31 July 2010

Esoteric Records August/September release schedule

Banco - Banco (English version)
Banco - As in a Last Supper (English version)
Barclay James Harvest - A Concert for the People (Berlin) - 30th Anniversary edition
Blonde on Blonde - Contrasts
Café Jacques - Round the Back
Café Jacques - International (featuring Phil Collins, Geoffrey Richardson, Rupert Hine etc)
Juicy Lucy - Juicy Lucy
Juicy Lucy - Lie Back and Enjoy It

Ray Thomas (Moody Blues) - From Mighty Oaks & Hopes Wishes and Dreams (Clam shell boxed set - Limited edition with 4CDs, unreleased material & DVD of 5.1 Surround mix and promotional film)
PFM - Cook (3CD clam shell set - Limited edition with 2CDs of entire concert at Central Park in 1974)
Peter Bardens (Camel) - Peter Bardens
Peter Bardens (Camel) - The Answer
Hawkwind - Space Bandits
Here & Now - Give and Take
Here & Now - All Over the Show
Deuter - D
Deuter – Aum


30 July 2010

CD REVIEW: Strawbs - The Broken Hearted Bride (2008, Witchwood Media)

The last 10 years, give or take, have seen a pretty radical re-energisation of the Strawbs. While the Acoustic Strawbs trios (first Cousins/Lambert/Willoughby, then Cousins/Lambert/Cronk) did (and do!) an admirable job of recreating Strawbs music for their still hungry fanbase, the fact that Dave Cousins reactivated electric touring bands for both the UK and US markets has seen a big increase in ‘new’ material coming out…new in quotes because the new songs recorded often sit next to a remake or two of classic folk-era Strawbs songs.

The dam was breached in 2003 and 2004 with the release of Blue Angel (mostly featuring the 1990’s UK line-up of the band) and Deja Fou, the long awaited reunion of the ‘classic’ Hero & Heroine line-up. That album was far folkier than most people might have expected, given their pedigree and C.V. (Hero and Heroine and Ghosts are the furthest thing from the band’s folk roots). On this side of the Atlantic, the H&H line-up mounted fairly reasonable annual tours, playing smaller venues and impressing audiences with their dramatic, slightly orchestral tinged songs. A selection of live albums (including one from NEARfest 2004 and one from the Calderone Theatre in 1975) helped tide over a fan base eager for more new Strawbs music. Finally, in 2008, the band released their long awaited ‘second’ album with the H&H line up, Mark II…The Broken Hearted Bride.

A couple things jump out upon first looking at the album. First, the cover is more traditionally Strawbs-esque…no neon blue and pink Strawberry line art here; instead we get a Victorian looking bride against a ghosted backing of text on parchment. Looking over the track listing, a few longer track times jump out, which is always nice to see, as this iteration of the band really excelled with longer, more expansive tracks. But then eyes follow down to the band listing, where we see John Hawken not listed among the main band, but rather under the ‘with’ category.

Yes, sometime during the recording of the album, Hawken and the band parted ways. His sublime playing is still heard and felt through the album’s tracks, but his departure was a hard one for some Strawbs fans to take; myself, he was a major part of my enjoyment of the Hero and Heroine and Ghosts albums, as well as the live shows that surrounded the release of Deja Fou and their performance at NEARfest.

Unlike Deja Fou, The Broken Hearted Bride is pretty much a full on rock album; Dave Lambert’s guitar playing fills each one of the album’s 11 tracks, and his tone is as rich as ever. The rhythm section of Chas Cronk and Rod Coombes is, I think, one of the most unheralded ones in rock music in general, not just progressive rock. Coombes is a powerful percussionist, and yet he can lay down light grooves where needed with equal deftness. Cronk, on the other hand, is a rock steady bassist with a punchy sound and the ability to lay back and propel the song along. He’s also a very good acoustic guitarist, and contributes fine harmony and backing vocals.

This brings us to Dave Cousins, founder member, singer, songwriter, guitarist, dulcimer-ist. His songs are obviously the centerpiece of the Strawbs, and his voice is one of the most memorable. I know a lot of people have issues with his voice these days, and even as far back as 2004 at NEARfest, I heard people saying ‘I liked the songs, but that guy cannot sing.’ Well, Dave does not have the classical, trained voice that many people seem to expect in prog. What he has instead is an honest voice, a voice that has become weathered with years. When he sings a song like ‘The Hangman and the Papist,’ or ‘New World,’ you have no choice but to believe in the intensity and honesty of his delivery, because he sings each word, each line as if his life perhaps depended on it…or that yours did. He has a folk singers voice, filled with experience and a life lived searching where the muse led him. A willingness to accept this, and follow along on the journey, is essential for discovering all the pleasures inside a Strawbs album.

As I mentioned before, The Broken Hearted Bride is more of a rock album than the more placid, folky Deja Fou, and songs like the seven plus minute ‘The Call To Action,’ which open the album, are exemplars of this. Lambert’s guitar bites, the rhythm section plows forward, and Cousins’ vocals, while somewhat buried in the mix, intone the lyrics with passion. In a lot of ways this is a sort of ‘New World’ for the 21st Century, as relevant to the world today as the former was in its time. If Deja Fou didn’t contain any new Strawbs classics (and I still think it might have), then this release offers up a statement right from the start that the Strawbs are back, and no mistake.

One theme that runs throughout the release is religion; ‘Christmas Cheer’ alternates cynical verses with huge choruses of ‘Everything’s gonna be alright.’ ‘The Broken Hearted Bride’ reveals itself, at the end of the song, to be about a suicide bomber, and the pain that his actions inflict not just on the victims but the innocents they leave behind. Dave Lambert gets a solo writer’s credit on ‘Shadowland’ (one of two tracks he contributed to this release), handling vocals as well as offering up a hot little solo. His song ‘’Cold Steel’ was one of the highlights on Deja Fou, and ‘Shadowland’ is every bit as strong a track.

‘Action Replay’ is a track similar in direction to ‘NRG’ off the oft-mentioned Deja Fou. An instrumental, this piece offers up a bit of a reprise of ‘The Call To Action.’ Considering what follows this track on this release, it closes out the ‘current’ portion of the release nicely. It’s interesting to see this band dabbling in electronics and sequenced stuff like this, and while it may not be a direction for a full album, it’s a nice diversion here and there.

The Broken Hearted Bride closes out with ‘We’ll Meet Again Sometime,’ a song originally released on Cousins’ 1972 album Two Weeks Last Summer. The acoustic trio played this piece a lot, but this is a fuller band take on the piece, the entire ensemble showing grace and subtlety in their arranging and playing.

Is this album the equal to Hero and Heroine or Ghosts? No, but then again, neither are those the equal to this release. They are all products of the time in which they were recorded, influenced by the events swirling around the band as the songs were formed. Exhibiting a bit more restraint than those earlier albums, but adding in more maturity and lyrical currentness, The Broken Hearted Bride is a stunning exemplar of a band rediscovering their fire decades after making their biggest mark on music.

David Cousins - Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards
Dave Lambert - Vocals, Guitar
Chas Cronk - Vocals, Bass, Guitar, Keyboards, Pre-production, Programming
Rod Coombes - Drums

John Hawken - Keyboards
Ian Cutler - Fiddle
The Big Deal Choir - Steve Grant, Vince Martyn, Gordon May, Chris Tophill, Howard Werth, Sophie Morrish, Charlotte Tophill, Elizabeth Tophill, Frances Tophill
Track listing

1. The Call To Action (Cousins)
2. Christmas Cheer (Everything's Going To Be Alright) (Cousins/Cronk)
3. Too Many Angels (Cousins/Cronk)
4. The Broken Hearted Bride (Cousins)
5. Shadowland (Lambert)
6. Through Aphrodite's Eyes (Cousins/Cronk)
7. Deep In The Darkest Night (Cousins)
8. You Know As Well As I (Lambert)
9. Everybody Knows (Cronk)
10. Action Replay (Cousins)
11. We'll Meet Again Sometime (Retro Track) (Cousins)

King Crimson: Islands and Poseidon reissue details

Scheduled for release on October 1st

In the Wake of Poseidon notes:

Featuring new stereo and 5.1 surround mixes (by Steven Wilson and Robert Fripp), Sid Smith sleeve notes and extra tracks (including Greg Lake's guide vocal rendition of Cadence And Cascade), this is a definitive edition of a classic album.

This edition presents a near complete new stereo mix by Steven Wilson and Robert Fripp. As tape for one track, The Devil's Triangle, could not be located, the original stereo is included to maintain the original running order.

The CD also includes a new mix of Groon (Cat Food's b-side) a newly mixed alternate take of Peace: An Ending and the first CD appearance of Greg Lake's guide vocal take of the beautiful ballad Cadence and Cascade.

The DVD-A features a 5.1 mix by Steven Wilson, with Devil's Triangle up-mixed to 5.1 by Simon Heyworth, hi-res stereo versions of the 30th anniversary stereo master, the 2010 album mixes and ten hi-res bonus tracks including the original single a & b side Cat Food/Groon, the bonus tracks from the CD and a number of other session takes, rehearsals and mixes.

