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Archive for September, 2013

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Toz (9:25)
2. Intermud (2:59)
3. Dunb (8:57)
4. Bùmlo (5:34)
5. Mlùez (6:16)
6. Ïh (8:18)

LINEUP:
Captain Flapattak – drums, vocals
Fabien De Kerbalek – guitar, vocals
Brhüno – tenor/soprano saxophones, bassoon, vocals
Thybo – guitar
Sam – alto/baritone saxophones, alto clarinet, flute, vocals
Damoon – bass, vocals (1-3)
Sir Alron – bass, vocals (4-6)
Marhïon Mouette – vocals, percussion (1-3)
Emilie Massue – vocals, percussion (4-6)

With the Ensemble Pantagrulair (1-3):
Séverine – flute, piccolo
Rémi – oboe
Catherine – clarinet
Pierre – horn

Even if, at first, their name may ring a bell with the many fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work (Rhûn means “East” in one of his invented languages), French outfit Rhùn are firmly entrenched in the Zeuhl tradition initiated by their fellow countrymen Magma in the late Sixties. The subtitle “Fanfare du Chaos” proudly emblazoned on the cover of their full-length debut album, Ïh, should leave no doubts as to the contents of the disc itself and its potential to appeal to the more adventurous fringes of the progressive rock audience.

The band – based in the northern French region of Normandy – revolves around the figure of drummer/vocalist Captain Flapattak, flanked by a group of other musicians who, like him, go for the most part by pseudonyms in the style of early Gong. Though very little is available in the way of a biography, from their social media presence it can be inferred that Rhùn have enjoyed a lively concert activity in the past few years. After a three-song demo released in 2008, their first proper recording effort – an EP also titled Ïh (like one of the tracks on the demo)came at the end of 2012. Both of these recordings have been remastered by AltrOck Productions stalwart Udi Koomran and released in CD format by the Milan-based label in the early summer of 2013 – allowing the listener to trace the band’s development from a more rough-edged sound to longer, more elaborate compositions. Besides Captain Flapattak, Fabien de Kerbalek and Thybo (guitars, vocals), Brhüno (sax, bassoon, vocals) and Sam (sax, clarinet, vocals) appear on all the songs on the CD, while other members of this rather eclectic configuration have changed in the intervening years. At present, the band is a six-piece that also includes Damoon (bass, vocals); a reed quartet called Ensemble Pantagrulair also appears on the EP tracks.

The 9-minute “Toz” opens the album with a fair sonic rendition of that “fanfare of chaos” subtitle – a burst of horns, drums and vocals like a less melodic version of Magma, with hints of fellow French outfit Jack Dupon in the extravagantly theatrical vocals. The track develops as a veritable rollercoaster ride, reminiscent of Üdü Wüdü-era Magma – driven by powerful, martial bass and drums, and throwing in Hendrixian guitar solos, massed male-female choirs, majestic horns, carnival tunes and much more, with rare moments of respite. After this rather demanding listening experience, the short classical intermezzo of “Intermud” – with flute and oboe conversing discreetly in a Debussy-like piece – comes as a welcome surprise, though things change sharply once again when the insistent, hypnotic choir of “Dunb” kicks in. Alternating subdued, atmospheric passages with frantic bouts of dissonance, the track pushes Damoon’s thundering bass to the forefront, culminating in a fierce, almost operatic crescendo.

As can be expected, the two parts of the album (which runs barely over 40 minutes) differ quite noticeably. The three demo tracks also show a clear Gong influence – immediately suggested by the wacky, atonal female vocals and blaring saxes in “Bùmlo”– and a raw, almost unscripted quality. Captain Flapattak’s drum take the lead role in “Mlùez”, which combines a laid-back, jazzy allure with a smattering of RIO/Avant angularity; while the title-track veers into free-jazz territory, with low-key, psychedelic moments balancing out the dissonance. As a whole, the second half lacks the orchestral quality of the EP tracks, though the Magma influence is not as overwhelming.

Obviously, Ïh is not the kind of album that is going to convert those who find Zeuhl unpalatable, while lovers of this most idiosyncratic of prog subgenres will find a lot to appreciate in the album – including the stylish photography featured in the CD booklet. As pointed out in the previous paragraphs, the frequent lack of melody (at least in a conventional sense) may put off some listeners, and the compositional aspect might be improved upon, especially as regards cohesiveness. While Rhùn’s interpretation of Zeuhl is definitely more old-school than that of a band like Corima, and more dependent on the Magma influence, the band has still a lot of margin to develop a more personal approach.

