Album Reviews

Issue 2020-017: Instrumental Prog Fusion Special

Antoine Fafard — Borromean Odyssey

Antoine Fafard - Borromean Odyssey
Invisible Pastel (4:51), ProgRation (4:59), Borromean Odyssey I (0:46), The Seventh Extinction (5:28), Borromean Odyssey II (1:47), Chemical Reactor (4:49), Borromean Odyssey III (1:22), Terra Nullius (5:08), Borromean Odyssey IV (1:17), Time Lapse (5:04), Borromean Odyssey V (1:23), Inspired Mechanics (5:24), Trident (4:55)
Owen Davies

Have you ever experienced an album that makes your jaw ache and your ears tingle?

I have!

Antoine Fafard's latest release is sure to induce bouts of open-mouthed admiration that will no doubt frequently leave your jaw muscles protesting.

The incendiary playing of the outstanding trio of musicians involved in this release is also sure to warm and tingle unsuspecting ear drums.

As the music unfolds and reveals itself, a series of virtuoso performances combine, or take centre stage, to erupt with the force of molten rock. This album is so good and so powerful that it is able to create a profound physical and emotional response. The technical brilliance of the players is so impressive that there is little that a listener can do, other than sit back and be carried away on the crested peaks of the flamboyant instrumental flurries and embellishments that are at the heart of the majority of its compositions

Fafard has been at the forefront of progressive jazz fusion for many years. He first came to prominence as a member of Spaced Out. Many of his previous solo albums have been favourably reviewed by DPRP including Ad Perpetuum and Proto Mundi / Doomsday Vault.

Borromean Odyssey is in many ways his most accomplished release yet; in my view it is certainly the most enjoyable. All of the pieces were composed by Fafard, with the exception of the five tracks which wear the Bohemian Odyssey moniker. They were co-written by Fafard and drummer Todd Sucherman who is perhaps best known for his work with Styx.

The five Borromean Odyssey tracks create an ethereal soundscape. They offer up an image of an apocalyptic landscape that is full of drifting tones, warbling, droning keyboard sounds and yowling guitars.

Each piece is stylistically linked and acts as a sort of reflective, slow-paced interval tune, or as a scene-setter that complements the longer and fleet-fingered compositions that are on offer. In this respect, they work perfectly and offer a pause for thought, before the explosive, riff-laden tracks that follow burst energetically into life.

The album features the skills of Fafard on bass and all guitars, Sucherman on drums and percussion, and Gary Husband on leas synth and keyboards. Given the outstanding talents of these artists, it is not surprising that the playing is frequently extraordinary.

The sound quality of Fafard's albums is always exceptional and, in this respect, Borromean Odyssey continues this impressive standard of hi-fidelity. Its production values are outstanding. It really is a pleasure to listen to this album through headphones, or a high-end system.

The album begins in a frenetic and charged manner. The punchy bass lines, wailing guitars and striking drumming of Invisible Pastel are indicative of the predominant style and mood of the album. However, this piece really shows its outstanding qualities when the trio begin to solo. Husband's intoxicating synth slot flutters across the speakers in spiralling waves of expressive gurgling. Fafard's bass interlude which follows, is quite outstanding and is the first of many standout lower-end interludes throughout the album.

Fafard's bottom end contribution, has a richness of tone, a deftness of touch and an ability to surge powerfully when the need arises. Aspiring bass players who experience Fafard's mastery, may well find themselves scurrying in all directions in a fruitless search to emulate his genius and superb choice of tones.

The fast-paced mood continues in the outstanding ProgRation. If you enjoy bands such as Return to Forever and the swirling keyboard work of artists such as Jan Hammer, you will find much to admire in the wickedly complex tunes of this modern take on a classic fusion sound.

The album's superb mix of styles is self-evident in ProgRation, which is a great vehicle for the outstanding electric piano work of Husband. His solo is a highlight of the piece, and when it eventually subsides, it is complemented by a twirling outbreak of twisting synth sounds. The piece is further embellished and expertly enhanced by some masterful ensemble work.

