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2013 : VOLUME 33
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REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:



Johnny Unicorn - Sadness and Companionship
Johnny Unicorn - Sadness and Companionship
Country of Origin:U.S.A.
Format:CD
Record Label:Unicornopoulos Artistical Services
Catalogue #:UAS-37004
Year of Release:2013
Time:36:15
Info:Johnny Unicorn
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: Sadness (14:27), Companionship (14:19), Sadness (Companionship Remix) (4:22), Companionship (Sadness Remix) (3:07)

This is the third of Johnny Unicorn's solo albums I've reviewed. I loved the other two, Sweet Edith Manton (2010) and Thinking Hard to Overcome Nervousness (2011), both of which were quirky, poppy, proggy, alternative dollops of wonderfulness.

This is his sixth album and, according to his website, "is the world's first progressive rock exercise album. It is suitable as background music for a workout, or for any occasion. Lyrically, it is about finding positive ways to deal with fear and death".

On the other hand, this is an absolutely monstrous album of progressive rock composed, performed, recorded and mixed by Johnny, with additional vocals and ideas by Naomi Adele Smith. We are still at the adventurous/alternative end of the spectrum but that, surely, is what makes it progressive. What's progressive, I ask, about 1980s British neo-proggers trotting out the same shite live (and taking festival spots from far better, younger bands) just so that they can make a few quid to enable them to make a CD of the same shite they were making 30 years ago?

Johnny is best known for his work with Phideaux so he's obviously no slouch but this record, it has to be said, defies expectations. It is staggeringly good.

Opener Sadness, all 14 and a half minutes of it, invokes the spirit of Cardiacs mixed with Abba, Kansas and Yes.

Companionship, again clocking in at over 14 minutes, is a symphonic prog masterpiece played by one man. Sounds impossible, but head on over to Johnny's Bandcamp page and have a listen. The occasional female vocals are reminiscent of fourth-wave alt/prog hipsters such as North Sea Radio Orchestra and all in all it's a dark, brooding, monster of a song. Acoustic flourishes are out of the Spock's Beard playbook, and the Beard do get a mention in the 'thanks' section of the booklet. There are vocal harmonies, pulsing piano, violin, Fish-era Marillion, Dunnery-era It Bites, Collins-era Genesis, Earth Wind and Fire swing and swagger, a delicious guitar solo and glorious melodies throughout - Phideaux-esque but more evocative of the burlesque, carnival and pomp of Cardiacs.

It's the best song I've heard all year by a country mile. It's tremendous and I'll be listening to it forever.

Two shorter pieces close out the record. More introspective, sparse and ambient to start but then Sadness (Companionship mix) launches into a melody The Tangent would be proud of before, in an instant, the tempo changes again, with burbling electronica, Cardiacs again this time before Yes-style vocal harmonies and It Bites 'sha sha's'.

There's a 1980s British electronic dance beat to Companionship (Sadness mix) but still with time for symphonic guitar and keys joyfully interspersed. There's Drama-era Yes aplenty and the tune closes out with a harder edged chanted atonal bit more reminiscent of Tales...-era Yes.

So much is packed into such a compact running time you'll be reaching for the replay button the second it's finished. I guarantee.

You really do have to listen to this record. Everybody should. The artwork on the gatefold CD sleeve is, as always, done by Johnny (and Adele) and is amazing. There's a four buck download option on his Bandcamp page if you don't want the physical product - I'd heartily recommend the latter though as all his covers are amazingly good and more than a little aesthetic pleasure is to be obtained from holding said cover. There's a nice minimalist booklet incorporating the lyrics. Which are tremendous too.

It's one of my best of the year for sure.

Review written during exact run time of album. Reviewer was not, repeat not wearing a hat.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

BRIAN WATSON


Half Past Four - Good Things
Half Past Four - Good Things
Country of Origin:Canada
Format:CD
Record Label:Paper Plane Music
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2013
Time:58:24
Info:Half Past Four
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: It Strikes You (4:26), Good Things (6:26), All Day and All Night (4:44), Rise (5:58), Landmines (4:45), Cool Water (5:24), Spin the Girl (2:42), Fate (4:15), I Am Lion (6:34), Wolf (3:08), Darkness Knew (4:36), The Earth (5:26)

I've waited a long time and Good Things have finally arrived, quite literally, with the new album of that name from Half Past Four, a Canadian band that made me very happy with their wonderful debut album Rabbit In The Vestibule. That was an uplifting and mesmerising album of wonderful technique and all inclusiveness that became a favourite that I still regularly return to.

