Reviews in this issue:
- Oaksenham - The Conquest Of The Pacific
- Lindsey Boullt - Composition
- Seree Lee – Variation ~ α
- Capharnaüm - Le Soleil Et Une Bombe Atomique
- Junk Farm – Ugly Little Thing
- Kongrosjan – Happy Way
Oaksenham - The Conquest Of The Pacific
Tracklist: Anthem: The Unseen Land (0:47), Water Spark (6:25), Elfy (1:30), The Way Back Home (9:28), Talybont (2:46), On Reflection (4:40), Time Out (3:59), The Conquest Of The Pacific: [a. Jester’s Pipe (3:09), b. Merlin’s Jig (2:48), c. Across The Atlantic (6:16), d. Ocean’s Web (6:07), e. Golden Hind (8:01)]
Hailing from Armenia, Oaksenham are a sextet of hugely talented musicians that have been together since 2001. In that time they have released a live album (of their first ever concert with the present line-up!), played a handful of gigs and taken part in the British Council of Armenia sponsored Beatles Fantasy concert. The last time they performed live was back in May 2004 and since then they have been perfecting their first studio album, The Conquest Of The Pacific. Largely classically trained, the core members of the band are Vahagn Papayan on bass, Anna Adamyan on keyboards, Valery Tolstov on flute, Koryun Bobikyan on violin, Vardan Gasparyan on guitar and Ashot Korganyan on drums. However, just as important are the contributions of numerous guest musicians who supplement the album with a variety of instruments including harp, cello, oboe, English and French horns, bassoon and clarinet. As you will hopefully have surmised from the instrumentation, Oaksenham play classically inspired "chamber rock" music, a heady mixture of Bach, Vivaldi and Elgar on the classical side and bands such as Jethro Tull, Gentle Giant, Gryphon and even Fruup on the rock side.
The influences of two of the rock groups are easily discerned, particularly in the case of the Giant. The groups arrangements of two bone fide Gentle Giant classics Talybont and On Reflection are sure to find favour with fans of the original compositions as well as the composers themselves. Talybont is given the full medieval treatment with the various classical instruments blending perfectly with the rock band. On Reflection, my favourite Giant song, is rendered sublime as an instrumental piece with a different instrument taking on the role of the original voices in the first section and the members of the group each contributing to a fine interpretation of the (original) instrumental second section. But there is a lot more to this band than covering classics as the excellent Water Spark demonstrates. Starting rather sprightly with an acoustic guitar and flute duet the bass establishes the rhythm before an unexpectedly heavy electric guitar riff crashes through. The dichotomous approach continues throughout the piece with the lighter, jaunty sections battling with the harder and heavier intrusions. A nice combination of different keyboards completes the piece. On The Way Back Home is of a similar style with a multitude of melodies woven throughout being picked up by different instruments, each offering their own interpretation and reinterpretation. The arrangements are complex and involved yet the pieces flow perfectly like a stream slowly meandering through gentle fields before crashing over rocks fragmenting the cohesion and then reuniting in a pool of placidness.
The centre piece of the album is the five-part, 26-minute title track, a suite that has been in development since the earliest days of the band. Opening part Jester's Pipe contains paraphrases and themes based around the Jethro Tull song Velvet Green. Harp and flute play a central part on the intro to Merlin's Jig which soon develops a fuller sound. Across The Atlantic has resonances of the orchestrated Camel tour-de-force The Snow Goose. The playing throughout each of the sections is immaculate and the solos are judged to perfection, never indulgent nor dissonant but finely attuned to the overall dynamic. Final section The Golden Hind cites themes from Purcell and Elgar (even listeners not well versed in the classics will recognise the 'Pomp and Circumstance' march!) although strangely the Elgar theme sticks out by virtue of its simplicity. Maybe it is the association of 'Land of Hope and Glory' with the rather jingoistic, flag waving, Last Night of the Proms, but to me it was the weakest part of the album.
Oaksenham have successfully produced a superior album that takes in a large number of influences and displays superior musicianship without any pretension. As mentioned earlier the album benefits greatly from the contributions of the guest musicians which are vital to the structure and arrangement of virtually all the pieces. One's opinion of the music will depend greatly on the individual's attitude to mixing classical and rock music but anyone who gets excited by the thought of what brass instruments other than sax, wind instruments in addition to flute, stringed instruments other than guitars and keyboards other than synths (all hail the harpsichord!) can add to progressive rock music will de delighted with this album. Just hope the next one doesn't take six years to develop and record!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Lindsey Boullt - Composition
Tracklist: Page Revisited (4:30), Chasing The Whirling Dervish (3:47), Moving Panvishnu (4:02), Call For Peace (4:05), Bravo Davo De La Torre (3:26), Aurora's Aura (5:04), Groovin' With Stu (2:16), Taste The Hate (2:38), Farewell (4:32), Cleopatra's Third Eye (5:45)
Lindsey Boullt started playing guitar at the age of 21, graduating with honours from the Guitar Institute of Technology in Los Angeles at the age of 27 and now an established guitarist, composer working with some of the finest players in the world. This album features renowned musicians amongst whom Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater, Kiss, Malmsteen, Planet X), Stu Hamm (Steve Vai, Joe Satriani), Atma Anur (Tony MacAlpine, Richie Kotzen, Journey), Jeremy Colson (Steve Vai, G3, Marty Friedman) and Gerry Goodman (Mahavishnu Orchestra).
