Archive for the ‘Brass Rock’ Category

Maximalist vs. Minimalist Aesthetics in 20th Century Rock Music

April 20, 2010

Maximalists – value dynamic showmanship, idiomatic breadth, instrumental eclecticism, heroic virtuosity, harmolodic complexity, compositional grandeur and lavish sonorities. Maximalists essentially view showbiz as a meritocracy of virtuosity; the libertarian capitalism of rock.

Minimalists – value amateurism, sparse arrangements, a paucity of notes and chords, rudimental skill, compositional simplicity, rawness/underproduction and abrasive sonorities. Minimalists generally spurn showmanship, stressing D.I.Y. activism at the localized scene level; the collectivist socialism of rock.

Aesthetic Breakdown


  • Maximalism – The progression from high foundationalism, which peaked in 1966 with the release of Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys and Revolver by the Beatles. Officially launched with the June 1967 release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles.
  • Minimalism – The step beyond low foundationalism, as embodied by the mid-60s garage rock compiled in the Nuggets series. Accidentally spawned by the February 1967 release of The Velvet Underground and Nico, the debut album by the Velvet Underground.


  • Maximalism – Rose in the late-60s, triumphed in the early-70s, reached its broadest global latitude during the mid-70s, and slowly decelerated between 1978 and 1983 amidst the reinstatement of foundationalism via disco and dance pop.
  • Minimalism – Had little influence as maximalism ascended, but congealed slowly between 1969 and 1977 from disparate sources, finally emerging as the dominant subterranean aesthetic in the aftermath of punk.


  • Maximalism – Progressive Rock (Prog), Heavy Metal (early), Brass Rock, 70s Funk, Fusion, 70s Electronic, Pomp Rock/Arena Rock, New Romantic
  • Minimalism – Garage Rock, Proto Punk, Kraut Rock, Punk, Post Punk, Industrial, Pop Metal, alt.rock, Grunge


  • Maximalists – Led Zeppelin, King Crimson, Yes, Genesis, Emerson Lake & Palmer, The Who (post-1968), Jethro Tull, Chicago, Earth Wind & Fire, Deep Purple, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, Mike Oldfield, PFM, Tangerine Dream, Magma, Harmonium, Supertramp, Al Stewart, Boz Scaggs, Rupert Holmes, Queen, Electric Light Orchestra, Steve Harley, 10cc, Styx, Kate Bush, The Stranglers, Ultravox, Magazine, Japan, U2, Simple Minds
  • Minimalists – The Stooges, The Shaggs, The New York Dolls, T.Rex, Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers, Neil Young, Graham Parsons, Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Faust, Can, Patti Smith, The Ramones, Pere Ubu, James Chance & the Contortions, The Buzzcocks, Joy Division, The Smiths, Wire, Bauhaus, Gang of Four, AC/DC, Nerdvana, Violent Femmes, Suicide, Throbbing Gristle


  • Maximalism – London, Birmingham, Chicago, Montreal, Rome
  • Minimalism – London, Manchester, Berlin, Cleveland, Seattle

Philosophical Antecedents

  • Maximalism – Classicism, Romanticism, Objectivism
  • Minimalism – Naturalism, Existentialism, Postmodernism

Noted Champions

  • Maximalists – Musicologist, professor, author and composer Ed Macan (born 1961) – “The whole underlying goal of progressive rock – to draw together rock, classical, jazz, folk, and avant-garde styles into a new metastyle that would supersede them all – is inherently optimistic.”
  • Minimalists – Sociologist and critic Lester Bangs (1948-1982) – “The first mistake of art is to assume that it’s serious.”


Secret Understanding: The Idiomatic Breadth Between Maximalism and Minimalism

March 3, 2010

Over the course of a creative cycle spanning the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, the incendiary musical form known as rock underwent a series of categorical reductions. But since most of those categories were devoid of musical concretes, their meanings were all but trivial. For when rock is broken down to its core foundations, there are merely two distinct outgrowths of the music: maximalism and minimalism. This is not to say that those two streams were devoid of any stylistic range; but that the developments were more associative than the factionalists cared to recognize. Therefore, I set out to chart the genesis of maximalism and minimalism in the annals of rock, and examine the variables of idiomatic breadth which the two streams attained.

First we need to define the traits which embody minimalism and maximalism within the context of rock. Minimalism in rock is an eschewal of musicality, marked by skeletal, abrasive and atonal sonic scars of the rawest nature. Skeletal traits are bore through a paucity of instrumentation and compositional breadth; rudimental songs played by tiny combos. Abrasiveness stems from tunnel frequency, in which traits like bludgeoning volume and fogbound murk are employed to lock listeners into a single state of mind. Atonality is symptomatic of carpus inertia, in which the player’s lack of tactility obliterates the fundaments of musicality for un-centered and often shapeless noises.

