Album Reviews

Issue 2020-013: Instrumental Prog Fusion Special

Dušan Jevtović — If You See Me

Dušan Jevtović - If You See Me
Walking Seven (4:56), Babe (6:16), Blue (5:56), If You See Me (5:20), Something (5:14), Once Ocho (6:14), Si Pooro (4:08), Ending (2:47)
Owen Davies

Some albums tease and caress whilst they envelop a listener in an enchanting embrace. Some albums enthusiastically grapple and grip their audience by the collar and will not let go. Some albums, like Dušan Jevtović's If You See Me satisfy by being able to straddle both extremes.

Frenzy and discord joust with crafted purpose and are juxtaposed with musical passages that possess elegance and gentle harmony. If You See Me has the rare quality to be able to vigorously bludgeon the senses and delicately stroke the emotions. It simmers, snaps, boils, and bristles with imaginative creativity.

In tunes such as the exciting SiPooro, it possesses a feral unpredictability. Its quirky rhythms quicken the pulse to heighten every aspect of the senses. On occasions, in tunes like Endings, the album has a flickering, fragile beauty that provides a reflective balm for the spirit. Therefore, this is a release that will provide a balm for the heart, satisfy the mind and much, much more.

If You See Me is a superbly executed fusion masterclass. Boulder-strewn peaks, sparse rocky outcrops and harmoniously-clad, fresh-leafed valley floors all have a role within its musical landscape that is infused with bulging bass parts, wrist-shaking rock falls and riff-laden melodies. These elements effortlessly combine and enjoyably embellish the shifting percussive patterns that are an intrinsic part of a number of the tunes.

If You See Me bursts enigmatically with heartfelt emotion. It contains intricate solo lines and enticing instrumental passages. This album has a capricious quality that is gratifying on many different levels. It is never cliched nor trite. It can be strikingly aggressive, but is on occasions also beguiling and placid. If You See Me is frequently beautiful, but in a shifting moment, can also be disturbingly discordant. However, it gratifyingly also has a unique melodious core.

I am confident that the ear-friendly melody of the opening piece, Walking Seven, will move listeners. I also suspect that they will be equally shocked and impressed by Jevtović's heavily distorted guitar tones that dominate the track's middle section. This album's satisfying aftertaste wafts and lingers, long after its last notes, with a final sustained ripple, disperse and fade from brightness into grey.

If You See Me was recorded in a live manner at la Casa Murada Studios, Spain 2017 and was mixed and mastered by Juan Pablo Alcaro in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Jevtović composed the pieces, but the manner in which the album was conceived and captured offers many opportunities for imaginative improvisation and innovation.

The album has an infectious spirit that often makes it simply irresistible. It features Dušan Jevtović (guitar), Marcus Reuter (stick guitar), Bernat Hernandez (fretless bass), and Gary Husband (drums). Guest musician Aleksandar Petrov plays the tapan, which is a traditional Macedonian type of drum, on six of the eight tracks. His parts were overdubbed in the studio. They are the only parts of this outstanding album that were not recorded live. With contributions by such eminent and outstanding musicians, it is not surprising that If You See Me oozes with class and quality.

Gary Husband and Marcus Reuter need little introduction. Gary Husband has been at the cutting edge of progressive jazz and jazz fusion for many years and has worked with such notable musicians as Allan Holdsworth, Dewa Budjana and Antoine Fafard. Marcus Reuter is a much sought after player. In 2019 alone, he featured on albums by artists as diverse as Stephan Thelan, Nocturne Blue and Mark Wingfield, as well as touring extensively with his band the Stick Men and composing his String Quartet No. 1 'Heartland' album.

Reuter's sensitive use of his touch guitar and the higher frequency tones that he regularly frequents, offers a perfect foil to Jevtović's gruff-heavy tones and excellent choice of various effects. His flowing contribution in the opening passages of the superb title track is particularly impressive. Fans of Robert Fripp will no doubt be enthused by Reuter's flowing style and milk-silk tone.