Composition is an instrumental jazz-rock fusion album. When looking at above mentioned musicians it's only obvious that some resemblance to guitar heroes like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani can be found. However Boullt's music is mostly related to the Mahavishnu Orchestra, a jazz-rock fusion band operating in the early seventies, led by John McLaughlin, featuring Jan Hammer and from that band Jerry Goodman plays violin on this album. A comparison to Derek Sherinian's solo work, and to some extent to Planet-X, can also be made. About Composition Boullt puts it, "It’s very Zeppli-Vishnu".
Page Revisited starts with acoustic chords in the style common to Jimmy Page, hence the title. In the beginning the guitar solos are very spacey in the style of Steve Vai, but halfway through the song Boullt and Sherinian battle it out with fast steaming solos.
Chasing The Whirling Dervish also starts with Jimmy Page like chords and has a more Eastern feel to it, with the violins more up-front and the guitars having a more supporting role. At the end of the song Lindsey can't hold back and he ends the song with fast guitar playing.
Moving Panvishnu is, as the title states, a sort of tribute to a big inspirational source for Lindsey Boullt, the Mahavishnu Orchestra. This song holds lots of different ingredients from the Mahavishnu sound - very jazzy, lot's of changes but without getting disorderly.
Call For Peace sounds more Eastern than Chasing The Whirling Dervish. More violins and again a supporting role for the guitar. But the strongest element on this song are the vocal sounds from Sukhawat Ali Kahn, if you close your eyes you can picture yourself in Arabia.
Bravo Davo De La Torre has a slow heavy guitar riff that reminds me of The Animal from Steve Vai. On both songs the bass is played by Stu Hamm - could be a coincidence. The centre piece of the song is very mellow, but this is still one of the heavier songs on this album. On this song Boullt really displays himself in a guitar-hero style.
Aurora's Aura is a very jazzy song and a treat for the drummer, who really steps out on this song. By far the best thing on this song is the violin melody that lifts you from the ground and sways you slowly in the air. This melody is one of the highlights of this album for me, too bad some parts of the song are a bit messy due to an overexciting drummer.
Groovin' With The Stu is a short track that features a bass solo by Stu Hamm. The title could be a reference to the song Boogie With Stu by Led Zeppelin, although musically the song bears no resemblance. A very grooving beat with some excellent acoustic guitar solos and all a bit Spanish sounding.
Taste The Hate is a bit longer but still very short. Sherinian and Boullt are battling again with fast furious solos. Sherinian fans will definitely like this song.
Farewell is a guitar song in Satriani style and compared to the other songs uses a simple chord sequence, leaving lots of room for the solo guitar to experiment on, and with some soulful melodies.
Cleopatra's Third Eye is another tribute to The Mahavishnu Orchestra and all the instruments get a piece of the action. And of course Boullt and Sherinian show their craftsmanship in a song that represents Mahavishnu in a nutshell.
Lindsey Boullt picks up the legacy of the Mahavishnu Orchestra and presents it to a new generation. Composition nicely blends experimental jazz-rock fusion with the music of guitar heroes like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani. This album can certainly compete with the instrumental projects by Derek Sherinian and the battles between Boullt and Sherinian are marvellous. Composition is highly recommended to fans of jazz-rock fusion, obligatory for Mahavishnu lovers.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Seree Lee – Variation - α
Tracklist: Stumble (3:47), Dragon’s Flight (3:59), Tough Guy (4:02), High Energy (3:22), Sophia (4;26), Wicked Hacker (3:19), Funny Trip (3:45), Crazy Town (3:12), Solar System (4:30), Victory (3:50), Best Smile (2:47)
Variation - α is the title of the debut album of Seree Lee, a guitar player from Thailand. The CD features eleven instrumental songs which are all very melodic and well played, however I could not think of any reason to advise people to buy this album as it is another of those typical guitar albums. So, it is food for guitar lovers only.
Lee’s influences range from guitar pickers like Vai and Satriani through Urso and Zaza, but personally I think his main influence is Marty Friedman. Especially in songs like High Energy or Funny Trip, where Lee's music reminds me of the amazing Friedman album Scenes (1992) - which was produced by nobody less than Kitaro...
