REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:
Ray Wilson - Propaganda Man
Tracklist: Bless Me (6:23), Lately (3:33), The Brakes Are Gone (4:08), Razorlite (3:11), Propaganda Man (3:56), Frequency (5:23), Modern Day Miracle (2:55), Cosmic Baby (4:23), Things Don't Stop (4:54), More Propaganda (2:24), On The Other Side (3:20).
Every now and then you receive a much anticipated album that sort of disappoints you on the first couple of spins. Propaganda Man was one of those. I'm not really sure, but it just failed to grab me. Probably because it is quite different from the previous two albums since it mostly contains slower, dark and moody songs. However, since I like dark and moody it was only a matter of time before I would start appreciating this album. And now, a few months later I realize that Propaganda Man is at least as good as, and maybe even better than, Ray's solo debut Change.
Ray Wilson has been one of my favourite singers since his Unplugged album was released in 2001. The combination of wonderful singer-songwriter material and the hoarse but warm voice immediately did it for me. Besides his own solo releases many will know Ray from his work on Genesis' Calling All Station album, Stiltskin's hit single Inside and the more obscure projects Guaranteed Pure and Cut or his excellent collaborations with DJ Armin van Buuren.
Compared to his accessible debut Change the follow-up The Next Best Thing was a bit of a disappointment. Not that it didn't contain some very good songs, because it did. It was however a diversion from the previous album because it contained some rather heavy songs, among which a rather unnecessary remake of Inside. Wilson clearly had a more heavy side of himself to let out, which eventually resulted in the reformation of Stiltskin, with Wilson being the only original member. Whatever you might think of the authenticity of this Stiltskin reincarnation, it does give Wilson a way of release for his heavier side.
Remarkably enough the backing band on Propaganda Man is basically the same as the current line-up of Stiltskin, which seems to confirm that Ray Wilson will use his solo albums for the more gentle material and release the louder collaborations with the band under the Stiltskin band name. A wise decision because this results in a return to the style of Change on the new album. As a matter of fact it seems like Wilson took it even one step further. Propaganda Man is still singer-songwriter material, but less commercial, more acoustic and darker than Change. An this is probably why it took me a while to grown into it.
The album opens with the up-tempo Bless Me, which initially failed to impress me in it's shortened version on Ray's website, but turns out to be a bit of a mini epic in it's full length version. It's also the song with the 'fullest sound' on the album with lots of guest musicians adding to the body of the piece, among whom Nir Z on drums, Stiltskin's Uwe Metzler on guitar and wonderful (Arabic?) vocals by one Tesiree Priti Kaitesi. The song deals with the difficulty of finding love and as such is one of the many songs on the album dealing with love and relationships. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Wilson normally gives the topic an interesting twist. The groove of bass and drums slowly dies away while Tesiree's vocals end the song. A highlight.
A handful of very sensitive songs follow. Lately is a short and sweet, mainly acoustic tune that features that Chris Isaak sound that we've heard before on Wilson's albums. The Brakes Are Gone is not too different from some of the ballads on Wilson's first two solo albums and features organ and accordion arrangements. Good but a bit too mainstream to be a real highlight, unlike the next song, Razorlite, which is painfully beautiful in music and lyrics. It starts out with just vocals and acoustic guitar, which might well be my preferred way of hearing Wilson's music. The song remains drumless and has added electric guitar, bass, piano and vocal overdubs later on. Stunning !
The title song Propaganda Man is another highlight, lyrically dealing with 'bad ideals' that try to 'wipe out all the infidels'. Tesiree adds more middle eastern vocals and piano adds a haunting melody. There's a powerful climax in the choruses and the album also features a lovely tuned down acoustic reprise in the form of More Propaganda later on. And yet another highlight follows in the form of the ballad Frequency that once again proves that you don't need the massive arrangements of the previous album to perform a beautiful song. Piano, accordion and acoustic guitar will do. Again, the song builds with drum and bass coming in later, ensuring that the song doesn't get boring. A Floydian guitar solo in the climax and the solo piano playing the end section top it all off.
After the many ballads and dark tunes the short Modern Day Miracle is a diversion into something that sounds a bit more positive and more along the lines of the Change material, at least musically. The lyrical content of betrayal of a friendship is as dark as any part of the album. The pain that follows in Cosmic Baby just adds to this mood. The songs becomes progressively heavy, stressing the oozing anger and frustration of the lyrics. The roaring guitar solo at the end and abrupt ending work perfectly.
