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This news story was originally published here: https://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2020/02/20/giorgi-mikadze-georgian-microjamz/

There’s a revolution afoot, and you probably didn’t even know it. Coincidentally, I found out about it from two sources almost simultaneously: the album I’m not quite reviewing here, and an article posted by a friend on Facebook. And what is this revolution? That after almost two decades, MIDI 2.0 has been released. Released in 1983, MIDI 1.0 was fairly revolutionary itself, though in the same understated way that MIDI 2.0 is. That is to say, it’s a quiet revolution that may pass many people by. But just as MIDI 1.0 revolutionised the digitisation of music (which was not a new thing) by providing a universal standard, so does MIDI 2.0 by breaking that standard.

That last statement may seem counter-intuitive so let me attempt to explain. MIDI 1.0 digitises music by placing all musical qualities on a scale with 128 possible points. Now this is fine for most Western music, and Western instruments with a discrete scale such as keyboards. But there is a world of music outside traditional Western music, and even within Western music microtones are often used in, for example in jazz. MIDI 2.0 “breaks” the 128 point scale by ascribing all data to 32-bit values, rather than the 7-bit values of its predecessor. This higher resolution of MIDI 2.0 will allow the full textures, tonality and range of acoustic instruments. A world of music that has largely been difficult to communicate digitally can now be expressed with an ease that just did not exist before.

And why have I not yet even addressed the new album by Georgian artist, Giorgi Mikadze? Well, I’m getting there. Giorgi Mikadze plays a microtonal keyboard on his new album, Georgian Microjamz. I’ll admit, I didn’t even know such a thing existed, and it was when I was exploring the internet for information about this that I came across MIDI 2.0 – and then only a day or so later, saw my friend post an article about the same on Facebook. What I learnt is that analogue keyboards like pianos and organs are actually suitable for microtonal music after all, as their strings and pipes can be retuned as desired. That’s actually so obvious, I can’t believe it didn’t occur to me. Even though Mikadze uses a digital keyboard, which can also be retuned as desired (although sometimes more in theory than in practice, if it is a MIDI keyboard); the biggest problem in playing microtones on a keyboard is not the tuning, but the traditional keyboard design, and while there appear to be several ways of making this work, none look easy. Which makes Giorgi Mikadze’s microtonal keyboard playing even more impressive.

So that is the ‘Microjamz’ part of the album’s title. The ‘Georgian’ part is apparent from the very beginning, with the prelude of Metivuri showcasing the traditional Georgian folk that Mikadze has interpolated throughout the album and into his music, incorporating a vintage recording by Ilia Zakaidze. According to the the PR that came with the album, Georgian Microjamz is, as the title suggests, a hybrid of traditional Georgian folk music and progressive microtonal jazz. But the hybrid is quite clearly skewed toward Mikadze’s original compositions, with any traditional folk pieces serving only as inspiration, and only three tracks on the album being arrangements of traditional Georgian folk songs. I first investigated Georgian folk a few years back, after hearing Profusion’s rearrangement for the traditional song Tchuta Tchani on their debut album, RewoTower. Their reinterpretation is beautiful, but although different, it is still recognisable. (Compare Profusion’s version with, for example, Lela Tsurtsumia’s.) Mikadze deviates further from the source material, but it really doesn’t matter when the results are this good.

Dumba Damba is the first jazz piece, and it’s breathtaking. Mikadze’s keyboard playing is, of course, the main attraction, and though David Fiuczynski’s fretless guitar plays a prominent role, I can’t get over how good Sean Wright’s drumming is. It feels wrong to say it, since this is Mikadze’s album, but Wright’s drums are the highlight for me on this track. The YouTube video shows just how much joy the musicians are having playing this track, and it is equally enjoyable to listen to. After a short interlude (of which there is one between each main piece), Elesa is a more laid-back affair than Dumba Damba, but no less intense. Again, the interplay between Mikadze and Wright is amazing. Towards the end, the Basiani Ensemble provide vocals.

Interestingly, despite Georgian folk music being predominately vocal, there are very few vocals used on this album. However, this means that when they are used, they provide far greater effect than they would if they were more common. I love the sudden explosion of voice toward the end of Elesa. The following interlude is also the first traditional Georgian folk song to be rearranged for the album, and as per the above, is noticeably absent of vocals. If you want to compare with the original, the Basani Ensemble have a performance on YouTube, HERE.

The next song is a deliberate centrepiece of the album, and another track where the sparing vocals are used to incredible effect. Moaning is dedicated to the victims of the 2008 military conflict between Russia and Georgia, and the title is apt. The music, as well as the vocals, wail. Nana Valishvili’s vocals are a cry, and it is no wonder when she is singing a traditional lament for the dead. Moaning is a heavy listen, and definitely not enjoyable in the traditional sense. While I can find myself nodding my head or tapping my toes to the previous tracks, there is a palpable sadness and seriousness to Moaning. And it is almost a relief when it is over, and the next interlude (Racha) begins. It is a quiet and solemn piece, but not at all sad, and gives some respite from the heaviness of the preceding track. I hope I am not giving the impression I don’t like Moaning, as I definitely do. It may not be easy listening, but it is definitely worth listening to.

Maglonia is back to the upbeat sound, and I love Panagiotis Andreou’s fretless bass on this track. And after another short interlude, Kartlos Blues does indeed evoke a blues vibe, though it’s definitely not blues. In the PR, Mikadze states “as musicians it’s important that all the genres have come before us so that we can create something out of them that represents our own voice. Lately, though, genre has come to mean less to me than it used to. But my voice comes from my country.” And Kartlos Blues exemplifies this perfectly. It’s blues, but it’s not, but what it absolutely evokes is a sense of Georgia. The polyphony of Georgia is well documented, and the use of dissonance, drones and microtones in traditional Georgian folk manifests itself on every track of this album. It makes for a truly different listening experience.

The following interlude (Gurian Lullaby), and subsequent piece (Lazhghvash) are both rearrangements of traditional Georgian folk songs. I love the simple beauty of the Gurian Lullaby, followed by the return of the Basiani Ensemble for Lazhghvash. Before I started listening, this piece is what I was expecting the majority of the album to sound like, as it is the most overt blend of modern microtonal jazz and traditional polyphonic folk. I was surprised, but pleasantly so, that the album differed so greatly from my expectations. I was equally surprised when I first heard this track, as after all that had been, I guess even though this was what I had originally expected to hear, I no longer did. And although it is one of my favourite tracks on the album, I am glad the whole album is not of this ilk. The impact of Lazhghvash as the penultimate track is as great as the sparse and sporadic use of vocals. Less can definitely be more.

The final track, Tseruli, is a glorious finale, and so incredibly joyful I find it impossible to listen to without a large grin plastered on my face. Again, featuring the Basiani Ensemble, and sounding incredibly similar to the previous track, but so very different. It’s like a reprise of Lazhghvash on acid, the folk of the previous track taking a psychedelic trip. This is a such a perfect way to end the album, and once again (as I have throughout), I am in awe of how well the album has been sequenced, interludes and all. Overall, Georgian Microjamz is a vivid and vibrant journey through Georgia’s musical heritage, through a modern lens.

