The Progressive Aspect

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Last year I reviewed Sada, the second collaboration between the Spanish jazz fusion and RIO guitarist Ángel Ontalva and members of Russian psychedelic space-prog rockers Vespero. I made the comment that I have enjoyed several of their releases, but somehow missed their first collaboration. Needless to say, after thoroughly enjoying Sada, I did indeed go back to sample the delights of Carta Marina (2018). One of the tracks on that album I enjoyed the most was Sea Orm, so it probably comes as no surprise that when I saw that this third collaboration between Ángel and Vespero was made under the name Seaorm, my interest was piqued even more than it might have been otherwise. The reason for this is presumably because Seaorm includes only two members of Vespero, and I hope it is also because this trio will continue to make further releases under this name – because Olkhon is a fabulous album!

I’m somewhat indebted to Asian Death Crustacean, too, as their 2020 release Baikal led me to read more about this great lake, so that I recognised the names Olkhon, Lusud-Khan, Angara and Shaman Rock. That recognition and knowledge, along with the cover art, the name the trio had given to themselves, and the musicians that made up that trio, all added up to a whole heap of excitement and anticipation for an album I’d not yet heard a single note from. I was aware that I already had such high expectations, I might well be disappointed. Of course, you will have gathered already that this was far from the case.

If we consider Lake Baikal to be an inland sea, then Lusud-Khan is the Sea Orm that inhabits it. An orm is a serpent or dragon, and Lusud-Khan is the mysterious monster that is said to inhabit Baikal. It provides an eerie, almost primeval opening to Olkhon, and fluid, watery notes that are reminiscent of Sea Orm from Carta Marina, before moving into an almost post-rock groove with eastern notes reminiscent of Asian Death Crustacean’s Baikal – which came as a complete surprise to me. Now there’s absolutely no way Asian Death Crustacean could have had any way of knowing what Seaorm would sound like, and I am quite sure the members of Seaorm have no knowledge of Asian Death Crustacean. So what this says to me is that both bands have done a terrific job of giving a sonic description of Baikal. Even though they are completely unrelated releases, I can’t help but think of Baikal and Olkhon as being yin and yang, and (respectively) physical and spiritual descriptions of the lake, the land, and the people of the Baikal region.

(As I can not find a video for any track from the new album, I figured the original Sea Orm is the next best thing.)

But I should probably return to the music of this release. Walking on Water is almost the antithesis of the swirling depths of Lusud Khan. Given any religious sense in this album comes from shamanic rather than Christian imagery, I presume this is more a reference to being able to walk on water, as much of Baikal freezes enough to enable one to do just this. It’s a pleasant and upbeat number, which manages to sound magnificently windswept, thanks to instrumental theatrics. Indeed, the use of the instruments to portray the weather is one of my favourite aspects of this album, as it gives a real sense of place. On this track, and throughout, Ontalva’s guitar playing is sublime, and definitely deserves greater recognition. I love the tone of his playing.

Tail of the Dragon immediately sounds more mystical again, and has an almost Krautrock feel to it. (I said almost!) I love the insistence of this number, and already – only three numbers in – the variance in sounds, moods and textures is amazing. Of course, Baikal is a vast expanse, so we should expect the musical soundtrack to it to be equally vast. I swear I can almost hear the eagles of the cover art on this track. The percussion is sharp and snappy. Beware this dragon’s tail! Is the dragon Lusud-Khan, or is it the dragon whose tail is said in some stories to be have created the lake? The latter seems more likely, but if I’m honest I don’t really feel like I need to know. I just like to enjoy the ride.

Rather than the ice circles the song is named for, Ice Circles reminds me more of the circular ripples that spread out from a stone thrown into water, growing bigger and further out. It just seems to become bigger the further through it one gets. There’s certainly no sense to me that the track is going to become as great as it does, from its relatively humble (and beautiful) beginnings. It takes the melancholic opening to Demons to bring me back to earth. Though I’ve not mentioned Ark and Ivan Fedotov yet, they definitely do provide a lot to Seaorm. You cannot say that this is just Ontalva’s vehicle (indeed, though I’ve not yet listened to it, there appears to be an earlier version of this album credited to Ángel Ontalva and Ark Fedatov, called Shaman Rock.) Ivan Fedatov’s drumming in Demons is definitely impactful and enjoyable. This carries on into Kiss of Betrayal, where the rhythm section provides vital tension.

There are hundreds of rivers that run into Baikal, but only one that flows from it – Angara, said to be the sole daughter of Baikal, when the lake is personified. Depending on which version of the tale one reads, it has either a happy ending, or a sad one. Seaorm’s depiction seems to favour the sad, but this is some of the most beautiful melancholy you will listen to. Short and sweet. I love it. A Stake In Her Soul isn’t much longer, but couldn’t sound more different. Is this stake in her soul Shaman Cliff, which stands at Angara’s source, as a permanent reminder of her father’s wrath? Again, like Tail of the Dragon, I don’t care to reconcile the ambiguity. There is magic in retaining a little mystery, and A Stake In Her Soul is definitely magical: compelling and enchanting.

Thus we end at Shaman Rock, which could be either the aforementioned Shaman Cliff, or Shamanka Rock on Olkhon – formerly known as Shaman Rock. Given the title of the album, the latter makes more sense, but coming after the twin tales of Angara and A Stake In Her Soul, a case could be made for the former, too. The answer is probably revealed in the cover art, and I could probably look up photos of the two Shaman Rocks of Baikal to see which is depicted. But, as you’ve probably guessed, I don’t actually want to know the answer. Almost every number on the album has the potential for dual meanings, and I revel in the ambiguity this provides. I love the mystery and the magic, and the way the music can be interpreted in different ways. It’s suitably shamanic and spiritual, leaving listeners to take from it what they wish. I sincerely hope Seaorm is not a one-off, for on the basis of Olkhon, I definitely want to hear more of what this trio can offer!

01. Lusud-Khan (5:50)
02. Walking on Water (4:16)
03. Tail of the Dragon (4:48)
04. Ice Circles (7:05)
05. Demons (4:50)
06. Kiss of Betrayal (6:12)
07. Angara (2:08)
08. A Stake In Her Soul (3:21)
09. Shaman Rock (6:57)

Total Time – 45:27

Ángel Ontalva – Guitar, Loops
Ark Fedotov – Bass, Synths, Sampler, Drum Machine, Typewriter
Ivan Fedotov – Drums

Record Label: octoberXart
Countries of Origin: Spain/Russia
Date of Release: 28th December 2020

Seaorm (Ángel Ontalva) – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp

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Released in the summer of 2019, Organic Noises’ eponymous debut album was an absolute stunner, an opinion which, a year and half later, shows no signs of diminishing. This Polish ensemble hit all the right notes, for me, with their intriguing combination of ancient and modern ethnic sounds, mixed together in an energetic, modern progressive format. Or as the band put it: “Our music is a creative combination of Eastern European and Armenian traditional themes with jazz, fusion, rock and progressive genres.”

reCreation Live was recorded early last year, shortly before the Covid apocalypse struck planet Earth. The concert captures the band live in front of an attentive and receptive audience at Klub Zascianek in Kraków, on the 22nd February if we want to be precise.

All matter of fact thus far, so… how do the band fair in the live environment? The concert opens with Yarkhushta, and the first thing that struck home was that Organic Noises omitted the wonderfully haunting Intro, which I would have considered to be an excellent opening. Also missing is the more orchestrated opening of Yarkhushta and here on reCreation Live the track, and concert, kicks in with solo, acoustic guitar tackling the intricate motif. Not what I expected at all, but impressive none the less. The band pick up the complex rhythms, adding in the labyrinthine themes – notably Joanna Chudyba’s violin and Zofia Trystuła-Hovhannisyan on reeds, immediately stamping authority on proceedings.

Initially, I found myself comparing this live version of Yarkhushta to the studio version and feeling a little deflated. Grossly unfair, I know, and perhaps a re-think was needed on my behalf. We shall return to this supposition later…

But before moving ahead a quick glance through the credits indicated that, with two omissions and one inclusion, the band remains the same. Reassuring indeed.

