Acqua Fragile — Moving Fragments
Acqua Fragile, an Italian progressive rock band that emerged in the early 1970s, has returned with their latest offering, Moving Fragments. Having garnered critical acclaim for their first two albums, the band's legacy has always been associated with intricate compositions, innovative arrangements, and a distinctive blend of rock elements. I remember many years ago while trolling through the second hand record shops of Sydney, I would often come across multiple copies of both the band's second album along with fellow compatriot Maxophone's debut album. I could never understand why people would have ditched these two classic gems so often but assume, as is often the case, the previous owners simply failed to play the albums enough times to allow the inner strengths of the songs to actually sink in. Their loss = my gain! This lack of action on their part allowed me to collect a ridiculously large quantity of highly desirable original albums from Europe that are highly sought after now and fetch serious pesos. This anomaly plus my love for both albums is what drove my desire to obtain far more albums from Italy as they have always been, to my ears anyway, only a smidgen behind the British for releasing highly creative and inspirational progressive rock music.
With the band's latest offering, however, they seem to have hit a stumbling block in recapturing the magic of their earlier works. I'm finding it a bit difficult to really become fully absorbed by their latest album as the songs just don't quite deliver what they did on their first two albums. While it is great to see that three original members of the band appear on this 2023 album I still miss the awesome talents of keyboardist, Maurizio Mori and guitarist, Gino Campanini.
Bernardo Lanzetti (vocals, guitar), Piero Canavera (drums) and Franz Dondi (bass, vocals) from the old band are joined by Stefano Pantaleoni (keyboards), Claudio Tuma (guitars) and Rossella Volta (vocals) in addition to a few guest musicians providing a few tracks with drums, guitar, flute and sax. Despite this reunion that held great promise for fans expecting a return to the band's roots, the album falls short of the high standards set by their first two releases, Acqua Fragile (1973) and Mass Media Stars (1974).
While Maurizio Mori and Gino Campanini played pivotal roles in defining Acqua Fragile's signature sound, the new recruits, while undoubtedly talented, struggle to seamlessly integrate into the established dynamics of the band. The absence of Mori's intricate keyboard work and Campanini's unique guitar styling leaves a void that is challenging for the newcomers to fill. Lanzetti's vocals, however, remain incredibly strong especially considering he is in his mid 70s. The penetration and power of his voice has often been likened to that of Roger Chapman (Family) and I certainly don't shy away from that comparison. Fans may also recall he joined PFM in 1975 and appeared on Chocolate Kings and Jetlag. After a somewhat disappointing solo career for the next 25 odd years he then joined Mangalla Vallis in 2003, whose music I also really enjoy, as do many newer fans of Italian prog.
While I quite often like to see some of my favourite older bands reuniting, one must surely realise that with the passage of time, the creative juices have dried up to a trickle, the energy and drive may have long departed and the anticipated synergy with former members just might not happen as readily or freely. I am not sure how much input the newer members have had in writing the material for this album as Bernardo seems to be credited with the majority.
Moving Fragments lacks the cohesive musical narrative that characterised the band's earlier works. The album features compositions that, while individually strong, fail to create a unified listening experience and have not ignited any stirring emotions with me as their earlier works did so effortlessly. I am probably in the minority with the band's first two albums, but they are amongst my all-time favourites in this highly competitive genre and still get played today. Sure, there are a few good moments on the album but out of 9 tracks, I can really only find two that I would play repeatedly.
To truly regain their position as a force in progressive rock, the band needs to address several key aspects. Firstly, the band must reconcile the departure of Mori and Campanini by finding a way to incorporate the strengths of the new members while preserving the essence of their original sound. This may involve revisiting the collaborative songwriting process that defined their earlier successes. Additionally, a return to a conceptual framework could provide the necessary structure to their music, giving any future albums a sense of cohesiveness. This could involve exploring themes that resonate with the band's history, reflecting on the passage of time, or drawing inspiration from the evolving landscape of progressive rock.
