Aliante — Sul Confine
Aliante are a new band to me, although this is their second album. Their first was apparently hailed as one of the best prog rock records in 2017. Fortunately I was reading that after I had listened to this album several times so it didn't raise any expectations. With the rhythm section of of 1990s neo-prog band Egoband (I did read that) I was expecting more neo-prog than what's on offer here, but the third band member is the one providing the melodies, which of course are the main ingredient in most prog bands.
I was told the songs were written as separate songs but when it came to compiling the album, the band thought it was a good idea to present all but one song as a song sequence called Sul Confine. It's clear they spent some time in compiling the songs and the running order as there's a nice flow to it. Parts a, c, and e are slower, while parts b, d, and f are more powerful and faster.
Nel Cielo could also have been the end of a song cycle, but with two songs having a good ending, what do you do? I guess that's why this last song is not part of Sul Confine suite.
There's a definite Italian quality to this type of prog. Touches of Eris Pluvia in parts a and e and most parts with piano, and the usual 1970s Italian prog suspects in several places but mostly part b. But Aliante include more. There's also the neo-prog influence in parts d and f.
Some of the songs have a soundscape idea, like a musical painting. Others, mainly the heavier songs, have a recurring theme with more improvisational parts in between. I was really captivated by different parts of the music. The piano playing is beautiful, I love the Hammond theme in part b, the Moog soloing, and the slight, but not over-done, neo-proggy bits.
However, the captivation doesn't stick. Being fully instrumental and with only three musicians and not a lot of overdubbing, at times I feel something is missing. Both the drummer and bass player fill in a lot with their diverse ways of playing. The keyboard player uses a variety of sounds or voices. Many sections sound like soloing, other parts are clearly full of written melodies. But with just the keyboards as provider of melodies, I found myself wanting to hear some different sounds, like vocals or guitars.
These are three experienced musicians who play their music very well. If you like Italian prog you're bound to like Aliante as well. With my taste for heavier music, I hope they consider adding guitar to their sound for more diversity and extra layers.
Eric Benac — Frank Zappa - On Track... Every Album, Every Song (1966 To 1979) [book]
The On Track series by Sonicbond Publishing is a steadily expanding series of books suitable for everyone with a slight interest in music and its history. Whether you're a number one fanatic (see the review on Blue Oyster Cult by Jacob Holm-Lupo), or a moderate admirer (see the review of Jordan Blum's book on Jethro Tull), so far it goes without saying there have been pleasurable issues thus far, with varying authors giving many insights and analysis, with great readability throughout.
Not all will be suitable for DPRP, since the series will also cover easy listening and jazz to 60s soul, but many of the prog related books released thus far have managed the similar effect to my fellow contributors. So in my book any new additions are met with anticipation and cast a nice foresight of a relaxed evening delving into the creative minds of an artist/band. And Eric Benac's proves to be no exception.
My main reason of interest here is not the personality of Frank Zappa itself, although I hasten to add that wandering through the book you gain insightful glimpses into his supposed genius. It effectively makes you sympathise with and "understand" him along the way, where the seemingly weird decisions of old start to make sense now. Much like the criticism he received all those years ago having turned into appraisal nowadays, both delicately addressed within the book where appropriate.
Fact of the matter is that I don't feel a connection to Frank Zappa's music and up to now haven't explored it at all. Not out of lack of interest, for many bands inspired by him are among my favourites (for instance Max Webster), but I frankly wouldn't know where to begin. Which is actually not surprising, for during his career he has made so many records, with differing results, that cautious guidance is of the highest essence.
Starting out with "the wrong one" out of his extensive discography might draw one away instantly, while on the other hand Zappa's meaningful musical complexities, satirical humour and absurdism (one glance at his album covers says as much) might just as easily overwhelm and turn out to be beyond ones creative grasp. For comfort it's better to begin somewhere in between and thankfully Benac, although being only one opinion in a field of many, successfully manages to highlight and isolate these superior compositional moments in Zappa's artistic life.
Or at least up to 1979 where the book abruptly ends after the release of Zappa's 27th (!) album Joe's Garage. Frank Zappa continued afterwards, with his output even increasing and addressing these as well would probably mean Benac would still be writing with the daunting assignment of keeping it within the confines of the series. With today's stream of Zappa posthumous (re-)releases it feels an impossible task, but most likely 1980 and onward will follow in due time, hopefully.
