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National Health - National Health CD (album) cover

NATIONAL HEALTH

National Health

 

Canterbury Scene

4.12 | 383 ratings

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Gatot
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars A Review by Rizal B. Prasetijo (27 Jan 08)

As a teenage grew up in Jakarta in late 70s, I witnessed my buddies split into two camps. Those who listened to Prambors Radio (it was broadcasted at 666KHz AM at that time) and El-Shinta Radio (1432KHz AM). The first normally aired the pop, disco, rock, and new wave, while the latter broadcasted the jazzy tunes. Amidst these two camps, I unintentionally heard an interesting genre played by a number of DKSB's (Harry Roesli's Depot Kreasi Seni Bandung) members, when they met at my friend's house in Kebayoran Baru circa 1980. I couldn't tell exactly what kind of music that these gentlemen put forward. It sounded they played jazz, but inserted many musical interludes, exaggerated dynamics to heighten contrast between sections, expanded the timbral palette of their music by adding flute, used poly tempo as well as poly key signatures. In short, it was a jazz with a progressive rock touch.

Fast forward, 27 years later on, my "musical amazing" friend, Gatot W Hidayat, suggested that I might have been hearing the "Canterbury Sound" played by those gentlemen. Eager to understand the genre, I asked Mr. Hidayat to lend me his collections. The first one is the first album of a band founded in 1975 by Dave Stewart and Alan Gowen, the National Health's National Health (Charly Schallplatten GmBH's 1998 CD pressing). The CD sleeve contains useful information. In addition to the band's history and interweaving of its members in the past, John Platt, the sleeve writer, interestingly said that (contrary to what have been written in many literatures), National Health is not a "Canterbury Sound" band, although he mentioned that most of the band's members have played together at various times, along with several other Canterbury related persons. The album consists of five tracks.

The first is the 14:30" "Tenemos Roads". "Tener" in Spanish is a verb with the basic meaning of "to have". It also appears in a number of phrases that show emotion or physical states, expressed by nouns, which in English tend to be expressed by to be and an adjective. Thus, the "Tenemos Roads" in English roughly means "the path or road that National Health has specifically chosen". Indeed the first track shows how the band could arrange a complicated, yet beautiful composition, consisting of a number of interludes. Initiated by 40" dissonance harmony based on Alan Gowen's synthesizer and Dave Stewart's keyboard, the composition gradually took Bill Bruford's drums and Mont Campbell's bass into its liner. Campbell's simple, but appealing crotchet and quaver bass notes in the 4/4 tempo and Stewart's keyboard dominated the beginning of the composition. At 2:36", the band changed its rhythm to jazz rock driven by Campbell's syncopated bass and Bruford's drum for slightly over two minutes. At 4:42", Phil Miller's guitar jazzy tunes painted the composition on the back of Campbell's crotchet and quaver bass notes in the 4/4 tempo. Then, Amanda Parsons' eerie soprano vocal came in at 5:46". Frankly, I was getting lost in the almost seven-minute section as the band played the consonance and dissonance harmony in random, sometimes taking avant garde into its composition. Fortunately, my suffering ended at 12:32" when Campbell's crotchet and quaver bass notes in the 4/4 tempo backed into the scene. The song was ended by an avant garde harmony, a symbolization of National Health's ability in pushing its musical ability to infinity.

The second track is the 10:19" "Brujo", the Spanish's masculine form of "brujerķa" or "the wizard" in English. Opened up by a soft and peaceful combination of Campbell's bass, Stewart's keyboard, Gowen's synthesizer, Bruford's drum, and Parsons' "la.. la.. la.." soprano vocals for 4:10", I sense the band depicts a wizard is drawing his magic. As he is ready to spell catastrophic mantra, the composition tempo was gradually raised. Then, you could hear beautiful Gowen's legato and glissando synthesizer and Campbell's semiquaver dissonance bass notes. At 6:30", Miller's guitar came in, while Campbell switched into his crotchet and quaver bass notes, but in the 6/8 tempo, describing the wizard spells his disastrous hymn. The composition was ended by poly tempo and the combination of accent and marcato notes, describing how suffering the victim is.

