Reviews in this issue:
- Moogg - Le ore i giorni gli anni
- Lazuli - Live @ l'Abeille Rôde [DVD]
- Ulver - Messe I.X-IV.X
- Parhelia - The Precipice of Change
- Crystal Palace - The System of Events
- Oxhuitza - Oxhuitza
- Various Artists - Tales From The Edge: A Tribute to the Music of Yes
- Azure Agony - India
Moogg - Le ore i giorni gli anni
I can't tell if they are named after the keyboard instrument so often heard in prog, but Moogg are one of my best finds this year. In fact Le ore i giorni gli anni would probably get into my top 5 of the year if it weren't for the fact that this album was released two years ago. This Lombardic jazz-prog group consists of Gianluca Avanzati on bass, Marco Dolfini on drums and vocals, Toni Gafforini on keyboards and Ivan Vanoglio on guitar.
Almost immediately after slotting the disc in the CD player, Moogg have grasped you by the ears and drawn you in. A twiddly prog intro soon gives way to a smooth jazzy riff; it's a perfect start, as it gives promise of more progressive moments to come without laying it on the listener too heavily. It also proves straight away that the band are capable of keeping things very tight, which they do throughout the album. Don't believe me? Try the video below!
What is also quite remarkable is Dolfini's ability to simultaneously sing and hold down a complex beat on the skins, a skill that places him above many other drummers and alongside the likes of Robert Wyatt. I couldn't really believe my eyes when I saw the first time on YouTube. His drumming is excellent; light, yet well defined and perfectly captured by the crisp sound quality. I was particularly impressed by the timbre of his cymbals, and how he, on occasion, strikes the ride cymbal just a single time on the bell and lets it ring out over the next few bars; fascinating drumming.
The music contains a cup of jazz, a tablespoon of prog and just a pinch of Canterbury. Some tracks are relaxed (see Lunalia), some are lively (see the following track Moogugni) and others reach both ends of the spectrum, such as Il perché di esser me. What is incredibly satisfying is that the group are very sure of their direction and aren't trying to cover too many bases. If you like one track on this album, you'll like them all. Like the best Italian prog bands, Moogg often dive into long, structured and very fulfilling instrumentals, and indeed, three of the seven tracks contain no lyrics.
Though I was initially sceptical when I saw the presence of a quarter-hour track, Welfare botanico - after all, I've had band members admit to me that they write such long tracks simply to make the album more lucrative - by the time I'd listened to the rest of the album, I knew Moogg wouldn't let me down. Welfare botanico is written in just the same style as the other tracks on the album; you wouldn't know you're listening to a 15 minute piece. However, there simply seems to be more of it, more variation, more ideas, more exploration. Indeed, the band wanders from place to place in much the same way as Camel do on Lady Fantasy. One might even note that the music itself is reminiscent of early Camel. Nevertheless, there are recurrent themes which make for cohesive and rewarding listening.
This is a true gem of an album, and one without any apparent flaws. If you like smooth yet crisp jazz with progressive touches then Le ore i giorni gli anni is the album for you. I certainly hope this isn't the last we hear from Moogg, as theirs is a voice that needs to be heard above all of today's mediocrity. Unpretentious jazz-prog, cooked al dente. Bellissimo!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Lazuli - Live @ l'Abeille Rôde [DVD]
Recorded live at l'Abeille Rôde studio (France), November 2012 - Je te Laisse ce Monde; Abîme; L'arbre; Festin Ultime (with string sextet); 15H40; Dans le Formol au Museum; Ouest Terne; Le Miroir aux Alouettes; L'azur; Mal de Chien (with brass ensemble); Capitaine Coeur de Mile; La Valse à Cent Ans; On Nous Ment Comme on Respire; Cassiopée; Saleté De Nuit; Les Malveillants
Live @ Loreley NOTP Festival (Germany), July 8th 2012 - Je te Laisse ce Monde; Le Miroir aux Alouettes; Les Malveillants; Film d'aurore
Filmed at 2 days Prog Festival in Veruno (Italy), August 9th 2012 - 9 hands around the marimba
Acoustic sessions filmed under the tilia tree, November 2012 - Joliciel 2.0; L'essentiel
Filmed at l'école de musique Maurice André in Alès (France), February 25th 2013 - Solo piano free improvisation on a theme of La Valse a Cent Ans
Unable to get to this year's Summer's End Festival where Lazuli were headlining for a second time, I instead settled down with this new "live" DVD from what I humbly suggest are one of the best progressive live bands on the planet.
