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Reviews in this issue:
Taal - Skymind
Tracklist: Skymind (9:52), Yellow Garden (7:37), Blind Child (6:11), The Purple Queen's Lips (9:48), The Egg-Shaped Moon (9:07), Stratus (invluding The Little Beatle) (13:24)
When reviewing Taal's previous outing, Mister Green some three years ago was taken aback by the strength in musical depth this band had managed to attain on their debut album. In fact it was with great anticipation that I sat down to listen to Skymind and once again, this band managed to blow me away.
Structurally they have managed to retain much of what characterised their debut album though they have managed to go one step further showing a greater tightness as well as musical diversity. Furthermore, they have seemingly upped the power in their heavier sequences thus creating a much more dramatic contrast with the delicate strings and flute.
For those who are unaccustomed to this band, one should mention the strangeness of this line-up which I have not come across in the numerous bands that I have listened to and/or reviewed. One could describe them as a progressive metal band with the classical rock line-up of guitars, bass, keyboards and drums augmented with the sound of a classical string quartet. Two separate and anachronistic sounds that somehow the band have managed to fuse in perfect symbiosis creating a wonderful work of art.
The opening Skymind sees the band focussing on strong rhythm rather than melody and could be described as Stravinsky's Rite Of Spring being played alongside a band such as King Crimson. Sheer class and power! Another feature that characterised Mister Green was the occasional Middle Eastern theme that seemed to flow throughout a number of the pieces. With Skymind, that ethnic or folky touch is conveyed through the string section which brings in tinges of Klezmer and Eastern European music especially on Yellow Garden and Blind Child.
The remaining three tracks (Blind Child, The Purple Queen's Lips and Stratus) see the band resorting to a rather similar style of contrasts. The band makes full use of their love of crunching power chords that are responded with the delicacy of the string quartet, which is also augmented by the presence of a flute. Rarely have I come across an album that satisfies my every need in the progressive rock field. With this album it is neatly laid out in front of the listener, be it complexity, strong rhythmic variation, a story line (Yes this is also a concept album!), diversity as well as and more importantly, originality.
Some people have asked for a band that could possibly be a source of reference to Taal and the closest I have managed to possibly attribute them to are early nineties prog-metal band, Mekong Delta who used to introduce a full blown orchestra within their heavy music which had a lot in common with the speed metal of the day. In my opinion, Skymind is one of the top progressive albums of the year and once again Taal have come up trumps and if you like a heavier and intelligent brand of progressive rock, then you should definitely try this album out. You will NOT be disappointed.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
John Edmonds – When Schemes Come True
Tracklist: Networked (7:34), Talk Of Times (9:28), Relapse (6:08), Ghost Of John (15:32), Brainwatched (7:00), When Schemes Come True (12:15)
John Edmonds originally recorded this album, for cassette release, whilst resident in California in 1991. However, this dark and brooding work is diametrically opposed to the sunshine sounds of The Beach Boys and other typical Californian Bands. Now relocated in Anchorage, Alaska, Edmonds has followed his Subzerosonic release with this remastered CD edition of his earlier work.
When Schemes Come True is a unique marriage of electronically orchestrated dark symphonics with highly polished, compelling jazz-rock guitar solos. For a one-man production, the sound is generally superb, and even the electronic percussion is very well done. At the heart of the work, however, and despite the expansive breadth of the arrangements, it is Edmonds’ superb guitar tones that make this recording really sizzle for me.
I hear strong elements of Allan Holdsworth, Terje Rypdal and even Steve Hillage (but much jazzier) in these strongly fusion slanted solos. The pieces are highly crafted, with powerful thematic development flowing through each track and beyond. Sometimes one catches an echo of a previously heard theme, but strangely mutated. A good example of this is where the guitar motif of Networked can be heard snaking about in the background of the aptly titled Relapse. These two tracks are particularly strong examples of Edmonds’ craft, and have a very fusion-esque feel. Elsewhere, as on the epic Ghost Of John, (recorded in 1994 and added to the earlier tracks to boost the length of this CD) the sound is very classically oriented. In places it’s hard to tell that this is electronically realised, and not played by a real orchestra. This track, based on a traditional Halloween rhyme (unknown to me), is full of haunting atmospheres and has echoes of similar faux-orchestral works by The Enid or Karda Estra. While it successfully creates and sustains an appropriately spooky and sombre atmosphere, I do feel that this track is a little too long. The title track has a strong soundtrack-ish vibe with an eastern European feel and, at just over 12 minutes long, is a gratifying slab of intelligent music.
