Lazleitt is an eclectic progressive rock musical project conceived by Washington, DC songwriter, composer, and multi-instrumentalist Alex Lazcano, in collaboration with drummer Jorge Cortes Cuyas, flautist John Pomeroy, and special guests.
Lazleitt’s debut album ‘On The Brink’ consists of one long epic track clocking in at thirty seven minutes and twelve seconds, seamlessly divided in thirteen movements. The track runs the gamut in styles, dynamics, mood, tempo, time signatures, and key changes. The album was written, arranged, and produced by Alex, with drum arrangements written and recorded by Jorge. The album is the result of stream-of-consciousness writing, resulting in one continuous piece of music with recurring themes and motifs. Cuyas’ input was crucial determining the direction of the music, written and arranged by Alex. The album features guitar virtuoso Eric Gillette on lead guitar, who also mixed and mastered it.
You could be forgiven for thinking ‘oh god, not another progressive rock concept album’, as that can often strike fear into the heart of any listener but, take away some of the more self-indulgent elements and you have a nicely constructed and performed piece of music that never outstays its welcome.
Alex’s vocals suit the mood of the music being dark and forthright and Eric Gilette is a virtuoso as ever with his occasionally outrageously complex guitar playing. The best way to listen to this album is as one thirty seven minute piece and let all the thirteen different movements take their natural flow, then it all makes perfect sense. When Pomeroy’s flute joins in you get a folk, almost medieval, edge to the music and that adds yet another intriguing facet.
It is a musical work that requires, and deserves, extended listening, to understand all the complexities and, when you do, you will be rewarded richly. Cuyas’ drums bear particular mention for there intensity and skill, they add real depth and solidity to the music but it’s the way that everything gels together to create this intriguing whole that fascinates me the most so, like all the best albums, you are always coming back for more.
‘On The Brink’ is not for the faint hearted. I’m not saying it’s an album aimed more at musicians but, in my opinion, it’s musical theatre for those that love complexity and albums that make you think deeper about everything, including yourself.
“Who hears music, feels his solitude Peopled at once.”
― Robert Browning, The complete poetical works of Browning
Damn, 2018 has been a stellar year for some great new releases and another one has found its way to Progradar Towers!
Damanek are a sort of Prog Rock supergroup formed by fellow Yorkshireman Guy Manning (vocals, keyboards, percussion, guitars, bass), Marek Arnold (saxes and seaboard), Dan Mash (bass) and Sean Timms (keyboards, guitar, backing vocals & additional programming). This talented quarted is joined by a plethora of stellar musicians including Antonio Vittozzi, Luke Machin and Tzan Nico on guitar and Brody Thomas Green on drums.
Described as ‘a genre-defying collection of sophisticated songs..’, ‘In Flight’ is the follow up to 2017’s well received ‘On Track’. Once again Sean Timms’ sleek production adds to the overall sense of quality and class.
There’s a shiver of anticipation running through me as the opening notes of Ragusa break out, there’s already a feeling of class and quality shining through. Guy has one of those voices that speaks to you through and beyond the music, a familiar cultured tone that puts you at ease immediately. The music itself is impressively stylish and smooth and just adds to the feeling of sophistication. The guest guitarists add even more sparkle and inspiration, this is going to be one enjoyable journey. Oooh, jazzy piano and percussion, the opening to Skyboat is joyful and upbeat and, as the track opens up with gusto, we are sent on a rollocking musical ride. Funky guitar and edgy percussion, along with an ever so cool hammond organ, add to the feel-good factor and the grin spreading across your face. This is music at its inspiring best and music that brings joy to your soul.
The Crawler opens with a deliciously dark melody and feel, a mature and sophisticated aura permeates the song with Guy’s distinguished vocal adding layers of class. The captivating chorus with its elegant sax sends shivers down your spine. Sean’s production can be felt most here, giving us a stand out piece of music on what is becoming an evidently impressive album. There’s a levity to Moon Catcher, a lightness of soul and featherlight touch to the music. The sparsity of the production and laid back approach to the vocals, along with the meandering sax, leaves a whimsical feel, a really classy piece of music.
Catchy, addictive and upbeat from the first note, The Crossing is a jazz-infused delight, the carefree tinkling of the ivories a particular highlight. Add in some more of the impressive sax and Guy’s vocals and you are onto a winner. The 3 part epic Big Eastern closes the album, taking the listener on an emotive journey from East to West: from the poorest rural lands of China to the West Coast of the USA. Grand in conception, and inspired in execution, it’s a journey that you become deeply involved in and one that takes you across the whole galaxy of progressive music, visiting every nuance on its way. At just shy of thirty minutes it is a true epic but never outstays its welcome, every note and every word is there for a reason and that reason is to give the listener the best and most joyous experience ever when it comes to music.
