Hats Off Gentlemen It's Adequate — The Confidence Trick
With 9 albums in 10 years, not even counting side and solo projects, the duo with the most recognisable name are quite productive. Most of our readers will recognise the name and a fair share will know the music. The style on this new album will not surprise those.
The songs are built on a mix of alternate rock and modern prog, many with a tendency of melancholy, which I like a lot. From there on, the music goes in different directions, resulting in a varied collection.
The music is laden with elements of neo-prog, especially in the melodic department, bringing flashes of Mr. So & So, Camel or Jadis. Then there are electronic hypnotic beats and melodies, in Perky Pat for example, that make me think of Ozric Tentacles or Frog, but less trippy.
In subdued parts, like End Of The Line, there are lovely references to Talk Talk. Even the vocals, warm and a bit mysterious, are not unlike Mark Hollis.
But there are also pure prog sections, in the neo-prog style. As was to be expected, the longest track, Refuge is a full-on prog song . The emotional piano sections deserve special mention here.
The way Hats Off weave all these influences into different songs and still end up with a coherent sounding album is a great achievement. Even with my taste for usually heavier music, this album does check my boxes for melancholy, music from the heart, neo-prog symphonic melodies, and psychedelic atmospheres. So this still goes recommended, and I am sure this will appeal to a a wide range of prog fans. Excellent playing and production and just look at that artwork!
Special credits for marketing and promotional activities. Sending an album in FLAC with a PDF of the booklet with detailed credits and lyrics, and even include a bunch of photos and artwork.
Jalayan — Floating Island
The Floating Island is the planet Earth, floating in a cosmic sea, and no matter what Elon Musk thinks it is the only viable one we have.
Psychedelic warriors Jalayan resume their space-rocking the work from their previous release Sonic Drive. This new album is heavier on the keyboards of founding member, band leader and composer Alessio Malatesta. The line-up of this Milan based quartet also has Vincenzo Calvano on electric and acoustic guitars, Matteo Prina on electric bass and Martino Malacrida on drums.
On a superbly produced set of instrumentals, the stereo-mix is noteworthy, Jalayan not only take us through the local cluster but take time to include some world music influences from the far east, with gamelan-style rhythms and sitar-like synths. But in the main their mix of bubbling, spacey synths and heavier guitar and keyboards solos, crisp forceful drumming and slinky bass lines make it a more metallic take on the Ozric Tentacles template. They edge more towards the classic heavy space-rock of Hawkwind. Though Jayalan tend to avoid the longer (ten-minute plus) tracks of either of those forebears.
The album opens, as one would expect of this genre, with the electronic and synth build-up of Tilmun, which evolves into metal-edged space-rock but with a surprising shift into funky fusion towards its end. Jalayan then channel the hard-rock of Rainbow's Rising on the fast-paced, hard-hitting Nemesis and still find time in its headlong rush to push through the souk.
A dancing, funky bass joined by loping drums take up the sequencer rhythm before a cracking guitar solo expands the melody on Edination. The world music psychedelic influences come to the fore on the slower, pause for breath eastern harmonies of Star Stairs. Here is another quality guitar solo, with the light use of the sitar setting on the synths preventing that particular sound from getting irritating (I'm not a fan of the sitar). These eastern influences also appear on the great Colliding Orbits and the weirder Narayanastra. The dervish swirl of Shem Temple is a terrific end to the album.
Jalayan's Floating Island is brilliant played throughout and though looking over this review I seem to have focussed on the guitar solos there are some brilliant synth solos too. But everybody contributes superbly to this collection of multidimensional space-rock. If you want a psychedelic space-rock experience with a heavier edge, then take this cosmic journey.
Sammary — Monochrome
Sammary started out as a one-man project by Sammy Wahlandt, a multi-instrumentalist, and this is the project's first album. For the recordings, Sammy wrote all songs and played all the instruments and vocals, but the vocals were re-recorded by Stella Inderwiesen, Larissa Pipertzis, and Marie Stenger. Eleanna Pitsikaki plays kanun on 218. A live band has been compiled, in which Sammy plays drums and Stella sings, helped out by a bass player, two guitarists, and two keyboard players.
The rising crescendo in the opening track is a perfect intro to Soft, setting the atmosphere and certain expectations for the rest of the album. Quite heavy songs, heavily distorted guitars, and a clear voice.
For a female voice in metal, Stella has a lower voice than what is common these days, and to me that is a breath of fresh air. She hardly has an accent and has a nice timbre and sings powerful when she's in her conformtable range.
When she goes into higher frequencies she reminds me a bit of Anneke van Giersbergen-era The Gathering. It's not just the vocals but the whole atmosphere as well. Sammary are faster and heavier, less shoegaze. It is also adds to the contrast.
