Bruford — Rock Goes To College
Between 1978 and 1981, BBC TV and radio in the UK simultaneously broadcast the Rock Goes To College series, which featured performances by the likes of The Police, Lindisfarne, Steve Hillage and U2. I will never forget an appearance by The Stranglers in October 1978, when after playing five songs, singer Hugh Cornwell accused the university audience of being elitist and the band stormed off the stage bringing the set to an abrupt close. It was naively self-righteous, considering that they must have known beforehand that the audience would be mostly students, and Cornwell was himself a university graduate!
Less than five months later, on 7th March 1979, jazz-fusion combo Bruford made their live debut at Oxford Polytechnic which was broadcast as part of the second Rock Goes To College series. Unlike The Stranglers, Bill Bruford was on familiar territory, having previously played to university and college audiences as a member of Yes, King Crimson and UK. The stellar line-up featured Bruford (drums, percussion), Allan Holdsworth (guitar), Dave Stewart (keyboards), Jeff Berlin (bass) and Annette Peacock (vocals). I was fortunate enough to see Bruford co-headline with Brand X at Leicester University on 13th May 1980, by which time Holdsworth had been replaced by John Clark.
Although this recording was previously released on DVD in 2006 and CD in 2007, this repackaged edition includes both versions, and features the only officially released footage of the band in action. The setlist comprises material from the first two Bruford solo releases, Feels Good To Me (1978) and One Of A Kind (1979). Both albums are a testimony to the drummer's skills as a writer and arranger, especially considering his minimal compositional contributions with his previous bands.
In his 2007 review, my colleague Bob Mulvey commented that the audio quality wasn't great, so I can only assume that this reissue has been remastered because the sound is first rate. The picture quality is pretty decent as well, as you would expect from a BBC recording. Even without the visuals however, it's not hard to appreciate this stunning ensemble performance. From the word go, the whole band are firing on all cylinders and it's hard to believe that this is their first performance together in front of a live audience.
From the opening bars of Sample And Hold, Bruford's unmistakable, sharp rimshot snare propels the band forward. The synchronicity between Berlin's rumbling bass and Holdsworth's fluid guitar lines is jaw-dropping. Personal favourites for me are The Sahara Of Snow, featuring Stewart's menacing rhythmic piano, and Forever Until Sunday , both taken from the One Of A Kind album. The latter opens with a stately synth theme which, following a funky band workout, is reprised on guitar at the end.
For Back To The Beginning and Goodbye To The Past from Feels Good To Me, Bruford welcomes “special guest” Annette Peacock to the stage. Sadly, her off-key vocalising (you could hardly call it singing) is an unwelcome distraction. Cleo Laine she isn't! Fortunately, she doesn't overstay her welcome, leaving the band to blitz their way through a rampaging 5G to bring this all-too-short set to a satisfying conclusion.
Even in the tightly structured regime of Yes, Bill Bruford was always a jazz man at heart and despite his impressive work with King Crimson and UK, I believe he found his true calling with Bruford. Rock Goes To College is the original line-up's only official live recording, and as such it's a worthy addition to the band's catalogue. It's also one of many fitting epitaphs to the late, great Allan Holdsworth.
Djam Karet — Burning The Hard City / Suspension & Displacement (Special Edition)
DPRP reviewed the concurrently-released Burning The Hard City and Suspension And Displacement back in 2000, the first time that the 1991 albums by jamming instrumentalists Djam Karet were re-released by Cuneiform Records. Our reviewer was not that impressed, particularly with the more ambient nature of Suspension And Displacement, but did concede that Burning The Hard City had elements of "psychedelic Floyd" and "more hard rock melodic lines".
Being a fan of the band I have to say that I did not totally agree with the reviews but admit that neither album was really representative of the sound the band had nurtured in earlier albums, and the ones released between 1991 and 2000. Anyone who has followed the band, and their various offshoots, over the years knows full-well that experimentation and diversification are the hallmarks associated with the name Djam Karet.
Far from the "New Age" dismissal of the original DPRP review, Suspension And Displacement is 70 minutes of rhythmic, and a-rhythmic explorations incorporating a plethora of different sounds, atmospheres and strange, tortured guitars assembled from hours of improvisations. Yes I suppose one could call them soundscapes but what other album provides an accurate anatomy lesson of the duodenum (Consider Figure Three)?
