30 September 2010

GAZPACHO: announce Missa Atropos Tour dates for 2011...

GAZPACHO: announce Missa Atropos Tour dates for 2011...

    Missa Atropos Tour

    22.01.11 GER - Berlin - Maschinenhaus Aschaffenburg - Colos Saal
    23.01.11 GER - Stuttgart - Röhre
    24.01.11 CH - Pratteln - Z 7 (tba)
    26.01.11 GER - Aschaffenburg - Colossaal
    27.01.11 NL - Hengelo - Metropool
    28.01.11 UK - Birmingham - The Assembly (tba)
    29.01.11 UK - London/Kingston - The Peel (tba)
    01.02.11 GER - Köln - Live Music Hall
    02.02.11 GER - Hamburg - Fabrik
    04.02.11 B - Verviers - Spirit of 66
    05.02.11 NL - Zoetermeer - De Boerderij
    06.02.11 NL - Den Bosch - W2 (Matinee Show at 15.00 o'clock)

All shows marked with (tba) have still to be confirmed. Tickets for all confirmed shows will go on sale within the next few days...

For more information visit the Gazpacho website: http://www.gazpachoworld.com/

Bang Tower: new Percy Jones band/project

Bang Tower is a progressive musical alliance featuring legendary bassist Percy Jones, who is best known for his work with Brand X, a band that also featured Genesis legend Phil Collins. Along with Jones, the power-prog trio also includes Grammy winning guitarist/engineer/producer Neil Citron. Walter Garces, who also performs with '60s psychedelic marvels The Electric Prunes, rounds off the trio with his skillful drumming. Work on their maiden voyage Casting Shadows, produced by Neil Citron (who also engineered, mixed and mastered) and Jon Pomplin (Declassified Records), was recently completed and the album is slated for release by Declassified Records on September 28, 2010. With Percy's unmistakable fretless bass sound percolating next to Walter's harmonic cannons and implements of percussive wonder, an edgy yet incredibly dreamy, otherworldly texture becomes prominent throughout the mix. Neil's unique guitar work takes full advantage of this partnership by blending gorgeous chordal interludes, amazing melodic passages interlaced with scathingly insane soloing.

The key element in this "trio of masters" music can be best described with one word; rapport. Though Jones, Garces and Citron are all virtuosos in their own right, it's quite evident that these players are enthusiastically enjoying the crafting of this music whether together in a top studio like Entourage in LA, or remotely via their own studios, Casting Shadows promises to be a most auspicious first-outing for a band simply known as... "Bang Tower". "The basic idea was to play music we wanted to play, and have a good time doing it," says Walter Garces. "It's a group effort musically," adds Percy Jones. "I probably had a bit more input on the initial tracks and Neil had a bit more on the real time recordings, but it averages out to be about the same really. Walter was involved since the beginning."

Bang Tower is:

Fretless electric bassist Percy Jones has carved out his place in progressive rock and jazz fusion during his longstanding affiliation with the bands Brand X and Tunnels and is considered to be one of the greatest bass players in the world by Bass Player magazine. A native of Wales, Mr. Jones began his career as a notable bass player with the Liverpool Scene, and the Scaffold in the U.K. He is also a founding member of BRAND X, a pioneer jazz-rock fusion outfit, working alongside John Goodsall, Robin Lumley and Phil Collins of Genesis. He has several compact discs out of his own projects, including the band Tunnels, and 2 solo releases. Percy has also collaborated with numerous other musicians in performances and sessions; Brian Eno, Suzanne Vega, Bill Frisell, Roy Harper, Richard Barbieri, Nova, Project Lo, Sarah Pillow and Bobby Previte, just to name a few. He has toured extensively in the United States, Europe and Japan as a solo artist as well as a bass player in various bands. Percy proudly endorses Ibanez Bass Guitars, Euphonic Audio Amplifiers, Eventide Effects and DR Strings.

If you've seen the films "That Thing You Do" or "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," listened to rock-guitar virtuoso Steve Vai, heard recent recordings by the legendary Yardbirds, or appreciated the talents of internationally renowned drummers Greg Bissonette, Virgil Donati or Mike Mangini, then you may already be familiar with the wealth of musical projects Neil Citron has worked on. In 2002, he received a Grammy Award in the Best Pop Instrumental Album category for engineering "No Substitutions: Live in Osaka" by Larry Carlton and Steve Lukather. Also in 2002, Citron released a solo album of guitar instrumentals, Absolute, (Favored Nations) and is currently finishing a second album for the label. Citron has written more than 50 songs for Chrysalis publishing, and Citron continues his prolific composing career. As a guitar player, Citron has worked on many recordings of artists from all over the world. On these projects, Citron performed on acoustic and electric guitars, as well as providing background vocals when needed. Dedicated to anything he pursues, Citron holds a sixth-degree black belt in several Korean martial arts -- tae kwon-do, hapkido and sib pal gi (Korean kung fu) -- as well as a third-degree black belt in tang soo do, in which he trained with actor Chuck Norris.

Native New York Drummer, Walter moved to Los Angeles in the mid 80’s, where after only a few months he met guitarist Neil Citron. This meeting would lead to a friendship of many years but also a bonding through music, and Martial arts. They would collaborate on many projects over the years including 2 of Neil’s solo records, film projects “That Thing You Do” with Tom Hanks, and also many bands, and sessions for other artists. Walter also appeared as drummer and percussionist on the recent Electric Prunes release Feedback. Walter continues to perform live and tour with the Prunes. He has also worked with many other great bands and artists, The Blues Image, Pete Taylor (Quatermass/The Pirates), Ronnie Drayton (Patti Labelle) Neil Turbin (Anthrax) Paul Shortino (Quiet Riot), John Goodsall (Brand X), and Tony Franklin (The Firm/Blue Murder) among others. Walter also maintains a full schedule of drum students. His own comprehensive course of study includes Latin, jazz, rock, 4-way coordination, left-hand development exercises and rigorous hand development, as well as independence on the drum set, mechanics, computers and electronics. In addition to his accomplishments as a musician, Walter has honed his discipline and control by obtaining a black belt in Go-Ju-Ryu and running marathons. Walter proudly endorses Premier Drums, Regal-Tip Drumsticks and Paiste cymbals.

“I'm pleased with it," Percy Jones reflects on the new CD. "It wasn't an easy record to get finished, but listening to it now that it's in the can I think it's an interesting mix of styles, it covers a lot of ground musically." And how does Bang Tower differ from other groups he has worked with? "It's really hard to say how it differs from other prog/fusion records. To me projects have a mind of their own to some degree and I just go with the flow and sort of let it naturally follow its own course. I think it's a distinctive sound, but ultimately it's up to the Punters to decide. I'm still too close to it."

Walter Garces is also very enthusiastic about the outcome of Bang Tower's debut CD. Along with plans to support Casting Shadows with live performances, Garces is also busy recording with the Electric Prunes. "I joined with the Prunes after I was contacted by their guitarist Jay Dean (an old friend) in 2006 to do some sessions for their record 'Feedback'," Walter recalls. "I liked the music and the people, I also respected their history. They asked me afterwards to perform live, and have continued working with them. We have recently recorded some tracks for a new album, featuring Billy Corgan on one song."

Neil Citron is also very pleased and excited about this CD. "It's instrumental, but not all rock like my solo CDs and not fusion like you'd expect with Percy playing in the band. I've never been in a fusion band, but I have played with Lana Lane a Prog act. I've done 14 CDs with her and that was really a great experience." Neil is currently endorsed by a number of high profile music companies. This past June, WAVES, one of the best known and widely accepted professional DAW plug-in manufacturer, hosted a new "Webinar" featuring Neil. The Grammy winning guitarist and engineer covered the WAVES GTR3 product, which he extensively consulted on. GTR3 was used by Neil and Jon in various phases of the upcoming Bang Tower release from pre-production onward. "The latest endorsement I'm involved with is SLS Speaker Company. They make (in my opinion) the best monitor I've ever used. I've also just been to Montana to help Larry DiMarzio with his new Acoustic guitar Pickup System. Both these products are excellent and I believe in the things I use. I would use them with or without the companies' help."

An enthusiastic Jon Pomplin, President of Declassified Records, had this to say about Bang Tower: "It’s been a true honor to produce this record with Percy, Neil and Walter. Their work is so dynamic and unique it defies description. Crafting such an album with these outstanding musicians is really a blessing and honestly is the most fun I’ve ever had in music. Casting Shadows is the kind of instrumental music that is unique, yet timeless, with such depth and subtlety the experience evolves and grows with each successive listening. There were a number of obstacles we had to overcome during the course of this project, and it wasn’t always easy. But, nothing truly worth while and lasting ever is”.

