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.

Shades of Mantra

Mantra - Mantra
Mantra

Mantra (Arabiandrock ARCD003, 2012)

The Andalusian progressive rock album that never came out is finally available thanks to the Arabiandrock label. Mantra was one of the most exciting Andalusian rock bands in southern Spain in the 1970s. They combined progressive rock with Flamenco and Arabic influences.

If you are familiar with the bands of the time, Mantra followed the Iman school, with extensive dual guitar and keyboard jams fused with flamenco and North African melodies.

The music on Mantra comes from an album demo recorded in 1979 that never came out. At the time of the recording, Mantra featured Tato Macias on drums, José Manuel Portela Ghessi on keyboards, Juan Ahumada Caputto on guitar; José Antonio Ramírez Harana on bass; and Tito Alcedo Gil on guitar.

Mantra is an essential album in any collection of Andalusian rock. It is a worthy testament to a group of young innovative musicians who took progressive rock in unexpected directions.

Read more about the band’s history and this recording:

Get the album from http://www.arabiandrock.org/tienda.html

Primary Elements

Six Elements - Primary Elements
Six Elements

Primary Elements (Tower of Harmony, 2012)

The debut CD by Georgia-based progressive rock band Six Elements is a concept album with reflective inspirational lyrics. Six Elements is basically the project of composer and keyboardist Michael (Misha) Shengaout. The album features session musicians and the major collaboration of Stanley Whitaker on vocals.

Although Whitaker is well known as the guitarist of two of the finest progressive rock bands in the United States, Happy The Man and Oblivion Sun, he is also an outstanding vocalist. While Primary Elements has some instrumental moments, the focus of the album is on vocals and lyrics. Whitaker delivers passion and nuance throughout the album, with a unique seasoned voice, which at times is reminiscent of Peter Gabriel’s work.

Misha Shengaout shows great potential as a composer. As a keyboardist, he needs a little more original programming. He relies too much on overused sampled flutes and other instruments.

The highlight of the album is Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘If’“. “Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” has inspired millions of hearts and souls (including mine), capturing the ideal of human character in just 32 short lines,” says Shengaout. “Our ideals make us who we are, which is why this poem should be shouted from every rooftop, and absorbed by our senses in every possible way.“

Primary Elements is a fine album that showcases the talent of composer Misha Shengaout and the superb vocals of Stanley Whitaker.

IZZ Artistry

IZZ - Crush of Night
IZZ

Crush of Night (Doone Records DR10-669563, 2012)

The highly anticipated album by American progressive rock band IZZ is now available. Crush of Night is Part 2 of a 3-part series of albums that started with The Darkened Room (TDR) in 2009.

Crush of Night is a real treat. It is state of the art progressive rock all the way through. The album opens with the shortest song on the album, ‘You’ve Got a Time.’ Soon, the listener is exposed to rich vocal harmonies, intricate bass lines and conclusive guitar solo.

‘Words and Miracles’ starts with a fast tempo instrumental section with fabulous guitar interplay. If the music has a Gentle Giant feel, don’t be surprised. Gentle Giant’s guitarist Gary Green appears on this piece, bringing his signature sound and tempo changes. Halfway through the piece, the composition slows downs, introducing tasty vocals and keyboards.

“Having Gary come to the studio and record with us was an amazing experience,” says IZZ bassist John Galgano. “Gary came in and not only added his signature guitar playing, but also contributed to the writing, added a few blistering solos and even sang backing vocals on Words and Miracles. It is a great honor to have Gary playing alongside us on this record and we know that fans of Gary will enjoy the guitar artistry that he’s added to this IZZ record.”

Track 3, ‘Solid Ground,’ showcases the superb male and female vocal interactions and harmonies that IZZ is known for. Solid Ground also features a beautiful jazzy groove, a superb guitar solo and more of the great bass lines.

‘Half the Way’ begins as a beautiful piano ballad that develops into climactic synthesizer and guitar melodies. I always think Tom Galgano’s keyboard solos are too short so his longer synth solo is a real treat.

