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2007 : VOLUME 74
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2006 New Year's Eve Special

Jean Michel Jarre - Oxygene (30th Anniversary Edition)
Jean Michel Jarre - Oxygene 30th Anniversary Edition
Country of Origin:France
Format:CD/DVD
Record Label:EMI
Catalogue #:50999 5141392 7
Year of Release:1976/2007
Time:CD - 40:10
DVD
- 81:34
Info:Jean Michel Jarre
Samples:Click here

Tracklist CD: Oxygene [Part I] (7.39), Oxygene [Part II] (7.54), Oxygene [Part III] (3.06), Oxygene [Part IV] (4.13), Oxygene [Part V] (10.11), Oxygene [Part VI] (7.07)

Tracklist DVD: Oxygene Live In Your Living Room [59.54]: [Prelude (5.39), Oxygene [Part I] (8.59), Oxygene [Part II] (6.48), Oxygene [Part III] (4.53), Variation I (3.38), Oxygene [Part IV] (5.26), Variation II (3.28), Oxygene [Part V] (9.55), Variation III (4.19), Oxygene [Part VI] (6.33)], The Making Of Live In Your Living Room (11.30), The Instruments (7.06), 3D images (4.04)

I was born too late to have been able to consciously experience the music of the seventies, so in many ways it is quite a surprise that I even got into prog at all when growing up in a time when the charts were dominated by bands like Wham, Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet. The two albums that initially got me introduced to prog were Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells and Jean Michel Jarre's Oxygene. Tubular Bells was the first ever vinyl record I bought with my own money as a ten year-old kid, and Oxygene was the first ever CD I owned, a present from my dad back in 1986. Looking back, both Oldfield and Jarre have had rather similar careers. Both had groundbreaking, pioneering debut albums (OK, Oxygene was actually Jarre's third, but it was his first internationally released album), both continued their winning streak with subsequent albums, both entered the Guinness Book of Records with ambitious concerts, and both careers sagged in the nineties, when they both started alternating releases of poor attempts at dance music with revisits of their debut album.

The 30th Anniversary Edition of Tubular Bells was a rerecording of the original album, using modern techniques, so it should come as no surprise that the 30th Anniversary Edition (well, 31st Anniversary actually) of Jarre's debut does exactly the same thing... and more!

Rather than simply remastering the original album Jarre opted to dust off his old analogue synthesisers and did a complete re-recording of the original album. Just like the original album he recorded the whole thing by himself, using overdubs to play all the parts, however, this time the 8-track tape recorder which was used for the original has been swapped for a modern digital studio, recording the music in High Definition 24 Bits/96 KHZ. Apart from the immaculate new sound quality you'd be hard-pressed to spot any differences between the 1976 original and the 2006 re-recording, even though the new version is 30 seconds longer.

When listening to the album for what seems to be the first time in at least a decade it surprises me just how well the music has stood the test of time. Despite being created with solely analogue keyboards of the time, the music sounds hardly dated at all. I am saying hardly, because the back in 1976 state-of-the-art drum computers are of course a reminder that this was indeed 1976 when the only rhythm a computer seemed capable of reproducing was a slow rumba.

But apart from rerecording his 1976 masterpiece Jarre went even a step further. He also invited three of his friends (Claude Samard, Francis Rimbert and Dominique Perrier) to play the entire album integrally live, as is presented on the accompanying DVD. Quite different from his usual gigs this performance was not accompanied by a huge laser and fireworks extravaganza in front of millions of people, but instead it featured just the four of them and a pile of analogue synthesisers, playing live in a studio, without any audience at all. Another first is the fact that Jarre & Co actually played live, without overdubs, backing tracks or metronomes - again, quite a difference from his usual gigs.

And rather than simply playing a note-perfect rendition of the original album (like the re-recording on the CD) the four musicians play in fact a new interpretation of the album, which features many variations and differences, as well as 20 minutes more music. This DVD is the real icing on the cake. It is a real treat seeing Jarre at work (does this guy ever age?) not to mention that this is a really good version of the album, presented in full HD with 5.1 surround sound. I am not saying it is superior to the original, but rather a nice alternative.

There are three versions of the new 30th Anniversary Edition available. The first is the standard CD version, which features just the re-recorded album and some new artwork. Then there are two different CD/DVD sets. One features a regular DVD, the other has the concert film in stereoscopic 3D, complete with funny red and blue glasses so you can watch the concert being performed 'really live in your living room'! To start with the bad news, the 3D version is not the one you want. It is a nice gimmick, but hardly worth the extra cash when compared to the regular CD/DVD. Though I don't really see the point of releasing both a 2D and a 3D DVD (which also contains the 2D film, btw), in this case you can actually save a few buck by not buying the 3D version. Jarre has always been a keen adopter of any new technology, but the 3D medium is still not advanced enough for convincing effects on a home cinema set (though I would be interested in seeing this film in 3D IMAX).

So it puzzles me why there are two different DVD versions of the album, but the record company didn't think of releasing the live version of Oxygene on CD? A double CD plus DVD would have been the ultimate version. Perhaps the 40th edition will be like that? Together with the concert film remastered as a 4D hologram in which you sit in the middle. Who knows?

But to come back on topic, like Oldfield's Tubular Bells 2003 re-issue, this is in fact the ultimate edition of Oxygene to have. Of course nay-sayers will be glad to point out the heresy in re-recording an album, but I assure you, the new recording is every bit as good as the original, it just sounds better!

Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10

BART JAN VAN DER VORST



Marillion - Somewhere In London
Marillion - Somewhere In London
Country of Origin:UK
Format:2DVD
Record Label:Racket Records/
Intact
Catalogue #:Racket 100-P
Year of Release:2007
Time:222:52
Info:Click here
Encoding & SoundRegion 0, 16:9
PAL / NTSC
Stereo, Dolby 5.1

Tracklist:

Disc 1 [104:42]: Splintering Heart (6:37), The Other Half (4:06), You're Gone (6:48), No Such Thing (4:13), Faith (5:23), Thankyou Whoever You Are (4:48), Fantastic Place (7:21), The Wound (7:24), A Voice From The Past (8:05), Somewhere Else (8:01), Man Of A Thousand Faces (7:25), Between You And Me (7:14), King (10:12), The Release (4:46), Neverland (12:11)

Disc 2 [118:10]: Here's Some We Played Earlier [53:54]: [Ocean Cloud (16:32), Afraid of Sunlight (6:58), Beautiful (5:50), Most Toys (4:08), Estonia (7:17), Sugar Mice (6:34), Easter (6:33)], Racket Club Rehearsal [38:42]: [Intro (2:17), The Last Century for Man (5:42), Estonia (7:48), Neverland (9:56), Faith (5:36), See it Like a Baby (7:21)], Surround Sound Album Mixes [25:34]: [The Wound (7:54), A Voice from the Past (3:57), No Such Thing (6:23), Somewhere Else (7:20)

Marillion released a new album in 2007, which inevitably meant a tour, which in its turn inevitably warrants a DVD release. Somewhere In London was filmed over two nights at the Forum Theatre in, you guessed it, London. Now Marillion have released a lot of DVDs over the past years, pretty much one for every tour since 1999, as well as many registrations of special occasions like the Convention weekends. So for the casual fan who doesn't necessarily need to have each and every single release it may be a tad difficult to decide which DVD to buy and which to skip.

Well, let me start this review by saying that Somewhere In London is, hands down, by far the best ever DVD the band has released. And the reason for this can simply be explained in two words: Camera. Crew. All previous DVDs shot by THE Boom Boom BOYS were essentially nice live albums, with some accompanying static images of the band, which often felt more like watching a slide show with some good music added. The new Dutch/British crew seem to have taken a leaf or two out of the book of Hamish Hamilton in terms of both shooting and editing. There are cameras everywhere, and most of them handheld, so that they can actually move and be adjusted in case a band member decides to do walk around onstage (an issue THE boom boom BOYS seemed never able to overcome). And the cameras are onstage, in front of the stage, in the back of the venue, at the soundboard, on the balcony, there are two cranes at the sides of the venue... and even some cameramen filming from smack in the middle of the audience, creating a real 'I was there' feeling. And then the cameras are moving about, shifting focus, zooming, pulling and doing all that stuff they do when you watch a U2 or Robbie Williams concert DVD.

Another good thing that really rubs off on this DVD is the change of lighting designer that the band did for this tour. Not that previous light shows were bad, far from it, it is just that their new guy is better. The lighting is so imaginative, with simple, though very effective effects added like a lighthouse during Ocean Cloud, or a setting sun during Afraid Of Sunlight. And then there are also some extra effects, like pyrotechnics during Splintering Heart and Ocean Cloud, balloons filled with confetti during Between You And Me and a mirrorball and more confetti during Neverland. I have to say it again, THIS is what a live video is supposed to look like. Finally, I might add as well, since this is their eighth so far, and all seven previous DVDs pale in comparison....

Anyway, you may have figured out by now that I am well pleased with the camera work and editing. Set-list-wise it is, well, ok-ish. The Somewhere Else tour was great when it came to set-lists, since the band played a different set-list every night. So the two nights at The Forum enabled Marillion to play a whole lot of material and create their 'perfect show' out of those songs. And understandably they chose mainly the material of their last two albums. And Somewhere Else is in no way anywhere near to being my favourite Marillion album, so for me personally the set-list is a bit of a let-down. However, I must say the live versions sound a lot better than the album versions. Especially the title track really benefits from Steve Rothery having control over his own volume so that his solo really sets the song on fire, making it one of the highlights in the set. Another highlight is the slightly reworked Man Of A Thousand Faces which follows, and the rare appearance of Season's End-era B-side The Release. Also, there is almost an hour of bonus footage on the second disc under the title 'here is some we played earlier' which features all the songs left out of the main feature. A great bonus, even if this does include the godawful Most Toys. A treat is the full 17-minute rendition of Ocean Cloud as are oldies like Afraid Of Sunlight, Easter and even an impromptu rendition of Fish-era track Sugar Mice, sung almost entirely by the audience.

The sound is fairly good as well. The whole gig is presented in 5.1 Surround sound, though the surround speakers are mainly used for reverb and the occasional audience noise. Again, pretty much like being at a real gig.

A real treat on the second DVD is the four songs off Somewhere Else in Dolby Surround. It still puzzles me why the band doesn't release their albums on DVD-A or SACD format, so it is a nice treat to have at least a small portion of their latest album in surround sound (though there is plenty of room left on the second disc to have included the rest of the album as well).

The third bonus on the second disc is a set of songs from a studio rehearsal which the band did in front of a number of fans who won a trip to the band's Racket Club studios in a competition. The full rehearsal is included on the latest Web Fanclub Christmas album Somewhere Elf.

So in conclusion, this is definitely a recommended release. As I said earlier, this is easily the best DVD the band has ever released and it really raises the bar for any future DVD still to come.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

BART JAN VAN DER VORST



Waking The Witch – Live [DVD]
Waking The Witch – Live DVD
Country of Origin:UK
Format:DVD
Record Label:Voiceprint
Catalogue #:VPDVD37
Year of Release:2007
Time:83:49
Info:Waking The Witch
Encoding & SoundRegion 0, Stereo
Ratio 4:3

Tracklist: Jenny Thornton And The Boys From The Abattoir, Dissatisfied Heart, Through And Through, Only Human, Spring Song, Me Leaving Me, Rock N Roll, Always One Like Her, My Conscience Keep, Waking Hour, Horse To Water (58:23) Bonus Feature: Band Interview (23:58)

It was with a touch of sadness when I put pen to paper (or rather fingers to keyboard) to start this review. The same week I received this DVD I read on the bands website that Waking The Witch would be going their separate ways in the new year. I say sadness because this is without doubt the best performance I’ve seen on DVD this year, if not this decade. To say that they are, or were, a band with an excellent future ahead would be an understatement. The ironic thing is watching Rachel Goodwin, Patsy Matheson, Becky Mills and Jools Parker perform its not hard to see why they’ve decided to pursue solo careers. It’s a rare treat to see four such gifted singers, songwriters and musicians in one band making this DVD for my money an essential purchase. The girls have been together for a little under five years and their workaholic lifestyle has resulted in countless live shows, three studio albums and finally, as a fitting testimony, this DVD. Not exactly finally as early in the new year they are embarking on a farewell tour. The venues are posted on the WTW website and I urge everyone within 1,000 miles to go and see them. Who knows given sufficient encouragement they might just change their minds.

