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CD & DVD Reviews •

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Issue 2017-015

Agusa - Katarsis

Agusa - Katarsis
Country of Origin: Sweden
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 31:56
Track List:
Uti vår hage (live) (17:45), Kärlek från Agusa (live) (14:09)
In the words of Julie Andrews, these are a few of my favourite things ... about Agusa's Katarsis! It is accessible, dramatic, evocative, fluent, melodic, skilful and tasteful. I could add at least another 25 points, that put simply, would equate to a positive attribute for each minute of the album's relatively short duration.

At a running time of just under 32 minutes, Katarsis contains no disappointing segments or directionless noodling and I can state with some conviction that every moment of this effervescent album is completely engaging and totally satisfying.

Swedish band Agusa have followed up their successful and very impressive Två album with an outstanding live album. Fans of Två might have expected to hear live renditions of pieces from that album. Instead, Agusa have decided to present extended versions of two tunes that featured in Högtid, their equally impressive debut album.

What immediately struck me about Katarsis was how expansive the band manages to sound. The sound quality is superb and the extended renditions of these previously recorded tunes take them to a different and an even more impressive level. They are playfully stretched and skilfully manipulated to create an experience that bears only a passing resemblance to the original compositions.

This release should appeal to anybody who enjoys a fluid-based approach to prog, where the ability to hold an infectious groove and deliver a succession of uplifting melodies have a pivotal part to play. Katarsis has an ebb and flow that is natural and tidal; its compositions develop and evolve in an organic manner. The album is able to convey a range of feelings and evoke many different atmospheres whenever changes of pace occur, or when the soloists get an opportunity to express themselves.

The emotions, that the album endearingly projects, glow vibrantly like dawn's sun-struck embers. Conversely, they are also as grey-shadowed as the dusk. Nevertheless, the overwhelming feeling that pervades the album is uplifting, brightly radiant and warmly upbeat.

The extended arrangements contain just the right mix of repetition, nodding melody and stimulating complexity. The two lengthy and extended pieces are buoyantly accessible, but also contain more than enough challenge and stirring emotion to satisfy both the heart and head.

The band's performance is first-rate; each player has an important role in presenting something that superficially appears to be very tightly spun, but still contains ample space, flexibility and freedom of expression for exciting sonic pathways to be explored.

There is a likeable, spontaneous ambience pervading much of the band's live sound. The highly charged guitar parts of Mikael Ödesjö are particularly impressive. They provide the album with copious amounts of gurning energy and possess a real edge and drive that is not apparent in the band's studio work.

During Katarsis, the band's compositions and deft arrangements display a gorgeous fusion of prog, psychedelia and folk. Agusa's music treads a comparable style and has a similar overall approach to that which their fellow Swedish band Fläsket Brinner were able to achieve and master so successfully during the 1970s.

Flute player Jenny Puertas joined the band in 2015 and so did not appear on Högtid, but her contribution on Katarsis is one of the album's many highlights. Her input makes a positive difference to the band's palette of sounds and gives an added depth and subtlety, that enables the band to successfully explore varied textures of light and shade. There were many occasions when the central role of the flute and the use of many Nordic folk idioms reminded me of the style of Grovjobb.

The rest of the band is similarly impressive. Much of the group's ensemble sound is underpinned by the retro-styled, free-flowing organ style of Jonas Berge. There are however, numerous occasions when the organ comes to the fore, to take a more central role. When this occurs, intricate and delightful organ patterns are woven; ones that often evolve into opportunities for the organ to joust playfully, or flirt seductively with either the flute or the guitar, or a combination of both.

The rhythm section, of drummer Tim Wallander and bassist Tobias Pettersson, propels the music with muscle and finesse when necessary, and in many ways they are the unsung heroes of the band. Their unobtrusive, but skilled contribution is at the heart of the superb performance of the band, where changes of pace and establishing a mesmerising groove characterise much of their work. In this respect, there is more than a hint of the mesmerising rhythmic intensity associated with the jam-based krautrock bands of the 70s.

Katarsis is available as a download, or in physical form as a limited edition CD, or as a black vinyl edition, or as a part of a deluxe box set which features vinyl editions of all of Agusa's albums and a CD version of Katarsis and other assorted goodies.

To say that I thoroughly enjoyed Katarsis is an understatement and I whole-heartedly recommend it to DPRP readers. Every minute of it is thoroughly impressive and contains at least 32 things to enjoy and savour, and a whole lot more.

