Category Archives: CD Reviews

The Expert Craft of Sebastian Hardie

Sebastian Hardie - Blueprint
Sebastian Hardie

Blueprint (independent, 2012)

Blueprint is the first studio recording by legendary Australian progressive rock band Sebastian Hardie since 1976’s Windchase. Blueprint brings the classic line-up from the 1970s: Alex Plavsic on drums, percussion; Peter Plavsic on bass guitar; Mario Millo on lead guitar, vocals, mandolin; and Toivo Plit on keyboards.

Despite the years, Sebastian Hardie remains loyal to symphonic rock, delivering an album with extensive instrumental passages full of captivating guitar melodies and outstanding keyboard atmospheres, combining classical music, blues and jazz infused progressive rock. Toivo Plit contributes a wide palette of keyboards, including electric organ, epic mellotron and synths. Meanwhile, Mario Millo uses mesmerizing slide guitar, wah wah and other creative guitar effects.

Sebastian Hardie released two excellent albums in the mid-1970s, Four Moments (1975) & Windchase (1976). They disbanded in the late 70s. The band reformed a few times for special occasions. Getting Sebastian Hardie together again for Blueprint was no easy task. All the musicians had their separate careers and while the majority still lived in Sydney, drummer Alex Plavsic was based in Queensland, about 1000 kilometers from Sydney.

Uplifting and delectable, Blueprint is an expertly crafted new album by one of the significant masters of Australian progressive rock.

Music samples and MP3 downloads:

CD available from http://shoponmarsmusic.com

Andalusian Prog Jams

Imán Califato Independiente - Edición Especial 30 Aniversario
Imán Califato Independiente

Edición Especial 30 Aniversario (Aristillus, 2006)

Imán Califato Independiente, the legendary Andalusian progressive rock band celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2006 with the release of a collection of live recordings. Although Imán only released two albums, they were a favorite of the rock festival circuit in Andalusia (southern Spain) and other parts of the country. While the studio albums were more structured, the live performances featured extended pieces in jam rock fashion, combining symphonic rock, cutting edge fusion, blues, Flamenco and Arabic music influences.

Edición Especial 30 Aniversario contains music extracted from long forgotten tapes recorded during Iman’s live performances. Drummer Kiko Guerrero and sound engineer Pepe Almadana kept these tapes in their archives. Thanks to the persistence of music fans, these recordings made in 1978 and 1979 were recovered. For the first in many years, progressive rock music fans were able to experience Iman, during its golden era.

The album features 2 jams, ‘Improvisación atmosférica’ (atmospheric improvisation) and ‘Improvisación 1-B’ and two well-known pieces that never made it to the studio: ‘Tema de Abdu’ and ‘La forja de los Tarantos.’

Musicians featured include the core band members Kiko Guerrero on drums and percussion, Manuel Iman on guitars and vocals, and Marcos Mantero on keyboards. The band’s first bassist, Iñaki Egaña, appears on tracks 2 and 4, and Urbano Morales, the secnd bassist, is featured on tracks 1 and 3.

The CD booklet holds vintage photos, detailed information about the band and biographies of all the musicians.

Edición Especial 30 Aniversario brings back the live magic of one of the most original and influential progressive rock bands in Spanish history.

In The Mist of Morning

Nordagust - In The Mist of Morning
Nordagust

In The Mist of Morning (Karisma KAR054, 2010)

Norwegian band Nordagust is a rising talent in the area of symphonic progressive rock. They are inspired by Nordic mythology and are characterized by a dark, slow-tempo sound with somber vocals, heavy use of grand mellotron, Nordic folk instruments and wailing guitars.

The name of the band Nordagust originates from Nordic mythology. It was the spirit of the north wind, said to be exceptionally knowledgeable, and was believed to have understanding of all things. The life-force was also called “the grieving souls spirit”. The founders of Nordagust are very interested in Norse legends and its connections with Scandinavian folk music. Even though the band uses primarily electric instruments like guitars, keyboards and bass, Nordagust also uses the beautiful kantele, a folk zither primarily found in Finland.

Like many of the northern European prog bands, Nordagust has some elements of formulaic heavy metal, with guitar riffs that drown out the mellotron and are totally unnecessary. Dark and brooding atmospheres are certainly possible without the use of metal. Case in point, Norwegian folk singer Unni Løvlid. When Nordagust uses more creative non-metal guitar, it really shows great potential.

