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Archive for June 19th, 2011


TRACKLISTING:
1. Sirens Dance (3:52)
2. Aging Backwards (5:20)
3. Flanders Fields (5:05)
4. Sleepless Night (5:59)
5. Horny (2:57)
6. Little Bird (4:09)
7. Duck on a Walk (3:25)
8. The Greatest Kick of the Day (3:23)
9. Never Lose your Mind (2:43)
10. Love Song (5:27)
11. Purple Frog (5:05)

LINEUP:
Jonathan Callens – drums, backing vocals (9)
Jouni Isoherranen – bass, backing vocals  (5, 9)
Gabor Humble Vörös – guitar, vocals
Pol Mareen – saxophone
Pedro Guridi – clarinets, backing vocals (5)
Pieter Claus – marimba, vibraphone, percussions

With:
Lisa Jordens – backing vocals (3, 5, 6, 7, 8)
Hanneke Osterlijnck – backing vocals (3, 6)
Joriska Vanhaelewyn – backing vocals  (2)
Juan Carlos Torres Iturra – Spanish vocals (6)
Leika Mochan – backing vocals (9)
Attila Czigany – harmonica (6)
Joris Buysse – flute  (6)
Fre Vandaele – whistle (3, 4)
Wouter Vandenabeele – violin (4)
Megan Quill – vocals (10, 11)
Franciska Roose – vocals (10, 11)

Many will almost automatically associate Belgium with the more left-field fringes of progressive rock, as the country has contributed essentially to the development of the subgenre with outfits such as Univers Zéro, Present, and Aranis. Though those bands seem to enjoy a rather daunting reputation in the more traditionalist prog circles, even a superficial listen to Humble Grumble’s debut album, Flanders Fields, will come as a positive surprise to those who tend to dismiss anything even remotely ‘avant-garde’ as noisy or depressing.

Humble Grumble was first formed in 1996 in the Belgian region of Ghent by Hungarian guitarist/vocalist Gabor Humble Vörös and other former members of a folk/jazz ensemble called Dearest Companion. Though that first incarnation disbanded after some time, the band was reformed in more recent times as a multicultural outfit, with members hailing from Finland and Chile as well as Belgium. The result was  Flanders Fields, released in the first half of 2011 by Italian label AltrOck Productions.

While placing Humble Grumble under the capacious RIO/Avant umbrella may be the easiest solution when it comes to the very popular activity of classifying a band or artist, it also paints a rather limited picture of this decidedly intriguing outfit. A sextet conspicuously lacking in keyboards, but employing instead saxophone, clarinet, vibraphone and marimba, Humble Grumble also avail themselves of the collaboration of a host of guest artists, which lends their music a well-rounded, almost orchestral quality.

On the other hand, Flanders Fields is very much a song-based effort, with 10 out of 11 tracks featuring vocals, none of them running above 6 minutes. The whole album clocks in at a very restrained 43 minutes, which allows the listener to fully appreciate the music without getting overwhelmed by it (as is far too often the case with modern releases). The short running time, however, may somewhat deceptive, since each of the tracks is densely packed with tempo changes, intriguing vocal interplay and rhythmic solutions of frequently astounding complexity – all flavoured with unashamed eclecticism. This makes for a surprisingly listener-friendly mixture, though obviously not in a commercial sense.

The most surprising thing about the album, though, is its strongly upbeat nature, and that in spite of the distincly subdued nature of the title-track, whose lyrics juxtapose somber remembrances of WWI with equally pessimistic musings on the state of modern-day Belgium. With this one notable exception, Flanders Fields brims with nonsensical, somewhat anarchic humour that inevitably brings to mind the likes of Frank Zappa and Gong. The latter band is probably the most evident term of comparison for Humble Grumble – down to its multi-national configuration. Mainman Gabor Humble’s engaging vocal approach is quite reminiscent of Daevid Allen’s (as well as Robert Wyatt and Caravan’s Pye Hastings), with the frequent intervention of female backing vocalists bringing to mind more than a fleeting echo of those notorious “space whispers” (especially in the self-explanatory “Horny”, a short, lively Gong-meets-Zappa number). Drums and percussion play a large, not merely propulsive role, while Humble’s guitar is nicely complemented by the warm, expressive tones of the reeds, so that keyboards are never really missed. In spite of the ‘avant’ tag, there is a lot of melody and very little dissonance in Humble Grumble’s sound, as well as plenty of diverse ‘world music’ influences.