Filmed on 25th January 2007, this recording captures the opening night of the tour to support the latest album Boys From The Abattoir. Fittingly the City Varieties in their home town of Leeds was the venue chosen. In addition to a generous helping of songs from their latest, they not surprisingly include tracks from 2005’s Hands & Bridges and the 2003 debut release Like Everybody. Picture and sound are as good as you would expect from a recently recorded DVD and to be honest watching these four ladies with the sound on mute would be a pleasurable experience. The set has been thoughtfully arranged to allow all four to demonstrate their lead vocal prowess supported by gorgeous harmonies to accentuate each song. These are sometimes delivered in pairs, threes or fours depending on the mood of the song. The end result is an eclectic folk rock sound that belies the often simple acoustic accompaniment. Diverse influences include Kirsty McCall, The Beatles, Joni Mitchell and Suzanne Vega.

The bittersweet Jenny Thornton demonstrates Becky’s story telling style beautifully as she relates the drudgery of small town living. The setting is unmistakably Yorkshire but it will strike a chord with anyone who has had similar experiences. In contrast Dissatisfied Heart has a transatlantic feel with cool Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young style four-part harmonies that are too sumptuous for words. Sung in the first person, Patsy’s Through And Through is a reflective piece and like so many of their songs has an autobiographical feel. For Only Human they are joined on stage by Jon Short (bass), Mick Bedford (drums) and Jonny Burr (harmonica). The playing of the latter in particular, together with Becky’s slide guitar work, adds a real blues edge to this gritty up-tempo song. Throughout the set Rachel’s thoughtful introductions between songs are a joy to hear, putting many of the inarticulate rants we are used to hearing to shame.

The elegiac Spring Song always reminds me of Simon & Garfunkel’s The Boxer whilst Rachel’s Me Leaving Me with ringing mandolin courtesy of Patsy is a highlight of any set. This version is both gutsy and melodic with for my money more edge and presence than the album version. Despite the title, Rock N Roll is a sweet ballad featuring a gorgeous duet by Patsy and Becky, who in turn provides jaws harp for Always One Like Her leaving the other three to supply the evocative harmonies. In addition to the Short/Bedford rhythm section, Fluff (Incredible String Band) joins them to add cello to My Conscience Keep, which has a smooth late night jazz sound with a sensuous vocal from Jools. With Waking Hour, taken from the debut album, Rachel further proves she has an ear for an uplifting and catchy chorus and again to my ears this has more dynamics and impact than the studio bound version. The rocking Horse To Water provides a fitting closer featuring some very funny exchanges between Rachel and Patsy during the group introductions.

If fans of the band thought that the infectious Yorkshire Boy was a curious omission from the set then the producers of this DVD must have agreed because it’s this song that provides the soundtrack for the menu pages. The real bonus however is extensive interviews with all four band members. It was filmed at the Grove Inn, Leeds a bar and venue I know so very well. Recorded individually, the interviews are intercut to provide each member’s take on various elements of the band’s career. Some of the revelations do not come as a surprise, such as the origins of the name (a song title from Kate Bush’s Hounds Of Love), compared with say once playing a gig at a women’s prison. Many of the humorous recollections will strike a chord with all travelling musicians like taking wrong turns on the motorway and not being able to find their way off stage. The answers to the final question are for me tinged with sadness as the girls talk optimistically about the band’s future.

At less the 90 minutes this is admittedly not the world’s longest DVD and there is no flashy stage production to speak of. What you do get however is a stunning performance from an exceptional band. Don’t be put off by the prog-light nature of the tunes, quality is quality and this has it in spades. Several artists I could mention release umpteen videos, none of which come anywhere near to matching the sheer excellence of this release. If you received a gift voucher for Christmas and can’t decide how to spend it please do yourself a favour and get a copy of this DVD. Even if you have to stump up the full asking price it could turn out to be your best purchase of 2008.

Conclusion: 9+ out of 10

GEOFF FEAKES



Prog-Résiste Convention 2006 [DVD]
Prog-Résiste Convention 2006
Country of Origin:Various
Format:DVD
Record Label:Prog-Résiste
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2007
Time:90:00
Info:Prog-Résiste
Encoding & SoundRegion Free, Pal
16/9, Stereo 2.0

Tracklist: Quantum Fantay Wais Dame Dilamp; Solstice CoilDeep Child; Overhead - Time Can Stay; Mangala VallisThe Boy Who Howled At The Moon; Foggy StuffFoggy Stuff; FinisterreSyn; RPWL - Roses

This is the fourth DVD produced from the annual convention held by Belgian magazine Prog-Résiste, and the third that we have reviewed on DPRP. Held once again at the Spirit Of 66 venue in Verviers, Belgium, over October 14-15 2006, the format remains largely the same as it appears to have been in previous years, with the seven (pretty diverse) bands getting a track each, and presumably appearing in the order they appeared at the concert (I can certainly imagine Mangala Vallis and RPWL as the headlining acts). As Geoff has indicated in his reviews of previous titles in the series, those expecting an all-singing-all-dancing visual extravaganza with multi-million pound production values and pristine surround sound are looking in the wrong place here; this is something of a warts-and-all production, with four roving cameras capturing the bands on a small stage with a basic lightshow, with the sound taken directly from the mixing desk. No complaints from me there, especially when the quality of both sound and pictures is generally good – sure, the sound occasionally wavers (most noticeably during Overhead’s performance) and the cameraman on the stage can be a bit of a distraction, but that all helps to give the disc an intimate ‘live and in your face’ feel. I do feel a little sorry for any musician stuck on the far left of the stage though (usually the keyboardists) – this appears to be the camera’s ‘blind spot’ and they barely get a look in.

The performances are padded out by footage of people entering the venue, standing outside the venue eating, talking to the bands – superfluous stuff, although the accompanying music (by Seven Reizh) is quite pleasant. Various interviews with the crowd are undertaken in a ‘vox pop’ style, although as my French is a little shaky I can’t shed too much light on the content – although many do seem to be extolling the virtues of the festival and prog’s ability to survive in the face of general apathy and media attacks- “prog resiste” seems an apt title indeed.

The first performance is by Belgian outfit Quantum Fantay, whose composition Wais Dame Dilamp had me thinking of Ozric Tentacles from the first trill of flute – and this thought never really left my head. Swirling keys, psychedelic guitar work and a pulsing backbeat all feature strongly in a composition that, whilst hardly original, is still quite enjoyable. Pity about the lack of stage presence though – maybe that will come with experience.

Plenty of stage presence from Israel’s Solstice Coil; the vocalist/ guitarist cuts a striking figure with his black pork-pie hat, white shirt and red tie, not to mention bizarre stage moves (for the British readers – he reminded me of Liverpool comedian Alexei Sayle in his Young Ones appearances). His band mates all seem to be enjoying the experience too. Musically this is quite interesting; probably best described as gritty neo-prog flavoured with middle-eastern folk influences. Pity about the aforementioned singer’s vocals though; his theatrical, slightly Fish-like voice seems to wander out of tune with off putting regularity, and rather ruins things as far as I’m concerned. Not sure they need three guitarists either…

When reviewing the second album Metaepitome from Finland’s Overhead I described it as a flawed yet encouraging album, full of moments of brilliance but also some rather dull longeurs and sections that just didn’t seem to work. The same can be said of their track on the DVD, Time Can Stay. As with most of the band’s output its difficult to categorise, moving as it does from gentle, flute driven passages to crunchy hard rock sections via the sort of quirky prog that A.C.T have made their name with. Vocalist Alex Ketsitalo is hardly the strongest of singers but makes a decent fist of some difficult vocal lines and flits well between delivery styles. The bands performance is certainly spirited, and this is definitely a band that, whilst not quite ‘there’ yet are definitely one to watch for the future.

There’s a huge step up in quality for the next act. Having only vaguely heard of Italian band Mangala Vallis, I assumed that they were something of a vintage outfit, especially given the, erm, mature appearance of several of their members. They have in fact only been going for the last few years, although various band members have been in bands in the past, noticeably vocalist Bernardo Lanzetti, who sang with Italian legends PFM in the mid seventies. Given the rather dodgy ‘howling’ with which Lanzetti opens The Boy Who Howled At The Moon, I was expecting a somewhat cringeworthy experience – wrong! This, for me, is easily the best thirteen minutes of the DVD. Musically, Mangala Vallis have more in common with the UK prog bands who emerged in the seventies than with their Italian counterparts; in both build and musical style, this track reminds me of GenesisThe Musical Box, especially the melancholic opening section, with Lanzetti commanding proceedings with his gravely, vaguely Gabriel-esque voice and theatrical stage presence. The band move sure-footedly through to a heavier section (shades of latter-day IQ here), to some fine dual guitar playing and solo-ing in a Camel-esque style, before everything comes to a suitably grandiose conclusion. The band look like there having a ball on stage, and the energy and enthusiasm is certainly infectious – great stuff, and a name I will be checking out further.

Next up, and presumably opening Day 2’s proceedings, are Belgium’s strangely named Foggy Stuff. This is a violin-led, predominantly instrumental track, with a nod to Mostly Autumn’s jig-style hoedowns, although more rooted in a conventional hard rock style. I felt the track was rather let down by a plodding rhythm section, pretty unexciting guitar playing and some ropey ‘harmony’ vocals, but it does have some energy and a few good musical moments.

I first heard of Italians Finisterre several years ago, and still give their excellent 1999 album In Ogni Luogo a spin from time to time. Evidently still going strong, the song chosen here, Syn (an instrumental, as much of their music is) is from their self-titled debut album. Whereas countrymen Mangala Vallis go for a more ‘British’ progressive rock sound, Finisterre are much more in the conventionally ‘Italian’ vein – the fact that they have two keyboardists amongst their five members surely cements their symphonic credentials! Having said that, I do detect more than a hint of Camel in the band’s music. Syn is clearly a complicated piece to play (guitarist Stefano Morelli refers regularly to the sheet music in front of him), and the track has its longeurs, but when the band hits the highs, they’re very high indeed. Performance-wise, its bassist Fabio Zuffanti who is the focal point, a constantly moving figure who even has the crowd raise and clap their hands along to the music at one stage – no mean feat with this sort of complex music.

German band RPWL have a relatively high profile in the microcosmic world that is progressive rock, and are clearly a favourite with the crowd, as is their chosen track, the relatively straightforward anthem Roses. Originally sung by Ray Wilson, usual vocalist Yogi Lang seems to find it a bit of a struggle, but that soon ceases to matter, as the crowd take over. A good note to end the ‘main’ section of the DVD on.

There is some ‘bonus’ material, starting with Finsiterre in one of the communal backstage areas, clearly having fun as they mug their way through a cover of The Beatles’ A Day In The Life. Mangala Vallis’s Bernardo Lanzetti then performs solo a track from his pre-PFM band Aqua Fragile, before Lanzetti is joined by Finisterre as he lustily belts out the old Genesis chestnut Dancing With The Moonlit Knight. OK, this is ‘one watch only’ stuff, but you do get the feeling of how communal an event this is, with both performers and audience seeming to be totally free of pretensions and having a good deal of fun.

Overall, whilst not every selection could be called exactly essential, this is still a good document, not only for people who were there but for the more casual prog fan looking for some new names to check out. The event itself comes across as a convivial one, organised by people prepared to look ‘outside the box’ for progressive rock talent. The selections by Mangala Vallis and Finisterre are the most impressive, and are probably worth the price of the DVD, seeing that it is set at a measly 7 euros - available from the Prog-Résiste website.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

TOM DE VAL



Coda - Sounds Of Passion (21st Anniversary Edition)
Coda - Sounds Of Passion ~21st Anniversary Edition
Country of Origin:Netherlands
Format:2CD
Record Label:Pseudonym Records
Catalogue #:CDP1086
Year of Release:1986/2007
Time:122:00
Info:Centertainment
Samples:N/A

Tracklist:

Disc One: The Album (58:30): Sounds Of Passion [total time: 29:14] {Prologue (2:17), 1st Movement (7:12), 2nd Movement (4:07), 3rd Movement (5:37), 4th Movement-final (9:59)}, Crazy Fool And Dreamer (4:25), Defended (7:07), Sounds Of Passion 4th [Single Version] (4:43), Sounds Of Passion 3rd [Single Version] ( 2:28), Crazy Fool And Dreamer [Single Remix] (4:24), Central Station (2:06), Reverberating Sounds (4:03)

Disc Two: The Demos (63:30): Prologue (3:07), 1st Movement (7:33), 2nd Movement (4:06), 3rd Movement (6:53), 4th Movement (9:43), Nevermore [The Proud Tower I] (4:25), Dance In The Mirror [Defended] (6:53), True Melody [The Proud Tower II] (3:19), Crazy Fool And Dreamer (4:31), What A Symphony [Part 1] (4:48), What A Symphony [Part 2] (5:16), Reverberating Sounds (2:52)

Leo Koperdraat's Review

In 1986, Sounds Of Passion, the debut album of Dutch band Coda was released, and now 21 years later a beautiful packaged 21st Anniversary 2CD Edition is released with a lot of extras.