Heard through headphones in a suitably darkened room, the album is hypnotic, alluring, relaxing and yes, surprising. The mixture of acoustic guitars and swirly synths on Severed Moon is a contrast like no other. Experimental? Sure. Ambient? Certainly in places. Boring? Far from it. There is so much to absorb from this album that repeated playing will unearth new layers and subtleties. To date the band have attempted nothing else even remotely like this, possibly because they said all that needed to be said on this album.
Burning The Hard City doesn't just rely on improvisations, as there is a considerable amount of written material contained on the album. Growing experience with studio techniques also meant they could experiment more in layering sounds, overdubbing and even including material played backwards; if they so desired. For the freely-expansive playing during the extended pieces (four of the seven tracks break the 10-minute barrier with a further two coming close to that mark) the stereo guitar effects will make your head spin. Listen to At The Mountains Of Madness loud through headphones it. The ferocity of the performances teeter on the edge of tipping over into metal territory. Indeed the riff on Province 19: The Visage Of War channels Tony Iommi at the peak of his Sabbath days. The playfulness of tracks such as Grooming The Psychosis, the exemplary playing of guitarists Gayle Ellet and Mike Henderson, Henry J Osborne's prominent, dancing and at-times-funky bass, all backed by Chuck Oken Jr's inventive percussion makes, for me, Burning The Hard City one of the highlights of DK's long career
One of the big draws of this new limited edition set is the hour of previously unreleased archive material included on the third disc 1990: It's Not All The Same.
What we have are two two-track demos of songs that would appear on Burning The Hard City (Province 19: The Visage Of War and At The Mountains Of Madness), two jams recorded at the sessions for the two studio albums included in the set (Gong & Sun and The Guitar That Stretches), three live tracks (Swamp Of Dreams, Improv/Cities and The Red Monk) and one track from a radio session (Gerbal Jammin). The other tracks are spoken pieces taken from radio sessions, all recorded (as might be guessed from the title) in 1990.
There is certainly a diversity that justifies stating that it is not all the same. Only one track, The Red Monk has previously appeared on an album (1989's Reflections From The Firepool), and somewhat ironically, along with one of the other live tracks (Improv/Cities) is probably the weakest thing on the album, even if they do display how adventurous live shows of the period could be. The three live tracks are also the least hi-fidelity on the album, not disastrously so, but you can certainly tell them apart from the studio material.
This reissue is nice to have if you are missing either of the two studio albums, with the third CD worth obtaining even if you are a hardcore fan who already owns previous versions of Burning The Hard City and Suspension And Displacement. And of course, the fact that both of these albums have been re-equalised to bring more of the bass and mid-range through in the mix, and widen the sound space, is an added inducement for the unsure. But don't dither, numbers are limited.
Lunatic Soul — Through Shaded Woods
Through Shaded Woods is the seventh album from Riverside's vocalist, bassist and main songwriter Mariusz Duda. It is the penultimate instalment of Duda's epic treatise on the circle of life and death, a non-linear concept about a central character, upon whose death he wanders in the afterlife before inexplicably returning to life. This is the fourth, and last, of the "death" albums which are characterised by featuring organic instruments, an intact sinuous logo and more muted sleeves. You can read our previous reviews of this trio: Lunatic Soul, Lunatic Soul II, and Impressions. These are in contrast to the "life" albums that are largely electronic, have a broken logo and more ostentatious covers. We have covered these here: Walking On A Flashlight Beam, Fractured, and Under The Fragmented Skies.
For the first time in Duda's musical career he plays all the instruments on the album, and despite falling into the 'death' camp this album is probably one of the more optimistic albums in his entire cannon of work.
Stylistically there are influences drawn from dark Scandinavian and Slavic folk music, with electronic instruments being completely eschewed. There is obviously something about woodlands that brings out the folkier side of people. Jethro Tull's Songs From The Wood immediately springs to mind.
However please do not imagine that Duda has gone all bucolic and acoustic. Although the first half of The Passage does start in a predominantly acoustic manner, it gradually gets heavier, until at about the five-minute mark electric guitars take over the theme and lay down some heavy riffs. Coming after the rhythmic and 'trance'-like opener Naavie, it gives a better representation of what is to follow. It has been previously mentioned that some Lunatic Soul songs have a Dead Can Dance feel to them, something that can be said of a couple of tracks on this album, including Oblivion and the title track, which is crying out for a rich string arrangement and even makes the vibrato effect added to the vocals in the quieter section sound cool.
Summoning Dance is in many ways the musical embodiment of the whole concept, with its lyrics summarising the tale to date.
