Baris Dai — Ambient Conditions Pt. 1
One might know multi-instrumentalist Baris Dai, hailing from Turkey and now residing in Eindhoven (Holland), from his previous engagement in Razor Inc.. Or alternatively from our own pages, when two winters ago Dai briefly joined DPRP's ranks as a reviewer. He left shortly after due to other commitments, one of which is his first EP Ambient Conditions Pt. 1.
Released as the first offering to a series, it features instrumental, guitar-orientated progressive rock compositions harbouring elements of ambient and leanings towards the heavier side of the prog spectrum where Dai meets the likes of Cody Clegg and Xavier Boscher, while finer elements of prog metal shine through, mindful to a certain John Petrucci.
The Days Get Longer After All opens playfully in a refreshing seasonal atmosphere, where fine chiming bells and atmospheric coldness slowly builds towards a tension-seeking attractiveness. Appealing melodies, created through Dai's warm melodic guitar sense, aided by an excellent clarity of sound, further reveals a well-balanced multi-layered structure wherein wordless vocals are surrounded by fine arrangements of synth. The post-rock inspired ending, reminiscent to Michel Héroux and serving as an effective red line throughout, ensures a gentle flow into the quiet peacefulness of And A New Cycle Begins.
This composition thrives from a gracious guitar solo that elevates the melodies while slight fusion and quirky electronics head towards a great finish of embracive melodies and excellent heavy prog. Showcasing mild prog metal appeal from excellent riffs and tight breaks, it's finale melts into an apotheosis of divine guitar melodies that seamlessly converges past the recurring Post-rock theme into the timeless Then Warmth Of Scarce Sunlight.
Here, whilst gradually advancing through a delightfully restrained ambience, it's Dai's soothing guitar chords that nurse it towards an epic threshold that sublimates into a stream of fully enchanting dynamic propulsions and emotional guitar play, bursting with liquefied melodic energy. A majestic movement of the EP, in a song which minutely shows the effective mood-changing variations found within Dai's engaging compositions. It also fully reflects Dai's initiative of embedding "the beautiful side of the coldest times" into his attempts, though this segment is sadly also in complete alignment with the song's title and over way too quick.
Overall Dai has captured the individual storylines brilliantly in highly varied compositions, while at the same time a beautifully unified trinity has been created resulting in complete harmonisation of these three adventurous songs into one beautifully flowing rounded whole. The unfortunate Bandcamp-delay, causing interruptive gaps in the otherwise flawless linkages between the compositions, is a slight impediment, but once Dai rounds off the second instalment to his series, a physical version incorporating both parts should rectify this minor detail.
It's a bit premature as to whether Dai can maintain and deliver this high level of musicality on a full-scale record, but if this EP is anything to go by, then I'm more than willing to find out what lies in store. A much promising debut, that's shows great potential and warrants checking out.
Kyros — Celexa Streams
One of the interesting outcomes of the corona virus pandemic, as far as music fans are concerned, is the increased direct interaction between artists and their fans. There have been numerous live streams and previously unseen or rare live footage broadcasts across the internet.
One such band indulging in such fan-worthy interactions was Kyros and their series of Isolation Session Live Streams broadcast throughout 2020. The live sessions, most of which are available on YouTube, were broadcast in seven instalments that covered much their entire discography, as well as a special edition covers show featuring several guests.
Considering that the band, as well as the guests, were all in different locations and only interacted via their individual digital streams, the results were quite remarkable and a testament to the group's abilities and tightness as a live band. The appropriately named Celexa Streams is a collection of 13 of the best performances from the Isolation Sessions, fully remixed and remastered.
This release incorporates material from across their three studio albums. We have two tracks from their 2014 debut as Synaesthesia, six from Vox Humana, the first album under the name Kyros, and five from their latest album Celexa Dreams. So this is a fine summary of their career to date.
The quality of the recordings is absolutely top notch and although, perfectly understandably, pretty much following the studio versions, there are some differences in the arrangements that are fun to spot. Moreover, the recordings have a greater urgency and dynamic. There is no mistaking the fact this is a live recording and raises anticipation for their six forthcoming concerts in August and September, which are unfortunately limited to the South of England.
The mixing is great, with each of the four musicians, Shelby Logan Warne (vocals, keyboards), Joey Frevola (guitar), Peter Episcopo (bass) and Robin Johnson (drums), clearly heard throughout, and delivering some fine performances that impress even more than on the studio albums. In fact I would go as far as saying that several songs on this album are superior to their studio counterparts. As the CD is a limited release it is well worth getting hold of a copy while it is still available and thus supporting a young but exceptionally talented quartet of musicians. Great stuff indeed.
