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Thread: AAJ Review: Gentle Giant, Unburied Treasure

  1. #1

    AAJ Review: Gentle Giant, Unburied Treasure



    My review of Gentle Giant’s super-mega-box (30 discs!), Unburied Treasure, today at All About Jazz. And be warned: it’s a long one!

    Of all the so-called progressive rock bands that emerged in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, Gentle Giant has, perhaps, been the most misunderstood, and the one which failed to reach the same deserved commercial heights of its creatively innovative brethren, like King Crimson, Yes, Genesis and Pink Floyd. Of the bigger names from that time, only Van der Graaf Generator could be considered in the same breath when it comes to missed commercial success opportunities, and even that group has fared better, if for no other reason than that it resumed active service in 2005 and continues to release new music and, occasionally, to tour to this day.

    Still, there was (and remains) no band that sounded quite like Gentle Giant; even today, its influence on today’s more reductionist progressive rock scene represents a group that has, at times, inspired contemporary groups: imitated and cited, to varying degrees, but never quite capable of being copied. Transatlantic/former Spock’s Beard co-founder and solo artist Neal Morse, Flower Kings and, alongside Morse, fellow Transatlantic co-founder Roine Stolt, Steve Hackett/Agents of Mercy’s Nad Sylvian, Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt, Steven Wilson, Big Big Train, Gungfly’s Rikard Sjöblom, Premiata Forneria Marconi’s Franz di Cioccio, Tim Bowness and many others have all sung high praises of Gentle Giant’s decade-long, unparalleled innovations, documented over eleven studio sets and one live album. Plenty of lesser names, too, collected on recordings like <em>A Reflection</em> (GORGG-O-Sonic, 2008), continue to be inspired by and fan the flames of the Giant’s reputation in the 21st century as one of the finest (and, certainly, most inimitable) bands to emerge from progressive rock’s infancy.

    Why were Gentle Giant’s attempts to garner the greater commercial success it deserved during its final couple of years met with such abysmal failure, despite an extant reputation for creative excellence that mirrored (and, in some cases, exceeded) contemporaries like Yes, Genesis and Emerson, Lake & Palmer? It can easily be argued that Gentle Giant’s failure and ultimate dissolve was, sadly, the direct consequence of deserting its most ardent fans (and, it could equally be argued, itself) by shifting gears in an attempt to achieve greater commercial success and adapt to a changing musical landscape, becoming something it most certainly was not.

    Still, Giant’s attempt to become more commercially viable was also the understandable consequence of slogging it out on the road as much (or, in some cases, more) than many. As the band, beginning in 1971 but with greater emphasis between 1974 and 1977, toured quite relentlessly, it watched groups like Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and, most notably, Genesis become increasingly/massively successful, selling millions of albums and filling increasingly sizeable venues. Not that Giant didn’t have its share of success but, compared to its contemporaries, the group always seemed to have to work harder and tour harder to get what it did (not, however, suggesting that these other bands had a cakewalk).

    Despite some surprisingly bad decisions beginning, in part, with the contrasting shift of 1977’s The Missing Piece (Chrysalis/Capitol), it’s an absolute truth that Gentle Giant’s name and reputation remains significant fifty years after it first rose, Phoenix-like, from the ashes of R&B-turned-psychedelic band Simon Dupree & the Big Sound in 1970. Giant’s debut, Gentle Giant (Vertigo, 1970), may not have achieved the iconic, game-changing success of King Crimson’s 1969 debut, which shook the music world (and beyond), n the Court of the Crimson King (Island). It was, nevertheless, a strong first shot across the bow of creative rock music, and a portent of even greater things to come.

    Continue reading here...
    Last edited by jkelman; 1 Week Ago at 11:02 AM.
    John Kelman
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    Quote Originally Posted by jkelman View Post
    My review of Gentle Giant’s super-mega-box (30 discs!), Unburied Treasure, today at All About Jazz. And be warned: it’s a long one!
    As if you ever wrote short reviews!
    Diving into it now.

  3. #3
    Just read your review of GG's Unburied Treasure. I really liked reading your reviews of the Giant's albums and their live work. It may be a long read but it's sure worthwhile. Thanks again for all your hard work.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by LeFrog View Post
    As if you ever wrote short reviews!
    Diving into it now.
    Yeah, but at nearly 23,000 words, it's the longest I've ever written - it actually qualifies, were it fiction, as a novella!! Thanks for taking the time to read it, I hope you find it revealing and worth your time!

    There actually was a time when I wrote regular reviews at regular lengths (around 500 words). But after I got sick five years ago, over the ensuing years, I've found that, despite being real energy sucks, I've enjoyed diving deeply into these big boxes (and, while not this long, even single disc releases). There doesn't appear to be anyone out here who does what I do, so I kinda figure that, for better or worse (and I know some folks have no patience for my lengthy writing, and I'm fine with that), I've carved out a rather unique niche for myself. And as it looks like, at least for the foreseeable future, I'll not be getting better, I find writing this way really appeals to me more than writing short pieces - and that's not to say short is bad; there's a number of writers who remain inspirational and educational to me, and most of them write shorter but very meaningful reviews. Even at my lengths, they've taught me things about writing that have had a clear impact.

