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Posts Tagged ‘Northern Virginia’

TRACKLISTING:
1. Big Sur (4:51)
2. The Clearing  (2:21)
3. Leaving The Woods (5:40)
4. Symphony Hills (1:07)
5. Lily In The Garden (4:15)
6. Auburn Road (0:43)
7. Mustang Song (5:40)
8. Stay With Me (0:51)
9. A Viennesian Life (3:50)
10. Broome’s Orchard (7:56)
11. ‘Cross The Williamsburg Bridge (1:33)
12. Where Will We Go (6:39)
13. Finale (1:28)

LINEUP:
Janel Leppin – cello, Indian cello, violin, Saarang Maestro DX,  Prophet 5, piano, koto, electric guitar, Hammond organ, Mellotron, harpsichord, vibraphone, detuned autoharp, singing spoon, loops, electronics
Anthony Pirog – electric and acoustic guitars, baritone guitar, electric sitar, lap harp, lap steel, bass mandolin, bass, cymbals, gong, vibraphone, music boxes, loops, electronics

With:
Mike Reina – mellotron (9)

Janel Leppin and Anthony Pirog are two accomplished multi-instrumentalists who grew up in Vienna, a charming Northern Virginia town that is part of the Washington DC metropolitan area, where they attended the same high school. During those years, they began playing together at Leppin’s home village of Wedderburn, though they only started performing as a duo in 2005. Their eponymous debut album was released in 2006, and since then the duo has attracted a lot of attention on the independent music scene. The memory of the two musicians’ idyllic teenage years and the loss of the Leppin family home (converted into yet another housing development) is the inspiration behind Where Is Home, their sophomore effort, released in the summer of 2012 after three years of  steady work.

Janel and Anthony have different, yet complementary musical backgrounds: Pirog, a Berklee graduate, is a guitarist with a jazz background and an eclectic attitude, while Leppin is a conservatory-trained cellist deeply influenced by North Indian and Persian classical music. Those wide-ranging sources of inspiration converge in the duo’s musical output, which even the most obsessive classification geeks would find it hard to label, and even harder to compare to other acts. Seamlessly blending acoustic and electric instruments with cutting-edge electronics, enhanced by  a discreet sprinkling of percussion (though without drums), Janel & Anthony’s music possesses a uniquely intimate charm and gently wistful tone that would make it the ideal soundtrack for a crisp autumn evening. Though the instrumentation featured on the album is surprisingly rich, the compositions hinge on the sleek interplay between Leppin’s cello and Pirog’s electric guitar on an entrancing backdrop of skillfully employed loops. the high level of complexity is realized with an elegant subtlety that contrasts with the over-the-top antics of so many modern prog acts.

The elegiac nature of Where Is Home – steeped in the nostalgia for a bygone era, and suggested by most of the track titles –  unfolds gradually, as opener “Big Sur” is jaunty romp with the heady Eastern flavour contributed by Leppin’s sitar and Saarang Maestro DX (a digital version of the tanpura, a long-necked North Indian lute), while pizzicato cello lends a sharp, almost percussive rhythm that complements the insistent chime of Pirog’s guitar. Then, “The Clearing” marks a shift in tone, introducing a slight element of dissonance in the track’s sedate, meditative mood vaguely tinged with menace – a mood that continues in the haunting “Leaving the Woods”, based on a slow, measured conversation between guitar and cello, which sometimes merge, sometimes go their separate ways. The longer tracks are interspersed by short, ambient-like interludes mostly based on electronics, though the album itself runs at a very restrained 46 minutes – the ideal duration for such a sophisticated, mood-based effort.

While the cello-driven “Lily in the Garden” exudes a lovely autumnal charm, intensified by the almost monotonous pace of the guitar, “Mustang Song” sees Leppin and Pirog engage in a bracing guitar-based duet, shifting from a soothing, melodic tone to a more assertive one. In “A Viennesian Life” two mellotrons (one of them courtesy of sound engineer Mike Reina) are brought in to add further layers to the lush atmosphere of the piece, in which several different strains play at the same time and are expertly meshed by the two musicians. In contrast, the longest track on the album, the almost 8-minute “Broome’s Orchard” has a more straightforward structure, and the many instruments involved act discreetly, without disrupting the sparse, meditative mood of the piece. Finally, the middle section of “Where Will We Go” introduces atonal elements and eerie electronic noises, bookended by more melodic parts.

