Reviews in this issue:
- Panzerpappa - Koralrevens Klagesang
- Blackmore's Night - Winter Carols
- Citriniti - Between The Music And Latitude
- Magnolia - Magnolia
- Julie Driscoll - 1969
- Slychosis - Slychosis
Panzerpappa - Koralrevens Klagesang
Tracklist: Koralrevens Klagesang I (2:43), Koralrevens Klagesang II (4:54), Kantonesisk Kantour (9:12), Apraxia (3:26), Snill Sang Pa Band (5:59), Etyde (6:19), Vintervake (5:35), Frenetisk Frenologi (14:15), Koralrevens Klagesang III (2:48)
Norwegians still hold the prog flag high as Panzerpappa demonstrates with this release. The band is composed by four musicians and several guests playing a very wide variety of instruments, ranging from brass to percussion, from straightforward keyboards to different sorts of guitars. The biography of the band is nicely given within the thumbs up review of their first official release (following two demos) Farlig Vandring.
The style is quite close to the one of the Belgian group Univers Zero (but more accessible), and influences also include Van Der Graaf Generator and King Crimson. The material is mainly instrumental, the only exception being Vintervake, where Richard Sinclair makes his appearance. Three members of the band apparently played with him in his back-up band so his participation is no surprise. This is the second time I am aware of him participating in a recent project quite distant from his own stuff, blending in very nicely (the other being the excellent Earth to Ether by Theo Travis).
There is a lot of diversity in the compositions and the diversity is not only there between tracks but also within tracks. Some are straight avant-garde prog, others more jazz-oriented and others offer quite fragile guitar-sax duets (like Apraxia or the ending track Koralrevens Klagesang III). This latter element was absent in their previous effort, and I admit I'm happy they decided to introduce it to their music. It simply contributes to producing a warm feeling that usually releases of this kind lack a bit. Quirky stuff is also present in Snill Sang Pa Band, which shifts from jazz to up tempo brass-driven rhythms, nicely flavoured by accordion and banjo. Arrangements and textures are very rich, smartly switching from soft and tender (wisely using mellotron and flute) to more aggressive and progressive. Actually, technically speaking the group does a very good job, and the percussion and drumming is really something to notice. They also wisely chose to avoid overloading their sound (with, for example, strings), which would make the material rather heavy. Interestingly though, some tracks do give a symphonic feeling. Proggers should not miss the highly experimental track Frenetisk Frenologi, featuring the heaviest guitar riffs in the album and wild mood and tempo swings.
The music is a long and adventurous journey in the universe of sounds, tempos and moods. The band in this release also offers some more mellow moments, a nice direction to depart from their previous material. As a tiny criticism, I would like to say that I am not utterly convinced that the very solemn (and slightly misleading) opening track Koralrevens Klagesang I fits very well with the rest of the material. Same goes for the track at the other end of the scale (Snill Sang Pa Band). Had they managed to fit those better into the whole, the outcome would be simply excellent. Anyway, despite this, this is great and promising stuff for lovers of the avant-garde progressive scene. Apart from fans of VDGG, Univers Zero and Crimson, fans of Gong or Zappa or even Gentle Giant will definitely enjoy too. For the rest, I'll stress the fact that this release is both accessible and enjoyable and, to me, well-worth checking out!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Blackmore's Night - Winter Carols
Tracklist: Hark The Herald Angels Sing / Come All Ye Faithful (3:48), I Saw Three Ships (2:39), Winter (Basse Dance) (3:08), Ding Dong Merrily On High (3:15), Ma-O-Tzur (2:20), Good King Wenceslas (4:45), Lord Of The Dance / Simple Gifts (3:33), We Three Kings (4:48), Wish You Were Here (5:04), Emmanuel (3:30), Christmas Eve (4:20), We Wish You A Merry Christmas (1:25)
Now Ritchie Blackmore is permanently residing in mediaeval times it seems the rock scène has lost a gifted guitar player. Long seem the days gone when Ritchie Blackmore’s "Rainbow" defined a blues-based hard rock institute heavenly influenced by classical music. But this doesn’t mean to say Ritchie isn’t making an impact nowadays. Together with his partner, the enchanting Candice Night, his music might be void of rock but not of quality.
Blackmore’s Night brings us folk music out of past times making use of numerous traditional instruments. Harp, whistle, flute, banjo, hurdy gurdy and folksy guitar is what dominates here. One could call it renaissance rock. But Ritchie still gets hold of the electric guitar sometimes to bring some beautiful but sparse déjà vu feelings. Those are the moments I dig the most like in the festive Hark The Herald Angels Sing / Come All Ye Faithfull or the outstanding Wish You Were Here. The later was already present on their debut album Shadow Of The Moon but perfectly matches the atmosphere of this album. The guitar playing on this song is exceptional and shows Ritchie hasn’t lost his touch. And just listen to the acoustic Winter (Basse Dance) to hear that the ‘man in black’ doesn’t have to rely on the electric power to make an impression.
