Reviews in this issue:
- Karfagen – Solitary Sandpiper Journey
- The Reasoning – Adverse Camber
- The Windmill - To Be Continued...
- Manir Donaghue - Reflections
- Schicke, Führs And Fröhling – Symphonic Picture
- Schicke, Führs And Fröhling – Sunburst
- Führs And Fröhling – Ammerland
- The Alan Bown! - The Alan Bown!
- Alan Bown - Listen
- Alan Bown - Stretching Out
Karfagen – Solitary Sandpiper Journey
Tracklist: Spirit Of Revelation (7:18), Magic Moment (4:22), Silent Anger [Part 2] (6:15), Solitary Sandpiper King (5:03), Searching For Love (8:32), Carpathians (13:49), Ode To A New Life (5:27), Kingfisher & Dragonflies [Part 2] (2:15), Mystery ~ a) Solid Ground; b) Rising Sun; c) Destruction; d) Redemption; e) Spirit Of Revelation [reprise] (22:00)
Hailing from Ukraine, Antony Kalugin formed Karfagen in 1997 whilst still at school and a year later, whilst at Uni, he began to write the band’s debut album but it wasn’t until 2005, after he had composed and performed on more than 40 albums, that he had sufficient funds to record it. That year saw the band signing to Unicorn Digital.
Continium saw the light of day in 2006 and was reviewed by DPRP here. A year later we reviewed The Space Between Us. Both received praise, deservedly so, and respectable ratings, earning 7/10 and 6/10 respectively.
This latest effort sees Karfagen on the Caerllysi Music label, and both these previous albums have been repackaged by them and a ton of demos and unreleased material have been added. The double CD offering The Key To Perception offers over 150 minutes of music for a bargain price and comes highly recommended in terms of value for money if nothing else. Full Track MP3 Downloads of two tracks can be found here from Caerllysi Music.
Kalugin wrote all the tracks here, as well as playing keyboards, percussion and sharing vocal duties with seventeen supporting musicians, who variously help out on guitars, drums, sax, bass, cello, flute, oboe, bassoon, viola and violin.
Oh, and he co-produced the record, mixed and mastered it and designed the booklet. The overall package is highly professional.
I’m put very much in mind of the solo output of Roine Stolt and Tomas Bodin, both musically and in terms of the singular creative vision at its heart.
The lyrics, which are all in English, tend to take a back seat to the music - symphonic prog with folky, jazzy and improv tinges very much in the mould of the Flower Kings. Check out Ode To A New Life – a marvellous little instrumental straight out of the Stolt songbook. When he does clear his pipes, so to speak, Kalugin’s vocals are in places eerily reminiscent of said Mr Stolt (check out Searching For Love) but Marina Zakharova lends her vocal skills to three tracks.
Opener Spirit Of Revelation sees guitarist Alexandr Pavlov matching Roine Stolt lick for lick, sparring nicely with Kalugin’s keys. Magic Moment showcases Zaskharova’s vocals – she has a fantastic range, from the bombastic to the hauntingly fragile, which complements the music perfectly. She is for my money simply one of the best female singers working in prog today.
Silent Anger [Part 2] is another instrumental, a slightly more subdued affair with some wonderfully fluid soloing from Pavlov. Swirling organ heralds the start of the title track, before a bluesy guitar break gives way to Crimson-esque sax.
Searching For Love would fit in on any Roine Stolt solo or early Flower Kings album with its jazzy mid-section and segue into the first of the album’s ‘epics’ – the nigh on 14 minute long keyboard-driven instrumental Carpathians.
Ode To A New Life is another instrumental piece, this time more upbeat with guitar and keyboard duelling and a massively catchy riff – great stuff.
The 2 minute–ish Kingfisher & Dragonflies [Part 2] is a meandering, acoustic piece that serves as an entrée to the album’s true ‘epic’, the 22 minute five piece suite that is Mystery.
Zakharova makes a welcome return, over plaintive violin, before the song begins to flex its symphonic muscles across twenty jaw-droppingly good minutes. Kalugin takes on vocal duties again before letting loose with the synths. There are improvisational guitar bits, accordion bits, orchestral bits, Celtic bits, Hammond bits, twiddly bits, hard bits, soft bits. A veritable smorgasbord of prog in fact.
