Bernard And Pörsti — Robinson Crusoe
Looking back at the past two years, prog fans have been treated to a huge number of great albums. This applies most certainly to Samurai Of Prog fans, who during this period could add four highly-acclaimed albums to their collection. Next to these brilliant efforts, a large variety of equally exceptional albums issued under various Marco Bernard and Kimmo Pörsti banners (solo or otherwise) were welcomed. And this delightful list keeps on growing.
Bernard and Pörsti's newest venture, Robinson Crusoe, follows Gulliver and La Tierra. It arrived almost simultaneously to 2021's threshold release of TSoP's comprehensive box-set Omnibus 2 - The Middle Years. That box-set still keeps on giving, and to make a long story short, so does Robinson Crusoe.
This time the musical narrative is based on Daniel DeFoe's timeless masterpiece The Life And Strange, Surprising Adventures Of Robinson Crusoe Of York, Mariner, more commonly known in its abbreviated Robinson Crusoe title. An inspiration to other well-known books like Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels and most recently the 2000 blockbuster movie Cast Away featuring Tom Hanks, it describes (in an autobiographical style) the adventures of a stranded Crusoe, who encounters cannibals, captives and mutineers on a tropical desert island before he finally gets rescued. Having never read the book myself I was surprised to find that this story is preceded by another seafaring adventure, outlined instrumentally in Overture and Like An Endless Sea.
Beautifully provided by Ed Unitsky¸ the exemplary artwork and many detailed drawings make use of several evocative historical scenic images dating back to 1865. The duo of Bernard/Pörsti have as usual enlisted many household names operating frequently within the TSoP universe, augmented with illustrious names such as John Hackett (flute) and Steve Hackett (guitar, duh) to heighten the experience.
The cinematic classical opening of Overture, written by keyboardist Octavio Stampalia and building tension through Steve Bingham's violin and John Hackett's flute enchantment, is instantly transporting. The trumpet by Marc Papeghin adds fine periodic authenticity. With the musical environment swirling into full gear with lush synth symphonies, gently interrupted by a whiff of fresh air from delicate flute caresses and wonderful wavy guitars (Ruben Àlvarez), the composition builds into an oasis of imposing melodies that eventually descend into an ocean of beautiful classical music.
Like An Endless Sea couldn't be more aptly-titled, seeing it's ever streaming melodies soaring through majestic trumpets, standout marching rhythms, orchestral symphonies, frivolous violin and superb keyboard/piano from Oliviero Lacagnina, composer of this wonderful entertaining song. Sailing into jazz as mild spookiness reveals itself, it boundlessly glides into Genesis-inspired symphonic prog with a dash of Yes. This is emphasized by John Wilkinson's expressive vocals which initially brings visions of Jon Anderson, and once surrounded by superb harmonies, instigates expressions of Peter Gabriel. An early highlight amongst many to come.
The intricately elegant The Voyage Begins, performed by David Meyers on grand piano, then signals the start of the well-known story, with Crusoe joining an expedition of slavers and getting shipwrecked on an island he calls The Island Of Despair. Heaving on classical melodies with touching violin the compositions' entrance compels through Bart Schwertmann's strong dynamic performance, and when moments later the gushing melodies calm down from mildly tense atmospheres into those of complete surrender it washes ashore in a beauty of synth and intricate piano play. It's the embrace of Hackett's divine guitar solos that set fire to this wonderful composition from Alessandro Di Benedetti (Inner Prospekt).
It's followed by the challenging Friday that cleverly integrates original text from DeFoe's book as lyrics. Divided into four segments, it's the first part (Cannibals) that leaves a brilliant impression. It's bringing constant threats spurred on by an unleashed Pörsti, who captures the various degrees of danger and chase with precision, complexity and phenomenal rhythmic feel. The composition is sung by Marco Vincini, whose vocal-resemblance to Fish, in combination with the darker atmosphere, leaves a distinct early Marillion expression. The amalgamation of intense melodies and gloomy atmospheres sparks images of Netherworld's unfathomable Sargasso, which is delightful.
