ISSUE 2015-574

Reviews in this issue:

Mick Abrahams - Revived! [CD + DVD]
Mick Abrahams - Revived!
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2015
Time: CD: 62:16, DVD: 30:00
Links:
Track List:
Summer Day (4:08), What About Us? (3:05), Elz. & Abys Jam (4:17), On the Road Again (4:18), Nadine (3:10), Remember (5:07), I Can Tell (2:58), I'm a Hog For You (3:06), Bright Lights, Big City (3:01), Dragonfly (3:19), Boney Moronie (3:58), Goodnight Irene (4:40), Posion Ivy (3:11), Red River Rock (3:31), North By North West (4:00), Hungry For Love (2:22), Summer Day with Hammond (4:05)
After several years of being in rather poor health, original Jethro Tull and Blodwyn Pig guitarist, Mick Abrahams, has released a brand new solo album, featuring a host of guests. While Abrahams has always been more of a blues guitarist than a prog musician, Revived! should be of note to any fans of early Jethro Tull and early rock 'n roll. Also of note on this album is the first-ever recorded collaboration between Mick and his Jethro Tull successor, Martin Barre, who plays lead guitar on the song I Can Tell. Other notable guests are Bill Wyman, ex-bassist for The Rolling Stones, former Steely Dan guitarist Elliott Randall, and legendary vocalist, Paul Jones. This shortlist of names is just a few of the wonderful people involved on this album.

Revived! is definitely a blues album, with lots of 1950s oldies rock thrown in for good measure. There is also some classic American country added in as well. This album really isn't prog, in the traditional sense. The best song on the album is a new take on Blodwyn Pig's Summer Day, which comes in two versions, bookending the album. The second version is the same as the first, plus some action from a Hammond organ. The song has a catchy beat, a smooth bass line, simple lyrics, and great vocals from Pete Eldridge. He sounds just like Mick did back in the day. It is driven by a fantastic guitar riff from Mick. While the album begins with a more standard rock song, the next, What About Us?, with Mick on lead vocals, has more of a 50s vibe to it. In fact, much of the album sounds like it could have been recorded during the height of 1950s rock 'n roll.

Despite a very British cast of players, the music of Revived! sounds very American. From the sounds of the 50s, to the blues, to the country songs, classic Americana is everywhere, right down to the slide guitar. Dragonfly is an all-acoustic instrumental piece that is quiet and pastoral, but Good Night Irene sounds like it could have been a Roy Acuff song! The album can jump from the country sound in one song to the saxophone sounds prominent in 50s rock in the next. It is certainly entertaining, but it is often a strange mix for a group of English musicians.

This album isn't for the typical prog fan. The lyrics are simple, the songs short, and the music standard blues and rock. With that said, the musicianship is excellent. Abrahams was one of the best British blues guitarists of the 1960s, and despite his health issues, he is still very good on the guitar. The host of guests make this album sound more like a big reunion. The companion DVD, which includes an introduction to the album from Mick, contains footage taken in the studio during recording, and it is clear that everybody had a lot of fun making this album. All of that fun is evident in the music. Mick's wonderful sense of humour shines throughout, and especially in the CD booklet, with sarcastic comments about every one of the participants. The best part, though is that 50% of the proceeds from album sales go to support the charity, Kids 'N' Cancer UK. So, no it isn't prog, but it is a trip down memory lane, and it supports a great cause.
Conclusion:
Bryan Morey: 7 out of 10

Animal Version - Elsewhere
Animal Version - Elsewhere
Country of Origin: Belgium
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 60:37
Links:
Track List:
Octopus (6:31), Sonic Silhouette (6:15), Silverback Disco (11:58), A Zest-like Zero (8:54), Black Bone Serenity (9:09), Animals (8:20), Dialogue Infinity (9:28)
Debut album Elsewhere by Animal Version is an all-out alternative grunge rocker with driving beats, pushed vocals, and a wall of guitars characteristic of seminal punk legends Black Flag, post-hardcore Fugazi, 90s bands like PAW (Dragline), Live (Throwing Copper), The Offspring, Candlebox, and heavier Foo Fighters material. Clearly there's a lot of (what could be) American music influences making their way into these songs, which surprised me when I learned Animal Version are from Belgium. Additional tentacles briefly touch on harder progressive rock mechanisms, often used here to bring cohesion to the sections of music.

