by Daevid Brock
On October 28, the late Doug ‘Dr Synth’ Walker would have turned 68. In honor of his birthday and memory, I selected a tape to revisit from the massive Alien Planetscapes catalog. I wanted a set that showcased them in one of the ‘big band’ formats, so chose Radio Special Volume X, released in 1993 by Carl Howard’s audiofile Tapes label. Typical of the membership roller coaster that characterized/plagued Alien Planetscapes throughout its history, these two CBGB shows feature somewhat different personnel that were dramatically different in terms of instrumentation.
Side A features a humongous 8-piece band performing on December 20, 1992: Doug on synthesizers, sequencers and flute, Ernest Boyd on drums, Kevin Mapplebeck on guitar, Louis Boone on synths, LG Mair on bass, Valleri Popov on tenor saxophone, Darryl Little on alto saxophone, and Jon Cordes on violin, mandolin, and synth.
After an extended intro, the band launch into a free-wheeling blend of space rock and free-jazz. The saxophones wail, the flute sails, and the band rocks, cranking out high powered noisy, cosmic, space-jazz. I love the parts with dual blazing horns and ripping Robert Fripp styled guitar licks, sounding like Ornette Coleman and King Crimson hijacking Hawkwind’s Space Ritual. At other times the band sound like a blend of Soft Machine and Gong. These guys are tight as a knot and occupied a truly unique spot on the space/jazz/progressive axis, weaving in and out of hard rocking free-jazz and cosmically trippy passages. This is full band Alien Planetscapes at their very best.
Recorded five months earlier on July 21, the Side B performance is a 6-piece with Doug, Ernest Boyd, Kevin Mapplebeck, Louis Boone, Reginald Taylor on bass, and Mitch Markowitz on guitar.
Minus the saxophones and violin, this is a more purely space rocking performance, though with an Alien Planetscapes prog-jazz aesthetic that makes for some intricately interesting jams. The synths and electronics are more front and center, keeping the vibe firmly in space, as the guitars and rhythm section at times go molten volcanic tightly wound caustic ROCK. The second song opens with beautifully ethereal flute, soon launching into a steadily rolling deep space jazz-prog instrumental, with plenty of acidic noisy bits to keep the mood both lusciously melodic and tastefully edgy. This segues smoothly into a deliriously wailing multi-layered keyboard/synth led rocking assault, accompanied by stinging and swirling guitar licks. But there are also peacefully ethereal passages, making for a varied set of high-octane space rock and meditative bliss.
Happy Birthday Doug, wherever you are!!!