Baffo Banfi was a founding member of the 70s Italian progressive rock group Un Biglietto per l'Inferno. The band recorded two albums and after they split, Baffo went on to record three electronic solo albums. In 1981, he abruptly left the music business to start a career in video production and seemingly never looked back. The situation remained that way for 30 years until in 2010, Banfi met Matteo Cantaluppi, a producer and sound engineer. They quickly established a mutual respect and decided to start working on some new music. Representing two generations of talent, this melding of musical minds has resulted in the release of Frontera.
In addition to his musical abilities, Cantaluppi brings his significant skills as an engineer to this project. From a production perspective, Frontera is a great sounding electronic album. There is a layered orchestral quality to the six tracks and the top notch production really brings the music to life. The percussion elements are crisp and dynamic, which creates a driving symphonic flow to the songs. Sonically, the album is very modern, but the music itself is securely rooted in the electronic music scene of the past. It is especially reminiscent of some of the great electronic albums of the 80s. Tangerine Dream's and Jean Michel Jarre's work of that era is a good reference point. It may not be the most original recording of the year, but Frontera is a fun trip back to the type of electronic albums that you don't hear much of these days.
Banfi and Cantaluppi maintain a strong focus on melody throughout. There is a cinematic quality to the music, and many of the songs build dramatically as they progress. This is most true of the longest track on the album, FrontEraValley. Beginning sparsely, the song soon builds to its crescendo in an anthem-like fashion. There is a structured feel to the songs that makes each piece seem very well thought out. This is not an electronic album made up of improvisational ideas, but more so, these are compositions in the true sense of the word. The inclusion of strings on several tracks also lends to the albums's cinematic, soundtrack-like vibe. most notably on the album closer, Blunk Honor. A beautifully-played piano establishes the indelible theme, which soon transitions to a triumphant and symphonic musical march.
When listening to Frontera, it makes one wonder why a talent like Banfi would have stopped releasing music for so long. It seems a shame, but it also makes his return all the more rewarding. This is a very entertaining electronic album without a single track that doesn't belong. Hopefully, this project inspires Baffo to continue releasing new music. In a current electronic scene where much of the music sounds like it belongs in a dance club, Frontera successfully embraces old school style and melody. The end results are impressive and definitely enjoyable.
Wassail (6:48), Lost Rivers of London (6:02), Mudlarks (6:13), Master James of Saint George (live) (6:14)
Big Big Train made a huge impression on the prog world with the release of the brilliant English Electric albums in 2012 and 2013. In all songs on these albums the English countryside came forward so vividly and in such an astounding variety that many were completely blown away by the sheer beauty, originality and overall atmosphere of the music.
Of course the band will have been very pleased with the general acclaim the albums got. But it also posed an enormous problem on the band: what's next? Up till now they seem to hesitate to provide a satisfying answer to that intriguing question. After these albums were released, Big Big Train released an ep called Make Some Noise which, to these ears, was a sort of setback. Especially in the title track that appeared to be just that: some noise with little hints to the subtlety that characterized the English Electric albums. The idea behind the ep was great: the fans could now get hold on the tracks that were eventually left out of the original albums.
In all its sympathy this release soon turned out to be completely superfluous as some months later the band released the Full Power-set containing the two original English Electric albums as well as the tracks they originally left out, but all in a slightly different playing order. It could be interpreted as an attempt to get more money out of this excellent song cycle. Yet on the other hand, why not consider it as new wisdom to give these inspirational songs a new boost? I did grant them the benefit of the doubt.
Anyway, so far no new full album in sight. But suddenly here is another ep called Wassail, containing three new songs and a live rendition of an older song. The beautiful romantic, almost naïve artwork suggests another musical journey in the vein of the English Electric albums. Upon listening you'll quickly realize that this is a somewhat different collection.
