Flaming Row — The Pure Shine [CD]
With the arrival of Flaming Row's new release, knowing already it was a concept album, my appetite was well and truly whetted. The album is based upon Stephen King's, The Dark Tower novels. Not having much free time in life, my reading of novels is one of the things I have had to sacrifice. If time permitted, this is one collection I would certainly delve into. As the source material for The Pure Shine is potentially vast, how Flaming Row would present this should be interesting.
Flaming Row comprise of Martin Schenella and Melanie Mau (former members of Frequency Drift and Seven Steps To The Green Door) who also operate as a duo, going by the name of Gray Matters. As Gray Matters they compose their own material and reinterpret various other musicians songs, re-presenting them acoustically. They also tour quite extensively with Gray Matters. Flaming Row appears to be Martin and Melanie's musical outlet for more creative electric and diverse musical storytelling.
The Pure Shine has taken eight years from start to finish to complete. So here we have a true work of passion and love, and this is clearly evident when you listen to what has been delivered. The story flows smoothly and keeps the listeners attention on the story being told. Even for someone who knows the story, it is delivered in a way that keeps you engaged. This is helped along by the reoccurring lyrical phrases through out. I challenge anyone to listen to this album and not end up with “He's The Man In Black” well and truly etched into your conscious. I myself cannot stop this constantly reverberating around my head. Due to the quality of the music, I can't complain though.
While the music and lyrics are catchy, the arrangements are far from typical. The music takes you along on the journey. At times you have multiple voices, almost acapella in delivery. Then you have instrumental passages which begin with a folky edge, before transitioning into a Toto like section, and cumulating in a technical rock cacophony that could easily be mistaken for a Dream Theater workout. But these musical changes flow completely organically. Nothing ever seems out of place, alien or forced. This is likely due to the time and passion invested in composing the album.
The added bonus with The Pure Shine, is you get two CD's. The first being the full presentation, the second is the instrumental version which gives the listener the opertunity to fully absorb the music independent of the vocals.
We then get to the calibre of guests appearing on the album, this should be testament alone to the quality you can expect. There is Marek Arnold, whose list of credits is almost endless, Spock's Beard's Dave Meros and Jimmy Keegan, Glynn Morgan of Threshold, and Gary Wehrkamp. These are just a few names who have provided performances on the album to lift the quality to the next level. Special mention needs to go to all the musicians who provided their time and skill contributing the wind and string instruments on The Pure Shine. If you listen to the album you will realise every musician has delivered a performance which helps take the quality of the album to the next level. Martin Schnella, main writer and producer should be extremely proud of delivering what is an obvious work of immense passion, and in my view he has produced something completely stunning.
The album was officially released at the very end of 2019, well after all the end of year lists had been compiled. So I now have the dilemma of trying to convince the editors at DPRP of allowing this to be considered a 2020 release, as this will certainly be finding its way into my top 10 for this year. A highly recommended release for those listeners who want to be taken on a magical and dangerous journey which will be totally rewarding. I just hope the band have sent Stephen King a copy as he should be pleased that Martin and Melanie have spent so much passion turning his novel into a stunning piece of music.
Kaprekar's Constant — Depth Of Field
I completely missed out on hearing, or even hearing about, Kaprekar's Constant in 2019. Fortunately, friends who share my fondness for Big Big Train's historically based, British folk-influenced prog, kept mentioning this group to me. And I'm so grateful that they did, so I could finally experience Kaprekar's Constant's artistry, starting with their remarkable sophomore album, Depth Of Field.
The beautiful CD cover art shows an antique camera, inviting one to take a view into the past. The camera has a small 6174 underneath the lens, which math geeks may recognise as the eventual result of the Kaprekar's Constant algorithm. Inside, the cover of the CD booklet is done in the style of a circus handbill, like the inspiration for The Beatles' Being For The Benefit Of Mister Kite. "Stories from the past and present" are promised, with a cast of performers including Little Tich, Rosie the Bear, and Street Urchin Delorian. But in smaller print, there are also warnings about the danger of "pilot-less aeroplanes," and to "observe safety notices if travelling by Paddle Steamer." All this whimsy is made clear in the songs, and tragically, so are the warnings.
