Reviews in this issue:
- Oceansize – Self Preserved While The Bodies Float Up (Duo Review)
- District 97 - Hybrid Child
- Rausch - Rausch
- Mind Portal – 1/1
- The Psychedelic Ensemble – The Art Of Madness
- Greg Lake – Live On The King Biscuit Flower Hour
- Oho - Okinawa
- Oho - Bricolage
- Olive Mess – Cherdak
- Ethnic Duo - En Public Au Chene Noir D’Avignon 1980
Oceansize – Self Preserved While The Bodies Float Up
Tracklist: Part Cardiac (4:10), SuperImposer (4:15), Build Us A Rocket Then…(3:59), Oscar Acceptance Speech (8:54), Ransoms (4:07), A Penny’s Weight (3:38), Silent/Transparent (8:29), It’s My Tail And I’ll Chase It If I Want To (3:36), Pine (4:55), SuperImposter (5:16)
Tom De Val's Review
The first impression, on hearing the aural assault that is the opening track of Oceansize’s fourth full length, is that the band have done a complete volte-face since their last album, Frames. That album, full of predominantly lengthy, slow burning tracks, saw the band moving firmly down the post-rock route, whilst the recent stop-gap EP Home & Minor was a very mellow, almost lightweight affair that certainly wouldn’t prepare the listener for the sort of racket Oceansize can kick up when the mood takes them. However, despite the fact that there are indeed a number of shorter and, in some cases, more aggressive tracks on Self Preserved While The Bodies Float Up, there are also a couple of songs which nod to their full length predecessor, whilst others seem like companion pieces to songs further back in their catalogue. In short, this album is almost an amalgam of the different sides of Oceansize that have been on view in the past, although it does give a snapshot of where they might be heading, too.
As mentioned, Part Cardiac is a hell of a way to kick off an album. Following some shuffling drums and a trail of feedback, in comes a doomy, sludgy riff that might be more at home on a Soundgarden, or even a Black Sabbath album. Mike Vennart’s vocals are mostly in a clean style but are full of anguish, wailed over the top of an abrasive, distorted wall of noise. As always with Oceansize, shards of melody peep through the cracks. Although initially something of a shock, multiple listens have lead me to think this is actually an effective way to kick off the album (and I can testify that it’s a great set opener too).
The ending leads into SuperImposer, which despite the frenzied opening, soon settles into more melodic territory, the jumpy riffs and rhythms smoothed out by jangling, intertwining guitar work and strong harmony vocals. The song reaches an effective emotional crescendo, with Vennart’s strong emotional lead vocal well counter-balanced by guitarist Steve Durose’s higher-range backing vocals. The momentum is kept up by Build Us A Rocket Then… which kicks off with pummelling drums and a seesaw riff, before things kick back on the verse, where Steven Hodson’s kinetic bass line leads the way. The chorus is surprisingly calm and meditative, with attention shifting to Mark Heron’s intricate and very effective drumming (in fact, Heron’s imaginative and varied playing is a stand-out throughout). There’s definitely a God Speed You Black Emperor! feel here, due primarily to the shimmering, haunting guitar work. No pause for breath here though, as the song ends as hyperactively as it began.
Oscar Acceptance Speech finally allows the listener to take a breather, and is the first song to reach a Frames-like length. It’s a slow burner, with a gentle, spacey, post-rock-ish opening with twinkling piano, chilled dub-like bass, some unobtrusive electro and tender vocals from Vennart. The mid-section of the song sees things step up a gear, with Vennart’s repeated vocals gradually building in emphasis as extra layers of harmony are added. A string section carried the song to its conclusion; whilst the playing is effective, generating an appropriately mournful feel, I did feel the ending was dragged out longer than necessary.
The next couple of songs keep things mellow – Ransoms has a chilled, slightly down-beat feel, featuring an effectively sparse, wiry guitar sound, whilst A Penny’s Weight is a beautiful, ethereal ballad in the vein of the classic Music For A Nurse, which showcases Vennart’s excellent vocal range.
Next up for me is the album’s centrepiece and stand-out track. Silent/Transparent builds in a leisurely but forward-looking way, the repetitive cyclical bass and guitar lines and calm vocals gradually subside only for the bass to slowly start building towards the big climax, with guitars and vocals gradually unfolding and gaining in power before the inevitable release – this part of the song is comparable in effect to something the likes of Isis or Red Sparowes might have produced at their peak.
Following a rambling intro, It’s My Tail And I’ll Chase It If I Want To explodes in a full-on wall of guitars, whilst vocally we have screamed and clean vocals pitted against each other, both delivered in a stream-of-consciousness way. The song then drifts into different areas and, whilst mildly diverting, feels a bit unfinished.
Pine sees the mood calmed again, with gently intertwining guitars and hushed, warming vocals. The chorus has a lightly symphonic feel due to the use of strings. The song does build, but in a subtle, unobtrusive way. This track initially felt quite slight, but repeated listens have changed my opinion, to the extent that its one of my favourite songs on the album. It works well in the live arena too.