The third and fourth tracks are called "Borogoves (Excerpt from part 2)" and "Borogoves (Part 1). These compositions run at 4:16" and 6:37", respectively. I am not sure why the band put the part 1 after the part 2. I also initially puzzled with these songs' title. Fortunately, the Urban Dictionary (www.urbandictionary.com/) let me know that the borogoves is slang for a thin, shabby-looking bird with its feathers sticking out all round. Using the definition, I use my imagination in interpreting these compositions. The part 2 was initiated by peaceful synthesizer and keyboard, before Campbell's bass and Miller's guitar, played on quarter echo, coming in at 58". I sense this section portrays the borogoves enjoys his quit morning. At 2:30", Miller's guitar turned into rock melodies, symbolizing that the borogoves must leave its nest. Moving to the part 1, by listening to the cheerful consonance harmony composition for the first 3:35", I imagine that the borogoves is flying and cruising happily. Suddenly, Campbell's bass and Stewart's keyboard notes turned dark, depicting the borogoves meets its predator and must slip away. The band smartly describes the intense pursuit by raising tempo and using dissonance harmony. Happily, the borogoves is able to run away, marked by a slowing down in the composition tempo at 6:10".

The last track, the 14:20" "Elephants", is the most difficult composition to be decrypted. It contains at least eight interludes and was initiated by an elephant barking sound generated from Gowen's synthesizer. It was followed by an avant garde dissonance harmony composition, dominated by Gowen's synthesizer. Miller's dissonance rock harmonies came in at 2:05", while Campbell's bass was the background. Stewart's piano and Gowen's glissando synthesizer took over the baton at 3:50" for slightly over three minutes. Then, Campbell's consonance semiquaver bass notes joined Stewart and Gowen at 6:00". The rhythm changed again at 7:18" and, to my surprise, Campbell's crotchet and quaver bass notes in the 4/4 tempo and Parsons' eerie soprano vocal played in the "Tenemos Road" backed into the scene at 7:45". Two more peaceful interludes (9:30"-11:25" and 11:25"-14:20") came in before the song was ended.

Having listened to the National's first album, I really admire Alan Gowen and Dave Stewart's abilities in writing fluid complex compositions (except track #5), although they consisted of many interludes, took both consonance and dissonance harmonies, as well as the usage of variety of key and time signatures. Happy listening!

Best regards, Rizal B. Prasetijo

A Review by Gatot Widayanto Hidayat (6 Aug 2005)

Have you ever enjoyed the music of Hatfield and The North, Egg, Khan, Gong, Steve Hillage? You bet! This album is similar in style with that bands. NATIONAL HEALTH was one of the last of the great "Canterbury-style" progressive rock bands. This band performed the same style of Canterbury Progressive with a heavy influences from jazz, rock, following Hatfield and The North's philosophy, with complex keyboards parts of Dave Stewart combined with the stunning guitar of Phil Miller. The band's eponymous opus is one of the most important albums of the Canterbury scene, containing a unique mixture of rock, jazz and classical music. This is a great collection for Canterbury fans and a rare treat in the spirit of the likes of The Tangent, Spock's Beard, Echolyn or even Gentle Giant.

The Album

"Tenemos Roads" (14:32) opens the album with an ambient keyboard work typical Dave Stewart's style. If you are familiar with KHAN, EGG then you can sense exactly his style of playing. The music moves in crescendo and turns into a more complex arrangement with inventive drum work combined with stunning guitar work by Phil Miller. Amanda Parsons gives her vocal while the music flows wonderfully with excellent passages of electric pianos and guitar. There is a touch of Bill Bruford "Feels Good To Me" music style in this track. "Brujo" (10:13) demonstrates excellent piano solo introduction combined with excellent guitar work. I know that Dave Stewart is from different school with CHICK COREA, but the introduction part of this track is similar with Chick Corea. Again, Amanda Parsons voice gives a music texture of this song especially when she brings in the drum work joining the music. The music moves up into uplifting mood with a shot of electric piano, guitar and inventive bass lines. It's really a very nice composition that blends strong elements of jazz and rock with rapid-fire keyboard punches during rhythm section as well as solo.

"Borogoves (Excerpt from part two)" (4:12) features great bass guitar solo in the middle of the track while electric piano serves as rhythm section. It continues with a stunning guitar solo reminiscent of AL DI MEOLA even though it's not performed is in the same speed like Al Di Meola's "Land of A Midnight Sun" album. "Borogoves (Part one)"(6:29) continues the musical stream of previous track combining keyboard and guitar with more complex improvisation and sudden change to different tempo. The final track "Elephants" (14:32) is at first explorative in nature during the introduction part but it moves into uplifting mood with great guitar and keyboard work. Keyboard work is getting complex and interesting one to enjoy.

Summary

This album casts the spirit of Canterbury music that favors those who like this genre or even for those who like Return To Forever of Chick Corea old albums like "The Mad Hatter", "Touchstone" or Al Di Meola solo. If you do not enjoy jazz influences, at least you can enjoy the virtuosity of keyboard work by Dave Stewart or guitar by Phil Miller or Pip Pyle dynamic drumming. Well, basically if you can open your mind for wider prog music selection, this one is an excellent one for your collection. Recommended. Keep on proggin' ..!

Progressively yours, GW

Gatot | 4/5 |

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