Friday, 16 December 2016

2016 - A Year In Review



2016 - what a great big Fuck Off of a year that was! Someone once said that sometimes when a door slams closed it is best to nail it shut, and that boys'n'girls is exactly the fate that 2016 deserves. If in the middle of June 2015 had you assembled Armando Iannucci, Charlie Booker, Jonathan Pie, and Ian Hislop (...insert non-UK satirists here) in a room to script the political year then yet to come, the results would have been but a tame impersonation of what actually went down. Added to the frightening sight of the great unwashed of the Western world lurching ever rightwards knowing damned well what they were voting against but with little clue or care as to what they were voting for was the unedifying sight of an over-employed Grim Reaper taking far too much pride in his work, stealing away from us many fine musicians, and a few bone fide icons to boot, the bastard. Oh...and terrible wars fought second hand by the real powers in hot and dusty places, ultimately about oil...no change there, then.

The upside to all this carnage is that, as is always the case, fractious times produce the best art, and my quantum corner of the music world has proved no exception. No excuses then, the sprawling thing that follows might be my longest end of year list ever, so bring a packed lunch, your poison of choice, and possibly a sleeping bag, and read on...

David Bowie - Blackstar


Released on 8th January, I thought at the time that this brave and strange album would take some beating...was I right?

I wrote the sentence above on the afternoon of Saturday 9th January in almost undue haste, but also as I prefer to write this list in real time as it were, so hopefully avoiding omitting some album or other along the way. The line was written having played the Amazon autorip of Blackstar a couple of times. We all know what happened less than 48 hours later. The actual CD was waiting for me when I got home from work on the evening of that fateful flat, grey Monday. Knowing by then what Blackstar was obviously really all about, it took me until the following Saturday to pluck up the courage to remove the CD from its shrinkwrap and play it. That first spin was a rewarding if highly emotional experience. There is not another musician I can think of who has left us with such a parting gift. "Icon" and "Genius" are words rendered trite by overuse, but they apply in David Bowie's case. RIP Mr Jones, keep those atomic particles on their toes! Oh...and can we have some reality back, please? It seems to have all gone with you...

So, in answer to the question posed in that first sentence...yes, I was. However, there is a caveat: Blackstar is really above such things, and while certainly good enough musically to get involved in an unseemly scrap for Album of the Year, the peculiar circumstances of its release make it one step removed from the fray and in a category of its own, not that music is a competitive sport anyway. For that reason, while Blackstar may well be my Album of the Year, it also renders the accolade superfluous.

Right...let's get on with this thang or we'll be here for the rest of the year...Here's a Spotify playlist featuring most of those listed, and I have included links to other audio sources for those in the list that have no truck with that streaming spawn of Beelzebub:


Those marked * are, in my 'umble opinings, riding atop the teeming waters, like the toughest piranhas in the river. As ever, the list is in very rough chronological order of release, earliest first.

Finally, one more thing - in the interests of fair play I should point out that this thing is obviously just my opinion, and that other lists are available. And yes there are omissions you may consider "glaring". One man's fillet steak is another man's barium enema, and all that. Oh, and no-one bribed or cajoled me to include their album in this list, and "glaring omissions" aside, obviously there will be dozens of fabulous albums omitted that as yet I am not aware of. As for comfort zones, mine is as wide as a six-seater sofa. You may wonder why I wrote all that, but there are some sensitive souls out there...it's only a list!
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The Anchoress - Confessions of a Romance Novelist
A beguiling mash up of Gothic tinged atmospheric alt-rock, PJ Harvey angst and a winning pop sensibility. Not the most obvious of choices for post-prog label Kscope, which may have led a few folk up the garden path on the way to the virtual checkout. By the way, there's a big break-up ballad on here called PS Fuck You. Go, girl!

The Ed Palermo Big Band - One Child Left Behind



The Best Frank Zappa Jazz Big Band You've Never Heard Before

*Ulver - ATGCLVLSSCAP
This band do not know the meaning of the word complacent. Everything they do is borne of a genuine progressive spirit and this superb augmented live album is no exception. This is the sound of galaxies being born.

Farmhouse Odyssey - Rise of the Waterfowl
Although I try to assemble this in real time, one or two just slip through, this being one...I can't find a review of it, and I have no idea where I picked up on it. Suffice to say it is a highly musical and enjoyable trip, listening back to it.

Nik Bärtsch's Mobile - Continuum
Prisitine modal minimalism to calm agitated synapses.

