26 November 2008

Some thoughts on boxed sets...

A few days ago I posted a review of the new Ayreon boxed set, Timeline. It got me to thinking about boxed sets in general. A bunch of progressive rock bands have released (in some cases, several) boxed sets, with varying degrees of success.

What do I mean by success?

That can be measured in so many ways. Certainly commercial sales is one way, but come on…this is prog. More importantly are artistic degrees of success and content. A label can repackage an artist’s catalogue, but if the artist him (or her) self is involved, the results are often superior. Related to that would be the contents of the set…is it a simple collection of previously released material, or is it filled up with interesting stuff that we may never have heard before?

The following is a smattering of boxed sets that I’ve found to offer very good value for one reason or another.

King CrimsonEpitaph, The Great Deceiver. Sure, they released one of the better career retrospective boxed sets in Frame by Frame. But save for the fourth disc of live material and a few curious edits (re-recording vocals and bass on "Cadence and Cascade" and "Bolero" respectively, among others), FxF doesn’t offer a huge amount to the hardcore Crimhead. Better to look at Epitaph, a 4-CD set of material from the first incarnation of the band (including some awesome BBC session stuff), or The Great Deceiver, 4 discs of concert material from 1973-1974. Both are well nigh essential…the first really allowed people to re-evaluate the first band and what they were capable of, while the second showed the 1973-1974 band for what they were…perhaps the first progressive metal band, and one who could jam as well. Awesome stuff all the way around.

GenesisArchive 1968-1975. Full Lamb Lies Down concert? Check. Another disc of live material from the Selling England period, along with some hard to find B-sides? Sure, why not? An entire disc of material from the Genesis to Revelations era? Well…interesting, to be certain. It’s a shame the band didn’t visit this idea for the second boxed set (1976-1992)…if they had, I’d recommend both. Add in some excellent liner notes and recollections from all parties involved, and I am more than willing to overlook the re-recorded bits (yes, it was hard to mic Gabriel when he was in the Slipperman costume, but…). Now, all we need to find is a previously unknown high quality professionally filmed Lamb show and release it on DVD…that sound you hear is the sound of 500,000 devoted Genesis fans combusting spontaneously in thought…

Magma Trilogie au Triannon. It’s tempting to say you need no more Magma than this. This is the essence…the first trilogy from Christian Vander and his Kobaian band mates. MDK, Wurdah Itah, Theusz Hamtaakh…Orff-ian, minimalistic, orchestral, intense. You get lyrics! You can sing along! It sounds like I making fun of this, but…I’m not. Magma is one of my favourite bands ever, and this boxed set is one of the best ways to discover what this underrated band has to offer. Not many groups can claim to have created a whole genre of music…Magma did just that. Essential. Essential in extremis.

Frank ZappaThe MOFO Project/Object. Zappa’s had a bunch of things that could be considered a boxed set. Lather is one, one might consider the YCDTOSA series as one, especially if you have the road case to put the volumes in. But that one was released in 6 individual releases, while Lather is more a repackaging than anything else. MOFO is…more. Yes, you have the original Freak Out! Album, but it’s a mix no one has heard in almost ever. Plus loads of studio sessions, outtakes, interviews…it gives the listener a great look into Zappa in 1966, the Mothers of Invention at their early onset, and it smokes to boot. I am not too keen on the packaging (the plastic seems to stick a little bit), but it’s an impressive looking thing, to be sure. And the music matches it.

EcholynA Little Nonsense. Yes, I wish the debut release were in print by itself. Same with …and every blossom, or When the Sweet Turns Sour. But we get all of them here, along with some remakes of older songs, some outtakes, and so on. 3 discs, a bugger of a package (yes, it looks all nice, but the discs can be a beast to get out carefully), and a nice booklet that offers up some historical background to the music in hand. If you’ve got everything else the band released and are missing these, get the box. It’s less expensive by far than trying to dredge up an original pressing of the debut, which at one point was selling for $200 or more.

RenaissanceDa Capo. A bit slight at only 2 CDs, this set is, however, what the old Sire released Tales of 1001 Nights dreamed it could be. More inclusive by far, it covers the old Keith Relf era of the band up through unreleased material from the Time Line/Camera Camera era band. The booklet is informative, there’s some great photos of the band from throughout the life of the group, and over all, it’s the best package a Renaissance fan has right now. It serves as a great intro to the band for those unfamiliar with their glorious classically influenced progressive rock. And really…you can never have too much Annie Haslam.

Emerson Lake and Palmer – Where do I go here? I don’t have the most recently released boxed set, so I am limited to looking at The Return of the Manticore and the 3 Bootleg Boxes. The original 4 CD boxed set really only offered up one disc of interest to hardcore fans…the first, with some reworkings of songs from each band member’s past (i.e., a Crimson cover, a Nice cover, an Arthur Brown cover), as well as a reworking of Pictures at an Exhibition. There’s a few previously unreleased live tracks tossed in to spice things up, but overall, this is pretty much a career retrospective and not much more. The bootleg boxes are illuminating, and occasionally offer up some great sounding live recordings (the pair from 1992 and 1993 specifically), but in the end they are for absolute die hard fans only, the ones who can handle listening to a recording that is muffled or imperfect in order to hear the band taking risks.

I have a hard time with Yes. All I really have is the old YesYears set. I do not have In a Word, nor do I have The Word is Live. So I can’t recommend either of those. And YesYears…out of print, out of date (only covers up to Union), and some curious selections in tracks. Not a lot of unreleased goodies either…and very unessential now that Rhino has repackaged and re-released all the original studio albums with a plethora of bonus tracks and stuff.

I'll probably revisit this subject in a few days as well, once I've had a chance to mull over a few other boxed sets and artists...watch this space!

Rush Snakes & Arrows DVD previews

Courtesy of the people at Rounder Records, I've got some streaming previews from the forthcoming Snakes & Arrows live DVD from Rush. Sadly, I have yet to figure out how to get streaming video like this to work here (gotta read the manual!), but for the moment, I think if you click the following links, it should work just fine:

Far Cry
The Spirit of Radio

The DVD is due for release on...well, 2 days ago, really :-)

24 November 2008

REVIEW: Karmakanic - Who's the Boss in the Factory

There seems to be a cottage industry of Flower Kings related bands.

This can be seen as both right and wrong. For example, is Kaipa a Flower Kings related band, or is it the other way around, especially as Kaipa predates the Flower Kings by several decades? Is The Tangent a Flower Kings related band, or a Parallel or 90 Degrees related band? Transatlantic? And so on…it just keeps going.

The lines remain somewhat blurred with Karmakanic. Bassist Jonas Reingold’s band, Karmakanic explores a jazzier side of progressive rock. Reingold’s a hell of a bassist, and in a genre filled with a plethroa of great names, that’s saying a lot. He has chops to spare, but he can play with remarkable subtlety and grace. Fretted or fretless, it really doesn’t matter…put a bass in his hands and magic will shortly follow. Karmakanic’s latest release is Who’s The Boss in the Factory, a 5 track (with the closing track indexed with two track numbers) showcase for his excellent playing and solid compositional skills. Joining him on this release are Zoltan Csörsz on drums, Lalle Larsson on keys, Krister Jonsson on guitars, and Göran Edman on vocals. Also guesting are a few familiar names…Andy Tillison of The Tangent (here we go again), Tomas Bodin (the Flower Kings, natch) and Theo Travis (Gong/Tangent/et.al.).

