Reviews in this issue:
Kromlech - La Soledad de las Sombras
La Soledad De Las Sombras (The loneliness of the shadows) is an instrumental suite; 51 minutes of continuous music.
This is the first CD of Kromlech, which was recorded in January 1999, in the Ars Flventis studios in Mexico City.
It was released on October 11th 1999. Kromlech consists of Fernanado Barajas (keyboards), Jesus Lomeli (bass & acoustic guitar),
Leonardo Patino (drums) and Carlos Ruiz (guitar).
The band formed as a five-piece several years ago, but after the departure of their singer the other four members remained and had the opportunity of starting to play as an instrumental band. This resulted in the recording of La Soledad De Las Sombras. Last year the band played at the Baja festival.
The music follows the story written by Nelida Vital based on a concept by Kromlech. A raven is followed in his search to find four shadows, who all have to die. In musical terms this resulted in an album full of emotional atmospheres showed in lots of changes in mood, musical arrangements and instrumentation.
La Encomienda opens with a narrators voice who introduces the four musicians who were created and called to compose and interpret the music of the foundation. In this the narrator is referring to the members of Kromlech. La Encomienda shows the musical skills of this band, who found their influences in Genesis, Camel, Marillion among others, but never blindly copied them. The guitar is the musical voice, now and then replaced by the keyboards. Sometimes, like in Frente Al Arroyo Del Tiempo it seems every instrument follows its own path, resulted in a very complex musical structure.
The overall judgement is that of a relaxed instrumental album. Although the members know their skills, you won't find any selfish acts. The story is told in nine tracks all connected to each other, in other terms you're listening to one piece of music divided in nine movements. The translation of those nine movements are:
1. La Encomienda (The commandment)
2. Primera Travesía (The first journey)
3. Un Príncipe Sin Sangre En Las Venas (A prince without blood in his veins)
4. Segunda Travesía (The second journey)
5. Desterrado En El Desquicio (Exiled within insanity)
6. Tercera Travesía (The third journey)
7. Frente Al Arroyo Del Tiempo (Facing the brook of time)
8. La Cuarta Sombra: El Suicidio (The fourth shadow: the suicide)
9: El Placentero Escape Hacia La Muerte (The pleasant escape towards death)
The guitar parts of Carlos Ruiz show the influences of the early Steve Rothery combined with the fineness of Steve Hackett.
The basslines contain a rare combination of the straightforwardness of Pete Trawavas and the melodic touchements of Mick Karn (Japan, Raintree Crow , No-Man and JBK),
like in Primera Travesía.
The keyboards are a mixed variety of Keith Emerson (the Peter Gunn-like melody in La Encomienda), Tangerine Dream (in Un Príncipe Sin Sangre En Las Venas) and Mark Kelly (in the very Brave-like Segunda Travesía).
Leonardo Patino keeps his drums quit sobere, but is stunning. Listen for example to Desterrado En El Desquicio, in which Patino plays a complex percussion, while Ruiz is creating the insanity through his guitar solo.
This album still grows on me with every time I play it. Not only does this album need more times to play to get fathom, with every time you hear the music you discover new musical lines within the already known arrangements. This makes it a very enjoyable album, which won't bore you quickly.
Kromlech is currently working on new material for a future release.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Gentle Giant - In A Palesport House
Gentle Giant are one of the classic progressive rock bands that graced the progressive rock scene during the seventies. Hailing from Portsmouth, England, they were formed in 1970 and disbanded in 1980 leaving behind them a wealth of experimental and innovative material. Definitely not one of the easier listening bands, they remain one of the most under-estimated bands of progressive rock.
This release includes two live recordings that the band in 1973 (supposedly, and I shall come back to this comment shortly). The first seven tracks are recordings from a concert held at the Palesport, Italy while the last two tracks are taken from recordings at a TV show. There seem to be a few inaccuracies. First of all there is no Palesport in Turin but a Palasport, hence the name of the album should be different too! Secondly, the first two tracks (and also the album title) are taken from the album 'In A Glass House' which was released in 1973, after the supposed recording of this concert. Presumably the year would be 1974 as during that period the group toured Italy! This particular time frame saw the group reduced from a quintet to a quartet due to the departure of elder brother Phil Schulman. Thus the lineup (missing from liner notes!) would have been Gary Green (guitar, vocals), Kerry Minnear (keyboards, vocals), Derek Schulman (guitar, bass, vocals), Ray Schulman (bass, percussion, violin, vocals) and John Weathers (drums, vocals).
