Reviews in this issue:
- Parallel Or Ninety Degrees - A Can Of Worms
- Wetton & Downes ~ Icon - 3
- Stomu Yamash’ta’s East Wind – Freedom Is Frightening
- Stomu Yamash’ta’s East Wind – One By One
- Stomu Yamash’ta – Raindog
- Stomu Yamashta, Steve Winwood, Michael Shrieve – Go ~ Live From Paris
- Cannata - My Back Pages
- Baraka – Shade Of Evolution
- Daedalus – The Never Ending Illusion
- Eroc - Wolkenreise
- Humi – Dune
- Dan Keying - Black Swan
Parallel Or Ninety Degrees - A Can Of Worms
CD 1: A Man Of Thin Air (5:05), The Single (5:56), Unbranded (8:36), Modern (6:00), The Media Pirates (10:33), Promises Of Life (7:49), Blues For Lear (8:50), Space Junk (10:38), Petroleum Addicts (11:02)
CD 2: Afterlife Sequence (28:00), Embalmed In Acid (5:42), Four Egos One War (20:14), Fadge Part One (3:33), A Kick In The Teeth (6:44), Unforgiving Skies (16:03)
Parallel Or Ninety Degrees, the great Yorkshire band that released six CDs to often great critical acclaim but seemingly not much in the way of popular recognition. Having been dormant since 2002, largely due to the success of The Tangent, it has just been announced that the band are working on a new album for release later in the year. As all the original CDs are scandalously out of print, this remastered double compilation CD, featuring the cream of their output in addition to several unreleased gems, will have to suffice until the new album is completed and the back catalogue can be reissued.
But back to the beginning and the roots of the band way back in the late 1980s and a group known as Gold Frankincense And Disk Drive. In their time they released three or four LPs (that's vinyl folks!) and, in 1992, a cassette of Peter Hammill songs called No More Travelling Chess (taken from a lyric by said Mr Hammill). GFDD seemed to have a fairly fluid line-up with the exception being Andy Tillison Diskdrive. The last line-up also featured Guy Manning who apparently opted to move to Germany the day the group decided to change their name to PO90D! No More Travelling Chess was reissued on CD in 1999 under the new name and is represented on this compilation by Modern, a very Hammillesque (eh?) take on this Hammill solo number which is notable for its addition of drums to the song. The first album, The Corner Of My Room was recorded in 1996 by the duo of Tillison and Sam Baine, both keyboard players, although Tillison did play guitar and beat the occasional drum. The Media Pirates shows that even at this early stage Tillison's vision of the band was pretty much in place - long form pieces split into different sections and inspired by classic progressive rock. An earlier version of the band had started to record an album which was abandoned. However, a rough version of a 17-minute epic A Gap In The Night was included on the CD reissue, which is worth looking out for if only for the fact that it features Hugh Banton from Van Der Graaf Generator. As the CD was limited to 501 copies and it looks unlikely that PO90D will get round to recording a proper version one day (a desire expressed in the CD booklet) one has to hope that this album, along with all the others, will one day get a re-release. Encouraged by their own endeavours, although precious few sales, the duo decided to make another album but this time got some other people involved as well - enter Graham Young (guitar), Lee Duncan (drums), Jonathan Barrett (bass) and Malcolm Parker (Cyclops Records). Yes, a small but dedicated label that wanted to release the next album, 1997's Afterlifecycle. This album contained probably the most ambitious composition from the band, the 28-minute title track. The compilation neglects to name all the sections, which are: Introduction, Dead On A Car Park Floor Part 1, Afterlife What? Part 1, Gears Meshing With Dandelions, Dead On A Car Park Floor Part 2, Moving Lights In A Tunnel, Afterlife What? Part 2, and Lifecycle. Interestingly, the version here is the complete sequence presented as a single track; originally the last section (Lifecycle) came at the end of the album separated from the rest of sequence by 24 minutes.
