A Look Inside The Brain
by Patrick O'Hearn (July 1998)If you had asked me a few years ago to name my favorite record labels of all time, I would have given you this list: Elektra Records from 1965-75, Vanguard Records, and late 1960's / early 1970's Island Records (in the good old days when they used either a pink or palm tree label on the record). Now that I am older and wiser, I would also add some German labels from the 1970's to that list: Sky, Pilz, Ohr and especially the legendary Brain Records. During the past year, Repertoire Records in Hamburg has begun doing all of us a big fat favor by starting to re-release the entire Brain catalog a few albums at a time on CD. I think they have released about 25 albums so far.
Some of my favorite (and the best known) Brain bands include Neu!, Cluster, and Guru Guru. They also released the first Scorpions album (before they became a heavy metal band) and also the very successful band Jane, which I don't really consider a Krautrock band, but I might think differently if I ever get a chance to hear their first album.
BRAIN was not a record company but one of the (many) labels created und run by the German record company METRONOME MUSIK GmbH (which was and is owned by PolyGram), all located in Hamburg. For a better understanding and as a good example of how this works: all contracts with the artists or producers were always made by METRONOME and the name of any of their labels did not even appear in those contracts.
In the early seventies METRONOME just distributed - among many other own or foreign labels - also the OHR label in Germany. Neither METRONOME nor METRONOME's employees Günter Koerber & Bruno Wedel had much to do with the production, recording, cover, artists, promotion, etc. of OHR records (who released classic debut albums from Tangerine Dream, Guru Guru, and Ash Ra Temple, as well as early records from Amon Duul, Xhol Caravan, and Embryo). This was alone the business of "Ohr Musik Produktion GmbH" which was owned and run by the brothers Meisel (Berlin) and Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser (Cologne/Berlin). METRONOME MUSIK GmbH was closed down on 31st of December 1996, on order of PolyGram.
Later on Günter Körber left and started Sky Records which released tons of Cluster and Cluster related projects and the first few solo albums by Neu guitarist Michael Rother. Bruno Wendel seems to have disappeared from the scene, but if he ever surfaces, I'm ready to start a label with him.
For most collectors, the 1000 series of releases with a Green label are the most interesting. The 1000 series ended when Körber left to start Sky Records in 1976. At that point, they switched to an Orange label and a different series of numbers.
OK, let's take a look at some of my favorite, but lesser known parts of the Brain:
Satin Whale Desert Places Brain LP #1049
Released in 1974, the debut album from Satin Whale is one of my all time favorite Brain releases. The first song "Desert Places" reminds me of early Jethro Tull (the Stand Up and Benefit albums). With a soaring flute played by Dieter Roesberg and Gerald Dellmann's heavy organ, the song has a great groove, very powerful stuff. After a minute or two, the flute disappears and the organ gets even heavier with a strong Brian Auger influence. The guitar (also played by Dieter) starts to come up into the mix with a psychedelic blues feel, similar to Cream. Everything I love about progressive music happens in the first two and half minutes of this song. The singer (Dieter again) begins at the three minute point and he sounds excellent and heavenly. Then the flute comes back in and it's almost like Ian Anderson fronting Cream.
The next song "Seasons Of Life" is a psychedelic pop song, the vocal harmonies are very solid, while the guitar and organ continues to kick me in the ass. Then the tune switches suddenly to a funky Doors-like mood, with an almost R&B or soul groove. It occurs to me as I listen to this record again that the band reminds me of Iron Butterfly, such as the best jamming elements of "In A Gadda Da Vida." This album is probably one of the best records ever made in Germany, and I'm eagerly waiting for it's reissue on Repertoire. Unfortunately this is their only Brain LP, the band moved over to the Nova label after this album and released six more records, but I haven't heard any of those.
Embryo Rocksession Brain LP #1036
Embryo was only on Brain for a short time. They were originally on the legendary Ohr label (mentioned before), but then moved onto United Artists (the same label that released all the Can and Amon Duul II albums during their peak period). But United Artists did not like the fusion sound of the album they had recorded, so the band sold the rights to Brain instead. Let's just say that Brain was using their brain when they bought these tapes, because the music is fantastic. The album opens with Christian Burchard's jazz rock drum beat, then eastern sounding melodies start to come in from the other instruments. It reminds me alot of the Miles Davis album Big Fun that combines jazz rock rhythms with tablas and sitar. The music then begins to get very dense with many sounds and instruments, including two keyboard players; Mal Waldron and Jimmy Jackson (also like early 70's Miles when he had both Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea). The only problem with this opening song "A Place To Go" is that it's too short, it's only four minutes long!
