Reviews in this issue:
- Kotebel - Omphalos
- French TV – This Is What We Do
- Marygold - The Guns Of Marygold
- Unicorn Digital (VA) - Progression In Balance Vol.1
- Unicorn Digital (VA) - Progression In Balance Vol.2
Kotebel - Omphalos
Tracklist: Ra (13:10), Excellent Meat (8:51), Pentacle's Suite: [I] Prologue (1:36), [II] Sun Pentacle (5:20), [III] Mercury Pentacle (7:26), [IV] Venus Pentacle (4:22), [V] Mars Pentacle (6:38), [VI] Epilogue (4:49), MetroMnemo (4:15), Joropo (4:53), Omphalos (6:57)
Since forming in 1999, Kotebel have had three previous album releases, with Mysticae Visiones and Fragments Of Light being the two most recent. Both have been favorably reviewed on this site. Check out the bands website and you will come across this statement:
“Without being constricted to a specific style or genre, Kotebel aims to achieve a convergence between classical or "formal" music and progressive rock. In that respect, it might be more accurate to consider Kotebel as an eclectic project, immersed in the mainstream of progressive music.”
I certainly like a band with noble ambitions, but do they deliver? The answer is that for the most part, yes. Album opener Ra sums up the band very nicely in terms of style and content. Omar Acosta’s flute leads from the start, joined by Carolina Prieto’s light operatic vocals, with mellotron like synth strings and piano support from Carlos and Adriana Plaza. The tempo moves up a gear midway through with organ, flute, chugging guitar, and urgent rhythm playing from the partnership of Carlos Franco and Jaime Pascual recalling the intro to ELP’s Tarkus. The sound mellows with melodic Allan Holdsworth style guitar phrases and sharp bass lines before the up-tempo section returns to play out. In the instrumental Excellent Meat, guitarist César García Forero dominates throughout. Jagged guitar, solid bass and explosive drums evoke King Crimson in aggressive mood. Random angular guitar lines sound like Steve Howe on acid. The acoustic guitar in the tranquil bridge section is curiously similar to Neal Morse’s playing on Spock’s Beard’s The Doorway. Forero goes into overdrive with speaker shredding guitar lines underpinned by an earth shaking riff and masterful rhythm playing. Magnificent stuff!
The albums centrepiece, the multi movement Pentacle's Suite takes up the next 30 minutes. In the brief but atmospheric Prologue ethereal vocals, electric piano, percussion and flute provide a Middle Eastern flavour. Sun Pentacle opens with a lively flute and bass theme with Pascual excelling on the four string. Choral voices and orchestral synths underscore flute, building to the edgy guitar, flute and synth interplay. Mercury Pentacle includes a striking vocal and flute passage on a wave of rippling classical guitar. Dramatic bass and drum punctuations lead to a soaring Andy Latimer style guitar solo. The classically influenced Venus Pentacle is a delicate instrumental based around the quartet of flute, piano, synth strings and outstanding cello playing from guest Miguel Rosell Arreaza. A nimble bass solo introduces Mars Pentacle followed by a volley of drums. A rare but welcome synth solo takes the lead with intricate embellishments from flute, lead guitar and piano. This is ensemble playing at its best.
In Epilogue, a beautiful melody is introduced by acoustic guitar, dreamy flute, and restrained percussion in a style reminiscent of Anthony Phillips. A change in tempo is dominated by vocals, accompanied by strident keys and guitar with a repeated piano motif having the final word. MetroMnemo is another Forero guitar feast, with a reoccurring jazz style guitar, bass and drum pattern. In between, aggressive electric guitar licks and meditative classical guitar noodlings are served up in equal measures. Joropo maintains the jazz theme, but the mood couldn’t be more different with a breezy flute and synth sound supported by buyout piano playing. The title, and concluding track Omphalos starts unimpressively until the velvety electric guitar tones enter, with dynamic instrumental work from the whole band and dramatic chord punctuations to close.
I don’t believe I’ve heard flute featured so prominently in a band before, and that includes Jethro Tull! Omar Acosta’s classically structured but free flowing style has shades of the playing associated with PFM, Camel, John Hackett, even The Moody Blues. Carolina Prieto’s vocals took a while to grow on me, not being a huge fan of the operatic style. Her voice is used more as an instrument rather than the lead and the song style doesn’t follow the normal verse-chorus format. The keyboard team of Adriana Plaza and Carlos Plaza are the musical heart of the band. Piano and synth strings are a constant factor, emphasizing the bands classical influences. Carlos is also responsible for the compositions and crystalline production, with the exception of the two guitar driven tracks that unsurprisingly are credited to Forero. César García Forero is a progressive rock guitar hero in waiting in my opinion. He certainly knows his way around a fret board and is equally at home with prog, jazz, classical and hard rock. Carlos Franco is an extremely skilled drummer with a looseness in his playing that I admire. Bass player Jaime Pascual gives a monumental performance throughout.
