Reviews in this issue:
Arena - Breakfast in Biarritz
Tracklist: Moviedrome (21.57), Crack in the Ice (4.25), Double Vision (4.27), Midas Vision (5.16), Serenity (2.01),
The Butterfly Man (9.44), The Hanging Tree (8.26), A State of Grace (3.10), Enemy Without (4.53), Crying for Help VII (5.11)
|Country of Origin:||UK|
|Year of Release:||2001|
|Time:||69:30 & 13:48|
Tracklist Bonus Disc: Chosen (6.33), Elea (2.37), Friday's Dream (4.38), Arena
Arena seems to be following a clear pattern; two studio albums, one live album, two studio albums,
one live album, etc. After releasing The Visitor and
Immortal? the band now treat their fans to a new live album Breakfast in Biarritz,
which might be slightly confusing because the gig involved was recorded in the Paradiso in Amsterdam
on October 17th, 2000. The title of the album refers to the place where the band had a day off
during the Immortal? tour.
Breakfast ... comes as a special limited edition package with one full length CD plus
one bonus CD with 3 extra tracks and a multimedia section (more about the bonus disc later).
The atmospheric artwork and 16 page booklet were designed by DPRP's old friend
Mattias Noren, who's quickly becoming a real big name
in the prog rock/metal artwork scene.
It's probably no big secret what I think of Arena. I really like the albums the band has
released and that's probably the main reason why I'm still translating stuff for the Arena
fan club The Cage. On the other hand, I'm often less
enthusiastic about the performance of the band
on stage. I've seen some pretty dodgey gigs, some of which were - unfortunately for the band
in my opinion - released on fan club videos and CDs. As far as I'm concerned the band often
failed to recreate on stage that which they have recorded in the studio. When John Jowitt left
the band I realised that I had lost the main reason why I was still seeing the band play live. I haven't
seen the band live for quite a while, and I have to admit that I was quite curious about this
After having played the album a couple of times, I also have to admit that the band doesn't
do bad at all. The whole performance is actually a very descent gig ! Even Mick Pointer,
who I always found a rather disturbing factor in the band, with his too straightforward
drum patterns, has definitely improved his play in the last couple of years.
New bass player Ian Salmon does a good job; he isn't overtly present in the mix though.
The absolute star of the live album is without a doubt John Mitchell. What a marvellous
guitarist he is, something which is clearly shown in the many splendid guitar solos and the
instrumental pieces Elea and the Floydian Serenity.
Rob Sowden, Arena's new vocalist, does very well on the tracks he sings on Immortal?
and most of the older material is performed quite good as well. Only occassionally do I miss the
voice of Paul Wrightson, who had a much wider vocal range and more 'drama'.
The only time Rob's vocals really bother me are during the extremely silly high sqeaks by in
the end of Midas Vision, ruining an otherwise fine version. A State of Grace also
sounds much less convincing than Paul's venomous version.
I will not get into describing all of the songs in detail; you'd better check out my reviews
of The Visitor and Immortal? since
all but 2 songs are taken from those albums. This is actually a good decision since now only one
song appears on both of the band's live albums (Midas Vision, on this CD featuring a
nice acapella intro).
The other 'old track' Crying for Help VII, which is acapella in the original version,
gets a stomping, full-band, 'We Will Rock You'-treatment on this album, while the audience keeps on singing
'help me ! heeeeelp me !' when the song has ended. This makes the song one of the few special surprises
on the album. Most of the other songs closely follow the originals, something I always consider
a bit of a shame for a live performance since it doesn't add much value compared to the studio versions.
The only other song that is extended is Moviedrome. This track, which I already considered
a bit too long and repetitive, features a long 3 minute intro with atmospheric keyboards and a female
voice welcoming the audience to an experiment for which the listeners have been chosen. A nice
opening tape for a concert, but I'm not sure if it will continue to be exciting after hearing
it a couple of times on the CD. The rest of the track is very well played, but adds nothing to
the studio version.
