All posts by Angel Romero

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.

Interview with Progressive Rock Legend Jon Anderson

Jon Anderson - Photo by Tami Freed
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…

What instruments do you play on Open?

Just acoustic guitar.

And in general, what instruments do you play?

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 Wakeman (left) & Jon Anderson (right)
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…

Jon Anderson
What music genres, groups or CDs are you currently listening to?

Amharic music…Ethiopian…

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?

Paris.

What was the first big lesson you learned about the music business?

No such thing as a free lunch…

What other projects are working on?

A zillion projects…tons of them…

Nemo’s Insurrection

Nemo - Revolu$ion
Nemo

Revolu$ion (Quadrofinic, 2011)

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.

Psychedelia of Distant Lands

In the Labyrinth - One Trail To Heaven
In the Labyrinth

One Trail To Heaven (Trail Records , 2011)

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.

Digital download version

Fusion for Tony Williams

Holdsworth, Pasqua, Haslip, Wackerman - Blues for Tony
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.

Chilled Out Erik Wøllo

Erik Wøllo - Silent Currents: Live at Star's End

Erik Wøllo

Silent Currents: Live at Star’s End (Projekt 262, 2011)

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.”

It Was Only a Dream

Omni - Sólo fue un sueño
Omni

Sólo fue un sueño (self released, 2007)

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.

Omni’s previous recordings include Tras el puente (1990) and El vals de los duendes (2001).

Sólo fue un sueño is a fine album of classic progressive rock by one of the finest bands in Spain.

A Saucerful Of Secrets Remastered

Pink Floyd - A Saucerful Of Secrets
Pink Floyd

A Saucerful Of Secrets (EMI, 1968)

A Saucerful Of Secrets was the second studio recording by Pink Floyd. It was remastered this year and is now available with improved sound quality. A Saucerful Of Secrets was recorded at a difficult time for Pink Floyd. The band’s main lyricist and guitarist, Syd Barrett, was having serious mental health problems and became increasingly unreliable.

If you look at the album credits, you’ll see that guitarist David Gilmour appears along with Barrett. Gilmour was brought in as replacement for Barrett during the recording and brought with him his innovative guitar style.

At this stage of the band, most of the material was composed by bassist Roger Waters and keyboardist Rick Wright. Pink Floyd was still in a musical transition. Pieces such as the hypnotic Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun and the instrumental ‘A Saucerful Of Secrets,’ introduced the experimental music and space rock tendencies of the band. Wright’s keyboards and Gilmour’s guitars ventured into uncharted territory. However, some pop elements remained in songs like ‘Corporal Clegg’ and ‘Jugband Blues’ both of which had a very Beatles-like flavor.

The album includes a delightful dreamy piece by Wright titled’ See-Saw,’ where his memorable mellotron plays an essential role.

A Saucerful Of Secrets set the ground for Pink Floyd’s space music explorations, introduced a key new member (David Gilmour) and made wide use of the mellotron, one of the most beloved musical instruments in the world of progressive rock.

Instrumental Rock Chemistry

The Aristocrats - The Aristocrats
The Aristocrats

The Aristocrats
(Boing Music (2011)

The Aristocrats is a new instrumental high energy rock band formed by reputable virtuoso musicians based in various parts of the world. Members include guitarist Guthrie Govan (Asia/GPS, Dizzie Rascal), bassist Bryan Beller (Steve Vai, Dethklok, Mike Keneally), and drummer Marco Minnemann (Adrian Belew, UKZ, Necrophagist).

Their debut album is the self-titled The Aristocrats and features three compositions from each band member. The result of the meeting of these three minds is a mix of hard rock/metal and fusion. Naturally, I’m more interested in the fusion pieces, where the musicians combine musical virtuosity and Satriani and Vai-like electric guitar shredding with superb bass solos and elements of jazz and blues, recalling the sounds of King Crimson, Return to Forever and Frank Zappa.

The best cuts on the album are the laid back “Sweaty Knockers”, “Bad Asteroid”, and “Flatlands”, the exploratory “Furtive Jack” and the fusion piece “Get It Like that.’

Although the musicians are based in two different continents, they left their homes (outside London; Nashville, Tennessee; and southern California) to meet in a Chicago studio. “We ended up using our different influences to write for each other,” says bassist Beller. “I wrote “Sweaty Knockers” specifically for Guthrie to have fun with, while Guthrie wrote “I Want A Parrot” with bass leads in mind. As for Marco’s material, we’re just lucky to be able to keep up with it!

The Aristocrats was formed after an enthusiastic response to a single concert at The Anaheim Bass Bash during the Winter NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) show in January 2011. With just one rehearsal the night before the gig, the trio had a successful experience. “The chemistry was so great,” recalls Govan, who was recently featured on the cover of Guitar Player, “that when we came offstage we all said to each other, ‘This is working. We should record this.’”

Historical Prog Band Returns with More Andalusian Essence

Cai - Metaforas de Luz
Cai

Metaforas de Luz (Bujio BJ201, 2010)

Cai was one of the legendary Andalusian progressive rock groups of the 1970s. In 2007 they came back with a double CD titled Mucho Mas Alla De Nuestras Mentes Diminutas, a reissue of their first CD with bonus material. Three years later, they released their latest studio recording, Metaforas de Luz (Metaphors of Light). The album brings back the captivating elements that made Cai such an essential band in Spanish progressive rock history. With Metaforas de Luz, Cai once more delivers a passionate mix of Flamenco, symphonic rock and jazz forms.

Cai is down to a trio on the album. Missing from the line-up is renowned keyboardist Chano Dominguez. He lives in another part of Spain now and is currently a worldwide famous jazz pianist. Without Chano, the lead instrumentalist is masterful guitarist José Antonio Fernandez Mariscal “El Niño”, who plays acoustic and electric guitars as well as bass.

Founding member Diego Fopiani continues to provide drums and the Flamenco-influenced vocals that characterize Andalusian rock bands. Blas Lago, a younger musician, plays keyboards. Bassist Salvador Otero plays with the live version of the band.

Metaforas de Luz is a fine example of symphonic progressive rock with a Spanish flavor by a legendary band that still sounds fresh and creative.

CD:

Digital download:

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn Remastered

Pink Floyd - The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
Pink Floyd

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (Capitol/EMI, 2011)

The first album by legendary progressive rock band Pink Floyd
, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, is now available digitally remastered. The album can be purchased individually or as part of a box set.

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was originally released in 1967 and shows Pink Floyd in its pre-progressive rock period. Pink Floyd’s members at the time were Syd Barrett, who was the main songwriter, on guitar and vocals; Roger Waters on bass; Rick Wright on keyboards; and Nick Mason on drums.

In 1967, Pink Floyd was fully immersed in psychedelia. Barrett’s unconventional lyrics sent the listener to a world of fantasy, childlike rhymes and surreal creations. Barrett’s songs were the product of a musician experimenting with music and mind altering drugs.

Barrett also experimented with his electric guitar, using a series of effects that made Pink Floyd’s sound much more exploratory than other British bands of the time.

The album’s title, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, came from the seventh chapter of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind In The Willows. The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn was recorded in Abbey Road’s Studio 3 and produced by EMI resident producer, Norman Smith, while the Beatles were in the studio next door working on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The Piper at The Gates Of Dawn is an album by a novice Pink Floyd with dreamlike lyrics and music experimentation by one of the leading songwriters in the rock underground of the late 1960s.