Enter the Drobe (3:36), Knopheria (4:21), When the Lightning Strikes (5:12), Kestrel Dawn (1:48), Tortured Craft (4:02), Ultimate Sealed Unit (5:46), Exo-Spectral (4:10); Andromeda (2:52), Dysnomia (1:32), Varkada Blues (6:02), Drobe Out (1:52)
If there was an Olympic gold medal for including the most artists and bands in a media release, Chrome Black Gold would be celebrating halfway down the final straight after having lapped Mo Farah. With ten members and a whole host of guests, it's easier to concentrate on attempting to describe the music, rather than the combination of band members present and past, and guest artists contributing to what is promoted as "nitro-pop".
As well as the list of bands (from a variety of genres but heavy on the prog), the information on the band goes on to list a dizzying number of genres that Chrome Hoof fits into, even if loosely. And, it has to be said, this album is all over the place in terms of influences and styles.
Sometimes, that's innovative, refreshing and listenable. Sometimes not. The instrumental passages on Chrome Hoof Gold work the best. At times it's a 60s-influenced (think Booker T and the MGs using current electronic technology) mash of sound, others it's as if King Crimson decided to try post-rock and allowed Jean-Michel Jarre to do the remixing rather than Steven Wilson. And then, it's Kraftwerk with Colourbox thrown in.
When there are vocals, it's an uneasy mix of Siouxsie, Toyah and the B-52s. When it comes off, it's progressive and brilliant. And when it doesn't, it's all a bit pretentious and even pop.
No one could say that Chrome Hoof doesn't lack inspiration. It's wild and weird, and there may just be something in that genre-hopping record label summary.
It's definitely different, and it's certainly listenable, it's just there are times when it goes off on a musical tangent, and it comes across as self-indulgent silliness that doesn't really work; in the same way that Art of Noise swaggered between astounding-innovation and filler. When they just play, it works a treat. To that end, it's the instrumental tracks, or instrumental sections in vocal tracks, that work the best.
The opener, Enter the Drobe, for example, sounds a bit like a more electronic Porcupine Tree.Tortured Craft, on the other hand, is The B52s flirting with The Flaming Lips in a hip-hop disco. The music sounds fresh, and the vocals give it an entirely different dimension, but it's not necessarily a good thing. This could probably be massive in Japan.
Ultimate Sealed Unit, which follows, begins with another powerful electro-prog piece. If some of Phil Manzanera's solo instrumentals were remixed by adding current electronic music, it might sound like this. Again there are shades of Porcupine Tree, alongside a plethora of other bands that make comparisons a nightmare. Exo-Spektral has a bit more Belew-era King Crimson to it, if the angular female vocals are excised.
Andromeda is electronic Brand X. At least initially. It then quietens to an almost Gryphon-like piece of repetitive electronica. Varkada Blues swaggers and careers out of control with so many changes in sound and style, it's almost a case of 'File under everything.'
Describing all of the genre-hopping makes it seem unlistenable, but it really isn't. There's a lot of excellent music here and the 'proggy' bits are outstanding, albeit laced with electronic music and beats. Overall, although it's lacking a certain cohesiveness, that isn't the point of the self-indulgent and bombastic approach. It's meant to be big, bold, brash and wildly uncompromising in its all-encompassing approach.
There's a sense that Chrome Hoof enjoy playing with genres and making music that can't be categorised. It's both their strength and downfall. They do it all well, and portions of this will appeal to many, but it's difficult to see how anyone could love every part of it. If they decide to make an album that incorporates fewer genres, they may appeal to more people. However, you sense that this isn't the point, and by focussing, they'd lose their focus.
All the Way (3:33), Deexister (6:06), Sky Blue (4:30), In the End (5:02), The Place Where the Sun Never Sets (3:59), The Hummingbird (5:21), Sunshine Chorale (0:46), Sunshine: I. Sunshine (4:52), Sunshine: II. The Horizon (6:55), Sunshine: III. Never Ends (8:06), Moonshine (4:59)
As a service to save you some time: If you are looking for classic, symphonic or neo prog, you can skip this review immediately. If your ears are open to alternative rock with progressive elements (in parts I'm reminded of Sieges Even in the mid 90s, Radiohead or even Rush without keyboards), you might want to give this a try, but don't expect anything in the league of the mentioned bands. Or to say it in a cynical way: imagine the Red Hot Chili Peppers or R.E.M. trying to play prog.
If you're still reading now, I'd like to give you some facts about the band. Diatessaron are a new five piece (bass, drums, two guitars and vocals) from Canada whose members are all professional and versatile musicians. Sunshine is their debut full-length album, but they have released a few digital EPs on Bandcamp before, the first one of which, Monument, dates back to 2010.
I'll just try to point out the pros and cons of this release. On the plus side we have the playing and singing that is all on a professional and skilled level. The songs are quite diverse in tempo and style, and he band sounds rather unique. Many parts might remind you of something, but not exactly in this mixture.
Now the negative aspects (at least for me): The voice and singing style is not my cup of tea and quickly begins to annoy me, especially when the singer uses vibrato. In almost every track there are parts that I like, particularly when they sound a bit like Rush, but there's not one song I can listen to from start to end before it becomes boring or strenuous. The production is not bad and maybe suiting to the style of music the band plays, but I find it a little bit dull.
It's difficult to give a neutral and objective rating for music that doesn't hit your taste. So my conclusion might be a little too negative, but I really can't imagine that many of the usual DPRP readers will find this album pleasing. Don't get me wrong: This is not bad, but mainly not what most prog listeners are after. From this perspective you could call this progressive in the true sense of the word though. Check out the video and decide by yourself, if you want to hear more.
Oracle (6:26), Not Like You (4:48), Gracefully You Fall (4:42); Behind the Veil (5:33), Bloom (4:11), Haze (3:55)
Esosome's debut release, from 2014, features multi-instrumentalist Jeff Ramponi, from the San Francisco area, who has written all of the music and words, and plays all of the instruments (other than piano on one of the tracks).
At under 30 minutes, this is water-testing EP length. It starts out loud, in Soen territory, and the vocals that come into the fray keep that reference, although it does go a little quieter once the singing starts. There's a wailing guitar solo, and the ensuing instrumental passage sounds not dissimilar to some of Steven Wilson's solo material.
Indeed, Not Like You sounds, well, very much like Porcupine Tree. Almost too much, as the entire track is spent trying to ascertain exactly which PT track it sounds eerily similar to. (It's Pure Narcotic, for the record.)
This is certainly not prog-metal as described on Jeff's Bandcamp page, especially when the next song sounds like Trains, even to the point of some of the lines sounding identical, other than the lyrics.
As it opens, Behind the Veil continues the PT worship session. Bloom sounds like Time Flies, from The Incident. The final track, Haze, as expected ploughs the same furrow, with some plodding drums behind a keyboard and guitar wash, and some hazy PT-like vocal harmonies.
It's a well-played album, and the songs are decent, but the problem is that when you have songs that sound like Porcupine Tree, the instinct is to simply go and find a Porcupine Tree CD. It's good, but there's always the distraction of comparison, and unfortunately for Esosome, there's only one PT - regardless of whether the band is on hiatus or not.
Ephemera (2:30), The Talisman (7:05), Autumn Elixir (4:58); Whisper of the Woods (4:03), Azalea (13:34), Moonbeams (1:37), Along the Way (2:46)
The second album from the solo project of Californian Jeff Ramponi again occupies that area of heavy prog vacated by Porcupine Tree.
The opener, Ephemera, is heavy, even complete with subliminal 'grunts', but it's on the next piece, The Talisman, where the PT influences come thick and fast, both instrumentally and vocally. Autumn Elixir is a little less PT but still gives importance to melody, and the well-constructed piece certainly flows nicely.
Whispering of the Woods takes it down a notch, but is no less impressive. It feels more like an interlude, albeit a pretty one, which sounds a little like early Anthony Phillips, until the drums kick in.
