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.

Find out more:

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

James LaBrie tour dates announced

Nov. 26 - Charlotte, NC - Tremont Music Hall
Nov. 27 - Raleigh, NC - Volume 11
Nov. 29 – New York, NY - Gramercy Theater
Nov. 30 - Philadelphia, PA - The Trocadero
Dec. 02 - Montreal, QUE - Club Soda
Dec. 03 - Toronto, ONT - Opera House
Dec. 04 - Detroit, MI - Blondies
Dec. 06 - Cleveland, OH - Peabody's
Dec. 07 - Chicago, IL - Reggie Rock Club
Dec. 08 - Minneapolis, MN - Station 4
Dec. 10 - Seattle, WA - El Corazon
Dec. 11 - Portland, OR - Berbati's Pen
Dec. 14 - Los Angeles, CA - Key Club
Dec. 15 - Ventura, CA - Ventura Theater
Dec. 16 - Tempe, AZ - Marquee Theater
Dec. 18 - San Antonio, TX - Backstage Live
Dec. 19 - Dallas, TX - Trees
Dec. 20 - Houston, TX - Scout Bar

Tickets for the trek are currently on sale exclusively via EnterTheVault.com where fans can purchase both regular and VIP tickets for the trek. VIP packages include entrance to the venue one hour early, a meet-and-greet with James LaBrie and a signed tour poster.

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

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…it was 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!

1. Let’s start at the very beginning…how did you first discover a love of music?

Bill Fox:
As a preschooler, my mother would play records over the intercom system we had in the house.  I would hum along.  One of my mother's favorite Bill stories to tell was that, not only would I hum the melodies, but the harmonies and counterpoints, too.  My love of music was innate and always there, as far as I can tell.  By the first grade, I was asking for a piano.  Sadly, that wish was never fulfilled.  It wasn't until the fourth grade (I was nine years old) that my father bought a guitar.  I started teaching myself from his books and with his help.  The following summer, I took ten private lessons in folk guitar.  The fourth grade was also when I was old enough to be in choirs in school and at temple.  So I joined.  I started saxophone in the sixth grade.

Greg Jones: At a very young age it just had a tremendous emotional and physical effect on me. I read Steve Hackett describing being so overwhelmed emotionally that he felt naked and didn't want people to see his face when he was hearing something that powerful and I thought "I know what he means".

Karl Eisenhart: I come from a very musical family. My mom is an amazing flute player. My uncle has been a full time musician as long as I can remember. My Grandmother was a MONSTER pianist, who used to play background music in movie theaters during silent films.

Matt Francisco: I wish I had an interesting answer for that question, I can only say music has always been part of my life.

2. What were your earliest influences?

My earliest influences were the records my parents owned; Roger Williams, Alan Sherman, Gershwin, Peter, Paul, and Mary, and some classical music.  Radio and TV of the late '50s and early '60s also had an impact.  Then the Beatles played on the Ed Sullivan Show.

GJ: Let me just say that everything changed with the arrival of The Beatles. And as rock turned more and more experimental and less formulaic and simplistic, I was along for the ride with Hendrix, Cream, The Jeff Beck Group, The Who, Mott The Hoople, Free, Mountain, The James Gang, Deep Purple, ELP, Jethro Tull, Yes, Joni Mitchell, CSN & Y, PFM and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Then I heard the Starless And Bible Black album by King Crimson and my head exploded.

KE: Well, certainly my uncle, John Eisenhart. He got me started down the dark path of guitardom when I was really young. He also got me started on the dark path of progdom by making me listen to YesSongs. Soon after came Styx, Rush and Steve Morse in very rapid succession.

MF: Elton John-I just always liked his songs, and because of their fairly predictable chord progressions, they were easy to pick out on piano. The Who-there was a time when I could sing every lyric to every movement from “Tommy”. Peter Gabriel-for sheer determination. He doesn’t have the best voice ever but he owns every note he can hit. “Moribund the Bergermeister” remains one of my all-time favorite tunes just because I find the melody so interesting. Emerson Lake and Palmer-I love the incorporation of the orchestral sound. Alan Parsons-for the same reason as ELP. Also on my “List of Influences” for various reasons...Meatloaf, Yes, Freddie Mercury and Jim Steinman. My list is much longer but I’d feel the need to explain each one and no one has time for that.