TRACK LISTING
01. Metivuri (3:43)
02. Dumba Damba (9:34)
03. Shedzakhili (1:03)
04. Elesa (8:46)
05. Mirangula (1:10)
06. Moaning (7:08)
07. Racha (1:20)
08. Maglonia (7:25)
09. Gelato (0:35)
10. Kartlos Blues (5:52)
11. Gurian Lullaby (2:45)
12. Lazhghvash (4:22)
13. Tseruli (2:43)

Total Time – 56:00

MUSICIANS
Giorgi Mikadze – Microtonal Keyboards
David Fiuczynski – Fretless Guitars
Panagiotis Andreou – Fretless Bass
Sean Wright – Drums
~ with:
Basiani Ensemble – Vocals (tracks 4,12 & 13)
Nana Valishvili – Vocals (track 6)

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: RareNoise Records
Catalogue#: RNR116
Country of Origin: Georgia
Date of Release 28th February 2020

LINKS
Giorgi Mikadze – Website | Facebook

This news story was originally published here: https://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2020/02/20/big-big-train-reflectors-of-light/

Reflectors of Light is a phrase from the lyrics of A Mead Hall in Winter, the same goes for Merchants of Light. Both phrases suggest the world of Big Big Train (BBT) and are therefore extremely suitable as a title for this release. The Reflectors of Light Blu-Ray was recorded during the band’s three performances at the very end of September 2017, including the additional matinee show on 1st October, at the Cadogan Hall in London. The recording features the best performances from the three shows and every track played across the shows is represented.

We see a top band at work, playing an anthology from their now extensive oeuvre, against the backdrop of a former church in the heart of London. A performance by Big Big Train is a truly wonderful experience, a delight for both eyes and ears. Goosebumps, every now and then. Impressive too, from start to finish; from the violin intro by Rachel Hall, bathed in blue light, for opening track Folklore to the drum intro by Nick D’Virgilio as a prelude to the popular Wassail at the end of the show.

A somewhat static performance, BBT is not a group of extravagant stage personalities, this fact is further enhanced by the fixed camera positions. I really miss some good close-up shot, emotions on faces, hands on instruments. However, that also means no camera crew jumping up and down right in front of you in the first couple of rows. Some musicians hardly come into the picture, such as bass player Greg Spawton and keyboard player Andy Poole. Surely this couldn’t have been the reason for the latter to leave shortly afterwards?

Perhaps the chosen venue is not particularly suitable for video recordings, the old church having its limitations in that respect. The images are somewhat dark, the band opts for a limited light show without large spotlights, which naturally has its repercussions on the video images. The supporting video footage, projected on the large screen above the stage, does not come across as well on the Blu-Ray as ‘live’ in the hall. Nevertheless, the recording crew makes a considerable effort to get a total picture with shots from the gallery. The overall intention is to portray the musicians as well as possible, an understandable choice: Big Big Train is mainly about substance over form.

As indicated earlier, the choice was made to select the best from three gigs; this is also visible in the musicians’ clothing, not really disturbing, more striking once you pay attention. And it also explains the somewhat strange fact that the individual tracks do not blend seamlessly; fade to black/fade outs being chosen, except for the odd song.

On the other hand, the sound is perfectly balanced, all instruments are perfectly audible individually or in combination in the total mix. Not so easy, given the complex song structures and the varied instrumentation of no less than thirteen musicians, including five wind players. This is already clearly audible on the previously mentioned audio CD Merchants of Light.

The lead roles are for the slightly more extrovert forces in the band, in particular singer David Longdon, violinist/singer Rachel Hall, guitarist/singer/keyboardist Rikard Sjöblom and, last but not least, drummer/singer Nick D’Virgilio. In this respect, the others just get a raw deal. Having said that, it becomes blatantly clear what a brilliant musician Dave Gregory is: the film director offers a good look at his hands when he is creating his magic. For me, song highlights are Brave Captain (brilliant prog rock), A Mead Hall in Winter, Swan Hunter (those heavenly horns!), East Coast Racer (magnificent piano intro/outro) and Victorian Brickwork.

It must have been a nightmare for a professional camera crew to deliver a coherent product under the aforementioned conditions: a static band, virtually no light, no room for close-ups, difficulties in properly managing both group and video screen in one shot. If you then have no option but to work with (a multitude of) fixed cameras, this surely does not benefit spontaneity and dynamics. Nevertheless, this is a beautiful and balanced visual document of an impressive performance by the band that is going from strength to strength.

All the more reason to eagerly look forward to the DVD/BluRay, which will undoubtedly be released at some point, with footage of BBT’s latest show at the Hackney Empire in London in early November last year. I estimate that this theatre is better suited for filming an intimate concert by these gents and one lady. Hopefully they won’t let us wait for another two years.

TRACK LISTING
01. Folklore Overture
02. Folklore
03. Brave Captain
04. Last Train
05. London Plane
06. Meadowland
07. A Mead Hall In Winter
08. Experimental Gentlemen (Part Two)
09. Swan Hunter
10. Judas Unrepentant
11. The Transit Of Venus Across The Sun
12. East Coast Racer
13. Telling the Bees
14. Victorian Brickwork
15. Drums And Brass
16. Wassail
Bonus tracks:
The Transit of Venus Across the Sun (with reprise)
Summer’s Lease (recorded live at Real World studios)

MUSICIANS
Danny Manners – Keyboards
David Longdon – Vocals, Flute
Rikard Sjöblom – Guitars, Vocals, Keyboards
Nick D’Virgilio – Drums, Vocals
Dave Gregory – Guitars
Rachel Hall – Violin, Vocals
Greg Spawton – Bass, Bass Pedals
Andy Poole – Acoustic Guitars, Keyboards
– Brass section:
Dave Desmond – Trombone
Ben Godfrey – Trumpet
Nick Stones – French Horn
John Storey – Euphonium
Jon Truscott – Tuba

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: English Electric Recordings
Catalogue#: EERBR002
Date of Release: 6th December 2019

DISCOGRAPHY
– Reflectors of Light (2019)
– Grand Tour (2019)
– Merchants of Light (2018)
– Grimspound (2017)
– A Stone’s Throw From The Line (2016)
– Folklore (2016)
– From Stone and Steel (2016)
– Wassail (EP) (2015)
– Make Some Noise (EP) (2013)
– English Electric: Full Power (2013)
– English Electric Part Two (2013)
– English Electric Part One (2012)
– Far Skies Deep Time (EP) (2010)
– The Underfall Yard (2009)
– The Difference Machine (2007)
– Gathering Speed (2004)
– Bard (2002)
– English Boy Wonders (1997)
– Goodbye To The Age Of Steam (1994)

LINKS
Big Big Train – Website | Facebook | Twitter

This news story was originally published here: https://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2020/02/19/alexs-hand-hungarian-spa/

Shock! Horror! On Robert Wyatt’s birthday, 28th January 2020, Kellen Mills and Nic Barnes have announced that they have disbanded Alex’s Hand. I feel somewhat shortchanged as I found the band only after what has turned out to be their penultimate album, KaTaTaK, released in 2017. After falling immediately in love with the crazy charms of that album, it was two long years before Hungarian Spa was released late last year. Quite frankly, having listened to all I’ve found from the band while waiting for the release of Hungarian Spa, they have at least gone out on a high. This is a brilliant, if bonkers, album.

Alex’s Hand is a band that doesn’t really conform to genres, so depending on where you read about them, they’ll be described as jazz, avant-grade, RIO, etc. Handily, the band uses all these as tags on their Bandcamp page, too. And when I say band, though there are multiple players on each album, Alex’s Hand is essentially multi-instrumentalist Mills and drummer Barnes. In fact, go to the Bandcamp page, and on the right-hand side you will be informed that Alex’s Hand is just Kellen Mills.

My introduction to Alex’s Hand, KaTaTaK actually appears to be the only non-concept release from the band, so in a way Hungarian Spa is back to business as normal – if you can call anything the band plays normal.

