Big Big Train – Grand Tour (English Electric Recordings, 2019)
On the album Grand Tour, British progressive rock band Big Big Train provides a musical representation of the grand tour. This was a European 17th and 18th century tradition carried out by young upper class men, and sometimes women. The idea was to travel throughout Europe to get exposed to other cultures.
Although Big Big Train present songs about ancient history, sailing ships and conventional journeys, they update the customary trip with space travel as well.
Big Big Train has become one of the finest progressive rock acts in the current scene, with outstanding musicians and some of the best male vocals well, including lead vocals and their signature, beautifully constructed choruses.
The album opens with a short song, Novum Organum” with a magical feel that sets the tone of the album. It’s followed by “Alive” the most commercial track on the album, destined to be a sing along song.
Track 3, “The Florentine” begins with a folk-style acoustic and electric guitars and harmony vocals that progresses into marvelous symphonic rock with fine guitar, exquisite violin by Rachel Hall, creative drumming and synths.
“Roman Stone” is a progressive rock gem, an epic showcasing fantastic lead and harmony vocals, the band’s signature classical brass ensemble sound, intricate guitar, more delightful violin, majestic mellotron, sections where Big Big Train intertwines classical, jazz and progressive rock elements masterfully and with ease. And of course, a grand finale with synthesizer goodness.
Next comes the virtuosic “Pantheon.” It starts with bewitching mellotron and violin stars followed by brass, synths and on to the full band, delivering state of the art symphonic progressive rock.
Track 6 contains the album’s second single “Theodora in Green and Gold.” Here, the piano, string synths and vocals take the lead. It’s a beautiful ballad with memorable vocals and guitar work.
“Ariel” highlights more of the band’s masterful intertwined lead and harmony vocals along with genuinely lovely violin. The song builds uptempo with superb guitar and harmony vocals that amusingly sound like a tribute to Queen’s harmonies.
Track 8 is dedicated to the “Voyager” spacecraft. It’s an instant classic, a superb set of first class vocal work, symphonic brass, dancing violin. It grows into full blown epic-form progressive rock. There is a section with mesmeric violin and guitar that is truly electrifying.
The album ends with an engaging song where the full band’s vocals, drums, guitar, electric organ, brass and violin stand out.
Multifaceted musician and singer Todd Rundgren is known for crossing over into various musical genres. His acclaimed band Utopia was a formidable progressive rock act, although later it morphed into a power pop band. Rundgren brought back Utopia for a tour in 2018 and this double album was recorded live during one of the gigs.
The album contains a mix of progressive rock, classic rock and pop tracks. The most memorable are the progressive rock songs featuring recognizable melodies, fiery guitars and skilled keyboard solos: Utopia Theme, The Ikon, Overture, Communion with the Sun.
On this occasion the band featured Todd Rundgren on guitars and vocals, Kasim Sulton on bass, Willie Wilcox on drums and Gil Assayas on keyboards (Gil replaced Ralph Schuckett, who left due to health reasons).
American progressive rock band IZZ has released one of its finest
albums in recent years. Don’t Panic makes multiple references to science in its
lyrics and the album cover.
IZZ has the best female vocals in the American progressive scene. Don’t Panic contains superb choruses, hooks and interactions that skillfully bring together the female and male vocalists (4 in total). Undoubtedly, the best lead vocals on Don’t Panic are provided by Annmarie Byrnes and Laura Meade.
On the instrumental side, IZZ is a powerhouse as well, featuring outstanding guitar work, incredibly beautiful modern synths, propelling bass and the creative beats of two formidable drummers.
The lineup includes guitarist Paul Bremner on electric and acoustic guitars; Anmarie Byrnes on vocals; Brian Coralian on acoustic and electronic drums, percussion; Greg DiMiceli on acoustic drums and percussion; John Galgano on bass, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, ukulele, additional keyboards and vocals; Tom Galgano on keyboards and vocals; and Laura Meade on vocals.
Don’t Panic is first-rate progressive rock, masterfully-arranged
and performed. It’s modern in the sense of technology and draws inspiration
from progressive-era Yes, Genesis and ELP, and fusion as well.
IZZ will be performing in support of the new album at the New Jersey Proghouse the weekend of June 15-16.
Norwegian progressive rock band Jordsjø has released one of the finest albums so far this year. Nattfiolen is progressive symphonic rock at its best. Although there are Anglagard influences, the music is not as gloomy. Additionally, Jordsjø takes the music forward with electronic music influences.
Progressive Rock Central talked to multi-instrumentalist and band leader Håkon Oftung.
What are your fondest musical memories?