This album has certainly become one of my favourite things!
Owen Davies: 9.5 out of 10

Colosseum - Live [2CD]

Colosseum - Live
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 1971/2016
Time: 74:43, 73:57
Track List:
CD 1: Rope Ladder To The Moon (9:48), Walking In The Park (8:25), Skellington (14:59), I Can't Live Without You (7:53), Tanglewood 63 (10:16), Stormy Monday Blues (7:33), Lost Angeles (15:49)
CD 2: Rope Ladder To The Moon (10:57), Skellington (14:44), I Can't Live Without You / Time Machine / The Machine Demands A Sacrifice (21:42), Stormy Monday Blues (5:14), The Valentyne Suite, January's Search, February's Valentyne, The Grass Is Greener (21:20)
This is another amazing re-issue: that of the legendary "live" album from Colosseum, originally released in 1971. Colosseum were a band packed full of seriously excellent musicians such as Dave Greenslade, Jon Hiseman and Dave Clempson, all of whom have had an impact on classic and progressive rock throughout the years. Mark Powell and those fine folks at Esoteric have done a truly outstanding remastering and have greatly expanded and significantly improved on the original album by giving it a definitive version of what already was a seminal masterclass in jazz, rock and blues.

This has been accomplished by adding a second disc of previously unreleased recordings from the same gigs that yielded the original album, adding a further 74 minutes of brilliance and some differing versions of four of the original album tracks, alongside Jon Hiseman's solo piece The Time Machine/The Machine Demands A Sacrifice, drum solo spot. And as if that wasn't enough, there is a storming version of The Valentyne Suite which takes this live set into a very special place indeed.

I would imagine that many of you are aware of, and probably possess a version of, this album already, be it on vinyl or one of the previous issues of the album on CD, and are thinking: "Why should I re-invest in this 46-year-old album again?

Well let me tell you this: In it's original incarnation it was a truly magnificent release, capturing the experience of a Colosseum onslaught in full flow. However this expanded version gives you the whole thing again, but with a better, clearer and enhanced sound than hitherto experienced, plus with great alternative versions, plus an informative booklet that includes all the pictures and artwork from the original album. This is a great example of restoring a vintage album to prominence. If by any chance you don't have this album, then this is definitely the time to get it as this is a fine piece of progressive rock history.

The music is astonishing and holds up excellently over four decades since its original recording, and shows what a blistering live act they were, and why each of its members is still highly regarded today.

Highlights are too many to mention but Rope Ladder To The Moon, in either version, is excellent, with some terrific organ playing from Dave Greenslade and with the peerless rhythm section of Hiseman and Clarke propelling every song along like the Flying Scotsman (which incidently has just had a remodelling too). The whole band dig deep to deliver astounding performances.

The Valentyne Suite itself is also brilliant, largely powered by Dave Greenslade's organ plus the blistering guitar work of Dave "Clem" Clempson across its constant evolution through it's three movements. Simply great ensemble playing. This was a band that could certainly deliver live. No wonder they were so well regarded and why this album did so well in capturing and portraying that to all who would would listen

Also worthy of mention is the tenor and soprano saxophone playing of Dick Heckstall Smith who is a legend in his own right through his work with The Graham Bond Organisation and John Mayall's Blues Breakers, as well as his pioneering work of playing two saxes simultaneously.

This is a masterpiece and should be sought out immediately. Along with the Steven Wilson remix of Yes' Tales From Topographic Oceans, this is one of my favourite recent reissues.
John Wenlock-Smith: 9 out of 10

Defying - The Splinter Of Light We Misread

Defying - The Splinter Of Light We Misread
Country of Origin: Poland
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 30:08
Track List:
The Sunlight Recedes (10:54), Till Shadow Is White (5:24), Irreversible (7:15), New Dawn Fades (7:12)
Defying is a band formed in 2008, hailing from Poland, a country with a name for progressive and heavy music such as Riverside and Behemoth. The band describes themselves as "progressive post-metal", and previously recorded two demos (Phial of Prayers and Portraits) before their debut album (Nexus Artificial) dropped in 2014. Two years later, in May 2016, they released their second album, The Splinter Of Light We Misread.

The album wastes no time in getting its place established. Heavy guitars, growled vocals, discordant leads, chugging riffs and a bass-heavy sound kick-in from the get-go. There is a hint of the "djent" sound to the music, as the guitars are full of heavy bends and chugging, but it is not overpowering like some modern bands. The majority of The Sunlight Recedes continues like this for the majority of the time, aside from breaking for a minimalistic mid-section based around ghostly vocals and atmospheric textures. All in all, a good track.

