Reviews in this issue:
- Kaipa - Mindrevolutions (Duo Review)
- Gentle Giant - On The Box [DVD]
- Various Artists - ProgFest 2000 [DVD] (Duo Review)
- Ayreon - Come Back To Me [Single]
- The Neil Campbell Collective - 3 O'Clock Sky
- Neil Campbell - Through The Looking Glass
- Bright Horizon - Oneiric Reality
Kaipa - Mindrevolutions
Tracklist: The Dodger (8:09), Electric Leaves (4:13), Shadows Of Time (6:50), A Pair Of Sunbeams (5:19), Mindrevolutions (25:47), Flowing Free (3:53), Last Free Indian (7:27), Our Deepest Inner Shore (4:59), Timebomb (4:32), Remains Of The Day (8:02)
Let's get this out of the way right off - I am a Kaipa fan. Not of the original 1970's band - I totally missed that era - but the modern incarnation. This project is in the same family with The Flower Kings, Karmkanic, and The Tangent because they have shared some of the same players and styles. From the two recent Kaipa CD's, "Notes From The Past" and "The Keyholder", I got the impression that original Kaipa-master Hans Lundin owns this particular project. I will make two observations about Lundin's music: One is his keyboard playing, which can be superficially described as Tony Banks playing with Derek Sherinian patches. The other thing about Lundin's music is, the songs seem to have been written mainly to frame the middle passages. Some might say there's too much stuff in the middle that breaks up the song, but to me, this is the area where Lundin really excels. Complex, beautiful and inspiring instrumental sections are one of the things that defines progressive rock and Lundin is inarguably in the global elite in this respect.
Hans Lundin writes the majority of the songs here; Roine Stolt gets three co-writes. Nevertheless this material is very Flower-Kingsy. When you take into account the fact that Head Flower King Stolt learned his trade alongside Lundin in the early Kaipa years, then the similarity between the two outfits becomes easier to understand (the presence of the excellent Jonas Reingold on bass obviously also adds to the similarity). Lundin, Stolt and Reingold are joined, as they were on the previous mentioned CDs, by vocalists Patrick Lundstrom (Ritual) and the breathy angel-voiced Aleena, as well as drummer Argen Morgan (Zappa).
So how does this one stack up against the others? In this reviewer's opinion, it's quality is the equal of "The Keyholder" in both production and music. "Notes From the Past" was a bit weaker in both respects. But this one is a little different n terms of lyrical content. Whereas on the previous 2 Kaipa CDs the focus is on the joys of self discovery and finding one's place in the world (sometimes to cheesy extreme), the emphasis has shifted to ominous socio-political trends, notably in the USA. In fact two different songs refer to the Stars and Stripes. This is a very broad trend in progressive rock, and to add my two cents, it is good. Someone needs to push our noses into the creeping dominionism in the world because the press certainly isn't. Unfortunately for Kaipa, the weakest song on this CD is also the one with the most explicitly political lyrics. "Time Bomb" doesn't quite rise to the quality level of the rest of this album, and if it had been left off the CD would still have over 70 minutes playing time. But there are some real musical gems here - "Shadows of Time" for example, has that heavenly sound of something inspired by a higher power. "A Pair Of Sunbeams" is a beautiful samba, a nice interlude between the sympho-epics. And the title track is an epic most typical of the previous CD's with a great bass solo I might add. Jonas Reingold gets better every time I hear him, but he still can't resist recycling that same riff at least twice on each recording - you bass players know what I'm talking about.
It may be my imagination but this Kaipa is a wee bit jazzier too, with more piano. The whole band sounds more gelled, with the exception of Morgan's drumming which still has a kind of detached feel. But that's the price you pay when you have to track parts individually rather than in an ensemble performance, and the drums always go on first.
Mindrevolutions is the third album by Kaipa after this leading Swedish progressive band from the seventies re-united in 2000.Their former albums Notes From The Past and Keyholder introduced this band to a whole new generation of prog and sympho addicts and even boosted the sale of their seventies albums (if still available). After releasing these two excellent albums one would expect another memorable release and since my ears especially lend themselves to the Flower Kings related sound I was very eager to hear this new album.
The line-up of the band hasn't changed again and seems to be a steady factor, a rather remarkable fact in the world of symphonic rock where band changes often occur. Also the artwork of the sleeve and the length of the album follow the standard set by the previous albums: respectively a computer animated sci-fi scene and fully packed!