The album starts with this is sumthin’ you can never clean., which bursts into being, leaving the impression that the beginning has been skipped. Thrust straight into a bombastic mix of big band and weird vocal harmonies, this reminds me a little of the madness of Trojan Horse, but full-on jazz. It’s a short track which I wish carried on a little longer, as it’s thoroughly enjoyable.

The following track, on the other hand, is thoroughly strange. More a monologue than a song, this live performance is like a bad poetry and jazz recital – except it’s so bad it’s good. I enjoy this track far more than I feel I should, but I’m also sure this will be one a lot of people might choose to skip.

The next two tracks are two convoluted longer form exercises in prog jazz, chock full of atypical riffs and rhythmic patterns. At twelve and a half minutes, Broken Arms in the Threets is the longest song on the album, and one of three particular favourites of mine. It’s relatively normal for the first half before the band dials up the oddness. By the end, I’m even vaguely reminded of prog polka band ZZZZ.

I’m often reminded of another release from 2019 when listening to Hungarian Spa, and that’s the thoroughly marvellous Lost Crowns album. Lately Rina ramps up those comparisons with a Lydian delight. Another favourite from this album.

Another spoken word piece follows, but I love it. It reminds me of the spoken word pieces For Love Not Lisa used to do. Like the opening track, this is another I would have been happy if it had carried on a little longer. It ends too soon, and yet it’s comparatively one of the longest tracks of an eight track sequence of very short pieces. The longest in the sequence, Blisters on My Pee-Pee, is another song reminiscent of the absurdity of ZZZZ, but I’m a fan of that absurdity so I’m happily down with it.

Bobmarxley is a suitably dub affair, and a nice break of sorts, dialling down the insanity, and drifting away in a funk – before being thrown back into the deep end with Bublsbludundcum. Kockaroach ends the sequence of shorter tracks, before the final three longer songs, beginning with You’re a Little Freak. The vocals of Marietta Sarri on this track are a real treat, as is the string section. This sounds like nothing else on the album, and yet doesn’t come across as out of place. It’s probably the “prettiest” piece, even though there is still a lot of dissonance. The last of my three particular favourites.

Which is not to say I don’t have a lot of love for the two remaining tracks. Quite frankly, I love the freak out that is New Skin. Strangely, and this sounds crazy to say, but it is a little too conventional to begin with when taken into account with the rest of the album. That said, like many of the longer pieces, it’s a track of two halves. And just as with Broken Arms earlier in the album, while the first half is relatively “normal”, the second half is far more eclectically pleasing. It ends with a guttural cry. What more can I say?

The title track is last, so expectations are high. They are not let down either. After a quiet and almost contemplative start, the volume and intensity are raised. This is a grand closing number, paying tribute to all that came before, and bowing out with a flourish. And as the band has now bowed out themselves, this is a fine note to end on.

RIP Alex’s Hand. Your hard-driving, exploratory prog jazz excursions in over the top sax and guitar call and response will be missed. You were mad, and I’d not long known you, but I felt a connection.

TRACK LISTING
01. this is sumthin’ you can never clean. (2:51)
02. Symbioastic Manuvr [Live at Zappanale #29] (4:10)
03. Fifty – 3 (7:19)
04. Broke Arms in the Threets (12:32)
05. Lately Rina (3:17)
06. Getting Through the Cracks (2:07)
07. Fat Cmdr. (0:53)
08. Palinka (1:51)
09. Blisters on My Pee-pee (2:43)
10. Bobmarxley (1:58)
11. Bublsbludundcum (1:52)
12. Sittin’ on the Couch (2:09)
13. Kockaroach (0:56)
14. You’re a Little Freak (6:20)
15. New Skin (8:30)
16. Hungarian Spa (5:01)

Total Time – 63:39

MUSICIANS
Kellen Mills – Bass, Upright, Synth, Vocals
Nic Barnes – Drums, Percussion, Vocals
Erik Leuthäuser – Lead Vocals (tracks 1,3,4,5,8,9 & 12)
Ruben Bernges – Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Banjo, Backing Vocals
Jacopo Bazzarri – Vibraphone
Matt Kennon – Tenor & Alto Sax, Backing Vocals
Giovanni Chirico – Baritone Sax
Dima Bondarev – Trumpet
Scott Flynn – Trombone
Danielle Friedman – Acoustic Piano
~ with:
Roberto Vicchio – Trumpet (track 1), Italian (track 3)
Scott Thomas – Additional Alto Sax (track 4), Alto Sax Solo (track 16), Alto Sax (track 2)
Grgur Savic – Alto Sax (track 1)
Matt Paull – Keyboards (tracks 1 & 13), Backing Vocals (track 1)
Carl Andrew O’Sullivan – Backing Vocals (track 1)
Phil Tietjen – Spoken Word (track 7)
Brian Krock – Alto Sax, Clarinet (track 10)
Chato Segerer – Guitar Solo (track 15)
Omri Abramov – Tenor Sax Solo (track 4), Tenor Sax (track 2)
Marietta Sarri – Lead Vocals (track 14)
Chatschatur Kanajan – Violin (track 14)
Josephine Andronic – Violin (track 14)
Shasta Ellenbogen – Viola (track 14)
Liron Yariv – Cello (track 14)
Gabe Tachell – Vocals (track 15)

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: Germany
Date of Release: 15th October 2019

LINKS
Alex’s Hand – Facebook | Bandcamp | YouTube

This news story was originally published here: https://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2020/02/19/churn-milk-joan-im-nearly-60-miles-high/

“Make a wish, ride a bike, you can do anything you like”, says the third optimistic line from opening track Just Bloody Lovely. It carries an extra poignancy, given its writer’s precarious condition. One half of Churn Milk Joan is Richard Knutson, an American musician living in Yorkshire, who just last June was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. In some cases it develops and plateaus, Stephen Hawking being a famous example. In Richard’s case it has sadly progressed at a pace, and a mere eight months later, he is now restricted to head movement only.

Here’s a clip of Richard and his partner in Dada-esque noise, Colin Robinson, in happier times:

Richard remains optimistic, and would not want this piece to turn into a eulogy for the living, I’m sure, so let’s crack on with the music. The album was recorded around the time of Richard’s diagnosis, when he could still play guitar, bass, fretless bass, and some keyboards. Richard’s Beefheartian croak is all over the songs on this album, and his expansive and very American lyrics give the Spartan music a wide-open feel. “Make for the county line”, he drawls on Hand Me the Jump Leads, and we can put ourselves on a deserted dusty highway in Arizona, rather than the somewhat more prosaic (but “bloody lovely”) North Yorkshire of its creation.

The sixteen vignettes on this fine album are stylistically varied, and Trading Cards on the Balcony, the fourth song in, aims for a dislocated Devo funk straight from Uncle Fester’s Carny, which it knocks over on the way past. A wonderfully barmy guitar break from Colin Robinson, the other half of this unlikely duo, gives it a crisply manic edge.

Teatime in Space finds Colin and Mark Joell (bandmate of Colin’s in Big Block 454) chanting “Be unjustified” behind Richard’s stream of consciousness. It is all wonderfully surreal, like Kerouac after peyote. BIG guitar shenanigans sprawl all over The Local, Richard’s most cerebrally manic lyric on the album. Imagine if The Fall had been around in 1966, were American, and had Ry Cooder on guitar. Possibly.

Leaving aside the unavoidable sad circumstances of its creation, I’m nearly 60 miles high is a creative triumph, a wonderful trip, and you won’t hear music quite like this anywhere else this year.

