Archive for the ‘prog’ Category

Album Review: Landmarq — Origins

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

It’s a bit of a head-scratcher when a collection like this crosses my desk: a retrospective of a band I’d never heard of. Origins is a career-spanning look at two distinct eras. The second (covered on the first disc) features a Clare Torry-sounding Tracy Hitchings fronting a band that sounds a bit like Spock’s Beard. The early material on the second disc features vocalist Damian Wilson. Only two members stuck around the whole time. Lots of Peter Bansk-ish keyboard work, which is always welcome in these parts. The D&D motif of the album is goofy, but the music is solid.

Follow “the_musoscribe” on Twitter and get notified
when new features, reviews and essays are published.

 

Album Review: Antoine Fafard — Ad Perpetuum

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

One doesn’t often think of melding progressive rock elements with jazz fusion; at least not if one wants to break even on an album release. But that’s the approach favored by bassist Antoine Fafard. Combining the best of (dare I say) smooth jazz with rock’s muscularity, Fafard is aided in his efforts by drummer Vinnie Colaiuta (Frank Zappa, Missing Persons) and, on one track, the multifarious Gary Husband (a frequent John McLaughlin collaborator and a jazz star in his own right). If Joe Satriani played keyboards and leaned a bit more in a jazz direction, he might sound like this.

Follow “the_musoscribe” on Twitter and get notified
when new features, reviews and essays are published.

Album Review: Marbin — The Third Set

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

Generally, I avoid reviewing more than one album by relatively unknown artists; even less often – never before, as far as I know – do I review two albums within the space of a year. But Marbin’s the real deal. Jazz-rock is a nearly meaningless term, so instead I might describe them as progressive rock band with jazz technique; they rock, and hard, but their precision is nothing short of stunning. And The Third Set is in fact a live album, combining studio production values with lots of feel and spontaneity. Dani Rabin‘s level of expression on guitar is stunning.

Follow “the_musoscribe” on Twitter and get notified
when new features, reviews and essays are published.

Album Review: Lucas Lee — Normalcy Bias

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

Some of those progressive drummers really get around; it seems as if Pat Mastelotto and Marco Minnemann are everywhere, and that they always involve themselves with fascinating projects. Pat’s the drummer here, but multi-instrumentalist Lucas Lee is the star of the show. He’s as skilled on classically-tinged piano as he is on menacingly distorted prog-metal guitar. The melodies are strong here, and the vocals (from the spoken news-chyron-esque “Justice Injustice” to the more conventional bits of singing on the remaining tracks) add a narrative element full of fear and paranoia to this mostly instrumental offering. It’s accessible without sacrificing ambition.

Follow “the_musoscribe” on Twitter and get notified
when new features, reviews and essays are published.

Album Review: Screaming Headless Torsos — Code Red

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

This charmingly-named outfit weds aggressive, metal-riffage styles to funk textures (a la Red Hot Chili Peppers), and some hip-hop vibe. The result is difficult to pin down, but it’s a mite compelling. Equal parts Metallica and Parliament/Funkadelic, this is easily one of the more boundary-pushing releases of this year. Pig squeal guitar, shouted choruses and alluring lead vocals are all blended together in an appetizing sonic stew. Unusual and not (by any stretch) easy listening, Code Red is well worth the effort it demands of the listener. This delightfully varied album heads in many directions, and it’s a thrilling ride.

Follow “the_musoscribe” on Twitter and get notified
when new features, reviews and essays are published.

Album Review: Leon Alvarado – Music From an Expanded Universe

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

The album cover art is an unashamed homage to H.R. Giger, so you might expect something foreboding, or at least challenging. The five-track album (one of which is a “bonus track”) is surprisingly understated, even with such able guests as Trey Gunn (King Crimson), and Jerry Marotta (David Bowie and many others). It’s a gauzy, nearly ambient recording that manages to convey a spectrum of emotions wordlessly. In places the album feels like Jean Luc Ponty‘s late 70s work (sans violin). On “Cinemania ‘Alive’” the energy level increases briefly. Think ambient instrumental progressive rock meets chillwave a la Zero 7.

