Flute Prog Special, Part 1
If you are old enough, or have an interest in the music of the 1970s, you may recall hearing CCS’s blistering, flute-led instrumental version of Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love. You may no doubt have been initially tempted to think that it featured Ian Anderson. For many, Anderson’s trademark flute style has become synonymous with rock and progressive music that features the flute. However, the emergence of the flute as an explosive lead instrument, did not begin with Ian Anderson.
The first person to sing through the flute was Sam Most, who featured this innovative technique in his 1955 release I'm Nuts about The Most... Sam That Is!, in the piece entitled Falling in Love with Love. Later, this approach was further developed by the strident humming and throat-rasping sound adopted by Roland Kirk. This emotionally charged, thick-set sound can be heard in Kirk’s 1962’s album We Are Kings, but it is prominently and brilliantly showcased in much of Kirk's wonderful I Talk with the Spirits album that was released in 1965.
The blistering rock flute in that CCS cover, was provided by Harold McNair. McNair was a much sought-after session player and occasional band leader. McNair was without doubt a master and arguably has been an even bigger influence upon the development of flute styles suited to a progressive music environment, than either Roland Kirk, or the equally innovative mastery of overblowing flute techniques displayed in the early work of Jeremy Steig.
It cannot be denied though, that the popularity and impact of Jethro Tull in the late sixties did much to bring the flute to prominence in the wider public’s eyes. By 1969, swathed in a blaze of publicity, and judged by both the press and middle England, Anderson‘s bug-eyed expression and ‘Sunday Feeling’ hair, had shocked the TV screens of an increasingly bewildered older generation. From then on, the flute in progressive and rock music quickly became associated with Anderson. He used it as a focal point, both visually and musically, as in just four short years he morphed his band from the blues-based approach of This Was to the later progressive territory of Thick as a Brick.
It is perhaps fitting therefore, that the first album to be featured in this DPRP reviews special, which highlights some 24 progressive flute albums released through the years, should begin with the work of Harold McNair.
In selecting the albums, I observed three main criteria.
Firstly, the album should not have been previously reviewed by DPRP. This led to the omission of albums from a number of flute-led bands such as Solaris, Artsruni, Tusmorke, and Molly Bloom.
Secondly, the reviews would not include albums by bands which many readers would probably be familiar with, such as Jethro Tull, Focus and Camel.
Thirdly, after much deliberation, I decided to only include bands whose music was predominantly instrumental, even though this also ruled out albums by bands such as Gravy Train, Out Of Focus, Asia Minor and La Torre Dell’Alchemista. In the end, I made a few exceptions to this general principal, most notably in choosing to include Capitolo 6.
Finally, the albums featured are just my personal favourites. No article can ever hope to be inclusive, or include every album, or artist that may have been eligible for consideration. I am sure that many readers will have their own ideas as to which albums should also have found a place in this foray into the elusive world of progressive flute.
Harold McNair - Flute and Nut
He produced just three records under his own name: Harold McNair, Flute and Nut and The Fence. All are excellent showcases for his prestigious talents and McNair's performance in each release is ground-breaking. Within the stylistic constraints of the music of the emerging London jazz scene, McNair's approach was truly progressive.
Harold McNair is also remembered for his work with Donovan, where his sympathetic flute work is prominent. In addition, he was a founder member of Ginger Baker's Airforce and also provided flute for many diverse artists, including Cressida and John Martyn.
Flute and Nut provides a wonderful mixture of big band arrangements, which are embellished by virtuoso flute soloing. The swinging style and organic nature of the big band, provides a richly buoyant platform, upon which McNair is able to build on the techniques developed by jazz flautists such as Roland Kirk and Yusef Lateef. McNair is able to create something that is extraordinary in every respect. His playing throughout is magnificent and he is able to transform John Cameron's lushly picturesque orchestral arrangements, as in You are Too Beautiful, into something that is often excitingly encased in innovation, yet never forgets to blow melodically.
Undoubtedly though, McNair's strength lay in his ability to provide lyrical solos. These float effortlessly upwards, in the gleaming atmosphere that his fluid playing is able to form and create. Simultaneously, his mastery of guttural vocal flute techniques gives much of the music a highly-charged, emotional feel. His exemplary sense of phrasing and the tasteful use of percussive flute techniques bring the album vividly to life. When these elements are combined with highly-charged flute singing and blowing, the result is totally absorbing and mesmerising. This is exemplified by the menacing, all-encompassing fluting in the calypso-inspired Nomadic Joe, in which McNair displays the wide range of the virtuoso skills at his disposal in the space of three electrifying minutes.