The title song opens the ep with some beautiful flute playing that gives this song immediately a folky flavour. Then there is some nice interplay between guitar and mandolin after which David Longdon starts singing. The verse is nice, the chorus is too much a Make Some Noise-rip-off for my taste and therefore disappointing. It's simple and also a bit too high for Longdons voice which sounds pretty restrained here. The bridge between chorus and verse is beautifully dominated by violin and Hammond organ. At around 3:20 there's an instrumental section with loads of violin accompanying the guitar. That slowly builds up to the next chorus in which the full band bursts out in a Deep Purple-like section (Jon Lord would probably have been very pleased with the Hammond sound), only to lower the pressure soon to give way to flute, violin, soft bass and drums playing the coda. A lot is happening in the song, it is not their strongest track but as an opener it works well.
The Lost Rivers of London to me is by far the best track of the ep. It's a very folky melody, the smashing lead and harmony vocals and the instrumentation are totally in line with the songs on the English Electric albums. This is an eclectic, romantic song, with excellent use of violin, recorder, piano and melancholic keys. A catchy verse introduces an equally catchy slow chorus with keys and violin and very good drumming. Halfway there's a short vintage keyboard solo that takes you back to The Buggles (it works!) after which the main theme of the song is picked up again. This track alone is worth the purchase of this EP.
In the almost instrumental Mudlarks the Hammond organ is featured again; a quite heavy song that grabs back to the days of The Underfall Yard yet the addition of Rachel Hall's violin makes it also pretty melancholic. The track has an overall jazzy feeling with great bass playing and Hammond and at the end a rather short guitar solo. The song fades out after a great instrumental outburst of the full band.
As an appetizer for the upcoming dvd that will appear this autumn a live version of Master James of Saint George is added. What we find here, is an excellent rendition of this complex song. It was originally released on The Underfall Yard- and feautures great drumming by Nick d'Virgilio, very nice guitar work by Dave Gregory and excellent lead and harmony vocals by Longdon, Nick d´Virgilio, Andy Poole and Greg Spawton. The violin adds another rich layer to the already multiply layered song. The fade out is a realtime whistling, which is strong. It was recorded live in Real World studios, apparently without an audience. A teaser for the forthcoming dvd it certainly is and further proof that this great band should take to the road soon.
But is this the answer to the question 'What's next'? I hope not. I assume the band will first concentrate on the release of the dvd and then, hopefully start touring extensively. With this ep they prove they can still make highly original, typical English music with a unique mix of romanticism, folk, rock, history and melancholy. It's no big problem when they take their time to write and record a full-grown successor as long as the end result will be as satisfying as this very nice ep. Hopefully our patience will not be challenged too much. Let's hope that Wassail will not follow the path of Make Some Noise and become part of a new and integral release some time ever. I'd like to kindly put that forward as an advice.
Rage (6:02), Breathe in the Water (8:00), Vice Versa (6:54), Places to Hide (5:09), Plague 47 (4:42), Welcome to the Vampire State (6:06), Tall Ships (6:10), Come What May (4:13), Hold Me (7:53), (After) One Bright Midnight (2:40)
Waiting several years for a follow up album, that's just the reality in this day and age of independent recording. If you're lucky and your band can achieve some dedicated following and then some funding support, and if you have the time and space to write and record then maybe you can get your work out there, well, eventually.
For Crooked Mouth, the labour to get their latest album made is at an end. 2015 sees the release of One Bright Midnight. Eight years in the making after their second album, Hold the Sun. Without doubt anything that takes so long to write and produce, and is self financed (and to top it off they donate some of what they make to a charity called Sightsavers too) deserves high marks just for effort and for the grit of seeing it through. Ultimately all that is just detail. What it boils down to is whether the journey was worth it, and if the music you have in your hands delivers.
With the band remaining mostly intact after so long it remains to see if the life changes and experiences feed into the music and themes within. What emerges is a sense of frustration at the way the world gives us so much communication and the ability to connect and yet this is misunderstood and without value. The latter is felt in the opener, Rage which is a gutsy, pacy number that captures well the spirit in the words.
"Gameshow minions, politicians, soul technicians trade their empty versions of second-hand dreams." The feeling is beyond grumpy cynicism, there is a genuine need to express anger at empty words and hyperbole. The riffage is heavy and in keeping with their overall style from their last studio release. However, the majority of their latest effort is gentler and distinctly poppier in places.