Islands notes:

Featuring new stereo and 5.1 surround mixes (by Steven Wilson and Robert Fripp), Sid Smith sleeve notes and copious extra tracks and alternate versions, this is a definitive edition of a frequently beautiful and sometimes unfairly overlooked part of King Crimson's always intriguing back catalogue.

The CD/DVD-A package assembled as the fifth in the series of 40th anniversary releases provides that much bigger picture. The CD presents a complete stereo remix by Steven Wilson & Robert Fripp alongside a group of additional tracks representing a near complete alternate album of studio takes, run-throughs and mixes.

The DVD-A presents a complete 5.1 surround sound mix by Steven Wilson, a hi-res stereo version of the 2010 mix, a hi-res stereo version of the original album mix taken from the 30th anniversary master source and almost 90 minutes of additional material, the vast majority of it previously unreleased, including many studio takes mixed from the original recording sessions specifically for this release. The material covers everything from early rehearsals of Pictures of a City (one of the final new songs performed by the 1969 lineup) to the previously unheard A Peacemaking Stint Unrolls (showcasing early ideas & elements that would appear in fully realised form on later KC albums), a fragment of Fripp playing the tune of Islands on a mellotron, a blistering live Sailor's Tale from the Zoom Club & much more, making this an essential release for King Crimson fans

More details:


29 July 2010

DVD REVIEW: Rush - Beyond the Lighted Stage

What do Sebastian Bach, Jack Black, Jimmy Chamberlin, Les Claypool, Tim Commerford, Billy Corgan, Kirk Hammett, Taylor Hawkins, Kim Mitchell, Vinnie Paul, Mike Portnoy, Trent Reznor, Gene Simmons, Zakk Wylde and Danny Carey have in common?

Well, other than the fact that all of them have been involved, to one degree or another, with music on the heavier side of the rock spectrum, all of them have been touched by a trio of Canadian musicians who are unassumingly approaching their 40th year of making music. That band is Rush, and they are the focus of the latest documentary from Sam Dunn (producer/director of Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, Global Metal, and Iron Maiden: Flight 666) titled Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage.

The documentary is handled in chronological order, and for long time fans of Rush, the opening sections may be the most interesting, as they explore the earliest roots of the group. We get to meet Alex and Geddy’s mothers, learn about how their childhood experiences shaped the way they view the world, and see just how deeply the friendship between Geddy and Alex goes. Sadly, there’s not as much screen time for original drummer John Rutsey, and it’s a bigger shame that he is no longer with us to share his insights with the production team. I’d hope that he’d have looked at things in a similar way to the musicians in the original line ups of Iron Maiden (yes, I’ve been digging into their Early Days DVD set recently), but it’s hard to say. We get one audio snippet from him, and some wistful words from Alex, Geddy and manager Ray Danniels, and that’s about it.

The chapters dedicated to the Fly By Night/Caress of Steel/2112 days show a band growing and increasing in complexity, musical and lyrical. The introduction of Neil Peart to the band shoved the band in a totally different direction, and the anti-establishmentarian attitude of the band members toward their label is one that could never happen today. There is no way that a band, signed to a major label, and told by the label to write hits lest they lose their contract, would turn around and hand in an album with a 20 minute side long epic based on Ayn Rand’s writings. They’d be released, their material held into perpetuity by a label pissed off that their investment in the band hadn’t been recouped. This is, I think, the biggest thing hamstringing the music ‘industry’ today…the blind focus on the bottom line, rather than nurturing and building bands.

As the band grows in stature and familiarity, the documentary finds itself needing perhaps to move at a faster pace; nearly half of the program overall covers the years up to the release of Hemispheres in 1978, leaving another 50-odd minutes to cover the remaining 30 years of studio and live world. As a result, we start to notice a slightly less deep look at things. There are some great looks at how the band touched their fans, between short profiles of people who have seen over 100 Rush concerts, to an incredibly touching bit with Billy Corgan retelling how he sat his mother down to listen to ‘Entre Nous.’ I still would have loved a deeper investigation into the bands shifts in sounds over the years, but I also have to understand that projects like these need to reach out to people far less familiar with the band than I am.

A 10 minute stretch in the film offers up some of the deepest investigations into Neil Peart’s life and drumming. There’s a great section with Freddie Gruber explaining how Neil decided to re-learn how to play, improving his rudiments and totally changing the way he played. This is followed up by a look at the biggest change in the band since Rutsey was asked to leave following the release of their debut album; the passing, one year apart, of both his daughter and wife. It would take six years for Rush to reconvene, while Neil took the time to find himself via a 55,000 mile journey on the back of a motorcycle. It’s hard to watch as Geddy and Alex explain how the band basically stopped existing, while Neil’s words don’t necessarily hit the depths of despair that are evident in his books like Ghost Rider, but do a good job of expressing the emptiness that he had to fill.

The rest of the main program takes us briefly through the Vapor Trails and Snakes and Arrows albums and tours, in chapters titles The Return and Revenge of the Nerds. In its entirety, the main documentary does a fairly good job in covering what the case describes as ‘the world’s biggest cult band,’ and in and of itself is a recommended bit of film for Rush fans and progressive music listeners.

But that’s not all the DVD package has to offer.

A second disc of extras fills out things, offering some very cool additional insights into the band that I would have loved to see worked into the main program, even if it extended the length of things. There’s great live footage of the Rutsey/Lifeson/Lee band on Bandstand playing ‘Best I Can’ and ‘Working Man’ for Canadian television, an extended cut of the scene where Lee and Lifeson find the place they played their first show at (including a hilarious section where Lee and Ray Danniels offer up their points of view regarding Lee’s forced departure from his own band for a few weeks), and a wonderful section that illuminates the band member’s various extracurricular activities. I knew that Alex loved playing golf, and just about everyone knows about Neil’s love of motorcycling and literature. I never knew, however, that Geddy Lee had such a huge collection of signed baseballs and other sporting paraphernalia, and while certainly separate from the band info, it was very interesting and cool to see.

Then there’s the dinner scene.

How can I describe the dinner scene?

It’s 12 plus minutes of three Canadians in varying stages of inebriation.

It’s Alex, Geddy and Neil as you have never seen them.

Ultimately, it’s evidence that these three people are bound together in a way most bands could only dream of, mocking, supporting, and genuinely loving the time they share with each other, on and off stage. It is this scene that really shows what these three men are like with each other, I think, and while I know some people are a little put off by it, I think it’s one of the best things the documentary shows. So often you hear about musicians who can’t stand to be around each other when not on stage, but here are three people in a band together for over 30 years still acting like kids and having a blast.

And that, in the end, is what I think Rush is.

That’s why Rush is as popular as they are.

That’s what Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage tells us.

Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage DVD 1:
Main program (107 minutes)

Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage DVD 2:
Deleted Scenes
Being Bullied and The Search for The First Gig
Reflections on the album Hemispheres
"Presto" and "Roll The Bones" Rap
The Rush Fashion
Hobbies on the Road
Rush Trekkies (Rush Con 7)
Pre-Gig Warm-Up
Best I Can (never-before-seen footage w/ original drummer, John Rutsey from 1974)
Working Man (never-before-seen footage w/ original drummer, John Rutsey from 1974)
La Villa Strangiato - Live at Pinkpop Festival in Holland from 1979 (first time this epic song was captured on video)
Between The Sun and Moon - Hartford, CT (from the band’s first show back after hiatus in 2002)
Dinner with RUSH at a Hunting Lodge
Far Cry (live) - from the "Snakes & Arrows" DVD
Entre Nous (live) – from the ‘Snakes & Arrows’ DVD
Bravado (rare live version) - previously only available on the "R30" Blu-ray version
YYZ (rare live version) - previously only available on the "R30" Blu-ray version

28 July 2010

Plans underway for Zappa dedication and tribute concert

Since last month’s confirmation of the September 19th date for Baltimore City’s dedication of a bust of Frank Zappa, community support has been growing for a concert and festival in tribute to the legendary musician, composer and social icon, whose birthplace is Baltimore. The bust, donated by a Lithuanian fan club, will be placed at the Enoch Pratt Free Library Southeastern Anchor Branch in Highlandtown, and plans now include an outdoor concert featuring Zappa Plays Zappa (fronted by Frank’s son Dweezil), and various events at the library and nearby Patterson Theatre in support of the dedication ceremony.

The date itself is especially significant as September 19th is the anniversary of Zappa’s 1985 testimony on Capitol Hill in favor of free expression by Recording Artists at the Senate hearing instigated by certain congressional wives (members of the PMRC) concerning record labeling. Frank Zappa’s widow Gail commented on the remarkable coincidence, stating, “Frank’s legacy rests in his uncompromising defense of the First Amendment and his uncompromising pursuit of excellence clearly demonstrated in the standards he set in all areas of Music and the arts and sciences associated with it. He was self-taught and self-realized. It is hard to imagine how that is possible except for the 4 cornerstones he had going for him: a talent for music, a hard-core curiosity, a keen sense of humor and access to a library. He was a cheap date for History.”

