Reviews in this issue:
- Adachi Kyodai - Xianshi
- Walrus - In The Room Of A Singular Point
- Walrus - Colloidal
- Ars Nova - Chrysalis Force For The Fourth
- Side Steps - Verge Of Reality
- 5 or 9 (Five Evolved from Nine) (Duo Review)
- Ain Soph - Marine Menagerie (Duo Review)
- Frogflavor - Space Of Magic
- Cherno - Complicity Vision
Adachi Kyodai - Xianshi
Tracklist: Sister Crime (8:47), Slow Poison (3:33), Magpie A Gigue (4:00), Night Dance (2:53), Chance Meeting (4:53), Ambush (2:09), In The Howling Wood (7:20), Sailor's Hornpipe / Steppin' Out (1:27), Her Holly Stumbling Block (3:36), Wond'ring Aloud (2:35), Hard Line (6:36)
Nearly three years on since their eponymous debut album, the Adachi brothers return with their sophomore release Xianshi. Stylistically, the approach is similar to the first album, frantic acoustic guitar work outs that boggle the mind and make even non guitarists fingers ache with the speed and precision of their playing. Anyone who has heard the first album will know what to expect and much of what was written in our review of that first album holds true for this one. There are subtle differences though: if anything the playing is even more intense and, compositionally, the duo have advanced so that the album as a whole is infused with a variety of rhythms, tempos and melodies. Take In The Howling Wood, in addition to the usual frantic shredding up and down the length of the fret board, there are moments when both guitarists play at a more restrained pace providing an almost relaxed atmosphere. The counterpoint of one guitarist plucking individual notes or strumming chords whilst the other attacks the senses with seeming more notes than the brain can easily differentiate, a technique also used to great effect on album opener Sister Crime, provides interesting harmonic effects where the two instruments switch between unison and discord.
One might suspect that nine instrumental numbers totalling over 40 minutes would be more than enough to take in at once but this is not true, there simply is not enough time to get bored! Plus it is not as if the assault is unrelenting, as with the first album there are a couple of classic rock cover versions thrown into the mix, this time we get versions of Roxy Music's Chance Meeting and Jethro Tull's Wond'ring Aloud. The former is a rather radical interpretation, any resemblance to the original not being evident until a couple of minutes into the piece. Although not entirely successful (the Bryan Ferry impression being somewhat unique!) it is a bold and interesting cover. Not unsurprisingly, the Tull classic is rather more successful following the original simple structure quite closely. One other number listeners may recognise is the traditional Sailor's Hornpipe, as included on the original Tubular Bells. An impression of the Adachi Brothers take on this number could be gained by taking a vinyl copy of the original Tubular bells and playing the Hornpipe section at 45 rpm, although even then it might be a bit slow!
Despite the ferocity of the playing, there is a rather a downbeat mood to the album, a sly melancholy if you will. Tracks like Slow Poison and Ambush are gently reflective while Hard Line could easily be mistaken for a Renaissance masterpiece of classical music - I could easily see Steve Hackett including an interpretation of this in his solo acoustic repertoire.
Purchasers of the duo's first album will not be disappointed by this new release - Ryusuke and Source K Adachi are guitar prodigies whose playing has to be heard to believed. Given their Oriental origins it would be interesting to hear their take on some traditional Japanese music, the fusion of which with their predominantly Western approach would be interesting. In the meantime Xianshi offers up plenty to digest over the coming months and is recommended for lovers of fine acoustic playing.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
NB. This is a recommended release as it really is a superior album of its type. Please note that, as one should hopefully have gathered from the review, it is not a typical progressive release (if there is such a thing!). As ever, check out the samples and make up your own mind!
Walrus - In the Room of a Singular Point
Tracklist: A Mossgreen Screen (6:17), Freedel & Cartel-Leath (2:54), My Workshop (5:35), Deceiver (6:57), Interview (5:10), Quite Quiet Road (4:21)
In the United States, the stereotypical comment is often this: “Well, the Japanese can’t invent but they sure can improve!” This is generally rendered as a compliment. Most stereotypes contain a hint of a deep truth that we, for whatever reason, can’t admit to ourselves, but…I have no idea if the American sentiment about Japanese creativity is valid or not. It may be trite deprecation and nothing more. Howbeit, I will say this about my experience as a DPRP reviewer of Japanese music: in general, the offerings I receive from Nipponese artists are more consistent, more inventive, more adventurous, and more clever than the vast majority of albums I hear from European and American musicians. There seems to be a brave, molten fire in Japanese popular music that compels interest and appreciation. The musicianship tends to be meticulous and the compositions tend to push boundaries and blend even widely divergent styles. I’d have to confess that the best music I am hearing these days is coming out from under the rays of the Rising Sun.
