With the album
Pyramid Love, released on Broken Records in 1977,
musician/writer/arranger/producer Craig Peyton introduced the Craig
Peyton Group … essentially the nucleus of the group that had constituted
Band X on the album The Best of Band X the previous year, horn-player
Alan Grzyb and bass player Victor Preston were joined by Willie Upshaw
coming in on guitar and Chris Meisel on drums and percussion. Craig’s
own credits included Elka Strings and Orgasmitron (!), the latter not
Wilhelm Reich’s infamous orgasm-inducing machine but a kind of
synthesizer (as of course were the Elka Strings). The album saw Craig
take a much jazzier turn after the eclectic leftfield experimentalism of
Band X …essentially a return to his roots (Craig was originally a jazz
vibraphonist and drummer) this is classic mid-70s fusion.
The tracks Pyramid Love and Marjorie are firmly in that jazzy blue-eyed soul vein that Band X had mastered with the tracks Home and Afterthought, with Craig’s vocals bringing to mind Donald Fagen. The latter has some fine soloing from Upshaw and Grzyb and sounds like it should’ve been called I Believe In You Girl… Craig Peyton had a penchant for cognitively dissonant titles. Funky Boogie is exactly that, with some superb playing from Grzyb and Craig Peyton, who surely would’ve been a bigger star had he concentrated on his vibes work alone, and topped and tailed with a kind of Charleston pastiche (and a hint of heraldic English pastoralism for good measure!). Plupts 77 is the kind of rock-tinged high-octane fusion that delighted fans of Weather Report and Steps Ahead, with a sudden move into space-funk territory from one of Craig’s synthesizers. Waiting is slow and dreamy with a faster vocal passage, and ends with Grzyb creating textures akin to bagpipes on Mars … another example of Craig Peyton’s penchant for extended writing and ‘movements’ within relatively short pieces. Fire and Ice has some glorious vibes playing from Craig and some fierce axe-work from Upshaw, with the band laying down a rock-solid funk groove. And the closer, Painted Desert, has probably the hottest soloing on the whole LP (orgasmitron?), before winding down into Pierre Boulez-esque electronic ambience, then returning to its plaintive theme outro with what sounds like a penny whistle.
This album suffered the fate of countless other independent albums of its era, falling between the cracks formed by the division of jazz/soul/funk and rock, but has now become a much sought-after collectable. Craig Peyton himself would go on to attract attention as a solo artist with his idiosyncratic electro cover of William DeVaughan’s Be Thankful (For What You Got) for Profile in the early ‘80s and would have a massive hit on the ‘adult contemporary’ charts with his instrumental Latitude 40 Degrees North in the mid-‘90s. In between, he forged a successful career as a purveyor of incidental music for TV, and produced documentary movies connected with his passion for flying (he has his pilot’s licence). More recently, Craig survived stage IV oesophogal cancer, against all the odds, and not only lived but has told his tale in the book Cloudman. Crucial to his recovery was time spent on water, which began a new chapter for him wherein the seas became as important as the skies.
As music lovers,
many of us will be hoping selfishly that Craig returns to dry land long
enough to perhaps record some new music under his own name. There was
too much talent on display on Pyramid Love not to deliver a follow-up,
and even approaching four decades later, we’re sure there would be many
followers of Craig’s talents who would relish the chance to hear him do
it all again.
Craig Peyton Group – Pyramid Love
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