Asia Minor — Points Of Libration
I have a friend who writes to me during these lockdown days. The handwriting on the envelope is majestic and distinctive and its origin and authorship is easily identified. However, even when the cultured calligraphy can no longer be clearly identified in the grey clasp of twilight, its authorship can never be mistaken.
The paper and envelope have a pungent signature smell that is quite unique to that person and his house. Some hasty research into this matter suggests that signature smells of both people and houses are common. In these sanitized days though, they have become increasingly obscured by the liberal use of deodorants and air fresheners; so much so, that these once commonplace aromas associated with individuals and their homes, are at best disguised and often thoroughly dispersed.
Now this might be a good thing if a particular aroma was unpleasant, but in the case of my pal, it just has a smell associated with him and his abode. Neither foul nor sweet, neither choking nor cloying, but just incredibly distinctive.
In this respect, there is something about Asia Minor that reminds me of my encounter with my pal's letter.
From the moment the first bass notes of Deadline Of A Lifetime emerge, a style associated with the music of Asia Minor is immediately recognisable. This realization is further emphasised when occasional flute parts are added to the atmospheric mix and distinctive guitar tones and idiosyncratic vocals join the fray.
The bands easily identifiable style and distinctive aural aroma is neither piquant nor bland and neither caustic nor mild. Its agreeable perfumed odor, is underlined in bold during In The Mist when the flute makes a much more prominent and impressive appearance.
If you liked tunes such as Landscape from the bands Crossing The Line album, you will love much of the new album, as it encapsulates the range of styles associated with Asia Minor.
Asia Minor are best summed up as a band that creates enchanting melodies, delivers blistering instrumental section and combines interesting rhythms with toe tapping choruses and accessible song structures. These characteristics are often punctuated by heavily accented vocals that give the band's music a unique ethnic identity and a familiar fragrance.
Points Of Libration is Asia Minor's third album and is their first release in over forty years. Their previous albums Crossing The Line (1979) and Between Flesh And Divine (1980) are highly regarded. Both albums contain an interesting mix of Turkish and Western rhythms and melodies.
Two original members remain in the current lineup of the band. Setrak Bakirel (vocals & guitar) and Eril Tekeli (flute & guitar) created Asia Minor when they came from Turkey to live in France as students. As well as the two founding members the band's current lineup includes Evelyne Kandel on bass, Micha Rousseau on keyboards and Julien Tekeyan on drums.
Despite its immediately distinguishable style, which will appeal to fans of bands such as Camel, Jethro Tull and early King Crimson, this release possesses an enviable freshness. The bands zesty enthusiasm for their art permeates everything and as a consequence it is on the whole an impressive and satisfying release.
None the less, nothing on the band's latest album arguably has the fruitful flute power of Preface and Mystic Dance (which incidentally is one of my favourite prog flute tunes) that featured in the band's Crossing The Line release. Equally, there is little that matches the enthusiastic rasping of the silver tube found in Dedicace, or in the ending of Lost In A Dream Yell from the group's Between Flesh And Divine album. Similarly, I felt that none of the pieces contained in Points Of Libration were able to capture the poignant beauty to be found in the melodies of pieces such as, Boundless that appeared on Between Flesh And Divine.
There is however much to enjoy in this 21st century version of the band. There were many occasions when I became smitten by what I heard. Despite my misgivings about some of the choruses that were lyrically uninspiring and a perhaps a tad too repetitive, I frequently felt my eyes flickering and ears twitching in delight.
The overblown flute section in The Twister is particularly pleasing and drags the tune by its armpits towards a more inspiring place. The effect of the vocals at the beginning of Oriental Game is reminiscent of Greg Lake's work on Crimson's debut album. Oriental Game is an enjoyable piece. The delicate melding of influences works really well and the amalgam of Eastern and Western musical idioms in the instrumental sections creates something that is quite memorable.
