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2011 : VOLUME 35
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REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:


Neal Morse – Testimony 2
Neal Morse – Testimony 2
Country of Origin:USA
Format:2CD
Record Label:InsideOut Music
Catalogue #:0505582
Year of Release:2011
Time:CD 1 78:20
CD 2 36:49
Info:Neal Morse
Samples:Click here

Tracklist:

CD 1: Part Six: Mercy Street, Overture No. 4, Time Changer, Jayda (22:50), Part Seven: Nighttime Collectors, Time Has Come Today, Jesus' Blood, The Truth Will Set You Free (22:54), Part Eight: Chance Of A Lifetime, Jesus Bring Me Home, Road Dog Blues, It's For You, Crossing Over/Mercy Street Reprise (32:36)

CD 2: Absolute Beginner (4:39), Supernatural (6:11), Seeds Of Gold (25:59)

Even the most jaded Prog fan would have to admit that multi-instrumentalist Neal Morse has a prodigious talent. Whether with Spock’s Beard, Transatlantic, or as a solo artist, his output has been of a consistently high quality.

His latest solo work, Testimony 2, is the follow-up to the DPRP-recommended album of 2003, and is his first solo prog album since the disappointing (for some) Lifeline. Disc 1 is an autobiographical work covering his time with Spock’s Beard, and the spiritual awakening he had during this period which eventually led to his departure from the band, whilst the second disc contains three standalone tracks.

In this endeavour Morse was again aided by Randy George on bass, and the ubiquitous Mike Portnoy on drums, as well as an assortment of other musicians on various tracks, including Steve Morse, who provides a transcendent guitar solo on the closing epic, Seeds Of Gold. A special mention must be made of the superb orchestration on this album, with strings provided by members of the Nashville Symphony.

Rather than undertaking a track-by-track analysis, I’ll highlight a few in the hope of conveying the essence of what’s on offer here.

Underlining the link to its predecessor, the album opens with Part 6 – Mercy Street, which kicks off with a reprise of the wistful God’s Theme from Testimony before launching into the song proper. This is an upbeat track with a catchy refrain reminiscent of Day For Night and All On A Sunday from his days with Spock’s Beard.

The enthusiastic Time Changer features members of Morse’s former band, and contains a glorious Gentle Giant-inspired harmonic section, as well as a keyboard nod to The Water from Spock’s album The Light.

The poignant Jayda is a song chronicling how Morse’s daughter was discovered to have (and was apparently miraculously healed from) a heart condition, and the emotional impact this event had. One would have to be world-weary indeed not to be moved by this song.

Parts Seven and Eight continue the story, with Part Eight being particularly hard-hitting, illustrating the turmoil he felt when making his decision to leave the band. Disc 1 wraps up neatly with Crossing Over/Mercy Street Reprise revisiting and reworking the lyrical and musical themes of the album.

Disc 2 is almost a welcome relief after the anguished soul-searching revealed on Disc 1, and feels somewhat like a celebration. It contains 3 tracks: Absolute Beginner is a stadium rocker, whilst Supernatural could easily have found a place on a Transatlantic album.

The aforementioned epic Seeds Of Gold, at 26 minutes, encapsulates everything fans of Morse have come to love about him; a feast of mood and time changes, unforgettable melodies, combine with imaginative keyboard and guitar solos to provide a perfect finale to what I feel is one of Morse’s best albums to date.

By now we should all be used to the personal nature of Morse’s post-Spock’s Beard work, and of course this album is no exception. I won’t further the debate that has been going on about the Christian nature of Morse’s lyrics, except to say that I find his lyrics to be deeply personal, although not preachy, and while I might not agree with a lot of his beliefs, I don’t find they diminish my capacity to appreciate his music in any way.

Anyone familiar with Morse’s music will not find anything new here, but that’s not to say this isn’t a hugely enjoyable album. His sense of melody and ability to create an emotional impact with his music is unquestionable. The main criticism that is levelled form some quarters is that there seems to be a Neal Morse ‘template’ in use that can make his music somewhat predictable, and to an extent that’s true, but then again, he’s so good at what he does that I feel this can be forgiven. With Testimony 2 Morse has created a quality piece of work, and one that I can recommend without hesitation.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

RON FAULKNER



Ske - 1000 Autunni
Ske - 1000 Autunni
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:AltrOck/
Fading Records
Catalogue #:FAD 003
Year of Release:2011
Time:55:13
Info:Ske
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Fraguglie (6:05), Denti (5:07), Carta E Burro (4:59), Scrupoli (4:13), Delta (5:04), Scogli I (2:11), Sotto Sotto (5:36), Mummia (5:24), Scogli II (2:33), La Nefazia Di Multatuli (6:29), Scogli III (1:30), Rassegnati (7:12)

Ske is the nickname of Italian keyboardist Paolo Botta, known for his work with Yugen, French TV and Picchio Dal Pozzo. 1000 Autunni, his debut solo project, is also the third album released on the AltrOck Productions subsidiary label Fading Records, dedicated to bands whose main inspiration lies in the golden era of classic progressive rock, though reinterpreted in a thoroughly modern vein. However, unlike its predecessors, the exquisitely retro Ciccada's A Child In The Mirror and Sanhedrin's Ever After, 1000 Autunni is only marginally related to traditional prog of the symphonic persuasion. With the help of an impressive collection of international artists, including his Yugen bandmates Francesco Zago, Maurizio Fasoli and Valerio Cipollone, as well as other musicians from the AltrOck roster, Botta has produced an album that brings together different, even contrasting strains of the variegated prog spectrum. Although Botta started writing material for a solo project at the end of 2008, the album was recorded in 2010, and released in the late spring of 2011. The album's title refers to the long road travelled by the 32-year-old Botta since he started playing music, with particular emphasis on his participation in number of high-profile European prog festivals.