This is a fantastic album, by a supremely talented musician who has crafted a sublime piece of symphonic prog inspired particularly by Camel and referencing the Scandinavian school but which puts its own cultural and spatial stamp on the genre.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
The Reasoning – Adverse Camber
Tracklist: Diamonds And Leather (6:01), The Nobody Effect (7:04), The Thirteenth Hour (7:43), Through The Now (7:53), Script - Switch Trigger (5:54), 14 (6:55)
Adverse Camber, the third release of The Reasoning, is a short album (just over 40 minutes) with six tracks of an average seven minutes. Their first two albums (Awakening, 2007 and Dark Angel, 2008, both DPRP recommended) were well received. Given the high frequency of their releases (this being the third since 2007), I was wondering whether this seven-person band would be able to live up to the expectations.
The Reasoning is part of what you might call a “music scene” in which several UK acts seem to “cross fertilise” each other, in terms of musical influences and by “lending” each other’s musicians. Bass guitar player Matthew Cohen for example, was part of Magenta before he formed The Reasoning in 2005. Lead vocalist Rachel Jones (the beautiful voice of Karnataka until their mind blowing album Delicate Flame Of Desire) married with Matthew and therefore is currently known as Rachel Cohen. There are also connections with Mostly Autumn, (Rachel did backing vocals on their album The Story So Far). Other bands that you might include in this “scene” could be Panic Room, created by several ex-Karnataka members, (of which several have toured with Mostly Autumn). And why not put The Wishing Tree, in the list, the band formed by Hannah Stobart and Marillion’s guitar player Steve Rothery, who did some guest appearances in Reasoning gigs. The band also supported several Marillion and Fish concerts over the years by the way, including the Marillion convention in 2009 in Port Zelande, The Netherlands. The new keyboard player of The Reasoning, Tony Turrell, toured with Fish.
What is the common denominator in this scene? I would say one characteristic is the prominent role of female vocalists. Ah, I hear you think: female fronted, are we talking Gothic? No, this is definitely not the case. You might say that all the mentioned bands are song and melody oriented, with influences of classic and progressive rock. They have a contemporary sound, sometimes a bit “poppy” and sometimes with heavier guitar riffs, although to my assessment the songs never really become metal or progmetal. This is also true for Adverse Camber.
When listening the album for the first time, I was in two minds. On the positive side: on Adverse Chamber, the role of Rachel Cohen is more dominant than on Dark Angel, where the other vocalists had a larger share. I really love the enchanting voice of Rachel, so this is definitely a pro. However, you shouldn’t interpret that as a disqualification of the two other lead singers: Dylan Thomas and Maria Owen are certainly worth while listening to. Listen for example to their contributions on Through The Now. But let’s face it: Rachel Cohen was called the best female vocalist for four years in a row by the prestigious Classic Rock Society. It was just a wise decision she was given more room.
On the down side, with the departure of the original keyboard player Gareth Owen in 2009, the music of The Reasoning has lost quite some depth and atmosphere. His successor, Tony Turrell, is just not very present. Maybe it’s because he recently joined the band. I really hope he will grow in to the band and will be able to make up for it on the next release.
However, if you like heavy guitars, you might find Adverse Camber an improvement. Main guitar players Owain Roberts and Dylan Thomson seem to have further developed their sound. Right from the start, with the opener Diamonds And Leather, guitars sound heavy, solid and tight. The solos sound sometimes pleasantly aggressive, like for instance in The Nobody Effect and in the final track 14.
I am not sure whether we deal here with a concept album. But the somewhat cryptic lyrics seem to suggest a common theme. It’s seems to be about a movement from darkness, nightmares and fear, into light, trust, and hope. Would be nice to discuss in an interview. In any case, the quality of the compositions is of a general high level, as you could expect from a band of this calibre. However, they disappoint a bit if you compare them to the predecessor. Although you can hear that the band made a serious effort to write catchy melodies again, the only one that really sticks to my mind is the chorus of The Nobody Effect , (“Can you hear me”?).
Nowadays ambitious bands are often told to release an album about every eighteen months for marketing reasons. I don’t know if this was the case with The Reasoning, but somehow I have the feeling time was too short for the writing trio (both Cohen’s and Thomson) to really be inspired, get the muse again and make a next qualitative step in the development of their compositions.
But let me avoid any misunderstanding. Adverse Camber is in my view perhaps not an excellent, but still a rather good album that will not disappoint the fan base that The Reasoning has been building up in a relatively short period. We are talking high standards here. It is a very well produced CD with fine instrumental and vocal performances and enough proggy variations to keep it in your player for quite a while.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
The Windmill - To Be Continued...
