Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Other 2019 Albums Worth Checking Out for Yourselves

 


MONOGRAF Nadir

Folk Post Rock?! From Norway! No wonder. Nice HYPNO5E-like take on the blending of acoustic and electric instruments; nice cinematic prog.

Musicians / Lineup:
Erik Normann Sannes Aanonsen: Electric and acoustic guitar, vocals, double bass, Ebow, melodica on "Nadir," nyckelharpa on "Intermission"
Sunniva Molvær Ihlhaug: Fiddle, vocals
Hanna Sannes Aanonsen: Bass guitar, backing vocals
Erlend Markussen Kilane: Drums, backing vocals 
Thomas Anda: Electric guitar 
With:
Ole Jørgen Reindal: Electric guitar on "Horde," backing vocals on "Horde"
Jon-Vetle Lunden: Drums on "Horde" 
Tåran Reindal: Vocals on "Grails," "The Golden Calf" 
Ingvill Trydal: Hammond organ on "Grails," "Nadir," "The Golden Calf" 
Håkon Oftung: Mellotron and Chamberlin on "Grails" 
Tore Hynnekleiv: Backing vocals on "Horde"

1. "Grails" (9:12) (15.7/20)

2. "Nadir" (4:02) (9/10)

3. "The Golden Calf" (9:01) (16.2/20)

4. "Intermission" (3:47) (8/10)

5. "Horde" (15:06) for the first five minutes this song sounds very much like French band HYPNO5E's masterful 2018 soundtrack for Alba - Les hombres errantes and then, when the vocals join in, it continues to sound like the Alba soundtrack! (26.1/30)

83.33 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a refreshing take on the Post Rock scene. They need work in the areas of compositional development and vocals but definitely a band to watch.




SPIRAL Anomaly

Line-up / Musicians:
- Bill Hatfield / Guitar, Keyboard
- Aaron Frale / Guitar
- Chris Boat / Keyboards, Bass, Vocals, Guitar
- Denzel Thompson / Vocals
- Senda Linaugh / Vocals

1. The Space Shaman (4:55) (7.75/10)
2. Dreams of the Next Life (6:29) a little too crazy (fake) for me. (7.5/10)
3. Anomaly's Death Trip (10:00) (17.75/20)
4. Death Cult (10:04) (17.25/20)
5. Anomaly Dreams (10:26) (16/20)

Total Time 41:54


82.8125 on the Fishscales = B-/3.5 stars; a fair contribution to prog world, one that shows promise but a need to grow and improve.




NUMEN Cyclothymia

Once again I'm confronted with an album that has been garnering a lot of high praise from other reviewers that falls shockingly short of the expectations laid out before me. The song structures are simple, I hear little virtuosity from the instrumentalists, the Neo Prog "hooks" used to try to win over the listeners allegiance feel so scripted and cloying as to make me wonder if the players had any fun at all in laying down these tracks, the sound engineering is quite flawed--which might be made possible by the dated instruments chosen to transport the band's ideas and sound (especially the keyboards), and the music laid down to support the vocal sections is often rather dull and anemic.  

Line-up / Musicians:
- César Alcaraz / vocals
- Marcos Beviá / guitar
- Manuel Mas / keyboards
- Víctor Arques / bass
- Gaspar Martínez / drums

The opening song, 1. "The Man with The X-Ray Eyes" (6:54) opens strongly--as a great instrumental--but then takes an unexpected turn toward homogeneity with the entrance of the AMBROSIA-like vocals. Why he gets so melodramatically emotional in the second verse I have no clue but it's too much, over the top, for me. (12.75/15) 

2. "Some Faith" (5:01) opens with solo electric piano before lead singer César Alcaraz enters. Synth washes and lead electric guitar make appearances before drums and bass join at the end of the second minute. Nice section after the first guitar solo, but then it becomes Disney soundtrack (I'm reminded of the original Aladdin film). The lead guitarist shows some flair in his final solo around the 4:00 mark. (8.5/10)

