Reviews in this issue:
- IZZ – Live At Nearfest
- Fernwood – Almeria
- Jamie Craig – The Lost Dream
- Soniq Theater - Life Seeker
- Kayanis - Where Abandoned Pelicans Die
- Azureth – The Promethean Syndrome
- Charles Brown - Journey In A New Land
- Marble Sheep – Message From Oarfish
IZZ – Live At Nearfest
Tracklist: Introduction: Swallow Our Pride (2:09), My River Flows (5:14), Assurance (10:37), Coming Like Light (12:27), Late Night Salvation (12:02), Where I Belong (6:54), Star Evil Gnoma Su (9:19), Encore: Mists Of Dalrida (3:03)
IZZ are one of the best modern American symphonic progressive rock bands to emerge in (relatively) recent years, and should be considered alongside Echolyn, Glass Hammer and Spock’s Beard as being at the fore-front of the genre. Often garnering critical acclaim, they have yet to achieve the large fan base they so richly deserve.
This live set, recorded at 2007’s Nearfest, serves therefore as a great introduction to the band, featuring tracks culled from all three of their studio albums, presented with superb live sound and capturing the excitement and eclecticism of the group’s material; from the ELP influenced symphonic grandeur of Coming Like Light, via the updated Yes-styled melodies of Late Night Salvation, to the guitar-lead fusion instrumental Star Evil Gnoma Su and on to the folk jig encore Mists Of Dalrida. With IZZ, a beautiful melody is never far away and Assurance and My River Flows are ample proof of their skills in that department.
The choice of material is very good, and whilst it is impossible to please every single fan, I ‘m sure that most should find a few of their favourites included.
Along the way, we are also treated to (among other things) incendiary solos from guitarist Paul Bremner, an energetic drum duet, swirling synth breaks from Tom Galgano, and gorgeous duel female lead vocals on Where I Belong. The performances from everyone are exemplary throughout; the band gel together really well.
There’s even a preview of a work in progress in opener Swallow Our Pride, so there’s plenty of reasons for existing fans of the band to want this excellent Live CD.
This disc is easily recommended to a wide prog-loving audience, with maybe to potential to attract a few none prog fans to the genre as well.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Fernwood – Almeria
Tracklist: Sandpiper (5:26), Open Seas (4:13), Crow (3:17), Hungarian Holiday (4:04), Athenia (3:51), Makena (3:36), Ruidoso (3:16), Crane (4:26), East Window (4:07), Pelican (3:40), County Line (3:16), Nightingale (4:29)
Fernwood is a new project by the composer team of Todd Montgomery and Gayle Ellett and Almeria is their debut album. Both of them have been composing and performing music professionally, for over thirty years. Gayle has appeared on more than 50 CDs and is one of the mainstays of Djam Karet. Todd is a specialist in Irish and American music, having played on the soundtrack of the movie The Veronica Guerin Story.
The concept behind this album should be enough to tempt any lover of acoustic music to click straight across to CDBaby and grab a copy of this album for a mere $12. The idea is beautiful in its simplicity: All the music is played by hand, on instruments made out of wood.
Recorded in their Malibu studio, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, their music is a reflection of their lives in Southern California as well as the previous work they’ve done in the areas of film and TV composition, traditional world music, rock and jazz.
Twelve instrumental tunes; contemporary yet traditional. Their music has a strong global feel. By combining elements of pastoral acoustic music, with the sounds of traditional American, Irish, Eastern European, Asian, and Middle Eastern music, they have created a hybrid that is uniquely their own.