Probably when I played in a band for the first time, jamming
out, having fun, fighting and playing weird gigs.
Did you have any formal music studies?
Yes, both the drummer Kristian Frøland and I went on to
study jazz music in our early twenties.
What was the first tune you learned?
Easy piano pieces, my mother taught me piano from I was five
years old. When I got eight or nine, we started fighting and arguing too much,
so she sent me to the public music school instead!
Describe your first instrument.
J&D was the brand. It was a Stratocaster-type guitar
which worked fine. Sold it to a friend in school later when I got a real strat.
He gave me the opportunity to buy it back sometime, but I don’t know where it
is now. Probably no big loss.
What do you consider as the essential elements of your music?
Strong melodies, dynamics and never to put virtuosity before musicality.
Mainstream media ignores progressive music. How did you come into contact with progressive rock?
Through the articles in Pro/Gres/Siv from the Norwegian
metal magazine “Scream Magazine”. They wrote about well known and
some hidden gems of Prog rock in the 70s.
How did your musical ideas evolve throughout the years from your debut album to your new recording?
The first tapes was never intended to be released the way it was. I just had a lot of fun making demos and making 70s prog for the first time. So it has gotten a lot more serious the last two years. I’ve become better at recording and producing the songs. I also think we’ve found our sound on the latest album, at least the way I want it to go.
We’ll develop it even further on the next one. More acoustic elements and more fuzz when needed. I think it has more spiritual jazz in it as well, that’s definitely something I want to have more of.
Your first CD is listed as a compilation of various cassettes. Did you actually release physical cassettes? Why?
Yes, Jordsjø I, II, Songs from the Northern Wastelands and Jord was all released first on tape. I copied them in my living room, which took many hours of dubbing and drinking beer. I’m a devoted collector of music, mainly vinyl records and I couldn’t bear the thought that the music should only be available on the Internet, I wanted it to exist physically.
Where do you see yourself as a musician five years from now?
Definitely teaching and doing some freelance gigging, as I do now. Hopefully still doing some gigs here and there with my friends in Black Magic, Tusmørke and Wobbler. And Jordsjø gone completely crazy, writing Jazz Masses, ballets and poetry and playing gigs only in Finnmark, under Aurora B.
Judging by the number of promos we are receiving from Norway, there seems to be a progressive rock thriving scene. Do you play live at venues or festivals?
Not so much, usually we make some co-gigs with friends or
play at small venues. We did a gig in Rome last year, though, that was pretty
cool! So we want to do it, but at the same time we play best with our friends
in the audience and clubs where 14 people in the crowd feels like a success.
As mentioned earlier, mainstream media doesn’t provide an outlet for progressive music. In what ways are you promoting your music?
Karisma Records has done some work to promote us since we
signed a CD deal with them last year. In the end, I think good music will get
out to people. I didn’t do any particular promotion work for the tapes, but
somehow people got into it anyway. And I played a lot of gigs with Tusmørke the
last years which has helped a lot. I’ve met many new people who are into much
of the same music as us, so the word got spread.
What guitars, keyboards and other instruments do you use?
Fender Stratocaster, a cheap Mexican one with a nice surf
green finish, Gibson Les Paul, Danelectro 12-string, Gretsch 6120, all through
a Marshall 1974x or a Fender Princeton, Taylor, Alhambra and Levin acoustic
guitars, Yamaha marching band flute, Hammond M100 through a Leslie 145,
Clavinet D6, Mellotron m4000d, Arp pro soloist, Korg Ms-20, Eminent Solina
String Ensemble, my grandparents old piano, Steinway Grand Piano, Elka Rhapsody
490, Klemt Echolette NG51 and Roland Space Echo, Slingerland drum kit from the
60s with four toms, Bonham size!
And what effects do you use to develop your sounds?
Just some reverb and echo.
If you could gather any additional musicians or musical groups to collaborate with, whom would that be?
I love the voice of Andreas Prestmo from Wobbler, the guitar playing of Reine Fiske, the keyboards of Ståle Storløkken. If Lindsay Cooper was alive, I definitely would’ve wanted her to play Bassoon. Sinikka Langeland on kantele, Tone Hulbækmo on vocals and harp, Christian Meaas Svendsen of Nakama on acoustic bass. And a bunch of hippies on various percussion and flutes.
Aside from the new album Nattfiolen, do you have any additional upcoming projects to share with us?
Yes, the Black Magic album is finishing this year, I hope,
and a record from a new project called Elds Mark, mellow, dark, spiritual
folk/jazz/prog-stuff. And new Jordsjø material is always in the making.
