Reviews in this issue:
- Robert Wyatt - '68
- PBII - 1000 Wishes [DVD]
- Project 7 - Paradigm Shift
- The Worm Ouroboros – Of Things That Never Were
- Martin Barre - Away With Words
- Soma White - Soma White
Robert Wyatt - '68
To call this release a "scoop" for left-field American label Cuneiform is something of an understatement, for what we have here can only be described by that somewhat worn phrase where rarities are concerned, the "Holy Grail" for Wyatt collectors, and for Canterbury musicologists in general.
In 1968, after an energy sapping tour of the U.S.A. as support act to The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and unknown to their record company, Soft Machine had effectively split up. Mike Ratledge had returned to London and Kevin Ayers went off to the sunnier climes of Majorca to recuperate. The first Soft Machine album, recorded some six months previously remained unreleased, and the band needed a break, both from constant touring and from the demands of their management. Robert Wyatt was invited by The Experience to spend some time at a house the band had rented in California, and it was at T.T.G. Studios in Hollywood where most of these demos were laid down.
Were it not for the contractual obligations that led to an Ayers-less Soft Machine forming the following year with former roadie Hugh Hopper replacing him on the bass, then a lot of the ideas expressed in early form here would probably have ended up on Wyatt's first solo album rather than on Soft Machine's second and third albums.
Down in T.T.G. Studios Wyatt, with the help of a nameless engineer, recorded these mostly improvised pieces or examples of "crystallised extemporisation" as Wyatt calls them in the highly informative 16-page booklet, which reproduces a 2012 interview with Americ Leroy. The only time anyone else was present was when Jimi Hendrix "popped his head 'round the door and asked if I'd like a little bass guitar on Brian Hopper's Slow Walkin' Talk, for which he must have borrowed Noel's bass - a moment in Heaven for me, naturally."
Hendrix laid down the shuffling 12-bar backline in one take apparently, playing Noel's right-handed bass guitar upside down. A vastly rearranged melody from this song, with different lyrics eventually morphed into Soup Song from Wyatt's 1975 solo album Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard. I first came across this song back in the early '90s, as it formed part of the Hendrix compilation EXP Over Sweden, which was only available to subscribers of the Hendrix fanzine Univibes. It's good to at last hear it in context.
Rivmic Melodies, an 18-minute song suite, and a bit of a gem, an extract of which you can enjoy above, was a demo previously thought lost that later turned up in more polished form as side one of Soft Machine Volume Two. Already big in Europe, Wyatt thanks Hendrix at the end of this song suite with the line "Thank you Jim, for our exposure to the crowd", although the band were never to achieve any great popularity in the States. Their record label once told the band that they couldn't decide if they were their "biggest selling jazz act, or worst selling rock act". Oh for such a laissez faire attitude today, eh?
The other jewel in the crown is opener Chelsa, a delightful little ditty whose existence was unknown prior to this compilation. The tune was written to previously existing lyrics penned by Daevid Allen, whose Soft Machine story does not need repeating, I'm sure. Wyatt's answer in the Americ Leroy interview supposes that the lyric was Kevin Ayers', but this is corrected on the press release. The music surfaces again later in Wyatt's career in altered form as Matching Mole's Signed Curtain.
Although the two long pieces were recorded by instinct rather than following a score, Wyatt did "make respectful place on Moon In June for Hugh and Mike to join me about halfway through", just as in the finished version that eventually saw light of day on Soft Machine's Third. This demo of MIJ was finished off in New York to where Wyatt had decamped after leaving the Experience house. Robert eventually returned to England because, as he puts it "I did miss the rain". All in all, a very Robert thing to say!
All of Robert Wyatt's intriguing and attractive idiosyncrasies are present and correct here; the plaintive and almost breaking voice, the impish and sometimes self-deprecating humour and sharp wit, the latter aimed at the Soft's then manager in barbed fashion, even the love of the Spanish language that would go on to make fleeting appearances throughout his career.
The sound quality is great, considering all of this has been cleaned up from the original acetates, and by now, if you're still reading, you don't really need me to tell you to go and buy it, surely?
Marking this is not easy...but then again it is. From a purely musical and even sonic perspective it is by no means perfect, but I consider that its historical significance far outweighs any technical considerations, so...
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10 [...I never give 10s, curmudgeon that I am!]
