Reviews in this issue:
- Djam Karet - Recollection Harvest
- Elfonía - This Sonic Landscape
- Neil Alien - Fort Two [EP]
- Kraan - Wiederhören
- Kraan - Nachtfahrt
- Kraan - Live 88
- Credo - Rhetoric
- Glass – Illuminations
- Fred Schneider - Kess Kiss Bass?
- Edhels - Universal
Djam Karet - Recollection Harvest
Recollection Harvest: The March To The Sea Of Tranquillity (7:18), Dr. Money (7:12), The Packing House (11:11), The Gypsy And The Hegemon (9:20), Recollection Harvest (10:06)
Indian Summer: Indian Summer (4:10), Open Roads (4:57), The Great Plains Of North Dakota (3:13), Dark Oranges (3:44), Twilight In Ice Canyon (5:16), Requiem (4:16)
Californian instrumentalists Djam Karet maintain their impressive work rate by releasing their 14th album since their inception in 1984, a total that doesn't include a couple of cassettes containing unique material, three CDR compilations of live and unreleased material and two compilation CDRs. That's pretty good going these days where, like the majority of prog bands, the musicians have full-time jobs in order to make a living. As if that wasn't enough, new album Recollection Harvest comprises two releases: an album of the longer epic pieces that DK have become associated with, and a six-track, 26-minute EP called Indian Summer that focuses on the more acoustic and atmospheric side of the band. However, the inclusion of the shorter numbers doesn't herald a change in direction for the band: the duality, and versatility, of the group was exposed as far back as 1987 when the heavily guitar infected Burning The Hard City was intriguingly contrasted by the more ambient and atmospheric Suspension and Displacement.
The band have stated that for this album they "worked diligently to explore a more melodic and orchestrated vision of high-energy progressive rock" taking inspiration from keyboard-based prog of the past 35 years or so. The results prove that their explorations were not in vein. Recollection Harvest contains music that will be looked back on in years to come as containing the template that many tried to copy but few came close to matching. Striking out like an angry King Crimson on The March To The Sea Of Tranquillity, the band make the most of their decision to employ the sounds of the classic analogue synths and keyboards. Much like what IQ achieved on their wonderful Dark Matter album from late last year, the results are echoes of the past but in an entirely contemporary setting. This is no mere pastiche, it is original and invigorating music. So, one of the lead synth lines in the opening half of Dr. Money has a similar sound to that once used by Emerson, Lake and Palmer but ELP never really grooved as well as Djam Karet do. Beautifully evocative acoustic guitars (played not only by Gayle Ellett and Mike Henderson, but also original bassist Henry Osbourne) are blended with the dual lead electric six strings and ever present keyboards (played by everyone except Osbourne) to create a piece that bleeds excitement.
Aaron Kenyon, who joined the group for 2003's A Night For Baku contributes bass to the majority of the tracks, and is particularly influential to the core of the song on The Packing House where his contributions are downright funky and provide the basis for all sorts of playing above, behind and around his bass runs. The harmonising of the sustained guitar notes from the two guitarists if very effective, particularly when combined with brief Mellotron stabs. This piece could easily be a contender for the best piece of music written by the band. The Gypsy And The Hegemon is vaguely reminiscent in places of early Steve Hackett (and not just in the title either!) - the most extensive use of keyboards to date has certainly opened up new horizons and possibilities for the band, although it remains to be seen how they will be able to replicate the album on stage. The title track derives inspiration from John Wetton-era King Crimson with its guitar 'Frippisms' and a staccato rhythm that darts around the place. There are so many changes in tempo and rhythm that drummer Chuck Oken, Jr deserves credit for holding everything together. In fact his drumming throughout has been recorded with a crispness and conciseness that is so often lacking. The ending is as heavy and aggressive a conclusion you'll find in any prog band. Quite simply, Recollection Harvest is an excellent addition to the Djam Karet catalogue and is as good a place for people to start their DK collection as anywhere, and it is not often you can say that about a band.