No song clocks in at under six minutes, and five of them extend beyond eight. There are several extended musical passages, some of which are quite interesting (or flat-out rocking). The last half of Sonic Silhouette is the first example on the album of the band truly stretching their legs. Silverback Disco and Dialogue Infinity have the band exploring more atmospheric spaces in their extended musical jams. Mid-way through A Zest-like Zero the band successfully blends those previously-mentioned heavier punk influences with metal, and in classic progressive fashion somehow end up in an acoustic interlude. Moments like these succeed in large part due to the raw aggression of the guitars, primal bass, and unrestrained drumming.

There are some gripes. The drums sound like they're tracked in a bedroom or closet, and the vocals are often buried during the highest moments of sonic energy. When not buried, some of the lyrics feel shoehorned. The shouty nature of the vocals did start to grind on me as well. Lyrically, there's a high degree of abstraction and vague metaphor used, so I'm not convinced of what value there is without some type of key from the lyricist of their intended meaning. It's typical for progressive lyrics to come off as pretentious or weird, but they usually attempt to paint a picture of a psychedelic mushroom or cleverly-conjured introspection. The ideas and analogies here are too random, and construction of the lyrics (word choice, phrasing) lending to that disconnected effect when attempting to force them into the music.

Lastly, there are times when there's just too much going on. Having duelling guitars panned hard left and right only exacerbates the franticness. There's a fine line between bringing high energy to a track and creating a wall of indiscernible noise. This didn't reach epidemic proportions on the recording, but when it was an issue the music suffered and listener fatigue set in.

Despite the lengthy grievances, my general impression of the album is positive. Quality musicianship and creative song construction is enough to hold one's interest and find something to enjoy with each listen. I hear a lot of potential in the ideas here, and it's my hope that Animal Version will release a sophomore album that continues to build on the band's obvious strengths.
Conclusion:
Kevin Heckeler: 7 out of 10

La Batteria - La Batteria
La Batteria - La Batteria
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 46:00
Links:
Track List:
Chimera (3:33), Vigilante (4:23), Scenario (3:14), Formula (ft. Patchani Brothers) (5:02), Vice Versa (3:06), Manifesto (4:23), Dilemma (3:20), Espresso (3:36), Incognito (4:46), Scenario 2 (3:42), Zero (4:06), Persona Non Grata (3:01)
Simply going by La Batteria's Facebook page, they describe themselves as 'Cinematic Prog-Funk' and, having listened to the album, I would say that's a fair assessment. It's clear from their music they have an interest in soundtracks. All these short songs are instrumental and really are geared up for being used for TV or cinematic purposes.

In fact, they are greatly influenced by composers like Ennio Morricone (think of the Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns and you get a whiff of what's going on here) and progressive Italian soundtrack band Goblin. So by now you will gather that there are no virtuoso performances here but songs with strong rhythmic beats with infectious grooves.

The use of Dick Dale-like surf twang guitar in songs like Chimera and style of whistling in Manifesto reinforces the feeling and recognition that this music could be used in spaghetti westerns. The wonderful Vigilante, with its guitar riffs, funky rhythm guitar, big organ chords and pulsating bass, could easily have been used in shows like Starsky and Hutch or The Rockford Files. It's a song that's very enjoyable to listen to.

The opening to Scenario reminded me of the TV theme for Mission Impossible. Formula is more electronic, with repeating rhythmic sequences and a driving drum beat that wouldn't go amiss at a night club or a rave! Manifesto has a catchy groove and includes humming that reminds one of Camel's Snow Goose.

The very funky Espresso and Incognito are both great stuff and have a definite 70s vibe about them (they could easily be theme tunes to Western police TV series). Scenario 2 has more of a feel for a TV program like The Prisoner or a spy-related series. The fast repeating rift for Zero in some ways reminds of the original music to the Batman TV series.