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Robert Wyatt CD:-
|The End Of An Ear|
|"If you know that you don't like experimental music, then this is not for you. On the other hand, if you're a Wyatt fan who just wants to hear as much from this superb musician as possible, then I'd recommend bracing yourself thoroughly before you hear this. Definitely the beginning of an ear for Robert Wyatt."|
(Basil Francis, 6/10)
PBII - 1000 Wishes [DVD]
On this website we have already given quite some attention to the ambitious 1000 Wishes project of PBII. There are very good reasons for that, both artistically and ethically. A band that puts so much creative effort into compiling a 2-hour rock opera using a full symphonic orchestra, a ballet, actors and animations, and does so in a very tasteful setting while they also manage to play extremely well, should be given that extra attention. On top of that the project was set up to direct attention to the Kika Foundation that fights child cancer; what more is there to say?
John Wenlock-Smith reviewed the 1000 Wishes album earlier and recommended it highly while Jerry van Kooten reviewed the concert that took place on March 30th 2013 in Rijswijk in The Netherlands. I can only fully agree with their enthusiasm. So this review focuses on the DVD itself.
As stated, PBII wanted to do something out of the ordinary, and they did. Their choice for performing with The Hague Youth Symphonic Orchestra, led by Marcel Geraeds, can simply be judged as a very wise decision. The orchestra, the oldest youth orchestra in the world, adds much to the music, playing very well and they seem to be all highly motivated to make this an event to remember. Actually, the band has some problems that can be heard once in a while, especially since singer Ruud Slakhorst has some trouble reaching the high notes. But where in other gigs this may reduce your watching and listening experience, it worked for me in a very different way here. His performance was recorded as it has been, with the minor flaws that are always there, and therefore it adds to the sincerity of it all, which makes sense when you consider the background of this project. The rest of the band plays very well, tight and without showing off, while their interplay works great. While watching you wonder how much rehearsing has gone on before they performed this show for only two nights...
Apart from band and orchestra there are actors, ballet and animations. To start with the last, they look quite nice, adding considerably to the storyline as they appear to come directly out of a children's book...and that's exactly what it is meant to be. The ballet is nice but also a bit amateurish (which they are!). Maybe the goal to also add choreography for a ballet was a bit too much, but despite this the dancers all do their best. The whole performance could have done without it, now you watch it as a very encouraging effort that doesn't match the quality of the music. It must have been a great experience for the young dancers though.
The acting is also something special. There are four actors, of which two youngsters, Pieter van Dijk and David van Alten, play the role of cancer patients. They do quite a good job, especially when you take into consideration that the subject of their story, fighting against cancer while you're still just a kid, is quite heavy. The role of the nurse is played by background singer Nathalie Mees and she does so in a natural way. The role of the grandpa is played by Frits Lambrechts, a well-known professional Dutch actor, but I found him the least convincing of them all. He's too over the top and simply too emphatic to be taken seriously. What doesn't help either is that his announcement of the break halfway the through performance is also recorded on the DVD; that should have been done more cleverly! Yet his collaboration with this project is to be valued highly.
Another problem I have with the acting is the fact that it is all in Dutch (of course) but there is no possibility to add subtitles. That means that this DVD is only attractive for Dutchies and that is too bad...
The camera work is excellent. There were 12 cameras in operation during the performance and while you hardly ever see a cameraman or camera on screen, they're simply everywhere. The scenes are selected well, the watcher is always in time on the spot on stage where the action is. Lighting and sound are good.
The extras of this release include the promo for the DVD as well as information on the Kika foundation. The design of the DVD is simply gorgeous. The menu looks very attractive and bright and its use is simple and clear.
All in all this is a more than sympathetic release. Its high value lies in the fact that this very special performance is archived for history and that's a good thing. Another asset is that all proceeds from the DVD go to the Kika Foundation, thanks to the impressive list of sponsors that invested their money into this project; it was well worth it! Therefore you can only hope that the DVD will be sold in large numbers, which can be doubted as it can only be bought through the websites of PBII and the Kika Foundation. If you were present there is no reason not to buy this DVD. If you weren't there but want to experience this special performance yourself, this is a good buy. If you’re living outside The Netherlands maybe you should stick to the CD which contains the great music of this rock opera. And hats off and a deep bow for PBII for realising an excellent idea!