Where Reingold’s playing on Flower Kings releases may lean ever so slightly toward the jazzier side of things, his work with Karmakanic seems a bit more punchy and powerful. This isn’t a complaint about his presence in TFK at all…but as Karmakanic is his project, it’s only understandable that he’d be a bit more to the fore. Having said this, the album opens with a song that honestly could have possibly been lifted from nearly any Flower King’s release, the 19-plus minute epic “Send a Message From the Heart.” Filled with positive lyrical messages and some wonderfully deft instrumental interplay, it’s an audacious choice as opener. For anyone thinking that Karmakanic is just another TFK-related band, “Send a Message From the Heart” will do little to disavow them of that notion…unless they take the time to listen deeper into the song. There are some great jazzy interludes and instrumental excursions…great keyboard playing, light and airy bass/percussion playing at an almost telepathic level, and so on. In general the arrangement, while perhaps more complex at one level, is also far more stripped back…less orchestrated, less symphonic.

Things change up on “Let In Hollywood.” A series of chopped acoustic guitar chords lead into some cool singing from Göran Edman and a nice groove from Csörsz. This is a powerful, bass-driven song, with cynical lyrics deriding the pre-packaged entertainment that so many people swallow whole. I love the lyrical bit that goes “I can’t hear a single, this song is 7/8”…I can catch myself singing this from time to time, so the hook did its job. The synth work is excellent, and as for Reingold’s playing…it’s almost as if he were channeling the spirit of John Entwhistle through Chris Squire’s fingers…and saying that is almost a swipe at Reingold, for his instrumental voice is entirely his own. I just can’t think of any better way to describe the power he pushes through his instrument on this track.

The title track is the second ‘true’ epic on the album, at 13:04. The opening is quiet and piano based, with a touch of acoustic guitar to sweeten the mix. Vocally darker as well, the introductory moments are far more sombre and almost malevolent than anything else on the album. The track builds gently, evolving into a slightly more orchestrated take on the Karmakanic sound, with string stabs and moments that verge on progressive metal.

I also want to make note of the 2-part album closer, “Eternally.” Written in memory of Reingold’s parents, both of whom passed way late in 2007. The opening movement is a gentle piano piece that may sound out of place on an album such as this, but which is played with such delicacy and beauty that it simply must be heard. I hesitate to use the word gorgeous, but…the piece is gorgeous. No doubt about it. The second part drips with raw emotion, with grand string arrangements and passionate, from the depths of the soul singing. Reingold plays a fretless on this track, judging by the sound, and his playing is subdued, restrained, yet the intensity of emotion of his playing can be heard and felt in every quavering note. It may sound odd, but for such a sad song, the piece is uplifting and affirming at the same time…it never falls into a pit of despair and wallowing pity.

I greatly enjoyed Who’s the Boss in the Factory, and can’t say enough good things about it. The album has it all…impressive playing, great vocals, and writing and arranging that keeps songs fresh and interesting throughout. Don’t look at this as another Flower Kings related band and album…Karmakanic deserves far better than that.

Send a Message from the Heart (19:29)
Let in Hollywood (4:53)

Who's the Boss in the Factory (13:04)

Two Blocks From the Edge (9:51)

Eternally Pt. 1 (1:51)

Eternally Pt. 2 (6:22)

Jonas Reingold on bass

Zoltan Csörsz on drums

Lalle Larsson on keys

Krister Jonsson on guitars

Göran Edman on vocals

Symphony X 2009 Asian Tour dates

13 February, 2009 Bejing, China MG Live House
15 February, 2009 Shanghai, China Wanping Theater
17 February, 2009 Kowloon, Hong Kong HITEC Auditorium
20 February, 2009 Bangkok, Thailand AUA Auditorium
22 February, 2009 Taipei, Taiwan Sword Lake Youth Activity Center

As a semi-reminder, I will be writing up a piece on the new Paradise Lost special edition release. I've been living with the album the past few days, and...well, I don't have any other SymX albums to compare it to, so I can't say how it rests among previous releases like V or Divine Wings of Tragedy or anything else, but...I like it quite a bit. I'm not much into progressive metalthese days, having pretty much overdosed on it, but I'd say SymX may have a bit more in common with the European power metal bands in many ways.

And yes, Russell Allen is probably THE voice in prog metal as far as I am concerned.

Anyway, expect a more in depth review in the next day or so, once I get Karmakanic's review up on the blog (later today, I'd wager).

The Rebel Wheel news

Direct from David Campbell:

Right now we are hard at work preparing for our next album for 10T Records. The album is titled "We Are In The Time Of Evil Clocks" and features the same line-up that we had at the Nuance fest (and the Rosfest after-hours party) with:

Angie Macivor on saxes, keys and vocals
David Campbell on guitars, keys and vocals
Gary Lauzon on bass and keyboards
Aaron Clark on drums and keyboards

We are also proud to feature guest artists
Rick Barkhouse on keys (http://www.widowswalk.ca)
and Guy Leblanc on keys (http://www.nathanmahl.ca)

The rehearsals are well underway and all the material is written and arranged. We intend to hit the studio in early January.

We just started a blog about it, so if anyone is interested please stop by:


23 November 2008

NEARfest announces Cabezas de Cera for 2009

Well folks, it's been a long time coming, but here we are with an announcement of avant proportions. NEARfest '09 is proud to present Mexico's Cabezas de Cera as the opening act for NEARfest '09. Along its path, Cabezas de Cera (CDC, Candle-Wax Heads) has gone through various phases: as a trio (1995 - 1997) with Cristóbal Pliego on the bass and brothers Mauricio and Francisco Sotelo on the electric guitar and the drums respectively. In 1998 CDC became a quartet with Ramsés Luna; in this way, CDC close their first cycle. Finally, in 2000 CDC consolidates as a band formed by Mauricio Sotelo on the strings, Ramsés Luna on the winds, Francisco Sotelo on drums and Edgar Arrellín as the sound designer.

CDC grounds its compositions on a diversity of styles and contemporary genres. However, it is in this creation of unique metal instruments, as well as their extraordinary execution and experimentation where CDC finds a rich balance between acoustic and electronic styles. A Cebezas De Cera concert is full of emotions and colors, which seems from time to time to evoke the endeavor of forging metals in an atmosphere of strength and fire. The compositions encompass experimental music, jazz, world music and Mexican popular music, but they find in rock and improvisation, the liberty to merge these sounds into a unique style. Pat Mastelotto of King Crimson fame states: "At a time when so many are sounding the same its a delight to

hear a band as unique as Cabezas de Cera".

With albums such as Un Segundo, MetalMúsica, Fractal Sónico and their latest Hécho en México, live, and countless festival performances under their collective belt, CDC is on the forefront of
the current avant/world/jazz metal scene. If instruments such as The Charrófono, Jarana Prisma, Tricordio, Wind Midi, Chapman Stick, Handsonic and Alto Sax stir your musical soul, then prepare for a unique journey and join us as we welcome to the NEARfest '09 stage,
Cabezas de Cera.

Cabezas de Cera, "Nocturo Incandescente"


22 November 2008

Caravan: The Future?

This from the official Caravan news site...not a promising post, sadly:

I can confirm that Jan Schelhaas has moved to Scotland and now lives outside Perth. While this makes collaboration between Pye (Hastings) and Jan a tantalising prospect, it dampens the possibilities of Caravan regrouping, as the costs of meeting up to rehearse and tour are more or less prohibitive.