Although not wanting to jump to conclusions I must say that after the first hearing of Mindrevolutions I certainly wasn't blown off my feet and had a feeling I heard it all before. The typical Kaipa sound is in there all over again (which is not a bad thing though) and the few things that have changed in comparison to the former albums are not necessarily improvements. Going through the album track by track I fear I'll soon end up endlessly repeating myself or my colleagues who judged the former two albums of Kaipa. So I'll give you just a general overview of my opinions about this album.
There is no doubt in my mind that Hans Lundin, Roine Stolt and their fellow band members are excellent musicians and Mindrevolutions only emphasizes that once again. But I do have a feeling that they did have a problem canalising their talents or lacked some inspiration when making this album; there's just not much innovation in there and large parts are just floating along instead of embarking on new territories (read: sounds). If I had to describe this album with just a few words these would be "excellence without a spark, but with some inharmonious elements, that just floats along".
There are some factors that make or break this album:
Roine Stolt's significant guitar playing seems to be not so much present as in the past, too much emphasis has been laid on the singing at the cost of the instrumental extravaganza, which is always a loss to my opinion. I heard someone say the album sounds like one Roine can make three of in a week on the automatic pilot. I wouldn't go as far as that because if you listen more carefully you'll notice his numerous contributions to the album (apart from writing the lyrics), but they're more tucked away on the background than bursting out in your face. Knowing the talents and abilities of Roine you'll know that the quality won't suffer from that, but it just doesn't sound very animated. The only mentionable exception herewith is the closing song Remains Of The Day that sounds old-fashionable brilliant and sparkling!
The singing on this album is to my opinion the biggest downside; I never was charmed by the singing style of Patrik Lundstrom and since it's prominently present on this album it diminishes my appreciation of it. The harmonies with Hans and Roine are still quite acceptable, but the most time Patrik is singing solo and his nasal, partly screaming, slightly over the top high pitched voice brings no pleasure to my ear, although it has become a trademark and significant to the sound of Kaipa. When the singing kicks in after the great intro of the opening track The Dodger it almost sounds like it's Iggy Pop doing the honours and that just doesn't fit with this kind of music! Even worse are to my opinion the, fortunately not too frequent, somewhat squeaky vocal parts of Aleena that I could describe as Bonnie Tyler in her teens without the power and passion that makes Bonnie's voice so remarkable, but with a seemingly (light) alcohol abuse-based rawness that just doesn't fit with the thin voice itself. Let me not longer elaborate on this, but her voice just annoys me and although it fits quite fine with that of Patrik I could have gladly done without them!
Having read so far you might expect a pretty low score from yours truly, but there are also some positive things to report! Kaipa have set the standard pretty high for themselves in the past and although they don't seem to match it with this album, it's still a pretty great album that every prog lover can enjoy.
The highlights of this album are, maybe not strangely enough, the more lengthy songs, The Dodger with a great intro and a solid prog sound all over. The old-fashioned mega-lengthy (25:47) title track Mindrevolutions that does have a lot to offer and although the occasional voice of Aleena spoils it for me there's also still plenty of instrumental extravaganza and innovation and variation (even slight side-steps in a jazzy and flamenco direction) in there to make it full enjoyable. And the closing track Remains Of The Day, a prog traditional with all its ingredients like a great solo by Roine and a building up climax makes it clear there's still brilliance in there. It does provide the album with a great chucker-out! The whole album has a nice seventies sound over it, especially the drums, as if it was recorded in that era.
All thoughts combined I must say Kaipa have delivered another great album that does contain some great moments, but also some disappointments and lacks some variation, but is still worth to be heard. Although I do appreciate getting value for my money and will therefore never complain about fully packed CD's, judging this album as a whole I must say it's just too much of the same, a sort of overload.
I can definitely recommend this album to any, not too critical, prog lover, certainly the ones having a preference for the Flower Kings and all its related projects! All people new to Kaipa I would advise to first try one of their former two albums.
Later this year a CD box will be released including remastered versions of the three first Kaipa albums plus 2 CD's with unreleased material and live recordings. Several never published songs from the original Kaipa demo recordings in the summer of 1974 will be included.