3. "A Cosmic Prayer" (7:04) opens with some cool keyboard sound and fast cymbal play before a series of power chords enter to introduce a series of chords. When the song's rhythm and tempo is finally established, the strangely effected vocal enters. It often feels out of sync with the instrumental music--as if it doesn't even belong to this song. The music is so purely rock 101 support and the vocal so mismatched. At 3:35 there is an instrumental interlude that is nice--with pleasant guitar and synth soli and interesting chordal and tempo changes--but then we have to go back to the anemic main theme. (12/15)  

4. "Cyclothymia" (14:30) The title song and album's longest epic hits all the right buttons but lacks excitement and soul. It's prog-by-the-numbers. It opens with ominous solo electric piano arpeggi (supported by background synth washes). César enters singing in a lower register. This is better though still wobbly and having trouble with pitch and pocket. Nice FIXX-like guitar chord play between the vocal sections in the fourth minute. Though there is a distant electric guitar soloing nicely in the background of the second verse, the music is just so soulless. The instrumental middle section starting in the seventh minute is nice--some power and creativity expressed here both musically and with added samples and tapes--but then it shifts into a disappointing and overly simple piano- and organ-based URIAH HEEP-like section at the eighth minute. It does recover its allure a bit once it reverts to slower tempo, and then as the music builds and fills with the emotionally-delivered final verses. Kind of SYLVAN-like here. nice finish.  (24.5/30)

5. "Lady of the Winds" (5:31) opens with child singing "rain, rain, go away, come again some other day" before VANGELIS-like theme opens the instrumental music. Vocal enters dully and with pitch issues at the end of the first minute. Nice instrumental support, but this vocalist is not up to the task of professional enhancement of the music he is given. Music takes and odd direction in the fourth minute, kind of campy, before Spanish guitar solo. Were there no singing or lyrics to this song, it would be free to explore some exciting instrumental expression, but, as it is, the song is like a classic rock support for the vocal. The new AMBROSIA? (8/10)

6. "Footprints" (9:27) opens with piano and some oddly effected electric guitar establishing a rather ominous, almost sad, emotional tone. When César enters with a frail, warbly voice, I am suddenly confused: what kind of emotion is the band trying to convey here? It's a nice, engaging musical foundation--not unlike Chilean prog band AISLES--but unpolished. At 3:40 there is a clean break and switch into more spacious instrumental section. This is nice. With the climax of "Cyclomythia" and the instrumental opening of "The Man with the X-ray Eyes," this is the best part of the album. When César rejoins, they almost make it work, but then things just fall apart after the music leaves the hard-driving guitar-based section to become more theatric for it's climactic end. (16.75/20)

Total Time 49:03

This album shows potential but the sound, song constructs, vocals, and energy injected into the music all need improvement. I wish the band could benefit from some different input from other producers to bring this same music up to modern standards.

82.5 on the Fishscales = C/3.5 stars; a nice addition to a prog lover's music collection--especially if you like Neo Prog or prog-related acts like Ambrosia and Journey.





THE LIGHT IN THE OCEAN The Light in The Ocean

The debut album from a band from new band from Minneapolis. The sounds and stylings explored here are awesome but you can tell that the band is young, experimenting, as-yet unsure of its niche or sound as many of the songs sound totally like "let's try this" or "let's put this little diddy on the album as is" instead of working to develop it. The good news is that the sound is so good that I'll be looking out for their next album(s)--with great excitement.

