Album Reviews

Issue 2022-097

It's Prog-Tober! 31+ albums and reviews in 31 days!

Bigfoot Meter — Bigfoot Meter

Bigfoot Meter - Bigfoot Meter
Katana (8:00), Bigfoot Meter (8:58), Talk Is Cheap (7:14), Nsfp (9:06), Broken Promises (5:11), Under The Same Stars (8:23)
Owen Davies

In these increasingly hard times, it is refreshing to discover music that is still offered as a name your price download. Bigfoot Meters debut album ticks many boxes and the band should be commended for enabling their art to be so freely available.

Trumpet player Joey Blunk is the driving force behind this collective of musicians. He is responsible for all the compositions although on the evidence of six pieces that make up the album, the other members of the ensemble are given lots of opportunities to fully express themselves.

In addition to Blunk, the band is made up of Rhiannon Dewey (tenor sax), Andres Orco (guitar), Jeff Jenkins (keyboards), Nate Marsh (bass), and Michael D'Angelo (drums).

Bigfoot Meter describe themselves as a jazz fusion band heavily inspired by the music of the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return To Forever. The description is reasonably apt, but that influence is not nearly as identifiable as it is in the music of other fusion bands like Aurora Clara. This is largely due to the prominence of the trumpet and the sax in many of the arrangements. The compositions also draw upon the conventions of jazz as a succession of solos follow any ensemble playing and the whole thing returns to the introductory theme. Consequently, the music seldom surprises, or pushes against genre barriers. This creates an album that whilst, accessible and very palatable rarely quickens the pulse, or fires the imagination.

In the end this is simply a matter of taste and Bigfoot Meter achieve what they set out to do with great aplomb. There is much to admire, if you listen to the album without preconceived ideas. In this respect, the explicit way the band cited their influences was probably unhelpful. I was expecting something that rocked harder and had an electric edge. Instead I heard some finely crafted tunes that followed many jazz conventions and frequently possessed a quasi-big band feel.

The performance of the band is excellent. The album begins in upbeat fashion with Katana. This tune is very indicative of the style of music the album contains. Trumpet and sax deliver a foot tapping melody with cheek stretching power. Guitarist Orco, then takes a solo. His tone is clear and precise and as his fingers find their mark, there is not a yowl or a howl to be heard and it is clearly apparent that Orco has chosen to deliver his part in a jazz guitar style. As his finely chosen notes recede, the synth steps into the limelight to take a prominent part. The synth solo section of the tune gave it a slightly Return To Forever feel.

The next solo part to appear, quickly follows. The sax makes an appearance, full of flamboyant gusto, it belches out notes in quick succession. Drums then take a brief solo spot and the tune then returns to the main theme of the tune as expected. It's an enjoyable piece and whilst I found its structure comforting, I certainly did not find it exciting.

The title track has some interesting ensemble sections and as the tune progressed and developed, I was reminded of Ian Carr's Nucleus. Once again though, my overall enjoyment of it was diminished somewhat by the predictable way a succession of solos followed each other. Although I must admit that the rockier tone adopted by Orco in his solo slot certainly impressed and received a huge thumbs up.

The most interesting piece on offer is undoubtedly Nsfp. Although, once again a dual sax and trumpet line carry the main melody it contains lots of distorted keyboard parts that give this section of the music a twisted air. There is a palpable sense of tension and as the tune journeys on and unravels. Good use is made of changes in volume and tempo and the bass solo that is used as a bridge in the tunes mid-point is very impressive.

Broken Promises has a great jazz rock section where the time-honoured practice of call and response is fully utilised. The repartee between the guitar and keyboards is bursting with infectious energy and simply rocks. Indeed, this track is probably the nearest the band get to showing of their more aggressive side. It includes an impressive trumpet outro that helped add to the impression and ensure that the whole composition was once again somewhat redolent of something Ian Carr's Nucleus might have created during their Alleycat era.

Bigfoot Meter would be a good addition for anybody who enjoys jazz fusion. Whilst it does not tread any new ground, it delivers its jazz tinted hues in carefully constructed brush strokes to create a familiar and unobtrusive canvas. In this respect it would be a perfect accompaniment to an evening spent listening to something of a more Avant or experimental nature such as Jemma Freese's Shadow Boxing or Led Bid's Its Morning.

If you are interested to hear Bigfoot Meter, simply head on over to their Bandcamp page, but just remember the album is available on a name your price basis, so you can support their art if you wish, or simply enjoy the bands generosity in these costly times.

