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ALCATRAZ / HISTORY

Alcatraz
classic Krautrock, progressive, fusion & cross-culture

 
 

from The Crack In The Cosmic Egg CD-Rom (2007 edition)...

In the original book version of "The Crack In The Cosmic Egg" we wrote "A mysterious band, Alcatraz recorded just the one album at the notorious Wümme Studio (as used by Faust) and then promptly disappeared" which in reality is quite wrong, yet no one seemed to know that. Only later did we learn of their long history.
    Alcatraz came from Hamburg, rooted in the rhythm 'n' blues bands: Smoke Stacks Lightning and Blues 'n' All, becoming Alcatraz in Spring 1969 with a repertoire of heavy rock, blues, covers and adaptations, and increasingly a number of songs of their own. Taking on jazz and avant-garde influences they then went on to totally reinvent themselves, and became quite prolific for a while on the local live scene, most prestigiously on tour with Ekseption and the Pretty Things.
    Their dedicated hard working promoter Willy Jahnke secured them a one-off contract with Philips, and got them three days at Wümme Studio to make an album. And, what an album! VAMPIRE STATE BUILDING has plenty of that patent unmistakable Faustian Kurt Graupner recording sound, fried and alive, but also full of strange intricacies. With some pretty lengthy tracks and some real cool titles, and a corny but striking cover sporting the words "oh Baby it ain't no use running away from me" it's an all round tasty item whichever way you look at it. The Alcatraz melting pot featured fuzzed guitars and effects overdose in a heavy and bluesy over-the-top Krautrock akin to Frumpy and Nosferatu (with nods to early Missus Beastly, Xhol Caravan, Out Of Focus) whilst fusing it all into a sound of their own. The lead singer Rüdiger Berghahn sounds like a male Inga Rumpf by the way! Alcatraz were remarkable in that they bridged and mixed together genres that no one else did. In fact, they pulled out all the stops to come up with one of the finest slabs of eccentric heady Krautrock. It's a masterpiece beyond doubt, right down to the deranged guitar blitz finale "Piss Off!"
    But that wasn't the end of the story, Alcatraz never "promptly disappeared". They did record some demos for a second LP in early 1972, of which one track is featured as a bonus track on the CD of VAMPIRE STATE BUILDING, yet that was never completed. Apparently, hassles with band members being forced to leave due to military service and such like, put the band on-hold several times, drafting-in reserve drummers and trying out different new styles, it all meant that the old Alcatraz sound was soon lost. Early member Thomas Hockling (vocals, harmonica) had re-joined the band, and featured as stage front man for the next few years, taking the sound in a more satirical Zappa/Mothers like direction. A more recent release called MADE IN GERMANIA from a concert in 1976 documents this line-up.
    So, although the band had kept going, it wasn't until 1978 that they released a second album. ENERGIE PROGRAMM IN ROCK still had three original members, with Klaus Holst's notably Faust-like guitar still present, but was a very different music. Close to Floh De Cologne or Lied Des Teufels, being a mixture of progressive rock and theatre in German, with an obscure eccentric feel to it, it's an odd one all round, but definitely a grower when one becomes accustomed to the lopsided Zappa-esque pastiche of it all. Another two and a half years on, and now sans keyboards, but with one Rainer Hansen on winds, it was all change again. LIVE "Trockeneis Zum Frühstück" (that's "Dry Ice For Breakfast" incidentally) had the band at the breakfast table on the front cover, with frothing mugs, and to the rear are a number of well-known LP covers that were no doubt amongst their key influences, i.e. Miles Davis' BITCHES BREW, Soft Machine THIRD and Mahavishnu Orchestra's BIRDS OF FIRE amongst them. LIVE saw an instrumental return to the jazzy edge of their debut, but also felt a little more like later Kollektiv or many other jazz-rock band of the era, but still with that unique Alcatraz "fire".
    Sporadically the band has kept going ever since, largely in a jazz-rock type vein. First, they mellowed further on NO. 4, with a very much 1980s styled cross genre jazz-rock with a funky edge, akin to instrumental "guitar" Zappa, or the likes of David Torn or Terje Rypdal & The Chasers. It would seem, in the long-term, that Alcatraz have been a band that goes along with whatever the underground "fashion" is at the time, i.e. moving to political rock, to jazz fusion, and even more out-on-a-limb styles. We've still not heard LAST STATION, whereas HOLM was not really to our tastes, in that it fuses many past Alcatraz styles into a borderline death/Goth-metal, often veering dangerously close to the likes of Sepultura, et al. After that I'm not so keen to learn what 2002's SOUND FACTORY SESSION is like, although it is bound to be different yet again, now with only one remaining original member drummer Jan Rieck.

discography...

VAMPIRE STATE BUILDING - LP Philips 6305 128 (1972), CD Long Hair Music LHC00014 (2002)
ENERGIE PROGRAMM IN ROCK - LP Alcatraz AL 19377 (1978), CDR Cosmic Egg UTCE 006 CDR (2014)
LIVE "Trockeneis Zum Frühstück" - LP private LMP 002 (1980), CDR Cosmic Egg UTCE 007 CDR (2014)
NO. 4 - LP private (1982), CDR Cosmic Egg UTCE 008 CDR  (2014)
LAST STATION - CD private (1993)
HOLM - CD private (1998)
SOUND FACTORY SESSION - CD private (2002)
MADE IN GERMANIA (1976) - CDR private (2002), CDR Cosmic Egg UTCE 004 CDR (2014)

Alcatraz also feature on...
 KRAUTROCK - DL Auricle UTCE BC1 (2018) track: Gichtfinger

Alcatraz reviews in Audion - #13/5, #52/5

 

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