10 December 2010

Edensong and Kinetic Element live tomorrow night in Baltimore

Saturday, December 11th at 8 PM
Orion Studios at 2903 Whittington Ave, Baltimore, MD
Tickets are $15 at the door, All Ages Welcome

On Saturday, December 11th, New York based orchestral rockers Edensong will take the stage at Orion Sound Studios in Baltimore, MD as part of the studio's Progressive Rock Showcase series. The show begins at 8pm with the symphonic progressive rock of Virginia's Kinetic Element. Tickets are $15 and available at the venue on the day of the show. Seating is limited, so arrive early!

Edensong (www.edensongtheband.com): Referred to as “A band to watch over the coming years... It almost frightens me where they’re going from here” (Bill's Prog Blog, September 2010), Edensong recently released their half live, half studio album "Echoes of Edensong: From the Studio and Stage" to rave reviews and early ‘Best of 2010’ lists. This, following their unprecedented presence at many major progressive rock festivals of the past year (Three Rivers Progressive Rock Festival in Pittsburgh, PA, Progday in Chapel Hill, NC, and Convention Terra Incognita in Quebec City, QC) helped to gain Edensong a loyal following among progressive rock enthusiasts. For their show at Orion, 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. 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.

Kinetic Element (www.kineticelement.com): US outfit KINETIC ELEMENT was formed in 2006 and is the creative vehicle of composer and keyboardist Mike Visaggio.  Since then, they have been performing a number of live shows and slowly but surely  have gotten around to recording their songs as well. So far, Kinetic Element have issued a demo EP named The Powered By Light Suite in 2008 and their full length debut album Powered By Light in 2009."

09 December 2010

Edensong live tonight in NYC (video premiere!)

The World Premier of Edensong’s “Beneath the Tide” music video
With performances from
Break of Reality
and New Beard

Thursday, December 9th at 7 PM
Public Assembly at 70 N 6th St, Brooklyn, NY
Tickets $10 (adv from www.ticketweb.com), $13 (door),  21+

On Thursday, December 9th, Enjoy a multimedia evening of  three genre bending New York bands.  Break of Reality (www.breakofreality.com) headlines the show with their mind-blowing cello infused progressive rock, with supporting performances from orchestral rockers Edensong (www.edensongtheband.com), and the eclectic indie/prog/pop madness of New Beard (www.newbeardcity.com).  Edensong’s “Beneath the Tide” music video, directed by Nick Fiore (www.vimeo.com/nickfiore), will be screened between musical sets. This is not a show to miss!

Break of Reality (www.breakofreality.com) is a cello quartet gone mad. The band’s sound is cinematic, subdued and heavy all at once. Their live audiences are equally diverse; fans of Led Zeppelin, Radiohead and Yo-Yo Ma are finally getting acquainted. In 2006, Break of Reality released an independent album, The Sound Between, which has sold over 24,000 copies in the United States and around the world, much to the band's amazement. The band has been touring in support of their recent album, Spectrum of the Sky, released in the summer of 2009. The members of Break of Reality have been applauded for their "thunderous tone" and their "take no prisoner approach to cello playing" (Sacramento Bee Newspaper, June 2007). Their sound has been described as having "excitement, originality, and an undeniable intensity that louder, heavier bands only dream of. Break of Reality is going to win a Grammy someday. Bank on it.” (Rochester City News, April 2007).

Edensong (www.edensongtheband.com): Referred to as “a band to watch over the coming years... It almost frightens me where they’re going from here” (Bill‘s Prog Blog, September 2010), Edensong recently released their half live, half studio album "Echoes of Edensong: From the Studio and Stage" to rave reviews and early ‘Best of 2010’ lists. This, following the success of their debut album “The Fruit Fallen” (2008) and their unprecedented presence at many major progressive rock festivals of the past year:  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.  This show will mark the premier of their new music video for “Beneath the Tide.” 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.

New Beard (www.newbeardcity.com) is a new dynamic and innovative rock act based in New York and is the brother band of Edensong.  After the formation of the group by Ben Wigler and Andrew Dunn (both formerly of the indie rock band Arizona), Tony Waldman and "Tuba Joe" Exley soon joined and the boys started work on their first album while playing a series of shows that included an opening performance for Dead Confederate at the illustrious Music Hall of Williamsburg.  New Beard looks forward to sharing the stage with Break of Reality and Edensong and putting the final touches on their debut album.”

More than 10 Questions with...James Byron Schoen of Edensong

People who have read my review of Edensong’s Echoes of Edensong know full well how much this band’s music has touched me.  Sitting down with founder member James Byron Schoen was something I felt I needed to do on a number of levels; the combination of striking visuals, packaging, and intense lyrical themes left me wanting to understand more.

James had been very busy with preparations for a small series of shows, as well as filming and production of the band’s concept video for the song ‘Beneath the Tide,’ but found the time somehow to answer (expansively, I might add!) my questions.

I want to thank him for his time and his patience…and if you get a chance, go see the band live!  I’ve got some info coming in a bit about some upcoming shows, including one tonight (it’s not too late for tickets!)

1 To start things off, when did you first discover a love of music?

This is going pretty far back.  I've been writing and recording music as far back as I can remember (probably since I was about 4 or so).  I remember being initially inspired by a PBS TV show called "The Letter People," where each character (Mrs. A, Mr. B and so on) had his/her own song.  Being the clever little boy I was, I created the number people songs!  The really early stuff was almost entirely improvisational (and terrible, of course).  I recently discovered some really old cassettes in the attic that documented my music making through the years, from early childhood on through early demos with my high school band Echoes of Eden.  I started more thoughtfully composing my music around age 7 or 8 during a period of obsession with Michael Jackson (purely platonic, I assure you).  Around this time, I "released" my first full solo album "Desert Storm" and sold four copies in my fourth grade class.  So yeah, music has always been a major driving force in my life.

2 As you started finding your own voice musically, what bands or artists were influential for you?

I'd have to say I began to develop a more sensible and sophisticated taste in music around 6th grade (though, I'll defend my childhood love of Billy Joel, The Beatles, and even Michael Jackson), when I started getting into the Alternative Rock of the day (the early 90s grunge bands plus Aerosmith, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Greenday, Nine Inch Nails etc.).  The next year, I started digging through my dad's old record collection and became a student of classic rock and prog (I suppose it took me a while to define this term, but I guess a lot of of us are still struggling with it).  I found Jethro Tull, Yes, Cat Stevens, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix etc.  The former three plus the Metallica, Rush, and Dream Theater that my friend Tony (drummer of Edensong) introduced me to around the same time are probably most responsible for influencing the music that I went on to make. 

3 How did Edensong first come together?

Once upon a time there was a band of high school kids called Echoes of Eden.  We played our own blend of progressive metal, influenced heavily by the Metallica, Rush, and Dream Theater we were listening to at the time.  We released an album called "Beneath the Tide" in 2000, started writing and recording demos for some follow up material (really cool stuff, actually) and then disbanded as we all headed off to different colleges.  After playing some more acoustically oriented solo material for a while freshman year, I made my first post-high school attempts at putting a band together.  The origin story is actually on our website and various other websites, but I'll give a short recap here.  A friend of mine suggested mounting a full on multimedia rock opera with funding from the school's student theater organization, so I formed a house band to play a bunch of my songs, both from Echoes of Edensong and electrified versions of the accostic stuff I'd been writing more recently (a lot of this stuff went on to make up "The Fruit Fallen").  At first, I continued to call the band Echoes of Eden but eventually settled upon Edensong before graduating.  The lineup shifted a lot in those days, and it actually wasn't until after "The Fruit Fallen" was released that I really found the right group of musicians for the band and this music.

4 How difficult was it pulling together the material for The Fruit Fallen, Edensong's first album?

Pulling the material together really wasn't too difficult at all.  Ever since the original Echoes of Eden broke up in 2001, I had been writing material on my own.  As you can imagine, I had accumulated a lot of music.  It wasn't until the summer of 2004 that I had really made up my mind to make another album.  I knew I wouldn't have the budget to work in a "real" studio, nor did I want to entrust the outcome of the album to a producer or engineer who had little creative investment in the project (I knew this would be an album heavy in studio hours, fine-tuning the arrangements, adding layers, working on sonic details etc.), so I bought some recording equipment and brushed up on my recording skills so I could record the album myself.  It turned out to be a good choice, as the trials and errors of "The Fruit Fallen" led to my developing some engineering chops and launching my own recording business, which has thus far sustained me financially and allowed me to continue on my path with Edensong.

5 Listening to the album, there seems to be a strong theme running through the material.  Is there any insight you can provide there?

Lyrical theme?  There are probably a few that you're picking up on.  Overall, it's a pretty dark album.  There are quite a few tracks that deal pretty heavily with illness and death.  You might also be picking up on some religious themes in the lyrics, and especially the song titles ("The Prayer," "The Sixth Day," "The Baptism" etc.).  At the time, writing music was catharsis for me.  I tended to write about the problems that I saw in the world and those affecting the people around me.  It actually makes an interesting juxtaposition with the album Beneath the Tide I wrote with Echoes of Eden back in high school.  Beneath the Tide dealt largely with themes of innocence, youth and redemption, whereas the Fruit Fallen is often about the uglier and darker side of life.  This shift was pretty reflective of what was going on in my own life at the time, dealing with failed relationships, family illness, the death of childhood friends etc.  I suppose the Fruit Fallen was a bit of a coming of age CD for me.

6 Have you or the band caught any negative response over some of the lyrical content (songs like 'The Sixth Day,' for example)? 

Not too much.  I'm sure there are plenty of people who aren't too thrilled with the lyrics from that song, but I tend to only hear from the people who really like them.  I've been told by quite a few people that "The Sixth Day" is their favorite song on "The Fruit Fallen."  It's one of mine as well, and I think it's a song that really shines on the stage rather than in the studio version.  I did however stumble upon some review on progarchives of an album  by Neal Morse (an artist I really admire), comparing his tasteful treatment of religious themes in his music to Edensong's opposite blunt and hackneyed treatment in this song, so we're certainly not making everyone happy (I was pretty psyched, however, to see a mention of Edensong in the review!).  At the time I wrote this, I was examining the role of organized religion in our everyday lives, the reasons people turn to God, and the unfortunate divisiveness and intolerance that religion can breed.  I'm generally pretty reserved and not somebody who feels a need to be provocative, shocking, or divisive, but it's a topic I'm pretty passionate about.  I'm not sure if I would write the same song today, but I'm certainly glad I did at the time.

7 How easy or hard has it been to translate the fairly layered compositions to the stage?

There are definitely certain challenges to bringing this music to the stage, both technical and musical.  Even with six band members on stage, it's impossible for us to perform all the layers from the album.  While we tend to stay pretty faithful to the arrangements from the CDs, we will sometimes need to eliminate certain background layers, or move them from the guitar to another instrument (Stefan, our keyboardist, often has to cover all the keyboard parts plus pick up any of the important guitar parts from the recording that I'm unable to play at any given time).  The constant shift between acoustic and electric guitar also posed a bit of a challenge at first, but has been made wonderfully easy since I started using my Godin xtSA guitar with simultaneous electric and acoustic (piezo) outputs (In the old days I had to keep my acoustic guitars on player stands and wear my electric guitar.  I was always bashing them up or knocking them over and it was terrible for my playing technique.  This way I can play acoustic, electric, or any blend thereof and adjust this on the fly by stepping on a volume pedal).  Musically, I'd say the most challenging aspect of the live show is the often abrupt transitions in our music.  We'll need to shift tempos and/or textures immediately, and the two are often completely unrelated.  We also try to focus a good deal on the dynamics of our live show, so all of these important nuances require a lot of rehearsal.

8 Has there been a moment that stands out as a particular highlight for you with the band, live or what have you?

Thus far, I'd have to say the biggest point of arrival in our career would have to be our performance at Three Rivers Progressive Rock Festival in August 2009.  There were other moments that felt like personal accomplishments, such as the release of the Fruit Fallen after many years of hard work, but playing at 3RP was the moment where I felt I was no longer creating music in a vacuum and got an opportunity to share this stuff with the world, and people actually seemed to care!  It was our first real show, especially with the post-Fruit Fallen lineup, and it was our first time playing with bands we'd actually heard of!  We've gone on to have quite a few other truly memorable live experiences, but there's always something special about the first.  I'm hoping we get the opportunity to collect many many more of these career highlights!

9 Edensong just released Echoes of Edensong, a half live, half studio album.  How did this particular project come about? 

For years, I and my former bandmates from Echoes of Eden had discussed the prospect of re-recording and rereleasing some choice songs from our debut album Beneath the Tide.  We always felt strongly about the material but never felt it was captured on CD quite the way we envisioned it.  After our reunion onstage at 3RP and Tony's subsequent joining the band as our drummer, we thought the time was right to revisit some of this material.  We decided to focus our energy on the song Beneath the Tide (which we had already been playing with this lineup of Edensong), and not worry about the other few songs, which the rest of the band members weren't too crazy about in the first place.  While we were in the process of recording Beneath the Tide, I received an e-mail from Brian Cobb asking us to contribute a track for the Haiti Projekt.  I really wanted to offer something unreleased and unique to the collection and decided on "Lorelai," a song I had written many years ago for a potential concept album, but had never recorded or released.  I always liked this song a lot and it seemed thematically appropriate.  As I knew a full Edensong album of all new studio material was quite a few years off, I wanted to release something of substance for our fans (now that we actually had them!), so we decided to pair "Beneath the Tide" with "Lorelai" and include some live and unreleased tracks to round out the collection.  This CD really offers a glimpse into a band coming together, both through our live festival performances of 2009/10, but also in the studio tracks, as this was our first time working together in this creative context.  I really think that the experience of making this CD will end up making our future album stronger and more cohesive.  I've been really pleased with the response this CD has gotten thus far, both from fans and reviewers.

10 How did the two new tracks ('Beneath the Tide' and 'Lorelai') come about? 

Oh Whoops, I guess I just answered that in the last question!

11 Do you feel there are any thematic ties that connect 'Beneath the Tide' to the other songs on The Fruit Fallen? 

Not intentionally.  Since I've been writing music, I seem to have certain motifs I gravitate toward instinctively.  One such recurrent lyrical theme is water - it obviously factors heavily in "Beneath the Tide" but also makes a strong appearance on The Fruit Fallen in songs like "Water Run", "The Baptism," and "Reflection."  Additionally, I tend to have a certain way I approach song writing, specifically lyrics.  My lyrics will often follow a story;  I tend to develop a coherent narrative for the song in my mind and then begin to abstract the concepts into more "poetic" language.  This helps me to keep my lyrics focused.  It always helps for me to know what I'm talking about, even if the words disguise it a bit.

12 Both Edensong releases have distinctive packages.  How important is that to you in presenting the music? 

Visuals are very powerful for me.  I feel that our album covers are often the first thing people see when they hear about Edensong.  They may know the artwork before they even know the music.  With the "Fruit Fallen," I wanted to create the sense of an old fantasy book.  A few years ago, I bought a first edition of Alice in Wonderland and was completely captivated by the look and feel, both in the aged cover leather, yellowed pages, and musty smell, and by the illustrations and layout.  So with "The Fruit Fallen," aside from designing the cover to look like a book, I wanted to echo this literary theme in the packaging itself.  The album package is a digi-pack (instead of the standard jewel case), so it could be opened like a book.  The leather cover look continues to the inside of the case where there is a full 12 page lyrics booklet.  The inner booklet is tied together by the darkly whimsical pen illustrations drawn by my good friend Alex Muller.  I had originally wanted to sew in the booklet  so that the case would be an actual book, but this proved a bit too costly to justify.  Since "Echoes of Edensong" is more of an interim release, we couldn't put the same resources toward packaging.  We wanted something simple but powerful and knew we would need to rely mainly upon the artwork to do this.  A friend of mine showed me Alison Silva's artwork and I immediately knew it would be the perfect look for the release.  Luckily, Alison seemed very excited about the project as well and she designed two beautifully powerful paintings for the front and back panels.  We wanted to continue the book motif from the "Fruit Fallen," given that the two releases are very related, so we borrowed the same book texture and changed the color.

13 What does the band have planned next? 

We have a lot of stuff in the works right now.  Despite having no big festival gigs looming on the horizon, this is by far the busiest the band has ever been.  We're now deep into the writing process for our next full length album: something of a concept album, but I shouldn't say more than that.  I'm hoping we can begin recording by year's end.  We also just completed our first music video for the song "Beneath the Tide," which was made possible by some generous donations by our friends and fans via Kickstarter.  We have a premier screening planned for December 9th in NY.  We plan to make this video available on youtube with some live videos of our various festival performances.  This is also the first time that the band has been gigging and traveling regularly.  We're heading down to Baltimore in a few weeks for a show at the iconic Orion Studios, so we're pretty psyched for that.  Beyond that, we're hard at work with some of the less glamorous aspects of being a rock band - promotion, etc.  Despite how much time I spend doing band related activities, it always seems like there's a ton more to do.  At least things are moving forward!

