Reviews in this issue:
- Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson - Thick As A Brick 2 (Duo Review)
- Moon Safari - The Gettysburg Address
- Steve Hogarth & Richard Barbieri – Not The Weapon But The Hand (Duo Review)
- Colossus Project (VA) – Decameron ~ Ten Days In 100 Novellas - Part 1
- Forgas Band Phenomena – Acte V
- Guitar Addiction (VA) - A Tribute To The Modern Guitar
- Gekko Projekt - Electric Forest
- Iszil - Back To The Seed
- Locanda Delle Fate – The Missing Fireflies
- Six Elements – Primary Elements
- Ben Sommer – Super Brain
- Diversion Voice – Underwater
Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson - Thick As A Brick 2
DIVERGENCE: Interventions, Parallel Possibilities: Pebbles Thrown ~ From A Pebble Thrown (3:04), Pebbles Instrumental (3:30), Might-have-beens (0:50), Gerald The Banker ~ Upper Sixth Loan Shark (1:13), Banker Bets, Banker Wins (4:27), Gerald Goes Homeless ~ Swing It Far (3:28), Adrift And Dumfounded (4:25), Gerald Goes Military ~ Old School Song (3:06), Wootton Bassett Town (3:43), Gerald The Chorister ~ Power And Spirit (1:59), Give Till It Hurts (1:12), Gerald: A Most Ordinary Man ~ Cosy Corner (1:24), Shunt And Shuffle (2:12)
CONVERGENCE: Destiny, Fate, Karma, Kismet: A Change Of Horses ~ A Change Of Horses (8:04), 22 Mulberry Walk ~ Confessional (3:08), Kismet In Suburbia (4:17), What-ifs, Maybes And Might-have-beens ~ What-ifs, Maybes And Might-have-beens (3:36)
DVD: 5.1 Surround Sound of entire album tracklisting (Mixed by Steven Wilson), `The making of the album' (25 min), Interview with Ian Anderson talking about the album, Interview with Steven Wilson- Lyric reading (25min)- Artwork
Basil Francis' Review
Well, I'll admit, Ian Anderson had me worried for a second. When I heard about a sequel to one of progressive rock's most cherished albums, I was incredulous at first. After all, we're all too familiar with artists trying to capitalise on their earlier successes by delivering some rubbish with the number '2' slapped on the end. Worse still was the potential for this new album to tarnish the Thick As A Brick name forever more! Nevertheless, it just took a few minutes listening to Thick As A Brick 2 to put my fears at ease.
Thick As A Brick 2 - conveniently abbreviated to TAAB 2 on the cover - is just what it says on the tin: a sequel to Jethro Tull's classic 1972 album, Thick As A Brick. However, the two albums are conceptually quite different. The music on the first album did not explicitly refer to Gerald Bostock, the fictional writer of the poem published in the newspaper sleeve cover. To understand who the boy was - and in turn the actual concept of the album - you'd have to have read the article on the front cover, as well as all the other articles inside referring to little Gerald. However, this time the album is no longer a fictional poem, but Ian Anderson pondering what may have become of Bostock forty years on. Five alternate lifetimes are considered, including a homeless man and a soldier. The album is very tightly structured with details given in the booklet.
There's more. While the original album had one solid piece of music split across two sides of vinyl, we have 53 minutes of music split into a whopping seventeen tracks, although there are a few segues here and there. Lovers of long tracks may be disappointed, but in fact the music sounds just fine in smaller bites. Indeed, the relaxing of the concept along with the decision to keep the tracks short ensures that the album doesn't sound the least bit contrived.
However, that's not to say that the effort put into the first album hasn't been matched. Fans of the glorious original newspaper LP sleeve will be delighted by the modern twist which has turned the St. Cleve Chronicle into a website, StCleve.com. The pages of this website can be accessed online or via PDFs located on the DVD in the special edition of the album. Sadly, there is no sign of Sand-Castle Man, but then again, he was calling it a day wasn't he?
As for the music, Anderson has rounded up a motley crew of musicians, including John O'Hara on keys, David Goodier on bass, Florian Opahle on guitar and Scott Hammond on drums. In addition, the legendary Steven Wilson has been drafted in as mixing engineer. The music is very much in the same vein as the first album, with rocky riffs alternating with Anderson's trademark flute. The musical references to the original album are kept to a minimum but are very apparent.
Luckily enough, there are a few recurring themes in the album lyrically and musically, which are cleverly interwoven so that you don't notice them all the first time. Perhaps the most clever tune on the album is Kismet In Suburbia which consists of of five verses corresponding to the five Geralds, sung over a thumping riff. On the other hand, Old School Song, is coincidentally (or perhaps not?) rather old-school, utilising a Hammond organ for maximum retro effect. While the music is undeniably proggy, fans shouldn't expect anything as hardcore as the drum solo on the first album.
The quintessentially British lyrics really shine on this album, with references to rugger and Fray Bentos pies being likely to throw overseas fans. While the lyrics also include references to modern inventions such as eBay, the imagery used is such that it draws the mind back to the 70s, a simpler time for little Gerald. There's real meaning and storytelling in the lyrics, so it's worth reading them.
To those who can't decide between the standard and the special edition of this album, I say the choice is obvious, as the extra DVD is really worth the £4 you pay for it. Along with the superior quality surround sound mix of the album, there's a host of extra goodies to revel in. Included is a 14 minute documentary of the making of the album, which is actually quite insightful and fascinating for its length. Also included are 16 minutes of interviews, mainly with Anderson himself, who reveals, among other things, that Derek Shulman is the man who first planted the idea of a sequel in his head. A stranger feature perhaps is the 'lyric reading' where Ian literally reads the lyrics as they are, with various shifting backgrounds. At first this feature seems superfluous, but at some point while watching you'll realise that you haven't been listening to the lyrics properly, and will come to realise just how clever they actually are.
Well, there you have it. This is surely the most anticipated prog album of the year and I'm glad to say that it lives up to its expectations. It's reassuring to see that an artist can still produce brilliant material so late in their career. Lyrically and musically, this is a gorgeous sequel that is worthy of the Thick As A Brick name, and not a release to miss out on. All we need now is for Peter Gabriel to tell us what Rael has been up to as well!
Bob Mulvey's Review
Well is it or isn't it? What? A Jethro Tull album!
Much seems to have been the subject of debate on this matter on the www. Personally I don't give a ****. I mention it only as it forms a coincidence for me. Although an avid prog fan since my teen years I somewhat let Jethro Tull slip me by in the those early, formative years and looking back I'm not entirely sure why. Possibly as my early introduction to the band came through This Was and Benefit, which didn't do an awful lot for me I have to admit. However my interest in Tull was thoroughly awakened in 1980 with the then Ian Anderson solo/Jethro Tull album A, which I purchased mainly due to the inclusion of one Eddie Jobson. Those of an certain age may well remember a similar debate then that has surrounded TAAB2 now. Anyway to conclude this side step, I loved A, which prompted me to by the truly excellent Songs From The Wood followed swiftly by Thick As A Brick, Aqualung, et al. And the rest as they say, is history...
But let us not dwell in the past but move forward to the album in question here and Thick As A Brick 2. The sequel to 1972's album of the same name, minus the 2 of course - and subtitled "Whatever Happened To Gerald Bostock?" The oft witty and observant Anderson muses the differing paths the now 50 year old Gerald Bostock, (the fictional child character from the original album), might have followed. All of which are noted in the divisions, sub-divisions and tracks on the album.