Gentle Giant - On The Box [DVD]
1974 Concert from German TV station ZDF: Cogs in Cogs, Proclamation, Funny Ways, The Runaway, Experience, Features From Octopus, Advent of Panurge, So Sincere (50:00)
1975 US TV Concert from the Terrace Theater, Long Beach, California: Experience, Features From Octopus, Advent of Panurge, Funny Ways (30:00)
Szene 1974: Guitar & drums from In a Glass House (3:00)
Extras: Baroque & Roll - black and white film from Italian TV featuring live footage & interviews (22:00), Photo Gallery from Gary Green's private collection [36 photos]
Bonus Audio CD
1974 Concert from German TV station ZDF: Cogs in Cogs, Proclamation, Funny Ways, The Runaway, Experience, Features From Octopus, Advent of Panurge, So Sincere
Gentle Giant was and has always been the band that creates controversy in the ears of progressive rock fans all over the world. The name was not strange to most prog rock fans who love Genesis, Yes, ELP, King Crimson, or Pink Floyd in the seventies. But they might not really favor the music of Gentle Giant. It applies even until now, I still find friends of mine whom I know they love prog rock since the seventies, but they can not digest the music of Gentle Giant. Surprisingly, in 1994 the band was ranked 77th in the prestigious Record Collector poll of the Top 500 Collectable Artists. “That’s pretty impressive for a supposedly ‘obscure’ progressive rock band that broke up in 1980.” (Dan Barrett’s sleeve notes of Edge of Twilight compilation boxed set CD, 1996). For me personally, Gentle Giant’s music was initially strange to my ears until I listened to A Cry For Everyone from the Octopus album. The song was not complex and created curiosity to me for exploring other albums of the band. Since then, I became the band’s big fan where I considered their composition was an “avant-garde and conservatory” music combined beautifully with rock and jazz.
Having been approximately thirty years listening to the band’s music and having never had a chance to see them on stage (well, I’ve been living in ‘rest of the world country’ far away from prog lands that mostly on the west) or through video, the release of this Giant On The Box, presented in DVD format, created an excitement for me to enjoy their 70’s live performance. The first time I watched the DVD, the first track Cogs in Cogs, performed on the German TV station ZDF had my pulse was racing very rapidly, being amazed by what I saw on my TV screen. I could not believe what I saw. Spontaneously, I shout: “Oh my God … What a fabulous live performance!”. I was then hooked to the show, sitting on the couch watching the show until it ends and repeating it again. Speechless. Oh man … this show is really great! I remember vividly when I first listened to their double LP Playing The Fool or King Biscuit Flower Hour, Out of The Fire (BBC) and some bootlegs, I always imagined how the band played the instruments as I heard so many sounds produced from different musical instruments. And the next question was: Who played those instruments? Other additional musicians? But how come the band did not mention the guest musicians? Yes, this live DVD has answered my question (in nearly 30 years!): each member of the band plays at least four types of instruments!
I reconfirm that each individual member of the five-piece Gentle Giant is a genius musician. They collectively play about thirty plus instruments on stage adding strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion, harpsichord and vibes. All members sung and this has become the band’s trademark especially when they do choral sections. The first musician that caught my attention was the hard-bashing drummer John Weathers who joined the band replacing Mortimore, following a motorcycle accident. Bespectacled, he showed a very enthusiastic facial expression: he moved his face and his body alongside with the musical beats of the band. I think he attained most attention by the audience in the small TV studio due to his body movement and facial expression. I have never paid attention to his drumming throughout my listening experience. But with this video, he is probably the main actor. He also gained the largest screen share as the cameraman shot him frequently, mostly in full face. Great appearance, Mr. Weathers!
Kerry Minnear played his keyboards with rapid-fire fingers and caught my specific attention especially when the camera shot was on his fingers playing the keyboard. He played wonderful chords and notes on what I consider complex segments of Gentle Giant music. Again, through an audio record I paid less attention as compared to the video. He is definitely a fantastic keyboard player on par excellent with Rick Wakeman and Keith Emerson. Ray Shulman produced inventive basslines and also excellent vocals. He sometimes played violin and cello in some songs. Derek Shulman with his hard-rocking voice that reminds me of A Cry for Everyone song, sung perfectly in relax mode. Gary Green with his baby face played wonderful guitar fills. Of particular attention was when he played solos in complex compositions like in the Advent of Panurge from Octopus album.
