Reviews in this issue:
Lana Lane - Curious Goods
After the remix of Lana's debut album Love is an Illusion it is now time for Lana's second born Curious Goods to go through the same process. As Norlander, who wrote most of the music on the album and produced and mixed it, states in the sleeve notes, they wanted to bring a true "band" sound to this album. This in contrast to Love is an Illusion, which took a lot of musicians to record. However, in the process of creating this sound, in hindsight, the mix was very dry. So he felt it would not hurt to remix the entire album (some tracks had already undergone this process for various compilation albums). And while they were on it anyway, Lana has re-recorded all the vocal lines on the album.
The mix is now much richer and I really prefer it this way. I have played the "original" version only twice, but really enjoy the 2002 version. Curious Goods is almost a "best of" album. It contains almost exclusively "classics" like Escher's Staircase, Take A Breath and Symphony Of Angels. Without a doubt this is the best album Lana Lane has made so far (at least in my humble opinion). Not only due to the powerful melodies, pure symphonic rock, but also the compositions and orchestrations are in general very good. Of course there are some weaker moments, like Reverie, which is a ballad without much drive. But to compensate for that it has a fantastic jazzy middle section.
The parts I enjoy most are the small Norlander solo parts, where the progressive element comes more to the foreground (in contrast with the more commercial "symphonic" sound of the vocal tracks). Looking at the tracklists of the two albums, one can see that there is one main difference: the track Do It Again from the original album is replaced by You Only Live Twice (yep the James Bond tune) on the 2002 version. A well, in this case we are traded one cover (Do It Again is originally by Steely Dan) for another.
If you should buy one Lana Lane album, I'd recommend this one. With a line up of all Rocket Scientist virtuosos and the wonderful mix of symphonic and progressive rock, it is a classic album containing tracks that will last a lifetime.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10.
Nektar - Sunday Night At The London Roundhouse
Tracklist disc 2: Remember The Future Part One (18:47), Odyssey (Ron's On) (11:15), 1-2-3-4 (12:31), Remember The Future Part Two (Let It Grow) (5:14), Woman (6:09)
Nektar - Unidentified Flying Abstract
A Little Bit Of History
Releasing a live LP with side A containing one and a half song from a recorded concert and side B containing three cuts from a jam that lasted several hours was not a very sensible thing to do in 1974. The LP was titled Sunday Night At London Roundhouse, and its release looked somewhat overdone between the steady flow of album releases the band had anyway in those days (ten sides of vinyl in three years). I never though it was a very good album; it was too short. Too short for a live album, and too short to show anything that the band could do when jamming.
Nektar recorded their last date on the English 1973 tour (in support of their early 1973 album ...Sounds Like This, although the masterpiece that was following it, Remember The Future, was released two days before this concert took place) on November 25th, because the record company wanted a live album. Good idea, why not, although the band were more into their next studio album, of course.
Early the following year, while recording the following studio album Down To Earth, the bass player's birthday was a reason to go jamming for a few hours having the tape recorded running - it was March 27th, 1974. A good reason! Besides the opener Desolation Valley, many of the music that followed was pure improvisation or at least unreleased material. And sometimes very unlike their usual sound.
From Recording To Release
With recordings like that I could never imagine how a record company could take only two songs from the live concert for one side of a live album (Desolation Valley and A Day In The Life Of A Preacher including the birth of Oh Willie, the latter was even cut in half for the release) and making a very short B side with Oops - Unidentified Flying Abstract, Mundetango, and Summer Breeze from the jam session. I once wrote that the only reasonable thing the record company could do is release a double CD of the full concert and if necessary a multi CD set of the jam.
From Wrong To Right
Well, what do you know? They did almost exactly that! First, there is a double CD featuring the complete concert in wonderful stereo quality. Crying In The Dark / King Of Twilight is good, great to hear Cast Your Fate and especially Odyssey of which I knew only one other live version. Remember The Future and 1-2-3-4 are wonderful. A Day In The Life Of A Preacher is at last complete, and a special version indeed as it has the origins of what would become Oh Willie on the following studio album Down To Earth. It shows how the band could jam while in concert, it shows how tight the unit of these musicians was, and it shows the diversity in their musical ideas. With the following jam, titled Summer Breeze, the sound is going from dreamy to heavy agressive. I have always loved this contrast in the band's sound.
The album also shows that after ...Sounds Like This and Remember The Future, the band was letting in the guitar more and more, a little away from the somewhat psychedelic sounds of the first album and the title track of A Tab In The Ocean, though still being progressive. Well, with Down To Earth coming on, this is hardly a surprise. Playing A Tab In The Ocean live in 1976, it was like the band was saying they never stopped liking their earlier sound, but they were just exploring further. (It is beyond the scope of this review to go into the sound of the album after that, Recycled, but on there, the keyboards regained importance.)
Being more of a progressive rock fan than a rock and roll fan, the rock and roll medley show closer is less interesting, but what's 6 minutes on a 100 minute show, eh? But also being a fan of early blues and hard rock, songs like 1-2-3-4 and Odyssey are just marvellous! The emotion that is feeding the musicians results in such performances that is best heard live. With the band having reformed, I am very much looking forward to seeing them on stage!
Another Wrong To Right
The other side of the original Sunday Night LP received the same "and now a proper CD release" treatment, resulting in a 41 minute disc. Significantly more than the 15 minutes on the LP. I guess these are the parts from the jam that were worth a commercial release. I am still curious to what the rest of the tapes hold secret, but I am more than satisfied with what is offered here.
It is starting with a song we all know, but you can hear and feel the band is more relaxed than in front of an audience. You can hear it on other recordings as well, but not as clear as here, how subtle a guitar player Roye Albrighton is.
The other tracks are all otherwise unreleased. One Mile Red and Summer Breeze were played in concert several times, though. The first definitely bears the Nektar signature on it. But the remaining tracks all have something surprising, making this release a very special one. Being in a relaxed environment obviously lets the musicians play looser tracks, almost jazzy as in We Must Have Been Smashed or Oops, although the latter was not that laid back.
If a record company rights a wrong of releasing an album with short cut-outs of two great sessions in a way like this, ie. three CDs, all is forgotten. These CDs are a real treat for Nektar fans! Fans will have it already, it's not for them I write this. If you like Nektar and would like to hear how they sound live, get this Sunday Night album right away! Unidentified Flying Abstract is amazing for fans, but there are other albums to hear first if you want to get to know the band.
An Important Note
I'd like to add something that is not directly related to the two albums reviewed here, but does concern Nektar the band, their live sound, and what they were and are in progressive rock.
Many people will know by now that Nektar have reunited. Their first show in a long long time was at NEARfest 2002, and I got a recording of that show. The news of Nektar reuniting was very pleasing, because I have always liked their music. Hearing the NEARfest recording surprised me in several positive ways.
I have been disappointed in a lot of contemporary prog bands, prog music, and prog fans, for a number of years now. In times like that I am easily drawn to the collection of things I know and like: I listened to old music more and more. Having heard many Nektar live recordings, I knew what to expect to a certain degree of their reunion show. But the band really surprised me by making their songs sound very modern! Larry Fast on keyboards and two female backing vocalists added something wonderful to that familiar Nektar sound. Several songs gave me goosbumps within the minute! Of course it's not only that making the sound more up-to-date; the music itself still stands as well.
Even more important, however, is that while listening to the NEARfest recording, the idea popped up several times, that this band is making prog rock in a way it is both progressive and emotional, real rock music. When is the last time I heard a contemporary prog band jam?! When is the last time a band surprised me with live performances even if I knew the studio albums so well?! Also sick of the focus on cold technical showing-off? Hear this! This is progressive rock music!
The music they play now would make Nektar a very important band in today's progressive rock. But the realization they play progressive rock with the heart and soul of rock and blues, makes this one of my favourite bands and puts them back again in the major league of today's prog rock bands.
Conclusion: 8.5 and 7 out of 10.
Entrance - En La Tierre
It can be quite interesting to receive popular music from "exotic" countries. Like this band: Entrance, five guys from Chile. They formed in 1997, and the recent "En La Tierra" is the band's second release. And whenever an album starts with deep church organ sounds, you can bet it's going to be prog rock ...
The music of Entrance is firmly rooted in the "classic" prog rock sound from the late seventies. The band claims to be inspired by band like Yes, ELP, Genesis, Rush, Queen, Journey, Deep Purple and Dream Theater.
The Yes influences are quite strong, particularly in the individual musician's department. Bass guitarist Rodrigo Godoy has that typical low and brutal Squire-sound; Richard Pilnik's electric guitars are very "Howey"; keyboardist Jaime Rosas plays some typical Wakeman thingies (also ELP and some Triumvirat come to mind); and Alex vonChrismar plays loads of those "rattling" drum breaks I always associate with Starcastle (a wellknown Yes clone). Having said this, I must point out that Entrance's music is not typically Yes style, often darker, and with some of the power of ELP thrown in.
The playing is quite good, with a tight band feel. There's a strong emphasis on the instrumental parts. Very characteristic for this band is the combined sound of guitar and keyboard. The word 'solo' seems less appropriate here: often all the players "go crazy" simultaneously (not unlike Yes on their Tormato album).