The Time Capsule, released in 1998, saw guitarist Young being replaced by Gareth Harwood. Another music packed CD, clocking in, like its predecessors at over 70 minutes, the style had not changed at all, with another epic title track of more than 20 minutes duration. Three tracks from this album feature on the compilation, the gentle balladesque Promises Of Life with its excellent fretless bass playing, lovely vocal and some ersatz Frippertronics, the lively and engaging The Single (which wasn't) featuring a guest appearance by Guy Manning on guitar, and Unforgiving Skies which, although not mentioned on the sleeve, has been almost doubled in length to sixteen minutes (the sleeve gives the original time of 9 minutes). The extra material is not really an extension of the song but an additional instrumental section, which is rather pleasant and makes a decent ending to the CD. By the following year, Duncan and Barrett had also departed to be replaced by Ken Senior and Alex King, respectively. The album the new line-up complete and released in 1999 was Unbranded: Music From The E.E.C. Surplus. The most diverse album yet, there were elements from much wider sources of inspiration, many introduced by the new members. Representing 'Unbranded' we have the title track with its excellent lyrical take on the pressures of conforming to fashion, and Space Junk which is the epitome of modern progressive rock. Around this time Tillison began kicking some musical ideas around with old accomplice Guy Manning for a project they thought to be a sideline to their own respective groups. Before these ideas came to fruition there was another PO90D album to be considered, this time with fresh, young blood in the form of Dan Watts who had taken over guitar duties from Harwood who had decided to emigrate. The resulting album, and Alex King, respectively. The album the new line-up complete and released in 1999 was More Exotic Ways To Die, continued and expanded on the variety of styles explored on Unbranded going so far as to include avant garde experiments with house music (Drum One) and early synthesiser music (The One That Sounds Like Tangerine Dream, later explored more fully by Tillison on his solo album Fog). Petroleum Addicts is more of a progressive number the subject of which is somewhat self-explanatory. A Man Of Thin Air and Embalmed In Acid are the second and third parts of More Exotic Ways To Die with the latter track being one of the strongest in the bands repertoire, featuring a great arrangement, excellent use of backing vocals and a haunting melody to boot. The band were convinced that this was their most important album to date, a summation of all they had learnt and experienced and would set them on the road to wider recognition. Typically, it didn't.
Returning to the side project with Guy Manning and bringing in some friends along the way, Tillison and Baine became part of The Tangent whose debut album outsold the entire PO90D back catalogue in less than one month. Somewhat surprising as the music of the 'new' band was not a million miles away from what PO90D had been releasing, a situation that has become increasingly more apparent with each subsequent release by the 'side project'. That brings us to the unreleased items on the compilation, starting with a track that was originally released on The Time Capsule. Blues For Lear, a classic PO90D song if there ever was one, was being considered for inclusion on the first Tangent album but ultimately was rejected because of the amount of new material composed. This version, surprisingly, features the entire PO90D line-up but with the addition of Roine Stolt on guitar and vocal. A lovely version with a great solo by Dan Watts in the middle of the piece and some lovely bluesy embellishments from Stolt makes this a welcome addition to anyone's collection. The remaining three tracks were recorded for a new PO90D album but the success of The Tangent and the resulting commitments on Tillison and Baine combined with the 'pressure' to release a follow-up, meant the album was never completed and the recordings were shelved, as was the band. Four Egos One War may seem familiar as it was re-recorded and included on Not As Good As The Book the most recent Tangent album. An intense track about the Iraq war that doesn't seem to let up, it is interesting to compare the two versions. Fadge Part 1 has a really gritty guitar sound with vocals uncharacteristically pushed far back into the mix. Lots of synths add a spacey feel but the overall impression of the track is that PO90D were looking to continue exploring new musical directions. In complete contrast, A Kick In The Teeth starts off in a more laid back manner before ramping up to a heavier mode. Again, in the louder sections the vocals are not as immediate as in the quieter sections. The two tracks in particular, sound somewhat incomplete, although it is great to have the opportunity to hear these pieces that would otherwise have been gathering dust. There is one further track that is not mentioned in the album artwork. Following the end of Petroleum Addicts there is a somewhat rough (quality wise) live version of The Third Person the first ever song written and recorded by PO90D, a nice way to wrap up the musical career of this sadly underappreciated band ...so far.
With the group back writing and recording and this fine compilation providing a summary of what has gone before, there is still hope that Parallel Or Ninety Degrees will get some of the recognition they deserve. With the success of The Tangent it is hopeful that more people will be encouraged to check out A Can Of Worms, I assure you, if you like The Tangent, you'll love PO90D!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Wetton & Downes ~ Icon - 3
Tracklist: Twice The Man I Was (4:43), Destiny (5:22), Green Light And Blue Skies (4:25), Raven (3:58), My Life Is In Your Hands (6:22), Sex, Power And Money (4:28), Anna’s Kiss (4:31), Under The Sky (4:54), Don’t Go Out Tonight (4:06), Never Thought I’d See You (5:04), Peace In Our Time (5:40)
The duo Wetton & Downes shouldn’t need any introduction. The key-members of ASIA are both well known solo-artists and recorded with many other renowned bands in the history of progressive rock. After a hiatus of about twelve years, John Wetton and Geoffrey Downes started writing together again in 2002 for Wetton’s Rock Of Faith album (2003) and since that time they never stopped writing. The first album from this collaboration was Icon (2005), followed by Icon II ~ Rubicon (2006). John & Geoff continued working together and did some acoustic performances. In March 2006 several Icon live shows were performed with Steve Christie (drums) and John Mitchell (guitar and background vocals). Then the four original members of ASIA decided to team up again and the Icon-project had to be put on hold, also because of Wetton’s open heart surgery. Wetton and Downes must be credited for being the major contributors for ASIA’s reunion album Phoenix (2008). During the break of touring the world with ASIA after the summer of 2008, Wetton and Downes saw the opportunity to write and record Icon 3, the completion of a trilogy.
