23 December 2009

CD REVIEW: Taylor's Universe, Artificial Joy

Our last review of 2009 is the newest release from Denmark’s Robin Taylor. Artificial Joy is the latest release from his group Taylor’s Universe.

If you’ve read any of my posts/reviews in the past, you know that I have covered a lot of Robin’s releases. The man is nothing if not prolific, but the more impressive part for me is that his releases are so consistent. After the course of fifteen or so albums I have listened to, I can’t say that I have found a naff one in the bunch. Certainly there are ones that don’t hit quite as hard, but in general, his compositions are always strong, and his choice of players is always spot on.

Taylor’s Universe albums tend toward the more tightly composed side of things, and this album is no different. The 7 tracks selected for this release, spread across a nice, compact 45 minutes, are all incredibly tightly written, polished and arranged. Generally speaking, the pieces are fairly bright and upbeat, but some changes of pace and sound throughout keep things from becoming too bland. As one would perhaps expect, there are even a few nods to the edgier, more angular Crimson side of things sprinkled about…I have to admit that these angry, edgy moments are some of my favourites.

“Atmosfear” is typical of the brighter side of Taylor’s composing. We’ve got some januty sax playing, a circus like organ line, and some very tasty guitar playing courtesy of Michael Denner (who has been working with Taylor for a bit now). While I did at first miss the contributions of Karsten Vogel when he and Taylor went in different directions, I am finding that Jacob Mygind’s playing throughout makes me miss Vogel a good bit less. Carsten Sindvald adds some nice clarinet playing as well, and all of this is wrapped up in a composition that never overstays its welcome, yet feels far more brief than its 7:04 timing indicates.

“Laughter,” on the other hand, is a far different monster. Featuring spoken vocals from Louise Nipper, the piece is one that seems born of the seeds planted by a song like King Crimson’s “Thela Hun Ginjeet.” A strange, somewhat disturbing story of a woman making a 911 call to report an accident, only to be subjected to gales of insane laughter, the music and words fit together perfectly, with a disconcerting vibe felt throughout. I keep coming back to this track, peeling away layers upon layers of sound, and still haven’t come close to feeling I’ve gotten to the bottom of it yet.

“Fame,” at 9:44, is the longest track on Artifical Joy, and it has been selected to close out the release. I feel at times that this song is the kitchen sink piece on the album (as in, everything including the kitchen sink), as just about everything I have ever heard in Taylor’s oeuvre is on display here. We’ve got some heavy guitar playing, tight, bottomless grooves, and playing that is both light and dark, heavy and soft. The ride out, which again evokes Crimson at its heaviest in1973, cuts off abruptly, leaving the listener hanging breathlessly, bereft of climax or conclusion. It’s a slightly risky take, in my opinion, but it pays off. The sudden shifts in mood and playing never feel forced, either…there’s no intentional attempts to be complex and avant here; it all seems natural and unforced.

I’ve selected these three tracks, rather than reviewing track by track, because I think they are the most exemplary on the release. I don’t want to overlook the other fine compositions on Artifical Joy; each is excellent, and more than worthy of repeated listens (as I can attest, as I’ve spent a good bit of the past week or so living with this album, trying to take in as much of it as possible). Robin Taylor’s been on a bit of a tear in 2009, with three different albums (See my review of Isle of Black from 10 March and Return to Whatever from 23 June), and if Artificial Joy is any indicator, 2010 should be an interesting one indeed for Mr. Taylor.

Work (4:41)

Artificial Joy (4:25)

Days Run Like Horses (7:02)

Atmosfear (7:04)

Laughter (7:01)

Telephone (4:59)

Fame (9:44)

Jakob Mygind: saxophones

Carsten Sindvald: clarinet/saxophone

Finn Olafsson: electric guitar

Michael Denner electric guitar

Robin Taylor: vintage keyboards, electric guitar, percussion

Flemming Muus Tranberg: fretless bass

Klaus Thrane: drums

Louise Nipper: voice

23 November 2009

THE RED MASQUE - new download only live album out now

From the artist's press release:

The new download-only live album by Philadelphia avant rock band Red Masque and signed to RER USA, "Stars Fall On Me" is now available through iTunes, eMusic,
rerusa.com and other online distributors. It will also be available to sites like amazon.com imminently......

Please note, there was a typo made by the aggregator and the album is being billed as "Stars FELL On Me" not "Stars FALL On Me" but we are working to correct this..... ;)

The live album was recorded on Nov. 1, 2008 at Orion Sound Studios in Baltimore and features a mix of songs spanning the course of three albums: "Carbon 14", "Das Snail", "Passage", "House of Ash", "The Spider is the Web", "Birdbrain", an Improvisation and "Tidal".

Front cover and back cover artwork (featuring credits and photo) are available for download at

Lineup for this album is:

Brandon Ross: bass, echo theremin

Lynnette Shelley: vocals, percussion

Vonorn: drums, theremin, keys

with guest musician

David Pym: guitar

Links to downloads:




21 November 2009

NEARfest 2010 Friday - STEVE HACKETT!

NEARfest is honored to present in a sophomore appearance, Steve Hackett and his band. There is very little that Prog fans don't know about the legacy of Steve Hackett. He is a renowned, iconic and immensely talented and innovative rock musician. He was lead guitarist with Genesis as part of their classic lineup with Gabriel, Collins, Banks and Rutherford that produced acclaimed albums such as Nursery Cryme and Selling England by the Pound (a favorite of John Lennon). From the post Gabriel era came the classics, A Trick of the Tail and Wind and Wuthering. With Steve's extraordinary versatility in both his electric guitar playing and his composing, he involves influences from many genres, including Jazz, World Music and Blues. His classical albums include renditions of pieces by composers from Bach to Satie, as well as his own stellar acoustic and classical guitar compositions.

With Genesis, Steve's guitar playing produced some of the most memorable moments, from the sensitivity of his acoustic sound on Horizons and Blood on the Rooftops to the dramatic rock guitar solos of Firth of Fifth and Fountain of Salmacis. As he embarked on his solo career he developed his exceptional range, pushing musical boundaries into exciting areas, inventing new sounds and also techniques such as `tapping'. Steve's solo career as well as his collaboration with fellow guitar icon Steve Howe in GTR, gained favorable momentum in the 1980's. After GTR, Steve worked further with many renowned musicians such as Paul Carrick, Bonny Tyler, John Wetton and Brian May, who has credited Steve as an early influence. He went on record Genesis Revisited and even further back to his roots with Blues with a Feeling, whilst continuing to challenge his own `horizons' with an amazingly eclectic mix of sounds, genres and a sense of the exotic that excites his many followers to this day.

Recent albums have possessed a high level of sophistication, along with an ever-present powerful dynamic, from the dramatic and atmospheric darkness of Darktown and Wild Orchids to the colorful voyage through time and space of To Watch the Storms. Steve's live electric gigs take his fans on an extraordinary journey that embodies his Genesis days right through to the present, all woven together with his exceptionally unique and distinctive rock guitar sound. With a new album entitled, Out of the Tunnel's Mouth, Steve is poised to continue his legacy of creating excitement through his music. His return to the NEARfest stage will be a fantastic journey; from classic tunes to Steve's most recent material. A big NEARfest round of applause is in order for Steve Hackett and his band as they grace our stage on Friday, June 18th for an Alumni-Night aural feast.

CD REVIEWS: Pineapple Thief and Knight Area

The Pineapple Thief occupies an interesting place in modern progressive music, for reasons that I hope will soon become clear.

Modern prog fans seem to have forced a dilemma in a number of ways. The giants of the past…the bands that were the foundation of progressive music, have cast such a long, dark shadow over the genre that bands seem to have had a huge issue coming out from under that shadow. Bands that tend to forge their own way, drawing from different influences and as such sounding different from those forefathers, are in their own way every bit as progressive as those initial bands. But because they don’t sound like those older bands, some people have major issues considering them prog. It’s a dilemma, and it’s one that bands as disparate as The Mars Volta, Tool, and The Pineapple Thief all encounter. In their own way, The Piuneapple Thief is a progressive rock band, even as their music draws from the indie and post rock scene more than traditional symphonic rock. While Bruce Soord’s vocals are every bit as self aware and self conscious as many of the 1980’s neo-proggers, they are set against a musical backing that has more in common with bands like Radiohead and their ilk. As such, they’re seen as prog-lite by many, and not prog at all by an equal group.

