Reviews in this issue:
- Galahad – Empires Never Last
- One World Tapestry (VA) – Progressive Music From Around The World
- iX – Ora Pro Nobis (Duo Review)
- Dol Ammad – Ocean Dynamics
- Solar Project - Chromagnitude
- Steen Grontved – Night Vision Goggles
- Amarok - Sol De Medianoche
- T-Bo – We Stay Together
Galahad – Empires Never Last
Tracklist: De-Fi-Ance (5:46), Termination (7:15), I Could Be God (14:01), Sidewinder (11:04), Memories From An African Twin (4:07), Empires Never Last (9:07), This Life Could Be My Last (10:23)
Since performing their first gig almost exactly twenty two years ago Galahad have had a chequered history which I’m not going to attempt to cover in a single paragraph. Suffice to say that they have seen more musicians pass through their ranks than even Yes and this is only their seventh CD of original material. In fact a considerable five years has passed since the release of their last studio offering, the highly rated Year Zero. Since then there has been only one visible change in the line-up with Lee Abraham replacing Neil Pepper on bass. Otherwise Stuart Nicholson vocals, Roy Keyworth guitars, Dean Baker keyboards and Spencer Luckman drums all remain. Part of the initial wave of neo-prog bands, like many of their peers Galahad wore their Genesis influences firmly on their sleeves. With the release of Empires Never Last you could say that those early influences have been firmly laid to rest. Well almost.
Making a significant contribution to this release is Karl Groom, guitarist with prog rockers Threshold. He is credited with co-production and engineering and the overall sound here display his trademark styles contributing to the bands harder edge sound. Crunching guitar riffs are ever present as are soaring solo flights normally towards the end of each track. Strident vocals are well to the fore and all manner of studio enhanced vocal effects are employed. Although there are no synth solos as such, in addition to providing a symphonic backdrop, synths are often used to provide a rhythmic pulse. The drum sound is especially crisp and sharp, and bass is given ample exposure in the mix. The end result is a fresh, clean, cutting and dare I say it commercial sound from the band.
Album opener De-Fi-Ance is split into two distinct parts, with the first half coming as something of a surprise. Angelic a cappella harmonies from guest voices Tina Groom (wife of Karl), Sarah Quilter (no stranger to Galahad) and Tina Booth (of Magenta fame) deliver an evocative melody that’s almost hymn like in structure. The mood is broken by an angry male voice that shouts out the songs title heralding thunderous power chords and gothic organ that repeats the opening melody. A convincing dulcimer sound courtesy of guest keys man Clive Nolan adds to the overall effect that’s reminiscent of a modern David Arnold Bond theme. A dazzling start to the album, which has many more surprises up its sleeve. Termination provides the first real opportunity to hear Nicholson’s impressive vocal range joined by superb backing from Tina Booth. Bombastic guitar, swirling keys and energetic drumming heighten the songs dramatic impact.
By virtue of its length I guess I Could Be God could be described as the albums centrepiece. Opening with uncharacteristic Vangelis style rhythmic synth ripples it features a strong performance from Nicholson throughout although at times he does indulge in macho vocal posturing which doesn’t entirely work for me. This is especially apparent during the vitriolic delivery of the songs title line. Better in my opinion is his sensitive singing during the tranquil mid section, with lush keys, Floydian atmospherics and a sample of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The songs real hook however is the compelling statacco riff that follows joined by a soaring guitar break to close. Sidewinder is a more mid tempo affair, which combines atmospheric synth effects, sampled tubular bells, and a cutting drum sound. It also benefits from a monumental guitar riff and possibly the albums strongest chorus with stirring vocals and swathes of symphonic keys. Karl Groom adds a scorching guitar solo, which makes for a stunning close.
These two songs both include extracts from well-known American speechmakers, ranging from the sublime of M.L. King to the ridiculous with the rhetoric of George Bush in Sidewinder. Although the album title is suitably illustrated by the cover artwork showing the fall of Berlin during the Second World War, it would seem that the concepts intended target is the USA rather than Nazi Germany. Although often ambiguous, Nicholson delivers some very dark and bitter lyrics. Despite the subject matter however the band display their lighter side by representing themselves on the Russian flag replacing the hammer and sickle with a large letter ‘G’.
Back to the music and the curiously titled Memories From An African Twin, which displays a disparate array of sounds. Groom is featured again, this time providing the classical acoustic guitar intro. It’s mostly instrumental save for the 1960’s pop flavoured wordless harmonies. The stately melody is embellished by authentic sounding pipe organ and harpsichord keys underpinned by a nimble but articulate drum and bass pattern. Appropriately the title song that follows is one of the albums finest. Empires Never Last opens with an edgy bass solo joined by weighty guitar and keys. It builds to a dramatic chorus with an excellent vocal underscored by epic guitar and keys. It contains one of the albums most infectious and powerful riffs with a stunning guitar break to play out.
