Reviews in this issue:
David Gilmour - In Concert
DVD Extras: Animated Menus, Spare Digits (14.17), Home Movie (8.46), Miscellaneous bonus tracks (12.07) [I Put A Spell On You (4.15), Don't (4.58), Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 (2.54)] High Hopes choral (1.59), Lyrics, Credits, 5.1 tester
Who would have thought. Up till only just over a year ago David Gilmour seemed to have lost all interest in music and spent his days of retirement in relative obscurity. All this changed when former Soft Machine frontman Robert Wyatt asked him to perform at the annual Meltdown Festival held in the Royal Festival Hall in London. The concert sparked a new chapter in his career and after the initial concert in June 2001, Gilmour returned to the Royal Festival Hall for three more concerts in January 2002, with rumours of a European tour for 2003 becoming more and more plausible.
This DVD contains the entire concert at Meltdown, completed with three encores from the January shows. Also included are various bonus tracks from different sources.
Rather than the usual Floyd extravaganza Gilmour opted for a completely different approach to the gig, no stage props, no laser light show, no bombastic musical arrangements. Instead we are treated with tuned-down versions Floyd classics, solo work, covers and a new composition Smile. Virtually all arrangements are acoustic, with Gilmour only occasionally picking up an electric guitar, which is the only electrical instrument used on stage. The only Floyd regulars in the band are saxophonist Dick Parry, and backing vocalist Sam Brown, who leads an 12-piece gospel choir. Michael Kamen, who worked with Pink Floyd on The Wall and The Final Cut, as well as Roger Waters' Pros and Cons Of Hitchhiking plays grand piano and English horn. Colombian Chucho Merchan plays delightful double bass, Caroline Dale takes care of most keyboard parts with her cello, second guitar is provided by Neill MacColl and the lot is backed by drummer/percussionist Nic France.
The show has a very intimate atmosphere, with Gilmour talking probably more to the audience than he has done in the past 20 years with Floyd. My favourite moment is when a heckler shouts "something from Animals please", to which Gilmour immediately responds: "we'd still be here after turf out time if we did that!" Brilliant.
It's great watching the start of the show, which sees just Gilmour on stage, strumming an acoustic guitar. The crowd's reaction is fantastic once they recognise the chords to Shine On You Crazy Diamond.
The set continues as an interesting mix of Pink Floyd classics (Shine On, Comfortably Numb, Wish You Were Here) as well as 'newer' stuff (no less than three songs from The Division Bell !), a new solo track Smile and finally some interesting covers: Syd Barrett's Terrapin and Dominoes, Richard Thompson's Dimming Of The Day, and the stunning Je Crois Entendre Encore from Bizet's opera The Pearl Fishers.
The Floyd tracks sound remarkably well in its tuned down versions, with a stunning Shine On You Crazy Diamond parts 6-8 and a truly majestic High Hopes being the definitive highlights.
Comfortably Numb sees Meltdown Festival curator Robert Wyatt singing the Roger Waters parts. It seems a bit of an impromptu performance, as Wyatt is reading out the lyrics from a piece of paper, not entirely singing the right melody.
The DVD also features three 'encores' taken from shows at the same venue in January 2002. Apart from a second -better- rendition of Comfortably Numb, this time with Sir Bob Geldof on vocals, there is also a guest appearance by Richard Wright, who guests on one of his own compositions Breakthrough.
The half hour of extras comprises of three cover songs: Screaming Jay Hawkins' I Put a Spell On You, recorded with Mica Paris and Jools Holland in 1992, Elvis Presley's Don't, which was played at a tribute concert in 2001, and Shakespeare's 18th Sonnet, recorded -I think- at Gilmour's houseboat, which sees Gilmour singing along to Michael Kamen's orchestral music. Furthermore there is a homevideo which shows the rehearsals with the choir at Gilmour's house, a short excerpt from one of the shows where the choir did an a capella version of High Hopes and guitar anoraks will dig the six "Spare Digits" which are excerpts of the show where the camera focuses on Gilmour fingers, catching every note of his guitar play.
The DVD is an excellent production, with razor sharp images and a deep, warm 5.1 soundtrack. Visually the show is not overly interesting, but the new, fresh arrangements of the song guarantee two hours of pure enjoyment. Recommended.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10.
H - Live Spirit : Live Body
Live Body [77.08]: Dream Brother (7.06), I Don't Remember (5.26), Really Like (7.05), The Loving (4.22), Life On Mars? (4.19), Maybe I'm Amazed (4.31), Until You Fall (6.05), The Last Thing (13.09), See Emily Play (3.25), You Dinosaur Thing (6.16), Estonia (9.48), This Is The 21st Century (5.32)
The album I've been waiting for for more than 5 years!
