Sahara (4:00), Fufu (4:56), Rote Island (4:09), Solitude (5:38), Here With You (3:33), Sophie's Song (3:54), Farm-O-Country (4:12), You Will Always Be (6:31), Wy Knot (3:27), Saturn Five (7:31)
My mother used to say to me in an exasperated tone during my rebellious years. Don't be satisfied with that mediocre piece of work, you can do much better! Undoubtedly, my mother would have approved of the creative efforts of Timorese guitarist Andre Dinuth in his latest release Here With You. It successfully avoids mediocrity and is appealingly imbued with many more positive attributes than negative ones.
This largely instrumental album is hard to pigeon hole, but the music generally draws upon jazz and fusion with some world music influences. The album was originally released by Indonesian label/distributor De Majors, but is now distributed internationally by MoonJune. It is well produced and its packaging and sleeve notes are informative.
The compositions are skillfully arranged and at times the album displays some fearsome guitar pyro technics and a flamboyant touch. The album is littered with fine instrumental performances that are bubbling with flair and panache. On occasions, the music ignites and becomes a blazing conflagration characterised by molten guitar interludes and truly explosive playing. The interplay between the guitar and other instruments is totally convincing and should appeal to readers who enjoy a hard edged guitar sound. The blistering guitar solo in the album's title track is quite stunning and is one of the albums most impressive parts.
Despite some cleverly-complex and challenging tunes that I found appealing, there was little to dissuade me that the album, superficially at least, explores a generic path where many other artists have ventured before. In this respect, I found Farm-O-Country particularly frustrating. Its familiar style and hackneyed mix of influences just did not appeal to me.
That is not to say, that Here With You, does not have merit. It does! The album is at its most interesting when it fuses Eastern and Arabian rhythms with rock influences as in the impressive Sahara. On more than one occasion, during this piece and also in the title track I was reminded of the work of the Chris Hinze Combination and in particular that bands excellent and eclectic Saliah album.
The suling (that's a bamboo ring flute) accompaniment in these two tracks and during the beautifully formed Solitude offered an extra dimension. The fragile tones of this traditional instrument gave the music a genuine ethnic feel. The warmth that the suling offers contrasts markedly with the standard jazz rock instrumentation and stylistic idioms that play a significant part in the majority of the tunes that are on offer.
Equally appealing were tracks such as Sophie's Song and the delightful You Will Always Be. They are carefully crafted and offer mood music that is genuinely excellent in every respect. These slower pieces have an attractive ability to create an impression that each note is precious. The clarinet parts that cheerfully joust with Dinuth's playful yet nimble fingered acoustic guitar parts in Sophie's Song are particularly joyous. The expressive guitar solo that sings sweetly in You Will Always Be is worth the price of the CD alone and brought to mind the style and sound that was explored by Jeff Beck in Blow By Blow.
The albums slower compositions are able to convey a kaleidoscopic range of emotions much more effectively than the arguably more challenging and quicker tempo pieces such as Wy Knot and Saturn Five. Nevertheless, Wy Knot is a fine piece of jazz-rock and the interplay between the saxophone and the guitar has the power to excite. Similarly, the heavy riffed Saturn Five is full of menace, screaming guitars and quick footed rocket fuelled energy that is sure to appeal to listeners who like to gurn expressively in time with each blazing guitar lick.
When I first heard this album, I remember thinking that I was listening to yet another jazz rock album by a talented artist with undisputed technical ability but possessing little warmth. After a few plays I realised that this superficial impression was wrong and that this was an exceptional fusion album featuring a remarkably gifted player whose ability to show and transmit emotion shine through to play as equally an important role as his undoubted technical prowess.
I doubt that Andre Dinuth's loved ones will suggest that he can do much better and I am sure that his outstanding contribution throughout the album ensures that he avoids any disdainful judgements and accusations of mediocrity. He has created an excellent album, which contains elements that fusion aficionados will no doubt salivate over and enjoy without reservation.
Child Of Mine (4:31), Doctors Prescription (4:43), Mother (5:37), Bring Me To The Water (5:02), Maze (4:33), Paradox (4:43), My Demons Hunt (4:57), Keep Running (5:15), When The Rain Falls (5:19)
Golden Caves are a relatively young Dutch alternative prog rock band. Founded in Rotterdam, where the members met at the prestigious arts university Codarts in 2013 already, they are finally presenting their debut full-length album called Collision. Now, being a Dutch band, female fronted, and described as alternative prog rock, comparisons to their countrymen and genre pioneers The Gathering are easily drawn, even before the first listen. After living with the album for some good three weeks or so, I can assure, the assumption that they sound similar is both absolutely accurate and couldn't be further from the truth at the same time. A kind of a Schrödinger's dilemma, but I hope it will make sense for those of you who decide to give this Collision a try.