With This Life Could Be My Last the band opt for a majestic conclusion. An evocative piano and vocal melody lays the path for the anthemic chorus with bubbling synth effects and a stupendous bouncing guitar riff. Following a superb tumbling piano bridge section with excellent guitar support the song and album go out in style with a melodic Hackett flavoured guitar coda. Ironically this final part bears closer comparisons to Galahad’s previous work than anything else on the album.
Although this release is a departure for the band their fans will be familiar with many of the songs, which featured prominently on the recent Resonance ~ Live In Poland DVD. With little time for rehearsals, the new songs were familiar to the band, which they were in the process of recording at the time. I say departure because this is by far their heaviest collection of songs to date. In addition to Galahad fans it should also appeal to followers of Arena, Pallas, Threshold and anyone else with a penchant for prog that combines muscle with melody. Call it symphonic rock with a large dose of prog-metal, or if you prefer, prog-metal with a liberal measure of symphonic rock. Either way, it’s a compelling slab of accessible, hard hitting and tuneful sounds that deserves a very wide audience for sure.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
One World Tapestry (VA) – Progressive Music From Around The World
Tracklist: Waak Waak Jungi - All Gone (4:22), In The Labyrinth - Karakoram Waltz (5:12), Jose Luis Fernandez Ledesma - Ave Luz (7:55), Steve Warner - Hawa El Sahra (4:16), Steve Unruh - InstruMental Breakdown (5:48), Topeka - Like The Road That Rolls On By (6:20), Wiermann & Vogel with Quaterna Requiem - Madrugada [excerpt] (4:26), Ensemble Nimbus - Epigram (3:27), Styrbjorn Bergelt & Roland Hakansson - Tolv Man (5:21), Vital Duo - La Tour Haute (7:05), Attila Kollar - Alchemy (4:34), Robert Erdesz - Gregorian (4:38), Brainstorm - Paradise Lost (6:08), Pocos & Nuvens - Geracao Perdida (5:22), Sabah Habas Mustapha & Jugala All Stars - Seuri (4:43)
One World Tapestry is the brainchild of one Andrew Holborn, an Australian disc jockey who broadcasts the ‘Third Ear’ radio show in his native country. A lover of the multi-ethnic, folk/traditional side of progressive music, his initial idea was to raise funds from this collection for the Tsunami appeal; however, with the passage of time it was soon apparent that this appeal was more than meeting its fundraising targets; therefore he instead decided to raise funds equally as worthy (and not so well publicised) Sudanese refugee appeal.
Holborn must certainly be a true connoisseur of progressive music in all its guises, as many of the artists on this album are obscure to say the least, with some having very little if any presence on the web. Yet obscurity need not mean that the artists are not worthy of wider attention; in fact, quite the opposite I would say after having listened to this album many times over. Whilst some of the selections may stretch the boundary of what is generally considered ‘progressive’, there is no doubt that this is a varied and rewarding journey through a variety of musical pastures.
Kicking proceedings off are Waak Waak Jungi, a musical collective from rural Victoria in Australia, and comprising (and taking inspiration from) band members from both the indigenous and white cultures. All Gone is a melancholic, plaintive song, with just a gently strummed guitar providing backing for some fine and emotive ensemble singing. Perhaps not the upbeat, grandiose opener I’d have expected, but a pleasing listen nonetheless.
In The Labyrinth is a long-running musical project fronted by Swedish multi-instrumentalist Peter Lindahl, with Karakoram Waltz being a song which fuses two previously released mid-nineties compositions – Moorish Waltz and Karakoram Pass – together. The Moorish… part of the track, unsurprisingly, evokes the Saharan desert, especially the clip-clopping rhythm, whilst there’s some lead guitar similar to the style played by Andy Latimer on Camel’s Arabian-flavoured Rajaz album. Lindgren also plays flute and mandolin on this track, before introducing panpipes in the mellower second part of the song. A relaxing, well-constructed piece of pastoral prog.
Mexican keyboard player Jose Luis Fernandez Ledesma produces something of an unexpected gem with Ave Luz, a track from his 2003 Musea-released album Designios. Starting quietly with some gentle acoustic strumming and accompanied by the beautiful voice of Margarita Botello, Ledesma gradually introduces warm keyboard sounds to the mix. The second half of the song builds up something of a head of steam, with the melody driven by clarinet and the rhythm by tabla, with Botello’s vocals multi-layered for atmospheric effect. A great track.
Australian Steve Warner has absolutely zero presence on the web, although he has produced five albums, albeit over a period of thirty years. Hawa El Sahra is taken from his latest effort, Sketches Of Paradise, and indicates that he is not selling his qualities as a musician enough, as this is a classy guitar-led instrumental piece, blending flamenco and Arabian styles over a tabla-driven beat, with touches of violin adding to the mix. A lively and enjoyable piece.
Another multi-instrumentalist, Steve Unruh, is no stranger to DPRP, as we’ve favourably reviewed a number of his albums. InstruMental Breakdown is taken from one we haven’t covered, 2002’s Invisible Symphony, yet shows no dip in quality. Its’ part fiddle-led hoedown, part punchy guitar-led rock, with the mellower tone in the latter part of the track allowing the violin to play a more melodic role in proceedings. There’s some lively percussive work to end this varied and enjoyable track.