The title track, however, takes the album on a u-turn. After a promising start, growling vocals enter stage left, and it's all a little embarrassing given what's gone before. What started out so well gets undone by the vocals that work for some, but not for most. Especially when, all of a sudden, the mood switches to a smooth, electronic MOR track, and then an American rock guitar solo. However the haunting memory of the vocals pervades, and it's difficult to get past the fact that they came in so abruptly, in spite of the beautiful instrumental that follows. There's a fear that, somewhere, those vocals are lurking in an Azalea bush, ready to take over. They do return, quietly in the background, but they don't spoil proceedings. The transition to a quite acoustic section reminiscent of Steve Hackett in early Genesis is a bit clunky, although coming out of it into a more band feel, it works quite well. But is that (cookie) monster still waiting? Thankfully, no, when the vocals return it's a bit like John Wesley, and it's nice, really nice. While this track is over 13 minutes long, meaning it has to be prog, it's a bit aimless, although it's got some great components.
The final two tracks are about as far from prog metal as is humanly possible, reminiscent more of the Swedish band Tribute or Mike Oldfield, than Opeth. At least the album has far less Porcupine Tree references than Esosome's debut. Even Less, one could say.
This may be a short album, and it may not be polished, but Esosome has got bags of potential, especially if Ramponi drops the growling vocals and finds a completely unique voice that diverges even more from PT. File under "one to watch." And on the bright side, given it's a one-man project, at least, unlike Porcupine Tree, he can't really go solo.
Don't Leave Your Dinosauri at Home (3:37), Anche Cotoletta (3:12), Il Nostro Batterista Ha un Buco nella Gamba (2:42), Canguros de la Ventana (2:34), S.r.l.à (5:18), No ( ) (8:26), /°\ \°/ /°\ \°/ /°\ \°/ (4:31), What a (Tetra) Pack (2:51), Un Duettrè Qqua (5:17), Stichituffelpa Rampa Esserelà Tum Perugià (5:34), Loop o'Pool (8:23)
Feat.Esserelà's debut album Tuorl translated into English means egg yolk. The humorous caricature of a yolk which adorns the cover of Feat.Esserelà's Tuorl sums up the bands approach to their art. They have taken an image such as, the ubiquitous egg yolk that is totally familiar and have transformed it into something that is reassuringly recognisable yet unique and creatively different.
My mother used to tell me that egg yolks are the backdrop and mainstay of many recipes. She used to say in her wistful and heavily accented Welsh lilt.
"Cariad, you might love them or hate them; but either way they are difficult to avoid."
Within the world of progressive music the same might be said of the combination of guitar, drums and keyboards. In the hands of a competent and creative chef, seemingly common ingredients can often take on a different and exciting form. Feat.Esserelà are master chefs and their appetising creative vitality can be easily experienced during the eleven pieces which make up the albums egg yolk saturated heart. Tuorl is a sonic feast and Feat.Esserelà should be proud of their highly palatable golden creation. Tuorl emits a sweet aroma and leaves a memorable after taste that has the listener longing for more. It is an album which delightfully spits and froths in a swirling, bubbling broth of guitar riffs, juicy pulsating organ runs and delicately flavoured piano parts. It is satisfying in every respect and would be worthy of being served, and gorged upon at any progressive music master class event.
Tuorl rewards repeated plays and enjoyably becomes more captivating on each occasion. When I first heard the album, each track seemed to channel a similar style and groove. This remains the case, if listened to in a perfunctory manner. However, there are many variations to be discovered within the recognisable riff laden approach that is the bands signature style.
The band describes their music as "ProgRockJazzFusionFunkAcid". I am not so sure about the funk acid description, but their album contains much that could be described as prog rock jazz fusion, with rock highlighted in proud bold letters. The albums eleven pieces are instrumental. At times, I could fleetingly detect a Latin flavoured rock jazz approach redolent of Santana. The riff laden style of much of the album occasionally reminded me of Hatfield and The North's Rifferrama. It is an album that also contains great subtlety to counteract its more bombastic elements. This facet is revealed after the highly charged opening tracks when the classically and jazz inspired piano parts of versatile keyboard player Francesco Ciampolini makes an initial appearance in the piece entitled Canguros de la Ventana.
Tuorl's main voice is the guitar which is played in a jazz rock blues style. Repeated guitar phrases and rock raw riffs create a pulsating rhythmic style that has an engaging hypnotic tonal quality. The impressive guitar parts are often accompanied by skilful organ fills. These serve to heighten the enjoyable atmosphere and sense of drama that pervades the album. The splendid sonority of these principal instruments when played in unison simply adds to and enriches the albums overall appeal.