So five years on from the debut I'm pleased to report that nothing much has changed with HP4 and Good Things is another mightily impressive album from a band that, if anything, is more formidable than ever. The songs are still imbued with a quirky style that draws its influences from far and wide, incorporating anything that will fit. And that's the key - despite elements being absorbed from various genres and styles it all fits and nothing sounds jarring. This is a testament to the skills of those involved as both the writing and playing are effortless throughout.

Vocalist Kyree Vibrant was great before but she is nothing short of imperious here, performing all manner of vocal dexterities without appearing to break sweat, her spectacular performance shaping the album. Clear as a bell, pitch perfect and full of individuality, she not only has a hell of a voice but has the skills to easily fit it into the songs no matter what style is required. We get strident and powerful in the opener, Rise and The Earth, laidback and smoky for All Day and All Night, staccato and quick fire in Landmines and Spin the Girl - where she moves through a number of different styles from shouting to opera sounding wonderful whatever she does - drenched in emotion for Cool Water, epic on I Am Lion and just plain gorgeous during Fate.

The same is true for the instrumentalists, the core band of Constantin Necrasov (guitar), Igor Kurtzman (keys) and Dmitry Lesov (bass) joined by recent recruit drummer Marcello Ciurleo put on a wonderful display of song-focused musicianship. As with Rabbit... it is the songs that decide how the musicians play and they do not try to force too much technique in where the songs won't allow it. The addition of Ciurleo has added much to the band and it now feels complete, his prog background over a number of years evidenced in a more intricate approach that benefits the music.

The music itself has zing, pizzazz and wonderful energy from the heavy riffing guitar and dynamic keys which this time focus on the use of electric piano to give the album its flavour. The guitar still deploys the buzzing punk edge of the first album but less often and sounding less tinny than previously, overall giving the album a more grown-up feel. Half Past Four prove that you do not have to stretch things out to develop them and add layers but nothing sounds cluttered or tagged on for the sake of it. The brevity is admirable but the listener should not feel short changed as HP4 have come up with a cornucopia of delights with a very homely feel. This is what they have to say about what they wanted the album to achieve:-

"This album is a collection of songs that represents the depth of our years together and the maturing of our songwriting as a band. Creating it felt harmonious, like a family would feel in a kitchen preparing a meal. It only felt natural then to decide to compare it thusly when giving it a title and concept. Another element that brought that idea together was the reality that progressive rock can be a challenging and alienating music in that it creates a division between band and audience. By showing a simple loaf of bread - which is the universal symbol for community and inclusiveness - we INVITE the listener to break it with us, to join us at our table, enjoy themselves and comfortably consume our music, the creation of which was very pleasurable and intuitive - like most good cooking experiences are."

And it does just that. No high and mighty concepts. No life changing message. This is about getting together, relaxing in the company of friends and enjoying the spirit of community that really good music can impart between both the creators and consumers.

Tellingly the Bandcamp tags read "folk, jazz, metal, progressive rock, rock, klezmer, pop, Toronto" and they're all valid - even the last one! This is a band that does not take themselves particularly seriously as evidenced in the K-TEL (remember them?) influenced video they have produced to promote Good Things:-

So, what does the happy purchaser get for their $12.99 apart from the rolling papers?

The dozen songs cover a lot of ground and the band sound like they're having fun creating music that they want to hear based on their own tastes and influences. We get almost stadium rock in opener It Strikes You, a jazziness to songs like the title track, Fate and I Am Lion, hard rock and metal in Cool Water, the high-voltage klezmer of Spin the Girl with prog elements throughout. It doesn't get samey or tedious, that's for sure! The real quirkiness seeps through during Spin the Girl and Wolf - the former benefitting from wonderful quick-fire chorus and imbued with the musical heritage of the band members, the latter telling the tale of a wolf who stays at home reading trashy fiction novels while his wife goes out hunting. What is immediately noticeable is that the guitar is more in your face and the drums a significant step up on the previous album. The lead instruments fly leaving the rhythm section driving things along but all bounce off each other in a great ensemble fashion.