But this is not your usual "live" DVD. Yes, it was all filmed, performed and recorded live but in a studio (l'Abeille Rôde in France). Thus there is no crowd, no lights, no stage show and not a lot of movement. What we do have though is the full 90-minute Lazuli live set performed to an incredible standard and filmed in a very classy way.
Now I've always felt that whilst thoroughly enjoyable, all of their studio albums have failed to capture the power and groove which in a live setting takes the music of Lazuli onto another level. This is the solution to that problem. A studio live album!
Those who have been fortunate to see them live, will testify to what an incredibly tight unit they are. No difference here. The performances of all members are stellar but especially that of singer Dominique Leonetti, who doesn't miss a note. I can't find fault with the set list as it contains all of my favourites. I'll say it again: the songs just sound so much better recorded like this than on any of the original album versions.
Of particular note are two songs. Festin Ultime has been enhanced with a string sextet who laid down tracks (and were filmed) in the same studio. The same has been done with a brass ensemble for Mal De Chien. Both additions really enhance the songs and the footage.
Talking of the footage, the film makers (Ermanno and Angelo Di Nicola, Emidio Frattaroli and Francesca Di Giovanni) have done a superb job here. Despite the obvious restrictions of space and movement, the ever changing camera angles, editing styles, focusing and lighting keeps the eye engaged. There's a slightly "arty" style to the editing and filming which I think really fits the music. For once this is a DVD that resists the temptation to squeeze as many shots into each song, instead it is content to linger and watch.
The extras are very interesting, especially the footage from their set at Night Of The Prog in 2012. If you haven't seen the 9 hands around the marimba footage before, then don't skip it here.
So this is a refreshingly different take on the "Live DVD" which really suits this unique French progressive band. For any Lazuli fan it's an essential purchase. If you've ever wondered why so many people rave about the Lazuli live experience, then this is your chance to see why.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Lazuli CD & DVD Reviews:-
|En Avant Doute|
|"For me Lazuli is the greatest new discovery of this year and En Avant Doute is a strong contender for best album of 2007."|
(Bart Jan van der Vorst, 9/10)
|Six Frenchmen In Amsterdam - Live At Paradiso [DVD]|
|"Considering the material was intended for webcast, the picture quality translates quite well to a big screen. At times the image is a bit pixellated, but this is not too distracting."|
(Bart Jan van der Vorst, 8/10)
|"Not many albums can keep you guessing and marvelling the way (4603 Battements) does throughout. The production is absolutely crystal clear and there is practically nothing to fault in it from start to finish."|
(Alison Henderson, 9.5/10)
"...judged the standout band at this year's Summers End Festival...One of the best live shows I have ever seen, I wonder if Lazuli are just one of those bands that work best for me in a live setting...Disappointing."
(Andy Read, 6.5/10)
"There isn't much I can criticize about this album, it's simply sublime; except maybe it could have been longer!"
(Joris Donkel, 8.5/10)
|Previous Lazuli Live Reviews:-|
|2006:-||ProgPassion 2, Zoetermeer, The Netherlands|
|2007:-||Symforce Festival, Tilburg, The Netherlands|
|2010:-||Progressive Promotion Festival, Hüsselheim, Germany|
|2011:-||Summer's End Festival, Lydney, U.K.|
|2012:-||Night Of The Prog VI Festival, Loreley, Germany|
|Previous Lazuli Interviews:-|
|Interview by Joris Donkel in 2011|
Ulver - Messe I.X-IV.X
Over the years Norwegian band Ulver have become an artistic force to be reckoned with, and in the process have managed to transcend easy genre pigeonholing. Starting out as a black metal band they have now left that particular niche well behind, although its atmospheric rather than musical influence does still make its presence felt. As an example of the artistic freedom enjoyed by the band, their last album, Childhood's End, reviewed on DPRP by yours truly, is an album of covers of psychedelic rock classics and obscurities.
The album under scrutiny here is about as far removed from the "rock" of Childhood's End as can be imagined. Messe I.X - IV.X was commissioned by the Tromsø Kulturhus in co-operation with the Arctic Opera and Philharmonic Orchestra. Ulver say that this album is perhaps a companion to the dark soundscapes of 2007's Shadows Of The Sun. This quote from the band lists some of the influences behind Messe I.X - VI.X:
"Gorecki's No.3: Symphony of Sorrowful Songs...Mahler and Holst. Sound collages from When or Nurse With Wound. 70s Kraut and synth. Ash Ra and Autobahn‚ Terry Riley, again and again. Saint John of the Cross"
That will give you some idea, and here the core members Ole Alexander Halstensgård, Kristofer Rygg, Jørn H Sværen, and Tore Ylwizaker are aided and abetted by composer Martin Romberg, who arranged the strings for the 21-strong Tromsø Chamber Orchestra.