All through the album the angelic vocals of Candice sounds captivating and beautiful. The track Emmanuel shows the impact of her voice building up the fragility of the song together with the flute.
This music is very appropriate for the holiday season around Christmas so it isn’t a strange thing for Blackmore’s Night to come up with an album like Winter Carols. Most songs are traditional Christmas tunes that have been given a slight renaissance fitting. In that way the song Christmas Eve is an easy listening tune with an addictive hook that is the perfect choice for a single candidate.
Of course this kind of music belongs to the specific time of the year so I won’t fret on rating the album. I would just say: gather around your loved ones under the Christmas tree and enjoy the melodies of the season!
Citriniti - Between The Music And Latitude
Tracklist: Naked Words (5:50), Test (4:38), Comedown (5:12), Ritual (4:27), Inferno (5:05), Time Out (5:12), Latitude (4:17), Drunk (2:31), Invisible (5:23)
If you dig high octane progressive fusion instrumentals then I suggest you check out this second release from Citriniti asap. With the emphasis placed firmly on ensemble playing, the Citriniti brothers - Danilo (drums) and Domenico (bass), offer truly empathic playing as they lay down both an intricate and cohesive rhythm section for session guitar virtuoso Fabrizio Leo. Joining this central core of musicians are guest appearances from guitarists Salvatore Ciambrini and Francesco Fareri. Whilst Mistheria and Alex Argento add keyboard solos to three of the compositions.
Now it is fairly evident from the opening bars that Citriniti hail from a progressive metal background, as along with the heavy guitar, complexity is extremely high on the agenda throughout these nine instrumental tracks. However for Between The Music And Latitude we need to add in a fairly healthy dose of fusion to our heavy mix. I have to say, however, that there is little in the way of respite within the compositions, which remain busy, intricate and somewhat relentless from start to finish. However my remarks may well be steering you away from this album, and that is certainly not my intention, for all the tracks on Between... are captivating and the level of musicianship is truly awesome.
There is no way that I can describe in just a few paragraphs the music that Citriniti offer here, so I will use an expression once coined by Steve Hackett to describe some of his own more complex pieces: "Musical Karate". I make no comparison here to Mr Hackett's music, however his term nicely captures the intricate movements within Citriniti's music. Technical chops, however, are not enough to make music work for me, so we need contrast and that contrast comes from the short and concise solo sections (from all) that are liberally interspersed within each of the tracks.
As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, the emphasis on Between The Music And Latitude is firmly placed on ensemble playing and this is tightly meshed together from track one to track nine. Fabrizio Leo's guitar work works superbly, being both tight and incisive in the rhythmic sections, whilst his fluid soloing acts as a perfect foil elsewhere. In fact there is nothing to fault with the musicianship throughout. The icing on the cake comes from the crystal production so necessary for music of this complexity to be appreciated and Citriniti along with executive producer Mike Varney have certainly come up trumps here.
A difficult one to offer a numeric rating to really. If it were on chops alone it would be a nine plus, but I doubt this is going to do much for those DPRP readers who prefer their music in a more symphonic style. So I'll leave it that if my brief words have sparked your curiosity then my suggestion would be to check out some of the MP3s on offer at either the band's website, or MySpace site and judge for yourself. Fans of Liquid Tension Experiment, Spastik Ink, Howe, Wooten & Chambers will definitely find much to their liking.
Conclusion: 8- out of 10
Magnolia - Magnolia
Tracklist: Resa Utan Slut (4:14), Kvarnsten (4:34), Försvunnen (3:35), Trollbunden (4:04), Stanna Till! (4:08), Magnolia (5:09), Natt Blev Dag (4:39), Dalsländsk Polska (3:13), Vem Be Stammer? (6:48)
Swedish multi-instrumentalist Ronny Eriksson began writing his own songs in 1994 and began recording the tracks featured on this, his debut album, back in 2003. Naming the musical project Magnolia after Blue Cheer's Magnolia Caboze Babyfinger, Eriksson's main influences are the progressive blues rock power trios of the late 60s and early 70s such as Cream, Mountain and West, Bruce and Laing. Eriksson himself handles guitar, bass keyboards and vocals with drums played by Anders Hedström and Eriksson's younger brother Tomas Eriksson.
