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herd

TRACKLISTING:
1. Manifestation Part Two (5:54)
2. Gridlock (3:37)
3. Baba Yaga (4:35)
4. Manifestation Part One (5:16)
5. Saddha (7:00)
6. Nocturne (1:48)
7. Dybbuk (6:08)
8. Time and Again (3:26)
9. Shatterpoint (6:34)
10. Waterfalls and Black Rainbows (3:46)

LINEUP:
Mark Cook – Warr guitar, fretted and fretless guitar, fretless bass, mellotron, thumb piano, synth, samples
Gayle Ellett – mellotron, moog, Hammond organ, guitar
Mike McGary: mellotron, Rhodes, organ, clavinet, synth, piano, bells
Rick Read – Chapman stick, fretted and fretless bass, Taurus pedals
Ross Young – drums

With:
Bill Bachman – drums (1, 3, 7)
Bob Fisher – flute (4-7), saxophone (2, 8)
Stephen Page – violin (2, 6, 9, 8)

Three years after Conjure, Herd of Instinct are back with a brand-new album, and an equally brand-new lineup. Only Mark Cook (recently in the spotlight on Hands’ outstanding 2015 album, Caviar Bobsled) remains of the original trio that released its self-titled debut in 2011, immediately awakening the interest of the progressive rock fandom. Drummer Jason Spradlin and guitarist Mark Davison have left, replaced by Ross Young and Rick Read,  a pair of excellent musicians from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, formerly with Cook in another local outfit named Minefield. The lineup is completed by multi-instrumentalist Gayle Ellett (of Djam Karet and Fernwood fame) and keyboardist Mike McGary. Drummer Bill Bachman (the other half of the Spoke of Shadows project), violinist Stephen Page and flutist/saxophonist Bob Fisher (who guested on the band’s previous albums) are also on board.

Released on Djam Karet’s Firepool Records label, Manifestation marks both a continuation and an evolution in the band’s approach. While its sound is almost immediately recognizable, based as it is on the versatile, hypnotic sound of the Warr guitar and other touch instruments, it has also acquired a dimension that I might call “symphonic” – though not exactly in the sense it is commonly meant when discussing prog. Indeed, Herd of Instinct may be one of the few currently active bands who have managed to forge their own individual sound, in which influences are incorporated into the fabric of the music without coming across as overtly derivative. The overall effect is one of effortless melody coupled with heady tempo shifts, where the sharper edges are softened by the lush, multilayered instrumental texture. In particular, Rick Read’s Chapman stick and the pervasive presence of prog’s iconic instrument, the mellotron, add depth and complexity – as well as that symphonic feel that sets the album apart from its more austere predecessors.

Clocking in at under 50 minutes, Manifestation continues with the band’s tradition of compositions whose short yet pithy titles evoke mental images. On three of the ten completely instrumental tracks, a somewhat longer running time than on the band’s previous albums allows the musicians to display a wide range of modes of expression, though leaving no room for self-indulgence.

Opener “Manifestation Part Two” introduces the “new” Herd of Instinct, successfully infusing  the band’s seamless ensemble dynamics and stunning solo spots with a haunting sense of melody. Interestingly, “Manifestation Part One” occupies the fourth slot, reprising most of the features of “Part One” (including a lovely Warr guitar solo towards the end), though in somewhat more streamlined fashion. In “Gridlock” the sleek interplay of violin, saxophone and guitar is supported by a brisk drum beat, while the Hammond organ and wailing guitar in the angular “Time and Again” blend vintage psychedelic suggestions with echoes of Eighties King Crimson. On the other hand, intriguing funky elements and an almost wild guitar solo coexist with sound effects and majestic mellotron washes in the energetic “Shatterpoint”.

Manifestation does not forget to tap into Herd of Instinct’s trademark Gothic vein, evoked by the weirdly bleak landscape depicted by the album’s cover art. While the strategically-placed, flute-and-violin interlude “Nocturne” turns from pastoral to almost dissonant in under two minutes, “Baba Yaga” paints a haunting, doom-laden picture in which gentle classical guitar arpeggios are juxtaposed with eerie keyboards and harsh riffs. The intense “Dybbuk” takes the listener on a rollercoaster ride, introducing elements of jazz (courtesy of Rick Read’s fretless bass) and metal into its foundation of interlocking guitar lines fleshed out by keyboards. The 7-minute “Saddha” (a Sanskrit word for “faith”, one of the central tenets of Buddhism)  makes use of a panoply of eerie, ominous sound effects (including a spoken reference to Kafka’s The Metamorphosis) to reinforce the darkly Crimsonian tapestry of guitar, mellotron and flute, backed by Ross Young’s uncannily precise drumming. Finally, “Waterfalls and Black Rainbows” starts out in almost subdued fashion, then increases its dramatic quotient to wrap up the album in style.

Although 2016 promises to be a bumper year for progressive releases, Manifestation is already poised to become a favourite for many of the genre’s devotees. With this album, Herd of Instinct prove they have finally reached their maturity, and have the potential to go on to even better things. Highly recommended to fans of  instrumental prog (especially the King Crimson-inspired brand),  Manifestation is also a must-listen for anyone interested in touch guitars, either as a listener or as a practitioner.

