The Poet (Pt 1) Dusk (10:09), The Poet (Pt 2) New World (4:18), Year Zero (4:36), Upside Down (6:27), CH 7 (12:36), Terra (8:05), Pale Blue Dot (9:55), Still Alive (4:48), Nostalgia (2:14), Club Hawaii (9:22), Falling (2:14), Into The Probe (6:55)
Hawaii is the fourth full-length album from Chile's premier progressive rock band, Aisles, and follows on from the much-acclaimed 4:45 album (review here).
This latest effort carries on in a similar musical vein, as they present a concept album about seeking and colonising a new planet after the destruction of the Earth in 2300 AD. This album concentrates on the challenges and dilemma's that humankind would face in such a scenario.
So this is an album that has an emotional weight to it, as the band explores some deep emotions and feelings and strange new possibilities.
Firstly the sound is great, with lots of space and lots happening musically, but never for show, always as an integral part of what is being portrayed. I will admit that vocalist German Vergara takes a little getting used to, as he has an unusual phrasing, coming across a little Steve Hogarth-like at times. The rest of the band are on top form, with some lovely piano from Juan Pablo Gaete on several of the tracks and some intelligent sequencer runs on Terra. I also like that some of the tracks are shorter, to off-set the more lengthy "epics" which gives the album a good balance.
This is a long album but really should be listened to in one sitting for maximum effect. Throughout the album there is some very tasteful and restrained guitar work from Rodrigo Sepúlveda, which adds some great textures to the songs. If I were to cherry pick tracks I would select CH 7 and Dusk - The Poet Pt 1 along with Club Hawaii, as they give a good representation of the album. Nostalgia is a short instrumental track that fits in very well with the remainder of the album.
This is the first Aisles album that I've heard in full, and on the basis of this album it will not be the last. I like this one a lot and I feel that repeated playing will only bring to light even more the subtle graces and beauties that Aisles so obviously invest their music with. This is intelligent, articulate and interesting music to listen to and should appeal to most progressive rock fans, as it has shades of Marillion and Porcupine Tree amongst others. They also have a fondness for jazz- and world music-influenced passages within their songs, making for a very alternative listening experience.
If you are intrigued you can download a free album's worth of tracks here on the Aisles Bandcamp Page, which is a great way to hear this very talented group without any cost or risk to you. I recommend this CD highly.
Book Of The Dead (3:33), Kill The Slavemaster (6:04), Searching (5:29), Dweller Of The Twilight Void (4:09), As Sure As The Sun (27:09)
From Columbus, Ohio, Vision and Ageless Light is EYE's third studio album, and it is a rather fine collection of psychedelia-tinged space-rock. They mix up elements of Astra, Hawkwind and Pink Floyd with an early Black Sabbath-like heaviness, whilst never forgetting to employ a good melody.
The success of Vision and Ageless Light is down to the tight but loose group dynamic. However, your ear can't help but be drawn to Lisa Bella Donna's array of vintage keyboards (organ, Mellotron and synthesisers) that have the analogue warmth of the 70s to them. This is evident right from the off, with the glitchy Mellotron and sequenced synths of Book Of The Dead. This provides the album with a haunting, foreboding overture.
The space-rock kicks in with Kill The Slavemaster. Its powerful, driving bassline has Michael Sliclen channelling Hawkwind-era Lemmy, whilst band founder Brandon Smith's drums, gives a punchy foundation to Bella Donna's organ duel with Jon Finley's shredding guitar. Full-on stuff.
A 70s hard rock guitar riff, and another excellent space-rock groove, muscles Searching along, as Bella Donna switches to guitar. Whilst Dweller Of The Twilight Void has a weird, disturbed West Coast vibe to its acoustic guitar and vocal harmonies, before a terrific synth solo emerges.
The icing on this cake though is the closing epic As Sure As The Sun. Here, EYE give themselves a proper workout, moving from the acoustic opening, through orchestral layers of keyboards to heavier King Crimson-esque sections. At one point they even get a proper 70s boogie going. There is more terrific guitar and synth work throughout. This song's eclectic mixture of sounds and melodies have a mad-as-a-box-of-frogs brilliance to them.
So, EYE's Vision and Ageless Light is a cracker of a space-rock album, which sent me back to blasting out Hawkwind's seminal Space Ritual. Yes, it's that good.