But the next song makes up for it with fifteen and half minutes of psychedelic jazz fusion. The keyboards are clearly featured and the rhythm expands and contracts freely. Both Miles and Mahavishnu come to mind. At times the band also reminds me of Agitation Free (see my previous Krautrock article), who also experimented with a blend of jazz, rock, and middle eastern sounds. The only bad thing about this album is the name; "Rocksession," "progressive middle eastern krautrock session" would be a better description. Now available on CD, go search it out...
Novalis Sommerabend Brain LP #1087
Novalis was from Hamburg and took their name from a 18th Century poet. They loved English bands such as Pink Floyd and King Crimson and you can hear that influence in their music. This was their third Brain album and it begins with a song called "Aufbruch." The music starts with a Dark Side Of Moon feel and then moves into a more symphonic sound, perhaps like early Genesis. Like the best English prog-rock, the song takes twists and turns every few minutes. It's a beautiful nine minutes of music blending classical melodies with rock synthesizers. "Wunderschätze" uses German lyrics written in 1798. It starts with an acoustic guitar and builds from there with organ swells. Again I am reminded of Foxtrot-era Genesis. But it still has a unique and original approach that can only come from a band living in Hamburg in the mid-1970s.
Their self titled second album on Brain (LP #1070) is a little less classical and symphonic. The sound is lighter with more space rock sounds and influences. By today's musical standards, it's probably more tasteful. In fact after listening to it again, I would say that this self titled album is better than Sommerabend.
Various Artists Krautrock Brain #3 / 1046
For me, this is the ultimate Krautrock sampler. A triple album in a triple gatefold sleeve. It includes songs from the best known Brain bands such as Neu!, Guru Guru, Cluster, and Jane. There's also a healthy sampling of bands you probably haven't heard before, so let's take a closer look at those songs. Emergency reminds me of American jazz rockers Blood Sweat & Tears with their song "Get Out To The Country" from Brain LP #1037. Pop idol Udo Lindenberg was an early member and appeared on their first album, but left before their only Brain LP was recorded. Featuring an organ and full horn section, the song is more interesting towards the end when the singing stops and a heavy percussion groove and screaming lead guitar kicks in. Like Emergency, Thirsty Moon also has a heavy percussive sound and a jazz rock horn section. But there's more ambience, more of a tripped out, spacey sound to Thirsty Moon on the song "Big City" from Brain LP #1021. Imagine if the band Chicago took a boat load of LSD and then recorded their first album. "Big City" is a psychedelic jazz rock jam.
A slow, beautiful bass line and a dreamy flute start the song "Gageg" from the band Kollektiv. It reminds me of the more mellow side two of the In the Court Of The Crimson King album, but with a lot more reverb added to the mix. I'd really like to hear more from this all instrumental band. When is Brain #1034 coming out on CD? "Jive Samba" from the Wolfgang Dauner Group is totally cutting edge modern jazz. Fans of Miles Davis would be wise to search out Brain #1016. Dauner's piano playing is incredible and I love the totally fuzzed out and distorted lead guitar of Siegfried Schwab. Where is he now? Back in 1969 when this was recorded, he was a monster player.
Similar in sound to early Hawkwind, Lava is a hard rock, space rock band. Lemmy and Nik Turner would have enjoyed listening to "Tears Are Going Home" from Brain #1031. Creative Rock continues the Blood, Sweat, & Tears and Chicago influences of Emergency. I think mildly creative jazz would be a better name, although there is some great Hendrix flavored guitar sounds on the song "Natron" from Brain #1017. As I review this three disc set again, I am forced to admit there is some garbage on here. There's no reason for any human to search out albums from Sperrmüll or Curly Curve. Like their one time Brain label mates the Scorpions, these two bands explore the world of hard rock. I will leave that mission up to someone else.
There's approximately 75 original Green label Brain releases, so it's impossible to cover all the bands here, but from my research I would say there's very few duds in the bunch. Check them out.
Special thanks to Klaus D. Mueller for background information about Brain and Ohr.
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