While Moving Fragments may not live up to the expectations set by Acqua Fragile's first two albums, it serves as a testament to the band's enduring spirit. With careful consideration of their musical direction and a commitment to preserving the elements that made them iconic, Acqua Fragile has the potential to reclaim their position in the progressive rock scene, proving that age is no barrier to creative resurgence. A decent effort but not quite reaching the top shelf of prog.
Eabs Meets Jaubi — In Search Of A Better Tomorrow
Over the years there have been several artists and albums that have fused the music of the Indian subcontinent with Western musical forms. For example, John McLaughlin's work with Shakti and Jan Garbarek's collaborations with Shakti's L Shankar (Shankar Lakshminarayana) created a wonderful amalgam of different sounds from their visionary fusion of western and Indian music.
For the creation of In Search Of A Better Tomorrow the renowned Polish progressive jazz band EABS joined forces with the equally well-regarded Pakistani band Jaubi.
EABS are well known for bringing different flavours to their bubbling jazz-scented musical recipe. They have previously integrated hip, hop and electro elements into their overall sound. Their collaborative creation with Jaubi makes a remarkable impression as it deftly follows its own colourful mix of styles. The album contains many different factors that are stirred and mixed with Indian classical musical forms. The result is on occasions quite stunning.
The album has two distinct moods; one slightly melancholy and introspective, the other brighter, and a tad more uplifting. These moods are reflected perfectly in the vinyl version of the album with side A beginning with Yesterday and side B beginning aptly with Tomorrow.
Without doubt, the most beautiful and probably the most thought-provoking tune on side A of the album, is the reflectively named Raise Your Hearts, Drop Your Guns. Everything about this piece drips with mournful beauty. The haunting outro provided by Sarangi and piano concludes things nicely and is a fitting piece to end side A.
Tomorrow begins with an atmospheric introduction on the Sarangi backed by tabla, bass, and keys. The synth melody is particularly moving and fits beautifully with the swirling atmosphere created by the sarongi. Tomorrow also features a skilfully constructed piano solo in its mid-section. It is probably one of the strongest tunes on the album.
It is quickly followed by another piece that is treacle spread with emotions that cling and stick. Madhuvanti evokes a spiritual response as its misty veiled Sarongi and Tabla heart throb pulse permeates the air. This ethereal spell is somewhat broken when the reedy rasps of a spiralling sax and the surge of a gusty trumpet join proceedings.
The wonderful and evocative Sarongi melody of Madhuvanti places the listener on an overnight train travelling through the Indian subcontinent. The mysterious bowing of the Sarangi, jostles the senses, but its enchanting quality, ensures that Madhuvanti's journey, is boldly garlanded and delicately wrapped in a colourful dish of pungent musical spices.
The album concludes with Sun. Its uplifting and charming. As the piece concludes, its warm tent, blue sky shimmering vocal parts beckon the listener towards a better tomorrow. Sun is certainly a piece that evokes the spirit of the hooded child within me, and buoys the spirit of the bearded man I became.
Whilst In Search Of A Better Tomorrow, offers a great insight into what can happen when two distinct bands from two distinctive traditions can achieve when they improvise and collaborate, it is perhaps only in a live setting that their fusion of styles has an opportunity to fully invent, innovate and extend the possibilities for further improvisation. In concert their approach and sound has real room to breathe and the full extent of their creativity becomes readily apparent.
I wholeheartedly recommend that if you intend to listen to the album that afterwards you should check out an EABS / Jaubi concert. The performance of both bands at is full of enthusiastic passion and is a fitting testament to the abilities of the players. It is also a significant reminder of the superb abilities of the players as soloists.
In Search Of A Better Tomorrow, is a fascinating release. It is inventive and impressive. It has several outstanding moments and is a perfect accompaniment to time spent in contemplation and reflection.
