Patrick Broguière — A Secret World
Let me start the review with a bold statement that one of the superb albums that you haven't heard (and I have, ha-ha!) is Patrick Broguière's Mont Saint-Michel. Yes, some of us, prog heads, have these hidden gems in our collection, that seemingly no-one else knows about or cares to know. Released back in 1998 and lamentably unnoticed, this was and still is a pure musical diamond, with excellent themes and elegant mixing of prog, folk and sympho — something that you, dear reader, should try, no matter whether you are a fan of Dream Theater only or if such rather obscure names as XII Alfonso or Minimum Vital ring a bell to you.
Patrick Broguière himself is a French multi-instrumentalist and composer, who prefers to work solo, inviting guests rather than running a full-size collective. After releasing four albums in the 90-ies, he plunged into a long period of silence to be broken only in 2023. News of A Secret World release made me raise both brows in joy like meeting a long-forgotten but sympathetic companion from some other time. Listening to the album for the first time, however, left me with mixed feelings (and by saying “mixed” I do imply “mixed”, not “negative”). The reasons for that is something I need to explain.
No matter how “prog” I am on my personal “prog scale”, Broguière was precisely the artist from whom I wanted nothing else but “more-of-the-same-please-please-please”. It was of course naïve, expecting someone to repeat your beloved sound after more than twenty years, but here the step was taken... sidewards, let's say. From the lush arrangements of Mont Saint-Michel Broguière went to a very minimalistic approach, that evokes memories of The Enid (far from my personal favorite, sorry) and such French bands as Eclat or Edhels circa their late-80-early 90-ies career: cheap percussion, very basic synths – and attempts to express good, sometimes great, ideas through a narrow choice of tools.
Did I greet these changes? Not quite. Does this mean poor quality of music? Absolutely not. I would start with bad news – the drumming is programmed and Broguière, I am afraid, is missing a lot of achievements of the XXI century, working with percussion on a clearly amateur level. There are albums with programmed drums that I admire, and there's really no scientific consensus that live drums are invariably better (if I am allowed to utter heresies on DPRP). But here the rhythmic parts are made mostly for show.
Melody and composition-wise, things grow more interesting: Broguière drifts between Occitanian folk tunes, symphonic prog and new age influences, creating a fairy tale or chivalric romance atmosphere. Notable numbers are the title-track-slash-opener, King Arthur's March and the very extravagant 21st Century Dancing Man (the homage is a clear one for every prog head, but I would rather draw parallels with In The Court of the Crimson King). The closing Faust and Mephisto is also quite nice, while the other tracks are less noticeable.
One thing A Secret World definitely did right is bringing Patrick Broguière back to musical scene. However, I suggest that those new to Broguière's music should start with his 90s releases and evaluate this album basing on their experience from his best work.
Farewell Factory — Exit
Normally I start a review with the introduction of the artist with probably mentioning some earlier records and introducing the band members. In the case of Farewell Factory I cannot do this because all that is unknown to me. There was no press release attached to the email, on their website there is no information about the band except that they made an album called Exit. So it is all a big mystery. The quest for information about this band had begin. On their YouTube channel I found this statement: "The album EXIT is the first, the last and the only album of this great Dutch band... enjoy". Say what now? Their Bandcamp page only has a picture with the silhouettes of four people. Some members of... Silhouette????
It takes me back to the time that there was no internet and I sometimes just bought an album in the store because the cover looked nice. In those days it was common not knowing anything about the artist, maybe a short listening session in the store and then exploring who, what and why from the booklet. I somehow like not knowing anything about the band, just stepping into a release blindfolded and just trying to figure out what it is all about. What I do not like is that even now I still do not have a clue about who is playing on this album, really frustrating.