The fundaments if this album are virtually the same as for the other Icon albums. The songs are all catchy, melodic and full of rich orchestrations and vocal harmonies; they come close to the songs on ASIA’s Phoenix. Playing with them, are former ELO member Hugh McDowell on cello, Dave Kilminster on guitar and Pete Riley on (electronic?) drums. Guest female vocalist is Anne-Marie Helder (Mostly Autumn, Karnataka) and Andreas Vollenweider plays his harp on both Raven and the really gorgeous instrumental tune Anna’s Kiss. Although the songs may not be nominated to win an Oscar for their originality, Wetton and Downes succeed time and time again to come up with an endless amount of fine tunes. The more rocking songs are Twice The Man I Was, Sex, Power And Money and Don’t Go Out Tonight. Very Melodic but more ”popmusic” oriented are Destiny, My Life Is In Your Hands, Under The Sky and Never Thought I’d See You Again. A great chorus and an incredibly nice sing along tune is the final track Peace In Our Time. Wetton’s voice is holding out remarkably well and he is still capable of putting lots of feel and emotion in his singing as he does in one of the best tracks, the ballad Raven, a duet with Anne-Marie Helder. ELO influences (Mr. Blue Sky) can be heard in Green Lights And Blue Skies and Geoff Downes conceived a genuine masterpiece with his Anna’s Kiss.
Though Steve Howe is a world famous guitarist, helping to frame the “ASIA-sound”, I like Kilminster’s performance very much. On the other hand I’m not overwhelmed by the sound of Riley’s drum-kit (presumably electronic, because he did use an electronic kit during the lives show in Holland): I prefer the more pounding old fashioned ones! Nevertheless, the sound is a matter of taste, technically speaking he does an outstanding job. McDowell provides an atmospheric and at times a somewhat classical feel and his contributions are of great value to the overall sound. As usual, the production was done by John & Geoff themselves, needless to say they did a good job too. The artwork is sober but tasteful and integrates the “3” of the third album with an OM symbol, a universal icon, not specific to one religion, meaning “everything”.
Icon 3 is perhaps not a groundbreaking record, it’s not genuine ‘prog’ but it definitely is an extremely nice album if you like good quality melodic pop/rock music like I do: great players, great tunes! Check out their MySpace (linked above) for samples.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Stomu Yamash’ta’s East Wind – Freedom Is Frightening
Stomu Yamash’ta’s East Wind – One By One
Tracklist: One By One/ Hey Man/ One By One [Reprise] (10:45), Black Flame (3:28), Rain Race (1:30), Tangerine Beach (3:26), Superstar/Loxycycle (12:19), Nurburgring (2:33), Seasons (1:31), Accident (0:51), At Tangerine Beach (2:20)
Stomu Yamash’ta – Raindog
Stomu Yamashta, Steve Winwood, Michael Shrieve –
Go ~ Live From Paris
Tracklist: Space Song (2:30), Carnival (1:12), Wind Spin (9:30), Ghost Machine (3:45), Surf Spin (2:20), Time Is Here (9:20), Winner/Loser (5:10), Solitude (2:00), Nature (4:25), Air Voice (1.10), Crossing The Line (7:50), Man Of Leo (15:30), Stellar (1:25), Space Requiem (3:35)
Here are another four discs in Esoteric Recordings Stomu Yamash’ta reissue programme. (To check out my review of three previously released titles click here)
The first two albums here feature Stomu’s band East Wind, a veritable fusion super group, including not only Soft Machine bassist Hugh Hopper but also Isotope’s guitar wiz Gary Boyle. Also on board are keyboardist Brian Gascoigne, vocalist Sammi Abu and Yamash’ta’s wife Hisako on violin.
The essential album in this pair is Freedom Is Frightening – a monstrous hybrid of Pink Floyd-esque space rock and hard-nosed jazz fusion. Yamash’ta had assembled a killer unit and they smoke all the way through this rip-roaring, white-knuckle ride of an album. Many groups would struggle to follow the exhilarating title track with its slow and spacey introduction building to a swirling, mind melting, cosmic jam, but Rolling Nuns is even better, featuring Boyle at his ultra fast best on guitar and some downright gut-wrenching fuzz bass from Hopper.