‘In Flight’ is an album I haven’t remotely got bored of, even after multiple listens. A compelling, engaging and stimulating listening experience that leaves you high on music and life. Every absorbing minute of music is a minute that will bring a smile to your face. This year there have been some fantastic releases, releases that are finally bringing the joy back to music and Damanek’s ‘In Flight’ should be considered up there with the best of them.
Ah, that lovely sound of the letterbox clattering in the first days of every month as Stephen Skinner, bearded bassist of local cheeky chappies and erudite songsmiths Sleeperman, drops the latest instalment of the band’s monthly E.P. through, I never get tired of it.
August sees the band taking on a more thoughtful and mellow note with the lovely charms of Don’t Get Carried Away, a wonderfully nostalgic and wistful three minutes complete with John Hilton’s signature lyrics.
“The first memory I can remember, walking home in the dark of November…”
John’s vocals are contemplative and a touch melancholy and they seem to suit the mood of a dark winter month and the restrained guitar playing of Neil just adds a sombre and thoughtful note. I really like the lovely harmonised vocal on the chorus. It’s just a really nice track that brings back sepai tinged memories of a life gone by, Sleeperman really should be the next big thing.
Once again, the song is backed by an impressive ‘B’ side, this time a track that mirrors the tasteful, laid back appeal of the ‘A’ side (our younger readers may need to google that term).
‘The sweat drips, slowly, incessantly from every pore. The heat stifles thought, inhibiting the dancing of your fingers over the battered typewriter that sits, mocking your inabilities to process the copy you have to wire straight away. You should be documenting the circus that surrounds you; instead you have become immersed in the madness, a willing participant in the debauchery of stinking, easy and accessible sins of the city you find yourself in. You need to sort your shit out, to straighten up and do what your being paid for. But the bottle of expensive cognac in front of you is alluring, its what you need, just a small snifter, you know – just enough to take off the edge, to calm the tremors, to bring you down from the hallucinations.
But it doesn’t. It just adds to the madness and paranoia, its strengthens your psycho-paralysis, its only serves to heighten the desire for the chemical of choice, all of which is readily available out there on the street, in the clubs, where the girls dance in the shadows and where you can fall into the safe zone of blissful oblivion. The hit is going to take you somewhere coddled, in a fog of dreamy who gives a fuck, a place that you desire with all your heart and soul, somewhere away from the pressures you’re being put under, a place that appears to welcome you with open arms…only that it always stay just out of reach. It mocks you and then it challenges you; you need to take more, to become more daring, to give less of a fuck than you already do.
And all the while, you can hear music. A soundtrack to your insanity. Music that is comforting yet disconcerting in equal measure. There are loops of beautiful psychedelic melody that cocoon you, that cover you, that have a soporific effect on you. But yet there is something not quite right. It’s hard to really judge but its as if you are playing a vinyl album that’s playing at 31rpm. Like the belt has stretched or a too heavy weight has been put on the stylus arm, and its ever so slightly screwing with your psyche.’
Orions Belte, the Norwegian musical inventors, have created an album, ‘Mint’, that invokes the alcoholic and druggie writings of a Hunter S.Thompson if he were to have found himself in the Philipines in 1971 when Joe Frazier, the subject of the fourth track, fought and beat the returning Muhammed Ali in the Thriller in Manila, The Fight of the Century. This is an album that plays like a film of that time, with all the kitsch cool of a beautifully hedonistic lifestyle. Bluesey guitar riffs float throughout the album heightening the dreamy nature that could easily develop into something more disconcerting, maybe even frightening. This album wires itself into your mind and plays games with it. It takes you on a trip somewhere amazing, that challenges your perceptions and that is exceptional in both its concept and creation. This is an album in which to lose yourself, but be careful – be prepared to go places in the deep recesses that perhaps should remain unexplored.
I’m old enough to remember that way back in the 1960’s I loved a children’s program called “Space Patrol”… The main characters flew around the Solar System in a craft called the Galasphere 347… And there ends any similarity with this grand musical offering from a new Anglo-Scandinavian band!!
The combined members of Motorpsycho, White Willow and Änglagård (Ketil Vestrum Einarsen, Jacob Holm-Lupo & Mattias Olsson), along with Stephen Bennett, have come up with a trio of super-melodic tracks here…
Track #1 – The Voice of Beauty Drowned (10:43) kicks us off quietly and
builds into a tour de force of symphonic prog beauty!! The “beauty”
here was never drowned… The mixture of harmonic vocals, guitars and
keyboards I find very uplifting – all held together with a melodic bass
line and measured drumming. KVE’s flute soars and searches out
tuneful heights, together with the “prog” ingredients of key-changes,
time changes, we have a special piece of music that I’m sure will be a
benchmark others will seek to emulate!
