Reviews in this issue:
- Pär Lindh Project – In Concert ~ Live In Poland [DVD]
- Man - Back Into The Future
- Man - Slow Motion
- Man - Maximum Darkness
- Jucifer – L’Autrichienne
- HannaH - A Life In Rock Minor
- Oxygene 8 – Freak Of Chance
- Mike Grande - My Dash Between The Numbers
Pär Lindh Project – In Concert ~ Live In Poland DVD
Tracklist: Night On Bare Mountain [incl. The Black Stone] (15:31), Baroque Impression No.1 (8:25), Mundus / Veni Vidi Vici Medley (11:59), Suite In Progress (16:05), Montagues & Capulet (4:04), Bill’s Solo (6:07), Gradus Ad Parnassum (16:32)
Bonus Features: Interview with Pär Lindh (18:22), Biography, Discography, Photo Gallery
Other than the bands recorded performance at ProgDay '98, the Pär Lindh Project has pretty much passed me by. Originally they were a five piece unit releasing three studio and two live albums between 1994 and 2002. The studio recordings also included a number a guest musicians including fellow Swedes Roine Stolt and Jonas Reingold. Last year, after an absence of four years, keyboardist Pär Lindh re-launched the band for several live dates including an appearance at the Wyspianski Theatre in Katowice, Poland on 19th November 2007. This show was recorded for prosperity and is now available as a DVD+CD package and also a single DVD which is reviewed here. Eschewing the female vocals and lead guitar of the past the band has re-emerged as a trio with Lindh joined by William Kopecky (bass) and Svetlan Råket (drums). American Kopecky appeared on the last PLP album Live In Iceland but is more familiar as one third of Kopecky along with his brothers Joe and Paul responsible for 2006’s DPRP recommended Blood album. Råket has been working with Lindh, who is himself an accomplished drummer, since 2006. Lindh’s recent pre-occupations have included 2004’s Dreamsongs From Middle Earth which he co-produced with guitarist Björn Johansson.
The quality is as good as you would expect from a recently recorded DVD with pin sharp images and expansive sound which includes the option of Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. The Wyspianski Theatre provides a grand setting and they make full use of the deep stage with the drummer seemingly positioned a long way behind his two colleagues. The colourful lighting looks impressive and the limited number of musicians on stage ensures that all three benefit from a healthy share of camera time. There is also no lead singer to steal the limelight allowing Lindh and his rig to provide the main focus of attention. We are treated to some engaging overhead shots of fingers on keys where nine keyboards in total can be counted including an imposing vintage Korg analogue synth. The editing is very slick making optimum use of the multiple camera angles courtesy of no less than seven cameramen. Despite the extensive close-ups the editing combined with skilful use of cranes ensures that the camera crew remain out of sight. Interestingly part of the background music for the main menu screen is by an earlier incarnation of PLP featuring lead guitar and vocals.
If the band setup suggests something along the lines of a certain Keith Emerson led trio then you would be spot on. Lengthy, all instrumental pieces consistently evoke ELP, especially Lindh’s Hammond organ technique which is as close to the maestros style as I’ve heard from any contemporary prog musician. The virtuoso performance incorporates complex arrangements in a supercharged marriage of classical and ‘70’s flavoured progressive rock. And judged on his performance here Lindh could be just about the best keyboardist currently active on the scene. Kopecky and Råket are more than up to the task of supplying the appropriate support. In my opinion the bassist is way ahead of the ex ELP and Crimson man especially during his solos which are ripe with melodic invention and lead runs. Råket’s drumming remains rock solid and consistently inventive throughout employing jazz creativity where necessary. He also looks like a youthful Steve Hackett.
