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Archive for the ‘Folk’ Category

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I hope my readers will forgive me if this post is somewhat less detailed than the ones I wrote in the past, as up to the very last moment I was not sure I felt up to writing my usual “Best of the Year” piece. However, I have tried my best to comment on the many highlights of a year that – while utterly dismal in terms of global events – was definitely a bumper year for interesting progressive music.

In my native Italy, leap years are considered unlucky, and 2016 did nothing to dispel this myth, crammed as it was with global turmoil and high-profile deaths. For prog fans, this year will go down in history for the double whammy of Keith Emerson and Greg Lake’s loss, as well as David Bowie’s passing a couple of days after the release of his Blackstar album. On the other and, while many of the protagonists of prog’s heyday have started leaving this planet, the younger generations – though faced with a world increasingly uncaring about music as an art form – have been forging a path ahead for the progressive genre, often displaying the barest of affiliations to the modes of the past. A few of the names that will appear in this post, as well as in many fans’ lists, have received warm accolades in the  “mainstream” press, and are therefore getting exposed to more diverse audiences. In many ways, these artists resemble the original prog generation in their desire to explore and experiment, rather than stick to a tried-and-tested formula as the “retro” acts do.

Even if lately my reviewing activity has been almost non-existent, I have kept in touch with new releases through my regular participation in DPRP’s Something for the Weekend? feature. On the other hand, a lot of highly rated 2016 albums have flown directly under my radar, so anyone who wishes to read further should take the absence of a rather large number of prog fans’ favourites into account – as the title of this post makes it quite clear. As usual, I have not had either the time or the inclination (or both) to listen to many of the albums that are prominently featured in many people’s Top 10 (or 20, or 50…) lists, because the amount of music released during the past 12 months under the increasingly broad “progressive” label was nothing short of staggering. And then, in all honesty, my tastes have been steadily drifting away from the traditional prog still enthusiastically embraced by both artists and fans. While I still have a lot of time for the classics, I am constantly on the lookout for modern music that will redefine the prog label without sounding derivative. In this respect, 2016 was like a 12-month Christmas.

For this edition, I have decided to adopt a similar format to the one used by my esteemed friend and fellow reviewer, Roger Trenwith, on his excellent Astounded by Sound! blog. In this way, I will still avoid the dreaded (though popular) numbered list, and at the same time make it somewhat easier for my readers to pick out albums. Although the order of appearance may partly reflect my own preferences, all the albums briefly described in the following paragraphs are well worth checking out. I have tried to include all those albums that have impressed me during the past 12 months, (many of which have already been recommended by me or my fellow reviewers on Something for the Weekend?) though obviously there are bound to be omissions for which I apologize beforehand. Links to Bandcamp or other streaming services are provided whenever available.

And here we go…

Knifeworld – Bottled Out of Eden (UK) – A real joy from start to finish, as intricate and eclectic as the best vintage prog,  Knifeworld’s third release is yet another winner from prog’s other busiest man, the one and only Kavus Torabi.

North Sea Radio OrchestraDronne (UK)  – Another Cardiacs-related effort, the fourth album by the ensemble led by Craig Fortnam is pure class, brimming with ethereal beauty and sterling performances.

Bent KneeSay So (USA) – The third full-length release from the Boston crew led by charismatic vocalist Courtney Swain boasts interesting songwriting and an almost punky edge, tempered by a sort of  confessional vibe.

Gong Rejoice! I’m Dead! (Multi-national) – Though Daevid Allen may be gone from this earthly plane, he left his beloved creature in the trusty hands of Kavus Torabi (again!), who gives the album a modern edge while paying homage to the band’s decades-long history.

Gösta Berlings SagaSersophane (Sweden) – Released just two weeks before the end of the year, the long-awaited fourth album from the magnificent Swedes (augmented, as usual, by Mattias Olsson) brings 2016 to a close with a bang. 40 minutes of stunningly hypnotic instrumental music by one of the finest bands in the business.

Deus Ex MachinaDevoto (Italy) – Another highly awaited comeback from one of Italy’s most distinctive bands, chock full of energy, melody and outstanding performances – though without any Latin in sight.

YugenDeath by Water (Italy) – The iconic Milan-based ensemble led by guitarist Francesco Zago is back with a dense, austere album that demands a lot from the listener. Modern Avant-Prog at its finest.

ZhongyuZhongyu (USA) –  Seamlessly blending jazz-rock, Avant-Prog, Far Eastern music and improvisation, the debut album by Jon Davis’ Seattle-based quintet (featuring three members of Moraine) is a must-listen for lovers of cutting-edge instrumental prog.

Richard Pinhas & Barry ClevelandMu (Multi-national) – Beautifully atmospheric music performed by a quartet of extremely gifted musicians – guitarists Pinhas and Cleveland plus the extraordinary rhythm section of Michael Manring and Celso Alberti.

Mamma Non PiangereN.3 (Italy) – The triumphant return of the veteran Italian RIO/Avant outfit will put a smile on your face,even if you do not understand the language. Stunning vocal performance from Laura Agostinelli of Garamond.

Jeremy FlowerThe Real Me (USA) – Carla Kihlstedt lends her vocals and violin to this lovely album from a gifted Boston-based musician. Top-class, surprisingly accessible chamber pop.

Finnegan ShanahanThe Two Halves (USA) – A charming, chamber prog-meets-Celtic folk debut for a talented young musician.

The WinstonsThe Winstons (Italy) – Three established indie musicians from Italy pay homage to early Soft Machine inone of the very few unabashedly retro efforts that actually works.

PanzerpappaPestrottedans (Norway) – Avant-Prog that will not scare first-timers away with a distinct new-Canterbury flavour from one of Norway’s most reliable bands

CorimaAmaterasu (USA) – Magma meets punk in the highly anticipated sophomore release of California’s electrifying Zeuhl-ers.

Chromb! – 1000 (France) – The Lyon scene is a real treasure trove of great bands exploring the many facets of the Avant universe – as illustrated by Chromb!’s outstanding third album.