Keeping the folk influence going are Californian band Topeka, who contribute the track The Road That Rolls On By from their 2004 release Land Rush. With influences from the likes of Neil Young (in mellower guise) and alt-country acts such as Tupelo and Calexico, this is hardly progressive rock, but is a fine piece all the same. A melancholic number built on a gentle strumming guitar, carefully integrating the sparse but effective use of steel guitar and cornet to add atmosphere, and topped off with the plaintive, world-weary vocals of Tanya Livingstone, it effectively evokes a long drive through endless fields in middle America, as the sun sets. Well, it did for me anyway…
The Brazilian duo of keyboard player Elisa Wiermann and violinist Kleber Vogel present an extract from their 2003 album A Mao Livre. Unsurprisingly (given the instrumentation) a symphonic piece, its’ quite haunting and majestic, although I imagine you really need to hear it in the context of the complete album to fully appreciate it.
Sweden’s Ensemble Nimbus boast one-time Flower King Hasse Bruniusson amongst their number, although Epigram (from their Scapegoat CD (1998 – an album we reviewed on DPRP) is no retro-prog number, instead being more in the chamber music mode, with reeds to the forefront. Enjoyable enough if hardly outstanding.
Holborn really has done some digging for the next track, which appeared on a small Swedish label on vinyl back in 1986! Centring on the talents of (the late) Styrbjorn Bergelt, known for bringing a revival of ancient Nordic instruments such as the bowed harp, Tolv Man combines such traditional instrumentation with shimmering eighties sounding synths (not unlike Vangelis in places) to create an intriguing piece that ends in grandiose fashion.
Vital Duo are brothers Thierry and Jean-Luc Paysan, perhaps best known as the leading lights of the fine French prog band Minimum Vital. Their Ex Tempore album of 2001 got a recommended rating when reviewed in these pages, and on hearing La Tour Haute, its easy to see why. A re-working of a track originally included on Minimum Vital’s 1992 album Envol Triangles - Les Saisons Marines, the typically quirky MV keyboard sound is combined with mandolin in the gentle opening section, before the song powers into life with some stylised vocal interplay and heavier organ work. Great playing and a sure sense of melodic nous combine to make this song a winner.
Next up are two solo tracks from members of the Hungarian band Solaris. First up is multi-instrumentalist Attila Kollar. Taken from his 1998 Musical Witchcraft album, Alchemy begins with some strident chanting before Kollar’s nimble flute-playing takes the lead, with the musical accompaniment getting ever more rich and punchy. Flute and voice alternate as the lead melodic instrument, and we even get an a-typical heavy metal-style guitar solo – I didn’t see that one coming! Kollar’s band-mate, keyboard player Robert Erdesz, contributes Gregorian, from his 2000 CD Meeting Point. Unsurprisingly opening with the dulcet tones of the eponymous monks, but perhaps more unusually incorporating a didgeridoo into proceedings, this is another versatile and atmospheric piece where flute, female vocals and rhythmic keys all add their own flourishes.
Long-running Australian outfit Brainstorm contribute a song from their recent release Desert World. A chilled, mellow ballad with hints of psychedelia and folk, and a pronounced seventies feel, Paradise Lost is pleasant enough, but somewhat drags over its six minutes and feels rather aimless in places. More entertaining is Geracao Perdida, a song from Brazilian band Pocos & Nuvens. The band have been around since the eighties, but their debut was not released until 1998, from where this song is taken. It’s a bouncy song with some very eighties-sounding synths and a distinctive bossa nova style to it, along with neo-prog touches, particularly in the guitar work. It’s a pity that the vocals sound a little off-key, but this is still a pretty good track.
Ending the album is the Indonesian outfit Jugala All Stars, lead by one Sabah Habas Mustapha, also of the 3 Mustafas 3 (and better known to prog fans as Camel bassist Colin Bass). Seuri, taken from the 1999 album So La Li, is a gentle track which lopes along to the beat of a khendang (a double headed drum played with hands and feet) and features prominently the bamboo flute. Sabah/ Bass’s mellow vocals are well complimented by a female singer.
