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Archive for the ‘World Music’ Category

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Bells Spring (3:44)
2. The Pan Chaser (4:56)
3. Vision at Vasquez Rocks (3:59)
4. Red Hill Trail (3:52)
5. The Lost Night (4:21)
6. Crossing the Divide (3:49)
7. Owens Hideaway (3:51)
8. Young Mountain Memory (3:18)
9. After the Big Sky Falls (2:42)
10. Escape From Sycamore Canyon (4.46)
11. Winter Way (3:12)

LINEUP:
Gayle Ellett – Greek bouzouki, dilruba, charango, tanpura, surmandal, Rhodes, harmonium, ruan, dobro, upright bass, guitar, piano, tenor ukulele, bells/chimes, moog, mellotron, organ, electric guitar, field recordings
Todd Montgomery – Irish bouzouki, sitar, guitar, banjo, baritone guitar, mandolin, violin, slide bouzouki, bowed guitar, EBow, electric mandolin, baritone electric guitar

A lot of the music released today under the “progressive” umbrella has very little in common with the banks-of-keyboards variety that flourished in the early Seventies. On the other hand, the rather stale adherence to modes of expression that were forward-thinking in their time is still seen by many as a requirement for artists who want to aspire to the “prog” tag, and anything deviating from that template is often hastily dismissed.

Southern California duo Fernwood belong to that vast grey area, which often houses veritable gems always at risk of being overlooked by the “prog audience” at large. However, one half of the duo has serious prog credentials – being none other than Gayle Ellett of Djam Karet fame. The epitome of eclecticism, Ellett (one of the few professional musicians in the modern prog scene) is a gifted multi-instrumentalist and composer, involved in projects that go from movie scores to the hypnotic, Crimson-infused sound of Texas outfit Herd of Instinct. Though not as familiar to prog audiences, the duo’s other half, Todd Montgomery, has a 40-year-odd career as a musician under his belt, especially in the field of traditional music from the Old and the New World.

My first contact with Fernwood came a few years ago, when I was writing for another website, and often had to deal with music that did nothing for me (and that’s an understatement). When I received the duo’s second album, Sangita, right from the first listen it felt like a diamond lost in a sea of coarse glass. While the music – performed with an array of exotic, mostly wooden instruments with arcane names – was disqualified from being “rock” by a lack of drums, it possessed a beauty and elegance (not to mention a level of subtle, understated complexity) that are often missing in a lot (of conventional progressive rock. Now, better late than never (as the album was released in February, when I was dealing with some personal issues), Arcadia, Fernwood’s third recording effort has finally come under my scrutiny.

Packaged in pristinely beautiful nature photography, Arcadia is a concept album of sorts – its 11 tracks (all on the short side, the longest clocking in at under 5 minutes) representing stages of a journey in search of the titular Utopian paradise. Unlike in most of my reviews, there is very little point in a track-by-track analysis in the case of Arcadia, as the compositions form an organic whole, and the differences between them are a matter of subtle nuances. In fact, they can be seen as impressionistic sketches, in which the instruments are used like colours to create a warm, multi-hued palette celebrating the beauty of nature. Influences from a wide range of musical traditions (Celtic in “Vision at Vasquez Rocks”, Far Eastern in the rarefied “Winter Way”, to name but two) are brought to bear, each piece exploring a range of shifting moods in tune with the changing seasons. Here and there, touches of modern technology, such as brief but recognizable Mellotron washes, enhance the delightfully laid-back atmospheres.

Needless to say, Arcadia is not recommended to anyone looking for a true-blue prog album in the key of Ellett’s main gig, though it will appeal quite a lot to those who are on the lookout for interesting music on the fringes of the variegated prog sphere. Soothing and refreshing, and romantic in the original sense of the word, Arcadia is the perfect antidote to the frantic pace of modern life, and to the plasticky, disposable quality of most of what passes for music these days.

