Phoenix Rising

ROVO And System 7

Purple Pyramid, 2013

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Steve Hillage is a name familiar to fans of ’70s progressive rock, particularly the Canterbury scene. Gong, the cult-favorite band in which his work first drew attention, had a notable run from 1972 through 1975 with Hillage on board. Beginning in 1975, Hillage pursued a solo career that has seen him working in a series of highly experimental musical vehicles, including the duo System 7, featuring Hillage on guitar and his partner Michelle Giraudy on synthesizer. System 7 combines tech house beats with live rock guitar to generate a sort of psychedelic ambient electronica.

ROVO is a Japanese sextet featuring two drummers, guitar, bass, synth and electric violin. A self-described progressive rock/jam band, ROVO calls their intense, layered style of instrumental music “man driven trance.” The two groups teamed up for a tour of Japan in 2011 and recorded this album over the course of two sessions in 2012 and 2013.

Working in combination, ROVO and System 7 sound like nothing you’ve ever heard before, an explosion of imaginative, exotic guitar-violin-keyboard interplay over a dense rhythmic bed, creating a series of fascinating textures and soundscapes. There’s intense rhythmic flow on the bottom end, wild, techie synths in the midrange, and a soaring, almost levitational quality to the guitar and violin in the upper ranges. The acoustic drums and electric guitar lend warmth, while the otherwise cool synths are often lively, with genuine character and playfulness to them. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Opener “Hinotori”—a team-up studio remake of ROVO’s frequent live cover of a System 7 tune, got all that?—is over 12 minutes and feels like it goes by in a flash. After working up to a big, full sound, they begin to launch cascading waves of sound and rhythm that build and flow and evolve continually, so that just when you feel like a theme might be about to repeat, it morphs into something new. The drummers are all over the place creating dense rhythmic textures, and Hillage and his counterpart Seiichi Yamamoto on guitar deliver long, keening, slightly distorted notes that have a genuine vocal quality to them, as if their guitars are singing a haunting aria.

“Love For The Phoenix” speaks directly to the other purpose behind this album, an effort to support and celebrate Japan’s recovery from the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The Phoenix is a national symbol of Japan and this track has a suitably skyward trajectory, managing to sound both contemplative and invigorating.

For “Meeting Of The Spirits,” a John McLaughlin cover, Hillage and violinist Yuji Katsui take the spotlight, manning the top end of a bracing jazz-rock fusion churn. With “Cisco,” the expanded group takes an already extended ROVO live track and expands it further, decorating its constantly morphing rhythmic bed with psychedelic guitar in the new middle section composed by Hillage.

Breakbeat track “Unbroken” starts out completely digital and evolves, beginning at 2:30, into a completely live performance of the same themes. Airy and atmospheric at first, this one does a steady build to an ecstatic crescendo full of distorted guitar over electronic atmospherics.

The intense, dynamic “Sino Dub” begins with lonely, rather eerie strummed chords, then adds double-time tribal percussion and sci-fi synths. One of the longest tracks here at nearly 14 minutes, it features some wildly playful experimental breaks toward the middle of the song and an outstanding guitar solo around 9:30. Closer “Unseen Onsen” is an ambient piece whose opening atmospherics remind me of the opening to the classic Yes track “Close To The Edge,” before executing a long, gentle build, adding elements at every stage.

The music of Phoenix Rising is endlessly cool and deeply evocative, full of imaginative textures and rhythms. ROVO and System 7 together form a hybrid electronic-acoustic jam band that never wanders off-track into mindless noodling, but rather grows and evolves each musical idea from one intoxicating, densely arranged sequence into the next. This phoenix indeed takes flight.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 2013 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Purple Pyramid, and is used for informational purposes only.