Overall, this CD is a satisfying listen, which will sustain repeated plays, having considerable depth and displaying laudable composing and arranging skills. This is deceptively complex, yet inherently melodic music, which may appeal to fusion buffs and neo classical fans alike.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Syrinx - Reification
Tracklist: Reification (16:56), Emanescence (8:32), Le Vingtieme Cercle (7:30), Orbis Ubique (14:41), L'Hypostase Des Archontes (7:04)
Reification is another of those CD's that have been in and out of my player over the last month or so, without me being able to form any concrete and lasting impressions. On the first listening through, I was totally knocked out by the musicianship and the general atmosphere of the tracks. Although the playing remains exemplary, I have since been unable to recapture all of the original aura that I first experienced.
A concept album in itself is not a new idea, nor is the fact that there are plans to continue these ideas through the following releases. The fact that band have also chosen to remain anonymous was a little surprising, however one assumes this is to add further mystery to Reification. The concept behind the music is absorbing and does add to the overall enjoyment. Although on the surface it may appear to surround Greek mythology the ideas are far more reaching, covering Gnostic beliefs where Archons are planetory rulers and guardians of the spiritual plans. The tale also has some familiar rings to it, as Sophia [Wisdom], the soul of the world is captured by the jealous Aoens... I do not wish to delve deeper or in fact trivialise the story, suffice to say this is the stuff of legend and conceptual albums.
Syrinx are comprised of four musicians and as mentioned early have chosen to remain anonymous, classing themselves as "transcribers" and therefore their identity is unimportant. The instrumentation of our transcribers is fairly standard in many respects, with guitar, keyboards, bass, drums and occasional flute. What does add a uniqueness to the sound is that all of the guitar parts are played on acoustic guitars and this combined with the complex arrangements lends a different texture to the music.
The lengthy title track, Reification, opens the proceedings and certainly sets the tone for the album - it also serves as my favourite track. The bass and drums, although complex throughout, work as a tight and complementary unit; the fretless bass blends well with the acoustic guitar and then finally are all held in balance by the keyboards. Much of the keyboard pressence is that of sweeping synth washes, drifting melody lines and underpinning textures, which form the mysterious and "spacy" ambience. A cautionary note though - this is not merely an textural album, which perhaps may be implied by some of my previous words. Yes there are ambient sections with delicate acoustic interludes, but the majority of the music is encapsulated within a complex progressive, jazz/rock/fusion domain.
The odd metering of tracks is also a wonder to behold, requiring much time to fully analyse. I think this will have to go down as "work in progress", for the moment. There were innumerate highlights within each of the tracks and so difficult to quantize. Perhaps mention of the delicate acoustic and flute section from Le Vingtieme Cercle or the wonderful up-tempo end section of the same track. L'Hypostase Des Archontes also has some perculating rhythms during some of the solo sections. I mused the idea of a combination of Bruford, Berlin, Fripp and an acoustic John McLaughlin.
The artwork and detail that has gone into Reification project is also well worthy of note and can be seen on the Syrinx's 'complex' website.
I found this to be a thoroughly enjoyable album, perhaps a little meandering at times, but on the whole a satisfactory piece of work. I can offer very little in the way of comparisons although the atmospheres and some of the arrangements brought to mind another excellent French band Nil, who received a favourable review for their Quarante Jours Sur Le Sinai release earlier this year. Reification is currently available from the bands site or in the UK from GFT-Cyclops. So if your interest lies with absorbing and complex instrumentals, that do not delve into the sphere of jazz, then this may be one of 2003's more pleasant treats.