The same goes for most of the other tracks on the album; they are played very well, but they don't
add anything to the superior studio versions. Chosen misses the spooky percussion which
is heard in the intro of the studio version (bad!) but sound of Clive Nolan's keyboard solo is
much less penetrating than the one on Immortal? (good!).
When inserting the second (bonus) disc into your computer, it will automatically start
Internet Explorer, play an intro tune and will offer you several options. You can
visit the Verglas & Arena site or the site of Legend Productions (the company who produced the
interactive section of the bonus CD), or you can drop these companies an e-mail. Most
interesting however is the fact that you can start an MPG documentary about the band.
This fine piece of work turns out to be no less than 31 minutes long (being the longest
multimedia file I have come across on an enhanced audio CD so far).
In this documentary, the band members (mainly Clive and Mick) take you through the history
of Arena, the writing process, portraits of the band members (including one of the most
enjoyable bits of footage; Ian Salmon's portrait) and the new album Immortal?. These
'monologue interviews' are shot backstage at a concert, in a pub and in
what I presume is Clive's Thin Ice Studio.
The story is alternated with
footage of the band live on stage or soundchecking, although some of the music is completely unrelated to
the period or albums discussed, which I consider to be a bit of a shame. Unfortunately
all of the footage also features the new line-up, and therefore is a bit out of context with the
historical persepective. I would have liked to see some film material with the right
line-ups (which definitely is available, as is also proven by the presence of the old merchandising
guy Matt Goodluck in one scene). I can understand that the band wants to focus on the
new line-up, but this being a documentary you would expect some information about ex-band members
as well. Still, not even their names are mentioned.
As mentioned, I haven't seen Arena live for a while but I heard some complaints about the lack of charisma of
Rob Sowden as a front man. Some of the footage confirms these rumors. Especially his performance
during the footage of Solomon lacks vocal power and theatrical strength, something we've
come to expect from Arena's period with Paul Wrightson. It's almost like looking at a rather
mediocre cover band playing Arena tunes. Rob might be doing well on vocals, but as a front man
he's still got a lot to learn.
The documentary is very nicely designed, with lots of floating images, flipping collages and
even a nifty animated version of the Immortal? CD cover.
The sound quality of the documentary and synchronisation of the sound and images was sometimes
a bit off. Initially I thought that this might have been a problem with the speed of my CD Rom
player, but copying the file to my hard disk didn't really help. It might play a bit better
on a faster computer (mine's a Pentium I, 32 MB) or the problem is in the file itself. I'm
All in all, not a bad release at all. I've got a few bits of criticism regarding the music,
as you've seen above, but the band scores some bonus points with the extra disc and interesting
Arena documentary. Mainly because of these extras and the very reasonable price of the double
album (for the price of a single CD) makes me give this CD the DPRP recommended tag.
Oh, and yes ... the madman jumping around in the crowd at 12:32 is DPRP's very own JJ. ;-)
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Ensemble Nimbus - Scapegoat
Tracklist: Burning Arrows (8:48), Three Figures (5:30), Empty Chairs
(2:39), Algebra Of Needs (3:43), Useless Passion (3:43), Offering (7:22), The
Cross Of Infamy (1:55), Trial By Error (4:42), Middle Of The Moment (1:59),
Wooden Tuxedo (5:17), Epigram (3:26)
|Country of Origin:||Sweden|
|Catalogue #:||TAP/RHCD 12|
|Year of Release:||1998|
Finally a Scandinavian band that has succeeded in sounding like no one else
that I have previously heard! Formed in 1992, Scapegoat is the second album from
Ensemble Nimbus following their 1994 debut album Key Figures. How best to
describe this band? Theirs is a fusion of avant-garde and improvisation bringing
to mind artists such as Frank Zappa, Henry Cow, Magma, King
Crimson and Sammla Mannas Manna (for obvious reasons!).
