Anyone who has wondered about the inclusion of music by the reputed space-rock band Gong in jazz annals should consider the recent release by the group's current saxophonist and flautist, Theo Travis. In addition to the well-received Earth to Ether, Travis has been active around the UK and abroad with his own band Cipher, but his recent work is a collectors' selection, released on vinyl in Holland by Tonefloat, going under the title of Eleven Bowls of Acidophilus Flute Salad.
To Gong aficionados there should be no mystery. During the 1973 recording of the second part of Gong's trilogy, resident wind player Didier Malherbe was given the honour of starting the second side with a solo introduction to the focal track "Oily Way." In true gourmet style he set about creating a suitable appetizer for Gong's staple fare of swirling synths, ascerbic guitar and contrapuntal rhythms, topped with Daevid Allen's surreal lyrics. Malherbe concocted a light mix of sweeping flute that was spacey and earthy at the same time. The ingredients were his well-articulated flute, a hint of echo, and some finely honed synthesizer, culminating in the repeated rising and falling scale that became the Frenchman's trademark. The result was a flute salad.
The passage of years saw hiatus and changes of direction, style and lineup. But the new millennium saw a burst of energy with new members, a new CD, and a tour of Zero to Infinity. Malherbe was still involved, but Theo "Acidophilus" Travis handled the winds, bringing a youthful energy and a more mainstream approach. Most of the set comprised new songs, the story of the 1970s hero Zero's continuing extraplanetary explorations in search of enlightenment. But still crucial to the band's continuing semi-theatrical show, bringing a change of tempo, style and focus, was an extended flute solo.
Solo flute is not a common compositional arrangement, and this collection doesn't take more than a light trip through the musical landscape of a club jam. It assembles a collection of Travis' solos performed during the tour of Europe, the US and Japan. However, it offers the occasional concert-goer a chance to compare the same territory visited repeatedly under different circumstances and treated with different intentions.
The pieces often start with a similar riff, but progress to varying levels of intensity, depending partly on length and the involvement of other members. Travis is renowned for the application of effects, particularly in his live collaborations with bassist Steve Lawson. On this release this extension of his palette is limited essentially to echo, adding one or two more layers to the flute cake. Although echo is a prop for a solo instrumentalist, its saving grace here is the relative limitation of its use, making one pleasure of the selection the very liveness of the recordings. A little flute is made to go a long way.
Flute Salads 1 - 11.
Theo Travis: flute; Didier Malherbe: flute (10); Chris Taylor: drums (2,6,11);
Daevid Allen: vocal introductions (1,7,9); Gwyo Zepix:keyboards (11).