Steve Hillage

Fish Rising

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After departing Gong in 1975, Steve Hillage followed the same route as everyone else, by making a solo album. He enlisted some Gong colleagues -- bassist Mike Howlett, saxophonist Didier Malherbe, and drummer Pierre Moerlen -- and augmented them with others from his Canterbury past, keyboard player Dave Stewart (the two had played together at the beginning of the decade) and Henry Cow's Lindsay Cooper. The result, apart from revealing a slightly unhealthy obsession with fish (at least a change from Gong's pothead pixies) is a Canterbury musical delight, even if the lyrics are chock-full of hippie-dippy sentiment. There are plenty of complex time changes, easily and smoothly handled by the musicians, and while Hillage doesn't contribute as many solos as admirers of his style might wish, he does use layers of guitar to create some wonderful textures and harmonies. This is, in fact, a very sophisticated record, with interesting arrangements and some innovative production -- a harbinger of Hillage's future career behind the boards. On the few occasions he does unleash the fretwork, it's quite glorious, with his trademark echo letting the notes trail like a comet's tail. He doesn't need to prove he's the fast gun in town, simply one with plenty of invention. The real emphasis is on band arrangements and those multi-part compositions that were an indelible part of the prog '70s (as in the pretentiously titled "Solar Musick Suite"). However, pomposity is carefully avoided, and the musicians bring enough of their own personalities to the party, especially Malherbe. As a solo debut it's a success, taking the qualities of Hillage's previous gigs on board, but making the final product his own. It might be fishy, but it certainly doesn't stink.

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