ISSUE 2014-455

Reviews in this issue:

D'accorD - III
D'accorD - III
Country of Origin: Norway
Format: CD
Record Label: Karisma
Catalogue #: KAR080
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 61:00
Info: D'accorD
Samples: Myspace page
Track List:
These Last Todays (10:26), Here Lies Greed (3:52), Lady Fabloulus (5:47), Mr. Moonlight (5:19), Ibliss in Bliss (8:05), Song For Jethro (6:12), Mon-Sat: Part I (5:34), Mon-Sat: Part II (5:08), The Doom That Came To Sarnath (10:50)
D'accorD from Norway was founded in early 2008 and is strongly affected by the sound of the 70s. This is their third release and underlines what is said by themselves: "The band quickly agreed upon trying to capture the true essence of the early 70's British Rock. Bands we like are: Queen, Genesis, Yes, King Crimson, Focus, BB King og Fredrik Horn."

I will give you later two more hints. First of all, if you do like the vintage sound of the seventies you are served extremly well. The production of this record brings exactly that sound to your ears you will find discovering some old vinyl rock albums from that period.All in all it could be a bit more powerfull and differentiated. But I always judge the songwriting and the music much higher than the production itself - music vs money.

D'accorD are at the moment a four piece band: Daniel Maage - Vocals, flute & various instuments, Årstein Tislevoll - Bass, Fredrik Horn - Tangentar, Stig Are Sund - Guitar. Mainly they consider themselves as a liveband - often supported by a fifth musician - and opened already up for Focus and Wishbone Ash. This live experience over the years is definitley an advantage for their recording sessions. You will hear a very compact band perfoming with energy and joy. The meaning of the bands name D'accorD is to coincide, to accord, to agree - a charming name for a band who is taken elements and sounds from their paragons.

III opens with a 10 minute piece These Last Todays. This mini-Epic starts with an instrumental opening and has several changes and breaks. When the vocals start you will surely realize the aim to reproduce that young Gabriel voice - the art of singing and intonation is obvious. But it doesn't offend. After some instrumental parts in the mid of the song they find the way back to the main line, a well composed track. Nobody would wonder if this song would appear on the Tresspass Album of a band called Genesis :-).

Here Lies Greed starts directly with a flute intro - why didn't they mentioned Jethro Tull?. Close your eyes and you would believe to hear a "lost track" from the island. A straight rocker with a catchy melody and a nice bassline - makes not only the band laughing.

Kyrie Elesion? No, this one is called Lady Faboulus. A low tempo piece with heavy organ and a grooving rhythm. The midpart features the guitars and leads into a codaesk improvisation of the main theme towards the end.

Mr. Moonlight has a short instrumental opening 'til the vocals set in and you might hear a phrase from Morning Dew in the vocal line. This track changes between slow parts with the refrain and and some midtempo rockin' instrumental parts with keyboard and guitar soli.

The next band D'accorD goes D'accord must be Jane. Those keyboard sounds at the break in Ibliss In Bliss could be directly taken from Jane: live at home. The song itself is not very much Krautrockin', but though it's around 8 minutes long it is more like a classical structured Song with an energy loaded final than an "prog epic".

The Song for Jeffry is a bluesy thing, the acoustic intro on mandoline is followed by tight band playing, which returns to a quiet piano / vocals part halfway through. There are some changes making this piece worth while listening.

Track 7 and 8 are the Mon-Sat Suite in two parts - together another 10 minute opus. Severals moods and tempi are changing, the main theme coming a few times around the corner. In between a slow and quiet blues part opens the second half. Though this track has interesting facettes, it is not as convincing as track one.

Encore: (bonus track). The Doom That Came To Sarnath closes this recording. The third 10 Minute piece showcases strong vocals and harmonies that please your ears. In the midpart the flute is featured again and we get some r'n'r sequences and just before you believe they start off an acoustic intermezzo is coming up. After a few bars they speed up again until a surprising break is leading towards the final. The last three minutes develope from quiet rhythm organ notes into a nearly dramatic coda. Quite a few ideas, which could have been worked out more precisely to optain an outragues ending. All in all a good track.