Now prior to actually purchasing the album, I was constantly bemused and amused by the campaign that preceded its release. The updating of the St Cleve Chronicle newspaper to StCleve.com, Gerald Bostock on Facebook and of course his Twitter feed. All of which suggested Ian Anderson had put much thought into this follow-up rather than merely hanging onto the coat tails of its predecessor. So the burning question - would the music encompass the same detail? I'm happy to report it does!
From the first (audible) bars the original album is referenced. Not overtly so, but we do find motifs and melodies interspersed sparingly. Sometimes the references are more obvious as in Old School Song. Lyrically there are also references throughout, but here we are not solely confined to TAAB... other albums from the band's history are intermingled. I'll leave you to discover them.
From the initial listening I pondered that the album had a somewhat live arrangement to it, later confirmed by Ian Anderson in one of the many interviews I've read regarding TAAB2. Ian suggests that the intention was always to play the album live and initially in its complete form. This perhaps explains why there is less flute work than one might have expected. However all the Tullian trademarks are here, good and not so good. Not so good? Perhaps I'll let just let Ian Anderson explain what I am hinting at here:
"Anderson's natural enthusiasm for his subject(s) all too often gets the better of him: the result is that there is sometimes a stop-and-go feeling to the album with changes of musical tack and new developments occurring just when the listener is getting to know a section and settle back with a fresh tune. Then, all change! Some new idea bursts out of the closet and away we go again with another theme or new lyrical character."
And... not just confined to this album I might hasten to add ;0)
Returning swiftly to TAAB2. Ian's flute work is exemplary as ever and vocally the album works for me - perhaps time for some to cut him some slack here? Ian, now in his sixties and as many will know his vocals lost much of their "strength" many years ago now due to an throat infection contracted whilst touring. Over the ensuing years he has adapted his delivery to suit. In fact even the instrumentation on TAAB2 might have taken a leaf from the Acoustic Tour Ian undertook some five years ago. As then and now, accompanying Ian were John O'Hara (piano, keyboards & accordion) and David Goodier (acoustic and electric bass & glockenspiel). That gentler folky approach worked really well on that tour, especially the frequent use of the accordion. Here again on TAAB2 the accordion parts are delightful and refreshing.
Don't let me mislead you though as there is still much bite to be had throughout and Florian Ophale offers a different, heavier, slant to proceedings than the missing Martin Barre. Whereas John O'Hara and Scott Hammond supply the, to be expected, strong Tullian rhythm section. Oh and taking of Hammond, John O'Hara does not forsake the the mighty beast either.
I'm going to avoid a track by track précis as this is an album that should be, or at least benefits from, being listened to as a whole. All the Tull trademarks are here - the odd metering, strong themes, the in context solo passages, Anderson's thoughtful and observant lyrics and of course the magical flute. All of which can be amply found in the longest piece from the album, A Change Of Horses with its Eastern feel harkening back to Roots To Branches. Whereas Kismet In Suburbia may well be the successor for live set closer Locomotive Breath.
I feel sure Tull, (or Ian Anderson if you wish), fans will be divided by this release. No change there then. But in my book it is great to see Ian and co. back in the studio and TAAB2 is worthy sequel. I have no problem recommending this album to Tull fans and even those, perhaps younger readers, curious about the band - this is not a bad place to start. Unlike Basil's closing remark - all I need now is a live registration, from the current tour, of TAAB and TAAB2 together on CD/DVD.
Moon Safari - The Gettysburg Address
CD 1 Moonwalk (11:38), Lover's End Pt.1 (6:55), A Kid Called Panic (14:34), Yasgur's Farm (8:44), The World's Best Dreamers (6:20)
CD 2 Dance Across The Ocean (8:48), Heartland (6:04), New York City Summergirl (4:57), Other Half Of The Sky (30:39)
The Swedish sextet from Skellefteå have gathered a lot of attention since their formation in 2003 not at least because of the three studio albums that have been heaped with praise and introduced the wonders of close harmony singing into the world of progressive rock. Sadly, large multinational tours are no longer viable for most bands these days, least of all those linked to prog, so the opportunity of catching the group live has been somewhat limited. Fortunately, the band saw good sense to record their headlining 2011 ROSFest performance (held in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, hence the name of the CD) and have released the main set on this double CD. Unfortunately, the encores (Doorway and the marvellous a cappella Constant Bloom are not included, which is a great pity for completists). The concert followed the release of the highly rated Lover's End, which gained a universal recommended release rating from all three DPRP reviewers. As might be expected, the set list leans heavily on that album, featuring five of the eight tracks from the original release, although that still leaves about an hour of material from previous albums. The performers are the same as on Lover's End namely: Petter Sandström (acoustic guitar & lead vocals), Johan Westerlund (bass & vocals), Tobias Lundgren (drums, percussion & vocals) alongside the three Åkesson brothers, Pontus (guitars & vocals), Sebastian (organ, Mellotron, percussion & vocals) and Simon (synthesisers, grand piano, organ & vocals).
The big question surrounding the band was if they would be able to replicate their often intricate vocal harmonies live on stage. The answer? Yes, yes, definitely yes! They take a number or two to warm up fully but once they hit their stride there is no stopping them! Even if you are a cynic and reckon that it has all been re-done in the studio after the event, there are some songs up on YouTube (including the 'missing' Constant Bloom) that proves their capabilities in the live, unadulterated setting. It doesn't really seem pertinent to go through the tracks as you can find a more in-depth discussion of the songs that are included in the context of the original albums from the DPRP reviews. However, the selection of material provides a very good synopsis of the range of material that Moon Safari write - from the excellent, more pop-tinged New York City Summergirl to the epic highlight of the [blomljud] album Other Half Of The Sky. The other nice thing to hear is the communication between the band and the audience which is often humorous and even self-depreciating.
Live albums are something that, to me, really seem to be aimed at the ardent fan base rather than as an introduction to the band so, on that level, I would always recommend buying a studio album as a first step. The nature of the music also means that the live versions are not substantially different from the studio versions in terms of the song structures - no jamming here! What is different though is the arrangements for the live setting. With a great balance between the instruments and voices, the joyous nature of the songs and uplifting magnificence of the harmonies, this is one live recording that is worthy of including in any collection. Moon Safari, prog that even your mum would like!
The songs on this CD originally appeared on: Lover's End (2010) [Lover's End Pt.1, A Kid Called Panic, The World's Best Dreamers, Heartland and New York City Summergirl], [blomljud] (2008) [Moonwalk, Yasgur's Farm and Other Half Of The Sky] and A Doorway To Summer (2005) [Dance Across The Ocean].
Regarding the numeric conclusion: One point docked for missing off the encores, particularly when there is room on the discs!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Steve Hogarth & Richard Barbieri – Not The Weapon But The Hand
Tracklist: Red Kite (7:25), A Cat With Seven Souls (5:50), Naked (6:14), Crack (4:45), Your Beautiful Face (6:47), Only Love Will Make You Free (8:08), Lifting The Lid (6:02), Not The Weapon But The Hand (1:25)
Brendan Bowen's Review
From prog notables Steve Hogarth (Marillion, vocals) and Richard Barbieri (Porcupine Tree, keyboards,) a product of extreme creativity and esoteric leanings has graced our circle. Not The Weapon But The Hand is a deeply philosophical album whose depth is matched appropriately by the deep bass interplay throughout the album.
