. Strangely Lake never made any notice of John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra, an act who defined the whole fusion genre movement in my opinion. Isotope never come near the grace and sonic fire of that band, in fact they would hardly be fit to string McLaughlin's guitar! Such thoughtless remarks, in this case the afore mentioned notes, are only typical of such journalism. One wonders if Lake had not been asked to write the notes how he might have even reviewed the album. Comparisons with Tony Williams Lifetime would have been light years off I would think. But I am seriously digressing here.

From the go, Isotope is a headless union of very able musicians. The tunes come across as underdeveloped and loose, often dull, jams. Gary Boyle is a gifted guitarist, but besides the sporadic moment lighting up the album, he fails to stamp his authority on the music as if leaving the task to someone else, someone else who is hardly bothered by all accounts. Perhaps in the live situation this jazz rock wannabe act may have come across as electric and powerful but the album sounds poor and pretty much lifeless, a weak and very flat production hardly helps this albums cause. While at the same time the first two Tony Williams Lifetime albums had very raw productions yet there was an intensity which was blistering, those traits are missing here, and there is a feeling of conservatism in the pieces on Isotope, tight but methodical, interesting but never that exciting. Jeff Clanye's bass plods along ploddingly and only adds to the woes while Nigel Morris being a solid drummer is no Billy Cobham, and that's being very fair. Synth and keyboard player Brian Miller wrote everything here but "Honkey Donkey", and his "Upward Curve" could be the one highlight of the album, along with "Windmills And Waterfalls", which is an excellent acoustic track where Boyle does excel, while Boyle's own composition "Honkey Donkey" is a near runner up. I certainly expected more from the album, and after reading the notes I was even more expectant, but overall it is a good album. A group of session men trying their hand at jazz rock but not quite getting to grips with what it actually needs to be fused and dynamic. Nice try though.

Report this review (#37672)
Posted Saturday, June 25, 2005 | Review Permalink
4 stars The first work released in 1974 "Isotope". The content is jazz-rock that sets sparks flying. It is a considerably awkward performance. However, it is a fine work of too regrettable technical jazz-rock to forget. There is an image that adds the guitar to mid-term SOFT MACHINE. Excellent addition to any prog music collection.
Report this review (#57248)
Posted Monday, November 21, 2005 | Review Permalink
Marty McFly
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Let's jam someone's face with this album full of jam, shall we ? Because that's what you get when listening this one. But hell, by my opinion, 1-2 star is just too harsh, because my rating system is constructed little bit differently. This is music, which you can easily listen. Yeah, it's nothing special, wonderful and amazing, but it's nothing unpleasant and ugly. I mean, I rate under 3 only music which I don't like and I can't say that I hate this one. I just can't don't see a message in here.

Jam sessions are good thing, but releasing it as full time album, well, that's brave. Because in this case, album like this will be evaluated in same way as other 40 minutes jazz works of these times. The best thing to do here is maybe don't expect too much. Just enjoy nice jamming session, rate it lower, because this is not as good as other thing deserving better rating and, it's over. Big, empty passages were never my favourite in songs, I like full music. But from time to time, things like these can be good.

3(-) for jamming session, which is good thing, but not so proggy.

Report this review (#244087)
Posted Sunday, October 11, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars I find the final rating for this album far too low. I agree that this album is mostly jams and not really songs. But hey, it were the seventies, and the enthousiasm on this album makes it enjoyable enough tommplayin the background whilst reading on a sunday afternoon.

The music is played well enough, it sounds adventurous and funky. I can imagine they are a fun liveband. I cannot rate this higher than 3* but a 1* rating I find really, really low. I can recommend this album to people who like some simpler jazzrock without too much experimentation. It sometimes has a bit of Canterbury-feel to it, and the solos are very nice.

Report this review (#2046494)
Posted Sunday, October 21, 2018 | Review Permalink

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