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Archive for July, 2013

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Kurt’s Casino (9:53)
2. The Little Man (3:55)
3. Accidentally in San Sebastian (4:22)
4. The Campfire Strikes Back (4:36)
5. The Dancing Dinosaur (10:28)
6. Skunks (5:01)
7. Pate a Tartiner (6:07)

LINEUP:
Gabor Humble – guitar, vocals
Megan Quill – vocals
Liesbeth Verlaet – vocals
Jouni Isoherranen – bass, keyboards
Jonathan Callens – drums
Pol Mareen – saxophone
Pedro Guridi – bass clarinet
Joren Cautaers – vibraphone, percussion

With:
Pieter Claus – marimba solo (1)
Jana Voros – baby sounds (3)
Lisa Jordens – backing vocals (3)
Francisca Rose – pronouncing “tartiner” correctly (3)

Two years after the release of Flanders Fields, their first album for Milan-based label AltrOck Productions, Belgian outfit Humble Grumble have made their comeback in the spring of 2013 with Guzzle It Up!. Though mainman Gabor Humble first established the band in 1996, Humble Grumble’s current incarnation dates back from very recent times, and is multi-national in nature – including, besides Hungarian-born Humble, Finnish bassist/keyboardist Jouni Isoherranen and Chilean reedist Pedro Guridi, as well as a number of Flemish musicians. The band also have quite a few festival appearances under their belt, and, around the time of the new album’s release, they performed at Gouveia Art Rock Festival in Portugal and AltrOck’s very own event in Milan, Italy.

While emphasizing the continuity of the band’s sound, Guzzle It Up! also marks a departure from Flanders Fields, and not just in terms of lineup. In fact, when the previous album featured a core group of six people and an extended cast of guest artists, here the situation has been reversed: the eight-piece band – with Humble, Isoherranen, Guridi, saxophonist Pol Mareen and drummer Jonathan Callens joined by vocalists Liesbeth Verlaet and Megan Quills and mallet percussionist Joren Cautaers – handles all the tracks, and the contribution of guests is marginal. The rich instrumental texture of Flanders Fields has remained unaltered, with the clear-voiced lilt of the vibraphone providing a refreshing change from the usual keyboards, and the saxophone often engaging in dynamic duets with Humble’s guitar. The latter’s versatile vocals are complemented by the two female voices, their lively exchanges often bordering on endearingly wacky, and perfectly suited to the music’s overall mood. On the other hand, Guzzle It Up! is clearly more ambitious in terms of structure: while Flanders Fields was a collection of 11 remarkably short songs, here a shorter tracklist is compensated by running times that have more than doubled. With two out of 7 songs around the 10-minute mark, even the shorter tracks seem to have adopted a more leisurely pace than the dense, whirlwind-like numbers that made up the band’s previous effort. There are no instrumentals either, and a lot of emphasis is placed on the vocal interplay between Humble and his two female cohorts.

Humble Grumble’s more ambitious approach is introduced right from the start with the almost 10-minute“Kurt’s Casino”, a brilliant combination of upbeat, downright infectious melodies and the rather somber subject matter of suicide, propelled by Jonathan Callens’ spectacular drum work and  Pol Mareen’s ebullient sax, and enhanced by vibraphone and marimba (the latter courtesy of former member Pieter Claus). The album’s longest track, “The Dancing Dinosaur”, gives a new meaning to the word “eclectic” by throwing a slew of diverse influences into the equation with carefree abandon – jazz inflections as well as the inevitable Zappaesque bent coexisting with catchy, almost poppy chorus, wistful sax section, an atmospheric guitar solo and an unexpected, galloping hoedown towards the end.

