The long form review is becoming defunct in this day of instant gratification and bombardment of new musical exploits. Welcome to the new Progradar review section – ‘Progradar Recommends’ – where you’ll get more reviews (only with less words or some may say less twaddle!).
Starting this new feature will be Marco Ragni, M’Z, Siiilk and Wilson & Wakeman.
Marco Ragni – The Wandering Caravan
“The album is about revolution, about searching for oneself, about metaphysical travel, about memories, about love and suffering. It talks about life, of how we live this Era. It try to push us in search of ourselves, finding the best of us after having passed from the worst of us. It’s a journey into my life. It is passion. It is a desire for redemption. It is a dream and a reality.”
Italian musician Marco has always been one for complicated and involving music using different influences and this new album is no different. Using eastern influences and a lot of woodwind you are treated to an ululating and evolving musical work that rewards concentration and repeated listening. Tracks like Promised Land andKeep Dreaming have a wistful and laid back feel that instantly lulls you into a calm and serene frame of mind.
Marco is joined on this journey by Peter Matuchniak (Lead guitar), Dave Newhouse (Woodwind) and Jeff Mack (Bass) as well as a host of renowned guests included Luca Zabbini and Ian Beabout. What he delivers is eight tracks that are a personal musical revelation from this highly accomplished artist. Listen to songs like Waiting on the Threshold and you will be captivated and drawn into this impressive escape from the mundane boredom of real life.
Not your usual fare for this reviewer but I was intrigued by the album cover of Toulouse artist M’Z’s album ‘Prisme’ and so I decided to follow it up. It is presented as a fusion of rock, electro and jazz and, to be fair, it does exactly what is says on the tin.
To me, there’s just something exciting about the music and the structure of the tracks. Based around some pretty impressive guitar work the keyboards blend in with there elctro-pop vibe and the off-kilter feel is really of free-from jazz. To add even more polish and machination there are some highly energetic and powerful industrial electro vibes flying around all over the place with some punchy percussion.
To quote the artist:
“M is the guitar and Z is the machine, the idea is to also create a bridge between organic and electric/electronic music, a bridge between the code and its acceptance and the need to get out of the code.”
Don’t be put off by the description as, with repeated listens, this album really gets under your skin in a very positive manner. What you get is a thoroughly enjoyable 42 minutes of music with influences from all over the musical spectrum.
A band new to me until I happened to talk to member Richard Pick earlier this year, Siiilk (someone’s finger stuck on the keyboard?) hail from France and produce wonderful, ethereal progressive rock hewn from the genre’s traditional style but with added Gallic flair and grace.
The band was formed in 2010 and have gone from strength to strength, blending superb, intricate guitar work with the lush keyboards and the wistful vocals of Robert and Catherine Pick. The subtle rhythm section is a revelation throughout and especially prevalent on the title track.
The PR stuff – “Siiilk revives its creative power and takes us to the imaginary realms of the mysteries of the soul. Through sensitive and intense sounds, their songs speak about landscapes of emotion and melancholy.”
Listening to ‘Endless Mystery’ is like falling onto the most comfortable bed in the world and letting the sublime, heavenly music wash over you, absolving you of all your earthly sins. Musical catharsis if I have ever heard it, one I suggest you go out and purchase forthwith!
Damian Wilson & Adam Wakeman – The Sun Will Dance In Its Twilight Hour
The second collaboration from this uber-talented duo is another exquisitely created and performed selection of songs where Damian Wilson once again gets to show us his more gentle side for this is another album founded on the big man’s ever impressive vocal and Wakeman Junior’s sublime tinkling ivories just add lashings of polish and verve.
What we have here is another dedication to the art of songwriting and the song. Tracks like opener The Last American Hero, Always The Lonely One and the title track are perfectly crafted jewels of the songwriting art and don’t need any enhancement, you just enjoy them for what they are. Adam even gets to show us his vocal skills on On This Battlefield and their emotive, touching delivery will move you.
“Writing songs with Damian is always a great experience as we tend to start from scratch and follow where the writing takes us. We’re so pleased with how this album has come together. Having Gary Stevenson on board to mix thealbum and add an extra ear from a production background has been nothing but positive. He also has a killer coffee machine.” – Adam Wakeman
After the wonderful ‘Weir Keeper’s Tale’ Damian and Adam have once again proved there are a force to be reckoned with and song writers without peer. Just listen to the nigh on perfect Better Than That with its gentle, piano led opening that slowly builds into a wonderfully up beat, almost raucous, jazz/rock outpouring that just makes you smile, life really doesn’t get much better than this!
The review of this new release from avant-garde/art rock musician Hamlet’s Transport Aerian project has been a very difficult one to write. Hamlet is not afraid of talking and writing about difficult subjects and, in the case of ‘Therianthrope’, expressing his thoughts through his music.