UkandanzAwo (France) – What would happen if you crossed traditional Ethiopian music with RIO/Avant? The answer is Ukandanz –another winner from the seemingly inexhaustible  Lyon scene.

Herd of InstinctManifestation (USA) –  Intense and mysterious, yet pervasively melodic, the Texas band’s third album displays a stronger influence from their Djam Karet mentors than their previous releases.

Emmett ElvinAssault on the Tyranny of Reason (UK) – Proudly eclectic (and unexpectedly fun) effort from the man behind the keyboards of modern prog giants Knifeworld, Guapo and Chrome Hoof.

French TV –  Ambassadors of Health and Clean Living (USA) – Mike Sary’s veteran project’s comeback, recorded with the members of Japanese instrumental band TEE, offers a challenging  blend of RIO/Avant and jazz-rock.

Jack O’ The ClockRepetitions Of The Old City I (USA) – The latest effort from Damon Waitkus’ crew confirms their status as purveyors of unique-sounding chamber rock.

AmpledeedBYOB (USA) – The second album from the Californian band brings more top-notch art rock with plenty of diverse influences

Luz de RiadaCuentos y Fabulas 3 (Mexico) – Ramsés Luna’s collective sounds like almost nothing else, though of course fans of Cabezas de Cera will found a lot to love in this album.

Nicotina Es PrimaveraAnimal Cerámico (Argentina) – From the thriving Argentinian scene, sophisticated yet accessible Avant-Prog from an excellent new band.

Amoeba SplitSecond Split (Spain) – The Canterbury sound gets a 21-st century makeover in this outstanding instrumental album

Half Past FourLand of the Blind (Canada) – The irrepressible Canadians pack more into an EP than many bands in 80 minutes. Quirky, elegant and fun modern prog.

UlverATGCLVLSSCAP (Norway) – The mighty Norwegians’ homage to vintage Krautrock is pristinely beautiful.

a.P.A.t.T.Fun With Music (UK) – Just what the title says. Everything-but-the-kitchen-sink eclecticism rules!

Ill WickerUntamed (Sweden) – Dark, haunting acid-folk inspired by Comus and other Seventies cult bands.

VesperoLique Mekwas (Russia) – Russia’s answer to Ozric Tentacles deploy their whole arsenal of psych/space rock with intriguing world music touches.

PsychoyogiShrine (UK) – Short but sweet 2016 release from one of the UK scene’s hidden treasures – a must for “new Canterbury” fans.

Simon McKechnieFrom My Head to My Feet (UK) –  Another lesson on how to add interest and progressive quotient to the song format from one of the genre’s unsung heroes.

David BowieBlackstar (UK)  – Released just before his unexpected passing, Bowie’s swan song is a riveting testimony to his undimmed creative spirit.

N.y.X.The News (Italy) – Darkly Crimsonian vibes abound in the northern Italian trio’s second album.

Axon/NeuronMetamorphosis (USA) – An eclectic double CD for an excellent female-fronted band in the MoeTar vein.

iNFiNiENLight at the Endless Tunnel (USA) – Third album for another MoeTar-inspired band, with artwork from Tarik Ragab himself.

The Stargazer’s AssistantRemoteness of Light – Mesmerizing, multilayered soundscapes from Guapo drummer David J. Smith.

SternpostStatues Asleep (Sweden) – Ethereal, sophisticated chamber-pop reminiscent of Robert Wyatt.

Yawning ManHistorical Graffiti (USA) – A stunning instrumental “desert rock” album recorded in Argentina from an excellent southern California outfit.

Iron MountainUnum (Ireland) – Post-rock meets folk-metal  in this intriguing instrumental album.

Vaults of ZinKadath (USA) – HP Lovecraft-inspired Avant-Zeuhl-Metal.

Thank You ScientistStranger Heads Prevail (USA) – Energetic prog-pop from New Jersey’s wrecking crew.

The Mercury TreePermutations (USA) – Intricate, guitar-based modern prog from a band in constant development.

EdensongYears in the Garden of Years (USA) – The long-awaited second album from the New Jersey band will not disappoint fans of hard-edged prog.

ShamblemathsShamblemaths (Norway)  – Ambitious debut from another promising Norwegian outfit – eclectic prog at its finest.

Seven ImpaleContrapasso (Norway) – A darker, more intense follow-up to their highly praised debut.

Disen GageSnapshots (Russia) – Eclectic, guitar-based instrumental prog with a playful edge.

Factor Burzaco3.76 (Argentina) – New versions of older material from Argentina’s leading Avant-Prog outfit.

BubuResplandor (Argentina) – A short but highly satisfying comeback from a band that fully deserves its cult status.

GriotGerald (Portugal) – The concept album reinterpreted in modern art-rock terms.

Mothertongue – <em>Unsongs (UK) – Exhilarating, brass-led progressive pop.

AfenginnOpus (Sweden) – Haunting Scandinavian prog-folk.

Violeta de OutonoSpaces (Brazil) – Psych-space meets Canterbury with a South American flavour.

The Observatory – <em>August Is the Cruellest (Singapore) – Moody, melancholy post-rock inspired by T.S. Eliot’s poetry.

MacroscreamMacroscream (Italy) – The second album of this Roman six-piece hovers between tradition and quirkiness.

Il Rumore BiancoAntropocene (Italy) – RPI with an edge for the full-length debut of this band from Verona.

Syndone Eros e Thanatos (Italy)Cinematic RPI with echoes of Van Der Graaf.

Mad FellazII (Italy) – For fans of the jazzier, funkier side of Italian prog.

Alex’s HandKünstler Sch***e (USA) – Another Avant-punk opus from the Seattle crew.

Horse LordsInterventions (USA) – African-inspired polyrhythms and a saxophone that sounds just like a guitar. Oh my!

Za!Loloismo (Spain) – A percussion-driven mix of styles with an almost tribal flair.

GoatRequiem (Sweden) – African rhythms (again!) meet psychedelic rock with interesting results.

Sparkle in GreyBrahim Izdag (Italy) – A celebration of multiculturalism through rock, electronics and a lot more.

