Abel Ganz - Abel Ganz - Duo Review
Delusions of Grandeur (02:11), Obsolesence Pt.i Sunrise (03:40), Obsolesence Pt.ii Evening (04:41), Obsolesence Pt.iii Close Your Eyes (05:00), Obsolesence Pt.iv The Dream (06:12), Obsolesence Pt.v Dawn (03:48), Spring (02:24), Recuerdos (04:20), Heartland (05:07), End of Rain (05:33), Thank You (06:57), A portion of Noodles (03:22), Unconditional (14:04), The Drowning 05:25
Eric Perry's ReviewThere are some things in this world that move slowly. Galapagos island tortoises, mating Pandas at the zoo, HS2, a clean-up of politics (hell will freeze over first) and in Prog, a new album by Abel Ganz. Finally after a lengthy period in which little has been heard from the Ganz camp, save for the occasional studio teaser, their newest and perhaps most transformed album to date has finally arrived.
Simply entitled Abel Ganz, the latest release bears all the hallmarks of a real progression, a transformation and a highly polished and sophisticated product.
Those fans who have followed the band over the years may recall that back in 2011 the Scottish proggers were seen debuting a mammoth 40 minute track at the Electric Garden festival which sounded close to becoming the basis for a follow-up to Shooting Albatross (2008). Hope of a new album emerging soon evaporated though as the band went into hibernation and continued to dismantle and re-write the material. It was also within this period that the lineup began to evolve which did cast doubt in some minds about the future for Ganz. The departures of long term founder members, Hew Montgomery and Hugh Carter meant that the band were moving ahead without two of the foundation stones. But as it turned out, the solidity was there in the shape of the core members which had pretty much been together for over a decade. Adding to the lineup of drummer, Denis Smith, bassist, Steven Donnelly and Mick McFarlane on vocals was the addition of session man Jack Webb then later Stephen Lightbody on keyboards and Davie Mitchell on guitars. This has proven to be a very productive and polished version of the band and without doubt every bit Abel Ganz.
So onto 2014 and the arrival of a new (and highly successful) Pledge campaign from the band signaled the end of the hibernation and the arrival of something unheard and possibly unfamiliar. As it turned out though, this is both true and false.
Abel Ganz is very much as its self-named album title suggests...this is Abel Ganz as it was, as well and the new Abel Ganz as it is now. It's hard to argue otherwise as the band have changed and evolved over the thirty odd years that they have been around, this album is purely a natural evolutionary step in their history. What that change hasn't done though is lose the essence of their sound and it is evident is the quality of the musicianship and songwriting and indeed with the sound itself.
The album is very much a work of two halves--one that represents an epic, five piece suite called Obsolescence preceded by the gentle but purposeful symphonic opener, Delusions of Grandeur. The second half of the album delivers a more intimate and largely acoustical tone reminiscent of the likes of Anthony Phillips with some songs having a subtle but tangible flavour of Scottish folk and country.
In all truth a summary of the album in a paragraph is something of a challenge, rarely does a record have so much diversity and breadth, it really has to be heard, and heard again and again.
Obsolescence is Abel Ganz at their most mighty and progressive and it bears many of the elements of the original project from 2011. It's a journey piece with a delicate opening segment which finishes with the bluster and bang that an epic tune should deliver.
Part 1 – Sunrise is a real charmer which wraps around you like a warm blanket. Vocally the band from the off are showing the listener their strength with a strong harmony lead by the excellent voice of MacFarlane resonating over a beautiful guitar and piano. The voices echo the sound of the Eagles on Seven Bridges Road.
Lulling you into a calm place at the start of Part 2 – Evening, the pace lifts into a bouncy piece with a confident Stevie Winwood sounding piano. The song is an upbeat, catchy number which has a positive message of finding yourself. The feel good tone peaks with stunning middle section of pedal steel courtesy of the talented Iain Sloan.
The rest of Obsolescence through parts 3-5 builds to a satisfying conclusion. Park four begins with a distinctly early Genesis sound and follows to its climax with some truly bombastic Prog keyboards that nod directly towards the style of Wakeman. The suspense created from part 4 is then counteracted by a soulful, melancholic guitar which gathers in strength until it soars over the back of a hair-raising choral finale. The only petty niggle here is that the last few bars of ending are a little short and an extended closing passage would perhaps have been even more satisfying. This isn't a shortcoming and doesn't affect the rewarding experience the whole suite delivers.
In distinct contrast again to the scale and grandeur of the previous song, Spring is a stripped back playful acoustic number which harks back to the Private Parts and Pieces series from Phillips. It's a track that would be best served on a warm day spent lying on soft grass looking up at a blue and white sky. There is a strong feeling of contentment derived from listening to it.
Recuerdos – meaning to remember, is also a laid back acoustic track which is beautifully coloured with a brass section that fits well with contemporaries such as Big Big Train and as such it should appeal to fans of them too. The remainder of the middle of the album, if that's the right way of looking at it, has a similar feel throughout.
Recuerdos follows into Heartlands, an intriguingly beautiful piece of world music which has a haunting sounding vocal over the sound of children playing vibrantly in the background. This instrumental piece stands out as one of the jewels on the album and provides proof in spades of how diverse and creative the band have been on this release.
It's this diversity which stands out further with the laid back country-folk of Thank you', a real heartwarming track which is a delightfully paced, slightly anthemic feeling piece with a rather splendid Knopfler-esq guitar style running over the top harking towards the tone of the film score to Local Hero. To say this song feels as much a part of the band's Scottish heritage and musical roots is a woeful understatement. This track chimes with the feeling of everything north of border and would enhance any journey through the highlands. The Scottish feel is captured in the sustained guitar note section that dominates the start of Unconditional, the second epic length song from the album. This track has all the signs of the new Ganz within it, it can shift from a Prog rock start to a sophisticated smoky jazz, to a Northern Soul brass passage and on into a silky yet aggressive shredding guitar. It all fits together so neatly there is a real sense of a band at the top of their game with this number and it demands repeated listens to appreciate fully.