Conclusion: 8- out of 10
Alan Friedman - The Test of Time
Tracklist: Side By Side (6:52), Who Do We Think We Are? (4:10), Voodoo Love (6:11), Someone To Blame (5:22), Real Bad News (6:12), The Test Of Time (4:43), Land Of Hate (4:47), That Dress (4:37), Nearly Down The Road (5:18), Love Won't Let You Down (4:48), Grinding (6:18), Back In My Arms (6:03), The Prognosis (1:30), Lukelear Meltdown (6:38)
Like Martin Darvill, Alan Friedman is an accountant who has gathered together a host of musical friends and clients to guest on his debut solo CD The Test Of Time. And quite a collection of guests it is too, including Bobby Kimball (Toto), Jonathan Mover (Joe Satriani, Alice Cooper), most of Living Colour, Jeff Peevar (David Crosby, Joe Cocker, Jackson Browne) and David Stoltz (The Dickey Betts Band).
With so many top musicians involved in the recording there is no concern that the performances are anything other than straight out of the top drawer. But what of the music? Can an accountant really write rock songs? The answer is an emphatic yes! The breadth of material is impressive as well. Album opener Side By Side, the first of two tracks featuring Bobby Kimball, not surprisingly sounds similar to Toto and features some rather fluid guitar work from Mr Friedman. Nearly Down The Road, the other track featuring Bobby Kimbell, couldn't be more different, a more up-tempo rocker featuring a solid performance from all involved but particularly the guitar and keyboards. Who Do We Think We Are? is a clever composition, the lyric of which consists solely of titles of songs by Deep Purple. The music is a fine pastiche of that band as well, with some great Hammond work by Mark 'Zed' Zampino. Real Bad News is a more bluesy number with some nice jazzy sax and keyboard interplay, although the talkbox guitar effects does tend to date the piece as somewhat of a seventies throwback. Title track The Test Of Time has a kind of Eagles / Venice vibe to it with some nice slide guitar (courtesy of Jeff Peevar) and is one of four tracks to feature the fine vocals of Robbie LaBlanc, one of the few non-professional musicians on the album (he is actually a wine salesman, keeps the vocal chords lubricated I suppose!)
There are a few slower paced tracks including Someone To Blame (sung by the lovely Sally Eckels) and Love Won't Let You Down that vary the tempo while Grinding, featuring Cory Glover and Doug Wimbish fairly grooves along. The album ends with a short comedy sketch which culminates in the guitar heavy Lukelear Meltdown, a tribute to Steve Lukather.
Overall a good and varied album. Maybe not something for the hard core progressive rock fan but certainly of enough interest for people with more varied tastes. With friends of the calibre that Alan Friedman can assemble, to play on an album that has been produced simply for the love of music, plus an educational/good time band comprising accountants and associated professionals (called, with tongue firmly in cheek, The Accounting Crows), who said accountancy was boring?!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Amarok - Mujer Luna
Tracklist: Mujer Luna (4:09), En el Parque (6:49), Arabesca en 4 mov. (9:09), Sueño Sueños (8:42), Dúo Para Tabla y Saz n.1 (1:58), Nana Para el Hijo de la Tierra (2:15), Dónde Estás Mi Amor (3:57), Tierra Austral: i) Sobre Las Dunas De Lava ii) Laguna Arcoiris iii) Patagonia Infinita iv) Selva De Araucarias v) La Nutira Y El Mar (9:41), Dónde Estás Mi Amor (conclusión) (2:33), Bonus Tracks: Dúo Para Tabla y Sax n.2 (2:34)
The fifth album from Spanish multi-instrumentalist Robert Santamaría features a fusion of classic art-rock elements with strong doses of mellotron coupled with diverse ethnic touches many of which have a distinct Middle Eastern touch. The end result is a pleasant combination of acoustically based progressive rock with flavours of ELP-based mellotron/Hammond.
The first time I heard the album I must admit to not have taken to it too well, but it is definitely one of those albums that "grows" on you. The ethnic content does somewhat overpower a number of pieces and this may act as a detracting factor to a number of listeners. This is evident on a number of tracks such as the opening Mujer Luna, Arabesca en 4 mov., the short instrumentals Dúo Para Tabla y Saz nos 1 and 2 and Dónde Estás Mi Amor. Much of the music is Arabic in origin, and this might not come as such as strange surprise when one considers the lengthy time the Moors occupied a large part of Spain. Only on the ballad Nana Para el Hijo de la Tierra does one feel that this is a Spanish based band, mainly due to the clear notes of the acoustic Spanish guitar.
