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Archive for the ‘Announcement’ Category

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Barely 10 days after the passing of John Orsi, I find myself writing about the demise of another fine progressive rock musician whose work I had  the pleasure of reviewing on this blog.  Though Dave Kulju passed away on December 10, I only found out this morning – again, while scrolling down my Facebook feed. He would have turned 44 in January.

My first contact with Dave also happened when I was collaborating with that other website, and he sent me his second solo album, Notes From the Margin, for review. I remember being intrigued by his obviously Finnish surname (I lived in Finland from 1996 to 2001, and still have very fond memories of that country), though only later did I ask him if he had Finnish roots. Unfortunately, I did not get round to reviewing the CD on that occasion, so when we connected on Facebook a few months later I asked him to send me another copy. The album turned out to be a cut above the majority of the “solo pilot” projects I had reviewed in the past – marrying melody and accessibility with a genuine love of progressive rock, and paying homage to the genre’s glorious past without coming across as blatantly regressive.

In the past few months, Dave had been working on some new music, and towards the end of November he posted a video of a new song on his blog (which also hosted examples of his impressive photography, including quite a few shots from NEARfest Apocalypse). He had also been working with a couple of old friends with the intent of starting a band, and recorded two demos titled “Big Sur” and “Echoes of Warning”. In spite of his commitments to work and family, he always found the time for music, which was his greatest passion together with photography, computers and sports.

Although both Dave and I were in Bethlehem for the final edition of NEArfest, we managed to miss each other, but hoped there would be a next time in which to meet face to face. Sadly, fate decreed otherwise, and for the second time in this month of December – a month that has acquired a special poignancy for me since my mother’s passing at the end of 2004 – I have to mourn the passing of a talented artist and very nice human being. I hope those of my readers who are unfamiliar with Dave’s music will want to check it out and keep his memory alive.

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Yesterday, during my customary early morning ritual of checking my Facebook news feed, I came upon a piece of news that filled me with deep sadness – something that, at least subconsciously, I had been dreading for a while. An outstanding musician and wonderful human being whom I had had the privilege to befriend – albeit without meeting him face-to-face – had passed away suddenly, leaving this world quietly, like the true gentleman he was.

My first encounter with John Orsi will be forever tied to the beginnings of my “career” as an official reviewer for a long-established website, with which I collaborated for slightly over one year. Knitting By Twilight’s An Evening Out of Town was the first album I reviewed for that website, choosing it from a bunch of other CDs because of its title and lovely cover artwork – and also the fact that the band hailed from Providence, the home town of one of my favourite writers, H.P. Lovecraft. The music did not disappoint my expectations, and I gave the album an enthusiastic assessment, accompanied by a high rating. Before that, most of my reviews had dealt with relatively high-profile albums in my collection. When, a couple of months later,  John sent me a note of thanks, I had my first inkling of the importance of those reviews for people who make music out of passion, juggling their calling with the demands of everyday life. In the following years, I had the opportunity to  review three albums in which John was involved – Incandescent Sky’s Four Faradays in a Cage, Knitting By Twilight’s Weathering, and finally his own solo effort, A Room for the Night.

After that first contact, John and I occasionally wrote to each other in the old-fashioned way – by using pen and paper (in my case, my handmade cards, which he loved). We found out that we had many things in common besides music – art, literature, cats, good food, and, of course, our Italian roots. Then, at the beginning of this year, he told me he felt the need to withdraw from the social media scene. The last I heard of him was in early February. I sent him a card for his birthday in July, but, when I did not hear anything from him after that, I started getting worried. However, I respected his need for privacy, and did not try to contact him – something that I now regret deeply.

In this time of the year we remember the birthday or the passing of many influential artists who are not with us any longer – such as Jimi Hendrix, Jaco Pastorius or Frank Zappa. Though John was nowhere as famous as those icons of modern music, he was passionate about his music and forged his individual path without caring about commercial success. His skills as a drummer and percussionist were as remarkable as they were understated, and each of his recordings highlights his love of percussion instruments of any description, which he used not just a rhythmic backdrop, but by giving them a voice of their own.

Although I will always regret not being able to meet John in person, I will cherish our friendship and remember him not only through his words, but also through his music. Therefore, I urge all my readers – especially those who love atmospheric instrumental music – to check out the albums mentioned above, as well as the rest of John’s output on his own label, It’s Twilight Time, as a way of celebrating his love for music and life –  though the latter was cut off way too soon.

Links:
http://www.overflower.com

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As every year for the past 19 years, ProgDay – the world’s longest-running progressive rock festival – will be taking place on Labor Day weekend in the beautiful setting of Storybook Farm in Chapel Hill (North Carolina). With a superb lineup of 8 bands, both international and homegrown, augmented by two exciting pre-festival shows scheduled for Friday and Saturday night at the 506 Club in Chapel Hill (featuring respectively Half Past Four, 3RDegree and Dreadnaught, and French power trio Mörglbl – all of them ProgDay alumni), the festival is going from strength to strength, and is already preparing for the fireworks of its 20th anniversary celebration in 2014.

