Amoeba Split — Quiet Euphoria
This album is a delightful mix of progressive Jazz fusion and stylistic traits associated with Canterbury inspired complexity. It is Amoeba Split's third release. Their debut was reviewed by DPRP.
The tunes of Quiet Euphoria are relatively accessible, but require some degree of attention and concentration on the part of the listener. Several of them have hidden depths, that only reveal themselves fully after numerous plays.
Each piece is impeccably composed and arranged. There are numerous shining solos. Nevertheless, it is the way in which these solo parts are placed within the fantastic ensemble performance that gives this album such a warming sense of cohesion and maturity.
The quality of the recording is excellent. Whilst every instrument vibrates the senses agreeably, a touch more rawness here and there, or extra doses of unpredictability, could have made things even more impressive.
My favourite track is probably Thrown To The Lions; its numerous influences including, Soft Machine, and Gilgamesh are prominently displayed. The piece includes a glorious synth solo and impressive sax playing and incorporates changes of mood and direction. The languid flute led interval that flutters elegantly into life in the tracks mid-section is genuinely moving.
Piano and clarinet features prominently in the opening of the stunning No Time For Lullabies. As the composition develops an unusual combination of effects and instruments take the listener to the edge of grey lit imagination. The pieces shaded moods are contrasted splendidly as the track concludes, by the penetrating light of its glorious flute tones and by an unsettling and unexpected burst of electronic effects.
Cold Flame — A Circus In Paradise
A Circus In Paradise sees Cold Flame loitering away from their normal blues rock style towards something with a hint of some of the different colours associated with prog rock. The best example of the bands change of emphasis is undoubtedly the strong opening piece. Passport To Oblivion is an all-instrumental track woven around the sort of rich middle Eastern motifs that are a hallmark of Jethro Tull's Root To Branches era.
The bands reworking of the title track from their Seven Seas album (2003) in Deep Blue hits all the right spots for the aging rocker within me. It has numerous crests, swells, and lulls in its fourteen-minute running time. The instrumental section is very satisfying; the chorus and vocals less so.
Whilst not releasing their own material, Cold Flame tread the boards in the UK as a Jethro Tull tribute band. For Tull aficionados their Live Up The Pool album which highlights their rendition of Tull material is worth checking out. Indeed, the influence of Tull can be discerned in the instrumentation and structure of several tunes; an accordion is even used!
Flute peppers this release in an enjoyable fashion. Tomorrow Was Another Day has lots of Tull like flute phrasing in its latter stages.
The longer pieces work the best and it is in these tracks that the band most noticeably demonstrate their move away from the confines of blues rock. For example, Manifesto concludes with a swirling synth solo and The 11th Hour highlights some jazzy piano fills.
Naïssam Jalal — Healing Rituals
Sensual, primeval, reflective, mysterious, and aggressive. These evocative words sum up some of the many moods to be experienced during Jalal's outstanding Healing Rituals. It is undeniably one of my favourite albums of the year.
Its mixture of Arabic and African rhythms, chamber music, Jazz and a host of other influences ensures that the album tantalises and floods the senses in different ways. The musicians that feature are Naïssam Jalal flute and vocals, Clément Petit, cello, Claude Tchamitchian, double bass, and Zaza Desiderio drums.
The principal instrument is the flute. Although Jalal's ethereal and mysterious vocals dress several of the tunes in an evocative and thought-provoking manner (listen to the shrieks and wails of Rituel de la terre), it is the outstanding flute melodies that leave an impression.
Her mastery of an array of flute tones is magnificent. Breathy, forceful, and guttural in tunes like Rituel du soleil; delicately enchanting and wistful in pieces such as Rituel du vent.
Rituel de la lune is probably the stand-out piece. It builds slowly and in its early stages its minimalist approach and sparse instrumentation has a timeless quality. Earthy rhythmic patterns, frenzied flute improvisations, and innovative vocalisations, swirl around in a tantalising multi flavoured concoction. It is a tune that simmers with raw emotion, and outstanding musicianship, as it inexorably travels towards its tumultuous climax in a ferocious crescendo of eye bulging flute bursts. I simply love it!
Healing Rituals mixture of progressive world music served with a dressing of jazz is a wonderful accompaniment for anybody wishing to recharge.
Stephen Lambe — On Track... Yes (Revised Edition)
Stephen Lambe's On Track... Yes has been updated and revised by its author to include releases made since the book was first published in 2018. It was reviewed very favourably by Geoff Feakes, and it is easy to agree with all that Geoff has to say in that review, so I'm not going to re-hash it here.