On occasions during the arrangement, I was reminded of Tull's Root To Branches release, but comparisons with other bands kept coming to mind as the track progressed. The explosive yet controlled bombast of the guitar break was reminiscent of the style of Solaris. The melodic appeal of Camel was also brought to mind as Oriental Game, meaningfully and impressively flowed towards its conclusion.
The most satisfying and probably interesting instrumental section of the album however probably occurs within Urban Silk. Swirling rhythms abound and the amalgam of different ethnic musical flavours really works well. The texture of this alluring, rhythmic cloak dance is enhanced by the wordless vocals that emerge at the mid-point of the tune. When the ensemble goes through the gears and stretch out a little, they are able to exhibit and reveal silky smooth musicianship and effortlessly point to the heights they can reach.
The 'love or hate' nature of the heavily accented vocals that dominate the album might be an issue for some, but in my view the quality of the instrumental sections more than make up for any perceived weaknesses in this area. I do not find the vocals in the release an issue, as I recognize that they are an essential part of Asia Minor's identifiable bouquet of sounds. Nevertheless, I can imagine that many listeners might struggle to accept the vocal delivery on offer.
I remember having a similar issue when listening to the works of Malibran some years ago and found their singer's pronunciation so distracting, that it was hard to appreciate the satisfying structure of the instrumental sections of their compositions.
Interestingly, the concluding tack on the album is sung in Turkish and to my ears the use of the singer's mother tongue really works well. It certainly helps to alleviate the general impact of the bands usual vocal style. The use of the acoustic guitar is the perfect accompaniment to the flowing vocals and helps to create a perfect atmosphere for the tune to develop. The combination of a catchy melodic chorus and some fine trilling flute ensure that the album ends in a satisfying manner.
After the group's long hiatus of over forty years, the quality of Asia Minor's much anticipated release, has exceeded my expectations. I thoroughly enjoyed its familiar scent and I am sure that I will continue to appreciate its distinctive aroma on many more occasions.
Eyesberg — Claustrophobia
Vincent van Gogh (1853 - 1890) is without doubt one of the greatest painters ever. I remember vividly how I was completely blown away by his paintings in the Paris Musée d'Orsay. Where the bright summer sunlight cleverly enlightened his delicate world-famous expressionist paintings that were on display, amongst equally famous paintings by his contemporaries Monet, Manet and Cezanne. Although these paintings are so well known, the interplay of colouring and light offer you in reality an unworldly beauty and make you stare in sheer awe, meanwhile wondering how on earth such a deeply troubled mind as Van Gogh was ever able to create such magic. For this hugely talented painter remained largely misunderstood and neglected during his short and tragic life, leading to deep poverty, a gruesome self-mutilation and in the end to his suicide.
This life full of discrepancies and tragedies and almost devoid of well-earned admiration has more than enough content to be inspirational for many sorts of art. Of course there are numerous books and other publications and there are also quite a few documentaries, as well as the occasional movie such as the recently released Loving Vincent. But in music it is quite hard to find songs, let alone full albums that are inspired by this painter. Of course Don MacLean's Vincent is one of the few exceptions but for the rest there is hardly anything to be found.
German neo-prog band Eyesberg make up for that with their new concept album Claustrophobia. It is inspired by the life and times of Vincent van Gogh. The core of the band has remained unaltered since their record debut in 2015 and consists of Georg Alfter (guitar, bass), Norbert Podien (keys, drum programming) and Malcolm Shutterworth (lead & backing vocals). The band write the music collectively while UK-born Shutterworth takes care of the lyrics. On this album Jimmy Keegan (ex-Spocks Beard) plays the drums and percussion and also did the mixing and mastering of the album. Emma Edingloh helps them out with some fine backing vocals. Eyesberg's style of music is firmly in the neo-prog category with hints of IQ, Spocks Beard and especially Aragon because of the obvious similarities in the voices of lead vocalists Shutterworth and Les Dougan.