But wait! Don't go just yet! There is the still the matter of the Indian Summer EP! And what a contrast it is to what has gone before. More thematic and atmospheric, the six tracks range from the keyboard dominated title track (which could easily be mistaken for a piece by Tangerine Dream!), world/ethnic percussion-based music as on Open Roads, flamenco inspired guitar work on The Great Plains Of North Dakota and the electronic soundscapes of Dark Oranges and Requiem (which are devoid of all bass and drums). While showcasing a different side of the band, the material is not as interesting as on Recollection Harvest although Twilight In Ice Canyon would have sat comfortably with the five compositions that make up that part of this CD. But, as the band point out on their website "they can be enjoyed together, alone or even randomised in your CD player".
With Recollection Harvest, Djam Karet have shown that they are still progressing, still adventurous and still the finest instrumental prog rock band in America. A highly recommended release for all lovers of adventurous music that embodies all that is great about classic progressive rock (without the vocals!!).
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Elfonía - This Sonic Landscape
Tracklist: Gigantes IV (2:21), Maquina (3:02), Soundscapes (5:20), Desaciertos (5:45), ...De Los Libros Del Tiempo (5:29), Camaleón (5:21), Letargo (3:22), Mañana (5:00), Traveling (3:41), Gigantes I (4:55), Gigantes II (7:03), Gigantes III (4:56)
If you had asked me two months ago: "is it possible to mix Latin American, jazz (fusion) and heavy guitars in a way that it makes interesting sounding music?" - my answer would be: "yes, you can", because I know of a Mexican band called Elfonía that managed to do just that with their first album. "But can they do it a second time and at the same time take a step forward?" After listening to this second offering, This Sonic Landscape, the answer would also be: "yes". Or in fact: "yes, definitely". Elfonía's trick, to pull this odd combination off , is to add some 90s progressive rock to glue it all together.
The fact that Arjen Lucassen has been working together with Marcela Bovio again (on Stream Of Passion) should prove that he also recognizes the talents of this amazing vocalist. She has a very clear voice that, at the same time, is very powerful, a rare combination. But a good singer will only bring you half way there - you also need good compositions and musicians able to play them. Elfonía are indeed very good musicians, the kind that make a hard thing sound very simple, and the compositions on this album really put all of the band to the test. If you think you are in for easy, standard 13 in a dozen music, don't even give This Sonic Landscape a single spin - but then again: you would not be reading this review. But if you are in for a musical surprise This Sonic Landscape - will sure be an album for you. The whole album is 'different', a bit unruly even.
In my review of their debut album you can read that I was much impressed by Elfonía's first offering. The same can be said of this second album: again it took me some time to realize that but once 'we clicked' I really fell in love, and even more so this time. The band has made real progression - the songs are much more melodic and jazzy while the Elfonía feel has been preserved.
Gigantes IV has a dreamy atmosphere, starting off with Javier Garagarza's splendid drums and although there's no real lyrics, Marcela adds some extra vocals to enhance the dreamy feel. The strange thing is that although the track is numbered IV it is placed before the other Gigantes tracks. The second track, Maquina, is very jazzy almost leaning towards jazz fusion, with the two melody lines contradicting each other. On top of this Marcela's vocals offer a third melody line, and mixed in with the heavy guitars make this song really original. Soundscapes however is a very quiet track of which the intro is completely carried by the vocals, it is only halfway through that the bass and lead guitar start adding in their pieces - before decaying again to almost voice only. Desaciertos has the same start but a very different flow when slowly the guitar swells to a much fuller sound. It is not completely guitar based but there is a very nice laid back guitar solo in the middle of it.
But the best track on this album is ...De Los Libros Del Tiempo. It has a superb build up and a leading role for everyone in the band: the quiet harp-like keyboards by Alejandro Millán are changed to dreamy atmospherics and then interrupted by Roberto Quintanilla guitars backed by Pablo González Sarre's heavy bass guitars. Marcela Bovio's clear voice is better than ever. Javier Garagarza's drums, again, are extraordinary and complicated. This song entered my list of all time favourite tracks the third time I heard it. Even now, while writing this review, I stopped so I could sit with my eyes closed to really enjoy this track. There is not one note too little or too many. Atmospheric, melodic, raw guitar riffs, complex but catch rhythms, powerful vocals, it's like a summary of the whole album.