The familiar pizzicato strings and ‘folkier’ introduction of Erghen Diado brings an immediate smile. The interaction between Zofia (oboe) and Joanna Chudyba (violin) is magical. In fact, the whole arrangement is magical, taking the jazzier elements of the original and breathing new life into it, which is more suited to this intimate live environment.

Returning to 2019 and the track that initially attracted me to Organic Noise’s debut was the mystical Hoondz. Zofia’s superbly haunting duduk set against the oddly metered fiery rhythms sent shivers down the old vertebrae. Anticipation was therefore very high for this live version.

And now is possibly the right moment, then, to return to that earlier comment. Perhaps if the title of the album said ‘unplugged live’ I would have got it sooner. But there again, why should it? It’s not unplugged, just re-arranged versions for an intimate setting. Of course, there may be be an indicator in the album title “reCreation” live. 😉

Hoondz live focuses more on the haunting aspect of the original, and a superb re-working it is too. The intricacies are still present, but the overall flavour of the piece is atmospheric.

Whilst we are here with Hoondz, it did flag another ‘concern’ about reCreation Live, and often during the listening process for this review, I felt compelled to return to Organic Noises’ debut. One thing I was constantly reminded of, from their debut, was the contribution of keyboards player Karolina Wiercioch, who was so integral and truly shone throughout. So her absence from this live performance was a concern. Ultimately, and as wonderful as it might have been for her to be there, Organic Noises’ have so skilfully transformed the tracks that her absence is not detrimental.

And it is the band’s ability to effortlessly combine atmospherics and complexity on an ever-shifting musical landscape which so intrigues. Starting with Maciek Salus’ cyclical guitar, the beast that is Pozic Mamo is a prime example. The pounding rhythm section shines through here and the ever versatile Zofia not only plays the zurna, but also goes on to perform the intense vocal that concludes the song. Now, mindful that the concert is chock full of wonderful performances, and it would all be too easy to continue to highlight, I feel it might start to do the band a disservice. For what struck home most about this particular concert was the band’s interconnected, holistic approach – the re-working of Dle Yaman yet another prime example.

Breath is a new song, and I say song as it is one of the few times that Organic Noises employ vocals, the vast majority of their music being instrumental. Zofia steps away from the duduk and offers a fine vocal in this bright and breezy track. The middle instrumental initially brings guitarist Maciek Salus to the forefront, and a tremendous addition he is to the band’s line-up, whilst the remainder of the track sees the whole band bouncing off each other.

The uptempo Lorik closes out this all-too-brief live album. The infectious melody gradually gives way to allow brief solo sections from the band. The sort of thing that can be over-indulgent and tiresome, however each solo here is succinct, individual and doesn’t outstay its welcome. Only drummer Janek Rusin misses out…

A wonderful performance, by a wonderful band.

If you missed the band’s debut album, I would certainly recommend you checking it out on Bandcamp. Oh… and while you’re there you might as well add reCreation Live!

01. Yarkhushta (5:32)
02. Erghen Diado (4:35)
03. Hoondz (7:54)
04. Pozic Mamo (8:33)
05. Dle Yaman (8:04)
06. Breath (5:27)
07. Lorik (9:21)

Total Time – 49:26

Zofia Trystuła-Hovhannisyan – Duduk, Oboe, Zurna, Shvi
Joanna Chudyba – Violin
Maciek Salus – Guitar
Marcin Chatys – Bass, Moog
Janek Rusin – Drums

Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: Poland
Date of Release: 21st November 2020

Organic Noises – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp

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In 2017, the long-awaited autobiography of singer/bassist/composer/producer Greg Lake was finally released. Unfortunately, too late for the protagonist to experience himself: “Gregory Stuart Lake died of cancer on Wednesday December 7, 2016 at the age of 69, a few months before the release of his biography.” I myself was able to write an obituary about the man, who was so important in the creation and popularisation of two legendary bands: King Crimson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

Lake tells his story in a polite, typically English way, and as much as possible without harming others or shocking people. It is the famous story of a young man who is completely under the spell of music and does not seem suitable for anything else. Fortunately, he can earn a living with his music and more than that, he is destined to play a role in musical history. Strangely enough, he skips through his childhood quite quickly, the usual school bands and the tough learning curve of touring get a bit more attention. In that sense there is not much difference from other rock biographies.

It starts to get more interesting when the creation of King Crimson, with his good friend and fellow guitar-school student Robert Fripp, is discussed. And then, of course, the founding of ELP, together with the other two icons. The excesses remain relatively untouched, although we have quite a different picture of that period from other sources (see: Emerson’s autobiography Pictures of an Exhibitionist). Much attention is paid to the period in which they collaborated with a full-scale symphony orchestra and all the money that went with it, eventually leading to near bankruptcy.

The commercially less successful period that followed, the solo years and collaborations with others are also a topic. It wouldn’t hurt him much, c’est la vie. The chapter about the death of fellow musician/band member Keith Emerson is touching, as is the report on his own impending end due to terminal pancreatic cancer. Also worth mentioning is the eulogy of manager and lifelong friend Stewart Young, after the death of the protagonist.

Lake’s writing style is a bit like the man himself: kind, almost gentle, contemplative, articulate, and always polite. Whether that is actually his true character remains a bit of a mystery. In the aforementioned Keith Emerson autobiography, he comes across as more businesslike and ambitious than in his own story, perhaps the truth lies somewhere in the middle. The story is entertainingly written and Lake manages to hold the attention for the full 230 pages, without being earth-shattering. Just like the author himself.

You can read Alex Driessen’s review of the The Anthology: A Musical Journey double album HERE.

Publisher: Little Brown Book Group
Author: Greg Lake
Date of Release: 29th June 2017

Greg Lake – Website | Facebook

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Anthology literally means ‘selection’, the best an artist has to offer. Usually a tribute to the artist and, more often, after his/her death. Unfortunately, that is also the case with Greg Lake’s The Anthology: A Musical Journey. It is the definitive career-spanning ‘Best of’ the protagonist of this story, featuring music from King Crimson, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Lake’s solo career plus some rare recordings from his early days in 1967 and 1969 with The Shame and The Shy Limbs, respectively.

The Anthology comes as a deluxe 2CD hardback set and as a double vinyl with gatefold cover. Inside, an extensive essay by the well-known (rock) author Chris Welch (Yes, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin) is illustrated with a large number of never before published photos. In addition, there are contributions from ELP manager Stewart Young and the woman Greg Lake has been married to for 40 years, Regina, as well as many heartfelt tributes from friends, artists and colleagues.

After being invited to join The Gods, with future Uriah Heep members Ken Hensley and Lee Kerslake (both recently deceased), Lake accepted an invitation from Robert Fripp to join King Crimson in 1969, as bassist and singer on their first two albums, In the Court of the Crimson King and In the Wake of Poseidon.

He left in 1970 to found supergroup Emerson, Lake & Palmer, with which he gained worldwide fame, and later started a successful solo career in the ’80s. And I must not forget the iconic Christmas song I Believe in Father Christmas from 1975, which even hit number two in the charts.

Lake died in December 2016 at the age of 69 after a battle with cancer.

A number of things are noteworthy about the collection of songs on this album. First of all, there are a considerable number of live versions. The compilers have apparently preferred the greater dynamics that live songs harbour. It is also an ode to the stage animal, which Lake certainly was. Convinced of his own qualities as a musician but also as an entertainer, he often rose to great heights on various world stages. Appropriately, the choices for live versions are In the Court of the Crimson King, 21st Century Schizoid Man, The Great Gates of Kiev, Tarkus VI, I Talk to the Wind and Karn Evil 9

In addition, the number of melodic, romantic songs by his hand is striking, often with an acoustic or “folky” approach. Funny actually: he always thought he was responsible for the rock side of ELP, as a counterbalance to keyboard player Emerson’s classical and orchestral influences. And then being mainly known for and associated with extremely melodic but sometimes soft ballads and easy-listening songs, how ironic.

Remarkable, too, there’s hardly any compression, avoiding grinding everything down to one sound level, thus benefitting the dynamics. A striking and courageous choice that is rarely made nowadays.