In 1974 Christopher Nupen, the celebrated classical music director, invited the band to record this concert in a Brussels film studio to be broadcast as a 'Sunday Concert' on German television station ZDF. The ZDF performance was taped in a television studio in front of audience that I think not knowing who Gentle Giant was. Throughout the 50 minute set, the audience barely applaud – perhaps by instruction from the TV crew – which one would be the band’s masterpiece. Regardless of the audience, the band played their repertoires through songs from Power And The Glory, Octopus, In a Glass House and their self titled debut. The rocking, complex and melodic Cogs in Cogs blasted the show in excellent way. The gorgeous melancholy Funny Ways – which I initially did not favour in their studio version – featured some great violin and cello from Ray Shulman and Kerry Minnear, plus an awesome vibes solo. The amazing Features from Octopus makes my adrenalin flow rapidly as it was performed flawlessly. The recorder quartet ripping out Yankee Doodle Dandy, and the all-members drum / percussion finale sum up their immaculate performance. Simply put, it was a powerful performance in any dimension. A little drawback was that the camera crew shot very few full band sequences. Most of the filming was of individual player, and too many head shots. Overall, the band was firing all of us, and this is probably one of their best recorded performances.
The 1975 US TV Concert footage is another quality performance from the band, with a shorter set list, but better audio and video quality than the ZDF. Approximately 30 minutes, the band played four songs with the most attractive ones being the rampaging Advent of Panurge and the powerful Octopus medley. Ray Shulman and Gary Green acoustic guitar duo is a pleasant viewing where I can see that these two gentlemen seemed to share similar musical emotions and styles: they’re closely connected, musically! They could sense each other’s nerves, probably. Green had never gained recognition as excellent guitar player but I think he has been underrated. The Shulman brothers could do all on many instruments. Kerry Minnear's keyboard playing is much more impressive than those of the ZDF performance. And also, Derek Shulman's vocals are better here.
The short clip from Szene 1974 features Gary Green and John Weathers jamming on the instrumental part of legendary In a Glass House, as well as some B&W live and interview from Italy. A photo gallery from Gary Green's archives is also featured, mainly studio stuff, including shots of older Shulman brother Phil.
Overall it’s almost two hours of film, taped from the band’s 1974-75 activities at various locations in Germany, Brussels, the USA, and Italy. As Gentle Giant has a hard-core fanbase even until today, actually most of this material has been floating around the market on bootlegs in the form of VHS tapes over the years. But now the footage has been restored and produced for the best possible viewing and listening pleasure. In some segments of the video, I sometimes watched it with a feeling that can best describe clearly with my locality language (sorry) as “mbrebes mili” (it’s something like having a bit of tears in my eyes – seeing them on stage). This set also contains an extra bonus CD of the 1974 show in Brussels. With this set, we can get two things: viewing pleasure with decent (not excellent, but acceptable) audio quality and listen to the show on our home or car stereo.
This DVD and CD set is a “must” purchase for Gentle Giant fans. It rekindles all good memories about the band’s music. Right after watching this set, I played all CD collection that I have on Gentle Giant studio and live recordings. It’s so rewarding experience. What really surprised me about this set is the appearance of newly recorded instrumental music from Kerry Minnear that is featured on the intro to the DVD and the main menu. For Gentle Giant’s fans, this inclusion is a kind like enjoying the wonderful music of Gentle Giant with a modernized recoding technology. Once GG fans hear this brief musical bliss they would be expecting for more new music from the band and wanting the band reunited. Go and get this box set, NOW!
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Various Artists - ProgFest 2000
Kenso: Sora Ni Hikaru, Negai Kanaeru Kodomo, Hyoto, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, Mediterranean & Aryan
Mona Lisa: Captif De La Nuit, Les Guerriers, Tripot, Les Sabots De Lena
Tempus Fugit: Never, Prologue, Goblin's Trail
Codice: Bitacora De Suenos, Dentro De La Maquina, Espiritus En Movimiento I, Eva, Espiritus En Movimiento II, Salmo 150, Epilogo
Supersister: Judy Goes on Holiday
The Los Angeles ProgFest was one of the first progressive rock festivals in the nineties and the ProgFest 2000 will remain the ultimate incarnation of this famous event. This DVD recorded on 1st and 2nd September 2000 at the La Mirada Theater offers more than 100 minutes of true progressive contemporary rock. It features five bands from Japan, France, Brazil, Mexico and The Netherlands. The DVD starts with the Japanese Kenso, which released their debut album in 1980!! Their music is almost pure fusion, or you could also describe them as being progressive jazz rock. Their songs are filled with computer themes and extreme musical breaks and you can even hear influences of bands like Happy The Man and National Health. Songs like Sora Ni Hikaru and The Shadow Over Innsmouth contain lots of guitar solos of bandleader Yoshikira Shimizu and his guitar sound definitely reminds me of Jan Akkerman. Hyoto is a ballad with a beautiful Japanese-like melody and a very sensitive and melodic guitar solo.
