Reviews in this issue:
- Moon Safari - Lover's End Pt. III: Skellefteå Serenade
- Shadow of the Sun - Monument
- Phi - The Deflowering Of Reality [EP]
- Magma - Trilogy
- Rick Wakeman - Journey to the Centre of the Earth
- The Reasoning - Adventures In Neverland
- Census Of Hallucinations - Dragonian Days
- Michael Manring & Kevin Kastning - In Winter
- Calvin Weston - Of Alien Feelings
- Hawkwind - 1991-2012
- Semistereo - Semistereo
- Chantry - Crystal
- The Fusion Syndicate - The Fusion Syndicate
Moon Safari - Lover's End Pt. III: Skellefteå Serenade
Tracklist: Lover's End Pt. III: Skellefteå Serenade (24:21)
Anyone enamoured with the delightfully brilliant Lover's End by Sweden's Moon Safari will no doubt be overjoyed that a final instalment, indeed the conclusion, of the tale told on that album, has found its way into the public domain courtesy of a limited edition one-track extended play CD. Not completed at the time that Lover's End was released, Skellefteå Serenade has had to wait the best part of a year for release but the wait has certainly been worth it. The full album garnished a total rating of 28/30 from the three DPRP roundtable reviewers so there was a lot to live up to and Moon Safari don't disappoint. In many ways Skellefteå Serenade is the missing 'epic' track from Lover's End which unlike the band's first two albums did not feature a song that broke through the 20-minute barrier. Not that songs should ever be judged from their length alone, it is a dismay to me that people think that true progressive songs have to be meandering, multi-part marathons that are quite often pretty dire, just that the two previous Moon Safari epics We Spin The World from A Doorway To Summer and Other Half Of The Sky from [blomljud] have been excellent exponents of the long-form composition.
A perfect accompaniment to Lover's End, Skellefteå Serenade maintains the sheer brilliance of the 'parent' album containing many of the musical themes contained on that album with the trademark multi-part harmonies that never cease to amaze in their delicacy and beauty. Musically particular note must be made of the harmonious balance between the piano and acoustic guitars and the heavier sections ('heavy' being a relative concept in the Moon Safari world) which is largely down to the song writing partnership of Petter Sandström (lead vocals and acoustic guitars), Simon Åkesson (piano, keyboards, orchestrations and lead vocals) and Pontus Åkesson (electric guitars, acoustic guitars and vocals) whose musical harmonies are as much in tune as their vocal ones. Although, equal plaudits need to be given to the other members of the band whose contributions cannot be underestimated: Sebastian Åkesson (keyboards and vocals), Johan Westerlund (bass and vocals - he also co-wrote the lyrics with Sandström) and Tobias Lundgren (drums and vocals). Given the length of track and the fact that it is hardly performed at a frantic pace, the song seems to zip past leaving one disappointed when it finally comes to an end, one instinctively wants it to continue, a feeling that many of the audience had when the band performed the piece at their appearance at the Summer's End Festival earlier this year.
I make no excuses that I consider Moon Safari to be one of the most exciting and consistent bands currently playing and producing new material. Their musical intelligence and vision are far, far superior to most, and, what is more the band is producing complex but accessible music that even people who have no interest in prog can enjoy. Some musicians may be able to play a thousand notes per second, perform in the most insane time signatures and construct abstractly awkward and complex pieces of music but the truth of the matter is you simply can't beat a good tune, a heartfelt lyric and superb singing. When it is all wrapped up in a fine sheen of progressive rock then it is simply unbeatable. Buy this, buy Lover's End, buy A Doorway To Summer, buy [blomljud] and then for good measure buy the live The Gettysburg Address (preferably the Japanese version with the addition 13 minutes of Doorway); it will dramatically improve your life. Outstanding.
Conclusion: 10 out of 10
Shadow of the Sun - Monument
Tracklist: Rising (4:21), The Wheelhorse (5:56) Never Enough (5:00) Halo (5:57) Hourglass (3:59) My Heart is Wild And Overgrown (5:42) I'm Coming Home (4:44) Crimson Flags (5:59) Who Cares? (5:14) Second Hand Smoke (4:19)
The Shadow Of The Sun band members are: Dylan Thompson (The Reasoning) - guitars and vocals, Matthew Alexander Powell (Bunker, Lunapins) - vocals, guitars and keyboards, Lee Woodmass (Played in several bands also played at Prince Charles 50th Birthday Party) - bass and flamenco guitar, Rhys Jones (Magenta, The Reasoning & Kyshera) - drums, Percussion and vocals.
Dylan Thompson formed Shadow Of The Sun in 2011. Dylan featured and was involved in the song writing and artwork design for the first four Reasoning studio albums; Awakening, Dark Angel, Adverse Camber and Acoustically Speaking. Dylan started out recording different instrumental demo ideas for his new band, until a chance meeting with an old college friend, Matthew Powell. Dylan shared his ideas for a new band with Matthew, who quickly took a keen interest. Matthew and Dylan played some acoustic shows together which were well received and led to the forming of the band. Rhys joined followed by Lee two weeks later.
Dylan's three discs of instrumental demos were combined with lyrics written by Matthew with input from the other band members. They had over ten songs for the new album before playing live, after which they tweaked some of the songs until they were just right for the new album.
All the band members come from South Wales, not new to producing some excellent bands in the past few years. The album design, layout and cover are by Dylan. The booklet included with the CD includes the lyrics.
The first three songs on the album are heavy rock tinged with prog metal numbers. It starts with Rising, which on my first listen instantly reminded me of Black Sabbath, as does the chorus of The Wheelhorse. The last of the three, Never Enough, is a great rocking song, showing the band having fun while also demonstrating what great song-writing is all about.
Things slow down for Halo, a beautiful heartfelt song with great vocals and harmonies. The pace then changes for the metal Hourglass, with sounds of Soundgarden and Mastodon. This is followed by the acoustically powered My Heart is Wild And Overgrown which has shades of Dylan's previous band The Reasoning shining through; it's a catchy, lovely and well crafted song! The next two songs, I'm Coming Home and Crimson Flags feature powerful guitars and vocals driven by excellent drumming; Crimson Flags has an super guitar solo too. Who Cares? is another very catchy, slower paced song featuring strings. Finally, Second Hand Smoke, similarities to the band Tool and again Mastodon, and finishes the album as we started with more heavy metal rock.
