Reviews in this issue:
Tony Banks - Five
Prelude To A Million Years (15:34), Reveille (8:59), Ebb And Flow (12:50), Autumn Sonata (10:17), Renaissance (10:11)
Prior to moving into the classical realm, Tony spent much of his solo career chasing the same commercial success that his bandmates were enjoying. With some exceptions, the material he released displayed more of a pop music approach that conflicted with his more adventurous musical inclinations. Personally, I feel that his albums were artistically effective, but apparantly, many fans were looking for something different from Tony. With that in mind, the stamp of the man who brought us songs like Firth Of Fifth and One For The Vine is much more clearly evident on his classical releases. That statement never being more true than on Five.
Easily the best of his classical trilogy, the album is a beautiful and diverse collection of musical tapestries. The sweeping nature of these compositions will most certainly light up the heart of any classic Genesis fan. Tony mentioned in a recent interview, that though he doesn't intentionally include references to previous works in his music, he acknowledged that they come from the same writer so similarites are possible. There is nothing about Five that reminds me of specfic works from his past, but there is absolutely no mistaking who wrote this music.
One key difference from his previous classical releases is that Tony actually performs on this one. Though not abundant in the mix, his distinctive piano style can be heard throughout. This brings a paticular resonance to tracks like Reveille, Autumn Sonata and the majestic Renaissance. When listening to Five, is it easy to wonder how Tony's phone isn't ringing off the wall to write film soundtracks? Though he did some film work in the 80s, the movies themselves weren't critically or commercially well received. That fact may have negatively affected his opportunities, but Hollywood should take notice again. The epic and emotional style displayed on this album would add immesuarably to any quality motion picture.
Filled with wonderous musical moments and fantastic performances by the Czech National Symphony Orchestra, Five is the work of a master. From start to finish, it is both artistically compelling and strikingly entertaining. Not a prog album in the obvious sense, it does however contain the same brilliance that Tony brought to so many classic Genesis songs. Though I would selfishly love to see him release a progressive rock album that follows a similiarly adventurous course, the excellent Five earns my highest recommendation.
Patrick McAfee: 10 out of 10
Djam Karet - Sonic Celluloid
Saul Says No (6:08), Forced Perspective (4:31), Long Shot (4:16), No Narration Needed (5:55), Numerous Mechanical Circles (4:04), Oceanside Exterior (4:33), Au Revoir Au Rêve (4:18), Flashback (3:43), Lower (3:00), The Denouement Device (4:45)
Raimond Fischbach's ReviewI used to enjoy Djam Karet a lot back in the days while listening to Progulus Radio, but somehow I forgot about the band the last couple of years. So I got quite interested when their new album was offered for review. And they got me surprised, as didn't expect the band to progress in style this way.
Moving away from a rather spacey jamming set-up, they went into the lands of minimalistic chamber prog, which is the best prog one can enjoy while doing rather complicated work.
The band seem to avoid all too-catchy leads as well as the layering of multiple musical ideas, so that it's easy to follow any of their ideas. No matter if it's a cool riff, a guitar solo, advanced chord progression or just an arpeggio or a moment of space effects, every single thing has its maximum of room to unfold and to dive into.
Played very well and produced perfectly, this super-minimalistic album is the ideal soundtrack to put some gears down in this fast turning world and focus on work that needs our full attention. Work you usually would do without music.
Mark Hughes's ReviewAfter 34 years, 23 albums and numerous bespoke limited edition archival recordings, American instrumentalists Djam Karet still retain the services of four long-standing members of the band: Gayle Ellett (guitars, bouzouki, keyboards), Chuck Oken Jr. (drums and soundscapes), Henry Osborne (bass) and Mike Henderson (guitar feedback) with assistance form Mike Murray (guitar atmospherics, piano) and Aaron Kenyon (bass effects). Sonic Celluloid, their latest release, sees the band heading in a more melodic direction that moves away from the largely guitar-driven pieces of yore to focus more on keyboards, particularly minimoogs and mellotrons. Although, don't expect to hear the classic sound to come pouring through, as their use is very subtle and well blended in with the overall mix, such as on No Narration Needed where the flute sample is put to good effect. There are also a lot more acoustic instruments used which provides a link the Ellett's Fernwood side project. The intent was to create "mini-movies in your mind" using, in their own words, "sound as cinema".
As a consequence, the music on Sonic Celluloid is somewhat more atmospheric and written to create a certain mood. Although all the music is credited to Djam Karet, one suspects that it is largely the work of Gayle Ellett who is also credited as producing, mixing and mastering the recordings. Indeed only Ellet and Oken appear on every song with Henderson contributing to just six tracks and the other musicians to three or fewer pieces.