Track #2 – The Fallen Angel(15:35) Perfection!! A relaxed beginning with
an overlay of chiming guitars and soothing keys… The lyrics narrate a
tale of loss and woe but aren’t depressing in any way… “Reach out”
they urge us and yes, the proggy formula of guitar and keys do just
that!! The inclusion of a sublime piece of brass sets the tune off to a tee!
More virtuoso key work interspersed with harmonies from this talented
gathering of musicians brings this longest track to a fantastic finish!
Track #3 – Barbarella’s Lover (15:18) A ballad of heartbreak and elation
together? “Passion always gets us in the end…” The tried, tested and
perfected combination of excellent musicianship, song-writing, and
delivery leave us wanting more!
I hope this is only the first of many more recordings to come from Galasphere 347…
This album, only in my possession for a few hours, has already become a contender for my album of the year!!!
Reviewing a soundtrack album without having seen it in the context of the film it supports is an unusual process. How can you judge whether it is successful or not in achieving what the music sets out to do? It could be an amazing work, but not fit the film; or the opposite could be true, it could be awful music but fit the film fantastically. And indeed, taking the view of a filmmaker commissioning a soundtrack, how do you know whether a musician or composer will be able to support your work? How do you choose who will do that job for you the best?
Over the years there have been many artists, composers and musicians who’ve been able to work with filmmakers to create wondrous soundtracks that add to, compliment and help tell the stories in the films they accompany. At the time of the Oscar’s I wrote a blog on my own website:
about ten great movie soundtracks from the likes of Eric Coates, John Williams, Ryhuchi Sakamoto and Hans Zimmer who, over the years, have created some of the most iconic movie soundtracks of all time. To that list I should also have added German Electronic Techno-prog masters Tangerine Dream who, since their inception in 1970, have, along with their own original work, created soundtracks for films as diverse as The Sorcerer and Risky Business. Since original leader Edgar Froese’s death in 2015 the band has been led by Froese’s anointed successor Thorsten Quaeschning who was commissioned to write and perform the score for the new film Cargo.
Cargo, as described by writer and director James Dylan, is a taut thriller that tells a bleak but compelling story of a man trapped in a shipping container with just a mobile phone and 24 hours in which to raise ten million dollars to save his life. And though I haven’t yet seen the film, Quaeschning’s soundtrack does develop and soundtrack the emotions I’d expect the main character, played by Ron Thompson, to go through. Loneliness, despair, franticness, dashed hope and determination are all feelings that are explored by the minimalistic music created.
There is a sense of time slipping away slowly, a claustrophobic quality of being suffocated by the environment, around the main protagonist. This is a soundtrack that builds and builds, that reaches crescendo’s of hope only for those feelings to slip away in soft tumbles of quiet introspection. With knowing the premise of the story listening to this soundtrack allows the listener to imagine the story being told; like when I read a book I imagine which actor I’d choose to play the characters I’m reading about this album helped me build a picture of the visuals I’ll see when I do eventually watch the film.
As a fan of Tangerine Dream, as those of you who saw my review of their recent ‘Quantum Gate / Quantum Key’ album, the continuation of Edgar Froese’s vision by Quaeschning is work I really rate and this album is a fantastic continuation of that great legacy. But is that enough when judging it as a soundtrack album? For me the only question is, “Does listening to this album make me want to watch the film?” To which the answer is a resounding yes; I just hope the film can live up to the high expectations this fabulous work has given me.
Progressive Rock masters RIVERSIDE have just signed a new deal with longtime partners InsideOutMusic and are pleased to announce their upcoming seventh studio album “Wasteland” as well as its corresponding first European tour for October/November.
RIVERSIDE checked in with the following words:
“Well, we’re back in the game! We’re happy to tell you that our seventh album will be called “Waste7and” (Wasteland) and will be released at the end of September this year. It will be our first album recorded as a trio. Our music has become more serious and more mature, so get ready for a manly and emotional album. “Waste7and” is going to be a really accomplished one. It combines the emotional character of the first two and the production maturity of the latest two releases. If everything goes according to plan (as we’re still recording), the new Riverside album will simply d e s t r o y you 🙂
Also this year we’re going on the “Wasteland 2018 Tour” to promote the new album. Below you will find a list of the cities we’re going to visit in the autumn of 2018. Tickets go on sale this Friday, June 1st. More info soon!“
In regards to the extended co-operation via a new deal between RIVERSIDE and InsideOutMusic, Thomas Waber, label manager/A&R international InsideOutMusic, checked in with the following comment:
“We have been working with Riverside for a long time now and there is a lot of personal history. The InsideOutMusic family would be very different without them, so I am extremely pleased that the family is staying together. We all miss Piotr dearly, but i am looking forward to this new chapter. You are still with us, Grudzień!”