The band featured on In The Mist of Morning includes Daniel Solheim on guitars, keyboards, kantele, mandolin, lead vocals; Ketil Berg on drums, percussion and vocals; Knud Strand on bass; Jostein Skjonberg on keyboard, flute, vocals; Sissel Os on keyboards and vocals; and Guro Strand on guitar and keyboards.

Highlights of the album are ‘In the Mist of Morning’, the kantele-rich ‘In The Woods’ and ‘Frozen.’

Nordagust’s debut album In The Mist of Morning shows great promise and will please fans of dark and mellotron-driven progressive rock.

Alberto Rigoni’s Rising Bass

Alberto Rigoni - Rebirth
Alberto Rigoni

Rebirth (Nightmare Records, 2011)

Italian bassist Alberto Rigoni shows his masterful bass technique in a solo album titled Rebirth that incorporates a wide range of musical influences and genres.

The album opens with a fusion piece titled ‘Free’ with fine work on the bass and Federico Solazzo’s keyboards emulating Return to Forever. Track 2, ‘Rebirth’ is a graceful solo bass piece, where Rigoni showcases his talent in constructing bass melodies.

The solo bass work continues on ‘Story of a man’ with exquisite overdubbed bass lines and interplay. Rigoni is joined here by fellow bassist, renowned American bass virtuoso Michael Manring. Track 4, ‘The Net’ gets a little more experimental seeking the world of electronic music.

‘Emptiness’ is a hard rock song, with vocals, of little interest. ‘A New Soul’ brings back more of the outstanding overdubbed bass melodies. Michael Manring returns to provide another session of ebullient dueling basses.

‘With all my forces’ is the other heavy rocker on the album.

‘Ontogeny’ features a full electric ensemble, playing masterful progressive rock and fusion with more outstanding keyboard and bass work.

The final track is ‘White Shine,’ a delectable bass and piano.

Musicians featured on Rebirth include celebrated musicians: drummers Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree) and John Macaluso (Ark, LaBrie, Malmsteen); bassists Michael Manring and Yves Carbonne; Swedish vocalist Jonas Erixon (Alicate), guitarists Tommy Ermolli (Twinspirits) and Simone Mularoni (DGM, Empyrios); keyboardists Federico Solazzo (Alexia), Andrea Pavanello (Centrica), Filippo Lui and Emanuele Casali (DGM, Astra).

In addition to his solo work, Alberto Rigoni plays bass for progressive metal band TwinSpirits and is founder of the electropop duo Lady & the Bass.

Rebirth is a luscious electric bass album with a colorful range of exquisitely crafted progressive rock, fusion and neoclassical sounds.

The Missing Fireflies Unearthed

Locanda delle Fate - The Missing Fireflies
Locanda delle Fate

The Missing Fireflies (AltrOck Productions, 2012)

Italian band Locanda delle Fate made one of the most beautiful progressive rock albums of the late 1970s, Forse le lucciole non si amano più (Polydor, 1977). At the time, CDs didn’t exist and vinyl LPs had limited time capacity so two pieces, ‘Crescendo’ and ‘La Giostra’ were left out of the album.

The Missing Fireflies has rescued these masterful pieces that had been forgotten. At last they’ve been recorded, using vintage instruments, giving them a classic symphonic rock essence that connects them to the Forse le lucciole non si amano più spirit. In addition to ‘Crescendo’ and ‘La Giostra’, the band has recorded a short piano piece titled ‘Sequenza circolare’ that will delight classic Italian prog rock fans. The last studio piece is a recreation of the magnificent ‘Non chiudere a chiave le stelle’ which originally came out in Forse le lucciole non si amano più.

The current line-up of the band features Leonardo Sasso on vocals, Oscar Mazzoglio on keyboards, Luciano Boero on bass and Giorgio Gardino on drums joined by two new members, guitarist Massimo Brignolo and keyboardist Maurizio Muha.

The rest of the album contains three live pieces recorded in 1977 by Locanda delle Fate’s classic line-up which included Leonardo Sasso on vocals, Ezio Vevey on guitar, vocals; Alberto Gaviglio on guitar, flute, vocals; Michele Conta on keyboards; Oscar Mazzoglio on keyboards; Luciano Boero on bass; and Giorgio Gardino on drums.

The Missing Fireflies is a phenomenal album that brings back one of the legendary bands of Italian progressive rock. Let’s hope that this not a one-time reunion and that the band puts out more of their masterful music.

