Bernard And Pörsti — Gulliver
So why are two-thirds of The Samurai Of Prog (TSoP) releasing an album under their own names? Does this signal the end of the successful series of releases the trio of Marco Bernard (bass), Kimmo Pörsti (drums), and Steve Unruh (everything), along with a wide cast of guest composers and musicians, have released over recent years? Fear not, as a TSoP logo under the album's title suggests, this is simply a spin-off project. With Unruh's free time outside of work and family life being consumed by a multitude of other musical projects and Bernard and Pörsti's ambitious release schedule, the trio have decided to mix the release of TSoP albums with such spin-off albums when there is a clash of commitments. Although, as we shall discover, that doesn't mean Mr. Unruh is excluded from B&P's endeavours.
So what of Gulliver? A full concept album based, obviously, on Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (or to give it it's full original title Travels Into Several Remote Nations Of The World, In Four Parts By Lemuel Gulliver, First A Surgeon, And Then A Captain of Several Ships. Think I prefer the shorter version!). As has been the case on other TSoP releases, the individual tracks have been composed by a selection of keyboard players, in this case all Italian with all but one of them having previously appeared on either earlier TSoP or Colossus albums, or sometimes both!
Like all good concepts things should be kicked off with an Overture written by Andrea Pavoni from the band Greenwall. A sprightly and dramatic start with good use of synths and organs to create atmosphere. Guitarist Kari Riihimäki creates some lovely tones in his solos creating a classic prog rock sound, particularly in the end section where the guitar is merged with Marek Arnold's saxophone. Oliviero Lacagnina from Latte E Miele has the honours of creating the main Lilliput Suite, an 18-minute epic in six parts. I had a hard time getting to grips with this track mainly because of the vocals, by Marco Vincini, or more precisely the lyric, which in places is rather awkwardly shoehorned in to the music. The singing itself is fine, mostly, although I am sometimes reminded of Fish, albeit singing in a higher key (readers should note, I am not a Fish fan!). The music itself is completely epic and symphonic prog could accurately be used as a descriptive with period flourishes added by Olli Jaakola (flute and piccolo), Marc Paeghin (French horn and trumpet), Tsuboy Akihisa (violin) and Rafael Pacha (recorders and whistles). Pacha also contributes acoustic, classical and electric guitars, the latter of which are also played by Ruben Álvarez. The instrumental section of the fourth part Peculiar Traditions is what really makes the piece, excellent performances all round, which are reprised in the end section of The Theft Of The Blefuscudian Fleet. I still struggle somewhat with the vocal aspect of the suite but overall the music more than makes up for any of my idiosyncratic prejudices.
We are back onto instrumental territory on The Giants where Mimmo Ferri from Floating State holds the reins for compositional and keyboard duties. Taking a slower and more sombre approach, the piece is dripping in atmosphere. Although the sounds employed on some of the keyboard sections are not particularly to my taste, the Mellotron samples are nice, as is the first synth solo, and Arnold's sax solo is sublime. There just seems to be too much thrown into the mix, I think the use of so many different keyboard sounds detracts from the overall piece and sticking to just piano and one or two different synths would have been better. Can't fault the composition though. Carmine Capasso's guitar isn't really heard until towards the end of the track but it makes itself known when it does arrive.
The second epic, The Land Of The Fools, is the creation of Alessandro Di Benedetti from Mad Crayon with Daniel Fäldt providing the lead vocals. I actually quite like Fäldt's voice, there is an appealing quality to what is rather an idiosyncratic voice! A few nice harmonies with Di Benedetti are a pleasing addition. There is a lot more space in this track with gentler instrumental passages displaying the obvious talents of the composer; the piano section is particularly appealing. Federico Tetti and Massimo Sposaro both add splendid guitar solos that, although relatively brief, are well worth waiting for.
