Every now and then you get a band that is just a blip on the radar but they leave such an awesome carbon footprint you just have to see what it’s all about. Formed in the late sixties by Rainer Bruninghaus in Koln, West Germany with Houschäng Nejadepour, Detlev Landmann, Herbert J. Kalveram and Bill Brown, the last which eludes me to how it fits in the mix with the name game. But it’s all good. So with only two albums released during their two year tenure, “Eiliff” is one of those flash in the pans bands that you either heard of or not, I’m guessing not. I discovered this band again while sifting through my friend’s giant folder of albums and asked, “Who’s this?!” To which the response was, “Free-jazz, blow you away.” Free-jazz? Ooooookay, new to me but sure, why not, it’s German, Prog-ish? Had no idea what to expect really so why not. Wasn’t even sure how to pronounce their name properly either! Eee-leef? Eye-Leaf? Eyeil-lif? Anyone? Little help here please! I generally pronounce them as “Eee-Lif” so were going with that for now.
I was exposed to some forms of jazz like structure with early King Crimson albums as fragments in their first couple of records and for what I have heard of from The Soft machine post Robert Wyatt era so it should be pretty good stuff. So I borrowed all their albums from him and had a listen to them putting on their first self-titled Lp from 1971. WHAM! This was INTENSE! Some of the craziest music I have ever heard and brilliant pieces of music as well that blew my mind because it was really nothing like anything else around that time. The band failed to make any real headway in the scene and fizzled after only two years and their self titled Lp and the oddly named “Girlsrls“. Two live albums “Bremen 1972” and “Close Encounter With Their Third One” with a very Roger Dean (Yes Lp artist) looking album cover weren’t released until 2002 some 30 years later but so worth it. With what sounds like Coltrane, Gene Kruppa and Ronnie Jordan jamming with the band were thrown in to this free-for-all almost irrational collaboration of musicianship.
Sadly no video footage exists of the band anywhere which is a shame because seeing them perform any of their songs live would have incredible as the sounds that had emanated form the amps and PA system were just ferocious and just killed anything that you thought was jazz before hand and you will cite this album again and again. Sticking with the German motif of singing in English they do so but with that accentuated German/English fashion that you know they didn’t evolve from a primarily English speaking country but by the time you get around to that, who cares because you are way too deep in to this band. The music is so energetic and all-consuming like a raging forest fire you can’t help but find yourself stopped in whatever it was you were doing when you put the record on. With elements of; Prog, jazz, Canterbury, rock, experimental and anything else you could throw in to the pot, it was there. The extreme fervent guitar, off-the-hook drumming that seemed to come out of nowhere, horns and sax that shouted form the tops of mountains to rain smouldering volcano ashes on you where you stand and vocals that albeit buried in effects they chant the sounds of some far off distant land where you find yourself on some alien shore. How this band didn’t go anywhere is eluding my mind still to this day!
“Byrd Night of the Seventh Day” the opening track to their debut album comes out as a very medieval type sounding song that seems to fade out to nothing then breaks in to what sounds like an outtake of Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” but immediately takes on its own shape and style and flows in to a jazzy ensemble of the period and Progs its ass off. Killer opening track to an equally killer album of what turned jazz fusion music on its head and spun it out of control. “Gammeloni” jumps in with all guns blazing gung ho approach introduction then dropping in to a very 70’s free form jazz jam it seems but very organized and tightly controlled. No idea what the title means but the music is out of this world erratic and as mad as a March hare! What is a “Gammeloni” anyways? The “Uzzek of Rigel” follows next with what sounds like some creature from the depths and pits of Middle Earth and would make any Tolkien fan rub their hands together and cheer with glee. It also sounds like something from the old Star Trek series where Captain Kirk makes out with Rigel’s green daughter, Uzzek. Right?! Right?!
But better yet we are treated to a ten minute plus journey to the centre of the mind of the person sitting next to you, not even your own. Finally “Suite” a twenty plus minute epic masterpiece that closes the album in true Prog fashion by being the last song on the record. With time, tempo and timbre changes that are there and gone before you can even say Hasenpfeffer and you are replaying it if not for the amazing intro where they just drop down to a heavy flange guitar and horns sway then build up to a frenzy of swirling Hammond organ and seguing in to a guitar solo so high you can smell the hash oil all over it. The song does that similar start/stop inflection you get in “Schizoid Man” then they go in to a whirling build up of intoxicating notes and chords and dipping in to Eastern music with a sitar interlude to soothe your jagged nerves that had just been rattled beyond all recognition. Then returning to the mayhem and destruction of your auditory senses with another bashing of the Hammond, delirious drumming, gleaning guitar riffs and belfry bass lines finally calming down around the 16 minute mark to fall in to a groove that hangs tightly to the envelope as it swirls nearer to the end climaxing to the finale of stomps and crescendos like a live performance with the final drum roll and cymbal smash to close it out to fade away. Stellar.
