Charlie Cawood - The Divine Abstract
Shringara (3:19), The Divine Abstract: Echolalia (1:07), The Divine Abstract: The Earth's Answer (3:26), The Divine Abstract: Fearful Symmetry (2:33), The Divine Abstract: The Western Lands (1:57), Earth Dragon: The Golden Flower (1:55), Earth Dragon: An Invisible Landscape (3:29), Earth Dragon: Origin Of A New Being (3:09), Garden Of The Mind (6:44), The 32nd Path (6:19), In A Floating World (3:50), Apotheosis (7:15)
In addition to his fluent bass playing, he stretches out with acoustic, electric and classical guitars, sitar and pipa (a Chinese lute). He then orchestrates his compositions with this additional instrumentation (deep breath): treble and sopranino recorders, French horn, violin, vibraphone, glockenspiel, flute, bassoon, piano, celeste, Minimoog, bass synth, dulcitone, xiao, clarinet, oboe, cor anglais, darbouka, riq, frame drum, clarinet, bass clarinet, baritone saxophone, cello, kendang, ceng ceng, gong, kempur, kenang, klentong, kempli, genterak, erhu, drums, percussion and cymbals.
Half of these are new to me and I wasted a fair bit of time searching the internet to find out what they were. Thanks Charlie! So my apologies in advance to the long list of players involved if I misidentify or misattribute an instrumental sound on this packed, but very clearly and beautifully-mixed album.
However, Charlie Cawood opens The Divine Abstract with my least favourite sub-genre of psychedelia, which is anything that features the sitar. Shringara features it front and centre. But when the percussion comes in, it gets a pleasing groove going, and its winning melody prevented my finger from approaching the 'skip' button. Though on future plays, of which there will be many, I'm almost certain to start with the second track. Apologies.
And from that second track, the album moves into a chamber orchestra mode. Two, four-part suites show how varied Cawood's melodic gifts and arranging skills are. The Divine Abstract has echoes of the pastoral work of Anthony Phillips and Steve Hackett. Cawood's excellent acoustic work is supported by cello, oboe and strings. There is a minimalist, repetitive groove in the Fearful Symmetry section. The woodwind is particularly striking in this suite.
The second suite, Earth Dragon has an eastern flavour to it, with some of Charlie's more exotic (unfamiliar to me) instrumentation, overlain with flutes and gentle percussion. It closes with a rather fine bass line. I think this is the better of the two suites but it's a bit of a difficult choice.
What follows, are individual pieces of quite exquisite beauty. I would highlight the fabulous acoustic guitar, tuned percussion, flute and keyboards on In A Floating World. There is also a more modernist, far eastern-influenced work in the shape of The 32nd Path that could be a lost gem from Ryuichi Sakamoto's soundtrack to Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence.
So, Charlie Cawood's debut solo album, The Divine Abstract, is a terrific album of pastoral, classical chamber prog. Charlie Cawood wears his obvious expertise lightly. He lets the melodies breath, and the arrangements just speak for themselves. The album is on nodding acquaintance with Mike Oldfield, Terry Riley and The Penguin Café Orchestra but has an individual flavour all of its own. There is a definite future for young Mr Cawood in soundtrack work and arranging, if the day job doesn't work out. The Divine Abstract could easily crossover into the mainstream, if a TV or film producer sound-tracked a segment with one of these finely wrought works. The Divine Abstract deserves to be heard by the widest audience.
Martin Burns: 8.5 out of 10
Shawn Christie - Starting From Zero
Diffraction Theory (5:44), Intemperate (3:40), Southern Dirty Jersey (4:35), Indigo Haze (6:02), Abstraction (4:38), West Coast Cool (4:10), Out To It (7:34), In The City (4:11), Funky French (5:21), Redshift (5:21), Tales of Bradford And Victoria (6:04), Going Home (4:40)
It is Shawn's willingness to share with the other musicians, that makes this such a satisfying listen. Every song is different and takes a different route, from the utterly melodious, to the more traditional shred-type material. Above all there is the overriding sense of melody that is ever present and highly welcome, stopping things from getting too samey and widdly-widdly. I really like the countrified Southern Dirty Jersey, as it swings with a wicked beat and shows a man not afraid to let his music talk.
