Reviews in this issue:
- The Lens - Regeneration
- 21st Century Schizoid Band – Live In Japan DVD/CD
- Soft Machine Legacy – Live Adventures
- BangTower – Casting Shadows
- Love De Vice - Numaterial
- Barock Project - Rebus
- Quandary – Ready To Fail
- Mr Gil – Light And Sound
- Randy California – Kapt. Kopter And The (Fabulous) Twirly Birds
- The Kings Of Frog Island - III
The Lens - Regeneration
Tracklist: Choosing A Farmer Part IV (7:13), ...To The Power Of 5 (8:30), Twenty Eight (2:53), Dreams (10:09), Sequential (7:18), Full Of Stars (10:50), A Little Robot Juice (4:30), Slowdown (8:17)
Some nine years after the debut CD, A Word In Your Eye, and approaching 30 years since the No TV Tonite cassette (remember those?!), The Lens make a welcome return to the recorded world. Although a follow-up to the debut CD has long been mooted, one that would have completed the recording of original material from the heydays of the band, Martin Orford's retirement from the music business has meant the permanent shelving of that idea. So fans have been deprived of hearing the missing link in the Choosing A Farmer series (Part II for those who are interested!) and other such classic numbers such as The Run and Another Realisation. Instead, we are treated to an hour of totally new music by Mike Holmes, the other creative force behind The Lens and, of course, guitarist extraordinaire in one of the best prog bands of the last 30 years, IQ. Although all written and mostly performed by Holmes, he is joined by IQ drummer Paul Cook and original sticks man of The Lens, Niall Hayden with Tony Wright resuming his guest status by blowing his sax on one number. Holmes has stated that the starting point of this recording project was the thought of what The Lens would have sounded like if they were still going today; if IQ had never existed and the band had carried on ploughing its own idiosyncratic furrow across the boundaries of musical genres...
The album kicks off with a continuation of Choosing A Farmer (Part IV if you're counting), the track linking past incarnations of the group by featuring both Hayden and Wright. With a slow spacey keyboard intro featuring a voice over of the Apollo 11 launch, the track really gets going with a languid saxophone solo. It is hard not to draw comparisons with early Pink Floyd with the prominent organ and general structure and ambience of the piece, but the comparison is entirely favourable! Certainly left this reviewer feeling somewhat elated and lifted by its glorious musicality but also disappointed that we shall forever be deprived of a completed set of the four parts to this fine set of instrumentals. The mood of the first number is maintained on the segue into ...To The Power Of 5 which develops into an upbeat number, and one that is again dominated by keyboard parts. Cook lays down some exciting drum patterns that are in contrast to the main musical passage and continues beating out patterns that are seemingly in a much faster time signature to the rest of the instrumentation. This juxtaposition works well as the song continues to develop into a prog rock tour de force using classic Mellotron and synth sounds and some great guitar passages. The short, in the context of the album, Twenty Eight, is more of an ambient number performed entirely on keyboards but, never fear, it remains far from so-called New Age twaddle providing a bit of a breathing space before the delights of Dreams are delved into. This number provides the first evidence of the Lens sound incorporating more modern influences, with a very electronic dance/rave vibe to it. To quote the liner notes it starts "quite trancey" containing "pumping, monotonous groves with weird, trippy synth noises", although the writer was referring to Hawkwind with those lines they are entirely appropriate here. However, before you get too concerned by the influx of a techno beat, rest assured that it is unlikely you'll be hearing this number storming the club circuit as the key word is 'incorporation'. The dance elements have been used to expand the musical palette of the band and have been effectively introduced into The Lens sound. The second half of the number is more in line with keyboard-based prog acts and, once again, is a joyously uplifting listening experience.
The second half, if you will, of the album starts with Sequential, obviously taking its name from the sequencer-derived main thematic line. The rhythm is supplied by programmed drum machine and the overall effect is of something Jean Michel Jarre may have come up with in one of his more interesting periods. Full Of Stars, a reference to the fantastic 2001: A Space Odyssey, is a positive gem of a number and one that will delight most prog heads. A delightful piano riff, more superb drumming from Cook and a widescreen cinema-scopic expanse of music worthy of the film itself, the track is faultless. The middle section has been resurrected from the drawer of unused ideas as it was originally written as part of Falling Apart At The Seams for the IQ Are You Sitting Comfortably? album. However, as that song was developed the original section no longer fitted and was dropped. Good to see that it has not been entirely forgotten and has finally found a suitable home in a piece that is probably a lot stronger than the number it was initially written for. Another piece of 'resurrected' music is A Little Robot Juice that stems from the time just after The Lens was disbanded and before IQ came into existence. The fretless bass on this number is lovely although I think the piece could have done without the drums as they prove too much of a distraction for me. The album ends with Slowdown, which begins as another light, ambient piece but slowly develops as more instruments are added and a melody starts to become discernable. Paced appropriately, it brings the album to a very positive ending, one that leaves the listener disbelieving that an hour has passed by and wanting to delve straight back to track 1 to hear it all again.
