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2009 : VOLUME 33
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REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:


Peter Hammill - Thin Air
Peter Hammill - Thin Air
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Fie!
Catalogue #:FIE9132
Year of Release:2009
Time:46:55
Info:Sofa Sound
Samples:N/A

Tracklist: The Mercy (6:22), Your Face On The Street (5:22), Stumbled (4:48), Wrong Way Round (2:41), Ghosts Of Planes (5:24), If We Must Part Like this (4:38), Undone (4:25), Diminished (6:11), The Top Of The World Club (7:04)

Peter Hammill once said that a worthwhile career in the music industry would be 50 albums. Having past that total a few years ago (and not including compilations and radio session releases), there is no sign of the irrepressible solo artist and leader of the magnificently reformed Van der Graaf Generator calling it quits. Even the heart attack that, in many ways, crystallised the idea of reforming VdGG has not seemed to slow down one of the finest lyricists the UK has ever produced. Indeed, reuniting with his old band colleagues has stimulated his song writing with the last VdGG album, the DPRP recommended Trisector, seeing a return to a more classic VdGG sound than the somewhat tenuous, but still widely regarded, reformation album Present. As was ever the case, Hammill's solo career continues alongside that of the band, the only difference being that these days the solo work is primarily just that with the help of the occasional guest musician. However, with Thin Air it is the lone artist writing, recording, producing and even selling the results of his musings. With guitar and piano forming the fundamental instrumentation and Hammill wanting to avoid over-production, the sound is somewhat more 'edgy' than some of his previous solo endeavours resulting in one of his best, and exciting, solo releases in many a year. Lyrically, there is a broadly thematic thread of disappearance and loss, an area that Hammill excels in and always seems to contain a new level, a new depth, to be explored. And we are not just talking love songs here...

The Mercy starts proceedings in a classical Hammill way, layered vocals, acoustic guitar and piano are the main instruments, but don't let that fool you into thinking this is some ballad. The rather haunting vocals, the occasional dissonant stabs of strings and periods of heavily fuzzed electric guitar give the song a real edge and takes one back to more uneasy musical territory that Hammill's reputation is built on. The title is taken from the last entry in the log of Donald Crowhurst, the solo yachtsman who disappeared during a race in 1969 - “It is Finished, it is The Mercy” - while the last line of the song are a paraphrased version of the immortal words of Captain Oates “I must go outside and I might be some time....”. So no prizes for concluding this is one of the numbers relating to disappearances, as is the next track, Your Face On The Street. The premise is that the narrator of the song only realises that something untoward had happened to an individual he had a passing acquaintance with when he spots a poster asking for information about the missing persons whereabouts. The song reminds me of the style used on The Fall Of The House Of Usher opera with two distinct vocal viewpoints. Stumbled was the first track written for the album (the acoustic guitar parts being recorded in a hotel in Bilbao on the VdGG tour last year) to my mind would have been more powerful without the added embellishments of electric guitar and swooping harmony vocals. The acoustic guitar alone is powerful enough to carry the song through on its own. It would certainly be interesting to hear this in a more starker version with just the guitar and lead vocals, perhaps on a forthcoming solo tour?

As with Trisector, Thin Air provides us with a rare Hammill instrumental, Wrong Way Round, a rather aggressive electric guitar riff that serves as a bridge into Ghosts Of Planes. This is a rather uneasy song with an air of mystery, the melody being driven by the vocals whilst single snare beats provide limited rhythm. A plethora of background noises make listening to this track through headphones essential; without doubt the spookiest thing that Hammill has committed to tape (if you'll excuse the redundancy of the metaphor) in ages. The artist has a way with ballads, so much so that there have been two compilations of love songs that are simply achingly beautiful. Two numbers on this album could be classed as amatory epitaphs, If We Must Part Like This and Undone. Of these two, it is only the latter that passes muster as being able to stand alongside the great love songs penned in the past, not that If We Must Part Like This is an inferior number, just that it is a more akin to Hammill of recent years whilst Undone is somewhat more majestic and grandiose and featuring a more dominant melody. Diminished is a realisation that life is finite, that there is not necessarily a happy ending and there very may well be a final reckoning, even if not in the religious sense of meeting one's maker. The 'song' endures for the first half of the track, the rest of the time being instrumental and similar in nature to Magog on In Camera. The Top Of The World Club is lyrically linked to Ghosts Of Planes and is a realisation that what once one perceived to be the future may well have been false not only because of changes in circumstances but also because of incorrect perceptions.