Links:
https://myspace.com/rhundesfoins

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Rh%C3%B9n/348653246789

http://www.altrock.it

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Grip It (5:50)
2. Gillz (6:37)
3. Whopner (6:13)
4. Drumbeaux (8:36)
5. Quirk (4:09)
6. BHP (6:03)
7. Meltdown (4:57)
8. Tocino (4:25)
9. I’m Calm Now (6:49)

LINEUP:
John Ziegler –  guitar
Lance Morrison – bass
Danny Carey – drums
Jeff Babko – keyboards

Though their name might not be familiar to many progressive rock fans, Volto! have been around since the start of the new century. Formed by drummer extraordinaire Danny Carey (of Tool fame) together with guitarist John Ziegler,  his former bandmate in Pigmy Love Circus, and session bassist Lance Morrison (who is also a member of Don Henley’s touring band), they started out as a cover band, playing live in the Los Angeles area whenever it was possible for them to get together. A few years later, they ventured into writing and performing  their own material. The next logical step was to head into Carey’s home studio to record their debut album, enlisting the services of veteran session keyboardist Jeff Babko and engineer Joe Barresi (who worked on Tool’s most recent album, 10,000 Days). Incitare was released in August 2013, coinciding with Volto!’s appearance at Yestival in Camden (NJ), alongside Yes, Renaissance, Carl Palmer Band and Sound of Contact.

Anyone who approaches Incitare hoping for some Tool-related music to fill the long wait for the cult quartet’s next album is bound to be disappointed, because Volto!’s debut shares very little (if anything) with Tool’s intense, esoteric sound. In spite of its high-sounding Latin title (“to drive/encourage”), the album is full of the genuine pleasure of playing music, as reflected by the humorous, cartoon-inspired black-and-white cover artwork. While the impressive résumé of the band members might lead some listeners to expect a triumph of style over substance, Incitare comes across as surprisingly easy on the ear. The music possesses a natural flow that is not always associated with such an amount of technical skill: it is exhilarating, energetic and often quite heavy, but never used as a showcase for pointless fireworks, and also unexpectedly melodic.

That being said, Incitare does not lay any claim to being innovative – rooted as it is in the classic jazz-rock tradition of the Seventies, with just a touch of contemporary flair to spice things up. The prominent role of drums and guitar and their seamless, scintillating interplay evoke Billy Cobham’s collaboration with Tommy Bolin on the seminal Spectrum album, or Mahavishnu Orchestra circa Birds of Fire; on the other hand, Jeff Babko’s bold keyboard work hints at some modern-day heavy fusion outfits such as Derek Sherinian’s Planet X (as well as his solo work).

These comparisons immediately spring to mind as “Grip It” opens the album, its fiery, relentless guitar riffs and keyboards backed by Carey’s pyrotechnic drumming; the pace slows down towards the middle, with Ziegler delivering a clear, piercingly melodic solo before things heat up again. The next two tracks showcase the band’s skillful handling of contrasts between dynamic urgency and more laid-back moments. Electric piano lends its unmistakable touch to the intriguing structure of “Gillz”: in the first part, the instruments apparently play at odds but manage to keep a sense of cohesion, while the pace quickens in the finale, driven by lively drums and heavy riffing. “Whopner” is pervaded by a mysterious atmosphere, with faraway-sounding guitar and an almost military drumbeat; then organ takes the lead and drums gain momentum. As hinted in the title, “Drumbeaux” – at over 8 minutes the longest track on the album – spotlights Carrey’s celebrated skills, its central section dedicated to a drum solo that does not overstay its welcome, bookended by spacey, riff-heavy ensemble playing.

Airy and melodic, “Quirk” brings back again echoes of Cobham’s Spectrum, with guitar and electric piano indulging in an elegant duet; while “BHP” barges in with a funky swagger and a barrage of crunching riffs, underpinned by spacey electronics and Carey’s spectacular drumming, then turns subdued, almost romantic in the middle, displaying the band’s ability to shift gears in seemingly effortless fashion. The aptly titled “Meltdown” sees the band dabble with all sorts of electronic effects, while Carey lets rip on his kit, apparently having the time of his life; then the sleek, bass-driven ride of “Tocino” brings things back to normal, with Lance Morrison finally stepping into the limelight and elegant piano flurries enhancing the brisk pace of the track. The album closes on a high note with the power-ballad-meets-vintage-fusion of “I’m Calm Now” – Ziegler’s slow-burning lead reminiscent of Jeff Beck or Gary Moore (especially in his Colosseum II days), then leaving the stage to Babko’s eerily reverberating electric piano and moody, understated synth.

