Anubis - Hitchhiking to Byzantium
Fadeout (2:49), A King with no Crown (4:38), Dead Trees (7:13), Hitchhiking to Byzantium (9:38), Blood Is Thicker than Common Sense (8:50), Tightening of the Screws (6:37), Partitionists (7:45), Crimson Stained Romance (6:58), A Room with a View (15:56), Silent Wandering Ghosts (7:13)
Lead vocalist Robert James Moulding is joined by six (!) other bandmembers of which guitarist Dean Bennison and keyboardist David Eaton are most influential for the Anubis sound. Dean Bennison has also produced (together with the band), engineered and mixed the album. But most importantly... what about the music?
The first two songs Fadeout and A King with no Crown, which is the single, are the shortest on the album and they give you a good idea what to expect from the rest of the tracks. And I can tell you: those tracks are even better! More than 77 minutes of good quality prog from Down Under. The song structure of the title track reminded me a lot of German proggers RPWL. On Blood Is Thicker than Common Sense there is a nice Hammond organ solo to be heard. One of the best tracks for me is Crimson Stained Romance. In nearly seven minutes you will hear great Gilmouresque soloing and church organ sounds which always does it for me whenever I hear it in any prog song. A bit sad probably, but that's me! The "magnum opus" of the album is A Room with a View. There's more than fifteen minutes to enjoy everything we like about prog! It starts with some radio sounds on the background before the piano gently starts off the track and then the guitar kicks in. Combined with some emotional singing like Peter Nicholls by R.J. Moulding, it never loses the attention of the listener. Great stuff, guys! Silent Wandering Ghosts is a worthy closing track for this highly recommended album by these Australian proggers.
Like their previous album A Tower of Silence I miss a bit of crispness in the mix but that's just a minor detail. That shouldn't be a reason for not buying this album. If they could work on that they will receive even higher marks next time!
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Cirrus Bay - The Search for Joy
Song of the Wind (9:01), Cotton Skies (4:52), Me and Wokara (7:49), Out of the Box (9:33), Waking Wild (8:04), A Door into Yesterday (7:55), The August Zone (4:32), Learning to Fly (12:03)
These recollections were brought to mind when listening to Cirrus Bay's most recent release The Search for Joy. There is much to like and little to dislike within its eight tracks. The Search For Joy displays a number of influences including bands such as Renaissance, Genesis and Camel. The individual components which make up the release include female vocals, melodic tunes, and lashings of skillfully executed, appealing guitar tones. The ingredients also include some alluring viola parts, keyboards and notable guest players. This attractive mixture of influences and individual components has appeal and on the face of it should be totally appetising.
Regrettably though, The Search For Joy was not always able to hold my attention or satiate my desire for a taste of the unexpected. Although largely agreeable, the sedate nature of a number of the compositions provided a catalyst for drifting thoughts and vacation memories of dear old Aunt Mabel. The instrumental piece A Door into Yesterday that incorporates a range of styles was a rare and welcome exception. The concluding track Learning to Fly ends the album in an uplifting manner. It is a track that is heavily influenced by Camel, and is enriched by a beautiful melody. It also contains an excellent solo by Phil Mercy of Thieves Kitchen who guests on this track. It is the longest track on the album and is probably also the strongest.
Thieves Kitchen vocalist Amy Darby provides some vocals on Waking Wild. Whilst Darby does an excellent job on this track, her voice is not sufficiently different to the vocal textures chosen for the album as a whole, to be fully effective. In this respect, one of the weakest aspects of The Search For Joy is the lack of attack and variation in the arrangements and performance of all of the vocalists involved. This is suprising because individual tracks have lots of interesting instrumental interludes and progressive moments. The majority of the vocals are handled by Anisha Norflet. Her vocal performance is agreeably pleasant and predictably safe. Some may find that the lack of variation in her intonation and chosen range creates a repetitive backdrop that is at odds with the more adventurous aspects of many of the compositions.
Sharra Ade's vocals feature in Out of the Box and Walking Wild. Lyrically, the simple rhyming of words contained within Out of the Box were not particularly satisfying. The forced rhyming of words such as passion and fashion, bloom and room were at best mediocre and at worst frustratingly banal. The wordless vocal parts in Out of the Box added little to an otherwise satisfying tune. This is a composition that includes lots of interesting changes of rhythm and pace. It also has a gloriously hummable melody. Wordless vocals also detract from the otherwise excellent Learning to Fly. The wordless vocals used at various points within the album might have been better utilised as a specific instrument in their own right, rather than as an embellishment or melodic effect. In this respect, Pepi Lemer's work in Turning Point or Norma Winstone's work in Azimuth are fine examples of what skillfully accomplished singers can achieve without words.