14 How has the world's move to digital mediums changed how you look at the process of making an album? 

I honestly don't think it has thus far.  Our next project is very much rooted in the age of the album.  We have a few cuts that could be singles, but our approach is certainly on the work as a whole.  One of the major casualties of the digital age is the importance of the album.  In this regard, it's like we've all set the clock back to the early 1960s.  Edensong does it's best to resist this trend and given our direction, I imagine we'll always been an album band.  But then again, who knows what the future holds?

15 How has downloading impacted the band, either negatively or positively? 

I think it's a bit of both.  I have to figure that the internet has been mainly a boon for Edensong and the tons of independent non-mainstream bands.  I'm sure we've lost our fair share of CD sales to illegal downloading, but I also highly doubt that we'd be anywhere right now if it weren't for the internet.

16 Are there any newer bands you look to today for inspiration? 

Say what you will about modern music, I really believe we are living in a creative golden age.  Sure, as a culture, we may be being force fed terrible and/or formulaic crap, but if you take an active approach to your listening (as many music enthusiasts do these days), you can find amazingly innovative and eclectic work out there.  Nothing is really off limits and musicians are mixing genres all the time.  There are no rules and no gatekeepers, and thanks to modern technology, anything you can dream up compositionally is within reach.  Some of my favorite modern bands draw upon elements from early 70s progressive rock (some more than others), but wouldn't necessarily be labelled as such:  Coheed and Cambria, The Mars Volta, Three, Dredg, The Dear Hunter etc.  Of course, I also love a bunch of bands who run in the same progressive rock circles as we do: Discipline, Phideaux, IZZ, Magenta etc.

17 When you're not writing or performing, are there any bands or musicians you're finding particularly enjoyable these days? 

I guess I'm pretty longwinded because I think I answered this one in the previous question as well.  This week, I've been on a Symphony X kick.  I got into these guys when I was in early high school and it's been a few years since I've revisited their work.  I really can't imagine anyone doing a better job within this style.  It's usually metal that's the most immediately rewarding for me to listen to these days…Dream Theater, Coheed, Vanden Plas etc.  It's definitely a comfort because I know these albums so well but it also has the whole adrenaline thing, and since I do most of my casual listening in the car, it does a good job of keeping me awake as well!

18 As we wrap things up, do you have any parting words for our readers? 

Thanks so much for taking the time to read what I have to say and learning a bit about Edensong.  I hope I didn't go on too long!  If you like us in real life, come find us and "like" us on facebook too!  This is definitely the best site for up to date information.  And thanks to you, Bill, for putting together such thoughtful questions and being so supportive of our band.  You have a great site here!

Find out more:

09 October 2010

The State of the Blog 9 October 2010

Hello and welcome back to another installment of the State of the Blog.

This week’s is going to be brief, but it’s also somewhat important if for no other reason than to ensure those of you reading at home that everything is actually quite OK.  However, next week BPB will be ever so briefly on holidays.  Yr. Obd’t blogger needs to catch up on some writing and other things, and while I do not feel burned out at all, I am a bit worn down, and taking the week will let me catch up on the things that need catching up, and allow me to ensure that I don’t reach that critical burn out stage.

I am not going away!

This is not one of those 3 or 4 or 5 month long hiatuses where the blog goes fallow.

This is a chance for me to decouple for a week, clear out the cache and spoolers, and do a much needed reboot on the 386 I call my brain.

I am very lucky to have some incredibly loyal readers and it’s because I know that that I wanted to pass along this info rather than just take off.  I’ll put it this way…I have a half dozen CD reviews written in my head that I haven’t typed yet because they’re all jumbled up.  I’m a bit blocked, and that’s no good for me or for you.

The new poll will still be going up this evening.

I do not have a Magma Monday post queued for this week, but I’ll see if I can’t scare up something special for you all.  Of everything, the regular Magma Monday posts are the ones I feel strongest about ensuring get out there.  And if all goes well, there may be a few other surprises coming your way that are less from me specifically but done just for this blog.

The current plan is to resume regular operation on 18 October.

If you have any questions, I’m easy to get in contact with…either through comments here, my e-mail address (which can be found on this blog somewhere), or for the majority of you on Facebook, there as well.

Now, if you’ll allow…there’s a fruity tropical drink with an umbrella in it with my name on it somewhere…see everyone in a week!

08 October 2010

Mick Karn benefit release information

...a show of love, respect & grace - a tribute to Mick Karn, to be released digitally via the council on September 28, features sixteen captivating tracks from an array of renowned artists all determined to repay the artistic debt they feel is owed to Mick.

"Mick Karn has been a huge influence on my entire body of work, both in Japan and as a solo artist," explains Italian composer, musician, and sonic architect Eraldo Bernocchi, who helped to rally contributors for ...a show of love, respect & grace - a tribute to Mick Karn. "Helping him in a moment like this is a way to thank him for all he did for music. It's a small gesture, but it comes from inside my heart. When you hear the call, you must act - and fast, too..." Indeed, the speed with which the ambitious collection was assembled is astounding. "When I started making calls and sending emails to see about getting contributions for the album," recalls Howard Wulkan, founder of the council, "the response was overwhelming. Over an hour and a half of music; some of it exclusive to the collection, came together almost instantly. As a digital-only release, the collection is able to bypass the more cumbersome physical distribution channels and will begin raising much-needed money for Karn very quickly."

"When asked to contribute a track," explains Colin Edwin, bassist of the acclaimed progressive rock group Porcupine Tree, "I had no hesitation in doing so, having been a fan of Mick's unique work for many years. I choose the track 'Plural' since it seemed appropriate to have something with both prominent fretless bass and also an odd-time signature; both elements that are associated with Mick's own highly-distinctive music. As a bassist, I count him as an influence, although he is by far, too exceptionally original to copy."

...a show of love, respect & grace - a tribute to Mick Karn will be available at digital outlets beginning September 28, 2010, with all net proceeds going directly to Karn. Full tracklist is as follows:

Brainkiller - "Michaelsketch"
Climax Golden Twins - "Crint"
Colin Edwin (Porcupine Tree) - "Plural"
David Torn - "Renaissance Mensch (dt for mk)"
Edward Ka Spel - "Hauptbahnhof"
Elijah B Torn - "what"
Eraldo Bernocchi - "Dreamt Of Dreaming"
Eraldo Bernocchi - "The Ship"
Eraldo Bernocchi - "No Turning Back"
Kllu - "Unthink"
Martin Schulte - "Angels"
Meditronica - "Ki Eshmera Shabbat (Gaudi Remix)"
Peter Gannon (Calla) - "For MK"
The Mantra Above The Spotless Melt Moon - "Blanca"
The Mantra Above The Spotless Melt Moon - "The Ship"
Witchman (featuring Rosanne) - "No More"

It will be available online at iTunes, Rhapsody, Zune, Amazon and all other digital retailers

As a footnote from us - we'd like to thank everyone who was involved in this release, as we would everyone who has raised or donated money for the Appeal. Thank you so very much - it's incredibly heartwarming.


Jakko M Jakszyk has made his long-deleted EP Kingdom Of Dust (featuring Jansen, Barbieri and Karn) available as a download.

He's kindly donating all the profits from the release (which includes a recently completed piece with Richard Barbieri) to the Mick Karn Appeal.

It's available from Burning Shed and you can find a page with their three Mick Karn Appeal related items here:


CD REVIEW: simakDialog - Demi-Masa (2009, Moonjune Records)

There are times I think these self aware CD review openings are a little anti-climactic.

After all, by the time I get to the review, you already know what I’m going to be writing about (the title at the top is always a dead giveaway), and it’s not as if this extra text is all that necessary.  Of course, I do rather enjoy setting the stage for the review, and as such for the time being they’ll be staying around.

In any event…

One of the more exciting things about NEARfest,other than the bands, and discovering new bands I’d never heard of, and the hanging out with friends I get to see once a year, and all of that, is finding out who’ll be playing the festival the next year.  Usually we’ll get at least one announcement, and sometimes two, which will whet the appetite and help to start building excitement for the next year’s festival.  This year was no exception, with the organisers announcing Gösta Berlings Saga and simakDialog for NEARfest 2011.

Gösta Berlings Saga is a band I am semi-familiar with, if for no other reason than members of GBS are also involved in the Makajodama project, which I absolutely loved last year.  SimakDialog, on the other hand, was a completely unknown quantity for me.  I knew they were Indonesian, but that was quite frankly the extent of any knowledge I had of them.  It was fortunate, then, that I was given an opportunity to check out some of their material courtesy of Leonardo at Moonjune Records, the band’s label.

We’re going to start off with a look at Demi-Masa, the band’s 2009 studio album.