Rather uncharacteristically Flanders Fields opens with its only instrumental track, “Sirens Dance”, in which Eastern touches and slow, almost sultry jazzy tones spice up a dynamic, cheerful fabric. “Aging Backwards” introduces Gabor Humble’s melodic yet keenly ironical vocals, as well as displaying his remarkably versatile guitar playing; while the title-track, as previously hinted, brings a note of sober melancholy, the beautiful female harmony vocals and the clear, tinkling sound of the marimba adding a lyrical, romantic tinge. “Sleepless Night”, with its Gentle Giant-inspired vocal harmonies, keeps up the understated mood of the title-track, enhanced by the wistful voice of the violin – a mood that recurs in the mellow, almost delicate “Never Lose Your Mind”, where the lush vocal harmonies evoke Queen as well as Gentle Giant. On the other hand, the more upbeat numbers such as  the folk-meets-Avant “Little Bird”, with vocals both in English and Spanish,  and the funny, lively “Duck on a Walk” conjure echoes of Canterbury; while the Gong and Zappa references emerge most clearly in the last couple of songs, “Love Song” and “Purple Frog”, though tempered by gentler passages led by reeds or female vocals.

Warmly recommended to devotees of Gong and the Canterbury scene in general – as well as any act that uses humour as an essential ingredient of its music –  Flanders Fields can nonetheless appeal to all but the most staunchly conservative prog fans. In particular, those who are not crazy about lengthy epics will be impressed by the way in which Humble Grumble manage to introduce a high level of complexity within the restrictions of the song format. A very enjoyable release from another excellent addition to the already outstanding AltrOck Production roster.

Links:
http://www.humblegrumble.be/

http://www.myspace.com/humblegrumble

http://production.altrock.it/

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Beginning (1:51)
2. Progressions (4:53)
3. What (2:23)
4. In Memoriam (5:39)
5. Guantanabu 1 (7:07)
6. Guantanabu 2 (1:38)
7. Guantanabu 3 (4:15)
8. Straviko (5:59)
9. Before the End (0:32)
10. Mereditika (7:34)

LINEUP:
Carolina Restuccia – vocals
Pol González – vocals
Paul Torterolo – drums
Fernando Taborda – guitars
Nahuel Tavosnanska – bass
Alan Courtis – guitars
Carlos Lucero – guitars
Fabian Keroglian – vibraphone, percussion
Sebastian Schachtel –  accordion
Sergio Catalán – flutes
Federico Landaburu – clarinet
Will Genz – bassoon, double bassoon
Mauro Rosales – soprano sax
Nolly Rosa – alto and baritone sax
Dana Najlis – clarinet
Mauro Zannoli – electronic processes

Chamber orchestra directed by Marcelo Delgado

Hailing from Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina (a city generally not associated with progressive music, rock or otherwise, in spite of its venerable musical tradition), Factor Burzaco are the brainchild of composer Abel Gilbert. However, Gilbert is not part of the impressive line-up performing on the band’s second album – while he was directly involved as a musician on Factor Burzaco’s debut, released in 2007 on the homegrown label Viajero Inmóvil.  The album was greeted with lavish praise in RIO/Avant prog circles, and also managed to win over a few of the more conservative fans of ‘mainstream’ prog. Their sophomore effort, simply titled II, was recorded between 2008 and 2010, and released in the first half of 2011.