Line-up / Musicians: 
Jared Emery - Guitars, Sax and Vocals
Jacob Ewert - Drums, Keys and Vocals
Travis Freudenberg - Bass and Growls
Chris Johnson - Electric Guitar
With
Chris Lyons - Trumpet and Grows
Ozge Ewert - Voice
Jesse Blue - Growls

1. Yakamoz (2:53)
2. Bergherder (10:06)
3. Space / Suit (5:40)
4. Seafarer's Song (2:17)
5. Flickhead I (4:50)
6. Flickhead II (3:25)
7. Flickhead III (7:39)
8. The Smallest Of Seafarers (2:44)
9. StykDyk (6:11)
10. Prefamulated Amulite (8:49)
11. The Seafarer (6:45)
12. Seafarer's Shadow (3:54)

Total Time 65:13

C+/four stars; a nice freshman contribution to Prog World, but these youngsters have some growing to do.




UNIT WAIL égarés

Line-up / Musicians:
- Philippe Haxaire / drums
- Adrian Luna / bass
- Emmanuel Pothier / synths
- Jean-Pierre Soarez (Art Zoyd) / trumpet
- Vincent Sicot-Vantalon / keyboards, guitars
- Frank Fromy / guitar solo (3,10)

1. "Volte Face (1:39) (3.5/5)
2. "Décalage (4:27) (8/10)
3. "Egarés (5:38) (8.25/10)
4. "Vers L'inconnu (1:35) (4/5)
5. "Les Portes du Sanctuaire (3:25) (/10)
6. "Dédale" (7:16) opens with 90 seconds of pure KARDA ESTRA before going KING CRIMSON. Some nice chord and melodic appearances in the fourth minute followed by Frippian lead guitar solo and Kenny Wheeler-like trumpet. The spacey section that follows in the sixth minute contain my favorite moments on the album. Too bad they don't stay. (13/15)
7. "Rituel" (5:48) slowed down, evenly paced, a bit like a NIL piece, this one shows promise, maturity, understanding of an audience's needs. (8/10)
8. "Le Sas" (7:35) a disco opening turns into "Zeuhl bass player tries PHIL LYNOTT." (11.5/15)
9. "Le Monde d'en Dessous" (8:25) (15/20)

Total Time 45:48

Maybe this was as good as they ever were and it was just the shocking freshness of their sound in 2012, but they have definitely lost me as an interested fan.

79.25 on the Fishscales = C/three stars; a good but non-essential addition to the prog lexicon.





LOOSENSE Saloon

Line-up / Musicians:
- Diogo Marrafa / electric guitar
- Rafael Gil / electric guitar
- Diogo Costa / piano, Fender Rhodes, synths, clavinet
- Gonçalo Mahú / piano, Fender Rhodes, clavinet, synths, Hammond
- Rúben Silva / alto saxophone
- Ivo Rodrigues / trumpet
- José Zambujo / tenor saxophone, clarinet
- João Completo / bass, synth bass
- Pedro Nobre / drums
- Iúri Oliveira / percussion
With:
- Marco Alonso / Flamenco guitar (2)

1. "Capitol I" (4:25) soft, brooding, cinematic, PAT METHENY-ish weave opens before being joined by saxophone. When the song finally hits its stride at 1:28 there is more of a BIG BAD WOLF feel to it. Dynamic and instrumental shifts ensue over the course of the song introducing motifs from horns, piano, guitars, and, of course, saxophone. The melody line carried forward from the third minute to the end is very 1970s smooth jazz familiar. (8.75/10)

2. "Capitol II" (4:50) a fast drive, bass-and-drums led
3. "Capitol III" (2:00)

4. "Flamingo" (7:01)
5. "daBox" (4:47)
6. "Tokyo" (11:23)
7. "Villain" (8:32)
8. "Taifa" (9:07)

Total Time 52:05





FISHES Fishes in Space

Jazz fusion.

Line-up / Musicians
Nadav Remez – guitar
Steve Brickman – keyboards/synth bass
Daniel Dor – drums

1. "Metallic Mobility (5:17)
2. "Help Is On The Way (5:06)
3. "Avator (6:25)
4. "The Miracle Of Methuselah (6:50)
5. "Anthem Of The Hyacinth (9:39)

Total Time 33:17




JAYALAN Sonic Drive

An Italian OZRICS! And quite good, these guys! Great layers of keyboard/synthesizer embellishments with solid drumming, heavy bass and guitars--the music sounds so much like Ed Wynne/Ozric Tentacles! The main difference would be the bass player's style of play and the heavier use of electric guitar power chords.

