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2013 : VOLUME 35
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REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:



Illumion - The Waves
Illumion - The Waves
Country of Origin:Netherlands
Format:CD/LP
Record Label:Freia Music
Catalogue #:ZEUS2CD / ZEUS2LP
Year of Release:2012
Time:60:32 (71:36 vinyl)
Info:Illumion
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: Ember (9:12), Adamantine (6:06), The Craft Of Memory (4:52), A Tale Of Kings (6:08), Sorrow's End (5:57), Espirando (6:53), Mystify (5:59), Canvas (7:23), The Waves (6:45)
Bonus tracks [exclusive to vinyl]: Elegy Of Treason (5:49), Sorrow's End [acoustic version] (5:29)

Conundrum: A confusing and difficult problem or question.

One spends a very long time listening to a "difficult" album so that one can provide a fully formulated and well-judged opinion. You have enough adjectives to fill a very lengthy review. You are however not sure that your extensive vocabulary will really enlighten readers as to the desirability of the disc in question. You are also about to move house and have a lot of packing to do.

Do you set aside several hours you don't actually have, to write an in-depth review that will justify the length of time you've spent weighing up the value of said album. Or do you simply jump straight to your conclusion and carry on with the packing?

Consideration: Careful thought, typically over a period of time.

ILLUMION was formed in 2002 by Eveline van Kampen (guitars, Chinese Viola and mandolin) after her graduation from the conservatory of Alkmaar's guitar jazz and pop department. I really enjoyed and still revisit the debut album from this intriguing Dutch band. Progress Records released Hunting for Significance in 2009 and it received a very positive review on DPRP with a special emphasis on its individuality. The band has clearly spent a lot of time on creating a worthy follow-up. There are layers and layers and layers of detail packed within every track on The Waves.

This is definitely Prog but not as we know it.

The voice of Esther Ladiges may be closer to what you'd expect in a jazz or folk ensemble. It is an unusual combination but one that I find both endearing and effective.

Equally I simply adore the ever changing depths and variation in the compositional style and the instrumentation. Most songs are written in complex, non-standard time signatures. This really is thinking man's (or woman's) Prog.

Conclusion: The summing-up of an argument.

Any further description would be futile. A track by track commentary would confuse more than clarify. Illumion stands as a band beyond comparison. is a wonderfully ambitious progressive rock album.

There was a temptation to describe this as "Headphone Prog" - modern progressive rock that required one to sit down, pay attention and really listen. The breadth and depth of sound on this wonderfully produced album means that headphone listening will be the best starting point. The Waves does take some careful listening to fully engage with.

However I found that once I became familiar with the music's twists and turns, it offers an equally enjoyable listen in the car stereo.

Adding to the originality is the fact that Freia Music appears to be chiefly promoting this album as a high quality double vinyl album. It is available on CD too. But that version has only the 9 songs covered here. The vinyl version has 12 tracks.

This is such a great listen, that for the first time in two decades I shall go out and buy this album on vinyl! That is after I've finished my packing!

Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10

ANDY READ


Gordon Giltrap & Oliver Wakeman - Ravens & Lullabies
Gordon Giltrap & Oliver Wakeman - Ravens & Lullabies
Country of Origin:U.K.
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric Antenna
Catalogue #:EANTCD 1013
Year of Release:2013
Time:59:44
Info:Gordon Giltrap
Oliver Wakeman
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Moneyfacturing (4:10), Fiona's Smile (3:01), From The Turn Of A Card (4:37), LJW (4:08), Maybe Tomorrow (3:26), Wherever There Was Beauty (2:40), Is This The Last Song I Write? (10:02), A Mayfair Kiss (2:55), Anyone Can Fly (4:48), A Perfect Day (2:41), Credit Carnival (5:38), One For Billie (2:11), Ravens Will Fly Away (4:50)

Bob Mulvey's Review

I for one was delighted to hear the rumours back in 2012 of a return to his 'progressive leanings' for Gordon Giltrap. That this would also be a collaboration with Oliver Wakeman only heightened my interest. The project gathered momentum with the duo touring during 2012 and debuting material that would eventually appear on the Ravens & Lullabies album. Of those brief passages I heard I found them reminiscent of the material which appeared on the enjoyable From Brush & Stone, from Gordon and Rick, on that occasion. So again expectations were high.