Bernat Hernandez is a Barcelona-based bassist, composer and producer. For over 20 years, Hernandez has been developing his own idiosyncratic use of tone and textures to create a memorable bottom-end sound and style. He has mostly worked within the field of jazz and jazz fusion and was once a student of the acclaimed bassist Gary Willis, whose contribution to Tribal Tech, is renowned by fusion aficionados. Hernandez's performance on the bass is impressive throughout, but his beautifully constructed contribution during Blue is particularly notable.

Aleksandar Petrov is a Macedonian-born percussionist and a composer. His instrument of choice is the tapan. He has been involved in tradition Balkan music since the age of 12 and was the percussionist in the free jazz album Фемили Reunion released in 2007

Jevtović's excellence on the guitar is in evidence throughout the album. In the past, he has worked with Xavi Reija and Vasil Hadzimanov amongst others. If You See Me is the guitarist's fifth solo album. This release is probably his most important to date and his fretted performance is often just simply extraordinary.

During If You See Me, Jevtović extends and arguably perfects a style that mixes western jazz fusion with Balkan folk music. Previously, there were colourful hints and subtle suggestions of this style in Jevtovic's No Answer and _Live at Home releases. However, his artistic vision to amalgamate progressive jazz fusion with a taste of the Balkans is fully realised to great effect in this album.

Much of the folk flavours stem from the rhythmic nature of the compositions, and in this respect, Petrov plays his part fully. He helps to meld the tunes, so that a new flavour of music is obtained; one that draws equally from both Balkan folk and contemporary and musical forms.

This is apparent during the superb Babe. It is probably the most innovative and intriguing piece of the release and highlights Jevtovic's strengths as a guitarist and as a composer. It is brimming with complex, shape-shifting rhythms and heavy, discordant passages. The sampled voices of Serbian folk singing at the beginning, middle and end of the piece, give the track an added ethnic appeal. It provides a gratifying fusion of genres and styles that works on every level.

One of my favourite pieces is Once ocho and for many listeners it will undoubtedly be one of the album's many highlights. The introduction is sublime and features Reuter's Fripp-like tones, which are counter-balanced in a majestic manner by Jevtović's gentle embellishments. However, it is only when the tune fully develops that its genius is fully revealed. Its collision and subsequent blending of western jazz and ethnic influences creates a memorable piece that explores a variety of moods and styles and is satisfying in every respect.

If You See Me is an important and exciting release. It should appeal to fans of instrumental jazz fusion music who enjoy albums that are intense and sometimes full of dark foreboding. Its enviable ability to convey a kaleidoscope of auditory moods offers a warm vision of green-shrouded Balkan forests, radiantly distorted by the ruddy glow of a summer haze. However, the menace of ink-black clouds, distantly perched on far-away, rock-strewn summits is never far away.

Consequently, moments of tranquillity and reflection, aggression and gentleness, harmony and discord frequently merge to coexist. Jevtovic's memorable compositions explore these feelings in an imaginative and original manner. This creates an album that is utterly compelling and convincing in every way.

Kinkajous — Hidden Lines

Kinkajous - Hidden Lines
Black Idiom Pt.I (2:32), Black Idiom Pt.II (5:03), Jupiter (4:16), Dotah (3:26), Light Drops (4:46), Bear of Paradise (5:53), On Hiatus (2:10), Golden Lyre (4:16), Loke (4:18)
Owen Davies

Time inhales, spirals slowly and pauses; succulent notes swoop, flutter and wrap. The timeless beauty of the soundscape of Kinkajous' Hidden Lines casts away everyday concerns and offers a cheery listening experience with a suggestive wink, a coy toss of the head and a knowingly-seductive smile.

Swaying keyboard parts dart and dance lightly to enter every pore; swirling synthesizer interludes, scurry, scrub, and penetrate. The congenial company of this album refreshes and cleanses. It massages the senses and refreshes the inner self. Its repertoire of auditory colours glows and conspires to harmoniously align. These elements beam brightly with a striking sheen to illuminate any darkened recesses which might normally be hidden from view.