Pye also feels that a guitarist would be essential, and finding the right person would take a huge commitment of time and energy. Doug (Boyle) regretfully does not wish to play live (although he and Pye are on good terms, having met in London fairly recently). Added to that is the on going question about Richard's (Coughlin) ability to be able to cope with a series of dates.

The best prospect at present therefore is to look forward to releases by individual band members. Jan's very good album is out and Pye is beginning to reflect on who he would like to support him on his solo album, which he is working on. He is keen to involve members of the band...

LE ORME to headline FMPM 2009

Next September, one of Italy's greatest progressive rock bands performs for the first time in Montreal, as Le Orme headlines the fourth edition of the FMPM. Founded in 1966, Le Orme have released 18 albums, have headlined almost every significant music festival while maintaining a loyal fan base in Italy, and continue to produce acclaimed studio material forty years after their inception.

After releasing several beat and psych singles, the classic trio formation of Aldo Tagliapietra, Michi dei Rossi, and Toni Pagliuca was in place by 1970. This formation released four canonical Italian prog releases during this time, "Collage", "Uomo di Pezza", "Felona e Sorona", and finally "Contrappunti". Like many of the more popular Italian groups, Le Orme tried their hand with an English release, with "Felona & Sorona" coming out on Charisma with translated lyrics by Peter Hammill. Due to the instrumental configuration of keyboards, bass, and drums, and with a very classical sound, it is easy to compare this period to Emerson, Lake & Palmer, without the maudlin stabs at honky tonk and the like.

In the late 70s a fourth member joined on guitar, and releases such as "Florian" and "Piccola Rapsodia dell'Ape" take on a different flavour, with an emphasis on acoustic textures. In the 80s the group was down to the core trio but less active. A reunion took place in the late 90s with the release of "Il Fiume", and a well-received appearance in Quebec City (among others). The group was now a quartet, with Michele Bon and Francesco Sartori sharing Pagliuca's old keyboard duties.

Not content to rest on their laurels, this decade has seen the release of two conceptual studio works, "Elementi" and "l'Infinito". Unlike many progressive groups who have continued from the early 70s to today, Le Orme's current work is considered by many to be of the same quality as their classic period albums. Le Orme headlined NEARFest several years ago and a CD/DVD release called "Live in Pennsylvania" came out this year to commemorate that event. Le Orme is now back to a trio formation, with Michele Bon handling all keyboards along with stalwarts Tagliapietra and dei Rossi, and have maintained a busy gig schedule in Italy this year. They are currently at work on a new album.

In September, Montreal will be the place to be, as Le Orme joins a top caliber line-up including Magenta, DFA, Thieves' Kitchen, and Rouge Ciel. More information about the festival, including our official hotel, is available at http://www.fmpm.net.

10 Questions With...Lynnette Shelley

The Red Masque are a Philadelphia based avant/space/I'm not sure how to describe/label them progressive band. They embrace so many different styles of music, from the fragile and beautiful to the primal and aggressive...often within the same song. Each album builds from the successes of the previous, and they are always pushing their musical boundaries on each release.

I became a fan of theirs based on a single song..."Beggars and Thieves," released as a single a few years back as a teaser for their 2004 album Feathers for Flesh. That album got a huge amount of play at my place, and if I had been putting together top ten albums of the year lists back then, it would have easily earned a spot. It's been four years since that album came out, but the band has finally unveiled their latest opus, Fossil Eyes, released on adHoc/ReR USA Records.

I was pleased when vocalist Lynnette Shelley agreed to pen some replies to my questions for this blog. She's a professional designer when not working with them band, and in fact much of the band's visual style on record is the result of her art and design work (the debut EP, Feathers for Flesh and Fossil Eyes all feature her cover art). Her replies are expansive and insightful, and my hope is that they will help you, Constant Reader, get a better feel for this unique, boundary pushing band.

1) Can you give us a brief history of how The Red Masque came together?

Brandon and I started The Red Masque in February 2001. Previously, we had played together in a few bands in Delaware, where we are both originally from. I moved to Philadelphia in 1999 for a job, and Brandon followed a few months later. We auditioned musicians for a while (even playing with some others in Baltimore, MD, for a while, before forming the prototype The Red Masque band lineup in 2000. Brandy of the Damned (from the George Bernard Shaw quote) featured original TRM guitarist Steven Blumberg, and keyboardist/concert harpist Nathan-Andrew Dewin, and another drummer. That drummer quit before our first gig, and we eventually replaced his spot with Kevin Kelly in February 2001. Our first gig as The Red Masque was less than two months later.

2) How would you say your recent album Fossil Eyes departs from or expands upon the previous release?

Well, I think this album is the first album of ours that is true concept album. We specifically structured the album with “intercessionals” situated between the main material. These intercessionals can be considered like mood pieces or mini-soundtracks to carry over between major album pieces (“Carbon 14”, “Das Snail”, “The Spider Is The Web”, “The Anti-Man”, “Polyphemus” and “Carbon 13.”) As for the album theme, lyrically, the songs use the natural world to explore various human philosophical/moral questions. For example, “The Anti-Man” is about war, told through the point of view of the rebels. In this case, the rebels are insects warring against humans. Or, in the case of “Das Snail”, the protagonist wonders who he or she is. Do past events and current circumstances define a person or is there an innate sense of self that breaks free from these boundaries? Is a person like a snail, whose body conforms to the shape of the shell it inhabits or does he or she have his or her own unique mental structure?

From an auditory point of view, Fossil Eyes is definitely sonically denser and, in my opinion, the songs are better written. The song production also has a more organic approach.

3) Your first two releases, Death of the Red Masque and Victoria and the Haruspex, came out on CD-R. Is there any chance that they will be reissues, perhaps by ReR?

I doubt it. Physical CD sales are going down across the board while downloads are going up, and many predict the death of physical cds in the next few years. From a monetary point of view, it wouldn’t be worth it to release them as physical CDS. However, we are releasing them for “pay what you want” digital downloads from theredmasque.com.

I do hope to re-record “Tidal” (from DotRM) and “Birdbrain” (from VatH) at some point though, and release them as bonus tracks on album album perhaps.

4) You've provided cover art for almost all of your album releases. How do you feel the artwork ties the package together?

Well, I am a professional artist and a graphic designer so I like making artwork for the albums (though I would redo the album covers on the first two albums as they look a bit amateurish at this point. But I was an amateur designer back then, and the first two albums were very DIY projects.) It ties the package together in that I think the artwork matches the music and makes it seem a little more ‘complete’ as opposed to a collection of electronic files. I don’t like CDs for artwork as much as an actual LP cover, but with the right budget, you can make some really beautiful booklets and packaging.

5) There was a long period between the release of Feathers for Flesh and Fossil Eyes. Do you feel the majority of the difficulties that hindered the album's release are behind you?

Well, yes and no. Yes in that the major problems we suffered on the last record were due to Vonorn’s health situation. We had to wait for him to get out of the hospital, and learn to walk again, let alone learn to drum again. But the band is also not a full-time gig, so we don’t get to work on it 24/7. We also have to do most things ourselves, so all of these things take time.

But, knock on wood, we will have a live CD out next year on a label, and hopefully another new album will be out in much sooner than four years. I’d ideally like to release something new every other year.

6) Who do you think have been the biggest influences on you as a musician and artist?

I don’t have a biggest influence. There are bands and artists I like for various reasons and you could point out various things in our music that sound influenced by this or that band, but I’ve never sat down and thought I wanted to sound like a particular band.