Links:
http://herdofinstinct.wix.com/herdofinstinct

https://www.facebook.com/Herd-of-Instinct-153462274689341/

 

 

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TRACKLISTING:
1. The Last Song (8:20)
2. Heavy Lifting (6:20)
3. Discourse on Method (5:38)
4. Drum Roe (1:06)
5. Halfway to Salem (7:36)
6. Still Life (7:01)
7. Talking Points (3:52)
8. Like Me (6:18)
9. Into the Night (2:20)
10. Shards (3:16)
11. Alis Volat Propiis (4:48)
12. This and That (4:23)
13. Busy Signal (11:31)

LINEUP:
Skip Durbin – woodwinds, exotics
John Rousseau – drums
Rex Bozarth – Chapman Stick, bass, cello, background vocals
Martin McCall – drums, percussion
Shannon Day – vintage and contemporary keyboards
Mark Cook – Warr guitar, bass, guitar, keyboards, drums, percussion, devices
Steve Powell – bass, additional keyboards, background vocals, noises
Ernie Myers – vocals, guitars

When discussing the somewhat obscure US prog scene of the Seventies, Hands will likely not be among the first names that spring to mind. However, the Texas band – founded by guitarist Ernie Myers and keyboardist Michael Clay (both members of jazz-rock outfit Prism) – has been around since 1977, more or less as long as higher-profile bands such as The Muffins and Happy the Man. Their first two albums, Hands and Palm Mystery, though released in the late Nineties, feature material dating back from the band’s early years, before their 2002 reunion with the aptly titled Twenty-Five Winters – followed in 2008 by the excellent Strangelet.

Seven years later, Hands are back with the elegantly-packaged, cryptically-titled Caviar Bobsled, and a revamped lineup that comprises no less than eight members. Founder Michael Clay and drummer John Fiveash have left, replaced by Skip Durbin, Rex Bozarth, Shannon Day and John Rousseau, all involved in the band’s previous incarnations. With Myers and bassist Steve Powell at the helm, the 2015 version of Hands amounts more to a small orchestra than a mere rock band, as the array of instruments employed on the album (duly detailed in the extensive liner notes) is nothing short of astonishing.

While all too often such ambitious undertakings turn out to be triumphs of style over substance, Caviar Bobsled is nothing of the sort, delivering instead a lesson on how modern progressive rock should sound like, and handling the inevitable references to prog’s “golden oldies” in such a way as to provide fleeting reminders rather than blatantly obvious homages. In fact, there is very little on Caviar Bobsled that can be termed derivative.

Clocking in at almost 73 minutes, Caviar Bobsled is a long, densely packed album. While I usually consider running times in excess of 60 minutes a drawback rather than an asset, Hands’ latest effort holds together admirably well, with a minimal amount of filler. Though Myers (whose polite, well-modulated vocals fit the music to a T) is responsible for writing most of the 13 songs, other band members get their chance in the spotlight. Individual times are also well-balanced, with the two longest tracks bookending the album, and the shorter, catchier numbers located closer to the middle.

Musically speaking, Caviar Bobsled is a veritable rollercoaster ride, running the gamut of styles and deftly blending various sources of inspiration to achieve a strikingly original result. Eclecticism is the name of the game: I can think of very few albums in which echoes of Queen and The Beatles rub elbows with angular patterns in pure King Crimson style – often in the space of the same song, as borne out by the brilliant “Heavy Lifting”, a song that packs more in barely over 6 minutes than many epics do in 20, or the deceptively accessible “Discourse on Method”.

In opener “The Last Song”, the rugged appeal of Shannon Day’s Hammond B3 organ injects shades of Deep Purple in a richly arranged texture that brings to mind Belew-era King Crimson. Warm folksy traits emerge in the playful, largely acoustic “Talking Points”, “Shards” and “This and That”, the latter also reminiscent of Gentle Giant and Caravan with its pastoral flute and jaunty percussion. On the flip side, the intricately orchestrated “Still Life” with its dramatic, surging intro, mercurially shifts from ethereal sparseness to roaring organ and guitar passages with a more classic prog feel. Closer “Busy Signal” encompasses all of the album’s characteristics, veering from nostalgic to majestic to atmospheric in the space of 11-odd minutes, and putting each band member’s skill on display in a breathtakingly multifaceted whole.

My personal highlight, however, is one of the three instrumental interludes that add a further layer of interest to the album. With its poetic title and gorgeously hypnotic sounds, “Alis Volat Propiis” (“Flies With Its Own Wings” – I will always be partial to a bit of Latin!) turns the spotlight on Mark Cook (of Herd of Instinct and Spoke of Shadows fame), whose Warr guitar recreates the spellbinding atmospheres that characterize his work with those bands. Though Cook plays only on 5 songs out of 13, his contribution to the fabric of those composition is essential – as in the elegiac “Halfway to Salem” (where he plays 12-string electric guitar), or in the instrumental sections of “Still Life” and “Busy Signal”. Though shorter, the other two instrumentals hold their own – “Drum Roe” showcasing drummer Martin McCall’s skills, and Rex Bozarths’s lovely, mournful cello solo spot “Into the Night” treading in chamber music territory.

Those prog fans who are often frustrated in their search for new music that is fresh and interesting – though not as openly challenging or potentially offputting as anything with metal elements or avant-garde leanings – are warmly encouraged to check out Caviar Bobsled. The care and dedication that have gone into its writing and recording are evident, and the album offers something to almost everyone. Although Hands are still one of the best-kept secrets of the thriving US prog scene, this highly rewarding effort deserves to be known to a larger audience, and will definitely find a place in my personal Best of 2015 list.

