Category Archives: CD Reviews

Electronic Brewing in the Ardennes

Ron Boots & Synth.nl - Refuge en verre
Ron Boots & Synth.nl

Refuge en Verre (Groove Unlimited, 2010)

Refuge en Verre is collaboration between two of the leading synthesists in The Netherlands: Michel van Osenbruggen (a.k.a. synth.nl) and Ron Boots. Refuge en Verre combines exquisite melodic and downtempo atmospheric electronic music with trance-like pulsating loops generated by sequencers.

This is the first album the two musicians made together. “We first met at a Synthesizer Meeting organized by the Dutch ‘Synth Forum’ in 2006 where we started talking about synthesizers and synthesizer music and found out that we shared the same fascinations,” says Ron Boots.

Michel van Osenbruggen and Ron Boots became good friends and so did their wives and children. Refuge en Verre was conceived in Belgium while on vacation. “In 2010 our wives decided to rent a house together in the Belgian Ardennes for a weekend,” says Boots. “We both brought a synthesizer and a laptop and tried to make music together for the first time and that went very well actually. We recorded quite some tracks there. After the weekend we decided that we should release this music on CD. So we started on finishing the music together when we got back in our own studios.”

The title of the album, Refuge en Verre, comes from the name of the house the two families rented in the French-speaking part of Belgium. “We got the inspiration for the music we played from the beautiful nature in the Belgian Ardennes and the nice time we had with our families over there,” adds Boots. “Most of the tracks were played live as improvisations in the temporary studio that we created in the rented house.”

Refuge en Verre is an inspiringly detailed electronic music work that showcases some of the best talent in the European space music scene.

CD

Digital version

Fusion for Tony Williams

Holdsworth, Pasqua, Haslip, Wackerman - Blues for Tony
Holdsworth, Pasqua, Haslip, Wackerman

Blues for Tony
(Moonjune Records MJR029, 2009)

This 2-CD set brings together four of fusion music’s heavy weights: guitarist Allan Holdsworth, keyboardist Alan Pasqua, bassist Jimmy Haslip, and drummer Chad Wackerman. Blues for Tony was recorded during a 2007 tour which celebrated the work of legendary 1970s fusion band the New Tony Williams Lifetime. Holdsworth, and Pasqua were members of the the New Tony Williams Lifetime in the 1970s. for this project they recruited Yellowjackets bassist Jimmy Haslip and reputable jazz and rock drummer Chad Wackerman.

Throughout the two discs, the four musicians exhibit their technical virtuosity and improvisational ability as they navigate the waters of electric jazz, rock, blues and funk.

Disc 1 contains ‘Blues for Tony’ which is led by Pasqua’s signature keyboard work. The second track is ‘The Fifth.’ This is the only piece composed by drummer Chad Wackerman and he adds swing to the mix. ‘It Must Be Jazz’ was co-written by the 4 musicians, who contribute multiple variations and unexpected turns. The rest of disc 1 contains pieces by Allan Holdsworth: his classic ‘Fred’ from the New Tony Williams Lifetime’s 1975 album Believe It, the guitar solo on ‘Guitar Intro’ and another classic titled ‘Pud Wud’ from the solo album Sand.

Disc 2 begins with more focus on the electric guitar by way of the Allan Holdsworth composition titled ‘Looking Glass’, from his 1985 album Atavachron. The next three pieces turn the attention to Pasqua’s outstanding keyboard work. He penned the solo piano piece ‘To Jaki, George and Thad’, the Mahavishnu-influenced ‘San Michele’ where Pasqua and Holdsworth provide fascinating interplay, and ‘Protocosmos.’ The album ends with ‘Red Alert,’ a funk fusion piece composed by Tony Williams Lifetime bassist Tony Newman which appeared in the 1975 album Believe It.

Drummer Tony Williams was one of the pioneers of jazz rock fusion. He played with Miles Davis, John McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Wayne Shorter, and many other great musicians. His bands The Tony Williams Lifetime and The New Tony Williams Lifetime were musical nurseries for many musicians who later became well respected soloists and sessions musicians.