Camaleón has some more 'standard' heavy guitar sounds but as this is Elfonía it certainly is not a standard track. It ends with a very recognizable, and great, guest appearance of Arjen Lucassen. Letargo is a very mellow and melancholic concertino(!) and keyboards track. Mañana picks up the pace again with a nice but wilful guitar loop, again Marcela's voice is superb: flawless high pitched vocals. Travelling again has that kind of laid back jazzy start, keyboard fragments while the refrain is much more powerful. Gigantes I, II and III have one thing in common in that they are very atmospheric and melancholic (even sad). Sophisticated is also a word that springs to mind. Excellent tracks if you are in the mood to sulk a little or just want float on the music.
Any single word or label used to describe Elfonía's specific and unique style sells the band short terribly. But compared to the "average progressive rock band" (does it exist?) Elfonía's music is more jazzy. And while they are experimenting and daring to cross every musical border, the music is much too melodic and coherent to simply be called experimental. One of the questions I ask myself to form an opinion on an album is pretty simple: will I play this album again once the review is finished? This time that decision was easy: I got this album at a very early stage and kept playing it through all the months that it was in my possession. Just for the sheer fun of it. And this album does not grow old, in fact even after two months I still find new things in the amazing depth of the tracks.
Soon Marcela and Alejandro will be in the spotlights because of Stream Of Passion, but hopefully this will not mean that This Sonic Landscape will go by unnoticed. The amazing melody lines, the superb musicality and on top of that one of the best female voices in the World make Elfonía's This Sonic Landscape highly recommended.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Neil Alien - Fort Two [EP]
Tracklist: Never Even (3:22), Nine On (7:35), Unspoken (4:31), Fort Two (5:02), Ever Even (7:19)
Neil Alien is a dark-prog band from Turku, Finland, and has up to now released a full-length album in 2004, called For The One, which was a collection of melancholic songs with acoustic guitar and "dark" vocals. The band was composed of four members, and this year the addition of a drummer and a bass-player found the band in a state of redefining their sound, producing a music closer to progressive pop-rock than before. Currently their line up includes vocalist-guitarist and main composer and lyricist Jarkko Tiusanen, a female vocalist also playing the saxophone ,two keyboard players, one bass-player and a drummer.
If I had to summarize their influences, I would include two names: Peter Hammill and Jeff Buckley (or Anathema - especially concerning the depressive, self-destructive lyrics). The former mainly due to the vocals and the latter mainly due to the compositions. The music also contains elements of avant-garde and post-rock.
The first track (Never Even) is a short opener with quite some variations from soft piano-driven vocal parts to rougher guitar breaks. In Nine On we are introduced for the first time with the duet between the singer and the female vocalist which actually works pretty well reminding me of some progressive rock bands, although I have to admit I do not like Jarkko's vocals in the refrain very much. The track is dominated by a very nice piano melody which renders a sweeter feeling overall. Unspoken is a really nice atmospheric track with a wonderful interplay between guitar and an avant-garde saxophone in its beginning, and a very Anathema-like ambience.
Fort Two is the gem of the EP for me. Unlike the rest, this is a quite rhythmic track, which sounds like a bizarre combination of Hammill's solo works and the band Strangelove . The bass-driven start is nicely enriched with keyboards which lead to a very clever outbreak in the middle of the track that gives way to the first clear progressive reference in the album, the guitar in the close of the track and its duel with the saxophone. Ever Even is the last track, it starts with an enchanting tune reminiscent of Tool's Parabola, but has a refrain that in my opinion spoils the track since it does not fit neither with the beginning neither with the wonderful post rock ending of the track (Godspeed You! Black Emperor...)
