Friday, September 26, 2014

Steve Hillage – Green

   In 1946 story Del rigor en la ciencia (On Exactitude in Science) Jorge Louis Borges wrote about the extravagant absolute cartographic idea taken from Chapter 11 of Sylvie and Bruno Concluded by Lewis Carroll. Constant advancement in cartography was leading to establish the map of empire as 1:1 exactly image of whole country. In Lewis Carroll’s book farmers protested and conception was abandoned. Borges led this crazy idea to an absurd. No matter how crazy it sounds, scientific idea of exactness is a kind of surrender. There can be no other activity when scale of collecting objects is full and perfect. Just in contrary any science or art are effects of reduction which is elementary rational process. History as well consists of simplifications. Its quality is to integrate and shrink all elements to the common denominator. But observing development of such processes is easy to forget there are powerful phenomena with strong cultural effect even in the background of noisy fame.
   After great wave of progressive music in late sixties and early seventies, popular music was dominated by dance music, which had strong support from big media companies. In binary oriented social opinion, the opposite place took punk rock in Europe and rap in America. Progressive trends in rock and jazz were probably more productive than ever, while relevant public was diminishing old bands were still active and new artists were starting. Before they languished in a niche or made concessions to popular music, musicians were trying to find some social support in political involvement or social criticism. Also this strategy was not enough effective. Growing disillusionment of young generation has been taken by rushing movement of punk rock bands. One of strong tendencies in late seventies was futuristic vision of music connected to electronic instruments and new sound possibilities, sometimes mixed with political ideas of social changes.

Steve Hillage – Green (1978)

    This movement, we can consider it as the second wave of progrock, was the background for many interesting projects giving musicians some new artistic perspectives. And this is where Steve Hillage started his solo career. He was already well known artist, guitarist with 10 years stage in bands of Canterbury scene, where he studied at the University of Kent. He was playing in Uriel (aka Arzachel), Egg, Khan and legendary progressive formation Gong. His first record Fish Rising (1975) signed with his own name he recorded with Gong musicians. Next two albums he recorded abroad, in Woodstock – L (1976) and in Los Angeles – Motivation Radio (1977). Both were very well received in England peaking respectively 10th and 28th positions in UK album charts. His fourth album Green (1978) was third of his most successful works from commercial point of view. Recorded in Surrey December 1977, overdubbed and mastered in London during first two months of next year, album hit 30th place in the UK chart, where was listed for 8 weeks. It was also return to older Hillage style. In closing fragment of second side, The Glorious Om Riff which was remake of Master Builder from Gong album You (1974) he is at his best.

Steve Hillage – Activation Meditation / Glorious Om Riff (1978)

   Steve Hillage’s guitars are perfect and creative, and so the whole material on Green sounds so unbelievably fresh like it was recorded now. Probably this is why so many listeners compare Steve Hillage to Frank Zappa – the number of musical ideas contained in this album would be enough for whole discography of many infamous rockers. But they never will be present here, and it’s not just because I don’t have their records. Some of them are racists, others are drug addicts, pedophiles, thieves, forgers, politics beating their wives and children. Rock isn’t complicated music, but as any good music does, it should purify. And no, I don’t believe anybody with fingers sticky of dirt can clean young minds. The map metaphor, crucial in the history of ideas can be connected to history of music, which is in fact the same. Even if some people are fully convinced this is just collection of random elements which we have to categorize and close into jars. The fact some historians are just building catalogues is an effect of malfunction in the system of academic promotion. But this is the theme for another occasion.
   Although old riffs can be refreshing, return to improvised style of early seventies with its trance repeating structures was tantamount to resignation of style proposed in previous recordings. Typical for the strophic construction were harmonic modulations and rhythmic changes. In improvised fragments, especially these created on the basis of rock riffs, expression was made in process of more natural buildup. Instead of unexpected turns, emotions grew gradually. Strong rock riffs and guitar are present from the very beginning in Sea-Nature. And it is continued to first side conclusion Palm Trees (Love Guitar). Second size is organized in a similar manner with great closing guitar extravaganza. Another issue is some kind of minimalism in melodic lines and original harmonics. A lot of electronic sounds and ambient type of arrangements were in 1978 something plainly new. With Miquette Giraudy playing ARP and EMS synthesizers, Joe Blocker on drums and basist Curtis Robertson jr, Steve Hillage and coproducer of the album Nick Mason Steve Hillage made one of milestones in history of progressive rock. Four and half star for the record – a must have in every progresivist collection.

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