For such an epic album it’s hard for one to imagine why this band went nowhere and dried up like bones in the desert. Each member is classically trained and knew their craft like a samurai. The two live albums show that they did gig but like live video there are no bootleg albums known to exist unfortunately because hearing “Suite” go on for a half an hour beats anything of the day even for the big names in Prog. The world wasn’t ready for the likes of Eiliff in 1970 or ’71, ’72 and they didn’t get far enough off the ground to make a big enough noise even in their own country which is really quite shocking for Germany to not embrace one of their own at the time when many UK bands were flooding the halls and venues all over the country.
Their second and final Lp, “Girlsrls“, again, make what you will on the pronunciation of it but it too has that Krautrock free-form jazz, Prog, Canterbury (or is it Kolnbury?), fusion, psychedelia complexity to it.
Spacey free-form grooves and intensity combined to give you another album of ear absorbing, mind crashing, cosmic reaching 5 tracks of Jazz-Prog Krautrock for the taking. Without bothering to start off slowly this album jumps in to a frenzied mayhem of Hammond notes followed quickly by the rest of the band with its opening track, “Eve of Eternity“, a face paced hard driving organ lead that blasts its way out of your speakers, and not Mos Eisley. With every song under ten minutes it made it tighter and more controlled to get everything in to songs that they wanted to. This song has that feel to it like you’re in a speakeasy somewhere after prohibition and in the throes of some other time period and the room is smoky and full of people at tables watching the band on stage literally pouring buckets of sweat everywhere as they lose complete control instrumentally whilst keeping their composure in tact. Perfect first out of the gate track to begin an album with. Fading away with a final set of notes on the keyboards it’s the ideal segue to the next song, “King of the Frogs“. Perhaps it’s the Frogs aspect of it but I always think of things French for some reason, stereotypes and delicacies plague the mind. But this song has plenty to being plagued about with its slenderness in the middle as it leads you down a pathway of American style psychedelic trippiness from the Summer of Love with the acid induced sounds and swirling rolls and fills as the vocals command a monologue about the King of the Frogs before the song stammers back in to a full on groove again setting the mood for a dirty rock guitar solo till it fades out as well giving it less on the jazz fusion and more on the rock facet of the band’s sound.
“Journey to the Ego” rolls in with the way you’d expect it to, cymbal gyrations and strung out guitar notes lead us in to a pathway to another realm as we step heavily in to the free form jazz styles of the saxophone and Hammond rotations while the guitar steps in on the side and adds in its raunchy tone complimenting the straight forward drumming that pounds out the beat. Certainly a song worthy of Freudian examination as it’s neither the Ego nor the Super Ego that’s being meditated on here but more of an alter Ego that is expressed through fingers so Freud would be more than interested in this as a clinical prepense to soothe his ache for what he’s hearing with this track. The title track “Girlrls” like others doesn’t wait for a second and plunges in to mayhem right out of the gates with a sputtering of drums and organ notes for the first minute and a bit before the sax steps up and takes lead and creates that film noir effect of sultry and seductive notation that has you in a classic tale of being a detective in the city at night while the rain mists gently flow as you follow a girl to a nightclub that’s caught your eye. The song keeps this mellow dramatic pose for a couple minutes as they sway and swirl around your head shrouded in mystery till around the four minute mark when it falls in to the common groove pattern they have used in previous songs but not with greasy guitar riffs but a swanky organ solo that takes the song to the end of whatever the Girlrls are up to. The band seems to favour the fade out as opposed to a punchy stop to songs on this album and they conclude the record with the song, “Hallimasch” that stomps in with down pouring notes then shucking in to a corrugation that doesn’t really seem to go anywhere except to be repetitive until the organ gyrates up to a vocal that comes through almost as yelling a mantra at you. The song title doesn’t translate to anything that I could find so I’m not sure what they meant by it. The song dwindles down to almost silence around the four minute mark then pipes up to another basic groove pattern with some accentuated guitar notes that hammer on and then merges in to with the bass and sax but then after a couple of bars of that it shifts its time and tempo and as if spliced with another song goes in a completely different direction and a rocks out with that dirty guitar tone and the organ does the backup ‘vocal’ to its lead as it nails the end of the album with a punchy stop note going against the grain of the rest of the record which was nice to hear and makes you sit up and say, “HEY!” and you start the album all over again.