Find out More:

CD REVIEW: Effloresce - Shades of Fate (2010, private release)

By this point, it should be no surprise that I enjoy the heavier end of the progressive music spectrum.  My extreme/prog metal day should have been proof positive of that for you, Constant Reader.  So it surprises me when I get messages from bands or labels telling me about their newest effort, but then saying things like ‘I don’t know if this fits for you’ or ‘this might be outside your field of interest.’  We’ve already gone over several times, I think, my premise that progressive music is “interesting music that does something different,” and I continue to stick to that.

Effloresce fits into this category.  They’re a fairly new progressive metal band out of Germany taking their musical cues, for my ears, as much from classic 80’s thrash (Metallica) as they do the Gothenburg school of melodic death metal (Opeth).  In other words, expect lots of changing riffs and tempo changes, sections slamming into each other with raw abandon, and healthy doses of keyboard over the jackhammer riffs.

Oh, and a female vocalist.

Who does death/black metal vocals.

But more about that soon.

Effloresce is a 5 piece founded less than a year ago.  Amazingly, they’ve already put out one self-released EP, the 30-minute long Shades of Fate, with a full-length in the works.  I think for most people, the vocals will be the first thing noticed.  Nicki (no last names listed in the liner notes, the band website, Facebook or Myspace) has a gorgeous high alto/low soprano voice, and when her voice is layered for harmonies, it’s even more impressive.  However, as mentioned above, Nicki tosses off a few deathy growls and screams as well throughout 2 of the album’s three tracks.  I will admit that, while I know there are some female vocalists in the extreme metal genre, it still comes as a bit of a surprise when I hear her unleash a demonic growled vocal.  Obviously because she’s female the vocals tend to run closer to a throaty black metal rasp than a deep guttural growl, but there’s a bit of force behind them.  Some people may be turned off; I find it very enjoyable.  Nicki also contributes some nice flute bits throughout, adding a bit of pastoral fantasy to the mix.

Nicki’s joined by a powerful rhythm section; Tobi (drums) and Rene (bass) really keep things pounding forward; Tobi’s got some great double kick chops, and his fills are interesting and never over-busy, while Renee really locks in tight with the drums.  I wish he was mixed higher, to be honest…I can feel him, but I wish I could hear him more.  Filling out things is Tim (guitar) and Dave (guitar, mellotron).  Both of them are enjoyable guitarists…I’m not sure how solos and rhythm sections are split up, but the heavier rhythm work is always crunchy, the acoustic bits bright and jangling, and solos tasteful and spot on.  Additionally, the mellotron (and organ) contributions help to push this material to slightly more symphonic, classic prog territory.

Things kick off on a heavy, and almost bluesy note, with ‘Birds of Prey.’  Oddly, the opening riff starts out with a slide motif that almost drags things kicking and screaming to the delta before a more pounding, traditional metal riff with tron backing that really sets things in gear.  The heavy kick drum driving the third separate riff in about 1 minute is impressive, and the rapidly shifting riffs seem so Metallica influenced that it’s hard to think otherwise.  Lest you think this is a criticism…I’m probably one of the few people out there for whom Metallica isn’t a bad word these days.  Always loved them, still do.  Throughout this release I get the impression that the guys in the band decided that …And Justice for All wasn’t just a cool album, but a great idea for how to structure songs (and I bloody love that album, so I am all for that).  Great heavy playing, wonderful vocals, some awesome shifts in tone (there’s a fantastic lighter section in here that I love, with shades of Camel really making it shine)…this is a more than impressive opening track, and one that grabbed me by the (redacted so as to not offend) and refused to let go.  My only criticism is the use of pinch harmonics at the end of some of the lead lines…it’s become such a cliché, and it’s one I really wish would go away.

‘Sear’ follows next on this EP, and at 10 minutes isn’t even the longest track there (that honour is reserved for the preceding track, clocking in at 11:17).  I adore the growling, almost demonic organ note that leads this track off, with sustained and distorted to the brink of breaking up guitar notes that finally resolve into one amazingly tight riff.  There’s some fantasticly tight rhythm playing here, bonecrushing riffs and rhythms that alternate with quieter vocal sections, each seeming so much more so as a result of the ir close proximity to each other.  This track offers us our first taste of Nicki’s death/black metal vocals, and her quick switches between the rasped, screamed vocals and her clean voice is pretty awe inspiring.  I’m used to hearing Mikael Akerfeldt do it, and Nicki’s got impressive enough vocal chops to pull it off with some authority as well.  Frankly, I think I’d like to hear more of her extreme vocals…here’s hoping for the next release!

Our final track is the 8-minute long ‘Sunset in the Snowdome.’  I’ll admit that I did something I try never to do…I was so anxious waiting for this CD to arrive that I hit the band’s Facebook and played the streaming version of this track before the EP arrived.  So I was familiar with it before getting the final release.  The gorgeous flute and acoustic guitar opening, loads of stately organ, some fleetly played rhythm guitar (not ponderous and crushing…but still heavy!)…a lot of this track reminds of Damnation era Opeth, but with a much heavier touch throughout.  There’s more growled vocals here, and they add such a great touch to things. 

I should point out my aesthetic enjoyment of the package, too.  The front cover art is excellent, and in fact the entire package pulls together very nicely, with a unified design, limited use of colour and font, and an eye toward evoking a darker mood without going for cliché graphic elements.  The package looks brilliant, and the band should really be congratulated for putting effort in assembling a really professional looking, finished product that I’d put up against any major label album…and pick it over the major release.

Effloresce’s debut EP really shows a band that has a lot of promise.  There’s great playing, very good song writing, and a hell of a vocalist with some impressive chops.  I look forward to their full length album to come (even though I hear rumours the flute is going away!) and cant wait to see how additional time together has gelled this young band.

Track Listing:
Birds of Prey 11:17
Sear 9:57
Sunset in the Snowdome 8:26

Nicki: vocals, flute
Rene: bass
Tobi: drums
Tim: guitar
Dave: guitar, mellotron

Find out more:

29 September 2010

The Mahavishnu Project live at NJ Proghouse 2 October


DATE:Saturday October 2 , 2010
TIME: 7:30p

3570 Rte 27
Kendall Park, NJ 08824
directions: http://tinyurl.com/rocknjoe



Gregg Bendian drums
Glenn Alexander guitar
Neil Alexander keyboards
Peter Brendler bass

from Wired, Blow by Blow, There & Back and more.

Mastermind (BBC quiz show) prog questions

As you may or may not have heard, the BBC TV game show Mastermind had UK Prog Rock as a speciality subject recently.  The following are the questions that were asked…how many can you get right WITHOUT using Google or Wikipedia as a resource (i.e., no searching the ‘net, Constant Readers!)?

1. Which Canterbury band was named after a motorway road sign?
2. Who was the co-founder and lead vocalist of VdGG?
3. Which keyboard instrument pioneered by Henry Chamberlain which used prerecorded tapes was used by many prog bands?
4. Which Welsh band lead by Micky Jones and Deke Leonard had 4 top 40 albums in the '70's including Back Into the Future'?
5. What is the real first name of BJH keyboardist Woolly Wolestenholm?
6. In 1972 which Jethro Tull album reached the top of the US charts and number 5 in the UK?
7. What is the name of the central character on the Genesis album 'The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway'?
8. Which band was formed in 1972 when Peter Bardens teamed up with 3 members of Phillip Goodhand Tates backing band?
9. Who replaced Darryl Way in Curved Air in 1973 before leaving the same year to join Roxy Music?
10. Which band was formed at Cambridge Uni in 1968 by Fred Frith and Tim Hodgkinson?
11. What was the title of the first ELP album to be released on their own label Manticore?
12. Which subsidiary label of Decca hosted music by Egg, Caravan and others?
13. What is the surname of Derek, Ray and Phil who formed Gentle Giant after Simon Dupee and the Big Sound folded?
14. The two main founders of Atomic Rooster Vincent Crane and Carl Palmer had originally been in which band?
15. In which venue was Rick Wakemans 'The Myths and legends of King Arthur premiered on ice in 1975?
16. Who was King Crimson's lyricist until 1972?

Jose Carballido: 'Te extrañare' video released

I just got this e-mail from Daniel Añón Fernández, who played on Jose Carballido’s wonderful album Requiem (review here: http://billsprogblog.blogspot.com/2010/09/cd-review-jose-carballido-requiem-2010.html):

“Hi Bill. I'm Daniel, the guitarist from Carballido's Requiem…I send you this mail to show you the clip from "Te extrañare". We recorded a month ago in a theater and Jose himself plays the part of the man who lost his wife. The video was conceived like a short, showing images of the happy couple before the death and later, the man and his wife's ghost, and images of the group with the choir in a theater.

The clip was filmed by an amateur director from Galicia and all the characters were played by Galician actors as you could see in the credits.”

