Crystal Palace — Scattered Over Europe
Following the release of Scattered Shards, Crystal Palace went on tour across Europe, taking them to familiar places in Germany, Scotland, England and a performance at the Winter's End Festival in Wales. Near the end of the tour they teamed up with Thomas Thielen (T) for a few Double-Headliner shows, which included a concert at Parkvilla, Alphen Aan Den Rijn on the 9th of November 2019.
In many ways a memorable night. First off it was only the second time Crystal Palace performed in their neighbouring country after their "Progdreams" appearance of 2014, and their energetic and enthusiastic performance certainly proves they where glad to be back. Secondly, it marked one of the two times in which they were able to use the full potential of backdrop visuals as designed by Ute and Peter Petersen, adding a wonderful atmosphere to their overall solid performance.
A third and lucky coincidence happened to be the presence of Henry and Roel Strik videoing the event for Background Magazine, while Thielen opted to record it as well, which gave Crystal Palace a nice opportunity to capture their own performance. A final fourth (personal) reason is the fact that it also marked one of the rare gig-occasions in which I was accompanied by my wife (see my review here).
The audio recordings on the night were made by Wolfgang Schröder, who experienced some minor recording-issues during the gig. Thankfully the combination of both CD and DVD still yields the full show, with only a few overdubs applied. The joined surprise-encore of David Bowie's Heroes after T's regular set is however absent. As a bonus the DVD features a short tour impression and a (hidden) preview of Crystal Palace's newly to be conceived Still There. A much anticipated 70+ minute concept album which should see light of day soon.
For an impression of the show I gladly refer to my previous concert review, although one aspect fully passed me by upon my first ever encounter to Crystal Palace's music: the thoughtful well-balanced set-list. Comprising out of tracks from their three latest studio-offerings it flows smoothly from the energetic opening tracks Scattered Shards and Into Your Dreams towards the sensitive melodic epic System Of Events and psychedelic sweetness of Breath and Sleepless.
The superb pinnacle moment of their ravishing encore Beautiful Nightmare firmly penetrates my dreams again, courtesy of Conrad's exquisite acrobatic escapades on guitar. The overall perfectly restrained dynamic guidance of Frank Köhler (keys), Yenz Strutz (bass, vocals) and Tom Ronney (drums) is also most excellent, as well as the tightness of their performance.
The real treat, especially in light of today's non-event pandemic state, is the accompanying bonus DVD capturing Crystal Palace in the act. Edited by The Strik Brothers the entertaining end result is a truthful representation of Crystal Palace's reputation as a live band, and one can see the real commitment and dedication in which the Strik boys have managed to catch the performance on film.
Their semi-professional approach is restful and steady, shifting between individual musicians in a fairly quiet comfortable way. Whenever there's a solo or challenging movement to be performed this is for most part caught on film, and in the occasion that several members simultaneously have a meaningful part to play the use of split screens, showing two or three musicians at once, is a superb solution.
With visuals getting deserved attention, only the occasional extreme close-up on Conrad's playing proves to be a minor issue. Then again, it's not a professionally recorded show and on a whole the results are very good to excellent. Actually, I've seen professional multi-camera HD recordings of far inferior watchability, so a release is certainly warranted.
Fans of Crystal Palace, and those in favour of contemporary well-executed dynamic progressive rock, you had better get in fast in acquiring this item, for it has a limited availability of 300 copies. Or rather 299, for I have rather fond memories of the evening in question and this great package is a wonderful keepsake. Crystal Palace's heated performance as captured on Scattered Over Europe proves to be fully convincing and next time an opportunity arises to witness a band unbeknownst to me I'll gladly jump at the chance again. Hopefully the catering will once again have Serious Curry and cleansing beverages on the menu...
Tom Doncourt & Mattias Olsson — Tom Doncourt & Mattias Olsson's Cathedral
Last year I had the immense pleasure in reviewing a surprising release from Mattias Olssen, under the band name of Molesome. This was a marvellous work, which was written as a way of dealing with a number of personal traumas he suffered. One was the death of Tom Doncourt, who Mattias had been working with to produce an album of music together. Both lived on different continents, and Tom's health was not the best, but Mattias based in Sweden always made time to visit Tom's Long Island studio. Tom unfortunately passed away in the spring of 2019, with the album 95% complete. In a fitting homage to Tom, Mattias has made sure the album has been completed and released. With his dedication and compassion for his fellow musician, the release of Cathedral is a more than fitting tribute to a wonderful musician.