D'accorD is a band you should watch if you like the RetroRockProg Style. They really relive the 70s and though you can figure out their loved ones, they are far away from cheap cloning any band. Themes or sounds thrown in with a wink are making this a very charming recording. Their live experiences is probably the basis for their tight playing, this band is obviously playing the music they love with joy. We can look forward with suspense to the things to come.
Conclusion: 7,5 out of 10

Esthema - Long Goodbye
Esthema - Long Goodbye
Country of Origin: USA
Format: CD
Record Label: http://www.esthema.com
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 55:02
Info: Esthema
Samples: Esthema website
Track List:
Three Sides to Every Story, Part I (2:01), Three Sides to Every Story, Part II (8:21), Three Sides to Every Story, Part III (3:19), Fire and Shadow (6:49), Reflections from the Past (9:07), Without a Moment's Notice (9:22), Reminiscense (4:22), Long Goodbye (11:41)
Esthema are a bunch of working musicians who have come togehter to play in this mainly acoustic fusion ensemble. They are Americans Andy Milas - guitar, Tom Martin - bass, Mac Ritchey - oud & bouzouki, Cyprus born George Lernis - drums & percussion, Palestinian Naseem Alatrash - cello, and Onur Dilisen - violin, who hails from Turkey.

Long Goodbye is thier 3rd Album and although there have been a few line up changes, the style remains the same with a blend of all the stringed instruments, underpinned by a solid bass and jazz style drumming but to my ears played on quite a "rock" sounding kit. Starting with the drums, I like the use of the "ride" cymbol that for me has always filled in the sonic upper mid which works a treat on a really good hifi. The "in the room with them" production also ticks all boxes with the drum sound. Played with many tempo changes, the musicianship is a delight to behold and whilst this Bedouinesq combo certainly saves a lot on electricity, the genre definitely wears the Prog T-Shirt.

Instrumental albums can be used as a "background" to polite converstion but this is no musak. The complex and emotional playing fills the mind with pictures and smells of dusty heat or cold landscapes but there is also an extra side which comes in the form of the sleevenotes. Like reading the libretto to a foreign language opera or a wordless ballet, if you listen to the music and read exactly where it is coming from, the rewards add another dimension.

From the opening triptych of Three Sides To Every Story we learn that the inspration is based on missunderstood converstions, through the heartfelt and multi national Reflections From The Past we get the longing for home when travelling, pefectly measured in the combination of Western Jazz and Middle Eastern scales and rhythms. The manner in which humans will remember a comforting story is explored in Reminiscence where the "World Music" tag might start to apply with some fine tabla and a cello solo form planet Bollywood. Without a Moment's Notice is performed by a prog-metal band in an alternative universe, but here the would be shredding guitars and keyboard solos are bashed out on violin, cello, fretless Ouds, and strummy acoustics all being hit over the head with those jazz/rock drums. Album closer and possible centrepiece, Long Goodbye is a very dark affair with it's apocalyptic prophecy of impending doom. Music written about the point of knowing of a death to the time it actually happens. This was based on a converstion with a doctor, but could easily apply from any point A to the ultimate B. Heavy stuff, but once you realise this premise even as the last cello note ebbs into the ether, the listener is left fufilled and at rest.

An unusual and fine addition to anyone who enjoys well played music.Period.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Nathan Frost - Synecron
Nathan Frost - Synecron
Country of Origin: USA
Format: cd
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 52:01
Info: Nathan Frost
Track List:
Empire Rising, 2000 AD (8:09), Singularity (9:33), Empire Falling (10:24), Samsaara (8:56), Consilience (6:43), Empire Rising, 505 AD (8:16)
Learning to play piano from 3 years on means you gradually do get to know your way around the black and white keys. Combine that with a background as videogame programmer and often taking care of their musical scores as well and you get a picture of Nathan Frost's main interests. Having played in a progressive metal band himself, on keys and bass and vocals, it does not come as a surprise that Nathan would one day record an album himself. Well, himself? There is not just Nathan on this album. He has kind a list of guests to play on his album, whom are among the crème de la crème in prog metal these days.

To start with, there is Derek Sherinian (Planet X, Dream Theater) who adds keyboards on Empire Rising, who was responsible for part of the production and who had some role in the guest list as well. Apart from Derek, there is Marco Minnemann (The Aristocrats, Levin Minnemann Rudess, Steven Wilson) featured on drums on three songs, yet Virgil Donati (Planet X, Ring Of Fire) also adds some incredible drumming on 2 other tracks. Then there is Taka Minamino (solo and Derek Sherinian) and Marco Sfogli (James LaBrie, LALU) on guitar while well, the bass and other keyboards are played by Nathan himself. No vocals on this album and that might be for the better of it as now the songs all get to draw their own picture.