Richard also records under the name Plum Flower Embroidery, and he has made several recordings recently, by controlling the cursor by head movements alone. The results are remarkable, given the circumstances. The latest was released on Valentine’s Day, and is entitled A Technical Bohemian. Airy and experimental, the music transmits Richard’s irrepressible spirit. Find it HERE.

You will have noticed by now that all these recordings are “Name Your Price”. I am sure a donation would be much appreciated by Richard and his family.

For further info on MND, and, if so inclined to make a donation to vital research into a condition that can strike anyone at any time, visit the Motor Neurone Disease Association HERE.

TRACK LISTING
01. Just Bloody Lovely (4:01)
02. Hand Me the Jump Leads (3:09)
03. The Pony Rider (1:21)
04. Trading Cards on the Balcony (3:23)
05. Chicken-Beheading Party (1:05)
06. Pizza in Space (2:22)
07. Teatime in Space (5:06)
08. Spanish Graduation (2:19)
09. Slag (3:29)
10. The Second Day of Creation (3:49)
11. He was the First Person… (1:13)
12. The Local (2:33)
13. Hoodie (2:31)
14. Lucky Tears (2:46)
15. Friday 13th Part 5 (1:02)
16. I’ve never seen a film without you in it (3:55)

Total Time – 44:04

MUSICIANS
Richard Knutson – Lead Vocals, Instruments
Colin Robinson – Instruments, Vocals
~ With:
Mark Joell – Instruments, Vocals (tracks 1,2,6,7,14 & 16)
Mark Cottrell – Vocals, Guitar (tracks 3,8,12 & 14)

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.S.A./U.K.
Date of Release: 2019

LINKS
Churn Milk Joan – Facebook | Bandcamp
Richard Knutson – Facebook

This news story was originally published here: https://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2020/02/18/oceanica-onedark/

I think we can all admit that there are some albums which speak to us more than others. Last year there were two such, which became favourite releases of 2019, not just because they were amazing works of art (which they both are, in my opinion), but because of how they made me feel. Charlie Cawood’s Blurring Into Motion and Oceanica’s OneDark are both releases which were works of catharsis for their creators. That catharsis is palpable, and I found both albums incredibly efficacious in helping me through some times of mental struggle I had last year. As such, this might not be the most well thought out review, as the music speaks to my heart, not my head, and that’s where the words of this review are likely to come from, too. This is how the music makes me feel, rather than how it makes me think.

The album begins with the instrumental Youth. And what could be more youthful than the pleasingly childlike tones of a music box being wound and played? Though this effect has been used many times before by many artists, it never fails to delight me. This is the perfect opening to the wonderful experience of OneDark. The naive charms of a musical box leading into track after track of what feels to me like a wilfully naive celebration of life. If not the intention of Ben Harris-Hayes then certainly my interpretation – of both this album and of life. I have for many years now declared myself to be wilfully naive: to see life as a glass half full, to not sweat the small stuff, to seize the day, to celebrate every day that I’m still alive. A bunch of cliché platitudes, maybe, but they make life easier to live, and far more worth living for me.

Overcome is almost an overture, for while it may not have the musical motifs foreshadowing what is to come, it without doubt signals the way OneDark celebrates light over dark. A triumphant shout that we can overcome. When I first heard this track, and the remainder of the album, I was somewhat overcome myself. Although bits and pieces from OneDark were made available prior to the album’s release, I deliberately chose not to listen to anything until the CD dropped through my letterbox. Knowing only the cover art and the title of the album, I was completely blown away by the music when I heard it, for this is an album of hope, light, love and peace.

The music of OneDark is not dark. It is triumphant, jubilant, ebullient, or any such other adjective you favour. This is not the sound of One in the Dark, but rather One coming out from the Dark. I found the music to be immediate, and infectious in its joy. There are several songs which amazingly quickly became earworms – with three, in particular, I found myself humming or singing to myself in my head, throughout the day and for days after I first listened to the album. Even now, months later, they will enter my consciousness and refuse to leave. And I’m fine with that.

Oceanica is Ben Harris-Hayes, who is probably most well known for his days in Enochian Theory. There are few tracks as heavy as the music of Enochian Theory on OneDark, but All the Cool Kidz is one such from the heavier spectrum. But ultimately, no matter whether the tracks are light and airy or on the heavier side (such as this one – which even has hints of harsh vocals), they all have an air of hope. For someone who has struggled with mental health for much of my life, every one of these songs has a “coming out of the dark” feeling, which makes me feel good about myself. And I damn well hope they make Ben feel good about himself because the songs are good. Very good!

The next track, Amounting To Nothing, is the latest to have received a video treatment. Ben aims to have a video for every song on the album, and while those for The Oblivion Tree and Oubliette might be “better” videos, I actually really like the video for Nothing. For me, it’s a very clear and joyful portrayal of the obviously key lyrics of the song:

“Because through all of your stresses and your
worries, they amount to…
NOTHING!
So live!
And sing!
And love!
…and just be…”

Start From the Start is the first of a wonderful triptych of songs, which apparently were not intended to be taken in that way – but which I know I am not the only one to have recognised as being a strong suite. The one, two, three punch of Start From the Start, Oubliette and Got A Feeling are three of my favourite songs on this album, each one stronger and better than the last, and each showcasing different aspects of Ben’s musicality. Ben has made music under many different names, and from many different genres. Although OneDark is largely uniform, there are traces of electronic and ambient, as well as pop, rock and metal. It all conspires to make one glorious whole.

That said, the following track seems to be a bit of a Marmite one for many. Although there’s not a single track I dislike, I can see how Towards the Sun was a little harder to digest. It’s not that the song is bad, more that it is quite different from the remainder of the album. For me, I love the dissonance, discord and atonality it brings to the album, without forsaking any of the hope. Towards the Sun is actually an Easter egg of sorts, hinting at what is yet to come. For the One in OneDark is a recognition that this album is the first of a trilogy. The second album, titled TwoLight will hopefully be released at the end of this year, or beginning of 2021.

8 is a lively wee rocker, and Reverence gives the impression of being another tough and heavy track, before the heaviness dissipates into another melodious earworm. The following track is not only my favourite track from OneDark, but it was my favourite song outright of 2019. The Rose, Abloom is a glorious, toe-tapping, infectious song which completely captivates me. It is full of spring and joy and life, and it’s so overwhelmingly positive. There are soft and ethereal melodies, and an insistent, pumping beat. The album could end here, and I would be more than happy.

Yet, there’s more. The Entangled Roots of… is a short, spoken introduction for The Oblivion Tree, which perfectly ends the journey OneDark has taken us on. The spoken word is by Zoe Nolan, who also directed the video for Oblivion Tree. Perhaps the most minimalist of all the tracks on the album, The Oblivion Tree provides some welcome introspection, along with ultimate confirmation of the positivity and personal nature of this release. On that note, what is perhaps most amazing to me, is that this is about as true a solo album as it is possible to be. Ben has written all the songs, played all the instruments, sung the songs, and even mixed and mastered the album. All this after a long struggle with himself about whether the music was good enough to be released. You don’t get much more positive and personal than that.

Oceanica’s debut album was definitely released at the right time for me. Despite its title, it is a celebration of light over dark, and it has definitely helped me through dark times.

Kia kaha!