The golden voice of yesteryear changes over time. Not only in terms of timbre, but also in range: starting out as a baritone, but becoming more of a bass towards the end of his career. No problem: there is plenty to enjoy, the Voice is iconic and easily recognisable.

Lucky Man, also the title of his 2017 autobiography (for a reason) in many ways marks a crossroads in his long and successful career. The song that Lake wrote at the age of twelve, which was to serve as a filler for the 1970 debut album Emerson Lake & Palmer, became a worldwide hit, not least because of the legendary, improvised contribution on Moog keyboards by companion Keith Emerson. And that is precisely what does the trick: it took the music to a higher level, the sum of the parts was clearly greater than the underlying. Fortunately, Lake acknowledged this fact, despite all the egos involved.

Later collaborations, also present on the album, like Paper Blood and Touch and Go, lack this special sparkle, and drift more in the direction of what I would call “power-prog”, powerful and effective but less special. Anyway, everyone is entitled to their own preference.

The album set starts with Peace – A Beginning and ends, appropriately, with Peace – An End, both from the unbeatable second King Crimson album In the Wake of Poseidon. In between, supply remains varied with heavily orchestrated pieces (C’est La Vie, Lend Your Love to Me Tonight), Fleetwood Mac-like songs (Black and Blue) and tear-jerking ballads (Daddy, Affairs of the Heart, Haunted), plus a series of AOR songs that, although high in quality, could have come from a bunch of random bands/writers (Slave to Love, It Hurts). But there are also brilliant, timeless classics like Still… You Turn Me On and From the Beginning. Too many to mention.

Extra compliments for the packaging, a beautiful booklet with countless photos and no less than 62 pages of info. It is wonderful to read the prose of veteran rock author Chris Welch who provides a wealth of information, even if the contents of Lake’s aforementioned autobiography is still vivid.

Of all 33 songs on the double CD, (the LP contains only 21 songs), one track has never been released, at least not until this version: Closer to Believing dates from 2016 and is the so-called ‘final version’ of this song, originally on the fifth ELP album, Works Vol. 1 from 1977. But that does not detract from the material on offer. The Anthology: A Musical Journey is an excellent album that does justice to the talent of Greg Lake. He would have gladly watched approvingly from behind his cloud, with an affable smile, thoughtfully strumming an acoustic guitar.

You can read Alex Driessen’s review of Lucky Man: The Autobiography book HERE.

CD One:

01. Peace – A Beginning (0:53)
02. Don’t Go ‘Way Little Girl (Single Mix) (3:05)
03. Love (Single Mix) (2:58)
04. The Court of the Crimson King (Live at the Fillmore West, San Francisco, USA, 15th December 1969) (6:49)
05. Take A Pebble (2012 Remaster) (12:32)
06. Lucky Man (2012 Remaster) (4:37)
07. The Only Way (Hymn) (2012 Remaster) (3:52)
08. Oh My Father (2012 Stereo Mix) (4:06)
09. The Great Gates of Kiev (Live at Newcastle City Hall, 26th March 1971 – 2012 Remaster) (6:04)
10. From the Beginning (2015 Remaster) (4:13)
11. Trilogy (First Section) (2:27)
12. The Endless Enigma (Part Two) (2015 Remaster) (2:02)
13. Still… You Turn Me On (2014 Remaster) (2:52)
14. Epitaph from Tarkus: vi. Battlefield (Live, 1973/74) (4:53)
15. I Believe in Father Christmas (2017 Remaster) (3:34)
16. Closer to Believing (Final Version, 2016) (6:13)

CD Two:
01. C’est La Vie (2017 Remastered) (4:19)
02. Lend Your Love to Me Tonight (2017 Remaster) (4:04)
03. Watching Over You (2017 Remaster) (3:55)
04. For You (2017 Remaster) (4:29)
05. Black and Blue (3:59)
06. It Hurts (4:29)
07. Haunted (4:50)
08. Slave to Love (3:23)
09. Touch and Go (3:40)
10. Affairs of the Heart (4:05)
11. Paper Blood (2017 Remaster) (4:29)
12. Daddy (2017 Remaster) (4:43)
13. The Sage (1994 Studio Version) (2017 Remaster) (3:12)
14. 21st Century Schizoid Man (Live at Hammersmith Odeon, London, 5th November 1981) (9:03)
15. I Talk to the Wind (Live from the ‘Songs of A Lifetime Tour’, USA, 2012) (4:32)
16. Karn Evil 9 1st Impression – Part 2 (Live at Teatro Municipale, Piacenza, Italy, 28th November 2012) (5:26)
17. Peace – An End (1:53)

Total Time – 145:16

King Crimson: CD One (1 & 4) | CD Two (17)
The Shame: CD One (2)
The Shy Limbs: CD One (3)
Emerson Lake & Palmer: CD One (5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,,13,14 & 15) | CD Two (1,2,3,4,9,11,12 & 13)
Greg Lake: CD One (16) | CD Two (5,6,7,8,14,15 & 16) | CD Two (14,15 & 16)
Emerson Lake & Powell: CD Two (9)
Greg Lake & Geoff Downes: CD Two (10)

Record Label: BMG
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 23rd October 2020

– The Anthology: A Musical Journey (2020)
– Live in Piacenza (2017)
– Ride the Tiger (with Geoff Downes) (2015)
– Live from Manticore Hall (with Keith Emerson) (2014)
– Songs of a Lifetime (2013)
– Greg Lake Live (2007)
– From the Underground II: Deeper Into the Mine (2003)
– Nuclear Attack (2002)
– Live (2000)
– From the Underground: The Official Bootleg (1998)
– The Greg Lake Retrospective: From the Beginning (1997)
– King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents Greg Lake in Concert (with Gary Moore) (1995)
– Manoeuvres (1983)
– Greg Lake (1981)

Greg Lake – Website | Facebook

This news story was originally published here:

Once again, hot on the heels of the wonderful Cathedral with Tom Doncourt, the doors of Mattias Olsson’s Roth Händle Studios swing wide to release new sounds into a grateful world. He really is on a roll at the moment and Molesome might be the project most suited to his widely eclectic experimentation.

This fifth Molesome album is so very different to what has gone before. It’s a concept album, but as with everything Mattias does, all is not what it seems… it’s about “everything you are trying not to pay attention to. The junk in between. The stuff that gets caught in your spam filter.” The detritus of everyday life, rather than widescreen big-picture themes, from “scratched up CDs in the back of your car… soggy takeaway menus on your windshield… the buzzing of your cell phone, an expired gift certificate and that questionable passport photo you didn’t use. The line between the lines.” Are You There? covers a similarly wide variety of textures and tones. Do not expect a homogenous whole that remains in the same zone throughout, this is bigger than that, it goes where the small bits of life go, blending a multitude of strands together to produce a fascinating journey through the unexpected.

The music, often originating from Mellotron ostinatos, is intended to be listened to as a single 50-minute suite, its eighteen component parts ranging from less than a minute to more than four, a collage of sound that avoids the abstract, with melodies and rhythms that get under your skin, blended with electrostatic sounds. As can be seen from the instrument list below, Mattias and co-conspirator Hampus Nordgren-Hemlin have dug to the very back of the instrument cupboard for this one – the kitchen sink almost certainly features at some point.

The whole as an entity is indeed where the magic lies, another to sit back in the dark and absorb. Let it just happen to you rather than trying to seek definitive meaning or directed purpose, but that is not to say that it is scattershot – it isn’t. The attention is focused on making the multitude of sounds work together.

A delicate glockenspiel and piano melody emerges from the electro-beat intro with a sweeping backdrop of archaic synths. From this compelling start, sing-song Japanese narration, which appears here and there through Are You There?, an inscrutable way-marker on a vague journey. A series of longer parts takes in driving drums and fuzz bass, in a punky new wave style, and an interlude of piano with deliciously woozy vocals from Trinidad Carillo, integrating wonderful cello from David Keller to give a strange and beautiful atmosphere. With the focus on melody, this is in no way a difficult listen, there is much to savour with no obtuse beard-strokery. It’s light and often fun, with true depth for the inquisitive mind to explore.