Here is a list of the upcoming shows by RIVERSIDE announced so far:
RIVERSIDE – Festivals 2018/2019:
21.06.2018 Konin (Poland) – Progressive Evening
23.06.2018 Valkenburg (The Netherlands) – Midsummer Prog Festival
13.07.2018 St. Goarshausen (Germany) – Night Of The Prog Festival XIII
04.-09.02.2019 Tampa to Key West & Cozumel – Cruise To The Edge
RIVERSIDE – “Wasteland 2018 Tour”:
12.10.2018 Gdansk (Poland) – B90
13.10.2018 Poznan (Poland) – Tama
14.10.2018 Wroclaw (Poland) – A2
16.10.2018 Katowice (Poland) – Miasto Ogrodów
17.10.2018 Lódz (Poland) – Magnetofon
18.10.2018 Torun (Poland) – Od Nowa
20.10.2018 Kraków (Poland) – Studio
21.10.2018 Warszawa (Poland) – Hala Kolo
30.10.2018 Berlin (Germany) – Kesselshaus
31.10.2018 Schorndorf (Germany) – Manufaktur
03.11.2018 Lisbon (Portugal) – LAV
04.11.2018 Madrid (Spain) – MON LIVE
05.11.2018 Barcelona (Spain) – Salamandra 1
06.11.2018 Lyon (France) – CCO
07.11.2018 Paris (France) – La Machine
09.11.2018 Manchester (UK) – Academy 2
10.11.2018 London (UK) – The Electric Ballroom
11.11.2018 Sint Niklaas (Belgium) – Casino
12.11.2018 Utrecht (The Netherlands) – Tivoli Vredenburg
14.11.2018 Hamburg (Germany) – Markthalle
15.11.2018 Oberhausen (Germany) – Turbinenhalle 2
16.11.2018 Pratteln (Switzerland) – Z-7
17.11.2018 Neunkirchen (Germany) – Gloomaar festival
More dates to follow soon…
RIVERSIDE had previously announced guitarist Maciej Meller to complete the band’s line-up for shows after taking a longer break from any live performances due to the tragic passing of founding member and guitarist Piotr Grudziński on February 21st, 2016.
Look out for more news on RIVERSIDE in the coming weeks…
“Intricate and subtle yet with raw passion at its heart, The Aaron Clift Experiment is one of the most exciting and interesting bands currently writing and playing music today.”
Now, I said those words about The Aaron Clift Experiment’s debut album from 2012, ‘Lonely Hills’ and the band went from strength to strength with their impressive follow up, 2015’s ‘Outer Light, Inner Darkness’ that increased the quota of high energy hard rock based progressive music.
2018 sees these Austin, Texas natives deliver their third album, ‘If All Goes Wrong’ and, after the increasing promise of the first two albums, it was one I was very much looking forward to hearing for the first time…
Formed in 2012 as the solo project of Aaron Clift, the band has since blossomed into a powerful live group. The group’s multi-faceted sound is an innovative blend of classic rock, modern rock, and classical all anchored by the band’s dedication to high-quality songwriting and musicianship.
Its last two albums, 2012’s ‘Lonely Hills’ and 2015’s ‘Outer Light, Inner Darkness’ were critically-acclaimed progressive rock achievements, landing on several year-end best album lists. In 2017, the band had a star-making performance at RosFest, one of the largest progressive rock festivals in the world.
The core members are Aaron Clift – Vocals/Keyboards, Devin North – Bass and Tim Smith – Drums and Percussion and the new album sees contributions from some of the top guitarists in Austin, Van Wilks (a Texas blues and rock icon), Arielle (a student of Brian May of Queen and collaborator of legendary guitarist, Eric Johnson), and Dave North (of Austin psych rockers, The Cuckoos).
What I’ve always found with, and loved about, The Aaron Clift Experiment is the rock element to their music, varying from hard rock to a very fluent blues guitar style, it gives them a quite unique sound and added to Aaron’s husky and raw vocal delivery, you wouldn’t mistake them for anyone else.
