Reviews in this issue:
- Birds And Buildings – Bantam To Behemoth
- Delta Saxophone Quartet - Dedicated To You, But You Weren't Listening
- Jon Anderson – Toltec
- Jon Anderson – The Promise Ring
- Yochk’o Seffer – My Old Roots
- Aeryal – Tenganan
- The Divine Baze Orchestra – Once We Were Born
- Les Fradkin – One Link Between Them
Birds And Buildings – Bantam To Behemoth
Tracklist: Birds Flying Into Buildings (9:13), Terra Fire (3:36), Tunguska (6:33), Caution Congregates And Forms A Storm (10:53), Chronicle Of The Invisible Rivers Of Stone (9:19), Yucatan 65: The Agitation Of The Mass (10:35), Chakra Khan (5:59), Battalion (9:55), Sunken City, Sunny Day (3:19)
Washington, D.C. based musician Dan Britton is hardly a household name in the prog rock world, but has been gathering a cult following with his work with the outfits Cerebus Effect and Deluge Grander (the latter of whose album, August In The Urals, we reviewed on DPRP). Obviously not one to stand still, Britton has now formed a new band, Birds And Buildings, enlisting the talents of drummer Malcolm McDuffie, saxophone and flute player Brian Falkowski and fellow Deluge Grander musician Brett d’Anon on bass. The band spent a year recording their debut album, and it is time that has certainly been well-spent, as Bantam To Behemoth is one of those great things a reviewer comes across once in a while; a very pleasant surprise.
In the promo material, Britton talks about how the album can in many ways be regarded as three sets of three songs, and that the band aimed to get a feeling of continuity through beginning many tracks with similar chords, melodies and sounds found towards the end of the preceding tracks. This has certainly been achieved, as even though there’s a great deal of variety on show here, there is definitely a cohesive feel to the album as a whole.
Wasting absolutely no time, Bantam To Behemoth gets off to a dynamic start with Birds Flying Into Buildings. Magma are clearly pegged as an influence early on, with the driving, tightly rhythmic sound also bringing to mind Red-era King Crimson, whilst there’s hints of Soft Machine in the jazz-flavoured dissonance that bubbles beneath the surface. Gradually Brian Falkowski’s powerful saxophone playing comes to the fore, perhaps inevitably bringing with it comparisons to David Jackson and his work for Van Der Graaf Generator. While there are some great solo spots, from both Falkowski and Britton (on keyboards), it’s really the interaction of the four band members and the tight, ever-shifting grooves they generate that impresses. Terra Fire is melodically similar, but has a more chilled-out, if melancholy, feel, with the tempo dropping for much of the song. Falkowki switches to clarinet for the early part of the song, but the powerful sax playing is once again to the fore as the song gathers pace in its latter stages. Dan Britton provides some vocals here – not really his strong point it must be said, his voice coming across as vaguely similar to Peter Hammill’s, although not in the same league. Tunguska completes the first trilogy, flute and strummed acoustic guitar gradually giving way to the upbeat melodies familiar from Birds Flying Into Buildings. Britton’s vocals (this time heavily effects laden) just serves to emphasise the Van Der Graaf Generator comparisons. Once again there’s plenty of well executed twists and turns, with some great funky bass playing from Brett d’Anon and a nifty jazz-flavoured keyboard solo from Britton. Not wanting to be outdone, Malcolm McDuffie gives his drum kit a thorough workout as the song reaches its conclusion.