So, after all that's been said, is it progressive? That's difficult to answer, but I would say that if progressive funk was a sub-genre of prog, then possibly, yes. It's very engaging music, kitsch in many places, amusing, and conjures up a whole load of Western TV series, past and present. A few of these songs would easily go down well at a disco! I like the album but find it hard to rate when it could be argued that it's only on the fringes of progressive rock music. Anyway, I did enjoy this record and suspect many others will if they give it a listen.
Conclusion:
Alan Weston: 6.5 out of 10

Kalamata - You
Kalamata - You
Country of Origin: Germany
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 43:16
Links:
Track List:
You (7:04), Have (6:33), To (7:17), Die (7:36), Soon (3:58), Mother (3:31), Fucker (7:14)
German band Kalamata's debut album is a sludgy blend of metal, doom, and stoner rock. As a three-piece band, it's easy to compare them to other famous metal bands like Tool and Black Sabbath, who also have three primary instrumentalists. I'd say they lean more towards Black Sabbath or even the goth side of Type O Negative (sans vocals of course). Progressive influences and styles are generally missing, but I suppose someone would argue that any band putting out 40+ minutes of instrumental metal must think they're being at least a little progressive.

Let's cut to the chase: as an album of music, regardless of genre, this just doesn't work. There simply isn't enough original sounding material from song to song to warrant its existence. There's a ton of better metal, progressive, goth, and stoner rock already in circulation. At no time did I hear an exceptionally-performed part and, if anything, I hear moments where things aren't clicking or someone's falling slightly out of the pocket. To make matters worse, tracks like Have and Fucker plod along for much longer than they should, leaving this listener in musical purgatory.

It's not all gloom for Kalamata. To and Die have catchy hooks, and the performances are perhaps the most solid on the album. To's chorus has the perfect uplifting effect when needed, and the heavy bridge after the second chorus succeeds to turn things up a notch without being overly cliche. Mother is a peppy, innocuous rocker that best showcases their playing abilities. The cover art is interesting, and to be applauded in an era when such things are often overlooked or treated as a necessary nuisance.

This review isn't about where Kalamata might arrive, this is about the here and now they captured and sent in for review. Being young and musically energetic they certainly have time to grow into something noteworthy. Not all bands strike gold with their initial release - Tool's Opiate being a fine example.
Conclusion:
Kevin Heckeler: 4 out of 10

The Lost Generation - The Lost Generation
The Lost Generation - The Lost Generation
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 43:01
Links:
Track List:
No Child Left Behind (1:37), Lost Generation (5:08), Ladder To The Stars (4:27), Drawn To You (5:09), Bathtub Gin (6:44), Midsummer's Hell (2:12), Blank Mind Over Black Fields (5:34), Pagan Ache (4:02), Touch Of Simplicity (3:01), Wishful Thinking / A New Found Generation (5:07)
The Lost Generation is a project by the London-based musician Matteo Bevilacqua, and it's his debut album. As this has already been released by the French label Musea in 2014, I am surprised it didn't get more attention in our prog world.

You might call Bevilacqua the Italian version of Robin Armstrong (Cosmograf) but it's not (yet) in the same class. On this album, he has taken a step away from his heavy metal background and explores the musical paths in the footsteps of bands like Porcupine Tree, Anathema and Opeth. Bevilacqua plays most instruments on the album (guitar, bass, piano and synths) and is the lead vocalist. He gets some help from Paolo Rigotto (drums, Hammond organ and synths) and Lucia Emmanueli (lead and backing vocals).

The musical influences of the aforementioned bands are noticeable and I can probably add Blackfield and Cosmograf on the track Blank Mind Over Black Fields. This track, and Midsummer's Hell, describe the conditions the youth are living in and the overall tension that led to the 2011 London riots. Those two tracks, and Bathtub Gin are, in my opinion, the best on the album. I guess the reason is that he feels very much involved with the subject matter, being a resident of this city. Not all tracks sound as convincing as those in the middle of the album, so I think his compositions is something to work on. The production could also be a bit brighter. Bevilacqua has a pleasant singing voice without any Italian accent and is a talented guitarist, so I think this project could develop into something really interesting in near future.

