Reviews in this issue:
- Massimo Izzizzari - Unstable Balance
- Michael Harris - Orchestrate
- Patrik Carlsson - Melodic Travel
- Tony Hernando – TH III Live!
- Martone - When The Aliens Come
- Edward Box - Moonfudge
- Francesco Fareri - Secrets Within
There appears to be a growing trend for what might best be described as the "guitar instrumental album". Certainly based on the increasing number of releases landing on the DPRP CD Reviews desk this growing phenomenon is escalating at a rapid rate. However this should not be seen as a new phenomenon, the genre has been in existence since the early Seventies producing such great exponents as Allan Holdsworth, Al Di Meola, Steve Morse and Jeff Beck to mention just a few. In recent years this has sparked many such releases from the progressive field: Jethro Tull's Martin Barre and Yes' Steve Howe having released several solo albums and soon Spock's Beard's Alan Morse will be added to this list. And to this fold a newer breed of "shredders" are to be included - pioneered by Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai and Greg Howe a whole host of newer and exciting talent is emerging.
Driving this movement in Europe is Finnish based Lion Music. So in the first of this two part Guitar Feature is dedicated to some of the current crop of releases emerging from the Lion's den. Part Two, which we plan to upload next week, will feature those signed to other labels and the ever growing independent releases.
Massimo Izzizzari - Unstable Balance
Tracklist: Unstable Balance (5:59), Access Denied (4:30), Wordgame (5:05), Television Man (5:14), Freeze Frame (7:29), The Alchemist (7:29), Violation Of Privacy (5:09), Take It Or Leave It (6:04), The Enchanted Forest (5:25), Teresa (3:45)
Right from the opening bars it is evident that Massimo Izzizzari has enlisted some really good musicians to perform the music we hear on Unstable Balance, and to be honest you don't need to go past the first track to work out that these guys have good understanding of just what is required. For Izzizzari's slant on the guitar instrumental he takes us through a journey of funky rock compositions with liberal doses of jazz, fusion, rock and metal.
Unstable Balance is a fiery album with the majority of the ten cuts being played with gusto and passion. The guitar is blistering and fluid, but mercifully with a skilful melodic sense. This is backed up by a crisp and tight rhythm section consisting of Azegello Izzizzari (no relation - sorry couldn't resist :0) on drums and bass man Mario Guarini. So with Massimo on guitar (keys, choirs & programming) the foundation for each track is tight, grooving and concise. So whatever goes on top is a bonus and here again Massimo does not disappoint, displaying a stylish and controlled display of guitar pyrotechnics.
Stand out tracks - difficult on such a consistent album - however the album opener captured the mood immediately with a strong blend of fusion, funk and rock; The Alchemist is an altogether rockier piece with interesting atmospherics and some great guitar; The Enchanted Forest - a more laid back tune with a catchy hook; and finally the "obligatory" instrumental ballad Teresa - closing the album on a more subdued platform. However all the tracks are noteworthy in some way...
Note that production is also spot on with all the instruments being easily distinguishable and well mixed. Another string to Massimo Izzizzari's bow.
Izzizzari lists Greg Howe, Jon Scofield, Richie Kotzen, Scott Henderson as influences and certainly a few others came to mind whilst listening to Unstable Balance. Certainly from what I've heard here he can certainly hold his head high within such illustrious company. A great album from within the genre and one that amply shows Massimo Izzizzari's fluid guitar work and compositional skills. Perhaps a tad long for an instrumental album at just under the hour long mark, but enjoyable all the same. Difficult one to rate as once again the progressive element is not high on the agenda - so bear in mind as with many of the releases here, that a point or two could be added if you have a leaning towards instrumental music from related genres.
Conclusion: 7+ out of 10
Michael Harris - Orchestrate
Tracklist: Opus Conceptus (4:49), String Theory (4:37), The Mad Composer’s Rage (6:58), Notes From The Kursk (5:53), Battle At Storm’s Edge (6:59), Guiprice (1:27), Mysterioso (5:49), Octavian II (5:34), The Anti Shred (2:14), Schizo Forte (5:47)
To those who aren’t the biggest fan of instrumental albums by guitar virtuosos, the idea of listening to an album that is basically a six-stringer’s take on neo-classical music will probably not be their idea of an enjoyable fifty minutes. In the wrong hands (such as professional show-offs like Yngwie J Malmsteen, who indeed attempted something similar a few years ago) it could be a pompous, tedious, egotistical mess – or even something of a laughing stock (who can forget This Is Spinal Tap, where Nigel Tufnel talks of having written a piece inspired by Bach... entitled Lick My Love Pump!). Its therefore to Texan virtuoso Michael Harris’ credit that, whilst this an undoubtedly bombastic and somewhat overblown affair (how could it not be!), his sure sense of musical structure, and his overriding objective (appropriate to all his work) that the melody is king, means that this is a far more enjoyable listen than it may appear on paper.
