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Archive for May, 2012

TRACKLISTING:
1. Prelude (1:35)
2. Ruhkukah (5:32)
3. Low Levels, High Stakes (9:03)
4. Hard Hat Area (6:03)
5. Tullio (5:59)
6. House of Mirrors (7:44)
7. Postlude (5:28)

LINEUP:
Allan Holdsworth –  guitar, SynthAxe
Steve Hunt  – keyboards
Gary Husband – drums
Skúli Sverrisson – bass guitar

TRACKLISTING:
1. Countdown (3:09)
2. Nuages (5:40)
3. How Deep Is the Ocean (5:29)
4. Isotope (5:41)
5. None Too Soon Pt. 1 / Interlude / None Too Soon Pt. 2 (7:42)
6. Norwegian Wood (5:55)
7. Very Early (7:40)
8. San Marcos (3:22)
9. Inner Urge (6:15)

LINEUP:
Gordon Beck – digital piano, keyboards
Kirk Covington – drums
Allan Holdsworth – guitar, SynthAxe
Gary Willis – bass guitar

Yorkshire-born guitarist Allan Holsworth needs no introduction for progressive rock lovers of every persuasion. Before Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, John Petrucci and their ilk’s dazzling, faster-than-the-speed-of-light skills on the six strings gained worldwide success, Holdsworth had already attained legendary status for his work both as a solo artist and with the likes of Gong, Soft Machine, Jean-Luc Ponty and UK. Though the albums released in his own name are in the minority if compared to the sheer number of his collaborations, over the years they have become almost objects of cult in the community of jazz-fusion fans

Though I was familiar with Holdsworth’s work with bands such as UK and Gong,  I had not yet got round to exploring his solo output. Holdsworth’s reputation as the quintessential “musicians’ musician” may cause his work to be somewhat daunting for those who, like myself, have never touched a musical instrument in their lives. However, even laypersons can derive a lot of enjoyment from listening to music of such outstanding level,  although the nature of our comments will necessarily be “impressionistic”, so to speak, and probably even more so than in other occasions – as we will be unable to touch on any of the technical details essential for any practicing six-stringer.

Hard Hat Area and None Too Soon belong to the stage of Holdsworth’s full maturity as a musician and composer, as well as a pioneer of the iconic SynthAxe. Released only three years apart (respectively in 1993 and 1996), they differ quite noticeably in terms of  style and lineup. Both albums were out of print for a number of years before Leonardo Pavkovic of MoonJune Records (who is a personal friend of Holdsworth’s as well as fan of his music) took it upon himself to have them remastered and reissued – complete with exhaustive liner notes retracing their history, courtesy of Guitar Player magazine associate editor Barry Cleveland (also a fine musician in his own right). The distinctive elements of both albums are lovingly brought to the fore, with excellent sound quality that allows the listeners to partake of the seamless instrumental interplay without feeling overwhelmed by thousands of notes played at the speed of light.

As Cleveland points out, Holdsworth’s eight solo album, Hard Hat Area, is a logical extension of the guitarist’s previous efforts. It also marks the first time that he recorded an album in the studio with his touring band  (comprising drummer Gary Husband, keyboardist Steve Hunt and Icelandic bassist Skúli Sverrisson), instead of recording each track on his own and then adding the other instruments. Not surprisingly, the result are 41 minutes of music that are astonishingly proficient from a technical point of view, yet also warm and fluid, showcasing Holdsworth’s trademark style without detracting from the other players’ outstanding skills. Indeed, in spite of the sky-high level of proficiency involved, the listener never gets the impression that the musicians are showing off – unlike  much of the output of modern “guitar legends”. The music possesses that easy, natural flow that can be so hard to achieve, and the crystalline sound quality emphasizes the sleek, effortless nature of the interaction between the various instruments.

The album, conceived in near-symphonic fashion with a “Prelude” and a “Postlude”, is laid-back, at times even lyrical in mood. In the almost 10-minute “Low Levels, High Stakes”, Holdsworth’s guitar and SynthAxe take on a calm, meditative tone, reflected by Hunt’s lovely rippling piano and Husband’s muted yet stunning drum work. Elegant and full of melody, the textbook-perfect fusion of “Ruhkukah” proves once again that fast playing does not have to equal soulless shredding. The title-track, on the other hand, introduces some harsh, industrial elements through mechanical sound effects and a sharper, metallic guitar tone; The atmospheric quality of “Postlude”, enhanced by ethereal keyboard washes, allows Skúli Sverrisson’s splendidly understated bass to step into the limelight, while the SynthAxe engages in a sort of “duel” with the drums, emphasizing the almost uncanny chemistry between Holdsworth and Husband.

