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Posts Tagged ‘AltrOck/Fading Festival’

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Erosive Forces of Wind and Water (5:14)
2. Lead Poisoning (5:14)
3. Boots, Nails, Watches… (5:25)
4. Thermokarst (5:15)
5. Trapped in the Sea Ice (3:59)
6. …Books, Saws, Silk Handkerchiefs… (3:52)
7. Graves of the Crewmen Buried on Beechey Island (6:17)
8. …Two Double-Barreled Guns and 40 Lbs of Chocolate (5:31)

LINEUP:
Ángel Ontalva – guitar
Victor Rodriguez – keyboards
Amanda Pazos Cosse – bass
Vasco Trilla – drums, percussion

Formed in 2003 in the historic Spanish city of Toledo by guitarist/composer Ángel Ontalva, bassist Amanda Pazos Cosse and keyboardist Victor Rodriguez, for their fourth CD release October Equus have gone back to a quartet format, just as they started out ten years ago. Permafrost,  released in May 2013, is also their first album released by Ontalva’s own independent label, OctoberXart Records. Though, after 2011’s Saturnal, the band have parted ways with AltrOck Records, they appeared at the Italian label’s festival in June 2013, and the new album was mastered by AltrOck’s preferred sound engineer, Udi Koomran, at his Tel Aviv studio.

The lineup changes occurred after Saturnal (recorded as a seven-piece) imply that October Equus have gone back to the basics  on their fourth album – taking reeds and cello out of the equation, though without renouncing the complexity of their particular take on the RIO/Avant-Prog aesthetics. In fact, the album marks a definite step forward for the band, allowing them to distance themselves from the influence of Univers Zéro – which loomed quite large on their previous releases –  and give their sound a more personal imprint. While their style remains firmly ensconced in “chamber rock” territory, the new stripped-down format pushes Ontalva’s guitar to the fore, constantly supported by Victor Rodriguez’s array of keyboards. Drummer Vasco Trilla (also a member of jazz-rock outfit Planeta Imaginario) provides an inventive, often dramatic rhythmic backbone, assisted by Amanda Pazos Cosse’s discreet yet versatile bass lines.

As suggested by the title and the booklet’s detailed artwork, Permafrost is a concept album, based on the tragic ending of Sir John Franklin’s Northwest Passage expedition. Besides his obvious musical talent, Ontalva (who, together with Rodriguez,  is the band’s main songwriter,) is also an outstanding graphic artist, and his black-and-white illustrations complement each episode of the musical odyssey. Though completely instrumental, the music manages to convey the atmosphere of fear, loneliness and impending doom without relying on words – perhaps even more effectively because of their absence. The stark appearance of the cover, distinguished by a striking use of white space, evokes the bleakness of the Arctic winter, while on the back cover Franklin’s last note is reproduced.

 Those who believe any band tagged RIO/Avant-Prog must thrive on dissonance might find their convictions challenged by Permafrost. Indeed, the album often comes across as surprisingly melodic – though of course, not exactly in the same way as your average symphonic/neo prog release. As a whole, though Univers Zéro are referenced on more than one occasion, I was often reminded of Miriodor’s effortless complexity and elegant blend of angularity and fluidity. Obviously, given the nature of the story narrated by the music, the album has its fair share of tense, Gothic moments, rendered by a skillful mix of electronic effects and conventional rock instruments – as in closing track “…Two Double-Barreled Guns and 40 Lbs of Chocolate”, as ominously menacing as a horror movie soundtrack.

The correspondence between track titles and musical content is often astonishingly precise: eerie mellotron and swelling piano flurries, coupled with tinkling vibraphone, evoke the desolation of the abandoned ships in “…Books, Saws, Silk Handkerchiefs…” , while the mesmerizingly measured pace of “Graves of the Crewmen Buried on Beechey Island” – almost Pinkfloydian in its slow, mournful development – is punctuated by suitably dirge-like drumming. Rodriguez switches from organ (whose fuzzed-over sound hints at Soft Machine) to synths, piano and even mellotron, working in unison with Ontalva’s expressive, jazzy guitar to create a wide range of atmospheres – haunting and almost romantic at times (as in the autumnal, melancholy “Lead Poisoning”), strident and aggressive at others (“Thermokarst”).