Focus Zero (10:22), Hola, Como Estas? (4:56), Rock 5 (7:12), Millennium (7:22), Inalta (5:35) Talking Rhythms (5:26), Surrexit Christus (5:35)
After Focus reformed and recorded Focus 8 in 2002, they embarked on a world tour in 2005 which included South America. During breaks in their touring commitments, Focus entered the studio in Brazil and recorded a number of pieces with a variety of accomplished Brazilian musicians. The contributors included composer Marvio Ciribelli, bassist Rogerio Fernandes and renowned drummer Marcio Bahia. The results of these recordings form the basis of an album that has been released under the moniker of Focus and Friends and has the apt title Focus 8.5/ Beyond the Horizon.
I enjoyed X which was Focus' last studio album of new material. It evolved the band's style, whilst maintaining many aspects of their instantly recognisable classic sound. Whilst Beyond the Horizon does not contain the energy and clenched-fist aggression of tunes such as All Hens on Deck, or the elegance of the beautiful Message Magique (which were amongst the highlights of X), it does contain some of the most exciting and fresh material that I have heard from Focus since their reformation.
The compositions of X were heavily arranged around the exquisite tones and heavy riffs of guitarist Menno Gootjes. In X there was a symbiotic relationship between the guitar and Thys Van Leer's trademark keyboard and flute sound. Beyond the Horizon has less emphasis on guitar, and as a consequence there are many more opportunities for the flute to take on a lead role. In this respect, Van Leer does not disappoint but excels. In tracks such as Focus Zero and Inalta he uses his lyrical flute-style sparingly, relying frequently instead upon a fuller-bodied, strident rock flute sound. Surprisingly, the most strident flute work in the album is undertaken by Marcelo Martins in Rock 5, a piece that does not feature Van Leer.
Beyond the Horizon is not afraid to differ from the usual range of styles associated with Focus. The compositions and the performances have many unexpected and ultimately rewarding aspects. This, no doubt, is probably due to the fact that compositional duties are shared amongst the participants. Van Leer is only principally responsible for one piece; the opener Focus Zero.
Who would have thought that a Focus album would include a rhythmic vocal duel between two drummers, similar to the style beloved by Indian percussionists? Talking Rhythms, as its name suggests, does just that and it is a joy to hear one of South America's finest drummers Marcio Bahia playfully duel with Pierre Van Der Linden, one of Europe's finest kit men. Talking Rhythms is divided into two parts; conversation of drums and conversation of drummers and these titles neatly describe what to expect. The venerable Van Der Linden is in superb form and his enthusiasm for his instrument is irrepressible.
Drum duties are also shared with Bahia on Millennium and on Hola, Como Estas?, where a mood of sparkling revelry is immediately apparent in its joyous arrangement. The piece manages to portray a flamboyant mood that is reminiscent of the Latin-tinged atmosphere that Santana so successfully captured in their Abraxas album. The combined effect of the rhythmic skills of Van Der Linden and Bahia creates an irresistible groove. Their glorious work helps to emphasise the hip shaking, happy-faced intensity that is inherent in the piece. The tune is also characterised by Marcio Lott's vocal contribution that is backed by a choral section. The whole piece is punctuated by Thys Van Leer's unique scat-styled, wordless vocals that perfectly seals the mixture of styles in this uplifting composition.
The album begins at a rocket-fuelled pace with Focus Zero, which is essentially a series of frantic flute-flurried lines and stop/start sections, punctuated by melodies indicative of Focus' symphonic style. It is a glorious piece of finely-cut fusion that has the class to impress and the stylistic qualities to surprise. Its breadth and clever use of different musical forms, is sure to satiate the appetite of those who like a pick-and-mix assortment in their prog. The track also includes what appear to be a number of themes and motifs that have featured in previous Focus tunes. Focus aficionados will surely have fun identifying all of these.
The most impressive and progressive piece on the album is undoubtedly Rock 5 which was composed by Marvo Ciribelli. It is a bright, jazz-inflected tune in which the impressive flute parts stand out. The only Focus connection in terms of the performers on this piece is Bobby Jacobs on bass. Nevertheless, it carries on in a similar vein as Focus Zero, in that it contains some riffs and motifs that could have been taken from various points in Focus' back catalogue. It was, no doubt Ciribelli's intention to reproduce this familiar-sounding characteristic within his composition.