Tracklist: Cinnamon (5:38), The Colour Of Seasons (6:52), A Day In A Hero’s Life (21:43), The Eagle (7:10), Don’t Be Afraid (10:03), To Be Continued... (2:42)
Norwegian band The Windmill bring us their debut album this year and as the band has been around from 2001 you might say these guys have taken a long long time to give us a peek at their craftsmanship. There is a story to behind this, as to why it has taken them ages to see the release of the debut album; so very well named To Be Continued...
Being around almost a decade now has also resulted in a few line-up changes, mostly in the drumming department. Right now the band comprises of Jean R. Viita (keyboards & vocals), Arnfinn Isakson (bass guitar), Erik Borgen (vocals & guitars), Morten I. Clason (saxophone, flutes, vocals, guitars & keyboards) and Sam A. Noland (drums & percussion). The drum parts on the CD however have been recorded by a different drummer Svend Hjalmar Borgen was responsible for that. There is also was another guitar player present, Bent Jensen. Recording the album has taken from 2005 until autumn last year (2009). Due to the fact that all the players hold steady daytime jobs, as a result they had limited time to record.
After listening to To Be Continued... you really won’t mind anymore that it has taken so long to produce this album. There is only the hope that the second album will see the light of day much faster than this one.
Now to the music and individual tracks. The opener is a track called Cinnamon, it is an instrumental piece. If you are to believe the accompanying notes the song is Cinnamon, no more no less. I must say I was immediately overthrown by the high quality of music in this song. Influences clearly lay in the Seventies, with bands like ELP or Focus. Without going back to the era specifically.
Next we hear how The Windmill think about The Colour Of Seasons. The boys don’t cut corners and give us another great song to listen to, with a high standard of musicianship. The lead vocal in this track is taken care of by; Morten Clason and I must say he does a terrific job. Clear singing and musically I get hints of Supertramp or 10cc.
Next track up is A Day In A Hero’s Life ~ Wow! A stunning almost twenty two minute long epic of high, high class. Fantastic music, good lyrics as well and great singing by Erik Borgen this time. All the musicians get their fair chance of doing some sort of solo. Musically the song is set up very strong, melody lines stay ever present, building up to a climax. Never a dull moment. A true symphonic song, so Arena, Pendragon and IQ beware The Windmill is coming and they mean business. One hell of a song.
The Eagle is yet another instrumental tune with a strong structure in the song, not outstanding, but nevertheless very good and the seven minutes pass by as if it were a mere three minutes. The band absolutely make sure we get to know them.
Next up is a song that may be applicable for The Windmill themselves if you look at the title Don’t Be Afraid, but I can state as a fact Norway has given us another great progressive rock band with The Windmill. Don’t Be Afraid is once again sung by Erik Borgen. His voice is one that suits this music very well. The flutes and sax in this song give away hints to Jethro Tull, whilst during you can almost hear good old Led Zeppelin playing Kashmir. Only to come to the conclusion it is an the Windmill, most likely the guitar of Bent Jensen sounding like Jimmy Page. amazing great song
Last song for the album To Be Continued... is another instrumental and again let us hope the saga is continued in the very near future. Flutes and piano add a fine ending and better still, a good way to stop an album that needs continuing like the title of the song suggests.
Concluding The Windmill from Norway is a terrific band and their debut album To Be Continued... definitely needs continuing. I for one cannot wait for more music from these guys. To see them play live would be very nice indeed? If you happen to like Arena, IQ, Pendragon, Saga or... then you may like The Windmill. You certainly will not be disappointed.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Manir Donaghue - Reflections
Tracklist: Yule (2:19), Frozen (3:27), Winter Gone Spring (2:30), Mayfly Over Pendle Water [Part One] (3:20), Mayfly Over Pendle Water [Part Two] (1:34), Lazy Summer (2:28), Flame (5:10), September [For Karen] (5:07), Fern (2:21), Angelus (6:47), Winter Gone Spring [Alternate Version] (2:43), Sometimes My Head Feels Like This (2:56)
Born in Manchester in 1965, guitarist and composer Manir Donaghue first took up his chosen instrument at the age of 18. It would take a further 26 years however for this debut album to see the light of day. During the 80’s he played in two neo-prog outfits Coltsfoot and Tribune and after leaving the former he was replaced by a young bespectacled guitarist named Steven Wilson. I wonder what became of him? Donaghue for his part went on to organise Genesis tribute events including the 1999 and 2001 fan conventions and played guitar in a one-off Tony Banks inspired project entitled Strictly Banks. Then followed several years managing UK tribute act ReGenesis and it was during this period that work began on Reflections which was recorded on and off between 2002 and 2008.