The second trilogy kicks off with Caution Congregates And Forms A Storm, and straight away a different feel is created by the band; gentle guitar, flute and flourishes of piano gives the opening a mellow, pastoral feel, with some wonderful, wistful melodies. D’Anon’s bass playing is understated yet impressive, driving the song on as it gradually builds, adding some organ, saxophone and distant voices to the mix. Once again the band combine to create some tight yet free-flowing rhythms, although this time the comparisons that come to mind are Caravan and Genesis (some of the keyboard work in particular puts me in mind of Firth Of Fifth). The song goes off on plenty of tangents, but these are always interesting and well-worked. The Genesis feel continues on Chronicle Of The Invisible Rivers Of Stone, with the guitar work this time having shades of Steve Hackett. This is for the most part a relaxed, yet atmospheric piece, with guest vocalist Megan Wheatley’s voice suiting the ambience much better than Britton’s (or indeed any male vocalist) would have done. The song gradually builds in dramatic tension, bringing us to Yucatan 65: The Agitation Of The Mass, a track which sees Britton the guitarist taking centre stage and trying his hand at a variety of styles – Flamenco, Hawaiian (shades of Dick Dale & his Surftones!) and slide being just three of the styles that appear on this very varied piece. Good tabla-led percussive work from McDuffie helps give the piece an exotic feel as conjured up by the song’s title. A mellower mid-section allows a pause for breath before the tempo shoots up for a frenetic end, with Britton conjuring up the type of great organ solo that Deep Purple man Jon Lord would be proud of! Whether by accident or design, this section feels somewhat improvised, with the band jamming the song out – and is certainly none the worse for it.
The third trilogy kicks off with Chakra Khan (great title!) and we’re back in Zeuhl/ Crimson mode. Added to the mix this time are some psychedelic flavoured keyboard runs, stabs of sax, strange mangled vocals and what sounds like a Wurlitzer, all adding to a track which, whilst teetering on the edge of chaos at times, never quite goes over it! Battalion ramps up the tension, with Britton’s speedy vocal delivery sounding like he wants to get the singing bit out of the way as soon as possible! The song moves smoothly between the darker, more discordant sections and smoother, sax-dominated parts. Britton plays some great honky tonk piano to boot. After this action-packed piece, Sunken City, Sunny Day acts as a chilled out coda; whether the narration is necessary is a moot point, but on the whole this is a nice way to wind down the album.
Overall, this is a very impressive effort from Dan Britton and Co – even more so when you consider that only a small part was ‘professionally’ recorded. Not that you’d really notice, as the album has a fresh, lively and organic feel to it, with only the rather muddy vocals betraying the home recording nature of the project. Fans of the Zeuhl style may be particularly drawn to the album, but in all honesty it should reach a far wider constituency than that, containing as it does enough to please a wide cross section of prog fans. Not one to stand still, Britton has added a violin player to the Birds and Buildings line-up and plans to have the next album out this year, as well as a new Deluge Grander opus. On the evidence of Bantam To Behemoth, both will be well worth a listen.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Delta Saxophone Quartet -
Dedicated To You, But You Weren't Listening
(The Music Of Soft Machine)
Tracklist: Dedicated (2:46), Facelift (8:30), Somehow With The Passing Of Time... Kings & Queens 33 Years Later (6:54), Mousetrap (4:40), Everything Is You (6:49), To (2:06), Outrageous Moon (5:47), Aubade (2:22), Noisette (4:38), Floating World (5:42), You (1:32), The Tale Of Taliesin (1:54), Dedicated To You (3:22), Epilogue (2:58)
Delta Saxophone Quartet seem to have discovered rather late the heritage of a band so diverse, so dynamic and prolific as The Soft Machine. Apparently also being characterised by perpetual shifts in style, philosophy and direction, they have started doing thought provoking covers (I'm using their MySpace words!) of minimalists Steve Reich and Philip Glass and ended up trying to introduce law and order in the music of a band whose career before Seven showed significant despise for order. In this effort they are also assisted by original Soft member bassist Hugh Hopper. The band consists of Graeme Blevins on soprano sax, Chris Caldwell on baritone sax, Tim Holmes on tenor and Pete Whyman on alto - you guessed it - sax. Four daring mature musicians about to engage in an endeavour of unmatched challenge. And you know what? Who dares wins.