There are times though, within Rock 5 when its spacious arrangement and expressive, wordless female vocals bare little resemblance to Focus' usual approach, reminding me of the work of the Northette's in Hatfield and the North. It is a great track and the amalgam of a number of disparate influences works really well.
There are many fine standout instrumental moments throughout the album, including Jan Dumee's fine guitar work during Millennium, but I particularly enjoyed Jacobs's effect-driven bass solo that has a central role during Surrexit Christus. His contribution was even more enjoyable, because it contrasted so markedly with the serene atmosphere that is dominant within this ecclesiastical-sounding tune.
All in all, Beyond the Horizon is a thoroughly rewarding and entertaining album. It may not appeal to those who enjoy Focus' more riff-driven rock style, as epitomised by tracks such as Sylvia and Hocus Pocus, but it is sure to find great favour amongst those who enjoy hearing aspects of Focus' idiosyncratic approach within a different cultural context and occasionally embellished by some of the stylistic nuances usually associated with blues or jazz.
Blowing Through (3:33), Breathe (3:42), Colors (3:33), Counting Sheep (3:34), Firefly (War Dance)(3:39), Ginger Ale (4:02), Prayers (4:37), Row With The Flow (3:56), Sold (2:42), The Last Thought (3:13), Vine (2:58)
Jen Gloekner is an American singer songwriter, and Vine is her third studio release. I would best describe her music as melodic and accessible, but significantly experimental as well. Sonically complex and both instrumentally and vocally lush, it is obvious that Jen is a studio perfectionist. That also might explain the seven-year gap between Vine and her last studio release. Though the songs often consist of simple yet beautiful melodies, the arrangements and production are elaborate. In some ways, this element of her music somewhat reminds me of Peter Gabriel.
Interestingly though, what truly sets this album apart is Jen's songwriting skills. Without quality material, the heavy production values would come across as hollow and pretentious. That is certainly not the case here as Vine mainly works due to the memorable choruses, strong melodies and insightful lyrics. That said, the instrumentation is also strong, but not in a traditional progressive rock sense.
Never flashy, but always compelling, Jen works wonders in creating a mood. From layered keyboards, to classical string instruments, to the somewhat subtle but intriguing guitar work, this is memorable stuff.
Two excellent examples of this are the achingly beautiful Ginger Ale and the equally effective The Last Thought. The loopy, mainly instrumental Firefly (War Dance) is also a highlight. I would be remiss in not mentioning the vocal work here. In today's commercial music scene, the emphases seems to be on vocal acrobatics to a large extent. That makes it all the more refreshing to hear Jen's understated, yet wonderfully emotive vocals. Colors, Breathe and Row with the Flow are all great examples of how effective her vocals can be.
This extremely entertaining album was my introduction to her music and a truly pleasant surprise. To give you an idea of what to expect, I wish that I could give you some additional comparisons to other artists. To be honest though, even the comparison to Peter Gabriel is a little bit of a stretch. Ultimately, Vine is a work of definite quality, and part of that allure comes from its originality. My recommendation is to give it a try. Yes, it is a bit different than most other albums reviewed here. In my estimation though, it is most certainly progressive and absolutely worthy of attention.
I Mean You Harm (3:55), Mayhem in Blue (7:57), Riders to Utopia (4:38), Lost in Satan's Charms (10:52), The Cannibal Tribe Came from the Sea (6:51), How to Fly in Blackness (6:16)
I've always enjoyed hearing bands from different countries, other than my usual choice of Nordic/Scandinavian/Polish musicians, so I leapt at the change to indulge in a band from Greece. And so we have Hail Spirit Noir who, having released albums in 2012 (Pneuma) and 2014 (Oi Magoi), return to the fold with Mayhem in Blue.
The first song was an unexpected chaotic journey into what I can only describe as a spawn of punk, black metal, psychedelia and chaos. It sounds a bit messy, but it is fantastic. A fun, fast-paced track with harsh, growled vocals being thrown at you over heavy, discordant guitars, blast beats, changing riffs and general madness. I loved it.
Following this, the album continues with a discordant sound, typical of a lot of black metal. However, they have a certain flair that I have found very few black metal bands to show. There is a heavy emphasis on creating uneasy atmospheres, with some wonderful clean vocals, before bringing in the heavy sound, the discordant jarring notes, and the fast drumming and harsh screams from guitarist and vocalist Theoharis. While a lot of black metal artists do this, these guys have a more "rock" sound, while still being fairly heavy. This helps add accessibility to the music that a lot of these other bands miss. There is a strong focus on song writing, melodies as well as chaos, and the addition of psychedelic-sounding elements really helps set them apart, and helps create their own unique and interesting sound.