Hidden Lines is satisfying, beautiful and entertaining in every respect. The performance of each of the band members is superb. The sound quality has an engaging and beguiling clarity. Its carefully-crafted mix is able to subtly deliver every undulating texture and delicate musical nuance.

This is a release that teases, entices and bewitches. It incorporates dreamy synths and buoyant bass lines that create a contemporary style; one that melds wafting waves of electronics with genre-busting jazz sensibilities and a host of other contemporary influences.

These enjoyable ingredients are all wrapped in an imaginative, progressive, jazz-coloured overcoat that displays recognisable elements, but also offers the listener numerous opportunities to be surprised by the way in which the tunes develop and are performed.

Loke is probably the most conventional piece on offer. Its structure is reassuring and is immaculately dressed in a well-shod tune. It follows a well-defined path of certainty, rather than a loosely trodden trail, filled with unusually-toned pot holes and hard-on-the-ear musical distortions. However, perhaps the most striking characteristic of Hidden Lines is its ability to convey a feeling of space within its stunningly crafted arrangements. In this respect, the melding of keys and synths are of paramount importance.

The contribution of Jack Doherty's synths and Maria Chiara Argirò's keys is absolutely delicious. Their fleet-fingered excursions weave, blend, meld and swirl to provide an ever changing musical vista on which the other instrumentalists can soar.

The collective voice of the band creates a consistent backdrop that ensures that the music has both warmth and a contemporary feel. Many of the keyboard-based sounds are simply breathtaking. Jupiter is a fine example of the band's art. It highlights each member's exemplary prowess and command of their instruments. It's also a great tune. The emotive tone of Adrien Cau's bass clarinet provides it with a distinctive air.

Cau's deep, mellow tones also create a wonderful, laid back feeling in Dotah. His emotive blowing, counteracts the wired technology of an array of keyboard effects. The way in which these elements complement each other provides the piece with an innovative sound which draws upon a wide range of influences. There are hints of Weather Report in the way the synths swoosh and whoosh in tidal breaks upon the music. The textured tones and delicious layers contained in this tune are one of the album's many standout moments.

The crisp drumming of Light Drops is a memorable highlight. In this piece, and also in Bear of Paradise, a tint of the musical colours associated with Weather Report can also be detected in the synth tones. Bear of Paradise is a very engaging composition. It rattles the listener with off-beat drums, and drapes the listener in a cleverly-cut shawl of poly-rhythms, drooling synths and mournful, belching sax tones.

Although it follows a somewhat conventional path, every aspect of this piece boldly signposts the words 'Wow' in bright primary colours, and in an ever increasing font size as it journeys purposefully to its destination.

Hiatus sees the band explore more Avant territory, but still has an accessible air. It serves as an interval tune and aperitif for Golden Lyre, managing to merge synth beats, electronica with expressive reed interludes that loiter and linger for just the right amount of time.

Golden Lyre shakes the melodic ingredients of Hiatus into a cauldron, to create a tune that is unique, but also links to what has gone before in a thoroughly engaging manner.

Although some aficionados of classic prog might not find too much in Hidden Lines that immediately connects, the careful meshing of so many different influences suggests that some aspects of the album could appeal to prog fans who also enjoy the minimalism of artists such as Steve Reich, or the rich textures of bands like the Cinematic Orchestra, or the structured rhythms, keyboard yowls and the sophisticated blowing of bands like Weather Report and Passport.

I certainly enjoyed Hidden Lines. I liked it so much that I placed it in my top ten list of albums for 2019. I urge you to check it out if you can.

Nim Quartet — Nim Quartet II

Nim Quartet - Nim Quartet II
Ubermensch (6:44), Beta Clear (5:28), Ear Pollution (6:28), Miracle Man (8:09), H# (4:53), Absolute Power (5:00)
Owen Davies

Bass effects, attention-grabbing synth interludes and soaring trumpet lines are the order of the day in Nim Sadot's impressive second album. Nim Quartet 11 is a very enjoyable album that reaches out and cordially invites a listener to spend some time in its charming and affable company.

