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Secret Oyster: Vidunderlige Kaelling (2005)

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Secret Oyster: Vidunderlige Kaelling How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

Secret Oyster—a supergroup in Denmark during its short lifespan in the mid-1970s, having emerged from the remnants of a number of other locally successful progressive rock bands—generally leaned more towards the fusion of Mahavishnu Orchestra, Nucleus, and Bitches Brew-era Miles. Still, when recruited to provide music for a Royal Danish Ballet project based on the erotic poetry of Jens August Schade, the quintet demonstrated surprising restraint, substituting detailed through-composition for the more solo-intensive approach manifested on albums like Sea Son (CBS, 1975) and Orllaver (CBS, 1977).

What international reputation Secret Oyster had was as a group of intrepid jazz-rock soloists whose greatest claim to fame was sharing the bill on Captain Beefheart's 1975 European tour. So it's more than a little surprising that, while the group's more characteristic albums remain long out of print, The Laser's Edge has chosen to issue a beautifully remastered and expanded version of its music for the Royal Danish Ballet project Vidunderlige Kælling. The recording was originally titled Astarte when it was first released in 1975, referencing the specific piece where principal dancer Vivi Flindt—who performed the majority of the ballet in the nude—was painted entirely in gold, at considerable personal risk. This reissue is more appropriately named after the title of the ballet itself, conceived by Flemming Flindt, Vivi's husband and the Royal Danish Ballet's artistic director/choreographer.

Contemporary ballet pieces that use rock-informed music—even of the progressive variety—often fail the test of time, but the music on Vidunderlige Kælling succeeds on its own merits and is surprisingly fresh thirty years later. While lacking the avant-garde edge of classic Soft Machine and the harmonic/compositional complexity of Hatfield and the North, there is nevertheless a certain Canterbury feel to the album, which is fleshed out to 49 minutes with three additional previously unreleased tracks which were heard at the ballet. The textures are different—no self-respecting Canterbury band would use a Moog or string synthesizer—but the contrapuntal nature of the arpeggiated "Intro and "Outro bear clear precedence.

"Sirenerne, with saxophonist Karsten Vogel and guitarist Claus Bøhling's across-the-bar melody supported by Ole Streenberg's solid backbeat, parallels the similarly riff-based Karl Jenkins-era Soft Machine, as does the more atmospheric "Astarte, revolving around a keyboard/guitar arpeggio that develops into a restrained solo tradeoff vehicle for keyboardist Kenneth Knudsen and Bøhling—also heard on sitar. But whereas latter-day Soft Machine, as compelling as it was, often demonstrated a dangerous proclivity for excess, Secret Oyster remains ever-focused on the purpose of Vidunderlige Kælling, which is to support a group of dancers. "Solitude is gentle, lyrical, and just the slightest bit melancholy, while "Tango Bourgoisie —which features guest musician Palle Mikkelborg, well-known to fans of the ECM label—is aptly titled, tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Vidunderlige Kælling may not be wholly representative of Secret Oyster's full potential, but it remains an evocative and engaging album that will hopefully spark some interest in reviving the rest of the group's small but worthwhile discography.

Track Listing: Intro; Stjernerne Pa Gaden; Sirenerne; Astarte; Solitude; Tango-Bourgoisie; Bellevue; Valse du Soir; Outro. Bonus Tracks: Sleep Music; Circus Sax; Intro to Act II.

Personnel: Kenneth Knudsen: piano, electric piano, Moog, string synthesizer; Karsten Vogel: soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, string synthesizer; Claus Bhling: electric guitar, acoustic guitar, sitar; Jess Sthr: electric bass; Ole Streenberg: drums, percussion, harmonica; Palle Mikkelborg: trumpet and string synthesizer (6); Kasper Winding: percussion (3, 7); Keld Jensen: mandolin (8).

Record Label: The Laser's Edge

Style: Fusion/Progressive Rock


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