Reviews in this issue:
Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) - Zoom
I've always been a big ELO fan, ever since Mr. Blue Sky was played on the radio. Frontman Jeff Lynne always liked 'big sounds', with loads of vocal harmonies, complex arrangements and even a real orchestra. After their album Time (1981), the band recorded some less interesting albums, and finally was disbanded by Lynne. Most of the other ELO members continued under the name "ELO Part 2". But without their original band leader Jeff Lynne (lead singer, guitarist, songwriter and producer) they never captured the old magic on CD. And it's no secret that Lynne was not to happy about the band's name. Jeff Lynne himself became very succesful as a producer for several major artists. Then suddenly -Out of the Blue- Jeff Lynne announced this new ELO album, Zoom.
Zoom is definitely not a reunion of the original band. Some fans even call it a Jeff Lynne solo project, only labeled ELO. It is easy to see why. Almost none of the original band members are present, and the music lacks many elements that ELO became famous for. For example: no big orchestra was used (just some occasional cello), there are very little keyboards (the album is very much guitar oriented), and the music in general is not really progressive (mainly pop/rock).
Having said this, Zoom sounds surprisingly fresh and
modern. The main feel of the album is uplifting, although some
beautiful ballads are included. Lynne still writes nice melodies
with some distinct progressive arrangements.
As for the featured tracks: you might have heard Alright (the single) on the radio. This song has Lynne's typical acoustic guitar beat (also featured on It Really Doesn't Matter at All and Melting in the Sun). Former-Beatles Ringo Star and George Harrison are guest musicians on the album, and some of the songs have strong Beatle-influences (most notably in Just for Love and A Long Time Gone). From a prog rock perpective, it's nice to hear Lynne's sometimes unusual and surprising song arrangements (especially in Moment in Paradise and Lonesome Lullaby). Weakest moments of the album are the more straightforward rock songs (Stranger, Easy Money and All She Wanted).
Final Judgement: With an band like ELO, it's hard not to compare the new album to their huge back catalogue. Although Zoom came as a pleasant surprise, it will never be my ELO-favourite. To me, classic albums like On the Third Day, Eldorado, Out of the Blue and Time are much better. The music on Zoom can best be compared with Jeff Lynne's solo production work, like the albums he did with Tom Petty (Into the Great Wide Open), George Harrison (Cloud Nine) or the Traveling Wilburys. If these albums appeal to you, or if you like Beatle-influenced music (Crowded House, Spock's Beard etc), you might give Zoom a try.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Rigel Michelena - Bartók's Room
It is indeed heartening to come across a fresh young musician presenting this brand of jazz-fusion/jazz-rock in this day and age. Rigel Michelenna does just that. Hailing from Venezuela, his debut album, Bartók's Room, recreates the sounds of the jazz-rock scene that in the early seventies was the dominant force in both the jazz and rock scene.
Though credited as the composer and a multi-instrumentalist (guitars, drum programming, keyboards), Michelena does not feature alone and has enlisted the help of other musicians on this ambitious and successful project. They are Oscar Fanega (bass), Miguel Blanco (bass), Yoncarlos Medina (keyboards), Javier Saume (drums), Yudnara De Ridder (vocals) and Guillermo Diaz (narration). Together this band have managed to re-evoke memories of bands such as Weather Report, Chick Corea and even Return To Forever at times.
The opening Artilugio (Florilegio Artefáctio) shows the distinctive flavour that pervades the album. The first notes indicate that the instrument that bears the main brunt of the solos and which will dominate the tracks is the guitar. However it is not just guitar solos, the continuous shift in both mood and time signatures help create a scenery of power combined with the picturesque.
There are times when the tracks are relatively more straightforward and almost rock in nature, such as on I, similar in nature to what Steve Vai produces on his solo albums. In fact, listening to Michelena does remind me of Steve Vai as the solos tend to veer off at a tangent at times from the path the track seems to be treading. Sometimes, as happens on El Ojo Dido, the music shifts to the fusion that Weather Report were famed for. Lately I also had the pleasure of reviewing an album by Happy Accidents whose style, especially with the syncopation and the rapid shifts in rhythm reminds me of some of the tracks on this album.
The title track, Song For Bart, comes as a bit of a surprise as the album shifts to an acoustic mode with a style that reminded me of the Charlie Haden/Pat Metheny album Beneath Missouri Sky. Both mellow and placid, the track evokes sense of melancholy as well as a feeling of languidity. On the other hand, Inside involves an element of modernity with the drum programming that keeps the strict rhythm and is more along the lines of the rock solo track a-la Satriani.
