Review – Rob Harrison – Explode My Head – by John Wenlock-Smith

One of the best things about writing reviews are the opportunities that I get, on a fairly regular basis, when an artist sends me an album that is not generally available for a few months yet. I consider such acts to be very satisfying and rewarding in that I feel that I am entrusted with their creation to listen to and, possibly, review. This is a honour I accept with sincere gratitude as it means that the artist feels secure enough of my opinion to offer me their creativity, as it were. Which is why I am pleased to be able to write a review for  Z Machine’s sax player Rob Harrison, whose solo album, ‘Explode My Head’ is due to emerge in June of this year.

This is a  very personal  album for Rob as he gets to play the music he wants to and on his own terms and, in addition, he gets to play the guitar (something he seldom gets to do with Z Machine). The album is mostly instrumental, although there are a few vocal tracks. In all it has just six tracks with the longest being just short of nine minutes long. Rob is joined by cello and violins on several tracks, alongside flute and bass clarinets. Rob himself plays all guitars, bass and saxophone, as well as supplying the vocals and sound effects and I suspect he plays the uncredited keyboard parts as well. The album is really rather good, although it is not always an easy listen as the sound is quite dense in places. It has touches of artists like King Crimson, Gong and many others of that ilk.

Opening track A Severe Lack Of Gravitas has some delicate Cello from Polina Faustova and violin from Julia Stein (Who Knows Sound), in between which is Rob’s bass and heavy saxophone parts. The song changes tempo constantly and has great guitar fills and runs along some great sax parts too. I especially like this track as it is very inventive and musically driven. A Bountiful Surplus Of Grace is an intriguing instrumental that also contains some spoken word parts to it. These tend to be a bit  low in the mix so it’s not always easy to hear what is being said. I detect that it is about Rob’s own struggles that are being talked about here. It is a very interesting and musically strong track which really impresses greatly.

A Profound Throb Of Dread is an odd tale of an old man. After the opening section, it moves more to be an instrumental piece, although the vocals are repeated at various points in the track, another compelling and thought provoking piece of music. An Absurd Case Of Iguanas is mostly instrumental with almost Middle Eastern sounding notes at the beginning, later superseded by a different tone and melody. There is some sumptuous bass on this track too, really strong, vibrant and funky at times. The pace increases as the track gains in tempo and intensity with some strong, fluid guitar lines emerging to deliver a quite captivating song indeed.

The penultimate track is An Acute Sense Of Being which sounds similar in style and tone to Starless by King Crimson but without that guitar line. However, it does have similarities to these ears, again, some engagingly fluid guitar lines run throughout and it is all rather impressive really. The record closes with A Fragile Harmony Of Desires, this is the track that possibly explains everything within it’s lyrics, which appear to be almost a stream of consciousness about the difficulties encountered in Rob’s life. The music is fairly jolly for such a deep song, Rob says that he is not good at expressing feeling and talking about things, preferring to let his music speak for him, as it were.

The cover art is brilliant as are the short stop/start Aardman Animation-like clay model videos that accompany the album. ‘Explode My Head’ is a really stimulating, complex and compelling album and one that repays repeated listens, Rob writes music for the mind that also stirs the soul and I highly recommend it.

Released 28th June, 2024.

Pre-order from bandcamp here:

Explode My Head | Rob Harrison (

Review – Z Machine – Merging Worlds by John Wenlock-Smith

I came across Z Machine, who hail from South Wales, via Facebook when they reached out for someone to listen to their music and I was very pleased to assist them with this. ‘Merging Worlds’ is a mixture of jazz fusion with some metallic edges and it also mixes in natural sounds to create something rather unique in its own way. The Band have a great sound and the use of Rob Harrison’s sax really works in their favour, as does having a drummer, Lester Greenhalgh, who is steeped in jazz which gives a lightness of touch, the high degree of talent and flair is also excellent. There are also two excellent guitarists in Gareth Piper and Owen Rosser who add significantly to the dense textures with some great licks and fills in the songs.

My initial thoughts were of Mel Collins work with King Crimson as the sound is heavy and dense with lots of room for the sax and flute to shine. Bassist Kristian Rees holds things down very tightly, his rumbling bass being another good fit to these songs. Well I say songs but they are all instrumental tracks, the album has six full tracks and six connecting pieces that act as a bridges between the tracks. This approach works especially effectively for the group and the use of natural and industrial sounds makes this a most interesting project and a very good listen too.

The album begins with Introduction – Amphibiospaien, the sound of birds and elephants, and what sounds like sirens but probably isn’t. This leads into Bonus Eruptus with a heavy riff and strong horns and drumming that powers the track along. There is also good interplay between the guitars and sax to create a most effective wall of sound with some great guitar fills. It’s all very musical and very Crimsonesque in parts and an excellent statement of intent from the band. This leads into the sequence track Interlude – Thunder in Paradise, which features thunder and percussion embellishments in a short piece. Big Old Hen is, again, very sax heavy with interjections by the guitars as the sax of wails most impressively. There are great dynamics at play here and also some great guitar flourishes and squeals that sound really impressive. This track, although short, has a lot going on throughout its seven minutes running time including a great guitar solo from Owen Rosser in which he channels his inner Mahavishnu as Rob Harrison adds supporting sax tones, another winner.

Interlude – Saltwash is next and this has radio chatter, electronica and what sounds like computer game noises before urgent drums lead in Myrtle the Turtle, Rob’s heavy sax playing a complicated syncopated riff, along with guitar fills. Thereafter aa short bass solo from Kristian takes the track into more heavy guitar licks and riffing as, again, the syncopated riff is repeated as drums crash all around the music with the guitarists peppering the riffs with tidy little fills and flourishes to sound really strong. It’s blistering and spirited and a really excellent track. Interlude – Whalespice Subdepth has ocean sounds along with train noises and then whale song and that leads us into Spacewalk with Kristian’s walking bassline accompanied by Robs Sax. There are yet more guitar embellishments courtesy of Gareth and Owen, who are both driving this track forward with drummer Lester Greenhalgh providing solid percussive support and drive. The middle part has a less urgent section where the band lesssen off and let the sax play languidly in places before regathering the tempo and moving forwards once again. I really like the interplay that is present in this track.

Interlude – Coyote Dusk features dogs barking and other night-time noises before Joining the Q opens with more solid bass work from Kristian. This shorter track has another great sax part from and more stylish guitar lines from Gareth and Owen, who follow the Sax melody with chiming arpeggios and harmonics. A short drum break from Lester then takes centre stage, eclipsed by the great fluid and lyrical guitar lines of Owen and Gareth who bring the track to a grand finale. Interlude – Driftscene has guitar tones and synths playing over forest noises before final track Synoceratus opens with a great flute over a quick bassline and guitars that are wailing in a most agreeable manner and tone. This piece burns like a Brand X outtake, it is most agreeable and satisfying to hear this degree of enthusiasm and dynamics being presented here. This is probably my favourite track of the entire album and really impresses, it’s a very good ending to what is a really strong album.

If you like the brassy strains of King Crimson this one might very well be for you. It is brilliant and incredibly interesting jazz  fusion for the modern age, I highly recommend this wonderful album.

Released 30th September, 2023.

Order from bandcamp here:

Merging Worlds | Z Machine (