Things Don't Stop is one of the most remarkable tracks of the album. First it seems like a very simple, maybe even relatively boring tune. But before you know it you are dragged into a powerful arrangement with thunderous drums, but not before a you've completely been put on the wrong track by a false climax. The music swells up but dies down as quickly, eventually followed by the real climax that has a guitar solo by Graeme Hughes that 'out-Floyds' David Gilmour. My only complaint would be that the songs fades out while the solo hasn't ended yet.
The final track of the album is also one of the most beautiful pieces. On The Other Side is just Ray and acoustic guitar. Those who have heard his acoustic live albums will know that this is an absolute treat.
A nice touch of the booklet is that all lyrics end with a few words summing up the main theme of each song, being 'love is all', 'patience', 'reflection', 'hope', 'truth', 'healing', 'forgiveness', 'fear', 'hope', 'lies' and 'destiny'.
All in all this album is one of the best, if not the best work of Ray Wilson so far. An artist very much underrated in seemingly all countries but Germany, this album deserves to be heard by a much larger audience. Highly recommended to lovers of singer-songwriter and moody and acoustic rock music.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Anima Mundi – Jagannath Orbit
|Country of Origin:||Cuba|
|Record Label:||Musea Records|
|Catalogue #:||FGBG 4747.AR|
|Year of Release:||2008|
Tracklist: We Are The Light (17:42), The Awaken Dreamer In The Soul Garden Dreams The Flower Planets (4:39), Toward The Adventure (6:12), There’s A Place Not Faraway (5:12), Jagannath Orbit (In The Orbit Of Love) (11:44), Rhythm Of The Spheres (16:29), Sanctuary (5:20)
The global reach of progressive rock has spread so far that finding out there’s a band playing the style that hails from Cuba no longer has the novelty factor it might once have done. Hopefully that’s to Anima Mundi’s benefit, as it means that Jagannath Orbit (actually their second album, after a lengthy break of six years since their debut) will stand and fall on its own merits. Thankfully, its merits are quite considerable, and my only concern would be that the album, released as it is on Musea (who tend to swamp the market with albums which are fairly diverse in terms of quality) doesn’t get ignored as I feel many readers of these pages would appreciate the band’s work.
We are definitely in retro-prog territory, with Yes an unmistakable influence, particularly through the often Wakeman-esque playing of keyboardist Virginia Peraza, who utilises enough mellotron, mini-moog, Hammond and even what sounds like a church organ to satisfy the purists; however it’s the nineties ‘revival’ bands such as Spock’s Beard and The Flower Kings who Anima Mundi most closely resemble, with the similarity even stretching to the song titles, which you could easily imagine messrs Morse and Stolte utilising. That’s not to say, however, that Jagannath Orbit is simply a pale imitation of the aforementioned bands, more that Anima Mundi are putting their own spin on an established genre. What’s more, there’s a freshness and vitality to the playing which has been absent from recent work by these better known bands, whilst the wah-wah drenched guitar work of main songwriter Roberto Diaz gives proceedings a harder edge at times. Imaginative use of instruments not necessarily associated with prog, such as bagpipes, bassoon and even the didgeridoo, also help the band stamp their own mark on proceedings.
The album starts strongly with the five-part epic We Are The Light. Whilst it opens quietly, it soon picks up with an irresistibly bouncy rhythm, over which Peraza plays some wonderfully melodic lines. Typically for a prog epic there are numerous time changes, including a well-worked balladic section, and these are all executed with consummate skill, with the interplay between guitar and keyboards being particularly noteworthy. Throughout, the sense that the musicians are having a whole lot of fun comes shining through, and rubs off on the listener. Vocals are slightly accented but well executed, perhaps being more typical of an AOR band, but none the worse for that. Crucially, the whole track feels very much a whole, with many of the main musical themes revisited throughout.
Thankfully, rather than being the high point and things going downhill from there, the quality remains pretty consistent throughout. The rather awkwardly titled The Awaken Dreamer In The Soul Garden Dreams The Flower Planets (the lyrics do sometimes suffer from being seemingly translated using an internet translation programme) is an instrumental which alternates between a pastoral and a spacey feel, with a keyboard sound similar to that used by Tony Banks in the Genesis track Unquiet Slumber For The Sleepers… In That Quiet Earth. Toward The Adventure is an uplifting track where Diaz really shines, whether its in the IQ-like guitar work that colours the main body of the song, or the fiery, wah-wah drenched solo he unleashes at the song’s climax; There Is A Place Not Faraway, meanwhile, sails very close to The Flower Kings territory – perhaps a bit too close – but is again quite a strong piece, with some rich and dramatic keyboard work and a strong, multi-layered chorus.