Sitting close to the fire, living in London, it would be nice if he was noticed by one of the members involved in any of the already-mentioned bands, because that would probably be the next step in the evolution of this project.

Currently, Bevilacqua is in the middle of the writing process that should lead to a new release of a concept album later this year. If he is just as inspired as on the tracks dealing with the London riots, it looks very promising. I think things can only get better and, if that's the case, we have a real winner in prog country!
Conclusion:
Peter Swanson: 7 out of 10

Lunocode - C'è vita intelligente sulla Terra
Lunocode - C'è vita intelligente sulla Terra
Country of Origin: Italy
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 42:53, 63:23
Links:
Track List:
CD 1: IDEA #1 (4:09), IDEA #2 (5:09), IDEA #3 (4:31), IDEA #4 (3:28), IDEA #5 (7:26), IDEA #6 (5:08), IDEA #7 (3:59), IDEA #8 (3:42), IDEA #9 (5:20)
CD 2: Il pallido puntino blu (2:07), Prima immagine (4:50), Cieli immensi ed immens... (1:37), Seconda immagine (5:47), Chi vive veramente (0:49), Domanda (3:39), (Non) siamo i migliori ... (1:08), Affermazione (3:58), Mutar forma (1:20), e veleggiar lontano (4:36), Una introduzione (1:05), Capitolo primo (1:32), Un bagliore circolare e... (3:50), Capitolo secondo (1:05), L'espressione di una idea (4:43), Capitolo terzo (1:34), Qualcosa di piccolo e b... (5:15), Capitolo quarto (1:16), Un atomo nell'universo (6:47), Capitolo quinto (2:48), Come una scintilla dall... (1:55), E' (davvero) necessario (1:34)
Originally, C'è vita intelligente sulla Terra? was produced as a live concert where the band could indulge in their love of acoustic arrangements. It has a melancholic touch, as the concept is about the universe and the human nature, hence the philosophical title that translates to Is There Intelligent Life On Earth? After the concert took place, the band decided to rearrange and rewrite the music for an album. In the end, they decided to release the whole thing as a double CD.

The first is a compilation of the music in nine tracks, all of them just named IDEA #(1-9). The tracks are all quite radio-friendly, they don't have much dynamics, and they have an acoustic rock approach. The song structures are mostly standard and so are the arrangements. There are a few excursions into folk, Arabic and flamenco music, but only a few. Besides the instrumentation of guitar, bass and drums, there is a good integration of organ, flute, harp and other stringed instruments. It has a dozen good moments actually, where vocal melodies and arrangements really please me.

The second CD is the live recording of the gig, and this one is rather more a jewel. Each of the 10 songs is introduced by some story telling in Italian, but these are separated on extra tracks, so the international listener can easily create a playlist that excludes the talking, or just skip them. The original music is way more narrative and imaginary and the arrangements are quite light sonically, so when the more dynamic music appears, it creates some tension throughout the disk, and all of the musicians involved have more room to show their own charisma.

With both versions of the music, Lunocode managed to create something that can best be described as Blackmore's Night minus the medieval approach. Both disks are very beautiful and are great to listen to in specific situations and I will certainly listen to them here and there in the future.

It's a little strange to me that, despite the fact that the lyrics are all in English, all the titles are Italian.
Conclusion:
Raimond Fischbach: 7 out of 10

Marbin - The Third Set
Marbin - The Third Set
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 65:30
Links:
Track List:
Special Olympics (5:13), The Depot (6:33), Crystal Bells (6:46), Redline (8:28), Culture (7:05), Vanthrax (5:40), Rabak (8:21), Splaw (6:08), Northern Odyssey (3:11), Volta (8:05)
Some bands appear to have got it all worked out and consistently do all the right things to maximise their exposure. The jazz-rock band Marbin have strived to gain the right kind of attention in a number of ways.

Firstly, it is satisfying to encounter a band that has an identifiable sound, but still manages to grow and evolve with each subsequent release. US-based Marbin have produced three studio albums. Each has developed the band's sound, which centres upon the core elements of guitarist Dani Rabin and saxophonist Danny Markovitch. Each of the studio releases is sufficiently different to its predecessor, making each of their albums a rewarding experience.