Blues for Tony is an outstanding set of virtuosic live performances by Allan Holdsworth, Alan Pasqua, Jimmy Haslip, and Chad Wackerman, four of the finest fusion musicians in the current music scene.

Chilled Out Erik Wøllo

Erik Wøllo - Silent Currents: Live at Star's End

Erik Wøllo

Silent Currents: Live at Star’s End (Projekt 262, 2011)

This 2 CD set presents the deep ambient facet of Norwegian guitarist and synthesist Erik Wøllo. His studio albums normally mix ambient sounds with engaging melodies and rhythms. However, on Silent Currents he performs two extensive pieces of superb space music with a bigger focus on drones.

The two pieces are extracted from two separate live radio broadcasts for the iconic Star’s End electronic music radio show in Philadelphia. Each of these performances, Silent Currents 1 from 2002 and Silent Currents 2 from 2007 are each a disc-long uninterrupted composition with several sections.
This alternate universe of Erik Wøllo’s music presents ambient music performed on guitars, guitar synthesizers and analog and digital synthesizers. The mesmerizing pieces flow seamlessly and morph into dreamlike episodes, evoking endless space, with downtempo atmospheres, soaring guitars, spatial explorations and bubbly sequences.

I have been kindly invited to perform at Star’s End multiple times,” says Wøllo. “To perform ‘on the air’ late at night in the radio studio contributed to these unique and inspired performances. In this setting, it felt very natural to do some downtempo and quiet, floating ambient music. Thus, this release is more abstract and chilled out than I usually present on my studio albums. Some elements of the music were improvised; I brought various sound excerpts, loops and atmospheres, and performed and composed these into long continuous zones, all done in real time.”

Silent Currents is Wøllo’s 15th album. In 2010 he released Gateway on the Projekt label and last June, Wøllo released The Road Eternal, which is a collaboration with deep space ambient electronic music master Steve Roach.

Star’s End is one of the longest-running radio shows of ambient music in the world. Since 1976, this program has provided the Philadelphia broadcast area with weekly midnight electronic music adventures.

Over the years Star’s End has hosted many live to air concerts, usually with artists fresh from The Gatherings Concert Series stage,” says Chuck Van Zyl, host of Star’s End. “The act of playing a second, more intimate concert after a public event provides a sense of summation to a powerful experience. But the unique radio venue also offers musicians a space for discovery, as they turn from focused music for The Gatherings community to atmospheres for an audience each in their own dream space. Erik Wøllo enthusiastically embraces this idea using his on-air concerts to explore moods and zones only found in the late hour and unconventional situation. There is an interesting energy arcing through Silent Currents: Erik descends into himself, realizing music completely in the moment. The resulting new works are wonderful expressions of ambience, texture and this artist’s potent sense of drama as Wøllo creates space, then fills it with ever-evolving sound.”

It Was Only a Dream

Omni - Sólo fue un sueño
Omni

Sólo fue un sueño (self released, 2007)

If you like the music of British progressive rock band Camel, you’ll really enjoy this recording by Spanish band Omni. Based in southern Spain, in the Jerez and Puerto de Santa Maria area, Omni is heavily influenced by the Camel sound of the Mirage and Snow Goose era. Omni plays instrumental pieces, using guitars, keyboards and flute/saxophone that intertwine and create seductive melodies, combining fine symphonic rock with jazz excursions.

Sólo fue un sueño (it was only a dream) was released in 2007. Apparently, the band is still around, but this is the latest release so far. At the time, Omni was led by guitarist Michael Starry, who seems to have American background, but has been living in Spain for many years. The rest of the band includes bassist Jesús Cabral, keyboardist Alberto Márquez, Juan Rios on rhythm guitar, Pepe Torres on flute and sax and Ismael Colón on drums and percussion.

Although the Camel influence dominates the album, Omni also incorporates influences from Andalusian music. On the lengthy piece El tren de Rota, they add Andalusian melodies and beats and recall the sound of the legendary Iman, Califato Independiente.