CD REVIEW: Edensong - Echoes of Edensong (2010, private release)

Do you remember your first time?

Of course you do.

You know just what I’m talking about, too…you’ve waited so long for it…and it’s finally there, right in front of you.  You’ve made sure the moment is right…perhaps a nice glass of scotch or wine to set the mood.  You’ve made sure there’ll be no interruptions…you’ve even taken the phone off the hook, or turned the ringer off.  You’ve got the lights down low, and it’s time for you and that brand spanking new album from a new to you band you’ve been waiting for.

The first time never seems to live up to expectations.  Oh, but when it does…when it does, it’s like heaven and earth have just stopped, and it’s just you, and the music, and it’s magic.

I can probably count in the fingers of both hands the number of times that the first time has worked out that well.  The last time it happened had to be 199(mutters the rest), when I got a packet in the mail from Royal Oaks Michigan with my copy of discipline’s Unfolded Like Staircase.  I still remember the chills that album brought me.  But my point is, it doesn’t happen all that often, and when it does, I cherish it, because I know just how rare it is.

All this is build up for me saying (wait for it) that the same thing just happened for me.  What makes it all the more amazing is that it’s not a single album that did it, but a pair of releases from the same band.  The fact that both caused the same kind of reaction in me is something rare indeed…the fact that these two albums are their entire output thus far is gobsmackingly astonishing.

The band is Edensong.

And today I’ll be talking about Echoes of Edensong: From the Studio and Stage.

Now Edensong is a newer band, founded by James Byron Schoen (who contributes vocals, electric and acoustic guitars).  I’m assuming the band line-up that I’ve posted below is accurate for this release; hopefully James won’t kill me if I’m wrong.  Echoes is the band’s second release, following on from the equally amazing The Fruit Fallen (about which more in an article to come), and it acts as a sort of…well, I hate to use the term odds and sods release, but it is a half live, half studio effort that presents us a pair of new(ish) songs, a remastered track from the TFF sessions, and three live performances from 3RP, Progday and Terra Incognita festivals.  It’s a nice way to get a taste for the band in a live setting as well as to hear some material that is fresh and perhaps less familiar.

Echoes of Edensong opens with ‘Beneath the Tide.’  In the studio, this track is just a shade over 10 minutes long (it stretches in the live take included later to over 13), but it’s an odd thing, those 10 minutes.  I feel that they last far longer, and yet not that long at all.  This was the very first Edensong song I heard, and what a way to start off my listening.  I am a person who gets very involved in my music…I feel it keenly, and sometimes I can see it, smell it, almost taste it.  And from the very first quiet acoustic bits, through the final crescendo that drops to waves crashing on the beach, I am completely and wholly held in this song’s thrall.  I have goosebumps almost from the offing, and Schoen’s lyrics are, quite frankly, amazing.  His delivery is powerful, and while I’ll admit that my first listens found me somewhat less than enamoured with his voice, I’ve come to not only accept it but enjoy it.  He’s passionate in how he sings…his voice can be plaintive, fragile, or vitriolic and angry in equal measure, and it’s a huge part of why this song is so successful.  The arrangements are intense, with great changes between light and dark, heavy and soft.  There’s not a single out of place note.  The ending solos…harmony guitar at first, then a solo guitar, then violin, flute, keyboard, all in turn…build so powerfully.  I’m not playing the CD, but as I write this, the goosebumps are already coming back.

Yeah, it’s that good.

And better.

And I’ll put it bluntly…for me, this is THE song of 2010.  Full stop.

It’d almost be impossible to match the intensity of ‘Beneath the Tide,’ and Edensong wisely goes a different direction with ‘Lorelai.’  No, this is not a cover of the old Styx tune; it is, in fact, a piece the band contributed to the Haiti Projekt benefit CD release following the tragic Haitian earthquakes.  Gentle, pastoral, filled with carefully constructed layers of acoustic guitar and keyboards, this piece has a mystical feel that is unlike its predecessor on the album.  Again Schoen’s lyrics shine, and the tale the song tells is engrossing and involving.  I greatly enjoy this one…it may not offer the sheer intensity of ‘Beneath the Tide,’ but it makes up for that in mood and pure emotion.

The studio ‘side’ of this release is closed out with a remastered version of ‘To See but Not Believe,’ a track ‘hidden’ on the band’s 2008 debut album, cunningly added to that album’s closing track ‘The Reunion’ (so no, that song is not nearly 22 minutes long, much to my initial chagrin).  I haven’t A/B tested these versions to each other, but this release’s take on the track seems a bit punchier, a bit more open and breathy in some areas, and in general just a bit clearer and more precise.  It’s nice to have it as an individual track finally!

‘Side 2’ of this album opens with ‘The Reunion,’ of all tracks (so yes, we’ve got those two inverted here).  This performance was taken from the band’s concert at Progday in 2009.  This is a nicely handled rendition of this track from The Fruit Fallen, cello and harmony vocals mixing nicely with the acoustic guitars.  I feel it perhaps lacks a tiny bit of the intensity of the studio version, but in exchange we get a bit more rawness, a bit more organic passion.  ‘The Reunion,’ like much of Edensong’s material, reminds me so much of classic 1970’s progressive music, retuned for a new age.  It’s got all the hallmarks sound wise, but with plenty of modern influences that set this apart from being just another symphonic prog retread.  It’s a toss up between this and the studio take for me, honestly…I like both for totally different reasons.

We take a quick jaunt up the road (and back in time by about a month) to the 3 Rivers Prog Festival for a live take on ‘Beneath the Tide,’ our album’s opening track.  Where the studio take is a case study in balancing the contrasting elements of light and dark, this one is acid and vitriol almost from the start.  Intensity ramped up past 11, Shoen spitting lyrics out like a man possessed, flute and acoustic guitar not even coming close to muting the crunching guitar and organ.  If this were the first time I had heard this song (and had I been in the audience), I’m sure I’d have been struck dumb by it.  I can listen to it with a bit more detachment having the studio version to compare it to, but still…it’s pretty damned impressive that a band this young can craft something like this so early in their career.

We close out with a so-called bonus track, a final live song taken from Edensong’s performance at the Terra Incognita festival in Quebec from May of 2010.  Now, I have to come right out and say that ‘The Sixth Day’ is one of the most goosebump inducing songs on Edensong’s The Fruit Fallen album, for reasons I’ll hopefully be discussing with you very soon.  This live rendition does their studio effort proud, showcasing the wide dynamics and contrasts in tone and sound that seem to be hallmarks of this band’s music.  I think Schoen is a far more impressive vocalist live than his studio efforts have typically shown, and if he could tap into the energy and power that he shows on this song…wow.  Great performance of an already great song.

Do I sound like a fan boy?


But bear this in mind…I’ve been listening to these albums a good bit now.  And despite the fact that I have 30 other albums to review, I am not yet ready to have these leave my CD player, be it at home or at work.  I’m hooked, well and truly.

Edensong is a band to watch over the coming years.  I think truly that they have what it takes to move on to even bigger things with each successive release, and Echoes of Edensong, as great as it is (and I think…no, I know…that this one will be on my year end top ten list), is still the voice of a young band discovering themselves.  It almost frightens me to think where they’re going from here.

Get this one.  Yesterday.

Track Listing:
1. Beneath The Tide 10:19
2. Lorelai 04:11
3. To See But Not Believe 08:42
4. The Reunion (Live in NC) 10:02
5. Beneath The Tide (Live in PA) 13:12
6. BONUS: The Sixth Day (Live in QC) 09:57

Band Mambers (current line-up):
James Byron Schoen - Guitars and voice
Stefan Paolini - Keyboards and voice
Tony Waldman - Drums and percussion
Matt Bauer - Drums and percussion
TD Towers - Bass
Michael Lunapiena - Cello
Barry Seroff – Flute

Find out more:

28 September 2010

CD REVIEW: Wilton Said - The View (2007, private release)

(NB: this review was initially published 8 February 2007)

Wilton Said (the band) AND Wilton Said (the musician) hail from Toronto Ontario. Said’s quirky mix of art rock influences (Queen, Bowie, Kate Bush battle with Sarah Slean and A Perfect Circle for prominence) is on full display on The View, his newest release.

Said holds a degree in Musical Composition from York University, and his contributions on vocals/piano/keyboards are joined by those of Andrew Buntain (bass), Richard Rizzo (drums) and Chris Reid (guitars). Sonically the band has forged a sound that focuses heavily on rock, with buzzing guitars, a punchy rhythm section, and Said’s dramatic, inflected vocals flitting in and out of the mix. The tracks on The View are pretty immediately accessible, but with enough quirk and twisted arrangement to move the band out of the mainstream. Art rock is quite possibly the best categorisation for their music, as it seems in many ways the logical extension of the direction bands such as Roxy Music or the Spiders From Mars took in the 1970’s.

