Reviews in this issue:
- Twelfth Night – Voices In The Night
- Bruford - Rock Goes To College
- Dave Kulju – Abstract Expression
- Band Of Rain – Arts & Allurements
- Rational Diet – Rational Diet
- Machy Madco - Manuscritos Desde Musmell
Twelfth Night – Voices In The Night
Disc 1 - Studio: Cunning Man (4:50), Abacus (7:25), Aspidistra (7:47), Late Night TV (4:21), Human Being (3:43), Fact And Fiction (4:00), Art And Illusion (4:20), Don’t Make Me Laugh (3:46), I Am (5:33), South Of The Wind (3:13), White Glass (4:04), Piccadilly Square (6:28), Turning (3:25), Happening (3:24), A Tiny Everything (4:04), Zootime (4:26)
Disc 2 - Live: Art And Illusion (4:00), Aspidentropy (9:51), Not On The Map (4:58), Last Song (4:22), Blue Powder Monkey (5:00), Take A Look (11:15), Phantoms On The Telephone (4:54), Happening (3:24), A Tiny Everything (3:58), Turning (3:23), Zootime (4:21), Love Song (7:43)
Twelfth Night is a band I have been aware of since I started listening to prog back in the mid 1980’s, but I never actually heard them until I picked up a Cyclops compilation that had a live version of The Ceiling Speaks that I really liked. On mentioning this to a friend he loaned me a copy of Art And Illusion that, though good, never quite did it for me. Having received a copy of this double CD compilation of unreleased and rare material featuring all of the vocalists from the bands history (plus a couple of others who never actually became members of the band) I decided that I had best get my head around their history and some of their music. This CD is not the ideal place for anyone new to the band to start but it is an enjoyable listen none the less and a must for devotees.
The band started out in the late ‘70’s, initially as an instrumental combo finalising on the quartet of Brian Devoil (drums), Clive Mitten (bass), Rick Battersby (keyboards) and Andy Revell (guitar) that only altered slightly during the bands lifetime. Having recruited a singer they went on to become synonymous with the early ‘80’s prog revival movement in the UK, which also featured the likes of Marillion, IQ, Pendragon and Pallas, but always managed to sound different to the rest. American singer Electra McLeod became their first vocalist in 1980 and this is the point that this collection kicks off, the first disc being of studio recordings.
Electra’s tenure in the band was short lived but three tracks from the period are included here – Cunning Man, Abacus and Aspidistra recorded in August 1980. The recording quality isn’t great but you can’t complain about items from this early in the bands career. Instrumentally the band are sound as a bell, the period as an instrumental act laying the groundwork for some great interplay even at this early stage, and the third of these tracks finishes with a lovely instrumental section with some great guitar and Clive Mitten’s excellent vibrant bass work out in front. Very tight playing throughout though the vocals are a little low key for my taste. I’m sure the results would have been more satisfying with a better production as Electra certainly has a voice worth hearing.
Next up is a curio – Late Night TV featuring Ian Lloyd Jones on vocals recorded in March 1981 during the hunt for a replacement vocalist after the departure of Electra. Nice and bouncy with a good vocal. Again the production is understandably rudimentary but the energy of the band shines through.
Then the main sequence for the band starts featuring vocalists Geoff Mann and Andy Sears who get three tracks each from the three years or so they each fronted the band, plus an additional one for Andy, Piccadilly Square, recorded in 1994 for inclusion on the Mannerisms tribute album released to celebrate the life of Geoff Mann who sadly died from cancer in 1993. Geoff’s tracks start with a recording of the great Human Being from March 1982 during the writing period for the Fact And Fiction album. Next up is Fact And Fiction itself and Art And Illusion, both recorded in July 1983 prior to their triumphant set at that years Reading Festival. These tracks have a much better production and are consequently a more enjoyable listen for the uninitiated.