3000 Days (2009, KScope Records) is a 2-CD set compiling the band’s chosen best moments from a career that has spanned close to the 3000 days referenced in the album’s title. Featuring some remixes, alternate versions, and so on, it’s a career spanning retrospective that offers long time fans a little bit new while presenting a fairly complete look at what the band has achieved since spinning off the group Vulgar Unicorn. As such, it’s a perfect way to become acquainted with a group that certainly merits a closer look by fans of the more melodic side of progressive rock. Don’t be afraid that there aren’t mellotrons akimbo and lyrics about fantasy subjects…drink deep of a dark and melancholy musical draught that would make the members of Anekdoten or Landberk green with envy.

Highlights: Snowdrops, Too Much To Lose, Tightly Wound (Acoustic), We Love You, 137, God Bless the Child, the very minimalistic, yet wonderfully evocative cover art and packaging, including full lyrics for every song (!)

Musicians on this release:

Steve Kitch

Bruce Soord

Jon Sykes

Keith Harrison

Wayne Higgins

Matt O'Leary


1. God Bless The Child

2. Shoot First

3. Part Zero

4. 137

5. We Love You

6. Clapham

7. Dead In The Water

8. Kid Chameleon

9. Tightly Wound (Acoustic)

10. Remember Us


1. The World I Always Dreamed Of

2. Wretched Soul

3. All You Need To Know

4. Vapour Trails

5. How Did We Find Our Way

6. I Will Light Up Your Eyes

7. Subside

8. Private Paradise

9. Snowdrops

10. Too Much To Lose

The Netherlands’ Knight Area popped onto the radar of progressive rock fans around the world in 2004, following the release of their debut album The Sun Also Rises. Showcase gigs at stages across Europe, as well as the prestigious NEARfest festival in the United States, contributed to a heightened awareness of this newcomer to the front lines of symphonic and neo-progressive music. Three years passed before the release of the band’s sophomore effort, the well received Under a New Sign. Showing a maturing band from both musical and song writing standpoints, the album was greeted by several award nominations. The band toured the release across Europe, including major performances at the Night of the Prog festival in Loreley.

Autumn sees the release of Realm of Shadows (InsideOut, 2009), the band’s third album. One would expect for, and hope for, continued growth and maturity from the band, and Knight Area delivers this. While Knight Area does not ride the cutting edge of musical intricacy and intensity, those are not their motivations. Three albums have shown that their impetus is crafting well written, melodic progressive music, filled to the brim with interesting keyboard textures, incisive guitar, and lyrics that touch the heart as much as they engage the mind. From excursions into ambience and shade through fairly intense instrumental workouts, Realm of Shadows showcases a band that is continuing to grow and expand their style in a genre that has a tendency to try and compartmentalize its artists to a pretty extreme degree. While certainly one could point to elements of some songs and say that this sounds like (insert band name here), at no point do any songs actually mimic an artist throughout. Knight area takes these blocks and makes their own constructions.

Realm of Shadows is a solid, enjoyable release from this band, and shows them continuing to hone their craft, deserving of mention in the same breath as the bands that preceded them 10 to 15 years before.

Highlights: Occlusion, A Million Lives, Dark Souls, Momentum

Musicians on this release:

Gijs Koopman

Gerben Klazinga

Mark Smit

Pieter van Hoorn

Mark Vermeule

1. Ethereal (6:51)

2. Antagony (7:52)

3. Two Of A Kind (5:11)

4. Momentum (2:21)

5. Awakening (2:50)

6. Dark Souls (5:29)

7. Realm Of Shadows (5:51)

8. A Million Lives (6:52)

9. Occlusion (11:15)

20 November 2009

CD REVIEW: Makajodama, Makajodama (Laser's Edge, 2009)

It’s late fall, and young prog fan’s thoughts turn naturally to the colder, bleaker north…specifically the northern European nations. There’s just something about fall and bands from Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland that seem to go hand in hand. It may be the smaller amount of light, the flatter, grey-er days, the skeletal branches of hardwoods reaching toward the sky trying to grasp at the last bits of sun and warmth. Scandinavian prog bands seem to match these images pretty well…I can’t count the number of times from now till spring that Anglagard’s Hybris, Anekdoten’s Vemod, or Viima’s Ajatuksia Maailman Laidalta will get played.

I have a new addition to that list of bands that will see repeated plays as the days grow darker and colder, and that band is Makajodama.

Makajodama is a new project started by Mathias Danielsson, guitarist for the progressive rock band Gösta Berlings Saga. On this new all instrumental project, he is joined by Mattias Ankarbrandt (drummer, formerly of Carpet Knights), Johan Klint (violin) and Karin Larsdotter (cello). A host of guest musicians add to the chamber fell of the music, contributing flute, bassoon, tenor sax, tuba, sitar, and a number of other instruments atypical of rock music. Nicklas Barker of Anekdoten mixed the resulting 8 tracks, recorded over almost 2 years (June 2007 to April 2009).

How can I describe Makajodama? It’s tough. They certainly have a bit of a chamber prog sound thanks to the variety of orchestral instruments chosen, but they’re not at all like Univers Zero. They can be heavy like Anekdoten or 1973 King Crimson, dark like Van der Graaf Generator, and as complex as some of Frank Zappa’s more intricate works. The band’s press sheet lists a number of influences, among them Third Ear Band, Can, Faust and psych pioneers Älgarnas Trädgård. For me, the end result is a musical pudding that is as deep and dark as it is addictive and enticing.

I hate to say I can’t describe this music, but this is one of those times where writing about the music would be every bit like dancing about architecture. There’s a sense that this music is totally out of its time…while it has a modern sound and mix, the music itself feels more like some lost classic release from 1973, just discovered in the back of some cupboard in a studio in Europe, and released unexpectedly to the world. The playing is absolutely sublime…I find myself nearly brought to tears from the beautiful cello/guitar/violin work on “Buddah and the Camel.” The song is so perfectly arranges and played, the instruments like wordless voices weeping and crying alongside some slowly running stream in a deep, dark forest. The bass groove that opens “Reodor Felgen Blues” is deep enough to hide an ocean liner in, and when the song kicks into full gear, I swear that what I am hearing is an alternate version of “The Orange County Lumber Truck” from some alternate universe.

And these are just the first two tracks!

I am not someone who gives into hype. At times this has backfired on me, at other times it’s kept me from being disappointed by something that was assured to be the next big thing. This time I am instead hoping to be hyping myself, as there hasn’t been much said about this release that I can see. And it’s a damned shame, because Makajodama has come out of nowhere to rate as one of my albums of the year. If it had vocals, people would be raving about it. If it were less edgy and angular (not that it’s intensely either of those things), it’d be held up by the masses in the genre as one of the standards of modern prog. Thankfully, Danielsson hasn’t given in to any influences to make the music more easily digestible. This is an album that requests…nay, it demands!…repeated listens, and rewards the diligent listener handsomely.

Am I over enthusiastic? Perhaps. But it’s not often, perhaps once every couple of years, that an album hits me as hard as this. Drink deep, readers, and don’t be afraid of the dark. It’s only the shadows of winter, and Makajodama has crafted the perfect soundtrack for it.

Track Listing:

Reodor Felgen Blues

Buddah and the Camel


The Train of Thought

The Ayurvedic Soap

Vällingby Revisited

The Girls at the Marches

Autumn Suite


Mathias Danielsson - guitars, electric bass, organ, pedal steel, percussion, Korg WT10

Karin Larsdotter - acoustic and electric cello, percussion

Johan Klint - acoustic and electric violin, organ

Mattias Ankarbranth - drums and percussion.

Find out more:


CD REVIEW: Redemption, Snowfall on Judgment Day (I/O, 2009)

“ I used to see in colour, now it’s only black and white…”

Oh, those words have a tendency to hit home, depending on how my emotional weather is faring.

As time goes on, I find myself drifting further and further away from progressive metal as a style of music that gets a lot of play. Oh, I still enjoy it well enough, and I won’t shy away from a good prog metal album, but I’ve found that most of that enjoyment comes from bands that tend to lie on the outskirts of that genre…bands like Opeth, Enslaved, Agalloch, groups that could just as easily be described as something other than prog. The more traditional progressive metal bands…and by that I mean bands that seem to draw their sound from groups like Fates Warning or Dream Theater, seem to leave me cold more often than not. I can appreciate the skill, the intricacy, the intent, but in the end, it seems more often than not to be a case of ‘been there, done that.’