Besides its obvious appeal for fans of impeccably played classic jazz-rock/fusion (especially those who are not averse to a bit of heaviness), Incitare is also a very cohesive piece of work, and avoids the temptation of sprawling, overlong compositions. It also celebrates the joy of playing music at a very high level of proficiency without hitting the listener over the head with one’s chops. In these times of studio-only projects, often conducted over the Internet without any physical contact between the musician, it is heartwarming to see an album that has its origins in live performance – an excellent example of instrumental music that sounds fresh and engaging without pretending to reinvent the wheel.

Links:
http://www.voltoband.com/

http://www.concordmusicgroup.com

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TRACKLISTING:
1. La Città di Dite (6:46)
2. Sensitività (12:22)
3. Tenue (3:31)
4. Chiusa 1915 (7:04)
5. Tensegrità (7:18)
6. Pauvre Misère (7:49)
7. La Temperanza (10:38)

LINEUP:
Stefano Agnini – solina, synthorchestra, analog synths
Alessio Calandriello- vocals
Gabriele Guidi Colombi –  bass
Andrea Orlando – drums, percussion
Davide Serpico – acoustic, electric and classical guitar
Luca Scherani – piano, analog synths, mellotron, accordion, bouzouki

With:
Joanne Roan – flute
Sylvia Trabucco – violin
Melissa Del Lucchese – cello
Rossano Villa – mellotron

After the positive reception of their 2011 self-titled debut album, La Coscienza di Zeno’s sophomore effort, Sensitività, brings quite a few relevant changes to the Genoese band’s status. Keyboardist/lyricist Stefano Agnini, who had left the band prior to the first album’s release, is back in the fold, flanked by second keyboardist Luca Scherani of Höstsonaten fame (who had guested on the debut). The band have also joined the growing Fading Records roster – that subsection of AltrOck Productions dedicated to artists that reinterpret classic progressive rock in a fresh, contemporary key.

Sensitività, released in the early summer of 2013, and premiered at the AltrOck/Fading Festival, shares some features with the band’s previous effort, but is also in some ways rather different. While the number of tracks (seven altogether) has remained unchanged, and the album’s running time is only slightly shorter, La Coscienza di Zeno have decided to dispense with instrumental tracks, so that each of the songs provides a showcase for  Alessio Calandriello’s magnificent vocals, perfectly complemented by Stefano Agnini’s highly literate lyrics – a cut above the average of most prog bands. Alessio’s astounding pipes and crystal-clear enunciation anchor the words to the music, making his performance a delight even for those who do not understand a word of Italian. The eminently musical quality of the language itself does the rest, keeping the listener spellbound. Indeed, Calandriello truly shines when singing in his native language: as great as he is on Not A Good Sign’s debut album, English does not sound like a natural fit for his voice.

With two keyboardists – following in the footsteps of Banco del Mutuo Soccorso (one of the biggest influences on the band’s sound) – La Coscienza di Zeno’s sound is lush and melodic, but without any concessions to saccharine sweetness. The unmistakable (and occasionally a bit overpowering) whistle of the synthesizer is offset by gorgeously beautiful piano, while the ever-present mellotron confers the music a well-rounded, orchestral quality. Davide Serpico’s guitar is a discreet but indispensable complement to the keyboards, at times injecting some well-needed edge and beefing up the dazzling work of Gabriele Guidi Colombi and Andrea Orlando’s rhythm section. The latter’s drumming is the real driving force behind the album – in turns dramatic, powerful and understated according to need.

Each of the seven songs on the album – mostly between 6 and 12 minutes in length – can be seen as a vignette, illustrated by the stunning photography that accompanies each set of lyrics. With the exception of the short, subdued ballad “Tenue”, which aptly conveys its title (“faint, subtle”) through Scherani’s piano and Calandriello’s somber vocals, the remaining six tracks are packed with twists and turns, combining exquisite, almost catchy melodies with dazzling instrumental prowess that, however, never feels contrived or done just for its own sake. The elegant, classically-inspired piano intro to “La Città di Dite” lulls the listener into a false sense of security before moog and vocals suddenly barge in, intense and theatrical in the best classic RPI tradition – alternating majestic, riff-laden passages with gentler ones, all dominated by Calandriello’s impassioned but dignified vocals. In the title-track – one of two “epic” tracks over 10 minutes – the accordion adds a nostalgic, folksy tinge, while jazzy overtones lurk behind the powerfully melodic vocals and exhilarating keyboard runs.

