Considering the debut album “Sunburst” only sold 12,000 copies upon its initial release, I guess it’s safe to assume the brilliant 3 piece German progressive group Schicke Fuhrs and Frohling ( SFF ) is hardly a household name among prog rock fans, yet as Uli Twelker wrote in the liner notes: “England had Emerson Lake and Palmer, while Germany boasted Schicke Fuhrs and Frohling.”
He went on to elaborate that his comment was based more on the physical make-up of the band (keyboards, guitar/bass, and drums) than the musical philosophy or world-wide appeal of the group.
Yet a vast majority of Krautrock aficionados quaff at any comparisons to ELP and prefer to lump them in with fellow Krautrock pioneers KRAFTWERK, CLUSTER, TANGERINE DREAM.
I personally think neither comparison is quite accurate and upon repeated listening feel SFF has more in common with the Canterbury groups like CAMEL, EGG, and NATIONAL HEALTH, progressive fusion groups like RETURN TO FOREVER, COLLUSEUM II, and BRAND X, and symphonic progressive artists like the French groups EDHELS and TIEMCO, and the US group HAPPY THE MAN than either ELP or the electronic music one associates with Krautrock or the Berlin synth bands.
Besides, everyone knows that TRIUMVIRAT rightfully laid claim to the title ‘ Germany ’s Answer to ELP ’ with their albums “Illusions On A Double Dimple”, “Spartacus”, “Old Love Dies Hard”, and “ Pompeii ”.
And unlike the Emerson keyboard dominance of ELP , Heinz Frohling makes extensive use of the guitar as a leading instrument throughout the compositions; guitar and keyboards work in tandem within the structure of SFF unlike the keyboard heavy ELP classics.
No one instrument overpowers the other. Guitarist Heinz Frohling and keyboardist Gerd Fuhrs have developed a symbiotic relationship with one another blending leads into melodic harmonic solos. No one man carries SFF ; it’s a well oiled machine and a total group effort.
Gerd Fuhrs is a master of the Mini Moog solo, manipulating his pitch wheel to coax some of the most expressive leads imaginable from his instrument. His style harkens back to the true masters of the technique like Kit Watkins, Pete Bardens of CAMEL, Joe Zawinul of WEATHER REPORT, Jan Hammer of MAHIVISHNU ORCHESTRA, and Patrick Moraz.
The brilliant guitar work of Heinz Frohling brings to mind the raw intensity of Gary Moore and the emotional sensitivity of artists like Andrew Lattimer, Steve Hackett, and French guitarist Marc Ceccotti of EDHELS.
And drummer/percussionist Eduard Schicke injects each tune with a double-dose of bombastic energy.
“Sunburst” opens up with the smoking jazz/fusion tune “Wizzard” which should appeal to fans of those great COLLUSEUM II albums like “Strange New Flesh” and “Electric Savage” which was propelled by drummer extraordinaire John Hiseman and guitarist Gary Moore. SFF match that fury.
The melodic tunes “Autumn Sun In Cold Water” and “Drifting” conjures up the haunting atmospheric moments captured so well by the solo albums of Kit Watkin and HAPPY THE MAN .
Other comparable groups that immediately come to mind when listening to tracks like “Artificial Energy” and “Troja” are the French groups EDHELS, TIEMCO and TERPANDRE, and the Japanese group KENSO. The tracks are beautiful and intricate yet on occasion truly eerie, as when Fuhrs challenges the listener’s musical sensibilities with a dissonant detuned Mellotron summoning up nightmarish visions of open graves and the walking dead.
The final track on the album “Explorers” could easily be confused with one of the early CAMEL releases - or (once again) HAPPY THE MAN .
SFF boasted an impressive arsenal of instruments at their disposal: Eduard Schicke (drums, percussion, Moog, Metallophone, Xylophone), Gerd Fuhrs (Grand Piano, Electric Piano, Clavinet, Mellotron, String Ensemble, Moog, Bassett), and Heinz Frohling (Acoustic and Electric Guitars, Mellotron, Clavinet, String Ensemble). Also appearing on “Sunburst” is bassist Eduard Brumnd-Ruther. Can’t figure why he wasn’t listed as a full time member of the group since his booming bass contributions were enormous to the project.
The entire album is a joy from the first cut to the final note. And once again my hat is off to the entire team at Esoteric and The Audio Archiving Company for re-issuing another wondrous gem from the past that sounds better than the original recordings.
Reviewed by Joseph Shingler on October 6th, 2010