Redemption is a band featuring Ray Adler on vocals. He’s probably best known for being the long time vocalist in Fates Warning. On Snowfall on Judgment Day, the band’s fifth full length release (4 studio/1 live), he is joined by founder Nick Van Dyk (guitar, keys), Bernie Versailles (lead guitar), Sean Andrews (bass) Greg Hosharian (keys) and Chris Quirarte (drums). Dream Theater vocalist James LaBrie even guests on one track (“Another Day Dies”). And in mentioning Fates Warning and Dream Theater, I am hoping I won’t have to do so again in this mini review, because this release deserves to stand on its own merits without being confined in such a restraining genre. There’s some great melodic work here, and the guys write some tight, compelling material. “Black and White World,” quoted above, is one of those tracks…eight minutes long, chock full of impassioned Adler vocals, some excellent guitar/keyboard interplay (especially in the climactic ending moments) and careful orchestration and arrangement.

Other songs worthy of note are “Unformed,” “Another Day Dies” (yes, featuring LaBrie in some of his strongest singing I have heard in yonks) and the nearly 11-minute long epic closer “Love Kills Us All / Life in One Day.” I love the piano bit that reminds so much of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, and the bursts of guitar that shatter the quiet…the use of contrast is so perfect here that it should be used as a textbook example of how dynamics work.

Unlike more modern…oh, I’m going to say it…Dream Theater, Redemption’s material seems designed to suit the song…songs flow naturally, sections blend well, and solos aren’t the focal point. Van Dyk and Versailles are a great tandem team of guitarists, playing off each other well, and van Dyk’s rhythm work is punchy and tight. Hosharian is a very good keyboardist…yes, he does tend to use some pretty standard keyboard sounds, but they fit the songs well and never seem out of place or selected for the sheer novelty of their sounds. Andrews and Quirarte are also worthy of note as a very tight rhythm section; I do wish Andrews’ bass was a little more apparent in the mix, but these two guys are the motor that drive these tracks.

I may find myself moving away from progressive metal as a whole, but there are occasional albums that perk my ears up just enough to attract attention. Snowfall on Judgment Day, while being as traditional a prog metal album as can be, is one of those releases. With an emphasis on songs rather than pyrotechnics, this release is worth more than just a passing listen.

Track Listing:

"Peel" - 6:31

"Walls" - 6:46

"Leviathan Rising" - 6:41

"Black and White World" - 8:03

"Unformed" - 6:29

"Keep Breathing" - 7:36

"Another Day Dies" feat. James LaBrie - 5:14

"What Will You Say" - 5:20

"Fistful of Sand" - 6:35

"Love Kills Us All / Life in One Day" - 10:59


Ray Alder - Vocals

Bernie Versailles - Lead Guitar

Nick van Dyk - Lead and Rhythm Guitars, Keyboards

Sean Andrews - Bass

Chris Quirarte - Drum

19 November 2009

CD REVIEW: The Tangent, Down and out in PARIS and LONDON (I/O, 2009)

I’ve been a bit of a Tangent fan for a while now…since the release of A Place in the Queue, really. While I enjoyed the previous two released, I really think the band began to soar once Roine Stolt left the group. This doesn’t mean he was a drag on the sound, but I do think that the Tangent really came into their own once he decided to refocus his energies on his own projects. Andy Tillison and Guy Manning are incredibly strong songwriters with unique voices (vocally and songwriting wise), and having the full canvas to work with has allowed them to soar nicely.

Not as Good as the Book, the band’s second release sans Stolt, only exemplified and enhanced this perception. For me, it was the right album at the right time, and so much of it hit home in ways most personal that at times it felt the songs were written for me or about me (or rather, things I was going through). Coming out the other side now, I think it might be fair to say that due to the intense personal nature of that release, reviewing Down and Out in Paris and London would be, as they call it, a sticky wicket. And it’s true…that previous release is still so personal that in many ways it towers over this new album in ways that make it such that there’s just no way to be fully objective.

At the same time, DAOIPAL is an incredibly strong release. There’s nary a dull moment throughout the roughly 60 minutes of music enclosed on the polycarbonite disc or digital bits that you hopefully legally downloaded and paid the artists for. While some of the faces have changed, this is definitely a Tangent album from first note to last. Tillison’s songs are every bit as strong as ever…and while Manning and Tillison’s voices are still the acquired taste they always have been (a taste that I have seemed to find enjoyment in), they are totally suitable for the songs.

Highlights abound throughout the release…I am particularly enamoured of the wonderfully bluesy solo in “Perdu Dans Paris,” while the devoted Canterbury nut that resides in a certain portion of my frontal lobes dances with glee at “Ethanol Hat Nail,” the second part of Tillison’s Canterbury sequence. It’s nice to see that very British sound still alive and well in progressive music, and while I do rather wish it’d play a larger role in the Tangent’s music, I’ll take what I can get. “Paroxetine - 20mg,” from what I have read, is a song that deals with the rather acquisational side of music fans…in a world where just about every recorded bit of sound is at our fingertips either legally or somewhat less than, how much can we really value any of it? Is it still art, and something precious, or is it just ‘stuff’ to fill up shelves or more likely hard drives and iPods?

(for the record and the curious, Paroxetine is the clinical name for medication that is typically branded under the name Paxil, among others, and is prescribed for a bevy of emotional disorders, including obsessive-compulsive behavious. As such, the title is frighteningly appropriate, though it does lead to a few other questions…)

Theo Travis shines on “The Company Car,” with some harsh and dirty sax work echoing vocal work throughout. And I’d be remiss to not say anything about the 19-plus minute epic opening track “Where are They Now?” I’m sure that’s a question fans are asking of Jamie Salazar or Jakko Jakszyk or Jonas Reingold or Krister Jonsson, but as far as Tangent epics go, this one rates.

This is the first Tangent album to feature a wholly English lineup; Tillison and Manning are joined by Jonathan Barrett (bass) and Paul Burgess (drums), who has been a member officially of 10cc, Jethro Tull, Camel,and a number of other bands. Theo Travis maintains his association with the Tangent on sax and flute, while Jakko does make a few guest appearances throughout. I think that in some ways this is the most band-oriented release the Tangent has crafted to date…everything seems to lock in just a bit tighter, the music feels just a bit more organic, and the flow is just that little bit smoother. While the emotional highs aren’t as intense as those on NAGATB, the overall result is a release Tillison and his compatriots should be intensely proud of. Down and Out in Paris and London rewards repeated listens with a surprising amount of depth and nuance to enjoy.

"Where Are They Now?" – 19:10

"Paroxetine - 20mg" – 7:47

"Perdu Dans Paris" – 11:47

"The Company Car" – 6:23

"Ethanol Hat Nail (Canterbury Sequence Vol. 2)" – 12:55


Andy Tillison – keyboards, guitars and vocals

Guy Manning – acoustic instruments and vocals

Jonathan Barrett – bass guitar

Paul Burgess – drums

Theo Travis – saxophone and flute

Special guest:

Jakko Jakszyk – lead guitar

18 November 2009

Coming soon to a BPB near you...

The Tangent

Shadow Gallery



Neal Morse



Robin Taylor

The Red Masque

General looks/not quite reviews:


Porcupine Tree

The Pineapple Thief


Who knows?

You have all been very patient. More patient that perhaps deserved. It is appreciated, even when I haven't quite been able to say so.

Michael Manring updates

From his recent newsletter:

I've been working on a much needed overhaul to my personal web site,
www.manthing.com, lately and I hope you'll have a look. I've included what I hope is all the relevant information about concerts, recordings, etc., but it's a work in progress so let me know if there's anything I've missed!

I've got two performances coming up in Southern California this weekend, on Friday a show in Woodland Hills and on Saturday a clinic at Bass San Diego with Joe Zon. Joe is the guy who builds my instruments, so we'll be talking about some of the projects we've done together and of course I'll be doing some playing. Please stop by if you'd like to learn more about Zon Basses, my music, or if you'd just like to say hello. You'll find all the details for both performances below.