The abundance of keyboards does not mean that guitars are forsaken completely, indeed most of the tracks do feature a solo or two which are generally the highlights of the pieces, giving them a more organic feel as opposed to the somewhat more sterile and programmed feel of the sections that rely solely on the synthesised soundscapes. Pieces like Numerous Mechanical Circles, Lower, and the opening two minutes of Saul Says No are definitely pieces that could have been extracted from a film score and perhaps require a more multisensory presentation in order to achieve real meaning and depth. Then again Au Revoir Au Rêve definitely benefits from having a more minimal score as it gives the guitar solo a very dramatic feel.
For me, the most engaging aspects are the musical sections that sound like a whole band performing and there are plenty of these sections throughout the album. Of note are Forced Perspective and, in particular, The Denouement Device which are possibly the only two pieces that, if I had heard the album unaware of the creators, I would have most closely identified as fitting my mental profile of the Djam Karet Sound.
Of course, over such a lengthy career as enjoyed by the band, there has been considerable variety between the albums but, although I do find the album an enjoyable listening experience, I do feel that Sonic Celluloid is more akin to a Djam Karet side project rather than a fully fledged band album.
Dukes Of The Orient - Dukes Of The Orient
Brother In Arms (5:22), Strange Days (5:33), Amor Vincit Omnia (5:45), Time Waits For No One (6:03), A Sorrow's Crown (5:07), Fourth Of July (8:26), Seasons Will Change (6:37), Give Another Reason (10:10)
Though Payne was still able to use the band name, the situation left him scrambling to figure out his next career move. Initially, he and the remaining members of his Asia partnered with Ryo Okumoto to form GPS. Regrettably, that too garnered little attention, but the years since have seen Payne involved in a successful Las Vegas musical review and touring the country as 'John Payne's Asia'. For many years, a new album titled Americana was promised and now it has finally been released under the new band moniker, Dukes Of The Orient.
Led by Payne and keyboardist Erik Norlander, the album also features performances by previous Asia bandmates, guitarist Guthrie Govan and drummer Jay Schellen. As for the change in name, reports are that Payne made the decision after the passing of original Asia vocalist, John Wetton. Always respectful and complimentary of the man he once replaced in the band, Payne also posted a heartfelt tribute after Wetton's death.
Regardless of the name it is released under, this album will absolutely appeal to fans of the Asia material released by Downes/Payne. In fact, in many ways, this recording feels like a natural companion to those albums. Tracks such as, Time Waits For No One and Fourth of July clearly embrace the classic Asia sound. One difference is the keyboard work of the very talented, Erik Norlander. Though he occasionally mirrors Geoff Downes more subdued style, he often plays in a manner that is more aggressively reflective of his musical hero, Keith Emerson. This provides the material with an added kick and also heightens the progressive rock elements.
Ultimately, this album is exactly as you would expect it to be. The majority of the tracks are musically big with booming, anthem-like melodies and catchy AOR choruses. The songs are diverse enough to keep things flowing and there is a strong prog edge to much of the material. Though the music is never significantly complex, there is excellent musicianship to be found throughout. You won't find many surprises on this, the "debut" album from Dukes Of The Orient. It faithfully sticks to a long ago established formula, but the good news is that it does so in a very entertaining fashion.
Patrick McAfee: 8 out of 10
Maat Lander - Seasons Of Space - Book 1
Planet Of The Intelligent Gas-Shaped Lifeforms (7:58), Crimson Turtles (8:33), Galaxy Passage #1 (1:16), Fields Of Serenity (12:43), The World Of The Ocean With No Dry Land (9:58), Galaxy Passage #2 (1:57), Dance Of Photonic Roaches (7:05), The Constellation Of The Mirror Fish (5:57)
CD bonus tracks: Maat's First Mistake (7:19), Galaxy Passage #3 (00:18), The Birth Of Maat's Galaxy (live) (16:22)
CD bonus tracks: Maat's First Mistake (7:19), Galaxy Passage #3 (00:18), The Birth Of Maat's Galaxy (live) (16:22)
Seasons Of Space - Book 1 is an album that has a chameleon-like quality to adapt and change its sonorities in a way best suited to make a positive and lasting impression. This is an album that rarely stays still or settles into a predictable groove or style. It displays a richly varied compositional style and exhibits a fascinating dynamic range.
In this instrumental album opposites abound; words and phrases such as melody and dissonance, frenzy and calm, rhythmic and lapping can easily be used to sum up and describe the broad range of textures and timbres on offer.
During the course of the release, it is difficult to accurately attempt to describe what has been experienced to any one convenient genre or style. Imaginative titles such as, The Constellation Of The Mirror Fish give a hint of the unusual yet intensely creative and satisfying nature of much of what is on offer.
Maat Lander is made up of members of Vespero and Re-Stoned. Given their pedigree, it is not surprising that Maat Lander's fresh sounding approach; ensure that they stand out from other bands that ply their trade within the stylistic margins and environs of space-rock.