Anyone who had become somewhat jaded or disappointed by some of Hammill's pre-VdGG reformation output should really give Thin Air a chance as it shows he is shaking things up and becoming more exploratory once again. Okay, at the moment it doesn't compare with the essential solo albums of the seventies, but then it is not supposed to, a lot happens in 35+ years, not least of which is maturity and, taking a clue from the last track of this album, perspective. The truth of permanence of this album will only out with time. But for the moment which we all must live in, Thin Air is a distillation of all that Hammill is good at. Just about says it all really.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

MARK HUGHES



Troy Donockley – The Madness Of Crowds
Troy Donockley – The Madness Of Crowds
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:LNTNCD3
Year of Release:2009
Time:51:26
Info:Troy Donockley
Samples:N/A

Tracklist: The Madness Of Crowds (8:54), Reeds (5:15), Exiled (5:16), Now, Voyager (9:13), The Procession (3:14), Orkahaugr (11:18), End Of Faith (8:16)

Listening to an album for the first time that demands your full attention can be a daunting prospect at the best of times. Imagine the scene then if you will with my first taste of The Madness Of Crowds with the man responsible sitting directly in front of me. It was during a recent visit to the home of Troy Donockley, to interview the man himself, that he invited me to hear his latest solo work. Anyone familiar with Iona, Mostly Autumn, Magenta and countless other acts to whom he’s contributed will be au fait with his musical talents. It was still hard to comprehend however that this modest and easygoing individual could be responsible for the multi-textured, orchestral sound that was filling the room. I had to remind myself that in addition to being a gifted multi-instrumentalist with Uilleann pipes, whistles, guitars, bouzouki, keyboards, mandolin and percussion to his credit he also has a long list of similarly musically minded friends to call upon. On this occasion that includes vocal contributions from Joanne Hogg (Iona), Heather Findlay (Mostly Autumn) and Barbara Dickson.

Whilst The Madness Of Crowds should appeal to a progressive rock audience, as was the case with his first solo album The Unseen Stream, its roots lie in the symphonic style of 20th century composers like Vaughan Williams, Ennio Morricone, Mike Oldfield and Bill Whelan. A fairly diverse bunch I know, but then so is Donockley’s musical suite, as epitomised by the title piece. A suitably reverential vocal and organ aria of celestial proportions, contrasts sharply with a pounding rhythm and abstract acoustic guitar section, that put me in mind of Morricone’s theme to ‘Death Rides A Horse’. The barrage of electric guitar that follows was aptly described as “carnage” by Donockley during our listening session. Elsewhere in Reeds, The Procession and Now, Voyager the lush orchestrated arrangements add a sweeping ambiance that’s sometimes pastoral, sometimes cinematic. The latter is one of the albums most successful tracks, beginning with the a cappella tones of Barbara Dickson, sounding uncharacteristically folky before going out in style with an infectious fiddle led reel and the unmistakable sound of Donockley’s Uilleann pipes in full flight.

The delicate Exiled is based around the simple premise of solo cello with a little assistance from piano and harp but remains achingly beautiful nonetheless. Yo Yo Ma’s performance on the ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ soundtrack comes to mind here. The penultimate Orkahaugr is the albums longest outing and appropriately given its length, one of the more ambitious. The sound of the bouzouki and whistles takes the listener on a rhythmic dance along the Greek-Turkish border before surging strings, woodwind and keys envelope a heavenly choir. The proggy section that follows would sound very much at home on an Iona album with pipes once again driving a strong melody doubled this time by soaring guitar. End Of Faith is a perfect closer opening with a wave of strings that put me in mind of a summer shower and 10CC’s I’m Not In Love. It develops into a romantic duet with a touch of Oldfield inflected guitar before coming all too soon to a serene close. It’s uncomplicated and beautifully effective in a Craig Armstrong kind of way.

Donockley has stated that his intention was to “make the most emotional and un-commercial music possible”, free from the “ravages of fashion and hark back to a time when music was created and listened to as art rather than as commodity and accessory”. To that end he has been wholly successful, producing a lyrical blend of classical, folk, prog and modern orchestral music that provides fresh and unexpected delights with each successive listen. This is music at its most mature and sophisticated whilst still remaining highly listenable and accessible throughout. Special mention should also go to the lavish foldout sleeve designed by Tim Martindale and lovingly put together with a little hands-on assistance from the Donockley family. As it’s been over two months since he handed me this disc I feel I should close with a personal apology to Troy. I’m normally very lucid but on this occasion it’s taken me some time to come up with words that do full justice to music of this quality. I only hope it’s been worth the wait Troy.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

GEOFF FEAKES



Abigail's Ghost - d_letion
Abigail's Ghost - d_letion
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Aesperus Music/
Just For Kicks
Catalogue #:AMCD AG04
Year of Release:2009
Time:51:59
Info:Abigail's Ghost
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: d_letion (5:13), Black Lace (4:16), Romantique Life (4:34), Plastik Soul (5:47), Cinder Tin (5:39), Gemini Man (4:18), Sneak Peek (5:27), Visceral (4:21), Easy A (3:40), Annie Enemy (7:20), Grave Concerns (2:25)

D_letion is the second album from New Orleans-founded Abigail's Ghost – and it’s a real cracker!

I haven’t heard their debut album, Selling Insincerity, but in the band’s own words the experience of putting it together was disabled by their lack of experience in a studio. ‘Basically we were parachuting without a ripcord,' recalls bassist/producer Kenneth Wilson. Second time around the band has clearly learnt its lessons well. Both the sonics and the compositions are superb. Compared to the debut, second time around the band has apparently traded in some of the lush synths of for thick, guitar-laden choruses.

The album was apparently written at hurricane time. It certainly seems that there a few too many young men restricted to sitting indoors, as most of the songs deal with the naughty side of life – but all done in a wryly, detached, observational way which really appeals to me.

The album is a well balanced mix of up-tempo hard nosed modern progressive rock, mixed with mellower, delicately-reflective numbers. The opening title track is a little misleading albeit in a superb way. It’s the straightest, heaviest song with a monster chorus reminding me of Karnivool and Fair to Midland. Comparisons to Porcupine Tree abound on the other side of the Abigail’s Ghost musical coin. The instrumental arrangements behind the likes of Black Lace and Sneak Peak should delight fans of Mr Wilson and Co. Meanwhile one or two tracks, especially Annie Enemy, bring to mind a less sophisticated Sieges Even.

It’s the many different textures and depths the band has created which really draws me into this album. The sublime melodies of the title track, Romantique Life and the very cheeky Black Lace sit comfortably amid the gentle roll of the more mellow songs such as Cinder Tin and Gemini Man. The songs work on two levels. It's equally an accessible album which you can idly listen to as you drive/cycle/walk/bus to work. The more subtle flavours and moods equally devour the time if you sit and give a more attentive listen.

D_letion is a modern, progressive album of high quality with sublime melodies in abundance. Instrumental solos may be a little harder to find, but there’s plenty of detail to delight and devour. Six months through the year and this is the album that I’ve played the most – what further recommendation do you need?

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

ANDY READ



Eureka – Shackleton’s Voyage
Eureka – Shackleton’s Voyage
Country of Origin:Germany
Format:CD
Record Label:Tempus Fugit/
InsideOut
Catalogue #:SPV80001360 PRCD
Year of Release:2009
Time:51:12
Info:Eureka
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: The Last Adventure: (0:50), Departure (3:10), The Challenge (3:32), Grytviken Whaling Station (3:02), Heading South (3:58), Icebound (5:06), Plenty Of Time (2:58), The Turning Point (:49), Going Home (5:10), Into The Lifeboats (4:39), Elephant Island (2:39), Will You Ever Return? (3:09), In Search Of Relief (6:57), The Rescue (3:27), We Had Seen God! (1:46)

In 1914, Sir Ernest Shackleton and a group of adventurers set sail on the ship Endurance on an expedition to Antarctica. Things did not go as planned, and the rest as they say is history. I will not divulge what happened, but strongly recommend you check out the concept CD Shackleton’s Voyage by Eureka, which through a little over fifty-one minutes of music and some admittedly telling song titles recounts what befell Shackleton and company during that fateful journey.

The CD is the fourth release under German multi-instrumentalist Frank Bossert’s Eureka moniker. He is joined on this recording by Yogi Lang (RPWL), who mixed and mastered the CD and also contributed a Moog solo. Billy Sherwood (Lodgic, World Trade, ex-Yes, Circa, Aka) sings on two tracks. Troy Donockley (Iona, Nightwish, and many more credentials) plays bagpipes and flute on one track. Vocals on one track, Will You Ever Return? also come courtesy of Kalema. Reference points on this CD include Mostly Autumn, and A Momentary Lapse of Reason-era Pink Floyd.

Will You Ever Return? is a chamber style ballad with some nice acoustic guitar soloing. Bossert lays down some symphonic synths on Into the Lifeboats and on Going Home. Going Home also features dramatic bass synth touches from Bossert and vocals from Sherwood which are nicely unadorned by the usual processing and multi-tracking that plagues much of his other vocal work.

The other vocal Sherwood track is The Challenge, a mid-tempo number which like the other vocal tracks offers lyrics focusing on the CD’s historical theme. Donockley’s bagpipes and flute add an emotive flair to Departure, one of nine instrumentals on the fifteen track CD. Having so many instrumentals allows the listener to more freely interpret the music and gives the CD a cinematic quality. It is good that Bossert had this creative vision.

The songs are anchored, as it were, by three spoken word tracks from narrator Ian Dickinson, the British actor noted among other things for his role in the Wim Wenders' film Person to Person. Dickinson’s narration is strong both in style and in content, and is not overdone. I was going to quote some of his narration for this review, but again I do not want to give too much away. The combination of narrative, instrumental and vocal tracks is sequenced across the CD in a way that avoids repetition and makes for good continuity. And on the subject of continuity, most of the tracks are interconnected by some carefully placed and restrained ocean sound effects.

Original photographs from the expedition are found in the booklet and cover artwork included with the CD’s retail release. The version of the CD I listened to for this review is a promotional copy with no jewel case or booklet.

Shackleton’s Voyage will mostly appeal to fans of symphonic, concept-based music. If you seek something more mainstream, Eureka isn’t it. I can think of no room for improvement from this fine project.

Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10

JIM CORCORAN



Andrew Gorczyca - Reflections ~ An Act Of Glass
Andrew Gorczyca - Reflections ~ An Act Of Glass
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:ProgRock Records
Catalogue #:PRR700
Year of Release:2008
Time:41:52
Info:Andrew Gorczyca
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: The Tall Tale Heart (8:08), From This Day Forward (5:04), Give It Time (3:52), How Can We Go On This Way? (3:32), Lost In It All (5:45), Curiosity Song [I Only Want To Know] (5:53), Peasant Under Class (4:52), All Fixed [Predestination] (4:47)

Andrew Gorczyca passion in life was his music, being a very private person he never promoted himself or his music in the conventional ways. In 2004 Andrew passed away and his brother Chris took it upon him to honour the works of his brother. It took nearly four years to finish this album, with the planning, recording, producing and finding the right musicians to re-create Andrew's music. Drummer Chris succeeded in finding an impressive line-up for this album as amongst many others we have, Adrian Belew (King Crimson), Nick D'Virgillio (Spock's Beard), Phil Keaggy, Mike Keneally, Ted Leonard (Enchant) and Ryo Okumoto (Spock's Beard).

The style of Andrew Gorczyca's music is AOR with a bit of progressive rock influences. The first resemblance I found is with the albums Presto and especially Hold Your Fire by Rush, also influences from Camel and Enchant. The sound on this album is very eighties like. The Tall Tale Heart is a perfect example of a song that sounds like the Hold Your Fire album. The broken chords of Time Will Tell come to mind immediately. The broken chords are even more present at the start of From This Day Forward, a bit like Show Don't Tell from Rush's Presto. Certainly here the sound has a very eighties poppy feeling to it.

Musically no boundaries will be broken but all musicians perform very well. The songs are filled with melodic solos both on keyboard and guitar. Give It Time is sung by Ted Leonard, his distinctive voice makes this song sound like an Enchant track. This song is less complicated than the works for his own band, but it sure is a nice song. How Can We Go On This Way? sounds like a movie score for a teen movie back in the eighties, it sounds too pre-fabricated to my liking. Lost In It All and Curiosity Song are both very pleasant up-tempo songs. A bit less Rush sounding and a bit more poppy. Peasant Under Class returns a bit more the rock sound. Not as catchy and sounding a bit more contemporary. All Fixed continues that line, I wonder if the songs are placed in chronological order. Though this song is also more contemporary it still has a very old-fashion feel to it.

This album is the legacy of Andrew Gorczyca. His brother Chris gathered an impressive collection of musicians for this album. When reading the names of the participants people might be put on the wrong track, this is no Spock's Beard or Enchant album. Some songs sound like Rush on their albums Hold Your Fire and Presto, by many regarded as not their best. The music sounds a little bit outdated and it would have been better if the songs received a modern make-over. For the family and friends of Andrew Gorczyca Reflections - An Act Of glass is a perfect legacy, true to the mind of the maker. Any unbiased progressive rock lover will surely like this album but will likely lose interest very rapidly.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

EDWIN ROOSJEN



Zao - Ethnic 3 Live
Zao - Ethnic 3 Live
Country of Origin:France
Format:CD
Record Label:Musea Records
Catalogue #:FGBG 4779
Year of Release:2008
Time:50:28
Info:Zao
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Traditions (0:37), Irgalom (6:36), Moréa (9:28), Félix (6:30), Trebla (6:20), Elec-Trop (9:05), Padirac (3:47), Ethnic (6:57), Traditions (0:37)

In recent DPRP discussions the phrase "should need no introduction" cropped up and although for many this may well apply, for others perhaps even after four decades an introduction is still necessary for those who have not discovered a particular artist, band or even genre. So for those not familiar with Zao, (and I am no expert), the band was founded by Yochk'o Seffer (saxophones & woodwinds) and François Faton Cahen (keyboards) circa 1972, having previously been members of Zeuhl pioneers Magma. During the 70s the band released five studio albums and one live album. The 90s saw the release of another studio album Akhenaton. Zao re-formed during 00s perhaps due to rekindled interest and possibly aided by Musea Records re-issues of their early works. This is merely a speculative assumption, as although there is a wealth of information on the band's earlier work, present day Zao do not appear to be well covered on the internet. Yochk'o Seffer's Zao website noted above is in French...

Now Zao were not an easy band to get into and I certainly struggled with two of their earlier albums Z=7L (1973) and Shekina (1975), so much so that a thirty plus year gap ensued before I dipped my toes in the Zao waters again with the live album release In Tokyo. In truth even this was prompted by the inclusion of violinist Akihisa Tsuboy. In Tokyo retained much of the early Zao sound, which after several runs through felt fairly comfortable. Certainly Tsuboy was a good move however the "vocal" performances still troubled me. So in all honesty the opportunity to review Ethnic 3 Live didn't immediately fill me with joy.

As the album suggests this is a live registration of Zao, recorded at Triton Aux Lilas circa 2008 and along with Seffer and Cahen, is current drummer/percussionist François Causse completing the line-up.

The brief Traditions, which coincidentally bookends the album, is an atmospheric piece which nicely leads us into the equally atmospheric Iraglom. Eastern European flourishes from Seffer along with Faton's light airy keyboards are complimented by Causse's percussion. Beautifully restrained initially, the band lay down a gradually increasing tapestry of sounds. I was warming to Zao 2008 almost immediately.

