Reviews of Ozric Tentacles Compositions
By Barrie Strong
Spirals in Hyperspace
Well it is a small miracle that this release even made the public domain. Management and record label difficulties have plagued the band for some years and has occasionally spilled over into fractious tensions within the band itself. Such tensions resulted in bass player Zia leaving the group in 2003 but mysteriously is photographed on the insert sleeve of the album. This, despite only appearing on one track 'Oakum', formally only available through the band fanzine or at concerts. Indeed the band, as a unit, appear on just 3 of the 9 tracks with mainstay and spiritual leader Ed providing sole writing and performance credits on 4 tracks. Despite guest appearances by Merv Pepler, Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudy on 'Psychic Chasm' and 'Akasha' respectively this release has a distinct synthetic feel (probably more from necessity than desire) with heavy use of computer generated rhythm patterns and baselines.
So onto the music. First track 'Chewier' ( a group performance) kicks the album off promisingly with a thundering mind melting infectious belching keyboard riff before the glissando guitar effect from Ed sweeps in majestically to provide a rousing motif to what is the most organic sounding track on the album. The title track, performed soley by Ed, contains Eastern influences that are agreeably becoming more pronounced and is underpinned by a melodious bass riff as the music builds on some funky guitar licks and spacey keyboards. An ambient style synth is then introduce as a counterpart providing a relaxed vibe before giving way to the rousing finale. Next up 'Slinky' is dominated by luscious meandering keyboard driven soundscapes as Ed weaves understated guitar passages backed up by an insistent pulsing rhythm. 'Toka Tola', arguably the standout track, starts off with a mesmerising and melodious riff which is repeated during the first few minutes but then mysteriously is never revisited. Despite a standout guitar solo and a wonderfully constructed space groove feel the music becomes a little disjointed as a pot pourri of ideas are intermingled without being fully realised. Despite this reservation Toka Tola signposts the importance of creating distinct melodies that give character which is so crucial when playing instrumental music. Thereafter the album loses focus as both 'Plasmoid' and 'Psychic Chasm' are dominated by tedious and repetitive drum loops with only Ed's distinctive guitar work rescuing the music from the influential abyss of techno / dance / rave. I had hoped that a guest appearance on 'Akasha' by Steve Hillage would result in an electrifying performance but unfortunately as with 'Oakum' the music meanders ineffectually leaving this listener unmoved and unable to recollect any elements of the tracks. Final piece 'Zoemetra' is a welcome return to form and the sonic difference the band contributes highlights how critical it is to liberate the music from the constraints imposed by over use of computer generated sounds. Indeed the introduction of John's flute is a pure delight on yet more Eastern flavoured sounds and is more reminiscent of their earlier works.
So there you have it an album that has creative and inventive moments
but is infected with a few tracks based on loose style jamming and little
construction. Despite being exceptionally produced, and Ed's undoubted
musical gift, this reviewer believes that a more democratically made
album would have harnessed some of the more interesting ideas and moulded
them into a sum greater than the parts.
The Hidden Step
Another cosmic workout by Ed and his space cadets that this time looks East to provide inspirational vibes on what appears on first listening a more reflective affair than some of their previous offerings, notable Waterfall Cities. The dreamy ‘Aramanu’ and ‘Ta Khut’ see the Ozrics fraternising with almost Tangerine Dream like soundscapes that are cooler than a Polar Bear lying on floating ice eating ice cream in a snow storm! Whilst the opening track ‘Holohedron’ treads familiar Ozric ground with Ed’s glissando guitar workouts traversing Seaweed’s keyboard pyrotechnics, the undoubted highlight is the awesome majesty that is ‘Tight Spin’. Starting off with an insistent but restrained keyboard / rhythmic refrain the track builds in musical layers to a crescendo as the boys become more frenetic, culminating in a wall of cosmic sound that ambushes the listener’s audio facilitators, (or ears if you prefer), before gently descending into the sublime coda. However ‘Pixel Dream’ contains one of the Ozric’s most simple and yet astonishing melodic lines, (Seaweed’s one presumes), has ever recorded, providing a hypnotic juxtaposition to Ed’s fluid, but possibly slightly harsh guitar sound. The Hidden Step’s title track requires a few listens, at first sounding perfunctory and unstructured, but further investigations reveal a musical tour-de-force evolving into a compendium of rhythm changes and melodic transcriptions.
With this album the technological enhancements evidenced from ‘Waterfall Cities’ have bolstered the overall sound lending the Ozric Tentacles a more distinctive and contemporary feel than ever before. Comparing this release to previous recent offerings one is left with the distinct impression that the Ozric evolution has slowed and has now settled within a particular framework that appears comfortable to the band. However one does wonder if the band should diversify more before, god forbid, stagnation settles in. Just a thought chaps.