Even if released less than three years after Hard Hat Area, None Too Soon is quite a different beast – featuring a completely new band (including Holdsworth’s longtime friend and collaborator, the late pianist Gordon Beck) and a tracklist largely consisting of covers of jazz classics by revered composers such as Bill Evans, Irving Berlin and John Coltrane. While Hard Hat Area is a top-notch example of fusion, None Too Soon treads into traditional jazz territory, though the pervasive presence of the SynthAxe pushes it firmly into a contemporary context that might alienate hardcore purists. Gary Willis and Kirk Covington of US jazz-fusion outfit Tribal Tech provide an impeccable rhythm backdrop, often understated, occasionally stepping into the limelight. However, the real protagonist of the album – in some ways even more so than Holdsworth – is Gordon Beck’s fluid, scintillating piano, which complements Holdsworth’s playing with the effortless ease born of a long partnership.

Clocking in at around 51 minutes, the album features 9 tracks, two of which are Beck’s own compositions – the three-part title-track, with its almost lazy, relaxed mood, and the brisk, energetic “San Marcos”. The jazz novice will probably be unfamiliar with most of the tracks, except for The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” – here almost unrecognizable, with a dazzling, piano-led central section bookended by the well-known, Indian-tinged tune. An understated, atmospheric rendition of Django Reinhardt’s “Nuages”, with Beck’s magnificent piano complementing Holdsworth’s exertions, and Bill Evans’ elegant, romantic “Very Early”, which sees Willis’ bass emerge discreetly, are also among the undisputed highlights of a very solid album.

Needless to say, both albums are essential listening for any self-respecting fan of jazz-rock/fusion, as well as for guitarists who want to learn how to effectively combine speed and technical proficiency with melody and emotion. They also offer an invaluable introduction to Holdsworth’s solo output, as well as a genuinely enjoyable listening experience for those non-musicians who  love great music. Kudos to Leonardo Pavkovic for having rescued these excellent albums from oblivion.

Links:
http://www.therealallanholdsworth.com/

http://www.moonjune.com

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The name of Argentine band Cucamonga will not fail to ring a bell with Frank Zappa fans, as it references the Californian suburban city (now called Rancho Cucamonga) where Zappa’s Studio Z was located. Unfortunately, the information available on this quintet – led by guitarist Oscar “Frodo” Peralta, who is also the band’s main composer – is very sparse, and they currently have no active website or social media presence. Their debut album, Alter Huevo, recorded in early 2011 in the northern Argentine city of Santa Fe, was released a year later by AltrOck Productions.

Not surprisingly, Zappa is a major influence on Cucamonga’s sound, which comfortably straddles the line between avant-progressive rock and classic jazz-rock/fusion, with liberal doses of humour thrown in as an added bonus. Clearly a bunch of talented and dedicated musicians, their particular brand of music may not be extremely innovative (nor does it claim to be), but it is sure to intrigue the discerning listener, with enough complexity to please the most demanding fans and an endearingly light-hearted attitude to temper the technical dexterity. Though Alter Huevo is mostly instrumental, voices and bursts of laughter add a quirky touch to a few tracks. Warm hints of Latin music are scattered throughout the album, while the accordion – the iconic protagonist of tango music – lends its distinctive Old World flavour to some of  the compositions. However, Cucamonga’s sound rests on three main instruments – guitar, sax and drums – effectively complemented by keyboards and mallet percussion.

With a running time just under 40 minutes, Alter Huevo is a compact, well-balanced album that is easy to enjoy without getting overwhelmed by an excess of notes. Opener “Tetascotch”, the longest track on the album, and the most complex in terms of mood and tempo changes, kicks off with a funny circus-like tune, then takes a more laid-back turn, with all the instruments getting their chance to shine in classic jazz-rock fashion. “El Dengue De La Laguna” continues on the same path, showcasing Julian Macedo’s stellar drumming – propulsive and textural at the same time – while the instrumental interplay often suggests a dialogue without words, with an elegance that hints at vintage Canterbury. “Tu Guaina” and “Variaciones Sobre Tu Hermana” veer towards the Avant end of the spectrum, the latter throwing in some dissonance and moments of rarefied calm enhanced by the cascading tinkle of the mallet percussion.