For example we have: "Three stones on the right side, three stones on the left, my vicious circle of life and death" with the two sides relating to life and death, and each stone one of the previous albums. Elsewhere the lines "Most of my afterlife I have spent trying to solve the diagram I forgot I had made up when it all began" references the visual representation of eight albums and where they sit in the cycle that can be found on the project's website. The first part of the song is wonderfully mellow and beautifully sung, with the second part of the song being instrumental and bringing to the fore various folk rhythms and tunes that are likely, at the very least, to get one's foot tapping along with the beat.
In contrast, the final track of the album The Fountain is a much more sedate piece that in places borders on acoustic ambient. It is a rather lovely song, merging acoustic guitar and piano perfectly. There is an inherent sadness to the melody, in sharp juxtapose to the rather uplifting and positive lyrics. In a perfect world the synths used throughout would be replaced with a large string section which would elevate the song and enhance the melodic perfectness of the piece, gradually fading away to leave a solo piano to bring the album to a rather majestic end. Sadly, these days there are not the budgets or the sales to justify outlay on such extravagances. This is to the detriment of composers everywhere but Duda does brilliantly with what he has available.
Of all of the Lunatic Soul albums to date, I have found Through Shaded Woods the one that is easiest to appreciate and get into, its style and themes resonating more strongly than some of the previous albums. A fine album from a singular talent.
Ed Palermo Big Band — The Great Un-American Songbook Volume III
If you are partial to a hotel foyer, elevator rides, or what they used to play on TV when there was a technical outage, then read on. For most DPRP readers however, unless you are so beleaguered by your eclectic prog-listening that you feel the urge to branch out into more anodyne territory, this third instalment, nee butchering, of some of our country's finest output will likely leave you feeling nauseous and a little violated. Harken back to those secondary school music recitals with a sordid collection of brass and strings massacring the air and making your ears bleed. At least here there aren't many bum notes, just a lack of imagination.
Ok, I know this sounds harsh. The reason being is that I just don't like it when a famous tune is ripped off and made worse in the process. It isn't paying "homage", it's ridicule. Back in 2019 I reviewed another jazz-based train wreck by Trio Kadabra and I am ashamed to say I did recommend checking out Ed Palermo's output as an alternative (I have generously given double the score here). But by alternative, think skin biopsy as opposed to colonoscopy. Believe me, the former is far preferable, but you still wouldn't enjoy it.
For those blissfully unaware, the Ed Palermo Big Band is a jazz collective that has been around for nearly 50 years, during which time it has largely shunned original composition for reworkings and jazz-ifications of Frank Zappa, King Crimson, The Beatles and a few other luminaries. Throw in Jethro Tull and Procul Harum on this release, and you have the latest tribute train-wreck. I'd love to hear Ian Anderson's take on Nothing is Easy, the interpretation just seems a total anathema to the intended theme. I would imagine he would be choking on his flute.
This is all despite the fact that there is undoubtedly some reasonable musicianship on offer. The high-school music teacher would be delighted. The trumpet solo on Run for your Life is just about noteworthy, I suppose. There is an attempt at tongue-in-cheek British humour with the spitting-image style sleeve notes and an ending monologue which might amuse you, defending on the mood. Bonus 0.5 points for that.
This is not to say that cover bands cannot ever do an interesting, well-executed reformulation of someone else's compositions. I heartily recommend Scott Bradlee's Postmodern Jukebox which displays some dazzling creativity and, in particular, vocal performances.
I guess the biggest shocker of all is the number of glowing reviews on the interweb for this album. So maybe it's just me, but I really would just consider this a Christmas gift for your least favourite relative. And by-the-way, I'm pretty sure Frank Zappa was not British.
The White Kites — Devillusion
On their Bandcamp account, this Polish band describes themselves as an "intergalactic psychedelic rock band". The White Kites released their first album, Missing, in 2014. The CD version seems to be sold out, which suggests that their debut was at least moderately successful.
Six years later they return with their second album, entitled Devillusion. The first thing that strikes you is the awesome artwork of the digi-pack. Polish artist Aneta Popiel-Machnicka has done a marvellous job here. Drawings that look like old maps, meticulously elaborated with much detail in numerous animals, mythic figures and different kinds of vehicles which fill the front, back and inner sleeve of the package. It is all drawn in pastel colours and very cleverly interwoven with the texts. Any band will envy The White Kites to have that kind of eye-catching artwork.
