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Archive for June, 2011

TRACKLISTING:
1. Overture 3.07
2. Il Tredici 11.46
3. Dark Age 6.18
4. The Guillotine 6.00
5. Timepiece 5.30
6. Sobriety 8.19
7. Tema 1.08
8. Steam 9.30

LINEUP:
Gadi Ben Elisha – electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin
Sagi Barness – bass guitar
Aviv Barness – keyboards, saxophone
Igal Baram – drums, percussion
Shem-Tov Levi – flute

With:
Michael Lam – English horn
Elinoy Yogev – bassoon

The name Sanhedrin will not fail to ring a bell with those who are familiar with the Gospels – either because of their religious upbringing or inclination, or for reasons of historical interest – as the name indicates the supreme court of ancient Israel by which Jesus Christ was tried. Though there are also three extreme metal outfits bearing the same name, this particular band (unlike the others, and like the original institution)  hails from Israel, a country whose contribution to the progressive rock scene has been steadily growing – especially in terms of quality – over the past few years.

Originally formed by brothers Sagi and Aviv Barness as a Camel tribute band, Sanhedrin soon started writing their own material, influenced by the golden era of progressive rock. After going through the usual turmoil of line-up changes, in 2006 they started recording their debut album. Four years in the making, Ever After was mixed and mastered by renowned Israeli sound engineer and  producer Udi Koomran, and completed in 2010 – to be released in February 2011 as on the Fading Records division of Italian label AltrOck Productions.

The musical connection between Sanhedrin and Camel will soon become evident even to a first-time listener. Andy Latimer’s crew, even if not as hugely influential on the younger generations of prog bands  as the likes of Genesis, Yes or ELP,  have clearly been a source of inspiration for many outfits who choose a more melodic direction while avoiding the excess of bombast that occasionally characterizes symphonic prog. Even if Camel have sometimes been rather unkindly indicted of being purveyors of ‘elevator prog’, or just a second-tier band lacking the clout of the bigger-name acts, it is undeniable that their restrained elegance has won over a lot of fans.

While Ever After may not be the most original album released in the past few months or so, it is definitely not overtly derivative – at least not as much as other albums which I have recently heard, and which are quite highly rated. Fading Records has been created for albums with a more traditional prog bent than the material usually issued by AltrOck Productions, and their first release, Ciccada’s A Child in the Mirror, was a stunning example of ‘retro-prog’ that managed not to sound like a carbon copy of the great Seventies bands. Ever After is much in the same vein, a classy product performed with impressive technical skill, yet exuding a sense of warmth and pastoral beauty that makes listening a genuinely enjoyable experience. While Camel are obviously the most relevant influence, on numerous occasions Pink Floyd (especially their early Seventies output) spring to mind, and echoes of early Genesis can also be detected. However, Sanhedrin also bring their own signature to the table: the ethnic references subtly scattered throughout the album (not just Middle Eastern, but also Celtic and central European) remind the listener of Israel’s multicultural milieu. Like Camel, the basic combination of guitar-bass-drums-keyboards is enhanced by the exquisitely soothing sound of the flute, with additional woodwinds also employed to add depth and dimension. Unlike the English band, though, Sanhedrin have opted for an exclusively instrumental format, which is quite an interesting choice, and a deviation from the standard symphonic tradition, where vocals play a rather important role.

As Israel is part of the Mediterranean region, it is not surprising to find echoes of vintage Italian prog right from the opening track, appropriately called “Ouverture”, together with a nice pinch of Middle Eastern spicing and jazzy touches. The 3-minute number sets the album’s mood very effectively, with its beautifully clear guitar tone, gentle flute and airy keyboards, the various sections flowing seamlessly into each other. The nearly 12-minute ”Il Tredici”, the longest track on the album (which runs at a very sensible 51 minutes), brings the Camel and Pink Floyd influences together in a majestic slice of gently melancholy symphonic prog, with magnificent Latimer- and Gilmour-inspired guitar leads and layers of keyboards. In spite of its slightly macabre title (suggested by the faint recorded sounds of an angry mob heard throughout the piece), “The Guillotine” alternates atmospheric, almost meditative moments with brisker ones driven along by organ and march-like drumming.