Some of the songs at first appear straight forward in style but are shot through with fiddlyness and intricate detail that adds much to the interest. There is certainly a maturity to the writing and I don't think I chuckled as much as on the first album but it is no less entertaining for that and HP4 are to be commended for not just coming up with Rabbit... Part Two. The guitar and electric piano colour the majority of the tracks and the soloing by both Necrasov and Kurtzman is exemplary. These guys not only know how to play but also how to fit the right solos into tracks so as not to overbalance them. The title track is slick and edgy, All Day and All Night and Landmines tip their hats towards King Crimson territory, surf-rock guitar makes an appearance in Rise. Elsewhere, metallic edges colour the intense and powerful Cool Water while a bluesy guitar tone is deployed on Fate. We also get brooding, epic and widescreen on I Am Lion interspersed with lighter fiddly instrumental sections and jazzy choral vocals with intertwining vocal lines. Lots of influences to be sure but it all works a treat and does not sound unwieldy or soupy.

Picking out a couple of tracks for individual attention, Landmines is possibly the best track here, wonderful staccato vocals and a sense of urgency to the rhythm link with great guitar, burbling bass and fine use of electric piano again. Vibrant is on top form issuing the vocal lines like proclamations from on high while the chorus is oddly smooth and wavy with a nice keys solo. The interlocking guitar and piano at the end suggest shades of a smooth and mellow King Crimson. The Earth works perfectly as the finale, thundering along with almost Tony Banks Lamb Lies Down... piano runs while the chorus is a powerful call and response with Vibrant hitting some stunning notes and raising the roof. Hard rock with a cultured vocal, packed with energy and intent.

Another very likeable album that builds on Half Past Four's strengths, possibly slightly less odd than the debut but not really any the worse for that. This one gives us a number of straighter songs that pack loads into their tight running times and keep things interesting. I have no issues at all with playing, singing, writing or production so from that standpoint Good Things is a mighty success. It is still quirky and odd but overall makes for an uplifting affirmation of positivity that refuses to descend into sappy sentimentality. Just great stuff. Like Sweden there seems to be something in the water in Canada!

Set another place at the table and keep the feast coming, I think I can cram some more in yet.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

JEZ ROWDEN


Necromonkey - Necroplex
Necromonkey - Necroplex
Country of Origin:Sweden
Format:CD
Record Label:Exergy Music
Catalogue #:RO 001
Year of Release:2013
Time:52:39
Info:Necromonkey
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Pea (3:10), Asshole Vote (6:15), Elements (4:16), Tuba Melts (2:03), Small Rome (2:34), Every Dead Indian (8:37), Empty Traps And Nightfall (2:49), Spoken (2:57), The Utopian And The Teaspoon (5:03), Winds Over Iceland (1:21), Knock Knock Hornets Nest (6:28), Notebook Memory (2:04), Last Entry (4:55)

Wind up the toys, let them go. You have walked through the portal to the dark side of the psyche of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, where things are twisted and bent into the shape of something new. Pea is a flight of fancy that winds up, up and up, cranky musical boxes given the Asshole Vote, where car horns and Mellotron choirs lead to "gut feeling becoming posit opinion". Give me a go on the "Thingamapoop", I reckon I could get a tune out of it, and, pray tell me, how does one play "Mother"?

Stentorian rhythm marches to the edge of nightmare. Is reality any better? Who knows, but we are all "still being paid off by the man", that much is true. Sirens wail in the urban miasma. Mellotron mania and muttering, it's Euro-pop, Jim, but not as we know it, how will we explain this if we comedown? The Glam Descend and fleeting images of Kraftwerk's hipper young nephews at play under the Brandenburg Gate, it's all in the Elements. More half-caught images of station announcements, and as the brass band tunes up, the Tuba Melts.

Stopping for a breather in a conservatoire, a piano plays strained Bach in Small Rome. We may well be in need of "Therapy Guitar, Can Opener", as our "mental engines are warming up" now, a cerebral dance of summer flies in the streetlight, and late night coffee bars, a repeated mantra from the guitar insistently but quietly ploughs on and suddenly becalmed we arrive at the centre where ego diminishes to zero. Zen-washes of sound caress a simple motif and Every Dead Indian makes a non-specific statement of being. A lone bass strikes up, Mingus remembered and "peace and quiet for once", as God must indeed be a boogie man.

"You're halfway through this thing. It's been fun so far, hasn't it?" There is a voice in here, and it is Spoken. These monkeys are cooking up their very own Murder Mystery. "Buster Keaton doing his tax return in the dark" tells you all you need to know, "but in the end you're all just necromonkeys". Clearer now? I thought not. So, we might as well do a loose-limbed rug cutting to The Utopian And The Teaspoon, an ideal name for a hit single, which just goes to show how little I know, even less than when we started this trip. Things are squawking in there, they are not tame. There's trumpets, and someone is playing "Mother", again. Just how do they do that? It's a skank-funk thang, baby. Tune in those radios, there's Winds Over Iceland, someone left their Faust LP collection behind.