On Demi-Masa, simakDialog is a 5 piece augmented by 3 guest musicians.  Much of the material sees piano and guitar as the focal points, and the respective musicians (Riza Arshad on piano, Tohpati Ario on guitar) are incredibly expressive players.  Their style is intensely jazzy, with just a touch of Soft Machine-esque fusion to temper things.  Tohpati is particularly engaging, with his playing shifting from subtle to intense in the blink of an eye.  I really think he’s a player to watch out for…before hearing Demi-Masa I’d not been familiar with him at all, and I already consider him a special and unique musicalvoice that rates up there wil some of my favourite Canterbury/fusion players.  They are backed by Adhitya Pratama, whose bass playing is incredibly subtle, but perfect for this kind of ensemble playing, and Endang Ramdan and Erlan Suwardana on sundanese kendang (a two-headed drum often used in gamelan as one of the primary instruments in those ensembles).  The quieter percussion (no kit drumming here!) lends a softer feel to everything, which may seem to lessen the impact of some of the more intense playing, but actually does the opposite.

On Demi-Masa, this quintet is joined by Emy Tata (sundanese kendang, claps, vocals track 2), Mian Tiara (vocals traack 7) and Dave Lumenta (soundscapes track 8).

Musically…wow.  I’m not sure where to begin.  And frankly, as I have inferred, I wasn’t at all sure what I’d be hearing when I popped the CD in the first time.  Part of me expected…well, intense musicianship for one.  Heavy accents on percussion for two.  But I suppose I did expect something that would be closer to Gamelan or a similar style, and with my exposure to Gamelan influences being mostly as a result of some of the things King Crimson was doing in the 1980’s, I suppose I expected something a bit rockier and in my face.  Instead I got a heavy dose of subtlety, shifting tracks that flow from quiet calm to intense wailing, yet always in a somewhat restrained, measured fashion.  This is definitely fusiony stuff…at least on Demi-Masa, and I think people who like the more free-form sounds of later Soft Machine, with emphasis on impressive guitar playing, will love this.

I am particularly enamoured of the cool percussive and vocal elements of ‘Salilana Kedua,’ layered with excellent drumming, polyrhythms stacked atop more polyrhythms, everything melting together in a wonderfully fluid melange that never feels jumbled or difficult to manage.  Tohpati even shines on acoustic guitar…and while I am faling inextricably in love with his electric playing, his acousitc work merits note as well.  The subtle opening of ‘Tak Jauh Pertama’ leads into far more intense instrumental interplay, with some of the most intense electric guitar soloing on the album, while ‘Tak Jauh Kedua’ showcases some incredibly lyrical piano and Rhodes playing from Arshad.

A trio of shorter pieces follows, all with the prefix ‘Trah Lor’ (Northern People).  The first of these, ‘Trah Lor – Laras’ is dramatic, with very cool piano playing and subtle percussive accents behind.  ‘Trah Lor – Rupa’ builds from this, with almost Zappa-esque synth sounds and arrangements that are very much unlike other pieces on the album.  The final part of the trilogy is Trah Lor – Tapak,’ which wraps up the multi-part suite with a dose of soundscapes and ethereal, other worldly vocals from Mian Tiara.  The result is striking…while so much of simakDialog’s material seems so earthy and centered, this piece takes the elements we’ve heard thus far and launches them into the cosmos.  It is a wildly different composition, as each of the three in this suite have been.

‘Disapih’ wraps the album up as the final track.  A 13-minute extended piece, it’s a final chance for the band to shine, and they do so throughout.  Tohpati’s guitar playing is wonderful, with a slightly fuzzed tone that almost mimics (but doesn’t quite) an electric sitar, with some wonderful guitar/drum unisons that seem almost telepathic.  Arshad’s Rhoses chops are on fine display, and Adhitya Pratama’s bass lines are so graceful and fluid, mixed perfectly and adding warmth and a pulse that brings the piece to life.  It’s light, it’s uplifting, it’s Canterbury meets fusion in Southeast Asia with just the right amount of each.

While I still have another simakDialog album to review for you, Constant Reader, it’s best to start with their newest work.  And Demi-Masa is a brilliant album that offers up its treasures slowly but surely to the devoted listener.  I think this is music that will go over very well in a live setting, and I think they may well be one of the surprises of NEARfest 2011.  Demi-Masa’s well worth searching out.

Track Listing:
1.  Salilana Pertama (Forever, Part 1)  14:01  
2.  Salilana Kedua (Forever, Part 2) 6:46 
3.  Tak Jauh Pertama (Not So Far, Part 1) 7:42 
4.  Tak Jauh Kedua (Not So Far, Part 2) 9:11 
5.  Trah Lor - Laras (Northern People - Voices) 2:28 
6.  Trah Lor - Rupa (Northern People - Faces) 3:41 
7.  Trah Lor - Tapak (Northern People - Prints) 3:46 
8.  Karuhun (To Elders) 9:06 
9.  Disapih (Separate Away) 13:16

Riza Arshad - rhodes piano, acoustic piano, soundscapes
Tohpati Ario - electric/acoustic guitars
Adhitya Pratama - electric bass
Endang Ramdan - sundanese kendang (prime)
Erlan Suwardana - sundanese kendang (2nd)

Find out more:

(More than) 10 questions with...Pinnacle (part the second)

I’ve known the guys in Pinnacle for a while…differing amounts for most of them but still, we go a ways back.  If you’ve been lucky enough to spend time at NEARfest or the NJ Proghouse shows, you know them too, even if you’ve not spoken with them personally.  Drummer Greg Jones is the master of coffee (a beverage that sadly I have to refrain from these days…damn you, heart!), a wonderfully warm and funny guy, and a fantastic timekeeper to boot.  Karl Eisenhart is always quick with a quip, but has always found time to discuss some minutiae with me whenever necessary.  And bassist/keyboardist Bill Fox, DJ for several Lehigh Valley radio programs, has always struck me as the normal one of the bunch.

Apparently I was wrong.

But more about that soon.

Greg was kind and generous enough several years back to front me a copy of the band’s debut release, A Man’s Reach.  I enjoyed it…limited in a lot of ways, but there was a spark there that I knew could be nurtured into something more impressive given time.  Their sophomore album, Meld, saw that spark turn into a steady flame.  With much improved production values and an amazing cover, it showed me a band growing by leaps and bounds faster than I even imagined.  And with the news that they added a fourth member in keyboardist/vocalist Matt Francisco, the thought that these two albums are just the beginning of something even greater still brings a smile to my face.

Yes, these guys are friends (well, 3 of them are…I’ve not met Matt yet), but I also happen to think that they are fine musicians working very hard at crafting some interesting and very enjoyable melodic progressive rock.  It’s a pleasure for me to return the favour they’d granted me in sharing their music with me by spending the next two days (cos this is a hella long interview!) offering you some insight into the workings of a band that more of you should be checking out!

I usually spend this final paragraph thanking the band for their time, and it goes doubly…or trebly here.  Not only have all of the band members taken time out of their busy lives to answer these questions, but they’ve shared their music with me long before this blog/site was a gleam in my eye.  I hope this comes across in the questions and answers that follow.  So, major thanks and bouquets of Martian Fireflowers to the members of Pinnacle!

And…we’re off!

10. What would you say has been Pinnacle’s, well…pinnacle moment so far?

There have been a few so it's hard to pick just one.  Supporting Nick D'Virgilio on three songs in concert was probably the first highlight, chronologically.  Opening for Spock's Beard was definitely a blast and an honor.  Playing at ProgDay and contributing tracks to Tuonen Tytar II and The Haiti Project are definitely up there.  Opening for Riverside was amazing.

GJ: Bill listed most of the big ones - so I'll add meeting famed prog producer Jeff Glixman, sitting in his studio while he listened to our music and made suggestions and seeing him really digging it.

KE: I was thinking about this, and there have been a few great ones. One that really sticks with me was a show we played at a little, awful place called Brenda and Jerry’s a few years ago. The gig had EVERYTHING working against it. It had all the potential to be one of the biggest nightmares of my musical career, and in some ways it was…you wouldn’t believe me if I told you. BUT, when it came time to play, I looked out and a relatively large number of people had driven a fair distance just to hear us. Some I knew, some I didn’t. I was blown away. It was my first real proof that anyone gave a rat’s butt about what we were doing. I’m pretty sure we played every song we knew and at least one we kind of didn’t know in an effort to make sure everyone left happy.

MF: I can’t speak for all. Speaking for me, our appearance at Dave Phillips back in November. Playing with the band in front of a wonderfully appreciative audience for the first time, and then meeting long time friends and fans of the band afterward. Very rewarding and encouraging.

11. Sort of countering that…have you had any moments where all you could do is laugh at how difficult things were, because the only other option was to pack it all in?  Sort of a Spinal Tap-type moment?