More ethnic influences emerge in the first half of “Dark Age”, possibly the highlight of the whole album, dedicated to fellow Israeli musician Arik Hayat of Sympozion, who committed suicide at the end of 2008. The lively, Celtic-tinged tune, described by lilting mandolin and flute, reminded me of some instances of Italian ‘minstrel’ Angelo Branduardi’s output, while the somber, organ-dominated mood of the middle section lifts towards the end, with a slightly dissonant passage suggestive of King Crimson. “Sobriety”, true to its title, merges the Celtic flavour of its flute-and-drum opening with the spacey yet majestic tone of Pink Floyd circa A Saucerful of Secrets (clearly referenced in a particular organ passage), and an intricate ending that brings martial drums and sharp, clear guitar to the fore. While “Timepiece” adds some almost tentative bouts of heavier riffing to a framework that combines the pastoral feel of Camel with the atmospheric mood of Pink Floyd, closing track “Steam” (introduced by the short acoustic interlude of “Tema”) explores definitely heavier territory, especially in its second half, where the assertive tone of the guitar and the subtle shifts in tempo commanded by bass and drums seem to suggest a running train; the electric piano section in the middle brought instead to my mind Ray Manzarek’s stunning performance in The Doors’ iconic “Riders on the Storm”.

While, as the previous paragraphs make it abundantly clear, Ever After may not be the most innovative proposition on the current prog scene, it is an album whose every note spells class and a deep love of the musical craft. A thoroughly enjoyable listen, highly recommended to fans of classic symphonic prog, especially those who lean more towards the instrumental side of things, it is an excellent debut from an equally excellent new band.

Links:
http://www.myspace.com/sanhedrin1

http://www.reverbnation.com/sanhedrin1

http://production.altrock.it/index.htm

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Bella Lee (3:34)
2. Parliamone (5:43)
3. Infraditi (7:36)
4. Fungo (6:42)
5 Cane di Schiena (6:32)
6. Pappa Irreale (2:27)
7. Antenna (7:59)
8. Klez (4:16)
9. Max Dembo (8:47)

LINEUP:
Filippo Cantarella – violin, viola
Marco Ravera – electric and acoustic guitar, synthesizer
Tommaso Rolando  – acoustic bass, electric bass, acoustic guitar, synthesizer, sampler, trumpet
Nando Magni – trombone
Nicola Magri – drums

With:
Cosimo Francavilla – soprano saxophone (2)
Antonio Carletti – weird vocals (7)

In my writings I have often mentioned the lively music scene of the great port of Genoa – not surprising for a city that, throughout its long history, has been one of the many melting pots of the Mediterranean region, bringing together East and West, North and South in a heady mixture of tradition and modernity. This is the kind of fertile ground from where Fabrizio De André’s Creuza de Ma, one of the undisputed masterpieces of the whole ‘world music’ scene, originated. Five-piece Calomito, a relatively recent addition to the variegated Italian music scene, bring an unique twist to the time-honoured musical heritage of their home town, with a sound that marries the warmth of the Mediterranean with a strong international bent.

Calomito have been around since the mid-2000, releasing their debut album, Inaudito, in 2005. After a five-year hiatus and some line-up changes, the band have made a comeback with Cane di Schiena, issued in the first half of 2011 by Milan-based label AltrOck Productions (also responsible for outstanding, cutting-edge releases such as Yugen’s three albums and mirRthkon’s Vehicle). Though they have been almost forcibly placed under the RIO/Avant umbrella, Calomito are one of those bands that – luckily for fans of genuinely interesting music, much less so for those who delight in labelling everything – are extremely hard to pigeonhole, due to their boldly eclectic approach to music-making.

As a fellow Italian reviewer  jokingly stated at the beginning of his own review of the album, you may want to consider taking a couple of days off in order to listen to Cane di Schiena properly. Indeed, though clocking in at a mere 53 minutes, the album presents an  incredibly dense (though never claustrophobic) amount of music which unfolds with each successive listen, and therefore devoid of any immediately digestible tunes. On the other hand, unlike what many believe about any kind of music that bears even a faint whiff of ‘avant-garde’, there is nothing discordant, abrasive or random about Calomito’s sound. Each of the tracks is clearly very carefully structured, as it is nearly always the case with ‘chamber rock’ outfits – a definition that, in my view, fits Calomito to a T. Like their label mates Yugen, they transcend the boundaries of the RIO/Avant classification, and should rather be seen as purveyors of eclectic yet oddly intimate music tha requires all of the listener’s attention to be fully appreciated.