Now, cards on the table, I'm a huge fan of Mr. Giltrap beginning with the Perilous Journey (1977) and Fear Of the Dark (1978) albums. I was also fortunate enough to see Gordon (and band) perform around this time at Redcar Bowl, if memory serves me, and since then I have caught numerous 'solo' shows from this gifted musician and truly unique acoustic guitar player. I also have numerous solo albums from Gordon, as well as many of his collaborative works.

Equally the Wakeman family have provided me with much enjoyment over the years, so I'll forego the introductions for Oliver, if I may. Anyone reading these pages will be aware of the musical heritage of the Wakeman family, so on to Ravens & Lullabies...

All opens well with a familiar Giltrap acoustic flourish, synth theme, strings, drum fills, bass and we're off. A driving rhythm and then... there's vocals! I know I really should pay more attention but the singing did throw me. Pass me the CD cover, mmmmm, so it's not an instrumental album then? So for the record, on Ravens & Lullabies Gordon and Oliver are joined by vocalist Paul Manzi (Arena), bassist Steve Amadeo and Threshold drummer Johanne James. Guest vocalist Benoît David features on the track From The Turn Of A Card.

O.K., initial seaming ball out the way. Moneyfacturing is an infectious AOR rocker, not unlike I'd expect to hear from the Asia camp, complete with strong hooklines from both the vocals and the instrumentation. A couple of runs through of this track and the melodies were rattling around in my head for days. Fiona's Smile on the other hand is much more in keeping with what I'd 'expected'. Lyrical and engaging acoustic work from Gordon, nicely intertwined with Oliver's infectious piano.

As mentioned earlier, former Yes vocalist Benoît David guests on Ravens & Lullabies and the infectious From The Turn Of A Card. Like the album opener the vocal melody is instantly memorable, as is much of the musical arrangement, although I did feel this track in particular sat a little more comfortably with the instrumental pieces from the album. Rippling piano heralds LJW, a quintessentially English piece that conjures up thoughts of long sunny days in the countryside (well for those of us with long memories)... It also leads nicely into the breezy acoustic led Maybe Tomorrow. A gentle acoustic track with nice synth flourishes and again a hummable vocal line. The dye is cast as we move into another short instrumental, this time around opening with lush strings and Gordon's delicate acoustic guitar making Wherever There Was Beauty truly delightful.

Much like my fellow reviewer Roger, who has also undertaken to comment on this album, I'm much more inclined toward the instrumental pieces. This is not to say the vocal tracks are not merit worthy, just not for me. This is not meant to denigrate the performances of Paul Manzi and Benoît David, but more a reflection of the straightforward and unchallenging nature of the tracks. Notable exception is the album centrepiece, Is This The Last Song I Write?. At a tad over ten minutes the track has time to breathe, expand and also features an extended instrumental section.

Before concluding I should mention that Ravens & Lullabies also comes as 2CD limited edition, (not reviewed here), which includes five live tracks recorded during Roger and Oliver's 2012 tour. These are represented by Gordon's Isabella's Wedding and On Camber Sand whilst Oliver offers up Nature's Way from Purification By Sound, Progress Of The Soul from Enlightenment & Inspiration and Lutey And The Mermaid from The 3 Ages Of Magick. The bonus CD also includes three new studio recordings - Bach's Praeludium (from The Well Tempered Clavier), The Forgotten King (from Oliver's The 3 Ages Of Magick) and Roots which so dramatically opened Gordon's Fear Of the Dark album.

I've struggled with this album to be truthful. Maybe I expected too much, or more to the point, something different. Well that's my problem and it shouldn't impact unfavourably on my review of Ravens & Lullabies. So if you're inclined to take your prog on the accessible side, replete with catchy hooklines, then this could well be an album for you. I can well imagine those, like me, who anticipated a return to the Perilous Journey or Fear Of the Dark albums, that they may well be in for a surprise. Conversely those who have perhaps passed on this for the same reasons, might well be missing out on something to their liking.

Roger Trenwith's review

Four years on from his collaboration with Rick Wakeman on the From Brush & Stone album, Gordon Giltrap returns with Ravens & Lullabies, keys this time supplied by Rick's son Oliver Wakeman.

Unlike From Brush & Stone, which was an entirely instrumental affair, this new work is about 50% fully fledged rock songs, mostly sung by Oliver's long-time vocalist Paul Manzi, who currently fronts AOR band Arena, and 50% instrumentals in a style not too dissimilar to the collaboration with Wakeman Snr.