This album has a sense of familiarity to it, but not from any common sources. I hear elements that take me to Laurie Anderson with her penchant for story telling among varied and ambient sounds and effects as well as hints of Kate Bush imagery - particularly the recent 50 Words For Snow album. Richard’s penchant for creating innovative sounds comes out with a primordial dark flair this time.
The music doesn’t really respect common song structure; all the while this intricate work comes off smoothly and not overly complicated. The meter stays close to the standard 4/4 and 3/4 realm, however, there is nothing “standard” about this album. The way the melodious portions flow from bassy beats layered with haunting vocals and vocal highlights (Suzanne Barbieri credited with voice samples) into clever drumming that drives forward without sounding rushed creates an aura of meditation and peace. This is accomplished while delivering a technically proficient product that isn’t lacking in detail.
Listening to this with capable equipment is mandatory. Low bitrate samples won’t carry the power of this album to your ears. The power contained in this work is crucial to the overall effect. Not The Weapon But The Hand will test your low end through its melodies - quite unusual.
Steve and Richard have put together a masterpiece that posits some amazing thought provoking lyrics to some of the most mesmerizing sounds I have ever heard. The philosophical elements took me across the galaxy to the Pleiadian influence from which I first heard the concept of fear being the opposite of love. Furthermore, concept of the title being the “damage done is not from the weapon but from the hand in which it rests” makes a distinct and timeless point toward human interaction. I can’t be sure but the lyrics seem to dabble in numerology in The Cat With Seven Souls.
Hogarth and Barbieri combined to produce and mix the album (with additional help from Michael Hunter.) The quality is remarkable and incredibly balanced when you consider the excessive lower frequencies on display.
Pay attention to this album; it is truly ground breaking in the way it uses low end, chilled structures, and inventive sounds in a highly creative framework. A minor drawback for me is how the vocals tend to taper out of key or even crack a little while delivering the more soft, quiet and moody stretches. Maybe in the long run these limitations will grow on me and become part of the character of the album rather than a flaw. Hogarth’s voice is truly a plus for this work and overall though - I am awestruck.
Jim Corcoran's Review
I was quite impressed upon my initial listen of the Marillion album Marbles upon its deployment back in 2004 and still am to this day, proggie-napped away by the hooky, drum-loopy You’re Gone and the trip-hop opening of The Invisible Man. I was equally impressed with the Richard Barbieri solo offerings Things Buried and Stranger Inside when I reviewed them for DPRP back in 2008. I regrettably do not have the same level of enthusiasm for the Marillion releases Somewhere Else and Happiness Is The Road.
Remember the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups commercial where a guy holding a chocolate bar clumsily bumps into another guy holding a jar of peanut butter? The first guy says, “You got your peanut butter on my chocolate!” Then the other guy responds, “You got your chocolate in my peanut butter!”
That’s what we have with the debut release from Steve Hogarth & Richard Barbieri, entitled Not The Weapon But The Hand. Two great tastes that taste great together- a sweet, sugary confection of many ingredients including but not limited to keyboards, programming, and of course the lyrics and vocals of Steve Hogarth.
The duo’s lineage can be traced directly all the way back to 1997-1998, when Barbieri played synthesizers on the Hogarth debut solo album Ice Cream Genius. A few years later, Hogarth assembled a band known as the “H Band” (with Barbieri and guitarist Dave Gregory as holdovers from the album) for a tour of the UK and the rest of Europe. The ensuing live document Live Body Live Spirit H Band Live At Dingwalls 8th And 9th August 2001 landed squarely on the streets in 2002.
Hogarth’s solo endeavouring today consists of an unadorned, vocals-and-keyboard touring affair billed as “H Natural”, with shows including banter and storytelling, select cover songs, and of course solitary readings of tunes from the other Hogarth band, that certain Marillion he has fronted since the departure of original vocalist Fish in 1988. Prior to Marillion, Hogarth was a member of The Europeans, How We Live, and Harlow.
As for Barbieri’s cred, he is most notably recognized perhaps as the keyboard man for Porcupine Tree and before that Japan (and their alter ego Rain Tree Crow). He has also played in The Dolphin Brothers, The Bays, Indigo Falls, various configurations of Japan alumni, and with Tim Bowness.
One reason I ordered Not The Weapon But The Hand from our writer’s pipeline is that I was hoping Hogarth, mostly a singer but also known to expertly navigate the keyboards, would join his fellow keyboards whiz Barbieri in a double-barrel twin keyboard invasion similar to the approach taken by Dave Greenslade and Dave Lawson (and later Dave Greenslade and John Young) in the band Greenslade or of recent line-ups of Renaissance. But alas, on Not The Weapon But The Hand Hogarth does not handle any keyboards but is simply credited with, as the CD puts it, “voice/words”. And there’s no cricket bats here, as they translate better onstage. Barbieri handles what is modestly credited as “music”.
And there are some great supporting musicians here, including Gregory (XTC, Tin Spirits, Big Big Train and a long resume of session work including Peter Gabriel and Porcupine Tree) on sampled string arrangements on two tracks, bass guitar on two tracks, and electric guitar on three tracks; previous Barbieri collaborator the great Danny Thompson (another lengthy resume) on double bass on one track, Arran Ahmun (yet another long CV) on additional percussion on one track and drums on three tracks, Chris Maitland (No~Man, Porcupine Tree, Blackfield, Kino, Guilt Machine) on drums on one track; another "Ice Cream Genius" alum, that album’s additional engineering contributor and contributing co-writer Michael Hunter here on additional percussion/programming on one track; Barbieri’s spouse, his previous solo efforts’ sampled source and Indigo Falls band mate Suzanne Barbieri on vocal samples on two tracks; and the simply credited “H” (ostensibly Hunter, as he is acknowledged in part as “the other H” on "Ice Cream Genius") on tambourine and shakers on one track and dulcimer on one track.
And Suzanne isn’t the only sampled trove here; in the tradition of Barbieri’s solo efforts we have additional samples used on Not The Weapon But The Hand under the Creative Commons License at Freesound including, as their file names describe, “church vox line” on one track, “119043__toiletroll..” on one track; and “114271_klankbeeld_choir_cathedral_remix.wav”, “creepy melody- danielc 0307” and “dark atmos - nicStage” all on one track.
According to the CD’s credits, all tracks were written and composed by Hogarth and Barbieri. However, the disclaimer “Lyrics used by permission” comes with lyrics for one of the eight tracks.
The worldly, dark tribal Only Love Will Make You Free offers a warm sampled string arrangement and guttural bass from the versatile Gregory, and the triple percussive artillery of Maitland on drums, Ahmun on additional percussion and H wielding those katabatic shakers. Gregory’s string arrangement is an oxygen tank, sighing the song along like autumn leaves on a blustery day. It’s on this particular tune that Hogarth’s vocals have a little more energy in them, whereas in other places on the album they have a soft-spoken, quasi-whispered delivery not unlike that of Mike VanPortfleet of independent Gothers Lycia. They do, overall though, seem to flow thickly with Barbieri’s well-written and produced music and firmly envelop the free form and unstructured shape of the lyrics.