In 1985 band manager Ton Strik was a guest in Wim van Putten's LP and CD Show, a radio programme on Dutch radio. Van Putten, an enthusiastic promoter of all things progressive, played two songs by this unsigned band. After that show the band got themselves a record deal and Sounds Of Passion was released. In the early Eighties we had seen a rise in popularity of progressive rock music with bands like IQ, Pendragon, Pallas, Twelfth Night and of course Marillion. Coda, however, sounded totally different. Band leader Erik de Vroomen was fond of the old Seventies prog bands as well as classical music and Sounds Of Passion combined those two influences and it resulted in a highly ambitious sounding debut album. The first pressing of the album sold out within a week and the second pressing within two weeks. There were plans to perform the album live with projection screens, slides and even ballet, however, this proved to be too expensive, so after a promising start things started to go downhill and the name of Coda started to fade into obscurity and the album became a collector's item. In 1991 the album was re-released on CD by SI-Music and even got a release on CD in Japan and South Korea. In 1996 Erik de Vroomens' Coda released a second (and last) album, the even more ambitious What A Symphony, but after that release Coda disbanded.

On Sounds Of Passion Erik de Vroomen was accompanied by Jack Witjes on guitar and vocals, Jacky van Tongeren on fretless bass and backing vocals and Mark Eshuis on drums and percussion.

The majority of the album was taken up by the 29 minute (nearly all instrumental) title track that consisted of a prologue and four movements (with the original album, side one ended with the third movement and the track continued with the final part on side 2!). After a spoken word prologue (very badly pronounced English by the way) things get going with the first movement. It starts with a longish atmospheric keyboard part accompanied by rain, thunder and finally the rest of the band. A short drum solo leads us to the song's main theme. It's a beautiful theme. We are treated to some nice Moog, guitar and Hammond solos. Very progressive! The second movement starts with some nice acoustic guitar followed by a short but beautiful piano part. Earlier parts of the song reappear in different shapes and forms during this part. Very cleverly done. There's also some nice Mellotron (Novatron?) string work to be heard. The third movement relies heavily on the other guests of the album Pip van Steen on flute, piccolo and recorder and Auke de Haan on alto sax. It's a very moving part of the song which has a Camel feel to it. The tension however is built up during movement three. A short guitar solo gives way to Auke de Haans short appearance on alto sax. The fourth movement (final) starts with chanting monks, an owl and again some light rain and thunder. When a door shuts a mighty Church organ leads the way into the final part of the song. From that moment it's full on progressive rock till the end. Guitar solos and Moog solos galore. When you think you've had it all, that church organ reappears again for a solo accompanied by choirs! The sound of thunder, Mellotron choirs appear and someone shouts "to regain victory" and we are taken right back to the opening melody of the first movement. It really is an extraordinary composition.

When I was listening to the title track, The Enid was a name that sprung to mind a couple of times. But when I asked Erik de Vroomen this in 1986 he told me he had never heard one note by this band. It suffers a bit from some of the eighties sounds (those digital bells!) but it's a very dynamic song that doesn't feel like it's 29 minutes long. There is some great playing by all the band members. Erik de Vroomens love of classical music can be very much heard in this song. It's Sounds of Passion indeed.

The other two tracks of the album are no fillers either. These are the two songs that feature the nice voice of Jack Witjes. First up is the very UK sounding Crazy Fool and Dreamer. It's a very good song with an incredible progressive ending with a great guitar melody, choirs and bass pedals. Predictable, but very well done and it works. It certainly has some commercial charm. There's a single remix of the song included as a bonus with some new parts. The progressive ending is featured again fully which is why it probably never became a hit. The original album closes with the very strong Defended. Again, like with Crazy Fool and Dreamer it's verse, chorus, verse, chorus for the first half of the song but then again a very impressive progressive ending. The first CD ends with some single edits from parts 4 and 3 of Sounds of Passion a bass solo by Jacky van Tongeren (Central Station) and a sort of collage song (Reverberating Sounds).

The second CD starts with a demo version of Sounds of Passion from 1983 recorded under the name of Sequoia. The contours of the officially recorded composition are clearly there. After listening to this version it's also clear that a professional studio and an experienced co-producer (Jan Schuurman) make a big difference. The real surprises of this re-release are the other extras of this second CD. These are demo recordings made just before the recording of the album started. In between versions of Crazy Fool and Dreamer, Defended and Reverberating Sounds there are also four songs that would be part of the second Coda album What a Symphony from 1996. Now, I never liked that album. It was too ambitious, too digital and overproduced. It missed the warmth that Sounds of Passion did have. But these versions of The Proud Tower parts I and II and What a Symphony parts I and II are brilliant. Lots of great Hammond work, so me excellent bass playing (especially on the Proud Tower part I), Moog solos, guitar solos and lots of mellotron (highlight are the strings solo parts on What a Symphony part I). What an excellent 30 minutes of prog rock!

What the exact reasons were why Coda never took off we will probably never know. In my opinion the album was released 15 years too late or 20 years too early. This 21st anniversary edition hopefully introduces a lot of (young) progressive rock fans to this underrated album by a very ambitious Dutch progressive rock band. Then hopefully Erik de Vroomen will call his old band mates, surround himself with Hammonds, Moogs and Mellotrons and starts to record again. According to the liner notes by Ton Strik there is not a lot of chance of that happening. But one can always hope.

Geoff Feakes' Review

The mid 80’s was without doubt a watershed period for prog. Many of the classic acts of the 70’s had by this point taken the AOR route in an endeavour to find a wider audience. To fill the void several new bands came onto the scene spearheaded by the so called neo-prog movement. Some excellent albums were released around this time demonstrating that there was still plenty of life in the old prog horse yet. One of the better releases was Sounds Of Passion, the 1986 debut by Dutch band Coda. Masterminded by multi-keyboardist Erik de Vroomen the album was distinctive for its marriage of progressive and classical musical styles. Nothing original there of course, the likes of Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman had been doing the same thing back in the 1970’s. They however had tempered their classical leanings with comical elements possibly to distract from criticism that they were taking themselves too seriously. Erik on the other hand takes it all very seriously, which is to his credit and something he shares with The Enid bandleader Robert John Godfrey.

It was interesting to read in Leo's review that Erik had never heard The Enid when he produced this album because musically the likeness is very close. Like Robert John Godfrey he obviously has a passion for 19th century romantic classical music which comes through strongly in the title track. In addition to Camel and Steve Hackett’s solo work I was also reminded of the early Barclay James Harvest albums on the Harvest label. Not surprising I guess as the orchestral arrangements for these had also been provided by Godfrey. Clocking in at nearly 30 minutes the five part Sounds Of Passion includes grandiose sweeping gestures from an array of keyboards supported by the fluid guitar of Jack Witjes. String synths provide a suitably dense and rhapsodic backdrop contrasting with some monumental and memorable celestial organ parts. The guitar sings and weeps at appropriate moments in true Steve Hackett and Andy Latimer fashion. And at the risk of overstating a point I would also have to single out the dual playing of Francis Lickerish and Stephen Stewart on The Enid’s In The Region Of The Summer Stars as a comparison.

Jacky van Tongeren (bass) and Mark Eshuis (drums) have the unenviable task of providing the rhythm for this richly structured and complex work which they pull off in style. Eshuis adds some splendid percussive flourishes including tympani that are very much in keeping with the classical style. The other two songs on the original album Crazy Fool And Dreamer and Defended are in the more traditional prog vein but no less effective for that. The vocals, which are provided by guitarist Witjes, are for me the albums weakest element but in fairness they are sparingly used. Erik and his compatriots clearly know where their strengths lie, which they demonstrate to the full.

With the original album running at a little over 40 minutes this 21st Anniversary two CD set comes with a host of bonus material to complete disc one and the entire second disc. This includes single edits, remixes and demos which Leo describes in more detail in his review. If you missed out on Sounds Of Passion first time round, or like me have a vinyl version that’s seen better days, then this re-release should be close to the top of your shopping list for the new year.

Conclusions:

LEO KOPERDRAAT: 8.5 out of 10
GEOFF FEAKES: 8.5 out of 10



Theo Travis - Double Talk
Theo Travis - Double Talk
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:33 Jazz
Catalogue #:33jazz166
Year of Release:2007
Time:66:20
Info:Theo Travis
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Ascending (9:40), Oblivionville (16:16), The Relegation of Pluto (7:17), The Endless Search (6:07), Pallendream (5:46), See Emily Play (4:39), And So It Seemed (10:43), Portobello 67 (5:35)

A couple of years ago I reviewed Theo Travis's previous album, Earth To Ether: the best album that I have reviewed up to now for DPRP. So I wouldn't miss the opportunity to check out his new release. For those not familiar with Theo's past, not only has he released various personal albums of the jazz genre, but he is also the jazz guy in the prog world. Collaborations include among others Gong, Soft Machine Legacy, Tangent, Porcupine Tree, No-Man and David Sylvian. I will start by underlining the rather significant changes that the line-up has gone through. Apart from drummer Roy Dodds, none of the musicians participated in his last album. Still Theo writes most of the music and plays all saxophones, flutes and clarinets, Pete Whittaker plays Hammond organ and Mike Outram plays the blues guitar. The latter two musicians significantly influence the final result which flirts with blues inspired jazz-rock more than ever. I'm not in a position to know if Theo had a conscious shift of interest towards this style or if the rest of the musicians indirectly flavoured the music. Robert Fripp also appears on the three more ambient tracks of the album.

The message seems to be given pretty clearly right from the start with a hammond based track (Ascending), great soprano sax and a bluesy guitar solo in the end. The song cleverly balances on the coexistence of two layers: the hammond is the first, either guitar or sax the second. The first ambient clues are given as Oblivionville begins, with Fripp guitars. Interesting though to see how the track evolves into a very sweet classic jazz-like piece in the likes of Henry Mancini or some works of Miles Davis. When the guitar of Mike Outram comes into play the atmosphere reminds a bit of Soft Machine going blues. When the guitar of Fripp enters though, the mood changes drastically and some works of Sylvian/Fripp come to mind as Theo picks up his clarinet this time. The track will conclude quite majestically revisiting its jazz opening and reaching to over 16 minutes of length but failing to prove more than its parts. However, I would like to stress that the (sax-led) change from the ambient part towards the end to the revisiting of the opening theme is one of the most true progressive moments I have heard in a long time - amazing.

Soft Machine fans will love The Relegation of Pluto where the Hammond is the leader, leaving a lot of free space for instrumental improvisation and experimentation. Theo's flutes and Fripp's guitar soundscapes in The Endless Search pave the way for Pallendream, which arguably is the album highlight. Bringing to mind No-Man's more ambient moments but also vaguely reminding me of the avant-garde ambience in David Bowie's Low album instrumentals, it is a very sensitive and emotional song that captivates the listener. Too bad Theo chooses to inject at this moment something so light-headed and frivolous as a cover of Pink Floyd's See Emily Play. The cover is not bad (I do not like the original anyway) as the joyful sound of the sax (which also renders the "a-a-aaaahh" of the original) manages to reproduce the spirit of Barrett's composition. However, such a cover could be omitted as I would definitely prefer a smoother transition after the ambient tracks before. And so it seemed is the blues pearl of the album: guitar opens the track and dominates it till the end backed up by the Hammond as the sax solos alternate with the guitar solos. Rather simple song structure here and the band invests more on the melodic sax and guitar fillings. Portobello 67 closes the album in a way a bit unexpected I have to admit, being quite light-weight and slightly naughty. Cute but I would die for a solid and more daring composition at this point rather than a pleasant one.

