Category Archives: CD Reviews

The Tribal Ambient Journeys

Steve Roach - Journey of One
Steve Roach

Journey of One – The Tribal Ambient Era – Live 1996 (Projekt PRO00266, 2011)

Journey of One is a two CD set which provides a very accurate impression of the dreamtime electronic music synthesist Steve Roach was making in the 1990s. This was the period when Roach traveled throughout the globe, collaborating with various international artists, including Robert Rich, Jorge Reyes, Suso Saiz, Vidna Obmana, Michael Stearns and Ron Sunsinger.

At the time, Roach’s music incorporated the impressions of the vast landscapes of Australia and southern Arizona and other exotic parts of the world. On Journey of One, Steve Roach combines his signature ambient music with Australian aboriginal tribal sounds through the use of the didjeridu (also known as yidaki and didjeridoo) which he learned how to play from Australian masters. Other acoustic instruments include clay water pots, butterfly cocoons, seed pod shakers, Australian clapsticks, and ocarinas.

This two CD live set also mixes slow tempo morphing electronic music with the sounds of nature. Steve Roach usually carried a portable recorder to capture interesting sounds. I remember seeing Steve in Lanzarote (Canary Islands, Spain) early in the morning, recording the surf. On Journey of One he skillfully weaves in the natural sounds of birds and insects into his electronic music.

Journey of One parts 1 and 2 were recorded in an intimate setting in Sacramento, California in 1996. Steve Roach decided to release it exactly as it was performed, without studio edits.

All of my music is audiobiographical in many ways,” says Roach. “It comes from life, from higher arcing desires and dreams joined by the events and moments found in the day-to-day experience of being alive. Through it all, Journey of One is a living record of my time on the creative path that started many years ago. These releases are sign posts at points along the way, the journey of one man rapt in sound.”

Journey of One is a mesmerizing journey of ambient tribal music by one of the great electronic music explorers of our time.

The Fantastic Worlds of Franck Carducci

Franck Carducci - Oddity
Franck Carducci

Oddity (Vocation Records V0C2257, 2011)

Amsterdam-based French multi-instrumentalist Franck Carducci is an emerging talent in the progressive rock scene. His solo album Oddity brings a fresh new voice, with dreamlike characters inspired by English literature and Greek mythology. Carducci’s sound is inspired by the British prog masters of the 1970s and 1980s.

The first piece on the album is an engaging 14+ minute epic titled ‘Achilles,’ which reveals a vocal and guitar style that is remarkably familiar, taking you to early Pendragon (one of the leading British neoprog bands of the 1980s). The delightful acoustic guitar, keyboards and flute melodies will attract Genesis fans.

‘The Quin’ is another lengthy melodic piece where Carducci demonstrates his talent as a vocalist with Pendragonesque vocals, mesmerizing keyboards and a brilliant mix or electric and acoustic guitars and even an unexpected Australian didjeridu.

On ‘The Eyes of Age’ Carducci treats the listener with charming folk-rock, featuring mandolins and fiddle.

‘Alice’s Eerie Dream’ is a long blues rock piece with excellent guitar work, where Carducci shows his licks in Jeff Healy fashion. As much as I like the piece and blues rock, I’m not sure what it’s doing in a progressive rock album.

‘The Last Oddity’ is a beautiful track with several types of keyboards, including the ever popular mellotron. Carducci mixes regular vocals with electronic processed vocals described as ‘ground control voices.’

Franck Carducci plays bass, piano, guitars, drums, and mellotron on the album, accompanied by an excellent cast of musicians, including John Hackett on flute; Phildas Bhakta on drums; Richard Vecchi on keyboards and guitar; Florence Marien on vocals; Michael Strobel on guitar; Niko Leroy on Hammond, synths; Larry Crockett on drums; Marianne Delphin on vocals; Christophe Obadia on guitar and didgeridoo; Vivika Sapori-Sudemäe on violin; Yanne Matis on vocals; Gilles Carducci on mandolin; and Fred Boisson on drums.

The album includes two bonus pieces, Carducci’s version of the Genesis classic ‘The Carpet Crawlers’ featuring violin; and a radio edit of the blues rocker ‘Alice’s Eerie Dream.’

The cover artwork does not do justice to the music.

Oddity is an outstanding album by one of the new talents in the symphonic progressive rock style.

