Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Violin’

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/

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

TRACKLISTING:
1. Snowtorch – Part One (19:39)
a) Star of Light
b) Retrograde
c) Fox on the Rocks
d) Celestine
2. Helix (5:54)
3. Snowtorch – Part Two (16:11)
a) Blowtorch Snowjob
b) Fox Rock 2
c) Coronal Mass Ejection
4. ” … ” (2:34)

LINEUP:
Phideaux Xavier – acoustic guitar, piano, vocals
Ariel Farber – vocals, violin
Valerie Gracious – vocals
‘Bloody’ Rich Hutchins – drums
Mathew Kennedy – bass guitar
Gabriel Moffat – electric guitar
Linda Ruttan Moldawsky – vocals, metal percussion
Molly Ruttan – vocals
Mark Sherkus – keyboards, piano
Johnny Unicorn – keyboards, saxophone, vocals

With:
Stephanie Fife – cello
Chris Bleth – flute, soprano saxophone

With 7 albums released since 2003 (not counting Ghost Story, originally released in 1997 and reissued in 2004, and mostly consisting of material dating from a previous project called Satyricon) Phideaux need  no introduction to prog fans. Based on a group of childhood friends who grew up together in the New York area, but are now scattered all over the US territory, they are a proudly independent outfit, a group of gifted musicians coming from diverse backgrounds led by the remarkable talent of Phideaux Xavier, whose highly individual approach to the production of progressive rock has turned them into firm favourites of a wide-ranging, yet rather volatile scene.

Throughout the years the band have perfected a format that, while not exactly uncommon in the prog world, has been given a new twist by Phideaux Xavier’s fertile mind and keen awareness of social matters. All of the band’s albums since 2006’s The Great Leap have been based on elaborate concepts that, eschewing the  often formulaic fantasy topics that are still quite popular with prog bands and their fans, present reflections on the state of  the modern world – albeit coached in metaphorical terms. In some ways, Phideaux has become a 21st-century equivalent of Roger Waters, down to the configuration of the band – which, with its ten members, plus various collaborators, is a veritable mini-orchestra. Everything, so to speak, is done in the family, with guitarist Gabriel Moffat in the role of the producer, and backing vocalists (and twin sisters) Molly Ruttan and Linda Ruttan Moldavsky responsible for the elegantly minimalistic artwork.

Released in the spring of 2011, a couple of months before Phideaux’s appearance at the 2011 edition of ROSfest, Snowtorch is a compact, 45-minute offering that  manages to pack more content in its streamlined running time than most of the sprawling behemoths favoured by some artists. Featuring the same line-up as its predecessor, 2009’s  Number Seven, it is, in Phideaux’s own words, “a musing on life, language and solar flares”, conceived as single suite in various movements, though split in two separate halves connected by a stand-alone song also based on the composition’s main theme.This strategy of building the album’s musical content around a recurring theme is what makes Snowtorch a symphonic offering in the truest sense of the word. With a perfect balance between vocal and instrumental parts, and the added bonus of thought-provoking lyrics, the album stakes its claim as the rightful heir of the great classics of the Seventies – though bringing a definitely modern twist to those old prog warhorses, the epic and the concept album.

In fact, listening to Snowtorch may evoke strong comparisons with classical music, on account of both the structure and the nature of the compositions, which combine the powerful surge of exhilarating crescendos with intimate, low-key moments. However, Phideaux’s sound is quite far removed from the somewhat cheesy grandiosity of bands such as The Enid. With two keyboardists (plus Phideaux himself on piano) providing a lush, yet tightly-woven background tapestry, bolstered by Ariel Farber’s violin and guest artist Stephanie Fife’s cello, Chris Bleth’s flute adding a pastoral touch to some of the quieter sections, the music possesses a dramatic fullness that complements the harmonious beauty of the vocal parts.

The first half of the “Snowtorch” suite opens with the subdued melody of “Star of Light”, introduced by piano, organ and Phideaux’s husky, expressive voice; then it soon gains intensity, the intricate, orchestral keyboards and relentless drumming driving the vocals along towards a climax. The main theme is introduced, and brought to fruition in a splendid, organ-driven section peppered by guitar excursions, the two instruments sparring in a peaks-and-valleys pattern. “Retrograde” revolves around a lovely, emotional duet between Phideaux and the band’s other lead vocalist, Valerie Gracious, whose soaring soprano shows more than a hint of steel without any trace of saccharine – an enthralling song almost out of a classic Broadway musical. The entertaining ditty “Fox on the Rocks” (with lyrics penned by keyboardist Johnny Unicorn), sung by Phideaux in a near-falsetto register, prepares the listener for  instrumental “Celestine”, a veritable keyboard tour-de-force,  pastoral and stormy in turns, where solemn mellotron washes underpin the sparring of piano, synth and organ, with violin, metal percussion and sax joining the fray.