The title track builds its momentum slowly, with some Steve Howe-like licks from guitarist Diaz. Once it gets going, the rather dull thudding drums are a bit over-dominant, but quality returns on the soulful, superior AOR-like chorus, where Carlos Sosa’s voice really soars. A great instrumental section crops up later in the track, full of spacey, whooshing synths reminiscent of Hawkwind, coupled with more of that Mike Holmes-esque guitar work.
The aforementioned didgeridoo kicks off the lengthy instrumental Rhythm Of The Spheres. This is where percussionist Ariel Valdes really comes into his own, with some dextrous playing on his collection of bongos and batas on this generally laid back but always interesting number. The bouncy closer Sanctuary is a pleasant, upbeat song with an anthemic chorus and is a good way to conclude the album.
Overall, I was very impressed with Jagannath Orbit – its always good to come across a band you haven’t heard of before and therefore have little if any expectations of, who then proceed to offer a pleasant surprise in terms of the quality of their work. This is an excellent retro prog album which should have a wide appeal amongst readers of this site.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
TOM DE VAL
Jane - Live At Home
|Country of Origin:||Germany|
|Catalogue #:||SPV 42712 CD|
|Year of Release:||1976/2008|
|Time:||CD 1: 65:26|
CD 2: 78:29
CD 1 All My Friends (4:59), Lady (3:38), Rest Of My Life (4:48), Expectation (5:24), River (3:51), Out In The Rain (6:24), Hangman (11:59), Fire, Water, Earth & Air (3:55), Another Way (5:25), Daytime (9:41), Hightime For Crusaders (5:05)
CD 2 Windows (19:15), Lady (3:30), Fire, Water, Earth & Air (3:36), Another Way (5:07), River (4:02), Out In The Rain (5:46), Hangman (14:06), Windows (23:03)
Seventies German rock bands. To a lot of people that amounts to The Scorpions, Kraftwerk and the nebulous amalgamation of Krautrock bands. Whilst the more well known bands of the Krautrock genre have gained a considerable amount of kudos over recent years, largely due to the public recommendations of Julian Cope, some of the more mainstream bands are still largely unheard of outside their native country. This is rather strange since the majority of them sang in English, were very competent musicians and had huge followings throughout the pre-unified Western Germany. Certainly some of their albums did get released in other European countries but in the main, outside of the inherently inquisitive, although the names of these groups might have been heard, a lot of the music wasn't. This is a shame as some jolly fine music was produced, as elsewhere in the world, during the first era of progressive rock. One of the bands in question is Jane, formed in Hanover in 1970 whose eleven albums recorded between 1972 and 1982 sold over two million copies. Frequent changes in personnel resulted in the band exploring different musical styles and although the band is still in existence today, it was the mid 1970s when they were at the peak of their popularity.
Recorded on Friday, 13 August 1976 in front of 3,000 fans at the Neidersacsenhalle in their home town of Hanover, the appropriately titled Live At Home was the group's first live recording and featured Klaus Hess (vocals, guitar), Martin Hesse (bass, vocals), Peter Panka (drums, vocals) and Manfred Wieczorke (keyboards, vocals) who had just left Eloy reportedly because Jane offered a better financial outlook. The live album was recorded on the tour supporting their most recent album Fire, Water, Earth And Air a much more progressive effort that their two previous efforts, the more mainstream Lady and the blues-rock twin guitar and no keyboards III. The creativity within the band was at an obvious peak given that live the latest album was reduced to a four minute medley and seven of the original 12 tracks on the live album were unreleased at that point and did not even appear on the following year's Heaven And Hell album either. As with a lot of bands singing in a foreign language, the vocals tend to suffer, particularly as none of the three lead vocalists has what one would regard as a mellifluous voice, although when the voices are combined the rough edges are somewhat smoothed over. So, in many respects, it is fortunate that there are a lot of instrumental sections and even a few completely instrumental numbers. However, it would be wrong to dismiss the album purely because of any misgivings about the vocals, they really don't detract too much from the superb performance of the musicians. Indeed, this album is fondly considered by many fans to be one of the groups best releases and a pinnacle of live albums released by German bands of the era second only to Grobschnitt's Solar Music Live album.