The production values of the release are excellent. This creates an immersive experience for the listener, where the bouncy bass lines that underpin the majority of the tunes and the free blowing trumpet lines and swirling synth parts that take the tunes to surreal heights, can be fully appreciated. The album was recorded in Hackney Road Studios, London. It was mixed by Rhys Downing in London and mastered by Maor Appelbaum in California, USA.

The release features the skills of composer and band leader Nim Sadot on bass. The rest of the band are made up of Hamish Balfour (piano and keyboards), Nick Walters (trumpet), and Laurie Lowe on drums.

The album should appeal to fans of bands and artists such as Weather Report and Miles Davis. The album is fresh and inventive and has an easily recognisable sound and style and draws upon a variety of influences.

Miracle Man is probably the standout composition. In this piece, the members of the ensemble really shine. The drum and trumpet opening, entices and immediately creates a favourable impression. Hamish Balfour's contribution is particularly impressive and his nimble fingers provide the track with an engaging range of keyboard textures. His fine performance in this piece and elsewhere gives the album an exciting edge and a fuller, multi-layered sound.

Nim Sadot is based in London and his band's work is yet another exciting example of the way in which the jazz scene in the UK, and in London in particular, is crossing genre boundaries to create a distinctive genre or movement and cluster of sounds under the 'Nu jazz', or progressive jazz banner.

The album opens strongly and this excellent standard is maintained throughout. Ubermensch is appealing and has enough quality to grab and engage listeners fully from its opening notes. The subtle bass lines of Sadot have an easy, earthed appeal and help establish a burping framework on which the other instrumentalists can excel. However, it is the Miles-inspired tones of Walters' trumpet that really grab the attention in this composition's opening section.

Later on, Balfour's languid synth solo falls and rises like a frothing, wind-whipped tide to add touches of white-knuckle excitement and a suggestion of prog leanings to proceedings. All in all, it's a very strong piece and a great introduction to the work of this impressive band.

For many aficionados of classic prog, Nim Quartet 11 probably has too many overt jazz leanings for it to fully connect. However, the inventiveness of the band and the fine individual and collective performances on offer will ensure that anybody who has some affinity to instrumental music that is inventively-flavoured with grains of jazz, will find much to enjoy. In this respect, the flamboyant synth work of Balfour, which draws upon many influences and is an ever-present feature, will surely appeal.

There was much about Ear Pollution which reminded me of Weather Report. There was certainly a hint of Jaco in the recurring bass line and the bouncy lower-end improvisations that support Walters' magnificent soloing. Similarly, the raft of fluttering keyboard effects that binds things together in a buoyant manner, creates a bank of constantly-shifting sounds. These flail suggestively and emotively in all directions and are redolent of the way in which Zawinul could guide and alter the direction and mood of a piece.

The most unusually structured piece is probably H#, and from a fusion point of view it is certainly one of the most satisfying. It manages to successfully combine frenzied keyboard passages with slower, lung-rippling interludes of strident trumpet blowing. The sticky low-end belching of Sadot holds it all together in superb fashion. However, the most convincing bass work and most up-front low-end soloing occurs in the muscular posturing and stop-start interludes of absolute power.

I really appreciated the diverse qualities of Nim Quartet 11. Nim Sadot's next release is reportedly going to draw upon the use of electronics to a greater extent. I for one cannot wait to experience the next expressive array of genre-crossing delights.

Markus Reuter (featuring Fabio Trentini and Asaf Sirkis) — Truce

Markus Reuter (featuring Fabio Trentini and Asaf Sirkis) - Truce
The Truce (11:58), Swoonage (3:27), Bogeyman (7:30), Be Still My Brazen Heart (8:49), Power Series (9:05), Let Me Touch Your Batman (9:55), Gossamer Things (11:50)
Owen Davies

I have to say that Markus Reuter's Truce album is the most exciting and satisfying progressive jazz fusion / power trio album (insert your own description) that I have heard in years.