With “Tillana”, Cucamonga tackle a traditional piece of Carnatic music (the classical music of Southern India) originally rearranged by legendary percussionist Trilok Gurtu for his 1993 album Crazy Saints – which, as can be expected, pushes percussion to the forefront, though guitar, sax and piano also play a strong role. “Cerrazón En Al Teyú Cuaré” alternates slow, melancholy moments with sudden surges of power. The short, upbeat “Dominguillo” introduces album closer “Cletalandia”, based on a hilarious radio broadcast about restoring sensuality in marriage – something that would have definitely won Zappa’s seal of approval. Those familiar with Spanish will enjoy reading the text in the CD booklet. Musically speaking, the track is bookended by energetic sections very much in classic jazz-rock style, powered by Adriano Demartini’s groovy bass lines; while the central part, which includes the broadcast, is accompanied by sparse yet expressive sax.

In keeping with AltrOck’s reputation for stylishly packaged products, Alter Huevo comes with a nicely illustrated booklet (courtesy of the label’s resident graphic artist, the multi-talented Paolo Ske Botta) that successfully combines elegance and whimsy. Udi Koomran’s experienced mastering guarantees excellent sound quality, emphasizing Cucamonga’s varied instrumentation and the impressive skill of the players. Lovers of eclectic jazz-rock with a pinch of avant-garde and world-music spice (as offered by bands as AltrOck’s own Calomito or MoonJune’s Slivovitz) will appreciate this solid, classy offering by an interesting new band. However, it would be a good idea if Cucamonga took a more active role in promoting their music on the Web, which in this day and age is nothing short of indispensable.

Links:
http://www.allmusic.com/artist/cucamonga-p2600792

http://production.altrock.it/prod2.asp?lang=eng_&id=179&id2=180

http://soundcloud.com/udi-koomran/sets/cucomonga-alter-huevo-altrock/

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Knee (5:05)
2. Oom Pah (5:09)
3. Missing the Train (3:41)
4. Rainbro (5:02)
5. Too Good To Be True (4:11)
6. Somnambulist Subversion (4:34)
7. Nut Job (3:12)
8. Forgotten Planet (6:00)
9. Dirty Spoons (5:12)
10. 25 Miles to Freedom (10:30)

LINEUP:
Melody Ferris – vocals
Ivor Holloway – tenor and alto saxophone, clarinet
Pat Moran – electric bass
Nick Peck – Hammond B-3 organ, clavinet, Fender Rhodes electric piano, minimoog Voyager, mellotron, piano, Arp String Ensemble, Wurlitzer 200A electric piano
Doug Port – drums
David Shaff – trumpet
Ryder Shelly – vibraphone
David Slusser – Slussomatic, electronics
Andrew Vernon – keyboards, Farfisa organ
Bill Wolter –  electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards, electronics

Line-up on # 10:
Shayna Dunkelman – vibes, crotales
Melody Ferris – vocals
Jordan Glenn- drums
Ivor Holloway – tenor saxophone
Curtis McKinney – electric bass
Charith Premawardhana – viola
Max Stoffregen –  piano, synth
Bill Wolter – guitar, keyboards

The high level of quality offered by AltrOck Productions and its subsidiary label, Fading Records, will no longer come as a surprise for progressive rock fans. However, there are times when an album released on the Milan-based label will exceed expectations – and this is definitely the case with Rainbro, Inner Ear Brigade’s debut album.  Formed in 2005 in Oakland (California) by multi-instrumentalist and composer Bill Wolter, the band  was originally a quartet; then, in the following years, the lineup grew into a 7-piece, with a number of honorary members participating in the recording of the album. Rainbro was recorded in the summer of 2010, and released on the international market in January 2012.

The Bay Area city of Oakland has long been a hotbed of cutting-edge music, being home to such highly acclaimed outfits as Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and  miRthkon (also on the AltrOck roster), as well as legendary guitarist/composer Fred Frith. However, Inner Ear Brigade have something that sets them apart from other bands that fall under the avant-progressive umbrella, and makes them more easily approachable by “mainstream” prog fans. With their extended lineup and intriguing instrumentation – featuring a healthy mix of vintage keyboards, state-of-the-art electronics and conventional rock gear, augmented by reeds, horns and vibraphone – they produce a lush, fluid sound that suggests the understated elegance of Canterbury bands such as Hatfield and the North or National Health rather than the austere beauty of Univers Zéro or the martial grandeur of Magma.