The final song, Going Home is a gentler melody with acoustic guitars that rounds the album off very well indeed. I really like this album as it has chops, talent and above all worthy melodies that endure. I look forward to hearing more of this very talented musician in the days to come. If you like instrumental guitar, there is much here to enjoy.
John Wenlock-Smith: 7 out of 10
Kaipa Da Capo - Live in Stockholm
Skenet Bedrar (15:27), Sist På Plan (10:00), Det Tysta Guldet (10:42), Inget Nytt Under Solen (3:53), Korståg (6:05), Piano Interlude (2:41), Ömsom Sken (1:32), Lalles Synthsolo (7:00), En Igelkotts Död (1:43), Total Förvirring (11:40)
The 'new' band featured prog legend Roine Stolt (during the hiatus of The Flower Kings), Ingemar Bergman (drums) and Tomas Eriksson (bass). They were joined by Michael Stolt (vocals, guitar) and keyboard player Max Lorenz. After a series of concerts in 2015 the group started the recording of a new album, entitled Dårskapens Monotoni, released in 2016 and reviewed here on DPRP, followed by an extended European and Scandinavian tour.
Max was attacked on stage whilst playing with another band shortly before the tour on which this live album was recorded, and sadly had to give way to the equally magnificent Lalle Larsson. Michael provides the bulk of the vocals, and does so superbly well. Lalle had so little time to prepare for the tour, it's a wonder how he managed to learn the vast amount of material, no less to deliver it live in the sheer style that he did!
With a line-up like this, it's impossible to offer anything but music of the highest quality!
All the vocals are in Swedish but that should not deter anyone from giving this album immediate attention, as the music is sensational throughout the album. The 'live' show is a journey through the band's history, from the early 70s until Dårskapens Monotoni.
The instrumental breaks from Roine are exactly what you would expect from a guitarist that has been voted as one of the top 15 guitarists of all time, and who has written two albums with Jon Anderson. The band play together flawlessly and lead you through their back catalogue, with little variations here and there to keep the audience on their toes.
This is a progressive rock treat from the first note, until the last. Highly recommended!
Kaipa Da Capo: always impeccable, always quality, always a pleasure!
(Editors note: For the avoidance of any confusion, the other original Kaipa member, keyboardist Hans Lundin, reformed a band under the Kaipa name in 2000, releasing a further seven albums. The most recent, Children Of The Sounds, was positively inter-reviewed by DPRP earlier this year.)
Ian Smith: 9 out of 10
Karibow - From Here To The Imposssible
Part 1: The Great Escape - i. Here (6:28), ii. The Time Of Your Life (8:13), Part 2: For Love And Greed - i. Passions (4:47), ii. Never Last (5:05), Part 3: Mercury Hearts - i. Lost Peace (4:13), ii. A Crescent Man (6:12), iii. Requiem (2:05) iv. Inside You (6:20), Part 4: Of Inner Beauty - i. System Of A Dream (7:27), ii. Black Air (9:29), Part 5: In Sight - i. The Impossible (11:35)
The opener here features a cracking solo from Saga's Jim Gilmour, whilst Time Of Your Life not only includes a great chorus but also a nifty guitar solo from Oliver. The third track opens with some meaty guitar riffage and morphs into a driving beat, with some great harmonies.
This is an album you need to hear loud and let the music wash over and engulf you, with its lush melodies and impassioned vocals. This is a great sounding album and one to be enjoyed at leisure. Hats off to all concerned for crafting such a corker. The sleeve, booklet and artwork are all excellent, evocative and inspiring, which I guess is the aim. I just love the cover image of the woman on a mountain of old tyres.
A Crescent Man is a very driving song with a deadly groove and strong lyrics. It is perhaps more AOR than prog, but it adds to the overall effect. Requiem is a quiet interlude before the gentle, plucked intro to Inside You. Driven by some pounding drums, this is another fine, urgent song featuring the whispy voice of Monique Van Der Kolk alongside Oliver's own voice, which sounds a tad David Bowie like on this one (which is no bad thing).
