Reviews in this issue:
Keith Emerson & The Nice - Vivacitas
CD1 (52:03): America/Rondo (11:13), Little Arabella (4:58), She Belongs To Me (6:21), The Cry Of Eugene (5:03), Hang On To A Dream (10:30), Country Pie (5:58), Karelia Suite (7:58)
CD2 (46:32): A Blade Of Grass (2:11), A Cajun Alley (4:11), Tarkus (21:01), Hoe Down (5:06), Fanfare For The Common Man (7:55), Honky Tonk Blues (6:06)
CD3 (22:29): Keith Emerson and The Nice - Interview with Chris Welch 2001
I have to admit that I have somewhat of a soft spot when it comes to the music of Keith Emerson, as it was in fact ELP, who provided me with my first ever concert, many many moons ago at the Stockton ABC Cinema (4 March 1971) to be exact and from that day to this I have be a keen follower of Keith's music. As the years pass it seems less likely that Messrs Emerson Lake and Palmer will settle their differences and so it was with a gladdened heart that I read back in 2001 that Keith had rekindled his friendship with Lee Jackson and Brian Davison to undertake a number of concerts to promote the release of Emerson plays Emerson. I was privileged enough to catch one of those concerts, and as usual I got more than I bargained for. It was therefore yet another pleasant surprise to see that a recording was made from that tour (Glasgow 2002) and subsequently released as Vivacitas.
Vivacitas comes as a three disc set, two containing music and the third an interview with Chris Welch and the band (a little more on this later). The tour and subsequent album were billed as "Keith Emerson and The Nice", thus allowing an overview of Keith's career as opposed to just a concert of the material performed by The Nice. A quick look at the track listings above will give you an indication of how the concert(s) ran. The first half of the performance featured Keith (keys) with Lee Jackson (bass & vocals), Brian Davison (drums) and Dave Kilminster standing in for the ever AWOL Davy O'List. Exit stage - Lee, Brian and Dave for two solo pieces from Keith's Emerson Plays Emerson album. Back on stage again, this time Dave is accompanied by Phil Williams (bass) and Pete Riley (drums) and this time we are presented with Tarkus in its entirety followed by Hoedown. The final two numbers feature all six musicians.
Disc one opens in truly flamboyant style with America / Rondo and shows that Lee Jackson and Brian Davison have kept their 'hands in', so to speak. The medley includes the usual anecdotal tunes, Keith with his Bach and Dave Brubeck interludes, whilst Dave Kilminster performs a version of Katachurian's Sabre Dance. Sadly the mixing doesn't quite keep up with band - but this is only minor flaw. Next up is the jazzy Little Arabella and again some nice :-) byplay between Emerson and Kilminster. The Nice's version of Bob Dylan's She Belongs To Me and again Keith Emerson's command of the Hammond organ is ably on show - the end section may even make you want to Jump for joy.
The Cry Of Eugene sees Lee Jackson delivering a strong gritty vocal performance before we move to one of the highlights of this first CD, Hang On To A Dream. The tempo is taken down here and again the interaction between Emerson and Kilminster, on acoustic guitar this time around, is quite superb. Country Pie opens with Lee Jackson's infectious bass riff and once again with the much maligned, but fittingly raunchy vocal delivery. The track develops through the usual Nice improvised themes. The closing piece is Sibelius' rousing Karelia Suite, displaying Keith Emerson's ability to select a 'catchy tune' - a real foot stomper and a fitting close to the first CD.
Disc two takes us straight into Keith Emerson's solo spot, firstly with the beautiful and delicate A Blade of Grass, followed by A Cajun Alley with the dexterous and ever flowing left hand of Emerson, laying foundation for the right hand to add in the chordal and melodic structuring. Probably the biggest roar of the evening is reserved for the announcement that the band will perform Tarkus. There is just far too much here to go into any great depth. The best compliment I can offer is that this performance is truly worthy of ELP in their heyday. Next up is Aaron Copeland's Hoedown and here Dave Kilminster shows that his nimble fingers are also able to keep pace with the melody line.