Their cinematic music blends the sounds of Greek and Irish bouzouki, sitar, acoustic guitar, Chinese ruan, Turkish cumbus, Moroccan oud, mandolin, harmonium, gimbri, rababa, bulbul tarang, jal tarang, dilruba, dotara, gopichand, upright bass and rhodes piano. That exhaustive mix is what separates this album from any acoustic instrumental record I’ve ever heard. The instruments are used in different combinations across the 12 songs. As a result there is a such a wide range of sounds, textures and energies that each stands as a wholly individual listening experience. As a listener I was kept enthralled, as each track opened new possibilities. An enchanting, beautiful and captivating aural pleasure.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Jamie Craig – The Lost Dream
Tracklist: The Lost Dream [Radio Mix] (4:11), The Steel Wheel (3:44), Stereo Five (4:47), The Power & Glory (4:20), Movement Z (6:29), Contemplate All (3:49), One Thirty (4:22), The Lost Dream (4:59), Did You Have To Ask? (4:20), Our Lost Dreams (6:07), Take The High Road (4:15)
Jamie Craig originates from Detroit, Michigan and has been playing and composing music for more than 30 years. Formally a bassist who could also turn his hand to lead guitar he began dabbling with synthesizers during the Eighties. He is also an accomplished pianist which is now his chosen instrument for composing although he relies on digital keyboards and computers to present his music. The technology allows him to simulate a variety of instruments including piano, guitar, drums, guitar, saxophone, flute, organ, congas, French horn and (ironically) bass. It’s worth noting therefore that when I refer to a particular instrument in this review the sounds are all in reality keyboard generated.
Although Craig recorded three synth-pop albums during the Eighties featuring himself on vocals, this is an all-instrumental affair. The music borders on new age being mostly laidback and meditative with a smooth trippy jazz feel in places. The only reservation I have here is that it does stray uncomfortably close to easy listening territory at times. However most importantly it demonstrates Craig’s keen ear for a memorable melody. Curiously the title track appears twice, opening with a ‘radio mix’ that’s only marginally shorter than the version that follows later. I can only assume that American radio has an aversion to playing tracks in excess of four and a half minutes. Either way The Lost Dream is a mellow and tuneful piano driven piece with sax embellishments that opens with a nice line in fretless style bass work. The drums are surprisingly effective and better than ought to be expected given the origins.
Despite the title suggesting otherwise, The Steel Wheel is a lightweight tune featuring pleasing acoustic guitar effects. The only downside is that even at less than four minutes it is a tad repetitive. Stereo Five on the other hand is my personal favourite. It has a rich synth sound and a lovely, heart warming theme that would make the ideal soundtrack for a modern day romantic comedy movie. The Power & Glory includes some neat and funky percussive effects whilst Movement Z has pleasant flute and accordion sounds. The latter is the longest track and at the midway point the synths take on an early 80’s Ultravox, Visage and Depeche Mode ambiance. Contemplate All is another evocative piano led piece that benefits from a sharp drum sound and nimble jazz flavoured keys work. One Thirty opts for a moodier electric piano style and again the pulsating bass and drums are convincingly effective.
Maybe my interest was beginning to wane a little because I found the concluding tracks the least successful. The better of the trio is Did You Have To Ask? with its bubbly synth effects that taken at a livelier pace would have Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark written all over it. Our Lost Dreams is another longish piece that starts promisingly with a lush synth sound giving it a stately bearing. This is undermined however by a weak congas rhythm and low-key sax sound. Better is the engaging guitar work that’s reminiscent of Mark Knopfler in reflective mode. Whilst the albums title and cover artwork represent the shattered American dream, Take The High Road is intended to conclude on a note of optimism. Unfortunately on that level it doesn’t really work because despite the ringing guitar sound and skipping rhythm it’s a fairly uninspiring closer. And speaking of closings, this album has a consistent problem here as many of the tracks end with an abrupt fade rather than coming to a satisfying conclusion.