The album is available from most of the usual progressive rock outlets.

Ampersand, Volume 1

IZZ - Ampersand, Volume 1
IZZ

Ampersand, Volume 1 (Doone Records, 2004)

Ampersand, Volume 1 is the third album by the great American progressive rock band IZZ. The disc has two types of tracks. The first set, tracks 1-7, are studio tracks. The rest are live recordings with pieces from earlier albums.

IZZ goes acoustic on the first track, ‘Ancient Memory.’ The song begins in folk-rock style with acoustic guitar and vocal harmonies clearly influenced by early Crosby, Stills and Nash. Midway through the piece, keyboardist Tom Galgano treats the listener to one of his tasty, although brief synth solos. Tom Galgano is a skillful keyboardist and the sounds he extracts out of the synthesizers are engaging, not the old presets other bands use. I’m always expecting the solos to last a little longer.

The acoustic tone continues with the ballad ‘Afraid to Be Different.” Things turn electric with the dynamic ‘The Wait of It All’ which includes engaging male vocals and the outstanding female vocals of Annemarie Byrnes. Her voice is not only gorgeous, but her delivery is perfectly suited for progressive rock. I’d love to hear more of her in future recordings. She is undoubtedly one of the finest vocalists in the current progressive rock scene. ‘The Wait of It All’ also features another of Tom Galgano’s signature synth solos.

Ampersand features some short tracks where some of the band members showcase their talent. ‘One Slice to Go’ is one of these; a delightful acoustic guitar piece by Paul Bremner.

‘Confusion’ shows us an elegant pop piece with deep The Beatles influence. It could easily have been a radio hit if the radio gatekeepers wouldn’t keep the doors closed to independent music.

‘The Bar Song’ is another ballad. It’s followed by ‘My Best Defenses,’ a solo piece by IZZ’s other female vocalist, Laura Meade. She sings a beautiful song, accompanying herself on the piano. IZZ has managed to bring together three excellent vocalists. It’s striking, especially when you think that many of the modern bands have very weak vocalists.

The rest of the album is live cuts. ‘Molly’s Jig’ has a Celtic flavor. ‘Razor’ and ‘Another Door’ are well known pieces from earlier albums. The album closes with IZZ’s great progressive rock epic, ‘Star Evil Gnoma Su.’

The line-up for this recording included Tom Galgano on keyboards, vocals, acoustic guitar; Paul Bremner on guitars; Brian Coralian on electronic drums, acoustic drums, programming; Greg Dimicelli on acoustic drums; and John Galgano on bass, vocals, guitars, piano. They were joined by Annemarie Byrnes and Laura Meade on vocals.

Ampersand, Volume 1 shows IZZ incorporating outstanding female vocals, and still showing two tendencies: melodic pop-rock ballads and state of the art progressive rock.

Tomorrow Will Tell The Story

Echo Us - Tomorrow Will Tell The Story
Echo Us

Tomorrow Will Tell The Story (Absolute Probability Recordings, (2012)

Tomorrow Will Tell The Story is the latest release by the uncategorizable project called Echo Us. Tomorrow Will Tell The Story is a mysterious sonic journey composed of musical collages composed of songs, electronic and acoustic musical passages and sampled sounds. Ethan Matthews is the artist behind the surreal project. He is joined by several collaborators, including singer-songwriter Henta, harpist Raelyn Olson and hermeticist Rawn Clark who contributes meditation canticles.

‘I’ve always gotten the lot of my musical ideas from dreams and trance states- but this time was different..,” says Ethan. “Words and phrases came from completely outside of me into my mind very clear and vividly- and I’d never recalled them before. These were spiritual sayings and ideas that were quite alien to me. This became not only the inspiration for, but direct material lifted for The Archaeous of Water suite. This experience led me to discover Kabbalism and esoteric works such as The Seth Material along with other forms of spiritualism.”

Tomorrow Will Tell The Story is sometimes angelic, while other times it is dark and out of this world, creating variable moods and changeable atmospheres. It will appeal to music fans with a taste for the challenging and exploratory.

The CD album also includes two extra album tracks and one bonus track not originally slated for release.

Signed pre-orders for Tomorrow Will Tell The Story are on sale at www.echous.net.