Links:
http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/hands3
http://www.shroomangel.com/

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cover

TRACKLISTING:
1. Dominion (5:16)
2. Images (3:10)
3. One Day (2:20)
4. Harbinger (3:37)
5. Lost One (3:25)
6. Pain Map (7:25)
7. Persona (3:17)
8. Splendid Sisters (3:17)
9. Tilting at Windmills (6:11)
10. Accord (2:32)
11. Dichotomy (3:33)
12. Drama of Display (3:58)

LINEUP:
Mark Cook – Warr guitar, ADG fretless bass, guitar, keyboards
Bill Bachman – drums

With:
Joe Blair – guitar (10)
Gayle Ellett – mellotron, Fender Rhodes (8)
Bob Fisher – flute (2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9)
Michael Harris – guitar (4)
Jeff Plant – fretless bass (12)
Tony Rohrbough – guitar (2, 4, 6, 9, 11)
Dave Streett – Warr guitar (8)
Shannon Wickline – piano (3)

The project named Spoke of Shadows was born in early 2013, when a mutual friend put Texas-based multi-instrumentalist Mark Cook (who had been writing some music of his own after completing the mixing of Herd of Instinct’s second album, Conjure) in touch with renowned session drummer Bill Bachman. After some virtual recording sessions, Mark and Bill met in person for the first time in Dallas – an essential step for taking their project to the next level. The duo’s self-titled debut album, recorded in various locations throughout the US, was finally released in February 2014 on Djam Karet’s label Firepool Records, like Herd of Instinct’s two albums.

As Spoke of Shadows features 12 relatively short, completely instrumental tracks, first-time listeners might be forgiven for expecting the third chapter of the Herd of Instinct saga, although with different personnel involved. However, Cook has stated on several occasions that the project has allowed him to branch out from his main band’s trademark Gothic-tinged, cinematic sound, and add new elements to his sonic palette – also thanks to the contribution of artists coming from a wide range of musical backgrounds. Obviously, the connection to Cook’s work with Herd of Instinct is clearly on display, but quite a few surprises await the listener throughout the 48 minutes of this sophisticated, highly eclectic album. While the obvious comparisons with King Crimson have been made, Spoke of Shadows does possess a strong individual imprint that sets it apart from so much overly derivative fare.

Unlike some musicians who seem to be in a hurry to take their distance from the “prog” tag, Cook and Bachman (who, among other things, share a love of Gabriel-era Genesis) embrace the definition, as highlighted by the prominent role given to the genre’s iconic instrument, the mellotron. Coupled with Cook’s masterful handling of the hauntingly versatile Warr guitar (an instrument that, in many ways, symbolizes modern prog, even if it has never become truly widespread), it builds lush yet deeply mesmerizing atmospheres that surge and shimmer, conveying a wide range of moods in a subtle yet clearly recognizable way.

The resemblance with Herd of Instinct emerges in the skillful blend of atmospherics and aggression of opener “Dominion”, with its polyphonic guitar chords offset by Bachman’s nuanced drumming. “Images”, however, heralds a keen change in approach – more straightforward in compositional terms, and therefore more reliant on contrasts of light and shade, Bob Fisher’s expressive flute adding an almost free-form touch towards the end. The short, jazzy mood piece of “One Day” – embellished by Charlie Daniels Band’s keyboardist Shannon Wickline’s lovely flowing piano – introduces the razor-sharp Crimsonian workout of “Harbinger”, where the haunting wail of the Warr guitar and the pastoral tone of flute and mellotron rub elbows with a “shredder” solo by Thought Chamber guitarist Michael Harris, as well as a funk-tinged one by Tony Rohrbough (formerly of West Virginia metal band Byzantine). “Lost One” brings back a gentle pastoral mood fleshed out by lush mellotron, while the 7-minute “Pain Map” (the album’s longest track) closes the album’s first half on a striking modern classical note – mellotron and evocative field recordings vying with riff-heavy passages and eerily echoing guitar.

Generally speaking, the album’s second half heads in a more low-key direction, with “Splendid Sisters” a particular highlight. Co-written and -performed by Dave Streett, another Warr guitar enthusiast and long-time collaborator of Cook’s, the wistful, elegiac track with its soothing guitar and flute, understated drumming, and solemn mellotron and electric piano (courtesy of Djam Karet’s Gayle Ellett) is dedicated to talented Italian stickist Virginia Splendore, who passed away in 2011. The restrained, atmospheric “Persona” and “Accord” are conceived along similar lines, while the dramatic, cinematic sweep and doom-laden riffing of “Tilting at Windmills” hint again at Herd of Instinct, and “Dichotomy” starts out in deceptively subdued fashion before developing into another commanding, Crimson-hued number propelled by Bachman’s imperious drumming. “Drama of Display” wraps up the album by expertly mixing different styles, assertive riffs coexisting with ethnic-tinged drumming and a panoply of intriguing sound effects.

An album whose understated elegance belies its high level of technical accomplishment, Spoke of Shadows offers an ideal complement to Herd of Instinct’s two albums and Djam Karet’s latest release, Regenerator 3017. As usual, the visual aspect – with a dark grey background interrupted by a row of bright orange windows (courtesy of photographer Garth Hill) – has been carefully thought out, providing a fine foil to the music within. While the album should not be missed by devotees of the King Crimson school of instrumental progressive rock (which includes the work of Trey Gunn and Tony Levin), it also has the potential to appeal to a broader section of the prog audience (unless, of course, they object to all-instrumental music).

Links:
http://spokeofshadows.wix.com/spokeofshadows

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Prince of the Inland Empire (5.35)
2. Living in the Future Past (4.50)
3. Desert Varnish (7.18)
4. Wind Pillow (4.39)
5. Lost Dreams (3.49)
6. Empty House (6.07)
7. On the Edge of the Moon (8.36)

LINEUP:
Gayle Ellett – electric guitar, Fender Rhodes, Moog, mellotron, Solina, bouzouki, field recordings
Mike Henderson – electric guitar, percussion
Mike Murray – electric guitar
Chuck Oken, Jr. – drums, percussion, keyboards, effects
Henry J. Osborne – bass, piano, keyboards
With:
Mark Cook – Warr guitar (2)

The Southern Californian outfit that was hailed in Edward Macan’s seminal book Rocking the Classics as one of the front-runners of “new” progressive rock have reached another milestone in their career – their 30th anniversary. Djam Karet – formed in 1984 as a quartet comprising Gayle Ellett, Mike Henderson, Henry J. Osborne and Chuck Oken, Jr. – are back with their 17th album, Regenerator 3017, featuring about 41 minutes of brand-new music, recorded by the band’s original line-up, plus guitarist Mike Murray (who joined the band for 2010’s live-in-the-studio album, The Heavy Soul Sessions). The album follows The Trip, an intriguing vintage space-rock workout that was released in 2013, and in some ways complements it, showing a different side of the band’s creative inspiration.

Quite interestingly for a band who have made a banner of their music’s lack of commercial potential (cue the title of their debut album), Regenerator 3017 – while not truly likely to endanger the reign of the likes of Beyoncé or Kanye West as darlings of the wider music-buying public – does possess quite a lot of appeal for listeners who would ordinarily be put off by prog’s excessive ambitiousness. Melody and atmosphere are the name of the game – a smoothly flowing, ear-flattering musical content imbued with a relaxed West Coast vibe. As Djam Karet proudly stress on all their albums, Regenerator 3017 was recorded without any compression or computer manipulation – resulting in a warm, organic sound that emphasizes ensemble playing, while not failing to highlight individual performances.

The breezy, summery feel of opener “Prince of the Inland Empire”, its lazy, jazzy allure faintly tinged with reminiscences of Seventies dance music, might be somewhat of a surprise (or even a turn-off) to anyone expecting something along the lines of The Trip – let alone Djam Karet’s most Crimsonesque works, such as The Devouring or Burning the Hard City. The interplay between guitar and keyboards adds to the charm of the upbeat passages, interspersed by more sedate, almost meditative moments, in a style that put me in mind of early Camel. Things take a decidedly different turn with the classic, elegant jazz-rock sound of “Living in the Future Past”, featuring some stellar electric piano from Ellett, as well as a drop-dead-gorgeous guitar solo – the whole rounded out by mellotron and Herd of Instinct’s Mark Cook’s Warr guitar. Equally understated, but more in line with Djam Karet’s trademark sound (as aptly summed up in the already-mentioned The Heavy Soul Sessions), the 7-minute “Desert Varnish” intrigues with its tantalizing use of quiet-loud patterns spotlighting Chuck Oken Jr’s textural drumming and Henry J. Osborne’s discreet but unmistakable bass, then allowing the guitar to take the lead in a reverberating escalation.

Not surprisingly, “Wind Pillow” is mellow and atmospheric, with layers of keyboards and more than a cursory nod to Pink Floyd (“A Pillow of Winds” is the title of a song from Meddle). “Lost Dreams” continues much in the same vein, down to the measured, slightly plodding pace and Gilmourian guitar solo. Choral mellotron lends a symphonic tone to the soothing yet wistful guitar and moog in “Empty House”, underpinning the subtle flares of intensity and the climactic beauty of the slow, expressive guitar soloing. Rippling piano and fiery lead guitar shine in closing track “On the Edge of the Moon”), vying with the classical-tinged presence of the mellotron in a lovely, evocative 8-minute slice of atmosphere with some welcome bite.

While Regenerator 3017 might disappoint those who were expecting a throwback to Djam Karet’s Crimsonian roots, its deceptively lazy, upbeat feel and accessibility may well gain the band a few well-deserved new fans. Aficionados of Pink Floyd (especially the years between Meddle and Wish You Were Here) and Camel’s instrumental output will definitely find a lot to enjoy here. However, the album will offer a solid 41 minutes of very rewarding listening – even if not too overtly intricate or aggressive – to everyone with an interest in exploring the different facets of instrumental prog, and also provide a fine point of entry to Djam Karet newcomers. Last but not least, Regenerator 3017’s airy, spacious feel makes it ideal listening for the summer season that is almost upon us, without any of the cheesiness of so much stereotyped “summery” music. A special mention is also deserved by the striking, Southwestern-inspired cover designed by guitarist Mike Murray.

Links:
http://www.djamkaret.com/
http://djamkaret.bandcamp.com/album/regenerator-3017

 

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2P 4pg insert

TRACKLISTING:
1. Praxis (5:14)
2. Dead Leaf Echo (3:18)
3. Brutality of Fact (3:17)
4. Alice Krige pt.1 (5:54)
5. Solitude One (4:25)
6. Ravenwood (3:27)
7. Mother Night (4:23)
8. Vargtimmen (4:59)
9. Malise (3:15)
10. New Lands  (4:12)
11. A Sense of an Ending (5:30)
12. The Secret of Fire (5:16)

LINEUP:
Mark Cook – Warr guitar, ADG fretless bass, guitar, programming
Mike Davison – guitar, 12-string acoustic guitar, guitar synth
Gayle Ellett – Moog, Mellotron, Hammond organ, Rhodes, dilruba
Jason Spradlin – drums, programming

With:
Joel Adair – trumpet (4)
Joe Blair – lap steel guitar (4)
Colin Edwin – fretless bass (1, 11)
Bob Fisher – flute (1, 4)
Lisa Lazo – keyboards (5)

In the late spring of 2011, the self-titled debut album by Herd of Instinct  – a hitherto unknown outfit named after the only album by Talk Talk offshoot O’Rang –  was released on Firepool Records, the label created by Gayle Ellett and Chuck Oken Jr, founding members of veteran US progressive rock band Djam Karet. Based in the Dallas-Forth Worth area of Texas, the idiosyncratic “power trio” of Mike Davison, Mark Cook and Jason Spradlin was augmented by a number of guest musicians – some quite high-profile, such as drummers Jerry Marotta, Gavin Harrison and Pat Mastelotto, and touch guitarist Markus Reuter and Gayle Ellett himself. After a few spins, the album – at first deceptively unassuming – quickly became one of my favourite albums of 2011, also earning and Herd of Instinct my personal “best new band” award.