In the end the feeling from this album is that it was very much worth the wait, unlike some things. Those trustworthy parlimentary elected will sort themselves out (still not convinced) and HS2 will rip up the countryside and the public purse as well before it's delivered, but when it comes down to it something's do arrive and impress us when they eventually make the light of day. With this album there is the overriding conclusion that this is something quite special. This collection of songs is not only a winner from start to finish, it is sumptuously packaged and expertly produced and mastered. It has to be one of the best releases of the year and without doubt it signifies an exciting return to one of Scotland's finest and most underrated bands. This reviewer has never to date given a perfect 10 for any album, but unquestionably, this is going to change on the back of this release.
Alan Weston's ReviewOnce in a while an album can restore one's wavering faith in all things musical and plant a huge smile on your face. Scotland's very own Abel Ganz's self-titled album is one that hits the musical g-spot for me; a wonderful cornucopia of sounds, moods, instrumentation and some lovely tunes to boot.
The embryonic beginnings of Abel Ganz can be traced back to somewhere around about 1980 when two talented Scots musicians, Hugh Montgomery and Hugh Carter, decided to form a band. There have been a few line-up changes through the following years but soon after recording 2008's Shooting Albatross, both Hughs decided to call it a day which nearly saw the band fold since these guys were the mainstay composers. Thankfully the remaining members kicked that idea into touch and with the encouragement of both Hughs (they do feature on this album, so haven't completely abandoned ship!), decided to take on the challenge but create their own indelible musical stamp on proceedings and take AG somewhere else with influences coming from artists like Focus, Joni Mitchell, Crosby Stills & Nash, White Willow and possibly last but by no means least, Scottish Celtic-tinged folk music. Some aspects of this album might not be prog to some die-hard neo-progsters, but this is a band who are progressively branching out tentatively into new uncharted territory.
The album art work is dominated by scenes of wintry Scottish landscapes that gives a sense of where the band are from, depicting innocence and longing which is referenced in some of the lyrics on the album.
The opening track, Delusions of Grandeur, couldn't be any more different from the rest of the album. Classical in style, with wonderful piano playing from Jack Webb and features a great string arrangement that accompanies a superb oboe solo from Sarah Cruickshank. The music has a wistful yearning, a touch melancholic and dark in places with a dramatic edge. They don't overdo it here and it is a cracking and interesting way to open an album.
The album is awash with acoustic guitar based tracks, moments and accompaniment. For example, the opening track Sunrise for the 5-part suite Obsolescence both include Genesis style 6 and 12 string acoustic arpeggios that accompany a strong lyrical delivery from Mike MacFarlane, with good vocal harmonies from Denis Smith. Also some fine finger picking acoustic guitar work in the track Spring by Mick.
Recuerdos has a memorable melody with well placed brass moments that reminded me of some of Big Big Train's work. Thank You also has an unforgettable tune that could easily feature on Ally Bain's Transatlantic Sessions, and includes an excellent steel pedal guitar solo from Iain Sloan. Lovely melody and lilt to this song. Maybe not prog, but hey, this is simply a lovely song!
There are also great neo-prog moments on this album. Close Your Eyes features superlative underlying Hammond C3 organ work and an absolutely tantalising synth solo from Hugh Montgomery, plus a superb Wakeman-ish cathedral organ solo towards the end of The Dream from Stephen Donnelly.
The album is also littered with some exceptional instrumental tracks. Superb electric guitar motifs from Dave Mitchell in the opening of Dawn. The haunting End of Rain with eerie sound effects and hypnotic percussion. A Portion of Noodles features some simple but great arpeggio 6-string acoustic guitar playing from Mike MacFarlane.
One of the highlight tracks for me is Heartland which has all sort of influences in there for me. Fine flute playing from David Carlton that reminded me of Mostly Autumn and the pounding entry of programmed drums & percussion with a sad string accompaniment would be something that Peter Gabriel might have wished he had penned. Also some lovely Gaelic singing by Joy Dunlop that adds that sense of Scottish belonging. Sublime and worth checking out.
Another highlight is the well arranged Unconditional epic which is the longest individual track on the album. Great keyboard & piano work from Jack Webb, as well as good use of brass instruments, driving bass lines, blistering guitar solos, fine vocal harmonies, and solid drumming from Denis Smith.
The closing track, The Drowning, is possibly something Peter Gabriel could easily include as part of his work with the New Blood Orchestra. No drums or guitars – only brass and a vocal part. Once again a completely different arrangement and instrumentation to anything that has come before on this album. I'm sure many progsters won't get this track but it demonstrates what these guys are musically capable of and are not afraid to dip their toes into a new undiscovered Scottish loch (I admit that sounds corny!).
The musicianship on this album is of high calibre and the album has a genuine earthiness, organic feel to it and it's not saturated with clever and sometimes annoying effects and gimmicks.
I once saw AG perform at The Ferry in Glasgow as part of a Scottish Prog Night, along with Comedy of Errors and Credo. I was so impressed by their music, I bought the Shooting Albatross album on the night and was on the lookout for their next offering. This album, as you can probably tell by now, has not disappointed me and I think the band are taking their music to new pastures and I for one will be very interested in their next release. I love the Celtic connections they have embrasced and hopefully this will feature in albums to come. As to the old DPRP neo-prog, Celtic-folk acoustic progometer (hard to pidgeon-hole this album!), this scores a well deserved 8.