3. How did Pinnacle first come together?

I was contacted by Greg and Karl because they were looking for a bass player.  They knew that I was into Classic Rock having some decidedly progressive tendencies, having seen me in my old cover band, ShadowPlay at Musikfest.  We played Tull, Yes, Pink Floyd, Moody Blues, Renaissance, ELP, and other, less progressive songs.  (See http://soundscapes.us/ShadowPlay for archive information.)  Greg came over to my house and we had a nice, long conversation.  Since I had plenty of time on my hands and the project sounded like it would appeal to my musical interests, I decided to give it a go.  This was about the same time that I started hosting two radio shows where I play prog.

GJ: Met Karl at a coffee shop he was playing at with his duo, loved their selection of material - deep album cuts - and guitar synth, violin, mandolin, etc. (Red was electric then) - and he saw my Steve Morse shirt so we talked after the show for a long time and decided to get together and play. After working with a few different bassists, we thought of Bill and the three of us clicked at the first rehearsal.

KE: Greg and I had been playing together for a bit, but hadn’t found a bass player with the same enthusiasm for what we wanted to do. I knew Bill as a customer at the music store I was working at back then. We got together with the idea of being a sort of prog-leaning classic rock cover band, but soon shifted into doing originals. There is a Sonar file somewhere of what was to be our demo: “The Grand Illusion,” “Teacher,” “You Can’t Get What You Want,” (Joe Jackson) and…something else. That might be an interesting thing to release someday…or not.

4. How does the band go about writing their music?

Many songs are "complete" before being shared with the band.  Other bits are snippets looking for a home.  All of these are fodder for Pinnacle songs.  Everything then gets "Pinnacle-ized" which may include additional composing as well as the expected arranging and orchestration.  There is a lot of give and take and songs often change over time.  An advantage of not working to a record label's release schedule is that songs have the opportunity to be analyzed for how well they fit our concept of good song writing.  We have time to kick the tires on our home stereos, in the car, and even in concert.

GJ: How does the band go about writing their music?  We make mistakes and always have a recorder running. Nah, most of the songs come from Karl and he lets Bill and I tear them apart and reassemble them without mercy. Occasionally one of mine makes it in, or one of Bill's. Plus, now we have Matt writing. Thankfully everyone's really good about letting their "babies" be vivisected in the interest of stronger writing.

KE: SLOWLY. One of us…most often me, I guess…comes to rehearsal with the outline of a song. We then tear it apart as a band and start adding and subtracting ideas. Our influences are widely varied, so we all have different ideas for where things should go.

MF: I’m just getting my first taste of the song writing process with the rest of the band. I can’t say there’s a set formula that we use to create a new piece, each one kind of comes into the world in it’s own way. It’s an ongoing process, meaning the songs that appear on albums aren’t ‘done’. They’re never ‘done’, and never will be. What you hear on the album is just a snapshot of how it sounded at the time of production. They will continue to grow and change as the band continues to play them.

5. Pinnacle recently added a fourth musician…Matt Francisco.  How did you hook up with the band?

Through Karl. Karl and I went to school together in New York State, both ended up living in Pennsylvania for different reasons. We were in a band 15 (15?? Really??) years ago or so, a mostly cover band called Twist of Fate. Since then, Karl has asked me to join him in different musical endeavors but it was only this time around that my personal life allowed me to get into something this involved.

I’m glad to be a part of Pinnacle and I hope I can keep up.

BF: Matt and Karl grew up together in upstate New York and have played in bands together before Pinnacle.  Greg, Karl, and I often discussed what Pinnacle should be and what directions to take.  We have good communication habits.  Often, the desire for additional singers and players would pop up.  We took the power trio about as far as we could by using synthesizers and pedals.  Karl would play synths from his guitar and with pedals.  I would play synth by hand and with pedals.  Not being a big Rush fan like Karl, I had no idea that I was following in the footsteps of Geddy Lee.  His shoes are far too big for the likes of me to fill anyway.  I even brought in pads for Greg to trigger samples on the laptop.  So we took the trio thing about as far as we could.  We still wanted additional vocals most of all and perhaps a real keyboard player.  Matt fills the bill by being a fantastic singer and piano player.  His transition into a synth player has been amazing.  As it turns out, he writes music like a demon, too!  What an unexpected plus.

KE: Matt is one of my oldest friends (meaning that I’ve known him for a long time. Not meaning that he’s old.) We grew up and both moved far away from home. By sheer coincidence, we only live a couple miles father apart now than we did when we were kids. From the beginning of this band, I always thought he’d be the perfect fourth member, but his plate was always way too full. When we first approached him about joining, all we were hoping was that he would sing on the recordings and live gigs. I didn’t anticipate that he’d have time or desire for more of a commitment than that, but it just naturally evolved into having him play keys on the new stuff, then playing keys on the old stuff, then writing great song after great song. Now he’s learning guitar. Plus, as Greg would say, he’s the good-looking one…not that we’ve set the bar too high. Pretty soon it’s going to be HIS band.

6. Also for Matt…can you tell us what it’s like being the new guy?

Not really, because I didn’t feel like the new guy for long. I think Greg and Bill gave me a shot mainly because Karl said I could do it. That was the first rehearsal. Second rehearsal, I was getting positive feedback and helpful suggestions and constructive criticism and it felt like everyone was comfortable with the change.

7. This one is for each of you.  What do you think you bring to the table for Pinnacle that differs from what the others contribute?

While I tend not to write complete songs, I do have a compositional style that is different from the others.  When I bring something in that makes Greg and Karl look at each other and smile like fools, I know that I've triggered their "we don't write like that" button.  They like it when a piece of music surprises them, as opposed to being predictable.  Something good that is different from what they would write floats their boat.  I wasn't happy with the keyboard sounds we had in our live show.  As a result, I brought in my laptop with a load of software synthesizers.  Even with the addition of Matt, it's still the only source of keyboard sounds in Pinnacle's live show,.  My experience with saxophone and Classical music is unique in the band.  It doesn't usually resonate with the other band members but that doesn't matter since it always spurs discussion and stimulates the creative process.  While Karl is the virtuoso guitarist, I started my instrumental life as a guitarist.  Having my own set of influences, my style of playing is quite different from Karl's which gives Pinnacle a little more depth than if we only had one guitarist.  Now Matt is teaching himself how to play guitar and we're all having wicked thoughts on how to capitalize on having three guitars playing at once.  Although we let Karl do the heavy lifting in the recording department, that's partially due to the fact that we're in his basement using his studio.  I've recorded albums in my own studio so I could just as well "push the red button."  Instead, I add in ideas and direction when I feel the need.  Having more than one technical person makes for a stronger, deeper final result.

GJ: I think I'm the one who believes that the bass and drums should not always phrase together. I want to hear 3 and 4 instruments playing 3 and 4 different parts independent of each other and then, when they DO come together, it will be more powerful. I also seem to be the one pushing for the combination of themes, i.e., strong intro lick played again later against chorus chords, vocal melody restated in bassline, etc. Doesn't always work but when it does....  Lastly, more so than Karl and Bill (don't know how Matt feels about this yet), I feel obligated, driven and compelled to play something, either in my own part or as a band, that I haven't heard before. Not easy to do. And I may be kidding myself - but if I can hear on a recording of ours some half-minute or less of music that I CAN'T find anything like anywhere else in my collection, I feel a tremendous pleasure and sense of satisfaction from that. "Love In Our Hands" from MELD has one short section like that and its my favorite moment on the whole record.

KE: Ruthless promptness and boundless bitterness. I know it drives Greg and Bill crazy, but they’re tolerant of it. Matt has been dealing with it forever, so I doubt he even notices anymore. Actually, he was in a cover band with me at the dawn of my bitterness, so he probably understands my negativity toward the music industry as well as anyone.

MF: Vocals and keys. I think I have a style that adds a dimension to the overall sound of the band.

8. How is work proceeding on the new album?

Slowly.  We only get the opportunity to get together about once per week.  All too often, progress made in one session needs to be rehashed in succeeding sessions in order to make things stick.  But we record at least a little of most sessions, which helps.  We're finally about to press the record button for real.  Most of the writing is done.  We even have more material than we need which is a nice place to be.

