Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘percussion’

TRACKLISTING:
1. Crescent Park (2:36)
2. Hodges’ Lodge (4:17)
3. Jaldi (2:26)
4. Togetherness (2:30)
5. Companion Wheel (1:39)
6. Two Trains Passing in the Night (not that many trains pass in my night anymore) (9:39)

LINEUP:
John Orsi – all instruments

Although he would amply deserve to be a household name to devotees of progressive rock in all its forms, John Orsi is quite content to occupy a niche – as he has been doing for the past 30 years or so. The talented multi-instrumentalist and composer, hailing from the historic New England city of Providence, has been active since the early 1980s with a number of projects, which – even though they might have flown under the radar of most “mainstream” prog fans – have been characterized by a constant flow of creative ideas, as well as intensive research into the possibilities offered by percussion instruments, both canonical and unorthodox.

Since 1994, Orsi has been channeling most of his creative efforts in musical collective Knitting By Twilight, as well as a few other projects (such as Incandescent Sky and Herd of Mers), and A Room for the Night is his first solo release in quite a long time. The 23-minute EP –  released in August 2012 , while Orsi and his “guitar mates” were waiting for their respective schedules to be sorted out before taking their music to the stage –has been conceived on a much smaller scale than Knitting By Twilight’s Weathering or Incandescent Sky’s Four Faradays in a Cage. On the other hand, it allows Orsi to indulge in a less formal style of composition, as well as handle all the instruments (both the “proper” and the “improper” ones, as the artist points out in the liner notes with his customary sense of humour).

Those who witnessed Dame Evelyn Glennie’s amazing performance during the opening ceremony of the London Olympics earlier this summer might be intrigued to learn that the Scottish percussionist is one of Orsi’s major influences, together with a host of other artists, some of them quite obscure, others instead familiar to a wider public. Indeed, those who are always looking for terms of comparison will recognize some echoes of Kate Bush’s most experimental work (such as showcased in her 1982 album The Dreaming) while listening to the EP.

While unlikely to attract fans of the more elaborate forms of prog, A Room for the Night is an utterly charming slice of instrumental music that is hard to label, though the ambient component of Orsi’s inspiration is very much in evidence. The six tracks – most of them rather short, with the sole exception of closer “Two Trains Passing in the Night”, which, at over 9 minutes, expands on the themes introduced by the previous compositions, reproducing the motion of a train through the alternation of different rhythm patterns – are like sonic sketches that listeners are almost encouraged to flesh out in their mind. Bound together by discreet keyboards, the music showcases Orsi’s lifelong love of percussion, bringing very unusual implements into the musical arena – such as tin pie plates and metal tubs – as well as more conventional gear, albeit belonging to different ethnic traditions than the Western one. The addition of  recordings of diverse sounds and human voices (taken from real-life situations) produces the sonic equivalent of an artistic collage based on found objects  – riveting to the eye (or, in this case, the ear) even in its somewhat fluid, unplanned quality. The result is 23 minutes of music that shifts from whimsical to meditative, with some occasional forays into vaguely ominous, cinematic moods created by sustained keyboard washes and subtle layers of percussion patterns.

As the previous paragraphs make it clear, a track-by-track analysis of A Room for the Night would be counterproductive, as the EP should be enjoyed as a whole – possibly, as Orsi himself suggests, with the help of headphones, and in the right situation. This is not sonic wallpaper meant to unobtrusively fade in the background, but rather the kind of ambient-tinged music that will stimulate the mind as much as the ear. With Orsi’s usual attention to the visual aspect of his productions, the lovingly-packaged CD comes accompanied by the delightful artwork of early 20th-century illustrator Kayren Draper. A delicate, almost brittle, hauntingly fascinating collection of musical pieces with no other purpose than creative expression, A Room for the Night may not be the kind of release that appeals to everyone across the progressive rock spectrum. However, just like all of Orsi’s back catalogue, it is definitely an effort highly deserving of attention on the part of adventurous listeners.