Lost In Satan's Charms in particular stands out for the rhythm section. The driving drumming of Ioannis Giahoudis and bass skills of J. Demian, along with the overall atmosphere and tone of the song, really comes to the fore here, giving it a dark sound that hits all the right notes, if you enjoy psychedelic black metal.
The theatrical/carnival sounds of keyboardist Haris bring an avant-garde element to round it all off and create an eclectic, chaotic mix of prog, psychedelic, black metal and good old fashioned rock. The most chaotic track is definitely I Mean You Harm, whilst the rest have a slightly more laid-back sound. However, it is still very much an album that packs a lot of punch.
I am finding it difficult to give an idea of similar bands, but I would guess if Avatar and The Heretic Order started a band, while time travelling between the 60s and modern day.
All in all, a damn fine album and an interesting spin on black metal.
Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music: Reefer Madness (6:03), Steppenwolf (9:46), City Of Lagoons (5:12), The Aubergine That Ate Rangoon (3:37), Kerb Crawler (3:47), Kadu Flyer (5:32), Chronoglide Skyway (4:39)
Quark, Strangeness & Charm: Spirit Of The Age (7:25), Damnation Alley (9:02), Fable Of A Failed Race (3:22), Quark, Strangeness & Charm (3:41), Hassan I Sabbah (5:22), The Forge Of Vulcan (3:06), The Days Of The Underground (3:11), The Iron Dream (1:51)
Hawklords 25 Years On: PSI Power (6:04), Freefall (5:10), Automoton (1:12), 25 Years (4:32), Flying Doctor (5:36), The Only Ones (4:12), (Only) The Dead Dreams Of The Cold War Kid (3:46), The Age Of The Micro Man (3:25)
PXR 5: Death Trap (3:51), Jack Of Shadows (3:28), Uncle Sam's On Mars (5:45), Infinity (4:17), Life Form (1:44), Robot (8:15), High Rise (4:36), P.X.R.5 (5:39)
As you all know, the late 70s saw most of the big names in prog and all related genres, suffer some kind of identity crisis. Times were changing, punk and new wave had crashed the party and things had to change in many ways in order to survive. Yes, this was the long and winding road to the 80s and it was very much a case of "adapt or perish". Some artists managed to transform their aesthetics while keeping the ethics, and survived gracefully (see King Crimson), others perished on the way (ELP anyone?), and in some cases even elevated their success to new heights (Genesis).
Intelligently, Hawkwind somehow kept a low profile (at least compared to those of say, Pink Floyd) and, by retaining their trademark sound, but at the same time tweaking it to adapt to the new times, succeeded in making music which was both honest and relevant. The four albums included in this box-set give a widescreen view of this process, and while a bit uneven in terms of quality, they show a band progressing at a steady pace. These are post Lemmy releases, who went on to form Motörhead after 1975's celebrated Warrior On The Edge Of Time. But funnily enough, the sound found here gives more than a few nods to those (then) new punk and new wave trends. Of course, there's plenty of trippy space rock to be found here, but also a handful of straightforward songs and very catchy choruses. The focus here is mainly on Bob Calvert's vocals and lyrics, although Dave Brock's guitars and the pounding rhythm section commanded by Simon King's drumming, lend a welcome edge to the whole.
Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music, released in 1976 and still featuring Nik Turner's tasty saxophone work, is probably the best of the lot, and both Reefer Madness and Steppenwolf are excellent, especially the latter with its nine-minutes expertly balanced between the weird and the groovy. And who could resist to song titles such as that of the instrumental The Aubergine That Ate Rangoon?
1977's Quark, Strangeness & Charm is almost on par, again boasting excellent, extended master classes on how to keep things both catchy and interesting; Spirit Of The Age and particularly, the wonderful Damnation Alley are good proof of that. Elsewhere, the punk-ish influence is noticeable in more straightforward pieces such as the title track, but the strangeness remains intact in Hasssan I Sabbah and The Forge Of Vulcan, the latter even featuring a brilliant performance of Simon House on, well, the anvil.
