Reviews in this issue:
Glass Hammer - Shadowlands
Tracklist: So Close, So Far (9:50), Run Lisette (10:30), Farewell To Shadowlands (7:30), Longer (9:55), Behind The Great Beyond (20:26)
Glass Hammer has been around on the American prog scene for a long time now, and should need no introduction to most of you. Their last two albums both received DPRP recommendations, and I am happy to report that I did not need to hesitate in granting this latest offering the same exalted status.
If anything, Messrs Babb and Schendel have upped the ante a little, by adding a real string section, and more importantly a real church organ to beef up the sound considerably. It is the aforementioned organ powering up the intense opening to Run Lisette which makes it my favourite track on the album, sounding like the Yes of Going For The One on steroids. Any fans of that album are going to love this. The Church organ sounds tremendous! There is also plenty of Howe-like guitar soloing to add to the power of the piece. As the song develops, it veers away from the overt Yes influence, with female vocals and the string section adding a classic Kansas feel to the closing section. Already, I feel this song is going to be high on my list of favourites at year’s end.
Whilst not quite as good as this track, the rest of the CD has plenty to offer, sticking closely to the formula established on the last couple of releases (though there’s no unifying concept this time around) i.e. keyboard drenched symphonic rock, with abundant Hammonds, synths and mellotrons, long instrumental passages, and (particularly on the 20 minute closer Behind The Great Beyond) ample classical/orchestral influences. I doubt that fans of Glass Hammer’s previous works would be disappointed with this album, and adherents of Yes, Genesis and ELP will also be right at home here. Perhaps aping the approach of Yes in their early years, G H also tackle a fairly unlikely choice of cover version, extending, opening out and proggifying Dan Fogelberg’s ballad Longer. The central melody is very nice, and the song really shines in this version. There are some nice harmony vocals too. Oh, and was that a snippet lifted from Spock’s Beard (?), or perhaps it’s just my imagination getting the better of me.
Glass Hammer seem to be really growing in confidence and settling into their own style (even if most of it’s elements are borrowed from Yes, Kansas et al) and this CD appears to me to be their Going For The One. Maybe next time they might achieve their Close To The Edge, only time will tell. In the meantime, enjoy this delightful CD, particularly the superb Run Lisette.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Galleon - From Land To Ocean
CD1 : The Land: Three Colours (11:32); Fall Of Fame (9:53); The Porch (5:16); Liopleurodon (5:49); Land (5:55); Solitude (6:11); The Price (14:36)
CD2 : The Ocean (52:07)
Swedish band Galleon released their debut album Lynx back in ’93, and since then have kept up a steady stream of releases. Things have been quiet since the release in 2000 of Beyond Dreams, but here’s the reason why: From Land To Ocean, a double set that’s undoubtedly the band’s crowning moment to date.
It’s fairly obvious that this is a concept album, although a fairly loose one. Disc one, The Land, is a series of shorter songs (relatively speaking, of course!) that deal primarily with political and environmental issues, with particular emphasis on the price of technological, economic and cultural ‘progress’. The second disc is, well, a tale of ‘The Ocean’, from creation to the present day, although once again there’s plenty of scathing lyrics aimed at those who’ve manipulated and destroyed this precious resource. Principal lyricist Goran Fors clearly takes a dim view of those ‘in charge’ of our affairs, and the lyrics can make for rather depressing reading, but its nice to see some real thought go into them rather than the usual wishy washy stuff which prog bands come up with.
The album opens up with perhaps the most quintessentially neo-prog track on the CD, Three Colours. This is a sweeping, mid-paced epic with definite echoes of the likes of Pendragon in both the track’s construction and in the instrumentation used. Keyboardist Ulf Petersson is probably the dominant contributor on this one, but Sven Larsson cuts in with some measured guitar work where appropriate. Vocalist (and bassist) Goran Fors, meanwhile, has an appealing delivery; technically he may not be the most gifted vocalist, but, like Pendragon’s Nick Barrett (to whom he bears some resemblance) his voice fits the music very well, and conveys plenty of emotion.