Pine On The Horizon is a little less intense, but breezes along with some delightful violin and a brassy swing. Yamash’ta is at his inventive best here and it is worth trying to focus on his percussive work, you’ll be amazed and entranced.
Closing track Wind Words is a complete change of tack, being a tranquil oasis after the turbulence of the preceding tracks, with Hisako’s violin soaring in classical mode over a subtle and restrained backing of gentle percussion.
One By One whilst no turkey, definitely pales in comparison to its predecessor, though this is mainly down to the fact that it was composed as the soundtrack to a reputedly dire motor–racing film. As such, the music is too varied in style to hang together as an effective album.
Of course, there is some great music here, most notably the opening three part suite, which delves into funky jazz fusion, the groovy Superstar/Loxycycle and the short but effective otherworldly prog of Nurburgring. Other tracks, like the Classical flavoured At Tangerine Beach and the brief Vivaldi homage of Seasons are less inspired. Accidents is little more than sound effects, and therefore disposable. Rain Race is a nice mix of the orchestral and funky but is too short to get too involved with.
All told, One By One is nice enough but a patchy album and disappointing when compared to Yamash’ta’s other albums.
Raindog, credited solely to Yamash’ta, in fact has more of a “band” feel to it than One By One and still features Boyle, Gascoigne and Yamash’ta’s wife from the East Wind line-up, but also adds a drummer, another guitarist and two vocalists (The superb, oft-undervalued Murray Head, and Maxine Nightingale). Regrettably, Hugh Hopper is no longer present, being replaced by Daito Fujita on bass.
The lengthy opener travels through several alluring instrumental sections in an ethereal jazz/rock blend before ending with a terrific vocal performance from Head and Nightingale. Comparisons for this highly original music are hard to draw, but I was reminded a little of Neil Ardley’s fusion masterpieces A Kaleidoscope Of Rainbows and Harmony Of The Spheres.
33 1/3 is another of Yamash’ta’s works to be included on the soundtrack to Bowie’s The Man Who Fell To Earth, and it’s a suitably strange percussion workout, highlighting Yamash’ta’s skills but not as enjoyable as the full band pieces.
I’ve long been a fan of Murray Head’s idiosyncratic vocal style (I could never understand why he wasn’t more successful), and he’s on fine form on the brisk rocker Rainsong. I was surprised and delighted to find him on this album, as I was previously unaware of his collaboration with Yamash’ta. He is a great fit for the music here, and I’d go as far as to say that his performance even excels Steve Winwood’s contributions to Stomu’s next project – The wonderful Go. Now I’m fantasising about what that album might have sounded like with Head instead of Winwood. We can only wonder now.
In fact many of the songs on Raindog can be seen as forerunners of the slick, soulful space fusion of Go, and Head’s vocals really hit the mark, making this a terrific album. I’m sorry I didn’t hear this years ago, it’s great!
Shadows is in the same tranquil vein of Wind Words from Freedom Is Frightening, similarly highlighting Hisako on violin.
Ishi rounds things off with some more hot instrumental fusion – no bad thing of course, but I’d really like to hear more of Head’s vocals.
Yamash’ta’s next project – his best known - was the previously mentioned superstar Go. (See my earlier review via the link above). It’s success lead to the double album - Go Live In Paris. As stated in my previous review, there’s not much in the way of additional material, aside from the greatly extended Man Of Leo which has lashings of superb guitar from Al Di Meola, and some slightly elongated bridges between the different themes. The whole double album is only a little over 20 minutes longer than the original album.
The performances are remarkable though (as you might expect from these players), with one or two tracks perhaps even bettering their studio counterparts, and it does make for an interesting alternative to the studio album for fanatics like myself. The recording quality is excellent, unlike some vintage live albums, but I’m sure some of you won’t see the need to have both the live and studio Go albums. I did appreciate the opportunity to experience the Live Go without having to change the record over three times as you used to have to with the vinyl.
As per usual, the sound and re-mastering on all these reissues is superb and there are the customary informative booklets included as well.
I’ve yet to encounter any of Yamash’ta’s albums that I don’t like and, in this bunch I’d say that Raindog and Freedom are essential purchases, with the Live Go for those who already love Go or perhaps prefer live recordings over studio ones. One By One is worthy of attention if you still want more after getting the other albums.