In the months prior to the release of Conjure, their highly anticipated second album, some things have changed in the Herd of Instinct camp. The trio is now a quartet, with Ellett (an accomplished multi-instrumentalist and composer involved in a myriad of different projects)  now a full member, manning the keyboards and providing some exotic accents. While the debut featured vocals on two tracks out of 10, with Conjure Herd of Instinct have chosen a completely instrumental format. The album expands on the ideas presented on the debut, introducing subtle adjustments to the band’s distinctive sound rather than opting for a dramatic change in style – though avoiding the all too common syndrome of the sophomore effort being an inferior copy of its predecessor.

This time around, the presence of guest artists is kept to a minimum – with Porcupine Tree bassist Colin Edwin the only household name on the list –  emphasizing Herd of Instinct’s status as a real band rather than a loose group of musicians. With Ellett’s keyboards used discreetly to accent the work of the other instruments, and a smattering of programmed drums to supplement Jason Spradlin’s deft work behind the kit, the musical texture is profoundly atmospheric, often hypnotic and occasionally hard-edged, each instrument meshing with the other to produce an organic flow. On Conjure – even more so than on Herd of Instinct’s debut – the four band members bring their wide range of influences and keenly eclectic attitude to full fruition

Clocking in at around 53 minutes, Conjure features 12 tracks, the longest of which falls short of the 6-minute mark. However, there is plenty of complexity for fans to sink their teeth into, and a lot of interesting details are packed into each of those apparently short numbers. The one criticism I might level at the album is that, though anything but overlong, it temporarily loses steam in its second half. In fact, a couple of somewhat repetitive tracks might have been omitted without any detriment to the rest of the material. On the other hand, the performances of all the artists involved are top-notch, possessing that effortless quality that is not always easy to achieve when playing highly complex music.

Immediately creating a connection with the band’s debut, “Praxis” successfully combines variety and fluidity, its many layers subtly and skillfully rendered. Gayle Ellett’s Mellotron – an essential ingredient of the album’s instrumental texture – fleshes out the sleek, intricate work of Mike Davison and Mark Cook’s guitars, blending with the liquid polyrhythms of the Warr guitar and contrasting with an array of eerie electronic effects, while flute adds a  soothing, pastoral note. “Dead Leaf Echo” introduces a keen metal-like edge reminiscent of King Crimson ‘s late Nineties incarnation; the many tempo changes are handled deftly, with peaks of riff-heavy intensity followed by low-key passages dominated by the evocative sound of Mellotron and Warr guitar. Starting out in similar fashion, “Brutality of Fact” soon turns solemn, tapping into that cinematic vein evidenced by the band’s debut, and pushing Mellotron and Hammond organ to the forefront together with the guitars and Jason Spradlin’s powerful drumming.

With the one-two punch of “Alice Krige pt. 1” and “Solitude One”, Conjure reaches its creative peak. The former explores the rarefied, atmospheric territory that had made Herd of Instinct’s debut such an intriguing proposition, with ethereal trumpet and flute complementing the echoing sound effects and sparse lap steel guitar, spiced by warm-sounding percussion; the latter, based on the Indian dilruba (one of the many exotic string instruments mastered by Ellett), juxtaposes haunting ambient and ethnic elements with trance-like electronics. The first half of the album closes with the clear, intersecting guitar lines and wistful Mellotron of “Ravenwood”, accented by a sprinkling of electronic effects.

The Mellotron takes a lead role again in the aptly titled “Mother Night”, a stately, faintly gloomy piece redolent of Scandinavian prog icons such as Anekdoten. “Vargtimmen”, based on a percussion sample from Steve Tibbetts’ Friendly Fire collection, is introduced by recorded voices that intensify its brooding, ominous quality; while the somewhat harsh-sounding “Malise”, rife with buzzing electronics, is in my view the weakest link on an otherwise strong album. Urgent drumming and sharp, assertive guitar lines propel the Morricone-influenced “New Lands, which also features a particularly expressive guitar solo (almost a rarity on an album based on a tight instrumental texture rather than on individual performances). Slow and measured, “A Sense of an Ending” hints at some episodes of Trey Gunn’s output, as well as the more sedate compositions of second- and third-phase King Crimson, while the airy, spacious melody in the first half of closer “The Secret of Fire” leads to an entrancing, almost slo-mo finale enhanced by piano and spacey sound effects.

Herd of Instinct have also upped the ante in terms of artwork, and Conjure comes with a strikingly sinister cover that suggests one of the Three Fates ready to sever the thread of life. Like its predecessor, the album may be a grower rather than a “love-at-first-listen” affair, and require more than a couple of absent-minded listens to make its full impact. On the other hand, with its sophistication and eclecticism, it strengthens the band’s reputation as one of the most interesting presences in the variegated “instrumental prog” universe, and will not disappoint those who had appreciated their debut. It is to be hoped that some festival organizers – either in the US or elsewhere – will also take notice.

Links:
http://www.herdofinstinct.com

http://www.djamkaret.com/firepoolrecords/herdofinstinct2/

https://progmistress.com/2012/03/21/interview-herd-of-instinct/

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In the past few years, rarely has a debut album by a completely unknown act taken me by surprise – and won my approval –so much as Herd of Instinct’s self-titled album, released in the late spring of 2011 on the brand-new label Firepool Records, legendary southern California outfit Djam Karet’s own label. With an impressive roster of guest musicians, and a sound that brings together atmospheric, cinematic and ethnic elements, the album garnered a lot of praise in the progressive rock community, though some people have tended to overlook the actual band members in favour of the high-profile names. However, the Texas-based trio  are experienced musicians who deserve much more exposure than they have got so far. While we wait for their second album to be released later in 2012, the three members of the band – Jason Spradlin, Mark Cook and Mike Davison –  joined by Gayle Ellett (Djam Karet founder and unofficial fourth member of Herd of Instinct),  have kindly agreed to answer some of my questions.