Shadow Of The Sun's debut album, Monument, has been a long time in the making and well tested on the road, but has been well worth the wait. It has been well produced and mixed by Lee Howells, influences of various bands can be heard with shades of metal, rock and prog, great song writing and musicianship. Matthew has a fine voice with a good range, with Dylan a great guitar player also providing strong vocal harmonies; Lee and Rhys are excellent on bass and drums. It's an album that grows on you with a nice mixture of styles. I know a lot of hard work has gone into this album and it needs to be heard, only time will tell how successful the band will be, but I for one hope that they get the recognition they deserve.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Phi - The Deflowering Of Reality EP
Post-progressive music continues to find a comfy place in modern culture with the release of The Deflowering of Reality by Austrian trio Phi. On duty since 2006, Phi creates a style of music in the post prog vein not unlike that of Riverside and some of the Deadwing era Porcupine Tree stuff.
Phi is made up of Markus Bratusa on on vocals and guitar, Arthur Darnhofer-Demar on bass and backing vocals, and Nick Koch on drums. The music on this EP was all written by Phi, with Peter Leitner creating the main riff for one of the three tracks. Manager of the Year offers heavy, abrasive guitar from Bratusa which leads to a perky tempo, more invigorating than the dark roast they serve at White Electric Coffee around the corner from my house. Darnhofer-Demar's bass cements it all down like the foundation underneath The Breakers. Bratusa's vocals are similar to those of Arch Stanton, the Closer Than Skin era singer from The David Cross Band. Manager Of The Year also has a softer section, making the tune now a slowly cooling decaf with soy and liquid sugar, with some carefully restrained guitar from Bratusa which becomes thicker, broader, draped over the song and melting into it like a camouflage flak jacket within a forested battle zone. A web of Krautrock weight is then drivingly spun out, with lots of warehouse spacey noise fired off by Bratusa along with an onslaught of bass from Darnhofer-Demar.
The Beginning of the End throws a curve ball of a vertigo-inducing rhythm section from Koch and Darnhofer-Demar and a fiery solo from Bratusa sounding like an alien cry from the past. All three guys then launch into a combustible groove evoking A Farewell To Kings era Rush. Teenage Lust follows, in which Bratusa's dark guitar evokes Marbles era Marillion. Densely reinforced walls of guitar from Bratusa make this song, as well as the other two on the EP, invincible against any sonic tornado or earthquake. Baseball sized hail stones, you say? Bring 'em on.
Whilst Bratusa's guitar is all over this EP, it does not detract in any way from the skilled offerings of Koch and Darnhofer-Demar. Each of the three lab technicians, if you will, bring an equal measure of strong chemicals to this sonic chemistry experiment.
This EP will appeal most likely to any fan of sharp edged post-prog. If it's One Direction you seek, this isn't it.
Perhaps the most obvious takeaway for Phi with this EP's release is for them to continue this bold, edgy sound and I'm confident they can do that. The EP booklet, well designed with credits and acknowledgements, regrettably does not contain any lyrics. So that would be a cosmetic tweaking in regards to package design as Phi continue their post-prog sojourn.
So all in all, a crackerjack EP from Phi. High fives all around, to Phi.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Magma - Trilogy
Live - Köhntark (31:02), Kobah (6:24), Lïhns (4:55), Hhaï (8:50), Mëkanik Zaïn (18:12)
Üdü Wüdü - Üdü Wüdü (4:14), Weidorje (4:31), Troller Tanz (3:39), Soleil D'Ork (3:53), Zombies (4:18), De Futura (17:37)
Attahk - The Last Seven Minutes (1970-1971, Phase 1) (7:31), Spiritual (Negroe Song) (3:12), Rinde (Eastern Song) (3:05), Lirik Necronomicus Kant (In Which Our Heroes Ourgon And Gorgo Meet) (5:03), Maahnt (The Wizard's Fight Vs The Devil) (5:28), Dondai (To An Eternal Love) (7:58), Nono (1978, Phase 11) (6:22)
How does the reviewer introduce Christian Vander's socio-politico-science-fiction prog rock behemoth Magma to someone unfamiliar with the wilful and visionary French collective? A band so singularly strange they did not form part of the Rock In Opposition movement when it formed in 1978, preferring to remain outside in their own self-contained universe. That universe was known as "zeuhl", a word from Vander's created language for the band, Kobaïan, a word that translates as "celestial".
Well, this particular scribbler is going to cop out and quote arch-drude Julian Cope from his rather wonderful auto-biography 'Repossessed', who knows a thing or seven about left-field music. To him, Magma was "a Utopian Indo-European head trip who sang in their own language, Kobaïan, and wrote epic percussion and vocal-based mantras about a huge personal mythology", which just about sums it up.
Trilogy is a budget re-issue of the last three albums of what many fans regard as the band's classic period. Take a deep breath...here goes:
Originally released in 1975 as a double vinyl beast of epic proportions, this is probably the album that any Magma novice should head for first, keeping as it does the Kobaïan operatic vocalisations to a minimum, and focussing more on the extremely powerful ensemble playing of the band. Topping it off somewhat atypically given the instrumentation of most of the rest of their work of this era is the fine violin playing of Didier Lockwood. There's even electric guitar on it too!
Opening with the half-hour long Köhntark suite from the previous year's towering Köhntarkösz album is certainly nothing if not a statement of intent. The intensity kicks in from the off, the choral section blasting along with the violin to reach a cathartic crescendo at the summit of the first half. With barely time to catch your breath as the electric piano plays out a cool and jazzy melody over which Stella Vander coos in Kobaian, the listener-as-passenger is then taken out to the far reaches of a parallel universe on the wings of an opera-as-jazz symphony. Round about now Christian's militaristic zeuhl rhythms and Bernard Paganotti's thunderous bass; a monstrous thing that I've only ever heard John Wetton from the same era's Crimson line up come anywhere near rivalling, form the backdrop for Didier's Mahavishnu-like violin excursions. This is simply stunning music and if it does not move you, you must be a corpse.
