Thursday, 24 February 2011

GARY MOORE [R.I.P.] COLOSSEUM II - Electric Savage LP (1977) + The Scorch & The Inquisition + BBC Sight & Sound In Concert live 1978

Another untimely death in early 2011 was that of virtuoso guitarist Gary Moore, who passed away from a heart attack in a Costa Brava hotel room on February 6th aged 58. Not only an ex-member of Thin Lizzy and Skid Row before a successful solo career, but also - and far more importantly for me - one quarter of jazz rock fusion supergroup Colosseum II. Not that you'd know it from many of the media obituaries, obsessed only with the mainstream - if they mention Colosseum II at all they usually do so in a single dismissive sentence, as a mere passing footnote in Moore's oeuvre. Despite CII's lack of commercial success, nothing could be further from the truth.

In 1977 and 1978 they were among my most indispensable listening experiences, introducing me to jazz rock and taking it to phenomenal levels of dynamic interplay; in their own way every bit as accomplished/important as King Crimson, ELP, Return To Forever, National Health, Focus, UK etc. When I heard a couple of tracks on Alan Freeman's Saturday afternoon Radio 1 show in 1977, I had to get the album immediately. At that time there were two; 1976's Strange New Flesh and that year's Electric Savage. While it has its moments, I think Flesh is the junior partner among their recordings, where they were finding their feet and developing a style, while Savage is the pinnacle of their achievements; white-hot, electric and savage.

The line-up was Jon Hiseman on drums & percussion, John Mole on bass, Don Airey on keyboards and Moore on guitars. A child prodigy, Airey began his rock career in Cozy Powell's band Hammer, and has also played with a host of heavy-rock giants like Black Sabbath, Rainbow and Deep Purple. Hiseman, considered by many 70s critics the premier jazz rock drummer in the world (I'd still go for Christian Vander of Magma), had been in the highly influential jazz fusion band Colosseum almost a decade earlier, but CII was a far harder proposition; faster, dirtier, more eclectic, driven by Airey and Moore's constant frenetic leadline duelling. Moore had to reinvent his guitar playing style to keep up with Airey's flying fingers, and the first tracks I heard, Intergalactic Strut and Desperado, are perhaps the greatest examples of this - the musical equivalent of today's 'bullet-time' superfast motion film sequences. I found it utterly thrilling that they could pull off such complex music with such dazzling speed and sheer dexterity and I can still remember the buzz quite clearly.

Download Electric Savage here.

01. Put It This Way
02. All Skin and Bone
03. Rivers
04. The Scorch
05. Lament
06. Desperado
07. Am I
08. Intergalactic Strut

Colosseum II's third and last album, War Dance (1978) is more of the same but with, for me, a distinct lessening of the inspired genius of Electric Savage, although I accept that I may hold a minority view on this. Perhaps it's that Savage was recorded mainly live and captures a furious vitality that War Dance's extended studio time and layering diluted. Perhaps it's simply that Savage was the first CII album I heard and loved, and they tend to be the ones that really stay with you. Who knows? Whatever the reasons, it is among my key formative musical experiences. It provided another much-needed alternative/antidote to mainstream rock and pop, and introduced me to a genre I grew to love as I gradually discovered its best practitioners.

The live videos below, The Scorch (from Electric Savage) and The Inquisition (from War Dance), are from BBC radio/TV's Sight & Sound In Concert simultaneous broadcast on January 14th 1978. If you don't find them inspirational I think you may just be comatose.

To download mp3 audio of the entire Sight & Sound concert, you can find it here:

Thin Lizzy and blues guitar legacy notwithstanding, Gary Moore will always be a fundamental part of CII & jazz rock fusion, and I'll take my opportunity to say thanks and goodbye on behalf of that genre and my 16 year-old self's sense of wonder. I read a description of him as a combination of Jeff Beck and John McLaughlin. Hell, I'd even add Al Di Meola and Carlos Santana, and that's as fitting an epitaph as I can think of.


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