The Wallet Emptier’s ‘Music You Should Have A Listen To’ Round-Up Pt2

The second installment in our ‘Round-Up’ series sees me take a look at albums from Vantomme, Fiona Kennedy, Blind Ego, When Mary, Special Providence and Ryan Yard

Vantomme – Vegir

Dominique Vantomme is a multi-talented instrumentalist, composer, band leader, educator and producer as well as being the jazz piano instructor at the Music Conservatory in Kortrijk, Belgium. ‘Vegir’ was born out of his nomadic adventures to see Stick Men and befriending Tony Levin.

What came out of the studio sessions is a spontaneous collection of fresh and vibrant instrumental tracks that defy current convention. The sizzling, electrifying playing shows seasoned musicians at the top of their game. There’s nothing traditional or even normal about these eight pieces of music that strut and stalk their way across the sonic soundscape, in fact some of them are downright evil!

Strap yourself in, press play and get ready for a wild ride into a chaotic realm of vivid and energetic music.

Rating – 70/100

Favourite Track – The sonic powerball that is Playing Chess With Barney Rubble.

Released 5th January 2018.

An Irish woman who married a Yorkshireman and lives in Cork, Fiona Kennedy really knows how to carry a tune and her blues/roots/country rock album ‘The Beach’ is chock full of killer tunes. Take the sizzling, passionate opening song Asking Around For You with its superb guitar and Fiona’s expressive vocal and you will not be disappointed.

This talented Irish lady has the ability to change mood at at the drop of the hat and that makes for a wonderfully eclectic and emotive selection of songs that you will never tire of but, to my ears, it’s the tracks where she has a musical twinkle in her eye and a cheeky skip in her step where she really excels.

Kick your shoes off and get your dancing feet on for this album that is full of infectious chorus after chorus and more earworms than you can cope with!

Rating – 75/100

Favourite Track – The burning blues of Asking Around For You.

Released May 2017.

Blind Ego’s ‘Liquid’ was one of the stand out releases of 2016 and a live recording of their show at the Loreley Amphitheater is surely going to be something rather fantastic? Well, to cut the suspense, it is! The powerful metal tinged progressive rock that these musical leviathans produce is mercilessly entertaining.

Scott Balaban’s voice dominates the recording and legendary guitar virtuoso Kalle Wallner provides the perfect foil. To hear tracks as dynamic and potent as What If and Never Escape The Storm in a live setting is quite elctric and the interaction with the lively crowd is a pleasure to hear.

This is a live recording of musicians at the height of their abilities but also five guys who are thoroughly enjoying themselves and it really raises the hair on the back of your neck.

Rating – 78/100

Favourite Track – The utter live bombast of What If.

Released 10th November 2017.

When Mary – Tainted

Norway’s dark electro-proggers When Mary are the first artist to have signed to Summers End Festival impresarios Huw Lloyd-Jones and Stephen Lambe’s  new record label Sonicbond Music. ‘Tainted’ is inspired by the classic tale of Faust, the man who drives himself to damnation in his search for true enlightenment.

It’s not an easy ride this album but persevere and dig deep and you will be well rewarded. A lot darker and more electronic than the acclaimed debut album 2013’s ‘7summers7winters’, this new release is quite a deep and emotive musical journey that bestrides many genres to give When Mary a unique appeal. Touches of progressive rock, industrial and ambient electronica and even blues give it a life all of its own.

Dominating proceedings is the enigmatic vocal of Trude Eidtang, former vocalist of the renowned Norwegian art rock band White Willow. ‘Tainted’ is a singular release that will hopefully lead this talented trio onto grater things.

Rating – 77/100

Favourite Track – The dark, serpentine electronic grooves of Wonderful Warning.

Released 10th November 2017.

Special Providence  – Will

Hungarian prog/jazz/metal fusion band Special Providence released their latest album ‘Will’ late in 2017 and it has taken a while to come to my attention and now I’m wondering how I missed it. These guys have toured with Spock’s Beard, Dream Theater, Pain of Salvation and Steve Hackett which just shows the huge potential in their music.

Intricate musicianship combined with baroque, knife-sharp compositions and occasional soaring melodies makes for a very exciting combination where heavy guitar riffs and grooves and pyrotechnical keyboard skills forge a very unique, virtuoso but easily digestible musical style.

A hugely entertaining prospect live, it can sometimes be hard to carry that feel onto record but Special Providence have nailed it with aplomb.

Rating – 80/100

Favourite Track – The Insane musical grooves of A Magnetic Moment.

Released 23rd October 2017.

Ryan Yard – The Nature of Solitude

Ryan plays in Rob Reed’s Sanctuary band and his solo album is mastered by Tom Newman of ‘Tubular Bells’ fame so it comes as no surprise that this two track (plus an edited Rob Reed mix) is an instrumental album that will appeal to fans of Mike Oldfield and Robert Reed himself.

However, to give his album a USP, Ryan created it using just an Ipad and a variety of apps (and a keyboard, of course!). It gives the music an organic and natural feel and was crafted without using click track as well apparently.

It is music that is easy to listen to, without falling into the pit of despair that is easy listening music. Add in Justin Towell’s excellent guitar work and you find yourself comparing it to the master and his apprentice and coming to the conclusion that while it does walk a fine line, the USP makes just enough difference for it to be complimentary and not a pastiche.