Now, let us all join the Mass...
The contemporaneously titled opener begins with brooding electronic rumblings, ghostly noises rising and falling in the mix. A slow realisation of foreboding and impending catastrophe in audio form, the levels rise inexorably. The noise of fighter jets passing overhead presages a mournful violin marking the human cost of exodus from war. Eventually joined by the entire orchestra, the sad symphony builds then fades to a lone piano and cello in a funereal lament, the string section rejoining for the mournful march to the end. This is one sad piece of music indeed, and about as far away from rock music as it should be. It is, as you might imagine, utterly compelling in its emotional depth and harrowing beauty.
Electronica returns in Shri Schneider, where Kraftwerk meet Terry Riley and a chamber orchestra in a meditative and uplifting slice of Euro synth-led music, a well deserved massage of the synapses after the stark truths revealed of the preceding track.
The blurring of the lines between traditional and modern classical, synth-driven Krautrock, and outright electronic experimentation are blurred to such an extent on Glamour Box (ostinati) that one soon ceases trying to separate the sources. Deeply filmic, this piece would easily have worked as a soundtrack for a segment of Godfrey Reggio's groundbreaking Koyaanisqatsi film back in the '80s, famously accompanied by Philip Glass' music. I would love to hear a 5:1 surround mix of this epic beast of a track, it cries out for it.
Vocals feature briefly and for the first time in Son Of Man, and illuminate a theme of regret and fear for the consequences of one's actions, or for the actions of all mankind, the protagonist wondering "What kind of Choir of Angels will receive us?". This is a tune in the conventional sense and breaks up the otherwise necessarily oppressive ambience in just the right way, with a heavy orchestral melody overlaid with modern sequencers and swooping strings, real and electronic. However, you probably couldn't dance to it, so don't get too carried away!
Noche Oscura Del Alma translates as "Dark night of the soul" and is the title of a 16th century poem by Spanish Catholic mystic and poet St. John of the Cross, referred to by the band above. With its vocalisations and odd noises, this time buried in an obsidian piece of anti-music that Scott Walker would be proud of, it, as far as terrorising the listener goes, is the high point of the album, and utterly marvellous it is too.
Ending the album in a sombre, but considering what has gone before, inspiriting fashion with Mother Of Mercy, a song that is all pleading religiously themed lyrics and swooping minor key strings, Ulver again dig deep into the dark corners of the soul. Halfway in the orchestra is replaced by distant voices and electronica before the return of the disconsolate strings repeating a cyclical chord pattern, lost in the mists of a never ending Norwegian pine forest.
You don't expect an album of dance tunes from this starkly original band, or perhaps, given their artistic licence, maybe you do, but this isn't it. What it is however is a stunning piece of music that for the 45 minutes of its length describes sadness and melancholy perfectly, and it will figure in my top ten of an overcrowded musical year, no question.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Ulver CD & DVD Reviews:-
|Shadows Of The Sun|
|"Ultimately, this is a great 'mood music' album, ideal for listening to late at night with the lights down low."|
(Tom De Val, 8.5/10)
|Wars Of The Roses|
|"...one of the best interesting and forward looking groups operating within the art rock sphere at the moment."|
(Tom De Val, 8/10)
|The Norwegian National Opera [DVD]|
|"...this is a fine representation of Ulver as a live entity...a good starting point for the uninitiated."|
(Tom De Val, 8.5/10)
|"...treat this as a record of love and devotion that you can freak out to...has enough darkness about it to keep fans drooling in anticipation as to what might come next for this very strange band."|
(Roger Trenwith, 8/10)
Parhelia - The Precipice of Change
From Dublin, Parhelia produce instrumental music that mixes elements of post-rock, prog and metal. They have previously released a couple of EPs and a full album, all favourably reviewed on DPRP, and this is their first album in 4 years after a brief hiatus.
The seven tracks on The Precipice of Change fit well within their mandate for being a "refined" instrumental rock band and that is no bad thing. The sound isn't overly raw and theirs is a mature and considered view of post rock with a concise approach that sees the music building itself up and stopping well short of becoming monotonous. With a running time of around 35 minutes the album is only slightly longer than an EP but with quality control intact and I would rather that than have an album that drones on gratuitously for over an hour. That said it is a bit skimpy and one more track wouldn't have hurt!