As previously hinted, “Helix” bridges the gap between the two parts of the titular suite – a majestic, powerful piece sustained by Valerie Gracious’ commanding performance, with all the instruments working together to produce a solid wall of sound  – which reminded me of the dramatic sweep of some episodes of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”. “Snowtorch Part Two” – shorter and somewhat edgier than Part One – opens in almost upbeat fashion with the funnily (and punnily)-titled instrumental “Blowtorch Snowjob”, then culminates in the explosive, ELP-influenced keyboard-and-drum orgy of “Fox Rock 2” (with an unbridled organ solo that would sit quite comfortably on Tarkus). Things finally mellow out with the sedate, Pinkfloydian atmosphere of “Coronal Mass Ejection”, an ominous, somber piece which reprises the album’s main theme, briefly climaxes with guitar slashes and intense vocals, then ends with sparse piano. The short “ghost track” included at the end as a sort of instrumental summary wraps things up with a cheery feel that seems to release the tension built up throughout the album.

Effortlessly marrying superb musicianship and genuine passion, Snowtorch brims with gorgeous melodies, the kind that stick in your mind for quite a while. While often pervaded by a sense of impending doom, it can also be oddly jaunty; for all its lush, multilayered arrangements, it is never gratuitously pretentious. With all-round flawless performances, excellent songwriting and beautiful singing, it has quickly established itself as one of the strongest releases of the year so far. Though influenced by the great tradition of the golden age of prog, unlike the myriad of “retro” acts Phideaux manage to sound like no one else on the current scene. An album such as Snowtorch is living proof of how they are almost single-handedly dragging symphonic prog right into the 21st century.

Links:
http://www.bloodfish.com/

 

Read Full Post »

TRACKLISTING:
1. Bella Lee (3:34)
2. Parliamone (5:43)
3. Infraditi (7:36)
4. Fungo (6:42)
5 Cane di Schiena (6:32)
6. Pappa Irreale (2:27)
7. Antenna (7:59)
8. Klez (4:16)
9. Max Dembo (8:47)

LINEUP:
Filippo Cantarella – violin, viola
Marco Ravera – electric and acoustic guitar, synthesizer
Tommaso Rolando  – acoustic bass, electric bass, acoustic guitar, synthesizer, sampler, trumpet
Nando Magni – trombone
Nicola Magri – drums

With:
Cosimo Francavilla – soprano saxophone (2)
Antonio Carletti – weird vocals (7)

In my writings I have often mentioned the lively music scene of the great port of Genoa – not surprising for a city that, throughout its long history, has been one of the many melting pots of the Mediterranean region, bringing together East and West, North and South in a heady mixture of tradition and modernity. This is the kind of fertile ground from where Fabrizio De André’s Creuza de Ma, one of the undisputed masterpieces of the whole ‘world music’ scene, originated. Five-piece Calomito, a relatively recent addition to the variegated Italian music scene, bring an unique twist to the time-honoured musical heritage of their home town, with a sound that marries the warmth of the Mediterranean with a strong international bent.

Calomito have been around since the mid-2000, releasing their debut album, Inaudito, in 2005. After a five-year hiatus and some line-up changes, the band have made a comeback with Cane di Schiena, issued in the first half of 2011 by Milan-based label AltrOck Productions (also responsible for outstanding, cutting-edge releases such as Yugen’s three albums and mirRthkon’s Vehicle). Though they have been almost forcibly placed under the RIO/Avant umbrella, Calomito are one of those bands that – luckily for fans of genuinely interesting music, much less so for those who delight in labelling everything – are extremely hard to pigeonhole, due to their boldly eclectic approach to music-making.

As a fellow Italian reviewer  jokingly stated at the beginning of his own review of the album, you may want to consider taking a couple of days off in order to listen to Cane di Schiena properly. Indeed, though clocking in at a mere 53 minutes, the album presents an  incredibly dense (though never claustrophobic) amount of music which unfolds with each successive listen, and therefore devoid of any immediately digestible tunes. On the other hand, unlike what many believe about any kind of music that bears even a faint whiff of ‘avant-garde’, there is nothing discordant, abrasive or random about Calomito’s sound. Each of the tracks is clearly very carefully structured, as it is nearly always the case with ‘chamber rock’ outfits – a definition that, in my view, fits Calomito to a T. Like their label mates Yugen, they transcend the boundaries of the RIO/Avant classification, and should rather be seen as purveyors of eclectic yet oddly intimate music tha requires all of the listener’s attention to be fully appreciated.

This does not imply that Cane di Schiena is one of those deadly serious albums that command a quasi-religious devotion. Calomito’s humorous disposition, which descends directly from the likes of Stormy Six and Picchio dal Pozzo (as well as the Canterbury scene, which is also a clear musical influence), immediately comes across from titles such as “Pappa Irreale”(a pun on pappa reale, the Italian for “royal jelly”) or “Infraditi” (an intentionally ungrammatical spelling of the  word meaning “flip-flops”). The music itself, while quite light-hearted at times, can on occasion reach for a more subdued, sober tone. On the whole, Cane di Schiena comes across as a flawlessly executed album that never descends into a depressing or overly involved tone.

