Saturday, March 6, 2021

The 2000s: Favorite Zeuhl Releases

There haven't been a ton of 21st Century album releases worthy of inclusion in the wonderful world of Zeuhl, but here are my favorites from the 2000s:

 1. JANNICK TOP - Infernal Machina (2008) 

Consistently one heck of a powerful journey. IMHO, MDK is the only Zeuhl album I've heard to do it better.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Jannick Top / bass, cello, cellobass, percussion, voices, co-producer
- James McGaw / guitar
- François Delfin / guitar
- Thibault Abrial / guitar
- Jim Grandcamp / guitar
- Fabien Colella / keyboards, computing, co-producer & mixing
- Mathias Lecomte / grand piano
- Christian Vander / drums
- Damien Schmitt / drums
- Marc Chantereau / percussion
- Klaus Blasquiz / vocals
- Natalia Ermilova / vocals
- Veronika Boulytcheva / vocals
- Stella Vander / backing vocals
- Himiko Paganotti / backing vocals
- Antoine Paganotti / backing vocals

"Part I" (7:23) is majestic, mysterious, melodic, beautiful. Cave raindrops! Relaxing piano! Bowed bass! Very Coltrane-esque feel to it. And then the magical voices of Bulgarian folk singers is introduced! Great opening! (14/15)

"Part II" (4:29) introduces the vocal which reminds me of the diotonic stylings of the female folk singers of Les Voix Mystères de Bulgarie coupled with some very powerful chords from the electric bass. Could build a little faster. (8.5/10)

"Part III" (4:13) starts with distorted electric guitar rhythm chords, bowed bass, and intense 'Bulgarian' chanting (and screaming--is that you, Stella?). Shifts at 2:20 to deep metal-like electric power chords from the rhythm section accompanied by female voices. A brief but oh-so effective pause at the 3:00 minute mark opens the door for the full-band unified pulse of ecstatic marching. Amazing! (10/10)

"Part IV" (4:15) introduces (with an electronic crash) a slower, more methodic, plodding pace with a now-male chorus (among whom is the unmistakable voice of MAGMA's KLAUS BLASQUIS) and piano to go along with Jannick's bass. This is Zeuhl! But the development is poor and too slow. (7/10)

"Part V" (5:09) is amazing for its pulsing bass, slow and steady drums, and electric guitar chords. The low male breath-chants, a few 'Bulgarian' voice chants, and a Math Rock section of guitar chords usher in a change in tempo--and with it a real sense of immediacy, even urgency. Like, "Oh my God! It's happening!" Piano enters, playing it's mezzo register cycle of chords and notes repetitiously, and cycling guitar chords and fervent drumming pick up as the song gets into its second half. (10/10)

"Part VI" (5:53) increasing density of sound as the music becomes steady and almost metallic, very slow but brutal pacing--before beginning a slow build up in the third minute. Piano enters in a tinkling way, and then Bulgarian singers. In the fourth minute a new melodic chord enters for a minute before we revert to the insistent, pulsing bass theme of the previous song. Back to the melodic chord section before transitioning to Part VII. (10/10)

"Part VII" (4:23) sees an insidious increase in tempo--and urgency--as Persian horns carry a religious melody into the sacred ritual. WOW!! This is AMAZING! It just keeps building and slowly speeding up, adding layers to layers--subtle piano and more! At 3:20 searing guitar solo with amazing bass & rhythm chord progression in background. Cycling back to 'Persian' horns, male breath chants, female 'Bulgarian' chant, all weaving together with frenetic drumming and electric guitar soloing like Sir ROBERT of FRIPP at his stool-offing best. (10/10)

"Part VIII" (3:49) is like a cooling waterfall flowing down over the hot coals--piano and cymbol play doing most of the cleansing. At 1:45 there is a shift in rhythm section to syncopated pulses of bass and low male voice grunts. The piano and cymbols continue their flood of erosive notes. 3:20 and 3:50 see more nods to CHRISTIAN VANDER/MAGMA sound & style. Returns to the very same piano single note pounding of "Part VII" with the now VANDER-crazed drumming going crazy behind and some MAGMA-like choral work dispersed here and there. This is really the drummer's song. Awesome ascent of scale by TOP's bass chords in the song's final minute. (9/10)

"Part IX" (4:42) sees an inversion and minoring of the musical/piano chords while the same frenzy of drums and other rhythms go on all around it and the repetition of a monotonic pattern of staccato choral notes. Becomes very MDK-like in the middle section with CV going bat-shit crazy over a very hypnotic piano chord progression. (Wish this section would go on forever!) Back to recapitulation of first section for the final 75 seconds. (8.75/10)

"Part X" (3:11) continues the frenzy party of "Part IX" with gutteral male vocals chanting low on the spectrum with otherwise little or no difference (more cymbol crashes, increased vocal volume, variation in vowel sound used for staccato vocal notes, guitar chords become patternized, circular). But those drums! The insistence of the male grunts rises in the second half. Piano continues to repeat its circular note play ad nauseum. (8.25/10)

"Part XI" (4:27) sees a transition to rhythm guitar rock chords, deep throbbing bass line, more 'controlled' drumming, a return and interweaving of several previous vocal lines (male choir, female choir, and Bulgarian), along with the introduction and intertwining of a new vocal line--which ascends to take us to the culmination point of ecstasy. (8.5/10)

"Resolution" (5:33) seems to be a kind of driving disco-version of "Part VI" and "VII" with the Persian horns and male vocal grunt pattern. At 1:50 the electric rhythm guitar chords and female 'Bulgarian' voices take a turn before giving way to the 'Persian' horns and male grunt section for fifteen seconds. Back and forth the female and male chanting trade again and again into the final minute of the song when we are reunited with the 'cave raindrop' music of the opening song to close. A wild ride Jannick & Co. put us through! (9/10)

Total Time 55:30

90.40 on the Fish scales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music. This is definitely an excellent addition to any prog music collection--it is amazing music--Zeuhl or not. Definitely one of the best albums from 2008.

2. GA'AN - Ga'an (2009)  I've been listening to this album for months now at first with utter amazement and now with total respect and admiration. That a group of young musicians from Chicago would latch on to the Zeuhl sound to such a degree as to create this amazing and refreshing album of upbeat, beautiful music is astounding but that they could actually add something quite significant to the Zeuhl lexicon is even more astounding. This is a collection of songs that, like the MAGMA discography, has a flow and continuity which makes it feel cohesive, comprehensive and conceptual. And, as I said, with their unique use of keyboards (including lots of mellotron!), excellent drumming, and wonderful operatic vocals from Lindsay Powell, Ga'an has added something new, fresh, upbeat and positive to the world of Kobaia. In fact, that may be what makes this album so listenable, so entrancing, and so addicting is its lighter, upbeat, 'optimistic' feel and sound. Though in reality I would have trouble telling one song from another--this is because I have never listened to them in isolation from one another; I always listen to the album start to finish--it just flows that way and once you start you just want to keep going till it's over! So, as I said, it's hard to distinguish one song from the next, I know that each song has its unique individuality. For example,

1. "Chasmaeon" (7:01) has its awesome mellotron "Gregorian Chant" opening before TANGERINE DREAM keyboards join in. From 2:15 to 3:00 the full complement of instrumental structure is gradually put on display: keys, drums, guitar arpeggi, and Lindsay Powell's incredibly gorgeous voice. Then, beginning at 4:10 the pace is awesomely doubled, slowed down, doubled again, back and forth throughout the rest of the song in this amazing play on the listener's emotions. The bass, drums, mellotron Gregorian chant, and Linday Powell lead chant is rising and falling, twisting and turning, taking us on this rollercoaster of Zeuhl heaven. This must be Nebëhr Gudahtt's life after death place! (15/15)

On 2. "Living Tribunal" (8:12) the mellotron voices are turned into the upper "female" octaves while the more vibrated, slow picked bass and militarized dance drumming take over three minutes to prep us for Lindsay's plaintive call--and mesmerizing is her summons! She is my siren! I will willingly do your bidding, Zeuhl Princess! Enter electric guitar to mirror and amplify Lindsay's hypnotic call all the while drums, bass, and keys maintain a constant thrum of insistent support. This is prog heaven, to be sure! Chicago! These are 'kids'--a new generation of prog devotees! Hallelujah! Towards the end the drums and especially the bass begin to embellish their play. Awesome! (20/20)

3. "I Of Infinite Forms Pt. 1" (5:00) opens, again, with keyboard chord hits most familiar to us from the 1970s work of TANGERINE DREAM before very quickly being joined by the bass and drumming so familiar to us from the Zuehl world. High octave keys and wildly motive bass play are the highlights to the first half of this song as Lindsay's gorgeous mid-octave chanting stays mostly in the background. (8/10)

4. "I Of Infinite Forms Pt. 2" (6:06) flowing continuously from the previous song, there is a noticeable shift in style and tempo, but it is really only a bridge before the song builds back into a more tightly woven version of the tapestry of the Part 1. Where the difference really begins to show is with the addition of tubular bells (!) and Lindsay's more frenetic insistent chanting. Mid song the rhythm section virtually drops out for a bridge in which Lindsay and the tubular bells take center stage. By 3:40 a new rhythm and sound has been established that is more keyboard centered and keyboard dominant while LIndsay and the rhythm section pretty much maintain their style and melodies if slightly slowed down. Amazing drumming in the last minute! (9/10)