I'll leave you to discover the other songs on here, save for a brief foray into album closer Mëkanik Zaïn, a mere 19 minutes long. A word or two about Bernard The Bass. Brought into the band as a replacement for the already legendary, and if you believe Mr. Cope's story in Repossessed, the possibly quite mad Jannick Top, Bernard takes on this song like his life depended on it. The bass playing on Mëkanik..., a space-jazz journey to who knows where, is simply extraordinarily powerful, and Jannick would have been hard pushed to better it.
Undoubtedly one of the very best live albums ever made. Oh, one thing afore we move on...this album can only be played VERY LOUD.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Originally released in 1976, Üdü Wüdü gives me the chance to grab a falling leaf from the twisted and entwined branches of the Magma family tree. Such is the ever-revolving door of the group that Bernard Paganotti, the bassist on this album, who had only fairly recently replaced the monstrous thunder of the mighty Jannick Top would leave during its making to form his own band Weidorje, named after his song that appears on Üdü Wüdü. Joining him in forming Weidorje was Patrick Gauthier who plays some keyboards on Üdü Wüdü. Replacing Bernard on bass to complete the recording was...Jannick Top, who actually lasted a further six months in the band before leaving again. Except at one point they were not officially Magma, being known for a few gigs as "Utopic Sporadic Orchestra" Confused? I am, and that's only a brief snippet of the convoluted history of Christian Vander's troupe. Credit for that labyrinthine description to Magma The Formations website; I only hope it is as near correct as can be!
Üdü Wüdü features two Jannick Top songs, Soleil D'Ork and the epic juggernaut that is De Futura, and so it appears that the stormy but marvellously creative partnership between the drummer and bassist was briefly reprised.
The first thing one notices is the instrumentation - out go the violin and guitar of Live to be replaced with three keyboard players, trumpet, sax, flute and a choral section. As such, this is a more typical Magma line up although once again the operatics are kept to a minimum. Kicking off with the tribal rhythms of the upbeat title track, this album is a drums and bass heavy affair. Troller Tanz is almost Krautrock in flavour, employing a full-on motorik rhythm. This is followed by Soleil D'Ork which has a killer funky deep-groove bass line that Bootsy would have been proud of, while over the top a strangely Middle Eastern flavour unwinds. Of course the central pillar of this record is the 18 minute De Futura, which according to the original LP liner notes "...shows us how to stop the illusionary movement of passing time which prevents us seeing". Of course, this is all bound up in the band's mythology, a tale that is far too convoluted to go into here. You either already know it anyway, or, if you're new to the band and you investigate further it will all become clear...possibly.
Led by the relentless rhythm that permeates the rest of the album, De Futura's strident electric piano figures march in tandem with a piercing synth melody, led by M. Top's throbbing and pounding bass. The effect of the piece is intentionally hypnotic and unrelenting, and combined with the odd and occasional vocalisations an unsettling but dramatic piece of music unfolds. As if to blast the listener out of any resulting trance state that the music has so far induced, the pace speeds up about half way in, as Top barks out guttural utterances, his bass now lurching along at a frightening lick to the accompaniment of alarm-siren synths. Utterly odd, but nonetheless compelling.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
For this 1978 release the instrumentation on offer is roughly similar to UW, but there the similarities end. By now Jannick Top had been gone awhile and Vander was back in charge of the band. taking a turn towards an afro-jazz-fusion based sound. The best song is the first, which leaps out of the starting block like Return To Forever meets Zappa on amphetamines. If you were to play a novice a "typical" zeuhl track, this may well be it. Yet again, another bassist of considerable dexterity, this time one Guy Delacroix, is presented to us; where did they find these people? With more vocals than the previous two albums, the tonsils of Christian and Stella Vander are more to the fore, although the other core member, singer Klaus Blasquiz, is still largely sidelined.
Spiritual (Negro Song) is exactly that, but in Kobaian, a strange fish indeed! Rinde (Eastern Song) features some lovely classical piano flourishes that work well with the choral vocals. Christian's high register squawkings on Lirik... become tiresome, and Blasquiz finally gets his moment on Maaht..., but the album by now has become a tad predictable. Thankfully things pick up with the last two songs.
Dondai... is a rare, if not the only example of a Magma ballad, and surprisingly it works. Building call and response vocal lines and choral work that is never too strident create just the right kind of atmosphere for a song subtitled "To An Eternal Love". The album closes with the uptempo Nono... which while not being a stunning excursion in all things zeuhl is certainly good enough to stand alongside, if slightly behind the better works in their canon. Slowly building in intensity with Vander's drumming to the fore; it reminds you of their earlier more stellar excursions.
A decent album but not essential by any means, and definitely the end of one era for the band, Attahk would see the drawing to a close of the most creative period of the group, and it would be another six years before a reformed band would produce the next record.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Way back at the beginning of this missive, I quoted Julian Cope whose words were in the past tense, but Magma are still going strong, gigging fairly frequently, and there was a new studio album out last year, Felicite Thosz, a studio recording of a work previously only aired live, and well worth your time if you're at all into the French mavericks.
As for Trilogy, although the packaging is a little on the flimsy side, with three albums for just in excess of the price of one regular chart CD, and containing as it does one essential album, I can only recommend it to you all.
Overall conclusion: 8 out of 10
Rick Wakeman - Journey to the Centre of the Earth
So the Caped Crusader returns, but rather than releasing an album of new material, he returns to his extensive back catalogue and alights on one of his earliest solo works which has only been issued previously as a live recording.
Teaming up with Future Publishing, for whom he is a regular columnist with Classic Rock Presents Prog, the new version of Journey to the Centre of the Earth is now available as a fan pack complete with glossy 132 page magazine and other optional extras, such as a tee-shirt. The publishing house put together a fan pack for Rush's Clockwork Angels earlier last year (2012) and it proved to be a runaway success.
Something of a polymath through his numerous books, random magazine jottings and television appearances on shows as diverse as Grumpy Old Men, Watchdog and Countdown, Wakeman has now attained "national treasure" as well as rock god status. He does still continue to play live and tour extensively, the latest being to South America for which he was joined by other luminaries such as the peripatetic Nick Beggs.