In quintessentially eclectic fashion, Inner Ear Brigade throw many diverse influences into their musical melting pot, straddling the divide between reverence towards past glories and a genuinely forward-thinking attitude. While the progressive rock scene suffers from a glut of acts often hopelessly rooted in the past and seemingly unable to go beyond reproducing the classic Seventies sound, Inner Ear Brigade use the influences drawn from the rich treasure trove of the golden age of prog as a springboard for creating their own sound, rather than as an exercise in nostalgia.

Though all of the band members are remarkably talented, Inner Ear Brigade’s ace in the hole is Melody Ferris’ voice, which at a superficial listen might recall the distinctive style associated with avant-prog and represented by Thinking Plague’s Deborah Perry and Elaine DiFalco. Indeed, the demanding vocal lines tackled by Ferris in opening track “Knee” sound like a textbook example of the subgenre’s conventions. However, as the album progresses, Ferris’ vocals become increasingly more versatile, engaging in singing and wordless vocalizing with equal effectiveness, and often  “playing” along the other instruments rather than acting as a separate entity (a fine example of this is the atmospheric “Too Good to Be True”).  The quirky lyrics enhance the album’s overall playful mood and emphasize its Zappa and Canterbury references, which the band share with their fellow Oaklanders miRthkon.

The first half of the album displays the strongest avant-prog imprint, effortlessly blending accessibility and experimentalism, catchy tunes and whooshing, spacey electronic effects.  A sunny California vibe tempers the bouts of dissonance in tracks such as “Missing the Train”, while saxes and trumpet add a buoyantly jazzy note. In some of the tracks – notably the trio of instrumentals that precede the album’s “epic”, the 10-minute “25 Miles to Freedom” (recorded in 2009 with a different lineup) – the two souls of the band seem to coexist, with melodic, laid-back passages alternating with more energetic, upbeat ones, and short yet effective forays into more experimental terrain, duly bolstered by liberally used electronics. The title-track is powered by harsh guitar riffs and blaring horns; while the closing track takes the band deep into Canterbury territory, with Ferris’ splendid vocal performance bringing to mind the incomparable Northettes, and the viola adding a wistful, lyrical touch to a rich, almost symphonic texture. Varied yet cohesive, “25 Miles to Freedom” wraps up the album with a bang, conveying a palpable sense of enjoyment on the part of the band that listeners will be hard put not to share.

With a well-balanced running time of about 52 minutes, Rainbro never overstays its welcome, in spite of the undeniable complexity of the music. The album’s ebullient yet intricate nature will attract lovers of quirky, eclectic progressive rock, while the presence of vintage instruments typical of traditional prog may encourage the more conservative set of fans to give Inner Ear Brigade’s music a try. All in all, Rainbro is an outstanding debut for a band that is definitely going places, and a strong contender for my personal “best of 2012”.

Links:
http://innerearbrigade.com/

http://innerearbrigade.bandcamp.com/

http://production.altrock.it/prod2.asp?lang=ita_&id=182&id2=183

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TRACKLISTING:
1. The Noise of Time (5:09)
2. For Those Overrun by American Violence (7:12)
3. The Wind (5:12)
4. I Fought for Nothing (5:21)
5. Election Night 2004 (and only some dogs down the street protested) (2:11)
6. Winter (5:40)
7. Fate (3:44)
8. Adrift in Empire (5:32)
9. For Those in Peril on The Sea (7:10)
10. Softly Adrift (4:53)
11. The Matter of Our Crimes (5:41)
12. Meditation for Kellie C. (5:46)

LINEUP:
Scott Brazieal – vocals, all instruments

With:
Ali Ippolito – vocals (1, 3, 4)
Adam Hurst – cello (4, 6)
Tom Hood –  bowed guitar (6, 9), guitar solo  (7)
R.D. (Dave) Hardesty – vocal narrative (11)

Followers of the US avant-progressive scene will remember Scott Brazieal as the founder of Cartoon and PFS, as well as a member of 5uu’s and Thinking Plague, who also toured with such icons as Christian Vander and John Greaves. A gifted multi-instrumentalist and composer, currently based in California, Brazieal has been lying low for the past decade or so, steadily working on his first solo project – a labour of love that began in 2003, and was finally released earlier this year. The album, titled Songs from the Empire, comprises 12 tracks mostly performed by Brazieal himself with the help of some guest musicians. According to the artist, the album was conceived as a whole rather than a collection of individual songs, and as such is meant to be listened to in its entirety – a concept that sounds almost alien to a generation weaned on iPods and single-song downloading.

Songs from the Empire is one of those albums that may need several listens before they begin to “make sense”, so to speak. While the instrumental component definitely outweighs the singing, Brazieal’s voice – reminiscent of Roger Waters’, and sounding at times rather off-key (though the effect may be intentional) – seems to emphasize the dissonance that occasionally disrupts the somber, meditative mood of the music. The most distinctive (as well as potentially controversial) aspect of the album, however, is its highly charged political content. Flag-wavers of any kind, or those who think that music should refrain from taking a political stance, will be immediately put off by titles such as “For Those Overrun by American Violence”. On the other hand,  the political message is not conveyed in a straightforward manner – that is, through “conventional” lyrics – but rather through suggestions such as sound effects, vocal narratives and original recordings. Indeed, the most overt statement can be found in  “Adrift in Empire”, which features part of Martin Luther King, Jr’s 1967 “Beyond Vietnam” speech – whose content rings uncannily true even 45 years later.

Though the message is almost inseparable from the music, in purely musical terms Songs from the Empire is a fascinating listen, hovering between atmospheric minimalism and classical references with a pinch of rock directness thrown in for added spice. The use of dissonance – to many the hallmark of the avant-prog subgenre – is quite restrained, while quite a surprising amount of melody is scattered throughout the album. Keyboards and electronics play the biggest role, but the contribution of other instruments (such as strings, guitar and drums) ensures variety, while sound effects reinforce the message and enhance the emotional impact. The slow pacing of the compositions  – at times exceedingly so – also highlights their introspective quality.

Guest vocalist Ali Ippolito’s melodious tones temper Brazieal’s harsher, more discordant ones in opener “The Noise of Time”, the rarefied, vaguely ominous “I Fought for Nothing” and the atmospheric “The Wind”; while a female church choir – superimposed to a wailing, almost tribal voice – injects a sense of eerie mysticism in the broodingly cinematic “For Those Overrun by American Violence”. The already-mentioned “I Fought for Nothing” and “Softly Adrift”, both suggestive of Roger Waters’ solo output, bridge the gap between mainstream and experimentation, coming across as skewed torch songs of sorts. On the other hand, the instrumental tracks possess the intimate, sometimes brittle feel of chamber music. The 7-minute “For Those in Peril on the Sea” starts out in mournful, string-driven fashion, then gradually turns more dissonant towards the end. In the highly descriptive “Winter”, the slow, sparse motion of the piano is disturbed by eerily creaking sound effects suggesting frost or ice. The album is then brought to a lovely, melancholy close by the subdued piano in the aptly titled “Meditation for Kellie C.”, joined by atmospheric keyboard washes towards the end.

Clocking in at about 61 minutes, Songs from the Empire is a well-balanced, carefully composed effort that will definitely please lovers of everything avant-progressive, as well as those who appreciate contemporary classical music. While the previous paragraphs should make it abundantly clear that the album is not an easily accessible proposition, it will also reward the patience of those who like music to make you think rather than offer instant gratification.

Links:
http://scottbrazieal.com/

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Malthusian Dances (6:39)
2. I Cannot Fly (8:34)
3. Sleeper Cell Anthem (6:10)
4. A Virtuous Man (11:45)
5. The Gyre (4:42)
6. Climbing the Mountain (8:38)

LINEUP:
Elaine Di Falco – voice
Mark Harris – saxes, clarinets
Mike Johnson – guitars
Kimara Sajn – drums, keyboards
Dave Willey – bass

With:
Kaveh Rastegar –  bass (1)
Robin Chestnut – drums (5)
Dexter Ford – bass (5)

Described by founder Mike Johnson as an “enterprise” rather than a band in the conventional sense, Thinking Plague seem to fit the definition of “cult act” to a T. The many different incarnations of the US answer to seminal European outfits such as Henry Cow and Univers Zéro – based in the rugged mountain state of Colorado, where it was formed by Johnson and guitarist/drummer Bob Drake in 1982 – read like a veritable “who’s who” of the US avant-progressive scene. Thinking Plague’s whole existence has also been characterized by a constant struggle against circumstances, which has inevitably impacted the frequency of their releases. Indeed, with a total of 7 studio albums released in almost 30 years of history, they definitely count among the least prolific bands on the scene, together with Cuneiform label mates Miriodor.