Compro Oro — Buy The Dip

Compro Oro - Buy The Dip
Ben-Hur (3:04), The Lower 9th (3:59), Bitcoins (3:22), Lament (5:11), Solstice (4:54), Karsilama (4:36), Dungeon (5:09), Kayak (3:53)
Owen Davies

Greetings music lovers. Uncover your ears and prepare yourself. I come in peace, I offer an auditory experience that contains a kaleidoscope of tones, shades, and colours. My name is Compro Oro. Let the encounter begin!

Head rest in position — check
Tight garments loosened — check
Fingers warmed up and ready to tap — check
Eyes closed — check

The comforting sound of a jangly guitar vibrates and spins the room. Vibraharp tones reach those hard to access corners of the mind. Memorable melodies take hold. Offbeat rhythms buzz and brush. My body begins to pulse, curl and sway. Time is lost, senses gyrate and dive; the Dip takes hold

The descent swaddles me warmly in a bubbling comforting groove. The ascent begins, my head is gently laid to rest and the encounter ends. I jump up and loudly proclaim I am bitten, I am smitten, I must Buy The Dip!

Belgium record label Sbdan have released a string of wonderful releases over the last few years. These include Black Flower's Magma and Azmari's Samā'ī. I can confidently state that Compro Oro's recently released Buy The Dip can now be added to Sbdans roster of striking albums.

Although, some aspects of Compro Oro's music are immediately identifiable with the groove ridden Afro jazz style associated with several artists associated with Sbdan records, other ingredients make Compro Oro's art quite unique. Buy The Dip is the Belgium band's fourth studio release. I thoroughly enjoyed their last offering, Simurg, which contained a raft of Turkish and Middle Eastern melodies and rhythms.

However, Buy The Dip is not as heavily influenced by such world music elements as its predecessors, although in tunes such as Karsilama and Solstice that inspiration can still clearly be discerned. Nevertheless, after hearing Buy The Dip on many occasions, I have concluded that it is even more impressive than Simurg.

Probably, the most distinctive aspect of the music of Compro Oro, that is exhibited in Buy The Dip, is the guitar tone of Bart Vervaeck. It frequently has a jangly echo quality. His preferred choice of tone is something akin to that used by Hank Marvin when he employed an Echo Delay Sound Tone on his Strat.

Another distinguishing element of Buy The Dip is the bands extensive use of electronics and effects. They have certainly increased this aspect of their music throughout this release. Although an equally idiosyncratic element is the way the band make extensive use of the vibraphone and marimba.

However, do not expect the sort of vibraphone playing that Ruth Underwood supplied for Zappa's music, or that Gary Burton created with Eberhard Weber on albums such as Passengers.

The vibraphone does not stray into nor linger in the spotlight for long. Rather the vibraphone and marimba is integral to much of the band's overall sound providing an atmospheric voice within the collective. When they are used in a more prominent manner, they are frequently employed to set the theme of the piece or change the mood of a piece or offer syncopated embellishments to established rhythms.

Compro Oro are Wim Segers (vibraphone, marimba, synth, whistles, vocals), Bart Vervaeck (electric and acoustic guitars, pedal steel guitar, vocals), Matthias Debusschere (bass, vocals), Falk Schrauwen (congas, percussion, effects), and Frederik Van Den Berghe (drums). The tracks were composed by Segers except Karsilama, which was written by Vervaeck.

I have discovered lots to admire about this album. The performance of the players is fantastic and the clear, precise, and crisp recording quality of the album simply enhances everything about it.

The Lower 9th is an outstanding track. The guitar melody is beautifully played and its gorgeous resonance fills the room in a jangly melange of inviting tones and discordant interjections. I have also become a great fan of Bitcoins. Its catchy rhythmic qualities, raft of effects and outstanding guitar theme is sure to jog a listener's legs and toes.

On the other hand, Dungeon will undoubtedly please aficionados of prog. Its thick set and somewhat dirty fuzzy guitar tone dominates the piece. Vervaeck excels and Segers contribution is equally impressive offering a perfect harmonic foil to the menacing guitar tones. The tune has a hard-edged groove and a sort of krautrock vibe that is accentuated by chanted vocals and its strident psychedelic air.

The rhythm section of the band is particularly effective. They are adept at creating funky patterns and dub ethnic rhythms, but when they are moved to hold a more insistent groove, or are called upon to support gentler moments with subtle brush strokes and delicately toned bass notes, they are equally proficient.

Synthesiser parts drench several tunes to lift the music to ethereal spheres. This is especially the case in the accessible and jaunty Kayak which ends proceedings in an ear friendly fashion.

The album portrays a variety of moods, mournful plaintive pieces such as Solstice complement the mood set by the enchanting chords contained in attractive tunes such as lament. Similarly, the deep percussive energy and complex patterns of the opening piece Ben-Hur is offset and book marked by the hum along qualities of Kayak, the tune which concludes the album.

Overall, Buy The Dip is simply an outstanding album, but please don't take my word for it

Let your encounter begin!