In between all these other engagements, Wakeman found time to rewrite and lay down Journey... nearly 40 years after he first began its composition in June 1973. It was recorded during a live performance on Friday, January 18th, 1974 with the London Symphony Orchestra and the English Chamber Choir, conducted by David Measham, the narrator then being the late and great David Hemmings.
Because of the restrictions on the length of albums on vinyl back then, the original plan of making a 55 minute album was not a realistic option. Coupled with that, the orchestra demanded double pay to play another performance which in those days, Wakeman could not afford to stump up.
However, any plans to re-record Journey... after that were dashed after the original score went missing for over three decades and it was only when the very soggy conductor's version turned up in the bottom of a box when Wakeman moved to Norfolk in 2005. He managed to dry it out and sent it to Guy Protheroe of the English Chamber Choir, who, with his wife Ann, managed to transcribe the score and transferred it onto computer. So began the journey of the new Journey....
One of the main strengths of the Journey Volume 2 is that it now feels like a full-length album, the additional pieces fleshing out the bones and turning it into a real magnum opus.
Taking the narrator's part this time is Peter Egan, the actor best known for playing the Duke of Sutherland in Chariots of Fire and Paul Ryman, the smooth neighbour in the comedy series Ever Decreasing Circles.
On Journey..., he plays a straight bat with his storytelling, sounding authoritative, almost school masterly in his delivery while some interesting musical effects accompany each of his orations.
The Protheroes again take a leading role here with Guy as conductor and Ann as orchestrator and choir member. Together, they have worked some palpable magic with the Orion Symphony Orchestra and English Chamber Choir, both of whom perform with innate sympathy for and understanding of the extended score. With the spoken parts interspersed with the musical passages, it all flows together with no segments ever outstaying their welcome, the balance between the classical and rock passages all deftly arranged so that one does not dominate the other.
The Hansbach is a fine demonstration of Wakeman in action, his fluting synth taking flight over the rock based piece which then floats off into a dreamy sequence before he returns with beautiful tinkling piano. The years have not dimmed his ability to bring a lump to the throat with his mastery of the music which continues with the dramatic The Recollection, in which his old friend, singer Ashley Holt gives an assured performance against the background of Wakeman's synths, understated orchestra and ethereal choir.
The other voice featured is Hayley Sanderson, one of the regular singers on "Strictly Come Dancing" but who has an attractive cool, laid-back timbre to her "pipes" that never swamps her contributions on Journey's Dawn and the quirkier Quaternary Man. She is most compelling on the new piece, Echoes, where the freshness of her singing is akin to Angharad Brinn's on Kompendium's Beneath the Waves.
The rock contingent comprises Dave Colquhoun on guitar, Tony Fernandez on drums and the much in demand Lee Pomeroy on bass, who all deliver polished performances that gel seamlessly with the classical sections.
Produced by Wakeman and Erik Jordan, modern engineering techniques have really brought a whole new vitality to Journey.... Again, there was that nagging doubt about whether legends like him and indeed Steve Hackett should be revisiting the back catalogue and rewriting history.
With Wakeman now such a public figure, his avuncular personality being popular with old and young alike, there is no reason why this should not provide an ideal introduction to his music, especially for non-proggers as it is instantly accessible and uses a timeless piece of literature as its reference point.
Give it a go. You may be surprised.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
*There is now a chance for DPRP readers to win Journey to the Centre of the Earth through a competition in which we are giving away five copies*
The Reasoning - Adventures In Neverland
Tracklist: Hyperdrive (5:36), The Omega Point (6:09), The Glass Half (5:30), Stop The Clock (5:47), Otherworld (4:46), End Of Days (5:58), No Friend Of Mine (6:07), Threnody (5:39), Forest Of Hands And Teeth (3:48), Adventures In Neverland (7:15)
With a trio of full length studio albums to their credit - Awakening (2007), Dark Angel (2008) and Adverse Camber (2010), one live album - Live In The USA: The Bottle Of Gettysburg (2011) and a stop-gap EP - And Another Thing... (2012), The Reasoning are back with their latest recording Adventures In Neverland.
Following the mysterious disappearance of guitarist Owain Roberts in March last year, Keith Hawkins (electric & acoustic guitars) came on board as a fulltime member. Otherwise the personnel remains as the two most recent releases - Rachel Cohen (lead vocals, percussion), Matthew Cohen (bass guitar, backing vocals, additional guitars, keyboards & programming), Tony Turrell (keyboards, backing vocals) and Jake Bradford-Sharp (drums). The band has gone through a number of changes since their formation in 2005 with the departure of keyboardist Gareth Jones and guitarist Dylan Thompson resulting in Rachel assuming full lead vocal duties.
Following a spacey intro the aptly titled Hyperdrive kicks proceedings off in energetic style with Rachel's tuneful vocal melody skating over a wall of hard riffing guitars. The Omega Point continues in a similar fashion and just when things begin to sound a tad samey Jones adds a frantic synth break and in-between riffs Hawkins provides a rather neat guitar solo. The pace comes down a notch or two for the more measured The Glass Half which benefits from a particularly atmospheric choral hook. There is also a nice line in Steve Howe-ish guitar dynamics.
To begin with, Stop The Clock is down-to-earth head-shaking guitar rock, tempered by Jones' fluid piano although the vocal backing is not as imaginative as it could be. In marked contrast Otherworld finds Rachel waxing lyrical in ballad fashion suitably accompanied by a ringing guitar motif and a characteristic soaring solo courtesy of guest axe man James Kennedy. Even after several plays the wistful End Of Days fails to stick in the memory even though it seems to turn into a completely different song at the halfway mark. No Friend Of Mine is co-credited to the absent Owain Roberts with the standout part being a meaty solo from guest guitarist Dave Foster.
The glumly titled Threnody features lush keyboard work (including a nifty organ break) which is most welcome, as is Cohen's upfront bass lines. Mournful strings (courtesy of keys) and acoustic guitar add a good deal of atmosphere to Forest Of Hands And Teeth with Rachel lending a haunting tone to the sparse lyrics. The guitar that opens the final and title piece Adventures In Neverland is distinctly Floydian setting the scene for the album's most rounded song with strong and spacious instrumentation (including a particularly incisive guitar solo), bags of atmosphere, a cracking chorus and an uplifting coda. Sadly it fades rather abruptly.