Links:
www.overflower.com

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

TRACKLISTING:

1. Transformation (2.01)
2. Room Without Shadows (4.49)
3. Road To Asheville (5.40)
4. Hex (4.35)
5. Blood Sky (5.01)
6. Anamnesis (5.50)
7. Vibrissa (4.47)
8. Possession (4.22)
9. S. Karma (4.43)
10. The Face Of Another (4.20)

LINEUP:
Mark Cook – Warr guitar, fretless bass, fretless guitar, ebow, synth, acoustic and nylon string guitars, chunk guitar, programming, synth treatments, loops, keyboards
Mike Davison – guitars, guitar synth, nylon string guitar, sitar
Jason Spradlin – drums, marimba, camel bells, low synth drone

With:
Gayle Ellett – mellotron (5), guitar (5, 6, 7), upright bass, bouzouki (7)
Bob Fisher – flute (3, 9)
Gavin Harrison – drums (7, 8 )
Jerry Marotta – drums, percussion (5)
Pat Mastelotto – drums, electronics, percussion (6)
Martin McCall – percussion (3)
Mike McGary – keyboards, additional synth treatments (7)
Markus Reuter – touch guitar, guitar, loops (6, 8 )
Dave Streett – Warr guitar (3, 5), bass guitar (6, 7, 10)
Kris Swenson – vocals (5), vocal samples (8)

A trio of musicians based in Arlington (Texas), Herd of Instinct are one of the hottest new names on the vast progressive rock scene. The band was formed in 2007 by guitarist Mark Cook and drummer Jason Spradlin after the demise of their previous band, 99 Names of God, and started work on their self-titled debut immediately after the addtion of guitarist Mike Davison. The album, finally released in May 2011 on Djam Karet’s new label, Firepool Record, sees the collaboration of an impressive roster of guest musicians, including Djam Karet’s Gayle Ellett, German guitarist and composer Markus Reuter, and celebrated drummers Gavin Harrison, Jerry Marotta and Pat Mastelotto.

The connection with Djam Karet, one of the few genuine cult bands on the whole progressive rock scene, undoubtedly creates expectations of intricate yet dynamic instrumental music – and this is exactly what Herd of Instinct offer in their debut (in spite of the presence of one track with vocals). Instrumental prog bands are often outstanding, and also tend to branch out far more than bands that prominently feature vocals. In a way, the instrumental dimension, fuelling the eclecticism that is an essential component of truly progressive music, allows musicians to explore avenues that sometimes are limited by the presence of a singer, and experiment with different aspects of sound (including pauses of silence) and the creation of a wide range of moods.

Gloriously omnivorous and unabashedly bold, Herd of Instinct stake their claim on the territory where King Crimson held sway for 35 years. Even if Fripp has made a comeback of sorts in very recent times with the excellent A Scarcity of Miracles, Herd of Instinct’s debut brings back memories of state-of-the-art instrumental masterpieces such as “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic”, “Fracture” or “The Sheltering Sky”-  a towering, multilayered achievement marrying flawless technical skill with a healthy dose of emotion, a feast of haunting soundscapes and jagged rhythms that seems to epitomize the very idea of progressiveness.

Clocking in at about 48 minutes, Herd of Instinct features 10 relatively short tracks that are nevertheless packed with changes in tempo and mood, striking an admirable balance between edginess, melody and atmosphere “Transformation” introduces the album in brooding, highly cinematic fashion, with pounding drums and piano, ominously surging keyboard waves and tinkling bells. With the following track, “Room Without Shadows”, things take a decidedly heavier turn, the spacious orchestral effects already featured in the previous number blending with borderline metal riffing, and a stunning guitar solo that would not be out of place on an album like Starless and Bible Black. The gorgeously muted, Eastern-tinged opening to “Road to Asheville”, with its haunting flute, sitar and ethnic percussion, suddenly shifts into a crushingly heavy, riff-driven passage, ending on a mournful note with slow, acoustic guitar chords: while the aptly-titled “Hex” (the perfect soundtrack for some horror movie) opens with eerie electronic effects and then, slowly but inexorably, gains intensity, with crashing cymbals and spiky riffing opening in a marvellous guitar solo. “Anamnesis” is very much in a similar vein, a veritable feast for guitar lovers fuelled by spectacular drum work (courtesy of King Crimson’s very own Pat Mastelotto), with loops and other electronic effects depicting a richly emotional soundscape.

