It has only been 41 years... Perhaps when you play medieval instruments, time matters little. This unique prog/folk/classical band is back - not at their very best, but with an enjoyable collection.
Label: Talking Elephant
Time: 11 tracks / 63 mins
Essentially medieval prog (they play crumhorns and recorders, but also supported Yes at Madison Square Gardens) Gryphon released a series of outstanding albums in the mid-late seventies until punk made them distinctly unfashionable.
Now, after decades of virtual inactivity, they have released a new collection, and it is immediately identifiable as Gryphon: the bassoonery, buffoonery and unexpected directions are all present.
This time, exactly what you get is largely down to the composer. While the album misses the fluid, imaginative power of Richard Harvey’s music, it does have a close contender for his crown.
Instrumental compositions from Graham Preskett (violin, keys, mandolin) are the best here and very satisfying – a lovely blend of definite riffs and tunes that the band develops and plays around with in jazzy style. “Rhubard Crumhorn” is typical of his tunes with its hummability; while “Hampton Caught” features baroque harpsichord with bursts of guitar, church organ and woodwind all playing around with the theme in delightful old-style Gryphon fashion. The lively “Dumbe Dumbe Chit” (named after the way the drums end each section) has intricate rhythms and features bassoon and clarinet. His superb “Sailor V” uses distinctly Irish rhythms to lift it.
It seems strange that he is a comparatively new member, as his perky work so absolutely fits the appeal of the band’s prime output (as does bassist Rory McFarlane’s bubbly “Bathsheba”) that it drove me to see if he has any solo material out.
By contrast, the other main composer, longtime member Brian Gulland, lacks that melodic sensibility and tends to string pieces together in a more ad hoc way with lots of twiddly bits (if I may use such a technical term). So his pieces range from the opener’s mass of scales and arpeggios to a pun-laced track referencing the 1920s. The album’s final flourish (“The Euphrates Connection”) might even contain a deliberate Jethro Tull parody. Unfortunately, his occasional "vocalisations" tend to distract from the band’s instrumental strengths.
The band got their name from Lewis Carroll, and the longest piece puts Carroll’s “Haddock’s Eyes” nonsense poem to music. It is a simple tune, given one rocky, sax-led break that is highly reminiscent of Van der Graaf Generator and another that sounds like a post-war military parade.
Reinvention should please most Gryphon fans, but Talking Elephant also sell other Gryphon albums and newcomers should first try either Red Queen to Gryphon Three (proggy with wonderfully intricate interweaving themes) or the similarly excellent and addictive Raindance, with its wide range of poppier tracks. Both are superb albums and the fact that they can make such loveable music from pop to epics says a lot about their inherent musical talent. You can’t imagine Gryphon music without hearing it, but I recommend these two albums wholeheartedly to any prog fan.