Unleashing a cloud of furious insects is nothing to these boys, let's set them loose in a cold nightclub, Knock Knock Hornets Nest, anyone for a chance meeting? Those robots are still throwing shapes, probably rhomboids. The Notebook Memory is full, empty your cache to a treated bass clarinet, winding its merry way slowly round your by now tautly stretched synapses. Now it is time for the Last Entry, the summing up. We shall waltz off into the hull of the soon to depart spacecraft, purple mist swirling around, heavenly Mellotron flute calling us back to whence we came. It "looks like the end", or, is it just the beginning for these singularly wilful primates? Give that monkey a banana.

This has been a spilling forth of nothing that makes any sense at all, or as linear as it needs to be.

And now for the serious bit: Necromonkey are drummer Mattias Olson (ex Änglagård) and keyboard player David Lundberg (still with Gösta Berlings Saga), but that does not even begin to explain. What they have done here bears no comparison to either group, and that is probably about all you need to know.

Also, if you type "Necromonkey Q&A" into YouTube, as if by magic a series of five rather loose quizzings of the duo will appear, of which this is the first:

Conclusion: 8.lots out of 10

ROGER TRENWITH


PBII - 1000 Wishes
PBII - 1000 Wishes
Country of Origin:Netherlands
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2013
Time:75:11
Info:1000 Wishes
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Eric's Story Part 1 (2:15), A Perfect Day (11:35), Never Old (8:18), White (4:37), Eric's Dream (5:35), Eric's Story Part 2 (1:23), Lorian (4:13), Land of 1000 Wishes (10:51), Evil Weed (2:28), The Loss (4:50), Reflections (4:12), Into The Light (4:13), Eric's Story Part 3 (1:35), We Are Home (1:16), Parental Thoughts (7:36)

Line-up:-
Rund Slakhorst - Vocals
Michael Van Wassem - Keyboards, Piano and Vocals
Ronald Brautigam - Electric and Acoustic Guitars
Alex Van Elswijk - Bass Guitar and Bass Pedals
Tom Van Der Muelen - Drums
The Hague Youth Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marcel Geraeds
Nathailie Mees - Soprano Vocal
Steve Hackett - Lead Guitar on Evil Weed
James Potter - Voice of Eric
Roger Watson - Voice of Storyteller

Well this is a tad different, let me explain a little...

PBII are a Dutch progressive rock band with one album (Plastic Soup) under their belt.

This, their second album, is a collaboration with the Hague Youth Symphony Orchestra to raise funds for the Kika Foundation that aids children with cancer, existing to assist with their care and to provide support for their parents, all of which it goes without saying is a very worthy and worthwhile cause.

To do this PBII have created a concept album based on the story of Eric, a young boy who is discovered to have cancer. The story unfolds from his diagnosis, through his treatment and to his meeting a fellow sufferer (Sander) and, well, you need to hear the album for yourself to find out how it all ends as I don't want to spoil it for you.

I've spent a lot of time with this album and I have to confess I think it is wonderful. It's beautifully written and played with the band firing on all cylinders and the orchestra giving tremendous support, depth and colour to the proceedings. The special guests merely add to an already tasty album, not to say that their parts aren't valuable as they most certainly are.

With singer Ruud Slakhorst having a very clear annunciation and sounding like a lower register Jon Anderson on some tracks and like Peter Gabriel at other times, he possesses a fine voice that gives the album extra life, breadth, depth and dignity.

The album is very moving indeed and the juxtaposition of music and narration sits just fine. The narrator is clear and concise and brings a weight and gravitas to what is very emotional subject matter. Eric's narration is excellent too showing real emotional depth.

in addition the music is absolutely first rate and shows great dignity and empathy towards the subject matter of Eric's illness and rather than give a track by track commentary I will just select a few highlights to remark upon as it's all very good indeed.

Opening song A perfect Day is tremendous, all 11 minutes of it. The music is sweeping, majestic, emotive, and yet accessible and more, it really sets the scene for what follows throughout the rest of the album.

Land of 1000 Wishes is a central track and vital to the whole album. Featuring the soprano voice of Nathalie Mees, this is a beautiful track that encapsulates everything about what this album stands for. It's a very orchestral track in parts but also with the power of the band showing through, and again it's a long track at 10:51 but it never gets boring or loses its way.

