Reviews in this issue:
- The Tangent - Going Off On One [CD/DVD] (Duo Review)
- Saga - Worlds Apart Revisited [CD/DVD]
- Circa - Circa: 2007
- If - The Stairway
- Various Artists – Guitar Greats Volume 1 (Duo Review)
The Tangent - Going Off On One
Mark Hughes reviews the CDs
Disc 1: GPS Culture (10:23), The Winning Game (11:34), In Earnest (22:08), Forsaken Cathedrals (6:01), The Music That Died Alone (10:53), Lost In London (8:46)
Disc 2: In Darkest Dreams part one (16:16), After Rubycon (4:30), In Darkest Dreams part two (6:32), The World We Drive Through (13:26), Skipping The Distance (8:43), Fun With The Audience (3:20), 21st Century Schizoid Man (11:25), America (8:59)
Every so often, seemingly out of the blue, a band springs forth that catches the ears of the worldwide prog listening community. Of course, very few bands arrive without having some form of history, as is the case with The Tangent, whose musical pedigree stretches back over a couple of decades and innumerable albums. The experience of the musicians and the creative energy ignited by the collaborations between the members has, since 2003, resulted in three lengthy studio albums, a live album and now a further double live album and DVD. That may seem like the band are milking it a bit, particularly as Going Off On One contains versions of most of the tracks that were included on the live album Pyramids And Stars recorded on the band's first steps onto the stage in 2004. However, it is the musicianship that makes the fear of a potential over-saturation of the market rather redundant. These guys, and gal, can really play and even if the world, record companies and audiences are no longer interested in supporting long world-wide tours where traditionally acts honed their live skills, the increased familiarity with the material and greater experience of working together has resulted in increased confidence in their live presentation allowing them to explore the inherent qualities of the music that bit more. That is not to say that the band indulges in lengthy jams, heaven knows the pieces are long enough as it is, but they are able to present slightly different sonic structures, or sculptures if you will, from what is presented on the studio recordings. Despite the fact that each song is roughly the same length as its studio counterpart, implying, correctly, that the song structures are kept relatively intact, the songs take on a whole new air in the live forum. Anyone familiar with the difference between a Grateful Dead studio track and its live counterpart will have some idea of what I'm getting at.
The other advantage of the new live release over Pyramids and Stars is the presence of sax and flute player Theo Travis. These instruments have an important role to play in the overall sound of The Tangent as was evident from the recordings on that debut live album. Travis' interactions with the whole band, and in particular with the jazzy piano inflections of Sam Baine, are a joy to behold. The other major difference between the live recordings is guitarist Krister Jonsson instead of Mr Flower King himself, Roine Stolt. And a fortuitous replacement it is too. Having never been much of a FK or Transatlantic fan, primarily due to Mr Stolt's playing and writing, it is great to hear Jonsson adding his flourishes to these tracks, his guitar work seemingly to complement the roar of Tillison's Hammond perfectly.
But what of the music? With two tracks from the debut The Music That Died Alone, and three each from The World That We Drive Through and A Place In The Queue all the bases are well covered. There is even a 'rarity' in Forsaken Cathedrals which was included on the bonus disc of A Place In The Queue. So good to see that such strong tracks that, presumably, at one time would have been b-sides to singles, are kept alive and given an airing. All of Disc One and the first three tracks of Disc Two were recorded at Club Riga in September 2006. This is the live album 'proper' and features the band at their best. With Travis on board and Guy Manning adding a touch of lightness on acoustic guitar, the group can present each song in its natural breadth, all the textures of light and shade. Baine's backing vocals are also more evident, contrasting well with Tillison's more earthy lead vocals. Lyricist Tillison often comes over a bit serious with his often weighty lyrics (you can tell he is a Peter Hammill fan!) but shows his lighter side during The Winning Game when he throws in the riff to In A Gadda Da Vida!
If you are searching for justification for buying this album then you can find it in In Darkest Dreams. It is impossible to separate out the highlights of this piece as the entire 27 minutes is a wonder to behold. Even bassist Jonas Rheingold gets a solo! The two parts of In Darkest Dreams are linked by a piece of electronica entitled After Rubycon taking as its influence the Tangerine Dream album Rubycon, hence the title! Tillison has always proclaimed his joy of all sorts of seventies prog including electronic synthesiser soundscapes which he so aptly displayed on his recent solo album Fog. The inclusion works well linking the two parts of the main song together well.
The next four tracks on Disc Two were recorded at the 2005 ROSFEST in Philadelphia and feature the same band as on the Club Riga recording. As with the tracks on Disc One, the two original numbers are superbly played with Jonsson really letting go and showing his worth on The World We Drive Through. Skipping the Distance keeps the groove going with some wonderful keyboard work and the very credible and enjoyable Hatfield And The North inspired section. Fun With The Audience is a band introduction and some banter with the crowd before the band launch into a raucous and convincing version of Crimson's 21st Century Schizoid Man. On this performance, the band could have another life as a Crimson tribute band as they have got it down pat; Travis handles the sax work beautifully and Jaime Salazar thrashes out the complex rhythms as if he has been playing the song all his life. Even though this song will be familiar to all, The Tangent's version is a joy, particularly the great Hammond solo over the prominent bass and the off kilter guitar solo. Final track, a rendition of The Nice's arrangement of Leonard Bernstein's America is actually from the Pyramids and Stars recording but left off that release for reasons of space. Hence, it features Roine Stolt on guitar, Zoltan Csorsz on drums and no wind instrumentation. Tillison's love of The Nice has resulted in several recordings of their songs on various albums that he has been involved with but this is possibly the best one. The keyboard playing is exceptional the Hammond organ getting a fine work out, some ELP synth lines being added and some lovely piano work. Just a shame that Jonsson wasn't on guitar :-)!
With great art work, song selection, performance, packaging and sound quality, Going Off On One is a rather good live package, no strike that, it is a GREAT live package!
Geoff Feakes reviews the DVD
Tracklist: GPS Culture, The Winning Game, In Earnest, Forsaken Cathedrals, The Music That Died Alone, Lost In London, In Darkest Dreams Part One, After Rubycon, In Darkest Dreams Part Two (98:41)
Bonus Material: Tour Rehearsal (4:41), Andy Tillison With A New Opera Live In 1981 (8:26)
With three studio and one live album to their credit, a DVD release from The Tangent was surely on the cards. Enter Going Off On One, originally a limited edition DVD and double CD package which unfortunately is now sold out. The good news is they are both available as separate releases, which explains this duo review. The DVD was recorded in September 2006 at the Club Riga an intimate (i.e. small) venue in the English resort of Southend-on-Sea. Given that the band’s stage line up is not always consistent I’m happy to report that the seven piece from the last album A Place In The Queue are all present and correct. Working from left to right they are Krister Jonsson (guitar), Jonas Reingold (bass), Jaime Salazar (drums), Andy Tillison (keyboards and vocals), Theo Travis (saxophone and flute), Guy Manning (acoustic guitar and vocals), and Sam Baine (keyboards and vocals).
Unsurprisingly songs from A Place In The Queue feature strongly in the set list, replacing several numbers from the first two albums. Of these the sprightly GPS Culture is a perfect opener sounding even more like Yes than the studio version. The pristine sound quality makes it hard to believe that this is a live recording. With solid support from Manning and Baine, Tillison’s vocals are a revelation, looking fit and sporting a short haircut, he actually sounds better than on record. The Winning Game is the only song included from The World That We Drive Through and it’s played to perfection with Roine Stolt’s absence easily overlooked thanks to sterling soloing from Jonsson. He has since departed the band himself so it will be interesting to hear how the sound shapes up on the forthcoming album with new guitarist Jakko M Jakszyk.
Studying each band member it’s interesting to compare facial expressions, from Jonsson’s intense concentration, to Reingold’s characteristic bemusement, to Salazar’s look of apprehension. Tillison appears totally in control standing centre stage with keyboards either side assuming his front-man role with cool conviction. Unfortunately Sam Baine sitting low down at the front of the stage doesn’t get anywhere near the screen time she deserves. During several of her keyboard parts the camera lingers on Tillison even though it’s evident that the sound coming out of the speakers is not from his rig. Jonsson suffers the same fate with the camera often focussing elsewhere during his guitar solo. Occasionally to compensate for this an annoying split screen technique is adopted whereby Jonsson appears in a small frame alongside a much larger image of Tillison.
I’m probably being a tad unfair here because the same level of criticism can be directed at most concert videos. It’s the ‘keep the camera pointed at the singer at all costs’ syndrome. On the plus side the intimacy between camera and stage does allow for excellent close-ups of perspiring faces and fingers on keys and frets. This is especially welcome during the more complex parts of In Earnest which for me is the highlight of the DVD. Vintage World War Two footage is sparingly and tastefully inter-cut with images of the band during this “epic to end all epics” as Neal Morse would say. The climatic image of Tillison with his head back, eyes closed, singing his heart out is quite stunning. The band’s previous claim to fame in the epic stakes In Darkest Dreams from the debut album The Music That Died Alone also gets an airing. This doesn’t work so well in my opinion, with indulgent guitar and sax solos that seem to go on far too long. Better is the more disciplined bass solo from the ever excellent Reingold.
Forsaken Cathedrals is an interesting addition to the set as it originally appeared on the A Place in The Queue bonus disc only. It’s a rocking piece and Manning especially appears to enjoy this one, even adding a touch of Jews harp. After Rubycon is also something of a rarity. A tribute to the Tangerine Dream album of the same name, it allows Tillison to indulge his passion for ambient keyboard effects. It also slots very nicely into the middle of the aforementioned In Darkest Dreams. The elegiac The Music That Died Alone is an essential ingredient of any Tangent show in my opinion. It has one of the best melodies ever written by Tillison enhanced here by the beautiful artwork of Ed Unitsky interspersed with the concert footage. Lost In London, again from the last album, is a not so obvious addition being one of those rare things, a prog song that’s lyrically stronger than it is musically.
The bonus material is typical of most DVD’s, in other words it doesn’t stand-up to more than a handful of viewings. The tour rehearsal in particular is a disappointment, basically a five minute clip from A Place In The Queue, a song that didn’t make the final set list. This comprises a lengthy sax solo from Travis followed by a short solo from Jonsson. It’s strictly low tech in terms of picture and sound. An amateur recording from 1981 is of more interest showing a youthful Tillison on stage with his first band "A New Opera". With an audience made-up of mostly dancing teenage girls the performance is representative of popular music of the time, i.e. it’s more New Romantics than neo-prog. The two songs played are Collapso, which evolved into Uphill From Here, and Resistance, the main riff from which ended up in In Earnest twenty five years later. In addition to Tillison on vocals and “dreadful guitar” the line-up also included David Million who is currently lead guitarist with Guy’s own band Manning.
When The Tangent first came on the scene their debut CD was a wake up call as far as prog was concerned. Although their debut DVD is not likely to have the same impact it’s a worthy addition to any collection, especially for fans of the band. Although the small stage setting belies the epic scope of the music it does have its charm and the basic lighting allows the band to be seen in close and colourful detail. Interestingly, in addition to the professional camera work the film incorporates camcorder footage taken by the audience. This is a first for a DVD as far as I know and is of a very good quality. It’s also so skilfully integrated that it’s difficult to tell which is which. Those that insist on sounds coming from every corner of the room may be disappointed to find that there are no surround sound options. However, if you like your music in good old fashioned stereo then this won’t be a problem, and as I said earlier the sound quality is excellent. Add to that an impeccable selection of material and an unbeatable line-up of musicians and you have one highly recommended DVD.
Saga - Worlds Apart Revisited
Tracklist: The Pitchman (6:53), Give 'Em the Money (5:05), You're Not Alone (6:21), See Them Smile (4:30), The Runaway (5:39), Ice Nice (6:27), On The Loose (4:38), Wind Him Up (5:59), Amnesia (3:43), Framed (5:34), Time's Up (4:51), The Interview (3:47), No Regrets (4:37), Conversations (4:42), No Stranger (5:51), Scratching the Surface (3:57), Keep it Reel (4:24), We've Been Here Before (5:25), Humble Stance (5:48), Don't Be Late (7:51), How Long (3:47), Careful Where You (5:20)
DVD Extras: Worlds Apart Road Stories (16:00), Live In England 1981 (25:00), Worlds Apart Revisited Documentary (40:00), Photo Gallery
Recorded live in Switzerland in December 2005, this lovely package is a treat for Saga fans and could be one of the best starting points for newcomers to explain just how special this band are. The gig is in a small venue, the band looking relaxed, enjoying themselves and, as usual, as sharp as a tack. The set here is an excellent introduction and greatest hits package with material from throughout their career, but mainly the first half dozen albums or so with a track each from later albums House Of Cards and Network. As the title suggests the centrepiece of the set is a complete performance of their classic Worlds Apart album from 1981, their first album for a major label.
