Reviews in this issue:
IQ - Subterranea : The Concert (DVD)
DVD Extras: 5.1 surround-sound mix, Band commentary, Going Underground: The Making of Subterranea (Interviews about the evolution of the stage show with the IQ production team), 2 Encores (Human Nature & The Wake), Photo Gallery, Orchestral Overture
More than 3 years after the concert, there finally is a DVD version of the video registration of Subterranea, the highly acclaimed and by now classical epic of IQ from 1997 (a VHS version was released in 2000 - Ed.). The previously released 'sound only' version on CD was unanimously received as a fine live-album, but added little value to the studio version. But this DVD is quite something else !
Things often go wrong when video recordings are planned, and the concerned concert of April 4th 1999 in 013, Tilburg, The Netherlands was no exception. Personally, I attend such concerts with a slight reluctance. But after having seen two previous renditions of Subterranea, I really wanted to see the projections again, which were especially enhanced for this evening. The large number of attendants were treated to some 30 minutes extra 'drinking time' when one of the essential lighting spots malfunctioned and the first part of the set had to be played again. This incident probably broke the high tension within the band, since the rest of the concert was seemingly performed effortlessly. Extensive information about the incident can be found in "Going Underground: Bringing Subterranea to Life", one of the 5 different extras on this DVD. And it is these extra footages that are the power of DVDs over the 'old fashioned' video tape. Irrefutably an added value, as long as the producer knows how to turn this into something interesting.
Some days after the concerned show I was in the lucky circumstance of admiring the 'uncut video registration'. And that didn't quite live up to my expectations, on the contrary ! Since the background projections had to be fully visualised, a rather distant overall view of the band had been chosen. Especially this overall view had often been picked by the 'control room'. I really had my doubts if the available material would be good enough for an IQ-worthy video registration. But never mind that, it has become a beautiful diversity of band and projections, with lots of colour and smoke.
The concert on this disc (including visuals of course), strange enough doesn't give the impression of a live performance. Full size background projections, alternated with close-ups of the band members, in particular Peter Nicholls, combined with the story of Subterranea make this concert registration more of a documentary. A complete registration of a theatrical performance. With these findings in mind, it will be no surprise that there is no trace of any real spontaneity on stage, something for which IQ is normally known so well. Spontaneity doesn't really fit a rendition of Subterranea. This video registration therefore isn't a representative reflection of IQ on stage, but purely the story of Subterranea with the hermit turned loose.
The 'main feature' of this DVD, the concert with the option to add 'band commentary' starts with the full screen intro of background projections, followed by Peter Nicholls as the hermit, seen behind bars (and the roll-up screen), opening the concert impressively. The visual effects are countless and well filmed. Especially the overall shot of the band with cathedral in the background give an extraordinary spacial effect to the stage presentation. For the rest, you really have to see the visuals yourself, because words fail me.
The visual quality is slightly disappointing for DVD standards and is probably just a tad better than video. Keep in mind however that, despite of all the features on stage, Subterranea was a low budget production. The disc does however offer the possibility of Dolby Surround 5.1 sound.
As mentioned above, the DVD offers some interactive options, among which interviews with the band members, production and stage managers. Extremely informative and good fun to hear and see these faces talk 'normally' for a change. I would like to single out the 'sound-only' section "Orchestral Overture" with a classically orchestrated excerpt of Subterranea. We all know that IQ uses wonderful melodies, unique in their sort. But who would have expected that their music would lend itself so well for classical arrangement (on keyboards that is). Where other artists squirm to classically arrange a song, the music of IQ seems to fit it naturally.
This DVD is a must for every IQ fan. Provided you own a DVD player. And if you don't have one, you might get one later, so don't miss the chance to get this DVD.
With the Forever Live box set in the back of my mind, I had expected something more from the packaging. It seems though that the music business hasn't put much thought into this over the whole DVD range. Food for marketing experts perhaps ?
I am glad though that IQ will perform spontaneous again. A nice appetizer can be found on this DVD in the "Encores" Human Nature and The Wake. I guess I'm just a sucker for Nicholls with a tambourine ….
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Index - Liber Secundus
As its name implies Liber Secundus, or second chapter, is the second album for Brazilian band Index. This quartet which is composed of Ronaldo Schenato (bass), Leonardo Reis (drums, vocals), Otaviano Kury (keyboards, vocals) and Jones Júnior (guitars, vocals) play a typically classical style of progressive rock with various references made to the founder bands of this genre such as Yes, Genesis and Renaissance.
The album opens with Lágrima which showcases the band's ability to integrate classical works into their vein of progressive rock. The piano is a mainstay of their production and shows the band integrated a more classical orientated sound with a rather more rock touch, something on the lines that bands such as Renaissance did in the early seventies. The track comes to an end with the guest vocals of Cristina Sachet whose performance, though interesting, is somewhat too similar to what one gets on the Great Gig In the Sky (Pink Floyd).