The album gets off to a rather slow start with the new song All My Friends, a reasonable introductory piece that allows the group to warm up but doesn't exactly open proceedings with a bang. Lady has a nice guitar solo from Hess but again is rather perfunctory. Bravely, the band then play three more previously unreleased tracks. Rest Of My Life is predominantly a slow blues number with lots of keyboards initially bearing faint resemblance to (Walk Me Out In The) Morning Dew. Expectation is another rather mediocre track but things pick up with the instrumental River, a relatively simple song but one that uses the guitar and keyboards in harmony. Out In The Rain, from the band's second album, is more of a ballad rather marred by the over-loud drum beat but things are resurrected by the closing instrumental section. Back to the debut album next for a 12-minute version of Hangman. Wieczorke coaxes some great growling sounds from his Hammond and just when it sounds like the band are winding the song down at around the four-minute mark, a solo Hess guides the group into an extended instrumental outing replete with various solos from guitar, organ and synths; it's no wonder that the Together album is so highly regarded. The much abbreviated Fire, Water, Earth and Air doesn't really portray the full scope of this album and it is surprising that the band did not include more of the popular, and most recent, album in their set. Of the new songs on the album Another Way is one of the better ones. Rather menacing in demeanour, the main riff would have done Black Sabbath proud. Good use of combined vocals and a decent arrangement makes this a very fine song indeed. Even the band must have realised the special place that their debut album had in the fan's hearts as it is the only album from the group's back catalogue to provide two songs to the set list. Daytime, omitted from the first CD reissue of the album so that it could fit on a single disc, is restored to its rightful place. Another strong number, with Hess once more providing a decent solo and Wieczorke keeping the lower register of his organ busy, that ends abruptly but takes us into the end of disc one of this reissue with Hightime For Crusaders, yet another new song and a fine instrumental to boot.
There is no doubt that the highlight of the original album was the side-long Windows, a track that had originally been started, but not completed, by Hess for a musical version of Orwell's Animal Farm. It wasn't until bassist Hesse joined in 1975 that the piece was resurrected, rearranged and completed. Live, it became a chance for the band to stretch out and have a bit of a jam. At times sounding a bit like Hawkwind and at others playing tribute to The Beatles with their adaptation of the Eleanor Rigby melody, the piece is rather restrained. Unlike other groups who would go all out in the live setting and provide a frantic ending to a concert, Jane take the more considered route relying on atmosphere more than histrionics. Sounding great through headphones, the benefit of remastering really shines through. The rest of the second CD is comprised of a full concert recorded at the WDR Radio Studios in Cologne in January 1977. All of the tracks from this show are on Live At Home, which is not surprising given it was recorded a mere five months after the Hanover concert. A more intimate affair, the shorter set and only one new number River makes this a rather more assured performance. Even though there is a complete duplication of tracks, the differences between the performances, and the rarity value of this radio show, makes their inclusion worthwhile. For instance, the guitar solo in Out In The Rain sounds a lot more crisp and both Hangman and Windows are present in extended forms (by two and four minutes, respectively).
Overall, a nice reissue from SPV who obviously appreciate the fan's perspective of wanting the digital transfer of a favourite album to replicate the vinyl version as closely as possible. The restoration of the missing track from the first CD reissue and the remastering process, plus the additional complete concert provides value for money and will hopefully allow more people to experience this German band as they were at the peak of their popularity.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Janet Robbins - Carrying The Bag Of Hearts, Interpreting The Birth Of Stars ~ Vol III
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Record Label:||Star Seven Records|
|Year of Release:||2008|
Tracklist: Nibiru’s Crossing (9:35), Ascension (7:49), Walking The Milky Way (6:20), The Train To Rhinecliff (8:15)
Janet Robbins belongs to this category of intriguing musicians you can’t put a definitive label on. Influenced by a wide range of (pop) musicians (Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel to name a couple) and undoubtedly her father Marty Robbins who has probably stimulated her to pick up a guitar, Janet creates a style of music ranging from ambient to minimal and from new age to slightly symphonic.
With electronically created rhythm patterns, synthesizers, guitar and grand piano she presents her third offering in her series of exploring outer space with the unpronounceable title Carrying The Bag Of Hearts, Interpreting The Birth Of Stars ~ Vol III”.
Dark and slow rhythm patterns open track one, Nibiru’s Crossing. Orchestral sounds are added, then some spacey effects and a guitar (sample). Atmospheric bass sounds join in and melodies played by strings, cello-samples and synths as well. Mystically Janet continues to weave this carpet of strange sounds and crystal-clear sequences with again the ‘cello’ playing the lead. The last part of this track is somewhat psychedelic/progressive and reminds me of works by Kevin Moore (Chroma Key).
Ascension opens with a sort of Morse Code, followed by some distant chords, then a piece of very accessible piano-music.
