Reviews in this issue:
Enine - The Great Silent
My very first DPRP review was an album called Angels And Demons by a Russian band called Algebas. From that band emerges a new collective called Enine (named after a Russian river that flows among the wild and empty spaces of Kamchatka famous for its myths and legends).
The band originate from the ancient Russian town Vladimir (near Moscow) and formed by two Algabas members: guitarist Vladimir Mikhailov and keyboard player Ilya Frolov. The rest of the band are Vladimir Kosygin (bass and vocals), Stanislav Tregubov (flute and djembe) and Vladimir Nikonov (drums). Plenty of Vladimirs in this paragraph!
Their first album, titled The Great Silent and released by ArtBeat Music, contains instrumental rock music, visualised as the soundtrack to classic silent films such as Metropolis (1927), Frankenstein (1910), The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari (1920), and Nosferatu (1922). Like any instrumental album with no vocals, there needs to be plenty happening musically to hold the listener's attention.
Putting aside the two short atmospheric pieces that bookend this album, the centre piece has to be the epic 17 minute Nosferatu (The Great Vampire). The track opens with spacey and swirling synths and guitars before giving away to a piano arpeggio set over a simple beat as the song begins to develop. Replete with beguiling synth and guitar solos, changes in rhythm, pulsating rhythmic guitar patterns and percussion, dark satanic distorted solos and weird 'vampirish' growling that all add to the track's tension. Then a change about half way through with a more light-hearted vibe and the addition of some nice flute work, followed by some excellent melodic guitar solos. Further changes are queueing up on this track that there is no danger of any repetitive overindulgence. Instrumental neo-prog at its finest; a very fine piece of work and one the band will no doubt be proud of.
The other tracks dish up more of the same but in a more shortened form. The Curse Of Dr. Caligari kicks the album off with plenty synth noodling and some fine melodic flute work in the style of Dave Longdon (Big Big Train) with accompanying acoustic guitar, while The Light Of Metropolis racks up the prog temperature further with synth and guitar arpeggios before the album's first catchy motifs emerge. The song also contains a fine melodic synth solo with less tendency to noodle. Some of the synth work at the back-end was reminiscent of something off Camel's Moonmadness album.
Workers is another stand-out track with its contrasting parts. Distorted guitar intro before the band enter, followed by repeating patterns before the darker elements appear with power chords and synth arpeggios. Then the Wakeman moment! A fine "church" organ solo by Ilya Frolov (think Close To The Edge here) which is followed by some great flute and guitar work. This piece is full of eerie tension and atmospheric layers.
With its repeating percussive elements, Frankenstein reminded me of Tangerine Dream's 1986 Underwater Sunlight album and the track Song Of The Whale Part One. Once again some lovely synth and guitar work with good support from the rhythm department.
Waiting For sounds like a studio jam session (with no overdubs), minus the mixing gloss that has been applied to the other tracks. The track is fine (similar in vein to previous tracks) but in some ways detracts from the listener's overall enjoyment and leaves one thinking that this might be an album filler. Anyway, it's at the back end of the album and great to hear a band in a live situation and shows they are capable musicians.
It's fantastic (cliché spoiler alert!) that progressive rock music recognises no borders and regardless of our world and political issues and views, it brings sanity to the table because of our shared appreciation of this remarkable musical genre. A very good album (a grower, since it got better with each listen) and honest neo-prog music from our musical friends in Russia. I hear all sort of 70s influences in there: Yes, Genesis, Camel and millennium bands like RanestRane. I rate this a worthy 7.5 out of 10.
Habelard2 - Hustle And Bustle
If there is one thing an artist should have in my view, then it’s authenticity. Be it the originality of the music, specific musical skills, the art of composition or a self-developed style, there should be something that makes an artist sound special. Yet it is delicate: where authenticity becomes self-indulgence the artist has gone too far, when authenticity is lacking the artist is obsolete.
These thoughts came to mind when I listened to Hustle And Bustle, the third album by Habelard2, the name Italian multi-instrumentalist Sergio Caleca has taken on to release his music. For album opener Frère Jacques (the French name for the most-translated children's song Father Jacob) turns out to be a 6-minute variation on, indeed, that same Father Jacob. Although the origin of the track is well hidden until the 3-minute mark, it then it shows itself in full splendour. Before that it is a rather enjoyable synth track that sounds a bit like easy_to_digest ELP or Refugee-music. There are trumpet-like sounds, seventies-synths, pre-recorded choirs and an overall feeling of “Don’t take me too seriously, this is just to enjoy!”. It doesn’t sound very special, let alone original. Then the theme that everyone knows pops up and the track puts a smile on my face that was hard to let go off again. The reaction to this track pretty well summarizes what the album as a whole does to me.
