Reviews in this issue:
- Lightspeed - Waves
- Lucas, White & Edsey - LWE
- Henning Pauly – Babysteps
- Moving Gelatine Plates – Removing
- Ficcion - Sobre La Cresta De La Ola
- Krakatau – As...
Lightspeed - Waves
Tracklist: Peak Fires (5:51), Things To Come (4:03), Young At Heart (3:46), Waves Of Emotion [a. Waves (6:34), b. Breath Away (3:55), c. One last time (4:51), d. Innocence] (5:16), Bridges (6:49), Let Me In (6:13), Razor’s Edge (4:41), Fly Away (7:01)
Lightspeed has released relatively little material so far given the fact that they have been around since 1989. Three records have escaped from the vaults of this Canadian AOR/prog ensemble, all during the first half of the nineties. Then they sort of split, took a long ten year break and then reformed. Now, with the upcoming release of their fourth record Waves, they are hopefully preparing for a triumphant return to the live scene. They have recently signed with Majestic Rock Records (see the News of week 39), so the distribution of their release, which is planned on October 30, should be in good hands.
Based on what I hear on this album, I can imagine that seeing them live should be a real treat. The vocalist, John Persichini, has a natural way of singing and sometimes reminds me a bit of a less strained version of James LaBrie. Furthermore, all musicians are obviously experienced in their trade and give an impressive performance on this album.
The style of the album is ambiguous. Some tracks are very progressive, others are AOR, edging even to Van Halen or Def Leppard. As an example of the progressive side of the album, I would like to quote the first track, Peak Fires, which immediately triggered memories of Landmarq's Science Of Coincidence album. From this reference, you can already guess that the progressive part is not too 'heavy', i.e. no fusion or Spock's Beard like epics, but more uncomplicated, upbeat prog. Even though most of the album is indeed upbeat, it changes half way trough the Waves suite. The album suddenly really touched something in me on the very emotional track One Last Time (no, not a Dream Theater cover...). Here, the voice of Persichini is strongest and delivers this poem on leaving life very heartfelt and sincere. It really contrasts the otherwise joyful rest of the album, giving it a depth that is not present in many albums of more well-known artists.
This track is followed by Innocence where especially the harmony vocals during the chorus are very reminiscent of 90125/Big Generator era Yes. A good way to cool down from the knot in your stomach that the previous track gave you! Bridges has a more progressive edge to it, with a less standard rhythm section in the chorus and some nice guitar breaks. Unfortunately, the album then weakens a bit. The final track, Fly Away, is very mellow and makes the album go out like a night candle, which is a pity. The end effect is that the upbeat feeling is lost when the album is finished. A short pumping closer after Fly Away would have made the album stronger and more memorable in my opinion.
With respect to the production: nothing but praise. The mix is clear and the balance between the instruments is good, especially the keyboards are sufficiently up front. Inaudible keyboards is something that, particularly in live situations, can annoy me a lot. But hey, there are even a couple of nice keyboard solos on this album (e.g. in Let Me In) so that makes my black-and-white tingling soul happy!
In conclusion, a well produced and upbeat album with a few minor flaws and a very strong emotional track. Recommended if you are looking for something not too complicated, yet not too trivial.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Lucas, White & Edsey - LWE
Tracklist: Liberty (8:04), Sleight Of Hand And Foot (7:57), A Note To Jordan (7:09), Hasta Mañana (7:13), Waiting For Bela (6:27), The Nightcap (7:17), A Dog And His Boy (4:49), The Good Life (4:46)
LWE is the debut release from this stateside three piece that hail from Illinois. They have been around as a unit since 2000 working in and around the Chicago area. In the absence of a vocalist, keyboard player Frank Lucas is undeniably the frontman, joined by Chuck White on drums and Steve Edsey on bass. Lucas has written all the material here and also has the solo album Let’s Play from 2000 to his credit. He is noted for having spent the last twelve years studying with Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess at his mentor’s upstate New York studio. I can tell you little about White and Edsey other than the drummer has worked with guitarist Michael Angelo (along with Lucas) and the bassist with metal merchant Dave Uhrich. Joining the band on three tracks is guest Edger Gabriel, violinist with Cirque du Soleil.
