Abel Ganz - Abel Ganz

Year of Release: 2014
Label: Abel Records
Catalog Number: ARAG003CD
Format: CD
Total Time: 01:12:30

Over the last several months, I have been listening to most-recent releases by bands scheduled for upcoming festivals. In most cases, the festival came and went before I could write a proper review. One of those festivals was Winter's End (the companion to Summer's End) and one of those bands was Scotland's Abel Ganz.

Abel Ganz have been active off and on over the last 30-something years. It was after one long absence that the band released Abel Ganz. My impression going into this was somewhat vague; I sort of expected that, like other UK bands who got their start in the 80s, Abel Ganz was just another (neo-ish) prog band whose music would fit in with their more widely known contemporaries - Marillion, IQ, Pendragon, fellow Scots Pallas, etc. (even with the passage of time, growth, whathaveyou). Which would be perfectly fine with me; I love that stuff. I don't yet know whether that is true for earlier releases (comments about which mention Genesis), but I can say, but for an couple of exceptions, here they don't.

So colour me pleasantly surprised. Much like the album artwork, the majority of the music on Abel Ganz is like audio watercolour paintings - calm pastels that ripple and shimmer ("Heartland"); light, airy and lilting flutes, acoustic guitar, gentle vocals (the 5-part "Obsolescence"). In some ways, like Italian prog. There are times when the colours are bolder ("End Of Rain") and times where I think of classic 70s soft rock ("Obsolescence, Part II: Evening"). But then we get much warmer colours from the brass elements ("Unconditional," "The Drowning"), from the twangy guitars ("Thank You"). And we get some orchestral aspects as well ("Delusions Of Grandeur"). On that 70s vibe, had I been listening to this unawares, I'd think this might be Seals and Croft, America, latter period Ambrosia, Bread... What comes to mind during "Obsolescence" is "Carefree Highway" by Gordon Lightfoot.

But also, you will find parpy keyboards are in the sonic pallet, a hallmark of (some) classic prog rock - more that of the so-called "neo prog" of the late 80s/early 90s.

The changes in tempo and styles are quite organic. There is nothing jarring, no sharp turns (though we do get one slope), it just...flows. It is sonically rich and is well produced album -- care and attention are evident in every note. All in all, it is very sophisticated music made for people who appreciate music. The lyrics are reflective, asking the listener - or reader in this case - to enter a more philosophical frame of mind, of thinking about where they stand in the world.

So, that's the 30,000 foot view, as they say.

The album opens with the first of 6 instrumentals, "Delusions Of Grandeur," which is lush, featuring a classical arrangement complete with violins and piano, becoming at the end something more akin to mid-century incidental/movie music (mid last century, of course; 40s-60s). It sets the relaxed mood and provides a taste of what is to follow.

What follows is the 5-part suite "Obsolescence." "Part I: Sunrise" takes the acoustic vibes of Crosby, Stills, and Nash - complete with vocal harmonies - and adds in the more lyrical aspects of Italian prog with its flute elements. "Part II: Evening" seems to channel Dan Fogelberg (especially in the vocals of Stuart "Mick" MacFarlane) - a softer, folk-rock essence. Add in the rolling piano elements, and maybe Bruce Hornsby comes to mind; a very crystalline production here that is very much a hallmark of Hornsby (note: he had no involvement). "Part IV - The Dream" continues the 70s-vibe, building to something quite epic and gothic (lots of church organ) towards the end (but not bombastic). Maybe the most classic-prog moment in the suite comes on "Part V. Dawn," where they get a bit more Genesis-y, especially where the extended guitar solo is concerned. As I've said elsewhere on this site, anyone who knows me knows I love emotive guitar solos (Hackett, Gilmour, Rothery, et al.), so ... oh yeh, loving this.

Of the other 5 instrumentals, there's "Spring," warm and mellow, but not quite as mellow as elsewhere; "Recuerdos," which reminds me of mellow Moody Blues -- gentle guitar arpeggios and sweet vocals, verses separated by warm brass accents. Think Days Of Future Past and the latter half of "Tuesday Afternoon." Though here, again, Fogelberg comes to mind (think "Leader Of The Band"). "A Portion Of Noodles" is a pair of guitars, noodling out a gentle Western tune evoking, at least to me, the American Southwest. A world away (or two), "Heartland" reminds me of the Asian-inflected, atmospheric electronic work of EchoUs, even down to the ethereal female vocals. Lush keys create a calming bed over which - or really under which - the rhythmic snicker of percussion moves the track along. (The vocals are, however, Gaelic, not Asian**)

"End Of Rain" is less pastoral than other tracks; the colours are a bit fuller. A casual guitar phrase opens the track, leading into a dramatic section that brings in percussion... Here is the slope I mentioned above (see, not just snark). It builds to the summit, and then drops us back into the valley. The better metaphor is maybe a light rain grows heavier, the drops (drums) getting larger, the rain harder, and then just as suddenly, returns to light rain. Of course the galloping percussion at the end suggests rain has not actually come to an end or that my metaphor has become equine in nature.

Where the band show their progressive rock side - as we come to think of it - is the 14-plus minute "Unconditional," which "ticks off all the boxes" including soaring guitar soloing throughout, the crisp, snickering of drums is more prominent, swirls of keyboards weave in and out (here blending Asian, Native American and a Celtic feel), extended arrangements... Even still, this track also bears some hints at the same 70s rock mentioned earlier, throwing in some jazz elements (muted trumpet), some classical orchestrations. The brass elements recalled for me Chicago; at a later point, the arrangement, sparse as it is at this point, and the vocal phrasing, reminded me of early Yes, and of Kansas. It is not nearly as symphonic, however.

