Happy the Man — Happy the Man
(One Way OW34546, 1977/1999, CD)
Happy the Man — Crafty Hands
(One Way OW34547, 1978/1999, CD)
by Mike McLatchey, Published 1999-11-01
Readers of Exposé will be more than familiar with this seminal American quintet, as we have given them lavish coverage in these pages. Having been available only intermittently on expensive Japanese editions, it’s about time that we see these domestically. Not only do we get inexpensive American editions, but we also get the Kit Watkins remastering job (as seen previously on Death’s Crown) to add better clarity to the mix. Both of these albums display some of the best, most elaborate and sophisticated symphonic rock ever produced, played by technical geniuses. One of the many reasons is that Kit Watkins was perhaps the most impressive Minimoog player to ever record. While the studio albums don’t quite show the incredibly high levels Kit would reach on the instrument live, they give much more than a hint — witness the fade-out and finale solo on “Carousel” from their debut. It’s true that Happy the Man were influenced by the usual English pioneers, but by this time, beyond music displayed on the posthumous “Beginnings,” the band had created a signature and original statement, one that sounded like no other. The complexity of the music is perhaps the most interesting aspect — Happy the Man incorporated odd timings, counterpoint, polyphony, and polyrhythms, but did so without sacrificing accessibility. The band’s talents are readily apparent in the nimble dexterity of “Stumpy Meets Firecracker in Stencil Forest” and “Knee-Bitten Nymphs in Limbo,” but each and every title is a burst of magic in its own right. In its entirety, one of the best debuts of all time and an essential item.
Crafty Hands seems more polished, yet overall slightly less impressive, due to the more sedate second half. Tracks like the wonderful opener “Service with a Smile” and the brilliant “Steaming Pipes” build on the style they portrayed on the debut, but side 2, starting with “Wind up Doll Day Wind,” has a more refined and lyrical sound that is perhaps less exciting than the first album overall, yet still holding to compositional excellence. Any self-respecting Exposé readers will have these on pre-order, at least in spirit.
Marty Balin RIP – One of the architects of the 60s psychedelic sound of San Francisco has died at the age of 76. Marty Balin was a singer, songwriter, and guitarist who was one of the founders of Jefferson Airplane. After the split of the original Airplane, Balin went on to form the highly successful Jefferson Starship. » Read more
Krautrock Documentary Seeks Funding – The next installment of the Progressive Warriors documentary series will focus on the vast body of music that falls under the banner of "krautrock." As most of our readers will know, previous films have tackled RIO and the Canterbury scene, as well as what we might call "mainstream" prog rock. » Read more
Tomasz Stańko RIP – Tomasz Stańko, one of the greats of Eastern European jazz, has died at the age of 76. Stańko's career started in Krzysztof Komeda's quintet, where he contributed trumpet from 1963-1967, when he formed his own group. He worked extensively with Edward Vesala, Don Cherry, Zbigniew Seifert, Chico Freeman, Howard Johnson, Cecil Taylor, and many others. Many of his recordings have been released by ECM, an association that began in the mid-70s. » Read more
Soft Machine Set to Release New Music – It's been 50 years since The Soft Machine changed the face of music with their first album. Their blend of psychedelic rock and jazz was unique, and while the band went through many changes before disbanding in 1981 — by which time there were no original members remaining — they remained an innovative force with a style all their own. » Read more