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Posts Tagged ‘Keyboards’

TRACKLISTING:
1. Past Present (6:46)
2. 16 Feet Below (5:42)
3. Underpass (5:33)
4. Push Too (5:05)
5. Pendulum (6:31)
6. Depth Charge (6:20)
7. Of Age (6:40)
8. New Resolution (8:37)

LINEUP:
Dean Watson – all instruments

Two years after the excellent Unsettled, Canadian multi-instrumentalist Dean Watson is back with his sophomore effort, Imposing Elements – inspired like its predecessor by the work of Toronto-based artist Ron Eady. Both those who download the album from Watson’s Bandcamp page and those who opt for the physical object will be treated to an impressive cover depicting one of Eady’s austere, Gothic-tinged industrial landscapes, realized with the ancient encaustic technique.

The relationship between progressive rock (in all its manifestations) and the visual arts is a long-standing one, and for many devotees of the genre it is almost impossible to separate the music from the images that graced the covers of vinyl LPs in the Sixties and Seventies. Though Eady’s work suggests a Blade Runner-like universe (perhaps more suited to a highly technical metal band) than the bright-hued flights of fancy of Roger Dean and his ilk, it is interesting to see how Watson rendered the visuals in musical terms – stressing the painting’s undeniably majestic aspect rather than its bleakness.

With impressive technical and compositional skills honed in years of experience on the music scene, Watson is not your typical self-important artist who delivers one vanity project after the other, regardless of whether quality matches quantity. Even someone who, like me, is generally a bit wary of the ubiquitous “solo-pilot” releases made possible by modern technology and the widespread use of the Internet will not fail to recognize that Watson is someone who genuinely cares about producing high-quality music, rather than out to bludgeon his audience over the head with pointless pyrotechnics.

While Unsettled was a classy, eminently listenable effort, Imposing Elements marks a big step ahead for Watson, both as an instrumentalist and a composer. Firmly rooted in the progressive jazz-fusion tradition represented by the likes of Jeff Beck circa Blow by Blow and Wired, Allan Holdsworth, John McLaughlin, Bruford and  Brand X (among many others), the  album transcends the divide between conservatism and innovation, proving that great music does not necessarily have to be groundbreaking.  Imposing Elements is a more understated effort than Unsettled, dispensing almost completely with the (admittedly trendy) metal overtones of its predecessor, while raising the bar in terms of composition. Indeed, for his sophomore effort, Watson seems to have gone for a more laid-back mood, allowing for frequent tempo changes but never pushing too hard on the accelerator. Balance and restraint are the name of the game – something that is often conspicuously absent in the work of many modern acts.

Watson’s first love, the keyboards, are the undisputed protagonists of Imposing Elements, creating rich layers of sound and seamlessly sparring with the guitar (which on this album takes on more of a supporting role).  The whistle of the synths has been decidedly toned down this time around, while organ and piano (both electric and acoustic) frequently step into the limelight. Watson even brings in the iconic mellotron to add a touch of symphonic lushness, especially evident in the soothingly meditative “Pendulum”. The drums, with their surprisingly organic sound, lay down intricate patterns that have elicited comparisons with jazz-rock luminaries such as Bruford or Cobham.

Instrumentally speaking, however, the biggest improvement is the presence of a real electric bass, especially effective in the dramatic “Of Age” (which is the closest the album gets to the prog-metal mood of the previous release), as well as stately, evocative opener “Past Present”. Watson also shines at creating rarefied atmospheres, as in slow-burning closer “New Resolution”, hovering between a loose, jazzy texture and a tighter, brisker pace, or the electronics-laden “Depth Charge”. Percussion shines in “Push Too”, bolstering the exertions of synth and guitar; while “16 Feet Below” and “Underpass” run the gamut of tempo and mood changes – the latter displaying an intriguingly funky swagger.

With tracks between 5 and 8 minutes, and a total running time of 52 minutes, Imposing Elements never outstays its welcome. While a lot of jazz/fusion may come across as formally impeccable but rather emotionless, Dean Watson’s music possesses a thoroughly human dimension, revealing the artist’s dedication to his craft. I am sure that Watson’s compositions would transfer effortlessly to a stage setting, although the current music scene makes it increasingly difficult for musicians to perform live, therefore encouraging studio-only projects. However, even if this never happens, Imposing Elements remains an outstanding release, highly recommended to fans of progressive fusion and instrumental music in general.