Most of the material covered here is from the "not so early Soft Machine period" - Noisette and Third (both from 1970) are the most represented albums. If you remember or know about these albums, they consist in very lengthy tracks that are not really homogeneous and that mix witty and smart ideas with lots of background themes that do not really make it to the first league and, as one might expect from the era, contain a fair amount of psychedelia. What these guys did here is smart: they filtered this amalgam of useful and useless things twice: once by eliminating the really unnecessary experimentation and a second time by adding a more jazz-oriented dimension to the music. Does that mean that imagination gets suppressed? Not at all: they recreate the rich dynamics inherent in Soft Machine's music with different means: 4 saxophones that alternate in solo's and in song building. Pretty smart if you ask me and very, very convincing. In fact, after hearing this album countless times from the day I got it into my hands for review, I have developed a clear preference for THEIR approach to Soft's music, when comparing to the original - at least when we are talking about these early tracks.
Let me give you some concrete examples here: The chamber music feel that was hidden in Kings And Queens (out of Fourth) original version; I only discovered this side of the song after I heard DSQ's Kings & Queens 33 Years Later. The incredibly turbulent dynamics of Facelift that tend to get lost due to the prohibitive length of the original (thumbs up here for the incredible work of the alto sax...) emerge triumphant in DSQ's version. Another example: Outrageous Moon which integrates and summarises two songs summing up to more than 25 minutes of music into an almost 6 minute beauty, by smartly concatenating the names of the two original tracks (Ratledge's Out Bloody Rageous and Wyatt's Moon In June). Not only the most juicy ideas from the originals are preserved, but also the band shows how they can merge ideas originating from two competing composers. Tough stuff but so well done!
Concerning Mousetrap, even if it's a good piece of work, it makes me miss a little bit the drums that I find an indispensable part of the original song construction. At this point I really want to raise a complaint: why is Six not represented here? For me, Six stands for the period of the band where the experimentation and wealth of ideas of the past are brewed together with a more mature style and approach, producing a more funky/jazzy effect. Pity! Then, there are also some picks from Soft's more tidy and more fusion era: Floating World, and Aubade and The Tale Of Taliesin from Bundles and Softs, respectively (my favourite Soft Machine albums). How do DSQ score here? Well, the result this time is less impressive, since the original works do not lack in coherence; the re-workings sound extremely well played and honest, but this is exactly an example where the original has a beauty that the cover cannot match. Also, the Soft's tracks are haunted by the majestic guitar works of Holdsworth/Etheridge, but of course that's another story! Still, I can't help hallucinating on the idea of four saxophones trying to reconstruct Hazard Profile's frantic fusion guitar work! - Maybe an idea for a future project?
The Delta Saxophone Quartet have been engaged in an extremely hard task: to revisit music that is hard to describe, categorise or even recreate. The band Soft Machine Legacy have lately tried to do something of a kind, but according to me the approach of these brass-only guys yields even better results. This is an album that complements both i) Soft Machine's legacy (literally), ii) Soft Machine Legacy (the band). It is also an album that can be heard by fans of The Soft Machine - or not. Pure jazz fans that never knew the Softs or that considered them out of the jazz repertoire might also be convinced to give all those 70's great records a try. I know many people that dislike Soft Machine's free form improvisation and psychedelic influences. It is here that DSQ come in and offer a tidy, jazz-oriented version. However, I feel like stressing that even if I might essentially disagree with those that like the idea of getting to the point via 100 detours, that like a track of a nucleus of 7 minutes to be stretched to 17, I can still understand them if they say that this is a bit too clean. All in all, this is a record with an extraordinary flow, that one can enjoy from beginning to end and, for the vast majority of its moments, simply wonder from time to time: Do I know this tune from somewhere? That's something rare for cover albums, ain't it?