Without doubt, the strongest aspect of The Search For Joy is the contribution of Bill Gillham. Gillham's contribution on guitar is restrained and tasteful. His playing positively enriches many of the pieces. Gillham composed all of the eight tunes that make up The Search for Joy. All of the compositions contain things to enjoy and are melodically interesting. The pieces are lengthy and include many changes of tempo and emphasis, that many might find appealing. Nevertheless, some listeners might find some of these more progressive moments within what are essentially melodic tunes, rather forced and somewhat predictable. It is however, an album where appreciation of the instrumental sections increases with repeated listening. Overall, The Search For Joy was an enjoyable if undemanding listening experience. It was fleetingly satisfying at times, but the end result, was somewhat safe and underwhelming. In my view, it does not contain enough of the spark of the unexpected to be recommended, or regarded as a truly fulfilling release. Sadly, in this respect The Search For Joy reminded me of my mother's cup cakes when compared to the inspired creations of Aunt Mabel. I forgot to mention that Aunt Mabel no longer cooks. However, her original recipe imbued with a vision for surprise has been passed on, and in the hands of the right cook, continues to satisfy.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Curved Air - North Star
Stay Human (3:50), Time Games (6:23), Puppets (5:20), Images and Signs (6:44), Interplay (5:41), Spider (4:39), Magnetism (6:32), Colder than a Rose in Snow (4:26), Spirits in the Material World (4:58), Old Town News (5:08), Situations (6:14), Chasing Cars (4:54), Young Mother (6:45), Across the Universe (4:20)
Their first proper studio album since 1976's Airbourne, the recording of North Star was by all accounts a demanding period according to a recent interview with Sonja. The end result however is a minor triumph of sorts with the old and new blending seamlessly into a harmonious whole. Even the three cover versions included here sit comfortably alongside the band's own tunes and that's coming from someone who rarely his time for covers.
With so many tracks here (14 in total) it would be impracticable to give a blow by blow account of each one but of the new songs the lively fusion workouts Time Games, Images and Signs and Spider standout for me, benefitting from the minimal vocals with superior playing from all concerned particularly the Pilkington-Miksa and Harris rhythm partnership. The punchy Magnetism is dominated by a classy (if a tad long) solo from Gregory who's clearly a bluesman at heart in the Eric Clapton mould. Album opener Stay Human is also pretty effective as album openers go even though the raw guitar riff dates back to The Who's debut single Can't Explain.
Puppets first appeared on Second Album (1971) and although the mood here is subdued compared with the rhythmic quirkiness of the original, Sax's exquisite electric violin lifts the melody, compensating for the absent Mellotron. From the same album Young Mother is not a million miles from the original and as such probably the most overtly proggy track here with synth, guitar and violin playing cat and mouse to dazzling effect. Situations on the other hand from the 1970 debut Air Conditioning sounds as bleak and moody as it ever did. Taken from her 1980 solo album, Sonja's performance on the elegant Colder than a Rose in Snow has a frail vulnerability that feels out of place on a band album.
All three cover versions seem strange choices on paper but are reworked to good effect by the band. The Police's Spirits in the Material World is given a smooth jazz vibe with Sonja crooning in the style of Sade and whilst Across the Universe is relatively low-key compared with The Beatles version it retains the mysticism of the original. A similar mood pervades Chasing Cars (originally by indie band Snow Patrol) where Sonja recites rather than sings the words accompanied by Norton's stark but sympathetic piano and bass backing.
Whether this album has been worth the 38 year wait, Curved Air fans will no doubt judge for themselves. For me personally it has a good deal going for it, and not just the generous 76 minute playing time and glossy tri-fold digipak sleeve. Despite this line-up having a relatively short existence they perform extremely well together and the new songs more than hold their own alongside the older tunes. If anything, the rather fine production (by the band themselves) only adds to the album's retro atmosphere.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
The Gift - Land of Shadows
I Sing of Change (1:05), The Willows (Elegy, Feast of Fools, Let Us Go Then) (12:01), Road Runs on 'Til Morning (Regret, Release) (7:05), Walk into the Water (6:20), Too Many Hands (5:13), You Are the Song (4:18), The Comforting Cold (5 O'Clock Shadow, The Curtain Falls, Stillwater, Riptide, Some Kind of Kindness) (19:39), As (1:20):
Mike Morton, vocalist, keyboards player, guitarist and flautist, remains very much at the helm of the band with his new co-writer and co-arranger David Lloyd, who also plays electric guitar, keyboards and flute, with Joseph Morton on drums and percussion. It is a collection of songs which fits in perfectly with its title, being musically and lyrically full of light and shade with clever arrangements and thoughtful lyrics that keep the listener engaged throughout.
