Reviews in this issue:
Claudio Delgift - The Essential Claudio Delgift
Argentinian Claudio “Delgift” Rodriquez, also known as C, is a self-employed musician with 7 solo albums, two singles and an EP under his belt. Up till now these albums have only been available online and escaped many a music lover, I’m afraid, for even now these are hard to find and only mentioned on his Facebook-site. Something he has to address his attention to for this new release of The Essential Claudio Delgift might spark some deserved attention to his music.
Dutch record label Rock Company contacted Delgift to see whether a cooperation could work out, and right in the middle of winter released a warming compilation. Supposed to capture the essence of his former albums and on a whole give a good insight into his talent. Compiled out of 12 tracks dating back to 2012 and remastered especially for this occasion, we get to hear a collection of songs mixing elements of rock, jazz, blues, fusion, and prog.
It’s Delgift who’s responsible for guitars, bass, keyboards and vocals, aided by several different drummers on each track, apart from track 10 which is an acoustical interlude. Tracks 10 to 12 feature further players on keyboards slightly broadening his sound. A sound which has some shortcomings, not in musicality, but on the production side of things. Though remastered it is evident that the drums on occasion sound thin and vocals are drown out in the mix.
On the musical side it’s a welcome mix of easy going, ear friendly honest rock, with some lovely touches and ideas. It has a distinct summery feel to it, which lights a nice foresight in midwinter to an actual summer, although global warming and uncontrolled climates nowadays result in unexpected summery situations, causing me to enjoy this album in my garden in winter at 19 degrees Celsius.
Delgift’s voice blends well with the blues rock inspired music, with his strength lying in delivering tender and tuneful vocal lines. When pressure is applied and his vocal range is stretched, he tends to lose control slightly, but this gives it a certain charm and in a way reminds me of Randy California from Spirit. In fact, the musical approach on To Think, To Say, To Do and the last part of The World As A Whole enhances this even further, reminiscent of early 80s solo albums by aforementioned Randy California.
Another positive is the array of graciously flowing guitars, shifting through all sorts of rock, jazz and blues structures. A fine example is Vortex with shows some nicely executed melodic solos and captivating rhythms, sometimes bestowing the feeling of Tiles upon me. Another Stage emphasises this with sparkles of Steve Howe, keeping the melodic flow of the album going, which started out appetisingly with Tricapsule, a spontaneous ride like Wings Of Steel.
Clovers In The Field is a free swinging Dixie Dregs West Coast rocker and together with the jazz-rock infused Stereotypes, which ends on a high with some fine Rush-inspired rock, shows the compositional strength of Delgift: concise, direct, to the point and filled with catchy riffs.
He’s adequately capable of delivering longer epic tracks as well, as shown in The World As A Whole, which is like a trip down memory lane. Bringing it closer to my heart with nice touches of Rush, smoothly flowing Everon guitars and a huge Wishbone Ash feel, without the twin guitars but with a meaty satisfying guitar solo at the end. Equally fulfilling Ascent Of The Core / Descent Of The Stars glides by with succulent guitars reminding me of Spirit on their pristine 1978 Rockpalast concert.
Of lesser interest, and I prefer to think non-essential, is the folky track Mother Earth Network, which is based on a continuous simple down to earth beat upon which guitars exercise and keyboards add textures. Nicely executed, but uninteresting and I’d rather have tracks like A Promise Of Light And Wonder where founding bass meets weeping guitars and interact with drums and sparkling keyboards set a firm AOR feel. A sudden miraculous change to early seventies Yes with shining symphonic keys and progressively striding guitars results in a soothing progressive ending to a nice collection of songs.
In the old days we used to have a “No Risk Disk” qualification in the Netherlands, when something was worth your money and delivered on all fronts. The Essential Claudio Delgift has applicable qualities and delivers in showing a good insight into his music and giving your money’s worth for being playful, comforting and easily likeable. A further No Risk warranty can be given to the fact that the music can safely serve as perfect accompaniment to summer parties; not shocking your neighbours with your complicated music, but heightening your festivities with accessible communicative songs.
