Review – Jet Black Sea – The Overview Effect – by James R Turner

As I am sure you can imagine here at Turner House of Prog in North Somerset, and indeed at Progradar Towers up in Yorkshire, we get a multitude of albums that cross our desks and into our ears. Some from established artists who we know and love, others from bands that I’ve not heard of (Martin seems to know every band in existence!) and I generally get some nudged in my direction as Martin reckons I will like them.

Until getting this three track album in my inbox I was woefully unaware of who Jet Black Sea are and am happy to be able to rectify that here.

The talented chaps behind this atmospheric album are Michel Simons and Adrian Jones (from Nine Stones Close) and this is their third release following 2013’s debut ‘The Path of Least Existence’ and 2017’s ‘Absorption Lines’.

There are only three tracks on this album, although the albums centrepiece, the majestic title track clocks in at an impressive 35 minutes. Framed by two beautifully haunting songs, first up, the sublime opening Escape Velocity which mixes ambient soundscapes and yearning cellos and strings, building slowly with a sublime laid back sound and some soulful guitar, this hits the spot from the opening chords.

With a wonderful slow build and blend of organic and electronic, it really kicks in after two minutes with a driving pulsating riff that sees the guitar and drums duelling before the excellent vocals, courtesy of Jones’ Nine Stones Close bandmate Adrian O’Shaughnessy, begin.

Bold, epic and showing an artist not afraid to push their musical boundaries, this album’s title track The Overview Effect, ebbs and flows, builds and climbs, crossing multiple genres and sounds, from ambient soundscapes to works that would nestle in any record collection alongside No-Man or even Mike Oldfield. I am reminded of Mike’s early 90’s ambient electronica albums, like ‘Songs of Distant Earth’, in approach if not sound.

The two musicians here, Simons and Jones, are immensely talented individuals and they bounce ideas off each other to create a vast, beautiful and all encompassing sound, one that is the musical equivalent of a big hug, and this is the sort of music that the album format was invented for. Big, and yet surprisingly intimate, not afraid to push big ideas in a beautiful way. The track builds and builds, with some sublime vocals from O’Shaughnessy, whilst the musicians weave intricate musical webs that pull you in and keep you hooked.

After the almighty brilliance of the title track, the album ends on Home (E.D.L) which is probably one of the most beautiful things I have heard on record this year. The piano, the vocals, and guest performer Christian Bruin on drums, all come together to create something sublime, a genuine piece of heart wrenching beauty with a solo so spine tingling that it out-Gilmour’s David Gilmour with its soulful beauty, man you could just weep at the sheer emotional beauty of it all. You know when a song just gets it so right it transcends perfection? This is it, this is what beauty sounds like.

As my colleague over at Bad Elephant, David Elliott, says, ‘This is proper’ and he is not wrong, this is one of those albums that hits you out of leftfield, comes into your life with nary a fanfare and subtly reminds you with great big bursts of sonic prowess why you love doing this job. It’s an album that never outstays it’s welcome and is everything that a great album should be.

Thank you, Martin, for introducing me to Jet Black Sea, and thank you Adrian and Michel, this album is a pleasure to listen to, and a treasure to keep…. now where’s your Bandcamp page again, and where did I put my bank card…. if anyone needs me I’ll be absorbing the Jet Black Sea back catalogue!

Released 20th September 2018

Order the album from bandcamp here

 

Review – Haken – Vector – by James R. Turner

I was a little torn when I read the press about this album and heard on the grapevine that it was a return to the heavier sound of the band, and a step away from the more electronic influences that permeated the marvellous ‘Affinity’ album. I wasn’t sure I would enjoy it as much as ‘Affinity’ and its corresponding tour, I wondered if it would be a step backwards for the band and veer off into prog metal territory. My attitude to that genre (which seems such a misnomer, and lumps so many disparate and diverse bands together in such a narrow band to be almost meaningless) is indifferent at best. Bands like Dream Theater, Anathema and Opeth have drifted into my hearing but passed me by, and if I get a CD with ‘tramp shouting down a megaphone into a dustbin’ alleged vocals then off it goes and never gets listened to again.

Luckily for me, and you, I listened to the album and didn’t just take the blurb at face value. Yes whilst it’s heavier, it is a distinct evolution of the Haken sound, taking the best parts of their last albums and including more of the electronic elements to their sonic template, creating an album that sits on the right side of heavy. Of course, as any fule kno’, Haken have a wonderful vocalist in the form of Ross Jennings who can sing, and has a superb voice, perfect for the light and the soft that peppers their sound.

Another arsenal in their sound is the harmony vocals provided by all 5 of the other members, which is a rarity in many bands, especially bands operating in the heavier sector, and this also sets them apart. It also helps they are bloody good musicians, who manage to capture their live essence on record, and having seen them on the last tour they are amazing live, loud and complex, but amazing.