Being a bootleg recording from 1973 means that the sound quality has its limitations but at the same time hearing these legends of of progressive rock playing overrules these deficiencies. Opening the album are two tracks from 'In A Glass House', The Runaway and Way Of Life. For those who are familiar with Gentle Giant, you would notice that the song starts off immediately without the introductory glass section and first notes. Presumably they are missing from the master tapes! 'In A Glass House' was the follow-up to what could be considered the group's finest hour, 'Octopus', and supposedly the group themselves were none to pleased with the result!
The Runaway shows off all the characteristics of this group. Complicated time signatures which are in a continuous mode of flux, an overdose of minor chords and influences drawn from jazz, classical rock and folk music. Way Of Life manages to fuse medieval music with jazz rock creating a sound similar to what groups like Amazing Blondel and Gryphon were producing. The vocals sound slightly off-key but the end result of this track is very interesting showing the tightness of this group and their courage for venturing into virtually unknown musical territories. An important note that makes this recording all the more interesting is that it is one of a few live recordings which has a mellotron being used. Notoriously unstable, Gentle Giant utilized this instrument on live tours for about two to three years.
Funny Ways is a standard Gentle Giant live track, the original version of which was taken appears on the group's 1970 debut 'Gentle Giant'. Also featured from that album here is Nothing At All. Released at practically the same time as King Crimson's 'In The Court of The Crimson King', 'Gentle Giant' was a ground breaking album though not as powerful as 'In The Court...'. Funny Ways is the album's I Talk To The Wind and the live version runs in at over double the time of the studio version. A quiet laid back track, it gradually moves into more of a jazz territory especially when the vibraphone solo takes over. On the other hand Nothing At All is possibly the highlight of the disc. A classic track in its own right, this is also the only live version that I have ever heard of it. A quiet Zeppelin-esque opening to the track creates a mood that Gentle Giant often find hard to create. This is interrupted at times by jarring power chords to lead into a most interesting guitar solo. Coupled with this track is also a lengthy drum solo, something which was de rigueur for progressive bands when playing live in those days.
In 1971, the group released 'Acquiring The Taste', and from that album we have Plain Truth which this time is linked with a violin solo. Though long, the solo itself is an excellent showcase for Ray Schulman's violin work. The concept album 'Three Friends' (1972) has no tracks featured on this live outing while 'Octopus' has Knots and The Advent Of Panurge available in two versions as these two tracks are also available as recorded from the TV Show as well as live in Turin. As can be expected the TV Show versions are of a much better recording quality.
Knots is a fantastic example of what vocal harmonization is all about together with some delightful acoustic guitar work, while The Advent Of Panurge is one of the group's classic pieces. The live recording has an immense amount of mixing problems, with certain sections of the track that seem to have been cut out.
On the whole this makes an interesting addition to one's back catalogue of Gentle Giant material especially when you realize that the disc includes the tracks Way Of Life, Nothing At All and Plain Truth, of which till this day there were no live versions. However, if you are uninitiated to the music of Gentle Giant, this might not be the ideal introduction to the group. Just one final note of disappointment, unfortunately the disc is bereft of any information regarding the group and the recordings whatsoever which is indeed a shame.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Obvious - Obvious
Pink Floyd recording engineer Andy Jackson has recently launched a Pink Floyd connected label, Tube Records, which markets exclusively on the internet, under the alter ego JR Hackenbush III. TubeRecords.com will operate both as a label and as an on-line record shop supplying a mix of products, much of which will have links with Pink Floyd. DPRP received two early releases, Andy Jackson's own album Obvious and an album by an anonymous ensemble, who call themselves the Mythical Burrowing Animals.
Andy Jackson was twice nominated for a Grammy for his recording work with Pink Floyd over a twenty year period.
Obvious, in my opinion, is an extrodinarily succesful debut album. It features a variety of styles in seven well produced and carefully arranged compositions, two of which, Angel and Laika, I consider superior pieces of songwriting. Although the sales pitch refers to fans of Pink Floyd, the Floydian influences are not always equally clear. Best noticed is the Gilmouresque guitar play in parts of Flimflam Man and Motherless Child and the first track, Angel has a structure not unlike some Floyd material. But it would be a mistake to judge this album on these references. Obvious has such strenghts that a connection to Pink Floyd is unnecessary in recommending it.
