Gong Expresso – Decadence (2018)

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The legend of Daevid Allen’s Gong as one of the key members in the vanguard of instrumental-heavy prog rock had only grown as it splintered off into various offshoots. One of the earliest splinter groups was formed in the mid-70s when Gong drummer Pierre Moerlen broke from Allen to create PM’s Gong, a group that originally included his brother Benoit Moerlen on vibes and marimba, Hansford Rowe on bass, Francois Causse on percussion and the late, great Allan Holdsworth on guitar.

Gong Expresso carries on Pierre Moerlen’s legacy, the “Expresso” being a reference to the Expresso and Expresso II jazz/rock albums the PM-led Gong made in the mid 70s. That’s not all that carries forward: Pierre passed away in 2005 but his brother Benoit as well as Causse and Rowe are still keeping Pierre’s project going. Added to the mix is guitarist Julien Sandiford (from Rowe’s HRIII group) who at twenty-five years old is the now the one making a name for himself just as his band mates were doing some forty years ago.

Adding to the continued vitality of this group is playing not just the timeworn songs from the Pierre era; these guys are still making new music directly inspired by the old music. Decadence, out earlier in 2018, is exactly the kind of album fans of the jazzier side of the Gong family must have been hoping for.

Gong Expresso takes greater care than most of their peers to make all the instruments sound great not just individually but together, resulting in the clean and polished sound that marked Pierre Moerlen’s Gong recordings. Moerlen’s vibes fit in so well for a rock-based band because the rest of the group play in a fine-spun approach that’s tailored for it, much as Frank Zappa’s Mother of Invention figured out how to make Ruth Underwood’s vibes and marimba work so well during the Flo & Eddie days.

“Decadence” begin as a delicate dance between Rowe and Sandiford with Rowe even taking on the role of a second lead guitar due to his high notes, settling into a comfy groove and the veteran, sophisticated lines of the young guitarist are already obvious. “Toumani” like “Decadence” begins as a syncopation between Rowe and Sandiford presaging a pattern that slowly builds momentum with Moerlen’s help.

Rowe’s bass playing on both ends of its range lends an exotic flavor to “Zephyr,” which prances its way through the chord changes (and Causse’s drum solo). His spotlight turn “The Importance of Common Things” is both ethereal and alien, bracing for its originality.

Sandiford consistently chooses sophisticated style over playing hard and hackneyed, and is a great team player. His fretwork on “Eastern Platinum” is tasteful, even over the unusual time signature. He uses what is most likely an acoustic guitar for some savory, jazzy asides during “Frevo” during which Rowe is heard lurking around in the same tonal area. The tone is somewhat darker for “Talisman” and here, Sandiford matches timbres with Moerlen. Like for so many pieces on this record, Rowe’s expressive bass lines forms the outlines of “God Knows” and Sandiford fills in the frame with bright colors from his silky guitar.

Decadence is over after a mere vinyl-length thirty-nine minutes but that’s about the only drawback of this very convincing recapturing of the ol’ magic by three bonafide Gong veterans and one young musician playing like one. Certainly, they made very minute count.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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