Similar themes and musical ideas are repeated and developed throughout the album as for example, in the funky pulsating Don't Leave Your Dinosauri at Home and when the theme is revisited in Canguros de la Ventana. This gives the music an enjoyable cohesive and identifiable style, but this also has the down side that some pieces lose their distinctiveness and are lost in the similar rhythms and riffs that frequently reoccur.
In the more reflective pieces such as, S.r.l.à there are lots of spaces within the composition which allows the music to breathe and develop organically. S.r.l.à begins with a cascading waterfall of distorted effects. These eventually resolve and evolve into a bombastic riff driven tune. The piece concludes with a dramatic piano coda which provides the piece with ample room for reflection. The emotional range of the album is widened with the addition of numerous broodingly cheerful piano parts and this is particularly in evidence in the middle section of no ( ).
Un Duettre Qqua is one of the few tracks that are free of the guitar dominated rhythms that are so apparent on the majority of the album. The bands jazz leanings are on display in the quirky piano led swinging melody of the introduction. It is undoubtedly my favourite track and it displays many of the qualities of the bands approach. Its mixture of jazz and funk rhythms, aggressive guitar soloing, and long fluid guitar lines interspersed with fine piano works well. Un Duettre Qqua is totally beguiling to listen to. It is progressive enough to satisfy any listeners whose interest might be waning in the wake of the bands incessant onslaught of foot tapping rhythms and chunky guitar riffs.
The album concludes with a hidden bonus that sums up the spontaneity and infectious appeal of the bands overall approach. After the final track ends, the patient listener is rewarded some three minutes later by a humorous acapella, doo- wap vocal performance which introduces the band and the title of the album. It was an enjoyably novel way to end this often inspiring, but seldom disappointing release. I am glad that I encountered Tuorl and look forward to the bands next creation.
The act of listening to Tuorl when eating an egg was quite a surreal experience. As I dipped my bread into the yolk, it was difficult not to reminisce about my mother's words. "Love them or hate them; but either way they are difficult to avoid." And with a smile on my face to match the caricature on the cover of Tuorl, I was left to ponder that ageless puzzle; What came first, the Chicken, or the yolk?
Natural Evocation (3:22), Thriller Of The Mind (4:12), Time Waits (4:54), Movie Theme (8:01), Electronic War (3:36), Verticals (3:39), Solitude (6:28), Golden Valley (9:26), Spaceflight (7:52), Running Hiding (8:15), Humanity? (10:55)
Dutch trio Fusonic describes its music as "a melting pot of ideas and experiments in sound and technology". Apparently the music draws on the "great progressive rock tradition" but nevertheless eschews "musical dogma." In 2010, the band gained positive press with its debut, Desert Dreams. DPRP described that CD as "very mellow and dreamy" and as being redolent of Camel and Focus. Now, Fusonic has released its sophomore effort, Fields of No Man's Land.
The new CD is atmospheric progressive rock. The closest reference point may be Pink Floyd (Focus would be another.) The slow- to mid-tempo tunes flow coherently and smoothly and with predictable pacing. Overall, there's not much action or vigour, but, as Pink Floyd proved, compelling music can be made in this vein.
Consistent with the trippy theme, the songs largely blend into each other. But a standout track is Golden Valley, a mostly lugubrious piece featuring jazzy saxophone playing that is, skillfully, both sparse and bold. Also worthy of special mention is the serene acoustic guitar solo, Verticals. Solitude features crisp David Gilmour-like licks (although the tinny keyboard sound is a downer).
The occasional vocals on the CD are intriguing. Although somewhat stiff, they nevertheless blend, and nicely contrast, with the steadily flowing instrumentation.
In the end, this is a strong but unexceptional CD. There are few highs and lows, but the ride is consistently agreeable. Had the band taken further risks, and had it added a few more hooks, the trip could have been more memorable. However this is surely a fine listen, particularly for fans of heady progressive music.
There have been very few occasions when a CD has left me speechless - and not in a good way. This only occurs when you listen to an album and conclude very quickly that what happens in a recording studio should stay in a recording studio.
Guide to Bizarre Behavior has absolutely no redeemable features whatsoever and that includes its hideous, amateur-looking front and back cover illustrations, which regrettably set the standard for what lies beneath.