We played a local venue called Brenda and Jerry's which is basically a little music school.  During our break, Brenda and Jerry hopped up on stage to regale our prog audience with schmaltzy show tunes.  I have no problem with show tunes, having played in a number of pit orchestras.  But Brenda and Jerry chose the wrong crowd to inflict their music and all we could do was grit our teeth and cut short our break.

GJ: Well there was this Earth Day benefit we got asked to play, and my bandmates got me to promise I'd behave myself and not poke too much fun at the more extreme "earth biscuits" in the room. Well we walked in the door and there was a woman my age wearing a diaper, made up as one of those new squiggly light bulbs, with duct tape around her butt to be the threads. I turned to look at Karl and Bill and said "Forget it - all bets are off!" It was my extreme pleasure that day to be able to tell the audience from the stage that "my two band mates really care about the earth; I, however, am just pretending to care about earth - to make Saturn jealous."

KE: Again…there have been SO many. Probably the big standout would be the little festival we played in upstate NY. The guy who organized ProgOctoberfest had obviously worked his ass off in so many ways. Promotion was EVERYWHERE: radio, newspapers, magazines, posters…there might have even been a billboard. I sincerely believe he went way above and beyond the call of duty. Sadly it was all for naught. After driving four hours to get up there, we set up and played first. I believe we had the biggest audience of any of the bands because my uncle and a couple of his friends came, and all of the other bands had more members than we did. That was it. That was the audience: My uncle, his friends, and the members of the other bands. The other bands were awesome, but I don’t think there was a single other paid admission. The club was HUGE, which made the emptiness that much worse. The whole thing was a benefit for school music programs, too. Very sad indeed.

MF: None that I’ve experienced yet. I’m sure there will be moments, but the group always seems to be able to back off when necessary, talk openly, then have a laugh. That’s really the best way to keep a relationship of any sort going.

12. When you’re not playing or rehearsing, what do you do to relax?

I go on an annual hiking vacation and try to get some local hikes in as time permits.  I host three shows on FM stations that stream on-line so listening to music isn't always the relaxing past time it used to be.  But it's certainly not a stress except when previewing submissions that are not appropriate genre-wise or are of, shall I say, lesser quality.  I've started cooking a little more than I used to which is kind of relaxing in a way.  I'm addicted to TV, which is probably the most relaxing thing I do since my participation level doesn't need to be very high.

GJ: Laugh. (wait...is this interview going to run in Alaska? I don't want to give Eskimo women the wrong idea...) (Editors Note: Yes Greg.  Yes it is.) I love to laugh at comedies, both stupid ones and dark ones. The Best of Triumph The Insult Comic Dog is a favorite DVD of mine. And there's always drinking coffee.

KE: Relax? What’s that? I have another band—an acoustic adventure called RED—which plays out quite a bit and is working on its first album. We’re hoping to have that done in the next couple weeks. It looks like Brett Kull from Echolyn is going to mix and master it for us. Other than that, I like to do juvenile and dangerous things on bicycles. I’m also currently finishing my Elementary Teaching Certification, so hopefully I’ll have a “real” job at some point in the not-too-distant future. When the need arises, I do guitar repairs and some small recording projects.

MF: Time spent with my wife and my kids is the best relaxation therapy EVER. A highball glass full of Gentleman Jack is a close second.

13. I’ve got a couple (potentially irreverent) questions now that are just for one of you (Matt got his earlier).  Greg…what’s the secret to a perfect cup of coffee?

To quote Sean Connery from his Oscar winning role in The Untouchables, "What are you prepared to do?" It takes total commitment to do everything that you learn will make it better. I'll give you an example. Everyone who's reading this, what's the best cup of coffee you've ever had? Do you go to that place every morning? No? Why not? The answers to these questions will show you why the world remains doomed to serve bad coffee and why you're all accessories to the crime. If you're going somewhere because it's convenient rather than go support the place you had amazing coffee, shame on you.

BF: My secret is to have Greg brew it!  He brings an airpot of amazing coffee to every rehearsal.  Pinnacle is the most caffeinated band on the planet!

14. Karl…do you (or did you) ever get sick of people mangling the intro to Stairway to Heaven, or flubbing the Smoke on the Water riff?

You know what? I worked at two different music stores for a total of 8 years. I’m not sure I EVER heard anyone play Stairway or Smoke on the Water. Compared to what they were playing, that would have been a nice break. Now people can’t play Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” and that God awful Blink 182 song…”This is growing up?” Maybe? I don’t know what the hell it’s called. I heard those songs absolutely brutalized over and over again. And “Crazy Train.” Ozzy would throw up his bat.

However, I have to mention that I did notice a swing in the last few years. All of a sudden there were kids who could play…like REALLY play. It’s starting to become less of a liability to be a good musician. Obviously, it was fun in the early 2000’s when people thought I was the guitar god of the music store because I never bought into the whole grunge/punk ethic and could still play guitar solos, but I’m gleefully happy that “real” playing is starting to make a comeback. I can’t believe I have to thank that stupid Jack Black movie and a video game for it, but, hey, whatever works.

15. Bill…do you ever look at your band mates and thank whomever that you’re the sane one?

You obviously don't know me very well!  ;-)  I'm the most insane one of the group!  I retired at 46 to take a midlife crisis break from the rat race.  Unfortunately, I have to rejoin it soon.  But I knew that this day would come.  I just couldn't predict that the economy and job market would be in the toilet.

GJ: Bill? He's the craziEST one. He's our endless enigma, if you will...and a great friend.

KE: Bill is not the sane one. He’s the least-obviously crazy. Ironically, I’d have to say that the lead singer/keyboard player guy is the sane one. Weird.

16. Interests change over a lifetime.  Are there any newer bands or artists you find inspiring or enjoyable today?

I am, have been, and always shall be a Beatles fanatic.  Klaatu was my discovery of the '70s.  Toy Matinee was my discovery in 1990 and Spock's Beard in 1999.  In the '00s, it was the Vinyl Kings.  This excludes my interest in electronic music where I must cite Robert Rich, Ian Boddy, RMI, Red Shift.  I'd better stop there or I could go on for too long.

GJ: Besides my favorites Spock's Beard and The Dixie Dregs, I am inspired by and/or in awe of IZZ, 3RDegree, Echolyn, Those Men, Mars Hollow, District 97, It Bites, Singularity, Advent, etc. I love Mike Visaggio of Kinetic Element's organ work and the incredible drummer John Camaratta who just joined Healing Agony. There's so many great bands now, a veritable embarrassment of riches if you will. For me, what sets all of those artists apart is the quality of the songwriting.

KE: I wish I had more time to check more of them out. As far as Prog goes, I’ve really been liking Frost*, Mars Hollow, IZZ and Magic Pie. Outside of the Prog realm, I have been digging Jack’s Mannequin and, while they’re not a “new” band, the newest It Bites album, The Tall Ships, is one of the best things I’ve heard in eons.

MF: Yes, but way too many to mention, and my taste in music is all OVER the map. I will mention that I’ve really gotten into Shadow Gallery. They’ve got tunes out there I wish I had written.

17. Taking the new album out of the equation…what’s next for Pinnacle?

We would like to play at festivals and will be sending out the new CD to try and make that happen.  There certainly isn't a local prog scene for us to play in the Lehigh Valley.  The only prog event here is NEARfest and that comes only once per year.  The rest of the time, the Valley is a musical wasteland... unless you think that three chord Blues in 4/4 time is the pinnacle of musical achievement.

GJ: Hard to see beyond the excitement of new material but I hope we get some more gigs. We always love playing for Jim Robinson and the New Jersey Proghouse series, and we'd love to bring Matt's great voice to a stage anywhere we can.

KE: Money, women…You know….the usual.

I’d like to play more, certainly, but we have to find the “right” opportunities. There’s nothing worse than playing music you’ve slaved over and poured your heart into for an audience that really wants you to play the same songs they heard on the radio on the way to the club. I’d like to get into some of the festivals. We played ProgDay a couple years ago, which was a complete riot, but it didn’t turn out to be the starting point we were hoping it would be.

MF: Isn’t the new album enough for now?? Actually, I don’t think you can take the new album out of the equation, it’s going to be an unveiling of the “new” Pinnacle. And I think that we should start concentrating on the ‘new, new’ album right after that. (No doubt Karl just read this and smacked himself on the head). We have enough material for it already (well, I do, but I haven’t shown any of it to the boyz yet.)

18. In closing, do any of you have any final words to share with our readers?


GJ: Just a huge thank you to everyone who bought a CD, came to a show or read this interview. And thank you, Bill, for your interest.

