Reviews in this issue:
- Trion - Pilgrim
- Arti & Mestieri – First Live In Japan
- Alex Argento - Ego
- Prime Mover - Imperfekt
- Metaphor - The Sparrow
Trion - Pilgrim
Tracklist: Pilgrim (7:45), Silence Of The Universe (4:42), Walk On Land ((5:16), How We Used To Go (2:09), The Magnificent Forest (4:58), Reveal The Mystery (4:12), Giant Man (4:36), The Book (5:51), Blue Shadows (3:07), A Dream (2:01), The Deep Ocean (4:03) Bonus Tracks Out There Somewhere (4:26), Frank [new version] (22:57)
Whereas the booklet to Trion's first album, the DPRP recommended Tortoise, was a tribute to the great Roger Dean, the new album, an instrumental concept called Pilgrim, is very much a homage to another great design team closely associated with classic progressive rock, Hipgnosis. And jolly good it is too, with a front cover bringing to mind Going For The One and the photographic and layout of the booklet tipping the hat towards several Pink Floyd CD booklets, the trio of modern proggers once again lay out their influences.
The artwork may be spot on but what of the music? Happily the trio of keyboardist Edo Spanninga, guitarist Eddie Mulder (both from Flamborough Head) and drummer Menno Boomsma (from Odyssice) have had no problem in coming up with an hour's worth of simply wonderful music. Although Trion was initially a one-off project, the critical acclaim and overwhelmingly positive response that Tortoise elicited has ensured the return of the musicians for a sophomore release. As mentioned it is a concept album, but with no lyrics the concept is largely restricted to the brief tale written in the CD booklet. Having said that, there is a definite cohesion to the music which has a natural flow throughout the album. The sound of the band has changed a bit with Spanninga not restricting himself to Mellotron samples this time but also employing lashing of Hammond organ, piano and vintage synth sounds. This expanded palette adds a depth to the music and provides a greater variety of textures, such as the church organ on the ethereal The Book. Whereas Spanninga has extended his sound sources, Mulder has, to a large extent, simplified his using a lot of acoustic guitars, particularly towards the beginning of the album on such melodious tunes as Walk On Land and How We Used To Go and later on in Blue Shadows. Of course, the Mellotron sounds are still in evidence throughout but blended in with the other instrumentation. I just hope that this time round the so-called prog purists won't berate the band for using samples rather than original instruments. I'm sure they wouldn't be so keen on the original instruments if they knew how heavy, clunky and unreliable they are and had experience of having to transport them around, endure them continually breaking down and keeping the things in tune!
One of the reasons The Pilgrim has arrived four years after the debut (the slow delivery not being anything to do with the nature of the tortoise!) is that the trio decided to focus on the joy of making music. And that shows in the style of the music. Each piece is thoroughly considered, with only the required instrumentation being included, the old axiom "less is more" holds true. Boomsma doesn't appear on some tracks which allows a lot more space for the other instruments, like the wonderful A Dream which is mainly piano and acoustic guitar. However, it makes his subtle contributions all the more relevant. Generally, the album is quite laid back, there are no fast and furious guitar or keyboard runs and, in my opinion, this is an overall benefit, the music is what is important and it is music that has style.
As if an hour's worth of new music wasn't enough, Trion and Cyclops have added value to the release by including nearly half an hour of bonus material. But not bonus as in "bits swept up off the studio floor" but as in "tracks I'd have willingly paid for if released on a separate EP"! They also make it possible for the new convert to Trion to almost get the complete releases of the band on the two albums. Out There Somewhere was previously released on Cyclops Sampler 6 and makes a welcome reappearance here and is accompanied by a totally new recording of Frank, originally released on Finnish Colossus Productions The Spaghetti Epic a musical tribute to Sergio Leone's Once Upon A Time In The West. Approximately two minutes shorter than the original version, the piece is still as powerful as it was when it first appeared on that album, although probably has more impact placed at the end of this album than coming after a solid two hours of other prog interpretations of characters from that western.