I know I like the controlled chaos approach of Van Der Graaf Generator. I love the live shows of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and Acid Mothers Temple. I like Diamanda Galas’ and Peter Hammill’s vocal theatrics. I love the rhythms and heavy bass of groups like Magma. I like the heavy distortion of King Crimson mixed with moments of quiet beauty. I admire the Art Bears songwriting tremendously. I love the lyrical melodies of Pentangle and Fairport Convention. And I love the mix of light and dark in Comus.

But the music of The Red Masque, for better or for worse, is its own entity.

7) The Red Masque's music is very dramatic, relying on dynamics, shifts in tone, and deep lyrical content. Would you like to see the band work in anything from a multimedia/theatrics standpoint in a live setting?

LS: This is something the band has talked over many times. In theory I would say sure. From a practical point of view, I find the simpler the shows are the better the result. Unless you have your own sound crew, lighting crew, a lot of time to soundcheck etc., all of that would overcomplicate things. We are usually lucky to get 20 minutes to do a soundcheck at most venues.

We do have a guy, David Pym, who is working on videos for us, so we hope do things with him that involve video projections and the like. The one thing I am sure of is that I don’t want the theatrical/visuals to hamper the music because I think that will make the live show worse for wear. I’ve seen bands with these huge multimedia presentations and the music usually becomes secondary at that point. I wouldn’t want that to happen to us. I like our live shows to have a very primal, intense feel.

8) What would you say has been your biggest moment musically with The Red Masque?

I am still looking for that biggest moment. There are definitely great shows though. I know the last show we played at Orion was probably one of our best. Playing at the NJ Proghouse is always fun. Playing with Dave Kerman and Paul Sears was a definite trip. Meeting other bands from all over is definitely a highlight. But I don’t think we’ve reached our biggest moment yet.

9) What's next for the band?

A live CD on a label in 2009 (can’t go into details just now), plus working on new song material for the next album. We will also be putting out a video of an entire concert out for free download, hopefully within the next couple of weeks. I have been talking with the band Comus about possible East Coast, USA, show(s) so we’ll see how that pans out. We are also looking to possibly add on a multi-instrumentalist. Any interested parties should email theredmasque@theredmasque.com. We are also looking for festival gigs that we could possibly hang a short tour around, so if anybody wants to book us, also email theredmasque@theredmasque.com.

10) Do you have any final thoughts for us?

Thanks for the interview.


21 November 2008

REVIEW: Ayreon - Timeline

So, let’s talk about the new Ayreon boxed set (click the picture above to be linked to my post with the initial announcement and set contents).

It’s a 3 CD, 1 DVD set titled Timeline, covering Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s releases from 1995’s The Final Experiment through 2008’s 0101001. 33 songs were culled from his catalogue of thematically written opuses, and there’s a veritable who’s who of prog rock, metal, and European rock stars guesting throughout. I could pad out this review by listing them all…

Bruce Dickinson, James LaBrie, Devon Townsend, Russell Allen, Daniel Gildenlow, Lori Linstruth, Lenny Wolf, Fish, Sharon den Adel, Damian Wilson, Neal Morse, Devon Graves, Heather Findlay, Eric Clayton, Mikael Akerfeldt, Marcela Bovia, Mike Baker, Bob Catley, Tom Englund, Anneke van Giersbergen, Jorn Lande, Hansi Kursch, Floor Jansen

…and that’s just the guests that appear on the tracks selected for this retrospective.

Now, Ayreon’s albums are all thematically linked, and as each album is a self contained theme album, it may seem odd to extract individual pieces from the releases for fear of losing that connection. It’s a fear that Lucassen even had, which kept him from doing such a retrospective in the past. By using the expansiveness of a multi-disc boxed set, some of these concerns are alleviated somewhat.

I don’t know what tracks I might have selected differently, but I am sure that others have their own favourites from Ayreon’s releases that they’d like to see in exchange for any of these. Having said this, the song that introduced me to the world of Ayreon (“Isis and Osiris,” from 1998’s Into the Electric Castle) is on here, as well as enough highlights from his back catalogue to really impress to the listener how consistent Lucassen has been from a writing and performing standpoint.

When I reviewed 0101001 a few months back for another website, I said this:

Several things can be taken as givens when it’s time to review a new Ayreon album:

1) It will be a massive concept album
2) The number of guests will be immense

3) The word count for song titles and album personnel will probably outnumber the word count for the whole review.

I also said this in closing:

In the final analysis, I think I can say the following two things fairly:

1) If you love Ayreon, everything you love is here on 01011001, and then some.
2) If you find Ayreon’s material to be overwrought and twee...you’ll probably continue to feel that way with 01011001.

And when you are looking at almost 4 hours of music across 3 CDs, all the same can be said several times over.

This is not a complaint; Lucassen has a signature style, and he has honed that style to near gleaming perfection. But his material is a love it or leave it proposition…I don’t think I know anyone who inhabits a middle ground with him. I might come close…I genuinely like a lot of his releases, but I’m not a devout Ayreonaut. But even with me, I can’t say I’ve walked away from an Ayreon album genuinely disliking it. There’s always been something there to make me say “Yeah, I’m gonna come back to this one for another listen.”

I’m pleased by the selections he’s made across the board…he’s picked a good mixture of heavier pieces, lighter fare, material with a more electronic sound, and so on. I think he’s taken great care to ensure that the collection draws from as many releases as possible, showcasing the vast variety of styles that make up his C.V. Everything’s been tweaked and slightly and lightly remastered to ensure a smooth transition from album to album, and the end result almost qualifies as a 3 CD concept piece in and of itself.

Additionally, Lucassen has included a newly recorded track, “Epilogue: The Memory Remains,” tying up the whole audio package with a nice bow and ribbon on top.

I wish I could be as positive about the DVD.

Oh, there’s great stuff here…extended excerpts from his Star One and Stream of Passion side projects, concept videos, and so on. Sadly, unless I am the least observant person in the world, I can’t find a simple play all feature on the DVD. I want to sit back and be engrossed by 80 or 90 minutes of Ayreon on DVD…not 10 minutes, go back to the main menu, select the next feature, and so on. It’s frustrating and detracts from what is otherwise a very good video retrospective that fills out the package nicely.

The booklet has much to offer too…along side lyrics for each song in the set, Lucassen has added newly written notes explaining the set, his thoughts on each album, and his thoughts for the future of Ayreon. So many boxed sets miss this, I think…being the product of a record company wanting to push product, many sets come off as overly clinical and cold even as they push out familiar material with a smattering of the unreleased. Timeline really comes off well in that regard…it feels more personal, more like the creator’s vision than just another slab of plastic paper and cardboard.

Now, the big questions?

Who is this boxed set for?

Are hardcore fans really going to buy this?

Neither question is easy to answer. I think people unfamiliar with Ayreon will find much to offer here, but the fact that the tracks are still parts of concept albums means that new listeners will maybe be at a loss for some of what is going on. Long time listeners, on the other hand, likely know these albums inside and out, have them all, and are looking at buying this release for the new song and portions of the DVD. I don’t know if that is enough to warrant the purchase, and it’s something that I could honestly say for a majority of boxed set purchases

The final question…what do I think of this set?

I like it. A lot. It’s nice to have a broad cross section of his work in a single package. I think the boxed set format (a small square box just larger than the disc sleeves) selected is nice…it fits on the shelf along with my other Ayreon releases. I think the new cover art is excellent, and I am hugely glad that Lucassen took the time to pen some personal thoughts for the liner notes. My quibbles are minor (except maybe for the DVD…can someone out there who has this box verify that there is in fact no play all feature), and in the end I’d offer a recommendation to check it out. It works well as a retrospective of the past 13 years of musical travels in time and space, and closes this chapter of his career nicely.

