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Reviews in this issue:
Electronic Realizations For Rock Orchestra
Tracklist: Legacy (10:09), Classical Gas – 1975 Version (2:58), Slaughter On Tenth Avenue (11:47), Synergy (5:26), Relay Breakdown (6:20), Warriors (12:50)
Tracklist: S-Scape (5:48), Chateau (4:16), Cybersports (4:37), Classical Gas (2:59), Paradox: a) Largo-New World Symphony (3:47) b) Icarus (3:15), Sequence 14 (11:17)
Bonus Track: Sequence 14 – Original Demo (4:42)
Tracklist: On Presuming To Be Modern (3:06), Phobos And Deimos Go To Mars : Phobos (3:45), Deimos (3:29), Sketches Of Mythical Beasts (3:32), Disruption In World Communications (4:18), On Presuming To Be Modern II (2:58), A Small Collection Of Chords (1:25), Full Moon Flyer (7:43), Terra Incognita(3:50), Trellis (3:38), On Presuming To Be Modern III (3:25), Bonus Track Phobos And Deimos – Radio Edit (4:12)
Tracklist: Delta Two (5:42), Delta Four (6:15), Delta One (7:33), Soundcheck: Delta Three : A (2:23) B (2:11) C (4:02) D (3:06) E (2:18) F (4:48)
Bonus Track: Delta Four - 1978 Digital Version (3:44)
This latest batch of CD’s from the Voiceprint label is the initial instalment of the Synergy story, and contains the first four albums released under that banner between 1975 and 1979. Aside from some guitar synthesiser work on Cords, by Pete Sobel, everything else on these discs was created electronically by synthesiser pioneer Larry Fast.
In my copy of Jerry Lucky’s mostly excellent The Progressive Rock Files, he lists Fast as being from the UK, but in fact he is a native of New Jersey, USA. This error may be down to Fast’s long standing involvement with British artists like Peter Gabriel (Fast played keyboards on most of his early albums, and was a member of his touring band for many years), Nektar (on their Recycled and Magic Is A Child albums) and Rick Wakeman. Lucky also tells us that Wakeman programmed synthesisers on Electronic Realizations.., but in fact it was Fast who programmed synths for Wakeman, notably on the Tales From Topographic Oceans Tour.
Very much a pioneer in terms of the equipment used and recording techniques utilised, Fast is an excellent player and has long deserved greater recognition for his work. Admittedly less radical than Tangerine Dream or Tomita, these discs have much to offer the synth music fan and should also appeal to symphonic prog fans.
Electronic Realizations was originally released in 1975 and was a groundbreaking release. Mixing classical styled symphonic melodies with pulsating sequencer drives, fast uses a wide variety of voicings to create a multi-layered sound environment. Perhaps skating too close to commerciality (particularly on the sometimes cheesy cover of Richard Rodgers’ Slaughter on Tenth Avenue) this collection has, nevertheless, stood the test of time well, with the best tracks being Fast’s own compositions; the lush and tuneful Legacy and the majestic closer Warriors which has something of a Yes feel, with some very Wakemanesque keyboard textures. The bonus track, a cover of Mason Williams’ Classical Gas was included on the original British release of the album, and is now rendered a little superfluous as Fast also included the track on his second album later that same year. It remains a hugely enjoyable romp, with a memorable and hummable melody and some very Wakeman like synth runs.
Sequencer largely sticks to, but refines and polishes, the same formula as the debut album, mixing original compositions with a couple of choice covers. The covers are better chosen this time out, with Paradox skilfully segueing Dvorak’s Largo from the New World Symphony with Ralph Towner’s Icarus for a smooth and relaxing listen. Of Fast’s own pieces this time, my favourites are the bright and bubbly opener S-scape, the baroque and commercial Chateau and the more experimental Sequence 14 which has a darker, spacey edge and would make a good soundtrack to a horror film. Fast later moved into the soundtrack field with scores for "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" and "The Jupiter Menace" to name but two. The bonus track here is a short demo version of Sequence 14.
