Saturday, June 17, 2017

21st Century Jazz Fusion

The 21st century has seen what is, in my opinion, a slow and modest advance in new artists and new musics. The problem in jazz and jazz fusion is in creating new and innovative sounds and structures. So many masters of jazz from the past 75 years have explored so many nuances, so many technologies, and so many boundary-pushing structures that it is truly a daunting task to try to go boldly where no man (or woman) has gone before. Some of the best albums that I have heard in the past fifteen years that would fit into the Jazz-Rock, Jazz Rock Fusion or other Fusion subgenres have built upon that which has already been done, have merely pushed the envelope ever so slightly. The Avant-Jazz artists continue to produce surprises, but most of the sound . . . somewhat familiar. There are artists who are making wonderful, engaging, remarkable music, and there are many more making boring, redactive or redundant music. I hope that the artists and albums I have decided to list fall at least in the former category and perhaps even surprise or impress you with their ideas or instrumental acumen.
     The sub-genre where jazz seems to be being explored and experimented with the most is that of Avant/RIO--which I have yet to write about. Both Cuneiform and AltrOck/Fading Records record labels are leaders in both the discovery and promotion of new artists that are experimenting with the progressive rock side of jazz and classical musics.
      Still, the 21st Century has seen the appearance of several top notch jazz fusion records.

If you love CHICK COREA then you will adore the music of Japanese keyboard virtuoso, Hiromi Uehara. I happen to prefer her quartet work with innovative guitar virtuoso Dave "Fuze" Fiuczynski to her more traditional acoustic albums in the trio format with Jazz Fusion legends Anthony JACKSON and Simon PHILLIPS--especially the 2004 release, Time Control, under the band name of HIROMI's SONICBLOOM

Folk-based Finnish band UZVA released a masterpiece in 2006 called Uoma after two previous meandering eclectic albums and then proceeded to disappear. What a disappointment! What a great album is Uoma!

Another artist hailing from Finland comes from the wacky, genius mind of MARKUS PAJAKKALA. Calling his four releases of eclectic high energy jazz UTOPIANISTI, Markus has collaborated with a long list of musicians. The 2016 release, The Third Frontier, is a veritable masterpiece start to finish, but you're feeling adventurous, check out 2017's Brutopianisti.

If you love BRUFORD-era Allan HOLDSWORTH, Jeff BERLIN, and, to a lesser extent, Bill Bruford and Dave Stewart, then you will love and appreciate both bassist ANTOINE FAFARD's Ad Perpetuum--one of my Top 10 Albums from 2014--and Russian quartet JAM IT! with their masterful 2015 release, Following the Unknown. The former album is one of the two best Jazz/Rock Fusion albums of the 21st Century--due in part to the perfect balance of virtuosic performances by Antoine on basses, guitarist JERRY DE VILLIERS, JR., saxophonist JEAN-PIERRE ZANELLA, keyboardist GERRY ETKINS, and drummer extraordinaire, VINNY COLAIUTA, and partly due to perhaps the greatest whole-studio album drum performance that these ears & brain have ever been exposed to from Maestro Colaiuta. FAFARD'S 2016 release, Sphére--a work of collaboration with drummer/pianist GARY HUSBAND--is also well worth your attention.

If you love the Smooth Jazz music that was created and made popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s, then you will love the songs and instrumental performances from Russian keyboard-composer Svetlana Marinchenko's band SVETAMUZIKA on their 2015 release, Perfect Simple. All performances are extraordinary but none moreso than those of the young band leader and her virtuoso bass player, ANTON DAVIDYANTS.

From the Zeuhl side of things comes France's seasoned quartet of ONE SHOT and their two highly rated albums, Ewaz Vader (2006) and Dark Shot (2008).

If Canterbury-styled jazz excursions are your thing then Robert WYATT devotee Patrick Forgas' FORGAS BAND PHENOMENON could be your cup of tea.

If you loved the work of 1970s supergroups UK and Jean-Luc Ponty, then you will probably love the violin-led Jazz Rock of Japan's KBB. 2000's debut, Lost and Found is absolutely jaw-dropping for its compositional strength, great melodic sense, mind-blowing instrumental performances (and not just those by leader Akahisa TSUBOY on his violin or electric guitar), and 2003's Four Corner's Sky2007's Proof of Concept are as good if you want more of what they debuted in 2000 (though each contains progressively less of Tsuboy's guitar play), and 2013's Age of Pain is good though not as fresh or surprising as the earlier work--and maybe more traditional folk oriented (and not necessarily Japanese).

Mulit-instrumentalist solo artist DEAN WATSON has releases three albums of exceptionally high quality compositions (and the production side of Dean's work has improved steadily since his first burst onto the prog scene). Check out his 2010 release, Unsettled, 2012's Imposing Elements, 2014's Fantasizer! or his new album, 2017's Sum of Parts for some technically sophisticated guitar and keyboard-based jazz-rock fusion.

For some organ-based jazz try Ståle STORLØKKEN's ELEPHANT9--in either the original trio format with 2008's Dodovoodoo or 2010's Walk the Nile or try the two Reine FISKE collaborations, Atlantis from 2012 and Silver Mountain from 2015.

The relatively obscure French quartet, SYRINX, is new to me but quite impressive. All instrumentalists are rock solid if not virtuosic--especially the MAURIN brothers (NIL, THIRK) acoustic guitarist-bass combo, David and Samuel, and drummer Philippe MAULETT. While their 2003 debut, Reification, is great, the 2008 follow-up, Qualia, is extraordinary.

JAGA JAZZIST has been leading and refining the NuJazz movement from far up in Norway since its first release in 1996. A ten- to twelve-piece combo, their upbeat, melodic jazz blends trip hop and jazz and Stereolab-like Post Rock exceptionally well. Check out 2010's One-Armed Bandit or 2015 Starfire or even 2001's A Livingroom Hush for some truly awesome, groovin' music.

