Sanctuary I Part One (21:35), Sancturary I Part Two (4:12), Sanctuary II Part One (19:54), Sanctuary II Part Two (20:57), Willow Song (6:02)
It is perhaps fair to begin this review by stating that as a Mike Oldfield fan and an admirer of Robert Reed's work, I was torn by the two studio Sanctuary releases. On one hand, I understand the idea that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. Ultimately though, portions of each album were so similiar to work already recorded by Oldfield, that the overall point was lost on me a bit. That said, they were both incredibly respectful, well written and masterfully performed, which made them difficult to criticise.
In fact, they were so well done, that it was a bit frustrating that they didn't chart their own course more often. Accepting them for what they are though, I was definitely entertained by each album. Robert Reed is staggeringly talented, and music of this type is not easy to compose or perform. Much like Oldfield, Reed has a talent for creating infectous melodies and that is certainly evident on the Sanctuary albums.
I was interested to see how these complex compositions would transition over to a live performance. From an audio perspective, this concert, recorded at Real World Studios on October 8th 2016, confims that Reed and his fellow musicians met the challenge with flying colors. So well in fact, that the pieces don't differ substantialy from their studio counterparts. An impressive feat, which makes the CD a great purchase, particularly for those who don't already own the studio versions. The inclusion of the Paul Giovanni composition, Willow Song to end the show is a nice addition to the setlist. Reed released a version of this via EP a few years ago, and as on the studio recording, this live rendition is beautifully sung by Angharad Brinn.
The true essential here is the DVD version of the show. This is an intricate and entertaining concert to watch. Seeing these songs performed live truly emphasises the complexity of both the songwriting and the performances. Reed assembled a very talented group of musicians, including his bandmates from Magenta (Christina Booth and Chris Fry). The staging is simple, but effective, and ultimatly it becomes all about the music and the performances. There are moments where you can see that Reed is visibly enthused with how the show is going. It's a reasonable reaction, as this group of musicians performs his music flawlessly.
The DVD clearly demonstrates that whatever Sanctuary loses in originality, is made up for by the perfection of this live performance. Reed's admiration for the work of Mike Oldfield is obvious, and in the drive to honour it, he also confirms his own significant musical talents.
Though, as noted above, I am slightly critical of Sanctuary, the enormous accomplishment it represents is not lost on me. The CD is an entertaining listen and the DVD is highly recommended. A must for any fan of Robert Reed and certainly great fun for any Mike Oldfield fan. I do wonder what Mr. Oldfield thinks about the respect that Robert Reed has paid to him with Sanctuary.
Rio Grande (4:52), King Aeolus (4:43), Nurses Song With Elephants (3:34), Rio Grande (Tom Newman Mix) (5:19), King Aeolus (Tom Newman Mix) (5:22), Nurses Song With Elephants (Tom Newman Mix) (3:32), Rio Grande (Piano/Guitar Mix) (4:36), Nurses Song With Elephants (3:33)
After paying a deserved tribute to Mike Oldfield's seminal Tubular Bells (1973) / Hergest Ridge (1974) / Ommadawn (1975) trilogy with his well received duet of Sanctuary albums (released in 2014 and 2016 respectively), this Variations On Themes By David Bedford not only serves as a fitting homage to the works of one of Oldfield's main influences, but also feels as the natural continuation of Reed's project of revisiting his most revered pieces.
This time, it's the turn of Oldfield's "middle period", so these themes will undoubtedly remind you of albums such as Incantations (1978), Platinum (1979), QE2 (1980), Five Miles Out (1982) and Crises (1983). These are maybe not as respected as that inaugural "sacred" trilogy, but (nearly) as inspiring and influential. The songs remain fairly loyal to Bedford's originals, but Reed and his team of talented collaborators manage to evoke Oldfield's early 80s sound effortlessly. So, when you hear Angharad Brinn's vocals on Rio Grande, the voices of Sally Oldfield, Maggie Reilly and Clodagh Simonds will inevitably resound in your head, not to mention the vocoder treatment in the first seconds of the song, which is pure Sheba.
Elsewhere, King Aeolus has a nice cinematic feel, evoking vast, ancient landscapes. Here, Reed nails his Oldfield guitar style impersonation, and the keys arpeggio and hand clapping hark back to Incantations. Incantations you say? Then look no further than Nurses Song With Elephants, where vibraphone and percussion make it feel like a natural extension of that telluric double album. It is my favourite piece on the EP.