I am not sure if this album will change my life that much, but it is certainly a good way to spend seventy minutes of your life and for that we should be grateful when there is so much rubbish on TV and this disc offers a great respite from all that. This is an album that gets better the more you hear it thanks to some great, impassioned performances and a very clear sound, with good separation across all the tracks. Recommended.
John Wenlock-Smith: 8.5 out of 10
Mindflowers - 3rd
Catch The Red Spider (7:27), The Droid Wants To Be Human (8:46), The Human (2:25), Layers (12:38), Knowing The Pain (5:40), Inside (5:43), Case Closed (7:36), 50 Years Later (2:38), The Error (5:36), Falling III (4:36), The Strange Place (2:12), E-male (7:36)
Mindflowers are a mostly instrumental prog fusion band whose music is infused with a hint of hardened metal. Their overall style has some similarity to bands such as Liquid Tension Experiment and Tribal Tech. The album has many changing colours and distinct moods which are displayed in ever-changing tempos, crunchy rhythms and searing guitar parts. There is a good balance between all-out aggression and carefully-crafted, melodic reflection. Nevertheless, the abiding and most prominent musical style on offer is gutsy fusion that has elements of prog and metal included. In this respect, there are occasions when the style of bands such as Dream Theater are brought to mind.
Listening to the band's third album, which is aptly entitled 3rd, reawakened and brought to mind memories of time spent eagerly consuming my mother's signature dish. The album is bookended by two wonderful pieces. The other tracks that are on offer are occasionally a surprisingly mixed bag of delights. Some compositions such as The Error, the beautiful synth drapes of The Human and the intriguing Layers are immediately able to capture a listener's attention and are very rewarding. They warrant and repay time spent savouring every note. Other pieces, such as Knowing the Pain, are not nearly as compelling.
In the context of such an enjoyable album, Knowing The Pain was a particular disappointment. It had the same effect upon my senses as the occasional below-par egg custard tarts enthusiastically served by my mother. This heartily sung piece is the only composition on 3rd to feature vocals and its clichéd rock and metal overtones are somewhat of an anomaly, given the intense instrumental fusion leanings of the rest of this release.
There is much to admire about this album. It has an enviable energy and vibrancy. 3rd is a release that owes more to the fiery, uncompromising sound and legacy of bands such as Ohm and Vital Tech Tones, than to the melodic meanderings and feathery fusion of artists such as Chick Corea, and Pat Metheny.
The members of Mindflowers are all highly accomplished players and have been involved in many projects and bands within the Hungarian, prog, rock and jazz music scene over the years. Bassist and principal composer Balázs Szendőfi has worked closely with Solaris in the past. He has appeared on a number of Solaris albums and has played bass and Chapman Stick for the band in recent live shows. Drummer Peter Szendőfi appears on four of the tracks and is well known in jazz circles in Hungary. He is one of the most frequently employed musicians in Hungary and has previously performed with many international artists, including Al Di Meola. In the tracks on which he is featured, he brings his own unique and busy style to the album.
Guitarist Zoltán Szentpál is a well-known player in Hungary and was a student from the Dr. Lauschmann Gyula Jazz School in Székesfehérvár. His solo part during the heavy and relentless The Droid Wants To Be Human is particularly ear-warming. Drummer Abel Mihalik appears on eight tracks and is responsible for a nifty and very effective drum solo during Inside. Mihalik has also been involved with many other well-known Hungarian bands, including Little Star, Mr. Moodburn and more recently with 70% Water Projekt. He was also a member of the renowned Hungarian alto rock band Kispál és a.
There are many things about 3rd that should delight anybody who likes instrumental music played with skill and measured aggression. It includes many standout instrumental moments, where the individual members of the group are given an opportunity to showcase their talents. It is a superbly recorded album and the bass work of Szendőfi is given a degree of prominence in the mix. This is an enjoyable aspect of the album, as his playing throughout is very impressive. Szendőfi utilises a full range of bass styles, including tapping effects, melodic solos and full-on rhythmic accompaniments. The most captivating feature of Szendőfi's work is most probably the beautiful, full-bodied tone that he utilises throughout the album. This offers a perfect foil to the powerful and aggressive riffs offered by guitarist Szentpál.
