Flute Prog Special, Part 4
I hope the reviews in this feature have kindled some awareness or curiosity about the whole field of progressive flute music. Hopefully, the feature has motivated you to seek out an album you have not heard, or reach out for an album you have not listened to in a while.
For those interested, listed below is a selection of some of the other bands that were considered for a place in this special feature. In the end these were omitted either by choice, or because they were too well known, or in some way they did not fit my original criteria.
A Barca do Sol, Aera, Agnus, Anglagard, Aria Palea, Artsruni, Asia Minor, Atavism of Twilight, Blood Ceremony, Bob Downes, Buon Vecchio Charlie, Caravan, Celeste, Circus, Dalton, Delirium, Dom, Dun, Equilibro Vital, Eris Pluvia, Finisterre, Flook, Focus, GAA, Galie, Gong, Gravy Train, Harmonium, Horslips, Jade Warrior, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Kotebel, La Maschera di cera, Lasting Weep, Lucifer Was, Mad Fellaz, Mago de Oz, Malibran, Maneige, Mar De Robles, Missus Beastly, Molly Bloom, Mythos, Naranja Mechanica, Nu, Oaksenham, Out Of Focus, Ozric Tentacles, Tugs, Qui, Rufus Zuphall, Satin Whale, Sperrmüll, Solaris, Sunbirds, Supersister, Tako, Titus Groan, Tompox, Tortilla Flat, Triangulus, Tusmorke, Waterloo, Yatha Sidhra, Yokeshire, Zaq , 2066 & then.
Supay - Confusión
Strictly speaking, this album may not come under the remit of progressive flute music, but traditional flutes and other assorted wooden wind instruments take a prominent lead role. When Supay recorded Confusión they utilised two woodwind players, Williams León and Alex Valenzuela. This dual approach ensures that the sound of their respective instruments is fully projected and hangs on the air. The clarity achieved, increases the album's authentic allure and overall charm.
Confusión does not blandly depict the serenity and soaring beauty of the Andes. Although strewn with beautiful melodies and tranquil passages, listeners should not expect an overload of quaint, traditional folk music. Rather, Confusión is a muscular, hybrid beast. It proudly prowls a distinctive and unique path which fuses Andean folk with the band's own rousing and unique style of progressive music. The music at the core of the album is absolutely enchanting. The album's heart pulsates warmly and beats steadily; its life blood provided by the gorgeous array of traditional instruments.
Conversely, it is primed for action and fully clawed. Its limbs carry a ferocious musical message, which reaches out to penetrate and insistently persuade the listener to be transfixed by its skill and passion.
It offers the listener a wide range of dynamics in its numerous peaks and troughs. At its most fervent, it provides dramatic moments of expressive guitar that are played with a mixture of fire and sensitivity. This is an appealing contrast to the traditional instruments on display. The musicianship throughout is exemplary, and provides a wonderful platform for all the players to exploit the quality of the band's gilt-edged and sparkling compositions.
Whenever I listen to this album, every aspect of it impresses in some way. I particularly like the wonderful, care-free spirit of adventure that is displayed whenever the band is in full flight. When the music rouses, it spits out its fury like a llama, and when calmness returns, it purrs like a satiated cat. It is one of my favourite albums, and is an intoxicating example of how compelling a fusion of Western and South American music can be.
Koiak - Koiak
As in the music of Tanger, the influence of mid-seventies King Crimson is also in evidence. Sometimes, the music feels as if it is improvised, particularly when a jam-based approach takes hold. For the most part though, the album is melodic, and the compositions have a definite and identifiable structure that is superbly garlanded by some impressive and colourful flute work.
The album is a recording of a gig which took place at the University of Valparaiso in August 2004. The crowd noise during the recording is not too noticeable and the sound quality of the album is excellent. Because the music is captured from a live performance, the album is enhanced by a spirit of spontaneity and freedom of expression throughout. The album is predominantly instrumental, although there is a vocal introductory section in the opening piece Obertura.
The eight songs performed are part of a concept album. There is a detailed breakdown of the story, written in Spanish in the CD's accompanying booklet. The musical theme of Obertura is repeated in the concluding piece, Postludio, to bring things to a coherent close.
This is an album that has some discordant and heavier moments, which are skilfully arranged and executed. Koiak is an album that is varied, complex and always engaging. The standout performer is undoubtedly Jorge Gutiérrez on flute, quena and quenacho. His flowing and often soaring style is fully in tune with the expressive nature of the band. His fellow performers have great empathy to each other and they come across as a unified and highly talented ensemble.
Gutiérrez is ably supported by Edmundo Castro on bass, which provides a buoyant foundation for the other players. His opulent sounding instrument is enriched by his appealing choice of tone. Guitarist Esteban Agosin provides a great deal of variety to the album, and is able to support the music by using a wide repertoire of styles. His solos are engaging, and his use of effects is neither too flamboyant nor too limited. His playing gives the music just the correct amount of tension and flair whenever necessary.