One different approach in comparison to other volumes is the inclusion of every single issued album up to 1979, meaning inclusion of a full description on the live albums. A very clever and wise decision on Benac's part, for these not only highlight many Zappa-essentials not released on studio albums, but by doing so it keeps the complex chronological story understandable. The elaboration on the historical circumstances surrounding the recordings, as well as the combined result of many factual details and interpretations of the performers given, makes it all fall right into place.
The engaging and straight forward way of writing furthermore makes it an easily accessible book, where on occasion the urge to simply read on is most certainly felt. Especially the involvement of more well known contributors like The Brecker Brothers, Captain Beefheart, Eddie Jobson and Terry Bozzio makes the transition into the story-line easier, and effectively after 200 Motels the high page-turning quality makes it one of compulsory reading.
The considerably excellent tips given in form of small references to present day re-releases are indispensable to the anyone interested in expanding their exploratory quests and with random remarks, historical facts, judgemental opinions and well chosen admiration towards Zappa, the book succeeds in grasping the readers attention throughout. Inclusion of partial lyrics, showcasing the controversial, satirical and social aspects of Zappa adds further depth and supplies food for thought.
One point of criticism is the inclusion of chewy pieces of the technical breakdown of musical complexities into chords, scales and notes. For instance in Montana (see video below) from Overnite Sensation he writes: "After this George starts playing a fairly simple theme in B Mixolydian, over a VII-I progression. After four bars Duke phases to an A Mixolydian for four bars, two bars of C Mixolydian, and a change to an Em-A-Dm-G chord progression".
It's a very accurate and precise description and from a musicians point of view most likely to be absolutely stunning and jaw dropping. To me it reads like gibberish for I haven't got the faintest clue as to what these notes sound like, let alone in sequence. These detailed transcriptions do however emphasise the quirky complexity of Zappa's music and is mostly featured extensively in the latter segments of the book, coincidentally the period that focusses on Zappa's most intelligent, exciting and enigmatic creations.
Concluding one can state that this book by Benac is a recommendable and worthy addition to the series. It's passionately written, and the accuracy and funny insights into the works of Frank Zappa are a delight to read. The clarifying insights to each release furthermore supplies a good separating basis to start exploring on your own level of Zappa. In my case 1973 sounds like a good place to start, which is miraculously, precisely, smack in the middle of the contents of this book. Stranger things have happened, although probably not in Zappa's world.
The Steve Bonino Project — Stargazer 2
Knowing Steve Bonino from his vocals and gorgeous bass on Bomber Goggles' album Gyreland, I was excited to find a new album called Stargazer 2 in his name. Also to find Peter Matuchniak and Jimmy Keegan as cherries on his pie! So I feel fortunate to write this album review for you. It makes one happy, as music wise it generates an uplifting feeling overall. This in spite of the saddest story ever told here; the fact that mankind absolutely lacks the ability to learn from their past.
Opening up with The Grand Finale (a great contradictory song title to start with!) in a wonderful soft mood, after a kick of the drums building up to a solid prog rock song including high pitched vocals, riffing, cello and singing about the end of human existence. This song's style reminds me of the Bomber Goggles album, mixing in some early Todd Rundgren and melodic prog. You might be completely sold after this track already.
The Beatles next! Four minutes of Sergeant Pepper relives in the second track Under The Dome, you can't suppress an instant smile on your face if you haven't already got it. Clear voice with fabulous chorus line and violins supports this idea. It tells the story of building a city under a giant dome on a planet far away, the moment Earth got fully destroyed by us, human beings. Hope. With a musical smile.
The Dark Light Divide starts off with scary, impenetrable darkness. Exploration to the black light. Exciting music building up human stress. Angels bring you ease and provide you with some solo riffing to relax with as it depicts a long long flight through dark space to the dark-light divide. Even the fun shortly rises with the help of keys, still tension slowly returns and leaves us behind in dark space...
Peter Matuchniak awakes the travellers and listeners in the song So Familiar with some fine guitar. Because the explorers found an ancient village on the planet's surface... Questions, confusion, but also feeling familiar. These feelings perfectly supported by this rather short composition. The chorus in the next song City Out Of Time mentions the questions and doubts, that is slowly turning into believing. They realise what the ancient city means to them and humanity. The Earth has to become a shrine, a part of history...
