Age of Aquarius — Out There
Out There is a second release by a relatively new duo from Netherlands with Nakoma Z on the vocals and Peter Cox from Chinawhite doing the instrumental part and adding some vocals as well. DPRP reviewed A Dragon's Birth and Challenges from this band.
Whereas Chinawhite did have some nice tunes, I have to say that Out There fails to rival with previous releases. To put it simply: it is not prog, but a flawed attempt at making trad rock-pop wrapped in warm quasi-prog keys and the atmospheres of the 80s, somewhat reminding me of a lukewarm version of Kingfisher Sky.
The redeeming factor is that the mastermind of the band seems to be a competent keyboard player, but in terms of composition and production this album is one large heap of errors. The vocals are badly produced and out-of-key, sounding like they were recorded in one take. Everybody seems to hate auto-tune now, but here's an example of why one could actually benefit from using it.
The guitar sounds weak; although the solos are decently recorded, the playing is that of a novice, who loves soaring Gilmour-style guitars, but does not know where to end a phrase. The drums, instead of keeping the groove, just dully click on the background to support the strumming. The songs use very safe, paint-by-number harmonies, and the lyrics are downright cringe-worthy in their naivety:
Is there anyone out there I need to know,
Cause I've started to feel so low;
Is there anyone out there I need to know,
Cause baby I'm feeling so low.
Is there anyone out there, I wanna know,
I've been searching a lifetime, but now I don't know where to go”.
My overall feeling is like being served with some musical dish, not only improperly cooked, but being brought at a listener's table from an artist's microwave, half-heated.
If you are a musician yourself and stumble upon this record, keep it in your collection to learn from other people's mistakes. Would this be a demo version, and not an official release, I would rate Out There higher, but as an LP this release has too many considerable flaws for me.
Dwiki Dharmawan — Hari Ketiga
How do you begin to describe a release that sears and scorches away any preconceived boundaries associated with prog, jazz, and fusion?
It is almost impossible!
The best advice that I can give anybody who has a passing interest in the art of Dwiki Dharmawan is clear your ears of any presumptions and to check the album for yourself.
Without doubt, Hari Ketiga is progressive, and is innovative in every respect. However, rather like some abstract art showcasing an informal arrangement of nuts and bolts, that might be found in the Tate gallery, this Avant aural experiment may well dishevel your senses and will almost certainly not be to everyone's taste.
The album was recorded in the Casa Murada studio in Spain. It has been a tradition for performers associated with the Moonjune label to meet at this studio and to create albums that consist of what are essentially improvised sessions. Hari Ketiga was recorded live on May 17th 2017.
These live recordings by various Moonjune artists have often been highly productive and successful. They have given rise to a number of superb releases over the years, including one of my all-time favourite albums; Markus Reuter's Truce. The spontaneous nature of the Casa Murada recordings are frequently able to capture a moment in time where inspiration invention and improvisation are all in evidence and are used to great effect.
Dharmawan's previous album Rumah Batu was also recorded in this way during May 2017 at Casa Murada. It is a testament to Dharmawan's talents that he should be involved in the creation and gestation of two equally inventive, but widely different albums in the space of a few days.
The collective experience of recording Hari Ketiga spontaneously really gives the players an opportunity to explore different avenues and directions in their improvisations.
Despite being fully prepared for an eventful experience, I must admit that there were many occasions when I struggled to fully appreciate the qualities and traits of this release. At times, I felt overwhelmed by its daring attempt to create a radical type of music. It was an enjoyable challenge, but I often failed to piece together in my mind, the music that makes up the album's nine acts or tracks, into a recognisable or cohesive form.
Needless to say, that probably says more about my inability to follow the intricate nuances and complex patterns within the loosely glued Avant structure of the work, rather than any inherent deficiencies in compositions or in the improvised performance of the players.
With hindsight, it may also have been beneficial, if I had tried to comprehend the concept of the album. This is clearly explained in the extensive sleeve notes. However, with the exception of Tull's Thick as a Brick, I have rarely been impressed by the musings that lie behind concept albums. The music always has a priority and a prominence for me and to be honest I often tend not to read or think about the story or concept that lies behind the album.
The album is magnificently packaged. The informative booklet is perhaps indicative of a juxtaposition that lies at the core of this album. There is an apparent disparity between the carefully scripted and prescribed nature of its concept, with the looseness and undoubtedly spontaneous nature of much of the music. One can only speculate on how difficult it must have been to bond them both together.
The voice of Boris Savodelli is very prominent in this album. He utilises a large range of vocal effects using words and annunciated wordless vocals, chants, whispers and howls to give the album an unsettling edge. I have always enjoyed vocal improvisations, and the work of Norma Winstone with Azimuth remains the gold standard by which I consider and assess this type of approach.
Savodelli's inventive contribution will not be to everybody's taste. I can understand why his delivery and bellowing range could well irritate some listeners. However, what cannot be denied is the skill in which he utilises his voice as an instrument in its own right. Even when he is providing a narrative for the album's concept in the form of spoken vocals, or heart felt singing, his idiosyncratic style and delivery has an intense impact. However, the most powerful sections were usually created when Savodelli stepped even further outside the box, when using wordless sounds, or utilising tonsil tickling dust from his magic box of vocal tricks and effects.