So there you have it. Fifteen tracks, none of which needs to be skipped, and many of which will have you scouring the net for copies of their (no doubt obscure) parent album. The cause is good enough in itself to make investment in this album worthwhile; the fact that there are many gems waiting to be uncovered is just the icing on the cake. Definitely recommended to those prog fans who are prepared to remove their blinkers now and again and appreciate great music, and particularly for those who enjoy dipping their toes in the world and folk music genres every now and again.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
iX – Ora Pro Nobis
Tracklist: Ora Pro Nobis (1:53), The Expert (3:41), Seven Pillars Of Wisdom (6:30), Keyla (2:11), Ocaso (4:48), Hombres Honorables (8:24), Radiante (7:53), Warriors (5:56), The Promised Mind (8:49), Invocando A La Luz (4:31)
Dave Sissons' Review
An excellent surrealistic cover is the fitting wrapping for this mega mixed up melting pot of sounds and styles conjured by Tempano man Giuglio Cesare Della Noce. He wrote pretty much all of the music and played keyboards, which are responsible for much of what you will hear, though he is aided and abetted by many guests. The music is predominantly instrumental but liberally sprinkled with spoken word/samples, and there are vocals on a couple of tracks. Like the parent group, Della Noce purveys modern prog rock informed by the past masters. He utilises symphonic textures and prog rock moves in a restlessly experimental fashion, chopping and changing tack with dizzying rapidity. Stylistic moves are borrowed from Folk/World/Classical/Jazz/Fusion and Rock, all appearing and disappearing at the drop of a hat. At first this is confusing, then awe-inspiring, but ultimately a little frustrating.
The disc kicks off with the sound of voices intoning some strange invocation. Tinkling percussion heralds portentous timpani and much wailing and gnashing of teeth - it’s an odd and unsettling start.
The Expert thankfully sees a change of tack with hi-tech brassy synths and a funky groove at first, but then it goes acoustic – flamenco style guitar appears - oh I get it – a stop start –kitchen sink type affair where a bit of almost everything is thrown into the musical stew-a bit disorienting at first but it certainly keeps you guessing what will come next - ethnic percussion and radio samples actually!
Seven Pillars Of Wisdom employs modern beats to bolster a powerful repetitive riff, juxtaposed with rising symphonic keys and electronic pulsation. It’s a bit of a head spinning mix, but it grows and grows with considerable power, eventually forming an infectious riff which put me in mind of Soft Machine (Bundles/Softs era) for some odd reason. It’s a good track – perhaps too heavy on the use of spoken samples (which I find can be tiring on repeated listens) but there are some nice themes amongst the endlessly shifting soundscapes, which contain enough melodic material for an entire album.
Keyla abandons this kaleidoscopic approach for a simply constructed piece where restrained mournful piano is accompanied by the sound of waves washing on the shore. The track is dedicated to a murder victim Keyla Guerra. It’s touching but somewhat out of place on the album, though it does provide some relief from all the frantic chopping and changing.
Next up is Ocaso, the first of two fairly straightforward songs on the album. This one is a pretty straight ballad; powerfully sung (in Spanish) by Edith Salazar, this is nice for what it is but contains no real prog elements.
Then we have one of the best tracks on the album. Hombres Honorables utilises brass and slow drum beats together with thunder effects to conjure an ominous atmosphere. There is liberal use of over-bright keys before solemn marching rhythms and a touch of Floydian dramatics make for a very persuasive instrumental passage with impressively expansive electric guitar, which ends with more sound effects (possibly a grave being dug?).
Radiante is ushered in by tinkling percussion, and is a long, rambling ambient piece full of sound effects and odd vocal noises. It’s high on atmospherics but low on real musical content, making it a low point of the album for me.
Warriors is much more ethnic flavoured - where South American percussion vies with Flamenco guitar and jazzy piano. The track falters and then there’s more piano. Latin dance rhythms wait in the wings, warming up. They threaten to takeover but instead an electric guitar steps up to solo to a brassy jazz backing, which then gives way to a synth solo not a million miles from Moraz on his Story Of I opus. Like that album, this is a bit too disjointed but quite a fascinating mix of styles and cultures.
Continuing this mix and match approach, The Promised Mind employs a bluesy harmonica to give a distinctly unusual twist to proceedings. The track has a delicate melody, quite unlike anything else. There are brash symphonics and hard riffs. A soundtracky feel prevails. There are excellent moments but it doesn’t quite hang together as a cohesive whole.
To conclude we are presented with the second real song, where male/female vocals alternate over twangy guitar and impressive keyboard orchestrations, and a touch of the Gospel/Choral to the backing vocals.
So if you are looking for something different-step right up. This album presents a challenging listen without being dissonant or avant-garde. It’s certainly an intriguing experience, but maybe not one you’ll want to revisit too often - a brave experiment with many excellent moments, but not quite succeeding as an entire work.
My favourite tracks are Seven Pillars, Hombres Honorables and Warriors.
Subsequent listens blunt the initial surprise but don’t really deepen the experience sufficiently to make this a classic album; it is certainly worthy of the attention of any Tempano fans and anyone willing to take the chance on something a little out of the ordinary.
Guillermo Palladino's Review
Giuglio Cesare Della Noce is one of the founding members of the most important symphonic/progressive rock acts from Venezuela, and after many years in the wilderness (since the late 70’s) - a wonderful reunion occurred for Tempano in 1998.
Now Della Noce brings us his first solo album under the name iX (not the Roman number, this is the name of one of the planets mentioned in Dune’s mythology). The album has a lot of people collaborating with Della Noce in this incredible work, from his band-mates from Tempano, to his family and parents, even the art director of this album Sandro Bassi and a martial band from one of the most traditional schools from Caracas.