Walrus’ debut, In the Room Of A Singular Point, is no exception. (I have a powerful suspicion that the title reads much better in Japanese.) Now, let me admit that I selected this album (and the follow-up, Colloidal, the review of which can be found below) mostly because the band’s name has pleasant associations for me: there’s no way the word “walrus” in any context isn’t going to remind me happily of “I am the…” and, more slyly, “the…was Paul”. Plus, walruses are overlooked and fascinating animals, enough so that Lewis Carroll paid them some poetic attention. So, I was hooked by the band moniker…and the fact that this was another Japanese disc to check out.
The band features Mitsuyuki Shiiba on vocals; Hideki Yamasaki on guitar; Goro Yamasaki on bass guitar; and Wataru Okabe on drums (and whose major influence is The Beatles, so there you go). Visually (and don’t take my word for it, visit the Web page), this band seems to be borrowing from the Genesis legacy. Mr. Shiiba’s costumes are especially reminiscent of a young Peter Gabriel. It’s a shame that I don’t understand Japanese because I have no chance of knowing how the lyrics relate to the costumes (or even how the instrumentation contributes to the lyrical mood). I can’t agree wholeheartedly with the Web site’s assessment about the music’s similarity to early Genesis and I’m not too sure that this is even “Progressive Rock” in the classical sense: it seems more like Japanese Indie pop with nods to a lot of Western influences. But, but, but…the music is damn good, however you describe it.
A Mossgrown Screen is perhaps the track that most recalls Genesis. It includes some pretty acoustic guitar arpeggios and a drowsy atmosphere that, in the instrumental chorus, gives way to some power-chord strutting. Mr. Shiiba’s singing here (and throughout the album) is melodic and emotive. There are even a few Hackett-esque moments scattered about (although many times I thought more of Brian May during Mr. Yamasaki’s guitar solos, which, by the way, are extremely well constructed and complement the main chord patterns perfectly). This tune would win over the most jaded prog fan, I suspect.
Freedel & Cartel-Leath, although it showcases blistering guitar work and a delicious New Wavy bass line, is a major shift away from Genesis-era symphonic prog. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a ballsy track but it reminds me far more of Cheap Trick, The Police, or The Kinks circa Give The People What They Want than anything by Genesis, Yes, or E.L.P. But, so what? It’s energetic, propulsive, and fun: you can hop around to it in your underpants, and prog could’ve used (and still can use) a little dose of that aesthetic!
My Workshop is ominous and atmospheric, in a Floydian vein really: a slow, brooding, minor key affair, at least until the chorus, which injects a touch of major-key hopefulness into the song. I thought Mr. Yamasaki’s colouring of this song (no soloing, really, just moody effects) was most noteworthy and definitely echoed some of the work of Hackett and Fripp.
Now Deceiver lives up to its title. It starts with a very majestic, almost neo-prog keyboard flourish and then transitions into a bouncing pop ditty with, again, some smart accents and a rousing chorus. Unintentionally, I guess, this track recalls Gentle Giant’s latter-day efforts with a more radio-friendly format. There’s also a sky-wide middle section that is simply symphonia par excellence! By this time, I was convinced that, even if there are a few novice indiscretions on the album, it is still the product of musicians who comprehend how to write a song and play it properly. That’s all you can require (and check out the funky, slightly annoying but cool keyboard trill running through the song).
The fifth track, Interview, is perhaps my least favourite song on the CD but it is nonetheless a lovely, floating ballad with a catchy melody. It reminds me somewhat of one of George Harrison’s more breezy, throwaway tunes. However…the Mellotron section in the song’s middle section is pure prog rock, straight out of the Genesis songbook. Well done. Even if it’s not a heavy-hitter, Interview shows that Walrus is adept with a multitude of styles and emphases, which talent, in my opinion, separates mediocre bands from great (or potentially great) bands.
And finally, Quiet Quiet Road, is another decidedly proggy offering, complete with Mellotron and ensemble guitar work. Sadly, this song has the flattest melody on the CD, but the complexity and its subtle gyrations hold attention.
I’m giving In the Room Of A Singular Point an 8.5. If you dislike the sound of the Japanese language, or if you really prefer a hard separation between pop and prog, then this CD will not work for you. But the positives of Walrus’ performance far, far outweigh any detractions. The melodies are memorable; the guitar work is accomplished; the rhythm section is tight (Mr. Okabe strikes the drums crisply and on beat, and Mr. Yamasaki plays fluidly); the compositions are respectable and the musicianship is tasteful and precise. As well, I have to give the band props for liveliness and panache. I am very impressed by Walrus and I look forward to Colloidal and whatever else this band proffers in the future. All-in-all, a solid, entertaining, intelligent, and worthwhile debut: more exemplary music out of Japan.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Walrus - Colloidal
Tracklist: The Parade of Hoshikui (9:06), Somewhere and Nowhere (4:09), A Darkside House (4:47), The Boat Lilica Draw (6:09), Paperplane (3:22), Real Guard Gondola on Last of the World (5:20), A Man Who Raises a Weed (4:29), A Medical-bin and Awakening (9:27), Pinhole Camera (4:19)
Originally, upon my first couple of listens to Colloidal, Walrus’ follow up to the excellent debut CD In the Room Of A Singular Point, I was very disappointed. I felt that the band had jettisoned its prog affinities and had merely stepped onto the contemporary pop–rock bandwagon. Then I realized two things.