The musical style of Farewell Factory is neo-prog. The band easily combines the sound of classic neo-prog bands like Marillion, Arena, Pendragon and IQ with well known Dutch bands like Silhouette, For Absent Friends and Knight Area. Boundaries of the genre are not extended with Exit, all elements are nicely reshaped and sound both familiar and new. The beginning of the album sounds a lot like old Arena. Angel holds everything a classic neo-prog song is about, lots of melodies and a layer of keyboard chords. Indulgence is a bit slower and scarier sounding but still with that very familiar neo-prog sound. This song has the lyric "We go back to square one", a hint to the album from Dutch band For Absent Friends? Could also be a random cliché? There are a lot of those in the lyrics.
After the short tune Bloodline 1 it is back to the Arena like music with The One Who Created The World. Again the lyrics and the tunes sound familiar, the chorus has some David Bowie vibes.
Bleeding Rose is another slower scarier sounding song. By now I started realizing which common symphonic element is not featured on this album: up to this point there have been no lengthy guitar solos. The instrumental parts in the songs mostly feature keyboard tunes and instead of soloing there is usually some variations to the general melody of the music. I love a great solo, but I do not miss this in the music of Farewell Factory. On Fairy Tale I hear a nice combination of For Absent Friends and Knight Area. I still have no clue who is playing, but I would not be surprised if some members of those bands joined hands. Upside Down must be about the Netflix series Stranger Things. The song has a nice jazzy chorus, some dark keyboard parts and a heavier scary part portraying all the aspects of that television series.
Sink In A Well has more diversity, a slow start and a heavier instrumental middle section. The instrumental middle section again shows that Farewell Factory did not choose for lengthy solos. The instrumental parts are mainly dominated by the keyboards and instead of flying over the keys they stick to a variation of the melody or some atmospheric soundscapes. Doomsday Machine is a nice song reaching just over four minutes. Disaster also starts with a bit more guitar stuff, during the vocal parts the sound is mostly keyboard sounds, during the connecting parts this song has some heavier stuff. Interval song Bloodline 2 is a bit heavier than the first one and after that comes the closing song Passengers, a nice ballad with a lot of piano. Half way it turns into a power ballad, again no guitar solo but mainly keyboards.
I still have no clue about who is playing in this band, very frustrating. The songs are a bit safe with a bunch of cliché lyrics, and stay well within the musical boundaries set by classic neo-prog bands. If you are looking for new stuff then this album will not give you that, if you are looking for almost an hour of beautiful music then you should give this one a try. Neo-prog fans should definitely check this out. The puzzle of trying to figure out who is on this album makes it fun. Let's hope Exit is not the immediate exit for Farewell Factory.
Momentum — De slag op de Suyderzee
What makes Momentum stand out within the Dutch progressive rock scene is the lyrical use of their (and my) native language. In many other countries such as France, Spain, Germany, and Italy this is a rather common feature. But apart from a few obscure occasions in the past it is ultimately rare and fairly unique in my homeland.
Their debut Uit het leven gegrepen offers a surprising musical mixture with influences that can be traced back to bands like Porcupine Tree, Rush, and Savatage. But also an unexpected variety of renowned Dutch artists came to light, who get frequent airing on my wife's favourite radio station 100%NL.
Since this debut, recorded in a line-up consisting of Marc Schouten (vocals, bass), Fons Flotman (keys) and Raimon Schaap (guitars), the band has welcomed Daan van Zelm (guitars) and Kris Schouten (drums). And in the run-up to their sophomore album, released the single Luister naar je lach. Meanwhile, Momentum also played with the idea to participate in the 450th jubilee festivities involving "The battle of the Zuyderzee" which were to take place in their home town of Hoorn in 2023, which is of course situated near the coast of what once was called Zuiderzee.
Enthusiastically reacted upon their initiative by the event's organisation, Momentum plus Maartje Brandt as historic narrator set out to compose a miniature length rock opera scheduled for a 14th of October release date to coincide with the first day of celebrations. The next day, with Brandt in the audience and Kris Schouten strikingly absent, their opera was premiered at the Appelhaven parking in Hoorn, where the project was played integrally, guided by video presentations.
