Reviews in this issue:
- Resistor - The Secret Island Band Jams
- Lost In Thought – Opus Arise
- D Project – Big Face
- Theo Travis - All I Know : An Anthology
- The Psychedelic Ensemble – The Myth Of Dying
- Opus Symbiosis – Mute [EP]
- Trey Gunn – I’ll Tell What I Saw
- Trey Gunn – Modulator
- Al Fleeman – The Water Is Wide Variations
- Iceland – Iceland [EP]
Resistor - The Secret Island Band Jams
Tracklist: Voyage 7* (4:01), Picadora (5:00), Piezo Fury* (5:25), All Systems Go (3:30), Dream Of The Arctic Tern* (6:12), Santa Anna* (8:15), Quirk (3:47), Sleepytime* (7:10), Double Ascent* (15:07)
* = Improvised pieces
One of the great joys of writing for DPRP is discovering artists whom I would be quite unlikely to otherwise come across. As regular readers will know one such artist is the stupidly talented Steve Unruh whose solo albums offer a diverse range of superior quality music that are one step above a lot of artists that gain international recognition. Although his reputation is largely based on these solo albums for the last few years he has hooked up with some fellow minded musicians in the group Resistor who have so far released two very well received albums. Anyone having heard the second of these albums, last year's Rise, will know that the second half of this album was the 39-minute epic Land Of No Groove, a humourous and musically engaging tale of the group's voyage of discovery that ultimately leads to them discovering the Secret Island Band. And the Secret Island Band are the subject of this CD, supposedly being a collection of jams recorded on their island hideaway by the band - Magnus Singlecoyle on guitar, violin and flute, Francois R Stringworthy on guitar, Winsor P Rattlington on bass and Bernard "Tropical Storm" Furrnads on drums. Of course, in reality, these strange fellows are respectively, Unruh, Fran Turner, Rob Winslow and Barry Farrands and rather than being recorded on a secret island were actually laid down in a North Eastern American Basement! However, six of the nine tracks are culled from improvisation sessions with the other three compositions being recorded live with solos overdubbed on later.
The fact that the improvised numbers have been derived from longer pieces but with the less interesting and meandering sections edited out means that each piece is devoid of chaff and just focuses on what is essential and provides the best groove. The strength of the jamming and performance of the group is such that if the CD sleeve hadn't identified which tracks were composed and which were improvised I would genuinely not have been able to have told the difference. Of the composed pieces, Picadora features Unruh's violin playing, both bowed and plucked, blending in nicely with Turner's guitar (as with other Resistor albums, the guitars are separated Turner occupying the right channel and Unruh the left), All Systems Go! simply rocks! Heavy riffing is the order of the day throughout with both guitarists letting loose their guitar hero fantasies, and Quirk is, as the name suggests, rather more of a quirky number with the violin again occupying the hands of Mr. Unruh. Strong as these pieces are, they are probably the least interesting on the album.
Voyage 7 gets things moving improvisationally with a brilliant guitar line from Turner and Farrands adding more fills per minute than Keith Moon in his prime. Winslow's solid bass line keeps things together leaving Unruh to add all sorts of flourishes to round out the piece. A more Spanish feel is given by Unruh's guitar on Piezo Fury with some great playing by the whole band and solos flying about the place like no one's business. Impressively, at some points it sounds like there are more than just the four of them playing. A more subdued Dream Of The Arctic Tern gives Unruh a chance to add a melodious flute line that is a perfect blend of Anderson and Latimer via Collins (Ian, Andy and Mel!). Santa Anna is the only improvised number to have had any embellishments, some tasteful violin being added to the quieter sections. Winslow gets a tremendous bass sound akin to a giant gargling in slow motion! As the name would suggest, Sleepytime sets aside the heavy guitars in lieu of the sedate and tasteful that oozes summer afternoons spent languishing on a lake with a loved one and a bottle of the finest vintage. The skill of the musicians to be able to maintain the atmosphere throughout seven minutes without being repetitive or boring is exemplary. The slower pace of the number allows Unruh to seamlessly swop his guitar for a flute, so smooth are the transitions, even knowing that some editing may have been involved, it is hard not to be very, very impressed.