Clocking in at barely over 40 minutes, Permafrost is an intense, cohesive effort that packs more punch  in its very restrained running time than most 70-minute albums. Though, as was the case with its predecessors, its main audience will be the RIO/Avant crowd, there is enough on the album to appeal to those with somewhat more mainstream tastes. Among its many qualities, this disc proves that “concept albums” can be something different from the overblown messes that have unfortunately become synonymous with progressive rock, and that a purely instrumental palette can be used very effectively for storytelling purposes. Definitely one of the strongest releases of the year so far, Permafrost is highly recommended to all open-minded music fans.

Links:
www.octoberxart.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.altrock.it

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Almost I (6:37)
2. Almost II (3:12)
3. Not a Good Sign (7:54)
4. Making Stills (6:43)
5. Witchcraft by a Picture (7:37)
6. Coming Back Home (5:52)
7. Flow On (6:07)
8. The Deafening Sound of the Moon (4:33)
9. Afraid to Ask (3:08)

LINEUP:
Paolo ”Ske” Botta – keyboards, glockenspiel
Alessio Calandriello – vocals
Gabriele Guidi Colombi – electric bass
Martino Malacrida – drums
Francesco Zago – electric and acoustic guitars

With:
Maurizio Fasoli – piano (3, 5, 9)
Bianca Fervidi – cello (5, 7, 9)
Sharron Fortnam – vocals (5)

In spite of its rather alarming handle, Not A Good Sign –  AltrOck Productions’ own “in-house” band (as guitarist/composer Francesco Zago was one of the label’s founders in 2005) – is set to make waves on the overcrowded progressive rock scene. Although the presence of members of two major modern Italian prog bands (Zago and Paolo “Ske”  Botta of Yugen, Gabriele Guidi Colombi and Alessio Calandriello of La Coscienza di Zeno) have led some to use the “supergroup” tag, this band is fortunately quite a different animal, bringing together Altrock’s two complementary sides – its signature cutting-edge bent and a fresh, modern twist to classic prog modes. The result is one of the most impressive albums released in 2013 so far.

Not a Good Sign developed from an idea by Botta, Zago and AltrOck mainman Marcello Marinone. Calandriello and Guidi Colombi were asked to join in 2012, and drummer Martino Malacrida put the finishing touch to the lineup. The band’s live debut took place in June at the AltrOck/Fading Festival in Milan, a few days before their self-titled album’s official release, Writing credits are shared by Botta and Zago, with assistance from Guidi Colombi on one track. The band’s name reflects the current economic and political climate of Europe and its impact on people. This not exactly optimistic outlook is also reflected in the lyrics, penned by Zago, whose tense, brooding mood and use of strong imagery hints at Van Der Graaf Generator.

As other reviewers have pointed out, the most immediate comparisons that come to mind when first listening to Not A Good Sign are Swedish prog giants Änglagård and Anekdoten, and the band certainly approach classic prog with a similar attitude, avoiding the overt imitation that mars the opus of other modern bands. As in the case of both those bands, the influence of King Crimson looms large over Not A Good Sign’s sound (something that Botta and Zago have readily admitted to), though their Italian heritage smooths out some of the sharper edges. Indeed, though the album was entirely recorded in English, it also possesses a uniquely melodic touch that tempers the angularity of the heavier sections, embodied by Alessio Calandriello’s clear, versatile voice. In spite of his obvious Italian accent, he does a great job in interpreting Zago’s moody lyrics, his voice blending perfectly with the instrumentation. Drummer Martino Malacrida (the only unknown quantity of the band) proves himself an accomplished rhythm machine, tackling complex patterns with aplomb and remarkable synergy with Gabriele Guidi Colombi’s powerful yet elegant bass lines. Zago’s guitar – in full-blown rock mood, displaying a different side of his artistic personality – and  Botta’s impressive array of vintage keyboards reveal the ease born of a long partnership, sometimes embarking in exciting, Deep Purple-style duels.