The Seventh Extinction contains some of the most infectious bass parts to be found on the album. Complex rhythms strike, twist and dare a listener to attempt to follow its complex web of intricate patterns. The manner in which Fafard communicates a range of feelings with his instrument, whilst still providing a rhythmic framework for his compositions is frequently nothing short of phenomenal.

The Seventh Extinction is probably my favourite piece on the album. However, this is not strictly true, because whenever I hear the other pieces, they often become my preferred track for that day. For example, as I write this review, the fast-paced Chemical Reactor, is causing steam to break out from the depths of my speakers, and is reaching out to be played again and again

Borromean Odyssey strikes in all the right areas. The more I have listened to it, the more satisfying it has become. The tunes are memorable, the playing is magnificent and the sound quality is simply outstanding.

The detailed booklet that accompanies the album is well produced. It contains an evocative short story that sets the scene and the context of the music. It links Borromean Odyssey to the narrative contained in Fafard's previous release Proto Mundi. The front cover art work by Dima Zasimovich is particularly effective. It helps to create a visual image, upon which Fafard's apocalyptic soundscapes, imaginatively spun compositions and electrifying playing can be placed.

This is an album that is bound to resonate with anybody who has an affinity with this style of music. Some critics might argue that it is somewhat derivative of an easily identifiable, typical fusion style, and arguably offers little that is innovative, experimental or new. However there is no denying that this is a release that delivers in every respect and does not disappoint in any way.

In short, Borromean Odyssey has the technical and creative qualities that ensure that it is able to satisfy on both an emotional and intellectual level. What more could any fan of fusion music want?

Sit back and be prepared to experience the jaw ache.

Hooffoot — The Lights In the Aisle Will Guide You

Hooffoot - The Lights In the Aisle Will Guide You
The Lights In The Aisle Will Guide You (13:05), Pablo Octavio - 1st Departure (9:46), Pablo Octavio - 7th Sea (8:37), Krematorium (Arrival for Autocrats) (14:38)
Owen Davies

After hearing The Light in The Aisles Will Guide You on numerous occasions, I asked Alun, my musical and bass playing son, a simple question: "Is it jazz? Is it prog? Is it something else?"

He replied with a wistful smile, "I have no idea, but it's bloody, bloody good!"

It is obvious from the initial drum flurry, to the memorable motif which quickly follows, that Hooffoot's second album goes way beyond jazzj and pushes the boundaries of any stylistic norms associated with prog. This is an album that, although it excites, is never trite and is progressive in so many different ways. It still manages to successfully draw upon the recognisable styles and structures of jazz and prog and many points in between.

This makes the album a fantastic experience and a mouth-watering proposition.

Oh, what fun it must be, to precariously straddle and successfully balance and meld and make some sense of different genres and experiences of music.

In this respect, the album acts in a similar manner as an enthusiastic child that is perched aside a fence. One moment, the child tilts its head towards the east to see the rising sun and ponder the untold encounters and opportunities of that day. Later, on returning, the child squints and peers to the west, to clasp the diminishing embers of a setting day. Orange hues fade and turn towards grey and a raft of newly acquired experiences are assimilated. With a knowing smile and a nod that belies the child's age, they take on a new significance, to become a series of cherished memories and a catalyst for future possibilities.

That analogy, somewhat inadequately, attempts to explain and sum up Hooffoot's confidence and unusual ability to look in all directions; beyond established genre norms and expectations.

They are a band that has the assurance to observe and absorb, and to make sense and weave together numerous influences. There is even a touch of Scandinavian folk thrown in for good measure. These are mixed with innovative elements, which although not avant in nature, never fail to raise a goose bump or two, or tingle the nape of the neck. It is an album that remembers all that is good about prog, but proudly proclaims that it is more than willing to explore a range of interesting and enthralling musical possibilities.

Hooffoot's self-titled debut album was released on CD in 2017 (review here) and it quickly became one of my favourite albums of that year. Their latest album is in my view even better. It was released in the last part of 2019 and it undoubtedly would have been considered for top spot in my album of the year list.