To conclude myself on a positive note, given the potential limitations of his chosen instruments and the relaxed tempo, Craig has created a fairly diverse and very listenable range of moods. I particularly found this disc very therapeutic in the car during the morning rush hour traffic. The fact that I could clearly hear its subtle sounds over the traffic noise also says a lot about Craig’s skilful production. I know there are many albums of this ilk around, produced by one man in his home studio, but this offering from Craig is well above the average.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Soniq Theater – Life Seeker
Tracklist: Life Seeker (6:37), The Big Money (4:28), Romance (4:49), An Overdose Of Rosie (4:24), Hot House (4:36), Alpine Skiing (5:30), Gargano Vacation (4:53), The Stalker (4:26), Odd Times And Strange Days (5:24), Madly In Love (5:11)
Soniq Theater is the pseudonym for composer, keyboardist and producer Alfred Mueller with Life Seeker being his eighth album in as many years. All the previous releases have been reviewed by the DPRP and will provide an insight into what to expect from this latest. As with the Jaime Craig disc (see review above) this is one man creating more sounds than could be reasonably expected from a stack of keyboards and one pair of hands. Unlike Craig however, who remains mostly in a thoughtful mood, Mueller favours a rockier and more upbeat sound with vintage prog-rock tendencies.
The title track Life Seeker makes for an excellent opener but, as the albums progiest track by far, it also proves to be a tad misleading in terms of what follows. An intro of spacey electronic effects heralds bombastic synth work that alternates between the sound of brass, flutes and guitar. The overall effect is Tormato period Yes with an animated Steve Howe like guitar vibe. This is one of the few tracks where Mueller adds vocals but lyrically he keeps it simple by repeating the chorus and shunning the verses. He doesn’t have an especially strong voice but multi tracked he sounds not unlike Chris Squire. The song also benefits from a melodic piano interlude at the midway point which captures Keith Emerson’s energetic style. The only drawback for me is the production which lacks the gloss to match the music’s ambitions. The end result is that it sounds over busy at times.
Although the title track is certainly a highlight, the rest of the album is not without its merits. The Big Money is a punchy instrumental with percussive synth effects although the drum sound is a tad flat to my ears. Romance took me back a few years with an infectious electro-pop groove bringing back memories of Vince Clarke’s involvement with both early Depeche Mode and Yazoo’s Only You. Possibly because of this association it did for me feel like it was missing a vocal. An Overdose Of Rosie is a more up-tempo and jazzy instrumental evoking Jan Hammer with a memorable synth theme and an engaging organ sound. With its funky keys sound, Hot House is a stab at contemporary dance music which doesn’t entirely work in my opinion especially the annoying ‘whoos’. Much better is the attention grabbing Alpine Skiing, for me the albums standout track. It’s an uplifting instrumental incorporating the simulated sounds of electric piano, statacco guitar, organ and a majestic synth. Somehow it manages to combine the talents of Messrs Banks, Wakeman and Emerson into one memorable piece.
The mix of styles continues with Gargano Vacation, which may be named after an Italian province but the music has a distinct South American flavour. The Latin rhythm and light weight jazzy keys work is not really my cup of tea however although it does include an effective acoustic guitar sample. Despite the title, The Stalker has a feel good factor thanks to a catchy mid-tempo synth led melody backed by a pounding piano rhythm. Very much in the same bag as An Overdose Of Rosie. Likewise Odd Times And Strange Days, with its moody synth work, is a return to the strident proggy style of the title track. Again the sparse vocals have an air of Yes about them, or in this case Yes via Glass Hammer would be a more apt description. Madly In Love brings things to a tuneful close with rippling synth playing joined by a laidback funky groove and sharp percussive sounds. The keyboard washes provide a rich and melodious backdrop.
Mueller certainly creates some very interesting and varied sounds and is not scared of mixing the styles up a little. Unfortunately the flip side of this approach means that the eclectic combination of prog, electro-pop, dance, jazz and easy listening lacks a satisfying coherency. However, there’s certainly no disputing the music’s tuneful appeal and it also contains its fair share of dynamics. I really have to take issue with the packaging and artwork though which is basic to say the least. Whilst it’s admirable that Mueller should want to keep the costs down, modern computer and digital camera technology means that it’s not difficult or expensive to create something that would do justice to the music contained within.