Rhythmic percussion suggests Bowie’s Fashion, a groovesome melody of guitar and cello emerging, culminating in a rolling and engaging vocal from Wendy McNeill. Shorter pieces take in riffs of multi-tracked vocals accompanied by tinny keyboard melodies into ’60s guitar and congas in a sunny calypso. Tiger Olsson offers a happy, sighing vocal before a warm yet sad interlude of oboe and acoustic guitar. Mellotron flutes float around the stereo separation with lightly ringing percussion and harmony vocals that hint at Björk.

Electric guitars offer dirty tones with a delicious harmonic edge, opening into a restrained and beautifully arranged full-band section that moves to a spinning rhythmic dance of synths and electronics. There’s a lovely swing to the drums as previous tunes re-emerge, guitars taking the lead. A strange interlude of cycling keyboard patterns and intoned vocals becomes a homely melody, slowly building with hypnotic grace, a broken rhythm melding the disparate parts to striking industrial effect. Tiger’s unusual vocal cadence becomes more like a ‘normal’ song, pierced by shrieks of guitar amid Mattias’ striking widescreen experimentalism.

Finally, sawing string rhythms support repeating synth phrases over slow drums, a cello moves into sweeping and gloweringly epic soundscapes. There’s a futuristic feel, a phlanging wobbliness seeping into an outro of distant radio (akin to Molesome’s Dial album), delicate percussion and Mellotron, dreamlike and relaxing, drifting you to a warm and cosy sleep.

It’s a wonderful amalgam of strings, voices, electronics, synths and percussion, atmospheric but with tons of foot-tapping melody, a particularly engaging form of experimentalism, beautifully mixed and presented. With Molesome, Mattias has created a fascinating and mobile world that can go wherever his imagination wants it to, you’re always going to be surprised by the sheer variety of sounds deployed, and the unexpected places they take you as the familiar is moulded into unfamiliar forms.

And I love it.

Are you there?, comprising:
01. You & Me (Intro) (2:13)
02. Spacestation Funeral (1:33)
03. Alphabat (4:05)
04. Naturales (4:13)
05. Being Kate (4:35)
06. Blues soaked hope (3:44)
07. Spirits (0:55)
08. Long Island (2:33)
09. The second voice (0:40)
10. Vernon (2:09)
11. Urge (3:30)
12. Tim (Original Soundtrack) (3:45)
13. Voice (2:24)
14. The Supreme (1:38)
15. Iceman (3:19)
16. Boxes (4:04)
17. Sport Bag (1:25)
18. Sorrow (Outro) (3:06)

Total time – 50:02

Mattias Olsson – Mellotron, VCS3, Flame Synth, Mother Modular System, Casio Vl-1, Bandmaster Powerhouse, Talk Box, Dhruva Box, Speak & Spell, Electro-Harmonix Mini-Synth, Space Drum & Super Replay, Boss DR-220e, Roland CR-78 & TR-707, Persephone, Optigan, Philicorda Organ, Drums, Percussion, Glockenspiel, Xylophone, Drum Machines, Clap Trap, Turntables, Electric Bass, Electric & Baritone Guitars, Bass Marimba, Hohner Guitaret, Tubular Bells, Timpani, Radio
Hampus Nordgren-Hemlin – Grand Piano, Mellotron, Electric Bass, Acoustic & Electric Guitars, Korg Minilogue, Arp Odyssey, Electro-Harmonix Mini Synth, Casio SK-1, Koto Synthesizer, Vocoder VP-330+, Fender Rhodes, Roland JV 1080, Schiedmayer Celeste, Malmsjö M500 Organ, Vibraphone, Hohner Bass 2 & Guitaret, Microkorg, Baldwin Orga-sonic, Fender VI, Moog Minitaur, Rickenbacker 6-string, Electric Sitar, Hammond L-100, Clavioline, Vako Orchestron, Yamaha CP-30, Toy Piano, Musser Ampli-Celeste
Valter Kinbom – Shakers, Timbra, Tamborim, Cuica, Blocks, Darbouka, Frame Drum, Cowbells, Congas, Guiro, Triangle, Additional Percussion (tracks 1,5,8 & 12)
Trinidad Carillo – Vocals (tracks 4 & 10)
David Keller – Cello (tracks 4,5,8,14,16 & 17)
Anthony J. Resta – Guitar Solo (track 5)
Wendy McNeill – Vocals (track 6)
Tiger Olsson – Vocals (tracks 8 & 15)
Martin von Bahr – Oboe (tracks 9 & 13)
Mai Tanaka – Narration

Record Label: Roth-Händle Studios
Country of Origin: Sweden
Date of Release: 9th January 2021

Mattias Olsson – Facebook | Bandcamp

This news story was originally published here:

For all the great bands of Norway and Sweden, I often think it’s a shame that neighbouring Finland seems to miss out on similar acclaim. If anything, I find many of the Finns make far more eclectic and experimental sounds, and draw from quite different inspirations. Bands from Norway and Sweden invariably sound Western, but Finland often has as much of an Eastern sound. Onségen Ensemble definitely seem to incorporate a little of both, but even when comparing to bands from the West, they are all over the musical map. Morricone and Magma meet Tool and Tusmørke in a psychedelic indulgence of Eastern mysticism. It’s trippy space rock that is less Komische than Khanate or Carnatic. The band present and perform a series of epic and mystical enigmas. It’s best not to dwell too much on what you’re listening to and just ride the wave where it takes you.

Apparently this is the third album from the ever-changing Ensemble, and if the previous two are as high a quality as Fear, then they will be well worth checking out. I’ve definitely made a mental note to do so, when I have a chance. (I’m not sure when that will be, as I’m still working my way through a long list of releases from this year I still want to hear, let alone diving into the past.) The most odd thing about this release, though, is not the music but why the album is titled Fear. Of all the emotions I might feel when listening to this album, fear is not one. Even when the music evokes striding forth into the unknown, it is with confidence and swagger. There is no fear.

What really makes this album special for me comes in just after a minute-and-a-half. Until this point, the rich rumble of stoner goodness is quite lovely but when a trumpet cuts through the atmosphere, I was initially dumbstruck. It’s an instrument I never expected to hear, and by crikey, it sounds good! Every appearance of the instrument on this album adds so much to the tone and texture of what are already amazing soundscapes. The choral chanting is another masterpiece, and perfectly placed in the mix. In fact, the mix is absolutely wonderful, with everything exactly where it needs to be, so that the focal point is where the band wants at any one time. It makes the music a pleasure to listen to, time and time again. The seven-odd minutes of opening number Non-Returner are over in what seems no time at all. I had to check that I had read correctly, and that the track was indeed seven-and-a-half minutes long. As I said, this is music to be swept away by, and time and space are exposed for the wibbly, wobbly concepts they are. They have no meaning here.

Generally speaking, vocals (other than wordless vocalisations) are sparse on Fear, the only lyrics to the following track, Stellar, are an incomplete quotation from The Gateless Gate, a well-known collection of teaching stories. They are delivered in a potent and powerful fashion, and provide moments of heightened intensity. About three minutes before the song ends is a passage so exultant, I’m not sure I’ve ever managed to listen to this without movement of some part of my body to the insistent rhythm. And, of course, that trumpet. The track has been building to this throughout, and it’s just wonderful when it comes. Stellar climaxes with one more refrain of the sole lyric, before slipping quietly out to the same ambient folk sounds that introduced it.

Over the length of the seven compositions on Fear (the shortest is just over five minutes), my mind never wanders. Or, at least, it wanders where the music takes me, because the mind is encouraged to wander, but I never lose focus, nor interest. Not that I’ve ever had one, but the closest analogy I can draw is to an out-of-body experience – at least as I’ve read it feels like – where you remain attached and aware of where your body is, but outside it. The music has a hypnotic effect, so that no matter how repetitive much of the music is, it draws in, rather than pushes away. There is no room, nor time, for boredom. The kaleidoscopic effect of the brass, choir and some truly nifty percussion, that is liberally added to the mix only further draws me in. When Earthless segues into the title track, it’s through such percussion.