From the second part (The Rescue) onwards, as the energetic composition grows in scope in the third act (The Close Encounter), this marvellous song is the perfect exhibition of high quality progressive rock where the many variations, masterly performances and expressive vocals will certainly appeal to the avid Gabriel-era Genesis fan. Settling in a rewardingly majestic, with an excelling Pacha adding breathtaking melodies in the could-have-lasted-me-an-infinity melancholic closing section Friday And The Memory Of Time, this Marco Grieco=penned song marks the albums ultimate highlight for me.
The Rescue, narrating Crusoe's adventures as he escapes the island, reclaims his heritage and ultimately returns to England, is surprisingly sung in the Italian language by Stefano "Lupo" Galifi of Museo Rosenbach fame. Admittedly some lyrical context is lost on me, but this is easily overcome, as musically it's just as sound and exciting as the previous compositions. Soaring through typical Italian Prog style textures, guided by excellent rhythmic interplay from Bernard and Pörsti and fine guitars from Marcella Arganese, it is foremost the lush keyboard melodies (Luca Scherani) interacting with ravishing violin play from Adam Diderich which gives this well-composed song depth and musical attraction.
Finally, the playful and uplifting New Life rounds of the narrative with superb flute by John Hackett while Singor adds heart and finesse with some delicious guitar. Touching upon fairytale enchantments in its delightful finale, this peaceful and warm composition from Andrea Pavoni is the perfect album closer.
In conclusion Robinson Crusoe is another excellent musical exploration by Bernard and Pörsti and heartily recommended for prog enthusiasts and those who've enjoyed their previous story adaptations. The humble way in which they subordinate their own dexterous playing, giving every participating musician ample room to add their own signature and talent, is impressive. It has resulted in a brilliantly transporting and entertaining album, of which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
I hope that their library stocks many other timeless classics for future efforts, although recent signals show they are about to turn their attention to science fiction. This being my favourite genre, I can't wait!
David Cross & Andrew Keeling — October Is Marigold
David Cross, for those who are unaware, played violin with King Crimson in 1973 and 1974, appearing on three of the band's most popular studio albums: Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Starless And Bible Black, and Red, albeit only on one track on the latter album. He is also featured on the live albums USA and the rather more essential The Night Watch. Since departing from the ranks of the Crims he has recorded something like 20 albums, either with his band or in collaboration with other musicians, as well as appearing as a guest on numerous other releases.
October Is Marigold is his second album with Andrew Keeling, a guitarist, flautist and keyboard player. Their first collaboration, English Sun was released in 2009 and much of the current album was recorded following that release but remained in the vaults for the best part of 12 years before being resurrected and completed.
Whereas the first album was a paean to English summers, as the new album's title suggests, October Is Marigold has a musical feel related to autumn and the approaching winter, and thus takes on a rather darker tone.
The origin of the pieces is certainly an interesting one as, with a couple of exceptions, the original compositions were largely improvised. It was only on retrieving the tapes from the archives that a degree of 'back composing' was applied to the pieces, giving greater form and feeling. Cross make full use of his electric violin set-up, achieving sounds similar to a muted trumped on the evocative title track, as well as come lovely cello sounds throughout. Keeling is largely heard via his flute passages, that flit across the tracks like frantic birds gathering for migration.
It takes more than a couple of listens to really appreciate the quality of this set of deeply atmospheric recordings. But the more one listens, the greater the depth of the pieces and the greater the atmospheres pervade the listener's consciousness. Not something for playing every day but perfect for a solitary evening in front of a warm fire, when one can get lost in idle contemplation.
Barry Delve — On Track... Electric Light Orchestra
Despite their great commercial success and their quite distinct prog roots, very few prog-heads list ELO among their favourite bands. One of the reasons behind it is, arguably, that the best tunes and compositions were written by Jeff Lynne and Co outside the prog area. Moreover, the further Lynne drifted away from prog, the greater his songs were.
Barry Delve with his very competent and honest On Track study of ELO's catalogue provides a plethora of facts about the band's history; from early mistakes and let-downs, to rapid success and further position as the smartest pop group since The Beatles.