In addition to a variety of guitars, Donaghue also plays keyboards and is supported by Tony Patterson (ReGenesis) who adds flute, piano and keys and Mark Rae (Sanctuary Rig) who contributes piano and keys to two tracks. No prizes for guessing that its an all instrumental affair and if you’re familiar with Mike Oldfield, Steve Hackett’s early albums and Anthony Phillips’ Private Parts & Pieces collections then you’ll know what to expect. That puts Donaghue in very good company indeed and although his recording experience and production values maybe a little more modest this is a very credible debut nonetheless.
A courtesy glance at the track titles reveal that they have been thoughtfully sequenced to document the passing of the seasons beginning at year end with Yule. From the outset we’re in the chiming 12-string guitar world of Ant Phillips overlaid by rich Oldfield flavoured electric guitar on a wash of Mellotron strings. This sets the pattern and tone for the rest of the album where layered acoustic guitars and keyboards provide a backdrop for melodious electric guitar doodling ala Hackett, Gordon Giltrap and Dave Bainbridge.
In addition to the opening track, other highlights include the sublime Winter Gone Spring, the elegant Mayfly Over Pendle Water [Part One] with its romantic classical guitar picking and Flame probably the albums strongest piece. Here a haunting flute melody is underpinned by guitar and Mellotron samples and could easily have been lifted from Hackett’s Voyage Of The Acolyte album. Elsewhere the often slight melodies create a pastoral atmosphere that occasionally borders on new age. This is particularly true of Frozen and the aptly Lazy Summer which brings to mind the ambient textures of Jade Warrior. In contrast tracks like September [For Karen] and Angelus add a surging tide of power to their otherwise graceful tonality.
Donaghue is without doubt a more than competent guitarist and in Reflections he has produced an album that has a poetic charm capable of soothing all but the most cynical of spirits. If like me you find the above mentioned musicians a welcome distraction from some of life’s more stressful realities you could do a lot worse than giving this album your time and attention.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Schicke, Führs And Fröhling – Symphonic Picture
CD1: Tao (8:37), Solution (2:56), Dialogue (5:33), Sundrops (2:29), Pictures (16:26)
CD2: Tao (9:26), Dialogue (7:20), Gedankenspiel (8:51), Modimdofre [Pictures] (27:43), Prickel Pit (6:02), Ammeroom (5:14), Dadadam (4:50)
Eduard Schicke (drums, percussion, Moog, met allophone, xylophone), Gerd Führs (grand piano, electric piano, Moog, clavinet, mellotron, string ensemble, bassett) and Heinz Fröhling (bass, electric guitars, mellotron, clavinet, string ensemble), simply known as Schicke, Führs And Fröhling recorded their first album Symphonic Pictures way back in 1976, which has now been re-mastered and released in 2010. The album was originally released on the German Brain record label which in it’s time was very influential, releasing/launching many classic albums especially in this genre. Their products were always well produced and housed with fantastic artwork, which is the case for this release also.
This is an album whose signature sound incorporates space rock, fusion and electronic avant-garde, creating symphonic soundscapes which are very impressive. Schicke, Führs and Fröhling have a chemistry that bonds all the elements of what they have created together perfectly, almost like ELP, although a differing musical style.
Tao starts the proceedings with its very loose sounding Flower Kings/Transatlantic tones. Führs keyboards are the dominant force throughout this piece with some very eloquent guitar passages and drumming by Schicke which really sets the tone for the rest of the album. The much shorter Solution has a Genesis sounding guitar tone, which runs through the whole album, supporting the ethereal sounding keyboards, sounding very much like a piece from the 1979 Dave Greenslade album The Pentateuch Of The Cosmogony. The track travels the distance but doesn’t really go anywhere as such. Dialogue takes a more aggressive path with its melodic fusion tones reminiscent of Return to Forever in places. Schicke, Führs and Fröhling have obviously thought long and hard developing the structure for this song with its avant garde keyboard interludes, building rhythms, allowing Fröhling’ guitar work to take more of a lead allowing him to interact gracefully with Schicke and Fröhling, although as ever the keyboard ensemble is the predominant force. With this track you get the feeling that the boys are trying their hand at producing their version of ELP without it spiralling into an ego trip for each individual, making it a very intelligent built track. Sundrops a very short piece has more of those fantastic melodic electronic keyboard passages, which are very prevalent throughout, being complex and mellotron heavy, the music twisting and turning. Pictures is the grand finale, being a very dark piece, taking a more experimental approach, which is the longest and most challenging piece on the album. The bass work is heavier here, the drum work is allowed to really interact / duel with the supporting cast of electronic buffoonery, courtesy of the keyboards et el. This piece verges on being a classic sounding King Crimson track from the Red or Starless And Bible Black era, which really sets the piece off, and works very well. This is what was fantastic about the prog movement in the 70’s, classy, intelligent and challenging music.
