Archive for the ‘prog’ Category

Patrick Moraz: MAPping Out the Future, Part Two

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015

Continued from Part One

Bill Kopp: Speaking of Moog, the K2000 dates from the period when Dr. R.A. (Bob) Moog was doing work for Kurzweil; he actually created many of the sounds for the K2000.

Patrick Moraz: Even farther back – in 1975, forty years ago! – I had recorded the backing tracks for The Story of I in Brazil. Sixteen percussionists recorded on twenty-four track tape. Bob was in Buffalo and had developed the Polymoog. And he came with it to me and to Keith [Emerson]. And in the first three weeks of [that] September, I was able to invite Bob and his [first] wife [Shirleigh] to the villa where I was staying in Geneva. So he was with me for the first three weeks of the recording sessions for I. Some of the sounds you hear were very, very enhanced by his genius tweaking, so to speak. Bless his memory; he was a very, very good friend.

I remember [Bob Moog's work on the K2000] very well! Because at the time – and even in 1985, before Bob Moog came to Kurzweil – I was one of their very first endorsers. At the 1985 NAMM show in Anaheim, I was representing Kurzweil. At that time I played Mozart‘s “Concerto #13 in G” [whistles melody], and I recorded all of the sequences note by note, just exactly. And I had learned the flute part by heart. I played it at the big party for Kurzweil. Ray Kurzweil and I have remained friends ever since.

I love Kurzweil keyboards; I still have three of them, including a K2500, and the new PC3. And I have the my old sounds saved. What I like about Kurzweil is the touch of their keyboards. For me, it feels very good, because it has a lot of possibilities and dynamics: pre-touch, touch, and aftertouch.

And on this album with Greg Alban [MAP: Moraz Alban Project], I was able to include some licks exactly the way they were played, not edited afterward or anything like that. I was born in Switzerland, a country known for its precision, for making the trains arrive to the minute when they were supposed to arrive. And the precision of the watches. So I grew up in that very precise environment.

When I was thirteen, I broke my right arm. And six weeks later when I was getting the cast removed, I was offered a pair of roller skates! So of course my friends came with two bicycles and a rope, and they said, “Okay, try your roller skates!” And I did, and I broke the four fingers of my right hand. My hand still shows the architecture of that accident. I was told by some of my teachers – I was preparing to be a competitor in a classical music competition – “You will never play classical music.”

But not only was I able to train my left hand, to learn “Concerto for the Left Hand” by Maurice Ravel, I was able to compose more and more of my own music. Which I was unable to play!

BK: We’ve touched upon this a bit already. One of the things that I find appealing about the Moraz Alban Project album is that while the music is rooted in fusion/progressive styles, there’s a strong emphasis on memorable melodies. That’s something that’s often lost in ambitious music of the progressive type. When you’re composing, is the idea of a “hook” central to your goals?

PM: Absolutely. It’s such a natural process. I was fortunate – I thank God all the time…or whomever’s up there or out there in the universe – when I started choosing the sort of life I was going to lead. I was fortunate to play with some very good jazz musicians; some very famous ones, and some less-famous ones. And then as I progressed – I had a trio at the time – the two agents that worked on my behalf helped me learn about the strength of melody. Learning to play standards – “Autumn Leaves,” “’Round Midnight,” “Blue Moon” and so on – really helped me. The agents told me, “Patrick, if you want to succeed in your music – whether you’re playing, or composing for another band who will play your music – always make sure that there is a very strong and memorable melody.” It should be based on between three, four, seven notes. But it must be memorable. And then you can do whatever you want with it after that; it doesn’t matter, because the melody is what the people remember.

One must remember that when you compose your music, you are alone with yourself. But when people hear it for the first time and after, they only hear it maybe three time a year! And they want to remember something, and that’s the melody. So I always remember that.

BK: Are there any plans for live dates to promote Moraz Alban Project?

PM: Not only are we discussing and planning how we’re going to do that, because we’re all players – and if I may say so, we’re playing our asses off – I’m also planning to do some concerts by myself. More than ever, I’m back in the saddle to record. I have multiple projects in the pipeline, and they will come out as they come out. I also have some classic music in preparation, and some other new stuff that’s going to knock your socks off.

But yes, to answer your question precisely, we’re in the planning stages to do some MAP live dates. Not only promotional dates, but proper concerts.

BK: I know that one of your projects in development is a symphony in four movements…

PM: I’ve always been interested in composing larger and larger works, and this project – which has been in development for years now – is called A Way to Freedom. I don’t want to talk too much about it; I want to keep it a surprise. But what I can tell you is that it’s not just one CD, one album. It’s a bunch of different works for myself at the piano, with a band, with a trio, orchestra and choirs. That’s why it’s taking so long. In this kind of work, you can never say exactly when it’s going to be ready.