So to the music itself. The sound is clear and well defined allowing the quartet to express themselves without confusion as to who is doing what. None of the players stands out from the rest which results in a well balanced listen, each of the instruments working for the good of the music. The guitars soar, often in the background in a kind of self-conscious way, while the rhythms are interesting, driving the music along at a steady pace from which they get more mileage than if they went off at breakneck pace all the time. Most of the tracks run shorter than expected and in the case of Capricorn One for example, it seems to end just as it gets going. The twin guitars work well together on Desert Of Thought, complementing the music and growing the sound nicely. This is not rough and ready stuff, the band have clearly considered the benefits of getting things right and letting the music do the work. Later in the track the pace picks up and the guitars rock out nicely over a skittering beat.
The Light That Guides Us twinkles and sparkles nicely, an Indie sound colouring the guitars which works very well. The music has an introverted widescreen effect as if they want to make the biggest sound in the world but are a bit shy about it and this is quite an endearing quality. The track again finishes rather abruptly when you expect and hope for it to continue for a while longer. Magnetic North follows a similar pattern but becomes more strident in the second half before again stopping without warning.
Chemtrails is built around some interesting drum patterns which fall away for a brief respite which is very well worked. Precipice is the only track that has the running time that you would ordinarily expect from a post-rock outfit and Parhelia use it to good effect starting from the hypnotic opening, building the twin guitar attack and then ebbing back and building again. Thoughtfully done.
As stated, Parhelia successfully keep things interesting and avoid the necessity to hit the skip button and the album flies by in what seems like no time. This is refreshing and makes you more likely to play it again; a lot of their contemporaries could learn a lesson from that. It may not be the most exciting album you will ever hear but it has quality written through it like a stick of rock.
The Precipice of Change is a very nice album that bears repeated listens and which has a beauty about it that makes it a very pleasant choice. They want you to listen rather than be beaten into submission and this benefits both the band and their music and Parhelia are to be congratulated on both the construction of the pieces and the playing; not flashy but precise and to the point. The tracks flow very well and hopefully it won't take another four years to complete the next one as the music of Parhelia is both enjoyable and rewarding.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Parhelia CD Reviews:-
|First Light [EP]|
|"This is a release that will be among my favourites for this year...Highly recommended especially for an audience that glances into the post-Indie rock market."|
(Christos Ampatzis, 8.5/10)
|Oceans Apart [EP]|
|"...slightly more mature than Parhelia's first EP. Here, there is more exploitation and less exploration, and in total the band seems to have arrived to a point where they have defined their own sound and are able to produce melodies that stick to your head."|
(Christos Ampatzis, 9/10)
|"...an enjoyable, highly professional piece of work, and one that stands alongside many of the recent efforts of their contemporaries."|
(Tom De Val, 7/10)
Crystal Palace - The System of Events
On their new CD, The System of Events, long-standing German band Crystal Palace - the current members of which are Yenz (vocals, bass), Frank Köhler (keyboards), Nils Conrad (guitars), and Frank Brennekam (drums) - avow to explore a grand question: is the course of human existence predetermined or, instead, the product of free will? And the band does so in grand style with an aggressive, bombastic set of power-rock tinged with metallic influences.
The most obvious modern influences here are Dream Theater and Porcupine Tree. Some of the heavier guitar chords evoke Deep Purple as well and throughout there's a Rush-like, forward-thrusting energy. Yenz's vocals (all in English) play a significant but balanced role throughout, portraying a friendlier and somewhat drier tone than that found on much progressive metal. In fact he sounds a bit like David Bowie. On the whole, though, despite the notable influences, Crystal Palace seems not to be channeling any other band.
The star of the CD is guitarist Conrad. Often playing like John Petrucci (but less frenetically), and sometimes like Mirek Gil, Conrad shows a knack for satisfying solos that stay close enough to the melody to retain context but that also extrapolate enough to add interest and value. Thus, although the general direction of the guitar solos is at times predictable, both the routing and destination are usually pleasant surprises.
