Cairo - Say
Cairo (2:42), Shadow's Return Prologue (2:10), Shadow's Return (2:34), Wiped Out (3:10), Say (3:40), Nothing to Prove (9:31), Nothing To Prove Reprise (3:02), Katrina (5:12), Searching (4:47), Random Acts of Kindness Part 1 (4:32), Back from the Wilderness (4:50), Dancing the Gossamer Thread (6:25), Katrina (Breath Mix) (9:02)
On the new band's debut, Say, there is indeed a wide mix of rock, pop, and ambient on offer. Apart from Touchstone, a reference point may be Porcupine Tree, although the just-noted pop element of Cairo's music, sets it apart.
The CD has notable highs and lows. The opening, instrumental track Cairo, nicely builds from faint sounds, redolent of a Middle Eastern street market, to a pulsing, pounding, electronic stimulant. Wiped Out, although partly poppy, also has a fine edge: the drumming is brisk and sharp, and the keyboards sprinkle zany bursts of energy throughout. The mix of male and female vocals works as well.
The standout tune is the highly eclectic Nothing to Prove, a mostly energetic piece, with moments of metal-edged force. The sporadically overactive drumming is the only flaw. Back From the Wilderness has a searing guitar line à la Steve Rothery of Marillion, and features fine vocals from Rachel Hill, although a more-gripping hook would have made the song even better.
On the downside, the early inclusion of a multi-minute vocal narrative, Shadow's Return Prologue, is ill-fitting. Also a negative is the title track, Say: the repetitive guitar riffs and the vocals quickly become grating. Katrina is a matter-of-fact, somewhat sappy, rock tune, with little to hold interest, whilst Random Acts of Kindness seems to be a song in search of an identity. The tune includes myriad musical elements and styles, including soft vocals, ambient sounds, spoken-word passages, and harder riffs, but their insufficient blending creates too much of a patchwork.
Thus, this CD is very much a mixed bag. Clearly, much work went into this fairly complex music, and the variety of keyboard sounds, particularly on the high end of the sonic range, is notable. But, too often, even the more-engaging songs include unwelcome interludes that thwart momentum, and some songs lack the themes necessary to hold them together. It is well to remember, though, that this is a debut release, and so more focus on a consistent product could yield some impressive results down the road.
Joel Atlas: 6.5 out of 10
Endless Season - Endless Season
Scott Noy (7:13), Misty Morning Sunrise (6:27), Mark Funk (3:27), Sherazade (5:34), Doctor Jelinek (5:42), Treasures for Teatime (3:41), You Talk So Loud (6:18), Elastic (5:03), The Big Crunch (6:56), Zenith (8:25)
Provisions were gathered and lights were lowered. A period of self-induced headphone solitude began; the scene was set for days of aural delight, and for opinions to be formed.
During the first spinning laps, the discs jockeyed inconclusively for a leading position, but after six completed circuits a clear leader had emerged. No photo finish was required, as the relatively unknown and clear outsider, the funky-limbed Endless Season swung swiftly past the finishing post, just ahead of Dewa Budjana's Zentuary, and closely followed by The Stick Men's Prog Noir and Burnt Belief's Emergent.
The other participants that completed the course were led by the huffing and puffing of Focus' 8.5. This old and sadly now heavily girthed thoroughbred had seen better days, but was still more than capable of putting in a surprisingly creditable performance.
As Endless Season prepared to take its place on the winners' podium, it gave an opportunity for the gathered pundits to reflect upon the reasons for its success.
The esteemed music critic Mr Ernest Platitude was heard muttering: "No wonder it's called Endless Season, it's a release that has everything. It's got the freshness of Spring, the warmth of Summer, the unpredictability of Autumn, and the sharp incisiveness of Winter.
My neighbour Mr Addfwyn Cyllell, exuding an air of conformity, choked back his tears and remarked: "I just don't understand how Endless Season won. It's got no vocals and I have not seen it mentioned in any of the music magazines on sale at the supermarket."
