Beledo — Seriously Deep
I will begin with an admission. I am usually in awe of any music that is connected to Eberhard Weber. Therefore, when I discovered that Beledo's latest album was going to feature an arrangement of one of my all-time favourite Weber tunes (namely Seriously Deep), my interest was immediately stirred.
Weber's buoyant Seriously Deep bubbled to the surface in 1977 on Eberhard Weber's Colours Silent Feet release. It's a vibrant and dramatic piece that possesses a tuneful melody and abundant virtuoso solo parts. Over many years, its brilliant ensemble performance, which highlights the tight melding of the collective skills of John Marshall, Rainer Brüninghaus, and Charlie Mariano, has compelled me to nod rhythmically in bug-eyed appreciation, and has clasped me warmly in its grip.
However, the real star of the tune is undoubtedly Weber. The arrangement of the original composition features a remarkable and extensive bass solo superbly executed by Weber. It lingers, hovers and swoops in an imposing fashion to create a lasting impression. Elsewhere, and throughout the piece, Weber's idiosyncratic and evocative bass lines demand attention and conspire to transform and mould what is already a remarkable piece of music, into something that is truly magnificent in every respect.
A shortened but no less imposing version of this fine tune can be discovered on the United Jazz and Rock Ensemble's Round Seven release. If you have not heard Weber's original or the U.J.R.E. interpretation, I urge you to check them out. Trust me they are seriously good and joyfully deep. You will not be disappointed.
Beledo's arrangement of Seriously Deep adds an extra dimension to the original and serves to reinforce how memorable and impressive Weber's composition is. Both the original and Beledo's arrangement rely heavily upon the use of space and tension to create a rolling soundscape of ever-changing vistas and a mesh of shifting colours. Somehow, Beledo has managed to capture something of the essence of Weber's tune without resorting to either parody or hackneyed replication. It is obvious that Beledo holds Weber's art in great respect and his re-imagining of Weber's work is done in a very creative and tasteful manner.
Whilst Mariano's sax carried the melody and brought many changes of pace in the original and provided some hard blowing moments, Beledo's tasteful guitar embellishments play a similar role by shaping the tune and offering shards of penetrating aggression when the need arises. However, it is arguably Beledo's beautifully-formed piano parts and the skilful kit of Kenny Grohowski's work that glues the piece together, providing a framework for Beledo to shine. It also offers a springboard, and provides a structure for bass maestro Tony Levin to interpret some of Weber's finest low-end moments.
Levin's performance is both exciting and breathtaking and his gorgeous use of a range of low-end tones is in keeping with Weber's original vision for the piece, whilst making a dynamic artistic statement in its own right.
Overall, it's a superb interpretation and arrangement of a classic track. The ensemble's inspired performance ensures that the album is an essential purchase for any fans of Weber's music and indeed, also for anybody who has any sort of affinity with musical styles associated with progressive jazz or fusion.
The rest of the album is played with great panache and there are many stand-out solos to massage the ears, catch the heart and tingle the toes. Beledo's playing is very impressive and his frequent use of a twisting and twirling legato approach, reveals his appreciation of the ground-breaking skill, sound and style that Allan Holdsworth brought to the guitar.
One of the most engaging guitar parts of the album occurs in Mama D. This tune provides some vocal parts sung by Kearoma Rantao. Although I am not particularly fond of the tune's overall structure, Beledo's emotive solo offers a genuinely exciting interlude and illuminates the song with a penetrating light.
Apart from the title track, my favourite piece on the release is undeniably the evocative Maggie's Sunrise. It ticks all the right boxes for me. It is a beautiful tune which unfolds delicately in a structured manner and leaves a gorgeous after-taste. The players use space, volume and dynamics to maximum effect. It is magnificently underpinned by Grohowski's delicate and sensitive mastery of his kit. Beledo's superb guitar solo is a perfect fit to the overall ambience of the piece and is complemented by the fresh and airy sound of Jorge Camiruaga on vibraphone.
Whilst this tune is not a direct nod to the art of Eberhard Weber, the combination of some excellent percussive elements, a bulging bass line, sweet piano fills and the fresh pulsating vibraphone had me thinking that I should give Weber's Fluid Rustle another spin soon.
Much of the music on the album appears quite tightly-spun, and improvisation is kept in check. However, Knocking Waves has a much freer ambience, and its improvised jam-like quality suggests that it was recorded with minimum charts and takes. Its inclusion ensures that the album incorporates a wide range of styles.