Mehdi Alouane - Sound of Incurable Diseases
In to the Disease (2:08), From the Past Reborn the Storm (5:19), Self Fulfilling Prophecy (6:22), Affected Memory (6:18), Keep the World in Balance (4:56), We See Clearer in the Dark (6:53), What Is Dead May Never Die (Part 1) (2:16), What Is Dead May Never Die (Part 2) (5:48), Nostalgia (5:07), Cryptic Values (4:51), The Last Page (5:00), Wilhem's Dream (5:07)
We know Yes is prog rock. We know Cheap Trick is not. TSotID does not reside within the confines of prog rock proper. Nonetheless, and with true merit, it is a fascinating cornucopia within which is offered ambient music, Arabic-tinged world music, electronica, angular jazz drumming, metaphysical voice-overs, a variety of indigenous augmentation, the occasional bona-fide rock guitar riff, some exceptional, wordless half-tone singing, and an abundance of smart ideas and fine, accomplished playing.
TSotID is Mehdi Alouane's second solo release, following not-too-closely on the heels of 2012's Hatred for My Inner Chaos, which I haven't heard but intend to experience in the very near future. Mr. Alouane is a son of Algeria and began drumming in his late teens. As a self-taught musician he performed with several bands within his native land. Subsequently, he undertook formal training in France, where he currently lives. The studies have certainly paid-off well, as Mr. Alouane's drumming is impeccable throughout TSotID: intense without undue flashiness and complex without obscuring the overall emotional tone of the tracks.
On TSotID, Mr. Alouane (drums, keyboards, programming) is joined by Nadir Boubsil (guitar, bass guitar) and as vocalist Mina Chaou on several songs. The musicianship is nothing short of adept; near flawless. Mr. Alouane moves between jazz motifs and rock forcefulness with ease. Mr. Boubil's guitar work, especially his acoustic playing, is sleek and grand without being pompous. Miss Chaou's voice is pristine, whether ethereal or cathonic. In sum: exquisite musical acumen across the board.
The tracks are certainly "of a piece", as reviewers sometimes say. My best analogy? Blend Peter Gabriel's soundtrack for The Last Temptation of Christ and Page & Plant's No Quarter, add in a bit of the electronica aesthetic from Radiohead's Kid A, and perhaps even a few tracks from Tull's Roots to Branches, all served with a hearty plateful of North African semi-tone pulse. Additionally, I suspect that fans of solo Jon Anderson, Middle Eastern music in general, and the more ambient side of, say, Djam Karet would find this album a snug companion.
(An anthropological note. It's amazing to me the degree to which the music of the Indo-Europeans, or Aryans if you prefer, spread so vastly, as did their language. There is a huge similarity of sound when comparing the indigenous music of Northern Africa, the Mediterranean shore, Slavic Europe, the Middle East, the southern nations of the former U.S.S.R. and Iran, Pakistan and northern India. The spread of Homo sapiens for good or ill, included a powerful musical legacy which echoes across a large chunk of terra firma even today.)
I won't review each track but will instead mention the few that stood out for me.
Keep the World in Balance begins as a crisp jazz-rock groove, featuring some crystal-clear guitar leads à la Mark Knopfler or Crest-era Martin Barre, before shifting into low-key, mildly noodling ambience.
We See Clearer in the Dark showcases an ominous, intense, minimalist loop, with minor chords and menace. Self-Fulfilling Prophecy is an ambitious (overly so?) conglomeration of flamenco attack and syncopated jazz-ish drumming, plus backdrop electronica and a Tulloutro, circa Minstrel in the Gallery.
أصطولاصلي (my iPod tells me the Arabic transliterates as OstoloAsli) features spellbinding vocals from Miss Chaou whose magical presence is wed with graceful projection. What Is Dead May Never Die (Part 2) is an interesting track. Musically, it's a successive alternation between a driving rock backbeat and a velvety, New Age guitar/keyboard mixture. The track is chiefly an interview wherein a gentleman, quite seriously but with nicety, discusses the various hallmarks of what, in the traditions of Brahmanic India, is known as Advaita Vedanta. This is the maya or illusory nature of physical existence and matter; the primacy of consciousness and its singularity, its indivisibility; the Self and knowledge of it; and the quantum understanding of the universe. This is heady stuff that doesn't devolve into silliness. It's mostly effective, as certain lines are repeated, with changes of volume and placement. A vigorous, robust throb of Arabic rhythm permeates all of these offerings, locating the album squarely within the contemporary world music genre.
Issues? The engineering of a few tracks is suspect, as I was bothered by some low-end crackling. Also the songs often combine too many disparate motifs and start to lose a central identity. Lastly, I found TSotID lengthy and drawn-out toward the end of the recording. The album doesn't necessarily weaken but, at a point, the music starts to sound a bit homogenous. A shorter album might have had a more commanding effect. Still, minor quibbles, since even in the few spots of drag, the overall sound and balance of atmosphere is winning.
I've heard TSotIDseven times now and I expect to return to its sonic exuberance often. It's a gem, plucked from the sometimes common mire that can be albums submitted to DPRP. Personally, I'd rank this as a near-8...but...within the context of a review for hardcore prog-rock fans, for whom I suspect this album won't hold as much charm as it does for me, I'll make it a 7.
However for those who appreciate the blend of ambient and world music, and are curious about a strongly contemporary take on those sounds, please give The Sound of the Incurable Disease a try. It's chill music, mostly, but it's pleasant and provocative all at once, which is rare and refreshing.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Keith Cross & Peter Ross - Bored Civilians
The Last Ocean Rider (6:55), Bored (2:31), Peace in the End (3:24), Story to a Friend (11:04), Loving You Takes So Long (4:18), Pastels (4:07), The Dead Salute (3:33), Bo Radley (2:25), Fly Home (7:04), Blind Willie Johnson (3:46), Prophets Guiders (3:28)
Unfortunately, the notes skim over many details I would have liked to have read about. For example, how this unlikely duo ever came about in the first place. All Dome will let on is that: "The combination of Cross and Ross was signed to Decca Records and worked on an album with a number of guest musicians." And what a fine selection of guest musicians too! Jimmy Hastings, B.J. Cole and many more contribute to make this curiosity of an album a sonic gem.