I guess I had better explain!
Endless Season is an instrumental band based in Bassano Del Grappa, Italy. The group has perfected their own distinctive and enjoyable style of fusion, but there are undoubtedly times when their music displays some of the characteristics associated with artists that the band cites as influences. These include a range of jazz/rock - fusion/funk players such as Scott Henderson, Dave Weckl Band, Oz Noy and virtuoso performers such as Alain Caron and Avishai Cohen.
The band is made up of Lorenzo Di Prima (bass), Paolo Busatto (guitar), Marco Busatto (drums), Marcello Sambataro (keyboards) and Luca Ardini (saxophone). Paolo and Marco Busatto are also members of Mad Fellaz, whose excellent 2016 album Mad Fellaz II received a DPRP recommendation.
Endless Season's self-titled debut release is a sparkling album. It manages to shine brightly even when it is assessed against highly regarded fusion albums such as Passport's Cross-Collateral, Return to Forever's Romantic Warrior and Bill Evans Living in the Crest of a Wave, that have lit up the genre so vibrantly in the past.
The quality that is on offer throughout Endless Season, also ensures that the album's bright radiance is never eclipsed by the intense luminosity that contemporary fusion albums such as Herd of Instinct's Manifestation and the Three Wise Monkey's Progretto Arte possess.
What is particularly attractive about this release is that it cleverly binds, within its compositions, an enchanting and sometimes disturbingly odd combination of accessibility and complexity, which compels the listener to sit up and take notice. The result is stimulating and very enjoyable; it is both serious and light hearted; and it works wonderfully well.
Certainly, there is no denying that Endless Season bobbles buoyantly in a fertile musical ocean of many colours and textures, created by the band's bountiful imagination. The compositions contain numerous examples of impressive group interaction. These are bejewelled, with passages of stunning solo improvisation.
The release is frequently adorned with strong and memorable melodies. The blues-based You Talk So Loud lingers in the mind long after its conclusion, and would undoubtedly appeal to those who enjoy a rock-strewn landscape in their instrumental music. The guitar tones chosen, remind me of the Swedish instrumental guitar band Plankton. You Talk So Loud is undoubtedly the most predictable tune on offer, and although its slow-geared pace never falters, there is little to dislike and much to admire in its majestically-executed and expressive guitar parts.
The drumming throughout is incredibly persuasive, and on more than one occasion, the complex tenacity of the rhythms twisted my torso and my thoughts. The oddly syncopated rhythms and solo kit parts during Elastic are intricate and powerful, and the crisp recording quality of the album captures Marco Busatto's busy style perfectly.
On top of this, the album repeatedly highlights some of the most glorious bass work that I have heard in a long while. A significant number of the pieces are vigorously propelled by a bass groove that is boldly muscular, yet luxuriously opulent and supplely toned. However, the bottom end of the album is not all about strident thrusting, as several of the compositions are tenderly caressed by deftly-melodic bass lines, and enhanced by interludes of extraordinary virtuoso soloing.
The delightfully quirky Doctor Jelinek and the funky fusion of The Big Crunch contain elements of both approaches to the bass, within a single tune. Doctor Jelinek also includes an unexpected section in its closing stages, which in terms of its powerful energy, dissonance and structure is redolent of King Crimson.
The outstanding bass interlude that forms a significant part of the Big Crunch is magnificent. It is made even more impressive by the subtle accompaniment of some finely chosen and expansive guitar chords. It is a gorgeous passage of music in every respect. These elements work particularly well as a contrast to the distorted guitar effects, which later explode upon the piece and give an added raw element to this convincing example of fusion at its best. Paolo Busatto's dynamic guitar solo is exhilarating, and includes an abundance of skilled fretwork to enthrall, but also contains just the right amount of rock-hewn power to excite.