As for the vocals: Jaime Scalpello sings in Spanish. His voice is difficult to describe: high and powerful, but with some Latin sensuality thrown in (perhaps a bit like Colin Blunstone). I have no idea what he is singing about (my knowledge of this languague is limited to 'OLE' + 'HOLA'). But it sure sounds like he is tackling some Really-Important-and-Dramatical-Issues here! The CD booklet has all the Spanish lyrics, which is good. In fact it's completely in Spanish, which is not so good. (And as for the front cover: it's extremely bad!)
There are 8 tracks on the album. I will not go into a detailed analysis, just a short description. The first 4 pieces belong together (they form an epic called Lobo Estepario). The 4 remaining tracks are also rather 'epics' than song based. I have played the album several times now, but I didn't spot any particular weaker or favourite moments.
En La Tierra contains good traditional prog rock, with a modernised sound and style, but without too much "innovation" (or maybe even originality). I particularly liked the instrumental side of the band, which has quite some exciting moments. The song material could be a bit more diverse though, as I find the songs lack some individuality.
Conclusion: 7+ out of 10.
Martigan - Man of the Moment
Man of the Moment has been lurking in my CD player for several weeks now, and as time has not been my friend of late, complete listenings have not been possible, especially as the album features just over seventy five minutes of some fine material. I do prefer to listen to each new release a couple of times through, before undertaking the task of analysing the music. So it is a shame that it has taken me this long to review the music on Martigan's fourth CD release. The music presented combines many elements from the early greats of progressive rock, but along with this is a distinct melodic rock edge, and a passion within the vocals that is both refreshing and pleasing. Man of the Moment does not present us with any great new challenges musically, however, the songs have warmth and familiarity that make this an easily accessible and very enjoyable album.
Opening with The Pride and a fairly brief atmospheric section, the track is then picked up by a percussive keyboard pattern, building nicely as the instrumentation expands, playing through a number of well constructed and themed parts. The introduction of the vocals, a feature throughout the album, lends an eighties prog rock tone to the proceedings, supported by the arrangement played by the musicians. The voice characterisation works well, not over stated, and the strong, well constructed harmonies add much depth to the overall sound. The Pride sets the mood for the whole album and early note here of Alex Bisch's solid and fluid guitar work.
As we exit track one, Out of Sight fades in, a shorter and more concise track, offering another side to the music from the album, reminiscent of perhaps Saga. Strong keyboard passages from Oliver Strahl support the precise vocals, and vocal harmonies in this more song orientated track. What this album does have in abundance is a fine blend of accessible melodies, strong instrumentation and progressive rock ideals. The songs drift effortlessly from track to track, here with a Yes like rippling texture, providing an excellent backdrop for the gentle opening vocals, that form the early sections of Closer Contact. The sleeve notes offer three guest musicians, featured within the tracks, the assumption here is that the vocals are shared between Kai Mackwordt and Mirko Baumer as the vocal delivery is, as a duet, in this strong rock ballad.
The addition of other instrumentation, for example the saxaphone, in 7th Floor and combined with a more rhythmic guitar pattern underpinned by the bass, add greater variation to the overall album sound. Again vocally a strong track and by this point you are aware that the voice is not merely something to break up the instrumentation, but a very large and integral part of the music. So in essence the music has all of the ingredients - carefully mixed together, giving us an album of well written material, that is melodically rich and with good dynamics.
For fear of repeating myself, at this point I will draw attention to two other tracks, notable as they were my favourite songs from Man of the Moment, rather than continue with a track by track analysis. Scapegoat & Scarecrow offers a gentle interlude, structured around piano, vocals, strings and orchestral percussion. The dynamics are both powerful and restrained and again combine early and newer rock idioms to create this short but powerful song. The second and much longer piece, Images & Tales is one of the tracks that conjures all the atmosphere of the band in full flow on stage - having all the elements rolled into one. From its gentle beginning, the track builds, displaying the talents of all the band. The rhythm section is tight and ably supports the richness of Strahl's keyboards and Bisch's guitar work.
Mention of the albums longest piece The Mask and The Raven II, which represents the bands most progressive rock track. A mellow piece in the main, but one with many twists and turns. Lyrically interesting and one in which Kai Marckwordt opens his voice, with more expressive characterisation ala Fish or early Gabriel. It struck me in many ways like a mini rock opera, you felt a visual aspect might enhance the music. Not so sure about this one - a track of highs and lows, which brings an odd finality to the proceedings.
I have to say that 2002 has been a good year for prog and Man of the Moment is no exception. An album that grew and grew on me the more I listened. Perhaps best summarised as melodic rock with many progressive elements, and my thoughts kept drifting towards the type of music that Saga present us with. Combine this with possibly latter day Pallas and add to this Genesis and, or perhaps Marillion, giving an early indication as to some of the bands influences. I think this puts us on the right lines. I don't believe the album had a poor track, in fact all the material exhibits good technical ability coupled with strong melodic music. If still not convinced, follow the link at the top of this section to the audio samples and take a listen for yourself.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10