“Chiusa 1915” – told from the point of view of Russian prisoners working in the construction of the railway line in north-eastern Italy during World War I – is suitably wistful, though the military tone of the drums and synth at the beginning hint at the subject matter; while “Tensegrità” (a term taken from Carlos Castaneda’s work about shamanic rites) hovers between restraint and buoyancy, with a distinct Italian feel conveyed by Calandriello’s intense vocal interpretation and the lush keyboard layers. The duo of songs that close the album blend different influences in a richly arranged tapestry. The dramatic, waltz-like “Pauvre Misère” sees Orlandi’s drums and Scherani’s piano in the starring role, merging hints of vintage Genesis and ELP with its uniquely Italian flavour; while “La Temperanza” – introduced by a splendid piano-led intro accented by flute and strings – boasts of a dense texture in which every instrument (including Calandriello’s voice) gets its chance to shine, all the while contributing to the fabric of the composition, creating a haunting Old-World atmosphere with the stately pace of a traditional waltz.

Lavishly packaged in Paolo Ske Botta’s sophisticated artwork (carefully composed, sepia-tinted still-life photographs that will delight lovers of everything vintage), while sounding thoroughly modern thanks to Udi Koomran’s priceless mastering work, Sensitività is also firmly rooted in the great Italian prog tradition of the Seventies. Although, as I previously hinted, at times the synth sounds may be a bit too reminiscent of neo-prog modes, the Italian flair for exquisite melodies and dramatic yet remarkably un-cheesy atmospheres shines through the album, and makes it essential listening for any self-respecting RPI fan. A supremely classy work, Sensitività is a grower, and even fans of more left-field fare may find a lot to appreciate in it. The band have also announced the intention of publishing English translations of the lyrics, so that non-Italian speakers will also be able to share in the experience of connecting the words to the music.

Links:
http://www.allmusic.com/artist/la-coscienza-di-zeno-mn0003137199

https://www.facebook.com/pages/La-Coscienza-di-Zeno-CDZ/145847225475623

http://www.altrock.it

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In spite of the brutal heat and humidity that marred last year’s edition, ProgDay had got us so well and truly hooked that we had started counting the days a good three months before this year’s event. The morning of Friday, August 29 saw us head south to North Carolina for the fourth time in as many years to attend the festival’s 19th consecutive edition – a true feat considering the fickle and finicky nature of the US prog audience. Over the years, ProgDay has built a loyal fanbase that, while never reaching the size of the audiences that have attended other prog festivals, has never failed to deliver quality-wise, and constantly attracted new attendees. Indeed, ProgDay XIX brought quite a few new faces to the green, tree-ringed sward of Storybook Farm, and a new batch of people won over by an event that, while unpretentious almost by definition, has become the ideal showcase for all kinds of challenging music.

After an uneventful car ride from our Northern Virginia home, we reached the hotel in time for lunch, followed by some well-needed rest. Then it was time for us to reconnect with the many friends we have made through our mutual love of music. This year was made even more special by the presence of some people we had not yet managed to meet in person, though we already considered them good friends.

As a complement to the main event, the Labor Day weekend also offered two “pre-show” gigs at Chapel Hill’s Local 506, all involving ProgDay alumni: Half Past Four, Dreadnaught and 3RDegree on Friday, Mörglbl on Sunday. Unfortunately, Canadian quintet Half Past Four had were stopped at the border and had to be replaced by outstanding Chapman Stick specialist Rob Martino. Since the Friday night show promised to go on until late, and we wanted to be in good shape for the following day, we decided to have dinner and then get a good night’s sleep.

While not as unrelentingly hot and humid as last year, the weekend weather was still typical of North Carolina at the tail end of summer, with high levels of humidity throughout the day. When we got to the Farm on Saturday morning, the grass was drenched with dew, and some early attendees were pitching their tents and canopies on the field. A cool early morning breeze tempered the intense humidity and brought the relief of some occasional clouds, but the strength of the sun already promised to make things somewhat uncomfortable later in the day. We hung out with various friends, browsed the CD stands, then sat down and waited for the first band to come on the stage.

As some rescheduling had been necessary on the part of the organizers, the festival was inaugurated by the band that had been announced last, a mere couple of weeks ago. Though Mavara (meaning “beyond everything you think”) hail originally from Iran (their only non-Iranian member being drummer Jim Welch), they have been living in the US for some time – for reasons that are not hard to fathom for anyone who knows the situation of that history-laden part of the world. Led by keyboardist Farhood Ghadiri, they enjoyed widespread success in their home country before circumstances forced them to move to the US, where they currently reside in the New England region. Having heard a few samples on the ProgDay website, I knew their music was probably not going to be my cup of tea; I am experienced enough to know that the stage can transform any kind of music into something different. Though obviously a bit nervous when they first took to the stage, they gradually warmed up and became more communicative, though a certain stiffness remained throughout their set. With two keyboardists (Ghadiri and a young woman, petite blonde Anis Oveisi), their sound was heavily skewed towards 80’s Rush (especially circa Power Windows), Porcupine Tree and Pink Floyd (the latter especially in the lead guitar parts), as well as a touch of early Dream Theater. Lead vocalist Ashkan Hamedi belted out the songs out with impressive power and confidence coupled to a strong sense of melody that suited the music well. Though Mavara are by far one of the most “mainstream” bands I have seen on the PD stage, their music – while somewhat generic –  has the potential to appeal to a lot of people, and they seemed to be well received by the crowd. Moreover, they certainly deserve a shot in the limelight after all they have been through – especially being away from their native country, and living in a place that is not always welcoming to outsiders (a situation I know all too well).