Peter Gallagher — On Track: The Sensational Alex Harvey Band
After 60+ book reviews on DPRP, and approximately twice the amount of books issued all together, I suppose the recipe behind Sonicbond's On Track series to be widely known by now. In short, it boils down to an enthusiastic and knowledgeable author — in this case Peter Gallagher, author of books on Kiss, Warren Zevon, and Marc Bolan — to cook up a tastily fulfilling read about the legacy of a favourite band/artist.
Spiced with essential ingredients like album information, line-ups, meticulously recreated historic tales, and flavoursome musical analysis complemented by (personal) anecdotes/interviews, objective judgement criticism, quotes and passionate elaborations this brilliantly effective brief has so far yielded hours of highly entertaining reading pleasure. Gallagher's excellent course on The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, SAHB in short, also deeply fulfils this brief. I do however get the feeling Gallagher has slightly misread instructions this time around because he has expanded an appetising "nine-album SAHB meal" into a luxurious grand buffet that covers just about everything there is to know and tell about the charismatic Alex Harvey, SAHB and the various endeavours of its individual members.
In preparation of the actual descriptions of the SAHB albums, page 51 through to 115, this results in Gallagher digging constructively into Harvey's rough post-WWII Glasgow upbringing, his glorious win at the age of 22 in the 1957 Search For Scotland's Tommy Steele competition, Harvey's subsequent Alex Harvey And His Soul Band (1964) and The Blues (1965) albums, and the abandoned second Alex Harvey And His Soul Band record from 1965 which remained unreleased until 1999.
From a prog point of view, these albums are hardly of interest as they predominantly feature blues / R&B / rock / soul covers from the likes of Willy Dixon, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters and Elvis Presley to name but a few. One noteworthy composition is however the Jerry Leiber / Mike Stoller penned Framed which in 1972 surfaced on SAHB's debut Framed alongside songs like Midnight Moses and Hammer Song from Harvey's 1969 album Roman Wall Blues.
With Gallagher taking convenient leeway by temporarily shifting focus towards analysis of two important SAHB-related Tear Gas albums, followed by a storyline return to Harvey's involvement in the London stage production of Hair and his 1972 album The Joker Is Wild, things then finally get sensational when Harvey and the remaining Tear Gas-members Zal Cleminson (guitar), Chris Glen (bass) and Ted McKenna (drums), accompanied by new recruit Hugh McKenna (keys), combine forces and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band is born.
For prog enthusiasts Gallagher's excellently informative and throughout compelling read from here on becomes very interesting. First off with his insightful take of the aforementioned 1972 release of Framed, which includes the magnificent metal-inspired and blues-soaked St. Anthony. And secondly with his exemplary dissection of follow up Next, which for starters delivered a sublime captivating prog treat in form of the phenomenal The Faith Healer and for afters firmly established the band's visual identity (see a video here).
Gallagher does cause slight confusion when he refers to Tomorrow Belongs To Me in the subsequent chapter about career highlight The Impossible Dream, but that's about the only inconsistency found in his otherwise solidly re-construed CSI-worthy story. His statement in the obligatory pictures section that SAHB Live is one of the best live albums out there will possibly cause many an argument, but personally I fully concur. Simply because this brilliant masterpiece captures the band at their utmost artistic peak and comprises a sheer irresistible concatenation of iconic songs like Vambo, The Tomahawk Kid, the Tom Jones cover Delilah (SAHB's greatest charting achievement), and the magnificently spellbinding aforementioned The Faith Healer.
Triumphantly able to maintain this momentum during gigs, SAHB then issue the somewhat disappointing covers filled The Penthouse Tapes, and to the joy of many a critic return to original material with SAHB Stories. An album which includes their second hit single Boston Tea Party which was in 1993 was covered by FISH on Songs From The Mirror.