Thankfully, the whole sad sorry affair only lasts 29 minutes but that is half an hour I shall never get back. I wish I could be more complimentary about it but it is a disjointed collection of pieces that are played badly and out of tune.
What can be said about it is that it was recorded in California and Louisiana, which begs the question as to whether the performers were all in the same studio when it happened.
The musicians for this collection of eight "compositions", and I use the expression loosely, comprises Brian Bromberg, Suzy Creamcheese and Ray Bong. Whatever musical tag is put on it, does not fit it well. However, there is a flash of not unpleasant King Crimson-type guitar work in the opener Isagoge. Traces of Frank Zappa and early Brian Eno are just about audible in the creepy Beige Castle, while there's a touch of Syd Barrett-like Pink Floyd in Gonzo. Bill, on the other hand could have been an audition for the sound effects on The Clangers TV programme.
If you are going to be experimental or edgy, then at least endeavour to make an album which does not sound like a compilation of out-takes from a late night in the studio. That this album has actually got a record label and catalogue number is quite staggering. That it was seen fit for release in the first place – well, all I can say is go figure.
Why am I Here (Ouverture) (5:41), Something More (4:31), A World of my Own (6:20), My Purpose (7:35), Losing your Mind (8:54), Crawl (3:19), Lifelong Misery (7:09), Introspection (2:42), Retrospection (6:29), You are not Alone (6:12), Where it begins, Where it Ends (Finale) (10:00)
What do Rush, Saga and Inner Odyssey have in common? Well, apart from their shared homeland of Canada, the foremost similarity is that all three of these bands are great prog bands. Inner Odyssey started out in Quebec (2007) when guitarist and main songwriter Vincent Leboeuf Gadreau found a creative output for his prog-influenced song writing. Their self-released debut Take a Seat (2011) had it's moments, but was unable to propel these young lads into the prog-spotlight. With their sophomore album; Ascension, they have created an album that certainly deserves your attention. It has certainly got mine.
Starting with the good and ambitious ouverture, Why Am I Here, the tone is set for more than an hour's worth of prog delights. Lead singer and drummer Etienne Doyon has a warm voice, although at certain points he sounds a little to kind for my tastes.
The album's story is that of a man in search for his meaning in life. Without being pretentious or pedantic, the songs really tell the story in a good way and it all comes to a satisfactory conclusion. I think a lot of people can relate to the themes and the voyage of the protagonist. Credit in this case goes to former lead singer Pier-Luc Garand Dion, who parted ways with the band during the recording of the album but who is responsible for the lyrics.
The songs are strong and the same goes for the musical ability of the different band members. On tracks like A World of my Own and Losing your Mind, the listener is treated to some great guitar riffs, backed by solid bass lines from Simon Gourdeau.
While listening to the songs on this album, I found myself wondering what makes this band sound familiar. They sometimes remind me of Haken, Riverside and RPWL, which I think can be held as quite a compliment. Songs like Lifelong Misery, My Purpose and You Are Not Alone are great and could prove to be live favourites. It is however the instrumental Retrospection and the grand finale Where it Begins, Where it Ends that will probably end up on my list of Greatest Prog Songs of 2015. Featuring keyboardist Mathieu Chamberland, these songs have everything you can dream of in contemporary progressive rock. From a great build-up and a wealth of dynamics, to great guitar and keyboard solos and big climaxes.
I certainly enjoyed listening to Ascension and I absolutely recommend this album if you are a fan of bands like RPWL and Haken. No matter what mood you are in, this makes for a great listen, and if you can focus on the story it tells, it could even give you a path to answer some big questions about the meaning of life. And all that for the price of a few pints. What a bargain!