Regeneration is a worthy follow-up to A Word In Your Eye, and successfully achieves what it set out to do, provide an indication of what a 21st Century version of The Lens would sound like. The low importance given to the guitar, which after all is Holmes' main instrument, is a bit of a surprise but I genuinely don't think it is missed too much and makes it much more impactful when it does make an appearance. With this album Holmes has established himself as a fine individual composer with an in-depth understanding of the role keyboards can play in composition and delivery of exciting music. After all, it is well know that Holmes is responsible for writing a lot of the keyboard solos in IQ. Quality and recommended album.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
21st Century Schizoid Band – Live In Japan
Tracklist: Schizoid Intro (2:00), A Man, A City (8:35), Cat Food (4:26), Let There Be Light (3:26), Progress (7:04), In The Court Of The Crimson King (7:51), Formentera Lady (12:07), Tomorrow’s People [DVD only] (8:04), If I Was [DVD only] (4:51), Ladies Of The Road (7:46), I Talk To The Wind (6:25), Epitaph (9:30), Birdman (4:36), 21st Century Schizoid Man (10:29)
There was quite a stir in 2002 when various King Crimson members from the early years announced that they would be re-grouping to perform material that had not featured in the King Crimson repertoire for many years. Needless to say Robert Fripp was not involved but gave the project his blessing, his guitar work well covered by Jakko M. Jakszyk who is currently working with Fripp on re-mastering KC reissues and also involved with him in a project involving Mel Collins, Tony Levin and Gavin Harrison that will hopefully see the light of day this year. Also present in the Schizoid band are Collins, Michael Giles, Peter Giles and Ian McDonald.
This live recording is from Tokyo’s Shinjuku Kouseinenkin Hall in November 2002 and features songs from the first four King Crimson albums, plus tracks from related albums including McDonald & Giles, McDonald’s Driver’s Eyes and Michael Giles’ Progress.
A Fripp-like soundscape intro written by Jacszyk leads straight into A Man, A City and the quality of the dual sax lead by Collins and McDonald sets the scene. Michael Giles is immediately impressive with typically skittering drums and Jakko as front man possesses both the right voice and technical skills to pull off the solos with aplomb. The unique early Crimson sound is lovingly recreated with Peter Giles proving the importance of his contribution to it.
Jakko nails the vocal on a playful version of Cat Food, the rhythm section excelling, Collins and McDonald immense again on sax and keys respectively with all seeming to be having a blast. A change of pace with Let There Be Light sees Jakko put down his guitar to focus on the singing with Collins and McDonald both supplying keys. Michael Giles’ jazz tinged Progress is an interesting diversion, the title track of a solo album recorded in 1978 but not released until 2003.
It is an absolute pleasure to see the majestic version of In The Court... with Jakko and Peter harmonising, McDonald’s lyrical flute and Michael doing what only he can on the drums. Peter’s bass delicately sets the scene for Formentera Lady, Collins on flute this time with McDonald supplying the keys, the mid-section extended with some lovely improve.
Mike Giles takes the vocal for the bouncy Tomorrow’s People from the sole McDonald & Giles album which includes twin flutes and almost a drum solo followed by the smooth pop of McDonald’s If I Was, a nice tune but a bit out of place in this company. Ian’s vocal is a little suspect but Jakko adds some great guitar which carries on into the much more jagged Ladies Of The Road. Jakszyk is a class act, perfectly replicating the Fripp guitar lines, adding a solo of his own and real power to the vocal while Collins’ sax shreds.
A mellow moment with I Talk To The Wind is followed by a magnificent Epitaph, Jakko ringing every ounce of emotion out of the vocal. Encores are McDonald’s beautiful Birdman and the ubiquitous ...Schizoid Man where all the players get a chance to shine.
Whilst the music speaks for itself the multi-camera shoot covers all the bases and holds the interest throughout. This is not a tricksy performance and the players do just what the music requires making it an impressive document of a band that should have stayed together longer. The sound quality is wonderful and the DVD is a very engaging watch.
Extras include footage of the band in the studio and edited performances and fragments from the Canterbury Fayre in August 2002 (introduced by Arthur Brown featuring A Man A City, Cat Food, 21st Century Schizoid Man) and London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall in September (In The Court Of The Crimson King, Ladies Of The Road, Epitaph). Jakko is on top comedic form and the players are clearly enjoying themselves. The sound is rawer and the single camera set-up clearly not as varied as the Tokyo footage but the performances are excellent.
Also included are brief interviews with each member concerning how they came together both originally and now and what the material means to them. They are of the talking head to camera type with no visible interviewer, questions displayed visually before being answered. This is slightly let down by poor synchronisation and some shocking grammar and spelling within the questions. There are insights with Peter Giles speaking at length about how much he enjoys working with his brother and stating that they are only just getting to the starting line after playing the band in. Michael Giles is also very positive about new material and the potential future of the band but, interestingly, resigned only 2 days later. Jakko mentions that Tomorrow’s People is dedicated to his wife, possibly not surprisingly as she is Michael’s daughter.
The bonus CD features the Tokyo show with a slightly reduced track listing losing Tomorrow’s People and If I Was.
Sadly the band now appears to be on ice due to a combination of the sad death of Ian Wallace who replaced Michael Giles on subsequent tours and Giles’ unwillingness to tour (I just can’t see Bruford turning out!) plus the current financial vagaries of the music industry. This is a terrible shame as although I understand Fripp’s reasons for distancing himself from the historical repertoire it was great to know that a dedicated group of the original musicians was out there keeping the flame and the music alive. Hopefully they can get something together again soon.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Soft Machine Legacy – Live Adventures
Tracklist: Has Riff II (8:30), Grapehound (8:38), The Nodder (7:03), In The Back Room (9:42), Song Of Aeolus (6:58), The Relegation Of Pluto/Transit (3:02), Gesolreut (5:52), Facelift (3:28), The Last Day (5:01)
One frigid, subzero-temperature winter night several years ago, I ventured out to our local un-juried performing arts venue, AS220, to check out what was billed as “prog rock movie night”, an evening of music concert video selections from the likes of National Health, Caravan, Van Der Graaf Generator and King Crimson. One video they showed of interest to me was an early clip of UK jazz-rock-improv outfit Soft Machine. I was familiar with the band’s name but had never heard any of their music, and I liked what I saw.