FARMERS MARKET is a band of musicians who met in Trondheim Norway. They began as free jazz explorers before becoming fascinated with Bulgarian and Balkan folk music traditions, sounds, and instruments. There has been an evolution in their music since their first concerts and studio albums in the late 1990s with 2008's Surfin' USSR and 2012's Slav to The Rhythm being their most widely acclaimed. Instrumental music, their song titles are almost worthy of checking out in and of themselves.

If you like your jazz coming at you with the virtuosity and speed and dynamics of a metal or djent band, then Germany's PANZERBALLETT will probably please you quite a bit. Creators of five albums over the past twelve years, I recognize and appreciate the musicianship and compositional skill evidenced here, it's just not my cup of tea.

EARTHWORKS was Bill Bruford's main interest and project since leaving King Crimson in 1986, the band went through many changes in personnel and stylistic approaches throughout out its twenty years of performing. Five studio albums (a challenging accomplishment for Bill) and four live albums are all that the band produced but they are all excellent and worth investigating. while the earlier efforts revolved around the exploration of the MIDI and new computer technologies available in the 1980s and 90s, the later albums found Bill and company settling for more of an acoustic approach to their Jazz Fusion. One thing that remained distinctive throughout Bill's career was his fascination with and dedication to odd time signatures and polyrhythmic soundscapes. I love it all--the Simmons drum era stuff and the piano & sax era stuff.

Italian jazz wizards, ACCORDO DEI CONTRARI have been releasing high quality albums of complex jazz fusion since 2007 with each of the four albums coming out as an improvement on the former, though I find myself still favoring 2014's self-titled third album as my favorite. 2017's Violato Intatto finds the band's sounds and stylings harkening back to some of the stronger RPI bands of the early 1970s.

HELMET OF GNATS is an American band of Berklee grads who've sadly only released three albums over the past twenty years. Their style is most often compared to Return to Forever and Dixie Dregs.

Former Frank Zappa cover band FROGG CAFÉ knows their way around the avant/RIO scene though their own eclectic compositions are often far more melodic than those of their mentor/model. Though all of their five album releases between the years 2001 and 2011 stand well on their own, I've found myself going back to their 2002 self-titled debut, 2003's Creatures and 2010's Bateless Edge the most.

UNAKA PRONG Including this band on this list is stretching it a bit for their jazz is simpler and rooted deeply in blues and rock and even a little of the hip-hop traditions, but it is quite jazzy all the same. Check out either of their two wonderful releases, their 2015 debut, Margot, and 2017's Adult Contemporary for some gorgeous and fun music.


Then there are some old-timers who are still putting out highly regarded albums, including PAT METHENY, AL DI MEOLA (2003's Flesh on Flesh), Terje RYPDAL, ambient/world music pioneer Jan GARBAREK (whose 2010 studio album, Officium Novum, performed with the accompaniment of the classical and folk vocal choir, The Hilliard Ensemble, is extraordinary, it is questionable when it comes to falling under the "jazz fusion" moniker. Try 2004's In Praise of Dreams with drummer Manu Katché and violist Kim Kakashkian for some great prog/jazz fusion), and the ever prolific JOHN ZORN.


1. ANTOINE FAFARD Ad Perpetuum (2014)

2. HIROMI'S SONICBLOOM Time Control (2007)

3. PAT METHENY GROUP The Way Up (2005)

4. KBB Lost and Found (2000)

5. UTOPIANISTI The Third Frontier (2016)

6. UZVA Ouma (2006)

7. FARMERS MARKET Surfin' USSR (2008)



JAN GARBAREK In Praise of Dreams (2004)

PAT METHENY GROUP Speaking of Now (2002)

JAGA JAZZIST Starfire (2015)

JAM IT! Following the Unknown (2015)

SYRINX Qualia (2008)

AL DI MEOLA Flesh on Flesh (2003) 

EARTHWORKS The Sound of Surprise (2001)

ANTOINE FAFARD Sphére (2016)

JAGA JAZZIST One-Armed Bandit (2010)

JOHN ZORN The Garden of Earthly Delights (2017)


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Overlooked Albums from the 2010s that Should Be Heard!

Funin Unsound - the amazing Björk-like voice of Elizabeth Marit Svensboe with quirky yet masterful electro-percussion.  

Brother Ape A Rare Moment of Insight - amazing energy, maturity, and subtle virtuosity on display throughout this wonderful album

iamthemorning ~ classical, folk, jazz, yet so prog! and Marjana Semkina and Gleb Kolyadin are perfect

Homunculus Res Limiti all'eguaglianza della Parte con il Tutto - perhaps the best Canterbury album, ever.

Faun Eden - Prog Pagan music? It must be heard to be believed.

Bent Knee Shiny Eyed Babies - One of the most devastatingly powerful albums ever assembled.

Cicada Light Shining Through The Sea - Neoclassical Post Rock from Taiwan. Gorgeous!

The Amazing Gentle Stream - a collection of some of the most psychedelic folk-tinged beautiful jam songs ever made

Five-Storey Ensemble Not This City - classically oriented avant prog from Belarus

Edison’s Children The Final Breath Before November - one of the best prog epics EVER

Ga’an Ga’an - Zeuhl with melody—from America!

The Danish Girl Original Sountrack Music - Alexandre Desplat - the most beautiful soundtrack of the Teens

Violeta di Outono Espectro - the reincarnation of Khan?

Votum Harvest Moon - the most perfect blend of djenty metal and ambient music 

Anathema Falling Deeper - the artistic and orchestrated remaking of old songs

Humana Prog Fiori, frutti, farfalle - one of the best prog epics of the decade

The Gabriel Construct Interior City - a complex, sophisticated spiritual journey

Axon-Neuron Metamorphosis - an amazing blend of orchestral, jazz and prog

MIdlake Antiphon - gorgeous Prog Folk

Setna Guérison - when Zeuhl goes Canterbury?

