More a collective than a formal band, Embryo were formed in Munich in 1970 by keyboard player Christian Burchard. It is as impossible to define their music as it would be to list all of the hundreds of musicians who have contributed to the Embryo story over the decades. However it is the early albums that are of particular interest to those dedicated to exploring the highways and byways of that loosest of loose categories, krautrock (or, as this lifetime appreciator calls it, Independent German music of the early and mid-70s).
Steig Aus (1973), with its weird and slightly disturbing cover, is nevertheless a fascinating album. A collaboration between the German group and New York born jazz pianist Mal Waldron, it is an album of winding instrumentals and semi-structured improvisation that grooves to a European sensibility while being flavoured by North African spices and jazz insights.
After a couple of minutes of “Radio Marrakesch” (sic), the opening track morphs into a steaming Santana-esque jam (“Orient Express”) with a great solo from Waldron on electric piano.
“Dreaming girls” adds Edgar Hoffmann’s violin, presenting a plaintive yet assertive melody that is explored with dreamy intensity.
Side two is one long piece, divided (in that particularly proggy way) into discrete sections that are not visible to the naked ear. After the opening theme is introduced in Waldron’s “Call (Part 1), organist (and mellotron exponent) Jimmy Jackson hits some funky tones. Jackson also appeared on Embryo’s Rache and played with Klaus Dolinger’s German jazz-rock ensemble Passport. This section cooks like Jimmy Smith on acid. And it just keeps on cooking. The bass (session player Dave King and/or Jörg Evers) bubbles and bounces, while the multi-talented Christian Burchard steps away from the drum kit for a nice marimba solo. There’s a quieter section around the 12-13 minute mark that evokes Pink Floyd circa 1971 where keyboards swirl over the ever pulsing bass. The mellotron is an instrument I love dearly, and it’s nice to hear it in this jazzy proggy context, harmonising with the organ. My only criticism of this epic is the way it kind of ends with a wimper. Surely players of this calibre could have agreed on a way to close it out?
Quibbles notwithstanding, Steig Aus is a trip that will be enjoyed by fans early seventies jazz-rock or who have an interest in the wonderfully diverse world of krautrock. The title means ‘get off’—as in ‘disembark’—but when I reach the end of this particular journey, I’m just as likely to jump back on board for another ride.