They open the show with the familiar strains of Mussorgsky’s Night On Bare Mountain which also appeared on the debut album Gothic Impressions. In terms of execution it takes as its guide ELP’s interpretation of Pictures At An Exhibition by the same composer. Utilising his arsenal of keyboards to provide the orchestrations Lindh’s playing is full of classical flourishes and strong dynamics aided by Råket and Kopecky. The latter even manages to incorporate a bass solo. The Bach flavoured Baroque Impression No.1 from PLP’s second album is a superb vehicle for Lindh’s jaw-dropping Hammond playing. He also adds stirring synth work whilst Kopecky’s bass skilfully recreates the guitar parts from the album version. Fast and rhythmic piano dominates Mundus / Veni Vidi Vici Medley which becomes more romantic in the second part, reminiscent of Rick Wakeman’s rippling style. Lindh introduces Suite In Progress as “a new piece that doesn’t even have a name”. Despite the title it does seem to be a fully developed piece and is one of the DVD’s strongest which bodes well for the future. The principle synth and organ theme is an infectious one although the light hearted honk-tonk piano part is one indulgence too many in my view. Otherwise it motors along nicely with a commanding rhythm very similar to ELP’s adaptation of Fanfare For The Common Man.
Montagues & Capulet is unmistakably Prokofiev’s Romeo And Juliet and the strident piano and bass treatment here is a far cry from ELP’s version on the Black Moon album. Whereas ELP played it straight, Lindh and Kopecky occasionally veer off at a jazzy tangent. Lindh takes a well earned break during Bill’s Solo, allowing the bassist to showcase a self composed piece, assisted by Råket. It’s a slow building performance with a very agreeable melody and is a reminder of Chris Squire’s legendary solos except Kopecky is less showy exercising more restraint. The concluding Gradus Ad Parnassum from the last PLP album features some excellent piano and bass exchanges but it’s the drummers turn to shine as he embarks on a lengthy solo. This could have been a tedious viewing experience if it wasn’t for Råket’s tasteful playing and the graceful camera work which circles and envelopes the drummer. Lindh and Kopecky return to the stage and together they bring the piece and the show to a rousing climax.
The disc comes with the usual array of extras including an insightful interview with the man himself. Amongst the many topics, Lindh discusses Sweden’s part in the resurgence of prog in the 90’s, how he came close to filling Emerson’s shoes when The Nice almost reformed and reveals his favourite vocalists (there are no surprises here).
To return to the music and the subject of ELP, if I had to be totally honest there is nothing here that quite reaches the epic scope of say a Karn Evil 9 or the majesty of a Tarkus. I’m being hyper critical of course because Lindh’s meticulous compositions are executed with technically flawless precision. Had this been a CD only release then I would have awarded a very respectable 7 to 7.5 out of 10. However DVD’s are also about visual (and sonic) presentation which easily elevates this superior production into the DPRP recommended category. Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends indeed.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Man - Back Into The Future
CD 1 ~ Original Album: A Night In Dad's Bag (4:03), Just for You (5:18), Back into the Future (4:06), Don't Go Away (4:00), Ain't Their Fight (7:42), Never Say Nups To Nepalese (7:31), Sopspan Fach (3:34), C'mon (19:03), Jam Up Jelly Tight \ Oh No Not Again [Spunk Rock '73] (21:02)
CD 2 ~ Live At The Roundhouse - The Complete Concert: Sopspan Fach (4:36), A Night In Dad's Bag (5:06), C'Mon (19:58), Just For You (6:23), Jam Up Jelly Tight / Oh No Not Again [Spunk Rock '73] (21:39)
CD 3 ~ Live At The Roundhouse - The Complete Concert [continued]: Bananas (16:19), Life On The Road (12:14), Ain't Their Fight (10:23). Bonus unreleased single: The Single [I'm Dreaming] (4:06), The Symbol Who Came To Dinner (3:00)
Man's 1973 album, Back Into The Future was the follow-up to the highly successful Be Good To Yourself At Least Once A Day and, unsurprisingly, featured a change in line-up with Clive John having left after becoming fed up of life on the road. That left Micky Jones, Phil Ryan, Terry Williams and Will Youatt to write and start recording the new album. However, before recording had been completed Tweke Lewis, a 19-year-old guitar prodigy fresh out of the ranks of Wild Turkey had joined the ranks. After a hectic two-week writing session at Clearwell Castle hampered by a BBC film crew recording a documentary, the band started recording at Rockfield Studios in late May 1973, finishing off at Chipping Norton Studios in July were new boy Lewis added some overdubs. Between the two recording sessions the band hit the road again for the Up For The Day tour, supported by none other than old accomplice Deke Leonard. One of the concerts, at the Roundhouse in London, was recorded and at the last moment the record company decided to supplement the new studio recordings with highlights from the live performance. But more of that later.