After 30 years this band are better than ever, and given the recent news that front man Michael Sadler is leaving at the end of the year after 30 years at the mic, this is a fitting tribute. Their final album with him is due out soon and hopefully it will be a great one. Sadler has a unique quality to his voice and is undoubtedly one of the best singers in prog. Having seen the band on several occasions I have always enjoyed his presence and charisma and it will be interesting to see what the rest of the band will do to cover his absence. As well as his vocal prowess, his ability to switch to instruments and play bass, additional drums and keys adds the versatility the band needs. The members have always had that element of swapping instruments that makes things interesting with only Ian Crichton sticking to his (guitar – and not many can play one better). At times there are three guys playing keys at one time (Jim Gilmour, Sadler and bass man Jim Crichton) and this gives many the impression that their sound is totally key heavy – bass and drums are also often synthetic – but Ian Crichton’s guitar keeps things nailed down and adds a good dose of heaviness. New drummer Brian Doerner is an excellent replacement for the departed Steve Negus and keeps things together while not deviating far from their established patterns. Gilmore moves centre stage to add his lead vocals and clarinet to the melancholic No Regrets while Jim Crichton covers synths and Sadler piano, and also sings lead on Scratching The Surface.
The songs here stand for themselves, every one a sing along classic with a hook to die for while retaining prog elements. Execution is clinical and the intimate environment of the small hall is tangible. The crowd are an important factor in what makes this a great gig and their enthusiasm and excitement adds greatly to the whole. They don’t seem to be playing the UK on Sadler’s farewell tour, which is a great shame, as I’d love to see them together one last time.
The Worlds Apart section is a joy and you can’t help but wonder how this band didn’t break out to a wider audience than they did back in the ‘80’s. Their German fans have always been numerous but elsewhere they’ve always struggled and the last time I saw them in the UK there were barely a couple of hundred present. They still gave their all with consummate professionalism and after 30 years still have a high-energy approach that is winning in every way. I can’t imagine them ever falling flat with an audience or under performing. World’s Apart is played mostly as you’d expect it except for Times Up being moved from second to fourth track for some reason and an additional taped intro is used for Amnesia but generally the whole set is as it should be and a fitting way to revisit a great album. The original may sound slightly light given its production but the modern version makes up for this in clarity and power.
As noted, you can do far worse than add this little gem to your collection. The DVD is fantastic in terms of sound quality (5.1 Dolby Digital), energy and enjoyment and the extras well worth a look. The camerawork is great and holds interest throughout. The CD is a perfect audio counterpart and the package as a whole is great. Given the option of buying either the CD or the DVD I’d go for the DVD every time, as this band is a very visual one with huge amounts of instrumental prowess and firepower. Sadler holds the audience in his hand from start to finish, the others getting their moments in the spotlight, but soloing is not vital to their sound as it is the songs themselves that are most important and given the calibre of the musicians on stage this is a credit to them. The extras on the DVD are interesting and include a very good mini set from their 1981 UK Worlds Apart shows including What’s It Gonna Be, Humble Stance, Don’t Be Late, The Interview and Careful Where You Step with Sadler’s unfeasible walrus moustache stealing the show! There are also some good-natured interviews and anecdotes relating to their time on the road and the making of the Worlds Apart album.