The boundaries surrounding the musical influences for this album are several: symphonic rock, jazz, fusion, classical arrangements, contemporary music, electronic and sound effects, a record that has the peculiarity of not being included into any musical genre in particular. But, in the composition we can find all those musical elements that Della Noce has created for Tempano during the last nine years. All these influences converge in a piece of work that is very diverse, sometimes structured, but often in a some kind of musical freestyle.
Ora Pro Nobis is an intro in which we can hear many people praying, with reference of our folklore and religious roots. From here The Expert is a powerful opening theme with the typical classical arrangements that characterizes Della Noce's musical style but also combined with jazzy elements, Spanish guitar and fusion. In Seven Pillars Of Wisdom we find a balance between electronic elements, sound effects and musical hints from the Middle East, this is a more structured song and a little less dense than the opening theme. Keyla is a beautiful solo, inspired by a girl who was murdered in Caracas in the middle of a political crisis.
Ocaso is a jazzy structured ballad, with a powerful female voice that makes this a very intense song with interesting lyrics sung in Spanish. Following this we have Hombres Honorables in which we find again that mixture between electronic elements, classical arrangements, percussion, a military march and a trumpet solo, wow! Too many things in one song, that reminds me of The Wall and The Final Cut and even for a while Supertramp. With Radiante we have a dramatic song, mainly an instrumental with electronic elements that made this eight minutes seem eternal, because it is slow, boring and monotonous.
Warriors is a song in which we can find many Spanish and gypsy elements, combined with many Latin-jazz elements, notable in the way the piano is played and the percussion, but unfortunately not strong enough, not too risky. After that we have The Promised Land, again the melancholic notes and electronic ambient invade us and a harmonica solo breaks the silence, but after that we start into a little more powerful song that combines the harmonica with jazzy elements and a rock based rhythmical structure. Following this peak we go down again in this extremely soft musical environment with some elements that makes us to react. The closing theme Invocando A La Luz is a marching like song, but with a very interesting ensemble of voices. There are again the jazzy elements, but with the difference being that we now have some Gospel arrangements that turns this song into a kind of We Are The World offering making it too bombastic for a finale, too anthemic.
In conclusion, this mixture of musical influences makes this album a peculiar piece of work because the excess of elements makes it a very hard one to listen to, with too many musical layers in each song. On the other hand this album also has the ability to be considered a challenge for every megalomaniac interested in a very intense listening experience. Incidentally iX finished up being some kind of collective musical experience despite being one man’s Opera Prima.
Finally I also have to say that this review proved very difficult for me to write, not for the music but because Giuglio Cesare is a friend of mine, even the Tempano guys. All the best wishes to them.
Dol Ammad – Ocean Dynamics
Tracklist: Thalassa Dominion I (4:29), Thalassa Dominion II (6:20), Thalassa Dominion III (7:06), Thalassa Dominion IV (5:12), Solarwinds (6:10), Descent (5:26), Lava (6:01), Aquatic Majesty (6:06), Liquid Desert (6:37), Heart Of The Sky (5:49)
The first time I got acquainted with Dol Ammad was through their self-titled 2002 demo. This recording grabbed my attention because of some daring and adventurous music. Dol Ammad brings together what seem to be two opposite ends of the musical spectrum: metal and electronic music. Brainchild behind this all is Thanasis Lightbridge. He is obviously a talented wizard on the synthesizers and presents himself as somewhat of a band leader. For this recording he surrounds himself with a choir of no less than fourteen opera singers. Next to that we find two famous names: Alex Holzwarth (Rhapsody On Fire, Sieges Even) on drums and DC Cooper (ex-Royal Hunt, Amaran’s Plight) as guest vocalist on one song.
An ‘aquatic space opera’ is the subtitle of this ambitious piece of work. I’m not really familiar with the new age and electronic scene but I guess Vangelis is an obvious name to mention as a reference. Further more the use of the soft spoken sections by a female voice brings up an atmosphere closely leaning towards Enigma. Sometimes it’s a bit hard to follow the way the atmospheric new age soundscapes suddenly changes in the highly bombastic opera parts but still Thanasis Lightbridge manages to get away with it.
For my personal taste some of the bombastic sections are much to overdone and I find them hard to digest. It’s like Therion on acid! I’m much more charmed by a track like Thalassa Dominion III which reminds me strongly of The Hill Of Hope from the before mentioned demo release. Thalassa Dominion III is a very relaxing tune with a nice theme throughout the song and mesmerizing opera vocals. Another highlight is Aquatic Majesty. This track is very bombastic but due to the excellent performance of guest singer DC Cooper highly enjoyable. But I guess a song featuring the vocals of DC Cooper can never be disappointing.
As I am a metal freak I find it remarkable to discover I prefer the new age parts of Dol Ammad over the more bombastic gothic sections! Well it does prove Dol Ammad is an excellent way to broaden your horizon. I would recommend fans of Therion and Rhapsody Of Fire to check this one out if you aren’t afraid of some new age influences.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Solar Project - Chromagnitude
Tracklist: Gray (5:10), Green (15:20), Red (8:41), Black (11:33), Blue (6:05), Yellow (9:20), White (7:48)
Although the roots of German band Solar Project have been around since 1981, originally under the name Solar System and since 1990 as Solar Project, and Chromagnitude is the band's seventh album, I have never come across the group before. The group is based around the three founder members of both Solar System and Solar Project, namely Volker Janacek (drums and vocals), Peter Terhoeven (guitars) and Robert Valet (keyboards). This core trio is supplemented on this album by Sandra Baetzel (vocals and saxophones) and Sebastian Jungermann (bass). The band make no bones about being influenced by Pink Floyd, having contributed to several Floyd tribute albums, even tackling the 23-minute Echoes on one of them! However, that does not mean this album is Floyd-lite. Instead we are precented with a concept album exploring the "psychological power of colours", the seven tracks themselves being named after colours, the music and lyrics displaying the positive and negative aspects of each hue.
The album starts with the shortest track, Gray, and despite what I wrote above it starts in a very Pink Floyd manner, with a Gilmouresque guitar sound straight from Signs Of Life off the A Momentary Lapse Of Reason album. Expressive Hammond organ backing the twin vocals of Janacek and Baetzel leads into a brief sax solo which fades out as the sound of insects leads into Green. According to the lyrics of White, green is representative of poison and fortune, as told in the lyric when the lush green paradise turns out to be a fetid environment (and kudos to Rob Valet for including undoubtedly the first ever use of the world trypanosomiasis [a parasitic disease] in a rock song!) The vocals take up the first four-and-a-bit minutes of the song leaving 11 minutes of instrumental kicking off with a keyboard solo before a wonderful guitar/Hammond section that could have come straight out of the glory days of Deep Purple. Taking a leaf out the Echoes book, the track mutates into discordance before playing out in a more spacey style. Red (fire, hate and love) starts in a more sedate and melodic style with the two vocalists combining to good effect. The pounding bass seems to herald an abrupt change in style but the band restrains itself using the various instruments to creation sonic structures before the final verse takes us back full circle to the style of the song's beginnings.
Black (evil, dignity) continues the sedate pace with an atmospheric solo guitar introduction. Vocals are handled by Baetzel alone who does an admirable job throughout. About a third of the way in the pace is intensified with an incessant bass and drum beat and a growling Hammond organ that blasts through everything in an extended instrumental break. Eventually the guitar joins in to reintroduce the melody before abruptly ceasing for the last verses of the song. Finally, a double-tracked guitar draws the song to a close. Blue (distal, faithfulness) is rather more languid with Janacek taking the vocals on the verses and Baetzel on the choruses. More like a Rick Wright solo number than anything specifically Floydian, the song is lifted by a great saxophone solo midway through. The insects are back on the intro to Yellow (gold, greediness) which is percussion heavy, the melody defined by the vocals. A talk box guitar followed by normal guitar changes both the tempo and style with a more eastern approach. Don't know if it is just the influence of the colour but the whole piece conjures up images in my mind of a desert, which is obviously what was intended given the lyrics of the second verse! The song ends with a much more energetic freakout by the group, which given the preceding lyric ("Do not follow the lure of oil, and then appears the desert storm") is obviously a musical political comment on recent events in the middle east. Last up is White (bright, heavenly), the most lyrically intense song on the album. All of the preceding colours have a dual aspect of "something good, but something evil too". Whereas the aspects of white are pure. Of course, white itself is not actually a colour in itself but, as pointed out in the lyrics, is "the total of all colours". As such, the song contains elements of the music from each of the earlier tracks which provides a nice concluding summary for the album while maintaining a distinct identity of its own.
So what to make of Chromagnitude? Certainly a nice concept and one that is put together nicely playing out as a single piece with recurring themes rather than separate tracks hung together on a rather flimsy skeleton. The playing is great throughout with some great instrumental passages mixed with interesting vocal sections. Certainly the vocals of Baetzel are much better than those of Janacek but the two do blend together well. Overall I am left wondering why I have never come across this band at any point in the past twenty-odd years? I already have an order in for another of their albums which should say something about my opinion of this album!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Steen Grontved – Night Vision Goggles
Tracklist: Timber (4:13), The Worm (5:06), Playground (3:23), Home Planet (3:13), Run (3:47), Bye (1:14), Secret Lab (3:48), My Butterfly (1:17), Still Here (4:04), Round And Around (4:03), What Mango? (3:21), Find The Pick (1:37)
Steen Grontved is a Danish guitar player and a veteran of the session music scene, having appeared on numerous albums over the last couple of years. Night Vision Goggles is his debut album and it is a fusion/rock/jazz instrumental guitar album with “obvious” influences from guitar pickers like Pat Metheny, Joe Satriani and Greg Howe.