This EP is a very coherent piece of work, and the band seems to have lots of ideas that seem to transfer to music with a great success, and I really look forward to the full length release coming up. Some work could be made on the vocal lines though, and I believe that if they dropped some refrains from some tracks, resulting in a less conventional track format, with possibly some more experimentation, they could reach a very high album quality.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Kraan - Wiederhören
Tracklist: Just One Way (3:49), Vollgas Ahoi (6:07), Silky Way (3:58), Rendezvous In Blue (5:56), Let’s Take A Ride (5:24) Rund Um Die Uhr (3:31), Yaqui Yagua (5:19), Wiederhören (7:13) Bonus Track: Ein Wiederhören Mit Einem Bass Solo – Live At Fellbach (19:28)
Tracklist: Wintruper Echo (4:29), Faust 2000 (4:12), Elfenbein (5:08), Nachtfahrt (6:28), Playing For You (3:55), Viel zu heiss (3:00), Normal (4:05), Paper Stars (4:50), Luna Park (6:02) Bonus Track: The Daily Blues (5:02)
Tracklist: Rush Hour (3:50) Dinner for Two (1:34) Vollgas Ahoi (5:40) You’re Right (6:37) Wintruper Echo (5:28) Nam Nam (12:27) Holiday Am Marterhorn (7:42) Air Bass (6:38) Nachtfahrt (5:01) Favourite Land (4:45) Jerk Of Life (5:20) Kunststuck (2:18) Kraan Arabia’88 (5:08) Bonus Track: Ausflug (6:39)
All of you will be familiar with the German label InsideOut, with its large catalogue of releases standing at the forefront of the modern progressive rock scene (including Spocks Beard, Transatlantic, Flower Kings etc etc), but their new Revisited Records imprint (for reissues) may well take you by surprise. Kicking off with the voluminous back catalogue of synthesiser pioneer Klaus Schulze, they have also presented such diverse artists as Krautrockers Amon Duul II, Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush, and The Baker Gurvitz Army - certainly a mixed bag, and all quite different to the typical fare of the mother label.
Not that that is necessarily a bad thing – a lot of these albums are well worthy of revisiting, but if you only like the Neo-Prog, or Prog-Metal styles, you will not be interested in these. Personally, I have a very wide taste for Prog Rock in pretty much all its many forms, including Synth Rock (I am a big Klaus Schulze fan), Krautrock and Jazz Fusion, so I was pleased to receive these three reissues from Kraut-Fusion pioneers Kraan. I have been a fan since the 1970’s when they showed up live on U.K. TV’s classic show The Old Grey Whistle Test. They were part of the first wave of German progressive rock, alongside Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, Guru Guru and Embryo, though Kraan had more in common with the latter two of these, sharing an eccentric, eclectic song style with Guru Guru, and a penchant for jazzy structures with Embryo.
If you like some jazz with your prog, any of Kraan’s albums up to 1976 are worth having, with Andy Nogger and Live being perfect showcases for their unique blend of rock, jazz and ethnic influences (long before World music became fashionable), mixed in with eccentric and ebullient songs and virtuoso playing. These two albums belong in your collection!
Kraan were never a band to sit still, or play it safe and these three discs each present a different side to the ever-evolving Kraan sound.
For Wiederhören, from 1977, long time saxophonist Alto Pappert had departed, to be replaced with keyboard wiz Ingo Bischof, taking the music in a slick, high-tech fusion direction. The compositions are generally shorter, more streamlined, but the playing is as tight as ever. Peter Wolbrandt (guitars, vocals) and Helmut Hattler (bass) are masters of their respective instruments, and Wolbrandt’s vocals sound like a Teutonic, stoned Hendrix on quirky songs like Let’s Take A Ride which also features pitch-bending synth soloing form Bischof. Wolbrandt scats his way through the vivacious Rund Um Die Uhr, and his guitar playing is phenomenal here. Tasty instrumentals like Volgas Ahoi, and Wiederhören with superb electric piano make this a winner for fusion fans. The bonus track is a terrific, extended live version of Wiederhören, including a mammoth bass solo, proving Hattler’s incredible talent, if not his capacity for restraint.
Next, we jump to 1982 for Nachtfahrt, and although the instrumentation remains the same (with Gerry Brown replacing Jan Fride on drums partway through the recording) there has been a big change in the sound. Kraan had become imbued with the spirit of the times, as embodied in the “Neue Deutsche Welle” (New German Wave), and punchy vocal tracks like Playing For You and Faust 2000 are energetic stabs at a simpler style. Elsewhere, Wintruper Echo and Nachtfahrt are frothy fusion romps in the old Wiederhören manner – lead by frenetic, funky bass and overflowing with fluid, dancing guitars and synths in a highly melodic and enjoyable fashion. Normal and Viel Zu Held are eccentric oddities, with the latter featuring clashing Dub Reggae and Synth Rock – strange indeed. Paper Stars is a playful stab at pop, not my kind of thing really. An unreleased vocal number by Gerry Brown, in a rocky, Hendrix style which foreshadows Lenny Kravitz, is included as a bonus.
