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

Progressive Rock Bands Credo and Comedy of Errors to Begin Joint UK Tour in February 2012

Credo
British prog bands Credo and Comedy of Errors will be touring the UK together in February 2012. Credo will present music from their successful Against Reason album.

Credo

Credo was formed in 1992 by guitarist Tim Birrell, bassist Jim Murdoch, lyricist and keyboard player Mick Stovold, drummer Paul Clark and vocalist Mark Colton. The band played their first live show in Aldershot in April 1992 as Ad Hoc, temporarily changing their name to Chequered Past before settling on ‘Credo’ in 1993.

Credo released their debut album – Field of Vision – in 1994, to some success in the UK and Neo Prog strongholds across Europe. The original intention was just to sell the album at gigs on cassette, but UK label Cyclops approached the band, signed them up and released the album on CD shortly after.

Extensive touring followed, when suddenly Mick Stovold decided to leave the band. His replacement, keyboardist Mike Varty (Landmarq, Shadowland, Janison Edge, Mick Pointer’s Marillion / Script For A Jesters Tour), marked the emergence of the Credo we hear today.

Following a horrific run of bad luck, ill health and assorted disasters, Credo continued with a new drummer, Martin Meads. Their second album titled Rhetoric came out in 2005 on the F2 label. The Rhetoric Tour culminated in a fabulous show in Katowice, Poland that was released as a double live album and DVD – This is What We Do.

Credo’s latest album, Against Reason, was released on 11 April 2011 on the F2 label. The current line-up includes Mark Colton on vocals & percussion, Mike Varty on keyboards & backing vocals, Tim Birrell on electric & acoustic guitars, Martin Meads on drums, Jim Murdoch on bass & backing vocals.

Comedy of Errors

Progressive rock band Comedy of Errors was founded in January 1984 with members coming from in and around the Glasgow area, Scotland. The line-up included vocalist Joe Cairney (vocals), keyboardist Jim Johnston, drummer John MacPhee, guitarist Mike Barnard and bassist Steve Stewart (bass), who was replaced by Mark Spalding. Various lineup changes followed as did the music and eventually the project faded away.

One man however kept faith in the original concept, dropped out of the prog scene completely, stayed in his room, kept writing new material and revising songs and waited…and waited…. It was hoped these mini-rock symphonies would, at some point in the future, see the light of day and find an appreciative audience. And so it was, thanks to those who kept faith in the music, the new incarnation of Comedy Of Errors came to release their debut album Disobey. The line-up on Disobey features original members Joe Cairney (vocals), Jim Johnston (keyboards, guitars), Mark Spalding (guitars, bass and backing vocals. Guersts include Bruce Levick on drums and Hew montgomery on bass.

Tour Dates

Thursday 2nd February

Riffs Bar,
Greatfield Swindon, SN4 8EQ Doors 7.00

Friday 3rd February

The Lexington,
Pentonville Road, London
Doors 7.30pm
CRS Shop

Saturday 4th February

The Wesley Centre,
Maltby, Rotherham
Doors 7pm
CRS Shop

Sunday 5th February

B2, Brickmakers, Norwich
Doors 7pm
CRS Shop

Øresund Space Collective Releases Free Download Chased by the Space Police Today

Øresund Space Collective - Chased by Space Police
The new single by Danish psychedelic progressive rock band Øresund Space Collective will be available today. Titled “Chased by Space Police” (Prog Sphere Records), the single can be downloaded for free.

The single includes high resolution artwork in PDF, designed specially by Påhl Sundström of Klotet and Villebråd. Chased by the Space Police was recorded during It’s All About Delay session on March 10th-11th, 2006 in the Black Tomato Studios, Copenhagen.

Previously unreleased, this track is a journey through space and far beyond. Starting in a progressive rock manner with Hammond taking a lead it develops further towards more psychedelic space-led sound. Clocking a little over 13 minutes, Chased by the Space Police is a good introduction to what can be expected throughout 2012.