Unfortunately on the 27th of July 1976 it all went seriously sour when disaster strikes and a plane crash claims the life of SAHB's manager Bill Fehilly. Stunning the band, this was especially upsetting to Harvey who, after having suffered the tragic loss of his brother four years before, now found himself losing his best friend. Unable to cope with his bereavement Harvey over the next few months turned to erratic stage behaviour, several striking examples of which given by Gallagher, and following a post-concert collapse was finally confined to rest under strict doctor's orders.
Hence, Harvey's curious absence on 1977's Fourplay, an album which does confusingly picture him gagged and tied up on the original back cover. Equally curious is Harvey's own and simultaneously released "Nessie-mania"-inspired documentary Alex Harvey Presents The Loch Ness Monster which, as Gallagher reservedly points out, is easily amongst the weirdest albums ever to be recorded in musical history. When several months later Harvey reunited with SAHB, Tommy Eyre now in charge of keys after a severe fall-out between Harvey and Hugh McKenna, they did manage to record one final album together in form of Rock Drill. But, as Gallagher so adequately describes, SAHB's magic was quickly fading and a few days before the tour supporting the album, Harvey pulled the plug and SAHB ceased to exist.
Harvey and his new band would go on to release The Mafia Stole My Guitar. But unlike his former bandmates who would go on to achieve great successes with bands like Nazareth and The Michael Schenker Group, Harvey's popularity was in rapid decline. So much so that even the offer for a free concert couldn't persuade Gallagher to attend, opting for a pub-night about town with his mates instead. A confessed decision he understandably still regrets to this day, although I do wonder if he would actually have enjoyed the gig because the visual outlines he provides for Harvey's Vienna concert in January 1982 are painfully disturbing.
As it happens this concert would turn out to be Harvey's final performance as he suffered a severe heart attack right before boarding the UK-bound ferry at Zeebrugge on the 4th of February. A second heart attack en route to hospital ending his life. It makes Harvey's final released album The Soldier On The Wall his first posthumous release, but I fully understand the reasoning behind Gallagher's decision to include it in the regular album run down.
Unable to address visual live footage as this is neigh existent, Gallagher continues his moreish read with a selected carve up to Harvey's most interesting compilation albums which amongst others includes the expensive fourteen-disc box set The Last Of The Teenage Idols and the magnificently priced must-have retrospective Shout: The Essential Alex Harvey. For completeness, he then offers a final icing on the cake by highlighting the various projects SAHB's remaining members would get involved with over the years, complemented by a mention of the two immortalised reunions that resulted in the albums Live In Glasgow and Zalvation: Live In The 21st Century in 1993 and 2006 respectively.
After all of the above I have to, well, "give my compliments to the chef" of this excellent book. Engagingly written with extensive knowledge and genuine affection for Harvey and SAHB, it is a highly recommendable nutritious read for fans and anyone who shows a remote interest in one of UK's most appealing charismatic performers. I look forward with anticipation what will come out of Gallagher's oven, erm... next!
Cagri Raydemir — Absence
Cagri Raydemir is a Germany-based independent singer-songwriter. To me an unknown name, but I found out he has already released twelve albums and seven EPs. Some interesting releases with rock-oriented singer-songwriter music. When listening to his previous releases I was nicely surprised. Not progressive rock but many will certainly like the music of Cagri Raydemir. Swinging a bit more than standard rock music with some jazzy bass parts for that groovy sound.
On Absence the approach is more towards progressive rock. Absence is his latest release with only four songs, a short EP just above fifteen minutes. Besides the standard instruments there is also trumpet, percussion and folk instruments like caglama and kopuz. Apart from the trumpet by Julian Hesse all is played, recorder, mixed and mastered by Cagri Raydemir himself.
The EP Absence features four songs each dealing with a philosophical and psychological standpoint. In contrast to his earlier albums the music is stripped down, no heavy guitars and no groovy bass. The start of Absence Of Patience is with an acoustic guitar. It is clear that Cagri choose a more artistic approach instead of standard rock song structures. Absence Of Patience is also the song that features the trumpet which is nicely woven into the music. Very nice song with great melodies and especialy the trumpet makes this song very interesting.
