Reviews in this issue:
Focus - 8
Who would have thought that an album credited to Focus would see the light of day in 2002? Not too many people, though one has to admit that the name is carried by one man alone, Thijs Van Leer. Originally there was talk of a Focus tribute band playing and recording material, though it seems that Van Leer opted to join in and subsequently also lent the name of Focus to the finished material. Technically this is a great album with proficient musicians, though one also has to admit that such a move also exposes all band members and their material to comparisons with any of the material that Focus had recorded in the past.
A limited edition of 500 copies was hurriedly released prior to the band's Whitchurch festival with the same eleven tracks (including the bonus track!) featured on it finding their place on the finalised version. Apart from Thijs Van Leer the new Focus lineup thus features guitarist Jan Dumée, bassist Bobby Jacobs and drummer Bert Smaak. The only member of the band who remotely has some form of connection with the "old" Focus is Bobby Jacobs whose father was bass player and producer on Van Leer's Introspection solo albums.
Admittedly I was slightly hesitant and apprehensive as to what I would find on this album, having heard much of the band's legendary works and being somewhat prejudiced by the name Focus. From the opening number, however, I was pleasantly surprised that even though most of the cogs in the wheel had been changed, the wheel was still turning in the right direction! The introductory Rock & Rio immediately sets the pace with remnants of Hocus Pocus feeding their way through with that characteristic yodel. However what really stands out is the way the band manage to conjure up that ear-friendly backdrop, enriched with strong blues roots in true Focus fashion.
Tamara's Move is the right type of piece that allows Van Leer to step forward with his flute playing. The track itself has a number of folk references and is played out in an acoustic vein with the occasional pause via which the warm sound of the Hammond breaks forth. The same happens on Fretless Love which has classic Focus (Focus II to be precise!) written all over it as Van Leers' flute and organ playing combine beautifully with Dumée's guitar work which has a definite presence and feel. In fact one has to admit that the band on the album have stuck to a formula which seems to work well, though it does at times become slightly repetitive as happens on pieces such as Hurkey Turkey
As I said the presence of Jan Akkerman inevitably hangs over the band, and with pieces such as De To O De Mi and Focus 8, Jan Dumée shows all that he is actually more than capable of playing these intricate parts. Furthermore his contribution within the songwriting department does not go unnoticed. The titles are seemingly Croatian (Sto Ces Raditi Ostatac Zivota? and Blizu Tébe) and of course have the guitar as the main featured instrument. The mood is somewhat more jazzier and placid with a pleasant acoustic backdrop.
The rehearsal take of Neurotika has much in common with Rock & Rio, as well as classic Focus and seems to have been included as a tribute to Ruben Van Roon who was the original drummer and it seems was the mastermind behind the original tribute band. Brother, on the other hand, is not new to the Focus faithful having appeared on the Focus Con Proby and is carried off admirably while Tamara's Move has 1974's Hamburger Concerto written all over it. The light-hearted nature of the recordings as well as the mood within the band is apparent when one listens to the bonus track Flower Shower, an undescribable piece of humorous banter that could have almost been attributed to the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band! Though not a masterpiece, this album is an impressive return to form for the name Focus. The band are touring and might be one of the last chances to hear classical progressive rock music being played by one of the classical greats. Regarding the album, it is a definite worthy addition to anyone's progressive rock collection.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Roberto Colombo : Botte Da Orbi
Roberto Colombo has gathered together an impressive cast of instrumentalists and vocalists, in fact a veritable orchestra comprising of some thirty or more musicians for this, his second solo recording from 1977. Drawing from some of Italy's finest session musicians and including guest appearances from members of the legendary PFM (Premiata Forneria Marconi). The "orchestra" is built around a nucleus of drums, guitar, bass guitar and Roberto himself on keyboards and percussion. Extending from this core are a multitude of brass and woodwind instruments, strings and a vocal ensemble. Colombo also undertakes the writing and arranging duties for the album along with conducting the musicians and adding his own idiosyncrasies to the overall proceedings.
Botte Da Orbi (Blows All Around) offers us a unique if not uneasy relationship between jazz rock, classical, progressive and the distinctly obscure. Much in the fashion that Frank Zappa would combine the most sublime pieces of musical genius with the abstract and the ambiguous. This can be found here in great abundance, head straight for Blow Your Own Trumpets or The Return Of Likembe for just a couple of examples. Along with the above reference we may also look at some of Joe Zawinul's excellent compositions with Weather Report around the same period. Finally in our strange melange are those classical woodwind instruments (bassoon, clarinet and oboe) which give a baroque notion. Highlights for me were Hark, It Grows Dark and the calming Come On, Don't Be Romantic.
