August 1988 A4 32 pages
PETER HAMMILL &
GUY EVANS (in concert)
photocopy reprint (last 6 copies)
Example article extract
Undeniably, one of the most dedicated and seminal of the bands to emerge from Germany in the late 60's - early 70's was Embryo, born out of the hot-spot of new European jazz: Munich, and vehicle for the single-minded ideals of one Christian Burchard and his music.
Embryo's history is torturously complicated, so many people have passed through the band, become attuned to the Embryo ethic, and proceeded to produce their own elaborations in other bands. Notorious jazzers like Mal Waldron, Charlie Mariano and others have regularly played with Embryo in concerts, and have also been featured on their albums. Thus, complex as it is, the family tree displayed in this article is simplified!
A true "Krautrock" band with its footing firmly in the jazz idiom, Embryo's roots of invention sprang from a group of like-minded musicians, artists etc. known as Amon Düül. Experimenting with new forms of jazz expression, rock and avant-garde, the results of such work can be heard in full glory on Amon Düül II's PHALLUS DEI, a music that was neither rock or jazz, but something unique to Germany, a new music had been born.
Christian Burchard left Amon Düül II during the recording of PHALLUS DEI and joined up with long time friend Edgar Hofmann to form Embryo, with the idea of producing a music that was a fusion of jazz, rock, blues and soul. The resultant first album: OPAL wasn't what one may expect; a basic form of jazz-rock with a hard-hitting sometimes freaky edge, it would have been quite unique at the time (though nowadays it does seem a mite dated) and has some excellent moments, particularly the albums closer People Out Of The Space, which was one of the few tracks to hint at the Embryo sound to come.
The Krautrock era
Now, a very much in demand live band, with a line-up of (seemingly) constantly changing musicians, the Embryo sound had matured considerably. The second album EMBRYO'S RACHE (Embryo's Revenge) no doubt surprised nearly everyone, with its powerful set of compositions and superb production quality. The extremely tight rhythm section (of Burchard and Bunka), winds, violin and multi-keyboards make for a spectacular music that only occasionally lets up for a song or a touch of lighter atmospherics. Take Revenge (written by Tabarin Man aka Jimmy Jackson), a veritable tour-de-force: multi-percussives and drums beat a complexly vigorous rhythm, joined by chunky organ, slick bass, waves of Mellotron, some great wild sax from Edgar, building up into some of the heaviest thundering riffing ever put on record. Espangna Si, Franco No (which due to its lyrical message offended the Spanish authorities, who cancelled their planned concerts later in 1972) is quite a different style of Embryo, and displayed their unusual approach to songs really well; whereas most bands allow a song to be a vehicle for only a couple (or even less) solos, Embryo do the opposite here - the song becomes interludes to the spacious and dynamic structure of the music. Verwandlung (Transformation) aptly displayed a style that was to be followed on subsequent LP's: a slick form of fusion, with complex rhythmic interplay, lots of keyboards, and solos galore from flute and sax. Surprising at first with this album is the lack of guitar, but not for a moment is It missed - Hansi Fischer's superb flute, Edgar's frenetic sax and versatile violin fill the sound amazingly.
Here is where Embryo's history becomes most confused, with three albums being recorded during the next eight months. Hard to please, United Artists wanted a more accessible album, one which would make them a good deal of money, but Burchard and crew wouldn't give in and proceeded to record what they wanted to release. First and second attempts were turned down by U.A. No doubt despondent due to the lack of a release, many musicians passed through the ranks of Embryo at this time. Eventually, with a reduced line-up and a more accessible sound another LP was released by U.A.
Being far more pleased himself with the previous two album attempts, Christian proceeded to try and find if anyone else was interested in releasing them. He was in luck, pioneering rock label Brain (then managed by Günter Korber, now of Sky Records) consented to release both. Good news for the Embryo fan as these are two of their finest records.
STEIG AUS (roughly - Step Out) features an expanded line-up with jazzer Mal Waldron on electric piano and proudly featuring Jimmy Jackson as a member of the band. This is one of the few totally instrumental Embryo albums and it consists of just three tracks. Radio Marakesh/Orient Express starts the album with a fervent energy, strongly ethnic with Incredible thundering tribal percussives, it contrasts greatly with the following sedate Dreaming Girls, a beautifully understated composition with some very delicate violin from Edgar. Side 2 is encompassed by a rewrite of Mal Waldron's The Call (previously performed by himself with Jackson, Eberhard Weber and Fred Braceful). The Embryo arrangement expresses a lot more feeling than the original and is a great showpiece for the talents of all the musicians concerned.