In Guliver's Fourth Travel we have the participation of all three TSoP members with Steve Unruh making an impression from the off with a crisp violin solo. Luca Scherani from Hostsonaten, amongst others, is the composer this time round with, in true Italian style, the dramatic vocals of Stefano Galifi alternating with those of Unruh. What works particularly well is that vocalist each sings in their native tongue so there is not only the contrast of the vocal styles but also the language. Bernard's bass also plays a prominent role particularly in a repeating quartet of notes in an instrumental section and a fluid bass line in other sections. The end of the track is great with both vocalists delivering somewhat amusing performances (although it is probably my strange sense of humour that makes it amusing!).
Finale, quite naturally, brings things to an end with the 'new boy' Alessandro Lamuraglia from Il Trono Dei Ricordi providing more dramatic keyboards and introducing several 'fanfare' flourishes. Once again it is very interesting how Marco Bernard has brought together six individual composers and yet created an album that has a relatively coherent sound and not six different groups of musicians. Artist Ed Unitsky once again provides the visual aspects of the triple fold out sleeve and booklet and, as usual, it is very fine work indeed. I particularly like the operatic Valkyrie performing in front of the giant shipwrecked Gulliver!
Although not my favourite TSoP-related release, there is certainly enough on the album to warrant it's inclusion in my collection and for me to suggest that it would not be a waste of time to check out what is on offer.
Lars Boutrup's Music For Keyboards — The Great Beyond
Back in the progressive rock scene of the 70s and early 80s, Patrick Moraz, Rick Wakeman, Duncan MacKay, and other artists recorded some great keyboard dominated rock albums. These types of recordings are more rare these days, which help to peak my interest in Lars Boutrup's Music for Keyboards. His moniker is not at all misleading because the The Great Beyond is an extravaganza of keyboard playing from start to finish. Heavy emphasis is placed on synthesizers and organ with a sound that leans heavily towards classic era prog.
The album is fully instrumental and musically forceful without drifting into metal territory. Think Emerson/Wakeman style performances driven by heavy synth/bass/drum rhythms. Boutrup's skills as a keyboardist are well on display, but the focus is on composition and melody rather than musical muscle.
Tracks such as Mr. T, Whatever Mama Said, and Jerry And The Suitcase are great examples of old school progressive rock with a bit of Larry Fast (Synergy) style synth work thrown in. There are also some effective breaks in the form of mellow piano and symphonic songs (Invento, Klavier Stuck Fur Freude).
The Great Beyond is a very enjoyable album for any keyboard aficionado, but also a satisfying listen for anyone who likes good, old fashioned, instrumental prog.
Gabriel — New Life
No, this is not a new Peter Gabriel release, slipped out into the public domain due to the downtime we all currently have due to the Covid-19 plague. This is the debut solo album from Gabriel Agudo, Argentinian singer who provides the main vocals on Dave Kerzner's In Continuum project. Gabriel has also leant his vocal talents to The Steve Rothery Band in the live environment when they toured South America.
Gabriel's co-conspirator in producing the album is Rene Bosc who's musical resume is simply stunning. Rene is a classical conductor who has worked with some of the biggest orchestra's around the world, and on some huge events which have been shown world wide. If you get the chance, and have never before heard of Rene, its worth checking out his work. Gabriel and Rene have co-written and produced this release, with Rene being responsible for the mixing of the album. Needless to say the production is flawless.
Gabriel describes New Life as a spiritual journey through the soul, exploring the various levels of conscience. If that sounds beguiling, don't worry, the lyrics are easy to comprehend, and once immersed in the album, the theme is easy to navigate.
The disc contains seven tracks, but there are two versions of Free As A Bird. The first, short version, opens the album. It begins with an orchestral opening, performed by Musician's Of Paris Session Orchestra. This provides the backdrop for Gabriel's lush and expressive vocals, which do have distinct similarities with namesake Peter Gabriel, due to the passion and tone with which Gabriel sings. He has a much staggering octave range which takes his talent beyond the ordinary. Free As A Bird is a stunning opening track which wets the listeners appetite for what is to come.
