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Archive for the ‘World Music’ Category

TRACKLISTING:
1. A Thousand Islands (3:59)
2. Clouds and Stars (2:46)
3. Heavy Water (5:55)
4. Biddeford Pool (4.30)
5. Harold’s Budds (6:01)
6. The Doorman’s Dairy Dream(4:10)
7. Rainy Day Trains (6:33)
8. Weathering (5:36)

LINEUP:
John Orsi  – drums, percussion, keyboards
Mike Marando – guitars (3, 5, 7, 8), bass (5, 7), ebow guitar (7)
Manny Silva – guitars (1)

Knitting By Twilight is a music and art collective based in the historic New England city of Providence (known as the hometown of cult horror writer HP Lovecraft), where it was founded by John Orsi and Michael Watson in the spring of 1994. Orsi, a talented composer and multi-instrumentalist, has been the only constant in the outfit throughout the years. Weathering, the sixth CD released by Knitting By Twilight since their inception, comes in a stunning six-panel package graced with a full-size image of late 19th-century French artist Antoine Bouguereau’s painting Biblis. Orsi is also involved with Incandescent Sky and Herd of Mers, both signed to his own label It’s Twilight Time.

When I started my “career” as an official reviewer (as opposed to writing about albums in my own collection), I chose Knitting By Twilight’s fourth album, bearing the charming title of An Evening Out of Time, for my very first review. In spite of my extensive exposure to all kinds of music, I had rarely chanced upon something so distinctive and delicate, yet bearing very little resemblance to the “prog” that made up the bulk of my listening and reviewing routine. Everything about the album drew my attention – from the lovely, romantic artwork (a constant of Knitting By Twilight’s output) to the quirkily delightful titles, reminiscent of haiku-style poems or Impressionist paintings rather than the slightly self-conscious grandeur of a lot of “mainstream” progressive rock. The music within was no less fascinating, even if very much of an acquired taste, requiring both patience and an appreciation for muted contrasts of light and shade rather than intricate arrangements, flowing melodies or instrumental flights of fancy.

Knitting By Twilight’s music revolves around John Orsi’s remarkable, yet understated skill as a percussionist. Totally passionate about his craft, and using his extensive, inspirational array of instruments (listed in loving detail on the CD) to generate sounds that range from pastoral gentleness to eerie dissonance, Orsi is the polar opposite of the stereotype of the muscular, propulsive rock drummer, his approach quite far removed from the technically gifted, yet overly assertive likes of Mike Portnoy and his ilk. He also handles keyboards, which add depth to the compositions and create an atmospheric backdrop for both his percussive forays and the guitar touches provided by Manny Silva and Mike Marando (the latter also a member of Incandescent Sky) on some of the tracks.

Unlike most traditional prog, the music featured on Weathering is not tightly orchestrated, but rather loose and improvisational, deeply evocative, often airy and rarefied, occasionally a tad uncomfortable. As both the main title and the individual titles suggest, the album is very much a celebration of weather and nature, seen as metaphors for many of life’s situations. However, though some listeners might expect a new-agey, somewhat limp-wristed musical offer, there are different kinds of beauty on display on this album, some of them reflecting the languor and sensuality of the cover art, others edgier and slightly ominous.

At a superficial glance, there is not a lot of variety on Weathering, centred as it is on Orsi’s elaborate, yet oddly natural percussive patterns, achieved with both traditional instruments and more exotic ones – many made of metal, producing sharp, bell-like sounds. Clocking in at a very restrained 38 minutes, the album is a collection of tracks that run the gamut from the understated, haunting beauty of opener “A Thousand Islands” to the chaotic, challenging bouts of dissonance of the aptly-titled “Heavy Water” and the eerily buzzing keyboard tapestry of “Harold’s Budds” (a pun on the name of American composer Harold Budd), punctuated by bells and piercing guitar. In “Rainy Day Trains”, the title’s vivid imagery is conjured by clanging cymbals and surging keyboard waves, a difficult though exhilarating combination of sounds tempered by the solemn tone of Marando’s guitar. In the subtly melodic “The Doorman’s Dairy Dream”, layers of keyboards support the delicate, sparse percussion, used more as an accent than as the main event.  “Clouds and Stars” is as gracefully romantic as its title implies, with a main theme embroidered by various percussion, and faint Eastern suggestions backed by faraway-sounding keyboards; while in “Biddeford Pool” the keyboards suggest the ebb and flow of water, spiked by the faint metallic dissonance produced by the percussion. The title-track wraps up the album in stately fashion, with guitar, percussion and keyboards interacting slowly and steadily to create a rich, haunting texture.