Links:
http://www.progday.net

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As already anticipated in a press release and in my interview with site owner Nikola Savić, the 13th instalment of ProgSphere’s Progstravaganza compilation series has been released on August 12. The sampler (with cover and booklet artwork by Chris Van der Linden of Linden Artwork) features 76 tracks by bands from all over the world (including a few that have been covered on this blog), representing the best of the modern progressive rock scene. The compilation is available as a free download from ProgSphere’s Bandcamp page.

As Nikola and his collaborators are planning to reach compilation # 15 by the end of 2015, submissions for Progstravaganza 14 are already open: any bands or artists interested in submitting a track can contact Nikola at info@prog-sphere.com. The new sampler is expected for late September/early October. In the meantime, ProgSphere has introduced a new service, a music streaming and distribution platform named Progify.

Links:
http://prog-sphere.bandcamp.com/album/progstravaganza-13

http://www.progstravaganza.com/

http://www.progify.com/

http://www.lindenartwork.com/

 

 

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For most up-and-coming progressive rock bands, while recording an album may be relatively easy because of the advantages offered by modern technology, giving exposure to their music has become increasingly difficult and frustrating. Indeed, as I have often pointed out in these pages, the market is oversaturated, opportunities to play live can be few and far between, and gigs often poorly attended. However, there are some brave souls who have made a mission out of helping new artists gain recognition, making full use of the many possibilities offered by the Internet.

One of these people is Nikola Savić, founder of the thriving ProgSphere website, to which I have been contributing articles for the past couple of years. The site, besides the usual reviews, interviews and other assorted news items on the progressive rock universe (with an eye to modern developments such as prog metal, but also a healthy respect for the icons of the genre and its decades-long history), has produced a number of podcasts and 12 compilations of new music, called Progstravaganza, launched in August 2010. With over 22,000 downloads, these compilations  have had a remarkable success for an independent endeavour, presenting a wide range of bands and artists – from standard-bearers of the modern psychedelic space-rock scene such as Astra or My Brother the Wind to the elegant jazz-rock of D.F.A. and Forgas Band Phenomena, from the cutting-edge jazz-metal of Exivious and Blotted Science to the heady eclecticism of Moraine, Herd of Instinct and Gösta Berlings Saga. A massive 79-track sampler of tracks taken from the first 11 Progstravaganza compilations has recently been made available on the site’s Bandcamp page.

Less than two weeks ago, ProgSphere has announced that a 13th Progstravaganza compilation is in the pipeline, and invited bands and artists to submit their music for inclusion. It is an opportunity not to be missed, as Progstravaganza XIII – to be released at the end of July – will be promoted by more than 50 radio stations, and every participant will be covered in depth in the compilation’s digital booklet. The contact information for anyone interested in participating in the initiative can be found in the first of the links below.

Links:
http://www.prog-sphere.com/news/prog-sphere-announces-new-progstravaganza-compilation-and-calls-on-bands-to-take-part/

http://prog-sphere.bandcamp.com/album/progstravaganza-i-ix

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In a couple of weeks’ time, fans of AltrOck Productions, the cutting-edge Italian label founded by Marcello Marinone and Francesco Zago in 2005, will be offered the unique opportunity to attend a two-day festival featuring a selection of exciting Italian and European bands, many of them have appeared on these pages.

The event, scheduled to take place on the weekend of June 1-2 at La Casa di Alex, a cultural centre on the outskirts of Milan, will see a total of seven bands taking turns on the stage. The label’s subsection Fading Records, dedicated to bands and artists who revisit “traditional” prog modes with a modern attitude, will be represented by Ciccada (Greece), La Coscienza di Zeno and Ske (Italy), who will be joined by highly awaited Norwegian outfit Wobbler; while October Equus (Spain) and Humble Grumble (Belgium) will add some intriguing RIO/Avant spice to the proceedings. Bassist Pierre “W-Cheese” Wawrzyniak (of fellow AltrOckers Camembert) will join Ske on stage for their first-ever live performance: while La Coscienza di Zeno will premiere their forthcoming second album, titled Sensitività.

The festival will also mark the stage debut of Not A Good Sign, the newest offering from AltrOck and  the label’s own “supergroup” of sorts, featuring Yugen’s Paolo “Ske” Botta (who is also the label’s main graphic artist) and Francesco Zago, and La Coscienza di Zeno’s Gabriele Guidi Colombi and Alessio Calandriello, as well as drummer Martino Malacrida. The band, who was started in 2011 by Botta and Zago (later joined by the other members),  aims to revisit the sounds of classic prog – liberally seasoned with hard rock and psychedelic suggestions – with a thoroughly modern attitude, focusing on the creation of melancholy, haunting atmospheres. Their self-titled recording debut, officially released on June 10, will be available for purchase at the festival. Yugen’s Maurizio Fasoli (piano), cellist Bianca Fervidi and vocalist Sharon Fortnam (Cardiacs/North Sea Radio Orchestra) also guest on the album. You can listen to a preview of the album here.

