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

STRAIGHT TO THE KRANKENHAUS

Secret Oyster

Jazz Rock/Fusion


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Sean Trane
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Folk
4 stars Also known as Overlander, Straight To the Krankenhaus (a hospital) this was actually released in 76 as their last album, but recorded simultaneously with Astarte. This second name for an album Secret Oyster's discography is the third time so, giving an impression that Secrtet Oyster's discography was extremely confusing although they put out only four albums. This album is a direct continuity of Sea Son and holds many superb moments, but one can't help thinking the group has followed the line from an earlier-70's steaming hot jazz-rock band to a later-70's cooler fusion. The main difference here is the appearance of the Moog as opposed to only organ and electric piano on the previous two albums, but there are few Latino effects sprawled here and there. The grotesque painting for this album's artwork was first seen in the window of an art gallery and had the group laughing their heads out for hours, so much that next morning they went out to buy it and asked permission to have it as their artwork.

In some ways, we are still very much in a jazz-rock realm not far away from Soft Machine's Softs and Bundles, Nucleus or Isotope, Mahavishnu Orchestra, but in other ways, the group sounds also more like the later 70's Weather Report, with some ethnic Latino flavours. After the short intro Lindance, the title track is a 100 MPH track leading the listener to the over-emotive Second Hand Rose (Vogel has heard some of VdGG's evocative lead sax lines, obviously) and the High Luminent Silver Pattern has some Jeff Beck lines (Blow By Blow era) and is easily side 1's highlight. The lengthy Delveaux is sublime moment of slower jazz-rock that easily matches it forerunner in terms of excellence.

Stalled Angel takes on the later 70's funk-jazz, while still retaining a superb Bohling guitar solo. Another real highlight is the superbly tense but gentle Rubber Star with its descending line, quickly followed by the delightful Traffic & Elephants with some terrific ambiances over layers of synthesised strings. The closing Leda is yet another beauty that rivals not only with Delveaux but the while Sea Son album as well. The great interplay and dramatic guitar squeals create a splendid atmosphere. Clearly Krankenhaus finishes in a much stronger manner than it started; although the remasters version now has two bonus tracks; the both of which are Hancock-type of jazz funk (the second recorded live under poor conditions) that stick out of the album's scope, but nothing scary, either but not really adding much value to the album proper. Vogel pulls in some classic sax solos but doubles on keys (much the way Karl Jenkins did in Soft Machine), Bohling filling in some great guitars lines. Clearly no weak tracks but Delveaux is the highlight here with honourable mention to Traffic & Elephants and the track that surrounds the later. Funnilmy enough, the cleaned-up Krakenhaus gained more than Sea Son from the remastering; but the choice of bonus tracks has not only given the edge back to SS, but even widened the gap.

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Posted Friday, April 08, 2005 | Review Permalink
Philo
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars The Secret Oyster progressed in massive steps from their first album to this one in a three year period. Straight To The Krankenhaus is a tautly constructed exploration of the jazz/rock genre and an album layered with a sweet toned guitar, tons of fluid and wild saxophone playing juxtaposed with the then up and coming synthesizer, string synth, sounds of the day which would draw comparisons with such acts as Nucleus, latter day Karl Jenkins led Soft Machine or even touches of Weather Report albeit with a more sharper guitar driven edge and a more direct formula in musical structure. The band merge their dual emphasis of dark progressive layers with laid back rhythms into an hypnotic groove more confident on Straight To The Krankenhaus than on their previous releases. The sound on the album is as accessible as anything released by many of the fusion acts who were breaking the mainstream barrier at the time during the seventies, it could be even argued that the Secret Oyster could even have had more to offer the genre had they reached a bigger audience, but unfortunately the band broke up after this release. Straight To The Krankenhaus now remains an obscure album as is much of, if not all, the Secret Oyster's work.

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Posted Thursday, April 14, 2005 | Review Permalink
Neu!mann
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Before discovering Prog Archives I didn't think there was anyone else alive with a copy of this obscure 1976 LP. So it was a pleasant surprise to find at least two other vinyl pack rats here, not only familiar with the album but actually knowing something about the band as well. Which is more than I can brag of.

All I can tell you is that SECRET OYSTER (love the absurd name) was a quintet of scruffy looking Danes, at least judged by the group portrait on the back cover, which makes them look like gutter alcoholics or Copenhagen hustlers on a bad wardrobe day, take your pick. And I know this also: the album was too good to get rid of, even at the height of my once too frequent and totally misguided cycles of vinyl attrition.

The music is quintessential post-MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA instrumental fusion, emphasizing the melodies as much as the groove. The sound is firmly rooted in the soil of classic mid-'70s Jazz Rock, but it's clearly more rock than jazz, with the electric guitars and mini-Moog solos (in that familiar pitch-bending style made popular by the likes of Jan Hammer) almost dominating the excellent horn work (the sax player is the primary composer here), and with a subtle glaze of cool string synthesizers laying an almost Space Rock sheen over the top.

And these guys could play, too. There's an exhilarating energy in the introductory "Lindance" and throughout the rollicking title track, with its odd but not inappropriate flourishes of Brazilian percussion (is that a cuíca I hear?). And the escalating, nerve-wracking tension of "Traffic & Elephants" (wouldn't you like to know where that title came from?) is a caffeine freak's dream come true.