And Fear. Fear. What can I say about Fear? The title track is so startlingly good, I’m not sure anything I can say can reflect how enjoyable it is. It reminds me a little of the music of Indukti, a Polish band who like Onségen Ensemble are mostly instrumental, and inspired by the sounds of both the West and the East. And I absolutely love Indukti, so that comparison from me is high praise indeed. I’m wary of drawing inferences, or attempting to guess what the underlying concept of the album. The particular Zen couplet used in Stellar is warning enough, as it is a caution not to think one’s own insight exceeds another. And yet, I can’t help but think this is an album about death, and a celebration of life in defiance of death. Hence Fear, and why I can hear no fear within Fear. Fear of death is probably a common fear, and yet you cannot fear death, when you celebrate life. Perhaps I am predisposed to think this way, because I have recently been enjoying Astrolabe’s Death: An Ode to Life. Perhaps I am hearing something that isn’t there. And yet….?

Regardless of what Fear as an album is about, Fear the song is a centrepiece of some distinction. I love every song on this album, and Fear rises high above them all. You might then think, after such heights, I might be disappointed by what follows. Far from it. Very cleverly, Onségen Ensemble do not attempt to compete with Fear, and provide a distinctly different sound for Sparrow’s Song, which for the first half is sparse, expansive and minimalist. As light and fragile as a sparrow, I guess. It makes for a great surprise when the piece picks up pace in the second half, and introduces new instrumentation and vocalisations. It’s another track that ends too soon for me, and I wish the Sparrow could sing for me a little longer. I can’t help but think that the use of a sparrow only further adds to my theory of the concept of the album, given it is widely believed to be a harbinger of death.

The Sparrow’s Song, while not particularly jaunty, is positively spritely and chirpy compared to the Lament of Man that follows it. This track is the closest the album comes to representing fear, but even here it doesn’t seem present so much as a dour (dare I say funereal) acceptance of something inevitable. Sure enough, Google translates the sole lyrics as something along the lines of “I look at the fire – the inevitable judgment”. I don’t really know the Bible, as I’ve never been a believer, but I’m pretty sure there’s something about God’s final judgement involving literal and symbolic fire. That said, those lyrics do not appear in the first part of the Lament that sounds like a lament, but in the ensuing chaos that the track descends into. It sounds more like someone fighting their judgment, rather than awaiting it. It’s no longer a lament, but a labour; no longer a cry, but a confrontation, and by the climax, a celebration. There is no doubting the jubilant nature of the closing minutes.

When I write my reviews, I tend to do so as a stream of consciousness on my first listen. I put those notes to one side, and pretend they don’t exist, and I listen again without doing anything but listening, I’ll do that time and time again, without worrying about writing a review, and listening to all manner of other things (including other albums I’m reviewing), until such time comes that I’m listening and realise I’m ready to write. I’ll listen from the start again, and write more notes. Then I’ll go back to my first notes, and see what I can piece together from these two experiences (one when the album is totally novel, and one when I know it well). Why am I telling you this? Because in this instance, I decided I didn’t care for my newer observations, and that my initial thoughts were those most pertinent.

I came to that realisation when recalling the jolt I felt when I first came to the final track, Satyagrahi. Reading the lyrics as I was listening to them being sung, I realised my gut feeling had been roughly accurate. The key lyrics for me were the couplet “The only way to have peace is to live it” (which is fairly self-explanatory), and “The only way to have an unarmed world is to live unarmed”, which seems to hark back to the caution from Zen Buddhism in Stellar. Ultimately, we are all Non-Returners. It’s up to us to either fear that inevitable outcome, or have peace by celebrating living. Even if this year life hasn’t felt much worth celebrating, it’s worth remembering that being alive is better than the alternative. And Fear is a life-affirming album that’s well worth listening to.

01. Non-Returner (7:34)
02. Stellar (8:57)
03. Earthless (5:18)
04. Fear (7:24)
05. Sparrow’s Song (5:05)
06. Lament of Man (8:45)
07. Satyagrahi (6:17)

Total Time – 49:20

Pasi Anttila
Heikki Häkkilä
Esa Juujärvi
Merja Järvelin
Sami Lehtiniemi
Samuli Lindberg
Joni Mäkelä
Niina Susan Sassali
Mikko Vuorela

*Onségen Ensemble has a revolving cast, responsible for all sounds you hear on Fear and listed above.

Record Label: Svart Records
Country of Origin: Finland
Date of Release: 20th November 2020

Onségen Ensemble – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp | YouTube

This news story was originally published here:

After the worst year in living memory, here we are back in lockdown and holidays are becoming a dim and distant memory. While there is no imminent prospect of foreign travel (5 miles is frowned upon in some quarters!) Steve Hackett’s new album Under A Mediterranean Sky is the perfect antidote to brighten your day and whet the appetite for better times to come.

With this album Steve Hackett, Genesis’s guitarist through their classic period in the 1970s, paints such wonderful and vivid images of the wide and varied cultures and landscapes of the Mediterranean region, one has the feeling of being on a whistle-stop cruise!

“I think you’re right,” Steve agreed when we spoke recently, “and, because we can’t really travel substantially and safely at the moment, I hope this album will take people on that journey. It’s the quickest way to travel, in the mind, and it celebrates the Mediterranean which is just a beautiful area. Whether you sit down and listen to it or whether you drift off with a glass of wine…”

That would be very easy, me thinks.

“Well, I think it goes with that, really,” he laughs. “I’m very happy to do that! This sort of music, whenever we have friends round, always seems to go down well as a background to things. You don’t have to play it at vast quantities of volume, it works when it’s gentle.

“The Mediterranean is special because it connects lots of disparate cultures from the Europeans to the Arabic. We’ve had lots of extraordinary visits and it gave me a chance to look at classical roots of music and the flamenco aspect of ethnic music.”

Steve Hackett photo Geoff Ford

Following his departure from Genesis in 1978, Steve released a string of critically acclaimed albums. While most of his albums fall into the rock category, Under A Mediterranean Sky is Steve’s sixth classical/acoustic guitar album and his first acoustic outing since Tribute in 2008. It is a project Steve has had in mind for a while but, when his American tour was cut short last March by the accelerating global pandemic, he returned home without his electric guitars. They arrived later and were quarantined, leaving Steve at home with just his nylon-stringed acoustic guitar.

“I fell in love with the sound of nylon guitar from the first note that I heard Segovia play,” Steve says. “It is a completely different sound and, within the compass of what the nylon string guitar can do, there are a lot of different tones. You can do the full-on attack, the kind of salvos that you expect from the flamenco players but it can also be very gentle, gentle as a harp, and it conjures a number of different tones. It’s shades of black and white but, if you love it, that’s what it does for you. The idea that all that was even possible on one guitar seemed like a miracle.”

As he explains, the first lockdown was just the opportunity Steve needed to focus on the new acoustic project. “It made me concentrate solely on that for some time. I’d been putting in long hours, as I have over the course of a lifetime. It’s a mixture of thrill and frustration in equal measure as you always want to make it better and you’re dealing with your own limitations. Sometimes those limitations give way to surprising results. I didn’t rely entirely on technique and speed but it’s fairly nippy in places, so it’s not all laconic.

“When I first tried doing acoustic albums, like Bay Of Kings, I was thinking of music to accompany siestas, all the pieces were pretty slow. The last acoustic album I did was called Tribute, a tribute to lots of different composers, and I really had to work hard to be able to play those pieces. But, working with the speed of some of those pieces, I thought ‘Come on, now’, I had to make sure that speed must not be a limitation, I had to think like a composer. The great thing about classical composers is that great technique and speed is a foregone conclusion. They were my influences, if I could play it like a virtuoso then it gave a lot more possibilities. You could lay into it and gild it with speed but if you use enough chords it’s not just one more solo after another. There has to be a reason for it, to give it shape.

“Those records inch their way forward, bit by bit, and technique builds up, the imagination takes over and, over the years, it erodes the internal invalidator, thinking that ‘I can’t do that, I’ll never be able to play that well.’ When you work at it, bit by bit, despite yourself, I found that it led to areas that I’d previously rejected.