Let See Thin — 2Years 2Late
Founded in 2018 in Łódź, Let See Thin released their debut album 2Years 2Late at the end of 2020. The band say that they perform music 'from the borderland of progressive rock, art rock and crossover prog'. This is a description that I agree with, but I would add that there is also a strong alternative rock feel, and some classic rock elements too.
Let See Thin's 2Years 2Late is very song-focussed with strong melodic choruses and verses that often have good solos without anything extraneous. Everything is precise, passionately serving the well-structured tunes. They mix guitars and keyboards to great effect over a driving rhythm section, giving the music a restless energy that is topped-off by a strong vocalist.
Most of the songs on 2Years 2Late manage to avoid overt predictability but I feel they are at their best when they are upping the inventiveness. For instance on Time, a prog ballad mixing hand percussion and swathes of keyboards, or on To The Stars with its Radiohead-like cleverness. There are interesting solos and musical touches throughout, like the Phil Collins-style drum pattern that introduces Leave, along with the post-rock build and release of Mist.
Let See Thin's 2Years 2Late is a release of robust alt-rock-inflected prog that reminds me of a harder-edged (in terms of the guitars) Pineapple Thief. As a debut it leaves me intrigued, as I can't quite see where Let See Thin will go on their next release. Will it be down a heavier prog path to Riverside or Osada Vida territory, or to a less avant art rocking Radiohead land (or it could be both)? Either would be thought-provoking, and whichever way they go, I'm sure that Let See Thin will, as on this release, make whichever way they go, their own.
Nolan & Wakeman — Tales By Gaslight
It's been 20 years since Clive Nolan and Oliver Wakeman last combined their considerable talents, which resulted in the albums Jabberwocky (1999) and The Hound Of The Baskervilles (2002). This 3CD box set celebrates the collaboration by including both albums remastered, plus a collection of previously unreleased recordings entitled Dark Fables.
Nolan & Wakeman is an inspired union of two talented and like-minded keyboardists and songwriters. Stylistically and musically, they recall the musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber, especially Jesus Christ Superstar and The Phantom Of The Opera, not to mention Wakeman senior's Journey To The Centre Of The Earth.
Their first joint project, Jabberwocky is based on Lewis Carroll's poem included in the 1871 children's novel Through The Looking-Glass. It boasts a first-rate cast of musicians from the world of British prog including Peter Gee, Peter Banks, and Tony Fernandez. Book-ended by the grandiose Overture and Finale, it's interspersed with tuneful rock songs such as Enlightenment and The Mission performed by an on-form Bob Catley and memorable ballads like Dangerous World and A Glimmer Of Light sung by the wonderful Tracy Hitchings. Only the penultimate track, Call To Arms, seems to sag a little.
The majority of the singers and musicians on Jabberwocky were retained for the follow-up album, The Hound Of The Baskervilles released three years later. It is 15 minutes longer than its predecessor; a worthy successor that adheres to the same formula including a narrator. Unless my ears deceive me, for the most part, Nolan provides the symphonic orchestrations, while Wakeman handles the lead synth lines and soloing influenced very much by his illustrious father. Here's a full review of that album..
To complete what would have been a trilogy based on classic nineteenth-century literature, a third album inspired by Mary Shelley's 1818 gothic novel Frankenstein was planned. Although several tracks were recorded, the project fell through due to a lack of record company interest. These tracks, along with outtakes from the two previous albums make up the third disc in this set, Dark Fables.
It opens with the obligatory and triumphant Overture which introduces several themes which presumably would have featured in the finished work. Wakeman's familiar synth noodling is very much in evidence. On several of the following songs, Andy Sears and Paul Manzi are the featured lead vocalists, and although they both acquit themselves well, the vocal melodies are not as strong as they might be. I'd Give You Everything features heavy guitar and synth exchanges, but sounds underdeveloped.
The Mirror is a piano-led ballad with a memorable choral hook and lush keys strings, although the self-pitying lyrics are a tad overdone. The same can be said for Why Do You Hate Me? which is also let down by an annoyingly in-your-face synthetic rhythm. Time Passes also suffers from the absence of a real drum kit. Given that Rick Wakeman's drummer of choice Tony Fernandez played on both the previous albums, I can only assume that the rhythm parts are temp tracks.
One of the better tracks is Elizabeth, a mellow instrumental with Nolan on piano and Wakeman on synth and a touch of keys flute to close. The Wedding Approaches is another piano-led ballad, this time sung by Charlotte Dickerson with Tim Nunes on violin and the always excellent Gordon Giltrap on classical guitar. The standout track for me however is A Descent Into Madness, a lively instrumental with several key and tempo changes and fine synth, violin and organ soloing.
