Reviews in this issue:
- Areknamés – In Case Of Loss…
- Andrew Roussak - Blue Intermezzo
- Sunchild – The Wrap (Duo Review)
- Bruford Levin Upper Extremeties (B.L.U.E.) – Blue Nights
- Bruford Levin Upper Extremeties (B.L.U.E.) – Bruford Levin Upper Extremities
- Marie Ingerslev – The Other Side
- Colin Masson – The Mad Monk And The Mountain
- Angra - Aqua
- Majestic – Ataraxia
- The 16 Deadly Improvs - The Triumph Of The 16 Deadly Improvs
- Brother Ape – A Rare Moment Of Insight
- T – Anti-Matter Poetry
Areknamés – In Case Of Loss…
Tracklist: Beached (6:57), Alone (5:48), Dateless Diary (5:27), Don’t Move (5:52), A New Song (7:28), Where (5:12), The Very Last Number (20:56)
Areknamés describe themselves as ‘a psych dark progressive band from Italy’. This much then, we must take to be true. If you’d heard only their sophomore album, Love Hate Roundtrip, then I think you’d agree wholeheartedly. It’s a heavy, clanking and dark piece of progressive psych in the vein of Gargamel or Diagonal with a certain amount of VdGG pulsing at its core and, it’s excellent. It’s full of ferment and tension, even in its less dynamic and overtly angry moments. As far as In Case Of Loss... is concerned, a lot of this darkness has been jettisoned and there’s a much brighter feel to the compositions, but this album is no less excellent, in fact, I think it’s even better. VdGG still pulse in their hearts but there’s also a much stronger overall Canterbury influence that shines through everything, warming it with the glow of Caravan and Hatfield And The North.
The driving force behind the project is multi-instrumentalist, Michele Epifani and perhaps the greater sonic luminosity of In Case… is due to a change in personal attitudes? Perhaps it’s a leap in compositional confidence that wished merely to explore new territories? Or maybe it’s a new alchemy arising from a new line-up? It seems that Sig. Epifani is at liberty to choose his creative team for each project because the line-up is never the same. Whilst he handles keys, vocals, composing and arranging, he calls on seven others to flesh out his ideas. The core band is Antonio Castelano on guitars, Simone Pacelli on bass and Luca Falsetti on drums. Providing support are Carmine Ianieri on sax, Sara Gentile on cello, Pierluigi Mencattini and Cristiano Pomante on vibraphone. Together they make glorious music.
What I’m listening to is not so much a collision of progressive styles as a constant jostling and bustle; each musical device seeking its moment in the spotlight and trying to make itself heard above the clamour of eager voices. This is not to suggest that it is disorganised or incoherent. There is a strong hand governing proceedings, keeping the threat of chaos at bay and orchestrating the madness; marshalling the strands of psychedelia, jazz, heavy rock and retro-prog into a sturdy and reliable rope, via which Mount In Case Of Loss… may be scaled and the views offered, wondered at. Let’s start at the beginning with Beached. This has an infectious groove on bass and keys punctuated by stabbing guitar and drum accents before a dreamy Moog motif presages the truly blissful sung verse. It’s hard to understand a word that Epifani is singing here, such is the Muezzin style of his delivery, but it matters not. With layers of organ and synths creating a riptide of sound and e-piano sparkling over the surface, I am simply carried off to float on this ocean of astral whimsy. It develops into a gorgeous, jazzy instrumental section where vibraphone creates little nebulae of sound that clarify the chord progression. I remark to myself what an odd, but gentle and otherworldly harmonic it is before a heavy, distorted organ and guitar tear the fabric of my utopian vagary; disorienting and, musically, very clever if not a little irksome, I was enjoying that! This third sequence hurls the motif around like a rag doll until the main vocal refrain is reprised and order is restored as the track drifts playfully into a, ‘jazz-from-space’ coda with an eccentric and slightly drunk pianist improvising madly over his Wurlitzer. I love this track. The album is worth the ticket price for these seven minutes alone. However, there is nothing else like it again, which is not to say that the quality declines, merely that Beached is unique in the tracklist.
Alone has the lyric: “I oscillate between joy and anguish like a hangman” which should tell you all you need to know, but I’ll elaborate. It begins with another dreamy and infectious melody but develops into a fantastic sax ‘ensemble’ with the winds playing hard and brash against a driving Hammond backdrop, eventually combining the two themes deftly and succinctly. Dateless Diary flirts effectively with modern prog, juxtaposing heavy guitar powerchords with lilting jazz and muted, disengaged vocals to conjure another quixotic piece of spectral prog. This one put me in mind of Moongarden, another Italian act I admire greatly, and their more recent work.
Epifani demonstrates his ability as a composer of chamber music with the beautifully constructed, Don’t Move, notable for its cello/violin duet and soaring climax. This is followed by the schizophrenic, A New Song that begins with melancholic lambency and (clumsily) surges into dramatic life with brutal and clashing motifs, ending up as a straight forward rocker with Epifani sounding for all the world like Jon Lord, in Highway Star as Castelano rips an eye-popping solo, ripe for pulling faces to. Undoubtedly the most organic moment of the album and I’d love to hear a bit more of this ‘simplicity’ at times. The next track, Where, becomes my argument for doing so. After the uplifting drive of A New Song, this seems like a grab-bag of everything that has become Epifani’s trademark approach throughout the album, but it doesn’t quite work. It’s the one occasion where everything is a mish-mash rather than a mesh.