Indeed, reading the files assembled by Barry, one can only wonder at how many tricks and nuances even the lesser-known of Lynne's tunes hold. This book also provides a good view of ELO's musical development, and how Lynne's earlier hits (Showdown, Evil Woman, Roll Over Beethoven) influenced his further development as a songwriter.
Of course, the book is not only a harvest of facts, since Barry delicately and always appropriately adds his own impressions to spice up the text. And, having only recently completed my re-acquaintance with the ELO discography, I cannot help but agree with most of his observations.
"Telephone Line's only fault is that you've already heard it a million times," he rightfully states, and probably the same can be said about many songs from ELO's back catalogue. Viewing them from a different angle, or with a fresh approach is what makes this study important in the first place.
The book also gives a lot of food for thought about the band's chemistry (not only ELO, any band, actually). Although Lynne has always been the driving force, it becomes very apparent after digging deeper, that he couldn't have reached the same success without Bev Bevan, who played a very crucial role in the band's sound, much like Martin Barre did in Jethro Tull
Another fact that I liked, is that the author doesn't give up his thorough approach while commenting on the less popular albums by Lynne (post-Zoom period), finding enough interesting topics to keep the reader entertained.
How many albums did it take Lynne to write his first first-person narrator love-song? What role did Don Arden play in ELO's commercial success? How many secret messages are hidden in Secret Messages? Does the story behind Time happen in reality or in the protagonist's mind?
Want to know the answers? Grab the book!
Interview with Tyler Kamen
Although releasing music since 2014, the name Tyler Kamen was new to DPRP.net when we received his album Potions to be reviewed, early 2021. Unknown to us then, three more albums would follow that year (two of which were reviewed here), and not far into 2022 there is already the next. 14 albums in 8 years.
Time to get to know the artist behind the music a little more. Tyler Kamen answers a few questions by Jerry van Kooten.
Hi Tyler, thanks for answering a few questions for us, and our readers! Three albums in 2021, the one before (Potions) just before that, and now Lizard House, in early 2022. Does music come to you that easily, or is this a productive period recording music that has been written over a longer period of time?
Let's just say that the faucet is on! Each album is completely fresh. When I complete a project, I start a new album by experimenting and coming up with a few tracks that set the tone for a new record. From there, I can start to piece together what the larger scope of the project will look like.
I wrote and recorded the tracks Mr. Loon, The Spectacular Machine, and Engine Trouble in January 2021. From there I could see the entire story unfold and the idea struck me to have narrative sections to help the listener understand the plot and keep them engaged. My mind is constantly filled with new ideas and the music just flows. If there is any sense of forcing a production, I move onto something new and that is where the magic kicks in.
For the Spectacular Machine trilogy (well, so far it's a trilogy, who knows what can happen in a few months!), you've seemed to have found a distinctive style when compared to other albums. There is an overlap with Potions, but less so with Resolution Rose, released shortly before Lizard House. How do write, keeping the styles apart?
I'm always looking to work on something new and pure coming from a place of inspiration where the music can flow naturally. I love prog rock, but sometimes I like to change up the pace and dive into a new musical environment. With Resolution Rose it was almost like a palate cleanser after doing Mr. Loon and The Cassowary Manifesto before I wanted to continue the Spectacular Machine trilogy.
I knew I wanted to do another album in the same universe, but I wasn't ready. I was feeling like I wanted to do an album based more in the 60s songwriting format, pulling from influences like The Beatles, The Doors, etc. But as I was finishing up Resolution Rose, my prog senses kicked back in and I started to work on the last album in the Spectacular Machine trilogy, Lizard House. So, it's really a mix between how I am feeling to achieve the most inspired end result and how the album fits into the overall catalog.
About those styles, what is your musical background? What are your main influences?
I have a ton of influences that span many genres. My main inspiration comes from prog rock / psychedelic bands from the 60s and 70s, like Genesis, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, Yes, Rush, The Beatles, Frank Zappa, The Who, and The Doors. I grew up listening to their albums constantly so their styles are ingrained in my musicality.