Savoldelli/Casarano/BardosciaThe Great Jazz Gig in the Sky (Italy) – One of the most brilliant ideas ever for a tribute album. Jazz and Dark Side of the Moon are a match made in heaven!

Pluck & RailTrigger (USA) – A fine roots/folk album featuring Frogg Café’s Andrew Sussman

TilesPretending 2 Run (USA) – The ambitious return of  the Detroit heavy proggers is a double CD package put together with the utmost care.

Sonus UmbraBeyond the Panopticon (USA) – Heavy yet melodic, atmospheric comeback from the Chicago-based septet led by Luis Nasser.

Mike KershawWhat Lies Beneath (UK) – Melancholy, atmospheric song-based progressive rock

Matthew ParmenterAll Our Yesterdays (USA) –  A collection of classy, deeply emotional songs from Discipline’s mainman.

Fractal MirrorSlow Burn 1 (The Netherlands) – Another laid-back album of song-based modern art rock

iamthemorningLighthouse (Russia) – Ethereal and delicate offering from the highly-regarded Russian duo.

MarbinGoat Man and the House of the Dead (USA) – Eclectic, high-energy fusion from one of the progressive scene’s busiest bands.

Though as a rule I generally mention albums I have heard in their entirety, this year I will make an exception for a handful of interesting albums that – for some reason or another – I have managed to listen to only partially:

Stick MenProg Noir (Multi-national) – Waiting for King Crimson to release some new material, here is a feast for lovers of touch guitars and intricate polyrhythms.

MoulettesPreternatural (UK) – Mythical creatures inspire this slice of  exciting, hyper-eclectic “wonky pop”.

The Sea NymphsOn the Dry Land (UK) – The second of the “lost” albums by Cardiacs’ spin-off trio is elegiac and whimsical.

Bob DrakeArx Pilosa (USA/France) – A collection of bite-sized Avant-Pop songs from one of Thinking Plague’s founders.

Free Salamander ExhibitUndestroyed (USA) – The much-anticipated return of some former members of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum hits all the right buttons.

Three Trapped TigersSilent Earthling (UK) – Hypnotic yet surprisingly melodic take on math-rock.

Although, as I pointed out in the introduction,  in my list there are quite a few of what the average prog fan would consider glaring omissions, I believe that the majority of the music mentioned above has the potential to appeal to anyone but the most hidebound listeners. It might not be “your father’s prog”, but it is definitely worth a try if you want to expand your musical horizons – and support a bunch of highly deserving artists (and the independent labels that keep up the good work in spite of all the setbacks) in the process.

Before I bring this rather lengthy post to a close, I would like to spend a few words on the question of reviews, or lack thereof. As much as I would love to start reviewing again on a regular basis, I do not see myself resuming that activity – which was of great comfort to me in difficult times – on the scale of the earlier years of this decade. In a person’s life there is probably a time for everything, and my career as a reviewer was probably fated to be a short (though intense) one. I will keep this blog alive on behalf of the many bands and artists whom I wrote about in the past few years, and for publishing the occasional piece like this one. However, I believe it is time to pass the torch to other reviewers, who are much more prolific and reliable than I have been since 2013 or so. I will keep up my contributions to Something for the Weekend? as a means of spreading the word about new music, as well as occasionally adding some band to the ProgArchives database. In the meantime, while we wait for the first 2017 releases, I hope my readers will discover at least one new band or solo artist by browsing my suggestions. Happy listening, and a great 2017 to everyone!

 

 

 

 

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Bonesaw (4:48)
2. Trigger (3:00)
3. St James Infirmary (5:12)
4. Stone Don’t Sway (3:46)
5. Family (4:51)
6. Moonshiner (4:12)
7. Tennessee (4:01)
8. Little More Feeling (2:20)
9. Smiles and Scars (4:39)

LINEUP:
George Gierer – guitar, banjo, lead vocals, marinated ice
Andrew Sussman – cello, bass, banjo, mandolin, vocals

With:
Dan Bonis – lap steel and resonator guitars (1)
John Lieto – trombone (3)
Nick Lieto – trumpet (3)
James Guarnieri – cymbal (2)
Bill Ayasse – fiddle (8)

Those who still follow my rare posts, as well as my (fortunately) much more frequent contribution to DPRP’s weekly feature Something for the Weekend?, may have noticed that my choices are increasingly drifting away from “conventional” prog, and touching upon music genres that are not traditionally associated with it. In fact, my tastes have always been rather eclectic, and as a rule I do not like to restrict my focus to just one genre. Therefore, I was glad of the opportunity to review Pluck & Rail’s debut album – especially after having seen the duo in action during Frogg Café’s performance at the Orion Studios in April 2016.

Pluck & Rail is a new venture in which Froggs bassist Andrew Sussman is joined by guitarist/vocalist George Gierer, of folkabilly band South County (based in Yonkers, NY). Fans of the NYC  jazz-rock quintet (now guitar-less, following Frank Camiola’s relocation to the UK) should not, however, expect anything in a similar vein – in spite of the participation of all the remaining FC members. Trigger is steeped in Americana, and, not surprisingly, its relationship with prog is rather tenuous.

Clocking in at a snappy 37 minutes, Trigger is a collection of nine songs – packaged in elegant, vintage-style artwork –  that draw on the US’ rich tradition of folk, country and blues, with occasional jazzy and even punk touches. It hinges on the seamless interplay between the two mainmen, though the instrumental brilliance is put at the service of the songs rather than spotlighted for its own sake – unlike what happens all too often  in prog. As you would expect, the bulk of the songs are wistful, mid-paced ballads, masterfully interpreted by Gierer’s deep, slightly smoky voice. The lyrics, in keeping with the folk tradition  (both American and European) also referenced by the Portland band, spin dark, gloomy tales of death, loss, addiction and similar cheery topics – which, however, go hand-in-glove with the music.

