Gentle Giant – Playing the Fool

1977 – Capitol Records


This record (it’s a double LP) spends a significant time under the needle, as I listen to it all the time. It seems to fit all different moods, weather, and situations. Perhaps that is because there is so much going on throughout each song.  Each musician jumps between multiple instruments while showcasing virtuosity on each (there are 5 musicians listed and 29 instruments!). Gentle Giant’s music is complex, epic, and thoroughly entertaining. There is something about British Prog Rock from the 70s that I love. The historic music of the area plays a big part; mixing medieval music with rock and jazz. It is not all minstrel music, there are some of the best head bobbing grooves scattered about throughout the album. The track “On Reflection” showcases both the classical and modern influence perfectly (and includes a 5 part acapella section which is augmented by vibraphone). This live album is a perfect introduction to Gentle Giant’s catalogue, all studio albums (save one) are represented with the song selection here. I don’t know how popular this band was during their time, but they definitely have fans now. They were sampled by Madlib on the Madvillian LP. Karriem Riggins also seems to use their work as samples regularly. Their writing style and arrangements have influenced many, I’m sure. Complicated prog rock, medieval sounds, vocal harmonies, vibraphone solos, grooves for days, keyboard solos, crazy counterpoint, odd time signatures….do I need to keep writing? Or are you going to go listen to them now?