First, I was making the grave mistake of wanting one listening experience to echo another. This is a terrible faux pas on the part of a reviewer because there is never any necessary correlation between what a band or an artist does from one release to the next. I think record company executives will often force artists into a repetitive mode to ensure the successful milking of a style or genre, but ideally, artists should be allowed to grow, evolve, and expand a repertoire in a completely organic fashion. I mean, I should understand about artistic development, since I acknowledge and laud the progression from, say, U2’s War to Achtung Baby, from Miles’ Birth Of The Cool to In A Silent Way, from Stand Up to Thick As A Brick, and from Help! to Magical Mystery Tour. In fact, it is exactly those artists that metamorphosize in the course of a career who become legendary, while the more static sort are remembered as “flash-in-the-pans”. I guess it’s sometimes true that expectations based on previous achievement block the listener’s and reviewer’s appreciation of a singular but slightly difficult new offering. I almost consigned Colloidal to the rubbish heap because it wasn’t In The Room Of A Singular Point but I caught myself in time.
Second, I realized that possibly Walrus’ collective compositional acumen was more sophisticated than my critical scrutiny! Ah, it is painful to be humbled! I nearly dismissed this album because I didn’t quite “get” it…and I was going to make my ignorance into an accusation about Walrus’ “sophomore jinx”. As Scooby-Doo might say, after safely avoiding this episode’s horrific monster: “Zoinks!”
The line up for Colloidal is the same as for the debut: Mitsuyuki Shiiba on vocals; Hideki Yamasaki on guitar; Goro Yamasaki on bass guitar; and Wataru Okabe on drums. I was extremely impressed (again) with the overall musicianship, especially Mr. Yamasaki’s guitar playing: he really does hail from the George Harrison–Lindsey Buckingham–Martin Barre school of perfect accentuation and tastefulness. Mr. Okabe’s drumming is also noteworthy and upon repeat listens his imaginative fills and tact prove to be one of Walrus’ major strengths.
The compositions are very, very deceiving at first blush. Superficially, you wonder at times if the members of Walrus have traded their copies of Selling England By The Pound for Cheap Trick At Budokan, Maladroit, and American Idiot. There’s a decided pop springiness throughout Colloidal that seems trite or insincere, almost…until you grasp the amazing complexity of this batch of tunes. Is this album an adoption of a more modern aesthetic? Yes, to a degree, but the hint of prog is never indiscernible and the compositional craftiness is certainly far beyond what I heard on, for example, Weezer’s last release (Make Believe, which I still thoroughly recommend to all pop fans).
I won’t give a play-by-play account in this review because the entire CD is worth your time; let me only mention a couple of tracks specifically.
The Parade Of Hoshikui is the most ambitious song on Colloidal. It shifts tempo and atmosphere several times and each section is significantly different. There are enough recurring refrains in the song to avoid a sense of discontinuity and randomness and the sections are all very catchy and lively. There’s even a chillingly beautiful, flute-lead break that does whisk the band back into its Genesis influence, but, make no mistake, The Parade Of Hoshikui is far more a frenetic, driving rock tune highlighting the band’s ability to weld divergent musical expressions into a seamless composition. This is a wild one.
A Darkside House is a gentle song that reminds me of something from the more lush portions of both the Pink Floyd and Queen catalogues. The chorus is a sudden changeup pitch: slightly abrasive with almost an Andy Partridge vocal delivery. A Darkside House is great proof of Walrus’ dexterity with various styles and Mr. Yamasaki’s talent for colouring the music without preening bombast.
I could go on, since all of the tracks manifest high-quality attention to detail and musical maturity. Personally, I loved the blend of energetic, stripped-down rock ‘n’ roll with the more flamboyant, arty moments. The band sounds confident and refined as it utilizes a vast array of tints and textures. I am going to give this a slightly lower rank than I gave the debut because Colloidal is a little more strident than In The Room Of A Singular Point and also it does have one shortcoming: the melodies aren’t nearly as infectious this time out. I’m not sure that this CD steers strongly enough into the realm of “Progressive Rock” to satisfy the demands and predilections of DPRP’s readership, but it is a convincingly solid effort and should appeal to all fans of the debut and maybe fans of contemporary rock music. The Japanese lyrics might discourage an audience, but I never found them to be a drawback, since it’s easy enough to concentrate on the phrasing and modulation of the vocals rather than the meaning. (I’ve been doing just that with Jon Anderson for years now!) Maybe the most honest praise I can give this CD―and this could be backhanded capitalist praise, I’m not sure―after saying that it, along with the debut, really is one of the superior albums I’ve reviewed for DPRP, is to say that I would’ve been fully, pleasantly content with Colloidal if I had paid for it out of my own pocket. In the end, I find Walrus to be an impressive quartet of musical free-thinkers with chops and impeccable abilities and I look ahead eagerly to its next venture.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Ars Nova - Chrysalis Force For The Fourth
Tracklist: Succubus (5:40), Transi (8:34), Horia Rising (9:31), 42 Gods (5:28), Metamorphose (6:09), Nova (10:42)
This is the 7th release from the Japanese symphonic rock group Ars Nova and consists of reworked songs from previous CD's but, (as usual) the first I have personally heard so I can't compare against the originals. Having once been made up of three female keyboardists they now have a more conventional line up of keyboards, guitar, bass and drums. Mainstay of the band is keyboardist Keiko Kumagai, she's been there from the beginning and is credited with all the writing. It's Keiko appearing nearly nude on the front cover and that's OK by me - I find her attractive and why shouldn't we have a bit of glamour amongst the old men and beards of prog? Seems she's usually on the covers wearing very little and if that boosts the sales then fine. The other female band-member, Panky (real name Shinko Shebata) plays bass and there's a new (male) drummer, Masuhiro Goto, since the last release. Playing on three of the tracks is guitarist Satoshi Handa adding some nice complement to the heavy keyboard presence.