Whilst past Oceansize albums have finished with a suitably epic, grandstanding compositions (such as the fantastic Ornaments/The Last Wrongs, which closes their 2005 album Everyone Into Position), Self Preserved… finishes in a less spectacular way, in the form of the more mundane SuperImposter (yes, a different song and slight change of spelling from track 2!). Guitars chime away gently and Vennart emotes effectively, especially on the more substantial chorus, and the latter part finally sees the song building up something of a head of steam, but ultimately the track isn’t one of their best, and seems a rather underwhelming way to finish what is, on the whole, another strong album.
Of all of Oceansize’s albums, this is probably the one that took me the longest to ‘get’. This is not one of those releases where a few cursory listens to samples on MySpace is going to tell you if you’ll like it or not. Having lived with the album for a while though, I would certainly rate it, if not quite on a par with their best work, certainly up there, and streets ahead of much of the competition. Yes, there’s a relatively weak song here and there, and personally I think the sequencing (pitting most of the heavier tracks up front) leaves a little to be desired, but in the end this is another winner for the band. I would also recommend it as a good first point for newcomers (once they’ve got past the slightly atypical and in-your-face opener!) as it covers the full gamut of styles that Oceansize are known for.
Gert Hulshof's Review
Oceansize is a well known name in today's rock music scene, having released numerous EPs and with Self Preserved While Bodies Float Up being their fourth full length album release since they started in 1998. Twelve years and four releases, is an average of one album every three years with their last effort dating back to 2007. Intermediary EP’s have been released, although Home And Minor was not that well received, but still with this new release expectations were running high.
Now I have always liked the wide, intense music Oceansize bring to the table and as I had the opportunity to be part of this duo review I gladly got on board. So immediately after I received the promo copy I gave it a first listen. My first thoughts were: is this what I have been waiting for so long? We all know that first impressions can often stick around. In this case, and after several listening sessions, Self Preserved While The Bodies Float Up started growing on me a little, but it still is not quite what I find so very interesting in the music of Oceansize. Of course I do not want them to repeat themselves, but that is not what I mean.
To me Oceansize was an ocean full of sound, their sound and this is my attraction to them. The music on Self Preserved... is good, but I miss my vast ocean, the giant layered guitar sounds and the widespread production. A few tracks do retain this wide open sound but the bigger part of the album lacks this. I sincerely hope that this change in the production scheme is a one off, or maybe I am judging too soon maybe this album needs more time to really grow on me.
This said Oceansize is Oceansize and the music is still very solid, straight forward in a sense, at times the ocean wide sound is still there, but not what I expected it to be. I feel this effort is going heavily in the direction of the alternative/indie/underground rock scene. I can still hear the post rock sound in a few of the songs like Part Cardiac, Super Imposer and It’s My Tail And I’ll Chase It If I Want To. However the bigger part of this album I feel is a bunch of mediocre songs when I lay them next to all the other music Oceansize have been releasing over the years. You can’t win them all as they say, It is not their best work to date.
I will not bore you all with the details of my dislikes. Tom has gone into some depth on the tracks themselves, so I will conclude by saying it just lacks the emotion and spirit I seek in their music.
District 97 - Hybrid Child
Tracklist: I Don’t Wanna Wait Another Day (7:17), I Can’t Take You With Me (5:36), The Man Who Knows Your Name (8:48), Termites (5:53), Mindscan I: Arrival (1:30), Mindscan II: Entrance (3:07), Mindscan III: Realization (2:45), Mindscan IV: Welcome (2:47), Mindscan V: Examination (2:53), Mindscan VI: Hybrid Child (3:30), Mindscan VII: Exploration (2:19), Mindscan VIII: What Do They Want (2:42), Mindscan IX: When I Awake (3:12), Mindscan X: Returning Home (2:42)
“District 97 is the only progressive rock band in the world to feature an American Idol finalist and a Chicago Symphony Orchestra virtuoso cellist.”
Hmmmm... was this a smart move? It’s not a quote that I would have pushed, I’m sure I would have found a different angle.
OK, putting that to one side; who is District 97? The band comprises of Leslie Hunt (vocals and backing vocals), Katinka Kleijn (cello), Rob Clearfield (keyboards and baritone guitar on Termites), Jim Tashjian (guitars), Patrick Mulcahy (bass) and Jonathan Schang (drums and percussions) and Hybrid Child is their debut album.
Hybrid Child is a very well produced album, having been engineered by Manny Sanchez and Chris Harden (Billy Corgan, Fall Out Boy, Umphrey’s McGee to name but a few), featuring a very nice booklet with some really interesting imagines and artwork.
A few things hit me initially on hearing Hybrid Child; firstly the outstanding musicianship of Katinka Kleijn, secondly the unusual vocal phrasing of Leslie Hunt and thirdly this has all been created by one person, Jonathan Schang.