So, a mixed bag on this one, with some of the tracks definitely likely to stir things up, making Nachtfhart perhaps one for completists, or new wave fans only.
The sprawling Live 88 (recorded at the tail end of 1987) is very much a return to form, featuring nigh on 80 minutes of superb live Kraan. In my opinion, their earlier Kraan Live is one of the very best live albums of all time, featuring extended versions of classic tunes like Kraan Arabia, Jerk Of Life and Holiday Am Marterhorn (all of which are revisited here, along with Nam Nam), but this CD complements it nicely, as it features 10 tracks not on the other album, and radically different versions of the tracks which are repeated. This is down to the presence of Joo Kraus on trumpet and keys. The switch from sax to trumpet on staple tracks like Kraan Arabia adds a fresh new twist to the ever-evolving Kraan style. Newer tracks like Rush Hour, Wintruper Echo and Volgas Ahoi sit nicely alongside the older stuff, acting as a platform for some incredible, incendiary instrumental workouts. This lengthy set mixes instrumentals with vocal tracks and never fails to entertain. Along with Wiederhören, this is probably closer to jazz fusion than prog per se, but it should appeal to anyone liking adventurous, elaborate music performed with the highest level of skill, but never losing a playful and eccentrically charming approach. Above all, Kraan music is FUN!!
All three of these reissues sport smart digi-packs, with informative, picture-packed booklets and contain CD’s made to resemble black vinyl LP’s, a nice touch for nostalgic Progheads like me.
Unless you are a mad keen fusioneer, I still recommend you to try their Andy Nogger and Live sets first, but Wiederhören is a pretty solid disc, and Live 88 is superb value for money and a good introduction to the world of Kraan, though it only presents some of the many and various facets of the Kraan experience, leaving lots to discover as you explore their back catalogue.
Wiederhoren : 7.5 out of 10
Nachtfahrt : 6 out of 10
Live 88 : 8 out of 10
Credo - Rhetoric
Tracklist: Skin Trade (6:52), Turn The Gun (6:54), From The Cradle (7:25), To The Grave (11:53), The Letter (7:45), The Game (11:39), Too Late (6:46), To Say Goodbye (4:41), Seems Like Yesterday (5:40)
Given a name like Credo, and a lead singer sounding not too dissimilar to Fish, it’s inevitable that certain comparisons are going to be made. In fact, the bands influences can be traced back to early Genesis, taking in Marillion on the way. As this album clearly demonstrates however, they have much more to offer.
Surprisingly, for a band whose roots go as far back as 1972, this is only their second album to date. Their first, Field Of Vision was released on the Cyclops record label in 1994. When the band’s contract with the label expired, they decided it was time for a change, eventually joining the F2 label. This album has been a long time in the making; demos were recorded in 1999. Various set backs, not least an unexpected medical condition laying low vocalist Mark Colton, delayed the album. The eventual release comes exactly 11 years after Field Of Vision.
The result is a finely crafted album of well written, arranged, and recorded songs. Individual performances are high, particularly from the two leads, Tim Birrell on guitars and Mike Varty on keyboards. They receive solid support from Jim Murdoch and Martin Meads on bass and drums respectively. Mike, whose keyboard credits include Landmarq, Shadowland and Janison Edge, is also responsible for the excellent production. In true democratic fashion, the band share writing credits for all songs on the album.