Line-up / Musicians:
Alessio Malatesta - keys
Matteo Chiappa - bass
Vincenzo Calvano - guitar
Dario Marchetti - drums

1. Ishtar Gate (5:37)
2. Descent of Annunaki (5:48)
3. The Tree of Life (6:20)
4. Vimanas (6:08)
5. Sacred Mountains (6:58)
6. Dub Nam (5:37)
7. Nephilim Steps (6:02)
8. The Library of Ninive (8:57)






DANDELION CHARM Maybe Dreamers

Clever, melodic, engaging, and interesting poppy prog folk from this British husband and wife team.

Line-up / Musicians
Clare Fowler: Vocals
John Fowler: Vocals, Guitars, Drums, Bass, Keys

1. "The Cult Of More (1:45)
2. "Stephanie (4:30)
3. "Maybe Dreamers (6:59)
4. "Not Just A Kiss (4:10)
5. "Arrogance And Blackmail (4:57)
6. "PityBomb (4:34)
7. "Afraid Of The Silence (3:38)
8. "Trying Hard (4:08)
9. "Isolate Resolve (6:21)
10. "Flicker (4:26)

Total Time 45:28





PSYCHIC EQUALIZER The Sixth Extinction

A collection of sadly unpolished music/compositions by an artist that I really admire.


Wednesday, December 23, 2020

My Highest Rated 21st Century Jazz-Rock Fusion Releases

I am by no means an expert in this area--and it can be evidenced from the list below that I have not listened to all albums that might qualify as Jazz-Rock Fusion or Jazz Fusion albums, but the sub-genre is not dead. Below I have listed the top-rated albums of the 21st Century (according to my personal metric ratings system).


THE MASTERPIECES:

 1. UNAKA PRONG Salinity Now! * (2018) = 96.25

2. MONOBODY Raytracing * (2018) = 95.88

3. ANTOINE FAFARD Ad Perpetuum (2014) - 94.0

4. UTOPIANISTI The Third Frontier (2016) - 93.33 

5. JAGA JAZZIST Starfire (2015) - 93.33

6. KBB Lost and Found (2000) - 92.59


THE MINOR MASTERPIECES:

7. HIROMI'S SONICBLOOM Time Control (2007) - 92.22
8. BIG BAD WOLF Pond Life (2017) - 91.0
9. DOMINA CATRINA LEE Songs from the Breastbone Drum (2010) - 90.90
10. UZVA Ouma (2006) - 90.0
11. FARMERS MARKET Surfin' USSR (2008) (5 stars)
12. JAM IT! Following the Unknown (2015) - 90.0

PEKKA POHJOLA Views * (2001) - 90.0


EXCELLENT J-R FUSION:

PAT METHENY GROUP Speaking of Now (2002) - 89.65
ANTOINE FAFARD Sphére (2016) - 88.42
JAGA JAZZIST A Livingroom Hush (2001) - 88.25
WILDFLOWERS Season 2 (2020) - 87.86
DRAW THE SKY Humanity (2017) - 87.50
UNAKA PRONG Adult Contemporary (2017) * - 86.67


VERY GOOD JAZZ-ROCK FUSION RELEASES:

ROBERT JÜRJENDAL Simple Past/Lihtminevik (2017) - 86.50
PAT METHENY GROUP The Way Up (2005) - 86.25
ODD OUTFIT ^(Up/Down) (2017) - 86.25
PAT METHENY From This Place (2020) * - 85.64
SVETAMUZIKA Present Simple (2015) - 85.60
OUTER LIMITS Stromatolite (2007) * - 84.54
PANZERPAPPA Pestrottedans (2016) - 84.29



GOOD JAZZ-ROCK FUSION RELEASES:

