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Phil Manzanera - Firebird V11 CD (album) cover


Phil Manzanera


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4.47 | 15 ratings

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5 stars Phil Manzanera's latest work is further proof of this legendary guitarist/composer's talent at creating a distinctive discography, each album diverse from the other, infusing a sundry of detailed elements that broaden the spectrum of styles. There have been sensational recordings, from the wonderfully original Diamond Head, the dark-prog pop of K-Scope and Listen Now, the Latino-tinged Southern Cross and Vozero, as well as the 6pm and 50 Minutes Later combo of eclectic prog. Ever since his Roxy Music days, the guitarist has stretched the boundaries of electric guitar playing (Primitive Guitars) by expressing scintillating restrained riffs and notes on the lower scale while occasionally foraging screaming bursts of soaring leads that never overstay their welcome. The man was never going to win the longest solo contest, as its anathema to his muse. His implement of choice is the iconic Gibson Firebird V11, a visually spectacular axe that sits throned with the Flying V, Stratocaster, Les Paul and SGs in the pantheon of rock guitar instruments. His elegant power screw driver style is unique as it drills tones and bores textures deep and hard into at times conventional structures that veer often into unparalleled variances, with tinges of experimental, classical, traditional Latino, prog, Canterbury and typical British proto-pop. On the all- instrumental Firebird V11 album, Phil proposes a quartet of technically gifted international stylists from a wide spectrum of genres, featuring acclaimed Polish jazz pianist Leszek Mozdzer, philharmonic bassist Yaron Stavi from Israel and British experimental percussion maestro Charles Hayward , he of This Heat fame (with whom Phil played in pre-Roxy years with Quiet Sun). The osmosis is audibly stunning as each virtuoso remains well within the Manzanera style while contributing immensely with their own mercurial talents. As such, Hayward in particular raises eyebrows, easily one of the most staggering drum displays in recent memory, full of playful bravado and intense dedication. Imagine a record with a classical rumbling bassist, a flourishing piano artist of the highest order and scintillating pulse drumming, all crowned with Phil's active and sensual guitar, lush with thunderbolts of stringed genius. This is what is delivered and in spades!

The opening salvo holds back no punches, stating for the record that this will not be some smooth lounge jazz, sanitized and satinized for some easy listening background cocktail music. Gritty, feral and robust, the theme is rock music without fluff, instead adorned with some barely restrained exaltation. Hayward bashes confidently from the outset, drilling thud after thud, into drum submission, his Israeli partner in for the ride. The famed Brit tongue and cheek humor is encrypted in the title "Fortunately I had One With Me" and the playing is a dexterously applied science in controlled musical chaos, with progressive credentials all around.

"Cartagena" is also the town in Venezuela that is close to Phil's heart and soul and the majestic axe riff is there as proof of a less bombastic (read= explosive) style best exemplified by Carlos Santana, preferring judicious restraint and staying power. The rollicking middle section is breath-taking, all four on supersonic mode without the histrionics. The tropical outro is splendid. "Fireebired" is quirky experimental to the point where there is even a zeuhl feel (haï, haï, haï!) that elicits a smile of recognition each time, a frantic drum beat amid an ocean of odd sounds, bizarre guitar colorations, loopy synths and blitz piano musings and then suddenly exploding into a groove of dissonance, despair and torture. The deranged chanting holds no grounding to any terra firma, spiraling amok and akimbo, helter-skelter and impending argy-bargy (love that word, whatever it means!).

The epic "Mexican Hat" is an improvisational tour de force, a musical sombrero that has all the hallmarks of a prog fiesta, richly festooned by intensity and passion, nervous and sultry adornments in the deliveries, an über-jazz piano and booming drums. More weird chanting and onomatopoeic eructions and a squeaky synth solo before engaging a romantic piano étude that drips off some sweltering icicle. Veering off into a psychedelic cloud, Phil pays homage to his good friend and musical partner Dave Gilmour but inherently in a way more complex and experimental structure. Manzanera holds back the troupe from getting too comfortable, steering the ship masterfully and building up the inevitable crescendo and orgasm. A sensational track! The title track is referring to his legendary and trade-mark red Gibson Firebird V11 guitar purchased for the "For Your Pleasure" album, which Phil is seen displaying in the vinyl gatefold. There is room for Leszek's rivulet piano runs but the guitar solos are all neatly spectacular, a true craftsman at work!

The peak is reached as "A Few Minutes" has some mysterious and romantic spoken word script that evokes some fateful movie's denouement and the cue for the band to play some funeral march. Spooky, eerie, atmospheric and unexpected, the arrangement is like a soundtrack for a demented James Bond movie, where Largo finally has the upper hand and is about to permanently dispatch 007 to some bleak and nameless SAS military cemetery. But its haunting stuff, original as sin and meritorious of the highest praise.

"After Magritte" closes the deal, Magritte being René Magritte, a celebrated Belgian surrealist painter, famous for his faceless bowler hats and a personal favorite of mine. The mood is smoking hot tropical, something Carlos would compose but without the flashy screaming guitar. Phil expresses this ability to hold back once again and to perfection, the sorrow and the pain obvious in between the licks. Imagine holding your babe, beads of sweat rippling down from every pore, drunk with lust and hungry for the wildest flavors , in a trance, slow-dance, hypnotized by the moment and the undulating lead guitar wrapping snake-like around both your enlaced bodies.

Tremendous achievement and easily Uncle Phil's finest work yet. This recording consecrates his under-appreciated talents and will bear witness to his legacy.

5 red guitars

tszirmay | 5/5 |


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