From a personal perspective I love Geoff’s vocals above any of the other singers included here. His voice has a lovely depth that brings out the best in the material, which I also prefer from this period as it offers more interest. As is usual with many albums from this time, the keyboard sounds used date the material quite considerably. I don’t have a problem with this but those new to the era may find it a bit grating and thin. I have reviewed several new albums recently that use these settings and I’ve wondered why. If it is to recreate the time in a nostalgic sense or simply the copying of a previously successful sound I don’t know. I just wish they wouldn’t do it. Also, I find the drumming on this collection a little pedestrian and lacking in interest though this situation does improve on the live disc. It doesn’t have a huge affect on the songs though, which are generally of a very high standard and well played throughout.
In between the Geoff and Andy Sears tracks we get another oddity, Don’t Make Me Laugh, which is ostensibly a version of Fact And Fiction, recorded with a singer called Axe in October 1983 after Geoff Mann’s departure. Andy got the nod over Axe and the next three tracks, I Am, South Of The Wind and White Glass, come from January 1985 as demos for the next album but none of them made the final cut. There are a couple of great clips on YouTube of the Andy Sears incarnation at the Marquee Club taken from the Live In London DVD that clearly show what a great band they were with a great and energetic frontline in Clive and the two Andy’s. The three tracks from this period are all worthy, up tempo and well performed in all areas but with a slightly more mainstream feel than the older material. The aforementioned Piccadilly Square starts atmospherically and builds into a worthy tribute to Geoff.
Rounding off the first CD are four tracks recorded in February 1987 featuring Martyn Watson who sang with the band for the last few months of their existence. Martyn also contributed bass after Clive Mitten left and these are the only tracks the band ever recorded without Clive. The songs are quite lightweight and hold little interest for me, and the vocals don’t measure up to the previous singers. On the chorus of Happening I started thinking T Rex – is this just me?
The second CD contains live material from all eras of the band. The first two come from the encore at Geoff’s last show in November 1983, previously only issued on his Recorded Delivery album and are great stuff showing, again, how good this band were. Next is the only recording of Not On The Map that, with new lyric and rearranging, would eventually become Blondon Fair. Not a great quality recording but of genuine historical value. The three Andy Sears tracks, Last Song, the very energetic Blue Powder Monkey and epic Take A Look, are working studio mixes with live vocals recorded in February 1986 during the sessions for the Virgin album and consequently the quality of the sound is excellent. Take A Look is a great piece with elements of IQ and Saga while some of the keyboard parts reminds me of Marillion’s Season’s End.
Martyn’s five tracks from February 1987 come from a studio set in front of an invited record company audience and include live versions of the four cuts on the studio disc plus Phantoms On The Telephone. The final track of this collection is a great version of the classic Love Song featuring both Geoff and Andy on vocals with Martyn on bass recorded at the Marquee in October 1987. The final bars are completed using audience recordings as the tape ran out before the end and is poignant as this was the last time Geoff sang with the band and in fact the last Twelfth Night gig.
Overall, a package with many delights, and so much for the dyed in the wool fan to drool over that they will almost certainly be bouncing up and down with delight. Not necessarily the first step for someone wanting to get acquainted with the band but an enjoyable listen none the less. I’m sure there are those who would correct me but probably the expanded versions of Fact And Fiction and Art And Illusion should be the first points of contact together with the Live And Let Live album and for that reason I have given two ratings. Andy Sears and Clive Mitten have lined up a gig in London in November to play Twelfth Night material with the possibility of a CD and DVD release so who knows what the future holds for this classic band.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
(for Twelfth Night fans: 9.5 out of 10)
Bruford - Rock Goes To College
Tracklist: Sample And Hold (4:46), Beelzebub (3:37), The Sahara Of Snow [part one] (3:27), The Sahara Of Snow [part two] (3:43), Forever Until Sunday (6:50), Adios A La Pasada [Goodbye To The Past] (6:20), 5G (5:17)
Screened by the BBC in the late 70s and early 80s (1978 -1983 to be precise) were a series of live concerts going under the banner of Rock Goes To College - and a number of these gigs were simultaneously aired on the radio (in stereo) as part of the Sight And Sound In Concert programmes. Filmed and recorded across the country at Polytechnics and Universities these broadcasts were well attended but still managed to retain a fairly intimate feel. Now bearing in mind that video recorders were in their infancy at this time and therefore catching the radio broadcast was probably the only way of preserve these little gems. However the passage of time has meant that even these tapes are now no longer playable and I often hankered after seeing and hearing some of the BBC concerts again. Well thanks to the efforts of Voiceprint Bruford's performance at Oxford Polytechnic on 7 March 1979 is one we can now relive.