In the meantime he has published a new suite online (Our Spirit), and as a member of Light released a new album. So to be ready for the coming season and start assembling his discography, press shuffle and repeat, and organise a cheerful engaging barbecue with your friends. Don’t forget to invite your neighbours and let the summer festivities begin!
Phil Keaggy, Tony Levin and Jerry Marotta - The Bucket List
A great majority of prog fans will be familiar with two of the names of this guitar trio. Jerry Marotta (drums, percussion), Tony Levin (bass, Chapman Stick) should be familiar from their work with Peter Gabriel, King Crimson, The Stick Men and The Security Project.
However, the third member, guitarist Phil Keaggy, was new to me. But as the press release informs me, he has recorded over 60 albums since the late 1960s, and he is one of the most admired guitarists in the Contemporary Christian music world. His talents have earned him two Grammy nominations as well as being a seven-time recipient of the Gospel Music Awards’ Dove Award for Instrumental Album of the Year. I’m not sure how religious beliefs come across in instrumental music, rather than in lyrics, but God certainly has blessed Phil Keaggy with guitar skills.
This collaboration commenced over 10 years ago when the trio met and jammed together in Woodstock. Some of which were recorded, reworked and new tunes added until their release as The Bucket List.
It is when you hear Marotta and Levin outside of their familiar collaborators that you realise how their playing is integral to the albums they have played on. On this project, Phil Keaggy, Tony Levin and Jerry Marotta (aka KLM) mix world music flourishes with prog-fusion tendencies. Levin's slinking bass needs no introduction nor does Marotta's less is more approach.
The music is superbly melodic and never descends into fusion showboating. Instead, Phil Keaggy is a subtle master of long melodic lines that seem to inspire the other two. A case in point being Where's Phil? A short track of just Marotta and Levin whose improvisation runs out of steam before picking back up with the guitarists return on Phil's On.
Fans of more traditional prog guitar trios may find this underpowered, but The Bucket List rather than shouting it speaks softly and requires a close listen to appreciate its subtle manoeuvres. Fearless demonstrates this well, as Keaggy’s pinging harmonic playing moves into a slow, controlled solo. Where he heads into fusion territory (Midland Crisis, Sometimes We Up and Caravan) it is emotive rather than flashy. There is a lovely Steely Dan jazz-pop-funk feel to Steely Funk (clues were in the title I suppose). There really isn’t a dull track here.
Where it is not flirting with prog-fusion, KLM’s The Bucket List recalls the music of Gordon Giltrap, Mike Oldfield, Steve Hackett, and Steve Rothery on his The Ghosts Of Pripyat solo release. So really something for everyone except a metal-head I suppose, give The Bucket List a listen I don't think you'll be disappointed.
Joost Maglev - Alter Ego
The marketing descriptions that record labels give to their new releases often fall precariously into hyperbole. This second album by Netherlands-based musician Joost Maglev is presented with this reference: "Joost’s music has been compared to Queen, City Boy, ABBA, Ayreon, and Kansas - to name but a few". Under normal circumstances, I would be inclined to scoff a bit, but after hearing Alter Ego, I kind of get where they were going with the comparisons.
Now granted, it is still a little over the top, but the quest for diversity that the list implies is definitely apparant when listening to the album. I was instantly impressed with how much musical ground that it covers, while still maintaining a strong consistency and flow. Extremely well produced and meticulously performed, the album is most importantly, adventurous. There is an old school 70s/80s feel to some of the material (Angel, Judith Episode II, Alter Ego) and a more modern, prog metal sound to others (Corpus Christi, Burning Girl, Demon). Also, there are instrumental segments scattered throughout that give the album much of its prog bite.
Some of the best moments though are reserved for the quieter tracks, such as Ever After. This somber and quite lovely duet with Renaissance lead singer, Annie Haslam, also features impressive guitar work from Ayreon's Arjen Lucassen. The symphonic album closer, Dreams is also splendid. Both musically complex and lyrically potent, the songwriting is what solidifies the strength of this release.