L’Estate di San Martino Talsette di Marsantino - stunningly gorgeous instrumentals

Aalto Ikaro - world music and prog folk blend

Vaneta Antimemory - so difficult to categorize and yet so nostalgic

ZA! Loloismo - Prog Hip hop?

Lagartija Particelle

Unaka Prong Margot - Prog Blues!

Tree Tops Ghosts Don’t Dance in Shoes - Amazing twin guitars and Donald Fagen voice

sleepmakeswaves …and so we destroyed everything… one of the best Post Rock albums

Airbag The Greatest Show on Earth - the reincarnation of Pink Floyd

Methexis Suiciety

Kotebel Concerto for Piano and Electric Ensemble

This Clear Divide Stare at The Clouds

The Psychedelic Ensemble The Dream of The Magic Jongleur

Kant Freud Kafka No tengas miedo

Domina Catrina Lee Songs from the Breastbone Drum - a self-produced masterpiece in the Pat Metheny vein

Battlestations The Extent of Damage - amazing Post Rock that tells a story

Antoine Fafard Ad Perpetuumm - THE BEST Jazz Fusion album of the decade (I challenge you:  Find me one better) and one of the best drumming albums of all-time (Vinnie Coluaita). 

North Sea Radio Orchestra I a Moon - quirky Prog Folk that must be heard

Swans the Seer - searing, gut-wrenching epics

Syd Arthur Sound Mirrors - such smooth, sophisticated song-writing á la a Canterbury Paul Weller

Vola Inmazes - the shape of things to come?

Monobody Monobody - another totally unexpected Post Rock masterpiece--with a jazz bent!

Alio Die & Lorenzo Montanà Holographic Codex - the best album from the dude who leads the way in 21st Century Prog Electronica


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Prog Epics of 2017

Here are my current reckonings for the best prog "epics" (songs with a length of over nine minutes) for the year. (Songs in bold black belong, in my humble opinion, in the Olympian Valhalla of prog's all-time great masterpieces.)

The Best of 2017:
1. "Pigeons in Space" - TREE TOPS
2. "Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde" - WESERBERGLAND
3. "Tanzen und Springen" - WESERBERGLAND
4. "Die Kunst der Fuge Testtest" - WESERBERGLAND
5.

"Rules of the Desert" - CAST
"Awakenings" - KANT FREUD KAFKA
"Fell" - KNALL
"Drugs" - TREE TOPS
"Third War Three" KUNGENS MÄNS
"Sopio de vida" - NEXUS
"Mystical Mountain" - MAGIC BUS
"A Scarred View" - WHITE WILLOW
"Return to Ommadawn, Pt. I" - MIKE OLDFIELD
"Return to Ommadawn, Pt. II" - MIKE OLDFIELD
"Raubkatze" - KNALL
"Details" - CAST
"Mechanoya" -KSHETTRA
"Hope Against Hope" - THINKING PLAGUE
"És quan dormo que" - KANT FREUD KAFKA
"The Falling Veil" - ELDER

"Pendulum" - PERIDONI
"Periscope" - GENETICS
"A Dirge for the Unwitting" - THINKING PLAGUE
"Walk Under the Moon" - KSHETTRA
"Catwalk" - KNALL
"Sightseeing" - KNALL
"Seaweed" - KNALL
"Lachs" - KNALL
"Let It Go" - SHED
"Manokus" - GROOVE FETISH

Close but just a little too short:
"Vida y muerte" - KANT FREUD KAFKA
"Tristrant" - WESERBERGLAND
"As We Agreed" - UNAKA PRONG
"Lichtbündel" - SULA BASSANA
"Jord II" - JORDSJØ

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Notable Albums of the Year 2017

My Favorite Albums of 2017
(In some semblance of order)


***Author's note:  Below you will find two different rankings for this year's albums. 
  The first list is merely a list consisting of a Top Twenty with a following list of "Honorable Mentions." These 20 are my favorite albums of the year, that is, the albums to which I have formed the greatest emotional attachments. The Reviews that follow are ordered according to my more 'objective' yet personal judgment as to their quality, that is, the "best" albums of the year. Here I have tried to order the albums reviewed according to my personal and metric determination as to what are the "best" albums of the year from a more critical, qualitative, and quantitative viewpoint, that is, without as much emotional attachment as "My Favorite" albums. 
According to my calculations, 2017 presents Prog World with 2 "masterpieces" and  "near masterpieces"!  


The Rankings
 (My "Favorites")



LOST WORLD BAND Of Things and Beings

A band that has always had a gift for melody and beauty has now vaulted into the upper echelons of prog world with this release of complex, well-recorded and produced, symphonic prog. Whereas their sound was always a little unpolished and their songs a little too syrupy sweet, this one shows a significant leap in both sophistication and maturity. The new sound is like Mike Oldfield only better; Lost World has gone where we all wished (and thought) Mike would go (but didn't).

Line-up / Musicians:
- Andy Didorenko / all guitars, violins, keyboards and vocal
- Vassili Soloviev / flute
- Konstantin Shtirlitz / drums
- Alexander Akimov / percussion

1. "Shapes and Objects" (a symphonic creation with full orchestral support)
     I. "Random Objects in the Sun" (3:20) impressive dynamics. I find myself reminded of Mike Oldfield's Incantations only on a much more sophisticated level. The song just keeps getting better as it goes! Amazing instrumental appearances. (9.5/10)
     II. "Moving Dots" (3:15) the andante of this symphony--with vocals, flutes, acoustic guitars and orchestral contributions all helping with the syncopated weave. Then, half way through, it shifts into a smooth, upbeat orchestral piece. Awesome! (9.5/10)
     III. "Water Circles" (4:31) a kind of rondo with guitars, violins, and flutes trading the melody with orchestral percussion and drums helping out along the way. Incredible song. We are not worthy! Would that Mike Oldfield ever climbed to such heights! (10/10)
     IV. "Time Squares" (3:10) the dénouement and climax. Perfect! (9.5/10)

2. "When the Time is Still" (4:18) Gorgeous arrangement. (9.5/10)

3. "Death of Mr. Winter" (1:05) quirky and angular--a perfect foil for the previous songs. A lot like a JACK O' THE CLOCK song. (9/10)

4. "Intertwined" (3:30) an awesome multiple acoustic guitar étude--not unlike a WILLIAM ACKERMAN song, only on high doses of cafeine. Andy Didorenko on full display. (9/10)

5. "Of Things and Beings" (0:51) another quirky odd JACK O' THE CLOCK-like song with a heavily treated multiple tracked vocal. (9/10)

6. "Watchbird" (6:08) a full out, Chris Squire chunky bass prog en force. Not my favorite song or style of Andy's but it does display his ability to write and perform at a very high YES-like level of rock dynamism. The violin adds a true EDDIE JOBSON/UK-ness to the song. (Great drumming, Mr. Shtirlitz!) (9/10)

7. "Simple as"
     I. "One" (2:13) pastoral, hand percussion with flute and acoustic guitars. Amazing flute(s) and guitar(s) weave. Gorgeous! (10/10)
     II. "Two" (1:41) The feast continues! A little more up tempo this time. Like a Michel Legrand/Jean-Pierre Rampal/Alexandre LaGoya composition. Amazing! (10/10)
     III. "Three" (1:46) the third of the trilogy steps into a more metronomic (though off tempo) medieval troubadour feel and sound. Again, the jazzy sound of Legrand/Rampal/LaGoya is strongly brought to mind. (9/10)

8. "The Structure of Madness" (4:05) a return to heavier, electrified rock--this time of a style more akin to bands like MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA, ELP, BRUFORD, URIAH HEEP, even RUSH. Wonderful performances by all instruments--especially drums, electric guitars, and bass. A definite masterpiece of progressive rock by a certifiable master of musical composition and performance.(10/10)

9. "On Thin Ice" (3:33) treads into the almost-'pop' style and sound of previous albums like 2009's Sound Source and 2013's Solar Power. By has this band/musician matured! (8.5/10)

10. "Downpour "(3:12) aggressive violin, guitars and bass open this song before the drums enter full throttle to drive this one to crescendoed highs (with notable valleys of meek dynamics). Impressive but not memorable or even very likable. (8/10)

This is by far and away the best album Lost World has released and one of the best albums I've heard from this year. (Oops! I guess it was a late 2016 release!) Excellent sound recording and production throughout (which was a weakness of past recordings). And despite Andy's virtuosity, his flute player and drummer are both on an equal level!

93.33 on the Fishscales = Five stars, A; a masterpiece of progressive rock music!





TREE TOPS Ghosts Don't Dance With Shoes

A four piece band with some great assist with sound/production/keyboards from UNAKA PRONG's Chris Pope, let the world know that there is a new force to be reckoned with in the blues rock domain and they say they're from Knoxville, Tennessee. Not since Duane and Dickie or maybe Skynyrd's Rossington and Gaines or perhaps Lizzy's Gorham and Sykes have two guitarists commanded the attention and accolades like these two:  Cory Smith and David Webb. I honestly don't know which one is which when they solo, but their racing harmonized weaves are absolutely jaw-dropping, stunning, almost unbelievable. And drummer Jon Mann is quite impressive as well.

Line-up/Musicians: 
 - Jon Mann - drums, percussion
 - Cory Smith - guitar, vocals
 - David Webb - guitar, vocals
    With
 - Chris Pope - keys
 - Jack Willard - bass

1. "Confunktivitis" (7:38) Steely Dan, Love and Money, Meet Danny Wilson, Roddy Frame, (10/10)

2. "Dancefloors" (7:22) what opens like a ZZ TOP song, morphs into something else as a Frank Marino (MAHOGANY RUSH)-like guitar sound and style. (9.5/10)

3. "Stonefacin" (5:46) sounds like a heavy JOE JACKSON. (9/10)

4. "Overcoats" (4:35) a "Hotel California"-like groove with some nice FAGEN-like vocals. (9.5/10)

5. "Fly Like Pigeons" (4:10) a brilliantly crafted and lyricized song in a kind of Rockabilly/RODDY FRAME/FRANK ZAPPA style. (9.5/10)

6. "Pigeons In Space" (12:59) One of the best songs I've heard all year--construction, performance, melody, surprise, beautiful hooks and nice singing. The  tremolo wah-guitar playing is absolutely stunning from start to finish! And in the last four minutes you get to hear some amazing drumming and Santana-like guitar. (10/10)

7. "Drugs" (9:09) I hear Buddy Guy. I hear Fripp and Belew at their craziest. And yet there is a great vocal/lyric, too! Amazing paired guitars playing at lightning speed in harmony! (9.5/10)

8. "Stonefacin (Reprise)" A reprise of the (IMO) weakest song on the album. A guitarist's wet dream.(1:57) (8/10)

9. "Towers" (6:29) is a hard rockin' song over which the boys decided to try to place words, singing, and even harmonized background vocals. Too bad. Jimi HENDRIX, however, would've loved the song. Maybe he was there. (But whose body was he channeling through: Cory or David?) (8.5/10)



Total Time 60:05

These boys have a sound that is familiar but so fresh, and completely unique. Rockers that sound like jammers they have an incredibly tightly knit performance style that reminds me more of classically orchestrated music than loose, improvised rock'n'roll. With every listen I'm trying to answer the question, "Are they prog?" As an inclusionist and in awe and respect of these virtuoso composer-performers, I say, "YES!" 