All-in-all, Trion have come up with another great album that despite being influenced by great music from the past is still a progression on the first album. Irrespective of the rights, wrongs or indifferences about bands replicating the type of music that was most popular in a different era, this is quality music that sounds great and is excellently played and that is all that should really matter. So why not join Jemetrion the Tortoise as he "embarks on another journey, through a wonderful world full of questions and answers..." I'm sure you won't regret it.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Arti & Mestieri – First Live In Japan
Tracklist: Gravita 9,81 (4:34) Strips (4:25) Corrosione (1:30) Positivo / Negativo (3:40) In Cammino (6:14) Valzer Per Domani (4:13) Mirafiori (5:53) Nove Lune Dopo (1:06) Aria Pessante (4:10) Dimensione Terra (3:52) Kawasaki (6:11) Glory (2:44) Marilyn (5:24) Arcanciel (3:53) Alba Mediterranea (4:37) 2000 (9:23)
Italy is well known for its thriving progressive scene, but perhaps less people are as aware of the wealth of jazz fusion bands it has produced. Area, Perigeo, Nova, Aghora, Venegoni & Co, Bella Band, & Il Baricentro are just a few of the great bands I am pleased to have in my collection.
Perhaps best of all is Arti & Mestieri as they blend a significant amount of symphonic progressive rock into their slick fusion, particularly on their superb debut disc Tilt from way back in 1974. The following year’s release, the equally wonderful Giro Di Valzer Per Domani saw a marked move further into fusion realms, but it really is a delightful album, and one which I still love to hear today.
This stupendous live album, recorded on a Japanese tour in 2005, is superbly structured to appeal to long standing fans and also makes a perfect introduction for new listeners. The album leads off with a 5 track suite from the classic debut album Tilt, proving that the current line-up is more than equal to the task of recreating the soaring melodies and warm Mediterranean atmosphere of the original album. With stratospheric violins, sumptuous Mellotron, razor-sharp guitar, saxes and flutes, this terrific, tasteful melding of fusion and prog should delight all fans of Real Music.
The album continues with an even longer suite taken from the second album Giro, and here drummer extraordinaire Furio Chirico really shines! He is without doubt my favourite drummer of all time, and his performance on these tracks, as on the original versions, is quite staggering to hear! He plays with an incredible energy and vitality, complex, nimble, ultra fast and amazing!
By the end of this blissful, 7 track suite, with its delightful melodious tunes and dexterous musicianship from all parties I am replete and ready to declare the album a sure-fire winner, but it doesn’t end there. We still have six more tracks to go, including one more from Giro, a few from the 2000 album Murales, and one from 2002’s Articollezione. These last two albums are smoother and less challenging than their earlier works, but the tracks chosen here stand up pretty well, ensuring the album doesn’t end like a damp squib.
I must also mention keyboard wizard Beppe Crovella, who played a large part in the 90’s revival of progressive rock in Italy, producing and performing with many of the acts on the 'Vinyl Magic' new progressive label. His sterling performances throughout this disc on Mellotron, organ, synths and piano add symphonic textures aplenty and he contributes lead lines and solos all over the place. He’s a very accomplished player indeed. Kawasaki is a breathtaking solo piano showcase for Crovella, and is delightful to listen to. Fans of Patrick Moraz’s more recent solo piano works will love this.
If there is a slight weakness on the disc, it would be the vocals. They aren’t terrible, and are even quite amusing when he (Iano Nicolo) attempts some Demetrios Stratos style yodelling, but they really don’t match up to the ultra high level of the musicianship on display. Never mind, the vocals are used quite sparingly, and shouldn’t impair your enjoyment too much.
At seventy five minutes, this is quite a long disc, but the time passes in a blur, and it all seems to be over all too soon. Nothing for it but to cue up the CD back at the beginning and hear it all again!