There are just a couple of issues I have with this album, the first being a disparity between the heavy rock approach and Rachel's refined and restrained vocal style. Whilst she has a gorgeous voice in a traditional folk kind of way, for me it lacks a certain power and presence. This may in part be due to the second issue, the production which is a tad on the woolly side, someone like Karl Groom I feel would have given the sound more weight and a sharper edge. That said, there are some good songs here in a classic rock with prog overtones vein and there is no denying the conviction of the individual performances.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Census Of Hallucinations - Dragonian Days
Tim Jones' guitar surges and shimmies over the tightasanut backing of long-time co-conspirators Reverend Rabbit (vocals and bass) and Paddi (drums), on this the 14th (possibly - it's somewhat hard to tell!) Census Of Hallucinations release since their debut in 2000; although this is their first new release for five years, during which time Tim has been busy with many other Stone Premonitions' projects - check the info link above. Joining the three musketeers of socio-political psych rock is David Hendry (aka Ohead) on very effective textural keyboards. David was the man who put together the band's best of compilation in 2009, and he is the producer here.
The most striking things about this band are the lyrics and the singing, the former by Tim, as are the tunes, the latter by the good Revd. Rabbit. Gunned down by a stream of invective intoned in a peculiar cross between Johnny Rotten and Alex Harvey leaping out at ya from the pages of a Dickens novel, the corporate-slave-shopping culture the vast majority of us are suckered into to a greater or lesser degree staggers battered and bruised like a spent boxer bouncing off the ropes. Not to mention the severe verbal lashings meted out to institutionalised greed and the corrupt and redundant political system it springs from; a system that seeks to impose its values on one and all regardless of culture.
The opening track, Sponge, is a spoken rant by what can only be described as being what Uriah Heep (the Dickensian character, not the band!) might sound like, telling us all that he's in the Government and he's going to take all our money, while being, of course, "very very humble." Following this is the splendid cyclical riff of Third Shopping Mall From The Sun (For Bill Hicks), which quotes a milder part of the much missed acerbic comic's acidicly fist-bitingly funny sketch of the same name. If you've not heard the sketch, Google it - "Peachfish" is all I'll say! But, just so you're in no doubt as to where Tim is coming from: "Might equals right and they're kicking Jesus off the steps of St Paul's. The strong rule the weak and the meek shall inherit nothing." The sad thing is he is of course undoubtedly right.
Relief is granted when Tim changes tack and becomes wryly self-deprecating on Stupid Guitarist, a stoned poem decrying the pointlessness of the ego-driven endless guitar solo over a heavily treated swirling ambient maelstrom of, well not much guitar at all, really, that disintegrates into a mess of George Clinton-like space bubbling with babbling from The Reverend.
The thing that got me into this band and made me buy their very first self-titled album all those years ago was their ability to turn out an almost annoyingly catchy tune that sticks around in your head for days. The song in question back then was Charlatan Express, and you can now get hold of the back catalogue by following the Info link above. Don't follow the links on the band's website as they don't work! New age hippies, eh?! Anyway, the catchy ditty on this new album is The Delivery Man, an ambiguous tale of a modern-day bogeyman, or as Tim puts it: "I'm the silvery man; I add fusion to the illusion, I'm the delivery man; I'll more than even the score with blood and gore." A very alternative space-pop anthem to scare the children!
Tim's guitar style is somewhere between Hillage and Zappa, but with and added helping of some punky aggression, and some of the songs have a big Gong streak going through them. The longest song here, Modus Operandi, is an intelligent anti-greed poem set to some skewed lounge-jazz electric piano that eventually breaks down into fretful ambience and the tolling bell-like chiming guitar, and sounds like the kind of thing Daevid Allen and Robert Calvert might have cooked up after a night of putting the world to rights. That this song is the longest and is atypical of the rest of the album is probably to be expected. Very odd, but quite fetching I have to say.
Tim leaves us with these wise words on Angel Of Light: "The existence of hope is an eternal fact, for without hope there is naught but despair" to the backing of a tune Howard Devoto would have been proud of. An uplifting moment after an album of justified and righteous anger that shows Tim has lost none of his burning sense of injustice which was evident right from the first album, way back in 2000.
A unique combination of agitprop over Gong-tinged space rock and anarcho-punk with a smidgeon of new age folk thrown into the cauldron for good measure, Dragonian Days is a damn fine record by a group I thought had long disappeared over the horizon, along with the convoy. Give it a go!
Conclusion 7 out of 10
Michael Manring & Kevin Kastning - In Winter
This is an album borne on a light late autumnal breeze as it flutters down to the ground from a high branch, shifting in colours as it descends. The beauty of a New England autumn turning to winter, by parts melancholic and glacial, is woven into the mesmerising framework of this record; a record where space is sometimes more important than structure.
Often infused with a jazz sensibility, Michael Manring's fretless basses put me in mind of Charles Mingus on the very quiet and deeply soulful opener Evening Against The Sky. They are often frequently locked in a textural dance with Kevin Kastning's self-designed acoustic guitars, both using odd tunings that produce unexpected and strange harmonics that contribute to the ghostliness that pervades the album. On the longer pieces, such as On Retelling, a folk-jazz warmth of spirit and a full heart make their presence felt on a simply lovely piece of music. The moods change from harmonic spatial ambience on Though Unclosed, Speaking to imagery that evokes a small bird slipping and sliding across the surface of an ice-covered pond on In Movement Articulation, to all points in-between.
Kevin's instruments include his own invented 14-string contraguitar, a 12-string alto guitar, a classical guitar and a fretless guitar. I'm no musician so I cannot easily tell when one or other is being played, but suffice to say that the acoustic sonic palette afforded by Kevin is filled with restraint, if that contradictory statement makes any kind of sense at all. Silence Shining Quietly Through is a fine example of his subtle and sympathetic playing that in tandem with Michael's sonorous bass conjures up exactly what is described by the song title.