There is no doubt Mr. Caleca is a gifted musician. He plays all instruments which encompass besides synths, all guitars and bass. He is frank about the drums: they come out of his keyboards through a sequencer. Too bad but he might as well have hidden this information and for his frankness I value him.
The thirteen tracks that fill the all instrumental album are a mixed bag. There are a couple of mellow, romantic tracks like Dolce and Seventies, characterized by a slow tempo, many flutelike sounds and mellotron all over the place. On the other hand there are some tracks that feature rawer edged synth sounds, pumping Hammond and sax sounds, often against a wide synth background, like Alice and Cinc ghei pusé ma rus.
Furthermore Folk e Martello and Tragico nr. 2 show the more proggy side of Caleca. Both songs are rather slow with several nice time changes and a wide variety in sounds, ranging from flute to piano to guitar solo to Mellotron outbursts. Musically it isn’t very complex or outstanding but the music flows and floats gently and is therefore nice to listen to. The fade-out at the end of the latter track is a bad choice though.
The musical mood changes drastically after these two tracks to make way for Celtic Dream, an aptly chosen title for a mellow Celtic folk tune with uilleann pipe sounds and Irish flutes. DeboleFortePiano makes you think of a fierce piano piece but it turns out to be a mid-tempo, almost funky piano/organ/synth piece in which a devil is completely absent, at least to my ears. The two last tracks of the album, title track Hustle And Bustle and Finalino, are both poppy synth tunes with a little jazz-rock flavour.
To give an idea of what this album offers, think of a repetitive Vangelis, Jean-Michel Jarre or, sometimes, Kitaro with slices of Focus and Camel during their Rain Dances period. Yet Caleca’s music never acquires the same level of subtlety. At some moments his music even tends towards simple pop tunes like in Giada that comes dangerously close to terrifying 1980s synth pop like Popcorn by, indeed, Popcorn.
So all in all neither of the tracks here are very good, outstanding, original, surprising, yet neither of the tracks are bad. From a prog point of view, the album can easily be ignored and that alone should lead to a rather low rating. But I simply can't. For Sergio Caleca has taken me fully in with his wits. Starting off with a Father Jacob variation is completely silly, making a cover as ugly and naive as for this album is also completely nuts. Going through the same paintings in the booklet makes you notice that he is presenting all keys sounds track by track. I therefore think he is constantly mocking himself and thus challenging the listener. And that’s what I call authenticity and I like it.
Musically speaking this is certainly not the best album you’ll ever come across. But hey, this guy Caleca wants to enjoy you and therefore he deserves the chance to give his album a try. I enjoyed it, maybe not for long but certainly long enough.
MetaQuorum - Witchcraft Jazz
Do you know what kind of genre 'meld' is? According to MetaQuorum's composer, keyboardist and frontman Dmitry Ermakov, meld stands for a fusion of funk, prog, rock, jazz and electronica. I can live with that and I can certainly live with this highly entertaining music myself! But, cool down, let's explain a bit first because the story is a bit complex as it proves there is no such thing as coincidence. Some events just have to happen for a reason.
It all started with virtually meeting drummer and my fellow countryman Koos van der Velde at a Canadian chatroom called Prog Core Live, while at the same time I was listening to an international band he plays drums for! Coincidence, right?
Very impressed by what I heard, I planned to order their new album Witchcraft Jazz. But when having a quick look at albums to review for DPRP, I stumbled upon said album! Coincidence, perhaps?
And I was speechless when I found the album on my doormat accompanied by a handwritten letter. Written by Koos! So, one thing struck me. Coincidence? No. This had to happen.
Now, that might be a nice story but how about the album after enjoying only a few instrumental tracks at the radio show? First full album listen made me even more enthusiastic right away. Also because of the headphone quality that revealed so much more on both the funky, groovy, jazz rock compositions and the high quality of play. Plus the viral and absolute sheer joy it was made with and contaminates you.
Twelve relatively short songs gradually building up the tension. And building up the grooving feeling in your body. You can't keep your head still, you grow that smile on your face, you can't get that smile from your face, you can't sit still!
I won't bother you with details on all songs but will point out some moments in awe only to give you an idea.
It all starts with a rather lazy Crimson Dreams that fires up halfway through and adds some narration later on. There's the ultra-sexy, jazzy Socket Swing including some women's sigh that switches to the more electronic Bartender. Listening to Seven Dwarfs Rock with your eyes closed you can see them dwarfs dancing in your meld head! The witches cast a spell on what's going on and conjure tricks on a piano for a magic piece of jazz.