Freedom Is Frightening : 8 out of 10
One By One : 6 out of 10
Raindog : 8.5 out of 10
Go ~ Live From Paris : 7.5 out of 10
Cannata - My Back Pages
Tracklist: Eight Miles High (3:56), Space Oddity (5:00), Fresh Garbage (3:16), Journey To The Center Of The Mind (3:43), On The Turning Away (5:02), Mother Goose (3:55), My Sunday Feeling (3:55), Turn Turn Turn (3:42), Hurdy Gurdy Man (3:39), Court Of The Crimson King (9:32), Norwegian Wood (2:07), Embryonic Journey (2:49), Monterey (4:14), Life: 101 (4:04)
Jeff Cannata is a multi instrumentalist that blew me away with his album Mysterium Magnum. I was thrilled to hear he recorded a new album but my enthusiasm was tempered when I found out it was a cover album. "A diverse collection of 60's and 70's classic psychedelic folk rock and progressive music, recreated with today's technology and yesterday's visionary spirit." as stated on Cannata's site. I am not very fond of tribute albums and cover albums, so I hesitated. But being a fan of Cannata and feeling attracted to the list of songs I put aside my prejudice and bought the album.
Starter is Eight Miles High from The Byrds and although I can hear it is an old song it has that distinctive Cannata sound. Not the AOR he made in the eighties and not completely the style on Mysterium Magnum. On Space Oditty Cannata tries to sound just like David Bowie and I personally would have liked him to put a bit more his mark on this song. Fresh Garbage is from Spirit, a band from California, that are unknown to me. A song with some Supertramp sounds. Led Zeppelin used to play this song in a medley. The start of Journey To The Center Of The Mind from Amboy Dukes reminded me of Powerslave from Iron Maiden. I like this old fashion rock song from the band that triggered the career of Ted Nugent. Unlike On The Turning Away from Pink Floyd which is to me a clear miss. It was made in 1987 and certainly this band has many other classic songs that would have fitted better on the album.
Jethro Tull is honoured with two songs, Mother Goose and My Sunday Feeling. Nice versions with off course a leading role for the flute. The other band he covered twice on this release is The Byrds. The song Turn Turn Turn is well known, but perhaps a bit too commercially in context to the rest of the songs. Initially it was nice to hear this song but after a couple of spins I fast forward to the next song. Next track is from Scottish singer-songwriter Donovan and Hurdy Gurdy Man is a Beatles like pop song.
Highlight for me is the complete version of Court Of The Crimson King from King Crimson. Due to the better recording quality I prefer this version over the original, surprisingly Cannata still maintained the soul of the composition. After a classic epic progressive song it's a giant leap to Norwegian Wood. The Beatles had a huge influence on music but this song just does not fit on this album. Embryonic Journey form Jefferson Airplane is an acoustic instrumental piece that just cannot thrill me, I get the feeling I should skip back to Court Of The Crimson King. Last cover on this album is Monterey from Eric Burdon, vocalist for The Animals. Cannata concludes My Back Pages with the song Life: 101 which was already present on Mysterium Magnum. In this song he sings about his love for the music of the sixties and seventies - in style and feeling it fits nicely next to the covers.
Jeff Cannata washed away my disappointment about the fact that his new release was a cover album. The songs are played in a contemporary way but he manages to maintain the soul of the classic songs. With albums like this you can endlessly debate about the choice of songs. Personal favourites are the Jethro Tull songs, Journey To The Center Of The Mind and favourite by far is Court Of The Crimson King. Downsides are Turn Turn Turn, On The Turning Away and the songs after Court Of The Crimson King. I am not complaining about the quality, merely the choice of songs which of course is a very personal opinion.
Having said all that I must say I truly enjoy this album and it has and will be played many times. If the choice of songs is to your personal taste I suggest you give this album a chance and relive those old times. One more thing, the cover states "Volume 1", can not wait for the next volume.
Conclusion: 9- out of 10
Baraka – Shade Of Evolution
Tracklist: Five Rings (29:00), Drag The Notion (2:10), Edge Of Sphere (5:32), Prominence (3:15), Ladder Of The Cloud (2:05), Raiden (3:27), Nu-809 (2:52), Tenku (7:25)
The fact that this Japanese band are an instrumental power trio utilising the classic guitars/ bass/ drums format and playing a style that leans towards the heavier end of prog rock will undoubtedly lead to comparisons with Rush, particularly the late seventies era of that band; whilst this comparison is undeniably valid, Baraka cover a great deal more ground than this, and I can hear influences ranging all the way from pioneering fusion outfits such as Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report through to the classic hard rock of Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. Having been together for eleven years, and with Shade Of Evolution being their eighth full length, its unsurprising that the playing here is tight and assured; perhaps more surprising (and pleasantly so) being the fact that the melody is king here, with the three musicians rarely letting their undoubted mastery of their instruments get in the way of a good tune.