Both musicians, especially Kevin Kastning, have close connections to Hungarian classical and jazz guitarist Sándor Szabó, who is present here as producer. Kevin has another CD out now in duet with the Hungarian which promises to be interesting, and I recently reviewed an earlier release this year with reed player Carl Clements (Ed: Dreaming As I Knew), so Kevin is one busy guy at the moment.
While this is not for the more "rock" inclined listener it is certainly a beautiful and haunting piece of work that serves as ideal wind-down music after a long day winning the bread, and as such I recommend it heartily.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Calvin Weston - Of Alien Feelings
Of Alien Feelings is a very good album of instrumental jazz-rock, inspired by drummer Calvin Weston's long career as a musician. Exposed to a multitude of musicians and styles since his days playing professionally from his late teens in the mid-seventies, Weston has teamed up with versatile guitarist and bassist Karl Seigfried - who solo produced and co-wrote all the music with Weston - and a host of eclectically selected invited celebrity musicians to bring us a musical experience where virtuosity takes centre stage.
For me, virtuosity can sometimes be a downer when it comes to music, as the performers can weigh it over musicality, forgetting that there is an audience out there that isn't necessarily technically proficient themselves and who just want to enjoy a good melody, a catchy riff, a groovy rhythm. Thankfully, this doesn't happen on Of Alien Feelings and the music is pleasurable to listen to even by someone who knows nothing of its provenance. That's just as well, because some of the blurb accompanying the disc is perhaps a bit excessive: he is called "legendary drummer" on the disc's promo sticker; surely a reference to the fact that he began playing with - "legendary" - saxophonist Ornette Coleman's Prime Time jazz-rock fusion band when he was only seventeen. Coleman does deserve that accolade: by the time that Weston joined in 1976, Coleman was already famous as a free jazz innovator. In deference to Weston's weighty association with the great man, the title of this present disc - Of Alien Feelings - is an actual echo of perhaps his most famous recording with Prime Time, 1982's free funk/jazz Of Human Feelings. One senses that Weston and Seigfreid are seeking to reproduce the same kind of innovation as 30 years ago.
Such innovation, even with the distinguished guests contributing, is difficult, bearing in mind that back in the seventies the musicians were really pushing back the barriers in terms of what could be achieved with their instruments, combinations of instruments and composition. Now, arguably perhaps, it is more a case of rekindling the spirit of that bygone age; something one could actually say about much of progressive rock...
Of course, that doesn't make the music's potential any less valuable, or less enjoyable, although there are those who would argue otherwise. So, what of the music on Of Alien Feelings? Jazz-rock fusion, yes, but what can the listener expect? Well, for a start, it is worth saying that, given that the album carries a drummer's name, the drumming does not dominate the proceedings. By contrast, listening to some of Bill Brufordâ€™s work, the drumming there definitely does take centre stage. For my money, that is good, because there are not many drummers in the world, unlike Bruford, who can make their instrument carry a whole CD's worth of music. Don't get me wrong, the drumming is fine, and on a track such as Pair of Jacks, with its complex rhythm, becomes extremely enjoyable. The focus, however, is on the other instruments and, particularly, their soloing, which is where the celebrity luminaries come in. Before we get to them, however, another word must also be said for Karl Seigfried's excellent work on guitar and bass on all tracks, it is he and Weston who provide the sure base from which the soloing takes centre stage.
Some of the celebrities joining the party will be well known to progressive rock fans. Todd Rundgren contributes a blistering guitar solo on First of the New Age Masters, a composition to which ay Beckenstein - co-founder and leader of Spyro Gyra - also contributes on saxophone. This composition is one of the highlights; the opening - drumless - plucked guitar (I think Seigfried rather than Rundgren) is very beautiful. The saxophone plays a major role on the album - this is jazz after all and, as you'll have already surmised, playing with saxophonists has been a big thing in Weston's career: accordingly Supertramp's John Helliwell and former Hawkwind man Nik Turner play on four more tracks, with Turner taking the lion's share of solos, including on a track to which he lends his name, Meme from Turner, a very free-jazz track to which Focus's Thijs van Leer also contributes on flute.
Very prominent on the four tracks in which it appears is the Hammond organ of jazz player John Medeski, here played in a rock format reminiscent of early Deep Purple: take a listen to the powerhouse Byrdland for instance. Stonking! The other two guest soloists not yet mentioned are Vernon Reid, a prominent guitarist who first made his name in the 1980s with the band Living Colour, who appears on one composition, and famed jazz trumpeter Jack Walrath - who has played with notables such as Charles Mingus, Ray Charles and Miles Davis - who lends his colours to three compositions.
This is an album that melds jazz with rock. Many jazz-rock fusions tend towards rock, whereas Of Alien Feelings has its balance in the jazz world. If you are a fan of jazz, or you have been intrigued by what you've heard and what to find out more about this vast world, then Of Alien Feelings is a great place to start. However, if jazz is not your thing, then at least listen to samples before you buy.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Hawkwind - 1991-2012
Tracklist: Palace Springs: Back in the Box (6:20), Treadmill (8:09), Lives of Great Men (aka Assault And Battery) (3:27), Void of Golden Light (aka The Golden Void) (6:50), Time We Left (2:40), Heads (4:38), Acid Test (6:06), Damnation Alley (7:14), Bonus tracks: The Damage of Life (7:21), Treadmill / Time We Left (alternative version) (9:23)
California Brainstorm: Void's End (5:28), Ejection (5:58), Brainstorm (8:51), Out of the Shadows (8:27), Eons (Snake Dance) (4:16), Night of the Hawks (5:24), TV Suicide (7:09), Back in the Box (9:13), Assassins of Allah (3:51), Propaganda (1:07), Reefer Madness (8:28), Images (6:17)
Palace Springs is essentially a Hawkwind live album from the 1989 US tour featuring the line-up of Dave Brock (guitars, vocals, keyboards), Alan Davey (bass), Richard Chadwick (drums), Harvey Bainbridge (keyboards) and Bridget Wishart (vocals). However, the first two tracks were culled from previously unreleased studio recordings, taped when Simon House (violin) first rejoined the group following the departure of Huw Lloyd Langton (guitar) in the Spring of 1989. This line-up did release a full studio album, 1990's Space Bandits, although by the time of its release House had departed once again which was probably no great surprise based on him declining to partake in the previous year's North American tour. It is surprising that the two studio tracks were not included on the Space Bandits album as both are rather good. House's violin is given prominence on Back In The Box with the overall sound being very reminiscent of material from the classic '70s era of the band, the ending in particular when Brock takes over the lead vocal from Wishart. Treadmill maintains the retrospective feel although should not be considered as the band resting on their heritage laurels as it is an original enough number in its own right. It was obviously intended for the live set as the fade out features the opening bars of Time We Left (This World Today), a segue that is included in full on the bonus version which is somewhat more basic and lacks the polish and warmth of the album version, possibly recorded during live rehearsals as it is notably missing House's violin.