Their magic wand turns jazz into a jolly Limping Mathematician to enhance the mood and bring in a tiny little drum solo. Parallax starts funky and turns into a more classical piece of jazz. The tension is going to explode in the next twelve minutes now. With enchanting, exciting and marvellous tracks! Ears turn red, you keep on dancing and get tipsy. The heat is on now and while getting high on final track Goldfinch Charm you know for sure you want to kiss your dance partner full on the mouth. Right now!!
You sit down together looking into each other's eyes, sipping a cocktail, waiting for the band to play again.
What can I say. This Witchcraft Jazz album of MetaQuorum is an hour of amazingly crafted tunes in ever changing positive cheer up moods and very addictive. If you think this is not your music, I recommend to listen anyway right now. And if you like Snarky Puppy then I recommend you to listen too! This album is a real must in the jazz rock genre. Highly recommended.
Dee Palmer - Through Darkened Glass
After fifty years in the music business, Dee (nee David) Palmer has finally decided it was time to create an album of original songs. As is probably common knowledge, Palmer is most famous for her work with Jethro Tull, first as a musical arranger from 1968 to 1976 and then as a full-time member from 1977 to 1979, ironically the more acoustic era of Songs From The Wood, Heavy Horses and Stormwatch to which she contributed the lovely instrumental Elegy. Since her departure from Tull she has been kept busy with film and television score, the occasional more serious classical pieces and a series of albums with various orchestras creating symphonic versions of songs by, mainly, prog groups, including Jethro Tull, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Yes, Queen, and The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
There are some Tull connections in the new album, most obvious by the incorporation of some familiar melodies and, of course the presence of guest soloist, none other than Martin Barre. Palmer, as one would expect, plays all manner of keyboards, some Spanish guitar and flute. Amazing to think that at one point Tull had three accomplished flautists in their ranks, a lot of opportunity for a flute trio rendition of Bourrée methinks.
When I first played Through Darkened Glass I was somewhat surprised that Palmer, a sprightly 80-year-old, had decided to take on the role of lead vocalist as she has what could be called an idiosyncratic voice that even in the most generous terms could not be said to match the quality of the musicianship on offer. However, having become more familiar with the album and the very personal nature of the lyrics I can appreciate the justification for Palmer wanting to deliver the pieces herself and, in many ways, don't think another vocalist would have the same impact. What I first thought would be a point of distraction for me has ended up just adding to the charms of the album.
The musical basis of Urban Apocalypse was originally composed at the time of Stormwatch and at one point was a contender for inclusion on that album. The choral opening borrows from various religious works before developing into probably the proggiest piece on the album with some great flute from Palmer and perfectly judged solos from Barre, who apparently extemporised much of his contributions to the album. The final solo, from 5'14" to 5'46" is one of the best I have heard him play in a while.
A tribute to the Black Country miners, amongst whom Palmer's relatives were members, is the basis of Black Orpheans which had a piano introduction that again could have been incorporated in any classic period Tull. The piece is in two parts, the first represents the journey from the pit-head to the coal face and while the second section of features a somewhat disembodied subterranean male voice choir mixed with the echoes of colliery brass bands.
The score for At The Still Point was originally written for a US film on the courtship and subsequent marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. It would have featured during the latter's funeral service if either Palmer or her publishers knew who had been the musical arranger before the event. It would certainly have been better than the insipid Elton John tribute.
Through A Piece Of Darkened Glass is an adaptation, with vocals, of Tull's Elegy with Barre once again providing fine guitar accompaniment. Emmamuelle was inspired by the famous photograph by Robert Doisneau of the kissing couple (Le Baiser de L’hotel de Ville, Paris) an imagination of the aftermath of that moment captured on film. Naturally, the music is très Français with an obligatory accordion; the mini pipe organ solo at the end is superb. The Man In The Street is not so successful, the pseudo-reggae beat overpowers the string arrangement and the two are not really a good mix.
We are back onto more solid ground with the guitar and maracas conjuring up the atmosphere for A Night In Spain. A tale of regret with a nice line in humour, the line "You didn't ask for my second name, but I never knew your first", setting up a fine twist at the end of the song.
The last three tracks are quite a tour de force, Old Lady Grey is not, in fact about a woman but a paean to the 12th Century Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres. The song is a grand mixture of contemporary, classical, choral mixed in with medieval overtones. I would have preferred to hear more of the choir who I think are somewhat underused but certainly do make an impact when they appear.
The most surprising piece is a radical reworking of The Beatles' Things We Said Today. Most of the song is just a piano, cello and cor anglais and is quite minimalistic, but a surprise jazzy chorus and a medieval middle eight shakes things up dramatically.