As hinted in the previous paragraphs, Weathering is not for everyone – its refined minimalism very much in contrast with the carefully arranged lushness of most symphonic/neo prog, and the lack of memorable melodic structures posing another hurdle for those accustomed to more conventional fare. Like all mood/ambient-based music, it has its own time and place, being much better suited to moments of calm and meditation than more energetic activities. Warmly recommended to those who appreciate music that can evoke subtle nuances, dreamy soundscapes and also slightly disquieting atmospheres, it should also not be missed by  dedicated percussionists and lovers of inventive drumming. Fans of artists such as Robert Fripp, David Sylvian, Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush and Dead Can Dance are also quite likely to appreciate Weathering’s exquisite, though not immediately accessible nature.

Links:
http://www.overflower.com/KnittingByTwilight_Welcome.htm

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In spite of the difficult economic times, and also of the prevailing “the grass is greener” attitude, in 2011 Europe is all set to offer an almost unprecedented range of progressive rock (and related) festivals – in sharp contrast with the (hopefully temporary) demise of both NEARfest and CalProg in the North American continent. In the past few weeks I have come across no less than four announcements of respectably-sized events taking place in various part of the boot-shaped peninsula.

The first edition of the Civitella Progressive Rock Festival will be held at the sports centre of the town of Civitella Paganico, in the Tuscan province of Grosseto, starting on July 16 with guitarist Alex Carpani and Pink Floyd tribute band Time Machine, and then continuing on the weekend of July 22/23  with Classic ELP Tribute, local band Gran Turismo Veloce and legends Le Orme (July 22), and The Watch opening for Fish (July 23).

On the same weekend (July 22-24), the festival We Love Vintage will be held at the sports centre Due Madonne in Bologna, with an impressive lineup featuring well-known names of the classic prog era such as the new supergroup CCLR (with Bernardo Lanzetti, and Aldo Tagliapietra as a special guest) and Arti e Mestieri with Mel Collins and David Cross, as well as up-and-coming acts such as Paolo Schianchi, Alex Carpani, Ego, Altare Thotemico, Stereokimono, Mappe Nootiche, Astralia, and Bologna’s own Accordo dei Contrari (with legendary ‘voice of Canterbury’ Richard Sinclair as a special guest).

In the same week, on July 21, the Austin-based duo WD-41 (recently interviewed here) at the Portello River Festival in Padova, an event that is sure to appeal to those with a keen interest in experimental and world music.

While the month of August in Italy is traditionally dedicated to vacation, progressive rock will make a comeback in September with another two extremely intriguing events. The 2 Days Prog Veruno will take place at the Piazzetta della Musica in the town of Veruno, in the Piedmontese province of Novara. This year the festival, in spite of its name, will last 3 days instead of two (September 2-4), and its exciting lineup will feature Italian acts such as Alex Carpani Band, Methodica, Il Tempio delle Clessidre, Arti e Mestieri (again with Mel Collins and David Cross) and Goblin, alongside celebrated international acts such as RPWL, Anathema, Riverside and Agents of Mercy.

This staggeringly rich season of music will be wrapped up by the Progressivamente Festival held at the Casa del Jazz in Rome on the following week (September 6-11). The event, dedicated to the memory of Italian musician and Chapman stick virtuoso Virginia Splendore (who tragically passed away at the end of May 2011), will offer a veritable ‘who is who’ of classic and modern Italian prog, with bands such as Il Tempio delle Clessidre, Locanda delle Fate, Murple, Fonderia, Metamorfosi, Le Orme and Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, as well as Gentle Giant offshoot Three Friends and tribute acts Us and Them, Goblin…Rebirth and Progtop. An additional feature of the event will be listening ‘seminars’ for audiophiles comparing analog and digital recordings of the great prog albums of the Seventies.

As unbelievable as it may sound to my American readers, some of these events will be free of charge, or have a very accessible price (no higher than 20 euros).  Whoever is planning a trip to Italy in the summer months may be interested in planning things so as to be able to attend at least one of those concerts, which will offer the added bonus of great surroundings and excellent food and drink.

Links:
Civitella Progressive Rock Festival: http://www.synpress44.com/01Comunicati.asp?id=1113

We Love Vintage: http://www.welovevintage.it/

Portello River Festival: http://www.riverfilmfestival.org/PRF7.pdf

2 Days Prog Veruno: http://www.lastfm.it/festival/1936079+2+Days+Prog+Veruno

Progressivamente Festival: http://www.progressivamente.com/


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TRACKLISTING:
1. Sirens Dance (3:52)
2. Aging Backwards (5:20)
3. Flanders Fields (5:05)
4. Sleepless Night (5:59)
5. Horny (2:57)
6. Little Bird (4:09)
7. Duck on a Walk (3:25)
8. The Greatest Kick of the Day (3:23)
9. Never Lose your Mind (2:43)
10. Love Song (5:27)
11. Purple Frog (5:05)