Writings found in the ancient city learns that humanity is alien progeny, the offspring of an alien race! Alien Progeny depicts the travellers as impressed, out of their mind, shocked. The music, especially Steve's bass, tells of the traveller's doubts, feelings and being perplex.
Thoughts and doubts about the findings, the heritage of these aliens that brought us life and writing ability. The music and atmosphere of Broken Record perfectly reflects the shock and doubts on realising mankind is unoriginal. People are programmed for over thousands of years. We killed Mother Nature. Our behaviour has never changed, history repeats itself...
And wow, Hyperspeed Overdrive brings us a highly impressive instrumental representation of space and time, with Marco Minnemann on drums. Use it to reflect on your own thoughts about the meaning of life. A masterpiece! Followed by a short intermediate song Codex that tells us the thoughts of the captain.
The Ancient Sumerian is the key track of the album's story. The Beatles are back again with reassuring trumpets, Steve Bonino using a strong and addictive melody to tell this difficult story of our ancestry. I love this track, still wondering why it is that short though.
The eight minute epic Fear brings a Yellow Submarine floating in space, a fantastic idea, arrangement and result. A wonderful musical background is built to tell the fear for fear, we made ourselves disappear again. Todd again is another ancestry melting in this new prog rock environment. Life relives. The brilliantly shining new gem of this album, my favourite.
Stargazer 2, and I don't even know about part 1 from 2018, makes you feel happy because of the music and also might bring you worries about the future of your children's, children's children. The answer is, don't worry and listen to prog rock.
The Stargazer 2 album of The Steve Bonino Project is both an excellent and intelligent album, that I urge you to try. All songs are written by multi-instrumentalist Steve Bonino himself. They won't puzzle you, each one of them are carefully arranged, detailed and relatively uncomplicated to listen to. Yet brilliantly different and falls under Steve's broad masterful interpretation of prog rock bringing on a big musical smile.
Marco Ragni — Oceans Of Thought
Not that many prog bands or prog musicians know how to produce so many songs and albums as our Italian friend Marco Ragni does. His pace of creating music is just huge. In spite of that I found the almost infinite DPRP review database only holds two Marco Ragni album reviews. A short search expedition sums up to some 8 albums (and counting) plus some 7 special releases in 9 years! For good measures, Ragni has released a new album even before this review was published.
Next to his huge number of compositions he also plays a great number of instruments. Over the years, and due to the internet as well, Marco found more and more artists from all over the world who participated in playing his songs. For me this was also the way of getting to know of his existence, as British/American guitarist Peter Matuchniak started to play for Marco Ragni's 2016 album Land Of Blue Echoes.
So what about this new album Oceans Of Thought? It holds thirteen songs including four great bonus tracks, that are a mix of all kinds of progressive influences. As progressiveness knows no boundaries, also this Marco Ragni album moves between different styles constantly. Hence it never ever repeats or bores, but amazes instead. That might be seen as Marco Ragni's autograph on his writing. He does vocals, guitars, keys and bass as well. Guitars are also played by Peter Matuchniak, again, and by Bjørn Riis (Airbag) and Marius Halleland (Wobbler). Other guests include bass and Chapman Stick by Jeff Mack (Scarlet Hollow), Maurizio Antonini on drums, woodwinds arrangements by Dave Newhouse (The Muffins), the beautiful voice of JoJo Razor (Gekko Projekt) and last but not the least, Charlie Cawood (Knifeworld) playing sitar.
Second track Dizziness is a perfect one to get the idea of Marco's work and the album described here. It will supply a look into Marco's musical brains, so to say. I won't go through all 13 tracks in detail here but emphasise the main characteristics and highlights of this disc with a huge amount of music of no less than 1 hour and 17 minutes of progressive music.
Marco says: "My music comes from what I have inside of my mind and soul. So this album talks about the difficulties that life sometimes brings us, but also talks about how to try to overcome them". Not a single neuron in my head says that he might be wrong. On the contrary, you can feel his life and thoughts in both his compositions and lyrics. Each song is based on a wide variety of progressive and classic rock elements that tell the story in a beautiful way. And next to that there is the quality and beauty of the compositions and lyrics.
