Album Reviews

Issue 2022-116

Bridgend — Einder

Bridgend - Einder
Sattva (5.30), Ogni Notte (6:55), L'Interprete Sublime (3:36), La Fine Del Ponte (18:50)
Thomas Otten

Bridgend seem to be following a fairly cosmopolitan approach. They are an Italian band hailing from Rome, bearing the name of a city in south Wales (apparently where the band project came to life in 2015), and chose the Dutch word for "horizon" as the title of their third release, following Rebis from 2016 and Rajas from 2020.

I had not heard of them before, and the information on Bridgend I have found on the internet appeared quite limited. Being founded by Andrea Zacchia (guitars), the band have changed their line-up a couple of times. On this release Andrea is joined by Leonardo Rivola (keyboards), Dario Piccioni (bass) and Massimo Bambi (drums).

Einder marks the conclusion of what the band calls the Rebis-Trilogy. According to the information provided by the record company, "Einder tells the story of failure and impossible love. The first three tracks tell of Sattva's feelings in his (vain) attempt to reach Rebis Island. The last song ... tells the same story but from the point of view of the island itself."

My knowledge of the Italian language is quasi non-existent, so I am not able to relate to this narrative, even more so because Bridgend's music is instrumental. There are two narrations (in Italian), one making up the second half of Sattva, and the other towards the end of La Fine Del Ponte (the title being the Italian translation of the band's name). Simply listening to the music did not enable me to fully derive the change of perspective from Sattva to the island.

The promotional clipping cites Marillion, Pink Floyd, and Steven Wilson as sources of influence. Yes, in fact their music sounds more like neo-prog than the typical Rock Progressivo Italiano (RPI), the Mediterranean melancholy and the lyrical mood of which does not come across that much on this album.

To me, this is not surprising, as I consider that the lyrical mood inherent in RPI to a large extent is created by the Italian vocals, which are missing here. But neo-prog characteristics certainly are present. We have melodic soloing, lush keyboards, symphonic elements, a bit reminiscent of bands such as Cellar Noise, Julius Project, and Barock Project, at least concerning their early work (to name just a few Italian ones), albeit in a less sophisticated form.

We also encounter some slightly psychedelic Floydian elements, and a bit of a jamming atmosphere, as well as Gilmour-esque guitar sounds here and there, especially in the final track La Fine Del Ponte, which is characterized by extensive soloing of guitar, bass, piano and synthesizer based on a continuously repeating two chords-progression between minutes eight and 14.

Steven Wilson did not really come to my mind whilst listening to Bridgend's release. Overall, I felt that the music altogether sounds very homogeneous, accessible, and consistent. But in return it is also a bit uniform.

I like the shortest song, L'Interprete Sublime, best. By displaying a certain feeling of sadness and despair, this is the only one that allows me to establish a connection between the music and the story in a way that I think the band intend.

I must admit that even after repeated listening, I could not get that much out of Bridgend's music. It is fair to say that their prog is of a catchy, melodic, accessible and unpretentious style. It is easy to listen to and not too demanding. The other side of the coin is that these features make their music sound rather predictable, a bit unexciting and unchallenging.

The track Ogni Notte is very representative of that. It starts with a gentle guitar arpeggio against the background of a melodic and catchy piano/synthesizer sequence that is made up of two times three chords, played in two different ways regarding the second and third chord respectively. This same sequence is kept as the basis for alternating guitar and synthesizer solos throughout the entire song. It is melodic and nice to listen to, but there is the risk that the music eventually goes in one ear and out the other, without leaving a long-lasting and sustainable impression.

According to my taste, prog-rock has got to be more than just "nice" and requires more rough edges, twists and turns, breaks, variety and unexpected moments. Bridgend have opted for a different style, and they certainly have the right to do that. Hence, they will appeal to listeners wanting their prog to be on the moderate, easy-to-listen-to side. I am inclined to wait for what their next album is going to sound like, to confirm or change my opinion on Bridgend's music.

Dans Dans — 6

Dans Dans - 6
Wolk (3:59), Droom (4:43), Coyote (3:46), Palm (7:35), Cascade (9:29), Schaduw (6:30)
Owen Davies

Dans Dans sixth release is somewhat unimaginatively named 6. Consequently, it might not be unreasonable to expect the music to show a similar lack of creativity. Nothing could be further from the truth. Expansive tunes ruffle the senses, cinematic interludes flicker to life, ambient soundscapes rise, fall, crawl, loiter and sprint.

Dans Dans are based in Antwerp. They have frequently been at the forefront of many of the stylistic traits that make modern Belgium progressive jazz so interesting. The style of their music has proved enticing to music aficionados of differing tastes and genres. In successive albums, Dans Dans have been able to show an enviable ability to improvise and innovate.