We all know that these days prog comes in all shapes and sizes, Hybrid Child come across as the new punks on the block, but when you scratch under the surface of each band member, what you find is that this is a group of very talented and accomplished musicians, with a pedigree, having worked with some legendary names. Jim Peterik of Survivor fame took Leslie under his wing, now he’s a man that knows a thing or two about talent. Her solo album even featured the legendary drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and bassist Vail Johnson, (Stevie Nicks, Herbie Hancock).
Jonathon Schang is the brainchild behind this outfit, having written the entire music and lyrics for the album except for Termites, where Hunt contributes her clever word play. Leslie’s vocals that have been presented here can take some getting use to; it took a while for me to work out what was going on, it is to me subtle and clever, but at least the American Idol approach wasn’t brought to the table, so that’s a plus.
I Don’t Wanna Wait Another Day reinforces and confirms that District 97 mean business, with some outstanding drumming from Schang and well what can only be describes as stunning cello playing, lightening fast and aggressive one minute, slow and atmospheric the next, mixing new with old. The band obviously fell on their feet when Katinka Kleijn joined the group, which is not to take away from any of the other musicians, as they are all first class too.
I Can’t Take You with Me is a more jaunty song with bouncier phrasing, with Hunt being challenged vocally with the meter, something that she took on board and made work, which she perfected for Termites, confirming that she is no one trick pony. I just love the way the vocals follow the cello as they did in places on I Don’t Wanna Wait Another Day. Rob Clearfield really lets his keyboard work do the talking in conjunction with Jim Tashjian’s guitar work. Even instrumentally this would be a very strong track.
The Man Who Knows Your Name has a heavier sound than the two previous numbers, although we aren’t talking, knock the walls down heavy. The track builds and grows with the band upping the ante musically before Schang’s somewhat off kilter lyrics are presented. Towering guitar and keyboard breaks are pushed forward really adding something extra to the piece.
Termites just aggressively and physically grab’s you by the scuff of the neck for its duration, with its chugging guitar riffs. Leslie’s vocals demand you to follow her, no questions asked, leading you from point A to point B. This is prog with a punk attitude.
The twenty seven minute plus Mindscan suite is a rather spectacular musical journey, moody and atmospheric, that reminded me slightly of 2112, Hemispheres and Cygnus XI. The piece is not as grand as those three works, but I would hazard a guess that they may have been reference points for Schang, when writing this epic piece. The lyrics are intelligent, well for the subject matter that is, emotional and atmospheric. Mindscan VI: Hybrid Child for me is where Leslie really scores the points, being the lynch pin track of the suite. With a piece of this magnitude, the construction musically, is very important, otherwise as you know it can sound very cheesy and amateurish, a trap that Schang has avoided. For this track alone I would buy the album. I especially love the Hammond organ sound, which made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Schang has intelligently allowed the band to stamp their personality over this suite adding depth and coherence.
District 97 has produced a very good album indeed. Although it’s not immediate, but there again most good albums often aren’t. Once you have done your groundwork, you will be richly rewarded. As a band they are very talented indeed, working well together as a unit, complementing each other perfectly. They album is interesting in approach, unique sounding in places, but never dull. If you have a penchant for Dream Theater, Rush, Yes, L.T.E, and Magenta then these are a band that you will want to look up.
Prior to Hunt joining the band, District 97 was an instrumental band. On their web page there is an exclusive track, Quartet For The End Of Time: Mvmt. VI, which is an absolute stunning piece, which shows off the bands musical virtuosity. I can’t wait to see where the band goes from here.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Rausch - Rausch
Tracklist:: No Fair (4:57), Bipolar (6:31), It Happens (6:14), B.P.M.S. (4:24), Ode To Pain (5:01), The Pros And Cons Of Linear (6:39), Minimalism (4:18), Survival Instincts (6:23), Slow Suite – I. Grey? (4:05)
Rausch is essentially one Doug Rausch, a pianist and composer for whom this album has clearly been a long gestating labour of love (or as the liner notes put it more grandly, “it was extensively conceived over an excessively prolonged period of monogamy between Music and Creator”). A classically-trained pianist who has also worked as a producer in the music industry, Rausch has brought his many skills to bear on this impressively assured debut. Clearly he has friends in high places, as none other than Shadow Gallery’s Gary Wehrkamp provides bass and a mathematically-exact ‘81%’ of guitars on the album, as well as assisting with the production, whilst the same band’s Joe Nevolo plays the drums.
This album is a varied release which is certainly hard to classify. The cover image of Rausch straining to wring every last drop of emotion from his piano is certainly apt, as his grandiose, at times bombastic playing leads the majority of the songs, and at times brings a mid-70’s Queen feel to proceedings. This is certainly true on the opening No Fair, which majors on some fine piano/ guitar interplay. Yet there’s plenty of other influences at play – Rausch’s vocals (and some of the guitar riffs) recall those of West Coast power-pop bands such as Weezer and Fountains Of Wayne, plus he chucks in some honky-tonk and lounge-jazz piano sections in to the mix. It all adds up to a somewhat strange but appealing mix of styles which is maintained throughout the album.