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Jon Anderson – Toltec
Tracklist: The Book Opens (4:59), Quick Words [Talk-Talk] (2:53), Shall We Play The Game (3:45), Semati Siyonpme (3:25), Good Day Morning (2:01), Leap Into The Inconceivable (3:53), Song Of Home (1:12), Building Bridges (5:53), Sound And Color (4:01), Longwalker Speaks (2:47), Maazo Maazo (1:22), Enter Ye The Mystery School (7:55), Ave Verum (3:12) Bonus Tracks: Longwalker Speaks (17:36), True Horizon (3:40)
Jon Anderson – The Promise Ring
Tracklist: Born To Dance (3:59), Flowers Of The Morning (4:17), Timing Of The Known (5:31), True Life Song (4:18), Are You? (3:46), My Sweet Jane (3:35), True Hands Of Fate (5:20), The Promise Ring (5:30), O'er (3:02)
In a career spanning 40 years seminal prog-rockers Yes have experienced more than their fair share of upheavals. The 1990’s was certainly no exception, a decade that saw four different line-ups of the band. A constant factor throughout this period was the voice of Jon Anderson and if his song writing contribution seemed meagre, by way of compensation a solo output included no less than eight albums between 1994 and 1999. These recordings proved to be a real test of the fans loyalty however as Anderson embraced a range of styles with variable results. He explored Latin rhythms in 1994’s Deseo, orchestral grace in Change We Must (from the same year), new age ambiance in Angels Embrace from 1995, acoustic simplicity in 1997’s Earth Mother Earth and blue eyed soul-pop in The More You Know from the following year. The paring reviewed here, Toltec and The Promise Ring originally appeared around the middle of this period. Surfacing ten plus years later these remastered reissues come courtesy of Voiceprint as the label continues its trek through Anderson’s back catalogue. If nothing else they provide an excuse to revisit and sample Jon Anderson’s most prolific solo period.
Toltec takes its name from an ancient race of people that reportedly existed in Central America between the 10th and 12th Century AD. Anderson obviously believes that the stories of these ancestors travelling thousands of miles to spread their teachings are based on historical fact rather than myth. His homage (with the exception of two bonus tracks) is divided into three parts with the songs in each section flowing seamlessly into one another. Appropriately, given the subject matter, it has a world music feel and is laced throughout with the spoken words of a native North American named Longwalker. The Indian medicine man obviously made a lasting impression on JA because he also provided the inspiration for the song Nine Voices from Yes’ 1999 album The Ladder.
Longwalker’s narration and a children’s choir apart, Born To Dance provides an instrumental overture with dual keyboardists Keith Richard Heffner and Otmaro Ruiz supplying the filmic orchestrations and lead punctuations respectively. Percussionist Luis Perez adds authentic indigenous sounds and echoes the work of the backing band that joined JA for his tour of South America in 1993. Quick Words [Talk-Talk] continues in the same musical vein with keys replicating the sound of pipes and flutes. It also features a very catchy chorus from Jon, which it shares with Shall We Play The Game that follows. Semati Siyonpme combines the seemingly incongruous tones of a Hawaiian flavoured female choir and a sultry sax solo from Paul Haney but somehow it works. I’m not entirely convinced by the keys induced accordion sound that closes the both tune and part one however.
Good Day Morning finds JA in more familiar territory with spacey symphonic effects before segueing into Leap Into The Inconceivable. This song contains more words than the melody line can comfortably handle and the dramatic keyboard and percussion arrangement is reminiscent of the Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe album but sounds a tad dated here. Song Of Home, with its heavenly female voices and harp introduces the mid-tempo Building Bridges which boasts another strong chorus. The synthetic percussion and melodramatic digital keys lack bite however. Sound And Color is a gentle song with lyrical violin and harp from Charles Bisharat and Patricia Hood respectively against an effective orchestral backdrop. Only the words let it down however which is Anderson at his most twee. Part two concludes with Longwalker Speaks, which is exactly what it says on the tin. The more cynical (and impatient) may skip this track but Longwalker’s philosophy actual makes a lot of sense as he reflects on ecological concerns and racial and gender equality. He also recalls Chief Dan George’s noble portrayal as Clint Eastwood’s partner in the movie ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’.
The a cappella female choir of Maazo Maazo has an African flavour before being swept aside by a wave of lush orchestral keys that introduces Enter Ye The Mystery School. The voice of Longwalker returns before it develops into a military march with pounding percussion and brassy synths that ELP at their most bombastic would be proud of. The piece continues to alternate between the romantic Debussy style intro and the march which is later augmented by a stirring choral chant. This for me is easily the albums best track and a reminder of JA at his best even though his appearance on the track is fleeting. It would have also provided a fitting ending to the original album except Anderson chose to add his rendition of Mozart’s hymn Ave Verum for reasons best know to himself. His angelic performance doesn’t quite convince however despite the suitably reverential keys support from Salo Loyo.