Driven by Callens’ pyrotechnic drumming, “The Little Man” suggests Samla Mammas Manna’s carnival-like zaniness; “The Campfire Strikes Again” strays even further into Zappa-meets-RIO-meets-Gong territory, seasoned with a pinch of dissonance and the vocalists’ striking repartee. Vocals (including rapping) and assorted wacky sound effects are the foundation of the off-kilter “Accidentally in San Sebastian”, while “Skunks” (whose lyrics that would make Frank Zappa quite proud) pulls out all the stops, with Humble’s exaggerated falsetto and chaotic vocal “harmonies” that sound like a skewed version of Gentle Giant, a wild guitar solo and hints of Eastern European folk. “Pate a Tartiner” wraps up the album in suitably eccentric fashion, also introducing an appealing funky note to complement the ever-present Gong and Zappa influences.

Clocking in at a very restrained 44 minutes, Guzzle It Up! is as much of an acquired taste as its predecessor – possibly even more so. Though the quality of the individual performances is outstanding, and the sheer joy of  making music refreshingly evident, its abrupt changes in mood and style can strike some of the more mainstream-oriented listeners as inconsistent and even frustrating, and the wacky, anarchist humour of the lyrics can be occasionally hard to take for those who prefer a bit more subtlety. On the other hand, fans of Zappa, Gong and the Canterbury scene will not fail to appreciate the album and its ambitious direction. The photos in the CD booklet and on the band’s website clearly point out that Humble Grumble belong on the stage, and that the studio format must be somewhat constraining to them. Highly recommended to any open-minded progressive rock fans, Guzzle It Up! may not be an easily approachable album, but is definitely an intriguing one.

Links:
http://www.humblegrumble.com/

https://myspace.com/humblegrumble

http://www.altrock.it

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Burden Of Proof (5:51)
2. Voyage Beyond Seven (4:53)
3. Kitto (1:50)
4. Pie Chart (5:07)
5. JPS (1:03)
6. Kings and Queens (6:46)
7. Fallout (6:59)
8. Going Somewhere Canorous? (1:13)
9. Black And Crimson (5:05)
10. The Brief (2:27)
11. Pump Room (5:19)
12. Green Cubes (5:33)
13. They Landed on a Hill (3:03)

LINEUP:
John Etheridge – electric guitar
Roy Babbington – bass guitar
John Marshall – drums, percussion
Theo Travis, tenor sax, flute, Fender Rhodes piano

It should not come as a surprise to find Soft Machine Legacy on the roster of an independent label named after one of the original Soft Machine’s most iconic compositions. The band – the last in a series of Soft Machine offshoots started by bassist Hugh Hopper back in 1978 with Soft Heap – was born in 2004, when guitarist Allan Holdsworth left Soft Works and was replaced by John Etheridge. They released a studio album and two live ones between 2005 and 2006, just before founding member Elton Dean’s untimely passing. Their second studio-based effort, 2007’s Steam,  saw renowned flutist/saxophonist Theo Travis (currently also a member of Gong, The Tangent and Steven Wilson’s band)  take Dean’s place; the album was also to be the last with Hugh Hopper, who succumbed to leukemia in 2009. In spite of these setbacks, Travis, Etheridge and drummer John Marshall (who had originally replaced Robert Wyatt in 1971) recruited another Soft Machine alumnus, bassist Roy Babbington, and went on to produce their third studio album. Burden of Proof, recorded in Italy at Arti e Mestieri keyboardist Beppe Crovella’s Electromantic Studios was finally released on Moonjune Records in the spring of 2013.

Though its name may suggest yet another of the many tribute bands whose popularity often eclipses that of bands performing their own material, Soft Machine Legacy deliver much more than just a reverent homage to one of the most influential bands of the early progressive rock scene. The “Legacy” at the end of the band’s name (even when all of its founders had the legal right to call themselves Soft Machine) emphasizes the continuity between the “mother” band and its offshoots, while ruling out slavish imitation. Bringing together the variegated threads of the history of the band founded by Robert Wyatt, Mike Ratledge, Kevin Ayers and Daevid Allen in the mid-Sixties, the quartet led by John Etheridge have perfected their own original sound. Travis’ own soundscaping system, called Ambitronics, lends the proceedings a haunting ambient component, bringing to mind his work with Robert Fripp, and integrating with Etheridge’s use of loops and other effects to replace Mike Ratledge’s trademark fuzzed organ; while his sparing but effective use of the Fender Rhodes electric piano creates an ideal connection to Soft Machine’s turning-point album, Fourth (their first completely instrumental effort).