I have other symphonic works [in development] as well, including the completion of my “Children’s Concerto” for orchestra. I’ve added some orchestral colors to it…but I like to keep some mystery about what I’m doing!

I have also been expressing myself by writing poems, either in French or in English. And I’ve already recorded some of them. And I’ve almost completed a double CD with my other group in Switzerland; that’s going to come out..probably not this year or next year, but after that. I have at least two other albums schedule to come out. But for now, MAP is taking priority. I’m extremely interested in its development. I’m involved in the promotional aspect of it, which I’ve never been able to do [before], really. Not for, what, forty years? [laughs]

Note: Here, the “official” part of our interview ends. But our conversation continues, and Patrick Moraz relates a story he believes I might find interesting. He’s correct.

PM: One day, I was at the NAMM Show; maybe twelve years ago. And I met Mr. [Ikutaro] Kakehashi from Roland. I had been endorsing for Roland at the time for many years in different countries. We eventually came to talk about the Octapad MIDI electronic drum that Roland came out with in 1985.

I just happened to tell him that in 1975, I invented an ancestor of the Octapad – and I used it on my first solo album, The Story of I – and it’s even in the promotional video that was done in ’76. It had ten pads, and it was analog and digital at the time. It didn’t have a sequencer. The guy who built it did so to my specifications and design. And he also built a sequencer that had eight tracks of ten thousand notes each. And we hooked those two machines together for the recording of I. There are even some old tapes lingering of experiments I did with it.

So when I told Mr. Kakehashi that I didn’t patent my idea, he said, “Oh, Mr. Moraz, you should have patented it!” And he said, “Come with me.”

The same night he took me to the Roland warehouse, and he said, “Mr. Moraz, this is for you.” And he gave me one of the first electric, MIDI – but sounding very acoustic – harpsichords. It’s called the C80. And I still have it in my studio!

[At this point, Moraz walks away from the phone, across the room to where the C80 is set up.]

And it’s still the first thing that I play each day!

[Moraz proceeds to perform a roughly one-minute piece on the Roland C80 harpsichord, live, over the telephone, for his audience of one.]

I love that instrument! When I put the light on in the studio, it comes into my path before going to the other instruments. It has the shape of a harpsichord; it’s beautiful. And the sound of that instrument is absolutely staggering.

BK: With the studio and the various projects we’ve discussed, it seems that you’re busier now than you’ve ever been.

PM. Yes. Because my children are grown up, and because I’m not committed, contracted yet – yet! [laughs] – to tour with a big band with my music, I have more time. And I’ve developed a very interesting studio here in Florida. And I was asked to play on the Cruise to the Edge; I was supposed to play two concerts, but the promoter asked me to play an extra piano concert, which I of course accepted very, very excitedly. Because I love to play something spontaneous and impromptu; that’s the last bastion of our emotional humankind expression.

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

Patrick Moraz: MAPping Out the Future, Part One

Monday, October 5th, 2015

Quick: name a famous Swiss rock musician.

Okay, a few of you might be able to name-check Celtic Frost, Brainticket, or Yello. But for those who aren’t hopeless music nerds, there’s pretty much only one answer: Patrick Moraz. The keyboard virtuoso first came to fame – in the rock idiom, anyway – as a member of Yes from 1974-1976. After a couple of years as a solo artist, Moraz played with The Moody Blues from 1978 to 1990.

But his esteemed career extends well before – and well beyond – those two high-profile rock gigs. Before joining Yes, he was a member of progressive rock trio Refugee, alongside two ex-members of The Nice, Lee Jackson and Brian Davison. And even before all that, the classically-trained pianist had a thriving (if not yet world-renowned) career as a jazz artist. His 1976 solo debut album, The Story of I, is highly regarded as an early example of the synthesis of progressive and “world” music.

He has released more than twenty albums since that debut – including two with acclaimed drummer Bill Bruford – and remains very busy with composing and performing. His latest release is MAP: Moraz Alban Project. A collaborative effort with American drummer Greg Alban, the album exclusively features music, themes and arrangements by Moraz.

The keyboard legend currently lives in Florida. I recently chatted with him about his life, career, new album, and future plans. What follows is an edited transcript.

Bill Kopp: I’ve long been a fan of keyboard-based music that makes use of then-current technology. But one of the traps into which that kind of music can fall is having a “dated” sound. For example, when you hear a Synclavier, it pretty much screams very early 1980s. And the Mellotron, my favorite instrument, is associated with the late 60s and early 70s. How do you approach technology in a way that avoids creating something that will sound “stuck in time” a few years down the line?