KE: If you liked everything we’ve ever done before, the next album will be exactly the same, but WAY better. If you hated everything we’ve done up to this point, the next album will be TOTALLY DIFFERENT AND WONDERFUL!

MF: Hope to meet all of you soon!

Find out more:

07 October 2010

4th BPB Poll results


The fourth BPB poll was one I was looking forward to running for a long time...reader's favourite King Crimson album.  KC is a band that means so very much to me, as anyone who knows me closely can attest.  Even though I (grumble grumble stupidbloodycarin2003grrhate) never got to see the band live in concert, I've probably listened to more King Crimson than any other band (if you add in all the concert recordings I've been lucky enough to acquire over the years).

Usually with polls I have some preconceived notions how they'll go.  Much the same is true here...I had a feeling the top albums would be Red and In the Court, and I was not at all mistaken.  Until the final day, the two were tied for total votes...and they nearly ended up tied too.

There were some surprises though.

I expected Discipline to end up polling higher.  4th isn't a disappointment, but I figured for sure it'd have come in above Larks.  The other huge surprise for me was how low The Power to Believe came in.  I know a lot of people who find that album to be a modern KC classic, so to finish with only 3 votes out of over 200 cast was a complete shock to me.

In any event...213 votes total, which I believe is tops for a poll on this site to date.

And a new poll to follow this weekend...be ready!

Red  50 (23%)
In the Court of the Crimson King  49 (23%)
Larks Tongues in Aspic  29 (13%)
Discipline  24 (11%)
Lizard  17 (7%)
Islands  12 (5%)
Starless and Bible Black  12 (5%)
Three of a Perfect Pair  5 (2%)
THRaK  5 (2%)
In the Wake of Poseidon  3 (1%)
The Power to Believe  3 (1%)
The ConstruKCtion of Light  2 (0%)
Beat  2 (0%)

Votes : 213
Closed 2 October 2010 11:59 PM
Poll Length: 14 days

CD REVIEW: Dean Watson - Unsettled

Dean Watson contacted me a short bit ago following my review of Relocator’s debut CD, asking if I might be interested in checking out his album Unsettled.  I’d heard some very good things about the release, so it sounded like something that’d be of interest to me, and I encouraged him to send along a copy at his convenience.  I’ve been listening to this one for a while now, and today we’re going to take a closer look at it.

Dean Watson comes from Ontario, and Unsettled is a solo album in just about every way.  He’s written all the music and played everything.  Every guitar, every keyboard, every bass, every programmed drum note…it’s all Dean.  That’s a benefit and a detriment…while the music is incredibly locked in, incredibly tight (yet with admirable space), the lack of a live drummer (even if he were playing an electronic kit with triggered samples from, say, the Drumkit from Hell) is for me a shortcoming.  Drum hits, especially on faster sections, remind of machine gun fire, and the limitation of the sample set being used really creates an entirely too precise, clinical drum sound.  That ultimately includes the programming…either that, or Dean Watson is the world’s most precise electronic drummer ever, in which case I’ll have to apologise for that comment but still wish that there was a more diverse sample set being used.

I don’t have the same complaints about his bass/guitar/keyboard playing.  His bass work is fluid and effortless, with a nice round tone.  His guitar playing ranges from thick and crunchy to clean and shimmering, while he picks some great keyboard patches, including a really warm, real sounding Hammond tone that I still am not certain isn’t the real thing.  Since he plays everything there might be a concern about things getting too tight, and while there’s plenty of tight playing, there’s some nice space in these compositions that makes things work well.

The first three tracks on Unsettled do a great job of showcasing the breadth and scope of this release.

We start off with ‘The Encounter.’  When I played the album for the first time, and heard the marinba tone being used, my first thought was ‘Ooh, Zappa!’  We don’t remain in fields of Zappaesque sound for long, but it was a cool little nod, intentional or otherwise.  The drumming underneath is incredibly complex, and I think it’d be ever so much more impressive with a live kit.  Add in some heavy guitar and shifting keyboard patches…swirly synth here, organ there…and you have all the ingredients for an impressive album opener.  It’s nice to come out of the gates with a barnstormer of a track, and ‘The Encounter’ definitely is that.  Heavy, dexterous, with some nice shifts in tempo and time, and we’re definitely off on the right foot.

‘The Push’ takes us in a different direction entirely.  For me, if ‘The Encounter’ was a showcase for Watson’s guitar playing (and it really was), then ‘The Push’ gives us a taste of Watson’s killer keyboard chops.  Loads, veritable oodles of Hammond organ lace this track almost from the opening beat, with some Yamaha GX-1 like synth adding more colour and texture.  True story…I was listening to this one in the store I work at a week or so ago, and a customer came in and nearly dropped the receiver he was carrying in shock as he exclaimed to his wife ‘Oh my god, it’s a new ELP song!’  I suppose it was the organ playing, when I think about it, but I can see it too in some ways.  This is definitely a bit more bop-jazz like than the stuff I usually hear Emerson copping from, but I’d take it as a compliment if it were me.

Our third side of Watson’s playing comes out on ‘Out of the Mist,’ which offers up some lovely and lyrical bass playing.  I really like the laid back vibe of this track as it opens, with gentle synth textures colouring and adding shape to the really gorgeous bass playing.  At 8:27, this is the longest piece on the album, and honestly as gorgeous as it is, it’d probably overstay its welcome if there weren’t some kind of, oh, let’s say shocking development in the song.  And at 4:09, when the first chord comes crushing and crashing down over the acoustic guitar and synth orchestration, that development drops in with a sudden shock.  The synth playing reminds of Mahavishnu in colour, the electric guitar chords (or chord, really) are almost bludgeoning in contrast with the rest of the musical backing, and the tension is palpable.  The closing two minutes almost seem like another song entirely, far more metallic and heavier than anything we’ve had thus far, presenting one final contrast in a composition that seems based entirely around them.

‘Sequence of Events’ takes the heaviness that closed out ‘Out of the Mist’ and wraps in it a skittery, almost contrapuntal beat.  And oh, there’s contrasts a plenty in this one too, as out heavy bar fusion band drops out at 2:20 in favour of a small club trio, brushes on virtual cymbals, cool jazz organ and a pulsing little beat on bass.  I’d love to have seen this explored a bit more…it’d have fit nicely in or around a track like ‘The Push,’ and while you might think it out of place, it fits on this album perfectly.  We get another cool little beat on ‘DIP,’ very syncopated, with piano and a warm, saturated guitar tone alternating melodic figures before some staccato organ chords enter the fray.  I’d almost call this one jaunty if that word weren’t so overused that it’s lost meaning.  This time I have to say the shift to much heavier territories seems a little less smooth, but I won’t complain too much, because the song as a whole is strong enough that I go with the flow anyway.

‘The Departure’ reminds me of Jeff Beck for some strange reason.  At least the opening moments do, up to about 3:00 in.  The mix of organ and warm guitar just scream Beck a la Blow by Blow or Wired.  Warm, sorrowful, lyrical, it’s a lovely instrumental that shifts at that previously mentioned 3 minute mark to heavier territories.  Marimba pops its head in again for a quick hello on the closing fade, and as good as that closing minute plus is, I miss that 70’s fusiony rock goodness that opened things up.

Unsettled closes out with our ‘title track,’ the 2:17 ‘Still (Unsettled).’  Gentle percussion and acoustic guitar are the colours for this track, and after an album of heavy rock, intense fusion, and hot jazzy workouts, it seems a bit odd to conclude the album on such a restrained, quiet track.  But I think it’s a daring little number, and the dearth of intensity actually works well in its favour, by offering up a different kind of intensity, built by tension and restraint.

Unsettled’s not a perfect album…I’m not at all keen on the programmed drumming, and I think at times there are some stylistic shifts in mid song that weaken a track or two.  Having said this, Unsettled is still a hell of a strong album, one that will not only satisfy the heavy metal/fusion heads out there, but also fans of 70’s prog and fusion looking for a new fix to satisfy their itch.  I have a feeling this is one that I’ll be spinning for a while, as it continues to satisfy even after dozens of listens.

Track Listing:
The Encounter
The Push
Out of the Mist
Sequence of Events
The Departure
Gray Matter
11th Heaven Blues
Still (Unsettled)

For Unsettled all music written and performed entirely by Dean Watson.

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06 October 2010

Random Touch announce 14th album details

Reverberating Apparatus, Random Touch's fourteenth release, is dominated by a revisit to the fusion of their teenage years, heard through the lens of four decades of musical exploration.

String Theory suggests a universe comprised of music, of vibration itself.  And serendipity seems a natural outcome of quantum mechanics.  If there are eleven dimensions as M Theory proposes, then four or more of them play a role in the uncompromising and naked improvisation of this remarkable and serendipitous group.