Follow “the_musoscribe” on Twitter and get notified
when new features, reviews and essays are published.

Album Review: Modest Midget — Crysis

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

If the name makes you think of Gentle Giant, you’re on the right track. The album opens with a grand, sweeping intro that might remind you of Yes. This group swims in the melodic end of the progressive pool. Then it moves quickly into something reminiscent of an instrumental version of Queen or Supertramp. 70s prog touchstones abound on this album from Eastern European musicians (with classical- and jazz-oriented guests) guest. They occasionally recall Steely Dan, even. Dig their prog-ska cover of “Oh! Pretty Woman.” The mostly instrumental Crysis explores musical textures; it’s recommended for fans of catchy 1970s prog-rock.

Follow “the_musoscribe” on Twitter and get notified
when new features, reviews and essays are published.

A Career in FLUX: The Adrian Belew Interview

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

The music of electric guitarist Adrian Belew is tough to pin down, and he prefers it that way: “I don’t like to put titles on any of these brands of music,” he says. People like to have them, “But for the people making the music, it’s better not to have them.” Fine: if you’re not familiar with Belew’s music, perhaps a rundown of some of his more well-known credits will help: he’s toured and/or recorded with Frank Zappa, The Bears, Talking Heads, Nine Inch Nails, Tom Tom Club, and David Bowie. And for many years (1981-84 and 1994-2008) he played guitar, sang and composed in King Crimson.

But alongside all of those projects, the Nashville-based guitarist has maintained a solo career, and he has nearly two dozen album releases under his own name. Since 2006 he has led a group than fans dubbed The Adrian Belew Power Trio; the current lineup includes Julie Slick on bass, and drummer Tobias Ralph. Belew first learned of Slick while he was teaching a seminar at The School of Rock. “Julie was a graduate of the school,” Belew recalls. “Paul Green, the founder of the school, said, ‘You’ve got to hear these two students of mine.’ So Julie and her brother Eric played together. And that was enough for me!” The siblings rounded out Belew’s new trio; Eric Slick eventually left to join Dr. Dog, and was replaced by Ralph.

Julie Slick’s muscular, inventive playing has earned her critical plaudits, and she came to the widespread notice of King Crimson fans when she toured (with Belew and Ralph) as part of Two of a Perfect Trio, a six-person, three-act concert that eventually became what the King Crimson organization calls a “ProjeKct,” a side-project involving one or more members of Crimson. The TOAPT concert at the Diana Wortham Theatre was a highlight of the 2011 Moogfest.

King Crimson – with more than twenty musicians having passed through its ranks – recently concluded a new tour of its own. Members come, go, and sometimes return, depending on what founder Robert Fripp has in mind at any given time. Presumably, the door is left open for former members to return to the active lineup. “I think that is the way Robert Fripp views it,” says Belew, carefully measuring his words. “I’m not sure it’s the way I view it. I don’t know if there is any future for me in King Crimson. Now that I’ve been sort of outside the band and watched it walk by, I’m a lot less interested.”

With his Power Trio, the man dubbed the Twang Bar King (also the title of his 1983 album), Belew has plenty to hold his interest. Each night on the current tour (which brought them to Asheville’s New Mountain on December 3rd), the three musicians build their pieces based on a new Belew concept he calls FLUX. “It’s the first time we’ve tried this,” Belew explains. “We’re doing things in a different format: sometimes we don’t play the complete songs. We play a portion of them, and they’re interrupted by something, and then we go to the next song. So in our evening of music, we can play something like thirty different pieces.” Belew describes this approach as a “really good way to move the pace of the show, and to give the listener and viewer a look at my whole career.”