The live disk was recorded in Papenburg, Herbst, Germany in 1975 opening with Tao which is slightly longer, having a piece in progress feel to it as does Modimdofre [Pictures] which over time the band perfected for the album. In the live arena this track has even more soul, sounding heavier with Fröhling really coming to the front. Dialogue also travels very much down the same path; the live arena is where these songs were meant to be heard in their full glory. Gedankenspiel being an unreleased track with its pulsating bass lines, dominant keyboard interaction and stunning drum work, coming across as an experimental piece, retaining melody and direction, being both sad and beautiful in its approach. Modimdofre [Pictures] is the show piece landing in at just over twenty seven minutes, ten minutes longer than the album version. This track really shows off the dynamics of the band, moody, atmospheric, dark and challenging. Prickel Pit another unreleased track has a faster metre than Modimdofre [Pictures], with its playful experimental avant garde approach. The band never saw fit to record this track in the studio for some reason. Ammeroom is another venture into the sombre dark world that Schicke, Führs and Fröhling created which has a beautiful guitar passage weaved through it. Dadadam sadly closes the whole affair having a much sharper, harder sound than the rest of the recordings featured on the live disk.
The down side to Symphonic Pictures is that it’s only a short album; the positive side of this release being that you get a bonus disk of the band live, although the sound production isn’t that great. The album is grand and pompous in approach with its complex and demanding soundtrack soundscapes. This is very much a keyboard driven album, which at times can test the ear. As you would expect though, this German band, as with others within the genre, have produced a defining debut album which I highly recommend. The album has it all, fantastic keyboard work, dark mellotron passages, strong percussion work, deep bass lines and melodic guitar refrains. It’s bombastic without being arrogant and a very good starting point for someone to dip their toe in, which I can assure you, will open other avenues.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Schicke, Führs And Fröhling – Sunburst
Tracklist: Wizzard (4:30), Autumn Sun In Cold Water (4:45), Artificial Energy (5:30), Driftin’ (3:22), Troja (7:19), 1580 (5:18), Explorer (4:52)
Schicke, Führs and Fröhling recorded their second album Sunburst in 1977, which was the follow up to Symphonic Picture, this time adding another member to the line up, recording the bass parts. The band line up consisted of Eduard Schicke (drums, percussion, moog, met allophone, xylophone), Gerd Führs (grand piano, electric piano, moog, clavinet, mellotron, string ensemble, bassett), Heinz Fröhling (electric guitars, mellotron, clavinet, string ensemble) and Eduard Brumund-Ruther (bass).
Usually the second album by a group is normally a difficult affair as they have prepared all their life to record the ultimate first album, this is not so for Schicke, Führs and Fröhling who rose to the challenged and for me produced a far better album. This album paved the way for Schicke, Führs and Fröhling to display their love of British style prog as opposed to the German lead synthesizer music, although there are hints of the latter still being present.
Wizzard opens up with a jazz fusion feel not un-similar to Romantic Warrior era Return to Forever, with its playful interaction stopping and starting, featuring some rather good interaction from all involved. The band plays with ease offering real charm with their approach, allowing Fröhling and Schicke to really build some powerful soundscapes. Führs keyboard work is less stated for most of the piece but is allowed to come to the front adding dynamics to the piece.
Autumn Sun In Cold Water has the more expected Krautrock feel to it, which moves in the same circles as Tangerine Dream, being much more keyboard oriented than the Wizzard guitar lead piece. This piece just breathes pure elegance in the way that the music is allowed to drive passionately forward.
Artificial Energy moves in the keyboard driven arena with the percussions underpinning the whole piece. The lead breaks from Fröhling are nothing but stunning in both there approach and dynamics. This track just oozes melodies and spacey passages to die for.
Driftin’ sees the return of the jazz fusion approach; keyboard and bass melodies interact offering musical patterns, ebbing and flowing, having an almost hypnotic feel.