“When I started out I was a plectrum player on steel strings and I thought ‘The only way to do this is with two fingers, thumb and forefinger,’ and then, reluctantly, all the others come into use, even if it’s just to pick out chords. So many people have been my guitar teacher over the years. I’d be watching somebody on a street corner doing something, ‘That’s a good sound, that’s good.’ I never needed to have a guru, I just always picked up things that I saw other people do.”

Our journey around the Med begins on the island of Malta, in Mdina – The Walled City. It’s imposing strength is portrayed by Roger King’s dramatic orchestration while Steve’s guitar weaves through the atmospheric streets describing the creativity, love and strength that held Malta together between all the waves of conflict.

With Steve’s delicate guitar work, Adriatic Blue paints an enchanting view of stunning scenery as tall cliffs of forested mountains plunge into the deep blue sea along the Croatian coastline. Sirocco is altogether more atmospheric, inspired by the winds playing through the imposing structures of Egypt.

The lively Joie de Vivre expresses the unique sense of joy the French have through their wine, food and folk music, with paintings reflecting family gatherings, spectacular vistas and the vibrant colours of their cities. The art of dreaming is embodied in their sensual love of life.

“At first hand, I’ve marvelled at the mystical whirling Dervishes,” says Steve.  Along with otherworldly beings such as the Djin (Genie) they sprang from Persia’s dreaming past. The Dervish and The Djin captures the extraordinary atmosphere of this most exotic of civilisations with the help of (Steve’s touring band regular) Rob Townsend’s soprano sax, the tar of Malik Mansurov (from Azerbaijan) and Armenian Arsen Petrosyan’s duduk. “Of course, those countries are virtually at war with each other,” he adds, “and there has been something like a thousand casualties (at the time of speaking) on both sides. Again, it’s a case of music being able to do things that politicians fail to do, to do something constructive.”

The Memory of Myth embodies the deep and rich history of Greece and features the violin of Christine Townsend (no relation to Rob) while Lorato – ‘love’ in the language of the African Tswana tribe – is a pretty folk tune.  Love is the force that heals and links all disparate peoples of the Mediterranean.

Steve and his wife Jo were enchanted by the little Faun statue in the House of the Faun, Pompeii. “The villas there seemed to come back to life as we walked through those wonderful atriums and gardens,” inspiring Casa del Fauno and featuring the light and airy flute of Steve’s brother John.

The only non-original piece is Domenico Scarlatti’s Sonata. This embodies the Baroque music of Italy, a sensitive interpretation embellished with cross-string trills, a technique introduced to Steve by the fine classical guitarist, the late Theo Cheng.

Steve also expresses his admiration for the flamenco guitarists of Andalusia who are celebrated on Andalusian Heart. “One of the flamenco guitarists was showing me the extraordinary things they are able to do,” he explains. “Seeing the gypsies playing and dancing in caves there, you get the feeling that these people are dancing for their lives. I think that they are the best players in the world, the flamenco players.

”There’s a couple of videos with the album,” Steve adds. “Some of it was shot while we were away, they’re very much travelogues, in a way. It’s a chance to celebrate those things on film. It’s a mixture of things Jo shot – we originally met when she wanted me to do some film music for her. And then Paul Gosling has put stuff together as well. It’s interesting the way those videos have come out, really nice.”

Our journey comes to an end with The Call of the Sea, a gentle and peaceful reflection of the vast body of water that unites these many civilisations, both ancient and modern.

“I had a great time doing this album,” Steve reflects, “seeing it take shape, and I’m very pleased with the outcome and very proud of it. When I work on rock stuff, I often wish I could get that degree of subtlety into it.”

01. Mdina (The Walled City) (8:45)
02. Adriatic Blue (4:51)
03. Sirocco (5:13)
04. Joie de Vivre (3:42)
05. The Memory of Myth (3:29)
06. Scarlatti Sonata (3:40)
07. Casa del Fauno (3:51)
08. The Dervish and The Djin (4:57)
09. Lorato (2:29)
10. Andalusian Heart (5:34)
11. The Call of the Sea (4:44)

Total Time – 51:15

Steve Hackett – Nylon, Steel & 12-string Guitars, Charango, Iraqi Oud
Roger King – Keyboards, Programming, Orchestral Arrangements
John Hackett – Flute (track 7)
Malik Mansurov – Tar (tracks 3 & 8)
Arsen Petrosyan – Duduk (track 8)
Christine Townsend – Violin (tracks 8 & 11)
Rob Townsend – Soprano Sax (track 8)

Record Label: InsideOut Music
Country of Origin: U.K.
Formats: Limited CD Digipak | Gatefold 2LP + CD + LP-booklet | Digital
Date of Release: 22nd January 2021

Steve Hackett – Website | Facebook | Twitter

This news story was originally published here:

Whoa! I can’t believe I’ve gone all this time without being aware of the wonder of Russian band The Grand Astoria, a band that has put out a dizzying array of singles, EPs and albums since 2009, with their own unique take on many different musical sounds and styles – even a song sung in Kobaïan, and a series of (literally) solo pieces inspired by Roscoe Mitchell. The band seems to have a revolving carousel of members, with the only constant being the musical mastermind Kamille Sharapodinov. The only other long-standing members I can discern are Igor Suvorov and Danila Danilov. Of particular interest to some, I’m sure, will be the presence of Gleb Kolyadin (of iamthemorning) on this release. I would love to get inside Kamille’s mind and see what makes it tick, but in the meantime, listening to The Grand Astoria will do very nicely. I’m slowly working my way through their discography, after being introduced to the band by From the Great Beyond.

So what do The Grand Astoria sound like? Well, based on what I’ve listened to so far, there’s very little consistency in their sound at all – and that is no criticism. Indeed, to the contrary, I love not knowing what to expect next from the band. There’s not yet been an unpleasant surprise. I guess you could call the band psychedelic, as psychedelia does seem to pervade the great majority of their work – but very rarely in the same guise. The journeys may be similar, but every trip is different. From The Great Beyond was potentially a good starting point for me as it definitely eased me into their world of weirdness.

The opening title track welcomed me to their home, and continues to do so. It’s almost a spacey prog version of Violent Femmes, with its vocal and percussive acrobatics and sparse minimal feel. The clean sound disappears in a wave of fuzz as Wasteland follows. The percussion is heavier and darker, the chanting hypnotic and shamanic. Waves of Tangerine and Pink float over the rhythmic barrage, and now there’s the galloping riffy intro to Njanatiloka, like a psychedelic Iron Maiden, before erupting into something more like Black Sabbath, and that’s just the beginning. It jumps all over the place over its ten or so minutes and is easily my favourite track here. However, while I’m mentioning names, realistically The Grand Astoria doesn’t really sound like any of these. It’s just an attempt to show how nimbly the band leaps from one sound to another. So let’s add some more. How about Queen and Chrome Hoof?

Like many Russian bands I’ve encountered, The Grand Astoria seem to draw influences from the East as much as the West, which only adds to the eclecticism of their sound. I am kind of reminded of Faith No More or System Of A Down, not in sound, more in the way that the band so fluidly experiments with sound impulsively and indulgently, without it ever sounding overwrought or overindulgent. The way that they translate their experimental tendencies into something quite melodic, and verging upon mainstream despite very definitely coming from the fringes. The way that they subvert their instrumentation and approach their music from unexpected directions. Interestingly, I tend to be mentioning names that are not normally the ones that might come to mind as prog (though if you think they’re not progressive, I’m not sure what you’re hearing).

By the time Anyhow hits with its unlikely jazz-cum-bluegrass fusion, if you’re not ready to expect the unexpected and expect to enjoy it, then The Grand Astoria is not the band for you. Again, I have to reiterate how well they play with the various styles, so no matter how disparate they might seem, they never feel disjointed. The Grand Astoria takes their listeners on a series of ambitious adventures to the Great Beyond, but for sure always returns them and welcomes them back home. The band manages to pack a lot of punch into any track, no matter the length, and not one of the longer tracks ever feels too long. This is perhaps unsurprising when you consider the wonderful The Mighty Few album which comprised only two tracks in its fifty minute duration – both of which are incredible in their pacing and structure, revealing many intricacies and leaving no room for attention to wander.