The album continues with the remarkable ‘Crush of Night’ 26 minute suite, which is divided into two parts.

Part 1 is the outstanding ‘This Reality,’ which is one of the longest cuts on the album. It’s also one of the pieces where IZZ shows their fusion of classic progressive rock with cutting edge sounds. The track includes ever changing passages with potent bass and drums, synth, piano, guitar and bass solos, electronics, outstanding female and male vocal interplay, and an edgy electronic section with mesmerizing vibraphone sounds and climactic finale with string synths and guitar.

Part 2, Track 6, ‘The Crush of Night,’ has an epic feel from the very beginning and highlights the female vocals of the talented Anmarie Byrnes, undoubtedly one of the finest voices in the progressive rock scene. Accompanying Byrnes is a brilliant collage of percussion interplay, exquisite piano and grand finale on guitar and synths.

The final track is titled ‘Almost Over,’ where guitarist album Paul Bremner showcases his talent in a series of morphing guitar solos.

The line-up on Crush of Night includes Paul Bremner on electric and acoustic guitar; Anmarie Byrnes on vocals; Brian Coralian on electronic and acoustic drums and percussion; Greg DiMiceli on drums and percussion; John Galgano on bass guitar, acoustic/electric guitar, vocals; and Tom Galgano on keyboards, vocals.

With Crush of Night, IZZ demonstrates that it is one of the leading forces in the American progressive rock scene.

Even More Symphonic

The Enid - Live with The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra & The Warwickshire County Youth Choirs
The Enid

Live with The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra & The Warwickshire County Youth Choirs (Operation Seraphim / Enidworks EWCD2, 2012)

The ultimate symphonic rock band, The Enid, has released this superb 2-CD live set this year. The Enid has always been known for its symphonic and romantic approach to progressive rock. In this occasion, the regular electric band is expanded massively with the participation of The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra & The Warwickshire County Youth Choirs.

Disc 1 features classics by The Enid from the earlier albums, ‘Judgement’, ‘In The Region of the Summer Stars’, ‘Childe Roland’, ‘The Mirror of Love’ and ‘Fand’.

On CD2, The Enid presents a mix of new pieces and more classics, with the climactic conclusion that The Enid does so well. The cuts on the second disc include ‘Terra Firma’, ‘Terra Nova’, ‘Space Surfing’, ‘Malacandra’, ‘Shiva’, ‘The Art of Melody’, Barclay James Harvest’s ‘Mockingbird’ and ‘Dambusters and Land of Hope and Glory’.

The line-up on this album includes several generations of musicians, led by the charismatic composer and keyboardist Robert John Godfrey; Jason Ducker on guitars, Max Read on keyboards and programming, guitars and vocals; Dave Storey on drums and percussion; and Nic Willes on bass, guitars and percussion.

The special guests are The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Mike Seal and The Warwickshire County Music Service Youth Choirs, which include The Warwickshire Girls Choir, The Warwickshire County Youth Chorale, Northampton Decibelles, Seraphim Trompetiers. In addition, the album features the Symphony Hall Organ played by Sean Montgomery.

The pieces on Live with The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra & The Warwickshire County Youth Choirs were recorded at Symphony Hall in Birmingham (UK) in October 2011. It was recorded by Abbey Road Mobile and engineered by Will Shapland who’s known as one of the world’s best mobile engineers.

A DVD of the live performance is planned and due to the success of the concert, The Enid is planning to perform more concerts with symphony orchestras in the future.

Live with The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra & The Warwickshire County Youth Choirs is an outstanding collection of philharmonic pieces by one of the finest progressive rock bands of all time.

Before Kickstarter and other crowd funding tools, The Enid were pioneers in the music world, establishing a system to maintain the band and make new recordings, with fan support. The fan support is still there and thanks to their support, music fans have been able to listen to The Enid’s past and new works in a new setting, with the rich sounds of a full orchestra and choirs. Fans who subscribe to The Enidi club have access to discount tickets, specially recorded free album every year and many other perks. To join go to The Enidi.