By the time we get to 1978 and the release of Hawklords: 25 Years On, one can't help but notice a dip in terms of the songwriting, with the band amping up the punchiness to the detriment of depth. Free Fall is quite good, and 25 Years is irresistibly rocky, but short experiments such as Automoton are mostly devoid of interest.
PXR 5, released a mere eight months later, follows the trend, with both the powerful Death Trap and the title track on the plus side, but also including inanities like Life Form and failed experiments to recapture past glories, as is the case with Robot, which is by any means a poor-man's Brainstorm. If anything, these two releases benefit from brevity, so neither overstay their welcome (a rare virtue these days, I might add).
So, for those only familiar with the "classic" Hawkwind period, this is a very interesting and nicely presented chance to discover plenty of good music, and we have to thank Cherry Red Records for dusting off these lost gems. Keep in mind though, there's no Space Ritual or Hall Of The Mountain Grill to be found here, so approach it with an open mind.
A Distant Light (4:30), Closer (5:32), Expectations (4:49),The Illusion (4:13)
Burak Ozmucur, the one man band from Istanbul, Turkey now residing in New Jersey (also the name of the mastermind behind it all), has unleashed his third effort unto the progressive world, following on from his previous releases, In Silence in 2013 and Long Until Gone earlier in 2013. While still a relatively unknown artist, this album shows a stunning sense of musicianship and promise for the future.
A Distant Light starts with a soft, clean riff before a suitably proggy riff comes chugging in with the rest of the "band", to wake things up. The track features a splendid mix of chugging guitars, clean rhythms and harmonised vocals to create a thoroughly enjoyable slab of prog. While not as heavy as the likes of Meshuggah and without the harsh vocals of some other similar bands, there is an underlying sound that brings Burack Ozmucur safely into the lofty heights of progressive metal.
The following track, Closer, is a more relaxed affair with clean guitars, layered over a steady, medium-paced rhythm section. It's an atmospheric and melodic piece that successfully shows the softer side. Expectations is similar, focusing on a cleaner approach, but with a more present bass line that really brings home the rhythm that Burack can write and play. It has a pretty nice build-up to a heavy (while still being played cleanly) crescendo, before being hit by waves of melody as the song ends.
The final track, The Illusion, brings back the chugging riffs reminiscent of A Distant Light with more melodic, harmonised vocals added over the top. The track is possibly a bit similar in make-up and flow to the opener, but that does little to detract from the quality of the musicianship and penmanship of Burak.
I would recommend this to fans of Spinning Black Circle, Katatonia, Ghost Brigade and Votum. Overall, this is a fantastic EP, full of proggy goodness, with the only downside being that it isn't longer.
Play (3:01), Dance Around Black Hole (4:54), Running Out (1:42), Fireflying (3:44), Last Spring (4:26), Yellow Skies (3:21), Something Behind Trees (5:58), No More Games (4:47), Playground Lost (6:32)
Month 2 of my New Year's Resolution to step bravely into progressive pastures new, and a pledge to review an out-of-my-comfort-zone album every month in 2017. I began on a promising note last month with a journey into the electronic pop rock of Italian band Metadrive. This month is not so much an exploration beyond normal listening, as a whole style of music than I am not sure anyone has ever tried before.
Nerissa Schwarz is from Bayreuth in Germany and is the harpist and Mellotron player in the German progressive band Frequency Drift. In that setting, most of the songs are written by her husband Andreas Hack.
This is a genuine solo album. Nerissa has not only written all the music on Playgrounds Lost, but has also produced, arranged, recorded and performed everything by herself.
Firstly, this is nothing like Frequency Drift. The instrumental sounds here are minimalistic, ambient and new age experimentalism. Mood-wise things have been clearly dictated-to by the album's concept: the beauty, fragility and traumas of childhood. It could be the soundtrack to a very disturbingly-sad movie. Not a horror movie, but one with its inspiration in a dark place.
Performed entirely on electric harp and Mellotron, Playgrounds Lost passes from folk-like tones to noise, from ambient soundscapes to intricate, classical compositions. However for me the range of instruments is very narrow, and thus the tapestry of sound is very limited. Colours are painted and stories are told, but not in a way that I am able to connect to.
It is certainly different and thoughtfully composed and structured. Those who enjoy immersing themselves in dark ambience should give it a try. But for me this is well and truly too far outside of my musical comfort zone.