The rock songs for me form the weaker points of the album, as I'd far rather listen to the intricate acoustic work that Gordon is famed for. His electric guitar rock style is fairly nondescript and the songs themselves make little impression. I'll admit that Arena and their ilk are far removed from what I would choose to listen to and I'm none too enamoured of Paul's dramatic style of delivery, which we are introduced to from the off on Moneyfacturing. This is a song that sounds like an amalgam of dozens of AOR songs from years gone by, and while pleasant enough, is saying absolutely nothing new, either musically or lyrically. Also, as much as I would want it to work, I do not consider that Gordon is at all suited to rocking out, and this number, which is the most bombastic on the record, sounds a bit flat as a result.

The album also sees a contribution from another casualty of the machinations of the Worst Rock Band HR Department In The World, one Benoît David. Oliver and Benoît, who in the recent past have both been unceremoniously dumped (although contractual obligations would probably hear them deny it) by the travelling circus that Yes have become, team up again on From The Turn Of A Card, written by Oliver during Yes sessions in 2010. I have to say, of all the songs on this record, this is the one that stands out as it is an example of a singer simply singing and not giving the impression of wanting to burst out of his shirt at any given moment.

Recorded in five different locations, the lack of face-to-face communication leaves the album feeling a tad uninvolving in places, and the songs themselves are not quite strong enough to make this geographical and emotional dislocation irrelevant.

On a positive note, instrumentals such as Fiona's Smile, Wherever There Was Beauty and A Perfect Day are much more like what I expected, displaying perfect interplay between Gordon's acoustic guitar and Oliver's keyboards.

Mini epic Is This The Last Song I Write? is the centrepiece of the album, and to be fair to him, Paul Manzi turns in his most restrained and thoughtful performance on a lyric that comes over as a prog-lite epilogue to John Miles' Music. Musically it commences with swathes of pastoral keys and strings, subtly and intricately slowly upping the drama as it goes, and thankfully just avoiding bombast. The drums sound curiously detached, maybe a pitfall of the disparate recording?

Ravens & Lullabies is what I might term a "Radio 2" album, although now that the station's listeners have incredulously voted Coldplay's A Rush Of Blood To The Head as the best album of all time, I'm no longer so sure! All in all, this is an album of two halves; the songs and the instrumentals, and I much prefer the latter. My preference as far as Gordon Giltrap's Wakeman collaborations go is definitely for the senior generation version.

Conclusions:

BOB MULVEY: 7 out of 10

ROGER TRENWITH: 6 out of 10


Richard Hallebeek Project - RHP II: Pain in the Jazz
Richard Hallebeek Project - RHP II: Pain in the Jazz
Country of Origin:Netherlands
Format:CD
Record Label:Richie Rich Music
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2012
Time:66:53
Info:Richard Hallebeek
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Wristkiller (5:19), Third Phase (10:07), Bring it On (7:01), Pain in the Jazz (5:43), People (9:14), Speed City Blues (7:55), Amelia (5:06), Think of Something (5:27), East Side Bridge (9:16), New World (1:46)

RHP II (Richard Hallebeek Project II) is a follow-up to the Amsterdam-based guitarist's RHP, which was released in 2004 and received a mostly favourable review on this website. On this CD, Hallebeek is joined by his band - Frans Vollink (bass), Lalle Larsson (keyboards) and Sebastiaan Cornelissen (drums) - as well as eight guest artists who each play on different songs. Two tunes also include percussion by another guest, Martin Verdonk. All band members contributed compositions (half are by Hallebeek himself), which were written with the guest artist in mind, while one tune (Amelia) was written by Jaco Pastorius.

Hallebeek has been playing guitar professionally for more than 30 years and lists among his influences Allan Holdsworth, Pat Metheny and Pat Martino. As was noted in the DPRP review of RHP, on this CD, too, the influence of Holdsworth is prevalent: like Holdsworth, Hallebeek skilfully slurs sounds, legato-style, and, at a breakneck pace, dances in and out of the rhythm section's line of fire. The solo releases from Bill Connors, the original guitarist for Return to Forever, come to mind as well, although he is not cited as an influence.

The opener, Wristkiller, features a funky, frisky, Jaco-like bass that provides a dramatic backdrop for some high-spirited, edgy guitar runs. The guest performer on this tune is Alex Machacek, whose guitar solo is hardly distinguishable in style from Hallebeek's but is welcome and vibrant. From the opening moments of this dramatic, lively tune, it is clear that this CD will offer up some well-played, truly excellent fusion.