That contrast also exists among the songs. There's a lot of variation within and between the songs. While not overly progressive, the structure of songs, and the variations between softer and heavy parts will appeal to fans Pure Reason Revolution. One can also hear some Evanescence in the heavy music with clear vocal melodies. Elsewhere it's also Anathema-styled, or but may even appeal to fans of female-fronted epic prog metal.
Some sections, like in 219 or most of Sweet Application, sound more electronic with a lot of effects. The latter is slow but menacing. While the vocal lines in A Kiss Without Meaning are interesting, the music itself is the only example where it takes too long for a change.
The fact that there is a live band makes me happy. I feel many one-man projects are like filling up the time, while this sounds more serious.
A very good album, excellently produced, making a great debut. For when you want something powerful and maybe even sing along to the choruses. Powerful stuff.
Derek Sherinian — Vortex
Not long after his previous album, The Phoenix, Sherinian surprises us with his latest offer, Vortex, which again was co-written and co-produced by drummer Simon Phillips. Tony "The Fretless Monster" Franklin is on bass.
The band are helped by an array of guests guitarists. Several of those Sherinian had worked before: Steve Stevens, Joe Bonamassa, Steve Lukather, Zakk Wylde, and Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal. Sherinian managed to include some of his other heroes as well, who are also no the least-known: Michael Schenker, Mike Stern, and Nuno Bettencourt.
The album opens with the storming and aptly titled The Vortex (guitar: Steve Stevens). It drags you right into this musical journey. Heavy, fast-paced, highly melodic, and not too complex - just a marvellous opener. Some of the melodies outside the solos are played on keyboards and guitars simultaneously, which gives a very nice richness. It's easy to see a Satriani influence here.
Fire Horse starts off a bit more funky, like a Deep Purple Mk III track mixed in with the funky side of Dixie Dregs, and it shows adifferent side to the project without taking an unexpected U-turn. The track has Nuno Bettencourt's distinctive playing.
Key Lime Blues, with intricate drumming by Phillips, also reminds me of this although it is more funky. It has Joe Bonamassa and Steve Lukather. While Lukather is moving around in both blues and fusion areas, Bonamassa is known as a blues player with lots of nodding towards prog. That's why I imagine Lukather providing the funky fusion, and Bonamassa the more bluesy parts. When Sherinian comes soloing it goes more blues but still on a funky backdrop. I would love to see this live!
For Scorpion, Seven Seas (Steve Stevens again), and Nomad's Land, we tread into jazzy structures. The former a bit heavier fusion, with an emphasis on piano and bass. I tried to count the bars but, as a non-musician, got confused and am wondering if they don't play in two time signatures at the same time!
Die Kobra hails back to the powerful opener, including more Satriani influence. It seems written for guest Michael Schenker, although Zakk Wylde has added some parts as well. This is probably my favourite track, especially the interplay between guitar and keyboards.
Closer Aurora Australis has a classical piano opening section, after which a combination of Dream Theater, Deep Purple, and Satriani stylings follows. A feast for fans of heavy melodic music, like me. So many sections weaved into one piece, an epic journey. Cleverly placed at the end of the album, this is the end of an impressive journey where you could use a rest.
It took a while before I realised how Sherinian is keeping back from making this all about keyboards or just technical prowess. He is not just showing off (well, solos can be flashy, of course) and his guests respect the same rules and never outstay their welcome. Everything is in service of the songs. If this ever gets performed on stage it might/should of course be different, but on record, this makes much more sense. Although you can hear the different guitar stylings in the songs, there is still this overall feel and consistency that makes it an album instead of a collection of recordings.
I didn't see it at the time, but I lost interest in Dream Theater completely when Sherinian was no longer with them. The last DT concert I witnessed, they played a medley including some Led Zeppelin song. It was that moment when I realised what it was that was missing: those guys don't have the blues. Sherinian knows about the silence between the notes, he knows about blues timing.
I've always loved Sherinian's style, and a big part of that is because he shows that he does have the blues. With his influences from a broad musical spectrum, to me he is a musical descendant of Jon Lord. And in the press kit I read that David Coverdale actually calls him that!
The many influences and styles Sherinian feels comfortable with are all on display here, but it's testament to the team that it come across as a cohesive album. It's varied and never disjointed. If you're up for a varied trip of instrumentals going from funky hard-rock via prog-rock to fusion, you can't go wrong here. Excellent performances throughout.
The production and mix are excellent. Bassist Franklin's playing is very audible in the mix and that is a good thing. His playing is melodic taking the funky songs into a different level. And what can someone say about Simon Phillips that has not been said before? Very present where needed, supportive otherwise while still worth paying attention to.
Sherinian made good choices for the guitar guests. Did he perhaps even write the songs in the styles that would fit the guests even before they were invited? Anyway, every song is an example of a perfect fit.
Oh, just one thing, in the words of Zaphod Beeblebrox, minus 10 points for marketing by sending lossy MP3 files with weird and incorrect tags and not a lot of info, but that is all forgotten with the 9 points for content.
