Dick Hyman. Tell me this guy did not get beat up in school because of his name! Yet, somehow he managed to survive and become a prolific musician, multi-keyboardist, and film composer. Though he is best known for his talent at capturing the keyboard sounds of the past, some of his earliest work was with giant Moog synthesizers.
The Electric Eclectics of Dick Hyman is a snapshot of some of the earliest Moog music, at the height of Moog-mania. Moog albums were popping up everywhere, thanks to Switched-On Bach, and Gershon Kingsley’s cheesy psychedelic Moog albums. This CD captures that era in all its glory(?). The tracks range from the goofy to hardcore lounge synth work that will bring a smile to your face. Hyman’s tunes may sound a little dated, but that’s part of their charm, and his playing is nothing if not virtuosic.
Several cuts foreshadow the music of recent electronica artists. “Topless Dancers of Corfu” is cheesy as hell, with its squawky synth sound, and European folk dance melody. Yet, Hyman was doing something that nobody had really done before, making pop music with the giant Moog modular synthesizer. “The Legend of Johnny Pot” is cheesy, too, but the songs have a retro appeal. In fact, you’ll hear some sounds and grooves that would be right at home on some modern lounge electronica.
“Four Duets in Odd Meter” are more experimental. The sound choices are more “far-out”, sounding odd, if not quite spacey. The track has an improvised feel, and it explores continous key changes and complex rhythms.
Listen to “The Minotaur”, and you can hear where Keith Emerson cribbed some of his ideas. The track starts with a primitive drum machine track, and some early sequenced bass. On top of this, Hyman plays a short tune, and then plays variations and improvisations on the theme. The sound he uses sounds very familiar…think “Lucky Man”. Hyman’s improvisational style on “The Minotaur” seems to anticipate the chromatic style that Emerson made popular a few years later. He also uses lots of octave jumps, with the notes sliding from one octave to another. This is one of the most listenable cuts on the album because of the great playing. It’s also interesting as one of the earliest examples of jazz-rock synthesizer improvisations.
Several other improvised tracks explore other territory, from a quiet, almost ambient track, that will remind some listeners of Raymond Scott’s work, to a funky take on James Brown’s “Give it up, turn it loose”.
The CD wraps up with “Time is Tight”, probably the cheesiest track on the album. It’s Mooged out, and would be at home on the next Austin Powers soundtrack.
Not a classic, but nevertheless enjoyable listening and an interesting record, The Electric Eclectics of Dick Hyman is old enough to be appreciated for what it is, well-crafted pop electronica from the early days of electronica.