GILGAMESH

Fusion • United Kingdom
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These Canterbury stylists were formed in 1972 with the core of the band built around Alan Gowen on keyboards and Mike Travis on drums. At various times the line-up included former Caravan and Hatfield & the North member Richard Sinclair, Mont Campbell (formerly of EGG) and Neil Murray. After recording a debut album for Virgin's Caroline label, the band recorded this wonderful album in 1978 for Charly Records. For this, the final Gilgamesh album, Alan Gowen was joined by guitarist Phil Lee, former Soft Machine bass player Hugh Hopper and drummer Trevor Tomkins. 'Another Fine Tune You've Got Me Into' is a classic of the 'Canterbury' style and is sure to be a much sought after release by all aficionados of the genre.

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GILGAMESH Gilgamesh album cover 3.50 | 6 ratings
Gilgamesh
Fusion 1975
GILGAMESH Another Fine Tune You've Got Me Into album cover 2.84 | 10 ratings
Another Fine Tune You've Got Me Into
Fusion 1978
GILGAMESH Arriving Twice album cover 3.90 | 6 ratings
Arriving Twice
Fusion 2000

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GILGAMESH Another Fine Tune You've Got Me Into

Album · 1978 · Fusion
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EntertheLemming
- A Chomp at Canterbury -

Historians speculate that Gilgamesh may have been a Sumerian king who reigned circa 2700 BC and entered the realm of legend by virtue of erecting a huge city wall to protect his subjects from external threats. I like to think that the citizens of Nippur would have been eternally grateful to their prescient monarch for being fortified against invading armies, pestilence, Jehovah's Witnesses, insurance salesmen and wandering gangs of Canterbury minstrels with long hair, synthesizers, a fondness for pipe tobacco and interminable jazzy noodling.

(Bring out yer deaf)

Were Progressive Rock to be brought to account for some of the earshot wounds inflicted on a listening public, the cells would surely be bulging under the intake of those criminals from the soft white underbelly of Fusion. For every upstanding and law abiding Gong, National Health, Billy Cobham, Mahavishnu, Fermata and Colosseum there are legions of their sinister darker brethren still at large and wanted for a litany of war crimes against aesthetic sensibility e.g. Chick Corea, Return to Forever, Pat Metheney, the Crusaders, Al Di Meola, Santana and Herbie Hancock (the latter's 80's 'rap' sheet would even bring a blush to Snoop's canine cheeks)

It goes without saying that you cannot bluff your way through a genre as demanding as the fusion critter as the only entry qualifications I can detect are a shed-load of chops and a thimble full of memorable hooks. Which brings us to the 2nd album by Gilgamesh from 1978 (or if you prefer m'lud, Exhibit A) The nod to the delightful Laurel and Hardy as evidenced by the title is particularly ironic, as there is scarcely a prat-fall, chuckle or fine tune to be had throughout the entire po-faced and grievously earnest 39 minutes. I have to say this must be some of the blandest and most anodyne music I have heard in a long, long while and makes the likes of Kenso and Passport seem positively visceral and borderline industrial in comparison. It's entirely one paced and seamlessly uniform from start to finish e.g. practically every track doggedly conforms to the same design: a couple of minutes of tastefully understated noodling at circa 85 bpm followed by a unison passage disguised as a completely tangential theme (of sorts) before the lads continue on their unwavering and unhurried way. The playing is faultless but why does 'tasteful' often result in the paradox of no discernible flavour? Give me 'tasteless' any day of the week, I might even remember that, as I cannot for the life of me recall a single melodic fragment from this entire piece of 'off-white' wallpaper muzak.

Some of the textures are attractive with Alan Gowen's airy Fender Rhodes, Hugh Hopper's sumptuous bass and a beautifully recorded kit sound from Trevor Tomkins, but Phil Lee's 'faux' jazz guitar tone is bereft of even a smidgen of personality or warmth. Similarly, the synth sounds employed by Gowen are strictly Camembert Electric.

By way of mitigation, it is probably Lee who provides the best track on the album, in the guise of his delicate solo acoustic guitar vehicle 'Waiting'. 'Underwater Song' does feature a dazzlingly inventive drum intro from Tomkins but his cohorts reward this fleeting gap in the clouds with yet another gentle rinsing of Canterbury drizzle. 'Foel'd Again' is redolent of some of the eastern european folk modes employed in the music of Bartok and Janacek but at under two minutes it never gets the chance to be anything other than merely tantalising.

Although I love Hatfield and the North, early Soft(er) Machine, Khan and Kevin Ayers, I really couldn't recommend 'Another Fine Tune You've Got Me Into' to anyone apart from a far right of centre, hard-line, hard-nosed Fusion/Canterbury completist. (or an insomniac)

GILGAMESH Arriving Twice

Album · 2000 · Fusion
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Sean Trane
Gilgamesh is one of the more inaccessible group in the Canterbury genre, and of their two historic albums, I can say without any shame I am not a fan of those two. So, when I found this one at the library, I was not expecting some rather adventurously obtuse jazz-rock bordering on the free jazz and RIO, but this was actually quite a surprise. This posthumous album is made of tracks ranging from 73 to 75, and believe me, these are not bottom-of-the-drawer tracks. As a matter of fact, I appreciate this album much more than the two studio albums.