Drummer/percussionist Hasse Bruniusson used to be drummer for the latter group
and today is percussionist with The Flower Kings, with Roine Stolt
having mixed the debut album for Ensemble Nimbus. The group is formed of a
quartet which apart from the afore-mentioned Bruniusson, includes the leader and
composer Hakan Almkvist (guitar, bass, keyboard, tapes, loops, voice), Lars Bjork (clarinets, loops)
and Kirk Chilton (viola, violin, voice). Guest musicians include Stefan Carlsson (keyboard, accordion),
who till 1996 was a member of the group, Stomu Imazawa (bass) and Flower King
member Tomas Bodin (keyboards).
Avant-garde is the name of the game and this is omnipresent throughout the
album. Experimentation is rife throughout with the unusual use of
instrumentation as well as uncharacteristic time signatures and lack of
ear-friendly tunes. In fact it is near impossible to give an accurate description
of each track such is the uniqueness of the music here. The group traverses a
variety of genres taking into consideration classical, jazz and rock
Burning Arrows, the longest track on the album immediately shows the listener
that this is to be no ordinary trip as the music invokes a Middle Eastern theme
but utilizes the clarinet, which at the same time is not too much of a Middle
Eastern instrument! Three Figures retains that enigmatic unclassifiable
style that this group manage to produce which leaves the listener somewhat at a
loss. At times the track seems to achieve an almost ear-friendly trait
especially with the introduction of Kirk Chilton's violin playing. This however
tends to break down in areas into a free form of jazz playing with descents into
a almost medieval setting.
The short Empty Chairs sounds like a modern piece of classical music
with introduction of various musique concrete elements fused with gypsy
elements. On the other hand Algrebra Of Needs has more of jazz feel to it
as the group explore the free jazz spectrum with each instrument exploring its
own space joined only by the percussive rhythm generated by Bruniusson's
Useless Passion has more of a structural element to it with an interesting
duet between clarinet and violin backed by an impressively powerful rhythm
section. Sometimes there are tracks that seem to be produced for the headphone
environment and Offering is one of those, offering the listener a
veritable trip. A church organ heralds the entry of this symphony of effects as
"regular" instruments slowly joined in yet are accompanied by strange
effects and also an amount of narration.
The Cross Of Infamy has the feel of a mouse scurrying across the
pantry floor as Brunisson takes over the marimbas accompanied by various effects
to eventually merge into Trial By Error which re-evokes that Middle
eastern feel to the music merged with some great jazz-rock playing. Middle Of
The Moment retains the same musical touch and feel as Trial By Error
though the mainstay of the track is Chilton's violin playing to a weird
Wooden Tuxedo picks up the pieces of the last couple of tracks and has
a feel similar to the opening Burning Arrows, though there is once again
that ethnic touch to the melody line. This time however, the feel seems to shift
from the Middle East to the North African, Maghreb basin.
Strangely enough the closing track, Epigram seems to be out of place
when compared to the rest of album. By far the most accessible tune present
here, there is a touch that reminds me of Clannad as the backdrop
features a constant melody that weaves in and out of the mix with punctuations
from various instruments that occasionally duet and at other times flit off on
their own. To the casual listener, this is the highlight track on the album.
Zappa, Beafheart, Sammla Mannas Manna and Henry Cow are all
elements that come to mind when trying to describe Ensemble Nimbus, but in truth
they stand on their own. A fusion of jazz with rock and ethnic influences thrown
in with good measure make this album an experience for only those who are able
to digest what is in actual fact totally uncommercial music. But yet again as Morgan
Fisher told me a while ago, isn't that what progressive rock is all about!
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.
Phil Miller/In Cahoots - Out of The Blue
Tracklist: Early Days (9:08), No More Mr. Nice Gut (9:00), Delta
Borderline (13:00), Phrygian Intro/Phrygian Blues (12:57), Open Sea
(6:08), Slime Divas (13:00)
|Country of Origin:||UK|
|Record Label:||Crescent Discs/Voiceprint|
|Year of Release:||2000|
Phil Miller is one of those musicians closely and intricately associated with
the Canterbury Progressive genre, that section of progressive rock which
probably more than others managed to fuse jazz with rock. Phil Miller's C.V.
does back to the late sixties and his work with Delivery, Matching
Mole, Hatfield And The North, National Health and more
recently his own band In Cahoots.