Although the CD clocks in at well over an hour, there's no filler. The opener, Chasing Better Days, begins with slow, soft and eerie vocals superimposed on an extra-terrestrial auditory landscape. Beating drums quickly add a hard edge. The passionate vocals and rich guitar lines throughout engender high hopes for what is to come. As Heaven Dies, the next song, seems to have multiple-personality disorder: the dark chords at the outset portend a metallic trend; the rigid vocals and repetitive rhythm in the middle of the piece create a distinctly '80s pop sound; a later interlude then mellows the tempo and tenor of the piece; finally, some serious guitar shredding sets in. Beautiful Nightmare is easier to digest. It's an atmospheric piece featuring a redundant keyboard run over which is layered, yet again, some free-wheeling, rough-edged guitar licks. Spacey keyboard sounds transition into the next piece, Green Way. Almost accessible enough for radio airplay, the song features smooth vocals, a melodious hook and Conrad's soaring, infectious guitar. But this partly poppy piece - which, for some, may become the CD's guilty pleasure - wears out its welcome after a few listens. Much of the next tune, Sleepless, could have been plucked from an early Porcupine Tree CD, but with a Bowie-like singer. The loopy guitar runs that visit the piece from time to time are splendid. A ballad, Stunned by the Silence, follows and yet again Conrad's guitar runs - this time more repetitive than free-flowing - elevate the piece. Next up is Breathe, which begins darkly and forcefully but, midway, morphs into a ballad. Here, Yenz's vocals are sweet, even intimate. Closing the CD is the title track, The System of Events which is complicated and varied, not as dark as much of the CD and something of a showcase for the electric keyboards but also laced with tasty guitar lines.
Contributing to the excellence of the music here is the sound quality, overseen by Yogi Lang from RPWL. Throughout, the production values are notably crisp and balanced, and, despite the fullness and complexity of the music, the instruments can be heard distinctly. The guitar playing, in particular, comes through with real crunch and clarity.
Although the band's goal of exploring determinism gets mostly overshadowed by the compelling compositions and musicianship, The System of Events is a consistently good CD that manages to demonstrate strong individual playing yet also evince a compelling symmetry among the band members. The CD will appeal most to fans of light progressive-metal and neo-progressive rock, but classic rock and symphonic-prog lovers will also want to tune in.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Crystal Palace CD Reviews:-
|"It is definitely not an album I will play much, which probably has a lot to do with the musical style...Nevertheless if you are a neo-prog fan, then certainly try it."|
(Gert Hulshof, 6.5/10)
Oxhuitza - Oxhuitza
Oxhuitza - the indigenous name of the famed Mayan archaeological site of Caracol in Belize - is the handle chosen by guitarist Luca Bassignani for his first recording project. Based in northern Tuscany, Bassignani lived in London for some time, and, when he returned to Italy in 2011, he started on his first demo with the help of two other musicians. The demo attracted the attention of Fabio Zuffanti and Rossano Villa, the dynamic duo behind Mirror Records - a recently-founded subsidiary of well-known Italian label and distributor BTF - who took Bassignani under their wing. In 2012 Bassignani, joined by Villa himself (keyboards), Gabriele Guidi (keyboards), Carlo Barreca (bass, flute) and Christian Giannarelli (drums), recorded Oxhuitza's self-titled debut, which was finally released in February 2013.
Those who are familiar with the lushly arranged compositions written by Fabio Zuffanti for his many projects - such as La Maschera di Cera, Finisterre and Höstsonaten - drawing upon the rich tradition of classic Italian progressive rock, might find themselves puzzled upon listening to Oxhuitza for the first time. Although completely instrumental albums are certainly not unheard of in the Italian prog galaxy, what strikes most here is the coexistence of vintage and contemporary elements. Though Oxhuitza has been labeled as a psychedelic/space rock outfit, this is only one component of their definitely eclectic sound. An impressive array of keyboards, both analog and digital, guarantees those multi-layered atmospheres prized by RPI lovers, though other elements point to a more modern direction. On the other hand, Bassignani's guitar is well in evidence, laying down dense riff patterns and delivering sharp-edged but consistently melodic solos, with acoustic guitar making an appearance in the more low-key passages.
Surprisingly for this day and age, Oxhuitza is a very short album, clocking in at about 37 minutes - the average length of a vinyl LP in the Seventies. However, the relatively short compositions are so packed with mood and tempo changes, which allow the instruments to take turns in the spotlight, that at times the listener may feel there is almost too much going on. This is the case of opener #01, where all the different components of Oxhuitza's sound are on display - the eerie, spacey electronic effects, the crushingly heavy riffs (occasionally reminiscent of Black Sabbath, as well as Dream Theater, one of the major sources of inspiration for Bassignani), the clear, melodic guitar leads and majestic organ and Mellotron washes - leading to an unexpected, reggae-tinged passage that does not really gel with the rest. In the more cohesive Luna di Maggio the shifts between high-energy sections, infused with the warm, raucous sound of the Hammond organ in true Deep Purple style, and slower, atmospheric moments are handled effectively, the keyboards softening the intensity of the riffing; while the flute-laced Nervi in Fibra Ottica (one of the album's highlights) introduces a haunting Eastern note, juxtaposing the acoustic and the electric components, with keyboards creating a cinematic sweep that reminded me of Ephemeral Sun.