Soft Machine was formed in 1966 by Robert Wyatt (The Daevid Allen Trio, The Wilde Flowers) on drums and vocals, Kevin Ayers (The Wilde Flowers) on bass, guitar, and vocals; Daevid Allen (The Daevid Allen Trio) on guitar, and Mike Ratledge (The Daevid Allen Trio) on organ.
Through a recording career and a series of line-up changes that spanned a time line from 1968 to 1981, the band recorded eleven studio albums. Several live albums were also recorded during this time and re-issued during the following years.
This long and varied past should not be dwelled on, as the band has made a comeback to the present, changing their name to Soft Machine Legacy.
Soft Machine Legacy is no longer the tribute-style touring novelty they started out as under the name Soft Ware (later Soft Works) almost a decade ago, with a lineup of Soft Machine alumni Hugh Hopper (The Daevid Allen Trio, The Wilde Flowers, a long resume of other projects) on bass, Elton Dean (Bluesology, The Keith Tippet Sextet, Just Us, Ninesense, In Cahoots, Equipe Out) on saxes, John Marshall (another long resume) on drums, and the great Allan Holdsworth (‘Igginbottm, Sunship, Tempest, Bruford, U.K., others) on guitar. They became Soft Machine Legacy in 2004 when Holdsworth was replaced by late-career guitarist John Etheridge (Warhorse, Icarus, Wolf, 2nd Vision, many others). After the passing of Elton Dean in 2006, noted jazz/prog woodwind man Theo Travis (Travis & Fripp, Gong, Porcupine Tree, The Tangent, Bill Nelson, Bass Communion, No~Man, David Sylvian, Harold Budd, John Foxx, Burnt Friedman, Cipher) dutifully stepped into Dean’s Role. Hugh Hopper died as well, in 2009, and was replaced by Roy Babbington (Delivery, Michael Gibbs, The Keith Tippet Group, Centipede, Nucleus, Alexis Korner, Harvey Andrews, Mike d’Abo, Chris Spedding, Schunge, Solid Gold Cadillac, and more). So for the current lineup we have Etheridge, Travis, Babbington, and Marshall.
Live tracks from the band’s 2009 tour have been captured by Moonjune Records on Live Adventures, culled from shows in Germany and Austria and the band’s third and latest live release.
I had never heard anything by Soft Machine Legacy before and eagerly popped the CD in my player, preparing for what I thought would be an onslaught of improv-jazz-rock. I thought something was wrong with my CD player or the CD because all I heard was silence. Then eventually the “music”, to use the term loosely, faded in and I was disappointed in what I heard - meaningless avant-minimal noodling drivel that was taking the band absolutely nowhere as I listened to it. I was expecting to hear a really lousy CD, but then about halfway through the first track, Has Riff II, the music began to pick up and become more focused with sighing guitar from Etheridge and wistful flute from Travis coming to the rescue. So I resolved to give Live Adventures a change before rushing to judgement.
A favourable review was looking more hopeful by the third track, The Nodder, originally from the Soft Machine Live In Paris release. It’s a mid-tempo, playful tune and a standout track on the CD, ushered along by the confident sax of Travis. Travis, as the only member of Soft Machine Legacy who was not also a member of Soft Machine, represents new blood for the band, while at the same time maintaining an established tenure with his recording debut on Steam, from 2007.
In the spirit of not ruminating on the past, two selections from Steam see their live deployment on Live Adventures. In The Back Room is an up-and-down track showcasing sax and guitar harmony leads from Travis and Etheridge that evoke some of the best live improv moments from Islands-era King Crimson.
So after The Nodder and In The Back Room I found the rest of the CD to be enjoyable, but that enjoyment soured by the time Facelift, originally from the Soft Machine release Third, came on. Travis and Etheridge are both talented players but the guitar and sax soloing was getting somewhat repetitive by this eighth track of the nine-track CD, a horribly butchered three and a half minute reading of the original 18:45 track. More flute would be nice, I thought to myself.
The other Steam track, The Last Day, saves the CD from being a total train wreck with that much-needed flute from Travis not a moment too soon, and a brooding rhythm section workout from Babbington and Marshall.
As is customary with Moonjune releases, the CD is packaged in a glossy gatefold digipack with a sci-fi artwork theme suggesting pointers to the future colourfully adorning the cover, with musician credits and track listing on the back.
This CD may appeal to fans of improv-style instrumental jazz-rock. If the band for you needs vocals and lyrics, look elsewhere. In the Soft Machine fan community there is perhaps debate as to whether Soft Machine Legacy is “really” Soft Machine. They are. Name change notwithstanding, Jefferson Starship did not have to remain Jefferson Airplane to have a fruitful career.
An area of opportunity I see for this band is to add a keyboard player to the lineup like Soft Machine had. Someone get on the horn to Ratledge, Karl Jenkins, or Tippett. And Theo, keep bringing that flute!