The studio side of Back Into The Future displays a somewhat funkier and more playful band than on previous releases. Opener A Night In Dad's Bag featuring a percussive 7/8 beat, was overlaid with a multitude of sound effects, mostly supplied by Ryan's keyboards. Phil Ryan also dominates the opening to Just For You which turns into a veritable funk fest with wah wah guitars and a toe-tapping beat. The title track features a more traditional Man sound with Micky's driving guitar and soaring vocal harmonies. Probably the most instantly likeable Man song in the band's repertoire, it's only drawback is the rather weak ending with rather misplaced synth sounds overlaid until the fade out. Don't Go Away is the album's ballad and a powerful track it turns out to be as well. The piano and acoustic guitar intro blend perfectly morphing into electric guitar and keyboards that play in harmony rather than fighting against each other. Jones playing is perfect and the tight harmonies are perfect for the song, despite wavering slightly!
Ain't Their Fight, the only studio track to feature Lewis, in retrospect sums up the internal conflicts that were plaguing the band at the time with the guitar driven approach of Jones combating with the more jazzier approach of Ryan's keyboards. It stands as a fascinating battle between the two adversaries with Jones emerging slightly ahead, particularly on the close-out where the stereo panned twin guitars dominating the keyboards which are pushed slightly further back in the mix as well. Final track, the bizarrely titled Never Say Nups to Nepalese, is a tour de force instrumental that rounds the studio album off in style. A superb group effort and an essential for any Man fan.
Whilst researching the master tapes for bonus tracks for this reissue, the original 16-track masters for the Roundhouse concert were uncovered and it was decided that they would make a great addition to the re-release. Even though three of the tracks are included on the CD of the original album, they are also included on the bonus discs in their original set positions, so the whole concert can be enjoyed as it was played on the night! The concert opens with the Gwalia Male Voice Choir singing Sopspan Fach, the anthem of Llanelli. The choir had first appeared with Man when they supported Frank Zappa at the Oval the previous year and provided a unique, if somewhat surprising for the audience, introduction to the concert. A Night In Dad's Bag is somewhat tighter and less funky that the studio version while the opening to C'Mon gives Hawkwind a run for their money in the space rock stakes. Lewis, in only his third gig with the band performs admirably and the choir are reintroduced in the middle section which really beefs things up and provides a great version of this classic song. Just For You benefits from an extended jam and some particularly tight drumming by Williams while Jam Up Jelly Tight \ Oh No Not Again (Spunk Rock '73) is exactly what the title says it is, a superior jam based around the classic, and often epic, piece from a few years previous.
The second bonus CD concludes the concert with three more extended numbers, an energetic Bananas with some tasty flourishes from both Ryan and Jones, Life On The Road which is somewhat different from the live version that appeared on the Christmas At The Patti album some months earlier and the encore Ain't Their Fight. This latter track comes into its own live, with the two guitars and the keyboards duelling it out and providing a rousing end to the show. Two further bonus tracks are also included, a putative single recorded in August 1973 that was never released, although it is believed that some acetates were pressed. I'm Dreaming, which was later rewritten and performed as 'Breaking Up Once Again', would have made an unusual choice as a single, particularly as an edited version of Back Into The Future would have been a much more commercial proposition. Having said that, the riff is quite catchy despite the vocals sounding a bit rough around the edges. The whole thing has more of a demo feel than a completed and polished track. On the other hand The Symbol Who Came To Dinner is a great 'lost' song and would have made a great addition to the album if it had been written and recorded a few months earlier.