Conclusion: 6+ out of 10
Kayanis - Where Abandoned Pelicans Die
Tracklist: The Pelican Overture (4:00), The Truth Of Violet (7:06), Aurora Abandonata (9:29), Where Abandoned Pelicans Die (3:32), Julia’s Ninth Question (5:45), The Princess Of Hopelessness (4:30), Close To Me And Far From You Part One (7:46), The Palace Of Yaspirre (3:56), When You Cry Out All Your Tears (6:24), Close To Me And Far From You Part Two (7:54), Lightsleeper (4:39), Who’s The One To Know (3:56), The Truth Of Violet Reprise (5:15), The Final Embrace (0:55)
In Poland, Kayanis is a renowned musician, having spent over three years on this remarkable project in which he created a synthesis between classical music and elements from symphonic, progressive, rock and pop-music. Where Abandoned Pelicans Die is the follow up to Synesthesis, an album from 2001, which like the current album is the collaboration of an orchestra and many different outstanding musicians.
The thread in this musical spectacle, running over 75 minutes, is a couple of masterfully delightful themes. In the The Pelican Overture, surely one of the highlights on the album, the first one of these is being played somewhat melancholically by keyboard with just limited accompaniment by synths (I think). Then the same theme is played on acoustic guitar and subsequently, with the addition of more instruments, variations on that theme and more, played by the piano; the main theme is then performed by the orchestra and the full band in a bombastic way, featuring the lead-guitar, with a very powerful solo.
In Truth Of Violet, a foreplay by the orchestra, featuring woodwind instruments, is another main theme performed by the (mezzo) soprano Magdalena Rucinska, who has got a voice resembled to Edenbridge vocalist Sabine Edelsbacher. The track continues rather powerfully, like a soundtrack for a film getting near its climax, with orchestra and synths, but there’s also a lovely piece of melodic rock music as a contrast to the cello and woodwinds right before this part.
Purely classical music is being counter-parted by very melodic, yet solid rock-music in Aurora Abandonata; however, some daring contrasts are being provided by the piano and the acoustic guitar. Sometimes it sounds almost like Ennio Morricone going heavy metal! Especially when Jaroslaw Nuszcynski with his fine and deep voice starts to sing the title track, a very nice “E(lectronic) M(usic) meets Pop” tune - the surprise is complete.
Subsequently, Kayanis creates an atmosphere like in The Snowgoose by Camel. The orchestra picks up the first themes, with variations and in different keys, featuring amongst others the acoustic guitar and the oboe, partly accompanied by a playful piano and percussion. The track ends majestically with the full choir from Gdansk and the orchestra.
In the song The Princess Of Hopelessness we hear solemn classical music, with a key role amongst others for the oboe and the violin, playing the first main theme. In between predominantly electronic, cosmic parts in Close To Me And Far From You, there is a solemn but lovely classical piece with a lead-vocal, once more performed by Rucinska. An a cappella singing choir, followed by strings and woodwinds, heralds an “ERA” resembling piece (although more classical), again with the choir, and the finale in this track is played by piano solo. The Palace Of Yaspirre opens with some classical music, the melody lines played by several woodwind instruments, but then Kayanis’ keyboards and the orchestra join in, partly gentle and subtle, partly more bombastic. In track nine, When You Cry Out All Your Tears, is at first a piece of keyboard solo accompanied by flute and oboe. The frivolous character of the orchestration slowly evolves into a more threatening atmosphere and at the end of this track, keyboard solo (atmosphere again like in Camel’s Snowgoose album) followed by an acoustic guitar, accompanied by the orchestra.
Close To Me And Far From You Part Two starts off with a cosmic electronic piece, smoothly transcending into the singing of the choir - again a cappella. Subsequently there is some solemn music, played by strings & synths; then, with the addition of (electronic) percussion, one of the central themes is interpreted by the Gdansk choir accompanied by Kayanis’ keyboards and the orchestra. The lovely voice of Patrycja Modlinska sings Lightsleeper, an exquisite pop-tune, partly accompanied solely by keyboards, acoustic guitar and percussion. A playful variation on one of the main themes can be distinguished. Who’s The One To Know opens and ends somewhat mystically with its ambient like atmosphere and a sole singing voice from a distance draws attention; in between all of this and rather suddenly, there is an interlude played by church organ. The full symphony orchestra revisits the theme from track two's Truth Of Violet in the reprise and en passant also the enchanting theme from the first track. The maestro himself performs the delightful opening-theme on the piano, rendering a very intimate finale. Kayanis walks new paths and builds daring bridges.