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Let us start from the basics, for those readers who are not yet familiar with your history. How was Herd of Instinct born?

Jason: Herd of Instinct formed in 2007. We’re from Arlington, Texas. Before Herd of Instinct, Mike Davison had played in a band called Nervewerks, while Mark Cook and I were in the band 99 Names of God. Both bands were friends, and we played many shows together. A few months before 99 Names broke up, I invited Mike to come out and jam with Mark and I. A great time was had by all. When it was official that 99 Names was done for good, the 3 of us decided to form a new group. Meanwhile, in a separate project, Mark Cook and Warr guitarist Dave Streett were writing and recording music and employing various guest musicians. At some point it was decided to merge our group with Mark and Dave’s project. That is basically the birth of Herd of Instinct.

Mike: As Jason mentioned, over several years both bands (99 Names and Nervewerks) had seen each other’s live performances, played shows together, enjoyed each other’s crafts. , when 99 Names had  a show on my side of town, 40 miles north-east of Mark and Jason’s home town, I would go see them play. It was after one of these shows, Jason asked me to come out and jam with Mark and himself. Nervewerks had already disbanded into a few different projects, and 99 Names had, unknowingly, played their last show the night Jason invited me out. The three of us have developed a great chemistry over the years, and with the addition of all these amazing players, it just took the CD over the top. There’s a lot of nice flavors being added to the Herd Trio on the upcoming album as well.

Gayle: My involvement began many years ago, when Dave Streett approached me about recording on some of his songs. And through Dave I later met Mark, their great drummer Jason Spradlin, Mike and the other members of Herd. And later I decided to release their debut CD on a new record label that I created with Chuck Oken jr., called Firepool Records. And we are very happy to be releasing their new Herd CD too. A few months ago Herd Of Instinct flew me down their studio in Dallas, Texas, for a week to record on their second album. That was really fun and productive, and it’s been very enjoyable for me to be working with these great musicians!

Your very striking name comes from an album that is somewhat of a cult item. What led you to choose it?

Mark: Jason and I are fans of O.Rang’s album Herd of Instinct. The recording is a masterpiece of texture. We spent some time trying to come up with a name that was open-ended. HoI just seemed to feel right.

Jason: Before we decided on the name Herd of Instinct, we were calling ourselves Mirror People. Just when you think you’ve picked a name no one else has used, a search engine reveals otherwise. Mark and I are fans of Talk Talk, and one of our favourite albums is by an off-shoot of them –  .O.Rang, and their 1997 LP Herd Of Instinct. The 3 of us each made lists of possible band names. As it turns out, Mark and I both had the name Herd of Instinct on our lists. We hope that Lee Harris and Paul Webb can find it in their hearts to forgive us!!

What is your musical background? Was the music of the 70’s (prog or otherwise) influential in your development as individual musicians and as a band?

Mark: I started playing guitar when I was very young and moved on to the Warr guitar. King Crimson, Genesis, Pink Floyd, and Rush have very much influenced HoI. Other musicians, outside of “prog”, that have influenced the way I approach music are John Zorn, Philip Glass, Bill Laswell, Ennio Morricone, Scott Walker, Brian Eno, and Miles Davis. I should also note other art mediums have had a major impact on my playing – Salvador Dali, Philip K. Dick, Kobo Abe, Margurite Duras, Nicolas Roeg, David Lynch, William S. Burroughs, and David Cronenberg. The way these people approach their craft is a great source of inspiration.

Jason: My love of music has been snowballing since I first sat behind a drum kit in 1977. Music of the 60’s and 70’s was very influential to me as I learned the basics of rock drumming. As the 1980’s rolled in I developed an obsession with hard rock and underground heavy metal. Along with some school friends, I helped formed the doom metal band Last Chapter. While I was in that band we released a CD called The Living Waters, which has become a minor cult favourite in doom metal circles. I guess it was the late 80’s when I developed a love for jazz, prog rock, Krautrock, and psychedelic music.

Mike: For me I think it was the “Whole Lotta Love” solo that started my guitar addiction. I learned as much Zeppelin as I could, which for a study is good with the wide range, acoustic guitars, open tunings, the picking techniques, blues, rock, metal, folk, and so on. Hendrix, Floyd, Jeff beck, rush,  I couldn’t get enough of it. I was into everything from SRV to Metallica. It was the early 90’s when I fell heavily into King Crimson, early Genesis, Frank Zappa, Miles Davis and on and on. From Townes Van Zandt to Porcupine Tree, classical to jazz, night to day, it’s all influential. I’ve played with rock, jazz, pop, folk, prog, and flamenco bands. That’s been some of the best influence and inspiration for me. Playing the different, and with many great players, you can’t beat it!

Gayle: I was a teenager in the 1970’s, and the music of your teen years is always very influential and significant to a person’s view and appreciation of music that stays with you for the rest of your life. So I am heavy influenced by the music of the 1970’s, especially groups such as Pink Floyd, Allman Brothers, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Gentile Giant, Yes, King Crimson, ELP, Return To Forever and others.

Your debut album took four years to complete, which is not unusual nowadays. What prevented you from releasing it sooner?

Mark: HoI builds songs slowly. It’s a process that takes time, and when a piece “feels” finished we move on. Sometimes it’s a waiting game for a piece of music to settle.