Opener “Bonesaw” immediately sets the tone,  with distinct echoes of The Decemberists’ early work – minus Colin Meloy’s somewhat nasal tone; Dan Bonis’ lap steel guitar adds its distinctive twang to the melancholy but catchy tone of the song. The title-track definitely breaks the mould:  an intense workout for Sussman’s cello, beefed up by James Guarnieri on cymbals, its aggressive, shouted vocals suggest an acoustic take on punk rock (not coincidentally for a song dealing with the topic of addiction). The revamped traditional folk/blues of “St. James Infirmary”, a song made famous by Louis Armstrong in 1928 (also covered by Van Morrison, Joe Cocker and The Animals, among many others), pits Gierer’s vocals against the brothers Lieto’s call-and-response horns, which emphasize the song’s mournful allure. On the other hand, the jaunty, almost rocking pace of Trigger’s shortest song, the 2-minute “Little More Feeling”, is nicely enhanced by Bill Ayasse’s brisk fiddle, while “Smiles and Scars” wraps up the album on a plaintive, whisky-soaked note.

Being European, I am not what you would call an expert on American folk, nor can I claim to be a frequent listener to this genre. However, as a lifelong music lover, I found that Trigger strikes the right chord. Clearly a labour of love by two outstanding musicians, it is recommended listening to everyone who loves good music, particularly of the acoustic variety. As to hardcore proggers, I believe that everyone needs an occasional respite from 20-minute epics with more time signature changes than you can wrap your head around. You might do much worse than give Trigger a listen, and possibly more than one.

Links:
http://www.pluckandrail.com
https://www.facebook.com/pluckandrail/?fref=ts
https://pluckandrail.bandcamp.com/releases

 

 

 

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Some Stories (3:07)
2. Dance of the Sun/The Remark/Dance of the Sun (Birth of the Light) (6:16)
3. The Withered Throne (7:22)
4. We All Stand in Our Broken Jars (5:32)
5. A Safe Haven (3:40)
6. Knight’s Vow (4:00)
7. Clumsy Grace (2:45)
8. Mellow Days (9:38)
9. ‘Til the Morning Came (4:54)
10. Some Stories (Reprise) (3:47)

LINEUP:
Valerio Smordoni – lead and backing vocals, Minimoog, keyboards, piano, harmonium, acoustic guitar, tambourine, Taurus pedal
Manolo D’Antonio – acoustic and 12-string guitars, electric guitar, classical guitar, ukulele, backing vocals
Marco Avallone – bass, bass synthesizer, Taurus pedal, percussion

With:
Francesco Favilli – drums, percussion
Carlo Enrico Macalli – flute
Andrea Bergamelli – cello
Eliseo Smordoni – bassoon
Giovanni Vigliar – violin

The Morning Choir: Valerio Smordoni, Manolo D’Antonio, Marco Chiappini, Marco Del Mastro, Francesco Macrì, Simone Giglio, Giovanni Peditto, Igi Tani.

One of the newest additions to the Fading Records subdivision of AltrOck Productions, Camelias Garden are also very much of an unknown quantity to most progressive rock fans  – and not only on account of the band members’ young age. Hailing from my own hometown of Rome, they originally started as vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Valerio Smordoni’s one-man project, and subsequently turned into a full-fledged band with the addition of guitarist Manolo D’Antonio, bassist Marco Avallone and drummer Walter Palombi. Their debut album, You Have a Chance, produced by Massimo Dolce of Gran Turismo Veloce, was released in March 2013.

Labeling themselves as “post-progressive”, Camelias Garden (who are quite active on the live front, even if most of their gigs happen outside recognized prog circles) cite such diverse influences as  Genesis (an essential reference point for practically every Italian prog band), The Beatles and Porcupine Tree, but also post-rock icons Explosions in the Sky and crossover hotshots Tame Impala. In fact, unlike most currently active Italian prog bands, Camelias Garden are firmly rooted in the English musical tradition – both progressive and vintage folk-rock – although echoes of some of the RPI greats of the past occasionally surface. Rather unusually for an Italian band, their grasp of the English language is outstanding, and Smordoni’s enunciation is nearly accentless.

On You Have a Chance, the three core members of the band (drummer Walter Palombi joined after the album had been recorded) are supplemented by a number of guest musicians. A look at the lineup will also reveal a prevalence of acoustic instruments – and, in fact, in Camelias Garden music the electric component is kept to a minimum. As hinted by the deceptively naïf cover artwork – with a slightly disturbing, surrealistic touch in the eyeballs replacing the flower centres – You Have a Chance, much in the way of Genesis’ early output, is not as airy-fairy as the band’s name might initially suggest; while the melancholy, somewhat world-weary lyrics have a late Romantic feel. With its circular structure, the album can be seen as a concept of sorts, and the tracks flow into one another without discernible breaks.

The short, sweet “Some Stories”, a delicate, pastoral vignette highlighting Smordoni’s harmonious, medieval-storyteller’s vocals, complemented by dreamy birdsong and gentle acoustic guitar, provides a fitting introduction for the album, its veiled melancholy enhanced by flute and the solemn drone of the cello. The mood picks up with the folksy, lively “Dance of the Sun” and its sweeping Moog sharply reminiscent of PFM’s iconic “Celebration” (and, occasionally, of vintage Genesis), culminating in a lively Celtic jig.

Most of the album, however, rests on muted, gentle melodies, its whimsical English folk matrix bolstered by the haunting presence of the mellotron, whose interplay with the acoustic guitar enhances the catchy ballad “The Withered Throne” (which reminded me a lot of The Decemberists), and lends classic prog appeal to the romantic instrumental “We All Stand in Our Broken Jars”, with its charming juxtaposition of the acoustic and the electric component. The album’s other instrumental, “A Safe Haven”, is a lovely, autumnal piano piece to which flute and mellotron add depth. Then, a couple of ethereal ballads, “Knight’s Vow” and “Clumsy Grace”, whose endearing folksiness gains prog credentials from Moog and Mellotron, introduce the album’s own mini-epic, the almost 10-minute “Mellow Days”, in which echoes of medieval music merge with a full-fledged early Genesis tribute: indeed, some of the keyboard parts will not fail to recall the iconic “Firth of Fifth”. The album comes full circle with “Some Stories (Reprise)”, a celebration of nostalgia in which the opening track is presented as a faint, scratchy recording on a backdrop of falling rain, in a fascinating sonic collage.