The other players also make an impressive mark upon proceedings. Asaf Sirkis is probably one of the most inventive drummers I have heard. His presence on Hari Ketiga is immense. His kit work is graceful and elegant when the mood of the music requires that sort of approach. However it is arguably the small touches that makes his work so distinctive and there are plenty of wonderful rhythmic embellishments to soak up and enjoy.
My inability to consistently appreciate the music's qualities, form and direction was certainly fueled by its unconventional structures, unusual tempos, bewildering vocal and enigmatic touch guitar pulsing. As the album unfolded, soothing piano passages jostled with tense interludes full of menace and foreboding and discord and dissonance. Nevertheless, over the course of the long duration of this bold and audacious project there were occasions when the inventive use of, the human voice , the touch guitar , the piano or the drum kit had me beaming in surprise and purring in admiration.
Dharmawan is a wonderful player, there are some occasions when his ability to set a mood with a dramatic solo, simple phrase or a flurry of choice notes really make an atmospheric impact. However, for the most part, Dharmawan's contribution is much more contained within the collective work of the ensemble than in some of his previous albums, such as Pasar Klewer.
Marcus Reuters' imperious contribution on touch guitar squeezes and stretches the music in a dynamic fashion. Shifts of pitch and tempo are used to forcibly dress the album. He is also wonderfully adept at supplying a variety of tasteful textures to complement the ensembles overall sound.
There is no doubt about it that Hari Ketiga is a novel and important release. It is different and satisfyingly challenging. It emphatically demolished a lot of my preconceptions about what music needs to be successful. Its misshapen patterns continue to spin in my head. They stubbornly decline any invitation to settle down into a form that I can recollect. I guess it will take a huge amount of listening before I will be able to recognise and follow its various shades and tints.
I cannot help but wonder how Hari Ketiga will be perceived in fifty years from now?
Perhaps it might be regarded as something of a classic, perhaps 'a redefining moment in progressive Jazz fusion?
Perhaps it might be regarded as an earnest, but ultimately flawed attempt to present something out of the box that is utterly unique?
Unfortunately, I suspect it may be left, in a dusky corner, seldom played, with a hastily scrawled label attached to its cover.
"This 2020 release by Dwiki Dharmawan is far too inventive and much too abstract for its own good; it is impossible to describe!"
Mariusz Duda — Claustrophobic Universe
Release after release, Riverside mainman Mariusz Duda keeps proving to be not only a skilled composer, singer and bassist, but also a creative mind with a penchant for experimentation. This is nowhere more evident than on this album, a collection of dense electronic vignettes where alienating atmospheres are anchored by intricate rhythmic patterns, the latter a Duda trademark anyhow.
A piece of work which is equal parts backdrop to contemporary dance and soundtrack for a lost 70s Polish sci-fi b movie, listening to an album such as this is a challenging experience as much as it is reviewing it, and after all probably that's the whole point: to challenge, to agitate and defy any possible preconceptions you might have before even experiencing a second of it. Now, I'm no expert in ambient and electronic, and I guess many of those who are in that same position regard both as being cold and sterile. Works like Claustrophobic Universe exist to prove them -us- wrong, regardless of what you think of them.
This is no easy listening, actually its brother album. Lockdown Spaces is even more abstract and oppressive; do yourself a favor and give it a listen. But after repeated listens to Claustrophobic Universe new details, hidden melodies and noises expose themselves in a similar way a stone is slowly chiselled to reveal a more defined figure, check out Planets In A Milk Bowl or Waves From A Flat Earth to catch the drift; this is music that takes its time to unfold, which in my book is always a good thing.
Also, even if I normally like to let just the music be the source of inspiration and stimulation of the senses, in this particular case, I recommend to experiencing this piece of music along with its video companions (you'll find them on Youtube) a collection of minimalistic animated pieces which are a perfect match for the songshave a look at the shorts for Knock Lock or Escape Pod.
Prog purists stay well away (your loss, sorry), but adventurous listeners might find a treasure trove of intriguing delights.
Spirits Burning — Evolution Ritual
On Spirits Burning website one finds the following announcement: 'Spirits Burning celebrates space rock, progressive rock, new music, and other music'. A fair and just statement, especially in regard to their newest effort Evolution Ritual. For the music entrusted to this 19th release by the collective, under the watchful eye of musical director Don Falcone, strings together a colourful collection of psychedelic rock, country, folk, pioneering space rock and alienating spacious oddities.
The participating galactic variety of members from Hawkwind, Gong, Curved Air, Blue Öyster Cult, VDGG (to name but a mere fraction of all involved) ensures formidable performances, yet the instrumental acoustic representations found on Evolution Ritual are not your everyday cup of prog compositions. The unconventional instrumentation ranging from Vargan, Nut Shaker, rock, paper, scissors, Oud, Kanjira and Cajon doesn't make it easier, although my appreciation for Cowbell obviously fares well.