Featuring 13 relatively short compositions spread over a running time of about 55 minutes, Burden of Proof possesses an internal cohesion of its own. The longer, more structured pieces (between 3 and 7 minutes) are bridged by shorter interludes, mostly improvisational in nature; despite this apparent fragmentation, the music flows effortlessly, and the two “souls” of the album fit together without leaving an impression of patchiness. A stunning rendition of Hugh Hopper’s “Kings and Queens” (from Soft Machine’s Fourth) – strategically located in the middle of the album, and led by Theo Travis’ melodic, melancholy flute meshing with Etheridge’s measured guitar – functions as a centerpiece that captures the original band’s moment of transition from its psychedelic roots to state-of-the-art jazz-rock. Roy Babbington (who guested on Fourth, though not on “Kings and Queens”) is a discreet but unmistakable presence, his finely-honed synergy with John Marshall’s impeccable drumming in evidence right from the opening strains of the title-track – which later develops into an intriguing “conversation piece” between sax and guitar. The upbeat sax intro to “Voyage Beyond Seven” briefly dispels the previous number’s elegantly laid-back atmosphere, before going into a sort of slow-motion that culminates into a rather chaotic, spacey jam with sudden flares of volume.

The deeply atmospheric Etheridge showcase of “Kitto” leads into the slow-burning, jazz-blues saunter of “Pie Chart” – an unexpected but welcome deviation from the band’s heady yet somewhat lofty stylings, as is the bracing boogie-rock of “Pump Room”, with Etheridge delivering a barrage of rough-and-ready riffs and scratchy, distorted chords, aided and abetted by Travis’ buoyant sax. “Black and Crimson” is all about melody Soft Machine Legacy-style, with an almost Latin feel; while the nearly 7-minute “Fallout” sandwiches a loose, improvisational section between a brisk, sax-and-guitar-driven main theme, bolstered by Marshall’s dramatic drum rolls. The album is wrapped up by the noisy avant-garde bash of “Green Cubes”, followed by the spacey, meditative strains of “They Landed on a Hill” – a finale that, in a way, represents the album’s two souls.

Those who have followed Soft Machine Legacy and its previous incarnations for the past two decades will find a lot to love in Burden of Proof, an album that combines melody and ambiance with the almost carefree abandon of improvisation. The four members of Soft Machine Legacy draws upon their individual strengths, striving to create music that, while sophisticated, is also not too detached from the earthiness of rock. Though the amount of improvisation may put off those who prefer their music to be scripted, and the minimalistic approach to composition may be found unsatisfactory by fans of prog’s more convoluted aspects, the album captures a group of seasoned musicians who obviously still enjoy themselves both in the studio and on stage. Even if sometimes demanding, Burden of Proof is also a consistently rewarding listen.

Links:
http://www.moonjune.com/mjr_web_2013/catalog_mjr/052_SOFT-MACHINE-LEGACY_Burden-Of-Proof_MJR052/

http://www.johnetheridge.com/softmachinelegacy/index.htm

https://myspace.com/softmachinelegacy/

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5-storey ens

TRACKLISTING:
1. The Harbinger (5:51)
2. Bondman’s Wings (2:24)
3. The Incommunication (5:23)
4. To Ringfly (3:12)
5. A Disappearing Road (4:43)
6. The Unpainted (7:58)
7. Yesterday Dormant (5:41)
8. The Protector (3:23)
9. Fear-Dream (3:47)
10. Amid the Smoke and Different Questions (6:31)
11. Not That City (6:58)