Jeremy Steig - Howlin' For Judy
Steig's talents, as might be expected, are even more comprehensively represented in Howlin' for Judy. The title track, a simple blues-based tune is sure to get arms and limbs moving. It was sampled by the Beastie Boys in their Sure Shot single released in 1994.
Howlin' for Judy was released in 2008 and is a compilation taken from two of Steig's early releases. Three tracks are from Steig's 1971 Wayfaring Stranger album, which has now thankfully recently been re-released. Four of the pieces were taken from 1970's Legwork album, which at the time of writing has yet to be re-released.
Steig burst onto the jazz scene in the USA in 1963 and was just 20 when he made his recording debut on the superb Flute Fever. This introduced his vocal flute playing to a mainstream jazz audience, who no doubt, were probably expecting straight renditions of the jazz standards on offer. In 1968 Steig formed Jeremy and the Satyrs, who are often cited as one of the first jazz-rock fusion bands.
Jeremy Steig and Harold McNair were contemporaries, and although divided by style and geography, they arguably trod a similar path in developing an inventive approach to their instrument. McNair's work always displayed a much greater degree of lyrical finesse. In contrast, Steig always blew hard and loud, and repeatedly tore up the flute players' rule book in his quest for sharply-edged innovation.
In Howlin' for Judy, Steig imposes his signature flute style throughout, and as might be expected, with even greater muscle and bulging intensity than on his earlier debut. In the two albums represented in Howlin for Judy, Steig has moved away from mainstream jazz. Musical borderlines are blurred, as the compositions draw upon a number of different genres including rock, jazz and blues. It is an album which is draped in energy and power. Jeremy Steig's extraordinarily angry style and uncompromisingly-colourful approach to his instrument, adds to the excitement throughout.
The words of Steig spoken in 1964 sum up his approach to the flute and give more than a taste of what a listener might expect to hear. He said: '"he easy thing to do is put vibes and guitar with it and play pretty. The flute is a strong instrument. It has more guts than almost any other instrument."
Steig's adept and often aggressive playing, which embellishes the earthy jazz blues of the album, has lashings of overblowing. It is also littered with copious amounts of flute-sung wails and howls, loud snorts and a host of other vibrant flute percussive effects. In the slow, pulsing rhythm of Mint Tea, which is one of the compilation's more reflective tracks, Steig's expressive playing is totally hypnotic.
Jeremy Steig was at ease with musicians of all persuasions. He often played and hung out with many contemporary rock musicians such as Jefferson Airplane and Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix's explosive attitude towards the guitar certainly rubbed-off in the manner in which Steig summoned primeval sounds from his instrument.
Steig sadly passed away in April 2016 but his fiery and passionately intense playing simply glows throughout this remarkable and unique compilation. Howlin for Judy is an excellent starting point for those who wish to check out the talents of this innovative player, and is a fitting reminder of his inspirational and extraordinary legacy.
Björn J:son Lindh - Ramadan
Sadly Björn died in 2013, but he has left a lasting legacy of magnificent flute work spanning across a range of musical genres. These include numerous collaborations with guitarist Jan Schaffer, and as a guest performer or arranger with bands ranging from Abba to Opeth. He was also a respected solo artist in his own right, and his numerous musical projects included film scores and classically-inspired albums.
Ramadan was released in 1971. It is an album that covers a variety of styles including rock, jazz-fusion and folk. The folk element is to the fore, as flute, handclaps and a tambourine, atmospherically create an infectious mediaeval dance in Min Tulpa. There is also a refreshing Middle Eastern slant to a number of tracks. This is particularly evident in the beautiful melody of the title track, and also in the standout composition Tuppa. Björn was to explore this style more fully in his third solo album, Cous Cous, released in 1972.
Tuppa features a tabla and has a timeless, haunting feel. This track is a great example of early fusion, and draws upon influences from a range of musical genres. In this piece, Bjôrn is at his most lyrical, as the flute gently glides over the music to create a mesmerising effect, that even the most proficient of snake charmers might envy.