This does not imply that Cane di Schiena is one of those deadly serious albums that command a quasi-religious devotion. Calomito’s humorous disposition, which descends directly from the likes of Stormy Six and Picchio dal Pozzo (as well as the Canterbury scene, which is also a clear musical influence), immediately comes across from titles such as “Pappa Irreale”(a pun on pappa reale, the Italian for “royal jelly”) or “Infraditi” (an intentionally ungrammatical spelling of the  word meaning “flip-flops”). The music itself, while quite light-hearted at times, can on occasion reach for a more subdued, sober tone. On the whole, Cane di Schiena comes across as a flawlessly executed album that never descends into a depressing or overly involved tone.

As is the case of other ‘chamber prog’ ensembles, Calomito employ a number of other instruments alongside the traditional rock trinity of bass, guitar and drums, assisted by various synthesizers. The substantial contribution of the horns evokes parallels with bands such as Miriodor, which emerge quite clearly right from the album’s opening track, “Bella Lee” – an incredibly dense 3 minutes of music; while the equally important role played by strings (violin and viola) brings instead to mind one of the best modern‘chamber rock’ outfits,  Seattle-based band Moraine, as well as vintage Frank Zappa. The more upbeat passages, suggesting a jazz-rock or Canterbury matrix, made me think of Forgas Band Phenomena, though Calomito sound slightly more angular than the French band. Furthermore, while Univers Zéro’s broodingly apocalyptic production seems to be the polar opposite in tone to Calomito’s essentially cheerful approach, Nicola Magri’s stunning, beyond-merely-propulsive drumming style cannot but evoke the way in which Daniel Denis supports the whole fabric of the Belgian outfit’s sound.

Trying to describe any of the nine tracks in detail would not do any of them justice. While “Infraditi” is probably the one track with the strongest connections to the RIO/Avant school of progressive rock – an astoundingly complex, 7-minute rollercoaster ride apparently throwing in anything but the proverbial kitchen sink, from carnival-like music to jazzy touches to jagged, almost dissonant passages – the somewhat low-key “Parliamone”, true to its title (meaning “let’s talk about it”) seems to reproduce a dialogue between two persons, with horns and synthesizers in the role of human voices. The choppy, dynamic “Fungo” exemplifies the way in which Calomito use pauses to create interest, rather than produce an impression of patchiness; while the title-track’s slow, meditative mood, some passages so low as to be barely audible, produces an intense, almost mesmerizing effect.

Especially in the second half of the album some intriguingly exotic influences show up, which bring to mind comparisons with Slivovitz, another über-eclectic Italian outfit hailing from Naples, my home country’s second biggest port (and musical capital). “ Pappa Irreale”’s lilting, dance-like pace punctuated by violin is sharply redolent of Irish folk, or even American country; and the upbeat, drum-driven “Klez”, as the title points out, contains elements of klezmer and Eastern European gypsy music. A folksy also tone emerges in parts of the initially low-key “Antenna”, possibly the most complex number on the album (and the only one briefly featuring ‘weird vocals’), ending with an exhilarating crescendo in which guitar, trombone and violin seem to engage in a sort of conversation. Closing track “Max Dembo” introduces some new elements, such as spacey sound effects that  enhance the powerful, rolling tone of the drums and the echoing guitar lines, as well as shades of Brazil in the relaxed, almost sultry pace of first half of the track.

In spite of the density of its musical content, Cane di Schiena is far from inaccessible, and – while undoubtedly a challenging listen – does not rely on spiky, jarring sounds to make its impact. There is plenty of melody to be found on the album, and the music possesses a natural flow and easy elegance that make listening a pleasure rather than a chore. Even though fans of traditional symphonic prog may be daunted by anything bearing the label of ‘avant-garde’, I would encourage everyone who loves progressive music to give Calomito a try. With their successful blend of technical skill, seemingly boundless creativity, eclectic influences and keen sense of humour, they are one of the most interesting bands heard in the past couple of years, and definitely one to watch.