The two standout tunes, which open and close the album, are both examples of fusion at its finest. Catch The Red Spider is a wonderful opening piece that holds nothing back in its attempt to catch the listener's interest and undivided attention. Similarly, E-male's, repeated guitar phrases, is reminiscent of some of the best work of the Three Wise Monkeys. The bubbling keyboards, chaotic riffing and fulsome bass parts that are also a feature of the tune, exude class and quality. The piece concludes with a fading key board riff, which ends the album in a manner that leaves the listener yearning for more.
One of the most endearing aspects of the album, is that much of the performance appears to be spontaneous. No doubt, the album was the result of many months of careful planning and numerous practice sessions. However, the recording has a commendable freshness, where the excitement of the music and the enthusiasm of the players for their art, are fully captured. This human aspect is very important in fusion music, and sadly not all bands who ply their trade in such a technically demanding genre are able to capture this as effectively as Mindflowers have here.
To accompany the music, a fictional story is also included in the packaging. This is sure to be an added bonus for fans who prefer an album that is set against the backdrop of a story and that includes an idea to reflect upon. The sci-fi concept on which the album is based, is set in the year 4017 and involves a droid that wants to explore what it is like to be fully human.
This album definitely touched my emotions, and in my opinion, it's safe to say that 3rd is a very fine release. I found it totally fulfilling, apart from an occasional track. It is an album that should satiate the appetite of anybody who does not expect perfection in all things. The release contains twelve compositions spanning its lengthy 72 minutes running time. It is therefore hardly surprising that some of the pieces have greater appeal, or work better than others. That 3rd has some imperfections, adds to its charm and fits in perfectly with the overall subject matter of the album.
Whilst the sci-fi leanings of the album offer a brief diversion from every-day life in the 21st century, the back story of the album did little to engage me. On the other hand, the band's performance of Balázs Szendőfi's robust compositions most certainly did.
I look forward to listening to another helping of this appetising album. Unlike the consumption of some of my mum's egg custard tarts, I will try not to skip any sections. Overall, the album is far too enjoyable and satisfying for any imperfections or inconsistencies to affect its highly pleasing and exquisite aftertaste!
Owen Davies: 8 out of 10
Quantum Fantay - Tessellation of Euclidean Space
Tessellate (9:13), Manas Kavya (5:46), Astral Projection (8:03), Skytopia - a. Azure (4:35), b. Laputa (5:46), c. Ignis Fatuus (2:59), d. Empyrean (5:57), Anahata (3:39)
Opening track, Tessellate, is pure space groove, with a nice laid-back, reggae-ish, free-flowing pace to it. Nette Willox's sax and Jorinde's flute add a welcome playfulness to the proceedings, before the final two minutes bring in the energy thanks to Tom Tee's intense guitar soloing. This intensity is kept in the following track Manas Kavya, a fast-paced, rhythm-focused piece, which puts the emphasis on Pete Mush's trippy keyboard effects and some mean guitar riffery. A catchy and dynamic piece.
In spite of some Arabesque inflections, and what its title might suggest, Astral Projection isn't a particularly atmospheric track, but a rocky, proggy one. An ethereal flute connects this to spacey aesthetics, but it is all about energetic, ensemble playing and tight grooves (a thick, fat, seductive bassline being the main attraction here).
Skytopia is the album's centrepiece, a twenty-minute, four-part trip into astral fantasies. Exotic percussion leads the way in the opening section, Azure, before keys and loops become more prominent on Laputa, a passage you can definitely dance to! Ignis Fatuus acts as a brief, gentle breather, before Empyrean brings back the playful saxes and flutes to end on a high note. In contrast with the previous 20 minutes, Anahata is just a nice, short, mid-tempo closer, offering a pause for quiet reflection.
So, an album which doesn't break any new ground, but which is a very pleasant and easy-on-the-ears aural experience, with spot-on performances and production. Highly recommended for fans of Ozric Tentacles.
Héctor Gómez: 7 out of 10