Patrick Moraz: The nature of your question is very interesting. As you know, Moraz Alban Project is not a solo album; it was commissioned by my very good friend Greg Alban. And the music I wanted to compose, I didn’t want it to have too many sounds that were completely out of this world. Because the music is fairly simple…well, it depends for whom [laughs]!

How I approach keyboards: of course I’m always into the newest technology, but I always keep a foot not only in the past, but in the legacy of sonic hierarchy, if you will. In terms of acoustic instruments [like] harpsichord, organ, and percussion instruments from Africa and Brazil, in the last few hundred years we’ve had them sounding better and better and better.

Drummer Greg Alban
Even nowadays in terms of sampling instruments, nothing will replace the real McCoy, so to speak. But they’ve really improved. At the end of the day, music is music. A sound is a sound. But creating it – using those sounds, and here I’m talking about modern technology – are artists like Isao Tomita. Even now, fifty years into this sonic hierarchy, I feel able to produce amazing sounds, whether they are completely analog, analog and digital, or sampled. It’s a world; no, it’s more than a world: it’s a universe!

Creativity is about combining these in within a state of dynamic tension, creating a balance between the extreme forces of sounds from five thousand years ago and modern synthesizers built one or two years ago. To be able to combine these, and also to play live with a drummer, a bassist and so on, really knocking doors down, that’s what it’s about. It’s about people playing at the height of their ability, at the highest level of information transfer. To put it mildly! [laughs]

BK: So Greg Alban asked you to compose music to which he could add drums. Can I take that to mean that you composed, arranged and recorded the music, and then he went in and added his drum parts? Or did the sessions unfold some other way?

PM: No, no. No. Some other way. It was a balance between the two. We played together and jammed and so on. The music was composed, first and foremost. Actually I composed more than [the] nine pieces – at least fourteen pieces – and then I let him choose the ones that felt the most comfortable. And when I say “comfortable,” I’ll tell you what: he took the challenge to play the drums on “Jazz in the Night,” which is such a challenge for a drummer. Because although one can tap your foot to it in 4/4, it’s never really in 4/4. He said [to me], “I’d rather not read the music; I’d rather not even write it down. I’m going to listen to it.” He’s very good. Absolutely fantastic.

Greg and I and [bassist] John Avila, we can now play that music with our eyes closed! We can play it the way it is [written], but we can also jam. And that’s what we will do for the next album. We are really, really determined to put out a bunch of albums together. We had so much fun making this album, and we still have fun listening to it now!

BK: You’ve worked in many idioms – progressive, fusion, jazz, and world music. When you’re composing music, do you approach it from a point of view such as, “Okay, now I’m going to write some music destined for a world music project”? Or do the works sort of tell you, “this is what kind of music we are”?

PM: Not at all. Really, in that respect, psychologically and artistically speaking, having paid my dues, I’m still learning and being influenced.

One day when I was sixteen, I met John Lewis from The Modern Jazz Quartet. He was in Switzerland for a concert and a sort of masterclass. And he told me, “Patrick, I love the way you play, and the way you understand music. You are not [held back] by any boundaries or barriers. Your mind can assimilate and express a lot of different ideas. And I’m urging you to carry this on further, and to listen to the music of the world, and interact with the people [who make it].”

Since then, I was fortunate enough to go to Africa three times, when I was still very young. 1952, 1953 and so on. And after that I went to Japan with a very good friend, and I was chosen as musical director for a ballet with a band that [included] four percussionists and eighteen lady dancers. We toured the whole Far East. That really helped me, not only to assimilate, but to become comfortable in every kind of musical idiom. Well…maybe not every, but quite many!

I also met Pierre Boulez when I was very young, and met Karlheinz Stockhausen several times in the studio. And that’s where I got the knack to learn everything I could about synthesis and contemporary music, whether symphonic or on an individual basis.

What I”m saying here is that I’m really comfortable in many idioms: I love Armenian music. I love polyrhythms. I love Buddy Holly. For this album, I wanted to make it palatable. For some people it might sound complex; for others, it may sound extremely easy. “Canyon Afternoon,” for example, I composed in only one take. I played it with the guys, and that’s how it came about. The other pieces – like “The Drums Also Solo” – that’s one I had in mind for a long time. When I used to play with Bill Bruford, we used to have a great piece with a drum solo, composed originally by Max Roach. I admired Roach so much, because at the time he was playing with the top jazzers of his time. I was fortunate enough even to jam once with him…