The track lengths may be considerably shorter on From The Great Beyond (it is an EP, after all), but the multitude of ever-changing sounds and textures are still present – and still not one ever feels extraneous or forced. Listening to The Grand Astoria from their beginnings really reveals how far the band has travelled to reach this point. While I don’t think I could ever call them a stereotypical stoner band, their debut does reveal the band started out closer to those desert (or perhaps tundra) horizons. But the depth and breadth they have traversed since is quite astounding. A lot of the heavier moments still lean towards doom (and there’s nothing wrong with that), but some of their composition is almost classical in nature, and this interplays with improvisation (or, at least, a lot of the music sounds joyfully spontaneous). They flirt with jazz, blues and funk, the only constant is the psychedelia – which, as I pointed out earlier, does not present itself in the same way, meaning even the only constant is not particularly constant.

It’s possibly worth stating that while the band call From The Great Beyond an EP (because they believe it not long enough to call an album, in the context of their discography), their label (Addicted/No Name), considers it a full length album. Personally, I don’t really care, so long as the music is good, and damn, this is good music. The only difference it would really make to me at this point of the year is that as much as I love it, I might struggle to find room for it in my list of favourite albums of 2020. However, if I call it an EP, it’s a sure fire contender for the top spot. Whatever you want to call it, this is a fantastic release that is worthy of your attention. It almost passed me by – don’t let it pass you by!

01. From The Great Beyond (5:14)
02. Wasteland (2:51)
03. Njanatiloka (10:18)
04. Us Against The World (8:31)
05. Anyhow (4:23)
06. Ten Years Anniversary (1:49)

Total Time – 33:06

Kamille Sharapodinov – Guitars, Vocals, Percussion
Danila Danilov – Vocals, Percussion, Keyboards (track 2)
Alexander Vorontsov – Bass
Konstantin Smirnov – Drums
~ with:
Gleb Kolyadin – Keyboards (tracks 1,3,4 & 5)
Igor Suvorov – Lead Guitar (track 3)
Kirill Ildyukov – Lead Guitar (track 4)
Denis Kirillov – Flute (tracks 3 & 5)
Boris Shulman – Banjo (track 5), Backing Vocals (tracks 1 & 5)

Record Label: Addicted/No Name
Country of Origin: Russia
Date of Release: 30th November 2020

The Grand Astoria – Facebook | Bandcamp

This news story was originally published here:

In this update we feature:

• Jaume De Viala – Sonoritat De Mil Miralls
• Danny Markovitch – Russian Dolls
• Zach Tabori – Ensemble [EP]
• Master Oogway – Earth And Other Worlds
• Alan Emslie – Y 20 21 [EP]
• Shirley King – Blues For A King

Jaume De Viala – Sonoritat De Mil Miralls
Roger Trenwith
Jaume De Viala – Sonoritat De Mil Miralls

Forty or so years ago, guitarist Jaume De Viala was a member of and main composer for Barcelona band Celobert Màgic,, whose music was described as “Catalan progressive ethno-fusion”, a bit of a wordwang, but pretty much on the nail. Reinventing the group’s music for the 21st century, De Viala has made a beguiling album that is infused with the spirit of Catalan music, but also incorporates elements of jazz and progressive rock, with subtlely complex arrangements where melody is king.

Featuring contributions from such luminaries as past and present MoonJunistas Dusan Jevtovic, Xavi Reja, and Vasil Hdzimanov, and a further supporting cast of highly skilled Barcelona musicians, including the delightful voice of Judit Cucala, Sonoritat De Mil Miralls may not be my usual spiky fare, in fact it’s a million miles from it, but I’m loving it!

Danny Markovitch – Russian Dolls
Kevan Furbank
Danny Markovitch – Russian Dolls

Sax player Markovitch is one half of Marbin, the US jazz-rock band that draws heavily on Israeli musical traditions and deserves the label ‘fusion’ more than most. Derived from compositions in an old notebook found by his wife, some going back 20 years, Markovitch decided there was enough in the songs to make an album, so enlisted the help of musical partner Dani Rabin on guitar and bass (‘the bin part of Marbin’) and drummer Antonio Sanchez to record the seven tracks that make up Russian Dolls.

The title is inspired by an article written by Markovitch’s Ukrainian wife, putting forward the theory that the traditional Russian dolls are not a family of separate individuals but one person with several ‘selves’ nestling inside them. He thought it appropriate because the tunes were written at various stages of his life when he was a different musician, “a kid that had just picked up the saxophone and was becoming obsessed with it, a soldier suddenly inspired on his weekend at home from the army, a new immigrant to the US living in Chicago”.

The seven tracks that make up this short, 35-minute album that may be a bit of a disappointment to Marbin fans who were drawn to the band by the combination of not only Markovitch’s warm, expressive sax but also Rabin’s muscular but nimble guitar work. Here, Rabin plays a muted supporting role, frequently restricting himself to bass, while the sax takes centrestage.

Sometimes the compositions sound overly traditional and gloomy, such as the opener When Here Become There, or are little more than a repetitive statement of short themes, as in Yellow Roman Candles, but occasionally they really take off to showcase Markovitch’s remarkable ability to scatter around well-chosen notes, like confetti over a newly-elected president.

Generally, though, Russian Dolls is an album for rabid Marbin fans who really want to dig deep into the duo’s influences rather than an essential release. Incidentally, the artwork credits the album to Marbin, but this is Markowvitch’s 35 minutes in the spotlight.

Russian Dolls by Marbin

Zach Tabori – Ensemble [EP]
Graham Thomas
Zach Tabori – Ensemble [EP]

Young multi-instrumentalist and composer Zach Tabori describes his recent EP, Ensemble, as ‘an hour long prog extravaganza in eleven minutes’! That’ll do as a starting point. It has to be said that there are an awful lot of ideas packed into a very tight timeframe on this release, and it’s quite hard to separate the four songs, which hurtle at breakneck pace into one another.

The overriding thing which has to be said is that this EP is very obviously inspired and influenced by Zappa. It’s a bit like a bunch of out-takes from Overnite Sensation, there are Zappa-isms all over it, and yet Zach has created something which is much more tribute than copy. To ram home the FZ connection, Tommy Mars guests on keys and falsetto vocals to magical effect, and Cal Schenkel did the cover.

According to Tabori, he was trying to recreate the sort of thing his band does in live performance in the studio, and it has a marvellous live atmosphere together with an ear for detail. They cover rock, metal, jazz, funk, you name it, and they do it brilliantly. If his live band can play these tight arrangements live, they must be worth seeing for sure. Lyrically, Buy My Shirt explores the LA music scene in hilarious fashion. Elsewhere, for the most part, the music does the talking, and it has plenty to say.

Master Oogway – Earth And Other Worlds
Roger Trenwith
Master Oogway - Earth And Other Worlds

Master Oogway: ninja tortoise, or Norwegian fusion project featuring four young chaps, none of whom is older than 26? Much as I’d like to deconstruct a Kung Fu reptile, it’s the latter under brief scrutiny here. The spotlight is on the febrile interaction between sax player Lauritz Lyster Skeidsvoll and guitarist/composer Håvard Nordberg Funderud, who also like to blow in unison to great effect.

The rhythm section of Karl Erik E. Horndalsveen on responsive double bass, and the deft rhythms and percussive embellishments of Martin Heggli Mellem, is in no way lacking either, it has to be said. The four of them, all recent graduates of the Norwegian Academy of Music, are still displaying the exuberant enthusiasm for their craft you would expect of players so young, and see this their second album released on the highly appropriate Rune Grammofon label, home of quality left-field rackets of all kinds.

Definitely one to watch!

Alan Emslie – Y 20 21 [EP]
Bob Mulvey
Alan Emslie - Y 20 21 [EP]

Not quite sure what happened, but apparently 2020 didn’t quite go to script in the Alan Emslie camp. Did I miss something? 😉 Anyway, his planned Witch-Hunt album had to be put back until 21/12/21. Alan explained that his latest release was to feature significant orchestral performances and simply put, those recording sessions were unable to go ahead.