Next up is Third Phase, a less-hard-hitting piece that finds Hallebeek's leads happily soaring above very tight, more-subtle backing by the rhythm players. The following tune, Bring It On, is, at the outset, more rough-edged and dark than its predecessor tunes, but the song - which features the keyboards more prominently - soon transforms into a spirited hybrid of jazz and rock. The legato guitar runs on this tune are simply stunning.

The slower pace continues with the title track, Pain in the Jazz. There's some fuzz in the guitar here, too, which adds some diversity to the sound. The next tune, People, starts out as a more-traditional jazz piece (featuring acoustic piano) but slowly adds fusion-laced sound layers and culminates in an outstanding, albeit relatively sedate, solo by Hallebeek. The compositional flow of this tune is masterful, although, given the complexity of the piece, the fade-out finale is a disappointment.

On the next tune, Speed City Blues, the recurring lines are a bit repetitive and the tones can be harsh; as such, it may be my least favourite tune on the CD. Nevertheless, the song showcases some excellent bass work, and the tune is weak only relative to its stronger songmates. Amelia, Jaco's funky tune, is (not surprisingly) well performed by this group, but the addition of straight-ahead trumpet and saxophone (Randy Brecker and Ada Rovatti, respectively) is, to my mind, a mistake: the instruments do not mix well with the electric sounds that otherwise dominate the CD. Perhaps the bar was set high by Kenny Weeler's more-integrated, soulful trumpet playing on Bill Bruford's fusion extravaganza, Feels Good to Me.

The pace mellows with Think of Something, which includes some bluesy, pensive guitar licks. East Side Bridge, another gem, shifts the scene back to feisty fusion. Here, slick and tasty keyboard and guitar solos invite the listener's smile, and the drumming is particularly subtle and creative. The closer, New World, is a soft-spoken acoustic duet (guitar and piano) that says a peaceful farewell.

In short, this is top-rate fusion. The musicianship is stellar: it's demanding and complex but not too showy. And, for the most part, the compositions are also strong: they do not merely serve as backdrops to the shredding, but they spin memorable tales in themselves. Fans of this genre (particularly fans of Allan Holdsworth) will find this CD irresistible.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

JOEL ATLAS


Jeseter - Proměna
Jeseter - Proměna
Country of Origin:Czech Republic
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2012
Time:47:47
Info:Jeseter
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Proměna - I. Obřad úplňku, II. Rítuál tance, III. Proměna úsvitu (20:04), V zahradách stromú (6:22), V baru Tam na předměstĺ (9:13)
Bonus Tracks: Milovnĺk života (4:09), Homunkulus (7:59)

Proměna, the Czech word for 'transformation' seems appropriate for this band who have evolved since their beginnings in 2005 playing Yes covers to producing high quality music of their own shot through with their clear passion for the genre and a talent for writing lengthy pieces that flow and seem to have a lot to say - even if the language sounds alien at times. I was not familiar with Jeseter before getting Proměna but it turns out to be their second album, the debut Slavnost Pro Jednoho (Ceremony for the One) appearing in 2007.

Regarding the language issue, Jeseter have this to say:-

Why are we singing in Czech? Why not? Progressive rock is not a global product, so it should retain an element of originality and regionality. Our lyrics are all about finding oneself, relationships and transformation through time. Another theme is the poetry of the city, the moods, colours and smells of the streets, crossroads, embankments and also the pubs and people who live here who are interesting to us.

And more power to them for that.

This lovely disc kicks off with Obřad úplňku, first part of the epic title track. It shifts from grooving riffs through sedate verses, guitar and keys gelling nicely, with '70s influenced instrumental sections. The Czech vocals sound a little odd to start but you soon get used to them, David Tobiasz's gruff vocals, ably supported by backing from keyboardist Robert Hejduk, take a while to fit but after a couple of spins it all comes together and Proměna reveals itself to become a fine album, very enjoyable with many great moments. Jan Gajdica's guitar moves towards a Camel feel with extends through some of the keyboard led sections, both Hejduk and Gajdica soloing nicely. In fact throughout it's length Proměna (the track) just grows in stature.

The second part, Rítuál tance, starts with a rhythmic section of guitar figures and antique sounding keys over the martial beat of bass and drums before a return to a theme from earlier and Camel-esque guitar with some lovely pedal steel guitar from Gajdica to finish it up. The third section, Proměna úsvitu brings things down with gentle piano and acoustic guitar plus a wordless vocal contribution from guest Pavla Míčková before Tobiasz takes up the lyric. The rhythm section of Martin Šimĺček (bass) and Lukáš Krejčí (drums) works well together and this develops into quite a vibrant piece, again briging back sections from earlier. The instrumental section towards the end is worth the price of admission on it's own and overall this is a fine opening statement from the band.

