Category Archives: CD Reviews

Mysterium Magnum

Cannata - Mysterium Magnum
Cannata

Mysterium Magnum (Oxford Circus, 2006)

Cannata’s album Mysterium Magnum, released in 2006, came to me because Jeff Cannata’s connection to progressive rock. He was a member of an American progressive rock band called Jasper Wrath in the 1970s. Cannata produces his own recordings at the Oxford Circus Studios in Connecticut.

Despite the promising and attractive artwork, Mysterium Magnum is not a progressive rock album. 90% of the music is a mix of finely executed AOR and melodic hard rock, influenced by bands like Kansas. Music intended for commercial FM radio. The only piece that brings back the progressive rock flame is the longest track on the album: ‘Somewhere Beyond The Sun.’ Here is where Jeff Cannata shows his talent as a musician and composer. ‘Somewhere Beyond The Sun’ has exquisite flute sections and dazzling keyboards.

Mysterium Magnum will appeal to fans of late 1970s Album Oriented Rock (AOR). If you are looking for progressive rock, download ‘Somewhere Beyond The Sun.’

CD

Somewhere Beyond The Sun

Celtic Calling

Judith Mateo - Ashes
Judith Mateo

Ashes (Warner Music, 2011)

Ashes is the latest offering by Spanish fiddler Judith Mateo. Even though she was not born in the Celtic regions of Spain, Celtic music runs in her blood. On Ashes she mixes Celtic fiddling with fiery rock, including a version of Kansas’ classic rock song ‘Dust in the Wind.’

The best cut is Sept.97, an instrumental tribute to Danny Doyle. Judith Mateo celebrates her life changing trip to Ireland in 1997, where she met Danny Doyle. This captivating cut combines fretless jazz bass and keyboards with the fiddle melodies.

Another keeper is a track titled Bollywood, where she blends Bollywood dance music with electronic beats and her fiddle melodies.

Most of the album, however, falls under the category of Celtic rock. Mateo pays another tribute on ‘De Fiestas’, a piece by a well-known Spanish rock musician and flute player named Jose Carlos Molina, who was the leader of Ñu, a Spanish band inspired by Jethro Tull. Molina appears as a guest on flute.

Mateo is an accomplished fiddler, who many times gets drowned by the excessive hard rock electric guitars. On Ashes, she incorporates unnecessary rapping that doesn’t really belong there.

Judith Mateo has a passion for Irish culture. She has performed throughout Europe and has released Tir Nan Og (Universal Music Spain, 2003) and Mientras el cielo no se caiga (Balinaboola SL, 2007).

To Shatter All Accord

Discipline - To Shatter All Accord
Discipline

To Shatter All Accord (All Strung Out Records, 2011)

Discipline, from Detroit, is one of the leading progressive rock bands in the American Midwest. The group is a rarity in a sea full of Genesis and Yes followers. Discipline, led by keyboardist and composer Matthew Parmenter performs a darker form of progressive rock, inspired by Van der Graaf Generator.

Their eagerly anticipated new album To Shatter All Accord was released in late 2011. The opening track, ‘Circuitry’ disappoints with its aggressive hard rock guitar that drowns everything. In the middle of the track, Discipline gives a brief taste of its tremendous potential with a mix of jazz and progressive rock with saxophone, keyboards and elegant guitar that for a moment recalls the great American band Happy the Man. Unfortunately, the hard rock returns to close the piece.

‘When the Walls are Down’ is another hard rocker with the guitars drowning everything. I find progressive rock musicians playing hard rock and AOR a wasted talent.

The third piece, titled ‘Dead City’ still has hard rock guitar, but the keyboards and vocals manage to stand out. Two minutes into the piece, the electric guitar switches to melodic mode, creating fine interplay with the keyboards. Unfortunately, the guitar quickly reverts to hard rhythm mode.

The best cut is ‘When She Dreams She Dreams in Color.’ This is progressive rock at its best. The piece begins with poetic and nuanced vocals and keyboards that lead into a superb instrumental progression with delectable mellotron, a mesmerizing violin solo and intricate guitar work. This piece demonstrates that darkness and tension does not require hard rock or heavy metal.

The lengthy ‘Rogue’ is the 24-minute epic on the album. The track begins with acoustic guitar that leads into electric guitars and vocals. The piece goes through a series of excellent overdubbed vocal and instrumental passages and progressions that mix subtle tranquil moments with tension. There are more tasty mellotron and electric guitar solos, accompanied by delicate jazz rhythm guitar which is a welcome change.

The line-up on To Shatter All Accord includes Matthew Parmenter on vocals, keyboards, saxophone and violin; Jon Preston Bouda on guitars; Mathew Kennedy on bass; Paul Dzendzel on drums and percussion.

To Shatter All Accord shows us the potential of what could be one of the best progressive rock bands in the current scene. If Discipline reigns in the hard rock and replaces it with more creative arrangements, I foresee a bright future.

In the Beginning and the End

Trettioariga Kriget - I Borjan Och Slutet
Trettioariga Kriget

I Borjan Och Slutet – In the beginning and the end (Mellotronen MelloCD023, 2007)

I Början Och Slutet is the eighth studio album by pioneering Swedish progressive rock band Trettioåriga Kriget (Thirty Years War). The first thing that stands out when you listen to the band is that it has developed its own progressive rock style, which is characterized by a fusion of symphonic rock, pop, folk-rock and psychedelic music. While other groups clearly show influences from British pioneers, the finely calibrated Trettioåriga Kriget sounds totally different.