For those that do not know Tom Doncourt, he was the keyboard player for American band Cathedral who released a classic album, Stained Glass Stories in 1978, which unfortunately was just as the Punk music revolution occurred, and therefore the record did not receive as much acclaim as it deserved. Cathedral would briefly reform in 2007, releasing their second album, The Bridge. Tom himself was not just a musician, but an artist and instrument builder, as well as a preparator at the American Museum of Natural History. He lead a very eventful life, and it is well worth some time to discover what Tom has left as his legacies, beyond this wonderful piece of work.
Mattias Olssen was the drummer with Änglagård for a number of years, but currently runs his own recording studio in Stockholm, Sweden, and produces his own music under a number of different names, and it is time well spent exploring his varied catalogue.
One thing which is always guaranteed with a release which Mattias produces, is the exceptional production values. With Cathedral, you can clearly hear every instrument, none of which have been altered since they were originally recorded as if you listen very carefully, the odd mistake can be heard. But this adds to the emotional quality which you can almost feel while listening to the album. It is almost like being present at a celebration of Tom's life and contribution. The production leaves you feeling privileged to be present during a very special moment.
The album contains a number of short soundscapes, interspersed with two epic progressive tracks. #1 is easily the best instrumental track I have heard for some time, and it alone is worth hunting down a copy of the album. It is everything a prog fan could desire. Hard, driving aggressive sections interspersed with moments of complete joy, where analogue keyboards completely change the tone and atmosphere, before the thumping bass line returns to drag the listener along. #1 itself serves as a fitting epitaph to Tom. But the album contains so much more.
Chamber is an almost choral piece, with a Hackett like guitar intro, before becoming something whichwould not be amiss if it featured on a Talk Talk album. Poppies In A Field is the only track with lyrics, and begins like a Beatles psychedelic era song, before taking on many different musical movements, and this is were Mattias' frenetic drumming comes to the fore, creating a life of its own, accompanied on its journey by Tom's keyboards.
Due to the music and production, Cathedral should not be approached as just a tribute, but a celebration of Tom Doncourt, and Mattias should feel assured he will have made him very proud.
Nodo Gordiano — Sonnar
Personally I never really warmed up to King Crimson as their eclectic style of music proved to be too detached from my personal taste, although some overlap occasionally occurred, mainly involving John Wetton. This changed slowly after joining DPRP and the subsequent discovery of Daal, a band incorporating some of the finer KC elements. Since then a wondrous learning curve started to unfold that broadened my musical horizon, cautiously drawing me towards the Crimson court.
This trajectory doesn't apply to the Italian band Nodo Gordiano, who started out as a King Crimson-coverband in 1994 and have since released four KC-influenced albums, where the sole constant has been founder Andrea de Luca (strings, keyboards). Following the 2014 effort Nous he has now gathered a new line-up for Sonnar, featuring Filippo Brilli (winds), Natalia Suvorina (voices) and Davide Guidoni (percussion, keyboards). The same Guidoni known from the aforementioned Daal and numerous other Italian progressive bands like Gallant Farm and Nuova Era to name but a few.
Guidoni joined Nodo Gordiano's ranks only as recent as April 2020, but feels right at home. He for instance designed the attractive artwork and suggestive content in the booklet and contributed two luscious Daal-ish cinematic compositions to the album. His unbridled imagination also delivered a compelling video to accompany Limbic Rendezvous and it seems he was given carte blanche towards his drumming escapades, spurring on the inventive gloomy, darkly atmospheric and complex compositions most effectively with his versatile rhythmic approach. An immaculate performance matched in chemistry by all musicians.
Before Nodo Gordiano (aka. Gordian Knot) really tie their adventurous intractable melodies Only Fool! Only Poet! opens the album in light Eloy atmospheres courtesy of De Luca's gracious guitars, surrounded by spaciously layered synth. Gradually gliding into Daal expressions the light gloomy atmosphere gives way to a restrained feeling of Tale Cue (without the wobbly guitars) after which Guidoni's rhythmic beat takes off. Surrounded by psychedelic effects of guitar, tasty upfront bass lines and expressive vocals by Suvorina the song keeps grabbing attention, aided by a warm vintage sound and a marvellous transition towards groovy funk and ethereal vocals that guide the melodies along.