Family Snapshot (4:40), Moribund The Burgermeister (4:17), Humdrum (3:51), Mercy Street (4:34), Wallflower (6:07), White Shadow (4:53), Father, Son (3:51), The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (5:34), Fly On A Windshield (4:42), On The Air (5:23)
Well, here's the dichotomy: I love Peter Gabriel and most of his body of work, but at the same time I can't really see the point (never could) in devoting a band of talented musicians to play covers of songs by other musicians, especially when the object of your tribute is an artist who's actively touring and, though not prolifically by any means, still creating new music. This is why writing a review of an album such as this poses a challenge to me.
It would be tempting to dismiss it as an unnecessary product, and surely an "official" live release by the man himself will always feel as the "real thing". However, the fact is that you're not likely to find On The Air or Humdrum on such releases any time soon, so this live recording might be the next best thing, if you miss that kind of material from PG's regular setlists. Sometimes, like on Moribund The Burgermeister (which lacks the quirkiness of the original) or on the Genesis classic The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, it doesn't quite work, and it all sounds a bit awkward and forced.
But when it works, it does surprisingly well. Mercy Street sounds beautiful in the acoustic rendition included here, and White Shadow offers an unexpected (and welcome) climax. Elsewhere, the covers sound strikingly similar to the originals (you almost can't tell Family Snapshot or Wallflower from the album versions), but because of this, they also sound somewhat flat and lifeless.
There's no denying that the band assembled here is made up of interesting names, with original PG drummer Jerry Marotta providing some sort of legitimacy to the proceedings, while touch guitarist and former King Crimson member Trey Gunn brings a certain polish of prestige. The voice of Brian Cummins' (who also efficiently emulates Fish in Mick Pointer's Script Revisited) boasts an uncanny resemblance to PG's, but still one can't help but feel this is somehow a non-essential release.
This is an album reserved for ardent fans and completionists, but if you are curious about this tribute, I'd go for Live 1(reviewed here), as it offers a more attractive selection of cuts. Meanwhile, do yourself a favor and get Peter Gabriel Live or Secret World Live, both excellent live double albums.
CD 1, The Quintet 1980 + 1981: 8:30 (2:19), Sightseeing (7:34), Brown Street (11:17), The Orphan (1:51), Forlorn (4:11), Three Views Of A Secret (7:33), Badia / Boogie Woogie Waltz (10:58), Wayne Solo (7:34), Jaco Solo (Osaka 1980) (7:59)
CD 2, The Quartet 1978: Joe And Wayne Duet (8:40), Birdland (6:18), Peter's Solo ("Drum Solo") (4:43), A Remark You Made (7:34), Continuum / River People (12:22), Gibraltar (21:08)
CD 3, The Quintet 1980 + 1981: Fast City (8:38), Madagascar (17:44), Night Passage (10:07), Dream Clock (9:37), Rockin' In Rhythm (4:21), Port Of Entry (12:35)
CD 4, The Quartet 1978: Elegant People (9:18), Scarlet Woman (11:53), Black Market (13:14), Jaco Solo (8:19), Teen Town (8:59), Peter's Drum Solo (3:59), Directions (6:50)
If Weather Report's unique style of jazz-based fusion appeals, or if you only enjoy some of their material, I can confidently state that over the course of the four discs of The Legendary Live Tapes you will find many things to appreciate, and will discover much to enthuse about.
This release is a compilation of Weather Report's live performances spanning the years 1978-81. The album is largely made up of soundboard recordings taken by sound engineer Brian Risner. Other tracks such as A Remark You Made and Continuum / River People have been acquired from previously unknown audience recordings.
Given the limitations of the source material, the sound quality across the four discs is quite remarkable. Whilst not likely to satisfy keen-eared audiophiles (at times there is some audible hiss and the mix of instruments is on occasions somewhat uneven), any noticeable deficiencies are more than made for up by the enthusiastic performance of the band, and by the relative scarcity of a number of the tracks chosen for inclusion. For example, The Legendary Live Tapes is the only release to fully cover the band's 1980–81 live performances. This period was only previously documented as a small part of Weather Report's Live and Unreleased album.
Pete Erskine was the drummer for the band during this period and the soundboard recordings were captured on Erskine's cassette recorder. The recordings come from Erskine's personal collection and he has been responsible, alongside Tony Zawinul, for choosing which tracks and performances should be included in this release.