The album has eight tracks and opens with the epic title track Claustrophobia. It opens quietly with soft keys and guitar over which Erica van Gilst, who is credited to play Vincent's nasty mother Anne, talks some Dutch words before bursting out in some mad hysterical laughter. After almost three minutes the full band comes to life with a fine electric guitar melody and full keys, culminating in the first vocal verses. The words flow, there are several interesting breaks, a fine but too short flute-like keys solo, the bass and drums lay a very tight rhythm scheme and the occasional guitar outburst. Maybe the end of the song is a bit too sudden, it would have been fitting to play an extensive coda for a couple of minutes more. The lyrical content is interesting too, telling the story of the very troubled relationship Vincent had with his humourless mother who completely rejected him. Musically and lyrically this is undoubtedly a convincing opening of what promises to be an interesting concept album.
Unfortunately the band doesn't succeed in fully fulfilling that high expectation in the rest of the songs. Strange Boy is a slow song with nice drumming halfway just before a quiet musical break in which Vincent's mother re-appears, evoking some incoherent thoughts by the mentally unstable painter. The music is fine but not very special though. Thr second epic Walking In Storms opens up-tempo but the pace slows down quickly after which the music looses much of its attractiveness. The vocal melody is not very exciting, the musical accompaniment of this melody is flat with little development or surprising musical twists. Taking into account that the lyrics deal with Vincent's emerging love of walking outside, preferably during harsh weather conditions, in order to deal with his parents' disapproval of his personality, this is quite a disappointing song.
Fortunately the band shows they know how to write a good, albeit too short song with Salamander Tree. It has a good vocal melody with superb alternate singing by Shuttleworth and Edingloh that is mixed perfectly in the production. Because of the merging of their voices this is easily the best song on the album, together with the title track.
They hold on to that high quality in the rocking Sacrifice with extensive up-tempo guitar soloing interspersed with subtle bell-like keys and some mad street organ sounds in the end. The lyrics deal with Vincent's self-mutilation and the fierce music supports the madness of this drama quite well.
The craziness of the artist is also dealt with in We Want You Out and Into The Asylum, two rocky songs with fine breaks, nice guitar riffing and some good guitar soloing.
With last song Final Ride, Eyesberg return to the rather non-descript music of the second epic. It doesn't flow nicely, it has a very simple and therefore annoying rhythm and is, at least to my ears, as far from a fitting end of such a concept album as can be imagined. To make it worse the 30 seconds fade-out is very uninteresting, giving this album an unsatisfactory end.
The bright orange colouring of the well-designed art work suits the subject of this concept album well, as Vincent used these kind of bright colours extensively in his peak period in southern France. All lyrics, as well as additional useful information, are printed in the nice booklet. The package breathes the bands' determination to present the buyer with a high quality product.
It is therefore such a pity that they choose to use white lettering against a bright yellow background for telling the overall story line; that doesn't work well at all. Why hasn't someone told them to use a darker colour instead of white? The obvious effort to offer something really special was almost perfectly achieved but was messed a bit up by the use of the wrong colour combination of the lettering. A real pity, yet the rest of the art work is very well done.
In the short description that came with the copy of the cd Eyesberg presents this new album as a masterpiece. Well, it isn't, although there are more than enough hints to show how good it could have been. They are a competent band who may probably not explore many really new musical directions but they surely know how to write a nice prog song. Musically the album would have benefitted from a more poignant selection of sounds towards the more complex tracks.
Don't let this mild criticism lead you to the conclusion that this album should be left alone. Especially for those who like neo-prog combined with some good lyrics there is far more to enjoy than to criticise. Furthermore, I can only advise anyone with an open mind towards new music and an interest in Van Gogh to give this one a listen. I think that it could have been better but that won't refrain me from coming back to this album regularly.
