Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Beppe Crovella’

cover_1949131132013_r

TRACKLISTING:
1. Burden Of Proof (5:51)
2. Voyage Beyond Seven (4:53)
3. Kitto (1:50)
4. Pie Chart (5:07)
5. JPS (1:03)
6. Kings and Queens (6:46)
7. Fallout (6:59)
8. Going Somewhere Canorous? (1:13)
9. Black And Crimson (5:05)
10. The Brief (2:27)
11. Pump Room (5:19)
12. Green Cubes (5:33)
13. They Landed on a Hill (3:03)

LINEUP:
John Etheridge – electric guitar
Roy Babbington – bass guitar
John Marshall – drums, percussion
Theo Travis, tenor sax, flute, Fender Rhodes piano

It should not come as a surprise to find Soft Machine Legacy on the roster of an independent label named after one of the original Soft Machine’s most iconic compositions. The band – the last in a series of Soft Machine offshoots started by bassist Hugh Hopper back in 1978 with Soft Heap – was born in 2004, when guitarist Allan Holdsworth left Soft Works and was replaced by John Etheridge. They released a studio album and two live ones between 2005 and 2006, just before founding member Elton Dean’s untimely passing. Their second studio-based effort, 2007’s Steam,  saw renowned flutist/saxophonist Theo Travis (currently also a member of Gong, The Tangent and Steven Wilson’s band)  take Dean’s place; the album was also to be the last with Hugh Hopper, who succumbed to leukemia in 2009. In spite of these setbacks, Travis, Etheridge and drummer John Marshall (who had originally replaced Robert Wyatt in 1971) recruited another Soft Machine alumnus, bassist Roy Babbington, and went on to produce their third studio album. Burden of Proof, recorded in Italy at Arti e Mestieri keyboardist Beppe Crovella’s Electromantic Studios was finally released on Moonjune Records in the spring of 2013.

Though its name may suggest yet another of the many tribute bands whose popularity often eclipses that of bands performing their own material, Soft Machine Legacy deliver much more than just a reverent homage to one of the most influential bands of the early progressive rock scene. The “Legacy” at the end of the band’s name (even when all of its founders had the legal right to call themselves Soft Machine) emphasizes the continuity between the “mother” band and its offshoots, while ruling out slavish imitation. Bringing together the variegated threads of the history of the band founded by Robert Wyatt, Mike Ratledge, Kevin Ayers and Daevid Allen in the mid-Sixties, the quartet led by John Etheridge have perfected their own original sound. Travis’ own soundscaping system, called Ambitronics, lends the proceedings a haunting ambient component, bringing to mind his work with Robert Fripp, and integrating with Etheridge’s use of loops and other effects to replace Mike Ratledge’s trademark fuzzed organ; while his sparing but effective use of the Fender Rhodes electric piano creates an ideal connection to Soft Machine’s turning-point album, Fourth (their first completely instrumental effort).

Featuring 13 relatively short compositions spread over a running time of about 55 minutes, Burden of Proof possesses an internal cohesion of its own. The longer, more structured pieces (between 3 and 7 minutes) are bridged by shorter interludes, mostly improvisational in nature; despite this apparent fragmentation, the music flows effortlessly, and the two “souls” of the album fit together without leaving an impression of patchiness. A stunning rendition of Hugh Hopper’s “Kings and Queens” (from Soft Machine’s Fourth) – strategically located in the middle of the album, and led by Theo Travis’ melodic, melancholy flute meshing with Etheridge’s measured guitar – functions as a centerpiece that captures the original band’s moment of transition from its psychedelic roots to state-of-the-art jazz-rock. Roy Babbington (who guested on Fourth, though not on “Kings and Queens”) is a discreet but unmistakable presence, his finely-honed synergy with John Marshall’s impeccable drumming in evidence right from the opening strains of the title-track – which later develops into an intriguing “conversation piece” between sax and guitar. The upbeat sax intro to “Voyage Beyond Seven” briefly dispels the previous number’s elegantly laid-back atmosphere, before going into a sort of slow-motion that culminates into a rather chaotic, spacey jam with sudden flares of volume.