Aficionados of Canterbury-styled music will quiver in delight when they play A Temple in The Valley. Boris Savodelli's wordless scat singing gives it a playful vibe. His contribution provides a Canterbury flavour that is somewhat akin to aspects of Richard Sinclair's occasional shape-forming vocals in Hatfield and the North and National Health. The piece also includes an excellent guitar interlude, where Beledo once again makes his instrument yelp and sing in expressive salvos.
Seriously Deep is an excellent album. The compositions are interesting and varied, and the playing throughout is simply outstanding. After listening to it for many months, I have discovered that it is an album that continues to reveal its many attributes. I highly recommend it. It is very impressive and of course it is seriously deep in every respect!
Delvoid — Swarmlife
After a six-year gap, Oslo based prog-rock/metal quartet Delvoid are back with their third album covering six songs and nearly an hour of music.
Moving through sudden transitions between brutally-thunderous and gently-thoughtful this is an attempt to blend the build-and-release structures of post-rock, with the floating atmospheres of Pink Floyd and Sigur Rós, and the rhythmic complexity of Tool. By and large it succeeds.
The Master's House is the perfect example of how this dynamically adventurous album often shifts between a wall of sound from the guitars, to more pastoral pastures.
Techtree rests with the melancholic ambience for the first half; but based on a Tool-inspired rhythmic adventurousness. The second half of the song is more angrily-agitated. The Tool similarities pervade. Karnivool, and Rishloo would be other points of reference. These two tracks book-end the album, and are my favourites.
Lyrically, the album seeks to explore the tensions between collectivity and individuality. But without a lyric sheet I've not been able to explore this element. I do like the singer's tone and style. The differing vocal textures seem to be shifting according to the lyrical mood, as does the music. It's very gentle, almost whispered at times, and very shouty and higher pitched at others. To convey the lyrical message, the vocals need to be consistently forward in the mix and his diction to be clearer.
Urras takes a different approach. There is a very retro-rock vibe here. A touch of psyche, a pinch of jazz. A hint of Soundgarden or maybe it's The Doors. Probably both? Definitely no ambient pastoralism here. It's quite experimental and dynamically-schizophrenic. The screamo vocals are not my thing. They may be yours.
Third Body is where U2 meets Tool. We have the rhythmic-patterning of Maynard and Co, but the guitar-led atmospheres and vocal tone of the Edge and Bono.
Out Of Labour is more a case of Tool-meets-Sigur Rós. A melancholic, Scandie vibe pervades around a throbbing, incessant beat. Stretched across ten-plus-minutes, there is plenty of playing time for this track to explore many (largely instrumental) crags and creeks. Collapsist is probably the most gentle song, plucking motifs from Tool, Fair to Midland and Coheed And Cambria.
So within its framework of influences, this is a pretty varied and exploratory album. I sense however that the band is still in the process of finding exactly where its musical heart is located. The performances are excellent, with the band combining different elements into a coherent sound and identity. There are many impressive sections, but it can come across as a little formulaic. It is lacking the X-factor moments where the riffs or melodies really hook me in and demand repeat plays.
Electro Compulsive Therapy — Electro Compulsive Therapy
Sometimes we can over-think and over-analyse the music we review. That can be good. Sometimes we can just enjoy it for what it is. That can be good to.
Electro Compulsive Therapy is a progressive rock band from Monterrey in Mexico. This is their eponymous debut album and it definitely falls into the latter category. This is just a wonderful collection of great songs that I have really enjoyed listening to.
In part this offers the hypnotic rhythms and atmospheres perfected in different ways by the likes of Riverside, Talk Talk, Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree. There is a melancholic vein running through the eight songs. It rocks-out when the mood takes it. There is a also an easy, prog-lite accessibility to the arrangements and melodies that mirror the likes of The Moody Blues, Alan Parsons and Barclay James Harvest (checkout the chorus to Colors Fade Away).
The performances by the entire band are faultless. I really like the voice of Guillermo Garcia Herreros who adds some delightful keyboard and piano melodies and atmospheres throughout. The guitar playing of Andres Jasso is perfectly judged (listen to the little guitar runs on Gemini), as are the contributions of Javier Villarreal (drums) and Rodolfo Gonzalez (bass).
Getting to know this album has been an utter delight. It is just a wonderful listen from beginning to end. I would strongly recommend that any fan of melodic, progressive-tinged rock should add this to their listening list. It will undoubtedly be one of my favourite discoveries of this year.