Timber is an excellent up tempo opener with lots of melodic solos followed by the rather funky/jazzy song The Worm. Playground is rather Latin-like with a laid back solo of which Pat Metheny would be jealous. The first highlight is the track called Run, featuring some amazing Satch-like guitar work. Still Here is a heavenly melodic ballad while What Mango? features great percussion and Santana-like rhythms and solos. The rest of the tracks are all very accessible and also possess strong melodic musical elements.
A must for lovers of instrumental guitar albums? But I have doubts that this album will be noticed by a lot of people, which is also due to the fact that we are overwhelmed by these guitar albums, so it is hard to decide which ones are really good and which ones are rather “crappy”. Night Vision Goggles is good and definitely worth checking out!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Amarok - Sol De Medianoche
Tracklist: Sephiroth (4:17), Hermits [i Initiation, ii Song Of The Ascet, iii Transit, iv The Last Of The Last, v John Roundeau's Jig] (10:47), Xiöngmao I [The Cat-bear] (1:13), Wendigo (7:12), Duet For Hang And Bass (2:10), Mama Todorka (2:03), Ishak The Fisherman [i The Rebel Genius, ii Half Man Half Stone, iii The Castle Of The One Hundred Maidens, iv The Great Secret, v Ishak Returns Home] (12:04), Eight Touts (3:03), Midnight Sun [i Colourless World, ii The Dance Of The Automatons, iii Far Away, iv The Great Deceit, v Taiga, vi Midday Shade] (13:34), Xiöngmao II (0:41), Abaddon's Bolero (8:06)
Sol De Medianoche is the seventh album by Spanish band Amarok and their first for American label ProgRock Records. The group, primarily based around the multi-instrumentalist Robert Santamaría (who also holds a doctorate in palaeontology), have been around since 1990, creating music that blends Mediterranean music with progressive rock managing to incorporate a wide variety of ethnic influences along the way. On Sol De Medianoche the main musicians are Robert Santamaría (keyboards, accordion, 12-string guitar, Turkish saz, Iranian santur, kanun, dulcimer, autoharp, xylophone, glockenspiel, hang, percussion), Manel Mayol (flute, didgeridoo, backing vocals), Mireia Sisquella (soprano & alto saxophones), Marta Segura (vocals), Alán Chehab (bass) and Renato Di Prinzio (drums). As if that assembly of instruments wasn't mind boggling enough, the albums also contains an impressive collection of 10 guest musicians that provide everything from backing vocals, guitars violins and wind instruments to Tibetan chants and vibraslap. In keeping with the ethno-eco-centric sensibilities of the group, the album, along with all their previous albums, was chiefly recorded using solar energy.
The album consists of four short instrumentals, two short songs, four major, multi sectioned, long songs and possibly the most interesting cover of an ELP song ever! But more of that later. The four instrumentals consist of Xiöngmao I and II, variations on the same tune that mix acoustic guitar, flutes and dulcimer in a blend of occidental and oriental music that has a definite Chinese influence (Xiöngmao is Chinese for Giant Panda, hence the subtitle of The Cat-Bear on the first of the two parts). Duet For Hang and Bass features a distinctly odd instrument called a hang, a Swiss percussion instrument first produced in Bern in 2000 (hang is the local dialect word for hand). In sound it most closely resembles a steel drum when played to give a melodious tone but can also produce typical percussive effects, most prominently demonstrated in the opening section of this intriguing track. Eight Touts starts with chirping insects and croaking frogs before developing into a sprightly instrumental mixing violin, electric guitar, synthesisers and muted trumpet laid over a drum and bass backing.
Of the two shorter songs, the opening of Sephiroth, a Kábalic term referring to the 10 spheres that make up the deity, reminds me of the theme music to the BBC/HBO series Rome after which the Middle Eastern textures are along familiar lines to those explored by Dead Can Dance. Mama Todorka is a jolly ditty with a vocal arrangement by the Bulgarian voice quartet Todorka. The persuasive conga backing gives the rhythmic track a Latin American flavour which is enhanced by a brief, but sympathetic, organ solo.
The bulk of the album is made up of four long songs which last between seven and thirteen and a half minutes. The five-part Hermits starts with the instrumental Initiation which is as close to traditional prog rock as you'll find on this album, with plenty of flute and guitar interaction. Song Of The Ascet displays the vocal talents of Marta Segura backed mostly by violin and various percussion instruments. Transit, another instrumental section of flute and guitar, leads into The Last Of The Lasts whose lyrics are based on an anonymous text describing the life of John Noah Roundeau, a violin playing resident and Mayor of Cold River City (Population 1) in the Adirondack Forest Preserve of New York State. Finally, instrumental section is, appropriately a violin piece called John Roundeau's Jig.