One only wonders what the next step is…

A breather...

Well now...

My other writing out of the way for another month or two, I can finally turn energies back to here. Thanks for your patience over the past few days as I worked diligently at getting other stuff out of the way :-)

I'm working on 'nagging' a few of my outstanding interviewees to get back to me. I am pleased to say most of them are busy with new projects, including live dates and recording, so it's understandable that their energies and attentions are elsewhere. But I hope to have a new spate of interviews to post for you soon. And there are several reviews in the works as well...

I will be reviewing the new Ayreon boxed set, Time Line.

I will be reviewing the new Frost* album, Experiments in Mass Appeal.

I will be reviewing the new Gamma Ray 2CD 2 DVD set Hell Yeah!

I should be reviewing the new Karmakanic release, Who's The Boss in the Factory?

All this and more. So stay tuned, wouldn't you?

echolyn and Brett Kull preorders now available


echolyn's 2000 album release of "Cowboy Poems Free" has been totally remixed & remastered with all new artwork and a 20-page color booklet — this disc is not to be missed — echolyn's very own slice of Americana now released in the way it was supposed to sound — loud and proud!

Brett Kull's second solo release "Last of the Curlews," featuring Paul Ramsey on drums, is a mature, sonically rich album of picturesque songs and stories! Cover artwork by Tara Jane O'Neal.

Pre-Order Your Discs Today!

All orders received (via PayPal thru echolyn.com by midnight Sunday evening, December 14, 2008) OR check/money order (must be postmarked by 12/13/2008) will receive signed copies by the band! All pre-orders will be signed and shipped by Friday, December 19, 2008.

17 November 2008

Quarkspace - Spacefolds 9 imminent

The Spacefolds series features raw, improvisational, experimental work from our studio - the best of which gets mixed for release.

Spacefolds 9 is imminent. It will be available soon from the usual host of digital services (iTunes, eMusic, etc.) and on lossless autographed CD-Rs directly from us.

This is a very psychedelic Spacefolds featuring special guests Brandon and Lynnette from The Red Masque and Carl Howard from Nomusic. Here is the track listing:

1. Is it Really? 6.59

2. red melt 7.34

3. Third Score 8.59

4. Ghost Satellite 8.42

5. Al Neri Sleeps with the Angels 7.59

6. Fake Leaping Violinists 6.30

7. six of purple 2.52

8. See How the Stars Fade 10.05

You can check out "Red Melt", one of the tracks of Spacefolds 9 at our myspace website -

This is one of the tracks with all 3 special guests - Lynnette and Brandon from The Red Masque and Carl Howard from Nomusic. It sounds like some warped version of the Jefferson Airplane from an alternate universe.

The queue grows...

...and I swear, I'll never get to the end of it.

Especially not this week, as deadlines approach for a half dozen articles I owe someone. I shouldn't even be blogging here, instead focusing on the other writing I owe. But I'd be remiss if I didn't add to the queue list of music I have to look at for here.

Just in this weekend:

Frost* - Experiments in Mass Appeal
Gamma Ray - Hell Yeah! 2 DVD set
Ayreon - Timeline 3 CD/1 DVD boxed set
Symphony X - Paradise Lost special edition (CD/5.1 DVD with 2 videos plus the album in DD 5.1)

Hopefully, when I find an extra 2 hours to add to each 24 hour day, I will get these listened to and reviewed here!

Magma - boxed set retrospective with bonuses forthcoming


A must for MAGMA fanatics, fans and freaks everywhere. An opportunity not to be missed. For the first time ever, the full set of 9 incredible studio albums - from Kobaia to K.A - in deluxe digipack form.

Each volume has its own 32 to 48 page booklets, containing photos and previously unpublished documents re-telling the story of MAGMA in 9 detailed chapters. Also includes a bonus double CD of archive documents: the first demo recorded by the band in 1970, the original sound track from the film 24 heures seulement recorded that same year by the line-up playing on the first album, a demo version of MDK with just rhythm section and a vocal guide track , and a version of "Eliphas Levi" with drums.

Thank you for your faithfulness
The Seventh Team

Wobbler news

Compiling several comments from Lars Fredrik Frøislie posted on ProgressiveEars:

...Our second album "Afterglow" is just around the corner - this time released on both cd and vinyl on our own label; Termo Records sometime early next year.
I put out two songs on myspace if you're interested.

...after all these songs were made back in 1999.

...Anyway, it'll be nice to put out this records without any hype or anything like that that (like the last one got). This is our medieval-album i guess, with lots of crum-horn and recorders and stuff (though i believe there even is some mellotron in there).

The album will have new-recordings of both the old demos - with some changes, better sound, real instruments and so on. The old demo was only ever released on mp3, so we thought it would be nice to finally release it properly on cd and lp.

There will also be other songs on the album as well of course.


15 November 2008

Script for a Jester's Tour part the second

Ex-Marillion drummer Mick Pointer continues his celebration of the music that brought him to public attention in the early 1980's with a second Script for a Jester's Tour, featuring, as before, Nick Barrett, Mike Varty, Ian Salmon, and the man they call Brian "Brish" Cummins.

Tickets and info at http://www.wiventertainment.com/jester/

see them here........
16/01/09 - UK London The Peel
17/01/09 - UK London The Peel
18/01/09 - UK Dudley JB's
19/01/09 - UK Manchester Academy
20/01/09 - UK York The Duchess
21/01/09 - UK Frome Cheese & Grain
23/01/09 - NED Zoetermeer De Boerderij
24/01/09 - NED Uden De Pul
25/01/09 - BEL Verviers Spirit of 66
26/01/09 - GER Aschaffenburg Colos-Saal
27/01/09 - GER Stuttgart LKA Longhorn
28/01/09 - GER Lorsch Musiktheater Rex
29/01/09 - SUI Pratteln Z 7
30/01/09 - GER Dinslaken Kulturkantine
31/01/09 -GER Cologne Live Music Hall
02/02/09 -GER Berlin Frannz Club
03/02/09 -POL Bielsko Biala Club Pomarancza
04/02/09 -POL Krakow Club Studio
05/02/09 -POL Warszawa Club Progresja
07/02/09 -ITA Milano Rolling Stone
08/02/09 -ITA Roma Staziona Birra
10/02/09 -FRA Paris Scene Bastille

14 November 2008

Celtic Frost documentary to air this weekend

This Sunday, November 16, 2008, at 11.30pm, Swiss national TV station SF1 will premiere the first full-length documentary film shot about celebrated and controversial Swiss extreme metal group Celtic Frost.

"Celtic Frost - A Dying God" was directed by Swiss journalist and documentary filmmaker Adrian Winkler, whose team followed Celtic Frost for two years on the road during the group's final undertaking, the Monotheist Tour, in 2006 and 2007. Winkler captured Celtic Frost across Europe, Japan, and the United States, as well as at the Wacken and Hole In The Sky festivals. In addition, the documentary features dedicated interviews with the group's members.

Winkler: "The film documents Celtic Frost striving to do justice to their own legendary reputation. It is an emotional journey, capturing, among other things, the band members facing their
own, dark past."

SF1 will re-broadcast the documentary on November 23, 2008, at 5.30am.

Website of Swiss national TV station SF1 on the documentary:


Marillion: it's their world...

...we only live in it.