As another aside, all of my above comparisons to masters of old must be taken with a serious diminuation as there are but flashes of similiarity, almost never blatant mimicry or revisionism of the bands or styles or sounds mentioned. Tree Tops are unique and in a class by themselves. 

92.78 on the Fishscales = five stars, A; a masterpiece of progressive rock music. A band that needs to be heard as they are one of the most impressive bands of the Teens. 






WESERBERGLAND Sehr Kosmish Ganz Progisch

When guitarist-producer Jacob HOLM-LUPO (WHITE WILLOW, THE OPIUM CARTEL), flutist-keyboard player Ketil Vestrum EINARSEN (WHITE WILLOW, JAGA JAZZIST, WOBBLER, MOTORPSYCHO), guitarist Gaute STORSVE (RHYS MARSH) and drummer extraordinaire Mattias OLSSON (ÄNGLAGÅRD, PINEFOREST CRUNCH, PÄR LINDH, WHITE WILLOW, THE OPIUM CARTEL, NECROMONKEY) get together to create an album of music in tribute to the Kosmische Music (Krautrock) artists of the 1970s you can bet it's going to be a good one. And it is! Each song on the album is like listening to a drum, keyboard, and guitar clinic. It's as if JAGA JAZZIST and CAN were merged--as if Lars and Martin HORNTVETH were collaborating with Jaki LIEBEZEIT in this, the 21st Century with all of the gizmos and effects that give 21st Century musicians such versatility and variety. The bass is often keyboard or computer driven, but it works. Mattias' drumming blends computer technologies with the live kit sounds. The keyboard and guitar sounds and techniques used are all over the place. Overall, the music is derivative, yet experimental; it's rhythmic and yet avant; it's militaristic yet psychedelic. It's genius! 






KANT FREUD KAFKA Onírico

Barcelona's JAVI HERRERA has done it again. As if 2014's labour of love, No tengas miedo wasn't spectacle and production perfection enough, Javi has pulled together another masterpiece, this time based on dreams. The presence of voices--Javi's own voice and that of female vocalist, Alia Herrera (sister? wife?)--make this quite a different listening experience from No tengas miedo. The vocal performances and stylings remind me quite a bit of those from Olga Polgaskaja's FIVE-STOREY ENSEMBLE's 2013 (and, thus far, only) release, Not This City. Beautiful and almost operatic. Also, the electric guitar performances are amazing. Very dynamic and technically superlative.

Line-up / Musicians:


- Javi Herrera / drums, vocals, VST instruments
With:
- Cecilia Burguera / violin
- Mónica Cruzata / viola
- Queralt Garcia / cello
- German Fafian / electric guitars
- Daniel Fernandez Campos / bass guitar
- Alia Herrera / vocals
- Andrea Herrera / tap dancing
- Mandharu / crotals, wind chimes
- Rafael Pacha / dulcimer, acoustic guitars, mandolin, bouzouki
- Pol Sanchez / electric & Spanish guitars, mandole
- Dick Them / double bass
- Guillem Vilar / oboe, cor anglais

1. "Insomnio de una noche de verano" (9:27) an instrumental in which classical/acoustic instruments and compositions styles are trying to be blended (sometimes feeling a bit forced) with electronic, sometimes bombastic instruments and sounds. (8.5/10)


2. "Dulces sueños" (5:18) is an absolutely beautiful and completely classical arrangement and production featuring piano, cello, cor anglais and the dual voices of Alia and Javi. (9.5/10)


3. "És quan dormo que hi veig clar" (10:54) is very patchy, moving from more classically-oriented sections of gorgeous music to dynamic electronic passages often quite awkwardly, incongruously. The musicianship is of the highest caliber, the composition and arrangement is not quite, polished.(8.5/10)


4. "Vida y muerte" (8:28) (9.5/10)


5. "A Nightmare on Major St. (7:33) (9/10)
 

6. "Awakenings (9:03) (9.5/10)

Though the electronic and more rock-oriented performances are very good, it is the classical-jazz passages and sounds that attract more of my attention and listening pleasure.

90.83 on the Fishscales = five stars, A-; a masterpiece of progressive rock music.





UTOPIANISTI Brutopianisti

A violent, Mr. Hyde-like version of Finnish genius Markus Pajakkala's UTOPIANISTI though this is mostly him playing various woodwinds and tuned percussives.

BRUTOPIANISTI IS:
Markus Pajakkala - modified drums, bass clarinet, soprano sax, xylophone, various flutes, additional vocals
with:
Marko Eskola - screams, growls & voices on #1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 10, 12, 13
Sampo Salonen - throat singing on #1, 3, 5, 6, 13
Ismo Mäkinen - squeaking on #8
Anssi Solismaa - modular synths on #7, 12

Conceived, engineered & produced by Markus Pajakkala
Composed by Markus Pajakkala, with contributions from guest musicians, pure chance and Xochipilli the Hare
Lyrics by Markus Pajakkala & Marko Eskola 


1. "Gróyul Ghóul Ghò!" (01:37) (/10)
2. "Gcéme Zéle Dté" (01:46) (/10)
3. "Blászh" (02:57) (/10)

4. "Bhómega" (03:56) opens on a very 'world music' stage--sounding like something out of a JON HASSELL performance at one of the WOMAD festivals. But then the drums and other instruments (bass clarinet and synthesized flute or sax on the lead) enter at the 1:20 mark and things settle into a new pattern that feels all right wiht the rest of the world. (9/10)

5. "Gabósh Dí Magá" (01:41) growls and reverb effects used on this one make it so cool! The woodwinds and drums weave is perfect support for the Kong Island--fitting song. (9.5/10)

6. "Zigévomídá Zwógh" (01:13) the vocals on this song are the highlight as multiple styles are represented--sometimes even together! Drums are fairly tolerable on this one. (9/10)

7. "Hóllò" (04:04) (/10)

8. "Wóókh Ztadás" (01:14) (/10)
9. "Zwaáakh" (01:26) (/10)
10. "Zhími Bàgi Dá" (01:10) (/10)
11. "Bóm Zói" (02:42) (/10)
12. "Brümigá Hügu" (03:25) (/10)
13. "Glüf Zwagó Zigévomídá!" (03:45) (/10)

Total Time 30:56


I have to admit that the Muppets' "Animal"-like tribalistic beating of the drums along with their very plastic sounds leave me feeling a little raw and jaded, but the music is so interesting and, well, for lack of a better word, raw that I can usually get past it. I wonder if Markus ever heard the Spanish band ZA!'s 2015 album "Loloismo" before making this album. There are some similarities.