The album kicks off with the near thirty minute epic Five Rings, with the warm, fluid Jaco Pastorius-like bass playing of Shin Ichikawa easing us in to what is a varied and high quality exercise in instrumental prog fusion. The band flow in and out of a hard rock groove, with guitarist Issei Takami unafraid of unleashing some note-bending solo’s, the likes of which could easily grace an album by the likes of UFO and Van Halen, when called for. In between these more dynamic moments are sections featuring contemplative pastoral noodling evocative of the Canterbury scene, spacey guitar synth-dominated passages taking us in to Hawkwind-meets-Ozric Tentacles territory, and some stately, anthemic work featuring a guitar sound which could have come straight from King Crimson’s In The Court Of The Crimson King debut. The ghost of Alex Lifeson is never too far from Takami’s playing, particularly on an acoustic piece that recalls the Oracle: The Dream section of 2112, but he has his own dynamic style which incorporates a more bluesy flavour on occasions. Baraka are confident enough in their abilities to incorporate a Caribbean Calypso-flavoured section in to proceedings, and somehow manage to make it blend in seamlessly in to the piece as a whole. The epic ends in classy fashion with a fittingly big, melodic wailing guitar solo which recalls David Gilmour in his pomp, and ensures things end on a high.
Almost inevitably, the other seven pieces on Shades Of Evolution can’t really escape from the huge shadow cast by this opening gambit. Three of the pieces are simply short, synth-dominated soundscapes; Drag The Notion recalls Robert Fripp’s recent work, Nu-809 is more melancholic, whilst the spacey feel returns on Ladder Of The Cloud. Of the others, Prominence and Raiden are dominated by hard rock riffs and have a good groove but are ultimately rather lightweight and feel more like off-cuts that didn’t quite fit in to Five Rings, whilst Edge Of Sphere incorporates some funk and fusion influences but doesn’t quite seem to gel together. Its only on final track Tenku that the quality that shone through on Five Rings appears again, with the trio playing with renewed gusto, grooving through this dynamic track and throwing in plenty of fine solo work, including a wandering, jazzy one from Takami towards the end, for good measure.
The album benefits from a powerful and crystal clear production which allows all the instruments to come through clearly in the mix whilst packing enough punch to have the hard rock fans nodding their heads in approval. Overall, whilst perhaps not as strong as it could be given the stellar opening cut, Shades Of Evolution is still a quality effort which fans of instrumental hard rock/ prog fusion, particularly those who favour the emphasis on melody over technique, would be well advised to check out.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Daedalus – The Never Ending Illusion
Tracklist: Waiting For The Dawn (1:14), Perfect Smile (6:24), Life (5:46), Hopeless (5:11), Cold Embrace (5:24), The Never Ending Illusion (9:06), The Dancers (5:06), Horizons In A Box (7:11), A Journey To Myself (6:32), Mare Di Stelle (5:27)
When this latest album from Daedalus arrived at the doors of the DPRP my love of Italian prog ensured that it soon made it onto my review pile. It is fact their second, following in the footsteps of Leading Far From A Mistake from 2003, three years after the bands formation in Genoa, northern Italy. Since then they have replaced both their vocalist and lead guitarist so if you’re familiar with the previous release this may prove to be a significant departure. The current line-up comprises Davide Merletto (vocals), Andrea Torretta (guitars), Fabio Gremo (bass), Giuseppe Spanò (keyboards) and Davide La Rosa (drums). Sound wise it’s more mainstream than I expected falling into the melodic prog metal camp with elements of space rock, sounding decidedly more Germanic than Italian. According to their publicity however the bands influences are more UK and North America based, citing Queen, Arena, Dream Theater, Iron Maiden and Rush.
The opening instrumental Waiting For The Dawn is a tad misleading in that it’s untypical of anything else that follows. It recalls the electro-pop sound of the 80’s ovelaid with Vangelis style synth washes. Spanò’s synth is again conspicous during Perfect Smile but this time it provides an incessant rhythmic pulse that underscores the chugging guitar riff and the occasional but strident keys and bass solos. Merletto’s vocals are suitably melodramatic displaying a clear and powerful range and no trace of an accent to giveaway his nationality. Keys and guitar thunder along convincingly throughout Life, a song that boasts one of the albums strongest melodies, going out in style with a lengthy guitar coda. The vocals here are reminiscent of James LaBrie with shades of Everon’s Oliver Philipps. The production is very impressive with mixing by Helloween and Masterplan guitarist Roland Grapow creating a spacious sound where sharp drumming and melodic bass lines are prominent.
As the album progresses keys take a more subordinate role allowing Torretta’s power chords and fast metallic soloing to dominate, a pattern repeated through Hopeless, The Never Ending Illusion, The Dancers, A Journey To Myself and the token instrumental Horizons In A Box. The mood is momentarily broken each time by a brief mellow interlude usually at the midway point before the inevitable anthemic guitar driven finale. A respite comes in the form of Cold Embrace, a wistful piano and acoustic guitar ballad with a French horn solo (no less) and ethereal female chants courtesy of guests Stefano Lodo and Lucia La Rosa respectively. The albums concluding and standout song Mare Di Stelle is even more of a departure. Sung in Italian, it’s a stately lament with vintage Queen style harmonies from guests Roberto Tiranti and Alessandro Corvaglia against a rich acoustic guitar and synth strings backdrop.