Bipolar, one of the album’s stand-out’s, has some tender but dark playing from Rausch, heartfelt vocals and a fine, poppy chorus that recalls the masterful Jellyfish. Wehrkramp’s complex-sounding solo work recalls his day job, whilst the melancholic fade-out is effective. B.P.M.S. clearly stands for ‘Bitch and Piss and Moan and Scream’ if the chorus is anything to go by, with Rausch lashing out at society’s need to always find a scapegoat. The song itself reminds me in structure of Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb – in fact, the prog titans are a strong influence elsewhere, such as on the gentle ballad Ode To Pain, which reminds me of mellower Floyd songs such as Wish You Were Here and A Pillow Of Winds. Pro’s And Con’s Of Linear bears some resemblance to a vocal-less Great Gig In The Sky in places; other parts of the song have a more metallic edge to them, and Rausch at times seems to try and reach notes that his voice isn’t comfortable with – its one of the tracks that, for me, doesn’t quite come together. Minimalism is a more comfortable listen – it has more of an early Steely Dan vibe to it than anything particularly progressive, whilst Rausch’s vocals here have that all-American vibe to them that reminded me of Tom Petty. The purposeful Survival Instincts works in some Eastern influences, and again features some impressive guitar work from Wehrkamp.
Throughout, Rausch’s ability to work these disparate elements together in an (in the main) effective manner, through smooth transitions often conducted at lightning-quick speeds, is impressive, and does recall the likes of Spock’s Beard in this respect – perhaps its no coincidence that long-time Spock’s associate Rich Mouser mixed the album at his studio.
All in all, this is an impressively varied and assured debut from Doug Rausch, who clearly has the ability to go on to produce even bigger and better things. At times I couldn’t help feeling that perhaps a little more focus may produce better dividends, but I wouldn’t want this to come at the expense of stifling the creativity and imagination that is on show throughout. As it is, this album should certainly satisfy those looking for a creative and bombastic progressive/symphonic rock album, and hopefully Rausch will find a sizeable audience for his work.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Mind Portal – 1/1
Tracklist:: Roller Coaster (5:16), Natural Disaster (5:17), Summer Morning (3:25), In Pursuit Of A Black Pearl (5:31), Traffic 1A.M (5:14), Reminiscences (5:30), Fast Food (3:32), Dedication (7:15)
On the whole Russian band Mind Portal who consists of Grigory Kurnosov (guitars), Vitaly Zotov (bass), Vyacheslav Bessonov (keyboards) and Roman Gorodnyansky (drums) have comfirmed another reason as to why I believe Russia is becoming more important in the world of producing rather excellent bands. I have reviewed several bands now from this geographical region, having yet to be disappointed by the level of virtuosity, creativity and quality of albums that is being offered or produced.
Mind Portal maybe heavily influenced by the likes of Dream Theater and L.T.E, but their debut album 1/1 is a classy piece of work. They have smartly kept their compositional work to exacting times, which keeps the work both fresh and interesting. We don’t see egotistical guitar shredding or keyboard runs being delivered at the expense of the other band members, what we do get is a quartet who, in unity, offering balanced and precise work, not too long and not too short, well just perfectly timed really.
Roller Coaster the opening gambit, which does just what it says on the label, is a heady ride of pulsating and repeating rhythmic guitar passages that is quickly supported by Zotov, Bessonov and Gorodnyansky. The track is a powerhouse of chicanery, displaying what this band is capable of creating. I guarantee this instrumental as with the others on this album, will have you bouncing. The track closes with the same opening pattern it set out on. Natural Disaster another perfectly named track builds on the theme, with its darker brooding passages, although no less powerful than Roller Coaster. Kurnosov guitar work is impassioned, layered with Bessonov’s great keyboard tinkering, sounding somewhat like Rudess Jordan in places. This really is a prime example of Dream Theater and L.T.E having a bastard son.
Summer Morning radiates with its opening emotional and heartfelt guitar work, if power ballads were instrumental tracks, this would be a very good example of what one would sound like. It sees the band really showboating with massive chords and lead breaks, with a very strong backline. The whole tone dances around your mind, instantly building pleasant images. In Pursuit Of A Black Pearl takes a more laid back approach at first, calming everything down, relaxing tones, taking a more straight forward approach. Kurnosov soon leads the way to a marriage of musical passion being followed passionately by Bessonov, both in tone and phrasing. Gorodnyansky and Zotov add the flavour, punctuating the piece, reinforcing and strengthening the whole work. Traffic 1A.M has an really interesting drum rhythm, which all the other instrumentation sway and swagger to, making it hard to work out who is actually following who. All the usual tones are here in abundance making it another fine example and confirming the creativity of the band.
Reminiscences is a moody emotional journey, taking a similar path that Summer Morning did, which again creates another very powerful track. The piano tones are just outstanding, as are the lead breaks, with Bessonov again playing his ace card. Fast Food bounces along being less complex in approach on initial hearing, but is a real grower, with its loud and proud chord structures. Dedication closes the album, the calm after the storm, bringing the afraid to fitting end, which for all intense and purposes mixes up what has passed, creating a very interesting track, bookending what I would consider a very good album indeed.