Apart from some sampled spoken sections, the tracks are all instrumental. The bands publicity compares them with The Rudess Morgenstein Project, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Chick Corea Electrik Band and inevitably Emerson, Lake and Palmer. In truth, I could detect no similarities to any of the above, especially ELP. The bands sound is much closer to home. Centred on Lucas’ virtuoso piano playing, the tuneful jazz flavoured prog style is as American as the stars and stripes. This is no more apparent than on the patriotic opening track Liberty. Listening to the children’s voices reciting “liberty and justice for all” at the start reminded me of the tragic events that occurred in Pennsylvania last week. The musical style of this mid tempo piece establishes the tone of the album. Stately orchestral synths, crisp drumming and fluid bass lines underpin the bright piano melody. The classical bridge section is distinguished by a baroque style violin and piano duet culminating in strident descending piano runs. Following a barrage of inventive drum fills, the track plays out with a synth flute rendition of the American Revolution ballad The Girl I Left Behind Me complete with marching drums.
Sampled NASA space mission voices seem to crop up on numerous prog songs these days and Sleight Of Hand And Foot is no exception. This is probably the albums heaviest and most proggy track, although the term ‘heavy’ is a bit of an overstatement as far as this album is concerned. Deft organ flourishes ride a complex, syncopated rhythm with drums and bass sounding meatier this time round. The keyboards play a more percussive role here allowing a funky Stanley Clarke style bass solo to take centre stage. A Note To Jordan is obviously a salute to Lucas’ friend and keyboard mentor. It’s an impressive display, opening with a flurry of cascading synth notes and lightning fast piano runs. It settles into a smooth jazzy main theme before being interrupted by a Rudess inspired aggressive synth part. The memorable piano theme returns this time doubled by synth.
Hasta Mañana is distinguished by another energetic piano melody, this time with a busy Latin flavoured rhythm. Violin plays an intricate variation of the main theme before electric violin takes over creating an authentic heavy blues guitar sound. Ingenious stuff. A monumental bass solo takes the lead supported by piano and synths, producing one of the albums best performances. Waiting For Bela sounds like another tribute, combining folk rhythms with a bright keys melody. Synths evoke the sound of pipes as it develops into a high-speed jig, joined by the unusual but brilliant combination of lead bass sparring with vibrant piano.
Ambient synth washes and the sound of rainfall sets the mood with a sensuous female voice inviting the protagonist in for The Nightcap. A measured rhythm and reflective piano maintains the atmosphere before bass takes the lead playing a sultry variation of the main theme. Piano returns, speeding up to a climax, providing an effective musical commentary to the night’s events. A Dog And His Boy is a more innocent affair, with silky smooth piano and lyrical synth producing a gorgeous melody. The meticulous synth solo is quite stunning and an album highlight. The Good Life goes out on a high with an infectious keys melody summing up everything that is good about this album.
Special mention has to go to the recording and mixing by Jim Johnson and mastering by Harry Brotman. The sound is as sharp and crystal clear as I have heard on any recent album although a tad more weight in the bottom end would have benefited the drum sound. The quality of the musicianship is certainly beyond doubt. Lucas’ free flowing piano technique in particular is the most technically accomplished I’ve heard in a long time. In terms of ability, he is certainly up there with the Emerson’s, Wakeman’s and Rudess’ of this world. White and Edsey certainly have their work cut out in the rhythm department but they do an admirable job. I’m conscious that an all-instrumental release may not have the universal appeal of a song-orientated album which is the only thing holding me back from a full blown DPRP recommendation.
Conclusion: 7.5+ out of 10
Henning Pauly – Babys+eps
Tracklist: Café 1 (2;10), I Don’t Believe You (5:21), No Tree To Sit Under (3:37), Listen To Me (7:02), Café 2 (1:23), Not Just A Piece Of Paper (7:19), Whenever You Dream (5:39), Café 3 (3:33), A Place In Time (9:14), What Do You Know? (5:41), Café 4 (3:09), The Door (4:46), I See (7:00), The Last Song (6:25), Café 5 (3:19)
Multi instrumentalist, composer and producer Henning Pauly has already released a couple of great rock albums. Take for instance the two Frameshift albums, the fabulous Unweaving The Rainbow with lead vocalist James LaBrie and An Absence Of Empathy with the “roaring” vocals of Sebastian Bach. His metal like album Credit Where Credit Is Due was also worth listening to and now the German/American Pauly comes up with another prog rock concept album.
