Music Review: Rovo and System 7 - Phoenix Rising

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At the very least the new collaboration between System 7 and Rovo titled Phoenix Rising proves that music is the universal language. This is a true East meets West affair, and one of the finest electronic albums of the year. It should be, considering the pedigrees of the artists involved.

Rovo are a six-piece band from Japan who have redefined EDM (Electronic Dance Music) as MDT (Man Driven Trance). With two drummers, they have no need for drum machines, and also utilize electric violin, guitar, bass, and synthesizer. They have been together since 1996.

System 7 are Steve Hillage and Miquette Giradi. Their musical (and personal) partnership began 40 years ago when both were in Gong. Although Hillage's solo albums were credited solely to him, Giraudy appeared on all of them, and it was Rainbow Dome Musick that led to the formation of System 7. When the couple heard it being played in a Chill Out room at a rave in the late '80s, they began performing "ambient techno" or IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) as System 7.

So it is that these eight musicians have come together to create Phoenix Rising. Rovo are a self-described "psychedelic jam band," but on a completely different wavelength from Phish or the Grateful Dead. They assume that the former Electric Kool-Ade Acid Tests have become today's raves, and their music has been updated accordingly. The music of System 7 has always been about the incredible sonic textures that both Hillage (guitar) and Giraudy (synthesizer) add to basic soundscapes. This approach works incredibly well with the music of Rovo.

The opening "Hinotori" is an excellent example. Hillage is a phenomenal guitarist, and one of his trademarks is the use of glissando. What System 7 fans love is the way Hillage's guitar sounds bounce off the great synth beds that Miquette Giraudy lays down. It is an amazing sound, and they put it to work in the opening section of this track. Then Rovo comes in with their "in the flesh" form of techno and take everything up to ten. The furious dual-drum battle in the middle of the song is not to be missed.

Wordless vocals arrive during "Love for the Phoenix," which tones down the beats per minute, but not the musical inventiveness. The two groups made an interesting choice for the lone cover on the album. They went for "Meeting of the Spirits," written by John McGlaughlin. "Meeting of the Spirits" was the opening track of the incendiary Mahavishnu Orchestra debut The Inner Mounting Flame. This version is faithful to the original, and Hillage clearly relishes the opportunity to play (and pay tribute to) the lines McGlaughlin first laid down over 40 years ago.

"Sino Dub" was written by Rovo guitarist Seiichi Yamamoto and provides some marvelous opportunities for the two bands to work together. Having listened to System 7's Fire and Water literally hundreds of times, I know where their sound leaves off, and Rovo's begins. Even though is a "Rovo song," they step back and let Hillage and Giraudy take over in many spots.

While the songs of System 7 are usually credited to Hillage/Giraudy, the final track on Phoenix Rising is credited solely to Miquette Giraudy. Her "Unseen Onsen" provides yet another excellent opportunity for these two groups to work together.

As a fan of The Orb, early Aphex Twin and the like, I have been aware of System 7 for a good 20 years now. But Rovo are something else again. You cannot hear everything I guess, but they are a band that I will be looking into a lot more deeply.

Meanwhile there is Phoenix Rising. For fans of this type of music, it is about the best that I have heard.