Ars Nova's sound is dominated by the keyboards - not to say that the rest of the band doesn't get a look-in but Keiko is clearly the main attraction (in more ways than one) and you hear it all the way through. The keyboard style is very bombastic and lovers of Hammond will be in ecstasy from the start as it's heavily used throughout sounding a lot like Keith Emerson from the early to mid 70's although the music is perhaps more akin to Refugee than ELP. Other keyboards are used of course but give more of a modern neo-classical feel reminiscent of earlier Yngwie Malmsteen, Royal Hunt and Pär Lindh Project. The first thing that you notice is the huge wall of sound that hits you - energetic, intense and certainly demanding attention. This is when the music is at it's best and there's no better demonstration than the excellent opening track Succubus, short though it may be it's a tour-de-force of heavy Hammond chords with some nice guitar along the way, busy drums and tight bass keeping everything in check.
The other five weighty compositions don't quite match up to the opener but they're still good. This is music that can only be played loud and I like it very much. The standard of musicianship is high, particularly Keiko's playing, and the production is good although sometimes the drums sound a little synthetic. This not for the faint-hearted and certainly won't win you many friends if you play it at parties, it is however an excellent example of old-school keyboard prog and as good as any I've heard. It will delight anyone interested in such styles and serves as an good introduction to the genre and this band.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Side Steps - Verge Of Reality
Tracklist: Roppongi Night (7:09), Edge Trigger (6:44), Beyond The Verge (6:08), Because Of Silence (8:50), Parallel Reality (5:08), Evergreen (7:18), Courage Of The Wind (6:48)
Back in 2003 I favourably reviewed Side Steps' previous release, Steps On Edge and on skimming over that review prior to starting on this particular album, it occurred to me how much of the comments made there, apply here. Perhaps not entirely surprising as the band have been in existence since 1990 and during that time the line-up has remained the same. Atsunobu Tamura on guitars, Hiroaki Itoh on keyboards, Kiochi Iwai on bass guitar and Ichiro Fukawa completing matters on the drums.
Once again we are in the realms of highly infectious and free flowing progressive jazz fusion that is rhythmically exciting whilst remaining melodic. Atsunobu Tamura's fluid lead guitar work and sweet tone blends nicely with Hiroaki Itoh's lead sounds. I was a little critical in my previous review that there could have been more variation here in the sounds, and although perhaps this still applies to a certain degree, the playing more than compensates for this.
Disappointingly the album gets of to a poor start with Roppongi Night which is a rather bland, insipid jazzy offering and one very reminiscent of the uninspired (for me) Spyro Gyra. Fortunately this is the only poor track on the album and very quickly Edge Trigger sets a heady pace. Almost immediately the band swing into full flow with a heavy opening riff before both Tamura and Itoh trade themes and solos occasionally coming together for harmony sections. Those readers familiar, and with a fondness for fellow countrymen Kenso should do themselves a favour and check out Side Steps. I suppose while we are on the subject of comparators we might add Carlos Santana, Frank Gambale and even Camel, (I'm thinking in the areas of some of their early jazzier excursions - albeit for Camel as instrumental sections within songs).
Barring the opening track the album is a consistent effort throughout and unlike Steps On Edge this album has more light and shade. The jazz-light Because Of Silence offers a nice interlude within the proceedings and allows Hiroaki Itoh ample time to run through his obvious abilities on the piano, interspersed with fluid solos from Atsunobu Tamura. Note here of the superb rhythm section who greatly add to the dynamic of the music. On the lighter side we also have the classical tinged Evergreen which actually doesn't feature our rhythm section.
Much of whether or not this album will appeal to you will depend on your like or dislike of free flowing instrumentals that are heavy on the soloing and light on mood swings and complex arrangements. DPRP has previously reviewed two of Side Steps' albums one favourably, as mentioned above and one not so, (reviewed here). So it only proves that all reviews should be treated as subjective. Once again I'm going to give Side Steps the thumbs up for this latest offering, as it certainly "floats my boat".
