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Gryphon - Gryphon CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

3.37 | 257 ratings

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3 stars A Third of the Way to the Court of the Crimson Queen - Hey Nonny No

Although Gentle Giant and Gryphon may appear rather strange bedfellows (and who fancies either cleaning up the feathers afterwards or sitting on the eggs?) they do share some common ground by their use of source materials and derived inspiration i.e both bands have a marked fondness for utilizing the musical vocabulary of ye olde english folk musick. This includes the madrigals, jigs, chansons and motets that were considered the fab and groovy preserve of the 'longhairs' circa the swinging Elizabethan era. For Emerson, Lake and Palmer read Dowland, Bull & Byrd. Where the two groups differ however, is that while GG use such devices as a departure point for their own progressive writing, Gryphon adhere much more faithfully to the original forms and are more concerned with providing a contemporary flavor to these ancient recipes.

As far as I can tell, most of the pieces on Gryphon's 1973 debut are in the time honored 'trad-arr' format, and it is worth pointing out that you ain't going to hear any blues licks, shuffle beats or electronic freakouts on this record, as these are authentic renditions of some very old and traditional medieval folk tunes.

With this in mind, Gryphon have elected to exploit a wide variety of 'period' instrumentation to show these pieces off to best effect and we are regaled by the very quaint and occasionally unnerving timbres of tudor bassoons, krumhorn, 'wheezy' harmonium, mandolin and recorder. All the players appear to be masters of their chosen 'weapons' and the playing is commensurately superb throughout. The contemporary elements are adroitly subtle and arrive courtesy of bass guitar, piano, organ and percussion.

Special praise must go to the drummer David Oberle, who has sensibly resisted the temptation to lay down a rock kit beat beneath any of these tracks and instead opts for mostly tom driven accents and flourishes at the appropriate climactic points which imbues his contribution as that of an orchestral player's approach in an orchestra.

Such is the thematic wholeness and atmosphere that pervades this whole document, it would be inappropriate to go through each track separately but for what it's worth I think 'Pastime With Good Company' was written by that infamous tubby Monarch addicted to wedding cake (Henry VIII) and No, 'Touch & Go' is NOT the original fanfare that appears on ELPowell's album.

Those tunes that have lyrics and are sung do unfortunately get delivered in a rather affected 'a wandering minstrel I' verbiage so beloved of folk singers in tights and codpieces since the dawn of....Ian Anderson (and why do they wink at you all the time?)

Despite these misgivings, there is much to enjoy here and I for one found this a welcome breath of fresh air from my usual bristling listening material. I suppose the ripe question that some may ask after hearing this is:

- Yeah that's nice, but is it prog(y) at all? -

Although most of you will probably offer an unhesitating 'No' at this point, this record's main interest to me was how the band who recorded the subsequent 'Red Queen to Gryphon 3' arrived at that point, and for that alone, this album is a fascinating insight to the gestation of one of Prog's most enduring masterpieces.

ExittheLemming | 3/5 |


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