Troja is my favourite piece by Schicke, Führs and Fröhling with its driving melody sounding vaguely like ELP, featuring echo drums underpinned by romantic mellotron sounds. Fröhling’ guitar work makes its presence felt with his driving and dramatic melodic changes throughout.
1580 offers some stunning interaction between Führs and Fröhling, weaving their instrumental passages together, utilisation jazz fusion patterns, something that they band have put to good use. Brumund-Ruther bass patterns offer real support and foundation for the piece on a whole.
Explorer is unique in its approach to the rest of the pieces on the album, with its melodic synth and keyboard approach, which grabbed my attention straight away. Again we see the band playing their version of Krautrock, in the realms of Tangerine Dream. This along with Troja, are the outstanding tracks, which ooze elegance and class.
With Sunburst Schicke, Führs and Fröhling developed into a four piece and moved away from the avant garde / experimental approach that featured in their Symphonic Pictures album, utilising more melodic structures. This has added real depth and soul to the band.
I quoted Symphonic Pictures album as, "The album has it all, fantastic keyboard work, dark mellotron passages, strong percussion work, deep bass lines and melodic guitar refrains. It’s bombastic without being arrogant".
Well this album is both bombastic and arrogant, make no doubt about it. It is a more polished product, its musical prowess is unbelievable, which mustn’t have been easy as Symphonic Pictures was by no means a poor album, but you the get the feeling that the inclusion of the forth member allowed them to develop. This is an album you don’t really want to miss out on, a second time round.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Führs And Fröhling – Ammerland
Tracklist: Ammerland (3:05), Gentle Breeze (5:30), Dance Of The Leaves (2:16), Street Dance (2:29), Sarabande (2:27), Circles Of Live (4:04), Every Land Tells A Story (13:49), Ammernoon (5:05)
Heinz Fröhling (guitars) and Gerd Führs (Moog, mellotron, grand piano and synthesizer)
By the time 1978 arrived Führs and Fröhling had recorded two albums as Schicke, Führs and Fröhling and then this solo outing Ammerland. Symphonic Picture and Sunburst were both very good albums, with Symphonic Pictures being a bit more experimental than the jazz fusion Sunburst. Führs and Fröhling drew on their experiences from the quieter pieces on the two aforementioned albums and developed them further producing this wonderful album. After recording this album, Führs and Fröhling re-united with Schicke to record a third and final album Ticket To Everywhere. For reference Führs and Fröhling recorded two further albums for Brain Records, Strings in 1979 and Diary in 1981.
Ammerland gracefully opens the proceedings with its strong lead acoustic work, pastoral in approach backed by Führs very emotional keyboard playing. These guys were a match made in heaven, their ability to function at such a high level together producing such great music.
Gentle Breeze has a more playful feel to it, with its clear precise bass lines, keyboard passages sounding like they could have been removed from Dave Greenslade’ album The Pentateuch Of The Cosmogony, much in the same sort of way as passages on the track Tao from the Symphonic Pictures album, which predated David Greenslade’ album. Fröhling presents a strong and familiar sounding keyboard passage that has real eloquence and magnitude.
Dance Of The Leaves is a perfect exercise in the use of acoustic guitar and mellotron sounds, which work very effective together building imagery of leaves and foliage dancing in the slightest of winds.
Street Dance has a Celtic feel / approach with keyboards and guitar work weaving in and out of each other with spacey interjections.
Sarabande has a medieval baroque approach, which reminded me somewhat of 16th Century Greensleeves, not in how it sounds musically but how the piece has been approached, especially the finger work on the guitar, this really is stunning compositional work.
Circles Of Live moves in a similar direction as Sarabande with the guitar phrases giving way to the Moog synthesizers, allowing it to develop more majestically.
Every Land Tells A Story is the piece de resistance at just over thirteen minutes opening with some absolutely stunning 12 string guitar work by Fröhling which sets the scene for the track to build with the inclusion of stunning piano and synth work, building euphoric soundscapes. This track has to be their Supper’s Ready or 2112, by far superseding anything else on the whole of the album. It is during this track that you can really feel the tip of the hat being made to such luminaries as Tangerine Dream, Neu! And Cluster. I defy anyone to listen to this track and not love it.
Ammernoon is a highly unusual piece with its eerie approach, ethereal and spacey mellotron and synth work mixed with voices talking and laughing, which is finally drowned out by a tolling church bell, offering a rather fitting closure to an outstanding album.