All Rights Removed

Airbag - All Rights Removed
Airbag

All Rights Removed (Karisma Records, 2011)

Norwegian band Airbag has attracted the curiosity of Pink Floyd music fans with its attention-grabbing mix of progressive space rock and melodic rock. Imagine the offspring of Coldplay and Animals-era Pink Floyd and that will give you an idea of the group’s sound.

The Coldplay influence is larger in the vocal parts, which have a melancholic soft rock feel. Airbag‘s music really takes off when they venture into the instrumental sections with tasty keyboard atmospheres and guitar riffs and solos that would make David Gilmour proud.

Most of the pieces are pretty lengthy. The only short piece is a beautiful instrumental piece titled ‘Light them All up.’ The album ends with an excellent 17:21 suite titled ‘Homesick’ which is divided into 3 parts.

The band members featured in the recording are Anders Hovden on bass; Asle Torstrup on vocals, programming, keyboards; Bjørn Riis on guitars, vocals, keyboards; Henrik Fossum on drums; and Jørgen Hagen on keyboards, programming.

With its wonderful combination of elegant melodies and exquisite Floydian space rock, All Rights Removed is definitely an album you will want to have in your modern progressive rock collection.

Deep Water Ambience

Dan Pound - Medusazoa
Dan Pound

Medusazoa (Pound Sounds PS11, 2011)

American synthesist Dan Pound takes you on a fascinating underwater immersion with his latest CD, Medusazoa. The album is dedicated to the graceful movement and vibrant bioluminescence of jellyfish flowing and drifting with the ocean currents. It contains a series of tranquil ambient pieces with distant hypnotic pulses, dreamy drones, and flowing atmospheres.

A few years ago, during a music conference, I had the opportunity to visit the National Aquarium in Baltimore (Maryland). At the time, they had a temporary jellyfish exhibit and I stood for minutes, mesmerized, watching the strangely beautiful bioluminescent creatures. Medusazoa captures that sensation and would make a great soundtrack companion to such an exhibit.

Dan Pound used analog modular synth drones, patches and effects to make Medusazoa with the intent of making ‘pure underwater dream zone music.’

Dan Pound was classically trained. He learned piano, guitar and double bass at an early age and started writing songs soon after. Pound joined the local honor orchestra and was soon writing pieces for the entire ensemble. In addition to performing and composing, Dan has earned degrees in recording engineering and electronic music technology.

Over several years, Dan Pound has pieced together a home studio where he does most of his work now, recording and producing his music independently. He specializes in music for film and multimedia. He also records and produces his own albums on his Pound Sounds label.

Medusazoa is a fine example of atmospheric electronic music by one of the current talents in the ambient music scene.

Hybrid Musical Stories and Fables

Luz de Riada - Cuentos y Fábulas
Luz de Riada

Cuentos y Fábulas (2011)

One of the leading bands in the Mexican progressive rock scene is Luz de Riada. They mix highly technical avant-garde rock with jazz, folk music and freeform improvisation. Their album Cuentos y Fábulas (Stories and Fables) is divided into two types of pieces. Cuentos (stories or tales) are structured compositions that feature guest musicians and a poet while the fábulas are short freeform sonic segments.

The imaginary stories in Cuentos y Fábulas describe modern life, mythical creatures and emotions expressed through the band’s hybrid sound. Luz de Riada’s sound is characterized by a potent King Crimsonesque rhythm section with various saxophones, guitar and stick performing solos and carrying out elaborate musical conversations. Although most of the pieces are instrumental, the album includes two pieces with unconventional lyrics and a spoken word poem.

Luz de Riada was formed in June 2010 when four self-taught musicians got together to develop and narrate musical stories. They choose the name Luz de Riada, which means flood of light to identify the generation of sound imagery. The current line-up includes Ramsés Luna on flute, sax, Wx5; Hugo Santos on grand stick, bass; Hugo Hernández on drums; and Alejandro Vergara on guitars.

Guests on the album include Wilfrido Terrazas on flute; Alejandro Otaola on guitar; Hugo Alfredo on surdo; Iván Tirado on surdo; Floriano Martin on vocals; Carlos Alegre on violin; Iván Bringas on guitar; Ernesto Mendoza on theremin; and Rodrigo Frenk on accordion.

Cuentos y Fábulas comes with innovative packaging, which includes several layers and a booklet with lyrics, photos, illustrations, a description of the music and credits.

Cuentos y Fábulas presents the uncategorizable sounds of some of Mexico’s most adventurous experimentalists.

Buy the album from http://www.luzderiada.com