It would no doubt have been easy for the band to continue in this neo-progressive vein for the entire double set, but it’s to their credit that they’re not content to follow this comfortable course. The remainder of The Land sees the band covering a variety of different styles. Fall Of Fame has a welcome harder edge to it, with Larsson’s guitar well to the fore, nicely complementing the acerbic lyrics that take a scathing look at reality TV. The Porch is a solid ballad, Liopleurodon a driving instrumental in the vein of Rush’s YYZ, whilst Land has something of a folky feel to it (somewhat in the vein of Mostly Autumn), with the use of bozouki and flute adding to the musical texture. In contrast to this relatively upbeat tune, Solitude is a melancholy track, with lyrics (focussed on a loner who hangs photo’s on his wall to give the impression that he has friends) which seem to have been inspired by the film One Hour Photo. The first disc closes out with The Price, a powerful, driving epic on which Sven Larsson really comes into his own, coaxing some fantastic phrases and riffs out of his guitar. There’s some great jamming in the middle of this one, which serves as an effective break from the more sombre nature of the rest of the track, whilst the way the band build from here back up to the main section is very skilfully done.
As previously mentioned, the second disc consists of ‘one’ track, The Ocean. I use the inverted commas as, as with many prog epics, its arguable if this really counts as one song – there is little obvious continuity (musically at least) between the different sections, and the CD booklet actually sub-divides the track into 19 parts. In its defence however, everything flows together very smoothly, and however you define it this is a fine piece of music – going through a variety of different moods and tempos, and maintaining a fine balance between slower atmospheric pieces and rockier, guitar-dominated sections. On this disc I noticed a pronounced Pink Floyd influence, both in the evocative, atmospheric mid-section, which (musically) could almost have been lifted from the likes of Echoes, and in some of the lyrical sections where Fors’ delivers the words with some bite a’la Roger Waters on The Wall.
I guess my only real criticism of this album lies in the fact that the odd musical section occasionally outstays its welcome, and that there aren’t the ‘hairs standing up on the back of the neck’ moments which appear on the very best prog albums. However to counter this it should be noted that, over the course of nearly two hours of music, there are very few dull moments, and the album is a consistently enjoyable listen. Overall then, this is a fine effort which Galleon can be justly proud of, and it should appeal to all fans of well played, ‘traditional’ progressive rock.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Zakas - Illegitimus Non Carborundum
This album is the second independent release from Zakas, following up Shunk Daddy Grind (2000). From what I have been able to gather, Illegitimus Non Carborundum is a somewhat heavier affair than the previous album, however I would not like to give the impression that this a simple rock album. On the contrary this is an extremely ambitious project written almost entirely by drummer & percussionist Steve Zakas who has enlisted an additional twenty six musicians to undertake this mammoth musical task with him. The core of the band revolves around Steve Zakas, with Bill McClirk (keyboards, vocals and Chapman Stick) being heavily involved not only musically, but also taking on the production duties. Ably supporting these guys are Dorian Bila (electric & acoustic guitars), Brad Smith (bass) and Jonathan Rem (bass), who feature strongly thoughout. Alongside the more obvious instrumentation offered from the above, are a multitude of vocal offerings and along with those immediately complimentary instruments are several more exotic musical devices. The end result is a complex and often diverse musical offering.
I doubt that even with DPRP's increased webspace there would still be enough space to fully explore all the musical styles, genres and ideas covered on Illegitimus Non Carborundum. I have been listening to this album for some months now and still have not been able to fully come to grips with all of the music, however sections of the album have now clicked in to place. So to offer a starting point we will work from the premis that this is a rock album and travel from that position. We then need to add elements from New Age, World Music, NuMetal, Rock, Latin and so on... We now have most of the ingredients!
Having been somewhat dismissive of the album initially (I was certainly put off by the opening two instrumentals), however over a passage of time certain groups of songs did start to gel together and served as a starting point. Terror of the Sea, Row, Wreckage, Washed Ashore & R.I.F.T., being the first step. Terror of the Sea is a fairly straightforward rocker, within a somewhat predicatable format, but very infectious and with some added spice from Jim D'Arrigo's flute. A distinctly NuMetal feel accompanies Row, which took a bit longer to get into as I am not overly struck on narrative passages at the best of time and this one is totally OTT. Washed Ashore is one of the highlights from the album, as the performance moves up a notch here. The vocals of Dana Snyder capture the mood, and the heaviness of the track is countered with percussion sections and some splendid electric violin from Barry Van Wie. The last of this sub-grouping is R.I.F.T., which takes things down with a lilting rhythm, Spanish guitar and sultry saxophone melody.
