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Reviews in this issue:
Steve Howe's Remedy - Elements
Tracklist: Across the Cobblestone (4:18), Bee Sting (3:23), Westwinds (4:31), Where I Belong (4:17), Whiskey Hill (2:02), The Chariot Of Gold (3:25), Tremolando (2:11), Pacific Haze (7:23), Load Off My Mind (3:31), Hecia Lava (3:08), Smoke Silver (3:12), Inside Out Muse (6:55), Rising Sun (3:06), Sand Devil (4:36), The Longing (2:27), A Drop In The Ocean (3:05)
In a scheduled six-month break between Yes commitments, Steve Howe got together with his sons Virgil and Dylan (keyboards and drums, respectively), Gilad Atzmon (sax, clarinet and flute) and Derrick Taylor (bass), called the ensemble "Remedy" and headed into the recording studio. The resulting album, Elements, manages to successfully combine solo guitar pieces with blues, jazz and rock and even elements (excuse the pun) of electronica. However, it is not a diverse collection of individual pieces - the album has been carefully sequenced so that there is a natural flow to the music as the album progresses.
Three of the 16 pieces, the rocky Across the Cobblestone and Load Off My Mind and the rather lovely acoustic Where I Belong, feature Steve's vocals. I was rather pleased that the vocal tracks were in the minimum, which is not a criticism of the singing on the three songs included, it's just that I prefer the mood, atmosphere and sheer playing skill that Howe packs into his instrumental pieces. This is no better experienced than on the dreamy blues piece Inside Out Muse, with the precise guitar weaving around the moody clarinet and sax of Gilad Atzmon. The jazzy Westwinds calls to mind Pat Metheny while the slower Pacific Haze has the late-night jazz bar vibe with an excellent bass line by Derrick Taylor, Mmmm Nice!
Howe has shown a willingness to experiment on this album, particularly on the solo acoustic numbers. Tremolando is, as the name suggests, laden with tremolo while Hecla Lava has a very spacey echo to it, not that dissimiliar to Kai Jansen's epic A Peartree In The Wilderness. Finally, a more straight forward acoustic number, A Drop In The Ocean provides a very tranquil ending to the album. Further explorations in sound can be found on the pairing of Sand Devil and The Longing, with the former plying lots of effects onto the guitar while the latter is heavily synthesised, rather resembling a theme tune from a television science fiction series. But Howe hasn't forgotten how to rock and there are several stunning electric guitar workouts that will keep any six-string fanatic happy. Whiskey Hill, a more rock 'n' roll number, has elements of the infamous Duanne Eddy twang to it while Rising Sun ups the tempo (and volume!) nicely mixing guitar and saxophone.
Overall a fine addition to the Steve Howe catalogue. Even if the music is slightly different from what one expects from Yes, at least there is a consistency with the cover, which features a typical Roger Dean painting as well as the characteristic typography.
Two solo albums in one year. Not a big thing in the 70’s but certainly remarkable at least in the year 2003. Skyline was the first one earlier this year and now Steve Howe already has a second one on the market. In between touring with Yes in Europe and Australasia he found the time and creativity to record Elements. Presented as a band’s album and under the name of Steve Howe’s Remedy this album comes across, to me, as a having a fun time in the studio with Jazz, Blues and what lies in between. Steve’s two sons, Dylan (drums) and Virgil (keyboards) are both in the band too, Derrick Taylor (bass) and Gilad Atzmon complete the line-up.
The music on this album can be best described as easy jazz with blues influences and lots of room for Howe’s distinctive guitar-sounds. Some songs have vocals on it, by Steve Howe himself. In the past this wasn’t always received as a strong side of the guitar legend, but on this release he doesn’t sound that bad actually. He doesn’t strain his voice the way he sometimes did and this gives a more relaxed sound for sure.
The overall sound of the album is relaxed and open, often sounding like spontaneaous jams, like in Whiskey Hill. In the beginning of the album you hear birds and I thought that I accidently put on a Jon Anderson record ... but there’s no mistake after 30 seconds or so.
What also is remarkable; horns and Steve Howe’s guitar-sound are a good combination and so a new frontier has been discovered maybe. The songs range in style from quiiet slow songs to energetic jams which offers a lot of diversity. (Pacific Haze, Load Off My Mind)
Although the main ingredient is Steve Howe and his styles of guitar-playing, the other bits and pieces are important as well, there’s a real band-like feel on Elements. The bass guitar lays down a carpet of warm rhythms on which the drums are flowing nicely along, the keyboards and guitars top the Fusion-recipe. A nice intermissional album this one, and I guess a welcome distraction from the Yes activities Howe is involved in these days, and that suits him very well. He can keep his creativity flowing and from that Yes hopefully will profit once again when they are going to record their new album in May 2004.
Naked Elf - YI
Tracklist: Books of Bokonon (7:20), Stew (3:07), Electric Bread (4:39), In the Domain of the Dread Dormammu (7:33), The Transmigration of Mr. Natural (2:21), Malphas Inaugurated (3:48), CircuSSS - The Performing Bestiary (2:35), Enter the Grand Vizier (3:34), Socks, Clocks (4:39), The Dark Cone of Orodruin (13:54), Orion: New Genesis (7:26)
Naked Elf play totally improvised music, and the CD has been produced in a similar manner to those of Can - the band play for extended periods, and edit the results into the completed pieces presented here. This could very easily prove to be a recipe for disaster, and it is testament to the skill of these three musicians that they pull this off without a hitch to produce some excellent music.
Stew starts with an echoing synth sound and slowly evolving guitars, being joined by a heavily modulated monosynth, then distorted guitar, all awash with reverb. A slow track, reflective after the insistent beat of the previous track.
Electric Bread features a gentle bass backing a beautiful melodic guitar line, with very understated drums. The guitar becomes heavier, and the melody gets chopped up towards the end of the track, before a piece of reversed guitar fades out. The melody bears more than a passing resemblance to the theme from the film Born Free.
In the Domain of the Dread Dormammu follows a similar path to the first track, with a main theme which deviates and is interrupted by solos and brief interludes. It is followed by a short track which is very different, being mainly cymbals backed by gamelan-like chimes with distant guitar effects in the background - a very haunting sound, providing a good contrast with the previous track.
Up until this point, the album has been quite serious in tone, but the change to slapstick provided by CircuSSS - The Performing Bestiary really doesn't come off. The 'SSS' in the title refers to Solution Science Systems, the band's alter-ego which focuses on 'SciRock' with a strong element of humour, but whilst it would be nice to hear some of that humour in this disc, the slice we are presented with is just too extreme, doesn't fit and isn't really funny - basically a circus march with sampled percussion effects and kazoo-like synths.
The Dark Cone of Orodruin is the longest track on the disc, and starts with a long ambient drone, gradually joined by meandering guitar lines and sporadic outbursts of drums. Of all the tracks on the album, this one sounds the most like it was improvised, and perhaps better reflects the process of developing these pieces. It is much more like jazz than the other riff-based pieces, but space-rock-jazz, rather than fusion.
The final track is perhaps the most traditional prog in style, sounding at times like instrumental sections from Marillion and Pink Floyd, and provides a final flourish to an excellent album.
Many bands could benefit from being able to write music as good as this, but these guys can make it up as they go. They have a very tight rhythm section and clearly have an excellent rapport with each other allowing the music to speak for itself. I would like to see them make use of a wider palette of sounds - more acoustic instruments or different keyboard sounds, and perhaps even try some vocals - not an easy task for an improvising band, but Can proved it possible.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Solution Science Systems - EP
Tracklist: ETP (4:30), Public SSService Announcement (1:04), Hey, Butterfly (5:02), Science is The Solution (4:22)
This eponymous E.P. is a promotional demo for Solution Science Systems' forthcoming CD Daemon ex Machina, which is now available as a commercial release. It comes in a white paper CD sleeve and provides a preview of the band's experiments with what they call "SciRock" (Science Rock). A visit to the website reflects the image of a select group of research scientists, rather than a rock band - presented in a style which sits somewhere between a 50's B-movie and the X Files, taken with a substantial dose of sodium chloride.
The disc starts with ETP (Electrotrombonophone) which captures the feel of an updated version of Yes's Drama played by a three piece ensemble, with its catchy guitar line and upper-register vocals. The lead-in to each chorus sounds like it's going to break into Asia's Heat of the Moment at any time, though thankfully it never does, and the whole thing speeds past quickly, with very brief synth and guitar solos which don't really get a chance to go anywhere before the next verse takes over or the song ends. This could have been a hit single if released in the 80's.
Public SSService Announcement is just a brief narrative spoken over a backing of synth effects with a nod towards the introductory sequence of the game Half-Life, and ending on a cheesy little organ riff like a 50's advertisement for washing powder. It fits the persona of the band, but doesn't really have any musical value.
Hey, Butterfly is a more serious affair, with a driving power-chord riff starting off before switching into a more laid back style as the vocals join to consider a little chaos theory before the heavy riffs return to back a melodic chorus. A weedy guitar solo starts up, and sounds quite out of place until backed up by the chords, when it becomes more inventive for a while, returning to the chorus for a final time.
Science is The Solution (Part 1) is the most of the disc, starting with aggressive, discordant guitar riffs like King Crimson, then moving on to a melodic guitar solo, and repeating. This piece doesn't sound complete, as though waiting to have vocals added, or expecting to be developed further - since its title includes 'part 1', this sounds like it could form a part of a major piece on the forthcoming album, and this is certainly a good introduction to such a piece.
Overall, this is an enjoyable, upbeat piece of modern rock - full of enthusiasm and humour. The same musicians also call themselves Naked Elf and play a very different, but equally challenging music. I look forward to hearing the new album on release.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Kumm - Moonsweat March
Tracklist: Small (3:30), A Midwinter's Dream (6:47), Dancing On The Wires (5:45), Marty (2:28), Moonsweat March (8:44), Ego-Etno-TV-Personality (4:10), Listen To My Songs (4:48), Now And After (6:43), Dictionary (3:58), Secret Room (2:55), Ce Si Cum (2:51)
Very little information is available on this Romanian four-piece, no promotional material accompanied the CD sent to DPRP HQ and the Kumm website is rather minimalistic. In addition, the music on Moonsweat March was recorded way back in February 2000, the album seemingly having originally been issued in cassette form. Most likely the band have only recently had the finances available to issue a CD version (which would explain why the final song, Ce Si Cum, is labelled as a bonus track - it is also the only song sung in Romanian).
The band comprises of Nutescu Eugen on vocals, guitars and bass, Meier Zsolt on alto and baritone sax, Kovács András on keyboards and Csergó Dominic on drums and percussion, a line-up reminiscent of Van Der Graaf Generator in their prime. However, the music is somewhat less raw than Peter Hammill's old combo, but does have the same spirit of adventure that was found in some of the VdGG material. This is undoubtedly a result of saxophonist Zsolt's jazz leanings (indeed it appears he also performs in a Romanian jazz band!)
Overall, the band have achieved a very polished sound, the vocals are very clear and sung without a trace of an Eastern European accent, the balance between the instrumentation is spot on and the production is very clean with great separation between the instruments. This is particularly evident on pieces such as Dancing On The Wires which features some wonderful interplay between guitar and sax. The title track, Moonsweat March, starts with a repetitive guitar phrase reminiscent of Geoff Mann without the echo box. There are a couple of sax breaks and a somewhat pedestrian keyboard section which results in a piece that, to my mind, doesn't really hang together too well. In general, Kovács András's keyboard contributions are only used to provide tone and colour to the songs and don't often take on the role of lead instrument. They do feature quite heavily on Listen To My Songs, an interesting number that has a very new wave feel to it, and Secret Room, a more sedate number predominantly featuring sax and vocals over the keyboard backing. A nice number that works well.
Dictionary packs quite a few ideas into its four minutes, an energetic and memorable chorus interspersed with almost spoken verses overlaid with some great bass runs. Although possibly not the best song on the album, it is probably the best performance - the band really gel together on this song. For my money, the standout tracks are Now And After and A Midwinter's Dream. Both feature very good performances by vocalist Nutescu Eugen, have great melodies and are very restrained in their execution. It is the latter of the two songs that gets the plaudits though and is worthy of inclusion in any discerning music lovers collection. Without doubt the highlight of the album, rather menacing and sinister in places punctuated by a killer chorus - great stuff!
On the whole, the band have to be congratulated on a fine effort. Although not a classic album, it is a good first step and it may well be that Kumm are the band that will put Romanian Progressive Rock on the map!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Andy Wells - Humanized
Tracklist: Mr Majestic (3:36), Waiting For The Night (4:11), Unknown Soldier 'Full Version' [I. The ID; II. Dance The Thor; III. Unknown Soldier; IV. The Gate] (13:26), Unknown Soldier 'Edit' (6:44)
First impressions are not always the correct ones. A rule that not only applies here, but serves as a timely reminder for me not to become too complacent or blasé about the material that arrives here at DPRP. Humanized is one such EP, which on first listening went in one ear and out the other. Obviously though, something along the line must have lodged in my mind and demanded a re-visit. The second and subsequent airings proving to be much more rewarding.
Andy Wells is a multi-instrumentalist from the North Yorkshire area - having worked in the past with Mike Rutherford and John Verity (Argent), among others. Currently based in his 24 track studio, he is undertaking a number of differing musical projects - including a "full scale classical recording", The Lost Toys, based upon children's stories and taken from an Edwardian book. Other recent releases include the Lost The Will To Play album and of course the Humanized EP/Album.
Four tracks comprise the Humanized EP, although tracks three and four are differing versions of the same song - more later. Firstly returning to my opening comments and by way of a quick résumé of the first two tracks, which show the rockier side of Andy Wells and do not delve much into the progressive mode. Mr Majestic is a straight out rock guitar instrumental, with the occasional keyboard interlude and much in the vein of Joe Satriani. Following this up is Waiting For The Night a stomping mid-tempo rocker, replete with Kisslike choruses.
The main attraction of this EP, for me, is the Unknown Soldier in both forms and most probably the catalyst for the more detailed listenings. On Humanized, the EP, it is the edited version that works much better as a track, but only as the fuller version does not go far enough. However, we will look at the complete version, which opens with a "classical" string arrangement, thickened by low register guitar notes. This is followed by a animated piece of piano, straight from the Keith Emerson school - splendid. Hammond organ and drifting synth lines take up the gauntlet, leading into a brief guitar theme, before the vocal mid section. Reminiscent in vocal timbre to another fine keyboard man John Young, this somewhat laid-back section drifts melodically along, interspersed by Tony Drake's fine guitar work - not least in the atmospheric, Floydian outro section. A slight disappointment was the rhythm section, whom I felt could have contributed more dynamics to the music.
The Humanized EP is very much (to me) a work in progress release but one full of great promise. This is not to denigrate the musicianship, far from it, but you just feel that there is potentially a much, much stronger album in the offing. Given the creative writing skills, musicianship, arranging and production values possessed by Andy Wells, this surely must be on the cards. The EP is currently available through BURBS and serves as a nice taster for the fuller version - hopefully to be released soon!
Conclusion: Reserved for the Main Feature!
Heartscore - Sculptures
Tracklist: Men Treats Woman (4:03), Blue Bayou (4:28), All I Want Is You (5:00), When Sue Wears Red (2:42), The Saddest Noise, The Sweetest Noise (6:06), Judgement Day (2:50), Little Julie (3:07), What If (4:14), John Evereldown (6:49)
I’ve heard some strange albums over the years, but this one probably takes the biscuit – a German musician (Dirk Radloff) with hard rock/heavy metal leanings, pitches lyrics from a variety of North American poets from the 19th and early 20th century, predominantly from Black Civil Rights activist Langston Hughes (others include Emily Dickinson, E.E. Cummings and Edward Arlington Robinson), to arch, cod-rock backing, and gets his friend (Oliver Hartstack) to contribute some operatic backing vocals. Er…OK.
To be fair to Radloff, the results are, whilst strange, not actually bad. Opener Men Treats Woman (not sure if the incorrect grammar is deliberate!) is a Stray Cats meet Lounge cabaret type-affair, Radloff’s arch, dramatic, deliberately pronounced vocals given extra spice by Hartstack’s operatic backing. Both Blue Bayou and All I Want Is You have simple, effective choruses and satisfying hard rock riffs, although the latter cribs a bit too much from Led Zeppelin’s Ten Years Gone, especially some familiar guitar chords.
Sadly however the band don’t really divert from the formula of arch over-dramatic vocals singing American poetry over Richie Blackmore/Led Zep-esque guitar riffs thereafter, and what is admittedly a fairly unique idea and sound, it does become repetitive and a little dull. Its almost as if Radloff has used up all his energy on the unique concept and run out of further ideas on how to take this concept forward and move it into different areas.
That being said, this is certainly listenable, the playing is of a good standard and Radloff should at least be congratulated on taking a peculiar concept and making it sound almost plausible.
Overall: one to be filed under ‘oddity’, and not one I can see myself listening to much in the future – and to be honest there’s probably not too much here which will appeal to prog rock fans, save for those into the more avant-garde side of things.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10