Till Shadow Is White comes along next, following on the idea of discordant atmospherics, complimented by guest saxophonist Rafał Wawszkiewicz to create an air of unease and tension. This continues throughout the song to the end, with guitars flowing in with single chords and simple, slow, purposeful drums to create an idea of impending doom.

This seamlessly flows into Irreversible, a track that builds up over the first few minutes before bringing in the metal again. This one features the same heavy chugging guitars and double bass, but throws in an extended section designed purely to satisfy any fan of heavy prog anywhere. And it does it gloriously.

The final track, New Dawn Fades kicks in with a clean intro before, again, the bass-heavy guitars bring in some more crushing rhythms. More clean guitars, and a softer pace and whispered vocals are brought in next, to mix things up a little. The mix between the clean and heavy music and the whispered and harsher vocals, along with the slow, doom-esque sound of this song make it my favourite.

The vocals sound almost akin to Nathan Explosion of Dethklok, whilst musically you could think Meshuggah mixed with some Gojira and a sprinkling of Swallow the Sun for a heavy, progressive, chugging, but semi-"mainstream" approach.

Overall impression: One fine piece of progressive-post metal.
Calum Gibson: 8 out of 10

The Far Meadow - Given the Impossible

The Far Meadow - Given the Impossible
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 54:32
Track List:
Prove it then (2:52), Hang on ... (2:04), Industry (6:46), A Gentle Warrior (6:17), Dinosaurs (8:12), Himalaya Flashmob (16:11), Letterboxing (2:55), The Seamless Shirt (9:15)
The debut album by British band The Far Meadow remained unnoticed on DPRP for unknown reasons. I haven't heard it either, but given the simple fact that the band has dared to release its successor, makes me believe that the reactions to their debut will have been not too bad.

Released towards the end of 2016, Given the Impossible features founding members Eliot Minn (keys, backing vocals) and Paul Bringloe (drums), wo have recruited new singer Marguerita Alexandrou, while Denis Warren (guitars) and Keith Buckman (bass) stayed on. The Far Meadow states that they are influenced by all the great prog bands from the seventies, as well as by the great prog bands from the nineties, but that they add some funk, soul, classical, jazz and a twist of blues to make the music sound like their own. Which means, I think, that you can expect just about anything, because what more is there to be inspired by?

The album opens quietly with Prove it Then, a song describing the often troublesome feelings partners can have in a long-lasting relationship. Acoustic guitar and piano accompany a soft, flowing, ballad-like vocal melody nicely sung by Alexandrou. She has a very clear voice, reminding me of Melanie Mau of Frequency Drift or Pattie Santos from It's A Beautiful Day. Halfway through drums and bass fall-in, after which the song starts to speed up towards the rocky Hang on..., a nice song with driving guitar chords and organ. Lyrically it advises the listener to have trust in yourself, no matter what comes on your way. Halfway through the song, Minn adds some half-spoken lyrics that don't work well at all.

Without a halt, the song flows into Industry. Opening with some strong guitar riffs, it develops into a distinct jazz rock piece of music with odd time signatures and many varied moods. We have picked electric guitar, wide, wavering synths, melancholic piano playing, fast drum fills, Mexican guitars and trumpets, and heavy electric guitar outbursts, all over tight drumming and organ. That all happens within one song of almost seven minutes. The enormous variety in such a short time span could have led to an inconsistent song, yet the track works rather well as a whole. The lyrics are a firm protest against the labour ethics as displayed nowadays by too many modern-world managers. The message adds considerably to the attractiveness of this song.

The following A Gentle Warrior is a very melodic, slow-flowing ballad where flute-like keys and acoustic guitars are blended beautifully, appropriately telling the story of a warrior who really didn't like to go to battle at all.

Apparently the subject of the next song demanded somewhat heavier music, so in Dinosaurs the band shows their rockier side again. The song is about the desperation of someone confronted by the dynamics of modern technology replacing his once-wanted handicraft skills. The guitar chords and riffs lead towards a Pink Floyd-ish interlude exactly halfway, after which Minn displays his big talents on the keys in an extended solo that would suit Rick Wakemann fine. A soaring guitar solo brings Alexandrou back into the fore, rounding off the song nicely.