As far as I can make out we leave the nautical theme here with the extremely odd El Chupacabra. A heavy riff - grunting vocals - the title of the track repeated "en Espanol" (female voice) and interwined around a captivating brass arrangement. Micro Mechanisms and, Dreamberry did little for me, however the return of Barry Van Wie's violin added a strange twist to God's Black Space, without which, may well have passed me by. The second half of the album tended to run hot & cold for me. Good were War Braid which offers chunky guitar rhythms interspersed with some splendid flute in a "jungle" setting (created by the sound effects). House of Kang although different and not without its moments - did not appeal, wheras World Bromination saw Synder back on vocals and Van Wie, flute - great track. Continuing to the end of the album the Eastern feel and textural saxophone of Dreamberry Dream was great and as was the percussive Track 19.
There seems to be little in terms of a common thread throughout the CD, although granted there are tracks that are linked or have common or recurring themes. Travel or exploration seems to be a factor, but in itself does not form an overall concept (not that it should necessarily need to do so). Perhaps just my way of attempting to rationalise the music. The early part of the album has a nautical theme, which is later replaced by explorations into space and alien lifeforms, before returning to the ocean to close proceedings. Having been to the Zakas website(s), much would appear to revolve around the illustrations and animations found there - so either these are the inspiration for the music or vice-versa.
As for its eccenticities we certainly have to be looking in the excesses of some of Frank Zappa's work and I feel sure he would have been proud of some of the offerings encompassed here. Never a dull moment and always provoking - probably this is where both the album's strengths and weaknesses lie. It is this combining of the many disparate ideas that makes the music challenging, whilst seldom offering any resting point, which makes it difficult to quantise the album as a whole. I can only suggest that if you are looking for something completely challenging, without necessarily being fulfilling in any one particular sphere of music, then this could well be for you. The heavier songs are without doubt the strengths of the album and combined with non standard instrumentation make Illegitimus Non Carborundum well worth exploring further.
As mentioned earlier a visit to the Zakas' websites might shed some light on the music, however I would put a little more time than usual aside for this. If you can fathom out the maze that is the Zakas/MCC websites then the music may well be a doddle!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Kotebel - Fragments of Light
Tracklist: Hades (12:01), Legal Identity (3:42), El Quimerista I (2:38), Memory (7:48), Fire (14:56), El Quimerista II (5:12), Mirrors (7:53), Fragments Of Light (3:12), El Quimerista III (2:24), Bonus Tracks: Children Suite – Piano Solo; In The Playground (1:05), La Siesta (1:21), The Kite (1:06), Gazing At The Stars (1:39), El Bachacalabo (1:24), Through The Looking Glass (1:52), Forest Tales (1:31), Finale (2:15)
Kotebel are a Spanish Symphonic progressive rock band and Fragments Of Light is their third album. From the DPRP review of their second album Mysticae Visiones and the brief samples on their website, I would say that they appear to have now stepped on to a more rock influenced, slightly less structured work than the previous album. This is still complex, restless music, overflowing with classical flourishes, jazzy twists, rocky outbursts and plenty of room for Hispanic cultural inspiration and traditional folk/flamenco influences.
The CD impresses right from the start with the suitably fiery opening of i>Hades, a twelve-minute ensemble piece with scorching Latino guitar, flowing classical piano and swirling, dancing flute. Flautist Omar Acosta’s contributions to this disc are quite superb, adding a mellow Camel-ish vibe here and a more dynamic style there, recalling some of the best Italian Prog of the 1970’s. When he combines with guitarist Cesar Forero, the sparks really fly! Vocalist Carolina Prieto has a lovely operatic style, adding a refined touch to this already sophisticated music. This opening track is terrific, a fine example of symphonic progressive rock, choc full of flavours and creation/release of tension in the grand tradition of Yes and ELP.
Keyboard player and principle composer Carlos Plaza steps into the spotlight for the short but powerful Legal Identity, where he lets rip in the style of Keith Emerson circa Tarkus, with bombastic synths and powerful piano. This is enjoyable, if a little derivative. Plaza is an accomplished musician (he also handles most of the bass and drums) and he does add his own little flourishes to prevent this being merely a carbon copy. I was reminded of similar stylistic homage’s executed by After Crying on some of their later albums.
El Quimerista I, II and III are the only compositions not by Plaza. They are from the pen of guitarist Forero and appear to be entirely his own work, composed, arranged and performed in his own studio. He also handles bass, keyboards and percussion on these tracks. Appropriately enough, as a one-man show, the second piece is a multi-layered instrumental with a distinct Mike Oldfield flavour and is very enjoyable too. The first El Quimerista is a Flamenco inspired guitar and percussion piece. I always like it when bands introduce their own cultural twist into the wide world of progressive music. The third instalment, which rounds off the album proper is an atmospheric instrumental with a latter-day Crimson minimalist feel to it. Its nice enough, but not essential listening.