The opening song Empire Rising gets 2 different versions, one to start off the album, one to close the album. The difference between both: Marco Minnemann plays on the first version, Virgil does the second version. The difference between both versions can easily be heard. Both drummers adding their own trademarks to the song, this makes for an interesting comparison.

What can you expect from this fully instrumental album? Well, one thing is for sure, if prog metal is not your cup of tea, then don't delve into this review and better, most certainly do not get to listen to Synecron, as from the start "metal" (albeit prog) is written all over most of the tracks. So, yes, there is prog metal on the inside. And as adequate references for what we get to hear, think Planet X, Liquid Tension Experiment, perhaps Explorers Club and the instrumental parts that you find in the albums by Ring Of Fire. That means we do get more than a fair share of shredding guitars and more than a few duels between keyboards and guitars.

If that is your cup of tea and you love discovering the paths that both keyboards and guitars take in such elaborately constructed tracks, then this album is for you. It is not an exercise in self indulgence by over eager instrumentalists, the way the songs are played shows that all players have tried to give the songs just what they ask. Technical ability and shredding where needed.

The songs varying from the riff-heavy Empire Rising to the more videogame or movie soundtrack-like Singularity, via the bombastic energy of Empire Falling to the true beauty that is Samsaara, where Nathan gets to show his impressive skills on piano. This is an atmospheric gem that is different from the rest of the album. And there's again the soundtracklike approach of Consilience, most of these songs, except for Samsaara all have the line-up firing on all guns and blazing a full on metal, eh, prog metal, trail behind them.

You might debate whether the music does draw you in or not. I feel there is enough experimentation to do just that. Even though the songs have their metal roots, it is played with great technicality and a lust to make the most of the songs. Genrewise, for the lovers of prog metal, this could easily rate at an 8. I shall however add into account that this is not something I would recommend to everyone. If, however, you are ready to dip your toes into water of the heavier kind, this might just dare you to like that. With respect to what this album might mean to the whole of the prog community, my conclusion is a 7 out of 10.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Hautville - Le Moire
Hautville - Le Moire
Country of Origin: Canada
Format: EP
Record Label: SPQR
Catalogue #: SPQR XXIX
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 24:43
Info: Hautville
Track List:
Pro Salute Populi (4:42), In Superficie (4:18), Caelum Et Terra (3:57), Non Mi Rompete (4:38), Le Moire (7:03)
Francesco Dinella, Leonardo Lonigro (Hautville), Paolo Bitonto and Simona Bonavita together form Hautville. Their goal, as once declared: to tell of the historical and cultural identity of their Italian background. Now however, they have committed themselves to telling tales of Greek mythology as this recording takes us to the far and bygone times of the whiteclad female incarnations of destiny, which in the ancient Roman were named Parcae. Even though that latter meant 'sparing ones', they did of course not always spare the lives of people throughout history.

Fate, however, has judged in favour of Hautville. The quartet have recorded four original songs that flow gently and take us to green pastures, rich meadows where acoustic guitar mingles with piano and keys, to be backed just now and then by electric guitar and drums adding to the music only when necessary. The acoustic guitar gives the songs a folky feel, yet, the colouring that keys and piano add, undoubtedly add a sense of prog without that ever being imposed on the occasional listener though.

Simona's voice has an almost angelic sound and she just fits the music perfectly. Banco del Mutuo Soccorso's song 'Non Mi Rompete' is just as much an illustration of their sound as is any of their originals. Fine and open guitar work is the perfect match for her voice and all in all, Hautville, deliver over the course of this recording. Even though there might be a risk of sounding a bit too samey because of the instruments used, there is enough variety in this album, to be willing to hear a full length album by these Italian folky proggers or proggy folkers as this release truly holds a promise for a whole album to appear.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Lapis Lazuli - Alien / Abra Cadaver
Lapis Lazuli - Alien / Abra Cadaver
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 64:00
Info: Lapis Lazuli
Samples: Lapis Lazuli website
Track List:
Alien Part 1 (9:08), Alien Part 11 (6:23), Alien Part 111 (6:46), Alien Part 1V (8:27), Alien Part V (7:38), Abra Cadaver (25:06)
Something stirred in Kent. Her name was Agnes, all eyes and a smile. Love blossomed on our first encounter as we walked through the hop lands. It was twenty five years ago, yet the emotions endure; timeless and unceasing. Something continues to stir in Kent. On this occasion, named Lapis Lazuli; all contagious rhythms and a smile. Love blossomed on my first encounter with their zesty compositions, refined and honed in the hop lands. It was only three months ago, yet the emotions endure.