LINEUP:
Jonathan Callens – drums, backing vocals (9)
Jouni Isoherranen – bass, backing vocals  (5, 9)
Gabor Humble Vörös – guitar, vocals
Pol Mareen – saxophone
Pedro Guridi – clarinets, backing vocals (5)
Pieter Claus – marimba, vibraphone, percussions

With:
Lisa Jordens – backing vocals (3, 5, 6, 7, 8)
Hanneke Osterlijnck – backing vocals (3, 6)
Joriska Vanhaelewyn – backing vocals  (2)
Juan Carlos Torres Iturra – Spanish vocals (6)
Leika Mochan – backing vocals (9)
Attila Czigany – harmonica (6)
Joris Buysse – flute  (6)
Fre Vandaele – whistle (3, 4)
Wouter Vandenabeele – violin (4)
Megan Quill – vocals (10, 11)
Franciska Roose – vocals (10, 11)

Many will almost automatically associate Belgium with the more left-field fringes of progressive rock, as the country has contributed essentially to the development of the subgenre with outfits such as Univers Zéro, Present, and Aranis. Though those bands seem to enjoy a rather daunting reputation in the more traditionalist prog circles, even a superficial listen to Humble Grumble’s debut album, Flanders Fields, will come as a positive surprise to those who tend to dismiss anything even remotely ‘avant-garde’ as noisy or depressing.

Humble Grumble was first formed in 1996 in the Belgian region of Ghent by Hungarian guitarist/vocalist Gabor Humble Vörös and other former members of a folk/jazz ensemble called Dearest Companion. Though that first incarnation disbanded after some time, the band was reformed in more recent times as a multicultural outfit, with members hailing from Finland and Chile as well as Belgium. The result was  Flanders Fields, released in the first half of 2011 by Italian label AltrOck Productions.

While placing Humble Grumble under the capacious RIO/Avant umbrella may be the easiest solution when it comes to the very popular activity of classifying a band or artist, it also paints a rather limited picture of this decidedly intriguing outfit. A sextet conspicuously lacking in keyboards, but employing instead saxophone, clarinet, vibraphone and marimba, Humble Grumble also avail themselves of the collaboration of a host of guest artists, which lends their music a well-rounded, almost orchestral quality.

On the other hand, Flanders Fields is very much a song-based effort, with 10 out of 11 tracks featuring vocals, none of them running above 6 minutes. The whole album clocks in at a very restrained 43 minutes, which allows the listener to fully appreciate the music without getting overwhelmed by it (as is far too often the case with modern releases). The short running time, however, may somewhat deceptive, since each of the tracks is densely packed with tempo changes, intriguing vocal interplay and rhythmic solutions of frequently astounding complexity – all flavoured with unashamed eclecticism. This makes for a surprisingly listener-friendly mixture, though obviously not in a commercial sense.

The most surprising thing about the album, though, is its strongly upbeat nature, and that in spite of the distincly subdued nature of the title-track, whose lyrics juxtapose somber remembrances of WWI with equally pessimistic musings on the state of modern-day Belgium. With this one notable exception, Flanders Fields brims with nonsensical, somewhat anarchic humour that inevitably brings to mind the likes of Frank Zappa and Gong. The latter band is probably the most evident term of comparison for Humble Grumble – down to its multi-national configuration. Mainman Gabor Humble’s engaging vocal approach is quite reminiscent of Daevid Allen’s (as well as Robert Wyatt and Caravan’s Pye Hastings), with the frequent intervention of female backing vocalists bringing to mind more than a fleeting echo of those notorious “space whispers” (especially in the self-explanatory “Horny”, a short, lively Gong-meets-Zappa number). Drums and percussion play a large, not merely propulsive role, while Humble’s guitar is nicely complemented by the warm, expressive tones of the reeds, so that keyboards are never really missed. In spite of the ‘avant’ tag, there is a lot of melody and very little dissonance in Humble Grumble’s sound, as well as plenty of diverse ‘world music’ influences.

Rather uncharacteristically Flanders Fields opens with its only instrumental track, “Sirens Dance”, in which Eastern touches and slow, almost sultry jazzy tones spice up a dynamic, cheerful fabric. “Aging Backwards” introduces Gabor Humble’s melodic yet keenly ironical vocals, as well as displaying his remarkably versatile guitar playing; while the title-track, as previously hinted, brings a note of sober melancholy, the beautiful female harmony vocals and the clear, tinkling sound of the marimba adding a lyrical, romantic tinge. “Sleepless Night”, with its Gentle Giant-inspired vocal harmonies, keeps up the understated mood of the title-track, enhanced by the wistful voice of the violin – a mood that recurs in the mellow, almost delicate “Never Lose Your Mind”, where the lush vocal harmonies evoke Queen as well as Gentle Giant. On the other hand, the more upbeat numbers such as  the folk-meets-Avant “Little Bird”, with vocals both in English and Spanish,  and the funny, lively “Duck on a Walk” conjure echoes of Canterbury; while the Gong and Zappa references emerge most clearly in the last couple of songs, “Love Song” and “Purple Frog”, though tempered by gentler passages led by reeds or female vocals.