Dome was able to interview Hastings about his experience in recording this album, and it is rather amusing that the best he could get of the flautist/saxophonist is that: "I did a number of sessions around this time... if you ask me why I was asked to get involved, then I couldn't tell you."
Bored Civilians once again represents Esoteric's gradual stepping out from under the umbrella of progressive music, much to the chagrin of my colleagues at DPRP and myself. Are they branching out, or have they just run out of 'progressive' music to reissue? Who knows?
However, one thing is different. Unlike some of Esoteric's more ill-advised projects, Bored Civilians is a mature, slow-burning album that is likely to capture hearts of true music fans everywhere, whether they be progressively-minded or not. The association with T2 and Caravan certainly doesn't hurt.
I'll admit, I was half-hoping to hear something that could be broadly classed as "T2 Mark 2" or perhaps even "T3" but the music on this album here owes a lot to the rootsy West Coast country style that had already found its way to the UK in the form of The Climax Blues Band. As ever though, there remains something resolutely British in the execution.
On an initial listen, this album can see a little twee for those with an ear for the harder side of things. With each surreptitious hearing, however, the album opens up like a flower and one cannot help but bask in the sheer beauty of some of the compositions.
The opening 7-minute number The Last Ocean Rider, is an exquisite slab of country-folk-rock; that bass note played at 56 seconds electrifies me every time. The introductory notes and chords on the guitar are the perfect start to this album, highlighting Cross and Ross's ability to string together something both memorable and beautiful, something they do throughout the album.
I find myself coming back for more after each play. The tracks themselves are hardly punchy, but very slowly, the infectious melodies will fill your head until there is no other choice than to hit that replay button. I can jump from one song to another and then back to the first one. It's that kind of album!
The mini-suite of Loving You Takes So Long/Pastels is another album highlight. In the former half, I can hear something of John Wetton in Peter Ross's voice, especially when he sings "I was glad enough just watching you smile." The latter half, however, contains one of my favourite lyrics of the album: "On the way home, I found myself depending on an ending." Oooh, looovely!
The album's songwriting credits have a roughly equal split between Cross and Ross, with a delightful cover of Fotheringay's Peace in the End thrown in for good measure. Interestingly, the divide in credits is noticeable on the album's tracks, with Cross summoning a haze of melancholy while Ross prefers to keep things sweet. This yin and yang keeps the album ever changing, while the music stays consistently great throughout.
Esoteric seemed to have finally bucked up in the remastering department, making the album appear as if it were recorded yesterday.
Were I to recommend just one track on this album to you, it's hardly a surprise that I'd go for the longest track Story to a Friend, which dominates the album at just over 11 minutes. The story in question seems to relate an experience of being on the run from the cops, though for what reason entirely escapes me. Anyway, as you might expect, the bulk of this track is made up of a free-form instrumental section, and this is where Jimmy Hastings arrives with his two weapons of choice. With beautiful sonic clarity, the track unfolds naturally and seemingly without effort. I'd be interested to play it at a social gathering to see if anybody noticed whether the song had been going on a bit. My hope is that they'd be too carried away with the music to care.
Yet again, I have a qualm with Esoteric's reissue of this fine album, but for once it's not to do with the artwork which is tastefully, if not perfectly, represented here. In fact, I was so enamoured by the album's artwork, I decided to find out just who had photographed it, my initial guess being Hipgnosis. However, I wasn't able to find the artwork credits anywhere in the booklet, and had to resort to online research to find the correct answer: Desmond Hegarty. Upon reading the credits in the booklet, I also noticed that the engineer's name had been mis-spelled "Dave Grinstead", although Malcolm Dome uses the correct "Grinsted" in his essay.
Speaking of Dome's essay, I've already touched on a lack of helpful information earlier, and I'm sorry to say that this carries on throughout the booklet. This isn't to say it's devoid of information, but my understanding of the collaboration and their album remains patchy. I also dislike reading such subjective sentences as "What made the album stand apart was the way it combined different aspects of progressive, psychedelic and folk music." In my mind, this album only could be loosely classed as folk, while progressive and psychedelic are right out! Of course, it wouldn't be a proper Malcolm essay without some Dome-estic abuse of the English language, as well as a touch of hyperbole: "The fact remains that the recorded legacy Keith Cross and Peter Ross have left us with this, their only album, is magical." I see.
The biggest shame is that Esoteric has not included the curious single A-side Can You Believe It (( Listen to it here ) off this reissue, despite retaining two B-sides, Blind Willie Johnson and Prophets Guiders, the latter of which has not seen daylight on CD before. No mention is made of this single, leading me to question why it might have been left off in the first place.
Can You Believe It is another lovely tune, but on a very different tone than before, sounding more like those novelty symphonic pop records of the late 60s à la Phil Spector. Even more strangely, on closer listening, the lyrics seem to tell of the singer having a fight with his missus and then blaming it all on her. Dark stuff indeed! A friend has suggested that this may have been the demo the two musicians sent to Decca before recording the album proper, hence why it sounds so utterly different.
However that should not detract from what is nevertheless a sterling and solid album. I've yet to stop hitting the replay button. The lack of progressive moments on this album will make it a tough sell for some readers here, but I can assure you that pure sonic bliss abounds on this disc. I won't go as far as to call it a 'legacy', but what Keith Cross and Peter Ross had was certainly something special.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Desert Wizards - Ravens
Freedom ride (7:54), Babilonya (5:33), Back to Blue (5:51), Black Bird (6:25), Dick Allen's Blues (6:06), Electric Sunshine (5:11), Burn into the sky (6:05), Vampires Queen(6:50), Bad Dreams(6:53), Childhoods End (5:35)
The band's first recording was an EP followed by their debut album a year later. In 2010 they were signed to Black Widow who re-released that album. This means that Ravens is actually their third recording.
