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2007 : VOLUME 48
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REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:


Outer Limits - Stromatolite
Outer Limits - Stromatolite
Country of Origin:Japan
Format:CD
Record Label:Musea Records
Catalogue #:FGBG 4719
Year of Release:2007
Time:52:05
Info:Outer Limits
Samples:N/A

Tracklist: Cosmic Velocity (4:33), Consensus (6:32), Lullaby (4:36), Algo_Rhythm.C (5:22), Caprice (Violin Solo) (1:31), Spiral Motion (6:04), Pangea (5:05), Organ Small Works N°4 (Pipe Organ Solo) (3:29), Constellation (9:54), Lunatic Game (4:54)

To be truthful prior to receiving this disc I knew absolutely nothing about Outer Limits. Following a little research I discovered that they were big news in Japanese prog rock circles during the 1980’s. I was surprised by just how prolific they were during that time. Their debut album Misty Moon was released in ‘85, followed in quick succession by A Boy Playing The Magical Bugle Horn in ‘86, The Scene Of Pale Blue in ‘87 and the live recording The Silver Apples On The Moon in ‘89. Following the compilation Outer Mania they went their separate ways before re-uniting in 1999. Eight years on sees the release of Stromatolite, the first studio album in twenty years. The original line-up remains almost intact including Shusei Tsukamoto keyboards, Takashi Kawaguchi violin, Takashi Aramaki guitar and Nobuyuki Sakurai drums. They are joined by Tadashi Sugimoto vocals and bass, replacing original singer Tomoki Ueno and bassist Tadashi Ishikawa.

Of the ten tracks here six are instrumental with all music except Caprice (Violin Solo) written by Tsukamoto. Lyrical input (in English) comes from the other band members. Several of the usual suspects are cited as influences including ELP, Yes, King Crimson and UK which is a fairly accurate reflection. Things get off to a blistering start with the aptly titled Cosmic Velocity a powerhouse of an instrumental signalling that the band are back and they mean business. Assured violin playing over a strident orchestral backdrop with brass flourishes courtesy of keys is offset by edgy Robert Fripp style guitar. Manic synth soloing and dramatic organ chord punctuations bring things to a dramatic close. It’s the kind of track that you’ll be happy to play over again but there’s more to come.

A stark orchestral fanfare in the vein of Mussorgsky’s Night On The Bold Mountain opens Consensus followed by an eerie Gregorian chant. The ghostly use of mellotron and percussive effects curiously reminded me of the West Side Story score. The mood changes for an engaging vocal section in the style of John Wetton although without quite the same power as the Asia singer. A lyrical violin solo doubled by synth is followed by a cutting guitar break again evoking the King Crimson front man. The soaring vocal melody builds to a stately statacco finale. In contrast is the bittersweet Lullaby. A reflective vocal, beautiful floating strings and delicate Steve Hackett classical guitar are reminiscent of both PFM’s Just Look Away and the romanticism of Debussy.

If the proceeding track is the albums token ballad then Algo_Rhythm.C provides a perfect foil. Military drums and heavy weight guitar drive an infectious repeated violin melody with an energetic organ backing. The powerful guitar and Hammond work conjures up Deep Purple in full flight contrasting with a tranquil acoustic guitar and intricate bass bridge section. Caprice (Violin Solo) is exactly what it says on the tin with classical style violin that owes more to Vanessa-Mae and Nigel Kennedy than the fusion driven style of David Cross and Eddie Jobson featured elsewhere. Spiral Motion is another appropriately titled track with swirling violin underpinned by a gutsy guitar riff and pipe organ. It’s enough to make the listener giddy. A dramatic celestial organ part evokes Yes’ Awaken with a melodic guitar break that flows seamlessly into a stirring violin solo. All the instrumental elements come together for a fiery ending.

Organ Small Works N°4 is another solo offering this time with gothic sounding pipe organ taking the honours. This piece is bookended by two majestic tracks Pangea and Constellation. The former is a heroic march with dramatic symphonic punctuations that builds in triumphant style with pounding bass and guitar to a bombastic cinematic finale. The ABWH album is brought to mind with an intro recalling Bithright, soaring Steve Howe guitar and synth fanfares ala Order Of The Universe. Constellation is for me the albums crowing glory. It lays on the pomp and circumstance in liberal measures with melodic organ and guitar joined by Keith Emerson style bombastic synth trumpets. The orchestral colourings evoke ELP’s Pirates complimented by rich Yes style harmonies supported by a chugging acoustic guitar rhythm and expressive drum work. The sumptuous synth melody is to die for, making this possibly my favourite track of the year crowned by a scorching Wakeman synth solo.