Alien/ Abra Cadaver consists of two lengthy suites of music each lasting more than twenty three minutes. Lapis Lazuli have produced a truly outstanding album which like the gem stone of their name is both effervescent and dazzling in its intensity. Alien is conveniently separated into five distinct but linked parts. The two suites complement each other admirably. The memorable Leitmotif which features throughout Alien is dark, pungently heavy and has abundant resonance. The piece as a whole is imbued with a collective vibrancy and is also adorned with lashings of light hearted, tongue in cheek musical humour. These lighter touches work perfectly as a counterpoint to the dominant and threatening Alien motif. Abra Cadaver on the other hand has no such disparity and is simply over brimming with a bright and breezy calypso summers end feel. Both compositions are wonderfully imaginative and are performed with great flair and creativity.

Lapis Lazuli combine many different influences in their own unique style of progressive Jazz. An inventive attitude and approach lies within their music. Both Soft Machine and National Health are brought to mind in the overall feel and delivery of the album. Saxophonist Phil Holmes and trumpeter Dave Brittain excel in creating an imposing soundscape. In this respect, I can pay Brittain no greater complement than to say that some of his sublime tones reminded me of the majestic work of the late Kenny Wheeler. The guitar work within the release is often evocative of the style of Phil Miller. The guitar parts throughout the album are tasteful in every respect; combining energetic forays and reflective musings, dissonant tones and melodic embellishments. The rhythm section is equally adept and impressively drives the music with a combination of power and subtle elegance.

All of the components of Lapis Lazuli positively exude the spirit of Canterbury. The result is an impressive freshness of approach that alludes not only to the Canterbury sub - genre of prog, but to the spontaneity and excitement that was generated by bands associated with the British Jazz movement of the late sixties and seventies, such as, the Keith Tippett Band, Chris Mcgregors Brotherhood of Breath and Elton Dean's Ninesense. To this plethora of influences and added to good effect are some sprinklings and nods to Miles Davis, Lizard era King Crimson, Glenn Miller and even foot spinning ska rhythms.

Lapis Lazuli have successfully harnessed these various influences in a totally agreeable and unique way. Alien/Abra Cadaver is inventive and charming and also challenging and exciting. This bands efforts deserve to be heard. I have been totally bewitched by this album and at the time of compiling this review, it is undoubtedly my favourite release of the year. I therefore unreservedly recommend it to readers who enjoy truly progressive music.

Emerging from the effervescent blue stone, a behemoth has risen in Kent. The name of the entity is Alien. The behemoth is totally enticing and enthralling. Who knows ? Love may even blossom if, or when you encounter it.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10

Margin - Psychedelic Teatime
Margin - Psychedelic Teatime
Country of Origin: Germany
Format: CD
Record Label: Madvedge
Catalogue #: CD1401
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 56.46
Info: Margin on Madvedge
Samples: Margin on Madvedge
Track List:
A Mysterious Cup Of Tea: Part 1 (6:33), Part 2 (4:50), Part 3 (6:50), Part 4 (2:16), Part 5 (3:03), Psychedelic Underground - The Short Trip (3:39), Landscapes On The Sky (8:08), Last Exit To Pluto (10:44), Psychedelic Underground - The Long Trip (10:38)
Margin, out of Berlin, is the brainchild of Lutz Meinert who not only writes all the music and lyrics, plays all the instruments, records, mixes and produces the album but also paints the album artwork. No doubt if you order a CD from the band he will also address the envelope and walk to the post office to get it to sent out to you! However, it is not exactly a one man operation as Meinert is joined by Carola Meinert who sings backing vocals on two songs and Arne Spekat who provides acoustic guitar, also on two songs. As one of those songs is the 23.5 minute A Mysterious Cup Of Tea his role is not as minimal as it might seem.