The album redefines and expands upon some of the boundaries associated with space-rock; it is creative and bold and incorporates many satisfying off beat progressive elements. The music is also seductively engaging and also includes many identifiable features that fans of genres as diverse as jazz, space-rock, prog and psychedelia will adore.
The work of guitarist Ilya Lipkin is particularly appealingly and over the course of the album a whole gamut of fretted textures and styles are utilised. There are many occasions during tracks such as, Planet Of The Intelligent Gas-Shaped Lifeforms, Crimson Turtles and Field Of Serenity, where Lipkin is able to emulate Robert Fripp's fluid and unique palette of sounds as heard in such iconic tracks as King Crimson's Astbury Park and Fripp & Eno's Index Of Metals.
The expressive range of tones and timbres that Lipkin successfully uses throughout the album is beautifully showcased in the live bonus track, The Birth Of Maat's Galaxy that brings the CD version of this release to a superb close. The live setting gives the music a spacious ambience which is fully exploited by all the performers.
As well as a raft of magnificent guitar parts, the album is enhanced by numerous synth interludes that flow squeak and squawk in an engaging and enjoyable manner. For good measure, a full range of pulsating, whirring, whooshing and droning sound effects are added to a number of tracks.
Although much of the music has a different and inventive air; the presence of obligatory space-rock sound effects roots the album within that genre. In addition, a number of the pieces are underpinned by a hypnotic bass groove of the type that is also considered a signature ingredient of that style.
The inclusion of a range of acoustic tunes offers a welcome variation of pace and provides a necessary and delightful change of emphasis that contrasts superbly with the other compositions that feature flowing keyboards and expressive guitars. One of these entitled Maat's First Mistake offers a charming period of cool reflection in a Latino style that would not have been out of place In Miles Davis Sketches Of Spain. The interaction between the cheek popping trumpet runs of Andrei Solovyov and the sweetly strung acoustic guitar of Lipkin is uplifting and in the context of this piece is an absolute joy to hear.
Three other acoustic compositions are placed neatly under The Galaxy Passage moniker. These short interlude tunes provide an opportunity to reset the ears and briefly calm the mind before the ignition button is pressed and yet another inventive composition featuring crunchy riffs and heady synths is set free to explore the unchartered sonic territories of Maat's galaxy.
There were many occasions when the engaging nature of the album was able to fully draw me into its creative realm. The insistent riffing and impossible rhythms of Dance Of Photonic Roaches was an undoubted highlight. Its unrelenting fury has an infectious effect and its overall combatant sound is more akin to King Crimson at their most ferocious rather than anything that might be loosely placed within the confines of space-rock.
After the fury of Dance Of Photonic Roaches, the next composition The Constellation Of The Mirror Fish begins in a contemplative manner with acoustic guitar and lapping synths. It develops into a great piece which has a truly memorable riff and features some shining synth parts. It is simply a wonderful tune that exhibits all of Maat Lander's endearing qualities and is probably my favourite track of the album.
Overall, Seasons Of Space - Book 1 is a very good album; it is fresh, highly appealing and skilfully played. I wonder what is in store for Maat in book 2. If it is as satisfying as book 1, then fans of instrumental prog are in for a treat.
Owen Davies: 8 out of 10
Time Collider - Travel Conspiracy
Clock Strikes Twelve (10:28), Be You (7:06), False Messiah (4:29), Fiction Science (4:50), Madness Ensues Frankenstien (6:13), Heartsewn (7:36), Fierbinte Sub Soare (5:58), Our War (4:49), Oppress Finesse (5:51), Power Surge (4:12), Souls On Daisies (5:40), Woodland Vertigo (5:02)
With this, their debut album, the band employs a neo-prog sound mixed with a hard-rock/alternative edge. To suppliment these elements, a range of additional musical styles are thrown into the mix throughout and the material is performed with enthusiam and a driving energy.
Instrumentally, Travel Conspiracy is a strong album and the vast talents of each band member are consistantly on display. Jowitt seems right at home and the crunching bass lines often reminded me of his early work with Arena. There is a live performance feel to much of the production that emphasizes the often agressive musical tone. Though most of the tracks are compact in length and chorus-heavy, this is definitely a progressive rock album. There is a complexity to most of the songs and though some tracks are more effective than others, there is exhuberence to the performances that helps to make up for the occasional shortcoming.
A newcomer to the prog scene, Tommy Fox has a lot of vocal range, but there are moments where it seems that he is tested a bit too much. Also, the obvious drive for musical variety doesn't necessarily result in anything groundbreaking.
That said, I don't think the band was looking to reinvent the wheel. If the goal was to create an entertaining, hard-rocking prog album, their mission was accomplished. Travel Conspiracy is well worth checking out! (You'll have to wait till May 1st for the official release, though, which is also the reason the cover shown here apparently is not of the final artwork. -- Ed.)
Patrick McAfee: 7.5 out of 10