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Secret Oyster - Vidunderlige Kælling [Aka: Astarte] CD (album) cover


Secret Oyster


Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.28 | 39 ratings

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4 stars Danish jazzy prog band Secret Oyster released this, their third album, in 1975. Although it functions primarily as a piece of music commissioned to accompany a dance piece, it stands on its own as an excellent album as well. It shows the band expanding its stylistic reach, moving beyond the energetic but somewhat predictable jazz rock shown on their first two albums, into an area more concerned with melodies than riffs.

"Intro" is an instrumental theme stated with electric piano/synth arpeggios, played at a lively tempo but with a drifting airiness about the piece. After two minutes, it fades out and gives way to "Stjernerne pa Gaden", a dark atmospheric piece underpinned by synthesizers and featuring some really expressive lead Moog work as well as thick strands of lead guitar. This track sounds a lot like the long drone intro to Pink Floyd's "Shine on You Crazy Diamond", and it nearly matches that piece in its quiet intensity. Finishing the first side is a pair of segued-together masterpieces, "Sirenerne" and "Astarte", making up 12 minutes of the finest music this band ever produced. "Sirenerne" begins with an arpeggiated 5/4 theme played on electric guitar and doubled on electric piano (arpeggiated themes are a favored compositional device with these guys), with Karsten Vogel blowing some delicate sax on top. The piece then lurches into a new theme, full-band this time, and oh-so-funky. Vogel and guitarist Claus Boling play some unison leads in between the funky beats, before the whole band returns triumphantly to the original arpeggio theme, with Boling taking an emotional, all-too-brief guitar solo, and the song ends in a synthesized whoooossshhhhh.... and in comes "Astarte". This functions as an Eastern drone piece, with an ostinato descending guitar figure repeating throughout, with a bass drone, as Vogel wails on soprano over the top, joined in spots with more lovely Moog playing, and a generous amount of sitar flying in and out of the mix. This drifting mantra will carry you above the clouds.

The second side is much more erratic. "Solitude" opens the side with a very slow, sad, piano ballad - the kind of understated beauty only hinted at on their first two albums. It may have some keyboard overdubs, but essentially it's completely solo - in the dance production, this number was probably used during a sad and lonely bit. Then things get a little bizarre for the next three tracks, which barely sound like Secret Oyster at all. "Tango Bourgeoisie" is an insistent march, with an almost comical synth/piano theme played over the martial rhythm. Not bad, but definitely an oddity in their recorded output. "Bellevue" brings us a little closer to safety, a funky instrumental (I swear there's even a "human beat box" segment in there, though I'm sure the band would deny this) similar to "Sirenerne" but not as compelling. "Valse du Soir" gives us another atypical piece, this time just a brief, slow waltz with an accordion playing the lead. The action in this part of the dance production probably included people sitting in a French cafe wearing berets. Finally, "Outro" brings us a fleshed out version of the "Intro" that opened the album, and this time its optimistic theme is given more room to breathe, and thus ends the album on a high note.

Despite a couple of weirdo tracks which don't really do much for the album (they're mainly specific to the dance production, and not Secret Oyster tracks per se), this is still my second favorite album by them (after Straight to the Krankenhaus, see my review of that one). The high points of the album (all of side one, "Solitude", and the "Outro") are among the best pieces they ever did. Recommended to fans of instrumental 70s prog (particularly Camel fans, as they have a similar vibe at times) and people who like their jazz rock melodic and a bit different.

HolyMoly | 4/5 |


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