The final two numbers see Lee Jackson and Brian Davison rejoin the band on stage. First up is Fanfare for the Common Man, which I have to admit is track that has worn fairly thin with me over the years. Mercifully here, confined to just less than eight minutes. The track sees Keith Emerson and Dave Kilminster trading licks and 'duelling' it out. At the concert I attended Fanfare contained a fairly lengthy drum solo, with Davison and Riley playing one of the more worked out and therefore more enjoyable solo's I have heard. For this recording this is considerably shorter. Honky Tonk Blues raps up the concert in true boogie style.
Disc three sees Keith, Lee and Brian in good humour and chatting informally with Chris Welch prior to the 'reforming' of the The Nice. They discuss Keith's stage histrionics complete with knife throwing and organ wielding; the introduction of the Moog synth; set lists, concerts and tours; writing material and so on. Fascinating stuff (to some, but not all, I fear).
In conclusion and as mentioned earlier, there seems little hope on the horizon that ELP will ever reform, so this new venture gives probably the best opportunity to hear (and see) Keith Emerson play in a band context. Or perhaps not? One thing for sure, the assembled musicians here are a formidable outfit and I for one plan to catch the band again next month. I would also suggest if they are playing near you, that you don't miss this opportunity to see them perform. You can read my review of The Nice's concert at Newcastle Opera House last year by clicking the link, should any doubts still linger.
So all we need now is the DVD?
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Addison Project - Mood Swings
Hot on the heels of Spaced Out’s excellent Slow Gin, Canadian label Unicorn Records now unleash another slab of superb Jazz Fusion. The keyword here being Jazz. This may well be a step too far for those approaching from a rock perspective.
The brainchild of Richard Addison, (bass player of label mates Mystery) he also composed, arranged and produced this disc. Aside from Richard, the core band consists of David Gauthier on various guitars, and Stephane Crytes on acoustic drums. This pair plays on most if not all the tracks. At various points on the disc, tenor and alto sax, violin, piano and electronic drums supplement the sound. There are a couple of additional guitarists also.
The title of the album is a perfect fit for the hugely varied melange of Jazz and Fusion styles on display. There is also a decidedly progressive slant to the rockier elements. Although also lead by a bass player, Addison Project differs from Spaced Out in two main ways. Firstly, whilst being an excellent player, Richard Addison does not dominate the proceedings in the way that Antoine Fafard does with Spaced Out. He is content to lay down his fiendishly complex runs beneath the various soloists, in the safe knowledge that repeated listens will reveal the true power of his craft. Secondly, there is no space music influence here, using instead a broad palate of more traditional Jazz styles as a jumping off point for some pretty wild explorations. Each track is a constantly surprising, but smoothly executed, torrent of ideas, juxtaposing style upon style in a heady brew.
Sleepwalking is a challenging opener, topping a solid, shuffling groove with a zigzagging spiky melody, sounding like the mallet-percussion heavy fusion favoured by Frank Zappa in his Wakka/Jawakka/Grand Wazoo period. Somehow, they manage to find room for a fluid piano solo, in an almost cocktail lounge style, and it all manages to hang together.
The Muffin has an incredibly convoluted opening riff, and features some terrific guitar in the prog fusion style of Alan Holdsworth or Terje Rypdal. Montee De Lait returns to the Zappa vibe, but with a synthetic brass feel, which perhaps is a little too brash in places. There is however, some pretty hot electric guitar soloing. Mood Swings opens with a solo violin playing some familiar but slightly off kilter melodies. It develops into a gently swinging groove, with some cool piano playing alternating with the nonchalant violin. There is a lovely relaxed air about this tune, with just a hint of tension to spice things up.
Le Grand-be rings the changes with some interesting acoustic guitar textures, a rocking electric solo and some dynamic percussion. Mceuet breezes in with a parping saxophone riff, before adding some funky effects-laden electric guitar, and a cool alto sax solo. After All (Demon’s Dance) has another devilishly tricky opening melody, with a brassy feel, played with stunning precision and driven forward by vibrant slap bass. This alternates with, by turns, a beautiful almost orchestral melody, and a keening guitar solo.
The highlight of 10h10 is the razor sharp violin playing of Robin Boulianne, recalling Jean Luc–Ponty or Jerry Goodman. Addison’s bass work here is also superb, underpinning the twisting, elongated melody lines to perfection. Throw in some wailing sax and incisive guitar, and you’ve got it all. This is a great track and one that packs an awful lot into just five minutes.
