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John Greaves - John Greaves, Peter Blegvad & Lisa Herman: Kew. Rhone. CD (album) cover


John Greaves


Canterbury Scene

4.16 | 59 ratings

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5 stars In 1969, during his studies at Premboke College in Cambridge, John Greaves met members of a forward-looking outfit known as Henry Cow. The musicians, Fred Frith and Tim Hodgkinson, were looking for a bass player and persuaded Greaves to join them. In 1974, Henry Cow teamed up with a German avant-pop outfit Slapp Happy. Peter Blegvad, Slapp Happy's guitarist, and Greaves found working together extremely prolific and, in result, ended up writing some material, most notably a piece "Bad Alchemy", which appeared on Slapp Happy's album Desperate Straights. After leaving the band, Blegvad returned to his hometown, New York City, and made a living as an illustrator. John Greaves left Henry Cow in 1976, appearing on three of their studio releases. In 1977, they decided to join forces to work on Greaves' project Kew. Rhone. in New York City, with financial help from Virgin Records. Peter Blegvad was responsible for writing lyrics, while John Greaves wrote music. When the album was ready to record, the two were offered a studio by two jazz musicians, Michael Mantler and Carla Bley, who ended up playing on Kew. Rhone., alongside a vocalist Lisa Herman, a drummer Andrew Cyrille, and numerous other guests.

The music on Kew. Rhone. is at times quite similar to that of Henry Cow from the Unrest period. The affinity is really a testimony for how much of the band's sound Greaves is responsible for. His distinctive compositional style, first fully displayed on "Half Asleep Half Awake" from Unrest, is now dominant on the album. The work has a unique, dark, noir-like quality, supported by influences of urban hard-bop. Jazz elements are also reflected in instrumentation, through the extensive use of Miles Davis-inspired the trumpet and rhythmic grand piano. And yet, Greaves and Blegvad manage to capture somewhat of a European spirit in their music. Flavors of avant-garde opera, in particular that of the Second Viennese School, composers such as Schoenberg and Berg, are also a considerable part of the musical extract. Small, inexplicable ingredients of so-called Canterbury sound are also present, highly likely solving the problem of classification of the album. Peter Blegvad's twisted, sophisticated, ambiguous, and most of all, highly experimental lyrics, dripping with of oxymorons, anagrams, palindromes, demand a great amount of erudition to be fully comprehended. There appears to be an invisible link between all of the songs lyrically, creating a feel of a concept album. Obviously, one is rather unlikely to notice the exceptionality of the words without actually reading them individually. However, "Is Kew. Rhone. an album to be "solved"? asks Marcus O'Dair, a journalist of a British music magazine. "It invites interpretation even as it resists it," was Blegvad's answer. "When considering the meanings of Kew. Rhone. we can only guess, we can't know ? which will put some people off. People who want definitive answers are unlikely to get whatever there is to be got from the Kew. Rhone. experience. Personally, I feel more at home with doubt than I do with certainty. What Keats called Negative Capability." Without a shade of doubt, the interplay of intricate and advanced music and elaborate and knowledgeable lyrics creates a one-of-a-kind blend - Kew. Rhone.

To ensure his musical vision is executed in the best possible manner, John Greaves invited some of the finest musicians he knew to play on the album. Himself, Greaves handles all the keyboard instruments (except for clave played by Boris Kinberg) as well as bass guitar. Peter Blegvad is responsible for guitar parts, which play an important role in the album's sound. Blegvad, Greaves, and Lisa Herman together, create a beautiful texture of three varied harmony vocals, which are probably the most characteristic element of Kew. Rhone. In addition, they get some help from the voices of Dana Johnson, April Lang, Michael Levine, and Carla Bley. The album is rich in wind instruments, which include a trumpet and trombone played by Mike Mantler, an alto saxophone and flute played by Vito Rendace, and tenor saxophones played by Rendace, Carla Bley, and Blegvad. Throughout the album, trumpet gets the most solo parts, followed by tenor saxophones. Andrew Cyrille on drums, finds himself perfectly comfortable playing complex time signatures. A classically-trained string sound is delivered by Michael Levine, who plays violin and viola, giving a slight chamber-like taste. In short: the musicianship on this release is excellent.

The album comprises eleven tracks. It opens with "Good Evening", a half-a-minute intro, which despite its short duration, successfully sets the mood for the rest of the work. "Twenty-Two Proverbs" has a bit of an unsettling sound reflected by its dissonant nature and an odd time signature, with great, varied harmony vocals. "Seven Scenes from the Painting 'Exhuming the First American Mastodon' by C.W. Peale" alludes to the album art, which portrays Peale's scientific project. The title track, "Kew. Rhone." features a motif that I'm sure I have heard on Henry Cow's debut album, LegEnd. The short theme used in this lighter piece often appears on Cow's early recordings. "Pipeline" was once described as "a phenomenological bossa nova in 7/4". And this description perfectly captures the spirit on the track. "Catalogue of Fifteen Objects and Their Titles" closes side one of the LP with well-rehearsed saxophone virtuosity and memorable harmony vocals. Side two opens with a somewhat heavy sound of " One Footnote (to Kew. Rhone.)", which features a strong syncopated rhythm with great interaction of horn instruments and, later, the band members' voices. "Three Tenses Onanism" is a much lighter piece with John Greaves' grand piano play and strange, sinister noises from Peter Blegvad's guitar. "Apricot" is built around a catchy, jazz-influenced theme with a trumpet solo and sophisticated vocals. The album closes with "Gegenstand", which starts with a melody-less, improvised passage with atonal, Fred Frith-like guitar sounds. Towards the end, one will hear a bit of silent vocal melody supported by gentle bass and organ, as if struggling to break through, but not for long, as the piece slowly descends into complete silence.

John Greaves and Peter Blegvad are responsible for one of the most detailed, difficult, multifaceted, complicated, and thought-provoking albums in the history of progressive music with very listen revealing new aspects and qualities. Kew. Rhone. demands a lot more than just many listens to be fully appreciated, it demands a careful and experienced listener. Canterbury sound had never been as complex and sophisticated before Kew. Rhone. Close to sheer perfection in almost every way, in short: a masterpiece.

ALotOfBottle | 5/5 |


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