Gong — Live At The Gong Family Unconventional Gathering
"Gong is Dead, Long live Gong!" Well, it was never really thus. Earth's greatest trailblazers of cosmic psychedelia may have lost frontman and creator Daevid Allen in 2015, but he lives on posthumously both in new recordings such as 2016's fabulous Rejoice! I'm Dead, and now with the resurfacing and rebirth of the 2CD and DVD get-together of classic Gong members from way back at the Melkweg Amsterdam, November 2006. The weekend event was not merely confined to two sets of pure Gong, but a "family convention" including spin-offs and influences such as Hadouk Trio, Mother Gong, The Acid Mothers, and Glissando Orchestra And The University of Errors.
All but the recently departed Pierre Moerlen and Pip Pyle appear to have been in attendance including, of course, the aforementioned Divided Alien fronting the show and premier Gongistas Theo Travis, Mike Howlett, Chris Taylor, Steve Hillage and Didier Malherbe playing beautifully, albeit on a cramped postage stamp of a stage. Also, there are the ethereal (and slightly disturbing) space-whispers of Gilli Smyth thrown in too. I've always teetered frustratingly over the skip button when she has her moment, such as on Prostitute Poem, but on this release she seems just that less irritating, and I have to admit provides that diaphanous extra level of mystic juice into the mix.
The original release was DVD only, but now we can dim the lights and sublimate our favourite vapours into the room with eyes shut to enjoy some lovely music on CD. I'd go so far as to recommend it to any new listeners to this iconic band. The setlist very much nails all their key compendium; from Camembert Electrique to Zero To Infinity, by way of several planets, teapots, pixies and tropical fish.
Highlights? You should never skip to the end of an album (at least that's what Adele has just told us all), but the second half is where all cylinders really fire, particularly from Steve Hillage. Listeners familiar with Ed Wynne's guitar in Ozric Tentacles will realise his greatest influence, at a time when Hillage was edging more and more into the trance electronica world with his partner Miquette Giraudy, who is also on this set.
Thankfully the spirit of Gong continues in the new incarnation fronted by Karvus Torabi, and as a live experience they are equally spellbinding and pupil dilating. Indeed, Allen was quoted "the entity that Gong has become seems to increasingly possess its own independent reality". A live release from the current line-up is long overdue especially given how good the new material is. Gong est mort, vive Gong!
Red Sand — The Sound Of The Seventh Bell
The Sound Of The Seventh Bell is the 10th studio album by Red Sand, though apparently it's the first one arriving at DPRP headquarter as far as I'm aware. The exact reason for this late premiere is unknown to me, as based upon this latest effort they are a perfect fit, and previous records show the same signals. Signs of harmonious and delightful neo-progressive rock in which standout guitar parts provide a natural melancholic grace to the well-thought-out compositions that are framed by an enchanting oasis of keyboards bringing atmosphere and character.
The Canadian band, originally founded in 2004, and nowadays consists of bandleader Simon Caron (guitars, bass, piano, keyboards), Perry Angelillo (drums) and Steff Dorval (vocals). During live concerts, which if all goes according to schedule should see them embark on a European tour in 2022, this formation is assisted by André Godbout on bass and Jean-Benoit Lemire filling in on keyboards.
Caron has taken responsibility of composing all tracks off the album which draws inspiration from the seven deadly sins: Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Anger, Envy and Pride. In fairness, I must confess that I recognize the darker sides of these sins less in the music and more in the lyrical aspect of the album which, written by Barbara Caron, are nicely included within the cared for digi-pack. The majority of the music has more of an uplifting feel to me as opposed to a sinful gloomy darkened one, although several moodier parts do suit the theme.
One example where music specifically reminds me of an individual sin is the beautifully shaped instrumental Reichenbach. In all probability the title refers to Red Sand's first concert in Europe when they proudly played the prestigious Art Rock Festival in Reichenbach. The intricate acoustic opening soaring into divine melancholic melodies instantly grabs one's attention, It paints exquisite landscapes as atmospheric keys and superbly subtle rhythmic guidance is surrounded by immaculate mesmerising guitar parts. It's one of the outstanding moments of the album streaming with beautiful undulating melodies glowing in conjunction with projected images of Reichenbach's captivating environmental area. A marvellous achievement and an early, if not the, highlight of the album.