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Ain Soph - 5 or 9 (Five Evolved from Nine)
Tracklist: Villa Adriana (2:16), The Two Orders of Image (8:21), Fragments from the Pass (1:51), Ancient Museum (9:28), Seascape [Little Pieces Part 4] (3:04), The Valley of Lutha (9:40), Shadow Picture (0:15), Little Wind (2:31), Stonehenge (11:23)
Ain Soph - Marine Menagerie
Tracklist: Wind & Water (0:33) Flooded By Sun Light (7:18) Marine Menagerie (10:38) Little Pieces Part3 (1:27) Variation On A Theme By Brian Smith (Original Version) (8:49) Ride On A Camel (13:53) Metronome 7/8 ~ Peacock’s Feather (The Peacock Spreads It’s Wings / Metronome 7/8 Reprise (13:43)
Introduction by Dave Sissons
The latest collaboration between French Prog Specialists Musea and Japanese Jazz merchants Poseidon is the reissue of these two fine albums from the extensive catalogue of long-serving instrumental Prog/Fusion exponents Ain Soph. (Not to be confused with the Italian Industrial band of the same name).
Evolving from the blues-rock based Tenchisouzou in the mid 1970’s, and gigging profusely through to 1978, their first album (The excellent A Story Of Mysterious Forrest) was not released until 1980. Following this, the band fractured, with keyboardist Massey Hattori and drummer Hiroshi Natori being replaced by Kikuo Fujikawa and Taiqui respectively. Yozox (guitars) and Masahiro Torigaki (bass) remained from the original line-up.
Their second album, Hat And Field, was released in 1986, but we are concerned with the third and fifth releases here (The fourth was a live album, Ride On A Camel, issued in 1991 but recorded in the 1970’s).
Dave's Review of 5 or 9 (Five Evolved From Nine)
5 or 9 opens promisingly with Villa Adriana, a building theme backed by pounding drums. Unfortunately, The Two Orders Of Image reveals that the Ain Soph sound had by this stage taken on a more high-tech 80’s sheen, with bright and vulgar brass textures, modern keyboard voices and ultra-polished slick fusion stylings. Gone are most of the prog leanings, opting for the jazzier end of the Canterbury school, but lacking the quirky whimsy of the acknowledged masters.
As ever, the musicianship is consummate and impressive, and these nine instrumental workouts are a pleasurable experience if relaxing, light jazz fusion is your bag. There’s nothing offensive or horrendous here, but the creative spark seems somewhat diminished, making this more of a by-numbers affair than a truly compelling CD.
There is some nice music here: Fragments From The Pass is a gentle acoustic piece; Ancient Museum has a swaggering lilt and some terrific jazz piano/synth soloing; and Shadow Picture is the best of the bunch, adding a wistful atmosphere, and gentle acoustic texturing to the brew for a thoroughly satisfying piece, marred only slightly by brassy keyboard interjections –there’s a terrific guitar theme at around the 7 minute mark- this track is one to immerse yourself in.
But tracks like The Valley of Lutha and the gentle piano showcase Seascape are probably too polite and safe to capture the imagination of prog rock fans. If you’re looking for a mellow respite from your usual listening, you may find something to enjoy, but it’s not going to be top of the list for many of you.
John's Review of 5 or 9 (Five Evolved From Nine)
How does 5 evolve from 9?
Out of the swampy morass…
9. A heavy implementation of synths, very much in the vein of Yes, UK and ELP but also including fancy fusion-lite flourishes.
8. An energized, full throttle progressive jazz-funk in the style of Happy the Man, late-period Gong, Steely Dan post-The Royal Scam or even Zappa.
7. Canterbury-influenced bridges and choruses, reminiscent of, say, Caravan.
6. Very well textured, emotive guitar work, not quite mimicking Steve Howe but inspired by his variety and expressiveness. (See Fragments from the Past and Little Wind.)
5. An employment of the more jam-bandish elements of ‘90s prog, a la Djam Karet and Ozric Tentacles.
4. A not-too-maudlin sampling of neo-prog keyboard-led balladry, a la Arena, IQ, or Marillion. (See Seascape.)
3. A willingness to delivery blistering, bona fide progress rock in the mould of late ‘70s-early ‘80s Yes. (See the second half of The Valley Of Lutha.) (Regarding late ‘70s-early ‘80s Yes: It may have been erratic but it was wild and forceful. See Drama)
2. Not a vocal to be heard, from start to finish.
1. Smoky atmospheres: partly Floydian; partly smack-addled, flamenco-tinged Jimmy Page (circa In Through The Out Door); partly movie soundtrack; and partly gin joint ennui.
1. Consistently good soloing by the guitarist (Yozox) and the keyboardist (Kikuo Fujikawa). Every so often either might stumble through a bland passage or something fairly school boyish, but in general, some pretty ripping and gripping stuff.
2. A nice but not astounding compositional variety. They mix it up, for sure, but I never felt the anger and the angst. Maybe some moderate discontent…
3. A tendency toward repetitive chord sequences. When it is jammy, and the soloing is inspired, the tunes are pretty decent or better (usually better), but sometimes you just felt, “Change the #%*!ing pattern!”