Steve Hackett's Evil Wind which follows is a searing two minutes of brilliance featuring a trademark guitar solo full of depth, reverb and adding a touch of menace to the proceedings. I just wish it were even longer as I could have listened to it for ages!

The final track, Parental Thoughts, is another great track and a fabulous conclusion to a very heart-warming and emotive story. Again there is a great balance of power from the band and orchestra set against some stirring music and heartfelt lyrics.

This is a brave album in many respects and its subject matter is handled very delicately and with great respect and, again, dignity and openness not cloying sentimentality.

I have to say that if you hear this album (and you ought to) that it may well affect you as it is such a tender story, lovingly told and with real compassion and emotion. PBII and the orchestra have done an outstanding job here breathing life into this tale and making it real. 1000 Wishes is a very strong concept album which contemplates the themes of Struggle, Courage and Friendship beautifully. Overall it shows a sense of dignity that is also captured in the storyline.

This is an album for lovers of classic prog with lots of reference points and some fine music along the way. It's an album that grows in stature every time you play it so be prepared to listen several times as it's a great album of stirring music, insightful lyrics and overall is a fabulous package. It's very worthy of your investigation and as it's for a great cause I have no hesitation in giving this a DPRP Recommendation so go on, grab a copy and help support this vital work.

I have to say it has been a privilege to hear and review this album and I wish PBII and the KIKA foundation every success in this very worthy venture as all profits go directly to help the foundation. An excellent job, well done one and all.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

JOHN WENLOCK-SMITH


Star FK Radium - Solitude Rotation
Star FK Radium - Solitude Rotation
Country of Origin:U.S.A.
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2012
Time:30:52
Info:Star FK Radium
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Solitude Rotation (4:18), A Month's Lifetime (4:44), Daisy Pop (2:13), Honey Jarz (5:23), Morning Star (1:23), My Favourite Colour (4:03), Rhythm of Breathing (2:03), Song #8 (2:58), Will it Fly (3:46)

Well, well, well ladies and gentlemen, what we have here is Star FK Radium's new album and what a cracker it is too. Bill Martien and co haven't so much deviated from their path, more perfected it. The album which, might I add, is instrumental features nine tracks that are moody and melancholic. Solitude Rotation picks up where Blue Siberia left off being an album that continues to create beautiful musical imagery.

The interaction of Bill Martien (guitar), Matt Clarke (drums) and Alissa Taylor (violin) shows three aligned musicians who offer their interpretation of Chamber Music, classical violin and acoustic rock guitar accompanied by some astute percussive work. This is music that takes the listener on a musical journey, a gamut of powerful emotional landscapes. The imagery created is expressive, expansive, open and communicative, grand in scale, having generosity, displaying a readiness to talk to its listener. Close your eyes, listen and see what your mind conjures up.

Again we don't see any of those lumbering and pretentious twenty minute epics; this is a trio that knows that it's all about quality not quantity. From the longest track, Honey Jarz to the shortest, Morning Star, every note fits perfectly, differing in presentation but none the less rewarding. I struggle to find anything to musically compare these creations to as a point of reference.

As the album opens with the lilting title tack Solitude Rotation you can feel the presence of the band as the track emotionally travels, a theme which is carried throughout. Some times that presence is slow and sedate and at other times it is a bit more assertive and rapid. Either way it ticks all the boxes making a lasting impression on the listener's ears.

Again Jason Rubal has performed an excellent job with the recording, mixing and mastering catching every little nuance with perfection. The soundstage has clarity, suffused with colour, glowing in its presentation. Could one ask for much more?

If you loved Blue Siberia then this is definitely an album you need to invest in. If you aren't familiar with Star FK Radium do yourself a favour and look them up, you might just be surprised.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

JOHN O'BOYLE


Tom Brislin - Hurry Up and Smell the Roses
Tom Brislin - Hurry Up and Smell the Roses
Country of Origin:U.S.A.
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2012
Time:49:19
Info:Tom Brislin
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: Hurry Up and Smell the Roses (4:39), Your Favorite Day (4:08), When You Told Me Not to Go (3:52), Stuff You Would Understand (3:19), Industry in the Distance (7:28), Predawn (0:51), Liftoff (4:33), The Outskirts (3:28), I Hold a Candle (7:32), Visitor (3:24), Microphone (6:02)

Tom Brislin is one of my very favourite singers. Full stop. He is perhaps better known to some of you as founding member, lead singer and songwriter for the cult American prog band Spiraling. He is also a much in demand musician, and has toured and recorded with Yes, Meat Loaf, Debbie Harry, Renaissance, Camel, Glen Burtnik and Francis Dunnery.

