Category Archives: CD Reviews

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.

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.

Deeply Ambient

Sam Rosenthal - The Passage
Sam Rosenthal

The Passage (Projekt, 2011)

American composer Sam Rosenthal takes the listener to the world of pure electronic ambience and minimalism on his latest recording titled The Passage. The album contains only two pieces, the +44 minute ‘The Passage’ and the 10-minute composition ‘Rae.’

This is music meant to be heard with a decent sound system and little background noise. ‘The Passage’ generates a peaceful evolving sensation set in slow motion, with subtle changes. The piece was part of the soundtrack for Mark A. Michaels & Patricia Johnson’s guided-meditation set, Ananda Nidra. Rosenthal stretched the music to forty-four minute and made an instrumental version without the spoken word. “When I muted Mark’s track in the studio,” Rosenthal remembers, “I discovered the piece had evolved into an intimate, personal and subtle soundscape. I wanted others to hear it on its own.”

‘Rae’ incorporates a new component, violinist Vicki Richards. The sound is more dynamic, with swirling strings. “Adding ‘Rae’ as a conclusion brings the cycle to a close for now,” says Rosenthal, “It is an emotional release, the passage from this conditional state to the next. A moment of transition.”

The Passage has been therapeutic for me,” Rosenthal says. “I resurfaced, resurrected, remixed and reworked this piece into the sort of ambient album I love to listen to in my own quiet time. It serves as a call to deeply enter the slow flow of sound as well as an invitation to let the textures inhabit and transform the space around you. Reprocessing this material as the score for Mark’s guided meditation erased the noise of the everyday world while allowing me time to heal. It helped me set free both fears and beautiful possibilities, settling in on a calming sense of release.”

Sam Rosenthal consolidates his position as one of the leading exponents of exquisite ambient electronic music with The Passage, an album that will appeal to fans of Brian Eno and floating music.

A Superbly Gifted Violinist

Stratospheerius - The Next World
Stratospheerius

The Next World (Digital Nations, 2012)

A leading candidate for best rock album of 2012 is the deliciously addictive album The Next World by Stratospheerius. The wide-ranging New York-based band is the brainchild of electric violin sensation Joe Deninzon.

Stratospheerius displays violin virtuoso, mandolinist and vocalist Joe Deninzon at his prime, accompanied by three outstanding musicians: Lucianna Padmore on drums, Aurelien Budynek on guitar and vocals, and Jamie Bishop on bass and vocals.

The Next World mixes state of the art progressive rock, jazz fusion, Dave Matthews Band-style jam band rock, contemporary bluegrass, cutting edge electronica, blues, folk-rock vocals harmonies, and even Balkan Gypsy music. Joe Deninzon’s dazzling violin solos, creative loops and effects are clearly spectacular and demonstrate that is one of the most talented instrumentalists in the current rock scene.

The Next World is dedicated to the late Bob Bowen, the bassist in both Stratospheerius and the Joe Deninzon Trio. Bob was killed in a bicycle accident in Manhattan (New York) in 2010. Bob’s bass appears on the track “The House Always Wins.” Bob Bowen also created the cover artwork for the album.

The Next World combines solid songwriting and tradition with extraordinary electric violin work and the sounds of the future.

Listen to samples, buy CD or MP3s:

French Band Jack Dupon to Perform at ProgDay 2012

Jack Dupon
French Rock in Opposition (RIO) band Jack Dupon will be performing at ProgDay 2012, the 18th edition of the longest running progressive rock festival in the world. Jack Dupon will join Accordo Dei Contrari (Italy) and Birdsongs of the Mesozoic (US). ProgDay 2012 will take place on Saturday, September 1st, and Sunday, September 2nd, at Storybook Farm in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

The foundations of French band Jack Dupon go back to 2001, but it wasn’t until 2006 that the group surfaced with their first release, L’Africain Disparu. Since then they have developed a reputation for exceptional live shows (“Best Band,” Brugheas festival, 2007; 4th Prize out of 1800 entrants and “Best Bassist,” Bilborock festival, Spain, 2007) and released eclectic, creative and acclaimed albums: L’Echelle du Désir in 2008, and Démon Hardï in 2011. Bascule á Vif is a recent two-disc set capturing the energy of Jack Dupon live.

The line-up includes Arnaud M’Doihoma on bass, Thomas Larsen on drums and percussion, Gregory Pozzoli on guitar and vocals, and Philippe Prebet on guitars and vocals.

Chapel Hill is in the Triangle metropolitan area of North Carolina, which includes major cities like Durham and Raleigh.

For more information, and to hear music from this year’s bands, go to www.progday.net.