Roberto Colombo is a gifted composer and arranger, notably working on one of PFM's [post Pagani] finest albums - Passpartu. Latterly to be found more behind the scenes having produced records for many of Italy's finest, Le Orme and Finisterre (look out for DPRP's review of In Ogni Luogo soon) to mention just two.
Although the musicianship throughout Botte Da Orbi is never in question, I fear the end product is not one that will sit well with the greater majority of progressive rock fans. There is no doubting that the arrangements are cleverly thought out, but on the whole the album leans heavily towards the jazz-rock side, and coupled with the avant-garde nature of many of the sections within each of the compositions, this is a difficult album to digest. Personally I had mixed emotions towards this recording, ranging from total admiration to utter frustration, depending on what frame of mind I was in. Certainly an album that did not allow you to chill-out or relax, but one that demanded your attention throughout. For those with a penchant for more experimental and challenging music this may be one to look out for.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Bruno Sanfilippo - Suite Patagonia
Born to an Italian father and an Argentinean mother, Bruno Sanfilippo started studying piano at the age of 7, and by the age of 23 was a Music Professor at the Galvani Conservatory. Diverging from the piano, Bruno spent the next three years studying synthesisers, programming and the versatility of sampling and MIDI systems. His first album Sons of the Light was released in 1991 followed by The New Kingdom in 1995. Building his own studio, AD21, Bruno produced his third album, Solemnis, in 1998.
This latest album, released in 2000, is a musical representation of the history and myths of Patagonia, the land at the south-eastern tip of South America. Accompanied by a lavish 24-page booklet (with text in both Spanish and English) the music combines traditional Mapuche Indian instruments, wild life recordings of birds and whales, and a large array of modern synthesisers and samplers.
With Bruno playing the majority of the instrumentation, the obvious comparison is with Mike Oldfield, and several pieces, most notably Terra Incognita, are worthy of the reclusive Englishman himself. However, the music contains a plethora of drum rhythms, bringing to mind the music of Peter Gabriel at the time of this third and fourth albums.
The whole album is very 'visual' akin to some of the music produced by Ant Phillips or Ennio Morricone. It evokes images of grand sweeping vistas, the wilds of nature, the brutality and beauty of the ocean. The only quibble is the sequencing, the pseudo-orchestral title track should, in my opinion have ended the album. Comprised of a sequence of several musical themes, alternatively tranquil and dramatic, with a lovely faux guitar melody (sadly rather swamped by excessive keyboard fills in places), a short vocal section (reminiscent of a Gregorian chant) and a rousing church organ, this piece packs more ideas into its eight and a half minutes than many bands manage over an entire album. Unfortunately, it is followed by The Andes, an almost new-age piece that is altogether inconsequential.
Overall, Suite Patagonia is an excellent soundtrack without a film. It won't get your heart racing or stun you with virtuoso performances, but for fans of symphonic prog, this album is worth investigating.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Azoth : Demonstration 2002 - 2003
Although a new name to me, Azoth have been together since 1985, honing a developing their style of progressive rock with more than a hint of fusion. The CDR comes by the way of a demo, as the title might suggest and with the three principal musicians still searching for that elusive record deal. Split into two factions as the first two tracks are studio based and the remaining pieces recorded at the Silver Elephant (Tokyo) on the 19 October 2002. We do not normally undertake to review material that cannot be purchased either through a distributor or from the band's website, however on this occasion Azoth have slipped through the net.
As previously mentioned Azoth comprises principally of three members, Chikato Ohki(Bass & Vocals), Kazuhiro Fujiwara (Drums) and Masayuki Adachi (Guitars), and to supplement the line-up they enlist a guest player(s). On this recording the position is filled by Junko Minobe, who plays both keyboards and violin. The four musicians play cohesively and well together, and the interplay between the rhythm section and the two main soloists is extremely strong. It is in these sections for me that the band most excel, and the music is more diverse and exciting. Azoth's music covers a wide variety of styles and there are passing references to UK, possibly best found in the all too brief Domino and during sections of Apostrophe. Obviously the inclusion of the violin would point us in this direction, but also the keyboard sounds and the arrangement through Junko Minobe's solo in the latter of the two tracks. Finally drawing us to these comparisons would be Kazuhiro Fujiwara's drumming which is both open and fluid, much in the style of Terry Bozzio.