Twiggy Pig also introduces another variable into the Michelena repertoire with the voice of Yudnara De Ridder. Her voice acts as another instrument, something similar to Sarah Pillow (Tunnels), providing a vocal backdrop for the varied musical pattern woven around the intricate bass lines. The Last Dodo Bird features a mish-mash of styles that is dominated by the constant changing rhythms and strong staccato percussion while Street Jam has a Latin American acoustic flavour. The track is one of the more easily accessible tracks on the album, leaving behind the complex jazz structuring found on the majority of the album tracks and instead focussing more on Michelena's acoustic guitar work while accompanied by hypnotic percussion.
Uranus is somewhat of a stronger track than most of the album with the roots firmly embedded in a heavier hitting rock style with that dose of funk, while Final Chat: Colubre is one of the most surprising tracks on the album. The track features a fusion of narration, scat and vocal samples with a faint percussive backing to create an interesting vocal soundscape.
The album is surely to be a success to all those who like a strong dose of jazz in their music, while on the other hand it will be of limited interest to those who want to hear something relatively more commercial. Unfortunately I was unable to find any individual website dedicated to this musician but he can be contacted via email or via the Musea Records Website.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Galaxy Transport - Psychedelic Rockers
This was a difficult CD to review. Is this prog? It does resemble some of the Ozric Tentacles stuff, but I am not too familiar in that direction. However, it does sound good as a whole, even if it is not prog-rock. This may also have to do with the fine production of the album, giving it a good sound in general.
The first track I Don't Believe It for instance,
sounds more like a "normal" powerful rock song, with some (very) mild psychedelic
influences in the guitar melody. Quite a good rock song.
I'm not your Emotionstore features a more electronic sound, especially
with the vocoder deformed vocals and the JM Jarre-like electronic weehhs and
bleeps. The rhythm section is more dance-oriented, quite high-speed.
Lost features vocals that are vaguely reminiscent of Bjork. It is again an electronic dance song, but intermixed with different rhythmless synth passages. Not too interesting though. Visitors has a good melody line, with a powerful chorus, dominated by guitar chords. Nice track to hear live, probably. On the album it misses something, a certain drive. Pearl does have this drive, it's almost a punk track, Deborah Harris (Blondie) style! You can't keep sitting still while listening to this track. Then the quite soundscape of Medicine is something quite different. It takes ages and takes you nowhere. This is ultra-ambient, as is Loy which also takes far too long. I got quite bored during these tracks.
Welcome To The Other Side
sounds more like prog-rock, a bit Floydian. Quite a nice track, with
the vocals alternating between the male and female singer. Interstellar
Fairy Drive (do note the resemblance with an early Floyd track)
opens with an Irish tin-whistle melody, which re-occurs throughout the
psychedelic ambient track (reminding a bit of The Orb).
Starship Pilots (on too strong dope) takes us to the top-40
(well top-500 ;-) music of the eighties. It sounds a bit, well, Bowie-like.
You can't say these guys are not diverse! The vocal interactions between the male and
female voices gives this track something extra.
A calm beat introduces Psychedelic Rockers, a good rock track that might even be considered prog in a sense. It has a bit of a Radiohead feel to it, but without the complexity. The album ends with Shivas Awakening a more electronic dance track with different jazzy, funk and rock influences, as well as a rap verse. The ultimate blend in styles!
In conclusion: this is not prog-rock. However, it does touch on some subgenres that can be considered prog. It has an interesting blend of psychedelics, dance, punk and rock and therefore I reviewed it. If you like to look beyond the prog-boundary, and look for something modern sounding, you may want to check this one out. If you want a prog CD, you don't. The average non-prog classification also explains the grade, which is based on the interest a prog-rock lover might have in this album, and as such it is not a statement of the quality of the end-product for more broad-minded persons!
Conclusion: 6 out of 10.
Van Oosten - Seasons Of The World
Van Oosten is a guitar hero, who produces, arranges, writes and performs all the songs himself. Fortunately, he is quite talented at drumming and guitar playing, so that at least the instrumental and vocal quality (he uses guest vocalists) is guaranteed. Personally, I do not like these one-man semi-hard rock albums too much, since most of the time the verses and choruses are just an upbeat to what the author of the piece finds most important, which is showing off his guitar solo skills. This album proves no exception, but the quality of the compositions, indeed having some progressive elements in the sense that there are a couple of rhythmic variations in the tracks, is sufficiently high to be still attractive. Indeed, Queensryche adapts might find this a worthwhile album, although it is "softer" than the Ryche boys.
For instance in the second track, Till Hope We Dance, we can hear the Queensryche influences. Of course, the level of Tate et al. is not reached, but one cannot expect that from a single person. On this particular track, the fact that keyboards and bass are not his main instruments becomes painfully clear. The bass line excels in simplicity and a couple of piano chords is not enough to provide the necessary musical tapestry in the chorus. The same can be said for the intro of Still Dreams, where the keyboard opening is childishly simple. However, as soon as it's back to vocal, drum and guitar the power returns. The eighties hardrock "yeeeeaaah yeaaaahhh" vocal opening is a bit pathetic though, and it's not the only time he uses this outdated cry. For the rest, it is a simple hard rock track, but it sounds quite ok. This is in part due to the production and recording (DDD), which gives a good clear sound.