I'd also like to mention I recently participated in a really interesting book project entitled "The Spiritual Significance of Music" by Justin St. Vincent. It's a collection of brief interviews with thousands of musicians about the connections between music and spirituality. If you'd like to learn more about it please look here:


Finally I'd like to thank the editors at CD Baby for choosing the recording I made last year in Provence with my friend Cyril Achard as one of their Top Ten Editors' Picks. The CD is called A Place in Time and you can check it out here:


IONA signed for NEARfest 2010

NEARfest is proud to announce the addition of Iona to the 2010 lineup! Hailing from England, Celtic symphonic progressive rock band Iona was formed in 1989 by multi-instrumentalists David Fitzgerald and Dave Bainbridge and joined soon after by lead vocalist Joanne Hogg. The inspiration for the band and its name came from a visit that Fitzgerald made to the serene and beautiful Scottish island of Iona the year prior. By the time Iona released their self-titled debut album in 1990, Nick Beggs (bass), Fiona Davidson (Celtic harp), Peter Whitfield (strings), Troy Donockley (Uillean pipes) and Frank Van Essen (drums, violin) had joined the band.

In 1992, the band released "The Book of Kells," a concept album based on the legendary Irish tome . Terl Bryant took over on drums and percussion for this album after the departure of Frank Van Essen. Fitzgerald also left the band to pursue a degree in music. The band's third album, "Beyond These Shores" (1993), which included guest musician Robert Fripp, was loosely based on the voyage of St. Brendan. "Journey into the Morn" (1995) was a more straight-forward release inspired by the hymn "Be Thou My Vision," which bookends the album in Gaelic and features Máire Brennan, lead singer of Celtic/New Age band Clannad.

After two live albums, Bryant left the band and Van Essen returned to play drums on 2000's "Open Sky," which was followed in 2002 by a boxed set called "The River Flows," the first release on the band's own label. The box contains their then-out-of-print first three albums remastered, as well as a fourth disc of unreleased tracks. After six years without a new studio album, the band released the gorgeous "The Circling Hour" in 2006 as well as a 2-disc live DVD "Iona: Live in London," featuring a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround mix.

Since then, the band has continued to play live shows across Europe to enthusiastic crowds. The band has also returned to the studio to begin work on a new album which will see the light in 2010 to coincide with their 20th anniversary. In helping to celebrate the band's milestone, NEARfest is very pleased to welcome Iona to the stage to treat us to their wonderful stylistic weave of Celtic music and symphonic rock.

Iona website:

12 November 2009

Magma - Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré info

(from the press release)

One of music's most innovative and eclectic ensembles, Magma, will be releasing the final installment to their most recent epic trilogy. Titled Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré, Magma's new opus will be released internationally on November 5, 2009 on Seventh Records. This marks the second trilogy by the legendary French band, the first being Theusz Hamtaahk. Magma was founded in Paris in 1969 by drummer Christian Vander, who derived his inspiration from a "vision of humanity's spiritual and ecological future" that profoundly disturbed him. Vander was a self-taught musician, who received some tips from drum legend Elvin Jones. In the course of Magma's first album, the band tells the story of a group of people fleeing a doomed Earth to settle on the planet Kobaïa. Later, conflict arises when the Kobaïans, who are descendants of the original colonists, encounter other Earth refugees. A distinguished aspect of Magma's music is that Vander actually invented a constucted language, Kobaïan, in which most lyrics are sung. Later albums told different stories set in more ancient times; however the Kobaïan language remained an integral part of the music

"In its message, as in its genesis and its making, Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré is an intimate epic, an occult stride forward, a quest for the sublime. Initiated in 1975, its composition beholds its whole fulfillment after more than three decades. It is the testimony of an unwaveringly timeless inspiration, of which the expectant present asserts itself beyond history. Connecting wide and contrasted scenes, it sets its coherence within its very dynamics, playing with chiaroscuro, between choral splendor, operatic jubilation and hurricane of spirits beyond graves.

As much a seraphic liturgy as it is a telluric opera, Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré comes as the final closure to a second trilogy, following upon that of Theusz Hamtaahk, in Christian Vander’s corpus. This is a music reaching out from a time before man time. Born at the heart of nebulas, fed on mineral glow, and riding crypts capped with a cosmic vault." Bruno Heuzé

When asked if the name Magma is part of Kobaian or does it refer to lava? Christian Vander replied, "Yes, it refers directly to lava. Back in 1966, I had written a piece and I was already in a band with Bernard Paganotti, who became a bass player. Already, I was searching for the right word. The tune I wrote back then was called Nogma. I was looking for the word Magma, but didn't know it was what I was looking for. One day the band didn't have a name at the time, and they were standing in front of a fairly well-known club in Paris. The club management told me if you don't have a name, you can't come and play tonight. So we went for coffee, at the shop next door. I thought deeply, you know, and the word Magma came out. At the same time, I founded Univeria Zekt. I wrote this down on the receipt from the coffee shop and kept it."

When asked where the music of Magma is derived, Christian explained to George Allen and Robert Pearson that "the music and the lyrics come up at the same time. If I am singing, and if it has to be in Kobaian, they come up in Kobaian. Sometimes there is a word that is maybe French or English and I leave it in because it is there, and it's natural. The lyrics come at the same time, parallel to the music. For pieces like Mekanik, they were not written in one shot or one session. I had to run a tape recorder to be able to capture it instantly- it goes very fast. I sing with new words that I don't know, and when I am improvising further, the same words come back, even though I don't know them. But I didn't learn them, they impose themselves on me."

Considered by many to be musically pioneering and imaginative, Magma makes extensive use of the choral format, their album Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh being particularly reminiscent of the classical composer Carl Orff, while Wurdah Ïtah reveals connections to Béla Bartók's piano music and "Les Noces" by the Russian composer Igor Stravinsky. Reportedly, Christian Vander is also highly influenced by the work of jazz legend John Coltrane. "I am always listening and attentive to what they do," says Vander. "I am open to listen to what they do. But for my work, it is still Coltrane who actually gives me the real material to work on, to be able to move on."

Magma's new CD also comes with a 57-minute DVD, "Phases", as a testimonial to the intensity of the ensemble's work during its recording.


Stella Vander vocals, percussions

Isabelle Feuillebois vocals

Hervé Aknin vocals

Benoît Alziary vibraphone

James Mac Gaw guitare

Bruno Ruder Fender Rhodes

Philippe Bussonnet bass, piccolo bass

Christian Vander drums, vocals , piano, Fender Rhodes, keybords, percussions

also featuring : Emmanuel Borghi : piano - Himiko Paganotti, Antoine Paganotti , Claude Lamamy,
Marcus Linon, Pierre-Michel Sivadier : backing vocals

For more information on Magma visit:




Neal Morse - New live album out next week

(from the press release)

Renowned as one of prog’s leading solo artists, Neal Morse is better known for his epic studio releases than for lengthy tours. His acclaimed solo live DVDs (Testimony Live, Sola Scripture & More) and CD set (Question Live) have captured amazing performances from his live North American and European bands, and performers from bands ranging from Dream Theater to Christina Aguilera. Never before, though, has there been a definitive live Neal Morse experience. Over almost 20 years, Neal has recorded 22 studio albums with Spock’s Beard, Transatlantic, and on his own. His career has followed an unconventional path, leading him to reject 10 years chasing a dream, and at another time, leave music altogether. His experiences and perspective have lead to some of progressive rock’s most memorable music.

The challenge of bringing these songs to life requires some of prog’s best musicians—a lot of them. In Europe, Neal came to know his band by chance email from an unknown Dutch drummer: Collin Leijenaar. Collin was trying to persuade Neal that his group of friends—all tremendous Morse fans—could not only play Neal’s material, but own it. Three and half hours worth. With one week’s rehearsal.

Morse was…skeptical, to say the least. The unknown performers were up against Mike Portnoy, Kerry Livgren, Roine Stolt, Steve Hacket, Jordan Rudess, Phil Keaggy, Randy George, Pete Trewavas, Kevin Gilbert, and the cast of Spock’s Beard. Neal had been down many roads he never expected, though, and something told him to take this one. The entire tour was booked before Neal even met his band.

The rest is history, of course, perhaps best illustrated by Neal’s comment on the Sola Scriptura &More Live DVD; before the band launched into a complete performance of the Sola Scriptura album, Neal says, “I hope you guys like this—it’s the second time we’ve performed it together.” And indeed, Collin and company owned every minute of it.