The next part Walking The Milky Way is groovy, rather slow rhythms and deep and warm bass synthesizer sounds, together with smooth layers of orchestrations and organ. The few leads are performed by a weird kind of worn down piano sound and oboe-samples and then the music fades away real gently with a few tones of the grand piano. Both the rhythm and accompaniment as well as the simple but catchy melody is performed on electric guitar, later distant orchestral chords by synths are added. The melody reminds me a little bit of some of the tones in Peruvian Skies by Dream Theater’s John Petrucci. The song ends with electronically created drums-like percussion.
The final track is called The Train To Rhinecliff and starts off with spacey sounds, then a sequence is added and dark but beautiful bass sounds. A nicely created somewhat jazzy rhythm is supporting parts of this track while the chords and melodies on both synthesizers and clarinet-sample provide the atmospheric ambient music. The finale consists of mainly chords and floating sounds.
Because Robbins had a load of material, she decides to make a series of EP’s/mini CD’s and thus for current standards, especially in electronic music, the length of just over 32 minutes is fairly minimal. On the other hand one tends to listen again and again and one tries to discover all those tiny details hidden in Robbins’ music. Not an album for anyone but if you’re willing to explore outer space on your own and still feel the need of some guidance, Janet may be able to help you perfectly!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
MENNO VON BRUCKEN FOCK
Kumina.org - Entropia
|Country of Origin:||Finland|
|Year of Release:||2008|
Tracklist: Toiset Seitsemän Päivää (5:26), Etydiy (3:42), Flegmaatikko (7:52), Tahdon Asiaa (4:45), Rantapalloistuminen (4:56), Rytmo I (Eutokia) (2:33), Rytmo II (Aavikkomato) (6:36), Puolestoista Kerta (5:10), Rytmo III (Mihin hävisi beduiinin jalka?) (0:48), Seuraus (4:02)
Finnish trio Kumina.org are a relatively new band on the prog scene injecting some fresh energy into a tried a tested format. Their brand of instrumental progressive rock is pitched firmly in the jazz-fusion camp where technical prowess is the name of the game. Because of the line-up ELP would seem an obvious (if not necessarily precise) comparison but keyboardist Ahmed Ahonen, drummer Matti Kanerva and bassist / guitarist Jukka Packalén have a few more tricks up their collective sleeves. Formed in Helsinki in 2006, this is their first bonafide album which appeared at the tail end of 2008 preceded by a now deleted 2007 EP Live At TreenikÃ¤mppÃ¤.
They have been likened (by themselves mainly) to US 70’s fusion greats Return To Forever and Mahavishnu Orchestra although the similarities are not so obvious to me. There is certainly a flavour of Americana about the lively opening track Toiset Seitsemän Päivää however with its funky groove and prominent bass playing. Etydiy is more in the European tradition with smooth piano and organ flourishes that verge on the classical and a spiralling synth motif. The longest piece Flegmaatikko features a beautifully structured and memorable piano theme and some incredibly sharp and intricate drum work. The call and response synth solo halfway is an absolute stunner. Tahdon Asiaa includes a glorious fuzzed Hammond sound that will be familiar to fans of classic 70’s prog and Packalén trades bass for lead guitar proving that he’s equally at home with both. Rantapalloistuminen is again centred on Ahonen’s lyrical piano melody around which Kanerva and Packalén develop their explosive rhythmic chops with a flamboyant metallic guitar solo courtesy of the latter.
Rytmo I is a tad avant-garde for my tastes with weird electronic effects straight out of a 50’s sci-fi B movie but the moody Rytmo II is more on the money with percussive synth that harks back to the intro from Led Zep’s No Quarter. The manic synth soloing will strike a chord with anyone that’s witnessed Keith Emerson live and unfettered. Like Emerson and co the sound created is bigger than you could reasonably expect from the hands of just three individuals. Puolestoista Kerta (I wish I knew what these titles meant) restores some sense of normality with a mellow electric piano vibe complimented by a gritty but catchy organ melody. The brief Rytmo III unsurprisingly returns to the mayhem of the previous, similarly named tracks whilst the concluding Seuraus draws upon the collective talents of these three virtuosos to deliver an appropriately rousing finale.