Portões De Gaza is one of the many tracks on the album that deals with social awareness as it deals with the subject of the loss of utopias within the modern world while Fim de Floresta tackles the subject of colonialisation as seen through the eyes of natives. Both tracks are played out in a "traditional" progressive rock style with the band dwelling on long drawn out solos by both keyboards and guitar. Fim de Floresta is one of three tracks on the album to feature vocals (together with Guernica Em Nova York and Instantes) and I must admit that I was not overly impressed with the vocals on this album which sound strained and bereft of any significant range.
Guernica Em Nova York was written as a tribute to John Lennon, Pablo Picasso and Yes and is a full blown progressive rock track, with the style much more in common with Genesis than Yes, especially in the closing keyboard section. The same could be said about Instantes and Novella, with the latter being my favourite track on the album with its complex yet pleasant sounding, very much in the Camel meets Renaissance vein.
Liber Secundus breaks down no barriers and crosses no boundaries. the music is pretty much what one would expect from a classical progressive rock influenced band with long complex solos and multiple variations on a theme. Though the presentation is excellent, one cannot but help feel that the music is somewhat stuck in a timeframe, and this style of music has been flogged to death by now! Personally, though the music is good to listen to, it would be nice to hear something innovative and new.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Keith Emerson - Emerson Plays Emerson
Keyboardist Keith Emerson became very famous with the trio Emerson, Lake & Palmer. With ELP and his earlier band The Nice, he introduced classical influences in his playing, using orchestras and exploring the sounds of the synthesizer.
Halfway the '90's, Emerson had to undergo some serious nerve treatment in his right arm. It was feared that he would never be able to play again. However, this new release shows that we can welcome back one of the keyboard pioneers of progressive rock.
Emerson became well known for his wild organ and synthesizer playing with ELP. But the band also had an acoustic side, with Lake's romantic guitar ballads and Emerson's complex piano stuff. Maybe you remember the live version of Take A Pebble (on the Welcome Back album, 1974), or the piano improvisations on more recent live albums. In these pieces, Emerson uses elements of rock, classical music, honky tonk jazz, blues and ragtime, also throwing in musical quotations from well known pieces, and all in a dazzling tempo.
On the new album, Emerson Plays Emerson you can find some of this stuff. It's an unplugged, instrumental piano album with 22 instrumental tracks. Most of them are recorded in the studio, featuring Emerson solo on his Steinway piano. A couple of tracks are live recordings, sometimes with some background synths or extra instruments. There's a wide variety of styles, and some tracks may seem a bit short, but the track order is effective and prevents the album from being just a crazy collection of separate tracks.
About half of the pieces are piano ballads. They show a new side of Emerson, more intimate or matured. Perhaps this sounds a bit "boring" (especially if you consider Emerson's wild and outrageous approach from the early days), but I must say these more subtle pieces are very good: touching melodies, and still with that typical Emerson virtuosity.
More close to his works with ELP are tracks like Creole Dance (an adaptation of a classical piece by Ginastera, also on the Steinway To Heaven sampler album), and Hammer It Out (in which he throws in some adventurous, technical jazz/boogy).
ELP-fans will already know Close To Home (here issued in a live version, recorded at the Royal Albert Hall), and two pieces that originally appeared on Works Volume 2: Barrelhouse Shakedown (here as piano solo) and Honky Tonk Train Blues (here in a version that was recorded live in 1976 with the Oscar Peterson Big Band).
There's more jazz and blues stuff in Summertime (an adaptation of the well known Gershwin song) and B&W Blues (both with Emerson on piano, and some extra bass & drums), and two solo pieces, A Cajun Alley and Roll'n Jelly.
The album also features two of Emerson's soundtrack pieces, Prelude To Candice and The Dreamer, a live version of For Kevin and an interesting historical Medley (recorded when Emerson was 14).
Emerson Plays Emerson is a great album, and a welcome supplement to my valuable ELP-collection. It's good to hear that Emerson is back, and still can play the piano in his own unique style. Perhaps with less emphasis on the "technically impressive stuff", but without audible limitations and with a pleasant new subtle approach.
Yes, the album has a lot of ballads and a wide variety of musical styles, but don't let this scare you off: the prog rock element is always present. The album may not appeal to everyone, but if you like Emerson's acoustic piano moments with ELP, you won't be disappointed!
Favourite moments: Outgoing Tide, The Dreamer and Close To Home.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10.
Ty Tabor - Safety
The first of two reviews featuring King's X guitarist, Ty Tabor and pre-dates the Jelly Jam CD release (see below) by a few weeks. Safety is Tabor's second solo album and follows up the 1998, Moonflower Lane, on this occasion with ten tracks very much in a song orientated format. The album expresses the emotional turmoil that Ty Tabor is undergoing within his personal life and laid out here through his lyrics and music. Surprisingly, although the subject matter is somewhat morose, and at times pointedly illustrated in the words Now I Am and I Don't Mind, the music is up-beat and refreshingly positive - a credit to the man. Guest musicians on Safety are fellow King's X band mate Jerry Gaskill on drums, Galactic Cowboys' Wally Farkas on guitars and last but not least Christian Nesmith on bass.