Eyes closed — check!

Ikarus — Plasma

Ikarus - Plasma
Tritium (7:47), Isblink (7:30), Sessapinae (9:57), Cocoro (6:54), Altaelva (7:27)
Owen Davies

Minimalist instrumental interludes, infectious polyrhythms and wordless vocals express themselves throughout this tightly structured release. Every note has a carefully plotted role and an important part to play in realising the bands creative vision for their art.

As you might expect Ikarus' latest album Plasma continues to evolve the style that was first revealed in their debut album in 2015 and more recently in their superb Mosaismic release. Plasma is the band's fourth recording and is arguably just as satisfying as Mosaismic.

The arrangements on Plasma are tightly spun, but there are still opportunities for improvisation and spontaneity to occur. It does not seem plausible that the ethereal and often inspired vocal lines of Anna Hirsch and Andreas Lareida could have been entirely written, arranged, or predetermined. Although they are delivered with sophisticated aplomb, they also possess a spontaneous inventive air which leaves a listener with an edge of the seat feeling of excitement. It's interesting to try and anticipate the direction that the next rhythmic or harmonious utterance might take.

Whilst, I really, enjoy the recordings of Ikarus, it is in a live setting that a full appreciation of the talents of the band, and the extent in which improvisation is an important component can be observed and clearly defined.

In this respect, their 2022 performance at the Jazzahead showcase included the tunes Cocoro and Tritium from their Plasma release and is well worth watching (see it here on YouTube).

The band are wonderful musicians and the role that band leader and drummer Ramón Oliveras, pianist Lucca Fries and bass player Mo Meyer have in creating a supportive atmosphere for the vocalists to excel cannot be understated. That is not to say that all three instrumentalists are not given ample opportunity to demonstrate their individual skills over the course of the album.

The dexterous kit work of Oliveras is fantastic and much of the rhythmic shape of the music emanates from the way in which the subtlety delivers his complex syncopated parts. Similarly, the piano of Fries is used in a delightful manner to link passages of music together or add a melodic flourish or to offer a change of direction within a song. The understated and often unusual tones of Meyer's bass have an equally important part in injecting a surprising sequence of sounds or to maintain the music's hypnotic trance like grooves.

The music shifts as it evolves within each piece. This creates a closely woven patchwork of sounds where each component of the band has apart to play. Repetition is an important tool in the band's repertoire, through the use of repeated phrases, rhythms, or vocal effects. This lays down a mesmerizing basis for variations in pitch, rhythm and dynamics to occur where instruments blend as a collective, or come to the fore individually to offer a different tonal approach. This enables subtle variations, or changes of emphasis to occur and progress.

Each track of the album has a positive musical statement to make. Isiblink is one of my favourite pieces. The manner in which it purposefully rises and develops from its spacious sparse beginnings ensures that it has an organic feel. The vocal parts are exceptional, mixing frailty and power in its finely performed harmonies that clasp the senses and gently clutch the heart.

The longest track on the album is Sessapinae. It is mysterious and atmospheric, and the wonderful quality of the recording makes every aspect of it absolutely compelling. In this piece, Hirsch's wordless vocal parts and expressive intonations were quite reminiscent of Norma Winstone's work with Azimuth.

The length on Sessapinae. ensures that there is lot of space and time for the piece to unravel and advance. As the piece purposefully travels in sparse rhythmic minimalist strides, its style unmistakably belongs to Ikarus. The more I hear Sessapinae, the more I discover, and the more I am in awe of the band's art.

Although, the music of Sessapinae is frequently gentle and soothing, there is something earthy and primeval about the sound of a human voice that is unfettered by language and limited only by the extent of the imagination and invention of the singer. The chanting section of this tune is particularly compelling as well as slightly unnerving and disconcerting. It certainly, and unarguably, has a strong emotive effect and pull.

The most challenging piece is probably Altaelva, which begins furtively and in a minimalist manner with voice and piano, before morphing into an oddly timed rhythmic structure. Changes of pace, ensure that no established or discernible melodic pattern stays in place for too long. Increases in volume create tension and a nail knocking percussive interlude only adds to the piece's mysterious intensity.

However, if you have enjoyed the bands previous output, my guess is, that the twisting rhythms and shifting nuances of Altaelva, will not prove to be too inaccessible. Be prepared though; its powerfully voiced and emotional conclusion is quite unsettling.

Whilst much of Ikarus work will probably not appeal to the majority of prog aficionados, there is much to be appreciated and enjoyed by listeners willing to explore music that sits outside parameters usually associated with jazz, or prog, or any other genre for that matter.