1000 Wishes on DVD is recommended again... but primarily for people in The Netherlands.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous PBII CD & DVD Reviews:-
|"PBII has returned to the progressive rock scene and with one giant step placed them amongst the top bands."|
(Edwin Roosjen, 9/10)
|"All in all PBII@Boerderij.org is a great record of a live performance by an excellent Dutch Neo prog band."|
(Gert Hulshof, 7.5/10)
|"...an album that grows in stature every time you play it so be prepared to listen several times as it's a great album of stirring music."|
(John Wenlock-Smith, 8.5/10)
|Previous PBII Live Reviews:-|
|Symforce Festival, 013, Tilburg, The Netherlands (2008)|
|De Boerderij, Zoetermeer, The Netherlands (2011)|
|Schouwburg, Rijswijk, The Netherlands (2013)|
|Previous PBII Interviews:-|
|Interview with Jerry van Kooten (2010)|
Project 7 - Paradigm Shift
Project 7 consists of Dan Begelman (guitars & electric bass), Tony Gallino (drums, percussion & keyboards), John DeCesare (additional bass guitars) with all the songs by Dan Begelman except for the classic Theme From An Imaginary Western which was written by Pete Brown & Jack Bruce.
Begelman has been involved with many different projects but his first love is Project 7, he loves playing guitar and has a driving passion to play music that really moves him whilst at the same time being original and creative. The songs of Project 7 succeed and enable him to really shine. Paradigm Shift is the third album by Project 7 and took 3 years to write, arrange and record. The time spent on the album really shows in the quality of the music, Dan stating that it is more rock based than the previous two releases, the title of the album coming from a shift back to his rock roots.
Let's go through some of the music on the album starting with The Core, a real rocker which instantly reminded me of The Who when the drumming started. Catchy keyboards and lovely sounding bass, guitar and drums instantly show how good a recording this is, everything is crystal clear and really great for showing off my hi-fi equipment.
Kaleidoscope is classic blues rock mixed with jazz-fusion, parts sounding like Cream, in particular Spoonful from the Wheels of Fire album. The guitar, bass and drums are really good and give Clapton, Bruce and Baker a good run for their money.
Enchanted is a lovely jazz-fusion track with a beautiful sounding guitar. On this track Dan does his best Al DiMeola, sounds of Return To Forever running through the track. Redemption sees drums and percussion flowing into sounds of John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana, the guitar playing is first class ending with keyboards that merge into the next track, Horizon, which starts with sitar sounds leading into catchy beats with guitars and bass. At just short of 4 minutes it really starts to get into some heavy rock which builds and reminds me of bands like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin before returning to a catchy beat. I don't mean to repeat myself but it's all first class music and playing coupled with a great recording.
Theme From An Imaginary Western was originally recorded by Mountain with vocals. No vocals are necessary here as the guitar just sings on this track. Footprints is a short but sophisticated and moving number that leaves you wanting more.
The other two pieces on the album are the title track and Kronos which are both quality with plenty to admire and listen too.
I really enjoyed Paradigm Shift as I do like Instrumental albums as long as they can hold my interest, which this one easily does. I am also a jazz fan and there is plenty of fusion to enjoy on this recording, so if you appreciate good instrumental music you can't fail to enjoy this album. A wonderful recording which is well produced, a good mixture of classic rock and jazz-fusion, the instruments all played with real expertise. I haven't heard the two previous Project 7 albums but I will be checking them out soon as talent like this can't go unnoticed!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
The Worm Ouroboros – Of Things That Never Were
The Worm Ouroboros, not to be confused with a metal band of practically the same name, but minus the indefinite article, are named after a fantasy novel published in 1922 by Leeds-born Eric Rücker Eddison, and that is only the beginning of their knowingly humorous pretensions.
The booklet appends quotes from the likes of Ray Bradbury, H.P. Lovecraft, G.R.R. Martin, and Albert Einstein (inevitably!) to each song, and the music of Of Things That Never Were is an extremely clever and erudite take on the classic prog sounds of the original prog era. In fact sometimes it is too clever by half, but it has won me over with its archness.
The album opens with the sublimely lovely Italo-Canterbury L'Impasse Sainte Bérégonne, a charming tune built around the melody laid down by the flute of band leader Sergey Gvozdyukevich, counter melodies supplied by what might be a bassoon, played by Vitaly Appow.
Blending the Canterbury style with a Genesis influence courtesy of the synth and guitar sounds, Shelieth is a laid back affair led by electric piano and occasional sub-Ratledge organ. A nice uplifting tune that wears its influences with pride that while derivative takes those templates and twists them ever so slightly to come up with something just slightly different.
The erudite nature of this album is nowhere more apparent than on the flute and solo acoustic Ladybird On A Moebius Strip. The guitar offers snatches of melody here, a run of notes there that seem to have borrowed from every Steve Hackett acoustic and twelve-string moment in Genesis, twisting them round and reforming the crotchets, quavers and minims into something new, but fleetingly very recognisable. As I said, clever, but most assuredly in a good way.