Links:
http://www.calomito.com/

http://www.myspace.com/calomito

http://production.altrock.it/start.asp

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Walk On Alone (12:31)
2. Voices (6:24)
3. Weapon (6:52)
4. What I Have Done (5:56)
5. Mind Over Matter (2:38)
6. Prelude (1:48)
7. World in Front of Me (11:19)

LINEUP:
John Baker – lead and backing vocals, guitars, guitar synthesizer, mandolin
Kerry Chicoine – bass, backing vocals
Steve Mauk – keyboards, backing vocals
Jerry Beller – drums, percussion, backing vocals

A quartet of experienced musicians based in Los Angeles, Mars Hollow were brought to the attention of progressive rock fans by the release of their self-titled debut album, almost one year ago. The highly awaited disc did not disappoint, and the band were immediately invited to perform at the 2010 edition of ProgDay, where I had the pleasure to meet them and see them on stage. In spite of the dreaded word ‘hype’ rearing its ugly head, or of those who may point out that Mars Hollow’s music does not really bring anything new to the prog table, and that it is also too poppy for its own good, the band’s dedication to music-making is undeniable, as is their professional attitude.

These days it is certainly not usual for artists to release an album a year, and long waits are often in order for fans of any musical genre. This seems to be even truer in the world of prog, when it is not uncommon for acts to let at least three years pass between releases – mainly due to those practical issues that I have often mentioned in my writing. Mars Hollow, however, chose to buck the trend by going into the studio a mere two months after their successful ProgDay appearance – with a well-respected musician and producer like Billy Sherwood (of Yes, Conspiracy and Circa fame) at the helm, and a strong commitment to delivering the goods in an even more impressive manner than their debut. Needless to say, the band’s sophomore effort – heralded by another prestigious live appearance, this time at the 2011 edition of ROSfest – was even more highly awaited than their debut, though the anticipation was tinged with the kind of anxiety engendered by far too many examples of anything but lucky second times.

While Mars Hollow, with refreshing honesty, have never claimed to be purveyors of daringly cutting-edge music (as is the case with some acts that, in my opinion, are nowhere as consistently good), World in Front of Me rises way above any considerations of innovation, progression, or whatever you choose to call it. Even though their self-titled debut was a hugely enjoyable slice of catchy, melodic prog with modern production values and all-round excellent performances, World in Front of Me is, simply put, pure gold – an album possessed of an almost timeless quality, a flawlessly executed homage to the best that progressive rock has to offer that, in many ways, transcends the very definition of prog. Odd as it may sound, I would compare it with another recent release that has left a lasting impression on me – Black Country Communion’s debut. Now, while the latter are definitely more of a classic hard rock act than a progressive one, their first album is also one of those very rare efforts that manage to reach a very high standard of quality without reinventing the wheel, so to speak.

Clocking in at a perfect 47 minutes, World in Front of Me is bookended by two 10-minute-plus tracks which – like “Dawn of Creation” on their debut album – eschew the tired, worn-out template of the ultra-convoluted (and ultimately patchy) ‘epic’ in favour of an orgy of enchanting melodies, splendid vocal parts, and scintillating instrumental interplay. With consummate sense of balance, the five tracks sandwiched between those two display a variety of moods, from the melancholy, mainly acoustic “Mind Over Matter” to the jagged, somewhat tense “Voices” – shorter, yet no less dense and involved. To use a cliché, Mars Hollow are like a well-oiled machine, their individual skills honed by years of experience and a genuine love of their craft, creating layer upon layer of lovely sounds that, while sustaining that uplifting quality so evident in their debut, are tinged with a hint of gentle sadness suggesting the wisdom that comes with maturity. And mature is probably one of the most effective descriptions for World in Front of Me: though lacking anything as infectious as “Midnight”, it is hard not to find yourself singing along the title-track or “Walk on Alone”, as well as listening raptly to the seamless ebb and flow of the instrumental passages.

As was the case with the band’s debut, World in Front of Me is strongly keyboard-based, with John Baker’s guitar used in a supporting (though indispensable) role rather than as the star of the show. However, Sherwood’s crystal-clear production has given the rhythm section a much more prominent role. Jerry Beller’s dynamic yet sophisticated drumming is not merely propulsive, but adds a lot of dimension to the music, sometimes following the melody laid out by the keyboards and guitar, sometimes playing in a sort of counterpoint; while Kerry Chicoine’s rumbling, pneumatic Rickenbacker bursts out of the densely woven fabric of the sound in a way rarely heard since Chris Squire introduced his ‘lead bass’ approach to the instrument. Indeed, Yes might be mentioned as probably the biggest influence on this album – though, rather than the toweringly unapproachable Yes of Close to the Edge fame, Mars Hollow bring to mind the band that, with their first three albums, gave the music world a textbook-perfect example of contamination between classic pop-rock and the fledgling progressive trend.