Clocking in at a sensible 49 minutes, There’s a Chance is obviously a labour of love, put together with painstaking care by a group of young, dedicated musicians. Although derivative in parts, and occasionally a tad repetitive, devoid of those sharper edges that might make it more attractive to fans of more experimental fare, its soothing, mainly acoustic nature will offer a lot of listening pleasure to those who like their melody untainted by overt mainstream pretensions. Blending nostalgia with a subtle touch of modernity, You Have a Chance is a solid first showcase for a band that shows a lot of promise for the future, and another intriguing find from the ever-reliable AltrOck team.

Links:
http://cameliasgarden.com/

http://cameliasgarden.bandcamp.com/

http://www.altrock.it

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Tanto Gonfio Saremo (5:49)
2. La Cumbia Inglés (6:04)
3. Zamba del Chaparrón (6:43)
4. Camino a Dos Rius (4:05)
5. Saracinesca (5:29)
6. Amuleto (3:36)
7. Impro (1:39)
8. Peperina en el Semaforo (6:11)

LINEUP:
Facundo Moreno – classical guitar, charango
Santiago Moreno – classical guitar
Tommaso Rolando – contrabass, electric bass
Marco Ravera – electric guitar
Mattia Tommasini – violin
Santo Florelli – drums
Manuel Merialdo – percussion, glockenspiel

With:
Filippo Gambetta – diatonic accordion (3)
Tatiana Zakharova – voice (7)

Aparecidos were established by Argentine brothers Facundo and Santiago Moreno, who in 2001  had left their home country and settled in the Italian “prog hub” of Genoa, where they had the opportunity to meet other like-minded musicians. The band’s debut album, titled Lo Que Hay en el Charco, was released in 2009 for independent label Dodicilune. For their sophomore effort,  recorded with a slightly different lineup (which includes two members of fellow Genoese band Calomito, guitarist Marco Ravera and bassist Tommaso Rolando), they joined the AltrOck Productions roster – already home to a number of distinguished contemporary acts.

Palito Bombón Helado was released in November 2012, at the tail end of a year characterized by a large number of high-quality releases. Though the album appeared on the market almost at the same time as Mirrors, the highly anticipated live album by AltrOck’s standard-bearers Yugen, it managed to attract the attention of the growing contingent of devotees of the Milan-based label’s output.  Indeed, Palito Bombón Helado – whose title and endearingly naïf artwork refer to the ice cream bars on a stick sold in the streets of Buenos Aires at a time when ice was a rarity imported from the US and England – feels like a breath of fresh air, marrying superb musicianship with the bittersweet combination of wistfulness and joie de vivre typical of Argentina’s rich musical tradition, whose mostly European background mingles with African and indigenous influences.

In Aparecidos’ musical universe, the folk/acoustic and the electric/rock component coexist in perfect harmony, complementing each other rather than competing for attention. An exquisite flair for melody lends the music a natural flow, making it easy on the ear. The compositions emphasize the ties between Argentina and the rest of the South American continent:  “La Cumbia Inglés” draws on a traditional Colombian dance adopted in the Argentine canon, while the prominent presence of the charango (a stringed instrument traditionally made with the shell of an armadillo) anchors the album to the native heritage of the Andean region. The instrument’s  distinctive lilting, metallic tone, introduced to European audiences by Chilean bands Inti Illimani and Quilapayún in the Seventies and Eighties, blends with the intricate classical guitar patterns to perfection. Santo Florelli’s drumming, complemented by Manuel Merialdo’s percussion and Tommaso Rolando’s bass and contrabass, evidences a great sense of rhythm, sometimes imparting a solemn, almost grandiose pace to the music.

Though Palito Bombón Helado is conceived as an instrumental album, occasional vocal touches add to the overall musical texture – such as the vocalizing (courtesy of Tatiana Zakharova)  that enhances the upbeat, march-like pace of “Saracinesca”, or the appealing, Brazilian-tinged warbling at the end of opener “Tanto Gonfio Saremo”.  All of the 8 tracks have their distinct personalities, and feature some spectacular musicianship from everyone involved – warm hand percussion underpinning the seamless interplay of the brothers Moreno’s classical guitars, the crystalline tinkle of the glockenspiel, the accordion’s folksy wistfulness that tempers the joyful bounce of much of the music, the violin’s sweeping lyricism.

Marco Ravera’s elegantly understated electric guitar connects the music to the rock universe, though without stepping too assertively into the limelight: outstanding examples of its role can be found in the afore-mentioned “La Cumbia Inglés” and in the hauntingly beautiful closing track “Peperina en el Semaforo”. Mattia Tommasini’s violin comes into its own in the subdued “Zamba del Chaparrón”, based on Argentina’s national dance, showcasing the effortless nature of the instrumental interplay, with perfect balance between the electric exertions of Ravera’s guitar and the acoustic instruments, and a brief foray into Avant territory towards the end, with drums, accordion and guitar playing in a sort of skewed slo-mo pattern. On the other hand, the short “Impro” is just what the title implies, with a snippet of the iconic “’O Sole Mio” paying a humorious homage to the Italian tradition.

As delightful and refreshing as the delicacy it is named after,  Palito Bombón Helado (mastered by renowned sound engineer Udi Koomran) is stylishly eclectic combination of world music, European folk and jazz with a pinch of Avant-Progressive spice, whose complexity is not immediately apparent, and never contrived. Those who appreciate the work of artists such as Cédric Vuille (his 3 Mice project with Thinking Plague’s Dave Willey and Elaine Di Falco comes to mind) or the late Lars Hollmer will find this album a very rewarding proposition, and even the more “conservative” prog listeners will find a lot to like in these 40 minutes of music, even if they do not reflect the conventional features of the genre. In any case, this is another excellent release from the ever-reliable AltrOck label, which in the past few years has become a byword for music whose uniqueness will please those who are increasingly frustrated by the formulaic nature of so much modern prog.

