By now, you’re probably know for my love of Gentle Giant since 2002. With Steven Wilson handling the new mixes and 5.1 mix he’s done with The Power and the Glory back in 2014, Octopus in 2015, and now this year the release of the Three Piece Suite, it’s going to be quite a very interesting experience to discover these 10 tracks that cover the first three albums when Phil Shulman was in the band before departing to start a family after the release of their fourth album, Octopus.
The first three albums (Gentle Giant, Acquiring the Taste, and Three Friends) were originally released on the Vertigo label from 1970 to 1972 and the band formed out of the ashes of Simon Dupree and the Big Sound. The band wanted to move away from their pop/psychedelic sound into something that was complex, multi-part vocal arrangements, heavier, classical, and different time signatures.
The ten tracks came from the limited availability of the surviving multi-track tapes that Steven worked on by using Logic as the software and Universal Audio plug-ins while cleaning up the sound of bringing some clarity and information from the instrumental pieces that are on here. I’ve mentioned this many times, Steven is not trying to re-write history, but to honor and stay true to the original mixes as much as he can while bringing a different perspective on them.
Not everyone is going to like what he does on the classic albums on the 5.1 mixes, but it gives a sight on what was buried in those multi-tracks. You have the opening track Giant which begin with the lyrics “The birth of a realization/the rise of a high expectation.” It gives Derek’s vocals coming in front as he sings after the rising organ sound from Kerry Minnear, rumbling bass by Ray, and the booming drums done by Martin Smith.
The piece has this nod to Frank Zappa as if he was watching them just being in awe of what they’re accomplishing by doing a stop-and-go moments from the beginning and in the end section where it comes to an abrupt halt. The mysterious melody tones between, guitar, bass, and piano on The House, The Street, The Room is very clear in the remix as the song deals with scoring drugs while the nod to the story of The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel on Pantagruel’s Nativity, Minnear’s vocals shine followed by the Mellotron and the vocalizations between Derek’s haunting momentum and Gary’s riffs send a chill down my spine along with the xylophone and tambourine which is very clear, is mesmerizing.
Schooldays which almost as if it was recorded during the One Size Fits All-era, paints a retrospective looking back at the time the band remember their days as young man in school as both Phil Shulman and Kerry Minnear’s reverb vocals go back and forth followed by Calvin Shulman’s cameo vocals in the second half of the story. Gary Green for me, he’s been overlooked in the history of the Progressive Rock movement during its golden-era. He never gets the recognition he deserves.
When you listen to the 12-bar blues shuffle at the end section of Why Not? He mixing both Jazz, Classical, and the Blues rolled into one. From its rocking riffs with a Blackmore-sque style to the climatic end to delve into the Blues Rock momentum with Kerry’s organ in hot pursuit, he is powerful and the band give him a chance to come in front to deliver the goods from Wilson’s remix on the track along with the reverb midsection part of classical turned hard rock effects of Peel the Paint.
Three Friends is a symphonic ending of the suite which you can imagine on their third album comes full circle. It has some of the King Crimson-sque vibes between Malcolm Mortimore’s drumming, Gary’s guitar, Vocalizations, and the Mellotron coming to bring everything to know that the road to moving forward is not always easy, but remembering the good times that you had as a youth.
The bonus track contains Freedom’s Child which originally appeared in the 2-CD set, Under Construction 20 years ago, has not only a ballad, but with a country, soul, and touching composition that Minnear wrote. It is not only a beautiful song, but you could tell that the Shulman brothers already went through that passage through their Simon Dupree years and wanted to do something to move beyond the singles. And the 7-inch edit that Wilson did on the acoustic eerie reflection turned mind-blowing composition, Nothing At All.
The liner notes are done by Innerviews: Music Without Borders writer Anil Prasad including interviews with the band, Steven Wilson, and Tony Visconti who produced the first two albums. Anil has also done the liner notes for the 2015 reissue of Octopus and of course Levin Brothers, but I’m off-topic. It’s a great history covering the first three albums and it shows how much appreciation they had working on these albums.
The DVD/Blu-Ray contains short films of the ten tracks which include the construction of a building in New York on Giant done by Yael Shulman, Noah Shulman doing an amazing animated storytelling with Peel The Paint, Lior Wix’s animation of a young woman looking at the river of reflecting back with Nothing At All, The pictures of the adventures of Gargantua and Pantagruel from the Pantagruel’s Nativity lyric video that I could imagine Terry Gilliam would one day do a film of, and pictures of the band members as they were young reflecting on Schooldays.
It also contains the first three albums in its original mix with a flat transfer and instrumental versions of the songs. You could tell watching these animated and live action music videos is almost as if Gentle Giant were carrying the torches of Disney’s Fantasia and bringing it to life done the right way possible. Let’s hope next year Steven does a 5.1 mix of their seventh studio album, Free Hand. And in the words of Francois Rabelais, “I go to seek a great perhaps.”