The contrast between the first and the second band on the Saturday bill could not have been greater, as around lunchtime French Canadian Avant-Prog veterans Miriodor proceeded to take no prisoners as soon as they got on stage. One of the most eagerly anticipated acts on the lineup – particularly by those who (like us) had witnessed their career-defining show at the DC French Embassy in 2010, the band were now down to a quartet, with founding members Remi Leclerc and Pascal Globensky and longtime guitarist Bernard Falaise very recently joined by bassist Nicolas Lessard. The increasing humidity notwithstanding, the scholarly-looking quartet of soft-spoken gentlemen delivered a blinder of a set, often sweepingly atmospheric and laced with eerie electronic effects, but consistently full of outstanding beauty. Though all the instruments sounded pristine, I found Remi Leclerc’s drumming especially riveting, setting  an effortlessly flowing pace and lending the music a natural rhythm that belied its complexity. Falaise’s guitar displayed a finely honed edge, while Globensky’s keyboards contributed an aura of mystery. Besides some tracks from their marvelous 2009 album Avanti!, Miriodor regaled the audience with some new material, taken from their soon-to-be-officially-released album Cobra Fakir. Like everything else, the new tracks – though somewhat darker , with a slight Gothic undertone – possess the kind of effortless grace and calm intensity that has made Miriodor a byword for stellar quality on the progressive rock scene – balancing quiet and loud moments with seamless perfection, and maintaining a keen sense of melody even when treading on more experimental territory. The band’s professional yet unassuming attitude was also reflected in their gentle sense of humour.

With such a tough act to follow, the organizers proved once again their brilliance when they scheduled Los Angeles-based multinational quintet Corima for the third slot of the day. Even if I was already familiar with their second album, Quetzalcoatl (released by French label Soleil Zeuhl), I was not prepared for such a relentless sonic assault. A blast of sound during the soundcheck provided a taste of things to come, as the young, black-clad band members proceeded to tear up the stage during their performance. As my husband put it, you got exhausted just watching them bounce up and down with an irrepressible energy starkly at odds with the usually staid mien of many mainstream prog bands. Fronted by the diminutive dynamo Andrea Itzpapalotl on vocals and violin, Corima are clearly influenced by Magma, and might also remind the listener of a more melodic version of Koenjihyakkei (incidentally, the bassist and saxophonist are of Japanese descent), but infused with the manic energy of West Coast punk and the aggression of metal. Occasional moments of respite – such as a serene, classically-influenced piano solo – dotted this 70-minute adrenalin rush, characterized by a form of deliberate repetitiveness that built up a hypnotic crescendo of intensity, driven by drummer Sergio Sanchez-Revelo’s insane polyrhythms and Patrick Shiroishi’s blaring sax. Needless to say, they did not suffer one bit from having to follow Miriodor’s immaculate set, because their music was so different. Even people who generally do not care for Zeuhl or anything too cutting-edge were won over by Corima’s show – though I could very well visualize people running for the exits in an indoor setting.

After such a one-two punch, Saturday headliners and big East Coast favourites Oblivion Sun provided a definite change of pace. The quartet, founded by former Happy The Man members Frank Wyatt and Stanley Whitaker in the early 2000’s, had already appeared at ProgDay in 2007, and I had witnessed their performance at the 2009 edition of NEARfest. Frank Wyatt’s wrist injury had forced them to cancel a few live appearances in the past few months, but the keyboardist/reedist was in fine form for this special occasion. Just like I had in 2009, I found their music very melodic and pleasing to the ear, as well as impeccably executed, though as a whole hard to truly connect to. The four members of the band – Whitaker, Wyatt, drummer Bill Brasso and new bassist David Hughes – handled their instruments with seasoned proficiency, and their music  flowed smoothly – perhaps even too much so. Some of their material had a folksy ring, while some heavier undertones occasionally cropped up. The warm rapport the band has built over the years with its loyal following showed in the jokes about the notorious “Cruise the Edge” floating prog festival, as well as in Wyatt’s moving dedication of a song to his wife for her birthday. Unfortunately, while I liked the instrumentals at the beginning of their set, when vocals made their appearance I started losing interest, and halfway through their set the 8-hour exposure to heat and humidity had finally got to both of us, so we decided to head back to the hotel for some rest before dinnertime.