OK, let's face the elephant in the room, there is no getting away from it, Margin obviously have a great fondness for the early years of Pink Floyd, particularly the era between 1968 and 1971. This most evident from the keyboard sounds used which are straight from the palette of the greatly missed Rick Wright who, let's face it, was the defining sound of the Floyd in the early days. However, this is no pastiche, no pseudo-tribute band work out, but strong original material. The Floyd similarities are most evident in the instrumental parts of Landscapes On The Sky, the only track to feature all three of the contributing musicians, and parts of Last Exit To Pluto. But in both cases, particularly the latter (some of the organ work on 'Landscapes' is perhaps more of a direct 'borrowing'), the material has its own identity. Most of the album is actually instrumental, with vocals only present on two parts of A Mysterious Cup Of Tea, both the long and short trips of Psychedelic Underground and Landscapes On The Sky. The vocals, which have perfect English diction and sound surprisingly like Paul Roland, another psychedelic troubadour, are pleasant and gentle giving the tracks a quite laid back atmosphere.

Indeed, the whole album is quite understated, this is more cerebral psychedelic music as opposed to wild, in-your-face freakouts, although there are moments that get the adrenalin flowing. And what is more, it is truly excellent stuff. The A Mysterious Cup Of Tea suite is well put together and flows along nicely with different moods and atmosphere in each section with vocals not appearing until Part 2 with the giveaway lyrics Look at this cup of tea, it's turning to a cup of sea with some islands. A saucerful of secrets sounds deep from an unknown ground, up to the highlands it resounds. Part 3 has some lovely fretless bass and some nice fluid guitar work leading into a spate of keyboard solos, including a dash of Mellotron here and there, gradually building before relaxing into the vocal reappearing on Part 4 and ending on a freakout, albeit a relatively restrained one, on part 5. An overall great song!

Psychedelic Underground - The Short Trip is essentially the first part of the 'Long Trip' that closes the album, in days gone by it would no doubt have been labelled as 'the single edit' and, in all honesty, it would have made a decent single with a catchy chorus and melody with a lively air that could get more than the odd foot tapping. The lyrics once again refer to 'saucerful of secrets' as well as that trippiest of children's books Alice in Wonderland. The Long Trip version expands on the vocal section adding plenty of Mellotron effects but keeping a strong bassline groove that drives the music along. The arrangement, as on all the tracks, is exceptionally good and Meinert has achieved the effect of a band jamming around together, leaving each other plenty of space to add in their contributions. As well as being a sucker for vintage keyboard sounds I am also a fan of good drumming, and Meinert provides plenty of both, indeed his drumming is frequently more exciting than what many established drummers provide.

As previously mentioned, Landscapes On The Sky does feature a lot of Wright-style keyboards but this is not the main reason why I find this song the most appealing on the album. The acoustic opening is as good as song as Paul Roland, whom I also greatly admire, could come up with. The whole song has a veil of mysterious innocence about it, Spekart shines throughout and the harmonised chorus with both Meinerts' voices is a delight; a perfect summer song. Finally, Last Exit To Pluto takes us, much as the title suggests, into the realm of space rock, although no comparisons with the likes of Hawkwind should be drawn! A long, quizzical intro sets the scene largely dominated by an insistent bass riff. Gradually more instruments are introduced (including some lovely crisp drum beats) whilst maintaining a languid dreamy atmosphere. As we move further into the track a harder, more aggressive edge is adopted and plays out nicely through the end of the tune.

With flourishes harking back 45 years to the end of the 1960s but incorporated into a more modern setting, this debut album by Margin offers a lot to the listener. Of course, most immediately it will be fans of early Floyd who will latch onto it (at least those that don't take umbrage at anyone daring to try replicate the music of their heroes, irrespective of intent) but there is plenty on offer
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Philhelmon - Enjoy It While It Lasts
Philhelmon - Enjoy It While It Lasts
Country of Origin: The Netherlands
Format: CD
Record Label: Independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2012
Time: 66:54
Info: Philhelmon on Wix
Samples: Philhelmon on Wix
Track List:
The Final Frontier (7:48), How Wrong (4:18), Dance The Night Away (4:28), In The Forest (5:26), You Never Look Over Your Shoulder (3:34), Warchild (5:28), Civilization Number IX (5:48), Ulumka'an (Birds Of Heaven) (4:32), Keep The Faith (6:36), How I Love My iPad (Part I, II, III) (6:26), Golden Days (Strange Kind Of Song Revisited) (4:52), Enjoy It While It Lasts (7:03)
Philhelmon is the name Henk Bol uses as a project name for this album. Enjoy It While It Lasts is his brainchild. Almost 100% writing credits and he plays a variety of different instruments. He is a multi-instrumentalist but he invited many musical friends to participate on Enjoy It While It Lasts. With that many guests an album can get very diverse and sound completely different from song to song. That is not the case and a big part in that is the fact that all vocals are done by Ky Fifer. One voice on an album is good for coherency. Officially, Henk Bol is a graphical designer which means the package is well taken care of. The artwork is great and has a bit of a scifi appearance.