“Carnival?” opens the album with found sound; children laughing in a sonic collage with calliope music and loops of undiscernable whispers and a strange vocal line. This shifts into “Heavy Motion,” which starts with a thick, rolling bass line and processed vocals. Wilton Said’s vocals are extremely flexible here, bending notes in a way that sounds extremely close to falling off the melodic line, before snapping back. The song itself goes through a number of changes, with heavy strummed guitar at 2:00 moving into a syncopated and brief bridge before a warped synth solo takes center stage.

“A Family Affair” opens like a restrained track, with dream like slide guitar and precious, fragile vocals, before said vocals are run through what sounds like ring modulation, moving the dream into nightmare territory. The song is an exercise in contrast, with alternating heavy sections adding tension to what is otherwise a pretty straightforward song.

Prog fans will likely go gaga over “The Empty Sky,” a 3-part mini-epic which closes out the album. The opening movement, “The View,” is a keyboard lover’s dream come true, with layers of organ, synth and piano battling over a pounding rhythm and thick rhythm guitar before the track shifts gears, bringing the speed down a notch while keeping the sonic richness as high as possible. An organ fanfare leads to clean, chorused, picked guitar reminiscent of 1980’s Alex Lifeson. “Goodbye,” the second movement, features laser beam sustained guitar lines, starting clean before adding fuzz and overdrive in ever drenching layers, over an orchestral synth foundation and militaristic drumming. The final section of this suite, “Fallen,” starts by picking up the pace with quick drumming and a propulsive organ line, before downshifting to a somber semi-dirge, with emotionally saturated guitar line and rich, mellotron-like synth textures. Said’s lyrics are sullen and somewhat distressing; a number of potential interpretations likely exist, all of which reek with finality. His vocal delivery on the three tracks that comprise this epic is the most dramatic and emotional on the album.

The View is an album packed with a variety of musical twists and turns. All the more amazing is that this is done in just over 34 minutes. In a modern musical environment where quantity is held as having far more importance than quality, it is a joy to listen to an album that hits hard and fast, with no throwaway tracks. The View is just that sort of album, and positions Wilton Said (the band) AND Wilton Said (the musician) as voices to keep an eye (and ear) open to.

Track List:
Heavy Motion
Gender Bender
A Family Affair
The Empty Sky:
      i. The View
      ii. Goodbye
      iii. Fallen

Band Members:
Wilton Said: vocals/piano/keyboards
Andrew Buntain: bass
Richard Rizzo: drums
Chris Reid: guitars

Prog Fury: An Evening of Progressive Rock in Cali 6 November

BG Productions presents "Prog Fury: An Evening of Progressive Rock" featuring three of Los Angeles' best prog-rock bands: K2, Mars Hollow and Phideaux.

"We're stoked to be able to organize an event such as this; Southern California seems to have a distinct lack of prog-rock shows and we aim to change that with what will hopefully become a series of 'Prog Fury' events", says Mars Hollow bassist Kerry Chicoine; "We're hoping this line-up can prove, once and for all, that live prog-rock can thrive in SoCal."

K2 will be celebrating the release of their new album on Magna Carta Records, Black Garden; special guests Phideaux are currently on the prog-rock festival circuit, playing England's Summer's End festival as well as ROSFest 2011. Mars Hollow will be debuting material from their forthcoming album (with former YES man Billy Sherwood producing).

"Prog Fury" will take place on November 6, 2010; see poster above (click it!) for details.

NewEARS and BostonProg present Edensong at the Magic Room

On Saturday, October 16th, New York based orchestral rockers Edensong will take the stage at the Magic Room in Brighton, MA. The show, sponsored by NewEARS will be Edensong's first time performing in Massachusetts. The show begins at 8pm with a performance by the acoustic guitar duo Kangaralien (www.kangaralien.com). Tickets are $20 in advance and available directly from the NewEARS website (www.newears.org). Seating is limited, so order your tickets early!

Edensong (www.edensongtheband.com) recently released their half live, half studio album Echoes of Edensong: From the Studio and Stage. For their show at MARPROG 2010 and the Magic Room, they will play tracks from the new CD along with songs from their critically acclaimed debut album The Fruit Fallen (2008) and even some brand new, unreleased material. Over the past year and a half, the band has had the opportunity to play both nationally and internationally, as well as in their hometown of New York. Their festival appearances at Three Rivers Progressive Rock Festival in Pittsburgh, PA (www.3rprogfest.com), Progday in Chapel Hill, NC (www.progday.net), and Convention Terra Incognita in Quebec City, QC helped to gain Edensong a loyal following among progressive rock enthusiasts. Edensong is thrilled to bring their energetic live show to MARPROG and the Magic Room in October. For more information on Edensong, please visit the band's official website (www.edensongtheband.com), myspace page (www.myspace.com/edensong), or facebook fan page (www.facebook.com/edensongtheband). 

You can stream their entire catalog for free at the Edensong webstore: www.edensong.bandcamp.com."

(Photo from Edensong's Facebook)

(More than) 10 Questions with...Wilton Said

I first came across the music of Wilton Said in 2007, if memory serves.  Actually, I don’t have to rely on memory, as I still have a copy of my review of his then most recent album, The View, and it’s dated 8 February 2007.  His take on progressive rock to me seems to veer more toward the art rock side of things…less Yes and Genesis, more Bowie and Roxy Music.  This shouldn’t necessarily imply loads of glitz, glam and make-up, but rather a penchant for the tastefully and artfully composed bit of quirky pop-infused rock with influences a little different than English pastorals and church music.

From my standpoint (actually sitting point…I am a prog fan with osteoarthritis after all), things seemed overly quiet from Wilton Said HQ for far too long.  Apparently there was good reason for this, as the man himself has been busy with some fairly big projects that are in varying states of completion.

Wilton actually contacted me, hoping I’d be willing to review The View for Bill’s Prog Blog.  I’ll be offering that review up a little later today, but in the meantime, let’s sit down with Wilton to get a feel for his life, his music, and what lies in wait for the dedicated WS fan out there…

1. Let’s get things started at the very beginning.  How did you get your start as a musician?

Wilton Said:
My mother has told me that I always loved music. When I was a toddler, she says I would stand in front of the stereo and move to the music. When Mary Poppins came out, my favourite song was Feed the Birds, not exactly the song most young children would understand.  When I was 8 (1978) or so, I took piano lessons which I enjoyed.  However, that died off in a couple of months when I opted to spend my leisure time playing baseball instead of practicing.  A few years later I enrolled in the string program in my school and learned the viola, which I continued to play for about 8 years mainly through the school system.  During that time, I went to a summer camp and learned basic guitar chords and then continued on my own afterwards.  By the time I was 13 years old, I was writing my own songs on guitar and performing them off the third floor balcony of my apartment building for all the world to hear.  Some years later I started taking private guitar lessons and learned some basic theory, jazz and classical styles.

Throughout high school I tried to form my own band playing guitar but found it hard to find people who were dedicated, (or maybe they thought I sucked), so I continued practicing on my own. I did however jam with a bass player friend of mine (Chris Reid) who was a huge Rush fan and got me into Rush.  However, he wasn't able to commit to anything serious at the time.

At the end of my High school year in 1989 I finally joined a real band.  They were called The Dust Rhinos and were a 50' 60's rock n roll cover band playing Stones, Beatles, and rocked up RnB.  It was great and I learned a lot from the band guys who were almost 10 years older then me.  The drummer was really into prog rock and leant me a few albums, which I loved.  However, the band broke up and I started my search again.  In my first year of a Compositional Music Degree at University, I joined a heavy metal band playing covers by Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Black Sabbath.  However, I didn't stick around long enough to play a gig as it turned out most that of the band were pot heads, something I wasn't into.

In 1990 I met a drummer and we started jamming my original material.  We found a bass player and a singer and my first original band called Crisis Ten was formed.  We did a few cassette demos and gigged around for a couple of years but it seemed that the other guys were becoming less interested.  I left the band and the band basically broke up.  In 1994 I contacted Chris Reid and we decided to form a band with me on guitar and him on bass.  For about 4 years we had three different bands, one after the other with the singer and drummer revolving around us two.  The first band was Shopping Asia which featured a female singer with a softer voice with me playing crunchy guitar along with a crazy proggy drummer and bass player Chris inspired by Geddy Lee.  I thought the four of us were great and really think that if we stayed together we could've become possibly more then independent.  However, two members turned out to be not that serious and left the band.  Over the next two years we had another band called "Wish Machine" which was heavily influenced by Rush, and then a band called "Edge of Sense" which had more alternative influences with some prog mentality.  Again in all cases, members turned out not to be that serious and in the end I left.

