When listening to instrumental rock groups like Guapo, I realize how broad is that term “instrumental rock” because it can connote prog rock, art rock, fusion jazz, post-rock, experimental rock, kraut rock and avant-garde. And within the span of three songs making up one album, this four-piece band’s sweep encompasses all that, and then some. Guapo has the dexterity of King Crimson (along with KC-related bands Emerson, Lake and Palmer and UK), the gumption of Univers Zero and the idealism of Yes, but are perhaps most closely aligned with the nervy, ambitious ’70s prog group from Paris, Magma.
The members of Guapo are hardly new to the game, however. They formed way back in ’94, and — like a true prog rock band — presented a new line-up with virtually every new release, with drummer David J. Smith being the only constant. Eight years and two albums away, Guapo returns to Cuneiform to issue History Of The Visitation, which unveils another new roster that features bass player James Sedwards, guitarist Kavus Torabi and newest member Emmett Elvin (keyboards), to front Smith’s drums.
In its forty-two minutes, History encompasses much in its long song, short song and medium-length song. The twenty-six minute epic “The Pilman Radiant” goes through five movements (though it’s not entirely clear when a movement ends and another begins, and I’m not entirely sure that matters, anyway). Supplemented by a small symphony orchestra, Guapo’s gothic, foreboding intro cogently melds Old World with the rock world, dissipating for a Rhodes-based vamp around which Sedwards finds a harmonic counterpoint, and Torabi solos over. But while Guapo’s member do solo individually, that’s not so much a point of emphasis with this band as it is with their peers; the collective sound and the discreet progression of the melody tends to stand out more. That vamp gets exploited with variations and tempo changes, eventually mutating into an elliptical repeating pattern that resembles The Beatles’ extended coda on “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” in everything but the actual chord changes. After some segments of torturous release, aftermath and release again, that theme is reprised at the end of a musical saga that never feels overlong.
“Complex #7″ stands in opposition to “Pilman,” as it’s not so much a tightly composed song as it is a dark, ambient texture peppered by odd, organic sounds, its mood somewhat resembling the intro to the much longer track. A cool circular organ pattern buttressed by a muscular rhythm section groove keys “Tremors From The Future.” The song is long enough to develop that groove and even move away from it, reaching a peak with a spirited moment involving tightly unified jamming.
The paradox of a band playing so loose while so tightly together is almost a lost art these days, but Guapo has got that down pat, and the fresh faces has done nothing to disrupt that. In the wide field of instrumental or progressive rock, these are the guys at the part of the spectrum who seem least concerned about commercial impact. That’s the very reason why fans of the purer, more adventurous forms of the style should be paying close attention to them and their latest album, History Of The Visitation.
History Of The Visitation was released on January 29 by Cuneiform Records.
photo credit: Ruth Bayer