This time Theo and the band seem to have put less stress on the song structures and I think I miss some more complex moments and structure in the ideas that were definitely more present in his previous album. Also, this time the music is less lyrical, probably due to the absence of acoustic guitars and of course vocals (Richard Sinclair of Hatfield And The North, Caravan, etc. sung in three tracks in Earth To Ether). Moreover, piano is not used at all, while in Earth to Ether it did serve as a backbone in various circumstances. However, Double Talk still is a very good effort by a really great musician, composer and very talented sax (mainly) player. This album mixes a lot of styles (ambient - jazz & blues - classic jazz) without falling in the traps of any of the genres: never too much improvisation, never too much ambient to sound boring and never too much blues monotony. This is something that I find particularly hard to get and Theo should be credited with a unique ability to visit different music types with the right attitude. Double Talk is a very good and solid album, despite not being as intense as its predecessor and despite its flaws which I tried to describe above. I might have been a bit critical but after all, we are dealing once again with a charming album of very high standards. And thus without any hesitation I recommend it to all: jazz, blues or ambient aficionados or simply, lovers of good progressive music.

Conclusion: 8+ out of 10

CHRISTOS AMPATZIS



Glass – Glass Live at Progman Cometh
Glass – Glass Live at Progman Cometh
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Musea Records
Catalogue #:FGBG 4736.AR
Year of Release:2007
Time:66:19
Info:Glass
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Set One – Dedicated to Mike (but we can’t find him): (a) Give The Man A Hand, (b) Dedicated To Mike, (c) Astral, (d) The Border, (e) Crossing (20:32), Miles, Monk, Elton and Mom (4:18), Set Two – The Catch: (a) The Catch, (b) Patrice Mersault’s Dream, (c) The War Song, (d) For Ursus Major And Sirus [sic] The Dog Star (21:19), Big Sur 9-14-2000 (10:48) Bonus Track: No Stranger to the Skies (9:22)

As a big fan of Glass’s previous album, Illuminations, which I reviewed a year or two ago, I was delighted first to hear of and then to receive this live album, recorded several years ago (the first four tracks at Progman Cometh in 2002 and 2003, the bonus track at BajaProg in 2002). But I’ll admit I was a bit apprehensive, since Illuminations is such an exquisitely precise album – to me, after my long acquaintance with that earlier album, Glass seemed the quintessential studio band, and I was both eager and a bit anxious to hear how well they would acquit themselves on stage. I was right to be eager but needn’t have been apprehensive: this is an excellent album start to finish and one that proves the band to be as good at what they do in a live setting as they are in a studio.

I suppose most serious fans of progressive rock know this band’s story by now: formed in the early Seventies, the band found its music underappreciated and broke up for a very long time, reforming in the late Nineties and finally beginning to be embraced by fans of excellent instrumental progressive rock. One of the most astonishing things about this band (more astonishing when one hears them performing live) is that there are only three members: Jeff Sherman, Greg Sherman, and Jerry Cook. Yet the three of them (often performing on vintage instruments, originals from the band’s first incarnation) clearly fill a concert hall just as they fill out the sound on a studio album. I’ll add at this point, though, that there are guest musicians on several of the tracks here: Richard Sinclair, Bill Kopecky, Paul Kopecky, and The Soft Machine’s Hugh Hopper and Elton Dean. I won’t say much about their contributions here other than that those of the late Elton Dean on saxophone are the most clearly heard and notable; though I’ll confess myself not a fan of saxophone in general, his work here, particularly on the slow, lovely Miles, Monk, Elton and Mom, is first-rate and a most welcome addition to the trio’s sound.

Though I don’t myself like to write or read track-by-track reviews, perhaps I can characterize each of the five pieces here briefly as a way of recommending the album as a whole. Album opener Give The Man A Hand begins with precision-timed synchronicity in odd rhythm of bass, keyboards, drums – the kind of thing that drew many of us to progressive rock in the seventies and that here serves as announcement of the kind and quality of the music on the rest of the album. With Elton Dean’s help, the band weaves a long tapestry of alternately pleasingly complex and pleasingly simple melodies through the twenty minutes of the first set, ending with a delightfully syncopated movement in Crossing that showcases Jerry Cook’s spot-on percussion. Miles, Monk, Elton And Mom, which I mentioned a minute ago, slows things down for four minutes, an extended, dreamy saxophone solo riding above vibraphone-sounding keyboards.

But the band winds things up again with a ferocious (for instrumental progressive rock it’s ferocious, anyway!), complex, stop-start riff on The Catch, which features some inspired keyboard work by Greg Sherman while Jeff Sherman on bass and Jerry Cook on drums keep the melody tight and solid even as it winds and twists through many changes. This whole set is perhaps my favourite of the five pieces on the album, for its variety and because of the echoes of early-mid-period Genesis in keyboards and percussion that I hear in several of its sections. The set winds up with lovely piano work and a satisfying resolution in For Ursus Major And Sirus The Dog Star, and that’s the end of the pieces from Progman Cometh 2002.

The sole track offered from Progman Cometh 2003 is a good one, though. Beginning with muted “nature” sounds on synthesizer (culminating in thunder that announces the piano riff), Jeff Sherman’s composition Big Sur 9-14-2000 is a slow-paced, ominous piece that takes a long time to build and a long time to resolve itself but never bores, because it creates and maintains a consistent atmosphere. Here, the three band members use their instruments to tell a story more than to play a song, and if the details of the story aren’t obvious, the mood being created certainly is.

The album ends with a welcome bonus track from BajaProg 2002, the nine-minute No Stranger To The Skies (a song that, like several others on this live album, appeared on their 2000 release of the same name. A further overview can be located in our Forgotten Sons section). This track alone could allow Glass to lay claim to their own place in the progressive-rock pantheon, illustrating as it does the band’s skill both in composition and performance. It might be the best illustration on this album of the way all three members work together to assemble something larger than one would expect from the sum of the parts. While it’s possible to single out each musician’s parts, most important is the massive sound they create in the combination of those parts.

I’ll stop with the superlatives now and simply say that this is an excellent instrumental progressive-rock album. I won’t even add the adjective “live,” although it adds to the fun of the disc to realize that these performances were captured in front of an audience, because the tightness of the band makes the setting largely irrelevant to the listener. Let’s hope that Glass, having been apart and away for so long, will now remain together for a long time.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

GERALD WANDIO



KBB - Proof Of Concept
KBB - Proof Of Concept
Country of Origin:Japan
Format:CD
Record Label:Musea Records
Poseidon Records
Catalogue #:FGBG 4722.AR
PRF-043
Year of Release:2007
Time:55:25
Info:KBB
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Inner Flames (10:23), Weigh Anchor! (4:25), Stratosphere (9:06), Intermezzo (4:49), Rice Planting Song (5:39), Lagoon Nebula (7:29), 40 Degrees (4:14), Order From Chaos (9:20)

2007 has been a very good year for prog with numerous releases from the "The Usual Suspects" as well as strong releases from the "Newcomers & Discoveries" - noted in this years run up to the annual DPRP Poll. One band not mentioned but certainly worthy of inclusion in the latter section, (had I got my finger out), is Japan's KBB. With three DPRP recommended releases under their belts surely you must have checked out these guys by now? No!

Well if not and carefully crafted progressive instrumentals with lashings of Hammond-esque organ, a superbly tight rhythm section and all topped with some wonderfully melodic violin piques your interest, then you really should make the effort. I was sold after hearing the opening track of their second album Four Corner's Sky back in 2003. Album opener Discontinuous Spiral has become a firm favourite and a track I never tire of hearing.

KBB is certainly a band with chemistry and I'm therefore pleased to see the line-up has remained unchanged for this their third studio album, with the superb Akihisa Tsuboy (violins, guitars), Toshimitsu Takahashi (keyboards), Dani (bass) and Shirou Sugano (drums). And that chemistry is evident once again from the opening track. A mad flourish from the drums introduces the main theme for Inner Flames accompanied by a strong Jan Hammer-esque keyboard theme. The busy and gritty nature of the track along with Toshimitsu Takahashi's gutsy Hammond chords immediately brings Derek Sherinian to mind. The track lulls briefly with the introduction of Akihisa Tsuboy, but from here on in we are treated to a series of well written solo sections that demonstrate the strength of Tsuboy's mastery of the electric violin contrasted against Takahashi's versatile keyboards. This is intense stuff, but without ever losing sight of the basic theme. As minor criticism - at ten minutes plus it does outstay its welcome a little - perhaps a legacy of its live origins having surfaced originally on their Live 2004 album.

With all the mayhem of the first track the album definitely needed to come down, and it does so firstly with the breezy Weigh Anchor!. Still with a fairly driving beat, but this time the melody is light and engaging. We move further down for the intro of Stratosphere with spacey, (pardon the analogy), layered keyboard washes, soft tumbling drums and melancholic violin. This is maintained for the first four and a half minutes before all hell lets loose. The tumbling drums are replaced by a busy oddly metered rhythm, laying foundation to a Mahavishnu like solo section. Tsuboy opens up the section followed by a number of exchanges between himself and Takahashi - certainly worthy of Messrs Goodman and Hammer.

Intermezzo as its title suggests links the aforementioned work-out and the somewhat misplaced Rice Planting Song. Intermezzo has a romantic, classical nature with a hint of the far East providing a restful interlude to the album. A gorgeous melody and some beautiful piano. The jaunty Rice Planting Song on the other hand has an Eastern (although perhaps not Japan) folk quality and although pleasant enough, it rather interrupted the flow of the album. I tended to skip this track and found that Intermezzo flowed more naturally into the opening theme of Lagoon Nebula. The opening few minutes of which are breathtaking; swaying between the infectious main theme and intricate violin intersections. The middle section is a bit trickier to get into with an intense and fiery effect drenched solo from Tsuboy - akin to some of the more difficult moments from their previous album. After which the main theme returns, albeit in a more elaborate form.

KBB at their finest is represented by the jazzy but highly catchy 40 Degrees. The rhythm section is busy and an opportunity here to appreciate the contribution made by bass man Danni. Not only in his brief (and highly skilled) solo section, but in the way he anchors the music together. Tsuboy supplies the memorable tunes whilst Takahashi moves onto Rhodes like electric piano. Album closer brings all the elements together once more - Hammond organ, stunning electric violin and a great rhythmic base... I need say no more.

Having now reviewed three of KBB's albums for DPRP I can only say that this really is a band to check out... Some may be put off by the fact that this is an instrumental album, however the absence of any vocals is more than compensated by the often intricate but always catchy melodies. This is a great instrumental album. So if any of the following bands/artists feature in your CD collection then be assured that you will not be disappointed by Proof Of Concept. Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jan Hammer, Spock's Beard, Ryo Okumoto, UK, Eddie Jobson, Planet X, Derek Sherinian, Liquid Tension Experiment, Jordan Ruddes, Jean Luc Ponty...

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

BOB MULVEY



Marsupilami – Arena
Marsupilami – Arena
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC2007
Year of Release:1971/2007
Time:45:45
Info:Esoteric Info
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Prelude To The Arena (5:21) Peace Of Rome (6:58) The Arena (12:55) Time Shadows (11:14) Spring (9:14)

This is a very welcome reissue of an obscure early prog gem from 1971. I imagine it will be the first chance many of you have had to hear this, although an odd track or two has occasionally cropped up on Prog rock collections.

Fronted by the Hasson brothers, Fred (vocals) and Leary (keyboards) and guitarist Dave Laverock, Marsupilami also featured Jessica Stanley-Clarke on flute and Mandy Riedelbanch on saxophones. The rhythm section was Ricky Hicks on bass and Mike Fouracre on drums. Arena is their second and final album and saw them crafting a fully blown concept piece, with a dark, macabre edge. The rather brutal and graphic lyrics are by Bob West and the mighty fine production, by Peter Bardens (who, of course would go on to form Camel) is splendidly revealed by this new 24 bit remastered edition.

The CD is split into 5 (mostly) long tracks, but is, I feel, best enjoyed as a whole, to get the full benefit of the storyline and the recurring musical themes.