Surprisingly, given the bands classical leanings, I detected very few traditional Spanish influences in the music. The tremolo technique associated with Spanish guitar playing is virtually absent from Forero’s acoustic work. Their sound is akin to the more experimental Italian and UK prog bands. The music’s conception has parallels with Karda Estra, The Enid and the artists I’ve already mentioned. The music is both challenging and thought provoking. It not only deserves the listener’s full attention but also demands it to be appreciated. There were times I must confess when I found my attention span tested in some of the more repetitive passages. The melodies are slight, and there are no in-your-face hooks or bombastic musical gestures. What you do get however is a group of virtuoso musicians playing in complete harmony. A note on the back of the digipack states “file under Art Music” which gives a clue as to where the band are coming from. This should baffle the average record store employee as the majority of prog in my experience ends up in the “Metal” section!
Conclusion: 7+ out of 10
French TV – This Is What We Do
Tracklist: Colourless Green Ideas Sleep Furiously (10:19), Ska Face (8:24), My Little Cicada (11:48), Look at The Bears! Look At The Bears! Look At The Bears! (8:10), Theme From ESPN X Treme Cobalt Blue 4x4 Bathroom Tile Installation Games (13:01)
This is the first review on DPRP for Kentucky based outfit French TV, but This Is What We Do is their 9th release! Admittedly, their skewed take on Canterbury style fusion (with more than a nod to Frank Zappa’s large ensemble jazz group work), is far away from the song-based Neo of DPRP favoured bands like Marillion, Arena, IQ etc or the ProgMetal of Dream Theater, Riverside, Ayreon et al, but their genuinely progressive, if slightly crazy, approach to instrumental music surely deserves a place on the site.
Lead by bassist Mike Sary through various incarnations (the one featured on this CD has already dissolved), French TV are still producing challenging, provoking but entertaining music 23 years after their inception.
With all the tracks lasting between 8 and 13 minutes, each one has plenty of room to explore many different musical avenues, with many an odd juxtaposition of styles, and numerous twists and turns, constantly surprising the listener. (They even flirt with Ska rhythms on Ska Face). This can make it quite difficult for one to get a firm handle on the tunes but certainly prevents boredom from setting in.
A glance at the titles will reveal a humorous slant, similar to Canterbury bands like Hatfield And The North and National Health, and indeed the music also shows strong influences from those bands too. With a varied musical palette featuring violins, screeching saxes, winds, mallets, guitars (often surprisingly hard rocking), and masses of quirky keyboards all underpinned by Sary’s dynamic and inventive bass and all-over–the-kit drumming by Jeff Gard, there should be something here for even the most jaded of tastes.
My favourite pieces are the Zappa-esque opener, and the Dippy Look At The Bears… but really each of the tunes has it’s moments. I can’t say that any of the tracks are entirely successful and there is so much going on that it is difficult to remember much once the CD has finished, but each time I return too it I find myself delighting at some new flourish or phrase that I had not noticed before. Not for everyone, this CD will offer many rewarding listens to the patient Canterbury / Fusion aficionado.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Marygold - The Guns Of Marygold
Tracklist: Hara-Kiri Show (7:25), Crows on the Tree (6:32), Marygold (7:21), Sunflowers (5:21), Tania Stands (2.56), The Wizard (9:46)
The Guns Of Marygold is one of the very few CDs I’ve reviewed for DPRP that I would categorize without hesitation as bona fide “Progressive Rock.” As this is a debut release from the Verona, Italy, band, I can only commend the members for having done their homework well and thank them for offering a mildly derivative but fairly satisfying album.