Ikarus have created their own minimalistic polyrhythmic style that does not fit into any clearly defined genre. Nevertheless, I can confidently proclaim that Plasma is wonderfully progressive; it is unique, and consequently, it is utterly compelling

Origina1Nerd — Unknown Error

Origina1Nerd - Unknown Error
Intro (0:18), Steps In A Layer (7:17), Hidden Inside (5:40), Rain (8:00), Triple Major (5:04), Commitment (5:08), Flying (7:15), Closed Eyes (9:23), The Most Precious Thing (10:02), Vessels (6:02)
Owen Davies

Origina1Nerd (that's a "1", the number, in case the font you are reading this in is not displaying that correctly) are a young Austrian band and they have certainly made a bold statement in their debut release. Origina1Nerd are Max Glanz - saxophone, Andreas Erd - guitar, Thomas Quendler - keyboards, Jakob Gönitzer - bass, and Gabor Bedö - drums.

Unknown Error has an instantly recognisable fusion vibe that will have anybody who enjoyed the music of bands and artists such as Larry Coryell's Second House, and Klaus Doldinger's Passport, Return To Forever and Philip Catherine occasionally squealing with delight. However, Origina1Nerd are not fusion copyists, they have taken a recognisable style as the framework for their art and have added some flavourings of their own personality and creativity into proceedings.

This results in a style of music, that is reassuringly familiar, but on the other hand is also thrilling. Although much of the music is rooted in stylistic, rhythmic, and tonal qualities associated with jazz, it draws upon other influences. It rarely resorts to a stereo-typical approach sometimes associated with jazz artists to either performance or composition.

This is in sharp contrast to the approach taken by some contemporary jazz fusion bands such as, Bigfoot Meter who appear to rely heavily on jazz conventions within their compositions. Consequently, much of Unknown Error has an inventive appeal. It is draped and carefully patterned by a tightly spun, ear warming shawl, containing a mesh of familiar and not so familiar sounds.

There is an understated accessibility to much of the music. Melodic tunes rise and fall. This disguises the real complexity of what is on offer. Everything just flows along, and it is a pleasure to listen to. Its a testament to the abilities of the band that they can make such challenging and demanding music appear as if it is simple and easy to play.

The performance of the band is excellent throughout and the compositions are extremely varied. This enables a full range of moods and emotions to be explored over the course of the release. The bands colourful expressive tones and occasional mastery of different intensities, creates a soft carpet of sounds that caress and an abrasive fibre of tones that sometimes rub.

I have listened to Unknown Error many times and my appreciation of it has grown as I have begun to recognise some subtleties and less obvious facets that lie behind its affable and approachable air.

The album contains several outstanding instrumental sections. These compelled me to stop what I was doing and listen intently. The long duration of most of the compositions give the players plenty of opportunities to fully explore musical themes and ideas, to stretch out in inventive flurries, or to change direction when the need arises. Unknown Error is by turns funky, rhythmic, explosive, reflective and is often just simply beautiful.

The sound quality of the recording is excellent and this helps to ensure that the album has a positive and refreshing effect upon the senses. The arrangements certainly bring out the best in the players and every aspect of the album is appealing. There is a satisfying freshness embedded in Origina1Nerd's take on fusion. The band's enthusiasm for this type of music shines through vividly during some truly wonderful ensemble passages and a plethora of magnificent solo parts.

Guitarist Erd's standout performance is probably one of the most satisfying characteristics of the release. Lengthy solos in pieces such as Steps In A Layer, Hidden Side and Closed Eyes transport the tunes to rockier outcrops where a ferocious frenzy of guitar notes break and burst energetically to shards upon the speckled shore.

Closed Eyes also contains a majestic piano interlude and a special mention should be made about Quendler's contribution to the albums overall sound. His crystal tone really impressed me and much of his understated work gives the ensembles sound a rich appeal. Several of his synth-based embellishments fashion a wonderful atmospheric effect. His piano work shapes the senses and offers a silky-smooth backdrop of finely textured sounds. In this respect Rain works well. Quendler's piano drenches the ears in a series of moist embraces to wash away the flotsam of the day.

Flying contains many things to admire, and it is my favourite piece. It contains interesting changes in tempo, a great guitar tone, some riff sections and has a memorable motif. It's probably the track that fans of prog would probably find the most appealing. Although for some, the stop and start rhythms of Triple Major might be equally alluring.

Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed Unknown Error. Whether, it has enough depth or distinctive aspects to hold my full attention in the long term, remains to be seen, but for the moment I find almost everything about it to be satisfying. I hope that continues to be the case.

Nevertheless, I look forward to seeing how Origina1Nerd progress their own style of progressive jazz fusion. I hope they can create an idiosyncratic sound that can be clearly identified as their own. They certainly have the compositional skills and the talents to create their own identifiable niche within this growing and evolving genre of music.

Album Reviews