Secondly, it is arguably a good idea to have an identifiable style portrayed in the packaging. Yes managed to do this successfully through Roger Dean's artwork. Marbin's albums are usually adorned with artwork provided by Brin Levinson. His thoughtful and highly evocative paintings give the album's packaging a similar style.

Thirdly, when the opportunity arose for Marbin to have their music showcased in a live recording, it seemed to be far too an attractive proposition to decline. The band decided to road test a number of unreleased tunes in a live setting during their extensive US tour in 2012. These pieces were honed and fine tuned, and a satisfying live album was the result.

The Third Set was released in 2014, and is a fiery and faithful record of Marbin's uncompromising, frenetic style. The recording is clear and uncluttered and does not suffer from any intrusive audience noise, or unwelcome audience participation. The Third Set comprises of live versions of seven previously-unreleased tunes and three live renditions of songs that had appeared on the band's earlier studio albums. Crystal Bells was originally part of their self-titled debut album and Redline and Volta both featured in Marbin's The Last Chapter of Dreaming, released in 2011.

I greatly enjoyed The Last Chapter of Dreaming when it came out and it is an album that I frequently play. It had just that right balance of finesse and power and displayed an interesting range of styles. The compositions were well constructed and, although rooted in a blues-rock style with lots of jazz trimmings, there were more than enough contrasting parts to keep things interesting. The band's roots were also alluded to by the inclusion of subtle world music influences. These are apparent in tracks such as the wonderful Inner Monologue and also on The Way to Riches.

It is not surprising that The Last Chapter of Dreaming contained so many appealing variations in style, as the disc features a large number of guest players. It is an album that is bedecked with many fine tunes that are never one dimensional. The compositions contained in The Last Chapter of Dreaming are multifaceted and full of unyielding authority, but are also furnished with layers of appealing subtlety. These contrasting aspects are fully illustrated on a number of accomplished tracks such as during the mournful Down Goes the Day, or in the joyous acoustic tones of Café de nuit.

The Third Set is impeccably played and is a thoroughly engaging experience. However, with the exception of the lilting saxophone tones of the beautiful Northern Odyssey, it lacks the variation and subtleties inherent in The Last Chapter of Dreaming. The excitement generated by the music can easily be felt, and the music is always enjoyable. Overall, though, The Third Set may be rather too intense for some people's tastes. It is a runaway train of hooting saxophone breaks and piston-crunching guitar parts. For the most part, it is one paced and that pace is nearly always explosive.

As a listening experience it pales in comparison with The Last Chapter of Dreaming. Listeners may find that the compositions contained in The Third Set are not as complex or interesting as those contained in The Last Chapter of Dreaming. A number of pieces do work particularly well, though. For example, the live version of Redline faithfully reproduces the original foot-tapping rhythms and rocky edginess that the studio version contains, but it also adds that raw and unexpected live 'wow factor' to make it even more appealing.

There is no doubt that Marbin are on fine form throughout The Third Set. Their shows were almost certainly a magnificent live experience. This is worth hearing, and many listeners who like jazz rock and who find powerful live performances appealing will enjoy many aspects of it. Overall, it is a thoroughly entertaining edge-of-the-seat listening experience. In this respect, The Third Set contains all of the elements that successful live albums should consist of. I can fully understand why the band wished to document their live set. They have admirably achieved this goal and I hope that The Third Set will help the band gain greater exposure and new admirers.

I will probably play The Third Set regularly, but in the final analysis I much prefer the bands studio albums. Marbin are due to release a new studio album, Aggressive Hippies, before the end of the year. I look forward to seeing how their style has further developed. I just hope that it contains some of the melodic subtleties that formed a large part of The Last Day of Dreaming, and less of the unrelenting frenetic style of The Third Set.
Conclusion:
Owen Davies: 7 out of 10

Perfect Beings - Perfect Beings II
Perfect Beings - Perfect Beings II
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 49:55
Links:
Track List:
Mar Del Fuego (4:22), Cryogenia (3:50), Samsara (1:36), The Love Inside (8:52), Volcanic Streams (5:55), The Yard (5:28), Go (4:50), Rivermaker (5:08), Cause and Effect (5:12), The Thrill Seeker (4:38)
Given their choice of name, Perfect Beings could have easily set themselves up for a fall, but their eponymous debut was not only one of the highlights of 2014 but it was also my favourite album of the year. It is therefore an encouraging sign that the line-up remains unchanged for this all-important second album; namely guitarist Johannes Luley, vocalist Ryan Hurtgen, drummer Dicki Fliszar, bassist Chris Tristram and keyboardist Jesse Nason.