Second track, V zahradách stromú, sees acoustic guitar and Tobiasz's vocal coming to the fore. The vocals are good if a little overly Eastern European, I mean in style rather than language specifically, but it all works and there could even be hints of Rush during one of their more pastoral phases seeping through here. The pace and energy picks up for a fine mid-section instrumental that takes on a more menacing metallic edge with twinkling electric piano. There are hints of '80s prog, jazz and metal all featured in the swirling instrumental and the primordial nature of the keys gives an analogue quality to the music here and there which adds to the appeal in many ways, the whole being well realised and produced to provide a most enjoyable listening experience. Again in this track the instrumental sections are of a very high quality and Jeseter are to be congratulated for the results.

Camel comes through again during V baru Tam na předměstĺ which has a nice expansive style that allows the instruments to come to life. Oddly, after the 35 minutes of the album proper we get two bonus tracks. The first, Milovnĺk života, incorporates violin to give an almost folk edge to the big epic blocks of electric sound with a resounding piano flourish to finish. There is more of an ethnic feel to this and you sense that many authentic Czech influences were involved in its creation.

Homunkulus is a very different bag of apples with a whispered spoken intro before a heavy instrumental workout with a jazz-fusion vibe and harder support to the vocal during the chorus where the voice takes on a different vibe, more edgy than previously. I suspect that even though there is plenty of room to have included these bonus tracks within the album they were distanced slightly due to being different in style but despite this they don't feel overly tagged on and are both worthy pieces that deserve their inclusion. That said the darker Homunkulus does end the album on a different vibe to the previous tracks.

The packaging is good too, the high quality gatefold opening out to show some nice artwork and I found Proměna to be an uplifting listen despite not being able to understand the words. I have returned to it willingly during the review process, unlike some releases which can, frankly, be a bit of a chore, and immediately found something likeable in the music here.

There is certainly a talented group at work and well done to them for what they have produced. As a result I have no hesitation in giving Proměna a DPRP Recommended score.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

JEZ ROWDEN


Five-Storey Ensemble - Not That City
Five-Storey Ensemble - Not That City
Country of Origin:Belarus
Format:CD
Record Label:Altr0ck
Catalogue #:ALT-033
Year of Release:2013
Time:55:51
Info:Five Storey Ensemble
Samples:n/a
Tracklist: The Harbinger (5:51), Bondman's Wings (2:24), The Incommunication (5:23), To Ringfly (3:12), A Disappearing Road (4:43), The Unpainted (7:58), Yesterday Dormant (5:41), The Protector (3:23), Fear-Dream (3:47), Amid The Smoke And Different Questions (6:31), Not That City (6:58)

Formerly known as Rational Diet, a name that should be familiar to any follower of chamber rock, Five-Storey Ensemble explain their name change as a natural evolution necessitated by the restrictions placed upon them by the history of their former incarnation.

Several members of the Belarus collective remain, joined by an extended line up. The intricate and intimate nature of the instrumentation is mainly acoustic, with bassoon, saxes, accordion, oboe, flute, violin, cello and double bass being joined by fleeting contributions from traditional "rock" instruments. Especially noteworthy is the ethereal voice of Olga Podgaiskaja, which perfectly compliments the delicate, yet at the same time sturdy musical backing on The Incommunication and The Unpainted.

Olga Podgaiskaja also adds her piano and keyboards, and, along with Vitaly Appow (bassoon, saxes) both remain the main composers, as was the case with Rational Diet. This album evolved from work on a soundtrack to a performance by a Belarus based experimental theatre company, and also from a one hour "soundbook", composed as the background to readings of Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz's works.

If this all sounds a tad highbrow, it is, and I'm sure that the group would make no apologies for asking the listener to stretch his or her intellect a little while listening to their work. The fact that the lyrics are sung in their native language subtracts nothing from the learned atmosphere, and of the four songs on the album, Yesterday Dormant sees Olga joined by Sergey Dolgushev in a call and response vocal, and you could almost be listening to operetta.

Yes, this is an album you have to make time for, and instant it is not. If you have the patience it will reward you after several listens, revealing itself like a flower reluctant to bloom in the continental cold air lingering from winter.