The differences between the two are that in the revised edition Stephen Lamb has included new release from the ongoing saga that is Yes, covering, in Lambe's inimitable and often very critical style, every studio release up to and including 2023's Mirror In The Sky.
Also, there are updates and revisions, with each review being smartened up to fit with the now more settled Sonicbond house style and amended where Lambe's opinion has changed with further listening. The live album section has been expanded and there is a brief look at the solo releases from Yes' members in 1975 - 1976 period.
Yes' recording history is fascinating when told so well, if you had this the first time around, or you are new to it or the band, then again it is a highly recommended, readable and fascinating guide.
Griff Peters — Canyons And Waves
Griff Peters, California-based singer-songwriter, makes his debut in 2023 with a full-scale solo album. The Bandcamp's summary on the musician's page reads as follows: “Griff's signature musical voice is best described as “artistic roots-rock,” an amalgamation of rural Americana, blues, folk, elements of avant-garde, prog, and album-side rock. Besides being a sage and sensitive songwriter, and soulful vocalist, Griff Peters is a subtly virtuosic guitarist and a tone poet - a musician's musician”.
After repeated listens I failed to see a lot of prog on Canyons And Waves, to the point I should confess I have heard proggier albums from synth-pop and post-punk artists. Musically, Griff plays and sings over standard bluegrass / country folk patterns, and I can see no urge from his side to move outside of them elsewhere or twist them in unexpected ways. Thus, while the “roots rock” label is justified, references to prog and avant-garde genres are misleading, to say the least. So if you are searching for a jam rock record in the vein of Widespread Panic, it's not here. Indeed, the album features a couple of fine bluesy solos not unlike David Gilmour, but I am not sure that the prog “admittance bar” is set on that particular level, in the meantime. Although it would be unfair not to notice that the final part of the album has some AOR tones, akin to Fish on Friday.
I don't have enough competence to judge the country / bluegrass aspects of the record and their quality. I understand that the record is quite personal, a statement of Griff's beliefs and observations, as many country-folk artists generally aim to make. The lyrical aspect of the record features a share of New Age philosophy–inspired musings (not my cup of tea, but could easily be yours). And from performance / recording side of things Canyons And Waves tastes like a homemade record, competent, but neither tremendously groovy nor flashy in terms of guitar skills.
Other than that, this is a nice record. I just cannot find any threads connecting it to 95% of records, reviewed on DPRP.
Rossbach & Starrs — Retouching Cohen
Based in Boston, Lincolnshire, UK is the German/British duo of Richard Rossbach (keyboards) and Mike Starrs (guitars, vocals). I not sure who does what else, that information is not readily available, I have looked. They have produced an engaging album of Leonard Cohen covers that though they're not prog, it is an engaging listen. The quality of the songs, if you know anything of Cohen, is excellent and though I'm not a rabid fan there are albums I own by Cohen.
Rossbach & Starrs' music for these covers uses a well-produced full band sound that features great Doors style organ and other keyboards, a nice mix of acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, violin and some terrific backing singers. The lead vocals, I think, are both of them. They both sing well. The choice of songs cover the famous (Hallelujah, I'm Your Man, Suzanne, First We Take Manhattan, Tower Of Song) to the less well known, such as the wonderful A Thousand Kisses Deep. The music is often bluesy, suiting the often acerbic humour in Cohen's songs.
Almost all the songs work well in Rossbach & Starrs arrangements, the exception being Hallelujah that has been so often covered that they bring little difficult to bring anything new to it. But don't let that put you off, Retouching Cohen is a fine work, that I'm sure will be my go to for a dose of the often magnificent songwriting of Leonard Cohen.
S.A.W. — Hydragate
S.A.W. is a new Electronic Music (EM) collaboration between Johannes Schmoelling (ex-Tangerine Dream), sound designer Kurt Ader, and Robert Waters. After their 2020 debut album Iconic and a line-up extension in form of Andreas Merz they now present their sophomore album Hydragate. An album comprising an artful crafted mix of ambient, electronica and cinematic sound collages that shows originality and a beautiful homage to various EM greats.