Musically this album has obvious influences from Savatage and TSO (Trans Siberian orchestra) because of the major orchestral elements and the extensive usage of piano and metal guitars. In fact I never really liked the TSO albums (three Christmas albums and one concept album about Beethoven) as they are too sweet, too tacky and too commercial, especially the vocals are really musical-like sing-along stuff. To my big surprise and also greatest horror, Pauly asked Jody Ashworth of TSO to sing on his new album, so this means that all six tracks where Ashworth has the lead vocals do NOT really appeal to me. Just listen to his overdramatic, forced, over the top musical like singing in I don’t believe in you and you will hopefully agree with me that Ashworth is NOT the best singer for this part! Other vocalists like LaBrie, Michael Sadler (Saga) and Matt Cash (Chain) do a much better job as songs like Listen to me, Not just a piece of paper and I see belong to the best songs on this album.
Especially the two tracks with LaBrie on lead vocals are of superior quality. Listen to me is a rather heavy prog metal song with amazing vocals, a breathtaking guitar solo and lots of beautiful piano passages. I See is also one of the highlights as it is a Frameshift like prog metal song with two dazzling guitar solos and a beautiful tranquil middle part with James talking…. The songs Café 1 – 5 are all instrumental songs filled with lots of piano work and heavenly guitar melodies and solos. All five are good songs although I must admit that a lot of piano intros are a bit too much Savatage and TSO-like…. So, conclusion: eight really good songs, two mediocre ones – No Tree To Sit Under and The Last Song (a dull piano ballad) – and five terrible songs only due to the appalling vocals of mister Ashworth…. Give this man a role in "My Fair Lady" or "The Beauty And The Beast".
Last but not least I will tell you something about the story as Babysteps is a concept album. It tells the story of Nick, a pro athlete who finds himself in a wheelchair, recovering in a rehabilitation centre. His struggle with the arrogant doctor reaches its climax in a big fight. Another patient called Matt tries to become friends with Nick, who does not trust people anymore. Matt introduces his doctor Sizzla to Nick who then gives him valuable advice on how to approach his situation and his doctor. So, in fact it is a story of Nick’s journey on the way to recovery and the obstacles he has to overcome, sound familiar??
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Moving Gelatine Plates – Removing
Tracklist: Removing (2:34) Like A Flower (6:18) Enigme (4:54) Comme Avant (4:17) Breakdown (6:31) Nico (6:15) Bellidor (7:12) Waiting For The Rain (5:47) Theo (7:44)
Moving Gelatine Plates was an excellent French progressive band of the early 70’s. Often quoted as “Zappa-esque” or “Canterbury styled”, their quirky, jazzy, humorous and inventive music had at least as much in common with compatriots Gong and Carpe Diem. If their reputation far exceeds any success they had at the time, their two original albums are well worth hunting down now.
So do Moving Gelatine Plates deserve adding to the growing list of surprising (and surprisingly successful) reunions? Well, Yes and No, as this is, if anything, really a reunion of Moving, the 1980’s incarnation of the band, which featured only bassist Didier Thibault from the original group. Also, only saxophonist Jean Rubert is held over from Moving, with the other five members (and a similar number of guests) making their debut with the band on this disc.
Although this effectively means we are dealing with a new band, the style and spirit of MGP is remarkably much in evidence. The music is admittedly less radical, more mature in outlook, but I wouldn’t say the band have mellowed or sold out. With modern production techniques adding sheen and detail missing from earlier recordings, this CD is a delightful collection of tuneful Fusion, drawing on a wide range of influences and an impressive range of instrumental textures (including saxes, flutes, trumpet, trombone, violin, cello, viola and oboe) as well as the standard guitar, bass, drums, keys and vocals. Personally, I love music where the sound is constantly changing, with a succession of different instruments holding, and sometimes sharing, the spotlight, with varied and multi-textured backing. This is very much where MGP are coming from.
Some tracks feature vocals, in English, but the emphasis is usually on instrumental passages. The vocals are more on the endearingly quirky side, rather than being a strong feature of the MGP sound.
The compositions are pretty much split equally between bassist Thibault and guitarist Maxime Goetz, with keyboardist Stephane Lemaire contributing just one number. There’s not really any difference in quality between the writers’ material though, it’s a remarkably consistent album. Goetz’s numbers perhaps slide in a more Prog rock direction, with some decidedly Gentle Giant-ish moments on Comme Avant and the faux-Live Theo, with Thibault’s contributions having a jazzier base. Like A Flower for example, is a smooth-flowing fusion number, with Gong style descending sax breaks and some very nice Jan Akkerman flavoured guitar spots. As the tempo accelerates, violin leaps in to great effect. Breakdown by contrast, builds from rippling piano and mournful violin to a mid-tempo symphonic rock tune, which compares favourably to the material former Curved Air violinist Daryl Way played with his band Wolf.