The bonus version of Longwalker Speaks allows the medicine man a full seventeen and a half minutes to expand on his beliefs accompanied by an ambient musical backdrop. The addition of running water and bird song harks back to a more familiar piece that Anderson was involved with twenty four years earlier. This is not the first time that this particular track has been aired however as it originally appeared on 1996’s Lost Tapes Of Opio album. As a bonus tracks go the concluding True Horizon is an even odder choice. It has little affiliation with Anderson’s solo work being a single edit of the opening section from the lengthy Horizon which took up one half of Jon & Vangelis’ 1982 Private Collection album. The double tracked phased vocal sounds totally out of step with anything else on Toltec as does Vangelis’ typically moody synth work. Having said that, the majestic vocal coda is a joy to hear and the song always reminds me of Chris Squire’s stately The More We Live from Yes’ otherwise mostly forgettable Union album.
Speaking of oddities brings me to The Promise Ring which appeared the following year, a strange release even by Anderson’s eclectic standards. Apparently it all began when JA was walking past the ‘Frog and Peach’ pub in downtown San Luis Obispo, California where Yes staged the Keys To Ascension ‘live’ recordings. When the sounds of traditional Irish folk music caught his ear, he decided to investigate. Now the image of the Yes vocalist propping up a bar with a pint of Guinness in his hand is a difficult one to conjure up I have to say. However he was so enamoured by the music he recorded several evenings worth which included contributions from no less than fifteen local musicians. He then took these recordings into the studio and over dubbed the new vocal melodies he had written. The end result is the unlikely combination of rootsy instrumental work akin to The Dubliners, and to a lesser degree The Chieftains, glossed over by Anderson’s sweet tenor intonation and silky smooth production.
Things get off to a lively start with Born To Dance, a spirited reel with acoustic guitars, mandolin, fiddles, penny whistles and percussion to the fore. The sound of bar room chatter and applause has been left on the tape to add an air of authenticity. Unfortunately, despite Anderson’s skipping vocal it all sounds a tad too home spun for my tastes. It also begins to sound very samey just two songs in with Flowers Of The Morning being similar to its predecessor only at a slightly slower tempo. I also found the storytelling ramblings of ‘Dan the Mystic’ at the end of this and the next tune nowhere near as engaging as Longwalker’s similar contributions to Toltec. Timing Of The Known also features a lilting if not especially memorable tune. In contrast True Life Song has a very pretty melody indeed although Anderson’s over romanticised lyrics muddle Irish and Scottish imagery. It’s still one of the albums strongest cuts however.
With its bouncing rhythm Are You? returns to the goodtime feel of the two opening songs but for me it’s a case of you had to have been there (and preferably a few beers) to appreciate it. The same rhythm line pervades My Sweet Jane only this time with some engaging acoustic guitar work. Possibly my favourite track True Hands Of Fate follows, returning to a gentler pace with an evocative fiddle led melody. It’s a patriotic Irish lament with beautiful vocal support from Jane Luttenberger Anderson whom Jon would marry that very same year. The title song features another sprightly rhythm to accompany music and lyrics that have more of a contemporary edge than the rest of the album. In fact Jane’s voice sounds more comfortable in this setting than Jon’s with sumptuous harmonies that reveal their studio origins. The concluding O'er finds Jon singing solo against a delicate dulcimer backing and bird song which proves to be a less than strong closer.
It has been suggested elsewhere that The Promise Ring was Jon Anderson’s attempt to jump on the traditional Irish music bandwagon generated by shows like Riverdance and Lord Of The Dance which reached the height of popularity during the time of its initial release. Personally I doubt that very much as it lacks both the grandiose scope and the commercial sensibilities of that music. More regrettable is the opportunity that Anderson missed to combine prog with Celtic folk as exemplified by bands like Iona and later Mostly Autumn who turned out albums far superior to this one.