W.B. Yeats' poem The Magi is set to more flute and solo acoustic, the six-string this time redolent of Steve Howe. The vocal melody of Soleil Noir will also have you raising an eyebrow, but again, it does not merely copy, but skirts round the edges of a classic Gabriel construct. This song and Hope were, according to their Myspace originally recorded in 2008 and 2009 respectively, so this project appears to have been some years in the making, as is often the case with hitherto unknown bands. The problem is, trying to find any info at all on these elusive Belarusians is not the easiest task, so they are likely to remain quite obscure. Perhaps that's the way they like it! By the way, the band has progressed considerably from the somewhat slavish imitation of the Myspace tracks thank goodness.
The tunes here are mostly the work of Sergey Gvozdyukevich, who contributes keyboards, acoustic guitar, bass, flute, and vocals to this genuinely interesting listen. Vitaly Appow is a name I recognise from fellow Belarusian RIO chamber rock band Rational Diet, which later morphed into Five Storey Ensemble, and here he contributes his reeds to great effect. Vladimir Sobolevsky is the guitarist, and it was he who wrote the final track Hope, a medieval poem for flute and guitar.
The vocal declamations and shrieks of The Pear-Shaped Man are in homage to Peter Hammill, while its musical influence leans towards Jethro Tull or a Canterbury band playing a VdGG score. This is yet another tricksy blending of influences that stays just the right side of kitsch, and is good fun into the bargain.
The Curfew largely breaks free of classic prog influence and instead goes for a Zeuhl feel, creating a rather good dark menace around Alexey Zapolsky's bass, Vitaly's low reeds, and some menacing low end vocals from Sergey. Then things go funky with some nice electric piano and organ work. This is the highlight of the album for me.
With all those influences listed it might seem that there is nothing original here, and that the album is entirely backward-looking. However, that is not the case, as The Worm Ouroboros manage to inject a new spirit and freshness into the over-used influences they are drawing upon. Not for them meandering formless epics, but a succession of neat tunes that do not overstay their welcome, and add to rather than suck the life out of their pointedly obvious origins.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Martin Barre - Away With Words
In the sleeve notes of his latest release, Away With Words, longstanding Jethro Tull guitarist Martin Barre states that "composing and arranging is his passion". The album consists of nine original compositions by Barre and a 'traditional air' entitled Lament of the Spalpeen. The remaining and largest proportion of tracks on the album are attributed to Ian Anderson, apart from Paparazzi which was apparently co-written by Barre, Anderson and Peter-John Vettese.
The majority of the original compositions in this release act as a prelude, or a finale, to mostly instrumental and acoustic arrangements of tunes from Anderson's vast songbook. In this context, the original pieces are intended to compliment the structure and style of Barre's arrangements of the selected Tull tunes.
Much of what is on offer in Away With Words is tastefully played. The guitar arrangements of Ian Anderson's delightful melodies often faithfully follow the vocal melody line and are therefore immediately accessible and familiar to listeners who have heard the Tull versions. I inadvertently found myself singing the vocals on more than one occasion. This aspect of Away with Words could be appealing to some, but in reality could be considered a major weakness and disappointment for anybody who was hoping to hear innovative and progressive instrumental interpretations of Ian Anderson's compositions.
The album begins brightly enough with First Light, a pleasant sounding acoustic guitar tune, before segueing into Moths. In this arrangement and throughout the album, flutes and whistles are used to good effect, adding variety to the multi-tracked acoustic guitar parts.
The most interesting piece on the album is undoubtedly Barre's Sun Down composition. It begins with an atmospheric acoustic guitar part, before becoming a showcase for flutes and whistles concluding with a cleverly constructed and memorable electric guitar solo to end proceedings.
I found Anderson's Protect and Survive to be the most enjoyable piece on the album. In this version, the previously busy tune is stripped back to its bare essentials and because of this its beauty really emerges. It also features a tasty electric guitar outro which highlights what a good soloist Martin Barre can be. Paparazzi was, in contrast, a disappointment and despite some fine acoustic and electric guitar parts it was the least satisfying track on the album. The arrangement sounded cluttered and the instrumentation, which included blues harp, seemed misplaced. The handclaps and poorly executed backing vocals compared unfavourably to the tune found on Tull's Under Wraps and to the instrumental version frequently played by Barre during Tull live performances through the years.