The average progressive rock fan, steeped in the grand symphonic tradition of the early Seventies, usually has a very controversial relationship with the more forward-thinking fringes of the movement – and very few bands are as likely to send prog fans running for the exits as Thinking Plague. Unabashedly intellectual, as their very name (associating the act of thinking with a curse of sorts) suggests, with extremely well-written, thought-provoking lyrics, Thinking Plague take the proverbial complexity of the Avant subgenre up a notch.  Decline and Fall, their highly-awaited seventh album, released almost 9 years after A History of Madness, is certainly no exception. The album also showcases the band’s new lineup (though drummer Robin Chestnut, who was introduced on the occasion of Thinking Plague’s headlining appearance at Cuneifest in November 2011, only appears on one track), spotlighting the contributions of new singer Elaine DiFalco (recently seen on two outstanding albums, Dave Willey and Friends’ Immeasurable Currents and 3 Mice’s Send Me a Postcard) and drummer/keyboardist Kimara Sajn, a gifted multi-instrumentalist well-known on the Seattle experimental music scene.

Clocking in at under 47 minutes, and entirely written by Mike Johnson, Decline and Fall features 6 tracks connected by a fil rouge made all too clear by the title and artwork  – an apocalyptic reflection on the dismal state of Planet Earth, which, according to Johnson’s musings, has long gone past the point of no return. Through vivid verbal imagery flawlessly supported by the head-spinningly intricate music, humankind is depicted as rushing headlong (and heedlessly) towards destruction, its disappearance the only thing that will be able to save the Earth. While the term “concept album” is generally associated with overambitious productions that often collapse beneath the weight of their own pretensions, Decline and Fall is tight and tense, the synergy between lyrics and music embodied by Elaine DiFalco’s stunning vocal performance. Reviews often mention the role of vocals as just another instrument, but the observation is rarely as fitting as in this particular case. DiFalco’s extremely versatile voice ranges from soothing the ear with subdued gentleness to tackling parts of rollercoaster-like intensity, bolstered by the use of multi-tracking to almost vertiginous effect.

Though the word “multilayered” frequently crops up in prog reviews, it sounds like an understatement if applied to Decline and Fall. True, the listener might occasionally feel that the music is too clever or intricate for its own good, in a sort of “art for art’s sake” manner, and keeping track of the twists and turns in the compositions is anything but an easy task. Decline and Fall demands a lot from its listeners, and it is definitely not the kind of music you would want to keep in the background while doing the housework. On the other hand, contrarily to the trend shown by most “mainstream” prog, displays of individual brilliance have little or no place in Thinking Plague’s world. Each instrument, like a thread in a tight, complex weave, gets its chance to shine, but as part of a whole rather than in isolation. Consequently, solo spots are few and far between, though the excellent sound quality brings each contribution to the fore.

Similarly, Decline and Fall is best approached as a whole, even if each track has its own distinct personality. Unpredictable by definition, the music can be almost unbearably dense, while at times turning rarefied, almost ethereal. Brisk opener “Malthusian Dances” thrives on Sajn’s commanding percussion work, while Mark Harris’ assertive clarinet spars with Johnson’s guitar. “I Cannot Fly”, a barbed attack on the easy consolation offered by religion, is suitably sparse and dissonant, though fleshed out by Dave Willey’s muscular bass lines – which are also spotlighted in “Sleeper Cell Anthem”, together with Sajn’s solemn, martial drumming. The mesmerizing ebb and flow of the  album’s centerpiece, the almost 12-minute “A Virtuous Man”, is so fragmented as to be nearly impossible to describe, and yet oddly cohesive;  DiFalco’s voice seamlessly blends with the impossibly complex lines of the music, surging and fading along with it. The shorter, mostly instrumental “The Gyre” introduces closing track “Climbing the Mountain”, an oddly serene, keyboard-driven number enriched by atmospheric mellotron and understated piano whose unexpectedly abrupt ending seems to suggest humankind’s inevitable demise.

No matter how clichéd it may sound, the warning of “not for the faint-hearted” is quite fitting for an album such as Decline and Fall. Those looking for catchy melodies, conventionally “beautiful” singing and lush orchestrations are bound to be put off by Thinking Plague’s off-kilter, yet highly reasoned approach to composition, and the undeniably depressing subject matter is unlikely to appeal to fans of the more escapist side of prog. This is not the by-numbers doom-and-gloom typical of many progressive metal bands, but a genuinely dystopian vision of the future of humankind conveyed in strikingly beautiful imagery – a true soundtrack of the Apocalypse. While Decline and Fall is clearly not an easy proposition, it will yield rich rewards for those brave enough to approach it.