“Blood Sky”, the only track featuring vocals, is one of the undisputed highlights of the album, a haunting showcase for the husky, understated vocals of former 99 Names of God singer Kris Swenson. Mellotron and marimba add subtle atmospheric layers to the spectacular guitar interplay, fleshed out by stunning percussion patterns.”Vibrissa” and “Possession” pursue a similar route, the former slow and measured, with interlocking guitar lines and soloing alternating between wildness and melody; the latter sparse and percussion-driven, with understated guitar work enhanced by snippets of wailing vocal samples. On “S. Karma”, the echoing, almost liquid sound of Mike Cook’s Warr guitar comes into its own, offset by an uncharacteristically aggressive flute solo that seems to mimic the heavy riffing. Closing track “The Face of Another” presents a basic power trio configuration assisted by electronics that provide a range of interesting effects as a background for Cook’s splendid guitar excursions – like a 21st-century take on King Crimson’s iconic “Discipline”.

Herd of Instinct is one of those rare debut albums that are practically perfect in every respect, and need no suggestions for further improvement. An absolute must for fans of King Crimson, it will delight devotees of complex, hard-edged yet atmospheric prog, and those who are somewhat weary of technically competent bands that are sorely lacking in the originality department. With outstanding (though slightly disturbing) cover artwork and photography,  as well as excellent production by guest bassist/Warr guitarist Dave Streett, Herd of Instinct can be hailed as a serious contender for best release of 2011.

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

http://www.myspace.com/herdofinstinctband

http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/HerdofInstinct

http://www.djamkaret.com/disc-fr001.php

Read Full Post »

TRACKLISTING:
1. Beginning (1:51)
2. Progressions (4:53)
3. What (2:23)
4. In Memoriam (5:39)
5. Guantanabu 1 (7:07)
6. Guantanabu 2 (1:38)
7. Guantanabu 3 (4:15)
8. Straviko (5:59)
9. Before the End (0:32)
10. Mereditika (7:34)

LINEUP:
Carolina Restuccia – vocals
Pol González – vocals
Paul Torterolo – drums
Fernando Taborda – guitars
Nahuel Tavosnanska – bass
Alan Courtis – guitars
Carlos Lucero – guitars
Fabian Keroglian – vibraphone, percussion
Sebastian Schachtel –  accordion
Sergio Catalán – flutes
Federico Landaburu – clarinet
Will Genz – bassoon, double bassoon
Mauro Rosales – soprano sax
Nolly Rosa – alto and baritone sax
Dana Najlis – clarinet
Mauro Zannoli – electronic processes

Chamber orchestra directed by Marcelo Delgado

Hailing from Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina (a city generally not associated with progressive music, rock or otherwise, in spite of its venerable musical tradition), Factor Burzaco are the brainchild of composer Abel Gilbert. However, Gilbert is not part of the impressive line-up performing on the band’s second album – while he was directly involved as a musician on Factor Burzaco’s debut, released in 2007 on the homegrown label Viajero Inmóvil.  The album was greeted with lavish praise in RIO/Avant prog circles, and also managed to win over a few of the more conservative fans of ‘mainstream’ prog. Their sophomore effort, simply titled II, was recorded between 2008 and 2010, and released in the first half of 2011.

Calling Factor Burzaco a band in the rock sense of the word would be very limiting, as well as rather inaccurate. With a staggering sixteen musicians credited as playon on the album, the term ‘chamber ensemble’ would definitely sound more appropriate. Additionally, the music showcased on II only bears a slight resemblance to conventiona ‘progressive rock’, even more so than in the case of other RIO/Avant outfits. Though Abel Gilbert mentions bands like King Crimson and Henry Cow among his chief sources of inspiration, while listening to the album I was sharply reminded of the work of classical composers such as Debussy or Stravinsky (also listed by Gilbert as major influences on his writing).