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
BangTower – Casting Shadows
Tracklist: BBA (6:55), Sex Me Up (4:17), Hair Of The Dog (6:47), Let 'Em Drown (3:51), Ballad Of Wealth (6:31), Man In The Middle (5:06), Groove Snake (3:22), The One Percenters [1%Ters] (5:11)
Even a cursory glance at the collective CVs of the artists in BangTower should be enough to elicit salivation from the tongues of instrumental progressive fusion lovers everywhere. I’m still wiping off the drool myself. Three players with a daunting collective history, made up of the legendary Percy Jones (Brand X, Tunnels, The Scaffold etc.) on bass, Walter Garces (The Electric Prunes, Lana Lane and a host of others) on drums, and guitarist Neil Citron. Neil is also a composer, producer, and engineer for which he has won a Grammy Award. He has graced a multitude of artists’ albums, including extensive production work with Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, written film scores, engineered/mastered soundtracks (including Megadeth’s Gigantour) and performed on them. Not only that, but he develops guitar amplifiers, is involved in the development of guitar technology, especially pickups, releases his own solo albums and has 3rd and 6th degree black belts in a range of martial arts!
Now that you’re all feeling inadequate, I’ll bring our minds to consider Casting Shadows. It’s an instrumental fusion of many different styles, from jazz and funk to hard rock and progressive metal. It’s inventive, innovative, and unique. In spite of Percy Jones’ inimitable and instantly recognisable ‘percolating’ bass sound, I’ve never heard anything quite like this. It’s intricate and edgy with an astonishing dynamic rapport between the musicians. It’s dextrous and dazzling with jaw-dropping solo excursions and improvisatory moments. It’s a testament to both the skill and prodigious invention with which BangTower play that it is beyond the scope of these few hundred words to break down every special contribution to every track. They fly out of the speakers like a bat colony. It’s the scale of the multitude and of course, the fact that they don’t collide that’s so impressive and mind-boggling. It’s relentless and dizzying. This is a breathless experience.
The music swarms in great thrumming clouds of sound, within which one’s ear is constantly drawn to the discrete details of each individual’s contribution. Lots of fiery words come to mind. This music is incendiary. It scorches and blazes and sizzles and, just occasionally, smoulders, but there’s always the threat of conflagration. The recording and engineering has a tangible live sound that really bites hard. It’s scratchy and imperfect so its presence is constantly reaffirmed. It never resolves into the potentially sterile atmosphere of highly polished surfaces that instrumental albums can sometimes be guilty of. The recording has the density of air and a variety of textures that disturb the acoustic balance so that you never quite know what’s coming next; the focus is in a state of constant flux and the pocket is unbelievably loose. The logarithmic complexity of some of the rhythm patterns on this album defy calculation and you even wonder whether the tracks have been synced correctly at times, such is the slippery relationship between beat and articulation. Then you realise, the whole thing is grooving so damn hard that it can’t possibly be an accident or recording blooper. The whole thing messes with your head as a listener and goodness only knows how the band was able to lay it down.
One of the highlights of the album for me is Hair Of The Dog. This is a soulful piece of ‘70s disco fusion with bags of edge and a brass section on synth. The ‘edge’ I’m talking about is created by Citron’s coruscating and razor sharp guitar work which shares centre stage with Jones’ bass throughout the album, each alternating between support and feature in a constantly interleaving acoustic helix. Neil is always apparently wrangling his wild guitar into submission as his solos adopt a life of their own with screaming, wah-wahing, bending, banshee wails but always with thoroughbred virtuosity, technicality and searing, scathing tone to die for. As a supporting player he multi-tracks layers of throbbing, swollen chords that provide a sensual backdrop to Jones palpitating bass and Garces’ wonderfully counter-intuitive drumming patterns.
In the sterling opener, BBA we get bounce and energy and drive and Neil’s guitar is once again the principal instrument. Jones bass is positively garrulous, however. Basses don’t talk, but somehow Jones manages to get his speaking in several tongues. Like a talking dog, it’s fascinating and wrong but amazing too. As in most of these tracks, BBA has a dynamic shift into its central section. We hear this again on Sex Me Up and again in Let ‘Em Drown. All three of these release Jones into full-blown, free-form extemporisation. When the band lays back in these, relatively speaking, gentler moments, everything coheres into a lubricated groove where the instruments slip and slide in concert and it’s just so damn sexy.
However, by the time you reach Man In The Middle (which is excellent by the way), the album’s problem, or difficulty becomes apparent. It’s hard to get through in one sitting and it’s only 42 minutes long! Casting Shadows is a veritable feast of astonishing technical brilliance, but after five courses, I’m stuffed. Carrying on is a bit like being force-fed and I feel like a goose whose liver is being prepared for pâté de foie gras. This album is a rare delicacy, fine-dining indeed, but it’s so rich. Like most rich foods, you simply can’t stomach much. Tracks 6-8 merge into an indistinguishable blur each time I listen to it. 1%Ters is particularly challenging. This one is, shall we say, experimental? Listening to it is a bit like being so drunk the room spins and vainly wishing you could instantly sober up.