So, cue the music! The main part of the album is book-ended by Rosherville Part 1 and Rosherville Part 2, before the album closes with the mournful and reflective two-minute title track. Rosherville Part 1 opens with a dramatic lead guitar passage over a sustained keyboard pad, so I was of course reminded of Pink Floyd's Shine On You Crazy Diamond. After two minutes, we drop into an idyllic tune welcoming us to Rosherville, "the place to spend a happy day." And happy and relaxed indeed is how the music makes you feel. Songwriters Nick Jefferson, Al Nicholson and Mike Westergaard have an economical writing and playing style which allows the songs to take center stage. The stories behind the songs take a bit longer to unfold.
Kaprekar's Constant has two excellent vocalists in Bill Jefferson and Dorie Jackson. Both have clear, melodious voices which makes it possible to understand every word. Jefferson's singing is, at times, more insistent, while Jackson's is warm and soothing, and the blend of the two is a delight. David Jackson, formerly of Van Der Graaf Generator, plays sax, flute, and various whistles, and his presence is prominent throughout the album, sprinkling dashes of colour and melody.
I won't spoil the ending of Rosherville, so you can learn as you listen about the town's reversal of fortunes in Part 2. But I must mention that the track ends with a poem recited by none other than Ian Anderson.
All of the songs on Depth Of Field, from the longer epics to the short vignettes, are full of contrasts between joy and tragedy, detailed in well-crafted lyrics. A recurring theme is how fates can suddenly change in the blink of an eye.
Ghost Planes remembers, with gripping audio from eyewitnesses, the V-1 rockets that bombed London toward the end of World War II. The "V" in V-1 stood for Vergeltungswaffen, which translates to Vengeance Weapon. To the children, the rockets, which they nicknamed "doodlebugs," were exciting, like fireworks. The lyrics in the very melodic chorus of Ghost Planes are at once beautiful and heart-wrenching: "The ghost planes scorch the evening sky/Eighty days one summer/Tails of fire, no human flier/Vengeance is her only crew."
The centrepiece of the album is the 24-minute White Star's Sunrise, which tells the tales of the three sister steamships of the White Star Line: the Olympic, the Titanic, and the Britannic. Let's just say this is not an album that one should listen to before taking a cruise. The Titanic, whose story every moviegoer already knows, is poignantly recalled as a ship that, on "any other day," would have travelled in majestic style from Liverpool to upper New York Bay.
A hidden gem on the album is The Nightwatchman. Pairing intimate acoustic guitar with piano that harks back in its delicate touch to Tony Banks, this is a persuading and non-preachy reminder about humanity's failure of the stewardship of our little blue planet: "Soft words spoken/We borrowed from you and returned it broken."
This album, with its light and airy music, hits with the emotional impact of an anvil. I'm still discovering connections between the songs and the subtle insights about humanity revealed within them. Depth Of Field is a strong step forward for Kaprekar's Constant, more mature and cohesive than the group's 2017 album, Fate Outsmarts Desire (https://www.dprp.net/reviews/2017-036#kaprekarsconstant), while retaining all of that debut's charm. By severing the Rosherville epic into separate halves, the factual story of Rosherville ties together the events and feelings recounted in the other pieces, becoming a sort of allegory for the fragility of the microcosms we inhabit or create.
Fans of Big Big Train, early Genesis, Jethro Tull, and British folk-inspired prog in general should not "miss the boat" on Depth Of Field, as I nearly did. It is a delightful and powerfully moving place to visit. "And Rosie the Bear says she'll see you there!"
Pyjæn — Pyjæn
Pyjæn are a London based band and are part of the fertile progressive jazz movement that is currently exciting audiences in the UK. Bands and artists such as Kinkajous, Cykada, Nim Sadot, Levitation Orchestra, Big Bad Wolf, Maria Chiara Argiro, Mike De Souza, Dinosaur, Flying Machines, The Comet Is Coming, and the Ezra Collective share a lot in common with Pyjæn in the way in which they have torn up any rule book which tries to define the boundaries of jazz.
Many of these bands and artists are able to bring a host of other influences into their music. As a result their music often defies genre defining descriptions and break down any limited preconceptions that some people might associate with Jazz. In Pyjæn's case their music has nods to electronica, rock, and jazz fusion and lots of stages somewhere in between.
Trumpet player Dylan Jones is also a member of the Ezra Collective and this cross fertilisation of players and the manner in which many have interchangeable roles within a number of bands is surely one of the reasons why progressive jazz, or nu-jazz as some like to call it, is going through such a creative period in the UK at the moment.
The music of Pyjæn has an enthusiastic edge and its upbeat hand waving, cheery nature is sure to create a moonbeam smile. The performance of the players is outstanding, but their technical brilliance never gets in the way of their ability to hold a rhythmic swinging groove, or hitch an inventive ride on an irresistible melody. The compositions are superbly crafted and have an accessible air which makes the album a rewarding experience that is always easy to connect with.
Jones has a prominent role in many of the tunes and his contribution alongside saxophonist Ben Vize drives much of the music along at a fair old pace. There are numerous occasions when the swirling collective body of sound that cascades from the speakers with a swinging Latino swagger, that doesn't just beckon a listener to shake a toe or two; it demands the whole foot, leg, and torso to be swung with wanton abandon as well.
I have always found that it is always a good indication of an albums quality if time passes quickly as you listen to it. This very enjoyable album is able to immerse a listener in its art in such an all-consuming manner that it's all over too soon and that the only option left, if you want another flamboyant helping, is to hit the repeat button again.
The album begins in a vibrant fashion. Nah has a funky, earthy glow and its quasi big band style sways and swings in a colourful fashion. This immediately led me to compare aspects of the piece with what Nucleus were creating in their Alley Cat period. This comparison is made easy to make as Jones solo and cultured blowing during this piece and throughout the album is as expressive as anything that Ian Carr might have had a hand in during the mid-70s. In this piece the subtle cleanly picked embellishments of guitarist Dani Diodato add another texture to the whole experience and his understated playing throughout is one of the albums strong points.
Diodato's, expressive work at the start of and creative interjections during the explosive ensemble sound and Latino trumpet soloing of Leading The Times is particularly noteworthy. Later in the piece, the guitar takes a prominent role .The solo which unexpectedly detonates is explosive in its power, scope and fury. However, his best and certainly for me his most memorable solo probably occurs in the mid-section of the impressive concluding track of the album.
Free your Dreams is undoubtedly one of my favourite tracks on the album. Its Latino introduction just hits the right spot. In its early sections, the knee slapping, funky nature of the piece is fully complemented by Jones magnificent trumpet work. The extraordinary keyboard solo which dominates the mid-section of the piece is superb. All in all, it's just a great tune.
If the beauty of the music of Steve is reflected in real life by its subject matter, then Steve must is one hell of a handsome chap. This gorgeous tune has everything going for it; its memorable melody glides along like a seductive hand reaching for a touch of silk. Space and timing is the key to its success. It teases and twists with a series of beautifully formed brass and wind solos that drape the tune in a garland of vivid colours.
However, the compelling beauty of the piece lies in the understated simplicity of its beginning and ending. In this respect, Diodato subtle tones and subtle strokes are the key. He has a fine ear, for how to create a gentle and delicate mood, and the effect on this occasion, is just serene.
One of my favourite passages in the album occurs during Creation. It includes a fantastic synth solo and the tones chosen and the manner of its construction immediately had me drawing comparisons with the style of Alan Gowan and Gilgamesh. Just like its name possibly suggests, in this composition every component of the tune is carefully chosen, evolves and fits and works perfectly in accord. This harmonious aspect is able to create a collective sound that spills out colourfully in all directions with creativity and enviable invention
With so many positive facets, it's no wonder that Pyjæn's debut has been one of the most played albums in my household in recent months. Its fine playing and easy on the ear compositions ensures that it has an accessible air, that many will enjoy and few will find fault with.