The first two songs on this new release, Faith and Last Crash are full of that harder edged riffing guitar and dynamic drums that combine to give a high energy delivery. Where the former is upbeat, the latter has a darker hue to it, Faith taking cues from many almost balls-out rockers. You immediately get into the band’s mindset and groove with this really invigorating, raw feeling song. Last Crash subtly builds up the tension with some excellent synth and bass guitar work before a driving riff and high octane drums give it that impending feel of apprehension. Aaron delivers an immediate vocal, impassioned and edgy and the squirreling guitar breaks really add some zeal and animation to the organised chaos.
The band take on a more pastoral and progressive style for Absent Lovers, a delightfully wistful opening blossoms into a compelling tour-de-force that ebbs and flows irresistibly throughout. The organic synth sound adds a real 70’s aura that blends perfectly with vocal harmonies and potent guitars to take you on an enthralling musical journey. Remember Ben Folds ? The truly addictive vibes of Better Off Before certainly remind me of that piano heavy, almost pop-prog sound. It’s a real feelgood sounding song with a a not particularly upbeat subject. A Brian May-esque guitar sound and the energetic rhythm section give it real polish and gloss and make it one of my favourite songs on the album.
Funky guitars, swirling keyboards and high-tempo drums all combine to give us the jazz-fusion intro to another grin inducing track. Castle In The Sky takes what I would call the signature Aaron Clift Experiment sound and adds even more zest and vivacity to deliver a high energy song full of catchy hooks and intricate melodies and one that showcases the musician’s skills perfectly. Have you ever wondered what would happen if Aaron Clift met King Crimson and they jammed together? Well, wonder no more for Savage In A Fancy suit will give you the definitive answer to that (never asked) question. An almost disorganised, chaotic frenzy of riffs and caustic Hammond Organ notes entwined with staccato drumming and a discordant bassline. It shouldn’t work really but it does and what a thoroughly enjoyably manic track it is.
Returning to the elegant and nostalgic pastoral tones, Dream Within a Dream is The Aaron Clift Experiment at their progressive best. Melancholic undertones give a pensive and sombre atmosphere to this impressive song. The music has an anticipatory feel and Aaron’s vocal almost pleads into the microphone. An intelligent and immersive eight minutes of music that hits the highs but also has an underlying seriousness that makes you take in every nuance and subtlety, oh and the guitar solo that closes out the song is pure genius! Fiery, edgy and with an almost pop-punk feel to it, Wild Hunters is an aggressive, lively and spirited track that fills a hell of a lot into its sub three minute running time. It’s almost like it rocks up, slaps you in the face, kicks you in the knee and then disappears into the distance laughing manically.
The final track on the album is a wonderful piece of music that just oozes class, warmth and emotion. Title track If All Goes Wrong really gets under your skin with its mournful vocal and elegant string-like synths. There’s a beauty to be found in its sorrowful and forlorn quality, the guitar solo just bleeds a melancholy passion that proves there is allurement even in sadness, it is a fantastic finish to the album.
‘If All Goes Wrong’ sees this impressive ‘Prog Ensemble’ rise to even higher heights. I’ve been a fan of The Aaron Clift Experiment since I heard their first album nearly six years ago and, like a fine wine, they just mature and get better and better as time goes on. They’ve enriched and diversified their already impressive songwriting and musical skills to make them one of the most impressive progressive acts currently on the scene.
THE CELEBRATED STUDIO ALBUM CELEBRATING 50 YEARS OF TANGERINE DREAM NOW COMPLETE WITH QUANTUM KEY EP
(Artwork by Bianca Froese-Acquaye)
Following the release of Tangerine Dream’s latest studio album, QuantumGate, Kscope are set to release the album as a 2CD set with the inclusion of the EP Quantum Key.
Quantum Gate released on September 29th 2017, to coincide and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the band, was the first studio album since the passing of EdgarFroese,Tangerine Dream’s visionary founder, by the remining band members Thorsten Quaeschning, Ulrich Schnauss and Hoshiko Yamane.
The Quantum Key EP preceded Quantum Gate, and both delivered an updated, contemporary development of their trademark sound: sequencer-driven electronica covering a wide range of moods and atmospheres from ambient soundscapes to energetic, upbeat moments. The Quantum Years material began as a concept and series of musical sketches by Froese before he passed away in 2015. Remaining band members Thorsten Quaeschning, Ulrich Schnauss and Hoshiko Yamane worked together to realize Edgar’s visions and expectations of a conceptual body of work that attempts to translate quantum physics and philosophy into music. New member Ulrich Schnauss comments: “at the moment hardly any other area of science questions our concept of reality (linearity of time etc.) as profoundly as research in Quantum physics – it’s no surprise therefore that Edgar was drawn to these ideas since he had always aimed at reminding listeners of the existence of ‘unopened doors’.”
This version of Quantum Gate with the inclusion of Quantum Key EP, brings together Edgar’s vision as a 2 disc set for the first time.
Tangerine Dream have been a fundamental influence on electronic and progressive music since their formation in West Berlin, 1967. Inspiring genres, musicians and other art forms, from The Future Sound of London to Porcupine Tree, the widely popular TV show Stranger Things (for which their music also featured in) to seminal video game Grand Theft Auto V (for which they helped to write the soundtrack). The group have also received seven Grammy nominations, written over 100 studio albums and were led by Edgar Froese, who developed an instantly recognisable synth-based instrumental music based on a meditative musical experience that came to prominence in the 70s and 80s.
The current line-up are currently supporting their latest material with a string of headline events in Europe, including a two-night booking at London’s Union Chapel plus the opening event for Amsterdam’s cutting edge electronic music summer festival, Dekmantel.
13/04 – DE, Halle/Saale – Georg-Friedrich-Händel-Halle
Released and remastered on Esoteric Recordings, these are the first three studio albums from musical pioneers Colosseum, covering a magical musical period in their life from 1968-1970, and complete with in depth sleeve notes, bonus tracks, and on ‘Valentyne Suite’, the complete American version of the album ‘The Grass is Greener’, which differs substantially from the English version.
As a band Colosseum were to have a massive impact on the nascent progressive music scene (a differentiation from what has been lumped together as prog, subtle but vitally important to understand) where they came from the ranks of the Great British Blues bands that stalked the land and led to the emergence of other bands as important as Fleetwood Mac, Cream and CCS among others.
These three groundbreaking albums came from the time when musicians were keen on creating something new, something vital, something brave and original and it shows here, these are no mere copyists doing what someone else does because that’s how it’s done, these are some of the true pioneers of musical innovation.
From John Mayall and Graham Bonds bands came Jon Hiseman, band leader and renowned drummer, Dick Heckstall-Smith legendary jazz saxophonist (whose solo album ‘A Story Ended’ is a tour de force of musical genius) bassist Tony Reeves. Dave Greenslade came from working with Chris Farlowe and there’s James Litherland on guitar fresh from the Manchester music scene.
Having worked together the core of Jon, Tony, Dave and Dick were already musically tight, and with James adding extra guitar and vocals, the band appeared almost fully formed, and with lots of experience in the jazz and blues scene, and a very clear vision from Jon Hiseman about what the band wanted to achieve.
As a result the debut album, released in March 1969, ‘Those Who Are About to Die Salute You’ (from the phrase Roman Gladiators said to the Emperor before going into the Colosseum – Hiseman is a bit of a Roman History buff) which is reflected in the bands name, and indeed a rather spectacular track Ides of March, which is where they start with a Bach piece and end with a stunning musical moment between Litherlands guitar and Greenslades organ work.
As is usual with debut albums from this period, the majority of the music is what was the band’s live set, recorded on the hoof in between gigs, and features a couple of covers in amongst the bands originals, setting out their stall with a cover of the Graham Bond classic Walking in the Park, complete with Henry Lowther guesting on trumpet, this lays out the band’s stall right at the start.
They were an amazingly tight musical unit, and the combination of Hiseman and Reeves on drums and bass, provide the foundations for Litherland’s guitar, Greenslade’s organ and Heckstall-Smith’s sax to flow freely.
Coming from that loose improvisational musical scene, the melding of the jazz and blues influence into a harder rockier sound comes naturally to the band, and on songs like the Leadbelly cover Backwater Blues, Litherlands vocals, and the astonishing sax of Heckstall-Smith’ takes the blues and pushes it into a completely different direction to the one taken by other former blues merchants like Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin.
Original material like Dick’s The Road she Walked Before, or the sort of title track Those About to Die, which has some amazingly taut musical twists and turns, with some fantastic jazz rock drumming from Hiseman, who always seems to be overlooked when lists of ‘best drummers’ appear, and yet on here he combines power and subtlety as well as being the timekeeper, and holding the band together, again you only get music as good as this from musicians who have all played live together, and can turn that spontaneity and improvisational skill into great music.
To modern ideas it seems inconceivable that you can literally tour and then pop into a studio and bang out your live set as a new release, you know that if you did that today then it would be up on You Tube or some Russian Streaming site before the lights had gone up.