The informative booklet reveals that the group started off as a folk rock act, which explains their presence on Transatlantic Records but, though there may be some slight folk influences here, this is firmly in the progressive rock vein. I don’t hear the similarities to Quintessence or Gryphon which contemporary critics alluded to; I would say Van Der Graaf Generator and Gnidrolog were much closer in sound and spirit to this experimental music, with its contrasting moods and atmospheres, playing harmonious melodies against dissonant passages for dramatic effect.

There is lots of great organ playing here and some intricate guitar work from Laverock, who has a distinctly jazzy bent. Also laced throughout the work is some terrific flute and sax work.

I really like the concept behind this work, with its grisly depiction of Roman Gladiators, and the music ably illustrates the story. Even though the work is over 35 years old, the remastering helps make the work more palatable for a modern audience, but of course it does have a somewhat dated feel to some of it.

My only real criticism is that the vocals are somewhat raw and are probably an acquired taste. They reminded me of Derek Shulman from Gentle Giant, only not as good.

The booklet is nicely done, with liner notes which shed light on a bygone era. I didn’t know, for instance, that after the band dissolved, Leary Hasson went on to join the even more obscure Transatlantic Records group CMU for their Space Cabaret album – a disc which is already in my collection.

If you are a fan of the early British Prog style, this is well worth investigating; it’s an interesting curio, and deserves its chance at finding a larger audience.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

DAVE SISSONS



Poor Genetic Material – Paradise Out Of Time
Poor Genetic Material – Paradise Out Of Time
Country of Origin:Germany
Format:CD
Record Label:QuiXote Music
Catalogue #:QXT CD55
Year of Release:2007
Time:46:06
Info:Poor Genetic
Material
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: New Phase (3:59), The Key (4:05), Paradise (5:11), Out Of Time (8:21), Beauty Passing (4:06), Citizen Cyclops (3:52), Holy Ground (5:08), Starlightbound (4:12), My Other Life (7:06)

Poor Genetic Material was founded in Germany by Stefan Glomb (guitar) and Philipp Jaehne (keyboards) as an experimental project, initially for soundtrack work. In 2000 they met the band Alias Eye and saw an opportunity to work on more song-orientated material so recruited their singer Phil Griffiths and, after subsequent line-up changes, current members Dennis Sturm on bass and drummer Dominik Steinbacher joined. This is the sixth album under the PGM name, the previous four band efforts plus the original 1999 instrumental album re-recorded by the founding duo alone in 2005, Free To Random, have all been reviewed on DPRP and are available in the archives. While previous tracks have been long and atmospheric, this new album sees the band move towards simpler, shorter and less complex work recorded in spontaneous sessions with a live atmosphere. They still plan to record longer and darker material but this album gives the band an opportunity to show a different side to their work.

While the previous four albums make up a cycle of the seasons (Summerland – 2001, Leap Into Fall – 2002, Winter’s Edge – 2003, Spring Tidings – 2006), the new recordings stand alone and separate from the rest of the bands output and this album sees them joined by Oliver Berger as guest violinist. Opener New Phase sees a straightforward rock sound with Griffiths taking control, the sound being reminiscent at times of late ‘70’s/early ‘80’s Camel. The instrumental backing is solid rather than engaging, but the violin towards the end of the track adds greatly. The Key starts with guitar to the fore and some nice piano with vocal sound and delivery a little reminiscent of Paul Rodgers. Previous reviews have commented on the sometimes self-consciously literary lyrics, but here simplicity is the key (pardon the pun!). The rhythm section comes across as quite subdued, slotting in behind the piano and guitar where it is easy to ignore them – safe and straightforward. Paradise is a very relaxed piece with a lovely vocal from Griffiths and a nice bluesy guitar solo in the middle

Out Of Time, the longest track on the album, again makes good use of blues guitar soloing, Griffiths taking a back seat until the tempo picks up after three minutes. The remainder of the song is a good tasteful rocker with nice vocals and keys. There’s some Andy Latimer flavoured soloing in there too for good measure with tempo shifts to add to the interest. Beauty Passing initially reminded me of Marillion before moving into an ‘80’s pop vein. The guitar has an air of Steve Howe at times without making the whole sound like any of the work he has been involved with. Nice song well delivered. Next up is Citizen Cyclops which starts with an interesting keys and drums section before again slipping into straight rock with a light reggae vibe in the middle. Holy Ground is a slow and laid back number, again Steve Howe influenced in the guitar. There is a hint of Michael Sadler during the brief vocal of Starlightbound, as there is elsewhere on the album. This track also features some lovely organ work redolent of Pete Bardens era Camel. Closer My Other Life again has many Neo-Prog references without going over the top and is a really nice track, probably the most interesting on the album. The violin appears again to good effect adding a folky edge to the second half of the track before a rousing finale.

Being unfamiliar with the previous work of the band it is impossible for me to comment on how this new direction fairs in comparison other than to state that in most cases the references used in previous reviews do not occur to me; they aren’t up-tempo enough to fit into Saga territory and the atmospheric interludes of Brian Eno and Tangerine Dream are absent as is the experimentation of Radiohead. The band work successfully as a unit backing each other up and there are no star performances though the guitar of Glomb is worthy of a mention and Phil Griffiths is in possession of a great voice, warm and expressive, that could hold it’s own in any company. There are Neo-Prog influences here but they are kept in check by the bands desire to keep it simple. The result is certainly commercial and accessible stuff and, though pleasant and pretty enough, I wonder if it will make a regular visit to the cd players of dedicated prog fans. Worth investigation if you like simple, well played songs but this may not be what their existing fans are looking for.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

JEZ ROWDEN



Mike Oldfield - Music Of The Spheres
Mike Oldfield - Music Of The Spheres
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Mercury/
Universal Classics
Catalogue #:B000T6K8KW
Year of Release:2008
Time:45:23
Info:Universal Classic
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Part 1: Harbinger (4:04), Animus (3:09), Silhouette (3:19), Shabda (3:56), The Tempest (5:48), Harbinger [reprise] (1:30), On My Heart (2:27), Part 2: Aurora (3:42), Prophecy (2:54), On My Heart [reprise] (1:16), Harmonia Mundi (3:46), The Other Side (1:28), Empyrean (1:37), Musica Universalis (6:24)

To say that Mike Oldfield has somewhat lost his touch since the mid-nineties would be a kind of understatement. His ventures into areas like Lounge or Trance should be considered commendable, if only the compositions on his albums Tr3s Lunas and Light+Shade hadn't been completely devoid of originality of any kind. And don't even get me started on his constant re-hashing of Tubular Bells (though I must admit that Tubular Bells 2003 was an improvement, especially with the surround treatment).

Oldfield himself must have sensed this too, and apparently after Light+Shade he contemplated retirement, because he "felt like he had done it all". Well, there was one thing he hadn't done yet, and that was write a composition especially for a symphonic orchestra. He'd play with orchestras with the Orchestral Tubular Bells, and used an orchestra for the songs Doge's Palace and Lake Constance, but never before had he written a score specifically for an orchestra.

Music of the Spheres sees multi-instrumentalist Oldfield take a step back and only get credit as main composer and classical guitar player. The arrangement for the classical orchestra has been done by his long-time friend former Soft Machine keyboard player Karl Jenkins. For the intricate piano parts he turned to Chinese wünderkind Lang Lang, while Kiwi soprano singer Hayley Westenra appears on two tracks.

The opening track Harbinger doesn't bode well. It starts with a repetitive melody played by the orchestra, which leads to a solo piano playing... yet another variation on the famous Tubular Bells opening theme! My Gawd, can't he ever get away from that? Completely unnecessary in my opinion. As if someone who liked the original Tubular Bells, but hasn't followed Oldfield's work in the past 20 years would suddenly rush out and buy the album when hearing this point of recognition.

Upon my first listening of the album my reaction was to switch it off. The memory of Tubular Bells 3 still haunts me, so to speak. However, as the music started building to a climax it picked up my attention again, and about three minutes in something amazing happens. The music orchestra swells and the melodies sweep into something beautifully dramatic. Oldfield may be largely remembered for repetitive piano melodies, I also remember him for writing some of the most beautiful compositions ever and before the first track Harbinger is even finished, he has already won me over.

In Animus Oldfield himself makes his first appearance on classical guitar, which slightly reminds of some of the work on Ommadawn. The orchestra swells again and I close my eyes to drift off in a fantasy of some far away land, seeing cinematic shots of landscapes before my eyes. This is just absolutely gorgeous! Universal may be marketing this music as a classical composition, I actually associate it more with a film score. The closest point of reference I would say is Howard Shore's score for the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Like a film score the music changes from dramatic to bombastic to sweet and romantic. Shabda is more in the latter vein. Again, images of little Hobbits flash before my eyes, but Oldfield can be forgiven for conjuring up this sentiment. Midway the track changes into something more world-music style with marimbas and an African-style choir. (Again, Ommadawn comes to mind).

The Tempest is a sort of reprise of Harbinger, played in a different tempo, with variations on the theme. Not unlike some of the sections Oldfield did with Tubular Bells II or Crises. This inevitably leads back to a reprise of Harbinger.

A bit of a strange break in the middle is On My Heart, which is sung by Hayley Westenra, and -again- reminds of Howard Shore's Lord Of The Rings score, in particular the soprano sections of Return Of The King. In an instrumental composition, which thus far only contained vocalizations of intelligible words, a ballad with lyrics and all seems somewhat out of place. Then again, another well-known side of Oldfield is his love for kitsch, and this is about as kitsch-y as it can get.

But two minutes later we are back with an up-tempo full-on orchestral piece again, Aurora. Again, Oldfield revisits his own work and the main riff sounds a lot like Incantations pt 3, but as opposed to the Tubular Bells references I am less put off by this bit of self-plagiarism.

A short reprise of On My Heart follows, after which Harmonia Mundi is in fact a reprise of Shabda. I don't know why Oldfield bothered to give each section a name at all, the composition is split into parts 1 and 2 and he would have been better off simply putting just two tracks on the album. But never mind that.

What follows are The Other Side and Empyrean which seem to be included only in order to be able to feature each and every section of the orchestra onto the album. The Other Side is a bit like Peter and the Wolf with a fairy tale like oboe melody and an odd tambourine rhythm. Empyrean features a military style brass section which is just so pompous and out of place and then Musica Universalis (the Latin name for Music Of The Spheres) goes back to -unnecessary- Tubular Bells territory. Like the end section of his debut a soft arpeggio plays, while a simple melody is played on top, repeated each time by a different instrument, climaxing in -you guessed it- Tubular Bells. And as great as this climax may sound, it is just completely unnecessary, as it degrades a great composition into yet another orchestral version of Tubular Bells. A pity.

So the last 10 minutes are somewhat superfluous, yet the half hour that goes before is of surreal beauty and earns this album a DPRP recommended tag nonetheless. Apart from aforementioned Howard Shore, you can also call Steve Reich, Philip Glass or William Orbit as a reference and Oldfield himself likes to point out that he also influenced by classical composers like Holst and Rachmaninov.

On a less positive note, it remains to be seen whether this album will ever be released at all. Originally this album was scheduled for release in September 2007, then it was postponed to November and the promos were send out by Universal. But the November release date was moved back a week three consecutive times before it was pushed back altogether to January 2008. The latest news is that the album will be released on 9 March 2008, but this may well change again, as the delays came from Oldfield not being able to promote the album 'for personal reasons'.

When it will be released though it will be the first ever classical album released on a USB stick. A completely useless format if you ask me, the promo was sent out on a USB stick and I'll be glad when I can swap it for a shiny silver CD.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

BART JAN VAN DER VORST



Galleon - Engines Of Creation
Galleon - Engines Of Creation
Country of Origin:Sweden
Format:CD
Record Label:Progress Records
Catalogue #:PRCD029
Year of Release:2007
Time:44:35
Info:Galleon
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: A.I. (1:38), The Assemblers (5:45), Signals (4:21), Engines Of Creation (7:04), State Insane (6:09), Fog City (5:10), The Cinnamon Hideaway (2:04), Men And Monsters (9:44), Machine Mother ( 6:21), Lightworks (9:12)

After working on their very ambitious last album From Land To Ocean for three years (two years were spent on the 52 minute The Ocean) Galleon found it extremely difficult to keep those creative juices flowing. Throughout 2005 nothing was happening. Then on top of that, drummer and founding member Dan Fors announced at the beginning of 2006 that he would quit the band due to lack of inspiration and wanting to spend more time on other things in life. Goran Johnsson, formerly of Grand Stand was recruited. Bass player and lead vocalist Goran Fors knew Johnsson from the Spektrum project. He also plays keyboards with Cross. During 2006 Fors and Johnsson started to brainstorm on new ideas and suddenly the creativity came back and the recording of what would become Engines of Creation started in July 2006 and it took a year to finish the album.