Omni’s previous recordings include Tras el puente (1990) and El vals de los duendes (2001).

Sólo fue un sueño is a fine album of classic progressive rock by one of the finest bands in Spain.

A Saucerful Of Secrets Remastered

Pink Floyd - A Saucerful Of Secrets
Pink Floyd

A Saucerful Of Secrets (EMI, 1968)

A Saucerful Of Secrets was the second studio recording by Pink Floyd. It was remastered this year and is now available with improved sound quality. A Saucerful Of Secrets was recorded at a difficult time for Pink Floyd. The band’s main lyricist and guitarist, Syd Barrett, was having serious mental health problems and became increasingly unreliable.

If you look at the album credits, you’ll see that guitarist David Gilmour appears along with Barrett. Gilmour was brought in as replacement for Barrett during the recording and brought with him his innovative guitar style.

At this stage of the band, most of the material was composed by bassist Roger Waters and keyboardist Rick Wright. Pink Floyd was still in a musical transition. Pieces such as the hypnotic Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun and the instrumental ‘A Saucerful Of Secrets,’ introduced the experimental music and space rock tendencies of the band. Wright’s keyboards and Gilmour’s guitars ventured into uncharted territory. However, some pop elements remained in songs like ‘Corporal Clegg’ and ‘Jugband Blues’ both of which had a very Beatles-like flavor.

The album includes a delightful dreamy piece by Wright titled’ See-Saw,’ where his memorable mellotron plays an essential role.

A Saucerful Of Secrets set the ground for Pink Floyd’s space music explorations, introduced a key new member (David Gilmour) and made wide use of the mellotron, one of the most beloved musical instruments in the world of progressive rock.

Instrumental Rock Chemistry

The Aristocrats - The Aristocrats
The Aristocrats

The Aristocrats
(Boing Music (2011)

The Aristocrats is a new instrumental high energy rock band formed by reputable virtuoso musicians based in various parts of the world. Members include guitarist Guthrie Govan (Asia/GPS, Dizzie Rascal), bassist Bryan Beller (Steve Vai, Dethklok, Mike Keneally), and drummer Marco Minnemann (Adrian Belew, UKZ, Necrophagist).

Their debut album is the self-titled The Aristocrats and features three compositions from each band member. The result of the meeting of these three minds is a mix of hard rock/metal and fusion. Naturally, I’m more interested in the fusion pieces, where the musicians combine musical virtuosity and Satriani and Vai-like electric guitar shredding with superb bass solos and elements of jazz and blues, recalling the sounds of King Crimson, Return to Forever and Frank Zappa.

The best cuts on the album are the laid back “Sweaty Knockers”, “Bad Asteroid”, and “Flatlands”, the exploratory “Furtive Jack” and the fusion piece “Get It Like that.’

Although the musicians are based in two different continents, they left their homes (outside London; Nashville, Tennessee; and southern California) to meet in a Chicago studio. “We ended up using our different influences to write for each other,” says bassist Beller. “I wrote “Sweaty Knockers” specifically for Guthrie to have fun with, while Guthrie wrote “I Want A Parrot” with bass leads in mind. As for Marco’s material, we’re just lucky to be able to keep up with it!

The Aristocrats was formed after an enthusiastic response to a single concert at The Anaheim Bass Bash during the Winter NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) show in January 2011. With just one rehearsal the night before the gig, the trio had a successful experience. “The chemistry was so great,” recalls Govan, who was recently featured on the cover of Guitar Player, “that when we came offstage we all said to each other, ‘This is working. We should record this.’”

Historical Prog Band Returns with More Andalusian Essence

Cai - Metaforas de Luz
Cai

Metaforas de Luz (Bujio BJ201, 2010)

Cai was one of the legendary Andalusian progressive rock groups of the 1970s. In 2007 they came back with a double CD titled Mucho Mas Alla De Nuestras Mentes Diminutas, a reissue of their first CD with bonus material. Three years later, they released their latest studio recording, Metaforas de Luz (Metaphors of Light). The album brings back the captivating elements that made Cai such an essential band in Spanish progressive rock history. With Metaforas de Luz, Cai once more delivers a passionate mix of Flamenco, symphonic rock and jazz forms.