Not A Good Sign admirably balances the vocal and the instrumental component, the latter often capitalizing on the main composing duo’s experience in the Avant-Prog field. Opener “Almost I” pummels the listener into submission with its explosive Crimsonian intro, its heavy, doomy riffing bolstered by keyboards, and an overarching Gothic feel. “Almost II”, led by Calandriello’s melodic, well-modulated voice assisted by discreet guitar and piano, temporarily releases the tension built up by the previous number; while the almost 8-minute title-track (the longest song on the album) introduces an element of jagged dissonance, intensified by Calandriello’s high-pitched tone and dramatic organ with hints of Goblin – an intricate, deeply cinematic piece that sums up the band’s musical vision. The instrumental “Making Stills” lulls the listener at first with its subdued, sparse texture, then suddenly turns brisk and urgent, culminating in a crescendo in which all the instruments strive for attention.

Accompanied by acoustic guitar and glockenspiel, the ethereal voice of North Sea Radio Orchestra’s Sharron Fortnam weaves her magic in a riveting rendition of John Donne’s poem “Witchcraft by a Picture”, sandwiched between two intense, riff-laden sections that would not be out of place on a Black Sabbath album. The following two tracks, “Coming Back Home” and “Flow On”, are strongly vocal-oriented – the former almost catchy in spite of the rather depressing lyrics, the latter providing a showcase for Malacrida’s assertive drumming and Botta’s Genesis-inspired Moog sweeps. With the sinister “The Deafening Sound of the Moon”, the band pack a lot into barely over 4 minutes –  King Crimson-like angularity followed by imperious organ slashes and sharp riffs intersecting with the vocals, then mellowing out with a melodic guitar solo reminiscent of Steve Hackett’s style. Then, in the short, atmospheric finale of instrumental “Afraid to Ask” Maurizio Fasoli’s piano ebbs and flows, with sudden flares of guitar-driven intensity on the steady backdrop of Bianca Fervidi’s somber cello.

Unlike most traditional supergroups, who are often much less than the sum of their parts, Not A Good Sign deliver in spades, combining outstanding technical skills with above-average songwriting. Clocking in at a mere 51 minutes, the album (mastered by Udi Koomran with his usual skill) is very cohesive, and avoids the pitfalls lurking behind overambitious, epic-length pieces. With their debut, Not A Good Sign prove that paying homage to vintage prog does not mean descending into the near-plagiarism of many albums released in the past few years. No review of an album featuring Paolo Botta would be complete without a mention for his artwork, and here he has truly outdone himself – the gorgeously minimalistic shots of vintage glassware emerging from a pitch-black background the polar opposite of the overblown, fantasy-themed art often associated with prog. Highly recommended to everyone, no matter what their prog “affiliation”.

Links:
http://altrockproductions.bandcamp.com/album/not-a-good-sign

https://www.facebook.com/notagoodsign

http://www.dprp.net/wp/interviews/?page_id=4545

http://www.altrock.it

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Kurt’s Casino (9:53)
2. The Little Man (3:55)
3. Accidentally in San Sebastian (4:22)
4. The Campfire Strikes Back (4:36)
5. The Dancing Dinosaur (10:28)
6. Skunks (5:01)
7. Pate a Tartiner (6:07)

LINEUP:
Gabor Humble – guitar, vocals
Megan Quill – vocals
Liesbeth Verlaet – vocals
Jouni Isoherranen – bass, keyboards
Jonathan Callens – drums
Pol Mareen – saxophone
Pedro Guridi – bass clarinet
Joren Cautaers – vibraphone, percussion

With:
Pieter Claus – marimba solo (1)
Jana Voros – baby sounds (3)
Lisa Jordens – backing vocals (3)
Francisca Rose – pronouncing “tartiner” correctly (3)

Two years after the release of Flanders Fields, their first album for Milan-based label AltrOck Productions, Belgian outfit Humble Grumble have made their comeback in the spring of 2013 with Guzzle It Up!. Though mainman Gabor Humble first established the band in 1996, Humble Grumble’s current incarnation dates back from very recent times, and is multi-national in nature – including, besides Hungarian-born Humble, Finnish bassist/keyboardist Jouni Isoherranen and Chilean reedist Pedro Guridi, as well as a number of Flemish musicians. The band also have quite a few festival appearances under their belt, and, around the time of the new album’s release, they performed at Gouveia Art Rock Festival in Portugal and AltrOck’s very own event in Milan, Italy.