The line-up has been stable for the last ten years. The trio is made up of Bert Dockx (guitar, cassettes), Fred 'Lyenn' Jacques (bass, baritone guitar, synths), and Steven Cassiers (drums, synths, percussion).

Many of the tunes contained in 6 begin with a slow tempo, and portray a reflective manner. It is infused with delightful guitar-led melodies. These regularly emerge and add to the album's charm and appeal. A range of attractive tones float, scatter and ripple gently, to create a beautiful and imaginative ambience.

Melodic introductions and soothing interludes are a key feature of the band's approach. However, the trio are never locked into one style, and never meander in an easy-natured pace for too long. Dans Dans often move things along by raising the tempo, to create a tempestuous squall of guitar-led effects.

Over the course of the album, the impression is given that most of the pieces evolve purposefully in a natural and somewhat organic way. The sense of empathy shown by the musicians to each other can be readily discerned.

Changes in pace and volume are used to whip up and spray surging waves of sound in a powerful and sometimes disconcerting combination of insistent rock and inventive innovation. This distinctive approach is fermented by an array of rainbow effects, often associated with the sense-shifting qualities of psychedelia.

Dans Dans' music displays a bold creative freedom. There is nothing hackneyed or stale about 6. It sounds vibrant, and the recording and performance has a feeling of spontaneity. This fresh approach is quite refreshing. Improvisation undoubtedly has a part to play in the live and bright feel of the music, which is also subtly flavoured by the kaleidoscopic and far-reaching colours of jazz.

When listening to tunes such as Droom and Cascade it soon becomes apparent that Dans Dans can portray both calm-serenity and snarling-aggression in the space of a few minutes. These unlikely ingredients coalesce in an unusual and often magnificent fashion throughout the album. The way that the trio transition between these distinctive moods is fascinating, and is undoubtedly one of the most memorable and impressive features of the release.

If you appreciate burping guitar effects, then Cascade will win many plaudits for its beautifully-ugly discordance and dark-room malevolence. Similarly, if you prefer a totally different, gentler ambience, then the fleeting, flickering, candle-lit passage in this piece, has the effect of calming the pulse. Such a change of emphasis and dynamics is of course merely a momentary diversion, for it acts as a preparation for what is to follow. Muscle-twitching effects and chugging guitar lines propel the listener into another-world outro that concludes the piece. Droning effects complete the canvas, twinkling blood orange rays in the star-still night.

The bass is very prominent for much of Cascade and Jacques' funky bass-lines add an infectious rhythmic framework to the heavier guitar sections. Later, the bass shuffles along like a purposeful locomotive on a straight track. This offers a steady rhythmic structure that supports the mind-shifting guitar squeals and honks that are a feature of some of the spontaneous jam-like sections of this interesting piece.

However, some of the most memorable bass moments occur in the latter stages of Schaduw. A deeply-rich and resonant bass bellows and explodes onto proceedings. This forceful tone sends out shock waves that rattle, roll and shake overly-tightened belts and wobble a disguised gut in an expansive way.

The contribution of Dockx throughout the album is particularly impressive and this is easily confirmed by carefully examining the role he plays in pieces such as Droom and Coyote. Droom has some enchanting guitar parts. As the song builds, repeating guitar lines create an entrancing and delicate atmosphere, and when it occurs, the transition to a heavier sound is unsettling and quite remarkable.

Coyote is a jaunty tune with many outstanding sections. During this piece Dockx uses a jangly sound and style that I have come to identify as a signature tone and effect loved by many Belgium afro-jazz-influenced bands. Later, there are some fine distorted tones with a distorted laid-back air which act as a prelude to a frenzied, heavier section where the trio rock-out in a glorious fashion.

I enjoyed much of what this album offered. Occasionally, I found my attention wandering. This was noticeable during the middle section of Schaduw which I feel would benefit from a tad more interplay, greater variation, and further development of the recurring theme.

Nevertheless, just at the point where everything seemed to be suspended in time and style, a wonderful change of emphasis and direction occurred. This showed that the trio are adept at creating a palpable sense of tension, so that when the mood and pace changes it does so with maximum effect.

To conclude, if you are looking for an album that can supply copious amounts of fist-pumping and face-gurning aggression that is offset and frequently contrasted by gentler moments and full of beauty, then look no further than Dans Dans sixth release.

I just wish that this fascinating album could have been called something a little more interesting!

Guranfoe — Gumbo Gumbo

Guranfoe - Gumbo Gumbo
Aravalli Wood (5:46), Et Alias (12:12), Indigo Moon (10:25), To The Sun (5:01), Django (5:22)
Owen Davies

Guranfoe's previous studio album, Sum Of Erda released in 2019, was very appealing. It offered five instrumental prog tunes and was an inventive, fresh take on an easily identifiable retro style.