If you already love Arti & Mestieri, don’t waste any time in acquiring this disc. If you have yet to experience them, this is a great introduction and should be high on your shopping lists.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Alex Argento - Ego
Tracklist: Moving Around "E" (5:50), Brainsick (6:30), Synchronical Steps (5:32), Mr. Shuffle's Land (8:25), Metal Detector (4:50), Embrace The World (7:05), Genius (4:39), Time Warnings (6:44), Vibrations (5:08), Groovus in Fabula (7:33)
Alex Argento, for those of you who don't know, is an Italian keyboardist and composer. In recent years, he has worked with many of the most talented musicians in the world ranging from Virgil Donati and Simon Philips to Marco Sfolgi and the Citriniti brothers. In 2007 Alex released his first solo fusion album titled Ego and once again surrounded himself with some of the best players in the business. Ego consists of Marco Sfolgi (James Labrie) on guitar and Stefano Ruscica on drums. Guest guitar soloists include Fabrizio Leo, Alessandro Benvenuti, Vittorio Falanga with John Reshard and Andrea Casali handling bass duties on a few tracks.
Every so often an album crosses my path that grabs a hold of me and doesn't let go. Put simply, this is just that album. Ego seamlessly encompasses the funky grooves of Greg Howe, the jazzy chord changes of Tribal Tech and the heavy backdrop and meter shifts of Planet X to create something that exists within its own niche of the fusion world. Everything that drove me to appreciate this type of music is here and in great form. The songs on Ego can be placed into roughly two categories using the above influences as a reference; the heavier, Planet X like songs and the slightly mellower and groovy Frank Gambale and Tribal Tech based songs. This makes for really good balance as opposed to just sticking to one style over the other.
As a musician, I have grown rather tired of listening to other musicians create music with no feeling that reflects nothing more than how fast or how complex they can play. Not that there is anything wrong with this but, I have found that I almost always go back to the music that ventures into organic, not mechanical, complexity. Ego is the perfect example of complex music with purpose. Every meter shift and chord change is there for a reason. Nothing is out of place or forced on here. Though there is a lot of improvisation by Marco and Alex, what is best for the song is always kept in mind.
It's very difficult to describe music with words and this is no exception. All I can emphasize is that Ego is modern fusion at its best. If you have any interest at all in this genre or the groups mentioned before than don't pass this up. This is one of the best albums I have heard all year and it just keeps getting better with each listen. Highly recommended!
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Prime Mover - Imperfekt
Tracklist: Telefonsamtal Frän Nor (4:29), Mest är Värk (3:59), Sväljer Mina Ord (4:48), In I Dimman (5:29), Ingenting (8:35), Styrd Av Plastkort (5:00), I Verkligheten (4:51), Sänt Vi Behöver (5:03), Enbart Psykopat (5:24), Sagt Och Gjort (3:05), En Yrkeshjältes Vedermödor (10:19)
The start of what would later become Prime Mover can be traced back to the late 80s, when Michael Karlsson (guitars, background vocals) and Roger Nyman (bass) started to make music together. It wasn’t until 1999 that their debut CD-r Mr Zingelmann was released. On that release they were joined by Dennis Nordell (lead vocals) and Sebastian Teir (keyboards, bouzouki and background vocals). In 2001 they released Put In Perspective. On the album Kenneth Lagerström (drums) was the new guy. And after 2004’s Prime Mover Alias Drivkraft they now release Imperfekt.
How wise is it to name your new album Imperfekt? Some reviewers are bound to make remarks about that. Finland's Prime Mover state in the press bio that they received mixed reactions about their previous album Prime Mover Alias Drivkraft. That’s also Imperfekt’s’ main theme. It deals with the fact that, in everyday life, it isn’t easy to fulfil demands and live up to expectations. Very rarely something feels like it’s perfect. Of course the album is not perfect. But in life very little is. This review for instance won’t be perfect. We can only try.