Story-wise, the historic events captured on De slag op de Suydersee take place during the Eighty Years War and start off when in 1555 emperor Charles V transfers his power to the Catholic Filips II. Ruling supreme with strong law enforcements as newly appointed king of the Calvinistic Netherlands any form of heresy soon after resulted in death penalties like beheading, being burned at the stake and getting buried alive. In protest, a group going by the name of Watergeuzen (literally: "Water Beggars") started to rebel against these religion-based punishments, which forced Filips II to respond by sending in the Iron Duke Alva.
Following Brandt's soothingly spoken documentary-styled outline in Introductie, this above scenery comes fully alive in De Spaanse tiran as calm rippling melodies complemented elegantly by keyboards and expressive vocals set sail into tidings of heavy prog that slowly drift into temperamental acoustics. Opmars van de ijzeren hertog then takes the high seas with a march of driving prog metal to which lush melodic twin-guitar shredding brings impressions of Thin Lizzy. The poetic lyrics in combination with Schouten's vocal timbre surprisingly imprints memories of Dutch icon Boudewijn de Groot. A capitol transition finally leads into Het verzet. Through energetic bombast awash with blasting synths and fierce riffs, this provides a compelling re-enactment of Alva's siege.
As elaborated upon by Brandt in Intermezzo, the ever-growing resistance meanwhile welcomed Willem of Orange as leader, while Alva's army continued to march on. The latter's decor nicely captured in De wraak van Alva as monotonous vocal expressions embraced by Spanish folk melodies highlight various instances of Alva's vengeance, including the memorable massacre that took place in my own precious town of Naarden. This gruesome invasion ultimately came to a halt in Amsterdam, proudly remembered in Blokkade van Amsterdam with great melodies and Schaap's ingeniously construed variation on the Dutch National Anthem.
Perfectly illustrative towards Momentum's masterly achieved symbioses between lyrics, music and storytelling, Strategy then builds tension and sets up beautifully for the inevitable confrontation. This is represented in the operatic highlight De slag op de Suydersee. This pinnacle composition slays relentlessly past an armada of aggressive prog metal melodies driven onwards by combative synths and thriving all around play, and most dynamically hails Jan Haring's heroic capture of the enemy's flag before he gets mortally wounded and in doomy descent meets his maker. A mournful loss touchingly portrayed in Held der Suydersee with elements of blues and melancholic guitars that ooze sadness.
As accounted for in De Uitkomst Haring's act of valour caused great confusion within the Spanish fleet and not much later they, and Alva, would make their definite retreat. A festive happening celebrated in Reprise (instrumental) with victorious revisits of opera defining moments and a royal anthemic salute that ends the composition on a euphoric high. Designed with melodic uplift and graceful guitar play from van Zelm, Zij die voor ons streden finally rounds of Momentum's opera most satisfactory by transposing these historic events into the present whilst assuring thoughtful lyrics firmly remind us there will always be someone brave enough to stand up and fight for a better existence.
Due to copyright issues, Momentum so far haven't been able to share the greatly cared for accompanying visuals on YouTube. They are however investigating a solution as we speak. Just like they are looking into the possibility of performing De slag op de Suydersee in full-band force (with Brandt?) within a more music-suitable environment.
Here's hoping they will succeed in both, because seen as a whole this mini-opera makes a lasting impression that next to border-crossing prog-rock attention fully deserves further nationwide exposure. If you happen to live (or be) in the vicinity of Hoorn - where I reckon these performances to take place - I highly recommend to witness these unique events. Do remember to bring your spouse along, because from experience I'm convinced he/she will enjoy it just as much 😉!
Matt Phillips — John McLaughlin - From Miles And Mahavishnu To The 4th Dimension
Ask a hundred music orientated enthusiasts to name one accomplishment guitarist extraordinaire John McLaughlin is famous for, and with a proximity of 98+ percent I reckon they will automatically reply with The Mahavishnu Orchestra (MO). As would I, although I hereby confess that many decades ago it wasn't McLaughlin's name that drew my attention towards this world renowned group, but rather the one of violinist Jerry Goodman whose involvement with The Flock on their Dinosaur Swamps album made sure to nudge me into their direction.