As mentioned earlier what looks like something from Roger Dean’s portfolio of album covers this record released in 2002 was recorded in 1972 for a German radio program in Koln called ,”Nachtmusik” and aired November 10th 1972. “Lilybaeum” the first ‘song’ if you will opens up the album and sounds more like an outtake from the beginning of Pink Floyd’s 1968 title track, “A Saucerful of Secrets“, the introduction section known as “Something Else“. A cacophony of sounds and swirls like a tune up mish-mash rather than an actual song leads us towards what to expect, the unknown and potential auditory destruction. A song that they never got to put down on record or expand in to something other than a four and half minute soundscape space filling free floating introduction at the stratosphere. One of the things about the German music scene in the 60’s and 70’s is that they recorded almost every band for a radio broadcast at some point or another preserving the music for all eternity or at least until you discover it. These recordings are as close to what we will ever know what the band was like in a live setting with them to have Carte Blanche to release the hounds so-to-speak and deliver a stellar performance of unprecedented musicianship. “Girlrls” now going from about 6.5minutes to just over 18 minutes with a drum solo that would make Buddy Rich and Gene Kruppa sit back and smile contently. The live versions of these songs have a much more free toss to them then in the studio but that’s what makes a live performance so much more interesting and often more intensifying. “Hallimasch” takes in a few more minutes giving it a grand total of just over 15 opposed to the eight and change on record and “Journey to the Ego” added another minute and a half to the finale making it a strong and potent record to listen to. It would seem to be no audience in attendance at this performance and the recording somewhat suffered from not having a live audience to applaud the band in the beginning or end and no DJ commentary to what the show was called or announcements about the band also would have been favoured here but we are still treated to an insane and command performance.
The “Bremen 1972” is also from a radio broadcast in the city of Bremen and does have an audience at the end albeit a very small one and not very intuitive to what had just happened to them. It lists the two songs on the album as, “Journey to the Ego” and “Suite” when in fact it is really just “Suite” performed and and the album cover description is incorrect. Journey…, is from the Girlrls Lp and has a very quiet and soft beginning as you had read earlier and this is clearly the entire Suite performance with another lengthy drum solo. The entire “Suite” clocks in at 41.42 minutes(!) total running time. Eat your heart out live versions of “Dazed and Confused” with your measly half hour versions! No wonder the audience wasn’t really with it by the end of the performance, they were too strung out from the non-stop mayhem of musicianship being thrown at them at max volume and speed at times. Bremen radio broadcasts were the equivalent of the BBC Radio1 series with Jools Holland in the 70’s. Possibly hosted by free improvising bassist “Torsten Mueller” and the Bremen record was from Lila Eule Klub, Bremen, West Germany April 19th 1972 for those of you like me who love accuracy in their live recordings. Below is the first part of “Suite” listed as “Journey to the Ego“.
All of Eiliff’s albums are definitely worth adding to your Prog Collective and yes the Friars do smile cheerfully and welcome this band as an exception to the rules because I think many times along the way they certainly rewrote some of the Prog recipes to their own flavours and bent and reforged some of the other rules along the way as they played. Their music is truly an acquired taste and for those of you who prefer your Prog to have a bit more radio friendliness to it then that’s ok but if you only ever venture slightly out of the box that which you have created your Prog world within then please have a listen to this band as they will either irritate or blow you away, preferably the latter because they are truly unique and have a solid place in the Halls of Prog. The time, tempo and tonal changes they moulded and remoulded throughout their brief career leaves one to only imagine what they would have eventually come up with for a third record if given the chance? Many bands of today’s Prog Guard should certainly take a listen to this group for free jazz improvs and unique cutting styles and see how it fits in to today’s modern world of music. There’s a discordance between this band and the rest of the music scene that was happening back then and given the chance I believe that they could come back today and just level the playing fields.
If you have been blessed by listening to early King Crimson albums up to Islands in 1971 and Soft Machine Lps post Robert Wyatt era then you may just really like this band for the jazz like approach they do. Primarily an instrumental outfit but some vocals are in a few songs to keep it different. Not for a casual listener unless you want to really, I mean REALLY step right in to the deep end without warning. I say, do it, don’t step, JUMP!