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Henry Cow - In Praise Of Learning CD (album) cover

IN PRAISE OF LEARNING

Henry Cow

 

RIO/Avant-Prog

3.96 | 173 ratings

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ALotOfBottle
4 stars During their recording sessions for Unrest in Virgin's Manor Studios, Henry Cow were introduced to a German avant-rock band Slapp Happy. This group invited Henry Cow to guest on their new album Desperate Straights. Despite stylistic differences, the two decided to carry on playing together. In 1975, they joined forces to record an album with Henry Cow's material and named it In Praise Of Learning. Soon after, the bands started touring Western Europe for nearly two years continously and played alongside Robert Wyatt.

In Praise Of Learning is a milestone in Henry Cow's catalog. The band's dissonant free-jazz approach of Unrest is being estranged with more of "pure" avant-rock quality being put in the foreground. The contemporary jazz influences are by no means uncommon, but they are just a part of the musical extract. Although to a lesser extent, the band still shows some of their older chamber music elements, which played an important role on their previous releases. Even some Krautrock-inspired electronic effects are introduced. In addition, the band is becoming a lot more politically-oriented. We were able to catch just a glimpse of Henry Cow's political views on their debut Legend, specifically on "Nine Funerals Of Citizen King". Chris Cutler's left-wing lyrics deal with problems of social injustice as well as the ruthless music industry.

Anthony Moore, the keyboardist of Slapp Happy enriches the band's sound by adding organ as well as various electronics, while Phil Becque deals with synthesizer parts. Although it is not entirely felt, the wind section is extended with an addition of trumpet player Mongezi Feza, the comeback of Geoff Leigh (who played on Legend) on woodwinds and Peter Blegvad (who also played guitar). These combined with Lindsey Cooper's woodwinds give more of a jazzy, rather than chamber feel. Dagmar Krause, Slapp Happy's female singer adds a unique quality to the group's sound with her emotional soprano vocals. These work very well with the lyrical themes, as they picture an ordinary woman, who talks about class war. Other than that, Henry Cow's sound remains unchanged with Fred Frith's distorted guitar timbre and folk fiddle, Tim Hodgkinson's jazz-influenced piano, Chris Cutler's accurate and percise drumming or John Greaves' steady basslines.

This album contains six tracks. These are not very varied, really presenting only two or three different stlyes, but they all contribute to a very interesting and a unique whole. "Living In The Heart Of The Beast" is Henry Cow's own 15-minute suite, which opens with a dissonant distorted guitar and going through many different moody phases, it closes with a jazzy march, that brings some of more mainstream progressive rock acts to mind. I feel like this is the most representative piece of the album, both musically and lyrically. "Beautiful as the Moon - Terrible as an Army With Banners" is another longer track with a very smooth jazz-rock feel, leaded by solo piano. "Beginning: The Long March" or "Morning Star" (named after a British socialist magazine) present the more experimental side of Henry Cow's sound with more of an ambient electronic free-form approach. All in all, the band organized their album time very profficiently.

In Praise Of Learning is an absolutely exceptional work with a distinctive, unique sound. This album could be the closest that Henry Cow got to being a progressive rock band and so naturally In Praise Of Learning should be quite appealing for fans of the genre. Fairly inaccessible, this recquiers much more than one or two listens to appreciate fully, But I assure you - this will be a very rewarding journey. Highly recommended, a masterpiece! 4.5 stars!

ALotOfBottle | 4/5 |

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