Marygold features Guido Cavalleri on vocals and flute; Marco Pasquetto on drums; Massimo Basaglia on guitars and bass; and Stefano Bigarelli on keyboards. (Massimiliano Pasini also contributed bass guitar work.) The lyrics, which are delivered in English, were penned by Michele Pomari and Marco Adami. Instrumentally, The Guns Of Marygold is excellent. Mr. Basaglia and Mr. Bigarelli shine especially bright on these six tracks. Mr. Basaglia reminds me of guitarists like Brian May, George Harrison, Lindsey Buckingham, and Steve Hackett, all of whom rarely solo to showcase chops but instead prefer to accent the song in the correct spots to give it flavour. And make no mistake: this is a song-oriented effort. In that measure, it harkens back to the early days of progressive rock, when the influence of The Beatles was still significant and highly melodic songs were expanded to include some dexterous, adventurous playing. There are many classic prog hallmarks on this album, perhaps most notably the various sonic textures Mr. Bigarelli employs in his keyboard work, which shifts from acoustic piano to synths without detraction. I hear a wide range of influences on The Guns Of Marygold: classic-era prog pioneers (e.g., Tull, E.L.P., and Pink Floyd); late 70s prog a la U.K.; Neo-prog; and the proggier elements of the huge arena rock acts (Styx, Kansas, Boston, Asia, and Saga, to name a few). It might be enough to say that this album steers more toward The Broadsword And The Beast, Civilian, Misplaced Childhood, The Sentinel, Worlds Apart, The Grand Illusion, and maybe Animals than Red or Relayer or A Passion Play. I don’t have a problem with that musical direction, as I prefer my prog wrapped around an attractive tune…but you might. Nonetheless, especially in the arrangements, instrumental balance, musical acumen, and energy, Guns zooms right down Prog Rock Street.
The standout tracks for me are Crows In The Tree, which includes impressive guitar work in the middle interlude; Marygold with its Genesis-inspired oddness; The Police-meets-80s Rush choruses of The Wizard; and the marriage of 7/4 awkwardness to arena bombast in Sunflowers. There’s nothing on Guns that is hugely innovative or brilliantly daring, but still, there’s something to be said for precise playing, smart chord progressions, controlled dynamics, and catchiness, all of which Marygold utilizes well.
Now, there are two problems with Guns. First, Mr. Cavalleri isn’t the strongest singer in the world. He has power and some range but he is often flat and nasal. He can stay on key and at times he’s impressive with a low-end Geoff Tate style voice. But (and it may only be the mix on the vocal tracks) he does sometimes annoy. The second problem is the English lyrics. I get the distinct impression the words on Guns are poetically appropriate in Italian, but in English, they are stilted and disjoined. For example,
“Holy guards kill each other while/captain sole at the telly sat his last idiocy/after all young Dali was right/we’re rotten flesh inside/the crab.”
I couldn’t help wondering, after this verse, if young Dali had been wrong, after all… Regardless, the lyrics are problematic, and Mr. Cavalleri has trouble with possessives, plurals, and “th” in general. Next time, let’s go with Italian lyrics, shall we? The singing and the lyrics do mar the impact of the songs, but still, it would be untrue to say that they ruin Guns. The album is fine: the lyrics and vocal performance just need to mature slightly.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Would I feel cheated had I bought this CD? No; I played it three times and it held up well each time. Would I recommend that you buy this CD? Maybe. If you really adore Neo or English lyrics annunciated through a thick European accent, or if you want to hear some streamlined, not mind-altering but pleasant enough new prog, have at it. Would I recommend that you hear this CD via begging, borrowing, or stealing? Maybe. It’s actually a solid debut and, at just over 39 minutes, it doesn’t try patience or attention. I can’t say The Guns Of Marygold is stellar, but it isn’t Robin Taylor either, and I’m comfortable recommending it.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Unicorn Digital (VA) - Progression In Balance Vol. 1
Founded back in 1996 with the release of Mystery's Theatre Of The Mind, Unicorn Records have gone on to release 21 albums from the progressive and fusion fields. They have also spread their wings encompassing bands from around the World, whilst still promoting their native Canadian artists. I noted from Michel St-Père's accompanying letter that some had felt that Unicorn had drifted away from its progressive roots, moving into a somewhat jazzier/fusion field - well let me re-assure those doubters that the two new releases received by DPRP just prior to Christmas (2004), that this is not the case. Look out early in the New Year for reviews from Norway's Retroheads with their Retrospective album and from Canada, Kaos Moon make a welcome return with The Circle Of Madness.
You get the impression that a great deal of thought has been put into Progression In Balance, if you take into consideration the time-scale of each of the recordings and the varied programme of material the album flows remarkably well. And although there are a couple of points where this sampler loses its way, I have heard worse examples where only one performer is involved. Along with the flow, the album also retains a crystal clear production, (this is present on all of the Unicorn releases I have come across) and it is heartening to see that a "family" spirit is present - Richard Addison being responsible for the overall mastering of this Sampler and the artwork provided by Xinema's Jonas Thuren.