The concluding Lunatic Game is a sprightly neo-prog song that is easily the albums most commercial offering. The choral harmonies and synth soloing are both strongly reminiscent of Glass Hammer at their best. Whilst the catchy chorus is in English the verses are delivered in Japanese giving the song a strong identity. The instrumental bridge includes monumental synth and Hammond interplay against a skilful bass and drum pattern to finish with a dramatic flourish.

What more can I say about this release except to say that it’s been on repeat play in my CD player for the last couple of weeks. This is a towering achievement with sweeping symphonic prog that is as slick and polished as you’re likely to hear all year. As a note of caution there appears to be an alternative version of the album doing the rounds with different artwork and Lunatic Game replaced by another track titled Dahlia. Unfortunately the bands website, which has been inactive for nearly five years, gives no clues as to why this should be. Nonetheless this is destined to become one of my top five albums of 2007 for sure.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

GEOFF FEAKES



Zettaimu - What Can I Do
Zettaimu - What Can I Do
Country of Origin:Japan
Format:CD
Record Label:Poseidon Records
Musea Records
Catalogue #:-
Year of Release:2003
Time:55:43
Info:Zettaimu
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Dawning - Prologue (1:42), CLASS V [five] (5:05), What Can I Do (4:59), Glass Balloon (3:51), Twilight In My Life (4:42), Butterfly Dance (4:14), Uou-Saou (6:36), Alcatraz Wind (3:48), Languid Morning (10:14), Namu-Amidabutsu III (5:18), Dawning - Epilogue (5:14)

Zettaimu - Miroque
Zettaimu - Miroque
Country of Origin:Japan
Format:CD
Record Label:Poseidon Records
Musea Records
Catalogue #:MP 3063
Year of Release:2007
Time:48:46
Info:Zettaimu
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Red Moon - Prologue (1:34), I Don't Need Anything Else (6:49), Anyone Is Loved By Someone (6:14), Time Like An Arrow (4:53), Jennifer (4:58), Sharan (5:39), Icarus (4:38), Time Perplexes Time Oneself (5:55), Red Moon - Epilogue (8:06)

The majority of Japanese progressive bands I am familiar with are more involved with the technical/instrumental side of prog and are less oriented towards concrete song-writing and not so much influenced by the pop-rock style. Zettaimu is a clear exception. The CV of this band comprises five studio albums, out of which four where released by an independent label (Garando Records), and the last one by Musea/Poseidon. Musea however distributes some titles from their past catalogue too. Therefore, hopefully now audience out of Japan can get known to the band, formed all the way back in 1983 by Hisashi Furue with an ambitious goal: to mix Japanese music with rock. And he seems to have done pretty well. Notice also that part of the songs of Zettaimu are sung in English while others are in Japanese.

Hisashi Furue is the guitarist, lyricist, vocalist and main composer of this band. However, a quite spectacular female lead vocalist, Kanako, joined back in 2003 and I can say that she is as important to Zettaimu as Anneke was to The Gathering. The intelligent mind behind the music might always be Hisashi, still her presence is almost dominating the music. As influences or parallels to her voice I could mention Kate Bush, Bjork, Julianne Regan (of All About Eve) or even Anneke Van Giersbergen. An "indie" voice with a large degree of improvisation. The characterisation indie could also represent the musical direction of the band in total better than the prog tag. In other words, Zettaimu seems more influenced by The Cure, The 3rd And The Mortal, Portishead, All About Eve, Cocteau Twins or Bowie than by prog masters. However, there are a lot of progressive elements in their music, namely the intelligent song-writing and the wrapping of the songs in a more rock than indie way. Think of the avant-garde approach and song construction (or also the sound of the guitars) of King Crimson to get a vague idea. Moreover, there is a very subtle, implicit Japanese music counterpart which makes the final product more interesting and original.

What Can I Do kicks off cleverly, with a clear manifestation of the duel between prog influences and goth/dark ones. Dawning - Prologue has the greyness of a Fates Warning track, giving way to the catchy CLASS V, featuring a riff reminiscent of Hey You but also rhythms a la Cure and guitars a la Felt, for those familiar with this musical scene. Hammond and strings enrich the track and make it an absolute manifesto: this band deserves your attention! The 3rd And The Mortal come to my mind when I listen to the title track's spooky melodies. Cumbersome guitars and vocals paint a portrait of one of the most haunting and captivating songs I have heard lately. Dawning - Epilogue is the other dark moment of this album, that starts with the same melody as the album begins, and finishes in an epic way with Hisashi in charge of the vocals this time. Great gloomy moments of lurking darkness, given in a bizarre Japanese mix of prog and indie or even gothic.

The beauty and the quality of What Can I Do lies in its versatility, variety and richness of sounds. It also offers simple and beautiful ballads sung by Hisashi with wonderful background vocals by Kanako (Twilight In My Life and Alcatraz Wind) and the very tender dreamy Languid Morning. For more extravagant and eerie moments, there is Glass Balloon, sung in Japanese in a very strange and original way, clearly influenced by traditional vocals. Butterfly Dance and Oou-Saou are easier, more up-tempo and more accessible, perfectly managing to keep the interest at very high levels. Changes, touches of instruments like piano, a glockenspiel, a vintage Hammond organ contribute to that. Skip Namu-Amidabutsu III. Either it's something too Japanese for me to grasp or it is simply bad.

While What Can I Do is screaming for attention, Miroque is too shy and modest. It is much more uniform and would need a fair amount of daring and pushing the limits further to reach the level of the earlier release. For the rest, it is built on more or less the same principles: the first track introduces a theme to be revisited at the last track and there are also acoustic lighter (e.g., Jennifer or the tender Sharan) and darker moments. The dark moments are present either in their purest form (Anyone Is Loved By Someone and Time Perplexes Time Oneself), or in a softer version reminiscent of Cocteau Twins (e.g. the jazzy Red Moon - Epilogue). The material this time is less related to progressive rock music and closer to the other pool of influences of the band. More Portishead elements and song-writing philosophy seem to make their way into the compositions, as guitars seem to become less important.

The songs are more minimalistic, more based on Kanako's interpretation of the lyrics and at various moments lack some salt or spice. What I mean is that there is an abundance of examples where the track could have been significantly better if some good ideas were expanded and some effort was done to enrich the content of the music. Time Like An Arrow is a good example: if the hint of a brass that there is now was stressed more, the track would be much more impressive. Similarly, the overlapping guitars in I Don't Need Anything Else could be also employed in other songs, where the instruments are minimally present. Other tracks like the hypnotic, drone Time Perplexes Time Oneself suffer from a lack of things happening and tends to be repetitive. Moreover, changes in the tempo within a song are rare, yet when they take place (towards the end of Anyone Is Loved By Someone for example) they are most welcome and I would be happy if they where more numerous. It's not that this album lacks ideas, it is that it lacks energy. While with What Can I Do it was love at first sight, on the contrary, Miroque troubled me quite a lot and it took me a lot of time to be able to form a concrete opinion about it. Overall, it is a good album departing to more indie directions but with significant weaknesses.

Being very impressed by What Can I Do, I was very eager to also listen and review the new album of Zettaimu, so to provide a double review. Even though their fresh product let me a bit down, I think that any fan of intelligent music that transcends the traditional genre boundaries should immediately check them out. A unique melange of different influences, a gifted songwriter and a gifted vocalist, all seen through a prism of Japanese music. There are sound clips on their website and both albums reviewed here are available at the Musea catalogue. People that like a bit of goth, dark, indie rock should not overlook these guys.

Conclusions:
What Can I Do: 8+ out of 10
Miroque: 6.5 out of 10

CHRISTOS AMPATZIS



Ringing Ring - Ancient Stone
Ringing Ring - Ancient Stone
Country of Origin:Japan
Format:CD
Record Label:Poseidon Records
Musea Parallèle
Catalogue #:IM-010
MP 3066.AR
Year of Release:2007
Time:60:40
Info:Ringing Ring
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Pavane (1:46), Gaillarde (2:03), The Lark In The Clear Air (2:00), My Load Willoughby's Welcome Home (3:36), Never Weather-Beaten Saile (2:12), Canarie (2:13),Musea Parallèle6:28), Two William Davises (1:32), Con Que La Lavare (1:30), L'Arabesque (4:39), The Butterfly (1:56), Delitae Musicae (1:15), Suite r-moll [Allemand Courant Saraband Aria Gigue] (13:55), Allemande - Tripla (2:34), What Child Is This? (3:18), Mille Regretz (1:30), Divisions Upon An Italian Ground (2:55), Jouissance Vous Donnerai (2:36), Les Bouffons (2:44)