Overall highly recommended and filled with great moments. A must for lovers of melody with a bit of added pizzazz. Go and get one whether you like Saga or not!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Circa - Circa: 2007
Tracklist: Cut The Ties (5:40), Don’t Let Go (6:55), Together We Are (6:31), Information Overload (5:53), Trust In Something (7:54), Keeper of The Flame (2:32), Life Going By (3:47), Look Inside (5:04), Brotherhood of Man (11:48)
Circa, defined by Dictionary.com as “preposition, adverb about :(used esp. in) approximate dates” is the name of a new band formed this past year by former Yes prog partners in crime. They are Billy Sherwood on bass and vocals, Tony Kaye on keyboards, Alan White on drums, percussion and vocals; and Jimmy Haun on electric guitars, acoustic guitars, and vocals. The family tree, encapsulated: Sherwood and White were in Yes together in the late nineties and Kaye played with White in Yes during the eighties and early nineties 90125 “hit single” lineup. Kaye also contributed some keyboards to Sherwood’s recent tribute to Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Haun, whose name you may not recognise, has worked with Sherwood on several projects and was a session guitarist for the Yes 1991 Union release. A few phone calls, impromptu sessions, and some general playing around with musical ideas evolved into their self-released debut CD, aptly titled Circa: 2007.
The band plays mostly song oriented driving rock mostly similar in sound to Sherwood’s recent No Comment CD. And of course, with all the harmony vocals, Hammond organ, and soaring, sweeping guitar, comparisons to Yes are going to be inevitable. The songs include busy, relentless pieces like opener Cut The Ties and the requisite closing epic entitled Brotherhood of Man, a banjo-flavored And You and I clone. Together We Are is a swirling, ¾ time ballad, perhaps my least favorite track on the CD.
The CD has excellent sound quality and is not too over-produced like some of Sherwood’s earlier work, although the harmony vocals tend to be overkill after a while. Most of the songs are written and composed very well, especially Don’t Let Go, with its dark echoes of Relayer, powerful drumming from White, some hints of trip-hop here and there, and dueling Kaye and Haun solos. Great musicianship. Sherwood’s bass is often reminiscent of Chris Squire, and Kaye shows that he hasn’t lost any of his chops during his absence from the scene after Talk came out in 1994.
I’ve become quite addicted to this CD and after several listens I have concluded that it could use a touch more variety between songs. This could be achieved by charging up the keyboards a little with some piano or Moog, and making them more prominent in the mix. And as I mentioned earlier the harmony vocals could benefit from some restraint. It also would be nice on a sophomore release to see Haun or White try his hand at lead vocals. At some points Circa sound like a band trying to sound like, well, Yes, and not their own selves.
The CD is self-released, and it is evident that budget constraints led to some modest packaging, in a jewel case with a grayish-colored four page booklet. No lyrics.
Fans of Sherwood in general and eighties era Yes will like this CD, however, if you’re looking for Tales From Topographic Oceans, this probably isn’t your bag.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
If - The Stairway
Tracklist: Close Your Eyes (4:35), Uneasy Sleep (part 1) (2:18), The Stairway (2:25), Uneasy Sleep (part 2) (3:07), Where Have You Been? (4:33), Like A Bird (8:35), Missing (4:10), Uneasy Sleep (part 3) (1:48), It’s Just Me (3:33), Find Your Way (4:38)
If are an Italian band from Milan and The Stairway is their second album. A concept album based on the dreams of a traveller through his night of sleep in a quest for happiness, The Stairway promises more than it delivers. The band centred on writers Dario Lastella (guitar) and Claudio Lapenna (keyboards), also features singer Paolo DeSantis and bass player Franco Bussoli.
Opener Close Your Eyes is a laid back acoustic scene setter with chiming keys and weary vocals, very pretty. There’s some nice acoustic guitar at the end of the track which then takes on a disturbing edge before moving into Uneasy Sleep (part 1). Here it soon becomes apparent that a drum machine is being used, a thought that is confirmed by checking on the instrumentation. This is a problem throughout the whole album being more obvious at some points than at others and this is a shame as a lot of the material is first rate. The band originally started out with a drummer but after he left it seems a replacement was never found. I don’t know whether they use one for live shows but, in my opinion, it would be a good thing if they were to find themselves a drummer to get a more live and natural sound.
The title track is next opening strongly with solid guitar and keys and a nice vocal but again the synthetic drums spoil the effect. A shame as this is a good up-tempo number worthy of better treatment. Uneasy Sleep (part 2) does exactly what it says on the tin and is dreamlike and unsettling with sound effects, whispered vocals and distortion. The keyboards add a sinister effect to a very atmospheric interlude. Where Have You Been? is next opening with some nice bass before the pace picks up for a good rocker with some tasty guitar. The lengthy Like A Bird also opens with a nice melody before moving into a rockier guitar led section and twin lead vocals from Paolo and Claudio. The mid-section of this track reminded me a bit of a low budget Queen, but maybe that’s just me! This is the centrepiece of the album and certainly worthy of checking out.