Mystery — Caught In The Whirlwind Of Time
The year 2020 promised to be a great year for Mystery. Thriving on the highly acclaimed Lies And Butterflies and their latest majestic release Live In Poznan the road was paved gold towards an extensive tour that should have taken them to new grounds, firmly establishing Mystery as a progressive rock force to be reckoned with. A supposed tour, meant to take off sometime March 2020, was obviously halted by a severe case of pandemic bad luck and postponements to a later dates were once again met by Murphy's law.
Building additional misfortune the public screening of the Caught In The Whirlwind Of Time at Mystery's second home of "De Boerderij", with the band interactively present during a live link, was cancelled at the last moment. And to make matters worse the manufacturing process of the Bluray proved to be a serious problem resulting in further delays and frustrations from all camps involved. The now finally available Caught In The Whirlwind Of Time is however a powerful, brightly shining, silver lining.
Recorded at De Boerderij in Zoetermeer (Holland) on the 17th of November 2018, it marks the premiere of the complete Lies And Butterflies album, after individual song performances at previous 'Night Of The Prog' and 'Progstock' concerts. These were the actual kick off to a tour that six months later saw me attend a gig at Luxor (Arnhem), followed by a visit to Zoetermeer several months later.
Both of these shows were surrounded by energetic and dynamic performances, emotionally touching (epic) compositions, impeccable instrumentation and passionate deliveries, where the interaction between the band and audience gained a heartfelt wondrous fellowship feeling. In Zoetermeer's case, experienced first hand, there is a mysterious element of magic present.
A secret ingredient sprinkled from the ceiling, mindful to an endless supply of fairy dust that elevates the concert hall into Symphonic Prog Everland. A magical transportation ever so lingeringly descending when rejuvenated fans, gathered from all four wind directions, excitingly levitate home again. Caught In The Whirlwind Of Time captures this marvellous mystifying atmospheric voyage brilliantly.
The package comes as a single Bluray and a deluxe 3CD/Bluray edition with a lovely 16 page booklet that contains a small foreword by Kev Rowland. The option of the deluxe CD-version will delight those (guilty as charged) who prefer to listen to Mystery's music in the surroundings of their car, work or other places that are exempt from Bluray abilities. The best way to experience this immaculate live performance is to clear one's schedule for the entire evening, insert the Bluray and get plenty of supplies for the journey. For the total event, in a pristine 5.1 mix, takes a whopping three hours, in which time the band give their usual outstanding best and my XXXL package of stroopwafels is comfortably finished by the time it ends.
The show is recorded by John Vis' team, also responsible for Mystery's Second Home DVD. A professional team with excellent camera work, catching fully surrendered musicians in the act at the right moment of time. With such attention to detail and registering the many elements of musicians interacting, or picking up something out of the ordinary, perfectly. The inserted 'mystery' camera adds further insightful glimpses.
The many perspectives used show Michel St-Pere on guitar visibly enjoying himself and occasionally duelling with an enthusiastic Sylvain Moineau (guitar), meanwhile supported by a cheerfully concentrated Antoine Michaud on keys. Rhythmic backing is provided by the imposing silent force Francois Fournier on bass and pedals and a moved Jean-Sébastian 'The Animal' Goyette on tight armed fanatical drums (and emotional speech). A well-oiled approachable machine pouring their hearts out, lubricated by the charismatic sublime performance of Jean Pageau on keys, flute and exceptional vocals, hooking in the audience with his captivating performance.
Over the course of three hours many songs fly by that increase the smiles of familiar faces by the minute, containing epic compositions like Looking For Something Else and The Willow Tree that meticulously show their unifying individual formidable talents, especially in the superbly executed instrumental passages. Surrounded by gracious harmonies and interlacing breathtaking emotional ballads (How Do You Feel?, Dare To Dream,Something To Believe In) deliciously versified fan favourites like Come To Me, Pride and Delusion Rain in their turn make dreams come true, effortlessly charging the concert's emotional atmosphere.