4. Some truly pretty melodies and musical transitions, with no slight meant by the use of “pretty”. (See Shadow Picture.)
5. Energy. Verve. Daring. Combustion. Musicians getting the point…
Dave's Review of Marine Menagerie
Marine Menagerie contains new studio versions of older material, and, for my tastes, is the better of the two discs. Wind & Water and Little Pieces Part 3 are little more than introductions to the longer tracks they precede. Flooded By Sunlight and Marine Menagerie are pleasant instrumentals which alternate symphonic progressive sections with a more slick, fusion sound. There are plenty of lengthy solos from guitar and keyboards, but these are mostly melodic in nature, and don’t descend into mindless twiddling or empty posturing. The standard of musicianship throughout these two discs is exemplary, if perhaps a little too mannered and polite (especially on the second of the pair). The last three tracks on Menagerie are easily my favourites. With album titles like Hat & Field and Ride On A Camel it should come as no surprise that Ain Soph are keen Canterbury enthusiasts, and this becomes abundantly clear with this trio of pieces. Variations On A Theme By Brian Smith, based on a track by Nucleus (British jazzers, sharing style and members with the more famous Soft Machine), first appeared on Mysterious Forrest, but the version here is tougher and more intense and should appeal to all Canterbury/Fusion fans.
Ride On A Camel is a loving homage to Mirage/Snow Goose era Camel, and is a smile-inducing romp from start to finish, with lots of room for guitar and keys. The bass and drums stay pretty much in the background in all of Ain Soph’s material. This exercise in nostalgia and hero-worship had me scurrying for my old Camel discs, and that can’t be a bad thing.
The closing track gives similar, if not quite so blatant, tribute to Caravan, as Peacock’s Feather exudes a whimsical and jaunty attitude redolent of the legendary Brit prog combo. This enjoyable track evolves through several distinct sections, by turns more jazzy, then more of a soft-rock/light psychedelia blend, and is sandwiched by the Martial Beat-inspired Metronome 7/8. The album as a whole is very agreeable, and gets better as the disc progresses, ending on a high note and encouraging the revisiting of the bands that so clearly inspired them.
John's Review of Marine Menagerie
SCENE: A little, neglected alcove down by the docks in a small port town, where a tiny patch of beach just barely juts out of the lapping brine. There’s a seagull perched upon a rotting dock pylon, obviously excited, fluttering its pinions to maintain balance…
GULL: I’ve got it! I’ve got another Ain Soph CD! I’ve finally got Marine Menagerie! I’ve already given it three plays!
CRAB: Damnation! Here we go ‘gain, with that blasted “Ain Soph, Ain Soph”. Give me a break…
SAND SHARK: Hey, I read the review of 5 from 9 on www.dprp.net. That Shannon joker gave it a 5.9: Is that even a ranking? Smart ass…
MINNOW: Ain Soph? Don’t they sound a bit like The Beatles?
GULL: No. Now that I think about it, they sound a little like Camel, maybe a little like Pink Floyd, but with a jazzier feel. I guess there’s a Canterbury influence in their somewhere, too.
OCTOPUS: They’re kind of jam-bandish, aren’t they?
GULL: Well, yeah, that’s true. Sometimes they remind me of Djam Karet but they do venture into that late 60s-early 70s Santana/Allman Brothers guitar jam mode, but without being based in the blues.
OCTOPUS: I like that shit!
BARNACLE: Dude, isn’t Ain Soph a Japanese band?
CRAB: Hey, don’t “kamikaze” me! Har har! Get it, “kamikaze” me! Neptune’s Balls, I’m too much!
GULL: They’re from Japan. I think they formed in the 70s as a fusion band. They’ve had a few line-ups since then. The line up on Marine Menagerie is Masahiro Torigaki on bass; Yozox on guitars and…let me read it…ah, “Rothman Royals”…
SAND SHARK: What the hell’s a “Rothman Royal”.
GULL: No idea…
MINNOW: Um…what’s a “Yozox”?
CRAB: Pipe down, ya pip squeak!
GULL: …Taiqui on drums and “ZANKI” cymbals; and Kikuo Fujikawa on keyboards.
OCTOPUS: I’ve heard some of this CD; that Yozox is a bad ass on the guitar. He’s a lot like Lattimer and Dave Gilmour but his chops are better and he fills up more space: he’s a busy player but he never sacrifices melody or taste. Why, sometimes, he’s so fast and clean on his leads that you’d swear he’s got eight hands!
CRAB: Yeah! That’s what I’m talkin’ about!
GULL: Fujikawa’s no slouch, either. He’s got the best of both world’s going on: he’s a dexterous soloist but he sets moods perfectly.
BARNACLE: OK, OK: so they’ve got some wood-shedders in the band. Big deal. How’re the tunes, dude? I’m all about the tunes, you know: I gotta feel it, or it’s not worth my time.
SAND SHARK: Yeah, does it swing?