Though the album, at under 40 minutes, is very short for today’s standards, it is definitely not an easy listening experience, not even for  devotees of all things RIO/Avant. The 10 tracks, rather than as individual numbers, are meant to be seen as movements of a single composition, a true chamber piece that commands the utmost attention from the listener, and will not tolerate being relegated to the role of sonic wallpaper. Indeed, II is not for the faint-hearted, and will appeal to those who like music to stimulate the mind rather than the body. As the liner notes illustrate quite clearly, this is a highly intellectual musical effort, and not one for the casual listener.

Factor Burzaco’s most distinctive feature lies in Carolina Restuccia’s acrobatic, unconventional soprano, which has drawn comparisons to Kate Bush and Dagmar Krause. A couple of tracks also brought to mind another intriguing new band in a similar vein, Italian outfit Nichelodeon and their outstanding singer Claudio Milano. While Restuccia’s voice is pivotal to the fabric of the music, it does not dominate it, performing the function of an additional instrument rather than overwhelming the others. In a few tracks she is flanked by male vocalist, Pol González, which creates an intensely dramatic contrast imbued with a sort of skewed operatic quality.

In spite of the sheer number of musicians involved, the music on II comes across as somewhat minimalistic, and eminently sophisticated – the kind that you cannot just let run in the background and more or less ignore. Its complexity does not come from piling up elements, or packing more tempo changes into a single track than anyone can wrap their heard around. Its layers are gossamer thin, its moods a play of light and shade, the music itself forming sharp peaks and valleys of sound, with sudden climaxes and equally sudden pauses, moving from whispers to screams. Some passages are intensely cinematic, their sparse, ominous quality the perfect foil for some movie based on psychological horror rather than in-your-face gore. Though conventional melody may be thin on the ground, the dissonant patterns are expertly handled, so they never feel gratuitously jarring.

With an album of this nature, a detailed track-by-track description would be ineffective, as well as counterproductive. In fact, as previously intimated, II should be approached as a single composition divided into separate movements, the shorter ones intended as interludes or introductory pieces – as in the case of the aptly-titled “Beginning”, in which slowly mounting keyboards and vocals set the tone for the entire album – and making use of electronic effects to evoke a sense of anticipation or sheer tension. Mallet percussion instruments produce cascades of tinkling sounds to fill the pauses, while melancholy reeds paint delicate soundscapes reminiscent of Debussy – especially noticeable in “Straviko” and “Mereditika”, a magnificently atmospheric number that provides a perfect ending for the album. On the other hand, “In Memoriam” relies on the theatrical effect produced by vocal and guitar bursts interspersed by whispers; while “Guantanabu 1” and “Guantanabu 3” revolve around the stunning interplay of Restuccia and González’s voices emoting and chasing each other over a loose, haunting instrumental backdrop.

As the previous paragraphs should make it abundantly clear, Factor Burzaco’s sophomore effort is not recommended for those listeners who find it difficult to step outside their individual comfort zones. Those looking for the rock component in the ‘progressive rock’ definition are also quite likely to be disappointed, as II qualifies more as modern chamber music than conventional rock  (though typical rock instruments such as guitar and bass are featured in the line-up). Open-minded, inquisitive listeners, on the other hand, will find a lot to love in this album, although it may need repeated spins in order to fully sink in. All in all, another excellent release from the ever-reliable AltrOck Productions, and a must for fans of RIO/Avant prog.