Links:
http://deanwatson.bandcamp.com/album/imposing-elements

http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/deanwatson12

http://www.myspace.com/deanwatson2

http://www.roneady.com

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Una Strana Commedia (10:24)
2. L’Occhio del Ciclone (6:39)
3. Corto Circuito (6:26)
4. Bianca Scia (9:25)
5. L’Orgoglio di Arlecchino (12:26)

LINEUP:
Mario Cottarelli – vocals, all instruments

Hailing from the northern Italian city of Cremona,  Mario Cottarelli is a self-taught musician and composer who has been active in the music world since the early Seventies. In spite of his lifelong love of progressive rock, when the music industry’s interest in the genre began to wane towards the end of the decade, Cottarelli had to take a more commercial path in his career as a professional musician. His debut album, Prodigiosa Macchina, released in November 2007, revisited some of the material he had written in 1975, with new lyrics and arrangements.

Even for fans of Italian progressive rock, Mario Cottarelli is anything but a household name, and Prodigiosa Macchina – though it got its fair share of reviews on specialized magazines and websites – seemed to attract more criticism than praise. However, for all its somewhat naïve, rough-around-the-edges nature,  it was an interesting album, oozing a sense of sheer joy and enthusiasm that set it apart from so many prog-by-numbers releases. For Una Strana Commedia, conversely, Cottarelli adopted a more structured, balanced approach in his reworking of material composed in the years 1974-1981. Since those compositions were for the most part rather sketchy, Cottarelli did not only rearrange them, but also added some new parts.

While such operations are quite commonplace on today’s rock scene, the casual listener may often feel that the material has not aged too well. However, odd as it may sound, Una Strana Commedia sounds fresher than the average release by one of those “retro” bands that seem to reap so much praise in prog circles. Though, as was the case with Prodigiosa Macchina,  there are unmistakable references to the greats of prog’s golden age, the album sounds original rather than blatantly derivative – and a lot of this originality lies in Cottarelli’s vocals, with its deep and soothing, yet wryly humorous tone – so unlike the often over-the-top style adopted by many prog singers, Italian and otherwise.

Una Strana Commedia features five compositions, none of them longer than 12 minutes – unlike its predecessor, which had a slightly shorter running time spread over just 3 tracks. Its title (meaning “A Strange Comedy”) refers to life itself, seen from the artist’s point of view as a baffling, somewhat absurdist play, not to be taken too seriously: indeed, the cover photo of a Persian cat (Cottarelli’s own cat Mitzy, who unfortunately passed away some time ago) is meant to contrast the overly complicated way in which humans approach life with the innocence and wisdom of animals. While the intelligent, thought-provoking lyrics are definitely above average, an understanding of Italian is not essential in order to appreciate the album – though it is certainly a bonus.

Entirely performed by Cottarelli, and recorded in his home studio taking full advantage of modern technology, Una Strana Commedia is heavily biased towards keyboards (though the artist started his musical career as a drummer), with guitar and a number of sampled instruments making occasional appearances. The title-track will strike the listener for the upbeat nature of its lilting, dance-like main theme, interspersed by more sedate passages, and spotlighting Cottarelli’s distinctive, almost recited vocals; the stately classical influences mingle with intriguing folk/medieval overtones reminiscent of Jethro Tull or Gentle Giant (especially when the sampled flute kicks in). In contrast, the shorter “L’Occhio del Ciclone” hinges on a dramatic, intense mood conveyed by a combination of synth slashes, atmospheric keyboard washes and orchestral samples that include strings and horns; in a similar vein, the measured mid-tempo of  “Corto Circuito” again highlights Cottarelli’s deep, expressive vocals underpinned by layers of majestic keyboard flourishes. The eerie cinematic allure of the somewhat tense instrumental middle section of “Bianca Scia” brings to mind Goblin (as well as Genesis and ELP), which is not surprising, seen as Cottarelli collaborated with Claudio Simonetti in the Eighties. Album closer “L’Orgoglio di Arlecchino”, the only completely instrumental track, offers a complex, multilayered keyboard feast to which the presence of the guitar in the second half lends a more definite rock flavour.

