Aran Prog Project — EVO A Progressive Journey
Aran Prog Project was created in 2018 by bassist, songwriter and producer Massimiliano Gentilini. From his passion for bands like King Crimson and Dream Theater he wanted to create a progressive music project band. The first single called Cambrian was already recorded in 2018, check out the studio live video of this song. So, four years and twenty musicians later, the album EVO A Progressive Journey is released.
Aran Prog Project has four other band members and EVO A Progressive Journey features many guest appearances. The music holds a variety of styles and influences. The progressive metal part is always present but jazzy and electronic music find their way into the sound as well. Massimiliano Gentilini certainly puts a lot of different elements in his songs.
Opener Origin starts with a very simple metal riff. Then suddenly, the songs speeds up. A very fast part with a couple of solos by keyboard and guitar. The song is nice but so straight forward I cannot really call it A Progressive Journey. On The Expansion Of Matter there is more variety though. After a nice mellow intro the riff is not as standard as on Origin and the music gets a bit more complex compared to the opener. The soloing part is not fast and heavy but more mellow.
Cambrian is an instrumental. It feels like I hear a completely different band on this song. Many solos and complex rhythms and all the progressive metal elements are there. And then on Reptile Era I hear another completely different band. A jazz fusion song with no progressive metal at all. Piano with jazzy drumming and many free soloing and a bass player that is flying through the song with jazzy improvs.
After that, Human Coming Darkness is a song in line with the opener. With Modern Era it is back to the instrumental works. This song is really all over the place. It combines the progressive metal with the jazzy stuff and even holds some funny circus melodies.
Aran Prog Project sounds like a band with potential. Especially the song Cambrian will appeal to fans of progressive metal. But seeing that the album has six songs and features four guest appearances on drums and eight guest appearances on guitar, it feels that it was just a bit too much. It is like the album is recorded by different bands. EVO A Progressive Journey holds a couple of good songs and tunes but as a whole it was not the satisfying listening experience I was hoping for.
Dusan Jevtovic — No Answer Project - Live in Barcelona
It is apt that the cover art of Dusan Jevtovic's latest release portrays the members of the No Answer Project sitting near to a roadside. Dusan Jevtovic, Vasil Hadžimanov and Asaf Sirkis face the same direction, but the road they explore reveals many interesting deviations as they travel towards their collective destination. The subtlety, skill, and searing musicianship in evidence on this release, enables the listener to accompany the trio of musicians on an exciting journey of discovery.
The album captures the performance of a concert inBarcelona during May 2019. The seven compositions bear all the trademarks that has made Jevtovic's work so distinctive over the years. Four of the compositions originally appeared on Jevtovic's No Answer release. The live renditions of these tunes are equally compelling and are arguably even more rewarding for they capture the excitement, invention and improvisation that goes hand in hand when this type of progressive fusion is created in a live setting. The beautiful rendition of Yo Sin Mi is one of the albums standout tracks.
The three other pieces; Blues For A, Op-Sa, and Nine have not been released before. Their inclusion in the set will ensure that many aficionados of Jevtovic's work will be excited to hear this release. All three pieces are excellent and are worthy additions to Jevtovic's catalogue of work.
Blues For A is particularly evocative, it seamlessly moves between cleanly struck guitar sections, yowling solos and disconcerting heavy sections where the extraordinary percussive drumming of Sirkis glues everything together. As might be expected when players of the calibre of the trio are involved, it moves outside parameters normally connected with the Blues. Consequently, it has several inventive passages. These reveal an adventurous air and an innovative capacity, whilst still maintaining a peripheral yet identifiable association with the Blues.
Throughout the concert, distorted guitar chords full of malevolence and power are juxtaposed with delicate sections that have an ethereal air. Sirkis skillful use of his kit is at the heart of everything and his ability to play with delicacy and with dynamic power, when necessary, propels the music with great dramatic effect. This enticing mix is superbly embellished by Hadžimanov's sensitive use of piano, electric piano, and synth when the need arises.
Hadžimanov's fine keyboard patterns offer a different set of colours and creates a noticeable contrast. This ensures that the music has an unpredictable and exciting edge. His flowing solo in Blues For A is simply magnificent. However, his wonderfully crafted piano interlude in the beautifully melodic Yo Sin MI is equally impressive and provides another standout piano moment during the album.
The quality of the recording is excellent, and the work of Acklam studios in Barcelona should be commended for ensuring that the skillful performance of each instrument can be easily discerned.
The No Answer Project's selection from the No Answer album and their presentation of three previously unheard compositions is a thoroughly rewarding experience.
The trio's unique blend of progressive jazz treads a road that is seldom travelled and I, for one, cannot wait to experience their journey again.
Richard Rees Jones — Peter Hammill - On Track [Book]
Writer and music journalist Richard Rees Jones is originally from Salisbury but now resides in Geneva, Switzerland. This is his first book and continues Sonicbond Publishing's series of dives into artists' back catalogues. A companion work to Dan Coffey's Van der Graaf Generator - On Track book, this examination of Peter Hammill's solo output looks at all his releases, from 1971's Fool's Mate to 2021's In Translation. In addition, there are short entries for his collaborations with other artists such as the terrific Isuldur's Bane albums, and an overview of his live recordings.
Richard Rees Jones has produced the best written On Track book that I have read so far. The introductions to each album are models of concision, putting the releases in their specific cultural time and place as well as their position within the structure of Hammill's overall career. It also shows the commercial and artistic pressure that Hammill was under. As Jones says: "Hammill has consistently made musical choices on the basis of artistic integrity" and this comes across in this study.
An avowed fan of all things Hammill, Richard Rees Jones' enthusiasm is not coloured by rose-tinted spectacles. He criticises the work that he feels is not up to the level of which Hammill is capable. Hammill's body of work has an astonishingly high rate of must-hear releases throughout his 35 studio releases. In discussing individual tracks, Jones displays a terrific turn of phrase such as "words erupt like an affliction" and "clusters of notes hang defiantly in the air" when discussing tracks from Chameleon In The Shadow Of The Night.
This is in-keeping with the intelligence of Hammill's musing in his lyrics, where often Hammill moves from the brutally-personal (the album Over), through the political (The Future Now) to the philosophical (Incoherence). Jones references writers, theorists and philosophers to support his, and Hammill's, pointed words. Writers such as Colin Wilson and Franz Kafka, theorist Theodore Adorno and philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Jacques Derrida. Now if this sounds pretentious to you, don't be concerned, Jones also has a wry sense of humour and his enthusiasm never wanes, nor does the writing ever feel perfunctory.
As with all the On Track books, Jones' points out things that you may not have noticed that send you off to re-listen and appreciate more deeply the work. It had passed me by that Hammill uses quite cinematic imagery, and his arguments as to why certain albums should be re-evaluated are convincing. It is like arguing with a more knowledgeable pal, as by no means a Hammill completest I now have another list of albums to purchase and listen to (shakes fist at the sky but with a big smile, damn you Sonicbond and Richard Rees Jones).
Incidentally, Richard Rees Jones has provided an online index which is downloadable from his website which is a great bonus.
Peter Hammill on DPRP.net
Klabautamann — Numbered
Out of Germany, Klabautamann emerged back in 1998 as the joint venture of Tim Steffens and Florian Toyka. However, it is now Tim alone with session musicians. With numerous demos and albums through the years, the band have grown and evolved their sound, bringing in elements of jazz and lounge to their style of atmospheric black metal. Taking their name from the mythological water kobolds that assist sailors in the Baltic and North Seasy, the group certainly sound on paper like an interesting mix. Something to note is that the album was mixed by Anna Murphy of Cellar Darling fame.
Album opener Snow didn't start how I expected. Based on descriptions of the band, I was expecting something akin to the likes of Agalloch, but I was instead greeted by an almost folk tinged sound similar to Porcupine Tree. However, Changed is exactly that. Heavier distortion and harsh vocals with an almost "world building" build up and flow. Daydream continues this feel of layering with a foreboding vocal harmony between Anna and Tim building on top the growing presence of the harder music.
Flowing seamlessly on, it is difficult to even notice the change into Conflicted with how well the parts fit together. Still keeping that sound of "prog rock that has brushed against some Enslaved", it continues in this vein. Dipping into clean vocals and softer, clean passages in-between unrepentant chugs and intensive introspection laden sections. Pretending comes in with a touch more of the black metal sound I had been expecting initially, with tremolos and screamed vocals riding on top of fast drumming and a tense atmosphere.
The longest track follows. Holding On begins a melancholic "doom" feel to it that would be right at home on some of Swallow The Sun's work. The use of keys helps build the feeling of mounting sorrow throughout the track as well. The title track, Numbered, returns to the heavier side of prog rock, with the clean vocals and synths creating interesting and enticing ebbs and flows.
And then comes the penultimate number Felt Everything. The acoustics that draw us in reminds me of Opeth with their slightly uneasy sounding chords and vocals before delving back into the soaring vocals. Finally, we have Gone. A culmination of the previous lamenting, mixed with the harmonious guitars and ethereal clean vocals. It then drifts back into an acoustic section as it slowly departs.
