07 July 2009

Forgas Band Phenomena to perform at NF 2010

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

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

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


04 July 2009

3 Albums I am currently digging...

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

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

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

Check these places for more info:





02 July 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capitol Theatre 1976:

Running Hard

Ocean Gypsy

Carpet of the Sun

Mother Russia


Song of Scheherazade

Asbury Park Convention Hall 1979:

Can You Understand - Intro

The Vultures Fly High

Jeckyll and Hyde

Northern Lights

Forever Changing

Secret Mission

Mother Russia

A Song for all Seasons

The Flood at Lyons

Annie Haslam – vocals

Michael Dunford – acoustic and electric guitar

John Tout – piano and keyboards

Terrance Sullivan – drums and percussion

Jon Camp – bass guitar and vocals

NEARfest 2010 dates announced

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

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

01 July 2009

Cuneiform Records artists on tour

Info courtesy of label president Steve Feigenbaum:

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

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

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

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

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

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

[40th anniversary celebration]

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


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


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

October - west coast USA touring


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


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

(our latest signing! CD out in September!)

September 22 - Sonic Circuits Festival - Washington, DC


September 30 - Sunset Club - Paris, France

December 5 - Theatre de Sens - Sens, France

June - NEARFest - Zoellner Auditorium - Bethlehem, PA


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


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

November 10 - Lemoyne College - Syracuse, NY


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

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


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

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

October 14 - tba - Barnstaple, UK

October 23 - tba - Derby, UK

December 10 - tba - Nottingham, UK


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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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


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


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

October 13 - Nancy Jazz Pulsations Festival - Nancy, France

(our latest signing! CD out in September!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What can we derive from this list?

Not a whole lot.

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

Is this that shocking?

Not really.

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

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

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

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