Now Bruford's departure is well charted from Yes, just after the release of Close To The Edge, seen by many as madness, to join Robert Fripp in King Crimson. However this move resulted in three critically acclaimed King Crimson albums before Bob Fripp called a halt and Bill Bruford moved onto a number of session stints with National Health, Gong and Genesis (yep he toured with Genesis), before eventually taking the opportunity to move onto a solo career in the mid 70s. The material for the two concerts mentioned in this review are taken from Bruford's first two solo albums Feels Good To Me (1978) and One Of A Kind (1979) which are to my mind are landmark albums that have stood the test of time. Answering his "critics" once and for all with two remarkable albums that encompassed progressive, jazz fusion at it's very best. Bruford emerged not only as the innovative drummer we already knew he was, but also as a crafted song writer. The Bruford line-up for these albums featured four musicians who not only possessed great rhythmic chops but also a formidable understanding of harmonic structuring. The resultant material fuses these rhythmic and compositional skills in material that is truly "progressive".
What also makes this recording rather unique is this particular Bruford line-up made only a couple of appearances. The formidable rhythm section of Bill Bruford and Jeff Berlin are present along with keys man Dave Stewart. However unlike the more readily available The Bruford Tapes, recorded a few months later in July 1979, which features the "unknown" John Clarke on guitar, this performance sees Allan Holdsworth on guitar, who of course played on the the two studio albums. Completing the line-up and making a guest vocal appearance is the somewhat misplaced (here anyway) Annette Peacock.
The DVD version of the concert has been available since late last year, but hats off to Voiceprint for this unique CD version of Bruford captured in concert during 1979. I have to say the audio quality isn't great and certainly not as good as The Bruford Tapes, however the sonic dullness of the audio is more than compensated by the material itself. The only other real downside on this release is Annette Peacock's performance, which does little to recapture the vocals she performed in the studio - however her stage presence is fleeting, (mercifully).
Perhaps not an essential purchase however for those who have followed Bruford's career, certainly either this CD or the DVD would be worthy additions to the collection. For those who may be curious and have not checked out Bill Bruford's earliest solo outings then my suggestions would be to look to Feels Good To Me or One Of A Kind first.
If all else fails follow the Samples link above where you will be able to see parts of the Rock Goes To College DVD along with Youtube links to Bruford, UK and King Crimson - a fascinating way to spend half and hour.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Dave Kulju – Abstract Expression
Tracklist: Internal Combustion (4:42), Don't Mind Me (4:35), Hieland Road (4:32), Pleiades (5:38), Depth Of Autumn (5:57), Picnic At The Slag Heap (2:19), The Main Attraction (5:18), Somnium (15:16), The Water Discipline (4:59)
Whenever I’m sent a release by an artist that’s new to me I usually check out previous reviews on the DPRP website. This often provides useful background information on the artist themselves, an insight into the musical style and a measure of how the latest release compares with the previous output. In the case of guitarist Dave Kulju I was surprised to find that it’s been five years since he last made a CD. On that occasion it was with the band Electrum whose album Standard Deviation received a positive thumbs up from our very own editor. Disagreement over musical direction (sound familiar?) and the band’s full time job commitments means that the follow up is yet to see the light of day. Kulju has made good use of this spell of inactivity to produce his debut solo album.
The most obvious comparison between Abstract Expression and Electrum’s work is the absence of vocals. That’s not uncommon in prog music of course but one assumption does immediately come to mind. If this is all instrumental then he must be an exceptional guitarist right? Well the simple answer is yes (thankfully) he is. If the second question concerns style and content then the unassuming artwork and title certainly give nothing away. We are in melodic prog territory here with a full on sound incorporating varied guitar textures plus keyboards, bass and drums played mostly by Kulju himself. If prog instrumentals are your thing then you will lap this up. I was consistently reminded of Steve Howe’s solo excursions (minus the suspect vocals of course) especially his Turbulence album.