This reissue of Back Into The Future is a loving testament to the Welsh wizards who seem to have spent most of their career underappreciated. The presentation of the box set is immaculate and is an essential purchase for anyone who has ever heard and enjoyed this album, it even makes a great place to start a Man collection as the uninitiated will get a flavour of what the band are all about both in the studio and on stage. A fine album, a great band and a brilliant reissue.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Man - Slow Motion
Tracklist: Hard Way To Die (5:20), Grasshopper (5:12), Rock And Roll You Out (3:53), You Don't Like Us (4:34), Bedtime Bone (5:55), One More Chance (4:27), Rainbow Eyes 6:06, Day And Night (4:12), Rock And Roll You Out [first mix] (4:37), A Hard Way To Live [live] (2:59), Hard Way To Die [live] (5:57), Somebody's Calling [live] (2:52), Many Are called, But Few Get Up [live] (13:18), A Hard Way To Live [live] (3:16)
Man's second album of 1974 had the unenviable task of competing with the group's highest charting album to date, Rhinos, Winos And Lunatics, released just five months earlier. Unsurprisingly, in that time the band had undergone another line-up change with keyboard player Malcolm Morley jumping ship after the group's first successful American tour. That left the band as a four-piece again with Micky Jones on guitar and vocals, Deke Leonard on guitar, piano and vocals, Ken Whaley on bass and Terry Williams on drums and vocals. Amazingly, after the five-week US tour, the band only had a week off before heading off to Clearwell Castle in Gloucestershire to write the next album, a feat they accomplished in just two weeks! Boy, how times have changed!
The album was written and recorded in an atmosphere described by Jones as "Post American blues" with Leonard stating that the group felt somewhat "displaced and after the wide open spaces [of the US] we felt mildly claustrophobic". As a consequence, the album, particularly in the lyrical department, is quite downbeat, with main lyric writer Leonard stating that his mind was elsewhere - "a really morbid alley-way which is full of death, disease and real black images". This is true of opening number, A Hard Way To Die, as if the title was not somewhat of a giveaway! However, musically it is quite a jolly number and opens up the recording in readiness for the string-laden Grasshopper. The first of two ballads, Grasshopper is a gentle and lovely acoustic number with a complete string section providing most of the impetus of the song. Rock And Roll You Out, a song inspired by Leonard's exclusion from a Welsh night club for wearing jeans, is a bluesy number with a pretty standard beat but with the added attraction of some nifty slide guitar work and even a harmonica solo! Another true incident, the theft of Micky's possessions while on holiday in Italy, was the inspiration behind You Don't Like Us. There is a definite air of Badfinger about this track, ironic as those other fabulous Welsh rockers were to support Man on their next UK tour.
An energetic guitar and synth introduction starts off Bedtime Bone which has quite a few instrumental passages, mostly because the band objected to Leonard's original lyrics about a chap dying whilst in the arms of a prostitute. Attempts at alternative lyrics were no more positive and so the original words were edited leaving space for a somewhat uninspiring synth solo. The lively One More Chance also hides a rather morbid lyric, but one doesn't notice it behind the delightfully cheery chorus and the twin guitar assault that makes the song a classic example of the Man oeuvre. The second ballad is Rainbow Eyes which also benefits from a string section, although not in as prominent a role as in Grasshopper. A more positive number from the pen of Micky complete with choral vocals on the middle eight, it sounds like a pop song from the late sixties, and although fairly distinct in the Man repertoire it is none-the-less a minor gem of a song. They still manage to slip a death into the lyric though! Last track of the original album is the single Day and Night which, at the time, was a favourite of John Peel's; he even nominated it as single of the week when he reviewed it for Sounds magazine. Peely, as ever, was spot on in his assessment and it is surprising that the group didn't even score a minor hit with the song with it being a catchy ditty an all.