Links:
http://www.generalrubric.com/thinkingplague/main.html

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Greg Walker is a well-known name in the international community of progressive rock fans as the man behind Syn-Phonic, one of the biggest online purveyors of CDs and other musical goodies – possibly the one offering the widest range of material, and definitely one of the most knowledgeable (and friendly) people in the business. US-based fans will also remember him as the organizer of ProgFest, a successful run of festivals that took place between 1993 and 200o in the Los Angeles area.

After retiring from the festival business, and spending  the next decade concentrating on the promotion of progressive rock through his extensive catalogue (including regular appearances at the major prog festivals such as NEARfest and RoSfest), in 2011 Walker decided to throw his hat into the arena once again. A self-professed fan of European prog, with a particularly soft spot for the Italian scene of the Seventies, Walker planned a pull-out-all-the-stops extravaganza that would offer to the US prog audience  the unique opportunity of seeing a number of cult Seventies bands together on the same stage.

Though his original plans of holding the event in 2011 as a replacement of sorts for NEARfest 2011 (hence the punning name of Farfest), even if somewhat later during the year, were foiled by the impossibility of  finding a suitable venue at a rather short notice, Walker took advantage of the extra time allowance to assemble a line-up that sounds like a dream come true for fans of the European scene of the golden age of prog. The event,  spread over 4 days, and scheduled to take place at the impressive Grand Opera House in Wilmington, Delaware (pictured above) – a very convenient location, situated halfway between Washington DC and New York City, and close to major airports such as Baltimore and Philadelphia – will host a whopping 13 bands, some of them still active, others reformed just for the occasion.

True to his passion for Italian prog, Walker has given pride of place to Italian bands, with the recently reunited Latte E MieleLocanda Delle Fate, Alphataurus and Maxophone. Three French bands of the Seventies – Atoll, Pulsar and Shylock – will also appear, as well as Poland’s SBB  and “Prog Andaluz” standard-bearers Mezquita. The only two bands from English-speaking countries will be legendary US outfit Cathedral (who will perform their famed 1978 album Stained Glass Stories in its entirety) and London-based  band Cressida, one of the protagonists of the early English scene. The lineup will be completed by two highly-rated bands from more recent years, Anekdoten from Sweden and Wobbler from Norway.

As the above paragraphs make it abundantly clear, Farfest 2012’s main target are not fans of progressive rock in its more contemporary incarnations. The event is geared towards the “nostalgia crowd” – those people who think the Seventies will never be equalled in terms of musical output, and who have a personal “bucket list” of bands to see before they throw in the towel for good. Even if one might disagree with this direction, there is no denying that event will be remembered for a long time, and may well provide a much-needed shot in the arm for the ailing US festival scene. It  remains to be seen if a successful response in terms of audience will convince Walker to repeat the event (originally planned as a one-off) in the future.

Patron tickets – which, at $ 350 are rather expensive, though they give access to the best seats, as well as providing financial support to the event, increasing the chance of its survival – have been put on sale in mid-April. General ticket sales will open on May 21 at 10 a.m.. The Grand Opera House has 1,200 seats, so there should be enough room for everyone interested in attending. Farfest 2012 has its own website featuring very thorough information on the event, as well as pages on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, which can be accessed from the main site.

Links:
http://www.farfest.com


http://synphonic.8m.com/index.htm

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TRACKLISTING:
Studio:
1. Crescendo (8:51)
2. Sequenza Circolare (2:41)
3. La Giostra (7:27)
4. Non Chiudere a Chiave le Stelle (3:41)

Live (Asti, Teatro Alfieri, 1977):
5. Non Chiudere a Chiave le Stelle [coda] (1:02)
6. Crescendo (4:31)
7. Vendesi Saggezza (7:48)

LINEUP:
Studio album:
Leonardo Sasso – vocals
Luciano Boero – bass guitar, acoustic guitar
Oscar Mazzoglio – Hammond B3 organ, Mellotron M 400, Yamaha Motif XS6, Roland V-Combo VR-760, Korg X50
Giorgio Gardino – drums, percussion
Max Brignolo – electric guitar
Maurizio Muha – piano, minimoog, Mellotron M 400