Botta is a collector of vintage keyboards, whose use contributes to the warm, organic feel of the music, reinforced by the presence of traditional "chamber" instruments such as violin, harp and various kinds of reeds. Indeed, one the first things that may strike the listener about 1000 Autunni is the rich instrumentation involved, and especially the range of exotic percussion instruments such as the sansula and the idiophone. Their distinctive, silvery tinkle, coupled with Botta's array of keyboards (lovingly detailed in the liner notes), creates a haunting backdrop for the other instruments, which tend to play their separate roles rather than mesh tightly together as in symphonic prog. The texture of the tracks is often loose and rarefied rather than rigidly orchestrated, in some instances (such as the sparse yet riveting Sotto Sotto) reminiscent of Robert Fripp's work both with King Crimson and as a solo artist, especially in his ambient phase. Clocking in at 55 minutes, the album is perfectly balanced, its 12 tracks averaging 5 minutes, with some shorter, interlude-like pieces, and an "epic" of sorts, Scogli, split into three parts separated by other tracks.

The main strength of the album lies in its delicate, yet successful balancing act between the sophisticated avant-garde tendencies of Botta's main band, Yugen, the jazzy, melodic quirkiness of the Canterbury sound, and the intricate majesty of symphonic prog. And then, unlike a large slice of current releases, 1000 Autunni manages to sound unlike anything else, at least not in a strongly detectable way. While tracks such as Denti might remind the listener of RIO/Avant icons like Henry Cow or Miriodor, with its definite chamber prog feel enhanced by the deep rumble of the bassoon and the clear voice of the clarinet and the flute (the latter courtesy of Ciccada's Nicolas Nikopoulos), the airy sweep of opener Fraguglie spells Canterbury, down to the interplay between flute and organ and spacious orchestral effects. The ethereal vocals of Roberta Pagani that grace some of the tracks - notably the atmospheric Carta E Burro and the angular, fragmented La Nefazia Di Multatuli - bring to mind The Northettes' lovely contribution of to the sound of Hatfield And The North or National Health.

On the other hand, Mummia, fraught (as the title implies) with the heightened tension typical of a horror movie soundtrack, is possibly the most symphonic track on the album, with its full-throated Hammond bursts and ominous keyboard sweeps reminiscent of Goblin, while the interplay of Francesco Zago's clear, sharp guitar and Elia Leon Mariani's violin hints at King Crimson circa Red. The energetic Scrupoli is propelled by imperious, almost military drumming and stop-start riffing, though tempered by the melodic touch of flute and violin; while Delta and the three-part Scogli take a more atmospheric route, the former tinged with a sense of muted sadness, the latter somehow impressionistic in the way the instruments seem to "converse" with each other. After a sprightly, dance-like opening and a solemn, church-like organ insert, album closer Rassegnati veers towards hard rock territory with powerful Hammond runs and crashing drum beats; then it subtly turns intimistic towards the end, the melancholy voice of the clarinet underpinned by the gently flowing tinkle of harp and percussion suggesting the subdued beauty of autumn.

An intriguing, refined album, 1000 Autunni offers something for nearly everyone. Even though those who crave extended compositions, with flights of instrumental fancy and lush vocal harmonies, will probably not appreciate the album as much as RIO/Avant and Canterbury devotees, this is a truly eclectic effort that bridges the gap between the great Seventies tradition and the more forward-thinking directions of progressive rock. Like most AltrOck releases, the album is also a treat in the visual sense, with a stunning cover shot of autumn leaves (taken by Botta himself, who has a background in design and visual communication) and the stylish layout of the very detailed liner notes. Definitely one of those discs whose full potential will unfold at every successive listen, 1000 Autunni is poised to become one of the standout releases of 2011.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

RAFFAELLA BERRY



Accordo Dei Contrari - Kublai
Accordo Dei Contrari - Kublai
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2011
Time:45:33
Info:Accordo Dei
Contrari
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: GB Evidence (5:19), Arabesque (12:33), Dark Magus (9:00), L'Ombra Di Un Sogno (6:56), Più Limpida E Chiara Di Ogni Impressione Vissuta, Part 1 (5:08), Battery Park (6:37)

Accordo Dei Contrari, purveyors of fine jazz-rock fusion, return for a welcome second album, following the good reception given to their debut, 2007's Kinesis (see, for instance, DPRP's own recommendation-level review at Kinesis).

Lovers of the jazz-rock genre will enjoy Kublai, as will lovers of progressive rock bands who have occasionally fused some jazziness into their music. Caravan are the obvious example to cite in this regard, as Accordo Dei Contrari invited Richard Sinclair to contribute to one of the album's compositions, L'Ombra Di Un Sogno. Sinclair was one of the leading influences of Caravan's earliest albums, which the majority of progressive music fans will agree are their best, and stayed long enough to compose and play on their jazziest, 1972's Waterloo Lilly.