Though Mario Cottarelli openly pays homage to classic prog modes, and does not claim to be reinventing the proverbial wheel, his second release has a higher originality quotient than the endless slew of albums that sound like outtakes from any of the big Seventies bands. Fans of Italian progressive rock (especially those who have some knowledge of the language) are quite likely to appreciate Una Strana Commedia, but the album is an interesting proposition for anyone who is into keyboard-based prog, and does not mind a healthy dose of quirkily expressive vocals with it.

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

http://www.progarchives.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=82656

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Repeat It (4:33)
2. In A Sense (5:24)
3. A (Post-Apocalyptic) Bedtime Story (5:07)
4. Chrysalis:
Part 1: In Between The Lines (2:53)
Part 2:  The Pundits (3:00)
Part 3: The Muse Returns (1:41)
Part 4: Free to Fall (3:15)
5. The Projectionist (4:40)
6. Tear Gas (4:46)
7. Higher Than Mountains (4:19)
8. Gravity (10:12)
9. Gravity (instrumental – bonus track) (10:02)

LINEUP:
Eric Sands – fretted and fretless bass, electric guitars
Jeff Hodges – vocals, piano, organ, synth, samples, percussion
Elise Testone – vocals
Quentin Ravenel – drums
Cameron Harder Handel – trumpet
Jenny Hugh – violin
Steve Carroll – lyrics, imagery

With:
Keith Bruce – electric guitar (1, 5)
Oliver Caminos – guitar (2, 3)
Alexandra Hodges – backing vocals (5)
Tim Hodson – acoustic guitar (2, 8 )
Vitaly Popeloff – guitar (1, 4/1, 4/2)
Dan Wright – guitar (4/4, 6)

Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, where they were founded by multi-instrumentalists Eric Sands and Jeff Hodges, Man On Fire first appeared on the music scene in 1998 with the release of their eponymous debut album. It was followed by The Undefined Design (2003), which featured Kansas’ David Ragsdale on violin, and Habitat (2006), with Adrian Belew guesting on guitar (as well as  Ragsdale’s return). Chrysalis, their long-awaited fourth album, sees the band expanded to a six-piece, with lyrics provided once again by 10T Records president Steve Carroll.

Though I was familiar with the band’s name, my only contact with Man On Fire prior to Chrysalis occurred when I had the opportunity to listen to Undercover, a compilation of cover versions of famous progressive rock songs released by 10T Records in 2009. Man On Fire’s contribution to the album, Japan’s “Visions of China”, obviously attracted my attention, as the song is a great favourite of mine; however, in the intervening months I was so overwhelmed with music to review that I all but forgot about it. The comments I had heard about the band were all largely positive, but most of them pointed out that Man On Fire were not “really” prog – meaning they did not sound like Yes or Genesis, and had at least some “mainstream” potential, which made them somewhat suspect in the eyes of purists.

When, a couple of weeks ago, I received a promo copy of Chrysalis in the mail, I did expect a measure of accessibility from the band. What took me completely by surprise, however, was the sheer brilliance of the music that came out of my speakers once I put the CD into my player. Fresh and exhilarating, brimming with memorable melodies and stunning vocal performances, it took me back to that time – the early to mid-1980s – when I spent most of my days glued to the radio, soaking in all the newest releases. In spite of that period’s grim reputation of being a wasteland for progressive rock, the ‘80s were rife with incredible talent, both as regards quality pop and more experimental fare (not to mention the wealth of classic heavy metal albums). The essence of that musical bounty – so undeservedly reviled by the snobs of this world – came back in full force when I first heard Chrysalis. The album was that rare beast – a perfect marriage between the cream of the ‘80s’ musical crop and a genuinely progressive attitude, made of technical brilliance and unabashed eclecticism.