Second up is Mona Lisa, a French band that plays rather dramatic, theatrical seventies Genesis-like music. Vocalist Dominique Le Quennec changes his outfit for every song but that cannot disguise the fact that he is a rather poor singer. Furthermore the French lyrics tend to get on my nerves after a while and as the music is also not very original the performance becomes rather dull and predictable after a couple of minutes. The song Tripot is more of a folk music song and has nothing progressive to offer whatsoever, a true disappointment after the good set of Kenso.
Tempus Fugit’s melodic symphonic, neo prog rock is more to my liking as this is guitar-based symfo with lots of influences from bands like Camel, Jadis, Pendragon and IQ. Prologue is a super instrumental track with lots of melody and heavenly guitar solos, making this performance of the Brazilians very enjoyable to listen to.
Next up is Codice from Mexico, a rather strange band that uses a lot of soundscapes and keyboard passages to build up their progressive rock wall. Most of the time their music is spacey and dreamy, sometimes a bit dull, but it could be filed under classic prog rock actually. Just check out the epic Espiritus En Movimiento and you will know what I mean.
The concert ends with the legendary Dutch band Supersister, which was reformed just for this festival. The band around R.J.Stips only plays one song, namely Judy Goes On Holiday, a 10 minute track with clear influences from Camel and Focus as the song is build up around a repeating flute melody. This unique performance rounds off a rather interesting DVD with lots of progressive music to enjoy and Kenso being the absolute highlight of this amazing event. I hope there will follow more of these outstanding releases in the future.
ProgFest 2000, the DVD, is the logical follow-up to the audio CD released by Musea back in 2001. The artwork by Paul Whitehead (early Genesis albums) remains the same, with only minor alterations in the running order of the bands and the fact that the pre-concert tracks by the Rocket Scientists and Spock's Beard are not present. As I undertook the review of the ProgFest 2000 double audio CD back in 2002, I thought it would be a nice touch to follow up this by taking an overview of the DVD.
The opening five tracks for the DVD are still from Kenso, who appeared as the second act on the Friday. Their brand of fiery jazz-fusion and symphonic rock instrumentals is an immediate winner. I particularly enjoyed these five tracks when I first listened to the band back in 2002 and this visual representation of their performance on stage merely adds to that enjoyment. These five young Japanese guys rip through their paces, whilst all the time looking calm and collected, as they trade intricate melodic solo sections and interweaving harmony passages. Kenso's two keyboard set-up work's well with Kenichi Oguchi and Keizo Kawano having put much thought into their individual roles. The camera work is pretty much all taken on stage, so there are close-up shots of the band throughout. I had to smile during The Shadow Over Innsmouth which sees the two keyboard players and guitarist Yoshihisa Shimizu trading short blistering solo breaks, all of which obviously defied the camera crew - a nice moment.
Next up on the DVD are four tracks from French band Mona Lisa with their distinctly 70s era symphonic progressive rock sound. Now Musea have recently released the full length DVD of Mona Lisa's appearance at ProgFest 2000, which in turn followed up the audio CD of the same. I agree with Nigel's appraisal of the band's music and concur with Dave's comments that the visual aspects of the band add much to the overall musical experience. Certainly we are looking at a Gabriel-esque Genesis performance, complete with flute. But as Martien comments, Le Guennec's voice is possibly not the greatest in the world of prog (he's no Gabriel), so his stage persona does lift the overall performance giving a better perspective to the rather theatrical vocal delivery and goes some way to overcome the language barrier.
Brazilian quartet Tempus Fugit, appeared last on the CD, but move to the middle section for the DVD. The first thing that strikes you about their performance is how delighted they appear to be, performing at ProgFest. Amongst the obvious nerves are the huge smiles from the band as the audience warm to their performance. I was particularly impressed with Crivano's guitar playing, which is little low in the mix, but is certainly delightful to watch and of course listen to. Not so the vocals which are somewhat exposed - a shame really as it does let down Tempus Fugit's overall performance. Instrumentally very enjoyable, perhaps a little predictable during Goblin's Trail, but the audience seem to be lapping it up.
Mexico are represented by the mainly instrumental Codice, who were actually the openers for the proceedings at ProgFest 2000. The DVD does little to enhance Codice's performance, on the contrary the opening lengthy (circa eight minutes) atmospherics of Bitarcora De Suenos are somewhat tedious to watch - not helped by seeing two competent keyboard players holding down chords and waiting for whoever in the band it was who was needed to play the simple melody on each keyboard set-up. However once things get under way the band play an interesting brand of instrumental tracks. I remarked in my original review that some of Ivan Tamez guitar work was "inspirational at times" - the DVD reveals that Marco Corona was responsible for one of those enjoyable solo passages.