The live material starts with two classic tracks which opened the brilliant Warriors On The Edge Of Time album back in 1974. One suspects that it was Simon House who pushed for these numbers to be re-introduced into the live set although due to publishing issues Assault And Battery was renamed Lives Of Great Men and The Golden Void as Void Of Golden Light. Presumably it is these same publishing issues that prevents this classic album from being remastered and reissued which is a real tragedy. Both are fine renditions with Void Of Golden Light in particular shining, largely due to Bainbridge's keyboards. Another oldie Time We Left (This World Today) from 1972's Doremi Fasol Latido seems a lot slower than on previous releases and is somewhat looser, particularly on the guitar front, with several rather discordant guitar chords thrown in. However, overall it is a rather good updating of an 18-year-old song, incorporating as it does Heads (from The Xenon Codex). A rather ill-fated excursion into the techno/ambient field is displayed on Acid Test, in essence a reworking of Dream Worker from 1982's Choose Your Masques, that offers no improvement over the rather unexciting and lacklustre studio version. A spirited Damnation Alley rounds things off although the inclusion of a reggae section in the middle was, in retrospect, a mistake. The other bonus cut, The Damage Of Life, starts as a more ambient number dominated by keyboards and subliminal guitar but is then fleshed out with introduction of vocals and a very basic drum beat. Undoubtedly a demo recording (the overall sound is a bit flat, lacking any real dynamics). Still, a nice, rare addition to the release. Incidentally, the Treadmill lyrics and prototype versions of Back In The Box and Heads originally featured on the 1988 Dave Brock And The Agents Of Chaos album. Good that the band are promoting recycling!
The second CD is the California Brainstorm album that saw a limited release in 1992 in the U.S. and in 1994 in the U.K.. Both featured a terrible sleeve that make even low-quality bootlegs look good. Recorded in December 1990 in Oakland, California, a tour that was partly funded by U.S. fans and probably why permission was granted for the original release of the album, taken from a fan's video recording, the sole issue on the Iloki label. Although far from an inferior bootleg recording, it does suffer in comparison with Palace Springs but once one's ears get attuned to the sound it is not something to complain too deeply about. As hinted at by the title, Void's End opens proceedings midway through The Golden Void / Void of Golden Light before heading into a rather punkish Ejection, sung by Brock. Somewhat surprisingly, the album contains large swathes of instrumental music with vocals present sparingly, and Wishart hardly featuring much at all. In that respect, the album is quite unique in the Hawkwind canon making it a very interesting listen. Brainstorm, a long-term live staple of any Hawkwind performance, is as good as it ever was and allows drummer Chadwick to shine, although the reggae section included during Damnation Alley on Palace Springs has been transposed into Brainstorm and continues to be just as pointless and rubbish, although the hints of You Shouldn't Do That are a nice addition. Given the band were promoting the Space Bandits album, it is not surprising that several numbers were incorporated into two extended medleys (although individual tracks have been separated out in the track listing and CD coding). Out Of The Shadows / Eons / Night Of The Hawks starts with an extended version of one of the standout tracks from Space Bandits, although this live version sounds somewhat thin without the violin of Simon House. Transitioning smoothly we get into Eons (Snake Dance) which again pales somewhat in comparison with the live studio version included as a bonus track on Space bandits but it still superior to the version that was re-recorded for the Electric Teepee album in 1992. An energetic Night Of The Hawks rounds off the 18-minute medley although the end fade seems rather abrupt.
The second medley starts with the disappointing TV Suicide whose ambient final section ruins any momentum and vibe previously generated but does segue nicely into Back In The Box, marred slightly from Wishart's vocals being really low in the mix, although instrumentally the band nail it. Finally in this segment comes Assassins Of Allah which has lost much of its Eastern mystic and one of the more redundant numbers on the release with, again, the vocals coming over quite poorly. Propaganda is just talk from the stage and an introduction to a very good version of Reefer Madness, which actually suits Wishart's vocals with Chadwick gaining more recognition for his tireless drumming. The album is rounded off with Images which was not present on the original U.S. release but added for the U.K. release (on Cyclops of all labels). The live version is generally pretty good but not on a par with the studio recording.
The Original Palace Springs album is a worthy inclusion in any Hawkwind collection, particularly worthy for the two studio cuts with Simon House. As a bonus, the California Brainstorm disc is a nice, if not essential addition, although completists will be happy that this album is once more on general release.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Semistereo - Semistereo
This Dutch band Semistereo released their self-titled first full album in April 2012. The band consists of Martijn Weyburg (vocals, guitar), Frank Weijers (guitar), Ron Broekhuizen (bass), Marcel van de Graaf (drums), Almar Aubel (keyboards) and on this album Twan van Gerven as a guest player on guitar.
The album has been on my desk way too long and there is a good reason. At first listen there was nothing that drew my attention. This sometimes means it is just uninteresting stuff we are talking about. On the other hand it occasionally turns out that sheer quality or even gems are hidden that deep that an album needs multiple spins over a stretched period of time. And believe me, I have given these lads the opportunity by listening to their album closely over and over again every two months or so. This resulted in recognition at best, but no gems or even sparks. A progressive platform like DPRP means that bands who submit their music for review consider themselves progressive. Although the band as well as the album has qualities, I have to conclude that there is a lack of anything progressive on offer here. The compositions are quite average as is the voice of Martijn Weyburg. Most of the songs sound alike. Best track is The Desired Status.
