Gong - "Shapeshifter"
(Pangea Music 1997, 54200-2)
From Aural Innovations #2 (April 1998)
Recorded in 1993, but not released in the U.S. until 1997, this lineup of Gong includes Daevid Allen, Didier Malherbe, Pip Pyle, Gilli Smyth, Steffi Sharpstrings, Mike Howlett, Keith Bailey, Graham Clark, Shyamal Maitra, and Twink.
I've always had a special place in my musical heart for Gong. Their unique mix of space, psych, rock, folk, and jazz is sometimes intense, but always whimsically fun. However, until Shapeshifter I really hadn't heard any of Gong's or Daevid's post-70's recorded works.
Shapeshifter is a collection of tunes in the classic Gong style that also explores different, and sometimes surprising types of music. The 21 tracks range from 7 seconds to 13 minutes and are an aural collage of styles, sounds and tomfoolery. And the band on this disc is a tight ensemble of seasoned musicians. Some highlights include:
"Hymnalayas" and "Elephant La Cuisse" are both examples of >Gong's cosmic combination of rock and fusion. Hymnalayas is a bouncy, spacey number with some gorgeous violin and horn work. Elephant also has some great violin and struck me as a candidate for the theme from a police show. Sort of a cross between Mission Impossible and Miami Vice. (Now you all know how my brain works.)
"Loli" and "White Doves" are classic Daevid acoustic tunes. In fact, Loli would have been right at home on Now Is The Happiest Time Of Your Life. And White Doves has a theatrical show tune quality to it. Can you just see Daevid on Broadway?
On the wilder side are "Dog-O-Matic" and "Heaven's Gate". Dog-O-Matic is Gong's version of steroid-level techno dance music. Unlike typical techno, though, they manage to fit in horns and a short wailing guitar solo. Very interesting. Heaven's Gate is a lively, funky number with rapping by bassist Keith Bailey and a coffeehouse jazz feel. The song covers numerous moods, styles, and dynamic shifts. One of my favorite tracks.
The great instrumental pieces on the disc are "Can You: You Can" and "Goddess Invocation Om Riff", both recorded live. Can You is nearly 10 minutes of intense, rockin' space fusion and features some cool low-end zheul bass. A great finale, Goddess is classic psych-jazz. Great sax playing and wailing guitar solos.
Shapeshifter was a perfect title for this disc as from track to track the band, chameleon-like, assumes countless musical identities. It is an outstanding effort demonstrating that this band with a nearly 30-year history is alive, fresh, and going strong.
For more information you can visit the Planet Gong web site at: http://www.planetgong.co.uk.
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz