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Portal: The Common Ground Of Franks, Malgeri & Pauciello

I've searched the net in vain for some solid information on Portal and really have come up with very little, as does a (not so) quick Googling of Owl Head Music, who it would appear re-released this CD in 2004 with bonus tracks (not sure which they are though) after it first saw the light of day in 1997. So why it should pop through my letter box now for review, I'm not quite sure.

The three names that make up The Common Ground of... are Raymond Franks on drums and percussion, who sadly passed away in 2003, alongside Sal Pauciello on bass and Joe Malgeri on guitar and what they produced fourteen years ago was a collection of psychedelic freakout numbers that also added a punky edge and some progressive features. When that all comes together, they make for an almightily powerful trio who dive headlong into jams and workouts of varying lengths, however at times they can also be of varying amounts of interest. The opening pairing of the thirteen minute "Portal" and the under three minutes of "Fancy", which is an instrumental take on The Kinks track from 1966, make for compellingly uneasy listening, with an air of "who knows what's coming next" about them that really adds to the interesting tension. The trio really do click together and fire along apace, with Malgeri's guitar allowed the freedom to wander all over the intricate percussion and throbbing bass lines. However as the disc moves on, the generally poor sound, caused I believe from some of these tracks initially being released on cassette, does begin to hamper the impact of the music. We've all been in a room where next door a band are rehearsing and the bass and kick drum bleed through, dominating everything else and unfortunately tracks such as the slow "New Reggae Heat Wave" suffer in a similar way. Of the other covers, there are five in all, the two Hendrix numbers, "Third Stone From The Sun" and "Voodoo Chile" just kind of stumble along without raising either enough freakout madness, or straight rock coherence, while Santana's "Moonflower" is pretty decent even if it is one of the worst effected tracks in terms of sound quality. "Oye Como Va", which was also made famous by Santana (although it was written by Tito Puente) fares slightly better in that department, but really offers little other than a slower take on an over familiar song, albeit, as all the other songs are, without vocals.

Of the original tracks, the mesmerising "Pendulum" and "Magic Boogie", with its ELP styling make the biggest impact, but for every track that strikes home, there is an "Astral Orifice", or "The Dragon's Tail", which are just a collection of spacey sounds masquerading as songs.

To suggest that this is a mixed bag would be an understatement and while as mentioned, the (lack of) sound quality really does play a large part on this CD, I can't quite work out whether having a crystal clear mix would result in everything making perfect sense, or just wipe away the undoubted charm that much of these tracks have.

There are a few good songs and interesting performances contained on The Common Ground Of..., but it is still to be approached with caution.

Track Listing
1. Portal
2. Fancy
3. Magic Boogie
4. New Reggae Heat Wave
5. Third Stone From The Sun
6. Pendulum
7. Bela
8. Astral Orifice
9. Prelude
10. Moonflower
11. The Dragon's Tail
12. Oye Como Va
13. Voodoo Chile

Added: March 18th 2011
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Band History
Hits: 2459
Language: english

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