As for all the Esoteric Man re-issues, the CD contains a host of previously unreleased bonus tracks, starting with the first mix of Rock And Roll You Out whose main difference is a saxophone, which although barely discernable in the final mix plays a major part in this initial version, featuring in its own solo and in an interesting trade-off with guitar in the end section. The b-side to the Day And Night single, a live version of A Hard Way To Live is an energetic number which first featured on Deke Leonard's solo Iceberg album. Despite the original having been recorded after Leonard being fired from Man over attitude problems, the rest of Man were quite familiar with the material as several of them had played on the album and the band Leonard formed to promote the album (who were also called Iceberg) had supported Man on one of their UK tours. As if in reposte, the next bonus track is a live rendition of Hard Way To Die which comprehensively shows how the group were able to take a good studio song and ramp it up to another level when on stage. Hard Way To Die is the first of four live tracks taken from a concert recorded in California in April 1975, the second, Somebody's Calling (otherwise known as Someone Is Calling) is a relative rarity having only previously appeared on the 'Rare Man' CD and a couple of live bootlegs. Although less than 3 minutes long, the first high quality release of this number is a great bonus for Man collectors and completists. The final two tracks are the classic Many Are Called, But Few Get Up and another version of A Hard Way To Live. Maybe it would have been better to include another track from this concert instead of the latter track although one can't quibble too much in these matters! The version of Many Are Called... also displays the skill of the band in taking a regularly performed number and rearranging it within the confines of a familiar framework, much in the way that the Grateful Dead were able to do. This explains the popularity of the plethora of live releases, many of which contain similar track listings.
Although not often cited as a pinnacle album in the band's career, that is possibly due to the classic album that came immediately prior to it and the fact that Slow Motion was released so soon after. In addition, the general negative vibes might put some people off. However, all that withstanding, Slow Motion is a worthy addition to any Man collection.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Man - Maximum Darkness
Tracklist: 7171 551 (11:20), Codine (7:45), Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You (6:23), Many Are Called, But Few Get Up (13:51), Bananas (11:24) Bonus tracks: C'Mon (23:56), Romain (5:00)
Esoteric's fabulous Man Band reissues reach 1975 and the last album for the United Artists label. Unsurprisingly it is a live album, recorded at the Chalk Farm Roundhouse in London on Monday 26th May 1975 and is rather unique in that it features guest guitarist John Cipollina from Man favourites Quicksilver Messenger Service. Cipollina had met the band on the group's previous tour of the US and had even joined them onstage at the Winterland in San Francisco which, although due to two blown guitar amps was not musically enlightening, certainly established a relationship of fun and frivolity between the musicians. As a consequence of that gig, Cipollina was invited to join Man on their 1975 British tour and to their surprise, he accepted.
At the time of the tour Man was back a four-piece widely considered to be the 'classic' line-up of Micky Jones and Deke Leonard on guitar and vocals, Terry Williams on drums and the returning Martin Ace on bass and vocals. The album title comes from a Terry Williams who, just before taking to the stage at the Roundhouse was asked by the lighting engineer what kind of lights they wanted and the start of the show. His reply: "Maximum Darkness...." The original album consisted of just five tracks, three extended Man classics and two Quicksilver numbers, Codine and Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You, both relatively obscure numbers from the Revolution film soundtrack. If Cipollina was surprised at the group's choice of QMS numbers they wanted to perform, he was even more surprised to discover that the group were able to perform both songs note perfect! However, the reverse was not always true with Cipollina apparently struggling with the strange riffs in Many Are Called, But Few Get Up resulting in his guitar being removed from the live mix. Incidentally, it was not the only song that Cipollina's on-stage performance was omitted from the live mix or album as at times during the show he insisted on playing an ancient Hawaiian guitar that was impossible to tune and was played with a carving knife! During The Storm (omitted from the album), the sound engineer decided to cut out the instrument from the PA broadcast long before the band asked him to do so and although a Hawaiian sounding instrument can be heard during Bananas this was actually over-dubbed by Micky Jones after hearing just how badly out of tune the original parts were. Despite suggestions that Jones had actually overdubbed all of Cipollina's guitar parts in the studio, the truth seems to be it was only on Bananas that this actually happened, and only because of the Hawaiian guitar!