A wide range of influences in Sum Of Erda could be discerned. Occasional nods to classic prog bands and artists of the 70s, including Zappa were wrapped up in an enticing package which also shared some of the infectious jam-like atmosphere of bands associated with psychedelia and one or two of the complexities and subtle nuances more usually associated with Canterbury genre bands.

The album had an overall feeling of inventiveness and freshness, and despite its obvious influences came across as being a great addition to the current prog scene.

So the bar was set extremely high for the band's next studio album and it does not disappoint in any way. Gumbo Gumbo bears many of the same stylistic hallmarks and traits which made Sum Of Erda so enticing

It is interesting to note that the tunes which appear on Gumbo Gumbo are not entirely new. They have been performed and played by the band over the years, but had previously appeared only on live recordings.

The band was formed in 2012 in Norwich and were known as Gumbo Variation until 2016. The line-up on Gumbo Gumbo is James Burns (electric guitars, acoustic guitars, 12-string acoustic, bass, piano, synth, Mellotron), Ollie Snell (electric guitars, acoustic guitars, lap steel guitar), Robin G. Breeze (bass, baby grand piano, synth, Mellotron, minilogue) and Joe Burns (drums and percussion). The album also features some guests: Rob Milne (flute, saxophone), Rob Baker (lap steel guitar, voice) and Arthur Yann Le Baleur on additional percussion,

Three things are quite noticeable. Firstly, the frequent use of two guitarists provides the band with an easily identifiable sound. This approach, and the insistent flavours created every now and then, remind me of a more progressive version of Plankton.

Secondly, the rhythm section is excellent and the performance of Breeze and Burns is one of the most memorable features of the release. They navigate changes in pace, tempo, and volume with great finesse. Lastly, the use of the flute adds a different set of colours to the music, and when Rob Milne's engaging tone and fluttering trills play a prominent role, it really complements the other performers.

Milne's contribution on the sax is equally enjoyable, and during the excellent and lengthy Et Alias it brings an additional dimension and stirring resonance to proceedings.

Et Alias is undoubtedly my favourite piece on the album. There are many interesting twists and turns, including a lovely acoustic guitar and piano flourish. It is a piece that has a tight grip. It is exuberant and bright and it never fails to interest and excite.

I enjoyed Gumbo Gumbo a lot and have no hesitation in recommending it to anybody who enjoys well-performed, well-composed, and carefully-developed instrumental prog-rock.

My only minor criticism centres around a feeling that that the recording could have been a tad more precise. At times, I felt everything seems to be a little too busy and cluttered, with not enough separation for the various components of the band to be clearly defined. This was particularly noticeable during the fast-paced opening track Aravalli Wood which channels a sort of Mahavishnu vibe. Maybe the close-knit nature of the instrumentation and the production on this piece was intentional, but it didn't work for me.

Nevertheless, there is much to applaud in this album and very little that disappoints. It is easy on the ear and very well played. I will certainly listen to it often.

Taï Phong — Dragons Of The 7th Seas

Taï Phong - Dragons Of The 7th Seas
Expelled From Paradise (5:34), Rise Above The Wind (6:16), T'oublierai Jamais (3:25), The Boy In The Storm (6:11), Flow (3:51), Sabishii (4:14), Segolene (4:45), Dragon (10:33), Summer Nights (4:29) Bonus tracks: Melody (4:20), Close My Eyes (3:25), Dans Tes Nuits (3:51), J'aime La Nuit (4:46)
Jan Buddenberg

The prog-world, especially in the last few years, has held many joyous moments of unexpected surprise. A very recent one presented itself when That Joe Payne, former vocalist of The Enid and collaborator to many prog-related projects such as Zio and John Holden, shared a video of Taï Phong's stunning composition Dragon. A song which features Payne's vocal contributions.

These vocal accomplishments didn't come as a surprise, especially after his recently witnessed solo performance, but the mere fact that it involved an out-of-the-blue collaboration with Taï Phong most certainly did. I was under the impression this French group was no longer active.

Since the band has never made its way onto DPRP's pages before, it seems fitting to first offer a short introduction into the band's colourful past.

It all started in 1972 when Taï Phong was founded by two Vietnamese brothers, Khanh Maï (guitar, voice) and Taï Sinh (bass, guitar, voice, keyboards). They were joined by Jean-Jacques Goldman (guitar, voice, violin), Jean-Alain Gardet (keyboards) and Stephan Caussarieu (drums, percussion). Three years later their debut album, Taï Phong and the subsequent hit single, Sister Jane delivered their first success. These were followed by the equally delicious Windows in 1976.

Musically these wonderful albums, which I discovered during the mid-80s, feature some very high-pitched male vocals with elegant symphonic rock reminiscent to Camel, Yes and especially Barclay James Harvest. With Sinh replaced by Michael Jones, and Pascal Wuthrich taking over on keys, their third and final, more pop and jazz orientated album Last Flight received less praise in 1979. It proved to be the band's swansong.

