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Various Artists (Concept albums & Themed compilations) - Marscape CD (album) cover

MARSCAPE

Various Artists (Concept albums & Themed compilations)

 

Various Genres

4.02 | 39 ratings

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siLLy puPPy
4 stars Both Jack Lancaster and Robin Lumley are two classic musicians who straddled the line between the jazz and the progressive rock worlds of the 1970s after making names for themselves in other roundabout ways. Lancaster played with Jethro Tull's ex-guitarist Mick Abraham in Blodwyn Pig and both Lancaster and Lumley played together in a band called The Soul Searchers which included the stellar lineup of John Goodsall (guitar), Gary Moore (guitar), Percy Jones (bass) and Bill Bruford (drums).

Lancaster and Lumley would collaborate to release two albums with a wealth of guest musicians that remain unique in the prog history books even within the vast canon's of all the musicians that participated. The first would be the rock version of "Peter The Wolf" based on the Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev's works in which the duo collaborated to create an eclectic modern version that was released in five different languages with different narrators for each one. The music was created to exist within the jazz-fusion and progressive rock worlds and sounded like nothing else within either. It was released in 1976.

Lancaster and Lumley crafted a second surprise released the same year only this time based on a completely different theme. MARSCAPE was a mostly instrumental album (voices were used as effects only) that is most famous for featuring the musicians who would become Brand X the very same year. Lumley himself has been with Brand X from the beginning and even in 2019 is still officially a member but MARSCAPE also features the guitar antics of John Goodsall, the fretless bass bantering of Percy Jones and of course, Genesis drummer Phil Collins who displays his most technical chops. Lumley himself handled all keyboards, pianos, harmoniums, autoharps and organs. Lancaster provided the wind instruments including sax (alto, tenor and soprano), flutes (alto, bamboo, glass), violin, panpipes, watergong and all the brass arrangements.

This bizarre soundtrack to a movie that never existed emerged before the first Brand X album "Unorthodox Behavior" was released also in 1976 and is indeed the very first album where that band played together. While this album could be thought of as a Lancaster / Lumley meets Brand X album, it was Lancaster and Lumley who composed the entire score therefore despite the musicians playing together, this does not resemble any of the Brand X albums that followed as the focus is more on creating musical textures and ambient atmospheric accompaniments to the themes presented in the track titles. MARSCAPE is an incredible varied type of album ranging from trippy free jazz to bouncy space disco.

Despite this album being more famous for Brand X playing on it than the music itself, the album actually contains many more musicians adding to the richness of the stylistic shifts including Morris Pert on percussion, Bernie Frost on voice and Simon Jeffres on the koto as well as string quartet arrangements. The album also employed the help of Geoff Leach on synth programming and if all this talent on board sounds like quite the elaborate project underway, then you would be correct to assume as much. It's apparent upon a single listen that this album was seriously fussed over. Every single detail was polished out to create a cohesive flow where every track cedes into the next and great attention was paid to keeping the tracks unique with each exhibiting a different flavor.

Thematically, MARSCAPE takes on exactly what it insinuates, namely a trip to the red planet where life has purportedly existed in one shape or another for eons. Each track is like a tribute to different aspects of the red planet and are reflected by a diverse roster of rhythms, tones, timbres, tempos and time signature dynamics. Part progressive rock and part jazz-fusion, MARSCAPE expands its horizons well beyond those limiting labels and also displays its fair share of ethnic world music sounds and even a cheesy ballad in the form of "Realization" which sounds like a cheap muzak version of "Hair." The rest of the album however shines like the sun in the sky with an intriguing mix of technical chops tamed into emotional gemstones that perfectly evoke the subject matter at hand.

The beauty of this unique confluence of talent is that it runs the gamut of the most avant-garde on tracks like the opening "Take Off" which builds the mood through the ratcheting up effect of sounds and the surreality of space flight experienced in "Sail On Solar Winds" to the seemingly danceable disco grooves of "Hopper (Machine for Negotiating the Rough Martian Terrian)." Both rock and jazz elements are used to paint strokes on the canvas rather than exist for the sake of connecting them to their respective genres. All sounds are crafted to represent the themes at hand and are surprisingly effective. From the minimalistic sparseness of "Phobos And Deimos" to the bombastic fusion workouts of "Olympus Mons," MARSCAPE is an album of mastery.

While a mere blip on the 70s music scene, MARSCAPE exudes a timelessness to it unlike many albums of the era. It's more akin to a classical work such as Gustav's "The Planets" than to related Brand X and prog rock bands, however the one track "Homelight (Reflecting on Distant Earth)" very much points to the future sounds that Brand X would fully bring to life which in a way proves that they really played on this album. While the album is brilliant it doesn't always convey the Mars mission at hand and therefore falls short of perfection by a couple tracks that don't really gel well with the rest of the pack. The silly "Hopper" would make a great new wave novelty track but seems out of place here and "Realization" is a little too sappy for its own good but otherwise this is unique and well worth the listen especially for anyone interested in everything Phil Collins related and the origins of Brand X.

siLLy puPPy | 4/5 |

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