Maximalism in rock is an embrace of musicality, embodied through expressions of complexity, eclecticism and grandeur at the highest level. Complexity is achieved when musicians maximize the elements of composition and musicality, exploring variant song structures to the utmost extent, with full regard to melody, harmony, rhythm, sonority, lyrics, meter and counterpoint. Eclecticism is mastered when musicians achieve a synthesis of styles with adept instrumental latitude, fusing various idiomatic impulses in the spirit of creation. Grandeur is reached through presentational dynamism, in which performers transcend themselves through theatrical showmanship, elaborate stagecraft and heroic virtuosity; frozen through time in lavish, state of the art productions.

Background: From Static to Flexible Foundationalism

Rock n’ roll coalesced during the mid-1950s, as touring blues and country players throughout the eastern and southern regions of the United States fed from the musical breadth of the cross-cultural landscape; mutually radiating this explosive new form. The music swiftly caught hold because of its accessibility to upstart musicians, who could easily adopt to this raw idiom and cut cheap records with their own lean combo’s; free from the constricts of formal training and costly orchestration which had been the requisites of pre-rock pop. But rock n’ roll rescinded after a few short years due to its stylistic limitations, with performers having exhausted the twelve-bar blues structure inherent to this primarily rhythmic form. Likewise, the American public shifted upstream, for rock n’ roll started to sound uniform once the racy novelty of its chief performers had worn off. In retrospect, rock n’ roll of the 1950s could be viewed as the makeshift form of budding musicians who ultimately aspired to attain mastery of their formative idioms: country, bluegrass and blues.

Rock didn’t die entirely, however, for its torch soon passed overseas. By the dawn of the 1960s, rock itself had become a formative idiom for the young musicians of England, who stripped the music to its unfettered core, dressed it with the flexible strum of folk, and applied the melodic idiosyncrasies of their own music hall tradition, thereupon fusing a new and revitalized form of rock which, owing to its locale of origin, became known to the world as Merseybeat. Given the broadened musicality now embedded into rock, the music could only progress from this point forward. The static nature of 1950s rock had rendered the music a passing fad; the expansive richness of 1960s rock transformed the music into an art form of global vitality and cross-generational sustenance.

The rock generation’s march to the maximalist summit commenced in 1964, spearheaded by the worldwide outbreak of Beatlemania and the attendant British Invasion. Buoyed by the notion that rock could now comprise a multitude of shapes, thousands of new musicians arose during the second half of the 1960s to expand upon this vast creative template. Over the ensuing lustrum, dynamic strides were made in developing the musicological tenets of melody, harmony, sonority, meter and compositional syntax within the framework of rock, with each successive year comprising an epoch unto itself. (more…)


May 30, 2008

Trifle Trifle (1970): Here’s a one-off that I actually thought had been an American artifact. It must have been the funky elements – traits of an idiom yet to cross the Atlantic. Anyway, another fine entity of British brass rock, where tasty horn backing compliment a Meters-like frontal line of scratchy, funky chord progressions. And now that I think about it, they do sound rather Angloid when the singer gets to that “Alibi Annie” vocal hook.



March 21, 2008

Iguana Iguana (UK, 1972)

I can’t believe how this only came to my attention recently. This one has it all – a provocative name, a brow-raising cover and a trusty vintage, not to mention some mighty fine music – yet somehow it was missed by Tapestry Of Delights, and has generally evaded the ‘Alex Gitlin Community’, until recently.

Anyway, another snappy brass rock band, this one bearing a mid-Atlantic approach that has me placing them somewhere between Brainchild and Gas Mask, melding melodic brassy swing with soulful Staxy sizzle.

Galliard and The Greatest Show On Earth

December 12, 2007

Brass rock pages are all being updated to six songs, or even more with the addition of video clips, such as with the If page, which now includes two highlights from their third album:


A few impressions: Galliard‘s second album, New Dawn (1970), has the clear advantage over their 1969 debut, Strange Pleasure. The former hears them weaving elements of jazz, blues and folk into a cohesive tapestry on par with the likes of early Jethro Tull and Pete Brown and Piblokto! On the other hand, Strange Pleasure betrayed an affinity for jingly horn blasts of the show tune pop caliber with only a tentative grasp on rock, ultimately pinning that album to the lighter side of the ’60s. This could have been down to the age of the members, a couple of whom looked old enough to have been kickin’ it with Acker Bilk at some point. Kind of like the professorly yet progressive-minded Dick Heckstall-Smith, once the oldest musician on the British rock scene (RIP.)


The Greatest Show On Earth, meanwhile, put their best foot forward on their debut, Horizons, which mostly focused on their main strength of crafting catchy, solid, four minute rock songs stuffed with horns. And they had so many such gems that the page is still hurting by a few absentees, such as “Day of the Lady”, on which they ably mustered a pleasing little folk ditty in waltz time.