Moréa is different kettle of fish altogether and a heady pace is set from the outset. Seffer let's rip with a series of breath taking jazzy sax lines underpinned by Cahen's punctuating keyboards. The star of the track is however François Causse, his bristling drums moving the piece with great impetus. Moréa also features a solo from Causse and although I'm no great fan of drum solos, here it seems to be integral to the piece. The great sound of the kit and crystal clear recording also help enormously. Surprisingly after the solo the track breaks with what has gone before returning to an atmospheric conclusion.

Neatly maintaining this atmospheric vibe and with Seffer forsaking the sax in favour of the flute, we enter into Félix. Now to this point Cahen's contributions may not be immediate to the ears, (although absolutely essential), his superb punctuation of the music is wonderful and Félix sees him take on a brief solo section on piano. Trebla on the other hand brings him to forefront of the music and his sampled voices, programming and playing, sit well within the framework of laid back saxes and percussion.

You're probably getting a picture by now, so perhaps just a few words on the following tracks. Although not without its moments and despite the title suggesting something different, Elec-Trop did seem to drag on. Great playing, but just a little too dense at times for me. The band do reign things in, two thirds through with a menacing piano section accompanied later by Seffer. The bold Padirac sees Cahen once again come to the fore on piano - nimbly complimented by Seffer and Causse. The penultimate piece Ethnic rounds off matters in a rather difficult fashion for this reviewer, echoeing past memories perhaps a little to closely. Traditions concludes as we started.

As mentioned above I wasn't initially to enamoured on taking on this album for review - but I'm really glad I did. Ethnic 3 Live may not entirely reflect Zao's work, but for those perhaps curious about one of the leading band's within their genre, then this may be as good a place to start as any. The nine compositions not only demonstrate the collective abilities of these musicians, but goes on to show their craftsmanship as writers. Yes this heavily grounded in the jazz camp, but the music never veers too far from the path. The progressive (Canterbury) elements retain a sense of direction, whilst the atmospherics are soothing and absorbing. Finally, the ethnic seasonings add a sense of mystery to the proceedings, and despite a few minor quibbles with the latter part of the CD, this is still well worth checking out!

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

BOB MULVEY



Bertrand Loreau - Réminescences
Bertrand Loreau - Réminescences
Country of Origin:France
Format:CD
Record Label:Musea Dreaming
Catalogue #:DR 8463 AR
Year of Release:2009
Time:72:36
Info:Bertrand Loreau
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Chemin d’Enfer (5:56), Cosmic Arp (3:33), Impro-Vision (8:11), Le Ciel est Jaune d’un Liquide Inconnu Part 1 (11:41), Le Ciel est Jaune d’un Liquide Inconnu Part 2 (8:47), DX Seven Age (1:58), Little Dream (3:37), The Music is Saved (6:11), It Moogs Strange (4:11), Goom Souvenir (2:13), Rencontre Manquée (2:56), Midi-Station (3:17), Au-Dela du Passé (9:37)

Before listening to this album of electronic music I had not heard of Bertrand Loreau: whilst listening it brought back memories of Jean-Michel Jarre, Klaus Schulze and Vangelis. Afterwards, reading up the promotional material, I noted that Loreau is a professed disciple of Klaus Schulze and Vangelis, but there was no mention of Jean-Michel... perhaps, as this album begins to indicate, Loreau moved more away from Jarre’s influence and to those of the others as his career progressed.

Réminescences is a collection of his unreleased work recorded during the years 1981 to 1985. Musea’s Dreaming label released his first album in 1992, Prière, and followed up with Le Pays Blanc(1993), Sur Le Chemin (1996), Jericoacoara (1998). Loreau has subsequently issued two other albums, Passé Composé and D’une Rive à L’autre.

Clearly then, in context, Réminescences is an album during which the artist was growing in his musical experiences and ideas. Despite that, it betrays no absence of performance or compositional skill and is an album of highly enjoyable electronic instrumental music that would be enjoyed by fans of the artists already mentioned, as well as others of the wider genre. Of particular interests to fans of the genre is the way the album’s tracks are arranged chronologically, with full descriptions of the instruments used, so that you can gauge Loreau’s own progress as well as the instruments that interested him. This is an area of music, of course, where often the texture of the sound is as important as rhythm or melody.

For me, the album starts off very Jarre-esquely with 1981’s Chemin d’Enfer; then by the time we get to 1984’s Le Ciel est Jaune... the textures are more Vangelian and on 1985’s Midi-Station the sound is glassier, reminiscent of Schulze. The music is absorbing throughout; by turns rhythmic or melodic and always interesting texturally. Personally, I prefer singing or vocalisations with my music – for instance, I prefer Vangelis’s work with Jon Anderson to his solo work and adored Klaus Schulze’s Farscape album with Lisa Gerrard last year – but if you’re a big fan of totally instrumental electronic music, then this album is recommended for you.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10

ALEX TORRES



Red Bazar - Connections
Red Bazar - Connections
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue:N/A
Year of Release:2008
Time:55:00
Info:Red Bazar
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: The Meet (4:43), Regards To... (7:43), Ride On A Wing (6:10), Bass Tardo (6:34), Fallen tears (7:40), Walk The Milestone (8:24), Connections(13:46)

Nottingham trio Red Bazar were formed in 2007 by the Wilson brothers Mick (bass and keyboards) and Andy (guitars) along with Paul Comerie (drums) with the aim of creating instrumental progressive music that is "completely honest and free of the restrictions imposed by expectation". As Connections is their debut album, although all three musicians have played in a number of other bands, it is hard to know what is to be expected and therefore what the implied restrictions are! But with open ears and an open mind let us venture forth.