Available at Prog Sphere Bandcamp’s profile on: http://prog-sphere.bandcamp.com

Out of the Cage

Kazachstán - V hrudi pták
Kazachstán

V hrudi pták (Rijen, 2011)

Kazachstán is an excellent new progressive rock band from Ostrava in the Czech Republic, near the Polish border. Although the group cites Pink Floyd as an important influence, they clearly have developed their own sound. Their 2011 titled V hrudi pták means ‘The Bird Cage’ and it combines classic progressive rock with Czech folk and classical music influences. Kazachstán uses unconventional musical instruments such as the evocative kaval flute, as well as solo brass instruments.

All the pieces have a captivating nature, with poetic vocals that take you to different moods and musical worlds. The highlights of the album include the 10:12 minute epic, “Mé duse klid’ featuring outstanding electric guitar, kaval and brass work; the chamber-style ‘Ve tmách’ with an exquisite mix of vocals, acoustic instruments and electric guitar; and the grand finale guitar epic titled ‘Komediant.’

Kazachstán’s line-up includes Robert Hejduk on lead guitar and keyboards; Alan Grézl on acoustic guitar, vocals, and kaval; Jiri Nemecek on brass instruments; George Geršl on drums; and lyricist Jaroslav Žila.

V hrudi pták reveals a thorough knowledge of the finest progressive rock musical forms, with a distinct Czech poetic flavor, full of imagination and emotion.

Buy the album from skupina-kazachstan.cz/kazashop#menu

Video of the Week: The Orchestrion by Pat Metheny

Pat Metheny
The Orchestrion is fascinating mix or music and technology. Guitar innovator and musical explorer Pat Metheny demonstrates his ’Orchestrionics, a term he uses to describe “a method of developing ensemble-oriented music using acoustic and acoustoelectric musical instruments that are mechanically controlled in a variety of ways, using solenoids and pneumatics.”

With this project, Pat Metheny took advantage of today’s technology and he developed his own Orchestrion, which includes a large ensemble of acoustic instruments: pianos, drum kit, marimbas, “guitar-bots,” dozens of percussion instruments and even cabinets of carefully tuned bottles. Metheny worked for several months with a talented team of scientists and engineers to develop and assemble the “New Orchestrion” for this project.

With a guitar, pen or keyboard I am able to create a detailed compositional environment or a spontaneously developed improvisation, with the pieces on this particular recording leaning toward the compositional side of the spectrum,” adds Metheny. “On top of these layers of acoustic sound, I add my conventional electric guitar playing as an improvised component.

Pat Metheny Talks About The Orchestrion

At least for me, this takes the term “solo record” into some new and interesting areas, somewhat recontextualizing the idea of what constitutes a solo performance by a single musician. This project is the result of a lifelong dream in this area that dates back to my early youth.”

German Prog Band RPWL to Release “Beyond Man and Time” March 13th

RPWL - Beyond Man and Time
RPWL, one of Germany’s most successful progressive rock bands will release its first concept album titled “Beyond Man and Time” in Macrh 2012. The recording is a musical journey through the world outside of Plato’s Cave. Beyond Man and Time will be released in a standard version as well as an exclusive bonus edition that includes an audio book. The album will also be presented live throughout Europe in April 2012.

The protagonist of Beyond Man and Time is on a journey and meets various characters, partly adapted from Zarathustra, as means towards new insight. The basic idea in this is a so-called “revaluation of values” in terms of a new way of thinking. In this world “beyond man and time” there already are creatures of higher knowledge that the protagonist meets allegorically along his way: the keeper of the cave, the willingly blind, the scientist, the ugliest human, the creator, the shadow, the wise man in the desert and the fisherman.

In addition to the regular version of the album there will also be a bonus edition limited to 2,000 copies. This exclusive edition includes an additional audio book that connects the music even more closely to the philosophical approach, plus a topographic map of the new world that is to be explored.

The band from Freising in southern Germany, created musical themes for every single character on “Beyond Man And Time”: Middle Eastern percussion, expanded Moog-soli and an Indian sitar take care of a well-placed, atmospheric and colorful adaptation. The musical journey naturally culminates in a 16-minute epic called “The fisherman”, and ends on a calm and meditative note with “Noon.”