A bit patchy but interesting, Kirky evidences a nice melodic flair, enhanced by some outstanding, classically-styled piano work, and briefly references Canterbury bands such as Caravan or Hatfield and the North. The metal element rears its head assertively at the beginning of Pixel, while echoing electric piano, bass and guitar create a sense of tension as in a horror movie soundtrack. This Gothic mood is also pursued in Mano di Luna, the album's pièce de resistance: its surging, ominous keyboards underpinned by riffs evoke Goblin, and the martial pace of the drums helps to build up the intensity of the composition culminating in a haunting, hypnotic coda led by slow, poignant guitar merging with Mellotron.
A more than adequate recording debut for a young, gifted artist, Oxhuitza will potentially appeal to both fans of symphonic prog - on account of the lush keyboard textures - and to those who are not averse to harder-edged atmospheres. Though there may be an occasional whiff of complexity for its own sake (which causes it to fall short of "recommended" status), the album contains quite a few good ideas, hopefully likely to be further developed by Bassignani, especially if he manages to put together a stable line-up (some live dates are in the pipeline for the spring of 2014, opening for La Maschera di Cera). A special mention is deserved by the superb artwork and detailed booklet that complement this intriguing addition to any progressive rock collection.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Various Artists - Tales From The Edge: A Tribute to the Music of Yes
CD 1 - The Samurai Of Prog: Starship Trooper (10:36), Periplo: To Be Over (9:03), Aquael: Run Through The Light (4:26), ZeroTheHero: The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus) (3:05), SETI: Machine Messiah (10:58), The Opium Cartel: Clear Days (3:38), Vanilla Project: Heart Of The Sunrise (8:44), Ten Midnight: Tempus Fugit (4:41), Yessongs: Siberian Khatru (8:58), B612: Long Distance Runaround (4:07), Aurora Lunare: Don't Kill the Whale (5:03), Greenwall: Onward (3:39), Yesterdays: White Car (3:17)
CD 2 - Luca Scherani: Holy Lamb (4:53), Jay Tausig: Wonderous Stories (4:07), Raven Sad: Soon (4:07), Supernal Endgame: Parallels (6:20), Subterra: Shock To The System (5:35), Stefano Vicarelli: Mood For A Day (4:05), Conqueror: Lift Me Up (5:00), Armalite: Time and a Word (Sogno e Realta') (5:56), Spirits Burning: South Side Of The Sky (7:38), 3RDegree: Going For The One (5:46), Alessandro Corvaglia & Matteo Nahum: And You And I (9:24), Marco Masoni: Show Me (4:52), Din Within: Changes (7:19)
Not surprisingly Yes have had their fair share of tributes over the years but sadly, with the exception of the excellent Tales From Yesterday from 1995, most have been found wanting. Tales From The Edge is one of the more recent offerings, and certainly one of the most extensive. Despite the band's wavering credibility in recent times I still count myself a fan and clearly it's me and likeminded spirits that are the target audience. Given that most of the songs will be familiar (even if the artists are not) then I felt that a track-by-track appraisal was justified. The collection begins with The Samurai Of Prog, a band who are no strangers to cover songs, Yes or otherwise. Led by bassist Marco Bernard and featuring multi-instrumentalist Steve Unruh, The Samurai Of Prog reconstruct Yes' original arrangement of Starship Trooper with flute embellishments and a lilting, acoustic intro to Life Seeker. A less structured Würm includes the Minimoog solo from Wakeman's Catherine Howard by keyboardist Richard Marichal and in response, a blink-and-you'll-miss-it snatch of Close To The Edge from guitarist Ákos Bogáti-Bokor. The presence of current Yes warbler and Anderson sound-alike Jon Davison lends an air of authenticity. This track can also be found on the band's debut album Undercover.
To Be Over is one of Yes' most overlooked gems (not least by the band themselves) so Periplo's version is a welcome inclusion. A string quartet gives the tranquil song section a romantic feel but sadly the majesty of Yes' instrumental coda (with Howe's Telecaster in full flight) is missing. As an alternative, checkout Steve Howe's solo acoustic version performed during Yes' 2003 'Full Circle' tour (click Here for the concert reviews, we have 9 from this tour - Ed.).
Run Through The Light is the first of four songs from the Yes-meets-Buggles Drama album and Aquael deliver a competent version with some particularly fine bass and guitar work from Enrico Testera and Marco Giacone Griva respectively.
