Sunday, March 25, 2007

Flame Dream - Calatea (1978)

Geneva, 1979. In a record shop, I find a flyer announcing a new prog band is gigging in the surroundings... A band called Flame Dream with a logo a la Roger Dean! Ouch, a Swiss band playing progressive rock... Surprising! Progressive, not cosmic I should say : no connection whatsoever with Tangerine Dream! In fact one of the greatly unknown yet basic prog bands to be with a destine similar to Anyone's Daughter's. One of the best groups at the beginning of the eighties on the European symphonie prog scene, no less...

The band could have been compared to Genesis during the Peter Gabriel era (similar vocals, flutes and keyboards) with influences of Van Der Graaf Generator (dark climates and sax) and Gentle Giant (syncopated structures), however it Kwas by no means a clone! The compositions moere characterised by the stress on the keyboards and the virtuosity of the keyboards tiwizard playing tunes, always melodic and often melancholy, on top of a very dynamic and complex rhythm section, the whole stuff embroidered by superb flute and sax parts. The sound was characterised too by the absence of guitars, and by the singer's peculiar colour, often reminding Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins.

They released 6 albums. The 4 first album (Calatea, Elements, Out In The Dark and Supervision) are available on CD on Tachika Records). professional sound since they luckily signed for a major by the very first opus (Phonogram). "Those were the days..." The first and second album were produced by the band yet, while the further works were produced by John Acock : remember this man coproduced most of Steve Hackett albums.

The group was a quartet most of the time : Peter Furrer (drums), Urs Hochuli (bass, vocals and... cover illustrations), Peter Wolf (woodwinds, main vocals and lyrics ; notice this guy had nothing to do with J. Geils band's singer!), Roland Ruckstuhl (keyboards and compositions). Another founding member of Flame Dream, John Wolf Brennan (keyboards), Peter's brother, left the band before the first album. He concentrated on jazz, new music and contemporary classic and published several CDs. Flame Dream vas reduced to a trio by "8 on 6" (Peter Furrer, Peter Wolf, Roland Ruckstuhl), Urs Hochuli being only a guest on some songs. The band had two guitarists episodically : Urs Waldispuhl who only played on the first album, and Dale Hauskins on "Out ln The Dark".

The Albums

"Calatea" (1978) is a good album with a light jazz-rock touch, rather ordinary vocals (Peter Wolf was perhaps a bit Young at that time), guitars on accompaniment only. It was recorded in the famous Aquarius studio in Geneva (see Pulsar, Yes...) and remains, being very rare, a real collector.

"Elements" (1979) is a great album featuring very
symphonie prog, with mellotrons, pianos, flutes, without guitars, based on poems by English writers (such as E. Spenser, R.W. Emerson...) about the four elements and thus a bit clumsy sometimes : it's hard to sing poems, you know, to put music along verse. It was recorded in the Aquarius studio too.

"Out In The Dark" (1980) is perhaps the best dise, the most Genesis-like, a concept featuring two Bides (dark and sun) a bit long though. It was recorded in the Aquarius studio once again.

"Supervision" (1982) is good too. It features short, contrasted and dense songs a la "And Then They Were Three" (Genesis). And has a cleaner sound (very dry drums and rhythrnic). lt was recorded in London.

"Travaganza" (1982) is the twin brother to "Supervision" but not so good. Flame Dream tried to be more commercial, composing songs like Phil Collins's "In the air tonight", or Genesis's "Turn it on again". Curiously the name of the
band turned to Travaganza when a small British label, Aura, decided to publish this record in UK...

"8 on 6" (1986), despite its gimmick cover, is not really nice. After this long silence, the fandom expected much more. It contains simple compositions, automatic rhythms, concise and direct tracks, typically 80's sounded (in the way of Genesis's "Abacab" or akin to New Music's). This album sadly ends the story of a great band... A band leaving no live testimony, curiously. Taken from band's unofficial page

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Anonymous said...

Reviewed by: Tom Karr of April 2005

Switzerland’s best symphonic prog band of any consequence, Flame Dream released its third album, Out In The Dark, in 1981. Recorded at Patrick Moraz’s legendary "Aquarius" studio in Geneva and surpassing 1979’s excellent Elements, it is a classic of European progressive rock. Amazingly, in continental Europe, brilliant, classic progressive rock music was still being produced with little regard for the prevailing winds of disco, new wave and punk. Flame Dream had hit it big in Europe with release of Elements, and were mounting huge, headlining tours of the continent every year for months at a time, hitting the road in five semi trucks and a crew of eighteen. The band had even commandeered the Eden Hotel in Weggis, just across the Statter See from Lucerne, and set up for rehearsals in the historic building. Before hitting the road to promote Elements, the band decided to add a guitarist to their line up, and, on the advice of Brand X keyboardist Robin Lumley, Flame Dream picked up young Los Angeles guitarist Dale Hauskins. After finishing high school in California, Dale decided to jump into the deep end of the pool and set off for London and its burgeoning prog/fusion scene. He haunted jam sessions at Rod Argent’s keyboard shop for two years and had struck up friendships with Lumley, Peter Gabriel and Allan Holdsworth, among others. He had obviously paid attention to Holdsworth, as Hauskins also displays the same fluid, legato style as his mentor, with phrasing that owes a strong debt to Coltrane.

The music on Out In The Dark continues in the same vein as on their preceding albums, with rich, keyboard heavy compositions by vocalist/wind instrument player Peter Wolf (son of the noted Swiss classical pianist and brother of classical/avant-garde composer and pianist John Wolf-Brennan) and keyboardist Roland Rockstuhl. The album is divided into the first, the "Sun Side," and the second, the "Dark Side," and, although lyrically the "Sun Side" does deal with warmer, more upbeat sentiments, the music that accompanies the lighter side of the album is, with the exception of the opening tune, "Full Moon," overall the darker of the two sides. Side two, the "Dark Side" overflows with up tempo meter and bright themes.

The music begins with "Full Moon," a cross between UK and Supertramp, and the most poppy sounding track the band will give us this time. It is followed by one of my favorite cuts, "Nocturnal Flight," five and a half minutes of absolute symphonic joy. The tune favors the late 70's style of Genesis, with keyboard work reminiscent of Tony Banks, and features a wonderful guitar solo by Hauskins. Side one ends with the brilliant title track, "Out In The Dark." Beginning with a melancholy theme, we segue into a lovely melody on Peter Wolf’s flute that sounds much like the intro to Hackett’s guitar solo in "Firth Of Fifth." This turns onto some of the most nimble piano lines ever recorded and the piece develops an almost Italian flair before returning to it’s opening motif.

Side two begins with "Wintertime Nights," which boasts some more great Tony Banks-like keyboard work. "Strange Meeting (Part One)" is another Genesis influenced tune, moving moodily across its stark landscape and exploding into brisk lines from Ruckstuhl’s synthesizer. It is chased by "Caleidoscope," a herky-jerky instrumental that bursts with syncopated keyboard and sax lines, and at times comes across as Gentle Giant-lite. The album's final track, "Strange Meeting (Part Two)," is not a separate track at all, but a continuation of "Caleidoscope" with the imposition of the two main themes from "Strange Meeting (Part One)."

This is a great album, with high caliber musicianship constantly grabbing your attention, very well conceived and developed themes and wonderful production by John Acock, who handled most of Steve Hackett’s solo albums. The similarities to Genesis are, with the exception of a couple of synth solos, entirely compositional, and no one is trying to emulate the "sound" of Genesis, as many other bands have certainly done. Coming late to the game as they did, Flame Dream were, perhaps, not the most innovative band that ever was, but they carried on with true symphonic progressive rock long after many of the genres innovators had turned to pure pop sounds.

For anyone curious about what the members of Flame Dream are up to now, I can tell you that bassist Urs Hochuli, who also produced all the album artwork for Flame Dream, is building sailboats in Switzerland, Roland Ruckstuhl is working in Europe for Roland Keyboards, drummer Peter Furrer runs his own drum shop and is the author of several instructional books for drummers, and guitarist Dale Hauskins is in LA, recording and performing with a number of artists. My special thanks go out to Dale for his help, and for lending me his LP copy of Out In The Dark for this review.

More about Out In The Dark:

Track Listing: Full Moon / Nocturnal Flight / Out In The Dark / Wintertime Nights / Strange Meeting (Part One) / Caleidoscope / Strange Meeting (Part Two)

Peter Furrer - Drums, Percussion, Tapes
Urs Hochuli - Bass, Bass Pedals, Voice
Dale Hauskins - Guitars
Roland Ruckstuhl - Keyboards, Sequencer, Vocoder
Peter Wolf - Voice, Wind Instruments

Anonymous said...

Great prog band. Unfortunately, not released in compact disk format since Tachika Records only sells CDR copies.