Lyrics like these from A Cat With Seven Souls: I think there are five of me/ We wave to each other from across the sea/ Well maybe there are six – six of the best intentions. Honestly./ This is the one who threw himself at your feet. Cool title, too, much better than the dreary cliché of Your Beautiful Face.
Ahmun’s drums take on a rollick on Naked, a dark waltzy piece which features confident double bass from Thompson and an Eastern characteristic with regards to H’s dulcimer.
Hogarth and Barbieri have painted this work of art with lush, dreamy airy brushstrokes to the point where the songs almost flow as one extended piece. But they toss us a bit of a curve ball with Crack, which ignites things with blistering guitar from Gregory and the combustible clockwork concoction of Hunter’s fiery percussion programming and the detonation drumming from Ahmun.
So why so much discussion in this review of the supporting musicians, with not so much mention given to Hogarth and Barbieri? Altruism all around, I say. Hogarth and Barbieri are major names in the prog scene with many of the albums they’ve appeared on receiving exposure and acclaim. While they certainly deserve credit for the originality and creative sensibility of Not The Weapon But The Hand, I see the relationship between band/project members proper and other guest or supporting musicians as being a team dynamic. I feel that if I gave little or no mention to these talented contributors and focused just on Hogarth and Barbieri, they might be offended if they read a review with scant mention of their devoted, capable and selfless studio soldiers.
The CD is housed rigidly yet lavishly in a digibook package with the credits and lyrics. The digibook design comes courtesy of Bill Smith of bssp London, and the emotive photographs were taken by photog Luigi Colosanti Antonelli, who also handled the photography for Barbieri’s solo CDs.
Not The Weapon But The Hand will appeal mostly to fans of reasonably epic, lush sweeping stuff such as bands like Kscope label mates Anathema and Nosound. If you’re seeking progressive metal, you’d be best off hitting up a Threshold show. So it’s not “recommended to all”, thus my taking it a half point under that rating.
As far as room for improvement goes, a full blown H Band reunion is probably an unjustified choice compared to an alternate path - the recruitment of some of the other contributors to Barbieri’s solo releases like Percy Jones, Andy Gangadeen, Gavin Harrison and Steve Jansen.
Colossus Project (VA) – Decameron
~ Ten Days In 100 Novellas - Part 1
CD 1: La Coscienza Di Zeno: Il Paradiso Degli Altri (9:52), Nexus: The Evil Priests (7:20), Lady Lake: Wisdom (10:42), Tommy Eriksson: Abbotic Cure (7:12), La Theorie Des Cordes: Le Repas Des Gelinottes Ou Anecdotes Sur Un Roi De France (6:23), Resistor: The Inquisitor’s Jig (8:34), Faveravola: Cangrande e Bergamino (8:05)
CD 2: Index: Lauretta’s Tale (10:38), Safara: Elissa (5:27), Andrew Roussak Project: Alberto Of Bologna (5:47), Penelli Di Vermeer: La Novella Di Martellino (3:37), Jinetes Negros: Templanza (5:01), Posto Blocco 19: Scandendo Il Tempo (6:51), Servimontana: Campaign (5:06), Fufluns: Andreuccio da Perugia (7:34), Senogul: Sixth Tale (6:31), Kate: Alathiella (6:25)
CD 3: Roz Vitalis: Eighth Tale (8:08), Rhys Marsh: In Deceit They Play (4:33), Inner Drive: Second Day 10th Tale (4:29), Trion: Fast Forward (4:48), Attilio Perrone: Peste (8:18), Attilio Perrone: Amami (4:19), Contrarian: The Alchemist (6:07), The Samurai Of Prog: The Promise (8:09), Jukka Kulju: Decameron Day 3 Tale 6 (6:37)
CD 4: Ars Ephemera: Decameron 3:7 (11:57), Mogon: Snuff (10:51), Ciccada: She Went For Love (7:41), Ozone Player: Putting The Devil In Hell (6:36), Castle Canyon: The Poison Heart (9:46), La C.O.S.A.: Orizzonte Perduto (6:26), Gary Clouser: After All (3:39), Bonus tracks: Daal: Witches (6:49), Marco Lo Muscio: White Prelude (4:25)
If you’ve been a regular visitor to the DPRP website over the past few years then you may well be aware of my passion for the Colossus projects courtesy of The Finnish Progressive Music Association. Each release is normally a mammoth undertaking and this latest is no exception with over 4 hours of music and a beautifully illustrated booklet based on the Italian literary classic ‘The Decameron’. A variety of International progressive rock acts (many of whom have featured on previous Colossus outings) have united to provide a musical interpretation of Giovanni Boccaccio's 14th-century morality tales. Containing liberal measures of sex and religion they are reputed to have inspired English writers and poets like Chaucer, Shakespeare, Tennyson, Keats and Shelly. That aside, it’s the music that matters, which, like so many good concept albums, can be easily appreciated in its own right.
Appropriately given the source material, Italian band La Coscienza Di Zeno get things get off to splendid start. A new name to me, they perfectly capture the spirit of early 70’s prog (and Le Orme in particular) with a tuneful and skilfully crafted symphonic sound complementing a commanding lead vocal. Like many of the pieces here Nexus’ The Evil Priests is purely instrumental benefitting from the up-front bass and full bodied Hammond sound that evokes fond memories of The Nice and early ELP. Likewise Lady Lake’s guitar driven extravaganza Wisdom features a solid organ rhythm whilst Tommy Eriksson demonstrates his prowess with both guitars and keyboards with a stunning contribution from his drummer adding up to one of the most tunefully memorable tracks here. La Theorie Des Cordes on the other hand are typically quirky French prog reminding me of their countrymen Ange, alternating fast a furious guitar driven flights with laidback piano interludes. The striking guitar work in particular stands out. Guitar is also prominent in Resistor’s appropriately titled The Inquisitor’s Jig which features the talents of DPRP favourite Steve Unruh who (intentionally or not) captures the spirit of 70’s Irish rockers Horslips. Faveravola have the parting honours on disc one with organ, violin and piano creating a perfect balance of prog and folk with fine lead vocals.
Kicking off disc 2 in fine style is Index’s contribution which revels in its authentic analogue glory with melodious Minimoog and lead guitar underpinned by a gritty, syncopated organ riff. Safara’s Elissa benefits from a female vocalist with a beautiful voice complemented by a lush Mellotron backing and in a similar tranquil vein are Russia’s Andrew Roussak Project with superb harmony vocals supported by gloriously melodic acoustic guitar and synth. With its mock harpsichord and Ennio Morricone Western style chants, Penelli Di Vermeer’s La Novella di Martellino is an intriguing curio which sits comfortably alongside Jinetes Negros’ edgy and memorable Templanza which features some of the most inventive instrumental work on offer here. Posto Blocco 19 enchant with a melodic slice of neo-prog with typically theatrical Italian vocals whilst Russia’s Servimontana opt for the instrumental route with the gutsy (almost bluesy) Campaign which features the unusual combination of guitar and harmonica. The strangely named Fufluns provide a neat balance between call and response vocal sections and instrumental passages with deliciously upfront Mellotron and Rickenbacker bass whilst Spanish quintet Senogul showcase their dexterity with fast and complex instrumental exchanges although the sum is perhaps less than the parts. That leaves Finish duo Kate to bring up the rear on disc two with the haunting Alathiella with its fine harmonies that like so many of the pieces here could have very easily been recorded circa 1970.
