In the age of digital precision, it’s a reassurance to know that the spontaneity of live recording is not extinct. And when the band in question has a sum total of over 100 years of professional experience it’s a tonic to hear the power of the record. The disc provides ample evidence that Gong both should and shouldn’t be included under the jazz rubric! The selection of 14 tracks includes 10 pieces from February’s funk-jazz inspired ZERO 2 INFINITY(SNA 824), featuring all 7 musicians on that CD in league with the same man behind the mixing console since 1973, Switch Doctor David Id. The band’s style still veers like that of its co-founder Daevid Allen between sheer outer-spacedness of his multiple echoed ‘glissando guitar’ (Infinitea and Invisible Temple), to an earthy freeform interplay with the 2 reed layers, veteran Gongist Didier Malherbe on flute, soprano and alto saxophones, and doudouk, and newcomer Theo Travis on saxophones and flute (on Foolefare and Magdalene).
As an introduction to the music of Gong this album represents the same potpouri of styles that has been typical of their production for over 30 years. However the main focus, as the title suggests, is singularly the music of this millenium’s tour lineup. The 10 new pieces are the combined works of all band members – from north african Dervish wind work by Malherbe, to the disco-funk of drummer Chris Taylor and more standard freeform saxophony of Travis. Blended in are 3 standards from Gong’s ‘classic LP’s of the early ‘70’s, Zero the Hero and the Witch’s Spell, Inner Temple and the wistful, poetic Selene, first penned in 1969 by Allen with co-founder Gilly Smyth. She adds her characteristic vocal witchery (originally described as ‘space whisper’) here and elsewhere, while bassist Mike Howlett slips in odd allusions to other of the band’s golden oldies from those halcyon years.
Instead of swaying new listeners to the far-fling Gong diaspora (the band currently being on a 3 continent tour), this album shows their abiding strength is in live performance. They demonstrate energy far beyond that appropriate for a band with an average age well into the 50’s, skills honed during those intermittent decades on the road, and proof that audience contact was the spice that was missing from their last 2 studio CD’s. I can vouch that seeing is believing (a 2½ hour plus non-stop performance witnessed during the summer), but in lieu the of direct experience LIVE GONG will resound around your cranium to your continuing delight.