Last but not least is Dutch band Supersister who reunited here, with the original line-up, for this performance. So as I said previously "it would have been interesting to hear" (see) "slightly more of their repertoire". Robert Jan Stipps plays some gripping keyboard lines (I particularly liked the guitar texture to the lead line) and Sacha van Geest's flute is magical. A nice, but all to brief ending to the DVD.
Now as DVDs go ProgFest 2000 offers little in the way of extras and the audio quality, although acceptable, is not brilliant. The stage lighting is simple but effective and the camera work and editing gives a different "on-stage" perspective. The genuine live "as it happened" touch that was evident on the CD is still to be found on the DVD and as I remarked originally, this "is really refreshing". I concur with Martien that Kenso do steal the show, but all the performances are well worth seeing. As it stands this is nice memento of ProgFest 2000 and certainly well worth checking out.
Ayreon - Come Back To Me [Single]
Tracklist: Come Back To Me (3.02), August Fire (2.54), When I'm Sixty-four (2.54), Back 2 Me (3.22), Come Back To Me (video) (3.20), The Making Of (video) (3.20)
More than a year after the release of Ayreon's excellent The Human Equation comes the third single off that album: Come Back To Me. The song is derived from the track Day Seven: Hope, and is basically a slightly longer version of the track.
The previous two singles of the album, Day 11: Hope and Loser there are three previously unreleased bonus tracks on the single, though in all honesty I must say that this one is a far cry from the excellent previous two releases.
Mostly Autumn fans will cheer for the left-over from the Human Equation sessions August Fire, which was sung and written by Heather Findlay. It is a short folky ballad in the style of Fleetwood Mac or Mike Oldfield, though not overly interesting.
Next up is a very old bootleg-style recording of Arjen Lucassen and Cleem Determeijer covering the Beatles track When I'm Sixty-four. New instruments have been added to the recording, but again, nothing to write home about.
Possibly the most interesting track on this single is the dance remix of the title track by Joost van den Broek (Star One, After Forever). It sounds a lot more fresh than the rest of the tracks and retains enough of the original to be played at the radio under the banner Ayreon as well.
The disc space is filled with two videos: the hilarious promo video for the single, and the slightly less hilarious making of video, which runs exactly the same length (to the music of the Back 2 Me remix)
Just like the previous two singles there is a special internet code which gives access to exclusive tracks and downloads from the Ayreon website
Come Back To Me is definitely one of the most commercial sounding songs off the album, and in that respect it might be something that a radio station could pick up (if any would bother). At the same time, it is one of the least representative tracks they could have chose, as the rest of the album is nothing like this one song. In any case the mediocre bonus tracks make it the least interesting single off The Human Equation so far.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
The Neil Campbell Collective- 3 O'Clock Sky
Tracklist: Rainstorm (7:42), The Rain Remembers (4:05), Last Orders (4:12), November Song (3:31), 3AM Song (3:22), Heaven (4:31), Wearing My Heart (On My Sleeve) (3:52), Rainstorm Part 2 (6:59)
Neil Campbell is likely to be as unfamiliar to you as he was to me just a few weeks ago, but a chance email and an invitation to the Release Party for 3 O'Clock Sky sparked off what has been an rewarding discovery for me. Neil is a composer, song-writer and multi-instrumentalist hailing from Liverpool (UK). Currently his musical career encompasses his solo work, The NC Collective and "an electronic improv duo with Neil Murphy called Jose's Fish". I am unable to offer comment on Jose's Fish, but following this review of 3 O'Clock Sky you will find a review of one of Neil's solo works.
Having listened to Neil's solo release Through The Looking Glass just prior to this album, I have to say that 3 O'Clock Sky wasn't quite what I expected. Not that I should have "expected" anything from a new release from a guy who's only other work I had only just heard and this was a solo production. And finally perhaps I also should not have formed any opinions based merely on the brief sound files from Neil's website. Ah but we are all human.
So what did I expect based on those brief snippets of music? Well probably something akin to John Williams' Sky, but with a greater degree of taste and integrity. And certainly the opening three minutes or so went a long way to confirming my initial expectations, with Neil's classical guitar accompanied by the busy drumming of Mark Brocklesby. The rippling guitar motif and rolling drums nicely capture the songs title. Nicole Collarbone's cello adds a somewhat melancholic feel to early part of this piece. But after the three minute mark we certainly drift away from the Sky references. Granted Neil's guitar and Mark's drums are still present, but the introduction of the vocals does change matters. The pointed lyrics are delivered with a simple but infectious melody over an equally infectious guitar part, with the chorus sections beefed up with some electric guitar chords. Certainly a track that sets up the album, however this particular style of music is not revisited until the closing tune.