Opening track Child Of Mine is kicking things off with a heavy grooving, Hammond organ driven riff, while the second song Doctor's Prescription has a distinct Faith No More vibe (mostly due to the slap bass) in the bridge, juxtaposed with a chorus that brings an overall more serene feeling to it. Starting strong and diverse here, captivating from the first note with quality songwriting, great playing of all instrumentalists involved, and a good production. Last but not least, they have Romy Ouwekerk a strong voice in the center and forefront, with excellent, intriguing melody and harmony choices. The following ballad Mother, however, while not dropping the quality one bit, has the aforementioned The Gathering written all over it and Romy sounds eerily close to Anneke van Giersbergen's quite unique (at least I thought it was) timbre. But truth be told, there are definitely worse bands to be compared with and when it is done with such passion and conviction, my goosebumps tell me: this is just plain awesome. Period.
The award-winning single Bring Me To The Water is built upon an engaging bass groove, building up towards an epic ending. Maze, though, truly seems to be a bit lost in direction after a beautiful piano-led intro, reminiscent of British progsters Panic Room. Continuing the collision course of contrasts, Paradox is one of the heavier tracks with its cool riff in 7/8 as opposed to the other single My Demons Hunt (originally released in 2015 already). The latter brings to mind the quiet and subtle moments of Texas doomsters Oceans of Slumber combined with a goosebumps-inducing, Pink Floyd lap steel/bottleneck guitar melody, elevating the chorus into higher dimensions.
Coming slowly towards the end of Collision, Keep Running is probably the song that saved the album for me, as I loved it at first listen, but during the second and third spin I had the feeling that it is not as amazing as I initially thought, so I didn't listen to it for a week or so. Then suddenly, its chorus kept coming back into my mind, calling me, urging me to give Collision another chance. And I am so glad I did. While the slow build towards an epic ending already feels like the end of the album, there is still one more to come.
For one last time, Romy Ouwekerk channels her inner Anneke van Giersbergen on When The Rain Falls, and in proper prog style, we are treated to a colorful synth solo from keyboard player Elise Polman before the Collision is over. A remarkable debut album, even though I am not quite sure if it is despite or because of the aforementioned curse and blessing that is the huge shadow of The Gathering. But since the album is so diverse and quite consistent in quality, I am inclined to give credit where credit is due and say: it is 100% Golden Caves. Definitely a band with a bright future ahead, as their sound could also be appealing to more mainstream audiences.
New Lightspace Age (4:17), An Idea of Freedom (4:58), Where Words Fail (4:03), Dream Again (4:41), Form Hope (4:31), Eterniverse Deja Vu (5:24), They Fit You In (4:18), Go Amplify The Feeling (4:29), Starting Over (4:53), Place Of Power (6:02), Stay Strong With Me (5:41), Positive Light Code (5:12), Enjoy The Now (5:54)
Light Freedom Revival is a project created by Canadian singer-songwriter John Vehadija. Aspiring to be positve and concise, much of this debut reminded me of the more commercial aspects of Yes releases from the 90's. None too surprsing as the album is produced by Billy Sherwood, who also provides his talents as a musician. His stamp is in abundance here, which is a positive. He adds a valuable aire of professionlism to the entire undertaking. Other guests lending their more than capable support are Oliver Wakeman (Yes) and Eric Gillette (Neal Morse Band).
Vocals duties are handled by Vehadija, who has an adaquate, if unremarkable voice. He is aided substantially though by the inclusion of Marisa Frantz on harmony vocals. There is an AOR prog sheen to most of the album and Vehadija rarely strays from that formula. That does create some challenges as the songs tend to run together to some degree without much to distinquish them from one another. There are exceptions, such as the more acoustic Form Hope, the title track, and Go Amplify the Feeling. The last two of which have a Jimmy Buffett vibe to my ears. A very rare reference for a prog related review.
Ultimately, there is nothing tremendously complex about Etherniverse Deja Vu, but it doesn't seen to aspire to that. I don't mean that as a negative as progressive music needn't be overly elaborate to be enjoyed. In fact, there is something to be said for a prog album that is just a pleasant and relatively undemanding listen. From a songwriting perspective, Vehadija proves capable of creating some compelling musical moments. His background as a poet gives him a particular stregnth as a lyricist. Perhaps too much at times as there are moments where it seems that he tries to throw too many words into the mix. This creates a complicated, rushed feel at times. As an example, in Positive Light Code, it feels as if the lyrics are trying to keep up with the music or vice versa. On the other hand, Enjoy the Now is a rather perfect union of both.