Without selling anybody short, it's the highly commanding friendliness of Pageau that impresses most. Next to stunning vocals he showcases his delightful versatility on key-tar and flute, while he sympathetically interacts with the crowd. He even joins them in Travel To The Night as he slowly makes his way back from the balcony through the crowd, hugging fans in the process. A sight for sore eyes, much like his performance in Shadow Of The Lake, completely making it his own and adding compelling expressiveness to this dark atmosphered gripping song. A track which, as I've probably stated before, shows the wonderful maturation of Mystery in recent years.
With no holds barred the ultimately thankful A Song For You finishes their regular set, after which personal favourite Chrysalis sees another euphoric theatrical moment and excellent executions, followed by the crowd pleasing catchy rocker The Preacher's Fall that brings an end to a wonderful show.
The band's statement to "Just Let The Music Flow Through Your Mind And All Will Be Fine" is a sound advice which I second in a heartbeat. The warmth, atmosphere, emotions and sympathies encountered during a Mystery concert have all been captured extremely well and the only thing actually surpassing this marvellous effort is an actual live setting.
While that's something to believe in, I also believe I have to lay new foundations towards an archipelago of desert islands, for this release is on a par with their Live In Poznan release and many of last year's exquisite Top-10 releases. Depending on personal favourites Live In Poznan might prove to be slightly more cohesive in light of song choices, yet Caught In The Whirlwind Of Time has the upper hand through added visual attractiveness, also outshining their Second Home effort.
A brilliant testimony of a band fully on top of their game, to be cherished by many a Mystery fan. For those interested or as of yet unacquainted (remember: two years ago I was one of those!): Caught In The Whirlwind Of Time makes a great entrance to a wonderful world of high end (neo)-progressive rock with delicious symphonic AOR touches and an emotional richness in its melodies. Therefore, an objectively aspired yet mysteriously unintentionally biased, full recommendation is in order.
Soft Works — Abracadabra In Osaka
Over the years, I have had the pleasure of seeing drummer John Marshall perform on a number of occasions. I only witnessed guitarist Allan Holdsworth once in a live setting and that was during his stint with UK. Even though he was arguably not at his best that evening; his trademark tones and textures full of perfectly chosen notes and slurring legato runs, were tied together superbly. His virtuoso playing was colourfully gift wrapped with a knowing nod and delivered with neither hesitation, nor pause. His performance that evening made an indelible mark upon an impressionable nineteen year old.
Holdsworth's inspirational playing lights up much of this release and it is his performance that undeniably leaves a residual feeling of open mouthed awe long after the last track has faded away.
The album captures a live performance from August 11th in Osaka. The Soft Works band came to fruition from an idea put together by Moon June records boss Leonardo Pavkovic and music journalist Ken Kubernik in late 2001. Both were keen Soft Machine fans and wished to see the music and style of Soft Machine continue in some form. Indeed, before this meeting Pavkovic had already been in touch with bassist Hugh Hopper and saxophonist Elton Dean about a possible reunion.
By 2002, Hugh Hopper, Elton Dean, John Marshall and Allan Holdsworth had agreed to work together to create and record the album that became known as Abracadabra. Abracadabra was released in 2003 and a series of ten live gigs were arranged in America, Japan and Italy to promote the release. The band was to play a final show at the Baja prog festival in Mexico on March 5th 2004. At the time of writing this review, footage of that concert is available on YouTube.
Having watched that Baja footage and listened to the Osaka gig, it is interesting to see how the performance differed and no doubt evolved from night to night during the bands brief existence and short tour. With musicians of the caliber of those involved in Soft Works, it is no surprise that inventiveness and improvisation on the night were at least as important as structure and form.
Whilst there is obviously a clear structure to many of the tunes; there is no denying that a feeling of inventiveness and an ability to improvise when the need arose were clear factors in creating a sound that was never less than fresh. In this respect, the performance of the band at Osaka is full of enthusiastic passion and is a fitting testament to the abilities of the players as an outstanding ensemble and is a significant reminder of the superb abilities of the players as soloists in their own right. Alongside Holdsworth, the most prominent voice in the band is undoubtedly Dean and his easily recognisable style is at the forefront of stunning renditions of Soft Machine classics such as Kings & Queens and Facelift.