The band is made up of guitarist Jocke Jönsson, keyboardist Bengt Wahlgren, bassist Pär Hallgren and drummer Jacob Hamilton. The impressive canvas created by the band is given a technicolour appeal by the inclusion of guests Ida Karlsson on sax, and impressively in Pablo Octavio – 1st Departure by Gustaf Sörnmo's expressive trumpet interjections. On occasions, a mixture of textures are provided by Göran Abelli's trombone, Samuel Lundström's violin and by Johannes Tärk on percussion.

There is an engaging retro feel that permeates and shines brightly to illuminate much of the music. However, it also possesses a contemporary edge which ensures that it sounds fresh at all times. However, perhaps most notable is the band's ability to create a strong, evolving, shape-shifting groove that underpins the wonderful ensemble playing and the beautifully-crafted arrangements.

Memorable motifs are consistently delivered. Gut-stirring keyboard flourishes, fast-fretted solos and tastefully developed guitar phrasing all have an important part to play. Effect-driven bass interludes burst through the mix to add a deep sense of harmony to the album's array of sounds.

Although the release only consists of four tracks, each possess so many selling points that it is difficult to do the excellence of the album justice in any written observations. It is a cliché, but this is an album that really needs to be heard and experienced.

There are so many standout moments that I could go on and on. The call and response in the middle of Pablo Octavio – 1st Departure makes me swoon. The strident core of Pablo Octavio - 7th Sea makes my eyebrows dance and my eyes flutter. Its funky, bass-driven core disturbs distant neighbours and provides an opportunity to controversially and loudly proclaim "Snarky Puppy, eat your heart out".

I never fail to go weak at the knees when the languid and superb organ piping of the mid-section of the lengthy title track subsides, and is brilliantly superseded by the screeching and swooping of Jönsson's guitar. I guess I had better not mention in detail, the effect the various elements of Krematorium (Arrival for Autocrats) has upon me; needless to say, they warm me to the core.

The band's core style and ability to lay down a hypnotic groove that is reminiscent of Fläsket Brinner, often reminds me of Agusa. However Hooffoot are not arguably as linear in approach and have an extra, unpredictable wow factor. This always ensures that the complex rhythms twist and shift. As a consequence, the arrangements often surprisingly divert to frequent unexpected, darkened corners. When this occurs, the various soloists are able to light up and explore the possibilities of their discovery with considerable aplomb and satiate my musical yearnings with inventive virtuosity.

The opening piece and title track points towards a classic jazz fusion structure and sound. Fans of the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Jean Luc Ponty's early 70s solo albums will find much to admire and enjoy. Lundström's extended and sustained bowed embellishments are a highlight. It's a magnificent opening piece and its fresh approach to a range of different tempos, moods and styles, offers a creative take to what is in essence a classic, retro fusion sound.

The second composition, Pablo Octavio - 1st Departure is quite superb and draws more heavily upon the dazzling colours of jazz. It begins slowly with keys, bass guitar, trumpet and subtle guitar. Its atmospheric phrasing creates a dramatic effect, where space (and the notes are that are not played) are the key. It builds in an organic manner and suspense is created by its increasing use of volume and an extended dynamic range. The swooping pitch-bending of the trombone adds a greater sense of mystique as the piece develops. As an added bonus, there are some delightful electric piano flurries and rhythmic bass lines to keep your toes busy and idle fingers occupied.

Pablo Octavio - 7th Sea follows. Its main theme has an accessible hook that would not be out of place as the theme music of a television show. Oh, and did I mention the track's funky heart that never fails to wear the carpet out beneath my shoes. To cap it all, yowls and guitar squeals and howls cut in with a raw-edged appeal to create a melodious cacophony that is as impressive as anything created by any contemporary band that I have ever heard.

Overall, it's such an interesting composition that it defies any attempt to describe its unique sound. One moment I was considering whether it sounded like Ian Carr's Nucleus, the next my thoughts turned to Return To Forever, before in the blink of a note my thoughts turned towards Gentle Giant and a host of other prog bands.

The concluding piece on the album is arguably the most rewarding, it swings like a quasi-big band, it pervades the senses and surprises as progressive music can. It stimulates the imagination and treads a familiar retro sound that aficionados of bands such as National Health and in particular their DS al Coda release will almost certainly adore.