Beginning with the spoken I Sing of Change, the poignant words of Nigerian poet Niyi Osundare, there is a natural progression in the "shadow" themes which develop throughout the album, The Willows being a three part lament with some nice touches such as the drum sound of a marching band to fit in with the lyrics. There are some resonant guitars and synths in the mix while Morton vocalises with great passion and feeling, Feast of Fools being more a spoken than sung section of the piece. There is even a guest appearance by two younger members of the Morton family and it all ends with a lovely, lush guitar solo from Lloyd.
Road Runs on 'Til Morning has echoes of Genesis and Marillion, again punctuated by some slick guitar playing by Lloyd which lifts the slightly plodding melody.
This is remedied by the psalm-like Walk into the Water with organ accompaniment and spiritually-tinged lyrics, all rounded off with another trademark guitar solo from Lloyd, one of the longest and loveliest on the whole album.
So now to the poppiest song on the album, Too Many Hands, with its pacy beat and nifty guitar licks and some nice 12-string guitar work from Morton that leads into the beautiful, heart-felt ballad You Are the Song, piano and voice coming to the fore with the choral like keyboards. This really is a song for someone very special and would not sound out of place on mainstream radio.
The magnum opus The Comforting Cold begins with a string effect and Morton's plaintive flute, the lyrics giving warning that this is all about a near death experience. It throws a series of different musical shapes as The Curtain Falls section brings the pathos to a head with a spoken train of thought section. It's dramatic and different. A church organ and dreamy synths conjure up that feeling of being suspended between two worlds and very effective it is too. Stillwater is the sung lament from the "other world" and Riptide a gloriously sparky instrumental with doomy guitars, big synths and huge beat, that depict well the chaos of the circumstances. Some Kind of Kindness is the denouement as near death gives way to life again and the lilting melody captures the relief of the moment and the subsequent reunion. It all ends on a calmer note with the short and sweet acoustic As depicting the dawning of a new day and love that goes on.
Overall, it is a very pleasant album, skilfully crafted and each song reflects several facets of The Gift's hallmark sound. This is certainly one to add to the wish list and represents another significant "star" signing for the newly formed Bad Elephant Music.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Gordon Giltrap - The Peacock Party
Original album: Headwind - The Eagle (3:02), Magpie Rag (2:39), Hocus Pocus (2:21), Turkey Trot - A Country Bluff (2:45), Tailor Bird (2:32), Black Rose - The Raven (3:45), Birds of A Feather (3:37), Jester's Jig (2:38), Gypsy Lane (2:58), Party Piece (2:43), Chanticleer (3:30), Dodo's Dream (4:14)
Bonus tracks: Shel-Em-Nazam (4:34), Bella Donna (5:51), Birds of A Feather (first version) (4:00), Headwind (single version) (3:16)
Bonus tracks: Shel-Em-Nazam (4:34), Bella Donna (5:51), Birds of A Feather (first version) (4:00), Headwind (single version) (3:16)
The album offered Giltrap the opportunity to move away from the rockier aspects of Fear Of The Dark and delve back into his folk roots concentrating on the more virtuoso aspects of his playing, although you wouldn't have guessed this from opener Headwind - The Eagle which is a similar style of proggy/rock composition to his previous three albums. A jaunty piece of music with some excellent drumming from Mosely. Harvey's crumhorn and recorders makes their first appearance on Magpie Rag and Hocus Pocus both enjoyable and succinct pieces that are underpinned by Giltrap's acoustic guitar. The arrangements are always interesting with good use of keyboards and, on Hocus Pocus, violin. Several pieces feature challenging and impressive acoustic guitar performances, Turkey Trot, Tailor Bird and Dodo's Dream being three of particular note, the latter being a piece that is still performed live to much acclaim, although I doubt if a live version could the full arrangement as presented on the album with the mixture of different instruments and a sublime electric guitar overlay as well as Acock's sax contributing to an overall excellent piece of music.
Black Rose - The Raven is rather melancholy with a beautiful string arrangement. The remastering has added a greater clarity to the various instruments all of which can be heard clearly; the production is crisp and the variety of style and variation of instruments never leaves the album sounding sterile. Although pieces like Jester's Jig may have their origins in folk music, the presentation here is far from what one would describe as traditional folk music. It is more of a re-interpretation of the style to blend with the other material on the album. Having said that, the one piece that doesn't really strike home for me is Gypsy Lane which has more of a dirge-like quality which seems at odd with the more joyous and upbeat nature of most of the other tracks, such as Party Piece, well I guess the clue is in the title for that one! Best arrangement for me goes to Chanticleer which starts of quite downbeat with an almost morose fretless bass but picks with some delightful ensemble playing.