An exquisite album that conflates impeccable formal skill with genuine feeling, Where Is Home is highly recommended to lovers of chamber-rock and instrumental music that privileges atmosphere and emotion over complexity for its own sake. In spite of the “avant” tag that Janel and Anthony’s association with Cuneiform Records or events such as the Sonic Circuits festival might evoke, the album is surprisingly accessible, and will hold an almost irresistible appeal for those for whom music means more than just a backdrop to everyday activities.

Links:
http://www.janelandanthony.com

http://www.janelleppin.com

http://www.anthonypirog.com

http://www.cuneiformrecords.com

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Springsong (12.56)
2. Prism (9.38)
3. Memoirs (4.52)
4. Harvest Aorta (41.55)

LINEUP:
John Battema – keyboards
Charlie Gore – bass
Jeff Malone – drums
Brian O’Neill – guitar

Instrumental four-piece Ephemeral Sun, who are celebrating their tenth anniversary this year, are based in Northern Virginia, in the Washington DC metropolitan area. Formed after the demise of doom/symphonic metal outfit Rain Fell Within, they started out as a female-fronted Gothic/progressive metal band, releasing their debut album, Broken Door, in 2004. Harvest Aorta, their sophomore effort, was released in early 2010 after five years of work and lineup changes that led the remaining band members to choose a completely instrumental direction. Ephemeral Sun have a number of live appearances under their belt, including the 2006 edition of ROSfest and ProgDay 2012.

Often miscategorized as progressive metal, Ephemeral Sun in the second decade of the 21st century are one of those bands that defy the labels so cherished by the prog fandom. The metal component, indeed, is mainly represented by Brian O’Neill’s bouts of sharp, dense riffing, which merge seamlessly with John Battema’s dramatic keyboard textures to create an intensely cinematic atmosphere. While the band’s earlier experience in the symphonic/Gothic metal field occasionally surfaces on Harvest Aorta, the instrumental dimension enhances the expressive potential of the music without the distraction factor sometimes contributed by vocals. The music surges along powerfully, supported by Jeff Malone’s imperious drumming and Charles Gore’s impeccable bottom end – a rhythm section that can display a sense of delicacy when needed, as well as power. The frequent, ambient-like pauses of respite, imbued with the autumnal feel of Battema’s meditative piano, possess a gentle melancholy that would provide a perfect soundtrack for the twilight hour. And, indeed, “soundtrack” seems to be the operative word when referring to Ephemeral Sun’s sound – it is not hard to imagine the music on Harvest Aorta employed as the score for a science fiction movie, or a documentary on space travel.

Almost two-thirds of the album (which clocks in at nearly 70 minutes) is taken up by the title-track, a massive, 42-minute tour-de-force that has made quite a few of those “long songs” lists so popular with staunch prog fans. The first half of Harvest Aorta comprises three shorter numbers, with the gorgeous mood piece of the aptly-titled “Memoirs” – with its crystalline guitar and rippling piano tinged by solemn Mellotron washes – preparing the listener for the album’s pièce de resistance. As unbalanced and pretentious as this may seem, there is a sense of cohesion to Ephemeral Sun’s music that rarely gives the impression of sprawling excess that often mars comparably ambitious endeavours. Most importantly, the music – hovering between vivid flares of emotion and soothing, evocative melody – is always eminently listenable, and even the hard edges are never abrasive. Pink Floyd and their modern-day heirs, Porcupine Tree, are occasionally referenced, as are Genesis and a few other bands, but the album thankfully eschews any overt sense of derivativeness.

Opener “Springsong”, probably the heaviest offering on the album, allows O’Neill to let loose with the riffage when a contrast is needed with Battema’s airy mellotron washes. On the other hand, the astonishingly lovely, clear-voiced guitar solos are reminiscent of David Gilmour’s signature style, and the spacey synth sweeps add a sense of urgency. In a similar fashion, “Prism” juxtaposes the intensity of the guitar riffs and martial drumming with vaguely spooky electronic effects, and a delightful, classical-tinged guitar-piano interlude that showcases the band’s keen sense of melody. After the relatively short breathing space provided by “Memoirs”, the title-track kicks in with dramatic flair, subsuming all of the features already displayed by the previous numbers, and adding some more touches – like an extended atmospheric section that owes a lot to Tangerine Dream, a slightly chaotic guitar jam and a roaring Hammond organ passage in true Deep Purple style. Quite oddly for such a long piece of music, “Harvest Aorta” does not give that cobbled-together impression that is all too common in tracks of that scope; however, it cannot be denied that after a while the listener’s attention starts to wander, and some repetition of themes and styles becomes inevitable.