According to the band's website, their name, Accordo Dei Contrari, translates into English as "Accord of the Opposites". Listening to their music, it is clear that the name was suggested by its qualities, and therefore I would suggest that a more appropriate translation might be "Harmonisation of Opposites". This is important as it reflects the music that they compose. Their music is driven by a desire to represent the dynamics and contrasts of life. On Kublai this is done entirely instrumentally, with the exception of L'Ombra Di Un Sogno, for which Sinclair provides not only the vocals but the lyrics as well. The contrasts within the music, evident as they are, are smoothed over by the musical composition, suggesting the holistic goodness of those that exist in nature itself.

Perhaps because of Sinclair's voice, I feel that L'Ombra Di Un Sogno ("Shadow Of Dreams") would sit comfortably amongst the jazzy compositions of Waterloo Lilly, although it is jazzier than anything to be found even on that album. It's a gorgeous piece, musically and lyrically. As a lover of our canine friends myself, I find Sinclair's tribute to his lost companion deeply moving – the CD booklet has a nice photograph of these two friends together. You'll be able to enjoy the music irrespective of whether you love dogs or not!

Elsewhere, the music is totally instrumental, but no less absorbing for that fact. G.B. Evidence immediately announces the band's jazzy credentials, using and developing a Thelonius Monk theme. Marco Marzo's gutsy, rocky electric guitar duels neatly with Giovanni Parmeggiani's Hammond organ during the composition's latter half. Arabesque, as the name suggests, is full of Eastern nuances, opening up into a danceable form with the guitar and Hammond again in the lead, before developing into improvised sections. Whilst the keys and the guitars have been the "stars" of the show, by this time one is picking up the nuances of Daniele Piccinini's bass and Cristian Franchi's drumming. In fact, on repeated listens these guys' playing becomes a total delight throughout, as one's ear becomes attuned to their slot in the mix, and the familiarity with the music allows for deeper concentration on individual parts. I'm not a big fan of drums/bass per se, as many progressive fans are, but these guys really can play. A joy!

There's a very enjoyable piano and keyboard "fest" during the opening phases of Dark Magus, which precedes some more duelling with the guitar in the second half: the composition is book-ended by the sound of a gong at the start, "echoed" by a piano-lid crash at the end – very neat! I like humour in music! Più Limpida E Chiara Di Ogni Impressione Vissuta, Part 1 wins the prize for the album's longest title! It picks up the pace from the quieter Sinclair-aided L'Ombra... and features strong guitar work from Marzo, demonstrating the band's keen ear for album pacing. The composition is intended to represent life with its hopes and fears: the CD booklet features a poem, written in Italian, to accompany the music. I'm not fluent in Italian and am unsure of the exact translation but, irrespective of that, it is its rhythm which is important and that is sublime. It adds to the overall experience of the album. The "pacing expertise" is evident again as we enter the final composition, which is inspired by the quiet flow of the Hudson river, here represented in some beautiful piano work.

Taken as a whole, this is an impressive album of jazz-rock that is accessible enough for fans of other genres to listen to and enjoy. The playing is impressive: technically excellent but never allowing technobratics to get in the way of the music. Fans who are not sure if jazz-rock is to their taste can sample the whole album on the band's website by following the link given. On the other hand, fans of the genre should have no hesitation in adding Kublai to their collection. Buy the CD rather than downloading, as the poem and the picture of Sinclair with his canine friend are worth having.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

ALEX TORRES



Glass - Spectrum Principle
Glass - Spectrum Principle
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Musea Records
Catalogue #:FGBG 4854
Year of Release:2010
Time:64:13
Info:Glass
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Prism (1:23), Apathy (6:01), Empathy (4:30), Quest (5:57), Blue Wednesday (5:16), Saturation (5:17), Emptiness (7:18), Fufillment (4:57), Spectrum In Principle (1:33), Awaken (1:36), Atonement (7:38), Edge (5:50), Hope (3:46), Destiny (3:05)

Glass are an American trio featuring brothers Greg (keyboards) and Jeff (bass, keyboards, acoustic guitar) Sherman accompanied by drummer Jerry Cook. The band has a long pedigree with the original incarnation of the band dating back to the 1970s. Their search for a record label, which extended to the brothers moving over to the UK, the epicentre of prog rock at that time, proved fruitless and it took a quarter of a century before the first Glass release, No Stranger To The Skies saw the light of day. An album of new material, Illuminations followed in 2007 with the live At Progman Cometh being released a couple of years later. Spectrum Principle is the latest studio album which we at DPRP have only just managed to get hold of (sorry for the delay chaps!) but it was worth the wait! That Glass have a preference for the sounds of the classic prog era cannot be disputed from even a cursory perusal of their instrument list which includes Hammond B3 organ, mini Moog, Wurlitzer and Fender Rhode electric pianos, Vox continental organ, Korg Triton organ as well as a collection of classic basses and a 1968 Martin acoustic guitar. However, one shouldn't imply from that impressive list of instruments that the album is simply a retrospective/revivalist approach to an earlier musical era. Far from it, Spectrum Principle is a thoroughly modern album, which despite being instrumental, takes as a basis such esoteric subjects as particle physics, alternative universes, quantum theory and abstract thought. Some have defined this release as a concept album, if so the concept is somewhat beyond me!

As the track titles hint at, the focus is largely concentrated on creating a variety of moods, although the glorious combination of keyboard sounds on track 2, dominated by electric piano and the electronic weirdness of the Moog, is far too jaunty to represent apathy! The thoughtful, and one might say beautiful, pairing of grand piano and Mellotron on Empathy is a delight, although I would have preferred the drums to have been lower in the mix or even absent altogether. To fully appreciate Quest the listener needs to don headphones to better understand the call and response keyboard lines alternating between the ears. Cook proves himself to be an inventive drummer, adding numerous percussion lines that complement the keyboards and the thundering bass riff. Blue Wednesday offers up a more laid back number featuring waves of Mellotron, a lovely resonant xylophone and layers of keyboards than blend into a mesmerising, trance inducing whole.

