Issue 2009-004

Reviews in this issue:

Glass Hammer - Live At The Tivoli [DVD]

Glass Hammer - Live At The Tivoli DVD
Country of Origin:USA
Record Label:Sound Resources
Just For Kicks
Catalogue #:SR2327
Year of Release:2008
Info:Glass Hammer
Sound & Encoding:NTSC, Region 0,
Stereo, Dolby Digital
5.1 Surround

Tracklist: Eiger Dreams, Run Lisette, A Cup Of Trembling, Lirazel, Heroes And Dragons, Longer, Knight Of The North, Beati Quorum Via, Having Caught A Glimpse, South Side Of The Sky

Glass Hammer are not the most prolific of live performers it has to be said but fortunately cameras are invariably on hand to capture the event. Live At The Tivoli is their third DVD in a little under five years following in the footsteps of Live At Belmont and Lex Live, both well received. The Tivoli is an 88 year old theatre located in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee where the boys and girls of GH took up residence on 17th October 2006. They recorded one show in the afternoon and one in the evening which jointly make up the content of this DVD. For those who are familiar with the bands most recent album Culture Of Ascent the line-up for the occasion will come as no surprise. GH stalwarts Steve Babb (bass, vocals) and Fred Schendel (keyboards) are joined by Carl Groves (lead vocals, acoustic guitar), Matt Mendians (drums) and David Wallimann (guitar). Also present and correct are the delightful background (and sometimes lead) vocals of Susie Bogdanowicz, Bethany Warren and Flo Paris. The icing on the cake is provided by another female trio Rachel Hackenberger, Susan Hawkins and Rebecca James, AKA The Adonia Strings.

Following a guest appearance on 2006’s Live At Belmont, Carl Groves’ addition to the band was a welcome move in my opinion given that Steve Babb’s singing was not Glass Hammer’s strongest attribute. Ironically The Salem Hill vocalist sounds not unlike Babb making him the ideal replacement. He also proves to be a charismatic frontman although just occasionally his voice is overshadowed by the bands densely layered sound. A revelation is the playing of the other recent member, guitarist David Wallimann. For me his semi-improvised shredding on the last album was totally at odds with the bands symphonic style but his playing here on the other hand is fluid and melodic.

Set wise the material dates between 2002’s Lex Rex album (a personal favourite) and the present with The Inconsolable Secret double album from 2005 unsurprisingly receiving the strongest showing. 2007’s Culture Of Ascent is represented by just the one track, the bands cover of Yes’ South Side Of The Sky. They open however with the previously unreleased Eiger Dreams, possibly intended for the last album given that the song title is very evocative of the artwork. It’s a superb song with Babb’s inventive bass work and Schendel’s classy keys flurries in the classic Glass Hammer mould. Groves’ smooth delivery receives fine support from Bethany Warren especially. The male contingent get the best of the close-ups with Bethany and her two companions positioned awkwardly behind the string section relying on long zooms to get a good view of them. The images are clear and sharp for the most part but irritatingly the shots from the stage front camera are often on the shaky side. The backdrop consisting of a blank screen looks very bland as does the innocuous lighting. There is also some outdated split screen effects which thankfully are only sparingly used.

Run Lisette sounds as excellent as ever and by the time they launch into A Cup Of Trembling the band are really into their polished stride. Sadly the visuals are not in the same league and thanks to poor framing band members often appear partially disembodied at the sides and top of the screen. The production team really could take a lesson from the Polish crew responsible for the Wyspianski Theatre DVD’s. The 5.1 Surround sound is dazzling but for those watching in good old fashioned stereo you may find the balance a little off putting with Schendel’s over bright keys (organ especially) occasionally drowning out everything else in sight with strings and backing voices suffering the most. Susie Bogdanowicz comes to the front of the stage to deliver an emotive performance of Lirazel and thanks to some judicial editing The GPS Girls Choir suddenly appear behind her. Wallimann shines providing some neat guitar articulations with the only fly in the ointment being the over prominent drum sound.

The delightfully acoustic Heroes And Dragons is still one of my favourite GH songs and the mellow mood continues with Longer from Shadowlands. Carl gives a faithful and sensitive performance of Dan Fogelberg’s classic although quite what the late singer/songwriter thought of the proggy instrumental section is hard to say. Wallimann gives his best performance here with a beautifully melodic guitar solo but unfortunately he is treated to some amateurish rapid zooms which renders the camera momentarily out of focus each time. The lengthy Knight Of The North is undoubtedly the shows centrepiece benefiting from a stirring orchestral intro from the Adonia trio. Schendel really comes into his own here with some gorgeous mellotron samples and rapid Emerson style organ noodling. Drummer Matt Mendians has his moment in the spotlight with an extended solo and you know it’s going to be a drawn out affair when the rest of the band leave the stage. The massed ranks of The Lee University Choral Union appear out of nowhere for the finale but sadly the stilted camerawork fails to capture the grander of the occasion. Likewise when GH vacate the stage to allow the choir to sing Charles Villiers Stanford’s Beati Quorum Via, they are framed in such a way that they look like they’re a mile away from the camera making an otherwise superb performance feel un-involving.

When it comes to grandiose statements there is hardly better in the Glass Hammer repertoire than Having Caught A Glimpse from The Inconsolable Secret. It receives the full orchestral treatment here with the string section, massed choir and keyboards piling on the drama, building to a majestic finale. Flo Paris provides some soulful vocals and joins Carl in a lovely duet. To close the show Susie moves once again to the front of the stage to belt out a hard hitting version of South Side Of The Sky, clearly relishing every moment. In my opinion this is better than the studio bound version where Wallimann really nails Howe’s guitar part and Schendel conjures up a stunning piano solo to rival Wakeman’s accompanied by gorgeous harmonies and strings. The DVD’s most potent image comes towards the end with Susie closely flanked either side by Babb and Wallimann as they deliver the rousing conclusion.

I realise that by not giving this release a DPRP recommendation I could be doing Glass Hammer a disservice. Given their extensive back catalogue the choice of songs is impeccable and the whole band (and it’s a large band) are in excellent form throughout. But this is not bodies on stage purely for show. The band, backing voices, strings and choir all form an integral part of the rich sound. Other than the basic menu options the disc contains no extras which for me is not an issue given the often superfluous nature of bonus material. Sadly however the no frills approach also extends to the lacklustre camerawork which fails to do the ambitious staging justice. The enthusiastic audience fair no better being present in voice only apart from a couple of fleeting glimpses. Equally the cameras capture nothing of the venues old-world splendour which is only evident in the single still visible behind the menu options. An impressive release in many ways but it could have been so much better.

Conclusion: 7+ out of 10


Planeta Imaginario - Biomasa

Planeta Imaginario - Biomasa
Country of Origin:Spain
Record Label:Cuneiform Records
Catalogue #:MMP CD 0648
Year of Release:2008
Info:Planeta Imaginario
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Discurso Cósmico Desde El Planeta Imaginario (1:38), El Francotirador De Washington (5:23), Capture (6:16), Biomasa (11:21), La Caja Negra (12:10), El Teatro De Los Faranduleros (3:13), Discurso Cósmico 2 (0:31), Hoy Es Un Nuevo Día (4:22), L’Estiu (6:56), Trastornos Ópticos Del Oso Bipolar (9:06)

It’s not easy being an interesting, independent band in this world. It’s much harder in Spain.

But it doesn’t mean we can’t be proud of our musical scene. Being Spanish, and more precisely, Catalan, I’ve never understood why a region like Catalunya (Catalonia), having produced so many brilliant bands in the last 40 years, hasn’t been put firmly on the prog map along the likes of Italy or Sweden.

Aaah… that most memorable of decades, the 70’s (and late 60’s, of course…). There was a genuine creative buzz everywhere, not least in Barcelona and its surroundings. With the successful Canet Rock (and Canet Cançó, focused on singer-songwriters) festival, and the not less influential “Onda Laietana” (“Laietan Wave”) generated around the historic Zeleste club as the main references, the Catalan scene gave birth to a memorable host of solo artists and bands, including Pau Riba, Jaume Sisa, Companyia Elèctrica Dharma, Iceberg, Màquina!, Barcelona Traction, Pegasus, Gòtic, Atila… and a vast dynasty of amazing names deeply rooted in what we could call the “Mediterranean Flavor”, often cleverly mixed with influences from Italian bands, British outfits such as Camel and Jethro Tull, jazz fusion and a nice touch of Surrealism and absurd humour.

Planeta Imaginario, a band that already has a healthy reputation in the local scene, embraces this great heritage, and along the likes of contemporary Spanish/Catalan bands like Unoma, Soma Planet (who would be the perfect match on a double bill with Planeta Imaginario), Urban Trapeze, Hysteriofunk, The Knife, Alquilbencil, Dr. No or Difícil Equilibrio, to name but a few, gives it a new lease of life for the new millennium. Besides the Mediterranean factor, there’s also obvious nods to Frank Zappa (especially his “big band” period), Soft Machine, Nucleus and even some Chick Corea, which make the band’s music even more colourful and dynamic, but their most charming trait, at least for me, is their “local” sensibility.

For non-Spanish readers, the words Planeta Imaginario (“Imaginary Planet”) probably won’t mean anything special, but for thritysomething Catalans like me (and most of the band members), it strikes an emotional chord, and opens the vault of childhood memories. In fact, I was going to use the reference to this 80’s children’s TV show as one of the main reference elements in this review, but I was pleasantly surprised to see Cuneiform Records and the band mentioning it profusely on the album’s press sheet, so I had to change the strategy. That said, Planeta Imaginario was my favourite show when I was a kid; a hugely imaginative display of talent, mixing references to artists like Miró and Dalí, with fairytales, surrealism, puppets, shadow plays, theatre performances, clowns, fireworks… A treat for an impressionable 10 year old brat.

Recorded in Prambachkirchen, Austria, in the now seemingly distant August of 2005, Biomasa provides a similar experience, in the shape of a superb aural rollercoaster. The psychedelic Discurso Cósmico Desde El Planeta Imaginario (Cosmic Speech From The Imaginary Planet) serves as a short intriguing overture to El Francotirador De Washington (The Washington Sniper), which starts in a gently way to evolve into a full blown jazz extravaganza, displaying from the word go the benefits of a strong horn section (Guillermo Villa on trumpet, Rafa Gómez López and Alfonso Muñoz on saxophones, and The-Hien Minh on trombone). This piece seems to be somewhat linked to the next, the excellent Capture, with a more dynamic approach and an evident Zappa (Hot Rats/Waka Jawaka/Grand Wazoo period) influence. Both tracks are keyboardist and apparently bandleader Marc Capell’s compositions, who contributes the shorter, more structured and melodic pieces. Special mention should go to El Teatro De Los Faranduleros (which translates as something like “Strolling Player’s Theatre”, or Farandulero’s Theatre), a short and charmingly hypnotic miniature, and the beautiful and deeply evocative Catalan titled L’Estiu (The Summer).

On the other hand, guitarist Eneko Laskurain provides the longer and more adventurous pieces. These perhaps rely less on the (excellent) horn section, and give more breathing space to inventive guitar, intricate percussion patterns, sonic textures, as well as a wider, different palette of influences. Biomasa (Biomass), the title track, offers a marvellous build up from tentative jamming to a wonderful and highly original African flavoured chant & percussion movement. La Caja Negra (Black Box), the longest piece on the album clocking at over 12 minutes, again offers a more experimental side of the ensemble, this time successfully mixing space rock with some Weather Report-esque rhythmic intricacies. Laskurain’s third composition, and the last piece on the album, is the cleverly titled 9 minute sonic adventure Trastornos Ópticos Del Oso Bipolar (Optical Delusions Of A Bipolar Bear), the “hardest” song on Biomasa, balancing their usual free jazz excursions with a harder, almost metallic, edge (special mention here goes to drummer Vasco Trilla Gomez Dos Santos’ versatility, who manages to switch from a gentle swing to furious double bass patterns flawlessly), reminiscent of the most furious King Crimson.

All in all, an almost flawless album full of inventiveness and great musicianship (add Carlos Jorge’s excellent artwork for added value) which, for my taste, lacks a bit of punch here and there, both production and performance-wise, to be a masterpiece. Despite of that, I’m sure Planeta Imaginario are in the right path, as Biomasa is a clear improvement on their previous album, Que Me Dices? (Margen Records, 2004), and their next opus might be their most accomplished and successful achievement yet.

Watch this space.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10


Art Cinema - Art Cinema

Art Cinema - Art Cinema
Country of Origin:Denmark
Record Label:Marvel Of Beauty
Catalogue #:MOBCD019
Year of Release:2008
Info:Art Cinema

Tracklist: White Frozen (4:29), World Of Shadows (5:31), Climb My Ladder (2:50), What Am I Doing Here? (6:33), Crimson Night (5:56), Dreaming Of Metamorphosis (2:57), Last Day Of Summer (6:03)

Denmark based Art Cinema were formed as a side project by multi-instrumentalist Robin Taylor and guitarist Michael Denner (formerly of Mercyful Fate fame) in 2007. They were joined by Jytte Lindberg (lead vocals), Louise Nipper (vocals), Jon Hemmersam (guitars), Carlsten Sindvald (saxophones), Flemming Muus Tranberg (bass), Bjarne T. Holme (drums) and Pierre Tassone (violins) to record this debut album.

It is worth stating from the outset that this is not a particularly progressive work, rather a collection of straightforward rock songs that been arranged and coloured with various progressive motifs. However that is not to say there is no enjoyment to be had here. In fact there is much to admire – the musicianship is excellent as is the production and although rather short it does make a mark on the listener although the songs do rather suffer from their simplicity.

It would be fair to say that the Art Cinema sound is rather eclectic although a lazy jazz style does prove consistent across the piece. Add in a smattering of VDGG, Marillion, White Willow, Tangerine Dream, Portishead and even Amy Whinehouse (especially with the vocals) and you get an idea of their musical leanings.

Opening track White Frozen starts things off in a pleasing manner. Born from a gentle if dark piano refrain we are soon introduced to the stark but affecting female vocals that create a strong jazzy feel. A catchy chorus is built around some very nice vocal harmonies that then lead in to a delightful jazz saxophone solo. Things are taken up a notch via a very Rothery-like guitar break with Denner’s styling far removed from his Mercyful Fate traditions. The song concludes with some fine Hammond organ, guitar, bass and drum interplay before returning back to the main theme and a lazy sax outro.

World Of Shadows starts with more laid back jazz saxophone that is then joined by bass and organ before evolving into its main piano and guitar led melody. The female vocals are again stark but its difficult not to be impressed by Lindberg's impressive voice. Unfortunately the song itself is rather unremarkable although another excellent saxophone solo and some interesting guitar, synth and drum patterns do show off the band's clever of use of space within the arrangement of their music.

The very short Climb My Ladder makes little impact despite some intelligent piano work and Linder’s ever present excellent vocals.

What Am I Doing Here? opens with a very staccato drum and mellotron melody before being joined by more haunting vocals. The song has a deliciously dark shuffling jazzy feel but is rather unremarkable and despite some nice touches and use of various synth atmospheres it is repetitive and a little one paced. It does contain an impressive metal solo but this itself seems rather out of place. The conclusion to the song is its strongest section and reminds this listener of Berlin from Marillion’s Seasons End.

Atmospheric mood piece Crimson Night opens with a wall of synth effects, jazz saxophone and tribal drumming before falling into silence. The song is then reconstructed around some delicate synth & mellotron lines that hark back to mid-70’s Tangerine Dream before an abrupt and loud piano and guitar led chorus again allows Lindberg’s vocals to shine. This clever use of the juxtaposition between quiet and loud continues including some effective spoken word. Ironically, when considering the Tangerine Dream link, the louder sections remind of the song London from their 80’s album Tyger.

The short Dreaming Of Metamorphosis is nice enough if rather bland. It has a pretty main vocal and piano theme with some good mellotron. And although it is the most upbeat song on show it does concludes with a very mournful saxophone solo.