Instrumental albums are notoriously difficult to review as, compared with vocal albums, they tend to have a somewhat more limited audience. The first point of note is that Red Bazar lean towards the heavier end of progressive music, Andy W freely letting rip on his guitar, such as on Regards To..., that can almost take the group into the realms of prog metal, although they spare themselves the over-indulgences often associated with that genre. The trick that the group has managed to achieve is to always remember that nothing beats a good melody and so pieces such as Ride On A Wing create a lot of atmosphere and dynamic that even when the guitar is wailing away, the underlying keyboard maintains the basic element and structure of the song. Indeed, this particular track is my favourite of the album and shows that being a trio doesn't necessarily restrict the group to a limited sound palette. Bass Tardo is a heavier track that ordinarily would not be to my taste but the inclusion of a variety of different guitar passages, including a very nice acoustic guitar section, means that the piece is never less than interesting.

As the title might suggest, Fallen Tears piles the melancholy up high with a tasteful blend of synth piano and a less frantic guitar overlaid. That the band can sustain the slower number through almost eight minutes says a lot and my only gripe about the song is that the beat of the hi-hat in the first part of the piece is somewhat distracting and unnecessary, particularly as Comerie's fills elsewhere are entirely sympathetic to the song and add a nice depth. Nice guitar sound as well. Walk The Milestone is notable for the nice bass work which effectively mirrors some of the guitar riffs which themselves make good use of the entire fret board rather than focusing at the higher treble end of the instrument. Sweeping keyboards give a robust backing playing into the hands of the more symphonically inclined. Just when one thinks the track is gearing up for the final crescendo one is sidestepped by a funky little riff and a drum solo, albeit a 'solo' accompanied by the aforementioned riff and a variety of sound effects pulled from the guitar. Although it may seem a bit strange, when the guitar finally starts playing again it is just as if two separate tracks have been spliced together. The title track is the lengthiest number and is, in many ways, the proggiest number. The initial keyboards are slightly unconvincing, the staccato effect not doing it for me, I would have preferred a smoother performance which would match the following guitar pick up of the tune. Heavy riffing and some nice panning brings us to the reintroduction of the keyboard intro and then into a transition to a contrasting section with another great bass riff which is followed by some nice ebow work before the rousing finale.

In spite of my flippant remarks at the beginning of this review, this debut album by Red Bazar did prove to be somewhat unexpected due to the variety of what is delivered. At an intersection of different progressive genres I think it successfully manages to sate the expectations of many without offending the hardcore few. Well worth checking out the sound clips on the bands website and if you like what you hear then the band have conveniently added one-click links for purchase of the album in Europe, America and the UK.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

MARK HUGHES



Fuzz Manta - Smokerings
Fuzz Manta - Smokerings
Country of Origin:Denmark
Format:CD
Record Label:Bad Deal Records
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2009
Time:50:42
Info:Fuzz Manta
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Cage Of Glass (3:37), Night Fright (6:23), The Killer (4:50), Strange Day (5:05), Desire (4:34), Smoke Rings (4:49), Mysterious Thoughts (5:05), Sickness (5:44), Who Sees You? (6:41), Over The Mountain (4:11)

Like many reviews I have done, the description of the band Fuzz Manta appealed. 'Bluesy hardrock', and they listed most of the usual 70's influences that many bands do. Deep Purple, Hendrix, Joplin, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Black Sabbath etc are all cited.. It does give guidance of what 'melange' to expect, but it's always tricky raising expectations. I'll be honest with you from the start. It's no frills 70's bluesy rock and roll, that you have to play loud and enjoy.. The band come from Denmark and have released a demo and a 7 track mini EP, so this is their debut album. All credit to them, it's great, if you don't expect too much past the 'bluesy rock' description. It's not as creative as Zeppelin, heavy as Sabbath or as bluesy as SRV, but it's all there.

It's not 'progressive rock', but it would probably comfortably sit in most of our record collections, side by side with the greats as previously mentioned. It's not revolutionary, it's not an essential album for prog fans, but if you want to discover a new band to enjoy some non pretentious blues hardrock it's a good reference. There is good energy to all the songs and I think that they would be great live band to see. Lots of riffing guitars and solos, warbling vocals, solid bass and drums. It's like putting on a pair of old slippers, you know what you are about to receives. (I salute you!) Every time I listen to it it grows on me and that is a sign of good music. (Though I must also confess that my guitarist blues/rock roots make reach for the tennis racket or guitar when listening to this album!)