But anyway, Bill had a piece called “The Drum Also Waltzes.” Having recently seen that extraordinary movie Whiplash, one realizes how intense and difficult [it is] to play drums in any kind of capacity. It’s ironic that near the beginning of the movie, they have the scene with the famous jazz drummer Buddy Rich. He says, “If you can’t play jazz, just join a rock ‘n’ roll band.” I have a very good friend of mine, Jacob Armen – on whose album I played a piece called “Cachaça” [originally on The Story of I] – and his album will be out very soon…I don’t know when. He played a “drum battle” with Buddy Rich when he was eight! So when I saw that Buddy Rich line in the movie, that really made me laugh. Because, I’ll tell you what: at the end of the day, it’s the feel and the beat, and a band is only as good as its drummer. And sometimes it’s very good to have the beat laid down very simply, not with millions of notes. (Though that’s good too.) Parts of this work with Greg show that very simple things can be [expressed] with a beat that is able to be followed by the general population of listeners.

BK: I know you make extensive use of Kurzweil keyboard gear. I have a K2000 myself. The sounds that come with the keyboard are pretty good; when you’re looking for a specific sound, do you use a preset, tweak an existing sound, or start from scratch? Put another way, do you enjoy the technological side of things – the development of sound textures – as much as you do composing and playing?

PM: Absolutely. I don’t use presets; all the sounds that I have, I’ve created myself. If a pianist plays piano, he has his own style and his own sound. When I play synthesizers, I can have much more advanced sounds, but I can also have my own vocabulary of sounds which I have preserved and tweaked. I learn [how to program each synth] from scratch.

So you have a Kurzweil K2000?

BK: Yes.

PM: That’s like Smithsonian piece! A piece that will never go away. Like a Minimoog. Or a Stradivarius violin.

Click to continue

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

Album Review: Cary Grace — Tygerland

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

Depending on the manner in which one learns about Cary Grace, the music on Tygerland may come as a surprise. An American expatriate now living in the United Kingdom, Grace is a keen synthesist. So much so, in fact, that she owns and operates Wiard, a company that hand-builds modular, analog synthesizers. You know: the twiddly-knob, patch bay looking beasts that require a lab coat and advanced degree to operate. I kid about the prerequisites, of course. But analog synths are not for the faint of heart.

Well, there’s of course much more to Grace than that. She has collaborated with other musicians of repute, and has a number of production credits on her résumé. She also produced and hosted a music podcast (currently on hiatus), and in 2015 she self-released her sixth solo album, Tygerland.

The disc’s title track opens with some jarring, heavily distorted blasts of noise from a synthesizer; that quickly gives way to some sonic textures more readily associated with space rock (think Saucerful of Secrets-era Pink Floyd, or the more keyboard-oriented exponents of 1970s krautrock). There are even hints of seagulls a la Floyd’s “Echoes.” But to characterize “Tygerland” as musique concréte would be doing it a disservice; it’s a textural, moody piece that serves as an effective opener for the music to come.

“Cyanide” features more conventional rock-oriented instrumentation; the track’s soaring guitars wouldn’t be out of place on a Steven Wilson album. But those guitars and the electronics that preceded them don’t prepare the listener for Grace’s strong, assertive vocals. Mixed pleasingly out front, her singing is controlled, assured, and expressive. Some listeners might hear bits of Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane) in Grace’s pipes; for some reason I’m led to think of Shocking Blue‘s Mariska Veres. “Cyanide” rock hard in an early 70s way, yet it sounds positively modern. Timeless might be a better adjective. Grace’s sturdy songwriting provides a highly melodic base for her lyrics, but leaves plenty of space for the instruments to shine.

The analog synths return on “Orange Sky.” Loads of carefully-placed delay are applied to the percussion and to Grace’s voice on this elegiac tune that drips of melancholy. With its mention of the legendary crossroads, the lengthy (but not overlong!) “War Child” feels like a modern rethink of blues; were it not for Grace’s gender, the tune would fit comfortably into the macho rock mold; as it is, the track – with delightful use of electric piano and phased/wah-wah guitar – will please those who enjoy the classic-retro stylings of Siena Root.

“Limelight” takes things in an entirely different direction. It’s a smoky, sultry, understated number that burns slowly. The sinewy lead guitar fills between Grace’s verses provide a nice contrast, and the shimmering keyboard runs suggest raindrops hitting the surface of a lake (yeah, I dunno why; they just do).

The contemplative “Razorwire” starts off with assertively chorded “lead” bass guitar. Here, Grace delivers her lyrics in a high, airy tone that suggests The SundaysHarriet Wheeler; among other things, the track serves to point out the range and expressive palette of Cary Grace’s vocal abilities. “Razorwire” is perhaps the most 90s-alternapop sounding track on this varied disc. Graces’ vocal overdubs – sparingly used on the album overall – are a highlight here.

“Into the Indigo” is a subtle, minor-key track, making effective use of its relatively minimal arrangement. Into that space comes some lovely violin work, answered (again subtly) by picking guitar lines. Meanwhile, Grace sings of tales of Helios, chariots, and symphonies. Halfway through the song, the instruments break free, as the violin and guitar engage in a mighty battle.

“Windsong” is Tygerland‘s final track, but it’s also the album’s longest at over twenty minutes. Befitting the electronic music pedigree of its creator, the work unfolds slowly, delivering menacing, faraway-sounding musical textures, sometimes of indeterminate origin. After five minutes of instrumental scene-setting, Grace recites her lyrics as spoken poetry. Behind her, instrument skitter in and out of the mix, adding to the overall feel but never getting in the way of Grace’s recitation. Gradually, the instruments throb forward in the mix, seeming to force their way out front. Twelve-plus minutes in, they take over, and “Windsong” becomes a heavy, hypnotic psychedelic piece somewhere between The Doors‘ “The End” and some of Amon Düül II‘s best work. For the remainder of the track, vocals and instruments compete; eventually, Grace’s voice trails off, but it’s as if she’s done so on purpose, retreating rather than surrendering to the krautrock-flavored swirl of electrics and electronics.

Adventurous yet melodic, Tygerland is one of 2015′s more interesting releases.

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

Hundred-word Reviews for September, Part 7 of 8

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015

Today features hundred word reviews of archival and reissue releases from American and overseas labels.

The Brecker Brothers – The Bottom Line Archive

This is the latest from the new series of releases documenting soundboard recordings from one of New York’s most famed nightclubs. The label’s web site claims the archive contains over a thousand recordings; most of the titles to date have leaned in a singer/songwriter direction, but this set is a notable departure. The funky, adventurous jazz of The Brecker Brothers (Michael on saxophone, Randy on trumpet) will, for rock listeners, echo the best work of Chicago and Steely Dan. But these guys were stars in the jazz worlds, and their band was simply on fire this night in March 1976.

Various – Stranger Than Fiction: Rockabilly Rules Again

The rockabilly subgenre enjoyed a brief resurgence of popularity in 1970s United Kingdom. Thanks in part to (or at least reflected by) the success of films like 1973′s That’ll Be The Day (starring David Essex, madman Keith Moon, and one Richard Starkey), rockabilly classics from the past were unearthed and revived. This three-disc set from Fantastic Voyage collects no less than 104 of these tunes from American artists, and only hardcore fanatics will recognize any of the acts featured herein. It’s a consistently enjoyable set, and Dave Penny‘s fine liner note essay takes an unusual approach to discussing the material.

The Beatles – As It Happened: Classic Interviews

The life and music of the Beatles – collective and individually – are among the most well-documented in all of pop music (pop culture, for that matter) history. This four-disc set compiles interviews (and excerpts of interviews) spanning nearly thirty years. John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison each get a disc; Ringo Starr shares his with others in the Beatles orbit (Brian Epstein, Derek Taylor, Yoko Ono). Some of it is lifted from the old LPs Hear the Beatles Tell All and The Beatles Story. It’s a bit clumsily edited and somewhat padded (needless modern-day introductions) overall, but worthwhile.

Lucifer’s Friend – Awakening

There was a curious micro-trend in the late 60s: American and British bands relocating to West Germany. Texas jazz rockers Sweet Smoke did it. So did British musician Roye Albrighton with his group Nektar. And John Lawton‘s band Lucifer’s Friend was formed 1970 in Hamburg. This 2CD set presents old and new music from them. Disc One showcases the 70s era band’s heavy, hard rocking side, very much in a Deep Purple style. (The group’s progressive-leaning 70s material is largely sidestepped.) The second disc features very good current-day material that sounds like Uriah Heep with an orchestra backing them up.

John Wetton: Anthology Volume 1: The Studio Recordings

Though he rose to fame as bassist-vocalist in a number of important and noteworthy bands (Family, Uriah Heep, King Crimson, Roxy Music, Asia), John Wetton didn’t begin a proper solo recording career until 1980. This two-disc set collects his favorite cuts from his six solo albums. Wetton’s strong sense of melody and powerfully expressive voice can enliven even the dullest material, and since most listeners who will enjoy this haven’t actually heard most of it, it’s recommended to fans. Arrangement-wise, a lot of the songs recall Asia; those interested in Wetton’s progressive side will find Anthology a bit less interesting.

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

Hundred-word Reviews for September, Part 3 of 8

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015

Still more hundred-word reviews. Today’s collection features shredding instro-rock, and, well, other kindsa rock as well.