So from this lively opener the album moves towards a distinctly song structured formula, somewhat laid back whilst still retaining its engaging qualities. These gentler songs rely on catchy melodies, strong harmony vocals, carefully crafted structures, light drumming & percussion, deft keyboards, classical guitar and the sombre moods created by the cello. The music nicely captures the somewhat melancholic and thoughtful nature of the lyrics - these are classy tracks and although the lyrical content is perhaps a little downbeat, the accompanying music is definitely not. On more than one occasion the term "protest song" came to mind - not exactly sure why, but certainly many of the lyrics pushed this banner.
This is an album that just grows and grows with each listening, initially borne from the clever writing although the gentle nature of tracks often belies this crafted writing, but as time progressed the whole ambience of the CD just sat so well for me. The vocals are also engaging (courtesy of Mr Campbell himself) with his delicate timbres and controlled falsetto lending much to the music - nicely captured in their splendid Wearing My Heart (On My Sleeve). Strengthening Neil's vocals are the contributions from Stuart Todd and Claire Jones, all three work really well to together and the blend of their voices is extremely complimentary (especially notable on Heaven).
I have no idea as to musical direction pointers, closest I can come up with is John Young circa Significance. Like John, Neil manages to incorporate his thoughtful lyrics into well structured songs, that should appeal not only the "casual listener", but contain enough progressive elements to capture the more attuned listener. Possibly illustrated in November Song, where the vocal delivery and cello parts conjured memories of sections from Camel's excellent Harbour Of Tears. Then again contrast appears in the 3 AM Song which features a tasteful bluesy solo not unlike some of John Martyn's work.
So not exactly sure how this album sits within the broad spectrum of progressive rock. Certainly the albums opening and closing tracks have numerous elements that should appeal across the broad spectrum of our readers, whilst the main body of the album contains a collection sophisticated songs that may have a lesser appeal. This is by no means a criticism, more of an observation, as personally I enjoyed all the tracks pretty much from the off. Certainly an album I will return to frequently.
Conclusion: 8- out of 10
Neil Campbell - Through The Looking Glass
Tracklist: Through The Looking Glass Part 1 (6:51), Three Fountains (2:47), Dreams Combine Like Shadows (3:28), Secret Swim At Midnight (2:04), How Deep Is The Night? (4:37), Power Of The Three (1:13), Solid Ground (3:27), Erik's Song (1:49), Dance To The End Of Love (3:45), Methods Of Escape (2:24), Delay Tactics (6:55), Through The Looking Glass Part 2 (2:22)
Often when you strip away the layers of sound, layers of instrumentation and layers of multi-tracked recordings, what remains is simply the instrument used to begin the writing process. Above I have undertaken a review of Neil Campbell's ensemble work with his "Collective" of musicians, but with Through The Looking Glass I shall move on to Neil's solo work featuring his splendid classical guitar playing. Now although we have stripped away those layers, we are not left with something that is bland or uninteresting, on the contrary, the music here still contains those elements that make great music, for me. Taking aside that the classical guitar is one of my favourite instruments, in Neil's capable hands he makes music that not only covers beauty and charm, but moves effortlessly into darker and more emotional areas. If we then add to this flair and a high degree technical ability we end up with an album that has all of the above as well as changing moods and tempos.
Right, as you may have already guessed I really like this album, so what can I tell you about the music. In the most simplistic way I can say that we have twelve tunes written and played on classical guitar. What this brief description wouldn't tell you is what style or styles of music are covered by this sole instrument. Well we certainly have strong elements from the Flamenco and classical fields, along with a healthy dose of folk and smatterings of jazz. Although the latter is more an indication of how the pieces develop rather than a reference to style. So I suppose if we threw Paco de Lucia, Segovia, John Williams, Gordon Giltrap and perhaps a dash of Martin Taylor into a melting pot why might get out a Neil Campbell.