The album features fine vocals of Mark O'Gorman and Carol Gee, and Bryony Shearmur (Laika), the controlled drums of Gary Wallis (Mike & The Mechanics) and, thoughout, a profoundly heavy, vibrating bass. Melodic strings highlight Angel and More Bads with violin. In Angel, the musicians show good interaction of instruments and vocals. This track is a bit melancholic at times, but gains momentum towards the end, all in a clear structure and guitar play which reminds one of Paul Speer (Rockenfield/Speer). The bass driven More Bads captures an entirely different mood with some freaky sounds and spoken lyrics.
Me = mc2 is an agreeable short piece with acoustic guitar and piano and some tongue-in-cheeks lyrics. There's a bit of an INXS sound to this at times. With Flimflam Man echoing drums, majestic synths and filtered vocals combine at first with solid guitar performance to create a floating atmosphere, although the feeling gets nasty towards the end in a mood not unlike Floyd's The Wall. In contrast, Motherless Child has a delicious piece of funk intermezzo. Though not one of the longest track, it is one of the most symphonic. Vocals here are akin to David Bowie, while there's more than a trace of King Crimson in keyboards, while closing guitar play again calls to mind the strings of one David Gilmour on Careful with that Axe, Eugene.
The Bowie similarity is stronger in Wax Into Water, as vocals closely resemble his and songwriting is close to Bowie's later material. It also has that familiar Bowie shift in vocal technique. Again dominant bass, and what sound like backwards effects here, with some smooth sequentary time changes. Last comes, Laika, a nearly ten minute piece which starts as a country-like ballad with vocals and acoustic guitar, than heads in more symphonic directions as it, in an instrumental section, picks up energy. The mesmerizing, relaxed vocals of Bryony Shearmur light up this little gem. There are time and melody changes throughout, and this recording actually seems to capture three songs in one track, but with smooth flows from section to section.
All throughout the album songs are characterized by a distinct clarity interwoven with sound and feedback effects. It's easy to resort to superlatives, but this record is indeed immediately attractive and gave me sheer enjoyment from the first time I heard it up to this day. In these progressive compositions often quiter pieces and more aggressive sections or intermezzos combine to form a whole. Some tracks, notably the last two, seem far longer than they in reality are. Of course it's not perfection. At 43 minutes Obvious runs rather short for a contemporary release. Inclusion of the lyrics in the meager booklet would have been a nice touch, as they form an integral part of these seven songs. But these qualms do not concern the tracks themselves.
Highly recommended to a variety of progressive music lovers, I can only advise you to sample this CD on the Tube Records website. Obvious is available exclusively through TubeRecords.com in ten currencies, including $17.49 and 11.99 British Pounds (including postage & packaging).
Conclusion: 9- out of 10.
Mythical Burrowing Animals - Mythical Burrowing Animals
Mythical Burrowing Animals is another release from Andy Jackson's Tube Records company. The participating artists have chosen to remain anonymous, but on hearing these tracks, it does not seem a too far-fetched guess that many of them appeared on Jackson's Obvious. The album is advertised as: "Ten totally flawed adventures into the unstable states of brainstormia." And while this well relates the madness encapsuled in this recording, it would certainly be wrong to identify this recording as flawed. It's easy to label this album as one giant injoke, but musically there's lots of enjoyment to be had too. As will hopefully become clear below, there are some resemblances to Dirtbox's Uneasy Listening.
There are also likenesses between Mythical Burrowing Animals and Obvious. There's the same heavy vibrant bass and the frequent use of strange sound effects. But while Obvious centers on clear, concise and exquisite composition, this CD often spews forth a cacaphony of unintelligible instrumental insanity, warbled and darkly Industrial. This is especially true of the first three tracks, Hot Dang, Fresh Meat Sunset and ?ZERO?. Vocals at times are also muffled and nearly unintelligible, notably on the third track. (The inclusion of the lyrics in the meagre booklet would have helped, as on Obvious.) All manner of sound effects have been used for ?ZERO?. In this rather insane track, a gang of seeming drunkards shouts along with the chorus. A cacaphony of noise, but challenging and enjoyable. Celebrity Hair is also close in structure and composition to the earlier tracks, but adds enjoyable Rockabilly guitar play. And while it takes a different, more melodic approach, the very last track, Dirtbird, might be included in this category. It boasts all kinds of weird effects and incredibly gorgeous guitar play. Strange and Industrial, even creepy.