TRACK LISTING
01. Youth (1:07)
02. Overcome (5:12)
03. All the Cool Kidz R Doin’ It (4:26)
04. Amounting to Nothing (3:16)
05. Start From the Start (4:42)
06. Oubliette (5:01)
07. Got A Feeling (3:10)
08. Towards the Sun (2:45)
09. 8 (5:06)
10. Reverence (4:22)
11. The Rose, Abloom (5:48)
12a. The Entangled Roots Of… (0:37)
12b. The Oblivion Tree (7:14)

Total Time – 52:46

MUSICIANS
Benedict Harris-Hayes – All Instruments
Zoe Nolan – Spoken Word (The Entangled Roots)

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: Progressive Gears
Catalogue#: PGR-CD0019
Country of Origin: New Zealand
Date of Release: 25th October 2019

LINKS
Oceanica – Facebook | Bandcamp | YouTube

This news story was originally published here: https://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2020/02/17/a-different-aspect-33/

In this update we feature:

• Seven That Spells – The Trilogy Live at Roadburn
• Casimir Liberski – Cosmic Liberty
• Petbrick – I
• Jeffrey Brooks with Bang On A Can All-Stars & Contemporaneous – The Passion
• Ángel Ontalva & Vespero – Sada
• SEED Ensemble – Driftglass


Another round-up, this time from the fascinating rabbit warren otherwise known as Bandcamp. Roger Trenwith, armed only with a fading torch fashioned from a pirate’s wooden stump dipped in goose fat, a pair of stout walking boots, a Milky Bar, and a bottle of Jack Daniels, was gone for nearly three days. He emerged last Tuesday, grinning like a nun with a new battery, and these six highly varied albums…

Serious thanks must go to some like-mined souls on a couple of Facebook music groups for pointing some of these gems out to me. You know who you are.

Seven That Spells – The Trilogy Live at Roadburn
Roger Trenwith
Seven That Spells - The Trilogy Live at Roadburn

Some nine years ago, Croatian Ur-rock collective Seven That Spells embarked on an ambitious project charting the Death and Resurrection of Krautrock, a free-form Kosmische trip in the best traditions of early Ash Ra Tempel and Guru Guru.

This was given form over three sprawling albums of righteous and mighty music that is here presented in three giant slabs of monster rock, averaging over 50 minutes a piece, as performed at Roadburn 2019.

Coming across like an even more unhinged Motorpsycho in full-on acid jam mode, this is an album for the heads.

Not for the faint-hearted.

The Trilogy – Live at Roadburn 2019 by Seven That Spells

Casimir Liberski – Cosmic Liberty
Roger Trenwith
Casimir Liberski – Cosmic Liberty

This is another one of those “If I had known about it at the time, it would have got a full review”. Casimir Liberski is a Belgian pianist, previously associated with improvisational albums. Here he has spent two years composing this simply sublime album, ably backed by Louis de Mieulle on bass, and Matt Garstka on drums.

“The songs were constructed by an intense accumulation of constantly multiplying sections” it says, and it sometimes sounds like an orchestra, there is so much going on.

When you look at Casimir’s list of keyboards played on the recording, you’ll understand why.

Quite superb stuff!

Petbrick – I
Roger Trenwith
Petbrick – I

When an album is advertised as making the soundtrack to our current surreal dystopia that everyone else is shying away from (not strictly true, but… ), then you know that it isn’t going to be a soothing listen. And it isn’t oh, no. Opener Horse, jerks like an equine in post-electric shock seizure as pummelling rhythmic drums lead an electronica fear-fest right across the field, over the fence and straight out on to the motorway, where the fear crazed creature is put out of its misery by a truck ploughing along at the regulation 65mph. The next ditty, entitled Radiation Facial, makes Horse sound quite reasonable.

Petbrick are a furious and unlikely never-ending headbutting between one-man noise generator Wayne Adams, a veteran of modern punk and noise outfits, including Big Lad, and drummer Iggor Cavalera from hardcore metal world superstars Sepultura. Track titles like Roadkill Ruby, Coming, and Gringolicker – wherein guest shouter Mutado Pintado (Warmduscher) attempts “to inhabit the increasingly unhinged persona of Donald Trump” – only give a little indication of how thoroughly unhinged and therefore locked into the zeitgeist this feral racket is.

Listen if you dare!

Jeffrey Brooks with Bang On A Can All-Stars & Contemporaneous – The Passion
Roger Trenwith
Jeffrey Brooks with Bang On A Can All-Stars & Contemporaneous – The Passion

Jeffrey Brooks is a modern classical composer who has a liking for rock instruments. How that goes down with classical music snobs I don’t know, but I can imagine! He has long and close association to New York sound explorers Bang On A Can, who are “dedicated to making music new”, which is really all you need to know. Here they team up with fellow New York-based large ensemble Contemporaneous to perform Brooks’ new work, The Passion.

The Passion is a collection of three pieces that meet at a crossroads of chamber orchestral classical minimalism, front-line percussion, and a rock sensibility that surprises with the introduction of electric guitar in places where you wouldn’t expect it.

The 21 minute-plus title track goes through distinct movements, and there is not a note wasted, here, or anywhere on the album. The inclusion of arranged voices to end the piece is a delight.

The album is described as “a tribute to the lasting power of friendship, and a triumph of the human spirit”, I can only concur.

Ángel Ontalva & Vespero – Sada
Roger Trenwith
Ángel Ontalva & Vespero – Sada

Spanish graphic artist and guitarist with his band October Equus, Ángel Ontalva spends a lot of his time in Russia, which explains his collaborations with exemplary and long-running southern Russian cosmonaut explorers Vespero.

Here they take us on a collective trip through a star forming nebula, with music that starts off on a dream and a prayer and becomes increasingly labyrinthine.

Often duelling with Vespero violin man Vitaly Borodin, Ángel never lets ego get in the way of the trip, and the rest of the band chart the course with the studied ease of the near-veterans they are.

A thoroughly absorbing listen.

SEED Ensemble – Driftglass
Roger Trenwith
SEED Ensemble – Driftglass

Another London-based nu-jazz crew, Mercury Prize nominated SEED Ensemble take on the large ensemble mantle poffered by the likes of Sun Ra and Fela Kuti, and with the powerful drumming of Patrick Boyle high in the mix conjure a delightfully slinky and joyous 55 minutes or so of fine, sexy music.

The trumpet work of Sheila Maurice-Grey on album highlight Afronaut is a joy, and the fabulous and angsty rapping of XANA is the steam in this thoroughly urban sauna.

In fact the whole band make a wonderfully warm and engaging noise throughout, and as this album is now around a year old, I’m glad that thanks to the power of the oft-derided social media I finally caught up with this lithe monster of a record.

This news story was originally published here: https://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2020/02/17/art-aids-charity/

22 February 2011. A magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck Canterbury, New Zealand, centred around Christchurch (at the time, the second most populous city in the country). There was widespread damage to buildings and infrastructure, already weakened by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake that had occurred the previous September. Though a lesser magnitude, this second earthquake was far more destructive, because of its shallowness. 185 people died in what was New Zealand’s fifth deadliest disaster. Almost a decade later, the city is still being rebuilt.

That’s just one city. Now imagine how long it is going to take to recover from the devastation of the 2019/2020 Australian bushfires. At the end of last month, the fires (many still burning) had burnt over 18.5 million hectares, destroyed around 6000 buildings (around half of those, homes), killed an estimated 1.25 billion animals, and driven some species to extinction. The human death toll stands at 33.

Thankfully, there are a lot of individuals and groups throughout the world who are aware of the help that Australia needs, and doing their utmost to get it to them. Largely, these efforts may have seemed to people in the UK to have originated from outside Australia, and that does make a lot of sense. Those closest to the devastation are too busy dealing with it, and those further away can really only help by going there personally, or by helping through charitable events and releases. But I was not convinced this was necessarily the case.