There is obviously much to like about this latest release from Daedalus. The music is skilfully executed with superb production values throughout. The melodies and hooks are certainly catchy in places although the choruses are not as memorable as they could be. Un-typically the majority of the music and lyrics are written by the bands bassist, namely Fabio Gremo. The main problem for me is the lack of originality with a ‘been here before’ feel throughout. The formulaic prog metal style brings Dream Theater and Threshold in particular to mind along with a zillion other similar practitioners. For me they are at their most inspired during Mare Di Stelle possibly because this song comes closest to the quintessential Italian prog sound. Still well worth investigating however particularly if metal tunes with a little added polish are to your liking.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Eroc - Wolkenreise
Tracklist: Wolkenreise (4:27), Vogelfrei (4:05), Javea (4:30), Fito Linte (3:38), Die Musik vom Ölberg (1:26), Hundertwasser (2:32), Des Zauberer’s Traum (5:22), Solar Plexus (3:33), Zimperlein (3:50), Ein höflicher Abgang (3:56), Zauberwald (3:45), Seitenwind (2:58), Sonnensegel (2:17), Wolkenreise (Extended Remix) (5:29), What A Horrible Noise (2:30)
Eroc is mainly known in progressive circles for his tenure as the drummer of Grobschnitt who released a handful of great albums in the early part of their career and some appalling ones at the end. Some have argued that the drop in the quality of the groups music coincided with the departure of the drummer while others maintain that the wilting of the rough cut tree had already set in and was in fact the reason for the separation of the ways. Still, it is rather a moot point after all this time as both the goup and their ex-drummer went on to be successful in their individual ways. Wolkenreise was a compilation album, initially released without the consent of the artist, that culled some of the more similar sounding and gentler instrumental pieces from the Eroc's first four solo albums (called Eroc, Zwei, 3 and 4) all of which were released during his time in the band. The first album contained several pieces of incidental music the drummer had composed for use during Grobschnitt concerts. Almost entirely electronic, Eroc was a soundscape much on a par with Tangerine Dream. From this album Die Musik vom Ölberg is a lively but brief ditty taken from one of the band's stage shows about an encounter with God on the Mount of Olives. Des Zauberer’s Traum is rather more experimental piece of interesting twists and turns. This first album is definitely the most coherent and consistent album and is my favourite of Eroc's releases (my original vinyl copy is a treasured possession!). The second album, from 1976, mixed music with comedy sketches and outtakes from live shows, which probably got a bit tiring after hearing a few times, even more so if one couldn't understand German! Only one track is taken from this album, the rather gentle and plaintive piano piece Ein höflicher Abgang.
The third album was the one that contained the big hit Wolkenreise, the quirky and infectious number that heavily featured the accordion. The sleeve notes to the re-release of this compilation reckons that since its release the number has been heard by practically every German person given its ubiquitous use over the years on German television and intensive radio plays. It even resulted in James Last copying the style for a couple of his own numbers! (and if you don't know who James Last is, as your parents!) Two versions are included here, the original release and also an extended version, which is not that different to the original, which is a surprise given some of the other mixes of this song I have heard over the years. The other tracks from 3 are Fito Linte, a very jolly number that successfully combines the electronics of the keyboard with acoustic guitar and glockenspiel, and Solar Plexus which as the name might suggest to any Grobschnitt fans, is a section from the infamous Solar Music. This piece stands out a bit from the rest of the album as it features a recording of the band but with added accordion and glockenspiel providing an interesting variant on a slice of this well loved piece of music. By the time that 4 was released in 1982, Eroc had become an adept engineer and studio whizz, creating music that was of a very high technical quality, and which had a rather more laid-back feeling. Vogelfrei, like most of the album, was written on the small island of Fanø, off the North West Coast of Denmark and is a piece about the "endless Northern skies" whilst Javea has a languid feel, played on acoustic and electric guitar, that is representative of the place in Spain where Grobschnitt's guitarist Lupo went for his first holiday in 20 years. Hundertwasser features acoustic 12 string guitar over the sound of water, although initially the sound of Eroc's new Prophet 5 analogue synthesiser fools the listener into thinking that something a bit stranger is about to ensue. Zimperlein is another jolly piece that combines accordion and acoustic guitar with the odd glockenspiel fill, giving a consistency to the numbers from this album.