Ed and his merry minstrels provide another 7 windows of musical beauty that tickles the aural lobes transcending normative musical structures with mellifluous tones that harmonise and massage the mind. This meticulous musical masterpiece sees the Ozrics delineate a harder production style with a prime example depicted on the climax to opening track ‘Coily’ as the drums explode out of the speakers in an orgasmic musical frenzy during the coda. Sexual overtones aside, ‘Xingu’ contains a memorable
melodic keyboard line that is so distinctive that erasure from the portholes of the mind is futile. The maelstrom of rhythmic loops, guitar crescendos and layered keyboard textures that comprise the title track encompass a cornucopia of sonic sounds with a distinctive interlocking musical passages to provide an 11 minute transcrioption of one of the best Ozric tracks ever to grace a musical medium. ‘Spiralmind’ transports the listener to the Far East with a spicy keyboard inflection dominating throughout with images of Chinese junks and setting suns that pacifies the mind, especially after the full-on throttle of the preceding tracks. ‘Sultana Destrii’ is primarily a vehicle for bass pyrotechnics as typically the band embellish and colour this piece as the bass grooves, dances and gyrates throughout. The track is enhanced by the vibe of cool underplaying that allows each player to explore and expand their musical repertoire, The concluding ‘Aura Borealis’ soothes the soul as the music depicts the Northern Lights, (from which one assumes the title is taken), as the ambient soundscapes the Ozrics utilise slowly release the listener into a state of oneness and contentment as the rhythmic pulses slow to a tranquil beat.
Yet another masterful display of vocal-free musical beauty that fully denounces the dilettantes proclaiming the essentialism of chorus-laden pop fodder.
After the keyboard domination that infused the Ozric’s previous release, ‘Become The Other’ ‘Curious Corn’ readopts the sound that permeated their acclaimed ‘Jurassic Shift’ opus. Spiralling the ethereal stratosphere each track contains a multitude of sub-melodic passages that create distinctive musical moods that take the listener on an audio journey of the mind. From the drum-laden ‘Afroclonk’ to the fraternisation with more ambient textures highlighted during’ Meander’, the Ozric Tentacles
stretch their collective musical muscle on their satisfying release to this point. Despite reservations that the adventurous sounds displayed on their early cassette only releases has been replaced by a more refined and possibly more predictable style, I believe the band have hit upon a groove dominated style that massage, moves and penetrates with each twist and turn without losing the feel of the music. As an introduction to the weird and wonderful Ozric world try this album or ‘Jurassic Shift and youcan embark on one of the most satisfying explorations of free-flowing instrumental music.
This, their 5th release proper, (excluding the then cassette only releases) broke the Ozrics into the mainstream consciousness with their first Top 30 placing. Years of touring and an ever-increasing rate of recorded output saw the band’s hard work ethics culminate in commercial approval. The Ozrics have perpetually evolved on each subsequent release and ‘Jurassic Shift’ consolidated the vast array of styles infusing the emotive vibes of ethnic, trance, funk and space rock influences. The listener is transported into the soundscapes of the mind as the hypnotic funky lead bass lines of ‘Train Oasis’ melts into the full rock explosion of ‘Vita Voom’. The ethnic tinges of ‘Feng Shui’ contrasts with the strong rhythmic patterns of opening track ‘Sun Hair’ whilst ‘Stretchy’ sees the band embark on a more melodic refrain. The title track, arguably the most adventurously structured piece the Ozrics has undertaken up to this time, contains Ed’s most impressive fretwork gymnastics. Opening with a beautiful sanguine, almost reflective mood the track progresses gradually and builds towards a culmination of a frenetic fusion of swirling keyboards and Ed’s distinctive glissando guitar effect. Underpinned by the driving rhythms of Roly and Zia on bass and Merv’s drum work Jurassic Shift scales new heights of musical excellence. The Ozrics, some say had reached their collective pinnacle with this album and that subsequent offerings have been but mere imitations and retreads. However for those with a more open-minded disposition this record may have well been their apogee of the early 90s output but is never the less complimented by an outstanding catalogue of work. Therefore I would recommend exposure to an audio feast of delights that are to be found in abundance in ALL subsequent recordings as affirmation of this extraordinary bands ability to consistently evolve and explore new musical themes and textures as they reach for the sonic stratosphere.
Webpage Copyright 2001.
Reviews used by Permission and Copyright Barrie Strong 2000