It would be fair to conclude that both releases have their merits with Toltec being the more accessible of the two. Even then I would find it difficult to justify a recommendation even to diehard Jon Anderson fans who will doubtless already own one or both albums. In my opinion their initial release came at a creative low in Anderson’s career coinciding with the issue of Yes’ dire Open Your Eyes album. To the advantage of these reissues, they make both previously deleted albums available once more with superior sound and packaging. The bonus material is a disappointment however. It’s a matter of personal taste but for the essential Jon Anderson I would recommend Olias Of Sunhillow, Animation, Change We Must and virtually all of his collaborations with Vangelis.
If you follow the DPRP News pages then you will be aware that Yes have recently cancelled their 40th Anniversary Tour due to concerns over Jon’s health. This unfortunate turn of events brings this review full circle, returning to my opening statement which was written before the recent announcement. Get well soon Jon.
Toltec: 6.5 out of 10
The Promise Ring: 6 out of 10
Yochk’o Seffer – My Old Roots
Tracklist: Heart (6:32), Jonetsu For Judith (5:55), Bunkos (4:01), Os-Gyoker (8:52), Le Diable Angelique (12:08), Delire (13:18), Beszelgetes (5:00)
Hungarian born saxophonist and pianist Yochk’o Seffer played in early versions of Magma before leaving in 1973 to form Zao with Francois Cahen to develop the Zeuhl sound into a jazzier direction. After leaving Zao he has recorded solo and with others developing a strong voice that has been described as ethno-jazz with strong influences from the likes of John Coltrane and the Hungarian music of Bela Bartok, influences that colour much of the material on this album giving an acoustic progressive fusion spin on Zeuhl.
This disc features instrumental work from Seffer in two separate formats – three tracks from an early version of Neffesh-Music recorded in 1976 and three from the duo collaboration with Hungarian violinist Katy Lajos Horvath for 1980’s Chromophonie album. An additional track from Seffer and Horvath was recorded during a 2005 reunion. All tracks are written by Seffer - with the possible exception of the last, which has no credit - who performs piano (acoustic and electric) and sax. Some of these tracks have never appeared on CD and the 2005 track is previously unreleased.
The recording quality of the earlier material is not brilliant but not so terrible that it gets annoying and this material certainly deserves to be heard again. The line-up for the Nefesh-Music tracks see Seffer and the Quatuor Margand string quartet who had first worked with him on the Zao album Shekina. Heart, the opening track, also features drums and guitar and opens with piano and sax before the drums lay down a rhythm and the strings get to work. Seffer’s sax offers Coltrane references throughout these opening pieces, the second, Jonetso For Judith, featuring a fiery squalling solo at the end.
Seffer sticks to piano for the tracks featuring Horvath, which start with the beautiful Bunkos where the romantic Hungarian violin influence is prevalent. This then moves into a faster and more rhythmic section with some great piano and violin – lovely piece. Os-Gyoker starts with dreamlike piano, mournful violin joining later. Seffer’s piano is at times jerky and discordant and the violin adds to the swaying nature of the piece. Next we have the long Le Diable Angelique which starts with discordant guitar before frenetic piano takes over. The violin is striking and atmospheric over the staccato piano stabs. The pair work well together and keep the momentum going with some great individual contributions and a good feeling of partnership.
The last Neffesh-Music track is the lengthy Delire. Weirdness abounds and this is probably not for lovers of string quartets or jazz. The wonderful Quatuor Margand produces some excellent accompaniment to Seffer’s schizophrenic piano and sax. Additional drums add depth and highlights to the pacey avant-garde soup of piano and strings, which is quite exhilarating in places.
Finally we have the recent reunion piece from Seffer and Horvath, Beszelgetes. Unsurprisingly the best recorded piece on the album it finds the piano and violin still vibrant, twining around each other and looking for new ways of expressing themselves. There seems to be a great regard between these players and they give each other plenty of space to improvise.