In this respect, the album closes in great fashion with a tune that has the potential to no doubt etch itself into the memory long after it has concluded. It's that good and so cheekily infectious and full of wide grinning emotion, that there have been occasions in the car when the whole family (including I should add, my 92 year-old mother-in-law.) have belted out with glistening fun filled eyes, the sung outstretched hands, style chorus that concludes In Search Of The Sticky Side.
The albums sparkling array of tunes work so well and on so many different levels. Pyjæn deliver their art with a happy smile and with considerable skill. Their debut album is very enjoyable and no doubt their next release will be even more captivating.
What more could anybody wish for?
Shrine Of August — Coatlicue
Shrine Of August is a project of Steve Vanderperren designed to bring together all his musical ideas. Having played with numerous bands in his life, such as Corpus and Endtime Odyssey, he is no stranger to music and so in 2015 he kicked off Shrine Of August. Having released The Story Of M back in 2017, Steve has followed up two years later with the journey through Aztec mythology he has titled Coatlicue
The album starts off with the 8-minute Coyolxauhqui which draws you in with a flowing piano solo before the rest of the music kicks in with an unrelenting and ever changing blend of prog and various styles of metal. With harsh growls intermixing with cleanly sung female vocals and unrepentant drumming, it is an epic start to the album.
Xoltl is a technical riff fest, with atmospheric and haunting vocals weaving in and out of fast paced melodic leads and licks. Despite being a very prog/post-metal type track, there is definite elements of pop sensibilities spread throughout, making it an altogether catchy and hook laden song. Follow up track Quetzalcoatl brings the very controlled but utterly chaotic sound of prog into the mix. With discordant chords and blast beats, everything is hectic and the exact opposite of the structured and atmospheric previous track, while still keeping the catchy nature of it.
The Crying Apostle blends all the elements of the previous 3 tracks and sums up the album nicely. Epic, dark, chaotic, atmospheric and catchy. A good way to round off the album.
The orchestral version of Coyolxauhqui is, as you may suspect, an orchestral version. Having done away with the guitars, drums and vocals it is now a rather tense epic that would be right at home in something like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings or even one of the Final Fantasy games. It is a fantastic reworking of the original.
If you're a fan of the likes of Devin Townsend or Nightwish and similar, I'd suggest having a look at Shrine Of August - I would make a guess that you won't be disappointed. I know I wasn't.
Wish — Stay Here My Friends
Hailing from Roma in Italy, Wish have been around since 1992, and it does not appear that their sound will have changed since then. Listening to Stay Here My Friends is like taking a journey back to the early 90s, and discovering an unreleased recording by the like of Marillion or IQ. A release of classic style neo-prog that is sure to bring a smile to the face of any fan of this era and style of music.
From the first track, the instrumental Like A Yes, it's obvious where Wish have taken their inspiration from. The keyboard samples all appear to be of the 90s, giving the album a wonderful nostalgic feel. Add to this the voice of Piergiorgio Franceschelli, who sounds like a cross between Peter Nicholls and Ant Short from Ark, grounds the sound further in the neo-prog camp. The tracks also owe a great deal to the prog greats, with instrumental passages such as Stay Here My Friends, which begins with a doomy atmospheric beginning, sort of King Crimson, before the keyboards take it into a section which sounds like early Marillion or IQ.
I have tried to find some further information out about Wish, but their website appears to be unsafe as my network does not allow me access. Therefore I am stuck in providing any background to the band.
This is a release which will provide interest to anyone who has a liking for the neo-progressive genre. There is nothing new, but I found it an entertaining listen, which is helped by its conservative length. At 42 minutes it feels just long enough to maintain a listeners interest, without outstaying it welcome. It is an album I can see me returning to on occasion, not a classic but a very rewarding listen.