Final track Last Day Of Summer opens with a Hogarth-era Marillion feel through some clever guitar and piano interplay and a nice use of glockenspiel. The song incorporates some effective synth colours and the chorus is catchy if understated. A great saxophone solo leads on to some very dark guitar and synth textures with more tribal drums. The vocals are again strong throughout. The conclusion to the song reminds of White Willow and Marillion with a memorable guitar solo again bringing Steven Rothery to mind.

Art Cinema have done a pretty good job with this collection of songs. The album hangs together well and although no one song really leaves a lasting mark together they exist as a pleasant, laid-back if dark listening experience. It is very well played and the vocal and saxophone performances really stand out. Unfortunately it does lack a real progressive punch and at just under 35 minutes is it rather short to be considered an album. However with some stronger material (and making the assumption the project will continue as an ongoing concern) Art Cinema maybe worth looking out for in the future.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10


Blandbladen – I Grevens Tid

Blandbladen – I Grevens Tid
Country of Origin:Sweden
Record Label:Record Heaven/
Catalogue #:EAN 7393210231528
Year of Release:2008
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: I Grevens Tid (12:07), På Grön Kvist (6:10), I Afton Trans (12:58), Dimland (13:54)

"Among the leaves" is the English translation for the name of the Swedish band called Blandbladen. Formed in 2001, the group has plodded through line-up changes and an extended hiatus, to participate in such acts as Öresund Space Collective, and Kaabel and has become a 4-piece instrumental act that professes to draw its inspiration from the 5 rudimentary elements of earth, fire, wind, water and the cosmic ether. No surprise then that the sound of this rock band has been derived from the 60’s and 70’s.

When I first put this disc in I was immediately put off by the poor production quality, however, as I listened closely, I became convinced that the dated sound quality was a purposeful endeavour. If I didn’t know otherwise, I would have guessed this album came from the 70’s with their use of analogue synths, minimal production on the drums, and no digital effects on the guitars.

Blandbladen continue to pay homage to the 70’s prog era with bass styling reminiscent of Chris Squire and a Keith Emerson loose jam feel on the keys. These influences are strictly relegated to the styling and in no way imply this band sounds like Yes or ELP.

This disc begins as if it came from a Quicksilver Messenger Service meandering jam session but with a more identifiable Allman Brothers Band approach. It has good energy and at times I felt like this release was actually more of a jam band genre than what would be considered to be prog.

From there the band takes us into a reggae-based jam. It actually reminded me of an Eek-A-Mouse tune until the guitars really got it moving with the Rasta beat still in full motion. It’s an interesting arrangement to say the least.

The final two tunes sounds a lot like Ozric Tentacles to me. They break out into a couple of extended songs (13 and 14 minutes) that take several turns, which unless I am mistaken, were designed to be played in a smoke filled room. I must admit I like the use of the auxiliary percussion and sound effects (did I hear a Vibraslap?)

Musically this disc is a bit repetitive and never ventured outside the standard pentatonic arena, but it is a decent instrumental album intended to have a cerebral effect. More important than the influences mentioned, if you like the music of Ozric Tentacles you will like Blandbladen.

There is a lot to appreciate here but not enough to give it a recommended grade. While the jams are enjoyable they aren’t inventive enough for me to come back to it over and over again. While I can appreciate the nostalgia in the production, clarity in production quality is something we’ve come to expect in this modern age and I hope Blandbladen moves into the 21st century because they do have a lot to offer – I will be watching for it.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10


Chris Wood - Vulcan

Chris Wood - Vulcan
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC2079
Year of Release:2008
Info:Esoteric Info
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Moonchild Vulcan (5:39), See No Man Girl (10:08), Letter One (3:53), Indian Monsoon (5:07), Barbed Wire [demo] (2:41), Birth In A Day (7:46), Sullen Moon (5:55), Barbed Wire [band version] (8:23), Wood’s Bolero (Moonchild Vulcan) (6:09)