Breathe in the Water is a delightful mixture of pop, atmospheric synths and folky vocals. Ken Campbell excels on guitar in the middle with the superb Lynne Campbell and Eilidh Maclean matching it with spinetingling voices reminiscent at times of The Corrs. Ali Mitchell also gives a outstanding contribution on keyboards, particularly in the excellent Vice Versa.
Overall the standard of production and craft that has gone into this release is first rate, and the way the tracks flow into each other is seamless and smooth which leaves the listener with an impression of a joined up concept from start to finish. The hairraising chaotic sax and drums at the end of Vice Versa bleed well into the restful Places to Hide with consumate ease.
The cold electronic Plague 47 is a standout track with its Blake 7 style dystopian imagery. The keys and pulsing drums are welcomingly reminiscent of 80's Marillion at times and yet this is merely a nod to the prog-Fish era than a direct clone, Crooked Mouth have plenty of originality to their sound.
The vitality of Crooked Mouth's songs is something that appeals on One Bright Midnight and it's never more strongly evident than Welcome to the Vampire State yet for all it's catchiness and bounce, there is a feeling that somehow the marriage of elements in the piece dont always gell. A pity, since the content is potent - a spoonfed nation on 24 TV junk which obscures so much real life. The chorus section sadly feels untidy partly in the title of the track itself which is too loaded with syllables for a poppy melody. The track is however beautifully finished with a haunting piano and guitar passage which fades away into the disturbing rhetoric of George Bush Jnr. Despite some misgivings about the song it does work on the whole.
Without question there is a tone of the band's heritage in the sound which feels distinctly Scottish, connecting them to their peers and almost certainly fans of Abel Ganz would appreciate the music of Crooked Mouth. Listening to the acoustic, Come What May underlines this. A delicate, wistful piece with delightful vocals. It's honest and heartfelt music that has to be experienced as well as heard.
Coming to a conclusion with Hold Me the album bows out (albeit for a short instrumental that is very Ganz-like) on a high. The slow emotional build up is something rather special with vocal layering which feels both ethereal and melancholic. And at the same time there is a sense of the completion of a music journey from the aggressive Rage to the reposeful ending here.
Due to the nature of a self-marketed product on the back of a long lay-off there is a chance that this album, chockfull of excellence, will miss its mark which would be a great pity. Every selfrespecting modern day prog fan should take a chance with it for sure. Spotify is a great tool to allow this to happen, which would lead to this rather attractive package adorning your shelves. Hopefully, the success this album deserves will lead the band to respond with a follow up before long.
CD 1: Cosmonautilus (2:10), My Headless Tortoise (2:11), Burn & Shine (3:55), The Burnt Ocean (3:18), The Croaker (3:23), Lunopolis (3:36), Radar Search (1:50), Occurzaalite (3:42), Those Shirts (3:58), Starbuck's End (3:42), Mattmath (2:23), Monkey Fist (3:09), Polly & Joan (1:46)
CD 2: Overbaked Overture (1:19), Poor Zokko (1:28), Bugshutter (3:13), Interfog (1:01), Blue Nails (4:02), 3AM on the River of Sleep (3:15), Mashmellow (2:58), Wayfarer (4:22), Andromeda Backwash (2:06), Last Sunrise on Earth (2:53), Phantom Arboretum (3:16), Secondary (1:28), Electropipe (3:18), Soltair (2:14), Nostar (2:00), Fergetit (2:34)
Best known for his work in the bands Knifeworld, Guapo and Chrome Hoof, Emmett Elvin would appear to be one of those musicians that composes music while he's asleep. This album is, by his own admission, music that doesn't really fit neatly into the realm of any of the aforementioned bands. And, as such, it's a meandering mixed bag of ideas, sounds, experiments, melodies, styles and instrumentation.
This double CD or digital release features Elvin's previous work from 2013, Emmettronica 1998-2005 with an extra 14 tracks from the 2005-2013 period tacked on. Many artists have come up with albums such as this; often it's music taken from a variety of other projects, or it's outtakes, tunes that didn't make it onto a disc, or musical ideas that simply needed to be recorded and are then presented to an appreciative audience. Or, in the case of a band like Marillion, a peek into the band's creative progress with their 'making of' series. This approach can sometimes lead to an interesting yet fragmented album that tantalises and teases, with some wonderful moments wedged into a lot of wild and varied music.
