Transatlantic 1973-1975 / Esoteric 2018
Rejoice to hear the solemn curfew: complete classic oeuvre by a troupe whose roots could split rock.
Strange as a mythical creature they were named after and sometimes as surreal as in Carrollian portrayal, this band’s music defied all expectations despite being as traditional as it gets. GRYPHON seemed ancient and modern at the same time, playing folk tunes on authentic instruments yet appealing to young audience, well-versed in pop culture, and, what’s important, they refused to stand still and stick to their puns. That’s why the group found home on Transatlantic Records, and released four albums on the label – all gathered here on two discs to demonstrate the ensemble’s constant development, right in time for the veterans’ return with “ReInvention”: their first album in four decades.
Back in the ’70s, in only three years, they had come a long way from the homespun Arcadian innocence of “Kemp’s Jig” to the full-on sympho-rock of “(Ein Klein) Heldenleben” – and as bells and whistles retreated to let electronic effects in, the collective transmogrified their centuries-shedding magic into future-facing contemporary outlook, and it felt par for the course. Never pompous, the group rarely resorted to straight-laced, if newly arranged, renditions of Renaissance fare, preferring to resolve the madrigal-like coda of “The Devil And The Farmer’s Wife” with a Scott Joplin flourish and infuse the frisky “Estampie” with Hollywood pieces such as “Over The Rainbow” while creating their own cinematic narrative. There’s an entire world in the 19-minute, dimly grandiose “Midnight Mushrumps” (a showcase of the group’s rich armory, this track, based on “The Tempest” and reeking of Shakespeare, took the entire half on their sophomore LP and gave it a name) and other multi-part numbers of which the gentle “Juniper Suite” – one of the rare original cuts on the ensemble’s eponymous debut from 1973 – is the least epic.
An entryway to 1974’s “Red Queen To Gryphon Three” – a world unto itself, an album with nigh on nary a folk melody or vocal lick in sight – “Opening Move” is gradually bristling with guitar riffs before ushering in the gracious, almost orchestral “Second Spasm” where organ belches and bass throb imbue rustic construct with boogie mischief, while the chess-themed record as a whole, all four compositions it’s comprised of, features more Richard Harvey’s synthesizers than crumhorns. To further complicate matters, the background ripples of “Lament” introduce funk to the mix, something coming to the fore on “Down The Dog” that’s otherwise baroque as is “Wallbanger” – a twangy, albeit solemn, cut from “Raindance” which saw the light of day in 1975.
Alongside commercial-shaped ditty “Don’t Say Go” and mellifluous middle-of-the-road ballad “Fontinental Version” – spiced up with heavy marches and spaced-out improvisations – medievalizing “Mother Nature’s Son” was simply logical, yet the same goes for a woodwind-driven, voiceless reading, on the band’s first platter, of “Pastime With Good Company” preceding “The Unquiet Grave” that would finally offer a prog perspective, thanks to the electrifying presence of Graeme Taylor’s six strings. “Three Jolly Butchers” may be a slightly histrionic, glockenspiel-strewn display of the band’s merry stance, and “The Last Flash Of Gaberdine” may be playfully harking back to the ’20s rather than Sixteenth century, but “Gulland Rock” will find reedman Brian Gulland at the ivories, crystallizing chamber fragility, and “Ethelion” will attain stateliness thanks to David Oberlé’s mighty drumming.
Far removed from “Crossing The Stiles” – their suitably titled early etude – the ensemble’s latter-day variety somewhat diluted their unique sound and, quite possibly, became their undoing. Leaving the label and issuing another record, GRYPHON didn’t last long, and it would take the collective three decades to get back. This collection – confusingly flawed, since its title is too close to “Raindance” and its artwork to the cover of “Mushrumps” – is a timely reminder of the force they once were. And still are.