I don't feel the need for a track by track assessment, but there are many outstanding moments to this album. I really like Night Fright - the initial riff could come from an Audioslave album. Then add the sonic 'Zep' treatment of the guitar and the simultaneous lead guitar and vocals, 'a la Page / Plant', and you get a classic track that just rocks. If I turned on the radio and heard it, I would certainly want to know who this band was.

The sound quality is good enough, but with music like this I feel that it deserves a rawer edge, like it was recorded live in one take. It gives a more spontaneous and gutsy feel. I want to feel like I am in the studio and hear the Fender Strat sing though the overdriven amp! Listen to the 'Cry Of Love's Brother album and see what I mean for a live studio feel.

My conclusion... Some of this music would not be out of place in the 'School Of Rock' movie, sounds strange to say, but it's all good classic rock. If you want to get back to some gritty rock and roll basics then give this a spin. Overall, it doesn't really add anything more than the people it pays homage to created. Somehow I feel that it needs more originality to give it some more 'weight' and credibility to get to 7/10. If you like AC/DC, The Black Crowes, Hendrix, Humble Pie, Cry Of Love and Free then this album will sit nicely next to them, but you might pass it to reach for the original masters...

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

IAN BUTLER



Sound Pressure - Sound Pressure
Sound Pressure - Sound Pressure
Country of Origin:Denmark
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:KTW 06
Year of Release:2009
Time:49:43
Info:Kalle Mathiesen
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Cancer (4:00), Mentally Challenged (3:22), Sterilize (4:43), Business As Usual (3:58), The Good Guys (4:08), Underground (4:15), The 2 Dogs (4:19), Change - Der Er Et Yndigt Land (4:04), Dejavue (3:27), The Fool (3:47), A New Man (4:08), Hidden Track (5:32)

Kalle Mathiesen is indeed an angry young man. A very angry one, I’d say. This 34 year old drummer from Denmark vehemently exteriorizes the point of view of an important portion of his (my) generation about this society: the system simply doesn’t work, trapped in a seemingly never ending spiral of selfishness, stupidity and pointless, needless obsessions about power and influence. Not that this opinion belongs exclusively to thirty-somethings, but I feel we are the last generation to have grown up without (relatively) the inescapable domination of oppressive technology, mass media brainwashing and daily terrorist paranoia.

The Sound Pressure project gives voice to this “state of depression”, and it does in a very straightforward and highly cynical way. Not that I don’t agree with Mathiesen’s message (I do agree integrally), but being young and angry has its pros and cons. A good thing is that you get your speech across very clearly and coherently; but, precisely because of that, the risk is to end up being predictable, demagogic and, in a way, juvenile.

Indeed, the music here is energetic, made up of short 3-4 minute songs where Kalle gets to show (off) his undeniable drumming abilities (besides playing some bass, guitar and keys), and to viciously scream the often ironically venomous lyrics. Some of them are brilliant (“milk, milk, milk I need milk-well drink your mother’s cause there is a cow strike” says on Business As Usual), but too often they fall on the trite, predictable side of things (“Just because a majority of people believe something, doesn’t mean it’s right” on Mentally Challenged).

Again, much as I’m completely on Mathiesen’s side, there’s just too many obvious references to capitalism, fast food and climate change, the usual suspects. I miss some poetry, some more suggestive lyrics, maybe more implicit messages. Use a bit of insinuated irony, don’t be just literal.

In that sense, the music is also quite simple, just catchy loud rock (with a slight jazzy twist here and there) songs, so not too much prog or symphonism to be found here; the progressiveness lies on the political and moral opinions exposed on the lyrics. The colourful note here are Rasmus Kjaersgard’s lively saxophone and Matthias Schriefl trumpet, who manage to give a slight Zappa (even a vague VDGG air sometimes, as Rasmus’ style reminded me of David Jackson) varnish to some of the songs, a feel also supported by the dark humorous tone of the album and some goofy keyboard effects.

The world (and the music business) needs loud, expressive, independent (the album is a self-release) voices such as Kalle Mathiesen’s but, it has to be said, Roger Waters he’s not.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

HECTOR GOMEZ



Eidolon - Dreamland
Eidolon
Country of Origin:France
Format:CD
Record Label:Musea Records
Catalogue #:MP 3089
Year of Release:2009
Time:52:32
Info:Eidolon
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Vaccum - Une Extreme Et Vague Thule (6:16), Idein - La Neiges Des Lis Inclines (20:26), Topos - Par Les Montagnes (3:59), Reflexum - Les Reminiscences Drapees Du Passe (5:18), Illusio (5:36), Ontology - Jamais Tel Mystere (5:27), Logos - Une Extreme Et Vague Thule (5:39)

Eidolon is a French band that play experimental progressive rock with a small psychedelic part. Many instrumental parts with a nice role for the violin, often seen in progressive rock but used a lot on this album. Influences are Pink Floyd and Anekdoten, all four of the band members contribute to the vocals.