I spoke to Lachlan Dale and Bonnie Stewart of Australian record label, Art As Catharsis to find out how they feel. One of the things I was interested was whether the perceived discrepancy of where most charitable actions were originating was actually accurate. Does charity come more naturally from a distance? Thankfully, I was reassured it does not, and though it may not be reported so much in the (social) media on this side of the globe, there has been an amazing local response in Australia.

WIRES_TPA banner

In fact, so much so that Bonnie hadn’t heard of much of the international efforts, but was able to tell me that “There has been a lot going on here, with many artists organising bushfire relief shows, writing songs, or auctioning merch, and even gear.” I was particular interested, and heartened, to hear Bonnie tell me that she felt “the arts has been one of the most successful and active sectors in raising money for the fires. I think King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard have just released some live albums with donations to WIRES actually. There has been so much, but to be honest I’ve felt so overwhelmed with it all, I haven’t taken in everything that everybody is doing…”

Bonnie, as Bonniesongs, has herself provided a song for charity. “I was in New Zealand over New Years which was when there was mass devastation around Australia. I felt so helpless and gutted, that I just wanted to be able to offer something. It’s a very small financial offering, but it felt like Sand Dunes would be of some weight at this time. The release was to honour Australia’s natural landscape and wildlife as well as to help send the message that the land is beautiful and we should take care of it.” All proceeds from Sand Dunes are going to the Australian bushfires charity WIRES, and you can buy it HERE. A live video can be watched below, and if you want to see more and are in the UK, Bonniesongs are co-headlining a tour with Yumi and the Weather in April and May. (Two more Art As Catharsis acts will be playing in the UK, too – with SEIMS and Lack The Low playing this year’s ArcTangent.)

Meanwhile label boss Lachlan, in his capacity as a band member of Hashshashin, is taking part in Prog Aid. Nine/Eight Touring, in conjunction with HeavyMag, Behind The Scene, and BHSS are holding this progressive music gig on March 15, and while you need to be in Australia to physically attend, remote tickets are being sold so that anyone in the world can watch a live stream of the performances. It’s an impressive bill to be part of, consisting of The Omnific, Teramaze, Red Sea, I Built The Sky, Hashshashin, Anubis, Hemina, Genetics, Halcyon Reign, and The Winter Effect. All proceeds from the show will be going to WIRES and the Australian Red Cross. Remote tickets for the live stream can be purchased HERE.

Prog Aid 2020

I don’t know if this is the first event of this type, but it’s definitely the first I’ve heard of, and I love the idea of it. Live Aid and Band Aid are big ideas that would just never work these days, but I can see a huge future for charity gigs like this, offering remote tickets. It’s a very clever way to include a greater audience, and raise a greater amount of money for charity.

I asked Lachlan how Hashshashin made it on to the bill, as while they might be my favourite band performing at Prog Aid (with last year’s sophomore album one of my favourite releases of 2019), they are certainly not as well-known as other bands playing. The answer was simpler than I expected, as these things often are. “ProgAid has been arranged by Nine/Eight Touring. They’ve interviewed us previously, and are really supportive of our music. We really appreciate the chance to play with bigger names like Teramaze, The Omrific and I Built The Sky.” If you’re not familiar with Hashshashin, do check out this performance of the final track from last year’s Badakhshan, Then He Hid Himself In The Refining Fire.

From a personal point of view I do hope the devastation of the Australian bushfires remains in the public consciousness for some time yet. News, by its very nature, needs to be new to be of interest. But it will take a long time to put things right, particularly when further fires are inevitable. As mentioned at the beginning of this piece, Christchurch is still recovering from its earthquake almost ten years on. It is just over ten years now, since Haiti was hit by their earthquake, and that country is not even as far forward in rebuilding as New Zealand.

It’s important to realise two things, in regard to the bushfires. The first is that they do occur annually in Australia. The second is that might be the case, but the 2019-2020 “season” has been particularly devastating. Lachlan points out that they “are more severe than anything else I can remember. For weeks Sydney city was choked with smoke to the point where I couldn’t leave windows open in my house. For days the entire city was sepia-toned, and at sunset the haze made me feel like I was in New Delhi rather than Sydney.”

Lachlan had a lot more to say, and rather than break it up, I’d rather present it here in full:

“This is an emergency that calls for an enormous response. It’s been wonderful to see the outpouring of support and donations from the general public – it’s almost like this has been the first legitimate large-scale community response to climate change that I can recall – but we need more than that. We need concrete action to transition away from fossil fuels, reduce emissions and minimise man-made climate change.

It’s been touching to see the support and concern from around the world, but we can’t rely on the generousity of others – or even of the Australian public – to address the cause of these issues. If we fast forward ten years, these sorts of disasters will be common place. And if this happens again year after year our economy is going to be deeply damaged, and we won’t be able to properly finance a response. And that’s setting aside the ecological catastrophe: the species and ecosystems that have been irreparably damaged.

My parents lost a close friend of theirs in the fires. I also don’t want to minimise the very real costs of this tragedy: the people who have lost their lives, livelihoods and homes, and the scale of ecological destruction that is beyond imagining.

For too long climate change has been subject to political posturing in this country. Our democratic debate around the science of man-made climate change has been distorted by fossil fuel lobby groups. Our economy is reliant on income from mining, and there is a lot of money to be made in maintaining the status quo. It feels like the Liberal Party and Nationals (“the Coalition” who currently govern this country) are just openly corrupt.

Hopefully this recent disaster moves us closer to addressing climate change. These fires are only a small taste of what is to come for us in future years.”

Bonnie & Yumi

This news story was originally published here: https://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2020/02/16/john-holden/

With his new album, Rise and Fall, imminently released, TPA’s John Wenlock-Smith spoke to John Holden about the music, his influences and the recording process.


Who are your main influences?

I grew up when progressive music was in its heyday. At that time bands put out an album every year! There was never a shortage of music to be heard. I was listing to Floyd, Genesis, Focus, Tull, ELP, Rush and Yes. But I also enjoyed quality pop music as well. I loved 10CC, Eagles, George Benson and Steely Dan. I guess as I got older my tastes just grew wider. I still try to keep an open mind when listening to new music, although in the past few years I have been so busy creating my own music that I generally don’t listen to music as much as I used to. My influences now tend to be the musicians I work with. I find them inspiring.

What was your approach to the writing of the Rise and Fall album?

Towards the end of writing the last album (2018’s Capture Light) I tried different approaches to composing. I found the best way for me to write was to have a specific subject or story in mind and then start to construct the musical framework that I felt would best suit that idea. At the same time, Libby (John’s partner) and I would work on the lyrical content and structure. This was the method I used for all the songs on Rise and Fall.

How do you get your ideas and concepts?

They come from lots of places. I try to be open to what is going on in the world right now, but I also enjoy visiting stories from the past. I have no shortage of ideas but selecting the ones that will work best as songs takes some imagination. I usually bounce things off Libby, she has a great sense of what can work or what is too “complex” to communicate successfully. On this album we were very keen to also get more emotion into the material, So in some songs that meant putting yourself in another person’s shoes and trying to make their story come alive.

Do you have examples of this approach?

On the song Heretic I wanted to write about the terrible situation in Syria. I also had an idea about the concept of “re-writing history”; that the conqueror alters or distorts the way the past is interpreted. One way of doing this is by cultural terrorism. When hearing about the destruction at the temple of Palmyra and the horrors that were perpetrated, I felt that I wanted to compose a piece reflecting those ideas and events but also contain an element of hope.