Of the bonus tracks, the first version of Birds Of A Feather is basically similar to the released version with the exception that a lot of the additional instrumentation that appeared on the final track is replaced by keyboards. The single version of Headwind is surprising that it is actually slightly longer than the album version and seems to be a completely different version. The introduction is radically changed and the tempo is somewhat slower, a nice contrast. The remaining two pieces are a bit of a mystery as they were written by keyboardist Edwards and vocalist Shirley Roden, and as the titles of Shel-El-Nazam and Bella Donna portray they don't seem to be related to The Peacock Party album concept. Of the two tracks Shel-El-Nazam is by far the superior with a nice joint vocal by Roden and Gustafson, although Giltrap's electric guitar work on Bella Donna makes its inclusion worthy. Apparently, even Giltrap himself had not heard these two songs for over 34 years, presumably at the time of recording!
Although this album can't be compared with the excellent triumvirate of the albums released prior to The Peacock Party (to which can be added the Live at Oxford album recorded in the same year as this album), there is much on offer here particularly in terms of performance and arrangement. As to rating, well I know this will not be a first choice pick when I want to listen to some Gordon Giltrap, which may be because I am more familiar with some of his other albums, but more likely because the less aggressive nature of the music and the overall style would make it more suited to those quieter and more contemplative moods. Nevertheless, it is an enjoyable album and one that I am glad to add to my collection.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Gordon Giltrap - Airwaves
Original album: Black Lightning (3:05), El Greco (3:57), Heroes (3:31), Haunted Heart (3:53), Rainbells (2:29), Dreamteller (3:10), Reaching Out (2:56), Sad Skies (4:52), Airwaves (3:35), Empty (2:28), Lake Isle (2:05), Lost Love (3:35)
Bonus tracks: Blue Haze (1:05), The Snow Goose (part one) (0:48), The Snow Goose (part two) (1:58), The Snow Goose (part three) (1:52), Sad Skies (edited version) (3:49)
Bonus tracks: Blue Haze (1:05), The Snow Goose (part one) (0:48), The Snow Goose (part two) (1:58), The Snow Goose (part three) (1:52), Sad Skies (edited version) (3:49)
The quality of the musicians was never in question though: Rod Edwards (keyboards) and Peter 'Bimbo' Acock (keyboards and woodwind) remained in place from the group that recorded The Peacock Party and a top class rhythm section of noted bassist Chas Conk and experienced drummer Clive Bunker, meant the Gordon Giltrap Band was a force to be reckoned with. Despite a lack of new releases, Giltrap was still a popular live draw and gigging had continued, including a memorable appearance at the 1981 Glastonbury Festival. The active date sheet also meant that recording was fitted around the concert schedule which was something of a two-edged sword, on the one hand the fractured nature of the recording didn't help with cohesion but on the other it meant that new material could be tested in front of an audience before being committed to tape.
Whereas The Peacock Party drew on Giltrap's formative folk influences, the material on Airwaves reflected the guitarist's current delight in playing a lot more electric guitar, brought about by the combination of his Fender Stratocaster played through an old Fender amplifier that Giltrap thought sounded "just beautiful" and inspiration being drawn from the playing and vibe of Mark Knopfler's playing with Dire Straits. The recording sessions were initially released, as intended, as an album of library music under the title of Themes with one side of contemporary rock music and the other of featured acoustic guitar. However, the material was considered to be worthy of wider appeal and so a mainstream release was prepared by removing four of the shorter acoustic pieces (included as bonus tracks on this reissue), resequencing to mix the electric and acoustic pieces up and renaming three of the compositions, the Airwaves album was born.
In keeping with the original Themes music library album, I shall first consider the so-called contemporary rock numbers, which is fortunate as the album kicks off with the first of these, Black Lightning. This track could easily have appeared on one of the trilogy of rock albums which help seal Giltrap's name in the fraternity of rock, although what is surprising is that it is one of only four pieces that Giltrap had no hand in writing. The keyboards may sound a bit cheesy and dated to modern ears but the style of composition is classic Giltrap even if the ending seems to be a bit premature.
Heroes falls into the softer rock category and one can almost tell that this piece had been written as a potential piece of television theme music, but that is not to diminish the achievements of the piece which, despite being somewhat formulaic, has its moments. Airwaves is an entirely different prospect with the guitarist getting a lovely sound from his Fender set-up that does have some echoes to Mark Knopfler in addition to having something of the Hank Marvin about it, although it is a million miles away from anything that Dire straits or The Shadows would come up with. A well proportioned composition with the band gelling particularly well.