Around the time of Edge of Sense, I started to get bored with guitar playing.  We had just done a cassette in which I had given everything I had to the guitar parts and I felt there was nothing left that interested me in guitar playing.  In 1996 after leaving the band, I took up singing lessons and then formed my own project "Wilton Said..." singing lead and playing keyboards.  I figured that naming the project after my name would enable me to work in a variety of musical situations regardless of other band members.

2. What were your earliest musical influences?

As a child, there was always music in my house.  It was just my mom and me and she often played piano, sang me lullabies, and played classical, blues, rock, and opera records.  At the after school program, I got my first exposure to pop via Bay City Rollers, Elvis Presley and The Beatles.  At first I didn't realize who any of the artists were, I just liked the songs.  One day I went home and asked my Mom if she had any Bay City Rollers.  She said no but pulled out some of her vintage 1960's Beatles albums instead.  The first song "It Won't be Long" hit me like a brick and I loved it.  When it got to "All my Loving", I recognized the song as one of the ones played at the after school program.  From there, I ended up getting my mom to buy more of their recordings, which I loved.  However, the love affair diminished when I was bought The White Album on cassette.  My 9-year-old brain could only get into the first side and thought much of the rest was too weird.

Around 1981 I really got into the Star Wars movies and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Not only did I love the movies, I loved the music.  Along with my orchestral education with the Viola, I started to learn and enjoy orchestral music, especially from the Romantic era and the 20th Century era.

Around 1983, I began watching music videos and started to learn about and enjoy the new wave music of the time, namely Duran Duran.  A few years later and I can't remember why, I started to listen to the Beatles again and gave that old White Album cassette another try.  This time my older more musically mature 15-year-old brain could understand it and I loved it.  I also dug out my Abbey Road, Sgt Peppers, and Magical Mystery Tour recordings and really got into them.  I loved the eclectic-ness of them, I loved the big sound of them, I loved the musicianship of them, I loved The Beatles and to this day I still think they are the best thing to happen to humankind since the invention of the wheel.

However, I still developed interests and influences in other styles of Rock and Pop.  I developed a love for Heavy Metal, most notably Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, and Black Sabbath.  That later developed into a love for Progressive Rock with artists such as Marillion, Queen, Genesis, Rush, Kate Bush and the album Jesus Christ Superstar.  A few later bands that I enjoyed were Soundgarden and A Perfect Circle.

I guess the main thing which can be said about my listening habits and influences is that I like my music BIG, texturally thick, dark and minor keyed, and preferably with some arty elements to it.

3. Tell me a little bit about how the band formed, if you would?

As stated above, I got bored of guitar and was looking for another musical outlet.  One evening in 1996 I rented a video of Kate Bush, which had clips of her live performances.  I went out and purchased Live at Hammersmith and was blown away.  I loved it and instantly and was inspired to take singing lessons with the hopes of forming my own band.  After about a year, I felt somewhat confident in my new found singing ability and did an acoustic gig with Chris Reid helping out on guitar and bass.  It went over pretty good.  I also recorded a demo cassette that I was proud of at the time, but like many artists, I'm now embarrassed listening back to it.

From about 1998 through to 2001 I had a rotating roster of musicians that I played with and recorded with.  While that worked for getting my music out and about with live gigs and recording, I started to feel that a more stable line up would tighten up the material. Around 2002 I was able to work with a more stable line up of musicians with Chris Reid taking on Guitar duties, Richard Rizzo on Drums and Andrew Buntain on Bass.  This became the core group.  We were able to record two CD's, The Butterfly Plague and The View.  After the CD release of The View, Andrew left to pursue other musical interests and was replaced by Frank Heisler who had ironically been in the band previously to Andrew.  It's a bit of a musical chairs situation that in the end has turned out to work great.

4. You’ve released three albums with your band.  How would you say your sound has evolved since your debut record?

Actually I've recorded 5 releases and writing wise, each one has been not so much an evolution, but a change depending on my influences.  Production and performance wise there has been an evolution, for the better to my ears. 

The 1st release was a cassette release, which had me singing, doing all guitar and keyboards.  It's a very raw recording and my vocals were still in a very early learning stage.  I cringe when I hear them.

The 2nd release called World up my Ass also had me singing, doing guitars/keyboards, and even some bass on a few songs.  Many of the songs on this release were written years before the release and so I consider this more of a compilation of old songs and ideas.  As a result, it's a very eclectic release.  I feel the performances were OK but the vocals and production are a little rough.

The 3rd release titled Broken had pretty much all newly written songs and was greatly influenced by a more alternative vibe.  At the same time, I was being introduced to some jazz via my singing lessons, which is apparent on a few tracks also.  This release also had me playing all guitars, keys, and bass.  For me, Broken is the start of when I feel my songs, singing and recording production got better.  I have a soft spot for this album as so much of it was me.

The 4th release is a concept album called The Butterfly Plague. It was actually written 8 years earlier but I didn't feel confident enough to record it at the time, so it sat on the back burner for a while.  Musically and texturally, it was influenced by Jesus Christ Superstar and is pretty much in the style of progressive rock.  This was also the first release to be recorded by a stable line up of band members.  As a result, some of my musical ideas were interpreted differently then I had imagined, but in the end it turned out nicely.

The last release titled The View had a range of influences going on.  'Heavy Motion' was influenced with A Perfect Circle vibe while 'The Empty Sky' had a Kansas influence.  The finished products probably don't sound like those influences, but that's what was going through my mind at the time of writing them.  Two of the other songs were written by me just jotting down some chord progressions on a sheet of paper.  I thought it would be a great way to come up with some interesting ideas without fully knowing what they would sound like.  This is also the release that has the best production to my ears.

Over all, my writing style changes with what ever I've been influenced by.  I try not to write the same song over again but in some cases, it's inevitable.  Vocally, and production wise I feel I've gotten better with each release.

5. What would you say sets your band apart from other current prog/art rock bands?

I think the main thing is that most of the musical texture is guitar based.  While I do play keyboards and  there are some songs that do feature keys, guitar is still at the heart of the texture of my music.  I'd also say that the material is stylistically eclectic, similar to how Queen was.  We have some rock songs, some prog songs, some bluesy influenced numbers, some jazzy influenced songs and some more humorous songs.  So ya, I think the music is more eclectic then other prog/art rock bands.

6. I understand you’ve begun work on some new material for two different releases.  First, what can you tell us about the music you’ve been working on for the next Wilton Said release?

It's been tough writing for this next release.  I had writers block for a couple of months and just wasn't happy with what was coming out of me.  I'd write something, come back to it a couple of days later and it just wouldn't feel right.  It was as if I was forcing the material, and that didn't seem good to me.  I think I was trying to be too clever, too progressive, too arty for my own good. It wasn't until I relaxed and allowed the music to emerge almost on its own that things started to work.  I think the result will be that these songs will be a little less complicated then what was on The View, but by no means less arty.

We're also working on a song written by guitarist Chris Reid.  He played me a demo of it years ago and I always liked it.  It's a little more straight ahead then what I usually write, but it does have a few interesting twists to keep it interesting.  Another first will be the addition of an orchestral piece done rock.  Mussorgsky's Bydlo from Pictures at an Exhibition has always been one of my favorite pieces.  This album seemed to be the right time to record it.

The final difference is the way we're learning the material.  Previously, I would make a demo of everything and send it to the band to learn.  This time around I thought it would be better to jam the ideas out.  Working this way enabled me to hear textures and arrangements that I wouldn't have come up with myself.  In a few cases, this caused me to change the arrangement and direction of a song to fit in with what the band had come up with.  So for me, this next release from a writing standpoint is very different.

7. Your website also mentions a rock opera that you’ve been working on.  Is there anything you feel you can share about this project yet?

Ever since hearing Jesus Christ Superstar, I've wanted to do a rock opera.  My fist attempt turned into the concept album The Butterfly Plague, which is not a rock opera.  I realized the harder part would be writing the lyrics or dialogue, something I wasn't comfortable with, so I put an ad out looking for a lyricist.  I got a few responses and ended up working with a guy named Barry Brown.  We met up and discussed some ideas.  He had a bunch of ideas written down on a piece of paper and one of them said Rabbit Proof Fence.  The title struck me as a little quirky and he mentioned it was a movie about aboriginals in Australia. Their children had been forcibly removed from their parents and shipped off to schools to learn how to be come "better citizens".  We agreed that this would be a great topic to do and we discussed the structure.  Subsequently, we found out that this type of thing went on in many different countries.  In Canada they shipped off the aboriginal children to Residential Schools.  There was a movie based on a true story about children and youths in Ireland who were shipped off to special schools if they were deemed to be needing some straightening out.  In many of these cases, the church and government ran the schools and abuse of the children was rampant.