‘Therianthrope’ is described as an album whose themes are dedicated to the emotions of the mind, torn by different assets of mental illness in the context of quickly developing world on the brink of the war, social and economical catastrophe. In the other worlds, it explores a twisted, ugly side of anyone of us in the modern world.
Not exactly warm and cuddly then? However music has always been there to explore all kinds of emotions and themes and it is how it does this that really matters.
The PR informations goes on to say:
“Besides the conventional music pieces, ‘Therianthrope’ also features The Abstract Symphony, a set of songs and instrumental pieces based on blind improvisation by the team of guest musicians. Nobody knew what the other musician would play, as they were only given a theme to describe and photographs to emphasize the visual in the sound. Such experimental approach is a manifest of modernity, an information field that contains the similar artistic concepts and thus allows any music to be created out of idea, without other forms of direct physical or intellectual interaction.”
The mood is set by the dark opening track Smirking Sirens which has a grating rhythm and seems to feed on your nervous energy. The music is harsh and Hamlet’s vocals are as direct and accusatory as ever. This is the singular style that I have come to expect from this unique musician and it carries on with the next track Pitchfork Martyrs. There’s almost a funereal tone to the music, a dark but actually enjoyable dirge. I’m still on the fence with this album but it is beginning to grow on me, insinuating its darkened charms into my soul. Let You Never Perish and Destroy Me carry on with the obsidian, sombre mood. These are songs that are written to convey the depths of twisted, darkened human minds where depression and insanity are never far away but they do so in a captivating manner. You find yourself unable to turn away, almost like the old days of hiding behind the sofa but wanting to sneak a peak at the horror film showing on the TV. It is clever and intelligent songwriting that keeps you right in the middle of the story.
The Abstract Symphony sections follow, woven through the standard tracks, and this sees such talented musicians as Marco Ragni, Peter Matuchniak, Rachel Bauer and Darren Brush join Hamlet in improvised sections of music where none of the musicians knew what the other was playing. It is a really ingenious way of creating music and left me intrigued as to what they would come up with.
I : Information Field and II:Saturate really stretch the listener, this is not music that you can lay back and let wash over you, it demands your attention but is never anything less than an absorbing listen. You will return to this album time and time again and come away with different impressions of these tracks, thought provoking and stimulating, they really do ask questions of you that you may not even want to answer. September appears like a light in the darkness, a veil lifted and a mind rescued from obfuscation. Hamlet’s vocals are intertwined with the more dulcet tones of Rachel Bauer and give the track the feel of an oasis in a sea of darkness, pain and confusion. Stefan Boeykens lead guitar is superb, however the ever present fog of confusion is never far away…
III: Lovemeat is another journey into the creative minds of the musicians and has a soundtrack atmosphere to it, like a quirky independent movie where you never quite know what is happening, tension and surprises at every turn. Hamlet is joined solely by Darren Brush’s Chapman Stick for the enigmatic and Delphian feeling Eternal Guilt, a powerful foray into madness and insanity in a musical form. A painful and harrowing listen but one which adds candour and honesty and a piece of music that had me on the edge of my seat and holding my breath throughout. The slow burning guitar solo is genius.
IV: Poor Things Need ( A Common Interest) is another inventive slice of music that actually has a real laid back feel to it, almost a folk/roots music style. There’s still a fragility at the core, a feel that this is a rarely seen period of lucidity where a cry for help can be given and understood. Lions is beautifully melancholy and sombre, Hamlet’s vocal imparting a vulnerability that cries out for help. I find myself getting lost in the music and the lyrics, there’s no darkness here, just a raw and open candor and pain. Marco Ragni and Peter Mantuchniak add brillaint guitars that just help this song be as humanly honest as possible.
The last Abstract SymphonyV: Immortals brings these great sections of music to a close with a real jazz infused feel. Layers of guitars, dulcimer, Chapman Stick and keyboards contribute to an abstract piece that, along with Rachel’s narration, connects with you at a very basic level, the music infusing itself into your very soul. This deeply passionate album comes to a close with Last Years of Peace, an atmospheric and involving experience that leaves you in a reflective and contemplative frame of mind. There’s an almost oriental note to the music with its mesmerising, hypnotic harmonies and I actually feel myself relaxed and calm as it comes to a close.
‘Therianthrope’ is not intended to be an easy listening experience, it is a thought-provoking and sometimes actually quite raw and painful musical journey that should be consumed in one listen to understand and get the most from it. It is an intense and intensely satisfying record that proudly steps away from the expected to deliver one of 2017’s more engrossing and stimulating releases.
I suppose you could call it being a music nerd but I am sure many of my fellow music fans also have this innate ability, identifying musicians by their signature sound and, for the purposes of this review, it is particularly applicable to guitar players.