The Protector, despite its sinister title, becomes almost jaunty, clever percussion and Vitaly's bassoon staying just the pleasant side of dark. This is followed by Fear-Dream which certainly does have a threatening air. Counter melodies, including one on a rare appearance of the electric guitar, weave in and out of one another before stumbling to an almost halt, and then nervously picking up the dropped reins. A very clever and involving piece of melody writing, and one that sums up the band's studied yet engaging approach.

A devotional air pervades Sergey's solo vocal performance on Amid The Smoke..., almost akin to psalm set to chamber music, before becoming something entirely abstract, but tightly composed all the same.

The title track ends the album with seven minutes of achingly lovely longing hidden in layers of implied tension, the chamber orchestra mimicking a police siren to start the piece off. This passes, and the busy excitement and pulsebeat of the city is expressed in an arrangement that must have taken some time to construct. Some simple, but gorgeous piano takes up a theme, dissonance returning, angst levels piling up, but subtly.

This is not "rock" or "prog" but it is another triumph for that most adventurous of labels, Italy's AltrOck. As a serious piece of music that sits outside of any era or genre it deserves your attention, but only if you are willing to step outside of traditional popular music formats.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

ROGER TRENWITH


The Living - The Jungle Is Dark But Full Of Diamonds
The Living - The Jungle Is Dark But Full Of Diamonds
Country of Origin:Canada
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2012
Time:51:49
Info:The Living
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: Intro (0:34), Earthmusher (5:17), Designer Blindfold (5:24), Maximum Gentleman (2:58), We Are The Bubble, They Are The Prick (6:03), Mister Feminister (4:22) Media! (4:27), Requiem For Bessie (7:52), Dream Runner (3:13), Music Is Magic (3:52), Sneaky Patina (6:54)

A relatively new band formed in 2006 in the beautiful city of Vancouver, The Living describe themselves as 'Exotic Symphonic Rock' and are probably like no band you have heard before. The instrumentation includes guitar, keyboards, bass and drums fronted by violin, viola and cello but don't expect an Electric Light Orchestra sound-alike because you could be in for a disappointment. With a couple of EPs under their belt, The Jungle Is Dark But Full Of Diamonds is the band's first full-length album with cited influences as diverse as Muse, The Mars Volta, Stravinsky, Ravel and Mahavishnu Orchestra.

So what does the band have to offer other than a collection of quirky song titles? Well, they are anything but predictable with a sound that's far heavier than you might expect given the instrumentation with wall to wall vocals courtesy of frontman, keyboardist and guitarist Mike Bell.

The album opens appropriately with one of its strongest tunes, Earthmusher with the string instruments weaving colourful textures around some fine piano work. The edgy vocal delivers a ridiculously catchy chorus before a mellow cello passage sets the scene for a grandiose finale. Only the claustrophobic production lets the side down I feel.

From here on the songs come thick and fast and although they are delivered with plenty of energy and tension the musicianship is impressively skilful, particularly by the string players. Designer Blindfold opens with pizzicato strings over a busy drum pattern from stick man Samuel Cartwright and somehow the song reminded me of later period Spock's Beard. Both Maximum Gentleman and We Are The Bubble, They Are The Prick are relentless in their frenzied attack with the former almost quoting Khachaturian's Sabre Dance at one point whist the latter features Bell's singing at its most manic and theatrical plus some impressive bass dynamics from David Spidel.

Mister Feminister on the other hand is pure Kid Creole and The Coconuts with its funky guitar riff and energetic male/female vocal exchanges whilst Media returns to the hyperactive staccato riffing that's characteristic of many of the tracks here with Led Zep's Kashmir coming to mind on more than one occasion. In contrast Requiem For Bessie is uncharacteristically moody and introspective for the most part before building to a potent climax with violinist Elyse Jacobson bowing like her life depended upon it and Bell's emotionally raw vocal.

The prominent guitar riff on the appropriately titled Dream Runner brings the metal flavour of Dream Theater to the table whilst the frantic Music Is Magic takes time out for some playful vocal gymnastics. The concluding and sprawling Sneaky Patina should have been the albums crowning glory but somehow it all falls apart before the end. It builds promisingly enough with an edgy rhythm pattern, spikey guitar and inspired bowing before a brooding mid-section that recalls The Beatles' Come Together. Unfortunately it disintegrates into a discordant, semi improvised jam; better is the spikey conclusion that sounds not unlike mid-period King Crimson.