Live album:
Leonardo Sasso – vocals
Luciano Boero – bass guitar
Ezio Vevey – guitar
Oscar Mazzoglio – Hammond organ, keyboards, minimoog
Giorgio Gardino – drums, vibraphone |
Michele Conta – piano, keyboards
Alberto Gaviglio – flute, guitar

Locanda Delle Fate’s fairytale-like name stems from a rather unromantic place – a brothel in their home town of Asti, in north-western Italy (well-known to wine lovers for its fabulous sparkling dessert wine). Originally a seven-piece, the band got together in the early Seventies to play covers of the legendary English prog acts, then moved on to writing their own material. Their first demo attracted the attention of the high-profile record label Phonogram, and their debut album, Forse le Lucciole Non Si Amano Più was released in the summer of 1977. Unfortunately the days of prog’s widespread commercial success were numbered, with the punk and disco movements already in full swing. Disappointed by the lack of response to the album, Locanda Delle Fate disbanded shortly afterwards; their partial reunion in 1999  for the pop-oriented Homo Homini Lupus was also short-lived.

In spite of being plagued by bad timing, in later years Locanda Delle Fate and their 1977 album have become a cult object of sorts for fans of classic Seventies prog, especially those more oriented towards a lush, romantic sound steeped in the Italian tradition as well as in the symphonic stylings of early Genesis. Indeed, they have often been tagged as the Italian answer to Genesis, and those who prefer the edgier side of the Italian prog scene tend to dismiss them as overly sweet and melodic. However, it cannot be denied that Locanda Delle Fate are more than just a bunch of Genesis wannabes: besides their obvious talent as musicians and composers, they can also boast of the magnificent vocals of Leonardo Sasso (who did not participate in the 1999 reunion).

Locanda delle Fate got together once again in 2010, taking full advantage of the much-touted prog revival, and the success that eluded them the first time around seems to have finally headed their way. The release of The Missing Fireflies at the beginning of 2012 presents their loyal fans with some previously unreleased material, including some original 1977 live recordings. Thanks to Marcello Marinone of AltrOck Productions and his father Davide (who had been the sound engineer on Forse Le Lucciole…), the “missing fireflies” have finally seen the light of day;  the original live tapes have been painstakingly cleaned up, and the proofs for the cover artwork of the 1977 album have kindly been put at the band’s disposal by artist Biagio Cairone. The stylishly packaged album is enhanced by Paolo Ske Botta’s graphics and classy photography; while AltrOck stalwart Udi Koomran has lent his expertise to the mastering of the finished product.

For obvious reasons, The Missing Fireflies… will be seen more as a collectors’ item than a genuine new release. The four studio tracks, however, reveal the strength of Locanda Delle Fate’s current line-up, which includes most of its founding members. Only one of those tracks, “Non Chiudere a Chiave le Stelle”, appeared on the band’s debut album, though  the keyboard-heavy “Crescendo” (also present in a shorter live version) and “La Giostra” also date back from their early days. The only completely new track is the 2-minute piano bravura piece “Sequenza Circolare”, composed and interpreted by keyboardist Maurizio Muha, which introduces the stunning “La Giostra” – a gorgeously melodic composition with tightly-woven instrumental parts complementing Sasso’s warm, smooth vocals, melding Genesis influences (particularly evident in Max Brignolo’s airy, stately guitar work) with Italian flair.

The live tracks amount to less than half of the album – which, at around 35 minutes, is already quite short for today’s standards. In spite of the less than stellar sound quality, they allow the band’s collective talent to shine. In  the exhilarating version of “Vendesi Saggezza”, Sasso’s passionate vocal performance brings to mind Francesco Di Giacomo (to whom he has often been compared), while powerful, Banco-like keyboard parts blend with a pastoral feel in true Genesis style.

All in all, The Missing Fireflies will be a worthwhile investment for dedicated followers of the band and fans of the original RPI scene, while newcomers might want to try Forse Le Lucciole Non Si Amano Più before taking the plunge. In any case, the release of the album, together with the success of Locanda Delle Fate’s recent live outings (at the time of writing, they have just returned from Japan, where they appeared at a festival in Tokyo together with other historic Italian prog bands), bodes well for the future of the new incarnation of the band. US prog fans will have the unique opportunity to see them at Farfest, which is scheduled to take place on October 4-7, 2012, at the Grand Opera House in Wilmington, Delaware.

Links:
http://www.locandadellefate.com/

http://production.altrock.it/prod2.asp?lang=ita_&id=125&id2=176

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