In the next series of posts I'm going to be highlighting some material from the remarkable ashratom who posts on our sister blog, the cd reissue wishlist (sister in exactly the same way Mystic, Connecticut is the sister city to Dharavi, India). He has been at this for so long, it's difficult to encounter someone more experienced and well-versed in this area of human creativity. Almost as difficult, I'd say, as encountering a person on the street who actually cares about this music. And how many of us would love to be in University right now studying for a Ph.D. in progressive rock music at Princeton, as Tom is, right this very minute? (As an aside, one of my favourite places on earth is the cloister at Princeton, NJ. Anyone in the area should take a detour to check out this campus, one of the most beautiful in the world.)
First up I've wanted for ages to bring this to everyone's attention because of the absolute dead-on remarks from way back in May 4, 2010:
"Absolutely one of the strangest bands to ever come from the original Krautrock era. Their debut "Vampire State Building" is an excellent jazz tinged Kraut fusion album - very much a product of its day and certainly a classic of the genre. It was originally issued on Philips and reissued by Long Hair a few years ago. Had they stopped there, they would've been like countless German one-offs from the early 1970s. But they resurfaced in the late 1970s, not as a pop band like most of their former brethren, but a totally off the wall band, who changed style from album to album. "Energie Programm in Rock" mixed complex progressive rock with polit-rock vocal sections. Because of the difficult music presented, it recalls the band Oktober or perhaps P.P. Zahl. But on their next album "Live: Trockeneis zum Frumstruck" they had switched gears entirely and tried their hand had instrumental jazz fusion. Then "No. 4" demonstrates an excellent guitar fronted hard rock album similar to perhaps Mahogany Rush. They continued into the CD era with at least 4 more albums - the only one I'm familiar with is "Holm" (1998) - a German language progressive rock album with some metal and some truly progressive segments. Their last album, that I'm aware of anyway, is from 2002. It's hard to imagine a group that's been more "progressive" than Alcatraz over the years, other than maybe Embryo, and even the latter has been more predictable. Not all of it works, but there's no question the non-commercial stance the band has chosen. Completely defies categorization. Bizarre really."
A couple of (personal) notes. I knew about this band like many others from Vampire State Bldg and wrote them off after hearing that one, to me it is more like pedestrian krautrock with horns, but that's just taste. So it came as a complete shock 2 years ago to find out they were actually masters of progressive music. All three of the following records, Energie Programm, Live, and No. 4 are complete icons of the style and what's more impressive, the progressive is played out on electric guitars, which is probably the hardest form of complex music to create (due to the limitations of the instrument itself, or perhaps, the way it is taught in rigid chords). On Alcatraz 4, we have one side "in rock" and one side "in jazz" although both sides sound very alike: grinding and hard-driving complex guitar work, so much on the rock end of things, that one is afraid to call it fusion in polite company. And about 50 minutes of music to boot!
Sadly, the creative genius of the band -- Klaus Holst, guitarist, died in 2010, but until then, the band was still playing and recording music in the progressive style. It boggles the mind how some musicians are so uncompromising they won't sell out even in the space of some 40 years.
Finally I want to put a call out to everyone reading this, there is an album by them that is pretty much lost even to collectors called "last station" which we've been searching forever for (that is, if you're a cicada and forever is a year or two), does this really exist? And anyone willing to share? Perhaps some citizen of our sister blogs?
Sample, track 1: Mike rennt der pister Runter