Of late I have had the fortunate pleasure of being able to review some great albums. Mind Portal’s 1/1 is another to add to that list. It’s hard to believe that this is the band's debut album; such is the quality of what has been presented. Mind Portal conveys their message to their audience confidently, using various combinations and styles throughout that will appeal to an abundance of musical listeners who have a liking for any of the aforementioned artists as well as Joe Satriani and Rudess Morgenstein Project to.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
The Psychedelic Ensemble – The Art Of Madness
Tracklist: Prologue/Ecstacy (5:31), Panic (3:05), Fantasy (4:22), Dream (2:03), Delusion (3:17), Moon Mad (9:05), Despair (7:11), Apparition (3:57), Breakdown (5:22), Sedation (3:27), Revelation-Epilogue (7:02)
If you are looking for a band or music that is in a league of its own then go out and find yourself the music of The Psychedelic Ensemble. This band, or more accurately one man show, really rocks the house. In front of me lies their, or should I say his, debut album called The Art Of Madness. As the album came without any press info whatsoever and the liner notes with the CD mostly reflect his ideas for the album and not much about himself, I have had to find out everything about this guy from the net. I must say this is not an easy task. There is a site, with very little information other than where you can find his music. He has however created wonderful mini sites - absolutely stunning.
Mr "no name" plays all instruments himself the only assistance he gets is help on vocals on one of the tracks. The rest is him. This all sounds magnificent and he is one good multi-instrumentalist to be able to create this.
The Art Of Madness is more or less a concept album as the artist himself writes about on his website:
"Some years ago, I stumbled on an article in The New York Times about an extraordinary art exhibit. The exhibition featured art from the Living Museum, a center devoted to artistic production by patients at the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens, New York. I was taken by the depth of imagination inherent in the works, which left a haunting and indelible impression on me. During the summer of 2008, I heard an NPR interview with psychiatrist and Living Museum curator, Janos Marton. I was struck by a postulate Marton made in his interview, which opens The Art of Madness: "I think that creativity, and artistic production, is almost a symptom of mental illness." It is this provocative remark that prompted the composition, The Art of Madness."
I thought it best to just write in the review what he says himself rather than making my own version of the concept. The concept is as follows:
"The Art of Madness is a 56-minute, continuous cycle of songs, each based on a different manifestation of madness. The music tells the story of an ordinary man who, without warning, experiences a psychotic Ecstasy. The protagonist sees in the sky tears that turn to a light in which a vision of a new art and music appears to him. His psychotic episodes prompt a course of creative output in which the protagonist reproduces his flights of madness in the form of art and music. The artist endures several psychotic experiences that manifest as Panic, Fantasy, Dream, Delusion, Moon Mad, Despair, and Apparition. The artist then endures a Breakdown and Sedation. Finally, in a moment of Revelation, the artist apprehends that the burden of his madness is, in fact, a gift--the source of his exquisite creativity and artistic output. Rather than suffer his madness, the artist triumphantly embraces that which guides him through his extraordinary and distorted vision of the world."
Seeing what the composer and artist writes himself I can say no more than it could not have been described better. The only remarks and additions I want to make to this are - how is it possible that only one man is capable of making a musical concept like this? We have not seen this since a certain Mike Oldfield stepped up to the platter back in the seventies, bringing Tubular Bells and the likes.
Now The Psychedelic Ensemble's concept is very different, with the musical direction having many pointers towards the direction of Pink Floyd, although conceptually, and also reading the text, I would say it is more like Camel or Genesis - if you will. The whole musical intonation and sphere also breathes the seventies, but then in a modern jacket. There is little point doing a track by track as all the pieces float into one another and have a certain cyclical nature, which of course is also commonn to many of the concepts.
Now this review comes rather late as The Psychedelic Ensemble have recorded a follow up to this beautiful trip into the Art Of Madness, a psychedelic, eclectic trip into the world we all know. As I have a very distinct feeling listening to this to me masterpiece - it is our everyday life encapsulated in a nutshell of music.
Ever since this album fell on my doormat it has had regular spins, yes the whole thing, not bits and pieces, but the album. I find it absolutely awesome. The artwork from the booklet, where various painters give "their view" of the story of a song can be found on the mini site - this is a must see.
Really outstanding, but there are always ways to do better so my concluding rating therefore will not be 10 out of 10, but just under. I cannot wait to listen to the follow up.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Greg Lake – Live On The King Biscuit Flower Hour
Tracklist: Medley: [A] Fanfare For The Common Man [B] Karn Evil 9 (6:11), Nuclear Attack (5:45), The Lie (4:33), Retribution Drive (5:41), Lucky Man (4:50), Parisienne Walkways (6:03), You Really Got A Hold On Me (5:25), Love You Too Much (5:03), 21st Century Schizoid Man (9:06), In The Court Of The Crimson King (5:39)
With Emerson, Lake and Palmer generating publicity and a wondering “what’s next” anticipation in light of their recent historic reunion gig at the High Voltage Festival, the timing couldn’t be better for Lemon Recordings to deploy their reissue of Greg Lake's Live On The King Biscuit Flower Hour. For this live set recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon in London on November 5th, 1981, vocalist/guitarist Lake is joined by a firecracker band including the incomparable Gary Moore (G-Force) on guitar and vocals, Ted McKenna (Sensational Alex Harvey Band) on drums, Tommy Eyre on keyboards and vocals, and Tristian Margetts on bass. The show heard on this recording is the same show heard on the 1995 release Greg Lake Live, with the only change in the Lemon Recordings reissue being the title of the CD and the artwork.