CD3 begins with Roz Vitalis’ keyboard and flute instrumental Eighth Tale which doesn’t quite live up to the promise of its ethereal opening despite the majestic presence of the pipe organ. One man band Rhys Marsh takes a diversion into IQ territory where his agreeable vocal and gothic Mellotron is let down by his thin production. Inner Drive settle for a laidback, jazzy stroll with articulate bass and piano to the fore whilst the ever excellent Trion provide the memorable instrumental Fast Forward with its stately, Camelesque guitar and keyboards. Italian keys wiz (and Keith Emerson sound-alike) Attilio Perrone has the rare distinction of two tracks here with the freewheeling and catchy Peste seguing seamlessly into Amami, a beautiful piano and classical guitar duet. In my view, two of the finest tracks in the entire collection. Flying the stars and stripes is Contrarian whose power metal guitar and violin workout sounds to my ears like (substandard) Rush meets Kansas. More in the spirit is The Samurai Of Prog who employ a cast of thousands (well, eleven actually) to produce the beautifully lush and symphonic The Promise leaving Finland’s multi-talented Jukka Kulju to conjure up an authentically medieval sounding piece that’s strongly reminiscent of the long forgotten but always wonderful Gryphon with Rick Wakeman tagging along for the Minimoog finale.
If the Colossus projects have a tendency to dip in quality during the final disc I’m happy to report that’s hardly the case here. Although they hail from Canada, Ars Ephemera’s sprawling, sometimes heavenly, sometimes quirky but skilfully played jazz inflected instrumental could have easily have originated from Canterbury. From across the US border is the deceptively named Mogon, aka another DPRP favourite Phideaux Xavier and friends and the atmospheric Snuff, a song draped in late 60’s/early 70’s flavoured rock sensibilities. The folky and acoustic She Went For Love by Ciccada provides a Mellotron and flute drenched respite with shades of Jethro Tull whilst Ozone Player’s theatrical (and sometimes dark) Putting The Devil In Hell goes overboard at times with its operatic vocal and instrumental interplay. Castle Canyon on the other hand underplay the title of their piece The Poison Heart with piano, symphonic keys and violin adding a sense of grandeur as well as intimacy. In contrast, Italy’s La C.O.S.A. provide a weighty guitar and organ driven song where the female lead voice doesn’t quite match the impressively tricky instrumental exchanges. Multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Gary Clouser (sounding not unlike Jon Anderson) is joined by one time Yes man Billy Sherwood for the pretty average mid-tempo rock ballad After All enlivened only by the soaring Steve Hackett tinged guitar coda.
The two “bonus tracks” Witches and White Prelude come courtesy of Italy’s Daal and Marco Lo Muscio respectively. Both instrumental, the first is a stately (if occasionally plodding) piano and synth led piece whilst the latter is a pipe organ extravaganza recorded at the church of St Paul in Rome providing a fitting conclusion to this epic work.
I know I’m a real sucker for this kind of thing so I’ll try and remain objective when declaring that this is another exceptional release from the Colossus and Musea team. Despite the minor low lights, the wealth of highlights make this a must have for fans of vintage prog in particular. The subject matter aside, it’s a wonderful way of sampling no less than 34 bands most of whom are likely to be new to the listener. And such is the overall quality here I can’t honestly think of one single act that outstays its welcome.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Forgas Band Phenomena – Acte V
CD: Corps Et Ames (6:26), Loin d'Issy (7:14), George V (10:27), Ultraviolet (8:18), Feu Sacré (6:50), Midi-Minuit (13:30)
DVD: NEARFest 2010 - Ultraviolet (8:34), L'Axe Du Fou (16:06), Feu Sacré (6:53), Soleil 12 (9:09), Double Sens (13:38), Extralucide (10:20), Eclipse (7:45)
Unsurprisingly Acte V is the fifth album from the accomplished French jazz-fusion band Forgas Band Phenomena led by drummer Patrick Forgas now well into his fifth decade of music making. The sleevenotes tell us of a serendipitous link to the book Dust Of The Suns by Raymond Roussel, which consists of five acts, so the artistic credentials are well signposted. The number five then, is etched into the heart of this record.
Those familiar with the band would expect a display of jazz-fusion wizardry, influenced by the 70s original giants of the genre, and of course with an added healthy sprinkling of Canterbury sounds, while mirroring the modern approach of bands such as Frogg Café and they will not be disappointed. Feeling more like a jazz-fusion symphony than an album of separate songs, Acte V gives each member of the band space to shine individually as well as showcasing some fine ensemble playing.
Nowhere are both approaches better highlighted than on the closing and longest song on the record, Midi-Minuit. Benjamin Violet’s coruscating guitar runs are countered by some Gallic-tinged violin playing from Karolina Mlodecka, the tune going through many changes, pinned down by the brass section and some keyboard-led atmospherics towards the end. The first song, Corps Et Ames (Bodies and Souls) reminds me at the start of Frogg Café, before slowly building to a brief almost David Jackson-like blast of sax squalling, leading to some lovely lyrical violin playing flowing into an infectious joyful bubbling guitar solo from Benjamin, the song now cantering along at a pace.
In between those two tunes the band cover every inch of Canterbury–tinged jazz-fusion territory with a deftness of touch and an ear for a catchy melody with a restorative uplifting spirit that is heart-warming. The joie de vivre on this record is something rarely encountered these days, and reminds me in places of Caravan at their life-affirming height on For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night, sometimes musically, but always spiritually.
Acte V showcases virtuosity without indulgence and compositional skill without ostentatious excess or arid intellectual exercise for its own sake. There are plenty of technically proficient but ultimately soulless bands out there that could learn a thing or two from this consummate ensemble.
This album has already become my favourite fusion styled release since 2010’s Bateless Edge by the previously mentioned Frogg Café. One hopes it is not as criminally ignored as that fine album seems to have been.
The album comes with a DVD (unfortunately not with my review copy) of the band’s performance at NEARfest 2010 which features songs from the back catalogue as well as two songs from this album, so the whole package serves as a great introduction to a truly great band.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Guitar Addiction (VA) – A Tribute To The Modern Guitar
Tracklist: Crossroads Of Time (6:22), Junkie Foot (7:03), Adrenaline Jam (4:26), The End Of The World (3:50), Mr Groove (4:39), Mind’s Labyrinth (6:33), FRP A Tribute To Mark (6:19), Manderine (7:33), Frankly Speaking (9:21), Cacophusion (6:16), Heavy Funky Party (4:51)
Some albums are destined to be born and fade into oblivion due to no fault of their own. Some albums that are created are absolutely stunning and unfortunately do not get the recognition they truly deserve. What we have here is exactly that, and you know what, that fact alone is just so soul destroying as Guitar Addiction A Tribute To The Modern Guitar could in all actuality become of those defining albums, up there with the best of them.
This is an album that has it all and I mean all. A whole plethora of guitar wizards, musicians of the highest order, we are talking 60 plus musicians involved here all of which are listed below. If you love guitarists and music of the highest calibre then this is an album that you need to hear, nay own. As a beautiful gesture for every album sold 2 Euros goes directly to the Red Cross Organisation, which can only be an added bonus.