I also have a background in jazz and listened to musicians like Miles Davis, Al Di Meola, and John McLaughlin and I also pull a ton of influence from classical music like Bach, Mozart and Stravinsky. More currently, I love bands like King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard, Ozric Tentacles, and Phish to name a few. Yesterday I was listening to a band called Holy Wave, very cool modern psychedelia. There are so many more influences, music is everywhere, man.
How do you record? Do you play every instrument yourself? I hear so many layers, you must have a very good understanding of all the instruments, mainly guitars and keyboards, for the arrangements. And who does those great covers?
I play every instrument on these albums. There is some programming involved in the keyboards and drums / percussion, but all guitars, bass, and a majority of the synths are played by yours truly! It can get pretty chaotic for sure (especially making this type of layered music), but I find that as these recordings begin to develop I can keep track of the arrangements and feel it out. Working with sound effects and getting them to interact with the music is also one of my favorite things to do when making some of the crazier, far-out tracks.
I actually designed my covers up through Potions, but then I started having some fantastic artists create them starting with Mr. Loon. Sérgio R M Duarte created the covers for Mr. Loon and The Cassowary Manifesto, and Kemal Tafwidh did the cover for Lizard House. I love visual art and having a cover that accompanies the energy of the music. These artists definitely did just that and the covers came out really cool. My next album coming out this Spring called Artichoke Pythagorum is going to have an amazing cover.
Would you be interested in playing live? It would mean gathering musicians around you.
Absolutely, there are plans in the works to start playing this stuff live. I play with my longtime friends in a band called TYDY and we are also looking into playing more gigs soon. Looking forward to finally playing The Spectacular Machine on stage!
Thank you very much for taking the time. Good luck on the next album!
No worries, thank you so much!
Tyler Kamen — Lizard House
In a very short time, Tyler Kamen has released four albums, three of which form a continuing story called The Spectacular Machine. I reviewed the previous two instalments last year: Mr. Loon And His Spectacular Machine and The Cassowary Manifesto, while my fellow writer Ignacio Bernaola reviewed the album before that, Potions. In October 2021, Kamen released his third album in that year, but it is not part of the series, and the style is quite different. (Perhaps a reason it was not offered to DPRP.net for a review?)
And a mere couple of weeks into the new year, we received Lizard House, which story-wise is a prequel to the other two in the Spectacular Machine series. The style of the music is very much in the same field. A firm foundation of psychedelic rock with a lot of progressive influences. You'll hear flashes of Camel, Fleetwood Mac, Cream and Santana. A larger part of the firmament is found in The Doors, The Beatles, and Pink Floyd. Then, some choruses show AOR influences (pick any name for reference).
The heaviest influence, or at least a clearer reference rearing its head in several places, might be Steve Hillage, probably because of Kamen's voice and guitar melodies, but also because Hillage was also a master of weaving all these influences into his own style.
Kamen must have a big musical vocabulary. The sudden break into a bluesy guitar solo in The Headmaster gives me goosebumps, while the rest of the song has the catchy freakiness found if you cross Zappa or Max Webster with 10CC or ELO. The music just oozes that free-form energy that is psychedelic rock, while taking up all those influences from many different directions.
However, just mentioning those bands is not doing this album any justice. The songs are both diverse and consistent, both familiar and exciting. After three albums and several listening rounds of each, all songs remain interesting. The song-writing is clever; listen to how some songs have a lot of lyrics, with the syllables flowing without sounding forced or out of place. That must have taken a lot of time. It's pretty amazing how one man can create so much music in such a short time-frame, while still being extremely varied, inspired and surprising.
Kamen's voice is a diverse one. The many tones bring even more colour to the music. Soothing in one, funny or scary in another, bluesy and rough, clean and airy.
This album is slightly heavier than the previous two in the series, and also the most progressive one; as if he has found a way to make even fuller arrangements, with unexpected breaks, changes and time signatures. The number of layers of melody are intriguing. Guitars riff and solo, old organs and modern keyboards add so many layers. And with the marvellous production you can hear every detail, while keeping the warm and full sound that music like this requires.