One of the many highlights of the piece is undoubtedly the searing guitar passage in the middle section. The billowing and enjoyably boisterous bass embellishments of Pär Hallgren, which become a significant feature as the piece journeys towards its conclusion, also deserve much praise and admiration.

Hooffoot have done it again!

The band's sonic footprints have left a huge impression upon my musical landscape. I for one, cannot wait for where their unique, but easily identifiable trail will next explore and lead. I have no hesitation in awarding this outstanding album the highest possible score

It's bloody, bloody great!

Kaizen — Aqvila

Kaizen - Aqvila
Gryphus (7:22), Mazara (8:18), Vecchio Castelo (6:00), Suite Áquila: Porta Santa (4:15), La Fontana (3:10), O Grande Sismo (4:57), Canto das Almas (1:47), Fenix ​​(3:48)
Owen Davies

Aqvila has a reassuringly retro style. Its familiar flavourings offer much to listeners who remember the musty tang of the seventies and eye-spinning evenings spent observing a revolving platter.

The album has a melodic core and is coloured by a lush symphonic ambience. This ensures that much of the album has an accessible appeal. Fans of bands such as Camel, Kansas, PFM and Tempus Fugit will find much that will resonate. The band's principal instrument is the violin and there are many occasions when the flowing bowing and fiery virtuosity of Kleber Vogel strikes and stirs. However, when violin solos occur they are never self-indulgent and the composition's recognisable structures are never abandoned in favour of a more Avant approach.

The prominent role of the violin is supplemented by a rich array of vintage keyboard sounds. Emotive guitar lines that pitch and rock are added to the mix, to complement the expressive bowing and gurgling keys that propel the majority of the album's melodies.

Kaizen manage to balance bluster and delicacy. Each of these has an important role, and ensures that the dynamics of the album are very satisfying. Bombastic symphonic passages are counter-balanced by atmospheric tunes such as the beautiful and elegant La Fontana, which drifts, ambles and meanders in an exquisite manner.

Not only does Aqvila draw upon a recognisable retro sound that is steeped in the classic sounds and structures of prog, the music is wrapped around a conceptual framework. This is primarily reflected in the Suite Aqvila which is about the city of L'Aquila in the Abruzzo region of Italy. The suite attempts to capture the spirit of that city's history, architecture and seismic geological events.

Whilst the concept's subject matter is arguably not as rewarding as say Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick or Camel's The Snow Goose, it is always interesting to see how a band is able to construct their compositions to reflect a particular set of ideas or a geographical location.

Kaizen were formed in 1992 and released their debut album Gargula in 1994. Aqvila is the band's second release. The band is made up of composer and band leader Vogel on violin and bandolin, Wagner Andre (piano and synths), Anderson Machado (guitars), Didier Fernan (bass) and J. Couto Neto on drums.

The comprehensive booklet indicates which musician performs and what they play on each particular composition. This is particularly useful as the band is assisted by a large number of musicians who are active and well known in the Brazilian prog scene.

These include flautist Paulo Teles. His sprightly fluttering in Porta Santa is quite memorable. Teles' impressive trilling can also be heard in Luiz Zamith's Introspecção release. Other notable guests include guitarists Sergio Hinds who is a member of O Terço and Roberto Crivano of Quaterna Requiem.

The bubbling sounds of the mini Moog of Andre Mello of Tempus Fugit features significantly in the excellent concluding piece Fenix, which fizzes along in a fast-flowing style. A special mention should also be made of the contribution of violinist Marcus Viana of Sagrado Coração da Terra. His interplay with Vogel is a feature of one of the standout tracks, Mazara, and gives the composition an added zest and a gilt edged touch of quality.

Aqvila is skilfully recorded and the instruments are clearly defined. For example, during Mazara, Viana's violin erupts from the right channel to joust with, and complement, Vogel's dramatic playing which occupies the left channel. This technique is used more delicately in the reflective textures and tones of Canto das Almas.

The Suite Aqvila is probably the highlight of the album. It is made up of eight separate pieces, but they all have a recognisable style that links them together and it appears to also offer some recurring motifs. O Grande Sismo includes an exciting, tongue twisting guitar interlude that is provided by guest Daniel Escobar.