Warmly recommended to devotees of Gong and the Canterbury scene in general – as well as any act that uses humour as an essential ingredient of its music –  Flanders Fields can nonetheless appeal to all but the most staunchly conservative prog fans. In particular, those who are not crazy about lengthy epics will be impressed by the way in which Humble Grumble manage to introduce a high level of complexity within the restrictions of the song format. A very enjoyable release from another excellent addition to the already outstanding AltrOck Production roster.

Links:
http://www.humblegrumble.be/

http://www.myspace.com/humblegrumble

http://production.altrock.it/

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Bella Lee (3:34)
2. Parliamone (5:43)
3. Infraditi (7:36)
4. Fungo (6:42)
5 Cane di Schiena (6:32)
6. Pappa Irreale (2:27)
7. Antenna (7:59)
8. Klez (4:16)
9. Max Dembo (8:47)

LINEUP:
Filippo Cantarella – violin, viola
Marco Ravera – electric and acoustic guitar, synthesizer
Tommaso Rolando  – acoustic bass, electric bass, acoustic guitar, synthesizer, sampler, trumpet
Nando Magni – trombone
Nicola Magri – drums

With:
Cosimo Francavilla – soprano saxophone (2)
Antonio Carletti – weird vocals (7)

In my writings I have often mentioned the lively music scene of the great port of Genoa – not surprising for a city that, throughout its long history, has been one of the many melting pots of the Mediterranean region, bringing together East and West, North and South in a heady mixture of tradition and modernity. This is the kind of fertile ground from where Fabrizio De André’s Creuza de Ma, one of the undisputed masterpieces of the whole ‘world music’ scene, originated. Five-piece Calomito, a relatively recent addition to the variegated Italian music scene, bring an unique twist to the time-honoured musical heritage of their home town, with a sound that marries the warmth of the Mediterranean with a strong international bent.

Calomito have been around since the mid-2000, releasing their debut album, Inaudito, in 2005. After a five-year hiatus and some line-up changes, the band have made a comeback with Cane di Schiena, issued in the first half of 2011 by Milan-based label AltrOck Productions (also responsible for outstanding, cutting-edge releases such as Yugen’s three albums and mirRthkon’s Vehicle). Though they have been almost forcibly placed under the RIO/Avant umbrella, Calomito are one of those bands that – luckily for fans of genuinely interesting music, much less so for those who delight in labelling everything – are extremely hard to pigeonhole, due to their boldly eclectic approach to music-making.

As a fellow Italian reviewer  jokingly stated at the beginning of his own review of the album, you may want to consider taking a couple of days off in order to listen to Cane di Schiena properly. Indeed, though clocking in at a mere 53 minutes, the album presents an  incredibly dense (though never claustrophobic) amount of music which unfolds with each successive listen, and therefore devoid of any immediately digestible tunes. On the other hand, unlike what many believe about any kind of music that bears even a faint whiff of ‘avant-garde’, there is nothing discordant, abrasive or random about Calomito’s sound. Each of the tracks is clearly very carefully structured, as it is nearly always the case with ‘chamber rock’ outfits – a definition that, in my view, fits Calomito to a T. Like their label mates Yugen, they transcend the boundaries of the RIO/Avant classification, and should rather be seen as purveyors of eclectic yet oddly intimate music tha requires all of the listener’s attention to be fully appreciated.

This does not imply that Cane di Schiena is one of those deadly serious albums that command a quasi-religious devotion. Calomito’s humorous disposition, which descends directly from the likes of Stormy Six and Picchio dal Pozzo (as well as the Canterbury scene, which is also a clear musical influence), immediately comes across from titles such as “Pappa Irreale”(a pun on pappa reale, the Italian for “royal jelly”) or “Infraditi” (an intentionally ungrammatical spelling of the  word meaning “flip-flops”). The music itself, while quite light-hearted at times, can on occasion reach for a more subdued, sober tone. On the whole, Cane di Schiena comes across as a flawlessly executed album that never descends into a depressing or overly involved tone.

As is the case of other ‘chamber prog’ ensembles, Calomito employ a number of other instruments alongside the traditional rock trinity of bass, guitar and drums, assisted by various synthesizers. The substantial contribution of the horns evokes parallels with bands such as Miriodor, which emerge quite clearly right from the album’s opening track, “Bella Lee” – an incredibly dense 3 minutes of music; while the equally important role played by strings (violin and viola) brings instead to mind one of the best modern‘chamber rock’ outfits,  Seattle-based band Moraine, as well as vintage Frank Zappa. The more upbeat passages, suggesting a jazz-rock or Canterbury matrix, made me think of Forgas Band Phenomena, though Calomito sound slightly more angular than the French band. Furthermore, while Univers Zéro’s broodingly apocalyptic production seems to be the polar opposite in tone to Calomito’s essentially cheerful approach, Nicola Magri’s stunning, beyond-merely-propulsive drumming style cannot but evoke the way in which Daniel Denis supports the whole fabric of the Belgian outfit’s sound.