Links:
http://www.fernwoodmusicgroup.com/
https://fernwood.bandcamp.com/album/arcadia

 

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Sopla viento del Este (4:36)
2. Bounkam Rêverie (4:08)
3. Leilya (4:00)
4. Una para Lars (3:57)

Suite Sendas de Ofir:
5. En Ruta (1:39)
6. White Bird (6:21)
7.  Sendas de Ofir (4:44)
8. Oricalco (2:32)
9. Oricalco Coda (2:28)

10. Aurelia quiere saber (2:23)
11. Sunda Stream (2:42)
12. Aguas del Bagradas (4:18)

LINEUP:
Ángel Ontalva –  guitar, flute
Víctor Rodríguez – keyboards, melodica (10)
Amanda Pazos Cosse – bass
Fran Mangas – saxophones
Toni Mangas – drums
Pablo Ortega – cello (4)
Salib – vocals (3)

Spanish guitarist and graphic artist Ángel Ontalva is the mind behind RIO/Avant band October Equus and a slew of other eclectic projects. He is also the founder of the independent label OctoberXart Records, on which his main band’s latest album, Permafrost, was released in the late spring of 2013. A few months before Permafrost, Ontalva released his first solo album, Mundo Flotante, which includes material originated around 2007, and recorded between 2009 and 2012. Two other members of October Equus – bassist Amanda Pazos Cosse, who is also the artist’s wife, and keyboardist Victor Rodriguez – appear on the album,  as well as other musicians who had already previously collaborated with Ontalva.

Those who approach this album expecting something along the lines of October Equus’ austerely refined take on Avant-Prog may be disappointed, because Mundo Flotante is quite a different animal. Though featuring the same accomplished musicianship and compositional skill, there is very little to remind the listener of Univers Zéro or Henry Cow, while comparisons with the Canterbury scene will often crop up. Indeed, the album’s very title of “Floating World” neatly sums up the airy, effortlessly fluid nature of the music, reminiscent of the quirky elegance of Hatfield and the North or National Health. A rich instrumental texture unfolds a subtly shifting backdrop for Ontalva’s beautiful guitar excursions, suffused with the warmth of the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern tradition. In fact, the album’s roots lie in one of Ontalva’s many projects, called Transarabian Connection, whose sound blended classic jazz-rock and chamber music with the traditional music of Spain’s Sephardic Jews. The overall effect is of refined elegance and high listenability in spite of the obvious complexity of the pieces. The music possesses an upbeat, almost catchy feel – obviously not in a mainstream sense, but still making listening a pleasurable experience even for those who are used to more straightforward, melodic fare.

Five of the 12 tracks listed on Mundo Flotante are grouped in a suite titled “Sendas de Ofir”, the album’s centerpiece also on account of it strategic placement in the middle of things. Bookended by gentle, subtly melancholy melodies woven by electric and acoustic guitar, saxophone and keyboards, its central section alternates rarefied passages with an almost improvisational feel and more buoyant ones, led by energetic drums and sax and introducing a hint of dissonance. The elegant flow of the music, its many changes handled with a skilled touch, make for riveting listening, without none of the pretentiousness often associated with ambitious, multi-part compositions.

The remaining tracks are even more intriguing, some of their titles hinting at the presence of heady Middle Eastern suggestions. In particular“Leilya”, the only piece featuring Salib’s haunting wordless vocals well complemented by flute, sax, piano and guitar, conjures a North African market place, as well as the timeless magic of flamenco; opener “Sopla el viento del Este”, on the other hand, marries ethnic flavour and a jaunty, appealingly loose jazzy pace, which spotlights Ontalva’s guitar alongside organ and sax. The charming “Bounkam Reverie” evokes the Canterbury sound with its smooth yet intricate interplay between guitar, keyboards and drums (especially in evidence here), while in “Una para Lars” the cello adds its sober voice to the beautiful, romantic tapestry of acoustic guitar arpeggios embellished by tinkling percussion. The wistful “Aurelia quiere saber” pursues the almost autumnal mood of the last part of the suite, with melodica adding an appealing folksy touch. In contrast, the two final tracks on the album – “Sunda Stream” and “Aguas del Bagradas”-  reprise the brisk, jazzy tone of the opener, with some sharper, angular moments that hint at Ontalva’s work with October Equus.