The album looks good, though. The sleeve design is modern and a good representation of the music on the disc inside. The lyrics are printed against a background of beautiful photo’s from Finland’s natural beauty (made by background vocalist and album guest Olivia Häggblom). English translations of the Swedish lyrics can be found on the bands website. ‘Swedish lyrics?’; I hear you say. ‘I thought you said they came from Finland?’. That’s true, but it seems that Swedish is spoken by a 6% minority in Finland. So a beautiful booklet and sleeve but a real shame about the terrible photo’s of the band members and guests. They could have made more of an effort there!
The album sounds like it’s been recorded live. That gives the album a very… uhm… lively feel but sometimes also a bit messy. The quality of the songs however is mostly above average, although it’s difficult to place Prime Mover in the progressive landscape. The songs sound modern but added sounds from the Fender Rhodes, clavinet, Hammond and a little Mellotron sometimes steers the sound into the 70s. The guitar sound remind me of 90s grunge bands like Soundgarden. The same applies to Dennis Nordell’s voice. I really like his voice. His sound and vocal melodies do sometimes resemble Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Audioslave as in parts of Ingenting (with it’s Metallica ending) and Styrd Av Plastkort (with it’s Porcupine Tree opening). Another influence I do hear is the jazz rock side of Echolyn especially on the very good Mest är Värk. They succeed in mixing all these influences into a style of their own. Maybe that is why the feel of the album reminded me of the late Liquid Scarlett. Hard too place and a little bit cocky. But where Liquid Scarlett also had an experimental side Prime Mover is more straightforward.
I’m not always very fond of the arrangement choices they made. Sväljer Mina Ord for example starts with a very interesting guitar riff from guitar player Michael Karlsson that never returns again. After three minutes the song stops to continue again with a completely different melody. It also contains an exciting guitar solo backed by a screaming Hammond, but the song as a whole does not feel right. The arrangement for the jazzy break in album opener Telefonsamtal Frän Nor sounds a bit cheesy and the same goes for the ‘la la la’ break in Mest är Värk. As a whole the songs are good but a little more self criticism would have made them even better. Sagt Och Gjort is a short song with lead vocals from Sebastian Teir. That’s not a success. He should leave the singing to the far superior Dennis Nordell.
There are plenty of highlights to mention. The very progressive Ingenting is an impressive song with lots of nice breaks and tempo changes. It features some great clavinet and Fender Rhodes work from keyboard player Sebastian Teir. Also I Verkligheten has a lot to offer in it’s nearly five minutes, especially the catchy Moog part sounds great. Enbart Psykopat is simply a beautiful song which opens with a very moving guitar motif (that does return again!). It has a strong chorus that I would want to sing with them if it wasn’t for the Swedish lyrics I keep choking on. In I dimman has a lot of tension, which reminded me a bit of Ritual's song The Groke. Again it has a beautiful chorus, but you have to wait nearly three minutes for it.
It may sound as if the album is a bit of a mixed bag but that is not true. I really enjoyed the album but some of the songs could have been much better if the band had looked to them with a more critical eye. Overall I would say that Prime Mover is a talented band and Imperfekt is an album that shows that one day Prime Mover might just make that perfect album.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Metaphor - The Sparrow
Tracklist: Inquisition (4:44), Song From A Nearby Star (1:52), Deus Vult (5:20), Stella Maris (6:17), Death In Eden (8:09), Challallah Khaeri (11:46), Garden Building (1:48), Sick For What The Heart Wants (2:55), Stranded (8:22), Flower Harvest (1:50), We Are Many And They Are Few (2:56), Mother Night (4:49), God Will Break Your Heart (6:42), Afterture (3:16)
There can be a tendency amongst reviewers to cherry-pick the albums they review, in other words choose releases that are almost guaranteed to appeal. I can hold my hands up and say that I’ve certainly been guilty of that. On this occasion however given that Metaphor‘s previous output has not received the most glowing of DPRP reviews I was intrigued to discover if the band had upped the anti on this their third CD. Since the 1999 debut Starfooted the rhythm section has undergone a change with Greg Miller now providing drums and Jim Anderson on bass duties. Otherwise vocalist John Mabry, guitarist Malcolm Smith and keyboardist Marc Spooner remain. The bands origins have been well documented in previous reviews including their Genesis heritage, which was still in evidence on 2004’s Entertaining Thanatos album. I wont dwell too much on the concept behind The Sparrow suffice to say that it’s based on the similarly titled sci-fi novel by Mary Doria Russell.