Using the structure of classical music as much as the actual melodies (although there are some well-known motif’s incorporated into some of the pieces), and playing all the instruments (bar the drums) himself, Harris has fashioned an entertaining album which flows well and doesn’t drag its feet. Its hard to pick out highlights, but both Notes From The Kursk and Battle At Storm’s Edge both major on the heavier, more metallic side of his music, whilst at the other end of the spectrum are the classical guitar-led interlude Guiprice and the aptly-titled The Anti-Shred, a slightly darker piece featuring some almost Clapton-like solo work. Mysterioso, meanwhile, seems to dispense with the classical trappings altogether and sees Harris playing some wonderfully soaring solo’s in the vein of David Gilmour, as well as making extensive use of the wah wah peddle.
It's perhaps inevitable that Harris can’t resist finally letting all that pent up energy go on the shred-tastic final track Schizo Forte, and this might test the patience of those not enamoured with this style of virtuoso-led music. Another criticism might be that Harris should perhaps have used some real orchestration rather than keyboards, as this would have helped given the music a richer, warmer feel. An outside producer might also have been useful in terms of arranging the songs in order that they could breathe a little more.
In conclusion, whilst not for all, Harris has for the most part succeeded where many fail and produced an album which melds classical ideas with the virtuoso guitarists touch successfully. Fans of the likes of Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and their ilk may want to add a point or so to the rating, as Harris (although somewhat unsung) deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as his more famous peers.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Patrik Carlsson - Melodic Travel
Tracklist: Settler’s Pleasure (4:11), Battlefield (4:40), Kristiina’s Song (5:01), Caribbean Uptempo (3:38), Gate To Heaven (5:30), Liberty City (4:04), Luxian Minor (3:43), Archipelago Blues (3:56), Night Vision (4:28), The Great A (3:49), Hip ‘n Melodic (4:19), Desederia (3:46), Happy Quarter (4:50), Naboo (4:37), Spanish Vaganza (5:42), Silence (4:00)
It would appear that Lion Music have found a never ending source of guitar maestros, as each month yet another six string genius emerges. To this ever growing list we add Swedish born Patrik Carlsson, who like many of his ilk have been playing guitar since leaving the womb, locking themselves in a room with sustenance being left at the doorway so as not to interrupt the twenty four hour a day practicing necessary to hone their skills. Now if this sounds a little cynical please forgive me, however having listened through thirty to forty such albums over the last year (and many more before that) I find myself struggling to decide on a system of rating said musicians - against each other - and against their predecessors.
Now like many such albums the cost of recording and producing a "full band" CD is beyond the financial grasp of the artist. So the whole affair becomes a solo effort. And invariably it sinks or swims at this point. Mercifully Melodic Travel isn't just a bombardment of notes accompanied by an onslaught of poorly played backing attempting to sound like a band. Yes the music has a "full band" arrangement, however here it is thoughtfully done and projects Carlsson's guitar rather than impeding it. The backing for much of Settler’s Pleasure for instance seems more about keeping time than to move the track along. And certainly with Carlsson's "big" guitar sound the album gets off to a good start. The pace remains restrained for Battfield and although keyboard layers are added, the guitar is still to forefront. Kristiina’s Song again has light and airy rhythm, although as each new track unfolds the guitar work becomes increasingly more intricate. Fortunately Patrik returns often to the catchy main theme and so keeps the interest from waning. The tempo is raised for Caribbean Uptempo and is reminiscent of Steve Morse at times.
Gate To Heaven nicely builds from the delicate piano intro, through a gently played bluesy guitar theme, letting rip and then finally resting back to its' early format. Great track! In contrast Liberty City has a great funky groove, with a nicely punctuated brassy rhythm section. Luxian Minor is light and breezy Santana like arrangement with a pleasant Latin lilt. Presumably the albums title derives from this journey through differing musical styles.