The title track is divided into three separate parts and out of these Part 1 gives the best impression with some lovely touches on acoustic guitars, mindful to Neuschwanstein, while the atmospheric build up with symphonic elements displays a magical embracing neo-progressive rock touch with colourful elegance of Eloy, especially from the playful bass. Soaring into mighty melodies with breathtaking refinement on guitar, the song smoothly sails away into Marillion styled prog highlighted by a whiff of Mystery. The latter comes as no surprise seeing Michel St. Pere's involvement in mixing the album. A pristine job that has resulted in a perfectly clean, fresh and well-balanced sound in which every single instrument can be picked up brilliantly.
The Sound Of The Bell Part 2 opens with mild feelings of sadness but soon after turns into a cheerful happy song with lush Genesis styled synths and uptempo melodies, midway changing into slightly psychedelic darkness and shards of IQ, as bass and mellotron reveal themselves. Drum fills, as before in Part 1, are a bit busy and slightly distracting, but its majestic ending in blissful guitar melodies soaring ever higher is simply brilliant and makes you forget instantly. After that, the third part easily keeps the flow of the concept music going as it floats away on dreamy melodies and touching synth movements.
Insatiable's epic structures add liveliness from exemplary bass lines, while Caron's enticed playing projects finer memories of Pendragon and Steve Rothery. It's bridge into darker atmospheres, as lush tales of IQ meets the elegance of Alan Parsons and an acoustic solo adds formidable storytelling fairy-tale Grobschnitt resemblances to the ravishing music. It is delightful and belongs to the greater enjoyable moments of the album. Caron's soloing guitar work is once again exceptional and my only remark is the fact that the composition slightly overstays its welcome when it returns to the song's previous themes around the 10-minute mark and falls in repetition afterwards.
Gliding over musical pathways paved with shining diamonds, as Caron sparkles with distinct David Gilmour impressions, the 21-minute epic Cracked Road shows some of these elongating leanings as well. However, the ensuing long melodies manage to hold attention very well and carefully build tension as they drift towards a fine intermezzo of piano and bass after which the song gains lovely momentum and indulgently leaps into lusciously decorated walls of Pink Floyd. The song's diversity in shifting movements and moods, while restrained play adds smoothness, makes it a fine musical journey. And once Caron unleashes his wonderful technique with beautiful transporting guitar parts circling round Steff's emotive vocals, this well-developed composition comes to a satisfying end.
Next to these fine moments there are a few instances when the music isn't as entertaining though. Breathing, the first single, is a simplistic ballad and adds some sticky rippling mellowness but it's far to sweet for my taste. Thankfully it's saved by a touching solo from Caron, which sadly does not apply to the bonus track I Can Feel It. Here, Red Sand accomplish the unthinkable and create an eighth cringe-inducing sin, which after several visits is from now on killed by a press of the stop-button on my behalf. The song's incredibly slow pace, terribly old-fashioned melodies and lean vocal performance (a matter of taste obviously) feels completely out of touch with the character of the rest of the album. Any album for that matter.
Despite this minor negative The Sound Of The Seventh Bell is a fine example of musically varied Neo-progressive rock which, however, doesn't set my heart aflame as much as other contemporary Canadian prog acts tend to do nowadays. On the plus side the beautiful intricate melodies, exquisite melancholic guitar parts and accomplished compositions are great achievements, as well as the musicians performances (apart from the obvious bonus track), but on the downside the overall music feels somewhat safe and comes short in terms of originality.
All in all The Sound Of The Bell, as well as Red Sand, have been a nice discovery and I'll be looking forward to their future with interest. For those who enjoy the softer uncomplicated side of Neo-progressive rock that also shares a liking for Camel or Cyan and many of the names mentioned within this review it's a very recommendable effort and certainly worth exploring.
Solaris — Nostradamus 2.0 - Returnity (Unborn Visions)
Applause, Applause, woops of excitement and holla's of joy. Outstretched hands, a standing ovation, flash captured shouts; Thanks, Thanks Solaris, Thank you for this unforgettable evening!