Simplicity isn’t on the menu for The Very Last Number. A very solid attempt at the long-form song with some sections of it being memorable and others anticipated, as the eight piece suite begins to lodge into your brain. Other parts are perhaps not so successful in that the whole doesn’t quite cohere. Just because it’s prog and just because it’s not commercial is no excuse for meandering, apparently aimless, noise making. It only happens very briefly and, musically, serves as a bridge to break the flow into a very complex 2nd half, but somewhere I sense a pandering to stereotype in the thinking. I’m puzzled as to why an album that, in spite of its manifold distractions and diversions, has put melody and harmony so potently to the fore should then abandon this in order to compose “an epic”. In case you didn’t know, “Epics” (so the stereotype would maintain) should be dense, confusing and use ‘opaque melodies that would bug most people’ to coin a phrase. I just don’t get it, actually and I don’t see the need for it. Don’t get me wrong, it is a solid, progressive piece and I’m sure some of you will revel in the density of its second half, but for me there’s too much restless tinkering that resembles a stream of exciting musical moments, rather than a coherent whole.
I’m not sure to what extent this obscurantism is a deliberate strategy, but if you’re looking for Areknamés on the information superhighway, you’ll not find them even on a B Road, rather they reside at the end of a dirt track somewhere. Maybe Sig. Epifani is relying on word of mouth to develop a fanbase? Whatever the case, this is a great, hidden gem of an album that seems to have hardly any exposure. So, here’s my mouth, and the word is… Excellent. One of my favourites of 2010.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Andrew Roussak - Blue Intermezzo
Tracklist: All Good Things (4:11), Greensleeves (1:59), Strange Tango (3:10), Irreducible Simplicity (4:15), Blue Intermezzo (3:18), Iliade Book 6 – Swap Armour (6:17), Iliade Book 8 – Divine Withdrawal (6:25), Nocturne For Julia (3:39), Forgotten Walce (4:07), Portraits Of My Friends (4:19) Bonus Tracks: Schafe Konnen Sicher Weiden (4:14), Wir Eilen Mit Schwachen Doch Emsigen Schritten (3:18)
Just looking at the artwork of Andrew Roussak’ new album Blue Intermezzo, you are given the impression that you are going to experience a spiritual journey, not one of religion, but one that will enrich your life with its beauty and integrity.
For those who don’t know, Andrew is a native of Russia, growing up in the industrial town of Ufa, where he began to learn to play the piano at the age of 7, (time well spent). Andrew went on to study and graduate from Ufa State College of Arts as a pianist and now resides in Germany.
No Trespassing his debut was DPRP recommended receiving 8 out of 10, his band Dorian Opera whose album No Secrets received an impressive 7 out of 10, and now here his third album, Blue Intermezzo a piano solo album that imbibes various styles with such proficient and eloquent refinement.
The album contains twelve tracks, nine original scores, two Cantata’s by J.S. Bach, (who wrote over 200 cantata’s), and the romanesca Greensleeves, who it is controversially alleged was written by Henry VIII, although in all probability it is was Elizabethan in origin and is based on an Italian style of composition that did not reach England until after his death; In saying that Andrew has recorded an absolutely stunning version of the song bordering on the fringes of jazz. The Cantata’s are interesting too due to the way that they are presented, as a cantata is usually a vocal composition with a musical accompaniment; ignoring that base point, Andrew has more than captured the essence of the Bach’ pieces. Album opener All Good Things appeared in its original form on No Trespassing, what is presented here is what you would call an un-plugged version, which for me has more depth and soul. Strange Tango sees Andrew being inspired by George Gershwin’ left hand patterns and the works of Isaac Albeniz, offering some really nice rhythmic and dark melodic interludes where as Irreducible Simplicity takes a more jazzy approach, complex, housing some very adept keyboard fingering, that is jaunty, infectious, creative and more importantly fun.
Blue Intermezzo started its journey as a two to three chord pattern soiree, but on the top of that Andrew has spontaneously created a slow but powerful instrumental that really holds your attention note by note, chord by chord. Iliade Book 6 – Swap Armour and Iliade Book 8 – Divine Withdrawal delves into the world of academia, Homer’s epic poem Iliad, both arriving in at just over six minutes. As with the story, the music is just layered and swathed in emotion that is powerful, aggressive, loving and tender, housing some really nice big and powerful chord structures, notations that build, creating stunning and beautiful imagery, a refinement that makes this pianist so special. I would really like to see this idea being developed further, which to be honest, for me are the two standout tracks on the album. Nocturne For Julia a number lovingly written for his wife, displays another facet of his creativity, being a joyful and sedate piece. Forgotten Walce is a statement of intent asking the question as to whether Chopin would have used jazz harmonies had he’d been born a century later? From the cleverness and interplay of this number presented, the obvious answer would have been an emphatic yes, this is just genius, they way the whole piece has been constructed. Portraits Of My Friends is a nostalgic piece, an ode to things past, lovingly and fondly remembered, emotions that are highlighted by the pure innocence and beauty of Andrew's finger work making it totally mesmerizing.
The beauty and essence of this album is that Mr. Roussak makes this all sound effortless. We are given emotionally charged music of the highest order, which is classical one minute, jazz the next and to some degree incorporating elements of rock, multi-faceted which is what keeps this all very fresh and progressive. We are talking about Andrew Roussak being in the same league as the maestros such as Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman make no mistake about that. This time around Andrew has stepped into the world of creative music alone, for me a wise step, which highlights his creative force, his ability to be able to create and present with confidence. On his past work he has worked with bands, but just the raw energy of what has been created here exudes that WOW factor.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Sunchild – The Wrap
Tracklist: Day Of Destiny (4:06), The Wrap [Intro] (5:16), Under The Wrap (38:19), An Angel (5:42), Illusionist (1:16), The Wrap [Outro] (4:59)
Brian Watson's Review
I’ve already raved about the talent of Antony Kalugin in my recent review for his album (in the guise of his band Karfagen) Solitary Sandpiper Journey. Whereas Karfagen provides him with an outlet for more pastoral, often instrumental soundscapes in the vein of Camel, Focus and Happy The Man, Sunchild, to quote Antony in a recent interview he did with the Classic Rock Society:
“is more modern, maybe even symphonic prog. It’s much heavier and more complex structurally than the others (his other project, Hoggwash, has more of a ‘70s Uriah Heep, Manfred Mann vibe going on)”.