Clocking in at a mere 43 minutes, Mundo Flotante is full of beautiful, laid-back music that is never in danger of overstaying its welcome, and where Ontalva’s remarkable compositional skill is not overshadowed by excessive ambition (as is often the case with solo albums). The strong ethnic component will especially appeal to those who love some exotic spice in their music of choice, but the album can be safely recommended to most lovers of progressive rock, especially those who lean towards the instrumental side of the genre.

Links:
http://www.octoberxart.com/

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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:
1. Horse Heart (6:06)
2. Taurokathapsia (4:52)
3. Cream Sky (6:23)
4. Spiraling (12:48)
5. Roots Growth (5:47)
6. See You in Me (7:50)
7. Ritual of Apollo & Dionysus (4:00)
8. Northern Lights (5:49)

LINEUP:
Stelios Romaliadis – flute

With:
Lisa Isaksson – vocals, balalaika, harp, flute (1)
David Svedmyr – mellotron, zither, bells (1)
Jennie Ståbis –  vocals (1)
Fotini Kallianou – cello (1, 2, 5, 7)
Katerina Papachristou – double bass (1, 2, 7)
Fotis Siotas – viola, violin (2, 5)
Lefteris Moumtzis – vocals, acoustic guitar (3)
Alex Bolpasis – acoustic guitar (3)
Pavlos Michaelides – violin (3)
Andria Degens – vocals (4, 6)
Giorgos Varoutas – electric guitar (4)
David Jackson – saxophones (5)
Elsa Kundig – cello (5)
Nikos Fokas – Fender Rhodes piano (5)
Nikos Papanagiotou – drums (5)
Greg Haines – cello (6)
Georgia Smerou – bassoon (7)
Georgia Konstadopoulou  – cor anglais, oboe (7)

The distinctively-named Lüüp (an idiosyncratic spelling of the word “loop”) is a project by flutist and composer Stelios Romaliadis, a young but very gifted artist based in Athens (Greece). Lüüp’s recording debut, Distress Signal Code (released in October 2008 on Musea Records) saw the participation of legendary ex-VDGG saxophonist David Jackson. The project’s second release, Meadow Rituals, was released in May 2011 on independent label Experimedia, but only recently came to my attention – thanks to the networking opportunities offered by the social media scene.

Unlike Distress Signal Code – which had been recorded with the input of a restricted number of musicians – Meadow Rituals involves a large cast of artists from different European countries who supply a varied, largely acoustic instrumentation ranging from strings to guitars. Some of the guest musicians, such as David Jackson, vocalist Lisa Isaksson (of Swedish outfit Lisa o Piu) and pianist Nikos Fokas, also performed on Lüüp’s debut. The album was recorded in Greece, Germany, Sweden and the UK – the home countries of the musicians involved.

While certainly progressive, both in spirit and in actual execution, Meadow Rituals is not a rock album, and traditional rock instruments only make occasional appearances. Vocals – whenever present – seamlessly blend with the other instruments so as to enhance the delicate, almost brittle nature of each piece. Though Romaliadis’s flute, as can be expected, is at the core of Lüüp’s music, each instrument contributes to the development of the compositions in its own individual way.

In opening track “Horse Heart”, vocals take centre stage: Lisa Isaksson’s pure, ethereal voice – supported by backing vocalist Jennie Ståbis and a heady mélange of mellotron, zither, balalaika and harp – tempers the dark, melancholy feel of the piece, and the deep-toned twang of Katerina Papachristou’s double bass evokes memories of Pentangle – though in a more experimental vein. Intriguing world music suggestions emerge in the riveting “Cream Sky”, where flute, acoustic guitar and violin find a perfect foil in Lefteris Moumtzis’ soothing baritone – reminiscent of Dead Can Dance’s Brendan Perry. The album’s centerpiece, however, lies in the 12-minute “Spiraling”, masterfully built around the subdued yet deeply haunting voice of Andria Degens (of British act Pantaleimon), with its timeless Celtic tinge complemented by sparse guitar, violin and flute, which  mesh with the vocal line to create a magical atmosphere. Degens’ voice returns in the nearly 8-minute “See You in Me”, accompanied by Romaliadis’ flute and British composer Greg Haines’ cello in an almost avant-garde workout of austere beauty.