Be it the great blues players like B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy or, latterly, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Joe Bonamassa, the stellar guitarists of rock music, Eric Clapton, Eddie Van Halen, Pete Townsend and Yngwie Malmsteen or progressive rock’s great exponents along the lines of DavidGilmour, Steve Howe, JohnPetrucci, Alex Lifeson, Steve Hackett and the sadly departed Piotr Grudziński, they all brought a unique guitar sound to the music, one that most aficionados could instantly recognise.
This would add something different to the music, something to make it stand out from the sea of music that lapped around our metaphorical ankles and give you a reason to listen to, and purchase, it ahead of anything else. It also made it feel more personal, less generic, and gave you, the listener, a particular attachment to, and fondness for, that music.
Well, I’d like to add one more fantastic guitar player to that list, the incomparable Italian maestro MarcoRagni who also happens to have just released his latest solo album ‘Land Of Blue Echoes’.
Marco has been making music since the age of 17 when, in 1987, he released ‘Kaleido’ but it was his last album, ‘Mother From The Sun’ (released in 2014), that introduced me to this seminal guitar player. Influences including pysychedelic, folk, funk and pop abound throughout his singular brand of progressive rock and his playing is absolutely exemplary.
He says of his new album:
“I play and write songs to free myself from the constraints of life and to emphasize all the beauty that surrounds me. I’ve never done caged by drawings and I never wanted to replicate a sound or feel. I’ve always tried to rework all my putting influences what I have in my head, not as a musician, but as a person. I always imagined me like a volcano full of a thousand artistic references ready to erupts new reworking songs that I have heard, mostly using my sensitivity. I hope you can hear a “Marco Ragni” sound and not something that looks like a nostalgic operation.”
‘Land Of Blue Echoes’ is an ambitious work, in the name of prog-rock dropped from atmospheres and canonical issues, characterized instead by a crossroads influences ranging from psychedelia to the new international rock, through to Marco’s beloved Pink Floyd.
For ‘Land Of Blue Echoes’, Marco Ragni has brought together a band of illustrious collaborators including Durga McBroom (backing vocalist for PinkFloyd and David Gilmour since 1987).
Guitarists Peter Matuchniak (who plays a lot of the lead parts), Fernando Perdomo and Colin Tench, bassists Jeff Mack and Hamlet‘Transport Aerian’, drummer Jacopo Ghirardini and keyboard player Vance Gloster all add their considerable talents to this remarkable piece of work, backing up Marco and his multi-instrumental skills on acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards, bass, lap steel guitars, greek bouzuki and, of course, vocals.
The first thing that struck me about the album was the striking cover. Now those of you who have followed my writing over the last 3 or 4 years will know that album art is something that I really appreciate and can almost make or break a release for me. The cover to ‘Land Of Blue Echoes’ does everything right, simple yet compelling, it draws your eyes to the artwork like every great cover should. Now, onto the music….
Between Moon and Earth opens with a 60’s feel NASA voice over before a psychedelic off centre guitar note, courtesy of Colin Tench, starts the track proper. Insistent drums and bass add a slightly disconcerting note before the guitars play against each other with a slightly alien feel, it’s stylish and intriguing and that almost corrosive guitar that meanders though your mind is quite addictive. Quite a thought provoking instrumental start to the album. One of the two extended ‘epics’ on this release, Horizons begins with a delicate introduction that seems to tingle across all your synapses before opening up into a proper 70’s feeling progressive track with its complicated music and eerie flute like sound. It then picks up pace and turns into something that Public Service Broadcasting would have been proud to release. A distinctive sci-fi note runs though the music before the keyboards, drum and bass go all funky on you backing a slightly distanced voice over. It never gives you chance to settle and leaves you feeling as if your in the middle of an episode of Space:1999 with its retro feel. Marco is an expert at using music as a storytelling medium and he does it again here as his vocals open up, laid back and full of character. The music takes on a slightly medieval edge with the sound of a harpsichord and you just go along with the very impressive flow as it explores different avenues. A slightly disconcerting guitar solo adds an abrasive note but takes nothing away from the narrative. It’s a track that becomes quite obsessive as you follow its ever impressive journey through darkness and light, the elegant piano section preceding a guitar solo of incredible depth and scope and where the Hammond organ is given free rein to provide an admirable backdrop, music that just keeps on giving. A persistent piano note and flamenco guitar open title track Land Of Blue Echoes with a grave and serious tone which continues with the vocals, Marco delivering the words in a deliberate and thoughtful manner. Another spiky guitar run adds more feeling of discord that contrasts against the lighter Spanish influenced guitar to leave you feeling slightly disorientated, if only in a good way.