Aristocrats – Tres Caballeros
Speaking of Marco Minnemann, he’s also part of power trio The Aristocrats. He’s behind the drum kit while Guthrie Govan handles (or, shall we say, shreds) guitar and Bryan Beller holds down the busy bottom end with his bass. This is muscular music that deftly straddles the line between look-at-me solo showoffery and tight ensemble playing. Which is just as it should be for an instrumental trio. There’s an off-kilter musical sensibility that, at times, is reminiscent of Frank Zappa‘s late 70s and early 80s work, but The Aristocrats never quite sound like anyone else. Beats the hell outta Chickenfoot.

Rhys Marsh – Sentiment
Marsh is part of a musical universe that includes Tim Bowness (No-Man). The Norwegian multi-instrumentalist is involved in a number of musical projects; this solo album is merely one of several projects of his. The handiest musical reference point for Marsh’s solo album might be Porcupine Tree – vocals and lyrics are the album’s prominent focus – but his writing isn’t always quite as hook-filled as Steven Wilson‘s. Lots of real Mellotron adds a nice, suitably dark texture. “Pictures of Ashes” is one of the disc’s most memorable tunes, with lots of shade, light and musical texture. A worthwhile listen.

Mandala – Midnight Twilight
And here’s Rhys Marsh yet again, joined by Will Spurling (percussion) and bassist Francis Booth. Mandala rocks harder than Marsh’s solo disc, and there’s an early 70s heavy power trio vibe (Blue Cheer, Black Sabbath) that’s leavened only by Marsh’s soaring and slightly mannered vocals and his keyboards. With its lovely string section work, “The Dark Waltz” is a highlight, and overall, the song quality is a notch or two above what you’ll find on Sentiment. When Booth gets the chance – which isn’t often – to showcase his skills, he shines. Spurling’s precise-yet-splashy drum work perfectly suits the music.

The Aaron Clift Experiment – Outer Light, Inner Darkness
Violin isn’t the most common instrument used to expand rock’s sonic palette. Save for Jean Luc Ponty‘s 70s fusion outings and perhaps Kansas, it’s simply not widely used in rock. And while The Aaron Clift Experiment‘s core lineup is a semi-standard rock setup, nearly half of the tunes on this album feature violin. And it works, adding a yearning, melancholy vibe that plays well off the soaring guitars and melodramatic keyboards. Clift’s impassioned vocals are the cherry on top. Tricky, prog-leaning rhythms are beaten into a melodic form, so meant-n-potatoes rock fans can dig this as much as progheads will. [ORDER HERE]

The Shrike – s/t
The Rorschach-inspired cover art begs the question: what do you hear in the music? Imagine Metallica fronted by Pat Benatar, maybe. Strutting, macho rock textures with assured female lead vocals. You won’t find a less-likely looking collection of musicians anywhere this side of Cheap Trick. But it’s the music that matters, and for those who Just Wanna Rock, The Shrike might just be the ticket. There are enough solo bits to satisfy the air-guitar-wielding listener, and the snaky riffs will stick in your head long after the disc finishes its spin. There’s a dark, angsty tinge to the lyrical content.

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


Hundred-word Reviews for September, Part 2 of 8

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

More hundred-word reviews. Today it’s progjazz, prog-rock, and rock rock.

Lorenzo Feliciati – Koi
Rare Noise Records can reliably be counted upon to release challenging, outsider-flavored music that leans toward, jazz, avant-garde, and/or progressive directions. Koi is Lorenzo Felicati (basses, guitars, keyboard and more), Alessandro Gwis (keyboards and computers) and percussionist Steve Jansen. But they’re joined by various horn players and (on one track) King Crimson drummer extraordinaire Pat Mastelotto. The musical vibe is sinister yet atmospheric and tuneful, and it’s more accessible (that is to say less avant-garde) than many Rare Noise offerings. Think of it as bop-jazz influenced music (with a touch of space-rock) played on modern, state of the art instruments.

XaDu – Random Abstract
If you want to know about interesting new music (generally in progressive rock/jazz idioms) being made in southeast Asia and other non-USA locales, your first stop should be Leondardo Pavkovic‘s MoonJune Records. The artists in Leonardo’s stable are as prolific as they are skilled, and they often team up in various collaborative efforts. Two artists I’ve covered before – Xavi Reija and Dusan Jevtovic – come together to make this free-form work displaying the power of rock, the grandeur of prog, and the precision and exploratory nature of jazz. Drums and guitar duos don’t usually pique my interest; this does.