The remaining four tracks are all instrumental. In the solemn “Taurokathapsia” (a Greek word for the ancient Cretan ritual of bull-leaping, depicted in Minoan frescoes), the interplay of deep, resonating cello and double bass and delicate describes the scene in sonic terms, with violin injecting a stately, classical feel. Another strongly descriptive number, “Ritual of Apollo & Dionysus” conveys the dialogue between the two gods through the alternation of flute and oboe on one hand, and cor anglais and bassoon on the other; while in closer “Northern Lights” Romaliadis’ flute evokes the titular phenomenon with trills and leaps, followed by pauses of quiet. On the other hand, “Roots Growth” is the closest the album gets to a more conventional rock sound, and the only track that features drums, as well as electric piano – though there is nothing conventional about it. A folk-tinged number, with a lilting, dance-like movement, it revolves around the contrast between Romaliadis’ pastoral flute and David Jackson’s more assertive saxophone.

Clocking in at almost 54 minutes, Meadow Rituals is a well-balanced, carefully structured effort that, as hinted in the previous paragraphs, is focused on atmosphere rather than energy. While those who need the adrenalin rush provided by guitar solos or banks of keyboards will probably find it disappointing or just plain uninspiring, fans of world music, New Age, ambient and the whole ECM catalogue – as well as classical and chamber music, especially of the 20th-century variety (Debussy comes to mind) – will find a lot to appreciate. Highly recommended to those who have been intrigued by some of the music that I have reviewed in recent times (such as Janel & Anthony, Ergo and Knitting By Twilight/John Orsi), Meadow Rituals is beautiful aural and visual experience, whose stunning photography and haunting musical content will engage your mind and soothe your soul.

Links:
http://label.experimedia.net/015/

https://www.facebook.com/pages/L%C3%BC%C3%BCp/193352967368528

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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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TRACKLISTING:
1. Cuckoo (9:23)
2. Knowledge (6:09)
3. Let Go (4:54)
4. Khajurao (5:22)
5. Hero (10:13)
6. UFO-RA (6:44)
7. Falling Up (18:03)
8. Palitana Mood (3:05)

LINEUP:
Tony Bianco – drums, loops, percussion
Michel Delville – electric guitar, bouzouki, electronics
Jordi Grognard – tenor sax, bass clarinet, flute, bansuri, electronic tempura

Machine Mass Trio was originally born as a side project of douBt, the electric jazz trio formed by Belgian guitarist Michel Delville whose acclaimed debut album, Never Pet a Burning Dog, was released in 2009 by influential New York-based label Moonjune Records. For this project, Delville and renowned NYC drummer Tony Bianco recruited a rising star of the modern jazz scene, Belgian reedist/saxophonist Jordi Grognard, who is also well-versed in non-Western woodwind instruments. Machine Mass Trio’s debut, As Real As Thinking, recorded live in the studio in October 2010, was released in November 2011 with the support of the Belgian French Community.

Like most of Moonjune Records’ output, As Real As Thinking is definitely not an immediately accessible album – sophisticated and multilayered, yet permeated with a sense of sharp urgency that surfaces when you would least expect it. In a veritable melting pot of diverse influences, the album merges the raw power of free jazz and guitar-based progressive rock à la King Crimson with the heady mysticism of Eastern music filtered through the electronic experimentalism of Krautrock. The three band members alternating in the spotlight or blending their collective strengths together to produce music that is constantly challenging but always rewarding, contribute in equal measure to the success of the final product.