The high quality production enhances the listening sensation of this album, combining classical music, soundtrack atmospheres, the different genres of rock and pop-music as well as electronic music in a courageous attempt to cross all borders. As far as I’m concerned, this exceptional offering belongs to a higher league in contemporary music. Via his website (link above), one can find some clips, as well as proof of the immensity of this project! Where Abandoned Pelicans Die is a highly recommended album and is distributed by Musea Records in France.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Azureth – The Promethean Syndrome
Tracklist: The Promethean Syndrome (3:45), Being Alive (6:00), Breakaway (4:02), Chains That Bind (3:57), Beyond The Boundaries (10:04), Flight Of Prometheus (4:04), Shadow Of A Man II (7:12), Into The Nowhere (6:07), Garden Of Ignosense (4:32), A New World (15:44)
Clichés become clichés for a good reason: they encapsulate a truth or a principle worth repeating. When enough people repeat that truth or principle in the same words, it becomes a cliché. Thus with the one I’m about to write: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. And as much as I like this album (and, as you’ll see, I really do), I think I’m just going to say nothing about the lyrics. I will, however, explain why I’ve made that decision just by quoting the first sentence of the album’s synopsis from the CD booklet:
“The Promethean Syndrome is a concept CD that deals with the isolation of a man who confronts a World where intellect is discouraged in favor of uniformity to help create an egalitarian society, but at what cost?”
And you know? At this point, I think even Neil Peart has moved way past the kind of thing he did on Rush’s 2112 – whose concept could be explained in those very words that Azureth use to summarize the idea behind this, their second album. And thus I say no more about the lyrics; you can decide for yourself whether you think you can get past them and enjoy the music. I’ll suggest that you probably can and certainly should, as I did, because the music itself ranges from very good to excellent on this perhaps lyrically misguided but musically gorgeous album.
Having refused to talk about the lyrics, I’m in the happy position of having only good things to say about everything else to do with this album. Thus I can pick and choose what to praise first. I’ll start with the sound, or rather the arrangements and the production. This is a bright, spacious-sounding album, all instruments ringing out from the mix, the strong, appealing vocals always clear, the songs all very nicely put together. I begin here because too many bands, long on talent but short on foresight, don’t put enough work into the actual sound of their CDs or are prevented from doing so by limited resources, so it’s a real treat to come across an independently produced album that just sounds so darned good, that’s such a pleasure simply to hear.
But what does the music itself sound like? Aside from the terrific vocals, what stand out most are Stephen Rivera’s keyboards and Mark Connor’s guitars. The keyboards will send you right back to the mid-seventies – you know exactly what I mean! Unabashedly (but not self-consciously) early-progressive synthesizer solos abound on this album, but not just for show – always correctly placed. As for Connors, well, his frequent acoustic work is clear and lovely, but what I most like is his electric tone – rather, I should say his electric tones. I imply no derivativeness when I say his sound ranges from Hackett to Howe and makes many stops in between. The constant is his exquisite sense of melody – check out, for example, the gorgeous solo on Into The Nowhere, to take only one example, a delightful distorted workout that’s immediately followed by some tasteful interplay between his guitar and Vince Font’s soaring vocals.