The White Kites are Sean Palmer on vocals, Jakub Lenarczyk on keyboards, Przemek Pilacinski on guitars, flugel horn and percussion, Marysia Bialota on piano and keyboards, Pawel Betley on flute and Jakub Tolak on drums. Ola Bilinska (vocals), Bartek Wozniak (guitars), Katarzyna Gawel (saxophone) and Darek Falana (clarinet) deliver additional musical contributions. Lenarczyk and Palmer are the principal composers.
The band states that this album is “genre-bending cosmic psyche rock with strong undercurrents of prog, folk, pop, alt-rock, Canterbury scene and Broadway musical.” That is a pretty accurate description of this eclectic mix of short songs that differ much in mood, melody, sounds and complexity. It also illustrates that this album is a mixed bag, and I'm sorry to say that that is not meant as a recommendation for prog fans.
The 14 songs range from masculine rock, all the way to vaudeville cabaret and even spoken words. The rock part is immediately present in Spinning Lizzie, a fine, although not very special, opener. Things get considerably better with Rather Odd, a slow track with energetic vocals against a very fine bass, organ and piano background and some sparse guitar. It is far too short, alas.
Then things begin to deteriorate drastically with Not A Brownie. This song starts nicely with 10CC-esque vocals, providing the music with a bit of a French cabaret atmosphere. Around the 1.5 minute mark the song develops into a mess of weird sounds without a melody. The composers must have been inspired by Jethro Tull's classic Thick As A Brick where a similar musical piece glues different parts in the first half of that epic. On that record it is functional as a bridge, here it is just chaotic and atonal and therefore quite horrible to my ears.
Fortunately Warsaw Summer turns out to be a joyful tune with male and female vocals, and an uplifting flute theme supporting the chorus. It begs for a longer arrangement and for more musical adventures around the theme but alas this song is over after just 3.5 minutes.
The next song Frozen Heartland is in a similar vein with calm acoustic guitar and flute. In spite of the title, there is a spring flavour all over the song. Then the band takes a new turn again with Dragon. At just over five minutes it is the longest track, but is a very disappointing affair as it deliberately sounds like a children's song (“When I grow up I'm gonna kill me a dragon”?) while musically not much happens. After some spins I became especially irritated by the ridiculous chorus.
Yet the worst is yet to come in the shape of the title song Devillusion, thankfully just under a minute in length. The vocals sound as if they wanted to mimic a clown at a village fair. The music isn't much better. Too bad the vocals and the music on Viral Spiral aren't much better. It is a very simple song with a very, very simple rhythm and containing another chaotic part, this time at the end.
With Blurred the band returns to the rockier approach with which they started the album. The vocal melody is fine and the soft bridge in the middle, dominated by very fine piano and flute, is warm and gentle. This is continued on Mysteries In The Sky, the absolute highlight of the album but only 1.5 minutes long! The female lead and harmony vocals are soft and romantic, the instrumentation sparse and very tasteful with some fine Mellotron. This little gem illustrates the potential of this band but it is far too short; the beautiful melody and arrangement should have been elaborated on for at least another three or four minutes.
QRMA is another musical-type song, with a over-the-top vocals that work rather well this time because the chorus is appealing. It blends a bit of Boy George with 10CC and Mink DeVille; and that sounds better than it reads!
Another low point is Goodbye Gaia which offers spoken words against a musical background that is supposed to sound threatening or dangerous. It doesn't, and therefore I think they made the wrong choice here.
The flow returns with Mother Mars, a gently flowing melody with nice flute playing and a bit over-the-top vocals that somehow fit in with the music. Halfway, a quiet soundscape starts with wind sounds, fine bass playing and subtle keys giving the music a slightly haunting mood.
The end piece Fallen Star is a fine song with majeure keys over which the saxophone plays some notes. The full outburst in the middle, develops into a quiet coda that slowly fades out. I think it could have been better if they used that full band outburst more extensively, thus making it a real finalé. Now it simply ends in a fade-out, lacking any drama, and that is too bad.
As an art rock album it may sound quite special, probably fans of musicals will also like what is on offer here. I seriously doubt if prog fans will find something that fills their appetites on this album. The music isn't bad and frequently it is quite enjoyable, but it is also disjointed, thus hiding what this band is really capable of. It takes quite some effort to see the potential eclecticism of the band, but unfortunately they never fully exploit their talents.
The art rock element dominates too much, leading to short songs with only hints of complex melodies or arrangements, making it not so interesting as a prog album. Therefore I can only give it a low score.