Controlled Freedom, despite its dissonant beginning, is a smoky late night duet for bass and the tenor sax of Dany Roy. Towards the end there is some tasteful piano and violin, interspersed with surprising sound effects and samples, adding a mysterious vibe and ending with a brief shrieking return of the opening dissonance.
All in all, this is an often exciting and compelling collection of tunes, played with a high level of proficiency and invention. The high Jazz quotient may mean this is one for the more experienced Fusion fans, rather than those first testing the waters, but its well worth checking out.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Heon - Electro-Acoustic Requiem
Electro-Acoustic Requiem is the debut solo album of French Canadian guitarist Martin Héon whose CV includes a couple of albums with the band Anxiety in the mid 1990s and various studio sessions and live work with a whole collection of Canadian musicians who I confess complete ignorance of. The album sets out, in the words of the composer, "to explore the acoustic range of an electric guitar". This is achieved by extensive modification and manipulation of the source sound wave, mainly via computer software, to create the sonic characteristics of other instrumentation. This is not the first album to attempt such an exploration, Mike Oldfield did something similar on his 1999 album Guitars and several years earlier Adrian Belew released the first of his experimental guitar series The Guitar As Orchestra. And, of course, Belew's band mate Robert Fripp has been using guitar manipulations (or Frippertronics as he likes to call it) for years in his recorded and live work, as well as his Soundscape releases.
Taking over a year of technical research, Electro-Acoustic Requiem provides the listener with an interesting palette of sounds which are generally quite convincing but on the whole do not match the level of authenticty achieved by the previously named artists as one can never really escape the conclusion that one is listening to anything other than an electronically treated guitar. The reason for this is primarily finances, Heon obviously does not have the money to purchase guitar synthesisers or a MIDI set-up used by the other artists, and to be fair, this was probably not the intention of the artist in the first place.
The theme of the album is centred around the age-old mysteries of life - Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? but uses as it's central tenet the journey through the afterlife. Consequently the album begins with Death and then journeys through Purgatory, Hell, and, defying the conventional, on to Heaven. The album ends with 'hope' of reincarnation and Back To Life. However, the concept is mainly one pushed forward through the titles of the compositions. Sure, the track Melancholy does indeed have a melancholic air to it but one would be hard-pushed to associate most of the other pieces with their titles.
Of course, on the whole this is of no real consequence and it is the music that matters. However, for me the album did not quite hold together. I admit to not being that great a fan of electronic music which is possibly why I didn't really get into the album as a whole. To my ears there was not enough variety to the album, and the stand-out tracks were too concentrated towards the beginning of the CD. There is no denying the musicianship of Heon, the melodies of Amazed By Beauty and Melancholy are soothing and the guitar work, relatively unmanipulated, is impressive. However, the electronic doodling in the middle section of Back To Life was simply annoying although ending the album with a representation of a child's musical box slowly winding down was a nice touch.
In conlusion, an interesting and original album, something that would suit those whose personal tastes expand into progressive rock that has a more experimental angle and incorporates more electronic sounds.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Hiroshi Aoki (Blazing Bronze) - Beyond Hope
Early in 2002 I reviewed two albums by Hiroshi Aoki's, Blazing Bronze and this year we see the release of Beyond Hope, the latest offering from Aoki and a solo project. Still with Hiroshi is co-conspirator AKKO, from the previous recordings and joining them on this album are XII, who provides the bass elements to the music and Saya Maihashi on vocals. I have to say that the first two Blazing Bronze projects did not greatly appeal to me, however this latest album, is certainly more in tune with my personal tastes. The dark and somewhat disturbing nature of the last two offerings has been replaced by a more accessible and cohesive sound. Not lost, thankfully, are the cultural and ethnic qualities from the previous albums and in the words of Hiroshi, "beauty has joined the music of Blazing Bronze".
The music of Aoki is always thought provoking and is best listened to in a darkened room with no distractions. This way the music can carry you to wherever you may wish to go. My imagination took me to a large theatre, for a lavish stage production, full of mystery and ancient fable - complete with fine sets and costumes. Aoki creates this aura by his use of dynamics within the music and the numerous and well selected orchestral timbres from AKKO's keyboard array and Hiroshi's clever usage of guitar synths. Note should also be made of the delicate, indigenous sounds used, which all adds to the mystery of the album. It would be extremely difficult to categorise the music to be found on Beyond Hope as it combines many elements taken from many styles of music and fused into a cogent musical form.