Indeed, to borrow a metaphor from the world of cooking, Chrysalis is definitely not “your mom’s prog” Though the very mention of  the ‘80s and prog in the same breath may conjure memories of extremely divisive albums such as Yes’ 90125 or the whole of Genesis’ output in that decade, Chrysalis possesses a warm, organic sound that avoids some of the excesses of that decade (such as the over-reliance on electronic drums), all the while keeping that inimitable blend of accessibility and subtle complexity. Unlike so many “real” prog releases, which seem to adopt a “more is more” approach often resulting in bloated, pretentious affairs, this is an album that makes listening a pleasure rather than a chore. Chrysalis is a lean, mean machine offering 58 minutes of perfectly balanced music – with the majority of the tracks between 4 and 5 minutes, a 4-part epic that, in spite of its very restrained running time (10 minutes), manages to hold the attention much better than its twice-as-long counterparts, and a stunner of a closing track that sums up the album and lays the groundwork for the future developments of the band’s career.

Right from the opening strains of “Repeat It” it becomes obvious that Chrysalis is not your average symphonic prog album with a Seventies fetish. Its funky swagger, with Eric Sands’s meaty bass lines enhanced by synth bursts, provides a perfect foil for Jeff Hodges’ occasionally gruff, immensely expressive vocals. Organ flurries and airy keyboards, accented by guitar (courtesy of From.uz mainman Vitaly Popeloff), add layers of texture to the catchy yet intriguing fabric of the song. The haunting folksy beauty of Jenny Hugh’s violin refrain joins the mix of pneumatic bass and weird electronics – so reminiscent of Japan’s best moments – to make “In a Sense” one of the highlights of the album, driven to an exhilarating pace by the soulful vocal interplay between Hodges and Elise Testone, and tempered by more atmospheric moments. The Japan influence is unmistakable on most of the album, though Hodges’ voice is definitely not as languid as David Sylvian’s, often coming across as more Motown than standard prog. The skewed ballad of “A (Post-Apocalyptic) Bedtime Story”, bolstered by the flawless work of the rhythm section and peppered with trumpet bursts underscoring the intensity of the vocals, reminded me of another exquisitely boundary-crossing outfit – New Jersey’s own 3RDegree, who share Man On Fire’s appreciation of eclectic acts such as Rush. The Canadian trio’s influence crops up in the most accessible track on the album, the upbeat “Higher Than Mountains”, whose mainstream appeal is subtly spiked by a slightly chaotic ending.

The title-track offers a nice twist on the old warhorse of the multi-part epic, with short sections strung together by a main theme, and made especially memorable by the wistful voice of Cameron Harder Handel’s trumpet. Eric Sands is again joined by Vitaly Popeloff on guitar, providing both clean, melodic lines with an almost Gilmourian touch and  harsh riffs, while the mood runs the gamut from hauntingly melancholy (as in Pt 3, “The Muse Returns”) to dynamic and muscular (as in Pt 4, “Free to Fall”), with distinct echoes of bands such as Tears for Fears or Talk Talk as well as Rush or Pink Floyd. With “The Projectionist” the band dive headlong into pure ‘80s territory with an irresistibly funky, slightly angular number propelled by Quentin Ravenel’s drums, spiced up by bits of dissonance and softened by lovely vocal harmonies and entrancing keyboard washes,  hinting at some of Duran Duran’s best output. “Tear Gas” goes even further, regaling the listener with a prime example of “progressive dance” that  evokes both Madonna and the “red/blue/yellow” period of King Crimson’s career – throwing in weird electronic effects, razor-sharp riffing, slinky bass lines, soulful trumpet and haunting female backing vocals. Then, when you thought things could not get more interesting, “Gravity (also included in an instrumental-only version) kicks in, wrapping up the album with 10 minutes of absolute bliss, and the splendid voice of Elise Testone (bringing back memories of Alison Moyet or Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Holly Johnson) as the icing on the cake. The song is so funky and exhilarating that it makes you want to dance, the synergy between the instruments nothing short of astonishing, while the trumpet solo at the end, followed by sparse, wistful piano and recorded voices, is alone worth the price of admission.

As many of the references I have used in the previous paragraphs make abundantly clear, those who believe that the 1980s were a dismal time for interesting music would do very well to steer clear of Chrysalis. While, from a compositional point of view, the album has enough complexity to sustain any comparisons with  more “traditional” prog releases,  the music featured on Chrysalis is quite unlikely to appeal to purists or staunch ‘70s worshippers. On the other hand, anyone into art rock/crossover (labels that are often used condescendingly to define something that cannot fully aspire to the hallowed “prog” tag), and, obviously, devotees of ‘80s music will not fail to appreciate the brilliance of Man On Fire’s latest effort. With striking artwork and photography and Steve Carroll’s literate, thought-provoking lyrics rounding off a thoroughly modern package, Chrysalis is another strong contender for my personal Top 10 of 2011. Hopefully the band will not keep us waiting for another six years before their next release.