If you like the sound of drums, then Saturation will please you being effectively played out by Cook who introduces a wide variety of rhythms based on different parts of his kit. Although one's reaction to a 'drum solo' (misleading term, unaccompanied drums would be more accurate) might at first thought be somewhat negative, the piece is actually very engaging and not what one might expect. Not sure what the additional whale song is meant to represent though. The tail end of this track is taken over by keyboards which lead into the more avant garde soundscape of Emptiness with its spoken essay intro, repeating bass line and numerous effects infused throughout. Another one for the headphones, which give the piece a whole other dimension, much more ominous and frightening. The seamless transition into Fufillment (sic) brings a more positive aspect with acoustic guitar and Mellotron lifting the mood. Spectrum Principle seemed rather out of place and one to skip over, which can't be said of Awaken, another grand piano and Mellotron piece but thankfully this time excluding the drums (and all the better for it!). Atonement is somewhat strange and fragmented, varying between a repeating opening section resembling a soundtrack to a hectic space voyage, an acoustic piece, a Canterbury-type jazz rock section, and some general weirdness, the piece is not easy listening and presents a much more experimental face of the band. Happily the continuation of the piece into Edge provides a much more uniform and coherent presentation of the main riff. Final two tracks Hope and Destiny round the album off bringing things to a strong conclusion (despite the annoying synth noodling that appears right at the end of the CD).

There is plenty to enjoy on this 64-minute CD, the trio of fine musicians having created a varied selection of pieces that although drawing heavily on analogue keyboard sounds managed to avoid being dated. Intelligent instrumental music that is not afraid to push a few boundaries along the way and an album that only enhances their already fine back catalogue. With a new album already largely recorded and set for release in the early part of 2012, Glass are not as fragile as the name might suggest.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

MARK HUGHES



Ben Levin Group - Pulse Of A Nation
Ben Levin Group - Pulse Of A Nation
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2010
Time:79:37
Info:Ben Levin Group
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Pulse Of A Nation (41:12), Overture (2:46), One Breaks Through (5:28), Pulse (2:24), Ill From The Poisons Of Your Loving (8:26), Sleep (5:32), Catacomb (3:33), Braintree (3:30), We Deteriorate We Thrive (6:46)

DPRP occasionally receives for review CDs from bands based in Boston in the USA, which has a vibrant and diverse music scene. So I was able to calm down after the joy I felt in discovering a band as unique as Ben Levin Group hailing from a nearby city 45 minutes from my house. Move over, Boston scene, Ben Levin Group continues to bring prog to Beantown and beyond with the release of their third CD, Pulse Of A Nation.

On the CD, Ben Levin Group plays dark, epic instrumental-based prog with some classical, industrial and gypsy influences. On Pulse Of A Nation, the band is made up of Ben Levin on guitar, Chris Baum on violin, Josh Friedman on piano and keyboard, Josh Wood on percussion and Handsonic, a Roland pad-based percussion instrument; Kira Meade on cello, Mike Ball on bass and Tyler LeVander on drums.

The CD takes its title from the epic that occupies its first half. The Pulse Of A Nation epic is described in the CD booklet as being “about the last moments of mankind”. Pulse Of A Nation also appears on the almost 80 minute album as an initially slightly edited, eight part Ipod friendly song cycle, for those listeners who may prefer to listen to individual tracks over one epic.

For purposes of this review I was going to provide a complete and detailed breakdown of the title epic, but I decided it would be more justified to touch upon some of the individual song cycle tracks so as not to be a spoiler of sorts and give away to much information.

Stirring violin from Baum creates a gypsy flair along with brooding piano form Friedman and dark guitar from Levin on Sleep, the fifth track of the song cycle. The seventh track, the Boston area local colour-evoking Braintree, showcases a complex Transatlantic style groove and bold stabs of piano from the fingers of Friedman.

His piano takes on a careful tiptoe feel on One Breaks Through, the second track in the song cycle, which sees Levin’s guitar and Baum’s violin traveling into Velvet Underground land, if not Andy Warhol’s Factory. The beats on One Breaks Through are fortified with some ostensible Handsonic from Wood and crashing drums from LeVander, with a bit of dramatic territory evoking Queen as a commonality.

The fourth track in the song cycle, Ill From The Poisons Of Your Loving, sees Ball’s bass going from meandering to determined, and Baum’s adept violin soloing taking on an eerie feel. More Transatlantic pointers shake up the sound with early Marillion and early Pink Floyd references getting in on the sonic action.

The four page CD booklet depicts on the inside a close-up picture of a person’s hand holding someone else’s hand, and lists acknowledgements of thanks as well as musician credits. Special thanks are given to Robert Levin “for writing the text for the last broadcast to mankind”.

This CD will most likely appeal to fans of dark, epic prog rock. You won’t find any perky pop songs here.