With the introduction of saxophone in Limbic Rendez-vous the atmosphere completely changes. Not only compelling King Crimson vibes come to mind, but Van der Graaf Generator influences make their entrance as well. With smoothness of guitars slowly making their appearance, gaining control once the infuriating melodies simmer down into an electronic passage, backwards demonic messages cast a spell that's successively met by De Luca' dominantly present basslines. Further insertions of Robert Calvert inspired sax-eruptions, intertwining keyboards and otherworldly vocal weirdness keeps the psychedelic momentum going convincingly, gaining further efficient disturbing depth in combination with the unsettling video.
Charun and Varanth, the two Guidoni offerings on the album, both refer to Etruscan mythology. Each representing Chtonic demons of the underworld who guide deceased souls into the afterlife. Out of these two Charun is the most daunting composition displaying eerie haunting atmospheres that build into an experimental cinematic soundscape, with an unleashed Guidoni furiously exploring every inch of his percussive array. The sound effects used and mellotron coda breathes the same lovely atmosphere as several of Daal's efforts.
Vanth, a female demon often accompanied by Charun, is a delightful refreshing breeze of slowly progressing melodies in comparison. Initially inhibiting a gentle mellow flow her demonic deceiving nature starts to reveal itself through repetitive rhythms and mellotron. Neuroticism and experimentation takes over meanwhile spiced up by Guidoni's remarkable percussive demonstrations while De Luca repays with equally impressive Robert Fripp-impressions giving ample of character to this challenging composition.
The biggest challenge, capturing the proverbial Gordian Knot principle meticulously, is the preceding After Dusk, a suite of pythonic proportions divided into seven segments. It's opening statement depicts a steamy and brooding lounge with administered freestyled jazz on piano and drums which after a short intermission drives off into the KC inspired passage Debut. The omen cast through the lyrical line "21st century schizoid girl" couldn't be more precise, for the adjacent complex instrumental passage pulsates through ever-changing rhythmic convulsions and improvisations, firmly etching energetic images of KC onto ones retinas. With psychedelic spacerock impressions distilled in the process it's a high adrenaline rush from start to finish, culminating in the laid-back mellowness of breather Pometine.
Gliding onwards on caressing bass and subtle melodies, guitars pick up the adventurous song once again in Pale Gallery. A vibrant movement that bursts with energy from upfront bass, intoxicating guitars and minutely executed steady beating drums, surrounded by inscrutable percussion that wrings an impossible pathway in between the sheer vastness construed within the music. The breathing space offered in Transhipment harbours a divine tranquil feeling via the brief mesmerising vocals by Suvorina, before it soars into great electric guitar melodies forcefully driven onwards by bass, accurate drums and experimental synth-waves. Once the resulting Krautrock feel is washed away through blasting sax, the band tighten their inconceivable strings one last time in Nightdrive, spiralling into an eclectic tangled web of musically unfathomable structures.
The final song Sonnar, inspired upon the verses of a Vedic hymn, reveals a beautiful dreamy atmosphere that rather surprisingly yields a wonderful Journey debut-album impression. Taking ultimate flight through clouds of beautiful piano and aesthetically pleasing guitars it majestically soars through the stratosphere on engaging melodies and excellent emotive vocals from Suvorina, beating with a sense of seventies rock in its wing-spread. The brilliance of blissful serenity accomplished in its coda is equally alluring, making this one of the more appealing and easier to get into tracks.
Overall the excellent performances leave nothing to be desired, although Nodo Gordiano' entangled compositions need substantial time and energy investment on their listeners part. Once invested they do emit an embracive appeal which will delight King Crimson devotees and those eagerly in search of similar eclectic journeys.
Considering De Luca and Guidoni' short collaborative timespan it sounds enticingly cohesive and I'm curious to find out what Nodo Gordiano' future will bring. A solid intriguing achievement worth exploring.
The Prog Collective — Worlds On Hold
Billy Sherwood has always been a bit of an enigma for me. At times it appears he does not have enough confidence to plough a musical field of his own, relying upon his links to Yes to pull in a co-conspirator with which to release an album, such as his projects like Conspiracy, Circa and Yoso. Listening to these projects I have never really found any real musical quality to return to these albums. Billy then has a long, and obviously financially beneficial career in producing tribute albums. This for any musician must appear to be an admission that you can't produce anything better than what has gone before, and you are comfortable mimicking others. This is probably why Billy has been the Jack of all trades for Yes.