Here is a album that has found its way into my CD player more and more often over the last few months. Not only because it has needed to for the purposes of this review, but more so because I have just enjoyed listening to the music. However before moving on to the review perhaps I should mention that Ancient Stone is neither progressive nor does it rock! Though I firmly believe that it could sit very comfortably within many a progressive rock collection.

So who are Ringing Ring? A Japanese quintet comprising of Yasuo Asakura (Renaissance lute, Baroque lute, theorbe, vihuela, acoustic guitar & percussion), Nozomi Yamamoto (voice), Yuri Yamamoto (recorders, crumhorn & percussion), Ichiko Tubota (viola da gamba) and Kenji Imai (recorder). Two guest musicians also appear in the guise of "Irish Maries" with Mari Yasui (tin whistle & Irish flute) and Mari Tanaka (Irish harp & bodhran).

What music do Ringing Ring play? Well a quick scan of the instrumentation will give an indication as to the folklore of this offering. Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical through contemporary Classical, Chamber, Celtic and Irish music will likely cover most of the tracks. Many of the tunes to be found on Ancient Stone are adaptations of 16th and 17th century Renaissance and Baroque composers (Dowland, Gaultier, Schein and Connellan) along with traditional English and Irish tunes. Even modern day contemporary exponents are featured with Jan Akkerman's Delitae Musicae nestling nicely within the album's tracks.

The nineteen short tracks are in the main instrumental, although Nozomi Yamamoto does add her delicate and beautiful voice on several pieces (Never Weather-Beaten Saile, What Child Is This?, Jouissance Vous Donnerai and Mille Regretz). Her pure voice, like the rest of this album, remain faithful to the traditions of the music - and this is one of the beauties of Ancient Stone - the musicians never veer from the heritage of the music and no electronic instrumentation ever creeps into the mix.

The album opens with four delightful, uplifting tunes featuring recorders, lute and percussion - Pavane reflects a warm summers day with the birdsong replaced by sprightly tune full of melody and counterpoint. The summery aire remains for the more up tempo 3/4 time Gaillarde with a gentle breeze that is captured in delightful melody line in The Lark In The Clear Air. My Load Willoughby's Welcome Home offers a slight lament before the first of the vocal tracks (Never Weather-Beaten Saile), sung I might add without any trace of an accent.

Canarie is one of the more sparse tunes with subtle backing offered by Ichiko Tubota on the viola da gamba and the melody line played by Yasuo Asakura on a theorbe (a variation on the lute). The two tunes by Marin Marias (La Rêveuse and L'Arabesque) were probably my least favourite moments of the album as the music was somewhat dark and foreboding, proving too at odds with the rest of the pieces. Two William Davises has a distinctly "at court" dance feel and the first tune to feature our two Irish Maries. The all too brief Con Que La Lavare is a solo tune played on the vihuela (a twelve stringed guitar like instrument). While the traditional Irish tune The Butterfly (again with a pleasant 3/4 lilt) serves as one of the more jolly moments.

The next two tracks were composed by Dutchmen, firstly a little ditty from the 21st century by Jan Akkerman followed by a languishing epic from 17th century composer Essias Reusner - a solo tune played on a Baroque lute. From here we return to the more sprightly arrangements to be found in the albums opening tunes, before three songs featuring Nozomi Yamamoto. Opening with the familiar melody that is What Child Is This?. Possibly two of the earliest songs on Ancient Stone take us back to France in the late 1400 early 1500 with two chanson re-workings; the first Mille Regretz from Josquin des Prez and the second Jouissance Vous Donnerai by Claudin de Sermisy. These Renaissance pieces conjured images of a monastic life of old. Which brings us to the album closer, Les Bouffons and along with the two Marais tunes proved to be least favourite. The crumhorn, a dreadful sounding instrument akin to kazoo in my opinion makes its only appearance.