The big jam is saved for the end with Double Ascent clocking in for a full quarter of an hour. Even though Unruh starts off on flute, from the atmosphere and aggression displayed by Turner it is evident that the mood will be distinctly unlike that of the previous track. Farrands is once again extremely busy behind his kit seemingly urging the others on. Eventually succumbed into submission, the flute is replaced with a guttural guitar maintaining the rhythm whilst Turner solos away. Despite this, one still gets the impression that the group are holding back, like a coiled snake waiting for the right moment to strike. Guitar faints increase the tension when suddenly the band backs off into a holding pattern with some lovely guitar interplay eventually giving way to an instrument swap and the violin making a dominant appearance. From here on in it is heads down until the end of the song with highs, lows and everything in-between. A nice touch is the ending of the CD echoing the start with sounds of waves lapping on the shore, emphasising the supposed island origin of the music.
Some people have problems with improvised music while others are often averse to instrumental pieces. Often there are good reasons for this - jamming can be self indulgent and repetitive while instrumentals need to be strong enough to carry the listener without a vocal centre point. Resistor have succeeded in avoiding falling into either of these pitfalls and have managed to create something that transcends labelling. So it is without hesitation that I thoroughly recommend this album (and thus giving Resistor a 100% record for their releases) for the sheer enjoyment and musicianship that is present throughout all 58 minutes and 27 seconds of this CD.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Lost In Thought – Opus Arise
Tracklist: Beyond The Flames (7:00), Entity (6:35), Blood Red Diamond (5:31), Seek to Find (5:14), New Times Awaken (4:06), Delusional Abyss (7:18), Lost In Thoughts (7:30), Assimulate, Destroy (6:33)
In just 12 months this young band has risen from the obscurity of local clubs in their Welsh homeland to the international stage with a record deal, debut album and European tour with Delain and Serenity.
The band consists of guitarist and bassist David Grey and Simon Pike, Greg Baker on keyboards, Chris Billingham on drums and vocalist Nate Loosemore. For fans of melodic progressive metal, Opus Arise will be a strong contender for debut album of 2011.
The band is happy to lay their influences on their sleeves. The eight songs on this album stand somewhere in between Dream Theater and Seventh Wonder with a sizeable debt of gratitude to the hard rock bands of the 80s. I’ll also throw in comparisons to Darkwater, Royal Hunt, Kamelot and Redemption.
There is nothing hugely original to be heard, but there are not too many bands that have managed to combine musical dexterity and complex arrangements, whilst maintaining a melodic accessibility to every song.
Beyond The Flames is a real cracking song to open with and is one of my favourites of the year so far. Like many of the band’s compositions it’s built around a powerful riff, addictive melody and some clever interplay between the guitar and keys. Blood Red Diamond is a little lighter and more proggy whilst Seek To Find boasts a truly wonderful keyboard melody and a lovely mid-tempo, heavy groove.
The band comes closest to Dream Theater through the light and shade of Delusional Abyss. Nate Loosemorre bares more than a passing resemblance to James LaBrie on this track in particular. The album closes with two of its heaviest songs, showing that the band isn’t afraid of the more metallic stylings.
The playing across the whole band is superb, especially the guitar riffing and soling of David Grey and the way he combines and swaps melodies with Greg Baker on keys. The drums and bass lay the real foundations for the band’s sound to great effect. The songs clock in around the six/seven minute mark. There’s plenty of complexity but nothing is overdone. With Jacob Hansen in charge of production all the instruments are given plenty of space. I’d have liked the vocals a little more to the front at times but that’s being fussy.
The only real areas I can drop points are in the balladic New Times Awaken where I don't feel the melodies really suit Nate’s voice at all. The second song, Entity, also fails to reach the melodic heights of the remaining six songs.
Some of the music here dates back over five years to an earlier incarnation of the band. With the band gaining exereince and evolving as a unit, I’m sure they have plenty of room to grow. At times Nate sounds like he is singing at the limits of his range which needs to be watched closely and to ensure a long career the band will need to develop a little more of its own identity and not be afraid to allow their arrangements to throw the odd curveball.
However as a debut album this is one of the best I’ve heard in this style and it’s great to have a ProgMetal band from the UK that shows real potential to make it on the worldwide stage. For fans of any of the above-mentioned bands, this is well worth seeking out.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
D Project – Big Face
Tracklist: They (8:46), So Low (3:40), Anger I & II (9:19), Big Face (7:47), Anger III (2:34), Don’t Tell The Kids (3:39), Macondo (5:15), Conspiracy (5:36), Poussiere De Lumiere (4:25) Bonus Video
The intriguingly titled Big Face is the third release from Stéphane Desbiens’ D Project and follows The Sagarmatha Dilemma (2008) and Shimmering Lights (2006). Desbiens is also guitarist with Quebec based band Sense who’ve been conspicuously quiet of late with the excellent Going Home (2007) being their most recent offering. In addition to guitars and keyboards, Desbiens provides the lead vocals here and is supported by Sense bassist Mathieu Gosselin and drummer Jean Gosselin (brothers perhaps?). The writing partnership remains unchanged from the previous two releases with Desbiens’ music providing the backdrop for the lyrics of Francis Foy.
Desbiens has a penchant for utilising well known guest musicians with Tomas Bodin, Martin Orford, Fred Schendel, Stu Nicholson, Derek Sherinian and Bret Kull all appearing on previous D Project recordings. Here it’s the turn of bass maestro Tony Levin whose technique is perfectly suited to the funky rhythm that opens the album and the song They. At nearly 9 minutes it’s a tad too long for my tastes being noticeably prog-light despite Desbiens’ metallic shredding. The only obvious reference to Pink Floyd which was so apparent on the last album is the addition of saxophone and wordless female choir (ala Dark Side Of The Moon). So Low in contrast is an anthemic 80’s flavoured rock-pop song which would make an ideal single thanks to an intense vocal hook and pulsating synth line.
Anger I & II belies its title with ringing acoustic guitars underpinning a sing-along, folky melody. It segues into the second part with atmospheric orchestral strings joined by some very tasteful lead guitar work. Disappointingly (for me anyway) this develops into an overblown solo where Desbien has a habit of repeating a guitar phrase over and over to the point of overkill. The title song Big Face is one of the best here due in part to the sensitive lead vocal from Quidam’s Bartek Kossowicz. It builds from humble acoustic beginnings into a powerful and passionate song with the soaring guitar solo having a Floydian edge emphasised by the backing female ‘aahs’.
Two relatively short songs follow in the shape of Anger III which this time lives up to its title thanks to a stark vocal and aggressive riff and the more measured and melodic but no less potent Don’t Tell The Kids. The bizarre Macondo on the other hand is easily my least favourite song with second guest singer Jack Lavoie adopting a Mick Jagger-esque drawl backed by soulful female voices. The overall effect is like something out of the Rocky Horror Picture Show and I never really could understand the appeal of that show. Thankfully the album closes with two tracks far more to my tastes.
I’ve always had a soft spot for instrumentals and Conspiracy is a good one. It opens with a showcase classical guitar demonstration from Desbiens (ala Trevor Rabin) before taking flight with much frantic but melodic interaction between electric guitar, sax and violin. The Gosselin rhythm partnership really shows their metal here cementing an impressive ensemble performance. In contrast the concluding Poussiere De Lumiere has a romantic ambience thanks to Claire Vezina’s beautiful vocal and the French lyrics. The song ends on a proggy note with guitar and keys (from the always excellent Lalle Larsson) surging forward to provide a stately finale.
The CD artwork makes reference to a ‘bonus video’ although unfortunately it could no be detected by my computer so I can’t offer any comments. The nine music tracks however display a variety of moods and styles although for me Desbiens tastes are perhaps just a tad too eclectic to make this a fully satisfying and coincident listening experience. High praise however for the first class musicianship (not least from Desbiens himself) and memorable hooks that linger some time after the CD has stopped spinning.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Theo Travis - All I Know : An Anthology
CD 1 Shore Thing (7:46), Lulworth Night (8:16), 2am (7:22), The Ghosts Of Whitley Court (5:05), Waterlily Boogie (4:57), The Purple Sky (11:52), Northern Lights (5:54), Sand Dance (5:53), Marti (5:41), Here's That Rainy Day (5:50)
CD 2 Psychogroove (3:56), The Crow Road (8:41), All I Know (6:59), 21st Century Schizoid Man (3:38), Things Change (4:22), Lovely (3:50), Full Moon Rising [Part 2] (6:43), Barking Dogs And Caravans (8:44), The Relegation Of Pluto (7:11), Anything To Anywhere (5:22), And So It Seemed (11:07)
Tenor Saxophonist and flautist Theo Travis is someone who surely must have caught your attention in recent years, cropping up as he does regularly in the CD Reviews pages. Progressively speaking he has collaborated, recorded and gigged with Robert Fripp, Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson, No Man, Francis Dunnery, Karmakanic, Jade Warrior, Soft Machine Legacy, David Sylvian, Gong and more. He contributed some stunning work on the second Tangent album The World That We Drive Through and can regularly been seen with the band these days. He has also managed to release ten solo albums. If you then consider that Theo Travis is probably more well known on the modern jazz circuit, (with an even longer list of credits), then if you've missed him - you really should get out more.
The album title All I Know : An Anthology pretty much speaks for itself, with main focus of the pieces reflecting Theo's jazzier work and in particular the 33 Records catalogue. Spanning eighteen years from his 1993 solo debut 2am, passing by the excellent Earth To Ether, through another DPRP recommended Double Talk and finishing up at 2009 with Ascending - Live At The Pizza. An anthology split into two distinct halves, the first CD is a slower paced, melodic offering whilst disc two is more up tempo and groove orientated.
Oddly enough and considering Theo's presence within the prog community, this album seems to have slipped through the reviewing network. Perhaps deterred by the jazzier leanings of the music, however as an introduction to the man and his music, All I Know is an album chock full of atmosphere and great melodies. This is an album that can sit comfortably in the background when necessary, but also stands up to closer, more detailed listening. Disc one opens with three such pieces, all self-penned with two from his debut 2am and one from 1996's Secret Island.
The Ghosts Of Whitley Court from View From The Edge (1994) has a more ambient, groove feel and introduces Theo on flute as well as tenor sax. Tony Coe completes the brass and woodwind section on bass clarinet. Waterlily Boogie and The Purple Sky again treat us to some laidback and tranquil late night listening. The latter's lilting rhythms and dreamy passages are a welcome respite from the day's toils. Featuring rippling piano from David Gordon, shimmering guitar from Mark Wood, sensual sax from Travis and a rhythm section who remain ever present, but never intrusive. Northern Lights continues this tranquil setting with Theo's soprano sax and Palle Mikkelborg's trumpet laying on a floating ambient bed.
This is a well thought out disc with each track complementing the next. Not wanting to repeat myself, the tranquil atmosphere remains through to the close of the disc with the re-working of the Van Heusen/Burke classic Here's That Rainy Day concluding.
If you have a multi-play CD player then take care you haven't chilled too much and that you don't have a glass of something in your hand when disc two starts. The rolling left hand piano serves as a slight warning that disc two is a different kettle of fish. Psychogroove is a bold fiery piece with a splendid brass arrangement by Theo. Driven by in-the-pocket drumming from Ichiro Tatsuhara and neat fretless from Rob Statham. Punctuation and some great piano is provided by David Gordon. Moving on a couple of years to Secret Island and guitarist John Etheridge gives The Crow Road some King Crimson notions. Mark Parnell takes up the sticks, busying up the the rhythm section which again displays fine performances from Gordon, Statham and Travis. The pace cools for the title track...
21st Century Schizoid Man will have caught the attention of many if for no other reason than its' length. Clocking in at around half the length of the original the re-working here concentrates on the middle instrumental section. Things Change returns Theo to the flute with Andy Hamill (double bass) and Marc Parnell (drums). Simon Colam provides the repeating piano motif whist Theo dances lyrically... Lovely, says it all really. Soprano sax by Theo and bass from Steve Lawson. The groove returns for Full Moon Rising [Part 2], yet another track from the excellent Earth To Ether. Elsewhere the inclusion of Pete Whittaker's Hammond organ adds a bluesy, late 60s proggy vibe to The Relegation Of Pluto. The excellent Soft Machine Legacy supply light and shade in the form of Anything To Anywhere. The late Hugh Hopper and John Marshall supplying a fine backbone for Travis and Etheridge. Whittaker's Hammond and the blues vibe re-appears in the fitting and final piece, And So It Seemed.
This anthology is split into two distinct areas and denoted by disc one being classified as Night and disc two as Day. Hopefully explained above. The release has benefited from extensive re-mastering by Andy Jackson, with the net result being crystal clear production and continuity of sound across the two discs. The gatefold package also includes a glossy booklet.... So all in all a good introduction to the works of Theo Travis, although a tricky one to give a numerical rating to. Almost 140 minutes of instrumental music and for those looking for Travis' proggier moments then you ain't gonna find it here. For those with more Canterbury and jazzy leanings then there will be much here to enjoy. If I were to offer a rating based on the music irrespective of genre then this would be heartily recommended, in light of the nature of DPRP - heartily recommended with reservation...
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
The Psychedelic Ensemble – The Myth Of Dying
Tracklist: Canto I - Incident At Charing Cross Road (0:40), Canto II – Transcendence (9:33), Canto III – The Vision Of Eternity (9:00), Canto IV – Beyond The Light (4:36), Canto V – The Devil’s Proffer (6:25), Canto VI – The Devil’s Lament (6:57), Canto VII – The Realm Of The Skeptics (5:59), Canto VIII – The Mysterium Of The Divine (2:54), Canto IX – The Truth Of Eternety (12:26)
Last year I completed a review of The Psychedelic Ensemble's 2009 debut release The Art Of Madness and I remember being completely overwhelmed by it. Now as I review their follow up release The Myth Of Dying I am pleased to report that I am once again blown away. The Myth Of Dying tells the story of a young man from the point he is involved in an accident, which is of course the Canto I - Incident At Charing Cross. We hear sirens as the rescue teams hurry to the accident. The young man sees himself at his accident and then the story begins.
In the following musical journey The Psychedelic Ensemble take us through the world of realising what has happened in Transcendence. The young man looks at himself from his spiritual world and comes to realize he is gone, dead, beyond life itself. Using synth and piano a lush soundscape is created to get across a feeling of this state of mind. Finding himself amongst “ghosts” is different than life itself - Transcendence captures this quite nicely indeed.
I feel honoured having reviewed the first Psychedelic Ensemble album The Art Of Madness and I remember remarking something like, this is not a "songs album", you need to listen to the album in its entirety. Again I can write you the same about The Myth Of Dying - it is almost an impossibility to listen to a separate Canto, as they are referred to here. Sure you can do it, there are divisions in the songs, tracks have been split etc, but it would be stripping the album of its essence, the story, the completeness. Writing and making of concept albums is difficult as it is.
Now I have listened to a lot of so called concept albums, most of these are made by a group of people, not just one man, with maybe a little help here and there. Making an album like The Art Of Madness was one thing but accomplishing this a second time around, not only needs great discipline but probably foremost a great deal of inspiration and talent. The storyboard needs to be good. Like creating a cartoon film, a false move can destroy the completeness.
It is quite obvious by now I really like the music of The Psychedelic Ensemble - the guitar, piano, synths and organ parts, the way it all fits together - is to me at least amazing. Having said this, it brings me to my worst nightmare, how do you rate something like this? The polls for 2010 have closed, and it is a shame I did not hear the album in due time as it would have been my number one album for 2010. Now I can’t change that. I will point out however that The Psychedelic Ensemble produce music for the mind and body. A relaxing music, but not everyone will like it in that way. It really needs getting used to and needs to find the way to your soul. Once it reaches your inner most feelings you cannot let go and it will stick around. Bringing to life The Myth Of Dying, that our way of thinking about death is a myth becomes clear after listening. Just try, you’ll like or dislike, but you will agree it is superb musicianship.
As mentioned the album is not easy to speak about in the terms of different songs - better we speak of separate chapter in the book of The Myth Of Dying.
Conclusion: 10 out of 10
Opus Symbiosis – Mute [EP]
Tracklist: Black Box (9:38), Father Sun, Mother Earth (5:36), Bartolomeus (6:35)
Christine Sten (vocals), Victor Sågfors (guitars and vocals), Staffan Strömsholm (grand piano, synth, lead / backing vocals), Jafet Kackur (bass and vocals) and EH Lillkung (drums) are the personnel that make up Opus Symbiosis a Finnish progressive experimental rock band, a band whose music touches on the beauty of psychedelic melodies.
Mute is a three track EP, a follow on from their self-titled 2009 release, an album and band that I have never heard before, but on hearing, have definitely caught my attention and I’m all ears. There is just something about how they approach their music which is intriguing, ethereal and addictive, a band that are not afraid to mix things, another band on my list of, “bands I’d love to see live”.
I often wonder when bands release these EP’s whether it is just a case of them trying out a new approach or soundstage. On further investigation having heard Solar Clouds, Artefacts Of The Gardener and the interestingly named Tales From A Whispering Society on their MySpace page, this proved not to be the case. In fact it only strengthened my case for wanting to hear their debut album in its entirety. Now that’s not a bad recommendation.
Black Box presents varying and differing sounds that work perfectly, a contemporary approach that borders on the fringes of alt pop, almost indie in approach, intricate, highly layered with some fabulous guitar passages that more than match Strömsholm’s synth work; its swirling, echoing textures and harmonic interaction really add depth creating character which gives the whole song that wow factor, which is all complimented by Christine Sten stunning vocal presentation, something that hooked me straight away.
Father Sun, Mother Earth is somewhat abstract in its approach, but Sten’s vocals create a mysterious mood. The angular musical approach really intrigued me, a song that is laden with great interaction between all the band members, a catchy approach that will soon be ring around your head. Sten’s vocal styles really ignite the imagination, sultry, emotional and grandiose. Lillkung’s drumming is astounding, on the first couple of listens it kind of goes unnoticed, but eventually it rises to the top.
Bartolomeus’ opening suggests that the band have a sense of urgency about them, making no excuses, being a finely developed and honed piece of music. Sågfors really exercises his guitar fluidity creating some great melodies and lead breaks, whilst Kackur and Lillkung, the unsung heroes really work together in collusion, giving it magnitude and depth, making it a stand out piece.