The first four tracks are followed by two sets of related songs. The first of these double bills opens with Snack Hazard, which is a real gem. The male vocals are, at the start, closely identical to Iggy Pop. There are two important time changes, the first as the track temporarily turns into a duet with male and female vocals. This track flows into Mystery Fuck, which essentially makes these two songs a single track with a major time and melody change. The Rockabilly guitar returns.
The madness shifts up a gear with Uncle Oxygen, a song which is based on the amazing Subgenius website. It would take up to much space to delve into the mysteries of the Church of the Subgenius here, but visit the website if you want to learn all about J.R. "Bob" Dobbs and the enjoyment of Slack.
An instrumental bridge leads to the next track Isambard, a crazed hommage to Isambard Kingdom Brunnel, a visionary engineer, crediting the good man with everything from the invention of the ballpoint pen to painting the Sistine Chapel. Overall this song is essentally an endless repetition of the name Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Sounds rather silly? Well actually, this is the most catchy song I've heard in ages. With its stirring instrumentation, you might soon find yourself happily chanting along, as I did.
Special mention must be made concerning M.B.A.. As a Marillion and Fish fan, I can't help but label M.B.A. as, lyrically, a parody of the kind of semi-poetic Fish compositions like Jungle Ride or Bitter Suite. (You know: "A spider wanders aimlessly within the warmth of a shadow...") With its spoken lyrics, it follows about the same vocal metre and melody, but replaces the poetic scriblings with ludicrous rantings. Musically it is nowhere near the instrumental accompaniment of Mr. Derek Dick's endeavours, focusing on the usual cacaphony of sound effects and instrumentation.
As stated this album will likely appeal to those who, like myself, enjoyed Dirtbox's Uneasy Listening. It must be said, though, that Dirtbox is much stronger in composition and combined tongue-in-cheek songs with more down to earth lyrics. Some people might be put of by the seemingly contradictive instrumentation of these Mythical Burrowing Animals, which results in the cacaphonous interaction, mentioned a few times above. But if you fancy something that challenges your ears and at the same time tickles your funny bone, this is the album to get. With its hilarious lyrics, it still manages to produce a mature result through the combination of funny lyrics with challenging and original music.
Oh wait, I'll slap on a Parental Guidance advice for explicit lyrics. (As Bob would say: "Fuck 'm, if they can't take a joke!")
Mythical Burrowing Animals is available exclusively through TubeRecords.com in ten currencies, including $17.49 and 11.99 British Pounds(including postage & packaging).
Conclusion: 8- out of 10.
Mike Keneally & Beer For Dolphins - Dancing
Dancing is the ninth solo album for Mike Keneally and for those who don't know who he might be, taking a suggested look at his c.v. is obligatory. Suffice to say that he was auditioned and hired as guitarist for Frank Zappa in 1988 stepping into the boots of such greats as Adrian Belew and Steve Vai, and he has contributed greatly to albums and tracks by musicians such as Steve Vai ('G3-Live In Concert', 'Flexable Leftovers'), Kevin Gilbert and Screamin' Jay Kawkins to mention a few. Progressively speaking he has worked with Robert Fripp, James La Brie and Mike Portnoy (both of Dream Theatre) and opened for Jethro Tull. This is just a drop in the ocean for his vast amount of work since the late eighties, but suffice enough to show that here we have no "regular" guitarist.
Beer For Dolphins is a seven piece band which accompanies Keneally throughout the album and they are Bryan Beller (bass), Marc Siegenhagen (keyboards), Jason Harrison Smith (drums), Tricia Williams (percussion), Rick Musallam (guitar, vocals), Evan Francis (alto sax, flute) and Chris Opperman (trumpet). Musically the big band sound that characterized so much of Frank Zappa's music seems to have rubbed off on Mike Keneally together with the hooks of the Beatles, harmonies of The Beach Boys and the seventies laid back feel of Steely Dan. The length of the disc as well as the number of tracks might seem a bit too much to handle, but Keneally has in actual fact subdivided the album into four segments, each equivalent to a side on a double album vinyl release.
