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.

Circa Goes AOR

Circa - And So On
Circa

And So On (2011)

Rock band Circa was expected to be one of the great new progressive rock bands in recent years. With two former Yes members, Tony Kaye on keyboards and Billy Sherwood on guitars and vocals, there is definitely a strong Yes connection. The band has a formidable rhythm section formed by Ronnie Ciago on drums and an excellent bassist that does not appear in the credits. Guitarist Johnny Bruhns is the fourth member of the band.

I used the term rock band because there is little progressive rock in And So On. The album begins with a strong piece, with rich instrumentation that will remind the listener of early Yes. However, the vocals are weak (literally) and the songs are better described as 1980s-style AOR and hard rock. The best instrumental work on the album is provided by the lead guitar and bass.

‘And So On’ is the 4th release by Circa. “Although the album was not written as a concept record, the songs are somehow tied together and are all symbiotic,” Billy Sherwood explains, “it’s really just an evolution of Circa: music. This is our 3rd Studio release.”

The album is available for circahq.com/CircaStore/index.php

Epic Cor Cordium

Glass Hammer - Cor Cordium
Glass Hammer

Cor Cordium (Arion Records, 2011)

The latest offering by progressive rock band Glass Hammer contains all the ingredients that make this musical genre so special: superb musicianship and captivating artwork. Cor Cordium begins with a suite loaded with state of the art keyboard work that includes glorious mellotron, organ and synthesizers.

Cor Cordium is Glass Hammer’s fourteenth studio album. It’s a follow-up to last year’s much-admired album titled If. It’s a delight to see a band that continues to develop long-form symphonic pieces of epic nature. Cor Cordium contains four suites, all of which are over ten minutes long, and two shorter pieces. If you like a mix of vocal parts with state of the art keyboard and guitar work, then you’ll really enjoy this latest offering by Glass Hammer.

Stylistically, the band is clearly influenced by the British masters of the early 1970s. Yes appears as a strong influence, especially in the vocals, guitars and some of the keyboard work. However, keyboardist Fred Schendel also displays influences from Keith Emerson and the band goes into Gentle Giant and fusion territory on track 3, ‘Salvation Station’ and folk rock in a section of ‘Dear Daddy’.

The line-up on this album includes Fred Schendel on keyboards, steel guitar, backing vocals; Steve Babb on bass guitar, keyboards, backing vocals; Jon Davison on lead vocals, acoustic guitars; and Alan Shikoh on electric and acoustic guitars and sitar. They are joined by Randall Williams on drums, Jeffrey Sick on violin on ‘Dear Daddy’ and Ed Davis on viola on ‘Dear Daddy.’

We never set out to make If Volume 2,” says Babb. “But we are definitely heading in the same direction musically. Fans that loved IF are going to be equally excited about Cor Cordium.”

The CD version comes with captivating fantasy artwork and a 16 page full-color layout by artist Tom Kuhn and audiophile mastering by Bob Katz of Digital Domain.

Cor Cordium is a lovely and beautifully crafted progressive rock album by one of the finest bands in the genre.

Poetic Deep Space

Janet Robbins - Song of the Gypsy Tree
Janet Robbins

Song of the Gypsy Tree‘ (Star 7 Records, 2010)

I’ve always been interested in dark folk and deep space ambient music. Janet Robbins is an impressive discovery in this field. Her new album titled ‘Song of the Gypsy Tree’
introduces a magical and mesmerizing collection of poetry combined with remarkable overdubbed vocals, ambient music, whispering voices, electronic beats, beautiful distant vocals and choruses, global music samples and acoustic instruments such as the piano and frame drums.

I’m singing on this album – there’s more compositional structure for the lyric, although there are formless passages of lyric as well,” explains Janet. “Sonically I still draw from a source of tone and musicality, that seems to reside in middle earth and deep space. I do feel the quality of journey and travel still exists within the music.”

Janet Robbins introspective lyrics are richly poetic with themes of love, the environment, nature, science fiction, dreams and mystery. She composed, wrote and performed most of the music. Robbins is an accomplished piano player and also uses a wide variety of electronic keyboard sounds. Two percussionists, Chris Armstrong and River Guerguerian participated in the album.

For me, the album is about relationship of all kinds,” says Janet, “the struggles we create when we ignore our relatedness to one another, the animal kingdom, and to the environment, and the offerings of the natural and spirit world and the surrender that’s needed.”

I think we have the gift of almost unlimited creation and a responsibility for what/the world we create,” adds Janet. “So cook a great meal and share it with friends! Sing a little tune to someone on the street, turn a moment into a radical departure from social dictates, use your voice and break the numbing acquiescence of a collective sleep. But enjoy life.”

Song of the Gypsy Tree‘ conjures a futuristic, mysterious world with an impressive range of layered vocal talent and hypnotic deep space ambient sounds. An extraordinary album by new dark ambience talent Janet Robbins.