The broader scope of events, being developed by Clearpath Entertainment in collaboration with the Zappa family, the Southeastern Community Development Corporation, Enoch Pratt Free Library, and the Creative Alliance, are intended to help anchor the new Highlandtown Arts and Entertainment District and plans now include a library exhibit, symposiums, and after party in addition to the dedication and concert. Sean Brescia of Clearpath stated, “Baltimore has a rich entertainment heritage dating back to its iconic theatres and jazz ballrooms, and opportunities like this are a chance to re-capture that spirit. We wanted to build an event that was a truly fitting tribute to the Zappa legacy, but also something that can grow into a signature cornerstone event for the Highlandtown Arts and Entertainment District, and Gail [Zappa] has shared that vision from the beginning.” In the interest of what the events could mean for the community, Brescia reached out to a broad group of community organizations to help plan and raise support for the events.

Echoing that sentiment of community interests, Chris Ryer of the Southeast Community Development Corporation added, “The bust coming to Highlandtown and these events are high-profile, flagship opportunities to position the Highlandtown Arts and Entertainment District as major reasons for visitors to come to Southeast while they’re in Baltimore. We’re excited to work with Clearpath and the Zappas to leverage this year’s events as a catalyst for great things to come.”

Remarking on the concert lineup, Clearpath’s David Christensen said, “Frank Zappa’s musical genius and influence is undeniable and it has always been a must for us that Dweezil headline this show in the ultimate tribute to his father. This is going to be Zappa Plays Zappa, next to Zappa’s statue, on Zappa’s street, on Zappa’s day; it couldn’t be more fitting.”

CD REVIEW: Relocator - Relocator (2010, private label release)

Progressive metal, it seems, is often a little easier to compartmentalise than straight up progressive rock. From my position as all seeing, all knowing blogger, the vast majority of progressive metal bands can be stacked neatly in one of three general categories:

  1. The Dream Theater inspired bands. These are the groups that tend to be a bit symphonic, with prominent keyboards, a lot of technical expertise, and a singer with a proclivity toward the higher range of male singing. Obviously DT has gone through some stylistic shifts and evolutions over their 20+ years as a major label band, but the generalities are there.
  2. The technical instrumental bands. These are the bands that looked to Liquid Tension Experiment or Cynic (even though Cynic does include vocals) and built from them. Intense, incredibly complex and technically impressive instrumentals, with unison lines, stop/start playing, and turn on a dime dynamic and rhythmic shifts are the dish du jour here.
  3. The extreme progressive metal bands. Where other bands looked to Dream Theater, these bands look to the masters of melodic death and black metal for inspiration. These are the bands who worship at the altars of Mikael Akerfeldt from Opeth, or Christofer Johnsson from Therion, or Ivor and Grutle from Enslaved. Atmospheric keyboards, crushing guitars and beats, and growled vocals differentiate this style.

Having set up this premise, I’m happy to say that Relocator isn’t such a band.

The four main members of the project have been working up the material for their debut release for quite some time; as a member of the MP.com forum, I’ve watched the long, arduous process for a year or two at least. It was a pleasant thing to see the album finally reach fruition, especially as it had been mentioned that former Dream Theater keyboardist Derek Sherinian would be guesting on it. For me, usually hearing a name musician will be a guest on an album means a track or two, or maybe a prominent solo. Instead, Derek plays on the entire release, and his keyboard playing adds a lot to things musically.

That’s not to say that the rest of the band comes up short by comparison; far from it. Sherinian’s playing wouldn’t matter at all if the rest of the musicians weren’t top rate. Taking it from the top as the musicians are listed in the liner notes, then…

Stefan Artwin: the guitarist and programmer, Artwin’s credited as writer or co-writer of every track on Relocator. His soloing is impressive, technical without relying on huge displays of sweep picking or thousand note per second bursts of fretboard pyrotechnics. His rhythm playing is tight and punchy, with a great, heavy tone that suits the music perfectly. He lists as influences Al Di Meola, Allan Holdsworth, Edward Van Halen, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and Yngwie Malmsteen.

Michael Pruchnicki: bassist and co-author of half the album. I know he hates it when bass playing is described as ‘solid,’ so I won’t use that over-tired term. He’s very present in the mix, his bass sound is rich and cuts through the dense mix to be a driving force in the songs. If anyone is the pulse that drives these songs, it’s him and his bass playing. It’s not surprising to see him list John Myung and Sean Malone as influences, but I love that he references the great Tony Franklin as well.

Frank Tinge: drummer. As well as drumming for Relocator, he works with the Dutch band Superbug. Mostly self-taught (according to the band’s bio page), his playing behind the kit seems effortless. There’s a misleading simplicity to his drumming; it sounds so easy, but the patterns are much subtler than you might imagine. I suppose it goes without saying that he mentions Mike Portnoy and Virgil Donati as drummers he looks up to, but he also has Frost* and Spocks Beard, two bands that are more song based, as favourites as well.

Bartek Strycharski: electric violinist. I have listened to a ton of progressive metal over the years, and I am always looking for something that sets a band apart from others in the genre. While other bands may have made use of a violinist here or there, to have it as such a featured part of a band and arrangements is something that really caught my ear. Strycharski’s playing is excellent, melodic and intense in turns, as the song requires. It’s his instrumental voice that sets Relocator even further apart from the rest of the bands in the prog metal scene today.

Then there’s Derek Sherinian. What do I need to say about him? Between Dream Theater, Planet X, his extensive solo catalogue, and his work with dozens of other bands, his keyboard playing is immediately recognisable. It’s a coup to get him to play on the entire Relocator album, and it’s easy to hear his enjoyment of the material he got to play on.

But enough about the musicians, I hear you saying as you tap your foot impatiently. Tell us about the music!

OK, here we go.

Things open up impressively with ‘Red Vibes.’ Crunchy rhythm guitar, soaring synths, and a wonderful selection of shifting drum patterns kick things off in high gear from the beginning. Sherinian has picked some cool synth sounds, from warm organ tones to cold digital sweeps. Bartek Strycharski makes his presence known quickly, his violin lines ducking and winding through the arrangement. Michael Pruchnicki’s bass playing thumps at the heart of the beast, tight and powerful. When Stefan Artwin solos around the 3-minute mark, his choice of more sustained, tremelo bent notes is a refreshing change from the streams of tapped, hammered-on playing one might have expected. Best of all, ‘Red Vibes’ is an incredibly well written song, not just an excuse for solos that make you go ‘Oooh!’ in excitement.

‘Biosphere’ follows on, and the keyboard opening is very cool, almost reminiscent in some odd way of UK’s ‘In The Dead of Night’ with the stop/start playing. It’s a jazzier song by far, which gives Frank Tinge plenty of opportunity to show how easily he can handle the changes and shifts the song demands. I don’t want to infer that it’s a lighter piece…it still has prog metal’s requisite heaviness. However, it’s filled with more changes than your average piece of straight up metal, and really offers evidence of this band’s chops in a non-flash manner.

This wouldn’t be a prog album without at least one extended piece. While the majority of the compositions on Relocator clock in around 5 or 6 minutes in length, there are two songs in excess of 10 minutes length. The first of these is ‘Aavishkar,’ which opens with some very nice acoustic textures and a slight eastern feel. The violin work here is wonderful, and while the laid back feel of the opening section does not last the entire track, it’s a great added bit of dynamics that gives the track a bit more of a suite feel. The meter changes are smooth and effortless, and I really enjoy the effortless complexity of this song. It’s definitely a highlight for me.

The other extended track is ‘The Alchemist,’ which closes out the album. Pruchnicki starts things off with a nice little melodic bass line, with Sherinian adding synth over top. Artwin joins in with clean guitar before things shift into a heavier mode about one minute in. The song is mostly based around a comfortable mid-tempo beat, but Relocator comes up with a number of ways to keep it from settling into a static rut. Frank Tinge offers up some very impressive drumming that really breaks things up without sacrificing the groove, while Sherinian’s playing is incredibly enjoyable, with loads of melody and a great selection of sounds. Artwin’s clean playing is every bit as enjoyable as his heavier metallic playing, and I’d love to see the band explore that side of things in the future. I think it’d be a great way to see the fusion side of their playing a bit more strongly, and it’d offer up a similar showcase for Bartek Strycharski’s violin playing. ‘The Alchemist’ really feels like a proper album closer, restating everything the band has presented to this point without sounding like a simple ‘everything plus the kitchen sink’ hodge podge of elements.

I get a lot of music in my inbox these days, both digitally and physically, and often it’s hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, metaphorically speaking. Any group of musicians can put together an instrumental project and release a CD, but it takes more than good players to make a successful band or album release. Relocator is a perfect example of what happens when you get it right…great songs, great playing, a complete package from opening note to final fade.