Cords from 1978 abandons cover versions and brings in some guitar synthesiser (and co-composition) from Pete Sobel but otherwise adds little new to the mix. We are presented with the same blend of classical and melodic themes, effervescent sequencer drives, spacey sections and a touch of experimental electronics. Judged on it’s own merits, this is an enjoyable album – I particularly like the throbbing Phobos And Deimos Go To Mars – and won’t disappoint hardcore synth fans. It may not be an essential purchase for casual listeners, as it doesn’t quite have the impact of the first two releases. The bonus track is a radio edit of Phobos.
Games, from 1979, is a bit of a return to form and is the first disc to be entirely composed by Fast. The opener Delta Two is an appropriately playful number and would make a nice TV theme tune. Delta Four is particularly good, featuring synthetic violin sounds furiously bouncing around like some crazed fiddler howling at the moon. Delta One grows from a steady beat, with soaring synth melodies effortlessly gliding above, and is another nice track. The main part of the album is given over to the six sections of Delta Three, which were developed during sound checks on Peter Gabriel’s 1978 tour, and has a more improvised sound than any of the other material found on this batch of releases. There are some very unusual synth voices here, with something of a lurching, intoxicated feel in places. Its a good piece, but has a slight tendency to rambling, and lacks the melodic highs of the more composed material. The bonus track is a digital version of Delta Four.
So, in conclusion, Voiceprint should be applauded for making these fine albums available to a wider public. The sound throughout is excellent, and all four CD’s contain some very enjoyable synth music. Fast manages to blend elements from classical composers with the modern sound of Tangerine Dream, Jean Michel Jarre, Vangelis and Tomita, and finds room for the symphonic prog of Wakeman and Yes as well. All electronic fans should own at least one of these, and many will be happy to own them all. I’d start with Sequencer and Electronic Realizations.. before moving on to Games. If you’re still hungry for more, then, get Cords as well !
Electronic Realizations... : 8 out of 10
Sequencer : 8 out of 10
Cords : 7 out of 10
Games : 7.5 out of 10
Karmakanic - Wheel of Life
Tracklist: Masterplan Part 1 (14:39), Alex In Paradise (5:07), At The Speed Of Light (6:28), Do U Tango? (7:44), Where Earth Meets The Sky (12:59), Hindby (4:58), Wheel Of Life (8:28), Masterplan Part 2 (5:10)
The Swedish progressive retro rock band Karmakanic was founded in 2002 and their debut album Entering The Spectra became very popular among progressive rock fans. There were even honoured as the best newcomer 2002 in our poll. Besides that the album charted several other lists as the best newcomer in the progressive rock scene. 2003 was an excellent year for the members of Karmakanic (Reingold and Csorsz) achieved great success with the latest Flower Kings album, which sold close to 40,000 copies world-wide and was followed up by very successful tours in Europe and the USA. Furthermore they contributed to The Music That Died Alone (Tangent) and they were involved in the recording of the second album of Kaipa.
On the second Karmakanic CD, Reingold and Co decided to take it easier and to “make” the music even more retro than on their debut. Reingold also uses a lot of guests musicians, like eg Richard Anderson (Time Requiem), Roine Stolte and Tomas Bodin. Besides Reingold (bass and keyboards) and Csorsz (drums) the band consists of Goran Edman (vocals) and Krister Jonzon (guitars). The music on this album is pure retro progressive rock with mainly influences from bands like Yes, Transatlantic and of course The Flower Kings. I would almost go as far as to say that Karmakanic is a Flower Kings side project ... Just listen to Masterplan Part 1 or At The Speed Of Light, songs that would rather fit in well on any Flower Kings album. The opening sounds of Masterplan Part 1 kind of remind me of Pink Floyd and Goran’s voice sometimes tends to become really Lennon/McCartney-like. The best musical part in this epic opener is the fantastic keys solo by Richard Anderson. Another highlight of this CD is the beautiful instrumental Hindby; here guitar player Jonzon shows what he is capable of, amazing melodic, dramatic guitar picking with lots of atmosphere.
Songs that are definitely not my cup of tea are: Alex In Paradise (mediocre Yes-like retro prog song), Do U Tango? (weird fusion track with Latin influences and too much acoustic guitar playing) and Where The Earth Meets The Sky, a song that is possible 6 minutes too long; heard it, heard it again and before and the more I hear this song the more I tend to dislike it ...