“To know the mechanics of the wave is to know the entire secret of nature.”  - Walter Russell

"Layers of sound become music. Our structures evolve and the listener also evolves. Each piece will conform to a meaning that is highly individualized.  Every sound or noise is an important moment.  The music can be extremely intense, or just so simple that it induces a dream-like state.  When performing it feels like an unknown cosmic wave has entered our space.  It allows the three of us a freedom of expression that is completely indescribable." - James Day, keyboardist

“Despite our state of the art equipment, the most revolutionary event in the studio was the purchase of -29 db isolation headphones.  Before this the acoustic sound of my drums could be heard, with the result that I had to hold back on my volume.  With this album that is no longer the case.” - Christopher Brown, drummer/vocalist

During the band members' teenage years their musical heritage expanded to include electric Miles Davis, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Frank Zappa, Roxy Music, Weather Report, Charles Ives, Bela Bartok, Harry Partch and a whole raft of iconoclasts and trail blazers that are too numerous to mention.  Scott Hamill (guitar), James Day (keyboards) and Christopher Brown (drums/vocals) attended the same high school and even now live in close proximity.  Rock bands, a high school rock opera, and numerous multi-media events preceded the formation of Random Touch.  The downturn in the arts and music in the late 1970s set the stage for a nineteen year period of experimentation and play away from the public eye, which in turn set the stage for the fourteen volumes that bring us to the year 2010.  Each of these volumes and their individual tracks differ dynamically from one another, a reflection of the invitational and open approach that is the hallmark of this group's oeuvre.

Reverberating Apparatus will be available at CDBaby.com and randomtouch.com beginning October 15, 2010.  More info at www.randomtouch.com

Mars Hollow: in the studio with Billy Sherwood for album #2

10T Records is excited to announce that Mars Hollow will soon be entering the studio to begin work on the follow-up to their best-selling self-titled debut CD with veteran producer and musician Billy Sherwood (YOSO, Circa;, YES, World Trade and solo artist fame) at the helm. Sherwood will be serving as producer, engineer and mixer on the project.

“To say we’re stoked would be the understatement of the century,” says Mars Hollow bassist Kerry Chicoine. “We’re all die-hard fans of Billy’s incredible musical career and his cutting-edge production techniques, and to think we’ll be recording under his watchful ears...well, I’m still pinching myself -- hard!”

“Great guys... great musicians what more can you ask for in a band?” says Sherwood of working with Mars Hollow. "It's going to be rockin'!"

Sessions are scheduled to begin in early November 2010, sandwiched between Sherwood’s upcoming sessions with progressive rock legend John Wetton. The official release of Mars Hollow’s highly anticipated, as yet untitled, sophomore effort is planned for spring of 2011.

CD REVIEW: District 97 - Hybrid Child (2010, Laser's Edge)

There is a word, perhaps the worst word that can ever be uttered with respect to a prog band.

It is worse than being called a clone.  Far worse than being labeled derivative.  And compared to being called twee?  It’s in another league entirely.

That word, Constant Readers, is hype.

It’s OK.  I’ll wait till the tremors die down.


All good now?

Hype is something most prog music fans seem to greet more with disdain or outright fear than with open, welcoming arms.  Hype happens at all levels of progdom, from a new release from a classic era band being called ‘their best since (insert epoch-defining album title here)’ to a new band’s debut release being elevated pre-release to the pantheon of greats.  I’ve learned to tune hype out, usually ignoring it entirely.  At my worst, however, I see a hyped band or album and actively stay away from it, because there’s no way the band can live up to the hype.  Not ever.

This has been a very long lead-in for a review of an album that has been getting hype for months now, District 97’s debut release Hybrid Child.  It’s out now on Laser’s Edge Records, home to a load of bands I have loved.

Now, for some of you, hearing me talk about hype may seem disingenuous.  After all, I run a blog, I post news articles about new and forthcoming releases all the time (like the posts I’ve done with D97 videos).  I do interviews (like the one I did with D97 drummer Jonathan Schang).  In some ways, I am a cog in the hype machine.  I understand this.  It doesn’t mean that I like it all the time, and I do try to balance things out so things aren’t that overly hype based and more grounded on what is really going on, rather than grandiose claims that will never be fulfilled.

The question that now arises, of course, and I can hear you asking this, is this…does Hybrid Child live up to the hype?

Let’s take a closer look and see.

Here are the basic facts: District 97 is a 6-piece band, musically a mix of progressive metal, fusion and some serious pop sensibilities.  Their music can range from thrashy metal to lush symphonic progressive rock, often in the course of the same song.  Hooks and melodies abound…these aren’t just intricate bits of music with all flash and no substance…of course, having said this, there’s lots of sections showcasing some serious musical chops.  Add in a cellist who plays for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and a singer who appeared on American Idol, and…it’s a pretty interesting and heady mixture.

Of course, those last two elements are the ones getting most of the attention.  Everyone I know who is familiar with the band starts off with the fact that vocalist Leslie Hunt was on American Idol, and that cellist Katrinka Kleijn plays with the CSO, like these are carefully chosen things to try and build more attention and, well, hype.  If neither of them could pull their weight, I’d give credence to this viewpoint.  The fact is, both of them pull their own weight and then some.  It is very interesting to hear cello used so prominently in this kind of music, and more interesting still that it’s not played the way one might expect.  There aren’t a lot of long, sorrowful, mournful lines being offered up…a lot of time it almost seems Kleijn plays her cello like an oversized violin, with plenty of fleet fingered, skipping lines and solos that sound so much not at all like what we expect a cello to sound like.

Then there’s Leslie Hunt.  Let’s face it, her voice is again not what we expect in progressive rock.  She brings a lot of pop sensibility and delivery to her vocals, and it’s something that’s unfamiliar.  Thankfully her vocalisation is not filled with faux soul or loads of melisma and forced inflection.  Her voice shows range and flexibility as well…at times crystal clear and innocent, other times a touch harsher and more world wise.  It’s a fine voice, and one that should continue to grow with time and development.

This is not to say the rest of the band is not worth mentioning.  Jonathan Schang is a hell of a drummer, chops to spare and the ability to unleash when necessary, or hold back when it suits the song.  Jim Tashjian is a beast of a guitarist, and I can’t praise his playing enough.  Nor can I say enough good things about Rob Clearfield’s keybaord chops.  At times his playing has a nice Jobson-in-UK-esque feel to it, and that plays into some of his patch choices as well.  He also plays a mean baritone guitar too.  Finally, when I can hear him, Patrick Mulchay’s bass playing is lyrical, warm and spot on.  His solos are great, and when he is mixed up, his playing is revelatory, and such a huge part of the songs.  At times I think there’s a bit of difficulty for me to differentiate some of the lower cello work from his bass playing, as they sometimes sit in similar register, but when separated…both benefit from the other.

Hybrid Child to me feels almost like two separate EP’s welded together in the middle.  The first half of the album consists of 4 mid-length songs (6 to 9 minutes in length), mostly vocally oriented.  The second half of the release is a single 27-minute, 10-part suite with an overarching title of ‘Mindscan.’  Interestingly enough, both halves work well together; there’s no weakness resulting from the disparity of these two very different sections.  The first half opens up with the propulsive and energetic ‘Don’t Wanna Wait Another Day,’ filled to the brim with some amazing cello riffs and lines and powerful vocals.  Immediately one is struck by the vocal delivery, which, with its reliance on mannerisms more at home in contemporary pop and rock music, seems to be unlike anything heard in prog to date.  There’s no worry about confusing Leslie Hunt with female prog singers from the past, and it almost seems like a statement of intent in a lot of ways.  I like the shift to the spacier, quieter section part way through, which allows for a short breather before picking back up full speed again.  It’s a powerful opening track, showing a lot of modern sensibilities and influences.

Up next is a track most people here should be familiar with, as it was the lead single released several months back.  ‘Can’t Take You With Me’ verges on overplayed for me, which sounds weird, but considering how much I’ve heard of it over the past few months waiting for the album to show up, you’d understand why.  The album version adds two more minutes of instrumental workout to this tightly composed, poppy tune, with a load of UK-like influences winding their way through things.  Yes, I do consider this their UK piece, and I can’t help it.  Still, it’s an enjoyable number…it was catchy enough that the video that looped at NEARfest 2010 interested me in finding out more.  I’d like to hear this one played live, to see if the band stretches it out any more…but as enjoyable a song as it is, I probably need a break from it.  At least short term.