Track Listing:
Red Vibes (Artwin) 6:13
Biosphere (Artwin) 8:00
Relocator (Artwin, Pruchnicki) 5:24
Biosphere (Artwin) 6:16
Aavishkar (Artwin, Pruchnicki) 10:30
13 Reasons (Artwin, Pruchnicki) 6:31
Urban Blue (Artwin) 6:33
The Alchemist (Artwin, Pruchnicki) 11:32

Stefan Artwin – guitars and programming
Michael Pruchnicki – bass and fretless bass
Frank Tinge – drums and percussion
Bartek Strycharski – electric violin
Derek Sherinian – keyboards (special guest)


27 July 2010

CD REVIEW: Viima - Ajatuksia Maailman Laidalta (2006, self released)

(NB: this review was originally web published 3 April 2007.)

Folk inflected melodies and female vocals with a touch of Wishbone Ash and Trettioariga Kriget rockiness tossed in for good measure...loads of vintage keyboard tones...infectious songwriting...all of these are elements that define Finnish band Viima’s sound as evidenced on their debut album Ajatuksia Maailman Laidalta, released late in 2006 on the band’s own label.

Viima is the latest in a long line of Scandanavian prog bands, and while they wear some of their influences on their sleeves, their sound is fresh and exciting. Päivi Kylmänen’s vocals are folky and delivered without affectation. As a female singer in a mostly symphonic prog band, it’s obvious that comparisons to Annie Haslam are inevitable, yet a fairer comparison would perhaps be Sandy Denny or one of her contemporaries. Her voice is clear, delivering the band’s Suomi lyrics in an easily embraced manner. Kimmo Lähteenmäki doubles on drums and keyboards for this studio release; his selection of keyboard tones is appropriately vintage, with huge grand piano, organ, and ‘tron strings orchestrating the band’s solidly written tracks. Mikko Uusi-Oukari’s guitar playing varies from subtle acoustic and rhythm tracks to firey, yet understated leads evoking comparison to Andy Powell or Christer Åkerberg. Last but not least, Jarmo Kataja’s bass playing, while the most understated of any member’s contribution, adds a richness and thickness to the mix that would otherwise be readily missed.

Title track “Ajatuksia maailman laidalta” is a wonderful slice of folky symphonic progressive rock, memorably written, skillfully arranged and with loads of dynamic changes. Kylmänen’s vocals are multitracked on choruses, creating a virtual choir that adds lushness to the piece. Uusi-Oukari and Lähteenmäki trade solos, with neither showboating at the expense of the song. At times it’s easy to think one is listening to a lost mid-period Renaissance song sans orchestration. It is an all-too-brief 6:37 of proggy bliss.

“Ilmalaiva Italia” adds some nice ambient wind effects, creating a chilly soundscape for the band’s quiet, acoustic track memorialising a failed Italian exploratory mission. The band suddenly explodes with a massive electric section, guitars and keyboards fighting against each other for aural dominance. As suddenly as the sound explodes, it again subsides, returning to its acoustic beginnings. “Johdatus” is the album’s “epic” at 9:31, and again, it is almost too short at that length. An upbeat opening leads into an effortlessly perky vocal section with chiming guitar and synthesized flute (having Anne Leinonen, who guested on flute earlier in the album, handle those parts here would have been a nice touch). Hooks and memorable melodies garnish this wonderfully addictive track. The vocal and piano section starting at around 4:30 is veritably hair raising, despite its simplicity...as the song builds to a climax, chilling crystalline guitar leads build off this restrained foundation. The song builds in pace before quietly fading on a synth and piano chord.

Viima compares favourably to bands like White Willow (think of Viima as White Willow if they’d not added so many post rock and hard rock influences), while adding some nicely placed heaviness to keep the mix fresh and interesting. Ajatuksia Maailman Laidalta is a wonderfully surprising debut release, and marks Viima as a band to watch over the coming years.

Track listing:
Leijonan Syksy
Ajatuksia maailman laidalta
Ilmalaiva Italia

Band Members:
Päivi Kylmänen - vocals
Kimmo Lähteenmäki - keyboards and drums
Mikko Uusi-Oukari - guitars, flute
Jarmo Kataja - bass

Jankke Kuismin – Bass (2,3,5)
Kimmo Alho – Alto sax (5)
Anne Leinonen – Flute (5)

Find out more about Viima here:

10 Questions with...Bill Berends

As we peel back the veils of time…

Back in 1996 I went to see Jethro Tull and Emerson Lake and Palmer at the Garden State Arts Center. While there, someone was handing out postcards for a publication called Progression Magazine. Intrigued, I took one, and later decided to subscribe. When I got my first issue (Summer 1996, in case you were curious, with Daevid Allen of Gong on the cover), I was shocked to see just how many new and interesting bands were playing the music I loved. I decided to take a chance on one release each from a few different bands, and as for the results, well…I discovered Spock’s Beard, discipline., Braindance, and from New Jersey, a group called Mastermind.

Mastermind’s music has gone through numerous changes over the years; varying releases have leaned toward fusion (Excelsior! With Jens Johanssen on keys), symphonic prog (
Brainstorm and Tragic Symphony) and power metal (Angels of the Apocalypse). Two things have remained constants for Mastermind…brothers Rich and Bill Berends, the only musicians to appear on every Mastermind release.

Things have been very quiet on the Mastermind front for some time…2 years without live shows, nearly 10 years since the release of their last full-length studio album. The silence was shattered this year as the band was signed to Lion Records out of Finland for the release of Insomnia, an album well and long overdue. However, the Berends Brothers have not been silent all that time. They have played numerous club gigs as both The Berends Brothers and the Berends Wilson Trio, whipping up a decadent and satisfying mix of psych and blues, with the occasional Mastermind tune or guest vocal from Mastermind singer Tracy McShane added in as a bonus.

Over the years since my purchase of that first Mastermind CD (for the record, I believe it was Brainstorm, but I bet Bill could look it up and find it), I’ve gotten to know Bill Berends reasonably well, and it was an honour for me to have him to agree to sit down and answer a few questions about life, liberty, and the pursuit of prog. Sit down, crack open a cold one, and read along!

1. What's a quick and dirty "This is how I got into playing this kind of music" history for you?

BB: First off, thanks for your interest in our music Bill, I really appreciate it, especially since MASTERMIND has been off the radar for some time.

That's a big question since I enjoy and play a few different styles of music, but I think somehow they are all related. Like most baby boomers, I got into rock 'n' roll with The Beatles. I really admired George Harrison, he always seemed so into the music and more thoughtful and serious than John & Paul up front being pop stars. I was all about the MUSIC, not jumping about and thinking I was cool. I got a cheap acoustic guitar when I was maybe 10 or 12 and started learning Beatles and Stones tunes, stuff like that. Then a couple years later I discovered CREAM and that really did it for me, it was like nothing I had ever heard before. I know that's hard to imagine now in this age of too much everything, but that music was a real shock to the system at the time. At that moment I knew what I was gonna do with my life. I got serious about playing, took some lessons, pestered my folks into getting me the Gibson SG I've played all these years - they thought it would keep me out of trouble (which it probably did for the most part, being something of a problem child) - and started my first rock band with friends in the 9th grade.

Always the curious type, I wanted to know who influenced the guys I admired and that took me straight to the blues. When I was a kid it wasn't how many notes you could play, it was how good was your vibrato, you know? Anyway, in the late 60's rock got very experimental and the lines were blurred between blues, pop, folk, psychedelic, even some classical, and that seemed quite natural to me. Besides Cream, artists like Hendrix, Ten Years After, Spirit, Jethro Tull, Jefferson Airplane, they where all pushing the envelope in some way or another. It was a very creative time. Down the road, blues eventually led me to jazz and fusion, but that came a little further on.

The other side of my musical persona came from totally outside of rock n' roll. As kids, my parents took us to church every Sunday where, being quite bored with the sermons, I was captivated by the huge pipe organ and clarion bells. It was a huge cathedral-like Lutheran church and the pipe organ had such a majestic sound, it always took me to another place inside my head. I loved it! Also at the time, my younger brother David was studying classical piano at Peabody (Baltimore) so I was always hearing Bach, Chopin, Prokofiev, etc. around the house as he practiced. That worked it's way into my musical psyche as well. Going to school in the 60's there were music classes all through grade school where there was always some melody, rhythm, modulation... *something* that would catch my attention, touch me deeply in some undescribable way. I never dreamed I would pursue a life of music at the time, but I knew music really got to me in some deep mysterious way.

As for what got me into progressive rock, it was a drummer kid who sat next to me in high school that turned me onto ELP, forced me to listen to it actually, and I hated it! Really. It was so alien sounding to me. However, slowly but surely I found myself drawn back to it for some inexplicable reason. Although it lacked any great guitar work which was my primary interest at the time, it did merge the other elements of my musical brain, combining the classical piano and organ nodes in my mind with the power of bluesy hard rock. So ELP was the second big revelation for me as a budding muso, after Cream. The third wave came to me as The Mahavishnu Orchestra which again I truly hated at first! But once again it slowly drew me in and pretty much blew my mind on every level. It was sort of the next level of what Cream had done instrumentally, and that really appealed to me. I guess that sums it up. Quick and dirty... Cream, ELP, and Mahavishu (plus their influences, predecessors and peers, like John Mayall, King Crimson, and Miles for example) were the things that shaped my musical world.

Another reason I took to working with progressive rock is most of it is based around composition rather than improvisation and that was easier to create in a recording environment. To make real blues, jazz, and fusion, you need live players to interact with, and that's a lot harder than building up compositions on tape (or computers as the case may be nowadays). If I would have had access to more players, I'm sure it all would have gone in a different direction, but geographically speaking, there was no one else nearby who shared my interests other than my brother who I started brainwashing as a child. So Mastermind is as much a child of circumstance as it was a musical vision. I built an imaginary band in my head and in the recording studio which was often a real challenge to try and duplicate in a live setting, especially as a trio. However, playing live is really what I enjoy most about music, so we always had some sort of live situation going on. Whether we pulled it off is up to the listener to decide, but with my sensibilities I always kind of felt like we were doing the "Live Cream" interpretation of our recorded works rather than trying to duplicate the recordings exactly. Some people "get" that, but many others do not. Most people basically just want to hear the record played really loud at a concert. I on the other hand, hate playing things the same way over & over like a recital. That gets old, fast.

And finally, I think the one element that perhaps most pushed me towards progressive rock with Mastermind is, at the time we started doing this somewhere in mid-1986, the polyphonic guitar synthesizer MIDI controller was finally a workable and affordable reality. I kind of went nuts with it and our first recordings were really about seeing just how far I could go with it. I finally had some synthesizers I could (almost) really play on guitar and I went nuts. Of course over the years I began to view it more as an albatross than an asset, because it was something I became known for, but ultimately it detracts from a more intimate style of expression on guitar rather than adding to it, although in a trio context it did help fill out the sound. I haven't used it in years. I still enjoy synthesizers though, so it is something of a dilemma for me. Perhaps one day they will make one that is truly transparent from the player's point of view, but at this point I would just prefer to play guitar and work with a keyboard player. I dunno, we'll see. The guitar-synth is something of a love-hate relationship.

2. What would you say are your biggest influences, musically or personally?

BB: Musically, see above. Personally, I'm not sure how to answer that. I've always admired musicians who were serious and dedicated to their art. I was never about, and never enjoyed, the "rock star" thing. Guys with their shirts off prancing about and posing. Rock out with your cock out, bang your head kind of stuff. I thought it was silly and I still do. When KISS came along in the early 70's I thought it was incredibly stupid. I still do. They are to music what professional wrestling is to sports…a mockery. Costumes, makeup, none of that theatrical stuff ever did anything for me. So needless to say, as time when on and that became more or less the norm, rock music seemed more stupid with each passing year. There are a few exceptions, like DEVO whom I really enjoy, but they intentionally play up being stupid and silly to emphasis how stupid it all is. Devolution.

I also don't really enjoy much rock music that doesn't at least have a trace element of blues. It's funny in a way, because Mastermind being classified as prog-rock has always been a difficult pill for me to swallow because a large portion of music called prog has no blues in it at all and, well, see my previous sentence. I really don't like it and lots of proggers simply don't understand that. You know, the music of the late 60's I enjoyed was often, at the time, called "progressive blues" which kind of sums up my underpinnings. Music can't be all about being intellectual, it has to have heart and soul as well. When I was younger all these founding father "prog-rock" bands were just other rock bands doing their thing. They weren't billed as "prog" and that separation and classification has always annoyed me and limited the audience in my opinion. Most people don't know Yes opened for Cream or that ELP would be co-billed with The Allman Brothers Band. It's marketing that subdivided the music and I really don't think that helped things other than to make it more inbred and less original. Look at the lineups at the seminal festivals of the 60's like Monterey Pop or Woodstock... you couldn't get away with that kind of diversity nowadays.

On a purely personal level, I admire and respect people who are dedicated to *something* in their lives. People who have found a reason for living. Too many people just wander through life with no real purpose other than having fun and using up resources, just passing the time. And by this I don't mean just making money, in fact I loathe people who dedicate themselves to money. The whole "got mine, get yours" mentality that really took hold in the 80's makes me crazy, and that's what got us into the situation the world is in now, that whole me first attitude. I grew up in the 60's and the cultural revolutions that took place, people striving for a better world, breaking down barriers, those kind of things I admired and still do.

3. It's been a long time since Mastermind has been active. What have you been doing lately?

BB: Drinking. Seriously, it's only been two and a half years now that Mastermind hasn't been active. 2008 was the first year in 22 years that there wasn't a single Mastermind gig which bummed me out. However, it has been nearly a decade since we've offered up any new recorded music. If you've read any of my blogs on the Mastermind website I kind of get into it there. I was waiting out the Bush Administration is basically it, though we were playing a lot of live shows until yet another bass player took leave. We did complete an album somewhere around 2004 and we released the BROKEN EP with a couple tunes from it in 2005, but we couldn't find a decent label deal until late last year. That album is INSOMNIA and was finally released by LION MUSIC in Finland earlier this year (2010). In all honesty, I wasn't really pursuing getting it released very aggressively is the truth of the matter. I felt we were heading in the wrong direction with Angels of the Apocalypse and music as a whole seemed so... redundant and pointless. I wasn't really enjoying myself much anymore, so I had to step away from it for a while. I am pleased to see INSOMNIA finally get released properly though. Now if we could just get more people to notice, I think it has a lot of potential. I'm sure if we could have got it released earlier on, our momentum would've kept us going, but it is what it is at this point. The "prog world" is definitely something of a social scene as well, and in experimenting with different directions it definitely feels like we fell out of favor on a social level. People I've known for years in the prog world totally ignore us now, people I thought were my friends! As if I've somehow betrayed the cause or something. I was a little shocked by that, how incredibly shallow some people are. I thought prog was all about being open minded and forward thinking when that doesn't seem to be the case at all.

Anyway, once Mastermind went into stasis I went back to my roots of just playing bluesy guitar without the synths and metal and have been having a great time with it. It made me re-examine my interests and motivations, I think it's made me a better player and singer, and it has earned us a whole new group of fans who really don't enjoy the prog stuff, so that's a little bit weird sometimes. I am writing and recording new music again, finally. Some of it may end up as Mastermind, some of it is simply Bill Berends plays guitar, some of it may become a blues album, and I also have another album's worth of symphonic fusion written that's sort of a cross between Excelsior! and Tragic Symphony, but I haven't quite sorted out how to bring that to life yet. The older you get, the harder it is to get people to put in the time that's necessary since there isn't a lot of money involved, they're busy with their real lives, struggling to keep the bills paid, going on vacations, whatever. It's tough.

So, I have at least three, maybe four, albums worth of new music in various stages of completion. Now the challenge is to get it finished and see who might want to release it. The problem as I see it is, there is too much of everything now with the explosion of the internet since Y2K and it's really difficult to get people to notice something since there is now thousands of times more music all fighting to get in your face. I mean, there is so much music everywhere it almost feels pointless to add more noise to the cacophony regardless of how good it may or may not be... there's just too much. It overwhelms people and they just don't care anymore, so they shut it out. Also, the music that seems to get tons of attention for some reason is really quite banal and redundant in my opinion, so I guess it all gets down to when I feel like re-joining the fight. I could release all this stuff independently, cater to our core audience, which is an option I may consider... but one thing about the smallness of the prog scene, and this holds true with other niche styles of music too, is when the fan base is so small and targeted it becomes quite myopic. There is a certain appeal to playing a good old classic rock song EVERYBODY knows because it is a shared experience, something that brings people together. There is an aspect to that I really like. So even tho' everything you can imagine is probably out there somewhere on the internet if you look for it hard enough - and some of it is quite good - that feeling of a shared experience doesn't come with it. I miss that feeling. So it is something of a dilemma... how to get that shared experience while still trying to make interesting and challenging music.

4. Recently you entered into a partnership with Mindawn to offer the Mastermind back catalogue digitally. How has this worked out so far?

BB: It's worked out pretty well I suppose. The whole online digital music revolution was not something I was really prepared for, like many others. I like the FLAC audio format, but I also realize it raises the bar too high for the average music fan, so we've also put some of our stuff up on Bandcamp where people can get it as mp3's. Lion Music has our new INSOMNIA album on iTunes as well. Personally, I've never purchased a music download and doubt I ever will. I still prefer full quality audio, I still like having a physical package in my hands. Artwork and packaging really adds to the whole experience and simply downloading music just adds to the disposable feel of it all. I really miss going to the record store and thumbing thru albums for the odd and unexpected discovery.

5. Will there be future digital releases coming soon on Mindawn?

BB: Perhaps. I have so much music sitting in the closet and on my computers it isn't even funny. But for something to be a new official release I want it released as a physical product. Something real that you can hold in your hand. The digital-only releases will continue to be live stuff and probably some other oddities. We'll see. Right now, working on new music and playing live is my top priority.