From the prominent piano intro there is no doubt that Dreamteller was composed by Edwards. Indeed, the guitar is minimal on this piece which relies heavily on keyboards. Another piano based piece is Sad Skies co-composed by Giltrap, Edwards, Acock and Bunker. There is an almost Camel-like vibe to this piece with the interplay between guitar and keyboards and Acock's sax laying over the top. As the title might suggest, Lost Love is a lament and again it is Giltrap's guitar tone that is memorable, infusing the track with a melancholy air echoed by the saxophone, with the only thing going against it is the somewhat pedestrian drumming. In many ways, the bonus track Blue Haze is practically a reprise of Lost Love; the two pieces are certainly cut from the same cloth.
The acoustic guitar numbers are, unsurprisingly, all Giltrap compositions and confirm without a doubt the guitarist's mastery of his craft. Some of the numbers, for example El Greco and Rainbells have the guitar as the prominent instrument which others, such as Haunted Heart and reaching Out have larger contributions from the other instruments, most frequently the keyboards. But whatever the instrumentation, the pieces, largely falling under the three-minute mark, are nothing less than engaging and perfectly played. One great treat is the release of the three parts of The Snow Goose which was presumably left off the original album, which was credited to the Gordon Giltrap Band, as it is solo guitar augmented by a string section and, on part three, a flute.
Despite being somewhat more sedate than other Gordon Giltrap Band releases, Airwaves has a lot going for it. Yes, there is no getting away from the fact that this was, and in places does sound like, a collection of library pieces composed for use as incidental music, but there is no denying that the quality of the music is such that a general release was, and is, fully justified. It has to be appreciated that these pieces have too much class to be relegated to a supporting role, as anybody who has heard the differences in the compositional styles of Ant Phillips' library and contemporary music can attest to. By interspersing the acoustic numbers with the rock numbers gives the album a greater dynamic and although Airwaves may not be one of Giltrap's most well known albums it is certainly worth revaluation.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Iluvatar - From the Silence
From the Silence (0:53), Open the Door (4:49), Resolution (7:03), Le Ungaire Moo-Moo (3:29), Across the Coals (7:56), The Storm (4:01), Favorite Son (4:15), Between (7:01), The Silence! (6:22), Older Now (3:19), Until (6:02)
After some sound effects in the intro From The Silence the album proper starts with a strong keyboard riff in the track Open The Door. This is where singer Glenn McLaughlin sounds most like Peter Gabriel, with a touch of Peter Nicholls from IQ. It is a hard hitting track, with some great guitar playing, at times reminiscent of Steve Howe. A fantastic opener to ramp up the excitement. Resolution keeps the energy high, with a fantastic guitar riff in the chorus. It is a catchy song full of different prog elements, including an organ solo, complex and quirky bass and drums, and an epic guitar solo to close it all out. This is definitely a highlight of the album. The instrumental Le Ungaire Moo-Moo is another highlight, sounding like King Crimson in their heyday. My only complaint is that the track almost feels too short, and could have continued for a few more minutes developing the various musical themes. I love the addition of the cows mooing and the start and stop ending. This is fantastic stuff!
Things slow down a bit with the pleasant ballad, Across The Coals. This is followed by The Storm which is a catchy song that wouldn't be out of place in the Duke era of Genesis. If there is such a thing as prog pop songs, this would definite fit in that classification. Favorite Son is another ballad with acoustic guitar and Glenn McLauglin sounding almost at times like Geddy Lee of Rush fame. Between starts out with a soft, pastoral sound before becoming heavier with some strong prog workouts between guitar and keyboards. Jim Rezek is a fantastic keyboard player, and I am equally impressed with Dennis Mullin and his clear sounding guitar tone and expert playing. This track reminds me strongly of IQ and also, interestingly, early Dream Theater. The Silence! begins with a groovy, laid-back feel that builds and builds in intensity. Next track, Older Now, is a reflective ballad with a great little keyboard solo towards the end. The album ends perfectly with the final track, Until, which leaves the listener with a feeling of hope. There is a bouncy, light feel, where all the instrumentalists get to shine once more. There are some fantastic guitar solos throughout amongst punches of brass instruments.
This is a fantastic album for those looking for a great neo-prog album. Oftentimes bands in this style can sound like clones of the bands they are influenced by. In this case, although those influences can clearly be heard, Iluvatar manage to find their own unique identity. The musicians are all highly skilled at their instruments and all the songs are well crafted with great structure. I was pleasantly surprised by this album, and it just continues to grow on me with more listens. I hope there isn't another fifteen year wait before the band releases their next album!