Nemo’s Insurrection

Nemo - Revolu$ion
Nemo

Revolu$ion (Quadrofinic, 2011)

Revolu$ion is the latest album by French progressive rock band Nemo. Revolu$ion is a concept album that centers on an uprising to obtain freedom and equality. The first cut on the album, ‘Liberté, égalité, Insurrection!’ is a short instrumental piece with piano and electric guitar in classic symphonic rock style.

On ‘Je suis un objet’ the dramatic vocals enter the scene evoking French progressive rock legends Ange. There is excellent instrumental work on keyboards and acoustic guitar. However, midway through the piece, the atmosphere is ruined with heavy metal chords that drown out the keyboards. Thankfully, the metal disappears and the last part has an epic nature.

‘Revolu$ion’ contains good keyboard and vocal sections. The entire track is filled with unnecessary hard rock and heavy metal chords that interrupt the progressive rock moments. Some of the 2000s bands seem to think that if you want to illustrate drama and tension, you have to use heavy metal. Not so, the best progressive rock masters create high drama without having to use any metal.

‘Aux Portes du paradis’ brings some desperately needed calm, with excellent slide guitar parts.

‘Seul dans la foule’ is a long piece that has more of the great vocal work as well as notable guitar segments. Around four minutes into the track, the hard rock chords come back and it turns into a hard rock fest.

‘Chiens en lasse’ offers delectable vocal and guitar work.

The 24-minute piece ‘Loin des yeux (Barbares Partiers VIII a XII)’ is meant to be the great epic track in the album. Although it has some good moments with majestic keyboards, the hard rock and metal guitar is overwhelming.

The final piece is titled ‘Notes pour plus tard’.

Musicians on Revolu$ion include: Guillaume Fontaine on keyboards and vocals; Lionel B. Guichard on bass and vocals; Jean Pierre Louveton on guitar and lead vocals; Jean Babtiste Itier on drums and vocals.

The overall impression is that Nemo is formed by skilled musicians who are able to create fine progressive rock, but their heavy metal tendencies spoil many of the pieces. They really need to decide if they want to evolve into true progressive rock or regress into a heavy metal band.

Memorable Three Friends

Gentle Giant - Three Friends
Gentle Giant

Three Friends (Alucard ALU-GG 034, 2011)

Originally released in 1972, Three Friends belongs to the category of must have progressive rock albums. It was the band’s first concept album, centered on three childhood friends whose lives take them to very different places.

Gentle Giant played a groundbreaking style of music, mixing rock, jazz, classical music, early music and sound experimentation. The remastered version of Three Friends is now available and it is definitely worth acquiring. If you don’t have a really good sound system, you should listen to this album with headphones. It is full of beautiful details and nuances.

What separated Gentle Giant from other groups of their era was their ability to create elaborate musical counterpoints, enchanting call and response vocals, mesmerizing choruses, superb instrumental interplay and the use of a wide range of musical instruments, including some rarely used in rock music, such as the vibraphone.

The line-up on this album includes Kerry Minnear on keyboards, vibraphone, percussion, moog synthesizer, lead vocals; Ray Shulman on bass, violin, string guitar and vocals; Gary Green on guitars, percussion; Derek Shulman on lead vocals; Malcolm Mortimore on drums; and Philip Shulman on saxophones, lead vocals.

Three Friend begins with ‘Prologue,’ an intense piece with outstanding keyboard and bass work, guitar and sax interplay and the unmistaken vocals that characterized Gentle Giant.

‘Schooldays’ is a charming piece that takes the listener to childhood years with guitar and vibraphone, followed by call and response vocals. The second part of the track is a delectable combination of piano, mellotron and evocative vocals, including a guest ‘boy’s voice’ appearance by Calvin, Phil Shulman’s son.

The vibrant ‘Working All Day’ contains a series of counterpoints and skillful sax and bass interplay as well as sumptuous organ and synthesizer.

‘Peel the Paint’ dexterously uses chamber strings, bass and organ. ‘Mister Class and Quality’ presents several layers of counterpoints between bass, guitar and keyboards.

The last piece of the original album is a grand finale titled Three Friends where you’ll find majestic mellotron, organ, guitars and vocals.

This remastered version contains two bonus tracks, a live version of ‘Prologue’ and ’Out-Takes,’ which is a series of studio rehearsals and alternative versions.

The CD version comes in a gatefold digipack with lyrics and a booklet with personal comments by some of the musicians and 1970s photos.

Three Friends is an outstanding album that shows Gentle Giant at their prime. It has aged well and it is an essential album by one of the finest progressive rock bands of all time.

Psychedelia of Distant Lands

In the Labyrinth - One Trail To Heaven
In the Labyrinth

One Trail To Heaven (Trail Records , 2011)

In the Labyrinth is the project of Swedish multi-instrumentalist Peter Lindahl. One Trail To Heaven is a genre-defying compilation of some of his best work along with some previously unreleased recordings and alternate renderings of songs from Peter’s exclusive personal archive.

It’s hard to categorize In the Labyrinth. Although the group is frequently featured in progressive rock publications because of its psychedelic and progressive rock sounds, the band frequently ventures into world music territory, incorporating Indian, Middle Eastern and Celtic music influences and instrumentation.

There are basically three types of pieces on the album. One set contains progressive rock with enchanting mellotron and Floydian electric guitars. There are also songs that are deeply inspired by folk rock and the psychedelic sounds of 1960s British bands. Lastly, there are tracks where Lindahl and his colleague explore distant lands through the use of sitar, saz and many other traditional instruments.

Peter Lindahl provides vocals and plays mellotron, guitars, bass, saz, zither, mandolin, flute, synthesizer, piano, melodeon, viola da gamba, darbuka, daf, percussion, recorders, effects, programming; Håkan Almkvist plays sitar, e-bow guitar, electric bass, table. Guest musicians include Helena Selander on background vocals, Mikael Gejel on sampler and flute, Robert Eklund on archlute, Helena Jacobssen on background vocals, Stefan Andersson on electric bass, guitar & slide guitar; Kristina Fuentes on background vocals, Karin Langhard-Gejel on background vocals, Ulf Hansson on darbuka, and Marcos Chagallo on violin.

One Trail To Heaven is a wonderful record that skillfully brings together classic progressive rock, psychedelic music and the traditional sounds of the world.

Digital download version

Enchanting Potions

Ben Craven - Great & Terrible Potions
Ben Craven

Great & Terrible Potions (Desert Comb music DC1006, 2011)

With his second album, Australian singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ben Craven enters the progressive rock arena in grand style. His new album titled Great & Terrible Potions immediately catches your attention. The artwork is by the great album designer Roger Dean, the artist that designed the legendary covers for Yes, Uriah Heep and Greenslade. In this case, Dean’s fantasy artwork incorporates an Australian feel.

Great & Terrible Potions is an ambitious album and Craven clearly pulls it off. He has that rare ability of being a great instrumentalist and composer at the same time. And Craven also plays all the musical instruments featured in the album.

Great & Terrible Potions begins with a beautiful yet ominous piano and keyboards track titled “Diabolique”. The instrumental piece grows more dramatic with the incorporation of powerful bass, drums and Keith Emerson-style organ.

“Nobody Dies Forever Part 1” is a fine rock song with a guitar solo at the end. It segues into ambient synths, distant sounds and a choir that morph into an excellent bluesy Pink Floydian-guitar that builds into an epic piece.

On “Ready to Lose”, Craven brings out the acoustic guitar. The folk style guitar and vocals transforms into a synth and electric guitar-driven neoprog rocker with more captivating guitar solo work.

“The Conjurer” brings back the acoustic piano in an anthemic piece that blends piano with delightful slide guitar evoking the sounds of David Gilmour. It builds into another superb guitar solo.

Ben Craven - Photo by Michelle Aziz
The next cut is “No specific Harm,” the great epic in the album. Craven combines majestic keyboards with Arabic sounding soaring electric guitar. The suite is set in ancient Egypt and Craven’s music takes the listener to this ancient world with his skillful cinematic compositions. Craven also shows here that he’s a respectable arranger, making transitions that flow naturally.

“Solace” is the calm after the storm. It’s a beautiful acoustic guitar and keyboards instrumental track that also grows into epic electric guitar.

“Nobody Dies Forever Part 2” is a short reprise of Part 1 that takes you into a simpler world.

“Great & Terrible Potions” begins as a vocals and piano ballad which adds more of the tasty slide guitar. It turns into a full blown symphonic rock fest with several layers of keyboards and electric guitar.

The album includes three bonus tracks. They are single-length edits of three songs, Ready to Lose, Nobody Dies Forever, and No specific Harm, intended for radio airplay.

Another bonus is the CD booklet which unfolds into a stunning mini-poster designed by Roger Dean.

Great & Terrible Potions is an outstanding album by one of the emerging talents in the progressive rock field.

CD (North America)

Digital Download (North America)

CD (Europe)

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.