Steve Mauk handles his array of keyboards with impressive aplomb, supported by the relentless work of the rhythm section. While the gorgeously wistful, rippling piano piece that is “Prelude” puts him directly in the spotlight, his lush yet sedate contribution to the overall sound perfectly complements John Baker’s understated guitar work and commanding vocal performance. As I stated in my review of Mars Hollow’s debut, Baker’s voice – a soaring, admirably controlled tenor reminiscent of a smoother Geddy Lee, with touches of early Steve Walsh – may not be to everyone’s taste, but his handling of the somewhat downbeat, meditative lyrics (mostly focusing on the end of a relationship) is nothing short of masterful, and the harmony sections suggest the effortless grace of vintage Yes and, occasionally, even Gentle Giant.

As regards the individual tracks, opener “Walk On Alone” and the title-track are classic prog heaven, blending memorable melodies – catchy, though in a very subtle fashion, and dispensing with a conventional verse-chorus-verse structure – with instrumental passages of stunning elegance and understated complexity. While the former number is more airy and relaxed, the latter seems to slowly build up to a climax, with a sense of tension occasionally surfacing. “Voices” and “Weapon”, though shorter, are conceived along similar lines, successfully merging haunting vocal sections with intense instrumental passages; while “What I Have Done”, with its more streamlined approach and catchy harmony vocals, comes closest to the spirit of Mars Hollow’s debut, though without the bold airplay potential of songs like “Midnight” or “Eureka”.

Down to its stylish cover photo, depicting the stark beauty of the Death Valley desert, World in Front of Me is a supremely elegant album that succeeds in the task of combining accessibility with dazzling technical proficiency and a genuine feeling of warmth. Let us forget for a moment about ‘retro-prog’ or any such ultimately pointless labels. Mars Hollow’s intention was never to revolutionize the music world, but rather to produce an album that people will enjoy, cherish, and possibly relate to in terms of their own experience. A pleasure from start to finish, this is definitely a very serious contender for album of the year.

Links:
http://www.marshollow.com/

http://www.10trecords.com/

 

 

 

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TRACKLISTING:
1. 4378th Day (15:41)
2. No (5:59)
3. War, Act 2 (21:06)

LINEUP:
Rodrigo San Martín – electric and acoustic guitars, bass, mellotron, hammond organ, Moog synthesizer, piano, keyboards, orchestra arragements, synthesized glockenspiel, drum programming
Jelena Perisic – vocals
Craig Kerley – vocals

South America has been a hotbed for progressive rock ever since the beginning of the movement, and Argentina – with its richly diverse musical heritage – is no exception. Even though Argentine prog bands are rarely household names, keen followers of the genre are well aware of the generally excellent level of those outfits. While many of those bands and artists follow in the footsteps of the classic symphonic prog tradition (with some of them displaying Italian prog influences – not surprising in a country where about half of the population is of Italian origin), many of the newer acts have embraced other styles, like progressive metal, and are not afraid of incorporating them into a traditional symphonic fabric.

Rodrigo San Martín is a gifted multi-instrumentalist with a lot of experience on the Argentine music scene as a musician, composer, producer and event organizer, in spite of his young age (he was born in 1988).  He is the lead guitarist of prog band De Rien, as well as the mastermind of the project Souls Ignite. His debut album as a solo artist, simply called 1, was released in April 2010, and featured a 40-minute composition performed solely by San Martín. Conversely, on his sophomore effort, There’s No Way Out (released in November of the same year), San Martín avails himself of the contribution of two guest singers, Jelena Perisic from Serbia and  Craig Kerley from the US.

Clocking in at a mere 42 minutes (a very short running time for today’s standards), There’s No Way Out has a distinctive structure, with two epic-length tracks bookending a more conventional song. The three numbers are different enough from each other to sustain the listener’s interest, and even the two epics are rather nicely balanced, projecting an impression of cohesiveness which is not always the case with long compositions. San Martín handles all the instruments with admirable expertise, though the unmistakably artificial sound of programmed drums is hard to miss, and sometimes clashes with the overall warmth of the music. On the other hand, the vocal performances are consistently good, both singers handling the material authoritatively and stamping their own individual mark on the songs.