Nevertheless, it is the work of John Marshall throughout the show, that alongside Holdsworth's virtuoso performance threatens to impress the most. Busy and energetic, gentle and subtle in equal measures; Marshall's thunderous strikes and tender caresses breathe life and energy, beauty and tenderness to individual pieces, or parts of pieces when required. His playing is simply inspirational and it underpins everything in such a fertile, yet solid manner that it enables Holdsworth and Dean to draw upon this sound, but nonetheless exciting foundation, to create imaginative solos that pump the chest and stir the senses.
Hugh Hopper's bass acts as a perfect foil to Marshall's dexterous playing. On the evidence of this live performance however, it is surprisingly the less flamboyant and prominent voice in the group. Nevertheless, his contribution is immense and there are occasions, such as in the beginning of Abracadabra, when his signature sound breaks powerfully through. When this happens, the ornaments around the stereo system bow, rattle, shake and roll in deference to the low end potency of his fuzzed bass.
There are many highlights in the set. A personal favourite is the languid Bakers Treat. In this piece, space between the notes and the mood that can create, has an important role to play. It is one of the few tunes when the quartet is not playing with measured ferocity.
However, Holdsworth's solo, even though it is measured, creates a warming spiced intensity that tingles the lips and warms the throat as it connects and thaws away any coldness lurking deep inside. This feeling of inner warmth continues when Dean's supportive keys enable Holdsworth to explore a number of enchanting melodic paths.
The album is attractively packaged and includes detailed sleeve notes that fully explain the development of the Soft Works project. The sound quality of the album is very good and Mark Wingfield has done a magnificent job in restoring this live mixing desk recording which contained many audio issues into something that sounds as good as it does.
If you have any regard for the music, or style of Soft Machine, then I am sure that this release will delight in many ways.
If you wish to hear a quartet of superb musicians playing with freedom and empathy to each other, then this album should be heard, or if you simply wish to hear a masterful performance from Allan Holdsworth, then you need look no further than Abracadabra In Osaka .
It's simply that good!
Various Artists — Fanfare For The Uncommon Talent: The Official Keith Emerson Tribute Concert
I had the good fortune to attend this special event in 2016. “Tribute” is an appropriate word to describe this concert, but “celebration” is probably more accurate. The vibe throughout the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles was not at all somber. Instead, it was enthusiastic and upbeat. This recording does an amazing job of capturing the incredible spirit of that evening.
It would take half of this review just to list all of the prominent musicians who took part in this show. Keith spent his last years in Southern California and during that time, many of these artists became his close friends. What really shines through is how important and influential his music is to all of them. There is an energy to these performances that is unique and undeniably heartfelt. It is very apparent that they wanted this concert to be special and that mission was definitely accomplished.
The setlist, consisting of many ELP classics and Emerson solo tracks, presents a good retrospective of his career. A bit more of The Nice or less obvious ELP material would have been a positive, but why squabble? There are many highlights, including Rachel Flowers powerful performances on The Barbarian and The Endless Enigma. Steve Lukather joining The Keith Emerson Band With Marc Bonilla on A Place to Hide. Keith's son Aaron, showcasing his own significant talent on the beautiful piano piece, Ride. The flawless work of Eddie Jobson on Bitches Crystal, Lucky Man, and Fanfare For The Common Man. Perhaps most impressive is Jordan Rudess performing on what he has called the most important piece of music in his life, Tarkus.
As someone who was there, this release is a truly welcomed keepsake. Ultimately though, the real value of this CD/DVD/Blu-Ray set is that it allows many others to share in the wonders of this fantastic concert. As the title states, Keith Emerson was an uncommon talent who entertained and influenced millions of people. This excellent salute to his legacy is a must have for any fan of this prog giant's singular talent.