The album sees Miller return to his musical roots and the album can be
divided into two sections, the tracks played as a sextet and those tracks were
the group is a quartet sometimes augmented by the presence of a guest musician.
The sextet also includes musicians who have a predominantly Canterbury
background and who on more than one occasion shared bands with Phil Miller yet
under a different name. Thus the quartet includes bassist Fred "Sonny"
Baker who has played on Miller's solo albums as well as a stint in Gong
as well as various other bands, drummer Pip Pyle who has worked with Miller
since Delivery as well as with Hatfield And The North, National
Health and Gong and keyboardist Pete Lemer who has been a mainstay
with Phil Miller, having also played in Gilgamesh with Miller. The two
extra musicians to make up the sextet include one of Britain's finest free music
soloists on alto sax and saxello, Elton Dean (Soft Machine, Centipede,
Ark) and trumpeter Jim Dvorak. Guest musician and guitarist Doug Boyle (Caravan,
Robert Plant) also plays with the quartet.
As can be expected the musical style borders on the jazz fusion though it should
prove of interest to all those who like Canterbury styled progressive rock.
There is a lot that reminds me of Delivery which is a band that had its
roots firmly within the blues/rhythm and blues though there is also an
element of adventurousness thrown in. Furthermore one would expect the emphasis
of the music to be on Phil Miller and his guitar work which is simply exquisite.
However I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of space each musician was
given with a special mention to Pete Lemer who not only has a lovely piece of
introductory piano in Pharyngian Intro but also has a great solo on Delta
Phil Miller's guitar playing, though always clean without elements of
distortion, this time round sounds even cleaner with hints of BB King at
times especially on opening track Early Days as well as on Open Sea.
Fred Baker manages to instill some great bass runs and solos whilst at the same
time manage to retain that element of the unexpected which together with Pip
Pyle's consistent drumming helps constitute an amazing rhythm section. The
BB King link also hails to the Delivery days as the group had then
toured as support to some blues legends such as Otis Spann and BB King.
On a final poignant note one must remark that the album is dedicated to
Phil's late brother. Steve Miller who started his career with Phil in Delivery
before moving on to Caravan. When recordings for the album had started it
was hoped that Steve would join, but he succumbed to cancer in December 1998.
This makes Phil's return to his bluesy musical roots all the more touching as he
revisits the musical style that he started off playing together with Steve.
Overall this album is an excellent addition to the collection of those who
are into Canterbury styled-progressive rock as well as to those who like that
blues tinged jazz approach which these men are masters of. Admittedly it is a
case of a love/hate relationship, but if you like long instrumentals, try this
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.
Ken Baird (With Sue Fraser) - Orion
Tracklist: Waving Goodbye (1:45), Dolphins (4:20), Fields (4:00),
Open Doors (3:34), Orion (12:40), Shadow Walls (9:00), Waving Goodbye (2:08)
Orion is Ken Baird's third solo outing and what a fine album it is. Together
with Baird one finds Sue Fraser (vocals) who on the previous album was relegated
to background vocals, yet this time round she is present as lead vocalist.
Also playing on the album are Chris Lamont (drums), John Mamone
(bass), Jacob Moon (guitars) and Steve Cochrane (guitars).
Musically this album features a gentle and soft style of progressive rock
leaning towards the progressive folk reminding me at times of the tracks Mike
Oldfield produced on albums such as Crises and Islands. In fact one can say
that Baird seems to have gone along the same path that Oldfield did as
his first albums had long instrumental pieces and this time round he has cut
them down to a shorter length thus condensing his musical ideas into four
minutes or so, though he could not contain himself on Orion and Shadow Walls!
The album opens with Waving Goodbye, a track that both opens and
closes the album, with Sue Fraser showing off her vocal prowess. Sounding like a
cross between Annie Haslam and Sonja Kristina, Fraser possesses a powerful voice
that carries across well with the band obligingly letting her take centrestage
as they remain in the background.