Each of the tracks features textured and multi-layered guitars coupled with immediate melodies and rich vocal harmonies. A trademark sound for Ty, and those familiar with his work with King's X will be well acquainted with this, but this is not a King's X album. The treatment here leaning more towards the more commercial AOR end of the market, Richard Marx coming to mind in many of the songs and some of the newer genre of bands ala Nickelback (Funeral). I struggled with this album within the confines of a Progressive Rock context, all the songs had immediate appeal and the more I listened to them the more they grew on me. Infectious is possibly the best word describe the music encompassed in Safety, Classic Rock with a leaning towards pop, there I've said it, but given the Beatles influences it would be difficult to deny the commercial aspects of the CD. There are many good tracks to be found on Safety and highlights for me were the sprawling I Don't Mind, Funeral, as previously mentioned and the title track Safety.
In some respects this CD makes me mindful of a (duo) review I did last year of Neal Morse's second solo project, It's Not too Late. Not that I am suggesting any significant similarities between the music, but as with both of these solo off-shoots, we find more accessible song orientated albums, with both artists sighting their Beatlesque influences and illustrated within the vocal arrangements. Therefore, in many ways my summarisation of both albums have similarities. Neither could be deemed as prog albums but rather as a collection of carefully crafted, guitar (this time around) orientated tracks. Strong melodies, thoughtful lyrics and all the tracks are very memorable. Ultimately I see this CD being of most interest to those who follow Ty Tabor's very busy career - from the evidence here and given the right media exposure, Ty Tabor, could easily move onto greater commercial success.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.
Jelly Jam - Jelly Jam
So to the second review featuring Ty Tabor (in this update) and on this occasion from the embers of what was Platypus. The departure of keyboardist Derek Sherinian has reduced the band down to a threesome, although on the evidence here it has not diminished any of the energy behind the unit. The band have taken the brave step to not replace Sherinian, but explore the musical possibilities with the remaining instrumentation. On the first listen through, it crossed my mind that Tabor might have well been served producing this album with the guys from King's X as most of the material would have fitted within that context. It is always, therefore a good thing to re-listen several times before making any rash decisions.
Several listenings later did change certain view points and although similarities obviously must exist with any of the material that Ty Tabor either writes or plays in, Jelly Jam has it's own voice. Much heavier than his solo album Safety, but still retaining the strong vocal elements that are a signature of Ty's music. Jelly Jam also has two other major pluses for me, firstly in the guise of Rod Morgenstein - a particular favourite for many years with his rhythmic contributions in both Dixie Dreggs and with Steve Morse, and secondly bass man John Myung from Dream Theater.
The album opens with the powerhouse track I Can't Help You, dealing with "the artificial connections that fans often want to make with their idols", a strong powerful opener very much in the King's X mould. Following this up is No Remedy with it's wah'd guitar, stomping rhythm and characteristic vocal delivery. Although both heavy tracks and well within the Classic Rock genre there are complexities beyond the standard format, which keeps the interest going. The shortest piece from the CD follows, Nature, just guitars, multi-layered and a gentle piece - it could have been longer for me.
Track four Nature's Girl, about a "free-spirited friend" has one of those riffs that just moves your feet and head, shades of Rush during the overdriven chordal and middle sections. The tracks just keep rolling on, this time around with Feeling, one of the strongest melodies from the CD and sitting comfortably within the distorted guitar riffs. Again one of the things that sets Jelly Jam and Ty Tabor above the norm is the strength of the "hook lines" and the sense of melody which is encompassed in both the vocals and the instrumentation.
Reliving is as a close as you can get to a rock ballad with a three piece ensemble, but as with most of the material from the album - it works, the lack of keyboards is more than compensated by the richness of the vocal harmonies. However Jelly Jam is for me the strongest piece and marked a distinct contrast to the rest of the material, aptly named, the overall nature is of a "live", jammed and improvised track which could easily have originated from the early seventies. Pick your own favourite rock guitarist, from that era, put him in this environment Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Robin Trower, Leslie West ... and there you have it - a truly atmospheric instrumental piece.
Although all the tracks have a contemporary rock feel, there are elements that hark back to the halcyon days of what is now Classic Rock, most probably the choice of guitar effects accomplishes this and best illustrated during the final three tracks. Although by this point in the CD I felt nothing "new" was going to happen, the empathy between the musicians still carried the tracks and therefore the interest. Morgenstein's playing as fluid as ever and Myung's bass parts although never dominating within the tracks was, as the saying goes, "in the pocket".
In a strictly prog sense it would be difficult to know where, if at all, Jelly Jam would fit in - for me it rather goes along side with it, very much as it did in the early 70's. There was an experimentation going on then, a break from the standard pop format and it was this search for a new music that formed that early kinship between early prog and early rock. Jelly Jam reminded me of that kindred spirit and I had no problems marrying the two genres together. As with Safety the numerical conclusion is more reflective of it's overall appeal to a prog audience, rather than a criticism of the material.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.