It is obvious from the start that the band is heavily influenced by bands from the 60s and 70s. There is a strong psychedelic influence, together with hard rock, Prog and folk. What these Wizards have done is to blend a musical potion whose ingredients include Floyd, Sabbath and Uriah Heep with a large dose of Bigelf and some essence from Anekdoten. This produces a heavy, doom-laden, hypnotic yet melodic maelstrom with an identity all of its own.
From the outset, there is a subtle Floydian flavour which permeates the whole CD. Copious organ, ethereal vocals, heavy riffing and dual guitars all combine to create a sound which is true to its roots but modern in its application.
The first nine tracks are original compositions, the style of which I hope I have already conveyed. The production is excellent, with all the instruments and vocals being clear, crisp and with presence.
Track 10 however is homage to the guiding atmosphere of this disc, being an excellent cover of Pink Floyd's Childhood's End from the album Obscured by Clouds. This is a great rendition of a track which is rarely heard these days.
All in all this is a really good album, dark, heavy and inventive. It has power and melody, and will appeal to those who like their Prog with a harder and more psychedelic edge.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Gandalf's Project - Insight
Grey Rain (1:22), Imaginary Landscapes (5:22), Seashore (3:51), India's Secret (5:57), Sintesi (7:20), Flying (3:20), Walking [Interlude] 1:42, Stolen Innocence (3:13), Coloured Waves (4:03), Infinite Lactean Seashore (3:29)
Marco Chiappini started Gandalf's Project on a solo basis back in 2005. Emiliano Pedruzzi joined sometime after, to make it a duo. An initial EP has led to the release of this proper full-length album.
On this album, Chiappini handles keyboards, bass, drum programming and so-called ideas, whilst Pedruzzi plays guitars and seven-string guitars. Guest musician Dave Rimorso plays bass on one track, and guest contributors Yu & Yu and Samuel Santanna come bearing some gracious guitar gifts on one track each.
If you peep at the A to Z reviews section of DPRP, under R you will see that I'm a devoted purveyor of The Resonance Association, and Gandalf's Project certainly has some commonalities with them. But Gandalf's is unique on its own terms. The band is forging its own fingerprint of a post-prog brand here and there is no forensic science to connect the DNA of their sound to anyone else on the scene.
So 'daring experimentation' is the name of the game on this disc. The aforementioned The Resonance Association get in on things as a reference point along with Genesis, Mark Kelly and Pink Floyd on Sintesi. It's a venture into craziness with dramatic, built-up sections, staggered key signatures, symphonic elements and some blistering crashes of drum programming.
Chiappini's keyboards go from airy on Infinite Lactean Seashore, to dark on Coloured Waves. The guitars from Santanna wail on the former, and from Yu & Yu they are shimmering on the latter.
India's Secret sees Chiappini's ideas taking shape in the form of sound recordings of insects. The tune also displays thick, smoky walls of keyboard and minimal thumps of bass from Chiappini. Pedruzzi's crying wails of guitar evoke Robert Fripp before giving way to a structure change with relentless drum programming and a powerful symphonic rock groove. The guitar becomes sharp and macabre, and ethnic drum programming from Chiappini, frenetic mid-eastern soloing from Pedruzzi and some stark piano elements, lend an air of mystery to the track.
Flying sees another idea from Chiappini taking the form of recorded sound of chirping birds. This is floated along with his velveteen Mellotron style keyboards and unadorned cascades of guitar from Pedruzzi. The keyboards splash some sparkling synths into the refreshing waterfall of a tune and a bit of his bass broods in the background.
The CD booklet pictures an array of close-up photos of people's eyes and includes band credits. Gandalf's Project will appeal mostly to those who enjoy post-progressive rock with lots of drum programming, keyboards and guitar. If it's vocal song-based pop you're jonesing for and you're an acoustic drumming purist, you'd best focus elsewhere.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Habelard2 - Qwerty
Interludio I (intro) (0:39), Another Bishop (5:06), Interludio II (0:36), Ice 9 (3:01), Interludio III (1:04), Gimme Fire (5:38), Interludio IV (0,36), On A Falli La Falloir (4:13), Interludio V (0:47), De Refrigeriis Jugeri (4:32), Interludio VI (0:38), Nenia (3:27), Interludio VII (0:45), Qwerty (4:44), Interludio VIII (0:25), Almanallo (4:15), Interludio IX (0:48), Trappe Nigaud (5:21), Interludio X (0:41), Death (in memory of) (5:21), Empty Tree (5:44)
Now, I'm not saying Caleca isn't a capable player. I'm sure he's an asset to his band. He even has a decent tune or two in him. Another Bishop is a nice atmospheric piece, somewhat ruined by a completely gratuitous panning effect on the electrical piano that makes it a pain to listen to through headphones. Nenia is one of the few pieces with prominent guitars, and reminds me, not unpleasantly, of the "blues" section from Tubular Bells. Furthermore, Trappe Nigaud ends on a keyboard solo that I quite like.
They're not particularly exciting songs, but they'll entertain you while they're on. They might do well as background tunes in a video game. If Caleca could manage to reign in his urge to use every bad sound and bad production technique in his arsenal, there might be a place for him in that realm.
So much for the good news. The rest of the album ranges from passably unnoticeable to nearly unlistenable. Ice 9 is a perfect example of how not to write an all-synthesizer song. It's repetitive and directionless, it tries to be a jazzy piece but Caleca gets such hideously obnoxious artificial sounds out of his keyboards that the song's three minutes pass like hours. Gimme Fire then seems to pick up the pace a bit, but soon slows down into another throwaway fiddly jazzy bit.