Along with the distinct jazz/rock leanings displayed by the band is the inclusion of more mainstream rock, mainly to accommodate the vocals. At times Chikato Ohki reminded me of Steve Perry, mainly in the sound of his voice rather than it's quality or melodic sense. The vocal sections for me were the weakest link in the music, but as they are only sparingly used, this did not detract from the plethora of fine music on offer. This review would not be complete without discussing the merits of Masayuki Adachi on guitar, who contributes not only to the overall structure of the pieces but forms a strong link to the rhythm section. His fluid and melodic playing adding greatly to the overall sound and no better demonstrated in the ballad like Turquoise Sky.
All the band members are strong musicians, including Junko Minobe, who added much to the enjoyment of the CD. Azoth have a dynamic sound with more than just fleeting glimpses of early Bruford and possibly some of Colosseum II's material. The band themselves cite Frank Zappa in their list of influences and again this is evident in the complexity of some of the arrangements. Certainly an interesting and worthwhile album - hopefully the band will achieve that all important recording contract.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Craig Welton - Hollywood Legend
Tracklist Disc 2 : Knosus (3:47), Victim Of Space (3:04), 20 Years Late (2:38), Cool Fool (5:16), Visions of Life (2:17), Deadlock (4:09), Floating To Mars (3:38), Funky Dog (2:51), Gone Neptune (4:15), Prague (5:44), Psycho Ramble (4:19), Skewbald (2:49), Aires (4:34), Smitty's Blues (3:17), Stinkin' Operetto (5:23), The Wait (3:58), Thumpin' (4:15)
A double CDR comprising of some twenty nine tracks by multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Craig Welton. The album is split into two distinctive formats and styles. CD one is song based, with all the tracks containing vocals and CD two solely of instrumentals. I feel I must say at this juncture, that although there is a great deal of very good material on Hollywood Legend, the recording is not brilliant. The tracks are digitally re-mastered versions taken from original four-track tapes. Some have come out better than others, but in general most of them are of listenable quality.
Hollywood Legend has been compiled by brother Kent, to mark the passing of Craig on 20 October 2002, a prolific but unsung writer and musician. This compilation is to celebrate his life through his music, so that his work should not be forgotten. This would have been a great pity as there is much that is good here.
For me, CD two contained the more interesting material, however before proceeding to this, a few comments on the song based CD one. There is a definite American AOR tinge to all the songs, perhaps not surprising really. A little difficult to make comparisons or to offer any great indications as to who Craig may sound like as he did not confine himself to any particular style. But I would look to those singer-songwriter musicians in the rock and/or blues fields. Those who crossed my mind were Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed and because of the style of instrumentation, perhaps Steely Dan.
As remarked in the opening of this review Craig's multi instumental prowess comes more to the forefront on this second CD. The songs tend to be written from the piano upwards, and then developed through the guitar and additional keyboards - both these instruments are well mastered and well executed. There are several beautiful, guitar melody tracks, my favourite being the laconic Deadlock with shades of Jeff Beck. Lush strings and piano forming the backdrop for this piece. Along with Craig's obvious flair for the guitar, he also had similar abilities in the keyboard department as displayed in Prague. Other highlights from the album were cleverly written Knosus and The Wait. Not all of the material to be found is in a totally completed form, and what would have been nice, would have been able to listen to some of the material with a full band complement, produced in a studio. Had this been done then I think this would have been a pretty awesome album.
The majority of the tracks to be found on Hollywood Legend would not necessarily drop into the progressive rock category, but with twenty nine to choose from and almost two hours of music, certainly there is enough to contribute to an album. Alongside these are the distinctly guitar orientated tracks which groove along nicely, with several styles covered. Perhaps Kent Welton may, at some point, put some of Craig's tracks up on the website.
I must admit that on receiving these two CD's and prior to listening to the material, I was apprehensive should the enclosed music not be to my liking. Fortunately, and as is so often the case, the music spoke for itself, thus making my job so much easier. Granted the recordings are not studio quality and lack any production values, but if you listen past this it's possible to hear the strength and depth of Craig Welton's music. One of the great advantages of modern technology is that it is possible for this music, and others of course, to be digitally mastered, enhanced and finally put down on a universal media. Should you feel after my comments that you would like to hear some of Craig's material please contact Kent Welton at the above website.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10