Zerothehero is the pseudonym of Italian multi-instrumentalist Carlo Berreca who bravely takes on Chris Squires' solo showcase The Fish. It became a live tour-de-force for the big Yes-man but Berreca wisely blazes his own trail with a courtesy nod to the Schindleria Praematurus theme to close.
SETI's slavish performance of Machine Messiah has all the hallmarks of a tribute act but they are in fact a Chilean prog-band who specialise in their own material. Accurate it may be but it lacks the power of what was for me the strongest offering on the otherwise ordinary Drama album.
The Opium Cartel is the brainchild of White Willow guitarist Jacob Holm-Lupo and his minimalist version of Anderson's Beatle-ish ballad Clear Days is an exercise in restraint with Rhys Marsh's hushed vocal backed by Holm-Lupo's sparse keys and percussion.
Vanilla Project have been touring the Italian circuit for around 10 years with a stage act specialising in classic prog and hard-rock covers. Their take on Heart Of The Sunrise benefits from the inclusion of a real orchestra adding additional colourings whilst retaining the songs inherent dynamics. The heavily accented vocals however distract from an otherwise strong performance.
Tempus Fugit is not a great song (by Yes standards) but Ten Midnight give it their best shot with a keyboard dominated arrangement the highlight of which is a magnificent pipe organ intro from Bob Ranzi. Again, the vocals are a let down.
Given their name, Yessongs are clearly a tribute act and as such provide a dead ringer version of Siberian Kathru although guitarist Giorgio D'Ottavio does take one or two liberties in his solo. Particularly impressive given that it was performed live.
I've rarely been to a Yes concert and not heard them play Long Distance Runaround making it probably their most (over) played song. B612 add a short swing-jazz section otherwise this is a well performed but unremarkable version.
Hats off to Aurora Lunare for providing a much tighter version of Don't Kill The Whale than the original with superb guitar and keys exchanges between Daniele Pistocchi and Stefano Onorati. The latter also thankfully avoids Wakeman's grating keys sound from the original.
Like the preceeding track, Onward also originally appeared on the 1978 Tormato album and is one of my favourite Yes tunes. This is another of the better versions here thanks to Greenwall's beautiful female harmonies although Yes' live version still has the edge for me thanks to Howe's rippling acoustic guitar.
Things are really looking up because Yesterdays' perky arrangement of White Car actually improves on Downes and Horn's almost throwaway original with additional verses and a sly reference to Video Killed The Radio Star.
If disc one was an interesting combination of the great, and not so great Yes songs than disc two continues in the same vein. Also like disc one, disc two includes several bands that will be familiar from the Colossus projects which this particular collection resembles in many ways.
Judging by his richly textured arrangement of Anderson's Holy Lamb that opens the second disc, multi-instrumentalist Luca Scherani is influenced by the likes of Vangelis supported by a strong vocal from spouse Nadia Scherani.
Jay Tausig on the other hand needs no vocal assistance sounding very Anderson-like whilst playing all the instruments resulting in a very convincing one-man-band performance of Wonderous Stories.
The aptly named Raven Sad provide a mournful version of Soon, another personnel favourite of this reviewer. No slide guitar or Mellotron here but the tasteful guitar picking and hypnotic piano rhythm make it a grower.
America's Supernal Endgame led by John Eargle and Rob Price make an energetic show of Squire's Parallels although the shredding guitar solo seems out of place and the thin, reedy lead vocal lacks the desired clout.
Chilean outfit Subterra have their work cut out with the substandard Shock To The System, originally recorded by ABWH (who should have known better) for the 1991 Union album. Guitarist Christian Claveria's histrionic solo is easily the best part.
Stefano Vicarelli's solo piano interpretation of Howe's live favourite Mood For A Day should have worked but sadly it doesn't. He certainly has the musical chops in a classical sense but his stiff performance lacks the fluid elegance to do the piece justice.
Lift Me Up is another (and better) song from Union, this time by the Trevor Rabin led Yes-West. Conqueror is based around vocalist/keyboardist Simona Rigano and it's her sunny harmonies and bubbly synth work that wins the day. Easily the equal of the original.
Hats-off to Armalite for being the only band here to reinterpret a song in their own language. Time And A Word (or 'Sogno e Realta' in Italian) is a very worthy effort and up there with Yes' own live version and for good measure keyboardist Piergiorgio Abba throws in an excerpt from Yours Is No Disgrace.