5. "Servant Eye" (6:31) opens as if on a continuous thread from previous songs--kind of a melding of the opening song with the previous one. A brief bridge of "Gregorian Chant" mellotron chords at 0:45 allows for a complete transition into a new vocal chant pattern and a new keyboard arpeggio foundation. Then at 2:00 occurs another shift--establishing whole new pace and rhythm pattern from the rhythm section while also introducing a more "angelic" voice mellotron chord sequence pattern while Lindsay's vocal almost disappears for a while. In the final two minutes the bass and lead female chant step forward to take the lead while the pace behind quickens to a rhapsodic frenzy! Awesome! (9/10)

6. "Vultures Of The Horn" (7:16) is perhaps the most maturely structured, least frenzied and tempermental song on the album which makes it seem more sedate and less emotional yet the keyboard, drum and vocal work are incredible for their display of subtle mastery. (9/10)

Line-up / Musicians:
- Jeremiah Fisher / synthesizers
- Lindsay Powell / voices
- Seth Sher / drums
- Jason Sublette / bass, synthesizer

I honestly cannot say that there is another Zeuhl album I've ever felt this kind of affinty and attachment to since I heard MDK. Eskaton, Setna, and Universal Totem Orchestra are the only others that come to mind as having the kind of fresh beauty that I feel from Ga'an. As raw as it is for its being a debut record, this is without a doubt one of the premier Zeuhl albums I've ever heard. And from a group of young musicians from Chicago!! Bravo! I am so excited to see a new generation of artists latching onto and carrying forward the Zeuhl torch!

93.33 on the Fishscales = A/5 stars; Essential as a masterpiece of progressive rock music.

3. MAGMA - Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré (2009) It has only been one year since my initiation into the world of Kobaïa and Zeuhl. Christian Vander's world astounds me. His attention to detail and heart-felt all-out effort is nothing short of amazing. Some of the words that come to mind when trying to convey the spell of MAGMA's music include "otherworldly," "operatic," "ecstatic," and "ritualistic." While many reviewers write praise of Magma's disciplined and virtuosic instrumentalists, I am ever blown away by the vocal performances and choir arrangements. This is especially the case throughout "Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré II"--one of the best--if not the best--example of Vander's genius I've had the good fortune of hearing. I'm having trouble assigning this album an overall rating because, as some other reviewers have said, it doesn't seem to have enough "new" music or show enough of the group's "progress." It does, however, amply display the steadfastness, sharpness, and enthusiasm of Vander and crew in their commitment to this musical vision. In terms of "Best Album of the Year" and boldly going where no music has gone before, Vander and Toby Driver will have to duke it out for a while to see who really comes out on top.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Christian Vander / vocals, piano, Fender Rhodes, clavinet, drums, percussion
- Stella Vander / vocals, percussion
- Isabelle Feuillebois / vocals
- Hervé Aknin / vocals
- James Mac Gaw / guitar (1-4)
- Bruno Ruder / Fender Rhodes (2-4)
- Philippe Bussonnet / bass, piccolo bass
- Benoît Alziary / vibraphone (1-4)
- Emmanuel Borghi / piano (1-3)
- Himiko Paganotti, Antoine Paganotti, Claude Lamamy, Marcus Linon, Pierre-Michel Sivadier / chorus

1. "Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré I" (6:54) a slow, methodical, and dramatic intro in which the choir's use has a grand Hollywood soundtrack feel similar to the bigger-than-life epic religious films of the 50s and 60s. At 3:00 the music pauses to allow the voice of a single female to present the storyline. It's emotional and reverential--they're prepping us for something tragic and sad. So tenderly and professionally rendered! (14/15)

2. "Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré II" (22:24) opens with the quick and sudden handoff of leadership to the lead male. It's a whole different music now, with bass and full band en force, full choral in support. It gets started with several gear shifts before settling into a groove over which Christian Vander's ecstatic lead vocals get going and really takes off into the frenzy of religious celebration. By the ninth minute the vocal section is complete and Christian sits down to his kit and lets the instrumentals have their say. In the tenth minute the female choir joins in rather unobtrusively. They are joined and brought more to front and center as the men join in in the next minute but it is the female contingent that are given the lead voice over the course of the next few minutes. At 11:40 the men are allowed to step up to full force--at which time the whole band crescendoes for a moment before backing down for another history lesson from M. Vander. The instrumental section that follows, while beautifully supported by the choral voices, is really about the instrumentalists: bass and keys but especially drums and electric guitar. The choir's intermittent interjections serve more to denote transitions between soloists or in the action of the storyline. At 18:00 there is a ramp up in intensity (if that's possible) before a male dominated section of "hey ho, hey hoyt ki, hey yo" carries the story fully for three frenetic minutes. While the pace from the rhythm section continues at breakneck speed right up to the song's end, the choir and lead instruments downshift and return to Earth. Great song! (53/55)

3. "Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré III" (13:08) opens with a series of cymbal-supported changing-chord pulses carrying through the first 90 seconds. A slight shift opens up the space for Stella's spacious and subdued lead vocal. Things begin slowly ramping up in the fourth minute--with a drum shift, more constant bass presence, fuller choir rejoinder, and multiple melody lines woven together. At 4:45 we shift back into an hypnotic whole-band, whole choir groove. At 5:15 guitar and male vocals break off into their own thread. The bass playing starts becoming crazy fast as the guitarist's allegiance switches over to Stella for the lead story teller. The cycle continues like this, revolving around and around while the rhythm section plays at their amazing pace, until the tenth minute when the choir changes their tune and approach quite a bit: lots of alternating and call and response type of work--though it all comes back together, quite mysteriously, into a totally cohesive whole at 10:40 to coax the song into a super crescendo. My God! Who was this guy--this Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré? How did he earn this kind of glory and adulation? What a song--a true choral masterclass. (29/30)

4. "Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré IV" (3:55) a beautiful, delicate piano-based song that opens with Stella singing a wonderful technical and emotional lead vocal. Choir joins in with a little intensification of the music before things really quiet down for a piano, cymbals and Stella trio to a 2:30 introduction of "A Love Supreme" piano flourish which then signals a transition to guitar and Fender Rhodes suggestion of the "MDK" suite before Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré's last cry in death. (10/10)

5. "Funëhrarïum Kahnt" (4:14) definitely a funereal dirge expressing grief and pain. (8/10)

6. "Sêhë" (0:26)

10/15/2010 edit: The MAGMA album I keep turning to when I want to hear them (at their studio best) is MDK. It seems still so fresh, raw, and seemless. Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré, while so polished and amazing because it's a 21st century recording with revitalized and revamped cast, has faded some with time. Even the awesome and amazing "Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré II" has lost some of its initial luster. When I want to dance and scream, its MDK for me, thank you very much.

1/31/19 edit:  On further review and reconsideration, it is my belief that this album is so masterfully rendered, with such heart-felt performances and such incredible attention to detail, that it must rank up there with the greatest of the Zeuhl albums of all-time. I definitely like it better than the other 1970s releases except MDK. The only thing missing are the horns!

95.0 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a true masterpiece of progressive rock music; also a shining example of what musical recording can achieve.

4. KOENJI HYAKKEI -- Nivraym (2001) 

They're back! and with a line-up that includes not one or two but three new musicians. Brace yourself! (And please, anyone with any kind of heart conditions: Proceed with extreme caution!)

1. "Nivraym" (5:40) I'm sorry, but as virtuosic as these instrumentalists/vocalists may be, I cannot hear this song without thinking that their whole Zeuhl shtick is mostly tongue-in-cheek. Crazy but how can you not appreciate the skills and confidence involved in creating and performing this music? (9.5/10)

2. "Becttem Pollt" (5:21) powerful and dramatic if a little too uniform and one-dimensional. (8.75/10)

3. "Lussesoggi Zomn" (10:26) I think they hired NINA HAGEN for this one! Simple sparse notes from piano and bass with Nami going crazy. The band coalesces into a fast-driving heavy rock ensemble for the second and third minutes as Japanese versions of Kobaia take on a variety of crazed and crazy forms. Definitely Zeuhlish. I wonder what Christian Vander thinks. Guitar solo is more rock-like than Zeuhl, but it is short-lived as band slips into several different Zeuhl motifs before we have a chance to integrate what we've just heard. Incredible confidence to practice, perfect, and record this piece of complex music. (Though it is not perfect: there are performance flaws. But, what do you expect for a band's first effort with this lineup--three new members?) Several sections are over-extended a bit, but, otherwise, this is mind-boggling stuff. Nami Sagara is a force! (17.75/20)

4. "Vissqaguell" (5:31) several tracks are very heavy on the distortion (I think intentionally), and the pace of this one is amazing. It makes Christian V. & Co. really seem slow and old! There are so many incredible exploits here: vocally, keyboards, drums and bass, guitars. How does one write such material? (8.75/10)