At the core of Machine Mass Trio’s sound lies Tony Bianco’s astonishing drumming, a concentrate of pure energy and flawless time-keeping. He lays down an unflagging beat for the whole 10 minutes of the jammy, deceptively sedate “Hero”, providing a steady rhythmic backdrop for Delville and Grognard’s exertions. On the other hand, in the spectacular 18 minutes of “Falling Up Nº 9” – a tour de force that marries intoxicating psychedelic suggestions with chaotic free-jazz improvisation – he unleashes the pyrotechnics, the drums starting out in a subdued fashion, then gradually gaining intensity, sparring with Delville’s guitar and eerie electronic effects in an exhilarating crescendo.

Delville’s guitar runs the gamut from the blistering riffage of “Let Go”, with its almost metallic edge coupled with Grognard’s unbridled, highly emotional sax, to the intriguingly laid-back textures and staggered rhythms of “Knowledge”. The distinctive sound of the bouzouki, with its haunting, sitar-like twang, replaces the guitar in the Eastern-inspired “Khajurao” (named after the Hindu temple complex famous for its erotic sculptures) and album closer “Palitana Mood” – sinuously intertwining with Grognard’s breathy flutes, discreet percussion and buzzing electronic effects; while “UFO-RA” revolves around Delville’s slightly dissonant synth guitar, emoting over the lively pace set by drums, piano and sax.

A classy blend of stunning technical prowess, energy and creativity, As Real As Thinking is never predictable, and will not disappoint fans of independent labels such as ECM and Cuneiform, which, like Moonjune, comfortably straddle the lines between jazz, avant-garde, world music and progressive rock. In spite of the collective talent gathered here, the album celebrates the joy of unfettered playing, in a spirit that is both collaborative and mindful of each musician’s background and inclination. Though the album may be a daunting prospect for those who prize flowing melodies and carefully structured compositions, it is highly recommended to adventurous listeners and anyone who supports genuinely progressive music-making.

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

http://www.moonjune.com

 

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Irreducible Complexity (3:39)
2. Manifest Density (3:45)
3. Save the Yuppie Breeding Grounds (4:07)
4. Disillusioned Avatar/Dub Interlude/Ephebus Amoebus (10:25)
5.  Disoriental Suite (11:46):
a) Bagua
b) Kan Hai De Re Zi
c) Views from Chicheng Precipice
6. Kuru (4:31)
7. The Okanogan Lobe (7:36)
8. Uncle Tang’s Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (3:44)
9. Blues for a Bruised Planet (4:35)
10. Waylaid (5:31)
11.  Middlebräu (9:09)

LINEUP:
Dennis Rea – guitar
Alicia DeJoie – violin
James DeJoie – baritone sax, flute, percussion
Kevin Millard – NS/Stick (8-string extended-range bass)
Stephen Cavit – drums, percussion

Two years after the release of their debut album, Manifest Density, Seattle-based quintet Moraine enjoy an impressive reputation as one of the most eclectic outfits on the modern progressive rock scene, purveyors of music that, while constantly dynamic and challenging, is never devoid of atmosphere and melody. In the months between the release of the album and their career-defining performance at NEARfest 2010, the band, led by veteran guitarist and composer Dennis Rea, underwent a lineup change, with the departure of cellist Ruth Davidson and drummer Jay Jaskot that determined a distinct shift in their sound.

For their sophomore effort – bearing the brilliant name of Metamorphic Rock, which, like the band’s own, reflects Dennis Rea’s passion for geology and mountaineering, as well as referring to the metamorphosis undergone by the band – Moraine have chosen a rather unconventional format. Though it is a live album, capturing their NEARfest set in crystal-clear detail, it focuses on new, unreleased material as much as on compositions originally featured on Manifest Density. The latter have been rearranged to accommodate the obvious differences in sound due to the presence of a baritone saxophone instead of a cello, their running time often extended as if to indulge the average prog fan’s preference for longer tracks.