The psychedelic acid received from percussion, mouth harp (Vargan) and clarinet in opener Evolution Ritual feels weirdly connective to a saucerful of Hawkwind paranoia. In Abandoned Habitat this brings forth once-deserted landscapes, as Michael Moorcock's harmonica brushes alongside fiddles and wind brushes. Stimulated imagination gives Theatre On The Other Side Of The Sea the same timely airy edge of far out grainy desolation, while the echoing dark atmospheres dripping with luscious violin (Darryl Way) in Caves perfectly envisioning damp caverns.
Dark atmospheric reverberating tensions alongside refined acoustics gives Shadow Language equally successful expressiveness, and sees a refreshing highlight in As The Sky Was Being Painted as Alan Davey's (Hawkwind, Pre-Med) sensitive bass foundation creates a fine canvas for uplifting ambient play on guitars, harp and piano.
Many of the folk inspired compositions, for instance Seasiders, Your Better Angels and Night Of The Moon Dial, are carried vividly by virtuous violin escapades which results in earthy world music in Lookout Point and Outside World. Strolling Into The Future ups a confusing ante as it serves an irresistible, line-dancing allowed, country jig to the plate that emphasizes the collectives folky acid prog peculiarities.
The final two compositions worth mentioning, The Laws Of Umber and Alternating Universes turn Spirits Burning's universe joyously upside down. The latter's take on Caribbean infested New Orleans jazz, highlighted by folky Santana vibes from trumpet and percussion, is an inspired effort yet pales in comparison to the smile provoking exertions of The Laws Of Umber. Testing every logic it envisions 'Late Night Show' marvels where Jimmy Fallon & The Roots join all previous members of Hawkwind for an energetic outburst of bewildering percussion, dynamically driving drums and ravishing sax from David Jackson (VDGG), yielding an eclectic Hawkwind anomaly in the process. Considering the extensiveness of Hawkwind's past members Stonehenge possibly portrays a better fit.
Despite being a strong contender in this year's "unattractive covers" list, the album has its charms and through several imaginative, quirky or funnily entertaining compositions brings rewarding values. It does require time and effort on the listeners part and personally I'm inclined to confess that warming up to Evolution Ritual's 65 minute acoustic trip challenged the speedy growth of grass and previous electric efforts have fared better. Fans and devotees of acoustic psychedelic prog can however find a lot to their liking here.
Mike Tiano — Creétisvan
At DPRP.net we receive lots of new albums, many by artists we've never heard of. For reviewers, it is always a challenge to pick the really interesting albums, and therefore the description that comes with the album is vital. Yet sometimes this description is somewhat wishful.
Mike Tiano lives in the Seattle area, north-western United States, and is well known for many services he has done for several renowned artists. The extensive information that accompanied his album Creétisvan mentions his work as builder of the first Yes website which he managed for many years thereafter. He also had to do with people like David Sancious (Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, Jon Anderson), Randy George (Neal Morse Band) and Steve Smith (Supertramp, Heart, Cheap Trick), to name but a few. I guess they were all glad with his services for they helped him with this first album and that alone raises the bar considerably. Taking into account that Billy Sherwood (Yes) is also heavily involved in the making sustains that expectation. And when the information mentions that The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Rush, and of course Yes, are among the bands that inspired Tiano in composing and recording these songs you become very curious what's on offer.
Well, that turns out to be a disappointment. Apart from the mediocre songs and likewise production (I can hardly believe I dare to write this knowing that Billy Sherwood is primarily responsible) the most serious real problem with this album is that Tiano doesn't have a good voice at all and furthermore just can't sing. He sings out of tune and inconsistently. Actually his singing is rather terrible which makes the music sounding awful. The numerous instrumental passages don't make up for that.
Listen for example to the longest track Different Drummer. The bass line is fine, the build-up of the song is nice albeit not very special, the instrumental break with acoustic and electric guitar and the electric guitar solo that follows are quite appealing and the vocal lines are fit for purpose. But when these are sung by someone who sings this out of tune, it is all destroyed.
Another example of the low quality of this album is Automaton that has a slow pulsating guitar riff that could have worked fine but is totally dominated by the absolutely horrible chorus and verses. I'll refrain from reviewing the rest of the album in detail as that would make this exposé far too negative.
The album already starts disastrously: opener There Behind You seems to start after the song has started. The music just plunges in halfway the first vocal lines; maybe this due to the MP3 files we were sent. Or it is a fault in the production. Whatever it is, it sounds very amateurish.
The only track I more or less liked is the instrumental Dance Of The Little Guys that has some hints of Steve Howe and Steve Hackett but without their brilliance in the melody or technique. And last track Emerge Triumphant features a full orchestra that adds a very nice flavour to the song. The rest is forgettable, to say it in the mildest manner.
I feel quite bad about my harsh verdict, as this album seems to be his life's work, his “audiobiography”. Tiano looks like a really nice guy who seeks some additional credits for what he has done with many of the musicians we've come to know so well. But hardly have I ever encountered an album on which the vocals are this bad. And when those involved in marketing this album paint many different, high-level expectations while the product lacks so much musical quality, a low rating is the logical consequence. Not a Different Drummer was needed, but a different singer.