There is much to enjoy here and the playing is first rate. The music is not simply jazz and the influences varied. Jazz purists may disregard it but as a body of work that uses jazz influences in a setting for acoustic prog and regional folk this is good stuff indeed. The fact that there is repertoire from two groups present does not cause a clash and the pieces complement each other nicely. Seffer’s playing is always inventive and dynamic and his choice of collaborators exemplary. If you are unfamiliar with his work this is an excellent place to start exploring.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Aeryal – Tenganan
Tracklist: The Trip Begins (2:41), Interlude (0:58), Nova (5:49), Interlude (:02), Indian Ocean (3:36), Interlude (0:51), Dusk (1:33), Interlude (0:19), Storm (3:50), Interlude (0:11), Dancing Mist In Besakih (5:41), Interlude (0:33), Garuda (1:16), Interlude (0:02), La Spirale Des Sons (4:04), Interlude (0:05), Divine (0:44), Interlude (0:47), Pure (3:21), Interlude (0:09), Illusion (9:02), Interlude (0:57), Panyembrama (4:18), Interlude (0:41), Mystical Island (3:51), Interlude (1:05), The Hidden Beast (2:06), Interlude (0:04), Towards Infinity (7:05)
Ah, Key West, Florida, “The Conch Republic”. A regular vacation spot for myself and my family. The Cat Man and his flying house cats. A fishing pole in one hand and a beer in the other, at like three a.m. The bikers kicking back at the Hog’s Breath saloon. The geckoes and drag queens sashaying in harmony on Duval Street. Such is the carefree life of Key West. And the music. Oh, the music. The scene there, aside from Jimmy Buffet’s studio, offers mostly the unplugged type, often delivered in the middle of the day at an outdoor bar by a slightly intoxicated middle aged dude in a Hawaiian shirt playing classic rock covers on acoustic guitar. French synthesist Miguel Samiez’s Aeryal project would give this island paradise’s music scene the jump-start it needs.
Samiez, under the Aeryal moniker, has put out a self-released hard disc, as well as a film soundtrack, two studio releases (the most recent being reviewed here) and a live CD (which we will hopefully review soon). His latest studio effort, the world-beat sounding Tenganan, is comprised of fifteen tracks, separated by brief, snippet like untitled “interludes”. At over an hour in length, it tends to sound bland. I would not recommend the continuous formula of programming and synths for active, analytical listening, but the CD is quite suitable as background music for working on the computer or sleeping in on Sunday mornings.
Aside from the elements of synths and programming, the other ingredients in Samiez’s tropical new age stew include a lot of indigenous weather and nature sounds, often found in the interludes. Caroline Plachta’s French spoken word bits on The Trip Begins and Mystical Island point to Enigma as a reference. Other notable influences are ambient/world artists Vidna Obmana, Mark Seelig, and Shamanic percussionist Byron Metcalf. Analog-era Tangerine Dream is an obvious pointer, as well as Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, and Dead Can Dance.
The production of the CD is smooth and sleek, with a colorful booklet thrown in.
On his next studio CD, I suggest Samiez, as I have with so many other bands I have reviewed on this site before, experiment with longer tracks. Oh, and lose the cheesy sound effects and just stick with the music.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
The Divine Baze Orchestra – Once We Were Born
Tracklist: Dance (5:48), Choose Your Green (3:53) Trota Di Mare (4:30), Orange And Turquoise (6:05), In Search (4:15), Little Man (4:19), The Person (6:05), The Man From My Mother’s Brother (6:21), Closing The Circle (4:04), Burned By The Sun (7:33)
To state the case succinctly, The Divine Baze Orchestra supply a decidedly "backwards glancing" mix of prog and hard rock which draws on such legends as Deep Purple, Uriah Heep and Black Sabbath, adding the unique twist of the idiosyncratic vocal stylings of Alexander Frisborg.
Their debut album Once We Were Born would sit nicely between the works of fellow Swedes Black Bonzo and USA’s Presto Ballet (a new CD on the way apparently), utilising a similar retro ethos in the refining and development of musical ideas first explored by the 70’s masters mentioned above.