However, the track that resonated most with me was Vecchio Castello. In its varied tempos and interesting rhythms I am sure that I recognised some references to mid-seventies King Crimson. There were even some Tull-like riffs, without the flute thrown in for good measure.

Aqvila is a very good album and I am sure that it will provide many hours of listening pleasure to those who enjoy the retro-prog sounds that it manages to create with impressive aplomb. For my part, I found it very enjoyable, if for the most part, somewhat undemanding. However, that is more to do with my personal taste than any deficiency in the tunes and performances to be found on the album, which are consistently very good.

The playing is exemplary and overall the album is an excellent example of an album that draws heavily upon the sound and style associated with what many regard as the golden age of prog.

Roll back the years, let the wrinkles fade, consider the spinning platters and revolving evenings of your youth; this album beckons and invites you to sit back and enjoy its musty tang!

Levitation Orchestra — Inexpressible Infinity

Levitation Orchestra - Inexpressible Infinity
Odyssey (9:25), Mystical Yang (10:07), MF One (1:09), Clairevoyance (6:05), A Small Truth (1:34), Twin Serpents (10:53)
Owen Davies

The Levitation Orchestra is a collective of London-based musicians. Trumpet player Axel Kaner-Lidstrom founded the orchestra and according to the album credits he is responsible for the direction of the music. However, writing credits are shared amongst all members of the ensemble and the majority of the compositions are all very much a collective effort.

This collective approach to performance and composition provides much of the album with an infectious energy and an identifiable sound. The band's enthusiasm for their art is easily discernible in the structured blowing and inventive improvised sections that show the players' great empathy towards each other.

Lidstrom is an outstanding player and is also a member of Cykada. Their exciting and accomplished debut album was reviewed in 2019.

Female vocals are an important part of the album. They are utilised as an instrument in their own right. The wordless delivery offers a range of textures, lush tones, and gentle and rousing timbres to complement the other instrumentalists. The pivotal role of the human voice in a number of compositions gives the release a distinctive mix of subtle tones, and ensures that the album is easy to connect with on a human level. The harmonious warbling also provides much of the music with an emotional allure.

If you enjoy the early and expressive work of Norma Winstone in albums such as Troppo and Edge of Time, then much of the vocal delivery here will appeal. This excellent use of vocal instrumentation is used to good effect during Mystical Yang and the result is particularly alluring. In this composition a collective ensemble approach and rich mix of vocal sounds is very reminiscent of Winstone's solo album. It also bears some of the hallmarks of an age when jazz and rock influences first engaged and merged with each other in the UK. It's a fantastic piece, which had me yearning for more.

Although the album draws upon a number of different influences and has a progressive outlook, the majority of what is on offer would probably not appeal to classic prog fans, or certainly those who like their music to follow a clearly structured song and verse format. This is an album that wears its jazz moniker proudly and it delivers its organic approach to composition and performance with the freedom of expression that is commonly associated with that genre.

The compositions burst out and project themselves in many different directions. However, there are definite sections within a number of the compositions that would appeal to prog fans. For example, the opening piece has some very appealing keyboard parts that will keep a smile on the face for anybody who has a penchant for a classic, organ-based keyboard prog sound.

Juxtaposed against this satisfying and somewhat familiar sound, are free-blowing squelches, yowls and saxophone burps that will satisfy anybody who salivates openly at the thought of experiencing music that sits outside the box.

However, it's likely that a number of the tunes on offer are probably a bit too free and unstructured for the average prog fan to fully connect with. The short-lived chanting and raucous blowing of MF One will probably be the point that will alienate many prog fans who might have been curious enough to have checked out this album's opening two pieces.

Despite a tendency towards a loosely-woven patchwork of collective sounds, the Orchestra's enthusiastic playing ensures that there is an edge-of-the-seat appeal to much of their music.