Yet another adventure in harnessing the power of the internet, courtesy of the boys from Aylesbury:

We have decided to take a brave step - to record every night of our Happiness on the Road tour straight off the mixing desk, and upload it for you to buy THE NEXT DAY. But this is an experiment for us, so here's what you need to know:

If you are familiar with the Front Row Club, these recordings will be of similar quality. The source will be the main outputs of the live mixing desk - so while the audio will be of high quality, it is being mixed for the venue, and each release will have a slightly different character. But you will be getting the entire show from start to finish as it happened!

Next, because many venues we are playing do not have high-speed reliable internet connections, we will be compressing the audio as 256 kbps MP3 audio before uploading it to our server. This is to help speed up the process and avoid a lot of potential errors and problems - so we won't be able to offer the shows in any other (i.e. FLAC) audio format.
Minimal artwork including a track listing will be provided with each download - we intend to list the individual track listings on this page rather than creating individual 'discography entries' for each show; you can also check the 2008 Tour History web page for updated set lists from the show.

We will do our best to make every show available - but there may be technical problems or other issues that arise meaning some gigs may not be available. In the same way, there may be a delay of a day or two before some gigs are on sale due to the availability of an internet connection at or near the venue.

Finally, the band will have ultimate 'veto' power. Should the decide that for some reason they don't want a show to be made available, well, it won't be! But they have all said they want to make every show - no matter what goofs, hiccups, or error may happen! - available.
This is an experiment for us, so we will be learning as we go along, too... bear with us! If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to post on the Marillion Forums or contact us directly via email.

Three shows are currently available (ABC, Glasgow - 9 November 2008; The Basement, Newcastle - 10 November 2008; Colston Hall, Bristol - 11 November 200), with the most recent show from Leeds due to be available sometime this evening.

News Briefs: Phideaux, Syzygy

Phideaux has announced the completion of his/their newest release:

"It is called "Number Seven" (although if you've been reading the Phideaux blog you've known this since February). It is our seventh album. It is not the concluding chapter in our trilogy (begun with "The Great Leap" and "Doomsday Afternoon"). Instead, this is an album that developed out of rehearsals and concerts leading up to our performance last year at Festival Crescendo in France.

For this album, we have stayed within the ranks of Phideaux. There are no guest stars and all music is generated by the live band. The music is complex, twiddly, murky, depressing, mysterious, jazzy and sometimes just a little bit goth. Right now we are mixing the album, hoping it will find its release before the end of the year.

Stylistically, this album fits more with "Doomsday Afternoon" and "Chupacabras" in our canon. It is a keyboard heavy album. We are indexing it with 18 titles, but that is misleading because there are really only 9 songs. This will allow you to access particular sections of the somewhat lengthy pieces.

The names of the songs:

1. Dormouse - a theme 1:05

2. Waiting For The Axe To Fall 19:20

3. Darkness At Noon 4:00

4. Gift Of The Flame 6:00

5. Thermonuclear Cheese 2:30

6. The Search For Terrestrial Life 8:30

7. Love Theme from "Number Seven" 14:20

8. Infinite Supply 5:05

9. Dormouse - an end 2:00

As promised, no animals (surf or turf) were harmed in this production. And the best news of all is that this album contains no 20 minute epics (we stopped at 19). Let us all hope and prey that this album can be mixed and mastered before the end of 2008. We don't want to break our run of an album every year!

Also, be sure to book your tickets for 3 Rivers Progressive Rock Festival in Pittsburgh, PA, USA in August 2009 for we will be performing there."

Syzygy has been announced for the second 3 Rivers Prog Festival:

This very talented and diverse band will be performing at 3RP 2009. Their material is interesting and refreshing, and also will take your music memories back to many of the King's of Prog from the 1970's.

They are in the process of completing a new Double Album/CD called "Realms Of Eternity". This will be their 3rd album/CD.

Checkout their website at www.syzygymusic.com
While at their website, checkout the reviews section.
Especially read the reviews by
Progressive Ears - "The Allegory Of Light"
info@seaoftranquility.org - "The Allegory Of Light"
Looking forward to their performance at 3RP 2009."

discipline./Matthew Parmenter show in Ferndale

Horror Express CD Release Show
Discipline. & Matthew Parmenter

Sunday November 16 at the Magic Bag in Ferndale, MI

special solo appearances by
Matthew Parmenter & Ryan Parmenter

Advance Tickets Available only through TicketMaster


Ryan Parmenter solo set starts at 7PM

Matthew Parmenter solo set starts at 8PM

Discipline. starts at 9PM (sharp)

The Magic Bag

22920 Woodward Avenue

Ferndale, MI 48220 (USA)

Phone: (248) 544-3030

$10.00 - 18 and older

The Magic Bag is located on Woodward Ave. in Ferndale, Michigan, just
north of 9 mile road, south of I-696.

For more information visit the Magic Bag web site:


13 November 2008

REVIEW: Days Between Stations (s/t debut)

So a day or three ago I mentioned that I’d gotten in a batch of discs to listen to and review. I’m still working my way through them, but wanted to take a few moments to talk about one which has gotten quite a little bit of play here the past few days.

The band is Days Between Stations, and I am currently on what must be my tenth or twelfth listen to their self titled debut release. I’m not sure what keeps me coming back to it, and I’ll be honest…I’m not sure I want to dig that deep. One never (well, not never, but perhaps shouldn’t) questions how a magician performs their feats of illusion and prestidigitation, and I think there’s a little bit of that magic sprinkled throughout this album.

Days Between Stations is primarily the creation of Sepano Samzaden and Oscar Fuentes Bills, with a rotating cast of musicians that includes horn players, various guitarists and bassists employing a variety of instruments and styles, and vocalists mostly providing wordless vocalese in a manner that makes the voice more an instrument than an agent of lyrical delivery. Musically…wow. There are so many elements that come into play here that it is a bit difficult to point out specifics. I’ll give you a list of bands I hear in their music:

The Cure

Pink Floyd


Perhaps a touch of Godspeed You ! Black Emperor

A bit of a current fave, The Ascent of Everest

There’s a constant sadness/sombreness pervading most musical nooks and crannies in much the same way Pink Floyd’s best material evoked a detached sense of alienation and loss, tempered with a bit of the glistening darkness that Robert Smith’s best work with the Cure shows. The songs are lengthy…the album opens with a 13-minute opus titled “Requiem for the Living” and closes with a 4-part 22-minute epic under the aegis “Laudanum.” Those titles, more than anything, should give you an adequate idea what kind of musical waters we are exploring. I love the band’s diverse use of keyboard sounds…ornate, spiritual organ tones create pillars of sound, around which synth tones (including some very nice sounding Moog patches done on digital synth) wind and hum and buzz. “Either/Or” is a great example of this, with female vocals out of the Claire Torrey/”Great Gig in the Sky” school giving way to some of the fattest sweeping Moog tones I have heard in quite some time.

I’m going to suggest skipping track 5, “Radio Song.” It’s a pleasant enough track, but it is so different from the rest of the album that it stands out in a way that is far from positive. Gone are the mellow, sustained synth lines, the bluesy Gilmour/Latimer-esque guitar chords and bent notes. Replacing them is a jaunty digital synth line and a beat that could only be described as perky. It’s probably a fine enough track, but sandwiched between “How to Seduce a Ghost” and the closing double shot of “Intermission 2”/”Laudanum,” it simply doesn’t work at all.

(EDIT: OK, I am still going to say skip track 5. But I will add this...I absolutely love the horns on this song, which take me right back to the Byrds and Hugh Masekela and "So You Want to be a Rock & Roll Star." So yes, there is certainly some good stuff in the track. But I still think it stands out in a not-quite-positive way.)