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

http://production.altrock.it/

 

Read Full Post »

TRACKLISTING:
1. Loopy (5.59)
2. A Serious Man (3.49)
3. Mom’s Song (2.05)
4. Bar Stomp (3.04)
5. Outdoor Revolution (3.08)
6. Western Sky (2.12)
7. Burning Match (5.11)
8. Claire’s Indigo (2.11)
9. Snufkin (2.48)
10. Old Silhouette (4.12)
11. Winds of Grace (8.39)

LINEUP:
Dani Rabin – guitar
Danny Markovitch – saxophone
Steve Rodby – bass
Paul Wertico – drums, percussion (1, 8)

With:
Jamey Haddad – percussion (2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10)
Matt Davidson – vocals (3, 6)
Leslie Beukelman – vocals (3, 6)
Makaya McCraven – drums (4)
Daniel White – lyrics, vocals (11)

Marbin’s eponymous debut came to my attention towards the end of 2009, soon after its release. Even if the duo formed by two young, talented Israeli-born musicians who had recently moved to Chicago was an unknown quantity to me and most other reviewers, the album’s endearingly naïve artwork and intriguing musical offer were enough to warrant closer scrutiny. With a name cleverly fashioned out of the surnames of the two artists (Danny MARkovitch and Dani RaBIN), Marbin made their debut on the US music scene with an album full of intriguing melodies crafted with ony two instruments – Rabin’s guitar and Markovitch’s saxophone – characterised by an ethereal, almost brittle quality, reminiscent of the delicacy of Far Eastern art, complex yet at the same time not too taxing for the listener.

The year 2010 marked a veritable quantum leap for Marbin (very active on the live front in the Chicago area), when they came under the radar of MoonJune Records’ mainman Leonardo Pavkovic, a man with a keen eye for new acts of outstanding quality. Promptly snapped up by the New York-based label, Marbin – who in the meantime had become a real band, with the addition of  Pat Metheny alumni Steve Rodby (bass) and Paul Wertico (drums) – released their second album at the beginning of 2011.

Breaking the Cycle is indeed an impressive effort, which sees the band build upon the foundation laid by their debut, while fine-tuning their sound and adding layers of complexity, though without making things unnecessarily convoluted. Indeed, rather interestingly, a fellow reviewer used the term ‘easy listening’ in connection to the album –  a definition that may conjure images of that openly commercial subgenre known as smooth jazz. However, while Breaking the Cycle does have plenty of smoothness and melody, I would certainly never call it background music. The presence of a full-blown rhythm section has given a boost to the ambient-tinged, chamber-like atmosphere of the debut, and some of the tracks display a more than satisfying level of energy and dynamics, all the while keeping true to the deeper nature of their sound.

Clocking in at slightly over 40 minutes, Breaking the Cycle immediately appears as a supremely sophisticated effort, starting from the striking cover artwork whose mix of the industrial (the bridge on the front cover) and the natural (the elephant on the back cover) seems to reflect the nature of the music itself. While the majority of the tracks lean towards the slower, more atmospheric side of things, delivered in a rather short, somewhat compact format, the album is bookended by two numbers that differ quite sharply from the rest, as well as from each other. Opener “Loopy” is the closest Marbin get to a ‘conventional’ jazz-fusion sound, almost 6 minutes of sax and guitar emoting over an exhilarating jungle beat laid down by Wertico’s drums and percussion that gives a first taste of the seamless interplay between the instruments. On the other hand, the medieval-tinged, acoustic folk ballad “Winds of Grace”, masterfully interpreted by guest singer Daniel White (who also wrote the lyrics), though apparently out of place in the context of the album,  is imbued with a feeling of nostalgia and loss suggested by several other tracks.

Indeed, the three numbers that form the central section of the album might almost be considered as parts of a single suite, since they are characterized by a wistful, romantic (though anything but cheesy) mood. An extended sax solo is the real showstopper in “Outdoor Revolution”, while wordless vocalizing enhances the country-tinged acoustic guitar in “Western Sky”. “Burning Match” seems to reflect its title almost perfectly, its smouldering atmosphere touched with a hint of sadness, the yearning tone of the sax suggesting the end of a love affair. A strong visual element is evoked throughout the album: “Old Silhouette” creates a faintly mysterious picture, yet full of subtle warmth intensified by the slow, deep movement of the percussion; while the sweet, soothing chanting in “Mom’s Song”, combined with the gentleness of the guitar, brought to my mind images of a beach at sunset. In sharp contrast, “Bar Stomp” delivers exactly what the title promises – a bluesy, electrified romp with Rabin’s guitar taking centre stage, bolstered by an imposing percussive apparatus involving the presence of three drummers (Wertico plus guests Makaya McCraven and Jamey Haddad), and spiced up with a hint of cinematic tension.