Little did I realise on that wonderful Budapest night on November 16th 2019, that this would be my last concert experience for many months to come. And what a memorable concert it was!
Nostradamus 2.0 Returnity (Unborn Visions) was released on that evening and over thirty minutes of the show was dedicated to the albums Returnity suite. The audience had never heard the piece before. It was a testament to the confidence the band had in the strength of their latest material that they chose to introduce it in this way. The YouTube clip shows an impressive section of the suite from that concert. Unfortunately, the clip does not show the sustained applause and acclaim the band received at the conclusion of the piece.
A few months later the Pandemic began to bite. My incomplete jottings about Nostradamus 2.0 were put to one side. Days became weeks, weeks passed by, months flourished, faded and fell. A year passed and it no longer seemed appropriate to write about an album that was released before Covid emerged.
Looking back now, it seems that it is probably the right time to reassess and complete my unfinished scribblings. (There was also a re-issue last year. - Ed.)
Solaris' Nostradamus 2.0 puts the spotlight on a series of events. These happenings are reflected in the track titles and raises the question of how have these incidents altered the way in which the world looks today? It poses the interesting question; how might things have been different if these events had not occurred, or perhaps developed, or were interpreted in a different way?
For example, section 2 of the Returnity suite intriguingly entitled II. 1942. December 2. refers to the first human-made, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction at Chicago. Section 3 refers to the date of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster.
This theme extends to the other tracks on the album as well. For example, Double Helix highlights the discovery of the chemical structure of DNA-molecule (double-helix polymer) by Francis Crick and James Watson on Feb 28th 1953. I won't reveal the events that are highlighted in the other song titles as some readers might enjoy finding out these things for themselves.
Nostradamus 2.0 is a stunning album, it has consistently been on my playlist since I first heard it. However, a word of caution, as some long-standing readers might know, I have always had a soft spot for Solaris.
Although some aspects of their art might be a tad linear in approach, there is no doubt Solaris successfully tick several essential prog boxes. In many ways their well-defined style and familiar slant ensures their music sits comfortably on the ear, and consequently is even more enjoyable.
Their mix of flute and synths just resonates with me and Nostradamus 2.0 is crammed full of bulging synth lines, exciting guitar riffs and lots of aggressive trilling. The exciting pulsating thrust of the music is often hard hitting. When this is juxtaposed with ethereal interludes that highlight the melodic beauty that frequently lies at the heart of their tunes, the result is often spectacular and quite simply memorable.
The album consists of the lengthy Returnity suite and three other succinct tracks. This mixture works well. It indicates that the band are able to skilfully compose and present music that contains subtle shifts of mood which develop over a period of time. Recurring motifs and fascinating hooks all have a part to play as the suite uncoils. The shorter tracks show that Solaris are equally capable of presenting precisely structured tunes that contain foot tapping hooks and captivating melodies.
Over the course of the Returnity suite, there are many musical and stylistic references to the bands original Nostradamus- Book Of Prophecies album that was released in 1999. Perhaps, the most obvious point of reference centres around the strategic use of operatic vocals, and blustery choral passages.
These have a dramatic effect and provide a reference point and a sense of continuity with the original release. Emotion filled, tonsil shaking, lip quivering passages emphasise the intensity of the music, whilst the frequent use of double tracked whispered vocal lines add a magnificent sense of mystique. The guest vocalists Zsuzsa Ullmann, György Demeter and Ferenc Gerdesits do a splendid job.
The suite is composed by Robert Erdész and is divided into six sections. Each part has an important part to play in a coherent and connected thematic approach of musical ideas.
Erdész uses his array of keyboard sounds in a remarkable and dramatic way throughout the suite. His contribution is without doubt a consistent highlight. His superb choice of synthesiser tones has a striking and spectacular impact. These create a remarkable impression, that decorates, and textures the music. His expansive flurries give parts of the suite an otherworldly set of colours, where ochre flamed forests and azure sunsets rise and fall in a soundscape of flowing wails and a procession of off world groans.
The other players all make significant contributions and all have opportunities to splatter and daub the suite in an inventive display of bold aural colours.