The thing that strikes most is that the music is much more melodic and accessible, bordering on a very pleasant jazz-rock somewhere between early 70‘s Miles Davis, Isotope and Mahavishnu Orchestra. One of the real highlights is the almost 18-min “suite” (more like a lengthy but tight improvisation) called You’re Disguised, which is simply breathtaking at times. Guitarist Phil Lee is really the star in this track and gives keysman Alan Gowen are real challenge to keep up with him. From the second session in late 74, Extract is another highlight, but clearly a hint that this was part of another bigger track. Throughout the three sessions, it is funny to see Gilgamesh never had a fully installed bassist, as the rest of three members remained put. From the third session late 75, the four tracks are scorchers (except for the very expandable but thankfully short title track, and it is interesting to hear that Gowan’s synth-playing has evolved due to progress while his electric piano stayed constant.

One of the strange things about the content of this Cd is that although coming from three different sessions, those tracks manage to make a pretty good album on its own with no tracks standing out like a sore thumb. If I have to compare this compilation to the two studio albums, I would say that this Cd is much closer to the second album, Another Fine Mess with its cold fusion rather than the debut, which is much closer to some free jazz.

Less “groundbreaking” than the two historic albums, but certainly a spotless release by the superb Cuneiform label. Again, fairly different than the other two albums, this album is not really suited as a proper intro to the band because it is unrepresentative of their albums.

GILGAMESH Another Fine Tune You've Got Me Into

Album · 1978 · Fusion
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
Sean Trane
Gilgamesh's second album is certainly more accessible than its debut. With a different rhythm section, one could not fear for the music’s nature too much, certainly so as Hugh Hopper was now free of Soft Machine, but involved in the Soft Heap projects (see the Esoteric reissues). The music here can be best described as a typical example later-70’s Canterbury music, as we are never far away from a cross of jazz-rock/fusion and more conventional ECM-type jazz but always remaining calm and determined. While the two frontmen have remained, the rhythm section sees the arrival of the adore-mentioned Hugh Hopper, but also the ex-Rendell-Car Quintett drummer Trevor Tomkins

However, this album is definitely Alan Gowan's vehicle especially with his electric piano on the 10 min+ Bobberty where he shows his full ability on KB, and that track is relatively representative of the album. Although the quartet might appear very aloof-sounding in its approach, they are a very tight unit, as shown on Play Time and Underwater Song. I can only recommend Gilgamesh’s second album to confirmed Canterbury fans, but if you are one, this album although not essential, it is very worthy of your investigations. To others, I suggest you start with the debut or the posthumous release.

GILGAMESH Gilgamesh

Album · 1975 · Fusion
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Sean Trane
One of the lesser known Canterbury Scene bands that churned out also a pair of albums before slowly fading away into the jazz scene, where most of the members originated from anyway. Lead by keyboardist Alan Gowen, the mostly-instrumental quartet also comprises guitarist Phil Lee, bassist Jeff Clyne and drummer Michael Travis, and also gets some vocal help from The Northette’s very own Amanda Parsons (see Hatfield and National Health). This last addition is generally not a good news for me, because personally the trio’s vocal prowess irritate my eardrums severely, and here, Mrs Parsons does the job all by herself. Produced by former Hatfield and Egg man Dave Stewart, the album was released in the summer of 75 and came with a fun but un-esthetical artwork featuring a “get-your-band-to-the-top” game that only makes sense on the vinyl size sleeve.

Musically, Gilgamesh is fairly close to the afore-mentioned Hatfield and MH bands, despite having less common musical members than those two. Gowen’s wide array of then-current keyboards (fuzz organ and Rhodes mainly) is unsurprisingly the band’s main feature, since he’s the main composer (all but two tracks), but Phil Lee’s guitar gives him some very powerful replies. As you’d easily guess with such a virtuoso band, Clyne and Travis are definitely holding their own in the rhythm section. Musically, the album is your typical JR/F with that no-less typical Canterbury twist, so the proghead should know exactly what to expect, although we’re definitely sonically closer to the later-70’s cooler and more aloof sounds, rather than the early-70’s steaming hot sonic washes (ala Soft Machine), but a certain compositional twist, rather than improvisations. The track list includes three three-movement suites, but they are more like three normal compositions, voluntarily broken down to pieces for writing credit reasons, IMHO anyway. The A-side is somewhat more democratic in that regard, as Lee and Clyne manage to unweave Gowen’s homogeneity, so present on the flipside, but the songwriting differences are not immediately striking.

This debut album had to wait 35 years (to my knowledge, anyway) before receiving a CD reissue (or any other kind for that matter), but Esoteric Records finally repaired this flaw, but didn’t find any bonus, but provided solid liner notes (courtesy of the excellent Sid Smith, so Gilgamesh’s debut is THE reference of the band, even if Cuneiform’s Arriving Twice posthumous release is just as important to this writer’s ears.

GILGAMESH Another Fine Tune You've Got Me Into

Album · 1978 · Fusion
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
Warthur
Like Gilgamesh's first album, Another Fine Tune presents a version of Canterbury that is technically proficient and competently composed, but lacks sparkle, emotion or energy - it's very well-mannered music that doesn't really accomplish much beyond being pretty. Alan Gowen's keyboard work is probably the big draw, though National Health fans may find this somewhat tame compared to that band's debut. Hugh Hopper's presence sets the groundwork for his further collaboration with Gowen on Two Rainbows Daily, but the presence of him on bass here doesn't really change the band's sound that much compared to the previous album.

Apparently, Gilgamesh were only reassembled at this point in time as a rehearsals group rather than a band seriously intending to perform for audiences, and this rather joyless release kind of exemplifies that - this is music produced for the sake of producing music, rather than music produced for the enjoyment of listeners.

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