Having reviewed the two re-mastered Schicke, Führs and Fröhling albums, (Symphonic Pictures and Sunburst), and one Führs and Fröhling album, (Ammerland), I would like to add that Esoteric Recordings have done a fine job in bringing these three classic albums back into the public domain, paying particular attention to the artwork, packing and sound quality. These are certainly three recordings that you need to invest in, even if you own the originals. All three albums are genre defining albums, holding their own, next to the likes of Tangerine Dream, Edgar Froese or Klaus Schulze. These albums are a must and should be in your collection.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
The Alan Bown! - The Alan Bown!
Tracklist: My Friend (3:05), Strange Little Friend (2:45), Elope (3:22), Perfect Day (3:06), All I Can Do (2:46), Friends In St. Louis (2:30), The Prisoner (10:16), Kick Me Out (2:42), Children Of The Night (2:41), Gypsy Girl (2:33) Bonus Tracks: Still As Stone, (2:45), Wrong Idea (2:31)
Alan Bown - Listen
Tracklist: Wanted Man (3:30), Crash Landing (5:55), Loosen Up (3:25), Pyramid (4:28), Forever (2:55), Curfew (4:01), Make Us All Believe (4:34), Make Up Your Mind (7:58), Get Myself Straight (4:00)
Alan Bown - Stretching Out
Tracklist: The Messenger (7:56), Find A Melody (5:18), Up Above My Hobby Horse's Head (4:23), Turning Point (7:12), Build Me A Stage (3:31), Stretching Out (8:27) Bonus Track: Thru The Night (4:16)
The Alan Bown!, originally called The Alan Bown Set, formed in 1965 when Alan Bown (trumpet), Jeff Bannister (organ, vocals), Dave Green (saxophone, flute) and Stan Haldane (bass) left The John Barry Seven and hooked up with Pete Burgess (guitar) and Vic Sweeney (drums). Signing with Pye Records they released a debut single after which Jess Roden joined as the main vocalist and Green was replaced by John Anthony Helliwell (he of Supertramp fame). Two more singles followed and then, rather unusually even for the 1960s, the band's debut long playing release was one side of a live album recorded at the famous Marquee club. Shortly after the live album release, guitarist Burgess was replaced with Tony Catchpole and this line-up went on to release several more singles and the album Outward Bown. By 1969 the band had signed to Deram Records and recorded their eponymously titled debut for the label. However, shortly before the album was due to be released Jess Roden quit the band. In a remarkably bold move, Alan Bown simply tracked down a young vocalist from the North of England named Robert Palmer (yes, that Robert Palmer!), who had supported the band in their early years and got him to re-record Roden's vocals. Fortunately, Palmer sang in the same key as Roden and did a remarkable job considering it was his first professional recording sessions.
The album showcases the band in transition from a pop and soul group to one heading in a rockier and proggier direction, taking in influences of the time and incorporating them into their sound. This is no more evident than on the 10-minute The Prisoner, which involves the telling of a story within the song, using different sections to emphasise different elements of the story. With a striking horn and string arrangement the result is not too dissimilar to the music found on the first Genesis album, particularly as this track, as well as All I Can Do, a song that comes closest to identifying the album as a sixties artefact, do not feature the more bluesy vocals of Palmer, and are instead sung by Catchpole, Sweeney and Bannister. Palmer has an assured and confident voice that is similar to the more mature timbre of his successful solo career. The songs he sings on are far more advanced than the pop songs of the band's earlier career, mixing some adventurous arrangements with a level of melody and harmony that ensure the songs are memorable and relatively easy on the ear. Elope has some nice keyboard riffs whilst Perfect Day is something of a lost classic with all elements of the band gelling together. The odd song out on the album is Kick Me Out, more of a Vaudeville/music hall pastiche than anything else but things are redeemed by the rockier Children Of The Night (a rock and roll band lament about travelling up and down the country at night to and from gigs) and the excellent Gypsy Girl, which apparently was the first song re-recorded with Palmer and giving the band confidence that re-doing the vocals on the rest of the album could work.
The two bonus tracks are a contemporary single, Still As Stone / Wrong Idea which feature Roden on vocals. Both are strong tracks, although Still As Stone is the better composition, and show that Roden is a fine vocalist although I actually prefer Palmer as his voice is much smoother and soulful. Apparently the US release of the album featured the Roden versions of the songs; it would have been interesting if they could have been included as a comparison and for the hard core collector.