There is much about the album that makes my skin tingle and my chin wobble. Clairvoyance is a personal favourite where melody and beauty hold sway over swing, gusto and free expression. Its structured delicacy and gorgeous arrangement for the human voice is sublime. Sophie Plummer and Zakia Sewell's sensitive delivery is just right for the mood of the tune. The haunting flute embellishments that enhance and enrich the piece give it an extra-transcendental appeal. It's a superb track, that makes me wish that I could stay suspended in its gorgeous company for hours.

The concluding track, which is also the longest composition of the release, highlights many of the album's strengths and embodies what this album is all about. Easily recognisable jazz structures, delivered with gusto and panache by the vocalists, saxophonists and trumpeter, sit alongside more progressive Avant sections that utilise a variety of interesting influences. These carry the listener into an aural world that is full of innovation and yet-to-be-explored possibilities.

The middle section of Twin Serpents lingers and meanders to its conclusion and offers an unexpected change of tempo and direction. It features languid vocals and a raft of unworldly keyboard flourishes. It is very appealing and manages to convey a mysterious atmosphere that is somewhat surreal and totally beguiling.

The concluding section of Twin Serpents is one of the most gratifying parts of this release. It has a spiritual pull and offers a pause to reflect. t contrasts superbly with the album's up-tempo and wholesome collective moments, and displays the skilful manner in which the collective is able to deliver their music to convey a variety of moods and emotions.

Overall, there is far more to praise and enjoy about Inexpressible Infinity than there is to criticise. It may not appeal to all prog fans, but for fans of bands such as Azimuth, Norma Winstone, Cykada, and Ian Carr's Nucleus (during its Labyrinth era), there is absolutely no doubt that many aspects of this engaging and often atmospheric release will satisfy.

Nicolas Meier World Group — Peaceful

Nicolas Meier World Group - Peaceful
Besiktas Cafe (3:38), Manzanita Samba (7:03), Peaceful (7:36), Caravan Of Anatolia (5:07), Water Lilies (5:35), Princes' Islands (6:02), City Of The 3 Rivers (7:16), The Island (6:34), Soho Square (6:45)
Owen Davies

If you like to travel and take pleasure from listening and experiencing different musical forms from around the globe, Nicolas Meier's Peaceful might just persuade you to pause your plans for a while. You could, as an alternative, take in Meier's feast of musical flavours that selects its influences from a number of areas of the world.

Its delicious mix of largely acoustic instruments creates a relaxing and often easy-on-the-ear experience that is able to transport the listener to areas of the world. Flamenco flourishes, flamboyant samba foot-falls and late-night Turkish cafe bar music all have a role to play in the shining compositions that make up this superbly crafted release.

As the title of the album suggests, this is an album that gently embeds and imposes itself upon the senses, rather than gruffly forcing an entrance. This is an album where melody, skill and subtlety have a much more prominent role than crutch-clutching power and intensity.

Much of the album's pulling power and instrumental finesse is due to the sparkling performance of Nicolas Meier. His mastery of acoustic instruments in the form of nylon fretted and fretless string guitars, acoustic 12-string guitars and glissentar is at the heart of all that is satisfying about this release.

Meier has been a bandleader in his own right for many years and has also toured as part of Jeff Beck's band. More recently he has toured with a group which included Jimi Haslip on bass, Dewa Budjana electric guitars and Asaf Sirkis drums and percussion. I was fortunate to see this line-up at the Marsden Jazz Festival in 2018 and it remains one of my most exciting and gratifying gigs.

Meier's playing during that concert, and also in this release, was and is phenomenal. The clarity, speed and precision at which he plays is impressive and is matched by the manner in which he is able to sensitively choose the right tone and textures to match any particular composition. In Peaceful the emphasis is on touch and feel, rather than blurring, fretted aggression. The rest of the band are equally skilled and Kevin Glasgow's imperious bass lines provide an extra air of quality and sophistication. Richard Jones' contribution on violin is also very impressive.

A number of the tunes feature guitar and violin jousting; The finely bowed embellishments flow, flutter and froth with energetic enthusiasm. However, the principal voice of the album is the guitar. The violin often provides structured layers and sweeping melodies on which the sensitive playing of Meier can improvise and excel.

