High/Aflame (6:29), The Germ Inside (4:47), I Am Lost (7:14), The Deathless (5:26), Foul Temple (2:37), Vision Of The Bent Path (0:33), I Must Set Fire To Your Portrait (5:37), Lowered Into Necromancy (4:05), A Dream About A Dream (5:43), Secret Words (3:13), Feel The Sorcery (3:51)
"And now for something completely different" is of course the title of a Monty Python movie, but you can also use this phrase in relation to this new album by British band Knifeworld. It's quite difficult to categorise the music of this band because it's a mixture of diverse styles. It's poppy, progressive, experimental, psychedelic, jazzy and heavy at times, but no element really dominates.
The music is mostly similar to the sound of The Cardiacs and Gong. That's not surprising because Kavus Torabi (guitar, keyboards and vocals) has also been involved in those two bands. Knifeworld is a band with eight musicians including three on saxophone. Due to this fact you also might hear some influences of Van Der Graaf Generator.
It might not be easy to digest this album for some proggers and some stamina is certainly needed to fully capture the beauty of this album, but I can assure you this album has some fine moments (and I don't like a lot of saxophone!). The voices of Torabi and female vocalist Melanie Woods blend perfectly together, especially on the last two tracks Secret Words and Feel The Sorcery.
The opening track High/Aflame is neof the best tracks; an uptempo rock track with a catchy chorus including some eruptions on sax. The slightly heavier The Deathless is almost like old fashioned punk music from the seventies. The Germ Inside has a piano intro before it develops into a track similar to the style of The Cardiacs, with a pounding bass throughout the song and vocals that almost sound out-of-tune but that's probably the vocal style Torabi and Woods are using to sing in. I am not particularly fond of that kind of singing because it doesn't seem right, but in combination with their music, it works well.
I Am Lost has a nice, somewhat funky finish, until it fades out with some spacey keyboards and pounding bass and drums. And what to think about a song title I Must Set Fire To Your Portrait? Lyrically there's also much to discover and maybe even have a laugh about.
I know some proggers and other DPRP reviewers are very excited about this album and might have it high on their lists of best albums of 2016 but I don't share the same enthusiasm. I think this is an album made by skillfull musicians but it didn't grab me. But I've never loved music with lots of sax. An occasional solo in a Pink Floyd* song or by other bands is enough for me. Still I think it's great that there's so much variety in our beloved prog so that everyone can enjoy what he/she wants. So if you're a really massive Knifeworld fan or very eager to discover something you've never heard before, just ignore this review and listen to the album without prejudice.
So dare to take a dive into a less known world of prog, just like I did, or just enjoy a new album by your favourite prog band.
UB313 (4:54), Sunshine & Freedom Rock (2:57), Blue Hair (2:26), They Can Only Know U If U Let Them (3:15), 40/60 (4:59), November (3:52), Princess (3:00)
Well this is a strange one! Dominique Leone is a pianist, DJ and writer based in New York, who moved to San Francisco some 10 years ago when he started writing the songs that comprise this mini-album. A decade may seem a long time to take to write 25 minutes of music but it has not been his sole pre-occupation in that time, having released several albums and EPs that cross genres as diverse as alternative, avant and experimental pop, indie, electronica and lastly prog. His last project was in 2013, when he successfully released a new piece of music every day of the year (well, he did take the easy option and chose not to undertake the project in a leap year!). As well as writing music, he is also a music critic, having written for American publications such as Pitchfork and Paste, where he focuses on modern experimental, progressive and fringe artists.
The ensemble gathered to perform on the album is far from what would be expected in a standard prog band, or any other type of band come to that! Featuring drums and percussion, clarinet and bass clarinet, flute, vibraphone, alto saxophone, oboe and electric bass, the music is progressive in the truest sense of the word. Although the featured musicians are all accomplished improvisers, the songs have all been composed, although there are obvious sections where the musicians have been allowed to follow their muse, such as on the delightfully-jolly Sunshine & Freedom Rock. Impressively, a lot of the music sounds as if it was recorded live.
Largely unique, which is something that can't be said about many artists these days, it is hard to find any real comparisons, although the music does remind me of the more orchestral aspects of Frank Zappa, and a rather more quirky and out-there XTC. As for the songs, they are quite literally all over the place, in a good kind of way. The changes of style and tempos within even the shortest numbers are numerous, and impressively handled, with UB313 and Sunshine & Freedom Rock being prime examples, and at times knocking on the doors of jazz. Blue Hair, Princess and November are more piano-based ballads that have a similar feel, and are relatively soothing pieces. November has a great vocal arrangement as well.
They Can Only Know U If U Let Them starts like a 1920s swing number but then deviates into quite an angular number, driven by the bass with a brief vibes interlude. 40/60 previously appeared on the 2010 Summer EP, although this is a new recording that has an almost tribal chant underlying the music.
San Francisco is quite challenging to get into, primarily because it is so different to everything else, but it benefits from repeated listening. The musicianship is quite superb throughout, and Princess is without a doubt, one of the sweetest things I have heard this year. A nice change from the usual.
Phileas Fogg's Dream (4:22), Around the World in 80 Days (6:24), Across the Mediterranean Sea to Egypt (6:56), Steamer to Bombay (10:11), To Calcutta by Elephant (7:42), From Calcutta to Hong Kong (8:31), From Yokohama to San Francisco (8:32), Across the Atlantic Ocean (9:35), It's Off to Liverpool! (3:13), It Seems the Wager has Been Lost (7:31), The Triumph (6:59)
Mythos' bold tour of the world, based on the ideas of Jules Verne, is indeed grand. The music here stretches beyond the repetitive Berlin-type sound performed effectively in recent years by artists such as Bertrand Loreau and Lambert Ringlage. Here, the sounds of a didgeridoo, soaring sound rushes and atmospheric washes, as well as traditional sequencing, all form a part of the complex whole.