With five members coming from very different musical backgrounds, Moraine are quite unlike conventional prog bands in being much less prone to reproduce their compositions verbatim when on stage, and thrive on freedom of improvisation. This diversity results in a headily eclectic direction, blending rock with jazz, funk, blues, world music and avant-garde, which however never descends into the sprawling “kitchen sink” approach adopted by many acts, with often debatable outcomes. Since its very beginning, Moraine has been a collaborative effort, with every member getting an opportunity to contribute to the songwriting – even if Dennis Rea gets the most credit on this album as a composer. As much as he is the band’s mouthpiece and most experienced member, even a cursory listen to either of Moraine’s albums will reveal a dense, tightly woven structure in which all instruments bring their own distinctive voice, and no one overwhelms the other.

The 11 tracks chosen for the band’s NEARfest set highlight their unique dynamics and the wide range of influences and ideas that characterize their compositional approach. Traces of their beginnings as a “chamber rock” outfit (or, as Rea puts it, a string quartet with drums) emerge occasionally throughout the set, but the definite rock turn taken by the band is hard to miss. In its three minutes, opener “Irreducible Complexity” effectively sums up the “new” Moraine: written by James DeJoie, it emphasizes how seamlessly the saxophone has become part of the whole, replacing the solemn drone of the cello with its more forceful tone, acting both as foundation (together with Stephen Cavit’s understated but subtly propulsive drumming and Kevin Millard’s versatile 8-string bass) and as a protagonist, in combination with the flowing, melodic strains of Alicia DeJoie’s violin and Rea’s clear, almost tinkling guitar.

Interestingly, the majority of Moraine’s compositions seem to make use of a leitmotiv device, a main theme, generally introduced right from the beginning, which crops up in different parts of a song, rendering it more memorable as well as more cohesive. This device is also explored by “Manifest Density”, with its catchy guitar-sax-violin riff, and the more angular “Kuru” – as well as newer material like the hauntingly majestic “The Okanogan Lobe”, and the forceful, slightly chaotic “Waylaid”. Like many of those RIO/Avant bands they have often been compared with, Moraine balance beautifully melodic, lyrical sections, dominated by Alicia DeJoie’s soaring violin, with others where a carefully controlled chaos seems to reign. “Uncle Tang’s Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” represents the band’s noisier side; while in the 10-minute medley of “Disillusioned Avatar/Dub Interlude/ Ephebus Amoebus”, all the different souls of Moraine are given a voice – from the gorgeously melancholy, violin-driven beginning – a masterpiece of careful atmosphere-building with its loose, rarefied texture – to the lazy reggae pace of the “dub interlude” (which allows the rhythm section to step into the limelight), finally climaxing with an effects-drenched, free-jazz workout.

Running at almost 12 minutes, the amusingly-named “Disoriental Suite”, based on Dennis Rea’s solo album Views from Chicheng Precipice illustrates Moraine’s more meditative side, opening with a gentle, lilting melody enhanced by James DeJoie’s flute, and culminating with a sparser, more experimental, violin-led section. As its title implies, the somber mood of “Blues for a Bruised Planet” – a fresh take on the old warhorse of the blues ballad – expressed by the mournful voice of the sax and reinforced by violin and guitar, stems from Dennis Rea’s deep concern with the sorry state of Planet Earth. My personal favourite from the band, the towering “Middlebräu”, closes the album with a bang, its funky intro followed by a short, snappy drum solo, and then culminating with the gorgeous, slow-motion coda in which the interplay between guitar and violin reaches unparalleled heights.

The sheer quality of the recording (mixed by legendary Seattle-based engineer Steve Fisk) and the brilliance of the individual performances more than compensates for the editing of Rea’s unassumingly witty on-stage banter – my only quibble about an otherwise outstanding album. As I pointed out in my review of the 2010 edition of NEARfest, Moraine were by far the most authentically progressive band on the bill. Moreover, their particular brand of “East-meets-West” is quite far removed from cheesy attempts at exoticism for its own sake, but rather motivated by genuine love and interest for different musical modes than ours. Needless to say, Metamorphic Rock is unlikely to be fully appreciated by symphonic prog traditionalists, especially those who object to the absence of keyboards, but it is otherwise highly recommended to all open-minded prog fans. Another contender for my personal Top 10 of 2011 – hoping for a third album some time in 2012.

Links:
http://www.moraineband.com

http://www.moonjune.com

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