Calling Factor Burzaco a band in the rock sense of the word would be very limiting, as well as rather inaccurate. With a staggering sixteen musicians credited as playon on the album, the term ‘chamber ensemble’ would definitely sound more appropriate. Additionally, the music showcased on II only bears a slight resemblance to conventiona ‘progressive rock’, even more so than in the case of other RIO/Avant outfits. Though Abel Gilbert mentions bands like King Crimson and Henry Cow among his chief sources of inspiration, while listening to the album I was sharply reminded of the work of classical composers such as Debussy or Stravinsky (also listed by Gilbert as major influences on his writing).

Though the album, at under 40 minutes, is very short for today’s standards, it is definitely not an easy listening experience, not even for  devotees of all things RIO/Avant. The 10 tracks, rather than as individual numbers, are meant to be seen as movements of a single composition, a true chamber piece that commands the utmost attention from the listener, and will not tolerate being relegated to the role of sonic wallpaper. Indeed, II is not for the faint-hearted, and will appeal to those who like music to stimulate the mind rather than the body. As the liner notes illustrate quite clearly, this is a highly intellectual musical effort, and not one for the casual listener.

Factor Burzaco’s most distinctive feature lies in Carolina Restuccia’s acrobatic, unconventional soprano, which has drawn comparisons to Kate Bush and Dagmar Krause. A couple of tracks also brought to mind another intriguing new band in a similar vein, Italian outfit Nichelodeon and their outstanding singer Claudio Milano. While Restuccia’s voice is pivotal to the fabric of the music, it does not dominate it, performing the function of an additional instrument rather than overwhelming the others. In a few tracks she is flanked by male vocalist, Pol González, which creates an intensely dramatic contrast imbued with a sort of skewed operatic quality.

In spite of the sheer number of musicians involved, the music on II comes across as somewhat minimalistic, and eminently sophisticated – the kind that you cannot just let run in the background and more or less ignore. Its complexity does not come from piling up elements, or packing more tempo changes into a single track than anyone can wrap their heard around. Its layers are gossamer thin, its moods a play of light and shade, the music itself forming sharp peaks and valleys of sound, with sudden climaxes and equally sudden pauses, moving from whispers to screams. Some passages are intensely cinematic, their sparse, ominous quality the perfect foil for some movie based on psychological horror rather than in-your-face gore. Though conventional melody may be thin on the ground, the dissonant patterns are expertly handled, so they never feel gratuitously jarring.

With an album of this nature, a detailed track-by-track description would be ineffective, as well as counterproductive. In fact, as previously intimated, II should be approached as a single composition divided into separate movements, the shorter ones intended as interludes or introductory pieces – as in the case of the aptly-titled “Beginning”, in which slowly mounting keyboards and vocals set the tone for the entire album – and making use of electronic effects to evoke a sense of anticipation or sheer tension. Mallet percussion instruments produce cascades of tinkling sounds to fill the pauses, while melancholy reeds paint delicate soundscapes reminiscent of Debussy – especially noticeable in “Straviko” and “Mereditika”, a magnificently atmospheric number that provides a perfect ending for the album. On the other hand, “In Memoriam” relies on the theatrical effect produced by vocal and guitar bursts interspersed by whispers; while “Guantanabu 1” and “Guantanabu 3” revolve around the stunning interplay of Restuccia and González’s voices emoting and chasing each other over a loose, haunting instrumental backdrop.

As the previous paragraphs should make it abundantly clear, Factor Burzaco’s sophomore effort is not recommended for those listeners who find it difficult to step outside their individual comfort zones. Those looking for the rock component in the ‘progressive rock’ definition are also quite likely to be disappointed, as II qualifies more as modern chamber music than conventional rock  (though typical rock instruments such as guitar and bass are featured in the line-up). Open-minded, inquisitive listeners, on the other hand, will find a lot to love in this album, although it may need repeated spins in order to fully sink in. All in all, another excellent release from the ever-reliable AltrOck Productions, and a must for fans of RIO/Avant prog.

Links:
http://www.myspace.com/factorburzaco

http://production.altrock.it/

 

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