The only downside I can maybe see is that there is an unrefined sound to the album that is just slightly out of the "sweet spot" for music like this. However, considered it was all recorded by Tom (aside from Anna's parts) at his home, I think it can be forgiven. Aside from that, I thoroughly enjoyed the album and am looking forward to delving into the history of Klabautamann. For fans of Agalloch, Enslaved, Opeth, Porcupine Tree, and Ulver.
Symphonity — Marco Polo: The Metal Soundtrack
This latest offering from an aspiring symphonic power metal band from Czechia certainly had me on my toes as soon as I began playing the album. Their sound struck me as being extremely crisp, well executed, brilliantly produced and with a very professional approach to the songwriting. Symphonity began their career as Nemesis in 1994 but changed name after their debut was released in 2006 for reasons unknown to me at this stage.
The band consists of Konstantin Naumenko (lead and backing vocals), Mayo Petranin (lead and backing vocals), Libor Křivák (guitars, keyboards), Tomáš Sklenář (bass), Josef Cigánek (drums), Johannes Frykholm (keyboard solos, additional keyboards). Jana Hrochova also adds some operatic vocals on the track, Venezia together with its reprise.
While some may feel that this tried and tested formula has worked very well for bands such as Stratovarios, Blind Guardian, Kamelot, Missa Mercuria, Helloween, Luca Turilli, and Vanden Plas, you can't deny the band their right to steal a little limelight themselves. Featuring nine very well written and performed songs (twelve with the CD version), the band quickly let the listener know they are all supremely talented artisans who know their instruments backwards. Whether listening to a blistering lead break from Libor, a frenetic drum fill from Josef, or one of many stunning vocal sections courtesy of either Konstantin or Mayo, it would be hard not to acknowledge the extreme talent some of these musicians possess. My initial thoughts might be akin to what other listeners would feel upon hearing this band for the first time. Impressive, great vocal delivery, great range, stunning guitars, propulsive drumming and having more melodic hooks than a fisherman's tackle box are all concepts that I felt the band had mastered in spades after only a few spins.
After a few more plays, I began to feel a little let down as I thought this has all been done to death so many times before. However, I gave the album a final play last night whereupon, I reversed my opinion once again. I have heard plenty of symphonic power metal bands over the years and sometimes tire of the machine-gun drumming, formulaic songwriting and predictable verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure of a lot of the songs. However, it is the slower ballads and softer songs that comprise a reasonable amount of material on this album that really gave me a pleasant shift in attitude.
Songs such as Crimson Silk, The Plague, and Mongols are all balls to the wall, full tilt symphonic power metal masterpieces in their own right. They were eclipsed however, by songs such as Love Theme, Dreaming Of Home, I Found My Way Back Home and Prisoner which these ageing ears found a little more palatable, being less demanding on the brain.
The best song on the album for me however is Mongols which, being a mini epic of over 10 minutes, encapsulated just about everything you could wish for. The seriously infectious melodious singing is just nuts and will have a lot of fans after only a few spins. It also incorporates plenty of variety in its themes and structure so doesn't get tiring. It also possesses some really enjoyable, semi-oriental sections using a variety of ethnic instruments that gives the song some extra zing. These include oud, ney, saz, daruan, guzheng, and morin khuur to name a few. Apart from the oud, I have not heard of these instruments before but their inclusion, makes for an interesting diversion.
All in all, this album was more of a pleasant surprise than I expected and considering many of the members come from countries whose native tongue would not be English, I heard no accent issues with the vocals as they were as clean and accurate as you could wish for. Between the songs there are sections of spoken dialogue and while I'm not a fan per se, they add some explanation to each part of the journey. The person responsible for this dialogue has a very deep, gruff type of voice and which sounds a little over accentuated for my liking.
For any fans of the aforementioned bands, this album certainly scores well on all important aspects. Added to this, I have noticed a number of glowing reviews have already been posted on the net so a prospective buyer of the band's music should find comfort in discovering yet another band worthy of your money and your ears.
Turning Point — Vanishing Dream
Jeff Clyne has always been one of my favourite bass players. His work shines through in Keith Tippett's debut You Are Here I Am There and in a cluster of Ian Carr's Nucleus' earliest albums. He also provided some brilliant flourishes to Isotope's and Gilgamesh's debut albums.
However, I am particularly fond of Turning Point; the band that he formed in 1976 with vocalist Pepi Lemer. Jeff Clyne reportedly said that a major influence in forming Turning Point was Magma, whom Isotope supported on one of their early visits to the UK.
The band fused jazz and rock into a series of richly rhythmic compositions with two albums Creatures Of The Night (1977) and Silent Promise (1978).
Brian Miller's keyboard work is particularly outstanding, Miller had played with Clyne in Isotope and in Impulse. His mastery of so many different keyboard styles set him apart from many of his contemporaries. Both albums are garlanded by flowing synth lines that are simply quite outstanding. Miller is blessed with an ability to create luscious textures which interact in complete harmony with the kaleidoscopic soundscape of bold colours offered by the other players.