Gary Lucas & Jann Klose - Stereopticon
A charming and satisfying helping of Americana, flies a buzzin in the lazy sun.

Finnegan Shanahan - The Two Halves


Celtic-infused songwriting and organic soundscaping from an alternate universe. Strange and lovely in equal measure.

The Winstons - The Winstons
Utterly derivative, drawing largely on very early (The) Soft Machine, but fun nonetheless. Got a probably needless slagging in my review. Bitch! :)

Tindersticks - The Waiting Room
This band don't have to try. Unhurried elegance at work.

Janel Leppin - Mellow Diamond
Captivating solo album from talented Washington-based songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. Alt-everything, it neatly dodges all pigeonholing. Check out the Song for Voice and Mellotron EP too.

Dennis Rea Tanabata Ensemble - Black River Transect
Bookending an album of typically single-minded experimentation merged with two tunes featuring more conventional composition, Dennis Rea has made a musical sandwich with a highly unusual filling that is neither "jazz" nor "avant" nor indeed any convenient post-hole, but stands on its own, just like the rest of his singularly individualistic canon. Most definitely one for the adventurous!

Karda Estra - Future Sounds EP
More music for imaginary films...

Rez Abassi & Junction - Behind The Vibration


Intelligent nu-fusion for the discerning palette.

Brian Eno - The Ship
Mr Eno determined “to make a record of songs that didn’t rely on the normal underpinnings of rhythmic structure and chord progressions but which allowed voices to exist in their own space and time, like events in a landscape.” It works.

The Mercury Tree - Permutations
If I have to make a comparison, this band are the American equivalent of The Fierce And The Dead, as both bands do noisy things with guitars in ways you wouldn't always expect.

Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression
A secret tryst in the desert with Josh Homme, fellow QOTSA member Dean Fertita and an Arctic Monkey on drums results in the Igster's best album in many a moon, returning to a mood last created on the career high that was The Idiot and the couple of LPs that followed it. This album is also rumoured to be his last. If that's the case, then it's a damn fine way to doff the titfer.

Ampledeed - BYOB
Raid the larder and cram everything you can find between two burger buns, eat until fit to burst, and worry about indigestion later.

*Fire! Orchestra - Ritual
Similar to the earliest stirrings of Amon Duul II, Fire! Orchestra transmit a joyously organic spirit via collective music making, fronted in this case by two female voices. This Swedish, Danish and French amorphous collective defy categorisation (like many others in this list, you'll have noticed) and just are. It sounds like they had a great time making this record, which includes fiery guitar, jazz ensemble playing, and a distinctive tribal air. Quite wonderful!

Mark Pritchard - Under The Sun
Australian electronic musician and producer Mark Pritchard has recorded under a bewildering number of aliases and also as part of countless collaborations over the years. Which is part of the reason I'd never heard of him until a chance recommendation on a Facebook thread. The other part is that he is known for dance music of varying kinds...not my cup of larks' vomit, as I'm sure you know.

Occasionally he records under his own name, and Under The Sun, sharing a label with Brian Eno's The Ship seems to me to take some influence from the celebrated pioneer. This is all good, as Under The Sun acts as a restorative for the troubled soul in these dark times. Quite lovely.

*Body English - Stories Of Earth
Is there a sub-genre called "prog-pop"? If not, this is it. A truly joyous record shining a light in this dark Year of the Rise of the Stupid.

Simon McKechnie - From My Head To My Feet
Simon says “the title track is the funkiest song in 15/8 time that you’re likely to hear this year”. He's not wrong...

Matthew Parmenter - All Our Yesterdays
Some good Hammill-influenced left-field pop from the Discipline court jester. I'll bet he doesn't go to the corner shop for a pint of milk looking like that. :)

Motorpsycho - Here Be Monsters
They're not wrong. Dangerous-looking Scandi's make a righteous noise. Do not stare at their pints.

N.y.X - The News
Fabulously wilful heavy prog kicks over the traces on this Italian band's second album, now signed to Bad Elephant Music for their sins.

Mamma non Piangere - N.3
Italian RIO with a strong Stormy Six influence, a dash of native folk music, and it sounds like they had a lot of fun making this record.

King Crimson - Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Toronto, Canada, 20th November 2015
The mighty Crim remake, remodel like no-one else. The version of Epitaph will make you shiver, unless you have no soul. Superb!

*Knifeworld - Bottled Out Of Eden
A chronicle of loss leavened by hope, Knifeworld get better with each release. Criminally underrated.