The title track Rise and Fall is about the three-way relationship between a man, his partner and his addiction. The words reflect how he is gambling with his life and the relationship he holds dear. Ultimately, he has a choice to make. The vocals from Jean Pageau were beautifully done having a vulnerability that conveys the struggle within.

John Holden Gtr (1)Can you tell us something about the other musicians on the album?

Having released Capture Light, all the musicians who appeared on that were keen to be involved on the follow-up. Which was great as I already had a core of “go to” people. I also wanted to bring new people into the project who would bring something different. Having done my research I approached them individually and we would work on a track to see how it worked. In every case, it went better than I could have hoped for.

New to the “team” were, Jon Camp, Zaid Crowe, Nick D’Virgilio, Simon Fitzpatrick, Sally Minnear, Lauren Nolan and Michel St-Pere. All these musicians were amazing and fitted in perfectly. I also discovered Vik Shankar and he was astonishing! He has the ability to play in any style and bring real emotion as well as technique. He was a dream to work with.

How do you decide who will play on each track?

My first decision is figuring out what I feel needs replacing or improving on my original demos. Sometimes very little needs changing. In some cases, I know it is going to need more parts or possibly a solo that may be technically beyond me. I then imagine the kind of sound I am looking for and then think of who best could deliver that style. Because I am working with such incredible musicians, they usually improve on my original ideas anyway! It’s nice to have different options. It’s like having a huge palette of colours to choose from.

And the choice of vocalist?

When it comes to choosing the vocalist, in most cases I have a good idea who would be the best fit for the track. For the song Leap of Faith, I knew before a note was written that it had to be Peter Jones, thankfully he agreed to do it!

On this album I worked with Sally Minnear for the first time and she was great to work with. She sang on After the Storm but also kindly did guide vocals on another two. I really liked her voice and actually used some of those recordings as backing vocals for the completed songs. One track did offer up some surprises. I was working through the songs that I wanted Joe Payne to sing on. Towards the end of the session I asked Joe if he would mind laying down a guide vocal for Dark Arts. I had originally thought I would use more of a “rock singer”. However, when Joe agreed to sing it through I just pressed record. When I listened back, I realised that I needed to look no further, he did an amazing job. He really “owned it”.

Jean Pageau took the demo of the title track and added a new opening section that added so much. I loved what he had done and altered the arrangement to highlight those elements.

For the final song, Ancestors and Satellites, it has Pete on lead vocal, but I thought it would be nice to feature every singer who was on the album. I really enjoyed working on that acapella section. That song also has the heavenly voice of Lauren Nolan – Magical!

You do not have a record deal. Is that by choice?

I think for any new artist the hardest thing is just to get people to just take a listen. There is so much music out there with everyone trying to get attention. With the relative success of Capture Light, I think I have managed to build a strong base that meant people are more prepared to investigate my music.

I have had some communication with some established labels, but in all honesty, I think I would have to be selling much larger quantities to make it work for everyone financially.

I am a little bit of a control freak. I do the production, the artwork, the videos and, with huge amounts of help from Libby, the promotion on social media. I have strong views on how I want these things to happen.

Another key thing is that I am in total control of what I record and when it is released. I only make things available when I feel it is the best it can be. I often live with a mix for a few months to tease out any problems before I commit to the finished article. The tracks then go through a rigorous quality check by Robin Armstrong prior to mastering. This loop is critical and not to be rushed. It’s important for me to work at a pace that I feel will deliver the best results.

John Holden - Rise And Fall


[And you can read Leo Trimming’s review of Rise and Fall HERE.]


LINKS
John Holden – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp

This news story was originally published here: https://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2020/02/16/john-holden-rise-and-fall/

To put it very simply, John Holden has done it again. Lightning has indeed struck twice, after 2018’s Capture Light. In Rise And Fall, John Holden has released a very fine album, encompassing a range of fascinating stories, packed with captivating melodies and skilfully played progressive rock.

Whilst curious punters may be attracted by the presence of members of Yes and Mystery, alongside the mercurial Peter Jones of Camel and Tiger Moth Tales, with the added vocal talents of That Joe Payne, it will be the great quality of this enchanting melodic music that will beguile them to stay and repeatedly listen to this fine album.

It is perhaps significant that John Holden commences this album with Leap of Faith as it is indicative of his own musical journey when after a career in business he decided to follow his dreams to write and work on his debut album Capture Light for quite some time. When it was finally released in 2018 Holden achieved quite some success, seemingly straight out of nowhere! He takes another similar leap on this opening song by working alongside the relatively unknown keyboard artist Vikram Shankar (who released an album under the Lux Terminus banner last year). Vikram co-wrote the outstanding introductory instrumental section The Comet with Holden. It draws the listener in with atmospheric piano and violin-like synths which evolve into a more orchestral and choral feel, suggesting an overture for the song and album. Vikram Shankar plays piano and keyboards on most of the songs, and he is clearly a great attribute to John’s finely crafted album.

In an example of the stories depicted by Holden, with fascinating explanatory sleeve notes for each song included with the lovely artwork of the CD booklet, Leap of Faith tells of an 11th Century English Benedictine monk Eilmer, who was reportedly the first recorded person to have attempted flight. Eilmer witnessed Halley’s Comet as a youngster and also again in 1066 shortly before his death, and the stellar connection with his aspirations for flight are evoked by the flowing melodic rock, tinged with monastic touches and flourishes. Apparently, Eilmer’s flight was from the belltower of Malmesbury Abbey, leaping off wearing only wings… if you want to know the outcome you will need to get the album. What I can tell you is that this story is told through a series of captivating musical and lyrical phases as Eilmer reflects, experiences monastic life, studies and plans before taking his ascent to the tower. Peter Jones adds suitably airy recorder and whistles, and beautifully sings each changing emotional stage of the story, including the stirring tones of ‘The Leap’:

“Soaring now the world beneath me, High above the ground
People gaze with awe and wonder, Gliding without sound.”

It’s an absolutely marvellous opening song which sets the scene and standards for the whole album.

The quality of the songs continues with a stellar vocal contribution from Jean Pageau from Canadian progressive rock band Mystery in the title song Rise and Fall. Pageau has a remarkable voice, simultaneously capable of conveying great emotion and subtlety as well as handling more powerful sections. One can see why he seemingly had no hesitation in reprising his vocal contribution to Holden’s debut album as this is a rich, melodic song full of resonance, touching on a person’s struggle with an addiction balanced with their feelings about the person trying to save them from their own self-destruction. At the end of the day it is down to the person to make a choice – will they Rise or Fall?

Much of the inspiration for John Holden’s work comes from his partner Elizabeth, who also helps him write some of the fine lyrics. John set ‘Libby’ a challenge, that she should write a song which he would set to music, the opposite of their usual way of working. Facing her own personal challenges in recent years with great grace, Libby decided to combine a requiem for herself that was also a love song. She chose to use the theme of The Golden Thread of the Fates seen in Greek and Roman mythology – these are noble and beautiful ideas, but do they work as a song? Well, the short answer is most definitely ‘Yes’. Oliver Wakeman (ex-Yes) provides a delicate piano accompaniment with added lush orchestration by Vikram Shankar. This a perfect canvas for the crystal clear voices of Joe Payne (ex-The Enid) and Lauren Nolan who duet beautifully about the bond of everlasting love. It’s a gorgeous song filled with the love that so clearly shines between John and his Muse, Elizabeth.