MINNOW: I heard that some of it sounds like Abbey Road.
GULL: They don’t sound like The Beatles!
MINNOW: It’s just what I heard…
GULL: You know, the band uses quite an assortment of sounds and arrangements; I always like it when the tracks don’t sound too imitative of each other. “Little Pieces Part 3” is a gentle piano solo, kind of sad but sweet, too. But then, it segues —
CRAB: “Segues”? Let me dig out my #%*!ing thesaurus!
GULL: — into a nasty, punky track..let’s see, where’s the insert…oh, yes, it’s called “Variations On A Theme by Brian Smith” and it’s really lively. It’s jagged (you know how these sorts of bands use weird syncopation) but the final section has a nice, grooving jam. Taiqui’s drumming is pretty tricky on that one.
SAND SHARK: Anything else good on the disc?
GULL: Well…”Flooded by Sunlight” is decent. Sort of gives you visions of a lolling, easy, untroubled ocean, cascaded by the warm, dappling rays of a friendly Sun, I guess you’d say.
CRAB: Damn poets…
MINNOW: Kind of like “Octopus’ Garden,” huh?
OCTOPUS: “Garden”? I don’t keep a garden…
GULL: Well…not really.
MINNOW: You sure?
GULL: “Ride on a Camel” is another beauty. God, Yozox sounds so much like Steve Howe, circa Topographic Oceans, and the atmosphere is watery and peaceful, but then it turns into a more straightforward romp, and the band is off-and-running. You know, Yozox’ leads remind me of Howe’s work on the Asia debut…
OCTOPUS: That was a good one, for arena prog. “You’re leaving now/it’s in your eyes/there’s no denying it…”
CRAB: Stop! Enough! Next you’ll be squirting ink and pounding us with REO Speedwagon and Survivor!
SAND SHARK: Any duds on the disc? You know, garbage stuff you’d toss overboard to a lobster or a cr…
CRAB: Say it! Go ahead, I’ll pinch your %$*!ing spiny ass!
GULL: There really isn’t much to dislike on this one. It might be slightly repetitive on the jammier tunes, but not terribly so. And a section here or there might be mildly cheesy…
ENTIRE MENAGERIE: What’s cheese?!?!?
GULL: …but the playing is so tight and inspired, and the compositions are so catchy, that I just can’t stop bobbing my beak to it!
MINNOW: So, they DO sound like The Beatles!
ENTIRE MENAGERIE: THEY DON’T SOUND LIKE THE BEATLES!
MINNOW: (Sigh.) Well, they should…
CRAB: So, who’s going to like this Ain Soph? Anyone, or just a flighty albatross with too much spare, non-aqueous time on its wings?
GULL: I’d say that any progressive rock fan would find something to enjoy on Marine Menagerie. Maybe the old-school fans would appreciate this the most. I don’t know if there’s too much here for a neo or RIO fan, though. Ain Soph might appeal more to fans of Camel, Soft Machine, fusion in general, and some of the more contemporary, jammier prog bands. I mean, it’s just well constructed, well played, intricate music, so what’s not too like? But we all have our thing…
SAND SHARK: Ain’t hot enough to dry up an ocean, though, is it?
GULL: Er…probably not. It’s not an especially novel sound or approach to jazzy rock music. But it’s still well done.
OCTOPUS: Are you going to rank it? Maybe you should before one of those DPRP guys pans it…
GULL: Oh, I’d give it a 6.5 or a 7. You know, it’s not a cosmic revelation or anything like that, but it’s solid. It’s worth it just to hear Yozox ripping!
MINNOW: Would you say that it’s more like Revolver or Magical Mystery Tour?
Conclusion by Dave
If relaxing, unhurried but very proficient jazz fusion and Canterbury prog is your scene, you will want to add these discs to your collection forthwith, but the more prog minded should check out A Story Of Mysterious Forrest first, (it’s still my favourite of their albums) and come back to these two, starting with Marine Menagerie and continuing to 5 or 9 if still hungry for more.
5 Evolved From 9
Frogflavor - Space Of Magic
Tracklist: Frog Time (0:45), 0-320 (4:59), Expresso (4:44), Miss Sunny (2:46), Funky Machine (4:02), Midnight Metropolis (4:00), The Last Stream (3:31), Five (3:23), Changeable (3:22), D-Freak (3:24), The Second Man (1:45), 50/50 (6:13)
The debut album from Japanese power-trio Frogflavor is a real melange of styles with funk, metal, prog and jazz-rock all in evidence and often all at the same time. Bass player Hiroyuki Sekine has written the bulk of the material mixes and produces so it's hardly surprising that the bass is to the fore, but what bass it is! Hiroyuki is a virtuoso with strong influences from Tony Levin (King Crimson), Les Claypool (Primus) and Flea (Red Hot Chilli Peppers) although he also claims Cliff Burton (Metallica) on his bio but I can't hear that myself. Guitarist Issei Takami is no slouch either with fiery and aggressive playing throughout - Satriani, Petrucci, Jeff Beck, John McLaughlin and Terje Typdal spring to mind and guitar synth is being used at times fleshing out the sound. Issei Takami also has a hand in writing and mixing and lays down some very nice jazzy drums.
