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Henry Cow - Unrest CD (album) cover


Henry Cow



3.50 | 193 ratings

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4 stars The Return of the Giant Sockweed!

After releasing their debut album Legend, Henry Cow were organised a tour with a German experimental band Faust. In addition, the group was offered to play with Mike Oldfield (whom they met while recording LegEnd) on the BBC session recordings of Tubular Bells. It was at that time that Geoff Leigh left the band, being unable to keep up with the touring schedule. He was replaced with a classically-trained female oboe and bassoon player Lindsay Cooper, who had previously played in a folk rock outfit Comus. In early 1974, Henry Cow returned to Virgin's Manor Studios to record their second album called Unrest.

It is known that there were many tensions between the members while recording this album. From a certain point of view, that is detectable at times with the band breaking free from the aesthetic of their first offering. Unrest is composed of two distinctive concepts. Side one presents a rather familiar Henry Cow sound, full of well-though, elaborate, demanding compositions and accurate musicianship. The Canterbury-style jazz influence is pushed to the background and is substituted with a darker avant-garde chamber-like quality, owing a much greater deal to classical compositions of Arnol Schoenberg, Paul Hindemith, Igor Stravinsky, Bela Bartok, and even Olivier Messiaen. Free-form parts and collective improvisation, reminiscent of Peter Brötzmann, Ornette Coleman, and Marion Brown, previously being just a portion of the group's musical sauce are being much more present and pronounced. Side two is said to have been fully improvised based loosely just on little themes that the musicians brought in. The free-form mayhem is definitely an acquired taste and one is guaranteed to be disgusted with it without having been introduced to the style. The presumably unplanned and instrumentally undemanding moments play a different role from traditional music forms. It all comes down to personal views and experience, but, in my opinion, free improvised music deserves a seperate, unique interpretations - somewhat similar to abstract art of Mark Rothko and Jason Pollock. It is there to create certain tensions, invigorate creativity, give one space for contemplation.

As previously mentioned, Henry Cow's sound on Unrest is a lot darker than on LegEnd. The fast-paced jazz passages are virtually gone and are replaced with slowly evolving, dissonant, experimental passages, including a bassoon, saxophone, and violin prominently, which drive the group closer to their later works and what would lie under the label "Rock In Opposition." Despite the changes, we are still capable of observing the group's classic elements: Fred Frith's fuzz guitar solos, Tim Hodgkinson's signature Farfisa organ sound, Chris Cutler's percise drumming. and John Greaves' distinctive bass playing style, as well as his fuzz bass tone.

After Henry Cow's LegEndary debut album comes this strange beast - Unrest. Often dismissed as unambitious or, in demanding minimal creative effort, even by band's most enthusiastic fans, this album, at least for some, proved difficult to appreciate. The trouble does not lie in the poor quality of music or lack of members' musical skill, but in lack of comprehension of musical forms other than those formed by western culture, that is free-form improvisation. However, even with that, the album features a few incredibly elaborate musical compositions, namely "Ruins", with its rhythmic melody based on Fibonacci's sequence, "Half Asleep, Half Awake" with its neo-classical piano prelude and unorthodox harmonic solutions. As said above - not an accessible album, but a phenomenal, mature effort nonetheless.

ALotOfBottle | 4/5 |


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