The following three tracks I assume are out-takes from The Hound Of The Baskervilles. Both 221B and The Baker Street Irregulars are jaunty instrumentals, presumably intended to add a note of levity, and although the latter is quite effective, it's perhaps a wise decision that they never made the finished album. The Man Called Sherlock is the most fully-worked track with melodramatic, gothic organ and piano, no doubt inspired by The Phantom Of The Opera. The final track The Jabberwocky is Rick Wakeman's recital of Lewis Carroll's poem in its entirety, without the original album edits.
There's clearly a lineage between the music in this collection and Clive Nolan's later musicals, She (2008) and Alchemy (2013), which for me are two of the finest albums of the last couple of decades. Oliver Wakeman for his part would enjoy further collaborations with Steve Howe and Gordon Giltrap, in addition to numerous other album appearances including a stint in Yes.
The ubiquitous Karl Groom has done an excellent job in remastering the tracks for this collection, which may be an incentive, even if you own the original albums. Certainly, if you like Jabberwocky and The Hound Of The Baskervilles then the material on Dark Fables will appeal. For anyone else, if theatrical progressive pomp in the style of Arjen Lucassen, Ayreon and Arena float your boat, you will find much to enjoy here.
Red Bazar — Connections
Red Bazar's highly acclaimed debut album Connections, stuck in bizarre blue artwork, originates from 2008. Not a very long time ago to warrant a re-recorded version, one might assume, yet a lot has happened since. Most significantly from 2013 onwards when founders Paul Cromerie (drums), Mick Wilson (bass, piano), and Andy Wilson (guitars) where joined by keyboard player/vocalist Peter Jones (Camel, Tiger Moth Tales). A reinforcement that has thus far resulted in several successful albums and now sees them reconnect to Connections again in a delightfully energetic way.
Flashing in bright red artwork, it captures the forged chemistry of the band magnificently, where the relatively modest role of Jones brings colourful symphonic layers to their eclectic hotpot of predominantly guitar-oriented progressive rock embedded with a passionate touch of jazz/rock and harmonious fusion.
Opener The Meet is a perfect example of the bands immaculate interplay, where the versatility of the dexterous rhythm section brings superb sophisticated Jazz fusion which is supported by engaging contributions on keys from Jones who himself is perfectly subservient to Andy Wilson's lavish guitar fireworks. Regards To... restrained opening statement showcasing formidable driving bass lines and flexible dynamic drum parts, backed up by delicate symphonic elements, becomes even more beautiful when Wilson strings together one gorgeous solo after another with Steve Morse-like precision. The mild Seventies inspired groove and light touches of keys furthermore brings a strong melodic JPL sense to the music which is surpassed by an excellent ripping guitar performance in it's coda.
The successive Ride On The Wing takes a serene step back with a playful piano opening after which the attractive atmospheres, mindful to Sebastian Hardie/Windchase, reveal virtuously accessible catchy movements that makes one drown in melodic richness before restful piano guides the smoothly flowing music towards a heavenly conclusion. A sure delight for fans of Camel, much like the moving melancholic surroundings portrayed in the laid back Fallen Tears. Teamwork is again excellently taken care off here with beautiful interaction between piano and guitar, each of which tells their own sad story, while symphonies and dynamics add texture in an increasing intensity of excellent finger licking guitar playing.
Bass Tardo's forcefully tight and rocking nature is as much a delightful expansion as it is a feisty diversion to Red Bazar's sound. The acoustic intervention and Hammond organ gives it the right amount of diversification, while the excellent filling complexities accomplished in the drum patterns and superb variegated guitar flourishes brings compelling visions of KONG's industrial soundscapes, nurtured by Jones keyboard escapades.
In Walk The Milestone the band's imminent progress into a tight-knit unit is visualised through funky bass play and delicate electronic accents that come to the fore within the dynamic melodies. Incorporating an intermezzo drum solo that breaths a lively improvisational character into the song, it's the overall powerful passages, the surprising Anyone's Daughter-like synth parts and Andy Wilson's mighty speed walks on guitar that gives way to adventurous enjoyment, culminating in solid fusion wealth.
During the course of the album there are several exquisite summery atmosphered passages to be enjoyed, something which shines even brighter in the epic finale of Connections. With Jones stepping upfront, adding symphonies and lovely key insertions in the catchy melodies, the delicious guitar parts and intricate varying structure of the song is reminiscent of the wondrous journey recently encountered in Cycles (The Worm Ouroboros), while a slight psychedelic middle part lets these lovely guitar sounds smoulder for a while before evolving mercilessly into a blinding light show finale where Andy Wilson lights his inner Andy Latimer flame.
A late highlight of 2020 I'm slightly at a loss whether it's an essential purchase for those who have the original, for Red Bazar's Bandcamp site has recently removed it's contents (and surprisingly not included this new version) so comparison proved not possible. Considering what's generously on offer though I would definitely recommend them to discover this new version.