As such this album is a symphonic gem, and one that fans of the genre should absolutely love. If you’re missing The Flower Kings, this is the album to get to tide you over. Antony infuses the highly distinctive Scandinavian symphonic sound with his own cultural references and influences, and he has surrounded himself with a whole host of highly talented Ukranian musicians to add colour and depth to the album. This contextualises the music and is what sets the record apart from other TFK/Spock’s Beard/Transatlantic/Dream Theater wannabes.
Simple piano starts things off on gentle opener Day Of Destiny, before we are into The Wrap suite proper, beginning with a five minute introductory piece. The epic centrepiece of the album, Under The Wrap clocks in at a shade less than thirty-nine minutes and is an absolute belter of a track.
There is shade and light; there are heavy and soft bits, metal and more symphonic, pastoral pieces throughout the album, which really adds to its longevity in any CD collection. Don’t like one section? Well, don’t worry because there will be a jaw-dropping moment along any time soon.
This is the third album Kalugin has released in the guise of Sunchild. 2008 saw the double disc set Gnomon whilst a year later came DPRP recommended The Invisible Line which Woody Harris called “a masterpiece”.
Fans of the aforementioned bands, but especially TFK will absolutely love this. Antony Kalugin truly seems to have inherited the mantle (temporarily) vacated by Roine Stolt as a prolific, progressive rock visionary, ambassador and loving advocate. He’s only young, yet his output, and the quality thereof is prodigious. All other fans of really good progressive rock music are heartily recommended to check the record out.
Sound quality is excellent, with beautiful, and highly professional artwork.
In conclusion then this is an excellent album – recommended to all.
Jon Bradshaw's Review
In this, Sunchild’s third release, we are treated to an anthemic opening track that sets up the conceptual story that is to follow. The male protagonist, cut by love’s cruel and capricious axe has left his woman and is full of that vitalising, invigorating spirit that comes after a breakdown in relationships: the determination to salvage ‘the self’, free from any of the masquerade or compromise involved in sustaining a partnership built on unrealistic expectations. This is, fundamentally, the concept underpinning The Wrap and hopefully, Mr. Kalugin will forgive my précis if I am misleading you in any way. Helpfully, he gives us the concept in the first page of the booklet so there can be little confusion. Listening to the album, following the lyrics and the story, the meanings that are sometimes so elusive and esoteric in concept albums that one needs to undergo initiation into the occult arts or NASA to comprehend them, are relatively transparent here. On the whole the plot is prosaic and readily absorbed. It concerns a philosophical and psychological conflict between the self and its shadow, ominously called ‘The Raven’. ‘The Raven’ wishes to imprison us within ‘The Wrap’, the façade of our chameleon interactions whilst the two central characters, The Boy and The Girl, strive to find their way out of the fearful, weak, and deceitful product of its constraints to uncover ‘The Truth’ of themselves, their values and their loves.
So far, so archetypical and well, and doubtless a concept we can all get our heads around, but I’m afraid it all falls flat on its familiar face when you actually begin to examine the lyrics that tell this tale with anything other than a cursory intelligence. It’s impossible to know whether the lyrics are as stodgy and sometimes, just plain stupid as they are, because of a diminishing effect in translation from Mr. Kalugin’s native Russian into English, or whether they are merely poorly written. Kalugin credits the assistance of Will Mackie, the creative and executive force behind the marvellous Caerllysi Music, in the lyrical composition. On this evidence, it would be fair to say that Tolstoy, Chekhov and Shakespeare have little to fear in the way of a challenge from this partnership. Literature it isn’t. Two of Europe’s high poetic languages are reduced to mere doggerel. There are too many examples of this offence to quote at length but a couple of the turkeys are:
You were a bird of prey
Just only yesterday
Slow burn, slow burn…
Now is my turn
Urgh. I can almost see the rhyming dictionary! But the killer is the wonderfully incomprehensible:
Just close my eyes
And greet an angel
Shining purer than snow
It wears a blue pullover
A blue pullover!? Not a tank-top or a kagoul, then? That’s what I would normally associate with angels. One more. I won’t go into it, but, what word would you use to rhyme with ‘mistakes’? I’ll bet it’s not ‘Corn Flakes’.
Part of me wants to consign my sarcastic (lowest form of wit) remarks to the Recycle Bin, but let’s just brush them under the carpet for now. Leaving aside the deeply flawed lyrical content, the story itself is rounded off in the final track, The Wrap [Outro], by a similar device. After the tumult, our hero consoles his distressed concubine with a metaphorical shrug and effectively says, “Let’s just forget about all of this, shall we?” Got a difficult philosophical problem to unravel? “Oh, forget about it.” Got a tricky plot situation to resolve? “Nah, just forget it.” This ‘sonic screwdriver’ (Dr. Who: ref #1) dénouement, this ‘brushing it under the carpet’ may not necessarily be the cop-out I am making it appear to be, I’m sure it’s not as lazy as this. Another possible interpretation offers the suggestion that this is how we actually behave in the face of crushing complexity or overwhelming difficulty: we bury our heads in the sand, we brush it under the carpet. We forget about it. I don’t know if this is what Mr. Kalugin intends, but it at least calibrates the compass of the tale to a magnetic pole. This theory is also borne out by the album art wherein a male and female figure seem unsettled by some wind turbines. The cover art depicts electricity pylons being assailed by bad weather phenomena. A tiny human figure is silhouetted against this backdrop. A hand pierces the cloud cover (with some more wind turbines), reaching into a blackened sky towards a sickly sun. Is this ecological, environmental imagery, of which there is no mention in the lyrics, the true subtext of ‘The Wrap’? Is ‘The Wrap’ our planet’s atmosphere? Has the ‘environment problem’ become so dizzyingly complex and great that our minds, evolved for the medium distance, cannot contain its scale? Are we brushing it all under the carpet and trying to forget? Food for thought.