Again, on this record there is plenty of ability on show but it’s not one of those guitar wankery albums you get where it’s all skill and no soul. ‘Vector’ is chock full of emotion and soul, and is superb evolution of their sound from ‘Affinity’, true musical progression in the original dictionary definition of the word.

Across these seven tracks Haken wring out every ounce of emotion from their performance and put together a sublime album in doing so.

Tracks like The Good Doctor and, my personal favourite, Puzzle Box incorporate more of the electronic and keyboard sounds that hung over from Affinity whilst not losing any of their power. Diego Tejeda and Richard Henshall put together a formidable onslaught, whilst Henshall and Charles Griffiths on guitar remind me of that other fantastic musical duo of Matt Stevens and Steve Cleaton from TFATD, both pairings are guitarists with plenty of skill and the intuitive ability to bounce off each other, but more, much more than that, they play with heart and soul. That is what so many technical shredders are missing, the best music has soul and emotion and without that you’ve got nothing.

Veil is the centrepiece to this album and it is epic, a real masterclass in how to mix light and shade. The way Haken go about things, with their sound anchored by bassist Conner Green and drummer Raymond Hearne, remind me very much of Iron Maiden in their ethos. A band who are not afraid to rock out and turn it up where necessary but how have both the skill and the ambition to tackle the big concepts and pull them off in style.

In fact, across this album there’s no bad track, some wonderful symphonic sounds on A Cell Divides, the opener Clear and the brilliantly enigmatic The Good Doctor, all of which set the pace and the tone of the album, and the overriding concept, which has elements of psychoanalysis and deeper meanings to the title.

The band themselves say there’s a concept, but the meanings are there to be deciphered by the fans, unwrapping the Puzzle box if you like. However you see it though, you cannot deny that Haken are one of the most interesting and exciting bands currently making music and, as for where they sit genre wise, who cares?

They have made a sublime album that takes the building blocks from their previous albums, with nods right back to the debut, and still manage to push their sound on and create something that is new, that is vibrant and that is nothing other than what it is.

What a joy to be able to write about bands like Haken on today’s scene.

Released 26th October 2018

Order the album from the link here

 

 

Review – The Pineapple Thief – Dissolution – by James R. Turner

I was relatively late to the Pineapple Party, first picking up on their ‘Someone Here Is Missing’ album, and since then I’ve enjoyed the journey through ‘Magnolia’, and ‘Your Wilderness’, their first album (&tour) with Gavin Harrison, the drummer’s drummer and the contemporary Bruford.

His performances on the tour (along with Darran Charles) on 2nd guitar gave frontman Bruce Soord room to breathe on stage and step up to be the frontman we always knew he was capable of being. Seeing them play in Bristol was sublime, the best I had ever seen them, those doubting this should seek out the ‘Where We Stood’ live documentary of this tour.

The best bands have the best drummers, (look at Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Yes, King Crimson and Gandalfs Fist) and it’s the interplay between the music and the skill of the drummer that raises it somewhere else.

Harrison, now on board for another album and tour, has been fundamental in pushing the band forward with getting more involved in collaborating with the song writing and main songwriter Bruce Soord has responded in kind, after all, if you have a Ferrari you don’t drive it two miles down the road to buy a loaf of bread do you?

Following on from ‘Your Wilderness’, this new album, again, is evolution rather than revolution, taking the trademark depth of the The Pineapple Thief and building on established motifs and sounds. ‘Dissolution’ is a darker album than its predecessor and that is reflected in the artwork and sound. There is only one song on here that could be considered an epic, although that shouldn’t put anyone off.

Bruce has the knack for putting plenty of hooks and sounds into the shorter songs and it’s his song writing that is so effective across the album and what makes it work. In fact, the opener Not Naming Any Names opens in an incredibly low key way for an album starter  and it sets the album’s stall out in it’s briefest 2 minute introduction. This is one of the darker and bleaker albums that Bruce has been involved in and the theme of Dissolution, from relationships, to the impact social media has on these things and the way it amplifies and polarises, them is evident throughout.

Try As I Might is a harder and darker track again, and the ever present Steve Kitch on keys and Jon Sykes on bass both pull together to create the pulsating dark undertow to the album. Threatening War is another fantastic track, one that I am sure will be fantastic live and, as throughout the album, Harrison’s drumming is peerless, while Bruce wrings every amount of emotion through the songs. Judging from the lyrics it would appear that he’s been through the mill a bit. The low key lo-fi mood continues with the short Pillar of Salt which leads into the 11 minute epic of White Mist, featuring guest guitar work from David Torn, it has an exciting experimental edge to it with some fantastic performances all round. This isn’t your typical prog epic, it builds and twists to its musical climax as guitars duel, electronics shimmer and ebb and flow and the beat of Harrison’s drums act as a counterpoint to Bruce’s vocals.