Energetic album opener Skin Trade is a commentary on the murky world of pornography. Stately synths and ringing guitar provide a counterpoint to the biting lyrics. The reflective bridge section has all the hallmarks of early Genesis. Driving guitar propels Turn The Gun along at a frantic pace. Lyrically, this song is in the same territory as Family Snapshot from the third Peter Gabriel album. The sound of a police siren signals a change in tempo, with a fluid guitar solo to close. From The Cradle and To The Grave, combine effectively to describe two sides of a relationship. A feminine prospective, and a mood of sadness is established with delicate classical style acoustic guitar and floating synths. Following a spacey Yes like mid section, atmospheric synths and a march like rhythm set the scene as the singer assumes the role of an angry lover. An extended instrumental section featuring prominent bass, soaring guitar and synths provides a majestic conclusion to the story.
The Letter begins in deceptively tranquil mood, and builds slowly with persistent bass and Gilmour/Latimer style guitar phrasing. Passionate vocals, inventive drumming, and a forceful synth solo enter the fray as the song builds in intensity. The strong synth melody that dominates The Game is an absolute joy, and put me in mind of Criminal Record by Rick Wakeman in places. The vocal delivery is very measured in a theatrical way, but works well in the context of the song. Not to be left out, gentle piano and sublime guitar play their part towards the end. Two songs are again combined, this time to relate the horrors of the First World War. Following a brisk instrumental opening, the hypnotic piano and vocal presentation in Too Late harks back to Misplaced Childhood era Marillion. As the momentum builds, the descriptive lyrics paint a graphic picture of the battlefield, with electric violin courtesy of Mike Varty adding to the sombre mood. To Say Goodbye is a melancholic reflection on the consequences of war, with poignant synth laid over acoustic guitar. A minor quibble I have is with the siren and gunfire sounds at the end. With the words and music effectively capturing the mood, these are an unnecessary addition. Thoughtful guitar and haunting synth provide a gentle start to Seems Like Yesterday. As the piece builds, massed guitars and inspired drum work produce a suitably dramatic conclusion to the album.
Don’t be fooled by the fact that this is only the bands second album. This is a very tight and mature unit, with ensemble playing throughout. Yes, there are solos a plenty, but there’s no moments of excess, or egos on display here.
If experimental progressive rock is your thing, then this album may not be for you. If however you appreciate good songs, rich in subject manner with an abundance of melody and superb musicianship, then you really should give this album your attention. There will be moments of recognition for fans of IQ, Pendragon and >Marillion amongst others, but this band deserves a much wider audience.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Glass – Illuminations
Tracklist: Overture (5:43), Astral Transcension (7:12), Isle of Dyslexia (3:14), Medicine Man (5:30), The Hidden Room (3:42), Tressing (5:10), My Tantric Gatito (3:49), Eclipse (2:48), Wanderlust (2:38), Eternity (1:57), Reprise (1:35), Delirium (5:00), Falling (2:23), Slightly Behind All The Time (5:57), Gaia (6:10)
Playing Illuminations for the first time, I smiled as the first repeated chords of Overture rang out from my CD player. The keyboard and drum sound, the phrasing, even the production – I was transported to those innocent (or so they seem in retrospect) days in the seventies when, a teenager who had heard nothing more progressive than, oh, say, a stray Electric Light Orchestra single on the radio, I somehow stumbled on U.K., King Crimson, early Genesis and Yes, Camel (of course!), and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. If you like any of those bands, you’ll find something to like in Glass’ Illuminations.
A bit of history first, gleaned from Musea’s promotional materials. Apparently, the band was formed in the seventies and actually recorded an album that was never released – or, rather, that wasn’t released until it was put out by Musea five years ago. The band has re-formed, and Illuminations is an album of all-new material. These fifteen pieces are mostly written for the trio, but the occasional song serves as a solo workout for one or the other of the trio’s members. Whether or not these solo tunes are primarily nods to the musicians’ egos, they work well in the context of the album.
The Hidden Room, for example, written and played solely by keyboardist Greg Sherman, is a delicate tune on which Sherman teases all manner of sounds from his Korg synthesizer (how do I know it’s a Korg? Because the liner notes – again, like those of many bands I dug in the seventies – lovingly note exactly what instruments are played on each song!), even including pizzicato “strings.” Bassist Jeff Sherman gets a turn on My Tantric Gatito, a slow, gorgeous song that, while it showcases Sherman’s fine ear and dextrous fingers, could also serve as an ad for Alembic basses, so superb is the sound of that instrument here. Even drummer Jerry Cook has a solo spot, Medicine Man, which, though longer than his bandmates’ individual pieces, is much less dull than a five-and-a-half-minute glorified drum solo might be, largely owing to Cook’s tasteful and even witty use of timpani and something that sounds suspiciously like cowbells.