The album was self-released on Bandcamp in 2021 but has now been given a full release by the ever-reliable Progressive Gears Records. Nuff said!
Vincenzo Ricca's The Rome Pro(G)ject — V - Compendium of A Lifetime
The Rome Pro(G)ject have finally released the fifth instalment of this legendary series which have all been very favourably received since the first one was issued in 2012. Since then, chief song-smith Vincenzo Ricca has been credited with producing some of the finest and most anticipated music to have emerged from Italy. However, he has not been alone in these attempts. When you check out the list of credits, you immediately notice the inclusion of many of the biggest names in the business. On board this latest offering are Steve Hackett (guitars), David Jackson (vocals), John Hackett (flute), Tony Patterson (vocals), Tony Levin (bass), Bernardo Lanzetti (vocals), Nick Mangus (keyboards), Frank Carducci (bass) and a few others whose names may be less familiar to some.
From the opening few notes, courtesy of some sublime pipe organ, one is immediately drawn into the aural space of this new dimension, as frenetic snare drums, Mellotron and keyboards quickly settle into a comfortable set of rhythms and patterns that remind you who has been at the helm.
Subtle Mellotron, grinding bass, drums, guitar and other keyboard mayhem all contribute to the longest and most epic song on the album. And what a cracker it is. Featuring long, soaring lead breaks from Steve Hackett, and appropriate contributions by the other members, this is one totally enjoyable musical odyssey. I will quote directly from the press kit as the contents express the structure in a better manner than I could:
The listener begins their journey into the never-repeated motifs of the title track Compendium Of A Lifetime. In addition to giving the title to the album, this is a song that, through numerous reinterpretations and attempts to include it in previous albums, finally finds its place, developing in its almost 14 minutes with authority and complexity. None of the numerous musical moments that make up the sophisticated arrangement of this piece are repeated. Steve Hackett and David Jackson find their own dimensions with repeated and fascinating solo interventions. The intervention of the always-peculiar and splendid voice of Bernardo Lanzetti sings the reflections of a Roman general struggling with the compendium of his career. The title track also makes use of the presence of Franck Carducci on Shergold 12 strings guitar and bass, of Paolo Ricca electric guitar, Daniele Pomo drums, of the numerous keyboards of the mastermind.
Fans of Italian progressive rock may recall the name Bernardo Lanzetti, as he fronted the excellent band Acqua Fragile and PFM in the 70s, and since 2013 with Mangala Vallis. He does possess a rather unusual voice which slightly reminds me of the unique style that Roger Chapman (Family) used with excellent results. His voice these days has less strength than in his hey day but as I was always impressed with his previous efforts, one can certainly understand this limitation considering he is now 74. At least he has not suffered as much as Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull) whose excellent voice from the 70s is now sadly almost shot.
Vesuvius follows a similar path to some other songs from the album but enjoys the inclusion of Tony Patterson on vocals.
The lead guitar in the fourth track, The Last Night In The World is certainly some of Steve Hackett's best work as he is accompanied by soft Mellotron that evokes some of the best from Genesis and Steve's own solo pieces. This is the nicest song on the album, being more of a slow ballad affair, but really hits a lot of high spots.
Another slower piece is Have Caesar!. It showcases Steve's talents to perfection but one should not ignore the inclusion of moody Mellotron, keyboards, drums and percussion to help leave an impact. The slowly-driving synth-work throughout the song is excellent and suits the music very well.
Mortituri Salutant starts with a more upbeat synth pattern accompanied by John Hackett's tasteful flute sections while the bass weaves its way confidently in the background. Despite its short length, relative to the other songs, it's still a great track.
The penultimate song, Gladiators, again soars through the clouds courtesy of Steve's predictable and capable guitar, while strong bass and keyboards dominate for much of the journey, with brief interludes with John's flute.
Have Caesar! (Reprise) starts with a simple synth pattern, quickly accompanied by Mellotron, drums and bass to close out the show.
The bonus track Exegi Monvmentvm was originally included on the third album, but has been appended as a bonus of shorter duration to give the listener a bit more of a dangling carrot. And what another great track this is.
This latest release is certainly one of the best from the series of five and would please fans of Genesis, PFM, Mangalla Vallis, Maxophone, Acqua Fragile, Malibran, Quaterna Requiem, The Watch, Banco, Aries, La Maschera De Cera, Finisterre or Hostsonaten. Recommended!
