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coverpic flag England - Full Moon 195 - 08/02/12

Van der Graaf Generator
ALT
Esoteric Records

I lost some faith in Van der Graaf Generator after saxophone and flute player David Jackson was sacked from the band by the end of 2005. I mean, nearly 60 years old gentlemen that have been dear friends and fellow musicians for more than 36 years ought to speak and sort out their disagreements and then go on, together. Well, apparently not so this time, and the other three of the classic VdGG quartet has kept going as a trio. They have released two conventional studio albums and one live-in-the-studio-with-an-invited-audience DVD/CD since then. They haven't quite managed to light the spark in me.

ALT shows a different side of the trio; its subtitle being Instrumental Improvs & Experiments. It includes 14 tracks (the CD version; only nine tracks on the LP), from birds' song along with discreet percussion ("Earlybird") to full frontal organ (parts of "Colossus" and "Splendid") and guitar attacks ("D'accord"). It's easy to compare ALT with the bonus disc accompanying the quartet's comeback album Present in 2005. But while the latter included examples of improvisations recorded by a band in a studio having fun within only a few days, ALT was recorded between 2006 and 2012 at different locations. In fact some of the tracks here where the first the three tried out together after Jackson was gone, to find out if the trio was a viable format.

Some nice ("Earlybird", "Extractus"), some great ("Tuesday, The Riff"), some eerie and spine-chilling (the start of "Dronus", parts of "Colossus", most of "Here's One I Made Earlier" and "D'accord"), some crude ("Mackerel Ate Them" and "Sackbutt", is the latter a kick in direction of Jackson, I wonder) and some forgettable moments ("Mackerel Ate Them", "Elsewhere", other parts of "Colossus") here. Some nice ("Earlybird" and "Spledid") and some tongue-in-cheek titles ("Repeat After Me", "Here's One I Made Earlier" and "Mackerel Ate Them") there. ALT is probably the last Van der Graaf album I'd recommend to a newcomer unless she or he is especially keen on spontaneous experimental music. For the devoted it's a nice example of quite different sides of the band than we're used to, demonstrating some overt humour here & there, too. Peter Hammill (main songwriter, vocalist, guitarist and piano player of the band) says it all on his home page: 'Don't expect songs. But do expect music which, in its own strange way, is imbued with VdGG spirit....'

A kick in the butt to Esoteric/the band for including an extract called "Loop J 2" on the LP version that is not included on the CD. Which means the devotees have to buy them both. The track is obviously a loop, a short one, with some metallic clangs over it, quite fascinating, though it only lasts 48 seconds.

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You may also want to check out our Van der Graaf Generator articles/reviews: Merlin Atmos - Live Performances 2013, After The Flood - At The BBC 1968-1977, Do Not Disturb, Godbluff, Present, Real Time, Still Life, The Box, The Least We Can Do Is Wave To Each Other + H To He Who Am The Only One + Pawn Hearts.

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© 2012 Luna Kafé