Much of the music featured in Peaceful has a carefully nurtured sense of sophistication. Despite this, the tunes are ear-friendly and generally very accessible. My only criticism of the album would be that at times I felt that some of the tunes on offer, such as Soho Square, are a little too pristine and safe. This tune and others like sections of the City of 3 Rivers contain for the most part, a straight-forward structure and often possess a linear appeal. However, both tunes are very engaging and have memorable melodies, but they are just a tad too polished to pump up and raise the reticent hairs on my neck.

Nevertheless, the mix of world influences that are apparent throughout, makes the release as a whole unusual and not straightforward in any respect. This mixture and the successful melding of unusual elements and influences, within what are sometimes predictably structured compositions, is one of the album's endearing qualities. It certainly makes the whole experience peaceful and relaxing.

The album contains two standout tunes which carpet-ride the listener to a place that explores middle eastern motifs and moods. Caravan Of Anatolia and The Island conjure visions of sand-blasted towns and late-night, aroma-filled bazaars.

Caravan of Anatolia is probably my favourite track on the album. Imagine if Jethro Tull's Roots To Branches had been a fluteless acoustic and instrumental album, with greater elements of virtuoso playing and a hint of jazz, then you will get some small impression of the ethnic flavours created by this outstanding piece.

The Island is particularly atmospheric and its twisted ethnic tones and bright melodies explore the fragrant colours of Turkey, the Middle East and shores beyond. It is also a fine tune, and if you're lucky, out of the corner of your eye, you may even glimpse other members of the family stridently swaying in time to its tempting tones.

Another standout piece is Water Lilies, which is rhythmic in nature and foot-loose in intent. Brightly coloured, flamenco-footed rhythms and melodies hitch, buck and pitch with all of bustle and stomping irregularity of a Seville market place. The moody mid-section dreamily evokes thoughts of arid, sun-soaked siestas, bluely-reflected by cloudless skies.

Drummer Demi Garcia is integral to much of what the album sets out to achieve. His mastery of irregular tempos and ability to shift rhythms and adjust the dynamics of a piece with a well-placed strike, is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the album. This is particularly apparent in City of 3 Rivers and the knee-knocking, hand-hitting patterns of Manzanita Samba.

I have grown to appreciate Peaceful more over time. It is a quality release and has much to commend it. Ethnic folk influences and world influences sit successfully side by side, and alongside tints of jazz. Invention and improvisation all have important roles to play, whilst the recognisable structures of the piece make it rewarding for a wide variety of listeners.

Peaceful certainly ticks all the right boxes whenever I wish to spend some time in the company of superb musicians, whose art explores some of the musical diversity to be found in various regions of the world.

Maybe, I should cancel that booking after all!

Sonar with David Torn — Tranceportation (Volume 1)

Sonar with David Torn - Tranceportation (Volume 1)
Labyrinth (14:26), Partititions (5:37), Red Sky (11:14), Tunnel Drive (7:42)
Owen Davies

As I regularly drive on the M6 motorway and sneak past Shap, I often burst into coughing, croaked, song quoting Julie Andrews in my broken glass falsetto "The Hills are alive to the sound of music".

The combination of the stunning scenery and this awkwardly, (but never embarrassing), sung reminder of long passed family times hutched and huddled in suburbia always moves me. It reminds me of a time crowned with paper and a clutch of laughter. Dew eyes all fixed on a flickering screen, observe in snore loud silence the green backed Austrian landscape and its sweet family soundscape. This re-enacted scene and the memories they evoke never cease to bring a wobble to my throat and a flutter to my spine.

Music has an ability to change a person's mood, or to evoke a memory, or even change a person's perception of events and the world we live in. That is in essence the message of the music of Sonar and the connection that their music can make with their audience is one of the motivating factors for why the band create music.

As Stephan Thelen the guitar player of Sonar once said 'More than once my life has totally changed because of music'. The notion that music can change life's and the different ways that people can perceive music forms the backdrop of the excellent thought-provoking sleeve notes written by Sid Smith which accompany this disc.

It's not really a chicken or egg situation though, because in my view the music always comes first, but on this occasion I read the sleeve notes to the album first and Smiths pithy observations really made me think about the relationship between a person and music and also about the relationship between a band and their audience and the music they produce.