Trying to describe any of the nine tracks in detail would not do any of them justice. While “Infraditi” is probably the one track with the strongest connections to the RIO/Avant school of progressive rock – an astoundingly complex, 7-minute rollercoaster ride apparently throwing in anything but the proverbial kitchen sink, from carnival-like music to jazzy touches to jagged, almost dissonant passages – the somewhat low-key “Parliamone”, true to its title (meaning “let’s talk about it”) seems to reproduce a dialogue between two persons, with horns and synthesizers in the role of human voices. The choppy, dynamic “Fungo” exemplifies the way in which Calomito use pauses to create interest, rather than produce an impression of patchiness; while the title-track’s slow, meditative mood, some passages so low as to be barely audible, produces an intense, almost mesmerizing effect.

Especially in the second half of the album some intriguingly exotic influences show up, which bring to mind comparisons with Slivovitz, another über-eclectic Italian outfit hailing from Naples, my home country’s second biggest port (and musical capital). “ Pappa Irreale”’s lilting, dance-like pace punctuated by violin is sharply redolent of Irish folk, or even American country; and the upbeat, drum-driven “Klez”, as the title points out, contains elements of klezmer and Eastern European gypsy music. A folksy also tone emerges in parts of the initially low-key “Antenna”, possibly the most complex number on the album (and the only one briefly featuring ‘weird vocals’), ending with an exhilarating crescendo in which guitar, trombone and violin seem to engage in a sort of conversation. Closing track “Max Dembo” introduces some new elements, such as spacey sound effects that  enhance the powerful, rolling tone of the drums and the echoing guitar lines, as well as shades of Brazil in the relaxed, almost sultry pace of first half of the track.

In spite of the density of its musical content, Cane di Schiena is far from inaccessible, and – while undoubtedly a challenging listen – does not rely on spiky, jarring sounds to make its impact. There is plenty of melody to be found on the album, and the music possesses a natural flow and easy elegance that make listening a pleasure rather than a chore. Even though fans of traditional symphonic prog may be daunted by anything bearing the label of ‘avant-garde’, I would encourage everyone who loves progressive music to give Calomito a try. With their successful blend of technical skill, seemingly boundless creativity, eclectic influences and keen sense of humour, they are one of the most interesting bands heard in the past couple of years, and definitely one to watch.

Links:
http://www.calomito.com/

http://www.myspace.com/calomito

http://production.altrock.it/start.asp

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TRACKLISTING:

CD1
1. Hymn (4:29)
2. The Joy of Molybdenum (feat. The Trey Gunn Band) (5:29)
3. The Fifth Spin of the Sun (2:04)
4. Val El Diablo (feat. Alonso Arreola) (4:35)
5. Morning Dream (feat. Sergey Klevensky) (6:49)
6. Real Life (5:12)
7. Maslenitsa (feat. The Farlanders) (9:31)
8. Gallina (1:05)
9. Dziban (6:15)
10. Misery, Misery, Die, Die, Die… (feat. TU) (1:55)
11. Pole (0:44)
12. Thick and Thorny (feat. Quodia) (2:35)
13. Down Spin (1:13) 14. Absinthe & A Cracker (feat. TU) (3:17)
15. The Shimmering (2:23)
16. Fandango (feat. TU) (4:05)
17. Well (feat. Inna Zhelannaya) (5:56)

CD2
1. Jacaranda (feat. KTU) (3:57)
2. The Magnificent Jinn (3:24)
3. Contact (3:50)
4. Drunk (feat. Inna Zhelannaya) (6:26)
5. Killing for London (6:32)
6. Kuma (4:29)
7. Single Cell Shark (feat. Matte Henderson) (3:31)
8. Cheeky (feat. matt Chamberlin) (3:33)
9. Make My Grave in the Shape of a Heart (feat. TU) (1:24)
10. Spectra (1:57)
11. Capturing the Beam (1:23)
12. Hard Winds (3:05)
13. Arrakis (feat. The Trey Gunn Band) (6:54)
14. Flood (3:17)
15. Untamed Chicken (feat. TU) (4:15)
16. Down in Shadows (feat. N.Y.X.) (4:44)
17. Californ-a-tron (0:49)
18. Vals (feat. Sergey Klevensky) (3:18)
19. 9:47 P.M. (feat. Saro Cosentina) (5:03)

Reviewing a compilation obviously involves a rather different process than reviewing an album of completely new material. My readers will forgive me if this write-up is not as detailed as my reviews usually are, and, for instance, does not include information on all the musicians featured on every track. In this particular case, the compilation is a 2-CD package, comprising a total of 36 tracks spanning almost 20 years of the career of one of the most interesting artists on the current music scene – Texas-born touch guitarist, composer and multimedia storyteller  Trey Gunn, known to the majority of prog fans for his 10-year stint in King Crimson.