In conclusion - this is a true retro progressive rock album with musical influences from the Seventies; a great opening track, three marvellous Flower Kings songs and the music tends to become too spacy and too psychedelic sometimes. Furthermore I have to say that the CD has a very weak sound and that the artwork is really unattractive. Real food for proggies this one, I on the other hand am looking forward to the new release of The Flower Kings.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Ten Jinn - Alone
Tracklist: Who You Are (5:42), Alone (5:00), Never Ending Love (5:17), Felis Feminalis (4:21), Goodbye My Love (4:22), Legend Of Green (3:14), How It Goes (5:57), Too Late Now (4:53), I'll Be There (4:23), Something Gone Wrong (4:00), What Are You Gonna Do (4:04), Killing Me Slowly (4:05), In The End (6:00)
The ways of modern progressive rock are strange. In what other genre of music would an American band release an album on a small and relatively new Swedish label only to have it re-released a year later on a slightly larger, but still far from mainstream, French label? Ten Jinn were originally formed in 1991 by vocalist and keyboard player John Paul Strauss, it wasn't until 1997 that the debut album, Wildman was released, despite work having started on the recording four years earlier. By the time of its release Strauss was the only original member of the group remaining. Two years later the conceptual As On A Darkling Plain appeared. Based on the vampire novels of Anne Rice, and featuring ex Happy The Man guitarist Stan Whitaker, the album gathered favourable reviews. Four years later on, Ten Jinn return with their third album, Alone.
Rather perversely, there are two separate bands playing on this album. The bulk of the songs were recorded in California with essentially the same line-up that produced As On A Darkling Plain (Strauss, Bob Niemeyer (keyboards), Mark Wickliffe (drums and bass) and Mike Matier (guitar); only bassist Matt Overholser is missing) with a couple of extra guitarists (Rick LeClair and Ken Skoglund) also contributing. However, four of the tracks were recorded in Sweden by Strauss and Skoglund assisted by drummer Ronnie Lundqvist and bassist Stefan Kramer. The bulk of the material was composed by Strauss with US drummer Wickliffe contributing one track (the virtually solo instrumental Legend Of Green). Veering away from the more overtly progressive leanings of the earlier releases, Alone sits towards the pop prog/rock end of the musical spectrum. The vocals have a very dominant role with Strauss' rich lead baritone reminiscent of Steve Perry on early Journey records (i.e., before they went bland) or Michael Sadler from Saga. The backing vocals are also masterfully arranged full of polyphonic harmonies, particularly on Too Late Now and In The End. The biggest success of the album is that it is rather indefinable. The two keyboard players contribute significantly to the sound of the band but definitely don't dominate proceedings as the guitar-heavy opener Who You Are ably demonstrates. Acoustic instruments are also given equal prominence, as on the impressive title track and the hopeful What Are You Gonna Do for example. The album is seriously melodic - there are more hook lines per song than most bands fit on an album - but the fact that there is a heavy emphasis on melody and tune doesn't mean that this is some limp-wristed affair. Take one listen to the superb How It Goes and you'll hear a progressive rock song that could be acceptable to the masses.
The more I play this album the more impressed I am. The deeper you listen the more it reveals. Unfortunately, Alone is likely to be dismissed by the prog purists as not containing enough 'traditional' progressive elements. However, they are there, maybe, as I stated earlier, in not so an overt a manner as on previous albums, but present none-the-less. Tracks like Something Gone Wrong and the aforementioned How It Goes are progressive by any definition, and also great songs.
If you're a sucker for a melody and love layers of vocals (I'd love to see if they could reproduce them live!) then Alone is an album that is well worth checking out. Take it from me, I was initially quite sceptical but ended up welcoming in an album to my collection that falls outside my regular listening habits but an album that I'll certainly recommend to my friends!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Saens – Prophet In A Statistical World
PART 1 – DYSTOPIAN DREAMS: XX84 (7:52), Suite No.2 [Prelude] (1:04), Lenina (10:16), Time Machine (12:49), Forbidden Dreams (6:36),
PART 2 – PROPHET IN A STATISTICAL WORLD: Welcome (1:29), Statistical World (8:58), I Wanna Be Free (2:15), Libera Me (1:44), The Prophet (11:40), Revolution (6:05), Freedom (2:39)
Saens are a French band who recorded their debut album back in 1999. However, it was their second offering (and first for Cyclops), Escaping From The Hands Of God, which bought them to a wider audience, gaining the band some rave reviews and going on to be one of Cyclops’ bigger sellers in recent years.
This new effort, Prophet In A Statistical World, sees the band go for a concept album – albeit one in two parts. Prophet… consists of two suites of songs; the first, Dystopian Dreams, is the band’s take on famous ‘dystopian’ novels by the likes of George Orwell, Aldous Huxley and H. G. Wells, whilst the second, self titled, suite features the bands own nightmarish creation, the Statistical World, and follows the narrator as he leads a revolution against the oppressed society he finds himself in. OK, not the most original lyrical concepts, but there’s clearly been a lot of thought put into the words, which does make up for the occasional lapse into cliché.
Musically, it would be easy but perhaps misleading to label Saens as a neo-prog band. There are certainly clear influences from UK prog stalwarts such as IQ, Pendragon, Pallas and Arena, but the band operate in a wider sphere than many of those bands, incorporating elements from classical, mainstream rock and pop and a whole host of other styles into their music to create a sound that is distinctly their own.
The first suite, Dystopian Dreams, is in my opinion easily the strongest of the two. Lead-off track XX84 (based on an Orwell novel – I’ll leave you to guess which one…) immediately sets a high standard; a dramatic song which ebbs and flows just as you’d expect a good prog track to. The guitar is the predominant instrument on this song, and guitarists Vynce Leffe and Benoit Campedel put in some sterling lead work throughout. Pascal Bouquillard, meanwhile, impresses with both his punchy, fluid bass playing and his well-above average vocals – his voice reminds me a little of Arena’s Rob Sowden, although he sings in a less mannered way, and in a slightly higher range. In fact, the bands use of the human voice all through the album deserves a mention – there’s good harmony work throughout, some excellent a cappella sections, and good use of a choir at various points.
The absolute highlight of the album for me is Lenina. Taking a character from ‘Brave New World’ and further developing it, this is a wonderfully dark and melodramatic track, which reminded me a little of Arena circa The Visitor. Here, Vynce Leffe’s keyboard takes the lead, and he unleashes several fine solo’s worthy of the likes of Clive Nolan or Martin Orford. Time Machine, meanwhile, shows another side to the band - with its almost reggae-ish groove and fairly light-hearted feel, it reminded me a little of the Swedish band A.C.T.
I didn’t find the second Suite to work quite so well. To start with, as there is a clear unifying concept here, I expected the songs to flow together as one continuous epic. To an extent this happens, with clear links between the songs, but there isn’t really a unifying feel to the music. Perhaps the band spread their net too wide here, and as a consequence are a little over-ambitious. Make no mistake, there is some strong stuff here – Statistical World is reminiscent of Neal Morse-era Spock’s Beard at their rockiest, and packs quite a punch, whilst the choral Libera Me, sung in Latin, is a fine atmospheric piece. However, the suite’s centrepiece, The Prophet (a song that reminds me in places of Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb) seems to congeal into one continual epic climactic guitar solo; at this point my interest began to wane, and never really returned, with the rest of the suite feeling rather messy and disjointed.
I guess you could say that, at 73 minutes, the album is rather overlong. Of course, one answer is to listen to the two Suites separately – this was probably the band’s intention in the first place, and certainly enhances enjoyment of the individual Suites. The fact does still remain that the quality is rather uneven – personally I feel that some pruning of the second suite would have increased the quality.
Overall though, this is an enjoyable release, with some stellar moments, and one I would recommend in particular to fans of bands such as Pendragon and Arena, although as I’ve stated Saens do ‘push the envelope’ a little more than is the norm for the genre.