Interestingly, despite the colourful instrumentation and the hard rock, jazz and prog influences, there's a punk ethic that hangs over the music of The Living. For me however their uncompromising style is perhaps a tad too one dimensional at times, lacking a little light and shade which is not helped by the overbearing lead vocals. That said there's no denying that the Canadians have carved themselves a unique sound and created some strikingly original material to showcase their exceptional instrumental talents.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

GEOFF FEAKES


Martin Webb - Anjar
Martin Webb - Anjar
Country of Origin:Canada
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2012
Time:46:36
Info:Martin Webb
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: The Desert Sand (6:25), Moondance (6:28),Puzzles (6:21), Scared (5:23), Room For Love (6:02), Nightmare In Tibet (6:36), Harem (4:50), Big 'Un (4:13)

Canadian composer and guitarist Martin Webb has released his second album, Anjar, an album that is sonically beautiful and full of delights. The most apt description of what is on offer here is thus;

"Imagine if Robert Fripp had grown up in the middle-east instead of England or the Mahavishnu Orchestra had explored Arabic instead Indian music. Perhaps the results might have sounded like this".

It is hard to try and slot what has been created here into one category, Mr. Webb has created an album that sits somewhere between the worlds of jazz fusion, rock, sounds of the Sahara and progressive rock; a bold and brave move. Martin displays dexterity as he manipulates his guitar relying on a fair smattering of Eastern tones that offer character. The inclusion of these Middle Eastern scales really adds flavour to the whole proceedings. The offbeat rhythms that are used throughout are highly addictive, rhythmic stresses and accents that make this album sound so good as each instrumental glides forth from the speakers offering angelic and heavenly tones.

Sonically we are seeing a world that has been explored in the past, which calls to mind the likes of Mark Isham and Terje Rypdal; the atmospheric soundscapes to some degree also call to mind Pat Metheny and, daft as it sounds, Jean Michel Jarre.

This is an album that can be sampled at any point where the well thought out structures offer reward with each listen as you pick out the little inflections and nuances of each passage. Martin Webb has smartly chosen quality over quantity with the real class lying in the hands of such tracks as The Desert Sand, Puzzles and the rather unusual and strangely beautiful Nightmare in Tibet.

The production work on the album offers great clarity, the music standing out even more and making Anjar a very interesting proposition. Anjar and Martin Webb are well worth checking out especially if you like this approach. It isn't going to everybody's cup of tea so to speak, but what has been created here is very interesting.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10

JOHN O'BOYLE


Geoff Barone - Conversation Piece
Geoff Barone - Conversation Piece
Country of Origin:U.S.A.
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2012
Time:62:27
Info:Geoff Barone
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: ...if it's too early just let me know... (3:10), Blue Sky Glory (4:47), To Who May Come In Dreams (4:14), As A Matter Of Fact (4:03), ...scene from the class... (4:51), ...here I am back again home... (1:04), Are You Still Awake? (4:50), ...goodnight dad / the end of oblivion / hanging on for dear life... (2:08), Ember Road (4:13), For What Love's Left (3:50), ...that means she still loves you / the incident / escape to the arcade... (3:36), Evil Things (2:23), ...the shadow proves the sunshine... (1:58), Shadows (3:16), ...rain, rain go away... (2:37), Early April Morning (3:38), ...you'll know things are bad when you stop dreaming... (1:58), Unscathed (3:48), ...set your soul adrift... (1:55)

Geoff Barone is a composer and songwriter based in New York who writes for film, TV and musicals. Geoff started playing keyboards after receiving one for his birthday in 1987 and taught himself to play both keyboards and other instruments to a high standard. This enabled him to write music with an understanding of how the instruments would sound, developing his own style in each.

The album project started way back in 2003 but after a few years it was put on hold till late 2009. By 2012 it had grown resulting in over 20 musicians, vocalist and soloist being involved in the album. The resulting Conversation Pieces is a slightly autobiographical story about the life of a teen going through the trials and tribulations of high school and life, touching on the hardships of bullying, love, hate, divorce, alcoholism, life and death all cast through different voices and instruments. This makes it a very challenging concept to take on.

The album has 11 main tracks connected by 9 interludes of voices, music and sound effects. Shades of Ayreon, Alan Parsons Project and Pink Floyd can be heard on different parts of the album coupled with the sounds of a musical making for a very interesting combination. The album flows with each track running into the next making it a non-stop roller coaster ride.

The album starts very nicely and grabbed me straight away flowing from the first track into Blue Sky Glory, a catchy and beautiful ballad that once heard will hook you in and I found myself humming it later that day. Next we have To Who Come in Dreams, a track that rocks with a strong chorus with fine electric and bass guitars throughout. Other standout tracks include Are You Still Awake? featuring some lovely guitar playing reminding me in parts of Pink Floyd and Ember Road, another catchy tune with clever and effective vocals that really work.