Rating – 67/100

Favourite Track – Well it really should be consumed as one piece so, the whole thing!

Released 15th September 2017.









Combination review – Panzerballet – Breaking Brain & Special Providence – Essence of Change by Shawn Dudley


fusion (noun) – a merging of diverse, distinct, or separate elements into a unified whole.

When venturing into conversations about experimental or hard-to-define musical styles I often find it beneficial to go back to the original literal definition of the genre name.

Fusion (the musical style) conjures a particular sound and a particular era, mostly the early 70s and bands like Mahavishnu Orchestra, Weather Report, Tony Williams’ Lifetime, Miles Davis’ electric bands, etc. A briefly exciting marriage of rock rhythms and jazz vocabulary that eventually got watered down through the corporate machine until it came out Smooth Jazz on the other end. Thousands of waiting rooms in dentist’s offices beckoned. But the sound of early 70s fusion is very much defined now, so I believe we’ve lost the focus on the diverse elements that went into creating that sound in the first place.

That 70s fusion sound can be heard on both of these albums, but it’s now just one ingredient among many again, it has returned to being an element of a larger whole.

Panzerballett and Special Providence have tackled a similar range of variables; combine various jazz styles and arrangements with highly technical, complex progressive metal. However, they’ve chosen their own individual approaches to attaining that merger.


(Picture by Uzziel van Baalson)

Panzerballett from Munich formed in 2004 and instantly made an impression with their insanely complex and often humorous cover versions of famous jazz and rock standards. Songs as diverse as Smoke On The Water, Giant Steps and Birdland (Weather Report) were dissected and reassembled in all kinds of imaginatively quirky ways. Classically trained bandleader Jan Zehrfeld (guitar) assembled a lineup of similarly schooled musicians including a full-time sax player and set out to play “jazz metal”. ‘Breaking Brain’ is their fourth full-length album and while the humorous elements still come into play, as a whole this is a more focused affair and features primarily original compositions.

Yes, their music is insanely complex and the music nerds have plenty to dissect and study here. But, they are so much fun at the same time, such an infectious spirit permeates these instrumental pieces that even non-musicians should find plenty to enjoy on ‘Breaking Brain’.

My attention is constantly drawn to the saxophone in their arrangements, an instrument that is still a rarity in the prog metal arena. The coloration offered by paring the saxophone with the tightly controlled prog metal arrangements really gives Panzerballett a unique sonic signature. Saxophonist Alexander von Hagke (who has toured with Asia) is an excellent player in the post-bop mold; I hear a lot of Joe Henderson and Michael Brecker influence in his playing. In fact, the music of the Brecker Brothers looms large in Panzerballet’s fusion bag; ‘Heavy Metal Bebop’ for the 21st century.

Highlights include the ferociously complex opener Euroblast, the excellent saxophone feature Der Saxdiktator and the “funk turned inside out and backwards” opus Smoochy Borg Funk.

The comical tendencies come through in the infectious Typewriter II where the rhythm of the piece is stated by the clicking and carriage returns of a manual typewriter.   The album also feature a couple interesting cover choices; Mahna Mahna from the late 70s TV series The Muppet Show and an insane reading of Henry Mancini’s Pink Panther theme.

As a whole ‘Breaking Brain’ is the most exhilarating and entertaining instrumental album I’ve heard in 2015 and I highly recommend it to the more adventurous leaning progressive rock and jazz fans.

Special Providence

Special Providence from Hungary released their first album ‘Space Café’ in 2007 and it was primarily a jazz fusion album with elements of funk and rock mixed in. It was on their follow-up record ‘Labyrinth’ from 2008 where they really started integrating progressive rock, instrumental rock, electronics and progressive metal elements into their arrangements.

‘Essence Of Change’ is their most streamlined release to date with a more defined approach to the overall sound. The whiplash-inducing shifts from rock to jazz on their prior album ‘Soul Alert’ were undeniably thrilling but it was probably a hindrance for the non-jazz initiated to warm up to. The jazz elements and compositional complexity are still definitely in place on ‘Essence of Change’, but they’ve now been more subtly integrated, which could be partially attributed to the addition of new keyboardist Zsolt Kaltenecker.

The album flows beautifully through a variety of moods and styles, every piece melodically engaging while also revealing further complexity on repeated listens.   The tracks work individually but I think the album is best experienced as a whole.

Guitarist Márton Kertész has to be mentioned here, because his assured playing permeates all these songs. A very tasteful player who possesses the chops for shredding and the restraint to only use them when absolutely necessary (which is a rarity in my experience).   That description also really works for the band itself; they never allow their obvious technical skills to take precedence over their compositions.

The highlights are many, with Kiss From A Glacier and first single Northern Lights being the standouts on the first half and the song cycle of Atlas Of You, I.R.P. and the lovely Darkness on the second half.

As a jazz fan for many years I tip my hat to both Panzerballett and Special Providence for showing that fusion is alive and well in the 21st century. It warms my heart to hear young musicians still exploring that vocabulary and finding new and interesting way to apply it to modern progressive music.

‘Breaking Brain’ was released on 30th October 2015 and can be purchased from:

‘Essence of Change’ was released on 30th March 2015 and can be purchased from: