Issue 2006-053

Reviews in this issue:

Manning - Anser's Tree

Manning - Anser's Tree
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:ProgRock Records
Catalogue #:PRR270
Year of Release:2006
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Margaret Montgomery [1581-????] (7:13), Jack Roberts [1699-1749] (6:39), William Barras [1803-1835] (14:45), Diana Horden [1900-1922] (7:47), Joshua Logan [1990-2048] (7:58), Prof. Adam Logan [2001-2094] (11:59), Dr. Jonathan Anser [2089-????] (7:07)

The DPRP have recently published two excellent prog metal specials, an indication of just how vibrant that scene currently is. What has that got to do with this release you may well ask. If nothing else it highlights the diversity of music that comes under the general heading of prog. If prog metal sits larger than life in one corner of the genre then Manning’s meld of progressive rock and folk sits comfortably in the opposite. That’s not to suggest that his music lacks the same fire or dynamics, this album has that in spades. His style is more subtle however with seemingly effortless mood changes coaxing the listener from one rich musical passage to the next. Never one to follow the pack, his music retains an individuality that deserves the listener’s attention and respect whatever you musical preferences. Anser’s Tree comes less than a year after the remarkable One Small Step, which for my money was easily one of the best albums of 2005.

In addition to being his surname, Manning is also the collective name of Guy’s band. Guy has retained some core members from the previous releases joined by several new names in key roles. The results sound fresh whilst retaining elements that will be familiar to Manning followers. Laura Fowles and Ian Fairbairn once again provide saxophones and fiddles respectively with Guy himself assuming responsibility for vocals and all manner of guitars, keyboards, basses, drums and percussion. David Million takes over lead electric guitar duties from Gareth Harwood although ironically the latter is given a name check on the sleeve notes. The sound of flutes has always been an integral part of Manning’s music and here guest Stephen Dundon from folk band Molly Bloom fills that all important role. Completing the line up are Guy’s friend and Tangent colleague Andy Tillison and Neil Harris who both guest on keyboards on two tracks.

On the face of it, the concept behind Anser’s Tree is a simple one. It traces the history of one family told though the eyes of the last descendent, one Dr. Jonathan Anser. He is the subject of the final song and his birth date reveals that his story is set over one hundred years in the future. The lives of six ancestors are chronicled through the proceeding songs. Why these particular family members are singled out is not exactly clear except to say that their lives have a tragic twist, often blighted by death and disaster. The albums title is an intriguing one. Taken on face value it is obviously a reference to Dr. Anser’s family tree. However said out loud it also describes his quest to find the “answers” to his own existence and the Universe. To add depth to the concept Guy has once again employed the services of designer Ed Unitsky whose meticulously detailed artwork provides a stunning visual backdrop to each story.

The album opens in fine style with Margaret Montgomery (1581-???). Musically the tone is sunny and optimistic with bright acoustic guitar joined by lyrical violin and soaring flute each playing melody and counter melody. The familiar warm Manning vocal tones weave a tale of treachery before a rasping Ian Anderson style flute solo opens the instrumental section which features a crisp Spanish guitar solo from Guy. Following a deceptively reflective start, Jack Roberts (1699-1749) includes some of the albums most prog laden moments with strident Hammond punctuations and fiery Rick Wakeman style Moog from Andy Tillison. This track would have sat comfortably on any of The Tangent albums. Guy and Laura’s vocal harmonies underpin the sumptuous flute led melody which peaks with a glorious sax break that ends all too quickly.

William Barras (1803-1835) dances into life in folk style with a hand clap rhythm, lilting violin melody and shimmering organ. Guy avoids padding out this epic length piece with bombast and prog clichés and instead settles for a free flowing almost classical style reminiscent of the title Suite from his last album. Driven by a tumbling acoustic guitar riff, flute, mandolin and orchestral keys ebb and flow before the triumphant life affirming conclusion. The sinister tale of Diana Horden (1900-1922) is offset by a bright upbeat melody and Latin rhythm. Classical guitar and saxophone make notable contributions but the highlight is the meditative vocal and celestial organ bridge section. The quirky Joshua Logan (1990-2048) finds Guy at his most lyrically playful and features some uncharacteristic instrumentation. This includes a funky Steely Dan style introduction and rousing blues guitar contributions from David Million. Neil Harris replies with a spirited ARP synth break, and the gutsy electric guitar and sax interplay towards the end is a blast.

