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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Better sound!!!,
Here we have the strongest collection of songs they produced, there genuinely isn't a weak moment. This disk does have by far the best sound quality and the track that stood out for me with regard to cleaning up was 'His Last Voyage'. It's a great song but probably not the first I told friends about when I first heard the album. However on this version I felt like I was almost hearing it for the first time.
I would have to agree with the previous reviewer who was disappointed with the packaging. There is very little inside and as my children will tell you, I do like a good booklet with my cd's and dvd's. Loved the band and any info and pictures from the time of recording are always very welcome. However, it still gets five stars for the sheer genius of the music. (also great cover, always reminded me of the Peter Lorre film, 'the beast with five fingers')
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Total Immersion Surround Sound,
This review is from: Free Hand [2012 - Remaster] (Audio CD)In the 70s, Gentle Giant deserved the level of recognition that their contemporaries ; Yes, ELP, Jethro Tull, Genesis, King Crimson, Pink Floyd et al....had achieved. Their musicianship and compositional skills were certainly on a par with (or beyond...) these more widely known bands. Possibly their music was slightly too complex to easily achieve a wider fanbase, or maybe their early association with the Vertigo Label meant that insufficient publicity had accompanied their advent. History also suggests that their sixth studio album 'The Power And The Glory' would have reached a respectable position in the UK Album Chart had the album's release been handled competently (Vertigo were no longer to blame, the band were now with WWA). Unfortunately, confusion over the album's release date, with copies spilled onto the market too early in error, meant that effectively the bulk of sales were split between two separate and disparate dates. Had the initial sales impetus maximised around a single date, the resultant charting of the album would have fuelled publicity and given the band the helping hand to nudge them into the major league where they belonged.
It is interesting then that the band's seventh studio album, that I review here, 'Free Hand' was so named because it marked their debut with the Chrysalis label and suggested feelings amongst the band that this heralded a new era of freedom for them.
'Free Hand' is possibly the band's most accessible album, if you are new to Gentle Giant start here and follow with 'In A Glass House' and 'The Power And The Glory'. I am choosing to review this album now because as well as being a lifelong fan of the band, I am also very fond of surround sound and the latest re-mastered version of this album comes with a DVD which includes a 4.1 mix adapted from the original quad mixes.
The fact that quad mixes were done at all suggests to me that the estimated sales for the album were aligned to the viability of a quadrophonic release. So maybe the band's newly found independence still failed to generate the required publicity to achieve such sales. There was no major UK tour to promote the album either...The freedom from an incompetent and pressurised management environment did ,however, mean that the band produced some of the best music of their career.
Whilst my first budget stereo system brought my vinyl to life in the 70s (after suffering a mono radiogram for years !!!), I was fascinated further by the concept of quadrophonic systems. Whilst never having the pleasure of hearing a quad system they were to me an obvious step forward and I was surprised by their demise. The arrival of DVD many years later with its 5.1 sound confirmed that my belief in quadrophonic sound was never misguided but maybe quad was ahead of its time and beyond the reach of the average 70's punter...
It is a miracle that the original quad mixes of this album (and of 'Interview') have finally come to light. I can remember when I was working for 'Proclamation' the Gentle Giant magazine back in the 90s, that a fan had written in reminiscing about meeting the band back in the 70s. He had stated that when he met the band they were working on quad mixes for the new album. Quad mixes ???!! I was astounded. Was he mistaken or had quad recordings really been made ? Some sixteen years after reading his letter I am happy to confirm that he was of course correct.....(There is now also a belief that these quad tapes were discovered in the late 90s and were in fact used for a re-press of the first stereo release of 'Free Hand' on CD by One Way Records. The difference in musical detail of that release now finally seems to be explained).
So after all these years, what do these adapted quad mixes sound like on DVD ??? The 4.1 format means that we have no centre channel. More disappointingly for me is the fact that the mixes are only offered in DTS 96/24 or Dolby Digital 48/24, both of these are of course lossy formats. For my review I listened in the DTS format. My surround system is movie-oriented but acceptable for music listening too (Oppo BDP-83 into a Sony STR-DA2400 through Q Acoustics 2000 speakers).
With much anticipation I sat down to listen carefully.
The opening track 'Just The Same' is a perfect compromise of commercial viability and progressive integrity. There is something very catchy and commercial about this song that the opening finger clicks suggest before the music even starts. In its 4.1 rendition I initially thought the vocals were slightly off placed, but as the song progressed this was not the case. I soon found myself totally immersed in a sea of sound. This is what I call surround sound !! The start of the initially dreamy instrumental section enhanced the surround effect even more and provided an enlightened listening experience for me. On the sleeve notes Ray Shulman states 'It's good to see that we were really quite adventurous with the placements in the sound field'. Yes, the surround mix here provides far more than extra ambience and yet it sounds natural and never artificial.
'On Reflection' follows. Possibly the pinnacle of the band's achievements this song starts off as a fugue but ends up as a variation of a canon !! Whatever the technicalities of this piece, it was made for surround sound !!! It is an understatement to say that the song sounds awesome to me. This song underlines the magnitude of human achievement that Gentle Giant were capable of. It feels like I'm in a cathedral with the band's vocals echoing around me in a bell-like manner. (Given the public's penchant for the vocal dexterity of Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody', some months later - I wonder what similar radio exposure might have done for 'On Reflection' ???!!!)
The title track 'Free Hand' is a mixture of rock and more intricate, delicate passages. Again the quad mix totally immerses me in the centre of an incredible soundscape and the song sounds better than ever. 'Time To Kill' follows before we are treated to the rich but mournful melodies of 'His Last Voyage'. The choral passage of this song really comes to life in the quad mix and I can feel the atmosphere of the music more than ever before, it's literally thick like a fog all around me. Gary Green's blues guitar solo comes to life so vividly that involuntarily I launch into air guitar mode....
'Talybont' provides further revelation....This instrumental is full of medieval influence, the quad mix again brings everything to life. I am in a castle courtyard surrounded by electronic minstrelsy and fair maidens. I am unable to stop myself clapping along to the music, I am drawn in so deeply. This song was a demo for a Robin Hood TV series. If only it had actually been used for a TV series the band might have had that tiny nudge they needed to achieve major recognition.
'Mobile' with its gorgeous Celtic flavours rounds the album off in memorable style.
Listening to the whole album in quad for the first time has been a memorable and joyful experience for me. The depth of enjoyment of the music actually bringing a flush to my face exactly as it did when I first heard the album all those years ago.
Under forty minutes in duration, the album is brief by today's standards but obviously we are looking at quality rather than quantity here . This CD/DVD set is very nicely packaged with some interesting comments from the band in the booklet.
My only bugbear with this release is that the 4.1 mix is not in a lossless format. I'd love to see a blu-ray release with the quad mix available in DTS HD-Master Audio, the music deserves such presentation. Whilst I am thrilled to have the quad mix at all, it can sound slightly compressed and a lossless version would give the music more room to breathe to enhance and open the atmosphere even further. The limitations are all the more apparent if you compare this with Tull's Aqualung on blu-ray. With Aqualung you could actually believe you are in the studio listening to the original master tapes albeit the (retrospective) surround mix is far less immersive...
In summary if you are a GG fan and you have a surround sound system, ensure you buy this release, it really is essential...and if you've not heard GG before it's a great place to get to know them, general fans of adventurous rock music and fans of surround sound need look no further.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars On Reflection,
This review is from: Free Hand [2012 - Remaster] (Audio CD)I am new to Gentle Giant but when EMI Chrysalis, decided to re-issue this with a Vintage Quad Mix I was in I am a sucker for that kind of thing.
The music is complex Prog style music hints of Genesis maybe a bit of King Crimson but pretty much not like anything I have heard before so great news, I may at sometime have to deep dive the catalogue.
Highlights for me the the last three songs 'His last Voyage', 'Talybont' and 'Mobile'
The issue comes with a standard CD and a DVD with Dolby Digital (why?) and DTS96/24 4.1 mix of the album which sound great and are very discrete, and a flat 96/24 LPCM (Playable on any DVD player) stereo copy of the original stereo LP master, an excellent reproduction and probably the best it will sound digitally.
There are mumblings on some specialist Surround message boards of the right Channels being swapped on on the Quad mix for this , I can not confirm this as I have no reference, and to me that does not spoil the enjoyment of the disc. Thought I should report this though.
There are no bonus tracks on this which is a bit disappointing but for the price this is a steel for any 'prog' fan and fan of Hi rez music.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gentle Giant - Free Hand,
This review is from: Free Hand - 35th... (Audio CD)This is an absolutely superb, high quality record from British Progressive Rock band Gentle Giant. Originally released 1975; the band's seventh studio album Free Hand fits in nicely with the rest of the catalogue. The record is a favorite for most fans that expertly balances accessibility with complexity and variety.
With its soulful singing and rocking choruses, Free Hand has the perfect formula that allow Gentle Giant to deliver the whole package... what enthusiastic new prog fans would call "mind-bending craziness" juxtaposed with sublime hard rock power.
The album contains several highlights including the famous 'On Reflection,' which has some knotted vocals and tuned percussion and could easily be described as a masterpiece of melody and counterpoint, as well as the furiously catchy title-track 'Free Hand,' which is practically worth the price of the disc on its own.
Most songs here are 5 minutes long or over; and the album is definitely a "grower" that becomes better with each repeat listen. When judged against the rest of the band's work it holds up very well and is probably most similar to the band's 'In A Glass House,' and 'Interview' albums stylistically, but also notable for its superior production values.