Hawkwind - The Machine Stops
Dave Brock, he's bin stoned before. It was probably why he lost his mojo at some long forgotten woebegotten free festival in the mid 80s. Luckily some kindly soul has reunited the veteran of the psychic wars with his inspiration and the result is this fine ass-kickin' beastie.

*Yugen - Death By Water
Wilful is a word that I could easily apply to an album whose opening track is the most difficult piece of music I have heard this year. Get past that and the rest of this foxily intricate journey is a walk in the park over broken glass and fire pits. Nah...you'll love it.

Johanna Elina - Belonging
This lovely album is actually deserving of the overused description "fragile beauty".

Panzerpappa - Pestrottedans
Plague rats find their dancin' shoes...

Macroscream - Macroscream
"One of the most exciting and ingenious releases of exuberant ensemble music making I’ve heard in ages" says the redoubtable Mr Rowden, in a thick Welsh accent, natch.

Factor Burzaco - 3.76+++
Argentinian RIO chamber rock. Very complex, probably best not listened to after a hard day's brain-bustin'. Just to prove I do not only list things I received from labels or bands, this is another AltrOck Productions album that didn't find it's way to my door gratis!

Ligro - Dictionary 3
A blast of solid alt-rock action from possibly the heaviest of MoonJune's tranche of Indonesian power trios.

*Mothertongue - Unsongs
"It is ironic but true that good new pop is often far more progressive than the music produced under the self-imposed limitations of the “prog” label nowadays" contended moi about this fun bunch of bananas.

David Cross & Sean Quinn - Cold Sky Blue
Violinist David Cross is having something of an artistic resurgence just lately, and this lovely album with Irish studio wizard Sean Quinn is a thing of rare beauty.

*Messenger - Threnodies
Sadly, there will be no more from this fine band who split up at the end of October after only two albums.

Kevin Heard - Cydonia
A fun space opera by a multi-talented musician and graphic designer.

Salvoldelli Casarano Bardoscia - The Great Jazz Gig In The Sky
Brave alt-jazz take on the record that started AOR. It mostly works.

Deus Ex Machina - Devoto
Classy Italian prog with more than a hint of jazz-rock.



*Bent Knee - Say So


"Wow! It's a bit like running into a brick wall and loving every second" sez my mate Pete. An unparalleled triumph of invention, melody, and strangeitude, it is brilliant through and through, and truly progressive to boot..woah, I'm gushing again, I did that already in the review! Were it not for Mr Bowie, this may well have been at the top of the pile.

*Hedvig Mollestad Trio - Black Stabat Mater/EVIL in Oslo
A double release, one studio, one live from the Norwegian ur-rock goddess. Sheer noise, sheer class!

Old Fire - Songs From The Haunted South
This Mortal Coil for the 21st century.

7Shades - Bursting
As catchy as feck, with pronk and earworms aplenty. You don't have to like Cardiacs to dig this, but it probably helps.



The Pineapple Thief - Your Wilderness
Seemingly emboldened and refreshed by his artistically successful if deliberately understated solo album, band leader and main writer Bruce Soord returns reinvigorated to the mothership. Your Wilderness is a definite return to form after the somewhat pressured and formulaic Magnolia, and sees the band joined by a few illustrious guest players, an indication of their rising status in the prog pond.

*North Sea Radio Orchestra - Dronne
A beautiful and fragile thing that belies its inner strength of purpose. Vishnu Schist is probably the loveliest song of the year.

no sound - Scintilla
Along with Gazpacho, no-one conjures moods quite like Giancarlo Erla and his mates. While the Norwegians keep it dark, no sound are as gorgeous as heartbreak on a morning mist on Lake Garda.

French TV - Ambassadors Of Good Health And Clean Living
A tie between this and the Yugen album for Brain-Melting Complexity of the Year Award! Marvellous stuff.

*Seven Impale - Contrapasso
Seven Impale are a band I have been reviewing and generally bigging up on this blog since the tentative beginnings of their Beginning/Relieve EP back in 2013, through to a review of their debut long player City Of The Sun, and concluding  with an interview with the Viking prog warriors the same year. I am happy to hand over the flaming torch of publicity to others, who delight in discovering this band, now all grown up, but still snotty, and definitely beligerent. These Norwegian heavy proggers have now escaped the chrysalis of their rather obvious influences and now hammer the anvil with their own gloriously fine racket. Some folk call this "mad"...they really have no idea! My mate Shawn D says "When this band sounds like amplified earth-moving equipment they've hit the sweet spot", and I couldn't put it better myself.