What I’ve talked about so far is unsatisfying at best, but it’s entirely forgiveable if the music stacks up to provide a robust sonic container for a flimsy conceit, poorly delivered. It deeply saddens me to say so, but this is not the case. Certainly the music is better, in all sorts of ways, than the ‘wordy’ side of the project. The musicianship is, as you might expect, entirely competent but it all sounds lethargic and joyless. The whole album plods from beginning to end. It’s a desert trek with only the occasional oasis of enervating, colourful vitality to imbue it with life and offer respite from the wilting, saggy ennui of the difficult voyage. Nowhere is this more explicit than in the fulcrum of the piece, the 38 minute long, Under The Wrap. Why was this packaged as an epic? It’s nothing of the sort. It’s a cobbling together of many different musical ideas under one lyrical theme and many of these ideas would have been better served had they been allowed to evolve as discrete songs rather than held together by the string and sellotape approach we are presented with. Kalugin’s singing varies wildly in quality, which it is apt to do even at the best of times, but, in previous releases, it has always been at the front of a much more involving soundscape.
The drum engineering is ‘flappy’ - there’s no ring or depth, and I find the overall mix matte and fragmented. Overall, the production is eccentric. It’s not a lack of clarity that’s the problem, what I hear is obviously the product of informed choice and technical competence, but it’s thin, lacking weight and scale, and often resolving to solo keyboards right in the centre of the mix that sound like dry factory presets. Regardless of any passing interest these moments may excite, there’s something arid about the sound that I dislike. In general terms, The Wrap embraces a spectrum from the Neo-Prog style of Sylvan (think Posthumous Silence) to the symphonic prog of Simon Says. However, there’s a signature quirk in the melodies of Sunchild that places them firmly in the Near east and, I dare say, at the forefront of what might be described as the Slavic prog sound, such is the burgeoning growth of progressive music from that part of the world. However, there is a malaise on this album that infects the whole organism and whose symptoms appear as melodies that are either repetitive, lack elegance, or are possessed with a plainness that, to my ears, borders on ugly.
Take, for instance, the end of Under The Wrap where four minutes of exactly the same melody is played over and over. To their credit, there is a great deal of dynamic and harmonic invention demonstrated in the phrasing that showcases the skill of the band and confirms Kalugin’s credentials as a composer. Nevertheless, it’s all a bit overdone and rapidly fades at the very end to send the album’s epic centrepiece off, with a whimper. There are exceptions to this general debility. The instrumental, The Wrap [Intro] carries intrigue and drive through its melodic structure, especially in the bass work by Kostya Ionenko which is pretty damn excellent, on the whole. Equally, The Angel is a four barre melodic idea given a progressive treatment that works really well, even though the melody itself is somewhat unattractive. Listen out for the reversed guitar solo, it’s a neat touch.
It’s not easy for me to be so critical. I really admire Sunchild and Antony Kalugin. Their previous two albums, The Gnomon and The Invisible Line are both excellent, I recommend them highly, so, if you want to investigate Sunchild, get either of these or both of these first. In my view, The Wrap is for collectors and completists only. Nevertheless, you’ll see from my score that I rated it as “OK : A mediocre album which is interesting in parts but not consistent throughout” according to the DPRP scale. This hits the nail plumb, on the head. I guess it’s unrealistic to expect artists to release classic after classic, or even to be consistently good across their recording career, there are bound to be hiccups and, so far, this is definitely a low point for Sunchild, and a disappointment for me. Of course, all of this is only my opinion. I’ve read glowing reviews elsewhere on the web for The Wrap and I’m intrigued to read Brian’s thoughts. It won’t lessen my interest in Sunchild at all, I still look forward to their future work, but I shan’t be returning to this one too often, if at all.
Bruford Levin Upper Extremeties (B.L.U.E.) – Blue Nights (Live)
Disc 1: Piercing Glances (7:51), Étude Revisited (5:29), A Palace of Pearls (On a Blade of Grass) (6:00), Original Sin (8:14), Dentures of the Gods (6:26), Deeper Blue (6:32), Cobalt Canyons (7:30)
Disc 2: Fin de Siecle (5:49), Picnic on Vesuvius (9:30), Cerulean Sea (7:05), Bent Taqasim (2:08), Torn DrumBass (3:34), Cracking the Midnight Glass (6:53), Presidents Day (6:47), Minutes of Pure Entertainment (11:04), Outer Blue (6:06)
Bruford Levin Upper Extremeties (B.L.U.E.) – Bruford Levin Upper Extremities
Tracklist: Cerulean Sea (7:31), Original Sin (5:00), Étude Revisited (5:02), A Palace of Pearls (on a Blade of Grass) (5:59), Fin de Siécle (5:28), DrumBass (1:00), Cracking the Midnight Glass (6:11), Torn DrumBass (0:59), Thick with thin Air (3:32), Cobalt Canyons (4:31), Deeper Blue (4:19), Presidents Day (6:30)
In 1998 Bill Bruford and Tony Levin teamed up to form the band Bruford Levin Upper Extremities (B.L.U.E.) years after their involvement with King Crimson. They created a self-titled album in 1999 with the assistance of musicians Chris Botti on the flugelhorn and trumpet and David Torn on guitar.