It is impossible for me to select any highlights - each track is equally enjoyable. However illustrations of certain tracks may help give you a more rounded view of the material. Through The Looking Glass Part 1 is a representative piece covering the melting pot of styles mentioned above. It opens with an gentle but intoxicating melody, that gradually becomes darker and more sinister. The track concludes as it started. Although the shortest tune on the album Power Of The Three packs in wonderful display guitar dexterity, prompting the repeat button to be pressed. As does Dance To The End Of Love, but this time around, nicely sandwiched between two delicate folk tinged sections. The delicate Methods Of Escape and Through The Looking Glass Part 2 - sooth away the days trials and tribulations. Just one other track to mention Delay Tactics, one of the more driving tracks. Most of the pieces from Through The Looking Glass appear to use little in the way of digital effects however Delay Tactics, a rolling piece, employs an array of multi-tapped delays etc, all combined make this track move along at a fair old pace. You can hear more of this on sections of 3 O'Clock Sky.
Through The Looking Glass is a splendid album that can take away all the stress that the day has brought. The music is gentle and relaxing, but evokes many changes in mood. It can be listened to for relaxation or on a higher plain, and one that allows you to enjoy the classical guitar in all its glory, with twelve thoughtful, often intricate, but always listenable pieces.
I had deliberated reviewing this album purely as I had questioned its "progability". However I was mindful of those solo acoustic passages that have adjourned so many of my favourite albums over the years and which I have formed a great fondness for (as have many more of you, I have no doubt). Steve Howe's ever popular pieces or perhaps Steve Hackett's memorable interludes, to pluck just two at random.
As I so much enjoyed the pieces on Through The Looking Glass and 3 O'Clock Sky, I felt I should pass on my good fortune at discovering the work of Neil Campbell. A great find!
Conclusion: 8- out of 10
Bright Horizon - Oneiric Reality
Tracklist: [Libertango (2:49), Burning Hope (3:58), Daybreak (6:08), The Shade of the Hill (6:19), Les Mysteres du Chateau Hante (9:16), Illusion Meets Reality (3:21), Abitta Funky (3:17), Discophobia (3:06), Opposite Symmetry (4:39)
Hailing from Palermo in Italy, Bright Horizon is a prog-rock band that has been in existence since 1997, when it released a covers collection with the apt title of Our Influences. A three-track demo followed in 2001 entitled Daybreak. Oneiric Reality is their self-released debut album that was recorded in Palermo during 2003-2004.
Beginning as a quartet, they expanded to a five piece for the demo, but have now shrunk back down to a trio of founder members; Gabriele Taormina (piano, synths, organ); Domenico Garofalo (guitars) and Gabriele Toralbo (vocals, guitars, bass and drums). The two Gabrielles previously played in a band called Catharsis. Domenico garnered attention from his involvement in Rhys Chatam's 100 Guitars project.
As the album title suggests, Oneiric Reality is a concept piece concerning 'the Shinta's spiritual journey from an oneiric state to a frightened reality' - an idea that is extended by the booklet artwork. Musically, the band certainly isn't afraid to explore many audible horizons.
Libertango stands as a good scene-setter, mixing a cool Parisienne vibe with a more strident tango rhythm leading into the sharp contrast that is the driving guitar and pretty-straight rock of Burning Hope. Next the listener is moved to another horizon where Daybreak mixes ethnic chants and drums with steel guitar and a more balladic neo-prog. We remain in a balladic frame of mind as we move off to The Shade Of The Hill - although here the piano features rather than guitar.
The album's centre-piece is Les Mysteres du Chateau. Split into four parts, it has a classical structure with a 'virtual orchestra'. A harp sound works well, giving a sort of Clannad vibe, while elsewhere there's a sorta Pain Of Salvation-meets-60s prog rock thing going on.
Illusion Meets Reality is a melodically strained neo-prog workout, before we go off in all sorts of directions with the final three tracks. Abitta Funky is just that - progressive jazz funk with a bit of rap. Discophobia is also just that - a Vangellis-style dance tune that coverts into a slice of progressive indie rock! Opposite Symmetry is a pained, stripped-down balladic piece with just piano and drum that develops a bad case of looped samples towards the end.
The guitar and piano work is good throughout and Toralbo's voice manages to cope with the myriad of styles that the band attempts. The band looses a bit of credit for resorting to electronics rather than using real flutes, strings and a few other instruments - if you can't afford to do it properly, then don't do it at all!
Some may find the huge range of styles and ideas doesn't really lend itself to a cohesive listen and they'd have a point. Likewise, the band doesn't really fit into any category - something that can be a major disadvantage when trying to grab the attention of a label. On the other hand, Bright Horizon deserves credit for trying to mix some unusual styles and the end result can never be accused of being predictable. Oneiric Reality is available from their website along with some samples, so you can make up your own minds.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10