The diverse journey includes moments of levity, eeriness, and everything in between. True to its concept, the CD projects a sense of travel, of chugging along on an occasionally shifting path. Mythos' German composer, performer and producer Stephan Kaske aptly recommends that the album be played through in its entirety, without disturbances, and preferably with earphones.
As one might expect, given the musical style and concept, the tunes here transition smoothly. Nevertheless, distinctions are noticeable, as some tunes are more harmonic, mellow, or busy than others. Particularly sweet and smoothing is The Wager Appears to be Lost. Also on the more mellow side, the dreamy To Calcutta by Elephant and the mellifluous Crossing the Atlantic (featuring a flute) stand-out as well. Of the more-spritely sort is From Calcutta to Hong Kong. Here, a mix of sprinkling, high-pitched notes and mid- to low-end droning, works surprisingly well.
In short, this ambitious project succeeds as a strong work of spacey, but not-too-abstract electronic music. It may not attract many fans from outside of the genre, but there's much to like for those who are appreciative of contemplative aural trips.
Stimmung (8:05), Gumbo Funk (Gimme Some More) (5:10), Panama Noodles (5:35), Le Nouveau Cirque Du MIDI (5:32), Teenie Tiny Cameras (7:15), Blossom Of The Javanese Garden (6:51), Hole In A Sock (5:45), Paco (8:40)
I'm a sucker for funk/fusion with a rich prog vein running through the music, and this album delivers on all levels. Paolo Apollo Negri's fourth album Hello World is an enjoyable listen from start to finish. It clearly has throwbacks to the 70s style of jazz funk rock fusion and you can hear all sort of influences in there: The Crusaders, Brand X, Weather Report, Stanley Clark, George Duke to name but a few. There are also more modern influences such as Prince, the Simon PhillipsProtocol album series and Snarky Puppy spring to my mind. Hopefully you get a sense of what this music is about?
Paolo Apollo Negri has been a musician since the 90s, and is recognised as an accomplished master of the Hammond organ. He also utilises some superb-sounding synthesisers, and collaborates with some talented musicians to create a wonderful album. The solo guitar work often reminds me of the session musicians used by the likes of Steely Dan.
The opening track Stimmung has all the necessary ingredients for summing up this album. Superb keyboards, fantastic drumming, great bass work and a solid fusion-style guitar solo. It is just a fantastic piece of jazz-rock fusion music.
The album in the main is instrumental but it has a few tracks with singing in English. The first is the track called Gumbo Funk with excellent vocals from Bob Harris. This is certainly funky and slightly 'cheesy' for me in places, but it does feature some great guitar work, as well as keyboards. The other is the song Teenie Tiny Cameras with some great funky vocals from Noel McKoy.
If you are into jazz-rock/funk/soul fusion then this album is a must for listening too with some fantastic keyboard work throughout the album (the Hammond work in Hole in a Sock is excellent). The guitarist, Mario Percudani, is very gifted, with brilliant solo work spread throughout (some of it reminded me of Roine Stolt in places). This might have been my first 10 out of 10 for DPRP, but the track Gumbo Funk slightly soured the taste, so a nine it is.
The Worthless (5:05), See You in the Dusk (6:19), Luo Mu (Falling Leaves) (7:16), 1911 Third Mov. (8:26), The Youngster Fishing for the Stars (6:59), Lonely Shadow Would Dance (5:02), Sleepy Child Sweet Smile (4:01), Into your Dream (6:12), Intoxicatingly Lost (12:13).
Mixing traditional Chinese instrumentation alongside Western rock stylings is an enticing prospect, and one rich for innovation and inventiveness. This album comes across at times sounding a bit like Kitaro (he of Silk Road fame) with a rock band. This creates an intense, dense sound with prominent bass tending to muddy the mix somewhat, undermining the effect of the unusual instruments that are being employed. I feel this is a wasted opportunity, as within this music lie some bold concepts that are sadly buried under a wall of sound. Where it really calls for clarity and space, there is chaos.
Opener The Worthless is a prime example of this tactic. In addition, the guqin is over-employed, tending to be the centrepiece of all that is going on, almost to the exclusion of everything else. It is a prime example of why often a "less is more" approach is preferable, and one where a bit of variety would have greatly improved this album.
To use the Kitaro analogy again, whereas Kitaro tends to focus on and feature a harmonious melody, Zhaoze simply don't apply this principle often enough. This leads to a sameness in all of the tracks, failing to create memorable pieces. So whilst their musical dexterity is plain to see, this could be so much better than it actually is. So much so in fact, that sadly it starts to grate after a while, which is very disappointing as I was looking forward to this hybrid fusion of eastern and western music as being something sonically appealing and different. Whilst to a lesser degree they have done this, it is flawed by the dense sound.
There is talent here though and I hope they can reign in their excesses and create something more satisfying and varied next time around, with less emphasis on the guqin to create more room for the other musicians' contributions to be fully heard. In short, this is a brave attempt, but one that falls short of its intended mark.
If you like the music of Kitaro or Tomita this may be of interest, but for me it is unfulfilled and somewhat lacking. It is simply not memorable enough to sustain interest throughout the whole album. It is however worth a cursory listen, despite being a dense sounding disc, but it doesn't offer enough variety of pace or tone, to really captivate. Whilst the musicianship is good, yet without harmony and significantly enduring melody, it misses the mark for me. The best songs are The Worthless, the bombastic Luo Mu (Falling Leaves) and 1911 Third Mov. It has a great cover though.