“The goal is to open eyes, look further, see more, and see differently,” says vocalist Yogi Lang. “Words that everybody approves of are not going to lead to progress. We call that: “deadlock of the spirit”. Too many approaches of our time disappear in the void of the equal – the conformist.”

Lineup: Yogi Lang on vocals and keyboards; Kalle Wallner on guitars; Markus Jehle on keyboards; Werner Taus on bass; and Marc Turiaux on drums.

Inspiringly Detailed Vagalume

Absente H - Vagalume
Absente H

Vagalume (2011)

Vagalume is the debut album by Spanish progressive rock band Absente H. The group has been around for a few years, developing its concept of symphonic-progressive rock. Absente H is influenced by the classics of the 1970s like Pink Floyd, Yes, Genesis and Camel, and also by newer acts such as Flower Kings and Porcupine Tree.

Despite the previously mentioned influences, Absente H has developed its own sound which is based on epic pieces with engaging vocals, and musical interplay between the guitars, keyboards, flute and violin. If you like mellotron, you will find it used throughout the album. It’s hard to know if it’s a real mellotron or one of the emulators available, but the mesmerizing result is what counts.

The Spanish flavor of Absente H centers on the vocals which are in Spanish and sometimes reminds me of the great Argentine prog groups of the 1970s. David Pérez’s vocals make beautiful combinations with the background vocals of the two female singers. The lyrics cover a wide range of topics, ranging from environmental issues to movie tributes, mythology and timeless Spanish poetry by Rosalía De Castro.

The line-up on Vagalume includes David Pérez on vocals; Juan Pedro Miralles on keyboards; Jesús González on drums; Alfonso Pazos on bass; María José Izquierdo on flute & backing vocals; María Sánchez on violin & backing vocals; and Víctor García on guitars.

Vagalume is an impressive and immediately accessible debut recording by one of the most articulate progressive rock acts in Spain.

Spanish Electronic Music Pioneer Carlos Guirao Dies

Carlos Guirao live in Lleida at his last concert on December 16, 2011
Spanish synthesist and guitarist Carlos Guirao died January 17th, 2012 of cancer. He was 57. Guirao was one of the pioneers of electronic music in Spain. Together with synthesist Michel Huygen and guitarist Albert Giménez, Guirao formed the best known Spanish electronic group, Neuronium.

The first Neuronium album was titled Quasar 2C361, (EMI-Harvest, 1977). Next came Vuelo Químico (chemical flight) released in 1978. It was inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s literary work and featured the legendary Nico (The Velvet Underground).

After Vuelo Químico, Albert Giménez left the group and Neuronium became a duo. In 1980 Neuronium released Digital Dream under its own indie label, Neuronium Records. Digital Dream featured guitarist Santi Picó as a guest.

Revelation, Carlos Guirao's first solo album
Guirao continued his work with Neuronium, releasing The Visitor (1981) and Chromium Echoes (1982).

In 1982, Guirao left Neuronium. That same year, he released Revelation, a solo album that continued the Neuronium sound. Revelation featured Guirao on synthesizers and Jose Maria Ciria and Manolo Torres on drums.

In the mid-1980s, Guirao’s electronic music shifted from space music to techno. He founded a duo called Programa with José Antonio López Ibañez. Programa released Síntesis Digital (1983) and Acrópolis (1985).
Carlos Guirao exited Programa after Acrópolis. Although he didn’t officially release any recordings for several years, he never stopped making music. He worked as an art restorer and played guitar and keyboards with a group of friends in a rock band called Cherish Band. The band’s repertory included covers of Pink Floyd pieces.

Carlos Guirao - Photo by Marcos Faundez-Zanuy
Guirao released a new solo album of symphonic electronic music titled Symphony in 2010. Symphony featured Guirao on keyboards with J. Artigas on acoustic guitar, J. Durban on drums, and F. Montraveta on keyboards.