This solo album was released towards the back end of 2012 and is described on Tom's website as 'cinematic pop'. It was written, produced, performed, and recorded by him, and as such is an absolute triumph. It features guest contributions from guitarist/songwriter Clint Lagerberg, vocalist Annie Haslam of Renaissance, and Theremin synthesist Shueh-li Ong.

He's not only an insanely talented musician, and fabulous singer but by 'eck the lad can arrange a tune. And he's a pretty darned good lyricist too - "all the charm of a picture in a motel room" indeed.

Chances are if you dig Spiraling you'll have bought this already. But if you haven't heard of the band then they are seriously worthy of your attention. As is this record. It's lush, sumptuous, marvellously melodic songwriting and arranging at its very best, sparser perhaps than Jason Hart's recent solo release (in I and Thou guise).

Tom's the guy on the Yes Symphonic Live CD and DVD so you keyboard fans (you know who you are) are going to get a lot from this album too. It's dominated by piano and synths, which allow Tom to showcase his prodigious talent as he tickles said ivories. There's a little here of everything that made Spiralling one of my very favourite bands of the American third wave - Brislin keyboard wizardry, his taut, tortured voice, quirky, edgy pop/prog and insightful lyrics. There are quieter, more reflective, more introspective moments too.

I'm a big fan of the opening title track, which contains everything good here and there's a definite 'hairs standing up on the back of the neck' moment as Tom changes tempo vocally and when the tasteful orchestration kicks in to lift the song up to this reviewer's personal symphonic prog heaven, and a wee bit beyond.

For a variety of reasons I couldn't quite get this review out in 2012. Suffice to say it was not the best of years but it's lovely now to reconnect with a super little solo album that will put a smile on a lot of faces I'm sure. If you liked the I and Thou record I reviewed a while back then I'm pretty sure you'll like this.

It's an album that should happily find a place and nestle comfortably in the record collections of most progressive rock fans, and for this reason it gets a DPRP recommendation.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

BRIAN WATSON


Phlox - Vali
Phlox - Vali
Country of Origin:Estonia
Format:CD
Record Label:MKDK Records
Catalogue #:MKDKCD0031
Year of Release:2013
Time:51:23
Info:Phlox
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: 80,000 Ijööd Maa All (5:52), Almus (5:43), Küttearve Päikeselt (6:00), Hülge Hing (5:59), Paigalelend (7:16), Hunt (5 Minutes To Armageddon Version) (9:49), Kurehirm (Doom Night Ornithology Special) (10:41)

Long established Baltic band Phlox are not to be confused with a much more recent psychedelic prog band of the same name from Malaysia. This, the original Phlox, hail from Estonia in the Baltic region of Northern Europe, an area of the world with a long jazz tradition. Their particular variant is modern jazz fusion, owing a debt to mid and late-period Soft Machine and that era's Canterbury scene in general, all the while easily managing to stamp their own authority on warmly organic numbers like Küttearve Päikeselt.

Vali is their fifth album since forming in 1999, and as is often the case in small tight-knit scenes, band members are shared around other local bands with regularity, all being members of local musicians' support network and record label MKDK. However, founder member Kristo Roots (guitar) remains, and here he is joined by Madis Zilmer (drums), Kalle Klein (saxophone), Ravio Prooso (bass guitar), Pearu Helenurm (keyboards) and Allan Prooso (percussion). Most of this line up has been with the band for some time, and they show evidence of their long association with many examples of sweet and tight ensemble playing.

The album is a recording of a live performance for Estonian Classical Radio, and being live it benefits from the immediacy of the situation, and the listener can feel the energy that pours out of the CD player. This is jazz fusion with attitude as the overdriven coruscating angry guitar break in Almus testifies.

All the players get to shine, and no one player dominates proceedings. A particularly stellar if somehow understated piano run on Hülge Hing is followed by a similarly gorgeous sax break on a truly progressive piece of fusion mischief making, topped of by a contrapuntal and liquid flurry of guitar notes, showing each front-line band member to full effect. However, this is no charmless ego-fest, this is all played from the soul.