At the end of the album, it’s impossible to merely write-off Chasing Shadows as a jarring experiment in sonic g-force (whatever that is), on an insane rollercoaster ride, but it is. It’s also impossibly good. I wish there were more moments of ambience or calm because, sonically, I am no more than a log canoe in exceptionally rough and vertiginous seas. The phrase ‘Perfect Storm’ was apparently voted by Lake Superior University as the most overused in 2007, warranting a moratorium on its use. I need to reclaim it. Casting Shadows is a set of rare and extraordinary circumstances in the shape of the three musicians who have collaborated to create it. Casting Shadows is a perfect storm. Whether one dares to venture into such torrid waters is a matter of discretion, foolhardiness or valour. After the buffeting I have received, I am inclined to remain indoors.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Love De Vice - Numaterial
Tracklist: Cold Sun Goodbye (4:39), Hermit (4:08), Megiddo (7:30), Love Or Illusion (7:14), With You Now (4:15), Heavy Cross (5:58), Letter In ‘A’ Minor (13:05)
Album number two for Love De Vice, Numaterial, following on from their 2009 debut Dreamland. I reviewed some of there music for a prog metal special we ran on the ProgPower Europe Festival 2010. In which I quoted that their second album would be released in October 2010. Well here it is in its fill glory. The review of the band initially was based on tracks that were available on their MySpace page, which to be honest is not the best way to review a band. However, from those songs I gave the band a respectable 7 out of 10.
The band lineup hasn’t changed, which consists of Pawel “Ozzie” Granecki (vocals), Andrzej Archanowicz (guitars), Robert Wieczorek (guitars), Krzysztof Slaby (keyboards), R.I.P (bass) and Tomasz Kudelski (drums) who all work very well together as a unit. From that review it has come to light that Cold Sun Goodbye was the opening track of the new album. As a quick reminder this is what I wrote about that track;
“Cold Sun Goodbye starts off with Slaby’s wall of melodic keyboards which are a mainstay of the whole track, reinforced by some really nice guitar work. Ozzie has a very clear and melodic vocal range, which suits the band really well, giving strong definition, defining what Love de Vice are all about, sitting at the melodic end of the prog metal scale. The guitar solos are perfectly placed, having a wow factor about them. Slaby’s keyboard wizardry shines through, which had me, reaching for the air keyboards”.
Has my opinion changed? Not one iota. This along with the stunning Divine Blaze Orchestra’ new album, are probably the two most played albums in my collection at the moment. This is just a great dark, brooding and compelling prog metal album, which has been constructed with class and precision. A rich mix of classic rock and prog, much in the same vein as say Black Bonzo or the aforementioned The Divine Blaze Orchestra, an exotic musical framework that works well, something that the band have capitalised on.
Love De Vice have used to great effect powerful guitar and keyboard structures, both solo and collaborative, that retain an element of commerciality, mixed in with some solid backline partnership from R.I.P and Kudelski, all balanced by Granecki’ powerful and melodious vocal presentation. The military precision of Kudelski drum work is a real eye opener too.
There is absolutely nothing I do not like about this album, whatsoever. Hermit carries on just where Cold Sun Goodbye finishes, towering keyboards, a signature theme that runs throughout the album in general, weaved in with dark, despairing lyrics, which cleverly builds musical pictorial landscapes in the eye of the mind. Still moving within the darker realms, we are presented with the power of Megiddo, a song about the ancient fortified city purported to have seen more battles than anywhere else on the face of earth; in apocalyptic literature the mythical last battle of good verses evil, Armageddon, musically a powerful, dark, brooding song, Archanowicz and Wieczorek guitar work is second to none, a song all about the last stance of the human race. Stunning stuff and powerful word play too, almost the bands nod to the awe inspiring Stargazer. The eastern sounding Love Or Illusion builds and escalates to a total powerhouse, having a Tull-esque feel to it. Archanowicz and Wieczorek abrasive and memorable guitar work really sets the whole piece alive, which is reinforced and supported by a very impassioned band.
The approach of With You Now proves that the band is adept and comfortable with an electric or acoustic approach, which the band has confidently used to great effect, which is inflected with some dreamy lyrical foreplay. “You give me all I need to have and tell me all I need to know, you’re my whole life. Now I feel that I’m alive since you’re by my side”. The beauty of the whole piece though is the subtle melding and unification of acoustic and electric, offering depth and class. Heavy Cross a tribute to the legendary Ronnie James Dio, which turns the heat back up preparing you for the piece de resistance that is Letter In ‘A’ Minor, which is my favourite track on the album, a culmination of the bands creativity laid bare for their listeners, driving melodic music, thunderous runs and solos. The crescendo of scaling guitar work, positioned along side the pulsating arsenal of the rest of the band which just creates a musical nirvana.
As an album I can’t recommend it enough, Love De Vice are a band to be reckoned with, a creative force that could rank up there with the big boys, which is only a matter of time if they keep producing quality albums like this. I loved the stuff I heard on Dreamland. This is album number two which has just been released... album number three is going to be a long wait indeed.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Barock Project - Rebus
Tracklist: Corsa Elettronica (6:06), Don Giovanni (7:11), Save Your Soul (6:14), Akery (10:31), Polvere Di Stelle (6:38), Duellum (8:35), My Enemy (4:16), Veleno (8:52), Orione (4:00), Nostradamus (11:19)
Luca Pancaldi (vocals), Luca Zabbini (keyboards, backing vocals), G.B. Giorgi (bass), Giacomo Calabria (drums), Max Scarcia (guitars) together form Barock Project and Rebus, the CD currently under review, is their second full length album. The album dates back to the year 2009 - and yes, just now you are reviewing it I hear you say. Well better late than never...
A brief history. The band has been in existence for quite some time now and in various line ups. They made a demo CD back in 2005, the first step in the recorded Barock Project sound, which is hard to describe, but in a way typical of Italian prog rock. The band's lead composer Luca Zabbini has a passion for the classical keyboard players and Keith Emerson is his main influence. The music created by Barock Project is classical (Barock style), rock and jazz all melded together. We have reviewed two previous releases from the band, both receiving recommended tags. A DVD release Live In Auditorium from 2005 and Misteriosevoci in 2007.