The Greatest Show On Earth


August 15, 2007

Considering how poet/singer Pete Brown’s prior role in the world of rock had been confined to that of non-performing lyricist (namely for Cream), I’m amazed at how melodic and instrumentally complex his own musical endeavors – Pete Brown & His Battered Ornaments and Pete Brown & Piblokto! – turned out to be. “Things May Come and Things May Go, But the Art School Dance Goes on for Ever” and “I Walk For Charity, Run For Money” foreshadow punk with their speed and buzzsaw aggression, yet balance the thunder with a degree of buildup, tension and release which would mostly be lacking from that later idiom. Other tracks vary between Anglo-centric folk and jazz rock styles, evocative of Traffic (with better songwriting) and Jack Bruce’s early solo albums (with denser arrangements.) Delivering on its vintage, the enormous riff of “Aeroplane Head Woman”, from Piblokto!‘s 1971 Thousands On A Raft LP, will submerge your aqualung as it blows out the smoke on the water!
Pete Brown & Piblokto!

Goliath UK

August 12, 2007

The eponymous 1970 one-off LP from England’s Goliath delivered jagged, propulsive blues (or is that ‘jump’ blues) rock with shards of brass and metal, played with a contrapuntal intensity which alternately empowers and submits to the tough and salacious belting of Linda Rothwell, perhaps the most sexually aggressive (and demanding) British female singer of her generation. I’d like to say that this album was ahead of its time, yet only one later band, Fusion Orchestra, seemed to have picked up the gauntlet laid down by this frantically intertwined unit.


July 29, 2007

Now that we’ve identified some crucial differences between the American and British takes on the brass rock sound, let’s hear how the Germans interpreted the genre. Strikingly different from Colosseum and Galliard, and light years removed from Lighthouse or Gas Mask, Pinguin infused this thunderous style with a native Teutonic slant on their lone 1972 release Der Grosse Rote Vogel. Equally spellbinding for these Anglophonic ears is how Pinguin actually sang in German, a rarity amongst rock bands from their country. Being no expert on the Germanic musical vocabulary, I can only guess that the rhythms and arrangements which comprise these four compositions are somewhat indebted to the Bavarian marching band tradition. I’ll allow you to extend the definition:


Dutch Rock (Earth & Fire, Mr. Albert Show, Kayak)

July 15, 2007

Here are my blurbs for the two Dutch entries in my ever-evolving Top 30 Albums of 1970:

Mr. Albert ShowMr. Albert Show. Punchy, melodic, jazz-imbued pop rock which indeed puts on quite a show by alternating male and female vocals amidst a backdrop of fuzzy guitar/organ (often of the “which is which?” variety) and sax interplay. The rebop and the estrogen would sorely be missing on their plodding follow-up, 1971’s Warm Motor.

Mr. Albert Show

(P.S. My views regarding their second album have evolved somewhat since writing that initial blurb. Whilst deprived the cathartic immediacy of its eponymous predecessor, patient persistence does reward with Warm Motor when revved up without the excess stowaway tracks.)

Earth & FireEarth & Fire. A Dutch band that didn’t Americanize and, hence, missed the Spring 1970 Neaderbeat Invasion. The flat, androgynous vocals of Jerney Kaagman may fall short on emotion, yet her direct and often strident delivery ignites the raw propulsion of this band’s simple yet anthemic style of organ-based, martially driven melodic pop.

(warning: lame profile)
Earth & Fire

Here’s a blurb I once posted on Usenet regarding an old fave:

If you ask me, the finest band ever to hail from the Netherlands were Kayak, who purveyed that curious hybrid of late 60’s Anglo pop and early 70’s symphonic prog which has (for lack of a better term) been labeled by some of us more probing pop aficionados as *pomp pop.*


The most squarely symphonic Dutch band (as in Yes/Genesis sounding) was Flyte, who emerged with one album, Dawn Dancer, towards the end of the 70’s (sorry, no link.)


Brass Rock

July 10, 2007

The more I’ve delved into the brass rock genre, the more I’ve come to find how different the well-known US and little-known UK stables were from one another. North American bands like The Sons of Champlin and Ambergris drew heavily from the Stax/Volt sound, whilst others crossed that with MOR schmaltz (the post-Kooper Blood, Sweat & Tears) and Beatlesque pop (Chicago.)

The UK variant was much more indebted to the post-Mayall school of blues rock, in confluence with the emerging strands of progressive rock. Even earlier, the “big bands” of the beat era like The Graham Bond Organization, The Artwoods and Zoot Money and the Big Roll Band (who lacked the pop appeal of their chart-bound contemporaries, yet featured superior musicians) employed sax/organ augmentation and, fittingly enough, happened to include many future brass rock players in their lineups, namely Keef Hartley, who would front his own namesake unit, and Jon Hiseman and Dick Heckstall-Smith, the mainstays of the original Colosseum.