Issue 2018-003

Antoine Fafard - Proto Mundi / Doomsday Vault

Antoine Fafard - Proto Mundi / Doomsday Vault
Country of Origin: Canada
Year of Release: 2016
Time: 51:04, 79:45
Links:
Track List:
Disc 1: Proto Mundi: Mission Ganymede (20:21), The Journey (20:15), Empty World (10:30)
Disc 2: Doomsday Vault: Peace for 4 (5:25), Black Light* (5:36), Shuffle It! (5:13), Omniabsence* (4:51), The Chamber (5:00), Invisible Light* (4:34), 13 Good Reason (6:23), D-Day (5:19), Riff & Raft (4:50), Sum of Six (6:16), Phree Motion (5:16), Cape Spear (5:40), Fur & Axes (5:04), Holding Back Time (5:56), Variation* (4:21) (* Previously Unreleased)
With just three tracks strung across the 51 minutes of Antoine Fafard's latest creation, there are plenty of opportunities for different moods, tempos, melodies and harmonies to be explored. Two of the pieces last for 20 minutes, whilst the final piece clocks in at just over ten.

The music contained in Proto Mundi is linked to a story that is also written by Antoine Fafard. It is set in the future and tackles topics such as the inequality of wealth around the globe and the development of robotics. The story is divided into three chapters. These share the same names as the tracks on the album. Reading the story and listening to the music is an enjoyable experience. Some of the themes and the ambience of the album have an added dimension and make more sense when considered in conjunction with the story.

The performance of all of the players on the disc is quite breathtaking, and there are many occasions where they are able to showcase their skill and virtuosity. This is not surprising, as the musicians involved include such renowned and skilled players such as violinist Jerry Goodman, Gary Husband on keyboards and Simon Phillips on drums.

As well as providing a rich and impressive tapestry of bass parts, Antoine Fafard makes a significant contribution on electric guitar. Proto Mundi marks the recording debut of Fafard on lead guitar and he rises to this challenge with skill and considerable aplomb.

Fafard is a wonderful bass player, whose technical skill and capacity to bring the instrument to life can be compared with such notably creative players as Jeff Berlin and Lorenzo Feliciati. His bass flourishes throughout the album are superb; they provide an anchor that tethers the music and enables the players to become a collective and expressive ensemble. However, Fafard's greatest gift is that as a composer he is able choose the just the right level of embellishment to enable the other players to cast-off and play freely when the arrangement requires innovation, inventive imagination and improvisation.

The involvement of Jerry Goodman on violin is one of the highlights of the album and the way in which the violin carries many of the melodies is reminiscent of some of Goodman's most evocative and soaring work with the Mahavishnu Orchestra. This is apparent in the opening passages of Mission Ganymede, where this delightful tune is embellished by the busy rhythmic drumming of Philips and the free-flowing, fast bow work of Goodman.

However, in the middle section of the piece, the adroit contribution of all of the players comes to the fore and gives rise to a number of outstanding solo passages. These include a delightful keyboard flurry and also some expressive acoustic guitar work. Fafard also supplies an abundance of lyrical electric parts that are furnished with a piercing tone, lots of variety and heaps of emotion. The chunky rhythms and muscular kit work during the final three minutes of the piece, give Fafard ample opportunity to showcase his prowess on the bass.

Mission Ganymede is an excellent opening track and should delight fans who enjoy instrumental fusion music that has plenty of subtlety and variation. Although, it's a composition that proudly declares its jazz influences, there are enough unusual musical touches to satisfy prog fans and these ensure that the piece is able to reveal something different each time it is heard.

The Journey is an ever-evolving tune that has an expansive quality. This sets up many opportunities for the players to showcase their talents. The solo parts are simply outstanding and give the music a warm, penetrating glow. The quality of what is on offer has the ability to infiltrate the senses and is effortlessly able to caress the ears, comfort the heart and convince the mind, in quick succession.

Empty World is probably the most conventional fusion track on the album. It is a tightly-spun, frenetic affair where challenging rhythms, complexity and individual virtuosity all have a part to play. Fafard's bulbous and beautifully constructed bass solo plays a prominent role and provides the piece with a characteristic sheen.