I have to admit to having been for quite a long time largely unfamiliar with Gunn’s musical output outside Fripp’s legendary band and a handful of scattered tracks from some of his solo projects. However, two years ago I had the opportunity to see him perform live as a guest of Eddie Jobson’s UKZ project, and was highly impressed by his skills and warm stage personality. Later, I found out that he was born exactly two days before me – perhaps not very relevant from a musical point of view, but an interesting bit of trivia nonetheless.

Released in November 2010, I’ll Tell What I Saw is jam-packed with extremely stimulating music taken from the numerous albums recorded by Gunn in the years from 1993 to the present day, both in his own name or with various other projects featuring international artists. Running at over 2 hours, it manages to sustain a consistently high level of quality, with hardly any filler at all, offering a heady mix of musical styles interpreted with flair, skill and soul. Indeed, Trey Gunn’s output might easily be held up as an example of a genuinely progressive approach to music-making, open-minded and eclectic, always looking for new sources of inspiration, and never letting his creative impulse grow stale.

The oldest items included in the compilation date back from Gunn’s debut album One Thousand Years (released in 1993), and (perhaps unsurprisingly) reveal a strong King Crimson influence, with “Kuma” in particular sounding like something out of the magnificent Discipline. As a matter of fact, the Crimsonian vibe can be heard in all of Gunn’s Nineties material, as witnessed by “Hard Winds”, another track characterized by the insistent, interlocking guitar lines and heavy yet intricate drumming typical of Fripp’s crew in their Eighties and Nineties incarnations. Gunn’s two more recent projects involving drummers – TU with fellow KC alum Pat Mastelotto, and Modulator with German-born wunderkind Marco Minnemann (who was also part of Eddie Jobson’s band when I saw them in 2009) – spotlight the marriage between the drums and the stunning versatility of Gunn’s trademark Warr guitar, with dramatic, mesmerizing textures and plenty of driving energy. However, while the TU tracks are more structured, the Modulator stuff (originally conceived as a 51-minute guitar solo) is largely improvisational in nature. Some of these numbers, especially the thunderous “Untamed Chicken”, seem to emphasize the drum-driven heaviness that characterizes compositions like “Level Five” (from King Crimson’s 2003 album The Power to Believe). Italian outfit N.Y.X.’s “Down in the Shadows” carries nuances of ‘alternative prog’ in the dark, industrial-tinged style perfected by Tool; while the bass-powered “Arrakis”, recorded live in 2001, foreshadows the avant-fusion of contemporary bands such as Zevious.

On the other hand, Gunn’s collaboration with Russian singer Inna Zhelennaya on her 2009 album Cocoon and on the eponymous 2005 album by The Farlanders explore the fascinating reaches of world music, injecting a welcome dose of thoroughly un-cheesy melody (also evidenced in gorgeous opening “Hymn”) in the proceedings. Zhelennaya’s hauntingly keening Russian-language vocals, somehow reminiscent of Lisa Gerrard’s otherworldly chanting, blend uncannily well with Gunn’s quicksilver guitar, producing some very distinctive results in the likes of the hypnotic “Maslenitsa” (the longest track on the album at almost 10 minutes, and possibly its highlight), “Well” and “Drunk”. Entrancing ambient tones, coloured with a feel of gentle melancholy, surface in Gunn’s collaboration with Russian clarinetist Sergey Klevezny; while the slow, liquid “9:47 PM Eastern Time” brings to mind KC’s “The Sheltering Sky”. KTU’s accordion-laden ”Jacaranda” and the Middle Eastern-flavoured “The Magnificent Jinn” branch further out in world music territory, though combining those ethnic influences with the angular dynamics typical of King Crimson.

As exciting and eclectic as I’ll Tell What I Saw is, I would not recommend listening to the whole 2-CD set in one take, since music this challenging and edgy might induce a sense of sonic overload, especially in those listeners who are used to more conventionally structured fare. Thankfully, there is enough diversity within those 36 tracks to keep the most demanding listeners happy. It is, however, music with a high level of complexity, even in the case of the shorter compositions, and needs to be approached with the right attitude. All in all, this is an excellent summary of Trey Gunn’s adventurous, ever-changing career, and an outstanding introduction to the work of one of the most intriguing purveyors of genuinely progressive music on the current scene.