The CD booklet is well laid out and helps to tell the story throughout using pictures and words.

The album has lots of detail, sound effects with different voices and pieces of music which help to get the story fully across, and the song writing is well planned and fits the concept making this a quite enjoyable and challenging listen. Parts of it I really enjoyed, especially the tracks mentioned above, while other parts I found a bit harder to get into, but maybe with more listens this could change as I do like a challenge in my listening and this album sure ticks that box. You can't fault the musicianship and the effort that has been put into the project and I wonder what the next project will be and look forward to hearing it.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

TONY BIRD


Clay Green's Polysorbate Masquerade Band - Chronicles of Bubbledroid
Clay Green's Polysorbate Masquerade Band -  Chronicles of Bubbledroid
Country of Origin:U.S.A.
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:CL 1000-4
Year of Release:2006/2012
Time:78:40
Info:Clay Green
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Saturn's Orbit (5:57), Frog Boy (2:10), Time Sun (Intro) (0:40), Time Sun (5:11), Shuttle Butt's Slow Down (1:19), Sixty-Eight (2:14), Broken Mirror With Sand (2:40), Dry Suites 94 (7:07), Groovey Paste (1:01), Pusso (3:33), Beeple On Top Of A Building (3:09), Rough Landing (0:57)
Bonus Tracks - Piazz (4:51), Here (1:57), Return Of Episode Xanadu (3:05), Thanks (8:42), Masp (4:23), The Zoo (4:39), Plan 2 (1:44), Looking Back (4:03), Lost At Sea Pt 1 (edited) (0:59), Lost At Sea Pt 2 (6:05), New Sheen (2:13)

Line-up:-
Clay Green - Acoustic and Electric Guitars, Digital Transmissions
Edward Richard - Bass, Electric Guitar, Organ Modules and Keyboards
Bubbledroid - DNA Sequencing, Arrangements, Drums and Percussion

Clay Green's Polysorbate Masquerade Band is essentially Clay, his colleague Edward, a drum machine (Bubbledroid) and a few computers that together compose and record heavy instrumental Progressive rock music highly reminiscent of the early '70s keyboard dominated bands like Atomic Rooster, Camel and notably Gentle Giant.

This CD is a reissue of their 2006 debut album Chronicles of Bubbledroid but with the addition of 11 bonus tracks recorded between 2006 and 2012, mainly songs that were worked upon but not included on the original issue. The whole album has also been re-mastered to enhance and improve the sound quality.

It is an entirely instrumental album with a mixture of longer tracks and some very short pieces indeed which taken together can be quite a feat to listen to straight through as it switches styles quite dramatically and can be a tad samey in parts. That said there are some excellent songs on offer here with some very strong melodies like Saturn's Orbit, Time Sun and Thanks being just three of these although there are more.

The shorter tracks can be a bit disconcerting as they are more like ideas than completed concepts. In the end I reprogrammed the CD player to hear the longer then the shorter tracks as the longer tracks are obviously more developed and are actually more listenable which gives a different take on proceedings. Well it did for me anyway.

The sound quality is very good throughout and there are some great ideas in here. It does sound pretty authentic to a '70s type prog groove, Clay is a good guitarist and his solos are certainly sharp enough and Edwards bass and keyboards are equally as lithe. I just find this CD frustrating in that it has some great music on it but also has some filler that could have been omitted to make the overall sum of the parts stronger and more concise. A case where less could well be more.

The disc is certainly is full of music - I don't think I've ever seen a single CD more stacked by length than this. There are also some quieter tracks and this does add to the variation on the disc. I just wonder who this is aimed at in part, it's a worthy effort and obviously a labour of love for Clay and Edward and there are some great tunes on here, it's just a bit too much all in one sitting a bit like a top class chocolate, nice in small chunks but too much, too rich all at once somehow.

I think this would have made a much stronger and more cohesive album if some of the filler were taken out and it were edited to, say, 55-60 minutes in length as the long runtime can work against the overall strengths of the album.

So if you love early Camel or Atomic Rooster or instrumental Prog from the '70s this could be right up your alley. Whatever, I hope we hear more from Clay Green and what is wrong with vocals anyway ???

For me it's not a truly essential album. I'm glad to have heard it though as in parts it is really good, so on this basis I'm happy to give it...

Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10

JOHN WENLOCK-SMITH

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Published 11th May 2013

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