CD 1, Private Parts & Pieces: Beauty and the Beast (4:08), Field of Eternity ( 5:10), Tibetan Yak-Music (6:09), Lullaby — Old Father Time (1:15), Harmonium in the Dust (or Harmonious Stradosphore) (2:29), Tregenna Afternoons (7:49) Stranger (6:08) (bonus track), Reaper (7:38), Autumnal (5:57), Flamingo (11:06), Seven Long Years (2:58), bonus tracks: Silver Song (demo) (3:19), Movement IV from Guitar Quintet (7:08)
CD 2, Private Parts & Pieces II - Back To The Pavilion: Scottish Suite: (i) Salmon Leap (2:46), (ii) Parting Thistle (2:26), (iii) Electric Reaper (3:03), (iv) Amorphous, Cadaverous and Nebulous (4:53), (v) Salmon's Last Sleepwalk (2:07), Lindsay (3:50), K2 (8:53), Postlude: End of the Season (0:32), Heavens (4:22), Spring Meeting (3:52), Romany's Aria (0:50), Chinaman (0:41), Nocturne ( 4:05), Magic Garden (1:56), Von Runkel's Yorker Music (0:41), Will O' the Wisp (3:30), Tremulous (1:06), I Saw You Today (4:34), Back to the Pavilion (2:51), bonus track: Lucy: An Illusion (3:52)
CD 3, Private Parts & Pieces Part III - Antiques: Motherforest (1:55) Hurlingham Suite: (I) Ivied Castles (4:44), (II) Frosted Windows (2:25), (III) Bandido (2:46), (IV):Church Bells At Sunset (1:20), Suite In D Minor: (I) Whirlpools, (II) Cobblestones, (III) Catacombs (6:27), Danse Nude (1:31), Esperansa (2:02), Elegy (3:28), Otto's Face (4:23), Sand Dunes (8:24), Old Wives Tale (4:46), bonus tracks: Frosted Windows (Variation I) (0:38), Esperanza (Alternate Mix) (2:03), Bandido (Early Take) (2:58), Old Wives Tale (Take 6) (4:41), Suite in D Minor (Alternate Version) (6:20), Frosted Windows (Variation II) (0:47), El Cid (3:08)
CD 4, Private Parts & Pieces IV - A Catch At The Tables: Aboretum Suite: (i) Set Piece (2:06), (ii) Over The Gate (2:06), (iii) Flap Jack (2:25), (iv) Lights On The Hill (5:26), Earth Man (4:36), Dawn Over The Lake (10:50), Bouncer (3:05), Eduardo (9:44), Heart Of Darkness (3:20), The Sea And The Armadillo (4:58), Sistine (3:55), bonus Tracks: Erotic Strings (1:05), A Catch At The Tables (2:57), Flapjack (Solo Version) (2:31), Theme from Operation Whale (1:47)
CD 5, Private Parts & Extra Pieces: Sea Piece Intro (1:12), Prelude 3 (2:18), The Princess Waltz (2:28), The Marionette Vignette (0:33), Duchess Of Kew (3:27), Birdsong Link (1:10), Over The Gate (Alternate Mix) (2:06), Sea Sketches (4:14), Lines In The Sand (1:36), Study In D Major (5:35), Moonshooter Piano (0:56), Long Ago (1:26), Lullaby - Old Father Time Variation (0:33), Theme From Sea Piece (2:27), Sistine (Alternative Piano Version) (3:59), Armadillo Air (1:15), K2 Link (1:15), Still-Born Love (9:19)
A founding member since the bands formation at Charterhouse school in 1967, Anthony Phillips left Genesis in 1970 following the release of their second album Trespass. His departure came as a shock to the rest of the band and was prompted by a combination of stage nerves, disillusionment with the band collective and personality clashes. He enrolled in musical theory and composing at the Guildford School of Music where he received a teaching degree and the self-confidence to expand on his guitar playing abilities to encompass keyboards, bass, drums, even vocals. Although several years had elapsed since Ant parted company with Genesis he proved the time had not been wasted with the release of his remarkable debut album The Geese & The Ghost (1977).
The albums that followed featured a regular line-up of guest musicians enabling Phillips to produce a song based, full band sound. These 'official' releases were supplemented by a series of budget priced and mostly solo instrumental albums headed by the appropriately titled Private Parts & Pieces released in the US in 1978. It didn't appear in the UK until April the following year when it was issued as a bonus disc with the first 5,000 copies of Ant's third album Sides. City of Dreams, the eleventh and latest release in the Private Parts & Pieces series appeared as recently as 2012 making it by far the longest running collection in prog history.