GJ: We were, for all intensive purposes, done writing and arranging - and then we got Matt. Thank God we hadn't made this record yet! Now, between working on a few new songs that came from him and rearranging things to include him in the existing material, we plan to finally hit the record button early this fall.

KE: It’s going really well right now. We were originally planning to do a slightly shorter album this time, but then Matt came along and started sending us song after song. We’ve got a little arranging to do on one of his, then I think we’re going to actually start recording. Does that give us a timeline? Not hardly. I think the recording process will go much faster than it did with MELD because we’ve learned a lot about how to do it, but we’re also going into the process expecting to have to backtrack here and there if new ideas arise.

MF: I think we’re just about ready to hit the record button for real. We’ve certainly got enough material, in fact too much, but that’s good news for the next, next album.

9. How does the new music you are working on differ from the material on Meld or A Man’s Reach…?

I think that with Matt's material and my additions to "The Epic," you'll hear a greater variety but still in the same Pinnacle mold.  We try to concentrate on writing songs that happen to be progressive.  The implementation must serve the song rather than being progressive just for the sake of being progressive.  As a result, you'll still hear time changes and instrumental flights of fancy just as we've always done.  But they support the basic, underlying songs.  We love hooks unapologetically.

GJ: Some of it sounds like the natural progression from that and I'm happy to say that some of it sounds nothing like that. There's a huge epic that began with this great piece Bill wrote that sounds nothing like us and got welded into something Karl wrote with me playing the most screwed up version of 4/4 I've ever come up with. And this one song of Matt's we're doing called "Music Man' gives me chills. Since MELD I've taken a bunch of drum lessons, Karl's learned a few new tricks about note choices, Bill's stretching himself in a zillion directions and Matt's pulling new stuff out of all of us.

KE: The new stuff is more “keyboard-laden” for sure. It forces me to re-examine how I approach the guitar parts because I no longer have to take up such a huge chunk of sonic space. Also, because of the amount of time we’ve taken, many of the new songs have been played live a few times already. It gives us an opportunity to see what’s working and what’s not and also to let the various parts evolve a little more naturally.

MF: Let me say that the guys had a terrific quiver full of new tunes all ready to go before I started hanging around. The new album will be different for two obvious reasons, my vocals and more keyboard influence. Overall I believe the group has grown musically and you’re going to hear a more mature, refined sound, both in technique and production.

Join us on Friday as we continue/complete this epic interview!

04 October 2010

New Djam Karet!!!!

Djam Karet - The Heavy Soul Sessions

1. Hungry Ghost 8:32
2. The Red Threaded Sexy Beast 12:42
3. The Packing House 12:56
4. Consider Figure Three 9:48
5. Dedicated To KC 9:48
6. The Gypsy And The Hegemon 10:55

Ukab Maerd - The Waiting Room

1. The Cave 23:35
2. White Light, No Heat 11:28
3. God's Elastic Acre 18:16
4. Sati & The Trainman 11:14
Total Time: 64:42

http://www.djamkaret.com/present.php for more details, including credits and so forth…

G. Calvin Weston's Treasures of the Spirit - Mahavishnu shows in November

Friday, November 5th, 2010
G. Calvin Weston's Treasures of the Spirit - 10:00 PM
1508 South Street
Philadelphia Pennsylvania 19146
Price: TBC
G. Calvin Weston's Treasures of the Spirit will be performing music of the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Friday, November 12th, 2010
G. Calvin Weston's Treasures of the Spirit - 9:00 PM
Puppets Jazz Bar
294 5th Avenue
Brooklyn New York 11215
Price: TBC
G. Calvin Weston's Treasures of the Spirit will be performing music of the Mahavishnu Orchestra.


Magma Monday 13

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 BBC 1974 Londres, part of the Akt series of archival live albums (and catalogue number Akt XIII, an appropriate choice for Magma Monday 13!)…

The Akt series of releases have gone a long way toward filling in holes in Magma’s catalogue, offering us snapshots of the band at varying points of their evolution.  At the very least they’ve been interesting looks at the band as it has grown and changed; at their best, they offer stunning insight into how their music has developed, grown and become even more keenly honed.  While it’s hard to pick any one Akt release over another in terms of saying ‘if you could only buy one, this is the one to buy,’ in the end for me perhaps the choice is simple…BBC 1974 Londres.

There are a number of reasons for this.

Firstly, this was a session recorded for BBC radio.  As a result, sound quality is absolutely stellar.  If you’ve ever had a chance, for example, to hear the BBC session from other prog bands of similar vintage, you know how incredibly well they were recorded.  This Magma release is no different.  It sounds if it were recorded yesterday, almost...crisp highs, labyrinthine lows, huge presence.  It is one of the best sounding Magma live albums in their catalogue.

Secondly, this recording shows a transitional band.  Stripped back into a sextet, there are no female vocals, with only Christian Vander and Klaus Blasquiz handling the vocal reins.  As a result, there tends to be far more focus on the music versus the vocals.  That’s not to say that this is Magma in instrumental format; however, if you’re not necessarily a fan of the Kobaian vocals and chanting delivery, this may be a good place to look, as there’s significantly less of it.  Jannick Top also takes part in these sessions, meaning that the bass work here is at its deepest and darkest best.  Top is an absolute beast on bass guitar, bringing a classical flair to the material, and while other bassists have more than adequately filled his shoes over the years, I think when most people think Magma bassist, they think Jannick Top.  Add in a pair of keyboardists (Michel Graillier and Gérard Bikialo, both contributing Rhodes electric piano) and a guitarist (Claude Olmos), and you’ve got a tight band that was ready to blow the doors off the BBC recording studio.

We open up with a fantastic rendition of Theusz Hamtaahk, the opening movement of the band’s first trilogy.  Keep in mind that this is a composition that has never seen a studio rendition…all versions we have at our disposal are live.  While others may be longer, none are quite like the version on BBC 1974 Londres.  Slower, less sprightly, this is a version that wrings as much primordial darkness out of the piece as possible, entirely fitting for a song whose title translates from Kobaian as ‘Time of Hatred.’  Quiet almost whispered vocals and gentle Rhodes set the plate for an almost impossibly slow bass part from Top, while Olmos adds glistening guitar chords over top.  Vocals are less chanted than they are intoned…one gets the feeling of an almost religious, sacred telling here.  After listening to so many different versions over the years, I find myself coming back to this, the (chronologically) first recording of this composition, as my favourite.  There are more moments in this recording that get me pointing to my speakers and smiling than in some band’s entire catalogue of releases…and did I mention that this song hasn’t ever been released in a studio recorded version?

The album closes with a 27-minute working of Köhntarkösz.  Not yet released when this session was recorded, this is an intense rendition of the piece that would form the core of Magma’s 1974 studio album.  Tight enough to bounce a coin off of, it’s an amazing showcase for Vander’s drumming, along with some wonderful and all too brief guitar contributions from Claude Olmos.  Top is of course all over this song, providing a heartbeat like pulse, or adding in long swelling slid notes that rise from the primordial murk before descending again.  All the framework for this song is in place, but individual instrumental parts differ from the final studio recordings.  There’s an awesome organ solo about 18 minutes in that sounds so much like 1971 Pink Floyd that it’s frightening.  It amazes, when one thinks about it…between 1973 ad 1974, Christian Vander and crew would write or release Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh, Theusz Hamtaahk, Kohntarkosz, Wurdah Itah, and much of the material that would make up Kohntarkosz Anteria.  I can’t imagine any band doing that today…though I suppose it would be possible.  It just seems like such a once in a lifetime kind of thing.

60 minutes, 2 songs.  It amazes me to this day that bands like Magma got the chance to record hour long session s for the BBC…can you even imagine the same thing happening today?  There actually was a time when major media outlets were willing to take a chance on something outside and artistic because it was outside and artistic.  Thankfully the tapes survived, because this is one of the most amazing sounding examples of a band at their early peak, playing as if their lives depended on getting every note out there as powerfully as possible. 

If you can purchase only one release from the Akt series of archival Magma performances…oh, you know the rest.  This is the one to get.  It really is.

Track Listing:
1 – Theusz Hamtaahk
2 – Kohntarkosz

Klaus Blasquiz: vocals, percussions
Claude Olmos: guitar
Michel Graillier: Fender piano, keyboards
Gérard Bikialo: Fender piano
Jannick Top: bass
Christian Vander: drums, vocals