The polished low-end display is cleverly contrasted with an elasticised and malleable violin solo that snakes swiftly to reach high end frequencies and then speedily swirls to seek out even higher frequencies, not discernible to the human ear. Equally impressive is Husband's keyboard solo that bubbles, pops and fizzes along as it propels the piece to a monstrous guitar solo and a climatic conclusion. The combination of skill, measured ferocity and dashing elegance inherent in this track and in the other compositions, ensure that this album is an absolute pleasure to listen to.

Proto Mundi is an excellent album and one that I unreservedly recommend. The addition of a bonus disc entitled Doomsday Vault ensures that Proto Mundi becomes an even more attractive proposition.

Doomsday Vault contains eleven remixed songs from Fafard's first three CDs, plus four previously unreleased pieces. Three of these songs feature Jerry Goodman. The fourth piece features Chad Wackerman on drums.

The sound quality of both Proto Mundi and Doomsday Vault is superb. The long running-time of Doomsday Vault and the consistent quality and wide stylistic variety of the compositions on offer, provide a real treat for aficionados of instrumental fusion.

In some ways, Doomsday Vault is even more impressive than Proto Mundi. Whilst the long duration of the tracks which make up Fafard's latest creation, enable the players to convincingly stretch things out, the more condensed compositions contained in Doomsday Vault generally have a more accessible air, and consequently might be a better introduction to Fafard's solo work.

As a combined package, the two discs offer something that is simply quite stunning.

(Editors note: This release also features in a limited edition box set with signed copies of all five (six) of Fafard's solo releases and a DVD. More information in the video documentary from the link below.)
Conclusion:
Owen Davies: 9 out of 10

Hangover Paradise - Out Of Sight

Hangover Paradise - Out Of Sight
Country of Origin: Netherlands
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 51:24
Links:
Track List:
Who Do You Think You Are (6:32), Don't Wake Me Up (6:09), What Lies Beneath (6:27), Out Of Sight (7:32), Not Worried (4:41), Wrong (4:28), Life Is To Short (7:24), Flowers In The Rain (7:59)
Hangover Paradise (a great name) formed as recently as 2010 with just one previous album to their credit, Mirrors (2013). They're all seasoned musicians however, centred around the dual keyboard talents of brothers Peter and Henk Zwerus. Along with bassist Cynthio Ooms they are the only remaining members from the last album, with Henk Brugge (lead vocals), Richie Saimima (guitar) and Daniel Brans (drums) all making their album debut here.

The band's tightly structured sound is very much in the melodic, neo-prog vein. Every song benefits from a solid melody, a taught narrative and precise, but not overly complex arrangements. Frontman Brugge has a confident, slightly raw vocal style that brings Saga to mind and gives the songs a theatrical presence.

Despite two keyboardists, Saimima is given ample scope to flex his guitar muscles as evidenced in the strong opener Who Do You Think You Are, where his expressive playing propels the song along at a sprightly pace. With its rippling guitar and moody synth Don't Wake Me Up has shades of mid 70s Genesis (before Hackett went AWOL), whilst What Lies Beneath boasts rhapsodic piano and a stately main theme.

The title song Out Of Sight isn't as immediate as the proceeding tracks, despite the melodic piano and Ooms' articulate bass lines. Not Worried is more instant, thanks to the ringing Steve Rothery-style rhythm guitar and lively synth and guitar exchanges. Wrong is a ballad of sorts with a rippling piano motiff, mellow guitar and engaging keys 'strings'. The concluding tracks are two of the strongest, which is a healthy sign for any album. Life Is To Short bubbles and pulses with a memorable synth theme, leaving the longest song (by a whisker) to close. Following a lengthy and atmospheric Floyd-ian guitar intro, Flowers In The Rain brings the album to a positive conclusion with a stirring Rick Wakeman MiniMoog-like melody driven by Brans' disciplined drumming.