In 2014, the enterprising Esoteric Recordings released the 5 CD box set Harvest Of The Heart: An Anthology which provided a comprehensive overview of Ant's career up to the present day. This time Esoteric focus their attention on the first four albums in the 'Private Parts & Pieces' series which originally appeared on vinyl between 1978 and 1984. In recent years all four albums (along with the rest of the series) have been released on CD by Voiceprint in a double album format with the same bonus tracks included here. The main selling point for this anthology is a fifth CD comprising 18 tracks of previously unreleased material. It's also packaged in a smart clamshell box with an informative booklet and extensive notes by Jonathan Dann who assisted Ant with the compilation. The cover artwork is an adaptation of the elaborate logo from the first Private Parts & Pieces album whilst the inner sleeves that house each CD feature the original album artwork.
As an avid record collector during the 1970s, the original Private Parts & Pieces (1978) was a personal favourite, providing as it did a tranquil diversion from the majestic Wise After the Event and the proggy Sides released around the same time. Like all of Ant's 70's albums the evocative cover artwork was by Peter Cross who perfectly captured the pastoral Englishness of the music. The album was subtitled "A collection of guitar and piano solos, duets and ensembles 1972 – 1976" which pretty much sums it up. Particularly noteworthy is Ant's classical guitar and innovative twelve-string technique which left its mark on the Genesis sound even after his departure and remained an integral part right up to Wind And Wuthering (1976), Steve Hackett's studio swansong. Genesis fans will also be familiar with the bonus track Silver Song co-written by Phillips and Mike Rutherford which appeared on numerous bootlegs before being granted an official release. This 1986 'demo' version may lack Phil Collins' vocal but it's a spirited effort featuring a superb lead guitar solo.
Like its predecessor Private Parts & Pieces II - Back To The Pavilion (1980) was originally released by Ant's American label Passport Records in the US and Canada only although at the time I was able to pick up an imported copy in the UK without too much trouble. The highlight is the five-part opening suite where the sleeve notes tellingly state that "Any resemblance between themes in Scottish Suite and Henry from The Geese & The Ghost is entirely uncoincidental". Certainly if you are a fan of Ant's debut album there is much to appreciate here. Ant also adds more weight to the sound with electric guitar and synths as well as the contributions from guests Andy McCulloch (drums), Mike Rutherford (bass), Rob Phillips (oboe) and Mel Collins (flute). As before, exquisite solo guitar and piano pieces abound although for me a standout track is the classical influenced Heavens played entirely on the polymoog. The sole bonus track Lucy: An Illusion (written when Ant was in Genesis but not recorded until 1990) is a typically bittersweet ballad perfectly suited to his fragile, melancholic vocal.
Private Parts and Pieces III: Antiques (1982) is a departure from its predecessors in that it features pieces specifically recorded for the release with Ant collaborating with friend and Argentinian guitar virtuoso Enrique Berro Garcia (both men are credited on the album cover). Being mostly 12 string and classical guitar duets the music to my ears is very samey at times making it for me the least enjoyable disc in this collection. Enrique does overdub electric guitar in places such as Suite in D Minor (which is less classical than the title suggests) with a melodic tone similar to Mike Oldfield. Old Wives Tale that concluded the original album has a certain charm and whilst the 7 bonus tracks add little in terms of variety, a newer piece El Cid recorded in 1994 featuring Spanish guitar and strings (courtesy of Ant's JD-800 synth) is pleasingly reminiscent of Joaquín Rodrigo. Incidentally, the melody line in Sand Dunes always reminded me of the Godley & Creme tune Under Your Thumb a UK hit in 1981, the same year Ant released his electronic album 1984 which sounded not too dissimilar to the synth-pop of Godley & Creme's song.
Private Parts & Pieces IV - A Catch At The Tables (1984) returns to the formula of the first two albums by drawing on existing pieces, recorded between October 1979 and October 1982. Without a European record deal, Ant again found himself in an all too familiar situation whereby it was only available in his home country on import. One month before its release, the Invisible Men album appeared in the UK, a (mostly) disappointing collection of mainstream songs co-written by Ant and Richard Scott. A Catch at the Tables did at least restore a semblance of intimacy, especially the beautiful, 4-part Aboretum Suite originally recorded for a friend's wedding (I wish I had friends like Ant!). Elsewhere the tracks alternate between atmospheric, classically inspired keyboard sonatas and tranquil acoustic guitar studies with Ant's trademark 12-string to the fore. That said the dreaded drum machine (this was the early 80s after all) figures prominently on two tracks. The four bonus tracks all bring something to the table (if you pardon the pun) especially the haunting title track which interestingly was composed specifically for the 1991 CD release.