Opener “4387th Day” is the closest the album gets to traditional symphonic prog, especially in the first half, dominated by atmospheric keyboards, mellotron and orchestral arrangements with flute and strings, as well as Jelena Parisic’s melodious, yet not sickly sweet voice. Then pace and intensity increase with the introduction of heavy guitar riffs and whistling synth, while towards the end things calm down again. “No”, running slightly over 5 minutes, functions as a sort of interlude between the two ‘main events’, and brings a classic rock note (with touches of AOR) to the ambitious prog context of the album. Distorted guitar, with a distinct Seventies flavour, features prominently here, and Craig Kerley’s gutsy vocal performance is a perfect fit for the overall tone of th song – though the juxtaposition of a more sentimental mood, enhanced by strings and harmony vocals, with harder-edged suggestions occasionally teeters on the brink of cheesiness.

The third and final track, “War, Act2”,  is the undisputed highlight of the album, and – at least in my view –quite superior to both the previous numbers. In spite of its 21-minute running time, it never outstays its welcome, and manages to paint a near-perfect sonic rendition of its title. Here, the contrast between furiously riff-driven sections bordering on extreme metal and dreamy, rarefied passages which, nonetheless, suggest a slow but relentless build up of tension works very well. Jelena Parisic’s voice, while still soothing and well-modulated, reaches for a lower register in order to convey a subtle feeling of menace, and the beautiful guitar solo in the middle brings to mind David Gilmour’s signature style, melodic yet faintly brooding. The frequently occurring changes o mood and pace, unlike what happens in other compositions of comparable scope and length, do not project an impression of patchiness, but rather create an impressively organic whole.

Though not without flaws (mainly lying in the use of programmed drums, whose all too recognizable sound often detracts from the listening experience), There’s No Way Out is a very promising album from an extremely talented young artist, featuring a healthy dose of eclecticism. While the more conservative set of prog fans may be turned off by the strong metal component, particularly evident in the final track, those with a more open-minded disposition are likely to appreciate Rodrigo San Martín’s skill as a composer and multi-instrumentalist. I will be definitely looking forward to hearing the forthcoming De Rien album, to see what he is capable of in a band context.

Links:
http://www.rodrigosanmartin.com.ar/

 

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TRACKLISTING:
1.  Commencement (2:47)
2.  Neap Tide (9:20)
3.  Primrose Path  (6:38)
4.  Dawn  (2:56)
5.  Catlord  (8:54)
6.  Illuminati  (0:42)
7.  Work In Progress  (6:54)
8.  Missing Time (8:49)
9.  Faunus  (11:17)
10. Io  (9:13)

LINEUP:
Michael J. Butzen – electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin
Jeffrey Schuelke – keyboards, piano
Thomas Ford – drums, electronic percussion

With:
Chris Kringel – fretless bass  (1-7, 9-10)
Elizabeth Grimm – violin (8, 9, 10)
Chad Burkholz – bass (8)

The name ‘Fibonacci sequence’ refers to a series of numbers in which each number is the sum of the previous two. Named after medieval Italian mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci, who introduced it to Western Europe, it is featured in literature, cinema, the visual arts and music: for instance, the lyrics to the title-track of Tool’s celebrated Lateralus album are arranged on the basis of the Fibonacci sequence.

On the other hand, even if Fibonacci Sequence would be a perfect name for a math-rock band, the Milwaukee-based trio bearing this name are quite a different beast. Those who delight in sticking labels on everything and everyone will certainly have their work cut out for them with a band like Fibonacci Sequence, as their unabashed eclecticism makes classification all but impossible. While one moment they may conjure shades of progressive metal, the next passage will take the listener into almost symphonic territory, with clear, melodic sounds and lush layers of keyboards – not to mention the tantalizing Latin and Middle Eastern references and the sprinkling of jazzy touches. Their omnivorous approach is further borne out by the influences mentioned by the band – a list ranging from Yes, Rush and Dream Theater to The Police, Sting and Mahavishnu Orchestra.

For those who thrive on making comparisons with more established acts, I would mention equally eclectic instrumental outfits like From.uz or Djam Karet, as well as more metal-oriented ones like Canvas Solaris or Relocator – as well as the obligatory Liquid Tension Experiment or Planet X. Unlike the latter bands, though, Fibonacci Sequence’s sound is more distinctly guitar-based, with keyboards used as an accent rather than dominating their whole music. Faced with such almost effortless proficiency, which nevertheless does not come across as cold and detached, the listener would be forgiven for thinking that the band are one of the many projects that (often due to practical issues) have no life outside the walls of a recording studio. The band, however, are quite active on the live front in their home town of Milwaukee, and the announcement of their participation to the 2011 edition of ProgDay has whetted the appetite of the  numerous fans of instrumental progressive rock.