The sleeve design is again by keyboard player Ulf Pettersson (he also did the beautiful sleeve of From Land To Ocean) but this time it’s a bit different design from other Galleon album sleeves. It’s a perfect match with the difference in the music and lyrical content of the album. The main theme of the album has to do with technology and all the (wrong) things man does with it. Big brother, artificial intelligence, plagues and oppression are the main subjects. They paint a very bleak picture of mankind.

We are the creative race. When it comes to pain, men and monsters are the same’ (from ‘Men and monsters’).

All the albums lyrics are by Goran Fors. On previous albums he already showed his concerns about the way our society is developing. He leaves room however for some light at the end of the tunnel in the closing Lightworks.

For future better ways. No more corrupted silly games. We have to set it right this time’.

Musically things have changed. Maybe it’s because of new member Johnsson but the album has a lot more energy and driving force than previous albums. The album is heavier and has a more modern sound (it’s the first Galleon album that only uses digital equipment). Johnsson has a different way of drumming than his predecessor Dan Fors. He seems to hit the drums harder but also uses a lot of different cymbals and small percussion to keep things varied. However this driving force and higher energy levels are noticeable with all band members. Especially guitar player Sven Larsson really seems to have found his place and sound within Galleon because he really shines on this album.

From heavy riffs (The Assemblers, State Insane, Men and Monsters and Machine Mother) to beautiful acoustic work (on the short soundtrack like instrumental The Cinnamon Hideaway). Keyboard player Ulf Pettersson seems to have more of a supporting role but that’s deceiving because there is plenty of his excellent keyboard work to enjoy on this album. Lots of moog solos seemingly coming out of nowhere. Listen for example to the Brutal reign… part of Machine Mother. Pettersson really lifts that part of the song with some bombastic choir work. Later in the song he displays some beautiful piano playing. And then there is bass player and lead vocalist Goran Fors. I think his vocals on this album are much stronger than on previous records. More self assured. And more importantly; he certainly cut down the number of sentences in each song. In the past he sometimes seemed to have difficulty to fit all the words in the melody. There is a much better balance now. The best example for that is the excellent Signals. What a beautiful chorus! Also his bass work really is strong (on Monsters and Men for example).

The band claims that there is a more Rush-like energy present on this album. And I agree. Not that the music sounds like Rush but after listening to the album a lot I can understand what they mean. Although I must say that the second part of Lightworks (the Lightworks perfect way… part) reminded me very much of Mystic Rhythms from the Rush album Power Windows and the opening riff of The Assemblers has a little Snakes and Arrows feel to it (until Pettersson brings his Moog to the front of the mix).

Highlights of the album? The Assemblers is a very dynamic opener (after the short but beautiful instrumental A.I.) that sets the tone. The earlier mentioned Signals simply is perfect with a beautiful chorus and at the end a guitar/keyboard duel. State Insane has some riffs that Big Elf and Black Bonzo would be proud of that are not the names you expect to read in a ‘Galleon’ review. This song has also some very hard, down to earth lyrics about the government as Big Brother.

and when the so called authorities come kicking in your door. And microchip your body. Unconscious on the floor.

Men And Monsters starts as the 'Galleon' as we knew them but soon changes into a heavy jazz rock kind of a song with some very atmospheric vocal parts in between. The vocals in combination with the piano reminded me a bit of Echolyn. The last three minutes of the song are heavy progressive rock stuff. Excellent! And lastly Machine Mother features one of the most exiting pieces of music of the album - I mentioned that already in this review. They seem to end the song with a beautifully sung part with just piano so when the song did continue I was a bit disappointed at first until I noticed that it was a reprise of that Brutal Reign… part.

Lot’s of things have changed in the last 10 years of Galleon's existence. They had some personnel changes, some touring setbacks and creative droughts but still they managed to get better and better on each new release. I was very positively surprised by Engines of Creation, especially by the album's drive and energy. It’s an album that I never expected Galleon would be able to make. IMHO it is one of the best albums of their career so far.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

LEO KOPERDRAAT



Solstice – Silent Dance (The Definitive Edition)
Solstice – Silent Dance (The Definitive Edition)
Country of Origin:UK
Format:2CD
Record Label:F2 Records
Catalogue #:200709A
Year of Release:1984/2007
Time:CD:1 42:59
CD 2: 70:04
Info:Solistice
Samples:Click here

Tracklist:

CD 1: Peace (6:31), Earthsong (6:38), Sunrise (4:07), Return Of Spring (4:54), Brave New World (8:47), Cheyenne (5:59), Find Yourself (6:01)

CD 2: Demo 1982: Morning Light (1:12), Return Of Spring (6:50), Whyte Lady (5:49), Morning Light (1:31), Pathways demo: New Life (4:21), Whyte Lady (5:49), Pathways (6:23), Morning Light (2:44), Demo: Sunrise (3:42), Peace Tape Demo: Peace For The New Age (6:38), New Life (4:37), BBC Friday Rock Show 1983 Session: Find Yourself (4:30), Peace For The New Age (6:34), The Sea (7:31), Cannablise Legalis (4:47)

Solstice – New Life (The Definitive Edition)
Country of Origin:UK
Format:2CD
Record Label:F2 Records
Catalogue #:200709B
Year of Release:1993/2007
Time:CD:1 41:33
CD 2: 76:07
Info:Solistice
Samples:Click here
Solstice – New Life (The Definitive Edition)

Tracklist:

CD 1: Morning Light (3:47), Guardian (10:42), The Sea (6:53), New Life (4:54), Pathways (5:05), Journey (10:04)

CD 2: New Life (demo) (3:42), Spirit (demo) (3:09), Live Bootleg 1984: Morning Light (3:03), Return Of Spring (7:50), Pathways (7:56), Live Bootleg 1985: Sunrise (4:28), Peace (7:00), Earthsong (6:12), Cheyenne (6:09), Brave New World (9:36), Chicken Train (4:22), Time For A Toke (2:38), Guardian Of My Soul (11:14)

Solstice – Circles (The Definitive Edition)
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:F2 Records
Catalogue #:200709C
Year of Release:1997/2007
Time:62:40
Info:Solistice
Samples:Click here
Solstice – Circles (The Definitive Edition)

Tracklist: Salú (5:24), Circles (8:32), Soul To Soul (7:20), Thank You (5:51), Medicine (5:50), Sacred Run (6:19), Coming Home (3:07) Bonus tracks: Medicine [previously unreleased early version] (5:50), Salú [demo] (4:53), Coming Home [demo] (2:59), Freedom [demo] (6:34)

Solstice – The Cropredy Set (The Definitive Edition)
Solstice – The Cropredy Set (The Definitive Edition)
Country of Origin:UK
Format:2CD
Record Label:F2 Records
Catalogue #:200709D
Year of Release:2002/2007
Time:CD: 45:12
DVD: 55:31
Info:Solistice
Samples:Click here

Tracklist:

CD: Morning Light (3:24), New Life (4:50), Find Yourself (4:42), Circles (7:38), Ducks On The Pond (4:07), Awakening (3:48), Medicine (5:33), Thank You (4:45), Sacred Run (6:19)

DVD: Morning Light (3:24), New Life (4:50), Find Yourself (4:42), Circles (7:38), Ducks On The Pond (4:07), Awakening (3:48), Medicine (5:33), Thank You (4:45), Sacred Run (6:19) Bonus material: Interview with Andy Glass

If one band could lay claim to the label ‘prog’s best kept secret’ than Solstice would surely make the shortlist. And I’m speaking here from personal experience. When I put the first of these discs in my CD player my initial reaction was ‘where has this band been all my life’? I say life when in reality I mean the past 27 years. After forming in 1980 they have released just four albums that have been lovingly remastered and repackaged as part of this collection from F2. Familiar with the band in name only I was under the misapprehension that they were a folk-rock act. True, the violin and female vocals do add a folky vibe but in essence Solstice are a prog band with the accent on melody in the grand tradition of Yes, Genesis, Camel, BJH, Renaissance, Mostly Autumn and Magenta. In addition to violin the mix includes keyboards, bass and drums with the focal point being the soaring and lyrical guitar style of Andy Glass. Any fan of Howe, Hackett, Gilmour, Latimer and Iona’s Bainbridge will love his playing. He is also responsible for writing the bulk of the excellent songs and the one common factor in the band’s ever evolving line-up. With the necessity to consistently recruit new singers, part of those changes has involved six successive vocalists.

Like so many bands before them, their formative years included numerous club and university gigs up and down the UK resulting in several appearances at the legendary Marquee Club, London in 1983. By this point vocalist Sandy Leigh had joined the band, which in addition to Glass included Marc Elton (violin and keyboards), Mark Hawkins (bass) and Martin Wright (drums). It’s this line-up that went onto to record the debut album Silent Dance released the following year. Prior to Sandy, Sue Robinson and Shelly Patt respectively had sung with the band and despite their brief tenure they both appear on the Silent Dance bonus disc. Appearing as it did in the formative years of neo-prog their debut could be categorized as part of that movement whilst tipping its hat to the classic works of the 70’s. This is clearly evident from the opening bars of the pulsating but melodic Peace. A striking melody underpinned by fine guitar, violin and synth interplay is capped by Sandy’s evocative voice which is as close to Jon Anderson’s as you can possibly get.

The closing song Find Yourself is something of a departure for the band with a smooth jazz flavour notable for Hawkins’ warm fretless style bass and funky keyboard musings reminiscent of Stevie Wonder. Sandwiched between this and Peace are five beautifully crafted songs that range from the acoustic tranquillity of Earthsong to the Mike Oldfield flavoured Cheyenne with its seductive choral chants and pounding multi layered percussion. This song also brought to mind the excellent Red Box (remember them the early 80’s?). Sunrise and Return Of Spring provide Elton the opportunity to indulge in expressive violin soloing (which remained an important ingredient of the Solstice sound) and he closes Brave New World with some upfront Tony Banks style synth noodlings. Glass adds majestic electric guitar to the same song sounding like Steve Howe at his sweetest. In comparison his sunny acoustic work throughout the album has a real Ant Phillips vibe.

The Silent Dance bonus disc is a real bonus indeed cramming in a wealth of demo and live material recorded by the band prior to the debut album. For the four opening tracks they had yet to find a lead singer so Glass and Elton provide the vocals. Return Of Spring stands out for me sounding quite different to the final version with the addition of rich synth lines that add weight to the melody. The bass also sounds a tad punchier on these earlier demos. The ethereal Whyte Lady is an interesting song in that although there are two versions here, this is its first appearance on CD. The melody is also uncannily close to The Police’s Don’t Stand So Close To Me. Tracks 5 to 8 feature Sue Robinson who has a pleasant voice in an Annie Haslam kind of way, whilst Shelly Patt makes her sole appearance on an early version of Sunrise that fades all too quickly.

Peace For The New Age marks Sandy’s recording debut with Solstice and is also noteworthy for the urgent proggy performance by the now complete line-up. The final four tracks are however the disc highlights taken from a 1983 session for BBC Radio 1’s Friday Rock Show. Benefiting from a polished sound the band gives a tight performance both instrumentally and vocally, a result of their extensive gigging up to that point. Peace and The Sea demonstrate Glass’ guitar mastery to the maximum and the latter could have sat quite comfortably on a Steve Hackett album. The concluding Cannablise Legalis (original title Pot Noodle) provides a glimpse of the bands humorous side and best described as a country and western thrash! The only thing missing is a washboard.

Nine significant years separated the release of the band’s second album New Life and its predecessor. The intervening years proved to be turbulent times for Solstice. Vocalist Sandy Leigh made a quick exit followed by bassist Mark Hawkins who was given his marching orders following one Christmas gig. They were replaced by Barbara Deason and Ken Bowley respectively who can both be heard on the bonus disc here. Things didn’t run to plan however and within a year of their debut release the band decided to call it a day. Apart from a charity event in 1986 they didn’t resurface again until 1992. As New Life testifies the return heralded a more confident and polished sound with Glass asserting himself in both the guitar and production department. For his part Elton’s exceptional violin work throughout provides a perfect foil for Glass especially when they turn up the heat. The album also included two of their longest compositions to date. With only Glass and Elton remaining from the previous release they enrolled Heidi Kemp (vocals), Craig Sutherland (bass) and Pete Hemsley (drums). Morning Light proved to be a suitably strident opener with a strong performance from Heidi and soaring David Gilmour style guitar dynamics from Glass.