    Anyway, thanks again!
    Last edited by jkelman; 1 Week Ago at 02:53 PM.
    John Kelman
    Senior Contributor, All About Jazz since 2004
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  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by starless and bible black View Post
    Just read your review of GG's Unburied Treasure. I really liked reading your reviews of the Giant's albums and their live work. It may be a long read but it's sure worthwhile. Thanks again for all your hard work.
    Thanks, man. When I finished writing it on Wednesday and saw the length, I kinda gasped. But then, on Thursday, when I did what I always do - go through a piece with a fine toothcomb and look for redundancies and things to trim before submitting it to AAJ, while I did, indeed, cut a little bit...it turned out to be not much.

    It seemed, to me, to be as long as it needed to be in order to do what I wanted to do with it. Especially because some folks have either not preordered it or, if they won't want to know some detail about the box and how it documents the band in a way no other single box set that I know of has done.

    So I'm glad to hear that you found it worth your time...that's always my objective. Thanks for taking the time to read it!

    Cheers!
    John
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    Casanova TCC's Avatar
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    Hola John & Gang!.
    Great and tankx: really enjoyed the review and because of it, now I´m watching:

    The Gentle Giant at Long Beach 1975!: great show !!.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=csA2qxbIfEU


    Cheers John!.
    Pura Vida!.

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  7. #7
    Member Zeuhlmate's Avatar
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    What an interesting review ! Thanx !

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by TCC View Post
    Hola John & Gang!.
    Great and tankx: really enjoyed the review and because of it, now I´m watching:

    The Gentle Giant at Long Beach 1975!: great show !!.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=csA2qxbIfEU


    Cheers John!.
    Thanks, man!!
    John Kelman
    Senior Contributor, All About Jazz since 2004
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  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Zeuhlmate View Post
    What an interesting review ! Thanx !
    Hey, what kind words! Many thanks for slogging it out!
    John Kelman
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    Orange Tick Squasher Buddhabreath's Avatar
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    Great in-depth review as well as all the background/setting the context. Thank you John.
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  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by Buddhabreath View Post
    Great in-depth review as well as all the background/setting the context. Thank you John.
    Thanks, man; as Ray Charles sang, “It’s What I Do”....

    But seriously, I really appreciate everyone here, whether you’ve posted or not, for taking the time to read this one. It is the longest piece I’ve ever written - probably a couple hundred hours of listening (in and out of consciousness...), no idea how long referencing the printed materials but about 25-30 hours to write, edit and submit. And I love doing it.

    Now onto the Floyd box...which will, no doubt, be considerably shorter, though there’s a fair bit of material there.it doesn’t seem like it, but once you start digging...

    ...but I have to admit, that after Giant, the Floyd is great, but not nearly as captivating as Giant’s remarkable ability to blend complex music with deeper emotional resonances, and sources that literally span centuries. Like King Crimson, there has never been a group like them, and I particularly found Kerry Minnear’s comments about going to a Neal Morse show and finding it unfortunate that fans seemed to be more interested in complex music, played with technical excellence but without the ever-important doing it all in service of emotional connections. I think that we may have lost that to some extent.
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  12. #12
    Member yesman1955's Avatar
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    Quoting a small section of John's review:
    "Gentle Giant's largely complex and detailed music featured a broad spectrum of musical devices including, amongst others: shifting (and sometimes irregular) time signatures and tempos; polyphony; hocketing; frequent key changes; instrumental and vocal counterpoint; madrigal, fugal and other classical music approaches, with a particular predilection for early and Baroque/Renaissance/Mediaeval-era forms; multi-part, polyphonic vocal harmonies that often moved from challenging dissonance to greater (but still complex) consonance that were often traded from one singer to another, including the use of staggered rhythms; syncopation, polymeters and, perhaps its biggest definer above all, counterpoint; the breaking up and tonal re-voicing of initially simple chord changes; like some of its vocal arrangements, the passing of phrases/motifs from one player to another, in a tag team-like fashion; and surprising stylistic contrasts, such as moving from medieval chorals one moment to hard-driving rock passages the next." Jesus, no wonder my high-school-age mind was so totally blown away by my first exposure to GG back in 1973! Regardless of how many try to copy their style, they were and still remain totally unique in rock history.

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    Quote Originally Posted by jkelman View Post
    Yeah, but at nearly 23,000 words, it's the longest I've ever written - it actually qualifies, were it fiction, as a novella!! Thanks for taking the time to read it, I hope you find it revealing and worth your time!

    There actually was a time when I wrote regular reviews at regular lengths (around 500 words). But after I got sick five years ago, over the ensuing years, I've found that, despite being real energy sucks, I've enjoyed diving deeply into these big boxes (and, while not this long, even single disc releases). There doesn't appear to be anyone out here who does what I do, so I kinda figure that, for better or worse (and I know some folks have no patience for my lengthy writing, and I'm fine with that), I've carved out a rather unique niche for myself. And as it looks like, at least for the foreseeable future, I'll not be getting better, I find writing this way really appeals to me more than writing short pieces - and that's not to say short is bad; there's a number of writers who remain inspirational and educational to me, and most of them write shorter but very meaningful reviews. Even at my lengths, they've taught me things about writing that have had a clear impact.