In my review I described the debut album as a Beatles/Yes hybrid and whilst this time such comparisons are less overt and the sound more contemporary, they once again skilfully balance melodic pop-rock song structures with fiery progressive rock instrumental interludes.

It's the latter that sets the scene with the appropriately-titled Mar Del Fuego (Sea of Fire in English), a bombastic statement of proggy intent where the synth fanfare makes way for strident guitar, thundering bass and drums bringing to mind Yes in their prime.

In contrast, Cryogenia has a mellow Floyd-ian feel, although the guitar break is far removed from Gilmour's bluesy excesses with a searing but melodic tone that I found irresistible.

It's a prog rock cliché, I know, but the near nine-minute The Love Inside really does warrant repeat plays to be fully appreciated. The rippling piano motif is reminiscent of Yes-West's epic claim to fame Endless Dream and it's a credit to Luley's dexterity that he somehow manages evoke all three Yes guitarists (Peter Banks, Steve Howe and Trevor Rabin) in a single song.

Song-wise Tears For Fears (at their most sensitive) are consistently brought to mind due in no small part to Hurtgen's light, airy vocals sounding not unlike a cross between Curt Smith and Roland Orzabal. True, I couldn't imagine Hurtgen fronting a prog-metal band but in this environment his singing is highly infectious.

In fact, the band often steps outside the prog-rock box when it suits. For example, in Volcanic Streams, Luley utilises a talk box effect as made famous on Peter Frampton's Show Me the Way, the lively The Yard features a lilting (bordering on reggae) rhythm whilst a fat bass line, splashy keyboards and breezy vocals give Go a distinctive 80s vibe.

Only during the penultimate Cause and Effect do they spread their net a little too wide. It begins with a lush vocal section with a waltz-like melody but this is cut short by a rampaging guitar solo that disintegrates into a discordant mess. It's left to a yearning guitar theme at the end to return a semblance of order.

There is no trace of self-indulgence in the concluding The Thrill Seeker, however, which has to be the most sublime song I've heard in many a long year. It also benefits from a choral hook to die for.

With 10 songs averaging around five minutes each, this is progressive rock where memorable tunes and articulate vocals share equal importance with flamboyant musicianship and expansive arrangements. It is perhaps less immediate than its predecessor, but that's no bad thing. Hurtgen also has more of a hand in the songwriting this time around, anchoring Luley's more proggy tendencies with a pop-rock sensibility.

To return to my previous review, I concluded by recommending Perfect Beings to admirers of classy bands like Moon Safari and Big Big Train and whilst they retain their own unique sound, one year on that recommendation still holds true.
Conclusion:
Geoff Feakes: 8 out of 10

Malcolm Smith - We Were Here
Malcolm Smith - We Were Here
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 47:00
Links:
Track List:
Peyronie's Angle (5:53), Cavity Research (6:15), Monkey Signature (9:08), Still...Life (6:18), Sykiatry (13:31), Les Canards de Guerre (6:01)
The guitarist Malcolm Smith is a member of the American neo-prog band Metaphor, who have, over an eight-year period, most recently in 2007, released four studio albums. This is his first solo effort, We Were Here, and it features Anglagard and White Willow drummer Mattias Olsson, as well as Metaphor band mate Marc Spooner. The album is mastered by none other than the renowned audio god Bob Katz.

