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.

Seattle Dreamin’

Sky Cries Mary - Taking the Stage - Live 1997-2005
Sky Cries Mary

Taking The Stage: 1997-2005 (Trail TR-009, 2011)

Taking The Stage: 1997-2005 is a live collection of some of the best pieces by legendary Seattle psychedelic rock outfit Sky Cries Mary. The band’s sound is a fascinating mix of psychedelic space music with alternative rock and trance electronics. Sky Cries Mary
is characterized by the outstanding vocal interaction of husband and wife lead singers Roderick Romero and Anisa Romero, along with technicolor guitars, electronic beats and loops, drumkit, bass and ambient synthesizers.

The live performances were recorded at different times and on different location. Some of the pieces were previously released on the out-of-print album “Here & Now”. Taking The Stage: 1997-2005 was edited, remastered and produced with improved sound quality. “The resulting mix cannot be quantified,” says Roderick Romero. “It must be heard to be experienced. In fact, it cannot be heard without experiencing it.”

The musicians that participated in the recordings include Roderick Romero and Anisa Romero on vocals, Michael Cozzi on guitar and programming, Ben Ireland on drums and percussion, Juano on bass, William Bernhard on guitar and keyboards, Jill Wangsgard on keyboards and acoustic guitar, and Todd Robbins (DJ Fallout) on keyboards and sound effects.

Sky Cries Mary’s Taking The Stage: 1997-2005 is an impressive collection of dreamy and surreal space rock, insistent psychedelia and futuristic trance music.

Buy the CD, MP3s or listen to samples at

Changing Forms of Slivovitz

Slivovitz - Bani Ahead
Slivovitz

Bani Ahead (Moonjune, 2011)

Naples-based fusion jazz band Slivovitz has a new album titled Bani ahead. With this recording, Slivovitz continues to explore the boundaries between jazz-rock, traditional music, avant-garde chamber music and freeform improvisation.

Bani Ahead presents Balkan and Gypsy music influences, American blues, a delectable melodic piece titled ‘Fat’ and powerful jazz-rock explorations.

The current line-up of the band includes Domenico Angarano on bass guitar, Salvatore Rainone on drums, Derek Di Perri on harmonica, Marcello Giannini on guitars, Pietro Santangelo on saxophone, Riccardo Villari on violin, and trumpet player Ciro Riccardi.

The band Slivovitz was founded in September of 2001 from a spontaneous jam in the streets of Naples. Since then, it hasn’t stopped morphing, growing, changing form and direction, but always in the line of instrumental music related to ethnically-tuned jazz rock.

Bani Ahead will please the fans of improvisatory jazz-rock with world music elements.

Morse in the Middle of the Road

Neal Morse - Testimony 2
Neal Morse

Testimony Two (Radiant Records, 2011)

Testimony Two is a Christian rock album by multi-instrumentalist Neal Morse. The multifaceted musician is known for his progressive rock projects (Spock’s Beard and Transatlantic) and also his hard rock excursions and born-again Christian albums.

Testimony Two contains an uneven mix of Christian testimonial songs, melodic rock, hard rock and some progressive rock.

Disc 1 begins with the melodic soft rock song ‘Mercy Street’. The next piece titled ‘Overture No. 4’ starts with a promising symphonic rock introduction with admirable keyboard work that is drowned by disruptive heavy metal chords. ‘Time Changer’ is a piece led by powerful bass that features multi-layered vocal parts a la Gentle Giant as well as interesting guitar and violin solos, and epic keyboard passages inspired by early Yes.

The bittersweet ballad ‘Jayda’ is dedicated to Morse’s daughter, who had been diagnosed as having a hole in her heart that required open-heart surgery. The unexpected outcome had a profound effect on Neal Morse, with implications that are reflected throughout the album.

The hard rock cut ‘Nighttime Collectors’ has a ZZ Top feel. ‘Time Has Come Today’ includes great guitar melodies and keyboard work although the tendency to drown it with hard rock makes the piece very patchy.

The rest of Disc 1 contains a series of testimonial ballads, hard rock pieces and the semi-progressive rock track ‘Change of a Lifetime’ where yet again there is a conflict between creative keyboard work and excessive hard rock guitars.

Disc 2 only contains 3 tracks. ‘Absolute Beginner’ will please hard rock fans. ‘Supernatural’ begins in classic symphonic rock fashion, but quickly derives into an AOR ballad.

The best cut on the album is the 25-minute long suite ‘Seed of gold’ which is intended to be the great epic on the album. The first minutes bring back Morse’s progressive rock edge with superb keyboard, bass and guitars. Unfortunately, around minute three the music gets drowned out by heavy metal. Throughout the rest of the suite the music morphs into a piano ballad, hard rock, pop-rock and inspired instrumental parts with fine keyboard and dual guitars. As the piece gets closer to the end, Morse treats the listener to epic guitar hero style solos although close to the very end, the magic is yet again spoiled by the heavy metal nonsense.

The musicians featured on the album include Neal Morse on lead vocals, keyboards, guitars; Mike Portnoy on drums, vocals; Randy George on bass; Matthew Ward on vocals; Paul Bielatowicz on guitar; Steve Morse on guitar; Nick D’Virgilio on vocals, Alan Morse on vocals, Dave Meros on vocals; Eric Brenton on violin, Mark Leniger on saxophone.

Testimony Two has a surprisingly flat recording quality. I’m not sure what they did with the recording and mastering, but surely musicians this veteran could have done much better.

Overall, Testimony Two is a middle of the road album. With some editing and remixing, a full progressive rock album could have come out. Unfortunately, as is, it is a collage of various genres which dilute the most inspired moments.

Listen to samples and purchase the album at

A Saucerful of Space Music

Secret Saucer - Element 115
Secret Saucer

Element 115 (DERNCD 88, 2005)

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.

CD

Listen to samples and buy digital tracks

Out of the Cage

Kazachstán - V hrudi pták
Kazachstán

V hrudi pták (Rijen, 2011)

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.

Buy the album from skupina-kazachstan.cz/kazashop#menu

Video of the Week: The Orchestrion by Pat Metheny

Pat Metheny
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.”

The Tribal Ambient Journeys

Steve Roach - Journey of One
Steve Roach

Journey of One – The Tribal Ambient Era – Live 1996 (Projekt PRO00266, 2011)

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.

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