The epic of the album, Himalaya Flashmob, doesn't succeed to hold one's attention fully during its 16-plus-minute duration. The lyrics take the listener towards the highest peaks of the earth, and the doubts that crawl into a mountaineer's head when finding himself on the brink of starting the last dangerous climb to the top. After some four minutes, the pace of the music slows down to create space for some nice piano and vocal melodies that are enjoyable but nothing more than that. Some nine minutes into the song there is a fabulous guitar solo, and the faster pace is regained. However it collapses again soon after, for a not too exciting instrumental part. Towards the end, the energy comes back into the song in a guitar-driven finalé but it is not enough to save the song entirely.

Via the very nice piano-led interlude Letterboxing, in which familiar themes of other songs on the album re-emerge, the album closer The Seamless Shirt starts. This one puzzles me a little, as it is very varied, very energetic, quite complex but also not that harmonic. The band merges their own interpretation of traditional Scarborough Fair into their own music. That is original and the traditional is rendered nicely, but it doesn't fit well with the rest of the song. There is a real break in the melody, not flowing naturally with the rest. It is cleverly done, but the blend is not a huge success to my ears.

With Given the Impossible The Far Meadow has produced an attractive album for fans of long-forgotten psychedelic bands like It's A Beautiful Day or Jefferson Airplane. It has also much to offer for fans of recent bands like Frequency Drift, Introitus or White Willow. For all those who are not afraid to dive into complex and varied musical moods, this album is worth checking out.
Theo Verstrael: 7 out of 10

Jesus Munoz - Strategies

Jesus Munoz - Strategies
Country of Origin: Spain
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 52:15
Track List:
When The Good Men Win (1:58), Recovery (14:16), The Limpid Green (4:39), Strategies (4:41), Land Of Glory (5:28), Mystery Cruise (4:53), The Wrong Step (4:13), Rompecabezas (1:58), Back To The Future (3:45)
Jesus Munoz is a guitarist from Piedras Blancas in Spain. From his teen years, he was infected with the prog-virus, with his first love being Yes and especially Steve Howe. He started to write his own songs, got some positive feedback from members of Fairport Convention and Yes and decided to record his first (almost completely instrumental) record Strategies. Here it is now, released on the Musea Parallèle label.

When The Good Men Win is an epic introduction, almost Floydian. The 14-minute journey Recovery (divided into twelve parts) starts off very 80s-like, with some Knopfler-esque guitar playing. Unfortunately some of the sounds in the background (i.e. the drums and the keys, which are created via synth guitars) sound a little weak and amateurish at times. You can tell that there is no real band playing, as it all has some kind of 'plastic' touch to it. This is not too often the case and the guitar playing saves the music. Munoz definitely can play, and he knows how to record his instrument. Also, this album is dedicated to his daughter Laura, who is responsible for the artwork.

The following tracks are all well-constructed, especially Land Of Glory, that has some nice vocals, its lyrics are printed inside the CD cover. Overall the record has a touch of Mike Oldfield's works. There are musical hints of some prog greats such as Floyd, Genesis and Camel all over the place. The next logical step for Munoz is to get a real band together to maybe re-record these tracks, play them live or record another album. This album is a good introduction to his music, to his skills and to all the possibilites that lie in the future.
Philipp Röttgers: 6 out of 10

The Pneumatic Transit - Concerto for Double Moon

The Pneumatic Transit - Concerto for Double Moon
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 51:00
Track List:
Colloquium (1:01), Icarian Games (8:37), Apparition Of Rosalyn (6:49), Benzedrine Cloud Burst (3:04), An Atlas Of Oceanic Coves (7:44), Hypoxia (1:34), The Meketrex Supplicant (2:28), Enochian Dyskinesia (7:13), Sparrow Sparrow (2:15), Lioness (7:34), Silent Waves Of Sleeping Soothsayers (2:41)
The jazz-rock band The Pneumatic Transit was formed by former members of experimental math-core band Exotic Animal Petting Zoo and prog-jam band Umphrey's McGee, and are led by guitarist Jeff Zampillo. The sound they make moves from a short avant-garde squall (Colloquium), to the subtle, classical-music-inflected cello piece (Sparrow Sparrow), to the full-on jazz-rock of The Meketrex Supplicant.

In between you get all kinds of really good jazz-rock instrumentals, or it would be better described as rock-jazz, as The Pneumatic Transit avoid any of the funky inflections that you sometimes get with jazz-rock.

