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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://10trecords.com/

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 Even though California-born guitarist and composer Willie Oteri may not be a household name for most prog fans, over the almost 30 years of his career he has built quite a reputation among followers of experimental music. Currently based in Austin (TX), Oteri is one of the members of duo WD-41, together with trumpeter Dave Laczko. The duo will head to Italy in mid-July, where they are scheduled to perform at the Portello River Festival in Padova and a couple of other similar events. They are also planning to hold some concerts and jams in the houses of fellow musicians and fans of progressive music.

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Since many of the habitual visitors of prog sites are not familiar with your career, I guess we should start with a couple of rather trivial questions… Such as, how did you start playing your instruments, and what made you choose those particular instruments rather than others?

 Willie: I started out as a singer. At the age of 4 I whistled and sang everything I heard at home or on the radio. I also repaired an old record player, also when 4, on which I listened to a variety of music. At 7 I wanted to be a jazz singer like Dean Martin or Sinatra and only dabbled on instruments like violin or piano because they were in our house, my mother was a violinist who was in symphonies in her teens but gave it up for several reasons mainly to raise three children. I never really thought about much beyond singing. I had a cheap electric guitar around the age of 12, but I never really enjoyed it. I wanted a sax but my parents could not afford a good one. In my late teens I started playing bass so I could get into bands and I was the lead singer in couple of bands.  I also took up flute at that time since my sister had one she never used. Later in my twenties a friend convinced me to try pedal steel guitar so I could play in a country rock band he was starting. I played pedal steel for many years, in some situations you would never think of finding that sound and started dabbling on guitar but I was not real serious about guitar until the late ‘90s after coming back to professional playing from nearly a decade off. I was living on a sailboat at the time and guitar just made sense as a portable way to compose tunes. I’m not real sure I’m in love with guitar, I’m indifferent to it for many reasons, mostly from what I see as design flaws but I do truly love some of what can be done with a guitar. The sounds I hear in my head can often be made on a guitar. It seems to be working out for me.

Dave: In public school, we had a night where they had a bunch of instruments in the cafeteria  and my Mom let me pick an instrument to play in the band.  I immediately picked drums, but my Mom said, “I am not getting you drums!  Don’t get anything too heavy!”  I was disappointed, but I picked trumpet right away because I really liked Herb Alpert records.  He was so cool and jazzy and he had women hanging all over him.  I knew that was for me.

What can you say about your approach to your respective instruments? Do you see yourselves as musicians that transcend the usual labels of rock, jazz, avant-garde and such? And if so, how?

Willie:  A friend of mine, Italian guitarist Enrico Crivellaro, once said, “I just do what I do”. That pretty much covers it in my book also. I just do it without much thought of if it’s going to fit a genre label or two. I love improvisation and what is known to some as Total Improvisation but I don’t mind having things worked out.  My last four releases have been made by asking others if they wanted to jam and record it. That’s how I did Concepts of MateMaToot, Spiral Out and both WD-41 releases, just asking musicians if they want to jam. For Concepts of MateMaToot and Spiral Out there were some basic patterns to work from for a few tunes but for most of it and both WD-41 albums it’s just music that happens. I’m also working on arrangements for a more structured solo album down the road and perhaps a symphony based on ideas from WD-41 sounds.

Dave: To be honest, I’m only interested in transcending what I or Willie played last week. While I understand their usefulness, labels are generally for describing music, not playing it, so yes, I think our music goes  beyond a single category.  I notice that WD-41 is linked to at least 4 categories on your blog?  Not bad!  WD-41 is deliberate only in our attempt to play something totally spontaneous, inspiring and fun every time.  It’s improvised—that’s about all I can say!

As you know, the sites I write for generally deal with ‘progressive rock’ in all its various manifestations. What is your personal view of this somewhat controversial genre? Do you see WD-41 as belonging to a ‘prog’ context, or would you rather be identified as a jazz project?