So a great album that has made a welcome change to my listening timetable. If I were to offer any criticism it would probably be to the flow of the album. Ringing Ring have obviously arranged the tracks to offer greater variation, however I found it broke the flow and I tended to skip the same few tracks - so in the end I did re-compile the album to suit. A minor quibble and who am I to say that this is correct.

So who might enjoy this album? Well me for one. Also those who have a soft spot for the "traditional folkier" side of music, perhaps Ian Anderson devotees, Vital Duo, Amazing Blondel, Gryphon, Flairck or Blackmore's Nights fans (to offer a few) might well want to check this release out. The only reason I have not to given this album a DPRP recommended tag is its limited appeal across the prog community we represent - however I can assure this will certainly feature in my top ten for 2007!

Conclusion: 7+ out of 10

BOB MULVEY



Interpose+ – Indifferent
Nexus – Perpetuum Karma
Country of Origin:Japan
Format:CD
Record Label:Poseidon Records
Musea Records
Catalogue #:PRF-042
FGBG 4706.AR
Year of Release:2007
Time:41:28
Info:Interpose+
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Rosetta (6:49), Man From The Forest (8:36), Dayflower Part 3 (6:30), Heliopause (6:16), Alive (7:05), Anonymous (6:12)

Just a few weeks ago we presented one of our periodic Japanese specials that featured albums from the Poseidon Records label. A release that ought to have been included but slipped through the net first time around was Indifferent the latest offering from Interpose+. The band are no strangers to these pages with the highly regarded debut album Interpose appearing in 2005. By all accounts the band originally formed in the mid 80’s before disbanding in the early 90’s. They got together again in 2001 followed four years later by the release of their self titled debut. Since then keyboardist Nobuo Watanabe has replaced Ryuji Yonekura whilst bassist Dani from DPRP favourites KBB stands in for the departed Toshiyuki Koike. Founding members Kenji Tanaka on guitar and Katsu Sato on drums remain, joined once again by the sensuous voice of Sayuri Aruga.

Interpose+ are a difficult band to pigeonhole, a deliberate act on their part or so it seems. The music twists and turns staying several steps ahead of the listener so you’re never quite sure which direction it’s going to take next. Rosetta is a lively opener based around a succession of tricky, rapid-fire instrumental passages that bring Gentle Giant, ELP and Spock’s Beard to mind. The individual musicianship is outstanding with Sayuri’s bright and breezy vocals gliding effortlessly over the bands busy instrumentation. The lyrics may be in Japanese but she adds a cool Canterbury feel to the proceedings. Man From The Forest features more top flight playing this time with a 70’s jazz flavour. Laidback to begin with it features some articulate fretless bass work from Dani and Keith Tippet style improvisational piano from Watanabe. Tanaka cuts loose with John McLaughlin inspired lightning guitar runs supported by impeccable drumming from Sato.

Dayflower Part 3 opts for a tranquil if slightly unsettling first half with delicate bass, piano and classical guitar complementing Sayuri’s relaxed delivery. Restless mellotron and a martial drum pattern gradually raise the tempo leading to a fiery guitar solo that is cut short by an all too sudden fade. Judging by my colleague’s description it’s difficult to draw direct comparisons with Dayflower Parts 1 & 2 from the last album. The organ driven Heliopause finds the band in jazz-fusion territory complete with aggressive guitar dynamics. Only when it strays briefly into indulgent Hendrix style distortion and feedback does it not work for me. Better is a more restrained jazzy interlude with fluid Stanley Clarke flavoured bass work, moody electric piano and Cleo Laine inflected scat vocals.

A melodic spiralling piano motif announces Alive, easily the albums most accessible song orientated track and my personal favourite. Sayuri is in her element with a seductive performance with shades of Debbie Harry making the most of the memorable melody. Two stirring solos, first from synth and then guitar include a theme that’s strongly reminiscent of the stately instrumental coda to YesRitual. Anonymous is a fine closer with contrasting dynamics and a bewildering array of tempo and time changes. Sayuri holds her own impressively on the vocal front leaving the guys trying their hardest to out play each other. Watanabe has the finally word with a blistering organ solo bringing the track and the album to an all too abrupt close.