One can take a couple of tracks as representative of most of Concerto for Double Moon. Beginning in a mellow, balladic mood with Michael Ferraro's cello, An Atlas Of Oceanic Coves, builds slowly. The melody, tempo and dynamics grow with Waz Fox's electric piano and synth, Carl Coan's EWI and Zamprillo guitar. He wrangles an array of sounds from his guitar that make more than just a solo. Under this, there is Michael Mirro's drums, by turns subtle and thumping. The track comes over like a mash-up of electric Miles Davis, John McLaughlin and the Mars Volta's Omar Rodríguez-López, and it is an absolute winner.

A 70s style hard-rock riff kicks off Enochian Dyskinesia, around which they create wonderful solos. They use the full panoply of their instrumental talents, with sax, guitar and synth playing off and around one another. This is great stuff.

The master stroke throughout Concerto for Double Moon though is the use of Ferraro's cello. It provides the 'bottom' to the sound, but it also gives a warm and organic feel to the music, as a solo instrument in its own right. Imagine Godspeed You! Black Emperor covering the rockier moments of the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

With Concerto for Double Moon, The Pneumatic Transit have delivered a great rock-jazz album that is a must for those with adventurous ears.
Martin Burns: 8 out of 10

Gilli Smyth - Mother

Gilli Smyth - Mother
Country of Origin: UK
Year of Release: 1978/2016
Time: 41:51
Track List:
I Am A Fool (3:09), Back to the Womb (2:01), Mother (2:04), Shakti Yoni (3:15), Keep the Children Free (1:20), Prostitute Poem, Street Version (4:37), O.K. Man, This is Your World (4:54), Next Time Ragtime (4:33), Time of the Goddess (6:26), Taliesin (9:28)
Gilli Smyth was co-founder of Gong, as well as being muse and intellectual stimulator of Daevid Allen. She left the band in 1974 to focus on motherhood; not returning to music until this debut solo album in 1978. The album eventually resulted in the formation of Mother Gong.

Musically, over half the album stems from recordings made by Gong. Shakti Yoni, O.K. Man This Is Your World and Time Of The Goddess are constructed from material recorded in 1971 at the time of the Camembert Electrique album, whilst Taliesin is derived from the Gong set that appeared on the 1973 Greasy Truckers album. In the case of the latter track, and possibly some of the others, Daevid Allen took it upon himself to manipulate (i.e. cut up) the tapes and reassemble them to create a new piece. The 1971 pieces are very much representative of the early Gong material, with new vocal lines being added to complete the recordings. As the vocal lines are mainly Smyth's characteristic space-whisper overlying the music created by Allen, Didier Malherbe, Christian Trisch and Pip Pyle, they are very much 'missing' Gong pieces. A spoken word commentary has been added over O.K. Man... which is faintly amusing the first time one hears it, but does distract from the music. It's the only material not written by Smyth, instead Allen and Malherbe being responsible.

Gong fanatics will, naturally, lap-up these three pieces, although will not perhaps be as excited as much by Taliesin, despite it featuring the classic Gong line-up of Allen, Steve Hillage, Mike Howlett, Pierre Moerlen and Tim Blake (although it would be difficult to tell which bits are them). Besides, the music is secondary to Smyth's narration of her fairy tale Mabinogion, which can hardly be considered a masterpiece of modern literature. It does have some bright moments, Anna Camp's singing, the harpsichord arrangement of Greensleeves and Vera Blum's violin are all pretty good.

The rest of the material is variable. I Am A Fool, also featuring Blum, is one of the better songs written specifically for the album. Back To The Womb and Next Time, Ragtime feature a host of various people stating, respectively, what it is they currently are and what they will be when they are reincarnated. The latter track is distinctive from the rest of the album, as the music is played by two acoustic guitars playing in a (you guessed it) ragtime manner!

Mother is essentially layers of Smyth's unique voicing circling around a recitation of When The Wind Blows The Cradle Will Rock. A man being propositioned to the sound of a fairground ride and a glissando guitar is, unsurprisingly, the basis of Prostitute Poem, where Smyth's vocals become rather too annoying. Keep The Children Free features the heavy rhythm's of Sam Gopal's tablas.

Although I am a big fan of Gong, I was never very enamoured by the numerous side projects, with Smyth's Mother Gong being the worst of the bunch. Smyth's contributions to the main Gong band were fine in the context of the band, but become quite tiring when they are the main focus.

It's enough to say that the three pieces for whom the music was recorded some seven years before this album's release, are the highlights and the main draw in an otherwise unremarkable album.
Mark Hughes: 4 out of 10