Aside from the extended remix of the title track, there are four other bonus tracks. The first two, Zauberwald and Seitenwind are taken from Changing Skies, the fifth solo album from 1987 that Eroc considers to be his best work. Surprising then that it was not re-released along side the four previous albums a couple of years ago. Almost sonically perfect, the pieces seem to lack emotion and consequently are rather sterile. The previously unreleased Sonnensegel is a nice variant with a heavily treated guitar set against a keyboard wash and leads nicely into the acoustic guitar intro of the extended Wolkenreise. What A Horrible Noise, also previously unreleased, is actually rather amusing, a sound collage that is rather reminiscent of a bad junior school orchestra mashing their way through highlights of their repertoire.
Wolkenreise is a pleasant enough album, relaxing and unchallenging to listen to. However, as Eroc himself comments in the CD booklet, even he is not sure who the audience for this re-release would be and even goes so far as to refer to it as his "weird airyfairy music". That is probably a bit too self depreciating; inoffensive, instrumental music that, again as the booklet mentions, is well suited to driving, bathing or other bodily ablutions, just don't expect riffs, power chords or frequent changes in time signatures! Besides, love it or loathe it, the title track is an instantly recognisable tune and rightly deserves its classic status.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Humi – Dune
Tracklist: Long Dune (10:47), Shiranui [Sea Fire] (8:03), Seki No Gohonmatsu [Five Pine Trees Of Seki] (8:43), Circular Dune (5:22), Scattered Forest (5:52), Hopeful Impressions Of Happiness (4:29), Awayuki I [Light Snow I] (5:51), Awayuki II [Light Snow II] (5:04), Distant Dune (6:08), Futa [Lid] (4:27)
Humi (Hugh Hopper and Yumi Hara Cawkwell) is new to me and probably unknown to anyone reading this review. Since you are reading this review, you probably have an appetite for progressive rock and its offshoot genres so the appeal to this audience will be limited to the few who are here for the music that defies description and category. This music is not rock and not progressive.
With that caveat aside the review goes on!
Dune is an improvisational experiment that treads mainly in Japanese themes. Aimless bass, non-formulaic piano and organ, ethereal haunting vocals, and formless song structure – these are the things that I hear when I listen to this piece of work.
This music has been described as “experimental” and “daring” in other places. I found it more appropriate to describe it as a test of patience. I am pretty open-minded when it comes to unusual music but this album was difficult for me to wrap my head around. The pedigree of the artists is quite impressive so I have to accept that this work is well thought out and meaningful at some level.
It is quite a feat to actually build an entire album without observing even one rule of Western music. Here you will find extensive use of chromatic, tri-tone, and block chords as well as dissonance. In a way, I can even imagine that this could be construed as showing off. This is an entire work of cacophony; and through it all, every recognizable musical moray is avoided. This can’t be done accidentally. Even a monkey pounding on a piano will find some semblance of rhythm sporadically.
The kindest remarks for this album comes from the jazz coterie but again, I hear no jazz here either. The most redeeming features in this disc are the unique vocals; they are beautiful, wispy, and even otherworldly. It is likely that this type of music is best experienced live with the ambiance and mood appropriately set with lighting, stage presence, and other visual cues to complete the full intent of this creation.
I can only assure the listener that if you require of your music a basis in rudimentary mathematical structure this is not for you. Those who are into a challenge may well find this to be the intellectual triumph of the century.
Conclusion: 3 out of 10
Dan Keying - Black Swan
Tracklist: Black Swan (4:27), Another Fate (4:50), Visions (4:25), Shadow Alone (5:13), Holy Answer (5:35), Rising Tide (4:23), Never Come Back (3:39), One Last Crime (5:24), Waiting For The End (4:39), Life - Line (4:12)
A very English sounding name but Dan Keying is a born Italian. He is vocalist and plays keyboard, just like he did previously for the melodic metal bands Cydonia and Hollow Haze. Dan has a high pitched voice and one that reminds of Journey. Black Swan is very hard-rock/AOR sounding and to me it has more agreement with MSG, Malmsteen and other eighties rock/metal bands. Ian Parry is also an artist still practicing this style of music very passionate and also has those high vocals. Dan is accompanied on Black Swan by Lino Trentin on bass, Mattew Barsacchi on guitars and Pelo on drums.
I like eighties hard rock and at times I pull out an old album and think back of my teenage years. The music on Black Swan however did not appeal to me. Technically it's OK but when playing this album I got bored by the simplicity of the songs and the lack of originality. While reviewing this album I was reminded of the Lana Lane album Red Planet Boulevard I reviewed for the DPRP. This album has the same problem, the music is not half bad but it's all been done many times before, and in Dan's case, better and more interestingly.
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10