You wait nearly 30 years for a new Fripp and Eno album and along come a couple at the same time. Well almost. First we had The Equatorial Stars in 2004 and now we have The Cotswold Gnomes: Unreleased Works Of Startling Genius.
Comparable to Eno’s recent Curiosities series, the new download-only release was compiled by Brian Eno and consists of a sequence of sketches, outtakes, works in progress, and alternative mixes deriving from 2005, the period of The Equatorial Stars, and as far back as 1992.
Eno once described himself as the intuitoso to Fripp’s virtuoso and this release is, in essence, an Eno eye-view of things, where Fripp’s ability is a flexible material to be processed into something that may or may not bear much resemblance to its origins.
As might be expected given their previous form, the set includes a few choice chilled-out spacey climes (including no less than three early/alternate mixes from The Equatorial Stars) and some truly beautiful though short pieces.
“Timean Sparkles” has a chiming melody evoking associations with the title track of Evening Star, whilst its augmented reprise, “Hopeful Timean,” has Fripp’s sound stripped to the bare essentials. Consisting of delicately plucked notes against one of Eno’s elusive ethereal backdrops, it’s simple but wonderfully effective — perfectly highlighting their respective strengths.
Yet for all their association with nebulous ambience, a lot here has several rough, if not downright sharp edges to it, though thankfully none quite so abrasive as the infamous "Healthy Colours" suite, which sullied 1994’s Essential Fripp & Eno package.
Fans of Fripp’s patented laser beam sound will warm to “The Idea Of Decline,” which is set against a highly filtered bedrock of dub-funk replete with glitches, short-wave radio angst, and ghostly chorales.
So far so up-tempo. However, "Cross Crisis In Lust Storm" is more beat-up than upbeat. Imagine an automated steel plant going full-tilt at 180 bpm with Fripp oiling the metallic head-banging in his most dissonant manner. It’s almost as if they said “Ah, fuck this ambient stuff — let’s rock out!”
When they recorded the piece (circa 1991/92 with Trey Gunn on Stick), Eno reckoned it to be one of Fripp’s best-ever recorded performances, a view apparently shared by the man himself. It would be a foolish person who would disagree with such informed opinions as these.
“Tripoli 2020” conjures the brooding grooves of Eno’s work with J. Peter Schwalm with Fripp’s guitar set to pan-pipe mode heavy-breathing down the spine of the skittering beat. It’s an unsettling track whose portentous nature is entirely off-set by a burst of freaky-deaky sitar guitar.
Eno’s working practices necessarily generates lots of surplus material and it’s this very variety which is both a strength and weakness of the album. If it lacks the uniformity characteristic of their previous mainstream releases, the less restrictive nature of the download medium gives them the space to provide a fascinating insight into the artistic processes and outcomes of two influential musicians at work and play.
This album is released on download only at www.dgmlive.com