That was 2007. By the end of 2008, the now-seasoned band could tear through Morse’s material with confidence and creative improvisation. With changing material on different nights, the cumulative set is 3.5 hours long, encompassing Neal’s best songs and compositions from his 20 year career. This theme extends the recording engineering, mixing and production—resulting in studio-grade sound that whispers and thunders off the discs. At the center is Neal Morse, one of Classic Rock Magazine’s “100 Greatest Frontmen of Rock”.

With soaring vocals, virtuoso instrumentals, and a unique…sense of humor, Morse demonstrates why after 20 years, he remains one of prog’s brightest stars. Experience the definitive Neal Morse concert event—29 tracks released from the studio’s confines and into the living world of live performance. Discover new songs and rediscover familiar ones, evolved and arranged in unpredictable ways. From The Light to Lifeline, experience the extraordinary music at the end of a road less traveled.


CD #1 ~ 63:37 total

1. At the End of the Day 16:49

2. Leviathan 6:45

3. The Way Home 5:05

4. Author of Confusion/I’m the Guy 13:59

5. That Crutch 3:59

6. We All Need Some Light 4:24

7. Lifeline 12:33

CD #2 ~ 79:24 total

1. Question Mark Medley 31:25

2. Help Me 12:13

3. Testimedley 35:46

CD #3 ~ 71:34 total

1. Walking On The Wind 09:33

2. So Many Roads 30:17

3. Stranger/Bridge Across Forever 31:44

Recorded from October 23-30, 2008 at: De Boerderij, Zoetermeer (NL); De Reehorst, Ede (NL); Zeche, Bochum (DE); Colos-Saal, Aschaffenburg (DE), Spirit of 66, Verviers (BE)

25 August 2009

Mörglbl US Tour canceled

Hi everyone

Unfortunately, due to visa problems, our small two weeks tour, scheduled for the upcoming weeks, has been cancelled.
We will work within the upcoming weeks on planning a new tour and sort this out so it never goes that bad again.
We apologize for those who wrote to us to support us and planned to come to the shows, as well as to those who worked hard to book all the venues, our dear management, BMP, and our fine record company, The Laser's Edge.
Although we are upset and shocked, we will definitely be back...


24 August 2009

Taylor's Universe news

Highly acclaimed Danish prog act Taylor's Universe have spent most of this year in the studios, recording what will become the band's 10th album. The title of the album is Artificial Joy, and according to the band's leader/composer Robin Taylor, this release will contain some of his most inspired music heard in several years. Newcomers among the players are guitar ace Finn Olafsson (from legendary 60s/70s group Ache) as well as saxophone wizard Jakob Mygind.

Line-up for Artificial Joy:

Jakob Mygind saxophones

Carsten Sindvald clarinet/saxophone

Finn Olafsson electric guitar

Michael Denner electric guitar

Robin Taylor vintage keyboards, electric guitar, percussion

Flemming Muus Tranberg fretless bass

Klaus Thrane drums


Louise Nipper voice

Time of release: Later this fall (if nothing goes wrong).

07 July 2009

Forgas Band Phenomena to perform at NF 2010

This from Ray Loboda, co-organiser for NEARfest 2010:

Jim, Kevin and I are pleased to announce that France's Forgas Band Phenomena will grace the NEARfest stage in the 2010 edition. Drummer and composer Patrick Forgas has been releasing jazz-rock gems that showcase his compositional and and arranging skills for over 30 years. Forgas, who has been hailed as "the French answer to the Canterbury scene" since he first burst upon the scene in 1977 with his "Cocktail" album, will present songs from his fourth album, Axis of Madness as well as others from his catalog.

In addition to the many Canterbury comparisons, also heard is a commonality with the band that Frank Zappa led with George Duke & Jean-Luc Ponty; great tunes and arrangements in a fusion style with excellent 'jazz' soloing. The group perform music that combines the most attractive aspects of jazz and rock composition with inspired solos. The quality of the music and performances is obvious from the first note and we are pleased that it isn't only us who noticed; press has been unbelievably enthusiastic towards this group's music! Please extend a NEARfest handshake to Cuneiform's very own, Forgas Band Phenomena.


04 July 2009

3 Albums I am currently digging...

1) Doomsday Afternoon by Phideaux. This album was raved about by several of my friends last year. Sadly, I tend to give the opposite reaction to hype from what is expected – I run screaming. I have been burned by hype so many times that I just know that I’ll be burned again. Well, I was…but this time it was me burning myself. I finally legally downloaded a copy of this release and checked it out…and now I can’t get the damned thing out of my play list. This album is proof that there is still hope for chamber/symphonic prog to toss some curveballs and sliders into a mostly stale mix. The singing is interesting, the arrangements clever, the playing just right for the songs. Strings, layered vocals, harmonies…what’s not to like? I wish I had taken the dive earlier…but now at least I know I have a catalogue to discover and explore. Must acquire Seven now…and the rest of the back catalogue. My highlight – “Micro Softdeathstar,” a brilliant mini-epic.

2) 4th by DFA. Yeah, I know…it’s another 2008 album. I’ve dug this release ever since it came out, and a year later it’s still allowing me to discover little gems. It’s so enjoyable…a better mix of symphonic Italian prog and fusion I’ve not heard in a very long time. I am particularly enamoured by the album closer “La Ballata De S’isposa ‘E Mannorri,” with lyrics derived from the Sardinian oral tradition and with glorious female vocals courtesy of “Andhira,” three evocative singers telling a tale of romance and blood feuds in the late 1700’s. The band’s playing is as wonderful as ever, with a diverse selection of sounds and arrangements that make each song a different listening experience from the one before or the one after. This is probably one of my favourite Italian albums in my collection, and certainly one of the strongest modern Italian releases in general.

3) Imparis by Deus ex Machina. I decided last year I wanted to buy this when I saw the trailer for the DVD on the big screen at NEARfest. Sadly it wasn’t out at the festival, and I forgot about ordering it until I saw it on a vendor table this year. I still haven’t dug into the DVD much yet, but as for the album proper…wow. This is an impressive slab of edgy, angular Italian prog. Alberto Piras is the closest thing we have to a Demitrio Stratos today…while his range is certainly not as wide as Stratos’ was (let’s fave it…human voices do not come as flexible and amazingly unhuman as his was), he carries on the tradition of voice as instrument wonderfully well. The band is in fine form as well, navigating the complex and sometimes labrythnine arrangements with ease. It’s still a little early for me to select a highlight track on this release…there’s so much music here, and it’s all pretty dense…but that just means I have a lot of very enjoyable exploration to get going on!

Check these places for more info:





02 July 2009

DVD REVIEW: Renaissance, Song of Scheherazade (2009, Cherry Red/Hybrid)

Have I ever told you the story of how I discovered the band Renaissance?

Back in 1991-ish, I had heard a song by a British group called Miranda Sex Garden, from their then current album Suspiria. I was completely taken aback by the layered female vocal harmonies (many of which seemed to me to be derived from traditional English and Italian madrigal…how right I was, I’d later find out) and the dark, almost orchestral nature of their metallic, industrial-esque musical backing. I was raving about the band to someone in my local record store (Alwilk in Flemington NJ, for those of you out there who may have frequented that chain in the NY/NJ area back in the day), and he mentioned to me that if I liked MSG (and I did, except for in my Chinese food) he had a band I might be interested in…with the caveat that they were lighter and more symphonic than MSG. I took him up on his offer to check the group out, and a few days later he had made copies for me of some material by a band called Renaissance. He felt OK in doing this as all their albums were out of print at that time, save for a pair of compilations which had come out in the US a few weeks prior.

I took the two tapes home and started playing them…and I was hooked. Glorious female vocals, orchestrations, beautiful classical guitar and piano, and a warm, punchy bass that was more a lead instrument than anything else. I spent the entire summer of 1991 seeking out their albums in second hand shops, lucky enough to acquire copies of Carnegie Hall, Novella, and A Song for All Seasons on vinyl. Soon these were joined by the two compilations on Sire Records, Tales of 1001 Nights I and II…and years later, by a mish mash of import CDs from the UK, Germany, and Japan (yes, I paid $40.00 US a piece for Novella and Song for all Seasons from Japan…and $50.00 US for a copy of Azure D’Or). I was completely and irrevocably hooked by this vastly overlooked, underrated British combo.

Only one thing has been missing over the years…a video document of the classic band (Annie Haslam, Michael Dunford, John Tout, Terrence Sullivan and Jon Camp) live in concert.

This missing link has been rectified thanks to the release of Song of Scheherazade, a 125-minute long DVD on Cherry Red/Hybrid that compiles footage from a pair of concerts in New Jersey (the band’s US home base for most of their career with regard to their fan base) in 1976 and 1979.

Many of the band’s better known works are covered here. 1976 was in many ways close to the peak of the band’s critical and commercial success…fresh off a series of successful dates at Carnegie Hall, WNEW radio out of NYC broadcast several Renaissance concerts as part of their regular concert series. Ed Sciaky in Philly and Alison Steele (the Nightbird) championed the band’s music in two of the biggest music markets in the eastern US. The band took the stage at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic NJ for a set that featured their epic masterwork “The Song of Scheherazade,”a 20+ minute tone poem based on the legendary tales of 1001 nights, and the title track to their fourth album. Also featured from that album is the elegiac and melancholic “Ocean Gypsy,” later covered by Blackmore’s Night on their debut release. Two tracks from their release Turn of the Cards, and one each from Ashes are Burning and Prologue (that album’s title track) round out the first half of the DVD contents. The band is in fine form, and Haslam’s voice has never sounded finer. Tout’s piano on “Running Hard” is as lyrical as ever, and Camp’s bass playing is precise and impressive; at this time, I’d say he was perhaps the most underrated bassist in all of prog music.

I wish I could say the same glowing things about the video quality. I know much has been said about this subject, and I have to reiterate it; the video quality is…well…passable. And I think I am being generous. I understand that budgets probably did not allow for an amazing level of restoration to be done on material that has more of a cult appeal, but honestly…I’ve seen Doctor Who episodes, unrestored, from the early 1960s that looked better. The picture is washed out/faded, grainy, and subject to bursts of interference and/or distortion throughout. It’s a shame…this is the first chance for many to see the band at their height, and, well…we can see the band, but not much more.

The 1979 footage (from Asbury Park NJ’s Convention Center) is better, but sadly not by much. Thankfully the setlist offers up enough gems to overcome this limitation for the most part. Jon Camp’s rocking out on a double neck on the opening piece “Can You Understand – Intro” is perhaps worth the cost of admission alone…though I continue to feel it looks odd to see an electric guitar being strapped around Michael Dunford’s neck. Still, we get a nice selection of material from the band’s then current Azure D’Or (which would be the last album recorded by the classic band, and their final release on Sire Records in the US). “Jeckyll and Hyde” and “The Flood at Lyons” are two of my favourite later Renaissance tracks, and both are performed admirably here. “Forever Changing” always seemed a bit twee to me (thought the performance is fine, featuring some gloriously bell-like Haslam vocals), and the less said about the song “Secret Mission,” the better. I’d sooner have had “The Winter Tree” or “Only Angels Have Wings,” but I suppose those are more minor quibbles. We also get fine renditions of “The Vuntures Fly High,” one of the band’s fastest, rockiest tracks, a second take on “Mother Russia” (written about the life of Soviet dissident and author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and his novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich), and a wonderful performance of their later day epic “A Song for All Seasons.” By this point, Renaissance had been implementing more amplified/electric instruments in their songs, arrangements and concerts, and this concert shows the band at the very end of their classic period.

It is again a shame that the video quality can’t match the performance passion and quality. A release like this has been eagerly anticipated and longed for by the Renaissance faithful for quite some time…and while I can play the DVD, and enjoy the excellent live renditions of some of my favourite Renaissance songs…I just can’t watch it. While Song of Scheherazade is far from a failure as a release, it’s also far from an unmitigated success.

Capitol Theatre 1976:

Running Hard

Ocean Gypsy

Carpet of the Sun

Mother Russia


Song of Scheherazade

Asbury Park Convention Hall 1979:

Can You Understand - Intro

The Vultures Fly High

Jeckyll and Hyde

Northern Lights

Forever Changing

Secret Mission

Mother Russia

A Song for all Seasons

The Flood at Lyons

Annie Haslam – vocals

Michael Dunford – acoustic and electric guitar

John Tout – piano and keyboards

Terrance Sullivan – drums and percussion

Jon Camp – bass guitar and vocals

NEARfest 2010 dates announced

"Where to begin? With the first of many NEARfests under our wings, one thing is apparent: It ain't easy puttin' this thing together!!! A Salud to Chad and Rob for all the wonderful years of hard work and great festivals. A gargantuan thanks to you, the audience, the music fan, the beer lover for helping bring such a fine festival to fruition once again, we do it for you, for anyone who is passionate about their music. All the bands deserve a big hug for making the first NEARfest under the new guys, a rousing success. So many performances not soon forgotten, yet it's time to look to next year, which brings me to part two of this prose; NEARfest 2010 will be held on June 18th, 19th and 20th, 2010 - same great venue, same great people. Keep an eye out for more information, there's even a band announcement imminent. Jim, Kevin and I look forward to seeing you all back with us next year. It wouldn't be the same without you.

Ray Loboda, Festival Co-Director, NEARfest '0"

01 July 2009

Cuneiform Records artists on tour

Info courtesy of label president Steve Feigenbaum:

BIRDSONGS OF THE MESOZOIC (special tour to promote "Dawn of the Cycads", so founding member Roger Miller (Mission of Burma) is performing with the group in place of current member Ken Field, and all material will be vintage - 1988 or earlier)

July 23 - AS220 - 115 Empire St. - Providence, Rhode Island 02903

July 24 - Mercury Lounge - 217 E. Houston St - NYC, NY

July 25 - Kung Fu Necktie - 1250 North Front St. - Philadelphia, PA

July 26 - Talking Head - 407 East Saratoga St. - Baltimore, MD 21202 - buy advance tix

July 30 - Johnny D's - 17 Holland St. - Somerville, MA 02144

[40th anniversary celebration]

July 26 - Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art - Cornell University Campus - Central & University Ave. - Ithaca, NY. 14853-4001


October 24 - The Philadephia Experiment: New Music Festival - The Rotunda - University of Pennsylvnania - 4014 Walnut Street - Philadelphia, PA 19104 (215) 573-3234 (with CHEER-ACCIDENT (headliner), Fern Knight, The Red Masque and Make A Rising) all ages - FREE but donations for the bands requested.


July 8 - Barbican Hall - London, UK (opening for Medeski, Martin and Wood)

October - west coast USA touring


August 22 - Crescendo Festival - Saint Palais-sur-Mer, France


July 12 - Le Poisson Rouge - 158 Bleeker Street, NY, NY (7:30pm Todd Reynold solo violin and electronics / 8:30pm Doctor Nerve / 9:30pm Dither Guitar Quartet)

(our latest signing! CD out in September!)

September 22 - Sonic Circuits Festival - Washington, DC


September 30 - Sunset Club - Paris, France

December 5 - Theatre de Sens - Sens, France

June - NEARFest - Zoellner Auditorium - Bethlehem, PA


September 18-20 (Guapo meets GMEA) - Rock in Opposition Festival - Maison de la Musique - Cap'Découverte - 81450 Le Garrick (Carmaux), France


June 27 - Danger Danger Gallery - 5013 Baltimore Avenue - Philadelphia, PA (CD release show!) (with Elliot Levin Trio)

November 10 - Lemoyne College - Syracuse, NY


July 3 - Trident Booksellers and Cafe - 940 Pearl Street - Boulder, CO

October 17 - Edgefest - The Firefly Club - 637 South Main Street - Ann Arbor, MI : 9:00 PM


July 1st - rebroadcast of their gig at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam. It was recorded for NPS Radio 6 in Holland. It will be broadcast in it's entirety on at 22:00. You can listen on the radio in Holland or on www.radio6.nl everywhere else.

October 2 - The Vortex - 11 Gillett Square - London, UK

October 14 - tba - Barnstaple, UK

October 23 - tba - Derby, UK

December 10 - tba - Nottingham, UK


July 7 - 8 - Vishnufest - Le Poisson Rouge - 158 Bleecker St - NYC, NY
The three part program will consist of:
PROGRAM 1. "The Best of Mahavishnu"
- Highlights from Birds of Fire, Inner Mounting Flame and The Lost Trident Sessions; PROGRAM 2. "Before & After Mahavishnu: The John McLaughlin Songbook" - Featuring music from Extrapolation, Devotion, Electric Guitarist and the WORLD PREMIERE of several really cool, newly discovered CHORAL WORKS, setting the poetry of guru Sri Chinmoy; PROGRAM 3. "Return to the Emerald Beyond" - The 11-piece band plays the complete Visions of the Emerald Beyond plus "Smile of the Beyond" and a few fan fave encores.