After really enjoying Derek's last album, The Phoenix, released in 2020, I was keen to jump onboard and review his latest offering. And what a nice excursion we find ourselves experiencing. As many progsters will know, Derek has a curriculum vitae as long as your arm and has been a member of many excellent progressive rock / metal / jazz fusion bands for several decades. During that time, he has proven his worth by creating some extremely solid solo albums in addition to adding a variety of worthwhile contributions to those bands that had engaged his services.
There are plenty of great keyboard players involved in the progressive rock / metal spectrum and when you consider the main players that are still alive, to include the likes of Jordan Rudess, Vitalij Kuprij, Oliver Wakeman, Rick Wakeman, Don Airey, Tony Banks, Geoff Downes, Jan Hammer and so many others, it's no wonder you will find Derek's name mentioned amongst his illustrious brothers. He is certainly an extremely gifted player with considerable skills not to mention a home studio and arsenal of keyboards and equipment most fans would die to own themselves.
One of the compelling reasons to explore Derek's vast catalogue of music is because he often invites some exceedingly gifted guitarists and other musicians to accompany him in the studio or within a live concert setting. On this occasion, the invitees certainly don't disappoint. Long time affiliate, Simon Phillips provides the necessary percussive backbone to really add strength to Derek's compositions as well as co-writing some tracks and producing the album. His presence on the album is reason enough to dive right in as there are few drummers of Simon's calibre and years of experience to simply ignore, despite him being in his mid 60's.
When you add Tony Franklin on bass, you realise you are in for a hell of a good ride as his previous work with Derek is enhanced even more so on this album. As if that were not enough, Derek has engaged a cornucopia of guitarists to really give this project more than enough credibility. The guest list includes, Steve Stevens, Joe Bonamassa, Zakk Wylde, Ron Thal, Steve Lukather along with newcomers, Michael Schenker, Mike Stern and Nuno Bettencourt.
With such an impressive line-up of great musicians, you'd expect some pretty decent performances and this is to be found in spades right throughout the album. Whether you are in raptures listening to Nuno Bettencourt's excellent playing on Fire Horse or the funky grooves on Key Lime Blues, there's no denying the extra mileage Derek can extract from his music when he allows each other player to take the stage and add more than enough impetus to the songs. The album flows so smoothly and effortlessly while giving you the impression, each song was written for the benefit of each guest musician to deliver 110% during their contribution. I would really love to see this album performed live with each guest being allowed their own chance to take the limelight.
Whether you acknowledge albums like this have been done before is really a moot point as each track is sufficiently different from the others to stand up well on their own. With so much talent on board, it really is difficult to find a weak track but rest assured the dexterity and changing time signatures throughout the album will have you clamouring for more. The blistering solos, from both the guitars and keyboards along with heaps of solid bass and pummelling drums should satisfy just about any set of ears. I could easily listen to albums like this for days and weeks at a time. Another solid effort from Derek and his team so it begs the question, how and when and with whom could he do even better? One wonders!
Shiva Bakta — 6/4 Of Love
Shiva Bakta is the recording name of Bologna based singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Lidio Chericoni. His new release, and his third album, 6/4 Of Love, is a marked departure from his the previous one. Save Me, from 2020, consists of a single 40-minute track that encompassed a modern take on psychedelia, electronics, and 70s progressive music.
Shiva Bakta's new album in contrast has ten concise tracks that come in, generally, at around the four-minute mark or less. The tracks here are all love songs that, bar one, are in 6/4 time, hence the album title. Now this may seem to be a gimmick, but the quality of the songwriting mitigates any such charges.
Using a limited pallet of sounds (piano, keyboards, acoustic and electric guitars, bass and drums) he fleshes out these melodic nuggets. His vocals are like a mix of a less fey Donovan and a happier, sunnier Nick Drake. This is gentle psyche-pop-prog with a sprinkling of the Canterbury sound (think Caravan's Golf Girl or a more straight forward Robert Wyatt).
The opening two tracks are both gems of folk infused psychedelia. She's An Alien's lovely melody has strings (keyboards I assume) and slide guitar where you wouldn't expect. Where Have You Been? has a dancing bass line that gives it extra depth. More gems to be mined include the longer form title-track's mellotron and organ adding colour and Half An Hour's psychedelic alt-folk. The only track not in 6/4 is the waltz time Get Over Me (3+3), which fits right with its strings and wah-wah guitar.
Occasionally there are, to my ears a couple of mis-steps. The low-fi nature of Bubble seems out of place and the arrangement of the fine melody of I See You into an upbeat Europop that edges towards knowingly ironic lounge music feels like a wasted opportunity.
All in all, though, Shiva Bakta's 6/4 Of Love is a terrific collection of psyche infused folk-pop-prog.