Guardian contrasts a reflective song section led by a luscious vocal with fiery guitar and violin exchanges. Glass and Elton are clearly having a blast here. Glass then embarks on a monumental spree of soling that again suggests he has been listening to the Floyd guitarist during the band’s hiatus. The Sea for me has to be Solstice’s pièce de résistance. It’s an evocative instrumental with stunning guitar and violin against a shimmering backdrop that conjures up Yes’ Onward. And whilst were on the subject, New Life and Pathways are two lively songs with catchy melodies, skilful harmonies and flawless instrumental work that consistently evoke Anderson and co circa The Yes Album/Fragile/CTTE. The concluding Journey has an epic scale combining Genesis style 12-string tranquility with moments of heavyweight bombast. The Sutherland/Hemsley rhythm partnership comes into its own here as does a multi tracked Heidi Kemp. The coda is a peach, building from a sweet melody that has more than a passing resemblance to Minnie Riperton’s Lovin’ You, to a symphonic crescendo.

The New Life bonus disc (subtitled Demos & Bootlegs) consists of two demos plus recordings taken from three gigs between 1984 and ‘85. Although the live recordings betray their humble origins by lacking in presence, the band’s raw energy is clearly evident. Barbara Deason’s voice has an appealing frailty along the lines of Judie Tzuke although she does occasionally struggle to reach the high notes. Songs from both Silent Dance and New Life are included, together with three that never made it onto album, namely Spirit, Chicken Train and Time For A Toke. Not surprising considering the uncharacteristic style of each. The Spirit demo has a breezy jazz feel and typical of the kind of thing that Sade would record. Chicken Train and Time For A Toke are taken from a Marquee gig which has the live atmosphere that’s absent from the other shows. Both are rousing blues romps with bags of audience participation allowing the band the opportunity to let their hair down. Of the more serious stuff I especially like Elton’s stunning violin soling during Return Of Spring which stylistically reminded me of the great Stefan Grappelli.

Although ten years have past since its making, Circles is still the band’s most recent non-live recording. It’s also generally regarded to be their finest. In addition to the strong material one reason I guess is the diversity of moods compared with the two previous releases. It also includes for my money the two definitive Solstice songs, Medicine and Sacred Run. This time it’s a single disc only with four bonus tracks included. In the run up to the recording another line-up change brought on board (surprise, surprise) a new vocalist in Emma Brown and the band’s first ‘name’ musician Clive Bunker (Jethro Tull, Pentangle, Gordon Giltrap) on drums. With Craig Sutherland back on bass, Andy Glass and Marc Elton are also both present and correct. The latter takes more of a back seat role however handing over the keyboard and full songwriting duties to Glass. His violin is also used more sparingly.

The instrumental Salú is a surprising opener given that it’s a fairly laidback and contemplative piece. The weeping guitar is very emotive however supported by mellow bass and dreamy keys effects. The anthemic title track that follows is one of the bands best ever with a captivating melody lead by the assured vocal. Emma’s voice has the beauty and grace that we’ve come to expect from a Solstice singer but her overall performance is gutsier than her predecessors. The songs optimistic tone changes with the inclusion of a sampled news commentary on the police’s brutal tactics during the 1985 Stonehenge free festival. Soul To Soul has a similar feel to the opening track but a reflective vocal turns it into a compelling ballad with ringing guitar and a moody bass pattern. Elton’s expressive violin makes its first appearance on Thank You which also includes edgy guitar work from Glass and a memorable choral hook. The elegant Medicine, with its gentle acoustic guitar and melancholic violin, is without doubt the band’s most romantic song to date. The melody is to die for highlighted by a searing guitar break that sends shivers down the spin.

Follow that if you can and Solstice certainly does with the stunning Sacred Run sounding like Iona at their energetic best. It’s blessed with another great vocal and a cutting guitar melody that brings Steve Rothery to mind. The brooding closer Coming Home is something of a departure for the band. It’s a guitar instrumental with stately Mark Knopfler flavoured electric guitar over a mellow acoustic backing. There’s more to come however with the welcome return of Medicine. This is an earlier demo version with a charming vocal by Heidi Kemp and a smoother although less engaging string sound. The Salú demo is reasonably close to the final version although some of the guitar parts here are covered by flute courtesy of keys. Likewise the Coming Home demo uses the same device to replace the electric guitar. The flute and acoustic guitar combination lends a pastoral almost classical feel and the difference in mood is quite striking. The sweeping Freedom might be a demo but it has all the majesty of a fully worked piece. It also provides an effecting closing statement with an infectious choral refrain “We shall be free” driven by towering bass and drums.

The year following the release of Circles the band were invited by the legendary Fairport Convention to appear at the annual Cropredy Festival, a major event in the UK folk calendar. So on a sunny afternoon on 15th August 1998 the band took to the stage and worked their way through a stunning set that included songs from all three studio albums. They were one of two acts at the festival that year fortunate enough to be caught on camera and tape. However when it came to listening to the playback Andy Glass was disappointed to find that the recording didn’t match the quality of the performance. With a commercial release planned the bold decision was made to repeat the set live in the studio the following day. And it’s this recording that first made its appearance on CD only. Similar technical problems meant that the video never saw the light of day, until now that is.

Fortunately for Solstice they were able to retain the services of Emma Brown for the set and she remains their singer to this day. Marc Elton made the difficult decision not to perform live due to a hearing ailment leaving Glass as the sole founding member. The band came up trumps however with a real find in Jenny Newman who provides the stunning fiddle playing together with backing vocals. Steve McDaniels takes over the keyboard stool (although he often plays standing up) and new bassist Rob Phillips joins Clive Bunker in the rhythm department. From the suitably uplifting opener Morning Light with its orchestral intro to a storming version of Sacred Run the band are in magnificent form throughout. Bunker’s drumming in particular has far more presence increasing the dynamics on songs like Circles. Highlights include a new instrumental Ducks On The Pond and Awakening, the title song from Bunker’s then current solo album. Ducks is a real crowd pleaser combining reggae rhythms with an energetic fiddle led reel. Awakening features a lively performance from Emma sounding not unlike Siouxsie Sue backed by a monumental riff Led Zep would be proud of.

The DVD looks fine on my computer monitor but when transferred to a larger TV screen the shortcomings become all too apparent. The excellent sound quality is unfortunately not matched by the picture. Obviously recorded on video tape, the images and colours lack the sharpness that we’ve come to expect from DVD. It’s also discernible that the sound was recorded elsewhere with the vocals and vision at times slightly out of sync. Having said all of that, the benefits of seeing this exceptional band play live does make it highly watchable. Andy, Emma and Steve are clearly having a ball whilst Phillips comes from the Entwistle school of expressionless bass players. Bunker, unrelenting on drums, looks like the consummate musician he is. Visually Jenny’s fiddle playing skills are a joy whilst Glass plays to the camera with some showy guitar histrionics. The welcome inclusion of both Find Yourself and Medicine ensures there is a nice balance between the ballads and the more up-tempo numbers.

All these releases come with the DPRP stamp of approval but if I had to stick my neck out and recommend just one above the others then I guess it would have to be Circles. This is reflected in my rating below. In truth however, as part of the definitive history of one of the UK’s best and most unsung bands, they’re all worthy additions to any collection. In their own way they each display all the attributes that you would hope to find in a good prog album, memorable songs, stunning musicianship, great sound, beautiful artwork and superb packaging. Add the wealth of bonus material and you have one formidable collection. F2 have without doubt done an excellent job here. This is one of those rare occasions when the term ‘definitive edition’ really does have some value. Appropriately, to close both the DVD and the collection Andy Glass provides a fascinating insight into the band’s heady career. When the end result is music this good it has to have all been worth it.

Conclusions:

Silent Dance:: 8.5 out of 10
New Life: 8.5 out of 10
Circles: 9 out of 10
The Cropredy Set: 8 out of 10

GEOFF FEAKES



Pagan's Mind - God's Equation
Pagan's Mind - God's Equation
Country of Origin:Norway
Format:CD
Record Label:Limb Music
Catalogue #:LMP 0711-103 CD
Year of Release:2007
Time:60:01
Info:Pagan's Mind
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: The Conception (2:09), God's Equation(7:56), United Alliance (5:04), Atomic Firelight (5:18), Hallo Spaceboy (5:30), Evolution Exceed (6:08), Alien Kamikaze (4:36), Painted Skies (6:32), Spirit Starcruiser (6:01), Farewell (2:10), Osiris' Triumphant Return

About Pagan's Mind previous album the main complaint was that they were not exploring new grounds and since DPRP deals with progressive rock this was a fair decision and thoroughly explained in the review of Enigmatic : Calling. The same thing can be said about this album to some extent. The songs are typical heavy metal songs and the lyrics deal with the familiar subjects like religion, science fiction and spirituality. On the other hand God's Equation is one of the best heavy metal albums of this year. Each song is moulded to perfection and played with high technical craftsmanship but always in service of the music. The sound quality is absolutely superb, a crystal clear heavy sound. On this album the vocals of Nils K Rue are truly marvellous, his singing is often compared to that of Queensrÿche vocalist Geoff Tate. Also Pagan's Mind was considered a Dream Theater clone but this album reminds me more of Masterplan, who also has released one of the best heavy metal albums of this year.

A song by song review would be inappropriate, apart from two short instrumentals all songs are typical heavy metal songs. Heavy guitar riffs, a catchy sing-a-long chorus, a guitar solo and occasionally a keyboard solo. This simple definition suggests a uninteresting album but that is certainly not the case. Each song has it's own identity and it's own characteristic elements that make each song distinctive. After several spins this album still appeals from start to finish. One song that deserves special attention, Hallo Spaceboy, a cover from David Bowie but almost completely restyled in Pagan's Mind style. Vocalist Nils K Rue is trying to much to copy Bowie's singing style while he should have kept loyal to his own. Apart from that a very interesting cover.

Pagan's Mind has released a very good heavy metal album, probably one of the best in it's genre. The craftsmanship and sound is of outstanding quality and the whole album remains interesting even after several spins. Whether or not you will like this album is all a matter of musical taste. Since the album is called God's Equation I think it's appropriate to continue Andy's mathematics concerning the rating just like he did in the review of Pagan's Mind previous album. If you are looking for something new or progressive on this album you can subtract a point, if you don't like heavy metal you can subtract as many points as you like. If you however do like heavy metal you can add half a point and if you are a Pagan's Mind fan you can add another full one to make it a perfect rating.

One footnote: on their previous album two eyes are staring right at you. On this sleeve there are two breasts with firm nipples staring at you but on the actual CD cover they are censored by an additional piece of hair.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

EDWIN ROOSJEN



Jordan Rudess - The Road Home
Jordan Rudess - The Road Home
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Magna Carta
Catalogue #:MAX-9092-2
Year of Release:2007
Time:64:15
Info:Jordan Rudess
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Dance On A Volcano (8:44), Sound Chaser (12:54), Just The Same (8:22), JR Piano Medley [Soon, Supper's Ready, I Talk To The Wind, And You And I] (8:22), Piece Of The Pi (3:05), Tarkus [Eruption, Stones Of Years, Iconoclaust, Mass, Manticore, Battlefield, Aquatarkus] (22:47)

The work of Jordan Rudess outside Dream Theater can be divided into three parts: collaborations with other artists (Rudess/Morgenstein Project, An evening with Petrucci & Rudess), solo albums which feature only Rudess himself (4NYC, Secrets Of The Muse) or solo albums which can be called Rudess & Friends (Feeding The Wheel, Rhythm Of Time). His latest album The Road Home falls into the last category, but with a twist. Once again Rudess finds himself surrounded by great guest musicians, but rather than playing own compositions, Rudess opted for covers of some of his favourite prog epics. Rather than note-for-note copies of the tracks Rudess added some of his own to most compositions, which makes the album a very interesting listening experience. After all, what's the point of note-perfect recreations of these tracks? You might as just listen to the originals then.