Polymorphic Moraine

Moraine - Metamorphic Rock
Moraine

Metamorphic Rock (Moonjune Records MJR040, 2011)

Metamorphic Rock captures the live performance of the progressive rock jam band Moraine at the 2010 North East Art Rock Festival (NEARfest) in Bethlehem (Pennsylvania). As the title of the album indicates, Moraine plays an ever changing form of rock music infused with elements of progressive rock, avant-garde jazz and improvisation. The sound of the band is unique thanks to a combination of fiery electric guitar, baritone saxophone solos, soaring electric violin and the intense sounds of the NS/Stick, an 8 string extended-range tapping bass designed by Emmett Chapman.

In addition to the vibrant rock and freeform jazz improvisation elements, Moraine also introduces world music elements such as captivating East Asian and Arabic melodies as well as reggae beats.

The band featured on the album includes Dennis Rea on electric guitar; Alicia DeJoie on electric violin, James DeJoie on saxophone, flute, and effects; Kevin Millard on bass; and Stephen Cavit on drums.

Metamorphic Rock presents the live performance of an outstanding group of creative avant-garde musicians who can easily navigate the waters of high energy progressive rock, jazz fusion and exploratory improvised music.

Jon Anderson ‘s Wondrous Open Journey

Jon Anderson - Open
Jon Anderson

Open (Open Music, 2011)

Fans of Yes and its longtime vocalist Jon Anderson should not miss his latest work titled Open. This marvelous 21-minute epic piece brings back the magic that made Yes one of the most cherished progressive rock bands of all time. Open combines dramatic symphonic sounds alongside peaceful vocal passages with messages of peace and love and the fabulous overdubbed vocals that Jon Anderson pioneered and mastered.

Although Jon Anderson has made many solo albums, his masterpiece was Olias of Sunhillow. Open takes his music back to that level of creativity. At a time when the new Yes album is a disappointment for progressive rock fans, Jon Anderson picks up the torch with this gem, demonstrating that he was one of the brains behind the essential Yes sound.

The impressive orchestral work was composed by Anderson’s neighbor and good friend Stefan Podell. “’Forever taken to that place of understanding,’ are the first lyrics of ‘Open’, as though I am always remembering my true musical journey,” says Jon Anderson. “To create this work, I sat with my 19th Century guitar and strummed ideas last spring 2010. Songs just poured out of me that week, and before I knew it I had created a long form musical idea, and with the help of Stefan Podell’s powerful orchestration, we put together what is now ‘Open.’

It has 4 movements all intertwined, and seems to have a life of its own. For those who love this kind of music, I feel so happy to present it as one of many I hope to create over the coming years. My love ‘Janee’ has helped in production with her unique musical observations and her angel voice.”

At this time, Open is only available as a digital download. Hopefully, Jon Anderson will add more gems to incorporate it into a full album.

Open is one of the indispensable progressive rock releases of 2011, demonstrating that Jon Anderson is still one of the great creative forces in the genre.

The New Fusion Universe

Abstract Logix Live! - The New Universe Music Festival 2010
Various Artists

Abstract Logix Live! – The New Universe Music Festival 2010 (Abstract Logix ABL030, 2011)

Some of the best international jazz fusion musicians can be found on The New Universe Music Festival 2010 – 2 CD Set. The recordings were made during the spectacular gathering of virtuoso musicians that took place November 20 and 21, 2010 in Raleigh, North Carolina at The New Universe Music Festival, produced by the Abstract Logix label.

The event brought together several generations of fusion musicians. The impressive line-up included John McLaughlin (guitar); Jimmy Herring (guitar); Wayne Krantz (guitar); Alex Machacek (guitar); Tom Guarna (guitar); Matthew Garrison (bass); Anthony Jackson (bass); Etienne Mbappe (bass); Neal Fountain (bass); Richie Goods (bass); Gary Husband (keys); Scott Kinsey (keys); Matt Slocum (keys); Vince Evans (keys); Jeff Sipe (drums); Mark Mondesir (drums); Gary Husband (drums); Lenny White (drums); Ranjit Barot (drums); Cliff Almond (drums); Arto Tuncboyaciyan (percussion, voice); Zakir Hussain (tabla); and Bala Bhaskar (violin).

Highlights of disc 1 include the superb Indian fusion sounds of drummer Ranjit Barot, accompanied by Wayne Krantz, Bala Bhaskar, Scott Kinsey, Arto Tuncboyaciyan and Matthew Garrison.

Percussion wizard and vocalist Arto Tuncboyaciyan returned with two pieces inspired by the sounds of the late Joe Zawinul. Arto Tuncboyaciyan worked with Zawinul for several years and was a key element in Zawinul’s hybrid sound. In addition, keyboardist Scott Kinsey has picked up the Zawinul torch and treated the audience to state of the art electronic keyboard work combined with jazz and global sounds. Tuncboyaciyan and Kinsey were supported by Matthew Garrison on bass and Ranjit Barot on drums.

Standouts from disc 2 are the pieces by legendary fusion pioneer John McLaughlin and his multinational band. For this occasion, McLaughlin was accompanied by Etienne Mbappe on bass, Gary Husband on keyboards, Mark Mondesir on drums and special guest Zakir Hussain on tabla.

Borderline Agents of Mercy

Agents of Mercy - The Black Forest
Agents of Mercy

The Black Forest (Foxtrot Records, 2011)

The Black Forest is a concept album by Agents of Mercy, which is one of the many musical projects that guitarist Roine Stolt is involved with. The first two pieces on the album, the title track “The Black Forest’ and ‘A quiet Little Town’ will please progressive rock fans with its powerful and lush guitar and keyboard work and outstanding vocals by Nad Sylvan. Keyboardist Lalle Larsson’s work is truly remarkable, using a wide variety of keyboards to produce fascinating solos and atmospheres.

Things go downhill on ‘Black Sunday.’ For some reason, the band decided to heavy metal on this piece. There are surely many ways to musically illustrate a dark atmosphere and drama without having to resort to heavy metal.

The music this time is a more rock oriented path we’ve taken,” says guitarist and band leader Roine Stolt, “for good reasons – we are a rock ‘n’ roll band at the core, but we sprinkle bits of symphonic, world, jazz, medieval and folk. Guitars and drums have moved forward in the soundscapes, but the gnarly moogs and mellotrons are still present, this time a bit more haunting and angular. The songs are longer and more elaborate, but sometimes with an iron fist of raw power riffage that resembles Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin or early King Crimson rather than Yes or Genesis. Don’t fret – in this 56-minute journey there is plenty of symphonic bombardment too. In fact, we think there is even more than on previous albums!

‘Elegy’ is an anthemic ballad that returns to the realm of fine progressive rock. This is followed by another hard rocker titled ‘Citadel,’ with a Led Zeppelinesque feel and practically no trace of progressive rock.

One of the best cuts on the album is ‘Between Sun and Moon,’ an ear-catching piece that brings the best of progressive rock with majestic synths and mellotron, soaring guitar and engaging vocals that could easily be destined to be a sing-along classic.

The epic ‘Freak of Life’ combines high energy drama and tranquil moments and has some of the best vocal work in the album, with various types of overdubbed voices and choruses that recall the golden age of Peter Gabriel-era progressive rock. Roine Stolt and Lalle Larsson treat the listener with a series of superb guitar and keyboard solos and melodies.

The final track ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ is a spectacular grand finale with more state of the art progressive rock with layers of mellotron and outstanding guitar solos.

We laid down the basic tracks on 24-track analog tape in a lovely studio in the middle of Sweden’s countryside in April,” says Roine, “a place called Varnhem (very dark age). The studio is a top notch, super hi tech, newly built million dollar sanctuary – to our ears it sounds bigger than pure digital; modern but yet fat analog.”

Agents of Mercy are Nad Sylvan on lead vocals and keyboards, Roine Stolt on guitars and vocals, Lalle Larsson on keyboards and vocals, and the terrific rhythm section formed by Jonas Reingold on bass and bass pedals, and Walle Wahlgren on drums and percussion.

The Black Forest is an impressive work by some of the finest progressive rock musicians in the northern European scene although the overall result could have been even better without the heavy metal pieces.

Buy the CD from www.flowerkings.se and the digital download from:

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Steve Howe Saves Fly From Here

Yes - Fly From Here
Yes

Fly From Here (Frontiers Records FR CDVD 520, 2011)

There was a lot of expectation about the new Yes album, Fly From Here, the first recording by the progressive rock legends in nearly a decade. Yes had several choices, either go the progressive rock route cherished by many of its fans or go pop. They chose a middle ground. In a surprising time warp, the musicians running Yes now went back to the Yes of the Drama era. Indeed, Yes brought back producer Trevor Horn and keyboardist Geoff Downes, who basically have taken over the Yes sound. Most of the pieces are by Horn, Downes and bassist Chris Squire.

Most of the material on Fly From Here has a pop quality. Although the album is structured as a suite, don’t expect a progressive rock gem like Close to the Edge, Tales From Topographic Oceans or Relayer. Instead, the pop songs are joined by superb, although brief, instrumental passages. It’s like a little taste of the best Yes can offer, but leaves you wanting more.

The current line-up of Yes doesn’t include one of its essential members, Jon Anderson. He is not only the vocalist that gave Yes its distinct sound, Anderson is also a highly creative composer that has provided excellent material. The new vocalist, Benoit David, does an excellent job and I have no problems with him. However, he has been given lackluster songs to work with. There is an overall absence of the magic that made Yes such a legend.

As the title of the review says, Steve Howe saves the show. His guitar work throughout the album is truly outstanding. He adds his signature intricate guitar melodies and arrangements throughout the album. If you ignore the pop structure of the songs and simplistic drums, the guitar work is progressive rock at its best.