Blue Nights is a 2 CD live set consisting primarily of material from the studio album recorded a couple of years earlier, Upper Extremities, with each song running over the original time limit (naturally). This review covers both releases since it is essentially the same material, with emphasis on the live release because it is more relevant and certainly preferable of the two.
If you are not familiar with these two artists, Tony Levin is a world-renowned bassist whose work most familiar with this audience, aside from the aforementioned King Crimson, is Liquid Tension Experiment 1 and 2, Situation Dangerous, Stick Man, Peter Gabriel and Liquid Trio Experiment. Bill Bruford is an extremely diverse and prolific drummer most notably for playing in Yes (through to Close To The Edge) and King Crimson with a short stint in Genesis mixed in.
This project is quite unexpected and interesting to me. It has a particular sense of conflict whereby holding back into ambient texture is counterpoised against the fusion leanings of the project. The most surprising aspect is just how quiet and patient some of the tracks are allowed to be. There are tremendous transitions throughout that are linked together with the silky smooth horn playing of Chris Botti. The added depth that his flugelhorn brings is stunning.
The open musical structure leaves ample room for the musicians to explore and create unusual and uncharted material. At times the drums carry the melodic theme while Levin drives the rhythm. Bruford fills the bill with apparent ease and when listened to closely his playing is truly awesome. When the guitar and drum interplay hit full tilt, David Torn and Bruford are paired extraordinarily well.
Herein you will find varied timings and signatures, unusual structures and combinations, sultry songs with the flavour of a crime drama soundtrack, ambient sound effect driven mood pieces, hyperactive fusion laden tracks reminiscent of Planet X and many other styles and tempo shifts that will keep you involved. This aspect is a bonus and a drawback: bonus if you are actively listening and paying attention to the sheer genius at work, and a drawback if you pick listening material based on a specific genre or mood. Fans of Liquid Tension Experiment will recognize where some of this craftsmanship has carried over into that project, primarily the second LTE.
Really, the main reason to grab this work is to experience the raw talent involved. The virtuosity of each musician is displayed throughout and nowhere else have I heard a drummer laying down completely separate fusion laced rhythms within a slow funky jazz riff of bass, guitar and trumpet. Wrap your head around that for a minute... ahhhhhh...
The sound quality is superb for a live album. The studio album sounds good too, but for me the live experience that they captured with Blue Nights was produced expertly and delivers a nice rendition without actually being there. The depth is most remarkable with the way the horn was presented in the recording.
I am impressed with this project. Sometimes the “super group” idea really does pan out. B.L.U.E. more than anything else is a display of creativity and talent that should not be overlooked. This will not appeal to listeners who need their albums to be tidy and predictable. I can’t imagine who wouldn’t enjoy this stuff that is a prog fan or a fan of these musicians individually; however, the experimental nature of this act renders some of the material just outside of what can be generally called “recommended”.
Blue Nights: 7 out of 10
Bruford Levin Upper Extremities: 7 out of 10
Marie Ingerslev – The Other Side
Tracklist: Goodbye Old World (3:27), Lock (4:47), I Search A Place (3:21), Daily Life (4:01), This Glow (3:41), Walk Along (4:49), Save My Sound (1:43), My Word Still Stands (4:25), Ice (4:09), The Other Side (7:06), Waltzing Dorthe (3:51)
An album that really captured my attention (not to mention my heart) in 2006 was In The Head Of A Dreamer by Mary. Mary was actually the pseudonym of the beautiful, red headed singer-songwriter Marie Ingerslev who hailed from Copenhagen and produced an engaging collection of songs for her then debut. Four years on and Marie has released the follow-up The Other Side under her own name although the line-up of support musicians remains basically the same. In addition to vocals Marie adds acoustic guitar and is joined once more by Thommy Andersson (bass, double bass, cello), Kalle Mathiesen (drums, keyboards, samples, guitar, bass) and Torben Snekkestad (saxophones). A recent recruit to the team is guitarist Jeppe Kjellberg.
Although Marie wrote all the songs, the album is mainly a collaborative effort between the singer and the multi-instrumentalist Mathiesen who is also responsible for the instrumental arrangements and production. For anyone’s whose familiar with the last album, the music here will come as no surprise. The songs are mostly mellow, acoustic tinged offerings that are sometimes reflective (with a hint of folk) and at other times breezy (with a touch of jazz). Examples of the former are the tender ballad Daily Life and the haunting simplicity of Waltzing Dorthe whilst the latter style is exemplified by the tuneful Goodbye Old World and the cool (excuse the pun) jazz-swing of Ice.
My personnel favourites on the album however are the catchy Lock with its memorable vocal hook and horn samples and the lengthy title song The Other Side. Here ambient Yes style electric guitar and keyboard atmospherics are incorporated with the end results sounding quite different from anything else on the album.
Wisely, throughout the instrumental backing is kept to a minimum with the sparse arrangements allowing Marie’s heavenly crystal clear voice and the quality of her song writing to shine through. The thought provoking lyrics are performed in English with no trace of accent often embellished by inventive harmonises as in Walk Along and the a cappella Save My Sound. Whilst my limited knowledge of the Scandinavian music scene means I can’t name any Danish comparators, in terms of English acts I was very much reminded of 80’s female fronted bands like Fairground Attraction, Swing Out Sister and Everything But The Girl. For those with longer memories there is also a touch of legendary American performers like Carole King and Carly Simon in Marie’s vocal nuances.