Solum — Encountering Murk
Solum is a new name from Sweden with, to some, a familiar name. This is a new project by the guitarist Christian Frederiksson of Vulkan, whose latest album Technatura my DPRP colleague Calum Gibson rewarded with his recommendation last year.
Because I like that Vulkan album a lot, I was already interested in this Solum album when I read about it. And here you will read about my feelings now that I've actually listened to it. Many times, I can add. A little late to the party of reviews for this album, but it deserves one anyway.
The links with Vulkan are there, as you would expect, but there are differences that warrant this to be a side-project under a different name. Solum is completely instrumental. Solum is more post-rock and post-metal, where Vulkan is veering into prog-metal. Solum has classic prog elements, where Vulkan have a more modern prog approach. Decide for yourself which you like but it's perfectly possible to like both!
It feels like this album is between prog and post-rock. Offering the dark, broody melancholy and contrasts, as well as multiple layers of melodies. Emotional effect, over technical prowess, but this will still appeal to many prog fans. I love how the heart speaks so much louder than the mind here, in all the album's aspects, from the small piano intros, to the furious end-sections.
The opening track, Entrance, is a very good welcome to this album. It contains several elements that you're going to find further-on. Multi-layered melodies, both on guitar and keyboards, as found in prog. A tendency towards melancholy and beautiful build-ups as found in post-rock. Sometimes the emphasis is on post-rock, and sometimes, as in Rituals or The Signal, it sounds more progressive, not unlike Rush going towards post-rock.
There is lightness too, as the album is full of contrasts. Overall, the scales are definitely pointing out heavy-prog. It only adds to the reasons why there is so much to discover here.
I rarely mention cover art, but in this case I think the cover depicts the atmosphere beautifully. I imagine it's the entrance mentioned in the first track, with brighter and darker areas and lots of things hiding, mainly in the darker parts. This is how you discover unexpectedly good music.
It's an impressive result for a man doing most of the music on his own; only getting help in drums and piano. I can only hope Frederiksson manages to move this beyond a project stage and gets a band to perform this live.
I think that in my personal Venn diagram of taste, with circles for prog-rock, post-rock, being heavy, and veering towards the dark and melancholic, this album is sitting comfortably in the middle of that overlap.
Charles Soulz Project — Split Mind
Charles Soulz, a Brazilian songwriter / producer / keyboardist, has released his second album, this time under the name The Charles Soulz Project. Split Mind is a collaborative affair similar to Ayreon, with six vocalists, six guitarists, four bassists and a choir, strongly anchored by drummer Guilherme Pinheiro. Also similar to Ayreon's Human Equation, it is a concept album which tells a story about a young man, with different vocalists representing his family and various emotions. It's not giving away too much to say that the protagonist of the album, Rhode, struggles to move forward with his life after losing his parents in a tragic fire that he alone survived.
Despite the previously-noted similarities of the album to Ayreon, the sound throughout most of Split Mind is undeniably influenced, and arguably derivative of Dream Theater. One vocalist even sounds uncannily like James Labrie, including not just the large range, but also some of his characteristic vowel sounds and breathy vibrato. The keyboard solos often remind me most of Derek Sherinian, while some guitar solos could be mistaken for John Petrucci. These are all ingredients that I would generally enjoy, but on this album they do come across as borrowing too much and adding too little.
The songwriting throughout the majority of the album is just too close to Dream Theater for comfort. The main songs are interspersed with short instrumentals that seem like leftover ideas, especially Borderline, which could be scraps off the cutting room floor from Dream Theater's The Dance Of Eternity.
There are two exceptions to the overall similarity to Dream Theater. Burn To Rise has a chorus that harkens back to Joe Lynn Turner-era Rainbow, or Yngwie Malmsteen's Odyssey and Eclipse albums. Rhode on the other hand, sounds like The Beatles meets Styx and Queen, as channelled by Neal Morse. These songs are the highlights of the album, having a bit of playfulness as well as strong, singable melodies.
Overall, Split Mind has excellent musical and vocal performances and generally good production, though I found the use of percussive stuttering effects to be overdone. Some brief, quirky instrumentals disrupted from the album flow and sombre themes.
Depending on where the album is purchased, it may include the bonus track, I Realize (Lockdown Live Sessions). While this is not an album that I would choose to revisit (when I could instead listen to the original material that clearly inspired it), it certainly demonstrates skill and potential that simply needs more originality.