And this journey continues for another thirty or so minutes and sadly brings me to the drawback with Melodic Travel - it is way too long at just over seventy minutes. I can see that Patrik Carlsson may view this album as a unique opportunity to lay out his wares and generate as much interest as possible. However by about the forty minute mark, unless something absolutely remarkable came into my headphones I was unlikely to appreciate anything further. And in all truthfulness nothing really did, although there were some great moments and some very listenable tunes towards the latter part of the CD. So in the end I feel this might perhaps have better served Carlsson as two albums.
Another reason to suggest splitting this album into two is that the "second half" of the CD was definitely much lighter and almost totally abandoned the rockier edge of the opening tracks. We see Carlsson exploring a much jazzier side along with some niffty acoustic tunes - Spanish Vaganza being a standout piece here.
But it seems a little mean to penalise something that in theory offers value for money. So I won't! As it stands Melodic Travel is very listenable album which I'm sure I will return to from time to time.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Tony Hernando – TH III Live!
CD: The Stalker [intro] (1:33), Now (5:03), The Edge (6:34), Truer Than Ever (3:11), Duelling Waters (5:58), Into The Black (4:48), Broken Hero (8:27), Men And Machines (9:10), The Awakening (4:10), Behind The Catwalk (4:58), Outsiders (7:12), State Of Mind (4:19), Time To Believe (4:07)
DVD: Into The Black, Duelling Waters, Now, The Silence Of Loss, The Awakening, The Edge, At The Crossroads
I’ve been listening to my old Yngwie Malmsteen albums a lot recently, so I’m in just the mood to review shred-guitar instrumental albums. I don’t want to suggest that I’m the world’s biggest Malmsteen fan, that shred-guitar instrumental albums constitute my favourite kind of music, or that I incline to compare all new guitarists to Malmsteen: none of those is true. But I’m pretty open to hearing what a new guitarist can do with the – let’s face it – pretty well-worn genre that was more or less pioneered by Malmsteen on those still-impressive early albums. At the moment, it’s my job to consider what Tony Hernando finds to do that’s new.
To my regret, the answer is “not much.” In the next few paragraphs, I’ll qualify that dismissive remark as much as I can, but I won’t pretend I can recommend this new CD/DVD package with any significant enthusiasm. What we have here is an excellent guitarist backed by a fine, tight band playing more-than-decent guitar instrumentals – and that’s about the size of it.
I want to begin, actually, by talking about the DVD, because I’m pretty sure that watching it through decreased my enjoyment of Hernando’s music and made clearer some of the flaws in that music. I can’t speak about the bonus features promised in the Lion Music promo material that accompanied the discs – a documentary, an extra drum solo, and a video clip and photo gallery – because on the DVD I received, those features were simply inaccessible, for technical reasons I assume. But I was able to watch footage of a live performance (filmed in Bilbao, Spain in 2005) of seven songs. Here’s what I saw: respectably filmed but mundane footage of five musicians on a fairly cramped bare stage ripping away (with subdued enthusiasm and obvious skill but almost no movement) at seven very, very, VERY similar guitar instrumentals. With a couple of exceptions (notably Duelling Waters, which at least takes a while to build up to the inevitable), the songs begin with a half-dozen or a dozen bars of crunchy riffery, most ably and tastefully punctuated by the superb drumming of Mike Terrana (who has, incidentally, played with both Malmsteen and German guitar hero Axel Rudi Pell in the past) before resolving into, essentially, a three-, four-, or five-minute Hernando guitar solo.
So that’s the DVD, and what I’ve said about it I can duplicate with a few changes to comment on the CD. Thankfully, the CD features a few tracks that are slightly more varied – so, for example, Broken Hero, like Duelling Waters, at least slows down the tempo – although the guitar soloing here goes on for about eight minutes, rather than three, four, or five minutes. And there’s a surprise at the very end of the CD, on the track Time To Believe: Hernando sings! His vocals are very heavily processed – phased and half-buried in the mix, underneath too-prominent riffery – but the very fact of having vocals makes this song different in feel from the others. (I have to report, though, that towards the end of the song, the vocals are almost completely overridden by, yes, a guitar solo – he’s soloing even over his own singing!) So, compared to the DVD, there are a few pleasant variations on the CD; for the most part, though, the album is an hour-long guitar solo broken up into too-similar songs.