Links:
http://aparecidos.bandcamp.com/album/palito-bombon-helado

http://production.altrock.it/prod2.asp?lang=eng_&id=203&id2=204

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TRACKLISTING:
Disc One (CD)
1.  Beat Mm (3:16)
2.  Siska (2:02)
3.  Crazy Stuff (1:05)
4. Tyskromans (3:15)
5.  Nyfin (2:23)
6.  Mellan Stol Och Bord (2:30)
7.  Skrona (1:24)
8.  Tages (2:01)
9.  Kanske (1:08)
10.  Den Arga Kvinnan (1:08)
11.  Tivolimarsch (3:32)
12.  Forutbestämningen (Predestinator) (2:50)
13.  Vendelvarianter (2:34)
14.  Okjak (2:41)
15.  Ukuleles (2:33)
16.  Bam ba ra (0:33)
17.  Antilobo (1:31)
18.  Innanpop (2:49)
19.  Proggövergång (0:12)
20.  Talrika (original) (4:36)
21.  Radioyl (2:07)
22.  Aningar (1983) (2:45)
23.  Go to Africa (3:58)
24.  Vandelmässa (1:11)
25.  Franklåt (original) (3:01)
26.  In the R.I.O. (concept) (1:37)

Disc Two (DVD)
Live: Gouveia Art Rock Festival 2005
1. Viandra (3:52)
2. Simfågeldans (4:48)
3. Moro (1:45)
4. Dron (4:20)
5. Tama-Chan Snoa (3:40)
6. Höstvisa (4:09)
With Michel Berckmans (bassoon):
7. Portaletyde (3:41)
8. Nåt (4:13)
9. Utflykt Med Damcykel (6:04)
10. Inte Quanta (2:54)
With Miriodor:
11. Talrika (4:59)

Live: Houwiesse, Weite, Switzerland 2005 (with Fizzè [accordion])
  1. Portaletyde (4:03)
2. Franska Valsen (2:47)
3. Nåt (4:27)
4. Höstvisa (3:42)
5. Boeves Psalm (3:26)
6. Dron (4:31)
7. Inte Quanta (3:02)

LINEUP:
Lars Hollmer – accordion, keyboards, melodic, ukulele, mandolin, percussion, voices, and more

With:
Eino Haapala – guitar (14)

The release of With Floury Hand (English translation of the Swedish Med Mjölad Hand) in the summer of 2012 – three and a half years after Lars Hollmer’s untimely passing on Christmas Day, 2008 – came as a boon to all the devoted followers of the influential Swedish artist who had still not come to terms with his demise. The presence of a 72-minute DVD, capturing Hollmer on stage on two different occasions, both in 2005, makes the album an even more valuable document of the creativity of a musician who, in the almost forty years of his career, managed to carve a niche for himself even when playing music that never pandered to commercial trends.

The album’s quirky title, derived from a recipe that Hollmer’s daughter was reading aloud during a family dinner in 2007, highlights the artist’s keen sense of humour, always a prominent feature of his musical output. As pointed out by its bracketed subtitle, With Floury Hand is a collection of sketches – 26 short tracks (the longest clocking in at slightly over 4 minutes), belonging to different periods of Hollmer’s career, some of them still in a draft state, which showcase the artist’s zest for inventive, boundary-pushing music-making. As both the CD and the DVD poignantly illustrate, Hollmer’s creative spark was clearly far from being extinguished: indeed, unlike in the case of many of his contemporaries, his wide-ranging inspiration and brilliantly eclectic vein had not been dimmed by the passing years.

A year or so after his father’s passing, when the worst of the grief had run its course, Hollmer’s son Gabriel started to delve into the extensive archives that the artist himself had been exploring when, in May 2008, he was diagnosed with the advanced-stage lung cancer that took his life a few months later. The result of this not always comfortable, yet ultimately cathartic process was released three years later thanks to the intervention of Steve Feigenbaum of Cuneiform Records, who helped Gabriel give shape to the project. Some of the material that Hollmer had intended for the follow-up to 2007’s somber, subdued Viandra – an album that was to have a very different tone, reflecting the more upbeat, whimsical side of the artist’s creativity – has been included on With Floury Hand. As Gabriel explains in his thorough liner notes, the album as a whole blends finished and unfinished material, experimentation and tradition, melody and  endearing silliness – summing up Hollmer’s artistic personality in under an hour’s running time.

With Floury Hand is introduced by the bracing tune of “Beat Mm”, a jam built around a sequencer theme that Hollmer had conceived as a “car song”. Jaunty, folksy accordion showcases such as “Siska” or the infectious, circus-like “Tivolimarsch” alternate with more sedate, gently melancholy pieces reminiscent of another master of the instrument, Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla – such as the melancholy “Tages”, “Nyfin” or “Vendelvarianter”. The warm tone of the accordion is often complemented by neat percussion patterns, while the liberal use of electronics introduces modernity in a traditional context. Nods to Hollmer’s role as one of the founders of the RIO movement appear in the more left-field offerings, such as “Den Arga Kvinnan” (The Angry Woman”), with its clashing sounds, the eerie electronics of “Radioyl” , and the multilayered, synth-driven “Mellan Stol Och Bord”.

The few tracks that feature vocals reveal Hollmer’s playful side,  like the ‘fake German lied’ of “Tyskromans”, or the ‘stupid and funny’ “Kanske”. On the other hand, the very aptly-titled “Aningar” (Premonitions” exemplifies Hollmer’s darker vein, its menacing. cinematic pace hinting at Univers Zéro; while “Go to Africa”, as the title implies, is a vocal jam over a steady arpeggiator beat that pays homage to the African musical tradition. Finally, the exhilarating “Okjak” – a fine specimen of ‘happy’ RIO/Avant composition – sees Hollmer flanked by his former Von Zamla bandmate Eino Haapala on guitar.