Smith's notes certainly helped me to consider what I was hearing in a different way and the pulsating shifting rhythms of Sonars compositions juxtaposed by the explosive sometimes jarring textures and layers of David Torn's expressive guitar only added to that and opened the padlock to a host of memories and emotions.

Whilst all of this musing might be interesting to some extent, I guess that most readers will at this point be thinking .... well what about the music? what is the album like? Is it worth checking out?

In short, the music is mesmerising and manages to a create a harmonious balance between two seemingly opposing characteristics. At its centre are trance inducing polyrhythms that waft and shift in a tightly spun manner. These are disturbed and momentarily slapped into the background by Torn's charring and searing guitar improvisations. His rough-edged tones and durable textures, create a layer of sound that is so striking, that it is hard not to be moved by its shrieks, hums and yowls in some way.

The album is made up of four compositions. Unlike the previous Sonar studio album Vortex where Torn joined proceedings at a later date (he was originally just going to produce that album) in Tranceportation the compositions have been created with his input and contribution in mind.

The result is an album that appears to have a more structured approach so that Torn's interjections are absolutely essential and integral to the compositions success.

However, in that slickly crafted process thankfully nothing of the excitement, invention, innovation and improvisation that was at the core of his performance in Vortex has been lost. In fact, it can easily be argued that Tranceportation raises the bar a few notches higher. Consequently, if you enjoyed any aspect of Vortex, Sonar's latest release is highly recommended and is well worth checking out.

Sonar manage to create a spacious canvas upon which Torn is able to loop and layer, surge and shift his imposing range of guitar textures. These blast to the fore and bite deeply to create an exciting and sometimes disturbing array of sounds. Above all else, it gives Sonars music a great dynamic range where subtle and aggressive changes in volume and attack have the guile and intensity to create a mind-altering effect.

The rhythm section of is central to much of the music's beguiling effect. Manuel Pasquinelli manages to move things along on the drums and has a great feel for managing different tempos and complex rhythms. Christian Kuntner's bass tones provide a bottom end that works in harmony with the bands pulsating ever changing rhythms.

However, it is arguably Stephan Thelen's thoughtful compositions and his and Bernhard Wagner's sensitive understated tritone guitar playing that really drives things along. Without their astute symbiotic tasteful accompaniments and rhythmic embellishments, the stage that is set for Torn's rippling and ripping guitar would be incomplete.

Nevertheless, one of the most enjoyable aspects of Thelen's work in this album, is that his compositions and arrangements give ample opportunities for the music to evolve and for the music to reach a climax or numerous peaks before subsiding and often gently ebbing away. Red Sky is one of the albums highlights. This makes the Tranceportation vol 1 a thoroughly engaging and a frequently exciting experience, despite its underlying repetitive rhythmic patterns and ever changing reflective and mesmerising core.

Partitions is perhaps the most bewitching tune on offer. In this tune, Torn's guitar tones are slightly less abrasive and this helps to create a piece, that whilst it might not necessarily be beautiful in a conventional sense, has a hint of gentle brutality and a flowing fragility, that makes it relatively easy to be entwined in its contemplative web.

However, there is something disturbing and very primeval about Torn's heartfelt contribution that pulls at something deep within. This is no better illustrated than in the opening piece Labyrinth. It is this tension between the measured and carefully constructed polyrhythms of the band and the explosive emotional outpourings of Torn's guitar that makes the album so absolutely compelling. It's almost as though, despite a sophisticated veneer, the beast hiding within the polyrhythms momentarily breaks its shackles to challenge any preconceptions of how the music might develop or sound.

This contrasting combination of abrasive guitar sounds and styles is a standout feature of this album and is never less than fascinating. Sonar plan to release Tranceportation Volume 2 in 2020. If it is anything like as good as volume 1 the wait will be worth it, as Its range of shape shifting textures and mood changing qualities are quite exceptional.

There is nothing more for me to say, except as I approach Shap summit once again on the M6 motorway, I think that I may as well try a rousing chorus of 'The Hills are alive to the sound of Sonar' and discover where that thought might take me.

Happy musical travels to one and all.

Album Reviews