This is the sound of a band reborn and energised and, while the album has its dark moments and bleak lyrics, musically it is one of the best they have made and, like all the best albums, flows perfectly. No dipping in and out of tracks here, this is a journey, musically and lyrically and Bruce, again, has shown why The Pineapple Thief are one of the finest bands out there, and one who you must see live.

In fact, my only niggle with the whole ‘Dissolution’ album and tour is the fact that, on the first leg, they aren’t playing Bristol!

Released 31st August 2018

Order ‘Dissolution’ from Kscope here:

The Pineapple Thief

 

 

Reviews – Procol Harum Reissues – Grand Hotel, Exotic Birds and Fruit & The Prodigal Stranger – by James R. Turner

Following on from the epic Procol Harum boxed set released earlier this year, and an announcement of the re-issue of ‘Live in Edmonton’ on both CD and vinyl in October, Esoteric continue their excellent reissue series of Procol Harum albums with the deluxe editions of 1973’s ‘Grand Hotel’, 1974’s ‘Exotic Birds and Fruit’ and 1991’s reunion album ‘The Prodigal Stranger’.

Starting with ‘Grand Hotel’, the album is released complete with bonus tracks and a DVD live in Belgium from November that year.

By this point band had coalesced around the stellar line up of Gary Brooker, Alan Cartwright (bass), BJ Wilson (drums) Mick Grabham (electric guitar) and Chris Copping (organ), with Keith Reid as ever providing the lyrics to Brooker’s music. The lavishly designed album is in keeping with the music contained within, from the orchestral title track segueing into Toujours L’amour, the caustic TV Ceasar, to the wonderful For Liquorice John, this album helped define Procol’s identity for the latter days of their existence throughout the 1970’s as the line-up stabilised.

With Brooker’s vocals and Reid’s lyrics working in harmony, and the taut band that had been touring well together, ‘Grand Hotel’ is a deserved high point in the Harum catalogue, and with a superb live concert on DVD it captures a band at the peak of their powers. The mixture of new material with older classic like Conquistador, A Rum Tale and Power Failure showcases their skill and versatility.

With superb sound and packaging that reproduces the elaborate lyric booklet, this is an excellent album from a band at their peak.

Released 29th June 2018

Order from Cherry Red:

Procol Harum: Grand Hotel, 2 Disc Expanded EditionProcol Harum

This momentum was carried forward into 1974’s ‘Exotic Birds and Fruit’, here a triple disc set including the album plus bonus tracks, a live at the BBC concert from March 1974, and a live concert from Dallas in July 1974.

With these additional live tracks, as Harum fans we are well and truly spoilt.

Claiming in contemporary interviews that this was a back to basics album, the line-up remained unchanged and all the compositions again were Brooker and Reid’s and while the packaging again was lavish, the music inside was more direct and Reid’s lyrics were darker, referencing the Three Day Week, conditions not ideal to recording an album. However, they soldiered on, creating a masterpiece as strong as ‘Grand Hotel’, and as different from its predecessor.

With the opening Nothing But The Truth and tracks like New Lamps For Old and Butterfly Boys, providing scathing commentary about the band’s management Chris Wright & Terry Ellis (Chrysalis Records), given its strength, it is amazing that they allowed it to be released.

With material from this and ‘Grand Hotel’ dominating the sets on both extra concerts, it’s interesting to hear how songs developed and grew from recording to touring and the subtle tweaks that bring the best out of them.

In these two years Harum produced a couple of fantastic albums, better than their debut some might say, and proving that this line-up was for many the definitive line up of their first wave.

Released 1st September 2017

Order from Cherry Red:

Procol Harum: Exotic Birds & Fruit, 3CD Digipak EditionProcol Harum

Jump forward to 1991, and a break of more than 14 years from their last gigs in 1977, after the death of BJ Wilson in 1990, and working together with Keith Reid in 1989, Brooker caught up with Matthew Fisher and Robin Trower and, working with additional musicians like Dave Bronze (bass), Mark Brzezicki (drums) and Jerry Stevenson on mandolin and guitar, ‘The Prodigal Stranger’ was composed and released in 1991. With co-writes from studio engineer Matt Noble, this was the first new Harum music since the 70’s and, as the musical style had evolved, so had the sound.

Listening now the production is very much of its time, and yet, despite that, it still has the element of Harum about it.

Driven by the vocals and piano of Brooker, the organ of Matthew Fisher and Robin Trowers guitar, tracks like the emotive The King of Hearts, Holding On and One More Time flow in the best Procol Harum tradition and, yes, they are shorter songs and have a slightly more polished radio friendly sheen but the band is still in there, with Trower in fine form on All Our Dreams are Sold.

A lot of bands reunite for a variety of different reasons, and for Harum and Brooker it was the death of Wilson that spurred him on, that makes this album as much a Harum album as any other. This is no Yes ‘Union’ record, it’s a very different beast to what went before but it was the springboard to the band resuming full time touring, which they haven’t stopped, as well as two more studio albums since then, so it’s place in Harum’s legacy is as vital to the band as any of the classic 70’s albums, and is really worth revisiting and enjoying.

Release Date 29th June 2018

Order from Cherry Red:

Procol Harum: The Prodigal Stranger, Re Mastered & Expanded EditionProcol Harum

Review – Procol Harum – Still There’ll Be More – An Anthology – 1967-2017 – by James R Turner

Celebrating their 50th anniversary in style, and still very much active as a highly entertaining and popular live band, Procol Harum’s catalogue is in the process of being remastered and reissued in definitive editions by those nice folks over at Esoteric. So far, they have released the band’s first four albums (‘Procol Harum’‘Shine on Brightly’, ‘A Salty Dog’ & ‘Home’), also released imminently are 1973’s ‘Grand Hotel’, 1974’s ‘Exotic Birds and Fruits’ and 1991’s ‘The Prodigal Stranger’.

Here to celebrate the band in all their musical glory and evolving sound is a mammoth 8-disc boxed set, or if the budget doesn’t quite stretch, a nicely packaged double disc ‘best of’.

Famous for that song A Whiter Shade of Pale, there was (and is) always much more than just that single, the ever present voice and keyboard work of Gary Brooker, for instance, probably one of the most recognisable voices in contemporary rock and someone whose voice just manages to get so much better with age like a fine wine Gary has fronted Harum on and off (the band had a ‘brief’ hiatus between 1977 and 1991) with a revolving line-up that has included such stellar musicians as Matthew Fisher, BJ Wilson, Mick Grabham, Robin Trower and Chris Copping. The band currently includes Matt Pegg (son of Fairport’s Dave on bass) and Geoff Whitehorn on guitar.

Procol Harum were riginally formed as the showcase for the song writing partnership of Gary Brooker (music) and Keith Reid (lyrics), although Reid never actually played with the band but, until 2012, provided the lyrics to every Procul original.

Across these 8 discs, the compilation goes far beyond the predictable, of course it opens with Whiter Shade, still hauntingly magnificent despite the familiarity. Disc one covers the first 4 albums, mixing the well known with album cuts and B-sides. Astonishingly these 4 albums covered a 4-year period and show how the song writing of Gary Brooker and Keith Reid matured, as did the guitar work of Robin Trower.

Discs 2 & 3 mop up the remaining studio albums, with cuts from ‘Broken Barricades’ like Simple Sister and many others, showing how the bands sound had evolved and matured. The extracts of “Live In Concert with the
Edmonton Symphony Orchestra”, in where the orchestra really adds so much to the music, makes the announcement of an October re-release of the full album a welcome one. Sometimes reunions can be unfulfilling and happen for the wrong reasons, however this was not in Procol Harum’s case, as tracks from the latest albums ‘The Prodigal Stranger’, ‘Wells on Fire’ and ‘Novum’ all highlight how the song-writing has matured and show that Gary Brooker still has one of the finest voices in rock.

That provides a superb introduction to the studio history of an much underrated band who made a big mark on the rock scene, audio discs 4 & 5 are two complete concerts, the first one is ‘Live at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra & the Roger Wagner Chorale’. Recorded 21st September 1973, it showcases the line up of Brooker, Cartwright, Grabham, Wilson and Copping  along with the Los Angeles Symphony Orchestra, and treats us to an aural delight of classic Harum like Conquistador, TV Caesar, Grand Hotel and A Salty Dog, all performed by a band who at this point were at the peak of their powers which, along with the Orchestration and the Roger Wagner Chorale, makes this one of the reasons to invest in this box.

The concert on Disc 5 is ‘Live at Bournemouth Winter Gardens’ in 1976 with the same line-up, who had honed their skills and were performing with power and style, something which only comes from 5 musicians working in total harmony. BJ Wilson shows the powerhouse drummer he was while Brooker is a perfect frontman. They rattle through a set that includes old favourites (Whiter Shade, A Salty Dog, Beyond the Pale), newer material and covers like I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch), all performed with the intricacy of a band at full pelt.

With three more discs covering live performances, including 3 complete concerts (2 from Germany and one from the BBC’s Sight and Sound), the evolution of the bands live performances is a delight to see and it’s nice to see the set lists being mixed up.

If you’re a massive fan, or someone who wants to know more about Procol Harum, this boxed set is an excellent anthology of one of the more interesting bands who appeared during the prog period, and whose blend of rock and classical sensibilities made for many interesting albums.

Released 23rd March 2018

Order from Cherry Red:

Procol Harum: Still There’ll Be More – An Anthology 1967-2017 (8CD Box Set)Procol Harum

Review – Esoteric Antenna Reissue Round-Up by James R Turner – Keith Emerson, Colosseum & Nirvana.

Keith Emerson: Off the Shelf

This is a remastered edition of an eclectic collection of more than just ‘odds and sods’ originally released back in 2006 and reissued last year after Keith’s death.

Never one to do anything by halves there’s nearly 70 minutes of music here, which runs the gamut from Keith’s classical inspired compositional work, his TV and film work and the contributions he made to progressive music via both The Nice and ELP.

The earliest recording on this alternative ‘best of’ is a BBC Radio session from the early days of The Nice, where their psychedelia meets proto-prog image belies the fact that they had a diverse inspiration, and here (complete with Davy O’List on guitar) is their unique cover of Frank Zappa’s Lumpy Gravy.

For ELP fans there is a rousing version of Abaddon’s Bolero performed by Keith with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, which is as grand and OTT as anything they ever did, I mean if you get an orchestra to go nuts with you, why the hell not? There’s also a 1980’s excerpt from a solo rendition of Pictures at an Exhibition, showcasing Keith’s unique style.

His solo work is well represented on the smoky blues room piano piece And Then January, with its late-night vibe and plaintive mood shows the more reflective side of Keith’s musical personality. Straight Between The Eyes (featuring Levon Helm and Garth Hudson) is the first from the soundtrack to the film Best Revenge and, while being a bit 80’s in its style and execution, has a wonderful drawled vocal by co-writer John Doukas. Also from the sessions but which didn’t make it to the soundtrack, is an interesting version of the old Elvis classic Don’t Be Cruel, where they slow it right down and funk it up, complete with fat bass and slabs of chunky 80’s synths, all of which turns it into an MTV big hair ballad.

Mixing his influences and genres, the interpretation of Walter L (featuring the London Jazz Orchestra) and some moog soloing shows how proficient and comfortable Keith was across all genres and is a testament to how easy he fitted into big orchestral pieces or solo piano work. With solo synth pieces like Motor Bikin’, a reworked version of America featuring Pat Travers on guitar and then the theme tune to Jim Davidson’s sit-com Up the Elephant and Round the Castle finishing off on a cover of Sex & Drugs & Rock n’ Roll, this is no ordinary compilation album. More a snapshot of a career, and one that was always deeper and more musically diverse than the work he was famous for with ELP.

Released 28th April 2017

Order from Cherry Red:

Off The Shelf: Remastered EditionKeith Emerson

Colosseum II: Wardance

This, the third album from the late Jon Hiseman’s revitalised Colosseum, was originally released back in 1977 and see’s Hiseman joined by some of the greatest musical talents of that era. Gary Moore on guitar, John Mole on bass and Don Airey on keyboards.

When you get 4 superb musicians in one band then creative sparks will fly and, as is mentioned in the liner notes, the band didn’t have the luxury of rehearsal times. Instead, the taut and driving fusion of jazz and rock that is on display here was honed to perfection on the road and then recorded as live in the studio due to the limited time available.

From the opening title track, Hiseman proves how effective he is as a band leader, choosing some superb band members to bounce of and work with. His death recently was a massive loss to the musical world as he is as powerful a drummer as anyone around and the way he propels the groove, allowing both Airey and Moore to spar, is exemplary.

Throughout this album it’s hard to pull out a star player, as all 4 work the groove and play round each other with deftness and skill, and, while Moore and Airey moved on to other things, they sound so hungry here. It is a shame that the hard work they put in seemed to be forgotten as band/label decisions ultimately scuppered this line up.

Hiseman returned with the original Colosseum line up later but this line up and era shouldn’t be overshadowed and should be recognised as important to the fusion sound as the original band.

Released 27th April 2018

Order from Cherry Red:

Colosseum II: War Dance, Re-Mastered EditionColosseum II

Nirvana: Black Flower

Originally released in 1970, the third album from Nirvana duo Patrick Campbell-Lyons and Alex Spyropolous was arranged and produced by Tony Visconti and Mike Hurst (who was previously a member of the Springfield’s). Unfortunately, as is always the way, when the tapes were delivered to Island Records Chris Blackwell turned it out, feeling it wasn’t suitable for the label, not to mention the fact he was concerned the title was too similar to the phrase Black Power.

The lush orchestration and sublime production enhance the duo’s compositional skills which were maturing nicely. From the wonderfully uplifting The World is Cold Without You, where the orchestration and the chorus genuinely swells, to tracks like Excerpt From “The Blindand The Beautiful”, where the orchestration drives the music, takes this beyond mere pop psych and into new rock classical crossover sounds.

This cross fertilises elements of singer-songwriter work, the reinterpretations of Brecht by Scott Walker, and the dramatic Gothic rock of singers like David McWilliams, all filtered through the Anglo-Greek pairing of Campbell-Lyons & Spyropolous, whose disparate influences weave together an intense musical experience.

Chock full of catchy tunes, well observed lyrics, a whole spree of bonus tracks, this is recognition at last for an album that slipped under the radar on release and led to the demise of the original Nirvana line-up. Which was a shame, as on tracks like Black Flower or Love Suite, the duo were really pushing themselves forward together, it would have been interesting to see where they went next.

Released 27th April 2018

Order from Cherry Red:

Nirvana: Black Flower, Re-Mastered & Expanded EditionNirvana (UK)

Reviews Esoteric Antenna – Steve Hackett and Djabe – Summer Storms and Rocking Rivers & Life is a Journey – The Sardinia Tapes – by James R. Turner

Summer Storms & Rocking Rivers

Hungary’s world-renowned Jazz Fusion/world music ensemble Djabe have been working with one of England’s finest guitarists, Steve Hackett, since 2003 when he guested on their album ‘Sharks are Dancing’, since then they have recorded and toured across the world together, improvising and freewheeling.

These two CD/DVD packages are taken from two different tours, with the first ‘Summer Storms and Rocking Rivers’ recorded in Hungary in 2011, the CD is the live document, while the DVD is a fleshed-out release with more songs than there was space for on the CD. This, with an additional documentary and a couple of bonus tracks, showcases what this whole tour was about.

This is all about 6 musicians, incredibly talented and versatile, getting into the groove and proving that music can cross borders, languages and transcend styles.

The concert is a case in point, as Djabe (Ferenc Kovacs – trumpet, violin, vocals, Zoltan Kovacs – keyboards, Attila Egerhazi – guitar, percussion, Tamas Barabas – bass & Szilard Banai – drums), along with Steve, play a wildly diverse musical mix of Steve Hackett songs (Ace of Wands, The Steppes, Horizons – all reinterpreted and improvised around) and Djabe material (City of Habi, Butterfly, Scenes – Above Poland, Scenes- Sunset at the Seaside), all mixed up and interpreted wonderfully here.

Djabe’s fluid and taut playing allows room within the songs for Steve to improvise and you get the impression that all 6 musicians are having a ball, there’s even room for radical interpretations of a few classic Genesis numbers (Firth of Fifth, Los Endos, In the Quiet Earth) all played around with, built upon and incredibly different from the source, making this fun and exciting. It captures what was a very special evening of music and of the joys of making music without boundaries, genres or people asking whether or not it’s ‘prog’.

You don’t need to pigeonhole it, just enjoy it.

Released 24th February 2017

Order from Cherry Red:

Summer Storms & Rocking RiversSteve Hackett & Djabe

Life Is A Journey – The Sardinia Tapes

‘Life is a Journey – The Sardinia Tapes’ was recorded and improvised in Sardinia in 2016 by Steve and the Djabe line-up of Tamas Barabas, Attila Egerhazi, Guli Briem (drums, percussion) and Aron Koos-Hutas (trumpet) and was the first time the musicians had simply spent time in a room, improvising, jamming and writing new material, rather than just playing live on stage.

The double set here has the album on CD, and a bonus DVD of the album in stereo and surround mixes, 5 tracks recorded live in the Budapest Jazz Club in 2017 and a short documentary.

The album itself is one of those rare beasts, an album you know nothing about, and have no pre-conceptions about. Knowing how Steve Hackett mixes his music making up, flitting from classical, to progressive rock to revisiting his past, you’re never sure where he’s going next. Djabe are an impressive improvisational group and, working with Steve, you can tell from listening to this album, they have built up a brilliant working relationship and revel in each other’s musical company. This comes across the 72 plus minutes of this album.

It is a complete revelation, and whilst I can completely understand why Steve preforms and releases the ‘Genesis Revisite’ concerts, I much prefer this side of his musical coin. The improvisations here are fluid and free forming and come from the same musical space, a shared appreciation and mutual admiration of each other’s talents. The way that Aron Koos-Hutas’ trumpet weaves its way through tracks like Golden Sands or Wake Up is revelatory, while the work they put in to songs like Life is a Journey or Beams Over the Nulvi Mountains are sublime.