But that’s a small quibble. When you have songs as solid as “Laudanum” and “Requiem for the Living,” filled chock-a-block with impressively restrained playing allowing for solos and breaks to feel even more passionate and powerful as a result of that restraint, you have a recipe for musical success. I am even more impressed that this is their debut release…it’s almost frightening to consider what their second album can do to surpass this.

Highly recommended. And I don’t say that lightly.

Days Between StationsDays Between Stations

1) Requiem for the Living

2) Either/Or

3) Intermission 1

4) How to Seduce a Ghost

5) Radio Song

6) Intermission 2

7) Laudanum:
a: A Long Goodbye

b: Every One Is Here But You

c: Nowhere

d: The Wake

Sepand Samzadeh: lead guitars, synthesizers

Oscar Fuentes: keyboards, synthesizers

Jon Mattox: drums and percussion

Jeremy Castillo: guitar

Jeffrey Samzadeh: vocals

Hollie: vocals

Vivi Rama: bass

Jason Hemmens: tenor sax

Sean Erick: trumpet

Kevin Williams: trombone

Find out More at the Following Links:

Scattered Planets reunion gig announced for tomorrow!

Once again, SCATTERED PLANETS rises from the ashes of decay for a rare reunion gig!

This Friday, November 14, the 'classic' Scattered Planets lineup will reunite for Landing Pad VIII, a Space Rock Festival.

Spatial Coordinates:

The Rotunda, 4014 Walnut St. Phila., PA (near U Penn campus)

Temporal Coordinates:

Friday Nov. 14, 7 PM


Scattered Planets Classic Lineup, performing your favorite Scattered Planets psycho ambient space rock classics such as Dead and Moving, Vogon Invasion, and more!!

Invasion Fleet: Jeff (Alien Flutes, Glissando Guitar), Cyndee (Viper Space Violin), Doug (our Evil Dictator, Synths, Vocals, Programming), Rich (Guitar, Vintage Sound Generators), Ken the Extremist (Theremin), and others.

Other Assault Teams:


Radio Eris

Baptist Preachers

Plus videos, visuals, etc.

12 November 2008

Mitch Mitchell, 1947-2008


Mitch Mitchell, the hall-of-fame drummer for the Jimi Hendrix Experience, widely considered the legendary Seattle guitarist's most important musical collaborator, was found dead this morning in his Portland hotel room...

Hugh Hopper benefit show announced

Hugh has been suffering ill health for some time and MoonJune Records have arranged for a Benefit Concert to raise funds to help make life for comfortable for Hugh. The idea was generated by Hugh's colleagues in Soft Machine Legacy and made possible thanks to John Etheridge and The 100 Club. All profit from the evening will go to Hugh and his family along with percentages of the profits from albums on sale from the evening.

Hugh Hopper Benefit Concert

14th December 2008
The 100 Club, London

SOFT MACHINE LEGACY (filling for Hugh: FRED BAKER on bass)





Saga to release final show with Michael Sadler on DVD/CD

The long expected final Saga European show with singer Michael Sadler will be released on January 26th, 2009. 'Contact - Live in Munich' will be available as double CD, double DVD and limited edition with both DVDs and CDs housed in a lavish package with slipcase.

01. The Interview (live)

02. That's As Far As I'll Go (live)

03. You're Not Alone (live)

04. I'm OK (live)

05. Can't You See Me Now (live)

06. Book Of Lies (live)

07. The Perfectionist (live)

08. Drum Solo (live)

09. The Flyer (live)

10. Mind Over Matter (live)

11. The Security Of Illusion (live)

12. Time's Up (live)

13. Piano Solo (live)

14. Scratching The Surface (live)

15. We've Been Here Before (live)

16. On The Air (live)

17. On The Loose (live)

18. Careful Where You Step (live)

19. 10,000 Days (live)

20. Wind Him Up (live)

21. Humble Stance (live)

22. Don't Be Late (live)

23. What's It Gonna Be? (live)


01. Documentary

02. Underground TV Live in Mannheim

03. Photo gallery

01. The Interview (live)

02. That's As Far As I'll Go (live)

03. You're Not Alone (live)

04. I'm OK (live)

05. Can't You See Me Now (live)

06. Book Of Lies (live)

07. The Perfectionist (live)

08. Drum Solo (live)

09. The Flyer (live)

10. Mind Over Matter (live)

11. The Security Of Illusion (live)

12. Time's Up (live)

13. Piano Solo (live)

14. Scratching The Surface (live)


01. We've Been Here Before (live)

02. On The Air (live)

03. On The Loose (live)

04. Careful Where You Step (live)

05. 10,000 Days (live)

06. Wind Him Up (live)

07. Humble Stance (live)

08. Don't Be Late (live)

09. What's It Gonna Be? (live)

Upcoming Riverside and Lazuli webcasts

(thanks to Chris Bekhuis for bringing this to my attention)

On December 10, 2008 Lazuli and Riverside will be giving a concert at the well known Paradiso in Amsterdam. A lot of shows in that club are filmed and recorded for the excellent Fabchannel website where you can watch these gigs but they have also now branched out into live webcasts. Lazuli and Riverside's gig will be webcast live on that evening:


10 Questions With...Henry Ptak

(Shunji of Kenso with Alan Benjamin, Henry Ptak and Mark Ptak of Advent)

Today we complete our look at the NJ-based symphonic band Advent with a profile of keyboardist Henry Ptak. Henry and his brother Mark form the core of the band along with multi-instrumentalist Alan Benjamin, and with Mark and Alan previously interviewed, the time was right to get one more take on the band's past, present, and burgeoning future.

1. How did you get your start in music, and with Advent?

My mom used to make me sing in front of her lady friends at the beauty parlor when I was about 4 or 5. Mostly Elvis Presley renditions of popular Italian songs that were in the charts around that time, like "It's Now or Never" ("'O Sole Mio") and "Surrender" ("Return to Sorrento"). My specialty was an expertly deadpan rendition of "Are You Lonesome Tonight?"--including the spoken part in the middle, word for word, delivered with the earnest gravity only five-year-olds can manage with a straight face. I was perfectly adorable, as you might readily expect. She also was unwittingly involved with my attraction to the piano, when she discovered she could get some of her cooking and cleaning done by putting on The Liberace Show, which seemed to fascinate me long enough to keep me out of mischief while she went about her business. My first music lessons were on the guitar at about eight or nine, and within a year or two I was proficient enough to hook up with similarly minded classmates to be playing at local CYO and recreation-night functions at the schools in my hometown. The switch to keyboards came a few years later, leading to high-school dance gigs, parties, and similar events that were the first paying gigs I ever did. My musical education was a sporadic, if ongoing, succession of start/stop interests that were usually triggered by the discovery that I would need to study this or that discipline as I began to get more of a sense of what I wanted to do musically. I was very fortunate in the fact that every time I realized the type of instruction I needed, I always lucked into people that were absolutely perfect for me, who knew exactly what I was interested in, and always directed me to even better examples of what they knew I already liked. Most of these men intuitively understood what excited me most about the music I was listening to (like Procol Harum; Blood, Sweat & Tears; and Fairport Convention), and were very astute about directing me to J.S. Bach, Maynard Ferguson (and also Giovanni Gabrieli's brass works)--and Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst, in order to get more of a historical perspective. I continued playing in bands and singing in various church choral groups throughout the '80s, and making "one final attempt" at putting together a project which embodied the spirit of the aforementioned influences (which by now included Genesis, Gentle Giant, and a ton of Renaissance and classical stuff), I hooked up with Alan Benjamin (who I later discovered had delivered himself a similar ultimatum) and voila! ... Advent.