There are many over blown flute moments that help to create a face lit smile and a jig of delight. Attila Kollár has an ability to create wonderful melodic flute lines that float and delicately flutter. In the next fluted moment, he can alter the dynamics of a tune, by blowing snorting, and snarling in a primeval way that is hard to resist.
There are numerous instances when his playing interacts with the rest of the ensemble in a seamless manner to create what is arguably Solaris' signature sound. There are also many occasions such as during, the twenty-two-minute mark of Returnity, when a breathy approach comes to the fore to create a rousing and powerful effect.
At many junctures during Erdész's outstanding piece, his arrangement offers opportunities for crunchy riffs to take hold, or emotive guitar solos to breakout and soar. Consequently, Returnity contains a plethora of fine guitar moments where each string of Csaba Bogdán's finely tuned instrument has something expressive to say. In this respect the solo that emerges after about three minutes in the opening part of the suite is full of boisterous energy and is delightfully expressive.
The remainder of the album is no less impressive. Two of the three shorter tracks were composed by Kollár. Stylistically they are reminiscent of the first Musical Witchcraft album. I thoroughly enjoyed how Kollár's excellent compositions meld rock, folk and baroque influences into a coherent and identifiable style.
Double Helix has an enchanting flute led melody and ends with László Gömör's fine drum flourish. The other Kollár piece is also very enjoyable. It contains some of the best flute rock moments on the album, although the spitting and barking flute finale that dresses Bogdán's excellent Radioscope composition is equally enthralling.
A limited-edition vinyl release of the album appeared in 2020. This release contains an extra track that is worth listening to. (You can check the YouTube video here.) The bonus track is essentially a reworking and extended version of Wings Of The Phoenix which appeared on the band's Nostradamus- Book Of Prophecies.
There are rumours that Solaris are currently working on new material and there are hints that they might develop some ideas and themes contained in their outstanding Los Angeles 2026 composition.
If that is the case, I will be ordering a copy as soon as it becomes available, I just hope that I won't have to wait until 2026. In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy all that the bands extensive discography can offer.
Nostradamus 2.0 was undoubtedly one of my favourite albums of 2019. At the time of writing its fascinating allure has not diminished. I still play it regularly and it never fails to satisfy.
Various artists — Legends Play The Beatles
Growing up with The Beatles as the major defining musical influence makes you wary of any attempt to cover their legendary music. That is why I kept away from that kind of releases most of the time. Yet that same defining nature of their music makes it so that numerous musicians are tempted to play the music, to pay tribute to the band that in some way inspired them, to show that this music can also be treated in a different way or for whatever other reason there may be. So cover albums filled with Beatles' music will always be there. And when a fine combination of renowned artists, many of them active in prog, takes up such a challenge and records 14 well-known but not the most obvious Beatles' songs it is worthwhile to give the release a fair try.
A legendary combo of musicians it certainly is, although the legend-tag doesn't suit them all. The artists on this compilation range from Molly Hatchet (okay, not all is prog...) to Air Supply, from Judy Collins to Ann Wilson and from current act Sugar Candy Mountain (which can hardly be tagged as a legend, in my opinion) to the sorely missed John Wetton. All the artists have tried to honour the music in sticking quite close to the originals, mainly changing the musical arrangement into a direction they are most familiar with. It makes this compilation sometimes a bit predictable which is a pity. On the other hand, for those who like the musical styles of the artists their versions of these well-known songs will be attractive. And for those who seek the more adventurous attitude towards covering well-known songs there are a few examples to suit their tastes too.
The album starts well with a very recognizable rendition of the Harrison song Here Comes The Sun by Richard Page (of Mr. Mister fame and part of Ringo Starr's live band) and Steve Morse (Deep Purple, Flying Colors). The guitar playing and the vocals stick remarkably close to the original, making this a fine but unimpressive cover. However, to start a Beatles cover album with a legendary Harrison song is a choice I personally value very highly as Harrison has always been undervalued. (Hear, hear! - Ed.)
Ann Wilson's version of Across The Universe is a different affair. Her low voice makes this fabulous ballad sound quite different, although it may appear a little dull on first listen. Definitely give it more spins for the addition of the congas instead of drums, and the application of a different musical arrangement makes this a real re-working of the song. It doesn't surpass the original but this is a real a gem on this compilation.