The musical writing was different and simpler then on other Wilton Said… recordings.  For starters, I wrote music to the lyrics that Barry gave me. The lyrics came first.  Usually when writing, I'll get an idea and try to really expand it and make it artier, cleverer.  For the Rock Opera, I used ideas that I thought were fine as is and therefore didn't tinker too much with the original ideas.  Also, Barry's lyrics didn't always lend themselves to odd time signatures.  As a result, the music for this project is more rock as opposed to the more proggy arty stuff of my Wilton Said… material.

For recording, I recorded demos to a click track, which had a basic drum machine, some basic guitar and guide vocals.  Barry, who is also a drummer, then recorded his drums to the click and I re-recorded guitars and keyboards.  The keyboards took me the longest to record as I don't consider myself a keyboardist.  I was challenged in that I had to learn how to play in a more rhythmic style then I was used to. The keyboard solos also took me a long time to record.  The guitar parts were pretty easy as I've been playing for about 27 years.  But the keyboards had me banging my head against the wall.  Never the less, the whole thing is written, and the drums, guitars and keyboards have been recorded.  Wilton Said… bassist Frank Heisler should be in to record his parts during the fall.  After that it's finding vocalists to sing the parts.

8. People may not know that you were the driving force behind the NUANCE festival.  What was your goal for the festival, and do you think it succeeded at that?

I found that there were live prog festivals and live prog outlets in other parts of the world, but nothing in the Toronto area.  I knew there were bands and I thought there would be an audience.  So I held the first one in the spring of 2007 featuring 5 indie bands from the Toronto area including my own band of course.  The turn out wasn't too bad and everyone really enjoyed themselves.  The next one 6 months later had a smaller attendance and the last one in the fall of 2008 didn't have many people there.  As a result I gave up the festival idea.  People suggested getting a semi well known act to headline.  I had a few musical acquaintances offer their help in setting this up, but in the end it fell through.

After that, I organized and held smaller events called NUANCE Sundays Showcases, which featured 3 proggy bands on a Sunday evening.  The great thing about these events was that the whole thing wrapped up around 11pm, early by club standards.  With most of the musicians and fans of this style of music being dare I say, "older", and therefore having day jobs, the early finish was much appreciated by all.  The event attendances were up and down but nevertheless, a great time was always had by all who performed and attended.

Overall, I wanted to be able to hold the festivals and/or the showcases on a more regular basis, but alas, it didn't seem that there was a big enough audience for these events.  Perhaps things will have changed in the new year.

9. Will there be any future NUANCE festivals or performances moving forward?

As stated earlier, I'm working on the new release so live performances and NUANCE events have been put on hold until the completion of the album.

10. One topic that has been discussed to death has been the role of downloads, official and otherwise, and how they affect musicians.  I know that you have several free downloads available on your website; have they been popular, and do you find that they have aided in promoting your work?

The free downloads seem to be popular on the day and day after that I post information on them.  I have been able to get a few sales due to the freebies, which is the whole idea.

Speaking of downloads; I'm still toying with the idea of making the new release a 320kbps download only release.  I would sell card stock with the album cover printed on it at the gigs and on the back would be a code.  This code would enable the buyer to download the album directly from the wiltonsaid.com website. I would also include a PDF file with lyrics, credits, photos etc etc so people would have something to read and look at.  I know a lot of people like to have a physical item to play, but I'm finding more and more people are uploading their CD collection to their computers and iPods anyways, so a download release would cut out that middle step. 

11. Connected to that, of course, is this; how much has illegal downloading hurt Wilton Said’s sales?

I have not come across any illegal downloads of my material, which is a good thing in one sense.  In the other, I guess my material isn't quite popular enough to warrant any.  Personally, if I found any illegal downloads of my material, I would hope that it would only be the freebies that I have available through my site anyways.  I wouldn't have a problem with that.

12. What would you say the future holds for the independent progressive/art rock musician?

Very difficult if any of us are expecting to make any real money.  I wouldn't be surprised if more artists started going the download only route, as it's a lot cheaper then paying for 500 CD's.

The technology has been a blessing and a curse to the entertainment industry as a whole.  It's made it extremely inexpensive to produce and publish ones own work.  As a result however, everyone and their grandmother’s cat is producing and publishing their own work.  So now there's so much to wade through to find something that's appealing.  And even if you do find something that's appealing, there's usually at least ten or more similar works to be found.  So the consumer's dollar is stretched thinner over each artists work.

13. Influences and musical interests change over the years.  Are there any newer bands or performers that you are inspired by these days?

Not too much, most of my listening habits revolve around artists I grew up with.  However, I really loved A Perfect Circle when they were around.  To me they combined the atmospheric darkness of The Cure with the artiness of a prog metal band.  I like OK Computer by Radiohead, and Chris Cornell's first post Soundgarden release Euphoric Morning.  But I believe all these releases are at least 5 years old.  In the independent market, I really enjoy Toronto prog band Half Past Four, which I've had the pleasure of playing with a few times, and US prog artist Phideaux.

14. When not working on music related things, what do you do to relax or recharge?

I love wine, especially red wine.  I love the fact that there's always something different and unexpected to discover. Just when I think I've categorized a certain type of wine in my mind, along comes another to blow my perception and expectation out of the water.  It's a great challenge to my mild OCD.

I also like to take bike rides and enjoy long walks on the beach.  (Sounds like a dating profile).

15. Do you have any parting words for our readers as we wrap things up?

Buy my CD's!  Promote independent musicians, and keep on dancing in 7/8 time.

Thanks so much Bill for the interview.  It's great to know there are people out there helping to promote music of a more artistic nature.  It's much appreciated by the musicians, bands and fans.

Find out more:

27 September 2010

Curved Air retrospective details

(I'm not quite sure how new this is, but I just found out about it, and it looks to be a very good introduction to a very British band, with an essay from Sonja Kristina, so...I'm posting it :-) )

Specially compiled by Sonja Kristina, Retrospective is the most comprehensive and authoritative Curved Air compilation ever issued.

A re-mastered double CD set with an illustrated full-colour booklet (written by respected journalist Chris Welch and containing an in-depth interview with Sonja), the collection features a superb cross-section of material spanning the entirety of Curved Air's illustrious career.

An ideal introduction to a groundbreaking band.


Curved Air were an instant success when they formed in 1970.

Founder members Darryl Way (electric violin and vocals), Sonja Kristina (vocals), Francis Monkman (keyboards), Pilkington-Miksa (drums) and Ian Erye (bass) were signed to Warner Brothers and their astonishing debut Air Conditioning (1970) was promoted as the first ever picture disc album.

In 1971 they scored a Top 5 hit single with the gritty 'Back Street Luv' and the accessible, yet experimental, Second Album (1971) ably showcased the band's innovative fusion of electronic rock and classical music.

The group underwent several personnel changes during the 1970s.

Later members included legendary violinist/keyboard player Eddie Jobson (Roxy Music, UK, Frank Zappa) and soon to be superstar drummer, Stewart Copeland (The Police).

Disc 1:
1. It Happened Today
2. Screw
3. Blind Man
4. Hide and Seek
5. Rob One
6. Young Mother
7. Back Street Luv
8. Jumbo
9. Puppets
10. Piece Of Mind
11. Whose Shoulder Are You Looking Over Anyway?
12. Melinda (More or Less)
13. Over and Above

Disc 2:
1. Purple Speed Queen
2. Elfin Boy
3. Metamorphosis
4. Easy
5. Dancer
6. Dance Of Love
7. Love Child
8. Woman On A One Night Stand
9. Desiree
10. Broken Lady
11. Marie Antoinette
12. Vivaldi

Bonus tracks:
13. Lambent Spire - Sonja Kristina's MASK
14. Space In Between - Sonja Kristina's MASK
15. Beloved - Sonja Kristina's MASK

Find out more:

Allan Holdsworth European tour dates


October 20 - Foggia, Italy
venue: Moody Jazz Café

October 21 - Roccaforzata, Italy
venue: Go West Saloon

October 22 - Civitanova Marche, Italy
venue: Magga

October 23 - Roma, Italy
venue: Jailbreak

October 24 - Aversa, Italy
venue: Teatro Cimarosa

October 25 - Pisa, Italy
venue: Borderline

October 26 - Milano, Italy
venue: Blue Note

October 27 - Milano, Italy
venue: Blue Note

October 28 - Torino, Italy
venue: Lapsus

October 29 - Forlì, Italy
venue: Naima Club

October 30 - Zagreb, Croatia
venue: Vatroslav Lisinski Mala Dvorana

November 2 - Brastislava, Slovakia
venue: Randall Club

November 3 - Prague, Czech Republik
venue: Exit Chmelnice

November 4 - Dresden, Germany
venue: Club Tante JU

November 5 - Ingolstadt, Germany
venue: Jazz Party One / Trivasaaal at JazzTage

November 6 - Aalen, Germany
venue: TBA at JazzFest

November 8 - Hannover, Germany
venue: Jazz Club

November 9 - Leverkusen, Germany
venue: Forum at JazzTage

November 10 - Tilburg, Netherlands
venue: Paradox

November 11 - Zoetermeer, Netherlands
venue: Boerderij

November 12 - Verviers, Belgium
venue: Spirit of 66

November 15 - Tel Aviv, Israel
venue: Reading 3, The New Port of Tel Aviv

Magma Monday 12

Welcome to Just Another Magma Monday.  Once a week, your obd’t narrator and occasional blogger will trawl the expanses of his Magma collection to discuss something of Zeuhl-ish importance.  Whether it’s the studio albums, the best of the AKT archive releases, one of the sundry live DVDs, or a choice artifact from his ‘unofficial’ collection, one thing is for sure…for this writer, Magma iss de hundin!