The performance of the band and the music produced, is engaging from start to finish. Koiak are hardly a well-known band and unfortunately their website is no longer active. I can only presume that they broke up after their debut album, as Koiak appears to be their only release.
If that is the case, Koiak should be highly satisfied that they produced an album that can be judged against albums that are better known and also well regarded. Overall, Koiak is a totally engaging and rewarding example of South American progressive flute rock. I play Koiak often and it never fails to impress.
If you are able to hear this album, and if free flowing and spontaneous progressive music appeals, then I am sure you will find much to enjoy.
Simon Jensen Band - All You Can Eat
After the demise of Grovjobb, Jensen formed The Simon Jensen Band and in 2005 released All You Can Eat. On the face of it, The Jensen Band's sound bore little resemblance to the trance-like, psychedelic fusion of folk, rock and Indian music that characterised the music of Grovjobb. However, in many ways Jensen's work in All You Can Eat is even more progressive. It is an album that is not easily classified into narrowly-defined musical boundaries.
All You Can Eat is usually filed under the jazz moniker, but in reality it is a fusion of a number of styles. Jensen draws upon jazz, folk, blues and progressive rock, in what is a showcase for the flute in the album's ten tracks. I pondered whether to include this album in this feature, as some of it would probably not be appealing to the majority of prog fans. Nevertheless, there is still much to enjoy within the album's compositions. It is highly recommended for listeners who appreciate music that is flavoured by jazz, but also contains numerous other influences.
The album's overall jazz classification, is largely due to the inclusion of Dave Brubeck's Take Five as the opening number, and further endorsed by a stunning version of Gershwin's smooth Summertime composition. Many of the tracks do not strictly conform to jazz norms, and are progressive in their scope and execution. Some of the compositions are satisfyingly bedecked in odd time signatures. This makes the whole album an interesting and stimulating experience.
All You Can Eat does not easily conform to predetermined stereotypes or labels. Regardless of which genre or label might be applied to this album, there is no denying that it is awash with quality, and that its ten pieces are superbly performed.
The compositional rule book for the blues is torn up for That Blues. In this piece, Jensen created a blues track in 7/4 rather than the normal 4/4; it works splendidly and sounds refreshingly different. The overall contribution of keyboard player Per Fenger Korg throughout the album is excellent. His main instrument is the organ, and in That Blues his retro sound adds to the atmosphere, to fill out the piece in a notable fashion. The inventive format of the tune enables Jensen to solo with gusto and the addition of guest trumpet player Ruhi Erdogan gives the track extra bite. Erdogan's finely formed solo is exquisite in every respect.
The progressive mood of the music continues in Phenomenon. In many ways, it appears to channel the energy of Grovjobb, and the addition of Erik Grondahl on accordion ensures that the piece has an unusual ambience. The folk influences apparent in Grovjobb are also never far away. In Phenomenon a fusion of seemingly disparate styles works particularly well. Minimum also has a number of facets that would appeal to many prog fans and in particular to those familiar with Grovjobb. Its cacophony of sounds is bound in a pulsating beat, droning organ and flourishes of wildly aggressive fluting. There is also a bewilderingly atmospheric interlude that features the accordion that introduces a folk element that at first seems to be out of place. Somehow, all of the different elements eventually combine to create a piece that works surprisingly well.
The pinnacle of an album that contains many peaks, is undoubtedly Jensen's Baghdad composition. This is a stunning track and it clearly displays Jensen's progressive tendencies. In his own words, it was a tune that he wrote in frustration, "because once again war conquered diplomacy."
Whatever its origins, Baghdad is a substantive tune that is strong on style and wails provocatively with unleashed emotion. In this tune, Jensen once again highlights his varied and expansive flute style. He is ably supported by his fellow band members and each player contributes to Baghdad's overall evocative nature. Jensen has since revisited and expanded his Baghdad piece on a number of occasions. In 2009 he recorded a 15-minute version featuring Carrilho Jensen Nyberg. In my view though, the most effective version of this tune remains the atmospheric one, which adorns All You Can Eat.
Blue Grass contains some of Jensen's best recorded flute work and has many diverse and satisfying influences. It was written in honour of Philip Glass, and that in itself should suggest to readers that Blue Grass is not a run-of-the-mill verse and chorus tune.
Overall, All That You Can Eat is a highly recommended album, in which Jensen's flute flows like a waterfall in a continual cascade of fluently-formed lines. I had almost forgotten how good it was until I revisited it for this review. Its general quality ensures that it deserves greater recognition and attention, whatever genre it is perceived to belong to.