The opening couple of tracks pack quite a punch, with magnificent growling organ in the grand Hensley/Lord tradition and tough guitar riffs with a strong Purple/Heep vibe running throughout. On these two tracks, the Baze’s secret weapon makes its mark in the form of vocalist Frisborg. His voice is strong, clear, confident and compelling. At first I thought he reminded me of Ray Weston of Echolyn or to a lesser extent of Mike Sadler of Saga, but when I referred back to their work, I found that the comparison was not all that close really, but I will still make a claim that if you like those vocalists, you may well like Frisborg as well. He probably falls into the category of “acquired tastes”, but his strong performance here should win over many of you once you get over the initial surprise of his sound.
After this powerful beginning, the album takes a little dip for a couple of tracks. Trota Di Mare is a straight(ish) boogie, with shades of Rory Gallagher or perhaps George Thorogood coming to mind. Orange And Turquoise is even less interesting to me, being a slower blues based number. For this track guitarist Oliver Eek steps up to the mic. His performance suits the track, but blues is not really my favourite genre.
Thankfully, from Little Man onwards, the album gathers a head of steam again, and it’s back to hard rock heaven for the most part, with riff after riff coming screaming out of the speakers, and some of the best organ grandstanding since the heady days of the Seventies. The band detours in a psych direction for the quirky tribute to TV Spy shows The Man From My Mother’s Brother (complete with swirling organ themes), before culminating in the album’s longest offering Burned By The Sun. After a slow start, it builds into an impressive finale to what is an enjoyable debut from a band unafraid to wear their influences on their sleeves but more than capable of stamping their own character on the music they clearly love.
A couple of so-so tracks bring the overall marking for this album down a peg or two, but there is a lot of potential here and the album should make a fun listen for 70’s heavy prog freaks.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Les Fradkin - One Link Between Them
Tracklist: Lift Off (3:04), Orbiter (5:23), From Venus With Love (5:29), Liberty (1:49), Caravan (3:10), Warp Drive (3:35), Sailing All Alone (3:18), Longing To Return (3:15), A Dim Twilight (7:18), Telstar (3:09)
The name Les Fradkin may not ring too many bells within the prog community, although his track record can be charted back to the early Seventies. My only prior contact with his work came in the form of Reality The Rock Opera from 2003, a slightly over ambitious project, but certainly not without its merits.
Now rather than paraphrasing text detailing Mr Fradkin's past achievements, (which you can glean for yourself through the links above), I will mention only one factor, to my mind at least, relevant to this release and that is the Starr Labs Ztar (midi guitar) which he employs throughout this CD. A strange animal which bears a resemblance to the Steinberger headless guitars and the SynthAxe. Along with this, a plethora of digital hardware and software based programmes, are utilised to produce the ten instrumental tracks to be found on this CD.
I'll start with the positives. Les Fradkin is obviously an accomplished guitarist - taking on Steve Vai's Liberty is testament to that - and for sure the man has a keen ear for a good keyboard sound. Certainly the sounds on the Joe Meek classic Telestar sounding fairly authentic to these ears, but sadly that's it for me - on the evidence here anyway.
The main problem I faced with this release was that I always imagined the music being performed in a "mass media" television environment, either as an accompaniment to a glitzy stage act or as a sort of Bond (the female violinists) for guitar. Therefore the music on One Link Between Them is highly infectious, extremely well played, but ultimately totally banal. Even the use of a real mellotron and authentic sounding Moog lead lines could not salvage these arrangements. To exacerbate the problem further, the programmed drums were in the main just down right corny and added to the Eurobeat synth lines - desperate. I could cite examples from the album, but this would serve little purpose and I certainly have no intention to pour scorn on this release from Les Fradkin.
Straight to the point, (just in case my previous comments have left any doubt), but this album did very little for me and personally I can't really see One Link Between Them appealing to the "serious" progger. However I would appear to be alone in this view, as almost all the other reviews I've read of One Link Between Them have been extremely positive. Branded through a sympathetic Record Label and with the right exposure, I could well imagine this having mass commercial appeal.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10