(All Album Reviews by Phil Jackson)
Reading Dan Ropek’s fascinating essay whets the appetite for ‘Vulcan’ whose title track ‘Moonchild Vulcan’ AKA ‘Wood’s Bolero’, an upbeat optimistic track veering towards a reggae shuffle, reflects Chris Wood’s passion for astronomy and astrology and appears here for the first time following its omission from Traffic’s final album ‘When The Eagle Flies’. (There is also a live Traffic recording of this track at L’Olympia in Paris included where the Ravel influence is even more obvious).
The remarkable thing about Vulcan is how well put together it is with “Letter One” and “Indian Monsoon” providing an ambient jazzy quality before the acoustic ‘primal therapy’ of “Barbed Wire”, where flute is the instrument of choice (and written at an unhappy time in Wood’s life when Chris was leading a solitary existence struggling with demons of alcohol and heroin- I seem to remember Eric Clapton going through a similar catharsis). The band version of “Barbed Wire” while brilliantly executed is a smoother form of jazz relying on fluid sax playing and a lethargically funky rhythm section than the subject matter suggests but there is a tangible hint of melancholy and reflection lurking there. Wood’s sax playing is assured throughout with an expressionism only rivaled by Van Der Graaf Generator’s David Jackson and the sound quality of the CD is a tribute to Paschal Byrne and Mark Powell’s dedication. Guitarist Pete Bonas’ contributions also add much to the extraordinarily haunting quality of the music. Wood also collaborated with keyboard player Phil Ramacon but I am unclear where he appears on Vulcan. There is some extended ‘rolling’ piano on “Sullen Moon” but this may be a conversation between Chris and himself on flute!
The longest track is “See No Man Girl” which originated when Wood gate crashed an Island studio session by a band called Spiteri (named after their bass player) to embellish proceedings with his alto flute and even persuaded Spiteri to change the name of the piece from “Cinammon Girl”.
As Dan Ropek points out there is also an element of ‘world’ music about Vulcan before that term even became popular and members of The Wailers are featured on this recording (I presume that’s them on the reggae infused “Birth in a Day”)- it is the mid 70s we are talking about here although you can say that this project has only reached fruition in 2008 thanks to the efforts of Esoteric recordings
Sadly, the extraordinary musical talent that was Chris Wood was heard no more after 1983, the year in which Chris passed on, perhaps to find his own ‘vulcan’ but, thanks to this 2008 release his spirit truly lives on as at last his solo album Vulcan is revealed in all its glory. Listening to Vulcan was one of those special moments for me when I realised just why I love reviewing music so much- you never know what’s around the corner!