LINEUP:
Vitaly Appow – bassoon, saxes
Alexander But’ko – accordion
Andrey Evdokimov – acoustic and electric guitars
Natalja Malashkova – oboe
Dmitry Maslovsky – bass guitar
Olga Podgaiskaja – piano, keyboards, vocals
Olga Polakova – flute
Anastasia Popova – violin
Nikolay Semitko – drums, percussion
Vyacheslav Plesko — double bass
Sergey Dolgushev – vocals

With:
Jury Korogoda —electric guitar (6,9)
Cirill Christia — violin (6,8,9)
Nadia Christia — cello (6, 9,11)

One of the very few bands originating from the small and politically isolated Eastern European country of Belarus, Rational Diet was an unabashedly intellectual ensemble whose music was not for the faint-hearted. After releasing a total of five albums (the last three of which on Italian label AltrOck Productions) between 2000 and 2010, Rational Diet split up because of a disagreement over artistic direction. Its members went on to form two separate groups, Archestra and Five-Storey Ensemble, whose debut albums – titled Arches and Not That City – were both released in the spring of 2013. While Arches was released on French label Soleil Mutant (a subdivision of Soleil Zeuhl), Five-Storey Ensemble have remained part of the AltrOck roster.

Not That City’s liner notes trace the genesis of this new yet familiar band, explaining the reasons for the change, reflected in the album’s more intimate and “streamlined” sound if compared with Rational Diet’s overly intellectual approach (which had become a liability rather than an asset, hindering the band’s natural development). The transition from Rational Diet to Five-Storey Ensemble was complete when the former band’s  remaining members – keyboardist/vocalist/main composer Olga Podgaiskaja, bassist Dmitry Maslovsky, drummer Nikolaj Semitko and reedist Vitaly Appow – merged with  Fratrez, a quartet hailing from the Belarus capital of Minsk, whose sound was strongly rooted in medieval and folk music. The lineup that recorded Not That City (a mini-orchestra with no less than 11 members) is augmented by former Rational Diet bandmates Cirill and Nadia Christia and Archestra guitarist Jury Korogoda on a handful of tracks.

A mostly acoustic album, performed with instruments generally associated with classical and folk music, Not That City has very few connections to rock music (even of the progressive variety), and the presence of drums and electric guitar/bass is so discreet as to be almost imperceptible. In this and other aspects, Five-Storey Ensemble bring to mind Belgian outfit Aranis, though their sound also bears the unmistakable imprint of the Eastern European tradition. The literary inspiration that had been an essential component of Rational Diet’s output is still very much in evidence: the album features three songs with lyrics by early 20th century poet Alexander Vvedensky, and another two were originally part of the soundtrack for the experimental play Bondman’s Wings.

Though Not That City is largely instrumental, some of the tracks feature vocals with an operatic quality that, however, meshes remarkably well with the instrumentation rather than swamping it. Band leader Olga Podgaiskaja’s sweet, achingly wistful soprano complements Sergey Dolgushev’s intense tenor;  their duet in the sprightly, folksy “Yesterday Dormant” acquires a dramatic quality from the use of two different themes –  melodic, almost pleading for the female voice,  more upbeat for the male one. In the intimate, melancholy ”The Incommunication”, the two voices occupy centre stage, while the instruments (mainly piano and bassoon) keep discreetly in the background.

Running at a very reasonable 55 minutes, the album as a whole is very cohesive and surprisingly full of melody, with few concessions to those spiky, dissonant moments so often associated with the Avant-Progressive subgenre – the most notable of which can be found in the second half of “A Disappearing Road”  and in the complex, riveting textures of the nearly 8 minutes of “The Unpainted”, where the electric guitar is treated like an orchestral instrument rather than a typically rock one. Conversely, the influence of medieval and Renaissance music emerges clearly in the lilting, percussive “To Ringfly” and “The Protector”; while the aptly titled “Fear-Dream”, laden with a dark, menacing tone, taps into a richly cinematic vein that is also evident in “Amid the Smoke and Different Questions”, in which Dolgushev uses his voice as another instrument. The album’s bookends, opener “The Harbinger” and the title-track, sum up the whole of the band’s musical approach, blending almost gloomy solemnity with elegant dance-like passages, showcasing the instruments’ flawless interplay and the band’s mastery of the art of buildup – both examples of stately yet ]mesmerizing 21st –century chamber music with only passing nods to the rock aesthetics.