As for the alternate versions, let's say that Tom Newman's mixes propose a more organic feel, focusing on vocals and acoustic instruments to emphasise a more intimate approach. There are another two acoustic/piano/guitar mixes, again bringing natural, acoustic sounds to the fore and eschewing production ornaments.
This is a short and sweet keepsake of a bygone era in popular music, and a nice addition to any self-respecting Oldfield (and Bedford) fan's collection.
Wasteland (8:04), Endless Roads (11:21), Nomad (6:49), Dune (6:25), Sandwalker (9:29), Race To The Sun (5:29), Into Singularity (11:41)
Sky Architect is a five-piece band from Rotterdam that has been around for over a decade without any personal changes. That alone is quite an achievement. Another great achievement is that all three if the band's previously albums have received a DPRP recommendation (8 or higher). This new album Nomad is also recommended, so they keep up their good statistics.
From their very beginning, Sky Architect have released solid progressive rock albums, consisting of music in the style of Spock's Beard, Beardfish and The Flower Kings; progressive rock with a lot of melodies and technical difficulties.
All Sky Architect albums consist of around seven songs, with some average length songs and some lengthy numbers. Nomad is no exception to that rule. The first song, Wasteland, starts with a few minutes in the style of Spock's Beard, and then some minutes of progressive rock in the style of Sylvan.
After a short, heavy part, the technical trickery starts. There is a melody with all instruments starting together, and then they all take their own path to end up at the same point. Brilliant. This is the kind of stuff that Spock's Beard fans will like.
The second song, Endless Roads, can be split into two parts. The first part is about four minutes in length and is a song on its own. The second part starts gently, with a very nice wind section. The use of trumpet and flugel horn on parts of the album is what makes Sky Architect a bit more special compared to many progressive rock bands. For its second part, Endless Roads begins slowly, but step by step, it increases in energy to the final chorus, before returning to the music of the first part.
The song Nomad has a very Beardfish-like tune. It has parts where it evolves like a normal song, but each time, the Nomad tune comes back in some form. It could be singing, piano or trumpet or a combination.
Dune starts with a short kick and then continues in a mellow fashion, kind of strolling on for a couple of minutes before it becomes more heavy. I like it when bands take time for a melody/song to stroll on.
That also is the case for Sandwalker, which starts with a piano intro and then evolves into a really progressive rock song. Mostly this song is instrumental with many lengthy solos. It is a great track for progressive rock fans, with many time changes and many lengthy melodies.
After something more complex, it is often nice to have a more standard song. Race To The Sun is probably as standard as it comes for Sky Architect, yet it is still a very powerful song with enough technical stuff to keep it interesting. Into Singularity is just like Endless Roads, divided in two parts. The first part with many changes and some very nice trumpet parts. Even at the end of part one, where it becomes more mellow, the band is still able to keep their audience sharp with many small tricks. The second part is an outro to the whole album, again featuring some very nice trumpet soloing.
Nomad is yet another very fine release by Sky Architect. Their previous albums all got a recommendation and Nomad also comes highly recommended. Sky Architect keeps getting a little better with each album, which is remarkable because they already started at a high level. This will be a very nice album for progressive rock fans that are fond of music by the likes of Spock's Beard, Beardfish and The Flower Kings.
Timewaster (5:08), Useless (6:17), Redemption (3:51), White, Yellow, Red (10:32), The Tower (8:54), Ever Ticking Clock (6:52), Ground Zero (5:16)
This is Violent Attitude If Noticed's (V.A.I.N.) fourth and latest album recorded during 2016/2017 and continues their message of facing up to, and exposing corruption and indifference in this world today. Yes, it's political, not overtly so, but it is a potent mixture, with half the album's tracks ruuning at over the six-minute mark.
There is a very interesting cover version of Heaven 17's Useless, that is powerful in its approach. The overall sound is a bit Muse-like, alongside more traditional prog fare influences such as Pink Floyd or Porcupine Tree. Overall it sounds like a throwback to the 80s. The vocalist has a familiar sound to him, that I can't place exactly, and bits of this remind me of an old 80s CD by a guy called Che and his Guerilla.