The flute is the lead instrument throughout the album. Nonetheless a collective feel is readily apparent, as the guest players all make skilful contributions, to burnish proceedings with tasteful flourishes. The double bass playing of Paul Danielson adds a touch of elegance in the delightfully accessible cover of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band's Love March.
Overall, Ramadan is a delightful example of progressive flute fusion. The numerous flute parts have the pureness of tone associated with players such as Herbie Mann, but there are many occasions where Björn welds his flute with power, and where he blows with the rock-raw intensity and inventiveness associated with Jeremy Steig. In my view, Björn was never to surpass the pure emotion that was emitted by his playing in his debut release, or indeed match the wide range of musical styles that were represented.
Björn's next album Från Storstad Till Grodspad, also released in 1971, is often regarded as his most accomplished solo recording. Certainly, its long opening and heavily orchestrated suite Musik från en storstad, would probably find greater appeal amongst open-minded prog aficionados, than anything contained in Ramadan.
Triode - On N'a Pas Fini D'Avoir Tout Vu
Whenever I listen to Triode, and I close my eyes, recollections of the musical adventures of my youth take over. These are welcomed, and in turn, they warmly envelop me in their rose-tinted clasp. Triode is the sort of band whose earthy music creates an atmosphere, which demands that people of a certain age have no choice other than to recall evenings spent intoxicated by the liberating spirit of live music in an often less-than-salubrious setting.
Triode's music is able to create an almost primitive emotional response in the listener. Its energetic flute-led bursts by flautist Michel Edelin, are not particularly sophisticated, but when accompanied by the distorted guitar of Pierre Chereze, the whole thing becomes bluesy, edgy and totally fascinating. This makes it almost impossible not to become fully immersed in the experience and become carried away on the crest of its flute-encrusted sounds.
French band Triode recorded a single album, On N'a Pas Fini D'Avoir Tout Vu, and it was originally released on the Futura label in 1971. It was re-released on CD by Mellow records in 2000. The CD version sounds vibrant and retains a warm, analogue sound.
The retro rock, jazz/blues drenched approach of the band, represented in tracks such as Ibiza Flight, makes much of this album an in-your-face flute-rock experience. In many ways, Triode's interlocked guitar and flute-led style can draw some comparisons with Grovjobb.
That Swedish flute-led band were to record three albums some 20-plus years later. Grovjobb's music was similarly an immersive retro experience. It was also arguably more organic, as it included the use of folk melodies within its often raw, fuzzed guitar and flute sound. Grovjobb also enjoyably flirted with Indian influences, including the use of a sitar. No such adventurous crossing of ethnic barriers is evident in the music of Triode.
Whilst I enjoy much of On N'a Pas Fini D'Avoir Tout Vu, and have cherished it like a heartfelt memory, Chereze's chosen guitar set-up has not aged particularly well. His style and approach, in the slow-building, folk-like Moulos Grimpos, and in his extended solo in Ibiza Flight now sounds somewhat dated. At its time though, his preferred sound was very much in vogue, and this in some way adds to the album's overall charm.
Incongruously, On N'a Pas Fini D'Avoir also includes a cover of The Beatles Come Together. In this track, which works surprisingly well, Edelin sharpens his flute. Unsheathed, it cuts rapier-like, through the paper-thin layers of the Liverpool lad's classic. Edelin excels, and is involved in much breathy-wailing and flute-sung warbling.
His influences may have included Roland Kirk and Jeremy Steig, but were more likely to have been Ian Anderson. This was probably due to the emergence of Tull's brand of flute rock, that by 1971 had been popularised by the This Was , Stand Up and Benefit albums.
If you enjoy the proto prog of Gravy Train, or the earthy ferocity of Tull's Beggars Farm, or even the captivating mysteries of early Jade Warrior, you may well find lots to appreciate in Triode's highly entertaining and engaging debut.
Capitolo 6 - Frutti per Kagua
The title track of this release lasts for almost 19 minutes and is an outstanding example of Italian flute prog rock. Despite the album featuring expressive vocals, and therefore breaking one of my self-imposed restrictions for inclusion in this series of reviews, the power and unfettered emotion of the frenzied flute in the opening track is so impressive, that I had little option but to include it.
The album is not all about brutish feral power. During the lengthy opening piece, there are quieter reflective passages and even some lyrical flute-led moments. But for the most part this is an untamed silverback; a flute beast of an album.