KARDA ESTRA Infernal Spheres

Richard Wileman has returned to some of the simpler soundscapes and melodic structures of his early work. Richard's wife and long-time collaborator Ileesha is present but used rather sparingly. The album seems to have songs representing all of Richard's moods and eras in his illustrious evolution.  

Lineup/musicians:
 - Richard Wileman - acoustic, classical, electric, bass & prepared guitars, keyboards, samples, percussion, rastrophone, bouzouki, Appalachian dulcimer, zither
    With:
 - Jo Court  - bass clarinet (6, 9, 10)
 - Caron De Burgh - oboe (3, 8), cor anglais (1, 8)
 - Helen Dearnley - violin (4)
 - Amy Fry - clarinet (5, 9), tenor saxophone (9)
 - Richard Overton - bass trombone (1, 3), tenor trombone (6, 9)
 - Lauraine Phelan - trumpet (6, 9)
 - Paul Sears - drums (2, 6)
 - Ileesha Wileman - vocals (7, 9, 10)


1. "Prelude To A Dark Vortex" (1:52) gorgeous opener in church-like bombastics with lots of minor chords and atmospherics. So regal! (9.5/10)

2. "The Fermi Paradox" (3:19) awesome song with Paul Sears' perfectly fitting drumming. Great chord progressions and cool off-beat bass play. My favorite song on the album. (10/10)


3. "Ceres" (1:36) minor Spanish-style guitar-based song with the gorgeous oboe play of long-time collaborator Caron De Burgh. Another gem. (9.5/10)

4. "Obelisk Of Cruithne" (6:46) is a return to darker times. Mostly a solo affair, Richard uses some very odd sounds and sound combinations to keep the listener on edge. Dissonance and melodrama with little or no melody. (8/10)
5. "Anatomy Of The Heavens" (4:48) gorgeously nostalgic. Piano and clarinet shine. Haunting melodies. Problem is that it doesn't go anywhere; it's an awfully long song for such sustained simplicity. (9/10)

6. "Solar Riviera" (6:42) nice soundtrack music. Very French. The eerie "saw" synth in the background is a cool touch. The two brief interlude/breaks are also a nice touch before the transition to different sounds and drumming. I like the 'thickening' of the musical soundscape in the fourth and fifth minutes and the horns in the final third. (9/10)


7. "Legacy Of Theia" (4:21) It's so nice to hear Ileesha's voice! A gorgeous acoustic guitar-based song with, again, all kinds of unusual sounds and textures combining to convey the 'story'. The tinny percussion-like keyboard sounds are my favorites--and there are a lot of them here. Interesting fade/outro. (9/10)


8. "Kklak!" (3:45) pure dissonance and questionable substance. (7/10)

9. "Free Fall On Tyche" (4:51) back to some of the Burt Bacharach-like sounds that we heard on 2013's Mondo Profondo. Ileesha's vocalizations are, of course, the highlight of the song--with the horns. So nice to hear the full horn and woodwinds interacting. The bass guitar is a little monotonous but overall, this is a nice song. (9/10)
10. "Nemesis" (5:35) bass clarinet and percussion alternating with a chorus of Ileesha and organ. Interesting and often surprising but also hypnotic. (9/10)

Total Time 43:35


88.0 on the Fishscales = 4.5 stars, B+; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music.





CAST Power and Outcome

Virtuosic instrumental symphonic prog from these Mexican masters. Makes me want to go back into their discography since my last listen to anything by them was 2008's Originallis--which was brilliant. How can such an amazingly talented band fly so far under the Prog World radar?  


Line-up / Musicians:
- Bobby Vidales / vocals
- Guadalupe Acuña / vocals
- Claudio Cordero / guitar
- Luis Alfonso Vidales / keyboards
- Roberto Izzo / violin
- Carlos Humarán / bass
- Jose Antonio Bringas / drums

1. "Rules of the Desert (Instrumental) (11:35)
2. "Power and Outcome (7:25)
3. "Details: a) Circle Spins (5:47)
4. "Details: b) Start Again (Instrumental) (8:43)
5. "Through Stained Glass (8:46)
6. "Illusions and Tribulations (9:27)
7. "The Gathering (8:16)
8. "Conquest (Instrumental) (3:30)
9. "Full Circle (1:57)
10. "Dialect for the 21st Century (5:16)

Total time 70:42






EYOT Innate

Refreshing new Post Rock from Serbia featuring piano-based instrumentals with roots in Serbian folk music.

Line-up:

Dejan Ilijic - Piano
Sladjan Milenovic - Guitar
Milos Vojvodic - Drums
Marko Stojiljkovic - Bass


1. "Veer" (6:03) 
2. "Helm" (4:46)
3. "Mountain" (5:08) (9.5/10)
4. "Perun" (5:32)
5. "Canon Of Insolation" (4:48)
6. "Ramonda Serbica" (7:07)
7. "Innate" (5:46)

Total time 39:10






JORD Jord II

Nice instrumental symphonic rock from Norway in the traditions and styles of the masters of the 1970s classics.