(Mats Öberg and Morgan Ågren with former Meshuggah bassist Gustaf Hilem)

August 16 - 20 - Zaapanle - Germany (with Denny Walley)


July 10 - Festival d'été de Québec - Quebec City, Quebec, Canada (outside show - opening for Van der Graaf Generator!)

September 12-13 - FMPM - The Gesù - 1200 De Bleury Street, between St-Catherine Street and René Lévesque Boulevard - Montreal, Quebec, Canada


September 12 - Orion Sound Studios - 2903 Whittington Ave., Suite C - Baltimore, MD

September 18 - Rock in Opposition Festival - Maison de la Musique - Cap'Découverte - 81450 Le Garrick (Carmaux), France


September 19 - Rock in Opposition Festival - Maison de la Musique - Cap'Découverte - 81450 Le Garrick (Carmaux), France


October 31 - Hampshire Jam - Millenium Hall, Liphoo - Hampshire, UK


August 15 - Salem Jazz & Soul Festival - Salem, MA


September 20 - Rock in Opposition Festival - Maison de la Musique - Cap'Découverte - 81450 Le Garrick (Carmaux), France

October 13 - Nancy Jazz Pulsations Festival - Nancy, France

(our latest signing! CD out in September!)

August 14 - Yippie Cafe - 9 Bleecker St - Brooklyn, NY (with Third Space)

August 15 - Avant Gentleman's Lodge - 4028 Filbert St - Philadelphia, PA 19104 (with Make A
Rising, Hume)

August 16 - Galaxy Hut - 2711 Wilson Blvd Arlington, VA 22201 (703) 525-8646 (with DCIC)

August 17 - Nara - 1309 W. Main St - Richmond, Virginia (w/ The Wayward)

August 18 - DIVEbar - 3 Glenwood Ave - Raleigh, North Carolina - (Free show)

August 19 - BoBo Gallery - 22 Lexington Ave - Asheville, NC (with Shane Perlowin, King Tut)

August 21 - Dada Dollhouse - Winston Salem, NC (with St. Peter Pocket Veto)

August 22 - Hexagon - 1825 N. Charles St - Baltimore, MD (with Expanding Man, others tba)

September 16 - Monkeytown - 58 N. 3rd St - Brooklyn, NY 11211 (with Father Figures, Little Triumph)

Some scattered thoughts about the Prog magazine top 50 list...

The top 50 all-time prog albums list solicited by Classic Rock presents Prog has been released. As one could have probably predicted, the list is…

a) primarily bands from the UK
b) primarily melodic/symphonic

c) dominated by Yes, Genesis and Pink Floyd (30% of the list is these three bands)

What can we derive from this list?

Not a whole lot.

We can get a good guess at the readership of this magazine. We could probably put together a decent picture of their age, (25-55), gender (male), and place of residence (the UK, duh). We can tell that as expected the most popular bands still tend to be the so called Big Six (add in ELP, Tull and Crimson and 40% of the list is the Big Six). We see a dearth of non-UK bands (Rush, Dream Theater, Spock’s, Queensryche, Tool, Gong, Opeth). We see, in general, a decent snapshot of what is most accessible and easily digestible. And if we look at the publication, we see that in general it is this music that gets the bigger features, the most wordage, the most focus.

Is this that shocking?

Not really.

In the golden age of prog, bands like Yes and ELP did more than create some of the more complex rock music…they sold millions of records. Tull were much the same, while in many ways Crimson would be the odd man out…complex walls of sound, a propensity for improv and angularity…they are perhaps the most difficult band of the big six. Floyd came to prog via psychedelia, and their emphasis on soundscape, mood and texture puts them at odds with the rest of the batch. Yet there was always melody and structure guiding all of these bands (and yes, Crimson definitely dabbled there as well…Book of Saturday, Cadence and Cascade, The Night Watch…Fripp and co. could craft a hell of a catchy song when they wanted to).

What we miss on a list like this is the truly world based nature of prog. Where are the Italian bands…Banco, PFM, Le Orme, Area, Goblin. What of the German groups like Kraftwerk or Tangerine Dream…the eastern European bands like Solaris or Collage or SFF? There’s a huge Scandanavian prog scene typified by bands like Kaipa, Trettioariga Kriget, Samlas Mammas Manna and carried on through White Willow, Anglagard and Anekdoten. Likewise, there are large numbers of important and influential Japanese bands like Kenso, Gerard, Ain Soph, Vermillion Sands, and countless others. We don’t see anything truly avant garde…no Rock in Opposition, no Zeuhl…almost no fusion or Canterbury, and nothing that to my mind pushes any limits or stretches boundaries.

I am not trying to say that in order for an album to be worthy of being in a top fifty list, it has to be by nature difficult and/or edgy. There’s nothing difficult or edgy about an album like Darwin! By Banco…unless you find gorgeous melodies, delicate arrangements, and passionate operatic Italian vocals difficult or edgy. My complaints with lists like the one put together by Classic Rock presents Prog is that it represents a narrow slice of the prog listenership/fan base…and as the magazine is on newsstands all over the place, it will tend to help ossify a general impression that this is the prog that matters. I could list a dozen or more albums equally worthy of being on this list that would both widen its characteristics and present a more complete view of what progressive music is…albums that are the equal to, if not superior to, those listed by the readership. But what would this solve? It’d be yet another narrow slice of what prog music is. I’d think it more complete and more enveloping…but it’d be just one person’s viewpoint.

Frankly, progressive music is insular and ghettoised enough as it is. Limiting it to a selection of melodic albums sung in English only marginalises it further than it already is.

30 June 2009

CD REVIEW: Dream Theater, Black Clouds & Silver Linings (2009, Roadrunner)

There are some things in this world more life threatening than reviewing a Dream Theater album. I’d try to list them, but as most of them deal with handling toxic or nuclear waste, and/or wrestling large wild animals, I’m not sure such a list is necessary or desired.

I exaggerate some, but not much. In the world of progressive music, not many bands have a fan base as…well…fervent and devoted as Dream Theater does. Quite a bit of this is warranted; the band does go it of its way to give their fans as much as possible, with constantly revolving set lists in concert, a regular series of official bootlegs containing demos, alternate tracks, and live shows. From their 3+ hour ‘evening with’ sets to the last two Progressive nation tours, they make every effort to give the fans as much bang for their buck as possible. So their fan base is well deserved.

The down side to this, if I am to be perfectly frank, is that the fan base tends to turn on its own. The majority has a tendency to eat the minority at almost every juncture. If an album is loved by the majority, no criticism, no matter how intelligently spoken, will be tolerated…until such time as time allows people to look back at the material without the freshness of newness and see it more accurately…then the tables may turn (or, of course, they may not). If band member A says song B sucks, all of a sudden song B sucks, even if the week before people were raving about how wonderful it is.

And so it goes.

I am not trying to denigrate the DT fan base…I am a fan of their music. But I don’t follow blindly. I like what I like because it resonates for me, not for any other reason. And so it is with trembling fingers that I begin to type out a review of Black Clouds & Silver Linings, the 10th studio album from Dream Theater. Like their last release (Systematic Chaos), the album has been released in two basic editions to retail; a standard single disc and a special edition. This year’s special edition is a 3-CD set; the first disc is the album proper, the second is a selection of 6 newly recorded cover versions, the third disc is the album in instrumental mixes. This is the edition I am reviewing.

The six songs on BC&SL can each basically be broken down to single sentence descriptions:

A Nightmare to Remember (ANTR) – this is a song about a car crash and its aftermath.
A Rite of Passage (ARoP) – this is a song about Freemasonry.

Whither – this is a song about writer’s block (seriously).

The Shattered Fortress (TSF) – this is the final part of Mike Portnoy’s 12 step suite.

The Best of Times (TBoT) – this is a song about Mike Portnoy’s dad who had recently passed away.

The Count of Tuscany (TCoT) – actually, I am still not sure what this song is about.

Of course, the songs deserve more than a single line of description. ANTR, as I will abbreviate it, features some relatively heavy DT playing, along with one of the prettier mid-tempo ballad sections I have heard from them in some time. Like many recent DT songs, the structure is somewhat abrupt, going from the quiet, restrained Yes like passage to pretty straight ahead metal thrashing with wild, widdly Petrucci and Rudess solos that at times almost feel out of place. Yes, we know they can play…they have proven it time and time again. The more sustained lines around 10:20 in or so, followed by Wakeman like synth runs, are far more enjoyable than the out of control sweeps and arpeggios that usually feature in instrumental sections.

The wah-ed out bass opening of ARoP (again with the abbreviations) is pretty interesting and enjoyable, but the song then settles into a mid-tempo Megadeth type groove (my girlfriend, in fact, called to me ‘Hey, I didn’t know you were listening to Megadeth’ as it played). James LaBrie sounds quite good, and the playing behind the vocal passages is solid and tightly arranged. As far as the lyrical content is concerned, well…as someone with more than passing knowledge of eastern esoterica and metaphysics, I’m not sure that the lyrics tell a very accurate story of freemasonry, but at the very least I can say that they don’t seem overly negative. Each of the last two Dream Theater albums has seen the band moving toward more of a metal sound rather than progressive, and this song is no exclusion.

TSF completes Mike Portnoy’s epic 12 Step Suite. I have to give him major commendations…across the five songs that make up the suite (nearly 60 minutes of material), he’s spilled his heart and soul out more than the rest of his prodigious lyrical content combined. Addiction is a horrid beast to overcome, and the fact that he has allowed his listeners in to his process is pretty inspiring. The suite has had high points and somewhat less high points, but TSF wraps them up pretty nicely. After the much more restrained and sombre “Repentance” on Systematic Chaos, I had a feeling the final movement would have to up the ante some energy wise, and I was not wrong at all. Heavy double bass drumming, slabs of metallic playing, gruff LaBrie vocals…all are here in spades. There are plenty of musical quotes and repeated motifs tying this into the rest of the suite…an arranging toy that some may find weak, but I feel was almost necessary. Is this my favourite movement in the suite? Not by a long shot (that acclaim is directed toward “Repentance,” in case you are truly curious), but I think it’s a solid conclusion.

I am not going to touch TBoT. I think it’s a pretty song, it feels a little lightweight musically, but I won’t deny the personal lyrics or the fact that some of Petrucci’s most lyrical playing in years can be heard here.

This brings us to The Count. Where to begin? I think musically this is the most solid piece of material the band has put together in the last ten years. I think it features some of the most progressive rock sounding stuff the band has issued since “Octavarium.” I think it shows that when the mood strikes them, they can create a piece of prog rock that shows they can be more than just a metal band. I think in a lot of ways this song rivals some of the material Dream Theater released on their first few albums (yeah, I went there…). But then we come to the lyrics. I am being honest here…I really don’t know what to say about them, mostly because I am still unsure what the song is about. It is apparently, from what I have read, inspired by an event that happened to John Petrucci in Italy…but what? Was he taken to some palatial estate where wine is made from the bodies of the dead? Did he fear that the same fate was going to befall him? I don’t know. I know, as a prog fan, that I have to really take lyrics with a grain of salt…after all, this is a genre where mountains come out of the sky and then stand there…but I just don’t know what to make of the story this song is telling. Instead I listen to the music and am satisfied that the band wrote a 19 minute epic that sits alongside their best material musically.

Moving on…

Disc 2 features, as mentioned above, 6 specially recorded cover songs. We start off with a solid take on Rainbow’s “Stargazer.” I am a huge Rainbow fan, and I was satisfied by this rendition. LaBrie is no Ronnie James Dio, but he acquits himself well here. The same can be said of the band’s so-called Queen ‘medley,’ actually a very nicely done take on “Flick of the Wrist,” “Tenement Funster” and Lily of the Valley” from the seminal Sheer Heart Attack album by Queen. This was one of two covers that caused my nerves to go through the roof, but DT came through with a great cover that even caught the ear of Brian May. “Odyssey” follows, originally performed by the Dixie Dregs (Steve Morse’s original band). Thankfully DT invited Dregs’ violinist Jerry Goodman to guest here, and so we’re treated to real organic violin rather than keyboard samples.

Goodman also guests on the group’s cover of another seminal prog instrumental, King Crimson’s “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part II.” It’s a solid enough cover, but sadly the mix doesn’t push bassist John Myung high enough up. Wetton’s driving bass was what propelled the original, not Bruford’s drums or Fripp’s searing guitar, and without a similar punchy Myung bass, this cover feels a bit flat and lifeless. Zebra’s “Take Your Fingers From My Hair” precedes the Crimson cover, and…well, I’m not too familiar with the original, so I can’t vouch for the integrity of this cover. This also means that in some ways this cover should be the more intriguing one to me, yet it does little. I’d perhaps have liked to see DT cover another Z band, like a Zappa song, but this would probably mean another instrumental, and that’d not be overly fair to LaBrie.

The set is closed out by A solid performance on the Iron Maiden tune “To Tame a Land.” This is the only cover not specifically recorded for this set, having been issued on a magazine cover disc in the UK as a tribute to Iron Maiden. DT has proven in the past that they are more than adequate Maiden interpreters, and they do not disappoint here. In fact, one might be tempted to say that Dream Theater may well be the pre-eminent active cover band, but I am sure that is an appellation they’d not be too proud of having, as it certainly overshadows the quality of their original work.


Disc 3 features the original studio album in its entirety a second time, this time without any solo performances. This, there’s no guitar soloing, no (or minimal) keyboard widdly widdly, and no LaBrie singing. Ever wanted to solo along with your musical faves in Dream Theater? Here’s your chance! Have a DT karaoke party! The options and opportunities are only as limited as your imagination. Honestly, I think the idea of the instrumental disc is a good one, and I’m glad in a way that they didn’t just remove the vocals. This gives listeners a chance to check out some of the stuff you’re not usually listening to as the rest of the band flies wildly up and down their respective instruments over these musical backings.

“Now wait a minute, man…”

In the final reckoning, where does BC&SL lie? Is it a return to Dream Theater’s progressive roots? Is it a release riddled by the band bowing to label pressure to write a dark, spooky, metal album with 3 discs, each with 6 songs on them (oh my god it’s 6-6-6) to appeal to the black clothed metal masses? It’s not really either. The days of Dream Theater releasing material like they did on Images & Words or Awake are as long gone as the years 1992 and 1994 are. That band is gone…they have grown, changed, and this is the band the way they are today. Taking the cover songs out of the equation (as one should), I look back at the albums the band has released following their creative rejuvenation (which I date to 1999 and the release of Scenes From a Memory) and tally the number of songs I still feel are fresh and playlist worthy today:

6 Degrees of Inner Turbulence: 2 (The Glass Prison, The Great Debate)

Train of Thought: 2 and sometimes 3 (Vacant, Stream of Consciousness, sometimes In the Name of God)

Octavarium: 2 (The Root of All Evil, Octavarium)

Systematic Chaos: 3 (In the Presence of Enemies…yes, despite the cribbed lyrics, Forsaken, Repentance)

Black Clouds & Silver Linings: too early to tell after 1 week, but “The Count of Tuscany” will likely be one despite the wonky lyrics…

In the end, it’s a Dream Theater record. I know this is a cop out. But let’s face it…you’re either going to like it, or you’re not, and there’s not a blessed thing I will be able to do to sway your mind one way or the other. “All the finest wines improve with age,” but only time will tell if this album is a fine wine or destined to be little more than vinegar…

Studio album tracklist:

"A Nightmare to Remember" 16:10

"A Rite of Passage" 8:35

"Wither" 5:25

"The Shattered Fortress

X. "Restraint"

XI. "Receive"

XII. "Responsible" 12:49

"The Best of Times" 13:07

"The Count of Tuscany" 19:16

Cover album tracklist:

"Stargazer" 8:10

"Tenement Funster / Flick of the Wrist / Lily of the Valley" 8:17

"Odyssey" 7:59

"Take Your Fingers From My Hair" 8:18

"Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part Two" 6:30

"To Tame a Land" 7:15

Instrumental Mixes tracklist:

"A Nightmare to Remember" 15:39

"A Rite of Passage" 8:36

"Wither" 5:28

"The Shattered Fortress" 12:47

"The Best of Times" 13:20

"The Count of Tuscany" 18:47

James LaBrie - vocals

Mike Portnoy - drums, vocals

John Petrucci - guitars

John Myung - bass guitar

Jordan Rudess - keyboards