Frutti per Kaguua has a number of distinct parts in its lengthy running time. I particularly like the sax break that adds a totally different dimension to the sound of the band. Squealing and brimming with unruly blowing, the reed work provides a great contrast to the heavy flute riff that precedes it. This is followed by a mellow passage that evokes some of the positive emotions commonly associated with RPI. When the flute bursts once more into the foreground, it acts as a counterpoint to the choral vocal effect. The result is simply mesmerising.
Later, as the expressive lead guitar breaks through, it creates a soundscape that some may associate with Pink Floyd. This soon makes way for some wonderfully creative and powerful flute, bass and organ exchanges. The overall result is enthralling, totally captivating and quite magnificent. The piece concludes with a reprise of the vocal parts and ends with a powerful flute trilling, and the bulbous and expansive, yet expressive, sound of the saxophone.
My favourite piece on the album though is probably IL tramonto di un popolo. It begins with a blistering flute riff reminiscent of Jethro Tull, or even of Capitolo's Italian contemporaries Dalton. It is a track full of surprises and is probably the most progressive tune on offer. There is much to interest listeners who enjoy diversity within the space of a single piece of music. It features chants, powerful riffing, abrupt changes of tempo and predictably some gasping, edge of your seat flute work. Some of the frantic flute-brandishing is sublime. When flautist Riccardo Bartolotti is at his most raucous, playing at full throttle, his phrasing and primeval, wheezing-breezing, flute style reminds me of Anderson's enigmatic playing in Tull's For a Thousand Mothers.
All in all, this is one of my favourite rock flute albums. It is raw, unsophisticated, full of energy and gloriously-laden with spontaneous emotion, and Capitolo 6's captivating creation is all the better because of this. Listen to it if you can, I do not think it will disappoint!
De De Lind - Io Non So Da Dove Vengo e Non So Dove Mai Andrò, Uomo e' il Nome Che Mi han Dato
The pastoral-sounding flute accompaniments are an appealing feature. Flautist Gilberto Trama is not particularly innovative, but his overall contribution will appeal to listeners who enjoy their flute in prog. He also provides some strident tenor saxophone, which in the context of the album as a whole, might remind some of early Van Der Graaf Generator.
On occasions, the flute is the lead instrument and provides fistfuls of snarling energy. Trama steps up to the plate to deliver some gut wrenchingly exciting moments. The flute explosively comes to the fore in the heavy riff of the opening track and also in the tastefully breathy flute climax of Cimitero Di Guerra. Throughout the album, the skilful use of dynamics is used to emphasise contrasting acoustic and heavy moments.
As might be expected, the flute plays an important role in creating, and maintaining tension in the album's transitional moments. For those readers who appreciate guitar-led rock, the album also features some fine and suitably biting guitar parts.
The standout moment from a rock flute point of view is to be found in the opening passage of Smarrimento. This piece is probably the principal reason why I chose to include this album in this feature. Smarrimento begins with a short, snorting, percussive flute solo before morphing into a viciously-heavy joust with an insistent guitar riff. It features some of the most strident flute rock to be heard, and pre-dates the approach that Lucifer Was and Blood Ceremony were to adapt in their Black Sabbath-meets-Jethro Tull style some years later. All too quickly, the menace of the flute fades, and is overtaken by a beautiful, pastoral acoustic tune.
De De Lind's debut is one of many flute-rich RPI albums to also feature vocals. As in the case of Capitolo 6, I chose to make an exception to my original criteria for choosing albums. The vocal parts that feature in Io Non So Da Dove Vengo e Non So Dove Mai Andrò, Uomo e' il Nome Che Mi han Dato add to its overall appeal and provide a rich, warm feeling. This is particularly evident in the acoustic middle section of Smarrimento . Smarrimento features the poetic, sweet-sounding vocals of Vito Paradiso. His voice provides a wonderful contrast, before the guitar erupts to begin the track's conclusion.
This is an album that I have enjoyed over the years. When refreshing my memory of it for the purpose of this review, I must admit I was somewhat disappointed. The impression provided by my memory was infinitely more favourable.
It was enjoyable; but in the final analysis, De De Lind's debut does not compare favourably with other flute-rich Italian classic albums such as, Osanna's Palepoli or the New Trolls' Concerto Grosso n. 1. Nevertheless, if you like RPI and are not already familiar with this album, then I am certain that you will find much to appreciate.