The deeply atmospheric Etheridge showcase of “Kitto” leads into the slow-burning, jazz-blues saunter of “Pie Chart” – an unexpected but welcome deviation from the band’s heady yet somewhat lofty stylings, as is the bracing boogie-rock of “Pump Room”, with Etheridge delivering a barrage of rough-and-ready riffs and scratchy, distorted chords, aided and abetted by Travis’ buoyant sax. “Black and Crimson” is all about melody Soft Machine Legacy-style, with an almost Latin feel; while the nearly 7-minute “Fallout” sandwiches a loose, improvisational section between a brisk, sax-and-guitar-driven main theme, bolstered by Marshall’s dramatic drum rolls. The album is wrapped up by the noisy avant-garde bash of “Green Cubes”, followed by the spacey, meditative strains of “They Landed on a Hill” – a finale that, in a way, represents the album’s two souls.

Those who have followed Soft Machine Legacy and its previous incarnations for the past two decades will find a lot to love in Burden of Proof, an album that combines melody and ambiance with the almost carefree abandon of improvisation. The four members of Soft Machine Legacy draws upon their individual strengths, striving to create music that, while sophisticated, is also not too detached from the earthiness of rock. Though the amount of improvisation may put off those who prefer their music to be scripted, and the minimalistic approach to composition may be found unsatisfactory by fans of prog’s more convoluted aspects, the album captures a group of seasoned musicians who obviously still enjoy themselves both in the studio and on stage. Even if sometimes demanding, Burden of Proof is also a consistently rewarding listen.

Links:
http://www.moonjune.com/mjr_web_2013/catalog_mjr/052_SOFT-MACHINE-LEGACY_Burden-Of-Proof_MJR052/

http://www.johnetheridge.com/softmachinelegacy/index.htm

https://myspace.com/softmachinelegacy/

Advertisements

Read Full Post »


TRACKLISTING:
1. Down In Shadows [Part I] (8:03)
2. Day After Day (4:42)
3. Colour (3:01)
4. O.Y.O [On Your Own] (6:26)
5. Wait (5:20)
6. C18H21NO3-30 mg Kodeina (1:44)
7. Down In Shadows [Part II – Including Crime] (10:54)

LINEUP:
Walter F. – voices, acoustic and electric guitars, bass, loops and devices, synthesizers (vocoder)
Danilo A. Pannico – acoustic and electronic drums, percussions, piano, marimba, kaos-harmonica and glass, Farfisa organ, loops and devices

With:
Adina Bajenica – soprano voice (6)
David Jackson – sax, flutes, devices (2,4,7)
Marco Allocco – cello (1,3,6,7)
Trey Gunn – Warr guitar and soundscapes (1-7), touch bass (1)

Named after the Greek goddess of night, N.y.X. is a project by a duo of talented multi-instrumentalists, Danilo A. Pannico and Walter F., based in the north-western Italian region of Piedmont.  Their recording debut, a self-titled EP released in 2005, was followed in 2009 by Down in Shadows, their first full-length CD, released on Electromantic Music, the label founded by  Arti e Mestieri’s keyboardist Beppe Crovella.

I first encountered N.y.X. last year, when reviewing Trey Gunn’s double-CD compilation I’ll Tell What I Saw, which included “Down in Shadows [Part I]”. The presence of two legends of progressive rock such as Gunn and former Van Der Graaf Generator saxophonist David Jackson aptly represents the nature of N.y.X.’s musical offer, which seems to straddle the line between tradition and modernity. Indeed, VDGG (who have had a strong following in Italy since the early days of the prog movement) are by far the most noticeable influence on N.y.X.’s music. This is not to say that N.y.X. sound derivative, but rather that their compositional approach parallels VDGG’s skillfully achieved balance of slow-burning melody and unbridled chaos (as exemplified by their magnum opus “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers”).