At a little over forty minutes this release is about the average length of a good old fashion vinyl album. With its densely structured arrangements however it packs more in than some less adventurous CD’s with almost twice the playing time. The music is refreshingly unpredictable and to my ears the band maintain a finely judged balance between melody and complexity. In an album choc full of virtuoso performances I must give a special mention to the back line which takes the honours for me. The inspirational drumming and bass playing of Katsu Sato and Dani respectively recall the great jazz-rock partnerships of old. Did I hear someone suggest Stanley Clarke and Tony Williams or possibly Bill Bruford and Jeff Berlin? So why no DPRP recommendation? My only reservation is that the breathless dynamics will not suit all tastes or all moods. If however you have an ear for skilfully executed full blooded progressive rock you really should give it a try.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

GEOFF FEAKES



Salle Gaveau - Alloy
Salle Gaveau - Alloy
Country of Origin:Japan
Format:CD
Record Label:Poseidon Records
Musea Records
Catalogue #:MABO-023
Year of Release:2007
Time:54:46
Info:N/A
Samples:N/A

Tracklist: Alloy (5:45), Parade (4:36), Nullset (4:50), Seven Steps To "Post Tango" (10:11), Tempered Elan (5:51), Pointed Red (2:48), Calcutta (3:45), Arcos (6:36), Crater (11:00)

Salle Gaveau is the rather French and somewhat strange name for this Japanese quintet whose debut CD I have in front of me. Or perhaps not so strange as Alloy does have a distinctly bright and breezy Parisian feel to it, partly due to the band's instrumentation which features accordion, violin and contrabass. Collectively Salle Gaveau are Kido Natsuki (guitars), Kita Naokil (violin), Sato Yoshiaki (accordion), Hayashi Masaki (piano) and Torigoe Keisuke (contrabass). Lead by Kido Natsuki (from Bondage Fruit) the music of Salle Gaveau is somewhat difficult to put into a nutshell, as it has elements of classical chamber music along with Latin American rhythms (Tango), RIO, jazz, fusion and of course prog.

As might be expected, having listened intently to a particular album over a period of months that my opinions would changed towards the music to be found on that album. Normally this process sees a growing appreciation for the music, however in the case of Alloy my initial kudos has been replaced by a "highly impressed" but "unmoved" outcome. As mentioned above the band's sound has jolly, uplifting nature and one that puts a different slant on the jazz rock, fusion genre. Perhaps here we should take out the word rock and replace it with acoustic, then introduce a distinctly small classical ensemble notion to the music and then we might have the essence that is Salle Gaveau. The tunes are precise and superbly played with the fast and intricate instrument runs played with precision and fervour - all neatly captured in the opening tune. Where the album didn't work so well for me was in the more jazzier moments. And although there is no doubting Kita Naokil violin playing the timbre of the instrument was a little grating, especially in the busy and more dissonant sections (Parade).

The stand out tracks for me where the excellent Tempered Elan, which has a gentle atmosphere, pulsated by a twelve string acoustic guitar, Ebow, and with a great violin hookline towards the end. Nullset is tranquil and pleasing to the ears. Calcutta is cute ditty, whereas the languishing finale to the album sees Kido Natsuki employing his electric guitar in this fairly sprawling piece that did in fact grow on me over a passage of time. Mention here also for the opener and title track - which brings me to something that didn't initially strike me about the music. Rhythmically all the pieces are extremely strong and if you take into consideration Salle Gaveau don't have a drummer it is a testament to the musicianship that they have managed to pull off these intricate pieces without the aid of a sticks man.

Now I'm quite open to the idea that my overriding view of Alloy may well be due to a shift in my musical preferences over the last few years. A change that has seen a drifting away from the technically complex and more towards the lighter, less intricate and acoustic side of music. Prog included. So initially Alloy attracted me with its' acoustic flavouring and lashings of classically tinged whimsy. But ultimately I had picked an album, once gain, because of the technical aspect to the music (old habits die hard) and at the end of the day I never really warmed to Alloy. However for those who enjoy their prog with a technical edge and open to a different slant then this really is an album to be checked out.