Live with The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra & The Warwickshire County Youth Choirs is available exclusively from the band’s official website at: theenid.co.uk

Hard Hat Fusion

Allan Holdsworth - Hard Hat Area
Allan Holdsworth

Hard Hat Area (1993, reissued by MoonJune Records in 2012)

Hard Hat Area, one of the legendary jazz fusion albums of the 1990s, long out of print, is available once more thanks to the Moonjune label. Hard Hat Area is one of the finest solo albums recorded by British electric guitar maestro Allan Holdsworth.

MoonJune Records remastered and repackaged Hard Hat Area in digipak format. The album features the outstanding sinuous guitar solos that Allan Holdsworth. He developed a peculiar guitar style, beautiful and innovative, with a sound and technique that has been imitated by many other guitarists. Hard Hat Area is fusion at its best, with Allan Holdsworth on guitars and synthaxe, and his touring band formed by skilled instrumentalists: Steve Hunt on keyboards, Skuli Sverrisson on bass; and Gary Husband on drums.

Hard Hat Area was recorded on a 32-track Mitsubishi digital recorder at Front Page Recorders in Costa Mesa, California, near Holdsworth’s home. Overdubs and mixing were made directly by Allan Holdsworth at his home.

Hard Hat Area is a classic fusion album that has aged very well, with a superb mix of jazz fusion, progressive rock, and mesmerizing electronics.

Stratospheric Violins

Joe Deninzon
Violinist Joe Deninzon is one of the musical sensations of 2012. He is the founder of Stratospheerius, an outstanding rock band that crosses boundaries, incorporating classic rock, progressive rock, fusion, world music and electronics. Joe discusses his musical background and latest projects with Progressive Rock Central.

Can you give our readers a brief history on how you came to be a musician?

I was born into a family of classical musicians. My father played (and still plays) the violin in the Cleveland Orchestra. My mother is a concert pianist and has around 40 students. Our house was literally a music school with people coming in and out and simultaneous violin and piano lessons being heard in different rooms, but my parents are strictly classical musicians and had no frame or reference or knowledge about any music outside of that genre.

I started playing violin and piano when I was 6, but when we immigrated to the states from Russia, I fell in love with what I was seeing on MTV and hearing on American radio. When I was 12, I took up bass, started writing songs and formed my first band. I later taught myself guitar and really felt more connected to rock and jazz music than classical. In high school I listened to a lot of Zeppelin, Kiss, Queen, and Aerosmith. I knew I wanted to be a musician for as long as I can remember, but I always knew I did not want to spend my life sitting in an orchestra. The first instruments I learned to improvise on were the bass and guitar. I later transferred the rock and jazz language I learned on those instruments to the violin.

What kind of musical training do you have?

I was studying classical violin with my father since age 6, and later at the Cleveland Institute of music. I have a bachelor’s degree in Jazz Violin and Violin Performance from Indiana University and a Master’s degree in Commercial Violin from Manhattan School of Music.

What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?

My musical tastes are eclectic, to say the least. Rock is the foundation, but all my varied influences creep in, like jazz, funk, bluegrass, Middle Eastern Music, all filtered through a distorted electric violin-fueled rock n roll meat grinder.

Your music crosses boundaries. Who can you cite as your main musical influences?

I think my top five artists of all time are Miles Davis, Frank Zappa, Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen, and Led Zeppelin. I have a deep love of 70’s fusion and progressive rock (Mahavishnu Orchestra/Jerry Goodman, Jean Luc Ponty, Yes, King Crimson, Return to Forever), But I also love great songwriting and admire people who are master performers and communicators (Beatles, Steely Dan, Bruce Springsteen, U2, Steve Vai), and the larger-than-life escapism of pure rock (Zeppelin, Queen, Muse).