An astonishing beautiful album that (rather uncharacteristically) drew me in right from the first listen, Not That City, as already hinted in the previous paragraphs, has much more in common with modern classical music than rock. Though certainly more accessible than most of the band’s previous incarnation’s output, it does require a good amount of concentration on the part of the listener, as well as an appreciation for the minimalistic, understated approach of chamber rock as compared to conventional prog’s tendency towards bombast. As far as I am concerned, this is one of the top releases of the year so far, and highly recommended to only to fans of the RIO/Avant scene, but also to all open-minded music lovers.

Links:
http://www.allmusic.com/album/not-that-city-mw0002529122

http://production.altrock.it/prod2.asp?lang=ita_&id=205&id2=207

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Windmaster (6:26)
2. Dorian Grey (4:27)
3. The Last Tribe (1:56)
4. Lydia in the Playground (5:20)
5. Unimpossible (7:47)
6. Tarde Demais (3:40)
7. Vintitreis (4:19)
8. Whereisit (5:11)
9. Sand Horses (4:07)
10. Chromaterius (3:42)

LINEUP:
Nelson Coelho – guitar
Jorge Pescara – touch guitars
Miguel Angel – drums

In the past few years, Leonardo Pavkovic’s Moonjune Records has become a go-to resource for fans of guitarists that eschew the tired antics of traditional “guitar heroes” to focus on creative, envelope-pushing playing put at the service of the  music. In the past few years, outstanding players from far-flung locales such as Indonesia have become part of  the Moonjune roster – with noteworthy releases such as Tohpati Bertiga’s Riot, Ligro’s Dictionary 2 and Dewa Budjana’s Dawai in Paradise. Brazilian power trio Dialeto  are the latest addition to the New York label, getting their first international release with their third album, The Last Tribe.

In the two years following the release of Chromatic Freedom, the São Paulo outfit, founded in the late Eighties and led by guitarist and composer Nelson Coelho, have replaced original bassist Andrei Ivanovic with touch guitarist Jorge Pescara – a change that has influenced their sound in a rather interesting way. While Chromatic Freedom featured a few songs with vocals, on The Last Tribe Dialeto have taken a completely instrumental direction, concentrating on compositions that blend King Crimson-style angular, asymmetrical patterns with heady Latin suggestions and fiery blues licks, occasionally with a keen metal-like edge. Though some reviewers have labeled them as jazz-fusion, the latter genre is only one of the ingredients of Dialeto’s heady brew. While technical virtuosity is definitely emphasized,  Dialeto’s musical offer exudes a surprising warmth and a pronounced sense of melody – which is not always the case with all-instrumental albums.

The introduction of touch guitars is the key to the subtle yet noticeable change in Dialeto’s sound on The Last Tribe, adding a sense of fullness and softening the rougher edges displayed on Chromatic Freedom. The versatility of the instrument – capable of producing dry, low-down bass lines as well as reverberating, keyboard-like sound waves – complements Coelho’s scintillating guitar exertions and Miguel Angel’s all-over-the-place drumming. Though not as heavy on the ambient component as Herd of Instinct (a band with a similar configuration and approach), Dialeto’s 2013 incarnation benefits from the synergy of touch and traditional guitar, which lends an intriguingly mysterious quality to its sound.