Almanallo, by far the best composition on the album, turns out to be a medley of a couple of existing classical pieces that probably never sounded this flat before. The title track sounds like a fairly accurate simulation of bowel movements, mixed with an extremely inaccurate simulation of vocal sounds. It goes on and on like that. The songs, even when they aren't plagued by a poor choice of instruments, do nothing and go nowhere. The interludes, meanwhile, never manage to be more than merely a few seconds of a particular sound, often failing even at properly setting a mood.
In the liner notes, Caleca explains without a trace of irony that QWERTY are the first letters on a keyboard. Is he messing with us? Next thing you know, he'll be explaining to us what a computer is, as if it's the newest thing he just found out about.
He certainly seems to be treating his synthesisers that way. He plays them as if he's just discovered them and is only now finding out what weird ,blurpy, swooshy and stabby sounds they will make, without being particularly concerned with actually making good tunes with them.
I'll tell you what habelard2 reminds me of most. It reminds me of me, when I got an awesome new synthesiser for my 12th birthday and was just mashing all the buttons to see what it could do. The results were often hideous, and not at all unlike the sounds on this album. It's odd, considering Caleca has been in the game for a long time. This is sub-par stuff.
Conclusion: 3 out of 10
Mike Hyder - Craftsman
Craftsman (8:56), The Rock (10:46), Eden (8:51), The Organisation (19:27)
There are just four tracks on this release, one of which is over 19 minutes in length thus allowing Mike to take a more progressive stance than normal and also to include other influences such as jazz, blues and even some country music stylings into these four pieces.
The album sleeve and disc declare that this is made to be played LOUD. So let's begin shall we?
Craftsman itself opens proceedings with a steel acoustic riff and a wah-wah swoosh. Mike intones that he is just a craftsman and that he wants to strike a chord with you tonight. It's a fairly even-paced song, sounding fairly folky but with a rocky undercurrent. It also has a nice, delicate solo at the 3:35 mark after which he talks about how he plays his guitar. It's a well-constructed piece and lyrically quite different.
This would be a song that gains weight when performed live, as it is a tad lightweight in this version.
The Rock follows and again opens with a gentle acoustic part before some bluesy chords emerge along with some lap steel soundings before opening into a lazy sounding, reflective piece that Mike wrote whilst visiting Portmerion in North Wales, and contemplating past, present and future. It's a very lyrical piece, very singer song-writerish, really a bit like a modern Al Stewart song.
Eden follows, sounding not unlike a Roger Waters out-take vocally, with some whimsical lyrics calling us to: "Put the kettle on and make a cup of tea". At the 5:15 mark the song gathers pace and the tempo increases. Lyrically this is a great song with its continued use of imagery to evoke visions of a pastoral, peaceful setting of Eden, where all is well. This sounds like it could have come from the 60s as it has more than a passing whiff of psychedlia about it. A good song.
The epic and final track is The Organisation and lasts for almost 20 minutes. It is Mike's harrowing tale of his experiences at the hands of the Faculty of Educational and Language Studies of the Open University in the UK and how they both treated him badly, refusing to take the blame or to acknowledge any wrongdoing. It's a lengthy, emotive and vitriolic in parts, as Mike outlines his lees than complimentary thoughts about his experiences of them.
This is a piece that is the most progressive on the album as it goes through several distinctly separate movements, moving from despair to anger and more. Mike pulls no punches with his words or his language, all backed up by some beefy guitar and fills.
There is a longer guitar break at 7:30, which is well constructed and builds nicely, before a more reflective section debating how the situation could have been averted.
A song but even so, it works, as you can feel his raw emotion, anger, hurt and pain in this piece.
So there it is. Is this progressive rock? Well not entirely but it is an interesting listen. Quite who it is aimed at I'm not sure, as it is more of a singer / songwriter type affair than straight ahead prog, but as always it is there to be heard and you can make up your own mind.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Merlin Bird - Chapter And Verse
Prologue: To the Unknown God (4:11), Introduction: Chapter and Verse (2:55), Chapter 3 (0:17), Words Across the Sky (1:13), In Dreams of Egypt (1:21), Of Night and Day (4:58), The Word That Was (3:27), The Turning (5:17), Truth's a Lady (3:09), Backburner (6:50), Unto Rome (4:15), Another Story Told (7:16), To Be Continued ...? (1:23)
On the album they are assisted by some guest musicians on guitar (Dave O'Toole and Trevor Carter), bass (Ross Kroger) and also vocalists called Shakira (no, ofcourse not the one from Colombia!), Beck and Teleri. As mentioned you can hear elements of Celtic and folk so names that spring to mind are Clannad, Karnataka, The Wishing Tree, Iona, Blackmore's Night, and Magenta. There's a bit of all of them to find in the music of The Merlin Bird and maybe also some infuences of their Aussie compatriots Unitopia.
The first two songs are dominated by the beautiful voices of vocalists Shakira and Beck often subtile supported by piano and drums. These tracks are followed by three short pieces of music in which we can hear some Gregorian choir at one stage. On Of Night and Day it's Shakira again who shows all her singing talents accompanied by the keys and drums of Geoff and Dan. The Turning means the turning point on the album as the guitar gets a more important part on the rest of the tracks mainly due to some nice solo's by Trevor.
Stand out track for me is Backburner with male and female voices blending perfectly together and another fine, more agressive, solo by guitarist Trevor. The longest track on the album is Another Story Told and this has a slightly bombastic approach with again some nice guitarwork by Trevor and Dave and more prominent percussion.The final song, a kind of reprise with string sounds, is called To Be Continued...? and I certainly hope so!