Solo, King Crimson, and of course ELP favourites are thrown by Lake and his band into the fiery mix, with hot spots from his solo catalogue including The Lie, written by Eyre, and the tempo-changing Retribution Drive. From the ELP catalogue we get an aerobic workout of Fanfare For The Common Man, which is followed by a brief, cruelly butchered and inaccurately titled Karn Evil 9 (it’s not the whole epic, and what is presented here in its un-violated form would have been 1st Impression – Part 2). The CD credits indicate that these two ELP offerings are part of a medley, but the medley to these ears actually includes Karn Evil 9 and the Moore-penned solo tune Nuclear Attack. The King Crimson bag of tricks is saved until the end, when Lake and pals pull out unflappable deliveries of 21st Century Schizoid Man and In The Court of the Crimson King.
The quality, sequencing, and performance of the set are fired on all pistons, and demand repeated listens from any Lake enthusiast. If you’re seeking bubblegum, you’ll probably only find it if it’s stuck to your shoe.
The CD booklet is well designed with track-by-track notes and song writing credits, including none other than Phil Lynott (a co-writing credit with Moore on Parisienne Walkways) and Bob Dylan (who co-wrote with Lake the rocky Love You Too Much). Musician credits are not listed, but they were included with the promotional literature that came with my review copy of the CD.
An area of opportunity for Lake, who has a forthcoming solo effort in the works, would be to include in his next live show some tunes from his very early years in The Shame and The Shy Limbs. And tossing out a number by Ride The Tiger, his short-lived project with Geoffrey Downes, would help add another colour to the mix.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Oho - Okinawa
Tracklist: Laughing (0:22), Opposites* (0:27), Duva (3:03), Hyphenate Ice-less* (3:53), Horse Remorse (3:31), Parts & Ponds* (2:09), Ain't Life Dumb (2:25), A Frog For You (2:31), Hogshead* (5:51), Manic Detective (2:05), Brown Algae Is Attractive (2:19), Plymouth Ascendants* (2:48), The Salient Sickle Sucker (5:21), Hairy Bag (1:00), Fast Bananas* (2:53), Unfortunate Frankfurter Vendor (1:10), Last Dance (0:59), Fill The Sheet* (1:50), The Still Nite* (2:04), Dance Of The Ivy Dog (1:52), Gotta Write A Poem (1:17), The Insipid City Of York* (2:58), Board Organ * (1:30), Cragwheel The Corpse Pt.II (6:18), Lemon Flowers* (2:13), Corrective Shoes* (0:54), Pale Hippo (1:49), Sorry* (3:18), Chess Is Boring* (0:36), The Plague (4:11)
(*Bonus original session tracks)
Formed in late 1973 in the City of Baltimore, Oho was named after the three founder musicians: Mark O'Connor, Steven Heck and Joseph O'Sullivan who had originally come together to make a noise purely as an escape from boredom. Jay Graboski, who, a few years earlier, had played with the two 'O's in a blues band called Quinn, was soon invited to join in the fun. With the addition of drummer Larry Bright, Oho were a complete band and decided to do what bands are supposed to do, record and release an album. Arguably the very first independent American album, Okinawa was issued in July 1974 in a limited edition private pressing, most of which disappeared into the hands of unscrupulous individuals who falsely promised to have the ability to market and sell the album. As a consequence, original copies are a prime target for rare record collectors.
However, the lack of sales cannot be wholly attributed to the machinations of dodgy dealers, the style of the music contained in the grooves is not something for the faint of heart! Best described as an unholy amalgamation of Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, weirdness and the avant garde, it is not surprising that a German magazine referred to the album as "Sgt. Pepper for the advanced listener". Strange as that may sound, it is undeniably clearer than the band's own description of the album as "a tangerine jungle of marshmallow madness". Well it was the seventies. Despite the extensive track listing, the album is better considered as a complete entity rather than a collection of individual tracks. Indeed, playing individual pieces out of context of the album would be something of a fruitless, and one would guess, unrewarding experience. Track timings are somewhat arbitrary as well - pieces have a habit of stopping and starting. At times one thinks the album has moved on to the next track only to find that the a break was part of the number; while at other times one gets the impression of having been listening to a single piece only to glance at the CD player and find three tracks have gone past. This somewhat 'freeform' nature is shown by the fact that 15 bonus 'tracks' from the original recording sessions have been liberally scattered across the running order and it is impossible to tell that they have not been there all along. Of course, it could be that the album was originally conceived to be 74 minutes long but the cost of independently producing a double vinyl album was too prohibitive resulting in the group culling 15 tracks, however, I don't think that's the case. It is more likely that the abstract nature of the majority of the music means that inserting a new section almost at random would not be noticeable. One could actually have some fun creating 'different' albums by listening to the CD playing in random mode (or 'shuffle' in modern iSpeak).