In Distant Memories and Falling Down this gives way to a cosy cosmic tension of futuristic industrial pulsations aglow with scenic "Bladerunner" darkness and the elegance of Vangelis. Surface Of Illusions brings a daunting entrance that develops into a spacious soundscape scintillating with melodies reminiscent of Tangerine Dream. While Master Of Time expands this delightful realm with images of Jean Michel Jarre through a delicately construed waterfall of electronic melodies streaming into enchanted sequences that are enchanting with classical inspired symphonic grandeur.
In light of cinematic attraction the album features two outstanding compositions. Firstly Spheres, which visualises the mysteriousness of Spielberg's 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' before it shifts into an ambient Asian refreshments. Then after a lofty flight buzzing with psychedelics soothingly comes full circle. And secondly in the upbeat and energetic Stop And Go, where a rotary sequencers set aflame by marauding bright synths gives the image of Schwarzenegger's outcry 'Get to the Chopper!'.
Shaped with luscious waves of melody and native flute synths Whispering Colors shows equally appealing artful designs. As does Hydragate, which brings warm Berliner Schüle flow with classic piano romanticism, and an uplifting run of graceful symphonic melodies in best Chariots Of Fire tradition. Together with Human Greed's generous cycle of fusing synths and Inside Out's far east entwined nature these songs bring a delightful diversity to the album.
This all in combination with the crispiest of production values boils down to the main conclusion that Hydragate is an essential must have/hear for fans of contemporary Electronic Music.
Mario Schönwälder — The Eye Of The Chameleon
German Electronic Music (EM) artist Mario Schönwälder is well-known for his frequent collaborations with names such as Bernd Kistenmacher, Bas Broekhuis, Detlef Keller and the recently passed away Thomas Fanger to name but a few. In addition, he has had an active solo career since the 1980s, which after a limited cassette release took off in 1989 with The Eye Of The Chameleon. After several out-of-print reissues this album has recently been re-released by the active MIG music label, including brief liner notes from Schönwälder.
Starting with the Zen-orientated soundscape Behind The Mental Wall it comes beautifully to the fore that Schönwalder paid close attention to the style and sounds of EM master Klaus Schulze. Shown in its excellent synergy of sequencers, cosmic winds, futuristic resonating synths and fine lengthy melodic developments. Embellished by Eastern scales and tribal percussion. Earthtime shows similar Berliner Schüle appeal with oriental flows and oceans of dreamy melodies, afloat with whaling sounds to which a chiming exorcism of synths adds the tension of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells. While repetitive pied piper melodies slither up into the air under hypnotic spell of a serpent-charmer.
To this The Eye Of The Chameleon offers an outward bound voyage towards the outer limits of our galaxy that twinkles with melodic fireworks, and subtle pitch shifts surrounded with dainty Jean Michel Jarre mysteriousness. Perfectly suited for fans of Tangerine Dream, Schülze and those in search of soothing imaginary space travel. I personally find this composition somewhat long-winding, although it overall does entertain.
The epic suite The Voyage Set II (...To The Earth), divided into two segments. The first part is a live recording from a performance at the Berlin Planetary from 7th January 1989, offers greater variety and evolves from elegant groovy atmospheres highlighted by terrestrial percussion and a spacious soundscape that strikes the imagination with a harmonious touchdown amidst ethereal stratospheric melodies.
Overall this re-issue of The Eye Of The Chameleon is excellent news for the well-seasoned Berliner Schüle enthusiast and comes highly recommended for EM fans in general.
Schroothoop — Macadam
It is fascinating watching a child knock two objects together to make a rudimentary rhythm and then discovering that by striking or blowing through an array of different objects a range of tones can be explored. I guess that this is the very essence of junk jazz. Schroothoop ("scrap heap", in Dutch) are exponents of this and the homemade instruments the band use have been forged and created by using a variety of everyday objects.
The album features flutes made from plastic pipes, guitars made from wooden crates and a host of other instruments. As might be expected given the origins of the instruments there is a predominant reliance upon percussive and wind effects, although some tunes like Krentenbaard are delicately garlanded with some wholesome acoustic guitar tones. However, repeatedly it is the fragile fluttering of homemade flutes that have the greatest role to play. Broeihaard's snake twisting melodies and rhythms are mysteriously enthralling.
Macadam is a fascinating album. It works well and the bands channelling of Afro-Cuban, North African rhythms, ambient soundscapes, and electronica ensures that nothing about the release is predictable. On the contrary, different moods are explored and different grooves established. Some tunes are perfect for dance floor moments, others are better suited to dark sky staring.
I like this release; its brave, innovative and excitingly progressive!