This week, sit back and relax as we take a look at Les Voix, a radically different interpretation of some of the classic Magma repertoire, recorded in 1992 in concert at the Jazz in the Bay Festival in Douarnenez, Brittany, France and released as the first volume in the band’s Akt series of archival releases…

“The music of Magma interpreted in acoustic performance by the band members of Offering - this was the idea behind Les Voix De Magma (The Voices of Magma), presented on the 2nd August 1992 at the Jazz in the Bay Festival at Douarnenez. Subtly re-arranged for 9 voices, double bass and keyboards, the themes underlying the Kobaian Universe here take on a new dimension. Full of power, captivating and lyrical, the absence of electricity takes nothing away from a repertoire which retains all its splendour. A fantastic success, but which at bottom is nothing amazing to those who understand that singing has always been the point of departure for Magma’s music.”

~~~~~From the Seventh Records page for this release

There are several things Magma fans know about Christian Vander…

1)       He loves jazz
2)       He loves acoustic music…keep in mind the heavy use of piano/Rhodes in Magma’s CV. (and yes, I know the Fender Rhodes is an electric instrument)
3)       He’s merged these two elements in the bands Offering and Welcome.

In 1992, Vander, ex-wife Stella, daughter Julie, a group of additional vocalists (including future Magma vocalist Isabelle Feuillebois) and Vander’s band Offering, came together for a show in Douarnenez under the name Les Voix De Magma (The Voices of Magma).  Recorded for this release, the material here recasts several Magma pieces in a far different light.

Gone is the heavy bass.  Gone are the interlocking Rhodes lines.  Present as always are the rich Magma vocals, augmented and built up in a nonet format.  Between this, the acoustic pianos, and much lighter drumming and percussion courtesy of Vander himself, the resultant recording feels like nothing less than a choral recital…something I am very familiar with considering my background in organised singing and classical choral work.  It’s actually a stunning reworking in a lot of ways…where Magma’s music can be bleak, oppressive, dark beyond belief, these vocal arrangements really take their cues from the translation of the word Zeuhl…’celestial.’  There is still heaviness here; that is something that I doubt can ever really change.  However, there is lightness, brightness…there are times that it sounds like choruses of angels singing from on high, and I mean that as the dearest compliment I can come up with.

We open up with an extract from Ëmëhntëht-Rê, at this point still pretty much incomplete, even though multiple sections of this piece had been released across several albums between the release of Üdü Wüdü, Attahk, and Live/Hhaï.  This short excerpt is essentially the opening few minutes of the suite, piano and acoustic bass setting a melodic motif under the mostly female vocals.  It builds slowly, as many of the best Magma compositions do, but this extract, bereft of the music that follows it in the suite, feels somewhat anticlimactic.  The piece that follows, ‘C'est Pour Nous,’ reminds me somewhat of both ‘Rinde’ (from Attahk) and portions of Kohntarkosz Anteria.  There are some wonderful piano parts on this piece, and Christian Vander offers up some fantastic male vocals that help to balance the more heavily female oriented chorus.  I’d be curious to see if the band/Vander might work up something more from this piece, or perhaps even simply come up with more of a band arrangement for it.  While I know that it seems Magma is far more busy with larger scale compositions these days, this is a piece that might well benefit from a fuller band arrangement as well.

Speaking of larger scale compositions…

Les Voix closes out with a pair of just that style piece.  The first is ‘Zëss,’ a piece initially released on the Akt album Bobino 1981.  At that time, it was an otherwise unreleased 30+ minute track in classic Magma style…slow, ominous building, subtle but unsettling conclusion.  While this acoustic/vocal arrangement is a good 13 minutes shorter (or more), it loses none of its ominous power.  In fact, the opening notes, long, deep bass tones sounding like the clarion call of something dark and oppressive heading toward the listener, are for me some of the heaviest, darkest moments in the entire Magma catalogue.  When vocals come in, about 1:30 into the piece, the resulting combination is incredibly impressive, reminding me of the opening of Ëmëhntëht-Rê or Köhntarkösz.  I’ll admit to not listening to the Bobino version very much (we’ll be discussing that album in the near future), but this is one I rate among Magma’s finest hours (OK, 17 to 30 minutes, is that better?).  While I know I would prefer to see the band craft something completely new for a future studio album, one kind of hopes that a proper full band studio recording of this composition can come to be before the end.

The final piece on Les Voix is an extract from Wurdah Ïtah.  Roughly 16 minutes of that 1972 album’s 39 minutes are performed here.  A simple but disarming piano line opens things up, vocals starting out light and very quiet, before huge piano chords break everything apart in the tensest way one might imagine.  There’s a wonderful balance between male and female vocals here, and when one considers the original album was recorded by a basic quartet (Christian Vander, Stella Vander, Klaus Blasquiz and Jannick Top), there was not much that necessarily needed to be done to translate this to this kind of format.  I like this version quite a bit, while fully admitting my preference for the original.  They are two different viewpoints on the same material, and while this was a successful translation, it simply does not touch me as deeply as the original (or other live, full band renditions) does.

The Les Voix style of performing Magma material is not limited to this one release; there have been other similar concerts in the past few years, and there is a live album from Japan (an official one) that pairs a 2005 live band performance of Kohntarkosz Anteria with a revamped Les Voix line up (Christian and Stella Vander, Isabelle Feuillebois, Antoine and Himiko Paganotti on vocals and Emmanuel Borghi on piano) for renditions of Theusz Hamtaahk, Wurdah Itah and M.D.K.  But this is the first, the original, and while perhaps not to everyone’s taste (and perhaps not even to the taste of some Magma fans), it provides an enlightening and interesting look at this material that is every bit as risky as the originals were.  I may not reach for this one every time I want some Magma, but it’s a more than worthy addition to my collection, one I’d certainly miss if it were not there.

Track Listing:
1 - Ëmëhntëht-Rê (announcement) 3:39
2 - C'est Pour Nous 7:55
3 - Zëss 17:18
4 - Wurdah Ïtah (extrait) 15:46
Total time: 44:38

Stella Vander: vocals
Addie Deat: vocals
Julie Vander: vocals
Bénédicte Ragu: vocals
Isabelle Feuillebois: vocals
Jean-Christophe Gamet: vocals
Alex Ferrand: vocals
Jean-François Deat: vocals
Pierre-Michel Sivadier: keyboards
Simon Goubert: piano, keyboards
Philippe Dardelle: bass
Christian Vander: vocals, piano, drums

Find out more:

26 September 2010

CD RETRO REVIEW: Neal Morse - Sola Scriptura (2007, Metal Blade/Radiant Records)

(NB: this review was originally posted on 14 March 2007)

There are so many ways one can go about reviewing Neal Morse’s latest effort (Sola Scriptura, released on Metal Blade/Radiant Records), that it’s difficult to pick just one.

Conceptually, Sola Scriptura deals with the schism between Protestantism and the Catholic Church in the 15th Century, specifically looking at the efforts of German reformer Martin Luther to shift the church’s focus from political power, corruption and the gathering of monies through such things as indulgences (fees paid to be absolved from sin or to get into Heaven) back toward a more spiritual, Scripture-based arena (NB: Sola Scriptura, translated from the Latin, means “by Scripture alone”). It is an interesting concept, both historically and spiritually/liturgically, with a wide range of themes and ideas that could be worked into a conceptual album. Unfortunately, it is also a concept that perhaps demands more than the 76 minutes Neal has dedicated to this release (ironic, when one considers some of what will be following in this review).

Structurally speaking, Sola Scriptura is built around 3 extended epics, the shortest of which is a mere 16:34, and a shorter ballad. It is perhaps the heaviest of Neal’s post-Spocks Beard releases, with excellent contributions from a few of Neal’s most frequent guests. Mike Portnoy’s drumming is as solid as ever, showing restraint when necessary while rocking out as hard as ever when needed. Randy George, of Ajalon, shines once again on bass guitar, with a rich, beefy bass tone that cuts through the mix without bludgeoning the rest of the band. A new addition to the guest roster is “guitar god” Paul Gilbert, who adds solos on sections of the first two tracks, as well as flamenco guitar on “Two Down, One To Go” from “The Conflict.” The album is incredibly well produced, with lots of space for individual musical and vocal voices, which is impressive considering how densely orchestrated the material here is.