 Willie: If a listener thinks we are progressive and wants to label us as such that’s fine. I like a lot of what is labeled progressive and a lot of it just does nothing for me. That’s how we all are. WD-41 got tossed into a lot of publications that deal with the progressive label because our publicist Lori Hehr deals mostly in that area. We also seem to do well inwhat is labeled the jazz arena (laughs), but I don’t really care what people call it. Just open your minds and listen.

Dave: I don’t have a problem with either genre being associated with WD-41. The fact that we are both electrified and 100% improvised with no specific rhythmic component makes me lean towards the prog side of the debate if I have to choose! I’m honored that either genre would have us, but even contextually I’d rather best be described in seven categories rather than one. I enjoy reading descriptions of WD-41 in the press, so call it what it sounds like, Raffaella! That’s part of the fun, isn’t it?

Even though we have been in touch for a while, I do not know how Willie and Dave first met and decided to join forces. How did WD-41 come about, and what does the ‘41’ stand for?

Willie: I’ll let Dave have this one.

Dave: A mutual friend (N.W. Austin, the artist who painted our cover art) told me that Willie Oteri might be moving to Austin and that I should look for him.  I’d heard a tape of his and was very impressed.  He was playing with Jazz Gunn and I was in a local swing band, playing 30’s and 40’s tunes.  We hung out some.  He told me about recording the Spiral Out CD, then he was gone to Europe.  When he came back from Italy, we were catching up and I asked him what was next muscally for him and he said, “I want to do something with loops.”  I said, “Wow, that sounds fun—can I play too?”  He had never heard me play before and when we got together the next afternoon, we knew we had something!  That’s how we began –  with no preconceived ideas.  We just sat across from each other and played.  We discovered that our approaches to music are very similar.  Our ears are open for what’s possible in the moment.  Also, we like a lot of the same movies and I think this adds a subtlety and some humor to what we do.

41 is one more than 40, that’s all I can tell you.  No need to get Interpol involved right now.

Dave, as most of my readers will probably not be very familiar with you, can you tell me something about your own musical career?

Dave: I guess my career started in 1980 when I joined a big band that played around Austin and was relatively successful in the 80s and 90’s.  Most of Austin’s best jazz musicians came through that band so I got to meet everybody.  That’s where I met Mel Winters, a flugelhorn soloist who had decided to switch to piano.  In ’87, I started playing bass on keyboards with him and we formed the Fearless Jazz Trio, which later became a duo of just Mel and me.  He is a prolific composer and an intense and thoughtful player, who sees chords and how they fit together in a way that is another universe.  He is probably the biggest influence on me musically (before I met Mr. Oteri!) and really pushed me to go for it.  He liked my ear and continues to encourage me to play what I hear.  It was “keep up or be left behind,” so I developed a way to be a more rhythmically interesting bass player in a drumless duo.  We have rehearsed on and off for over 30 years with only one gig!  Seriously… it’s still fun most of the time. Haha!  I do believe playing with Mel all these years got me ready to play with Willie.  Around 1998 or 1999 I helped start a local swing band that played around Austin for a couple of years.  I’m into a lot of different styles and I think early jazz is fascinating and fun.  That’s a completely different mindset than what I’m doing now with WD-41.  Who knew?

I always have a day job. I worked for Tower Records as a buyer during their stay in Austin (1991-2004) and I had a pretty cool jazz radio show for 13 years which was actually at night.

I have been so lucky as to hear Willie’s wonderful Spiral Out album, recorded with Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto. How did this collaboration come about? Would you consider working with either of those artists again in the future, perhaps involving Dave as well?

Willie: I had just finished the Jazz Gunn album Concepts of  MateMaToot, which I produced and wanted to go beyond that by using another producer. I put out feelers in a few internet forums and one of the producers that contacted me was Ronan Chris Murphy who had worked with a wide variety of names from King Crimson to Chucho Valdés. After chatting with him on the phone I decided to fly to LA to meet in person and we immediately hit it off and started working on pre-production. While we were jamming a bit on ideas I sort of jokingly said something like, “Tony Levin would sound great on this” and Ronan said, “I can get Tony”. He went out in the parking lot and called Tony and arranged for us to send some him some ideas. I don’t remember if Tony agreed to the project before or after hearing the ideas but then we were off to finding drummers, we went through a few ideas and then decided Pat Mastelotto would be the best fit. Pat and I both live in Austin so it was easy to arrange to record there. Tony flew out from NY and the three of us just jammed for two days. On the second day we called trumpet man Ephraim Owens to add to some of the raw tracks and then while mixing in LA Ronan thought some keys would be good so he called Mike Keneally who drove up from San Diego. It all just sort of fell into being. I love all those guys and have done a few gigs with Tony, Ronan and Pat since. We chat now and then about doing another recording but it’s mostly about money and time. I would love to do another and Dave would be first choice for trumpet.

Dave: Willie knows I’d love to play with any of those guys any time and we talked about it at first.  After we started playing we knew we didn’t really need them. In Italy we’ll be improvising with musicians from all over the world.  I think we’re ready. . .

Being Italian, I would like to hear more about Willie’s artistic and personal experience in the four years he spent there. Italians like to complain about everything in their country, and are big fans of the old ‘the grass is greener’ shtick. How would you rate the Italian scene as opposed to the American one?

Willie: The grass is never greener on the other side of the fence but sometimes it’s mowed differently.. The past couple of years have been difficult for many artists both here and in Italy. I’m an older artist doing music for the last several years that is pretty far out from the new manufactured pop but for what I do it’s been easier to book gigs in Europe including Italy. Part of that is because of who I’ve worked with on records which is a selling point for venues and festivals. Musicians are sadly just a commodity when it comes to business. I would say that if most Italian bands or musicians came to America they would find it very difficult to get bookings and the day jobs here will eat you alive.  Moving to America doesn’t guarantee success or happiness.

Living in Italy is nicer in my experience for art, music, people, friends, food, the list goes on. When I lived in Italy I did most of my gigs outside of Padova by train going second class which is very affordable. You just can’t do that in the states and this is a big advantage for Italians. You can trim down your gear to a bare minimum needed. Often you can borrow drums and amps in other cities from fans or share with other bands. I rarely tour with my own amps these days and you will see this is becoming more common.

If I may, some advice for Italian bands and musicians just starting out, forget about America at least until you are very popular in Europe. Get your music out in the big cities in Italy and Europe (and a bit of advice for all young players) work your ass off on promoting your music. Book your own shows when you can. If after a year or so no one is paying attention then change something, change everything and try again. Remember that while self promotion is easy today everyone is doing it so often it appears as though you are just another artist. Try to raise money to hire a publicist and perform live as often as you can. Don’t be discouraged by booking agents or clubs not paying attention, it’s a business and it’s easy today for them so sell an old name playing the old tunes even without the original members or to sell a similar sounding act, cover (tribute) band or old jazz standards. Booking hyped manufactured pop acts is another story we don’t have time for here but, it takes a lot of money to promote and tour an artist in a big flashy way and sadly from this is where most people take their calling. In the eyes of most including many magazine editors and reviewers an artist is better if they are backed by a lot of money, sometimes borrowed from labels (often a bad idea) or often from their family, but don’t let it discourage you, big promotion does not equal big talent and there are still those who make it on hard work and word of mouth. Remember times change so be ready when the time comes. Get a good lawyer before you do anything involving much money. Don’t worry if you can’t afford to attend the big name music schools, training seminars, etc. They are not a guarantee of talent or creativity.

I hope all of you find good partners, band members or a spouse to help you on your way. It’s not easy to be creative and do all the work yourself with all your own money but if you believe in the music keep at it. If you have some family money then more power to you but be careful about taking money from labels or giving money to music taxi services. Take the energy that comes from discouragement and put it into your music.

Some things I wished I had learned early in my career: If you are shy, as I was when young then work hard at overcoming it. Shyness kept me from going to a lot of good auditions. Don’t spend too much on instruments or gear, computers, phones, cars, etc. Get instruments that are adequate and will get the job done but save your money for promotion not flashy gear. Remember too that sometimes the most talented are the least recognized. Everywhere there are numerous players and composers who you have never heard of who are just as good or better than the big names. Sometimes we need to seek them out to enjoy their art and you may find a good band member this way. Sting was once a school teacher who played local club gigs on weekends.