Conclusion: 6+ out of 10

BOB MULVEY



Minoke? - Sangaky
Minoke? - Sangaky
Country of Origin:Japan
Format:CD
Record Label:Poseidon/Vital Records
Catalogue #:VR-027
Year of Release:2007
Time:40:41
Info:Minoke?
Samples: Click here

Tracklist: Minokecak (2:31), Mari (5:59), Til_Na_ Nog (5:25), Mizu Ga Ooino Sukunaino (5:45), Construction (4:45), Misidia (6:44), Olmeca (5:28), Tri-Band-Boom Part 2

It’s been four years since Minoke?’s first album (read my review here) and nothing much seems to have changed for these Japanese fusioneers. The line-up is still the same. In the absence of guitar, the musical focus still lies primarily with the tenor & soprano saxes of Kosei Kayama and, to a lesser extent, the keyboards of Kunihiko Sekido; and they still like to throw in the odd aural curve-ball to catch you off guard.

On their debut disc, the joker in the pack was Til_Na_Nog with its Irish folk fusion twist (which gets a slightly extended, and somewhat more restrained reading here too), and on Sangaky, the wild card is Minokecak which stands out for its blend of Gamelan style percussion, eerie sound effects and bizarre vocal chanting. It is certainly a striking and unusual opening for the album, but is completely at odds with all that follows.

On the second track Mari, Minoke? get down to the real business with a punchy jazz fusion number, featuring a strong sax melody. On this track Kayama lets loose with some dangerously squawky soloing, which may put off all but the most ardent jazzers amongst you. The rest of us will be relieved to learn that, for the most part, the rest of the album sticks closely to the melodic end of fusion.

Continuing with the aforementioned retread of Til_Na_Nog (an interesting variation on the original but ultimately rather pointless), the disc proceeds into ever more relaxed territory, with some nicely engaging melodies, judiciously placed but often under-stated piano accompaniment and always present, the expert rhythm section – always inventive, never in-your-face.

The insistent piano break on Mizu Ga Ooino Sukunaino turns up the heat a little, and Construction is a pretty fiery concoction but it’s soon back to tranquillity with Misidia and the concluding tracks.

The 40 minutes pass quite quickly in a pleasant fashion, but aside from the first track, there’s nothing hugely memorable here. Any rabid fusion fans should give it a chance, particularly if you are keen sax fans, but it’s not the kind of ground-breaking, genre busting work that is likely to pull in people who don’t usually go for fusion music.

I can see myself playing this occasionally – perhaps on a lazy Sunday afternoon, or in the background whilst I work on the computer - but I doubt it’s going to command a lot of my time. There’s nothing wrong with it, really, and some of the musicianship is quite superb, but the marketplace is crowded and competitive, and Minoke? is destined to remain a niche market interest.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

DAVE SISSONS



Synchronous Yawn - Cracks
Synchronous Yawn - Cracks
Country of Origin:Japan
Format:CD
Record Label:Poseidon/
Vital Records
Catalogue #:VP-004
Year of Release:2007
Time:35:48
Info:Synchronous Yawn
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Synchronous Move (5:46), From Japanesia (4:38), Long Walk (5:12), Naraku No Soko (1:14), Parts Of Yawn (2:06), Rough Life Part 2 (5:03), Crying Cave Man (3:25), Re Love In Funland (2:21), Rough Life Part 1 [demo track] (6:01)

Cracks is one of two releases in this mini feature from Poseidon Record's Vital division and like many of the previous releases from Vital it leans heavily towards the jazz/fusion quarter. However unlike many previous Vital releases we've reviewed, this CD has crystal clear production and full artwork. Synchronous Yawn revolves around a main trio of musicians: Eishow Mutoh (guitar, keyboard, voice & programming), Naoyuki Seto (bass & programming) and Masashi Matsumoto (drums & programming). This is augmented by guest musicians Yuji Kawamura (saxophone on 1 & 7), Yukari Iijima (percussion on 1, 2 & 6) and Yuji Ono (keyboard on 2).

Before moving on I should quickly qualify the remark from the opening paragraph regarding the jazz/fusion leanings - which was certainly the impression I came to when I listened through the opening tune. Slick, well produced jazz/rock and certainly Synchronous Move has all the right elements. Busy and precise drumming, lilting bass, jangling guitar chords, along with percussive keyboards performed in a rather pleasing Latin rhythm. Add the "in context" sax courtesy of Yuji Kawamura and the percussion of Yukari Iijima and we have a strong, if not a little syrupy, opening statement. But moving on from track one we dispel pretty much any notions of jazz, rock or fusion with the pleasant and hypnotic tune that is From Japanesia. We have a pulse that is distinctly "chiming clock-like" and with ethnic timbres from the keyboards. This is a multi-layered keyboard track with strings, deft synth lines and wordless ethereal vocals.