Once again Marie Ingerslev and company have come up with another superb and very mature sounding release. Whilst elements of prog (in the traditional sense) may be in short supply, such is the quality of this album I feel quite sure that it will find favour with the majority of visitors to this site whatever their musical preferences.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Colin Masson – The Mad Monk And The Mountain
Tracklist: Two Lighthousekeepers (5:27), Tilting At Windmills (9:34), The Ends Of The Earth (8:43), The Mad Monk And The Mountain (9:27), Caradon’s Surprise (2:32), The House On The Rocks (16:52)
A few weeks ago, one Colin Masson posted on our Forum. In this post he referred to the album he had been creating and wondered if anyone was interested. Now I had never heard any music by the man so thought to visit his MySpace page. He has two songs on this page which made it evident that he had previously released material before this album. Looking for more info I found that he had been listed at the largest database for progressive rock enabling to find out more about the man. As it appears Colin Masson was a member of the Morrigan, a progressive folk/rock band. Good to know, but still I had not heard any of their music either. The MySpace gave me a good idea on what to expect and I was interested.
So now here we are reviewing The Mad Monk And The Mountain, a crazy title for a crazy album. You can divide the album in two sections, the instrumentals and songs (those with vocals).
The album starts with Two Lighthousekeepers, the song almost instantly reminded me, title wise, of song by VdGG, although musically it has nothing to do with that of course. The song tells the tale of two lighthouse keepers trapped on an island and their struggle in being there. It is a nifty song with a good tune, directly appealing to a wider audience. The song is storytelling big time. Quite nicely done, with Hackett like guitar play.
The second track on the album is the first instrumental track and multi-talented Colin leaves no doubt here that he means business. Tilting At Windmills, weird title, is a Oldfield like instrumental track with structures in a way Mike Oldfield used to do on his earlier works. Again some heavily Steve Hackett influenced guitarwork to finish up this wonderful creation of head candy. This aloows you to use your imagination when listening to this instrumental - the contemporary folk connection Colin has, is present, as well some traditional folk influence.
The Ends Of The Earth, the second vocal track is different from the opener, less upbeat tempos, with more tranquillity and emotion if you will. Contrary to Two Lighthousekeepers the main vocals have not been performed by Colin himself, but by Cathy Alexander and this woman has a natural voice that can reach you deep within. A beautiful voice.
Along comes our title track - looking at the pictures on the cover, the mad monk is standing on top of the mountain, overseeing everything. The music here is crafted very beautifully, again sounding like Oldfield but with a touch more Alan Parsons in the structuring. Classically influenced, highly captivating, inspirational even. Excellent playing.
Caradon’s Surprise really is a surprise with just 2:32 on the clocks, it has ended leaving me speechless. A classical piece that is so peaceful, tranquil and full of emotion. Stunning really.
The House On The Rock is the last track of the album and the longest by a mile. In this last bit we have a song within a song. Along the way Colin makes way for the “Foxhunters” a traditional folk song which he arranged to fit The House On The Rock. This song is an instrumental tale again of Oldfield calliber and making way for the artist Colin Masson at his best.
Before concluding I should mention that the album is not a complete solo effort as Cathy Alexander not only provides her vocals but also plays some of the keys and recorders we can hear.
All in all The Mad Monk And The Mountain is an excellent album, by a multi-talented artist. He has also made sure that I need to check out his other works, especially his first solo outing Isle Of Eight.
Personally I would have rather loved to have had a complete instrumental album as the instrumental parts suit Colin better than the vocal tracks.
Concluding this album is truely recommended.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Angra - Aqua
Tracklist: Viderunt Te Aquae (1:00), Arising Thunder (4:52), Awake From Darkness (5:54), Lease Of Life (4:34), The Rage Of The Waters (5:34), Spirit Of The Air (5:23), Hollow (5:30), A Monster In Her Eyes (5:16), Weakness Of A Man (6:12), Ashes (5:06)
After four years of absence the worldwide renowned prog-metal act Angra is back to front with an album dedicated to aqua.... WATER! After his adventure in Shama(a)n, Ricardo Confessori returned to the band, so with founder member Bittencourt and long time member Kiko Loureiro they are in fact 3/5 of Angra in their longest lasting line up. Together with bass player Felipe Andreoli and front man Edu Falaschi they seem to have dealt with all their management problems and are ready to take the prog-metal world by storm.
An unusual opening of the album with thunder clashing sounds and someone who proclaims in Latin a sort of warning to see the water. Well the warning seems to be appropriate because in the second track it's the familiar Angra style: speed-metal with two guitars, rattling bass drums, subtle orchestrations and fabulous bass playing by Andreoli. Lots of changes in tempo and Falashi singing in his middle and higher regions. Drummer Confessori combines technique, speed and subtleness in the next track, Awake From Darkness, also an up tempo tune with a very nice melodic interlude by piano and a string ensemble, followed by delightful guitar solos by both Loureiro and Bittencourt. Some instances the music reminds me of Dream Theater. In Lease Of Life, at first a beautiful ballad, Falashi shows he can sing quite well actually and when he sings as low as in this track, his voice resembles Angra's former lead vocalist, André Matos, very much. His screaming is not nearly as convincing as his predecessor however. But again superb guitar playing and a very melancholic 'non-metal' ending. Reminiscent of Fates Warning at the beginning of The Rage Of The Waters, and although there are orchestrations, the core of the song is metal with a symphonic twist. The bass of Andreoli has a little solo spot in this track with Latin influences, followed by a heroic duet between the two guitarists.