Vaccum - Une Extreme Et Vague Thule is a long title and the opening is also very long, with the first four minutes being stretched ambient keyboard sounds. After this the guitar is introduced with an easy riff that sounds like something used by The Prodigy to spice up their dance music - not really my stuff. Idein - La Neiges Des Lis Inclines is the epic song on this album, just over twenty minutes and holds many similarities with Pink Floyd's song Echoes. It contains long atmospheric parts, however the vocals in the first part of the song are really annoying, with a very thin and nasally voice which is not clear. Halfway a narrative voice is used and after that this song also sounds like One Of These Days.

Topos - Par Les Montagnes starts with a funky bass & drum and many organ sounds. The vocals are also the breaking pointon this song,   as they are sung soullessly and without motivation. The organ solos are great and that is the best part of the sound of Eidolon. Reflexum - Les Reminiscences Drapees Du Passe has many of those keyboards sounds, very like The Tangent. The lyrical parts of this song are short, thankfully, but still the downside of the music, which on this song it is a sort of slow mumbling. Illusio is an instrumental, so no vocals, which makes this a good track with piano and Italian prog organ sounds. The violin is by far the most interesting part on this song, very many great solos. Too bad the drum solo is not interesting at all, like a child beating on the drums with both hands at the same time. Ontology - Jamais Tel Mystere is a bit like No. 5 but with vocals and without drum solo. Logos - Une Extreme Et Vague Thule has a very nervous pace, nice part for the violin though. The song changes a lot but is a bit messy on the edges.

Eidolon tries to create a Dreamland but it is not happening for me. I cannot call it a complete nightmare because at times this album sounds very interesting, but as a whole it is not a good performance. If you cut out all the vocals, the weird drum solo and the stretched ambient parts there is some nice music to be found. Especially the parts where the violin is upfront are very good but the quality time that remains is certainly not sufficient.

Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10

EDWIN ROOSJEN



Gennady Ilyin – The Sun Of The Spirit
Gennady Ilyin – The Sun Of The Spirit
Country of Origin:Russia
Format:CD
Record Label:MALS
Catalogue #:MALS 309
Year of Release:2009
Time:50:04
Info:Little Tragedies
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Parrot (6:16), Witch (7:54), I Saw A Dream (5:06), Reader Of Books (8:43), Thoughts (6:29), Marquis De Karabas (3:49), Post Officer (3:53), The Sun Of The Spirit (3:51) Bonus Track: Christmas (3:59)

When I was a kid, I would often have nightmares filled with scary clowns. I’m an adult now, and I never thought I’d encounter those clowns again. But here I am, haunted by those nightmarish images, summoned by the “circus-prog” music by Little Tragedies keyboard man Gennady Ilyin on his The Sun Of The Spirit reissue.

The Sun Of The Spirit was recorded by Ilyin from 1998-1999 and originally released under the Little Tragedies name by Boheme Music in 2000, although the other Little Tragedies band members at that time did not participate in the recording. In fact at the time the name “Little Tragedies” referred more to an affinity project rather than a band proper, and the CD was only released under a band name to reflect the band like nature of the project. So now we have the re-release of The Sun Of The Spirit under Ilyin’s own name, courtesy of the Russian label MALS.

Ilyin composed the music, plays keyboards (ostensibly including drum programming as no drummer is credited), and sings. Helping out on guitar is the capable Igor Mikhel. The lyrics come from the noted Russian poet Nikolai Gumilev (1886-1921). Specific sources of the poems are “The Pillar Of Fire And Other Selected Poems” (1999), “Selected Works Of Nikolai S. Gumilev” (1972), and Russian-to-English translation was done by Richard McKane, Brighid Rhaynn, B. Raffel and A. Burago, and Yevgeny Bonver. For whatever reason there are no printed lyrics in the booklet to Witch or Post Officer.

On the CD, Ilyin and company play a style of the aforementioned “circus” prog, bringing to mind images of clowns and carnivals, along with touches of classical. On the CD many of the toccata style passages evoke the Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera.

The playful, carnival style music is evident on Parrot, with some ceremonial trumpet sounds triggered by Ilyin’s keys, and the lively, toccata-flavoured Witch.

On the somewhat collage-like Reader Of Books, Ilyin fires up the drum programming at so many beats per minute it shows off a sound that says this is not your grandmother’s toccata. This is a toccata for the dance floor. A techno-toccata, if you will. Mikhel tosses in a few solos to add to the flair.

We migrate from the dance club to the German beer hall on Post Officer, a ¾ waltz number that with Ilyin’s keyboard-triggered harpsichord and accordion style sounds will make you want to hoist up a beer stein.

Across parts of the CD Pink Floyd is evoked through Ilyin’s use of sound effects. Regrettably this is overdone. There are so many gusts of wind, thunderstorms, and chirping birds I can take.

The CD is produced and mixed well. Ilyin and Mikhel are talented musicians and while the music on The Sun And The Spirit is certainly creative in its writing and performing, it is a little too over the top for my personal taste.

If you are a fan of Keith Emerson’s dark, toccata-based work you may want to check this out. If you seek music that is tamer, best to stay away.

For his next solo release I would recommend that Ilyin tone down the circus-style, carnival-flavoured stuff.

Conclusion: 5 out of 10

JIM CORCORAN




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