After a refreshing night’s sleep and leisurely breakfast, we headed back to the field for another day of music and good company. Because of the cool breeze blowing from the trees, the heat and humidity felt less oppressive than they had on the previous day, and I was able to enjoy what promised to be a consistently great lineup. However, we were yet unaware of being in for some weather-related excitement later during the day.

At 10.30 a.m., right on schedule, youthful South Jersey six-piece Out of the Beardspace took to the stage. A bit of an unknown quantity for the mainstream prog audience, the band have already earned their stripes through a brisk concert activity in their home region, and have recently released their third, self-titled CD. Earlier this year, in the month of May, they even hosted their own festival (named Beardfest), which featured ProgDay alumni The Tea Club and Consider The Source, as well as the band that would follow them on the Storybook Farm stage, Thank You Scientist. With their emphasis on environmental awareness and community enrichment, their very informal, laid-back appearance (some band members were playing barefoot) and sprawling, eclectic approach to music, they bridged the gap between jam bands such as Umphrey’s McGee and progressive rock proper. Guitar and keyboards were well in evidence, supported by a powerful rhythm section, and exuding a vintage psychedelic vibe with a keen edge, and some intriguing funky and jazzy elements. While bassist Kevin Savo’s vocals – best described as a male version of Björk –  might be called an acquired taste, they also blended very effectively with the music. Though not as manic as Corima, the energy and enthusiasm of each member was hard to miss, and their stage presence, with its modern hippy vibe, endeared them to the audience as much as their genre-bending sound. Though I felt their instrumental pieces were more interesting than the ones with vocals, they are a band I would definitely not mind seeing again, as they put up a very entertaining show and obviously enjoy themselves immensely on stage.

Thank You Scientist had already wowed audiences in the North-East Corridor with their energetic performance of the past month or so with fellow New Jerseyans The Tea Club, and had already created a lot of expectations in the attendees thanks to the strength their debut full-length album, Maps of Non-Existent Places (which boasts of some of the finest artwork I have seen in the past few years). With a seven-piece configuration – including saxophone, trumpet and violin as well as the traditional rock instruments – the young, hyperactive band crowded the stage, their boundless supply of energy matching that already displayed by Corima and Out of the Beardspace. Fronted by the charismatic Sal Marrano, sporting mirrored shades and a jaunty beach hat, Thank You Scientist are unashamedly modern in their approach to progressive rock, coming across as a more melodic, less rambling version of The Mars Volta – or, if you prefer, a much heavier, beefed-up Steely Dan. Marrano’s high-pitched but well-modulated voice, in particular, often sounded very much like Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s, albeit not as potentially abrasive. Propelled by irresistibly funky. Latin-infused rhythms (courtesy of unstoppable drummer Odin Alvarez and bassist Greg Colacino) coupled with punk-inspired intensity, a bit of a metal edge and jazzy horns, the band’s sound is complex but never contrived, and genuinely exhilarating. With the right promotion, they could very well break into the mainstream in the same way as The Mars Volta did in the early 2000’s, appealing to the younger generations as well as to more open-minded old-timers. Obviously, there were people in the audience who pompously declared that Thank You Scientist were “not a prog band”, but those naysayers were more than balanced out by those who thoroughly enjoyed the band’s set – wrapped up by an irresistible cover of The Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus”, which was a big hit with everyone.

In the hottest hour of the day, my personal most-awaited band of the weekend – unlikely Texans Herd of Instinct – took to the stage, introduced by ominous recorded voices. The band members, with old friend and collaborator Mike McGary replacing Djam Karet’s Gayle Ellett on keyboards, were  perceivably tense (probably scared by some of the horror stories heard about the prog audience), and that impacted their stage presence to the point that they occasionally came across as standoffish. Drummer and official spokesperson Jason Spradlin, a striking figure with his long, flowing dark hair, had chosen to use his own electronic drum kit rather than an acoustic one – a choice that, while puzzling for part of the audience, lent an eerily mechanical dimension to the music which complemented it unexpectedly well. As a supporter of the band from the time I heard their debut album, I wanted them to make a good impression, and the quantity of CDs sold at their merch table certainly bore witness to the fact that the majority of the audience appreciated their set, even if they were somewhat thrown off by the almost complete lack of stage banter and the abrupt ending of the songs (as well as the oddly muffled quality of the sound). Their music, however – though better suited to the twilight hour than the bright light of an early September afternoon – spoke for itself. Mark Cook’s Warr guitar’s eerie wail intersected and meshed with Mike Davison’s Fender Stratocaster and McGary’s discreet keyboards, driven by the engine of Spradlin’s drumming. Powerful and mesmerizing – and described by a friend as a cross between King Crimson and Tangerine Dream – Herd of Instinct’s sound is unique, its cinematic quality emphasized in their rendition of the theme from John Carpenter’s Halloween (a couple of months early on the actual date), as well as in their cover of Radiohead’s “National Anthem”. They also performed some material from Spradlin and Cook’s previous band, 99 Names of God. As a whole, I found that the live dimension enhanced their music immensely, and appreciated the subtle variations they brought to the material from their two studio albums. However, in spite of their years of experience of playing live on their home turf, they need to work on their stagecraft in order to develop their full potential and allow their music to come truly alive.