Enough of this jabba now and let’s continue to review the album. As I already said this is the second studio album from this Italian outfit, who I did not know of before I listened to Rebus. I must say I have grown a soft spot for Italian progressive music recently, as I have found so much new and exciting music coming from that country - wow. And yes Barock Project is one of these new and exciting bands.
The album starts with a little tune called Corsa Elettronica, and is sung in Italian. From the rumbling sound it starts with, comes a wonderfully created melody played by the keyboards. Immediately the music grabs me with its strong melody line and throughout the entire song the keyboards dominate. The scheme of the song, or structure, is a classic rock sound which can also be heard in bands like ELP or PFM for that matter.
Next up Don Giovanni, has a really beautiful intro with Barock classic music played on the guitar and keys - nice piano playing joined by vocals. The choruses are performed as though it was an operetta type of song - in Italian of course. In classical music I think the way it is built up is called a Rondo? But I am not sure. Almost a theatrical song that musically I would say leans towards bands like The Nice and Focus.
The third song, this time with an English sounding title, is Save Your Soul - coincidentally the lyrics are in English too. This humble tune starts with a beautiful piece played acoustically on the guitar and with a certain Spanish feel to it. The intro has pointers towards John Williams in Sky, but turns into a more Jethro Tull like rock song after a while - even a flute is used here. We have some tempo changes, rocking keyboards and guitar and once again a nice melody. Specifically listening to the last two minutes of the song there is a wonderful example of their creativity - it sounds as is Zorba is dancing here.
Next up is Akery introduced by beautifully played keyboards and followed by keyboard sounds and vocals, (in Italian again), which suits this music absolutely fine. After a while the rest of the instruments join in to complete the song. Half way into the track we find the tempo changes from a ballad into a raging rock song. Meantime the classic intonation from the start remains present making it possible to return to the beautiful sounding piano from the introduction. But will this happen?
Polverre Di Stelle is the next song on the album and is performed in the Italian style of neo prog. This has something to do with how an Italian prog band take on the rhythm section, with just a tiny bit more of a swing than a British prog band. Even a jazz/funky feel to it - again another fine keyboard solo.
Duellum is melodic power with classical sounds. Raging keyboard organ and I could imagine Ken Hensley and Uriah Heep playing this - with the difference being that they would have more rough edges to the sound. Barock Project tend to play a bit to clean, at least production wise, it sounds a bit too smooth for me although the raging keys are there. There is a great musical part further into the song, here we cross Luca Zabbini's passion for Keith Emerson. I sometimes even feel like I am sitting in a church and come to think of this it sounds somewhat like solo keys by Rick Wakeman in Yes.
My Enemy is the heaviest most straightforward song the album has. A nice track amongst the other, a more classic song and shows the band can play ”standard” rock music as well. It also shows Luca Pancaldi can handle this type of vocal (English lyrics) equally as well as the Italian style.
Veleno goes on where Duellum left off with a nice melody line, beautiful keyboards and native vocals. The guitar takes on a more prominent role here and there are a few passages where we have a guitar solo instantly followed by keyboard solo. Around halfway through there is a point where piano and guitar play together and give Luca Pancaldi a chance to sing some beautiful sounding lyrics, almost theatrical in a dramatic way. May be it is because I do not speak Italian, but it all sounds great together.
Orione is another straightforward, melodic power rock song, again sung in their native tongue and which somehow makes the song is less powerful. Orione does have a very nice guitar solo.
According to my CD player the last track on the album and the longest by far is Nostradamus, however as around halfway into the song the music stops for nearly three minutes I get the feeling there is a different song at the end. In any case a sound layer is created by the keys to get the song started, with a building melody. I have a feeling throughout the song that I am being chased by time - the story of Nostradamus in a nutshell.
Good music and a good album.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Quandary – Ready To Fail
Tracklist: Out Of Time (4:25), Illusion Of Progress (8:54), Umbra (4:34), Ready To Fail (2:26), Waiting For Change (5:23), Penumbra (5:08), Disconnect (9:36), Cloud Shapes (12:23), Stepping Stones (20:20)
It’s the year 2006 and three friends come together and start jamming in a barn somewhere near Brisbane in Australia. This marks the start of a career in music for the three friends - Sam Vallen (guitars), Gareth Hogan (keyboards) and Geoff Irish (drums). They set out and started to create the music that is now under review. In need of a bass player they put out an ad and got response from Dave Couper, who then completed the line up and created Ready To Fail. Now you've probably noticed there are no vocals in the credits next to the guys, this is because they all take on vocal duties. Quandary is not an instrumental group although we can find some instrumental tracks on this album. Ready To Fail is nine tracks of neo progressive rock spread over seventy minutes.
Have Quandary have been influenced by many bands in the rock scene? No doubt. Everyone starting out has examples as to where and what they think they like to do. That said does not mean you cannot, or will not have an own identity? Although some influences like Marillion and Dream Theater seem obvious, there are other less obvious influences or pointers in their music. There are also influences to be noticed from other areas, such as classical music to Queen like sounds. Even bands as Limp Biscuit left traces in the music, that is to say in the way the songs and music are structured or produced. Using so many different influences almost instantly creates your own style and it does create a Quandary style in this case.