Jason: The musical tastes within this band go in many directions. So much so, that our music goes through several evolutionary phases. An aging process occurs with the music as well. The politics of merging our band with the side project, along with job schedules, and just the ups and downs of everyday life all combined in such a way that it took forever to complete our debut album in a timely fashion. It was a learning experience for all. We now work at a quicker pace.

How did you manage to involve artists such as Pat Mastelotto and Gavin Harrison in your debut?

Mark: Dave Streett and I began collaborating on a recording project that included material with Gavin. When HoI was formed, the approach was very close to the music Dave and I were writing. Dave was also participating in the material HoI was developing. We eventually came to the conclusion to combine the material and focus on making it a band effort instead of two separate projects. Dave would periodically fly to Texas to work with the core band. Pat got involved because Dave and I were working with Markus Reuter on the track “Anamnesis”. Markus was in Texas working with Pat a few days before he came to our studio to work on music. He mentioned Pat might be interested in participating. We were honored to have musicians of their caliber collaborating with us. They both created some amazing parts that really took the track to another level.

Touch guitars seem to be an essential component of your sound. What is that first attracted you to those instruments? What about their role in the musical context of Herd of Instinct, both live and in the studio?

Mark:  Initially the attraction to touchstyle instruments was the expanded range. Having very low notes and high notes increases the palette and choices I have when writing. Warr guitars are stereo, which allows me to play two distinct parts or utilize two radically different processed signals. HoI’s live sound is very full for a trio. I’m usually doing two parts. Mike plays guitar and guitar synth, so he can also have two distinct sounds happening at the same time. This layering of sound can give the impression of a lot bigger band.

One of the most intriguing features of your sound lies in the world-music suggestions, particularly evident in tracks such as “Road to Asheville”. What role does ethnic music play at the compositional level?

Mark: The harmonic and rhythmic characteristics of non-Western music have been very influential on our melodic writing and our use of repetition. How we incorporate the influences varies. On “Road to Asheville” the approach was to blend the Middle Eastern tonalities with other genres. The whole approach of the track “Possession” was basically influenced by dub music.  The new material continues to have strong elements of ethnic music. A few tracks feature Gayle playing the dilruba, which is a bowed Indian instrument.

Jason: As a band, we are very curious about music from around the world. We try to incorporate various ethnic elements into our compositions when we feel it will make the music more interesting. When I first began playing with Mark in 99 Names of God, they were already using drone techniques and Eastern-flavoured sounds. Naturally we continued this tradition when we formed Herd of Instinct. Some of the most beautiful music can be found outside the Western world, and we do not shy away from these influences.

Mike: I’m a huge fan of what artists like Bill Laswell and John McLaughlin do with combining Eastern and Western music and musicians…..or whatever it may be.  Having easy access to the sounds of  instruments from all over the world through a guitar synth has  opened new paths for me personally.

Recording mainly instrumental albums with only one or two vocal tracks seems to have become increasingly fashionable. Why did you decide to do so on your debut, instead of going the totally instrumental route?

Mark: The voice is something people immediately connect with. We placed “Blood Sky” in the middle to break the cd into two instrumental halves. The piece is kind of like a pacing element for the listener to latch on to something sonically very different from the previous tracks and also to lead into the 2nd half of the album.

Jason: For the kind of music we play, I prefer taking the all- instrumental path. However, the human voice, whether it is spoken word, vocalizations, or singing actual lyrics, does seem to be a necessary ingredient for most music lovers. Unless the singer is very good, or charmingly unusual, I prefer instrumental. Kris Swenson’s vocals on the track “Blood Sky” are, in my opinion, beautiful, and are what absolutely MAKE this song. For us, vocals are another color to paint with, and they are not used as a device to make a song more accessible.

Mike: Some of my favorite songs that I’ve been listening to for 30 years, I still couldn’t tell you how the words go. Usually the words are the last thing i focus on. When I’m listening to music, i never think, this has a voice or words…or it doesn’t. Not to demise the importance of a singer or vocals in a song. It usually ends up being the most important ingredient. It can certainly make or break a tune.

Your second album is already well under way. Is it going to sound noticeably different from its predecessor, and, if so, in which way?

Mark: We’re still trying to take the listener on a journey with lots of twists and turns. There will definitely be some sonic surprises. We’re very happy that Gayle’s elegant keyboard playing is heavily featured in the new music.

Jason: The album is coming along nicely, but is very challenging for me in that an attempt to play outside my comfort zone has been established. Old habits die hard. Having said that, the new album will contain many of the hallmarks of our debut. There’ll be more use of various electronics and programming, and less involvement of hi-profile guests. Gayle Ellett from Djam Karet is providing most of the keyboards for this album, so expect a more pronounced dynamic there. My one word description for our new album: cinematic.

Gayle: To my ears, the new Herd CD will be similar to their debut album, and that’s a good thing! Their music seamlessly combines elements of electronic space, with lots of strong grooves, beautiful melodies, and wailing solos, all in equal share. Their music is dynamic and interesting. But it is always flowing smoothly along in a very natural way. It’s a real treat to record with this great group (and yes, I am biased).

This question is mainly meant for Gayle Ellett. How did Firepool Records come to be, and why were Herd of Instinct chosen for the label’s “test drive”, so to speak?

Gayle: Dave and I had been talking about the new CD they were recording. And while they were working on their debut album, they asked me for help in finding them a record label to release it. We tried approaching a few labels, but then I thought “HEY, Chuck Oken jr. and I should just form a new record company and we could release their CD for them.” And so, Firepool Records was born, initially to release their CD. Then Chuck and I thought we’d use that label to release some other CDs, and so far that has included the Henderson/Oken album Dream Theory in the IE, and a CD by my free improvisation group Hillmen (named after our jazz drummer Peter Hillman) called The Whiskey Mountain Sessions. So far we have been VERY happy with our relationship with the members of Herd of Instinct. They are really nice guys, but more importantly, they are all GREAT MUSICIANS! So its been a real pleasure to work with professional players such as them. And now we are recording music for their second CD, and it is all going very well.