Cai is down to a trio on the album. Missing from the line-up is renowned keyboardist Chano Dominguez. He lives in another part of Spain now and is currently a worldwide famous jazz pianist. Without Chano, the lead instrumentalist is masterful guitarist José Antonio Fernandez Mariscal “El Niño”, who plays acoustic and electric guitars as well as bass.

Founding member Diego Fopiani continues to provide drums and the Flamenco-influenced vocals that characterize Andalusian rock bands. Blas Lago, a younger musician, plays keyboards. Bassist Salvador Otero plays with the live version of the band.

Metaforas de Luz is a fine example of symphonic progressive rock with a Spanish flavor by a legendary band that still sounds fresh and creative.

CD:

Digital download:

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn Remastered

Pink Floyd - The Piper at the Gates of Dawn
Pink Floyd

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (Capitol/EMI, 2011)

The first album by legendary progressive rock band Pink Floyd
, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, is now available digitally remastered. The album can be purchased individually or as part of a box set.

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn was originally released in 1967 and shows Pink Floyd in its pre-progressive rock period. Pink Floyd’s members at the time were Syd Barrett, who was the main songwriter, on guitar and vocals; Roger Waters on bass; Rick Wright on keyboards; and Nick Mason on drums.

In 1967, Pink Floyd was fully immersed in psychedelia. Barrett’s unconventional lyrics sent the listener to a world of fantasy, childlike rhymes and surreal creations. Barrett’s songs were the product of a musician experimenting with music and mind altering drugs.

Barrett also experimented with his electric guitar, using a series of effects that made Pink Floyd’s sound much more exploratory than other British bands of the time.

The album’s title, The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, came from the seventh chapter of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind In The Willows. The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn was recorded in Abbey Road’s Studio 3 and produced by EMI resident producer, Norman Smith, while the Beatles were in the studio next door working on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The Piper at The Gates Of Dawn is an album by a novice Pink Floyd with dreamlike lyrics and music experimentation by one of the leading songwriters in the rock underground of the late 1960s.

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

Space Music for Apollo

Synth.nl - Apollo
Synth.nl

Apollo (2011)

The new album by Dutch artist Synth.nl is an electronic music tribute to the Apollo Moon project. The musician behind Synth.nl is Michel van Osenbruggen. His music has the melodic sensibility of Vangelis and the spacey atmospheric environments of Tangerine Dream.

Synth.nl illustrates the Apollo Moon missions with a rich palette of dramatic, melodic and ambient synthesizers and electronic beats. He also uses NASA audio archives with voices from mission control, the astronauts and the people behind the project.

Michel van Osenbruggen provides information about each piece and details about the various Apollo missions. “For this album, I was inspired by the Apollo Moon missions, undertaken by NASA during the 60’s and 70’s of the previous century,” says van Osenbruggen. “Since I was born in 1969, the same year that Neil Amstrong set foot on the Moon, I have always felt a very strong connection to this event. Listening to this album will take you on a voyage from the Earth to the Moon and back again.”

Michel van Osenbruggen was born in The Netherlands on the 23th of April 1969. He started collecting synthesizers in 1990 because of his fascination with electronics. “Even though I produced a lot of sounds back then, I first started producing my own music in 2005 when I was at home with a burn-out from work.”

Synth.nl has released four solo albums so far: ‘AeroDynamics’ in 2007, ‘AtmoSphere’ in 2008, ‘OceanoGraphy’ in 2009 and ‘Apollo’ in 2011. In 2010, he released a collaboration album called ‘Refuge en Verre’, together with his good friend Ron Boots. Ron also runs the Groove Unlimited label that releases all of Synth.nl ‘s music.

Apollo is a skillful blend of space music and melodic electronic music by one of the finest acts in the current European electronic music scene.

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