The bass parts rattle and realign the windows, and the guitar's wailing and yowling wets the ceiling in a tumultuous expression of imaginative creativity. Asaf Sirkis' intricate rhythms shudder and split the 'classic prog' foundations of my ageing walls, with subtle guile and ferocious intent.

Why won't my goosebumps lie down?

Truce is Moon June Records 100th release. The album features the talents of Markus Reuter on Touch Guitars, Fabio Trentini on fretless bass and Asif Sirkis on acoustic drums. It is quite clear from the opening track that this is a special album. The burping bass lines of Trentini dominate the initial proceedings. However, it is not long before Reuter's fluid Touch Guitar sound takes the piece to surreal heights, to probe, strike and explore a varied palette of sonic possibilities.

I was compelled to listen intently, and to lay back open-mouthed, in glazed-eye amazement as the tune shook, rattled and rolled me to unimaginable places. The percussive interlude that later emerges during the tune's mid-section, is absolutely irresistible. It had me reaching out for something to strike, in a forlorn attempt to subdue a desire to shake my limbs in an undignified manner.

The opening tune is a demonstrative masterclass of the trio's virtuoso abilities, and superbly demonstrates how the three players are able to complement each other perfectly, whilst still expressing their individual mastery of their instruments.

The bar is set so high in this first composition, that it is easy to speculate that the other pieces might be somewhat of a let-down. Thankfully, that is not the case and the remainder of the album has an equally rewarding air, offering different paths to discover and explore.

The quality of Truce is consistently high and the performance of the trio, as a collective and as individuals, is magnificent. I was frequently mesmerised by their prowess. There are many standout moments to savour and enjoy. In my view, the album is equally enjoyable whether a listener concentrates on the roles of the individual players or on the combined soundscapes they collectively create.

The sound quality of the release is fantastic; it was recorded live in the studio of La Casa Murada, Spain. Compliments should be given to all involved in the crisp and precise sonic qualities of the album. Truce was engineered by Jesus Rovira and mastered by Lee Fletcher. Trentini and Reuter co-produced the album. All members of the trio are credited with co-writing the material.

There are many occasions during the album, but most notably in tunes such as in Swoonage and Be Still My Brazen Heart, where anybody who appreciates the role of percussion would probably be in raptures at Asaf Sirkis' ability to communicate a range of emotions with a light touch of a brush, a subtle clash of a cymbal or an emphatic strike of his drum kit.

The bass of Trentini provides a flamboyant and expressive framework throughout the album. His work in the introductory part of Let Me Touch Your Batman is skilful, and the gut-wobbling textures are potent and colourful. Trentini's finely crafted tones ensure that Truce will probably be appreciated by anybody who likes the bulging vibrancy that a skilful exponent of the lower-end can bring to this sort of fusion.

Trentini's standout contribution in tunes like Bogeyman and particularly during _Power Series _ gives Reuter a platform upon which he is able to build and fully exploit his marvellous feel for choosing the right expressive tones and texture in any given piece.

Reuter surely must rate as one of the finest exponents of this type of guitar sound and the influence of Robert Fripp is etched into much of his playing. His performance is simply outstanding. The combination of these talented musicians is vividly expressed in the Touch Guitar howls and yowls and rhythmic pulses and explosions of Bogeyman and the upbeat rhythms and shard-sparking guitar interludes of Power Series.

Bogeyman encapsulates all that is good about this release. The guitar communicates freely and with spiteful expression and measured frenzy. The album's prominent instrument is skilfully offset against an insistent bass line and a raft of fine percussive effects, to create a recognisable signature sound.

However, Truce is not simply all about frenzy and exhilaration. Be Still My Brazen Heart explores an altogether more contemplative path. On this occasion the trio conspires to create a meditative soundscape that would not have been out of place in one of Fripp's collaborations with Brian Eno during the seventies.