Second track, Karmatic, is an all out rocking track, with distinct Prog overtones aided by the keyboards of Dave Kerzner, and the simply stunning drumming of Pendragon's Jan-Vincent Velazco. Mid track, the atmosphere changes, and Heiner Scob plays some majestic solo Steinway Grand Piano, before the track concludes in rocking style.
Next comes my favourite track on the album, mainly due to the incredible multi talented Fernando Perdomo. Yet another name I was unfamiliar with, but again, check out his work and be assured his incredible talent shine here. Angel's Call features some astonishing guitar work from Fernando, and incorporates some mystical Native American rhythms. This all comes together to create an amazing rocking track.
Then to the title track, New Life, which begins as a very angry and intense song. Providing their musical talents to the track are Clive Nolan and Steve Rothery. Arena and Pendragon's Clive Nolan is given the opportunity to provide an incredible lengthy keyboard solo, which give way to the talented Helene Collerette who contributes a breathtaking violin solo. Steve Rothery's guitar adds texture to the track, before his solo spot which is very restrained but lush with the usual emotion you expect from one of Mr Rothery's solos.
Awakening is a short piano instrumental played by Heibner Scob and dedicated to Steve Rothery. The final track proper on the album is Shining Spark, which begins feeling like a love song, but the drama builds, giving it an uplifting feel of hope. Probably the simplest sounding song on the album on first listen, but the more you listen, the composition of the track is majestic.
We are then treated to full length version of album opener, Free As A Bird, but this time the full 18 minute version. This is a wonderfully grandiose track. Beginning with an ambient opening passage were the sound of birdsong and waterfalls are interspersed with guitar flourishes, before the excerpt we heard at the beginning of the album takes its rightful place within this epic. As the orchestra disappears, wonderful violin coupled with the unmistakable guitar stabs from Steve Rothery take over. The track then transitions between band and orchestra interspersed with Gabrial's vulnerable vocals. This is a song you ust have to hear to appreciate what a work of art music can be.
For a début release New Life is extremely accomplished, and with that, I hope this is the first of many from Gabriel and his musical affiliates. If the quality of the music is anything like this debut, then the future looks bright for Gabriel Agudo.
Jacob Holm-Lupo — Toto - On Track - Every Album, Every Song [Book]
So far the On Track... - Every Album, Every Song series by Sonicbond Publishing has been very rewarding when it comes to the in-depth analysis of a music by a certain artist. The imagery laden descriptions of songs, backed by a story-line from an enthusiastic writer has thus far provided me with hours of entertainment through books on Jethro Tull and Frank Zappa. Besides being informational and giving lovely insights into the music and its era, in the right mood it also manages to bring back precious memories thought to be locked away forever. A delicious state with a dangerous side effect, which I'll explain later.
The book on Toto sees a return of Jacob Holm-Lupo in the series. Prior to this publishing the Norwegian journalist and musician (member of progressive rock band White Willow) has written the Every Album, Every Song book on Blue Oyster Cult which at the time appealed to me right away, being a huge fan of that band and any story/book related to them is welcomed. His passionate expressive way and engaging gentle flow of captivating words therein made me look forward to a great read once again, despite my reservations of missing out on a quintessential part (see previous review).
The basic structure of the book follows the trusted path of interpreting the albums and its songs chronologically, whilst useful insights are given surrounding the recordings and it's commercial success (or failure). With further elaborations as to media coverage, several Toto-member anecdotes and personal glimpses, Holm-Lupo succeeds in grasping the readers attention and manages to keeps the constant stream of appreciative words going from beginning to end.
He does so from a "Prog"-point of view, where the underlying progressive rock influences and inspirations are highlighted, with surprising deductions. A perfect choice, from my and DPRP's viewing point, making me wonder as to what would have happened if someone had interpreted it from a critical "pop music" point of view. Would it have read just as comfortably good?
Nevertheless in this case it certainly does and next to a few pages of photos, covers and memorabilia features it also has a short, delicate honorary chapter. There is a pivotal chapter on the passing of Toto member Steve Porcaro, which at the time proved to be of crucial impact on the band, and is maybe even more disastrous than described in the book.