Links:
http://www.treygunn.com

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Three Views From Chicheng Precipice (after Bai Yuyi) (9:52)
2. Tangabata (15:52)
3. Kan Hai De Re Zi  (Days by the Sea) (3:44)
4. Aviariations on “A Hundred Birds Serenade the Phoenix” (6:48)
5. Bagua  (Eight Trigrams) (10:41)

LINEUP:
Dennis Rea electric and resonator guitars, melodica, Naxi jaw harp, kalimba, dan bau (Vietnamese monochord)
Alicia Allenviolin (1, 3)
Greg Campbell drums, percussion (2)
Ruth Davidson cello (1, 3)
James DeJoie bass flute, bamboo flute, bass clarinet (2)
Caterina De Re voice (4)
Stuart Dempster trombone, conch shell (2)
Will Dowd – drums, percussion (1)
Elizabeth Falconer koto (5)
John Falconer shakuhachi (5)
Jay Jaskot drums (3)
Paul Kikuchi percussion (5)
Kevin Millard baliset (3)

In spite of China’s venerable musical tradition, very few people outside the ‘Asian studies’ circles are aware the authentic musical heritage of the Far East, unless it is in the most superficial of terms. Mentions of Chinese music might conjure, at least to the uninitiated, memories of the cheesy (when not downright ghastly) ‘sonic wallpaper’ that will accompany a meal in most Chinese restaurants of the Western world. However, I am happy to report that Views from Chicheng Precipice – the first recording effort solely credited to Seattle-based guitarist and composer Dennis Rea, a true veteran of the progressive music scene of the US Pacific Northwest – is light years removed from any such kitschy scenario.

Those who are familiar with Rea’s current main projects, the eclectic art-rock of Moraine and the improvisational jazz-rock of Iron Kim Style, will probably find themselves somewhat puzzled by this album – which, on the other hand, provides further proof of the guitarist’s broad horizons and dedication to the pursuit of creative musical avenues. While world music may be all the rage in a some circles, it is nevertheless not easy to find artists that approach the tradition of a country as distant (both literally and metaphorically) as China with such rigorously philological spirit as Rea manages to do – informed by his first-hand, in-depth knowledge of the musical and cultural background of both China and Taiwan, where he spent the years between 1989 and 1993.

Recorded between 2006 and 2008, Views from Chicheng Precipice sees the participation of members of both Moraine and Iron Kim Style, as well as other musicians from the Seattle scene, such as Japanese music specialists Elizabeth and John Falconer, and trombone master Stuart Dempster. Running at under 50 minutes, the album features five tracks presenting different facets of the Chinese musical heritage, seen through the eyes of a Western artist in a respectful yet uniquely personal way. Indeed, four out of five numbers (the sole exception being the title-track) are traditional compositions arranged by Rea so as to preserve their spirit even when reinterpreting their form.

Out of those five tracks, the East-West collision of “Days by the Sea” might almost be described as a pop song of sorts (also on account of its markedly shorter running time). Rea’s guitar weaves a tune that, while respectful to the original, incorporates elements of African-American blues, sparring with Alicia Allen’s violin in a stunning dialogue that brought to my mind Rea’s work with Moraine. The title-track, on the other hand, is built around three pentatonic motifs that comprise an original sonic triptych, with a recurring theme and plenty of scope left for improvisations. The composition was performed by Moraine during their performance at NEARfest 2010, though not many members of the audience were able to grasp its sheer elegance and grace in a live setting. Here the triptych comes across in all its understated power, the seamless flow of the music evoking the beauty of the titular mountain landscape (Qingcheng Mountain is the site of a Daoist sanctuary in China’s Sichuan Province). Rea’s guitar converses smoothly with Allen’s violin, while a drum-led improvisation adds a free-jazz touch to the central part of the composition.

The remaining three numbers are of a distinctly more challenging nature, since each of them develops in a fashion that is definitely less attuned to the Western ear. The 15-minute “Tangabata” and the 10-minute “Bagua” both have their roots in ceremonial music, as borne out by their stately, measured pace. The latter makes use of traditional Japanese instruments such as the koto and the shakuhachi (a bamboo flute), supported by solemn yet dramatic percussion work in the creation of a gently meditative mood. “Tangabata”, though a far from accessible piece, might be called the real highlight of the album. While featuring a distinctly Western-flavoured, free-jazz improv section at its very end, most of the composition remains faithful to its ancient origins – a sparse melody of austere beauty, almost suspended in time, made of deep, echoing sounds occasionally brightened by chiming bells. Finally, in “Aviariations on A Hundred Birds Serenade the Phoenix” (whose gently punning title reflects Rea’s ever-present sense of humour) the Chinese oboe traditionally used in the titular piece is replaced by Caterina De Re’s piercing vocal acrobatics, mimicking birdsong in a performance that brings together contemporary Western academic music and Chinese opera. Rea plays guitar and kalimba, whose sounds almost merge with De Re’s impossibly high notes.