I Början Och Slutet is a concept album that combines captivating instrumentals and Swedish language pieces. The instrumentals mix guitars with mellotron and driving bass. The bad leader is bassist Stefan Fredin and he clearly leaves his mark. Unlike other groups who mix harmonic mellotrons and solo keyboards, Trettioåriga Kriget doesn’t have much use for solo keyboards. Instead the vocals, guitars and bass play the leading role.

The best cuts are the pieces that go in a symphonic rock direction, such as the opening track ‘I Krigets Tid I’, the dreamy and bluesy ‘Barndom’, the melancholic ‘Lovsang,’ and the closing ‘I Krigets Tid II’

The musicians that appear in the album are Stefan Fredin on bass guitar, rhythm guitar, vocals; Dag Lundquist- drums, percussion, backing vocals; Robert Zima on vocals; Christer Åkerberg on electric and acoustic guitars; Mats Lindberg on keyboards; and
Olle Thörnvall provides the lyrics.

The booklet includes a 20 page booklet with band photos, the original lyrics and English language translations.

The Pink Floyd Experiments

Pink Floyd - Ummagumma
Pink Floyd

Ummagumma (EMI, 1969 – remastered in 2011)

Pink Floyd’s first double album, Ummagumma, was originally released in 1969. The album was digitally remastered in 2011 by James Guthrie and Joel Plante. This new version is better enjoyed with headphones or a high quality audio system.

Ummagumma is divided into two very different recordings. The first disc is a live album that includes some of their best known pieces from previous albums: ‘Astronomy Domine’, ‘Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun’ and ‘A Saucerful of Secrets’. In addition there is an eerie cinematic piece titled ‘Careful with that Axe, Eugene.’ This electric organ–led track progresses with increasing intensity until you hear a deranged scream by Roger Waters. There are a lot of stories about the meaning of the song. Most people seem to think that it is related to an axe murderer.

Album 2 is a studio recording where each member of the band presents his own experiments. ‘Sysyphus’ is the brainchild of keyboardist Richard Wright who plays a combination of symphonic rock with mellotron, piano and percussion and atonal experimental music on keyboards and percussion.

The keyboard fest is followed by the laid back ‘Grantchester Meadows’ by Roger Waters, with its pastoral strums of acoustic guitars, vocals and sounds of birds (not sure if they are real or synthesized). Waters’ next piece is crazier and has a very long title: ‘Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict.’ The sounds of the little furries are wacky and very funny.

Back to acoustic guitars with David Gilmour’s ‘The Narrow Way.’ In the first part, Gilmour blends blues acoustic guitar with electric guitar riffs and explorations. Experimental, but very beautiful at the same time. Part 2 sounds like repetitive hard rock mixed with electronics. Part three is a delectable melancholic song.

‘The Grand Vizier’s Garden Party’ is Nick Mason’s suite. It begins with a solo flute that leads into a series of drum experimentations and ends with a very short flute piece.

Ummagumma shows Pink Floyd at a transitional stage, definitely moving away from psychedelic pop and into an experimental form of rock, combining rock with classical music elements and electronic music and effects. It was the birth of a form of progressive rock later known as space rock. Ummagumma is also one of the most individualist albums by the band.

The Timely Return of Comedy of Errors

Comedy of Errors - Disobey
Comedy of Errors

Disobey (COE001, 2011)

Comedy of Errors, one of the British bands involved in the progressive rock renaissance of the 1980s known as neoprog, is back with a new album titled Disobey. As other neoprog bands, Comedy of Errors has more in common with Marillion, IQ and Pallas than Genesis. However, original members Joe Cairney (vocals), Jim Johnston (keyboards, guitars), Mark Spalding (guitars, bass and backing vocals) have made an album that bridges the 1980s and 1970s prog eras with the present.

On Disobey, Comedy of Errors demonstrates that it is not stuck in time. The musicians incorporate contemporary elements such as electronic loops as well as sound effects. Jim Johnston is comfortable using vintage organ and mellotron sounds as well as the latest cutting edge electronics.

Album highlights include ‘Jekyll’ with its outstanding vocals and keyboard work (although I would have toned down the hard rock guitar parts); the instrumental ‘Prelude, Riff And Fugue,’ with its mix of early classical music, synthesizers and epic guitar; the hypnotic ‘Carousel,’ the delightful ‘Could Have Been Yesterday’ with its mix of acoustic guitars, vocals and keyboards; the brief instrumental gem ‘Alisa’s Lullaby,’ and the great final epic titled ‘The Student Prince,’ which is subdivided into four pieces.

On the down side, the straight ahead rocker ‘American Rodeo’ that seems out of place and the opening piece, ‘Disobey,’ which never manages to get off the ground.

In addition to vocalist Joe Cairney, keyboardist Jim Johnston and guitarist Mark Spalding, Disobey features Bruce Levick on drums and Hew Montgomery (Abel Ganz) on bass.

Comedy of Errors is a reformed symphonic progressive rock band with tremendous potential.Disobey showcases its dazzling instrumental and vocals skills and I look forward to more.

Buy the CD, listen to samples and also purchase MP3s at:

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