The other prog moment comes with the punchier "Obsolescence - Part III - Close Your Eyes," with the snap-snap of drums, the throb of the bass, the parpy keys (Mark Kelly-esque at times). All well done and very appealing.

Lastly I'll mention the track is something different, and still very much a part -- "Thank You,' which has way more than a hint country twang to it - mostly in the guitar solo 3-plus minutes in - but also in the acoustic guitar elements, the subtle accent of accordion. The lyrics are sung in both English and Gaelic. While it didn't strike me the first several times I played this album, it came to me when finishing this review: Mumford And Sons.

Errata: For most bands, their debut is self-titled; in the case of this group, it comes some 30 years after the release of their first album, Gratuitous Flash. You might well wonder why I mention this fact. Well, before I answer that, here's the brief - and selective - history of Abel Ganz, as I've gleaned from various sources. The first album included on vocals Alan Reed, who a short time later left to join Pallas (yes, I knew that when I wrote paragraph two above). Guitarist Malcom McNiven also left. Coming on board to fill both roles was Paul Kelly. Co-founder, bassist and keyboardist Hugh Carter also left, with Gordon Mackie stepping in on bass. This left founding member Hew Montgomery (keyboards) and Kenny Weir (drums) as the only remaining original members. Another album followed in 1985, Gullibles Travels. By the time the third album was released, 1988's The Dangers Of Strangers, Weir had left, drum thus duties handled by a trio of folks - Denis Smith, Al Esis and Alan Quinn. Carter was back on bass, and McNiven was back on guitars (among guests on the album is Reed, contributing vocals to 2 tracks).

A 6-year gap ensued before the fourth release, The Deafening Silence (1994), was released. This was, yet again, a whole new line up, as there were new faces at every position but for Carter on bass. And then the band called it a day.

Fast-forward 14 years, and the band regrouped - some new faces, some old (including both Carter and Montgomery) - to record and release Shooting Albatross (2008).

And that brings us to 2014's Abel Ganz, which contains, at the core, no original members - Carter, Montgomery do have guest roles, Carter providing backing vocals to one track ("Pt. II - Evening") and acoustic guitar to another ("End OF Rain"); Montgomery contributing a synth solo and programming to one track ("Pt. III - Close Your Eyes"). I'd say that's kinda weird, but then technically, Yes has no original members in its line up either (though one could argue White given his very long tenure with the band; or Howe, who has also a long tenure, even if not continuous).

So then, we see this album really as a group reintroducing itself; the title makes sense. This version of Abel Ganz is mostly a carryover from Shooting Albatross: Stuart "Mick" MacFarlane on lead vocals and guitars; David Mitchell on guitars; Stephen Donnelly - basses; and Denis Smith - drums, keyboards and backing vocals. And then an assortment of guests, beyond that mentioned earlier (see the Musicians section below).

*And what I didn't hear when some of this was written at work, the track opens very atmospherically, including children's voices - which happened to blend with the children's voices I hear outside today, as I write this (had to pause to see if they were coming from the music).

**While I try not to read others' reviews whilst writing my own, in confirming a thought, it was tenuously confirmed by Bob Mulvey's review at theprogressiveaspect.net - the thought, Gaelic vocals in "Heartland," too. Yes.

Delusions of Grandeur (2:12) / Obsolescence - Pt. I - Sunrise (3:40) / Obsolescence - Pt. II - Evening (4:41) / Obsolescence - Pt. III - Close Your Eyes (5:01) / Obsolescence - Pt. IV - The Dream (6:12) / Obsolescence - Pt. V - Dawn (3:49) / Spring (2:25) / Recuerdos (4:20) / Heartland (5:08) / End of Rain (5:33) / Thank You (6:57) / A Portion of Noodles (3:22) / Unconditional (14:05) / The Drowning (5:25)

Stephen Donnelly - bass, double bass (5,11,13), fretless bass (10)
Stuart "Mick" MacFarlane - lead vocals, acoustic guitar (2,4,5,7,8,10-13), electric guitar (3,6,13)
David Mitchell - electric guitar, acoustic guitar, classical guitar & 12-string guitar, sounds (10)
Denis Smith - drums, backing vocals

Guest Musicians:

William Barbero - guitar solo (13)
Andrew Brodie - sax (13)
David Carlton - flute (5)
Hugh Carter - backing vocals (3), acoustic guitar (10)
Sarah Cruickshank - oboe (1)
Fiona Cuthill - recorder (2,3)
Jerry Donahue - guitar (11)
Joy Dunlop - vocals (9)
Ed Higgins - congas (3,10,13), percussion (10)
Malcolm Jones - accordion (11)
Paul Kiernan - conductor (14)
Stevie Lawrence - tin whistle (3), 12-string guitar (5), low whisle (10), dobro (11)
Stephen Lightbody - church organ & synth (5)
David MacDonald - sax (13)
Tom MacNiven - muted trumpet (13)
Alastair McGhee - trumpet (8,13), flugelhorn (8)
John Milne - tuba (8), trombone (8,13)
Hew Montgomery - synth solo & programming (4)
Iain Sloan - pedal steel guitar (3,11), 12-string guitar (13)
Frank Van Essen - violin & viola (1)
Jack Webb - keyboards (1,5,9,10,13), piano (2,3), Mellotron (2,3,6), Hammond (3,4,6), bells (5), drum programming (9), sounds (10), backing vocals
Brass Band Of Johnstone - brass (14)

Gratuitous Flash (1984)
Gullibles Travels (1985)
The Dangers Of Strangers (1988)
The Deafining Silence (1994)
Shooting Albatross (2008)
Abel Ganz (2014)
The Life Of The Honeybee And Other Moments Of Clarity (2020)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin UK

Added: June 15th 2019
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website: www.abelganz.com
Hits: 6198
Language: english


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