For the rest, well, Glass are unashamed to acknowledge their predecessors (or perhaps I should say “previous contemporaries,” since this band first worked in the seventies!). Overture, which I praised at the outset, reminds me of nothing so much as Trick Of The Tail - era Genesis – simple but effective Mellotron work set against a deliberate beat that, seemingly effortlessly, breaks down into weird but melodic bridges. Slightly Behind All The Time, meanwhile, could almost be an outtake from Camel’s wonderful Rain Dances album – gentle but propulsive, with a repetitive bass line that works its way into your brain even on a first listening.
Elsewhere, the band is clearly setting itself apart from contemporaries current and former, if not always with complete success. Take Delirium, for example. Against interesting and highly varied beats and icily funky Hammond organ are set snippets of voice-mail messages. Why? I don’t know. It’s true that, at five minutes, the song is a bit long and repetitious to sustain interest – but the message snippets hardly relieve the tedium. Frankly, they’re just annoying. The anthemic, album-ending Gaia is perhaps more effective; but, as the title might imply, this is an ambitious composition that (probably inevitably) doesn’t do justice to its titular subject, the goddess of the Earth. It’s a slow, ponderous piece that aims at grandiosity but ends up being only grandiloquent – not bad, just overblown, and a bit of a disappointment as the ending to an otherwise exciting album. The problem might just be that on this song, the band incorporates the work of several guest musicians, including Phil Miller, Richard Sinclair, and Paul Black. The whole in this case is less than the sum of its six parts.
Those minor faults aside, Illuminations is a fine piece of work, recommended to fans of progressive rock in general and highly recommended to fans of seventies progressive rock. Without being derivative, Glass manages to evoke the innocence (I’m going to persist in calling it that) of those ambitious days while taking advantage of modern recording technology to make an album that sparkles with energy and with the joy the band obviously experienced in making these songs.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Fred Schneider - Kess Kiss Bass?
Tracklist: Thanx (3:13), Food Prince (4:07), An Elephant Never Forget (3:53), Medication (3:20), Sweet Link (5:57), Bifidus Aktif (4:17), Pa By Ma (5:06), At The Milk (ole!) (3:45), Quizzland (3:38), Froggy Style (4:15), Couleur Blue (3:07), Fanfare And Slap (4:29), Fripatronik (4:26), Jusko File (3:40), Hola Dis Mais Hola (3:34), Zolifan (5:01), Muse Et Ame (4:56)
This oddly titled album is the second solo album of French bass player Fred Schneider. He previously worked with many artists in the French jazz scene, including the alternative jazz ensemble Toxicomoon. The electric bass however, is not the only instrument that Schneider picked up while recording this album. In fact, most of the tracks are performed entirely by Schneider, including guitars, keyboards, programming and percussion. The album has 17 tracks, let's take a look at some of them.
The album starts off with a laid back, jazz rock track called Thanx. It has a nice theme and features multiple bass lines, supporting as well as soloing. The tribal rhythm at the end of the track, which forms the segue into the next track, seems a bit out of place and is a sign of Schneider's tendency to use strange sounds in unexpected places. Food Prince is a flowing track in an orchestral setting with a beautiful theme played in unison by oboe and bass. The music unfolds a fairytale landscape (to me at least), probably aided by the rich range of (synthesized) instruments.
An Elephant Never Forget relies heavily on the different percussive qualities of the instruments that were used. Quite a happy track with multiple bass lines and percussion. Medication is a nice ballad using only bass, and a string ensemble in the background at the end of the song. Unfortunately no real cello and violins were used, but this is no problem when you're not using headphones. The next track is called Sweet Link, an enjoyable jazz fusion track. Bifidus Aktif has strange rhythm and keyboard sounds and many bass solos in various styles. Some parts of Pa By Ma reminded me of Weather Report with Zawinul-like keyboard parts and a hint of Jaco Pastorius.