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

http://10trecords.com/

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Seamripper (& The Blanket Statement) (8:13)
2. Tip-Toe the Fault-Line (6:57)
3. Ashes To Ear (5:18)
4. Shades Of Hades (5:43)
5. Reductio Ad Absurdum (6:18)
6. On Again/Off Again (7:25)
7. Lotus (6:17)
8. Ashtamangala (The 8 Auspicious Symbols):
Pt. 1 – Pareidolized (The Ocean In The Shell) (10:00)
Pt. 2 – Parasol (1:43)
Pt. 3 – Wave The Banner (1:41)
Pt. 4 – Fish Afraid Of Drowning (2:14)
Pt. 5 – Moebius Knot (2:26)
Pt. 6 – Full Circle (1:55)
Pt. 7 – Let it Wash Away (The Lotus Effect) (5:49)

LINEUP:
Paul Adrian Villarreal – vocals, guitars
Marcel Coenen – guitars
Daniel Kohn – bass
Rene Kroon – keyboards
Roel Van Helden – drums

Dutch quintet Sun Caged was first formed in 1999 by guitarist Marcel Coenen and drummer Dennis Leeflang. Their self-titled debut album (mixed by Arjen Lucassen of Ayreon) was released in 2003, followed by Artemisia in 2007 (with new lead singer Paul Adrian Villareal on board), and then by The Lotus Effect in the early summer of 2011 (the first with new bassist Daniel Kohn). All of the band’s albums have been released on Finnish label Lion Music. Sun Caged have also toured in support of established bands such as Vanden Plas and Fates Warning.

As some of my regular readers may already know, I am not the biggest fan of “classic” progressive metal – that is, the subgenre that was made popular by Dream Theater with their 1992 album Images and Words, and since then attracted adoration and abuse in almost equal proportion. While I have always had a lot of time for classic heavy metal, I find its marriage with progressive rock (mostly of the symphonic persuasion) largely uninspiring, with very few exceptions. For this reason, I generally refrain from reviewing albums by bands that follow in the wake of the New York quintet – as it is not always easy to keep our personal tastes and inclinations from getting in the way of objectivity.

Though firmly placed in the classic prog metal tradition of soaring vocals, guitar fireworks and majestic keyboard sweeps, Sun Caged’s third studio album has got enough individuality to separate it from the mass of run-of-the-mill Dream Theater clones that are flooding the market with their CDs. While the album, running at about 72 minutes, and complete with rather esoteric titles (though tinged with a sort of skewed humour that is not too usual in the genre), is undoubtedly an ambitious undertaking, the band’s cohesion allows them to come across as a unit rather than a random collection of virtuosos. Moreover, this ambition does not result in an unchecked proliferation of sprawling pieces with more twists and turns than the average listener can effectively digest. In fact, the songs are all quite tight in compositional terms, making the most of the instrumental and vocal expertise of the members, yet keeping to a relatively straightforward structure.

The vast majority of the tracks feature vocals, making the most of Paul Adrian Villareal’s impressive range and clarity. While a high tenor like most singers in the genre, his powerful, yet melodic voice adapts to the music with remarkable adroitness, rarely if ever indulging in over-the-top antics, and – most importantly – never sounding strained, as unfortunately it is often the case with Dream Theater’s James LaBrie. Though voices such as Villareal’s can be much of an acquired taste, his consistently solid performance on The Lotus Effect show that is very much in control of everything that is going on around him. His skill and confidence  are especially spotlighted in “On Again/Off Again”, his voice soaring above the relentless tapestry of riffs and keyboards, and the mellow “Reductio Ad Absurdum” , a ballad in the tradition of Dream Theater’s “Another Day” or “Space Dye Vest”.

