Cherry Red 2018
Hidden in history: the entire output from original prog axeman’s least known project plugs gaps in his dotted discography.
For all the talent he possessed, Peter Banks didn’t have a lot of success with any of the bands his guitar was trying to lead to delirium – be it YES, FLASH or EMPIRE – and his solo career didn’t exactly took off, so the veteran’s experiments on "The Self-Contained Trilogy" couldn’t attract the attention those efforts deserved. Still, those endeavors allowed the artist in the final decade of his life to find mutual affinity with a British duo PULSE ENGINE, a brainchild of drummer Andrew Booker and bassist Nick Cottam, and form HARMONY IN DIVERSITY. They rehearsed, they attempted to record improvisations, they played live in 2005-2007 – and they failed, leaving not a feeble, if not too tangible, legacy which is gathered now in a 6CD set to present Peter as situational performer, ready to react to the smallest disturbance in the fabric of music.
What may be perceived as scraping the barrel is, in fact, a triumph of unpredictability and good-natured humor. This is why “The Number Of The Beat” swirls around a wonderfully weird weave of straightforward electronic groove and jazz chords blowing its claustrophobia to bits to thread a tune through intense, albeit somewhat abstract, guitar lines, while the equally playfully “Swing It” has a cinematic twang applied to romantic soundscape. The two-part “Harmogeny” may make slow, expansive lucidity dangerously tangible – despite the message of the cut’s proper arrival as “No Harm” on “Trying,” the trio’s only officially released album – yet it’s the trip-hop blues “On The Sixth Attempt They Trod On It” that nails the ensemble’s loose method marrying off-the-cuff stylistic unexpectedness to deceptively traditional genres where riffs are mangled to create new shapes, and help the funk behind “Last Run For The Empire” reimagine a piece from Banks’ past as something exciting.
In the box set context, “Trying” seems to attain a lot of sense – yet also define the band’s ability to concentrate on the substantial and get rid of redundant freefall-formed fringe. As a result, “After You” is tentative to the point of well-poised, density-defying minimalism, drawing on drone and rock idioms at the same time, and “Mind The Doors” bent on wild, vigorous virtuosity that’s drowned in a bubbling rhythm – unlike “The Klincher” which is suspended in fractal limbo as opposed to “Sods At Odds” and its motorik charge. Molded similarly, the “Try Again” collection could be the aforementioned album’s companion piece, highlighting the group’s telepathy and technique on the clearly unfinished cuts like “Some Things Are Best Left Upside Down” – a rave-up for modern era – or “Everything Is Green” where tranquil strum is compromised with a stereo-busting disco scratch across the strings to reach a genuine progressive intent. It’s present in full folk-tinctured swing on “Cracking” as well, before “Almighty Dog” bares a rawer, rather reckless edge to the trio’s drive.
There’s a fusion cocoon in “Everything Ends In Nothing” to pamper the most hardened adventurer and pump energy into new-age-like musing, but if the tracks gathered on the “Struggles Discontinued” disc show focused variety, the four epics that comprise “What Is This?” – such as “Lots And Lots Of Disjoint Dots” whose title is quite telling in defining the deficiency of a duo setting, despite the obvious rapport between Banks and Booker – have some difficulties gelling into engaging patterns, occasional synthetic passage, and a quote from Grieg, notwithstanding. When the bottom end of “Plenty To Hear In Orbit” rises to the surface, its drift and flow will change for the better and, with Dave Speight taking over the drum stool towards the group’s breakup, the recordings packed under the “Spontaneous Creation” header embody this cosmic muscularity, their grimy angularity undermined by memorable flow. Yet while “Now Now” rocks unexpectedly hard, “One Night In Budapest” is delicately textured and given vibes to become alluringly otherworldly, and if the multi-layered “Bruno” feels magically glacial at the start, the sparse percussive buzz of “Sitting On The Buffalo” is imbued with musique concrète.
With some studio embellishments applied to the vast majority of these aural experiments, “Hitting The Fans” – a disc capturing the collective’s on-stage antics – stands out as an even more impressive snapshot of their spontaneity, and surprising embrace of quieter dynamics. So it’s logical, not strange, that “Tropical Moon” is surfing a traditional, although beautifully fractured, wave to achieve an extra dimension and allow the Hendrix-inspired “Out Of The Garage” bristle with insistent figures and familiar melody. “Procyon A” and “Not Over Yet” are referring to previously recorded numbers, but their concert delivery has a fresh finesse to the same rough jive which would hit another height in the crystalline clang of “Dystopian Workshop” or “Industrial Powder Washing” where the kinky machine is inhabited by Ravel’s ghost.
It can’t be easy listening, of course, but these pieces add unseen features to the portrait of the master who left this world too soon and who could have that elusive success had it all been taken to the extremes of today.