As part of the remaining two percent I might have answered differently by mentioning his work with Al Di Meola/Paco De Lucia and Shakti. But other than a fairly common knowledge of his predominantly groundbreaking jazz-fusion music and gobsmacking virtuoso guitar play I would come up fairly empty. Until now that is! Because author Matt Phillips, founder of various music websites and former Number-one Amazon music bestseller with his book On Track... Level 42, in his second book shares everything there is to know about Grammy Award winner John McLaughlin's mightily impressive diverse achievements. And more. Much more!
Following a short introduction in The Early Years, Phillips starts of his extremely detailed story with the obvious birth of McLaughlin, who he refers to as John from then on, and goes on to highlight events that would see McLaughlin pick up the guitar and move to London in early 1960. This opening chapter for me, like Tolkien's Silmarillion did so many years ago, proved to be a slightly daunting read at first due to the vast naming of people and places. But unlike Tolkien's highly demanding fantasy word stream, Phillips carefully chosen flow of words yields a beautiful page turning reality — especially for Londoners — that shows great readability whilst getting introduced to such names as Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker and Alexis Korner with whom McLaughlin performs as early as 1963!
After meeting up for the first time with Ravi Shankar, giving future Led Zeppelin icon Jimmy Page guitar lessons, and doing sessions for David Bowie and Tom Jones, a restless force within McLaughlin then sees him quit the pop scene and turn towards the Jazz side. The first of these steps shared in the second chapter where Phillips addresses McLaughlin's debut Extrapolation, his 1969 move to the USA where he on his second day abroad received an invitation from trumpeter Miles Davis to join in recording, McLaughlin's teaming up with Tony Williams' Lifetime, and a recorded jam session with Jimi Hendrix on March 25th 1969.
This short list of illustrious names that McLaughlin has engaged with is merely the tip of an iceberg so grand it can sink the Titanic ten times over. And nothing short of a miracle Phillips brilliantly highlights every single one of them in his compelling narrative, placing many a musician in spotlights with a short artistic retrospective when they first appear on the scene. The 20-page index that follows after the writers acknowledgements proves to be highly convenient to this as well.
Leaving no stone unturned in the overall musical analysis of McLaughlin's broad innovative guitar techniques, the next 1970 - 1973 chapter then takes an in-depth look into McLaughin's three consecutive solo records and The Mahavishnu Orchestra's first incarnation. Here Phillips excels in captivating storytelling and opens up a most accurate treasure trove of knowledge and information which proves to be of sheer educational delight for both fans and the novice appreciator. Did you know for instance know that McLaughlin was given the name of Mahavishnu by spiritual leader Sri Chinmoy? And that this same guru presented Santana with 'Devadip' while Michael Walden's name was extended to Narada Michael Walden? Neither did I!
Somewhat curious in Phillip's flawless research — consisting out of personal emails, quotes, interviews, magazines, internet, and a variety of books which are all minutely accounted after the Epilogue — is the mentioning of McLaughlin's 1970 album Devotion to include the participation of Jerry Goodman on just vocals. Something I find rather odd given the album's complete instrumental nature and Goodman's masterful choice for spectacular violin. Seeing Goodman receives his proper introduction for 1971's My Goal's Beyond I reckon this to be a typo by Phillips. Although in Phillips' defence, Discogs does give Goodman credit for violin on the album's reissue, so he might be half right.
From MO's debut The Inner Mounting Flame onwards Phillips then, for a selection of career defining albums and in similarity to the popular On Track series, starts to analyse and closely interpret individual compositions that make up the albums. This on the one hand gives him with the perfect opportunity to insert objective criticism and even more insightful views (a.o. chords, time signatures, scales) into his tale. On the other hand it provides enthused readers like me with a perfect starting tool towards exploration of McLaughlin's world of interesting releases.
After the second enjoyable incarnation of MO, a formation which due to royalty/credit issues and reasons of musical differences features only McLaughlin from the original line-up, these releases for me personally don't include his revolutionary acoustical work with Shakti that Phillips describes next. Nor his highly praised acoustic explorations with DiMeola/Lucia and the numerous devotedly addressed Jazz inspired projects that McLaughlin undertakes in the 80s and 90s. But that's merely a matter of taste and based on the words of praise by Phillips shouldn't hold anyone back in checking these albums out.