Internal Combustion is a rock solid opener with a compelling lead riff and chunky rhythm guitar backdrop. The orchestral bridge comes courtesy of keys. Taken at a more relaxed tempo Don't Mind Me features a melodic guitar line underpinned by a counterpoint piano motif. A fuzzed guitar solo adds a hint of aggression. Hieland Road opens with a snatch of eerie early Genesis style mellotron. A tuneful guitar melody is offset by a busy bass solo accompanied by energetic drumming both provided by Kulju. Guest Frank Basile supplies the abstract drum pattern in Pleiades with one of the albums strongest melodies coming not from guitar but the bow of violinist Ian Cameron. This adds a Celtic folk feel underscored by piano and acoustic guitar before Kulju takes flight with a storming Steve Howe like solo.
Depth Of Autumn opens with a beautiful acoustic guitar lament that has a distinct Mike Oldfield flavour. The electric guitar line that follows is curiously reminiscent of Blue Oyster Cult’s Don’t Fear The Reaper. It features a very spacey guitar sound throughout with some excellent soloing. The jazzy Picnic At The Slag Heap sounds like a pure slice of King Crimson with restless Bob Fripp inflected soling joined by tight drums and bass that bring the Bruford/Wetton partnership to mind. Guest guitarist Joel Mahathy adds a bombastic solo of his own although to be truthful I could have easily done without the Theremin squeals which brought back the uncomfortable memories of a recent visit to the dentist!
The final three tracks are for me the albums most wide-ranging and rewarding. The lyrical almost classical guitar that opens The Main Attraction gives way to an infectious organ signature overlaid by a busy but melodic guitar line. This is punctuated by a striking staccato riff that has Mind Drive by Yes written all over it. The lengthy Somnium with its epic structure sees Kulju employing every trick in the book. The spacey and atmospheric Pink Floyd flavoured intro contrasts with the heavyweight guitar and organ section that follows. A complex layering of different guitar parts adds a Gentle Giant feel to the proceedings. A soaring Steve Hackett guitar solo is underpinned by lush string drenched keys.
At the midway point of this penultimate piece a mellow section includes Mike Oldfield guitar atmospherics against a backdrop of electronic percussive sounds. The guitar adopts an aggressive tone joined by expressive bass work and a memorable organ solo from guest musician Douug Upton. Mellotron samples set the scene for a majestic guitar break that would not sound out of place from the fingers of Nick Barrett or Steve Rothery. This could have easily provided a stirring coda but Kulju can’t resist adding a heavy swing rhythm before playing out with a bombastic organ/guitar riff.
In contrast to the instrumental gymnastics of the proceeding track, The Water Discipline makes for an engaging and calming closer. It’s dominated initially by stately symphonic synths bringing an ambient Tangerine Dream vibe. The synthetic percussive effects sound very much at home here adding a decidedly modern edge. An understated but beautiful guitar melody with echoes of Andy Latimer subsides into rippling acoustic guitar to provide a sweet conclusion.
From the end results it’s obvious that the multi talented Dave Kulju has spent many hours labouring in his basement studio to produce this album. Each track has been meticulously constructed which a rich layering of instrumentation that’s often complex but always highly melodic. This is instrumental prog at its very best from a musician who clearly has a feel for the genre. Vocals are not a requirement here; Kulju lets his guitar do all the singing. I look forward to his next release either solo or with Electrum even if it does take another five years.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Band Of Rain – Arts & Allurements
Tracklist: Their Mistake (5:30), The Devil’s Debts (5:09), Stars Beneath The Sea (5:23), Vampire (6:14), Drusilla (6:02), Arts & Allurements (5:33), The Innocence (3:49), Pan (7:31), Monument (9:23), The Deep (3:02)
When I reviewed the first two albums by Band Of Rain – essentially then a space-rock project from multi-instrumentalist Chris Gill – one of my suggestions for progress was that they hire a dedicated vocalist. Well, that’s what Gill has done here, in the shape of one Sharon Leslie. However, I must admit that I was caught unawares by the style of vocals employed by Leslie, and the distinctly new musical territory that Gill and Band Of Rain are now exploring.
Leslie has a low-pitched, throaty and powerful vocal style that, whilst perhaps lacking in range, does have some authority. And there’s little doubt that it suits the band’s new style, as Gill’s songs have taken a distinct turn into Goth rock territory here. By this I don’t mean the new generation of female fronted ‘gothic metal’ bands led by Nightwish and Within Temptation; no, this is (at times) a much closer cousin to eighties bands such as Sisters Of Mercy, The Mission and Siouxsie And The Banshees.
The first few tracks are mid-tempo stompers which chug away amiably enough, with Gill’s distinctive, sinewy lead guitar work and some spacey synth washes being the main link with the past. Yet the feeling I get with these tracks is that they do perhaps outstay their welcome, and the monotony of vocal delivery and song structure meant that I was looking at my watch on more than one occasion.
Things do perk up as the album progresses however. Drusilla is a gentler, acoustic-led tune where Sharon Leslie puts in a fragile but more expressive performance, the song benefiting from her not belting out the lines as before. The song has a haunting feel, and Gill puts in some nice understated lead work. The title track kicks off on the familiar plodding groove prevalent in the opening numbers, but here it’s the little things going on in the background that catch the attention, not to mention an unusual but effective spoken word segment. Gill has fun with his effects box towards the end of the track.
The Innocence is a short but sweet rocker, with a little more oomph in the riffs; it also sees Leslie taking a more varied approach to her vocals, light in the verses, heavier and more commanding in the chorus. By contrast, Pan opens with some mellow, ambient chill-out style soundscapes before an interesting drum pattern slowly drags the listener into the main body of the song (as a side note, the addition of a proper drummer is definitely a welcome development). Here, Leslie’s almost ethereal vocals float over a subdued but melodic backing, with Gill letting fly some tasty Gilmour-esque guitar licks. Once again, the song is perhaps overlong, but it gets by on atmosphere. Its possibly a stronger piece than the album’s epic, the nine-minute plus Monument, but this too has its highlights – in particular the interesting juxtaposition of whispered vocals and psychedelic atmospherics with marching rhythms and grungy guitar riffs, whilst the chorus and Gill’s extended solo are also strong. The album closes out with the ambient instrumental The Deep, which is probably the track that most strongly brings to mind Band Of Rain’s earlier work.
Well, it was touch and go for a while, but repeated listens have just about won me over to Arts & Allurements. Sharon Leslie is certainly a powerful new presence in the band, and there is more of a sense of direction than before – although they now seem a little undecided if they’re a prog, space-rock or goth band, it’s the songs that blend elements of all three that work best for me. The band’s website does indicate that Band Of Rain are going to aim for an even more gothic direction on the next album, which may take them away from the interests of this site, but for now Arts & Allurements is worth seeking out if you’re after a slice of slightly dark, goth-influenced rock with touches of psych and prog, and it will be interesting to see how the material comes over in the promised live shows.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Rational Diet – Rational Diet
Tracklist: From The Grey Notebook – Intro (0:23), From The Grey Notebook – Part 1 (5:05), Stop, Kolpakoff (9:57), I Refrained From Closing My Ears (12:15), An Order For Horses (8:52), Don’t Swing A Wheel (10:37), From The Grey Notebook- Part 2 (13:48)
I recently raved about Yugen, the first release by AltrOck, but I knew I was going out on a limb recommending it so highly, as it was a challenging work, to say the least. This, the label’s second release is, although still of a very high standard, even harder to recommend as it is uncompromisingly avant-garde in approach, and will only really appeal to seasoned R.I.O./ Avant listeners.
Hailing from Belarus, Rational Diet present a demanding and difficult plateful of East European avant-garde Chamber Rock, occupying a similar headspace as Univers Zero or Present, with influences from modern composers such as Stravinsky or Webern.
Utilising bassoon, cello, violin, sax and accordion alongside the traditional rock band format enables the music to journey through a wide range of moods and styles, from ominous chamber music to aggressive, pounding rock, via improvised jazz-outs and even incorporating some quirky, playful elements ala Samla Mammas Manna (as on the sprightly Stop, Kolpakoff). The overriding atmosphere is dark and unsettling, so there’s nothing here for fans of melodic tunes and conventional song structures.
