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Main » 2007 » January » 30 » 17 Pygmies - Hatikva (1983)
17 Pygmies - Hatikva (1983)
01:53

Philip Drucker, alias Jackson Del Ray, is a curious and somewhat mysterious figure whose music is undeservedly little known. Drucker was an art student who first came to most people's notice as a founding member of Savage Republic. The band was initially musically primitive, with frequently out-of-tune instruments backed by percussion as simple as Drucker pounding on a 50-gallon oil drum, but there were hints of Greek and Middle Eastern music in their sound. As the band matured, these elements became more pronounced, but so did the rivalry between guitarist Bruce Licher and Drucker over who was in charge of the band. A close associate remembers that virtually every rehearsal ended with a bitter argument, or at least with one member of the band sulking in a corner somewhere.


Drucker quit at least twice only to rejoin the band, and in 1982 he started a side project called Seventeen Pygmies with fellow Savage Republic alumnus Robert Loveless and drummer/vocalist Debbie Spinelli. The release of the Hatikva EP in 1983 showed that the new band was vastly more sophisticated than the old and gave a strong clue regarding the source of the more interesting elements in Savage Republic's sound. The Middle Eastern stylings on Hatikva are much more pronounced, and both the songs and arrangements are much more sophisticated. Seventeen Pygmies released two more full-length records, Captured in Ice and Jedda by the Sea, which gradually moved away from the folk influences and toward a soft, distanced, and melancholy sound. ~ Richard Foss, All Music Guide


Drucker and Loveless launched a side band, 17 Pygmies, to delve into lighter, more melodic music than Savage Republic. Retaining the group's tribal percussion and Arabic feel, they added electronic keyboards for Hatikva, an EP which crosses Emerson, Lake & Palmer's "The Sheriff," a spaghetti western soundtrack and a Caribbean rhythm fest. Only a thousand copies were originally pressed, but it was reissued by an Italian label. (Trouser Press)



Hatikva was 17 Pygmies' first release. It came out on Resistance label RR-0001), in 1983, in a limited edition of 1000 copies. Later (1988) reissued on the italian label Viva (REVI-003) again in 1000 copies and in 1995 on the Lazy Dog/Meshcalina Productions in Greece in a CD including Jedda By the Sea & Hatikva.

Cover art by Robert Loveless

Hand Colored by The Pigs and Friends!!!


Line-up: Jackson Del Ray, Michael Kory, Robert Loveless, Debbie Spinelli.






SIDE 1

Lawrence of Arabia

Child Bride

Cheganca


SIDE 2

To No Avails

Vows





cover of the italian reissue


After a coincidental 17 year absence, Jackson Del Rey and Louise Bialik have revived the 17 Pygmies name, returning with a seasoned elegance, not a vengeance as might be expected from hints by both Del Rey's vigorous 2005 release I Am the Light and for a collective once noted as a reference point to a young Godspeed You Black Emperor.


In 2005 Philip Drucker released I am the Light as Del Rey & the Sun Kings, an album with some brutal in-your-face moments with rocking guitars and guttural vocals. It's the rare points of elegant beauty, however, like the instrumental "Rose Garden (for Saadi)" which are reminiscent of a song like "Kristalnacht" from Welcome, and perhaps it was the reception of a strong track like this which made him reconsider the 17 Pygmies thing. I'm glad he did. 17 Pygmies resurfaced in 2006 with a 7" single "Last Train"/"Mocha Polka." The A-side with its drum machine and synth recordings hints more to the pop aesthetics of Captured In Ice period while the instrumental B-side is a fiery accordion, clarinet, drum and string jam. 13 Blackbirds is far more subdued, graceful, and tender.


13 Blackbirds is the 17 Pygmies of Welcome, except there's no goofy interludes, Philip Drucker has reclaimed the name Jackson Del Rey and Jeff Brenneman (an original member of White Glove test) has joined Louise Bialik seemingly at the center of the group, once again joined by various other players of stringed instruments and singers. While first listens immediately demonstrate the fantastic piano, guitar, and vocal work, they also show the group's very calculated arrangement—like the organic/acoustic and unique soul mashing like Blood-era This Mortal Coil and Lovetta Pippen-era His Name Is Alive—subsequent repeat listens over time bring out the great strength in the songwriting. Songs like the simple guitar and vocal "Cras Amet" or the instrumental piano melody of "Ubi Sunt?" I can hear long after they're over while the string arrangement on "Lila Pausa" is out of this world. The vocals of the song "Lotus" are buried deep in echoes and reverb while prominent beats like some of the best Scala music from the '90s.


Packaged in a very Constellation Records-looking earthy gatefold cardboard sleeve, 13 Blackbirds is packaged with 13 Lotus, a CD of 13 remixes and reinventions of the song Lotus by various artists. It's filled with a couple beat-friendly takes, like the "Bum 'n Bass Drop" version by Freakshot and the hip-hop "Notorious P.Y.G." version from once 2Pac remixer Lea Reis. Jo Gabriel's sparse piano version is probably the most striking while Echo Wanderer give two echoey versions which are a throwback to the spacey dub/rock overlap that signalled the untimely end of shoegazing in the mid-'90s. It's a complete contrast to 13 Blackbirds but nothing is surprising me about 17 Pygmies now that they've surprised us all by their return.


I'm excited that 17 Pygmies have returned. In an effort that isn't unlike their Welcome album, 13 Blackbirds/13 Lotus is quite ambitious. The payoff here I feel is far more enjoyable, however. If anybody's wondering where Debbie Spinelli ended up, her creepy group the Spirit Girls also have a release on the Trakwerx label. I hope that with this Trakwerx label the 17 Pygmies back catalogue will become available again, but as the notes say in the sketchy looking 1995 CD of Jedda By the Sea/Hatikva, my guess is that some of those masters are long lost. Of course, you could always try digging around auction websites for this stuff but with the recently re-sparked interest in Savage Republic, the competition for this stuff will be fierce. With any luck 17 Pygmies are forming some sort of live ensemble, and in the age of myspace, they seem quite approachable and amicable, so a letter campaign to them probably can't hurt. (Written by Jon Whitney)


Links

Marnie's "Songs Hurt Me"

Paniolo's "City of Refuge" - in both Jackson Del Rey was involved - were posted in Lost-In-Tyme. For the time being search for them in 100 Mirrors.

Go to Trakwerx blog to read more reviews

Go to Trakwerx Label for the above mentioned new releases

Go to MySpace.com to hear some songs from them.


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