In tradition the live albums and miscellaneous records are gathered in the appendix, and where deemed necessary these album gets a short description and in some cases a harsh judgement, like Through The Looking Glass which he condemns to be a real turkey album. The collection of B-sides/demos in form of XX does however make it to the regular album section which, since there are hardly any B-sides, is just as fine and clear. Furthermore he doesn't hold back to his verdicts on certain eras of the band as well, which to me makes the more important main part of the book all the more convincing, approachable and identifiable, for I feel almost similar in my love/hate convictions to Toto's career.
The catalogue albums are interpreted varying in length from three up to fourteen pages, each with a short contemplative conclusion. As explained upfront by Holm-Lupo in the intro, the emphasis of the book is to create a distinctive insight into the sound of Toto and what they stand for. Therefore it is completely understandable that the earlier albums get favourably more detailed descriptions as opposed to the more recent ones, where the mega hits Rosanna and Africa even manage to surpass the page-limit given to certain albums.
Consequently a rather large portion of the book (93 out of 141 pages) handles the history up to 1988 (The Seventh One). No surprise there, for these years where the years Toto made quite a name for themselves and is widely considered to be their most creative period. A timespan that I watched from a sideline as a youngster, but once Isolation hit the shelves had my full-on attention. Even more so with Fahrenheit and the aforementioned immaculate The Seventh One, which thankfully saw me witness these memorable tours at the time.
And paging along the passages, set in a perfect background story told by Holm-Lupo, many precious mementos locked within me come to life again. Almost instantly the intricate detailed and refined deconstruction of the tracks, turned back into imaginative paintings by Holm-Lupo, makes me relive those great tracks and albums. From the Pop/AOR sense of the debut album to the seductive progressive Hydra onwards to the monumental IV and the upset of vocalist Bobby Kimball making his (first) departure in their earliest hour of their prime. And how my interest got ignited from faintly to extensive, when the sound of Toto changed to gorgeous AOR, strengthened by the powerful vocals of Fergie Frederiksen, which at the time proved to be beyond compare.
This short lived period was excitingly transcended when Joseph Williams took over on lead vocals, which gave Toto not only a perfect singer, but from an artistic and commercial point of view is to date their most successful period in time, resulting in superior flight. A love shared by Holm-Lupo, creating another identifiability to the book, where his "Sword"-cover theory never crossed my mind, but is painstakingly true. Having witnessed the tour myself at Ahoy', Rotterdam in 1988, where they opened with a jaw-dropping performance of Carmen, it is beyond a shadow of doubt the band was on fire at the time, delivering magical moments with Dune (Desert Theme), White Sister and the exquisite Home Of The Brave to name but a few.
And similar to what happened in real time, here the book changes from infectious engaging vibrancy into contemplative reservedness. This wonderful iconic momentum couldn't be sustained unfortunately and in 1989 the band was in dire straits with yet another lead vocalist leaving the scene. The problematic stint with vocalist Jean-Michael Byron didn't make it better (to say the least) and by the time Steve Lukather took over the steering wheel of the band, they were musically uncontrollably adrift. A chain of events equally detectable and acknowledged through the shorter, less detailed picturesque descriptions of the songs/albums following from Kingdom Of Desire onwards.
Holm-Lupo divided opinions on this era shine through beautifully, elegantly proving that the majority of the material is still above standard and some moments of magic are left to be enjoyed when Bobby Kimball returns to the plate momentarily. Thankfully the reunion with Joseph Williams in 2010 finally sees the band regain some of their former esteem, and the release of XIV in 2015 shows that Toto are once again a force to be reckoned with, judging from the returned passionate descriptions given by Holm-Lupo. Had I not read the book this would surely have passed me by, for my interest in Toto had waned many a moon ago after the rudderless journey that started in the nineties when Lukather also formed Los Lobotomys and started to release solo albums.