The album has extensive sleeve notes written by Erskine, and he offers an informative analysis of many of the compositions and performances on offer. His excellent critique of the music adds added value to the overall package. The album has been published in an unusual-sized package, which is larger than a usual CD, but considerably smaller than the size of Steve Wilson's boxed Jethro Tull remixes.
The Legendary Live Tapes has many impressive qualities. The band's performances are littered with memorable moments to savour. Frequent standout passages abound; these include the smouldering sax and synth interactions in pieces such as Scarlet Women and the prevalent, punchy, pulsating bass lines of Jaco Pastorius, which give direction and drive to much of the music.
Nevertheless, Weather Report has always been an enigma for me. I appreciate their music, and when I listen to them, I find myself in awe of the band's collective skill and individual prowess. I have most of their studio releases and a number of live recordings, and regularly dip into a track or two. However I rarely play their albums in their entirety or listen to them for long stretches of a time. Something about their style just does not fully resonate in me, or touch my head and heart in the way that other jazz-influenced bands such as Return To Forever, Eleventh House, Soft Machine, Passport, Isotope, Turning Point or Nucleus do.
In a number of ways, The Legendary Live Tapes has helped me to reassess my overall opinion of this band's style and art. The performances are remarkable, in the way that the band is effortlessly able to reproduce, and at times embellish, their studio work. Many of the compositions are tweaked, developed and significantly enhanced. For example, a superb rendition of Gibraltar weighs in at a whooping 21 minutes, which allows ample space for the piece to breathe and evolve, and for the ensemble to explore different musical ideas.
This is a collection that is absolutely live in every respect. The quality of the collective and individual performances of the players, without any studio manipulation or trickery, signposts a path which points to and exposes the warmth that lies at the heart of the band's compositions.
Zawinul's mastery of so many different keyboard styles sets him apart from many of his contemporaries. His flowing synth lines are quite outstanding and he is blessed with an ability to create luscious textures which interact in complete harmony with the kaleidoscopic soundscape of the bright, bold colours offered by the other players. My favourite example of this occurs during Black Market where the glorious interaction between Zawinul's synth and Pastorius' popping, thrusting bass is absolutely magnificent.
Black Market also has some delightful interactions between saxophonist Wayne Shorter and Zawinul. Wayne Shorter is an extraordinary player and his lyrical phrasing is a consistent highlight across the four discs. His tone can be evocative and gentle, but there are many occasions across the disc when full-bodied blowing is required. His work during Sightseeing is particularly impressive.
As expected, the pieces featured in the release give many opportunities for all the players to highlight their skilful repertoire in extended solos. An undoubted highlight of the album is when Jaco Pastorius takes his place in the spotlight. Pastorius is featured in two solo pieces. The first occurs in disc one, labelled as Jaco Solo (Osaka 1980), and the second solo is to be found on CD4 and dates from 1978.
Both showcase Pastorius playing at the peak of his capabilities. The inventive power, rousing crescendos and adventurous use of harmonics in his 1978 solo, sets a bar that is hard to emulate, let alone beat, and just about edges his 1980 performance, where loops are used in a particularly imaginative way. Both solos rock with gusto and are mesmerising and full of inventive creativity.
During the tracks featured on disc 4, from 1978, Pastorius sounds as if he is at the centre of everything that the band is trying to create on stage. Whether this is due to the nature of the recording and the way it has been mixed, or whether this is a true reflection of the Weather Report live sound, I could not say, but his powerful influence is everywhere and because of this, much of disc 4 has an almost primeval pull.
In a release spanning over four discs it is difficult to go into great detail about specific tracks or write about the many occasions when I was excited by what I heard. The tracks which stood out for me as highlights were Badia/ Boogie Woogie Waltz, A Remark You Made, Gibraltar, Elegant People, Scarlet Woman and Black Market. All of these pieces offer something special, either in terms of melody or group interaction or just by their sheer inventiveness.
Overall, The Legendary Live Tapes is an outstanding compilation and should please anybody who enjoys the music of Weather Report. It offers a great opportunity for those yet to be convinced of the band's place in progressive music to appreciate just how skilled this collective was in a live setting.
Perhaps more importantly, the release shows how Weather Report was able to seamlessly blend jazz and rock into a fascinating stylistic fusion. As such, the band's music remains as relevant and as exciting today, as it was when the performances of this fabulous release were recorded.