So what of the performance? Well, apart from the two QMS numbers there is not a lot to distinguish it from other Man live albums. True the version of Many Are Called, But Few Get Up is pretty hard to beat but for a more all round concert performance the Live At The Padget Rooms, Penarth album probably has the edge. The only track were Cipollina's presence can really be felt is in the powerful opening number 7171 551 which features some classic growling from the quicksilver man's Gibson SG electric guitar, as featured on the album sleeve. The two cover versions are of best of curiosity interest, Codine, a slow blues number, isn't really suited to the vocalist, although there are a few nice harmony moments, while Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You has a more West Coast feel, sounding strangely similar to Jefferson Airplane.
The bonus tracks, recorded in California in April 1975, neither feature Cipollina nor Martin Ace, as at that time the group were touring in support of the Slow Motion album and Ken Whaley occupied the bottom end, as it were. Given than only a couple of months divides the two recordings, there is considerable difference in the overall style. C'Mon in a dramatically extended 24 minute version, is very lose with some spacey and basic keyboards provided by keyboardist Malcolm Morley, who left the group following the US tour and prior to recording Slow Motion. Enjoyment of this meandering piece will largely depend on one's opinion of improvised and extended jamming. Personally I think it is the highlight of the reissue although I suspect that a few others will be turned off before it reaches the fifth minute. In contrast Romain, a number that on previous live albums has been a 20-minute piece, is here presented in a version which is shorter than on the original 1971 Man album! Some nice slide guitar work stands out and committed vocals shows that it sometimes pays to be succinct.
Overall, this is probably not an essential Man album, there are other live performances that are worthy of consideration first and the studio albums present a wider breadth of what the band were aiming for within their musical vision. Despite that, Man were, and still are, a formidable live act and, unlike some bands, a live album bearing the Man name is almost certainly guaranteed to be a worthwhile release. Kudos again to Esoteric for lovingly remastering the album and presenting it in a form that is sheer delight for collectors and fans, the label and band are good bedfellows, as both are hallmarks for quality.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Jucifer – L’Autrichienne
Tracklist: Blackpowder (2:16), Thermidor (0:32), To Earth (3:04), Deficit (2:29), Champ De Mars (3:52), Fall Of The Bastille (0:57), To The End (3:18), Armada (5:56); L’autrichienne (5:00), Behind Every Great Man (3:10), October (4:09), Birds Of A Feather (2:11), Traitors (2:28), The Law Of Suspects (2:31), Noyade (4:21), The Mountain (9:07), Window [Where The Sea Falls Forever] (4:59), Fleur De Lis (2:39), Procession A La Guillotine (3:50), Coma (1:40), The Assembly (1:57)
I doubt this US duo get reviewed on many prog web sites, but L’Autrichienne does fulfil a couple of the criteria often used when deciding if something is ‘progressive’ or not – there’s plenty of variety amongst the twenty one tracks on offer, and it’s a concept album to boot, based on the life (and death) of Marie Antoinette (‘L’Autrichienne’ being her nickname, due to her Austrian origins).
Jucifer a basically a duo, featuring Amber Valentine on guitar and vocals, and Edgar Livengood on drums. If this gives the impression of a kind of role-reversal White Stripes, then opening track Blackpowder might appear to confirm that impression, but little else is predictable in this ambitious piece that runs a gamut of styles – one minute we have the cathartic blastbeat-driven likes of Thermidor and Fall Of The Bastille, the next it’s sludgy Black Sabbath-esque doom on Armada and the epic The Mountain, fitting in some Hawkwind-flavoured space rock on Behind Every Great Man and the Sonic Youth-meets AC/DC stomp of Window [Where The Sea Falls Forever]. Throughout, its Amber Valentine’s very versatile voice which impresses most, ranging from guttural screams to a quiet, angelic almost-whisper, and calling at all points in between.