And this is where the dangerous key selling point for this book comes in place. During the book I couldn't help but notice that I was for most part on the same level with the writer, something that has happened before in the series. So spurred on in enthusiasm I once again find myself anxiously infected in buying some of Toto's albums, need XIV, and desperately want to upgrade my necessary happiness through acquiring The Seventh One along with it. If all the books have this kind of possessive effect, this could turn out to be a costly marvellous affair, especially in light of the latter one, for as it turns out I owned it already. Sometimes my memory doesn't work optimally.
What certainly does work is this inspiring book by Holm-Lupo, which has proven to be a great read. The appreciated prog-angle of perception is a surplus to me, which along with occasional page turning qualities will easily find further grounds for those interested in iconic musical history. Well fitted for fans of Toto obviously, yet it also provides ample interesting details for those with a more general taste in music. Holm-Lupo has fully redeemed himself from any reservations I had in light of his previous book on BÖC, resulting in yet another very good addition to the series. A series to keep track of...
Dave Kerzner — Breakdown - A Compilation 1995-2019
Dave Kerzner's double CD release of Breakdown - A Compilation 1995-2019 represents almost 25 years' of his life in music. Over that time, he has repeatedly proven his ability to produce everything from epic soundscapes to catchy pop-orientated songs regardless of trends and support from big labels. In the course of his career he has worked with a hugely impressive ensemble of musicians that would rival many 'A' list artists with the likes of Steve Hackett, Durga McBroom (best known for her world tours with Pink Floyd and her Blue Pearl hit Naked in the Rain), Mostly Autumn and Mantra Vega's Heather Findley, the incomparable Nick D'Virgilio of Spock's Beard (currently in the Big Big Train drum seat), Francis Dunnery best known for his success with It Bites and Singer/Drummer Simon Collins (son of Phil Collins).
Add to this the likes of Neil Peart (Rush), Bono and the Edge (U2), Alan Parsons, David Kilminster, Jon Anderson (Yes), Tom Waits, Barbara Streisand, Madonna, Beyonce, Pearl Jam, and too many more to list here. Without doubt, his pedigree defines his own journey towards his solo output and the projects he has been a part of.
One crucial player that cannot be overlooked is the exceptionally talented and prolific guitar/songwriter/producer, Fernando Permodo who joined Kerzner on his first solo outing New World and has remained a stalwart and essential player in the studio and on the road.
Bottling such a catalogue of music is a challenge. What do you leave out? With some exceptions the makeup of the two hours here is from his solo period of the last decade as well as the Sound of Contact and Mantra Vega projects.
The opening volley of songs from 2014's New World features without question The Lie with its exquisitely short but perfectly formed twin guitar melody in all its beautiful melancholic splendour. New World as an album is an almost end to end flawless experience and The Lie is the cherry on the cream on the cake. One of the few pieces here that remains in its original form.
An eastern, trippy alternative version of My Old Friend is though, a sonic journey worth the price of admission here. Less boppy and electronically ethereal, it transcends the original with a greater emphasis on world music textures particularly the use of a hypnotic tabla.
The earliest work to feature on this compendium is a rare, 1995 live performance of Joytown from Thud featuring the late Kevin Gilbert. A twitchy guitar hook compliments the dreamy atmosphere provided by Kerzner over which, a slightly stoner sounding Gilbert compliments proceedings with a good Lou Reed style vocal. Another fact that binds everything together is Nick D'Virgilio's drums featured on the studio album and this live outing.
A short passage of instrumental inclusions from Mantra Vega's Illusion Reckoning neatly sets the tone for the pulsing All That Is from Kerzner's latest project, In Continuum, featuring the familiar mystic chant of guest co-writer, Jon Anderson, a collaboration that yields so much potential for a Yes collaboration if this was ever a possibility.
As peppered and diverse as the entries are from Kerzner's body of work there is an overarching production tone of ambient, shimmering Floyd, from the soft piano in The Truth Behind to the soaring guitar break in Static or the sliding motifs in New World. The live experience of these songs is a lush, multi-layered delight which feels intimate, yet arena sized at the same time.
