GONG — Expresso II

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GONG - Expresso II cover
3.95 | 16 ratings | 3 reviews
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Album · 1978

Filed under Jazz Related Rock


1. Heavy Tune (6:25)
2. Golden Dilemma (4:54)
3. Sleepy (7:17)
4. Soli (7:39)
5. Boring (6:26)
6. Three Blind Mice (4:46)

Total Time: 37:30


- Pierre Moerlen - drums, glockenspiel, vibraphone. xylophone, tubular bells, timpani
- Hansford Rowe - bass, rhythm guitar (02)
- Mireille Bauer - marimba, vibraphone
- Benoît Moerlen - glockenspiel, vibraphone, marimba, xylophone, tubular bells, claves
- François Causse - congas (02-06)
- Allan Holdsworth - guitar (01,03,04)
- Mick Taylor - lead guitar (01)
- Darryl Way - violin (03,05)
- Bon Lozaga - guitar (02,03)

About this release

Virgin – V 2099 (UK)

Recorded at Pye and Matrix studios

Thanks to snobb for the updates


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Members reviews

"Expresso II" looks like a natural follow-up to the previous "Gazeuse!" album, which had been issued in US as "Expresso" (I guess the Americans did not like the French title so decided to name it after the opening track). We are still in the deep fusion territory and the percussion trio (Mireille Bauer, Pierre and Benoit Moerlen) is still musically dominant.

However, this album slightly differs. Malherbe's woodwinds are gone, along with the only remnant of the old classic line-up. Enters Hansford Rowe! Previously a complete anonymous to me, this guy shows that he was a top bass player in his time, reminding me often to Jaco Pastorius or even Chris Squire. He plays amazingly good, utilizing various pedal effects and often keeping the main melodic line, be it as riff chords or solo.

The guest list is no less impressive. Among well-known personalities we find here guitarists Mick Taylor (ex-Mayall's BLUESBREAKERS, ROLLING STONES) and Allan Holdsworth (unlike the previous album, here as a guest only) and violin player Darryl Way (ex-CURVED AIR). Taylor's heavy blues guitar colors the opening "Heavy Tune" while Holdsworth shines in a few brief but excellent moments in "Sleepy" (together with Way's Vivaldian violin craze) and "Soli".

Unlike "Gazeuse", which is more spacey and atmospheric fusion record, "Expresso II" sounds more down-to-earth, juicy and hard jazz-rocking. Truncated to only four rhythm section members (3 percussionists and a bassist!) as a core, GONG is still an excellent team that shows those people who easily dismissed them after departure of Allen and Hillage were not right. Sure, the music is very different but isn't just that the main point? To be different and yet to remain true to themselves.

Pierre Moerlen continued to pursue the similar musical direction under the name PIERRE MOERLEN'S GONG after this album. This makes the last GONG studio album of the continued career of the band during the 70s, and it could hardly be the better farewell party.
The transition which began on Gazeuse is completed on Expresso II, the second album by the Pierre Moerlen-led Gong lineup which would come to be known as "Pierre Moerlen's Gong". Despite some suitably chunky guitar riffs by Allan Holdsworth lighting up the start of Heavy Tune and some excellent violin contributions from Darryl Way, make no mistake about it - this is a percussion-led album, with intricate interweavings of drums, glockenspiels, vibes, xylophones and all the other percussion instruments you could not imagine underpinning everything.

There's not much to choose from between this and Gazeuse, but I tend to listen to this one more often - to my ears, there's just a little bit more bite and personality. Expresso II is a great contribution to the body of Canterbury-influenced fusion albums that cropped up in the late 1970s.
Sean Trane
Just as a starter, this album wears the number II after its name, because Gong's previous album Gazeuse was marketed Stateside as Expresso. By the time of release of this album, Gong didn't have much to do with the unit that had recorded the RGI trilogy: they were more of rhythm section waiting for frontmen to come in the forefront. Don't get me wrong I wouldn't call this line-up Sly & Robbie (they're much too good for that), but let's face it: three percussionists and a bassist make the core of the Gong. Sure some very prestigious guest such as violinist Darryl Way or guitarist Holdsworth or more surprisingly ex-Stone Mick Taylor just to mention these few. And one wonders why Daevid was trying to get the name back. I'm not too sure how they went along, but this line-up's next album would go on to record as Pierre Moerlen's Gong and produce another string of albums under that moniker.

What strikes in this album is that we have already the first draft of Gongzilla and the music is extremely percussive, sounding a bit like Maneige circa Libre Service. Although at first one is taken aback with the aptly titled Heavy Tune that sounds like a quasi metallic blues-rock, with two guitars in tow, Holdsworth on the rhythm and Taylor pulling a brilliant solo on lead. The lengthy Sleepy is also quite a fine track and doesn't bear its name well as is Boring, which sports some of violist Darryl Way's best works ever, both sounding very Maneige like, if you'll except the violin. Another highlight is the 7-min+ Soli, which gives a few good examples of it. But overall, if you don't appreciate vibraphones or xylophones, you'd better steer clear ofd this album because it is loaded with them, which renders the music lively, but also tends to make the different tracks a bit uniform.

As can be obviously deducted, Expresso II is yet another fine jazz-rock album with many moments but its good dose of heard-elsewhere developments, the interest of every new album from Gong was getting lesser, partly because of the amount of groups that were around were becoming quite a crowd stepping on each other's toes, partly because musically, all the grounds that were to be discovered were for a while now. As flawlessly played as Expressso can be, even if Gong has their own typical sound and intricacies, they were sounding like "just another jazz-rock/fusion group" and therefore were losing much interest of many, and to the light of this album, I'd say that this was slightly unfair, but then again the same can be said of many other JR/F albums of these years. And things would get even harder with the passing of the decade, once these groups tried to adapt to the new decade by "innovating" on such ugly instruments so typical of the 80's, therefore starting to lose their soul. Anyway, coming back to this album: hardly essential, yet eavesdropping on it every now and then seems like a much tempting idea.

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