As is the case of other ‘chamber prog’ ensembles, Calomito employ a number of other instruments alongside the traditional rock trinity of bass, guitar and drums, assisted by various synthesizers. The substantial contribution of the horns evokes parallels with bands such as Miriodor, which emerge quite clearly right from the album’s opening track, “Bella Lee” – an incredibly dense 3 minutes of music; while the equally important role played by strings (violin and viola) brings instead to mind one of the best modern‘chamber rock’ outfits,  Seattle-based band Moraine, as well as vintage Frank Zappa. The more upbeat passages, suggesting a jazz-rock or Canterbury matrix, made me think of Forgas Band Phenomena, though Calomito sound slightly more angular than the French band. Furthermore, while Univers Zéro’s broodingly apocalyptic production seems to be the polar opposite in tone to Calomito’s essentially cheerful approach, Nicola Magri’s stunning, beyond-merely-propulsive drumming style cannot but evoke the way in which Daniel Denis supports the whole fabric of the Belgian outfit’s sound.

Trying to describe any of the nine tracks in detail would not do any of them justice. While “Infraditi” is probably the one track with the strongest connections to the RIO/Avant school of progressive rock – an astoundingly complex, 7-minute rollercoaster ride apparently throwing in anything but the proverbial kitchen sink, from carnival-like music to jazzy touches to jagged, almost dissonant passages – the somewhat low-key “Parliamone”, true to its title (meaning “let’s talk about it”) seems to reproduce a dialogue between two persons, with horns and synthesizers in the role of human voices. The choppy, dynamic “Fungo” exemplifies the way in which Calomito use pauses to create interest, rather than produce an impression of patchiness; while the title-track’s slow, meditative mood, some passages so low as to be barely audible, produces an intense, almost mesmerizing effect.

Especially in the second half of the album some intriguingly exotic influences show up, which bring to mind comparisons with Slivovitz, another über-eclectic Italian outfit hailing from Naples, my home country’s second biggest port (and musical capital). “ Pappa Irreale”’s lilting, dance-like pace punctuated by violin is sharply redolent of Irish folk, or even American country; and the upbeat, drum-driven “Klez”, as the title points out, contains elements of klezmer and Eastern European gypsy music. A folksy also tone emerges in parts of the initially low-key “Antenna”, possibly the most complex number on the album (and the only one briefly featuring ‘weird vocals’), ending with an exhilarating crescendo in which guitar, trombone and violin seem to engage in a sort of conversation. Closing track “Max Dembo” introduces some new elements, such as spacey sound effects that  enhance the powerful, rolling tone of the drums and the echoing guitar lines, as well as shades of Brazil in the relaxed, almost sultry pace of first half of the track.

In spite of the density of its musical content, Cane di Schiena is far from inaccessible, and – while undoubtedly a challenging listen – does not rely on spiky, jarring sounds to make its impact. There is plenty of melody to be found on the album, and the music possesses a natural flow and easy elegance that make listening a pleasure rather than a chore. Even though fans of traditional symphonic prog may be daunted by anything bearing the label of ‘avant-garde’, I would encourage everyone who loves progressive music to give Calomito a try. With their successful blend of technical skill, seemingly boundless creativity, eclectic influences and keen sense of humour, they are one of the most interesting bands heard in the past couple of years, and definitely one to watch.

Links:
http://www.calomito.com/

http://www.myspace.com/calomito

http://production.altrock.it/start.asp

Read Full Post »

TRACKLISTING:
1.  Commencement (2:47)
2.  Neap Tide (9:20)
3.  Primrose Path  (6:38)
4.  Dawn  (2:56)
5.  Catlord  (8:54)
6.  Illuminati  (0:42)
7.  Work In Progress  (6:54)
8.  Missing Time (8:49)
9.  Faunus  (11:17)
10. Io  (9:13)

LINEUP:
Michael J. Butzen – electric and acoustic guitars, mandolin
Jeffrey Schuelke – keyboards, piano
Thomas Ford – drums, electronic percussion

With:
Chris Kringel – fretless bass  (1-7, 9-10)
Elizabeth Grimm – violin (8, 9, 10)
Chad Burkholz – bass (8)

The name ‘Fibonacci sequence’ refers to a series of numbers in which each number is the sum of the previous two. Named after medieval Italian mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci, who introduced it to Western Europe, it is featured in literature, cinema, the visual arts and music: for instance, the lyrics to the title-track of Tool’s celebrated Lateralus album are arranged on the basis of the Fibonacci sequence.

On the other hand, even if Fibonacci Sequence would be a perfect name for a math-rock band, the Milwaukee-based trio bearing this name are quite a different beast. Those who delight in sticking labels on everything and everyone will certainly have their work cut out for them with a band like Fibonacci Sequence, as their unabashed eclecticism makes classification all but impossible. While one moment they may conjure shades of progressive metal, the next passage will take the listener into almost symphonic territory, with clear, melodic sounds and lush layers of keyboards – not to mention the tantalizing Latin and Middle Eastern references and the sprinkling of jazzy touches. Their omnivorous approach is further borne out by the influences mentioned by the band – a list ranging from Yes, Rush and Dream Theater to The Police, Sting and Mahavishnu Orchestra.