Other recent recordings include his collaboration with his former Programa bandmate Joseph Loibant (the new artistic name of José Antonio López Ibañez) titled “Alchemy” (At-Mooss Records), the double CD “Brumas” (Mists) inspired by the fresh air of deep forests in imaginary worlds, and “El vuelo de las almas miticas” (the flight of the mythical souls) composed in 2007 and arranged and orchestrated in 2011.

Carlos Guirao left several unreleased musical works. More information and photos with Klaus Schulze and Vangelis are available at: http://carlosguirao.blogspot.com

Interview with Steve Babb and Fred Schendel of Glass Hammer

Glass Hammer - Photo by Julie Babb
Symphonic-progressive rock band Glass Hammer is one of the leading acts in the genre in the United States. Glass Hammer formed in 1992 when multi-instrumentalists Steve Babb and Fred Schendel began to write and record Journey of the Dunadan, a concept album based on the story of the Ranger of the North, Aragorn, a fictional character from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. To their surprise, the album sold several thousand units via the Internet, The QVC Shop-At-Home Network and phone orders, leaving Babb and Schendel convinced that the band was a project worth continuing.

Although many musicians have appeared on Glass Hammer albums over the years, Babb and Schendel have remained the core of the band. Both play a variety of instruments, but Babb mainly concentrates on bass guitar and keyboards while Schendel plays keyboards, various guitars and drums. Their latest album is Cor Cordium. Co-founders Steve Babb and Fred Schendel discuss their music with Progressive Rock Central.

Cor Cordium seems to have a connection with your previous album If. Is this a second part?

Fred: Well, it’s stylistically related, for sure but it’s not consciously a continuation of an exact same sound.

Steve Babb - Photo by Julie Babb
Steve: We’ve expanded on the strengths of the new band members that came along for “If”. But there was no conscious effort to re-create or surpass anything we did on “If”. We just wanted to make another good album; and I think we’ve done that. There are similarities, but that’s as far as it goes.

How has Glass Hammer’s music evolved throughout the years?

Fred: It’s funny because we’re always interested in making music that doesn’t sound exactly like the music we’ve already made, and even though some might think that’s what the genre is all about we get in real trouble sometimes because of it. We’ve been trying to mix trying new things, i.e. going a little harder with Culture Of Ascent or psychedelic with Three Cheers, with refining what we do as a classic sounding symph band. We try and identify our strengths and work with them. I think we’ve learned enough about what this current version of the band does well with these two releases that the next will really be something amazing.

How does the composition process work?

Fred Schendel - Photo by Julie Babb
Fred: Generally, I think, we just sit down and see what kind of ideas and themes come to us. Then it’s all about arranging and extending those ideas, and seeing how one thing can logically lead to something else. Composing is 50% arranging, if not more.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

Fred: Oh, I think it filters in from everywhere. Of course, all the music you grow up listening to, but I think anything that you hear might have ideas in it that lead you somewhere. I honestly don’t know sometimes. It’s safe to say that a lot of it is classical music and the prog bands of the 70’s. But I personally listen to funk, pop, punk and all kinds of stuff.

Steve: Movies, books, art, life experience – all that plays a part for me. I certainly remain inspired by my favorite bands from the seventies, but also a lot of non-prog bands that are new to the scene. I’m a Christian too …. a lot of inspiration comes from my faith. And a lot from my wife and son too!

Making a living from music is not easy, are you full time musicians?

Fred: We have a recording studio, so we’re full time producers of music and sound-related endeavors even if we’re not always acting as musicians.

Steve: Making a living from anything isn’t easy anymore. Any one who is working and making money is struggling day by day to do so. But I guess musicians who can make a living, any living at all, have nothing to complain about. Music production pays the bills for us, no one is starving. We’re fortunate!

Steve Babb - Photo by Brian Tirpak
Are you all based in the Chattanooga area?

Fred: Right now the whole band is indeed local, apart from Jon Davison who lives in California. Which is a bummer for us but that’s just how it is! We’re trying to find a drummer from here that can join us full time.

Nashville is known for country music and Memphis for blues, is there something about Chattanooga that set the ground for one of the best progressive rock bands in North America?