The sampler opens with a track from the unusual Mood Swings album from the Addison Project and featuring the aforementioned Richard Addison. Sleep Walking is an intricate Weather Report-like grooving jazz arrangement, catchy and complex at the same time. The punctuating heavy guitar chords although strange in concept do add drive and nicely counter the jazzier saxophone and piano instrumental sections. Dave Sissons' thoughts on the album can be found in his review of the Mood Swings album.
The jazz fusion vibe continues with the first of three tracks from the excellent Spaced Out. The 5th Dimension is an extremely complex arrangement with superb ensemble playing from all and time signatures that deny any notions of foot tapping along. Some interesting Holdsworth inspired guitar work here. The second piece is taken from the band's second album Eponymous II - opening in a much heavier fashion but soon moving into familiar territory. Antoine Fafard shows some his amazing bass chops - however please read Nigel Camilleri's review for a more detailed overview. Slow Gin from the album of the same name rounds up Spaced Out's contribution to Progression In Balance, and if you were to only listen to the first 30 seconds or so of this track you may well get the impression that you have stumbled upon some heavy metal album, however a normal service is resumed fairly quickly albeit that the metal element remains throughout. Read Dave's review of Slow Gin.
Two pieces are offered from Martin Héon's Electro Acoustic Requiem, an exploration into the sonic possibilities of the electric guitar. I found this a somewhat difficult album to digest - concluding that it may appeal only to those looking for the greater possibilities of the guitar. Amazed by Beauty was one of the more concise tracks - further thoughts on Electro Acoustic Requiem can found in Mark's review.
Talisma's contribution is the driving Satanusky from their 2003 Corpus release. Satanusky is a great little track with its driving guitar riff, Emerson-esque keyboard lines and strong rhythm section. The album received a somewhat unfavourable review from Martien, however he does state that musically the album was "not his cup of tea". Following Talisma's offering is definitely the jazziest track from this compilation - Red Shift from Martin Maheux Circle. As DPRP has not covered this album so an appraisal of this one track will have to suffice. Drummer Martin Maheux moves from his "Spaced Out" drum stool and although the jazz element remains, the heavier side is gone. Jean-Francois Gagnon plays the expressive trumpet that provides the top line to Maheux's busy, open drumming, Frederic Alarie's gliding upright bass and the somewhat ethereal keyboard washes, again by Maheux.
After some 26 minutes we are treated to the first of the vocal pieces and taken from where it all began with Mystery. The history of the band is nicely charted on the Unicorn site and we see how and with whom the label begins. Interestingly Richard Addison is there in the early stages along with Unicorn's Michel St-Père (guitars & keyboards), Benoit David (vocals) and Steve Gagne (drums). Comparisons musically can be drawn with fellow Canadians Saga and perhaps to a lesser extent Rush. Surprisingly DPRP hasn't covered any of Mystery's releases (which seems a shame) as certainly the two tracks here offer a fine balance of the technical and the melodic.
One of the more enjoyable albums I reviewed during 2002 was Xinema's Different Ways, and from that album Blind Is The Light represents them here. I remarked at the time that this track was possibly the most progressive song they had recorded - and I remain of this opinion. Great album which I still listen to - often!
The final three tracks are taken from Hamadryad's Conversation Of Mass which we covered recently. As Gatot's review went into some detail with this album I will let his words speak for these tracks, adding only a few brief remarks. Conservation Of Mass combines strong vocal sections, crafty progressive rock and progressive metal arrangements with a hint of fusion for good measure. The deep growling bass pedals, distinctive "Ricky" sounding bass guitar and the Mellotron adds a nice nostalgic touch. Finally I would say that from the eight minutes or so of music to be found on this compilation (and Gatot's review of course) that there are enough pointers for me to check out this album further.
As for this Progression In Balance compilation - all I can say is it is well worth checking out (and this from someone who invariably has very few kind words for such releases). Better still you could buy one or two of the featured artists albums.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Unicorn Digital (VA) - Progression In Balance Vol. 2
It may seem a little strange, and you may well ask why we review both these compilations at the same time, especially as Vol.1 was released during 2004. Well the truth of the matter is that Vol.1 was actually written in 2004, but for some obscure reason was never uploaded to the DPRP site. As I personally wrote the review and am responsible for the uploading of the reviews, there seems to be little avenue for me apportion blame anywhere other than at my own doorstep. In fact this oversight might have gone unnoticed forever had I not looked on the site to see what I had written about the first compilation.