Twenty-five years after his death, the solo album that never was by Chris Wood, Traffic's flute and saxophone player, finally sees the light of day. The recordings on this release were never intended to constitute a cohesive album, indeed they were recorded over a period of at least six years with Wood probably being the only constant musician on each piece. Probably because no details of the other musicians are given in the booklet, most likely because they are not known. However, it should be noted that Wood himself probably plays quite a few of the instruments himself as it is little known that he was a competent multi-instrumentalist being able to play drums, bass and keyboards amongst other things. The origins of the recordings stem back to 1972 when Wood first started writing songs, or more correctly, instrumentals by himself. His first solo piece Tragic Magic was issued on Traffic's penultimate album Shootout At The Fantasy Factory. At the sessions for the final album, 1974's When The Eagle Flies, Wood presented the band with two numbers he had been working on, Barbed Wire, a sort of coda to Tragic Magic and Moonchild Vulcan. Although the former was never fully worked up the band, Moonchild Vulcan was, up until a very late stage, a near certainty for the album. Indeed, on the band's final tour several live takes of the song were recorded, one of which, recorded on 25 March 1974 at L'Olympia in Paris, is included here under the title of Wood's Bolero. Sadly, at the last moment Winwood and Capaldi decided to drop the Wood composition and replace it with their own Memories Of A Rock 'n Rolla.

The Bolero tag is apt for the Traffic version which begins and ends with the classic rhythm from Ravel's infamous piece. The studio version is more of a reggae shuffle backed with Wood's sax providing an uplifting and positively joyous focus. The studio version is far more polished than the live version, perhaps, the other members of traffic were just not able to get into the groove or find the measure of the piece, although with both Winwood and Capaldi being such class musicians one wouldn't have thought that was the case. That said, there is no doubt that the studio version, recorded with, amongst others, Tyrone Downie keyboard player with the Wailers, flows effortlessly in comparison with the stilted Traffic version. A year after the final demise of Traffic, and struggling with drug issues, Wood met up with Pete Bonas who had just been fired from Brand X. With no place to stay and no money to hand, Wood let Bonas stay with him in his flat. Bonas was obviously a good man to have around, dragging Wood out to perform jam sessions at various clubs and recording home demos on a reel-to-reel recorder back at the flat. Although somewhat primitively recorded, the two demos included here are a delight. The melancholy Letter One has Wood blowing his heart out on tenor sax while Bonas adds some subliminal electric guitar. The brief demo of Barbed Wire is really nothing more than a jam around the theme of the main song but Wood's flute playing expresses more about the man than a voice ever could. A fuller version of Barbed Wire, the basis of which was laid down with Traffic was also completed around this time with extra horn and guitar overdubs being added. Although it does contain elements of the type of music that the final version of Traffic performed, particularly on their last tour, Wood has stamped his own unique signature all over it.

The collaborations with Bonas were not to last, mainly due to lifestyle that Wood was living and the people who were hanging around him, encouraging him in his dependencies. Wood's deteriorating condition and falling self-esteem also put paid to his next musical venture in the accompaniment of keyboard player Phil Ramacon. Two pieces exist from this affiliation, the rather new ageish Indian Monsoon and the more adventurous Birth In A Day. Although the latter track was more in tune with the last days of Traffic, jazzy tinges and all, the piece has some surprising similarities with more electronic bands like Tangerine Dream. Ultimately it is rather unfocused and sounds incomplete. A much more rounded piece is See No Man Girl, derived from the original title of Cinnamon Girl which Woods heard being rehearsed by Venezuelan band Spiteri at Island Record's rehearsal rooms in 1977. Inspired by the piece, he picked up his alto flute and joined in, reshaping the arrangement sufficiently enough to be awarded a writing credit. With a very loose Latin feel, strong elements of jamming and plenty of lilting melodies it is obvious that Spiteri and Woods gelled nicely. This is also evident from the focal piece on this album, Moonchild Vulcan. Although the piece had been around in various forms for several years it was the deconstruction and reconstruction of the number that has proved to be the most fitting legacy of one of the most talented, underrated and missed musical sidemen in English music.