American space rockers Spirits Burning could have very easily overstretched themselves with the Fragile mini-epic South Side Of The Sky but this is a rather good (if a tad by the numbers) version with Mike Grimes reproducing Wakeman's grand-piano solo note for note. A worthy companion to both the Glass Hammer and Spock's Beard versions.
3RDegree lull the listener into a false sense of security with the engaging harmonies that introduce Going For The One but as the song (and Anderson's sports metaphors) develop, singer George Dobbs becomes increasingly manic. The more I hear it the more I like it, and see if you can spot the veiled guitar reference to Starship Trooper.
Instrumentally Alessandro Corvaglia & Matteo Nahum's version of And You And I (one of the greatest songs of all time) is faultless with grandiose synths and inspired guitar work but unfortunately Corvaglia's strangulated singing doesn't match his keyboard prowess.
Marco Masoni lends a melancholic air to Anderson's wistful Show Me with a moody Moog intro, chugging acoustic guitars and sensitive vocal but the mood is broken at the end with a sample of Anderson himself and We Have Heaven.
American prog rockers Din Within are perfectly suited to Rabin's AOR friendly Changes from 90125 with Mark Gollihur's gutsy vocal ably supported by Josh Sager's muscular guitar volleys and Mike Ian's solid drumming. Not the best of Yes songs but a convincing performance to end this collection.
The most interesting thing about a collection like this is not the songs themselves (this is hardly a 'best of Yes') but the performances which can take an average song like Don't Kill The Whale for example and add a new dimension. There are many I'm sure who will say "why bother?" and on a few occasions I shared that sentiment, but overall I have to confess I enjoyed this set. Whilst the occasional song is slavishly reproduced, there are significant departures to make this a worthwhile venture and the only unconvincing aspect of the whole enterprise is the sub-Roger Dean artwork. The absence of 'big names' may put some people off and Yes fans who consider the band's material sacrosanct may not get this but after all if its 'legitimate' for Jon Davison and Geoff Downes to perform And You And I then why shouldn't Alessandro Corvaglia and Matteo Nahum?
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Azure Agony - India
Azure Agony is an Italian band whose members are Federico Ahrens (vocals), Marco Sgubin (keyboards), Gabriele Pala (guitars & Chapman stick), Marco Firman (Bass) and Carlo Simeoni (drums).
In 2006 Marco Sgubin created the band, originally consisting of four members (Federico would join them later) who together created a musical project of nine instrumental songs which were released on their debut album, Beyond Belief. In 2009 Azure Agony signed with SG records which enabled them to release the album to a much wider audience. In 2011 the band decided they needed a singer and discovered Federico singing with various local acts. With Federico's vocals now on board the band was complete.
Azure Agony are a progressive metal band who come across as not too heavy on the metal side of things. Theirs is a more melodic form of dreamy progressive metal, which some will no doubt find not metal enough. The plus is that it could reach a bigger audience as the music is more accessible with lots of time changes and some unusual instrumentation such as cello and accordion, the latter heard on Hold My Hand being a nice touch that fits well within the song.
Influences from Dream Theater can be clearly heard, a band that seems to be quoted as an influence on so many bands these days, which could be one of the downfalls for this album as it's a sound that so many bands are making which makes the market hard to conquer.
Driven along at a blistering pace the first track on the album, Twin Babel starts with full on drums and nice keyboard work making a real statement of intent from the start. The drumming is a feature and very strong throughout the album. The title track, India, comes in at just under 11 minutes starting with a pulsating bass and catchy beat then really rocks before completely changing into a slow instrumental with spacey atmospheric effects which then build back up. Featuring some nice cello, India takes you through the highs and lows, pulling the listener in many different directions. Sounds of Rush can be heard in parts on My Last Time On Earth with its spacey start, good use of keyboards and vocal sound effects ending in a powerful, driving guitar solo.
I do like it when artists from other countries sing in English as it can put an interesting slant/twang on the vocals, but I feel Federico's voice when singing English just don't sound right due to his very strong accent. Instead of enjoying the vocals they started to grind on me. His vocal range is good and I wonder if it would have been better for him to sing in his native tongue.
The musicianship from the band is very good with some nice guitar and keyboard work and, as stated earlier, the drumming is the main driving force and is of a high quality showing that a lot of effort has been put into performing and writing the material for the album. However, I found the varying tempos of fast and slow within some of the songs to be over used, an idea that starts to sound a little bit repetitive making it feel like they have tried to do too much on one album. This results in a slightly uneven album and I found that after repeated listens it didn't really grab me and hold my attention long enough.
The CD I reviewed is a disc only promo copy so I am unable to comment on the cover or booklet.
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10