Putting these concerns to one side I decided to ask to review the latest Prog Collective album, Worlds On Hold. This was because it appeared that with this album, Billy has gone beyond the usual collaborators who all appear to have links with Yes, and having seen the video for Two Trajectories which features Geoff Tate on vocals, it appeared their may be some merit in this new release. Upon receiving the tracks, my suspicion was immediately raised. Their were numerous song titles which seemed familiar. My suspicion was confirmed reading the accompanying press release. The album was split into two distinct halves, the first half of original compositions, and the second half featuring what was described as “spectacular versions of familiar classics”. This particular comment is open to debate. There are seven cover versions on the album, four recorded at this time, then three “bonus” tracks, which appear to have been kicking around for some time, so they have been used to pad out Worlds On Hold. How old these tracks are is not clear, but the version of Penny Lane features John Wetton on vocals, so this is at least four years old.
The originally composed tracks feel lack-lustre and their composition are nothing special, so the general feel of these give the impression of an album of fillers with little to highlight as worthy of a particular mention. If pushed, the previously mentioned Two Trajectories featuring Geoff Tate is what drew me to the album. The song itself has an almost psychedelic feel, and Geoff's unique voice helps to elevate this track as the stand out, primarily due to him singing in a more laid back way than you usually associate with him.
Of the other new songs on the album, the opener and title track, Worlds On Hold, has an Arabian feel with some annoying jangly guitar which seems to dominate. Anything But Goodbye features Patrick Moraz and Jon Davison, and guess what, it sounds like an unused Yes track, as does the next track on the album, Meant To Be. Curved Air's Sonja Kristina is featured on the next track, Brave New World, and the production of her voice makes it difficult to distinguish that it is her singing. Finally, we have the final new song, Glory Days Ahead. This features Arjen Lucassen, of who I am a huge fan. But Arjen's vocals are not his greatest asset, and here sounds like a poor man's John Lennon, on another uninspiring composition.
Next we have the cover songs. The first is Salisbury Hill, a song I hold in high esteem. With Roine Stolt providing vocals, this would be acceptable as a fun bonus on something like a Transatlantic bonus disc, but the magic of this song is missing. The other covers such as A Whiter Shade Of Pale sung by Graham Bonnet (whose voice is well passed its best) and Nights In White Satin sung by Blood Sweat & Tears' David Clayton-Thomas, just appear pointless. They do not add anything to the source material, in fact I can't see the point in covering another artists song if your version is worse than the original.
It is a long time since I have listened to an album that has so frustrated me. All I keep thinking is, Why? This type of release only succeeds in giving Progressive Rock a bad reputation, and having the affront to name the project The Prog Collective is a travesty. Anyone who picks this album up thinking this is an example of where progressive rock music is currently at, gets an album of stereotypical songs which does not provide any enthusiasm to explore what creative artists, who are proud to have their music labelled progressive, have to offer.
Rodrigo San Martín — Arcana (Act 1)
Another great unknown album from 2020. Arcana is the last effort from Rodrigo San Martín, a very talented musician and composer from Argentina, and his most ambitious opus so far. Rodrigo has gained much respect for his previous works and he's also the leader of the project The Astral Platypus, some kind of fake old band making fun of progressive rock and its history. He's also member of La Resistencia Progresiva, a group of progressive rock bands trying to promote this type of music. Good luck with that...
Arcana (Act 1) is a concept album about the story of music. I will try to describe the music in this album later but one important thing is that this album has been recorded using Audio 8D, so it's highly recommendable to listen with headphones to fully appreciate the experience. This technique is like a super surround sound, having more sound sources: in front of the listener, behind, above, below... Well, the sound is truly great and the production works very well so let's go with the music.
The album starts in a magnificent way with the massive 22 minutes Ouroboros (Prelude). What a prelude that is! One that has so many thing that it's best to listen to it than describe in words, but I have to try... This album is made to listen being attentive because there are many nuances and all of them are interesting and well executed. According to the Bandcamp site the list of guest musicians is ridiculous and includes the Mbabane Philharmonic Orchestra, The Hal-Azizi Percussion Ensemble y The Mydalr Percussion Group and a hundred of musicians playing many classic instruments, tribal sounds and more.