5. "Mederro Passquirr" (6:23) a little more grounded in Western styles (drumming, synth sound choices, electric guitar work, straightforward bass), this one still shocks and surprises. What a keyboard player! At 1:20 things settle into an almost Broadway choral piece--with simple piano chords providing the main direction for the elaborate choral performances. This is more MAGMA-like familiar Zeuhl. I like it but it's not as exciting or innovative as the previous songs. Highly intricate vocal demands from the fifth minute on--almost Leonard Bernstein-like. (8.75/10)

6. "Axall Hasck" (6:34) synths and Mellotron leading this one as more straightforward (though wickedly fast) bass, guitar, drums, voice, and sax try to keep up. It's like a race to catch the keyboard rabbit. Only the off-trail sax has a chance, veering in and out of the weave, until the half way point when everybody downshifts from overdrive to 5th gear--and then at 3:30 when there is another downshift into a kind of Latin rhythm while Nami solos. The keyboards' solos that follow are more human--though the bass, sax, and drums now begin to go off on their own crazed frenetic path--which only incites the synth to take the lead back across the finish line. (8.75/10)

7. "Maschtervoz" (4:10) are they tiring? Slower and more spacious--only the sax is in the usual zone of amphetamine. Nami and Jin and Kenichi are fairly subdued compared to their previous selves. It sure does showcase Keiko's sax, though. (8.25/10)

8. "Gassttrumm (9:24) again, the reins are on as the band proceeds in a much more controlled, humanly pace--though still incredibly intricately constructed and performed. At the two minute mark there is a slight shift for searing synth solo before a shift into space Zeuhl with some wild drumming beneath the synth and vocal melody line. It's like a conversation between the synth and the drummer with the rest of the band providing support and context. Very cool! Now at the end of the fourth minute the bass gets a turn to let loose with the drummer. Another synth turn, bass and drums, synth, etc. all the while the vocalists At 5:20 there is a sudden right turn into macho Western man territory while bass, guitar riff, and drums support the soloing synthesizer player--this time with a much more familiar prog-like solo ripping up the soundwaves. Man this guy can play! With 90 seconds to play we shift back into a more breakneck straight ahead speed before another oddly computer-like epithet and then an unexpectedly cohesive finish. Amazing song. (18.5/20)

9. "Vallczeremdoss" (4:49) more controlled whole band weave opens this one--until the second minute when the choral vocals enter--then things go time wonky--nothing staying the same for more than a measure or two. How do they do it? How does a whole band stay on course with this kind of intricacy? And then what follows--the voices trying to keep up with the instruments--is simply unbelievable! (9.75/10)

Total Time: 58:18

89.77 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; an absolutely astonishing display of compositional brilliance with nearly as astonishing performances. In fact, that would be my only criticism of the music on this album: sometimes it just seems too much of a stretch for any human to perform to perfection! Still, an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection. Just be prepared: you're heart- and breathing rates will be elevated for quite a while during and after listening to this album! And, believe it or not, this is my favorite Koenji Hyakkei release--even more than the universally acclaimed Angherr Shippsa.

5. MAGMA - K.A. (2004) A very polished, mature MAGMA, with some new sounds (vocally), some great sound recording, some missing sounds (horns), and one of the best Zeuhl 'songs' I've yet heard (I'm still very new to this sub-genre, but I LOVE ZEUHL!! I think this is the music I've been missing--that I've been waiting for--since 1989 [when I gave up on rock/pop/prog music].): part "III"--and part "II" is right up there, too.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Christian Vander / vocals, drums, percussion
- Stella Vander / vocals, percussion
- Isabelle Feuillebois / vocals
- Himiko Paganotti / vocals
- Antoine Paganotti / vocals
- James Mac Gaw / guitar
- Emmanuel Borghi / piano, Fender Rhodes
- Frédéric d'Oelsnitz / Fender Rhodes
- Philippe Bussonnet / bass

While I am rating this 5 stars--for it is a masterpiece of progressive rock music--I do not hold it as dear as MDK or even Wurdah Ïtah; there is something magical about the energy and spirit of those 1970s records--perhaps it is youthful idealism (Did Christian Vander believe he could create a personally- and even socially-transformative mythology back then? Does he still?) Still, I admire he and his crew of Kobaians who have stood steadfastly with this ecstatic style of expression over the past 40 years.

91.0 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of Zeuhl and of progressive rock music as a whole.

6. UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA - The Magus (2008) This album is filled with some of the most masterful compositions and performances I have heard in this 21st Century. Absolutley stunning in scope and breadth. The spirits of AREA, KOTEBEL, MAGMA, JANNICK TOP, ALAN HOLDSWORTH, LISA GERRARD, EUMIR DEODATO, and GIOVANNI PIERLUIGI DA PALESTRINA have all been absorbed to bring you this production.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Ana Torres Fraile / vocals
- Daniele Valle / guitar
- Fabrizio Mattuzzi / keyboards, electric piano
- Antonio Fedeli / saxophone
- Yanik Lorenzo Andreatta / bass
- Uto Giorgio Golin / drums, percussion
- Francesco Festi / vocals
- Antonello Cunego / tenor vocals (3)
- Mario Libera / tenor vocals (3)
- Dante Cavazzoni / baritone vocals (3)
- Emiliano Modena / baritone vocals (3)
- Adriano Vianilli / vocals (6)

1. "De Astrologia" (19:31) starts awesomely before establishing a fairly straightforward, rather dull and repetitious A part. At 4:25 things shift to piano and NINA HAGEN-like silly vocals to become more interesting, more RPI-like. The 6:05 mark ushers in a very Zeuhl-like part with heavy throbbing bass-line and guitar, piano, drums and vocal very MAGMA-esque. This lasts until the 11:20 mark when a synthesizer ushers in a faster, more synth-jazz part. This lasts until 14:13 when piano introduces what appears to be another pulsating Zeuhl section--but, no! At 15:00 the piano starts to jazz it up, at 15:20 is joined by the gorgeous operatic voice of Ana Tores Fraile and later, the wonderful soprano sax of Antonio Fedeli. This is the groovingest section of Zeuhl ever! Awesome piano. Guitarist Daniele Valle had already amply demonstrated his virtuosity earlier in the song but here switches gears to render a more bluesy rock solo. If the whole song were like these last three or four minutes it would be one of the greatest songs ever! Strange ending. (34/40)

2. "Corenza della percentuali" (17:33) begins with pizzicato strings like lighter moment from a movie soundtrack but then it evolves into what sounds and feels like a song straight from AREA's "Arbeit Macht Frei." An amazingly tight avante jazz composition until 4:55 with the first appearance of Daniele Valle's 'one-up-on-Alan Holdsworth' guitar playing over the top of string synths and Zeuhl rhythms. At 6:55 things really slow down as a synth oscillates around the speakers, giving way to an awesome and hauntingly beautiful bass solo (which sounds more like a classical guitar). Ana's operatic voice and some spacey synths join the bass at the 8:54 mark creating a very hallowed, sacred space. 9:40 hears the appearance of an Arabic-sounding drum voice (Francesco Festi?) sounding like the donkey at the end of KATE BUSH's The Dreaming's "Get Out of My House." 12:25 sees a complete return to the hard-driving opening themes--only Ana and Francesco's pairing continues--an awesome effect over the synths and hard-drivng bass line. The last 30 second s of the song see a comical return to the opening pizzicato strings theme. Odd but appropriate. A truly masterful composition. (36/40)

3. "Les plantes magiques" (7:36) has a more classical chamber or church music feel to it. Piano arpeggios entwined with Ana's wordless mid-range tonings and almost-background alto sax notes. At the 3:20 mark we get a surprise: solo piano accompanying chanteuse Ana with an accompaniment of background female singers all singing French lyrics. At 4:45 a more Zeuhlish operatic section begins: orchestral percussives, synths, operatic male and female voices. Le nouveau opera! Awesome! (15/15)

4. "Ato piradime" (15:52) begins with a very familiar LOREENA MCKENNITT or DEAD CAN DANCE feel and sound until at the 1:35 mark an intricate weave of bass and electric guitar usher in a kind of movie soundtrack sax theme. Shift at 3:07 to a kind of RPI rap. Really! Very engaging and poppy. 5:17: abrupt stop and pause. Solo electric piano chord progression repeats itself until 6:15 when it is joined by a very reedy sax, then by the operatic Italian lyrics of Ana. Quite majestic is her singing to "La Luna"--as is the interplay of the sax. Vocals climax around 9:40 whereupon a heavier jazz groove takes over with Fabrizio Mattuzzi's distorted electric piano bouncing around a little before being joined by bass, drums and soloing lead guitar. Around the 13 minute mark the imitation Alan Holdsworth shows up once more to give a stellar show of what AH could be. The song's final minute allows Ana and Antonio's "La Luna" theme to return to fade. (28.5/30)

5. "Mors, ultima linea rerum" (6:06) begins with a few seconds of a kind of circus-like sound and feel before unleashing an awesomely powerful heavy prog section, only to segue into a kind of GINO VANELLI/BILLY JOEL pop jazz at the 1:30 mark. Enter an awesome 'Alan Holdsworth' guitar solo, then at 3:05 shift back to the heavy prog theme. 4:20 sees the combination of the jazzy Holdsworthian theme with a truly jazz-Zeuhl repetitiousness. End with another strange kind of fade out. (9/10)

6. "Vento madre" (13:24) reminds me so much of one of my favorite 21st Century albums, KOTEBEL's "Omphalos"--particularly the "Pentacle" suite. I love the combination of heavy electric guitars, hard-rocking rhythm section with operatic vocals. 3:55 begins a DEODATO-ish electric piano bridge to a very pulsating, deeply engaging, mesmerizing section of Zeuhlish magic. Ana and guest male vocalist Antonio Vianilli. "Salvol!" Saxes and electric piano. Enter Sr. Daniele Valle, electric guitarist extraordinaire! Quiet sectioni yields to the return at 10:15 to the opening theme. Let the wild rumpus continue! Dance ye sacrificial lambs! Faster! Faster! Lose yourself in the mélée; come under the spell of The Magus! (30/30)

Total time: 79:58

This album is filled with some of the most masterful compositions and performances I have heard in this 21st Century. I cannot imagine anyone not seeing the utterly astounding quality of these songs and these performances. They are so fresh, unusual, creative and mature. Plus, I love it that Zeuhl has an Italian participant! Without question or reservation a solid, strong 5 star contribution to Western music. Perhaps the second greatest Zeuhl album I have had the privilege hearing (thus far).