While emphasizing the continuity of the band’s sound, Guzzle It Up! also marks a departure from Flanders Fields, and not just in terms of lineup. In fact, when the previous album featured a core group of six people and an extended cast of guest artists, here the situation has been reversed: the eight-piece band – with Humble, Isoherranen, Guridi, saxophonist Pol Mareen and drummer Jonathan Callens joined by vocalists Liesbeth Verlaet and Megan Quills and mallet percussionist Joren Cautaers – handles all the tracks, and the contribution of guests is marginal. The rich instrumental texture of Flanders Fields has remained unaltered, with the clear-voiced lilt of the vibraphone providing a refreshing change from the usual keyboards, and the saxophone often engaging in dynamic duets with Humble’s guitar. The latter’s versatile vocals are complemented by the two female voices, their lively exchanges often bordering on endearingly wacky, and perfectly suited to the music’s overall mood. On the other hand, Guzzle It Up! is clearly more ambitious in terms of structure: while Flanders Fields was a collection of 11 remarkably short songs, here a shorter tracklist is compensated by running times that have more than doubled. With two out of 7 songs around the 10-minute mark, even the shorter tracks seem to have adopted a more leisurely pace than the dense, whirlwind-like numbers that made up the band’s previous effort. There are no instrumentals either, and a lot of emphasis is placed on the vocal interplay between Humble and his two female cohorts.

Humble Grumble’s more ambitious approach is introduced right from the start with the almost 10-minute“Kurt’s Casino”, a brilliant combination of upbeat, downright infectious melodies and the rather somber subject matter of suicide, propelled by Jonathan Callens’ spectacular drum work and  Pol Mareen’s ebullient sax, and enhanced by vibraphone and marimba (the latter courtesy of former member Pieter Claus). The album’s longest track, “The Dancing Dinosaur”, gives a new meaning to the word “eclectic” by throwing a slew of diverse influences into the equation with carefree abandon – jazz inflections as well as the inevitable Zappaesque bent coexisting with catchy, almost poppy chorus, wistful sax section, an atmospheric guitar solo and an unexpected, galloping hoedown towards the end.

Driven by Callens’ pyrotechnic drumming, “The Little Man” suggests Samla Mammas Manna’s carnival-like zaniness; “The Campfire Strikes Again” strays even further into Zappa-meets-RIO-meets-Gong territory, seasoned with a pinch of dissonance and the vocalists’ striking repartee. Vocals (including rapping) and assorted wacky sound effects are the foundation of the off-kilter “Accidentally in San Sebastian”, while “Skunks” (whose lyrics that would make Frank Zappa quite proud) pulls out all the stops, with Humble’s exaggerated falsetto and chaotic vocal “harmonies” that sound like a skewed version of Gentle Giant, a wild guitar solo and hints of Eastern European folk. “Pate a Tartiner” wraps up the album in suitably eccentric fashion, also introducing an appealing funky note to complement the ever-present Gong and Zappa influences.

Clocking in at a very restrained 44 minutes, Guzzle It Up! is as much of an acquired taste as its predecessor – possibly even more so. Though the quality of the individual performances is outstanding, and the sheer joy of  making music refreshingly evident, its abrupt changes in mood and style can strike some of the more mainstream-oriented listeners as inconsistent and even frustrating, and the wacky, anarchist humour of the lyrics can be occasionally hard to take for those who prefer a bit more subtlety. On the other hand, fans of Zappa, Gong and the Canterbury scene will not fail to appreciate the album and its ambitious direction. The photos in the CD booklet and on the band’s website clearly point out that Humble Grumble belong on the stage, and that the studio format must be somewhat constraining to them. Highly recommended to any open-minded progressive rock fans, Guzzle It Up! may not be an easily approachable album, but is definitely an intriguing one.

Links:
http://www.humblegrumble.com/

https://myspace.com/humblegrumble

http://www.altrock.it

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