French guitarist Franck Ribiere is the curator of this project, a guitarist who is highly regarded, being a modern version of Mike Varney, the Shrapnel Records maverick who brought us all those breakthrough shredders back in the 80’s such as Vinnie Moore, Marty Friedman and Yngwie Malmsteen to name but a few.
All the participants here display that they are more than adept at being creative, when you see who is involved, you’ll realise that you don’t need me to tell you that. The real star of the show though is that infamous six string and it doesn’t matter who is playing, it always remains hi-octane and melodic in its presentation.
The contribution of bass, drums and keyboards is also amazing, a strong foundation that more than matches the force that they are interacting with, but I guess when you have genius’ such as Stuart Hamm, you wouldn’t expect anything else really.
I don’t see any point in giving a run down of each track here as the music speaks for itself, track by track, but I will mention but a few highlights. What these musicians can’t do with their chosen instrument isn’t worth bothering about. Various styles are broached from balls out rock, through to jazz and hints of reggae, funky interludes that are fluidic, memorable and highly entertaining on so many differing levels. The instrumentals just ooze class, stunning technical wizardry that one dreams about and all these approaches are located on this one album.
The fast paced opening of Crossroads Of Time sets the stalls out, the gauntlet is thrown down for everyone to better and that is exactly what happens as the differing approaches seep from the speakers, displaying their masculinity. Each participant could run amok, bettering the previous interaction with dynamic attitude, but this doesn’t happen in the manner one would expect. A prime example of this is The End Of The World as it steps out of the expected mould, sedately building to its conclusion, being introduced by some rather suave interactions courtesy of some ivory tinkling and the good old solid guitar. Intelligently Mr Groove compliments this approach with its adventurous inclusion of the telephone tone, now you didn’t expect to hear that, did you?
The fun doesn’t end here as by the time you hit the eastern tinged Manderine you have already been entertained to the highest degree. No matter, as again the participants hit their stride with a beautiful and somewhat sedate and haunting passage that really is captivating. The albums longest track Frankly Speaking turns the previous presentation on its head sonically with its unusual guitar phrasings and tones which houses some rather excellent drumming and bass work too, where one has to ask, “Is this a tribute to the legendary Zappa?” In this piece alone there are more twists and turns than in your average episode of Poirot.
The two closing numbers couldn’t be further apart in approach; the insane and impressive Cacophusion and the bass laden and majestic Heavy Funky Party as supplied by Stuart Hamm who has got to be about the best out there. He is very much like Billy Sheehan in his approach, as you are never too sure as to what you are actually hearing, is it a guitar or is it a bass?
This album really is a masterclass of what our six stringed friend can do when put in the right hands. This really is a stunning fret fest album that any discerning guitar lover should own.
Oh yeah... who made this hall of fame and damn fine album...
Alberto Rigoni (Twinspirits, solo), Alex Ehrsam, Alfonso Roca, Atma Anur (drums on 5 tracks), Ayman, Aymeric Silvert, Benoit Pol, Brett Garsed, Charly Sahona (Venturia, solo), Christophe Godin, Cyril Achard, Daniele Gottardo, Dave Martone, David Valdes, Enrico Galetta, Eric Bricout, Fabrizio Leo, Franck Karmattitude, Gowy, Guitarsnake, Guthrie Govan, Jean Fontanille, Jeff Kollman (Cosmoquad, solo), Joe Stump, Joop Wolters, Karl KB, Kenny Serane, Kermheat, Lars Eric Mattson, Loran Saulus (Alive Inc), Manu Livertout, Marcel Coenen, Marco Sfogli, Martin Motnik, Mattias Eklundh (Freak Kitchen, solo), Michael Angelo Batio, Michael Manring, Mika "Mr. Fastfinger" Tyyskä, Milan Polak, Mistheria, Pat O'May, Patrick Amar (contest winner), Paul-Alain Fontaine (keyboards), Pierrejean Gaucher, Richard Hallebeek, Rob Balducci, Roland Gassin, Ron Thal "Bumblefoot" (Guns'n Roses, solo), Roo, Roland Grapow (Masterplan, Helloween), Sebastien Lanceau (Alive Inc), Stuart Hamm (Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Frank Gambale..), Theodore Ziras, Thomas Bressel, Tommy Ermolli (Twinspirits, solo), Tristan Klein, Victor Lafuente, Vincent Fabre (drums on 3 tracks), Yann Armellino, Yannick Robert.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Gekko Projekt - Electric Forest
Tracklist: Particle Dance (3:42), Black Hole (4:54), Cognitive Dissonance (4:44), London Vibe (2:21), Avatar Jones (6:03), Erdinger (5:00), Martian Sunrise (5:25), State Of Siege (2:32), October Skies (5:48), Particle Coda (1:12)
The musically revived Peter Matuchniak has been on a bit of a creative roll since his reappearance as part of Evolve IV. Not only has he just released his first solo album, Uncover Me, but his new prog band, Gekko Projekt, have seen fit to release their debut album Electric Forest almost simultaneously. Like Evolve IV, the Gekko Projekt is a quartet, although unlike the earlier band the newer unit includes keyboards, played by main composer Vice Gloster. Matuchniak handles all of the guitars while the rhythm section consists of Rick Meadows on bass and Alan smith on drums (impressively using a kit he built himself!). The bulk of the album is instrumental, although vocals do accompany three of the tracks.
With Gloster writing the bulk of the material, it is no surprise that there is a predominant focus on the keyboards throughout much of the album, although Matuchniak is hardly pushed aside as he makes his presence known throughout the album providing some tasty solos and plenty of atmospherics to accompany the more traditional keyboard-derived sounds. Prime example of this is October Skies whose central section is a fine slab of instrumental prog rock - it is just a shame that this instrumental section is bookended by far weaker vocal parts. Have to admit it, the three vocal tracks are somewhat marred by the lack of a strong vocalist. As well as on October Skies, Gloster also sings on the album's longest piece, Avatar Jones, which also features some epic prog passages, while drummer Smith takes the mic on Black Hole, the most 'pop' orientated of the tracks (i.e., it has a chorus!). All the vocals sound as if they have been electronically treated and have consequently lost a lot of natural timbre and warmth. Shame as all three tracks have some nice moments, and given the fine vocal contributions of Tali Azerad to the Evolve IV album it is a shame she could not have been roped in to contribute.
The album starts and finishes with the instrumentals Particle Dance and Particle Coda, the former an interesting guitar-based piece that gets things moving with some nice work from Matuchniak, the latter a refrain of the main guitar line but played in a more sedate and relaxed manner. The guitarist's other contributions are London Vibe and Martian Sunrise which, like Particle Dance, was co-written with Gloster. The shorter of the two pieces has a more jazzy feel to it whereas the aubade is a gentler number relying heavily of synth derived washes and some lovely, melodic, flowing guitar work, providing an eloquent mixture with a story-like quality. There is very little to compare the music on this album with, no doubt at least in part due to the maturity of the musicians who have got past wearing their influences on their sleeves. Gloster's other two pieces on the album, Cognitive Dissonance and State Of Siege are remarkably distinct from each other, showing the breadth of ideas that the composer has at his disposal - it is rare enough to create something original that is distinct from any other bands but to create instrumental tracks on the same album that sound distinct from each other is quite an achievement! Only the guitarist's signature style really forms a link between pieces. The final track, Erdinger, was co-composed by the rhythm section. And it is far from being a sop to appease Meadows and Smith and stop them from being sidelined by the lead instrument chaps. With a more prominent and adventurous bass line and somewhat more quirky nature in general, I suspect that many will find a greater affinity with this number than any of the others.