This brings us to the fifth and final disc, the aptly titled Private Parts & Extra Pieces which was compiled especially for this anthology. Ant has dug deep into his private, hitherto unheard collection and resurrected 18 tracks recorded between April 1975 and April 1983, roughly the same period covered by the first four discs. Particularly welcome is the inclusion of several pieces for solo piano, an instrument absent from both Private Parts & Pieces III and IV. These include the lovely Princess Waltz, the all too brief Moonshooter Piano (a delicate piece you wish would go on forever), the wistful Sistine and the sheer romanticism of Still-Born Love. Other standout tracks include the catchy Duchess of Kew (intended for the 1983 Invisible Men album but sadly didn't make the final cut), the elegant classical guitar solo Study in D Major and the incomplete but bittersweet ballad Long Ago (Ant's only vocal outing here). Fans of the 1978 Wise After The Event album will also welcome Birdsong link featuring Mel Collins on flute.
Whilst Anthony Phillips has always maintained a relatively low profile, the respect he holds in the music business places him alongside contemporaries like Steve Hackett, Steve Howe and Gordon Giltrap. Ant never attempts to emulate specific musical styles like jazz, folk or even prog, instead he allows the listener to interpret the music as he or she sees fit. He is clearly a romantic at heart influenced by composers like Debussy and Vaughan Williams with an unbridled passion for melody. His personal sleeve notes are also a telling indication of his affection for recording and the instruments he uses such as this description of Harmonium in the Dust (from Private Parts & Pieces) "My dear old lumbering harmonium set upon my fearsome Stratocaster".
For an all-encompassing appreciation of Ant's music Harvest of the Heart: An Anthology (2014) is certainly the one to go for although if you don't want to splash out on 5 discs, the excellent Anthology (1995) is highly recommended. This collection on the other hand caters for a niche market of fans who perhaps like me bought the first four Private Parts & Pieces albums first time around. Lovingly re-mastered by Simon Heyworth (of Tubular Bells fame) this is the best argument yet to upgrade your vinyl to CD. Hang onto those 12" sleeves though, as is ever the case with CDs the sound benefits at the artworks expense. To paraphrase a certain UK advertising campaign from a few years back, this is probably the only acoustic collection you'll ever need.
Antonius Block (4:35), Uzumaki (5:20), Table Of Hours (5:24), The Ossuary (4:47), The Integral (20:55)
Zoltan is a three-piece from London, playing instrumental (rock) music. The sound is dominated by vintage synthesisers on a solid fundament of drums and bass guitar. The music is inspired by, and thus reminds me of horror movie soundtracks from the late 1970s. John Carpenter and even more so Italians Goblin come to mind, but the best comparison might be the US duo Zombi who created a very similar sound on their album Animal Spirit.
The album opens with a catchy synth loop, before more and more quirky sounds are added. After this two minute intro, the drums and bass join in and drive the song forward. Though it's not very fast in tempo, it sounds quite powerful. If you like this opening, you'll definitely like the whole album. The strongest of the shorter tracks is The Ossuary which has more changes in tempo and groove than the others. Table Of Hours is the only piece on the album without bass and drums, but keeps up the tension.
The highlight of the album is the final 21-minute suite "The Integral" which shows the whole bandwidth that this band has to offer. Here you'll find different sections with various themes and drum grooves, even in some odd meters, and of course, spacey and bubbling synthesiser sounds everywhere. This track alone is worth buying the album. The only downside to me is that there's not a real song structure or suspense curve. It's just one (admittedly great sounding) part after the other, and then suddenly it's over. But since the band is influenced by film music composers, it's not surprising that the album appears like a soundtrack to a movie that never was.
Sixty Minute Zoom is the second full-length album by Zoltan, available as download, but also in a limited number of CD and vinyl versions. I didn't know the band before writing this review, so I checked out their debut album, First Stage Zoltan from 2012 and must admit that I like it even more than this second effort. If you have a weakness for electronic music, with a spooky atmosphere that is based on vintage synth sounds and powerful drum/bass grooves, the music of Zoltan is fun to listen to. You won't do anything wrong with either of the two releases.