‘The Man Who Knows Your Name’ is another song that relies on disparity in styles and shifts in tone.  The opening riff is pretty relentless, with powerful drum/bass interlocked sections and a nice, but not quite heavy enough guitar riff over top.  Had they pumped up things just a bit, I’d be headbanging away.  But then keyboards kick in, we hit more fusiony realms, and the heaviness feels boosted just a bit by the solo atop it.  Vocal sections again enter dreamier realms, and the shifts are organic and smooth.  Kleijn offers up a few tasty cello solos, Schang’s drumming is tight and punchy, and Tashjian’s guitar work is fluid…heavy where required, lyrical as needed.  The longest of the tracks on the first half of the album at 8:49, it allows for a decent bit of stretching out instrumentally.  It also sets up the very heavy, very thrashy, and surprising ‘Termites,’ which closes out what I’d think of as ‘Side A’ of this debut record.  If you told me that Leslie Hunt co-wrote the song, I’d have given you a weird look, but she did.  A series of surreal scenes set to some blistering thrash metal, it’s a surprising track that sounds like nothing else on the album.  Of course, the fact that there’s very little keyboard playing here helps that…Clearfield instead picks up a baritone guitar and happily flails away with the rest of the band.  It’s not quite tech/thrash, but I’ll be damned if it’s not something I keep repeating because it’s really flipping cool.

Hybrid Child closes out in a grandiose manner, with the 10-part, 27-minute epic ‘Mindscan.’  Now, while I was bad and listened to ‘Can’t Take You With Me’ about 5 zillion times leading up to the release of this album, I did not listen to any of ‘Mindscan’ before getting the CD, even though the entire epic is up on Youtube in live concert versions.  Thus, I had no idea what it was I was getting into.  Knowing what I know from the interview I did with D97 drummer Jonathan Schang a few months back, I knew that the band started out as an instrumental group a la Liquid Tension Experiement, and I had images of a track similar to LTE’s ‘Three Minute Warning’…a.k.a., a massive instrumental filled chock a block with loads of unison lines, intense instrumental workouts, and not necessarily tight songwriting or hooks.

I shouldn’t have feared.

This 10-part epic has plenty of vocal sections scattered amongst the instrumental movements, and there’s plenty of variety to be had.  Some of the lushest, most symphonic moments on this album are held on this track, as well as some of the more intense instrumental bits as well.  Yes, it’s a bit of everything plus the kitchen sink…oh, and some closets and a table as well…kind of song, but it works very well.  Is it perhaps a bit overlong at 27:36?  Maybe.  Don’t ask me what to edit out though, because I couldn’t tell you.  I can say that I love the space-like, almost Floydian opening movement ‘Arrival,’ the lovely use of piano and cello on ‘Entrance,’ and the heavier take on things in ‘Realisation.’  ‘Welcome,’ the first vocal section, is almost Dream Theater like, reminding me somehow of some of the sections of ‘Octavarium,’ while ‘Examination’ is strange, with ambient sounds, weird glitch like parts, and copious quantities of WTF abounding.  The lyrics to ‘Hybrid Child’ remind me of Genesis’ Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, while the use of piano and gentle, gradual builds is well executed.  ‘Exploration’ and ‘What Do They Want’ are really two of a kind, based around the same riffs and instrumental parts, with the first being instrumental, the second adding in some very nice vocal parts setting off the heavier instrumental backing.  There’s a lot of vocal doubling and harmony on display here, really adding a nice extra bit of colour to things.  ‘When I Awake’ gives us out last vocal performance of the album, set against some heavier symphonic rock.  I’d love to hear some extended works from the band in this style…it’s a different feel entirely, and one they seem to excel at.  Finally, ‘Returning Home’ closes out the epic and the album with a shifting instrumental…fast and powerful to start, ambient and spacey to close out. The shift is smooth and effortless, and the final fade, with a pulsing synth and cello unison, is lovely and so very, very prog.

We’re reaching the end of the review, and this is the point where I try to wrap things up in a few pithy, piquant lines that (hopefully) either inspire you to go out and buy the album, or warn you to stay away like it has the plague (really though, that doesn’t happen all that often).  This time, I think we also need to answer the question of whether Hybrid Child lives up to the hype. 

Does it?

I think, for the most part, that it does.  It’s contemporary yet has an eye looking to the past just enough to allow the material to resonate with listeners who really enjoy the older symphonic style.  It is as heavy as it is lush, and the frequent presence of cello is a nice touch indeed.  I think people used to a more classical vocal delivery may find Leslie Hunt’s vocals an unusual taste at first, but it’s one that can be acquired very easily.  And hell, you have to give her credit…she was on American Idol, and could have tried for a pop career, and said ‘I want to sing this!  I need to be in this band!’  This isn’t a ploy to try and sell records, not some cheap trick.  This is the real deal, and it shows on every song. 

I think District 97 is a band that can have a long future ahead of them.  And I think this is an album that merits a purchase and repeated listens, whether you dig the heavier side of prog or not.  Hopefully they’ll be around for a while…I’d like to hear what they come up with next.

Track Listing
Don’t Wanna Wait Another Day
Can’t Take You With Me
The Man Who Knows Your Name

I. Arrival
II. Entrance
III. Realization
IV. Welcome
V. Examination
VI. Hybrid Child
VII. Exploration
VIII. What Do They Want
IX. When I Awake
X. Returning Home

Leslie Hunt: vocals
Katinka Kleijn: cello
Rob Clearfield: keyboards, baritone guitar
Jim Tashjian: guitars
Patrick Mulchay: bass guitar
Jonathan Schang: drums, percussion

Find out more:

05 October 2010

Keith Emerson: health updates

I would like to thank all those well-wishers that wrote to me during my recent hospitalisation. I would also like to thank the doctors, surgeons and nurses of The London Clinic as well as those individuals who donate blood.

At this time I would say a prayer for all those less fortunate than myself in sickness.

To recap, this all started during a routine medical that incorporated an endoscopy, MRI, blood tests all of which turned out OK. Finally my doctor looked up my past medical records. " I see it's been over five years since your last colonoscopy. To be safe it is time for another."

That test caused concern with the reveal of a dangerous polyp situated in my large colon. It was decided that I should have it removed for analysis immediately. This involved laparoscopic surgery and a two-inch incision in my stomach to remove about two inches of the colon it was attached to.

However, surgery showed up more than anyone had bargained for. A large section of my lower colon was afflicted with a diverticular disease with significant number of diverticula and it all had to come out - nearly a foot and a half of it!

When I came round from the anesthetic I discovered that I had been cut from the lower end of my rib cage to the pubic region, and what they had taken out was now in the laboratory for analysis. It would be a week before I knew the results. Meanwhile, as I lay hoping I might be recovering, I was bleeding heavily, internally. The initial response was to wait and see if the two parts of the healthy colon had bonded successfully and the bleeding would stop. It didn't. Two blood transfusions later at 11PM, I was told I had no option other than to be immediately rushed back to the operating theater. I really thought that was it.

I had no time to tell friends or family. The rest is a bit of a blur except I do remember a surgeon saying to me sometime the next day that he had successfully clipped the two parts of the colon together and halted the spurting blood vessel. Of course I remained doubtful and almost in a panic if I felt I was about to sneeze, as I still am. A few days later the results from the lab had come in. Thankfully, the polyp was not malignant. This experience made me realise the importance of having a colon screening, and of donating blood. After two weeks in the hospital, I am now recuperating in Sussex having been told by doctors and surgeons that it will be some time before I fully get my strength back.

I am most thankful to Mari for her love and attention, my family and to Greg Lake for his compassion and support.

Stay well.

Keith Emerson

5 October 2010

Lunatic Soul II details revealed

October 25th, 2010 has been set as the release date of the second album of Lunatic Soul, a project conceived by Riverside's singer and bass player Mariusz Duda. The white album, a continuation of 2008's black album, constitutes the second and last part of the diptych about the journey through the underworld.

Mariusz Duda: It will again be a story about a journey through a place that exists somewhere in-between, enriched with new motifs and retrospections. A sort of a road movie about a lost soul. Musically speaking perhaps more intense and unsetting than the first part but with the predominance of certain space and lightness that can be--I hope so--associated with the colour white. Hence, the album is a sort of a continuation but certainly not a repetition.

The majority of the instrumental parts are played by Mariusz Duda himself. However, the guest musicians appear this time as well, for instance already known from the previous album Maciej Szelenbaum (keyboards, flutes, quzheng) or Wawrzyniec Dramowicz from Indukti (drums). The new album will be released in Poland by Mystic Production, and in the rest of the world by (known for their work with such bands as Porcupine Tree or Anathema) the British label Kscope. Soon, the first single "Wanderings" will be released.

1. The In-Between Kingdom
2. Otherwhere
3. Suspended In Whiteness
4. Asoulum
5. Limbo
6. Escape from ParadIce
7. Transition
8. Gravestone Hill
9. Wanderings