I just love the music and lyrical sensibility of this band, every track is perfect in both design and approach which makes this a release worth discovering. The other thing that has struck me is the quality of musicianship, which really is second to none. The EP maybe dark in places, but in the main the whole effect is very colourful, energetic, never being more complicated or elaborate than it needs to be but still retaining the intelligent approach of intricacy. Current fans of this band are not going to be disappointed and for those who take the time to investigate and discover this band too, won’t be disappointed either.
Apparently the band will be entering the studio soon to record their new album, a release that I am very much looking forward too. Opus Symbiosis is a band that will more than appeal to the fans of artists such as District 97, Information Superhighway, Muse and Radiohead or to anybody who has more than a passing interest in high quality melodic prog.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Trey Gunn – I’ll Tell What I Saw
CD 1: Hymn (4:29), The Joy Of Molybdenum (5:30), The Fifth Spin Of The Sun (2:04), Va El Diablo (4:35), Morning Dream (6:49), Real Life (5:13), Maslenitsa (9:31), Gallina (1:05), Dziban (6:16), Misery, Misery, Die, Die, Die... (1:56), Pole (0:45), Thick And Thorny (2:36), Down Spin (1:14), Absinthe & A Cracker (3:18), The Shimmering (2:24), Fandango (4:06), Well (5:56)
CD 2: Jacaranda (3:58), The Magnificent Jinn (3:24), Contact (3:51), Drunk (6:26), Killing For London (6:33), Kuma (4:29), Single Cell Shark (3:32), Cheeky (3:34), Make My Grave In The Shape Of A Heart (1:24), Spectra (1:58), Capturing The Beam (1:23), Hard Winds (3:05), Arrakis (6:55), Flood (3:17), Untamed Chicken (4:15), Down In Shadows [Part 1] (4:45), Californ-A-Tron (0:50), Vals (3:19), 9:47 P.M. Eastern Time (5:03)
Trey Gunn is probably better known for his nine year tenure (from 1994 to 2003) with King Crimson although his long and varied career has included eight studio recordings released under his own name and as The Trey Gunn Band as well as playing with artists like David Sylvian, Brian Eno, Tool and Led Zep’s John Paul Jones. A double CD retrospective I’ll Tell What I Saw covering the years 1993 to 2010 recently appeared and brings together selections from his solo work plus various collaborative efforts. His association with fellow Crimsonite Pat Mastelotto for example as one half of TU is particularly well represented even though they recorded just the one album in 2006. Also heavily featured (unsurprisingly) is Gunn’s latest album Modulator (see review below).
Gunn’s music could be described as experimental, avant-garde and sometimes jazzy although not in the traditional sense. It’s perhaps at its most accessible (and arguably most appealing) when it hits a solid groove as in The Trey Gunn Band’s The Joy Of Molybdenum which features a powerful, discordant riff that could easily be the handiwork of King Crimson themselves. There is also a world music feel to some of the collaborations particularly where vocals are involved as in the tribal Va El Diablo and the rhythmic Maslenitsa credited to Alonsa Arreola and The Farlanders respectively. Sergey Klevensky’s Morning Dream on the other hand has a haunting, dreamlike quality thanks to the prominence of the clarinet.
Elsewhere, the music is often challenging and thought provoking and occasionally uncompromising with TU’s aptly titled Misery, Misery, Die, Die, Die... and Quodia’s razor edge Thick And Thorny both being prime examples. For me CD 1’s best track comes at the close with Inna Zhelannaya’s hypnotic Well featuring a heavenly female chant.
Disc 2 kicks off in fine style with the pulsating, powerful and syncopated Jacaranda from KTU, blessed with some truly stunning drum work. Dirge like and relentless, Drunk is compelling nonetheless thanks to Zhelannaya’s customary rhythmic female voices which act like an instrument in their own right. Gunn’s own Kuma on the other hand reaches almost jazz-funk heights with some particularly sharp guitar lines that curiously reminded me of Mike Oldfield. Guitar (both acoustic and electric) are also prominent features of the edgy Single Cell Shark and Cheeky, two tracks from Matt Chamberlain which again border on Crimson territory.
Hard Winds demonstrates Gunn’s Warr guitar at its best with some particular dexterous finger work from the man himself whilst the live recorded Arrakis features an impressive ensemble performance from The Trey Gunn Band. The bizarrely titled Untamed Chicken is another abstract affair (part ambient, part thrash) by TU in contrast with the Crimsonesque Down In Shadows [Part 1] from N.Y.X. Following Sergey Klevensky’s welcome and pastoral Vals, Disc 2 concludes with Sara Cosentina’s sublime 9:47 P.M. Eastern Time which took me back to Tangerine Dream in their mid-seventies prime.