This definitely has some wonderful and brilliant moments. And it's certainly an intimate musical portrait of how Elvin creates music that floats effortlessly from electronica to jazz, soundtrack to 1950s, funk to rock, ambient to trip-hop.
A couple of tracks in comes Burn & Shine, and there's a certain parallel to some of the works of the massively prolific Bill Nelson. While not all similar, his superb Practically Wired album springs to mind, although that was both much shorter and delivered as a cohesive piece. The track that follows, The Burnt Ocean is like Kraftwerk at 78 rpm, for those old enough to have had a record player with that setting. Elvin gives the impression that no matter what the progressive sub-genre, he could write music that fits into it like a glove. After all, on display here are pieces, mostly very short, that feature musical snippets that bounce around like a kid who has just found him or herself in a store with 150 different toy departments.
Elvin can not only play keyboards, it's obvious that he has so many musical ideas spinning around it would make everyone bar Steven Wilson jealous. At times, it's easy to hear how some of these instrumental ideas could creatively be teased into a song. There are some very strong clips here, none more so than the vintage sounding, haunting soundtrack-like 3AM on the River of Sleep. It's a piece that would be equally at home in an obscure 1960s science-fiction movie as it would on one of Paul McCartney's The Fireman albums. And just when you think it's gone all modern electronic, there's a piece like Phantom Arboretum which is more like a short modern classical piano composition, which is followed up two tracks later by the delightfully mad and phrenetic Electropipe.
It's a fun and insightful collection of pieces that really does straddle so many areas of music - while still being firmly grounded in the keyboards and electronic genre - that it's always intriguing, in spite of the shortness of some of the musical nuggets that are bubbling around. It's not a cohesive album, but nor is it meant to be. And this, ultimately, is why it succeeds yet also appears disjointed as one short track abruptly gives way to something completely different.
Finally, not that it matters, the illustration on the cover is both decidedly odd in content and somewhat confusing. The album is Emmettronica 1998-2013, and yet the cover says 1998-2012. Deliberate? A time warp? Or does DPRP win a prize?
Schizophrenia (4:43), The Red Hat Story (4:50), Train to Wonderland (7:04), Lullabye (11:09), Bunny (5:43), Valhalla Song (5:21), Shapes (4:37)
En.tsfauna is a young trio from Tel-Aviv, lead by bassist and vocalist Daniel Fokin. His companions are Alexander Guberman on drums and Nicolas Dotro on guitar. Their debut Play Your Game is a concept album that tries to depict a weird perpetuum mobile of existence. The band describes it like this: "The main idea is that a human has options to manage his life as he wants. He develops his own virtual reality, his own game. This game is created by his actions and thoughts, by his wishes and words. And the only viewer of such a reality is the person himself. He plays the game he created, he composed. The only problem is that the game creates a life."
Describing their overall sound is not an easy quest, I'll try it like this: Take Pink Floyd's fun songs from their 60s era, like See Emily Play and Corporal Clegg, and blend that with The Doors and a very calm version of The Mars Volta. The output is a jazzy chanson style with many facets. There are also a few heavy and funky moments. I wouldn't put the band in the prog drawer. En.Tsfauna draw from a few different styles, but they never add anything to it that would make it all stand out in any way. It's only the variety of styles between the songs that makes the band special. So "avant-garde crossover" is a description that fits best. The sheer dry sound of the instruments underlines this pretty well too. The guitarist's clean sound is indeed just a Strat plugged to a Marshall, with all EQs bypassed, and the crunchy sound is exactly what the gain channel delivers at factory setting. Dotro sometimes uses a slight reverb, but that was it. The same goes for the drum sound. No EQ or other embellishment has been added, and it seems that we hear exactly what the microphones did deliver.
Fokin's vocal style rounds the whole thing up. He's not singing melodies, but delivering attitudes, which he does in a very exalted way, like an over-acted theatre play.
Play Your Game will attract people who have a sense for cabaret music with its grotesque way of depicting characters and attitudes. Fans who like polished melodic music with clever arrangements surely will want to ignore this album.