Reading about the lesser known decades in McLaughin's career, a time that would see him release fifteen albums all together, is a fully satisfying affair. First, because within these pages Phillips perfectly concretes McLaughlin's ongoing inner "acoustic vs electric" conflict, and goes on to show how far stretching McLaughlin's influence as a musical influence reaches. Second, in light of Phillips' beautifully painted replica of these decades (where the music industry's phrase "Home Taping Is Killing Music" was heard all around, a harmless version of today's "A Stream A Day Makes Artists Fade Away") brought back many delightful memories. And third, because Phillips incorporates plenty of McLaughlin's guest appearances, memorable concerts, viewing tips, and other countless points of interest and miscellaneous context into his story. All of the above combined results successfully in a better understanding of McLaughlin as a person and the amazingly gifted musician he is.
From page 200 on Phillips in 35 pages of profound informational depth, with his usual descriptive style, continues his fascinating insightful read by taking a closer look at McLaughlin's achievements in the 21st century which amongst others includes releases by his current band The 4th Dimension. Followed by a concluding epilogue in which he shares his final thoughts alongside a mention of McLuaghlin's latest solo effort Liberation Time. Just his luck that shortly after the book went to print McLaughlin as part of the newly reformed Shakti released This Moment.
As a result, this outstanding all-encompassing representation of McLaughlin's impressively diverse career in the fields of jazz, rock, fusion, prog, Eastern/Western world music, and more, is still, although ever so slightly, incomplete. But Phillips can start his revised version as we speak, because I have every faith this massively impressive and highly recommendable book is bound to get sold out within the foreseeable future.
Especially if you're a McLaughlin devotee this hugely entertaining book is a required purchase. In case you're more like me, someone with an interest in (prog) music who dropped History from his exams the minute it was possible, then rest assured this exemplary educational book is one historic lesson you don't want to miss! All in all an exceptional and brilliant read!
Polis — Unterwegs I
Polis is a German band that I had not heard of before now but their promotional material indicates they have been together for 13 years and have performed live for much of this time. They are recognised as one of only a few bands who have been fortunate enough to obtain and exploit the wonderful sounds of those formally ubiquitous original Hammond B3 organs / rotary Leslie speakers together with original analogue synthesisers and Fender Rhodes piano. Those quintessential instruments, in good working condition, must cost a fortune to buy these days, considering many older models would have been scrapped years ago as not being worthy of repair. To say they utilize those wonderful musical apparatus to perfection would be an understatement as the wall of sound they are able to produce is very authentic and sounds as if the songs were conceived in the 70s.
The material on the album has been culled from 2 live sets, with tracks 1-6 being recorded live at the Woodstock Forever festival in 2022 and 2 tracks taken from Alte Kaffeerosterel in Plauen. The album, incidentally, was mixed at Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios.
I understand the band members have remained unchanged since their debut album in 2011 and consists of Christian Roscher (vocals), Christoph Kästner (guitar), Marius Leicht (keyboards), Andreas Sittig (bass), and Sascha Bormann (drums).
As a band best known for being a melding of Krautrock / psychedelic rock / jam band / hard rock, it is easy to see where their roots lie as the album oozes with influences from that embryonic period of time when other bands were finding their feet. Examples include Uriah Heep, Jane, Birth Control, Eloy, Omega, Wallenstein, Nektar, Gomorrah, Thirsty Moon, Out Of Focus, Epsilon and Nine Days Wonder to name a few.
The playing is heavy and hard in many places, and it is not hard to see why they have become quite popular in their homeland as their live shows must surely be nothing short of a great experience. The music is well constructed, if a little predictable but is not quite as experimental as bands such as Amon Duul II, Can, Guru Guru, or Embryo who often incorporate some jazz-fusion elements into their material. As live albums go, this is quite acceptable for the most part, but I still hanker for those magic days of yore when I could crank up Nektar or Wallenstein or Triumvirate to my heart's content. Those really were the days!