91.93 on the Fishscales = 5 stars, A; a masterpiece of progressive rock music! I love Zeuhl!

7. MAGISTER DIXIT Cellule de Crise (2006) 

One of the earliest young modern ensembles to really commit to bearing the torch of Christian Vander's Zeuhl music. Too bad they gave up after this album.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Stéphane Marcaillou / vocals, guitar, texts, compositions
- Melanie Fossier / vocals
- Bita Rezvannia-Picot / violin, vocals
- Sophie Perret / piano, voice
- Jean-Pierre Albert / drums
- Stéphan Garcia / bass

1. "Endless" (5:58) sounds like Magma, just not as tight, not as focused--and singing in English (at first: the title word)! The tempos as expressed by the bass, drums, and vocalists seem scattered all over the place, as if the band were not all on the same page. There's a little of the spirit of COS vocalist PASCALE SON in the voice of lead female, Melanie Fossier. She definitely commands attention. (7.5/10)

2. "Les potits archers" (5:55) whoops! maybe I was wrong: This band can Zeuhl! Everybody seems to gel and relax into the music here. the weaves--both musically and vocally--are absolutely stupendous (except for the way lead male Stéphane Marcaillou's voice is recorded and expressed in the overall mix). Great comportment of the classic Zeuhl tension and great build to resolution. (9.25/10)

3. "De profundis II" (8:18) four voices establish a classic Zeuhl form before transitioning about three minutes in to a jazzed up variation of the same. Violin and Melanie present a new lead melody. Amazing Zeuhl scatting from Stéphane and Melanie in the final third of this slower Magma-like composition. Stéphane must have had some Klaus Blasquiz lessons! Great drumming. (18.25/20)

4. "De profundis III" (4:22)  violin and Melanie present a new complex scat pattern, repeated over and over, while instruments below jazz it up. Melanie and the drums really impress. Again, I cannot help but make the Pascale Son comparisons. (8.75/10)

5. "La merveille" (3:57) a sedate, almost dreamy  weave of three female vocalists with the guitar, bass, piano, and mostly-cymbals before Stéphane enters as the lead. When Melanie takes the lead, and is then joined by her two female compatriots, the music takes on an almost 1960s pop-jazz feel and style--and the vocal feels like a lullaby or children's rhyme! Unexpected and brilliant! (9/10)

Total Time 28:30

I have been really impressed with the compositional skills of this band and equally so with their performance skills. They really pull off a truly complete and complex Zeuhl album! The weak link is the bass player: he's no Jannick Top! The rest is pretty top notch MAGMA-esque Zeuhl!

87.92 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; if you're a lover of Zeuhl music at its finest, you will love this album. Definitely an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection. There is just something that, for me, is so magical about this album! 

8. BONDAGE FRUIT  V - Skin (2002) 

If GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR went Zeuhl, the ever-evolving Zeuhl veterans have slowed things down, drawn them out, removed the vocals, and chosen to explore the sound that the space between percussive hits can occupy. Gone are the Crimsonian dynamics or Magma-esque constructs, welcome in the bluesy foundation of all rock 'n' roll, even to Zeuhl! Never before have the commonalities between Zeuhl and UNIVERS ZERO been so evident. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Kido Natsuki / guitar, mandolin, valiha, organ, co-producer
- Katsui Yuji / violin, sampler, co-producer
- Ohtsubo Hirohiko / bass, cello
- Takara Kuimiko / vibraphone, percussion
- Okabe Youichi / percussion, trap drum

1. "Skin" (29:27) Zeuhl takes a trip to the deep bayou of Louisiana. The music and the performances are still stunning, virtuosic, amazingly tight considering the pace and spacing. Drummer Okabe Youichi is especially impressive for his solid ability to adhere to this very challenging pace while continuing to display his virtuosity. Huge chills when acoustic guitar strums enter in the 18th minute; great chord progression.  Then, in the 20th minute, we return to awesome sparsity and restraint. Again, this drummer deserves to be credited with so much for this brave and spiritual performance. The finish is a kind of Post Rock coming together of all elements and instruments in a cacophonous anti-climax before solo bowed bass takes us slowly out.
     While not a real fan of Louisiana blues, I know when something special has been achieved, and this is special. I feel as if I have just been put through a religious ceremony. Wonderful stuff! (56.5/60)

2. "Frasco" (19:40) opens with the sound of a traditional Japanese stringed instrument called a "valiha" playing solo. Repetitive single muted electric guitar chord strum is repeated and somewhat arpeggiated while vibes, bass, heavily effected electric guitar, and hand percussion instruments play around above and beneath. Valiha continues to ejaculate riffs between those of a variety of electric guitar sounds and other instruments. In the seventh minute the electric guitar and violin begin to take over the main melody line and, as the other instruments all fall away, the musical fabric itself. By the halfway mark a kind of Japanified Latinized Mahavishnu Orchestra jam has been set in motion--violin and guitar, of course, taking the lead presentations. Interesting! The music then morphs into a more JEFF BECK-like jam with a fairly simple and straightforward melodic riff steering the course to the end. Nice but not my favorite stuff from Bondage Fruit. (34/40)

Total time 49:07

90.50 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of evolving Zeuhl and an excellent addition to the lexicon of progressive rock music. While the title piece is, in my opinion, a prog masterpiece, the second epic falls well short of these heights.

9. KOENJIHYAKKEI Angherr Shisspa (2005) Often referred to as "the Japanese Magma," the band are obviously made up of top notch musicians, and their compositions are "out of this world" different, but the music here is just too angular, jaded and disjointed for my tastes--going a step beyond the controlled and prolonged chaos that is typical of a Magma composition into realms of complexity that are impressive though I'm not sure necessary. Also, the album's collection of eight songs do not quite flow one into the other like Magma songs tend to do; each one is distinctive and stands alone without the support or need of the whole.

Line-up / Musicians
- Yamamoto Kyoko / vocals
- Kanazawa Miyako / keyboards, vocals
- Komori Keiko / reeds, vocals
- Sakamoto Kengo / bass, vocals
- Yoshida Tatsuya / drums, vocals

1. "Tziidall Raszhisst" (7:14) opens with some very familiar MAGMA-esque sounds, notes, scales, and structures: female wordless vocalise with piano and synth. By the end of the first minute a full-on Zeuhl onslaught has begun with high speed entourage now including drums, bass, and saxes. The flow and intensity remains fairly constant despite several detours for solos (fuzz guitar) and worded vocal passages (all band members participate in MAGMA-like chorus-style vocal passages). Great opener--especially in the fact that it so closely parallels the Zeuhl that originated with Magma. A top three song for me. (14.5/15)

2. "Rattims Friezz" (7:01) opening with more percussion and high-pitch instrumental play to establish a slower, angular, odd-tempoed staccato rhtyhm and melody pattern. At the two minute mark everything shifts: different rhythm pattern (more Latin feeling) and new melody patterns. Very tight in the display instrumental and vocal weaves. An interesting cinematic "Hollywood" "interlude" near the end before the song flips back into the frenetic Latin-like rhythms to end. Another top three song. (14.5/15)

3. "Grahbem Jorgazz" (4:06) Kyoko's vocals are here full on operatic soprano (in the same vein as UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA's Ana Torres--though at times feeling almost tongue-in-cheek humorous in their NINA-HAGEN-like exaggerated pathos). Intense, fun, and funny. (9.5/10)

4. "Fettim Paillu" (7:45) piano and operatic female voice open this one in a slow, heavy mood. At the one minute mark, sharply abrasive percussion-led pulses enter and establish an odd-tempoed pattern but then in the third minute an all-out "panic on the pirate ship's deck" kind of scenario takes over. The voices are quite theatric: low male chorus with female lead while the woman seems to be quite often in rather a lot of distress. Interesting! At 4:30 the chaos suddenly ends and we are left with an interesting -like "frozen time" interlude as solo clarinet and piano duet an interesting jazz/classical dance. At 6:10 the operatic female re-enters in place of the clarinet, just she and piano making her case plaintively. 30 seconds later the other instruments begin encroaching and building into a wild, cacophonous pirate-like finish. (14/15)