6. Was Mastermind ever professionally filmed? If so, any chance of a DVD release sometime?

BB: Not really. There was a three-camera shoot of one of our Progday performances, but the lighting is weird and the sound mix was pretty awful. We have hundreds of hours of amateur video, almost every live show Mastermind played since the mid-nineties. The problem is finding the time and/or the funds to get it edited and presented properly on DVD. It is something I would like to see happen. I guess as faster computers become cheaper I'll probably end up doing it myself at some point, there has been a lot of interest. Truthfully though, I'd rather be making music than learning new software, so it may never happen.

7. What would you say was your biggest thrill playing live?

BB: One single big thrill? Let me think... going to Japan and Europe was cool, I'd like to do that again, see more of the world. Just traveling all over and having people be happy to see you when you get there is a pretty neat experience. As for the big thrill of playing live, when the moment is right, that is when I connect with the Universe in a very spiritual way and disconnect from my worldly baggage. I think that's common to a lot of musicians. That's why we do it. That's why I do it anyway. I do remember one ProgDay festival where things ran late and it got dark... there were no stage lights so we ended up playing with people pulling their cars around the stage to illuminate the stage with headlights. That was neat. What else... Fish kissed me on the lips at our last show with him. That was out there!

8. Each of Mastermind's albums has evolved/built on the one previous. What direction do you see the new Mastermind going?

BB: I have given Rich sketches of twelve new tracks to learn that are potentially the basis for a new Mastermind album, somewhat reminiscent of, or perhaps a follow up to,
Until Eternity with a touch of Brainstorm in there, plus a little of the Tragic Symphony album's symphonicness. How it will turn out in the end is hard to say exactly. I have steered away from the power metal stylings of the Angels and Insomnia albums to a large degree - though there is still plenty of power - but that stylistic niche just seems so limited to me. Metal as a whole is a very conservative form of music and I need more room to move around. As to what approach it will take vocally and instrumentally, I will probably tap into the talents of people we have worked with on previous releases, but the overall character is decidedly closer to the original spirit of the band. Anything that strays too far away from that I'll probably want to release under another name. INSOMNIA was something I felt I needed to do at that particular time, but I don't think it represents where I am now, today, musically speaking. It's a shame it took so long to get it released because I think it gives it more weight than it should have.. this isn't the big comeback album as some people portray it to be, it was just another experimental side step that got bogged down by the changing times.

I think that's where we got into trouble in the first place, trying to do too many things under the Mastermind banner which confused some people. As Jens is found of saying "people want the same soap in the soapbox" and I guess that's probably true, though I can think of many exceptions to that statement. The next thing I will be getting out there will probably be my solo guitar album. In prepping for some new Mastermind recordings I started experimenting with recording different guitars which led me to making a collection of rock tunes that are all guitar instrumentals, in the vein of Eric Johnson or Satriani you might say. Just me, the studio, and my guitars. That one should see the light of day as we work towards something new as Mastermind.

9. Past albums have seen some tracks with a decided political focus to them. Are you hopeful that things will change, or fearful that there will be more of the same?

BB: I am always hopeful, but greed, corruption, and massive wealth will still dominate this world for a long time to come. I had high hopes that Obama would breath some fresh air into the political system, and I think he's marginally better than the alternative that was offered, but not by much. He is a slave to his corporate masters. The USA has become the pawn of international corporations, globalism, and the interests of other countries which makes me sick to think about. In the last decade we've all been fucked over by the most massive upward shift of wealth in nearly a century. How could we let this happen? It pisses me off and I wish more people would get angry and DO something about it instead of living with their heads in the sand... but what can you do? I do not see things getting better for the average person for quite some time to come.

10. Do you have any final words for our readers?

BB: My heartfelt thanks and appreciation to everyone who has supported our musical efforts over the years with their hard earned dollars. I thank you all.


(Photo of Bill Berends in concert at John & Peters, New Hope PA, by Bill Knispel.)

26 July 2010

Freakshow Artrock Festival 2010 - Part II announced

(NB: This is from the promoter’s press release.)

Although we have already had our festival back in march starring quite a bunch of great newcomers to the scene (Accordo Dei Contrari, Phlox, Beardfish, Neom, Camembert, Jerseyband), we decided to do a second part of it in autumn, due to the fact, that our dearest friends Of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum will be back again in Europe for quite one week, guesting at the prestigious RIOfestival in Carmaux in the south of France and once again in Würzburg.

And because there are some people around here that are dedicated followers of the French cult band Magma, we thought about arranging a double feature starring one cult band that draws its fame from the past up to the present, and one cult band that seems to be firmly rooted in the present with a nod here and there to some of the greats of the past of advanced rock music!

So when we were about to arrange things for this double feature, another of our favourites jumped in, announcing the release of their 4th record in autumn and wanting to do a show with their newly recruited drummer (they did not have one before) in Würzburg in the wake of aforementioned RIOfestival, where he (the drummer) will certainly be present as representative of his own record company. We are talking about Dave Kerman (drummer of present and thinking plague), who is guesting on the soon to be released ALTROCK label effort by Belgium chamber rock ensemble Aranis.

So now we are very proud to announce the Freakshow Artrock Festival 2010 - Part II as a one-day festival on the 25th of September.

Galerie 03 / Freakshow Present Freakshow Artrock Festival 2010 - Part II

"Rock Music For Advanced Listeners"
25.September 2010
Posthalle, Bahnhofsplatz 2, 97070 Würzburg (http://www.posthalle.de/)
All tickets will qualify for a seat!
Doors Open: 12:00
Start Of Concerts: 13:00

Aranis (featuring Dave Kerman on drums): www.myspace.com/aranis
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum www.myspace.com/sleepytimegorillamuseum
Magma www.myspace.com/magmaofficial

For more info, including ticket purchase information:


Magma Monday 5

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

This week, sit back and relax as we take a look at
Archiẁ I & II, the double disc set of rare and unreleased material included in the 2008 boxed set Studio Zünd: 40 Ans d'Evolution.

2008 saw the release of Studio Zünd, Magma’s huge career spanning retrospective covering 40 years of the band’s music. After the troubles and tribulations I went through finally deciding to pick up Theusz Hamtaahk, I wasn’t going to allow myself a second lengthy and arduous process in deciding to purchase this boxed set; I picked it up the first day of NEARfest 2009.

The frustrating thing for me, having purchased the odd Magma album here and there, was this: Studio Zünd is less a ‘traditional’ boxed set and more a one-stop shop for buying Magma Studio albums, as every studio release up through Kohntarkosz Anteria is re-released on this set. By this point in my fandom, I’d already purchased a bunch of their studio albums separately, which meant I was going to have a decent sized batch of duplicate releases. I could easily hand over a bunch of them to some nouveau Magma listener as a starter set, and while that’s a lovely idea and kind and generous, I’d spent a decent bit of cash for them (Magma albums are not inexpensive!), and there was no way honestly I was going to do that. So they sit next to the boxed set, making my collection look that much bigger.

I had it better than many people, however, as there were still Magma studio albums I didn’t have. That made buying the boxed set an easier thing for me. For many, if not most, Magma aficionados, the entire set save Archiẁ I & II would be duplicates, essentially asking those fans to buy the entire catalogue all over again (and with none of the discs seeing any remastering or anything) simply for 2 discs of material that would not be released separately. I can see that being an entirely difficult position to be placed in, and I don’t see any easy way out that would satisfy both sides of the situation. Certainly a separate release of the archive material would be welcomed, but it would have totally hamstrung sales of the boxed set. It’s a catch-22 situation all the way around.

But I’m not here today to discuss the politics of this release; I’m here to talk about Archiẁ I & II. So let’s get down to business.

Archiẁ I & II compiles 17 tracks of unreleased Magma music, with the vast majority of it coming from 1970. Magma in 1970 was a far different band from the one that stormed the stage in all black like some Orff-inspired rock orchestra…they were jazzier, horn driven, at times a lighter band by far from the one we all know and (some of us) love. We start off on Archiẁ I with 7 tracks from a 1970 French film 24 heures seulement. My Google-Fu is apparently weak, as I can’t find any good info about the movie…well, that and it seems most all of the hits I get when I search for “24 heures seulement” link to articles about the release of the sound track on Studio Zünd (shameless bit: I’m linked to on page 3 of the search results). I know that this soundtrack was recorded by the same line-up that would go on to record the first Magma album that same year. Therefore, it’d be safe to assume you’re going to hear the same kind of music that you hear on Magma/Kobaia.

You’d be wrong. Mostly.

Certainly there are points of comparison. Both the first Magma album and this soundtrack are a jazzier Magma than most people are familiar with…but the jazz references are far stronger on this material than on the material written for that epochal first Magma release. Opening track ‘La Foule’ is one of the wildest things I have heard Magma ever do, with BS&T like horns and some psychedelic guitar bringing to mind a strange combination of west coast psych/garage band and jazz combo. It doesn’t sound like magma, and it doesn’t sound like any other band, really. ‘Blues de v.’ carries on this theme, vamping on a cool little progression with loads of funky, wah drenched guitar playing over a great little horn chart. Again, this is a totally different Magma, unlike any you have ever heard before.