To sum up, the majority of Barre's original compositions, whilst often elegant and always competent, are not particularly distinctive. The combination of his originals and the arrangements of Anderson's melodies made the whole experience listenable, but certainly not memorable. Nevertheless, Away With Words would be an accessible introduction to Jethro Tull, if played to unsuspecting prog-sceptical guests at dinner parties. Its understated and often simplistic approach makes for an undemanding, but on the whole enjoyable listening experience. Ultimately though, I was left yearning for a much more innovative interpretation of Tull's music, perhaps similar to the treatment given to King Crimson's catalogue by The Crimson Jazz Trio in their Songbook releases.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
|From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Martin Barre CD Reviews:-
|"...any fan of Tull and/or well executed guitar instrumentals must surely enjoy this album."|
(Bob Mulvey, 8/10)
Soma White - Soma White
This new band from Poland self-release their first album into an over-saturated market, a situation beyond their control, but of course, also one they are contributing to. Now that technology allows any budding musician who knows their way around Pro-Tools or similar, regardless of their actual musical ability to put their product out there, it takes something special to get noticed.
Has Soma White got that extra ingredient? Well, let's see. My first impression is that while the music on this record is highly atmospheric, it lacks somewhat in the melody department. There do not seem to be many hooks in here, meaning that once you turn it off it is hard to recall any distinct passages. This is not unusual, and some bands that you would never classify as avant have done rather well for themselves without ever writing a single memorable hook.
The sound is dense and cinematic, if a little ill-defined, and has a large Porcupine Tree influence; or, given that the band are Polish, it may well be that their inspiration comes from Riverside. Where Soma White differ from the hordes of PT imitators is in the vocals department, supplied in subtly theatrical fashion by Hania Zmuda. If you're looking for a comparison, imagine a less tonsorially histrionic Lene Lovich fronting a prog band! Hania also wrote the lyrics, which, not being written in her first language sometimes suffer slightly in the translation to English. As if acknowledging this, and showing us that she has a sense of humour, the lyric for the last song is simply replaced with Hania's statement; "Would be hard to understand ;-)". Nice one!
Using the usual prog themes of alienation, angst, escape, the daily grind, some with an added sci-fi twist, Hania acts, soars and swoops her way through the album, and it is a shame her voice is mostly fighting against the somewhat murky mix. However, the ending section of On The Shore is particularly impressive, Hania's keening intonations giving the song an Arabic feel.
In fact the separation, or lack of it, of the instruments and the voices lets the album down a tad. On my trusty old hi-fi, the bass guitar of Robert Majewski comes off best, supplying a deep resonance that adds some quality to the thick swirling mists of sound. These are largely driven by Pawel Wysocki's synth-led keyboards and electronica, the dual guitars supplying the riffs and occasional icing on the cake.
The longest song here is the mini-epic Better Reality, and is Hania's call for just that, yearning for escape to a better place, and is breathily sung after a very Porcupine Tree intro, right down to the shortwave radio numbers station in the background, à la Even Less. As with the rest of the album, the construct is pleasant enough, but the lack of a decent theme to get you humming it in the shower later means it rather passes over the as yet unwashed listener. I suggest they listen again to Even Less to see what they are missing. It's not all bad news though; Pawel supplies some nice piano flourishes behind Hania's multi-tracked Clare Torry affectations as the song draws to a close, with more of those robotic number readings.
When the band slow down on the introspective and funky Travel Story they reveal another facet of the group, and one that shows some promise for the future. Electric piano backs wah guitars trading licks in a languid fashion, while Hania tells the story perched on a bar stool in the corner. This song is really quite lovely, and has become my favourite on the album, as it does not try to be "prog", it simply expresses itself naturally. The song ends with a tasteful guitar solo from one of the two six string players, and edited down the whole thing would make a good single. The lyric reminds me of The Sundays, for obvious reasons; check out the lyrics on the Bandcamp link in the 'Samples' section above.
That last song dropped the PT influence, and this continues into the following Re-Hope, all Euro-synths and a rather fine cyclical guitar figure. When they leave the brooding ambience behind and write a tune, Soma White, while not particularly innovative are at least a decent listen, made all the more interesting by Hania's individual vocal stylings. She may not even have heard of Annie Haslam, or has no wish to attempt to emulate that pinnacle of female prog singers, and is all the better for it in my opinion.
The album ends with a sigh, the solo piano accompanied by Hania's almost Kate Bush-like touches on Respect - A Tribute For Nature being another indicator as to where a future path might take Soma White.
Finally, I must mention the rather cleverly designed heavyweight CD case-cum-box that, as you open it, offers the CD in a pop-up slot. When closing, the case is lightly spring loaded, but does not snap shut, just gently comes together. A classy design by Miva that highlights the love and care put into this whole package.
Returning to my question, does Soma White have that "extra ingredient"? Well, the seed is sown but it is not yet fully flowered, and this album gives us enough pointers to mark the band down as one to watch in the future.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10