Refugee - Refugee

Year of Release: 1996
Label: Charisma Records Japan
Catalog Number: VJCP-2543
Format: CD
Total Time: 51:29:00

Pity the poor Lee Jackson. Pity Brian Davison. Jackson in particular must feel like the unfortunate guy who fell off the side of the ski jump at the Olympics one year, and had that feat televised every week on the beginning of ABC's Wide World of Sports for about ten or fifteen years.

Drummer Brian Davison and Lee Jackson, the most vilified singer/bassist in the rock music world, saw their careers run into the wall more times than anyone deserves. Both were members of the much talked about, but seldom listened to, Nice, along with Keith Emerson. Emerson left the group just as they began to have the kind of success in the record shops that they enjoyed on the concert stage. Imagine their situation. They were immensely popular in England, had toured, and gained some respect in the US, had released several well received albums, and were poised to garner the kind of record sales that a top act would expect, when Keith Emerson, who felt that Jackson's vocals were the band's weak link, left to form a new project with Greg Lake, who felt that he was unable to receive his due, working in the shadow of Robert Fripp.

Enter Swiss keyboardist Patrick Moraz. Moraz had already released one album with the English proto-prog group Mainhorse in 1971. A phenomenally talented and groundbreaking keyboard player and composer, Moraz was just what the remaining members of the Nice were looking for.

Formed in 1973 and releasing their one, self titled album the following year, Refugee (Charisma, cat. no. 1087) was far better than the Nice, and the music on this Japanese reissue CD shows the group was in many ways the equal of their obvious competitor, Emerson, Lake and Palmer. If one were to carry the matter further, and evaluate this CD in comparison with the first ELP release, I would say that both have individual strengths the other lacks, but Refugee clearly loses in the vocal department.

Unfortunately for Jackson and Davison, and anyone who enjoyed this first and only effort from Refugee, by the time they could get this release to the record stores, Moraz had moved on again, this time to fill the seat vacated by Rick Wakeman in Yes.

"Unfortunate" would be an appropriate one word epitaph to carve on Refugee's grave stone, but the music on this great, but hard to find CD, is anything but. If you are one of Lee Jackson's detractors, you will be mollified to hear that his vocals are few and far between on this collection of music. Moraz and his keyboards are the main focus here, and there is a lot to focus on. For the times, this is a rather lengthy album, and with only five songs, and few vocals, the Hammond organ and synthesizers carry the load here. Anyone who has heard and enjoyed Relayer or Moraz's first solo effort, The Story Of I, will probably like Refugee. Moraz appears to be up to the task of making fans forget about Keith Emerson; though, in my opinion, he fared less well in his stint with Yes.

The songs here are for the most part very enjoyable. The first, "Papillon," is a rather standard keyboard workout, containing the requisite fleet fingered style of playing on a number of keyboards, including clavinet, piano, the mighty B-3, and synthesizer.

The second song on this CD is "Someday," and if you have a bad feeling about Jackson's singing ability, you might want to skip this one entirely. This song is fairly conventional in arrangement and if you can get through this one, then you'll have no problem with most of the vocals on this CD. It has lovely keyboard work, with a nice electric piano solo that segues into one of Moraz's uniquely voiced synthesizer solos. He has a wonderfully expressive vibrato in much of his synth playing, very different than that of anyone else at the time.

Coming up next is "Grand Canyon." One of two very long pieces on this CD, it is absolutely gorgeous, starting with soft pulsing organ and synthesizer, and opens the way to the first theme of this nearly seventeen minute work. This is played on one of Patrick's many synths, creating a good approximation of an oboe, and, soon complemented by piano and the bass and drums, this expands to become another thrilling display of his control of the technology at his fingertips, literally. Moraz is unusually good at creating orchestrated layers of keyboards and the effect is that of a symphony in its power and versatility. Again, his vibrato, and his technique of "scooping" up notes is stunning. He was fond of playing below the desired pitch, and bringing the note up slowly, a technique common with guitarists, but more difficult to execute by keyboardists, as it is impossible to do on a piano, where most keyboardists learn their craft. This song has moments that remind me strongly of Banco, particularly the re-recorded version of "Metamorphosi" from their first English language release Banco. Moraz's bold vision, and his fearless approach to his instrument make this CD a real pleasure to hear. "Grand Canyon" is also very evocative of its subject matter as well. Listening to this work, I always "see" the canyon, as well as hear it.

"Ritt Mickley," the fourth track is another gem. It starts with what sounds like clavinet, but it is so heavily processed with wah-wah and other effects, it is impossible for me, at least, to tell if it is clavinet or electric piano. At any rate, this very funky, jazzy start becomes another keyboard showpiece, sounding very similar in spots to Rick Wakeman's "Catherine Parr" from his Six Wives? solo album. This number also features outstanding playing from Davison and Jackson. I have neglected them so far, but they are both excellent players. Davison, in particular, is very good, and his playing reminds me of Carl Palmer, to continue my earlier comparison. Lee Jackson appears, from this release anyway, to be a more accomplished bassist than Greg Lake, easily handling the fast paced lines that are needed to keep up with Moraz on this piece. This song title has an interesting story behind it. It was an insider joke on the difficulty Patrick Moraz had with speaking English, and is the phonetic spelling for Moraz's pronounciation of "rhythmically."

The last song, "Credo" is another long piece, and it begins with an etude, displaying Moraz's strong grasp of classical technique. This section gives way to another complex keyboard showpiece that also contains an example of Jackson's, ah, Jackson's ..., ummm, lack of ? no ? ahhh, oh damn it! While I will not trash his vocal abilities, he does writes some very bad lyrics. An example from Credo: " I believe in midnight madness, and ships that pass in the night, I still believe in love, like a child in Santa Claus." Also, in the interest of full disclosure, there is a very reckless attempt at scat singing by Jackson that begins at 9:25 and continues through 10:07. With these distractions noted, this is otherwise a very, very good piece of music. It is also another example of the chops of Davison and Jackson. This song requires no small amount of skill to pull off the bass and drum parts, and these guys have what it requires. I can't overstate how much sheer musical ability is presented in this piece of music. It is clearly a vehicle written for that sole purpose. It contains the etude, as noted earlier, some bold attempts at avant -garde styles, jazz playing ala Chick Corea, ambient sound, a section of Wakeman- esque cathedral organ, and solos by Moraz on virtually every keyboard in his arsenal. I can put up with a few obstacles in order to get some musical thrills, and "Credo" provides a boatload of 'em.

I think it could be argued that among progressive rock musicians, there can be such a thing as an "English" sound. So I see no problem with saying that Moraz possesses a "Continental" sound. If you agree with this contention, then you might agree with my saying that Moraz, and Banco, specifically the Nocenzi brothers as well as PFM's Flavio Premoli have a kindred sound.

If you have an appreciation for the sound of these players, or if you just like ELP's style of gonzo keyboard excess, you will have a soft spot in your heart for Refugee, too.

Papillon (5:10) / Someday (5:02) / Grand Canyon (16:46) / Ritt Mickley ( 4:52) / Credo (18:04)

Patrick Moraz - keyboards
Lee Jackson - bass, vocals
Brian Davison - drums

Refugee (1974/1996)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin UK

Added: March 7th 2004
Reviewer: Tom Karr
Artist website:
Hits: 801
Language: english


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