The beautifully structured Prof. Adam Logan (2001-2094) is a standout track with rich melodies and memorable hooks. Riding a wave of mellotron and organ, Laura Fowles blasts out the opening theme. Guy’s drumming in particular, which is transparent for most of the album, makes an impact here. It’s also his turn to shine on synth with a solid solo that lays the path for two stirring vocal chants. These appear independently at first before combining for the uplifting coda joined by synth strings, a neat guitar break and “Singing in the Rain” lyrics from the man himself. The closing Dr Jonathan Anser (2089-???) opens in suitably atmospheric fashion with a measured vocal against a gothic organ backdrop. The reflective mood continues with organ and mellotron strings reminiscent of the first Greenslade album. A marching rhythm signals the climatic build with grandiose keys and bass sax overlaid by spirited lead saxophone and a gradual fade. Think ELP’s Abandon’s Bolero meets Steve Hackett’s Shadow Of The Hierophant and your some way there.

This is Manning’s eighth album to date and seemingly he goes from strength to strength with every release. Margaret Montgomery, Jack Roberts and Prof. Adam Logan are certainly amongst some of his best work. His music never fails to surprise and delight with melodic invention around every corner. If I had to be perfectly honest then I did miss the fluid guitar style of Gareth Harwood which I feel is more sympathetic to Manning’s music than David Million’s more bluesy heavy rock approach. But that’s my only quibble. In all other aspects Guy has produced another excellent release that comes unreservedly recommended. I’m reluctant to throw around terms like ‘musical genius’ casually, but if any one person deserved that accolade then Guy Manning would surely be on the shortlist.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10


La Maschera Di Cera - LuxAde

La Maschera Di Cera - LuxAde
Country of Origin:Italy
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:QQ 1003 CD
Year of Release:2006
Info:La Maschera Di Cera
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: PROGRAMMA I: Porta Del Cielo (1:10), Doppia Immagine (7:49), Un Senso All’impossible [(i) Teatro di follia (ii) Il Ricordo] (10:18), Orpheus (4:45) Nuova Luce [(i) passato (ii) sogno (iii) presente (iv) realtà (10:13), PROGRAMMA II: Enciclica 1168 [Scena I: preludio {gennaio 17}, Scena II: caduta/visione, Scena III: delitto Scena IV: coscienza, Scena V: canto pagano/metamorfosi, Scena VI: dopo la pioggia, Scena VII: sterminio, Scena VIII: lumen in coelo, Scena IX: postludio {“così in alto è come in basso”}] (24:27), Schema [v.s.d.] (3:42)

This is the third studio release for La Mashera Di Cera and what strong album it is. This is the first of their CDs that I had the pleasure of listening to.

The band is another of many side projects of Finisterre’s bass player Fabio Zuffanti. Also from Finisterre is keyboard player Agostino Macor, the rest of the band is Alessandro Corvaglia vocals and acoustic guitar, Andrea Monetti flute & saxophone, Maurizi Di Tollo drums & percussion. Fabio’s goal when starting this band was to create music with the sound and soul of 1970’s Italian prog.

Now on to the music: The vocals are all in Italian, but do not let this stop you from enjoying them. Alessandro’s singing style is that of a rock singer with great range, unlike some Italian prog with vocals that are more operatic (Area, Banco, Deus ex Machina). He sings with a strong emotional voice and articulates every word very well. I just listen to it as another instrument.

The band reminds me of a mixture of Le Orme, and Il Balleto di Bronzo with vocals in a lower register. The mix is done very well with Fabio’s bass in the centre but not right up front. The rest of the instruments come to the forefront as needed to complement the songs. The overall sound is very organic and rich with the use of acoustic instruments (flute, piano, guitar, and saxophone). The high point for me is the great array of vintage keyboards used mellotron, Hammond organ, Fender Rhodes etc. The keyboards range from spacey to heavy, thick and dense rhythmic sections. Overall the music has a warm feeling to it, and there are no wasted notes. Listening to the music you can tell that they are very talented musicians but no one is here to show off everything is done for the betterment of the songs. It is also very nice to hear a CD with a good stereo mix; swirling keyboards, left and right side phasing, and changing instrument positioning. Sometimes the flute will slither out of the left speaker or jump at you from the right speaker. I thought this was a lost art of past, but this CD proves me wrong.