So no surprises or unexpected twists here. He builds and uses his very own quadrant of known prog elements to serve his mind and to serve you, the listener. Hence, the references to a wide set of prominent prog bands in former reviews of Ragni's work. So all Ocean Of Thought songs are meticulously precise fitting into the genre we know and love which is comfortable. And even more important, it is created with great love and craftsmanship. Also try the beautiful title track Ocean of Thought (see the sample link at the top of the review) to check whether this calm progressive music suits you or not.
Recommended to anyone who has a big yet calm prog heart!
Note: DPRP is pleased to have received high quality (24 bit, 96 KHz) audio files from Marco Ragni for this review. Thank you Marco, you are the best. We will be very pleased if other bands would do this too.
Elaine Samuels and Kindred Spirit Band — Elemental
We all have an almost irresistible urge to label anything we encounter in categories, genres, musical types and all kinds of sub-divisions that come with it. Thus we review on this website music that has been given the 'prog' tag, no matter what manifestation of prog the music at hand represents: prog-metal, neo-prog, symphonic prog, electronic prog, eclectic prog, even categories that don't bear the 'prog'-tag in itself like avant-garde, singer-songwriter, sometimes even AOR (which usually means it get s a rather low rating). One of the difficult subdivisions is 'prog-folk': yes, Jethro Tull is an excellent example as well as Strawbs and Pentangle but Mostly Autumn? Mike Oldfield?
These were some thoughts I had when I first heard the new album by Elaine Samuels and her Kindred Spirit Band. Those thoughts crossed my mind because I was seriously wondering why we should review this album here on dprp.net for the prog elements are quite hard to find in all the fine songs that feature on this album. Yet I am very thankful that the open minded lads at the dprp-gate who let this album through. As Elemental can be fully recommended (spoiler!) to those dprp-readers who like cheerful, very well-played, varied and folky tunes with loads of nice violin and flute playing.
Elaine Samuels is a new name to me. She founded the Kindred Spirit band quite some time ago after having performed in folk clubs from the age of 13 on. Besides playing guitar she also does the lead vocals. Her pleasant, rather soft voice may not be very expressive, it perfectly matches her reflective, sometimes melancholic but mostly optimistic music. She recruited Catherine Cooper on flute, saxophone and backing vocals, Martin Ash on violin, viola, keys, mandolin and backing vocals, Mike Hishop on bass and backing vocals and Les Binks on drums. Steve Hutchinson (backing vocals), Stevie Mitchell (backing vocals) and Jez Larder (keys and programming) contributed as guest musicians. The Kindred Spirit Band have already released six albums, amongst which are The Watchers (2002) and in The Doghouse (2005). On these albums they pair original songs with daring versions of classic songs like Hotel California and Lola; just check those on their website!
But although the music appears cheerful on first glance, the lyrics are not, dealing with serious problems like the apocalypse, overpopulation (the message in Don't Have More Than Two is all too clear…) and alchemy. Elaine Samuels has very serious worries about the state of the world as it is today and knows how to communicate her worries without exaggerating.
The album starts with the nothing but fantastic No Smoke Without Fire with its deceivingly simple melody, a highly addictive violin and flute interplay and an overall cheerful feeling that makes your day. The ten songs that follow range from uplifting folk tunes (Make A Change, Daemons, Understand) through violin-driven ballads (Understand, I Need Your Love) towards a medieval tune (Vikings) that makes you think of Blackmore's Night. Both the contemplative Red Red Rose and The Alchemyst have interesting hooks and mood changes that will appeal many prog adepts. The weakest song is album closer Feeling Good, a cover of a song that was made famous by Nina Simone and Muse. This version is a strange combination of a jazz club mood, a bossa-nova rhythm, boring repetitive lyrics and restrained and therefore rather weak vocals. This album definitely deserved a more worthy closer.
The violin is the main instrument throughout the album, Martin Ash does a great job. Nice flute playing supports the often accessible vocal lines. There are no extensive solos of any kind, just tight music making in middle length songs. The overall feeling of the album is a great blend of Steeleye Span, some Maggie Reilly, Mike Oldfield tunes, Anna Phoebe violin all over the place, Stevie Nicks-vocal parts and hints of the excellent most recent Heather Findlay album. Don't be misled by the rather poor live recording on the YouTube-link mentioned above, this fine group of musicians made a very attractive album with many enjoyable folky tunes, lyrics that matter and a very uplifting feeling altogether, very necessary in these dark times. So take your chances on this one!