For those who thrive on making comparisons with more established acts, I would mention equally eclectic instrumental outfits like From.uz or Djam Karet, as well as more metal-oriented ones like Canvas Solaris or Relocator – as well as the obligatory Liquid Tension Experiment or Planet X. Unlike the latter bands, though, Fibonacci Sequence’s sound is more distinctly guitar-based, with keyboards used as an accent rather than dominating their whole music. Faced with such almost effortless proficiency, which nevertheless does not come across as cold and detached, the listener would be forgiven for thinking that the band are one of the many projects that (often due to practical issues) have no life outside the walls of a recording studio. The band, however, are quite active on the live front in their home town of Milwaukee, and the announcement of their participation to the 2011 edition of ProgDay has whetted the appetite of the  numerous fans of instrumental progressive rock.

The aptly-titled Numerology, Fibonacci Sequence’s debut full-lenght album, was released about a year after the 2-track EP We Three Kings, which featured a very interesting arrangement of the popular 19th century Christmas carol. On this album, the three core musicians avail themselves of the valuable contribution of fretless bassist Chris Kringel (formerly with Cynic and their offshoot Portal) on all but one of the tracks, as well as bassist Chad Burkholz on “Missing Time”, and violinist Elizabeth Grimm on the last three numbers. Most of the tracks on Numerology run between 6 and 11 minutes, long enough to allow the band members to branch out and create intricate musical weaves; the album as a whole clocks in at a quite manageable 65 minutes. The band manage to produce an impressive volume of sound of exceptional clarity, every instrument given a strikingly dimensional feel in the mix. As in the best productions, in spite of the complexity of the compositions, the music flows smoothly and naturally, without giving the impression of being too complicated for its own good.

Right from the opening strains of the short but punchy “Commencement” – a lush, melodic guitar number powered by an impressive drum sound – the sheer quality of the recording comes across in no uncertain terms. While Michael J. Butzen’s guitars take the leading role, the engine propelling Fibonacci Sequence’s music along is Thomas Ford’s powerful yet restrained drumming, a full-bodied sound that manages not to overwhelm the other instruments. Fibonacci Sequence’s trademark blend of melody, heaviness and sleek instrumental expertise emerges in “Neap Tide” (also featured on the EP), a heady, multilayered mix of sharp riffing, acoustic, pastoral beauty and jazzy licks whose dense sonic texture manages not to feel stifling or contrived. On the other hand, “Primrose Path” comes across as a contemporary-sounding version of vintage Santana, down to the jazzy, Latin-tinged guitar work. Perfectly descriptive of its title, “Dawn” is a slow, meditative acoustic guitar piece introduced by atmospheric keyboards and birdsong, which introduces the thunderously drum-driven “Catlord”, its heaviness spiced by Eastern touches in the clean, mesmerizing guitar lines.

After the very short ambient piece “Illuminati”, Fibonacci Sequence display more of their exciting compositional skills in the album’s final four tracks, starting with the splendid bass showcase that is “Work in Progress”, peppered by frequent pauses that, instead of disrupting the flow of the music, seem to stimulate the listener’s attention. With “Missing Time” we enter Liquid Tension Experiment/Planet X territory, Jeffrey Schuelke’s keyboards taking more of a lead role and Butzen’s guitar injecting a touch of fiery, yet shred-free edginess, and the violin adding a symphonic note to the second half of the track. The 11-minute “Faunus” (the longest track on the album) is deceptively more linear in structure, with a tense, riff-laden first half and a slow, almost melancholy ending punctuated by lovely guitar and violin; while closing track “Io” picks up from where the previous number left off, with a moody beginning and a mainly keyboard-driven middle section, culminating with an extended guitar solo of outstanding quality. Interestingly, the album begins and ends with the crackling of an old vinyl record – a sound dear to many old-school prog fans.

Besides the obvious quality of their  music, both in terms of composition and execution, Fibonacci Sequence’s nature of real live outfit makes them an even more intriguing proposition. The simple fact that they are not easy to pigeonhole should be seen as a positive sign, especially in these times when increasingly outrageous labels are created with alarming regularity. In any case, Numerology is one of the finest instrumental prog albums released in the past couple of years or so, and their ProgDay appearance will hopefully contribute to putting Fibonacci Sequence on the map for those progressive rock fans who are still unaware of them. Highly recommended.

Links:
http://fib-seq.blogspot.com/

http://www.myspace.com/fibonaccisequenceband

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

TRACKLISTING:
1. Skating on Europa 9:35
2. Know Again 6:26
3. A Poet’s Talespin I: Half-Slept Moments 1:56
4. A Poet’s Talespin II: Soft Collisions 8:28
5. A Poet’s Talespin III: The Bridge 7:55
6. A Poet’s Talespin IV: I Write 5:01
7. A Poet’s Talespin V: In the Shadows 6:17
8. Get the Hell off my Lawn 4:20
9. Counted the Stars 1:18

LINEUP:
Dave Kulju – electric and acoustic guitars, bass guitar, keyboards, guitar synthesizer, sound effects and programming
Frank Basile – drums

With:
Annie Oya – vocals (3)
Ian Cameron – electric and acoustic violins (2)

Notes in the Margin is the second album released by US multi-instrumentalist Dave Kulju, based in Rochester (New Hampshire). After his recording debut with Electrum, Frames of Mind (1998), followed in 2002 by Standard Deviation, when the band went on hiatus he started devoting his free time to his solo career, releasing Abstract Expression in 2007, which brought him to the attention of the community of progressive rock followers.  Like Abstract Expressions – even if Kulju is in charge of the majority of the instrumentation – Notes in the Margin is not your typical, ubiquitous ‘solo-pilot’ projects made possible by modern recording technology, but features a real drummer, Frank Basile, as well as a couple of other guests. Unlike its predecessor, though, the album is not completely instrumental, and its centrepiece, the five-part epic “A Poet’s Talespin” (adapted from two poems by Australian poet Amanda Joy) features the amazing contribution of UK-based  session vocalist Annie Oya.

Three years in the making, the process lovingly detailed on Dave’s own website, Notes in the Margin is an unusually elegant, deeply literate effort that eschews any of the pretentiousness often associated with prog, and manages to emphasize emotional content without being mawkish or contrived. The striking cover, a photo taken by Kulju himself (who is a gifted photographer as well as a talented musician), immediately projects a stylish contemporary image that sharply deviates from the old prog cliché of fantasy/sci-fi themed artwork, with its still life centred around a vintage typewriter. According to the artist, the album title is a reflection on the process of making the record itself – a process involving a lot of rewriting and refinement, just like a work of literature.

For a project completely conceived in the studio, Notes in the Margin sounds remarkably organic,  multilayered though never overdone, each instrument standing out in clear detail. It comes very much across as a guitar-based album, showcasing Kulju’s fluid, clean style, inspired by the likes of David Gilmour and Andy Latimer without being derivative. Keyboards, on the other hand, are used more as a foundation than the main event, though the epic can boast of some positively gorgeous piano passages. Surprisingly, however, the real protagonist of Notes in the Margin is the bass, merging seamlessly with Frank Basile’s excellent drum work to set the pace, and stamping its own distinctive touch on the fabric of the compositions. The music flows smoothly, with enough complexity to satisfy the cravings of most prog fans, except those who are looking for innovation at all costs. Indeed, while Notes in the Margin does not offer anything startlingly new, neither does the vast majority of current releases, and the musical content here is undeniably above average.

With a practically perfect running time of about 51 minutes, no filler is needed on Notes in the Margin, and none of the tracks feels padded or stretched beyond reason. Album opener “Skating on Europa”, loosely based on the work of sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke, is a forceful yet melodic number which, in spite of its almost 10-minute duration, never outstays its welcome. Driven by thunderous yet not overwhelming drums and a sleek, dynamic bass line, it pushes Kulju’s fluid, fiery lead guitar to the forefront with exhilarating effect. In “Know Again” (the English translation of the Greek word anagnorisis, the moment of recognition for the protagonist of a Greek tragedy)  the keyboards take more of a lead role, and Ian Cameron’s contribution on acoustic and electric violin add further layers of dimension to a piece that, while not exactly jazzy, shifts subtly from a subdued tone to a sort of crescendo, slowing down again towards the end.

The album’s epic, “A Poet’s Talespin”, which (like Shadow Circus’ “Project Blue” or The Rebel Wheel’s “The Discovery of Witchcraft”, to name but two recent examples) is conceived as five separate pieces strung together by a  musical and lyrical fil rouge, rather than as a massive 30-minute behemoth. As previously hinted, it is also the only composition featuring Annie Oya’s lovely vocals, soothing and melodious yet devoid of that cloying sweetness all too frequent in female prog singers. Introduced by a gorgeous classical piano piece, the romantic, mid-paced (and very aptly titled) “Soft Collisions” develops into a number of subtle complexity where the vocals are complemented by Kulju’s superb guitar and bass work and the recurring presence of the piano. “The Bridge” treads spacey territory, with a subdued, more acoustic bent; while the symphonic, keyboard-driven “I Write” is brimming with gentle sadness, and “In the Shadows” closes the epic with an instrumental reprise of the main theme, rendered in spacious, atmospheric tones reminiscent of Pink Floyd. The album is wrapped up by two instrumentals – the highly dynamic, riff-based “Get the Hell Off My Lawn”, bringing to mind Rush compositions such as “Leave That Thing Alone”, with bass and guitar working together to create intense textures; and the short, somber keyboard piece “Counted the Stars”, named after a phrase in an Anne Sexton poem that was the earliest inspiration for the epic.

With superb production values and sterling sound quality, Notes in the Margin is indeed an excellent release, worthy of the attention of even the more demanding prog listeners. It is a pity that – like most studio-only projects – it will probably flow under the radar of many fans in favour of more extensively publicized albums. A labour of love in every sense of the term, classy and literate yet full of endearing warmth, this is a must for everyone who loves melodic, guitar-oriented progressive rock. It would be a boon if, one day, Dave managed to put a band together and perform his music on stage, in spite of all the well-documented difficulties that plague those artists looking for live outlets for their work.

Links:
http://www.davekmusic.com/

http://www.littleglasspen.com/

Read Full Post »

SETLIST:
1. Irreducible Complexity
2. Manifest Density
3. Nacho Sunset
4. Kuru
5. Disillusioned Avatar > Dub > Ephebus Amoebus
6. Skein
7. Synecdoche
8. Okanogan Lobe
[Break]
9. Bagua > Kan Hai De Re Zi > Third View
10. Save the Yuppie Breeding Grounds
11. Fountain of Euthanasia
12. Uncle Tang’s Cabinet of Dr Caligari
13. Blues for a Bruised Planet
14. Waylaid
15. Middlebräu [encore]

Last year at NEARfest I had my first taste of Moraine’s music, even if in the months prior to the event I had often been tempted to check out their debut album, Manifest Density, after reading some flattering comments around the Internet. Unfortunately, my commitments as a reviewer did not allow me a lot of room for ‘recreational listening’, so to speak, so the day of Moraine’s performance found me still completely unfamiliar with their considerable talent. Those who have read my review of the festival will know that I considered Moraine to be probably the most authentically progressive band of the whole weekend, and one of my personal highlights together with Forgas Band Phenomena (an outfit whose music has some similarities with Moraine’s, though more noticeably influenced by the Canterbury sound). Even though they had been placed in the awkward slot of Sunday openers, and faced with an audience many members of which swooned at The Enid’s somewhat cheesy antics and thought that The Pineapple Thief were not ‘prog enough’ for the hallowed halls of the Zoellner Arts Center, they managed to gain quite a few fans – including my husband and myself. Indeed, we were so impressed by their performance that we went to meet the band after their set. In the following months, that first contact blossomed into a treasured friendship.

Even if somebody might think that my judgment as regards Moraine’s performance on the night of Saturday, April 30 (the third date of a 4-date Northeast tour) might be clouded by my personal feelings, I am quite capable of being objective, and would not spare any criticism if I believed it was in any way warranted. However, I am happy to say that Saturday’s gig at the Orion was an unqualified success. Having had almost a whole year to become familiar with Moraine’s output,  this time I was able to appreciate every nuance of the show, as well as the subtle but noticeable modifications in their sound brought about by the line-up change that followed the release of Manifest Density. In spite of the hurdles faced by almost every independent outfit these days – lack of touring opportunities, real-life commitments and such – on the Orion stage Moraine came across as a well-oiled machine, the chemistry between the five members nothing short of amazing.

Those who have watched the seminal documentary Romantic Warriors will remember the Orion Studios, a former warehouse located in a decidedly unglamorous neighbourhood on the outskirts of Baltimore, yet possessed of a unique, club-like character. With a couple of couches, a few folding chairs and a table generally laid out with snacks and drinks, countless posters and flyers decorating the walls, a couple of weird figures hanging from the ceiling, it reminds me of the basements (or ‘cellars’) in the centre of Rome which, in the Eighties, functioned as both rehearsal spaces for bands and meeting points for their friends and supporters. In spite of the diminutive size of the main stage area, the place is like a maze, offering valuable recording and rehearsing spaces to local musicians. This quirky yet intimate backdrop was ideal for a band like Moraine, even more so than the immaculate NEARfest stage. As regards attendance, I judged about 50 people to be present – more than the band are used to attracting in their home town of Seattle,  and a satisfactory turnout for a single-bill evening – even though last year I had seen twice as many people line up outside the venue in order to see a tribute band. This, unfortunately, seems to be the nature of the ‘prog community’ in the US Northeast, as I pointed out in the two essays I wrote after NEARfest 2011’s cancellation.

Though often tagged as ‘avant-garde’ (much to their amusement), like all truly progressive bands Moraine defy description. Their variegated backgrounds converge very effectively both on stage and on record, instead of resulting in a patchy mess: while their compositions – often penned by individual members rather than shared efforts – showcase their different approaches. With the dry, slightly self-deprecating humour that characterizes their interaction with the public, the band describe themselves as ‘omnivorous’. On the other hand, at least from what was seen at the Orion, they have not abandoned their rock roots – though of course there is not even a whiff of the time-honoured, though somewhat corny antics of the typical rock musician in Moraine’s stage presence. Even if towards the end of the set we were treated to a short drum solo, it was blessedly devoid of the cheesiness often inherent to such spots.

Coming on stage at about 8.30 p.m., the band delivered an extremely tight performance, richly eclectic and riveting in its intensity, interspersed by Dennis Rea’s brief but humorous introductions. A short break allowed both the band and audience to recharge their batteries, and from comments overheard during that time it was clear that the audience was won over by Moraine’s blend of chops and sheer enthusiasm. This was progressive rock with a capital P, fresh and innovative even when occasionally hinting at some ‘golden oldies’. Unlike far too many modern prog bands, Moraine manage not to sound like anyone else: the closest term of comparison would be King Crimson circa Red, though more in terms of attitude than actual sound, especially as regards the coexistence of melody and angularity, and the presence of both violin and reeds coupled with the conspicuous absence of prog’s ‘sacred cow’, the keyboards. The departure of cellist and band founder Ruth Davidson (a fan of Univers Zéro, as evidenced by her composition “Save the Yuppie Breeding Grounds”) has also altered the ‘chamber’ nature of the band in favour of a more dynamic approach, powered by Jim DeJoie’s assertive sax (which on Saturday night was a bit low in the mix).

To those who had read reviews of the band’s NEARfest performance described as ‘noise-drenched’ (something that, coupled with the ‘avant-garde’ tag, is guaranteed to strike fear into the hearts of the more conservative set of prog fans), the melodic quotient of Saturday night’s show is likely to have come as a surprise. The medley featuring Alicia DeJoie’s gorgeous “Disillusioned Avatar” and Kevin Millard’s “Ephebus Amoebus” aptly displayed the band’s more sensitive side; while the overtly jarring chaos of “Uncle Tang’s Cabinet of Dr Caligari” (wittily introduced as a ‘romantic ballad’, and probably the one track actually deserving of the ‘avant-garde’ tag) was followed by the melancholy beauty of “Blues for a Bruised Planet”. Millard’s distinctive-looking, customized Chapman stick (dubbed ‘baliset’ by the bassist, a long-time fan of Frank Herbert’s iconic Dune) meshed seamlessly with Stephen Cavit’s complex yet remarkably unflashy drum patterns, and Alicia DeJoie’s shiny purple violin caught the eye as well as the ear. Jim DeJoie (Alicia’s husband) expertly wielded his impressive saxophone, coming across as the most ‘physical’ member of the band. In fact, if I had to level one criticism at Moraine’s performance, it would concern their somewhat static presence, at least partially due to the size of the stage. Not that anyone was expecting Dennis Rea to start throwing guitar-hero-style shapes, though his solos revealed a definitely sharper rock bent than evidenced either on Manifest Density or in his other recent projects. Besides the jazz, rock and avant-garde influences, fans of world music were also catered for by the enchanting “Asian Suite”, featuring themes from three of the five tracks included on View from Chicheng Precipice, Rea’s first solo venture.

The show also provided Moraine with the opportunity to present some of the new material they had been working on in the past year or so – namely three intense, hard-hitting yet multifaceted numbers titled “Skein”, “Synecdoche” and “Fountain of Euthanasia”, which showed a band growing by leaps and bounds both in cohesion and on the compositional level. Like the material on Manifest Density, those new tracks are rather short for prog standards, yet brimming with energy and a kind of creative impulse divorced from sterile displays of technical skill. On the other hand, unlike the debut’s compositions, which in many ways represented each member’s temperament, the new numbers sound more clearly shaped by collective input.  As impressive as Moraine’s debut was, their future – judging by what was heard on Saturday night – looks even brighter.

The wonderful musical experience was wrapped up by a night out in downtown Baltimore, complete with a walk through the city’s rather seedy red-light district and a late-night dinner (or perhaps early breakfast, since it was 2 a.m. when we sat down) at an ‘Italian’ restaurant – the kind that serves filling but rather unauthentic dishes such as spaghetti with meatballs. We also managed to get the last of the T-shirts and mugs designed expressly for the tour by David Gaines, a friend of the band and talented musician himself, based like us in the DC metro area. All in all, it was an evening that packed the friendly, laid-back vibe of a get-together at someone’s house with a select group of friends, as well as that community spirit that I have often mentioned in my reviews. Hopefully Moraine will be able to return to the Northeast soon after the release of their second album, which will mainly feature music recorded live at NEARfest.

Links:
http://www.moraineband.com

http://www.orionsound.com/

Read Full Post »

TRACKLISTING:
1. Un Dono (2:13)
2. Wizard Intro (3:03)
3. Madre Africa (7:54)
4. Questa Penombra E’ Lenta (6:57)
5. Chimera (4:23)
6. The Game (10:38)
a. Wizard of your Sky
b. Mickey’s
c. Jump
d. Wizard of your Life
7. Cluster Bombs (6:43)
8. This Open Show (3:16)
9. C’Era Una Volta (2:59)

LINEUP:
Paolo Siani – drums, vocals, keyboards, bass, guitars

With:
Ricky Belloni – electric guitar (6)
Carlo Cantini – violin (6)
Guido Guglielminetti – bass (2, 4, 6)
Mauro Pagani / flute (3)
Alessandro Siani – electronics (1, 5)
Franco Testa – bass (5)
Roberto Tiranti – vocals (3, 6, 7)
Giorgio Usai – Hammond organ (6)
Joe Vescovi – Hammond organ (3)
Marco Zoccheddu – electric guitar (2, 3, 4, 7), piano (5, 7)
Gianni Alberti – sax (5)
Ottavia Bruno – vocals (5)
Giacomo Caiolo – acoustic guitar (4)
Nadia Enghèben – soprano (3)
Alberto “Artley” Buttarelli – vocals, flute (8)
Diego Gordi – piano (8)
Fabio Gordi – piano (8)
Daniele Pagani – piano (8)
Giuliano Papa – cello (8)
Vittorio Pedrali – vocal recitation (1)

In spite of his tenure as the drummer of Italian Seventies band Nuova Idea, Paolo Siani is certainly not a household name in the world of progressive rock – unless you count those dedicated fans of the scene who collect even the most obscure albums. Additionally, he shares the same name with an Italian-American artist of vastly different temperament, which can be misleading to those who are looking for more information. Although an excellent outfit, Nuova Idea did not achieve the fame of their fellow Genoese New Trolls (whom keyboardist Giorgio Usai and guitarist Ricky Belloni joined after the band’s demise) or Delirium, and disbanded after their third album, the highly-regarded Clowns, released in 1973. Subsequently Siani joined avant-garde outfit Opus Avantra for their second album, then beat band Equipe 84. Though he dropped off the musical radar for almost three decades, he worked as a producer and kept writing and recording his own music. It was the renewed interest in prog and the Italian Seventies scene that prompted Siani to resume his career as a musician – as well as a commendable humanitarian purpose, that is, raising funds on behalf of Genoa’s renowned Gaslini paediatric hospital.

Though Castles, Wings, Stories and Dreams, released by Genoa-based label Black Widow, is to all intents and purposes a solo project by Siani, it also sees a reunion of sorts of his mother band, as well as an impressive roster of guest musicians, including three of his former Nuova Idea bandmates: the above-mentioned Giorgio Usai and Ricky Belloni, plus guitarist Marco Zoccheddu, who had left the band to join Osage Tribe after Nuova Idea’s debut. Unlike many albums of this kind, however, it is remarkably tight from a compositional point of view. Moreover, despite Italian prog’s reputation for being somewhat overwrought,  the album avoids that particular trap, keeping melody and clarity at the forefront while not neglecting the occasional flight of instrumental fancy.

Clocking in at under 50 minutes, Castles, Wings, Stories and Dreams is a decidedly song-oriented effort that manages to achieve a good balance between vocal and instrumental parts. The album opens with “Un Dono”, where an expressive male voice recites a brief, uplifting text by Mahatma Gandhi on a backdrop of sparse electronic keyboards. The following instrumental, “Wizard Intro”, blends symphonic suggestions à la Yes with hard rock touches, all infused with an unmistakable Italian flavour. “Chimera”, also instrumental, hints instead at a jazzy inspiration, with a loose structure made up of different solo spots (bass, sax and piano) over a train-like background rhythm provided by drums and keyboards. Siani’s voice can be heard on one track, “Questa Penombra E’ Lenta” (which is also the closest the album gets to a conventional ballad in the unique Italian style), assisted by the clear, melodic voice of Ottavia Bruno, and complemented by lovely acoustic guitar and an airy synth solo.

Three tracks feature the powerful yet clear voice of Roberto Tiranti, lead singer of power/progressive metal band Labyrinth (with a brief stint in New Trolls in the late Nineties). His gritty performance on “Cluster Bombs” – a hard-hitting, anti-war song powered by Hammond and military-style drumming that owes more than a little to Deep Purple or Uriah Heep – increases the song’s emotional impact. Tiranti shows his more melodic side on the 10-minute, 4-part epic “The Game”, a richly textured composition where all the instruments get their chance to shine without overwhelming each other, with Hammond flurries and wistful violin strains. Tiranti then reverts to a more authoritative, hard-rocking persona in the haunting “Madre Africa”, where the Deep Purple influences represented by Joe Vescovi (formerly of The Trip, a band that briefly included Ritchie Blackmore among his members) and his Hammond organ are tempered by Mauro Pagani’s flute, whose sound brings to mind Delirium or Osanna. The album is wrapped up by two short, low-key pieces, the melancholy, cello-driven “This Open Show” and the instrumental “C’Era Una Volta”, a Baroque-inspired number performed by Siani alone.

As can be expected, Castles, Wings, Stories and Dreams is not particularly innovative, nor does it pretend to be such. Like other fellow reviewers, I also have some reservations on the choice of mixing Italian and English lyrics. The supposed ‘international appeal’ of English vocals, in my opinion, dilutes that unique quality of Italian prog that is so often connected with the use of such a great vehicle for music as the Italian language. However, in spite of these drawbacks, the album is a solid effort, a fine slice of vintage Italian prog with a thoroughly 21st-century sound quality, and excellent performances all round from Siani and his guest musicians. The album should also appeal to fans of classic hard rock with progressive overtones. At the time of writing, Paolo Siani is planning a live show in October in his hometown of Genoa, which hopefully will not remain a one-off.

Links:
http://www.blackwidow.it

http://www.progarchives.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=77100

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »