Reviews in this issue:
- Colossus (VA) - The Spaghetti Epic 3 ~ The Great Silence
- Nichelodeon – Cinemanemico
- The Pineapple Thief - The Dawn Raids (Part 1) [EP]
- The Pineapple Thief - The Dawn Raids (Part 2) [EP]
- The Source – Prickly Pear (Duo Review)
- Trader Horne - Morning Way
- Outre Mesure - Abacadaë
- The Healing Road - Tales From The Dam
- Life Line Project - Modinha
- Ohead - Giai's Garden
- Lava Engine - Lava Engine [EP]
- Jam-Lab – Gain
Colossus (VA) - The Spaghetti Epic 3 ~ The Great Silence
Tracklist: Little Tragedies The Voice Of Silence (19:30), Yesterdays Suite Pauline (20:00), N.O.T. Epilogo (23:28)
After tackling the populist, mainstream subject of ‘Star Wars’ with The Empire & The Rebellion, Colossus (aka The Finnish Progressive Music Association) turn their attention to a cult cinema classic, namely Sergio Corbucci's ‘The Great Silence’. After Sergio Leone, whose movies provided the inspiration for The Spaghetti Epic and The Spaghetti Epic 2, Corbucci is the most famous (and uncompromising) of Italian Western directors. Unlike Leone who often balanced the graphic violence with moments of humour, Corbucci’s westerns were much darker in tone. ‘The Great Silence’ is no exception and boasts the most unsettling, downbeat ending of any film I think I’ve ever seen. The mood was perfectly captured by Ennio Morricone's haunting original score which the trio of bands here have the unenviable task of emulating. As usual the brief for each was to create a piece 20-25 minutes long using vintage/analogue instruments in the style of early 70's progressive rock.
The contributing bands, Little Tragedies, Yesterdays and N.O.T. hail from Russia, Romania and Italy respectively and whilst I’m familiar with the first two, the Italian outfit are a new name to me and the DPRP. They’ve been around for almost three years and judging by their MySpace they specialise in Floyd covers. It’s the Russian contingent that opens proceedings however with a blaze of synths and the intriguingly titled The Voice Of Silence. The lengthy intro moves along at a lively pace with a succession of tricky but tuneful organ, synth, guitar and sax breaks. The virtuoso Hammond playing of bandleader and composer Gennady Ilyin in particular will bring a smile of recognition to Keith Emerson fans. An eerie ambient section perfectly captures the bleakness of the snow covered landscape that provided the backdrop to Corbucci’s film. Around the seven plus minute mark it develops into a memorable Western style theme with vocals from Ilyin. Not blessed with the strongest of voices he thankfully keeps the words to a minimum concentrating on what he does best. The second half is dominated by his stunning and melodic synth work propelled by outstanding drumming and following several musical peaks it builds to a stirring climax.
Little Tragedies’ contribution ends with some rather geeky synth squeaks and bleeps which spookily mirrors the intro to Yesterdays’ Suite Pauline. Moog and Hammond dominate from here on in joined by piano and guitar delivering a sparkling melody that brings The Light era Spock’s Beard to mind. Lush Mellotron voices and strings are a welcome addition providing the fanfare for the song proper. The vocals are a real delight with exquisite harmonies that later on stray into Gentle Giant territory. Acoustic guitar, harpsichord and recorders provide a rustic folk tune picked up by stirring Steve Howe flavoured guitar and church organ from Bogáti-Bokor Ákos and Enyedi Zsolt respectively. In fact Ákos’ guitar work throughout is very Howe inspired particularly circa the Topographic Oceans album. The only part that doesn’t quite work for me is an overlong drum solo, a contrived way of extending the piece to the requisite 20 minutes perhaps? A lyrical synth theme provides a good ending with upfront bass contributions that has that unmistakable Yes stamp.
The final offering Epilogo from N.O.T. (short for Noise Overtones Therapy) is the longest here. Normally an instrumental quartet, on this occasion they’re joined (unnecessarily in my opinion) by the spoken voice of Marco Esposito. The opening 5 minutes is basically a reworking of ELP’s Abandon’s Bolero before launching into a busy guitar and organ driven workout. The aforementioned spoken vocals slow things down momentarily followed by a surging instrumental barrage with a classy display from guitarist Gennaro Piepoli. The inspired interplay between all four band members is a real joy echoing King Crimson at their sharpest. My only complaint is that whilst the drums are nicely upfront the otherwise fine production leaves the snare sounding a tad hollow. A pretty acoustic guitar and (Mellotron) flute interlude develops into a compelling Moog led melody that a certain Mr Wakeman senior would be proud of. Piano takes centre stage for a mellow break before the dramatic finale which I have to say is more pleasing to the ears than the films bleak ending was to the eyes.
Several of the more recent Colossus projects have to my mind failed to maintain the high standard set by the earlier offerings. This latest however is one of the best since the original The Spaghetti Epic thanks to the combined efforts of the bands involved. Not being totally convinced by Little Tragedies’ previous work they’ve really excelled themselves here with their most accomplished piece to date in my view. Whilst I’m a fan of Yesterdays' debut release, this is stronger still with a better display of dynamics and a more satisfying balance between acoustic and electric guitar. N.O.T. may be a relatively new band but they are equal to the task producing a piece that justifies its length, delivered with precision. Writing a long form song to order without making it sound overly contrived is not the easiest of tasks. All the participants here have risen to the occasion and likewise regular Colossus artists Stefano Scagni and Davide Guidoni have surpassed themselves with their atmospheric imagery providing a chilling evocation of the movie.
A number of albums I’ve reviewed recently have been closer to mainstream rock than I would have preferred so The Spaghetti Epic 3 has provided a welcome indulgence and an opportunity to recharge my prog batteries. This is pure, undiluted 100% progressive rock of the old school and is particularly recommended to fans of ELP, Yes, King Crimson and PFM especially those who are under the illusion that they don’t make albums like this anymore.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Nichelodeon – Cinemanemico
Tracklist: Fame(3:43), La Mosca Stregata (1:07), Lascia Ch’io Pianga (3:10), Melamore E La Luna (4:26), Amanti In Guerra (4:03), La Torre Piu Alta (9:53), Cio Che Rimane (7:45), Flower Of Innocence (3:32), Disegnando Cattedrali Di Cellule Pt II (9:15), Il Ladro Di Giochi (7:50), including Ghost track Crisi Delle [improvisation] (21:42)
According to the press release received with Cinemanemico, Nichelodeon is “an insane alternative to entertainment. …a music project oblique and visionary”.
Don’t be put off by this unusual description, or by the gloomy cover art as, in my opinion, this CD is a veritable masterpiece of Avant-Prog – fusing powerful operatic vocals and gorgeous piano melodies with unsettling electronics and fearsome electric guitar in a brew, which is challenging in the extreme, but ultimately richly rewarding for those who persevere.
The soundtrack to a multimedia presentation “La Stanza Suona Cio He Non Vedo” (The Room Plays What I Cannot See), this powerful performance easily holds it’s own without the visuals (but you can get a flavour of the live work by searching for Nichelodeonband on You Tube).
Nichelodeon is lead by Claudio Milano, who wrote nearly all the music (excluding a couple by Francesco Zago and an arrangement of a piece by Handel) and whose incredible vocals are at the heart of the album. His staggering range jumps from low to high to an ear-piercing scream and back again; when he sings in a straight operatic style, it is very beautiful and moving. When he screams it’s scary as Hell. I am a huge fan of Peter Hammill, but Claudio achieves here what Hammill can only strive for. I was totally blown away by the incredibly intense vocals throughout the disc. The fact that the whole thing is recorded live makes it even more remarkable.
The musical accompaniment is provided by Francesco Zago (guitar), Maurizio Fasoli (piano/readings) – both from Yugen, one of my favourite avant prog groups of recent times, and Riccardo Di Paola (synths). Together they provide a soundscape which is often chaotic, dissonant and disturbing but at other times angelic and harmonious – a perfect match for Claudio’s bravura performance. Utilising only these few instruments, the sound is remarkably full at times, with many surprising interjections and diversions.
Nichelodeon pushes the dark melodramatic prog of Matthew Parmenter (Horror Express) and Peter Hammill (Chameleon In The Shadow Of The Night) out into the region of the classical avant–garde. This truly is a work of Art.
Cinemanemico is certainly going to alienate many of the neo prog fans out there, but for those with a penchant for the challenging and bizarre, this strangely beautiful nightmare comes highly recommended.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
The Pineapple Thief - The Dawn Raids (Part One)
Tracklist: Tightly Wound [Dawn Edit] (5:32), The West Coast (2:37), February 13th (6:10), Too Far Gone (3:53)
The Pineapple Thief - The Dawn Raids (Part Two)
Tracklist: Tightly Wound [Acoustic Version] (5:33), Freefall (5:42), Bitter Day (4:53), Second Chance (5:11)
Building on the momentum of their popular latest album Tightly Unwound and recent tours The Pineapple Thief recently released two EP albums consisting of material that was left from the Dawn Raid sessions, referring to the album's original working title. Band leader Bruce Soord had a couple of little gems lined up for the two mini albums but was advised by his new record company K-Scope to save these for the release of the next compilation and studio albums. The tracklist of these EPs was therefore changed around a few times and also include two tracks (Too Far Gone and Second Chance) that previously were only available as digital (paid) downloads. So far for exclusiveness; as many prog fans have learned there's an expiry date to exclusiveness ...
Both EPs start with a version of the recent album's (almost) title track. The Dawn Edit of Tightly Wound might well be the least interesting track on the two EPs since it hardly differs from the album version; it's basically the same thing with the intro removed. The acoustic version is much better and I personally like the way the aggression and frustration of the original has been worked into a much more melodramatic feel for this rendition. It's a shame that instead of the Dawn Edit the band did not decide to include the existing acoustic version of Shoot First on the first EP.
Fans who are expecting a new 8 Days or 8 Days Later with the other tracks on these combined EPs will be disappointed. Instead of the free formed and experimental approach of these bonus discs the Dawn Raids EPs all contain finished songs. Most of these are far from the style that we've heard on Tightly Wound and would have been very much out of place on that album. The majority of the songs are acoustic ballads that could have come straight from the Little Man album. As a matter of fact, some of the songs were so much like the Little Man material that I was immediately reminded about the starting lyrics of other songs when I first played them (especially with West Coast and Second Chance). The only stylistic exception is Too Far Gone, which has a rock-out guitar riff that reminded me of Lenny Kravitz's Mama Said. Unfortunately besides the riff the song sounds slightly unfinished.
February 13th is a more up-tempo song that I wouldn't have minded to see on the studio album instead of a song like My Bleeding Hand. Freefall is a nice ballad that has already been performed live a few times and again could have come straight of Little Man. Bitter Day starts as a ballad but also features a couple of heavy freak-out moments. It's not one of the band's most interesting compositions though and clearly feels like a leftover.
There's a few very interesting tunes on these EPs (especially February 13th and Freefall). Still, these EPs are really only recommended for die-hard Pineapple Thief fans and completists. Now I might well consider myself one of those but these EPs still leave me with mixed feelings. The frustrating thing for me is that I have flashed out almost 20 Euro to pay for these EPs (including posting) and basically get just half an hour of new 'leftover' music. The EPs should really have been released as one single CD and should have included the Shoot First acoustic version instead of the Dawn Edit of Tightly Wound that has very little added value. Let's hope the band doesn't pull to much of these tricks together with their new record company.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
The Source – Prickly Pear
Tracklist: Promised Land (9:58), Star Dreamer (5:30), Until Morning Time (11:38), Thin Air (5:48), Castles In The Sky (15:13)
Gerald Wandio's Review
In my review of The Source’s 2007 debut album, All Along This Land, I urged my trusting readers to go out and get the album immediately. If for some inexplicable reason you didn’t do so, you can redeem yourself by getting this one along with the first one. But if you followed my advice, well – I haven’t used this cliché even once (I’m pretty sure) in all the many reviews I’ve written for DPRP, and I’m glad I’ve saved it for this occasion: if you liked All Along This Land, you’ll love Prickly Pear (except that, to be honest, I preferred the first album’s title – perhaps my only adverse criticism of the new album!).
The Source remains (almost) the same: Aaron Goldich sings, plays keyboards, and writes the lyrics; Harrison Leonard plays guitar; and Isaac Watts plays drums. The sole personnel change is the substitution of Paul Long for Nico Photos on bass. Photos was a fine bass player, no question; but Long gets many chances to shine on the new album and to prove that he has the chops – and also the tone. In my earlier review, I mentioned Yes as an obvious (probably the main) influence on this young band; and while on this new album they’re forging a sound much more their own, I can’t help noting that Long’s bass sound is, let’s say, not entirely uninfluenced by the majestic tone of Chris Squire. But that’s all to the good: it brings one more instrument, well played, to the forefront.
So yes, the guys are finding their own way even more clearly than on the first album, which, though far from derivative, did wear its influences proudly. The essentials remain, though, and fans of the first album will be happy to know that fact. This time around, however, the band is more assured. The first song simply bursts out of the speakers, exploding with the joy that these young men clearly take in making their music. Everything I said about the sound in general and the musicianship in particular holds true for this album, but the band’s greater confidence really shows, perhaps most obviously in Goldich’s vocals. There’s simply more authority in them this time, more variation, more reach. The same goes for Leonard’s magisterial guitar playing. Again, in this or that part or solo you’ll hear the techniques and tones that he’s clearly learned from the two master Steves – Hackett and Howe – but his range has also expanded, and on this album there’s truly a “Harrison Leonard sound.”
What about the songs? Well, check the track listing. Devotees of 70’s progressive rock, The Source aren’t afraid to stretch out, and their fans can be thankful. This, like the first album, is a work to be savoured. It’s lively, sprightly, and fun, immediately enjoyable but repaying repeated and careful listening. It seems to me that the band has learned, this time around, the virtues of space, too: as the songs unwind, there are leisurely passages where the guitars and keyboards weave together but also respect each other’s spaces. And as before, Isaac Watts’s percussion is impeccable, keeping the beat when that’s what the song demands but mostly playing its part in each arrangement with well-thought-out fills and embellishments.
I said that I had no adverse criticisms of the album aside from my bemused indifference to its title. I’ll be true to that claim and simply speak neutrally about the lyrics. I’ll just say that they’re ambitious and cryptic, much in the vein of, yes, Jon Anderson’s at times. A sample, from Castles In The Sky: “I walk the corners of your eye / I stand upon an ocean tower casting / Shadows on the multicoloured / Countries underneath the frozen images of / Castles in the sky.” Okay, I can’t really say that those lyrics speak to me; but I myself consider lyrics as having many possible functions. On an album like, say, Neil Young’s Living With War, the lyrics are there to deliver a strident message, and it’s the music’s job to support them. On an album like this, and given this sort of lyrics, the words give the singer’s voice something articulate to do while it plays its part as another of the instruments. So I’ve nothing bad to say about the lyrics on Prickly Pear; Goldich might eventually take a slight turn in the Neil Young direction, and I’d welcome that turn, but I’ve no complaints if he continues mining this mystical vein.
Yes, sure, okay: I love this band. From my first playing of All Along This Land, I was a fan for life, though I hope I’ll be able to consider each new album (may there be many more!) on its own merits. I can’t say much more in conclusion than that I hope that those who followed my advice and bought the first album won’t need any urging to get this one and that those who haven’t heard All Along This Land will take this latest opportunity to discover a wonderful young band that has much to offer all fans of progressive rock of whatever stripe.
Leo Koperdraat's Review
I’ve been listening to this album, the second offering of US band The Source, for quite a while now. As I had never heard the debut album, but had read some very positive reviews about it (the album was reviewed very favourable on this site), I was very curious to hear this new album Prickly Pear. Immediately I received the album, somewhere back in February, I started to listen to it… …and again… …and again. However, the album failed to grip me for some reason so I put it aside. A few weeks ago I started to listen to it again, but still it did nothing to me - so I started to wonder why? It isn’t the musicianship, because there is plenty of talent in this very young band, especially guitar player Harrison Leonard who is an incredible musician. He sounds like the perfect cross between Discipline’s John Preston Bouda and Steve Howe from Yes - an impressive talent indeed. The rhythm section also sounds steady and it isn’t a bad sound quality or bad production that is the reason why I can’t seem to get into this album, as the album sounds great and crystal clear.
I have two reasons why I have difficulty liking this album. First there is the voice of singer and key's man Aaron Goldich, who has a fine voice but a very limited range, which makes that his vocals sound… well… dull to be quite honest. Maybe because of his limited range the vocal parts start to sound the same and he fails to suck me into the album. But the second reason, which is the main reason why I don’t like this album, is that there is a lack of good melodies and arrangements. Take for example the opening track Promised Land, the track opens promisingly with Leonard's excellent guitar playing and Hammond by Goldich, but when the vocals kick in the song becomes a chain of different parts that don’t seem to have any relation to one-another. For every sentence there seems to be another melody which makes it difficult to stay interested - it’s too fragmented and symptomaticaly the song ends with a fade-out. Second track Star Dreamer suffers from the same symptoms although the vocal parts are easier to follow and therefore easier to listen to.
Maybe these guys just had too many ideas and wanted to include them all, as I said there is plenty of talent in this band and sometimes the instrumental parts of the songs show that. Especially the extended instrumental section during Until Morning Time is strong, with its exciting piano and organ playing by Goldich, sounding like Gentle Giant's Kerry Minnear at times and Leonards inventive and versatile guitar playing. The same applies to the closing Castles In The Sky which has some nice sections during its fifteen minutes, especially the part where Leonard shines with his acoustic guitar playing. Unfortunately for me, there are just not enough of these exciting parts on the album.
All in all I am of the opinion that The Source is a talented band and their guitar player is even an exceptional talent. However Prickly Pear sounds too fragmented and features not very exciting vocal parts. I still think that they have what it takes to make an incredible album in the future but Prickly Pear is not that album.
Trader Horne - Morning Way
Tracklist: Jenny May (2:27), Children Of Oare (4:04), Three Rings For Elven Kings (2:13), Growing Man (4:05), Down And Out Blues (4:33), The Mixed Up Kind (6:26), Better Than Today (3:12), In My Loneliness (2:22), Sheena (2:43), The Mutant (2:54), Morning Way (4:36), Velvet To Atone (2:26), Like That Never Was (4:56) Bonus Tracks: Here Comes The Rain (2:39), Goodbye Mercy Kelly (3:16)
The timing of this reissue of the somewhat legendary Trader Horne album, Morning Way, could not be more apt given that lead singer Judy Dyble is soon to release her first album in three years, Talking With Strangers, co-written and co-produced by No-Man's Tim Bowness and Cromer Museum's Alistair Murphy. Dyble is famously infamous for singing on the first album by Fairport Convention and being unceremoniously ejected from the group immediately prior to the album's release. She is rather less well known for being a member of the King Crimson precursor Giles, Giles And Fripp, joining them along with then boyfriend Ian McDonald after their Cheerful Insanity Of... album had been released. Although, that incarnation of the group had transformed itself into the Crimso's before a second GGF album was released, a selection of demos featuring Dyble was issued a few years ago as The Brondesbury Tapes. This album featured a wonderful version of a I Talk To The Wind, featuring vocals by Dyble, that is considered by many to be better than the version recorded by Crimson.
The 1970 release of the sole Trader Horne album was the last recorded output by Dyble for 34 years when her first collaboration with Marc Swordfish of the electro/trance/dance band Australasia was released. In the intervening years Dyble was a mother, librarian and occasional guest at Fairport's annual Cropredy festival. Her partner in Trader Horne was Jackie McAuley, a multi-instrumentalist who first came to prominence in an early incarnation of Them and has been a long-time collaborator with Van Morrison and skiffle legend Lonnie Donnegan. He is also credited with kick starting the Celtic rock boom when he formed The Poor Mouth back in 1986 and even found time to co-write a hit single for Status Quo (1982's Dear John). A Trader Horne reunion, at the invitation of some Japanese fans, was penned in a couple of years ago but at the last minute Dyble had to pull out due to a surgical operation on her spine. But with both protagonists still performing there is time yet!
Originally released on the Pye Records progressive imprint, Dawn, the album was never a big seller, largely because, in her own words, Dyble had a tantrum and withdrew from the band before the album was released. However, over time the album has become one of those niche albums that has become widely regarded by fans of a wide range of musical genres. Much like the classic from Mellow Candle, Swaddling Songs, Morning Way is one of those albums that, although ostensibly a folk album, in many ways transcends genres. The song writing is universally excellent; the air one of gently melancholy. At times the sparseness of flute and acoustic guitar is all that accompanies the dual voices, the male and female, that blend so well together. Occasionally, drums and bass, performed by Andy White and John Godfrey, respectively, create a fuller sound, but even then, as on The Mixed Up Kind, harpsichord, organ, celeste and congas prevent things from being routine. The version of Bessie Smith's No-one Wants You When You Are Down And Out (recorded here under the title Down And Out Blues) is more acerbic than Clapton's version with The Dominoes, sounding more like how Nick Drake would have recorded it. The dual flutes on the instrumental Three Rings For Elven Kings (no points for guessing which particular book provided inspiration for that title) are a delight, with McAuley playing alongside his old Them colleague Paul Elliot. Better Than Today has a resemblance to material from the Giles, Giles And Fripp album, although as it is a McAuley composition, the similarity is undoubtedly coincidental. Although the majority of the material was written by McAuley, Dyble does contribute two songs: the title track, featuring one of only two electric auto-harps in the country at the time (the other was owned by Fairport Convention, and only because Dyble had left it behind on her ejection) has some stunning harmony vocals whilst Velvet To Atone is a solo piano and vocal piece that delights in its simplicity. The two bonus tracks, both sides of a single that was somewhat belatedly released after the album, complete the story.
A lost classic to some, a footnote of curiosity to others. Either way, one can't ignore the fact that sometimes there are albums released that don't change the world, don't create a new type of music, don't get the recognition they deserve. Surely, the latter is something that Prog Rock fans can understand. Some albums simply are as they are, to be taken or left, to be enjoyed or ignored, neither is right, neither is wrong. I just know that life is somehow infinitesimally better having such albums available to listen to when the moment is right. And you can't say fairer than that.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Outre Mesure - Abacadaë
Tracklist: Hu Blu Bin (11:56), Les Dieux En Face Des Trous (6:44), Petite Douceur (1:36), Il Rôde Toujours (5:06), Course Épique (10:36), Ôde Au Raboteur Flamand (8:26), Abacadaë (10:13)
Much as I love both, once in a while (increasingly often) I need a break from rock and metal, and jazz has proved to be the best place to go. That’s why I appreciate modern, innovative releases like Abacadaë so much.
First track Hu Blu Bin is a lengthy display of everything Outre Mesure has to offer. Introducing the piece with a sensuous bass line, the band then launches into a lively jazz passage, with light percussion and breezy horns, before entering the realms of electric mayhem via manic and uncompromising guitar runs. The bass motif resumes here and there, but buried by the full band improvised onslaught. The almost 12 minutes conclude with a gentle bass/drums swinging theme.
Les Dieux En Face Des Trous is a shorter and more aggressive piece, sounding closer to Frank Zappa’s “big band” period or the jazzier Soft Machine, although Jean-Louis Morais’ guitar carries the bold spirit of Robert Fripp. Again, this is a case of light and shade, or chaos/control if you will, and wouldn’t have been out of place on Crimson’s Red (1974). On the other hand, Petite Douceur is a brief miniature, showcasing in less than two minutes the nuances of the excellent trumpet and saxophone work of Marc Dosière and Jérôme Roselé respectively, and also serves as an introduction to Il Rôde Toujours, a track that honours its title (French for It Spins Forever) with a more obsessive sound, focused on a repetitive and menacing bass line by Olivier Verhaege, around which all other instruments dance freely with brooding spirit, driving to a crescendo where everything comes together until it all grinds to a halt.
Course Épique, one of the longer tracks with nearly 10 minutes, inaugurates the second half of the album with some RIO aesthetics and a much more tentative and spacey sound, reminding of ‘70’s Miles Davis or, for another Crim-related reference, Bill Bruford & Tony Levin’s Upper Extremities (with David Torn on guitar and Chris Botti on trumpet), before introducing a full band attack. Again, things become dark and a bit manic; think of the missing track between Providence and Starless and you’ll get an idea of what I mean. This is jazz rock with a twisted mind. Ôde Au Raboteur Flamand is lighter in touch, led by sax and trumpet and enhanced by the lightness of touch and inventiveness of Charles Duytschaever, undoubtedly an excellent drummer who shows his skills throughout the CD, but gets to shine especially on this 8 minute trip.