Finally, Forever Albion has a grand arrangement that Palmer was associated with in her time with Tull. A fine, fine piece of music, poignant and dramatic with an opening vocal arrangement that resembles Clannad in their heyday. I do think this piece would have benefited from having a stronger lead vocalist, although as Palmer is generally backed by a choir or at least a couple of other singers, the vocal shortfall is not as exposed as it could have been. A glorious piece that I can imaging being lapped up at The Last Night of The Proms.
I suspect the audience for this album will mainly be the more curious of Tull aficionados which is somewhat of a pity as in many ways the album is practically a definition of the word "progressive". It is an album that does take a bit of time to get used to, particularly the vocals, but when it clicks into place it delivers a lot. The melodies and arrangements are sublime and hearing this solo work from Palmer makes one realise just how much of an impact she had on the classic Tull sound. I congratulate Miss Dee on a fine debut solo album, even is she did wait until her eightieth year to release it!
Tonochrome - A Map In Fragments
Listening to a brand new album of a brand new band is like an adventurous journey. Sometimes you bump your head. You know you are waking up from a dream and the hard truth is that a dull day of work is ahead. Even in the progressive scene. But every now and then the journey is like suddenly finding yourself in an exotic environment you've never been before. Wandering through deep African forests, bush or plains you encounter wildlife you've never heard of. Songs that roar like a big, strong lion male that proudly defends his pride. Or songs that, while driving along the fields, suddenly surprises with a herd of deer melting your heart. A great number of big brown peaceful eyes watching you while grazing peacefully. Or the adrenaline kicks if you look straight into a set of predator eyes that wants to swallow you.
Tonochrome's full album debut, called Map In Fragments, definitely is this kind of a fantastic and thrilling adventure. Separately mapped songs, each holding its own secret or jolt, bridge, with or without an interlude, like a drive over a mountain top. To get us from one highlight to the next. Sit down and I will tell you the story my mind created while listening to their music...
Picture yourself in one of Africas nature reserves. A serene early morning drive over The Ridge. First rays of light cross the horizon. Positive vibes. Cymbals. Violins. Prog meets Beach Boys meets Moon Safari meets classic feeling. Raising questions, feeding expectations. What will this journey bring us?
Interlude 1 to Border Crossing by great horn and lyrics raises the mood together with the sun. It reminds me of A Formal Horse kind of progressiveness but with male vocals. Ending like a rocky Moon Safari. This break of dawn just drove us into a green and quiet plateau. A new world with all sorts of sounds emerging with the morning light. What serenade will that bring? The Border Crossing brings a creepy feeling. The feeling there might be murdering or slaughter going on somewhere near... We are holding our breath while classic violins stress the mood of blood. An early set of kills by hyenas, painted dogs, lions?
We quickly step into a hide, called Interlude 2, that shows our hearts are pounding of fear. Tighter suddenly hits! A vocal driven track through musical woods, turning simple into brilliant. Very tight indeed! A sharp bend in the road suddenly throws us into a Disputed Area. Modest. We know nothing. Maybe or for sure, the best song. Or the most amazingly beautiful landscape of the album; that I do know. Or even the best track of the year. Again, simplicity rules in composition, lyrics and instruments. Building up a great sensation. For the end of our journey is still far far away... We stop for a coffee on a safe place called Interlude 3 before entering Kilometre Zero.
Encountering a small and pleasant valley filled with tastefully weird and minimalistic art rock. Life is good. Just Like Us in full wahwah. But fear and danger are still tangible. We humans are predators. Or just hunted game ourselves. We are broken, we have to change. Humbled And Broken starts as humbled as music can be, after a few minutes broken by mirrors reflecting monotonic keys that perfectly supports the chorus for a while and even is dance-able!. We are gaining confidence. Discovering ourselves as a species. Maybe our greatest discovery has just been done...
Now onto the exit, we must get out! Desperately searching for the track that will lead us to The Gates. It feels fragile although strong in heart because of what we learned along the way. Violins and trembling vocals do wonders. Open the gates!
Last track on the map is Missing Piece. A true missing piece is found in our jungle in order to complete this opera. This true work of art. Ending a phenomenal journey through the wilderness to successfully discover... who we really are.
A very impressive, intelligent and unique debut. Strong and different, which suits progressive. Tonochrome is your personal ranger in a big adventure through the exotic heights and valleys of life. Pointing out new roads and new species in a world we call progressive. This album is an adventure in every aspect, loaded with events, roads without signs, landscapes and sightings one will never forget.
Revisiting it offers a new set of exciting stories and thrilling moods. Each listen, again and again.