The final remarks I made in my review of Boris Savoldelli’s Biocosmopolitan may also apply to Breaking the Cycle. Oozing sheer class, with outstanding performances all round, yet plenty of warmth and accessibility (unlike a lot of hyper-technical albums), this is a release that has the potential to appeal to anyone who loves good music and does not care about sticking a label on anything they hear. Judging from the positive reactions to this album, Marbin are definitely going to be another asset for the ever-reliable MoonJune Records.

Links:
http://www.marbinmusic.com

http://www.moonjune.com

Read Full Post »

TRACKLISTING:
1. Helmi (5:52)
2. Huominen Ei Lopu Koskaan (6:01)
3. Utuinen (4:10)
4. Sumuista Metsää (3:57)
5. Siniset Laineet (5:47)
6. Valkoinen Huone (4:07)
7. Kauan (5:11)
8. Päivä Kerrallaan (4:31)
9. Elämä (5:09)
10. Yli Niittyjen (5:18)
11. Viimeistä Iltaa (4:26)

LINEUP:
Susan Karttunen – vocals
Jani Häggblom – keyboards, backing vocals
Pekka Kalliosuo – guitars
Ayhan Akgez – bass
Henri Tuomi – drums
Sini Palokangas – saxophone, vibes, violin
Henri Onodera – percussion

As pointed out at the beginning of the previous review, Positive Wave and Tuvalu share quite a few features: they are both based in Helsinki, have female vocalists, and sing in Finnish rather than the ubiquitous English. Here, however, the similarities end, because Positive Wave is definitely a different beast. There is nothing whatsoever that might remind the listener of Tuvalu’s brooding intensity on Positive Wave’s debut album, but rather a triumph of upbeat rhythms, joyful vocal performances and plenty of melody, with liberal sprinklings of folk and jazz influences that bring to mind other eclectic Finnish outfits like Piirpauke and Värttinä.

Though they have been around, in different incarnations, since 1998, this album is Positive Wave’s recording debut, released in 2010 when the band – always very active on the live front in their native country – finally found a stable line-up. Now a seven-piece, besides the more traditional rock instrumentation they also include saxophone and violin, like a mini-orchestra. As is the case of most Finnish bands, the collective musicianship is excellent, but the band’s real strength is undoubtedly Susan Karttunen’s stunning voice. While resembling Tuvalu’s Annina Antinranta’s  in pitch and tone, Susan’s singing approach is quite different, and fits the band’s musical direction like a glove.

When I first heard Positive Wave, I superficially thought they sounded like an above-average pop band rather than a prog one. Although subsequent listens  changed my opinion of the album, there is no denying that it is indeed very much a song-oriented effort. The songs, on the other hand, in some ways differ from the standard format. Some of them are downright infectious, and the overall mood of the album – reflecting the band’s name – is upbeat and uplifting, debunking the all too common myth of  the morose Finns. With a beautiful yet simple cover that hints at the love of nature that is deeply rooted in the Finnish psyche (also referenced in many of the song titles), the album comes across as a celebration of life – and one of the songs is in fact called “Elämä”, which in Finnish means “life”.