On the whole Electric Forest is an accomplished and finely rendered debut album by four musicians who are at the top of their instrumental game. If they can sort out the vocal issues, either by bringing a guest vocalist on board or restricting themselves entirely to instrumentals, the next album will be something to await with anticipation. Well worth checking out.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Iszil - Back To The Seed
Tracklist: Lost Path (8:59), Memories (3:43), Mental Trap (10:01), Velvet Feathers (5:21), Back To The Seed (15:56)
Here at DPRP we have frequent discussions about albums being supplied for review as electronic files rather than physical CDs. Some of my colleagues are very much against the increasing trend, particularly when they are supplied in a lossy format while others are more accepting. There are no rights or wrong in the debate and each to his or her own. I suppose I fall into the latter camp as although much preferring to review from a physical copy with proper sleeve notes et cetera, I am not totally opposed to using digital sources. Particularly in the case of someone like Iszil, a solo artist who lives in Santiago, Chile. Notwithstanding the current global economic crisis, producing, distributing and selling albums can't be a simple or cheap process when one is somewhat isolated from the main musical audiences. In these cases I think it is acceptable for an artist to be able to distribute their music through websites like Bandcamp where they will have a global reach and be able to reap the rewards of any purchases without having to layout a huge wad of cash for CD manufacture. Although not an ideal situation, I think we have to move with the times and the making and appreciation of music should be available to everyone (which is not to say it should be free!) and not just those who have sufficient money or are fortunate to have the backing of a label.
One of the downsides of electronic distribution is that artists frequently forget to include any electronic information along with the music so, as in this case, I really don't have much idea at all about Iszil! From the information given on the Bandcamp page, Back To The Seed is Iszil's debut album and the result of five years of work. Presumably the artist plays everything as the only other person mentioned on the webpage is Ben Schreiber who arranged the synths on Velvet Feathers, which is somewhat ironic as I can't hear any synths on this instrumental piece with a very Eastern/Arabic feel to it. Large chunks of the album are instrumental as one might guess from the length of several of the tracks. The strength of the album is that despite being a solo effort, it does sound as if it is derived from a band that are adept and used to playing alongside each other. When I began writing up this review I had to double check the timings as I really thought it was only about 30 minutes long in total. Again that is symptomatic of how the music flows, with plenty of variation and changes that make even the 16-minute title track fly by. Although one can tell that Iszil's main instrument is the guitar, and he is plenty proficient in the instrument to boot, he has not overladen the songs with the instrument, but applying the passages where it is used judiciously and with great effect. There are plenty of keyboards as well which helps ad to the variety.
There are vocals on most tracks, and although Iszil is unlikely to venturing into lead operatic roles any time soon, his singing is more than acceptable, particularly on the great opening number Lost Path which many a established prog band would be proud to have written. Back To The Seed is a very promising start to a musical career and the care and attention that has been taken over it over the five years of its inception is evident. So it is not startlingly original, but then how many bands rally are these days? The important thing is that I have certainly enjoyed hearing the album and I am sure there will be many others out there who will also be succumbed by its charms. So do yourself, and Iszil, a favour, check out his Bandcamp page, listen to the samples and even buy the album, at US $5 it is a real bargain.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Locanda Delle Fate – The Missing Fireflies
Tracklist: Part A (Studio) - Crescendo (8:51), Sequenza Circolare (2:40), La Giostra (7:27), Non Chiudere A Chiave Le Stelle (3:41), Part B (Live) - Non Chiudere A Chiave Le Stelle [coda] (1:02), Crescendo (4:31), Vendesi Saggezza (7:48)
From Asti in northwest Italy, and originally evolving from a mid 70s heavy rock cover band that went on to cover the classic prog bands, Locanda Delle Fate, realising that they had the chops to produce their own music stopped gigging, locked themselves away in a rehearsal studio for a year, emerging with the tunes that eventually were released in 1977 on Italian Polydor as Forse Le Lucciole Non Si Amano Più (“Maybe the fireflies don't love each other anymore”).
Unfortunately for them, the peak of the burgeoning RPI scene had passed by this time and the album went largely unnoticed, although now it is much regarded by the Italian prog cognoscenti. A lush and romantic symphonic record typical of the genre, the band featured a dual keyboard and dual guitar line up, and the dramatic but thankfully not operatic vocals of Leonardo Sasso who has connections to the origins of Banco del Mutuo Soccorso.
A 2010 reunion for a hometown festival led to the following year’s recording of the first four songs on this CD that were left off the original 1977 LP due to the time restrictions of the vinyl format. They have kept most of the original line up and maintained the dual keyboard and guitar approach, and the songs display the traditional RPI atmosphere and manage to be intricate, emotional and involving while remaining faithful to the original album’s sound.
Fans of the 1977 LP will be delighted with the two mini-epics on show here. Crescendo (“Growing Up”) is infused with much reference to early Genesis in its sound and structure and would not have won any prizes for originality, even back in 1977, pleasant though it is with its winsome lyrics musing on the passage of time. Sequenza Circolare (no need to translate!) is a display of classical-styled piano virtuosity that segues straight into La Giostra (“The Carousel”) which is the best of the four studio songs, and was awaited with anticipation by fans of the band as it had previously not seen the inside of a recording studio. Displaying all the symphonic prog touches one could wish for over its seven and a half minutes, it features far more of the band’s own sound although the obvious influences are still there in spades. The fourth song is a re-recorded version of Non Chiudere A Chiave Le Stelle (“Don’t Lock The Stars”) from the original LP, a suitably star-crossed love song in the finest Italian tradition, with some really nice understated guitar work.
The three live tracks come from a concert recorded in their home town back in 1977 and provide an interesting document of the band at their creative peak. The sound is not too bad given the vintage of the recording, but obviously not a patch on the studio tracks. The closing song Vendesi Saggezza (“Wisdom for sale”) again combines pastoral early Genesis influence with a more typically dramatic Italian atmosphere. The English lyric translation I have is poetically ambiguous, but could so easily have come from the pen of Pete Sinfield, so perhaps they had been studying PFM?
If well crafted Italian symphonic prog floats your middle eight, then you’d probably be better off hunting down the original 1977 album which you should be able to find on CD without too much trouble. This CD is for fans of that album, and they won’t be disappointed. With that in mind I can only mark this for the uninitiated, so it’s...
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Six Elements – Primary Elements
Tracklist: Overture (2:56), Welcome (2:49), Childhood Books (7:29), Nightmare (4:01), Invictus (4:34), Words Of Love (2:50), Summer (2:35), If (4:41), Winter (2:54), If [Radio Mix] (4:45)
Bands (and record labels) are prone to exaggerated musical claims but Six Elements’ assertion that their sound is influenced by Peter Gabriel era Genesis and Pink Floyd is right on the money. The trio responsible for that sound are Stanley Whitaker (vocals), Jeffrey McGahren (guitars) and Michael (Misha) Shengaout (keyboards, samples). They hail from Atlanta, USA and have been around since 2008 although Whitaker’s prior claim to fame is that he was once singer and guitarist with cult US proggers Happy The Man. Rhythm support on this their debut album comes courtesy of Dave De Marco (bass) and Marc Norgaard (drums). De Marco has previously worked with Whitaker in Oblivion Sun whose self-titled debut received an ecstatic DPRP review in 2007.