Ever since 1997, when I first saw Steve Hogarth with his solo band, I have been hoping for a live release for the sole reason that outside Marillion Hogarth does exactly the one thing I find lacking most at Marillion live gigs: playing a little variation! Rather than playing the songs exactly as they appear on the studio album, the songs are extended or arranged differently and the odd solo has been added. And this is precisely what makes live recordings interesting.
Steve Hogarth's band, dubbed The H-Band, consists of Richard Barbieri (Japan, Porcupine Tree) on synthesisers, Dave Gregory (XTC) and Aziz Ibrahim (Stone Roses a.o.) on guitars, Andy Gangadeen (Massive Attack, The Bays) on drums, 'Jingles' on bass, and on the "Spirit" night only (but full band members since) Stephanie Sobey-Jones on cello and Dalbir Singh on tabla. This multicultural band all with such different musical backgrounds make that the music sound incredibly fresh and alive. Especially the Eastern approach of Ibrahim, combined with the tabla of Singh give the music a very interesting mid-oriental flavour.
This album was recorded at two consecutive nights at Dingwalls club in Camden Lock, London, on August 8th and 9th 2001. The idea was to play two completely different sets at these shows, one of the sets emphasising the spiritual side of H's musical taste, and the second night more of a full-on rock show. The set would comprise of songs from Hogarth's solo album Ice Cream Genius as well as compositions by members of his H-band and some of Hogarth's favourite covers.
In the end there wasn't enough rehearsal time to come up with two complete sets, so some songs have been played on both nights, yet on the two nights they played enough material to fill this double album to its max capacity. Mind you, there are even two songs left out due to capacity constraints (The Psychedelic Furs' Alice's House and Fleetwood Mac's Green Manalishi).
As can be expected, all songs from H's solo album are featured on the album - including the bonus track/b-side The Last Thing. As said, most songs appear in a different arrangement than on the album. Songs like The Evening Shadows and Deep Water are played more heavily than on the studio album, Cage has a leading role for the tabla of Dalbir Singh, who turns the drum computer rhythm in a great percussion track. Nothing To Declare is also a lot heavier and ends with a fantastic guitarsolo, while Really Like and Until You Fall also feature new guitar solos. The Last Thing is extended with a full band jam, which seems to explain just why Hogarth chose to work with the keyboardist of Porcupine Tree. Fans of that band will certainly dig this song.
Listening to some of the arrangements, especially Really Like, Until You Fall, Cage, the second half of Deep Water, I came to the bizarre realisation: Steve Hogarth has a day job singing in a band that started out as some sort of Genesis clone. Now, in a bizarre twist of reality, H's solo work bears a lot of resemblance to that of former Genesis singer Peter Gabriel!
Not entirely surprising then that one of the covers played on the "Body" night is Gabriel's hard hitting I Don't Remember.
Unlike Hogarth's own compositions the covers are played rather loyal to their originals and he does a great job on the wide variety of vocal styles.
The chosen covers range from obvious (aforementioned I Don't Remember and the Pink Floyd track See Emily Play) to some more surprising ones (Elvis Costello's New Amsterdam or 10CC's Old Wild Man?). Other interesting covers are Jethro Tull's Life's A Long Song and Jeff Buckley's fantastic Dream Brother.
The absolute highlight comes with a fantastic rendition of David Bowie's Life On Mars? followed by Paul McCartney's Maybe I'm Amazed.
The rest of the band was asked to contribute as well. Dave Gregory chose one of his favourites from his former band XTC, the party track The Loving, and Aziz Ibrahim came with the instrumental Xen and Now -which has actually been played at every H gig so far, and seems to change each time they play it. It's a rock song with Indian influences, which at times reminds me of some of the work of Led Zeppelin.
Finally there are two Marillion songs as an encore. Estonia is played pretty much along the lines of the original (a different approach to the guitar solo though), while This Is The 21st Century is a beautiful piano-vocal recital of this modern classic.
The CD comes with a 22-page booklet which includes photos, liner notes by most band members and the e-mail conversation between Hogarth and Dave Gegory in which they discussed the possibilities for the setlist. This album would have been a triple CD had all initial suggestions been played!
In conclusion: live albums don't always come as good as this one. Of course Hogarth can be criticised for the fact that he releases a double album which consists for 75% of covers, due to lack of original material. Well, yeah, maybe so, but I for one am glad he included all the covers. And it must be kept in mind that this is a hobby band of people playing the music they like, which is what gives the band its' charm. I for one would hate to see Hogarth do the Phil Collins thing!
Actually, that Phil Collins thing might already be happening. I'm not referring to the fact that he cuts his hair before playing with his solo band, and he lets it grow again when playing with Marillion. No, it's that odd déjà vu feeling that comes creeping up when I think about this album. Back in 1997 I actually liked H's solo album better than the Marillion outing of that year: This Strange Engine. Well, erm, Marillion also released a double live album earlier this year... draw your own conclusions... :-)
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10.
Tumble Home - Tumble Home
French band Tumble Home is an interesting proposition whose music falls within the jazz-rock scene. Thus terming this band as a progressive rock outfit would be stretching a description of their style, too much. On the other hand their music should appeal to all progressive rock listeners as it features much of what makes prog so interesting with some delicate shifts in time signature coupled with some great arrangements. The band itself is composed of Philippe Ammeloot (guitar, bass), François Moreau (drums), Rémy Parisis (trumpet) and Onno Ottevanger (keyboards and occasional vocals)
As I already mentioned, the music has much of its roots within the more easy-listening jazz scene along the lines of artists such as David Sanborn with that languid background feel. In fact the main reason for this is the frequent use of the trumpet as a solo instrument which creates that dreamy atmosphere giving that lounge-jazz feel as happens on tracks such as French Postman and The Heart is A Lonely Hunter.
The guitar also plays a prominent part on various pieces giving the album a more rock slant in an almost Steve Vai meets Al Di Meola fashion, as happens on Citizen Clone. At times the music is a collective effort without any overt solo instruments. The title track, Tumble Home would be a case in point as is La Mardite which also highlights the strong drum and bass rhythm section that Tumble Home possess.
On can practically state that the album is an instrumental one, though there are pieces which feature narration which blends in beautifully with the overall characteristic of the music. Sometimes the trend seems to follow a sort of Steely Dan path (The Heart is A Lonely Hunter) though the "vocals" do not tend to follow the music but rather the other way round with the music accompanying the "vocals".
Defining this album as a progressive rock release would be slightly too broad and one would be better off as saying that it is an easy listening jazz album with the occasional nod towards the fusion and jazz-rock scene. Nevertheless it makes an enjoyable and pleasant listen for those cold rainy days.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.
Nicola Randone - Morte Di Un Amore
Italy has always been a hotbed for progressive rock artists, and the popularity of this genre still runs strong in this country. Unfortunately few Italian artists seem willing to expand their base beyond Italian shores. This is because of two reasons. The first is that the Italian population and the popularity of the genre is enough to sustain the band without having to work outside Italy and secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the Italians have a strong language barrier even though Italian is one of the most beautiful languages to which music can be composed.
Morte Di Un Amore (Death Of A Loved One) by Nicola Randone manages to cross quite a few musical boundaries within a superbly produced album. There is a tinge of melancholy within most of the themes of the album, which are not necessarily progressive but verge into the well-crafted pop/AOR musical scene. Nevertheless, this is one of the more interesting albums I have come across this year. Randone stated his musical career with the now defunct Sicilian prog-band, Grey Owl who also had recorded an eponymous debut album. Much of the musical ideas found on this album were composed when the band still existed and their roots can be found in classical Italian prog-bands such as Le Orme, PFM and Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso, just to name a few.
The album opens with Visioni (Visions), a mainly instrumental piece which immediately showcases Randone's powerful vocals amidst a sequence of synthesiser sounds much in the Tangerine Dream vein. Il Pentimento Di Dio - dopo la fine del mondo (God's sorrow after the end of the world) is an indicator that this album is not just a classical progressive rock album. The basis of the track is within a reggae setting and is a sharp contrast to what one would be expecting, both from the title of the piece as well as when set against the opening piece. However even this piece reserves a delightful twist with the use of monk-like Harmonies in a very Franco Battiato-like fashion.
With a language like Italian as your mother tongue, ballads seem to come too easily for musicians from this country. Tutte Le Mie Stelle (All My Stars) is one such ballad which Randone utilises to fully express his vocals while L'Infinito (Infinity) allows the listener to glimpse into the slightly more progressive nature of this musician. The keyboards emanate a full sound, but add little to the overall musical dimension though they tend to allow the listener to be enveloped in the musical aura Randone wishes to create. With Un Cieco (A Blind Man) the guitar takes up a more prominent role in PFM style while with La Gostra (The Merry-Go-Round), Randone makes full use of a variety of sound bytes that evoke the Second World War. In fact the track deals with the atrocities of war, especially those committed in concentration camps such as Auschwitz. Stylistically one could say that is neo-progressive, mainly because of the way the synthesisers are arranged as Randone creates an interesting effect by overlapping his vocals giving an answer and response sensation.