None of the songs are very long; several short pieces are intermezzos, giving more of the story. I won't go into the storyline, that's something for you to find out. If you like this music you'll enjoy hearing this story yourself. Twenty-two titles sounds like a lot, but it's a continuous story, and most of the time you don't know, and don't even need to know, when the next title starts. It's a book you cannot put down until you've finished it. And then you want to experience it again.
This is a wonderful roller-coaster of an album. Full of twists and turns, it is a mind-blowing trip. I am going to read the whole series again!
Leap Day — Treehouse
A treehouse is a child's dream. At least that's what I think every time I see such a creation in my living environment. To be able to have your own place to hide, to play, to enjoy, to dream and to meet, must be something special. A good treehouse will always be a source of inspiration for the rest of one's life, I reckon.
Listening to the lyrics of the fine title track of their latest release, it seems that founding member Gert van Engelenburg must have had such an experience in his youth.
Treehouse the album, comes three years after Leap Day's semi-sampler Timelapse marked their 10 years of existence, and it presents us with some line-up changes. Bass player Peter Snel and vocalist Jos Harteveld have left, according to the acknowledgements in a friendly way, and have been replaced by Harry Scholing and Hans Kuypers. To my ears the rhythm section is as tight as ever while the vocals definitely sound better. Kuypers differs in that his predecessor may have a stronger voice, but Kuypers' voice is more characteristic and with a greater range. Derk Evert Waalkens (keyboards, backing vocals, percussion), Koen Roozen (drums), Eddie Mulder (guitars), and Gert van Engelenburg (keyboards, backing vocals) have stayed on board.
Since their inception in 2008, Leap Day have built a consistent career by releasing high quality studio albums. Their medium-paced prog-rock features strong melodies in which keyboards and guitars dominate, backed by a solid rhythm section. They have not shied away from occasional experiments such as Japanese vocals in Ya-Who on their 2015 album From The Days Of Deucalion - Chapter 2. Those experiments may not always have been a success, but they certainly made the band's music more surprising. That aspect made-up sufficiently for the rather anonymous vocals, which were weakest part of their output, albeit that they were far from bad.
The new title track is exactly what you'd expect, an ode to juvenile experiences, enhanced by a good vocal melody, an adventurous end-section with remarkable rhythm changes and several nice guitar solos. It's a rather cheerful song that fits the subject of the lyrics well. A worthy title track of more than nine minutes prog rock heaven.
But the mood isn't always that romantic or cheerful. The album opens with a song that tells the true story of a tragic fire in an abandoned warehouse in New Orleans that took the lives of eight young musicians. One of the victims bears a Dutch name and I guess that members of the band were connected in some way to that guy. The intro, during the first notes is quite reminiscent to Kansas' Lamplight Symphony, and it offers roaring keys which open out for the keys and guitar to come in. The lyrics are direct, heartfelt and quite emotional. The music is fantastic and varied, and the vocals quite good. The spoken words at the end by Matt Goodluck are breathtaking. The more I listen to the song, the more it grabs me.
After this strong opener Leap Day manage to keep the quality high. Clementine has a waltz-like chorus that annoyed me at first, but that feeling vanished after a few more spins. The music flows with very fine and energetic guitar playing by Mulder. There are fitting resting points in the vocal melody, backed by quiet keys and nice bass playing. It had to grow on me but it did! The haunting lyrics are an extra attraction.
Raining is another grower, telling the story of a lost love. The trumpet-sounding keys are fitting, the percussion during the verses sustains the vocals very well, and the chorus sticks in the mind. Halfway through, Mulder starts riffing over pumping bass and drums and the song seems to develop into a fine rock ballad. But it doesn't, the subtlety returns with a beautiful key solo backed by fine percussion.
A song dealing with the Dutch national Liberation Day can only be uplifting and cheerful. In that respect May 5th doesn't disappoint. It is an up-tempo song built upon some fine guitar and organ riffs, providing the listener with that well-known festival feeling because, according to the lyrics, Magnum come to play. A nice tribute to that classic band. I found the chorus, in which the title is repeated over and over again too repetitive, yet the rest of the music is very attractive, especially the interplay between the keys and Mulder's guitar. Halfway through again there is a fine instrumental part with some Eastern flavours.
