By 1977, Gong was well integrated with the jazz rock world and this album nicely demonstrates that. Although perhaps not as vibrant and energetic as Gazeuse! (1976), I still feel that Expresso II (1977) is a great album of jazz rock that features mallet instruments and some tight playing. I have to say that this stuff is very different sounding from other jazz rock bands active at the time; and certainly in comparison with the American jazz rock bands - Gong's music seems to be more melodic.
The lineup on this album is different from the Gazeuse! lineup and includes the excellent electric guitar playing of virtuoso Alan Holdsworth (Soft Machine, U.K.) along with the superb drum/percussion work of the late Pierre Moerlen. Unfortunately, Alan is not featured as prominently on this album I would have liked - it is likely that his duties with U.K. at the time were preventing him with contributing as much (although he does rip it up on Sleepy). Other musicians on the album include fretless bassist Hansford Rowe, Benoit Moerlen on vibraphone, tubular bells, glockenspiel, claves, xylophone); Mireille Bauer on vibraphone and marimba; Ben Lozaga and Mick Taylor (lead and rhythm electric guitar); and Francois Causse (congas). Former Curved Air violinist Darryl Way even turns in a nice violin solo on Boring and Sleepy. All in all these guys are great players, with Pierre demonstrating his mastery of the drum kit throughout.
The pieces are well-constructed and solos are not too intrusive - generally speaking, ensemble work is favored and solos are only used as colorful accents. The pieces are also pretty interesting, with nice dynamic contrasts, and I love the use of the mallet instruments: they introduce a nice, earthy, textural element. I do feel however, that the energy levels are just a bit low on Expresso II and there are times when it seems like they are just going through the motions.
My complaints about energy levels aside however, this is generally a good album and is recommended to fans of jazz rock, open minded prog heads, and Gong completists. Recommended along with Shamal (1975) and Gazeuse!. For those folks that are curious about the psychedelic space-prog days with Daevid Allen, check out Angels Egg (1973) and You (1974). Both are incredible albums and extremely different from Gong's jazz rock output.