As already noticed on Chromatic Freedom, Coelho’s compositional style hinges on subtle yet recognizable variations on a theme, repeated with an almost hypnotic effect, creating a strong cohesion between The Last Tribe’s 10 tracks.  Running times are kept relatively short, packing a lot of content in those few minutes without putting too much strain on the listener’s attention span. The album as a whole runs at a very restrained 47 minutes, proving once again that, in the progressive rock realm, quality does not depend on quantity.

Opener “The Windmaster”sets the tone, with its clear-voiced guitar touched with a hint of Brazilian saudade; melody remains at the forefront even when the guitar turns a bit harsher and the  intensity increases. Similar in conception, “Dorian Grey” also introduces a haunting atmospheric note. The album hovers between low-key, mid-paced pieces such as the ballad-like “Lydia in the Playground” and the laid-back, Spanish-tinged “Tarde Demais”, spiced up by sudden flares of electricity in the shape of dense riffing and assertive drumming, and spiky, energy-laden ones )mostly concentrated in the album’s second half), descending directly from King Crimson circa Thrak and The Power to Believe.

The almost 8-minute, Brazilian-flavoured “Unimpossible”, which best illustrates the band’s modus operandi of building variations on a theme, and the exhilarating “Vintitreis” blend the soft and the hard side of Dialeto’s sound, Coelho’s guitar tone shifting from bright and sunny to razor-sharp, supported by Miguel Angel’s drum acrobatics; while “Whereisit”, “Sand Horses” and especially closing track “Chromaterius” kick the mood into high gear, with plenty of riffs and forceful drumming, the three main instruments interacting seamlessly in angular patterns only occasionally relieved by quieter moments. Finally, the steady drumbeat and brisk, dance-like pace of the short title-track convey the “tribal” element in the title.

Accompanied by amusingly weird cover artwork, The Last Tribe (mixed and mastered by fellow paulista Fabio Golfetti of Violeta de Outono, who has recently joined Gong) will not fail to appeal to lovers of instrumental progressive rock, especially those who set a great store by technically proficient yet soulful guitar playing rather than lightning-fast shredding. The album, which finally sees Nelson Coelho take his rightful place among other distinguished six-stringers on the Moonjune roster, such as Barry Cleveland, Dennis Rea and Michel Delville, is also warmly recommended to fans of King Crimson and its “trio” offshoots.

Links:
http://www.dialeto.org

http://www.moonjune.com/mjr_web_2013/catalog_mjr/054_DIALETO_The-Last-Tribe_MJR054/

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Detox Gruel (4:13)
2. Spanish Fly (5:19)
3. Yantra (8:04)
4. Frank Nuts (3:38)
5. Jungle Cow Part I (5:50)
6. Jungle Cow Part II (4:40)
7. Jungle Cow Part III (6:07)
8. Glass Cubes (8:30)
9. Wrong but Not False (5:28)
10. Flashlight Into Black Hole (3:05)
11. Stammtisch (5:59)

LINEUP:
Michel Delville – guitar, Roland GR-09
Antoine Guenet  – keyboards, vocals
Marti Melia – bass and tenor saxes, clarinet
François Lourtie – tenor, alto and soprano saxes, voice
Pierre Mottet – bass
Laurent Delchambre – drums, percussion, objects, samples

With:
Benoît Moerlen – marimba and electronic vibraphone (2, 3, 5-7, 11)
Susan Clynes – vocals (8)

After the release of Machine Mass Trio’s As Real As Thinking and douBt’s Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love in the past couple of years, guitarist extraordinaire Michel Delville returns with his  main band, all-Belgian combo The Wrong Object. Only Delville and drummer Laurent Delchambre remain from the lineup that released Stories from the Shed in 2008: the band has now become a sextet with the addition of four new members, including brilliant keyboardist Antoine Guenet, the leader of avant-metal-jazz outfit Sh.tg.n. (whose self-titled debut was released in 2012), who recently joined RIO/Avant icons Univers Zéro.