The wonderful contribution of Dave Tidball on saxophone gives much of the music its bite. His solo on the superb Rain Dance found on Creatures of the Night is sublime. However, it is arguably the rhythm section of Clyne and the highly talented Paul Robinson on drums and percussion that provides the music with a remarkable subtly shifting patchwork of thrusting toe tapping beats.
Both albums have gained mixed reviews on prog rock websites, with many reviewers commenting that they are too influenced by jazz, or that the album's themes are too repetitive. These comments are valid to some extent, but neither of these facets necessarily makes the music inferior. On the contrary, they give the music lots of scope to grow and subtly evolve.
Each album has their merits, but overall, I think I prefer Creatures Of The Night.
The highpoint in Creatures Of The Night is My Lady C and the standout track on Silent Promise is probably Beginning Again, but these are merely the pinnacles of two loftily composed and performed albums.
Both of Turning Point's albums are a showcase for the gorgeous bubbling and flowing bass lines of Clyne. His bass creates a wonderful setting for the inspired vocalese performance of Pepi Lemer to excel.
His playing creates an infectious groove, but it often takes the lead in a piece to set the mood and direction. Clyne's work is melancholic, funky, and richly expressive. His performance is blessed with a magnificent technique and tone that clearly shows the benefits all his years of working with the best that the British Jazz Movement of the 60s could offer.
Pepi Lemer's soaring voice is just the right foil for Clyne's crunchy bass parts. Her use of voice as an instrument in its own right is a key ingredient of the band's sound and in this way, she fulfils a similar role to Norma Winstone in her work for Azimuth.
The new album by Turning Point, Vanishing Dream, features seven previously unheard live studio recordings. The Eppik, is totally new to listeners having never been released in any form.
It is an excellent composition and the bands performance will satisfy anybody who appreciates this groups unique sound. Volume and the use of dynamics are manipulated effectively to create both atmosphere and tension. Changes of pace are used to good effect. The application of repeated motifs creates an unforgettable melodic experience.
Whilst the ensemble playing is excellent, there are also many examples of outstanding musicianship throughout the piece. Paul Robinson's percussive interlude that acts as a bridge to the concluding section is particularly exciting.
Robinson's kit work is one of the highlights of the release. His power skill and subtle dexterity is very noticeable on this album.
The other tracks of Vanishing Dream feature versions of tunes that originally appeared on either Creatures Of The Night or on Silent Promise. These renditions at least equal and often excel the originals. The version of Better Days is quite wonderful and the glorious interaction between Millers synth and Clyne's' popping, bubbling bass is simply outstanding.
Given the limitations of the source material, the sound quality across the album is quite remarkable. Whilst not likely to satisfy keen-eared audiophiles (at times there is some audible hiss) any noticeable deficiencies are more than made for up by the magnificent performance of the band, and by the lack of existence of any similar live studio recordings.
This new release shows that Turning Point can seduce the listener with easy hooks and highly accessible melodies. Nevertheless, they skilfully manage to maintain interest with challenging and contrasting vocal and instrumental passages; this provides the album with a delightful and richly coloured backdrop on which Lemer adds her vibrant soundscape of sweetly-scented vocalese sounds.
There are several occasions when Tidball's saxophone cuts loose in a frenzy of calculated, yelps and yowls. Queen Of The White E features some ferocious blowing, and the lilting, flowing solo which emerges in The Journey deftly suggests a nod to Wayne Shorter and Weather Report. In these live recordings Tidball's contribution has an even greater edge and it is one of many satisfying elements of this release.
Similarly, Brian Miller's keys are scintillating throughout. There are many occasions when Miller takes a prominent role. For example, the pacy electric piano interlude that occurs during middle part of The Eppik has great fizz, and is reminiscent in style of early Isotope. Elsewhere, when the piano is predominant, occasional stylistic comparisons might be made with the music of Chick Corea and the earliest incarnations of Return To Forever.
The live nature of the recordings enables the band to occasionally take the opportunity to stretch out and develop ideas and motifs merely hinted at in the original versions. For example, during The Journey unchartered detours and some surprising off-piste moments occur. For those familiar with the original tunes these moments of invention and improvisation create an extra layer of interest.
Perhaps more importantly, Vanishing Dream shows how Turning Point were able to seamlessly weave jazz and rock into a fascinating mesh. As such, the band's unique brand of fusion remains as relevant and as exciting today, as it was when the performances of this fabulous release were recorded.
It is an album which bridges and fuses several styles including jazz and rock in an idiosyncratic and totally progressive manner; in this respect, it succeeds brilliantly.