Labia (Latin for lips, in all meanings of the word...)
in E Minora is a calm acoustic guitar piece, ala Hackett or
Howe, but more
in a Spanish style.
Distant Days sounds a bit like a Dream Theater track, but much less
complex and without the experiments. Maybe this could be the starting point
for a DT track, and they would add their individual genius to it to get a
true DT track. The different measures are present anyway. Too bad about the audible cut in the mix.
1,000 Angels is a duet with a female singer. Not too interesting. The Voice Of Violence is again a Queensryche-like track and sounds pretty good. This is the highlight of the album to me. The title track, finally, features the same song structure as Still Dreams, and is a bit repetitive therefore.
In conclusion, a good effort for a single person, but he might consider to collaborate with an actual bass player and keyboard player, since he does not master these instruments to their core. The music is hard rock with now and then some progressive influences (mainly rhythm changes). This is not enough to be called progressive. I recently had a discussion in which we wondered if Bon Jovi clones that use a 7/8 rhythm now and then could be called progressive. The outcome is clearly no, and I think the discussion applies to this album as well. Nice Work But Not Prog. However, it definitely contains some worthwhile tracks.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.
The Moon Orchestra - Bible In His Hand
The Moon Orchestra is a new German prog band. At the helm, we find Nikolas "Niki" John Hellenbroich (vocals and guitars), who was the singer of the German prog band The Formula and who also did a couple of solo projects, including the rock opera Oxygenia. I am not really familiar with Hellenbroich's earlier stuff with the exception of the track Oxygenia (taken from the rock opera) included on Empire Music's The Art Rock Collection - Volume 1. That track is interesting, but still never fascinated me enough to actually check Hellenbroich's stuff out more properly (which might have been a mistake on my part). In The Moon Orchestra, Hellenbroich is joined by Sören Jordan (guitars), Marcel Millot (drums), Thomas Oehler (keyboards) and Ralf Mertzlufft (bass), and the mini CD Bible In His Hand shows that these musicians work well together. With some additional guitars, bass and vocals, not to mention the production skills, of Mick Rogers of Manfred Mann's Earth Band, this is definitely a mini CD well worth checking out.
The first track, Bible In His Hand, featuring Charlie Morgan on drums, opens with piano and slow rhythms. The music is rather slow and atmospherical. I am reminded of Peter Gabriel's music in his slower moods, but also of some of Phil Collins' solo stuff, possibly also because of Hellenbroich's vocals reminding me of both these vocalists (primarily Gabriel). This first track has a lot of the atmosphere of Gabriel's Blood Of Eden and I definitely like it.
Black opens with some Collins-like rhythms and follows the soft, slow mood and atmosphere of the title track. The vocals are still very much reminding me of Gabriel, but there are elements in the music here which remind me of Sting around ...Nothing Like The Sun. The song also offers a really nice bass line and some soft, dripping guitars.
Nice keyboards open Do I Believe. This also seems to be a rather slow song to begin with. Even though this is not entirely untrue, there is a heavier guitar and bass part which links the verse to the upbeat chorus. This is, by the way, really, really nice. The Gabriel-quality to Hellenbroich's voice is still very tangible. By the latter half of the track, a long bass based section with half-spoken, half-chanted vocals creates a great build-up in atmosphere.
The fourth track is a live recording of the song Once Upon (originally Once Upon (The Assault)) taken from Hellenbroich's Oxygenia. It features Axel Falk on bass and Peter Rosenkranz on keyboards, and opens with drums that really (again) bring Gabriel to mind. The entire song, which is very much based on building up another one of these slow atmospheres (which by now seem to be a trademark of The Moon Orchestra), reminds me a lot of the live version of Gabriel's and Youssou N'Dour's Shaking The Tree as performed on Secret World Live. The way Hellenbroich introduces the band during a brilliant instrumental section strengthens this impression. The track is also somewhat heavier than the earlier tracks, and offers some nice vocal effects and exquisite bass lines. The instrumental section grows faster and faster and could be seen as slightly chaotic at times, but in a nice way.
The mini CD ends with H (Intro Longplay), which is a really nice, short instrumental piece, featuring Hellenbroich on keyboards. I think the track is really good, but am somewhat puzzled by its position on the CD. Judging by its title and character, it would have fitted much better as an opener, or possibly as a resting point midway through. Still, maybe it is merely an intro to The Moon Orchestra's full length album. I sure hope so and will definitely keep an eye out for it.
To conclude, this is a CD which should be checked out by people into soft and gentle music, and fans of Peter Gabriel in his calmer moments. For my own part, I am seriously considering checking out Hellenbroich's earlier accomplishments and I am looking forward to hearing the next Moon Orchestra release.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.