You’ll hear echoes of the grand old American semi-progressive band Kansas in some of Azureth’s songs (even more so if you listen to the lyrics!); there’s more than a touch of The Moody Blues now and again (Chains That Bind calls to mind that venerable band’s melodic gifts); but Azureth really has absorbed its influences and has a sound all its own. The band pulls off the difficult feat of creating a unified album all the parts of which work individually, and I make that claim leaving aside (yet again!) the lyrics and speaking only of the music. I can’t imagine a fan of strongly melodic progressive rock who wouldn’t very much enjoy this album, and no doubt many such fans will embrace the concept and the lyrics too: those listeners will like this very good album even more than I do, and I like it a lot even with the caveat I’ve offered.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Charles Brown - Journey In A New Land
Tracklist: Journey In A New Land [A Land Of Ice And Snow] (18:08), Into The Unknown [Clouds Of Fire] (15:22), The Great Explorer [Voyage Of Glory] (12:08), The Forbidden Frontier (3:55), Morning Light (2:29)
Charles Brown has been active for more than thirty years as a music teacher, composer as well as his involvement in the "Colorado Art Rock Society" which is active in promoting progressive music in the Denver area. Journey In A New World is his fifth solo album - an instrumental affair inspired by stories of the explorations of Lewis & Clark, and the early Colorado mountaineering surveys.
Journey In A New World begins with three lengthy songs which are the most interesting, building up in a similar vein and together these songs can be seen as one big song. It's not an album with recurring theme's, but a musical journey through melodies, ambient sounds and some heavy rock layers. The start of the album might put you on the wrong path as it begins with a common hard rock guitar riff and that seemingly straight forward rock riff is the pavement of the playground upon which Charles Brown is performing his skill. His guitar playing is technical though not over the top as he is a master in both acoustic and electric guitar.
Impressive are the long ambient soundscapes that Charles Brown creates. Decorated with flute and/or trumpet melodies, created by Charles on his guitar synthesizer, letting the music transport you in a dream back to early nineteenth century United States. During the album the amount of ambient parts increase and the hard rock passages become less. After about forty five minutes it's time to wake up and two smaller pieces of music conclude the album. The Forbidden Frontier is an ambient piece and Morning Light is acoustic slide guitar with some violin playing. Nice instrumental bits but after the three epic pieces they kind of fade out. It would have been better if they were placed between the large pieces - or even left out.
Charles Brown has created a instrumental journey which takes place in the history of the United States. Journey In A New Land does not have recurring themes or melodies but it is one big dream which takes you back to the time of the explorations of Lewis & Clark. This instrumental album cleverly moves back and forth from ambient soundscapes to hard rock. The first three songs are of the most interest and together create one big instrumental piece. Recommended to people who want to dream away to an instrumental album and don't mind an occasional hard rock passage.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Marble Sheep – Message From Oarfish
Tracklist: Tears (12:04), Mana (4:11), Raise The Dead (2:33), Skull Cool (5:26), Egyptian Queen (2:28), It’s Time (2:01), Savior of Street (6:11), From The Centre (9:35)
Every now and then DPRP receives for review something we deem “not prog”. This is one of them. And someone better call Iggy and the Stooges, because this Japanese band Marble Sheep is trying to rip off their sound and doing a pretty good job of it. Marble Sheep are clearly skilled at what they do, as Message From Oarfish is their 14th release since their formation back in 1987.
The band is composed of Ken Matsutani on guitar and vocals, Tak on guitar, Rie Miyazaki on bass and chorus, Sawada on drums and Iwamotor on drums.
Message From Oarfish ricochets from the blistering punk of the appropriately titled Raise The Dead to the Hawkwind like improv jam base of opening track Tears. Other influences include the Ramones, Black Flag, MC5, and most prominently the aforementioned Stooges. From The Centre is a slow rocker with a drone tempo similar to that of German neo-kraut band Electric Orange (which featured in the 2007 New Year’s Eve Special).
Despite all the obvious influences the songs retain their original flair, and are produced with a sharp and raw edge that is obviously deliberate. The roughness, mayhem, and general noise of the tracks make it difficult to comment on the musicianship, other than for me to say that there are some daring guitar lines and relentless drumming throughout the whole melee. The vocals sound somewhat muddled and with the band’s future efforts should be given some more clearness in the mix.
Fans of proto-punk in general will love this band. There could even be some slight transatlantic (no prog pun intended) cross over appeal to those American hipsters I saw at the last New York Dolls reunion show.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10