SPACESHIP Traveler (2016) - 83.33
FAT SPARROW Fat Sparrow (2015) - 82.73 
DOMINIQUE VANTOMME Dominique Vantomme (2018) - 82.65
PERIDONI Jade (2017) - 82.50
JAGA JAZZIST One-Armed Bandit (2010) - 81.11



As-Yet Incomplete Reviews:
JAN GARBAREK In Praise of Dreams (2004)
SYRINX Qualia (2008) (4 stars)
AL DI MEOLA Flesh on Flesh (2003) 
JOHN ZORN The Garden of Earthly Delights (2017)
ANTOINE FAFARD Proto Mundi (2017) (4 stars)  
PATRICK GRANT A Sequence of Waves (Twelve Stories and a Dream) (2017)
DISSONANT DISTANCE Dissonant Distance (2018)
ADAM HOLZMAN Truth Decay (2018)



* Indicates: Probably Not True Jazz-Rock Fusion
EARTHWORKS The Sound of Surprise * (2001) - 91.66
KOOP Waltz for Koop * (2001) - 90.0
KAMASI WASHINGTON The Epic * (2015)
JAGA JAZZIST (2020) 
 





Sunday, December 20, 2020

My Favorite 21st Century Zeuhl Albums

 Yes, Zeuhl is alive and well in the 21st Century--and not just because Magma keeps producing excellent albums. There are young bands all over the globe picking up the torch. (I wonder what Christian Vander thinks of that!) Below is my list of the highest-rated Zeuhl releases of the 21st Century (according to my personal metric ratings system).


THE MASTERPIECES:

SETNA Guérison (2013) - 96.0

MAGMA Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré (2009) - 95.0

KOENJI HYAKKEI Angherr Shisspa (2005) - 93.57

GA'AN Ga'an (2009) - 93.33

ALL TRAPS ON EARTH A Drop of Light (2018) * - 92.75

CAMEMBERT Negative Toe (2017) - 92.72


THE MINOR MASTERPIECES:

MAGMA Slag Tanz (2015) - 92.50

VAK Budo (2018) - 92.29

UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA The Magus (2008) - 91.93

GA'AN Black Equus (2011) - 91.33

CAMEMBERT Schnörgl Attahk (2011) - 91.30

MAGMA K.A. (2004) - 91.0

BONDAGE FRUIT  V - Skin (2002) * - 90.50

JANNICK TOP Infernal Machina (2008) - 90.40

KOENJI HYAKKEI Dorhimviskha (2018) - 90.21

MAGMA Félicité Thösz (2012) - 90.0

DAI KAHT II (2020) - 90.0


THE NEAR-MASTERPIECES:

KOENJI HYAKKEI Nivraym (2001) - 89.77

UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA Mathematical Mother (2016) - 89.52

PiNioL Bran Coucou (2018) - 88.39

MAGISTER DIXIT Cellule de Crise (2006) - 87.89


OTHER EXCELLENT RELEASES:

CORIMA Amaterasu (2016) - 86.50

SETNA Cycles (2007) - 86.36

VAK Aedividea (2015)  - 86.09

UNIT WAIL Retort (2013) - 85.48

GUAPO Obscure Knowledge (2015) * - 85.29

UNIT WAIL Pangaea Proxima (2012) - 85.0


VERY GOOD ZEUHL RELEASES:

RHÙN's Fanfare du chaos (2013) - 84.44


GOOD ZEUHL RELEASES:

GUAPO Five Suns (2004) - 81.43

UNIT WAIL égarés (2019) - 79.25




* Denotes - an album that may be better suited to another category/may not be Zeuhl



As-Yet Incomplete Reviews:
UNIT WAIL Beyond Space Edges (2015)
XING SA Création de l'Univers (2011)


MAGMA Zëss - Le jour du néant (2019)

BONDAGE FRUIT  VI (2005) * 
CORIMA Quetzalcoatl (2012)