Pieces such as Mujer Luna and Arabesca en 4 mov. manage to combine the ethnic flavours with an almost RIO-styled progressive rock. On the surface the melody line and the rhythm seems to be moving in different and discordant directions, yet they occasionally converge in on each other in a most sublime way held together by the delicate sound of the mellotron. Of further interest is the use of instruments that both European and American audiences are not accustomed to in what you could term as an unconventional way. One such example is the provision of a bass-line in Arabesca en 4 mov. by a didgeridoo!
The remaining material has much in common with Canterbury-influenced progressive rock bands such as Soft Machine and Matching Mole in that there is a very strong jazz influence which tends to dominate most of the instrumental sections. However the use of instruments such as the mellotron and the flute also conjure up images of King Crimson and Jethro Tull, however, no matter how string these instruments are felt, their presence is never an over dominant one and Amarok manage to retain their on particular identity throughout the album.
Stand out tracks in my opinion are Sueño Sueños and Tierra Austral with the latter piece possessing the strongest prog-rock connotations throughout the whole of the album. Actively describing this album has proven a pretty daunting task as Amarok have created a style which I have not come across in my reviews so far. At times one can sense the influence of the "classic" [progressive rock bands, but even then they are bands who at the end of the day have totally disparate styles (such as King Crimson and Magma!). Mujer Luna is an interesting album which should be approached with intent to listen to it over and over again. It is definitely not easy to get used to but once you start to work your way deep down into the musical nature of the album it will turn out to be be a rewarding experience.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
RWA - Driven
Tracklist: After The Crash (5:15), Runaway (6:52), Silence – Human Fear (5:00), Mama Returns – First Interrupt (7:06), Feeling Alive Again (5:13), Over The Top (8:25), Back To Your Senses (3:40), Driven (9:27), 2nd Interrupt – Silence Returns (4:31)
RWA is Roland Wahle, a Dutch composer/ musician. As he makes clear in the CD’s liner notes, the primary aim of this album is to act as something of an advertisement for what he can produce, particularly with regard to soundtracks for films and documentaries.
It is therefore somewhat unsurprising that a lot of this has a sort of ‘background music’ feel. The general style could probably best be described as atmospheric, symphonic electronica, with overlying melodies, predominantly played on either guitar or synthesiser. The introductory keyboards on After The Crash reminded me of the Tubular Bells excerpt used on the film "The Exorcist", and indeed comparisons with Mike Oldfield, circa the more recent Tubular Bells Part 3, are valid and provide a good indication of the sort of music that Wahle has created here. Although I’ve probably damned the album with faint praise in describing it as ‘background music’, there is variety here within the structures Wahle has given himself, with some strong melodies coming to the surface – particularly of note is Runaway which has some great celtic-flavoured guitar solo’s, and Feeling Alive Again, which features sounds which imitate that prog fan’s favourite, the church organ. The strongest track overall is probably Over The Top, which utilises some very proggy keyboard sounds and manages to sound like more of a song in its own right than just a showcase for Wahle’s undoubted musical talent.
Wahle plays all the instruments, and is clearly a more than competent performer and engineer. It would be nice to hear more live drums, as these are only used on two tracks, and the drum machines and loops start to niggle after a while – they’re OK on the more ambient stuff, but sound out of place on rockier material such as the first part of Silence – Human Fear. This is only a minor criticism though, and Wahle should be congratulated on making such a professional sounding product, with limited resources.
Overall, given its major function as a showcase of Wahle’s talents, this is certainly a decent listen, if not a wildly exciting one and it does benefit from having no noticeably weak moments. Driven is probably best seen, as it is no doubt partly intended, as music to have on in the background whilst you’re doing something else. I hope that Wahle will have had some offers of soundtrack work as a result of this CD, as he certainly deserves to.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10