Atoll — Rock Puzzle
(Musea FGBG 4024.AR, 1979/1993, CD)
by Jon Davis, 2005-09-01:
I always thought of Atoll as being the number two French symphonic rock band in the 70s, after Ange. Like Ange, they applied the ideals and techniques of progressive rock to French culture and came up with something unique. Also like Ange, they tend to be very dramatic, especially in the vocals, which are sometimes spoken or whispered. But Atoll are probably more accessible to the non-French listener, with a sound that is a little less divergent from the British pioneers like Yes. They released three classic progressive albums and, struggling to find their way in the musical landscape after the advent of punk rock, one forgettable attempt at more commercial fare. After a truly solid debut as a five-piece in 1974, personnel changes resulted in a six-man group that recorded what is generally regarded as their masterpiece, L’Araignée-Mal, a stunning work full of great compositions, interesting sounds, and varied moods. The addition of violin acts as a wonderful counterbalance to new guitarist Christian Béya, whose technical prowess often propels the band in the direction of jazz fusion.
Turmoil following the second album led to the loss of the violin, and as a streamlined five-piece, the band made a conscious decision to move away from the fusion elements toward a more symphonic sound on their third album. Tertio was the first Atoll I heard, and remains a special favorite, though I give L’Araignée-Mal a slight edge in quality. By this point, the band is quite accomplished at their unique version of the genre, with an energetic rhythm section, lots of Mellotron backing, and great guitar work, both on chording and solos.
When it came time to record their fourth album, the band found themselves in a climate no longer friendly to complex symphonic music, and like many other progressive bands, sought to maintain relevance by simplifying their music. The result, Rock Puzzle, still has some progressive elements either woven into the songs or as uneasy interjections within them. The arrangements often feature a horn section in awkward counterpoint to the guitar and keyboards. It doesn’t always work, but it’s no more embarrassing than the efforts of other prog bands of the time. As a curiosity, this CD includes three tracks the band recorded in 1981 with John Wetton for a project that never got off the ground just before he joined Asia.
These reissues provide a welcome spotlight for one of the great bands of the 70s. For those who already own any of these on CD, the sound is greatly improved, with the previous Musea discs sounding muffled by comparison – Tertio is especially improved. The bonus tracks (particularly on the first album) are the exception: the live recordings still sound tinny and distorted, but they are easily enough ignored.
by Henry Schneider, 1999-12-31:Rock Puzzle is the long awaited CD reissue of Atoll’s fourth album recorded in 1979. True to their practice of releasing high quality CDs, Musea included an extra 33 minutes of six unreleased tracks! Three of which were songs composed by John Wetton (ex-bass and vocalist for Family, King Crimson, and Asia) and performed under Atoll’s name prior to Wetton’s Asia recording sessions. One of these songs is the original version Asia’s big hit "Here Comes the Feeling." Besides the Wetton songs, the three other previously unreleased tracks are remixes of "L’Ultime rock," "Puzzle," and the only Atoll song ever performed in English, "Atari, that’s a game! (Smarto Kitschy-American mix)." Atoll was France’s premiere progressive band. Over the course of their four albums Atoll continued to explore and experiment in the sophisticated rock music of the seventies, a progressive band in the truest sense of the word. Rock Puzzle is a rockier album than their previous outings with "Smarto Kitschy" being an attempt at reaching a mainstream audience. Besides this throw away song, the remainder of the album teems with elaborate keyboard and guitar work bearing the Atoll trademark. Musea again reissues a much sought after recording from the annals of French progressive rock with a beautiful color picture CD, original cover art, and a 16-page booklet of lyrics, history, and a perspective by John Wetton. Rock Puzzle is an essential CD for the French rock collector.
Jon Christensen RIP – Word reaches us today of the passing of Norwegian drummer Jon Christensen, a musician whose sensitive playing did much to help define the atmospheric sound of ECM jazz recordings. His work with Jan Garbarek, Bobo Stenson, Terje Rypdal, and many more was sensitive and varied, adapting to a wide variety of styles while maintaining a distinct identity of its own. Christensen was 76. » Read more
Gong Announces UK Tour for 2020 – Having spent the last few years touring the world, including dates in Japan with psych legend Steve Hillage, multiple headline European tours and festivals, America’s Cruise to the Edge festival, a South America headline tour, and a headline performance at Tomorrow Festival in China, the band have won the hearts of both traditional and modern Gong fanbases. During this live journey, Gong has delved further into the truly psychedelic, exploratory, and mind-expanding side of the music. » Read more
Wolfgang Dauner RIP – Pianist Wolfgang Dauner, one of the pioneers of both European free jazz and jazz rock, has died at the age of 84. With his own groups and with the United Jazz+Rock Ensemble, his playing and compositions were a prominent presence in European jazz from the mid-60s until just recently. » Read more
Michael Allison RIP – Michael Allison, who since 1997 has been recording as Darshan Ambient, passed away on January 9th after a long and brave battle with cancer. He has been at at the forefront of the new ambient/electronic music scene, with over eighteen releases to his credit. » Read more
Spirit - Son of Spirit / Farther Along & Future Games / Spirit of 84 – After Spirit’s first four classic albums, the band entered a period of fluctuating personnel, style, and success. The double-LP Spirit of ‘76 had marked the revitalization of the band around... (2006) » Read more