Fred: The music scene here is dismal. It’s just a coincidence we lived here and took initiative to get our music recorded and out into the world. Before 1993 that would have been next to impossible living somewhere like Chattanooga. But we started around the time when the world-wide web became a viable marketing tool and pro-grade recording equipment became affordable.

Steve: The eastern-Tennessee region has a number of prog bands to its credit. Salem Hill, Neal Morse, Glass Hammer (of course), and once upon a time there was a band called Somnambulist who Fred and I got to produce. But it’s coincidence. The general populace is unaware that bands like GH exist here.

Did your success stimulate the progressive rock scene in Chattanooga?

Steve: We’re better known in Chattanooga as producers. And as such I think we’ve had a positive impact on a number of artists. But very few Glass Hammer fans hail from our home town. There really isn’t a prog-rock scene here, and we certainly haven’t put any energy into creating one.

Your band follows the great progressive rock tradition of the 1970s, with epic songs and fantasy artwork. How important are the other art components, aside from music?

Fred: I think it’s very important. We, as people, really contribute nothing as far as any kind of image. It has to come from art. That’s the visual side of what we do. We love having good art as a compliment to the music.

The keyboards you use like mellotron and organ are some of the most cherished by progressive music fans. What keyboards [models] do you use? Where and how did you get them?

Fred Schendel - Photo by Brian Tirpak
Fred: Well, we do own a real Hammond organ (a CV with a Leslie 147) and a real Minimoog and some other old analog synths, but they are next to impossible to keep working. I’ve had the Minimoog since 1979; my parents, bless them, got it for me when I was 15. We use a blend of the real ones when they work and various software emulations. I know enough about how things should sound I can fool most of the people most of the time. I was an endorser of Nord keyboards for a while and I can’t recommend them highly enough. The Nord Electro and Nord Lead synths are wonderful.

Steve: I’ve had a Yamaha CS-5 synth since 1980. I still pull it out and use on Glass Hammer albums now and then. It’s getting a little noisy, but it has a charm I can’t find in other keyboards or soft-synths.

If you could gather any musicians or musical groups to collaborate with whom would that be?

Fred: Well, at this jaded point in life I don’t know if I have a fantasy along those lines any more. Jon Anderson was at the top of the list and we got to do that. I would have to say if I had a chance to meet Thijs Van Leer and collaborate, with him on keys or flute, that would be amazing. There are hundreds of musicians out there that getting to work with would be a huge honor. But, I don’t feel particularly motivated to seek them out.

Steve: I’d love to be Todd Rundgren’s bassist for at least one project. Working with Bowie would be cool too. I’m actually happy and, I think, extremely lucky to collaborate with Fred, Jon and Alan; along with many of the former Glass Hammer members. GH is my ‘dream band’. I’m totally serious about that!

What was the first big lesson you learned about the music business?

Glass Hammer - Cor Cordium
Steve: I’ve learned a lot of lessons through the years, but the first big lesson was simply this: Do the music that makes you the happiest without any expectation of assistance from the ‘music industry’. Start a project and see it through. I guess that’s really two lessons, but they kind of go together for me. A lot of musicians seem to dream big but never complete anything. And they seem to think that some record company mogul is going to drop out of the sky with a big check and a contract. It doesn’t work that way. Be prepared to go it alone!

Fred: For me, once I learned to let go of the performing musician fantasy and think about becoming a producer who sits behind the board it all worked out. Now I get to do Glass Hammer and I don’t have to work at a computer store.

Do you have any tours planned?

Fred: No, but we are actively searching for some venues to get this version of the band out and playing!

Are you working on new projects?

Fred: We are putting a song together for a new Colossus project with an H. P. Lovecraft theme and it’s going to be fantastic. And we’re thinking towards a new album, and our initial idea is to make it VERY huge.

Steve: That’s it. I’m hoping we’ll start writing soon. We’re talking a lot about what the new album should be or could be. Now it’s time to get to work!

Progressive rock, jazz-rock fusion, ambient electronic music and beyond