The two performances featured on the  DVD, while quite different from each other, will delight Hollmer’s fans in equal measure. The first half shows Hollmer on stage at the Gouveia Art Rock Festival – first on his own, accompanied only by his faithful accordion and melodica, then by his friend and longtime collaborator Michel Berckmans (of Univers Zéro fame) on bassoon, and finally with Miriodor, for a stunning rendition of “Talrika” (featured on the French Canadian band’s 2005 album Parade, and whose original version appears on the CD). In the second half of the DVD, the artist is captured in the small, intimate setting of Swiss club Heuwiesse, performing as a duo with Swiss accordionist Fizzè.

With its colourful cover artwork (by Hollmer’s daughter Rinda) and heartfelt liner notes, With Floury Hand is a touching homage to a gifted artist who never compromised his integrity, and who would have continued to produce great music if fate had not decreed otherwise. The album is obviously recommended to fans of the original RIO/Avant movement, as well as European folk; however, it can be enjoyed by anyone who is interested in quality rather  than labels or tags.

Links:
http://www.allmusic.com/artist/lars-hollmer-mn0000783767

http://www.myspace.com/larshollmer

http://www.cuneiformrecords.com

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TRACKLISTING:
1. A Child & A Well (4:46)
2. The Fall (5:27)
3. Man & Angel (5:30)
4. Little Town (5:31)
5. Run Free You Idiot (4:13)
6. Empty Promises (4:41)
7. The Postman (6:21)
8. A Fantasy (8:42)

LINEUP:
Julia Feldman – vocals
Udi Horev – guitar
Dvir Katz – flute
Yuri Tulchinsky – keyboards
Avi Cohen-Hillel – bass guitar
Michael Gorodinsky – drums

With:
Udi Koomran – electronics (8)

In spite of their name (Latin for “fake music”, referring to the use of notes lying outside the “true music” system as established by Guido D’Arezzo), there is nothing fake or contrived about Musica Ficta, an Israeli six-piece formed in 2003 by guitarist and composer Udi Horev. Their debut album, A Child & A Well (English translation of the Hebrew Yeled Vebeer) was originally recorded in 2005, but only released on the international market in 2012, on the Fading Records subdivision of  AltrOck Productions – thanks to renowned sound engineer Udi Koomran’s close relationship with the cutting-edge Italian label. Koomran, who mastered the album, also guests on one track; while Paolo “Ske” Botta is responsible for the stylish graphics.

Musica Ficta are a supergroup of sorts, featuring the considerable talents of Russian-born jazz singer Julia Feldman and flutist/composer Dvir Katz, known on the jazz scene as the leader of Chameleon Trio. The other band members (original keyboardist Yuri Tulchinsky was replaced by Omer Rizi just after the recording of the album) are also obviously very talented, and well-versed in a wide range of musical modes besides rock. This should not come as news to anyone familiar with the small but thriving Israeli progressive music scene, which last year produced one of the classiest “retro-prog” albums of 2011, Sanhedrin’s Ever After, and can boast of a strikingly original prog metal band such as Orphaned Land.

True to the multiethnic nature of their home country, Musica Ficta infuse their sound with influences that go beyond classic prog. The use of Hebrew for the lyrics (though all of the song titles are in English) adds an exotic touch to the music, whose heady blend of lyricism ad heaviness contains suggestions of medieval and Renaissance music, and tantalizing hints of Eastern European and Middle Eastern folk music (particularly evident in the title-track). With those characteristics, further enhanced by the presence of a strong female vocalist, Musica Ficta may draw comparisons to Ciccada, a band whose debut album (bearing the uncannily similar title of A Child in the Mirror) was the first Fading Records release.

In keeping with a praiseworthy trend for shorter, more compact albums, A Child & A Well clocks in at a healthy 45 minutes, with relatively short tracks (the longest, the instrumental “A Fantasy”, is under 9 minutes) that nevertheless offer all the complexity and lush instrumentation that a self-respecting prog fan might desire. Most of the compositions feature Julia Feldman’s confident, highly trained voice, as capable of hitting the high notes as of reaching for deeper, more subdued tones. For some odd reason, however, her voice failed to resonate with me – especially in the album’s attempt at a power ballad of sorts, the slightly sappy “Little Town”, which is rescued by its Genesis-meets-PFM finale. Personal gripes aside, Feldman’s performance will not fail to impress fans of commanding female vocalists such as Annie Haslam or Christina Booth. The title-track (which can be also enjoyed as a video, with the band dressed in 18th-century costume) is probably Feldman’s finest hour on this album, the lilting, dance-like pace of the singing offset by the harder-edged instrumental sections, driven by organ and guitar.

The central role of the flute in A Child & A Well has elicited inevitable comparisons with Jethro Tull, compounded by the often aggressive stance of the electric guitar – and, indeed, Udi Horev’s approach owes a lot to Martin Barre’s hard-driving style. “Man & Angel” rests on the balance between gentler, vocal-based passages and heavier instrumental ones that characterizes much of the output of Ian Anderson’s band; the same dynamics of folk-ballad-meets-hard-rock can be found in the intense “The Postman”. Indeed, However, there are also nods to lesser-known outfits like Delirium (in my view, one of the best early Italian prog bands), whose influence emerges in the jazzy, bass-driven instrumental “Run Free You Idiot”  – an intriguing concoction of Avant suggestions, razor-sharp guitar riffs and lilting harpsichord that is definitely one of the highlights of the whole album. My personal pick, however, would be the 8-minute-plus “A Fantasy” – a stately, supremely atmospheric guitar showcase, acoustic at first, then electric, complemented by the eerily surging drone of Koomran’s haunting electronic soundscapes.

A Child & A Well is a superbly performed album that,while not perfect (I personally found the second half more satisfactory than the first), has the potential to appeal to most progressive rock fans, even those more inclined towards cutting-edge stuff rather than anything with a “retro” flavour. Unfortunately, Musica Ficta seem to have dropped off the radar in the past few years, with its members engaged in other projects. It is to be hoped that they will surface again in the near future, because their debut surely shows a lot of promise.

