Gong – Rejoice! I’m Dead! (2016)

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Daevid Allen’s ghost shows up in the self-deprecating humor evident in the album’s title…and lives on in the band. The first Gong album after its founder’s 2014 death, Rejoice! I’m Dead! (out September 16, 2016, Madfish Music) is an emphatic reassurance the the brainchild will be fine without its progenitor.

And that’s just the way Allen — who had taken some leave of absences from Gong over the years — would have wanted it.

The current, five-piece lineup (Kavus Torabi (guitar, vox), Fabio Golfetti (guitar/vox), Dave Sturt (bass/vox), Ian East (saxophone, flute) and Cheb Nettles (drums/vox)) come with varying experience in Allen’s Gong, with Torabi joining just in time to participate in the last Allen-led Gong album I See You (2014), already contributing music that’s well aligned with the swerving, witty, loose but penetrating brand of rock that’s sort of jazzy, sort of proggy but never self-consciously so. A year later, he’s suddenly thrust into the forefront of the band, and the good ship Gong is staying firmly on course.

Finding the right balance between psychedelic jamming and tortuous, calculated turns is the strong suit of Gong, obvious on the longer numbers such as “Rejoice!” where the band gallops in syncopation with East’s sax pattern that calls to mind Thelonious Monk’s “Misterioso.” Yet, they’re going with the flow, sandwiching the heady groove with an extended middle of Middle Eastern-kissed improvising. Guitars shimmer and quiver through most of “Through Restless Seas I Come,” building for the burst you can feel coming from the beginning. And is “Insert Yr Own Prophesy” a little theatrical with all it’s stop-start, stuttering action? Sure, but it still rocks hard and — when it’s inclined — floats harder.

It’s hard to pinpoint the “epic” track of the bunch,since they strive to make most of their songs that way, but my vote goes to “The Unspeakable Stands Revealed,” where a groove slowly materialize from it and the improvising soprano sax of East fills up the channels. Only four minutes in are the lyrics heard, by which time the song has turned into a bonafide rocker. Traversing through multiple, connected movements moving along a single thread, it has the feel of an saga set to song. East’s increasingly urgent wails begin to dominate right up to the sudden end.

The shorter numbers don’t suffer from the lack of stretching out, as atmospheric, neo-psychedelia seeps into “The Thing That Should Be” and especially “Model Village,” which makes one realize that Gong is a forebear to Sean Lennon’s Ghost of The Saber Toothed Tiger.

No one can make up for the keen wit and unpredictability of Daevid Allen, whose loss in the artful side of British rock is on par with the loss months later of one of his fans, David Bowie. But there’s much to revel about with Rejoice!, as the torch bearers of serious rock who don’t take themselves too seriously carries on confidently.

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