Links:
http://altrockfading.blogspot.it/

http://www.alexetxea.it/

www.altrock.it

https://www.facebook.com/notagoodsign

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With the final curtain fallen on NEARfest in June 2012, a void has been left in the once-thriving US progressive rock festival scene. In the past couple of years, the increasing fragmentation of  the target audience – as well as other factors such as the lingering economic downturn – have provided a brusque reality check to anyone daring enough to invest time and money in this often unrewarding task  While the cottage-industry organization of ProgDay is still going strong (probably because of its unpretentious structure), and ROSfest keeps attracting a steady number of devotees to its Gettysburg premises, other more ambitious efforts have ended in failure before they even started. The enthusiasm about Baja Prog’s return after a four-year hiatus was tempered by a lineup that penalizes US bands, and is in many ways a duplicate of the last NEARfest  – not to mention that the festival takes place in a part of the continent that is not exactly convenient for many US dwellers.

However, almost unexpectedly, a new event has stepped in at that particular time of the year, though in no way aiming to fill  NEARfest’s daunting shoes by offering a range of reasonably high-profile bands, including some “bucket list”ones. In fact,  the organizers of Seaprog Music Festival seem to have taken the ProgDay template even further, concentrating almost exclusively on US acts and spotlighting local talent. The event is scheduled for June 28-30,  2013, at Columbia City Theater, a nearly 100-year-old venue in the iconic Pacific Northwest metropolis of Seattle – home to such diverse acts as Jimi Hendrix, Heart, Queensryche and the grunge bands of the early Nineties. Starting on the evening of Friday, June 28, with a free show, the festival proper will be spread over the whole of Saturday and Sunday, showcasing a total of 11 bands.

Seaprog comes with the uncompromising tagline of “not your parents’prog” and a well-articulated manifesto that invites people to be open-minded in their approach to the world of non-mainstream music. In spite of the many attempts to separate “prog” from the original meaning of the word “progressive”, and turn it into nothing more than a codified genre complete with plenty of sarcasm-inducing mannerisms, there are still those who want “progressive” to be much more than a byword for self-indulgence and worship of the past.

The members of the organizing committee are dedicated musicians with years of experience under their belt: guitarist Dennis Rea (of Moraine and Iron Kim Style fame), drummer John Reagan (formerly of Harlequin Mass, now with Dissonati) and stick player Jon Davis (currently a member of Zhongyu with Rea and Moraine’s Alicia and Jim DeJoie). All three of them share similar views on what constitutes “prog”, which may not necessarily resonate with those who espouse the “prog as a genre” theory, but will instead find support in genuinely adventurous listeners. The event is a strictly non-profit venture, and the organizers’s main aim in undertaking this effort, as stated at the bottom of every page of Seaprog’s excellently crafted website, is to offer a world-class music event in a city that is better known for heavy rock and trendy alternative/indie bands.

As can be expected after reading the festival’s manifesto, Seaprog is heavily geared towards the cutting-edge side of the progressive rock spectrum, with seminal RIO/Avant band Thinking Plague  in the coveted spot of Sunday headliner for their first-even Seattle show. The Colorado-based outfit’s latest recording effort, Decline and Fall, was one of the defining albums of 2012, and their triumphant appearance at last year’s RIO Festival helped to consolidate their reputation as purveyors of difficult but highly rewarding music. Thinking Plague’s Dave Willey and Elaine Di Falco will also appear on stage with Hughscore Revisited, a quartet that will perform compositions by legendary Soft Machine bassist Hugh Hopper, who passed away in 2009. Not surprisingly, Moraine, Zhongyu and Dissonati will also be on board. The other names on the lineup are less familiar to the majority of prog fans: local outfits Alex’s Hand, Monkey Bat Operation ID and Trimtab (originally formed in Minneapolis, but now based in Seattle), and  Italian multi-instrumentalist Jolanda. At the time of writing, the Saturday headliner remains to be announced. Links to all of the artists’ webpages are available on the event’s site. A Kickstarter campaign will also be launched to finance recording of the shows.

After so much fretting about the future of the US festival scene following the demise of NEARfest and the cancellation of OhioProg and FarFest, it is heartwarming to see people take things into their own hands in order to promote homegrown talent, even though on a much smaller scale than NEARfest, ROSfest or Baja Prog. As I have often written on these pages, this is probably the most viable model, which allows the organizers not to be bound by the necessity of filling a larger venue, therefore having to budget for inevitably more expensive “international” bands. Hoping for a healthy turnout that will allow the festival to continue at least in 2014, I applaud the organizers for their bravery and dedication to the cause of progressive music.

Links:
http://www.seaprog.org/

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