The Lotus Effect has a rather distinctive structure, featuring 7 stand-alone tracks and the 7-part epic “Ashtamangala (The 8 Auspicious Symbols)”, most of the tracks striking a nice balance between melody and heaviness. Though driven by often harsh, aggressive guitar riffs, the music relies on the contribution of keyboards for texture and depth, and the piano tempers  the high level of energy with its gentle, fluid touch. While Marcel Coenen’s guitar is always at the forefront, its interplay with Rene Kroon’s sweeping, piercing synth gives distinction to tracks such as “Tip-Toe the Fault Line”, the intense but melodic “Pareidolized” and the ultra-heavy “Moebius Knot” (the only completely instrumental track on the album), which borders on extreme metal with its dense riffing and Roel Van Helden’s frantic drumming. Opener “Seamripper (& The Blanket Statement)” is also high on the heaviness quotient, with its energetic riffing reminiscent of classic thrash metal. Here and there, however, other influences crop up, such as in the funky slap bass line in the middle of “Shades of Hades”, and the Eastern echoes in the synth line and percussion pattern of “Lotus”; while “Parasol” has a relaxed, almost Latin feel. On the other hand, closing track “Let It Wash Away (The Lotus Effect)”, with its lush keyboard parts, exudes that sense of melodic grandiosity that is typical of a lot of classic prog.

While The Lotus Effect may not be exactly my cup of tea, it is undoubtedly a finely-crafted production that will not fail to appeal to the many followers of “traditional” progressive metal. A tad overlong for my tastes, but much better structured than many efforts of comparable length and scope, the album offers a nice mix of melody, heaviness and virtuosity – the latter hardly ever descending into mere showing off. Band founder Marcel Coenen is also to be commended for the versatility of his guitar playing, and his avoidance (for the most part) of the dreaded pitfalls of shredding. That said, as talented a band as Sun Caged undeniably are, The Lotus Effect is quite unlikely to convert any naysayers to the joys of prog metal

Links:
http://www.suncaged.com/home.html

http://www.myspace.com/suncaged

http://www.reverbnation.com/suncaged

http://www.lionmusic.com/

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Goodbye Sweet Innocence (10:40)
2. Living In The Past (11:59)
3. Forgotten Land (9:57)

LINEUP:
Mariusz Duda – vocal, bass, acoustic guitar
Piotr Grudziński – guitars
Piotr Kozieradzki – drums
Michał Łapaj – keyboards, Hammond organ

Hailing from the Polish capital of Warsaw, Riverside need no introduction to fans of modern progressive rock. After 10 years of activity, the release of four full-length albums, a live CD/DVD and a number of singles and EPs, and an extensive touring activity that has brought them to perform at numerous events in Europe and America, the quartet fronted by bassist/vocalist Mariusz Duda  has established itself as one of the top acts in the genre, particularly in progressive metal circles.

To be honest, I have always thought that the progressive metal tag was a rather uncomfortable fit for a band like Riverside. While their sound undeniably possesses a keen edge, in my view the more explicit metal traits, such as harsh, dense riffing and aggressive vocals, are used as accents rather than the main event; their music also seems to have more in common with eclectic, hard-to-pinpoint bands such as Porcupine Tree and Tool than the pyrotechnics of Dream Theater and their ilk, or the cerebral experimentalism of bands like UneXpect. With the moody, brooding atmosphere shared by other Polish bands, spiked by sudden surges in intensity, yet mellow and subtly haunting, Riverside’s compositions take full advantage of modern technology, and find a perfect foil to the instrumental side of things in Mariusz Duda’s velvet-smooth voice – equally at home on slower, meditative numbers and on those that push the aggressive elements to the forefront.

Released in June 2011 on the occasion of the band’s 10th anniversary tour, Memories in My Head is a mini-album featuring three new songs (all around the 10-minute mark), the first studio material following their acclaimed fourth album, Anno Domini High Definition. Clocking in at 32 minutes, the disc is in some ways a return to Riverside’s more mellow beginnings, bookended by atmospheric, ambient-like sounds produced by Michał Łapaj’s array of keyboards – something that has been criticized by some reviewers as superfluous, but which I found an interesting addition to the heavier approach adopted by the band in their recent output. The spacey, hypnotic textures of those instrumental passages clearly reveal the influence of Pink Floyd – especially the obsessive, mechanical sound effects in the intro to “Goodbye Sweet Innocence” that inevitably bring to mind Dark Side of the Moon. The track then develops into a slow, somber piece, showcasing Mariusz Duda’s throaty, soothing vocals and some fine guitar work by Piotr Grudziński (sometimes evidencing that faint Eastern vibe that seems to be a constant of Riverside’s music) sparring with Lapaj’s piercing synths.