The first section opens with Live In Japan, inspired by the 'Live In Japan' album by the group Chicago. It is possibly the most upbeat track on the album and makes a great opener having an incredibly English feel, almost XTC-like in nature together with a Blood, Sweat and Tears brass section. Though a relatively commercial tune, it is by no means straightforward replete with changes in tempo amid continuous interjections of instruments and sounds. This track was devised as a ploy to get more airplay on radio stations, as was the second track, Ankle Bracelet, which is more of a harder rocking track. Sounding somewhat like a track that Steve Vai would have played during his time with Zappa, here the group seems to be in search of a more down to earth grungy sort of sound.
Pee-Tee-Weet? has the group sounding ever so much like XTC in the harmony (though many would add that XTC sound like The Beach Boys!) while Backwards Deb has a definite progressive slant to it. There is a certain power in this track, though the guitars rarely reach a distorted level, that strikes you the moment it comes on. I keep hearing it over and over again without being able to grasp what makes me keep going back to this track. There is a certain complexity to it that could be compared to the rhythmic nature of a new King Crimson track. Furthermore a technique was used whereby the sound of the cymbals was gated (a-la-Peter Gabriel III) creating an intense sound. Closing this first section is We'll Be Right Back which seems to be the first of the Zappa influenced tracks (in my opinion!). Airy guitar playing which seems to move off in a totally different direction from the rest of the band, yet it suddenly comes together at the end of a section. Continuous changes with each section seemingly a tune onto itself with hints at various musical influences most notably a Gilmour-like solo towards the end.
Side Two, opens with Joe which has that Steely Dan feel, laid back, ear-friendly choruses, very very jazz-tinged with a lovely Rhodes piano introduction. On the other hand Pretty Enough For Girls is more uptempo yet still retains that jazzy element, at least in the introductory stages. The band's response to the vocal parts is fantastic and what is great is that every time I hear this track there is a new instrument that seems to be adding a line here and there. If you like the unpredictability of Zappa or groups like Gentle Giant, then this will go down in a most excellent fashion.
Pretty Enough leads straight into the slow tempo instrumental Taster which has Keneally showing off his guitar prowess. The band sound has been scaled down to give an almost bluesy feel, yet at the same time the sound is incredibly full. Dancing, the title track, is one of the very few low points of the album. For some reason it never seems to lift off remaining a bit too stagnant.
Onto the third section/side with Selfish Otter, which reminds me at times of Soft Machine with the constant time changes and some great drumming. There is also use of a line from "Ornithology" by Benny Harris and Charlie Parker in the run up to the keyboard solo.Written as an answer to 'Rainy Days And Mondays' by The Carpenters, Only Mondays takes us back to the Steely Dan style together with a Burt Bacharach style trumpet. A sharp contrast to the two tracks it is sandwiched between. Lhai Sai could be described as a shuffle played in almost space-rock vein with some Frippian chords.
More instrumental music with The Mystery Music which has a distinctive sixties happy feel to it. Extremely basic in structure, yet so very enjoyable. The Brown Triangles is an improvisational track with some way out guitar playing while MM (abbreviation for Mystery Music) has some delicate piano, written as a coda for the complete score of Mystery Music. The side closes with the Kevin Gilbert tribute, I was Not Ready For You, written while arranging Steve Vai's album and is about the short time Keneally spent with Gilbert with the musical style similar to that of Gilbert.
Onto the fourth and final section of this fine CD with Ragged Ass, a totally Zappa influenced piece of work. Weird vocalisations, continuous changes in time signature, repeated offbeats and use of what could be considered unconventional instruments in a rock song such as the marimba. The same could be said of Skull Bubbles which is also a quirky kind of rock song, great and easy to listen to, yet at the same times extremely complex in nature, something which sinks in only after you have heard the song and you realize that these guys (and gal) are great musicians. Friends And Family also features Keneally's daughter Jesse who recorded all the female vocals for the initial section which is almost entirely acapella. Closing the album is Kedgeree, a tribute song to The Who with Jason Harrison Smith doing a great Keith Moon rendition. A great rocker of a song to close an extremely enjoyable album.
As I stated initially, this album mirrors a myriad of influences which will undoubtedly strike a chord with any listener. A limited double CD-version of this album is also available from Mike Keneally's Website with the bonus CD titled 'Dancing With Myself: Live and Acoustic at the Baked Potato'.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.