This mixes, matches and blends genres and styles seamlessly. The reason why the songs work so well is because each musician knows intimately what would work where, and why, and this freedom makes this album immersive and rewarding. With every listen something new is teased out, a motif here, a drum roll there. This is an album that rewards repeat listens, and with the way it ebbs, flows and builds, it doesn’t feel like it’s over an hour of music. It feels like it’s as long as it needs to be.

It’s albums like this that prove to me why Steve Hackett is still the most innovative and creative former member of Genesis out there, not content to rest on his laurels and still following his muse and, in Djabe, he has found fellow travellers more than happy to join him on his journey.

Released 6th October 2017

Order from Cherry Red:

LIFE IS A JOURNEY ~ THE SARDINIA TAPES: CD/DVD SETSteve Hackett & Djabe

 

 

 

Review – 3RDegree – Ones & Zeros: Vol.0 – by James R Turner

Follow up to 2015’s album ‘Ones & Zeros Vol.1’, this is American band 3RDegree’s 6th album and see’s the band revisiting the concept of the rapid advances of technology, transhumanism and futurism that was the core to this albums predecessor. Following on from their triumphant world tour, the 6 piece of George Dobbs (vocals, keyboards, violin) Robert James Pashman (bass, keys, backing vocals) Patrick Kliesch (acoustic & electric guitars, keys, backing vocals) Robert Durham (drums & percussion) Eric Pseja (electric guitar backing vocals) and Bryan Zeigler (electric guitar, backing vocals) are on fine form here.

From the opening where re1nstall_Overture, which revisits themes from the previous album, leads into Connecting3RDegree’s strengths are their ability to mix complex musicianship and well observed lyrics into shorter punchier songs, and with lead single Olympia they blend this to perfection. The Future Doesn’t Need You blends some sublime harmony vocals, great 70’s synth sounds and punchy riffs to create a blend of contemporary rock and Queenesque harmonies.

The album flows sublimely and, as such, means that this is an immersive listen and one you can’t just dip into and out of, and that is great to hear, showing the album as art. Unintended Consequence has a powerful driving percussive sound, some great vocals again from Dobbs (whose unique vocals are an integral part to the 3rd Degree sound) and the band are as tight here as I’ve ever heard them. Perfect Babies is a fantastic piece about genetics and ethics, once again, with some great lyrics.

This album also see’s the band going all out on their longest epic ever, the sublime and powerful Click Away! that clocks in at over 15 minutes, it’s true progressive music at its finest. The keyboard work is superb, as the track grows and builds, delving into the world of social media and algorithms. It has some sublime vocal work, brilliant guitar riffs and guitar and keyboard interplay throughout. The vocal harmonies are one of the bands many strengths, and they add so much depth to this album, particularly on Click Away!

The finale of the album, the wonderful Ones & Zeros, has more of that sublime synth work and an amazing spine-tingling solo, as it rounds off this extraordinary concept in style.

This album has been out for a few months, and I am not sure how something this wonderful, this complete and chock full of great songs and performances slipped under my radar. I am glad this has been rectified as it is one of the most complete progressive albums I have heard this year and is yet another fantastic album by this incredibly talented band. If you haven’t heard it yet, I strongly recommend you get a copy and lose yourself in the world of 3RDegree.

Released 30th April 2018

Order the album from bandcamp here

Review – The Paperweight Array – Greek Theatre Show – by James R Turner

Proponents of Rushdenbeat, and psychedelic power trio, The Paperweight Array have been building a name for themselves over the course of the past 18 months, and this is their third EP release following up the highly acclaimed ‘Transmissions from a Distant Star’ and ‘Kaleidoscope of Antiquities’.

Opening with the powerful Mountain, the band’s trademark vocals and guitar work are in evidence as they blend psychedelic rock with some driving riffs and some brilliant soloing from Aaron, while Dunc and Just on drums and bass and keyboards really drive the song forward.

Their confidence is coming on in leaps and bounds, and you can tell that as a band they are really pushing themselves and building on their early EP’s.

The title track has some fantastic lyrics, and some more of their superb guitar work, with a brilliant summer of love vibe running through the whole track and some great sitar sounding soloing going on.

Final track Reflections (on a Western Trail) rounds off an excellent EP of new material with real style and a great psych out vibe, and a great way to finish this collection.

The Paperweight Array are a fantastic band, and one who go from strength to strength on each EP. I can’t wait to hear a full-length album from them.

Released 9th June 2018

Order the EP from bandcamp here

 

Review – Regal Worm – Pig Views – by James R. Turner

Let’s talk about eclectic for a moment, shall we?

I have tastes that vary from Abba to Zappa and all points in between, drifting off at a tangent (via The Tangent) taking in psych, rock of the Yes/King Crimson/VdGG variety plus many other gleefully eclectic sounds. That’s not to mention electronica, ambient, classical and many other genres, so when I come across a renaissance man like Jarrod Gosling who bestrides genres and, indeed, disciplines like a multi-media, multi-talented master of all he surveys then, of course, my curiosity is piqued.