With Ready To Fail Quandary release their debut album and a good debut album, in my opinion. Along with this it is good to see that progressive music is still alive and kicking and is finding its place down under as well. It is still a fact that most progressive bands come from the countries USA and UK, but there is a growing popularity going on from bands across the globe and as here from Australia.
Out Of Time, the first track on the album, leaves no doubt in your mind. This is a well structured/built song with lovely keyboards, nice hooks and twist - especially from the vocal side of things with a more alternative/Indie delivery that you might find with say Linkin Park or Limp Biscuit. Whilst the guitar work at the end reminds of none other than Brian May.
Second track Illusion Of Progress is your classic neo progressive rock song. I say classic as is has the same feel as many neo-prog songs, but what makes it a bit different is the low voice in the track.
Umbra is an instrumental track, rocking from start to finish in a LTE kind of fashion, but without John Petrucci playing guitar - no, it is more like Brian May or Steve Hackett. Nice piano work and an excellent bass line make way for guitar solos.
Ready To Fail, the title track, is a ballad with with strong vocals, whilst the instrumentation is mostly keyboards. A resting point on the album after three fast and fairly heavy tracks.
Waiting For Change again is a neo-prog song in the true sense and I find the song very well built up and working toward a climax before slowly fading out. With the inevitable guitar solo somewhere around the three quarter way through mark. Very nice.
Penumbra again is another instrumental tune and continuing where Umbra left off. A good composition with a lot of classical influences. Guitar and keyboard taking turns in leading the track until the end. Therefore making it even more sounding like LTE than Umbra.
Disconnect has a high IQ or Saga feel all over it - a grand song with attitude, strong in composition and again a good mixture of vocal parts and instrumental bits. Good clean production that is still a little rough around the edges and not too smooth...
Cloud Shapes the third instrumental tune from the album and the longest of the instrumentals at true epic length. A strong melody line and strong guitar work in the vein of the aforementioned guitar players.
The last track, Stepping Stones, is the longest one by a mile. I like to think they are speaking of reaching milestones here. This song is a great piece of work, a true epic, with nice musical twists and great hooks - splendid work. I want more...
All in all this album by Quandary is a darn good debut album. They sure have put a lot of work in to the making of this album and it shows. This comes highly recommended.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Mr Gil – Light And Sound
Tracklist: One Wish To Mother (2:49), No More Of The Dark (5:09), Best Regards (3:38), Easily (3:45), Annah (3:28), King Of Gold (5:22), Kto Aniołem Był? [Acoustic] (3:00), The Bright Island (2:45), Light And Sound (2:59), Kto Aniołem Był? (4:06)
Along with Satellite and Believe, Mr Gil is a band borne out of the ashes of Collage, the highly respected Polish neo-prog band from the 90’s. Former Collage guitarist Mirek Gil formed Mr Gil in 1998 as an outlet for his own artistic endeavours with two subsequent albums (1998’s Alone and 2009’s Skellig) to his credit. For this third release he is joined by vocalist Karol Wróblewski (from Believe) along with two new members, pianist Konrad Wantrych and cellist Paulina Druch.
Although the instrumentation should have been a giveaway it has to be said that musically Light And Sound came as quite a surprise. I was half expecting a neo-prog offering along the lines of Collage and Believe but instead this is an all-acoustic affair that combines mellow but tuneful songs with folky instrumental excursions. The opening piece is something else again being a lovely classical flavoured solo piano piece that would have sat comfortably on an Anthony Phillips album. No More Of The Dark is more atypical with its melancholic but engaging tone and the sensuous sound of the cello to the fore. The memorable chorus benefits from Wróblewski’s warm and expressive voice that’s very reminiscent of Del Amitri singer Justin Currie.
The breezy Best Regards is one of two authentic folk sounding guitar instrumentals with Gil playing what sounds very like a mandolin and guest musician Chistrophe Voisé contributing some kind of reed instrument rather like a clarinet. The other piece is the lively The Bright Island and you can easily imagine dancing around the camp fire to this one. This time what sounds like a Polish cousin of the bouzouki takes the lead and although it’s composed by Gil it could almost be a traditional jig.
Kto Aniołem Był? [Acoustic] is the only song performed in Polish and although Wróblewski has a perfect English delivery he sounds even more expressive singing in his native tongue especially with the call and response double tracked voices. Cellist Paulina sounds at one point like a one woman chamber quartet whilst Wantrych contributes some beautiful piano playing.
Other highlights include the bittersweet and haunting Easily, the evocative ballad Annah and the memorable King Of Gold with its commanding vocal performance. The tranquil title song Light And Sound is both delicate and atmospheric floating dreamlike into the speakers and then out again.
The concluding track Kto Aniołem Był? feels like it’s been added on as an after thought being an electric version of the earlier song complete with bass and drums. With its catchy vocal hook given added weight here it does at least provide an uplifting ending to the album.
So an unusual but ultimately rewarding album from Mr Gil and although the tempo and instrumentation hardly varies from song to song at a trim thirty minutes it doesn’t drag or outstay its welcome. Even when the instrumentation is at its most sparse it’s the strength of the melodies and the appealing timbre of Wróblewski’s voice in particular that carries the day.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Randy California – Kapt. Kopter And The (Fabulous) Twirly Birds
Tracklist: Downer (5:38), Devil (4:14), I Don’t Want Nobody (4:26), Day Tripper (3:01), Mother And Child Reunion (2:54), Things Yet To Come (8:14), Rain (8:40), Rainbow (3:38) Bonus Tracks: Walking The Dog (3:05), Live For The Day (3:27), Rebel (4:24)
I’d love to give this album a recommendation-level score – it’s a great example of guitar driven psychedelic rock – but it is not “progressive”.
