Isotope

Isotope

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The year 1973 was a good time to launch a jazz-rock fusion band, both in America, where Return to Forever and Mahavishnu Orchestra were making waves, and in England, where the likes of Soft Machine and Ian Carr's Nucleus had paved the way for a forward-looking foursome to form Isotope. The band's leader was guitarist Gary Boyle, who had played with everyone from folk-rockers Eclection to U.K. jazzer Mike Westbrook, but eight out of nine tunes on the band's self-titled debut album were composed by keyboardist Brian Miller. While Miller's harmonic sensibilities consequently dominate the record, which was originally released by British indie label Gull, it's the interplay between Boyle's fiery fretwork and Miller's hot-fingered licks that kicks up the most dust. Though Isotope had links to the Soft Machine-centric Canterbury scene, their music -- especially on their maiden voyage -- wasn't as brainy/quirky as that might imply. If anything, their visceral approach, improv-heavy workouts, and funk-inflected grooves (the latter courtesy of bass man Jeff Clyne of Nucleus and drummer Nigel Morris) placed them in closer stylistic proximity to the aforementioned American acts. Barnstorming solos leap out of nearly every tune, even such downtempo tracks as "Retracing My Steps," though the pastoral, acoustic-based "Windmills and Waterfalls" shows Isotope to be comfortable in more refined realms as well. The band's sound would shift somewhat on each of their three albums, but their debut -- reissued with improved sound and informative liner notes by Esoteric in 2011 -- shows that they were one of the finer, if less heralded, British jazz-rock outfits from the start.

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