Sounding like a clock and embraced by a nice warm production Connections is an ideal companion for daily activities or the perfect support for outdoor barbecue activities which will set fire to those who enjoy instrumental eclectic prog rock with a throbbing heart of heavy rocking fusion and a lightning touch of Camel's Moonmadness. The entertaining music simultaneously begs to be blasted out of the speakers when the situation calls for it, so in light of summer approaching fast a slight distancing warning for my neighbours is possibly in order, hereby given.
Solstice — Sia
Being a child of the NWOBPR, Solstice have been a name I have been aware of for many years, but a band I have never invested any time in because I have never been a fan of the folky, hippy type of music which Solstice deliver. While not disliking all folk-related output (I have always had a particular liking for Ireland's finest, The Horslips), the traditional English folk music has usually left me pretty cold.
Newly signed to IQ's Giant Electric Pea label, and with 40-odd years having passed since the evolution of Solstice, I decided to give their latest release, Sia (Gaelic for six), a spin. I'll be honest from the outset, I did not like this album very much, so if you don't want to read anything negative about the band, please ignore the rest of this review.
Shout opens the album with an encouraging jazzy rhythm, but I found the chorus cringe-worthy. It sounds something like the Tears For Fears song of the same name, but it just sounded naff.
Next up is Love Is Coming, which begins as a slow burner that just burns and burns, never catching fire and before the end I just wanted to extinguish what little flame their was.
Long Gone is a song which is more ambient than engaging, sounding akin to The Carpenters when the vocals kick in. Certainly not my choice of listening, if I were able to choose.
The violin takes the lead at the beginning of the more up-tempo Stand Up, which I was beginning to like before the vocals kick in, with Do-Doing backing up the verse. Andy Glass' guitar solo on this track, somewhere between Andy Latimer and Nick Barrett did provide something which made my ears prick up in a positive way.
The shared vocals between new singer Jess Holland and Andy Glass made the beginning of A New Day almost unlistenable, all due to Andy not having a particularly good singing voice. But this song did provide the highlight, when towards the end, the tempo picks up, and Andy produces a solo which reminded me of a Steve Rothery solo at the end of an early Marillion epic. Sadly, almost as soon as this happens, the song finishes.
To close the album, the Solstice classic Cheyenne has been re-recorded. I have listened to both versions, and the new version pales in comparison. When the tribal rhythm kick in, where on the original the drums are up in the mix, the new version has the drums mixed so badly, it almost sounds like a dubstep track. This obviously raises the question, why re-record a song when you don't improve upon the original?
I did really like the album artwork, and if DPRP were to present an award for best artwork, this would be high on my list.
There will be plenty of people reading this who like Solstice. I know a few people who have been fans since their 1984 debut album, and will love this album, but it is just not for me, sorry.
Darryl Way — Destinations 2
I recall once treating myself to a sports massage and being delighted with the background sounds of Jonsi and Alex's Riceboy Sleeps. Such a change from the tinny, basic, pseudo-ethnic noodling of your average Thai treatment room. This latest release from Darryl Way falls more at the latter end of the spectrum.
For those who don't know, Darryl Way is the 72-year-old founder of the crossover folk-prog band Curved Air. Primarily a violinist, he can also dabble with guitar and keyboards. And so we have another largely solo lockdown effort, following on from (you guessed it) Destinations.
Like its predecessor, there are no attempts at hiding the concept. The lakeside idyll on the cover and the 12 geographically-inclined track names tell the story rather bluntly. Prog Rock magazine is quoted as follows: "This is guitar hero as arch-melody maker, putting his chops in service of each song's mood. This is an artist searching for and finding a fresh way to express his unquestionable talent." Hmmm, not so sure about that.
So, how's the music. Well, certainly more varied to these ears than the first album. Each track nods to the cliché you might expect from its title, such as opener Alhambra Knights with its Moorish-Arabian motif, Choctaw Ridge's hillbilly breakdown segment, or Ocean Blues which evokes a bit of Fleetwood Mac's Albatross. Indeed, there are more similarities to Fleetwood by virtue of the excruciatingly simple rhythm sections throughout. This isn't one for all you lovers of complexity out there. You will like the slow guitar melodies and solos though, many of which raise the ghosts of The Shadows and Hank Marvin. The album finishes with the Enya-ish folk-infused Across the River Wide which introduces some vocals in an almost clappy-church mode.
You can easily drift away to much on offer here, which I suppose is the point; just don't be operating heavy machinery at the same time. Overall though, for DPRP readers it is largely anodyne background "spirit of unicorn" music, destined to be nestled in your CD rack between those REM and Oasis albums that were there to make you look cool but you never (quite rightly) ever listened to.