Absence Of Candor follows the same path as the opener, first some acoustic guitar and then gradually introducing some more elements. Gradually does not mean over a lengthy period of time because this song does not reach four minutes. Again not the standard song approach but really thinking outside the common music boundaries. That part of this album should appeal to progressive rock fans but the downside is that Cagri uses the same path outside the music boundaries for each song. Absence Of Courtesy and Absence Of Tolerance also start with acoustic guitar and then introduce some more elements gradually. The opener Absence Of Patience has a real gem with the trumpet melodies but the three other songs sound too much alike. To me, it is still not clear if I am listening to one big piece split up in four parts or four songs that are loosely connected with each other. At first spin the music appeals but to make it a very interesting experience Absence does not deliver all the goods.
Absence to me is a nice introduction to a new name in the music scene. Cagri Raydemir has released some nice albums and EPs that for many DPRP readers will be nice to check out. His latest releases are mostly EPs that turn a bit more towards progressive rock, Cagri is expanding his musical boundaries. Absence is a short album that is interesting enough for a spin but with only four songs and just over fifteen minutes it needed a bit more diversity. Cagri takes a walk outside the common musical boundaries but takes the same path on each song.
Soniq Circus — Chapter 2 - The Accident
After Chapter 1 in 2022, here is the second part of their story about "a gathering of people meeting by a card table at a cruise ship", with different events taking place. Although writing started in 2011, even before their second album, they started recording just a couple of years ago.
Apparently, the concept would be too big for a single album. The first two chapters are EPs of roughly 30 minutes each.
The band's previous albums have been rewarded here at DPRP with ratings varying between 5 and 7. The music is new to me, so I had the choice of listening to their previous material first or judge this on its own, and decided on the latter.
Their own description the music, "progressive rock with a touch of modern metal and symphonic rock from the 70s", covers it pretty well. For some reason I hear several Swedish references like Galleon and A.C.T. in the melodies, and Ritual in some of the vocal melodies and songwriting. Is there a style called Swedish prog then?
Some outbursts with guitar and keyboards duelling might trigger a Dream Theater reference but those are too short to tag that band to this release. Other heavier bits have a more British sound, think of Threshold and in the more rocky parts I hear a bit of Magnum. The multi-layered arrangements could be linked to Saga (not the Swedes, this time, nor the Dutch, but the Canadians I am referring to).
I can understand why my colleagues in the past had different ideas about the music. For some it might need a little more identity of its own. But I do think that, not based on what I've heard but only on what I've read, that the band are on their way of finding their own style. According to their own description it is on purpose that we hear some familiar elements. The mix of influences does create something fresh. I especially love the melodic part. There are very nice touches of melancholy in the way the piano and keyboards support sections that are lead by guitar. The near-acoustic opening of the album, among other parts, shows there is some heart in a world that has a lot of head. That and the warm voice not being a typical prog voice are also things that tick boxes on my list.
And I have to say that the limited duration of the songs was quite welcome. A bit more focus on the songs. In that respect they are not like Magnum at all. Even the short (in prog terms) The I Of The Storm has a lot going on.
My judgement has me curious for the older material and will keep me wondering for the next chapter!
TWA — The Hunted
When you browse through the list of prospective new titles to review from the hundreds that arrive at our website, you often take pot luck in finding one that really piques your interest. Taking a punt on this new release called The Hunted, I quickly realised that a lot of the complementary comments that this album generated in the press were well and truly deserved. This really is a stunningly good album and rivals many of the better known bands that have been plying their trade for years or even decades.