5. "Qivem Vrastorr" (4:22) opens like a Gilbert & Sullivan dittie with multiple layers of voices and instruments getting involved in a kind of layered weave of brief epithets being repeated over and over in a kind of rondo. In the second minute there are two instances of loosening of the tight grip of organized tapestry before the song shifts in the third minute to something more smooth and flowing, less multi-layered. The final 90 seconds sees an attempt to kind of combine the two forms until the final 30 seconds become full-on Zeuhl. (8.5/10)

6. "Mibingvahre" (4:07) opens with what sound like traditional African folk hand instruments, hand clapping, simple mouth horns, and loose vocal chanting--which eventually becomes jazzified by chunky bass, drums, soprano saxophone, and Kyoko's operatic vocalise breaking through from the background. Kind of a brilliant cross-cultural imitation of African tribal/village folk musical traditions. (8.75/10)

7. "Angherr Shisspa" (6:34) talk about an abrasive opening! Voices, horns, drums, and everything but the kitchen sink flailing away, bashing into my brain, repetitively before giving me the Zeuhl sound. And thank god for the smoother, more melodic jazz passage in the second half of the second minute! At 2:30 there is a switch into something more akin to UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA before things smooth out for some sharp stoccato sax and vocal scatting (which, again, begs the question: Is this in jest? Is this music supposed to make me laugh?) The 4:00 mark introduces another quite radical shift into a calming smooth-jazz passage before all hell breaks out for the final 30 seconds. Amazing performances of a very oddly constructed song. (9/10)

8. "Wammilica Iffirom" (8:39) opening with another very MAGMA-esque passage of soprano choral voices, they are soon joined (and supplanted) by full band speeding along at a fast pace in a fairly orderly, listener-friendly musical style. The chord- and key-structure and tempo remain fairly accessible throughout the first three minutes--even as the choir, piano and horns begin to "stray." Weirdly dissonant sax solo in the fourth minute precedes another chorus before a piano bridge brings us into a chunky-bass and male vocal-led passage. This builds with other voices and instruments added to build each layer until 5:30 when things break down into a very simple, very imperious passage similar to a Magma processional. Male vocalist lends his master-of-ceremonies voice to the passage, even using Christian Vander-like falsettos, to relate the events of the passage. Then we shift back into the simpler, friendly theme for the final minute. Easily the most accessible song on the album. (19.5/20)

Total Time: 50:10

93.57 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music regardless of what style this is. It's quite difficult to find fault with this album of impeccably performed, incredibly intricately constructed compositions. I can imagine this music being served up in a fully-regaled theatrical performance.
     As above, my chief complaint is the oft-times abrasive nature of the full-frontal onslaught of the music; this is not the kind of every-day music one listens to in order to unwind or relax. 

10. SETNA -- Cycles (2007) The sudden appearance of this album of full-blown Zeuhl--with the participation of known MAGMA alumni like James McGaw--came as quite a surprise despite the fairly recent rebirth of the Magma base with the Trianon and Le Triton concerts and the 2004 release of universally recognized Magma masterpiece, K.A. and the decade since the formation and appearance of the British RIO/Zeuhl band GUAPO, and yet, here it is: the first in the 21st Century's New Wave of French Zeuhl bands.

Line-up / Musicians
- Natacha Jouët / vocals
- Florent Gac / Fender Rhodes
- Nicolas Goulay / Fender Rhodes, Minimoog
- Guillaume Laurent / soprano saxophone
- Christophe Blondel / bass
- Nicolas Candé / drums, percussion
- Mathilde Maisse / vocals
- James Mc Gaw / guitar
- Benoît Bugeïa / Fender Rhodes
- Yves Marie Dien / percussions

1. "Ombres" (2:44) opens the album with a Fender Rhodes solo. Interesting in that I'd never heard the xylophone-like quality of the Fender Rhodes as I do here. Zeuhl instruments join in to introduce the Zeuhl sound palette--chunky, distorted bass, sax, and potent drums especially. (4/5)

2. "Tristesse" (4:35) a slow, hypnotic rumbling weave opens this before Fender Rhodes begin embellishing--a little. At 1:20 low sustained buzz notes of a Minimoog enter and draw attention. 2:45 drum shift does little to change the song (and is soon given up). At 3:25 it quiets for the entry of Natacha Jouët's vocals (some double tracked). And then, that's it! (8/10)

3. "Intuition" (13:07) (/25)
4. "Voir" (6:34) dominated by the featured vocals of Natacha Jouët, this one starts out very slowly, very mellowly and simply before building into something more typical of Vander Zeuhl.  (9/10)

5. "Ouverture" (1:22) interesting flow from "Voir" into this using a very familiar Canterbury trick and sound palette. (5/5)

6. "Conscience" (5:05) (8.5/10)
7. "Connaître" (8:12) (13/15)
8. "Être" (6:20) (/10)
9. "Unité" (10:55) (/20)

Total time 58:54

An interesting and delightful foray into Canterbury-spiced Zeuhl music. Far more employment of singular female vocals than I've ever heard in Zeuhl before (before hearing VAK or KOENJI HYAKKEI)--and vocals mixed so far forward (as the dominant track). Overall, Cycles is a very pleasant listen that becomes background music for its fairly mellow structure and palette as well as its hypnotic repetitiousness and lack of any significant, dynamic peaks.  

86.36 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a solid addition to the lexicon of Zeuhl and a very nice addition to any prog lover's music collection. But wait: this band gets better--way better--with their next release!

Also Good:

GUAPO Five Suns (2004) To my mind (and ears) this is a Zeuhl album if I've ever heard one--and an awesome one, at that! The album starts off with the very cool, rather spacey "Five Suns, Part I" (8/10) which then slides into the amazing (Very ANEKDOTEN-like) "Five Suns, Part II" (10/10). The background synth and wave samples are so cool over the marching drums and driving bass lines. Unfortunately, the bass and drum act grows a little weary on the ears as the album goes on. Parts "III" and "IV" (7/10) maintain a high standard of musicianship and driving force but creativity and inspiration seem to wane a bit--there is little freshness to keep the listener glued, the repeated riffs seem, at times, almost infantile, though the drum and bass playing remains rather emotional. There is a little more jazzy side of GUAPO exposed in the softer parts of these songs. "Part V" is rather anticlimactic (and maybe intentionally so). By the time you move past the five movements of the Five Suns you are ready for something new--and boy do they deliver: a solid minute of virtual silence Ithe sounds I hear may be mechanical) titled "Untitled"!! This is followed by a song that is, IMO, the least interesting and least inspired song of the album, "Mictlan." Luckily, the last song, "Topan," (9/10) is another great one--a more sedate but highly skilled and melodic piece. Something here sounds like the pop jazz and jazz fusion I listened to in the 70s. The keys, I think. Or maybe the whole vibe they have going. Reminds me somehow of NIL's "Dérive." Anyway, this is a very, very good album. Part II is definitely one of my top ten favorite Zeuhl songs.

Total Time: 63:09

Line-up / Musicians
- Matt Thompson / guitar, bass, sampler
- Daniel O'Sullivan / Fender Rhodes, organ, Mellotron, harmonium, guitar, sampler
- Dave Smith / drums, percussion

81.43 on the Fish scales = a solid four stars; a nice addition to any collection of progressive rock music.

The 2000s: Favorite Jazz-Fusion Releases

There aren't a lot, but here are my favorite Jazz-Rock-Fusion releases from the 2000s:


Easily the most exciting, consistently high-level, creative jazz fusion album I've encountered in the 21st Century. Yes, there are a lot of sounds, riffs, passages familiar from my long love for and association with the music of CHICK COREA, but there also tons of fresh, mouth-jarring ideas expressed here--by all four of these incredible musicians. Guitarist David "Fuze" Fiuczynski is truly masterful and chamelonic in his playing--a brilliant foil to Hiromi's stellar, melodic, and often heartbreakingly beautiful keyboard playing. And the bass playing and drumming are often attention-getters, as well. I rate fully seven of this album's nine songs as absolute gems--masterpieces of highly engaging jazz fusion. An album that has never strayed far from my disc player (especially in the car) since I got it a few months ago. So glad "classic" jazz fusion is still being explored and adored somewhere!

*****Five star songs:  1. "Time Difference" (6:19) (10/10); 3. "Time Travel" (8:37) (9/10); 4. "Deep Into the Night" (9:02) (10/10); 6. "Time and Space" (7:56) (15/15); 7. "Time Control, or Controlled by Time" (8:29) (Sample is from a promotional excerpt) (10/10); 8. "Time Flies" (8:01) (9/10), and; 10. "Note from the Past" (12:09) (Sample is from a live performance, [16:13].) (10/10).