Kohaku (0:34), New House (4:24), Kumonryu (1:01), Oxbow (5:20), Black Kumonryu (1:01), Noir Alley Verdigris (5:13), Ogon (0:24), Narada (6:03), Margata (6:18), Kuchibeni (0:49), Fish Bowl (5:03), Koi (6:26)
Rare Noise Records artiste Lorenzo Feliciati is a busy man. Recent projects started with his 2011 solo album Frequent Flyer, since when he has collaborated with vocalist and instrumentalist Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari in the group Berserk! on the album of the same name, with bassist Colin Edwin on Twinscapes, as well as appearing on two albums with jazz rockers Naked Truth. The latest to hit the racks is this nominally solo and ambitious instrumental concept album, where he is joined by Alessandro Gwis on piano and laptop, and the perhaps more well-known Steve Jansen on drums, percussion, rhythm design and programming.
KOI, as its title might suggest, is a concept album following the life cycle of the carp of the same name, a fish revered in China where, as a reward for its strength and perseverance in swimming up waterfalls, it is bestowed with mythical powers by the gods, culminating in transformation to a Golden Dragon, a symbol of strength and power. Funnily enough, having listened to the album first off without referring to the press release or other info and reviews on the internet, it sounded to me like a soundtrack to a modernistic techno-thriller.
Occasionally dark and brooding, occasionally full of the joys of life and sometimes becalmed, the album is completely instrumental. The three core players are aided in various combinations by a baritone sax player and a three-man brass section. KOI opens with the still waters disturbed of Kohaku, rippling through the heavily reverbed piano. This heads straight into the punchy brass-dominated New House, with Lorenzo's fretless bass effortlessly swapping lines with Angelo Olivieri's trumpet. This early contrast of emotions neatly sets the scene for the whole album. There are several short linking pieces between most, but not all of the longer tunes, and these serve as stones jutting out from the babbling stream of sound. The first of these is the quietly mesmerising Kumonryu, not that these links are all dreamy snatches of respite from the broiling mass of music; no, for some present a tricky balancing act and with one slip you find yourself back in the stream and swimming with the titular Koi.
Recalling the opening piece, Black Kumonryu is awash in more of the treated piano, this time gilded by exotic eastern percussion, flowing seamlessly into Noir Alley Verdigris, where the drums are provided by Pat Mastelotto, and the lone soprano sax on the record by Nicola Alesini. This tune builds from a simple but effective three-note fretless bass and keyboard intro into a spidery guitar figure from Lornezo counterpointed by his own bass, the guitar eventually replaced by the mournful saxophone, all underpinned by very subtle percussion.
My personal album highlight is Fish Bowl, where the unified ensemble brass and saxes blast out the opening refrain on what is the most animated track on the record. Steve Jansen's pounding tribal drums bridge the gaps between the avant big-band sections, joined as they are by sinuous bass extrapolations and much dreamy electronica. Elsewhere we have the loose-limbed but angular Narada, and some peerless fretless bass work from Lorenzo and great rhythms from Jansen on Margata.
Reaching its transformation point from a noble fish to a Golden Dragon, the closing title track slowly rises to a rushing and justified crescendo, and is a great send-off for a fine album. As I really enjoyed Lorenzo's collaboration with Colin Edwin on TwinScapes, I am at a loss to explain why it has taken me so long to get round to reviewing this album, for it has turned out to be something of a treat.
Andrómeda I (2:10), Accidente Club (5:00), El Mismo Sol (3:35), Tu Función (4:10), Andrómeda II (2:28), De Tus Manos (3:05), Aswang (4:09), Te Lo Vuelvo A Recordar (4:54)
First of all, I must say I'm glad to see new Spanish bands doing different music. Despite the difficulties that exist these days for new groups, we can see new bands emerging in Spain. There are those with great potential in the alternative music in general and, more particularly, in the progressive rock music scene.
The Foxholes are one of those bands that even without performing a clearly defined progressive rock style know how to move well within the genre by providing clear elements of alternative music with some hints of indie pop. This definition may be difficult to understand but once you hear Radio Cincinnati you can clearly understand what I mean. Or at least I hope so.