Those who still believe that Italian progressive rock is for the most part sickly sweet and heavily keyboard-laden with operatic vocals should get ready to have those convictions challenged when listening to Down in Shadows – a concept album dealing with the topics of loneliness and betrayal. Not surprisingly, and quite fittingly, the music is dense and often aggressive, packed with riffs and martial drum beats, interspersed by ominously rarefied pauses – in which electronic effects and treated vocals hold sway – and almost deceptively melodic, laid-back moments. Walter F.’s idiosyncratic vocal approach often brings to mind Peter Hammill or Adrian Belew, as well as emotionally charged Italian prog singers of the classic era such as Jumbo’s Alvaro Fella. The fluid, eerily reverberating soundscapes created by Gunn’s touch guitars temper the more upfront moments, while David Jackson’s signature style enhances the music’s expressive potential.

Clocking in at under 40 minutes, and featuring seven tracks between 2 and 11 minutes, Down in Shadows is a quintessentially eclectic effort that packs a lot in its unusually compact running time. “Down in Shadows [Part I]” opens with the understated sound of a carillon, eventually exploding into harsh riffs and supercharged drumming – like King Crimson on steroids; a magnificent, Eastern-tinged Warr guitar solo vies for attention with Walter F.’s dramatic vocal performance. The much shorter “Day After Day” continues on a similar path, blending the mainstream overtones of its low-key, acoustic beginning with the unabashed experimentalism of the second half (complete with the sound of a ringing phone and subsequent recorded message). “Colour” and “O.Y.O. [On Your Own]” offer more permutations of those melody-noise dynamics – the former driven by piano and cello, the latter conjuring reminiscences of Eighties King Crimson with its subtle tempo shifts, while the vocals definitely channel Peter Hammill.

On “Wait” the haunting soundscapes expertly woven by Gunn’s Warr guitar merge with slightly breathy, sensitive Hammillesque vocals with a touch of Roger Waters; from an instrumental point of view, the track reminded me of the approach adopted by Herd of Instinct on their 2011 debut album. The short almost-instrumental “C18H21NO3-30 mg Kodeina” – in which a soprano voice is backed by cello, piano and eerie feedback effects – introduces “Down in Shadows [Part II]”, a nearly11-minute tour de force with a dynamic, VDGG-inspired, vocal-driven first half , a subdued middle section that makes good use of cellist Marco Allocco’s tango background, and an instrumental third half in turns chaotic and atmospheric. The vaguely sinister tinkle of carillon reappears at the end, bringing the album (and the story) full circle.

Three years after the release of Down in Shadows, N.y.X. seem to be very much on hiatus, with the two artists pursuing other projects. Hopefully an album that shows so much promise will not turn out to be a one-off, even though the current non-mainstream music scene is anything but easy to navigate. However things develop in the N.y.X. camp, Down in Shadows is a worthwhile effort, highly recommended to fans of King Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator, as well as followers of the variegated “modern prog” galaxy. A special mention is deserved by the stylish CD  booklet, which includes a stunning upside-down photo of the chandelier in the entrance of Antoni Gaudí’s iconic Casa Batlló.

Links:
http://www.nyxsound.com/

http://www.myspace.com/nyxsound

http://www.electromantic.com

Read Full Post »

TRACKLISTING:
…Rattlin’ All the Time
:
1. Tarabos  (5:10)
2. Chloe And The Pirates  (7:56)
3. All White  (6:24)
4. The Man Who Waved At Trains  (3:54)
5. As If  (4:14)
6. Hibou, Anemone And Bear  (3:28)
7. Out-Bloody-Rageous  (8:36)
8. Pig   (4:28)
9. Esther’s Nose Job   (6:04)
10. Slightly All the Time  (9:32)

…Before the Moon:
11. Leonardo’s E-Mail  (4:11)
12. Moonvision   (2:17)
13. Many Moons, Many Junes  (3:05)

…After the Moon:
14. Lunar Impression  (1:17)
15. Circular Lines In The Air  (2:46
16. Moon Geezers (to Elton and Hugh)  (3:27)

LINEUP:
Beppe Crovella – Mellotron, Wurlitzer E200 electric piano, Fender Rhodes Stage 73 electric piano, Hammond organ M102, Hohner electric piano, Hohner Clavinet D6, Roesler Grand Piano, Farfisa Professional

This is meant as the second instalment in a trio of reviews of albums released by one of the most forward-thinking independent labels on the current music scene  – New York-based MoonJune Records. As a follow-up to View from Chicheng Precipice, here is another album that many listeners may very well see as nearly unapproachable, but whose authentically progressive nature can hardly be denied.