I suppose in reality, this is not so much an album as a collection of pieces recorded over the years that might have formed the basis of something more solid has Woods survived or not spent much of his later life under the influence of various substances. It seems strange that an "incredible reggae tinged jam with Wailers keyboardist Tyrone Downie" and a cover of the Spencer Davis hit I'm A Man were not included, unless there were copyright reasons, as I don't think there is likely to be another release under the Woods name. There is enough on the album to satisfy a hard core fan, but sadly, it is the inclusion of the Traffic track (performed by a line-up that never released any studio material themselves) that is likely to be the biggest draw. It is good to know that there are people that care enough about the man's reputation and place in rock history to ensure these pieces receive a decent release at last although Vulcan is likely to remain a completists title. My rating reflects this, and the fact that it is not really a progressive record, although in no way should it be considered a comment on the quality of the music.

Conclusion: 5 out of 10


Apostolis Anthimos - Miniatures

Apostolis Anthimos - Miniatures
Country of Origin:Poland
Record Label:Metal Mind
Catalogue #:MMP CD 0648
Year of Release:2008
Info:Apostolis Amthimos
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Sunrise (3:49), Manhattan Circus (4:06), Circles (3:48), Pinnochio’s Son (2:15), Far Eastern Road (3:51), Squares (1:47), Midnight Walking (3:56), Ta-Ta (4:43), Triangles (2:19), Oh I Can’t Stop (1:38), Alpha (4:52), Sunset (1:53), Moussaka In Evening (4:55)

Apostolis Anthimos, the rather very fine axeman from Polish prog legends SBB, exploits his minimalistic side on this release, aptly titled Miniatures, as it is nothing more (and nothing less) than a collection of concise pieces, with no particularly complex structures and excellent but very sparse instrumentation by Anthimos, who himself handles guitar, drum and keyboard duties, with only guest Robert Szewczuga on bass.

Naturally, Lakis’ (Anthimos’ pet name) guitar sounds fantastic, and not being an enthusiast of the six strings (and even less of solo guitar albums…), I found myself enjoying some passages here and there. What’s more pleasing are Anthimos’ abilities on keyboards and, more prominently, on drums, where he shows remarkable chops and a light and classy style. Szewczuga’s bass lines are functional, with a nice thick tone, with some room to shine on tracks like Far Eastern Road. Let’s say he’s a good enough bassist to justify his presence on the album… probably until Anthimos’ learns to play the bass properly (I’m joking…).

Unmistakably (at least for my taste), this is a jazz fusion release, with quite a uniform sound and few surprises. The 13 tracks have a breezy feel, being as they are short pieces with light arrangements. You can find typical guitar oriented fusion tracks like opening Sunrise (later briefly referenced on the nicely titled closer Moussaka In Evening, one of the best tracks on the album) or Ta-Ta; softer jazzy sound bites in the shape of Alpha, and even some Latin-tinged pieces such as Manhattan Circus and Midnight Walking. The only “odd” number here is Oh, I Can’t Stop, a quick rocker which is nothing really special, but works as a “distraction” from the album’s overall sound and feel.

To articulate the song sequence, Anthimos has also cleverly placed three more tentative, almost improvised sounding pieces (where Anthimos also shows his mastery on drumming subtleties), and linked with their related titles Circles, Squares and Triangles, which serve as sonic hinges to give a more organic and cadenced feel.

This miniature has reminded me of Andy Summers’ fusion solo albums, with some references to Allan Holdsworth, but with the often lighter touch and feel of Pat Metheny. Don’t expect guitar acrobatics or particularly memorable soundscapes; Anthimos saves his more adventurous facet for SBB. This is just a collection of musical sketches, nothing specially memorable or groundbreaking, but very pleasant and well crafted nonetheless, recommended for jazz fusion enthusiasts, guitarists and anyone who wants to enjoy some nice, simple music.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10


Outgunned - Vol 1: Answering The Ceaseless Need

Outgunned - Vol 1: Answering The Ceaseless Need
Country of Origin:USA
Record Label:CDBaby
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2008
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: WTCBS (4:34), Beyond Myself (6:05), Love Crimes (6:55), History Revisited (8:14), A River Once Flowed (5:22), Rain Schtick (5:19), Amaterasu (5:18), Broken State (6:32), House Of Cards (4:07), The Pendulum's Sway (6:48), Earn Your Wings (4:45)

Currently a solo project, Outgunned started life as a full-blown band in 1997. With the original line-up dispersing to a college education in 2000, after numerous line-up changes and two albums, Andrew Saunders found himself as the sole remaining founder member in a band which no longer brought any pleasure. Outgunned ran out of time.