One final thought, you must think of your music beyond just being a hobby if you really want to make great music. Dedicating your life to music is a sacrifice that will show in the quality of your performance. A good read on making a living as a musician by Danny Barnes, a bit dated but still good advice: http://www.dannybarnes.com/blog/how-make-living-playing-music

 Dave, have you had any experience of playing in other countries than the USA? If so, what was your experience of an international context as opposed to a domestic one?

Dave: This trip to Italy will be my first trip overseas and my first experience playing my music outside of Texas, so I am excited to play for European audiences.  Can you ask me this question again when I get back?

Austin is known as a laid-back, artsy town, quite out of character with the rest of the state of Texas. However, I have often see you complain about the lack of opportunities for live performances. What are the positives and negatives of the Austin scene, if compared to other parts of the US?

Willie: We may complain but we could do more about getting gigs here even though there really are no booking agents or clubs to speak of that can handle what we do. Those that do (infrequently) promote improvised music tend to focus on getting acts from out of town.  A lot of bands from here never play here.  Oddly it was different several years ago and there were more places to play outside styles. Presently the scene is mostly singer songwriter, blues, cover rock, some start up pop bands and bits of the rest. There is an old saying here, “popular in Austin, dead everywhere else”(something like that). I’m not sure that if we gigged a lot here it would be such a good idea. (laughs) I am seeing a bit more experimental and improvised music in town but for now  the place for our music is Europe.

The positives of the Austin scene? There is a old expression “Austin is an Oasis surrounded by Texas”, Crime is low and there is a lot to do besides music. It’s a nice place to live and play and much less expensive than many big cities. There are places for up and coming bands and young musicians to perform and get experience. For professional musicians there are less opportunities. I think a lot of musicians live here because they were raised here or because they find the overall laid back vibe of much of the city just fits well with a musician’s view of life. It’s a pretty fun town, check Eeyore’s birthday party sometime for example or a wild night on 6th Street.  I’m often disappointed by the food here but that’s for another interview (laughs).

Dave: I should defer to Willie on this question.  I do have a few opinions, though.  Willie has met a fair amount of opposition to starting any improv. jam sessions here.  WD-41 is certainly not for everyone and I realize we appeal to listeners who understand the risks of improvisation.  That’s a pretty small audience amid the popularity of singer-songwriters, white-guy blues, cover bands and several thousand other groups of all kinds here.  Don’t get me wrong – there are a lot of great musicians in Austin. That fact is what has kept me here for so long.  You can throw a rock and I bet you’ll hit someone who at least says he’s a musician.  He has a guitar, a beard and a shirt from the 80’s.  He plays 3-5 nights a week.  Most audiences want to hear something they are familiar with.  In the “Live Music Capital of the World,” club owners, booking agents and politics play it safe and book what they know.  WD-41 is not safe.  We are different.  Our music is instrumental and improvised.  We often do not have drums.  We are full of danger, chance and mystery.  Austin may not be the open minded, smart and artsy city she thinks she is, but it’s not all her fault.  Austin is still the capital of Texas and she can’t afford to risk it.  Still, I love Austin, the people and the vibe here. It’s doubtful that I would have had the same opportunities in another city.  I am extremely fortunate to be able to play with and learn from two geniuses on a weekly basis!  Still, I can’t wait to play in Italy!

Can you tell us something more about your upcoming performances in Italy? I am particularly interested in hearing about house concerts, which are definitely one of the most effective new strategies for artists to get their music across without going through the usual (and increasingly frustrating) channels.

Willie: well we have the festival dates in Florence (live looping fest, July 16 and 17) and the Portello River Festival in Padova July 21 (three weeks of a variety of artists from around the world and films on a floating stage in a big canal) –  beautiful spot and really fun gig. We then have house concerts in various places with one that will include a live recording with three or four other musicians. We would be doing club dates but many clubs in Italy will be closed in July and while waiting for festival confirmations we lost advanced time needed to book some clubs. The festivals are more important to us. I feel that house concerts are perfect for us because we can play at a reasonable volume, although we do like to move a lot of air when we can. I think for most bands who work smaller venues house concerts are a good alternative. There are legal issues with sound and sales of tickets in many cities, so, often house concerts are booked as private parties or listed as Venue TBA.

Dave: Willie has worked very hard on securing our gigs and contacts in Italy, looking for the right musicians and the right opportunities for us.  He has played at the Portello River Festival several times and it’s exciting to be added to the line-up this year!  I think house concerts are certainly the way to go to get the audience you want to play for.  Also these tend to be very intimate settings where you can get a lot of immediate feedback and energy from an audience sitting on the couch next to you!

You used an Internet-based funding platform to raise money for your trip to Italy. This is another strategy that is rapidly taking hold in the community of independent artists, regardless of genre. Would you recommend it to any up-and-coming musicians, and why?

 Willie: Well, this is our first crowdfund but we have raised nearly all of our air fare to Italy and it looks as though it will go to more soon. It’s difficult to raise much from fans alone and several writings on the subject have mentioned that most successful crowdfunds are due to contribution from family and friends. It’s seems that a lot less people are reaching their goals lately as if the market is flooded. Fans don’t have the money to spread around to the thousands of acts asking for it. For our crowdfund we used ChipIn.com because you get whatever money people put in, you don’t have to reach your goal to get the money as with Kickstarter, also ChipIn takes much less of a percentage. It worked for us because part of our contributions were direct to us and not through the crowdfund. With Kickstarter it would have looked like we did not reach our goal, then we would have to go back to all the pledgers personally and ask for the money.

Dave: Willie set this up, and I think it has worked well.  Getting signed to a label often means working for them instead of them working for you.  In these days of labels with no budget and “pay to play” gigs,  DIY financing makes a lot of sense.

WD-41 have released two albums so far. What would you point out as the main differences between the debut and Temi Per Cinema?

Willie: Besides having others added to the mix on Temi Per Cinema we really developed our sound and now we are playing way beyond even Temi Per Cinema. It will be interesting to see what comes from more recordings with other musicians added. We have a few aces up our sleeve we are working on.

Dave: The main difference is the most obvious one, since we added  Dino and Scott on some of our tracks, which helped to expand our already expansive sound.

Temi Per Cinema was recorded with the collaboration of two other artists, Scott Amendola and Dino J. A. Deane. How did this collaboration come about, and are other collaborations in the pipeline?

Willie: as I mentioned above we have a few collaborations in mind. As for Dino and Scott I just simply asked them and then we worked out details. We thought of both of them because we have heard them on many recordings we enjoy, so it just seemed like a good fit.

Dave: I had heard some of Dino’s CDs and I was blown away by what I heard.  It was really more of a wish that we could collaborate with him.  Within 15 minutes or so of Willie contacting him he wrote back and said, “What do you guys want to do?”  I knew of Scott’s playing as well.  Willie contacted Scott through Facebook and we are very fortunate to have both of these amazing artists on Temi Per Cinema.  I still can’t believe they played on our tracks! I guess all you have to do is ask!  I am hoping that we will have some collaborations in Italy that will open up new possibilities for WD-41 and for our next recording.  We have a few Stateside ideas as well  . . .

What are your plans for the second half of the year, once you come back from your Italian tour? Can we expect to see WD-41 perform in the US Northeast, which is often celebrated as the hub for progressive music?

Willie: I’m not sure there is enough time to book far enough ahead for the last part of 2011 but we would love to play anywhere people want us. I may be touring by myself and adding musicians on the way as a live looping thing. It depends on a lot of issues. If fans want WD-41 in their town the options are to book a house concert or nag booking agents and festival promoters in your area.

Dave: I’d love to tour in the US if I can get the time off!  There is a possibility of playing with Dino in Albuquerque, NM, but that is still in the “maybe” stage.

A big thank you to Willie and Dave for their patience in answering my questions, and all my best wishes for your upcoming Italian tour!