Russian act Lunar Cape band has released a beautifully-packaged album titled “Lunar Folk Tales.” The music defies boundaries. In some cases Lunar Cape is described as a progressive rock band even though this recording contains deep folk music influences. The group clarifies that it doesn’t associate its music with any style or subculture and identifies itself as “popular instrumental music”.
The album is a series of fairy tales inspired by the moon, Russian and English traditions. The LP-sized set contains three discs: a Russian language album, an English-language CD and the third disc features the instrumental version of the tracks. The package also includes beautiful artwork with illustrations and lyrics in Russian and English.
Band members include Olga Scotland on flute, recorders, tin whistle, mandolin, spring drum, sound effects, VSTi; Andrey Shashkov on bass, vocals; Roman Smirnov on guitars, washboard, vocals.
Guest musicians: Paul Bulak on keyboards; Grigory Shelehov on drums; Alexander Koval on drums; Shahid Rashid on vocals.
Storytellers in English: Ozma Nagatovna and Trey Gunn.
Guest storytellers in Russian: Nastya Postnikova and Maxim Kucherenko.
Scavenger is the debut album of talented Indian
multi-instrumentalist Prateek Rajagopal under the name Hoia.
Although Prateek is known for his work for prog metal band Gutslit, Hoia is way more interesting than the tired metal riffs. It’s truly a forward thinking album, bringing together progressive rock, dreamy electronic atmospheres, spellbinding psychedelia, haunting vocals and remarkable guitar and keyboards experimentation.
‘Scavenger’ revolves around human feelings such as nostalgia, departure, anxiety and the need to ‘forage’ to survive.
Personnel: Prateek Rajagopal on guitars, vocals, synthesizers, electronics, piano, digital manipulation; Colin Edwin on bass; Wojtek Deregowski on drums; Neerav Nagumantri on vocal production; and Priya Panchwadkar on additional vocals.
One of the great surprises of the year in the progressive music area is Brazilian band Stratus Luna. This young, new generation progressive rock band from Sao Paulo has released a superb self-titled debut album. Stratus Luna features talented musicians 20 to 17 years old.
The music on Stratus Luna is masterfully-constructed and the performances are equally good. Although the foundation is classic instrumental progressive rock with echoes of Camel and Pink Floyd, Stratus Luna also incorporates psychedelia, jazz and world music influences in the form of Brazilian and Indian music.
The band members include Gustavo Santhiago (20) on keyboards,
flutes and sitar; Ricardo Santhiago (21) on guitars; Gabriel Golfetti (18) on bass
and keyboards; and Giovanni Lenti (17) on drums and percussion.
Nad Sylvan, vocalist with Steve Hackett and Unifaun, has released the second single from his new solo album ‘The Regal Bastard.’ The video showcases the song ‘Meet Your Maker.’
Nad comments about the track: “This song features the fabulous Tania Doko on vocals, Tony Levin on bass and Nick D’Virgilio on drums. The rest is all handled by yours truly. ‘Meet Your Maker’ is a typical song, where still in the realm of prog – I bring in my R&B/soul influences combined with rock and dark theater. I don’t hear anyone else making that kind of noise at the moment, so I believe this is a unique piece of music, delivered by first rate musicians and production. So I’m very pleased with it.”
Clocks and Clouds is the superb solo album by Finnish multi-instrumentalist Jukka Iisakkila. Although he is best known as an acclaimed classical music orchestra conductor, he has deep passion for progressive rock and jazz-rock fusion as evidenced by Clocks and Clouds.
This remarkable set of instrumental pieces highlights Iisakkila skill as a guitarist, keyboardist and masterful arranger. His influences include Frank Zappa, Pekka Pohjola and various guitar heroes, such as Steve Vai.
Jukka Iisakkila plays practically all instruments except the drums, performed by Ilkka Saarikoski.
Clocks and Clouds is an outstanding electric fusion album with a Finnish twist by a versatile and talented instrumentalist and composer.
Lucas Lee delivers a remarkable, high energy combination of progressive rock, jazz-rock fusion and quirky avant-garde influences on Lowered Expectations. As the title indicates, the album revolves around lowered expectations, making references to celebrity culture, poor parenting, exclusion, ethnic stereotypes, etc.
There are zany references to the music and humor of the great Frank Zappa plus Canterbury connections as well, primarily National Health.
Although Lucas Lee plays the majority of the instruments superbly, he brought in a first class drummer that is well know in the msuic progressive music scene: Marco Minnemann.
Lineup: Lucas Lee on guitar, bass, keyboards, Merlin dulcimer, voice over performances and engineering; Marco Minnemann on drum arrangements, drums performances and drums engineering.