Miles away from any tawdrily commercial ‘world music’ recreations, Views from Chicheng Precipice is, as Rea himself puts it, a love letter to the country where he spent four years of his life, an experience that was essential for his development as a musician. A refined, understated listen, it is an album made of subtle contrasts of light and shade, and as such needs to be approached with respect and concentration. The music possesses the delicate, almost brittle beauty of Far Eastern art, in stark contrast with the ‘in-your-face’ nature of much that is fashionable in this day and age. Being such an unabashed labour of love, imbued with profound feelings towards the country and its culture, sets it head and shoulders above the many blatantly contrived releases flooding the current music market. Those who will find themselves intrigued by the album could do much worse than get hold of a copy of Dennis’ book Live at the Forbidden City, a thoroughly enjoyable, extremely well-written account of his years in China and Taiwan – and a perfect companion to this disc. A special mention is also deserved by the stunningly minimalistic cover artwork and detailed liner notes – a simple yet classy package for an album that everyone with an interest in world music should check out.

Link:
http://www.dennisrea.com

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Tracklist:
1. Northern Hemisphere (5:03)
2. Isadora (4:19)
3. Waterways (7:00)
4. Centaur Woman (7:09)
5. Bathers (4:57)
6. Communion (4:02)
7. Moth (4:03)
8. In The Stable Of The Sphinx (8:20)

Bonus tracks  (Eclectic re-issue, 2004):
1. Waterways (demo) (6:40)
2. In the Stable of the Sphinx (demo recorded in July 1968) (11:10)
3. Eight Miles High (recorded at Tangerine Studios, London, 3rd September 1969) (6:51)

Lineup:
Dave Arbus – electric violin, flute, bagpipe, recorders, two saxophones
Ron Caines – soprano & alto saxophones (acoustic & amplified), organ, vocals (4)
Dave Dufont – percussion
Geoff Nicholson –  guitars, vocals
Steve York – bass guitar, harmonica, Indian thumb piano

Though I have neglected my blog for some time, I have definitely not forgotten about it (and hopefully neither have you, my dear readers!). Unfortunately, my other reviewing commitments sometimes have to take precedence – unless I want to find myself even more backlogged than I already am.

Anyway, for the first update for almost three weeks, here is another 1969 album, and one of the lost gems of the earliest years of progressive rock. As a matter of fact, having been released a few months before In the Court of the Crimson King, Mercator Projected might very well be considered as the first prog album – though, sadly, nowhere as well-known as King Crimson’s iconic debut.

Mercator Projected marks the debut of East of Eden, one of the most exciting, authentically progressive acts of  those golden years, now unfairly overlooked by most.  Drenched in exoticism, from its stunning, surprisingly modern cover (depicting a heavily tattooed woman’s back) to its evocative title (a Mercator projection is a cylindrical map projection that distorts the shape and size of large objects),  the album is a thoroughly exhilarating listen, blending Eastern sounds with jazz, blues, heavy rock and psychedelia in a heady brew that might at first sound dated, but still holds a deep fascination for the  discerning music fan.

One of East of Eden’s strengths lies in their use of an impressive array of instruments that, at the time, were not yet common currency in rock music. Dave Arbus’ electric violin (which, incidentally, also graces The Who’s “Baba O’ Riley”) dominates the proceedings, weaving ethereal melodies or bringing a strident note to the compositions, while saxes and flute add their distinctive character to the band’s sound. In the best tradition of the original progressive rock movement, and not unlike the mighty Crims’  seminal debut, the songs on this album are at the same time accessible and experimental, harsh and gently soothing. While the band do not reject their rock and blues roots, they also push the envelope with their richly textured soundscapes, which evoke many different moods.

Closing track “In the Stable of the Sphinx”, a jazzy, sprawling instrumental (also present in a longer version in the 2004 remastered edition), is possibly the album’s masterpiece: mainly guitar-driven, unlike most of the other tracks, it features some brilliant sax and violin work. Flutes take centre stage in the dreamy, hippyish “Isadora”; while “Waterways” and “Bathers” conjure images of Eastern-style languor and sensuality, with lashings of sumptuous violin and keyboard melodies. On the other hand, the bluesy, harmonica-driven “Centaur Woman” sounds somewhat grating, and is in my view the weakest offering on the album, even though the slightly distorted, dramatic vocals add some spice to the song.

As even a cursory listen will make it clear, Mercator Projected is not the accomplished work of a seasoned band. However,  even in  its undeniable rawness,  it shows the promise than East of Eden would fulfill in their sophomore effort, Snafu. It is a great pity that they did not achieve the fame they would have deserved for their highly individual, creative approach to music-making – they could have become as big as Yes or King Crimson, but now they are forgotten by almost everyone but the real aficionados of the ‘golden era’  of the genre.

On any account, Mercator Projected is highly recommended to anyone who likes their prog to be eclectic and challenging, even if a bit rough around the edges. This is an album that every self-respecting prog fan should  try at least once.

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