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Posts Tagged ‘Gouveia Art Rock Festival’

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

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

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

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

With:
Eino Haapala – guitar (14)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.myspace.com/larshollmer

http://www.cuneiformrecords.com

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The Internet channels dedicated to progressive rock were bursting at the seams yesterday after the shocking news of the cancellation of one of the year’s most awaited events, the North-East Art Rock Festival, affectionately known as NEARfest.  When I first saw the announcement, posted as a link on the Wall of one of my Facebook friends, my first impulse was to check mentally if it was already April 1…

Unfortunately, yesterday was only March 26, and the news was no joke.  As could be expected, the general mood in the so-called ‘prog community’ was subdued,  and many of the people who had been attending the event for years (not to mention actively contributing to its realization) were positively devastated. For many, NEARfest went beyond a simple music festival: it was an opportunity to meet friends living thousands of miles away, and spend a weekend away from the worries and routine of ‘normal’ life. Now, instead, people are going to lose money they have already paid for airfares, car rentals and the like – not to mention the sadness at seeing their expectations of a wonderful weekend of music and friendship brutally dashed. Considering the average age of the attendees, this is not something that should be discounted.

Obviously, as all too often happens in similar circumstances, speculation was rife, as well as unashamed finger-pointing. People will always be people, and, in their disappointment,  the NEARfest ‘orphans’ were looking for something – or, even better, someone – to shoulder the blame.  While some blamed the poor state of the economy, others pointed their finger squarely at the close-mindedness, snobbishness and elitism of prog fans, which this year reached unprecedented levels due to a rather controversial line-up. The choice of a so-called ‘jam band’ like Umphrey’s McGee as Sunday headliner drew fierce criticism, and – added to a rather ‘experimental’ line-up lacking (unlike the previous years) any of the big names of the Seventies – contributed to a general lack of enthusiasm for this year’s edition. Some were even berating the organizers for not having disclosed the reality of the situation and asked for help before cancelling the event  – something which, after some of the flak they got for their choices, I cannot blame them for not doing.

Did the news take me completely by surprise? To be perfectly honest, it  did not. In some ways, I had seen it coming, especially when I compared last year’s patron sales with this year’s. Anyway, though I started putting down my thoughts yesterday afternoon, I decided to let the night bring me counsel (as we would say in Italy), and complete my essay with a clearer mind, without giving in to the temptation to blast everyone in sight. Having got our tickets in the mail two days before, that temptation would have been understandable.

As a latecomer to NEARfest,  I had been looking forward to the event, possibly even more so than the previous two editions. In the past year I have been able to meet an increasing number of members of the community, both through concert attendances, my activity as a reviewer, and the ubiquitous Facebook.  For me – a relative newcomer to the country, still with a semi-precarious status, and not yet feeling completely at ease in my new surroundings – feeling part of a group of people that shared a passion for a musical genre had provided a sense of belonging that is essential for expatriates. Though last year I had been deeply disappointed by the attitude of the organizers, who never bothered to acknowledge the lengthy review I had written for the website I was collaborating with at the time, I decided to go again this year, and contribute to the festival through the Patron Program (which, for two people, amounts to the not inconsiderable sum of $ 650).

As the regular readers of my blog know quite well, I am not interested in labels, and am by nature very curious of anything new – a prerequisite for anyone who ‘works’ as a more or less official reviewer. I also have rather diverse musical tastes, and will give anything a chance before dismissing it. On the other hand, years of frequentation of the online prog scene have made one thing very clear: for many fans, ‘progressive’ is just a word stripped of its original meaning. This seems to be especially true in my native country of Italy, where people worship Genesis and their ilk to the extent that newer bands are often forced to look for an audience outside the national borders, while tribute bands do a roaring trade. However, Europe as a whole seems to fare somewhat better in this sense, with festivals such as Gouveia Art Rock (which takes place in Portugal, a country that is far from wealthy for Western standards) that keep selling out, not to mention large-scale events such as High Voltage. Moreover, the nature of the continent (including the ease of travelling within the member states of the European Union) makes it easier for artists to tour other European countries if things are not too rosy on their home turf.

Though, as every adult person knows, very little in life is black and white, and things are obviously not as clear-cut as one might wish, I cannot help feeling that a festival that had become one of the year’s bright lights for many people (not to mention an event many bands and artists from all over the world would have sold their souls to play) has been failed, if not outright sabotaged, by the same people who were expected to support it – even if, in many cases, because of very real impediments. Even if this may sound harsh, it is hard not to wonder when one year people flock to see a bunch of glorified tribute bands – financial and other worries notwithstanding – and the following year the festival suddenly loses all appeal for them.

The sad truth, in my view, is that prog fans have become complacent with the astonishing revival of the genre in past few years – and have also got into the typical frame of mind of  ‘having your cake and eating it’, or, if you prefer, ‘my way or the highway’. Yes, they want prog to prosper and all that, and spend hours on the Internet dissecting the most obscure albums – but, when it comes to supporting those bands and artists that are flying the flag in the here and now, then all of a sudden they bail out, unless they see one  of the ‘big names’ (preferably dating back from the Seventies, though a few from later years would also qualify) on the bill. I wonder how any of those ‘new’ bands (many of whom have been around for ten years or more) are supposed to become ‘headliner material’ if no one gives them a chance to play in front of a decent audience. In a sort of perverse way, it reminds me of the situation in which many young job-seekers find themselves – being unable to apply for jobs due to lack of experience, which no one allows them to gain by hiring them.

It does not help either that many of the hardcore members of the ‘community’ have a much more limited view of prog than the one espoused by the press – as even a cursory look at Classic Rock Presents Prog (a magazine I do not particularly care for, but which has been undeniably successful) should be  enough to prove. Additionally, the younger set of prog fans are also more likely to be into progressive metal (even in its more extreme incarnations) or ‘crossover’ acts, both of which are looked upon with suspicion or even disdain by a good deal of the older stalwarts. In spite of the organizers having made it very clear in last year’s festival programme that the 2011 edition was going to be a transitional one, people still refused to accept that the future of progressive rock – if it is to survive – lies beyond the slowly drying out reservoir of  the ‘old guard’, and those newer bands that, to various degrees, reproduce the Seventies vibe. When a band like Iona are considered ‘more prog’ (whatever that means) than The Pineapple Thief or The Mars Volta, then you know that the future of the whole genre is in serious trouble.

Obviously, the above remarks do not apply to everyone, and I would never downplay the very serious difficulties that many people are going through in their everyday lives. It would also be crass of me to suggest people have to force themselves to like music that is not to their taste – I, for one, know how excruciating it can be to sit through a CD you cannot get into. However, while not suggesting that people go against the grain of their own tastes – let alone resort to stealing in order to finance their festival-going habit –  it is also clear that a change of attitude is needed if we do not want progressive music (rock or otherwise) to die out for good.

Anyway, whatever the truth of the situation, yesterday will be remembered as a very sad day for the whole community of progressive rock fans, at least as regards the USA. Even if the NEARfest organizers decide to regroup and make a comeback next year, it is unlikely that things will ever be the same. Might it have been avoided? Not being privy to the organization’s inner workings, I do not claim to have any easy answers. Clearly there were issues of miscommunication, as no one who was not an insider had any idea that the general sales were going so badly. However, it is also difficult to ignore the bickering that went on for days after every band announcement, and the nasty words that accompanied the disclosure of the Sunday headliner. This is why many of yesterday’s proclamations smack of crocodile tears, or at least sound needlessly defensive. I do not want to sound overly pessimistic, but I cannot help wondering if yesterday’s events will mean a death knell for this amazing ‘prog revival’, or rather a much-needed wake-up call for the whole scene.

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