Personnel: Kavus Torabi (guitar); Sarah Anderson (violin, viola); Geri McEwan (violin); Thomas Frasier Scott (flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone); Dave Newhouse (alto flute, bass clarinet, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone); Chloe Herington (bassoon); Emma Sullivan (trumpet); Sam Morris (French horn); Emmett Elvin (Fender Rhodes piano, harmonium, organ, synthesizer); David J. Smith (keyboards, drums, percussion); Antti Uusimaki (keyboards).
Audio Mixer: Antti Uusimaki.
Recording information: Eastcote Studios, West London (03/31/2012-04/01/2012); Sky Henge (03/31/2012-04/01/2012); Studio Klondyke (03/31/2012-04/01/2012); Eastcote Studios, West London (04/2012-07/2012); Sky Henge (04/2012-07/2012); Studio Klondyke (04/2012-07/2012).
Photographer: Joe Del Tufo.
Back in ancient music history (circa the late '90s), Guapo were regarded by some as "playful." After various lineup changes and albums like 2013's CD/DVD set History of the Visitation, this does not seem to be a particularly playful group -- unless a darkly hued outfit like Univers Zero could be considered playful. Now a quartet with drummer David J. Smith the only original member, Guapo are identified with the 21st century resurgence of Rock in Opposition avant-prog, a style/movement/community of which UZ were founding contributors during the late '70s. Whether Guapo consciously considered themselves part of the RIO lineage from the start, they seem willing to draw from the dark side of that lineage on History of the Visitation -- while incorporating myriad other musical elements into their proggy instrumental blend. The five-minute buildup of ominous orchestral tones and textures comprising the "Visitation" intro to 26-plus-minute album centerpiece/behemoth "The Pilman Radiant" culminates in a slow and eerie melodic fragment echoing not only a similar bit from "Jeweled Turtle," the leadoff track to Guapo's previous album, 2008's Elixirs, but also the equally unsettling start to "The Funeral Plain" from UZ's 1986 Heatwave. A deep irregular throbbing drone underpins sustained metallic oscillations -- as at least some of the album's seven guest musicians on a variety of reeds, brass, and strings are slowly buried by the onslaught -- before "The Divine Vessel" continues the suite with initially waltzy understatement; the Fender Rhodes of new keyboardist Emmett Elvin (replacing Daniel O'Sullivan) is supported by drummer Smith and bassist James Sedwards before guitarist Kavus Torabi burns his way into the arrangement with a sustained tone and deliberate ascending melodic line. Elvin rips into dramatic organ chords before the band plunges into a full-on rapid-tempo bridge and a rhythmically shifting space jam melding the introduction's ambient roar with an insistent hard rock pound and Fripp-ish repeating guitar line. "The Pilman Radiant" alternately slams, gallops, (intentionally) stumbles, and floats through its second half before returning to its midpoint theme, as Guapo display their affinity for "Larks' Tongues" and "Fracture"-era Crimson over UZ's more chamberesque side. "Complex #7" is another dark ambient foray into the "Visitation" zone, but the concluding "Tremors from the Future" is an altogether different machine, cruising through uptempo and even catchy segments -- Elvin's staccato attack on the keys would be downright funky if he were playing a clavinet. The companion DVD of Guapo live (with O'Sullivan on keys) is dominated by a very professional multi-camera video -- in arty black-and-white -- of the band performing "Five Suns" at NEARfest 2006; the performance careens toward proggy bombast, with Torabi in particular throwing himself into his (foot)work. Despite its inferior single-camera video (but fine audio mixing/mastering by Udi Koomran), the band's sparkle-shirted performance of Elixirs' "King Lindorm" at France's RIO festival the following year is a more nimble affair, with a greater measure of "avant" poured back into Guapo's avant-prog mix. ~ Dave Lynch