So leaping ahead two years Unicorn Digital release another compilation from their growing artist roster. Two bands make a return on Vol.2, Hamadryad and Talisma, both having had new releases during 2005, whilst the remainder of the CD is dedicated to new Unicorn signings. As we have reviewed almost all the recent Unicorn releases, I have included links so that you can read the full reviews, hopefully giving a greater insight into the bands and their music. Only one track by Upright has not been featured, so I have added my thought accordingly.
The CD kicks of with Canadian trio Talisma's take on tricky progressive rock instrumentals - click the album title link to read Dave Sisson's review of Chromium. We remain in Canada for the second track, taken from the excellent The Circle Of Madness by Kaos Moon. An album chock full of infectious songs, loads of melodic hooks and some great playing - one of my favourite releases from 2004.
We move swiftly over to France for the next offering and the somewhat strange but very beguiling NIL. Featuring the endearing vocals of Roselyne Berthet, set against the often Crimsonique influenced quirky stylings of the band. Read the DPRP recommended review of Nil Nouve Sub Sole here !. On the move again and this time we land in Uzbekistan for this contribution from percussionist Vladimir Badirov. Greeting From Nostradamus is tricky album to get into - the title track featured here gives us a good glimpse of Vladimir's rhythmically tight jazz/fusion influenced album.
Taken from Little King's Virus Divine, Peacemaker offer us their Rush influenced, classic hard rock/ modern alternative rock approach. Chicago based trio Parallel Mind on the other hand move more in the direction of Derek Sherinian's Planet X or perhaps LTE. Nibandh Nadkani's keyboards dominate and fill this strong release from 2005. Concluding our short trip to the USA for these last three acts is Dimension X. This Is Earth received a DPRP recommended and cranks up the volume stakes here with their ProgMetal/heavy melodic rock tinged track Why.
Back in Canada once again for the sole album not covered by DPRP from Vol.2. Upright are a progressive jazz quintet celebrating their 10th year together this year (albeit with 7 year gap and a number of line-up changes). Founded by drummer Benoit Verdant and the bass player Eric Martin the band wrote and performed with two other founder members - Bernard Baribeau and Eric St-Jean. From this original line-up it would appear that only bassist Eric Martin and saxophonist Bernard Baribeau remain. The drumming throne is now taken up by Jerome Chamberland with Marc-Etienne Savage on keyboards and Annam Nguyen, guitar, completing the reformation. Difficult to gauge from just one track, but musically we are in the Canterbury Scene collective of bands. On Nouvean Depart the sax of Baribeau sits comfortably within the odd time signatures laid down by the rhythm section. Annam Nguyen guitar glides effortlessly across this particular arrangement.
aLkemy's track is taken from their 2004 debut Da 63 Projekt. Inner Pulse is breezy track with a progressive fusion approach - the top line is dominated by the fluid guitar of Aurelien Budynek, which slides effortlessly across this track. Although each of the rest of the band takes on a brief solo section. Enjoyable.
The distinctly Yes-like sounds of Ring Of Myth draws us closer to the end of this compilation. Danny Flores Anderson-esque voice nicely complementing the music that combines the lightness of acoustic instruments alongside the more driving organs and gritty guitar. Read our Duo Review for more info.
Another DPRP recommended this time for Canadian's Hamadryad. Safe In Conformity saw a change in direction for the band, due to the departure of vocalist Jocelyn Beaulieu. However despite this Hamadryad bounced back with a sterling album highlighting their original strengths, but moving their sound more in a Gabriel era Genesis direction. Still retaining that heavier approach and the fluid guitar of Denis Jalbert Alien Spheres showcases the band in a strong light.
And finally we arrive in Norway. Retroheads album Retrospective (the band name and title say it all) offer us an enjoyable excursion through 70s and 80s prog. Mellotrons, flutes, stately arrangements and a fitting finale to this compilation.
Once again the Unicorn family are heavily involved with this release. Production and re-mastering is once again handled by Richard Addison, while Jonas Thuren supplies the artwork. The track running order for this and the previous release is by Michel St-Pére and considering the diverse nature of the material, flows very well. Both CDs are keenly priced and if you decide to purchase a couple of Unicorn's other releases at the same time - you can get one free.
So once again a nice little taster from the Unicorn stable...
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10