I think what all my favorite artists had in common is that they just didn’t give a shit and did their thing. I think it’s about figuring out who you are being true to yourself. The music has to be honest and not contrived and the audience will feel that immediately. I am also a big fan of modern composers like John Corigliano and John Zorn, as well as Mark O’Connor, both as a writer and a player.

Your current band is called Stratospheerius. How did you come up with the name?

Stratospheerius
Years ago, I was playing in an orchestra backing up Smokey Robinson. One of the violinists had to play a solo with some really high notes and someone said, “Wow, that’s really up in the Stratosphere!” to which the violinist responded “I should’ve brought my Stratospheerius.” It was a play on words and he was making a reference to the great 17th century Italian violin maker Antonio Stradivarius. I thought this word applied well to the kind of music I was trying to write; space rock that was fueled by a wild electric violin playing way up in the stratosphere. It’s not the catchiest name in the world, but once people know us, they never forget it.

The Next World… is dedicated to bassist Robert Emmet Bowen III. What was his connection with the band?

Bob Bowen (Robert Emmet Bowen III) was a member of Stratospheerius from 2004-2007. He can be heard playing all the bass parts on the 2007 CD, Headspace, the song “House Always Wins” on the new CD, “The Next World…,” and is the upright bass player on the Joe Deninzon Trio 2010 release, “Exuberance.” I met Bob when we were both doing our Master’s Degree at Manhattan School of music in the late 90’s. We became fast friends and worked in a variety of groups together until he joined my band. He was also an incredible graphic artist and provided all the artwork for our new CD.

Tragically, Bob was killed in August of 2010 in Manhattan when his bicycle was hit by a passing truck. He was 45 and is survived by his wife, son, and daughter. In addition to my projects, Bob also worked with legendary jazz saxophonist Lee Konitz, as well as Tony Trischka, John Hicks, Joe Lovanno, Matt Wilson, James Moody, and many more. The new album is dedicated to his memory.

How would you describe the music in your latest album The Next World…?

Progressive, melodic rock with sprinkles of jazz, fusion, metal, bluegrass, ska, and Balkan Gypsy music.

Tell us about your first recordings and your musical evolution.

Joe_Deninzon's debut album Electric Blue
My first CD, “Electric Blue”, was recorded during the summer of ‘98 between graduating from Indiana University and moving to New York. It was an all-instrumental jazz-fusion album and I used a bunch of great musicians I had known in the Cleveland scene for many years. My goal was to arrive in New York with a CD in hand that I could give out, find a band, and start gigging as much as possible. At the time, I came out of jazz school and was listening to a lot of Jean Luc, Didier Lockwood, Weather Report, Mahavishnu, etc.

After this album came out I went through a bunch of different lineups in New York which eventually morphed into Stratospheerius. I had always been a singer and had written vocal songs, but could not find a way to reconcile that with all the instrumental fusion I was writing. I gradually set out to incorporate some vocal material into my set list.

The second album I did, “Adventures of Stratospheerius,” had Alex Skolnick on guitar, whom I befriended when I was teaching at the New School. This album was 50 percent vocal and had a mishmash of styles. I was still trying to figure out who I was musically. The Live Wires album also captured that era when Alex was in my band as well as Jake Ezra (guitarist for The Book of Mormon) and we were travelling around playing a lot of fusion with a few vocal rock tunes mixed in.

Long story short, I think our last album, “Headspace”, and especially the new one, “The Next World,” really capture that sound I have been seeking for years, one that combines my influences as an instrumentalist and my influences as a songwriter and vocalist. It took me ten years to really figure out what I wanted to do and establish the true sound of this band. I know it’s an ongoing journey, not a destination, but I’m really happy with the musical direction we are on right now and the response has been amazing!

How’s the current music scene in New York?