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

http://production.altrock.it/prod2.asp?lang=eng_&id=125&id2=178

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Hot Rod Waltz (3:33)
2. Invitation (2:24)
3. Forro Fuega (2:45)
4. Tse-Tse (4:06)
5. 20 Heart (0:54)
6. Orkneys (4:12)
7. Mr. Hamster’s Dilemma (3:51)
8. Celleste (4:57)
9. Botellas de Botica (3:27)
10. Experiment (3:35)
11. Year of my Solstice (5:28)
12. Skallaloo (3:38)

LINEUP:
Elaine DiFalco – voice, piano, keyboards, vibraphone, handclaps, shaker, accordion, qarkabeb, rhythm box, percussion
Cédric Vuille – guitar,  e-bow guitar, bass, keyboards, cuatro, clarinet, ukulele, nose flute, percussion, kalimba, theremin, banjolele, flute, spoons, triangle, jew’s harp
Dave Willey – accordion, bass, tambourine, electric and acoustic guitar, surdo, zither, shaker, percussions, mailing tubes

With:
Daniel Spahni – drums (1, 6, 7, 9, 10, 12)
Raoul Rossiter – pandero, triangle (3)
Udi Koomran – shaker, hand claps (6)
Naama and Michal Koomral – happy sisters (7)

Love or hate the Internet, there is no doubt that without its existence an album such as Send Me a Postcard would have never seen the light of day – much to the detriment of the contemporary non-mainstream music scene. In fact, the three artists who have adopted the quaintly endearing name of 3 Mice reside at opposite ends of the world – Cédric Vuille (of Débile Menthol and L’Ensemble Rayé fame) in Switzerland, Dave Willey and Elaine DiFalco (both members of Thinking Plague, Willey also Hamster Theatre’s founder and mainman) in Colorado. Israeli sound engineer Udi Koomran (one of the icons of the modern Avant-Prog scene) acted as a catalyst by arranging a meeting between the three artists in 2008, when Thinking Plague performed in Vuille’s home town of Geneva. After finding out that they were kindred spirits in their musical vision, Vuille, DiFalco and Willey started their project by sharing files on the Internet, then drafting in some trusted collaborators (namely L’Ensemble Rayé’s drummer Daniel Spahni and Hamster Theatre’s percussionist Raoul Rossiter, as well as Koomran himself). Send Me a Postcard, lovingly packaged in Elaine DiFalco’s delightful artwork, was finally ready for release at the end of 2011.

Clocking in at about 42 minutes, and featuring 12 short tracks (the longest barely above 5 minutes), Send Me a Postcard belongs to the “new generation” of undeniably progressive albums that, however, dispense with most of the trappings of traditional prog – such as epics, orchestral arrangements and somewhat pretentious concepts. Even if the association of the members of 3 Mice with the RIO/Avant scene may prove daunting to those who are more conservatively inclined, the album has more in common with Hamster Theatre’s playful, folksy attitude than Thinking Plague’s austere intensity. Songwriting credits are shared equally between the three artists, who lend them their individual imprint; DiFalco’s compositions are the closest to classic RIO/Avant modes, though with a more informal, laid-back attitude.

Unlike Willey’s recent solo album, the outstanding Immeasurable Currents (which has a very similar structure in terms of running time and number of tracks), Send Me a Postcard is mostly instrumental, though DiFalco’s distinctive voice appears on half of the tracks, engaged in lovely wordless vocalization. There is nothing overly serious or academic about 3 Mice’s approach: the overall mood is decidedly upbeat, reflecting the sheer joy of making music that is at the same time complex and accessible. The emphasis is firmly placed on the sleek, seamless instrumental interplay, with the three musicians switching effortlessly from one instrument to the other; the main actors – the accordion, the guitar and the piano – are complemented by an impressive array of exotic percussion and other ethnic instruments.

Not surprisingly, being the result of the collaboration between a European artist (belonging to a French-speaking cultural environment) and  two American ones, Send Me a Postcard is a quintessentially cosmopolitan effort, merging European folk with Brazilian and Latin suggestions, with classical influences and a hint of intriguing Avant flavour thrown in for good measure. Thanks to Koomran’s peerless mix, every instrument is finely detailed with stunning clarity of sound, and the melodic quotient of each composition is brought to the fore in a remarkably ear-pleasing way. It is also quite intriguing to see how much variety can be packed in a 3-minute song, and how the rich instrumentation creates multilayered  textures in spite of the chamber-like nature of the ensemble.

“Hot Rod Waltz” opens the album with a bold rock-meets-folk flair – electric guitar, bass and drums beefing up the sound and providing a fine foil for the nostalgic tone of the accordion. As suggested by the title, “Orkneys” taps the rich Celtic folk vein, starting out very much like a traditional reel (though driven by accordion rather than the more customary fiddle), and turning more sedate towards the end. The delicate, intimist tone of “Invitation” and “Tse Tse” and the gently chiming interlude of “20 Heart” are offset by the brisk, infectious pace of the Brazilian-influenced, percussion-heavy “Forro Fuega” and the sprightly Caribbean dance of closing track “Skallaloo”. In the only song featuring lyrics, the quirky tale of “Mr Hamster’s Dilemma”, the refreshing laughter of Udi Koomran’s daughters echoes in the background, complementing the jangly, sunny tone of the guitar. On the other hand, the eerie wail of the theremin adds a faintly disquieting note to “Celleste”, and intensifies the autumnal tone of the piano-led “Year of My Solstice”; while the haunting, effects-laden drone of “Experiment” points to the three artists’ RIO/Avant background.

Though quite likely to remain a one-off, Send Me a Postcard is an excellent effort that can be warmly recommended to all lovers of great music, Fans of folk/world music with an ear for quirkiness and subtle complexity will find it especially appealing, though devotees of “traditional” prog’s grandiosely orchestrated textures might find it disappointingly simple for their standards. Easy on the ear without being poppy, brimming with lovely melodies and brilliant instrumental performances (not to mention Elaine DiFalco’s gorgeous voice), Send Me a Postcard is a little gem that will reveal its many charms at each listen.

Links:
http://www.allmusic.com/album/send-me-a-postcard-r2412999

http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/3mice

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