****Four star songs:  2. "Time Out" (6:39) (8/10); 5. "Real Clock vs. Body Clock = Jet Lag" (5:53) (7/10).

9. "Time's Up" (0:46), an interrupted brief take of "Note from the Past," which is not on the American version of Time Control, is the American CD's final song. On the Japanese version, the incredibly powerful "Note from the Past" is the finale. 

92.22 on the Fish scales = A-/five stars, rare:  an absolute modern masterpiece of Jazz Fusion and a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music in general.

2. KBB Lost and Found (2000)

Amazing violin and keyboard led instrumental Prog Fusion from Japan that harkens back to the debut album of the 1978 supergroup UK as well as to late 1980s JEAN-LUC PONTY. Bass player, "Dani," drummer Shirou Sugano, keyboard player Toshimitsu Takahashi, and violinist/composer, Akihisa Tsuboy are all incredibly gifted musicians, but what's more, they each have an extraordinary gift for melody and rhythm. Also, a special shout out has to go to bass player, "Dani"--who is also the album's engineer--for his great recording/engineering job.

The album begins with the hard-driving, bass-grooving 1. "Hatenaki Shoudou" (6:24) (9/10)

2. "Catastrophe" (9:31) is an amazing offering of frenzied, multiple layered electric fusion (another mostly hard-driver) in which the band's cohesive play and interplay are put on full display. Parts jaw-dropping, parts are goose-bumpy gorgeous. Incredible song. (20/20)

3. "Antartica" (13:28) has a much more neoclassical, symphonic soundtrack feel to it. At times this sounds like something from traditional Scottish folk melodies, at times like a military march, at others concerto-like, and even some brooding KITARO-like folk. This is a complex and maturely constructed piece that only impresses. It's only shortcoming is in the flow and that it doesn't have quite the melodic draw of the previous two songs. (27/30)

4. "The Desert of Desires" (7:38) opens like a ELP or ASIA tune before establishing an organ based, Bruford-drummed bass display. Soloing electric guitar enters at the one minute mark. Very accomplished 80s EDDIE VAN HALEN-like playing. At 2:17 everything drops away to allow an electric piano to establish a slower tempo in order to display a more emotional, bluesy guitar solo style. Reminds me of WHITESNAKE. The chord and melody work of the last two minutes is the best part. Nice work. Nice piece. I don't connect with the emotion of this electric guitar playing or heavy rock style as much as the fusion violin work of the first two. (12/15)

5. "Another Episode" (8:28) again opens like a familiar VAN HALEN song before displaying its violin-centricity. Some absolutely stunning melodies are quickly established and heart-wrenchingly performed. Even the piano and bass are integral parts of the emotional mix of this song. I like the presence of some more Japanese feeling melodies in this song. Very much like the incredible soundtracks put together for Studio Ghibli Hayao Miyazaki films by composer Joe Hisaishi. Awesome synthesizer solo in the sixth minute! The ensuing "farfisa" organ doesn't fit quite as well but its presence is only brief. The next percussive synth chord section is also a bit out-of-date but it evolves into a piano-based return to the opening melodies (though on electric guitar and synthesizer instead of violin). Still a pretty awesome song! (18/20)

6. "Ness No Kioku" (9:41) opens with a low and then high toned SHANKAR-like solo violin. The melodic style here is also much more akin to Middle Eastern or Indian traditions. Truly awesome musicianship in the rhythmic support of the bass and drums. Probably the best and most exciting song on the album, start to finish. (20/20)

7. "Divine Design" (9:26) opens with perhaps the most engaging three sections of the album. Very JEAN-LUC PONTY and DANIEL KOBIALKA-like. A simpler song construction establishes itself for the first four minutes--though there are at least five shifts in that time. The sixth shift at the 4:45 mark goes straight for the J-L PONTY jugular--much in the same way Jean-Luc did in his faster-placed songs and soli from 1975-84. And great, very tight band support throughout the song, into and with every style and tempo shift. Guitar appearance leads into a return to some of the song's opening themes--layered one over the top of another! Cool song! Prog perfection! (19/20)

So professionally done, such high level of musicianship and composition. With the amazing start with the first two songs and the equally amazing final two songs, this one is very close to a masterpiece.

92.59 on the Fish scales = five stars, for sure a masterpiece of progressive rock music.

3. USVA Uoma (2006)

Over 71 minutes of wonderful folk-tinged instrumental jazz fusion from this seven-member jam band (and a whole mess of guests) from Finland. Throughout the album I enjoy the electric instruments like the bass and the drum kit drumming, but it is the traditional folk and classical instrumentation that really love:  harp, violin and strings, xylophone, marimba and other hand percussions, flutes, and other woodwinds (sax, bassoon, clarinet). I also seem to enjoy the slower parts best--even though the album never gets going at break-neck speeds, they just have a brilliant way of magnifying the weave of melodies during the slower sections. 

Album highlights include:  the album's gorgeously scored opening suite, "Kuoriutuminen," Parts 1, 2 & 3 (10/10) the wonderfully Japanese-flavored 8-10. "Vesikko" suite (23:02) (10/10); 7. "Arabian Ran-ta" (10:00) with its wonderful shift at the 3:50 mark (9/10); the stepped down beauty of "Chinese Daydream, Part 1" (3:12) and then the shift into a higher gear for the brass-dominated "Part 2" (5:43) (8/10); the brassy, American jazz rock sounding, 4. "Different Realities" (11:14) (8/10), and; the pretty, if simple, harp-based, 11. "Lullaby" (4:22) (8/10).

There's a lot of music here, but it is all quite enjoyable and some of it compositionally masterful.

90.0 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of folk-based jazz fusion.

4. FARMERS MARKET Surfin' USSR (2008)

Besides having the best song titles, hands down, of any album EVER, their is some absolutely stunning music here. Fast "punk jazz" with an undeniable Slavic flavor, the music here reminds me of Markus Pajakkala's 2017 Brutopianisti album, only far more engaging. The music obviously, and intentionally, imitates (or parodies) known styles and motifs from Western music--with none more than the Dick Dale-led California surfer music scene of the 1950s and 60s--but also spy music styles and themes used in James Bond and other spy films of the 1960s and 1970s. All the layers here seem infected by the rapid-fire staccato and tremolo-crazy styles pioneered by Dale's style, though Eastern European and Middle Eastern (even Romani and klezmer) sounds , scales, and charts are also all-pervasive. Definitely a jazz combo as instruments like accordion, horns, banjo, and all kinds of percussives and traditional folk instruments are central and layered throughout every song, the music even spans the breadth of the 20th Century with nostalgia exhumed from the early jazz of the 1920s, the Big Band jazz eras, and the Django Reinhardt-type of Gypsy Jazz.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Stian Carstensen / accordion, guitars, banjo, tamura, bagpipes, flute, percussion, bass, vocals
- Finn Guttormsen / bass, percussion, vocals
- Filip Simeonov / clarinet, trumpet
- Jarle Vespestad / drums, percussion
- Nils Olav Johansen / guitars, vocals, synthesizer
- Sidsel Walstad / harp
- Trifon Trifonov / saxophone
- Jai Shankar / tabla
- Ola Kvernberg / violin
- Arve Henriksen / vocals
- Julie Peneva / vocals
- Nadia Vladimirova / vocals
- Sonia Iokova / vocals

1. Surfin' USSR (4:49) 
2. Surfin' USSR Part 2 (2:46) 
3. Lodtschitze Mini Maritza (Ferry Cross the Mersey) (5:07) 
4. Anyone Who Remembers Vladiwoodstock Wasn't There (4:34) 
5. Dissident Harmony Sisters' Camel Call (1:37)
6. To Hell and Baku (3:57)
7. Tractor Tracks Across the Tundra (1:15) 
8. From Prussia with Love (4:08)
9. Red Square Dance (7:47)
10. The Dismantling of the Soviet Onion Made Us Cry... (3:21) 
11. Kalashnikov Wedding (2:50)
12. Steroid Train Trip (2:21)
13. Meanwhile Back at the Agricultural Workers Collective (4:58) 
14. Ladyboy's Night at the Cultural Relativism Saloon (Fremling) (2:05) 
15. One Day, Son, All I Own Will Still Belong to the State (6:09)
16. Yagoda (2:35)

Total Time: 60:20

If you like your music lively, fast, technically wizard, jazzy, predominantly acoustic, upbeat (generally), cerebral, and to give you a smile on your face, then this masterful album would definitely be worth your checking out. It may not be the type of music you want to listen to every day, but for that change of pace, ear- and eye-opening listening experience, you needn't go any further than this album.

A/five stars; a masterpiece of a very specific sound and style that definitely belongs in the Folk-Jazz-Rock Fusion category. Incredible artistry and cohesion from the collective.

P.S. Just get your jollies from reading those titles! Genius! 

5. CABEZAS DE CERA Cabezas de Cera (2000)

Great music--truly of a progressive nature--from a Mexican trio-sometimes-duo that include, on this, their debut album, an amazing percussionist (Francicso Sotelo on electronic drum set & tuned and untuned percussion), a Chapman Stick player (Mauricio Sotelo playing "grand stick, electric & acoustic guitars, electric bass"), and an extraordinary master of wind instruments--some of which are local/indigenous (Ramses Luna on "varied flutes, saxophone & clarinet"). A fresh sound that is very exciting to listen to; the Sotelo brothers really have something new and special. Videos of their live performances are really fun to watch.