The aptly-titled Numerology, Fibonacci Sequence’s debut full-lenght album, was released about a year after the 2-track EP We Three Kings, which featured a very interesting arrangement of the popular 19th century Christmas carol. On this album, the three core musicians avail themselves of the valuable contribution of fretless bassist Chris Kringel (formerly with Cynic and their offshoot Portal) on all but one of the tracks, as well as bassist Chad Burkholz on “Missing Time”, and violinist Elizabeth Grimm on the last three numbers. Most of the tracks on Numerology run between 6 and 11 minutes, long enough to allow the band members to branch out and create intricate musical weaves; the album as a whole clocks in at a quite manageable 65 minutes. The band manage to produce an impressive volume of sound of exceptional clarity, every instrument given a strikingly dimensional feel in the mix. As in the best productions, in spite of the complexity of the compositions, the music flows smoothly and naturally, without giving the impression of being too complicated for its own good.

Right from the opening strains of the short but punchy “Commencement” – a lush, melodic guitar number powered by an impressive drum sound – the sheer quality of the recording comes across in no uncertain terms. While Michael J. Butzen’s guitars take the leading role, the engine propelling Fibonacci Sequence’s music along is Thomas Ford’s powerful yet restrained drumming, a full-bodied sound that manages not to overwhelm the other instruments. Fibonacci Sequence’s trademark blend of melody, heaviness and sleek instrumental expertise emerges in “Neap Tide” (also featured on the EP), a heady, multilayered mix of sharp riffing, acoustic, pastoral beauty and jazzy licks whose dense sonic texture manages not to feel stifling or contrived. On the other hand, “Primrose Path” comes across as a contemporary-sounding version of vintage Santana, down to the jazzy, Latin-tinged guitar work. Perfectly descriptive of its title, “Dawn” is a slow, meditative acoustic guitar piece introduced by atmospheric keyboards and birdsong, which introduces the thunderously drum-driven “Catlord”, its heaviness spiced by Eastern touches in the clean, mesmerizing guitar lines.

After the very short ambient piece “Illuminati”, Fibonacci Sequence display more of their exciting compositional skills in the album’s final four tracks, starting with the splendid bass showcase that is “Work in Progress”, peppered by frequent pauses that, instead of disrupting the flow of the music, seem to stimulate the listener’s attention. With “Missing Time” we enter Liquid Tension Experiment/Planet X territory, Jeffrey Schuelke’s keyboards taking more of a lead role and Butzen’s guitar injecting a touch of fiery, yet shred-free edginess, and the violin adding a symphonic note to the second half of the track. The 11-minute “Faunus” (the longest track on the album) is deceptively more linear in structure, with a tense, riff-laden first half and a slow, almost melancholy ending punctuated by lovely guitar and violin; while closing track “Io” picks up from where the previous number left off, with a moody beginning and a mainly keyboard-driven middle section, culminating with an extended guitar solo of outstanding quality. Interestingly, the album begins and ends with the crackling of an old vinyl record – a sound dear to many old-school prog fans.

Besides the obvious quality of their  music, both in terms of composition and execution, Fibonacci Sequence’s nature of real live outfit makes them an even more intriguing proposition. The simple fact that they are not easy to pigeonhole should be seen as a positive sign, especially in these times when increasingly outrageous labels are created with alarming regularity. In any case, Numerology is one of the finest instrumental prog albums released in the past couple of years or so, and their ProgDay appearance will hopefully contribute to putting Fibonacci Sequence on the map for those progressive rock fans who are still unaware of them. Highly recommended.

Links:
http://fib-seq.blogspot.com/

http://www.myspace.com/fibonaccisequenceband

 

 

 

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TRACKLISTING:

1. Schizoid & Guntrip (2:46)
2. In the Movie of You (7:57)
3. Devotee (7:24)
4. Ambiance for the Active Mind (6:40)
5. Fantastic Dreamer (6:26)
6. Releasing (5:21)
7. Fading in the Rain (6:29)
8. Upon Further Review (4:26)
9. Vision (13:50)

LINEUP:

Henry Tarnecky – vocals, keyboards
Blake Tobias – keyboards, bass
Jack Wright – guitars, drums

With:
Glenn Arpino – keyboards
Tom Shiben – bass
Nicole Tarnecky – vocals

Temporal Chaos Project (TCP for short) are a trio based in different states of north-eastern USA, who initially met on the Internet and started a collaboration that resulted in the album The Way, released in 2009. Their second album, Fantastic Dreamer, followed in April 2011, with the core group of Henry Tarnecky, Blake Tobias and Jack Wright augmented by three guest musicians. Both albums were released on Georgia-based label 10T Records, one of the most interesting independent labels for progressive rock.