This is a tough album to harshly criticize as there is certainly much to admire about it. That said, it does ride a comfortable middle ground that keeps it from greater distinction. Entertaining, but never quite rising to the level of essential. On future recordings, it would be a positive for Vehadija to be a bit more adventurous. From a lyrical perspective, I think an expanded musical approach would play well to his style. The talent is there and if he continues to acquire such gifted musicians for this project, Light Freedom Revival has a ton of potential. If the details above intrique you, I would absolutely recommend that you give Etherniverse Deja Vu a try. It is worth a listen and John Vehadija is a talent to keep an eye on.
Auditory Hallucinations (9:13), Elusive the Wind Vane (6:44), Une Promenade (2:37), Polysomnographic (5:30), Personal Improvement Cult (11:19), Ultrasound (2:16)
Pixie Ninja are a recently formed Nordic prog band whose founding members Marius Leirånes (guitars, bass, keyboards) and Jostein Haugen (guitars, bass, keyboards) have been working together on various projects since 2008. Recruited initially as producer, Necromonkey's Mattias Olsson adds drums and Melloton M400, and Johan Hals Jørgensen on organ completes the line up.
Pixie Ninja have given us their purely instrumental debut Ultasound. The music is a mix of atmospheric electronic soundscapes and prog rock. The opening track Auditory Hallucinations throws the listener right in with over four minutes of electronic beeps and washes. Going for the atmospheric, it ends up being a test of one's patience as it whispers along. It improves at the half way mark as the guitars, bass and drums enter. It starts as 1970s Tangerine Dream at their least interesting, and finishes as the engaging Tangerine Dream of the early 1980s.
The album does get better after that. There is a Magma like jazz swagger to Elusive The Wind Vane with its syncopated drums, swathes of Mellotron and Waserbergland's Ketil Vestrum Einarsen's flute fills. Following on is Une Promenade, a delicate and beautiful Debussyian piano miniature.
The best track is Polysomnographic, it gets everything right compared to opening track. The slow, atmospheric electric piano chords give way to full band, as Pixie Ninja subtly change the pace and the dynamics, leading to some lovely synth work.
The longest track Personal Improvement Cult, is a multi-part work that has a terrific arrangement, making use of all sorts of instrumental colours and none of the sections outstay their welcome. Ultrasound's title track is a stately finale to the album, ending with sequenced synths.
So Pixie Ninja's debut release Ultrasound is a bit of a mixed bag. When it works it is an adventurous and eminently listenable release. Pixie Ninja will be worth keeping an eye on in the future.
In Abeyance (13:46), The Dark Beyond Our Fears (12:02), What If (5:52), What If Not (12:22), Forgiven (7:44), A Mask behind a MAsk (12:09), Epistrophe (14:17)
After his previous release Fragmentropy, T presents us with the follow-up. Epistrophobia is the sequel to Fragmentropy and contains chapters 4, 5, and 6 of the concept story T developed and started in 2015. T always makes it an effort to write lyrics with meaning, not just plain simple texts. All his lyrics have deeper meaning to them. Right from the beginning it is clear that this album is the sequel to his previous work. You will discover some of the themes that were used on Fragmentropy.
As on the rest of his work, T takes care of the writing, performing, and mixing of the music. T is a multi-talented musician, capable of playing various instruments at high level, something which he has shown before.
The consistancy of the music on this album appears to be a little stronger than on its predecessor. The tracks are better linked to each other. There is more congruency in the music as well as in the lyrics. The complete musicallity is of a very high standard.
This is not uncommon among multi-instrumentalist projects, typically artists that like to keep every detail in their own hands. Focused on what they want the result to sound like and being able to create it without interference of third parties or band members to consider, they sometimes reach very high levels of musicality and expression. That is not to say it's the best way to go at all times, because working in a group might add that extra chemistry. Looking at Epistrophobia, I have to admit that I was surprised that T managed to raise his own standards again, this time both lyrically and musically.
Clocking in at 78 minutes, his latest effort is of extensive length again. It is a work of art, musical art, created by a single man. With the help from modern day techniques he was capable of making such an album. A masterpiece to some, I guess. I believe T created another milestone in his career. Well done and hats off to Thomas Thielen, you did it again.
For those who don't know about T yet, some musical equivalents would be TPE (The Psychedelic Ensemble) and Like Wendy. But I urge you to find out for yourself what T is about. There's a great story told on every album.