Title track Abacadaë (a title which refers to a musical structure, rather similarly to what Genesis did with Abacab (1981), but definitely in radically different style, and with much more skill and imagination than Collins and Co.), the same way as the opening track, displays the full palette of sounds and influences of this band. I particularly love the driving bass/horns motif that introduces the piece and reappears occasionally to break the improvisational interludes; probably my favourite track on the album.
Overall, an excellent addition to any jazz-related collection, be it in the free, fusion or rock subgenre, as this release features the best of those styles and mixes them well. Also, visit http://derosierthierrypeintures.neufblog.com to check Thierry Derosier’s nice paintings, some of which grace the artwork of this fine album.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
The Healing Road – Tales From The Dam
Tracklist: Tales From The Dam Part 1 (22:27), Tales From The Dam Part 2 (19:41)
It seems like only a month has past since I reviewed the last The Healing Road album Timanfaya and for good reason, it has only been a month! As revealed then, the band title cloaks the real identity behind the music namely keyboardist and drummer Hanspeter Hess. The name incidentally comes from one of his favourite books ‘Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road’ by Rush man Neil Peart. With the last album the DPRP had a little catching up to do but we make amends here with this, his third coming reasonably fresh of the press. Not only is the latest clearly influenced by classic ‘70’s prog (and Mike Oldfield in particular) Hess goes one better by releasing it on good old fashioned vinyl along with the usual CD format. A welcome bonus for this reviewer as I still play vinyl discs on a regular basis.
In keeping with the ‘70’s theme the album is divided into two parts (and obviously two sides on the vinyl version) and is restricted to 42 minutes playing time. Several of the musicians assisting Hess appeared on the last project namely Thommy Frank (acoustic and electric guitars), Claus Flittiger (acoustic and electric guitars) and Stefan Dittmar (drums, percussion) along with Hermann Voges (countertenor) Gilbert Cyppel (electric guitars) and Matthias Zalepa (electric guitars). Their presence ensures this (mostly) instrumental work has an even balance between Hess’ richly textured keyboard style and the more strident guitar work.
Tales From The Dam Part 1 opens with a repeated piano motif that not only echoes Tubular Bells but also the rhythmic style of Phillip Glass. An outburst of dramatic guitar only serves to emphasise the point. Hess’ hovering keyboards effectively simulate the sound of staccato strings along with the reed and pipe organ tone of old. Extensive use of percussive effects, especially glockenspiel, and amplified classical guitar reinforces the trademark Oldfield style. Melancholic, weeping guitar put me in mind of Jan Akkerman, bookending what is for me the albums only misjudged moment, a (thankfully) brief interlude with vocals which sound a tad off key. A ringing guitar theme again has Oldfield written all over it which preludes some colourful piano and synth playing. Electric piano straight out of Supertramp’s Dreamer raises the tempo, developing into an exhilarating keyboard melody with scorching guitar acrobatics from Zalepa to bring part one to a powerful close.
Moody keyboard punctuations and heavyweight percussion ensure an edgy start to Tales From The Dam Part 2 before easing back for an exercise in ambient atmospherics with has a distinct oriental flavour. Shrill guitar and discordant piano bring a note of disharmony to the proceedings, providing a perfect foil to the following section. Here (simulated) flute, chiming piano and tubular bells (no less) herald a majestic fanfare of synths that Tony Banks would be proud of. Choral effects and pulsating strings set the scene for a gorgeous, piano led section which takes a hop across the Atlantic bringing to mind the romantic Americana of composers like Randy Edelman and Thomas Newman. A breezy guitar tune adds a lightweight and engaging jazzy feel before returning to European soil for a lyrical classical guitar solo. It brings things to a peaceful conclusion although the addition of twittering birds and running water is possibly overstating the point a little.
Whilst I’m sure Hess wouldn’t make any claims to creating another Tubular Bells or a Close To The Edge he’s certainly produced a very fine album and by far his most accomplished to date. Whilst I may have laboured the Oldfield influences somewhat, the similarities are undeniable. Fortunately he also shares the same flair for writing tuneful melodies and inventive instrumental work. For the same reason I was also reminded a little of Magenta (minus Christina’s vocals of course) and mid period Pendragon (with the emphasis on Clive Nolan’s contribution). As with his previous releases Hess is aided in the sound department by engineer Andy Horn ensuring a sonic clarity as befits music of this quality. Highly recommended to lovers of melodic instrumental prog and 20th/21st century orchestral music.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Life Line Project - Modinha
Tracklist: Modinha - Inicio (3:07), Joy (3.35), Dark Procession (7:37), Stampede (4:16), The Chase (0:55), Modinha – Jazz Intermezzo (2:39), Keeper Of The Keys (4:12), Subjective Object (4:10), Sonho (2:34), Another Dayride (3:32), Modinha – Oraçao (1:12), Night On The Freeway (4:56), Quasar (2:56), Modinha – Final (4:13) Bonus Track: Song For Lara (2:17)
The prime mover of this project is multi-instrumentalist Erik De Beer, I met him at the Dutch Jaarbeurs (fair) in Utrecht, May 2009. During our conversation it turned out that we have a lot in common: we were born in the Dutch residence The Hague, we wrote for Dutch prog rock paper Background Magazine and we love vintage keyboards and Seventies rooted progressive rock along a passion for psychology and languages.
But back to the music, the Life Line Project is musical project that was founded in 1988, the name points at the fact that Erik was a teacher who had to arrange a lot of music that was not really his cup of tea so he started to make his own music that was “his life line project to symphonic rock”. Erik writes in the booklet of his new album entitled Modinha (a Brazilian sad song) that the title is the central theme, it changes throughout the album from classic to folk to jazz to metal.
During my Modinha listening sessions I notice that a lot of the 15 compositions contain fluent rhythms featuring bombastic Hammond organ runs and fat Emersonian Moog synthesizer flights, supported by a propulsive rhythm-section, especially the drumming is very energetic. I was not surprised to read that Erik wrote two songs as a tribute to two legendary names in the progrock history: Keeper Of The Keys is a tribute to Bob Moog (spectacular Moog sounds, swirling Hammond and swinging piano) and Joy is a tribute to Rick Van Der Linden (it sounds like “ELP meets Europe” with bombastic keyboards and fiery electric guitar).
Along that bombastic ELP/Trace inspired sound, Life Line Project also delivers a lot of variety: a wonderful build-up from classical (guitar and Grand piano) to jazz in Modinha – Jazz Intermezzo; a pleasant electric guitar/flute duet in The Chase; warm classical guitar (in the vein of Steve Hackett) in the short piece Modinha – Oraçao; sparkling piano in Song For Lara and a captivating blend of classical and progressive rock in songs like Night On The Freeway and Modinha – Final. Also interesting is the use of the distinctive oboe in the dreamy Sonho (wonderful strings and piano and Roxy Music-like oboe sound) and Modinha – Final (one of the highlights on this album with beautiful flute play by Erik's wife Elsa, cheerful mandolin and an exciting vintage keyboards sound). And I am very pleased with Jason Eekhout his powerful guitar work in songs like Dark Procession (heavy guitar play), Stampede (biting wah-wah), Subjective Project (fiery runs) and the exciting track Another Dayride (howling guitar). In my opinion his contributions give Life Line Project their music an extra dimension.
If I compare this new album with the amateurish and simply recorded music he made in the Nineties (when I wrote for SI Magazine), I conclude that Erik’s music has very much matured. On Modinha the Life Line Project has delivered a pleasant and varied keyboard oriented progrock album with a very melodic and accessible sound that will please progheads who like vintage keyboards and classical music.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Ohead - Gaia’s Garden
Tracklist: Lost in the Stars (7:30), Gaia’s Garden Part 1 (0:48), Out of the Woods (6:12), Desert Path (7:26), Gaia’s Garden Part 2 (0:39), Timeless Sun (5:58), King Alfred’s Tower (2:41), Red Skies (5:44), Gaia’s Garden Part 3 (2:44), Soapbubble (8:40), Skydancer (8:05), Gaia’s Garden Part 4 (5:31)
Some musicians from the “classic rock” era, and perhaps other people as well, have a certain cynicism about lone musicians working in home studios. How can they possibly create worthwhile music, composing closeted-up in that manner? I only recently read an interview from a couple of years ago with Rick Wakeman where he was berating this method of music-making. However, it seems to me that these objections are naive at best. How do these detractors think that some of the greatest music makers ever born composed their music? Mozart? Beethoven? Did they turn up in the orchestra pit and ask the lead violinist, say, to make up his part. I don’t think so! And, in more recent times, some of our most exalted progressive musicians started off their careers in exactly the same way - composing and performing alone in a home studio - Steven Wilson is a fine example. Of course, the synergy of team working that arises in a good band situation can produce some glorious music, but let’s not detract from the capabilities of the home studio musician, not us progressive fans of all people!
The relevance of this diatribe is that Ohead is, in fact, the project name for Englishman David Hendry’s music. David has produced the album, composed all the music and played all of the instruments except for the sax on Soapbubble (Rachel Hutchinson from the band Slippery Fish), the lead guitar/gliss on Skydancer (Will Greenwood from The Space Pirates) and the lead guitar on Desert Path (gaz). Despite these contributions this remains very much a David Hendry solo effort. Also available under the Ohead project are Silent Universe (1998) and Steps Across the Cortex (2005). I have not heard these other works but the promotional material mentions that this present album, Gaia’s Garden, moves away from “mere electronica” (their words!) by adding more “real” (and again!) instruments. David has also been involved in many other projects and has released albums and tracks on compilations under 31 different artist names including Spirits Of The Sacred Groove, Velocity Saws and Sporum to name but a few.
So, how does Gaia’s Garden work, does it provide ammunition for or against the detractors? Against, definitely. It is well conceived, composed, played and produced. The music, totally instrumental save for some short vocalisations on some of the compositions, lies in that region of soundscape that encompasses psychedelia, ambient and space-rock, with David weaving seamlessly between the three. The sound is impressively clear; this is another of those albums that is definitely enhanced by being played on the best of hi-fis. Overall, the album comes in just short pf a recommendation, but if you are a particular fan of this genre of music then I would recommend it unhesitatingly.