Lemaire’s sole contribution slows things down, and the mysterious, moody atmosphere (topped by piercing sax) is much in keeping with the piece’s title, Enigme.
I found the CD to be a very enjoyable listen. It will have plenty of appeal for fans of the more tuneful and melodic and of the Jazz Fusion spectrum, and could well interest Canterbury devotees. Gentle Giant fans may also want to try it.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Ficcion - Sobre La Cresta De La Ola
Tracklist: Peces (4:57), Planeta Porno (6:56), Regreso A La Autopista (4:20), Solo Y Acompanada (6:40), Danza Boreal (3:35), Rallel Y/O El Ultimo Tren De Tu Vida (5:32), Un Nuevo Amanecer (4:46), Suite De Las Siete Virgenes Y Una Mula (9:50)
Ficcion is no new band. They have exist for 30 years now, however, only in 2002 have they managed to release their first album, Sobre El Abismo, which contained a collection of tracks they wrote in the past and some added material recorded in 2001. This time, with Sobre La Cresta De La Ola, the band from Venezuela comes back with their second effort which is composed of all new material. The band is mainly a trio derived of guitar (keyboards/bass/drums), although there is a fair amount of guests participating on this album. The leading force of the band is a very gifted keyboard player called Jose Ignacio Lares, an admirer of Robert A. Moog, who he compares to Albert Einstein in some little note in the booklet! Jose composed all eight tracks of this album that can be identified as symphonic or neo-classic at times, with a bit of jazz-rock influences here and there. Some Genesis (although not really lyrical), some ELP (although lighter), maybe some Camel (although not so melodic) as pointers. What is also distinctive is that the singing is entirely in Spanish, even though most of the tracks are instrumental.
The album kicks off with a heavy mooded instrumental, Peces. Planeta Porno is the first track that features vocals and lyrics with a rather social content. This time the key element is the piano and the fragile singing which brings to the epic-like song ending. The mood changes a lot with Regreso A La Autopista, which is jazzier and even lounge at moments, bringing ELP a bit to mind. Solo Y Acompanada is a clever mix of jazzy colours in the likes of Chick Corea and the edgy keyboard tunes in the likes of Keith Emerson, and surprises us a bit with the South American carnival-like interlude. This is in fact the only "ethnic" element I was able to identify in the music of Ficcion, even though in the leaflet accompanying the CD it is claimed that the band incorporates a lot of South American atmospheres.
Danza Boreal features again vocals and an inspired violin that seems to dominate a very symphonic mid-tempo track, giving a special feeling and keeping the listener's interest high enough. Possibly the most diverse track in the album and possibly the highlight. The band goes a bit faster and technical as the next track starts and I admit that I was rather surprised to hear vocals after the dynamic introduction. I would prefer this track to remain instrumental, as the singing part is much softer than the rest of the song and the overall result seems a bit loosely connected. With some not particularly interesting neo-prog elements in Un Nuevo Amanecer (melodic light-spirited galloping keyboards) we arrive to the final track the album has to offer, the ten minute long Suite De Las Siete Virgenes Y Una Mula. After a rather long introduction with a strong symphonic component the music turns jazzier in a smart way, but the switches between styles and musical themes are a little too abrupt and the track overall seems like a collection of themes and ideas rather than a concrete and concise piece. More abrupt is also its ending, which also happens to be the album's closing.
The quality declines a bit after the first half of the album, but overall the compositions are quite firm and interesting, even though a bit repetitive from time to time. What I should definitely note as pro's is the fact that the members of the band seem to know each other very well (well...30 years is a long time!) and that not only the keyboard performance, but also its collaboration with the other instruments is of very high standards. The use of vocals here and there contributes with some variance. Overall, this is a nice album with a lot of interesting moments, however I could not claim it is something particularly new or innovative in order to recommend it, since I would hardly identify some unique moments. I am sure that instead of sticking to classical symphonic rock structures they would benefit more if they introduced some more elements from their culture in there. Vocals in Spanish is just a minor contribution in this direction. To conclude, this album is definitely good but I would not say essential.
Conclusion: 7- out of 10
Krakatau – As...
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