Who said Pink Floyd? Money Doesn’t Think begins with a stylish bass, drum and keyboard rhythm over which Fernando Perdomo’s guitar overlays a seriously impressive auditory exhibition. The vocals add a touch of gravitas with their earnest intonation but it is the rather catchy music that stands out here, the guitar playing just blows you away with its power, skill and dexterity and are backed up to the hilt by the notable rhythm section. This is one of those songs where you keep finding yourself pressing repeat. That medieval feel, with touch of eastern promise, returns on Canto D’Amore, Marco delivers a delightful vocal and bouzuki performance and the harmonised sections send shivers down your spine with their eclesiastical feel. A pared back innovative delight of a song that just cleanses your palate mid way through this intense album. Deep Night is a fantastic song whichever way you look at it but the addition of Durga McBroom’s distinctive and haunting vocals is the true highlight. A track that will leave you rapt, almost in limbo, as you let its many charms wash over you. She has a voice that expands to fill any room she may be occupying and, as well as being dynamic and potent, there is a subtlety to it as well. The music plays an admirable second fiddle here but is no less dramatic or imposing as the compelling guitar adds the finishing touches to a near perfect piece of musical theatre.
Beltane, to me, seems to be a song of two parts. The opening part is all complex and convoluted progressive rock where the gentle acoustic guitar, drums and casual bass leave you in some sort of fantasy world where Marco is the tour guide and his languid vocals just wash over you leaving you feeling slightly becalmed. The Hammond organ in the background gives an insistent edge that seems to be trying to wake you from your musical stupor. There’s a guitar part that seems slightly out of phase and focus, leaving you feeling a little spaced-out, fazed and nonplussed. Then, after a little calming interlude, it brings itself sharply back into focus as the guitar drives the song forward in a more traditional fashion, aided and abetted by the elegant rhythm section. The first couple of times you just don’t ‘get’ it but then it all falls into place with a knowing nod from the music. Intelligent and thought provoking music that requires some work from the listener too. Now onto the second, and longest, ‘epic’ on the album. Nucleus Parts 1-8 really does deserve that title, not only for its length (coming in at just under 23 minutes) but, also, for its inventive and involving composition. It even feels like an epic as it begins, a searching guitar fading in and laying the foundations, backed by the bass, an ominous undertone. Then a fiery guitar breaks from the fold demanding your attention as it drives the song on with a reverberating and chiming tone. Then, calmness, Durga’s distinctive vocal warblings, earnest and sincere and yet with a mournful edge to them, hold you spellbound as the musical convolutions conspire in the background. It is hypnotic and almost surreal, like the musical equivalent of a Hunter S.Thompson novel, ‘Fear and Loathing in The Land of Blue Echoes’ perhaps? The guitar then breaks free to deliver a fast flowing section of intricate brilliance that precedes Marco’s grave and determined vocals, backed by the haunting tones of Durga. These vocal interludes are punctuated by flashes of six string brilliance that just blow you away. A seamless move into a period of calm reflection then follows, gentle guitar, expressive bass and smooth drums hold in a their reflective embrace, Marco and Durga’s vocals, serene and tranquil, have a hypnotic grace and you relax and let the music flow over you. An embellished, slightly tortuous guitar then takes over, searching and asking questions of you before Durga’s vocal wanderings invite you on a journey of discovery. I said before that Marco was a musical storyteller and he reaches a pinnacle on this elaborately momentous, ambitious and complex musical tapestry. You can just lose yourself in the soundscape and enjoy every nuance and minutae of its melodic charm as each individual section delivers its singular tuneful aesthetics. This remarkable musical odyssey comes to a close with the blues-tinged Queen of Blue Fires, a wistful and nostalgic track enhanced by the addition of Hamlet ‘Transport Aerian’ on bass guitar. It begins with slightly somber feel to the music and vocals, almost like an emotional lament. The guitar then fills you with a feeling of hope as it seems to lift the cloud from over everything. Perhaps the end of one thing that should be mourned but also the beginning of something new that needs to be celebrated. Heartfelt and profoundly sincere, it seems to resonate with your very core and invites you on this new and uplifting journey where we can look at things that have passed with fond affection rather than a sense of grief. The Hammond solo is a thing of genius that just makes me smile and tip my metaphorical hat in acknowledgement and it is matched in sincerity and intensity by the burning guitar solo. A fitting end to a magical musical excursion.
Marco says that this is an international album and it should appeal to all nations with its intense brilliance. A deeply moving listen which shows Marco Ragni at the height of his power, it left me feeling free and unencumbered by the worries of life. This is not mere music, it is a life changing experience and is surely one of the highlights of 2016 so far from a musician who just gets better and better with every release and one who is backed by a stellar group of contemporaries.
Released 18th March 2016 on Melodic Revolution Records.