The band saves the best song for the end of the album. The beautiful, plaintive piano with soft keys in the background introduces the slow vocal melody in which the autumn feeling can be experienced. It is a fully satisfying opening of a beautiful, melancholic song that slowly develops into a low-tempo ballad with fantastic, atmospheric guitar playing by Mulder and again very fine bass-lines by Scholing. The instrumental middle section reminded me of prime Supertramp, and that is certainly meant as a compliment! The change in tempo, lead by the keys is very subtle and perfectly paves the way for the long, closing guitar solo typical of Mulder, which ends in a not-so-fitting fade-out with soft vocals, keys and guitar.
Musically this is the highlight of the album, so it is quite painful that my biggest criticism also applies to this song. I tried to follow the lyrics in the booklet, but they proved completely different (and with numerous grammatical errors) from the lyrics sung in the first part of the song. That really is a big shame.
The album comes in a brightly-coloured digipack containing a nice booklet with the song lyrics (alas not all correctly printed) and attractive artwork. The attention paid to the artwork is certainly a further reason to purchase the album.
Leap Day's sixth studio album offers well-elaborated, medium-length to long tracks, with distinct lyrical subjects and a very good production. It is a typical grower. After the first two spins I wasn't very impressed but that gradually changed when I listened more. With each spin the music became more attractive, revealing details I hadn't noticed before.
The chorus of May 5th may turn out a bit too repetitive and the fade-out in Autumn remains disappointing, but these are just minor weak points on an otherwise very strong and coherent album. Just take your time to discover the many intricate musical pieces forming the songs, the emotions in the lyrics, the great musicianship and the fluidity in the music.
This is easily Leap Day's finest album which I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who enjoys bands like Flamborough Head, IQ, Mangrove, Silhouette, and even Marillion.
Time Horizon — Power Of Three
Time Horizon is yet another band that has remained unknown to me until I opted to review this, their third album, Power Of Three. The band consists of Ralph Otteson (keyboards, piano, Hammond organ, backing vocals), Bruce Gaetke (drums, backing vocals, lead vocals), Allen White (electric and fretless basses), Dave Miller (electric and acoustic guitars), and Michael Gregory (electric and acoustic guitars).
One of the features of this band is that they confess a strong Christian belief, and whilst the lyrics don't appear to be over the top in a religious context, it does warrant closer scrutiny. In troubled times, as we are facing now, perhaps seeking solace in a higher being might have considerable merit. Despite growing up with a mild Christian belief due to my parents, I never really took it any further once I left the nest and sought my own directions in life.
This brings me to this next point about this band. Time Horizon join a long list of bands that have sought the use of religion to impart their various messages, and despite being a subject that can be quite personal to many people, I can happily accept it these days. Perhaps it is the underlying music that fills my ears with awe and wonder. I deliberately don't concentrate on the lyrics, as my original beliefs were that this could affect my overall judgement of the music itself.
There are many bands that have a religious connection, with there being no better example than Neal Morse and his various musical collaborations. He sits at the top of the list, despite or possibly because of his religious beliefs and messages. And do you know what? I find it definitely works for me.
The immediate appeal of this rather brilliant album lies with the vocalist, who has an extremely pleasant voice, with a strong presence throughout all the songs. Additionally, their keyboard player has plenty of very tasty and blistering chops that ignite the senses on many levels. Add strong songwriting and plenty of melodic sections, all underpinned by strong bass and drums, and you have the ingredients for a special type of album.
Jars Of Clay, Orphan Project, Salem Hill, Proto Kaw, and Kerry Livgren are all acts that have a strong religious connection and which does not seem to affect their general popularity.
There is also a definite Saga influence, as Michael Sadler guests on a track, although other tracks also emulate that classic sound. I don't intend to gloss over the fact that there is not that much originality to be found here but the music itself is pretty engaging for the most part, and certainly didn't see me looking for the skip button. Nice album!