Category Archives: CD Reviews

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:

.

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.