Andrew thus turned his attention to some of the basic song ideas he had amassed over the years. Time spent fleshing them out resulted in a 21-song double album containing more than two hours of music. This is the first half of the project, and since the original song ideas were intended to be Outgunned songs, Andrew decided to resurrect the name.

Self-categorised, the music is described as 'hard art quasi prog'. I'd use a lot less emphasis on the 'art' and a smaller nod to the 'prog', and add the words 'introspective' and 'sombre'. For the sake of comparisons, Outgunned likens itself to Soundgarden, Kings X, Pedro The Lion, Porcupine Tree and A Perfect Circle. Add to that list Anathema.

Apart from the bass on two tracks, Andrew plays all the instruments and vocals as well as writing the bulk of the music and lyrics. Creating this album one track at a time with two dynamic microphones a Tascam 4-track and a PC has obviously been a labour of love.

Vol II is currently being recorded, so I thought I'd try to offer an opinion on what I enjoyed about this record, along with areas with room for improvement. The digi-book packaging is great. I love the illustrative style. However a lyric sheet would be more than useful. I say that because from what I can make out, Andrew's ability to pen introspective, emotive lyrics that capture difficult concepts in a smooth way are one of his song-writing strengths. His ability to construct songs that drift between moods with varying pace and rhythm is also to be commended.

The album opens with a more modern, hard rock sound, but then slows down into a more somber and reflective tone. It's the latter which I feel works better; the music melding with voice and lyrical theme in a more coherent fashion.

If there are two microphones to spare, then I'd strongly recommend that one is dedicated to a dedicated singer. Sorry, there's no way of avoiding it: the vocals are poor. When a poor singer also adds backing vocals - I'll let you work out the result! With the sort of sombre, introspective song writing displayed, especially on the second part of the album, a good quality singer really would be a positive investment.

And whilst recruiting; on the basis that taking credit for 'drum arrangement' means the drummer is a PC, then enlisting a real, live drummer would be another step forward.

Overall Andrew should take a lot of positives from what he has produced here. If he can step back and see where there is room for improvement, then Vol II will continue the Outgunned adventure in a positive direction.

Conclusion: 5 out of 10


Test Tube Rhino - Test Tube Rhino

Test Tube Rhino - Test Tube Rhino
Country of Origin:USA
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2007
Info:Test Tube Rhino
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Test Tube Fantasy (5:12), e.b.e. (4:58), Caucacious (5:13), I'm Not Doing Anything To Feel Sorry (5:17), Nimicus Namicus (6:14), High (6:45), Vitamin Salt (4:26)

Test Tube Rhino is a two piece band from Buffalo. Joe Pinnavala is the man with the most credits namely guitar, guitar synth, bass, drum loops and percussion. Matt Castronova is strangely only credited for bass guitar on the song Caucasius and for drum loop idea, whatever that means. This self titled debut album is an instrumental album with a nice packaging and a fresh sound.

Test Tube Fantasy starts with a catchy drum loop. The opening riff is heavy and the accompanied synths are scary sounding. The guitar solo is in the style of Satriani and the sound is pretty good. After a while this drum loop really starts to annoy. Sadly e.b.e. also has a boring drum loop which in the end puts a shadow over the very good acoustic guitar solos. And sad but true but Caucasious also has a annoying drum loop. A freaky bass and some more Satriani like guitar soloing. I can continue in detail for each song but it all comes down to Satriani like guitar music over a constant drum loop.

Test Tube Rhino show they got some potential in playing music but this album sounds like a couple of guys jamming over a drum machine. The drum loops do not alternate, if so it is negligible. The guitar solos are good, especially the acoustic ones, but it cannot hide the fact that this is nothing more than a high quality jam recording. These guys should get a vocalist and start writing some songs, that could result in some very interesting stuff.

Conclusion: 5 out of 10