Quizzland starts out quite laid back and has a long soaring guitar solo. Again, the bass playing again reminded me of Jaco Pastorius. Froggy Style is a funny track and has a Level 42 sound to it. Not only by the slapping style that made Mark King famous, but also by the use of percussive and vocoder style keyboards. The slapping sound would have come across even better if the bass line hadn't been mixed strictly as a mono sound.
Couleur Blue is a simple but great blues rock track with a very long and funny drum solo. It sounds like Schneider and his guest musicians had a lot of fun that day. The title Fripatronik suits the music well: it's a bit too electronic and weird for my taste. It sounds like the bass was recorded in a phone booth.
Hola Dis Mais Hola is an exotic sounding title, and so is the music. The Latin rhythm is contagious and the bass playing excellent. Nice chord changes too. Dreamlike keyboard sounds and a trumpet introduce Zolifan, a nice slow paced jazz track with trumpet, bass and piano alternating in the spotlight.
The final track Muse Et Ame is a heavy track but it could have been less busy. The percussive keyboard sounds distract from other things that are going on, like distorted guitars and even widdly widdly keyboards!
After digging through this album a couple of times, I found that most of it is quite listenable. The album has a mix of light and up tempo songs, most of them jazz tracks. However, the choice of strange samples and sounds makes some tracks too heavy and the album slightly unbalanced. Fortunately, Schneider didn't put too much emphasis on the (well performed) bass playing, thus producing an enjoyable album for the instrumental jazz enthusiast.
On a side note: when you pronounce "Kess Kiss Bass?" in French, you're simply saying: "What's going on?" Well, quite a lot on this album.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Edhels - Universal
Tracklist: Martha (3:12), No Message (3:33), Sophie's Legs (4:47), Tenera Lupa (5:22), Mad Wedding (7:16), Egyptian's Matter (5:30), Keep In Contact (3:50), Martha (10:57)
Edhels were formed in the early 1980s and have been producing albums at a fairly regular rate ever since then. Universal is a collection of live material from circa 1998 and, apparently, is somewhat unusual from the normal run of things in that it features extensive vocals. I say 'apparently' as, prior to receiving this album to review, I had not heard anything by this French band. And on the basis of this release I've not been missing out on a lot! Now, I have heard a lot of good things about the band and Marc Ceccotti, their enigmatic leader. However for one reason or another have never had the opportunity to check them out. Hence I was rather disappointed when I first played the album and found it very hard to sit all the way through it.
Laying aside the vocals for just a moment, the music itself is not all that appealing. Ranging from poor jazz to poor fusion, there is no real structure or dynamic to the songs. Ceccotti's guitar appears and disappears at random soloing in the most inappropriate places with no reference to what any other members of the band are playing. Egyptian's Matter does have a vague King Crimson feel to it although it does seem that the vocalist is just ad-libbing lyrics over the top, indeed I'm not entirely convinced they were actually recorded at the same time as, or with reference to, the musical backing!
And that brings me on to the main bug bear, vocalist Jean-Marc Bastianelli. His vocals are quite simply down-right annoying and generally lack emotion, dynamism, style or clarity (Keep In Contact being the best, or should that be worst?, example). The lyrics are not really inspirational either. Although I hesitate to criticise a non-native English speaker for poor pronunciation and poor writing, Edhels are really doing themselves no favours as vocals and lyrics are important to a lot of people. If they are not comfortable writing or singing in a foreign language then what is wrong with their own? Either that or leave it to someone who can better annunciate, like Sandrine Bonnet whose limited backing vocals proves that she would have been a better choice to sing lead.
A review on a another progressive website has called Universal a "lost masterpiece", that the music is "easily comparable to Deep Purple" (a comparison so far off the mark it is laughable!) and that Edhels were "certainly one of the most under underrated bands in the history of rock music". I know it is all a matter of opinion, but that sort of hyperbole is totally unjustified, maybe the fact that the reviewer is credited as an executive producer has something to do with it! On the whole, my advice is that if you want to hear some Edhels then this is not the place to start. Choose one of their instrumental albums which may prove more palatable, although you won't find me rushing to the head of the queue in order to find out!
Conclusion: 4 out of 10