By the second album, ‘Valentyne Suite’, (the three part title track of which makes up the original second side of the vinyl) the band had made an impact, and their debut had made number 15 in the album charts (again with the perspective of time and distance, it’s hard to imagine that happening in this day and age with the whole industry fragmented). With the same line up, and the same producers of bassist Tony Reeves and Gerry Bron, the band had by this time started improvising and writing new material to fit into their live shows.
Again the band were a hard working band, and the albums would be recorded in the daytime before they would fly off in their van to another gig in another town.
The ‘Valentyne Suite‘ record is notable for a number of different reasons, 1) it was the first record released on the nascent Vertigo label, 2) It features that stunning enigmatic cover by Marcus Keef in his own inimitable style, 3) it’s a bloody good record.
From the opening The Kettle, the band have melded into a tight and powerful unit, and that shows in the fact that the only guest writer was Pete Brown (Jack Bruce lyricist and friend of the band) who contributed the exceedingly accurate lyrics, foreshadowing events in his usual style, to The Machine Demands a Sacrifice, James Litherland’s maturity as a songwriter and guitarist shows here as he adds his vocals to the damn fine Elegy, as well as the driving Butty’s Blues.
However the centrepiece here, and one of the most important tracks on the album, and indeed in the bands career, is the three piece suite Valentyne Suite, which with it’s linked parts, musical themes and powerful performance was responsible for showing bands how long suites can work on record, and is as fine a piece of true progressive music as ever there was. From recurring musical motifs, some sublime sax work from Dick Heckstall-Smith (there is nothing finer in the world than hearing a sax solo in full flight) and the combined musical prowess of the band, every member shines as the Valentyne Suite propels music forward at a rate of knots. Flitting dexterously from jazz to blues, to rock, and with recurring themes and riffs reappearing, the idea that rock music can create mini concerto’s is shown here to best effect, with the band making it seem effortless as the music fills the room. Ably aided by arrangements by Neil Ardley throughout the album the band’s ambition matches their performance. The Valentyne Suite is an absolutely brilliant piece of music, and released in November 1969, a scant 8 months after their debut was released, it shows just how far they had come in terms of compositional style and musical prowess.
This expanded edition includes the American release ‘The Grass is Greener’ (named after the closing section of the Valentyne Suite) in January 1970, by which time James Litherland had left the band and been replaced by Bakerloo guitarist Clem Clempson (and if you haven’t heard Bakerloo’s album, it’s worth a spin) and this release took the tracks Elegy, Butty’s Blues, The Machine Demands a Sacrifice and The Grass is always Greener, remixed and with Litherland’s guitar work replaced by Clempsons (although Litherland’s vocals remain on Elegy) and 4 new tracks recorded by the new line-up, the powerful rock song Jumping off the Sun (a track given to Hiseman by the late Mike Taylor) which shows Clempson’s different style to Litherland, and how easily he fitted into the ethos and sound of Colosseum, whilst the Greenslade/Heckstall-Smith composition Lost Angeles (with Clempson’s superb vocals adding to the sound), with the power underneath, hints at how the band were developing, especially with Clempson’s sublime solo work. Rope Ladder to the Moon is a cover version of the Jack Bruce song, with some great swinging performances from Heckstall-Smith and Greenslade, showing how versatile this band could be, whilst Bolero is exactly as it says on the tin, Ravel’s Bolero Colosseumed up to the max, with some great guitar work from Clempson, and some musically deft touches from Greenslade.
As a holding exercise, this is a great album, and one that shows the power of this line-up, being the only music recorded prior to Tony Reeves departure, and now again it’s inconceivable that the same band would have a record released in the States that was different to the one in the UK.
Pulling together this collection is great as it shows how the band were evolving and developing as they grew. I would say if you are a fan of truly progressive music (not just prog) then you need the ‘Valentyne Suite’ in your life, and it’s probably as good a place as any to start with Colosseum.
Released in December 1970, their third album ‘Daughter of Time’ saw the bands line-up evolve even more when Tony Reeves left to go into production, being replaced initially by Louis Cennamo from Renaissance, who didn’t quite fit, so Mark Clarke came in on bass joining the core of Hiseman, Greenslade, Heckstall-Smith and Clempson. The band also decided that they needed a vocalist, so Greenslade approached his old colleague Chris Farlowe, who surprisingly said yes.
This is a revelation of this album, as the bands compositional scope grew, so did their musical ambitions, and with Neil Ardley helping with arrangements for brass and string sections augmenting the mighty six piece, this is an album that could only have been recorded and released in 1970.
That doesn’t mean it has aged or dated at all, it just has that power, that scope and that imagination that musicians in those days had, the idea that nothing was beyond your reach or aim and that freedom to do what you wanted.
The opener Three Score and Ten, Amen is a statement of intent, with Farlowe’s powerful vocals even stronger than Ian Gillan’s, and the addition of Clarke on bass to replace Reeves is perfect, as he works so well with Hiseman, and throughout the musical confidence is so strong that this is a track that grabs you by the scruff of the neck, pulls you in and demands you listen.
On this, what would turn out to be their last original studio album, the only cover is the Jack Bruce/Pete Brown track Theme From an Imaginary Western, given some real musical clout here (and again showing how close these bands all were, with members of Colosseum having played with Bruce in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, as well as contributing to his solo albums) and Farlowe is again outstanding on vocals.
Musically at this point Colosseum were a big band, and they needed someone with the vocal chops to stamp his mark all over the material, and Farlowe more than puts his stamp over it.
Again when you look at your Gillans, your Plants and your Rod Stewarts from this era, its astonishing Farlowe doesn’t get the recognition he deserves as he has everything on this album, power, swagger, an amazing range, and in parts his voice is another instrument to be utilised.
New boys Clarke and Clempson fit right into this incendiary musical mix, as Dave Greenslade stamps his personality on this, with all but two of the original tracks being co-writes (and in certain areas you can see where he’d go next with his eponymous band).
The fantastic Take Me Back to Doomsday features Clempson on lead vocals, recorded prior to Farlowe joining, and it sounds amazing, and Clempson, despite having a superb voice would rather focus on his guitar work.
That is not to the detriment of the album, each musician, particularly Greenslade, Hiseman and Heckstall-Smith had developed a groove and a natural way of working together, and as Clempson, Farlowe and Clarke gelled so well, this album is the most accomplished, most satisfying and most ambitious of the three studio sets.
Of course, this being 1970 it features a drum solo by Hiseman, recorded live and included on the record called The Time Machine (because that’s what he was) and yes, it’s a drum solo, but John Bonham was doing them, even Ringo Starr did on Abbey Road, so it’s very of it’s time, but as an example of Hiseman’s musical prowess it is a fantastic calling card.
This was a fantastic run of musical quality by anyone’s standards, and it just seems that in this musical world today there aren’t enough musicians out there willing to take the risks that Colosseum did, and make this kind of music.
If you are looking for real progressive music and not just prog, then this is for you. This is musicians flying by the seats of their pants, doing it because they could and working their arses off touring it and playing it, working on the old adage if we make it they will come.
Now whilst these were the only studio albums, prior to them splitting they did release one live album, the imaginatively titled ‘Colosseum Live’ was released in 1971, and remastered and expanded back in 2016 on Esoteric, but I thought it worth revisiting it here as part of the bands original story.
This is the classic ‘Daughter of Time’ Colosseum line up of Hiseman, Greenslade, Heckstall-Smith, Clempson, Farlowe and Clarke, and whilst they are imaginative on record, live they had to adapt as they didn’t have the brass and string section from the studio. But as all great bands prove live is where there power came to the fore, and this is a double disc expanded set of the legendary double album from 1971.
The original album contained only a couple of tracks that had been on the studio recordings, with material like Rope Ladder to the Moon and Lost Angeles only being available on the American ‘Grass is Always Greener’, and Walking in the Park kicking off their debut album.
Here, the 6 piece band were at the peak of the powers, and this set reaffirmed their skill and power, as they adeptly worked their way through a collection of classic live tracks like Skellington and Tanglewood ’63 and the musicianship throughout is superb, as Hiseman’s drums and Clarke’s bass anchor the sound, allowing Greenslade’s organ and Heckstall-Smith’s sax free range whilst Clempson’s guitar work is superb and, as you would expect, Chris Farlowe is never less than magnificent. Originally released on two LP’s the original live album is now on disc one of the set. Meanwhile it’s on the second disc of additional live material recorded at the same time that we get a full live version of their Valentyne Suite, which is worth the price of admission alone, the ambitious musical works getting an amazing live rendition, which not only does the original work justice, but adds so much to it, as any live performance honed over the years really perfects the track.
I see with bands like Colosseum the studio works being the starting point, and it’s only as the band work and perform and improvise and hone the music night after night, do you get the finished product (well at that particular gig anyway) as the music grows and evolves, and listening to this album you see how far the band have travelled in such a short space of time, before they splintered and continued on solo or other group journeys, where they took the Colosseum ethos and spread it even further across the genres.
This was a highly regarded live album from a potent live band who managed to straddle a multitude of genres and create something genuinely new when they arrived on the scene, and with the bonus tracks it just reminds us of what an innovative and powerful band Colosseum were.