Set the con­trols for the heart of the drum.

Prog - - Echoes Old Turns... - SID SMITH

With Dave Gil­mour and Roger Wa­ters tra­di­tion­ally hog­ging the bulk of the Floyd-re­lated spot­light, it’s es­pe­cially good to see Nick Ma­son get­ting some at­ten­tion with his Saucer­ful Of Se­crets Band and the reis­sue of his three al­bums orig­i­nally re­leased in the 1980s. Hav­ing lan­guished in out-of-print limbo for far too long, that they come in a mod­estly priced pack­age is the ic­ing on the cake.

Thanks to Ma­son’s af­fa­ble na­ture and ego­less spirit, we have the bril­liant com­poser and pi­anist Carla Bley to thank


for his 1981 de­but solo al­bum, Fic­ti­tious Sports. Though re­leased un­der his name, it was Bley who gifted the en­tire col­lec­tion of songs that com­prise the record, as Ma­son looked to chan­nel his creative en­er­gies into some­thing more col­lab­o­ra­tive and pos­i­tive after the mak­ing of The Wall.

With Robert Wy­att pro­vid­ing most of the vo­cals, it’s be­come some­thing of a cult clas­sic in dis­parate parts of the pro­gres­sive mu­sic con­tin­uum. Largely recorded in 1979 in the bu­colic sur­round­ings of up­state New York, it res­onates with a re­mark­ably lib­er­ated at­mos­phere thanks to real-time per­for­mances and ag­ile sup­port.

Both songs and lyrics are of­ten witty, a qual­ity that Wy­att’s lugubri­ous and dead­pan de­liv­ery fre­quently am­pli­fies. The bril­liant Hot River re­mains a con­tender for the best song

Pink Floyd never recorded. Punchy brass, with some highly charged sax from Gary Windo (best-known for his work on Wy­att’s Ma­son-pro­duced Rock Bot­tom and Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard al­bums), add a fiery ur­gency.

This is a com­mod­ity that’s al­most en­tirely miss­ing from Ma­son’s next ven­ture. Team­ing up with 10cc gui­tarist Rick Fenn, 1985’s Pro­files veers be­tween a kind of li­brary mu­sic ver­sion of breezy pop to mo­men­tary out­breaks of dra­matic themes with crash­ing elec­tronic drums and cas­cades of

DX-7 synth. There’s a Dave Gil­mour cameo vo­cal and sev­eral so­los from King Crim­son veteran Mel Collins, but the al­bum strug­gles to come to life due to the glossy 80s pro­duc­tion.

1987’s White Of The Eye, on CD for the first time, is sim­i­larly bur­dened. The sound­track to di­rec­tor Don­ald Cam­mell’s movie of the same name, the pieces feel more like pro­vi­sional sketches. Moody, neon rain-soaked im­pres­sions, the oc­ca­sional bluesy out­ing, ex­otic synth flow­er­ings and Fenn’s fine gui­tar play­ing hover in the thrall of Dire Straits’ Broth­ers In Arms zeit­geist. Nev­er­the­less, de­spite its tor­por, there’s much that’s agree­able, if not very ex­cit­ing.

Though these lat­ter two records pos­sess a kind of in­nocu­ous charm, an overly fussy sound means they’ve dated in a way that Fic­ti­tious Sports most def­i­nitely has not.

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