The FLUX concept began its life as a mobile app. Belew just completed a successful crowd-funding campaign for FLUX, and the app debuted November 25th. When I try to compare FLUX to previous projects by Todd Rundgren (1993′s No World Order) or Brian Eno, Belew stresses that his project is very different. “This is not computer-generated music,” he explains. “This is music that I make beforehand – hundreds of bits and pieces – and they line up differently with themselves, and with the visuals that accompany them.” FLUX is an ongoing project, and Belew will regularly add more new music into the app. The idea with the interactive FLUX app – and, by extension, the live music of The Adrian Belew Power Trio – is that “music is never the same thing twice. I think that because people process things so much quicker now, the world is ready for this,” he laughs. Asked about his next project after this tour, Belew says that he’s very excited about it, adding, “I’m not allowed to talk about it. All I can tell you is that it involves film.”

An edited version of this feature appeared in the Nov. 26 issue of Mountain Xpress.

Follow “the_musoscribe” on Twitter and get notified
when new features, reviews and essays are published.

November Hundred-word Reviews, Part 1

Monday, November 10th, 2014

Once again, it’s time for a run of hundred-word reviews. My inbox has been overflowing of late, and even after removing the material that I deem not worth my time (nor yours), I’m left with far too many discs to cover in my customary manner (500-800 word reviews). So herewith are twenty-five –count ‘em, twenty-five – brief, to-the-point reviews. The first five are reissues of albums originally released in the 1970s (with one late ’69 title slipped into the mix).


The Ides of March – Vehicle
You know the title song: it’s the one you were sure was by another, more well-known artist. “Vehicle” is the 70s answer to The Knickerbockers‘ “Lies.” And like Head East‘s Flat As a Pancake, hardly anyone has heard anything beyond the single. But the other tunes on this ten-track LP (newly reissued with four bonus tracks) show that this, er, Chicago-based band had a pretty wide breadth of style in their bag of tricks. Not all the tracks are horn-laden, either. Some interesting covers (CSN, Jethro Tull, Beatles) and some tasty lead guitar work make this album well worth re-discovering.


The 5th Dimension – Earthbound
After their string of hits, The 5th Dimension began to tire of their soul-meets-MOR formula. This album – long out of print – was an attempt to try something new. Commercially, it was largely a failure, yielding no hit singles and barely scraping the album charts. But this Jimmy Webb-produced album (with Larry Coryell on guitar!) is a surprisingly varied affair, with some gems waiting to be discovered. Though the opening title number is syrupy and mawkish, “Don’t Stop For Nothing” is some deep funk. And the group’s inventive reading of The Beatles‘ “I’ve Got a Feeling” is excellent. Groovy.


Ian Matthews – Stealin’ Home
Though he was a one-time member of Fairport Convention, on this solo LP – the most well-known of oh-so-many – Matthews is in soft-rock mode. The songs here sound like a softer version of Alan Parsons Project: flawlessly performed, arranged and recorded, full of catchy melodies. Nothing here rocks – not by a long shot – but nearly every track sounds as if could have been a radio hit in the late 70s (“Shake It” was indeed). Fans of that laid-back Southern California sound (see also: Fleetwood Mac, Stephen Bishop) will dig. A live ’78 concert adds nine bonus tracks.


Zephyr – Zephyr
The career of guitarist Tommy Bolin is looked upon as one of promise largely unfulfilled. His solo albums have some great moments, but remain spotty; his posthumous outtake collections show he had plenty of talent and ideas. This album – originally released in 1969 – is his earliest recorded effort. Though the group is sonically dominated by husband-and-wife duo David Givens (bass) and Candy Givens (histrionic, Janis Joplinesque vocals), Bolin does get the chance to strut his stuff on some lengthy numbers. If one can get past the vocals, Zephyr is a very good album in the Big Brother mold.


Renaissance – Scheherazade and Other Stories
Arguably, British “progressive” music has long drawn from a different set of influences than its North American counterpart. Renaissance built their music upon a foundation that was equal parts classical and European folk. With the five-octave voice of Annie Haslam as its central focus, the group made gentle yet ambitious music. Scheherazade remains the high water mark of the group’s 1970s output. This new reissue doesn’t add bonus tracks or liner notes; what it does instead is present the album in SACD format, an ideal move for a record that featured crystalline production (by the band themselves) to begin with.

20 more capsule reviews to come.