The charmingly-crafted Misty Morning Sunrise and the dual sax and guitar-led Sheradze are also standout tracks. Sheradze is a bold and expressive piece that has an exotic mood, which at times is reminiscent of the early solo work of Al Di Meola. It is a stunning piece of fusion that should appeal to anybody who appreciates superbly formed and performed instrumental music.
However, my personal favourite in an album that has a plethora of attractive compositions, is the enchanting Treasures For Teatime. In its early stages, it is so light and spacious that it simply floats along. It has a similar feel, in terms of its fluidity and simple beauty that Gilgamesh captured so effectively in their Another Fine Tune You've Got Me Into release. In its latter stages, this track has an uncompromising collective energy that shows how effectively a piece can be developed, by players who are determined to explore musical boundaries.
The only piece to feature keyboards to any large extent is the closing track Zenith. Even then, the parts delivered are understated, adding to the overall ambience of the composition. The beginning of the piece is particularly attractive and reminds me of the style and approach that original Gilgamesh members Rik Morcombe and Jeff Clyne had in their later collaborative work.
Overall, Zenith is a delightful track in which all the players meld their individual skills into something that shines with a collective exuberance, and which delights with its superb arrangement. The track provides a fitting climax to what is a striking and thoroughly refreshing collection of tunes. If you appreciate this type of music, I hope that you are able to check out this excellent album.
You never know, you may also find yourself awarding Endless Season a place on the winner's podium!
Owen Davies: 9.5 out of 10
Forest Field - Lonely Desert
Valley of Pain (7:10), Coriolis (7:01), Doomed in the Desert (6:21), Alienation (Stranger in Me) (5:08), To Bits (3:01), Asleep (5:24), Into the Light (5:25), Riding the Worm (3:27), The Confrontation (5:05), Fear (15:10)
Lonely Desert is a concept album loosely based on sci-fi writer Frank Herbert's Dune novels. On his Facebook page Cox's influences are listed as ambient, progressive rock and melodic rock, and whilst these styles are in evidence, mainstream AOR would be nearer the mark, particularly when you factor-in Vincent's Jon Bon Jovi-like vocal drawl.
Guitar is clearly Cox's primary instrument, which he handles with a good deal of skill, from the Van Halen-style shredding and power chords of Valley Of Pain, to the tranquil, acoustic picking of To Bits. Bass and (programmed) drums have the requite weight, although keyboards are fairly sparse.
The slow-burning instrumental Coriolis is my favourite track, which builds from acoustic beginnings into a master class of electric guitar dynamics. Despite the low prog count, there are shades of 80s Yes sprinkled throughout the album and fans may well recognise the similarity between the big guitar intro to Into The Light and the opening of Machine Messiah.
As regards Vincent's singing, there's no denying his talent but his histrionic style is not really my thing. For me he sounds at his best during Asleep, where his multi-tracked voice results in some pleasingly lush harmonies.
The final track, Fear, is divided into six parts and spread over 15 minutes, and clearly has epic aspirations. It opens with a Jimmy Page-style acoustic piece ( à la The Rain Song) and concludes with an ambient, orchestral keyboard coda. In between however, the songs sound uninspired, despite spirited performances from both men.
There is no doubt that this is an extremely accomplished album. With top notch production and musicianship, Paul Cox is clearly very good at what he does. It's just a pity that his penchant for American style 80s hard rock overshadows the albums finer points.
Geoff Feakes: 6.5 out of 10
Multi Story - Crimson Stone
Murmuration (8:31), Sly Dream Catcher (6:03), 12:16 (6:35), Tutankhamun (8:39), White Star (5:39), Black Gold (Parts i & ii) (9:42), The Viewers (4:47), Crimson Stone (10:51)
Recently, original vocalist Paul Ford and keyboardist Rob Wilsher resumed their writing partnership, and in 2015 reformed the band, enlisting the services of brothers Aedan and Jordan Neale on lead guitar and drums respectively, and Kyle Jones on bass.