Wishful thinking or coincidence? Technically riffs and stuff are carried out quite well but the compositions are lacking any highlights or points of interest. I still think Semistereo has a future if they work hard and come up with something that stands out. Don't crawl towards tomorrow, get inspired and run!
The name Semistereo resembles mono. To be short, it is Monotonous. I like the minimalistic artwork, the sympathetic approach and competence but not the result. This album offers little progressive value for money.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Chantry - Crystal
I'm not too sure as to what to make of Chantry's album Crystal. This has been an album that I have struggled with. Let me explain: musically the album cannot be knocked as there are some rather splendid ideas on offer here and in all honesty the musicianship is top-notch. The sticking point for me is the vocal presentations of Francesca Vermaccini which are unclear, muted and feel out of step with the rest of what is on offer here. Just when I think I am getting what is going on, I end up lost again. Francesca has definitely got talent; you can hear that bubbling underneath the surface, prime examples of this are on the tracks The Moment My World Stood Still, Blight, Crystal, Symbiotic Patterns and The Fall of the Warrior Sun, but for the main part her vocals play second fiddle, ending up sounding one dimensional and flat, mores the pity. One guesses though, that this is more to do with the production of the album than anything else.
So moving onto the other two band members, Alessandro Monopoli (guitars, drums and keyboards) and Luca Esposito (bass), two very adept musicians, especially Alessandro who has more than a handle on all three instruments he plays on this album. His real creativity though comes through the guitar where he demonstrates amazing dexterity, mixing up lead and rhythmic parts perfectly, he definitely has vision and direction. Esposito's bass work is taut and precise, punctuating each song, making him a fitting partner in crime. Musically as a pairing Monopoli and Esposito can be brutal one minute offering passion the next with their compositional framework; one thing they don't become is dull, which does save the day somewhat.
For me though, where the band really score the points is the pairing of the epic The Fall of the Warrior Sun and Miles Away as they twist and turn, beautifully melodic, a powerhouse of tones that caress the ear as the electric and acoustic soundstages interchange, working in perfect harmony. Had the rest of the album had this approach, what we would be listening to would be a top-league band, but alas and sadly this isn't the case.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
The Fusion Syndicate - The Fusion Syndicate
Billy Sherwood - keyboards, guitars, bass, drums and vocals
Billy Cobham, Gavin Harrison, Chester Thompson, Chad Wackerman, Asif Sirkis - drums
Jimmy Haslip, Colin Edward, Billy Sheehan, Percy Jones, Justin Chancellor - bass
Steve Morse, Steve Stevens, Larry Coryell, John Etheridge, Steve Hillage - guitar solos
Rick Wakeman, Jordan Rudess, David Sanscious, Derek Sherinian, Jim Beard, Tony Kaye, Scott Kinsey - keyboards
Jerry Goodman - violin
Nik Turner, Mel Collins, Jay Beckenstein, Eric Marienthal, Theo Travis - sax
Randy Brecker - trumpet
If you are of a certain age, then like me you probably remember those all-star-jam albums that were all the rage in the seventies, Super Session and the like, along with those concept albums that took major musicians and had them playing on a themed project, Peter and the Wolf and Jack Lancaster's albums immediately spring to mind. Well sometimes the results were fantastic and at other times they were somewhat less inspiring.
Well leap forward to 2012 and Billy Sherwood (of 3 and Yes fame) has carved a niché for himself as a producer and arranger (he produced the second Mars Hollow Cd - World in Front of Me) working mainly in Los Angeles and covering a variety of generally prog related projects. Billy is an excellent producer, a fine arranger and a good all round musician, he has now undertaken several of these all-star tribute projects, (The Prog Collective, and tributes to Supertramp and The Who amongst them). Which leads to this disc - The Fusion Syndicate.
Billy obviously has a very very good address book full of the finest names in jazz fusion and progressive rock and has called some 30 of his contemporaries to participate in this project. These guys are from some of the biggest fusion and prog bands around and we are talking serious muso credentials here - these guys can play, really play and they've all got a proven sonic history to back that up having played on some truly great fusion albums in the past. But - and it's a big but - sadly, despite the calibre of the musicians present, there's something amiss here and I'm struggling to put a finger on what.
On paper this sounds fantastic; get thirty of the top fusion and prog players, and get them to play the solos on these songs, write some pieces with fusion sounding titles, then get a suitably striking cover and off you go. But somehow it seems to me to fail to gel and above all it's too busy, and that's possibly the problem - it's too busy and there is not enough space in the mix to clearly hear what's going on as too much soloing is happening at the same time. It all sounds a bit formulaic at times too and I'm really disappointed as it should be outstanding and awesome and, frankly, it's not. It's OK and that's about it. It's not dreadful or unlistenable it should just be so much better than it actually is and I find it really frustrating as I really do want to like this disc. I've played it enough and even after repeated listenings it's still not hitting the note as it were. However, the latter half of the album is better than the first.
Track 1 - You can't really hear Rick Wakeman's keys and that's a wasted opportunity plus the violin and sax are interweaved and it's hard to make out who is playing what.
Track 2 - On this one Billy Cobham is somewhat buried in the mix.
Track 3 - Billy Sheehan's playing is fine but it could be anyone. It's simply not dynamic enough.
Track 5 - At the Edge of the Middle is probably the best track on offer here featuring Steve Morse who plays to his usual impeccable standard but even that cannot redeem what is at best an average track.
Billy obviously loves the genre and understands it but it's a case of the parts not equalling the sum of the whole and that the material the guest musicians are working with is simply not strong enough for them to put their own stamp of individuality on. In addition Billy is everywhere adding guitar parts and other additions that seem to clutter and detract rather than really add anything - it would have been better if Billy had merely been content to compose arrange and produce rather than adding his own parts and complicating the sound.
So In summary, it's a lofty project but sadly one whose full potential has not been realised on this occasion. It's not truly awful, it's not ground-breaking, it's ordinary and OK and that's what hurts the most. I wanted more, I expected more and this fails to deliver. Definitely a case of Caveat Emptor (buyer beware) so sadly it pains me to do this but I can only give 4/10 as this isn't a disc that I will be playing repeatedly.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10