It’s a pity about the bland artwork that accompanies this release which gives no hint of the musical riches contained within. Likewise the bands name is not one you would associate with a trio of prog rockers, suggesting a group of internet obsessed geeks instead. Given their individual names (Ahonen, Matti and Packalén) AMP would have surely been a better name or how about JAM (Jukka, Ahmed and Matti)? But I digress because either way Kumina.org have produced a superb debut brimming with dazzling musicianship and compositions that are just as tuneful as they are tricky. Ahonen’s keyboard style is as good as you will hear anywhere with his lyrical piano playing being one of the bands most accessible qualities. Packalén explores bass to its full potential with rasping lead lines and mellow fretless noodlings often rubbing shoulders in the same track. Kanerva’s propulsive drumming is a master class in technique, enhanced by the beautifully spacious production where instruments are given equal prominence. Judged on their performances here this is one band I would love to witness live.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Travelhouse - Mind Mapping
Tracklist: Route No. 1 (5:46), A Guru In Love (6:48), Black Coffee Mornings (6:33), Clouds (3:42), More Magic From Oz (5:00), Dark Gentleman (9:07), Blink (1:11), Archived Travels: Neutron I (6:06), Travels With A Son Of A Gun (4:37), Keeping The House: Neutron II (6:03) Bonustrack: Archived Travels: Neutron II (6:45)
Progressive instrumental music from Bulgaria ... so what else is new? Amazingly ‘western’ sounding prog, from a trio who have been playing together for about ten years. From the ashes of the band Allegro, keyboardist/composer Kalin Tonev, axeman Biser Ivanov and drummer Pavel Milenov decided to continue making progressive instrumental music with some fusion and ambient influences under the moniker of Travelhouse. All three are excellent musicians with a great deal of experience to their credit. Tonev composed (almost) all of the pieces in 2006, the album was finished over a year ago and since its release on November 24th last year, we can hear the fruits of all these efforts.
In the first track we hear UK in the Danger Money era with addition of a good rock/metal guitarist. Especially the organ brings back memories of Jobson playing it. The next bit Guru in Love is a beautiful piece of melodic electronic music with a nice bass-synth and the guitar and drums give a slightly progressive edge to it. Then it’s waking up with Black Coffee in a tune where Saga meets Jan Hammer’s Miami Vice music, before UK influences turn up once more and this time Ivanov really is soloing just like Holdsworth. Clouds is an extremely nice relaxing laid back piece of music with lots of electronics and subtle guitar playing by Ivanov. Up tempo, built on a powerful sequence, is More Magic From Oz with influences from both UK and Derek Sherinian. The synth-sounds Tonev uses are brighter, more spacey and more echoing than Sherinian’s guitar-like sounds. The music doesn’t stop and it goes right through in the same style, although the second part of Dark Gentleman is a bit darker and quite heavy but yetmelodic, the heavy version of ELP.
The last part is taken up by Tonev’s keyboards: pure delight in an almost ambient ambiance. A little gem by keyboards only, is Blink followed by Neutron I, a varied track with different elements: fusion, some heavy influences and also more symphonic, featuring different sounds of the guitar. There’s lots of electronics and spacey effects, on the fundaments of quite heavy riffs, alternated by a far more fusion/jazz guitar accompanied by floating, very atmospheric orchestrations. Track 10, officially the last track, is more dreamy, comparable with Jan Hammer’s music in the eighties. The voice-like synth is probably influenced by the synthi-pop from that same era. As a bonustrack Neutron II is added and just like part I it’s heavily influenced by Sherinian. There are also gorgeous more laid back parts however, with tasteful keyboards in which Ivanov gets the opportunity to show his impressive abilities to play both fast as well as awesome melodic, symphonic solo’s.
It’s a pleasure to hear such wonderful music from eastern music and probably it means there's far more bands out there just a good as Travelhouse: let's keep our eyes and ears open, because in this case, there’s no need to get frustrated from a singer whose voice you don't like; you don’t have to worry about getting bored because of lack of variety because it’s all instrumental: these three gentleman are offering a fine album of superb quality!
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
MENNO VON BRUCKEN FOCK
Von Garcia - I Think A Think
Tracklist: Ursa Minor (7:10), Space (6:39), The Fog And The Mist (4:20), Rain Water (3:08), JP Splatter (4:44), Buz (7:38), Empty Hands (1:16), Between A Prayer And A Dream (3:52), So It Goes (5:03), Rebirth (3:36), Garden Buddha (5:12)
Von Garcia's debut release comes just over two years since their inception. The principal members are James von Buelow (guitar, keyboard, vocal) and Damon Trotta (bass, dobro, percussion, programming). The group's inception came about in late 2005 when, after a 15-year musical hiatus, von Buelow resumed playing guitar and composing music. In a mere six months he had accumulated over two hours of material which he passed over to Trotta. Rather than the 'traditional' approach of working on the material together, Trotta "deconstructed, reconstructed, manipulated, augmented and reformed the compositions". Only once that was completed and the basic tracks sorted, did the duo invite several guest musicians to enter the studio and add their contributions. Again, the mode of operation for this secondary recording was somewhat unusual in that that guest drummer and guitarists were given free rein to play what they wanted, no guidance was given, no restrictions imposed, each musician performed what they wanted or, more pertinently, what they felt the music required. Each instrument was recorded live and, as a consequence of the recording approach, means that the results sound like a live and somewhat improvisational recording. It is hard to classify Von Garcia's sound, at times there may be resemblances to the improvisational King Crimson, and at others the more ambient sounds of some of the better, earlier, work of David Sylvian in that genre. I also found myself being reminded of a little known Sisters Of Mercy offshoot called Sisterhood during JP Splatter a piece influenced by a Jackson Pollock painting hung in New York City's Museum of Modern Art. Although the similarity was more in the vocal delivery than in the music.