‘Fete foraine’ hews closer to a sound that we’d associate with Magma, with a driving bass and drum pattern opening the track. We soon have a return to the heavy guitar focus that has been such a major part of the first two tracks, and while I completely understand that fuzz and wah were major parts of late 0’s/early 70’s psych music, it just doesn’t work for me in Magma. The wild flute playing is nice, however (and if I were doing my job, I’d say that the flute reminds me of Jethro Tull or Camel, but I try to avoid those stereotypes wherever possible). The track’s a brief 2:47, but it’s a cool little piece. Of similar length is ‘Pascale,’ a quiet, acoustic number with some great flute playing mixed with pleasant acoustic guitar and bass. A good bit of this reminds me of ‘Bolero’ from King Crimson’s Lizard album. Is this Magma? Maybe not as we know then, nor as they’d ever be again. But it’s a gorgeous song, and that simply cannot be denied.

‘Ourania’ is the longest piece from the soundtrack. Nearly nine minutes long, it comes closest to the sound listeners who own Magma/Kobaia and 1001 Degrees Centigrades would be familiar with. Vander’s drumming is very busy, with loads of percussive accents scattered about, the bass playing is present and a joy to listen to, and while there are horns, they are used more like voices rather than sheets of sound. It builds slowly, much like later Magma works, the pace increasing, the playing picking up speed, the song driving forward toward its inevitable conclusion. We even have a nascent, early Vander drum ‘solo’ that shows even in the early days of his playing that he was a force to be reckoned with.

For most Magma listeners, however, it is the second half of Archiẁ I that is likely of most interest. This compilation includes the third different release of Mëkanïk Dëstruktïw Kömmandöh to come from the band since the original studio release in 1973. To give you a general overview…

1) The original 1973 studio release, now out on CD on Seventh Records individually and in the boxed set.
2) A second 1973 recording, released on Akt Records (Magma’s ‘official bootleg’) label, featuring a stripped back mix and many differences from the well-known album above.
3) This alternate demo version, described below.

This has all the feel of a classic demo, and while it gives us the form of MDK as we know it, there are so many differences. For one, there are next to no vocals. Next, there’s a lot of organ scattered here and there throughout the song. Organ is not an instrument I typically associate with Magma, and it’s odd to hear. Then there are these odd bits of horn here and there that sound like elephant skronks. It’s MDK, to be sure, but not like we’ve ever heard it. As a lesson in how the song evolved, however, I think it’s brilliant, and I enjoy it greatly for what it is. It does make me wish the band would consider releasing more extracts from their demos…I know they are out there (at least, I know additional MDK demos exist, as well as extracts from Wurdah Itah recordings).

Archiẁ II, by comparison, is generally much less interesting, as it is based entirely around material that most Magma listeners have a decent familiarity with. The opening 51 minutes of this disc is dedicated to the band’s first demo recordings of material that would be released later that year as Magma/Kobaia. These recordings, unlike the soundtrack material of similar vintage, are taken from an acetate cut from the sessions. As a result, the songs do have a varying degree of static and pops throughout. I don’t know how easy it would have been to clean these up as they are pretty prevalent throughout the material. It’s a shame that masters from these sessions seem to no longer exist (I’d assume that’s why the acetate was used), as I think for most people that’d make the listening experience more enjoyable. I admit to not having done extensive A/B listening of this recording with the versions released officially, but there seem to be minimal differences from these renditions to the final ones. What little differences I’ve picked up seem more in accents than extensive structural changes.

The final piece on Archiẁ II is the song ‘Eliphas Levi,’ originally released on 1984’s Merci album. This version features drums and percussion that the original release did not. It’s also significantly shorter, 9:35 versus the 11:15 of the original Merci rendition. It’s a particular favourite of mine from a release that I generally don’t rate all that well, and while the drums don’t necessarily add a huge amount to the song, it’s interesting indeed to hear the song in a different way.

Archiẁ I & II is a mixed bag for me. There’s some very interesting material on here, and most of that for me is on the first half of the release. Magma’s not a band that has necessarily offered up a lot of alternate recordings or archival studio recordings in the past (though they are impressively well represented with some great older live releases over the years). Would I have bought Studio Zünd: 40 Ans d'Evolution for this 2-CD set alone, had I already owned the full set of studio releases? That’s a hard question to answer. Is this essential? That question, I think, is even harder. I enjoy it, even if half of the material is reasonably familiar to me (and even though we’ve all heard MDK, the demo is different enough that I think of it as unfamiliar territory). I don’t think it essential to the more casual fan, but then again, the casual fan isn’t going to be buying Studio Zünd.

I have no idea what I’ll be covering next week in Magma Monday…it’s a tough choice! I will say that I’m deciding between Mëkanïk Kömmandöh (the alternate version of mentioned above) and MDKMythes Et Legendes Epok III DVD, so either voice your opinion below or wait till next week and see which side of the coin came up to help me decide!

Track Listing CD 1:
La Foule
Blues de v.
Fete foraine
Kalimouna (extrait)
Africa Anteria
Mëkanïk Dëstruktïw Kömmandöh

Track Listing CD 2:
Thaud Zaïa
Nau Ektila
Muh (extrait)
Eliphas Levi

Christian Vander
Stella Vander
Francis Moze
Jannick Top
Klaus Blasquiz
Teddy Lasry
Alain ‘Paco’ Charlery
Francois Cahen
Richard Raux
Jacky Vidal
Rene Garber
Jean-Luc Manderlier
Guy Khalifa
Liza Deluxe


25 July 2010

Frogg Café: Belgian Boogie Board full score now available

With huge amounts of thanks and bouquets of Martian Fire Flowers to both Andy Sussman and Frank Camiola, I am pleased to present the full score for 'Belgian Boogie Board,' the instrumental track that closes out Frogg Café's latest album, Bateless Edge.

It will be available for the next 3 weeks at:


This is fully authorised by the author of the piece; otherwise, you'd never have seen the teaser images I posted, let alone the full thing.

Enjoy! See everyone tomorrow!

THE ENID: a letter from Robert John Godfrey

By now it’s pretty obvious that I’m a huge fan of The Enid.

Because of that, I am sharing this message that Robert John Godfrey sent out. If you’re a fan of the band, the best way you can support the group is to take his words to heart. The Enid are getting ready to do some very impressive things, and it’s up to the fan base to help them along their way.

Anyway, enough of me. Here’s his post:


Innersanctum have finally bootlegged Journey’s End. This is obviously very upsetting for the band but entirely predictable as Gerald Palmer makes his position evermore untenable.

This is clearly nothing more than a spiteful act of desperation in an attempt to bully and damage the band.

As we review the position, it is now clear that Gerald, in spite of his wealth, is losing both the moral and legal battle with The Enid.

In the last year he and Steve Kalidoski have by their own hands destroyed the reputation of the Innersanctum label and the wider name of Adasam, the company Gerald named after his two young sons.


As time goes on The Enid grow ever stronger and more able to fight back whilst Palmer has revealed himself for all the world to see.

For the time being, my one time friend is in denial. However, it is now only a matter of time before he will have to face the inevitable and hopefully walk away with some semblance of dignity whilst he still can.


In a new development, the band have obtained conclusive evidence of fraud and false accounting involving Gerald Palmer that may go back many years and involve many other artists. Investigations are in hand.


Overall we are optimistic – Thanks largely to the efforts of our manager Ian Eardley, and a fresh band with its new Journey’s End lineup, we have more going for us than at any time in our long and bumpy ride. From our modest beginnings we have come full circle in our relationship with EMI, who played such an important role in the early years and who have been quite splendid in all of this.

What we now need to do is to try and persuade EMI to take on the distribution of Journey’s End for us as they originally agreed before Palmer managed to make them nervous; at which point they put everything on hold.

We are holding our own financially and are stronger than we were a year ago: nevertheless, things are still very difficult with large legal bills to pay.

For those of you who have not already done so, please join The Enidi in its new form and buy the two new marvelous releases of In the Region of the Summer Stars and Aerie Faerie Nonsense in all their long lost glory.

Go to the links below and provide us with any useful information you think may helpful.

See you all, I hope, during the course of the coming months as we prepare to tour around the world.

The whole band sends their warmest regards.

Yours sincerely,

Robert John Godfrey”


24 July 2010

The State of the Blog, 24 July 2010

It’s Saturday, and that means it’s time for another State of the Blog post.

It’s been a very busy week here at Bill’s Prog Blog, as I am sure you have all seen. I admit that Frogg Café day was a bit of a surprise, but I hope it was as cool a surprise for you as it was for me. I really want to take the time to thank Andy and Frank from the Café for their generosity of time and in allowing me to share the score with you. Which reminds, actually...I will be sharing the whole thing with you very soon now...I’m just working out those final details. I hope it’s something that is a nice little extra for those of you out there reading at home.

There are a lot of cool things in the pipeline for the next few weeks. I’m always loathe to share specifics because so much can change as events occur. But I can share a few generalities, I think. Among the pieces that are in the works...