On the first song the sci-fi influence becomes pretty literally. The Final Frontier is a song about the scifi television series Star Trek. On the Star One project Lucassen was a bit vague about which movie he sang about but Henk Bol just writes down "I'll buy a ticket from captain Kirk". The neo-prog music sounds very clear but is not polished over and over, a rough edge is still present. Not as much keyboards as Knight Area, but the sound of Philhelmon could be related.

Besides a single main vocalist there are many guest appearances. I was afraid this would make the sound incoherent from song to song - fortunately that is not the case. The songs do not sound alike and as a whole it is not as random as I feared. How Wrong starts very different and is a more compact song. With the female vocals in the chorus and the more catchy tunes this one is more poppy. This line is continued in the slow song Dance The Night Away.

So far it didn't appeal to me very much. Thankfully I held on because with In The Forest we're back to interesting for prog fans. However, on You Never Look Over Your Shoulder I really got lost, but that was the only real flaw. This song I really do not like. A skip or fast-forward for me.

Whether it is the ballad like War Child or the more eighties sounding Civilization IX or earth music song Ulumka'an (Birds Of Heaven) the rest of the album is very interesting. Keep The Faith is more rock and How I love My iPad is not my cup of tea but OK-ish. The song Golden Day's is one of the shorter songs but I like it best. It does not feel like a short song. Focus like parts with flute and keyboard. This song is all over the place. Great song. Title track Enjoy It While It Lasts closes the album in style.

I like my music with more changes but it has enough soul to keep the flame going and take the clock over an hour of good music.

Henk Bol created a very interesting album with many guest musicians. Enjoy It While It Lasts is a diverse album with still a coherent feel to it. Some parts I enjoyed more than other parts, still on the whole it is a very nice album. Neo-prog, nicely polished, but still a rough, rocky edge at times.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

David Sancious - Forest Of Feelings / Transforamtion (The Speed of Love)
David Sancious - Forest Of Feelings
Country of Origin: USA
Format: CD
Record Label: Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #: ECLEC2457
Year of Release: 1975/2014 1976/2014
Time: 48:28
Info: David Sancious
Samples: samples on YouTube
Track List:
Suite Cassandra (8:46), Come On If You Feel Up To It... (And Get Down) (4:44), East India (4:36), Dixie (March of the Conditioned Souls Civil War Of The Souls) (6:14), The Forest of Feelings (7:51), Joyce #8 (2:20), Crystal Image (3:24), One Time (5:40), Further in the Forest of Feelings (3:01)
David Sancious and Tone - Transforamtion (The Speed of Love)
Country of Origin: USA
Format: CD
Record Label: Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #: ECLEC2458
Year of Release: 1976/2014
Time: 40:07
Info: David Sancious and Tone
Samples: samples on YouTube
Track List:
Piktor's Metamorphosis (6:33), Sky Church Hymn #9 (8:49), The Play and Display of the Heart (6:27), Transformation (The Speed of Love) (18:11)
David Sancious is a American musician who was an early member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, and played on the first three albums, plus the later album Human Touch. Sancious is a keyboard player and guitarist and what we have here are his first two solo Albums. By the second, together with his regular backing of drummer Gerald Carboy and bassist Ernest Carter, they became Tone.

For some reason I've never liked Springsteen music so I was suprised to find that both CDs are actually fine jazz rock or "fusion" records, very much in the Return to Forever vein. Futher research and it seems that this man is probably bordering on being a musical genius who has many prog medals in his cabinet having played with Peter Gabriel, Frances Dunnery, Sting, Jack Bruce and friends, plus he was the keyboard player on Jon Anderson's Animation album and tour where he tackled many Yes numbers as well as a solo spot where he would perform The Play and Display of the Heart (track 3 of 2nd disc here) and apparently it was a real show stopper.