The Foxholes were formed in 2006 and Radio Cincinnati is their fifth album. There are no huge progressive passages but consistency in the compositions and good production, along with only 30 minutes of music make the listening pleasant and straightforward. Classical guitar sounds are interspersed with electronic arrangements and programming sounds producing interesting, brief and intense passages, like in El Mismo Sol and De Tus Manos.
It might be surprising how someone could not think of Porcupine Tree while hearing Accident Club, with these mixtures of acoustic guitar passages and in crescendo riffs, as well as in the changing song Tu Función, where we might also find the influences of Steven Wilson cum suis. The album features two songs that are an introduction and interlude, Andromeda I and II. They might not be contributing much in themselves, yet they unify the whole album and preserve the sound and melancholy atmosphere that emerges from Radio Cincinnati. The album ends with the strange but effective Aswang, with a strange yet very melodic chorus and a final reprise of the second theme now called Te Lo Vuelvo A Recordar in a quieter tone as closing theme.
Clearly this is not an easy album to classify, thanks to its diversity of styles but it certainly will find a gap with those openminded prog lovers who want to discover new original proposals. Radio Cincinnati has a successful production and minimal packaging in line with the simple musical proposal. Clearly, The Foxholes won´t get much of an audience in Spain, since it is not a country where the new musical approaches are massively valued, but is an interesting band with new contributions to various genres and another addition to a new generation of Spanish bands wanting to break through. It will be interesting to see how they progress in their following productions. For those who want to get to know their more progressive side, I recommend listening to their previous album called Escaparatismo Cósmico.
Eventide (10:06), Our Quiet Footsteps (12:34),Remnants of Pride (7:57), Tear Away the Cords That Bind (4:53), Beneath the Waning Moon (4:34), The Gentle Knife (5:17), Epilogue:Locus Amoenus (8:03), Coda:Impetus (5:15)
Bono once said: 'Music can change the world, because music can change people.'
My Welsh neighbour Mr Addfwyn Cyllell was placidly set in his ways. He kept to the middle lane of life and gently tended to his flowers. Each spring was greeted by the sunburst colour and pungent aroma of his well-organised Marigold bed. Never changing in shape or design, it acted as a comforting barometer of the passing of the seasons and the certainties of life. Passers-by hesitated and smiled; secure and content at the sight of the reassuringly familiar scene. Others scornfully mocked the garden's lack of imagination and the owner's apparent unwillingness to accommodate change.
Surprisingly, Mr Cyllell asserted that he liked prog. As usual, his musical hour began at the appointed time of eleven o'clock on a Sunday morning. He never strayed far from his comfort zone and smugly satisfied himself with the bands of his youth. On rare occasions, on the recommendation of the self-proclaimed experts of the music press, he would listen to the outpourings of a newly acclaimed band. These infrequent forays into unchartered, but equally safe territory, were short-lived and soon forgotten, much like the time that he introduced a taller but similar variety of Marigold into his garden.
I usually blocked out his recurring prog playlist, as it seeped through the walls, but I distinctly remember the time when the brick-buffered beat was accompanied by a beckoning male and female duet. I listened intensely; ear cupped and purposeful, glass placed against the adjoining wall.
The music seemed to have all the signature sounds that Addfwyn appreciated. Many of the tunes were wrapped up in a familiar structure. Instrumental introductions soon gave way to a sung verse. A chorus then quickly followed. This coherent structure was often embellished by an instrumental section that concluded with a return to the verse and chorus formula.
The second track contained many of these features in its twelve-plus minutes. It tastefully highlighted the band's style and approach. It began with a lengthy instrumental introduction. This centred on a powerful riff driven by an organ and some strident sax. It immediately brought to mind some of the most powerful work of Van Der Graaf Generator. The song-based section which followed, had the type of melodic qualities that many would appreciate. Later instrumental parts that developed, were equally engaging and accessible. These evoked memories of early King Crimson.
Nevertheless, I noticed that the music on this occasion was quite different to Addfwyn's usual Sunday morning fare. Brass instruments, occasional off-kilter vocals and rich keyboards appealingly filtered through the plaster. Some of the other pieces were entirely instrumental, and interestingly moved away from an established formula. Almost certainly, Mr Cyllell was standing, his face locked in a scowl and his finger poised above the stop button. No doubt, he probably felt that these pieces were altogether too daring and innovative to be a part of his musical hour.