But, not a man to be defeated easily, Alan retreated into Le Studio, Scotland and started work on one of his ‘sonic epics’. Something I first discovered as the title track to his 2018 Obnubilate album. And marvellous it was too.

Described as “…a 20-minute reset for your brain”, Y 20 21 continues Alan’s explorations into sonic manipulations of sound. Chillingly haunting, thought provoking, absorbing, and so much more. Each to their own when it comes to a ‘reset’ – for me it is firmly set within the realms of theoretical Dark Energy and Dark Matter.

Shirley King – Blues For A King
Mel Allen
Shirley King - Blues For A King

Known as ‘the Daughter of the Blues’, Shirley King is the daughter of the legendary BB King. On this, her latest album, she has gathered a notable line-up of guest musicians to assist her, Pat Travers, Steve Cropper and Martin Barre to name but a few. Shirley has gained a reputation as a respected vocalist in blues circles, and she demonstrates that here.

This album has cover versions from the Temptations, Traffic, Etta James and some blues classics spread amongst its eleven tracks, all coming in at around thirty-six minutes. This is an album which has a classic sounding blues approach, nothing new, but still enjoyable never the less. There is a different take on the traditional blues classic Gallows Pole with guest appearance from Harvey Mandel, also notable is her presentation of the Etta James song At Last.

A well presented selection of songs, and although not really fitting the progressive remit it does deserve some recognition for the daughter of a blues legend and also deserves to be heard. Personally, I enjoyed it.

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Recently I reviewed Astrolabe’s Death: An Ode to Life, which I noted was one of two bands I knew of among the five nominees for Nación Progresiva’s Latino Progressive Album of the Year. Since then, Alpha Lighting System won the award, and I have been introduced to another of the nominees – and, no disrespect to Alpha Lighting System, but I’m far more impressed by Egregor’s Pachakuti. This is the second full-length album from the Chilean prog metal band, and on the strength of this I will definitely be checking out their debut. Wow! Just wow! I’ve listened to well over 200 albums this year (and as it’s been a while since I last checked, I guess I may even have reached 300 by now), but very few have had the initial impact, let alone lasting resonance that Pachakuti has. And prog metal is not even a genre I tend to be overly fond of.

The music of Pachakuti is chunky and heavy enough without knowledge of what the band is singing, but a little Googling reveals the lyrical content is pretty damn weighty too, making this heavy in every sense. The Aymara are an indigenous race of the Andes and Altiplano regions across the South American countries of Bolivia, Peru and Chile, and it seems than the Aymaran words ‘pacha’ and ‘kuti’ mean ‘land’ and ‘return’. The lyrics of the title track speak of repressed peoples, and conclude with a final refrain that translates as “Subjugated roots will be reborn; Humiliated roots will return”. Likewise, lead single Grito Insurgente (Insurgent Scream) speaks of “the strength of ancestors”, and ends with the cry “In the face of death you will scream… Freedom!”

There is anger and aggression in much of the instrumentation and the vocals, but it is never at the expense of the beauty that is overwhelmingly present. Before I listened to a note, I was engaged by the beautiful cover art, and the music within is no less beautiful. There may be anger, but the passion with which it is expressed shows it to be righteous and, yes, beautiful. This is apparent from the outset, as the album opens with the ambient introduction to the title track, filled with the sounds of nature and ancient culture, before the music crashes in with radiant energy. Magdalena Opazo‘a powerful vocals are glorious, and potent. Generally speaking, even when lyrics are in English, I pay little attention to them, hearing the vocals more as another instrument in the mix rather than thinking about what they have to say. Magdalena, though, almost demands me to find out what is being sung – which, given it is in a foreign language to me, is quite impressive.

Impressive also are the vocals of Giancarlo Nattino, and the contrast of his harsher vocals with Magdalena’s clean is easily the best I’ve heard in a long time. When these two trade lines, they sound incredible. Giancarlo’s screams are perhaps closest to Joe Duplantier of Gojira, and even for someone like myself that more often than not shies away from harsh vocals, are very pleasing to the ear, and perfectly fitting to the pounding and insistent music of the title track. What I love the most is the way the music sounds both entirely modern, yet evokes the sounds and history of the indigenous culture of the Aymara. This is in part due to the traditional instruments (charango, zampoña, quena and quenacho) played by Martín Romero, but by no means entirely. That would be only superficial, and it’s readily apparent that the composition and performance of the music wholly serves the past, the present, and the future, celebrating not just what has been, but what will be again. The music of Egregor is authentic, immersive, and as aforementioned, passionate. Return the Land, indeed.

El Principio Único is more subtle, if no less impressive. This time, rather than the twin guitar attack of Giancarlo Nattino and Richard Iturra, it’s the bass of Alejandro Heredia that dominates, providing some very tasty and nifty basswork on this track. While there are still aggressive breakouts, this track is notable for its restraint, which has the benefit of really highlighting how the band play in a precise, complex and intricate style that could easily sound mechanical and static, but which instead sounds organic and fluid. The music just flows. And in fact, flows so well that it’s easy to miss when El Principio Único ends and the following Indolente begins. They are actually quite distinct songs, but fit together more perfectly than some jigsaw puzzles. Indolente was the second single released from the album, and I can tell why: it’s anthemic and catchy, and in my opinion would have made a more impressive lead single than (following track) Grito Insurgente.

Don’t get me wrong, though, Grito Insurgente is fantastic, and definitely a contender for my favourite track on the album. As might be expected from what I’ve already divulged about it’s content, it’s insistent and aggressive. It might well have the most powerful vocal performance from Magdelena: impassioned, angered, and pained. The struggle of indigenous people to be heard and respected is tangible. The guttural cries of Giancarlo only heighten this feeling. My only criticism of the song is I want it to go on. It always ends before I am ready. The band does well to follow it with the near instrumental Origen (with only wordless vocalisations), as any song would struggle to compete with what came before. Instead, Origen just crescendos and swells from its humble beginnings, and sweeps the listener along with it. It’s far more bombastic than might be expected from its delicate piano-led introduction.

Animal is an emotional ride, and it’s no wonder when translating the lyrics appears to confirm what I had already inferred from the title. There’s a lot of hurt conveyed in this song. The following Portadores is a completely different beast, and probably the most unique sounding on the album. It sounds joyous and celebratory, and has some wonderfully hair-raising chanted passages. Even Giancarlo’s harsh vocals sound triumphant. It almost sounds out of place, and yet it feels completely right. It provides a terrific preface for Con la Fuerza del Sol, which is as forceful and radiant as its title implies. This song would not have worked as well if it came immediately after Animal, so again I have to praise the band for their thought in sequencing. Just as Origen was placed perfectly to balance what came before and after, so is Portadores.

And so we come to the end, and likely the only competition for Grito Insurgente to be my favourite track on the album, Somos Uno. A recognition and exhortation that we are one, that takes in the full spectrum of the band, from its most peaceful and delicate, to some of the heaviest. And again, like Grito Insurgente, my only complaint is that it ends far too soon. Given how unique in vision and execution Pachakuti is, the intensity of emotion and passion, and the balance and restraint shown, even if Nación Progresiva might not agree, this is definitely my Latino Progressive Album of the Year – and a definite contender to be one of my albums of the year in general. Don’t let this one pass you by!

01. Pachakuti (4:52)
02. El Principio Único (4:34)
03. Indolente (3:43)
04. Grito Insurgente (4:20)
05. Origen (3:18)
06. Animal (5:10)
07. Portadores (5:05)
08. Con la Fuerza del Sol (4:31)
09. Somos Úno (4:36)

Total Time – 40:09

Magdalena Opazo – Vocals, Synthesiser
Giancarlo Nattino – Guitar, Vocals
Richard Iturra – Guitars, Synthesiser
Alejandro Heredia – Bass
Martín Romero – Charango, Zampoña, Quena, Quenacho

Additional Information:ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: Chile
Date of Release: 7th August 2020

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