Thursday, July 7, 2011

Gryphon - Red Queen to Gryphon Three (1974)

One of the things I love most about Prog Rock is the sheer audacity of some of the bands and their ridiculous ideas. What we have here is an entirely instrumental concept album about a game of chess prominently featuring the Krumhorn, an obscure Renaissance reed instrument that sounds a bit like a bassoon. You'd be hard pressed to find a modern band willing to embark on such a silly undertaking, and yet it works brilliantly.

The record is divided into four lengthy tracks, each supposedly representing a phase of gameplay. "Opening Move" begins with a peaceful and pleasant melody, painting a picture of a friendly game played outdoors on a warm summer day. The tension gradually increases as the "friendly game" turns into a heated battle of minds. The next track, "Second Spasm," starts as a lively dance tune in 6/8 time played on recorders. The music is relentless fun and cheerful, while maintaining a fast pace indicative of the fierce competition imagined to be happening on the chess board.

Side two opens with the more reserved "Lament," in which our protagonist mopes about his diminishing prospects of victory, before launching into the triumphant finale, "Checkmate." Throughout, the band do a nice job of developing their motifs in an almost symphonic fashion. Rather than simply stringing a collection of unrelated themes together, they reuse melodies within the individual movements, playing them in a variety of different ways and always maintaining the listener's interest.

It's hard not to love this record. It's so wonderfully idiosyncratic, with its Renaissance feel augmented by the modern flavor of keyboards and bass guitar. The melodies are catchy and very happy sounding. It's an album that makes me smile every time I hear it. Whether you're a fan of Prog Rock, Renaissance music, or just looking for something fun and uplifting, you're likely to find something to enjoy on "Red Queen to Gryphon Three."

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