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Rovo - Phoenix Rising   (with System 7) CD (album) cover




Psychedelic/Space Rock

4.06 | 13 ratings

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4 stars I decided to chase this hitherto unknown to me Japanese act, uniquely attracted by the lure of Steve Hillage's presence on guitar as well as confirmation that he would be wielding his slippery axe and leaving the synths to long-time partner Miquette Giraudy . Then, I also noticed that this psychedelic/space combo was also staffed by two drummers. The clincher was the presence of a cover version of a Mahavishnu Orchestra classic "Meeting of the Spirits" Hmm! This could be good proggy stuff, further online video research revealed the need to take a risk, as no PA review has yet been posted.

Well, they have been around since 1998, releasing regularly intervalled albums, to relatively small prog-rock acclaim being more of a trance/jam band and I can only guess that by adding the Gongster and his famous lady the prog community will join in on the fun. Truth is the music presented here is definitely more club oriented techno/rave with stupendous though binary drumming, relentless bass pummeling, scouring violin sorties, cyclical guitar churnings and stop/start explosions. In fact, the correct definition would be a heavier, more organic version of System 7 (Hillage and Giraudy's band are huge in Japan) with harsher sounds, adding definitely more propulsion than a synthesized drum machine. The first two tracks "Hinotori" and "Love for the Phoenix" are clear examples of what System 7 is all about, electronic space jam excursions that are both linear and hypnotic.

One of the highlight tracks unsurprisingly is the John McLaughlin-penned "Meeting of Spirits" off the Inner Mountain Flame album, showcasing Hillage's command of his instrument as well as some spirited work from violinist Yuji Katsui, though the two Japanese drummers cannot match Cobham's whirlwind technique. The piece comes across as a much heavier version, which is actually highly appreciated.

Another cool track is "Cisco", which is a heftier lumbering bulldozer with an echoing guitar that sounds like a harmonica, sort of wondering if it was not inspired by War's classic "Cisco Kid" (I think so!) , creating an all-instrumental jam-fest that rambles on for 13 minutes of beat-infested glory. There is an obvious Ozric Tentacles feel, when bassist Jin Harada steps up to the plate and starts swinging for the fences. Hillage, together with fellow axe man Seiichi Yamamoto (who is legendary in his native country) then start carving some serious slices of cosmic splendor, boldly going where few have gone before. This is a highly bellicose arrangement, thrashing hard and mercilessly, skirting the outer edges of delirium and unafraid to bliss out.

"Unbroken" starts out all fluffy white clouds, ponderous slivers of undulating rhythms and serene atmospheres, until the violin starts screeching boldly, a twisting neo-jazz electro- space shuffle, sort of urban cool in a delirious kind of way. Imagine JL Ponty meeting a Gonged-out Steely Dan! Steve really kills it here, showing clearly why he is such a prog guitar icon. Tremendous track!

The simmering and somewhat playful "Sino Dub" is a Yamamoto-penned epic that is just too simplistic and frankly puerile to my ears, at odds with the three previous tracks that had such massive doses of bite, grit, beat and fire. The eternal drum rhythm in particular is very boom-boom-tchak, closer to the Orb than anything else (funny, Hillage played on the debut!). This is a skipper.

The final track "Unseen Onsen" is an ambient Giraudy piece that showcases interplanetary synthesized resonations that flicker about in seemingly Oriental spheres (Gong), strips of Moogy stringlets forever blowing bubbles into the not too distant cosmos. It's refreshing, meditative, spiritual and hypnotic. A definite mood driver.

Somewhere between 3,5 and 4 Elevating firebirds

tszirmay | 4/5 |


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