For me, the tracks that stand out are the slower, more balladic ones, where the stripped down arrangements and Valentine’s excellent vocals really deliver. To The End is an acoustic strum-along tinged with a psychedelic, My Bloody Valentine-esque flavour, whilst Noyade has an atmospheric, vaguely hypnotic feel. It’s the beautiful title track, however, which gets top honours, Valentine’s dreamy tones floating over some gentle yet well defined guitar work, rippling piano and atmospheric sonics.
The album has a rough and ready feel, undoubtedly intended – in fact much of this album was recorded live, direct to tape. Whilst much of the album is ‘just’ guitar, drums and vocal, a wide variety of instruments such as Hammond, cello, flute and even that perennial prog favourite, mellotron, are used to add colour and texture to the sound where necessary.
Ultimately, L’Autrichienne is perhaps inevitably rather rambling and overlong; some selections (notably the more hardcore-influenced bursts, and the frankly naff and jarring electro-influenced closer The Assembly) sit rather uncomfortably with others, and as is often the case with concept affairs, the album could have done with some trimming. However, there should be enough here to make L’Autrichienne worthy of investigation by most open-minded rock fans, with the ballads previously mentioned being particularly noteworthy.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
HannaH - A Life In Rock Minor
Tracklist: My Soul Is Gone (6:30), Dead Sea (6:36), A Thousand Realities (5:15), A Life In Rock Minor (6:30), The Road Of Loneliness (7:59), Big Ear (2:21), Wrong (6:06), My Soul Is Back (3:08)
HannaH is a five piece rock band from Spain that in A Life In Rock Minor sees the release of their debut album. The music of HannaH holds lots of breaks and rhythm changes, however the listener will never get entangled in overly complicated structures. When seeking influences Echolyn is the first name the comes to mind, though HannaH keep their style a bit more conservative and less experimental. Other influences can be found in the more popular side of progressive rock, with bands like Spock's Beard, Transatlantic and Marillion being evident.
It takes a bit of time before the album opener My Soul Is Gone takes off, but when it does the song has many rhythm changes, heavy guitars and pleasant keyboard melodies. All of which is arranged together without sounding experimental. Next up is Dead Sea and there are two sides to this track, featuring heavy Dream Theater like parts, but also sections with acoustic guitar, piano and a cosy sing-a-long chorus. Following this is A Thousand Realities, a ballad that steadily increases in power. Title track A Life In Rock Minor begins with a dance beat and a keyboard melody and it is this side of HannaH that wants to attract a mainstream rock audience and introduce them to some more complex music, which thankfully is still around. Though accessible parts dominate this track there are certainly enough progressive sections to satisfy the "prog" fan.
The next three songs were previously recorded on a demo, for promotional use and to get the band more gigs. Although I personally didn't have the opportunity to see them live these tracks show that their music is perfect for a live performance. Kicking off with The Road Of Loneliness, a ballad with a dreamy feel to it. Big Ear is sort of a funny intermission, a fast song with guitar solo's that really make it a fiery song and although the guitars are flying all over the place and he refrains from making a mess, well done. Wrong is typical HannaH, difficult parts and easier sections alternate and together it is still partitioned very neatly. My Soul Is Back is an ambient piece of music with piano and keyboards and nicely rounds off the album.
A Life In Rock Minor is a pretty descent debut - the production is good, but I do think that HannaH would do well to add a bit more power to the mix, especially in the vocals. I sometimes got the impression that the singer was holding back, trying to sing without a Spanish accent, which by the way he does very nicely. The music of HannaH is progressive rock with many alterations, but never looses itself in overcomplicated pieces. Rhythm changes and more easily accessible melodies are nicely fitted in songs that have a clear construction. HannaH could as easily step in the direction of mainstream rock as they could become more progressive. Let's hope they do the latter.