Willie: Thank you too Raffaella!!  It’s been great knowing you though the internet and I hope we meet in person soon.

Dave: Thank you Raffaella for this opportunity to share my thoughts about music and WD-41.  It’s great fun to play with Willie, and for me that’s what it’s all about.  To think that in a month we will be playing in Italy is incredible!   Ciao!

 

Links:
http://www.myspace.com/wd41music

http://www.myspace.com/willieoteri

 

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Aria (2:09)
2. Biocosmopolitan (3:36)
3. Concrete Clima (4:26)
4. The Discordia (3:42)
5. Kerouac in New York City (3:13)
6. Is Difficult to Fly Without Whisky (3:26)
7. Dandy Dog (2:12)
8. Danny Is a Man Now (1:42)
9. Biocosmo (3:39)
10. Lovecity (2:47)
11. Springstorm (3:21)
12. The Miss Kiss (2:57)
13. My Barry Lindon (1:28)
14. Closin’ Theme (2:32)
15. Crosstown Traffic (bonus track) (4:03)
16. Biocosmo (English version – bonus track) (4:14)

Bonus video:
The Miss Kiss

LINEUP:
Boris Savoldelli – all vocals and vocal instruments, piano (9, 16)

With:
Jimmy Haslip – bass (2)
Paolo Fresu – trumpet, flugelhorn (3, 5)

At a first glance, Boris Savoldelli’s second solo album does not spell ‘progressive rock’. With 14 songs (plus two bonus tracks) between 1 and 4 minutes in length, and a rather minimalistic instrumental accompaniment, Biocosmopolitan looks light years away from the lushly orchestrated productions of the flag-bearers of the genre. Moreover, even if the output of New York-based MoonJune Records (one of the few authentically forward-thinking labels in the business) is frequently placed under the used-and-abused ‘prog’ umbrella, this album displays a somewhat different approach to music-making, one that tries to offers something genuinely original rather than a more or less successful replica of Seventies modes.

My first encounter with Boris Savoldelli’s music dates back from 2009, when I reviewed his solo debut, Insanology – an album that impressed me for its unique blend of elegance and uncontrived cheerfulness. It was one of those truly enjoyable discs whose apparent simplicity reveals layers of complexity with every successive listen. It is, however, not the complexity for its own sake that can be sometimes encountered in ‘standard’ progressive rock, but is rather achieved with a lightness of  touch, a kind of consummate subtlety that is all too rare on the modern music scene – all accomplished with one main instrument, Savoldelli’s voice, a veritable one-man-orchestra of stunning versatility that has been compared to luminaries like Bobby McFerrin or Demetrio Stratos.

Indeed, Boris Savoldelli is much more than an ordinary singer – to quote our fellow Italians PFM, he is a real maestro della voce, a master of the art of shaping his voice in ways that would sound impossible to most people, replacing most of the conventional instrumentation used in jazz and rock with an array of awe-inspiring effects whose apparently effortless nature belie the years of hard work behind it all. While most of the songs, which blend traditional and unconventional features, have a similar structure – where two or more vocal lines (both percussive and harmonic) intersect and spar with each other – as a whole Biocosmopolitan does not sound monotonous or repetitive. In my view, his unique handling of the linguistic aspects is probably the single most important factor for the album’s success. English and Italian intermingle with astounding naturalness (while on most other albums a mix of languages would sound contrived) that lends the album a truly cosmopolitan feel – with devices such as alliteration and assonance used to bolster the musical content, creating intriguing rhythms and textures.

In the four years between Insanology and Biocosmopolitan, Boris Savoldelli has been quite busy, though on a more decidedly experimental level – releasing the album Protoplasmic in collaboration with Elliott Sharp, as well as three albums with avant-garde outfit S.A.D.O. While Insanology saw the presence of veteran jazz guitarist Marc Ribot on two tracks, this time Savoldelli avails himself of the collaboration of two outstanding musicians – renowned Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu, and bassist Jimmy Haslip (of Yellowjackets fame). Haslip’s bass adds depth and interest to the title-track, complementing Savoldelli’s bluesy vocals in a song that is much more complex than it short running time would suggest. Fresu’s wistful-sounding trumpet punctuates the cheery, infectious repetition of the line “the corner is dirty” in the pause-laden “Concrete Clima” (the longest track on the album at slightly over 4 minutes), and its sudden bursts of sounds enrich the fabric of the bright, endearingly nonsensical “Kerouac in New York”.

Most of the songs share the same sunny, upbeat nature and exude a genuine sense of warmth, reminding the listener of exotic vocal styles or of the sensuality of Latin rhythms, combining modernity and a charming retro feel (most evident in the Fifties’ doo-wop style of the hugely entertaining “The Miss Kiss”). Boris’s voice ranges from gritty, passionate blues tones to elegant, jazzy smoothness, infused with a genuine sense of humour and enjoyment. The only number that clearly differs from the rest is the melancholy ballad “Biocosmo”, a slow-burner (also present as a bonus track with English-language vocals) accompanied by piano and ending with solemn, choir-like chanting and distant clinking sounds, which one can almost imagine Savoldelli performing in the semi-darkness of a smoky night club. The album is then wrapped up, in cinematic fashion,  by two humorous complementary pieces, “My Barry Lindon “ – basically a series of ‘thank you’, handclaps and assorted sounds with occasional vocal harmonies thrown in – and “Closin’ Theme”, where a voice recites the album’s credits in English with mock seriousness. The second bonus track, a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Crosstown Traffic”(already included on Insanology), is the closest the album goes to traditional rock, with Savoldelli offering a more than credible performance as a hard rock vocalist.

Biocosmopolitan is one of those rare albums that are potentially appealing to all music lovers, regardless of genres and labels – though it might disappoint those who require songs to be over 10 minutes in length, or object to the lack of ‘proper’ instruments, or even shun any kind of music that is not dead serious or just plain depressing. Progressive without necessarily being ‘prog’, entertaining and at times even exhilarating, Biocosmopolitan is an ideal showcase for the amazing vocal and compositional talents of an artist whose work proves that impeccably performed music can also be fun.

Links:
http://www.borisinger.eu

http://www.moonjune.com

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TRACKLISTING:

1. Geistly Suite (7:51)
2. Importance (7:34)
3. Fallen Tiger (6:53)
4. Things Unsaid (5:14)
5. Odessa (5:44)
6. Angelus Novusaum (7:26)
7. When the Fog Clears (6:01)
8. Midnight (6:43)

LINEUP:
Gregg Johns – guitar, bass, keyboards, vocals
Ceci Whitehurst – lead vocals
Clay Pell – bass
Todd Sears – drums, percussion, keyboards, vocals

With:
Jeff Hamel – guitar, keyboards (1)
Bones Theriot – guitar (4)
Michael Fortenberry – trumpet (6)
Bridget Shield – lead vocals (8)

Two years ago I received Slychosis’ second album, Slychedelia, to review, and was immediately impressed by the CD’s striking artwork. Visuals have always been essential in progressive rock, and the Mississippi-based outfit had pulled out all the stops by enlisting the services of Surrealist Ukrainian artist Vladimir Moldavsky. Such a strong visual appeal boded well for the album – which, while not as downright quirky as Moldavsky’s imagery, nonetheless presented an intriguing blend of skilfully used electronics and more traditional instrumentation firmly rooted in a prog framework, with a nice balance between vocal and instrumental parts. My main criticism towards Slychedelia was that it was basically a solo album by mainman Gregg Johns with some guest musicians rather than a band effort, and in some of the tracks the presence of programmed drums (that reliable staple of many a ‘solo-pilot’ project) was often hard to ignore.

For Slychosis’ third album, Gregg Johns seemingly followed my advice by putting together a real band, with vocalist Ceci Whitehurst and drummer/vocalist Todd Sears (both of whom had appeared on Slychedelia), and brand-new bassist Clay Pell. While on Slychedelia a number of tracks had been recorded by Johns without any outside help, Mental Hygiene (a title that hints at Johns’ day job as a psychologist), is very much a group effort, and can also count on the contribution of some guest musicians. With a remarkably restrained running time of under 54 minutes (almost 10 minutes shorter than the previous effort), and tracks averaging 6 minutes, the album sounds like a definite step forward for Slychosis – in the same way as putting together a steady line-up was a step forward for Majestic, the band led by Jeff Hamel, Johns’ collaborator in the Proximal Distance project (guesting here on one track).

However, while I am sure that Slychosis’ evolution will be appreciated by a lot of listeners, my view is (perhaps perversely so) somewhat different. Though the album was obviously put together with a lot of care and dedication, I cannot help seeing it as a step backward if compared with Slychedelia, an album I had found genuinely enjoyable in spite of its flaws. My first listen of Mental Hygiene, on the other hand, left me somewhat puzzled, and – while subsequent listens helped me warm to the album somehow – I still do not find it as convincing as I was expecting it to be. Though there are undoubtedly a number of good ideas there, they are not fully brought to fruition. It feels almost as if the album had two souls – a progressive one, with frequent excursions into prog-metal territory, and a more listener-friendly one, expressed by catchy choruses and engaging melodies. This is the kind of formula perfected by Porcupine Tree (a clear influence on this album) in their more recent releases, and nowadays employed by quite a few outfits – with varying degrees of success

Mental Hygiene makes use of both a female and a male vocalist, one of the hottest trends on the current prog scene Now, though Ceci Whitehurst’s low-pitched, well-modulated voice is undoubtedly pleasing, it does not seem completely suited to the material on offer here. The Slychedelia song on which she guested, the wry “Cosmic Irony”, made good use of her somewhat androgynous tone. Here, instead, she is occasionally swamped by the heavy riffing, and I often found myself wishing for a higher-pitched voice– such as Majestic’s Jessica Rasche, who also contributed her impressive pipes to Proximal Distance’s debut. Moreover, when Todd Sears steps behind the microphone, he sounds oddly similar to Whitehurst – while the definite metallic bent of some of the compositions would call for more assertive voices.

Opener “Geistly Suite” is a prime example of  some of the album’s shortcomings. In less than 8 minutes, three or four main sections can be identified, each of them somewhat at odds with the other. While the first part veers towards prog-metal, with hints of Queensryche’s more symphonic-oriented pieces, the second part features some funky electric piano and synth work, and is then followed by a sedate, vocal-led section vaguely reminiscent of Genesis. While all the instrumental performances are quite worthy of note, the composition as a whole sounds a bit patchy. The same problem surfaces in closing track “Midnight” (featuring guest singer Bridget Shield’s soulful vocals), where a catchy chorus, heavy riffing and distorted guitar coexist without really harmonizing.

Most of the tracks are in a similar mould, with really good bits let down by some less successful ones. The lone instrumental “Odessa”, probably the album’s highlight, provides a showcase for Johns’ considerable skill as a guitarist, ranging from a beautiful, melodic solo with echoes of David Gilmour to wild, unleashed wailing. On the other hand, the melodic ballad “Fallen Tiger” borders dangerously on cheesiness, and might have been omitted without any detriment to the album.  The Celtic-tinged “Things Unsaid” (whose melody reminds me in some odd way of Mike Oldfield’s “Moonlight Shadow”) features an aggressive guitar solo by Bones Theriot of Louisiana-based band Abigail’s Ghost; while the short trumpet solo in the slow, almost plodding “Angelus Novusaum” seems somewhat misplaced in the fabric of the song.

Though this review may come across as a tad harsh, Mental Hygiene – while not as intriguing as Slychosis’ previous release – is nevertheless a perfectly competent album, and points to a band that is gradually coming of age, so to speak. It is to be hoped, however, that their next effort will see them concentrate more on the compositional aspect, as well as not leaning too heavily on the Porcupine Tree/symphonic prog metal influences. The members of Slychosis are obviously talented musicians with a lot to offer, but – in my opinion – they need to find a more distinctive voice of their own, or they will risk going unnoticed on the oversaturated progressive rock scene.

Links:
http://www.slychosis.com

http://www.vladimir-moldavsky.com

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