No jacket required: the not-so-humble emergence of gargantuan aural entity – now in glorious technicolor.
In conceptual terms, patina has always served this ensemble’s early albums well, but as antiquated as those records are – in a good way – many an aficionado wanted to see them burst in color again, and that wish is finally granted now, with Steven Wilson‘s remixes of selected tracks from GG’s first three records. Often perceived as bleaker precursors to the bright beast of "Octopus" which, in fact, was built on their foundation, the band’s self-titled debut from 1970, “Acquiring The Test” from the following year, and “Three Friends” of 1972 vintage should be seen as stepping stones of the group’s pilgrim’s progress or, as “Three Piece Suite” has it, a singular monolith – an epic edifice comprised of nine numbers from those records.
There’s not a lot of recontextualizing going on here, given the pieces’ appearance in chronological, sequential order and their choice dictated by the (un)availability of original multitracks, not by any definition of something being “best” or at least better than the rest. Yet, bundled together, these cuts create a new tapestry, supposedly (not available for review) brought into virtual reality with 5.1-imagining of it all on a Blu-ray disc alongside more prosaic transfer of the entire albums’ original stereo, that will shroud the band in a different kind of public cognizance – fleshed out with Anil Prasad’s extensive liner notes which the players themselves contributed to. Whether this ever-shifting aural picture needs a fresh perspective is a moot point, though, simply because there hasn’t been similar musical entity.
“Unique” would be the the word to describe GG: a collective that precariously, albeit elegantly, balanced between two worlds – medieval and modern – merging them in a special, spectacular way, while looking into the abyss of eternity. The group didn’t try to reach for timelessness; rather, the quintet’s oeuvre came to exist out of time. That’s what is captured on the cover of this collection with a visual representation of multi-dimensional experience allowing the listener to fly away without sitting too comfortably. That’s what is encapsulated in the ensemble’s music.
Not a lot of artists were able to marry delightful solemnity to idiosyncratic roar as the Shulman brothers – Derek, Phil and Ray – did on the first track of their first album to embark on decade-long adventure. Incorporeal, if impressive, the pregnant organ of “Giant” gives way to a Gothic kind of funk, while the walls of brass rise and fall around vocals in a powerful swirl. The translucent “Nothing At All” may contrast this attack, yet its lyrical shimmer has the same atomic energy – hinted at in a short, sharp riff, but hidden in a synthesizer whiff and heavenly harmonies, before pounding drums and dramatic, jazzy piano create a kaleidoscopic vertigo and dissolve such an acidic punch. At the same time, the heavy “Why Not?” is the riff – dipped in folksy chorus to reveal the song’s pastoral core, so bewitching in the bluesy guitar figure and polyphony which transport “Pantagruel’s Nativity” out of our world, whereas the buzz behind “The House, The Street, The Room” is as down-to-earth chaotic as only suburban commotion can be.
Unlike it, “Schooldays” is haunted by spectral ivories and lively vibes, but, perhaps, the quintet’s tentative potential is most clearly demonstrated in the predatory ripples that fill “Peel The Paint” as quiet throb opens up to chamber strings’ stasis – note Ray’s delicious stumbling between bass and violins – for Phil’s screams and saxes to shatter and Gary Green’s guitar to pierce until the tune’s kaleidoscopic splinters are left on the ground and Malcolm Mortimore’s drums kick them around. Still, whereas the elegant jazzy romp of “Mr. Class And Quality?” is more repetitively playful than truly deep, the piece’s interplay, especially at the bottom end, brings on a rock-minded excitement to unfold into a blissful pop chorale that “Three Friends” is – and that a pre-debut cut “Freedom’s Child” outlines, only to sprinkle it with a saloon sentiment entwined with symphonic sway. There’s something common between “bar-room” and “baroque” in terms of volatile discipline, after all.
This commonality can be condensed into entertainment, the action that GG provided in spades. “Three Piece Suite” is that rare intellectual sort of fun everyone has to partake in – again, to fly away without sitting too comfortably.