Some of the high-points of the successful Collins partnership, Sound of Contact are also present on Breakdown and once again it shows how the synergy of work with other artists really can amplify the amazing capability of Kerzner's own song writing skills, leading in this case to a more anthemic result. The stadium-sized Only Breathing Out has an alternative version offering which undeniably could have scored big as a chart hit.
As an 'Alpha' point (pun) for exploring Kerzner's work, Breakdown represents probably the best way in for a new listener, that said there is plenty of live and alternative material here to sate the appetites of existing fans. Whichever way you are coming at this collection, it remains an enigma of how it is possible that this much talent and skill can be quite so underground. Much of this body of work is a hard-fought experience of self-managed Kickstarter campaigns and social media activity and money pit commitments from touring without backing. It may provide the freedom to invent without interference, but Breakdown succinctly tells a story of a typical player in this genre who deserves wider backing and resources to take them where they should be.
Tusmørke — Leker For Barn, Ritualer For Voksne
Hats of to Norway's Karisma Records label for its stable of diverse artists and the support it gives to music which is more avant-garde and unique. Giving an outlet for Norwegian folk in the form of Tusmørke (translates as Twilight) is a prime example of this along with their latest album, which is a curious collection of short, lively organic pieces that present on first approach, as an album of children's nursery style songs.
Leker For Barn, Ritualer For Voksne or Games For Children, Rituals For Adults delivers 16 songs over its 44 minutes of short earthy, European medieval folk tunes. Similar in styling to their 2017 release, Bydyra, the vocals are provided by a combination of Momrak brothers, Benediktator and Krizla, who are the band's core, and most notably a children's choir.
As with Bydyra, the overall content derives from two musicals for children, in this case, The Bridge To The Other Side and The Root Of All Evil. Their intent is an experimental exploration of traditional song riddles and games to see if the ancient content yields darker secrets behind its seemingly playful purity. In much the same way as Ring A ring O' Roses is said to have origins in pagan myths and as some have claimed, refer to the symptoms of the Black Death (a subject the band have explored in epic style previously). So too have Tusmørke looked deeper into the outwardly innocent texts for this production, for suggestions of rituals and chants, the basis for the more gruesome practices of human sacrifice and out of body spiritual trances. If seen in this way it does invoke references that have been explored in popular culture, the virgin policeman on the fictional isle of Summerisle in the 70s Hammer Horror, The Wicker Man. As part of the masked May day celebration the 'hero' is led to his sacrificial demise through creepy pagan ritual with islanders dressed as animals, with the intention of ensuring a successful harvest. The band are pictured here also with familiar creatures, the Badger, the Crow, etc.
Musically the songs also have an old-world folk quality about them in feel as though the oral tradition of passing on songs by singing them somehow applies here. Progressively though the links are sketchy, there is plenty of flute to underline the song structure and splashes of Moog and Mellotron. The overall sound is both acoustic and percussive in nature with everything from finger cymbals to bodhran and glockenspiel to woodblocks.
Composition wise there is a great deal of sameness across the album in pacing and sparse instrumentation which does become wearing. Without an understanding of Norwegian it is still possible to derive some of the substance in its simplicity for example Ta den ring would involve a ring of children with one in the middle guessing who has the ring or the animated roar from the children on Bjørnen Sover which warns of the dangers of waking the sleeping bear.
The standout moments are the short but spooky Welcome to Hades or Velkommen Til Hades which delivers a more theatrical aspect to the proceedings. However, it is close to the end with the doomy Eventyret Er Ute or The Adventure Is Out' (which probably says a lot about Norwegian life) where the direction offers a little more intriguing darkness. The opener Bro Bro Brille has a charming video and succinctly gives you a picture of this album.
Tusmørke have pedigree within the prog scene from Norway and a prolific output of 7 albums since their 2012 debut. Fans of Wobbler and Änglagård would enjoy the quirky and unique Scandinavian feel of the music they produce and there are obvious darker themes at work too. However churlish it feels to criticise the intent from Tusmørke, it is fair to say this release has a limited scope and repeat play appeal. A way into their music lies in their previous output (check out Hinsides) before venturing here.