The heaviest song from the album is called Solar System, which is filled with lots of metal riffs and rather ferocious solos. This track also contains some melodic parts that remind me of Vinnie Moore. Tough Guy on the other hand has a rather Satch-like up tempo intro, followed by speedy solos and lots of well-sounding arpeggios. The album concludes with Best Smile, which is a ballad-like semi-acoustic lullaby, rounding off this rather nice, but not so spectacular album.
Lee is a very good guitar player but he is just one of the many, many great guitar players on this planet, so I think that this album will end up in the bargain department very quickly... However, if you cannot get enough of these sort of guitar albums then be sure to check out Variation - α. I liked it! Listening tip: High Energy!
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Capharnaüm - Le Soleil Et Une Bombe Atomique
Capharnaüm are a four-piece instrumental band from Canada who have been around in their current form since 1998, although the origins of the band date back seven years earlier. Their debut album, Instrumental, was self-released in 1999 which is followed after numerous years of preparation with the cheerily, yet accurately, titled Le Soleil Et Une Bombe Atomique. This, their first full album, was originally independently released in 2006 but was re-released earlier this year after being picked up by Unicorn Digital. The group centres around the dual guitars of brothers Francois and Marc-Andre Blanchard supported by Philipe-Antoine Bernard on bass and Maxime Brisboise on drums and percussion.
The group describe their music as "slightly demented heavy music with a touch of prog and a lot of rhythm". But don't let the words 'demented' and 'heavy' put you off, instead, focus on the 'touch of prog' and 'lot of rhythm'! The twin lead guitars offer a lot of opportunities and musical alleyways to be explored, much in the same way that Djam Karet do. The music is often quirky, as on Jouer Encore, often a little inspired, as on Brainstorm (which bears no resemblance at all to the Hawkwind song of the same name!) but is always melodic and atmospheric. Indeed, three of the tracks from this album have been included on the soundtrack to the short film 2 Strangers And A Foosball by Canadian director Eduardo Soto-Falcon.
The band are also not afraid to be experimental or playful as on the short piece Un Dimanche Soir à St-Zénon where some bass lines have played around with and mixed with some ambient sounds from the studio. The results are, as bass player Bernard has commented, 'intriguing', yet have an undeniable haunting beauty. On Feedback the band gets heavy but the results are far from boring and unlike anything you'd hear from a 'metal' band (or even dire death metal as produced by an American band that share the same name, minus the umlaut!). Caterpillar reminds me of Wishbone Ash with its clean guitar lines and prominent drumming. Tunnel Numéro 6 is the only track to feature additional instrumentation with synthesiser adding some background synth effects and a piano taking over the main theme in the middle of the song. Certainly an interesting piece and hopefully a style that will be developed in future compositions.
For fans of instrumental music, Capharnaüm's album holds a lot to delight in. The style may not be for everyone but certainly worth checking out to be sure, you may be surprised.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Junk Farm – Ugly Little Thing
Tracklist: An Eye For An Eye (3:17), Fools For The Cliché (3:05), Damaged Brain (4:15), Mater-Sync (4:12), Partymaniac (4:29), Perfect Dream (4:42), WWW. Superficialgirl.Com (4:37), Strange Behaviour (3:36), Ugly Little Thing (4:36), Great Guy (3:35), Vernissage (6:26)
Upfront, I’d like to declare that I didn’t exactly choose to review this disc. It landed in my hands due to a record company admin error – but having received it, I decided to try and give it an objective and fair hearing.
Junk Farm is a German trio which styles itself as the Fusion Trio From Hell. Guitarist Benjamin Schippritt also provides lead vocals and, together with organist Berthold Fehmer, supplies the main musical muscle. Michael Sticken on drums contributes the solid base on which the group builds its compositions. All three contribute backing harmony vocals. After listening to the album, you may be surprised to learn that there is no bass player. The bass parts are all supplied by organist Fehmer, and a great job he does too. This does mean, though, that the guitar grabs the spotlight a lot more than the organ.
In a nutshell, the band conjures up a bunch of modern sounding songs which mix hard rock riffs with funk and fusion embellishments. Unusually for the fusion genre, the emphasis is very much on the song, with the instrumental fireworks kept concise and to the point. There is a grunge feel to some of the crunching riffs and the vocals, and some tricky changes and slightly discordant elements give a little prog edge to proceedings.
A gritty riff and some gnarly, snarling vocals open the first tune on the disc, which also features some backing organ and a succinct but tasty guitar solo. Harmony vocals, which may suggest Echolyn or Kings X to the alert listener, add to the song’s appeal. The lyrics are worth your attention, often being (as on Partymaniac and Great Guy) sardonic and satirical, and highly amusing. Partymaniac turns up the funk quotient to the max, as does the angry, aggressive ditty Ugly Little Thing.
