Pierre Moerlen's Gong: Pentanine

John Kelman By

Sign in to view read count
French percussionist Pierre Moerlen, who passed away at the all-too-young age of 52, may never have garnered the attention he deserved, but amongst fans of the British Canterbury movement he was a renowned presence. If he'd done nothing more than play on the psychedelic jamband Gong's Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy, he'd have been assured a place in the annals of progressive rock history.

The history of Gong is long and complicated, with a plethora of related projects, including most notably Planet Gong, You 'n' Gong, University of Errors, Acid Mother Gong and Gongzilla. The latter is perhaps the only offshoot that would have any consonance with the instrumental jazz-rock direction of what became known as Pierre Moerlen's Gong, also featuring younger brother and regular collaborator Benoit on assorted tuned percussion.

Pentanine, a 2002 recording that would turn out to be Moerlen's last, may have only a loose affiliation with other incarnations of PMG. Moerlen is the only recognizable face—the rest are Russian players who had enticed Moerlen to come to their country to record. But it's still immediately recognizable as a PMG album, and it's a fitting eulogy to Moerlen the writer, player and bandleader.

Moerlen's drumming may provide the pulse, but his use of vibraphone and xylophone in a jazz-rock context has always given PMG a unique complexion. From the funky grooves of "Airway to Seven and "Classique to the more hypnotic Spanish inflection of "Montagnes Russes and the atmospheric "Lâcheur, all the music on Pentanine shares Moerlen's trademark use of elliptical patterns on vibes and/or xylophone. The way they cross bar lines is similar to Mike Oldfield's use of repetitive patterns as anchors on albums like the classic Tubular Bells (Virgin, 1973) and Ommadawn (Virgin, 1975; also featuring Moerlen).

This use of cyclical conceits, despite Moerlen's French background, tie him inextricably to the Canterbury tradition. Like some of keyboardist Dave Stewart's writing for Hatfield and the North and National Health, Moerlen's patterns are layered over (or under) complex, polyrhythmic and often irregular metered lines that create challenging contexts for the soloists. And yet, despite the complex intertwining of the various parts, Moerlen's writing remains strongly melodic, lean, and without any kind of instrumental excess.

While guitarist Arkady Kuznetsov, keyboardist Meehail Ogorodov and bassist Alexei Pleschunov are solid enough players, they're also a little generic. The result is that, while Pentanine fits comfortably in the PMG oeuvre, it lacks the kind of muscular distinction of Allan Holdsworth's work on Gazeuse! and Expresso II (Virgin, 1978), or even lesser-known guitarist Ake Ziedén's playing on Full Circle Live 1988 (Outer Music, 1998).

Pentanine is a well-played album. But if it focuses less on instrumental prowess, then it clearly draws more from Moerlen's writing, whose memorable themes rule the day. As a last recording, Moerlen could have done far worse. Pentanine makes an apt and consistent conclusion to the work of an artist who deserved more recognition than he has ultimately received.

Visit Pierre Moerlen on the web.

Track Listing: Flyin' High; Airway to Seven; Pentanine Part One; Au Chalet; Trip

Personnel: Arkady Kuznetsov: electric guitar; Alexei Pleschunov: bass guitar; Meehail Ogorodov: keyboards, hand drum, percussion, recorder, underwater voice; Pierre Moerlen: drums, vibraphone, xylophone, programming; Alexander Lutsky: muted trumpet (12).

Title: Pentanine | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Musea Records


comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Just Friends: Live at the Village Vanguard CD/LP/Track Review Just Friends: Live at the Village Vanguard
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: September 19, 2017
Read Introducing the Simon Eskildsen Trio CD/LP/Track Review Introducing the Simon Eskildsen Trio
by Jakob Baekgaard
Published: September 19, 2017
Read Moment Frozen CD/LP/Track Review Moment Frozen
by Roger Farbey
Published: September 19, 2017
Read Minor Step CD/LP/Track Review Minor Step
by Mike Jurkovic
Published: September 19, 2017
Read A Meeting Of Spirits CD/LP/Track Review A Meeting Of Spirits
by Roger Farbey
Published: September 18, 2017
Read First Light CD/LP/Track Review First Light
by Mark Sullivan
Published: September 18, 2017
Read "In Praise of Shadows" CD/LP/Track Review In Praise of Shadows
by Dave Wayne
Published: March 19, 2017
Read "Trickster" CD/LP/Track Review Trickster
by Hrayr Attarian
Published: May 11, 2017
Read "High Time" CD/LP/Track Review High Time
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: April 26, 2017
Read "Ranky Tanky" CD/LP/Track Review Ranky Tanky
by James Nadal
Published: August 13, 2017
Read "Panthalassa: The Music Of Miles Davis 1969-1974" CD/LP/Track Review Panthalassa: The Music Of Miles Davis 1969-1974
by Sacha O'Grady
Published: December 23, 2016
Read "B'shnorkestra: Global Concertos" CD/LP/Track Review B'shnorkestra: Global Concertos
by Paul Rauch
Published: October 27, 2016

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.