1. "Ventiuno" (5:40) "Ein und zwanzig!" (8.5/10)

2. "Gocxilla" (5:30) using a LOT of effects to produce monster/animal noises, this is VERY King Crimsonian. (8.5/10)

3. "Encantador De Serpientes" (5:47) kind of like Brazilian jazz. Excellent! Amazing interplay between the three guys. Amazing song! (10/10)

4. "Un Pueblo Escondido" (5:47) this song just makes me happy--in a Caribbean-meets-Balinese-Gamelan way. (9.5/10)

5. "Caravana" (4:40) percussion and flutes open this one as ChapmanStick mostly performs the bass function. Switch to distorted gtr brass horns and drum kit for the second 90 seconds and then something different, more saw-like for the final third. Did Markus Pajakkala here this one before doing his Brutopianisti album? (8.75/10)

6. "Pretexto A Un Texto Fragmentado" (4:30) Art of Noise? Industrial King Crimson? Amazingly fresh and innovative! Love the narration over the music! (10/10)

7. "Gitana" (3:04) kind of Latin-Arabic acoustic jazz. Nice! (9/10)

8. "Frontera" (6:04) true ChapmanStick heaven! (8.75/10)

9. "Al Aire (6:05) nice Latin jazz with more Spanish narration over the top. Not as fresh or lively as "Pretexto", the narration is too much the center and focus of the song. (8/10)

Wow! What did I just listen to! It was unlike anything I've ever heard before! So fresh! So lively! So awesome! And talk about virtuosity! These three have it--on multiple instruments, each! 

90.0 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music coming from the world jazz fusion direction. Try it out! You won't be sad! 

6. PAT METHENY GROUP Speaking of Now (2002)

One of Pat & co.'s more pastoral jazz albums, this one does not take the listener into realms of avant or theoretical or chromatic or free jazz, nor does it take us back to bebop or Wes Montgomery, but it is more heavily reliant on acoustic instrumentation that most PMG albums. Even in the album's credits the acoustic instruments are given first citations for each of the individuals involved in the project. Still, you will hear Lyle's familiar/signature synths and Pat's familiar/signature "piccolo trumpet" electric guitar leads but all played over piano, acoustic guitar layers, the amazing Steve Rodby's double bass or cello along with newcomer Antonio Sanchez' drumming. (Shout out to the amazing Paul Wertico! You are the best!)
     Every song on the album is replete with multiple memorable melodies and gorgeous song structures, stunning solos from Lyle ("Proof"), Pat, all of the vocalists, and trumpeter Cuong Vu.

Great songs:  1. "As It Is" (7:48) which is probably my favorite song on the album (15/15); the more Wes Montgomery-styled, 2. "Proof" (10:09) (18/20); the far-away-romantic, next-the-fireside, 3. "Another Life" (7:08) with its odd almost Gregorian chant vocal interludes (13.5/15); the wonderfully bucolic, pastoral feeling 7. "A Place in the World" (9:52) a top three song for me (19/20); what sounds like a classic jazz standard--a piece of true ear candy--as if sung by Nat King Cole or Antônio Carlos Jobim but is sung by Cameroon's Richard Bona in a language I don't recognize (what should be French?) 8. "Afternoon" (4:45) (10/10), and; the album's closer, 9. "Wherever You Go" (8:03) a real gorgeous, melodic, low key tune in which all of the band members put on display their mastery of delicate jazz play. (14.5/15)

Very good songs:  4. "The Gathering Sky" (9:22) which sounds like a piece that Gene Kelley would have used as a film score to choreograph one of his unique dance numbers (16/20); 5. "You" (8:30) which is constructed much as the Brazilian pieces the band did in the 80s like Pedro Aznar's "Más allá (Beyond)" (16/20), and; the standard PMG Latin-tinged Wes Montgomery-sounding piece, 6. "On Her Way" (5:21) (8/10).

A solid, accessible release of jazz in the familiar vein of what Pat Metheny Group has been doing for over twenty-five years only oriented a bit more to the acoustic side of jazz instrumentation and the melodic side of jazz.

89.65 on the Fish scales = B+/4.5 stars; a minor masterpiece of jazz fusion applauded for the incomparable standards of technical and melodic virtuosity they uphold for their profession; a near-masterpiece to the world of progressive rock music.

7. JAGA JAZZIST A Livingroom Hush (2002)

Why didn't anyone ever tell me how good the older Jaga Jazzist albums were? When you read something like, "The BBC named it the best jazz album of 2002," you want to check it out.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Andreas Mjøs / vibraphone, drums, marimba, percussion, keyboards
- Even Ormestad / bass, keyboards
- Harald Frøland / guitar, Fx, synth
- Ivar Chr. Johansen / piano, Fender Rhodes, organ, Roland Jupiter synth
- Jørgen Munkeby / flute & alto flute, bass clarinet, tenor saxophone, keyboards
- Lars Horntveth / tenor & baritone saxophones, flute, bass clarinet, guitars, keyboards
- Lars Wabø / trombone
- Line Horntveth / tuba
- Martin Horntveth / drums, drum machines, percussion, keyboards
- Mathias Eick / trumpet, upright bass, keyboards
- Jørgen Træen / keyboards, percussion, synth, electronics, production, mixing
- Frode Sævik / violin (4,9)
- Nils Olaf Solberg / viola (4,9)

1. "Animal Chin" (4:07) (8.75/10)
2. "Going Down" (5:20) My favorite song on the album. (10/10)
3. "Press Play" (1:16) (5/5)
4. "Airborne" (5:13) KOOP with orchestration. (8.75/10)
5. "Real Racecars Have Doors" (4:15) (8.5/10)
6. "Low Battery" (5:50) (8.5/10) 
7. "Midget" (2:32) (4.25/5)
8. "Made for Radio" (5:22) (8.5/10)
9. "Lithuania" (8:38) A top three song for me. (17.75/20)
10. "Cinematic" (6:22) totally experimental glitch editing á la Ryuichi Sakamoto, Carsten Nicolai, Christian Fennesz. Great if what you're wanting for your jazz takes place in the editing/production room and can't be replicated in a live setting (without computers). (8.25/10)

Total Time 48:55

Employing glitch technology is clever (it had to happen sometime, right?) but it's not, IMHO, the answer that jazz was needing.

88.25 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of Jazz-Rock Fusion coming from the NuJazz sub-sub.

8. KVAZAR A Giant's Lullaby (2005)

Viking Prog? Nordic jazz? Scandinavian bassa nova?

Line-up / Musicians:
- Andrè Jensen / vocals, piano, Rhodes, Mellotron, synth, 6- & 12-string acoustic guitars, mandolin, sampler
- Jon-Erik Gretland / guitar
- Ronny Johansen / Mellotron, synth
- Christian Torp / bass
- Kim A. Lieberknecht / drums, e-drums, loops, programming
- Trude Bergli / vocals (2)
- Tom Roger / flute (2,10)
- Odd Andre Holm / saxophone
- Alexander Knøsmoen / guitar (3,5)
- Endre Tønnesen / bass (3,5)

1. "Flight Of Shamash" (9:13) Viking Prog! Gregorian Chant-like vocals with atmospheric heavy prog. Astonishing and unexpected song. (18.5/20)

2. "Choir Of Life" (5:36) more traditional folk oriented instruments open before the rock/prog/jazz instruments join in with female vocalise. (9.25/10)

3. "untitled 1" (1:30) jazz-folk-prog interlude with Spanish-style acoustic guitar soloing over the top. (4.25/5)

4. "Dreams Of Butterflies" (8:30) female singing in English over jazz-rock-folk fusion. (18/20)

5. "untitled 2" (1:49) lounge jazz guitar with combo (4.25/5)

6. "Spirit Of Time" (8:42) space blues--not far from early Pink Floyd or Procul Harum or even Blind Faith. (17/20) 

7. "Desert Blues" (6:13) psych/space rock with female Arabian vocal turns jazz-psych with sax, electric guitar, synths and other looped samples forging a OZRIC TENTACLE/JAGA JAZZIST mixed soundscape. Very interesting! (17.75/10)

8. "Sometimes" (5:09) lounge jazz (bassa nova!) with female lead vocals, jazz electric guitar, and rompous full chorus. (8.75/10)

9. "A Giant's Lullaby" (9:42) an psych-jazz variation the classic "Summertime" that builds and morphs in several directions (sometimes all at once!)--holding fast to a jazzy foundation no matter what speed or instrumental palette used. Very interesting, imaginative, and well executed. (18/20) 

10. "Dark Horizons" (8:03) haunting melodic prog with a slight hint of jazz. Single lead male voice is interesting choice for the finale (especially given the way the album opened.) At 3:35 full chorus of voices, male and female, perform. Over the coourse of the second half of the song the band takes us through folk, bluesy psychedelia, Broadway, and--sometimes all at once! Fascinating! (13.5/15)

87.40 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an excellent addition of unusual prog music fit for any prog lover's music collection. 