Although the debut album achieved a degree of critical acclaim, the relatively poor sales resulted in the group being dropped by Deram Records. However, the band had an established live reputation, particularly with Palmer growing in the role of lead vocalist and contributing to the writing of new material. Consequently the band were soon picked up by Island Records and by June 1970 were back in the studio recording the road-tested songs that would make up the second album. With the album in the can and ready for release a remarkable case of history repeating itself occurred when Palmer quit the band to join his new friends Pete Cage and Elkie Brooks in Dada who shortly after changed their name to Vinegar Joe. As things had worked well on the previous album when Palmer had replaced the vocals of Roden, the decision was made to repeat the process on the new tracks. Eventually, Gordon Neville was recruited from Gulliver's People as the new vocalist who set about replacing Palmer's contributions.
Listen, as the album was eventually called, took the band further away from their pop roots into, at times, a heavier direction and at others, a somewhat jazzier approach. However, opener Wanted Man maintained a bluesy approach with Neville capturing the phrasing and intonation of Palmer perfectly, indeed at times it is hard to reconcile that it is not Palmer singing! Crash Landing displays great use of space providing a very open and confident composition of great maturity with some fine guitar work from Catchpole. The appropriately titled Loosen Up sets out a looser groove while the brass work on Pyramid introduces a greater degree of syncopated rhythm. Helliwell shines on Forever and Make Up Your Mind which venture into jazz rock territory, with the latter track bearing some resemblance to the Soft Machine's Third album, particularly the combination or organ and sax. This combination also lends itself to stylistic comparisons with bands such as Traffic and Procul Harum without achieving the consistency of any of these groups. Elsewhere, Bown displays his fondness for Miles Davis with his use of a wah wah pedal with his trumpet. Overall, Listen is a bold move forward by a band searching for a new direction.
However, the changes were not well received by all members of the group with long-term bassist Haldane deciding that the constant touring, lack of anything but critical approval and the move towards a more experimental direction was enough and he left to be replaced by Andy Brown whose playing style was more suited to the band's current approach to writing. The band's final album, released in May 1971, was also given an appropriate title: Stretching Out in name, stretching out in nature. Three of the original album's six tracks pass the seven-minute mark and contribute the most adventurous and exciting material the band committed to vinyl. The Messenger features some great organ work from Bannister combined with a vocal delivery by Neville that displays his rock tendencies. The arrangement also harks back to the soul origins of the band. Helliwell gets a solo writing credit on Turning Point and is heavily influenced by Frank Zappa of whom Helliwell was a major fan. With bizarre time signatures and a constantly changing rhythm it displays the quality of the musicianship, particularly that of Sweeney whose timing is superb throughout (remembering that at the time most of the basic tracks were recorded live). Based on the lyrics to the title track (which includes the lines "Stretching out in a new direction") it is clear that it is a somewhat autobiographical number with Bown taking to the fore with a powerful and extended solo that clearly indicates his desire to pursue a jazz rock direction.
Of the remaining three original album tracks, Find A Melody is a more standard piano-based song which blooms into a fine number that successfully blends the various constituent elements of the longer songs. The cover of Richie Haven's Up Above My Hobby Horse's Head is not as ground breaking as The Alan Bown Set's cover of All Along The Watchtower of some years previous which reportedly inspired Jimi Hendrix to record his own version of the Dylan classic. Build Me A Stage, the album's ballad is a showcase for Bannister's piano and flute work, the latter instrument he had been learning over the years and thought that the track would benefit from its addition. And how right he was, giving the piece a gentle ending. Bonus track, Thru The Night, was released on the Island sampler El Pea released in 1971. The song harks back to the earlier Listen album with a rockier vibe and a great final vocal from Neville.
After the album was released the band started to fragment with Bannister departing prior to Bown putting the band on hiatus. A new version of the band did briefly surface in 1972 with Dave Lawson (pre-Greenslade) on keyboards, although the group permanently disbanded before making it into the studio. Having always associated Alan Bown with the multitude of lightweight acts that existed at the end of the sixties, it was a welcome surprise to discover that the three albums reviewed here all contain music of considerable substance surpassing that of the presumed pop music of the era. It is always a pleasure to hear the origins of great singers and my ignorance of the history of this band has led to my discovery of the first recorded work of the late, great Robert Palmer. His contributions to the first of these albums should be sufficient reason for this album to be re-released. The fact that all three albums have a lot to offer to fans across a variety of rock genres, including prog, is a positive asset and along with the quality packaging and remastering is, once more, a tribute to the people at Esoteric.
The Alan Bown!: 7 out of 10
Listen: 6 out of 10
Stretching Out: 6.5 out of 10