The album runs as one continuous piece with each 'track' blending into the next. In that respect once could view the entire album as a single entity with different tones, structures and elements appearing and reappearing. Avant-garde guitarist Ben Monder makes a great contribution to Buz and the bass sounds on Between A Prayer And A Dream sets up a resonance in the brain that makes one quiver, particularly when listened to through headphones. The majority of the album is instrumental, although occasionally vocals are added which only add to the interest. This is particularly evident on So It Goes, one of my favourite tracks on the album with some great guitar passages.
I Think A Think is a highly interesting and innovative album that carries on improving. Indeed, each time I have listened to this album over the past several months it has been as if I was listening to it for the first time. What is more, Sluggo's Goon Music are offering this album as a free download from their website, leaving it up to downloaders to decide if they want to contribute to the recording costs. (A physical CD is also available for a very modest price). If you fancy something a bit different from the 'usual' prog musical diet then give Von Garcia a try, you might, as I have, just fall for its charms. An intriguing release I am happy to recommend to the more experimentally minded of you out there.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Tadashi Goto – Innervisions
Tracklist: Karma (5:35), The Cycle Of Suffering (5:38), Inner Circle (4:16), The Deepest Depression (5:13), Werther Effect (5:06), Inner Peace (3:29), The Darkest Years (5:04), Flow Like Water (4:48), The Night Of Destruction (5:11), Liberal Paradox (5:04), Never Free (4:39), The Spirits Within (5:31)
Innervisions is the sequel to Tadashi Goto’s debut Soundscape (DPRP 7 out of 10, 2005). The keyboardist originating from Japan spent quite some time in Australia and is a well known musician in a wide variety of countries. He managed to enlist several famous guests for this project: on guitar Ty Tabor (King’s X), Sean Conklin and Chris Poland (ex-Megadeth) and on bass Tony Levin (who needs no introduction), Randy George (Neal Morse) and Tony Franklin (Firm, Blue Murder, Whitesnake). The twelve tracks were all composed by Goto and he also gets the credits for playing drums. They must be electronically generated via synths I presume, and in my opinion it’s a pity he didn’t hire a professional drummer of flesh and blood, because it would have benefited the entire album enormously.
In the first track it’s the high gear immediately: roaring synthesizers, loads of ‘double bass drums’ and cutting edge guitar solos. Although Sherinian might be a reference, the music falls into the category of ‘speedmetal meets progressive’. Genuine symphonic bombastic metal in the beginning of The Cycle but also the same kind of high paced somewhat neurotic passages as in Karma. A lot more interesting is Inner Circle: really beautiful orchestrations, a lower pace and melodies coming close to ‘melodic electronic’ style and Goto shows he can play the piano too. Multiple changes in style, pace and atmosphere are interesting but devaluate the beauty of the opening. More of Sherinian/Planet X stuff in The Deepest Depression but also some dazzling soloing by Goto’s synthesizer more in Keith Emerson’s style and of course the guitar gets plenty of room too.
In Werther Effect there’s influences of Yellow Magic Orchestra but also some fusion influences, while the guitar provides the ‘metal’ in this track. Again Goto puts in a lot of sudden changes in pace and style. The ultimate soft-jazz/symphonic relaxing piece of music is called Inner Peace, mainly built on keyboards and percussion. After this gentle appealing piece of music it’s kind of a rude awakening in The Darkest Years, music that I would be inclined to call progressive jazz rock. In Flow Like Water a rather slow pace and a bit of a Close To The Edge like interlude but the harsh solos prevent the listener from falling asleep. In Night Of Destruction it’s ‘King’s X meets Planet X’ with a very shrill sounding guitar and for my taste irritating ‘drums’. In the Liberal Paradox there’s a paradox indeed: melodic versus cacophonic, speed versus more laid back and progressive versus ‘speed-fusion’. The piano opens Never Free but rather quickly a mixture of synthi-pop and Planet X comes out of the speakers and apart from the cutting solos there are some great melodies there. Tadashi saved the best for last because in The Spirits Within we can finally appreciate his impressive talents in a more jazzy, melodic and symphonic way.