What little vocals there are on Pulse Of A Nation are not vocals per se but more along the line of recorded spoken word samples, and an area of opportunity I see for future Ben Levin Group releases is to feature vocals and lyrics more prominently. Also, while the epic is identical to the song cycle with the small exception of the initial editing, and the song cycle can be listened to on its own, a running time of over 79 minutes makes for a tedious listen. The inclusion of the unsequenced epic comes off as some unneeded filler the band should avoid in the future. Thus, my rating comes in a point under recommended.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

JIM CORCORAN



Dream The Elecric Sleep – Lost And Gone Forever
Dream The Elecric Sleep – Lost And Gone Forever
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2011
Time:76:22
Info:Dream The
Elecric Sleep
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Lost And Gone Forever (6:28), Coal Dust And Shadows (6:30), Canary (6:59), The Joneses (8:07), Roots And Fear (6:00), Stay On The Line (5:29), Hold Steady Hands (5:08), Listen To Me (8:13), Echoes Chasing Echoes (4:02), Sundown (6:19), No Air Left (1:36), Feel My Way (1:22), This Is This (6:42), What Will Be (3:52)

Hailing from Lexington, Kentucky, this is a very creditable debut from Dream The Electric Sleep. Its appeal will lie with those who are attracted by a description of a US Indie band playing a progressive rock concept album.

Taking two years to complete, this disc tells the story of an eastern Kentucky coal miner, Jack, and his wife Clementine. The story takes its inspiration from the family history of guitarist and vocalist Matt Page. Loosely based on the life of his grandparents I found the lyrical storyline to be emotionally compelling and very touchingly expressed. In fact I’d go so far as to stay that I’ve rarely found a concept storyline to be as well told as that of Jack and Clementine.

The challenge for the band has been to match the emotional canvass of the lyrical content with music that is equally convincing.

As in a real lifetime, the music encompasses many difference emotions, energies and influences as the story unfolds. There are a few heavy metallic sections and some country/folk stylings featuring an effective use of the banjo. There’s some energetic aggression mixed with more contemplative sections. There’s some joy and a lot of sadness.

I hear a healthy smattering of Rush in the musical patterns, some Black Sabbath in the riffage, the progressive leanings of Pink Floyd and Genesis, the more mainstream rock stylings of Oceansize, Muse or Radiohead and the energy of more modern progressive rock crossover bands such as Abigail’s Ghost or Coheed And Cambria.

Stretched across 76 minutes and with the wide variety of moods, tempos and influences on offer, I can’t say that all of the music grips me. It’s on the earlier songs that I find the instrumentation and melodies more enticing. A few of the more straightforward indie songs such as Roots And Fear don’t really meet my needs for a more complex and creative (progressive) listening experience.

However as a debut this is an accomplished and enjoyable listen where the band has largely achieved the tricky job of combining great storytelling with musical craftsmanship. As all the songs are currently available from the band's website, you can judge for yourself.

As an aside: I hate abbreviated band names. DTES is not a good band name. Dream The Electric Sleep is.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

ANDY READ



Alex Carpani – The Sanctuary
Alex Carpani – The Sanctuary
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:MaRaCash Records
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2010
Time:51:50
Info:Alex Carpani
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Burning Braziers (5:02), The Spirit Of Decadence (5:36), The Dance Of The Sacred Elves (4:02), Entering The Sanctuary (4:58), Knights And Clergymen (4:49), Templars Dream (5:39), Memories Of A Wedding (5:29), Master Of Ceremonies (4:30), Moonlight Through The Ruins (5:46), Leaving The Sanctuary (6:00)

Alex Carpani is an Italian keyboard player (born in Montreux in 1970) who releases his second album The Santuary. He already released a couple of albums with his band Gemini. From a very early age he had musical interests and taught himself to play organ and piano and later studied musicology at the University of Bologna. He also studied music for films at C.E.T. (Italian school of music) and sound engineering. He met Keith Emerson at the age of 6 as Emerson’s son was a classmate of Carpani in his parent’s college in Switzerland. That’s where his love for progressive rock and keyboards was born.

Carpani is active in a number of musical areas as he writes electronic music (several albums released), music for theatre and multimedia (he has written music for various plays and films in Italy), music and poetry (he is has written a trilogy inspired by the verses of Italian poet Edoardo Sanguineti) and of course progressive rock.

The successor of The Waterline (2007) opens quite spectacularly with the wonderful Burning Braziers, an instrumental track which offers a good introduction of what to expect. A very keyboard heavy album and for fans of the mighty Hammond organ especially, an album with much to enjoy. With that in mind the connection could so easily be made with Keith Emerson but I have to say that that’s not the case here. The Dance Of The Sacred Elves does have an ELP influence but to call Carpani a Keith Emerson clone would be unjust and untrue. The instrumental opening track does also show that guitar player Ettore Salati adds enough counterweight to Carpani’s keyboards with his versatile playing. I would have liked to hear him more upfront (especially during Templars Dream and parts of the album closer Leaving The Sanctuary).

The music is well written and played by very skilled players. Next to Salati (ex-The Watch and now The Redzen) we have drummer Gigi Cavalli Cocchi (Mangala Vallis, Moongarden and CCLR) who shows his considerable skills on this albums. Carpani also adds his pleasant voice to a couple of the tracks, although I was a little wary when I first heard his voice at the beginning of Spirit Of Decadence. But this is an album for those who love the sound of the Hammond. Knights And Clergymen is another instrumental track that is smothered in the thing (he says with respect). However note here there is also some beautiful work on the 12 string guitar in the middle part of the song. We must not forget the role of bass player Fabiano Spiga. I didn’t know of him but he proves to be a very solid player who gels very well with Cavalli Cocchi. Especially on, for me the highlight of the album, Memories Of A Wedding.