The opening Lost In The Stars immediately lifts you into a good mood with its effective use of warm synthesizer sounds from the bass end, neatly juxtaposed with higher frequency playing. The Gaia’s Garden set of compositions mixes spacey sounds along with birdsong and the like, all very pleasant in an ambient way within this psychedelia/space-rock setting. Other highlights are the subtly different space-rock “feels” of Timeless Sun and Red Skies, purposely contrasted by David I’m sure; and Soapbubble, to which Rachel Hutchinson’s sax contributes some wonderful musical colour. Just very occasionally I wasn’t sure about David’s choice of sounds: for instance, I am finding the reed-sounding synth on Out Of The Woods a slight distraction from the otherwise beautiful acoustic-guitar led music.
Overall, though, a fine album: recommended for fans of totally instrumental psychedelia/space-rock/ambient soundscapes.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Lava Engine - Lava Engine
Tracklist: Interiors (6:27), Heroes (3:59), The Kill (6:22), Blood (10:19)
Many concept albums, prog or otherwise, start out with an “intro” or “prologue”. New Swedish band Lava Engine is at the prologue of their musical career with the independent and eponymous EP they released in 2008. Scant factual information is available on the band from the web, other than their website and their Myspace page. From what I could glean this EP is their debut, and for its recording the band was ostensibly comprised of Magnus Florin on vocals and guitars, Ronnie Jaldemark (System Breakdown) on guitars and vocals, and the rhythm section of Christian Karlsson and Ian Varjanne.
Although a young band at the time of the EP’s release, Lava Engine had already begun changes from their roots as a song-based and keyboard-flavoured pop band. Time went by, and what you get on this EP is a mix of alt-rock and prog elements.
Back in the nineties a friend and I used to follow a local indie band named Tribe around the small commercial and college venue circuit. The EP’s opening song Interiors reminds me of Tribe, with lots of complex rhythms, some contemporary rock sounds and some drums that sound “do-it-yourself” but that are easy to get used to. The second track, Heroes, features some alt-rock sections as well as acoustic guitar and some uncredited mellotron at the end of the track. The third track, entitled The Kill, offers some tempo changes, and a few “flute” like elements which like the mellotron seem to be uncredited. The closing track Blood is hard-edged and evokes Nine Inch Nails before transitioning to a melodic Floydian section via some grunge elements. The mellotron gets in on the action once again along with that cliché of a rock lyric: “Where do we go from here?” The end of this track evokes seventies era Rush.
The EP appears to be burned individually, home-made style, onto a CD. It came with a modest two-page paper booklet. The talent of this band far outshines the minimal packaging of the EP. If you are into nineties-era alt/grunge with a good dose of prog thrown in, this EP is for you. If you seek something tamer and more mainstream, Lava Engine may not be your cup of tea.
Karlsson and Varjanne have departed the band to be replaced by Mick Nordström on drums and Vanja Hadzic (ex-Maitreya) on bass. Lava Engine is a band with a great career ahead of them.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Jam-Lab – Gain
Tracklist: Sideira (3:56), On The Other Hand (4:48), Gain (3:14), Half and Half (4:10), Back In Black (3:18), Dustbowl Politics (4:17), 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover (5:02), Hail To The King (4:07), The Ocho (4:06), And The Results Are In (3:19)
Jam-Lab is a groovy jam band from Michigan with one foot in the progressive rock world and one in a relaxed improvisational jazz sound. Both feet get plenty wet in this disparate mix of songs, each one noteworthy and different – not a quality usually associated with instrumentals of this vein.
An appropriate description of this band may be a bit elusive but to me Jam-Lab’s sound reminds me of a type of Béla Fleck derivative without the Banjo and the benefit of Victor Wooten, although both of these artists are certainly primary influences.
This release is their second following a well-received EP a few years back titled Extended Play. This one begins slowly and warms up to deliver within the first track a taste of what the whole album delivers, top notch guitar work playing off some great drumming with a raw sound.
After several listens I get the distinct impression that the Jam-Lab gang get together in a basement, mic up their instruments and start jamming, then sort out the best and publish an album. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, I have to admit that despite the fantastic musicianship none of this was memorable. I gave this album many, many listens to try to find what I am missing; and while not one spec of it is repulsive, the overall work is pedantic.
Interestingly, Jam-Lab performs a cover of Back in Black by AC/DC but it is nearly unidentifiable outside of a couple of familiar riffs. I can appreciate not going verbatim on a cover, but to me, this is a bit too far off to enjoy for the reasons bands normally do covers. Another cover is Paul Simon’s 50 Ways To Leave Your Lover. This one turned out to be a pretty little rendition that does a little more to hearken back to the original. The contrasting choice of these covers is an interesting approach.
In summary this is a decent disc of jazz combos displaying good musicianship, dual note harmonies on the guitar and a decent recording for such a raw sound. It only fails to deliver in substance for me, but this style isn’t exactly what I am into either. If you are looking for a fusion release (as has been attributed to this band elsewhere) you won’t find it here. This is a band I would enjoy in a small club with a personal atmosphere where a live improvisational jam session is much more interesting.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10