The songs range in length from one minute to over twenty four minutes, with most of the songs based around fairly simple themes, but have many changes in them that are developed through out. I believe that this maybe a concept album because there are some reoccurring themes in a few songs. Unfortunately not understanding the lyrics I am not sure about the concept. The band really excels at interweaving different emotions into each song. The CD starts out with a soft and tender piece played on piano. This quickly changes to a hard driving rhythm section and the roller coaster ride starts.

Overall I would says this CD would be an excellent choice for anyone curious about Italian prog or someone that misses that vintage Italian sound. I can not say anything bad about this CD and every time I listen to it I enjoy it more. Plain and simple this CD just sounds good. If you get a chance the band will be playing at NEARfest 2007.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10


Shakary - 2006

Shakary - 2006
Country of Origin:Switzerland
Record Label:SHK
Catalogue #:SHK 022006
Year of Release:2006
Time:CD1 51:48
CD2 42:43
Samples:Click here


CD 1: Alya 2006 Sunset (3:08), Lost Angels (6:19), Time Trap (5:58), Alya (4:47), The First Inquisition (6:06), Sentence (6:10), The Last Drink (7:29), Babylon (6:17), Open Skies (5:44)

CD 2: The Last Summer 2006 Masks (7:03), Dreaming In L.A. (10:00), Love Warchild Of 64 (6:24), Different Places (4:10), The Play Of My Life (4:49), Two Days Left (4:49), Sparkles In The Dark (5:48)

Swiss group Shakary have re-recorded, remixed and remastered their first two albums Alya (2000) and The Last Summer (2002) and released them as a limited edition double-pack. When Alya was first released it received a recommended rating by DPRP although the two reviewers were somewhat divided in their overall opinions of the album. The original review can be found here. It is worth reading this review, particularly Ed's contribution, as it seems that in reworking this album the group have paid heed to Ed's criticisms. The original vocals, by Clepsydra’s front man Aluisio Maggini, have been entirely replaced by Noel McCalla, probably most famous for his work with Manfred Mann's Earthband and his appearance on Mike Rutherford's Smallcreep's Day. In addition, the original 16-track double CD has been trimmed down to nine tracks, the omitted pieces being ones that Ed identified as bearing similarities to other groups and omission of a lyric book does provide a distance between the biblical associations of the original concept.

Quite how you can cut a concept album in half and still retain the concept essence is a question I won't try and answer, mainly because I have not focused on the lyrics to see if the pieces still retain a coherent narrative. Consequently this review will treat the album as a series of individual tracks. Sunset has been shortened from the original version but provides a nice overture without the sound effects used on the original to introduce the concept. Lost Angels is begins with classical piano after which the vocals of McCalla, who does have a great voice, even if some of this material does not necessarily suit his singing style. The end of Lost Angels contains a very atmospheric guitar and keyboard melody. Time Trap has a heavy guitar riff backed by sustained synth chords and a great sounding violin leading up to the vocals and rounded off by a nice guitar solo and some interestingly rhythmic drums. The next two tracks both feature violin heavily, the title track in particular having a rather gorgeous melody, with pizzicato keyboards and heavily layered vocals on the chorus. The instrumental sections of The First Inquisition are particularly impressive.

It has been written that the original double CD could have been split into 'good' and 'evil' discs. If that is the case, we are now entering the dark side... Sentence again has some great instrumental passages with contributions from guest guitarists Steve Rothery (Marillion) and Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon). The Last Drink is my favourite track on the album with a menacing riff, some frantic guitar and violin solos and nice vocal contributions from McCalla, although again, it is a slightly shorter version than on the original release. Babylon is rather more simplistic and is possibly the only time that one notices that the piece is abstracted from a larger concept. Open Skies rounds things off in a very decent manner, more of an epilogue than anything, but mention has to made of the great trumpet contributions, surely what prog has long been missing!

The Last Summer has been extensively edited, having a running time some six minutes shorter than the original. Again, all the vocals have been re-recorded with Noel McCalla once again doing a decent job. Finally the album has been totally re-sequenced with only two tracks appearing in their original position. The musical style and sound is consistent with that on Ayla, although no violin this time. Instead we are treated with, amongst other things, flute (on Masks and Dreaming In LA) and harpsichord/clavinet (on Dreaming In LA). The 2002 album actually ended with Dreaming In LA, it being somewhat of an epic. I am not sure where the four edited minutes of this song came from, the cut(s) are certainly not evident, with the exception of the rather abrupt ending. A harsher atmosphere is evident on Love Warchild Of 64 with an insistent guitar riff and soloing keyboards opening the song. The song offers something a bit different and for that fact alone stands out. Great vocals as well.