Violins and acoustic guitars, some percussion and a Falashi singing beautifully at the opening of track 6: Spirit Of The Air. Some instrumental pieces remind of the later works by the New Trolls and in spite of the metal touch, this track remains a very melodic one: leave the rhythm section out and you have a nice pop tune from the fifties/early sixties. Dream Theater with Derek Sherinian return in Hollow (what's in a name or rather 'title'?). Furthermore we have a nice catchy chorus and a little interlude reminding of the Dixie Dregs and some jazz-rock influences. I couldn't help thinking of Syzygy to hearing this track. A Monster In Her Eyes combines a ballad with a melodic, somewhat poppy sound. Once more the guitarists show their abilities to play super-fast and yet very melodic solos. In Weakness Of A Man there's an interesting combination of metal, jazz-rock, Latin and rock. Delightful solo with a genuine wah-wah pedal and some exquisite harmonies. The turbulence in the 'water' disappears almost completely in Ashes, a track full of melancholy, Falashi at his best, lots of piano and orchestrations and the music comes close to a mixture of Eric Carmen and Star One - odd as it may seem. What a joy to be able to hear such wonderful guitarists!
This come back is very convincing and it's Angra's second one since Matos, Mariutti and Confessori left. Although the album Temple Of Shadows in my opinion is just slightly better, I'd wish every prog-metal band could come up with this quality in their music. It would be a very pleasant surprise if Angra would decide to tour in Europe (especially The Netherlands or Germany), because then I finally would have a chance to see them live for the first time. Don't drown in this 'water' but drink as much as you please, it tastes really good!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Majestic – Ataraxia
Tracklist: Disarray (3:02), Faceless (7:57), Wither (9:23), Star Bound (4.43), Numb (4:05), Astral Dream (7:38), Delusion (4:06), Dance Of The Elders (8:18), Takes My Breath Away (14:14); Altered State (9:43); Reflections (5:14)
Not to be confused with Richard Andersson's short-lived Swedish Prog-Metal project, this is the fourth release for another Majestic musical project; that of American multi-instrumentalist Jeff Hamel. A new band for my listening discography, I’m unable to offer qualitative comparisons between Ataraxia and the first three Majestic recordings: Decension, String Theory and Arrival.
However this is a strong, full-sounding release for those who enjoy plentiful Yes and Genesis tendencies, mixed up with a broad sweep of epic symphonic prog and a host of more contemporary influences. The musicianship is tight, the production is well-rounded and warm, and the compositions strike that delicate balance between solid melodies and extended instrumental sections. Sometimes it’s light and atmospheric, sometimes it’s heavy (not in a metallic sense).
Majestic by name and nature, Hamel's project follows the tradition of epic, conceptual music. Ataraxia features 11 tracks which seemlessly flow from one into the next. Clocking in just short of the full 80-minute mark it is a long album. However as an artist, Hamel has learnt to use the full palette of shades in his arrangements, which prevent a listener from becoming tired by repetition. There is a strong emphasis on the keyboards, but the more guitar-dominated sections work equally well (Hamel plays both instruments across the bulk of the album). The vocals of Jessica Rasche are delightful.
Ataraxia refers to a state of freedom from disturbance of mind. I can say that relaxing back into my arm chair with this album to accompany a fine bottle of Bordeaux, there was very little of a disturbed nature in my mind.
For those who like their symphonic progressive rock with a little bit of a bite, Majestic offers plenty to get your teeth into.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
The 16 Deadly Improvs - The Triumph Of The 16 Deadly Improvs
Tracklist: Sand Palm (1:18), Spirit Or Matter (4:30), Torpedo (5:23), Bugbear Blues (3:33), Invincible Pole Fighters (3:58), Into Another Time (5:40), Rise Of The Septopi (3:53), Gargantua! (6:06), Sand Palm V (2:47), Dear Me (3:50), You’d Make A Lot Of Money... (5:15), Death To Disco (6:10), Mag 3 (3:11), The Burrowers Beneath (9:16), Fading Of My Memories (3:40), Sand Palm VI (2:15)
Well here’s a little curio from New Jersey, which does exactly what it says on the tin, presenting the world with a bunch of improvs, sixteen to be precise. Gene Bohensky, Nick Bohensky, Jeff Birdi, Dave Wilson, Mark Nowak and Vin Villanueva are the gentlemen that make up The 16 Deadly Improvs and The Triumph Of The 16 Deadly Improvs is their fifth instalment in an on going series.
The 16 Deadly Improvs, (who will now be referred to in future as T16DI), cleverly present these tracks which range from the ridiculous to the sublime. T16DI have incorporated metal, fusion, blues, jazz, avant-garde and prog symbiotically, making it all a very interesting and intriguing listening experience, offering ethereal, spacey, trippy and sometimes assertive soundscapes and sculptures, which need to be heard, as this really is a fascinating stuff.
Apparently these passages were carefully distilled from a single 2.5 hour collective improvisation that occurred on June 28th 2008. There were no prior rehearsals or sharing of musical ideas. The only additions to the recordings are some slight overdubs and some fitting samples added. From what I can gather this was the premise for their fourth album, 2008’s The Revenge Of The 16 Deadly Improvs which received an impressive 7 out of 10 at DPRP.
Improv is and should always be music in its purest form, as it is created, remaining unaltered. The idea that has been used here though, if my understanding is correct, is that T16DI have taken the best bits from the session and manipulated them slightly, I guess to give them slightly more depth? The nice thing though is that we aren’t talking the sonics of say, Pat Metheny’ Zero Tolerance or Neil Young’ Arc. No no, what we are presented with is a more sanitized sound that moves more in the improv circles of such bands as Phish or The Grateful Dead in the truer sense. The band has cleverly stayed away from the jazz free form arena, which would have limited their market somewhat. It would be really interesting to hear how these pieces compare to the un-dubbed versions, as in theory we are missing about one and a half hours of sonic genius. Maybe someday we will see a Boxset of the missing sessions in their entirety.
Interestingly these tracks at times seem to segue into each other, but uniquely no two compositions sound generically the same, no repeating themes, which makes this even more intriguing, but this also displays just how good the mastering is and the level of musicianship on display. The band has handled everything themselves, leaving nothing to chance. We are talking Red era King Crimson as a good point of reference or Zappa-esque extrapolations, which he was renowned for doing, allowing him to create greater pieces. One thing is for sure though, the ethos the band has chosen has served them well, no clashing of egos, each following or leading, creating perfection, but this is probably due more to the editing process; but one thing for sure is that all sixteen pieces presented here, have been created with love, conviction and confidence. What more could one ask for?
Whether we are listening to the short opener Sand Palm IV, the melancholic sounding lyric infested Spirit Or Matter or bass driven, experimental Gargantua!, your attention will be held from beginning to end, as is the case with all the tracks on offer here. The Burrowers Beneath is the piece de resistance of the album clocking in at just over nine minutes. This is the sound of the band that has hit their stride during the session, offering some beautiful and ethereal soundscapes, mesmerizing and haunting. To keep the listener on their toes and offering more than just instrumentation T16DI have injected lyrics or spoken word into some of the pieces, which works best on Fading Of My Memories. This is a band that definitely needs to be checked out a.s.a.p.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Brother Ape – A Rare Moment Of Insight
Tracklist: Juggernaut Now (7:27), Chrysalis (5:34), Ultramarathon (7:49), Seabound (6:03), Instinct (6:52), Echoes Of Madness (9:06), The Art Of Letting Go (7:23), In A Rare Moment (3:33)
Looking back on my review of Brother Ape’s 2009 album Turbulence it’s evident that I had mixed feelings about that particular release although with mostly positive things to say. Likewise my colleagues were similarly ambivalent towards the two previous albums Shangri-La (2006) and III (2008) although again acknowledging the inherent qualities of both releases. Time marches on of course with this latest offering (their fifth in five years) coming from the trio of Stefan Damicolas (guitars, vocals, keyboards), Max Bergman (drums) and Gunnar Maxén (bass, keyboards).
As was the case with the last album, the majority of the songs follow a similar pattern with Damicolas’ light, airy (and very agreeable) vocals skating over Bergman’s unrelenting shuffle drum beats and Maxén’s full on bass lines. With keyboards maintaining a hazy backdrop, the instrumental focal point is provided by electric guitar which twists and turns whilst remaining consistently melodic throughout. Thankfully there is an absence of the self indulgent soloing that sometimes blighted Turbulence. The rhythm remains fast, often frantic with songs like Seabound providing the occasional respite. Here the tone is languid and acoustic with voices double tracked for harmonious effect.
Damicolas has written all the songs with the exception of Chrysalis which is credited to Bergman although style and tempo remain consistent. The production is transparent and spacious rendering words and individual instruments resonantly distinct throughout. I also like the album title which is a reminder that most of us are rarely as smart as we like to think we are. The wry observations also spill over into the telling lyrics. On certain websites the band are labelled as a jazz-rock/fusion outfit although personally I don’t see that myself. That being said, even in the diverse and flourishing world of Swedish progressive, Brother Ape has established their own very unique niche.
According to the bands own notes in the stylish digipack, in order to maintain a certain momentum the recording of A Rare Moment Of Insight followed closely behind the release of Turbulence. Possibly as a result it suffers from the same lack of tonal variety they I mentioned in my previous review. Whilst individually there is little to fault each song I would personally like to see the band expand on the arrangements bringing more light and shade into the musical equation. I strongly suspect that given the consistent commitment displayed by Brother Ape, particularly in recent years, they will be around for sometime to come.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
T – Anti-Matter Poetry
Tracklist: The Wasted Land (9:37), Scavengers And Hairdressers (10:21), Phantom Pain Scars (14:14), I Saved The World (8:00), The Rear view Mirror Suite (14:41), Anti-Matter Poetry (8:13)
T aka Thomas Thielen took almost four years to complete this, his masterpiece album about anti-matter theory. Now I'm sure there many out there who would love to chat about this subject, which in itself is an interesting subject to read and discuss, but to turn it into a musical project, that is a diffeent matter. Well T has turned the subject of anti matter into this concept album and with artwork that quite suits this laden subject. T also explains his thoughts on the subject to us in merely one hour.
And he does this in his own fashion with a lot of passion put into the music. As a member of the German artrockband Scythe, T knows what is is to be somewhat different. And it’s this difference that makes his third solo outing into what it is. Being a multi-instrumentalist, singer, producer, you name it, "control freak", it has taken T nearly four years to complete this monstrosity.
Anti-Matter Poetry contains six sections of music, all with different names and a subject if you will. Looking at the artwork of the album my first thoughts were, I am looking at an album of very experimental, psychedelic nature. Might also be art rock. Anti-Matter Poetry is an album you need to sit and listen to in one go. Do not listen to the track separately as this will ruin the effect the complete album has. Each of the songs continues where the last one left off, thus making the album a complete concept from start to finish.
Anti-Matter Poetry is a heroic work of eclectic art rock in which T takes you back to the Seventies re-experiencing the music of people like Brian Eno and David Bowie. Along with these and if you listen closely you can also hear some influences by other great musicians like Daevid Allen or Frank Zappa.
T has given the prog rock world an album to be noticed and all in all I found this a very enjoyable album, perhaps not top notch, just under, therefore my conclusion falls just below a true recommendation.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10