  • A number of interviews, including at least one that’s been in the works for a little while now.
  • The beginning of a series of pieces looking at progressive/art rock boxed sets of value.
  • Some DVD reviews, including both new and older titles.
  • Reviews of a pair of very good instrumental albums that have come out this year on two ends of the musical spectrum.
  • The usual mix of CD reviews and news articles.

As always, we’ll be kicking things off with Magma Monday. I’m still working out a flow for the rest of the week, but be assured, it’ll be well worth it.

And now for a few less blog news-esque words…

I obviously posted a lot of stuff this week, and the response I’ve gotten was pretty overwhelming. That’s something I can only mark up to you out there in Constant Reader land. I don’t do this for response, I don’t do this to get a pat on the back...but that doesn’t mean that I am not dead chuffed when it happens. Its very gratifying to get positive response from those of you reading at home, and all I can say in return in a sincere thank you for taking the time to read, to comment, to send e-mails, or whatever. It makes me want to work that extra bit harder to make sure that I keep things going smoothly. So...thank you. Your energy and enthusiasm drives me to keep on keeping on.

Enough of my blather...I have some Magma to listen to!

23 July 2010

IQ: The Wake 25th Anniversary Edition ready for order

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of IQ´s classic album The Wake, GEP is to release an extraordinary 4 disc edition of this recording.

The 4-disc boxed set includes:

the remastered version of the album
two additional discs with:
  • work in progress
  • rough mixes
  • studio outtakes
  • demos
  • writing sessions
a fourth disc containing:
  • 47 minutes of ultra-rare live video from 1984 (the oldest existing footage of the band)
  • a full album video commentary by Peter Nicholls, Mike Holmes and Paul Cook
  • the multi-track files for a DIY-mix of the song “Corners“
  • tons of additional audio-material and interviews as mp3 files.

a 60-page-full-colour-booklet, featuring new artwork, unseen photographs, memorabilia and a documentary of the album´s history with contributions from all members of the band.

a double sided poster featuring the original album artwork

PLEASE NOTE: This will ship on or before the 30th July


CD REVIEW: Mars Hollow - Mars Hollow (10T Records, 2010)

I wanted to open this review with some witty observation about how new progressive rock bands seemed to fit in one of a few very specific categories…the ones aping Dream Theater, or the ones mimicking the classic Genesis/Yes formula, or whatever. The more I thought about this, the more I realised a few things:

1) It really doesn’t break down that way very easily.
2) You reach a point where you say ‘(band name) is copying the Flower Kings, and since they were influenced by Genesis and Yes, is (band name) really copying TFK or mimicking Genesis/Yes?’
3) It starts getting very silly very quickly.

What does any of this have to do with Mars Hollow?

Well, I’ve been listening to their debut release for the better part of a week now, and I feel I’ve gotten pretty familiar with it. For those unfamiliar with the name, Mars Hollow is a new band out of California, with a debut album just released on 10T records, home of Frogg Café, From.UZ, The Rebel Wheel, and several other excellent newer bands. A quartet, they’ve done a very good job of not falling into the trap of moulding their sound after one of the bigger names in the genre. Honestly, in listening, I hear a lot of elements that bring to mind the lost American prog bands of the 1970s…

Let’s look a little closer.

Standing at the front, in a metaphorical sense, is John Baker, the group’s guitarist and lead vocalist. His guitar playing is influenced by the jazzier side of things, as he lists John McLaughlin among his primary influences, with Steely Dan also mentioned. His playing is fluid and lyrical, with a lovely sense of melody. Vocally he reminds me of a combination of Geddy Lee (post Grace Under Pressure) and Rick Rodenbaugh, the late original lead vocalist from Yezda Urfa. Yes, his voice has a higher timbre to it, but it’s not nasally or unpleasing to listen to. Once you factor in that the rest of the band contributes backing vocals as well, you realise that this is a group that puts as much emphasis on a quality vocal experience as much as an impressive instrumental showcase.

On the melodic side of the band, Steve Mauk picks up the keyboard slot and runs with it. His choice of sounds is impressive, and goes a long way toward continuing that vintage, 1970’s feel. There’s loads of piano, some rich organ tones, and synth patch choices that come fully out of the mists of the 70’s. I really enjoy his playing, especially his use of multiple sounds layered one atop the other.

Finally, the rhythm section is manned by Kerry Chicione (bass) and Jerry Beller (drums). Chicione is very impressive on bass; his tone is punchy, and he’s set nicely in the mix. His playing is ever present without being too flashy or too rooted. I wouldn’t say he’s a lead bassist, but this music wouldn’t sound at all the same if he just played the root and was unobtrusive. Beller’s drumming is also incredibly enjoyable, and his ability to pound it out and then switch to lighter percussive accents is one that brings a smile to my face. Musically and vocally, Mars Hollow has the pieces put together in the right order.

The album opens with the nine minute long ‘Wait for Me.’ The opening instrumental section is joyfully angular, with syncopated guitar and drums/bass shifting back and forth. Some short piano flourishes here and there break things up for about a minute before the band kicks in to full speed. Baker offers up a nicely fuzzed guitar lead, Mauk counters with some hot organ lines, and before we know it, we’ve hit vocals. The band lays back, Baker singing over some fluid piano playing and a melodic bass line. Layered and harmonized vocals show the band’s desire for a balanced emphasis on vocals and instruments both; too often bands focus on one (usually the instrumental side of things) to the detriment of the other.

‘Midnight’ follows on from ‘Wait for Me,’ with a lighter, jazzier style evident. There’s a smoky musical feel here, very laid back, with some nicely groovy drumming from Beller and clean, almost chorused guitar from Baker. Baker’s double tracked vocals are a joy to listen to, while Mauk offers up a fantastic synth solo about 3:30 in that really shines. I like the fact that the opening pair of tracks are so different from each other, yet identifiably the same band. I’ve heard the band described as a symphonic rock band, and while there are certainly some similarities, I find that their jazzier influences really make that label an inaccurate one, and place them more firmly in the traditional Ameriprog arena.

Having said that, the next track seems hell-bent on proving me wrong. ‘Eureka’ opens up with the thickest slab of 1970’s ELP-style instrumental fireworks you could imagine, with organ and Emerson-esque piano playing over an energetic and sprightly bit of rhythm playing. The addition of guitar to his mix is what keeps this homage from being a full on pastiche of that style of music. Once the song moves to vocal sections, things sound much more Mars Hollow-like, with the same mix of keyboard sounds used in a much different manner. There are some great melodic hooks evident here, and sections that just scream out for singing along to; it’s a shame that there are no lyrics printed in the liner notes to enable this (thankfully the lyircs are on the website, but that’s of no help when you’re away from home).

‘If I were You’ shifts things back to the lighter, jazzier side of things, but a pacier, organ driven instrumental section around the 4:30 mark adds a nice flourish and some sonic seasoning to the mix. ‘In Your Hands’ is a pleasant melodic rock piece, with some very cool vocal moments, a great fuzzed solo from Baker, and sprightly drumming from Beller. Vocals are the definite highlight here, perhaps the strongest bit of vocal performance on the album. Attentive ears will notice the (none too subtle) quoting of ELP’s ‘Tarkus’ at 5:22, even recreating the Moog patch that was such a part of that tune. ‘Wild Animal’ continues the series of impressive vocal performances, but there’s something about this track that I find somewhat less enjoyable or enduring. All the elements seem to be there; there’s great keyboard playing, excellent drumming and bass playing, absolutely amazing vocals throughout. I just find myself drifting when this song is on, somewhat less actively listening.

Things pick up in a big way, however, for ‘Dawn of Creation,’ the album’s closing track. A hefty 12:23, this is a piece that allows Mars Hollow to bring everything they have to bear for one epic blow out. An ambient opening section sets the table, with a very cool, somewhat restrained piano/bass/drum instrumental bit rising from the quiet. Baker’s guitar playing is at first reminiscent of the violin like notes Steve Hackett created on ‘Hairless Heart’ before taking on his own sound again. Great vocals, interesting lyrics, and wonderful band and solo playing make this a powerful and tight album closer that really shows what the band can do. If I had to pick one song off this release to play for someone curious about what Mars Hollow Sounds like, this is the one I’d pick.

Mars Hollow (the band) has been getting a lot of hype and publicity on genre websites and forums, and it’s hype and publicity that’s deserved. While Mars Hollow is not a perfect album, almost no debut album ever is. There’s room to grow, room to evolve and progress, and I know that I hope they have the opportunity to do so. I’m looking forward to seeing this band continue to make music for many years to come, and hope that this is the beginning of a long and enjoyable musical voyage.

Wait for Me 9:30
Midnight 5:07
Eureka 9:21
If I Were You 7:32
In Your Hands 6:33
Wild Animal 7:11
Dawn of Creation 12:23

John Baker – guitar/lead vocals
Jerry Beller – Drums/percussion/vocals
Kerry Chicoine – Bass/vocals
Steve Mauk – keyboards/vocals