2. Advent's music tends to sound very carefully composed. Are there particular influences that drive or inform this style?

If by "carefully composed" you mean deliberate in the traditional sense, as in not an outgrowth of collective improvisation or jamming, I'd say that's probably correct. Since for most of its existence, Advent has been more of a songwriting collective rather than a performing entity, the compositional process has, of necessity, been one of individuals working on their own, coming to rehearsal with what they've prepared, and then arranging and orchestrating what we bring to the table as we go. This would tend to produce the impression you allude to. We're not opposed to the jamming approach--when it works really well, like in Weather Report, or some similar situation, the results can be quite exhilarating, although it's often hard to discern how much of what you finally hear is the result of deliberate composing. There's a spontaneity and excitement in that approach that's almost impossible to premeditate--however, it's difficult to produce the kind of depth that prolonged reflection and development can inspire which, for me, usually occurs away from my instrument. We're also big fans of contrapuntal work, which (for me at least) is tough to manage in a jam setting. My guess is that the ideal would be a combination of both, of the kind that Genesis seemed to excel at. As for the influences, I'd say that in Advent, we tend to lean more in the direction of what has traditionally been understood as ensemble writing, so that would probably mean primarily the classics, and any popular artists who draw upon them as part of their style.

3. How do you divide up keyboard parts between you?

I think Mark addressed this point pretty accurately from a performance standpoint. Certainly minimizing how much we have to think about while performing has a lot to do with how the keyboards parts are distributed, though the way the instrumental textures come in and out often has as much to do with the limitations of our respective setups. For example, since Mark's gear includes an 88-key and 76-key instrument, there's more flexibility in the number splits he can manage, so wherever the range of the parts exceeds what I can get to comfortably in mid-performance, Mark usually takes those, and I usually take the ones that don't require a lot of button-pressing while I'm singing. My keyboard has a five-octave range and, while there's a lot you can do by switching octaves, you don't want to be doing a lot of that if you don't have to--I still do a lot more of it than I'd like, and when you're in the middle of something like "Ramblin' Sailor," where quite a few different keyboard setups are necessary, you want to minimize as much as possible the danger of accidentally ending up on a wrong patch.

4. Are there particular keyboard sounds that you feel are essential to your style?

We definitely use a lot of the sorts of sounds that have an orchestral scope to them--and since, as I mentioned earlier, sounds for the songs are conceived with a particular sonic palette in mind, we try to get as close to what we imagine would be there if we were writing for more traditional instruments. The nice thing about the keyboards is that you don't just have to go with the exact sound, but something that approximates what you have in mind and moves and flows like the real thing.

We also use a lot of piano and organ--at one point we'd considered the possibility, for simplicity's sake, of arranging our live setup so that the songs could be performed by a standard piano-guitar-organ-bass-drums-vocals type of band.

5. Advent's debut release has been sadly out of print for years. Is there any possibility that rights may be regained for a future re-release?

Yeah, I'd definitely like to see it re-released, though at the moment we're more involved in working on our third album, so I suppose for the time being it's on the back burner. With all of its obvious imperfections, it was really fun to make. (I found Mark and Alan's seemingly endless resourcefulness at overcoming the technical limitations of what we had to work around particularly entertaining and fascinating.)

6. While Cantus Firmus has been widely acclaimed by critics, some people have felt that the band's sound is a bit overly pastoral. Do you feel this is a fair criticism, or does it miss out on some of the influences that may have informed the band's sound?

I'm not sure what "pastoral" means--judging from the way I've seen it used, I'm guessing that some of what we do sounds too "stringy," excessively symphonic, too slow in overall tempo and mood, insufficiently hard-edged or "rocking," or some combination of the above. If I'm missing something, please excuse my misunderstanding of the term. I think that perhaps we listen for different kinds of things in the music we tend to favor. For one thing, most bands that incorporate more traditional instruments (like string and brass) into their songs tend to use them decoratively, to augment an arrangement that might just as easily have done without it and still worked. The two versions of The Beatles' "The Long and Winding Road" come to mind to illustrate the point. We tend to do the reverse, which is to regard the timbral possibilities inherent in rock instruments as an extension of the orchestra, so that rather than dominating the arrangement as you would expect in a rock setting, the guitars-bass-drums-keys are sort of on an equal footing with the strings, brass, winds, and so on. The orchestral textures are more integral to the arrangement, not just an ornamental afterthought. That's what first excited me about not just the early prog stuff, but also things like Dick Halligan's arrangement (on Blood, Sweat & Tears 3) of "Symphony/Sympathy for the Devil." When I first heard that, it seemed about as near-perfect and seamless a fusion of rock, jazz, and 20th-century concert music as was possible. It was like Milton's Paradise Lost set to music, and it made me wonder how I'd have categorized it if I'd never heard the original version by the Stones. It sounded like a whole new genre to me at the time, and it must have really took, because of the three of us, I tend to be the one least concerned about whether our stuff "rocks" or not. I think the set of lyrics we used on the CD also contributed to the overall mood somewhat, but in retrospect, I doubt I would have changed anything if I had it to do again. All of lyrics communicated something that struck some chord with me personally, and I'm sure that my considerations had more to do with matching music to text, which I thought we did pretty successfully.

7. If you could arrange any classical composition for the band to play, what would it be and why?

I tend to like music that has strongly national character to it, something that powerfully reflects the soul of the people that produced it. I don't go in much for the "internationalist" or "world music" approach that was fashionable a few years back, so for me that means music with primarily European (and by extension, American) points of reference and place of origin. I do like a lot of Ives's stuff--it's extremely quirky at times, and for its time very experimental, but it still sounds very American. Possibly "Central Park in the Dark" or some portion of "Three Places in New England" would be high on my list. I like a lot of British music, so I think something by Vaughan Williams--perhaps "The Running Set," Sea Songs, or the first or third movement of the English Folk Song Suite would interest me also. Honegger's "Pacific 231," excerpts from Monteverdi's L'Orfeo, or from Praetorius's Dances from Terpsichore, for reasons unrelated to interests specified earlier. And also, if you can overlook the excruciating title, "Polka and Fugue from Schwanda the Bagpiper" by Jaromir Weinberger. I've wanted to do this one, especially the fugue section, ever since I saw it performed live for brass, organ, and percussion. I promptly ordered the music the next day, to study it ... it's waiting!

8. It's been about 2.5 years since Cantus Firmus was released. How is work coming along on the next Advent album?

Well, as usual it's already comprising a balancing act--ambitious goals vs. limited time, much burning of the midnight oil, while trying to fulfill the responsibilities necessary to maintain solvency. Among the works already in progress is an arrangement of a major work by a 20th-century American composer, but not Copland or Bernstein. Overall, I think this CD will have a bit more of an American flavor to it than its predecessors.

9. Are there any potential surprises for listeners?

No R&B used in getting an American sound, as far as I can tell so far.

10. Do you have any final thoughts for us?

HP: A deep and heartfelt thanks to everyone connected with the prog scene for providing the climate, opportunities, encouragement, and sustained interest we've needed to continue to do this--and particularly to those people who've helped to support our efforts by purchasing our CDs, or by coming out to see us perform live. God bless to all of you.

Websites of Note:

(above photo from Advent website.)