Although the music is not to my personal taste this is a really well made album with excellent musicians. I understand that however the album is released under the name of Alex Carpani it has become the Alex Carpani band. And although I acknowledge the quality of the songs for me personally the music would have benefited from a slightly more prominent role for Salati. Maybe on the next album? However I feel that a lot of people will really like this album, especially those who like keyboard orientated progressive rock full of Italian passion.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

LEO KOPERDRAAT



Mist Season – Mist Season
Mist Season – Mist Season
Country of Origin:Finland
Format:CD
Record Label:Seacrest
Catalogue #:SCR-1001
Year of Release:2004
Time:53:32
Info:Mist Season
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Peppermint Patty (4:13), Lydia (6:45), My Joy (4:29), Life Is (4:51), Siren's Gaze (5:31), Cosmic Wardance (5:18), Kati (4:37), Hong Xi Road 19 (5:38), Marieholm (8:47), Skeptoscopic Detector (3:27), Lullaby For The Little One (4:18)

Mist Season – Woodlands
Country of Origin:Finland
Format:CD
Record Label:Seacrest
Catalogue #:SCR-1002
Year of Release:2006
Time:77:04
Info:Mist Season
Samples:Click here
Mist Season – Woodlands

Tracklist: Far Away From Home (5:43), Cartway Across The Branches Part I (4:26), Daylite Sprite (4:48), Cartway Across The Branches Part II (2:16), Dance Of The Miststress (4:37), The Six Spruce (4:48), Flowers Of Asia (5:21), Dawn (4:36), Vexplorer (4:12), Cartway Across The Branches Part III (5:10), Woodpecker The Mocker (2:59), Skyward Leafage (8:17), Cartway Across The Branches Part IV (2:54), Garden Of Beruwela (5:52), Tears Of Woodland (9:52)

A band that has really impressed me over the last couple of years is Mist Season although in my review of the latest album Reflections I admitted that I was unfamiliar with their two previous albums. Someone close to the band must have taken note because the self titled debut Mist Season and follow-up Woodlands (from 2004 and 2006 respectively) recently arrived prompting this respective appraisal. Formed in 2004, I was pleased to note that the Reflections line-up of Keijo Hakala (bass), Timo Kajamies (keyboards), Kimmo Pörsti (drums) and Tommi Varjola (guitars) have been together since the beginning. The only change is saxophonist Kari Rantakallio who would be replaced by Risto Salmi for the third album.

The music on both these recordings is very much a precursor of Reflections, beautifully played fusion instrumentals where jazzy excursions are tempered by a tuneful sensibility. Whilst they are all virtuoso musicians in their own right, like the best of bands it’s the ensemble performance that stands out and showy solos are never allowed to become over indulgent. The lively Peppermint Patty that opens the debut album makes this patently clear. It’s a wonderfully freewheeling piece with superb piano and guitar exchanges that wouldn’t sound out of place as the theme tune for a modern Hollywood comedy-adventure (and I don’t mean that in a depreciating way). Likewise the aptly titled My Joy would be the perfect compliment for a romantic-comedy whilst the reflective Lydia for its part weaves piano and saxophone into a smoothly rich tapestry of sound.

Although fluid piano is a key ingredient throughout, no one instrument or band member overshadows the others. Take Life Is for example where sax, guitar and bass are all given individual moments to shine whilst it’s the crisp drumming that raises the heat during the proggy Marieholm. In contrast tracks like Kati and Hong Xi Road may perhaps sound a tad too laidback for their own good although a higher degree of concentration makes it possible to appreciate their intricacies. The debut album ends with two contrasting pieces, the jazz-fusion Skeptoscopic Detector which really kicks up a storm followed by the tranquil Lullaby For The Little One where piano and synth are at their most graceful.

The second album Woodlands is perhaps more experimental than its predecessor, not in a challenging sense but more in terms of trying different ideas and combining contrasting musical styles. As well as sounding brasher and more confident it also shows the band on a creative high with no less than 15 tracks crammed onto a single disc. In addition to the same line-up of Hakala, Kajamies, Pörsti, Varjola and Rantakallio, trumpet player Jukka Pitkänen is credited as a full time member having featured on one track on the last album. There is also a wider array of guest musicians adding such diverse instruments as accordion and clarinet to the mix.

From the outset there is a noticeably harder and jazzier edge to the sound where for instance during Far Away From Home Varjola’s otherwise skilful guitar is sounds almost aggressive. The evocatively titled Cartway Across The Branches Part I introduces a key melody that reoccurs throughout the album. Here it bounces along in a breezy fashion with flute to the fore whereas in Part II trumpet provides a lightweight interpretation rounded off by some fine and jazzy electric piano and guitar exchanges. Part III has a misleading but beautiful mellow introduction before strident synth and guitar provide a welcome proggy variation. Add to that same earthy Hammond soloing and you have one of the most fulfilling and uplifting tracks here. The final version Part IV continues at a rousing tempo with keys, guitar and bass excelling underpinned by an incessant piano motif.

Although all instrumental, the rest of the album is something of a mix bag with horns playing a key role in several pieces. This is most obvious in The Six Spruce and Vexplorer which both really swing in a big band style and the tuneful Dawn where sax and trumpet integrate seamlessly. Elsewhere Dance Of The Miststress introduces accordion and a convincingly Irish flavoured jig whilst the pastoral flute intro of Skyward Leafage is cut through by a measured but still strident Floydian guitar break. At nearly 10 minutes it’s the final track Tears Of Woodland however that proves to be the most satisfying. Another tranquil start with ambient piano and acoustic guitar sets the foundation for an inspirational build where synth, bass and drums in particular standout.