Memory is a haunting, melancholic piece, with (Spanish) recitation by Luis Arnaldo and ethereal vocals by Carolina Prieto. I particularly like the flute on this track. This is very evocative, multi-layered music. Non-Spanish speakers may find the recitation a bit intrusive though.
Fire is another ELP styled barnstormer at its beginning, but flies off in many other directions, with gentle acoustic guitar/flute interludes, rippling piano and a very passionate vocal from Juan Olmos. Again I am reminded of After Crying, in the way classical and rock elements meet head on, and also in the use of spoken vocals and the way the music changes direction several times within any given composition. Of course, Kotebel injects its own uniquely Spanish influences, instead of the Hungarian slant of After Crying. This is the longest track on the album, and I did feel that it maybe could have been trimmed just a little, as it does meander a touch in the middle. The closing section is great, though, with a definite jazz feel creeping in, and bristling with palpable tension.
I hope many of you will be inspired to seek out this enjoyable, yet complex and challenging disc, so I’ll leave you to discover the charms of Mirrors and the title track for yourselves. I’d like to close by drawing your attention briefly to the bonus tracks, the eight –part Children Suite for the solo piano of Carlos Plaza. This set of impressionistic instrumentals is a very pleasant way to wind down after the energetic music which precedes it. This is definitely a stand-alone work and is not to be seen as a continuation of the album proper, being quite a departure in musical terms. This is very classically inspired, relaxing in a Debussy fashion rather than in a sickly sweet New Age way. It manages to evoke a variety of moods and memories as encapsulated by the descriptive titles given to each piece (eg In the Playground, The Kite).
All in all, this is a highly intelligent, well thought out album and should interest many fans of complex symphonic rock. Kotebel appear to be intent on exploring and extending the boundaries of their chosen genre, and are definitely a band to watch out for.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
David Rose Group - Live
Tracklist: Late Afternoon (6:04), Le Petite Prince (6:54) plus Starset [For Bella Bartok], Worlds Apart (7:23), Au Dela Du Miroir (8:16), Skyway (6:52), The Distance Between Dreams (23:07), The Beast plus Amid Dreams & L'Image Du Miroir (12:39)
I had little knowledge of David Rose prior to this release and after some searching I find little information is available, other than that to be found on the Musea site. Therefore a brief synopsis of the information I have gleened from the web. David is an American born violinist who emerged in the mid seventies from Transit Express to form his own band, with whom he released seven albums between 1977 to 1983. This album was recorded on April 22nd 1978, between his first and second albums. The other musicians with David are Serge Perathoner (keyboards), Gerard Prevost (bass), Claude Salmieri (drums) and Gerard Kurdjian (percussion).
Musically we find ourselves steeped in the extremely popular Jazz Rock or Art Rock styles of that period. As to guide, perhaps an obvious comparison may be drawn to Jean-Luc Ponty and we might also look to bands such as Mahavishnu Orchestra, Soft Machine and Brand X. However the complexity of the music and arrangements here, often outweighs many of the compositions to be found in the aforementioned, with David Rose's violin work incorporating much from the Classical field, in particular Claude Debussey, Béla Bartók and Satie. Examples of these can be found in the delicately arranged Le Petite Prince and atmospheric Starset.
Although the album is entitled the David Rose Group, it should be noted that this album is a collaboration of five equally gifted musicians. Serge Perathoner's interplay with the violin is a key feature of the music as the two instruments intertwine with flowing ease. Perathoner, who worked with Rose in Transit Express, is also responsible for much of the writing. Gerard Prevost (Magma & Zao) displays some wonderfully executed bass and combined with Salmieri and Kurdijan's percussion elements make this is a formidable rhythm section. The Eastern feel to Skyways being an excellent example, from its meandering beginnings to the free flowing end section.
The recording made at "L'Ouest de la Grosne" is crystal clear and is a tribute to the late Jacky Barbier whose life is celebrated by Musea's series of "live" recordings - this album is just one example. This magic is probably best captured in the epic The Distance Between Dreams, 23 minutes of pure instrumental prowess.
Much of whether or not this album will appeal to you would largely depend on your liking for Jazz Fusion, (albeit that it is heavily influenced by the Classical field) and to your appreciation of melodically rich but complex music. Above I have offered some pointers as to the better known bands within this field, and if they already feature in your collection, then this is certainly well worth investigating further. For my own part it would be impossible not to appreciate the craftsmanship exhibited by these musicians, although as with all Jazz Fusion and from a purely listening point, much would depend upon my frame of mind at that time.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10