Conclusion: 7+ out of 10
Oxygene 8 – Freak Of Chance
Tracklist: Close Your Eyes (4:12), No Different But Not The Same (4:44), Don’t Look Down (3:52), Freak Of Chance (5:42), Poetica Reprise (4:18)
Look out, Chapman stick boys, there’s a chick with a stick in town. Her name is Linda Cushma and her band Oxygene 8, on their new EP-length CD Freak Of Chance, is taking the Chapman stick from its boy’s club confinement and giving it the wider audience it deserves.
Stick player and vocalist Cushma is joined in Oxygene 8 by Kiko King on drums and Claudio Cordero on guitar. Adding additional support on various tracks are sidekicks Tony Levin (King Crimson, Peter Gabriel) on bass, Steve Parrish on guitar, synths, and vocals; Tim Alexander (Primus) on drums and loops, and Federico Miranda (Ghandi, Baula Project) on lead guitar. Cushma had previously played bass with Alexander playing drums in an earlier band called Major Lingo, and Alexander played drums on Oxygene8’s last release Poetica.
The multi-stringed, touch-sensitive Chapman stick is perhaps best known by prog music fans as the aural weapon of choice wielded by Levin during the Discipline era Eighties line-up of King Crimson. But don’t expect any Crimson comparisons on Freak Of Chance. The only thing possibly evoking Crim on the CD may be Cushma’s spoken word bits here and there, but hey, those more closely resemble Laurie Anderson. As this CD only contains five tracks, I will touch upon them one by one as follows.
Close Your Eyes - Trip-hop sections and some phrasings similar to Peter Gabriel along with a sultry broodiness evoking Sarah McLachlan. Nice atmospheric synths from Parrish.
No Different But Not The Same - A dance loop groove and some closing orchestral sounding synths from Parrish.
Don’t Look Down - A mid tempo ballad featuring some more loops from Parrish and a fine solo from Cordero.
Freak Of Chance - A Sixties style groove under some nice stick playing and some percussion loops from Cushma. Miranda and Parrish offer some overlaying guitars.
Poetica Reprise - This track features all the core and contributing members of Oxygene8 as an Oxygene8 orchestra of sorts. An industrial groove similar to modern Crim side projects Tuner, BPM+M, and ProjeKct X.
Reading this review may have you think of this band as “eclectic”, but rather, the songs convey an alternative or pop sensibility that could give the Chapman stick some well deserved mass appreciation, without having it sell out to the mainstream. The CD’s songs are well composed and produced with good sound quality, and the majority of them have some hit single potential. The CD packaging is in gatefold format. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Freak of Chance in the CD rack of my local Starbucks next time I’m grabbing a venti white mocha.
With their next release, as room for improvement, it would be nice to see the band experiment with longer tracks. It would also be nice for them to perhaps bring Crim alum Trey Gunn into the fold.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Mike Grande - My Dash Between The Numbers
Tracklist: Crossing Neverland (4:15), Two Miles To Ana Lese (4:17), Walk In November (3:10), Watchin' The Cloud Factory (4:22), Skeleton Jack (4:08), If I Can Learn To Fly (5:00), Stovie (4:45), Butterflies (5:41)
Mike Grande has been playing guitar for over twenty years, started giving guitar lessons at the age of fifteen and at sixteen needed to be accompanied by his parents to play shows because he was too young to get in to some venues. He has now developed his own recording studio and mainly concentrates on creating instrumental music. A familiar tale...
The music on My Dash Between The Numbers is instrumental guitar rock in the style of Satriani, with the composition very pleasantly written and appeal at first spin. It's meant that way, at no point is this album trying to stretch borders or innovate. Mike Grande's guitar playing is excellent, a very clear sound and never a wrong twist in a note. It even seems some songs are written to have vocals on them and Mike is singing them with his guitar.
Mike Grande has created a very beautiful album with just over half an hour of quality instrumental music mainly for guitar lovers. As mentioned he is not trying to innovate musically, but simply trying to "spread the word" of his (instrumental) music. From a progressive point of view, and as with many guitar instrumental albums, the interest is limited.
I'm not including a rating because this album is freely available and if you surf over to his website, fill in a form, Mike will send you a copy of his CD.
Conclusion: Not Rated