One of the most prolific artists signed to Moonjune Records, the label founded by Leonardo Pavkovic in 2001, Delville is an extremely talented guitarist and composer, with a genuinely progressive attitude and a strong commitment to creative music-making. Though The Wrong Object have been in existence for over 10 years, and enjoyed a thriving concert activity all over Europe (witnessed by two live albums, The Unbelievable Truth (recorded in 2005 with the late, great Elton Dean) and Platform One (recorded in 2007 with renowned British jazz musicians Annie Whitehead and Harry Beckett), their studio debut came relatively late with Stories From the Shed – an excellent album drawing on a wide range of sources of inspiration. However, the 5-year break has brought further refinement to the band’s sound, resulting in a quantum leap in terms of quality.

Although Delville is the undisputed band leader and main composer, it would be wrong to assume that The Wrong Object’s sound is dominated by guitar antics. In fact – very much in the way of his Moonjune label mate Dennis Rea of Moraine –  Delville’s presence is surprisingly discreet, often leaving the limelight to the band’s duo of saxophonists, Marti Melia and François Lourtie. Guenet’s keyboards flesh out the tune according to need, adding occasional melodic flourishes or energetic organ runs, while Laurent Delchambre’s versatile drumming and Pierre Mottet’s understated yet nimble bass lines provide a reliable foundation that keeps up effortlessly with the shifts in tempo and mood. Delville’s guitar anchors the album to the rock aesthetics, ramping up the electricity quotient even when keeping almost unobtrusively in the background. Renowned mallet percussionist Benoit Moerlen (of Gong/Gongzilla fame) guests on more than half of the tracks, adding the tinkling, cascading sound of his marimba and electronic vibraphone to the sonic texture.

Spread over nearly 60 minutes, the 11 tracks on After the Exhibition flow naturally in spite of their density. For all its eclecticism, the music is surprisingly cohesive and never comes across as contrived or overdone. Electric flare-ups coexist with intimate, subdued moments in an unpredictable and constantly exciting mix; at the same time, though, is also a more disciplined feel than in Delville’s two previous releases with douBt and Machine Mass Trio.

Opening with the shock tactics of the brisk, exhilarating “Detox Gruel”, propelled by raucous sax with dashes of organ and Delville’s slightly strident guitar, the album’s first half culminates with the unorthodox three-part “suite” of “Jungle Cow”. In over 16 minutes of music, the composition morphs from a collection of sparse, spacey sound effects into an intense sax-and-guitar duel. The 8-minute “Yantra” juxtaposes atmospheric lyricism and heady, almost free-form improvisation with blaring saxes and unleashed guitar, while the jaunty “Spanish Fly” is reminiscent of modern classical composers such as Bartok or Stravinsky, as well as jazz and Middle Eastern music..

The album’s second half is introduced by the jaw-droppingly beautiful “Glass Cubes” interpreted by the elegantly expressive voice of Belgian singer/songwriter Susan Clynes (compared by some to modern jazz icon Annette Peacock), complemented by Guenet’s gorgeous piano and backing vocals – a stylish, magical slice of 21st-century Canterbury sound that hints at the best moments of Hatfield and the North and Soft Machine. The final three numbers feel like an ideal continuation of the mood set by “Glass Cubes”, with definite Canterbury undertones in the sprightly, catchy “Wrong but Not False” and the invigorating, funk-tinged “Flashlight Into Black Hole”, where Pierre Mottet’s bass comes into its own. Wrapping up the album in style, the romantic, Old-World flavour and elegant waltz-like pace of “Stammtisch”, conducted like a conversation between guitar, piano and sax, is briefly interrupted by the instruments interacting chaotically, then calm returns for a slo-mo finale.