As with Zappa, there is an off-beat humour present, as can be guessed from some of the track titles. Also similar to the moustachioed one, the musicians are gifted enough to convincingly pull off the quirky nature with intent and design, as opposed to improvisational accident. Some moments are blissful whilst others are annoying; pieces range across the strange, the confusing, the off-beat, the funny and the just plain dumb. Which is which depends on the individual's perception. Although not that appealing to me, I can admire the individual nature of the music and appreciate it was five musicians (as well as the Boris McFinnie Horn Ensemble of course) following their muse without any concerns of commercial appeal. As Captain Spock would (probably) say: "It's Prog Jim, but not as we know it".
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Oho - Bricolage
CD: The Great Attractor (3:58), Eros Is A Verb (4:04), Burning Grey (3:34), Cigar (4:12), Time (4:45), Plowing The Sea (3:37), Blue Fix (3:43), S/he (3:27), Dream Lifted Up (4:50), Penultimatum (4:02), Undercovers (3:37), Painted Stars (3:39), Moon (4:37), Limousine (3:57), The Secret (3:26), Antique Heart (3:30), Shouts (3:37), Ethiopia (3:54), It Will Not Be Late (3:49), Angels (4:20)
DVD Breaking Away, Til Dead Do Us Part, Sacred Money, Out Of Thin Air, Danger And Play, Change In The Wind, Under Covers, Burning Grey, Controlled Substance, Angels, Limousine, The Secret. Plus gallery, lyrics and full credits
Oho, the Baltimore avant garde prog band, had a rather tumultuous time following the release of their 1974 debut album, the re-release of which is reviewed above. Musically the band moved into more progressive territory making full use of Mellotrons and early analogue synthesisers whilst filling their performances with theatricals, costumes and crucified pigs (although not real ones!) Two further albums were recorded, Vitamin Oho and Dream Of The Ridiculous Band (although only the former was released) before the band came to a crunching halt in 1977, bankrupt both financially and enthusiastically. A new version of the band regrouped in 1984 releasing the Roctronics EP and promptly split over disputes over musical direction. Guitarist Jay Graboski and drummer David Reeve kept hold of the name and recruited vocalist Grave Hearn and bassist Steve Carr into the fray. After four years of writing and rehearsing, the eponymous OHO was released quickly followed by Vitamin Oho a year later and Up in 2003. These days more of a collective of various contributors to the core of Graboski and Reeve, the Oho name lives on with occasional performances and several new, and old, projects in the pipeline.
But what of Bricolage? The first 13 songs of the 20-track CD comprises previously unreleased material written and recorded between 1983 and 2008 with an additional 7 songs taken from the Oho, Up and Oriency Anthology releases. A further 12 songs are included on the DVD, only four of which are also featured on the CD, although the versions are substantially different. Despite the revolving musical cast, there is an admirable consistency in the sound of the band and although Hearn provides the majority of the lead vocals (along with Mary O'Connor), something like seven separate female singers contribute leads and harmonies, despite mostly never having met (ah the wonders of digital recording technology!). The sound of the band ranges from Fleetwood Mac and Clannad in their most successful incarnations to the more proggy material that bears slight resemblance to bands such as Mostly Autumn. And one of the vocalists, Kelly Grochmal, sounds remarkably like Jill Sobule, particularly on the song S/he. Although the instrumentation line-up of the band is the typical guitars, bass, keyboards and drums, a plethora of other instruments have been included in the arrangements. Violin, mandolin, sax, flute, theremin, tin whistle, harmonica, hammered dulcimer and even the odd appearance by the P-Funk Horns give a tremendous variety to the musical landscape. There is an underlying folky element to a lot of the material but the group are not adverse to taking things to a heavier level at times. However, the overwhelming strength of the material is the superb melodies that imbue every song, pick any at random and you will come across mature and compelling songs that are entrancing in their beauty. Time is like a lost October Project song (and just as good as anything on the two albums by that much-missed band) and songs such as Blue Fix and Angels are hard to forget once heard.
The DVD compiles footage from 1988 to 1992 and includes three promo videos, selections from the release party for the Oho album, a TV talent show performance and a selection from the 1990 Wammies award ceremony. The venues for the videos range from the Universal Amphitheater in Hollywood (where the band were supporting Cheap Trick) to a school classroom where O'Connor and Graboski provide an intimate acoustic performance to a group of young, enthusiastic and somewhat bewildered infants. As with the debut album, the material is of a progressive nature but of a slightly uncharacteristic nature. Notwithstanding that, the album is a fine collection of superior music that should find favour with music fans irrespective of if they like prog or not.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Olive Mess – Cherdak
Tracklist: Beowulf (15:28), Ovum Mechanicus (10:49), Mane, Thechel, Phares (17:15), Tombeau De Cherdak (12:10)
Sergey Syomin (archlute and baroque guitar), Alexey Syomin (electric and classical guitars), Edgar Kemposh (drums and percussions), Denis Arsenin (bass), Maris Jekabsons (vocals and bagpipes), Elizabeth Perecz (keyboards) and Julia Pecherskaya (vocals on Beowulf) make up the Latvian band Olive Mess.