Headliners simakDialog’s long-overdue set was the weekend’s most highly-awaited performance – as the Indonesian outfit’s plans to play in the US were foiled twice in as many years. Their set started half an hour early, in a very informal way – perfectly suited to their laid-back, yet extremely proficient music –  and the plan was to let them play for about two hours, providing a soundtrack for the late hours of the afternoon, when the temperature goes down together with the sun and people kick back to enjoy the breeze. Unfortunately, said breeze quickly turned into a brisk wind, and the massed dark clouds brought a downpour that had people scrambling for cover in a hurry. The band – used to this kind of weather in their tropical homeland – were at first unfazed, and continued to play in their unhurried, supremely elegant East-meets-West take on classic jazz-rock – characterized by the use of twin Sundanese kendang drums instead of a traditional drum kit, blending perfectly with Riza Arshad’s fluid electric piano and Tohpati’s understatedly brilliant guitar. However, nature had different plans, and a second spate of wind and rain put an abrupt end to the show, which had lasted about an hour when the band and stage crew finally decided to call it quits. Thankfully, this time simakDialog have a full set of East Coast dates planned, and many of the attendees will be able to catch them in an indoor setting in the days following the festival.

Finally, the weather allowed the attendees to pack up their gear, and everyone headed back to the hotel for dinner and the subsequent “non-pool” (for the second year in a row) party, held in one of the hotel’s meeting rooms, with plenty of drinking and merriment on offer before bedtime. Then, on the following day, it was time to say goodbye to our friends – not without some sadness – and head north and back to real life after three days in paradise.

Like last year, 2013 seems to have brought an almost record attendance to ProgDay, which bodes very well for the festival’s 20th anniversary (whose planning is already under way). Interestingly, with the exception of Mavara and Oblivion Sun, none of the bands that performed at Storybook Farm on the past Labor Day weekend can be labeled as prog in a conventional sense – which, as I have already stated on previous occasions, proves the forward-thinking strategy of the organizers as regards the choice of performers. The presence of three young, up-and-coming US bands also brought some new blood to the field (as it also was the case in 2012), together with the hope that progressive music may soon start to gain a broader appeal and escape the confines of its aging niche audience.

As usual, at the end of my review I would like to thank all of the people involved in the organization of the festival, especially all those who volunteered time, money and energy in order to ensure the success of the event. Of all the wonderful people we met over the weekend, a special thought goes to some very special people whose friendship means a lot to me, even if we cannot meet in person on a regular basis. Even if this year I have decided not to mention any names, you know who you are. Thank you for a wonderful time, and hope to see you again very soon!

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Culturismo Ballo Organizzare (5.50)
2. ΔU (1:53)
3. Dj Psicosi (3:49)
4. Preparazione Bomba H (3:13)
5. Sintagma (1:09)
6. JessicaLaura (3:18)
7. (che ne sai tu di un) Cerchio nel Grano (3:49)
8. Rifondazione Unghie (3:18)
9. Ballata dell’amore stocastico (3:16)
10. χΦ (1:30)
11. Nabucco Chiappe d’Oro (4:14)
12. Il Papa buono (2:52)
13. Accidenti (0:24)
14. Centoquarantaduemilaottocentocinquantasette (2:06)
15. Profiterol (1:29)
16. Estate 216 solszt (1:24)
17. Puk 10 (2:25)
18. Il Contrario di Tutto (2:21)

LINEUP:
Dario D’Alessandro – guitar, vocals, keyboards, glockenspiel, percussion
Davide Di Giovanni – piano, organ, MS10, drums, bass, acoustic guitar, vocals
Daniele Di Giovanni – drums, percussion, acoustic guitar, vocals
Domenico Salamone – bass
Federico Cardaci – minimoog, memotron, organ
Dario Lo Cicero – flutes, wind controller
Mauro Turdo – additional guitar (1)

With
:
Paolo Ske Botta: synthesizers, organ, electronics, glockenspiel
Giovanni Di Martino – Microkorg (3)
Totò Puleo – trumpet (3)

With its high-sounding title – taken straight from the realms of philosophy –  Homunculus Res’ debut might initially give the impression of yet another stereotypically pretentious “conventional” prog opus. However, a closer look at the distinctive cover artwork depicting a mushroom-sprouting human head next to a tiny gnome in a pointed red hat should readily clue the listener in on the album’s true nature.