With its perfectly balanced running time, After the Exhibition is a true rollercoaster ride of dazzling musicianship coupled with sophisticated flair for melody that tempers and softens the bristling intensity of the album’s more electrifying parts.  Even if the avant-garde component is not as strongly spotlighted as in their previous effort, RIO/Avant fans will find a lot to appreciate in the album, as will lovers of the Canterbury scene, classic jazz-rock, and even psychedelic/space rock. On the other hand, the sheer beauty of “Glass Cubes” might win over those who are more attached to prog’s traditional extended-song format. Highly recommended to everyone, After the Exhibition is an exercise in pure class, and will certainly grace many a “best of 2013” list.

Links:
http://www.wrongobject.com/

http://www.moonjune.com/mjr_web_2013/catalog_mjr/055_THE-WRONG-OBJECT_After-The-Exhibition_MJR055/

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Though I have often commented on the sorry state of the progressive rock concert scene in the US (with particular reference to NEARfest’s untimely demise), 2013 has been a much more positive year than the previous two, and has brought unexpectedly good news. With the possible exception of ROSfest, which draws hundreds of attendees every year  (even if it has never enjoyed NEARfest’s instant sell-outs), festivals held in 1000-seater theaters seem to have become a thing of the past, as proved by the failure of a couple of attempts to organize events on a similar scale. However, some people who are well aware of the importance of live performances to keep non-mainstream music alive have not been deterred by those failures, and have taken the plunge. Adopting the model that has allowed ProgDay to survive without interruption for 18 years by being able to count on a core of loyal supporters, they have scaled things down, choosing smaller, less pretentious venues, and giving preference to mostly homegrown acts instead of relying on “big names” to attract a larger number of attendees.

Seaprog, which took place in Seattle on the last weekend of June 2013, proved that a smaller-scale event can be reasonably successful, even in a location not generally known as a “prog hub”. Less than one month ago, the year’s second “mini-festival” was announced by the group of volunteers and dedicated prog fans (affectionately nicknamed “staph”) behind the NJ Proghouse, a venture started by James Robinson in central New Jersey, back in 1999. In its various incarnations, the organization has been hosting high-quality progressive rock shows in different venues for the past 15 years, building a dedicated following in that densely-populated region of the US East Coast, and offering concert opportunities to both established and up-and-coming bands.

The two-day festival – named NJ Proghouse’s Homecoming Weekend – intends to celebrate the organization’s 15th anniversary with a top-notch selection of Proghouse alumni. It will be hosted by Roxy and Duke’s Roadhouse in Dunellen (NJ), which has been the group’s venue of choice for the past year or so, on the weekend of October 12 and 13, 2013. Eight bands will take turns on the stage, four per day, starting at 12.30 p.m. Single-day tickets and weekend passes (as well as other relevant information) are available from the organization’s website in the link below.

With the sole exception of Sunday headliners, Swedish outfit Beardfish (a firm favourite of the US prog audience), the bands invited to perform at the event are all based in the US, most of them hailing from the New York/New Jersey area. Vocalist/composer Tammy Scheffer (originally from Belgium, but currently residing in NYC) and her band Morning Bound have been drafted in to replace Oblivion Sun, who had to pull out because of scheduling conflicts. Together with young but already established bands such as The Tea Club, Thank You Scientist (who are also on the ProgDay lineup) and Chicago hotshots District 97, and Saturday headliners IZZ, the festival will also offer the return to the stage of two local glories: renowned jazz-rock band Frogg Café after a six-year hiatus, and Advent, who are putting the finishing touches to their long-awaited third album.

While neither Seaprog nor the Homecoming Weekend may fill the gap left by NEARfest for those who expect a festival to be a showcase of “bucket list” bands and artists, it is heartening to see that some US prog fans are willing to follow the example set by the UK and continental Europe by going the “small is beautiful” route. Even if the music world has changed dramatically in the past couple of decades, no amount of albums recorded with the most sophisticated techniques will ever replace the experience of a live concert – neither for the fans nor for the artists.

Links:
http://www.njproghouse.com/2013/06/13/nj-proghouse-homecoming-weekend-october-12th-and-13th-2013/

http://www.roxyanddukes.com/

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