I first encountered Jarrod’s music from I, Monster when they blitzed the charts with their single Daydream in Blue, and the mix of pop and rock, darkness and light and sophisticated sounds weren’t just pushing pop’s boundaries, they were redrawing them. Then there was the more acoustic side of Jarrod’s style – The Skywatchers collaboration, followed by stints with Henry Fool. As well as working on the artwork for Tim Bowness’ solo career, Jarrod also found time to form the absolutely brilliant Cobalt Chapel where his gothic folk vision is matched by the vocals of Cecelia Fage (well known for her work with Matt Berry and The Maypoles) not only that but Jarrod announced himself on the new alternative scene back in 2013 with his triumphant Regal Worm debut album ‘Use and Ornament’, followed, fairly closely, by ‘Neither Use not Ornament’.

Now Regal Worm return with the cheekily titled ‘Pig Views’ (named after Jarrod’s studio, which overlooks one of Sheffield’s football grounds – as a fellow Yorkshireman I won’t go into which one, as it might cause an online ruckus and we don’t want that), did I mention that Jarrod was also a Yorkshireman? A true Sheffield original like Henderson’s relish, and as vital an ingredient to any musical dish as Hendos is to cookery.

I’ll stop with the Hendos and talk about the music, I was eagerly awaiting this album, as the last two Regal Worm albums have crossed prog with psych with Jarrod’s inimitable style and charm and have brightened up every record collection they have joined.

This new addition to the family, with it’s stunning artwork and also available as a pink double vinyl set, looks very smart indeed. Artwork, of course, is by the man himself, while he covers all bases musically with guests including Mick Somerset-Ward on alto, tenor and baritone saxophones and flute, Peter Rophone on voice and acoustic guitar, Louis Atkinson on Alto and tenor saxophones, Emily Ireland, Heidi Kilpelainen and Paul Putner on voice and Graham McElearney on harp.

Amongst Jarrod’s musical arsenal are items like Mellotron, Hammond Organ, Rickenbacker bass, Mandolin, Lap steel guitar percussion and many others. This mix of instrumentation, particularly the sax and flute, give this a very English sound, reminiscent of Canterbury scene bands. Throwing in Jarrod’s love of jazz and psych, and his rock sensibilities then all the work combines to create a unique musical delight.

Rose, Rubus, Smilax, Vulkan is a brilliantly arresting opening, with it’s chant style chorus, and the way it builds and segues nicely into Revealed as a True Future Tyrant is sublime and shows Jarrod’s innate musical sensibilities and style.

He also has a knack for a title, and the wonderfully named Rose Parkington, They Would Not Let You Leave is a wonderfully keyboard driven piece where the pulsating and thundering keyboard and the duelling sax propel what is one of the most joyful sounds I have heard on record for a long time.

You hear the other side to Jarrod on the wonderfully atmospheric Jag Vet, that falls under the heading of a section titled Under den Svenska Vintern (During the Swedish Winter) this suite of songs demonstrates Jarrod’s versatility as the acoustic haunting Jag Vet leads into the 3 part The Dreaded Lurg (like I said, Jarrod has a knack of wonderful titles) where his piano and keyboard playing slowly builds up the song, adding layers of sound and, if you’re looking at best multi-instrumentalist for any awards that happen to be going, I reckon Jarrod has to be in with a shot. His use of the flute as a melodic weapon to drive the piece on is inspired, and it’s those touches of flute and sax, bursts of synths and the juxtaposition of sounds that recall more obscure 70’s Radiophonic Workshop soundtracks or the films of Tigon.

This isn’t copying though, this is weaving disparate and eclectic influences into a new musical whole, pulling random strands together to create something new and unique with little hints and nods to the musical journey Jarrod has been on and wants to take you on. As a musician Jarrod has always done something different and interesting with every release, and this is no different, whilst there are hints of the styles that dominate Cobalt Chapel and I, Monster, Regal Worm is its own different musical entity, one that draws you in with some of the most innovative and eclectic sounds I have heard on record all year.

With the wonderful chorus of the almost hymnal and reverent Huge Machine, You Are So Heavy and the albums wonderfully eclectic style and sound, Regal Worm sits at the forefront of the new English alternative scene. If your record collection has room for a Schnauser or a Knifeworld in it and not a Regal Worm then you need to rectify that forthwith.

This is one of the most exciting and original albums I have heard all year and I implore you, if you enjoy well crafted exciting, innovative and eclectic musical journeys then ‘Pig Views’ is the album you need in your life.

Album of the year so far? I reckon so.

Released 13th July 2018

Order the album on CD or Vinyl at bandcamp here