The music scene in New York is in constant flux. It’s hard for me to recognize any specific trend dominating the scene right now, but there are always amazing and creative musicians in the areas of jazz, rock, crossover classical, singer songwriters, and hip hop. I like how venues like Le Poisson Rouge have created a way to hear classical and hard-to categorize crossover music in an intimate club setting.

I love the scene in Rockwood with free music and an enormous variety of great artists coming through. World music venues like Drom and Mehanata are incredible places to hear diverse music from all over the planet. There are cynics who say the scene is not what it used to be, but there have always been and will always be cynics. New York has a way of always reinventing itself and even though your favorite venue may close, there are always new venues opening up. Plus there is the constant influx of new talent from all over the world. It’s great cause as a musician, it keeps you on your game. No matter how weird or out of the box your music is, there is always a venue in New York City where you can play it.

If you could gather any musicians or musical groups to collaborate with whom would that be?

I love all the people I’m collaborating with right now, but I can mention a few names of people I have never worked with who I think would be fun and creative: Steve Vai, Mike Keneally, Eddie Van Halen, Tal Wikenfeld, Jeff Beck, John Corigliano, Mark O’Connor, Chris Thile, Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman, Kanye West, The Roots, John Mayer, L. Shankar.

What violins do you play?

Joe Deninzon with his acoustic violin
My main acoustic violin is made in 1979 by Bernardo Gutterman, out of Chicago. The first electric violin I purchased in 1995 was a 6-string made by Eric Jensen. Right now, I play a Mark Wood Viper fretted 7-string Flying V electric violin and alternate that with my acoustic.

The day I bought my Viper in 2003, I went straight to a rehearsal with a band, plugged it in, drew my bow across the strings for the first time, and right at that moment, the big blackout happened that knocked out the whole Eastern Seaboard. Sorry about that.

Where do you purchase your violins?

My acoustic violin was given to me by my father. He had played on it for twenty years and was looking for something that would blend into the orchestra more. I brought both of my electrics directly from the makers.

Do you play any other instruments?

I play mandolin, which I picked up a few years ago, as well as guitar and electric bass. I also sing all the lead vocals in Stratospheerius. I studied piano when I was very young, then gave it up. That’s one instrument I wish I played better.

Which are your favorite violin guitar effects or techniques?

I’m interested in going beyond the traditional functions of the violin. I see a lot of unpaved territory with this instrument, even though it has been around for hundreds of years, we are just scratching the surface.

First of all, I’m endlessly fascinated with the percussive things the violin can do. “Chopping” is a technique invented by Richard Greene in the 60’s that involves muting the strings with your left hand and coming down hard with the bow, creating a “chopping” sound. Basically, your violin becomes a snare drum. This technique can be combined with chords to imitate a funky rhythm guitar, and can also be used to imitate a guiro or a DJ scratching a record. It sounds amazing with a wah wah pedal.

I also love incorporating delays and loops into my solos. It’s fun to use pitch-shifting pedals like whammy’s to create lightning fast shifts that are not humanly possible on a regular violin. Many traditional string players and acoustic purists don’t realize that working with effects is not just blindly hitting pedals or buttons. It requires taste, timing, and precise coordination between your hands and your feet.

There are times when I’m singing, improvising on the instrument, and changing sounds with my feet simultaneously. I don’t see the use of effects as a crutch to compensate for any lack of playing ability but simply a wider palette of colors to paint your music with. When it’s done right, it really has the WOW factor.

Do you still pay some of your early violins?

People see me wailing on my electric with Stratospheerius, but at least 50 percent of my life, I’m playing unplugged on my traditional acoustic violin. It’s funny that people see you doing one thing and thing that’s all you do. Most guitarists I know play a bunch of different electrics and own at least a few acoustics and go back and forth depending on the gig. I want to see the day when all string players function the same way and the electric violin is not seen as a novelty.

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

That kid sitting next to you in algebra class in high school can end up being the head of your label or your booking agent or your bandmate. You might grow up hating country or bluegrass music, but 15 years later you are on a session and the producer wants you to cop that style, but because you never respected it or gave it any credence, you can’t do it and he ends up calling the next guy.