The opening track is Genesis' Dance On A Volcano, featuring Neal Morse on vocals and Marco Sfogli (James LaBrie solo band) on guitar. The rendition is fairly close to the original, although most of the instruments are substituted by keyboards and in the up tempo end-section Rudess ingeniously inserts some of his own trademark improvisations and a long continuum solo, as well as Sfogli's guitar solo, adding an extra three minutes to the song. Neal Morse's voice really suits the track, and though somewhat rougher and lower in range than Phil Collins' he does the track justice.

Yes' Soundchaser follows, featuring Kip Winger (Winger) and Nick D'Virgilio (Spock's Beard) on vocals. Again an interesting choice of singers and also a very interesting choice of song to cover. After all, this is not Yes' most famous (nor their most accessible) composition. Again, Rudess' version is a good three minutes longer than the original, and musically it takes a further departure from the original than Dance On A Volcano did. The two guitar solos on this track are by Ed Wynne (Ozric Tentacles) and Ricky Garcia (Lafee) who are both stylistically miles away from Steve Howe, so it is a tad difficult to recognise much of the original in their solos.

Kip Winger sings the venture into the realm of lesser known prog, Gentle Giant's Just The Same. This song in particular enables Rudess to showcase his love for weird sounds and melodies. I am not familiar with the original, but I would imagine this song too features plenty of Rudess' own bits and pieces. In any case there is a lot of the quirky tomfoolery Rudess so often incorporates in his compositions present. Guitar solos here are done by Guns 'n Roses guitarist Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal and Ed Wynne

Next comes a piano tribute of some of Rudess' favourite tracks. Yes' Soon and And You And I and Genesis' Supper's Ready (Lover's Leap section) are beautifully converted to a classical piano sonata, with King Crimson's I Talk To The Wind (sung by Rudess himself, together with Bert Baldwin) tucked in the middle. The result is a beautiful piece of which Jon Anderson himself has showed his appreciation and which would not be out of place on a classical album.

Jordan Rudess included one of his own compositions on the album, the quirky Piece Of The Pi. Apparently it's a piece Dream Theater rejected, and Rudess felt it fit perfectly on this album. Well, I am not sure if I share the sentiment. As much as I respect Rudess as a musician, I am not always convinced by his compositions, and in particular his desire to incorporate chaotic quirky funny sounds into his compositions, which seem solely there to showcase his ability to play incredibly fast. I don't like it when he does it with Dream Theater (the novelty has worn off after 5 albums) and I don't like it here either. Fortunately Piece Of The Pi is blissfully short at 3.05 minutes (you'd expect the running time to be 9 seconds longer though).

In true prog fashion the entire second half consists of a single track, ELP's Tarkus. The biggest surprise here is Mr "I don't do prog" Steven Wilson singing the first part, Stones Of Years. The rest of the track is sung once again by Kip Winger, with Ricky Garcia and Bumblefoot taking care of the guitar solos. I have never been a fan of ELP, so for me personally the album is over after the piano medley. However, if you are into ELP then I am sure you will appreciate what Rudess and co have done to the track. Faithful in most parts, yet again lots of bits and pieces added here and there.

Drums on all tracks are played by Rudess regular Rod Morgenstein. Oddly enough there is no bass player on this album!

I am not a big fan of tribute or covers albums, but this one I must say is a lot of fun. The guest musicians, and in particular the singers are a nice bonus as is the choice of songs on offer. What also makes this album special is that the covers are appreciated and endorsed by the original artists. The Jordan Rudess website contains quotes from Jon Anderson, Keith Emerson, Derek Schulman and Tony Banks, all giving their appraisal for the way their songs have been treated.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

BART JAN VAN DER VORST



Rolling Drunks featuring Albert Lee - Pukka Blokes
Rolling Drunks featuring Albert Lee - Pukka Blokes
Country of Origin:Germany
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2006
Time:43:02
Info:Rolling Drunks
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: The Long Road (4:11), Lass Mich Los (3:40), Let Me Play The Lion Too (6:31), Goodnight Berlin (3:44), Crazy Kong (4:53), Motorcycle Man (5:40), Überleben Als Mann (3:42), All You Can Eat (7:01)

As a progressive rock site we receive hundreds of CDs every year from within our particular genre, (an encouraging sign), along with a plethora of CDs that are kindred to prog, as well as a good few albums that skirt the borders. And despite my best efforts to convince myself otherwise with Pukka Blokes, there is very little in the way of "progressive rock" I can find on this, the seventh release from Rolling Drunks. Even their name leads you in a different direction. So why feature a review in these pages I hear you ask. Well basically because I've really enjoyed listening to this album over the last couple of months and felt I maybe should pass on this find to you. Also having listened extensively to this album there are notions that nod their heads towards prog and jazz, albeit wrapped in acoustic, bluesy rock format.

I suppose the initial attraction came from the fact that Pukka Blokes features legendary guitarist Albert Lee, and as noted so in the album title. However, great as is his contribution to this release, I have to say that the music stands up on its own merits - Albert being the icing on the cake, so as to speak. At the core of Rolling Drunks are three seasoned musicians with Horst Jabs (guitar & vocals), Thomas Weick (guitars) and Georg Grimm (bass). As mentioned above Albert Lee guests on guitar (on tracks 1,2,3,4) and with Lisa Nicola (keys) and Wolfgang Eckertz (violin) featured elsewhere.

Musically we are in the ever increasingly popular format that is "unplugged". Not that I have heard any other release from RD to compare, but Pukka Blokes has the intimate and warm atmosphere of the stripped down acoustic set. At times I was mindful of Clapton's acoustic forays - his version of the classic Layla sprang to mind. Or perhaps the Eagles' Hell Freezes Over. Certainly we are in this sort of company, although a little more upbeat and with gentle sense of humour thrown in for good measure. Horst Jabs has a warm, expressive and engaging voice that sits snugly within the acoustic instruments. Whether sung in English (as is most of the album) or in German (Lass Mich Los and Überleben Als Mann). We should also not overlook the driving "rhythm section" here, with Georg Grimm and Thomas Weick who provide a strong impetus to the music. Weick also showing that he is no slouch when it comes to adding some lead guitar to the music.

If I had to pick a highlight from the album it would be the splendid Let Me Play The Lion Too, with its sprightly jazzy arrangement and "in context" solo section from Albert Lee. The slower middle section drops in a tad abruptly but the violin works nicely with the lyrics - courtesy of William Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream". A track that just makes you feel good and gets the feet tapping away...

So all in all an enjoyable album and one that will continue to find its way into my CD player over the coming years. Pukka Blokes benefits greatly from the clear production, maintaining a live feel but with the instruments and vocals nicely balanced. The gatefold packaging is first rate with full lyrics and notes on each of the tracks. The album is available through the band's website and should this review have sparked some interest - audio and visual samples can be found via the "samples" link above. Now because of the nature of the album I've not offered a numeric conclusion. However this is not to be taken as a reflection on the music, which, if you are looking for something a little different, might well fit the bill.

Conclusion: Unrated

BOB MULVEY



Electric Orange – Morbus
Electric Orange – Morbus
Country of Origin:Germany
Format:CD
Record Label:Clearspot
Sulatron Records
Catalogue #:ST 0702
Year of Release:2007
Time:77:48
Info:Electric Orange
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Einwahn (7:51), Rote Flocken (5:02), Span 5 (7:55), Morbus (5:53), Errorman (8:10), Flohfunknest (3:31), Traumama (4:56), Krautschock (7:01), Wald (10:17), Reaching (4:26), Schohl (4:18), Sarau (8:32)

Back in the nineties, I was often hanging out at Fort Thunder, an underground artists’ exhibit space/residence/performance venue run by students at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Experimental bands from all over the world would come and perform at the dark, tiny, off-the-beaten path space. Electric Orange would certainly fit the bill there.

Electric Orange is a German experimental space-psych-Kraut rock band whose self titled debut came out in 1993. They’ve released seven more CDs since then, the most recent being this year’s excellent Morbus. An online translation of the CD’s German credits shows the following: The band is made up of Dirk Jan Muller on organ, synthesizer, Mellotron and samples; Dirk Bittner on guitar, percussion, voice, harmonium and samples; Tom Ruckwald on bass and contrabass, Silvio Franolic on drums and percussion, and Josef Ahns on guitar and flute. Four additional people by the names of “Sunjah, Claudia, Paul and Lola” are credited with “gaststimmen”, which could not be translated in an online search, but which I suspect are backup vocals (“stimme” is German for “voice”). Also, Dirk Jan Muller plays something called a “flugel”, which could be the flugelhorn or French horn bit you hear at the end of Led Zeppelin-ish Schohl.

Schohl, albeit one of the more boring tracks on the CD, is one part of the otherwise excellent well-produced 77-minute Kraut rock journey these talented musicians take you on, with a few twists and turns along the way.

One odd twist veers into psychedelic Donavan or early Traffic territory in the form of the aptly titled Reaching, featuring a ¾ time signature, a bit of ethnic folk flavour, some haunting mellotron from Dirk, and a lively flute melody from Josef.

Samples and electronics create a blip-pop sound on Rote Flocken, with its mid-tempo beat, spoken word samples, and processed vocals all reminiscent of early KMFDM.

German experimentalism such as this and the spoken word samples accent the somewhat self-described Flohfunknest, which has some found percussion rattling across the track against a jumpy, jazzy bass line from Tom. The song is reminiscent of some of the material released by experimental co-patriots Einsturzende Neubaten. Dirk tosses in some tasteful organ flavouring.

The organ on Morbus plays a role in drawing in some other musical influences. It darkens the title track with the help of some electronic fuzz and points to Van Der Graaf Generator as a reference point. Revered Deep Purple keyboard maestro Jon Lord is echoed on the intro to Errorman, which gives way to some Gothic sounding harmonium and English vocals from Dirk. The song has a style similar to the sound former King Crimson violinist David Cross has given off on his solo recordings.

Among obvious comparisons to Amon Duul II and early Pink Floyd, noted on the “influences” section of the band’s website are Metallica and The Who (?)

Morbus is a strong recording in that there is a lot of variety between the well-composed tracks and almost no repetition. I definitely plan on adding some earlier Electric Orange to my collection. Daring fans of experimental and Kraut rock will want to check this band out, while it may not appeal to fans of more conservative, songwriting oriented music. As far as how they could improve with future releases, I honestly can’t think of anything. Just keep the Kraut stuff coming!

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

JIM CORCORAN



Ioannis Anastassakis – Suspension Of Disbelief
Ioannis Anastassakis – Suspension Of Disbelief
Country of Origin:Greece
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:CD 1002
Year of Release:2007
Time:72:57
Info:Ioannis Anastassakis
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Suspension Of Disbelief (7:23), Caravan Of Despair Suite (11:13), Altered State Of Consciousness (6:17), Variations On Malaguena (5:30), The Forgotten Quest (7:29), Resonance Factor 12 (6:06), Dos Hermanos (5:32), The Final Jam (8:04), Bonus Tracks: The Final Jam (Backing Track) (6:19), Suspension Of Disbelief (at a glance) (5:39), Flamenco Journal At A Glance (3:19)

Ioannis Anastassakis is of course a Greek guitar player whose favourite guitar pickers are listed as: Steve Vai, Tony Macalpine and Vinnie Moore. This is Anastassakis debut album and if like me, you enjoy fast melodic instrumental albums then you can buy this CD without listening...

The album opens with Suspension Of Disbelief a mid tempo heavy riffing, solos and lots of arpeggios. However the second track Caravan Of Despair Suite is a true guitar highlight with lots of melodic arpeggios, neo classical riffs and melodies along with heavenly solos that remind me of Vai and Malmsteen. This song, for real guitar aficionados, is sheer magic!

Another highlight is the song entitled Resonance Factor 12, starting with ballad-like arpeggios, followed by howling guitar solos that really sounds like Marty Friedman and Steve Vai. In the Final Jam you can hear a couple of guest guitar players, like for example our Dutch guitar hero Marcel Coenen and Alex Flouros. It is again an amazingly fast song with characteristics from Jason Becker and Marty Friedman.

Variations On Malaguena, Dos Hermanos and Flamenco Journal are all acoustic, flamenco-like instrumentals, which are not really my cup of tea. The electric guitar instrumentals however are truly great stuff. A must for guitar lovers!!

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

MARTIEN KOOLEN




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