Landmarq – Roadskill: Live in the Netherlands
This long-running progressive act from the UK has largely flown under the radar for most of their existence. Their music deserves a wider audience, and clearly somebody knows who they are, as this live disc demonstrates. Tracy Hitchings is one of relatively few female lead vocalists in the progressive idiom, and while her pipes are vaguely reminiscent of Annie Haslam (Renaissance), the musical backing rocks harder (and a tad more interestingly) in a sort of Spock’s Beard kind of way. The special edition features a 78-minute concert CD plus a DVD that adds two tunes plus interviews and other goodies.

Kinetic Element – Travelog
Five long tracks – the shortest is a shade under ten minutes; the longest, more than twice that – make up this disc. The four-piece group is made up of some decidedly not-young musicians, but their sound is delightfully timeless progressive rock. Kinetic Element are and instrumental outfit, but they bring in guest vocalists for each of the tracks. That said, the pieces are still primarily instro in nature. Those who enjoy the slow burn of epic prog – think YesClose to the Edge more than Tales From Topographic Oceans – will enjoy this delightfully adventurous yet accessible set.

Marco Minnemann – Celebration
One of music’s busiest, most in-demand players has somehow found time to write, play and record a solo album. And Celebration is a solo set in the truest sense of the word: save a bit of spoken-word on one track, everything you’ll hear on this disc is Minnemann. If Joe Satriani made a progressive rock record, it might sound something like this. Metallic guitar and drums push up against vibes, synthesized horns, and uber-heavy, bone-crushing bass lines. Imagine 70s-era Jean-Luc Ponty putting down the violin and picking up a really bad attitude. Thrillingly out-there, tuneful, endlessly varied and thus unclassifiable.

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

Album Mini-review: District 97 — In Vaults

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015

File next to: Spock’s Beard, King Crimson

This band has been busy. With the unlikeliest of vocalists – American Idol contestant Leslie Hunt – they nonetheless kicked the door down into progressive rock, and proceeded to cut a live disc with one of John Wetton, one of the genre’s icons (King Crimson‘s 1974 Red pretty much invented the genre of prog-metal, and hasn’t been bettered since). On this, their fourth album, they dial back the classical trappings of their earlier material, but keep the melodic quotient high. Those who insist that prog can only be done properly on the Atlantic’s Eastern shores clearly haven’t heard D97. Hunt is a stunningly expressive vocalist; as such, she can hold her own amidst tricky time signatures and the slashing, angular chording that is part and parcel of modern prog. With extensive use of vocal harmonies, In Vaults deftly balances melody with the adventurism that fans of the genre demand.

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

Album Mini-Review: Todd Rundgren/Emil Nikolaisen/Hans-Peter Lindstrøm – Runddans

Friday, August 14th, 2015

File next to: Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, Tangerine Dream

This would be noteworthy if only for the fact that Todd Rundgren rarely collaborates with other artists (Utopia, Ringo’s All-Starrs and that one Residents album excepted). And Rundgren rarely visits musical territory he’s explored previously. But on Runddans, he does both. Those who prefer his pop-centric side (Something/Anything being the exemplar) might find Runddans a bit meandering. But listeners who enjoyed Initiation, Healing, and/or the quirky A Cappella will simply delight in this. Runddans is mostly instrumental, but when Rundgren does sing – wordless vocalizing on “Solus” and proper singing on the “Put Your Arms Around Me” suite – it’s deeply soulful and redolent of 1975′s “Born to Synthesize.” One can draw a straight line from A Wizard/A True Star to the delightful yet dizzying cut-and-paste psychedelic arrangements found here. And Todd’s guitar work on this lush, warm disc will conjure memories of pyramid-themed stagecraft and ankh-shaped instruments. A triumph.

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

Six Years of Musoscribe: King Crimson

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

My retrospective continues on this, the sixth anniversary of my Musoscribe blog.

One of my favorite groups – like so many others, I discovered ‘em during my college years – is King Crimson. The pioneering progressive rock band that started in England is, these days, an Anglo-American outfit. One of the very few musical acts that consistently loves forward – no nostalgia for this lot – King Crimson rarely sound like the same group from album to album. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to interview (and in some cases, even meet) several current and former members of the group. (Of course when a band has had so many musicians pass through its ranks, one could argue that the odds are in my favor.) Not counting the time when Robert Fripp complained on his own blog about something I wrote, I’ve collected quite a Crim-related mass of writings. Herewith:

The Crimson ProjeKct

While KC was on one of its many hiatuses, three members of the group put together a double-trio that performed King Crimson material. Originally called Two of a Perfect Trio, they later became an officially-sanctioned Crim extension and dubbed themselves The Crimson ProjeKct. Here’s my feature/interview with Adrian Belew, Tony Levin, and Pat Mastelotto. (And here’s more.)