So what about these two re-mastered recordings then? Well they have been scrubbed and polished up by those, and I'm running out of superlatives here,brilliant chaps at Esoteric Recordings so that they could have been made yesterday and every nuance of the original recording whacks out of the speakers like they're in the room with you.

Forest of Feelings is his debut and was produced by Billy Cobham which might imply a drum heavy sound but the balance is perfect and begins with Suite Cassandra, a baroque inspired peice with tender moments of real piano (so good to hear that "wood") and out and out keyboard dominated Mahavishnu Orchestra style rock. The album is very much a rock jazz album rather than jazz rock, with the drumming particulary rooting this genre, Come On If You Feel Up To It (And Get Down) being a fine example. There is a lot of light and shade with Joyce #8 lulling the listener with it's clasical piano undertones and then being hit with Crystal Image which is reminiscent of the jazzy bit in Karn Evil 9 from ELP.

Transforamtion (The speed of Love) had the same line up but was produced by Bruce Botnik who had worked with "The Doors". There is a slightly more open sound to this second disc but the main difference appears to be that Sancious's guitar has come out of it's case, which makes the "band" sound a lot bigger than before. This was the showcase that prompted his many invites to become a top sessioner. Stanley Clarke had used his electric guitar prowess on Journey to Love and Peter Gabriel was signing him up as a band member for his shows.

The texual difference his guitar playing makes is never more prominent than on Sky Church Hymn #9 nearly nine minutes of blistering guitar jazz rock which begins with a some deep south blues slide, morphs into a frenetic speed jam, before returning home to the campfire. This track was inspired by an interview with Jimi Hendrix that had him talk of a new musical direction called "Sky Church", hence this tracks title and indeed it's fantastic homage to that great player.Turn this up to 11.

The aforementioned The Play and Display of the Heart gives us a break where piano and overdubbed acoustic guitar playing the same melody brings back the jazz element. Only four tracks on this second release as the whole of what was "side 2" is taken up with 18:10 of the albums's centre peice Transforamtion (The speed of Love).Apparently, this "long song" concept was very much inspired by what the British Prog bands Yes and Genesis were doing at that time and the prevalence of organ and speedy synths bear this out. Yes's Relayer must have been on the car stereo, but although this album came after in 1976, it's almost as if Yes would have been listening to this! There are no vocals though (besides a humming choir towards the end), so it is quite an intensive listen but it is a very rewarding experience.

Instrumental albums need to have a special relationship with the listener, we are programmed to hear the human voice so both these albums took time for me to understand what is happening. There has always been jazz in progressive rock music and I consider this to be in the same club. Parts reminded me of Patrick Moraz's The Story of i and I have already alluded to ELP and Relayer era Yes. In my own record collection I have Billy Cobham Solo records, all of Return to Forever's, Weather Report,Jean Luc Ponty, and Jazz era Joni Mitchel. I'd put both of these albums in the same box. I have been given quite a few "Prog Metal" stuff lately and this represents the other end of the spectrum with the same superb dexterity but without the endless distorted riffing. Two thumbs good.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Toomas Vanem - I
Toomas Vanem - I
Country of Origin: Estonia
Format: CD
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 59:01
Info: Toomas Vanem
Track List:
Tomorrow's Child (6:14), Lonely Proton (4:30), Ghost Story (4:46), Operation S.S.E.S. (6:25), Birthday Illusions (4:56), Summer Samba (5:19), Orbital Man (4:43), Attack of the Killer Honey Bees (3:35), Gravity of Eiffel Tower (7:05), Flower Power (5:31), Butterfly Effect (7:10)
Toomas Vanem is a studio and session guitarist in Estonia. Vanem, who reports having been impressed with Richie Blackmore and Allan Holdsworth, has a quick, often explosive playing style that includes elements of jazz, rock, and prog metal. The style could evoke John Petrucci and, to a lesser extent, Steve Vai.

On his debut release, "I," he is joined by a bassist (Henno Kelp) and drummer (Andrus Lillepea). (On one tune, Gravity of Eiffel Tower, Stuart Hamm substitutes on bass.) Vanem -- the full trio, in fact -- is in fine, frenzied form throughout. The playing is both hard-hitting and mellifluous, and the compositions are often memorable. In a search for full-group references, faintly likening the band to the Mahavishnu Orchestra -- or at least a tamer, stripped-down, more-structured version of it -- would certainly be reasonable.