That Joe Payne — Bread And Circuses
After a spell of writers' block following the release of Payne's first solo album, By Name, By Nature that was only broken by writing a collection of self-confessed silly festive songs, the ex-Enid vocalist returns with his second solo album proper. Realising that his self-conscious desire to conform to what his audience expected was a bit factor in holding his musical expressions back, he decided to concentrate on whatever it was he wanted to do. And that turned out to encompass a broad spectrum of music. Consequently, it is best not to think that Bread And Circuses follows any form of progressive rock narrative.
Although the music may have changed, it is still infused with Payne's remarkable five-octave range vocals and his mastery of his singing is more evident than ever, swooping and soaring with unbelievably clarity. There is a distinct 1980s feel to the first half of the album which is somewhat unfortunate for this reviewer as the eighties were far from my favourite decade, and not just in musical terms! Things kick off with Falling In Love Is Easy which has a sound one would associate with acts such as Asia, Survivor, Heart (in their big hair period) and even Toto. With that in mind, the track is a strong opener with a catchy chorus and would undeniably have been a massive hit at that time (and possibly even these days if it had achieved sufficient exposure).
Rive Runs Dry takes a completely different approach with an almost totally electronic approach. It might seem a trifle perverse that with such remarkable singing attributes, a portion of the vocals are manipulated into a machine-like quality. However, the contrast between the manipulated and unadorned vocals highlights the different aspects of the song (about immigration). The socially aware lyrics are poignant and despite the relative simplicity, there is a great depth to the song with the simple main synth sequence providing an ominous, almost despair-like, quality.
My Heart is a definite nod in the direction of the classic James Bond theme tunes. Dame Shirley Bassey would have probably committed a variety of random acts of violence to obtain the right to sing this if it has been put forward as a contender to the 007 franchise (there's still time!). Think of the best Bond themes and the elements that make them great can be found in My Heart. Grandiose orchestrations, the big chorus, a wide dynamic range and an ending that provides a perfect lead in to the start of the film. Okay, the awful (in my opinion) spoken word section is a detraction but could be easily edited out! Plastic Grass is back to the electronic style but sadly doesn't do much for me, rather too clubby and programmed for my tastes, a style that should definitely be left locked away and avoided at all cost.
The yet-to-be-released independent film Fortune Cookies features in its opening credits Payne singing Live The Dream. Although it possesses a cabaret-style sound it is probably the one song that I would immediately associate with Payne. Shifting time signatures, contrasting instruments and a healthy dose of humour. In many ways it is progressive rock without the rock! A great song irrespective of how one would describe it, and I am sure that would be a source of great debate. One is tempted to attribute the sentiments of Despite Everything to either, or both, Donald Trump and / or Boris Johnson and the people that blindly follow them despite their evident lack of ability, intelligence or common sense. As Payne himself has written “I'm always amazed when people say things like 'Yeah, but what's the alternative' despite the evidence that the person they're voting for is a complete knob.” As for the song itself, it is another big orchestrated number, very much in the crooner style that allows Payne to give free rein to his vocal gymnastics.
In an alternative reality Fucking Fucked would have appeared in a film like Mary Poppins or The Sound Of Music, the music box like melody giving the piece an innocence belied by the title and the lyrics. A Piece of whimsy? Perhaps, but it never fails to being a smile. And quite how Payne achieves the highest notes is totally unbelievable. The title track provides the epic ending required. There is a certain Queen-like quality to the massed voices of the chorus and the song itself draws on the symphonic prog qualities of his Enid days to great effect. Another marvellous musical creation.
Although decidedly not a true prog rock album, there is a lot to admire on this album. Payne has tremendous musical vision and the ability to capture different styles with seemingly consummate ease. Although not an album that will be in constant circulation in my house there is sufficient quality here to maintain a place in my collection. The tracks that are good are very good indeed; others are just as good in their conception and delivery just not to my particular taste. I encourage everyone to give the album a listen, you may surprise yourselves.