Sola Scriptura may well be Neal’s most controversial solo release. Placing one’s self in the shoes of an actual historical figure and trying to assign motivation and direction is a dangerous thing, and it is easy to slip from one narrative voice into a much more personal one. At times I feel just that has occurred, as lyrics seem to shift from a more historical background to allow more of Neal’s personal voice and message to shine through. Historically, much of the negativity that surrounded Martin Luther’s being has been excised from the tale told here; as well as being one of the strongest proponents of Reformation and Protestantism, Luther was well-known for some strong anti-Semitic views and beliefs. None of this is present in this album. Perhaps it is unnecessary to further the story presented by Morse (and Morse has stated that these anti-Semitic views were enough to have him reconsider releasing the album), but it is an important enough part of Luther’s historical personage to merit note.

Musically the performances contained on Sola Scriptura are among the gathered musicians’ best. Neal has likely never sounded this good vocally, and there are many sections of layered vocal harmonies that bring to mind Queen in terms of grandeur and richness. However, from a songwriting standpoint...while this is Neal’s heaviest album to date, it simply feels like more of the same. The music is familiar; one need only take a few seconds’ listen to the opening track to realise that this is a Neal Morse album. Traditional keyboard sounds and textures, multi-part track arrangements, shifts in tone from heavy rock to Latin vibe...all of these and more have been in evidence dating all the way back to The Light in 1995. Long-time fans will embrace this, it is most likely; listening to Sola Scriptura is the aural equivalent of slipping into a comfortable, well-worn pair of shoes. For this listener, there simply isn’t enough risky or new beyond the heavier sound controversially historic subject matter to show that Morse is pushing his internal or external boundaries.

Several hundred words ago I mentioned that Morse’s selection of subject matter deserved more than the 76 minutes dedicated to it on this release, and inferred that saying such was ironic considering what was to follow. Here’s the irony; having stated that the subject matter deserves more time to develop, the epic songs themselves need more judicious use of an editor’s knife. We all know Neal can write 25 minute epics the same way an ace pitcher can rack up strikeouts. On Sola Scriptura, it is easy to see where sections have been pasted together to keep a song growing in length. “The Door,” for example, features extensive quoting of previous musical passages in a manner that does not create tension through repetition. The end result is padding that could have been carefully excised, leaving a leaner but perhaps more powerful track.

Sola Scriptura is in many ways an album that defies review. Long time Neal Morse fans will buy it, digest it, and proclaim it to be his best, heaviest album yet. Others may listen to it, compare it to Spocks Beard’s latest album, and wonder why Neal can’t just go back and write with his old band. This reviewer listens to it and wonders if maybe Spocks is being far more progressive in changing their style so radically while Neal’s material, while perhaps more traditionally symphonic, has become locked in one stylistic mode.

Track Listing:
1. "The Door" - 29:14
        1. Introduction
        2. In The Name Of God
        3. All I Ask For
        4. Mercy for Sale
        5. Keep Silent
        6. Upon the Door
2. "The Conflict" - 25:00
        1. Do You Know My Name?
        2. Party to the Lie
        3. Underground
        4. Two Down, One to Go
        5. The Vineyard
        6. Already Home
3. "Heaven in My Heart" - 5:11
4. "The Conclusion" - 16:34
        1. Randy's Jam
        2. Long Night's Journey
        3. Re-Introduction
        4. Come Out of Her
        5. Clothed With the Sun
        6. In Closing...

Neal Morse: vocals, keyboards, guitar
Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater): drums/percussion
Randy George (Ajalon): bass guitar
Paul Gilbert (Racer X and Mr. Big): guitar (1, 2)

CD/DVD RETRO REVIEW: Erik Norlander - Live in St. Petersburg (2006, Think Tank Media)

(NB: this review was originally published 9 October 2006)

Erik Norlander has a reputation as a killer keyboard player. Live in St. Petersburg, his newest release (and first ever DVD release) offers a plethora of evidence to support this reputation.

On this live release, Norlander is joined by a number of his regular musical collaborators, including wife Lana Lane (vocals), Kelly Keeling (bass guitar, vocals), Peer Verschuren (guitar) and Ernst Van Le (drums). The show documented here was the final date of his 2004 tour, and was performed before a rapt audience at Manezh in St. Petersburg, Russia on 16 October 2004.

Among the highlights on this package is the opening track, “Fanfare for Absent Friends Part 1.” A stately instrumental, the piece was written as a tribute to the victims of the September 11, 2001 tragedy. It serves as a touching and appropriate opener for what was a solid performance. Other performances of note include the Norlander original “Mariner,” which benefits from Kelly Keeling’s emotive vocals. A respectful cover of the Procol Harum classic “A Salty Dog” follows this piece. Keeling acquits himself well on this cover; while he is certainly no Gary Brooker, his intonation comes pretty damned close...enough so that your humble reviewer got some serious goosebumps listening.

Instrumentally speaking, Verschuen and Van Le both get solo spotlights to showcase their skills. Norlander does not give in to taking his own extended solo, instead shining throughout the performance, especially on “Sky Full Of Stars,” where his synth playing is smooth, effortless, and memorable.

Lana Lane, a well respected solo performer as well as long term Norlander collaborator (and wife), finally takes the stage on “Alexandria,” a track written by Lane and originally on her solo album Secrets of Astrology. She is also showcased as lead vocalist on a cover of King Crimson’s “In The Court Of The Crimson King,” recorded live at CalProg in 2004 and contained on the documentary “The Road To Russia,” which serves as a bonus on the DVD. The documentary includes some additional live performances from throughout the 2004 tour, as well as interviews with the musicians involved on the tour.

The accompanying audio CD offers up much of the same material as on the DVD; some cuts were made, mostly to excise material already on previous live releases. Filling out the disc are two new studio recordings; the first is a rendition of “Fanfare for Absent Friends Part 2,” while the second is a cover of the James Bond movie theme “From Russia With Love.” Appropriate in title, this cover is a showcase for Lana Lane’s theatrical vocals, and suits her well. A video for this track is also included on the DVD.

The audio tracks on both DVD and CD are well mixed. Thus it is a shame to complain about the video quality. While the video is presented in a letterboxed 4:3 format, the performance is intercut with special effects footage, nature footage, and artificially desaturated black and white or sepia tone, often fading into and out of colour, or with other effects overlays on top. This detracts from the recorded performance, removes the viewer from feeling like they are there watching and listening, and detracts from the overall package.

Despite my complains about the video production, Erik Norlander’s Live in St. Petersburg is a worthy addition to his lengthy curriculum vitae, and an excellent addition to any prog fan’s DVD library.

Erik Norlander - keyboards
Kelly Keeling - vocals, bass
Lana Lane - vocals
Peer Verschuren - guitar
Ernst Van EE - drums
and Don Schiff - bass and NS/Stick on the two studio tracks

Track List (DVD):
1. Fanfare for Absent Friends Part One
2. Neurosaur
3. Dreamcurrents
4. Mariner
5. A Salty Dog
6. Sky Full of Stars
7. Alexandria
8. Guardian Angel
9. Oblivion Days
10. Peer's Guitar Solo
11. Beware the Vampires
12. Secrets of Astrology
13. Fallen
14. One of the Machines
15. Fanfare for Absent Friends Part Two

"The Road to Russia" documentary contains performances of the songs:
1. In the Court of the Crimson King - Cal Prog 2004 festival
2. Sky Full of Stars - 2004 European Tour
3. Mariner - 2004 European Tour
4. From Russia With Love - new studio recording with video montage

Track List (Bonus Audio CD):
1. Fanfare for Absent Friends Part One [2:19]
2. Neurosaur [5:51]
3. Dreamcurrents [5:59]
4. Mariner [7:12]
5. A Salty Dog [4:42]
6. Sky Full of Stars [11:32]
7. Alexandria [7:01]
8. Guardian Angel [6:56]
9. Peer's Guitar Solo [2:04]
10. Beware the Vampires [5:37]
11. Fallen [5:35]
12. One of the Machines [5:42]
13. Fanfare for Absent Friends Part Two [3:59] new studio track
14. From Russia With Love [4:51] new studio track

Find out more: