Talking Elephant 2022
From smoke on the water and into clear air turbulence: ultimate hard-rock singer expands his grasp of rhythm-and-blues and gets a grip on jazz.
Born out of necessity after the former DEEP PURPLE warbler’s voice was frayed following his sad sacking from the ensemble, the English artist’s next group set on pursuing a jazz-rock route, as opposed to his erstwhile heaviosity, thus stylistically liberating Ian Gillan and fathoming the depth of his understanding of fusion idiom. Culled from the collective’s three albums, all released in 1976-1977, and presented in alternative versions, “Return To The Source” holds the gist of the singer’s experiments with it – enough to make the uninitiated want to further investigate the veteran’s tangential shenanigans.
Unlike GILLAN who would show a sharper edge a few years later, IAN GILLAN BAND served vocal delivery as much as instrumental prowess, which is emphasized here through the use of several wordless pieces such as the cinematic “Scarabus” or the lyrics-to-get “Apathy”; and if that combo’s successor seemed more streamlined, the excessive arrangements the disc displays in their raw form – taken from the early variant of the quintet’s sophomore offering and from the stage recordings – feel just as delicious. Perhaps, the classics of Ian’s previous group don’t work as effectively with a funky frill attached, yet it’s the rare case when a concert approach to “Smoke On The Water” is original, rather than derivative, as Ray Fenwick’s scintillating licks and John Gustafson‘s melodic rumble not only counterbalance Colin Towns’ effervescent splashes but also, aided and abetted by Mark Nauseef’s groovy beat, inject bluegrass jive into the familiar anthem. However, their live reading of “Woman From Tokyo” reveals, in anticipation of things to come, a tighter, robust sound, and, in front of the audience, “Child In Time” opens a whole new haunting dimension in the epic this line-up had already reimagined in the studio as a transparent ballad, where banshee screams aren’t as intense as a soaring guitar solo.
It might allow Gillan to protect his pipes in the short-term perspective, yet he never was averse to going for the jugular, so being cautious didn’t prevent the singer from peppering the punchy ‘n’ crunchy, brass-smeared and ivories-encrusted “Clear Air Turbulence” with grippingly gritty performance in a Philly soul way, from roaring “Money Lender” to the peak of angry disdain and ethereal rave, or from unleashing his inner Wilson Pickett for “My Baby Loves Me” and “Mercury High” and coming across arrestingly jubilant. The four accompanists drive their leader to the boogie delirium on “Twin Exhausted” as piano and toms play percussive hit-and-run, but they anchor his flight of “Over The Hill” – which will point to “Mr. Universe” of the future – with expansive, improvised passages. As a result, these members, though not to everyone’s taste, are highly entertaining and educative, shining a fresh light on the beloved voice.