NATIONAL HEALTH — Playtime (review)

NATIONAL HEALTH — Playtime album cover Live album · 2001 · Jazz Related Rock Buy this album from MMA partners
4/5 ·
Sean Trane
The always-excellent Cuneiform label unearthed yet another “archives” gem with these cncert tapes coming from two different gigs in 79, that took place a few months apart and on two different continents. The main difference would be that in the French, .NH appeared as a double-guitar quintet (Eckert being the other string-scratcher), while on the United Statian gig, the group performed with a more standard quartet; While Pyle, Greaves and Miller where the usual members, Alan Gowen replaces the recently-departed Dave Stewart, but alas, some sad event would prevent the new kb-man to continue, thus more or less killing the band’s impetus despite the DS Al Coda release in his honour a few years later.

While the French concert went down rather well (with the help of the afore-mentioned Eckert) , starting with the energetic16-mins Flanagan’s People; a steaming Canterbury-tinged jazz-rock piece that will set fire to any lake around the place, it held some relatively calmer moments like the almost-boring (by NH standards, of course) Silhouette. Although the Dreams Wide Awake piece opens on Mahavishnu-level energy, it tends to veer later-70’s fusion with a certain Brand X-type of virtuosity, loosing in soul what it gains in notes/seconds. They closed the set with the sleepy (for them) Pleiades, where Miller (I think) plays a few Greek chords.

The Pennsylvania concert is more exciting, opening on two short tracks, including the short but sung (courtesy of John Greaves) Rose Sob before plunging in a fuzzed-bass extravaganza at the start of the 10-mins Playtime (a Gowen piece). The closing two-parts (roughly 13-mins) Squarer For Maud is the cloud u spectacle, with some demented playing from all concerned, but again, it seems that Greaves was the louder and crazier dude that night. The last ten minutes are pure bliss and chaos, where Phil Miller pulls some wild solos. In both concerts, it’s clear that they focused more on the Queues & Cures album than the debut.

If only for the lengthy booklet, filled with extesive liner notes from Mr Pyle, Playtime is an essential release to own if you’re a NH fan, and you enjoy the “jammier” side of the band. One of the joys I had once I’d bought the present album upon release time, was to rediscover Miller’s fiery guitar sound, which contrast fairly heavily with his In Cahoots stuff or even his Hatfield reformation days during the 00’s. On the downside, by 79, NH sounded much more like a later-70’s band ala Brand X or Return To Forever, rather its more Canterburyan earlier incarnations, but we’ll not nitpick too much and just enjoy this little gem, courtesy of Feigelbaum and Aymeric.

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