In spite of their name, there is nothing chaotic about TCP. Fantastic Dreamer, which has garnered a lot of positive critical attention since its release, is one of those albums for which the definition ‘solid’ seems to be tailor-made. Though studio-only projects can often be hit-and-miss, formally perfect but somewhat lacking in the soul department – therefore producing an overall unsatisfactory impression – TCP’s sophomore effort comes across as a mature, well-balanced album, with excellent instrumental performances, enough compositional complexity to appeal to fans of traditional prog, and more than just a smattering of contemporary flair. While some bands or artists show a more or less clear direction (as in symphonic, neo or prog-metal), TCP are unabashedly eclectic, with roots in the great progressive tradition and some recognizable classic influences, yet no fear of dipping their collective toes in more modern waters. While TCP’s eclecticism is of a different kind than the one displayed by bands of a more innovative disposition, the end result is definitely worthy of attention.

Running at about one hour (in my opinion, the almost perfect length), Fantastic Dreamer features 10 tracks, most of them between 2 and 8 minutes, with the exception of the ‘epic’ “Visions”, an ambitious yet cohesive piece that wraps up the album in fitting fashion.. Though, like many modern prog albums, Fantastic Dreamer is very much vocal-based, TCP achieve admirable balance between the singing and the lush, varied instrumental sections. Keyboardist Henry Tarnecky is in charge of the vocals, and does a fine job of it. His voice brings to mind the husky, slightly rough around the edges tone of Peter Gabriel, with some hints of the dramatic power of Peter Hammill or Fish, and fits the material perfectly.

Though clocking in at under 3 minutes, opener “Schizoid & Guntrip” already sets the tone for the whole album – a melodic yet assertive number, evoking a vintage hard rock vibe, with a subtly catchy quality and sleek instrumental interplay. “In the Movie of You” blends suggestions of early Pink Floyd (down to the use of recorded ambient sounds) with heavier tones, the sharpness of the guitar tempered by the gentleness of the piano. Pink Floyd references also crop up in the aptly-titled “Ambiance for the Active Mind”, where the atmospheric surge of the keyboards climaxes in dramatic rifferama before loosening up in a lovely guitar solo amidst waves of mellotron; while the mid-paced “Releasing”, with the faintly eerie tone of the guitar solo, points rather to the later output of the seminal English band. The catchiest number on the album, “Devotee” pushes keyboards and vocals to the forefront, with plenty of drama and melody in the vein of crossover/art rock bands like Queen or Supertramp.

With the title-track and “Fading in the Rain”, TCP tread similar territory, displaying their grandiose, even bombastic side, though without overdoing things; the latter song in particular, in which Tarnecky is assisted by a female guest vocalist, Nicole Tarnecky, clearly references Genesis, with airy guitar soloing and masses of stately keyboards. The folksy, mainly acoustic “Upon Further Review”, embellished by harpsichord and Mellotron, acts as an introduction of sorts to the 13-minute “Visions”, a powerful keyboard-driven extravaganza composed by guest musician Glenn Arpino, in which a climactic crescendo somewhat reminiscent of Supertramp’s more ambitious pieces is bookended by rarefied, understated passages and fluidly melodic guitar leads.

While I would not go as far as to call Fantastic Dreamer a masterpiece (as other enthusiastic reviewers have done), it is undoubtedly a very well-crafted album, with all-round excellent performances, and an interesting compositional structure. The occasional bouts of heaviness do not disrupt the melodic, nicely knit fabric of the music, and Henry Tarnecky’s expressive vocals tackle the often ambitious lyrical matter with assurance and aplomb. The very detailed CD booklet, enhanced by striking artwork and photography, adds visual interest to a substantial musical package. Even if TCP are, at least for the time being, a studio-based project, I hope they will consider taking their music on the road in the near future, because they sound like a band worth hearing in a live setting.

Links:
http://www.temporalchaos.com/html/home.html

http://10trecords.com/

 

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