The subtitle to Beppe Crovella’s  What’s Rattlin’ on the Moon? reads “A Personal Vision of the Music of Mike Ratledge” – which alone should put paid to any allegations that this is yet another run-of-the-mill tribute album. An extraordinary musician in his own right, with an impressive career both as a solo artist and the mind behind Italian jazz-rock outfit Arti e Mestieri, Crovella is clearly not interested in faithfully reproducing music that is available elsewhere – but rather in offering his own reinterpretation of some of the legendary Soft Machine keyboardist’s ground-breaking compositions. The result of this daring, enlightened operation (conceived by Crovella and MoonJune Records mainman Leonardo Pavkovic) is a disc that, while anything but easy to approach, and obviously possessing very limited mass appeal, is a fascinating listen, especially for anyone with a keen interest in vintage keyboards.

Since the music of Soft Machine is undeniably an acquired taste in itself, commanding an almost fanatical adoration on the part of its fans, and an equally strong rejection on the part of ‘unbelievers’, an album offering an apparently one-dimensional take on said music is very likely to send a lot of people running for the exits. First of all, it requires quite a bit of patience on the part of the listener, even from those who should be used to the less than easily digestible nature of most progressive rock. Moreover, the distinct lack of the ‘rock’ part of the genre definition can prove a turn off – and the sheer length of the project (close to 80 minutes) is not likely to help sceptics warm to it.  However, those who will stick with the album and give it the attention it deserves will reap their rewards, because  What’s Rattlin’ on the Moon? offers many moments of real interest, and some of sheer delight.

A master of his craft, Crovella recreates the sound of an entire band with his array of vintage keyboards – ruling out the use of those synthesizers and their ilk that have become so indispensable in modern music-making. It is often astonishing to hear those keyboards fulfil the role of the bass or drums, though in most cases they just weave layers of sound in the Softs’ typically free-form style. As the album is divided into three recognizable parts,  the pauses between the individual numbers are almost non-existent – as if each part was meant to be listened to as a single track. This makes for a very distinctive listening experience, the polar opposite of a conventional song-based approach – though equally far removed from the somewhat sterile displays of technical dexterity that are often an integral part of ‘prog’ recordings.

The ten Soft Machine compositions are reinterpreted in such a way as to be nearly unrecognizable. This is especially the case of the two tracks from the band’s iconic Third album, “Out-Bloody-Rageous” and “Slightly All the Time”, the latter being possibly the highlight of the disc with its hypnotic yet melodic line and fascinating use of the Mellotron to provide choral effects. All the compositions share the same rarefied, riveting texture, which is intended to be savoured slowly, possibly not in one take. At every successive listen, different effects will unfold – pulsating,  surging, solemn, sometimes flowing, sometimes choppy, creating subtly shifting layers of sound. It is the kind of music that will fade in the background if left unattended, so to speak – meant to be listened to, not just heard.

The two mini-suites at the end of the album are original Crovella compositions intended, in some ways, to ‘describe’ the creative process behind the album. Both are largely piano-based and less idiosyncratic than the first part of the disc, with a stronger melodic development and some jazzy touches. “Moon Geezers”, dedicated to the sadly deceased former Soft Machine members Elton Dean and Hugh Hopper, closes the album on a suitably measured, melancholy note.

As already intimated, What’s Rattlin’ on the Moon? is not an album that will appeal to everyone, especially not those with short attention spans. It does, however, stand head and shoulders above the many hackneyed tribute albums that flood the progressive rock market. Experimental and very personal (even if a tad overlong), this is a must-listen for Soft Machine fans, and highly recommended to lovers of genuinely personal takes on prog classics.

Links:
http://www.beppecrovella.com/

Read Full Post »