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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Sideline, Germany

Sideline - Sidesteps. 1979 private

Here's the next submission from the mysterious He Who Must Not Be Named. He says he had it stored in a safe deposit box in an unlisted private Swiss bank that sits on a cobblestoned winding street somewhere in Geneva. You know, this guy....

Interesting Switzerland comes up, as the country is often referenced in relation to this album. I'm not sure why as the back cover clearly attributes a Bremen address to a leader of the band - violinist Hartmut Koehler. Perhaps some of the other musicians are Swiss, but I would consider this a German band. And they fit squarely into the very large Kraut Fusion genre of that era. Some have suggested that if you wanted to obtain any kind of educational degree in Germany between 1976 and 1983, then you had to produce at least one jazz fusion album. I'm starting to think that may be more truth than fiction.

Before offering my own insights, if indeed I actually have any, I think our friend Lev has done a fine job summing this one up on RYM: "A rare example of highly obscure German/Swiss fusion LP from the late 1970s / 1980s, which actually stands out from the lot. It is no secret that for some strange reason this music style really took root on these shores, with one little-known band after another recording harmless and useless albums of run-to-the-mill breezy tropical jazz-rock, expertly performed but totally devoid of any substance. Sideline weren't like that, they explored more edgy / angular sides of prog and fusion and weren't afraid of going into more experimental realms - thanks not least to the excellent unpredictable violin playing. So, if you're thinking about diving into this scene (which I've been wallowing in for the last few years), make this one of your starting points."

And how many times have you seen the CDRWL use almost that exact language when describing these European fusion bands: Tropical and breezy?  There's just no other way to put it. It was just the cruise ship / island vacation / Love Boat mindset of the day. It was in the music, on the television, in the movies, on the LP cover of ELP....

But Sideline is for certain different, as Lev points out above. The music is a bit edgier, more melodic, and sounds like it was recorded a few years earlier when jazz musicians were still exploring the exciting possibilities of rock. Violin, as would be expected from a leader, is the dominant instrument (though the music is all composed by guitarist Hugo Vogel). Sometimes electric violin can be too flashy (Jean-Luc Ponty) or too hoedown like the Appalachian Americana influenced bands. Here the sound, style, and playing by Koehler is just perfect. If I had a preference though, I would have preferred the guitarist to go beyond the jazz tone here. If only he'd let 'er rip psychedelic style (as the violin will on occasion), then this album would've jumped two points.

A solid effort for the style, and worth a CD I think.

Priority: 3

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