The instrumental final track sounded particularly impressive. It proudly displayed a mid-70s King Crimson influence and spiced with interesting changes of tempo and what appeared to be the influence of jazz.
The combination of male and female led vocals and the strong yet often familiar song structures led me to the conclusion that what I heard would most likely appeal to fans of Mostly Autumn's first two albums. The timbre of the female vocals made the tunes interesting and appealing. On more than one occasion the phrasing and pitch achieved was redolent of Kate Bush. In a number of tracks the well placed sound of a trumpet soared with hearty emotion. This added an ethereal and unpredictable quality to the often predictable feel of the music. Although not always ground breaking, the album was melodically pleasant. The instrumental parts were also sufficiently interesting and complex to warrant my undivided attention.
On a Monday, Mr Cyllell always visited his favourite garden centre. This involved a motorway drive and a round trip of about an hour. He often asked me if I wanted to accompany him and on this occasion I agreed. In the car he ritualistically used the opportunity to revisit the previous day's musical hour. He placed the disc in the player and I recognised it straight away.
'What is it called Addfwyn?' I asked.
He replied: 'I thought that I would check them out because everyone's talking about them! The band even has a name that I can totally identify with. They are called Gentle Knife. Their self-titled debut disc is full of the ingredients of prog that I like, but there is some far-out jazzy stuff I don't get. I just don't know why some bands show off and use trumpets and saxophones. The best parts are the long tunes that I can sing along to, with great vocals and some really cool riffs. There are a few tracks which are not really tunes, but what do you expect? After all, it is prog.'
Mr Cyllell always travelled at 50 mph in the centre lane of the motorway, nothing would persuade him to change lanes, or deter him from his preferred method of driving.
Then suddenly, flashing lights! Police-Car-Stop!
Momentary random thoughts infiltrated my brain! Was it the Marigolds? Was it the slightly adventurous choice of music? It soon became clear! Middle lane hogging offence. My neighbour was cautioned by the officer, who then departed with words of thinly-disguised sarcasm and worldly advice.
'Sir, you don't always have to be confined to the middle lane, it is ok to be adventurous. Next time when it is appropriate, use the other lanes? You may enjoy your journey a lot more.'
Obedient by nature and always law abiding, it is not surprising that this was a pivotal moment. Mr Cyllell has now changed. His newly-planted garden is a mixture of tall and short Marigolds of varying hues of orange. An occasional orange–red Dahlia proudly stands, serving as a wind-swept sentinel for his new-found spirit of adventure.
Each Sunday, Mr Cyllell's musical hour continues. To my satisfaction, it is now regularly garnished by the sounds of Gentle Knife. He has earnestly confessed to me that he often feels compelled to listen to the album. He excitedly babbles on about continually discovering different things to appreciate in its eight tracks. Even more surprisingly, he now likes the instrumental pieces and endlessly talks about how they offer variations of light and shade to the music. More recently and much to my delight, he has even begun to play albums that might even be considered to be tuneless and devoid of songs.
I guess Bono was right, music can change people. In my neighbour's case, Gentle Knife was a part of the journey that changed his outlook. By the way, I saw Addfwyn in his garden yesterday. He was violently dead-heading his flowers. He wore a home-made T-shirt with these words emblazoned across his heaving chest: 'Gentle Knife changed my life.'
What Happens Now? (7:32), The Sound Of Muzak/So Called Friend (5:56), Start of Something Beautiful (4:48), Heart Attack In a Layby (6:00), The Pills I'm Taking (5:03), Hatesong/Halo (8:17), Cheating the Polygraph/Mother & Child Divided (5:29), Futile (6:04)
A word of warning – this album is NOT for progsters who don't (or won't) embrace or appreciate big band, jazz-style music. Harrison has
taken eight Porcupine Tree songs, put them through the reinvention wringer and has come out the other side with remarkable and
fascinating arrangements, which bare no resemblance to the original tracks. There are no guitars, vocals or synthesisers here. It's
all brass and wind (and of course very fine drumming)!