The musicianship is superb throughout, intensity and delicacy jostling for position at every turn; the sporadic vocals veer from deranged chanting to menacing spoken word recitations of Russian poetry, and may not appeal to everyone, but the disc is predominantly instrumental so this is not a real problem, and adds to the idiosyncratic appeal of the music.
As a R.I.O. Neophyte, I found this album to be pretty challenging, but aside from one or two moments where it weirded me out, ultimately a rewarding experience. I have to be in the mood for this kind of stuff to really appreciate it, but the more I explore this edgy, strange and unsettling area of music, the more my fascination grows.
My rating attempts to recognise the minority appeal of the music, whilst acknowledging its quality in terms of similar recordings. Even as a beginner, I feel safe in asserting that this should have a strong appeal to fans of the bands that I have used as pointers in my review. For anyone wishing to take first steps towards the avant-garde sector, I would still recommend Yugen as the best first step.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Machy Madco - Manuscritos Desde Musmell
Tracklist: Introduccion (0:59), Vida Inteligente 1 (4:06), Amanacer en America (5:27), Tristemente Celebre (4:48), Primer Interludio (0:25), El Abeto (4:14), Falsos Salvadores (4:27), Civilizacion Del Mal (3:52), Segundo Interludio (0:42), Faisanacion (2:51), El Umbral (2:18), Sin Control Terrestre (5:37), Tercer Interludio (0:40), Luces De Advertencia (1:46), Viajando Para Encontrarte (6:05), Vida Inteligente 2 (4:41); Bonus tracks 1997/2000: Bailadito (4:39), Tonto Chichuahua (2:31), Tanto En Tanto (4:28), Pocholito (3:22), Siete Un Numero Sincero (1:46)
After repeated listenings, I just don’t have much to say about this CD, for reasons I’ll go into in a minute. However, I ought to be able to make it obvious to you whether you would like it and thus should get it. If you’re a fan of any of these things, you’ll probably like this album: jazz fusion; jazzy blues; excellent electric bass playing; the music of Carlos Santana. If you’re not a fan of one or more of those things, steer clear.
I’ll begin with the last of those. My wife walked in when I was listening to the CD, paused a moment, and said “Oh – new Santana?” Now, to be fair, there are tracks on here that sound nothing like Santana – the bluesiest one, El Abeto, for example. But for the most part, you got your congas, you got your nimble-fingered bass playing, you got your horns, and you got your Santana-ish guitar soloing (supplied by one of several guitarists: Boff Serafine, Hector Starc, Eduardo de la Torre). Occasionally there will be wordless singing by Carolina Loreley. But the show belongs to Machy Madco himself and his array of basses, so let’s look for a minute at that array and what he does with it.
Not being able to read Spanish, I’ve been able to find out little about Madco, but the band’s website features many, many pictures, lots of them of or centering on Madco and his basses – four-strings and five-strings, Fenders and some custom-made ones the names on whose headstocks I can’t make out, fretted and fretless. And similarly, the songs on Manuscritos almost all centre on Madco’s groove and highlight his playing. I happen to love listening to excellent bass players, so you’d think this album would be just my thing, because Madco is indeed an excellent player. And there’s beguiling stuff here indeed. Check out, as only a couple of examples, his tasty but also tasteful fretless work on Faisanacion and his deep, hypnotic Latin groove on Viajando Para Encontrarte. And then there’s the refreshing, if hardly original, slow blues of El Abeto, on which, while the guitarist blazes away, Madco is able to lay out deep in the pocket and let his bandmates do the work. So yes, this should be an album that a fan of good bass work would like.
But despite the excellence of the bass playing and the fine support of the other musicians; despite the variety of tempi and the large palate of sounds on this album; despite its more-than-generous hour-and-nine-minute length – it’s not really compelling of attention. Remember the hilarious scene in This is Spinal Tap where the band played a 20-minute free-form jazz composition because, having lost their lead guitarist and singer, they couldn’t properly perform their usual set list? The audience was bored, the band (except for the bassist) was bored – it just went on and on. I’m afraid that’s a bit how I feel about this CD. However, as I said at the outset, if you like Santana or fusion or fine Latin-jazzy bass playing, this album may be just your thing; my rating reflects the extent to which I believe the album adds anything to the genre it’s working in: not much.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10