Playing the Fool review from Keyboard Magazine

From The Gentle Giant Home Page

From Contemporary Keyboard, April 1977

When is a keyboardist not a keyboardist? Seemingly, when he or she plays in a group dedicated not to providing vehicles for showcasing said keyboardist's solo talents, but to performing compositions.

Paradox? Not really; just an observation that comes to mind when one listens to two recent British progressive albums, Genesis' "Wind and Wuthering" and Gentle Giant's "Playing the Fool." One's first impression of them is that neither is much of a keyboard album, because the flashy solos of an Emerson, a Corea, or a Hammer are virtually nowhere to be found. One's second impression, however, is that there is practically nothing on either album *but* highly polished keyboard playing (there is, of course, a lot of good guitar playing, drumming, and singing, too, but that need not concern us here). And since most group keyboardists do in fact spend a majority of their time creating tunes' textures rather than soloing, it's worthwhile to look at how Tony Banks (of Genesis) and Kerry Minnear (of Gentle Giant) do what they do.

Given that they're playing the same role in their respective bands, the contrast between them is striking: Banks' approach is mellifluous throughout, being grounded in organ sonorities, while Minnear's angular lines, even when played on the organ, have a bite more suggestive of Clavinet. The character of the songs as wholes both determines and is determined by this difference. "Wind and Wuthering" is carved out of solid diatonic euphony, with sustained chording and arpeggiation on organ, piano, and synthesizer binding the sound together and providing a setting for eloquently simple keyboard melodies. "Playing the Fool," on the other hand, is assembled out of intricate interlocking lines seemingly driven forward by clockwork and all equally endowed with a kind of spastic melodic interest. While Banks' walls of sound are more subtly colored, Minnear devotes more attention to the meaning of the spaces between the notes.

"Playing the Fool," by the way, is a two-record set of live performances of material from older albums, while "Wind and Wuthering" is a single disc of new studio material. Which album you prefer will probably depend on your tolerance for nervous intellectual energy, a quality that Gentle Giant's music has in abundance.