1. The Bruised Romantic Glee Club
2. Variations on a Theme by Holst
3. Catley’s Ashes
4. When Peggy Came Home
5. Highgate Hill
7. No One Left to Lie To
8. The Things We Throw Away
9. Doxy, Dali and Duchamp
11. When We Go Home
1. As Long As He Lies Perfectly Still (incorporating: That Still and Perfect
Summer – Astral Projection in Pinner)
2. Pictures of an Indian City
3. Nirvana for Mice
5. The Citizen King
6. Soon After
Jakko M. Jakszyk – vocals, electric and acoustic guitar, keyboards, mellotron, bass guitar, balalaika, sitar, flute, strings, whistles, sound effects, percussion, programming
Gavin Harrison – drums
Mel Collins – alto and tenor saxes, flute
Dave Stewart – keyboards (CD 1 – 9, CD 2 – 1, 3, 5)
Robert Fripp – soundscapes, electric guitars (CD 1 – 6, 11)
Danny Thompson – double bass (CD 1 – 9, CD 2 – 4)
Mark King – bass guitar (CD 1 -3)
Nathan King – bass guitar (CD 1 – 5)
John Giblin – bass guitar (CD 1 – 6)
Lyndon Connah – piano (CD 1 – 8 )
Ian MacDonald – flute (CD 1 – 2)
Caroline Lavelle – cello (CD 1 – 2)
Helen Kaminga – viola (CD 1 – 2)
Clive Brooks – drums (CD 2 – 1)
Gary Barnacle – alto flute, flute, bass flute and piccolo, tenor and soprano saxes (CD 2 – 1)
Hugh Hopper – bass guitar (CD 1 – 1)
Pandit Dinesh – tabla, vocals (CD 2 – 2)
Ian Wallace – drums (CD 2 – 4)
Suzanne Barbieri – backing vocals (CD 1 – 11)
Django Jakszyk – voice (CD 1 – 11)
Camille Jakszyk – voice (CD 1 – 11)
Chris Baker – Irish priest (CD 1 – 4)
After my review of the groundbreaking yet controversial debut by The Mars Volta, here is another album released during the first decade of the 21st century – though a vastly different one. This is one of the hidden progressive rock gems of recent years, courtesy of a musician who, in spite of his decades-long career and impressive curriculum, is still nowhere close to becoming a household name. In fact, while Jakko M. Jakszyk is in his early fifties, and has shared a stage or a recording studio with many a revered protagonist of the prog scene, most of the bands he has played with over the years are of the positively obscure kind. Before he joined the 21st Schizoid Band in the role that was of Robert Fripp, Jakszyk had been little more than what in my native Italy we would term as an ‘illustrious unknown’, in spite of his short-lived tenure in a relatively high-profile band like Level 42.
Much like its author, “The Bruised Romantic Glee Club” (released in 2006 to a lot of critical acclaim, and become unavailable soon afterwards, due to the record label going under) enjoys cult status among prog fans, though not many people have been able to listen to it. I was lucky to find a copy (at an almost bargain price for a double album) in one of the music stores I used to visit regularly when I lived in Rome. And what a great purchase! This is an album that most dedicated prog listeners will appreciate, with all the trademark features of our favourite genre, plus a healthy dose of melody and accessibility. Fans of cover versions will also be absolutely delighted by the contents of CD2 – a splendid collection of classics by the likes of King Crimson, Soft Machine and Henry Cow, performed by some of the stalwarts of the original Canterbury scene.
Right from its cover, a gorgeous, muted snapshot of Jakko walking on Brighton beach at sunset, “The Bruised Romantic Glee Club” is a thoroughly classy package. Everything – the pictures, the detailed liner notes, the graphics, the music – is designed to appeal to listeners of sophisticated tastes, who look upon an album as a complete experience. I would not hesitate to call it a beautiful album in the true sense of the word – not only on account of the very accomplished nature of the music contained within, but also of the stories behind each of the songs.
From even a casual reading of the liner notes, Jakko comes across as a very sensitive, vulnerable human being, consequently bruised by life, but keeping up his optimistic side. Some of the stories attached to individual songs are very moving indeed, especially those related to his family. As many adopted children, he got to meet his real mother much later in life, not long before her untimely death. This part of his life story is the subject of the haunting, Celtic-tinged instrumental “When Peggy Came Home”, dedicated to the burial of his natural mother’s ashes in her birthplace in Ireland; while the following song, “Highgate Hill”, reminisces about Jakko’s own birth in a hospital in the titular area of northern London.
Musically speaking, the first CD features a number of songs and instrumental tracks performed by Jakszyk and a handful of high-profile guest musicians – namely Porcupine Tree drummer Gavin Harrison, Mel Collins, former Level 42 bassist Mark King (a well-respected four-stringer), double bass legend Danny Thompson, and even His Majesty Robert Fripp himself. Canterbury keyboard king Dave Stewart also performs on one track (“Doxy, Dali and Duchamp”), as well as on most of CD2. Comparisons to other bands or artists are anything but easy to draw – I have read one review comparing some of the songs on “The Bruised Romantic Glee Club” to David Sylvian’s output, and I find myself in agreement with such a remark. Though Jakko does not have Sylvian’s distinctive, world-weary voice, I find his vocals are the perfect foil for the album’s elegant, somewhat understated musical mood.
On the other hand, there is a distinctly jazzy feel running through the album. The marvellous “Catley’s Ashes”, driven by Mark King’s pneumatic bass, is richly laced with Mel Collins’ masterful saxophone; while the melancholy “The Things We Throw Away” features Jakko’s long-time friend and former bandmate Lydon Connah, and the majestic “Srebrenica” is based on the traditional music of Serbia. Infused with sadness and loss, the atmospheric, rarefied “When We Go Home” (dedicated to the artist’s adoptive mother, Camille) features Fripp on electric guitar, as well as Camille’s own recorded voice.
All the songs are of consistent high quality, with a particular mention for the title-track and the already mentioned “Highgate Hill”. Admittedly, they sometimes border on pop, though in an adult, well-rounded kind of way, and definitely not an overtly easy or commercial one. Jakszyk also deserves kudos for his skills as a lyricist, something not precisely common in the prog world. While he lays his soul bare, he hardly ever descends into mawkishness, and occasionally injects some humour in the overall wistfulness of his musings.
There is not much that can be said about CD2, if not that it is quite magnificent. The quality of the ‘raw material’ alone would guarantee excellent results, but what really makes these versions special is the obvious love lavished on them by both Jakko and his distinguished guests. It would be very hard for me to pick out a highlight, though the cover of Henry Cow’s “The Citizen King” is nothing short of stunning, capturing the blend of wistful beauty and biting irony of the original to perfection. Jakszyk’s Oriental-tinged take on King Crimson’s “Pictures of a City”, featuring Indian percussionist Pandit Dinesh (another former collaborator of the artist), also wins points for inventiveness; while “Islands”, remarkably faithful to the original, fits perfectly within the album’s stylishly melancholy atmosphere.
As previously pointed out, up to a couple of years ago or so, “The Bruised Romantic Glee Club” was, to all intents and purposes, impossible to find. Now it has been reissued, which is great news with anyone whose curiosity will be whetted by this review – as it can be easily counted as one of the best releases of the past decade, a progressive rock album that pays homage to a glorious past, and at the same time feels thoroughly modern. With its intimate, confessional quality, and lush, sophisticated music, it is highly recommended to most prog fans, especially those who appreciate beautiful melodies coupled with flawless instrumental performances.