Using some information from the band's promotional material, TWA is a new project created by keyboardist Todd Woerner who conceived the project as a cooperative of musicians that can be changed over time. The upcoming first release entitled The Hunted, will be an instrumental journey from powerful to soul stirring emotional compositions featuring Fernando Perdomo (guitar), Matthew Hedrick (drums), Eric Pseja (bass), Patrick Dukes (guitar) and David McNaught (guitar).
Being an all instrumental album you would think that the creative juices would need to flow at their maximum level to ensure that the magic of the music develops and is sustained over its entire duration. You would right with that assumption. The creativity and melodicism with this album is nothing short of exhilarating and finds me having trouble trying to find a suitable amount of superlatives.
Keyboard maestro Todd Woerner is one hell of a player and an equally brilliant songwriter as his immense skills are demonstrated right throughout every track on this long player. Having three guitarists to augment these amazingly likeable songs is not only a testament to their own individual talents but exemplifies how well a musical project like this can develop with a unified goal in mind. Talk about nailing it perfectly.
At one minute I am hearing a stunningly accessible and extremely melodic lead break one might hear from Kayak on their song, Frozen Flame (Close To The Fire, 2000), only minutes later to hear some Jordan Rudess-styled keyboard wizardry that rivals anything Jordan has done recently. Not to be outdone, I then hear some catchy Gordon Giltrap-styled riffs on the song, Forest Bells. The lead breaks are not merely virtuosic displays of skill but are crafted with a keen sense of melody adding a rich layer to each composition. The melodic elements on this album are not just confined to the serenity of the piano but are deeply integrated into the fabric of the instrumentation. The guitars weave intricate melodies that dance around Todd's meticulously crafted passages, creating a dynamic interplay that adds layers of finesse and beauty to the tracks. The melodic sections act as emotional anchors, allowing the listener to connect with the music on a profound level. The production of the album is also exceptional and sounds amazingly under a decent set of headphones.
This album really is going to appeal to a LOT of people as it contains no bad songs but contains so much of what we fans have been wanting for many years. There is more than enough complex time signatures, soaring lead breaks, diversity aplenty, stunning keyboard wizardry and more melody than you might expect. While it may not break any great degree of fresh ground, what is does do, is put an enormous smile on the listener's face as some monumentally accessible and instantly agreeable music greets your ears.
As good as the album is instrumentally, I could not fail to imagine how much of a masterpiece this might have become for even more fans if a few songs had been included that contained some decent lyrics. My enjoyment of music includes a pretty diverse range of styles and genre so lyrics are not necessarily essential for me. However, realising that a lot of what we reviewers write for the public can be used as a barometer for new music, I feel it behoves bands these days to make their music as appealing to as wide an audience as possible, even if that includes engaging a guest vocalist from time to time. Having said that, I noticed within the band's promotional material, they make mention of the fact that this release will be an all instrumental affair so one can only hope that the next chapter might include some vocals.
This album is certainly going to appeal to fans of Kayak, Camel, Genesis, IQ, Iris, Arena, Eloy Fritsch, Fish On Friday, Gerard, Asturias, Anthony Kalugen, Aries, Bjorn Lynne, Sebastian Hardie, Cast (Mex), Transatlantic, Kevin Peek (Sky), Rick Miller, Comedy Of Errors, Druid, Eloy Fritsch, Lanvall (the highly melodic guitarist for Edenbridge), Glass Hammer, Jadis, Janos Varga Project, Robert Reed, Steve Thorne, Strawbs, The Flower Kings, The Samurai Of Prog, Triumvirate, United Progressive Fraternity and even that amazing band from Estonia called X-Panda. It really is a total extravaganza of keyboard and guitar based bliss with a highly professional touch underpinned by some solid bass and percussive gymnastics.
Needless to say, this outrageously good album comes with the highest recommendation if you like any of the instrumental skils of the bands mentioned above. This has deservedly earned its place as one of the top 3 albums I have heard in 2 years, so it goes without saying, I need to be able to review any and all of their future albums. I really can't wait to hear what magic they concoct for their next offering. Brilliantly done guys!!