Influenced by his father, who was a professional trumpet player, Harrison from an early age has been exposed to jazz and big band
sounds. But like he says in the CD notes: "Music is simply a form of artistic expression, and as such can only be divided
into 'good' or 'bad' according to the individual's taste. I don't think of this album as 'big band' or 'jazz' or even 'progressive'
music." However, comparisons will be made (and have) to the genre of big band style and sound.
Harrison is quite forthright in his views when discussing the 'divisive nature of genre labels'. He believes they foster a
level of music snobbery, where borders are created that exclude people who are not 'members of the club'. He quite rightly states
that 'music is for everyone'. However, I believe many people will not 'get' this album, as it will simply not appeal. That's a
great shame, as this is a fantastic reworking of PT music and people should try and remove their ear blinkers and give this a
Credit has to go to Laurence Cottle for his magical, jazzy arrangements that helped Harrison realise his vision for these
songs. These pieces of jazz-fuelled music are very complex and the calibre of musicianship on display is incredibly high.
The reworking of these songs is breathtakingly substantial. You do catch the recognisable original melody now and again
throughout the album, but once immersed in these songs, you'll not remember what PT song you are listening to. That's guaranteed.
There's no point in trying to describe each song here; the songs have similar instrument and brass arrangements, with a strong jazzy
vibe running throughout. There are some amazing wind instrument solos sprinkled amongst these tracks. I love the sound of the
trumpet, and the solo by Freddie Gavita in The Sound of Muzak is sublime.
Like I've said earlier, not everybody will be as appreciative as myself to the style (Jazz) and sound (big band)
of this music. But one has to take their hat off to Harrison for having the courage and talent to reinvent these songs in a way
that many musicians would fear to tread. It would be great to hear this played live. I do think Harrison has been progressive
here in his approach to reinventing these songs, and I rate this an 8 out of 10.
Turbulence (10:47), Personal Universe (9:14), Glowing (11:51), Stormbrewing (1:36), Thunderstruck (14:02), Prayer (Coming Home) (5:42), Calm Before The Storm (16:33), Entertaining Angels (8:02); additional tracks on the DVD: Mountains Of Anglia, Walking On Eggshells, Interviews with the band, Bonus Features
Not for the first time, De Boerderij, in Zoetermeer, The Netherlands, is the stage for a live recording by a well-known prog band. Arena, IQ, Pallas and Mystery have already recorded one or more live album at this Dutch prog temple. Arie Verstegen and his crew must be doing something right, because Landmarq also decided to release their concert at this venue on CD and DVD.
Landmarq are not a very productive band in terms of making new music. Between their latest studio album Entertaining Angels (2012) and Science Of Coincidence lies a period of 14 years! They did release some live material during that time, but hopefully it won't take until 2026 for the next album with new songs to be released. One of the reasons for the long delay between albums could have been the fact that lead vocalist Tracy Hitchings had serious health problems. It took about three years but it's good to hear that she eventually won the fight against breast cancer. Longest serving members Steve Gee (bass, pedals, backing vocals) and Uwe D'rose (guitars) are still part of the current line-up. Mike Varty (Credo) joined the ranks to replace Steve Leigh on keyboards and the latest recruit is Daniel Martin on drums who replaces Dave Wagstaffe. Varty is a real accession with his lush keyboard sound and I think he is really underestimated. I rank him among the best keyboardists of the British prog scene.
All tracks on this live album are from the latest studio album that can be considered to be probably their best album to date. They prove to be a great live band with some outstanding soloing by Varty on the keys and D'rose on guitar. The final part of Calm Before The Storm is a particularly fine example when guitar and synths take turns in producing some breathtaking solos. With Steve Gee as an energetic bass player on stage and solid drumming by newcomer Martin you know musically nothing can go wrong.
The musicians and Hitchings are in good shape on this recording, though her vocals don't always appeal to me on certain tracks. Sometimes they are a bit too theatrical but most of the time she sounds really convincing.
On the DVD there are two additional tracks and also interviews with Hitchings and the band. It's a fine recording by this British prog band who prove to be outstanding musicians. A great chance to get to know this band or enjoy the tracks of their latest studio album played on a live stage.