The tempo is increased with Different Places, getting quite heavy in places and also mixing in a brief organ flourish, an instrument that features more prominently in The Play of My Life. Great mixture of piano and guitar on this song, although one can't help escaping the feeling that the vocals are more of a narration than anything else. The acoustic guitar opening and ending on Two Days Left is a nice variation, particularly as the middle section has some fiery electric guitar. Final track Sparkles In The Dark also starts acoustically, but this time with piano. Then proceeds with a female choir, organ, melodic electric guitar solo supported by piano arpeggios and then back to the acoustic guitar before concluding with a bagpipe solo which blends magnificently with the other instrumentation. An obvious closing track to my ears, can't imagine it positioned mid album.

So, what to make of this album? The CDs are nicely presented with very good graphic design on the packaging and CDs themselves, the music is well produced and performed and I suspect that the editing of the albums has made both of them rather more succinct. Shakary have a very identifiable sound which may be a problem for some people as the two albums are, sonically, very similar throughout. I did enjoy both albums but can't imagine playing both sequentially too often. For that reason alone it is hard to justify a recommended release rating. But please remember this is purely a personal opinion, if you liked one or both of the originals then you are sure to like these reworked versions and if you were put off the originals by reviews of the vocals then Noel McCalla's presence may make the difference. All in all, a 'nice to have but not essential' release, but plaudits to Shakary for the effort on reworking these albums and offering them to fans combined and at a decent price.

Conclusion: 7+ out of 10


Djamra - Kamihitoe

Djamra - Kamihitoe
Country of Origin:Japan
Record Label:Musea Records
Poseidon Music
Catalogue #:FGBG 4654.AR
Year of Release:2006
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Kamihitoe (6:40), New Bound (5:43), The Cave (7:40), Ogiruyas (3:56), Alha-ha (4:33), 94K2 (8:30), Dying Sleeper (5:41), Ajinen (6:04), Dictator (6:35), Ahonoko (9:14)

Osaka based Djamra (pronounced "janra") return once again with their rather intense, avant-garde progressive jazz fusion. And in similar fashion to their previous releases (of which DPRP has covered two) the band manage to meld numerous styles into their furious musical explorations. However the word "jazz" is one that, for me, overrides all others.

The band's somewhat unusual quartet line-up has changed since Transplantation into a more conventional five piece, with Masaharu Nakakita (bass), Shinji Kitamura (saxophone), and Akihiro Enomoto (drums) remaining from that release. But with Kamihitoe we see the inclusion of Takehiko Fukuda (keyboards) and Akira Ishikawa (guitar) making up, what on the surface offers, a more traditional line-up. Trumpeter Dai Akahani makes his entrance and Masaaki Minami guests on the same instrument on four of the ten tracks. The addition of both guitar and keyboards has made little difference to the intensity of Djamra's music although it does help the compositions to sit a little more comfortably.

As mentioned above Djamra incorporate a number of musical forms into their music, although the resultant tracks still fall heavily into the avant-jazz forum. But as all the members of Djamra are highly skilled musicians and their understanding of composition and interplay are extremely evident, they are able to move through intricate jazz fusion, Ska, RIO, free-form, blues and funk in a convincing fashion.  The music of Djamra, however, is an acquired taste and although the musicianship is top drawer, the intensity is somewhat draining and to be truthful left me a little cold. Even those quirky Madness goes jazz moments (Ahonoko) didn't quite muster any greater emotion other than mild amusement.

As it is fairly evident by now that Kamihitoe did not grab me, I feel I should look to wrap things up without pouring scorn on this release - it certainly does not deserve it. Consistency prevails throughout these ten instrumentals and I can't really single out any particular pieces worthy of note - good or bad, although once again the bass playing of Masaharu Nakakita impressed especially on the opening of New Bound - a great groove.

I feel sure that in the right ears this may well be a masterpiece, however not even Masaharu Nakakita's intuitive bass playing managed to keep me interested. So as I remarked on my review of 14 Faces, the music of Djamra is likely to have limited appeal with our DPRP readership, not because of any shortfall in the music, but more with its'overtly jazzy nature and somewhat improvised jamming style.  Fans of Soft Machine, Henry Cow, Thinking Plague and Magma, however, may well wish to explore the music of Djamra further.

Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10


AdiB - Spinning Like A Top

AdiB - Spinning Like A Top
Country of Origin:Italy
Record Label:Musea Records
Catalogue #:FGBG 4664.AR
Year of Release:2006
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Bad Boy [H] (5:08), Bulbo (5:32), Rapsodia (7:01), Joungle Box (6:01), Blu Superficiale (2:56), Immersion (2:42), Tangram (6:42), Spinning Like A Top (10:54)

As a teenager in the late 70s and early 80s, I had no especial fondness for “progressive rock.” In fact, in my area of the world, and at that time, no one even used the term. We had a local radio station and it played the contemporary AOR by Yes, Jethro Tull, and Rush (the three favourite bands of my high school days), but also by Styx, Pat Benetar, Alice Cooper, The Beatles, The Kinks, Foreigner, The Police, Bob Dylan, Nazareth, REO Speedwagon, Peter Frampton, Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, Steve Miller, etc. ad infinitum. I didn’t know until much, much later that a genre called “progressive rock” existed and that Yes, Jethro Tull, and Rush were part of it. In my second exposure to progressive rock, some time in the late 90s, I found out the joys of music by Caravan, King Crimson, early Genesis, Camel, Gentle Giant, and Van der Graaf Generator. And I also developed a strong appreciation for an artist that I had never, ever cared for at all: Frank Zappa.

Now, if Frank Zappa is a genius, or if he is not, I can’t say. But from Hot Rats through Joe’s Garage, I pretty much love his work. The jazz-rock on albums like Zappa In New York and the witty, catchy-as-hell satire on, e.g., Joe’s Garage, really push my pleasure buttons. But there are two aspects of Frank’s work that I dislike. First, he does tend to steer (self-consciously or not) toward the scatological gutter in much of his lyrical discourse. And second: many of his compositions shift gears incessantly, unanchored and loose, without any unifying theme or motif. I realize that sort of music is the height of post-modern, disconnected, disaffected hipness, but I generally regard it as boring, annoying, non-musical tripe. All of which, by way of analogy and with regret, brings me to AdiB’s Spinning Like A Top…

AdiB (formerly known as “Assolo Di Bongo”) is a quartet featuring Erico Rainis on bass guitar; David Accaino on keyboards; Enrico De Stalis on guitars; and Elvis Fior on drums. On Spinning Like A Top, which is the band’s sophomore effort, AdiB receives support from a large host of guest musicians: Arianna Commons (cello); Nevio Zaninotto (saxophones); Mirko Cisilino (trumpet); Maurizio Cepparo (trombone); and U.T. Gandhi (percussion). Ultimately, although the musicianship is always tolerable and respectable, if without flair or piquant flavor, I can only say that it is music of the head, not the heart, and it revels too much in trickery and showmanship than compositional excellence.

The music is certainly multifarious. It contains nuances and hints of Windham Hill, arena rock, smooth jazz, U2, Rush, neo prog rock, old-school Italian prog rock, fusion, and, as mentioned above, Zappa. The problem with SOn Spinning Like A Top is not its musical influences, though, which are fine as they go, but the continuous disunity of the tracks. If I offered you a sandwich, and I told you the ingredients were bologna, peanut butter, tuna salad, iceburg lettuce, pear slices, Spanish onions, and chocolate sauce, you’d say, “But those things don’t go together!” And that’s how all of the album sounds: nothing holds together. There are too many jumps from theme to theme and too many absences of sustained mood, ambience, and atmosphere. Now, in Zappa’s case, since he was a superior musician and surrounded himself with superior musicians, he gets away with disunified music because there are always many “Wow!” moments. AdiB offers very few (if any) “Wow!” moments. The musicians are capable, well rehearsed, and competent, but mostly pretty bland in their delivery. There are no catchy phrases; no memorable snippets. It all plays very academically, like a conservatory exercise…

THE BOTTOM LINE: Would I feel cheated had I bought this CD? Yes. Would I recommend that you buy this CD? No. Would I recommend that you hear this CD via begging, borrowing, or stealing? No. Pick up some Zappa to hear the best versions of discontinuous rock ‘n’ roll ever made. I’ll give Spinning a 4 because it seems honestly played and honestly made but it’s certainly nothing that you, DPRP audience, need to have in your collection.

Conclusion: 4 out of 10