Angel Romero has been writing about progressive music and world music for many years. Publications include Eurock (USA), Marquee (Japan), and Nuevas Músicas (Spain). He founded the websites progressiverockcentral.com and worldmusiccentral.org. Angel also produced Musica NA, a music show for TVE (Spain) featuring fusion, avant-garde, world music, new age and electronic artists.
Element 115 is the debut album by American space rock superband Secret Saucer. The group was formed in 2001 with members from various psychedelic and space rock bands, including Architectural Metaphor, Quarkspace, Star Nation, Nick Riff, Sun Machine, and Blaah.
On Element 115 you will find an excellent collection of instrumental pieces that combine the finest of psychedelic and progressive space rock. The group has carved its own niche, although you can hear influences from space rock pioneers Pink Floyd, Hawkwind and more recent acts like early Porcupine Tree and Ozric Tentacles.
The album was recorded during one long weekend jam. The musicians improvised on dual guitars, lots of synthesizers, bass and drums. However, the mesmerizing combinations of slide and glissando guitars, adequate drums, bass and electronics has cohesion and rich melodic content.
The participants in the album are Paul Williams on synthesizers and drums (Quarkspace, Church of Hed); Greg Kozlowski on guitar and bass (Architectural Metaphor), Jay Swanson on piano, synthesizers (Quarkspace), Steve Taylor on guitar, bass, drums (Star Nation, Sun Machine), Steve Hayes on synthesizers, bass (Star Nation, Sun Machine), Thomas Marianetti on drums, synthesizers (Sun Machine, Nick Riff), Bill Spear on bass (Sun Machine), Dan Schnell on acoustic & electric guitar (Sun Machine), Dave Hess on synthesizers, gliss (Blaahh).
Element 115 is an introduction to one of the finest space rock jam bands in recent times. Secret Saucer has released more albums which will be reviewed in future articles.
Kazachstán is an excellent new progressive rock band from Ostrava in the Czech Republic, near the Polish border. Although the group cites Pink Floyd as an important influence, they clearly have developed their own sound. Their 2011 titled V hrudi pták means ‘The Bird Cage’ and it combines classic progressive rock with Czech folk and classical music influences. Kazachstán uses unconventional musical instruments such as the evocative kaval flute, as well as solo brass instruments.
All the pieces have a captivating nature, with poetic vocals that take you to different moods and musical worlds. The highlights of the album include the 10:12 minute epic, “Mé duse klid’ featuring outstanding electric guitar, kaval and brass work; the chamber-style ‘Ve tmách’ with an exquisite mix of vocals, acoustic instruments and electric guitar; and the grand finale guitar epic titled ‘Komediant.’
Kazachstán’s line-up includes Robert Hejduk on lead guitar and keyboards; Alan Grézl on acoustic guitar, vocals, and kaval; Jiri Nemecek on brass instruments; George Geršl on drums; and lyricist Jaroslav Žila.
V hrudi pták reveals a thorough knowledge of the finest progressive rock musical forms, with a distinct Czech poetic flavor, full of imagination and emotion.
The Orchestrion is fascinating mix or music and technology. Guitar innovator and musical explorer Pat Metheny demonstrates his ’Orchestrionics, a term he uses to describe “a method of developing ensemble-oriented music using acoustic and acoustoelectric musical instruments that are mechanically controlled in a variety of ways, using solenoids and pneumatics.”
With this project, Pat Metheny took advantage of today’s technology and he developed his own Orchestrion, which includes a large ensemble of acoustic instruments: pianos, drum kit, marimbas, “guitar-bots,” dozens of percussion instruments and even cabinets of carefully tuned bottles. Metheny worked for several months with a talented team of scientists and engineers to develop and assemble the “New Orchestrion” for this project.
“With a guitar, pen or keyboard I am able to create a detailed compositional environment or a spontaneously developed improvisation, with the pieces on this particular recording leaning toward the compositional side of the spectrum,” adds Metheny. “On top of these layers of acoustic sound, I add my conventional electric guitar playing as an improvised component.
Pat Metheny Talks About The Orchestrion
At least for me, this takes the term “solo record” into some new and interesting areas, somewhat recontextualizing the idea of what constitutes a solo performance by a single musician. This project is the result of a lifelong dream in this area that dates back to my early youth.”
Journey of One is a two CD set which provides a very accurate impression of the dreamtime electronic music synthesist Steve Roach was making in the 1990s. This was the period when Roach traveled throughout the globe, collaborating with various international artists, including Robert Rich, Jorge Reyes, Suso Saiz, Vidna Obmana, Michael Stearns and Ron Sunsinger.
At the time, Roach’s music incorporated the impressions of the vast landscapes of Australia and southern Arizona and other exotic parts of the world. On Journey of One, Steve Roach combines his signature ambient music with Australian aboriginal tribal sounds through the use of the didjeridu (also known as yidaki and didjeridoo) which he learned how to play from Australian masters. Other acoustic instruments include clay water pots, butterfly cocoons, seed pod shakers, Australian clapsticks, and ocarinas.
This two CD live set also mixes slow tempo morphing electronic music with the sounds of nature. Steve Roach usually carried a portable recorder to capture interesting sounds. I remember seeing Steve in Lanzarote (Canary Islands, Spain) early in the morning, recording the surf. On Journey of One he skillfully weaves in the natural sounds of birds and insects into his electronic music.
Journey of One parts 1 and 2 were recorded in an intimate setting in Sacramento, California in 1996. Steve Roach decided to release it exactly as it was performed, without studio edits.
“All of my music is audiobiographical in many ways,” says Roach. “It comes from life, from higher arcing desires and dreams joined by the events and moments found in the day-to-day experience of being alive. Through it all, Journey of One is a living record of my time on the creative path that started many years ago. These releases are sign posts at points along the way, the journey of one man rapt in sound.”
Journey of One is a mesmerizing journey of ambient tribal music by one of the great electronic music explorers of our time.
Jon Anderson, the legendary progressive rock vocalist that fronted Yes for many years is back with numerous projects. The most interesting by far is Open, a long musical suite with four movements produced by Jon and Jane Anderson that has brought back the wondrous sounds that Anderson is known for. Jon Anderson composed the music and wrote the lyrics. Stefan Podell made the orchestration and additional music.
You made many progressive rock fans very happy with Open. When did you start working on this project?
About a year ago…I started with an acoustic guitar, put down a framework, and then Stephan Podell did a wonderful orchestral arrangement…We talked about how best to make ‘Yes fans’ enjoy the journey, I think that was my motivation…
I’ll play anything, not great, but just enough to make it work…I love piano, and guitar mostly.
Who else participated in the Open recording?
Jane Luttenberger Anderson on angel Vocals; Stefan Podell on music and orchestration, 12 string guitar, classical guitar and bass; Zach Tenorio Miller on piano; Zach Page on electric guitar; Alexandra Cutler-Fetkewicz with Jon Fink and Susan Lerner on strings; Kevin Shima on acoustic guitar and vocals; Brian Hobart on Percussion; Stephan Junca on drums and African Percussion; Charles Scott on drum kit; Cal Poly A Cappella group (Robert Foster, Ian O’Rourke, Madelyn Frey,Jacob Stringfellow, Aaron Wolfe, and Amy Stevens); and additional backing vocals by Billy James.
The complexity of Open reminded me of your legendary solo album Olias of Sunhillow. Will there be more music in this direction?
I’m just working on the next ‘opus’…called ‘Ever’
You’ve had recent solo tours, including one with your with your old friend and former Yes colleague Rick Wakeman. How did that work out?
Rick is fun to work with, he’s playing better than ever, and the songs we do are great to sing. Audiences love the banter between us,…and the new songs really have a different energy.
How is Rick doing health wise?
He’s really very well.
Will you be recording more with Rick Wakeman?
I hope this next few weeks we will work together.
Argentine Stick virtuoso Guillermo Cides mentioned recently that he will be working with you and Australian Truey Marks on a new project in 2012. Can you share some details about that?
Ask him to contact me please…
How do you find the time to play in so many projects?
It’s that time of my life, after nearly dieing in 2008, I realized I should try and finish my work…well, there’s more than I would believe…so I just keep working on the music…it helps everything…
You are a singer and also a songwriter. How do you work as a composer?
I usually sing with guitar, record everything I do, almost everyday a new song comes…it’s wonderful.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
The divine ‘love’ that surrounds us.
I’d like to take you back to the early 1970s. Yes made albums that are considered progressive rock masterpieces. I’m talking about Fragile, Close to the Edge, Tales from Topographic Oceans and Relayer. What was happening at that time that led you and your band mates to compose such incredible music?
I was driven to try new music, we were being told to write ‘hit songs’…I just felt it would be a waste of the talent within the band, so I chose to escape, and help create new music…it is wonderful to look back at those times; we were in perfect ‘harmony’ with each other.
If you could gather any musicians or musical groups to collaborate with whom would that be?
I would start with Tony Levin, Billy Cobham, etc etc…
In this age of economic turmoil and social unrest, do you have a message you’d wish to impart through your music?
Change is good…and Change we must…
What music genres, groups or CDs are you currently listening to?
We interviewed the Senegalese singer Baaba Maal and asked what song was he completely addicted to – the one song that he will sing along with every time – and he told us his song was “One Love” by Bob Marley. What is your one song?
‘I will fix you’…and a million others…
What do you like to do during your free time?
Paint, cook, watch Soccer and ‘American Football..walk with my Janee.
What country would you like to visit?
China, I’ve been there 3 times, amazing culture……..Africa…India.
Which is your favorite city?
What was the first big lesson you learned about the music business?
Revolu$ion is the latest album by French progressive rock band Nemo. Revolu$ion is a concept album that centers on an uprising to obtain freedom and equality. The first cut on the album, ‘Liberté, égalité, Insurrection!’ is a short instrumental piece with piano and electric guitar in classic symphonic rock style.
On ‘Je suis un objet’ the dramatic vocals enter the scene evoking French progressive rock legends Ange. There is excellent instrumental work on keyboards and acoustic guitar. However, midway through the piece, the atmosphere is ruined with heavy metal chords that drown out the keyboards. Thankfully, the metal disappears and the last part has an epic nature.
‘Revolu$ion’ contains good keyboard and vocal sections. The entire track is filled with unnecessary hard rock and heavy metal chords that interrupt the progressive rock moments. Some of the 2000s bands seem to think that if you want to illustrate drama and tension, you have to use heavy metal. Not so, the best progressive rock masters create high drama without having to use any metal.
‘Aux Portes du paradis’ brings some desperately needed calm, with excellent slide guitar parts.
‘Seul dans la foule’ is a long piece that has more of the great vocal work as well as notable guitar segments. Around four minutes into the track, the hard rock chords come back and it turns into a hard rock fest.
‘Chiens en lasse’ offers delectable vocal and guitar work.
The 24-minute piece ‘Loin des yeux (Barbares Partiers VIII a XII)’ is meant to be the great epic track in the album. Although it has some good moments with majestic keyboards, the hard rock and metal guitar is overwhelming.
The final piece is titled ‘Notes pour plus tard’.
Musicians on Revolu$ion include: Guillaume Fontaine on keyboards and vocals; Lionel B. Guichard on bass and vocals; Jean Pierre Louveton on guitar and lead vocals; Jean Babtiste Itier on drums and vocals.
The overall impression is that Nemo is formed by skilled musicians who are able to create fine progressive rock, but their heavy metal tendencies spoil many of the pieces. They really need to decide if they want to evolve into true progressive rock or regress into a heavy metal band.
In the Labyrinth is the project of Swedish multi-instrumentalist Peter Lindahl. One Trail To Heaven is a genre-defying compilation of some of his best work along with some previously unreleased recordings and alternate renderings of songs from Peter’s exclusive personal archive.
It’s hard to categorize In the Labyrinth. Although the group is frequently featured in progressive rock publications because of its psychedelic and progressive rock sounds, the band frequently ventures into world music territory, incorporating Indian, Middle Eastern and Celtic music influences and instrumentation.
There are basically three types of pieces on the album. One set contains progressive rock with enchanting mellotron and Floydian electric guitars. There are also songs that are deeply inspired by folk rock and the psychedelic sounds of 1960s British bands. Lastly, there are tracks where Lindahl and his colleague explore distant lands through the use of sitar, saz and many other traditional instruments.
Peter Lindahl provides vocals and plays mellotron, guitars, bass, saz, zither, mandolin, flute, synthesizer, piano, melodeon, viola da gamba, darbuka, daf, percussion, recorders, effects, programming; Håkan Almkvist plays sitar, e-bow guitar, electric bass, table. Guest musicians include Helena Selander on background vocals, Mikael Gejel on sampler and flute, Robert Eklund on archlute, Helena Jacobssen on background vocals, Stefan Andersson on electric bass, guitar & slide guitar; Kristina Fuentes on background vocals, Karin Langhard-Gejel on background vocals, Ulf Hansson on darbuka, and Marcos Chagallo on violin.
One Trail To Heaven is a wonderful record that skillfully brings together classic progressive rock, psychedelic music and the traditional sounds of the world.
Holdsworth, Pasqua, Haslip, Wackerman
Blues for Tony (Moonjune Records MJR029, 2009)
This 2-CD set brings together four of fusion music’s heavy weights: guitarist Allan Holdsworth, keyboardist Alan Pasqua, bassist Jimmy Haslip, and drummer Chad Wackerman. Blues for Tony was recorded during a 2007 tour which celebrated the work of legendary 1970s fusion band the New Tony Williams Lifetime. Holdsworth, and Pasqua were members of the the New Tony Williams Lifetime in the 1970s. for this project they recruited Yellowjackets bassist Jimmy Haslip and reputable jazz and rock drummer Chad Wackerman.
Throughout the two discs, the four musicians exhibit their technical virtuosity and improvisational ability as they navigate the waters of electric jazz, rock, blues and funk.
Disc 1 contains ‘Blues for Tony’ which is led by Pasqua’s signature keyboard work. The second track is ‘The Fifth.’ This is the only piece composed by drummer Chad Wackerman and he adds swing to the mix. ‘It Must Be Jazz’ was co-written by the 4 musicians, who contribute multiple variations and unexpected turns. The rest of disc 1 contains pieces by Allan Holdsworth: his classic ‘Fred’ from the New Tony Williams Lifetime’s 1975 album Believe It, the guitar solo on ‘Guitar Intro’ and another classic titled ‘Pud Wud’ from the solo album Sand.
Disc 2 begins with more focus on the electric guitar by way of the Allan Holdsworth composition titled ‘Looking Glass’, from his 1985 album Atavachron. The next three pieces turn the attention to Pasqua’s outstanding keyboard work. He penned the solo piano piece ‘To Jaki, George and Thad’, the Mahavishnu-influenced ‘San Michele’ where Pasqua and Holdsworth provide fascinating interplay, and ‘Protocosmos.’ The album ends with ‘Red Alert,’ a funk fusion piece composed by Tony Williams Lifetime bassist Tony Newman which appeared in the 1975 album Believe It.
Drummer Tony Williams was one of the pioneers of jazz rock fusion. He played with Miles Davis, John McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Wayne Shorter, and many other great musicians. His bands The Tony Williams Lifetime and The New Tony Williams Lifetime were musical nurseries for many musicians who later became well respected soloists and sessions musicians.
Blues for Tony is an outstanding set of virtuosic live performances by Allan Holdsworth, Alan Pasqua, Jimmy Haslip, and Chad Wackerman, four of the finest fusion musicians in the current music scene.
This 2 CD set presents the deep ambient facet of Norwegian guitarist and synthesist Erik Wøllo. His studio albums normally mix ambient sounds with engaging melodies and rhythms. However, on Silent Currents he performs two extensive pieces of superb space music with a bigger focus on drones.
The two pieces are extracted from two separate live radio broadcasts for the iconic Star’s End electronic music radio show in Philadelphia. Each of these performances, Silent Currents 1 from 2002 and Silent Currents 2 from 2007 are each a disc-long uninterrupted composition with several sections.
This alternate universe of Erik Wøllo’s music presents ambient music performed on guitars, guitar synthesizers and analog and digital synthesizers. The mesmerizing pieces flow seamlessly and morph into dreamlike episodes, evoking endless space, with downtempo atmospheres, soaring guitars, spatial explorations and bubbly sequences.
“I have been kindly invited to perform at Star’s End multiple times,” says Wøllo. “To perform ‘on the air’ late at night in the radio studio contributed to these unique and inspired performances. In this setting, it felt very natural to do some downtempo and quiet, floating ambient music. Thus, this release is more abstract and chilled out than I usually present on my studio albums. Some elements of the music were improvised; I brought various sound excerpts, loops and atmospheres, and performed and composed these into long continuous zones, all done in real time.”
Silent Currents is Wøllo’s 15th album. In 2010 he released Gateway on the Projekt label and last June, Wøllo released The Road Eternal, which is a collaboration with deep space ambient electronic music master Steve Roach.
Star’s End is one of the longest-running radio shows of ambient music in the world. Since 1976, this program has provided the Philadelphia broadcast area with weekly midnight electronic music adventures.
“Over the years Star’s End has hosted many live to air concerts, usually with artists fresh from The Gatherings Concert Series stage,” says Chuck Van Zyl, host of Star’s End. “The act of playing a second, more intimate concert after a public event provides a sense of summation to a powerful experience. But the unique radio venue also offers musicians a space for discovery, as they turn from focused music for The Gatherings community to atmospheres for an audience each in their own dream space. Erik Wøllo enthusiastically embraces this idea using his on-air concerts to explore moods and zones only found in the late hour and unconventional situation. There is an interesting energy arcing through Silent Currents: Erik descends into himself, realizing music completely in the moment. The resulting new works are wonderful expressions of ambience, texture and this artist’s potent sense of drama as Wøllo creates space, then fills it with ever-evolving sound.”
If you like the music of British progressive rock band Camel, you’ll really enjoy this recording by Spanish band Omni. Based in southern Spain, in the Jerez and Puerto de Santa Maria area, Omni is heavily influenced by the Camel sound of the Mirage and Snow Goose era. Omni plays instrumental pieces, using guitars, keyboards and flute/saxophone that intertwine and create seductive melodies, combining fine symphonic rock with jazz excursions.
Sólo fue un sueño (it was only a dream) was released in 2007. Apparently, the band is still around, but this is the latest release so far. At the time, Omni was led by guitarist Michael Starry, who seems to have American background, but has been living in Spain for many years. The rest of the band includes bassist Jesús Cabral, keyboardist Alberto Márquez, Juan Rios on rhythm guitar, Pepe Torres on flute and sax and Ismael Colón on drums and percussion.
Although the Camel influence dominates the album, Omni also incorporates influences from Andalusian music. On the lengthy piece El tren de Rota, they add Andalusian melodies and beats and recall the sound of the legendary Iman, Califato Independiente.