Wendigo is the benefactor of the Tibetan chanting, although it is more akin to growling than chanting! With plenty of flutes and jazz-tinged guitar work, this lively number is one of the highlights of the album. Ishak The Fisherman takes as its inspiration tales from the famous Arabic Script 1001 Nights. With an eclectic combination of instruments, including violin, vibraslap, dulcimer, trumpet, flute, penny whistle, saxophone, didgeridoo and flugelhorn all mixed in with bass, drums electric piano and other keyboard instruments, this song always did promise to be something a bit out of the ordinary. The various sections blend seamlessly into one each other, the divisions only identified by changes in tempo or instrumentation. Again an ethnic groove permeates throughout topped off some skilfully arranged vocals and backing vocals.
Final original is the title track Midnight Sun, dedicated to victims of persecution everywhere. The mournful Colourless World opens the piece while Dance Of The Automatons features some powerful vocal work, again arranged very skilfully. Musically, the piece has less of the ethnic influences and a more 'traditional' progressive rock sound, although trumpet and penny whistle are still used to great effect during The Great Deceit. The tempo ebbs and flows picking up again during Taiga which displays the musicianship of all the performers to great effect, being superbly arranged and executed. Midday Shade rounds off the piece in a balladic style, reflecting the opening section and giving the piece a nice balance.
Now, about that ELP cover. Well Amarok's version of Abaddon's Bolero sticks quite closely to the original musically but differs in the instrumentation employed - the main keyboard line being replaced by an assortment of different instruments accordion, flute, violin, sax, piccolo, flugelhorn and even some scat vocalisations. It is only at the end of the piece that keyboards make an appearance backing the main melody line performed on trumpet. The ethnic percussion backing provides an interesting contrast and overall the piece stands up well both as a cover version and in the context of the rest of the album.
Overall Sol De Medianoche is an interesting and varied release that skilfully blends a variety of ethnic and folk characteristics within a broadly progressive rock format. Will certainly find appeal amongst fans that position their musical tastes towards the more mellow end of the prog spectrum but is probably not for those of you that favour a more bombastic all-out rock approach.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
T-Bo – We Stay Together
Play It (4:50), Take Time (4:10), Different Kinds of Life (8:39), Going On (5:11), You Will Find (4:09), Love is Everything (2:40), Tears in the Rain (6:20), Your Gentleness (3:03), Love and Energy (4:50), Treasured Moments (3:55), Teach Me (3:21), Parallel Directions (9:01), See You Later (5:13), Sending Love (3:45)
I was at first reluctant to undertake a review of this album, though for strictly extra-musical reasons. The liner notes tell us that drummer Philippe Laloux formed the band T-Bo “in memory of his son Thibaut, killed at the age of 19 by a driver who was under the influence of drug [sic] and alcohol.” Thibault had liked his father’s music and had encouraged him to record it, so, in tribute to his son, Laloux has done just that. Now, I try my hardest to assess as fairly and honestly as I can every CD I get for review; but, I thought, what would I do if this one were, well, lousy? I decided I’d just grit my teeth and say so, if I had to. But I’m delighted and relieved (and grateful to the skill of Laloux and his many musician friends) that I can be honest while also saying nice things about a project conceived with such love.
I’ll begin, though, by acknowledging that not everybody will like the album as much as I do. It’s entirely instrumental and, for the most part, very mellow indeed; and occasionally (on the songs that I like least) I find myself reminded of, well, some of Chuck Mangione’s tunes, if you can imagine substituting a flute for that weird horn thing that Mangione plays. However, one of the best things about We Stay Together is that the fourteen compositions are really quite varied in sound, tempo, and instrumentation, and yet the album works as a whole, not as a jumble or a miscellany. I suppose that it could be most easily categorized as new-age, perhaps even occasionally easy-listening, music, but the variety I’ve mentioned prevents the album from reaching the depths of dullness of some new-age music.
I think what keeps many of the compositions interesting – even more than such unusual instruments as didgeridoo, darbuka, and bamboo flute! – is the electric-guitar work of contributing musician David Epis. Epis’s tone as much as his style and performance cuts through many of the songs and gives a sort of edge to them. An excellent example is one of the happiest (among many such!) of the songs here, You Will Find. It’s the percussion that one first notices about the song as a whole – but that guitar comes zinging in and electrifies the proceedings, taking and then relinquishing command of the tune delightfully.
I have to concede that occasionally the pieces are too mellow, too close to, well, elevator music. Your Gentleness is one of several such pieces, beginning with what sounds like the intro to one of The Carpenters’ wimpier ballads (yes, I know what I said) and prominently featuring a lazy, meandering saxophone. Too tame! But for every such piece there are a couple others that – while still pretty laid-back – feature more than enough interesting elements (melodic and instrumental) to prevent the tunes from becoming saccharine.
Thibault, rest his soul, was right to praise his father’s music and encourage him to record it. This is an extremely pleasant CD, performed by a talented group of musicians. I can’t quite give it a DPRP Recommended rating, mostly because it’s about as far from progressive rock as can be imagined and thus won’t appeal to a good many of our readers; but, on its own terms, We Stay Together is much better than such a loving tribute project might have been, and fans of mellower new-age music should like it a lot.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10