The concluding piece on the album, Gossamer Things, stretches out for over eleven minutes and the relentless but expressive bass line and electrifying percussive wallops and swirls provide Reuter with yet another opportunity to show a full range of his skills.

However, when a change of emphasis occurs in the middle section of the composition, the transition and complex changes of rhythm are handled with aplomb. The reflective passage that emerges at this point, and continues to the end, offers an unexpected misty calm and provides a perfect foil to the more strident sections of the piece; a captivating experience and a fitting end to this enthralling album.

Truce really is that good! It's no wonder my goosebumps won't lie down!

The Three Wise Monkeys — Isolation

The Three Wise Monkeys - Isolation
Svengali (4:05), Durka Durka (5:52), Procrustes (3:36)
Owen Davies

Its short, but it's not sweet!

In fact this trio of gut-busting tunes will no doubt have fans of middle-of-the-road classic rock reaching for a heaped spoonful of sweetener in a desperate attempt to distort the wicked after-taste left by this series of riff dominated, hard hitting and fiendishly complex virtuoso instrumental tunes.

It's been a while since this Sydney-based outfit produced their last release. I remember being very impressed by their 2015 Progretto Arte album and their latest small-plate offering is every bit as impressive.

The Three Wise Monkeys create their own brand of fusion, where the emphasis on this occasion is on power and tight-jean posturing. In this release the band's exhilarating approach to fusion owes more to rock and prog, than jazz influences as the dominant force. That is not to say that the band lacks either subtlety, creativity or technique. In fact they possess all of these facets and much more.

The trio consists of Kypo on guitar, Alex King on bass, and Brendon Waterman behind the drum kit. All three players excel during Isolation and the years of playing together have obviously created a sense of creative empathy as they perform.

This is very much in evidence during Svengali, which blasts out from the speakers with a memorable opening riff that is sure to have curious neighbours twitching the curtain drapes in a bid to find out where this rhythmic music is seeping from. The tapping bass interlude that momentarily gives the piece a change of emphasis is particularly enjoyable. Kypo's guitar tone has a finely-distorted edge that perfectly fits the upbeat, strident and insistent nature of the tune. The ending is particularly well crafted and is full of power and venom. I enjoyed it so much, that the abrupt conclusion amid the bended distortion of Kypo's fine playing, had me wishing for more.

However, it is as a collective that these three wise monkeys of fusion really shine, and each track on this very enjoyable EP emphasises that point in a thoroughly rewarding manner. There is footage available of the band recording Durka Durka, and this highlights the teamwork and dedication that goes into the creative process that is at the heart of the band's approach to their music.

My favourite piece on offer is Durka Durka. Its interesting structure and finely balanced riffing creates an exciting experience that is full of changes of emphasis and direction. Light and shade are both used to great effect, as this outstanding piece explores a variety of different moods and emotions in its five-minute running time. All three players contribute to the tune in a memorable manner, and in this respect, Waterman's measured ferocity behind the drum kit complements and emphasises the raucous interludes and sometimes up-beat aspects of the tune. As a contrast, Kypo's jangling guitar, which begins the tune and also as it ends, provides these important sections of piece with a subtle, melodic feel.

Nevertheless, Procrustes contains much of the signature style that has made the music of the Three Wise Monkeys so enjoyable over the years. Alex King is an excellent bass player, and without his fleet-fingered, easily-identifiable style much of the Three Wise Monkeys' trademark sound would be lost. His rhythmic tapping approach, in conjunction with Kypo's mood forming licks, has a prominent role in Proscrustes. My only complaint about this the tune and about the release as a whole, is that it all ends too soon.

Thus I hope that this EP is a forerunner of a new full length release. Their music certainly deserves greater attention and is highly recommended for those who like fusion that is presented with a charming, crooked monkey smile that riffs strongly, grabs ever so tightly and stubbornly refuses to let go.

Album Reviews