Strange Behaviour, Damaged Brain and Great Guy are a bit more on the rock side of things. Damaged Brain is a favourite of mine, with a dark Echolyn edge and a memorable chorus. The harmonies are very well executed throughout and definitely help give the songs some edge. Great Guy is hilarious and its alternating galloping beats with brutal riffs even manages to remind me of System Of A Down.
I am struck by how American sounding this all is, and all the bands I might try to offer as comparisons are all from the USA; Echolyn, Kings X, Galactic Cowboys, Niacin.
For variation, the band throws in a couple of instrumental tunes, Mater-Sync & WWW. Superficialgirl.Com. The first of these is a funky strut of a number, with a hummable guitar melody and a stinging solo (with nods to the Mission Impossible Theme), whilst the latter is more in the fusion vein, and a bit more laid back.
Junk Farm have managed to blend elements of several disparate styles, into something that doesn’t sound quite like anything else on the current scene, but which could well appeal to fans of progmetal, jazz fusion, funk and neoprog alike, and which should surprise everyone who hears it.
I found the album to be pretty enjoyable; quite different to the kind of thing I usually go for, but a refreshing change and one I would be happy to spin again.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Kongrosjan – Happy Way
Tracklist: Com’ E La Tua Vita Oggi? (3:26), Gennaio, Aspettando (5:37), Citta Morte (2:29), Tempo Nello Spazio Nel Tempo (2:42) Occhi E Sorrisi (3:00), La Gente Che Non Conosco (3:57), Nube D’Ali (1:00), Televisionario (4:51), Dalla Luce Della Luna (2:56), La Mia Stanza Vuota (2:27), Non Puoi Bere Il Mare (3:42), Rallentare (1:41), Non Ti Dimentico (3:19), Dove Va Il Tempo (8:31), Preghiere Di Guerra (4:37), Oblio (5:07)
I am a relatively new writer for DPRP, and have been an avid reader of this site for the past few years. I live in the USA and have never been to Italy, but from what I have gleaned from several DPRP reviews there is quite the burgeoning prog music scene there. I do not know how entrenched in the scene Italian project Kongrosjan is, but nevertheless they have put out three releases in the past four years, the most recent one being Happy Way, from 2005.
Kongrosjan is spearheaded by Italian guitarist/sampler Domenico Patricelli. Assisting is Lyuba Yudin and Paola Angeli on vocals, Mauro Patricelli on piano, and Andrea Cocco on lead guitar, all appearing on various tracks on Happy Way. Domenico produced, recorded, and mixed the whole shebang, and he is also credited with writing the music and Italian lyrics, designing the CD’s brightly coloured booklet, and creating the CD’s “concept”, whatever that may be. 10 of the CD’s 16 brief, sketchy tracks are instrumentals, the booklet does not include lyrics, and I do not understand Italian to begin with.
The liner notes do allude to a revolutionary war concept of sorts and describe Kongrosjan as “searching for its movie, a movie which has not been made yet”. An unfinished work. A work in progress. We review what we have.
The overall lack of lyrics on Happy Way leaves things open to interpretation. Pink Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright tried out a concept CD containing instrumentals when he released the marginal Broken China, flavoured with a lot of drum programming and electronica similar to what is found on Happy Way. The Wright influence is evident on Tempo Nello Spazio Nel Tempo, with a lilting piano line from Mauro and a dialogue sample (“We call these things terrorists”), which would not have been out of place on The Wall.
Mauro’s piano appears as well on Gennaio, Aspettando, here sounding similar to some of the piano melodies employed by French neo-classical collective Dark Sanctuary. France also is a geographic standpoint in that the combination of Floyd references and electronica are elements utilized by French musician Gerard Verran in his experimental Molecule project.
The somewhat melancholy Floydish arrangements on La Mia Stanza Vuota, with its layered guitar contribution from Andrea, are reminiscent of some of the arrangements Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera experimented with on his recent 6 P.M./Vozero/50 Minutes Later trilogy, mainly with the former two releases.
I do not know how long it took Domenico to record Happy Way but the songs, though clear in sound quality, sound almost like demos or mere afterthoughts yet to be completed. The songs are incredibly brief and do not seem realized as full, fleshed-out works. Where was his vision at the time? The CD does not satisfy as a concept piece or as individual songs, despite the vocals from Paola and Lyuba, the latter sounding hauntingly similar to the late Egyptian chantreuse Ofra Haza.
Happy Way will most likely appeal to the “club kid” sector, maybe getting them passively grooving and dancing but without getting them into the concept. If you are into longer, more expansive pieces of music, then Happy Way, whose songs average under four minutes in length, may not be for you.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10