Other than Goldman, who would become one of France's most celebrated singer/songwriters sharing huge successes with Celine Dion, nothing was seen or heard from the other members until 2000 when the band stirs into reincarnation with original members Maï and Caussarieu at the helm. The resulting Sun marked the return of the high-pitched male vocals and the band's emphasis on melody and well-crafted compositions with a touch of pop. A modernised 'definitive' version of Sister Jane was also included.

Caussarieu departed and released Last Warrior under the T Phan moniker, and in 2013 Taï Phong finally made a return with Return Of The Samurai. Managing to keep an even lower profile, 2016 saw the band release the CD/DVD combo Live In Japan and a Best Of album, both completely unnoticed by yours truly. Last year (2021) completed the discography with the release of this album, Dragons Of The 7th Seas.

These last three albums are shrouded by anonymity and seriously restricted availability and hopefully Maï, who generously supplied me with a review copy of this new album, will put some effort to make them more widely available as the music captured on Taï Phong's most recent effort certainly warrants this!

With the exception of the bonus track Melody, an original 1973 Taï Phong obscurity, the line-up next to Khanh Maï (guitars, Moog, backing vocals) now features Davy Kim (guitars, programming, backing vocals), Bastien Macoine (keyboards, programming), Klod (bass), Romuald Cabardos (drums, percussion) and Ketty Orzola on lead/backing vocals. Aided by a host of guests, the results are as beautiful as they are at times surprising.

The first sign of this is delivered with the powerful opener, Expelled From Paradise, which after a cinematic, Japanese-styled entrance tumbles into a heavenly world of symphonic prog-(metal) which unleashes delightful images of CAST. This swiftly shifts into visions of Winter In Eden, Epica and Delain. Brimming with variation and the beautiful, soaring female vocals from Orzola this opener does everything to pull one back into paradise.

Rise Above The Wind, a re-recorded (limited) single from 1979 with guest vocals from Alain Stevez and lyrics by Goldman, initially adds jazz-orientated playfulness with wonderful piano play, before it sensitively slides into an intricately structured True Myth/BJH-reminiscent composition graced by beautiful harmony vocals.

The French-sung ballad T'oublierai Jamais again places melody upfront and excels through its emotional simplicity and magnificent guitar solo. Its English reappearance in the form of Close To My Eyes, one of the bonus tracks, is even more enchanting, thanks to the divine vocal performance of Jose Bolero. It stretches prog's boundaries a bit, but the flow of embracing music leaves me fairly breathless.

Flow succeeds in equal measures by revealing a stream of sweet, syrupy melodies and lovely instrumental accentuations which in an alternate universe would have given Dion and Elaine Paige a run for their money. Elevated by a beautiful solo that overflows with melancholy, it's the included French version Dans Tes Nuits which touches in exactly the same way.

Summer Nights burns with similar pop appeal and brings lovely touches of intricate jazz and Sting-like flavours. Shimmering with pristine harmonies and blissful acoustic elegance it whispers hit potential in many loveable ways. However it us surpassed by the emotional Segolene. Together with a light touch of Styx, beautiful soaring guitar work, attractive vocals and seductive melodies, this song provides a beautiful moment on the record, which in the French version J'aime La Nuit (sung by Shay Sohar) drowns one in a sea of titanic enchantment.

Resonating with images of Mostly Autumn and Fleesh, enfolded by a mindful Landmarq-y guitar sound, The Boy In The Storm expresses an ever-increasing warmth and energy. One of the album's memorable highlights.

The superb instrumental Sabishii brings touchingly-refined melodies surrounded by divine keyboards that tantalise in a dreamy Dream Theater-like way. Alongside, marvelling guitars undulate gulfs of Andy Latimer (Camel) that bubble with Petrucci perfection in the song's excellent coda. And for those in love with Taï Phong's early period, Melody, a song pre-dating their first album, will be a feast of recognition.

Finally it's the tour de force of symphonic delight shared in the triumphant Dragon that mightily impresses. In combination with its breathtaking video, it proves to be in a class of its own. The endless river of musical fireworks embedded within this magical composition keeps on giving and giving. I'm left speechless from admiration.

Admittedly the album for some may offer too many ballads, but when the songs that make up the original album are taken into account, the end result is bound to set symphonic prog lovers on fire, especially through the lovely set of well-crafted virtuous songs such as Expelled From Paradise, Rise Above The Wind The Boy In The Storm and the astonishing Dragon.

After listening to the album multiple times, the puzzle pieces of how Joe Payne's voice will complement the music are slowly falling into place, and I look forward with high anticipation to future results of this collaboration. For those who can't wait and want to experience this upfront, it is perhaps worth mentioning that Taï Phong will perform on the 18th of January 2023 at Le Stock 7, Mennecy (France) with the participation of Payne.

Album Reviews