As a postscript, its worth noting that a limited edition of this album comes with a bonus disc, Dodecamania. This contains a 17 minute epic, Les Souffrances de Jeune Pierre, a revised 23 minute version of the long unavailable The Beast Of Gevaudin, and Game Of Patience, revised (with new English lyrics) from the band’s debut. The promo didn’t contain this CD, so I can’t comment on the quality, but it certainly seems a decent inducement. So if you’re thinking of buying the album get your order in pronto!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Nemo - Présages
Tracklist: La Dernière Vague (14:01), Générateur (4:46), Sur La Tombe Du Phoenix (9:56), La Mort Du Scorpion [Soleil] (1:15), La Mort Du Scorpion [L'oeil Du Cyclope] (5:59), La Mort Du Scorpion [La Mort Du Scorpion] (7:40), Les Nouvelles Croisades [Cavalerie] (3:34), Les Nouvelles Croisades [Confrontation] (5:43), Les Nouvelles Croisades [Désolation] (2:16), Les Nouvelles Croisades [Danse Des Morts] (2:34), Les Nouvelles Croisades [Renaissance] (6:36)
France is well known for its prog scene but I have never really delved into this scene. I know, of course, of Musea Records and a number of bands that they have signed, but I never really found anything to be better than just nice. Strange thing is that my focus lies more towards the Nordic countries where most of the bands I really like operate from.
Nemo appears to be a typical product of French prog. A blend of smart, complicated, placid, often melancholic music, and although Nemo also exhibits some more powerful features, most of it leans towards fusion and classic progrock. This album is their second offering and judging on their site a third is well on its way already.
This is one of those albums that I am not overly enthusiastic about but cannot shake off the feeling that I am somehow missing the point and that it is my loss that I do not really dig this music. Saying it in another way: I am sure there are lots of people that will really like Nemo. There are some very lovable tracks on this album: La Dernière Vague has very nice build up and also shows this indeed is clever and technically pretty good music. The French lyrics take a little getting used to, but they fit the music well. Générateur is a nice and catchy track that I like a lot, as it has a somewhat rougher edge. The tracks after that are all pleasant but not of the level of the first two tracks. Besides maybe the second part of La Mort Du Scorpion [La Mort Du Scorpion] which is really good. So it is all not bad: 'au contraire' it is all good but just a bit too polished and too complicated. Lots of the piano parts are good, some even amazing, to me the piano is the main feature of this album helped by punctuated drums and emotional guitars.
If you are into the combination of fusion and progrock with a power bluesy edge and lots of guitar/piano trickery then Nemo is the stuff. I found it an entertaining album but no more than that. Still, somewhere in the back of my mind there is that nagging feeling that a large number of readers will disagree with me on this one, but when it comes to writing these reviews I can try to be as objective as possible but the final rating is always a matter of (my) personal taste.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Steve Miller - See Hear (Piano Solos)
Tracklist: Trailer Park Trash (7:14), Like Old Times (13:31), Tight Wire (8:40), See Hear (6:18), Let Slip (6:15), Just How Close (11:12), Green Lane (5:46)
Steve Miller is probably most widely know to progressive rock fans through his limited spell with Caravan. His joining the stalwart Canterbury band lead the group down more jazzier avenues, as evidenced on his only recording with the band, 1972's Waterloo Lily. However, Miller had an extensive pedigree prior to Caravan, having been an in-demand session musician for such artists as the legendary Alexis Korner and blues-rock quartet Free, as well as recording several albums with Delivery, a band he formed alongside his brother, guitarist Phil Miller. Following his departure from Caravan, Steve embarked on several solo ventures as well as collaborations with musicians like saxophonist Lol Coxhill, an artist he had met during the Waterloo Lily sessions. Combining with various like-minded musicians, in the 1980s and '90s Miller performed in a multitude of groups, most notably the Steve Miller Quartet and K.Ostra. Sadly, in the summer of 1998, Miller was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, succumbing to the illness six months later.
See Hear was amongst the final records made by Miller, sessions starting in August of 1996 and continuing until May 1997. The seven pieces on the album reflect various moods, most frequently of a more sombre nature. Throughout, the playing is, as one would expect from a musician of this calibre, masterful. The tone of the piano is simply beautiful with a clarity of recording that is unsurpassed. Credit must got to producer Steve Lane for his role in the recording but ultimately it is the performance that counts. Yes, the music sits within the jazz idiom but is not just a series of improvisations, the music is far more structured and considered than that. There is a lot of space within the tracks, particularly on the opening to Like Old Times, which portrays the confidence of the composer, confidence to leave the listener hanging on until the sustained note has almost reached inaudibility. Melody plays and important part as well, most prominent on the rather lovely closing track Green Lane.