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Juha Kujanpää - Tales and Travels
Matkamusiikki (Tales and Travels) (8:03), Kivenpyorittaja (Boulder Dash) (6:13), Suomenmaa (Samba da Finlandia) (6:08), Haapolska (Wedding Polska) (4:55), Arkipaivan ylistys (Ode to Everyday) (4:08), Different Polska (5:57), Islannin vesi (Iceland Water) (6:20), Kaukametsa (Far Forest) (4:54), Heinakuun yoy (Nights of July) (5:18), Kaukametsa (Far Forest Reprise) (2:49)
I'm under-selling it already, of course. The Melting Pot is a good marker for sure. But this is a wholly distinctive album. And all the stronger for it. Clear influences are few and far between. You might hear little elements that could've come off an album by The Enid - there are certainly plenty of neo-classical flourishes. And you're sure to hear elements of your favourite Scandinavian folk bands too. But I'll have to bow to your superior knowledge there!
Juha Kujanpää himself is a torch bearer of the Scandinavian folk music scene. He's a full-time member of Karuna and Kirjava lintu - both traditionally-inspired bands. He also scores music for TV, film and theatre. Make no mistake about it, this is very definitely his album. But Kujanpää has assembled an exceptional group of musicians to help him out, so it never feels like a solo album in the conventional sense. And I get the feeling that Kujanpää is a selfless composer - rarely taking the limelight, but giving his collaborators free rein to improvise and take the lead. Above all, these compositions, these stories speak for themselves...
Helpfully, Juha Kujanpää has given English translations of all the track titles. These are musical stories after all, so it helps us as listeners to know where we're going in each musical adventure.
Tales and Travels gets the story started. Jaunty violin and handclaps set a pleasantly airy, Romany vibe. A stately guitar theme weaves in and out and cranks up the heat at the camp-fire. Close your eyes and you'll smell the woodsmoke and see the crimson skirts whirling in the moonlight. (Don't worry. It's a gypsy encampment with a power socket for Timo Kamarainen's guitar.) There's a sumptuous passage at about two minutes in; the guitar takes the lead, while the violin and keyboards swell and soar ... Lovely stuff.
Like woodsmoke this is an album that coils in and out of reach. Sometimes you've got a handle on it, sometimes not. Boulder Dash sets out in a classical, folky vein, before the sax and guitar take up a more overtly rocky theme. Of the two aspects of Juha Kujanpää's sound on display here - the stately and the rocky, I'm leaning more towards the band's softer side. But there's plenty more eclecticism to come.
Before you think you really understand the way this album works, Kujanpää shakes things up again with the laid-back 1960s jazz sound of Samba da Finlandia. Predictably, things just aren't that predictable though. Dammy Kurppa's clarinet takes things in a light classical style before guitar and then a sneaky synth reprise the main theme.
With so much musical adventure on display it's hard to get bored, even if you don't enjoy absolutely everything on offer. Samba da Finlandia is certainly a good ensemble piece - and a great showcase for this tight-knit band. You can hear everyone's contributions. And everyone plays their parts immaculately. Oh, and if I had cool club, Juha would definitely be on my summer playlist.
Wedding Polka could have made the cut for my wife's wedding march too. But it's about seven years too late and we went with Aqua. That's After Crying's Aqua, not Barbie Girl! This is another beautifully stately piece, with a chamber music feel. When violin and keyboard combine at the 1.20 mark it heralds one of the album's most beautiful moments - an irresistible theme that could have come from a North Sea Radio Orchestra album.
The whimsical Ode to Everyday combines a light folky air on the accordion with a guitar-led theme that, strangely, reminds me of the end theme of the Christopher Guest film, Waiting for Guffman. Again there's a very slight whiff of The Flower Kings here in one of their quirkier moments.
As you listen to this album, you'll soon come to expect a confluence of two or three main musical themes in every track. Sometimes those themes take you where you want to go, sometimes not. But it's always worth sticking around to see where the story's going next. There may not be any lyrics, but this is still an album with an interesting narrative.
Iceland Water is possibly the only time in the album where one melody is significantly less interesting than the other. I enjoyed the off-kilter drip-drip-drip melody and wanted to see where it led, but found the main guitar theme a little less involving.
If I remember my classics, the opening of Far Forest recalls Finlandia by Sibelius. Appropriate enough given that this is after all, a Finnish album. And if you're looking for that narrative thread, then this is surely a forest out of Scandinavian fairy tales. There may be some dark corners in these woods that are best avoided, but this isn't the dark, twisted world of some Scandinavian prog. When the guitar crashes in and disturbs the tranquillity, it take a moment to let go of the forest idyll, but guitar fans will probably rate this one of the album's proggiest solos.