So you can guess the variety of styles here is huge but overall the progressive rock structures help making the album a very cohesive piece. The different vocalists here also help a lot because each one fits perfectly with the passage they represent; the tribal and folk sounds gives you the idea of the global concept of the album and the multi cultural points of view when taking about music. I have described only the first song but the same can be said of the other songs because they also have many influences, instrumentation, etc. The only negative thing I can say is that the Prelude is so good that after listening to it the rest of the songs seems too short and you will find yourself wanting to begin the album again.
Rodrigo San Martín has proved once again he's one of the references of progressive music in South America but this time he has gone the extra mile and I think he deserves more attention because the music and the ideas here are great. So I can only recommend you to go to his Bandcamp site and check this album as well as his previous ones. They can be downloaded for free but if you want to contribute to great music this is your chance. You won't be disappointed and you will find yourself listening to this album again and again in the future.
Tusmørke — Nordisk Krim
Is there something psychedelic in the waters of Norway? Bands that you don't think would have a psyche-rock component to them, have it in spades. For example, Motorpsycho's recent three releases do, with the last one pushing into my top 3 albums of last year, see The All Is One.
Now early in the new year comes Nordisk Krim from the Skien-based psyche-nauts Tusmørke. This is their eighth studio release and is another step on their increasingly eclectic path away from their prog-folk roots. The only other album of theirs that I have had the pleasure of hearing is 2016's Ført Bak Lyset to which I gave a recommended rating and I still listen to it every so often.
Meaning in English "Nordic Noir", Nordisk Krim is a full 82-minute concept album about the Danish bog bodies, of which Tollund Man is the best-known and best-preserved example. Bog bodies, mummified in peat bogs, have been found dating back as far as 10,000 years ago, but the majority are Iron Age (2500 to 2000 years ago).
Initially, when the bog bodies were discovered from the 18th century onwards, it was thought they were the victims of crime. For Tusmørke, the real crime was in disturbing these sacrifices to the gods. Members of the band have been interested in this phenomenon since childhood, when they visited museums displaying the black, naturally mummified bodies with orange hair. For the band Nordisk Krim 'celebrates the willing victims of ancient rites ... whose souls are [now] among the stars'.
So enough with the history lesson.
Tusmørke's Nordisk Krim is mainly sung in English with a couple of numbers in Norwegian, and Ride The Whimbrel drops you straight into Tusmørke's sound world. No fade in, no overture, as psyche-rock phasing, wah-wah guitars and spooky flute support an incantatory melody with vocals that exhort us to 'ride the whimbrel to the Goddess of the bog'. They switch tempos with ease, and Hammond organ takes centre stage as the track moves forward. This is excellent stuff.
Tusmørke follow this with a couple of shorter tracks, the first of which is a crazy psychedelic-pop song. Age Of Iron Man has a pacey, hook-laden, sunny melody that features violin, a synth solo, 'whoo-whoo' backing vocals and handclaps. Which all stand at odds with the dark subject matter of 'strangulation in the Danish marsh'!
Then Tusmørke start to stretch-out their musical muscles with longer tracks that take Can's komische style into their own strange sound-world of flute, violin and Hammond. This sound-world is one that uses cosmic space-rock and drags the listener through the peat, smearing you with mud. They are clearly letting their imaginative musical explorations of the rituals of the Iron Age Danes, run wild.
The songs throughout Nordisk Krim have intense melodies fleshed-out in their individual and eclectic style. This does not mean that the album is predictable, it often has some surprising turns and side-steps. On Moss Goddess you get a stately Gothic melody that is baroque in its detailing, and then suddenly produces Hawkwind-like sequenced synths. The closing (The Marvellous And Murderous) Mysteries Of Sacrifice goes through a variety of moods and even manages to make a spoken word section feel throat-shredding.
Given the length of the album, there are the occasional missteps, such as the coda to Dog's Flesh, but they are far outweighed by the rest.
Tusmørke's Nordisk Krim sees them exploring a psyche-laden, earthy but not earth-bound music. Music with dirt under its fingernails and a crazed look in its eyes, as it stares at the stars. It is never less than thoroughly entertaining and eminently repeat-playable.