England - Full Moon 248 - 11/14/16
Rejoice! I'm Dead!
Founder of Gong Daevid Allen passed away on 13 March 2015. Co-founder and Allen's partner for several years Gilli Smyth followed suit on 22 August 2016, a few weeks prior to the release of the new Gong album. Both of them participated on the previous one, I See You, released in 2014, along with their son, Orlando Allen. Neither Gilli, nor Orlando are present on Rejoice!.
As the title suggests, this is a kind of necrophilia affair. But not of the unscrupulous kind. The current band members were asked to continue Gong by Daevid Allen and guitarist and main vocalist Kavus Torabi (also of Cardiacs, Knifeworld and Guapo) was appointed by Daevid to take his role in the band. All of the present band members except Cheb Nettles, who has taken over the drum sticks from Orlando, were involved in the recording of I See You and toured in 2014 and 2015 to support the release, without Daevid who was too ill to travel the last moonths before his death. Here are also guest appearances from Steve Hillage (guitar on one track) and Didier Malherbe (duduk, a kind of flute, originally from Armenia, on two tracks), central members of Gong back in the heydays in the 1970s. Violinist Graham Clark who collaborated with Daevid on several projects for the last three decades also guests on one track. And then there is Daevid himself that appears in person and has been involved in some of the lyrics.
What first hit me when I started to listen to the album was the production. Knife sharp, crisp, clear and exquisite most of the way. Not the most obvious issue for a band known for free-form instrumental jams into outer space. Well, there are some of them, with and without distorted guitars, but it works the well-produced way all the same. The glissando guitar explorations (using a metal rod over all strings to produce a gliding/soaring orchestral spacy effect) are present on four of the nine tracks to remind us this is a Gong album, most notably throughout the beautiful mellow "Visions". But it's a multi-faceted album we're dealing with. For instance, we meet a hard-rocking band with a free-jazz sax solo in "Kapital" and lyrics by the political Daevid Allen. "Insert Yr Own Prophesy" follows suit with rock'n'roll at first, including some vintage sounding Gong saxophone and vocals that - for a short moment - I thought belonged to Morrisey(!). However, this ten minutes epic soon moves into moody and fascinating space terrain before it regains rock momentum towards the end. The equally long title track, sort of, called just "Rejoice!", has some funky tendencies now and again and some glissando guitar moments, but first and foremost it's an extensive uplifting heavy space-rock guitar excursion led by a very fit Steve Hillage. The lyrics are co-written by Daevid and I guess Kavus finished them after his death. So we might suspect that the words Rejoice, I'm dead, At last I'm free' might be Daevid's own. It certainly seems like something he could be up to. The opening track "The Thing That Should Be" includes some big rocking guitar chords interspersed with short guitar licks that reminds me of one of Daevid Allen's contemporaries in his early psychedelic days, Syd Barrett, whom he adapted the glissando guitar effect from, btw. When the end of the song draws near, even the melody turns towards pop of the kind Syd came up with on the early Pink Floyd singles and debut album.
The longest track of the album, "The Unspeakable Stands Revealed" belongs among my favourites. It's the most fascinating in the way it's fit together. It starts with a playful jazzy sax over a layer of discreet floating space. After some semi-hard guitar chords we're suddenly into a part with vocals, a pretty melodic and catchy song. It moves in and out of segments where mellow spacey guitars, hard guitars, vocals and sax dominate, one at a time. Rejoice! I'm Dead! along with I See You belongs to a few Gong albums with hardly any keyboards. Strange then that the two most keyboard oriented songs of Rejoice! are among the ones that sound least like your average Gong song. They are the ones where Didier Malherbe guests, too. Both are quite soft and floating, beautiful and mellow, hardly without any whimsy eccentric humoristic elements. "Through The Restless Seas I Come" reach for space now and again but are mainly closer to the wet element, and a bit resigned. "Model Village" includes some beautiful melancholic looping and slightly changing keyboard notes, vocals with an effect that reminds of Beatle George Harrison's "Blue Jay Way" and a playful folky circus-alike sax, a vintage eccentric Gong element. There's someone reading a poem in the background at the start of the track, not credited in the booklet of my version of the album. The voice seems to belong to Daevid Allen. He's certainly present in "Beatrix" where he reads a poem in French. The only recording with dubious sound quality of the album, recorded from a distance with tape hiss and all. I guess Daevid originally only was accompanied by a piano. Later the present band has added upright bass and sax. The track really smells of a small jazz club on the left bank in Paris late at night. Eccentric enough for me.
We might conclude that the new line-up has succeeded to record a more than satisfying Gong album without the old band leader. Here are some familiar Gong characteristics, blended with excursions in new directions, as every proper Gong album ought to. The production and the way the songs are put together seem less loose than on any previous Gong album. That's part of the new development. All in all it's not hard to agree with bassist and occasional keyboard player Dave Sturt: 'The album is inspired by the light, love and passing of our dear friend and inspiration, Daevid Allen. ' I can imagine him nodding approvingly.
Copyright © 2016 JP