The big lesson I learned is; you can’t discount anything or anyone. Diversify your palette and respect and honor whatever music you are playing and whoever you are working with at any given time, and it will pay dividends.

Do you have any plans to take the The Next World… album on the road?

We are always performing. There are no 3-month long 90-show tours planned at the moment, but there are always shows going on in any given month in many different cities. Just check our website or facebook page and sign up for our e-list.

What music are you currently listening to?

I’m always revisiting my favorite bands like Yes and Zappa and Mahavishnu, but I’ve been listening to the new Springsteen and Keane albums. Also there’s a solo tuba and classical guitar recording of Alan Baer from the New York Philharmonic with Scott Kuney playing some badass Astor Piazolla arrangements that someone turned me on to.

Also digging the recent Black Keys and Foo Fighters releases. There is a great Maxim Vengerov recording of all the Eugene Ysaye sonatas and reworking of the Bach Tocatta that’s ridiculous. The new Nikki Minaj album has some nice moments too. Also, have you checked out this Swedish band called Dirty Loops? They do some heavy reworking of Justin Bieber, Britney Spears, and Lady Gaga that’s off the hook!

Do you have any upcoming projects to share with our readers?

Plugging in; a Guide to Gear and New Techniques for the 21st Century Violinist
I just published a book for Mel Bay titled “Plugging in; a Guide to Gear and New Techniques for the 21st Century Violinist.” Half of the book is an introduction to improvisation in the styles of blues, funk, and rock. The other half deals with gear-related things, like choosing an electric violin, shopping for an amp, working with effects. There is also a CD and DVD. This book basically answers questions that students have asked me repeatedly over the years. Some of these are things guitarists take for granted, but are completely new to string players. I basically wrote the book I wish I had when I was 17.

I also recently joined the Sweet Plantain String Quartet. This is a traditional acoustic string quartet which combines classical, jazz, Latin influence, blues, and hip hop. I sing and play violin and mandolin, the cellist raps, and the other violinist, Eddie Venegas, also doubles on trombone. This group has toured all over the world and just signed a new management deal. Look for the debut CD in the near future.

I am also constantly writing music. I have about 80 string quartet arrangements of well-known rock songs I have written which I hope to publish and make available on my website. Someday, I’d love to write an electric violin concerto, if I can find the time.

Stratospheerius’ Musicians:

Aurelien Budynek (guitar/vocals)

Stratospheerius
Aurelien hails from Bordeau, France and is a graduate of Berklee College of Music, where he studied with Dave Fiuczynski. In addition to playing with Stratospheerius since 2008, he has also toured and performed with Cindy Blackman, Vernon Reid, Daredevil Squadron (with Members of the Trans Siberian Orchestra), The Dan Band, and Rock of Ages.

Jamie Bishop (bass/vocals)

Hailing from Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Jamie is also a graduate of Berklee College of Music and has been with the band since 2007. Jamie has laid down the groove for a wide variety of artists, including the Syn and Francis Dunnery’s New Progressives, Stefani Vera, and The Prigs.

Lucianna Padmore (drums)

A member of Stratospheerius for over a decade, Bronx New York Native Drummer Lucianna Padmore has been praised by Modern Drummer magazine for the “Deep grooves and serious fusion chops.” Lucianna has been involved in many different projects in the New York scene. Performing highlights include jazz tuba player Bob Stewart, opening for Shirley Horn, Chico Debarge, Amel Larrieux, Kelis, James Spaulding, Bertha Hope, Jimmy Heath, Clark Terry, Sun Ra Archestra, Josh Rosemen Quintet, Oscar Peterson trio, and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, to name a few. Lucianna has toured in Austria, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Morocco and Haiti.

Websites:

The Dances of the Electric Shepherds

Choban Elektrik - Choban Elektrik
Choban Elektrik

Choban Elektrik (2012)

Choban Elektrik, the self-titled debut album by Choban Elektrik (“Electric Shepherds”) is one of those recordings that automatically hooks you in. The Brooklyn-based band artfully concocts a hybrid sound that includes jazz-rock fusion, traditional music from the Balkans and southeastern Europe, psychedelia and improvisation.

The group is led by multi-instrumentalist Jordan Shapiro and features Dave Johnsen on bass and percussionist Phil Kester. Although most of the pieces are instrumental, Eva Salina Primack and Jesse Kotansky provide vocals on three songs.

What characterizes Choban Elektrik is the fabulous vintage sound of the Hammond organs and Fender Rhodes playing high energy electrified Balkan music. It’s as if a Canterbury band like Hatfield and the North had spent some time in Albanian and Greek villages digesting their folk music.

We never set out to do this,” explains Jordan Shapiro. “But I’d bring in songs I learned in Balkan singing class or at the Balkan music camps, and we’d play them, just like anything else we’d tackle as a trio, as if they were jazz, funk, or rock.”

Choban Elektrik performs enthralling arrangements of Albanian, Bulgarian, Armenian, Greek and Macedonian dances and one original composition by Albanian accordionist Raif Hyseni. “I had no exposure to world music my entire upbringing,” says Shapiro. “My parents loved classical music and Broadway shows. This was the last thing I’d ever have imagined doing.”

Jordan Shapiro is conservatory trained in piano and guitar performance and jazz studies. He moved to New York and played in numerous bands as principal member and as sideman. Shapiro formed a progressive bluegrass band called Astrograss. He also joined Project/Object, a Frank Zappa tribute band that included original members of Zappa’s band. That’s where he met Choban’s bassist, Dave Johnsen.

After listening to some Balkan music at a party, Shapiro went to the Golden Festival, New York’s annual meeting of Balkan music fans and top performers. “It inspired me to get an accordion,” Shapiro recalls. “Lugging around vintage keyboards is not nearly as much fun.”

A year later, Shapiro found himself in a ring of twenty accordionists of all levels, learning the technique and graceful ornamentation of Albanian accordionist Raif Hyseni. “Raif teaches by ear. He started playing a tune, this beautiful Albanian folk song,” recalls Shapiro. “That was a new thing for me, to be right in front of someone playing this complicated melody. I hadn’t done that kind of music by ear at that point.”

Although Shapiro played some of the Balkan pieces on the accordion, he wanted to try something radically different. He used his collection of vintage organs and keyboards and gave new electric life to the traditional pieces. “The album starts off with a thirty-second exploration, an improvisation,” says Shapiro. “It shows off the Fender Rhodes. But then it shifts into a different key and the traditional melody Raif taught me. That transition really reflects our approach beautifully.”

Choban Elektrik delivers a remarkable mix of vintage electric keyboards and world music sounds from the southeastern corner of Europe.

Mesmeric Tea

The Tea Club - Rabbit
The Tea Club

Rabbit (The Tea Club, 2010)

I’m encouraged by the increasing amount of authentic progressive rock talent in the United States. The Tea Club, a band from New Jersey brings a fresh perspective to the mix. Rabbit, released in 2010, is their most recent album, although the band is working on a new album for this year.

The Tea Club’s sound combines the best of several music eras, ranging from introspective Van Der Graaf Generator-style lyrics and ambiance to the energy of 1980s King Crimson and the minimalism of current day post rock.

Although the group has two guitarists, The Tea Club is not about guitar excess and exhibitionism. Instead, the guitars are more about creating atmospheres, draping the engaging vocals.

The line-up on Rabbit includes Patrick McGowan on vocals, guitar; his brother Dan McGowan on guitar, vocals; Becky Osenenko on bass; Kyle Minnick on drums; and guest musician Tom Brislin on keyboards.

Highlights of the album include the thoughtful ‘Diamondized’, the nuanced and delicate ‘Royal Oil Can’, the dreamy ‘He Is Like A Spider’, the short but excellent ‘Tumbleweeds’ and the final epic ‘Astro.’