Overall, Free Hand is a very interesting and enjoyable album that really gives off that 'must-have' air. If you like Progressive Rock in general then it is definitely worth picking up a copy, and if you like Gentle Giant themselves then it'd be a shame not to buy this wonderful album. If you like any of their other work then you'll love this as well.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From 'Kites' to Classic English prog,
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great sounding album but poor repackaging,
Here is the bottom line- This IS DEFINATELY THE BEST SOUNDING VERSION OF THIS ALBUM TO DATE!
but............. I have to say I am very dissapointed with packaging. Thats not to say there is anything wrong, but apart from lyrics ( which you got with the original album anyway) you get nothing else!
I was expecting perhaps extra tracks/ demos/ live versions of songs, even perhaps some liner notes from the band( especially since all the remasters will be on the alucard label ie the bands own label) but NO.
If you are expecting anything extra then forget it! SHAME SHAME! I think the band have missed a good opportunity to give their fans something abit special.
Having already bought the original vinyl,first release cd version and 35th anniversity editions then i just feel abit let down.
The music of course if First class and any self respecting fan of 70's progressive rock should own it - Perhaps (?) someone form alucard may read this and do something more with the rest of remasters- PLEASE!!!!!!!!!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's never to late to discover the Giant,
This review is from: Free Hand [2012 - Remaster] (Audio CD)I am 54, but have only just become fully aware of the Gentle Giant. Well that is not strictly true, as a long time proggy, I had heard bits and bobs and even owned the power and the glory, but as no LP crossed my path I simply missed out on this great group during their oh so short existence. Really they should have been there next to Genesis in the record stores but simply were not, so I didn't buy anything by them until this year, when quite by chance I looked at a you tube video of them and was blown away. Since then I have been quickly acquiring the taste, and they are my latest favorite band. This is my latest purchase, and it is as good as all the others I own. Indeed other than "acquiring the taste" this may be their best, most consistent and tuneful offering. Certainly this is a must own record if you are at all into Prog, as Gentle Giant as I have recently learned were by far the most interesting group in an era brimming full of great artists and mind blowing records. GG do not go along the techno flash route, they are a far more disciplined band, which contain 5 or 6 excellent musicians. The music itself twists and turns and is never dull. Indeed GG pack more ideas into a single song, than most prog bands have in their entire catalog. Simply put this a must own CD by a must own band...buy!
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars GG's best album & best format,
This review is from: Free Hand (2012 - Remaster) [VINYL] (Vinyl)Many moons ago I had my student vinyl copy of Free Hand. It got pinched (naturally) somewhere along the line, and I bought a CD version. The CD never sounded as good. The mix was wrong, and the immediacy & excitement was missing. I've just bought this 2012 remaster on vinyl, and I've never heard Free Hand sound so good. This is THE version to have of this fantastic album.
GG were never given the due credibility that they deserved. Of course they were shoved in the (deaf) critics "box" of prog rockers alongside Yes and King Crimson etc.
What a travesty of taste and misrepresentation. GG always had much better tunes and they were FUNKY. Yes - I mean funky. The vinyl version really picks out their understanding of a groove, albeit a fractured groove. An old mate used to say that GG were a prog version of Little Feat - this vinyl version proves his theory.
I fear that in these ghastly days of disposable pop and poor songwriting, we'll never get the chance to hear a band like GG again. It seems to me that melody, musicianship, innovation, song craft, structure, vision and courage in your convictions counts for diddley. Come back GG - we need you now.
5.0 out of 5 stars Free Hand CD/DVD in 4.1 Quad,
This review is from: Free Hand [2012 - Remaster] (Audio CD)Free hand is a strong album by Gentle Giant. This is a very consistent collection of songs especially the brilliant song On Reflection with those superb vocal overdubs and amazing production.
The DVD has a 4.1 mix in Quad of this album which is quite interesting. This is a different way to experience this album and is a worthy addition to this set. Its a shame this is a short album at only 35 minutes but the quality is what gives this 5 stars from me.
Great progressive music from a very worthy band to check out.
5.0 out of 5 stars The Reflection of Versatility,
This review is from: Free Hand (2012 - Remaster) [VINYL] (Vinyl)Free Hand, the 7th Gentle Giant studio album, can be considered as the beginning of the simplification of the "complicated" music that the band used to produce, yet still very complex if compared to other rock music. At the time, pressures from their label WWA didn't make life easy for the band and wanted them to become commercial and do singles, after the amazing "The Power And The Glory"... The result was the change of label and this perfect work, which was the only GG album to chart the top 50 in the US and, in spite of even increasing the sophistication of compositional versatility, became one of the most popular and accessible releases of the band. I strongly advise that, if you really want to experience all the fantastic sound of this "chef d'ouvre", buy the 2012 remastered vinyl...
*******************- (19 stars in 20)
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