Anyone familiar with any of the bands mentioned as influences will be cognisant of the type of music to expect - prominent bass lines and soloing guitars underpinned by a steady flourish of rock steady drum beats and fills. Opening track Resa Utan Slu sets the scene with guest guitarist Love Tholin (in whose studio the album was recorded) adding some nice chops. Kvarnsten is more bass driven with a nice shift up a gear midway through to accompany the guitar solo. Försvunnen has a decent melodic chorus but the backing vocals of Eriksson's girlfriend Ewa Ulrika Gustaxsson are not as prominent as they could have been and are sadly under-used as this is the only track on which she appears. Nice gritty guitar sound though. Trollbunden sounds like the soundtrack to a seventies TV show (not meant as a bad thing as it is a very enjoyable instrumental!) while Stanna Till! is one of the simpler songs on the album with a riff that stays in the brain long after the song has finished. The double tracked guitar is a nice effect and the coinciding guitar and bass line gives the song a very full effect.
All the vocals on the album are in Swedish although that is no restriction to the enjoyment of the music. Even though I am a fan of lyrics I have never been put off by songs sung in languages that I have no experience of, indeed, it can often add to the enjoyment the way that vocal sounds that are unfamiliar to one's own language are used in conjunction with the music. Continuing with the album, title track Magnolia is a scorching instrumental with two soloing guitars simultaneously battling it out between the speakers - imagine Cream with a second guitarist and you'd not be far off the mark. Natt Blev Dag continues things in much the same way but things take a bit of a left turn with the electric folk music of Dalsländsk Polska which blends the guitar with a somewhat muted trombone, played by Carl Frederik Eriksson. Certainly unexpected, yet the different style of music is a welcome addition. Final track Vem Be Stammer? takes a while to get going, the opening section being rather plodding. There is a gradual increase in intensity and the song threatens to beak out at several points but is held back until virtually the last minute when the solo guitar really lets rip!
Overall, Eriksson has produced a fine debut album. The style of the music will inevitably not appeal to many prog purists as the blues-based idiom results in a number of tracks having a similar feel and style. But for fans of this kind of music, Magnolia has a lot to offer, particularly as the musicianship of Eriksson cannot be faulted at any level.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Julie Driscoll - 1969
Tracklist: A New Awakening (3:50), Those That We Love (4:45), Leaving It All Behind (4:48), Break Out (5:15), The Choice (6:00), Lullaby (4:21), Walk Down (4:12), I Nearly Forgot - But I Went Back (5:03)
The name Julie Driscoll might not be instantly familiar to a lot of people, but I suspect a significant number of readers will be familiar with the version of Dylan's This Wheel's On Fire by Brian Auger And The Trinity which was a big hit back in 1968. Driscoll's pedigree stretches further back than that having previously spent several years touring with Steampacket featuring as co-vocalist a certain Rod Stewart. The success of the 1968 single and sudden interest in her by the media caused Driscoll to revaluate her life, quit touring and plan an album of her own. Legendary sixties manager and owner of the Marmalade record label Giorgio Gomelsky liked what he heard on the original demos and agreed to finance the album, in the process introducing her to jazz pianist, arranger and future husband Keith Tippett. Unfortunately the collapse of Marmalade records delayed the release of the album until 1971 (on Polydor Records) by which time Driscoll and Tippett were exploring the boundaries of free jazz.
However, 1969 is largely folk and R&B based with the odd jazz flourish every now and again. The album features a stellar line up of musicians including Karl Jenkins (from Nucleus) Elton Dean, Nick Evans and Marc Charig (all members of Soft Machine at around the time of the fourth and fifth albums), Brian Godding, Jim Creegan and Brian Belshaw (from progressive rock band Blossom Toes [whose albums are worth seeking out]) as well as celebrated rock guitarist Chris Speeding, and equally celebrated jazz bassist and pianist Jeff Clyne and Keith Tippett.
Inspired by Nina Simone, Driscoll was not afraid to belt out a great vocal, as on opening number A New Awakening where Spedding's guitar is backed by some particularly fine R&B horns. Those That We Love should be something of a folk classic and I'm surprised that Fairport Convention never picked up on this song and interpreted it in their own inimitable way. Driscoll, accompanying herself on acoustic guitar, is backed by Clyne on bass and Tippett on piano and celeste, played with a deft and delicate touch. Leaving It All Behind reflects on the decision to turn her back on the blossoming pop scene to venture in a more esoteric direction. Again, the horn section is prominent as well as some very fluid oboe by Karl Jenkins. Break Out is essentially Driscoll fronting The Blossom Toes (who helped arrange the song). Consequently it is rather more of a rock song with some nice guitar work by Creegan. Any Blossom Toes fan will want this song in their collection!