From here we move on to a spacious jazz-lite instrumental ballad which is pleasant enough if not earth shattering. The keyboards are again thoughtful with both muted trumpet and saxophone sounds used to create a lazy effortless track. The two shorter pieces that follow, Naraku No Soko and Parts Of Yawn, are pretty much throw away or filler tracks for me. The first is a slightly discordant synth pop effort, whilst the second piece is even more aimless with a droning bass line and a series of guitar picks and noises.

Things do come back on track with the following two pieces - Rough Life Part 2 is a stately jazz rocker marked by the way in which it gradually builds from start to finish. Beginning with a restrained and punctuated rhythm Rough Life... uses the full 5 minutes of its' running time to build in intensity, without ever breaking the shackles of the initial tempo. The release only comes by way of the following piece which features a great groove from the drums accompanied by some fretless noodlings. Sadly all is destroyed by some toneless and wordless singing/chanting, (as the title Crying Cave Man might infer), which is a real shame as the bass line from Naoyuki Seto is superb.

Re Love In Funland is another all keyboard offering with accordion, muted brass and programmed drums - to my ears sounds like a skeleton backing track or a poor demo. Which neatly leads us into the album closer Rough Life Part 1 [demo track]. Musically one of the stronger tracks from the album, like its' namesake Rough Life Part 2, however it is as it states on the label a demo track and as such the audio quality is not in the same league. Now I can see some merit in perhaps a more established band including a demo of one of their pieces on an album as a "bonus" track, but for an unknown Japanese band on their debut - pointless and smacks of not having enough material.

And there we have it, not a bad album, but not great either. There are some good moments as with the two opening tracks, Rough Life Part 2 and in the main Crying Cave Man, but, Cracks as a whole just doesn't work. I came to the conclusion that if the main core trio of the band sat down and wrote some strong material and then took it to the recording stage we would end up with a more cohesive and structured album. As it stands Cracks has no real identity and will therefore have limited appeal.

Conclusion: 5 out of 10

BOB MULVEY



Naoki Ishida - Fazing Redust
Naoki Ishida - Fazing Redust
Country of Origin:Japan
Format:CD
Record Label:Poseidon Records
Catalogue #:IM-009
Year of Release:2006
Time:37:36
Info:Naoki Ishida
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Evening Primrose (4:14), Fazing Redust (4:59), Tranquility Bug (4:40), Untitled (4:07), Cliche (7:10), It Started Certainly In A Sense (0:31), Structure Of Iki O 11:55)

I was pretty under-whelmed when I first listened to this album - so much so that I popped it back its case and made the following comment as an aide-memoir. "Fairly strange, aimless, ambient affair with a mixture of noises, strummed guitar, drones etc..." Three months later and my second run through of Fazing Redust, nothing has changed to alter my initial opinion.

I must confess, I really don't "get" this kind of minimalistic ambient nonsense. Naoki Ishida obviously does, and these words from his website, may more appropriately describe the seven offerings on his album:

"Naoki works with the sound-aesthetic of “acoustic ambient”, that also contains the elements of traditional music of Japan. Besides that, another important influence for Naoki's own music is free-jazz and serious electronic music. No wonder then that Naoki established his own unique music style — freely and unpredictable but quite minimalistic. This is the music that basically sounds like so-called “digital folk” or “minimal acoustic jazz-ambient”. His tone consists of the humour, the fantasy, and the serene silence."

To comment on some of those remarks I would say that, to my ears however, Naoki Ishida's tracks merely appear to be the odd strummed guitar notes or chords with a collection of unrelated noises. If something that appears to be wind chimes is an indication of ethnic culture then the album has ethnicity. If this album is spontaneous then elements of free-jazz may apply, however the lack any series of musical notation does bring this into question. It certainly is minimalistic and ambient although the humour was lost on me.

I considered not reviewing this album in all truthfulness, as I heard little to suggest that this would be of any interest to our readership. However before confining Fazing Redust to a storage box, I decided to check if any of the other progressive sites had reviewed this album. Yes they had and some quite favourably... so who knows?

I will conclude by saying that having listened twice through this release from Naoki Ishida I think I will stick with my original one liner...

Conclusion: 2 out of 10

BOB MULVEY




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