Given the ambiguity of Gunn’s music, it’s appropriate that it’s often difficult to distinguish between the distorted sounds he creates using Chapman Stick, Warr guitar (his trademark instrument), conventional guitar, bass and keys. This works to his advantage and as a result of these unique (and often bizarre) sounds plus his refusal to follow any particular musical style or trend this collection has a timeless quality. Although it spans 17 years, there’s nothing here that sounds dated or out of sync.
If you feel like dipping a toe into the musical world of Trey Gunn, I’ll Tell What I Saw is clearly an ideal place to start. As a minor observation, I would have liked more information in the liner notes regarding the various musicians involved. However, retailing at a modest £10.99 on the Gonzo website (around 12.5 Euros or 17 US dollars), for 140 minutes of music it certainly represents value for money.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Trey Gunn – Modulator
Tracklist: Contact (3:27), Flood (2:49), Spray I (1:22), Fall Time +/- (1:14), Fall Time -/+ (4:10), Lumen (2:18), Switch (0:50), Daughter (1:00), Pole (1:03), Scatter (1:17), Up Spin (1:04), Down Spin (1:13), Spectra (6:08), Superstish-a-tron (1:13), Califon-a-tron (0:46), Spray II (3:08), Mono-Punkte (2:25), Coupling (2:17), Incantation (3:27), 20.Slingcharm (2:10), Twisted Pair (2:56), Hymn (4:33) Bonus Track: Borealia (2:37)
Modulator is the latest ‘solo’ recording from one time King Crimson bassist Trey Gunn and features a unique collaboration. Below Gunn’s name on the album cover is that of Marco Minnemann, a gifted German drummer who nearly became Mike Portnoy’s replacement in Dream Theater, narrowly missing out to Mike Mangini. Minnemann has sessioned on numerous recordings as well as touring with the likes of Jordan Rudess, Eddie Jobson, John Wetton, Greg Howe and Tony Levin. An ideal musician it would seem for teaming up with Gunn.
Modulator however is something different altogether. It started out as a continuous 51 minute drum solo recorded in Germany by Minnemann in January 2006. Using this as a foundation, over a serious of sessions that stretched from March 2008 to March 2010 Gunn constructed the music in his hometown of Seattle playing various guitars, keyboards, basses and samples. Described by Gunn as “The hardest recording I have ever taken on" several of the resulting tracks can be found on the compilation I’ll Tell What I Saw (reviewed above) but can only be fully appreciated in its entirety.
Although subdivided into 22 individually titled tracks, Modulator flows as one continuous piece featuring (what sounds like) a succession of improvised guitar and bass solos underpinned by eerie electronic effects. Sometimes, as in Fall Time -/+ this reaches a luminous intensity whilst at other times, as in the following Lumen the music is quietly brooding. The lack of any discernable themes or tunes however does make for a challenging listen with the technological coldness of the album title and circuit board artwork proving to be very appropriate.
That being said, with each successive play I did find myself warming to Gunn’s idiosyncratic style with his musicianship never short of stunning throughout. There is also a charm to tracks like the lively Mono-Punkte, the dreamlike Incantation and the exotically oriental Hymn. Elsewhere guest Michael Connolly adds the unmistakable and evocative tone of the Uilleann pipes and fiddle to Spectra, the album’s longest track. Drummer Minnemann has also allowed plenty of scope upon which the composer can build, incorporating a variety of tempos and time signatures with a stamina that is nothing short of breathtaking. Probably my favourite track however is the bonus Borealia which could easily be an orchestral string section playing pizzicato style.
If you’re familiar only with Gunn’s work in KC than you’ll certainly be aware of his talents although you will most likely find the music here more of a challenge. For those more knowledgeable and appreciative of his solo work and anyone else that has a liking for avant-garde jazz and free improvisation, this comes highly recommended. Be warned however, it’s not for the faint hearted.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Al Fleeman – The Water Is Wide Variations
Tracklist: The Water Is Wide (5:07), A Final Glimpse (2:45), Looking Up (5:40), Maybe This Year... (7:04), Lady’s Rock (2:32), In Ruins (4:15), Contact (2:03), Far Away Remembered (4:30), Stars (15:16)
As acknowledged in the CD booklet to The Water Is Wide Variations by multi-instrumentalist Al Fleeman, The Water Is Wide is a seventeenth-century Celtic folk song and its composer is not known. According to the booklet, the song “appears in various guises throughout” the CD.