The Choice and Lullaby reveal the strength of the song writing and singing. The former song sees Driscoll accompanied only by bass and flute, while the latter has only acoustic (by Driscoll) and electric (by Godding) guitar. The purity of Driscoll's voice is perfectly recorded on these tracks with a perfect balance between the vocals and supporting instrumentation. The duo of Driscoll and Godding also appear on closing track I Nearly Forgot - But I Went Back a trip of nostalgia and remembering with a particularly fine lyric. Penultimate track Walk Down has an interesting arrangement by Tippett with a rather jaunty horn section and a more narrative vocal delivery by Driscoll.
1969 hails from a time when musical boundaries were almost non-existent and releasing an album that mixed folk, rock and jazz was perfectly acceptable to both the artist and the buying public. Sadly that is not so much the case these days and I doubt if this album will find a huge audience. Hats off to Eclectic for re-releasing it and doing such a great job on the re-mastering and the presentation, a full booklet with new interview with Driscoll and complete lyrics. Not really for a strict progressive audience but will find favour with fans of any of the artists that guest or with old fogies like me who maintain a healthy curiosity and respect for the music and musicians of the late sixties.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Slychosis - Slychosis
Tracklist: Samuel (6:35), Innerspace (4:59), Dreamscapes (4:27), Galactic Wormhole (5:00), Cyber-Evil (3:23), Wild Night In Calcutta (4:57), Frosted Mini Suite (4:06), Glass ½ Full (3:18), Meltdown (5:08), Space Bass (2:05), Until Then (4:06), EVP (5:30)
Mississippi, perhaps more noted for a slightly different style of music, offers us Slychosis, a three piece band of seasoned musicians deeply rooted in the progressive mould. Comprising of Gregg Johns (vocals, guitars, mandolin & keyboards), Todd Sears (drums, percussion & vocals) and James Walker (bass & vocals) eventually manage to produce their debut album. I say eventually as I remember a few years back receiving a self-produced EP from these three musicians under the name of Karma-Kannix. For obvious reasons our Mississippian trio decided to change their name and given this unwanted opportunity decided to concentrate efforts on a full length release.
So in 2006 the fruits of their labours are finally with us in the form of this concept album. The story begins with the discovery of a dusty box containing a pocket-watch belonging to a young boy's grandfather. This is explained briefly in the opening narration of Samuel, spoken over a bed of droning keyboards and picked guitar chords. The tempo and feel of the track is restrained in a Floyd-like manner, and introduces us early on to the vocals of Gregg Johns. I suppose the Floyd analogies might also apply to the vocals as although the melody is quite engaging, the delivery certainly didn't appeal. The track picks up pace half way through with a neo-prog sounding keyboard solo before returning to the main body of the track to close.
Slychosis wear their Yes influences boldly and Innerspace could well have been a outtake from an early Yes album... although lyrically and musically Innerspace sails a little to "close to the edges" for my money. This said the track serves as a highlight from the album for me. As is Dreamscapes, opening with a riff straight out of Tull's early repertoire - this song contains one of the strongest hook-lines from the album. Equally catchy is the rocking instrumental Galactic Wormhole with it's SpaceRock influences and infectious harmony guitar themes.
It was about this point and after a few listenings that the band's broad spectrum of influences started to drop into place and although the music never really plagiarises these bands, their influence becomes more and more apparent. Wild Night In Calcutta and Cyber-Evil with more than a nod to ELP and the Frosted Mini Suite tips it's hat in Genesis' direction - amongst others. In true prog style Glass ½ Full is a splendid acoustic guitar piece with "mellotron" flute and light strings. Meltdown obviously touches on the band's heavier days...
So all the ingredients are there, but where Slychosis suffer for me, is not necessarily within the compositions, but more around the periphery of the music. Now I'm not a huge fan of narrations (but that is my problem and I appreciate many do). Gregg's voice is an acquired taste and one that didn't really rest easily with me, although tracks like Innerspace showed that this was by no means a lack of ability in this area. Whilst touching on the vocals I also am tiring (in general) of "effected" vocals and especially the processed mid enhanced one used by so many a band nowadays. Again Slychosis proved they were more than capable of a catchy melody and the harmonies worked well. The drums were another issue for me as they remained a little too plodding for much of the material. We are, however, treated to a mini solo in Wild Night In Calcutta, which again demonstrates that James Walker is certainly capable of more dynamic playing. Lastly the production, although more than acceptable, was a little lacklustre and inconsistent over the entire album.
So as mentioned earlier I've lived on and off with Slychosis for quite some time now, and despite my initial reaction (which wasn't great), the album has gradually grown on me. Not immensely, but certainly enough to appreciate the efforts of these three musicians. Despite my somewhat critical review of this album, I hope, inspired by the success of this album, that Slychosis will go on to produce more albums in the future.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10