Adrian Belew
Belew is no longer involved in King Crimson; his attention is now applied to his solo career and (sometimes) the ProjeKct. I interviewed him in 2014. Here’s my Adrian Belew interview.

Pat Mastelotto
Pat Mastelotto is also in another Crim-related group, Stick Men, with Tony Levin. I interviewed Pat in 2013.

Tony Levin
Levin is one of the busiest men in music; I chatted with Tony about his Levin Brothers project in 2014.

Trey Gunn
Gunn played guitar in King Crimson alongside Robert Fripp for several years. Here’s my interview with Gunn, focusing more on his solo work.

John Wetton
Wetton was King Crimson’s bassist and vocalist in the mid 1970s, a time during which the group recorded and released what might be their best album, Red. Here’s my interview with John Wetton.

Greg Lake
King Crimson’s first vocalist/bassist went on to greater success with Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer. But when I interviewed Greg Lake, we talked about King Crimson, too.

Steven Wilson
Wilson has been at the center of King Crimson-related activities these last several years. His Porcupine Tree bandmate Gavin Harrison is one of three(!) drummers in the current Crim lineup; he’s borrowed the band’s original Mellotron for use in his own music; and he’s heading the remix/remaster/reissue project of the Crimson catalog. I’ve interviewed Wilson multiple times; this interview focuses on his King Crimson-related work.

I have also reviewed a number of King Crimson (and related) albums and videos. Here’s a rundown; I may well have missed some, but this list is close to complete. (All King Crimson except as noted.)

More of these reminiscences to come.

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

Hundred-word Reviews for July 2015, Part 2

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

Five releases from five acts from five different countries (Poland, The United States, Germany, Belgium and Sweden) are the focus of today’s brief reviews.

Lunatic Soul – Walking on a Flashlight Beam

Bassist/vocalist Mariusz Duda seems to be taking a cue from the astoundingly busy Steven Wilson; he’s involved in several musical projects all at once, and each is both unique and very worthwhile. His primary band, Riverside, has been slightly less active of late (new album coming later this year), but as Lunatic Soul, Duda has released four albums. Walking on a Flashlight Beam continues the project’s avoidance of electric guitars, and Duda sings and plays everything except drums. The music is ambient-leaning melodic progressive rock; it’s deeply textured and contemplative music that holds up well to active listening. DVD included.

Hildegard – Hildegard
I’ve occasionally wondered why hardly anybody has come up with music that spans the divide between accessible, electronic-leaning vocal pop and more adventurous progressive-minded rock; it seems as if that could – if it’s done right – be a winning combination. To my delight, I’ve found that such a thing does exist. And it comes from an unlikely place: New Orleans. Hildegard is guitarist Cliff Hines and vocalist Sasha Masakowski, and on their self-titled debut, the seamlessly blend a dizzyingly wide variety of musical styles. The subtle, quieter moments are a slow burn; the many rocking parts do indeed rock.

Camouflage – Greyscale

It’s my firm belief that the musical styles of the 1980s aren’t all used up; while the MTV era gave us untold amounts of by-the-numbers synth-pop and -rock (and then moved on to other things), there’s a lot that can be done with the musical tools and aesthetics of that period. The cool synthesizers of that period represented the gradual displacement of analog by digital machines. On Greyscale (their eighth studio release), Camouflage continues their winning approach of sturdy, moody music. The German group’s sound suggests a less bloodless Human League, or a less melancholy Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark.

Brainticket – Past Present & Future

Originally a (sort of) krautrock band of the early 1970s, Brainticket released two of the odder entries in the genre, 1971′s Cottonwoodhill (reissued in 2013) and 1972′s Psychonaut. The prime mover of the group was keyboardist Joel Vandroogenbroeck. Now it’s more than forty years later, and while everyone else involved with the 70s lineup is long gone, Belgium-born Vandroogenbroeck has enlisted members of non-German krautrockers Hedersleben to craft a new album. Past Present & Future features hypnotic works a la Ummagumma-era Pink Floyd; it’s dreamier and less insistent than the early stuff, and thus more accessible. Quite enjoyable and recommended.

Last Days of April – Sea of Clouds

It’s a peculiarly American perspective to think of ourselves as the center of the pop-culture universe. But the truth – of course! – is that there’s some great pop coming from places that don’t have English as their primary language. As I’ve just now discovered, Sweden’s Last Days of April is one of these acts. They’ve been around for two decades, and their sound is one that should please American ears. Singing in non-accented English and featuring simply lovely use of pedal steel guitar, they trade in an engaging, hooky, country-flavored timeless pop. A serious contender for best of 2015.

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