Of course, Randy California and Spirit, the band he was associated with, are most famous for the superlative, iconic and essential 1970 album The Twelve Dreams Of Dr. Sardonicus. That stunning work has a justifiable claim to the “progressive” tag – for what it is worth – that no other work in the Spirit/California canon can muster. Even albums like Future Games and The Adventures Of Kaptain Kopter And Commander Cassidy In Potatoland, enjoyable as they might be, are so hallucinogenically driven that they never quite leave the psychedelic camp.
California’s solo work is nearer to straight rock than that released under the Spirit moniker, the emphasis being more on California’s own guitar work. That’s no bad thing of course: speaking as a fan, I find his own albums more consistently pleasing than Spirit’s, which can stray into the very whacky!
Kapt. Kopter And The (Fabulous) Twirly Birds is an example of that pleasing consistency. Originally released in 1972, Randy California’s first solo albums demonstrates his ample ability on the guitar, his playing having been recognised by greats such as Jimi Hendrix, whom he became a protégé of. The music is played joyously, accentuating the melody and California, as always, sings in a sweet, strong voice. The songs are a mix of self-penned compositions and covers. In general, I’m not a huge fan of covers, but when they are done with such panache as this, one can’t help but be won over: The Beatles’s Day Tripper and a fabulous rendition of Paul Simon’s Mother And Child Reunion are particularly exciting. Exciting! – yes, that’s the right word for anyone who enjoys a bit of rock guitar allied to melody (and I definitely don’t mean “melodic rock”, a genre which often belies its name!). The self-penned compositions are strong too – my favourite being the superb opener, Downer which puts you in the right mood for a great album.
As is usual with Esoteric Recordings’s releases, the remastered album comes complete with three bonus tracks and there is an informative essay in the CD booklet.
This album is a must-have for all California/Spirit fans and lovers of electric guitar; however, if you’re hell-bent on just listening to “progressive” rock, then this one’s not for you.
Conclusion: 7.99 out of 10
The Kings Of Frog Island - III
Tracklist: In Memoriam (2:55), Glebe Street Whores (3:27), Bride Of Suicide (4:59), Dark On You (3:55), The Keeper Of... (7:26), More Than I Should Know (5:57), Ode To Baby Jane (7:28), I Ain’t Sorry (4:31), A Cruel Wind Blows (3:34), Gallowtree Gate (2:18)
III says it all as this album is the third release of The Kings Of Frog Island. Psychedelic stoner-rockers, KOFI have never had a spot in the reviews of our favourite progressive rock site before, so before I continue to give a brief overview of the music on III, I will introduce to you the members of this here group of musicians.
The players are Mat Bethancourt (guitars, synths, percussion, vocals & bass guitar), Mark Buteux (guitars & bass guitar), Dodge Watson (drums & percussion), Gavin Searle (vocals & synths), Gregg Hunt (bass) and with additional instruments played by Midge Day, Julia Dream, Gavin Wright, Lee-Madel Toner & Tony Heslop.
The first track is a bit of a weird opener - In Memoriam is really just a long list of names being called out and to be remembered after they have passed on from this life. Personally I could have done without this track at the start as the tone has been set and I find myself listening differently to the music. It has taken at least three revisits to the CD before I could let go of this.
After this monster KOFI get right to it and drive away full speed with Glebe Street Whores. Heavy guitar riffing and raging drums and with an intensity to wipe you right off your feet. As if that wasn't enough the album continues with Bride Of Suicide, yet another - fast riffing guitar, stoner, post rock anthem.
After these two heavy monstrosities we continue to go into the world of psychedelic rock with the dramatic sounding, almost melancholic, Dark On You. This is just a premonition of things yet to come - all things are continued with The Keeper Of... - just let your imagination do the walking in this mind-bending psychic tune. Hawkwind could not have done a better job than do KOFI right here and now - this is a high standard psych song. Weeping guitars and zooming basses do the talking only to be interspersed with by la-la-ing vocals. At the end and when the music stops we hear a voice speaking the famous words "I am the keeper of"...
Track six, More Than I Should will get you to the other side if you have not already crossed over, aching guitars and again zooming basses take us on an even deeper journey through the conscious. KOFI are not done yet exploring the listener's mind, trying to take them into a higher sphere of psychedelia. As the Kings continue their journey into what they appear to do best, making brilliantly sounding psychedelic tunes, we continue with Ode To Baby Jane. Now I am not sure what is meant here, but as I recall there once was a film starring Bette Davis about a woman called Baby Jane Hudson. I cannot find reference to this anywhere in the lyrics, but as the film was rather breath taking and mind bending, I believe they mean the same. The song is breathing melancholy and psyche.
The Kings... give away deep and thrilling pieces of psychedelic music of the highest level. Some of the songs leaning toward Stoner, or even Kraut rock for that matter, but never far from psychedelia. This continues through I Ain’t Sorry, Cruel Wind Blows and Gallowtree Gate.
III is an album full of psychedelic dreams, which means that this is music for a special audience. You must be in to screaming and squealing guitar sounds, distorted sounds, but also deep and tranquil sounding melodies with a dark undertones. Certainly not the kind of album if you are feeling down. Shame really it starts with what I believe to be a weak track. As from then on we have great tunes, splendid music and with the right touch in the production that leaves the tracks with a rough edge and not to smoothed out.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10