Frogflavor's music sounds immediately familiar and quite easy to listen to even on the first occasion - this despite it being quite complex and pretty much 'in your face' from the off. I'd probably attribute this to the obvious influences that recur on the CD. If you imagine King Crimson mixed with The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Primus, Brand X, Joe Satriani and Jeff Beck then you'll be there or there abouts. The music really reminds me of someone else but try as I might I can't place it which is driving me nuts. Perhaps it's worth mentioning before I forget that the album is instrumental...
After the opening 45 second solo bass piece which really does sound like a short cut from Primus we launch into the CD proper with 0-320 - relentless plodding bass and angular harsh guitar give a real Crimson feel without actually emulating. Expresso is one of the tracks written by the drummer and has very busy percussive drumming with a walking bass line and guitar noodling over the top. This is effectively counter-pointed by tight sections with crisp guitar chords, nice but a little too experimental for my liking. Miss Sunny is the first stand-out track on the album, funky driving bass with crazy aggressive guitar soloing over the top - good stuff, straight to the point with little or no waste.
As you may expect, Funky Machine is rather, erm, funky being based around a monster Chilli-Pepper-esque slapped bass-line with Jeff Beck style guitar over the top. This track really grooves and will be appreciated by the bass players listening, especially during the short solo two-thirds through in the style of Stu Hamm. Midnight Metropolis is more in the vein of 80's jazz-rock with slight bluesy feel - perhaps the track with the most feeling on the album it picks-up towards the end with another slapped funky bass line that wouldn't raise your eyebrows if you heard it on a Chic recording.
After all that funky madness the Jeff Beckish The Last Stream feels a bit sluggish although it does feature some very nice bass chord picking and mellow guitar. Straight back to the craziness though with the Zappaesque Five - interesting from a technical perspective but with no discernable melody it's one to skip to be honest. We're back on track with Changeable featuring more of that funky bass work but this time some Frippish guitar and it's around this point that I realised the drums are mixed way too low (that's the risk of letting the bass-player do the production I suppose), it's a nice piece though that typifies the band. More manic jazz-rock with D-Freak and The Second Man before closing with 50/50. Again, more fast funky bass this time with some synth guitar sounding once again very Jeff Beckish.
There's no doubt that this is a very good debut from three young and talented musicians with a very bright future indeed. Certainly recommended for those that like funky jazz rock but perhaps not so easy for a general audience.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Cherno - Complicity Vision
Tracklist: Nickel and Dime (6:27), Zapping TV (5:56), Crazy Go-Around (7:24), Gestalt Collapse Part I (6:19), Top Butler (8:13), Iron Man (5:43), 5th Drive #2 (7:40), Gestalt Collapse Part II (7:46), Alternative Magma (8:38)
To say that the music of Cherno is challenging is probably both kind and appropriate, and back in 2003 their previous release Slight Trick All Round proved to be almost too much for our erstwhile reviewer. Now I remember the album well, as at one point I was planning on taking up the challenge to review it myself, however on that occasion I passed - three years later I have not been able to persuade Dries to take up the mantle again. So here is my take on the music of Cherno.
Cherno are a guitar and sax based duo who have been in existence since 1995, producing albums on a regular basis whilst gigging frequently, albeit only in their native country. With only guitar and saxophone you may be wondering how they produce their music. Programming supplies all the rest with the exception of tracks 4 & 8, where they are joined by Onuma Shiro on drums. The music has a distinctly live feel and I gather that these arrangements have been developed from live performance, with the intention that these recorded tracks can be performed in that environment. The production is a little hard on the ears, but much of that I presume is intentional.
Describing Cherno's music in a few words may be beyond this reviewer, but in essence the material revolves around strong metallic riffs to which both Sugawara Shin (sax) and Kishimoto Junichi (guitar) and add solos and themes. The resultant sound might best be described as technical mayhem. Always bordering on the edges avant-garde and more often throwing itself headlong into these strained areas. Therefore the music is always intense and challenging - not necessarily a bad thing - but it did fatigue this listener, and over the hour duration of the CD sapped the old grey matter.
There are moments when the album works and is compelling. 5th Drive #2 has very early Genesis-like driving riff to it, although the top line is still somewhat discordant - interesting, although not necessarily for the full seven minutes. Then there is the album's opener with its strong metallic riff, busy drumming, punctuated rhythms and numerous saxophone and guitar solos/themes. The stomping Top Butler - great - four to five minutes would have been even better. But when Complicity Vision is irritating it is really irritating! As in Gestalt Collapse Part II. Picture if you can the sound created by Jimi Hendrix smashing up his guitar on stage, while wattling away in the background is some kind an insane freeform saxophone solo. Play it for nearly eight minutes and record it for a studio album! Madness.
Enough said. Is it progressive - absolutely - although of minimal interest across the board I feel.
Conclusion: 4.5 out of 10