The line-up and songs may be new, but it's quite clear from the opening bars of Murmuration that the spirit of Multi Story lies firmly entrenched in the early 80s. True, neo-prog is very much alive and well in the 21st century, but rarely has an album in recent times sounded so retro. Be prepared to be transported back 30 years or more, to a time when Marillion, Pallas, IQ, Galahad, Twelfth Night, and Pendragon amongst others were keeping the prog banner flying.
Ford has the archetypical neo-prog voice with precise articulation and rounded vowels, bringing to mind Fish, Stewart Nicholson (sounding as early Galahad), Mark Colton (Credo) and obviously Peter Gabriel. Although keyboardist Wilsher has a penchant for spacey effects, he also displays some of Tony Banks' trademark styles, especially the massed Mellotron-like strings and choirs. Aedan Neale's guitar on the other hand brings a harder, occasionally bluesy edge to the (mixing) table, especially during the punchy 12:16, which rocks along in convincing fashion.
Standout tracks include the catchy Sly Dream Catcher, with its counterpoint vocals and compelling Steve Rothery-style riff, and the expansive title song Crimson Stone. Here, the symphonic keys and rippling acoustic guitar have all the Genesis hallmarks, whilst the extended instrumental section features a touch of David Gilmour-esqe guitar and a stately synth solo.
The album does have its weaker moments however. The instrumental sections during the eight-plus minutes of Murmuration are not as strong and focused as they might be, especially for an opening song. Also, during Tutankhamun Ford demonstrates that the polysyllabic title is one of those words that cannot be sung, despite a valiant attempt.
That aside, this is an album worthy of investigation, especially if symphonic, neo-progressive rock is your thing. The album was produced by the band themselves with mastering by Steve Hackett's keyboardist Roger King.
Geoff Feakes: 7 out of 10
Darryl Way - Myths, Legends and Tales
Apollo (Racing Against the Sun) (4:17), Orpheus and the Underworld (5:39), Whatever Happened (5:31), Dove of Peace (4:09), Strange Goings On (5:28), Aphrodite (5:14), The Ice Man (4:33), Crusader (5:44), Helter Skelter (3:46), Prometheus Chained (8:56)
His latest release is, according to the CD's press release, a means to "give the electric violin a legitimate voice in the idiom of rock music." The instrumental songs, specifically, are inspired by Greek mythology. Overall, "the songs are a mixture of observations about the world we live in and stories and events that have been inspirational". Way created the entire CD on his own. The violin is, unsurprisingly, prominent, but keyboards also play a leading role.
The opener, Apollo (Racing Against the Sun) is inauspicious. The uninspired, rushed vocals and the artificial percussion sounds, steal attention from the more-interesting, sound-bending electric keyboards. Mild redemption is found in the successor tune, Orpheus and the Underworld, on which Way's fine violin playing is showcased. The singing reappears on Whatever Happened; a poppy tune that, courtesy of some string solos, gains steam en-route to an energetic ending.
Dove of Peace, another vocal-laden track, at times smacks of country music; a frenzied violin solo near its end is appealing but ill-fitting. More atmospheric and dramatic is Strange Goings On, one of the better tunes, where the strings and keyboards mesh well, and the vocals are more subdued.
The stand-out track, Aphrodite, follows. This instrumental is heady and languorous but not boring, and the keyboards soothe throughout. The Ice Man, a ballad, evokes some sadness, while the sense of melancholy continues, albeit less so, with the next tune, Crusader. Helter Skelter breaks the calm. The song is too light and even poppy, but good musicianship shines through in spots.
Prog-lovers will likely find more to like in the more-complex, keyboard-heavy closer, Prometheus Unchained, which effectively displays brashness and tranquility in a manner that fans of electronics-whiz Larry Fast may appreciate.
In short, this CD provides a few strong tracks and the occasional notable moment. Overall though, the blend of rock and electronic music, despite the rarity of the violin in these musical genres, is too mundane to engender much enthusiasm.
Joel Atlas: 5.5 out of 10