The Far Forest theme is reprised at the end of the album. But just before we get there, there's one more sunny sojourn on our route, Nights of July. Writing this in mid-August, I'm already feeling nostalgic for nights like these. If you enjoy seasonally-evocative music, you'll probably have a larger pile of Autumnal-sounding CDs than summery ones. But this little idyll to summer feels like an Agalloch or an Empyrium for mid-summer evenings. There's a wistful, itinerant feel to this music. A sense of more stories waiting to be told...
Frequently joyful, uplifting and intriguing, this is a highly accomplished album from Juha Kujanpää and friends. (Beautifully packaged in a stylish gatefold too.) But can it sustain your interest over the best part of an hour?
There's no end of musical variety on display here, with plenty of rummaging around in the music box for new ways to tell their tales, bringing double bass, mandolin, trumpet, sax and accordion out to play - plenty to keep the soundscapes interesting. And plenty to keep you on your toes. Especially if you can master a polka! Of which there are two.
So I think there are more than enough variations in sound and style, mood and tempo to keep things interesting. Without trying to get all Forrest Gump on you (and this is the first and only time I'll reference him in a review, I promise), this is a great selection box of an album. There are some unique flavours here. They probably won't all be to your taste. But I think there'll be more than enough here to satisfy a receptive ear and an educated palate.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Marblewood - Marblewood
Kailash (8:31), Hit the Brakes (8:16), Splendour (9:43), Silence (9:52), Postwar Apocalypse (12:32), Bonus Track: In the Beginning (21:14)
The guitarist, vocalist and producer Marc Walser and, bassist, Ariane Bertogg have played over 200 gigs together and along with drummer, David Zurbuchan form the core of Marblewood. Michael Marti joins them on organ for four out of the six tracks.
The album begins with Kailash, which possibly means 'crystal' in Sanskrit, but there is nothing fragile about this opener. Blues drenched riffs and a slow tempo guitar solo, over a stop, start pulse of bass and drums. This sets out Marblewood's identity as a band from the outset. The music takes it's time to evolve, through well timed changes in pace and dynamics, and the organ comes to the fore to lift the whole track further into the psychedelic ether.
Hit the Brakes is a more uptempo song, and after the chorus it changes and becomes like early Hawkwind, but Hawkwind with a swinging riff. This is topped by very fine call and response interplay between organ and guitar, before adding improvisatory sounding changes in dynamics. It is a testament to the musicians' skills that they do this without it getting messy. This is a well thought out piece that stretches the usual verse-chorus song structure.
The next track, Splendour, features an instrument that is new to me, in form of the dilruba. The dilruba is like a smaller sitar with eighteen strings, most of them vibrating sympathetically, and it is played with a bow. It produces a sound that could be compared with multiple violins playing together, but separated out from each other microtonally.
Sandro Hussell's dilruba opens Splendour and it brings to mind the opening of The End by The Doors. It is a tune that builds slowly, driven by a bass pulse that creates a hypnotic rhythmic atmosphere. It then mixes in blues guitar with the drones of the dilrubi, which manages the neat trick of sounding melodic and disturbingly dissonant at the same time. Such is the quiet hypnotic power of this track that even the spoken word sections did not irritate me, as they normally would.
The following track, Postwar Apocalypse, starts with bass chords and develops through jazzy chord changes and twisty, turning percussion. Then in comes Walser's wah-wah and reverb laden guitar before it breaks down into a percussion section that inventively uses disquieting pauses that arrest the ear, and forces you to listen afresh, as the song builds up to its climax.
The final track, listed as a bonus track, is an instrumental jam full of eastern tones and a jazz like improvisation around the themes in it. You can almost hear the nods between the musicians as they negotiate the changes involved. It functions, in some respects, as a "this is how we write the songs" feature. There are interesting sections and moments in this long track, but it seems a little unnecessary, and for me, it tried my patience somewhat. I prefer the better worked out songs, that are jam based, on the rest of the CD.
Overall, this is a fine debut full of tuneful, inventive, powerful and sometimes surprising, psychedelia with blues accents.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
The Medicine Cabinet - And the Frenchman Rolls Up His Sleeves
The Red Light (3:54), Miscarriage (Mother Earth, Lover Earth) (8:33), Figs (4:58), Yes, I'm Dancing (4:00), Rainsphere (12:29), Vigário na Água 2:58, Chair (13:06)
The basic mood of this record is quiet accompanied by mid-tempo music. Most parts of the music tend more to be independent rock rather than progressive. And I must say, more boring than interesting. The opening track The Red Light is an nearly annoying keyboard tinkling with really no suspence or any good idea. Miscarriage (Mother Earth, Lover Earth) is the highlight of the CD for me. It features early Peter Gabriel or Fish-like singing with a nice melody and some breaks. It may remind you of Fugazi by Marillion. It is a good song, but you will not damage your life if you haven't heard it.