Project - Winter In June
Project consists of the extraordinary talents of flautist Greg Pattillo, bassist Peter Seymour and cellist Eric Stephenson. Their music combines many disparate genres including jazz, classical, hip hop, and beat boxing. The combination of so many contrasting styles, creates music that is spaciously vibrant, always distinctive, and often unique. The band's more recent albums have been released using the name Project Trio.
Perhaps the strongest aspect of all of their albums, is the outstanding contribution of Pattillo. His exemplary flute work creates a patchwork of pulsating rhythms that energetically drives the music. The virtuoso flute performance in My House is totally absorbing. Sweet Pea is another highlight of the album, in which Patillo's percussive, beat box style is utilised to good effect, providing some particularly potent and rhythmic flute beats.
Project's genre-defying music has the ability to engage, excite and satisfy, and in this respect Winter in June fully delivers. It is joyous and gorgeously emotive, and contains some outstanding tunes.
The quality of the musicianship throughout this release is a real highlight. Intricate playing abounds and the arrangements frequently take unexpected twists and turns as the players excel. Nevertheless, despite Patillo's virtuoso performance and his extensive use of a range of flute techniques associated with the flute in rock, Winter in June would probably not appeal to the majority of readers.
In the final analysis, Project's unique style of chamber music is probably too influenced by classical music to gain much acclaim amongst prog devotees. The combination of so many disparate elements in Winter in June however, makes Project's approach totally progressive, and their sound absolutely unique.
Naikaku - Shell
My youngest son is a bass player. I know how much he likes to lay down a groove, but after years of watching him perform, I have also learnt to appreciate and understand his desire to feature the bass as a lead instrument.
Naitaku bassist Satoshi Kobayashi manages to do just that in Shell. In this outstanding album, the bass drives the tunes forward and is frequently the most prominent instrument. Kobayashi lays down an expansive groove, one that is highlighted by his deep and powerful style. His formidable bass performance is contrasted by the exceptional playing and wild harmonies of flautist Kazumi Suzuki. When the occasion arises, the supporting members (Norimitsu Endo on drums and Mitsuo on guitars) combine to create a truly ferocious group sound. The album is also enriched by the fiery contribution of Kei Fushimi on electric guitar and by the keyboards of Daichi Takagi.
I really enjoy Shell, as it has all the ingredients that I find attractive. It is gloriously unpredictable and has a huge amount of excitement built into its unbending approach. As an added bonus, it predominantly features the flute in full flight. The skilled performance of Suzuki offers a supple contrast to the expansive and muscular bass lines. The album draws upon a wide range of influences, including Red era King Crimson, jazz and heavy, progressive, chugging rock.
Shell is an explosive and uncompromising excursion into the world of progressive flute-led music.
Nostradamus - Testament
Thankfully, Solaris has now decided to continue, and 2014 saw the release of the band's highly recommended Martian Chronicles 11 album. In November 2015, Solaris released the superb Martian Chronicles Live as well.
If you enjoy Solaris' own style of progressive flute music you will probably find much to appreciate in Testament. It has all of the ingredients that make the music of Solaris appealing. Testament is an album that is adorned by some fine instrumental interplay. The quirky African cotton typesetters in Ireland includes a nod to world music and is similar in style to Robert Erdesz' solo album, Meeting Point.
The main difference between Nostradamus and Solaris is that whilst being symphonic in nature, Testament is more bombastic and includes some heavier-styled metal influences. At first this combination appears to be a little ungainly and does not seem to be appropriately matched with the layers of keyboards. It took me a while to adapt to the band's sound; one that is littered with bombastic riffs. Eventually, I formed the realisation that this was not Solaris, but rather a distinct band. In the end though, the extensive use of crunchy guitar riffs works perfectly well, and for many might well add to the album's distinct appeal. It is both solemn and joyous, and these moods are skilfully conveyed by the album's well-crafted arrangements.
The music of Testament was composed by keyboard player Valéria Barcsik. He had previously worked with some members of Solaris when they were involved with Napoleon Boulevard. His symphonic compositions are richly embellished by the fine performance of flautist Péter Földesi.
The highlight of the album is undoubtedly the title track which lasts for 14 minutes and encompasses a range of styles. It begins as a delightful piano piece that is quickly joined by the flute, to form a beautiful duet. The piece is quite symphonic and has a number of classically inspired elements. I particularly like the uplifting mood that is portrayed by the electric piano and flute during the delightful melody which develops after seven minutes.
Overall, Testament is a highly satisfying album. Some may find the more overt rock and metal influences to be incongruous with the underlying symphonic sound of the band. However this does not detract from the fact that it is a welcome addition to the discography of bands, or artists, associated with Solaris such as, Attila Kollar's Musical Witchcraft projects, Robert Erdesz' solo work and of course the late István Cziglán's satisfying Seven Gates Of Alhambra release.