As you would expect from a band of this ilk, there is nothing startlingly original about what Hangover Paradise do, but they do it extremely well and in a compelling manner. And given that this is the first album by this particular line-up, the ensemble performance throughout is excellent, with Dick Kemper's transparent production allowing every instrument ample space to breathe.
Conclusion:
Geoff Feakes: 8 out of 10

Panzerballet - X-mass Death Jazz

Panzerballet - X-mass Death Jazz
Country of Origin: Germany
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 47:28
Links:
Track List:
White Christmas (5:33), Kling Glöckchen (6:46), Little Drummer Boy (5:58), Es Kommt Bald (5:45), Last Christmas (7:00), Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer (5:17), For Whome The Jingle Bells Toll, Let It Snow (5:21)
Panzerballet is a German quintet, masterminded by the guitarist and composer Jan Zehrfeld. The band are no strangers to the music industry, having formed in 2005, enduring numerous line-up changes and releasing six albums. The latest release is X-mas Death Jazz and immediately caught my attention. It is an album of X-mas songs, so without further ado, let's see what a prog jazz band sounds like doing X-mas songs.

The album kicks off with their unique take on White Christmas, aside from the vocal melody, the song bears little resemblance to the original, instead taking on a chaotic and most definitely jazz-metal sound. An interesting take on a classic track.

Kling Glockhen comes in with a more orderly sound, being an instrumental track. Nothing too out of the ordinary here, but some nice saxophone work and some incredible bass playing towards the end. An altogether nice, chillout track, even if the riffs are a bit "dark". Next up is Little Drummer Boy. Another largely instrumental twist on a classic, this time mainly making use of the main vocal melody as the musical melody, but with some slightly crazy "pa rum pum pum pum" vocalisations. Some odd time signatures help keep it interesting.

Es Kommt Bald brings in some more vocals along with more jazzy chaos, with complex riffs and rhythms throughout. Another fun one. Next up comes the "death jazz" version of Last Christmas, and I must say I quite liked this. Again, the instruments follow the vocal melodies, and this helps bring a slightly unsettling feeling to the track. Not too heavy, but dark and a bit creepy. A winning combination.

Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer provides a quite nice approach to the old tale of exploiting people for your own gain (Santa didn't stop the reindeer bullying Rudolph until it was convenient). A nice, heavy, proggy track with some good quality solos. For Whom The Jingle Bells Toll is another instrumental, giving a nice jazzy and metal take on Jingle Bells.

Finally, we come to Let It Snow, probably the least "chaotic" track, but still with some elements of death metal and jazz throughout. A nice way to round off the album.

The final tracks are simply instrumental versions of the previous ones that had vocals. All in all, this is a nice Christmas album, that is ideal for breaking the festive musical monotony of Wham, Slade and Wizzard. This is not for the faint-hearted, but good nonetheless.
Conclusion:
Calum Gibson: 7 out of 10

Rozmainsky & Mikhaylov Project (RMP) - For The Light

Rozmainsky & Mikhaylov Project (RMP) - For The Light
Country of Origin: Russia
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 48:08
Links:
Track List:
Wounded By Lack Of Light (2:16), Keep No Thou Silence (2:57), A Dedication To The Floydian Sun (4:00), Create In Me A Clean Heart (4:42), The Thing In The Light (3:15), Dancing Through The Twilight (3:05), Delivered From The Snare Of The Fowler (3:55), Irish Shine (2:51), Coming Of The Troubled Waters (5:49), A Flower In The Smoke (4:42), For The Light (10:36)
Rozmainsky & Mikhaylov Project's mainly instrumental For The Light is an album that grows on you. Upon first listen, psychedlic and early progressive rock influences jump out (especially early Pink Floyd - particularly the third song), but upon closer inspection, greater complexity surfaces. Primarily driven by Ivan Rozmainsky on a variety of keyboards and Vladimir Mikhaylov on guitar and bass, the two are joined by Yurii Grosier on drums and Leonid Perevalov on clarinet. After several listens, I believe the clarinet sets this group apart from other instrumental progressive rock bands.