The focus on percussion is continued in John Wetton's version of Penny Lane. His voice suits the melody extremely well and he interprets the lyrics in a very personal way. Combined with the sparse musical background with again a prominent role for the congas, the absence of drums and the use of a flute to sustain the vocal melody makes this the absolute highlight of the album. No less than stunning and so good to hear his voice again!
After those three rather mellow songs things become a bit heavier with Molly Hatchet playing Back In The USSR. A decent rendition with good vocals, fast drumming and a perfect copy of the original guitar solo as well as the extensive use of airplane sounds in the background. A fine but not surprising cover.
The heaviness disappears immediately when the sitar starts playing the intro of Norwegian Wood, this time sung by Andrew Gold. Atmosphere, musical arrangement, vocal interpretation, it is all alike the original and that is slightly disappointing, giving the fact that Gold is such a talented musician. And because his voice resembles that of McCartney it is almost as if the Fab Four can be heard once more.
Air Supply choose The Long And Winding Road and apply to it their trademark of making sophisticated, mellow and orchestral pop songs. The vocals are clearly theirs, the orchestral arrangement is The Beatles' but the accompanying music has many subtle differences from the original, making this a really personal rendition. Maybe a bit too cheesy, maybe a bit too mellow but at least very Air Supply.
Acid-rock ensemble Electric Moon, a band I'm not familiar with at all in spite of their five albums since 2009, dared to cover the rather experimental Tomorrow Never Knows. It is a song that suits their style of music well and they sound very at home with the song, stretching it considerably with a prolonged instrumental fade-out. I had to get used to this version but I must admit that it works quite well.
Psychedelic rock formation Sugar Candy Mountain, another new name for me, took up Rain to cover. The vocals may be a bit inexpressive, they dared to add a full psychedelic outro to the song that lifts this cover above most other renditions on this compilation. Because of this outro they have made this their own song and whether you like it, I think that is a courageous decision. I certainly like it.
Jack Bruce does Eleanor Rigby, one of the first truly proggy songs by The Beatles. He chooses to use only his keyboards, a slightly different orchestral arrangement and very fine vocal harmonies and that proves to be an excellent choice. It is still very recognizable as such, but it is also a really different version and remarkably different from his own bluesy style of music. Another highlight, I think.
The attractiveness of this compilation falls considerably with the next two covers. Howard Jones picked And I Love Her, the oldest song on this record, but fails to give it an interesting new arrangement. The addition of a soft keyboard melody is nice but from somebody like Jones you expect something more than just a subtle keyboard additions.
Judy Collins' rendition of Yesterday is dull and predictable, adding nothing extra except her beautiful voice. Of course, it is very difficult to do an exciting cover of a song that has been covered so (too?) many times by so (too?) many artists. But to my ears she doesn't even try, the only difference is that she even succeeds in lowering the already slow tempo. Picking another song from the legendary back catalogue would have been a better option than this disappointing version.
Fortunately Glenn Hughes does a better job with Let It Be, another Beatles song that has been covered numerous times. Hughes takes the freedom to interpret the vocal melody in a slightly different way and adds a fine Billy Preston like organ solo as well as a very fine orchestral and piano outro. It makes it a different song altogether which may not surpass the original but has his personal mark clearly outlined.
This release is set in the context of a forthcoming Peter Jackson documentary on the Fab Four and was therefore thought to be completely new. Then some online research revealed that five of the tracks (those by Ann Wilson, John Wetton, Jack Bruce, Andrew Gold and Howard Jones) were already released in 2015 as part of the 16-song Keep Calm And Salute The Beatles compilation. As that compilation wasn't reviewed at DPRP and the new tracks featured some prog artists we thought it was worthwhile to do this review.
This compilation clearly focuses on the softer side of The Beatles' output, containing several songs that are considered by many as the forerunners of what we now call 'prog'. It is to bad that no artist choose one of the songs from the Sgt. Pepper album but so be it. Not all the artist featured here fulfil the legendary status they have been given by the record company but most certainly Ann Wilson, John Wetton, Glenn Hughes and Jack Bruce do deliver while Sugar Candy Mountain present themselves well too. They make this album worthwhile, even for those who are sceptical towards Beatles covers.