But they were also able to craft moments of ethereal nuance as well: lend an ear to the haunting, hook-filled moodscapes of "Rubber Star" or "Leda & the Dog", ideal soundtracks for lonely, late-night contemplation. I only wish the band had enjoyed wider exposure, but you have to remember the ground was thick with virtuoso Jazz Rockers in those days, and SECRET OYSTER was simply lost in the crowd. In the end the group probably couldn't help but live up to its all-too fitting name, remaining for the most part a well-kept secret beyond the frontiers of their native Denmark.

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Posted Thursday, September 22, 2005 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars 4.5 stars. SECRET OYSTER are a Jazz / Fusion band that in my opinion take a back seat to no one. Their first two albums and this one are brilliant. I was talking to Todd a couple of weeks ago and he said he was listening to this album and how great it was. So I made a mental note to review it and for once that note didn't get lost. The title of this album was an inside joke for the band. They used to tour Germany all cramped up in this van. Anyway, when they would be approaching a city there would always be a sign pointing out "Krankenhaus" (Hospital), the band would then shout out in unison "Straight to the krankenhaus !" then all start laughing. The album cover shows the band's sense of humour as well. The music though is serious [&*!#].

"Lindance" opens with drums and some powerful outbursts as it settles in with organ. "Straight To The Krankenhaus" has such an amazing, amazing intro ! It's so moving with the pulsating keys and synths. It settles in with sax and bass then the guitar lights it up. "My Second Hand Rose" opens with some lazy sax melodies then the bass and drums join in. Beautiful guitar before 2 1/2 minutes takes the lead from the sax. The sax returns a minute later. A gorgeous and moving track. "High Luminant Silver Patters" opens with keys and drums as synths roll in then sax. Electric piano before 1 1/2 minutes then guitar a minute later. Incredible ! "Delveaux" features synths and bass with lots of atmosphere. Sax after 2 minutes. It settles after 4 1/2 minutes as the guitar plays tastefully.The sax is back then the keyboards lead.

"Stalled Angel" has this funky intro where the drumming and bass sound great. It changes as it settles, then the funk returns as contrasts continue. The guitar sounds so good later on. "Rubber Star" is eventually led by sax then we get this CAMEL ("Moonmadness") flavour that comes and goes. Great sound. These closing two tracks are mind blowing. "Traffic & Elephants" opens with the sounds of bass, drums, keys, sax etc. that are building. Just a great sound. This is intense and oh so good. "Leda & The Dog" sounds like MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA with all that atmosphere and your just waiting for them to break out. Guitar after 1 1/2 minutes as the atmosphere continues. A change after 2 1/2 minutes as the atmosphere leaves and the drums and guitar lead. Fantastic ! And so moving.

A must for Jazz / Fusion fans.

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Posted Saturday, November 07, 2009 | Review Permalink
UMUR
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Straight To The Krankenhaus is the 4th full-length studio album by Danish jazz/ fusion act Secret Oyster. The album was composed and recorded simultaniously with Vidunderlige Kælling (1975), but was not released until 1977. The band had enjoyed great succes with their first couple of albums and they had even been in contact with Colombia Records who had told the band that they might try and market the band in the US. Unfortunately Colombia Records changed their mind as they felt Secret Oyster sounded too much like Weather Report. The band ended up disillusioned and split-up in December 1977 after a short but but bright career. The original version of the album contained 9 tracks while the 2007 Laser´s Edge CD re-issue features 2 bonus tracks.

The music on the album is high energy jazz rock/ fusion. Weather Report is an obvious influence so in that respect Colombia Records were right, but Secret Oyster are not a clone band. Their brand of jazz rock/ fusion is very catchy and while there are plenty of soloing by especially sax and guitar on this album, the songs never drag or drown in excessive soloing. The band are exceptionally well playing but that´s not their only asset as the songs on the album are also high quality compositions. To top that off you have an excellent and warm production. The kind of warm production you only hear on seventies albums.

Straight To The Krankenhaus is slightly more interesting and a bit more in the band´s usual style than its predecessor, and while I certainly enjoyed Vidunderlige Kælling very much, Straight To The Krankenhaus is just a notch better. 4 stars are well deserved.

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Posted Sunday, June 13, 2010 | Review Permalink
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.

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Send comments to HolyMoly (BETA) | Report this review (#816463)
Posted Friday, September 07, 2012 | Review Permalink
3 stars Perseverence doesn't always pay.

Admittedly, Jazz-Rock is one of my fave genres and as such, I had to check this band out - of course. Alas, my expectations were somewhat ill-placed here. This final studio album is definitely better than previous efforts, but it still falls short of being impressive. Let me explain.

Undoubtedly, there is some excellent musicianship present here and one can tell that these cats are trying to do their best. Sadly, I have to conclude that their best is still not good enough to please.

Whilst echoes of Brand X, Gary Boyle spring to mind, don't let that deceive you. This work falls far short of the complexities associated with those peers. Indeed, one is left for wanting. In other words, so near, yet so far.

The issue is - as is often the case - the actual compositions, or more like the lack of such. No amount of spirited effort on the instruments succeeds without a decent framework, something that's in very short supply here.

This is far from jamming-type improvisations (that I would have perhaps enjoyed more), but more like trying to be lyrical. The end result is rather weak, hollow pieces lacking body. In other words, meandering aimlessly and boring to the point of irritation. Talk about falling between two chairs, neither here, nor there.

With some more attention this work could have been made much better, but as it is I find it quite disappointing, a let down. Compared with their other releases I am compelled to nominate 3 stars. As for my personal enjoyment as a Jazz-Rock fan, I couldn't go above 2.5.

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Send comments to BORA (BETA) | Report this review (#1019389)
Posted Thursday, August 15, 2013 | Review Permalink

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