Missing makes too much use in the foreground of those pesky drums, but the bass is good and funky and the opening vocal unsettling and different enough before moving into a more rock mode. I like this track. There is certainly something here that I haven’t heard before. The short and sweet Uneasy Sleep (part 3) is more straightforward than it’s preceding parts and one of the proggiest pieces on the album. It’s Just Me is a nice acoustic tune with a care worn vocal that takes off towards the end around the couplet “Someone is dying, it’s just me...”. Final track Find Your Way starts out a bit like Marillion’s Forgotten Sons and is an uplifting finale ending the album in the same way that it started with the ticking of an alarm clock.
The lyrics throughout are pretty good and quite engaging and a lot better than many bands writing in English where it is not their first language.
My main problem with this album is the drum machine and I know I’d like it much more if it wasn’t so obvious. There is some good writing throughout and solid attempts at providing atmosphere. The playing and vocals are pretty good throughout though not exceptional. Overall, a good solid piece of work trying very hard to achieve something different but not quite getting there.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Magna Carta (Various Artists) –
Guitar Greats Volume 1
Tracklist: Fate Speaks - John Petrucci (6:33), Cat’s Squirrel – Derek Trucks (5:52), Analog Kid – Michael Romeo (5:18), Roadside America Medley – Steve Stevens (8:18), Screaming Head – Joe Satriani (7:18), Things Ain’t What They Used To Be – Steve Lukather (7:21), Working Man – Jake E. Lee (3:52), Cool Wind, Green Hills – Steve Morse (3:52), Time Crunch – Vinnie Moore (6:26), Anthem – George Lynch (4:14), Western Sabbath Stomp – Alex Skolnick (5:24)
Martien Koolen's Review
This is a compilation album with eleven guitar tracks from the Magna Carta vaults; however there are only two surprises on this album. Namely an alternative mix of the song Fates Speaks from the Explorer’s Club and the previously unreleased track Roadside America Medley played by Steve Stevens. The latter features a great slide guitar solo followed by some mysterious bass riffs and another heavenly guitar solo. After 3.5 minutes the tempo changes and Stevens treats us to more solos and melodies. It is not only the longest track on this album, but also one of the best.
The rest of the material will be known to guitar freaks/lovers. My personal favourites are: John Petrucci, Joe Satriani, Steve Lukather and Vinnie Moore. A nice compilation, but if you have all the albums, like I do, then it is probably a waste of your money to buy this album just for the song of Steve Stevens...
Bob Mulvey's Review
Not one to let a guitar album pass by without having a good listen, this release from Magna Carta boasts an array of six string maestros to be in awe of and a glance through the list of artists above will confirm this. The material for Guitar Greats Volume 1 is taken from previous Magna Carta releases - three from the Rush tribute album Working Man, two from Jordan Ruddess Rhythm Of Time with one track each from various albums.
Steve Morse lends a track from the excellent Major Impacts 2, whilst Steve Lukather turns in a rather bluesy effort from Niacin's excellent Deep album. The impressive Steve Stevens adds the only previously unreleased track, taken from the Bozzio, Levin & Stevens Black Light Syndrome sessions - great slide playing. Less impressive is Derek Trucks version of Tull's Cat’s Squirrel (also covered by Cream) taken from the Tull tribute album To Cry You A Song. Notable perhaps that it features two ex-Tullites Mick Abrahams (guitar) and Clive Bunker (drums). I'll let the Rush offerings (taken from Working Man) pass, as I struggled with the album when I first heard it - certainly didn't capture the essence of Rush for me. The George Lynch version here of Anthem is just dreadful!
Both Satriani and Vinnie Moore are impressive on the two tracks taken from the superb Rhythm Of Time release from Jordan Ruddess, whilst album opener Fate Speaks has Dream Theater cohorts John Petrucci and Derek Sherinian doing battle.
Ultimately this compilation would make a worthy purchase for those had perhaps one or two of the featured artists albums, or perhaps some great drive-time music. However those familiar with Magna Carta's impressive rosta of artists then there is little here to attract much further interest, with only the Steve Stevens track previously unreleased.