To my mind Woodlands doesn’t quite payoff in the same way as the debut album. Perhaps for my tastes there is just too much going on where jazz flavoured improvisation is allowed a freer hand. That said they remain two very fine albums and it’s also worth noting the lavish booklet that accompanies each disc. The stunning photography by cover designer Esko Tuovinen perfectly captures the atmosphere and diverse moods of Mist Season’s music which has that rare ability to lift the heart and stir the soul.

Conclusions:

Mist Season: 8 out of 10
Woodlands: 7 out of 10

GEOFF FEAKES



Ábrete Gandul - Enjambre Sismico
Ábrete Gandul - Enjambre Sismico
Country of Origin:Chile
Format:CD
Record Label:AltrOck/
Fading Records
Catalogue #:FAD 004
Year of Release:2011
Time:59:20
Info:Ábrete Gandul
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Hacia La Nada (4:27), Necro Sistema (3:02), Marejada (7:29), Consecuencia Natural (10:26), Colapso (11:20), Convergencia Caotica (8:01), Intangible (7:55), ...Y Ahora Que? (7:20)

With their third album, Enjambre Sismico, Chilean band Ábrete Gandul (Spanish for "open up, you lazy one!", an expression meant to encourage an open-minded attitude towards new experiences) have made a comeback on the progressive rock scene after a rather lengthy hiatus and the inevitable line-up changes. Formed in 1999 by vocalist/guitarist Mauricio Dell (aka Doctor Octava), they released their debut album, ¿Bichos=Dichos?, the following year, and their second, Cuentos Para Dormir, in 2005, after Dell's departure. The material featured on Enjambre Sismico, released in the late spring of 2011 on AltrOck/Fading Records (which is establishing itself as one of the most exciting labels for progressive music) was composed over the past six years. In addition to writing and recording music, Ábrete Gandul have always been quite active on the live front in their home country, where they have gained a loyal following in the small but keen community of prog fans.

The album's title, which in English translates as "seismic swarm", is a reference to the disastrous earthquake that struck Chile in 2010, a tragic event that left a lasting mark on the whole population. One week after the earthquake, the band was presented with the unique opportunity to support Tony Levin and his Stickmen on their Santiago date. Ábrete Gandul's first two albums had barely received any coverage in the media dedicated to progressive rock, and few people had been aware of them prior to the release of Enjambre Sismico. Their debut album had also been criticized by those who had heard it because of founder Mauricio Dell's not exactly stellar vocals, and the decision to adopt a completely instrumental format in its follow-up marked a definite improvement in the band's sound.

While Enjambre Sismico is certainly an album with a strong eclectic bent, the influence of King Crimson is very hard to ignore, and the band will be more than ready to admit that Robert Fripp and his crew are their main source of inspiration. Ábrete Gandul's sound is very much guitar-based, though the presence of Jaime Acuña's keyboards adds a fullness that tempers the angularity of the guitar lines. The recurring use of electronic sound effects injects a spacey note in the texture of the compositions, mostly based on a slow, relentless build-up carried out by Rodrigo Maccioni's hauntingly insistent guitar lines and propelled by Antonio Arceu's steady, precise drumming. It might be said that the blueprint for the 8 tracks appearing on Enjambre Sismico (ranging from the 3 minutes of Marejada to the 11 of Colapso, and altogether clocking in at barely under an hour) are King Crimson in their Bruford/Wetton incarnation, especially instrumental tracks such as Fracture or Larks' Tongues In Aspic. However, Ábrete Gandul luckily do not belong to the rather large number of bands that wear their influences on their metaphorical sleeves, sometimes with results that border on cloning.

From a compositional point of view, there is enough variety on the album to bode well for the band's future developments. Like King Crimson, Ábrete Gandul rely more on the slow, controlled weaving of hypnotic texture than on the mind-boggling array of tempo changes favoured by other prog bands and their fans. This is not to say that their compositions are monotonous - the changes are rather achieved with subtlety, as shown by opening track Hacia La Nada, in which two different sections alternate, one led by keyboards, the other by bass and drums, with piano adding a melodic touch. The King Crimson influence emerges most evidently in tracks like the aptly-titled Marejada ("Heavy Sea"), where a Frippian, ostinato guitar line is supported by surging keyboards, slowly but inevitably driving to an effects-laden climax, and the low-key, 10-minute Consequencia Natural, enhanced by jazz inserts but somewhat marred in its final section by an excess of rather jarring sound effects. Colapso, the longest track on the album, combines muted, atmospheric passages with moments of tightly woven intensity, punctuated by the dry rumble of Pedro Santander's bass, and introduces a couple of RIO/Avant-influenced numbers, the harsh, metal-tinged Convergencia Caotica with its cinematic sweep and ominous piano line, and the unmistakable Magma references of the swelling, dramatic Intangible. Another example of the band's eclecticism lies in closing track ...Y Ahora Que?, which opens with a subdued, insistent guitar line, then abruptly turns into a jazzy workout built around a lengthy, upbeat sax solo by Stratos Akrias (aka Leo Aries) of fellow Chileans Akinetón Retard.