All of the music here is instrumental, but the packaging nicely recounts the inspiration for, or the meaning of, each tune. It's clear not only from the playing but from these tales that Vanem has put his heart and soul into this music.

The opener, Tomorrow's Child, is heavy from the get-go. It's prog metal meets jazz-rock fusion. Its successor, Lonely Proton, evokes the atmosphere of early Al DiMeola. Ghost Story returns to a heavier, rock-oriented style; overall, the tune is fine, but the lead is a bit repetitive. Operation S.S.E.S., also rock-centric, contains an infectious lead but is bogged down by heavy background riffs. Birthday Illusions, though, is a solid comeback: the speed of the fluid guitar runs is stunning, as is the synchronicity between the guitar and drums. The sky-high lead, moreover, sticks in one's mind. Summer Samba, inspired by jazz-pop group Spyro Gyra, is a downer. Why add a fairly prosaic jazz-lite piece to this talent showcase? Next up is Orbital Man, which is on the heavier side and, composition-wise, doesn't leave much of a lasting impression. But the shredding is still something to behold. Attack of the Killer Honey Bees is raucous fun; according to Vanem's song summaries, the tune is a product of feeling the need to exact revenge against attacking bees. A second "lite" tune, Gravity of Eiffel Tower, follows, but it too seems unduly soft and thus diversionary. The undeniable highlight among a mostly strong set of songs is Flower Power, which meshes jaw-dropping chops with a catchy, uplifting (but not corny) tune. The closer, Butterfly Effect, is emblematic of the bulk of the tunes: melodic but intense.

Vanem has done well for himself with this excellent debut. The musicianship is stellar (as is the production quality), and the writing is strong. This is eclectic fusion, sometimes on the heavy side, that calls the listener back for more.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Xanima - Prototype: Homo Sapiens
Xanima - Prototype: Homo Sapiens
Country of Origin: Sweden
Format: CD
Record Label: Freeside Records
Catalogue #: F310
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 58:06
Info: Xanima
Samples: Click here!!!
Track List:
Mantra (4:31), Prototype: Homo Sapiens (5:16), Parallel Universe (4:56), Death by Remote Control (4:01), Make Gravity Rule Sanity (4:07), Ritual Dance (4:33), Ruins of Babel (4:11), Origin (4:03), Eternal Truth (5:49), A Given Oath (3:28), Sacred Sacrifice (4:12), Tales of Sin and Virtue (4:32), Confession Chase (4:27)
Xanima is a dramatic and visual artrock band from Stockholm, Sweden. Their music is a combination of pop-rock- electronica with symphonic elements. There are lot of catchy tunes, nice grooves and the album sounds excellent! It's music from the 20th century as we know from the 80's. This second album from Xanima describes the complex journey of a soul that's been chosen to be the model for the whole human kind - a "Prototype: Homo Sapiens". The music was already written by keyboard player Pelle Händén and vocalist Jade Ell in 2011 but it took some time until this year before the album was released.

As to be expected the album is dominated by keyboards played by Pelle Händén who manages to produce some stunning sounds from this instrument. Together with the excellent singing voice of Jade Ell they have succeeded in making an album that's entertaining from beginning to end. Xanima also is a strong live act with a powerful stage performance, including dancers and actors adding to the live show experience. Especially vocalist Jade Ell with her extravagant clothing stands out on the stage. Imagine a whiff of Kate Bush and Evanescence mixed with Toyah and/or Dalbello (remember her hit "Tango"?) and I think you've got a fairly good idea of what to expect from this album. The more traditional proggers among us might have some difficulties dealing with this album but I think even they will have to admit that this is a well produced album that sounds great!

The album is consistently good, although there are a few tracks that jumped out and grabbed me more than others. Examples are the title track "Prototype: Homo Sapiens", "Parallel Universe", "Mantra", "Eternal Truth", and "Sacred Sacrifice". On the tracks "Ritual Dance" and "Confession Chase" the guitar plays a bigger part.

The conclusion is that Xanima isn't really progressive rock but just very good music. It's well worth a trip from "Prog Country" to discover new musical territories! If you did like Toyah and Dalbello in the past this is a must listen!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

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Published Sunday 5 October 2014

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