Opening song Inquisition reveals a band wearing their influences firmly on their sleeve. Ringing Hackett style guitar, melodious organ punctuations and Gabriel phrasing abound. Sound wise however Mabry’s vocals are closer to Marillion’s Steve Hogarth as he demonstrates throughout the album. Otherwise it’s not a particularly inspiring start with a clumsy staccato riff that reminded me of early Marillion and Garden Party. The brief Song From A Nearby Star shows keys-man Spooner taking an ambient and unexpected diversion into the spacey world occupied by Bjorn Lynne amongst others. Deus Vult is much better with its gritty Hammond sound, tricky time signature and first class playing especially from bassist Anderson. Stella Maris brings the unlikely sound of French accordion (and Ange) to the table, which contrasts neatly with a celestial organ solo. An engaging song, that’s rounded off with some effective Collins style drum rolls and fills from Miller. This opening quartet of tunes show a band willing to experiment with a variety of moods and arrangements although admittedly the themes could be stronger.
Despite the lyrical (if over repetitive) guitar work and quirky rhythm Death In Eden is a song that’s a tad thin on ideas failing to justify its eight minutes plus length. Although longer still, Challallah Khaeri fairs better mainly due to the melodic Andy Latimer flavoured guitar work and sing-along Trick Of The Tail style chorus. Some meaty guitar and organ interplay around the halfway mark is offset by a gentle classically baroque section that brings Gryphon to mind. The guitar and vocal theme in the latter part is one of the albums most memorable. This is followed by the short Garden Building, a virtually disposable syncopated jazzy interlude. If the album contained a song that came close to being a ballad then Sick For What The Heart Wants would qualify. With romantic string synths ala Genesis’ Fading Lights, rippling (12 string sounding) guitar and a plaintive vocal that sounds especially close to the Marillion front man. Following another staccato riff intro Stranded includes some clever animated guitar and synths interplay laced with a large dose of mellotron and organ. When the vocals enter around the midway point it takes on a distinct Strangefish ambiance.
The mellow instrumental Flower Harvest with its rippling guitar and mellotron washes fades almost before it’s begun giving it an underdeveloped and demo like feel. A change of pace for the restless We Are Many And They Are Few, a busy instrumental with spikey guitar and a fuzz bass sound. In contrast Mother Night is a fairly straightforward if laidback song with relaxed mellotron, piano and pizzicato strings. It benefits in the latter part from melodic guitar and a bubbling synth solo. I’m not entirely sure that the mellotron drenched God Will Break Your Heart really works with its theatrical massed choral voices (in the vein of Dutch band Casual Silence) and its mock symphonic ending. The almost classical Afterture is also something of an anticlimax. Dominated by synths it sounds flat and lifeless failing to provide a suitably stirring finale despite the strings and brass flourishes that for me evoked The Enid.
Metaphor is undeniably a group of very talented musicians and in Mabry they have a very confident and vocally engaging frontman. They make effective use of the usual instruments plus one or two surprises with some very interesting arrangements. The bands Achilles’ heal for me is the lack of standout melodies and hooks which all too often renders the music flat and un-involving. Given the potential of the source material there is also a surprising absence of drama and grandeur. On the plus side, as the longest track is also one of the strongest they cannot be accused of self-indulgence. Although they employ several Genesis devices (or should I say vices) its encouraging that they embrace a far wider scope of influences, albeit mainly European. In fact the overall style sounds surprisingly un-American. I look forward to the bands next release with interest.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10