I'm looking forward hearing their next album in 2028! Or could it be possibly to have one earlier, please? Come on, mates don't make us wait to long! If you like beautiful female voices and music played by before mentioned bands I think you definitely will enjoy listening to this album.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Rick Miller - Heart of Darkness
Heart of Darkness (6:20), Blood of the Rose (10:03), Castle Walls (5:06), The Dark Lady (13:26), Come Summer, She Died (6:52), Time (Bonus Track) (5:37)
This is actually the second Rick Miller CD that I've had the pleasure of reviewing. My earlier review was of Dark Dreams, (review here)
I have to say that this CD offers a similar palette and sound tapestry which is both a blessing and a curse in some respects. It sounds very similar. The subject matter is different, as are the songs, but the setting and tempo is very reminiscent of what I heard before.
On the plus side, Rick's music is interesting, intelligent, well-written, carefully crafted and a joy to listen to. This is music in which to immerse yourself and let it wash over you. This is not an album that will blow your socks off on the first listen, rather like a fine wine, it is one to be savoured and enjoyed. This is music that will draw you into its dark world and will only unfold its magic slowly.
The title track Heart of Darkness opens proceedings with some brooding keyboards and flute, before a guitar line is suspended over epic, dramatic chords. A solo voice offers an almost middle eastern chant and then a strident riff emerges with a solo guitar wailing over the top. Rick's voice then commences, sounding a little like Roger Waters - there is definitely a Floydian influence here. It's a sparse-sounding piece with a lot of openness in the mix. It's not cluttered and everything is clear and precise, but not clinically so.
There is a crafting to this music that shows great care and attention to making this sound as good as it does. There is a great use of dynamics and of light and shade. Lyrically it's all dark and sombre, as Rick delves into his Heart of Darkness.
Blood of the Rose follows and at 10 plus minutes it's the second longest piece on offer. The track opens with a strummed acoustic and Rick's vocal, before a sumptuous backing of drums, bass and keyboards is added. There is a graceful flute passage at the 2:40 minute mark. This precedes a spoken part, after which the song enters a different phase with a bass guitar to the fore, before keyboards take up the refrain. It's an epic piece and one of the finest tracks on the disc.
Castle Walls follows and is again a gentler, almost wistful song. The use of acoustic guitar and cello gives it a mournful tone, whilst the voice sings about how he lives behind castle walls with darkness his only friend. It is almost a song of regret as it asks "what draws a man to the dark when darkness lies all around him?"
The lyrics reflect this depth of emotion as does the music that supports it. For me this is what makes Rick's music interesting. He is a consummate writer of fine, well thought out and intelligent pieces, with a disarming melody. The words have real emotional depth and challenge.
The Dark Lady suite follows, which at nearly thirteen and a half minutes is the longest piece here. It opens with more atmospheric guitar and keyboards before a spoken part calls us to behold the dark lady as she enters the room and another voice tells us she is black as hell.
Then Barry Haggarty's Strat beings to sing again before a more sinister sounding melody is introduced. Broken into four distinct sections this is a very dark affair. The song contrasts Rick's gentle voice with spoken parts to great effect. This is a song for late at night in the witching hour. A pumping bass line opens the next segment of the piece and drums glide into a steady rhythmic groove. Keyboards begin to dance over the melody before other sounds are added. Crashing guitar chords, strange discordant noises and sound effects add to the sense of disquiet.
It's a very atmospheric piece which over repeated plays shows itself to be a great piece with some fine tasteful playing throughout. Rather than bombast, Rick prefers to use economy and melody to convey his ideas. This restraint is refreshing
Come Summer She Died, opens with spoken words again, sounding like something from medieval times as in fact does a lot of the album. One can image a realm of castles and coldness and darkness from this music. Whilst there are no lutes or anything on display, that's the images it conjures up for me and it's very evocative.
The bonus track Time starts with a sound of the seas and another spoken introduction which speaks of "how one day time will be on our side". It's a very gentle piece with beautiful flute and melody throughout.
As Rick says, this is a very melancholy disc and it is well worth a listen. Fans of Dave Gilmour's On An Island will find much to enjoy here.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Aaron Ruimy & Marco Minnemann - A Few Minor Modifications
Go Big (3:24), Voicemail (1:52), Fossil Lake Zone, Act 1 (2:18), Tbreakfast in Tbilisi (1:58), If You Want Something Done Right (4:41), Bitter Lemon (1:57), Professor Bosco's Trans-Dimensional Whatnot (2:53), Status Constructus (1:31), Oh Canaduhhhh (2:40), Fossil Lake Zone, Act II (0:24), Yokozuna (2:51), The Last Flying Ostrich (0:59), Hello Amy (2:27), We Get Blown Onto The Tracks And Catch Fire (3:10), The Money We Lost (2:38), Stupid Tape Machine (2:19), Ostrichburger (0:43), Go Home (12:00)
In 2006, drummer Marco Minnemann recorded a 51-minute improvised drum-solo as part of his Normalizer 2 project. Here he invited musicians from around the globe to create music for his recorded solo. There is no dounting Marco Minnemann's drumming talents. This man can certainly drum. So from the off we have a very intriguing project concept. One that I would hazard to say is a first?
So given Marco's drumming credentials are impeccable, in 2012 enter stage-left Aaron Ruimy, a Canadian bass and keyboard player now living in Australia, who composed a score for the aforementioned drum solo. Aaron has also written music for two short slapstick comedy films by Ukrainian director Yakov Levi, called "Penisella" and "Vanity Insanity".
One has to bear in mind that these two musicians have only ever met once and that was for ten minutes following an Aristocrats show in Toronto back in October 2011. According to Aaron, he is the eleventh composer to put music to this recorded drum solo. He himself has heard at least six of the other Normalizer records, and Aaron finds that: "it's remarkable how unique each one is".