Strategically placed in the middle, “Living in the Past” is not only the longest track on the CD, but also the one with the strongest ties to Riverside’s metal-hued tendencies of the past few years. Some of the initial parts juxtapose spacey Pink Floyd-like moments with hints of the guitar-organ dynamics so crucial for the sound of Deep Purple and other vintage hard rock outfits, while whistling synth and heavy riffing sharpen the taste. Though the composition comes across as occasionally patchy, mainly on account of the frequent, abrupt shifts between quiet and loud sections, the instrumental interplay is outstanding, and the coda, driven by clean, melodic guitar and Hammond flurries, is alone worth the price of admission. Finally, on closing track “Forgotten Land” Duda’s bass steps into the limelight, and his voice turns occasionally more assertive, while beautiful, mellow guitar and slow, measured pace, together with plentiful sound effects, create a haunting mood that fits the lyrical matter like a glove.

With stylish photography in a variety of hues of grey, bleak imagery suggesting the passing of time, and lyrics relating to memory and loss (as the titles make it abundantly clear), Memories in My Head is a finely-crafted release, though clearly a transitional one for the Polish band. Its more laid-back, atmospheric nature will appeal to the more conservative-minded prog fans turned off by overtly metal nature of Anno Domini High Definition (as witnessed by some of the reactions to the band’s excellent set at the 2010 edition of  NEARFest), and the lavish use of electronics in the tradition of vintage Pink Floyd, or even of seminal electro-prog bands like Tangerine Dream, may point at interesting developments in Riverside’s future releases.

Links:
http://riversideband.pl/en/

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Cronovisione (7:36)
2. Gatto Lupesco (7:23)
3. Nei Cerchi del Legno (13:09):
– a. Pinocchio (0:00)
– b. V.I.T.R.I.O.L. (2:17)
– c. L’Eterna Spirale del Destino (5:22)
– d. Radici di una Coscienza (8:57)
4. Il Fattore Precipitante (7:00)
5. Il Basilisco (6:19)
6. Un Insolito Baratto Alchemico (7:11)
7. Acustica Felina (9:37)

 LINEUP:
Gabriele Guidi Colombi – bass
Andrea Orlando – drums, percussion
Alessio Calandriello – vocals
Davide Serpico – electric and acoustic guitars
Andrea Lotti – piano, keyboards, acoustic guitar
Stefano Agnini – piano, keyboards

With:
Luca Scherani –  accordion (5), flute arrangement (6)
Joanne Roan – flute (6)
Rossano Villa – string arrangement (3, 7)
Lidia Molinari – voice (1, 7)

Another outstanding addition to the thriving music scene of the Italian port city of Genoa, La Coscienza di Zeno was founded in  2007 by a group of experienced musicians – bassist Gabriele “Estunno” Guidi Colombi (also a founding member of Il Tempio delle Clessidre), drummer Andrea Orlando and vocalist Alessio Calandriello. Keyboardist and lyricist Stefano Agnini joined the band at the beginning of 2008, while guitarist Davide Serpico (who replaced original guitarist Matteo Malvezzi) and keyboardist Andrea Lotti joined between 2008 and 2009. Agnini left at the end of the recording sessions for La Coscienza di Zeno’s self-titled debut album, which had started in May 2010.

The band takes its distinctive name (meaning “Zeno’s Conscience” in English, and often shortened to CDZ for ease of reference) from one of the masterpieces of Italian literature, the ground-breaking psychological novel published in 1923 by writer and businessman Italo Svevo, and written in the form of an autobiography meant to help the titular Zeno’s attempts to quit smoking through psychoanalysis. Not surprisingly, La Coscienza di Zeno’s debut possesses a definite intellectual appeal – though without the level of pretentiousness that might be expected _ revolving around Stefano Agnini’s highly literate lyrics (loosely inspired by the novel) masterfully interpreted by lead singer Alessio Calandriello’s technically impeccable voice, passionate without being overwrought.