I've mentioned before that my favourite thing about writing reviews for DPRP is discovering bands or artists that I hadn't heard of previously. Alter Ego is a very entertaining work that is made with obvious care. I always try to be constructively critical when warranted, but I am challenged to find much to criticise about this album. Yes, there are one or two tracks that didn't grab me quite as much, but even in those, I could hear the quality. Per the marketing description at the top of this review, Joost strives for great things and with Alter Ego, he succeeds.
Static Tension - Ashes To Animation
Static Tension is a southern Ohio based quartet with two EPs released in 2017 and 2015, according to their Bandcamp site, and finally delivering their first full-length album called Ashes To Animation. The band describe their sound as progressive grunge and honestly, this made me pick up this review since I used to love and listen to all those grunge bands from Seattle. In fact, I still listen to those great albums so mixing progressive rock and grunge sounded cool to me. Try Jar Of Flies by Alice In Chains because it´s a good progressive grunge album and of the best in my collection.
Going back to the grunge side, just from the very beginning you can recognise the Alice In Chains influence in the intro theme called Kindling, and it will continue even more in Bury My Body, not only including double vocal lines but also sounding like Layne Staley. Even the lyrics speak about suicide, sadly well known in Seattle.
No Return keeps the same idea but sounding a bit like Black Sabbath and here I find the main issue I am having with a few of the songs on this album. Sometimes you feel like the song is extended for no good reason. Maybe trying too hard to find a the progressive side? On the other hand, In Spite is a long song but well-structured, slow tempo and emotional singing, and finishing with great guitar playing in the last three minutes.
Absence is placed like an instrumental interlude. Not very interesting but I guess it´s placed there not to lose the mood because Got To Give has similar atmosphere in the beginning. This is one of the best songs here on offer. Emotional singing again and a good guitar solo. Not progressive per se, but a great song that could have been a hit 25 years ago. Next up is Serpentine, good for nine minutes and starting out with some Tool elements.
Production-wise and sound-wise, this album sometimes remind me of those grunge years. And I mean that in a good way.
At this point of the album you can guess how Blank Silhouette and Where´s The Air are going to sound. Good songs though but the feeling is that you have already listened to them before. Then surprisingly, Bloody Shadow closes the album with some female vocals and a totally different sound than the rest of the album, including a long silence before the final notes as an outro.
Ashes To Animation is a good album, although I was probably expecting more progressive elements and structures. Maybe some more tempo changes or different structures. I do look forward to what Static Tension can do next because it'd be great to improve this progressive grunge style. The truth is there are some good ideas on here and they know how to write good songs.
Don't miss the chance to listen to their previous EP´s on their Bandcamp site because they are also good ones. I'm sure this band would have been one of the big ones 20 years ago!
The Wrong Object - Into The Herd
If the idea of honking Saxes, complicated rhythms, expressive keys, biting guitar solos and off piste embellishments sends disconcerting shivers down your legs, to rattle your toe knuckles and knee joints in fiendishly complex syncopated patterns, then much of Into The Herd will no doubt not appeal.
However, if the thought of listening to something that is fresh, progressive and magnificently performed is tempting, then I suspect that many elements of The Wrong Objects latest offering will satisfy and impress.
If you are not convinced that overcoming any musical preconceptions can be a good thing, I have often found that it takes a bit of a leap of faith to take off the warm gloves and close fitting slippers to jump in and hear music that sits outside your usual listening experience.
I recently experienced this while listening to Gazelle Twin’s latest avant electronic offering and Markus Reuter's Heartland, which offers eight delightful and carefully crafted compositions for a string quartet. Both fell outside my usual listening preferences. They were initially challenging, but over time have become increasingly engaging.
I am confident that if listeners take some time to become familiar with Into The Herd, then they will find that much of the music has a complex emotional pull and is filled with deceptively enjoyable hooks, exciting playing and memorable melodies. The second half of the album is particularly strong and it is refreshing to hear a release where the order of the pieces is carefully set. This ensures that the standard of the album is consistently satisfying and that on its conclusion; it is able to lodge a sweet aftertaste in the memory.
