Arriving Twice

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Based on 1975's eponymous debut album and 1978's Another Fine Tune, Gilgamesh seemed rather polite, representing the Canterbury scene's cerebral side. But nearly two decades after keyboardist/bandleader/composer Alan Gowen's 1981 passing, Cuneiform set out to broaden the understanding of this often spirited band with the archival release Arriving Twice, issued in 2000. The angularity and complexity of those '70s albums blended into a late-night trippy ambience (not necessarily a bad thing). Comparably, Arriving Twice is a wake-up call. Its eight tracks -- including three multi-part suites -- come from a 1973 demo tape and 1974 and 1975 BBC sessions. Gowen, guitarist Phil Lee, and drummer Mike Travis are present throughout, while there are three different bassists and two tracks add second keyboardist Pete Lemer. In the collection’s extensive liner notes tracing the band's history, Travis complains about the "boxy and fussy" drum sound on tracks one and two, from the 1973 demo (Gilgamesh's first-ever recording, in which Gowen is heard only on Wurlitzer electric piano), but the balance is good, the recording is clear despite one rough patch, and Gowen's unique conception -- with melodic tunefulness, advanced jazz harmonics, inimitable composing, and able soloing forming a unified whole -- is well displayed.

After an almost regal opening theme and guitar-piano unison bridge on leadoff track "With Lady and Friend," the band thrashes through a midtempo vamp nailed by bassist Neil Murray as Gowen comps jazzily, Travis builds up the energy, and Lee burns through one of his best solos ever. Deep in the following 18-minute, five-part suite, the music rushes forward on the power of Travis' drumming and Murray's buzzing bass, with fine solo work from Lee and a modally shifting Gowen. The sound becomes thin after an abrupt shift to acoustic guitar, but fills out nicely as the band traverses multiple composed and improvised segments -- including a foray into "Phil’s Little Dance," more rocked up than the mildly funky clavinet-driven version on the group's 1975 debut. "Island of Rhodes," from the BBC in 1974, prominently features new member Steve Cook playing a Hugh Hopper-esque bassline that animates the tune -- contrasting with its beautifully spacy incarnation on Gilgamesh -- while Lemer is a second subtle keyboard presence. The nine-and-a-half-minute "Extract," from the same session, is one of Gilgamesh's most organically flowing outings. After those two 1974 mono BBC tracks, the sound expands beautifully on the final four tracks, from the BBC in 1975. These pieces, now featuring bassist Jeff Cline, can all be heard on Gilgamesh (including a reprise of "Phil's Little Dance"), but here sound like the debut album on steroids -- without undercutting the loveliness of "Arriving Twice," a tune deserving iconic status among Canterbury fans. "Worlds of Zin" is on fire, and the multi-layered puzzle pieces of the intense polyrhythmic "Notwithstanding" match anything from Soft Machine's jazz-rock phase. Arriving Twice is a vital document of an underappreciated band that could be far more rousing than many listeners supposed.

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