Dolphins has Baird taking over vocal duties though the music retaining
that mellow feel with a delicate seventies touch. Actually it is the whole of
the album that has that retro-feel to it as he instruments are never over
indulgent allowing the music to flow freely without any obtrusive effect. One
could easily cite Renaissance as a guide to this album, yet Renaissance had a
more classical touch with piano running throughout while Ken Baird and his group
have a more folky feel to them especially on this track with the inclusion of
the recorder which makes them sound like cross between Amazing Blondel
and Blackmore's Night.
Fields open with a sound that is reminiscent of Mike Oldfield
and in fact the liner notes state that the fadeout section of the track contains
a section from Oldfield's Incantations. However it is not just in the
fadeout that the Oldfield touch can be felt, but rather throughout the
whole of the track as Baird and Fraser duet while backed by a delicate
arpeggio of guitars and pianos.
Open Doors returns to the folk scene with Sue Fraser leading the band
this time round and here her voice seems to have shifted from being operatic,
akin to Annie Haslam, to a more delicate and approachable voice such as Nathalie
Merchants or Candice Night's.
The first of the two epic tracks on the album is Orion. Together with Shadow
Walls, these two tracks make up the bulk of the album. Both tracks are full
of the classical progressive rock elements with shades of Genesis,
especially the guitar work of Ken Baird which reminds me of Steve Hackett,
Jethro Tull in their blending of traditional with rock and of course Mike
This album was a pleasant surprise. Its blend of mysticism, traditional and
classical rock have created would in the seventies would have termed as a
classical album. If you like Mike Oldfield, especially the early Oldfield,
then this album will be a delight. Never taxing on the listener in terms of
complexity, but nonetheless still replete with delicate masterful touches, the
album suffers from two problems in my opinion. For some reason Shadow Walls
is cut abruptly, as if the tape were cut when the track begs to be expanded on,
which brings me to the second problem. This is one of the shortest albums of
late that I have come across, yet again I should not grumble too much about this
because it is better to have a short album filled with excellent material than a
longer album half of which is filled with rubbish. An excellent album and a must
for those nostalgic for the seventies.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10.
Ezra Winston - Ancient Afternoon
Tracklist: The Painter and The King (10:05), Verge Of Suicide (9:04),
Night-Storm (6:07), Ancient Afternoon Of An Unknown Town (26:05), Shades
of Grey (4:15)
Erza Winston is one of the most influential Italian prog bands of the 1980's. This
re-release of their second album, after the debut A Myth of the Chrysavides
brings the distinguished listener subtle harmonies, intelligent breaks and
romantic soundscapes, combining the likes of Steve Hackett, Mike Oldfield, Genesis
and Camel in one blend. The booklet is a thick and stylish fold-out, which contains
both the (hand-written) lyrics and the stories behind the music.
The music itself is sometimes almost jazzy, the next moment it
is classical, the next medieval. Very nicely done! For instance the opening of the
first track, where a lonely flute (the Painter?) is answered by the whole band (the
King?). The vocals are used as just
another instrument and are hardly exciting, but also not problematic, they
are mainly used in the way Hackett's solo albums feature vocals, more murmured than sung
out full, as can be heard in the second track, the romantic (despite the title)
Verge Of Suicide. This track balances on the line between a pastorale and
The track Night-Storm is more of a band composition than the
previous two, more chamber music-like. It is also a bit darker and somewhat
more powerful, without losing subtlety.
The main track, the 26 minute symphonic
poem of Ancient Afternoon also combines all previously mentioned
style-figures. It is quite chilling in atmosphere, calm yet threatening, despite the classical
opening, which reminded me of some wedding track. Wonderful movements
flow seamlessly into each other.
The 1996 bonus track Shades of Grey is also
very nice, indeed sounding a bit more modern.
In conclusion, this is an album that Hackett fans, fans of early Genesis and
even Camel fans will most probably like, proof of this comes from the fact that
the Brazilian prog-rock page in their annual poll voted this album as the best
re-release of last year, if I remember correctly.
The abundant use of acoustic instruments like horns, trumpets and other brass
give the album a very symphonic nature.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.