So with his hands tied to a plethora of drumming variations and time signatures, what about Aaron's input to the Normalizer 2 project?
The first half of 2013 was spent realising the music, with the help of other able-bodied musicians that Aaron had met during his time in Toronto. This record definitely comes in under the jazz-rock fusion genre. It is an all-instrumental effort, with input from Eugene Draw on Violin (tracks 2, 5, 6 &16), Emilio Guim on guitars (tracks 4, 5, 15, 16 and 18) and Taylor Patterson on guitars (tracks 1, 11, 12, 13 and 14).
Aaron feels that: "It is not a jazz record as apart from the drum solo and a couple of the violin parts, nothing is really improvised." But it ended up sounding a lot 'jazzier' than he expected.
Now this might be very unfair, but given the instrumentation on this album, I was drawn to Jean-Luc Ponty's Enigmatic Ocean album for some comparisons.
I'm not advocating that the albums are alike, Luc Ponty's is more funkier, but given that Enigmatic Ocean is one of the classic jazz-rock fusion albums, with stellar heavyweights Allan Holdsworth and Daryl Stuermer on guitars, Steve Smith on drums, Allan Zavod on keys, and the great Jean-Luc Ponty on violin, it does give a basis for commenting on the music on this album.
The album has sufficient changes in texture, tempo, mood and instrumentation to avoid the listener having an opportunity to become bored. Maybe that's why there are 18 tracks? Although this is one piece of continuous music, so it could be argued that it is arbitrary where one tracks ends and the next starts.
Both Aaron's keyboard playing and Marco's drumming are played to a very high standard. The violin and guitar playing may not be in the same virtuoso league as those luminaries who appear on Enigmatic Ocean, but they are very capable musicians who contribute to the themes and textures. The violin playing has a haunting eastern vibe which marries well with the complex underlying rhythms, as in tracks 2, 5, 6 and 16. The homogeneous guitar work also combines well with Aaron's keyboard and bass playing, as in tracks 5, 11, 12 and 18.
The standout tracks for me are If You Want Something Done Right and Go Home. Both show Aaron's compositional skills and musical capability, along with the other guys on this album.
Because the music is composed against a fixed drum recording, the record can sound a bit contrived and not spontaneous in places. It could also be argued that the music lacks some cohesiveness, although I do like the reprise of earlier track motifs within the last track. Once again that could well be down to writing music over a fixed drum recording.
But then that's the whole essence of this project. To come up with music that fits what Marco has improvised on the drums.
Progsters like me, who appreciate jazz-rock fusion, will be intrigued by this album. It's by no means a classic of the genre, but worthy of being representative of it. If Jean-Luc Ponty's Enigmatic Ocean was worthy of say a 10 on the DPRP jazz-rock fusion-o-meter, then Aaron's and Marco's AFMM would score a very respectable 6.
However, given the uniqueness of the project and that Aaron and Marco never spent a day in the studio together, it is a remarkable piece of music. So I will go one higher. Also extra thanks to Aaron for the background on this album which is much appreciated.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
The Yleclipse - Songs from the Crackling Atanor
Convivium Mithrae (5:29), Gentle Breeze (9:06), Dreams Are Foam (10:20), A Jinnee Be Freed (9:11), Springtime Fiery Delirium (11:13), Growling Warty Beast (10:11), Nadir Voices (9:09)
Songs From The Crackling Atanor, the fourth album from Italian progsters The Yleclipse since their debut in 2000, is an oversized, bland hunk of Tofu dullness that fails to entertain the proggie palate.
The band is made up of Alessio Guerriero on vocals, electric and nylon guitars, bass on two tracks and keyboards on one track; Andrea Picciau on keyboards and piano, Andrea Iddas on bass guitar and Federico Bacco on drums and percussion.
On On A Jinnee Be Freed, Bacco's slightly under-produced sounding drums fail to reinforce the keyboards from Guerriero and Picciau and the music's composition lacks any original flair. Commonalities on this track and on the album as a whole lean to Greenslade, early Genesis and early Marillion. It is these influences that dominate things to the point that The Yleclipse's sound is robbed of what would otherwise be a true unique identity.
Opening track Convivium Mithrae, the only instrumental on the album, dashes a bit of medieval flair recalling Greenslade, whilst Guerriero's bass goes from dutiful, to playful, back to dutiful. A Jethro Tull feel is teleported via Picciau's flute elements. Dabs of nice nylon guitar from Guerriero add to the colouring as well, and some more playfulness sees the tune pick up a bouncy gait. Everything heard upon the listener's initial perusal here, may seem promising for the rest of the album's sixty-four-and-a-half minutes.
The album regrettably struggles to find itself a sense of sonic footing that can be called original, hampered it seems by the over-usage of the aforementioned influences. Towards the end of the album, Bacco's drums carry stronger production values and Picciau incorporates some sparkly synth elements into his keyboards. The latter improvement, though well-intentioned, is nothing more than a thin sprinkle of sonic pixie dust and not enough at this point for any maintained or sustained sense of tangy deliciousness.
So for their next album, my takeaway of opportunity for these admittedly talented gents is to put more effort into the actual compositional originality of their craft, so that the lyrics and vocals are not stranded to the point where Guerrerio would have been better recording an a capella solo vocal release. Part of being an independent artist involves not overly depending on your influences.
If you are a purveyor of melodic, keyboard-coloured, folksy pastoral stuff, you could possibly show these guys some mercy. I can't, and I am only able to come up with the critique I must tear for them in this review.
The whimsical artwork in the CD booklet and tray comes from original paintings by Alessandra Murgia. Delightful artwork, but in terms of the CD's music, The Yleclipse just isn't my jam – or Tofu!
Conclusion: 3 out of 10