Standout tracks are the aforementioned Useless, the epic White, Yellow, Red, and The Tower, all of which are very strong and consistently interesting.
This is another fine release from the Progressive Gears label and they continue to offer great music with each new release,
This is an album for those with an open mind as it is different, but it is captivating and engrossing and I'd love to hear more from this very talented troupe.
So if you like eighties-tinged prog, this could be right up your street. I like it a lot. It's different and very pleasing to listen to.
Sum Of Parts (5:29), The Climb (5:39), Capture 1A (7:12), Song For A Day (5:38), Click Clack (6:32), Sense Of Urgency (6:13), D Day (6:34), Afterthought (7:33)
Sum of Parts consists of eight gloriously constructed compositions that mix the best traditions of fusion bands from the past such as Return to Forever, with complex structures and an ear-friendly approach to melody that is often associated with prog. The album would be a great addition to the musical collection of anybody who appreciates instrumental fusion music played with skill and panache.
Despite the album being a multi-layered affair and the work of one man (hence its apt title), the album is not devoid of warmth and feeling. To the contrary, Watson's clever use of keyboards, including organ effects and various authentic sounding synths, ensures that the whole album has a delightful cut and thrust that also has an inviting feel. The result is an album that is never sterile, but is teeming with feeling and creative ideas that give it an organic and human touch. It is a complex and stimulating album, but it is never a frustrating, or challenging, or puzzling listening experience. Its sum of parts work well and the whole album sits together seamlessly.
In this respect, the crystal clear mix that is in evidence throughout Sum Of Parts, beckons the listener to be part of the experience, rather than to be a passive observer. There are numerous occasions within the compositions that give Watson an opportunity to showcase his fine ability as both a guitarist and a keyboardist. His keyboard interventions and flurries have all of the finesse associated with such illustrious players as Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman and Patrick Moraz. There were times when Watson's cascading Moog fills and his finely crafted solos filled me with awe.
As a guitarist, Watson appears to be influenced by the tones and techniques associated with Allan Holdsworth. The album includes some genuinely exciting guitar parts and Watson achieves a skilful balance between fluidity and discordant distortion. This ensures that the guitar parts of the album are a consistent joy to listen to.
The compositions contained in Sum Of Parts are consistently good. They include subtle changes of pace, and exhibit more than enough variation to keep things interesting. The album is not self-indulgent, and is never complex or flashy just for effect. The majority of tracks have an accessible structure and include a sense of melody and harmony that make this album an enjoyable experience, arguably making it more likely to appeal to a wider audience.
With the inclusion of one of the finest guitar solos on the album, Capture 1A is a particularly enticing and engaging tune, where melody and accessibility appear to be as equally important as complexity and virtuosity. In tunes such as Sense of Urgency and Afterthought, the music also includes nods to prog, as well as fusion. Consequently, the album includes elements that should appeal to both types of fans.
Some of the tracks are so satisfying that they deserve some further comment. Song For A Day is particularly captivating. It includes a number of aspects that make fusion rewarding. It includes a structure that is familiar and easily recognisable; a bright piano introduction, a meaty rhythm and perhaps most importantly chunky guitar parts that implant themselves firmly in your brain. In addition to an impressive and stimulating cerebral quality, the piece is also garnished with finger and foot tapping moments that include some fine solo guitar parts.
The standout piece of the album is probably Afterthought. At first listen, it seemed to be rather chaotic, but familiarity reveals that it is divided into distinct parts, that when combined, give the piece an identifiable structure and sense of identity. Some readers will no doubt be pleased to note that the guitar tones employed in the slow-paced mid-section of this piece have a passing similarity to Dave Gilmour's signature Pink Floyd sound. The remainder of the piece is a great mix of progressive jazz fusion and prog.
Sum Of Parts might arguably have been even more enjoyable if Watson's multi-instrumental approach had included some virtuoso bass parts. In this respect the inclusion of a bass solo or two, or of a bulbous bouncing bass line might have given the album even greater appeal. Within the rhythm section, the drum parts were perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the album. The technology used ensures that they are steady and competent, rather than busy and flamboyant.
Nevertheless, this is a minor gripe and I found myself continually amazed at how such an organic and natural band sound could be produced by one person (albeit, using no doubt, an array of modern recording techniques). I would love to hear Dean Watson's music interpreted by a band in a live setting. The result would be quite stunning!