Line-up
Håkon Oftung - Vocals, flute, guitars & keys
Kristian Frøland - Drums, percussion
Robert William Dall Frøseth - Bass (3)

1. Over Vidda (1:48)
2. Abstraksjoner Fra Et Dunkelt Kammer (6:50)
3. Finske Skoger (2:56)
4. Jord I (6:24)
5. Jord II (8:27) (9/10)
6. La Meg Forsvinne! (6:38)
7. Postludium (4:42)

Total time 37:45





ROBERT JÜRJENDAL Simple Past/Lihtminevik

If Robert Fripp and Brian Eno were to have teamed up with Jack DeJohnnette or Pierre Moerlin:  ambient jazz.

Line-up
Robert Jürjendal — touch guitars, percussion, keyboards (1, 6, 8, 9), Neunaber effects 
Andrus Lillepea — drums (1–8) 
Lotte — „water drop” samples (6) 
Six — breathing (9) 

1. No Or Yes (3:32)
2. Brothers (3:03)
3. Kettle (1:58)
4. Melting Memories (3:57)
5. Up Up (4:14)
6. Old Stories (6:34)
7. Substance (4:30)
8. Above (4:24)
9. More (4:21)
10. Simple Past (8:58)

Total time 45:31





SEAS OF MIRTH Hark! The Headland Approacheth

The new Cardiacs, singing songs of the high seas. Vocalist sounds like Billy Idol trying to sound like Jim Morrison. Guitars sound like an Irish Dick Dale. Highly theatric, highly entertaining, highly polished top notch musicianship with a lot of the craze and boldness of Kavus Torabi, FARMERS MARKET, Humble Grumble and Frank Zappa.

Line-up
Al Judders - vocals, percussion, whistle
Cannonball Paul - vocals, guitar
Zorba The Blowfish - bouzouki
Glen Fingle - mandolin
Jeremiah Planks On Fire - bass
Shitluck - cello
Piss-in-the-wind Mindy - accordion, violin, woodwind
Sally Squidbusiness - keys
Robrush - drums

1. The Curse Of The Conniving Lighthouse Sniper (5:47)
2. Hark! The Headland Approacheth (4:08) (10/10)
3. Mutiny (4:48)
4. Esmerelda (4:24)
5. Bamboozled By Booze (4:30)
6. It's Raining, Men! (5:29)
7. Salt Man (4:06)
8. Sulphur-Bottom Lament (Plankton Song) (2:07)
9. BrandyWine (5:08)
10. The Curse Of The Dreaded Devil's Triangle (3:10)
11. Apocacalypso (6:26)

Total Time 50:03





KSHETTRA Five Mothers

Russian drum 'n' bass jazz drivers incorporate a lot of guests and traditional folk instruments to support their hard-driving, hypnotic East-meets-West instrumental jazz. 

Line-up
Boris Ghas - bass, poem (5), samples (4)
Viktor Tikhonov - drums, Oxoma synth (1,5,6,7), samples (3,4,7)
  With
Ramille Mulikov - sax, trumpet, trombone
Nikolai Samarin - synth (4,5), double bass (1), mandolin (4,7), sitar (8)
Eugeniy Mikhalchenko - voice (5) 

1. Conception (2:01)
2. Garura Lila (3:55)
3. Cikada (5:43)
4. Godzindra (9:53)
5. Walk Under The Moon (13:19)
6. Umbra (6:32)
7. Mechanoya (12:00) (9/10)
8. Crossing (1:08)

Total time 54:31





THINKING PLAGUE Hoping Against Hope

New avant/RIO from the Colorado-based masters is always nice. Elaine sings and plays accordion!

Line-up
Mike Johnson: guitar, samples, midi instruments
Mark Harris: soprano and alto saxes, B-flat standard and bass clarinets, flute
Dave Willey: bass, drums (5), accordion (2, 6)
Elaine di Falco: voice, accordion, piano
Robin Chestnut: drums, percussion
Bill Pohl: guitar
     with:
Adriana Teodoro-Dier: piano (2, 5, 6) and toy piano (2)
Simon Steensland: bass (5)
Mike Boyd: drums (2)
Kathryn Cooper: oboe (4)

1. "The Echoes of Their Cries" (6:37)

2. "Thus Have We Made the World" (5:44)

3. "Commuting to Murder" (4:44)

4. "Hoping Against Hope" (10:06)

5. "The Great Leap Backwards" (4:01)

6. "A Dirge for the Unwitting" (13:45)




MIKE OLDFIELD Return to Ommadawn

Though full of new music, as opposed to some of the re-hashing send-ups Oldfield has released over the years, this one is a beautiful little reminder of just how awesome those mid-1970s albums of Mike Oldfield's were.

1. Return To Ommadawn (Pt.1) (21:10)
2. Return To Ommadawn (Pt.2) (20:57)

Total Time 42:07

Line-up:
Mike Oldfield - acoustic, classical, 12-string & electric guitars, acoustic & electric basses, mandolin, harp, bouzouki, banjo, grand piano, spinet, Farfisa organ, ARP 2600 & Solina synths, bodhran, glockenspiel, accordion (6), assorted percussions (marimba, gong, tubular bells)






PERIDONI Jade

Line-up: 

Cory Donnini
Kaleb Perrin
Ben Steinkamp
Kevin Harris
Jamebo Corsini-Lights

1. Fission (4:26)
2. Follow Thru (6:52)
3. Pendulum (9:00)
4. Jade (7:27)
5. Prisma Color (5:15)
6. Shimmer (4:35)
7. Are You There (5:09)
8. Static Array (5:44)

Total Time 48:28





UNAKA PRONG Adult Contemporary

Another fantastic smorgasborg of music from Boone, North Carolina's gift to the music world, this album has me feeling so nostalgic and yet it's all new, fresh, and completely Unaka Prong!