To paraphrase the booklet, the music on the CD was inspired by the history, people and landscapes of the Argyll region of Western Scotland, and the nearby Hebrides archipelago. Fleeman is a native of the West Midlands region of England, and moved to Argyll in 2008.
Fleeman, a master of the keyboard, viola and trumpet; has previously deployed his music in both the progressive rock band and choir settings, and has done solo piano as well. The music on The Water Is Wide Variations was, as the credits indicate, written, performed and produced by Fleeman. The style of the music is instrumental in the ambient and symphonic styles. It includes guitar, ostensibly played by Fleeman as well, as the credits do not indicate otherwise. The guitar is heard in acoustic form on the opening track The Water Is Wide, which showcases chiming bell style programming, synth-driven pipe and vocal effects, masterful trumpet elements and a slow jam groove.
Many of the tracks on The Water Is Wide Variations begin or end with sound effects, like on Looking Up, which starts with the sound of a plane taking off (used by Fleeman under Creative Commons license). Looking Up also features phat synth leads, dulcimer style keyboards, some xylophone type percussion ingredients and crystalline bass programming.
Season’s End-era Marillion gets its way into the action as an influence on Maybe This Year... which spotlights a caffeinated programmed rhythm section, more trumpet elements, background flute style keyboards and some overall Tangerine Dream commonalities.
Fleeman is apparently comfortable in the symphonic setting, like where his viola and some French horn style keyboards flavour the track A Final Glimpse.
When you break this music down into its individual elements, Fleeman is a talented keyboardist, guitarist, viola player, trumpet player, sampler and programmer. But he mixes these elements together in a contrived and over composed cocktail that is too strong for my taste, and I feel that with future recorded efforts Mr. Fleeman’s music would actually be stronger if it was looser in compositional structure. The Water Is Wide Variations is best approached with a relaxed and not active listening mode.
The CD booklet is colourful and designed well with notes from Fleeman on each track as well as credits.
This CD will appeal mostly to fans of instrumental ambient or symphonic music. Rock and rollers are advised to seek elsewhere.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Iceland – Iceland [EP]
Tracklist: Reverse Osmosis (3:00), The Trial Of Adeus Bue (3:57), Avalanche (3:17), World’s Apart (3:24), Carol Of The Bells (2:14), Solar Shuffle (3:48)
Reading Iceland’s P.R blurb I came across this extract which seriously intrigued me.
“Gesualdo made drumming, medical and educational history all at the same time, with his ground Drum Therapy® research study; Psychologists, School systems, doctors, neuroscientists and therapists on a global basis use Gesualdo’s groundbreaking Drum Therapy®, techniques to help autistic and special needs children”
Reading the rest of the blurb also impressed me with such high accolades being mounted on his shoulders.
Pat Gesualdo is a drummer and founder of this project/band a man who has worked with Deep Purple, Kiss, Quiet Riot, Halford, and the Metropolitan Opera, amongst others. The rest of the trio is Danny Wacker (guitar) and Martin Morin (vocals) although there seems to be some omission of other participants.
We are given six songs, five instrumentals and one vocalised track, World’s Apart which takes the form of a ballad. The whole feel of what is offered here comes across as bunch of demos, prog metal with the emphasis being more on the metal side. Reverse Osmosis is a very odd sounding instrumental, the dynamic is all over the place but there is some stunning if not unique guitar interaction, which unfortunately feels and sounds like it is an incomplete piece. The Trial Of Adeus Bue continues in the same vein, but is more dynamic and urgent in its approach, bouncing through varying music sounding genres. The balance of musical interaction is excellent, featuring some outstanding guitar and drum passages.
Avalanche for me is the stand out track with its Mountain meets Deep Purple sounds, which has been embodied by some fantastic sounding Hammond work. It’s at that point the whole exercise just comes together with power. World’s Apart nonchalantly travels from a to b, an average approached song, although Morin has a nice tone. Carol Of The Bells readily steps the pace up again moving the music back into a heavier arena with its repeating rhythmic tones that are packed full of exuberance and expression, displaying its musical prowess. Solar Shuffle has the guitar lines interweaving with the backbone of the band in particular the bass. Gesualdo’s drumming is the defining moment though on the track, technically perfect, challenging the listener, his dalliances and passages being rather interesting
Although musically this EP is a semi decent attempt, it’s never going to set the world on fire. The information provided lacks detailed clarity of all the musicians involved, i.e. keyboard and bass player and does at times sound as if the tracks are pieces in transition, almost in their demo form never having enough time to develop, which is a bit of a let down, at it stops the whole affair having some substance.
Conclusion: 3 out of 10