The album features six tracks, most of which are instrumental. The music is often complex, idiosyncratic in nature, puzzling, 70s-tinged progressive rock music. It features odd-time signatures, rhythmic intricacies, musical interplay between instruments, textures and many moods. The usual influences are there, ranging from the eclectic Gentle Giant, King Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator to more neo-symphonic-based acts like The Flower Kings, Anglagard and Kotebel.

The quirky Cavity Research features some fine guitar work plus a cracking synth solo, although the 'cheesy' sounding synth sax doesn't quite do it and lets down an otherwise great track. The same is also true for the 'waltzy' Monkey Signature where artificial sounding saxes don't quite cut it. However, it includes some nice acoustic guitar picking that is used cleverly to create a sandwich that provides the filling between the different sections within the song.

Still ... Life features the fine vocals of John Mabry, which begs the question why not some vocals on the earlier and later tracks? The melodic ballad line is interspersed with more complex instrumental music, which doesn't work for me at this point in the album. It would have been better to have kept it simple to allow the listener to rest their ears before the next onslaught of sophisticated music.

The multi-piece Skyiatry is the longest track on the album and features some really nice piano work. Once again the track sounds cheesy in places, with the use of synthetic sounding instruments. However, it is an intriguing piece of music that includes some fine bass and competent guitar work, both electric and acoustic.

The last track, Les Canards de Guerre, has Camel and Genesis influences with tuneful synth solos and jangly guitar work. It also includes some treated spoken vocals by Marc Spooner. Most of the instrumental sections are representative of what has come earlier within the record.

A good album, and worth checking out. The calibre of musicianship is high, especially the excellent drumming. The album could have sounded better if real flute and sax had been used. Also, I think the sound of the mix is too thin, with the bass not really cutting through in places.
Conclusion:
Alan Weston: 7 out of 10

XaDu - Random Abstract
XaDu - Random Abstract
Country of Origin: Spain
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 56:12
Links:
Track List:
Secrets (6:37), Random Abstract (6:01), Decaying Sky (7:58), New Pop (7:09), Something In Between (7:50), Deep Ocean (6:53), Place With A View (4:55), Workplace (4:06), No Hope (4:43)
Taking their name from the opening letters of their forenames, Xavi Reija (drums) and Dusan Jevtovic (guitar) have been playing together in various trios for the past few years. For this release, they have opted to work without a bass player. Based in Barcelona XaDu produce purely instrumental music in a jazz-rock mould but with the emphasis on the rock side of that hyphen. Often producing squalls of sound with gritty prog-metal touches, they use the jazz side to establish a theme or rhythmic pattern that they then improvise around, sometimes deconstructing what they had set up.

Dusan Jevtovic makes use of effects pedals to loop the bass end of his guitar to provide the melodic foundations, alternating drones with atmospherically ambient sounds and rock noise. He creates intense, sometimes chaotic, repeating structures. These are then matched, commented on or contrasted with Xavi Reija's polyrhythmic drum patterns and cymbal work. Both players demonstrate a high level of virtuosity but never virtuosity for its own sake.

The music on Random Abstract is generally better served in the longer pieces. For instance, on Secrets it provides the duo room to move from the gentle strummed guitar and cymbal wash opening, through a slow build-up of guitars and percussion, increasing the tempo and volume before returning to its start in a satisfying arch-like structure.

On the title track, darker, distorted guitar timbres establish a bass line for a satisfyingly discordant lead guitar line that unsettles, and at the same time complements, the fierce percussion. In contrast, New Pop has, as its title suggests, a hummable pop melody that is disrupted and thrown into relief by cleverly-textured drumming. There are psychedelic jazz-blues touches to Deep Ocean's hiccupping rhythm.

The shorter numbers work less well for me. They have lighter, jazzier moments and an improvised feel that I find less engaging. The closer, No Hope, seems to be almost a parody with, for this album, a rather boring drum pattern underlying distorted guitar and backwards effects.

So, an album of accomplished jazz-rock with very little of jazz-fusion's funkier stylings. Rather, it concentrates on bringing a jazz sensibility to the progressive rock intensity found on the likes of Red-era King Crimson. It will provide quite some pleasure for drum and guitar aficionados.
Conclusion:
Martin Burns: 6.5 out of 10

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Published Sunday 11 October 2015

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