However, I suspect that for many, an entire hour of piano solos may well be a trifle too demanding, particularly if one isn't an aficionado of the more esoteric musical forms. All I can really say is that if you like jazz, solo piano music and adventurous compositions, then See Hear may just well be up your street. More importantly though, it is a fine testament to the talents of a musician who sadly died too young.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Neil Lockwood - You Can't Get There From Here
Tracklist: (Nothing to Fear), The Epilogue (6:52), You Can't Get There From Here (6:58), Crystal Heart (5:27), (No Go) (2:24), Toxic Grace (5:16), God and Chips (1:31), Just Passing (4:18), Out of Control (5:06), (You Can't Get There ...) (2:28), The Edge of Forever (9:17)
"Ed, you're very much into Alan Parsons, aren't you ? I received a copy of the solo album by one of their vocalists, Neil Lockwood. Would you like to review it ?", that was basically what Bob's e-mail read a couple of weeks ago. And sure I wanted to review that album. Lockwood had done some splendid performances on Parsons On Air album (Too Close to the Sun, I Can't Look Down & Brother Up in Heaven), as well as the disappointing follow-up The Time Machine (Call Up & No Future in the Past). I had also had the pleasure to see Lockwood perform with The Alan Parsons Live Project a couple of times. A good performer and singer, I was curious to learn what Lockwood was up to on his own album.
Besides Alan Parsons, Lockwood's biography is filled with interesting references. He performed and recorded with Mica Paris, Elaine Page, John Parr, Duncan Brown, Pete Bardens, John Miles, Debby Harry, Simples Minds, Yes, Tony Hadley, Mark King, Paul Young and Christopher Cross. Lockwood was also an important member of ELO II and performed backing vocals on Asia's recent Aura album. A very impressive resume. If only his CD would have been as impressive.
Neil's album You Can't Get There From Here is a classic example of a singer/songwriter writing and recording his album fully on his own and thereby missing a big opportunity. And indeed, Lockwood wrote all of the material on the CD, arranged it, produced it, mixed it and while he was at it he played all of the instruments as well. As impressive as this may seem the end result is far from. It goes to show that somebody can't be talented in all areas and that all of the aforementioned roles ought to be done by specialists. With the exception of the vocals (including some rather nice vocal harmonies) the CD fails in almost all of the areas. First of all, the music is rather minimalistic. Now, that shouldn't be a problem. Geoff Tate proved that such an approach can be very successful if you do it right. Lockwood's arrangements however miss their target. The songs sound dull, the drums are electronic and there are no solos really worth mentioning. Even when the music reaches a climax, as in the pitiful attempt to make a Floydian epic called Edge of Forever, it still sounds flat. The mixing is far from perfect; e.g. at times the drums drown out the vocals. The instruments are clearly not played by someone who's an expert at them and the rhythms are sometimes annoying dance loops. Now again, that wouldn't necessarily have to be a bad thing, as Ozric Tentacles have proven. But on Lockwood's album they sound dodgy and forced (e.g. in Crystal Heart). There's also a lot of effects and sampled stuff on the album. Unfortunately, whereas on many albums these enhance the depth of the sound experience I find them distracting and at times even unpleasant to listen to.
As if all of this wasn't enough, the programming of the CD is incorrect as well. The songs on the CD booklet are numbered 1 to 8, whereas the 3 short intermezzo's are not counted as separate songs. However, on the CD they are programmed as separate tracks, except for the first one, which is incorporated with The Epilogue. In other words, the tracking numbers make no sense whatsoever.
And all of this is really a shame. Why ? Because for Lockwood himself this really must be a labour of love. On top of that, even though most of the compositions are not that pleasant to listen to, some of the songs on the album (The Epilogue, You Can't Get There From Here, Just Passing and bits of The Edge of Forever) have fine melodies and had the potential to become beautiful songs. Still, if you can't do something right or don't have the budget to do it right, it might be a better decision not to do it at all.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10