The Rabbit CD version comes in an attractive digipack with fascinating artwork and lyrics.

Rabbit is a mesmeric album by one of the brightest progressive rock bands in the current scene.

The Tea Club will be doing a mini-tour of the American Northeast in May 2012. They will join Swedish progressive rock band Beardfish for their only 3 U.S. dates.

Beardfish / The Tea Club :

May 14, 2012 Baltimore, MD: Orion Sound Studios, The Orion LiveMusic Showcase
May 15, 2012 Dunellen, NJ: Roxy and Dukes, NJProghouse Progressive Music Series
May 17, 2012 Brighton, MA: The Magic Room, NewEARS

Veritas

Invertigo - Veritas
Invertigo

Veritas (Progressive Promotion Records, 2012)

Veritas is the new album by German rock band InVertigo. Although the group describes itself as progressive or art rock and cites bands like Genesis, Yes, Spock’s Beard, Marillion, The Flower Kings and Porcupine Tree as influences, the overall result is much closer to hard rock and AOR than progressive rock.

The progressive rock influences come from neoprog bands such as Pendragon. The band members are all skilled musicians and present some fine instrumental passages and solos on keyboards, guitars and flute. However, practically all the pieces are marked by hard rock and heavy metal riffs.

Band members include Sebastian Brennert on vocals and keyboards, Matthias Hommel on bass, Carsten Dannert on drums, Jacques Moch on guitars, and Michael Kuchenbecker on keyboards. They are based in Germany’s Ruhr region.

Veritas is a dramatic album that will appeal to hard rock and progressive metal fans.

Listen to samples and buy MP3s:

CD

Striking Pontyfication

v Quartet - Celebrating Jean-Luc Ponty - Live At Yoshi's
Mads Tolling Quartet

Celebrating Jean-Luc Ponty – Live at Yoshi’s (Madsman Records MT-02, 2012)

The music performed and composed by electric violin master and innovator Jean-Luc Ponty receives a memorable treatment in Mads Tolling Quartet’s new album, Celebrating Jean-Luc Ponty – Live at Yoshi’s.

Although Jean-Luc Ponty is best known for his dazzling electric violin-fueled jazz-rock fusion, his career spans decades and various forms of jazz. The Mads Tolling Quartet travels through Ponty’s career, performing some of the French violinist’s most emblematic compositions. Celebrating Jean-Luc Ponty – Live at Yoshi’s includes pieces composed by Ponty such as New Country, Enigmatic Ocean, Struggle of the Turtle to the Sea, Bowing Bowing and Last Memories of Her. The album also features well known works by jazz and rock luminaries that were performed by Ponty: John McLaughlin’s Lila’s Dance, Stanley Clarke’s Song to John and Frank Zappa’s King
Kong. Mads Tolling closes the album with an original composition in two parts inspired by Ponty’s work titled Pontyfication.

The music on Celebrating Jean-Luc Ponty – Live at Yoshi’s is a mesmerizing mix of jazz-rock fusion, jazz swing and even bebop. Although the quartet uses an electric violin and electric guitar, there is less of a rock and electronics focus as jazz plays a larger role.

The Mads Tolling Quartet line-up includes four skilled instrumentalists: Danish virtuoso Mads Tolling on violin, Mike Abraham on guitar, George Ban-Weiss on bass, and Eric Garland on drums.

It was my goal with this album to have a wide range of material that was closely related to Ponty – I didn’t want to recreate his compositions, but instead offer my take on them and also show the great range of projects he has done through the years, including Frank Zappa’s band, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Rite of Strings and even the swing and bebop stuff he did early on in his career,” explains Tolling.

Celebrating Jean-Luc Ponty – Live at Yoshi’s is a superb tribute to the music of one of the great violin innovators of the late 20th century performed by an outstanding electric jazz quartet. Ponty’s music is in good hands.