It is so easy to see instrumental music as just background noise. I'm guilty of doing that myself. However, it is clear that there is something that separates instrumental classical music and groups like Mannheim Steamroller, from the many bands that fall to the wayside. Tchaikovsky and Bach make us sit up and take notice. While Rozmainsky & Mikhaylov Project aren't in that league (let's be honest - who is?), they have managed to create something special and unique that encourages the listener to give the album repeated listens.

Their melodies keep the listener interested, and they reference musical themes across the album. For The Light is very well paced. It never drags, which can be very common in purely instrumental prog. By keeping the early songs pithy and ending with a longer piece, the group have managed this 48 minutes of music extraordinarily well. Since there are no lyrics to keep us engaged, Rozmainsky & Mikhaylov use various instruments to keep the listener interested throughout the album.

Fans of early Pink Floyd (especially through Meddle) should find a lot to enjoy from Rozmainsky & Mikhaylov Project. Far from being copycats, this group uses elements from the past to color their own instrumental music. The calm, synthy overtones along with steady drum beats and guitar make this stand up to more established players in the instrumental prog world. This clarinet-infused rock delivers more and more with repeated listens, as any good music should.
Conclusion:
Bryan Morey: 7 out of 10

Michael Trew - Waiting In The Wings

Michael Trew - Waiting In The Wings
Country of Origin: USA
Year of Release: 2017
Time: 36:31
Links:
Track List:
Secret Of The Sea (3:49), I'm Your Television (3:13), Trucker's Lounge (3:26), Bright Lights Cold Hands (2:41), Burnt Out (3:48), Vassagonia (6:16), The Farmwife (4:20), In The Fields Where The Silence (5:42), Westward (3:36)
Michael Trew is a songwriter, singer and guitarist from the Pacific northwest. He has a number of projects on the go, most notably with the art-rock group Autumn Electric, with whom he released five albums. His debut solo album is Waiting In The Wings.

Michael Trew has a warm voice with a good range, and he calls on a lightly used vibrato. Waiting In The Wings is a song-based collection, with little in the way of extraneous soloing. The melodies are unashamedly on the sing-a-long side. Gentle and folky but full of interest, their orchestration and arrangements point to an underlying air of melancholy.

There is a British sensibility to the music here, which seems a little odd given Michael Trew's location in grunge's own state. He seems to be channelling Barclay James Harvest with touches of The Moody Blues and The Strawbs, but filtered through a West Coast harmonic sensibility. The only time American influences seem to come into play is on I'm Your Television's mix of Flaming Lips jamming, with the acoustic side of REM. So much so, it feels a little out of place on Waiting In The Wings. Its lyrical clichés (the only real instance on the album) are outweighed by the track's tunefulness and use of synth.

The rest of the album moves from a celebration of the sunrise and surf in the West Coast harmonies of the opening track, through a folkier vein with the addition of Julie Baldridge's violin. There is a non-bombastic Bob Seger vibe to the Trucker's Lounge's story of the isolation of just keeping on keeping on the road. There is a hint of country rock to Bright Lights Cold Hands' up-tempo shuffle, pushed along by John Allday's organ playing.

The best track on Waiting In The Wings adds a psychedelic edge to proceedings. Vassagonia has an organ-led but rolling groove that is underpinned by Lauren (Michael's good lady) Trew's bass clarinet playing. This gives a warm and unusual texture to the song and it allows Dave Webb's guitar to fly on the album's only real solo. The track is a real winner.

The album mines the folkier elements further with the quite beautiful pairing of The Farmwife and In The Fields Where The Silence. Again Lauren Trew's clarinet work gives the tracks the feel of American cousins to Big Big Train's prog-folk. Waiting In The Wings finishes with the ballad Westward, where a piano and a clarinet duet with Trew's voice that is full of melancholic regretfulness as the sun sets.

So, Michael Trew's Waiting In The Wings should come out from behind the stage curtains to proudly take centre stage with its mix of folky charm and quiet power. This is a delightful way to commence the reviewing year.
Conclusion:
Martin Burns: 7 out of 10