Line-up / Musicians:


- Mike Welsh / guitar
- Daniel Stevenson / guitar, vocals
- John Hargett / drums, vocals
- Jonathon Sale / bass
- Chris Pope / keys
- Nic Pressley / trumpet

1. Gadnuk (Breaker of Worlds) (5:22)
2. Fruit Fly (6:24)
3. Alchemy (4:26)
4. Déjà Vu (0:44)
5. Run Out (5:05) (10/10)
6. Late July (5:10)
7. Lurks (6:07)
8. Heartburn (6:11)
9. Lake Jam #1 (5:41)
10. Maeng Da (Lake Jam #4) (3:25) (10/10)
11. Narcese (4:27)
12. Fairweather Friend (1:41)
13. Highway Drivin' (3:37)
14. Too Far Gone (5:23) (9/10)
15. As we Agreed (6:58)

Total Time 70:41





MAGIC BUS Phillip The Egg

England's revivalists of the Bay Area psychedelia and Canterbury Scene have returned with another collection of one that flows and develops slowly in its complexity and dexterity over the course of the album. As a matter of fact, it seems to me upon repeated listens that the opening songs are fairly simple and pleasant and innocent while the trend progresses toward more expressions of anger and discord towards the end of the longer songs and the album itself. 

I would have liked to hear more instrumental expressivity and complexity but am exceedingly happy for the input of this collection of songs that take me to a place that was much more innocent and carefree.




SHEN TEH Hide and Seek


New music as Lara Olson and company progress away from their Amanda Palmer-like cabaret style of music into more guitar-infused rock, with electronic inputs as well. Lara's lyrics and singing are world class clever and sophisticated and her support crew are right in sync with her.




WHITE WILLOW Future Hopes

It's been quite a wait since 2011's Terminal Twilight but we are quite fortunate to have professionals of the caliber of these seasoned veterans collaborating together once more. Multi-instrumentalists
Jacob Holm-Lupo, Ketil Vestrum Einarsen, Mattias Olsson, Lars Fredrik Frøislie, team up with bass guitarist Ellen Andrea Wang and new singer (familiar to OPIUM CARTEL fans), Venke Knutson, along with the boon of a Roger Dean album cover to create this wonderful collection of pure prog.

Line-up / Musicians:

- Venke Knutson / vocals
- Jacob Holm-Lupo / guitars, synthesizers
- Lars Fredrik Frøislie / keyboards
- Ketil Einarsen / flute
- Ellen Andrea Wang / bass
- Mattias Olsson / drums & percussion

With:
- Kjersti Løken / trumpet (1)
- Hedvig Mollestad / guitar (3, 5)
- Ole Øvstedal / guitar (4)
- David Krakauer / clarinet (6)

1. "Future Hopes" (4:30)
2. "Silver and Gold" (4:04)
3. "In Dim Days" (11:04)
4. "Where There Was Sea There Is Abyss" (1:59)
5. "A Scarred View" (18:16)
6. Animal Magnetism (CD/Digital bonus track) (7:15)
7. Damnation Valley (CD/Digital bonus track) (3:16)

Total Time 50:24






NEXUS En el comienzo del Topos Uranos

Lalo Huber and company are back again with another collection of top notch prog songs in the symphonic style.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Carlos Lucena / guitars, backing vocals
- Lalo Huber / keyboards, vocals
- Jorge Mariño Martinez / bass
- Luis Nakamura / drums

With:
- Roxana Truccolo / backing vocals (2)


1. "El Ultimo Dia" (6:13)
2. "La Casa Del Invierno" (5:18)
3. "Un Cristal Bajo El Agua" (7:42)
4. "En El Tercer Planeta" (4:46)
5. "Huellos" (2:49)
6. "Soplo De Vida" (9:10)
- Bonus Tracks :
7. El Color Que Cayo Del Cielo (7:02)
8. Heliotropo (5:17)
9. Los Sacerdotes Malignos (7:24)

Total time 55:41

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Happy Valentine's Day all you Prog Lovers!

I haven't been to my blogsite for nearly eight weeks--nor have I listened to any new music (though I have to admit to sneaking a listen to the new Mike Oldfield and Utopianisti releases--both amazing!)
My Prog Is Alive! radio show on WDRT-Viroqua continues as usual on Sunday nights at 10:00 PM Central Meridian Time, but I've chosen to do a lot with old prog music--revisiting the "classic era" and putting together a special series on the history of the jazz fusion, jazz-rock, and psychedelic arms of the prog starfish.
     So, then, what have I been up to? Well, believe it or not I've been writing. From December 26 to last week I was working on a novel. It's finished. Now I'm just trying to figure out how to proceed next in order to publish it.
     "What's it about?" you ask? Well, it's an exploration on the possible spiritual motives of the wealthy elite families that have been steering this rather perilous course of human history over the past 10,000 years or so. I'm still toying with title ideas for this particular book--which is intended to be the first in a series--though the series is called "The Osiris Plan Series." Anyway, wish me luck!
My daughter is getting married this weekend and farming season begins right after that so I'll be busy.
BUT it shouldn't be long before I start listening to and reviewing music again. Perhaps by June. In the meantime, y'all enjoy these Trump-times and the rapidly accelerating descent into near-term human extinction! Keep on Proggin'!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

I Am Going on Hiatus

2016 is over and done with. Gone. I am done with you (2016). 
     The amount of time and energy I have invested into new music and my blog and my radio show, Prog Is Alive! in the year 2016 has been considerable. Over 350 new albums listened to; over 150 reviews. I'm worn out! 
     For at least the first half of 2017 I am going to re-direct my energies into other, non-musical pursuits. I may be back. I may not. Good luck to all you musicians and music lovers! Don't be afraid to reach out but, please, do not expect responses much less reviews. 

Sincerely,

Drew Fisher aka "BrufordFreak" aka Prog Is Alive! radio DJ.