Abel Ganz - a name that kickstarts a little trip down memory lane. Many years ago, we're talking late 1980s or possibly early 1990s, there was this video rental near where I lived. At some point they decided also to rent out CDs (at the time, CDs were fairly new and not many people had many of them), which introduced me to a lot of great music because they specialized in the heavier and more obscure stuff. I recall getting albums from bands such as Omega, Nektar, all the early Rush albums and much more. At some point, they dedicated a side-room of their store to music started a little CD-store there. I think it was about 4 by 4 meters, but crammed with hard to get stuff since they had a lot of import-CDs. Among others, they had these long boxes from the USA (I bought my copy of Rush's Presto there as a long box, so it was definitely late 1980s), they had impossibly expensive Japanese imports (out of reach for a student like me, even though most of my side-job earnings went into music) and they also had a really nice progressive rock section. What I recall best, is that they had all these CDs from the French MSI label. A bit shady, legalwise, perhaps, but for me the ultimate chance to listen to material that I previously only had read about in Sym-Info, Background Magazine or the German Sophisticated Rock Magazine.
Long intro, but what it boils down to is that this was when I discovered Scottish group Abel Ganz. The very first CD that I bought from them was The Dangers Of Strangers. This has been among my favourite neo progressive rock albums ever since that night I played the album upon returning from that tiny CD-store.
Fast forward almost three decades. In the meantime, I have acquired and listened to all the other Abel Ganz albums, I even have managed to find the original demo tapes. Over the years they have gone through some changes in line-up, and their 2014 self-titled CD and the new album (interesting title, by the way) suggest that they now also have gone through a change in style, away from their neo progressive roots. I wonder whether they developed a bit like Big Big Train who also employ different styles (notably folk) and non-rock instruments. Anyway, let's have a look at what The Life Of The Honey Bee And Other Moments Of Clarity has to offer.
According to the information that came with the CD, this is a concept album comprising of six thematically linked pieces exploring our relationship with memory and loss. The liminal space between a fading “what was” and an anticipated “what is to come”.
After a brief energetic part, the title track starts gently, I hear Genesis-like 12 string guitars and the vocal part is a bit like It Bites (also because of the harmony vocals), but what is the thing with the harmonica? Sounds like Toots Tielemans and I do not like that bit at all. Much better with the violin section, leading into some lively interaction. Then comes some roaring organ (yes!) and I hope for some serious prog. And the roaring threatening section does not disappoint. About 9 minutes into the piece there is this wandering guitar solo that pleasantly reminds me of It Bites' Once Around The World, leading into a jazzy section with (electric) piano. Varied they are, this new version of Abel Ganz.
One Small Soul is a gentle, folky song carried by acoustic guitar and piano and Mick MacFarlane's vocals, joined by female guest vocals Emily Smith. I would have liked to hear her more on the album. The piano play halfway through reminds me a bit of Bruce Hornsby (anyone remember him?). The song reappears as a radio edit at the end of the album.
Arran Shores is a short acoustic guitar piece. Nice, but nothing that stands out, but does well with comparable pieces by Steve Hackett or Steve Howe.
Another piece opening gently is Summerlong. Here we have dreamy piano in the lead to which Frank van Essen's (Iona) strings are added and then careful vocals. Halfway through the song then picks up speed, rhythm section coming in and a muted synth solo carrying away the piece before returning to romantic strings.
Sepia and White is the other longtrack on the album. Opens as if it is a dance piece, and indeed the rhythm section is super groovy and there are some cool synths and organ too. Nice, and needed on this so far mostly calm and gentle album. After a minute and a half, the mood changes abruptly and there is majestic piano. From 5 minutes on a driving piece develops with bass and soaring guitars and synths plus some roaring organ. Maybe this track comes closest to the Abel Ganz of old? Around 7:16 it's back to calm piano leading into a section that could be characterized as atmospheric jazz-rock until the vocals return, reminding a bit of Peter Gabriel. Then it works towards a dramatic climax. Great piece of music.
Closer of the “proper” album is The Light Shines Out. It starts dreamy with pipes by Stevie Lawrence. The vocals on this song are even more Gabriel-like (by drummer Denis Smith). There is a super cool closing with bass in the lead, just what Tony Levin might have done on a Gabriel song.
****- Carsten (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
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