The album takes a distinctly darker and more sinister path on Dark Arts, showing Joe Payne’s versatility in a much heavier piece, focusing on the deception in politics, social media and the press. This piece features some nifty bass work from Billy Sherwood of Yes, once again returning to contribute to a John Holden album. The talented Zaid Crowe also strafes a searing guitar solo later in the piece, and the whole piece is driven on with great percussive skill by Nick D’Virgilio of Big Big Train and ex-Spock’s Beard on drums, as he does for most of the album – just how does Holden persuade these great artists to appear on his albums?!

One of Holden’s main collaborators is Oliver Day, a very skilled guitarist who plays with the Yes tribute band Fragile as well as with Joe Payne, and he particularly shines on Heretic. This was inspired by the incredible bravery of Khaled al-Asaad, the 82-year-old Head of Antiquities who refused to disclose the whereabouts of priceless hidden treasures to his ISIS torturers when they captured and destroyed the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra in 2015. Payne sings the piece with great feeling while Day’s deftly played guitars evoke a range of images, and suggest the hopeful ending that displaced peoples can return home one day, as empires rise and fall. A guitar part from Day also inspired the penultimate song, After the Storm, which starts with a synth violin line before Sally Minnear touchingly and optimistically sings a song of hope after the storm. The part John Holden plays on this album should NOT be underestimated. He plays a range of instruments with skill and feeling on all the songs, and it is his gorgeous songwriting, with clearly a great ear for an attractive melody and a memorable line, which enables the artists he gathers to create such enticing and interesting sounds and images.

Rise and Fall closes with the ambitious Ancestors and Satellites which re-introduces the rich voice of Peter Jones on lead vocal, suggesting The Comet seen in the opening song. Like Halley’s Comet, this piece stretches across time, commencing with the hand paintings left 40,000 years ago by ancient cavemen right up to the virtually eternal footprints left on the Moon’s surface by the Apollo astronauts. Joe Payne, Lauren Nolan and Sally Minnear harmonise soulfully with Peter Jones on some of the vocals in a lovingly constructed patchwork of voices over a beguiling melody and sweetly resonant chorus:

“Light the Fires, Words are spoken
Incantation, Stories
Call the memory
From the darkness
Imagination, Our Song.”

The fluid grace of Michel St-Pere on electric guitar lifts the song further to a shimmering conclusion before his Mystery bandmate Jean Pageau ends with the words “In the Rise and Fall”. This is a truly lovely song – there’s no hard edge or cynicism – it’s a song inspired by and shining with positivity and beauty… and don’t we need a bit more of that now and then?

Rise and Fall is a delightful series of musical paintings depicting tales stretching right back to prehistoric times through to the present day and beyond – but this is no musty soulless gallery. These songs shimmer with wonderful melodies and the words bring the stories to life with resonance and emotion, tied together with a Golden Thread of ‘Hope’ running through this remarkable and uplifting album.

It’s early yet but Rise and Fall may well be one of THE albums of 2020.

[You can read John Wenlock-Smith’s recent interview with John Holden HERE.]

TRACK LISTING
01. Leap of Faith (10:10)
02. Rise and Fall (6:23)
03. The Golden Thread (4:56)
04. Dark Arts (7:06)
05. Heretic (9:20)
06. After the Storm (6:09)
07. Ancestors and Satellites (8:57)

Total Time – 53:01

MUSICIANS
John Holden – Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Programming
Vikram Shankar – Piano, Keyboards (tracks 1,2,3,5,6 & 7)
Nick D’Virgilio – Drums (tracks 2,4,5,6 & 7)
Oliver Day – Guitars, Lap Steel (tracks 2,4,5 & 6)
That Joe Payne – Vocals (tracks 3,4,5 & 7)
Peter Jones – Vocals, Recorder, Whistle (tracks 1 & 7)
Oliver Wakeman – Piano, Keyboards (tracks 3 & 4)
Jean Pageau – Vocals (tracks 2 & 7)
Michel St-Pere – Guitar Solo (track 7)
Billy Sherwood – Bass (track 4)
Jon Camp – Bass (track 2)
Zaid Crowe – Guitar Solo (track 4)
Emily Dolan Davies – Percussion (track 2)
Simon Fitzpatrick – Bass (tracks 5 & 7)
Sally Minnear – Vocals (tracks 5 & 7)
Lauren Nolan – Vocals (tracks 3 & 7)

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: Independent
Country uf Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 29th February 2020

LINKS
John Holden – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp

This news story was originally published here: https://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2020/02/15/klan-senne-wedrowki/

The quartet from Warsaw, founded in 1969, celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, an ideal opportunity to re-release a number of older albums and to bring them to the attention with, in addition to Mrowisko, also Senne wędrówki (Polish for “sleepwalking”). This is a compilation that was originally released in 1971 and reissued in 2011 with music from Klan, commissioned by the PKF, as mentioned. The material now returns in a new form.

“Klan, one of the first true rock bands from Poland, almost immediately became a legend right from the start. However, they did not intend to sing about love exclusively. Instead, they experimented with musical forms and were pioneers in the use of stroboscopic lights and artificial fog during performances. The group from Warsaw recorded their first album in 1970. A year later they released the album Mrowisko, with music from the eponymous ballet performance. Unfortunately, Klan was at the time too subversive a group to be accepted by the authorities thereby blocking any opportunities for further development. In August 1971 the band no longer existed, at least not in the original line-up.”

In February 1971 Klan was at the top of their creative abilities. It was at that time that they recorded a dozen songs that were intended as a soundtrack for the Polish Film Chronicle (PKF), a newsreel in Polish cinemas. The band combined elements of jazz, rock and psychedelia with great ease and these recordings have survived the test of time in decent quality. They have been transferred from the original tapes and carefully remastered by Andrzej Poniatowski, Klan’s original drummer and an avid and valued sound engineer. Once again accompanied by a booklet full of often unpublished photos and an extensive description of the creation of the album. At least I think so: it is written entirely in Polish, apparently they did not think for one moment that music fans outside their national borders would also show an interest.

The thirteen songs are somewhat in line with the music on the aforementioned Mrowisko, the band’s magnum opus. Some songs are new versions of previously released material, there are quite a few doubles. But also completely unknown recordings (although some have the same name as previous titles – extremely confusing!).

Nice as a period piece and curio, no more no less.

TRACKLISTING
01. Automaty (2:46)
02. Taniec głodnego (3:24)
03. Z brzytwą na poziomki (2:23)
04. Sen (3:27)
05. Rajd Safari (1:43)
06. Epidemia Euforii (2:38)
07. Trzeba było mnie nie budzić (3:33)
08. Szkoła (2:39)
09. Nie stało się nic (2:37)
10. Pociągi (3:09)
11. Senne wędrówki (2:28)
12. Gdzie jest człowiek (2:46)
13. Kuszenie (3:45)

Total Time – 37:18

MUSICIANS
Marek Ałaszewski – Guitars, Flute, Kazoo
Maciej Głuszkiewicz – Keyboards
Roman Pawelski – Bass
Andrzej Poniatowski – Drums, Percussion

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: Gad Records
Catalogue#: GAD CD 098
Country of Origin: Poland
Date of Release: 2019 (originally 1971)

DISCOGRAPHY
– Chmura nad miastem (2017)
– Nerwy miast (2014)
– Marek Ałaszewski & Klan: Laufer (2012)
– Po Co Mi Ten Raj (1992)
– Live Finland (1972)
– Senne Wędrówki (1971)
– Mrowisko (1971)

LINKS
KLAN – Facebook