On any account, even if the title-track might have benefited from some editing, Harvest Aorta is a finely-crafted album by a group of very talented musicians that deserves all the positive feedback earned since its release. What impresses most is their tight synergy as a group, which does not allow for any self-gratifying displays of technical fireworks, but allows the each of the members’s individual skill to contribute to the musical construction. While waiting for Ephemeral Sun to release their third album, a listen (or preferably more than one) to Harvest Aorta is highly recommended, especially to fans of music with a high cinematic quotient.

Links:
http://www.ephemeralsun.com/

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TRACKLISTING:
1. One Cloud  (3:35)
2. The Long Circle (11:05)
3.Conscious Dream (5:15)
4. Cloud Dispersed   (2:16)
5. Differential (5:27)
6. Turbulence (1:25)
7. Mighty Distant Star  (6:10)
8. The Third Enigma (13:15)

LINEUP:
Rob Martino – Chapman stick

Released in May 2010, One Cloud is the recording debut of Chapman stick virtuoso Rob Martino, a talented artist who came to the attention of prog fans for his appearance in the documentary film Romantic Warriors – though he also guested on Phideaux’s career-defining Doomsday Afternoon in 2007, and participated in the 2009 edition of the 3RP Prog Festival. A fellow resident of Northern Virginia (as well as a fellow cat lover), Rob is very active on the live front around the US Northeast, performing both his own material and covers of other artists’ music. While an accomplished multi-instrumentalist with an extensive musical background, since 2004 he has chosen to focus exclusively on the Chapman stick, one of the most versatile instruments on the current music scene, which has been enthusiastically adopted by many progressive artists.

Though Rob Martino is first and foremost a dedicated follower of progressive rock, the music showcased on One Cloud transcends the boundaries of prog as it is commonly perceived, its distinctive style hard to label. In fact, his compositions display a wide range of influences, from folk to classical music, which makes them more likely to appeal to a broader audience than  just the so-called “prog community”. In any case, the artist’s personal imprint emerges quite clearly, so that the music does not feel as derivative as is unfortunately the case with a rather large slice of current “mainstream” prog releases. More than anything, however, the album spotlights the enormous expressive potential of an instrument that can, to all intents and purposes, almost replace a whole band. Its unique nature (it is played with both hands by tapping the strings, rather than plucking or strumming them) allows for multi-part arrangements, in which the Chapman stick acts the role of piano and percussion, as well as guitar and bass.

Even though I had already experienced music played solely on the Chapman stick, I was deeply impressed by the the sheer beauty of the compositions featured on One Cloud. Understated, yet fluid and full of melody, the music possesses surprising clarity coupled with a feel of engaging warmth. While there is plenty of complexity involved, the tracks often as multilayered as anything you would find on most full-fledged prog albums, the music suggests a sense of elegance and purity rather than the sometimes overblown lushness of symphonic prog. All in all, the album is anything but a showcase for empty virtuosity, the focus being on composition rather than technique.

Clocking in at about 48 minutes, the album strikes a nearly perfect balance between shorter pieces and longer numbers with an almost epic scope. A superficial listen may give the impression that the tracks sound rather similar to one another, and somehow this may hold true even after repeated listens, as  One Cloud (whose title is in itself very suggestive of the music’s nature) – unlike albums that involve conventional instrumentation – hinges on subtle contrasts of light and shade, rather than on the impact of powerful guitar riffs, soaring vocals or towering keyboard sweeps. While, in some ways, it is more accessible than the average prog album, at the same time it demands the listener’s full attention in order to avoid fading into the background – as is often the case with “mood” music.

The title-track opens the album with a tune that, while not exactly upbeat, is quite catchy in its own way, and immediately introduces the listener to the captivating textures that the Chapman stick allows a musician to create. The two “epics”, 10-minute “The Long Circle” and 13-minute“The Third Enigma”, share a similar structure, gradually gaining intensity from a sparse, subdued start; both exude a melancholy, meditative feel, and the frequent tempo changes that break up the flow of the music add further interest, together with the quasi-orchestral effects that help to flesh out the sound. On the other hand, on a couple of tracks, notably “Conscious Dream” and the aptly-titled “Turbulence”, the instrument takes on a sharp, almost percussive tone.

Though, if you felt inclined to nitpick, One Cloud may occasionally come across as slightly one-dimensional (which is probably inevitable for an album based on a single instrument), it is also a lovingly-crafted effort with a strong crossover appeal, and an outstanding example of committed music-making. Highly recommended to fans of the Chapman stick and its close relative, the Warr guitar, as well as anyone who appreciates any recordings featuring acoustic guitars and other stringed instruments, it will offer a deeply satisfying listening experience to lovers of instrumental music.

Links:
http://robmartino.com/

http://www.myspace.com/robmartino

 

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