In addition to their musical inspirations, the band’s website also reveals that Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem “If—” is the inspiration behind Primary Elements. Along with production, Shengaout is credited with the lion’s share of compositions with occasional input from McGahren and although the songs are relatively conventional in structure and length they mesh seamlessly to form one harmonious concept. The Pink Floyd influences are evident from the start with Primary Elements opening in a similar fashion to Floyd’s Wish You Were Here album. Here the atmospheric intro to Shine On You Crazy Diamond is clearly the model for Overture complete with sustained organ and Gilmouresque guitar solo. Six Elements add instrumental colour with sampled flute and piano before segueing into the riff driven Welcome, an appealing song that introduces Whitaker’s mildly husky but authoritative voice (aided by the warm production) that bears more than a passing resemblance to Peter Gabriel.
The albums longest track Childhood Books is an elegy to lost childhood with a wistful, almost autobiographical nostalgia complemented by the simulated and baroque flavoured harpsichord and flute. Musically both Genesis’ Timetable and Floyd’s Eclipse are brought to mind here. The two tracks that follow Nightmare and Invictus are cut from the same cloth with an edgy and moody undercurrent that pervades throughout. With its prominent bass line and spiralling keys the former segues inconspicuously into the latter which makes the most of its haunting keys theme. The tranquil Words Of Love features lush key orchestrations and a pleasant chorus sitting comfortably alongside the acoustic if a tad bland Summer which does at least benefit from a strong female vocal by guest Betty Seni. Curiously Whitaker’s vocal contribution here and the song itself both remind me of Cat Stevens.
Setting Kipling’s famous words to music is certainly a bold endeavour and I’m not sure if Six Elements completely pull it off but with its sweet piano, gentle guitar and persistent flute motif at least no one is likely to be offended by If. The equally lightweight Winter opens with classical baroque strings before sliding smoothly into a pedestrian ballad that reminded me a little of The Moody Blues at their most languid. To conclude, the radio mix of If is surprisingly longer than the original and benefits from more clearly defined instrumentation particularly the melodic electric guitar break and the piano intro which has a whiff of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata about it.
With their debut release, Six Elements have delivered a welcome message of optimism and self-confidence although I can’t help thinking that the music is not as strong and assertive as the concept itself. There is something vaguely old fashioned about the sound of Six Elements and it’s noticeable that as the album plays through its admittedly short length the band’s more proggier inclinations become less apparent. There is however some engaging melodies here and the ensemble playing frequently produces some wonderfully evocative musical soundscapes.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Ben Sommer – Super Brain
Tracklist: Young Turks (4:02), I Married A Prostitute (2:27), Baby Mother (2:21), Consumerism (1:01), Militarism (0:54), Cadaverism (1:10), Fist (2:12), De Profundis (4:19), Count To Twelve (3:54), Dark Grey Matter (5:22), Deo Gracias Anglia (3:30), Cloaca Maxima (4:36)
Ben Sommer is a veritable one-man musical project, a composer and performer who hails from Rockland, Massachusetts. Super Brain is his second self-produced album following on the heels of America’d.
A composer and performer of edgy prog, Young Turks, the opener is packed full of riffs which hint at Rush, but his voice fails to deliver the punch needed to grab the attention from the outset especially with the countless repetition of the title words. There is some nice guitar work in there but it does sound rather muddled.
Moving on to I Married A Prostitute, this is Sommer entering Zappa territory, the great man obviously a huge influence on his work because of its edgy content. The song chops and changes with multi-tracked voices giving it some texture.
But then it all gets a bit weird with his “Shout at the System” section with Consumerism being a multi-tracked choral piece in which the only word sung is “Shopping”. Militarism is a brass fanfare type instrumental over which he sings “Don’t Mess With Texas” after which Cadaverism is a full-on prog metal pastiche.
Fist is slightly lighter and poppier before he plunges headlong into De Profundis which gives a nod to Rush and a wink at Zappa, plus a few anguished vocals.
Count To Twelve is him literally counting to twelve lyrically with a bit of guitar trickery bubbling away in the mix while his strangulated vocals lurch a little bit off key at one point.
For the instrumental Dark Grey Matter, he adds a touch of synth which again gives it a slightly Rushian overlay. This is probably the most musically credible and interesting track he delivers throughout. This is a thoughtful and measured composition with a big thundering drum sound and expressive guitar work.
Then we are presented with Deo Gracias Anglia, complete with mediaeval shawns to give it a metally, Middle Ages energy which then rounds off with Cloaca Maxima, a conglomeration of Zappa and more Middle Ages melodies linked with slightly space-age utterances.
It is difficult to fault Sommer in his self-belief and determination to produce music with his own individual hallmark especially as he has mixed and produced it himself to a very creditable level. His playing is also extremely accomplished but perhaps the vocals need to be a little bit more tempered in places though the multi-tracked choral sections are particularly effective.
However, Super Brain can often be a little too clever for its own good. Some of the compositions are designed to reflect a humorous view of the state of his home country and occasionally, he hits the target with these.
It does take a few listens to begin to appreciate the world according to Sommer but the man has a talent and a will to succeed. The follow-up to Super Brain could see him make that quantum leap but for now, this collection will amuse, confuse, confound and occasionally delight.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Diversion Voice – Underwater
Tracklist: Source [intro] (1:37), Red River (8:01), Feeling Of Snow (7:10), Aqua (5:07), Rain (7:09), Underwater (7:57), Black Milk (7:24), Stream (9:48)
First off, a strange feature is the 3D cover and booklet for which 3D glasses are supplied, revealing the band members in all their glory (no, not really, thank your deity of choice!). As gimmicks go it’s fairly harmless, if a bit pointless as the artwork is simply pictures of individual group members.
According to the band’s website, their “music, (is) born by the consciousness that exists in the very hearth of the corporate slum construction”, so you would expect something quite hard and unrelenting from this Russian group’s debut but those expectations would be confounded.
What we have here is an excursion into atmospheric light jazz-fusion territory that while a pleasant enough listen does not push any boundaries. The line up features the usual guitar (two of them)/bass/drums augmented with sax and sundry electronica. Opener proper Red River is a tad on the bland side, but things pick up with the spooky atmospherics of Feeling Of Snow where the two guitars pick out a slow and much reverbed melody line before a nice e-bow or similar guitar solo takes us to the bridge, as it were. The sax at the end fills the sound out nicely.
The spacey production continues with Aqua, the mellifluous sax lending the sound an almost lounge-jazz feel, complemented nicely by a similarly fluid jazzy guitar break. Things continue in this vein on the rest of the album with the occasional ramping up of the rock element, and I’m given the impression of a band finding its feet. This is maybe something the band have realised too, as they are now offering the album as a free download on their website.
I think Diversion Voice have to decide whether they want to be a jazz based rock band or a rock based jazz band if you see what I mean, as they appear to be capable musicians who simply need to find that extra something that would indeed make their voice a diversion.
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10