    Anyway, thanks again!
    Well I for one really appreciate your in depth reviews. I'll go back to my reading now as I only got to Three Friends.

  14. #14
    Just an incidental note on Rabelais. Contrary to what Wikipedia seems to claim there was never, at least in Rabelais’ lifetime, a single volume published called Le Livre de Gargantua et Pantagruel. They were separate books, published years apart. And the fifth in the series was published a decade after his death and many believe he had little to do with it.

  15. #15
    Great review! Thanks for posting.. I went on a GG search this morning and unearthed a soundboard recording of the one and only time I saw GG.. Louie's Rock City! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5bqfkJrs30

  16. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by LeFrog View Post
    Well I for one really appreciate your in depth reviews. I'll go back to my reading now as I only got to Three Friends.
    It’s why I put in chapters....so you could break and have a place to which you could come back

    Thanks,,again everyone, for taking the time and patience to wind through my, um, long articles...!!
    John Kelman
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  17. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by calyx View Post
    Just an incidental note on Rabelais. Contrary to what Wikipedia seems to claim there was never, at least in Rabelais’ lifetime, a single volume published called Le Livre de Gargantua et Pantagruel. They were separate books, published years apart. And the fifth in the series was published a decade after his death and many believe he had little to do with it.
    Isn’t that why it’s called a pentalogy (referring to the five published in his lifetime)? “a compound literary or narrative work that is explicitly divided into five parts”?

    Just sayin’...though I didn’t know there was a sixth posthumous instalment, making it (?) hexology? Thanks for that...Clearly, I need to bone up on my Rabelais!
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  18. #18
    KrimsonCat MissKittysMom's Avatar
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    Looking forward to reading this review!

    Relating to Rabelais, I did slog through the first two books some years back, and while they are both a lot of fun and a lot of work, it does help to have a "tour guide" to provide background. The Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin wrote an excellent (though at times meandering) book, "Rabelais and His World", which explores Rabelais through the context of medieval carnival. Carnivals included bawdy parodies of religious ceremonies, often written by church officials. (Rabelais was a friar.) Bakhtin also provides a fascinating perspective on the evolution of horror as a genre, from medieval parody and debauchery to the more nightmarish treatment of modern times.

    Fans of Shostakovich might also be interested in Bakhtin's book, as Shostakovich was probably indirectly influenced. Shostakovich's best friend, the musicologist Ivan Sollertinsky, was part of Bakhtin's inner circle.
    I think the subtext is rapidly becoming text.

  19. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by jkelman View Post
    Isn’t that why it’s called a pentalogy (referring to the five published in his lifetime)? “a compound literary or narrative work that is explicitly divided into five parts”?

    Just sayin’...though I didn’t know there was a sixth posthumous instalment, making it (?) hexology? Thanks for that...Clearly, I need to bone up on my Rabelais!
    I never said there was a sixth book. There were only four books in the series published in his lifetime -

    Pantagruel (1532)
    Gargantua (1534)
    Tiers Livre (1546)
    Quart Livre (1548)

    The fifth (Isle Sonnante et Cinsquiesme Livre) was published in 1562, nine years after Rabelais' death.

    There may have been "compilation" or "boxed set" type reissues of the original works in later years, but as far as French language editions go, there is no such thing as a "pentalogy" here. Sure, it was Rabelais' intention to publish a fifth book, but he didn't even finish it, so at the time of his death all that existed was those four separate books - in a series, yes, but separate works.

    Not sure why Wikipedia seem to assume the way Rabelais' works were published in English mirrored the original French editions.
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  20. #20
    Orange Tick Squasher Buddhabreath's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by happytheman View Post
    Great review! Thanks for posting.. I went on a GG search this morning and unearthed a soundboard recording of the one and only time I saw GG.. Louie's Rock City! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5bqfkJrs30
    I was there and bopping in front of the stage with the crowd. I'll never forget that great show. I can see it in my mind's eye still. Derek was wearing a white jump suite. Ray had a rig with his violin where the sound went around the room w/ multiple channels and delays - but as I recalled he just fucked around and didn't really play anything solo. I feel a little guilty about being one of the rabble screaming at Dr. Feelgood to get the F off the stage, but I honestly thought they sucked. Lot of memories of that night so long ago - 1977. Wow.
    The combined fortunes of the world's 26 richest individuals reached $1.4 trillion last year — the same amount as the total wealth of the 3.8 billion poorest people.

    Buddhabreath's Rescued from Oblivion album from the 80's. The critics are raving (raving mad that is).
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  21. #21
    Quote Originally Posted by calyx View Post
    I never said there was a sixth book. There were only four books in the series published in his lifetime
    My mistake, sorry. Believe me, after writing the Giant, taking one day off and diving into the Floyd, I am absolutely exhausted. Once done Floyd I’m taking a real break!
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