By Strananoia, the harder edge of Randone's music seems to be coming to the fore, though the sound of recorders sound totally out of place. However, this track is one of the few pieces which actually shows a variety of shifts in both time signature as well as overall musical variety within the same piece. Amore Bianco (White Love) sees a return to the ballad-like presentation that featured so prominently earlier on though the synthesisers, for the first time on this album, actually pull the piece by the scruff of its neck and carry it away with some lush orchestral arrangements. The final (and title) track, Morte Di Un Amore (Death Of A Loved One) is the only piece that was not actually a solo Randone composition, but was created when Grey Owl still existed. This is the album's true epic piece, and Randone saved it till the end. In fact he has managed to incorporate all the influences that appeared on the individual pieces on the album from ballads to reggae to heavy guitar work that at times verges on the progressive metal. The backdrop is filled with the sound of string instruments until it gives way to a lengthy dreamy synthesiser piece that calls the album full circle. Just as the album began with a Tangerine Dream inspired piece, so does Morte Di Un Amore.
Though not exactly a progressive rock album, Morte Di Un Amore deserves a worthy spin on your CD player. An impressive album with some great arrangements, Nicola Randone has come up trumps and hopefully he will get the recognition that he deserves with this album and hopefully manage to break through with a record label deal. Try this album, you won't be disappointed.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Seid - Among the Monster Flowers Again
Seid first formed in the early 90's, and this is their debut album featuring the current six-piece line-up who play an impressive collection of vintage synths and organs, along with the usual guitar, bass & drums. A few guests join in to play some more unusual instruments like harpsichord, theremin, euphonium and clarinet. Their style is mostly psychedelic space rock, but this is not a rule that they stick to rigidly, and there are plenty of other influences at work, too.
The Monster Flowers referred to in the title appear in the form of a number of illustrations of mushrooms and/or toadstools within the CD inlay, and this sets the scene for the first track. Pumping organ and drums march along, accompanied by synthesised tweets and burbles, sounding as though the listener is walking through a woodland scene which becomes darker and more psychedelic as the track approaches the end and bursts straight into the first song.
Fire Song kicks off sounding very similar to Hawkwind's Silver Machine, but quickly makes its mark as a good up-tempo rocker in its own right. The chorus is a wonderfully simple power-organ riff which sticks with you all day long. A quieter middle section with melodic guitar solo, followed by a very 60's sitar accompaniment, provides a little additional variety in this short song.
Aggressive guitar power-chords reminiscent of King Crimson start Jellyfish, but are quickly replaced by more gentle sitar sound overlaid with a Yes-like vocal delivery. Then the heavy guitar returns, this time backed by synth swirls and swooshes. Then a lovely Eastern-sounding instrumental on clarinets finishes the piece. This is quite an eclectic track, but very enjoyable.
A simple guitar/bass duet starts King Leon, joined by an spacey echoed slide guitar, and this track seems fairly laid back. Things change when the drums and vocals start, and we're back into Hawkwind territory again, with a killer organ/drum/guitar riff for a chorus.
5/4, named after its time signature, has a much darker atmosphere than the previous tracks of the album. It is a fairly straightforward group backing to a number of similar verses, before the mood lightens slightly during the second guitar solo and the backing synths provide an orchestral-like swell and a choir of backing vocals, before dying away to a slow wind-like drone interspersed with a bass synth and guitar 'heartbeat' along with what sounds like a giger counter, which probably lasts longer than necessary.
A heavy descending organ riff alternating with a lighter, almost jazzy guitar-backed verse forms the body of Lois Loona. There are a few variations to the theme, but this is really all there is to this track, which I think is the weakest on the album.
The tale of the king on the hill tells its story over an insistent rhythmn section, which lightens up in the middle section, before organ and distorted guitar tear their way back in for an instrumental workout, sounding a little like 2112-era Rush. I think the vocals on this track are the best match to the music - in some other tracks they are overwhelmed by the backing, but they work well here.
Red Planet starts off with a folky feel, then we return to Hawkwind again with a section which reminds me of Orgone Accumulator. The instrumental in the middle is reminiscent of Pink Floyd's Careful with that Axe, Eugene, especially the drums. Short and sweet, this one.
Sleep is the longest track on the disc, and is the most laid back on the CD. A sweet vocal melody drifts by with just bass and reverb-soaked guitars for a couple of minutes until bass, drums and keys join in for an extended instrumental section. When the vocals return they are a little lost in the mix, but under layers of organ, pumping bass and thundering drums that's not surprising! The track ends with a quiet keyboard duet which returns us to the mood at the start of the song. This track was the high point of the album for me, and anyone who likes Pink Floyd's Meddle, Umma Gumma or Atom Heart Mother albums is sure to crack a smile at this track - it is pure early-70's Floyd.
The final track revisits the theme of the first track again. It starts almost identically, and lasts a little longer, with some nice loopy brass lines - more than just a hint of Gong in there.
This CD has really grown on me (like a monster flower?) over the course of listening to it for this review. I tended to lose interest around the middle, and initially considered a score of around 6, but Sleep really redeems the album for me, and is worth buying for this track alone. Recommended for Space Rockers and Pre-Dark Side Floyd fans.Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10. Jonathan Bisset