9. PAT METHENY The Way Up (2005)

I have been an avid PAT METHENY listener and fan since the 70s (his work with JONI MITCHELL and GARY BURTON), and have pretty much every album he has every done, call the 1986 concert I attended of his one of the top five concerts I've ever attended, and consider him one of a very few masters of the art of combining technical prowess with emotional and melodic expression. And, yes, this one is one of his best albums--and one of two that truly fits among the masterpieces in the "progressive rock" catalog (the other being 1992's Secret Story). For long-time listeners, however, this album contains many "old" themes, tricks, and twists--so does not remain quite so fresh and exciting over its entire 68 minutes. The opening "song"--entitled "The Way Up: Opening: does contain some "fresh" sounding slide guitar, beautiful acoustic guitar, and introduces the awesome syncopated guitar strum theme which makes the third song, "The Way Up: Part Two" one of the best prog songs I've ever heard. The Way Up: Part One," the album's longest "song," offers up many old sounds, themes, and melody lines mixed with just enough new sounds, twists, themes, and melody lines (Pat playing more than one guitar lead at a time--in effect, dueling with himself!) to make this music very fresh and exciting. Plus, I must admit that the often-frenetic trumpet playing solos off of/against Pat's guitars offers a fascinating counterpoint to Pat's typically powerful yet melodic lead solos. The slowed down part after the 6:30 mark is a bit unexpected and out of place. And the song's central section is really pretty straightforward jazz, WES MONTGOMERY style (with some good jazz trumpet playing). It's the final, sensitive 5:30 of the song that start to bring one back to the prog fold. But then, voilà, "Part Two" comes on and I can't help myself but I play it over and over, astounded and hooked by the EBERHARD WEBER Following Morning intro section (first 2:15) and the 3:30 to 12:05 section in which Pat's syncopated and time-bending staccato guitar pizzicato's (which are later taken over by keyboards and percussion) lay foundation for one of the greatest 'barely controlled chaos' jam sessions I've ever heard. First Lyle's gentle, sensitive, inimitable keyboard work, followed by Pat and trumpeter Chong Vu going shit crazy! Then we have the wonderful 'calm after the storm' section with its wonderful harmonica lead. (And still the staccato pizzicato guitar-and-keyboard theme plays in the background). Trumpets, harmonica, catchy rhythm work. What treasures are bassist Steve Rodby and drummer Antonio Sanchez (though I worship former Group drummer, Paul Wertico)!

"Part Three" returns to very familiar Pat Metheny Group territory--sounding very much like his 1980s productions--with its very strong Brazillian influence. Nothing really new here.

1. "The Way Up: Opening" (5:17) (8.5/10)
2. "The Way Up: Part One" (26:27) (8/10)
3. "The Way Up: Part Two" (20:29) (10/10)
4. "The Way Up: Part Three" (15:54) (8/10)

I'm very tempted to give this one five stars for the sake of "Part Two" which is, IMHO, one stellar achievement of musical expression. But I won't. (Though I may regret it later.) Still, if you've never heard the musical genius of Pat Metheny and company, start either here or with Secret Story. You won't be disappointed.

86.25 on the Fish scales = B/four stars; an excellent prog album by a man much more deserving of some love from this group of music lovers; one of the 21st Century's finest jazz rock contribution to progressive rock music.

10. SYRINX Qualia (2008)

Very nice instrumental jazz-rock fusion from France, replete with church organ, woodwinds and power chords. "Acheiropoiètes" (8:41) (9/10) and the epic "Liber nonacris" (19:39) (9/10) are both standouts for me.

Other Great Jazz-Rock Fusion-Related Releases:

BILL BRUFORD'S EARTHWORKS The Sound of Surprise (2001)

An album of music that doesn't really fit into the "progressive rock music" category by any way, shape, or means, drummer extraordinaire Bill Bruford continues to gather young jazz musicians willing to push the boundaries of modern improvisational JAZZ--and here he's recruited a true power trio to help him realize his jazz-rock vision. You go, Bill!

Line-up / Musicians:
- Bill Bruford / drums
- Steve Hamilton / piano
- Patrick Clahar / Tenor And Soprano saxophones
- Mark Hodgson / bass

1. "Revel Without A Pause" (7:33) pretty standard sax jazz. (13/15)

2. "Triplicity" (6:22) opening with one minute of wonderful solo Bill, the Latinized music that follows shifts into straight melodic jazz and back to Latin-rhythm base over an over, several times a minute, to great effect:  it's really cool and different! Definitely a rhythmist's song. And filled with great, lush melodies from all instrumentalists. Modern jazz at its most sublime! (10/10)

3. "The Shadow Of A Doubt" (6:07) awesome melody start that moves into a beautiful, emotional soprano sax led ballad format. Gorgeous. Definitely a saxophone player's song--and a masterpiece of such--but maestro Steve Hamilton's piano gets its time in the spotlight as well. Songs like this remind me of how wonderful jazz can be. (10/10)

4. "Teaching Vera To Dance" (8:14) this one opens with a long bass solo before exploding into an almost-funky little ditty. If there's a weakness in this song, it is, unbelievably, in the drums: they seem a bit off time and "tired." (Intentionally so?) Not as melodic or engaging as the previous songs, this is more like the cold modern jazz that I've become accustomed to since the 1980s--mechanical and lacking heart. (12.5/15)

5. "Half Life" (5:18) straight time from the drums and yet syncopation from the others! How unlike Bill! It does create a tension that builds interest and intrigue. Stylist switch to a swing at the 2-minute mark makes it even more interesting as piano and sax continue on as if nothing has changed. Nice LYLE MAYS-like piano solo in the fourth minute (which turns CHICK COREA-like towards the end) as Bill and bassist Mark Hodgson do interesting things beneath. Cool song! (9/10)

6. "Come To Dust" (9:56) meandering piano play at the beginning has a gorgeous JOE SAMPLE Carmel kind of feel to it. When the rest of the band joins in at the end of the second minute it keeps the pace at a very slow, introductory, and exploratory place. In the piano solo central to the song's middle I hear the heart-felt daydreaming of VINCE GUARALDI. Another exemplary jazz masterpiece. (19/20)

7. "Cloud Cuckoo Land" (6:05) more fairly standard jazz. Nothing too special or innovative here. (8.5/10)

8. "Never The Same Way Once" (7:22) This one has a very CHICK COREA/RETURN TO FOREVER feel to it (despite not having guitar or anything electric involved). The RTF/Chick sound, style, and pacing is so distinctive; this is quite a remarkable replication. Even the bass solo is pure Stanley Clarke! In the end, all I can say is, "Wow!" (14/15)

9. "The Wooden Man Sings and The Stone Woman Dances" (7:42) Bill finally lets loose--forgets all time constraints--and goes wild--but in a subtle way! Just listening to the high-hat play is enough to cause me to smile and, often, drop my jaw. Then to listen how synced in Bill's kick drum and Mark's bass are. Remarkable! On another run through I could hear how Steve's piano and Patrick Clahar's soprano sax have the same amazing entrainment going on. This band must have had a lot of fun playing with one another. Then there is the final two minutes of the song where Patrick leads the band on a rampage the likes of which Chick & Return to Forever could only achieve in their very prime. Great work, Patrick! (14/15)

Total Time: 58:46

Some pretty standard saxophone-led jazz peppered with the odd syncopation or unusual time signature, but impeccably performed and recorded. I'm not sure how this one sneaks into the "progressive rock" genre--I suppose only on the coattails of Mr. Bruford's name and legacy.

91.66 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of modern JAZZ--putting on display just the kind of subtle nuances that are needed to keep jazz fresh and "progressive" yet keeping the music accessible, memorable, and beautiful.

P.S. Very cool album cover! 

KOOP Waltz for Koop (2001)

A totally refreshing example of some kind of nostalgic NuJazz from Swedish duo of Magnus Zingmark and Oscar Simonsson, going under the name KOOP.

Lineup / Musicians:
Magnus Zingmark
Oscar Simonsson
Dan Berglund - bass
Ola Bothzén - Bongos
Magnus Lindgren - Flute, brass (reeds)
Matthias Ståhl - Vibraphone

1. "Waltz for Koop" (featuring Cecilia Stalin) (3:06) (10/10)
2. "Tonight" (featuring Mikael Sundin) (2:54) (9.5/10)
3. "Baby" (featuring Cecilia Stalin) (3:47) (8.5/10)
4. "Summer Sun" (featuring Yukimi Nagano) (3:47) (8.75/10)
5. "Soul for Sahib" (3:37) (8.25/10)
6. "Modal Mile" (featuring Earl Zinger) (4:21) (9/10)
7. "In a Heartbeat" (featuring Terry Callier) (5:10) (9.5/10)
8. "Relaxin' at Club Fusion" (4:15) (8.75/10)
9. "Bright Nights" (featuring Yukimi Nagano) (3:55) love the weave of the vibes, brushed snare, bass, and vocalise combination during the introductory minute and twenty. Unfortunately, the song needed some change--a shift or detour somewhere along the way. (8.75/10)

Total length: 34:52

90.0 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a near-masterpiece and remarkably fresh expansion on the musical tract pioneered by MASSIVE ATTACK and the trip-hop and house music mixologists of the 1990s.