Soulsplitter — Salutogenesis
Soulsplitter is the project of Fenix Gayed (drums, mellotron, programming, vocals), who originated it in 2016 within the framework of his music studies at Pop Akademie Mannheim, Germany. Right from the beginning, this project was construed to be more than just a band, but rather an art collective. It is said that around 50 participants from interrelated artistic professions, such as the musicians themselves, but also designers, painters, photographers, and producers, were involved in the 3-year creation process of Salutogenesis, the band's (I will stick to that term) first release. The overall line-up lists no less than 21 musicians performing on this record (including a strings quartet), many of them with guest roles (alone 5 different vocalists, who are also present in life performances). However, there is a stable "core line-up" consisting, besides Fenix Gayed, of Daniel Gräupner (keyboards, programming), Felix Jacobs (bass guitar), and Simon Kramer (guitars).
Salutogenesis is a concept album, the songs of which "act like movements in a coherent story, telling a tale of love, death, meaning and self-awareness", the whole story being based on the theory of Gaia, which considers the earth as being a living creature. One element of this coherence becomes apparent in the selection of the song titles (just nouns). The lyrical concept, as explained by Fenix Gayed in a blog interview, appeared to me to be fairly complex, no light fare whatsoever. The same holds true for Soulsplitter's music.
In approaching their musical style, a look at the musical influences mentioned for each member of the "core" line-up gives more than a hint of what one might expect on this record. Fenix comes from classical music especially of the late romanticism (e.g. Rachmaninov) and subsequently turned to bands such as Opeth, Haken, Björk, and Steven Wilson, whilst Daniel has his roots in old-school funk and classical jazz with musicians such as Cory Henry. Simon's background lies in prog metal (Dream Theater), whilst Felix mentions traditional 70s prog such as ELP, Queen, and Pink Floyd as his main sources of inspiration. Additional reminiscences include Tool, Symphony X, Dark Suns, and Ihlo. All these musical influences somehow materialise in the music, and, underpinned by a substantial degree of talent, determination, and perseverance, have been lumped together to create something individual, varied, and amazing.
Now, what does the music sound like? I guess that prog metal is a reasonable starting point, as its elements are more or less audible in almost every song (with The Sacrifice being the most unambiguous representative of that style, in my opinion). However, prog metal is just the foundation, which Soulsplitter combines and extends with musical styles such as avant-garde, jazz, modern classical music, art and math rock. The result is a blend of styles, which accord well with each other, but the occasional clash of which also is intentional, calculated and taken for granted. I sometimes had some difficulties recognising clearly evident song structures and recurring themes - the music is characterised by many twists and turns.
Listening to it thus requires permanent attention and focus, as the unexpectedness is trump throughout. Consequently, there is little to no "getting-used-to"-process even after repetitive listening, but in return, a "wear-out"-effect does not crop up either, a feature which I consider as positive. Djent-like guitar riffing and the interplay between guitar and piano come out on various occasions, but I would not go as far as to call that a "red thread" in the band's music.
The broad scope of the vocals, ranging from delicate female voices, via melodic and melancholic male singing up to growls, sometimes appearing within the same song, contributes to a great variety. The range of instruments used (e.g. the strings quartet in The Prophecy and The Eye Of The Cyclone or Nathan Kirzon's solo violin in The Dream), including exotic ones (I had never heard of a Theremin, the solo instrument in The Transition, or of a Darbouka) also exceeds the "normal" musical boundaries. In doing all this, Soulsplitter successfully avoided the risk of musical overloading, certainly by and large due to their considerable musical skills and to their ability of giving the impression that complexity and variation just are there for the sake of it.
When I saw that this release was up for review and I first listened to it on trial, I wasn't sure whether to dare reviewing it. Too complex, too demanding, not catchy enough, not really my kind of prog. But I am grateful, though, that I did not let myself guide by these first impressions, but that I jumped over my shadow and gave it a try. It turned out to be a challenging matter, as I had anticipated, but for me, it was rewarding to intensively deal with this album. The more often I listened to it, the more it grew on me. No, I did not fall in love with it, as it appealed to my intellect rather than to my emotions.
But I take my hat off to Soulsplitter's musical talents and their abilities to create something unique, imaginative, varied, and mature sounding for a debut. Salutogenesis enlarged my personal scope of progressive rock and will take a prominent position on my top 10 album-of-the-year-list. I strongly recommend it to the somewhat versatility oriented prog rock lovers and to the ones intending to become that way.