Egg 1977 / Esoteric 2017
Mercurial vehicle’s first outing: synthesizer wizard strikes on his own to leave a lasting trace.
With a rough, anarchic streak to GONG and HAWKWIND, it’s easy to overlook Tim Blake’s refined features, especially given the sporadic nature of his solo career that started between these groups. Neither “Radio Gnome Invisible” hat trick, nor "Live Seventy Nine" could give an inkling of what the keyboard player was capable of when left to his own devices – such as Crystal Machine: a rig of ivories’ stacks and lighting contraptions which allowed the artist to create one-man-band audiovisual spectacles. On-stage experience was an integral part of Tim’s method, and Blake’s debut album coagulates studio and concert recordings in the most riveting way, his prog rock peers would’ve envied if the LP hit as remarkably as “Meddle” or “Oxygène” it shares an audacious DNA with but differs from in terms of sonic, and emotional, intent.
It’s certainly spaced-out yet, for all their aloof feel, the outlandish oscillations of “Midnight” don’t seem alien – just like the stars beaming signals to adorn nocturnal skies – and the wide strokes of Mini Moog paint a rather romantic landscape which wraps the listener in a dreamscape of a futuristic cocoon, before folk-infused frissons confirm the shifting tune’s earthly origin. After that, the samba rhythms and jungle buzz behind “Metro / Logic” come as no surprise, although the same can’t be said of “Last Ride Of The Boogie Child”: laid down at Seasalter Free Festival in 1976, this trance-inducing cut, possessed of cosmic vibe, is indeed channeling the blues via its insistent throb and tentative vocal line emerging from interwoven layers of ethereal, if slightly funereal, excitement.
Another live epic, of Parisian provenance and 1977 vintage, is “Synthese Intemporel” that reveals cathedral-like dimensions slowly yet impressively, pushing the preceding pieces’ sonic scope beyond the event horizon where deceptively repetitive melodic patterns become solemn spirals of sound and imaginary vision, a global one as the listener can find fossils of Celtic and Chinese lore in there. With so much going on, in slow and somehow chaotic motion, it’s easy to forget the composition was captured in front of the audience, but bonus tracks contain the number’s in-vitro version – split in two parts for a Spain-only single – which seems more streamlined, albeit less spirited. A spirit, or rather specter, flutters in the low registers of “Crystal Presence” to firmly land the album’s mothership, while the playful “Surf” – a ’45 credited to SARATOGA SPACE MESSENGERS – marries dance groove to an Eastern motif.
So yes, there’s a frivolous element to “Crystal Machine” adding levity to Tim’s entire vehicle and rendering Black’s debut a thing of beauty that demands to be reassessed and loved.