In spite of the catchy, song-oriented nature of the album, those features so highly prized by progressive rock fans lurk in the instrumental parts, while Susan Karttunen’s vocals blend jazz, pop, folk and even soul stylings in a heady mixture that cannot fail to captivate lovers of great singing. The unmistakable sound of vintage keyboards interacting with fluid, melodic electric guitar bring to mind Canterbury bands, especially Caravan (as my friend Torodd Fuglesteg pointed out in his review of the album), and the addition of sax  and violin enriches the sound and enhances the jazzy nature of some of the arrangements. There are no lengthy numbers of staggering complexity: the individual members’ skills are conveyed in a subtle, tasteful fashion, best exemplified by the twists and turns of the longest track, “Huominen Ei Lopu Koskaan” (Tomorrow Never Ends), a jazzy offering chock full of great keyboard and sax passages, brisk percussion, muted guitar, and, of course, excellent vocals.

While Opener “Helmi” (Pearl) leans more towards the folksy side of things, with jangling, Celtic-tinged guitar, “Valkoinen Huone” (White Room) is an elegant number with echoes of Steely Dan’s classy style, especially in the opening section, and “Siniset Laineet” (Blue Waves) brings back comparisons with Caravan’s unique mix of accessibility and progressive sensibilities. As can be expected, not all of the 11 tracks are equally successful, and towards the end the album tends to drag a bit, especially as the material becomes more subdued and even slightly monotonous. Closing number “Viimeistä Iltaa” (Last Evening), however, though uncharacteristically subdued and melancholy, is in my view a good choice to wrap up the album, and the combination of violin and Susan’s delicate vocals sounds especially poignant.

Though not perfect, and a tad naïve at times, Positive Wave is a very interesting proposition for those who enjoy song-based prog as well as its more complex manifestations. While there is clearly some filler material, and – while not long for today’s standards – the album might have benefited from some trimming, the strengths of the band come across quite clearly, and their obvious enthusiasm and positive attitude (pardon the pun) bodes very well for the future. An intriguing find, and a must for fans of female vocals.

Links:
http://www.positivewave.net

http://www.myspace.com/positivewave

Read Full Post »

TRACKLISTING:
1. September Song (9.27)
2. Antarctica  (9.05)
3. The Byways  (4.17)
4. Orange Ice  (10.20)
5. Concrete, Glass, Steel  (4.37)
6. Four Faradays in a Cage  (16.25)

LINEUP:
John MacNeill – keyboards
Mike Marando – bass guitar
John Orsi – drumset, percussion
Don Sullivan – guitar, guitar-to-MIDI

Based in Providence, Rhode Island (USA), instrumental quartet Incandescent Sky are part of the roster of fine musicians signed to the label It’s Twilight Time – founded in 1994 by musicians/composers John Orsi and Michael Watson, and home to a number of highly interesting acts. I first came across the label in the late spring of 2009, when I was sent Knitting By Twilight’s album An Evening Out of Town to review – by a fortunate coincidence, that album was to be the very first review I wrote for the site I collaborated with until recently. Because of the almost complete lack of exposure that It’s Twilight Time’s output has received so far – even in terms of specialized press and websites – very few people have had the opportunity to know the beautiful music produced by Orsi and his cohorts, as well as the stunning artwork accompanying each of their releases. As the caption on the label’s website recites, its acts provide ‘works of whimsy, wonder and wistful thinking’ – which is as apt a description as they come.

Four Faradays in a Cage (a pun referring to an electrical device called Faraday cage) is the third CD release by Incandescent Sky, following Glorious Stereo (2003) and Paths and Angles (2005). Originally recorded in September 2007 during a live improvisation session, the album was only committed to CD in 2010. It is therefore alike in conception to a number of other albums I have recently reviewed, seemingly going against the grain of the modern tendency to spend ages in the studio in order to get things ‘right’. These ‘live in the studio’ efforts, while sounding anything but shoddy or haphazard, inject a welcome sense of freshness and spontaneity into today’s often contrived approach to music-making.

Tagged on their own website as ‘an inventive improvisational instrumental ensemble’ (yes, Orsi does like his alliterations!), Incandescent Sky prove true to their definition, as it immediately becomes obvious when listening to Four Faradays in a Cage. In spite of the improvisational nature of the six compositions presented on the album, there is nothing sloppy about them. While there are some similarities in pattern, each track has got its own individuality, which prevents the album as a whole from sounding repetitive. The end result is a disc chock full of music that is in turn hypnotic, invigorating and deeply atmospheric, mainly based on a traditional rock instrumentation though making judicious use of cutting-edge technology. Running at about 53 minutes, it never overstays its welcome, with the two shorter tracks nicely balancing the longer offerings. In spite of the obvious talent and experience of the musicians involved, Four Faradays in a Cage always steers clear of spotlighting any of the band members’ individual chops at the expense of the bigger picture – a fine example of how talent can be effectively put to the service of the music, and not the other way around.

All of the six compositions possess a rich texture, to which all the instruments contribute in a distinctive yet somewhat understated fashion. The music feels spacious, beautifully flowing, yet at times almost seething with intensity. Most importantly, though some occasional references to external sources can be picked out, it sounds original in a way that has become increasingly rare in these days of unashamedly derivative productions. It might be said that describing the individual numbers is simple and at the same time rather demanding. Unlike so many ‘mainstream’ prog recordings, where the complexity is shoved right in the listener’s face – often with the unwelcome result of obliterating any sense of genuine emotion – Four Faradays in a Cage comes across as an extremely emotional album. However, there is also a sense of energy emanating from the music, which is not at odds with the delicate, melancholy nature of some of its parts.

“September Song” sums up the album’s main features, as well as rendering its title quite perfectly in musical terms. Opening with sparse, spacey keyboards and guitar, it develops into an airy, slow-paced composition, with Don Sullivan’s clear, relaxed guitar occasionally bringing to mind Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, or Pat Metheny when it adopts a lower register in the second half of the track. Propelled by Orsi’s impeccably creative percussion work, the tempo increases, slightly at first, then steadily, until the piece reaches a climax – a pattern that can be noticed in most of the tracks, although with variations. The following number, “Anctartica”, manages to conjure views of the icy, windswept wastes of the titular continent through the ebb and flow of the keyboards and the slow-burning interplay of drums and guitar which, especially towards the end, creates a mesmerizing ambient mood.

While “The Byways”, the shortest track on the album, acts as a laid-back, hypnotic interlude where the guitar seems to follow the pattern laid out by the drums, further enhanced by electronic effects, the intriguingly-titled “Orange Ice” brings the listener into Vangelis territory, with its steadily surging waves of electronic keyboards, and the guitar sounding almost suspended in time and space – though the second half sees the drums and bass take the lead, setting an almost military pace spiked by slashes of electronics. Not surprisingly, seen its title, “Concrete, Glass, Steel” brims with energy reminiscent of the third incarnation of King Crimson (albeit mellowed out by melodic keyboard work), and introduces the tour de force that is the 16-minute title-track – a stunning workout of really epic proportions where all the instruments strive together in order to create a densely textured, somewhat cinematic soundscape that at times feels like King Crimson on steroids. Synthetizers are pushed to the forefront, with keyboardist John MacNeill delivering passages that might comfortably sit in Keith Emerson’s oeuvre. As usual, Orsi’s outstanding drumming, bolstered by Mike Marando’s ever-reliable bass, is the driving force behind the composition, punctuating wild keyboard flights and unleashed guitar exertions, then slowing things down until all the instruments gradually subside.

The above description should make it clear that Four Faradays in a Cage is much more likely to appeal to lovers of instrumental music that combines technical skill with hefty doses of ambiance and emotion, rather than to worshippers of anything fast and flashy. It is, indeed, an album to be savoured slowly and carefully, in order to appreciate its moments of sheer beauty, as well as its moody intensity and the subtle yet flawless interaction between the instruments. Highly recommended to all fans of genuinely progressive music (as well as drum enthusiasts, who should check out John Orsi’s magnificent performance), it will hopefully encourage my readers to get acquainted with the remarkable talents gathered under the It’s Twilight Time banner.

Links:
http://www.incandescentsky.com
http://www.itstwilightmusic.com

Read Full Post »