Track 3 Figs has a narrative style and lowers the quality level again. This is followed by the (unsuccessful) attempt to write a pop-song. Yes, I'm Dancing features the repetitions of the "hookline" for about a hundred times, but not groovy or with any suspence. Rainsphere starts with a slow guitar intro, some wind and water sounds lead into a part with narrative vocals again. Some mid-tempo drumming comes to the fore, just to slow down again. Repeat. It's hard to go through this until the end. Track 6 seems to be the sister of the opening: some choir-key-sounds for three minutes. Sometimes the final track readjusts the impression of an album. Not here.
Sometimes an album (and indeed most of the outstanding albums do so) wins with every listening, and you have to dive in deeply to catch up with all the ideas and subtleties. But not here. The inspiration they mentioned is mostly "etc...". Besides the little vocal parts you will find no hints of the named examples. No Genesis, no Yes, no Tull and no Gentle Giant. I don't have any idea, where the connecting should be. Of course the (probably) low budget production cannot compensate the lack of musical ideas and songwriting.
The sound has the charme of a garage start up, but that is not really a problem. I went through this record quite a few times, but in the end this record simply does not satisfy.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10
Project Trio - Instrumental
Hungarian Dance No. 5 (2:58), Djangish (4:39), 99 Mondays (2:27), 2against3 (4:49), Sloeberry Jam (3:40), Andre de Sapato Novo (3:11), Shir (4:59), The Anthem (4:06), BRB (4:44), Now (4:11), Samson and Delilah, Op 47: "Bacchanale" (8:39)
Instrumental consists of eight original compositions, as well as two interpretations of well known classical pieces. In addition,it also includes a reworking of a classic Brazillian choro tune. The combination of styles utilised by the ensemble in Instrumental and even within individual pieces,does not always fit particularly comfortably within the norms associated with the progressive genre.Despite this, Project Trio's bold attitude and approach in attempting to create an energetically different type of eclectic chamber music,is often groundbreaking and progressive in it's scope and execution.
The original compositions are highly melodious and are enfused with rhythmic appeal. Perhaps the strongest aspect of Project Trio's work is the outstanding contribution of Pattillo. His beat box style of flute playing is utilised to good effect. His exemplary flute work creates a patch work of pulsating rhythms that energetically drives the music. This is exemplified in Now where layers of flute, burp, bump, and scream. Pattillo is also equally adept when playing in a more traditional style. In the slow moving Sloeberry Jam he provides a sublime flute melody which complements the other players excellent contributions.The cello work of Stephenson accompanied and embellished by Pattillo's breathy bursts is also particularly impressive during this beautiful piece. The clever arrangement and unusual beats of 2against3 provides a platform for all three players to highlight their empathy for each other. Strangely, the melody is reminiscent of aspects of Ian Anderson's Not Ralitsa Vassilev from his 2003 solo album, Rupi's Dance. In 2against3, Seymour's double bass emits some gorgeously emotive tones. His contribution throughout the release is expressive. He consistently provides some sumptuous low end grooves for the arrangements to soar. If Project Trio were to embrace progressive rock, BRB is an indication of what direction their work might take. This is definitely not cocktail lounge jazz and is undoubtedly the most experimental track within Instrumental. BRB is a composition laden with loops and layered effects. The result is unusual, dark, forboding and decidedly different to anything else on the album.
Djangish on the other hand falls decidely within the easy listening cocktail jazz bracket. In this respect, some aspects of Instrumental might well be considered by some, to be too undemanding. For the most part, this is an illusion created by the accessible nature and melodies of some of the pieces such as Djangish. This track consists of a theme that swings with understated ease. It is a fitting tribute to the great Belgian jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. Although Djangish is certainly enjoyably undemanding it is, as might be expected, brilliantly executed.
Project Trio's genre defying music has the ability to engage, excite and satisfy, and in this respect Instrumental fully delivers. The quality of the musicianship throughout the release is a real highlight; intricate playing abounds and the arrangements frequently take unexpected twists and turns as the players excel.
The question remains, would Instrumental appeal to the majority of prog fans? Probably not, but I hope DPRP readers are able to find an opportunity to explore this very enjoyable and intriguing release.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10