Are any of you professional musicians? Are you involved in other projects besides Herd of Instinct?

Mark: Jason and I participated in a Liquid Sound Company CD last year, called Acid Music for Acid People, with John Perez (Solitude Aeturnus). This is John’s psychedelic solo project. I’ve also recently worked on music for the gaming company Acceleroto.

Jason: We all still have day jobs for now. Since 1996 I’ve been the drummer for Liquid Sound Company with my friend John Perez, of Solitude Aeturnus. We’ve released 3 albums, the most recent being 2011’s Acid Music For Acid People, which includes Herd of Instinct’s Mark Cook on Warr guitar. It would be nice to see Liquid Sound Company become a live act, and those details are being worked out. I know for certain we’ll be making another album.

Mike: There is the day job….must support the music habit. I’m currently playing some nylon guitar and guitar synth in a Nuevo Flamenco band with an amazing guitarist, David Gallegos, and some old mates from Nervewerks. 

Gayle: I’m a full-time professional musician, I’ve played on over 90 CDs, and currently I am playing/recording with 6 bands: Djam Karet, Herd Of Instinct, Hillmen, Fernwood, Joee Corso Band, and the Jim Crawford Band. I also write music for TV shows such as General Hospital  and Knock First on ABC-TV, Swingtown and Rebecca’s Garden on CBS-TV, Next and Exposed on MTV, The Osbournes Reloaded on FOX-TV, Bad Girls Road Trip on Oxygen-TV, House Hunters International on HGTV, Surfer and Powder on ESPN-TV, Clark Howard on CNN/HLN, etc. And I’ve also written music for such projects such as Brad Pitt’s feature film Year Of The Dog, Kiss The Bride (with Tori Spelling), The Devil’s Muse (directed by Ramzi Abed), and others. I’ve also written a lot of music for TV commercials, art installations, animations, music libraries, computer games, educational websites, and numerous corporate applications.

As I have often pointed out in my writings, finding gigs is becoming increasingly difficult for non-mainstream bands. What have your experiences been in this respect? What is your local scene like, and have you ever had the opportunity to perform outside your home turf?

Jason: In the Dallas/Fort Worth area there is a thriving metal and indie scene. For progressive rock, however, the bands that play this music, or anything avant-garde, it is difficult to build a dedicated following. We are still able to book shows for ourselves, but we are rarely on a bill with like-minded bands. To give you an example of this, at the last show Herd of Instinct played, a mariachi band opened the show, followed by HoI, and then after us there was a metal-ish cover band. It begs the question: whatever happened to continuity? As far as playing away from our home turf, this has not happened yet. We hope to one day play at one the prog festivals that happen annually.

GE: Speaking of Los Angeles, where I live, I’d say that finding any good-paying gigs is difficult these days. But there are also many places where you could perform live, if you did not mind not being paid any money. I think that it is better for a band to spend a year making a new CD, instead of spending a year just doing live performances.

And now, a loaded question to wrap up this interview… A little bird told me that you do not like to be tagged as “prog”.While I cannot blame you for a number of reasons, this attitude seems to be increasingly common in artists that, nevertheless, keep on sending their material to prog websites and magazines for review. Can you expand a bit on this topic?

Mark: Definitely there is a contradiction there. If “prog”defines an approach to making music then it’s a positive thing. If the label “prog” sets up a list of rules to follow then it’s a negative thing. I think most artists generally do not like being limited by the expectations of a specific label. On the other hand, if a band is tagged with a label this can bring a certain acceptance and openness to what you create.

Jason: Haha!! I think I know who that little bird is! Well let’s face it: The progressive rock community is the one audience that would most likely connect with Herd of Instinct’s music. We don’t sit around and play Yes, Genesis, or Gentle Giant albums exclusively, but we do own those albums. We’re not musically trapped in a world of aerie faerie nonsense. What we play is a kind of hybrid music that fuses together many ingredients. We are definitely progressive and moving forward.

Mike: Unfortunately, everything in this world has to be labeled, categorized, and narrowed down. Louis Armstrong said “There is two kinds of music, the good, and the bad. I play the good.”  When it comes down to it, that’s all that matters. How old or new it is, who or where it comes from, what matters is…..is it good, or is it bad? 

Gayle: If the term “prog” included the style of music known as Art Rock (music made as an art-form, not towards commercial success), then I would say Herd of Instinct is a prog band (and Djam Karet is as well). You could also say that the term progressive rock is about rock music that has been pushed forward (progressed) by the composers into new and complex forms. And if prog rock has “progressed forward”, from the early years of Genesis and Yes (and Marillion and Dream Theater), to now include new groups that really don’t sound like them at all, such as Herd of Instinct, then you could say that Herd is a prog band. Speaking just for myself and my group Djam Karet, we do not refer to ourselves as a prog band because we feel that a large amount of our music falls outside of that category. In Djam Karet there are influences of surf guitar music, electronic, hard rock and other styles.

Thank you very much to all of you for your patience in answering my questions. Looking forward to your new album!

Mark:  Raffaella, thank you very much for all your support.

Jason: Thank you for giving us this opportunity Raff! We are extremely grateful.

Mike: Thank you for all you do!

Gayle: Many thanks for giving Herd of Instinct the exposure I believe they truly deserve.

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

http://www.wix.com/herdofinstinct/herdofinstinct

http://www.djamkaret.com/firepoolrecords/herdofinstinct/

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