Now look: before you ask me “Well, what do you expect from an instrumental shred album?”, please believe that I do understand this genre and its limitations. But at this point in guitar-instrumental history, twenty-three years (incredible, isn’t it?) after Yngwie released his first Rising Force album, surely we can ask for something new from our would-be guitar heroes. Hernando’s talent and skill are not in question; but if he wants people to sit through an hour of his music, I hope he’ll work harder at writing compositions that do more than provide a setting for his admittedly excellent guitar solos. I like to listen to solos as much as the next guy – probably more than most next guys! – but I want a song, too, and that’s what’s missing from Hernando’s work. Next time, maybe.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Martone - When The Aliens Come
Tracklist: Starz Scarz (5:17), Flatulation Farm (4:09), The Four Horsemen (8:36), Really Now! (4:48), Mike Crow’s Mailbox of Doom! (6:13), Fumble Fingers (5:17), Pung Yao (3:45), Angel (3:48), O My God I’m Swelling! (4:59), Double FF’ (6:38), Maneemanaw (9:36), Techno Bee’z (5:19), When The Aliens Come (7:07)
Invariably instrumental concept albums just don't work for me, as merely giving an instrumental track a name doesn't necessarily convey any particular relationship to the music. So a whole album is likely to struggle. However with When The Aliens Come Dave Martone has managed admirably to capture the idea of an alien culture and alien music 400 years in the future. Now with such a concept it is probably easy to understand that musically When The Aliens Come might be a difficult album to get into and certainly Martone has come up with a rather bizarre slant on the guitar instrumental.
I must admit that I'm at a loss to offer any pointers or comparators to help guide you on a decision to check out this album from Canadian shredder Dave Martone. It really does stand on its own. And despite what I've read on the net, comparisons to the usual suspects, "Steve Luketrucci Malmstriani", will not help I fear. Granted many of the techniques employed by these guys can be heard in abundance on this album, but this is not another Surfing With The Alien or Alien Love Secrets - despite any similarity in titles. Although this bold undertaking might appeal to fans of Steve Via's more experimental material.
The Dave Martone band consists of drummer/percussionist Daniel Adair (who also plays with Nickelback) and David Spidel on bass. With Dave Martone these three guys form a tight and cohesive rhythm section and certainly elevate the music on this album. Along with these two guys are a number of guest musicians including four guitarists (?), a drummer, a tabla player and a female vocalist. As I'm working from a promo it is difficult to say exactly how these guest musicians fit into the big picture although the tabla and ethereal vocals are easier to pinpoint.
I will attempt a quick overview of some of the material, including some highs and lows from the album, to see if we can nail some pointers. Starz Scarz opens the album with some atmospheric keys, percussion and hammered on guitar before a driving and grinding metal riff takes up the mantel. Variations on this run through the track and get the album off to a good start. Flatulation Farm is a trickier affair with the rhythm section firing on all cylinders and some impressive guitar from Martone. Angel is the closest the album comes to having a simple song structure - nice melodic guitar and a familiar hook-line. O My God I’m Swelling! despite the title is a cute track with a Country Rock basis, although like most of the album nothing is simple and we do drift off. And this is indicative of the album as a whole, moments of shear brilliance interspersed with atmospheric nonsense. This said there probably isn't a bad track. I could however certainly live without ever hearing another "shredding" version of Rimsky-Korsakov's the Flight Of The Bumblebee - I must have at least ten adaptations of this particular piece. In fairness at least to Dave Martone has made an effort to inject his own stamp with Techno Bee’z.
Now it could well be that Dave Martone's album was the last one I chose to review for this little feature or perhaps the fact that it was probably the most difficult of the albums to get into, but I really did struggle with this one. I liked the concept, I liked the way the music captured the concept, I even liked most of the tracks and certainly Martone's playing is never in question. However the album didn't particularly have a flow and just seemed to be a collection of disparate tunes on a common theme, if that makes any sense. And again at 75 minutes this is just way too long. So I admire and commend the effort but can't really say that I liked the album as a whole. Ask me in 400 years, I might feel differently.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Edward Box - Moonfudge
Tracklist: Jack In The Box (4:35), Welcome To The Grindhouse (4:48), Axis Of Evil (5:08), Hourglass (4:10), Stanton's Stomp (4:04), Trailblazer (3:05), Downstream (4:01), Pasadena (5:32), Reverse The Polarity (4:17), Big Screen Love Theme (3:54)
Moonfudge is the second release from Edward Box and continues our foray into the guitar instrumental album for this update. In 2004 he appeared on Lion Music's The Spirit Lives On: The Music Of Jimi Hendrix Vol 1 which also featured Michael Harris, Greg Howe and Richie Kotzen amongst others. And previous to this was his first instrumental release Plectrumhead from 2003. But despite the fact that Ed lives only a few miles away from me, until this album arrived his name and music had totally eluded me.