Like other AltrOck/Fading releases, Enjambre Sismico comes in a very stylish package, with gorgeous photography and detailed liner notes - albeit somewhat hard to read without a magnifying glass. Although I am not too keen on the constant use of weird sound effects that sometimes feel at odds with the rest, as a whole the music presented on the album is executed with skill and flair, and is often quite riveting. In any case, the Fading Records branch of AltrOck Productions has taken a truly interesting direction in their choice of Seventies-inspired bands - reminding us, in case it was needed, that there was more to those golden years than the symphonic prog of Yes, Genesis and their ilk. Warmly recommended to fans of the King Crimson school of angular, eclectic and intellectually challenging progressive rock, Enjambre Sismico shows Ábrete Gandul's considerable potential as purveyors of high-quality instrumental music.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

RAFFAELLA BERRY



1870 - Pogo Y 4 Hisotrias De Horror
1870 - Pogo Y 4 Hisotrias De Horror
Country of Origin:Mexico
Format:CD
Record Label:Luna Negra
Records
Catalogue #:CDLN-47
Year of Release:2011
Time:47:03
Info:1870
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Canto Tercero (9:28), Romance De La Muerte De Agua (7:52), Liquido (7:01), Pogo El Horla (11:13), 2 De Junio (7:23), La Danza De Maupassant (3:56)

Now then this is a really interesting release from the Luna Negra Records label. 1870 has release what can only be describe as an avant garde / R.I.O chamber rock album, an album that captures the essence of its subject matter and album title perfectly. Pogo Y 4 Historias De Horror their second album will test your musical limitations, make no mistake of that. If your musical candy is powerful and melodic presentations then stay well clear, as upon listening to this, you will feel that you have entered the wrong building, hell universe even. Even the artwork on initial viewing is somewhat disturbing as are the John Wayne Gacy references, for all intent and purpose this could literally be a soundtrack to his warped and twisted mind.

This is structure that is complex, atmospheric and dark, soundtrack in approach punctuated at times by what would seem to be poetry which does heighten the intensity of the creations. Instrumentally for me though is where this album is at really. 1870 are a quartet of musicians consisting of Gustavo Albarran (French horn and vocals), Karel Gomez (oboe, horn and theremin), Alfonso Cosme (French horn) and Hugo Luque (electronic manipulations).

The only way to listen to this band is with an open ear and more importantly a very open mind. Not to do so will do the more adventurous of us out there an injustice.

If 1870 were to be aligned with any bands for reference I would suggest that we are talking Univers Zero and Art Zoyd. Their minimalistic approach offers them a loose connection to Krautrock not dissimilar to Alqumia or Oxomoxoma also. I just find it all very intriguing that the band has found new ways to display the presentation of this genre and those who are receptive will be rewarded.

Whether you listen to La Danza De Maupassant or Pogo El Horla the shortest and longest tracks on the album, you will quickly realise and understand that there is no let up in the music’s intensity. At times the sound is barren and seemingly devoid of soul, but in the grander scale of things, this is definitely not the case. There are some very interesting passages woven into the fabric of all six creations here which is what keeps it in my eyes, interesting and fresh.

The band has for the most part been able to manipulate the sounds into what can only described as anarchic, almost musically profane yet maintaining articulation and character. This is music that will furrow through your brain like maggots careening their way through an orchard, a tour de force waiting to be discovered and a band that definitely does not understand the word compromise. Tread carefully and enjoy.

Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10

JOHN O'BOYLE



Solkyri – No House [EP]
Solkyri – No House [EP]
Country of Origin:Australia
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2011
Time:36:06
Info:Solkyri
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Zee Germans (3:46), Court-A (8:35), This Can’t Wait! (5:07), Strangers (10:37), Young Man, You Will Die Of This Company (3:29), Slowly, We Take Steps [Astronaut] (4:32)

Roxy Music and Pink Floyd are known to have experimented musically during their respective recorded heydays, so it is perhaps no surprise that they turn up as influences on No House, the debut EP from Australia-based experimental band Solkyri. Solkyri is comprised of Adam Mostek, Andrew Pearsall and Nicholas Hall. The EP credits do not indicate what instruments each of them plays, but across the EP one can detect guitar, bass, drums, and samples, as well as piano and xylophone elements. Also, some talented guest musicians help out, with Rachel Waisel playing flute on two tracks, Matthew Parker contributing trumpet on two tracks, Anatoli Torjinski providing cello on two tracks, and the simply named “George” playing tuba on one track.

The Floyd commonality shows up on closing track Slowly, We Take Steps [Astronaut], with the piano elements sounding just off enough to evoke the Richard Wright composition Sysyphus. The Roxy influence gets in on the action on This Can’t Wait!, which showcases cascades of bold drumming and some guitar and bass which seeps in and sizzles the tune like sheets of molten volcanic lava.

The track Strangers offers a melodic flair reminiscent of Misplaced Childhood-era Marillion, some strong drumming making a sojourn from jazz to rock, carefree flute from Waisel and slithers of beckoning cello from Torjinski.

No House is available via download from the band's Bandcamp site. If you download the EP, you will receive in addition to the download a physical copy of the EP, housed in a colorful, folding cardboard wallet and containing the track listing and guest musician credits.

No House will most likely appeal to fans of experimental music and will perhaps be more of an acquired taste for those lovers of vocal pop.

In the future, I would like to see this band take their experimentation further, which they could perhaps achieve by looking to the dance grooves, post-rock and drone of The Resonance Association as a source of inspiration.

Conclusion: 5 out of 10

JIM CORCORAN


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