I received an early version of this album several months ago, now crafted and honed and now with the addition of the vocal sections. A period of adjustment was necessary by me to accept these new additional parts and not to view Beyond Hope as an instrumental offering. However, once redressed, I can safely say that the album benefits from Saya Maihashi's vocal contributions, which at times reminded me of Hazel O'Conner, especially in the more up tempo sections.
Hiroshi and AKKO have formed a strong empathy and compliment each other's playing admirably. This manifests itself in Hiroshi's thoughtfully constructed music, which is not cluttered with those sections included merely to offer soloing parts. Don't get me wrong, I love to hear solo instrumental passages, but even more as it is here, where it forms part of the overall piece. In many respects Beyond Hope brought to mind the music of Mike Oldfield, not so much in style but more in the construction. Much in the way that Mike Oldfield has an Englishness to his music, so to does Aoki conjure images of Japan and an oriental culture. The use of atmospheric sections and soundscapes combined with more orchestral passages work very effectively. Percussion and percussive instrumental sounds are used to add a pulse to the music - think Tubular Bells. Along with this are the more band orientated sections and opportunities for Hiroshi's guitar work to flourish. Last but not least and to complete the picture are the gentle acoustic sections and a sprinkling of Jazz.
Having now revisited the early albums, it is possible to see the transitions made to this work. The development and extensions of the musical ideas from those previous releases is well apparent here. However this is a much more satisfactory musical venture and will surely appeal to a much wider progressive audience. Time permitting; I would strongly urge that you listen to Beyond Hope in one sitting (at least once) to fully appreciate all that is on offer.
Conclusion: 7+ out of 10
Apocalypse - Refugio
Bonus Tracks: Ultimo Horizonte (Live in USA) (4:49); Terra Azul (Live in USA) (8:04)
If this band’s name leads you to think that this could be an 80’s thrash metal outfit, then a look at the album artwork and a cursory listen suggest this might be a long-lost early 70’s release. Somewhat surprisingly, however, this does appear to have been recorded this year, and is Apocalypse’s seventh album.
The music is very much in the retro-prog mode, and for the most part is keyboard-led, with keys player Eloy Fritsch clearly a pupil of the Keith Emerson school of playing – i.e. why use one note when fifteen will do? He also has one of the cheesiest keyboard sounds I’ve heard for a while (a weird mixture of vintage prog, early 80’s new romantics and the sounds used on Europe’s The Final Countdown!) which can take you aback when you first hear it and detracts a little from the songs – although when you’re used to it its not so bad and actually brings a smile to the face if you’re in the right mood. There’s also no denying that the guy’s got some talent. Guitars are played by (Eloy’s brother?) Ruy Fritsch, and are used primarily for reeling off some soaring solo’s. Ruy also supplies the vocals, which are sung in Portugese, and are handled well enough, although he tries too hard occasionally, such as when he goes for the high notes.
Musically, it’s actually quite difficult to say exactly who Apocalypse sound like. True, the usual suspects such as Genesis, Yes, Gilmour-era Pink Floyd and ELP are obviously influences, as are early Marillion and the first wave of neo-prog bands, but it would be stretching it to say the band sound like any of them – rather, this is an amalgamation of classic prog and pomp rock, with some latin and psychedelic touches. Given that this is the band’s seventh album, its perhaps not surprising that they’ve managed to sculpt a sound that is pretty much their own.
A lot of thought has obviously gone into the compositions, which are varied and see plenty of different ideas thrown to the wall – the hit rate isn’t anywhere near 100%, but when everything clicks together Apocalypse produce some strong material here – such as the epic Cachoeira das Aguas Douradas, which has some great Floyd-style soloing and well-worked symphonic touches, whilst America do Sul (clearly influenced by the likes of Pendragon) is well constructed in the build up, with a strong, harmony laden chorus.
The live material tacked onto the end as a ‘bonus’ (recorded at Prog Day 1999 in the USA) is actually some of the strongest on the album, with a better balance between keyboards and guitar and illustrates that the band may well be best experienced in the live arena.
Overall, a reasonably enjoyable album – cheesy as hell, but pleasant nonetheless. It won’t give the likes of The Flower Kings or Spock’s Beard sleepless nights, and is somewhat hard going in places, but if retro-prog is your thing, this could be worth a try.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10