The primary colours of many influences tint the tunes. The most noticeable hue is undoubtedly Frank Zappa. A number of tracks wear an air of rhythmic complexity delivered with a playful wink that is notable in Zappas pseudo big band instrumental work in Waka Jawaka and the Grand Wazoo.
When shades of Zappa are melded with tinges of some of the spacious gorgeous jazz inflected stylings that are often associated with the Canterbury genre of bands like Gilgamesh in tunes such as, A Mercy ,the resulting blend of colours and kaleidoscopic tones is never less than captivating and is frequently mesmerising.
The scene is set for in the excellent opening title track. It has a little bit of everything, defies, and crosses a number of boundaries. All of the instruments have important roles to play. Deep bass lines resonate with purpose, frantic drumming is unleashed to create a whirlpool of rhythms. Stop/start sections are sensitively marked by, exuberating instrumental breaks, where guitar, organ and sax interlock and solo imaginatively.
It is easy to imagine how the subtle etching and heavy chiselling of the ensemble might nourish the curiosity of classic prog purists. Nevertheless, the excellent off-piste guitar break in the final minute that is followed by the unified reed based squawking of the track's dramatic ending, would probably do little to satisfy any yearning that some prog fans might have for the type of music that might be sculpted upon their hearts.
As I have listened to this album, it’s twisted and infectious groove has increasingly captivated me. In a similar way, the numerous and often sudden changes of direction and unexpected changes of pace which feature in a number tunes have become a source of increasing satisfaction as I have become more familiar with the releases frequently surprising twists and turns.
There is a hard penetrating edge to a number of tracks. At the beginning of tunes like Another Thing, Ship And Fools, and Psithurism, there is a rawness that is redolent of the punk jazz plied by bands such as World Service Project. That The Wrong Object are able to temper and complement this initial raw feel with a range of sophisticated musical interludes is a testament to the performers in the band and the complexity of the arrangements on offer.
Many Lives is one of the standout tunes. Its evocative melody is very appealing and contains a similar sort of equally memorable motif that Jan Garbarek was frequently associated with in albums such as Twelve Moons. Its main melody is so ear friendly that it makes a listener want to chant, sing and whistle. The fresh piano opening accompaniment sets the scene for what is to follow, in much the same manner as Soft Machine were able to do so, in the outstanding Out Of Season piece in their Softs album.
The members of the band all have outstanding moments when they step into the spotlight and display their sparkling skills. Michel Deville provides many superb guitar effects and embellishments. These range from hair raising ferocity during the blistering solo in Another Thing, to the earthy distorted tones in the manner of Dusan Jevtovic in Mango Juice, to the sustained cascading of high frequency Fripp like tones in the magnificent Ship Of Fools.
The bass of Pierre Mottet is particularly impressive throughout the release and is particularly bubbly and boisterous in the ear wiggling rhythms of the wonderful Filmic. It is equally impressive and provides an exuberant and deep toned undergarment to the flamboyant storming and honking of Psithurism.
The other members of the ensemble make similar gilt-edged contributions. In this respect, reed players Mart Melia and Francois Lourtie drive many of the tunes with great gusto and purpose. When the opportunity arises for them to solo, the players accept the spotlight with breath-taking aplomb. On these occasions, jowl bulging squeaks and howls are as equally in place as carefully crafted passages full of melodious integrity and controlled expansive blowing, propel the music along.
Antoine Guenet’s thoughtful piano and keyboard playing adds space for the music to breathe when needed and offers an extra layer of intensity when required. The synth arrangement in Another Thing had me reeling, drooling and swooning.
The sound quality of the album is excellent. This ensures that every instrument is easily identifiable and has ample space. Maxime Wathieu recorded the album, and it was mixed by Etiene Plumer, and mastered by Mark Wingfield.
In many ways, Into The Herd is one of the most satisfying and enjoyable fusion albums I have listened to this year. Above all else, it has a fresh and spontaneous air, which exudes warmth and emotion, and in this respect, it is hard to ignore its infectious pull.