 Follow “the_musoscribe” on Twitter and get notified
when new features, reviews and essays are published.

DVD Review: Ian Anderson – Thick As A Brick Live in Iceland

Monday, October 27th, 2014

In 2012, Jethro Tull leader Ian Anderson mounted a tour to promote his latest solo album, Thick As a Brick 2: What Ever Happened to Gerald Bostock? The tour and album both represented a high point in the recent musical activity of the ever-busy Anderson.

I saw the Asheville date of that tour in my hometown, and got the chance to interview Anderson for a print feature in advance of the performance. At the time, however, I reviewed neither the album nor the live show. This new DVD (also available on Blu-Ray) is a document of the show, which is in part a document of the album.

While in the last several years, Anderson’s flute playing has actually improved (we discussed that in our first interview, back in 2007), his vocal ability hasn’t fared so well. In fact, a 2010 DVD (Jethro Tull – Live at Avo Session Basel) vividly illustrates what the ravages of time have done to Anderson’s pipes). Still, as the Thick As a Brick 2 album shows, his songwriting and arrangement skills (and, again, his flute playing) remain sharp, reliable tools.

It is clear that Anderson realizes his strengths and weaknesses. And his solution to this set of challenges is nothing less than inspired: he’s added a new character to the onstage lineup. The Yorkshire-born Ryan O’Donnell was born in 1982, the same year Jethro Tull released their fourtten studio album, The Broadsword and the Beast; around the time of O’Donnel’s fifth birthday, Tull received the dubious honor of a Grammy Award for “best heavy metal album.”

But while the young O’Donnell may not have grown up during the classic era of Jethro Tull (arguably 1970-77), his demonstrably understands and appreciates the Tull aesthetic. Leaping about the stage in a most theatrical fashion – and freed from the demands of having to play an instrument – O’Donnell is able to convey not only the sound of his voice (and let it be said that his vocal texture and phrasing are very similar to that of Anderson in his prime), but the movement and visual flourishes so critical to the narrative of Thick As a Brick 2.

O’Donnell’s onstage presence allows Anderson to have it both ways: he can play his delightful flute parts – including ones that overlay the vocal lines, something he’s obviously never been able to do before now – and he can sing the parts of his signature vocals that lie within his diminished range. And with O’Donnell’s help, it all sounds as good as it possibly can.

Thick As A Brick 2 picks up the story of the child character Gerald Bostock, now fully grown and full of modern malaise. Onstage, Anderson and his team make full use of video clips at key points in the story; these – starring Anderson in one of several character roles – show that in addition to his myriad other skills, the sixty-something Anderson is a fine and natural actor.

Thick As A Brick 2 is full of humor, sarcasm, wit, drama…and lots of good music. Similar to the approach used on the original 1972 Thick As A Brick, the work is presented more or less as a single piece (yet with its sections distinctly titled), and is built around a central musical motif. But unlike, say, Roger Waters‘ three-note riff that represented most of Pink Floyd‘s 1979 The Wall, the Thick As A Brick 2 motif is at its core quite musical, and involved enough to sustain its use across an entire album.

The 2012 performance in Iceland is – by design – nearly identical to the performance I witnessed that same year in Asheville. The choreography dictates that this is so. The first half of the performance is a live reading of the 1972 album; after a brief intermission ,the band returns to present Thick As A Brick 2. And while when I first heard the modern-day sequel (studio version), I sensed that it paled somewhat in comparison to the ’72 album, when the two pieces are performed live, end-to-end, Thick As A Brick 2 benefits greatly. It’s a worthy successor to its predecessor. And with the flawlessly performed, filmed and (courtesy of King Crimson‘s Jakko Jakszyk) audio-recorded DVD Thick As A Brick Live in Iceland, fans of Anderson and Jethro Tull are presented with a must-have purchase. And that’s no mean feat for someone like Anderson, producing vital works some 45 years after releasing his debut album. If you like anything you’ve ever heard from Anderson, you definitely won’t want to sit this one out.

Follow “the_musoscribe” on Twitter and get notified
when new features, reviews and essays are published.