ROCKSESSION saw the addition of Siegfried Schwab hot from his stint with Wolfgang Dauner' s revolutionary band Et Cetera. His presence made a great difference to the sound, the ethnic elements given birth on STEIG AUS have matured and mixed in with the Embryo sound perfectly. A Place To Go opens the album with a typically understated Embryo song. The other three longer tracks are instrumentals, principally penned by Waldron, Burchard and Schwab, cool interactive fusion of a spacey yet rhythmic kind that acts as a great medium for myriads of solos, with good heady riffing on Entrance, deep relaxed atmosphere on Warm Canto, and the jazzier surprisingly bright rhythms of Dirge. An exceptional album, with emotion stamped firmly into every note, it's still as fresh today as It ever was.
FATHER, SONS & HOLY GHOSTS is a very different album from the previous. A more direct style, more composed and accessible. A most noticeable thing is -no keyboards!! Instead, a lot more varied percussion (marimbas, vibes) is used. Siggi's unusual ethnic instruments: veena and tarang add an exotic sound and fill the music further. There are three songs this time, all understated with odd lyrics, mainly used as excuses to whip-it-out with solos galore. The closer Forgotten Sea is a rework of Dreaming Girls (from STEIG AUS) in a rockier setting, a most brilliant version with some very different violin from Edgar, and as it really rocks up towards the end some very nice lightly picked Carlos Santana style guitar tops the album off a treat. It's most intriguing to read that in the German magazine Sounds, it was said -'Embryo are without doubt THE rhythm group among German rock bands. If you didn't know they came from Munich and heard only their new LP then you would put them down as the first Afro-Asian rock band'.
A new major development in Embryo's history was when Schwab introduced Charlie Mariano to the band. Christian said of this - 'He paid us a visit, stayed with us, and we had a jam. The musical communication between us worked, so that as a logical consequence we played concerts together ... of course It was a big surprise for us, because we thought Charlie Mariano was a size too big for us'. The concoction of Charlie, along with the return of Roman Bunka (no I don't know where he went) and new keyboardist Dieter Miekautsch certainly did hit off well, as can be witnessed on the next album WE KEEP ON. For a quartet they made a very big powerful sound, that on tracks like No Place To Go is quite breathtaking, energy is exuded with emotional perfection from every instrument, not least Charlie's versatile array of winds and Christian's incredibly complex rhythms. This album also broke Embryo around the world exported via jazz outlets and (along with the subsequent LP) gaining release in the USA, hence a Billboard reporter exclaimed 'An excellent offering of progressive jazz, coloured with Afro and Indian overtones ... the momentum is there from the outset, and surprisingly it continues to grow with each cut.'
As always Embryo continued to tour, Christian and Roman also became involved in Asian music specialist Kenneth Wells' project Sadja (of which a tape was released) an a so Uli Trepte's short-lived band who recorded material for an LP (to be Issued on Brain) that was never released, except for a few tracks on an LP last year. These recordings fused a perfect blend of Trepte period Guru Guru with the dynamic surging rhythms of Embryo. (See reviews - Audion #4 p.30 and #6 p.21)
For the next Embryo LP for BASF, it seems they were forced to compromise again, even more so this time than with U.A., as SURFIN' was released on the new (short-lived) progressive-rock label Buk. Undoubtedly their most commercial album, even to this day, it had some excellent tracks amongst the many songs, like the dynamic Mellotron dominated Dance On Broken Glasses (ouch!).
April ist Schneeball?
Christian was understandably dismayed at the prospect of not being able to release the music he wanted to, but he also decided he wasn't going to appease the whims of record companies who were only interested in money. Hence, with the help of one-time Ohr producer Julius Schittenhelm and a few other like-minded bands (all connected with Embryo in some way) they formed a collectively run label - April (later becoming Schneeball due to legal implications about the use of the name April). Starting up an organisation like this of course took up much time, and delayed the release of their next LP for over a year.
Article by Alan Freeman
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