La Coscienza di Zeno is one of those rare albums that, while in keeping with the classic prog tradition of long tracks, rich instrumentation (with special prominence given to the keyboards) and intricate arrangements, achieves the considerable feat of never overstaying its welcome.  As other reviewers have pointed out, the album is not as easy to approach as other comparable efforts, and the first impression might be somewhat deceiving. To be perfectly honest, after my first listen I thought, here is another of the many Italian Genesis-worshipping bands – which, after successive listens, turned out to be a very unfair assessment. Indeed, while the Genesis influence is occasionally hard to miss, the album’s roots lie firmly and deeply in the great Italian prog tradition, with Banco del Mutuo Soccorso a particularly apt reference, mainly on account the presence of two keyboardists and the remarkable balance between vocal and instrumental parts.

Clocking in at slightly under one hour, La Coscienza di Zeno features seven tracks between 6 and 13 minutes. Though the main foundation of the album is symphonic, lush and multilayered, with plenty of seamless instrumental interplay, outstanding solo passages and rivetingly expressive singing, there is also enough variety to keep the interest of the more eclectic-minded listeners, with a wide range of influences cropping up almost unexpectedly, from waltz to folk by way of jazz and even hard rock. The almost wholly instrumental (except for the spoken-word vocals in the middle) opener “Cronovisione” is melodic and intricate at the same time, with echoes of Yes in the airy synth sweeps laced with faintly spiky guitar, and of Banco in the majestic yet dynamic feel imparted by the twin keyboards. “Gatto Lupesco”, hinges on Alessio Calandriello’s amazing vocal range and expressive power, complemented by a musical accompaniment that is melancholy and intense in turns, driven by keyboards and dramatic drumming. The obligatory epic, “Nei Cerchi del Legno” (partly inspired by the iconic tale of Pinocchio, one of the few instances of Italian literature that have had some international resonance) has a rather unusual format, being mostly instrumental, with vocals making an appearance only towards the end. The music, on the other hand, is a triumph of imposing symphonic passages rendered even more lush by the double keyboard setup and string arrangement, almost jazzy inserts offset by gently meditative episodes, and stunning synth-guitar interplay that brings to mind Genesis’ immortal “Firth of Fifth”.

Out of the remaining four tracks, “Il Fattore Precipitante” pursues the classic Italian prog route, with the lavish, airy Genesis-like suggestions sharpened by some heavy riffing and high-powered rhythm work courtesy of Gabriele Guidi Colombi and Andrea Orlando – though Calandriello steals the show here, his vocal tour de force complemented by a superb instrumental tapestry of keyboards, drums and guitar. “Il Basilisco”, on the other hand, signals a sharp change in mood and musical style – a folk-tinged number veined with melancholy and enhanced by the arresting, unmistakably Old-World accordion of guest artist Luca Scherani of Höstsonaten, also showcasing Davide Serpico’s lovely acoustic guitar work. The splendid, exquisitely tense instrumental “Un Insolito Baratto Alchemico” juxtaposes quieter, flute-led sections and stormy keyboard passages spiced by metal-hued riffing, enriched by solemn organ and lilting piano; while closer “Acustica Felina” (the second longest track on the album) reprises the lush symphonic mood of the beginning, rounded up by the deep choral tone of the inevitable Mellotron. Calandriello’s voice tackles the challenging lyrical matter with superb expertise, veering from gentleness to a deep, almost menacing tone; the song is then wrapped up by a magnificent, Hackettian guitar solo.

With refreshing honesty, La Coscienza di Zeno make no bones about paying homage to the progressive rock tradition of the Seventies, both Italian and British – even if the sound quality and production values of their debut album are thoroughly modern, and lend extra depth and dimension to the elegantly complex music. An obvious labour of love, every aspect of the album has been carefully considered in order to offer a complete experience to the discerning listener – with stylish, mostly black-and-white photography and detailed liner notes, including the lyrics (which make worthwhile reading for anyone familiar with the Italian language). Indeed, La Coscienza di Zeno is a must for all lovers of vintage Italian prog, adding the band to the growing list of excellent “traditional but modern” acts that already includes their fellow Genoese Il Tempio delle Clessidre and La Maschera di Cera, as well as the revamped Delirium. Highly recommended to symphonic prog fans and anyone who is not put off by foreign-language vocals, this is another classy package coming from the ever-dependable Italian prog scene.

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

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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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