Not to be left out, the rhythm section show their chops on the next song Paigalelend, swapping fast counter-rhythms and changes in tempo with much dexterity. Another fine guitar excursion from Kristo follows. This is a player of some talent, and he has a style of his own that while reminiscent of a more animated Terje Rypdal rises above comparisons to soon become individually distinctive.

A comparison to the Swedish jazz guitar master might seem to indicate that Kristo Roots stands out from his colleagues, but that is not the case, as they all possess talent by the bucketload.

The performance ends with the two longest tracks on the album and Hunt returns to a Karl Jenkins-led Soft Machine symphonic vibe, sax to the fore, before changing tack and time signature for a furious journey through a nightmarish landscape accompanied at times by more overdriven piano and guitar, the slower theme weaving its way back in. Listening to the bass guitar in the synth section of the tune highlights the complex structure upon which the tune is built. This is really fine fusion, all without a hint of the aridity that sometimes bedevils this genre.

Last track, Kurehirm starts in a calmer fashion, with a six minute sax solo that meanders from the lyrical to well into free jazz territory accompanied only by minimal percussion. Eventually the band joins in for an avant jazz symphony of some menace, heavy descending chords and angry synth buzzings to the fore. The tune eventually signs off with a few melancholic sax notes and the concert ends to faded applause, and we are left with the impression of one damn fine fusion band. Highly recommended!

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

ROGER TRENWITH


Cristiano Roversi – AntiQua
Cristiano Roversi – AntiQua
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:Galileo Records
Catalogue #:GR032
Year of Release:2012
Time:50:43
Info:Cristiano Roversi
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Morning In AntiQua (5:20), Tales From Solitude Suite: I) A Silent Rite, II) Tales From Solitude, III) Crave Some Loneliness, IV) East Or West? (13:39), L'Amore (3:41), Nessie Revealed (3:34), Falling: I) Falling, II) Celestial Slowfall (9:17), Dimlit Tavern (5:18), Nirayed's Secret Diary (3:13), AntiQua (5:46), AntiQua's Evening (1:27)

The name Cristiano Roversi may not be one that trips readily off the tongue but he's had a pretty prolific career so far. In addition to his extensive work with the bands Moongarden and Mangala Vallis he's collaborated with the likes of John Wetton, Steve Hackett and David Jackson and still has time for solo projects with AntiQua being his third to date.

Judging by the thematic track titles and Ed Unitsky's typically elaborate artwork, AntiQua is a concept album although neither the CD booklet nor Roversi's website is particularly enlightening. Whilst the lyrics (on what is mostly an instrumental album) are equally ambiguous the music is easier to fathom. Playing an array of guitars and analogue keyboards, Roversi is clearly influenced by the gentler side of old school prog including Genesis, Steve Hackett, Mike Oldfield and most specifically Anthony Phillips. In fact, just as the recently reviewed Tales From Sheepfather's Grove by Johannes Luley takes Jon Anderson as its inspiration, AntiQua sounds for the most part like a homage to Ant Phillips.

To underline the point, look no further than the opening piece Morning In AntiQua. It's a lyrical instrumental featuring 12-string, classical guitar, piano and a hint of symphonic keys that would have fitted comfortably on Ant's debut album The Geese And The Ghost. Ant's Genesis successor Steve Hackett is also evoked through the melodic electric guitar of guest Fabio Serra on several tracks, particularly the title cut AntiQua which brings to mind Hackett's own instrumental Twice Around The Sun.

So far so good, although there are a couple of aspects that don't quite work for me. Firstly, just as Ant did on his early '80s albums 1984 and Invisible Men, Roversi utilises a Roland CR-78 drum machine which given the tranquil nature of the songs sounds intrusive. Then there is the unmistakable vocal presence of PFM's Bernardo Lanzetti on Tales From Solitude. This is a lovely piece but Lanzetti's melodramatic delivery doesn't do it for me, sounding here curiously like 1960's actor and crooner Anthony Newley. Better in my opinion is the more neutral voice of Aldo Tagliapietra on the beautiful L'Amore and female singer Leonora's part sung, part spoken prose during the haunting Falling.

Falling segues into one of the albums most successful pieces, the aptly titled Celestial Slowfall. It boasts a beautiful melody with (Mellotron) flute and classical guitar bringing Ant's Anthem From Tarka to mind plus a delightful Mellotron choir and 12-string sequence very reminiscent of Genesis' Entangled. Other standout tracks include the evocative Dimlit Tavern with Mellotron washes influenced by Genesis' The Fountain of Salmacis and the title piece (which benefits from real drums and bass). I've already mentioned the atmospheric lead guitar on this song but as it builds in layered Mike Oldfield fashion, the Hammond and moog textures and tribal drums of Gigi Cavalli Cocchi are also worthy of note.