So I cannot comment on Plectrumhead, however I can tell that Moonfudge owes a far greater allegiance to the heavy rock and metal genres than it does to progressive rock. This is riff heavy music bringing to mind the more imaginative exponents within the field to mind. Michael Schenker, Joe Satriani, Ynwgie Malmsteen and George Lynch. Although some of the riffs could stretch further back for me conjuring Jimi Hendrix, Robin Trower and at times Jimmy Page. And it is in fact the strong riffs that give this CD its magic. Granted Ed's soloing is top notch but it is the catchy riffs employed that help to keep the music flowing and dynamic. Well along with the powerhouse rhythm section of Mick Robson (drums) and Neil Lough (bass) that is.
Along with heavier riffy material Ed throws in a couple of great instrumental "ballads" - the Satriani-esque Downstream and the gentle Hourglass. Both serve as welcome resting points on the album and demonstrate Ed's melodic sensibilities.
Now I have kept this review relatively short, not as a reflection on Edward Box's music or guitar skills, but more that there is little in the way of progressive music to be found here. (I can almost hear him sighing with relief). However as Edward Box is one of the only shining UK lights from the Lion Music den and as guitar afficiando holds his ground exceptionally well within this illustrious roster I felt compelled to write a few words. I have also not offered a rating on this album and again this not a reflection on Ed, but more on it's appeal within these pages. However if you have a little spare room for some riff heavy guitar instrumentals on your shelves then certainly check this one out.
Conclusion: Not Rated
Francesco Fareri - Secrets Within
Tracklist: Into The Dark Line: Secrets Within (7:41), Circle (8:11), Lies (6:40), Sonic Garden (2:33), The Waves (6:42), Destiny (6:23), Liquid World (6:35), Present Glow (2:58), Scenes (8:46) Out Of The Dark Line: Parallel Lives (2:49), Wood of Silence (1:34), Masquerade (3:35), Undefined (4:04), Seasons (2:34), Secret World (1:12)
"Lightning fast Italian shredder" - just about sums it up for me - and to be perfectly honest I could happily leave this review at this point and refer you to the soundfiles on Francesco Fareri's audio page, but alas as a reviewer you take the rough with the smooth, and although this album did absolutely nothing for me it would be unfair of me to dismiss Francesco Fareri's music so readily.
Now reading through Lion Music's website notes Mr Fareri is passionate about his music:
"I love my music and my way of playing, I think to be honest with my self playing what I like more and not playing other things to make money; music is my life but not my job, to have money I have a normal job in an office, so my music is EXACTLY the mirror of myself."
But for me the first section of this album entitled Into The Dark Line: is bereft of any feeling or emotion and is almost entirely played at breakneck speed. Now I could understand if this was a 100m Olympic final - the fastest runner wins, however music surely isn't just how many notes can be crammed into a bar, a phrase, a verse, a chorus, an album! Is it? So what we have is a million mile an hour, instrumental, progressive metal, shredfest - with occasional "brief" breaks to lift the spirits.
Over the past few months I have listened to many guitarists, (many from Lion Music), and all have displayed their own subtle variations and slants on this well trodden path. Most I have to say quite successfully. However and I hasten to add, for me, this one is way off the mark. Granted there are moments where the music is allowed to breathe, but these are far too short and infrequent. In between these breathing spaces the music just an onslaught of notes and beats. I shall not comment on the rhythm section or on the bloody inane double bass drum work ...
Are there any saving graces? Well the last sixteen minutes or so, Out Of The Dark Line, are acoustic pieces. Solo acoustic piano, solo acoustic guitar, piano and acoustic guitar duet.
"Lightning fast Italian shredder"! Last year I had the misfortune to sit through two listenings of another of Lion Music's releases, Journey Into The Fourth Dimension and this album could well be it's twin brother, although Jose del Rio was a "lightning fast Chilean shredder". I mention this as much of what I said in that review applies here sadly.
In hindsight I should have just left it with the opening quote. I didn't though, so I'll leave you with another quote from the Lion Music site:
"Francesco has a rabid following worldwide, his previous solo album ‘Forbidden Dimension’ is a perennial seller and featured in Guitar9.com top 10 overall sales chart for the year 2005. ‘Secrets Within’ is expected to repeat this success."
See - what do I know.
Conclusion: 2 out of 10