A gifted, ultra fast playing keyboardist and some great musicians on this album but for my nerves Innervisions is just a little too long and too fast. With a real drummer instead of a machine and more balance between high and lower pace, Goto would undoubtedly appeal to a wider spectrum of listeners.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
MENNO VON BRUCKEN FOCK
John Huldt - Rules Do Not Apply
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Year of Release:||2008|
Tracklist: Uncle Bob (3:18), Someone's Looking For Attention (6:25), Run Like A Freak (4:06), Fly (4:19), Nebula (5:25), The Beauty Of Simplicity (6:56), Sticky Fingers (4:27), The Sleeping Beauty (6:52), The Strange Wonders Of Professor Boltzmanns Factory (9:24), Well This Ain't Kansas (5:32)
John Huldt is a native Swede who moved to Los Angeles in 2006 to study at the LA Music Academy. Whilst there he met up with drummer Kal Drakopoulos and bassist Philip Brynoe, who played in Steve Vai's band for six years. Quickly gelling together as a trio, the album
Rules Do Not Apply, comprising 10 instrumental compositions by Huldt, was recorded in six days in the middle of last year.
Huldt freely admits to being a fan of guitarists like Vai and Malmsteen as well as groups like Slayer and various death metal combos, which didn't engender a lot of hope for this album when I first received it. However, one sentence in the press release accompanying the CD did catch my eye: "everybody wants to be best at playing guitar but no one wants to be best at playing music." This view came from watching and hearing players with "insanely good technique, playing chops at outrageous speed" but forgetting to include any melodies and form. So, taking the pragmatic approach, he recorded an album of material that he hoped would include "all the guitar hero stuff in a more musical context". On hearing the album it is easy to appreciate the various guitar influences with plenty of impressive playing jumping around the fret board and a fair amount of what I believe is called 'shredding'. However, fortunately there is more to the album than lightning fast guitar runs repeated ad nauseum, there is a sense of character and style accompanied by a degree of melody, harmony and even some more song based structures. From the rather funky opening of Uncle Bob with some excellent bass playing by Brynoe, through the comedic Run Like A Freak (cleverly answering Zappa's Does Humour Belong In Music? question with a musical reply and an Eastern European folk dance) and taking on a Gary Moore like persona (at the time of his short-lived G Force combo) on Fly, the album is intriguingly eclectic.
And it is this eclectism that prevents the album from being boring. The opening blues groove of The Beauty Of Simplicity, the mix of acoustic guitar, electric guitar and fretless bass of The Sleeping Beauty that holds hints of Al Di Meola, and the extended workout of The Strange Wonders Of Professor Boltzmanns Factory which deserves a mention if only for the missing apostrophe, all show that Huldt and his colleagues can turn their hands to a variety of styles. I confess to be disinterested in overt displays of instrumental virtuosity (in fear of sounding like an old fogey, you can't beat a good tune) and, at times, the notes per minute quota on 'Rules' was, for my tastes, rather excessive. However, having said that, there is a lot to be admired in an album that mixes fun, technical expertise and decent composition and should go some way to achieving the objective of reaching an audience that expands beyond just other musicians.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Cristiano Mussi – Tilt
Tracklist: Dove Tutto Va [I. Il Grande Cielo Notturno II. Chimera III. Dove Tutto Va - Reprise] (7:04), Phil (2:44), Di Fronte Al Mare (2:33), Un Mondo Blu (3:35), La Lunga Strada (6:07), Ombre Del Tempo (6:00), Dicembre [I. Nell'Anima II. Neve - Song For Anna III. Ancora Bambino IV. Rittorno V. Dicembre] (14:00)
A self-taught Italian musician, this is the fifth album to boast the name Cristiano Mussi. Tilt is a pretty easy recommendation to anyone who will enjoy a light, guitar instrumental album that mixes blues, folk and progressive rock in that order of influence.
After a decade or so composing with two local bands, Mussi took up writing his solo debut album. This was back in 1997. Since then, he has released four self-produced albums. This is probably the first to get a wider exposure thanks to signing a deal with the Musea label.
To be honest, as a non-guitarist, there’s very little else that I can add. There’s a good mix of acoustic and electric. There are some nice melodies and rhythms and it provides some safe background music. Nothing essential or terribly original or challenging, but I enjoyed listening to it and will play it again from time to time.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10