Olive Mess have been around since 1998 having been named in honour of 20th Century French composer Olivie Messian. Cherdak is Olive Mess’ third release, Live Without Audience 2001, Gramercy 2002 preceding their latest release.
Here we have a band that take the RIO and avant garde approach, combining medieval folk with complex avant garde passage, reminding me of Univers Zero and King Crimson. The band seems to be fixated on medieval French history with tracks from the album being mainly based on historical events in medieval France.
From the opening track Beowulf, (a brave attempt that the band have served well), we see Olive Mess creating what most people consider prog to be, convoluted, deep, intelligent and high brow, somewhat hard to figure out. Ovum Mechanicus an instrumental, being the bands interpretation of one of the opening scenes from Lindsay Anderson’s Film “O Lucky Man”, depicting the gradual torpidity of a human being, which turns him into a sort of robot devoid of soul and any thought. Through its journey, the band really reinforces that point, although musical Olive Mess are anything but lethargic or apathetic. Mane, Thechel, Phares see’s Jekabsons vocally building the scene like a courtier, telling the tale to the king and his lords, with musical inflections being cleverly built by the band. Album closer Tombeau De Cherdak is probably the most accessible track on the album, not commercial by a long shot, having substance and depth, featuring some really nice time signatures. The piece is punctuated with some rather excellent guitar work, but the whole ambience in general is disrupted by the vocals, which is a real shame.
As with most of the album Olive Mess have not chosen the easy route, the meter and timbre, are not easy on the ear in places, both musically and vocally. To be honest, this really is an album that is for those seeking something adventurous and highly original. If that is the case then this is definitely an album worth investigating.
It is a powerful and accomplished statement, which the group have documented. I found it intriguing the way Olive Mess has managed to build their soundstage and musical structures, combining old and new, dragging you in, making you want to physically explore deeper what the band have created. This is what makes the whole experience worth exploring. The only downside for me with Cherdak, the vocals, which really do take a lot of time to get use to, which may in turn put a lot of people off. Musically though, this album is sublime.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Ethnic Duo - En Public Au Chene Noir D’Avignon 1980
Tracklist: Tarass Boulba (7:20), Le Chameau (6:16), Natura (10:54), Bulent (13:21), Philadelphie (5:46), Sod (8:35), Le Chene Noir (13:52), Changes (5:54)
This fine curio by Ethnic Duo - En Public Au Chene Noir D’Avignon 1980 features none other than Francois Cahen (keyboards) and Yochk’o (Jeff) Seffer (saxophones), having both worked with Magma in the 70’s during the 1001 Degrees Centigrade period and Zao; genre defining bands, who musically challenge their listeners, a trait that Cahen and Seffer have adapted well for this release.
Public Au Chene Noir D’Avignon 1980 is a some what interesting album being constructed around Cahen’s dextrous keyboard interludes and Seffer’s challenging energetic jazzy saxophone soirees. Whether the duo play together or solo, the outcome is both powerful and rewarding, proving that you don’t need to have many band members to produce an excellent album, highlighting how good jazz fusion can be, when created and constructed well. As a duo these musicians are masters of their trade, who complement each other, with their stunning virtuosity, having strong statements of individualism, creative and challenging, unique and divisive.
This is only their second album; their eponymous album being released in 1980. Interestingly this live album features none of those featured tracks, which makes this an attractive package. What you will need to do though with this album, is nurture it, caress it, which will enable you to extract the rewards that are hidden in their adept passages.
The great thing about this album is that you have to work with it as it’s not immediate or commercial in approach, which enables you to truly empathise with what has been created. One minute you hear the unification of piano and saxophone, the next, solo work, both as exciting and interesting as each other, captivating the listener. Seffer and Cahen allow each other space and time to breathe, finding the right balance and tones, creating a classy set of instrumentals, varying in length, but for me ultimately it’s the longer tracks that have the depth and emotion, such pieces as Natura, Bulent and Le Chene Noir. In saying that, Sod exudes class, as Seffer’s saxophone matches Cahen’s piano structures and vice versa, proving that neither is slouching. The phrasing throughout is punctuated with some beautiful melodic progressions that will even enchant the doubters.
The production value of the album is fantastic, clear and precise which adds to the package as a whole. The appeal here is for the more adventurous as one would expect from these two gentlemen; if you have a penchant for the likes of say Univers Zero, Magma, Zao and Third Eye Band, then you won’t need convincing. Definitely one to check out and investigate further.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10