After the eccentric nature of the last Moongarden album, A Vulgar Display Of Prog (written mostly by Roversi), I was surprised and I must confess delighted by the restrained style here. Roversi has produced a beautiful album that should find favour with devotees of the artists I've already mentioned. Particularly recommended if you have a good set of headphones and an hour to spare for relaxed contemplation.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

GEOFF FEAKES


Dianoya - Lidocaine
Dianoya - Lidocaine
Country of Origin:Poland
Format:CD
Record Label:Glassville Records
Catalogue #:8714835095958
Year of Release:2012
Time:54:59
Info:Dianoya
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Far Cry (5:23), Cold Genius (5:22), 1000g (6:07), One - Sided (5:29), Good News Comes After A While (4:02), Figaro Song (2:13), Best Wishes (6:19), Endgame (6:03), Nothing In Return (7:26), 21st Century (5:14), Venid (1:21)

After their grand debut Obscurity Divine in 2010, please read Gert Hulshof’s DPRP Recommend 9 out of 10 album review to learn all about that, Polish band Dianoya has released the successor Lidocaine at the end of 2012. A hard job for sure as creating an equally good or better album must have been a real challenge. And I tell you they did a fine job. The new album brings us very strong melodic prog metal in the best of Polish tradition and of high quality. In fact the only thing why I am not utterly cheerful is that some songs on the album are not that resourceful. As was the case with its predecessor their sound is generally funded on Riverside, which is no shame because of the way they get that job done. But Dianoya is not the only band out there that apparently is inspired by Mariusz Duda. Resulting in a common lack of originality. Take Best Wishes, the seventh track. A very strong and beautiful song; close your eyes and imagine this being a Riverside composition. A perfect match.

Dianoya recently supported Riverside on their New Generation Tour. Edwin Roosjen stated in his DPRP concert review that the audience enjoyed Dianoya’s short but impressive set.

Mind you, with the opening track Far Cry the band proves that they are more than able to create something really special with their very own signature. The more elaborate songs Cold Genius and 1000G, which accidently were the songs that I picked up on DPRP’s radio show earlier and attracted me to hear more of this album, are emitting this special feeling as well. Add Good News Comes After a While to that list too. Most of the other tracks are good, however sounds rather ordinary to me. Again, of high quality but nothing to get too excited about. Does this make it an uninteresting album? No, not at all. Again, Lidocaine is a fine album; I like it though it does not have the full potential to stay attractive for a long time. Maybe the first 3 or 5 tracks of Lidocaine are that good that it makes the rest automatically a little less appealing. On the other hand you may judge this is a great album with a few songs that stand out. I can’t decide but do know that Dianoya produced an enjoyable second album to be proud of. So please give the album a good listen.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

ANDRÉ DE BOER


Gerald Krampl - Wonder Way
Gerald Krampl - Wonder Way
Country of Origin:Austria
Format:CD
Record Label:Sandrosa Records
Catalogue #:SCD 30.029
Year of Release:2012
Time:41:35
Info:Gerald Krampl
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Flight of the Gondolfiers (2:53), On A Rainy Monday (2:39), Last Rays of Summer(3:27), A Winter's Tale (3:53), Beyond the Horizon (3:29), Childhood Days (3:35), A Walk in the Park (3:49), Mirror Images (3:25), Regrets (3:45), Come Sun, Come Rain (3:39), Farewell Song (2:43), By The End of The Day (3:35)

Gerald Krampl is an Austrian musician from the Vienna area with a long career in music beginning in the '70s with Kyrie Eleison and moving on to Indigo in the '80s. Later Krampl started making music as an independent solo artist and on Wonder Way he is joined by Peter Sagaischek on violin and viola.

Wonder Way is an album full of moody piano with additional strings here and there making for an experience that is almost classical in feel. When you want to hear emotional piano music Wonder Way would be a good choice to make, not disappointing in any way. It is certainly not an album that will attract a wide audience due to its piano orientated nature.

The music is certainly beautiful, but not essential. Wonder Way will ease your mind and soul, relieve your stresses and bring you back to reality in hectic periods.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

GERT HULSHOF

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Published 4th May 2013

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