Hailing from the Palermo, Sicily, the band – one of the newest recruits of the thriving AltrOck Productions stable –  is a loose configuration of musicians revolving around multi-instrumentalist and main songwriter Dario D’Alessandro. If the triangular island in the southern Mediterranean sounds like an unlikely birthplace for a progressive rock band – especially if compared with hubs such as Genoa or Milan – it should be pointed out that Franco Battiato, one of the most iconic figures of the early Italian prog scene, also hails from Sicily. Like Battiato, Homunculus Res blend high and popular culture in their lyrics, and also enjoy citations from other musical sources, even though their sound is firmly rooted in the Canterbury tradition. The breezy, often infectious quality of the music –  interspersed with more sedate, almost introspective moments and some seriously intricate instrumental flights – recalls early Soft Machine and Caravan, as well as fellow Italians Picchio Dal Pozzo (whose legitimate heirs Homunculus Res are poised to become) and Stormy Six, or even a more obscure Canterbury-inspired gem,  Cocktail by Patrick Forgas (who later went on to form the outstanding jazz-rock combo Forgas Band Phenomena).

Most of the album’s 18 short tracks (whose titles will reveal an intriguing mix of highbrow, whimsical and more down-to-earth elements) are so closely linked together musically that they almost flow into each other – especially the instrumental numbers, mostly concentrated in the second half. In spite of the album’s overall light-hearted attitude and apparent focus on shorter compositions, the music is richly textured, thanks to the band’s impressively varied instrumentation. While keyboards (supplied by D’Alessandro, Davide Di Giovanni and Federico Cardaci, as well as special guest Paolo Ske Botta) are clearly the stars of the show –  aided and abetted by Daniele Di Giovanni’s ebullient, acrobatic drumming – the guitar plays a discreet but invaluable supporting role, only rarely stepping into the limelight.

The album opens with a song that will stick in your head for a long time – the mostly instrumental “Culturismo Ballo Organizzare”, whose almost 6 minutes are packed with exhilarating stops and starts, while vocals are used as an irresistibly quirky enhancement of the musical line  rather than the “main event”. The following “ΔU” starts in a deceptively low-key, almost wistful manner reminiscent of Hatfield and the North, then turns frantic and chaotic, with strident synth dominating the tune. “DJ Psicosi” returns to the upbeat form of the opener, its title repeated in almost hypnotic fashion, while a weirdly echoing trumpet adds a nostalgic note. The Canterbury vibe takes over in “Preparazione Bomba H”, as well as in the majority of the instrumental pieces comprising the second half of the album (which also occasionally hint at Latin and Brazilian rhythms).

Occasional references to other artists crop up throughout the album, as in the nod to Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean” in the above-mentioned “Dj Psicosi”, and the lullaby-like homage to Fabrizio De André’ “La Guerra di Piero” at the beginning and at the end of the flute-laced “(che ne sai tu di un) Cerchio nel Grano” (whose very title hints at Lucio Battisti’s “Pensieri e parole”). On the album there is also room for a couple of  ballads, whose apparently romantic tone is belied by the subtle irony of the lyrics – “Jessicalaura” and “La ballata dell’amore stocastico”, in which Dario D’Alessandro channels his inner Richard Sinclair, accompanied by elegant piano. The energetic “Rifondazione Unghie”, on the other hand, features dynamic flute and guitar interplay in pure Jethro Tull style; while the subdued mood of album closer “Il Contrario di Tutto” emphasizes the lyrical musings on the plight of a disillusioned young man longing for an escape from day-to-day routine.

Loaded with humour and the obvious pleasure of the craft of music-making, Limiti all’eguaglianza della Parte con il Tutto is the perfect antidote to too much overwrought, self-important prog. Though the lyrics and their cultural references might be lost on non-speakers of Italian, an understanding of the words is not necessary to enjoy the album and its sophisticated yet accessible brand of “Canterbury Samba Progressive”. Highly recommended to everyone but those who believe that progressive rock and humour should not mix, or else object to non-English lyrics, Homunculus Res’ debut is a delightful, intelligent album that effortlessly blends retro and modern attitudes, with the added interest value of Dario D’Alessandro’s outstanding artwork.

Links:
http://www.altrock.it

http://www.allmusic.com/artist/homunculus-res-mn0003137197

https://www.facebook.com/HomunculusRes

http://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2lGwBU4eo-z8QDVLen0fnA?feature=watch


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