Griot - Gerald
Stylistically many-hued duo from Portugal craft a thoroughly modern take on prog, and damn good it is too. The story of "Gerald" as he faces up to some and dodges a few more of life's big questions, for me the English lyrics are secondary to the music that picks its sundry classic prog influences without discrimination, throws them up in the air, and the end result is a "prog" album I actually like! How often does that happen?

Gong - Rejoice, I'm Dead
Is Gong without Daevid Allen "Gong"? Answer - yes it is, as it is with his blessing. Kavus and the boys pick up the mantle with aplomb, encouraged by the ghost of the Pothead Pixie blowing wisps of pungent smoke through the zeros and ones. They are fab live too. Highly recommended.

*Emmett Elvin - Assault on the Tyranny of Reason



Emmett Elvin is a very erudite chap, way too clever for me! He also made one of the best sounding albums of the year, not to mention one of the most adventurous. It ain't Prog, needless to say. Hardly any of this list is, come to think of it.

*Sand - A Sleeper, Just Awake


Sam Healy takes a few turns away from the route laid out by the "dense but light" synth dream-pop-prog doobries of his first solo album as Sand, and delivers this wonderfully uncategorisable melodically crammed lemon drizzle cake of an album, with a subtle nuance of menace lacing the icing. Nom nom...

King Crimson - Radical Action to Unseat the Monkey Mind
This version of King Crimson may not be about to push the envelope anywhere new, heck, they've earned the right to take it home and give it pride of place on the mantelpiece, but they sure know how to reinvent old classics in a new way, which I suppose fits the progressive bill and the music certainly still has plenty of bite. Radical Action... is essentially an expanded version of the Live in Toronto album further up this list, with 5.1 surround sound knobs on. Well, I am a bit of a fan, did you expect me to leave it out?!

Stian Westerhus - Amputation
"Pop music for the diseased" sez I. I was not wrong. This thing is a fearsome beastie.

Martin Archer - Story Tellers
What? An improvisational modern jazz album? Yes, indeedy, and damn good it is too! Comfort zones...who needs 'em?

*Dwiki Dharmawan - Pasar Klewer



A sprawling 100 minute collision of jazz fusion and Indonesian culture makes for a listening experience like no other this year. Marvellous stuff!

*Van der Graaf Generator - Do Not Disturb
Another supposed swangsong, and the best to date from the latest incarnation of the prog veterans. After losing yourself in the wistful melancholy of this record there will not be not a dry eye between your headphones.

Holon - The Time Is Always Now+++


Anything involving Rhys Marsh must be quality in my book, and this most certainly is.

*Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Skeleton Tree
It was inevitable that Nick Cave would eventually use his music - not to mention the album documentary One More Time With Feeling - as catharsis and lay bare his soul for all to see after the tragic death of his son Arthur in 2015. Although most of album was already recorded when the terrible event occurred, several songs were altered to include themes of loss and grief. Not an easy listen, the album continues Cave's development as a songwriter of extraordinary poignancy and resonance, and Skeleton Tree is on a par with Blackstar for emotional impact. Simply stunning.

Sphelm - These Roots Know No Boundaries



If you liked the Sand album, this could be it's slightly folkier cousin...

Opeth - Sorceress
I was inclined to leave this out, as much like their sonic blood brother Steven Wilson, this band make perfectly crafted but oddly clinical and cold rock music. However, despite wearing its influences so prominently in places it is sometimes hard not to laugh, the more one listens the more it seeps in. As if by magic...probably.

Syd Arthur - Apricity
An improvement soundwise on the murky sonic swamp of previous releases was much needed, and thankfully Apricity goes part of the way to redressing the balance, although they still have an inexplicable penchant for levels bouncing in the red which sadly means that this is another harsh listening experience. Three albums in, one can only conclude that the Syd's aural hippo loves to wallow in his sludge, and it is actually a deliberate choice, odd as it seems to these ears. After all that I must praise the enormous bass sound present on Into Eternity that had the ornaments rattling chez moi. This time around the marginally more sympathetic production process at least manages to separate the instrumentation and reveals the Syds at their poppiest yet, but with enough odd meters and key changes to satisfy the proghead. However, this may be the last album of theirs I buy until they have all had their shell-likes thoroughly syringed.

A caveat...I have it on good authority that the vinyl version sounds just fine. I remain to be convinced.

Jack O'The Clock - Repetitions of the Old City - I
The American relations of North Sea Radio Orchestra, Knifeworld, et al. These bands are forging a new sound. I have yet to fully absorb this album but it grows on each listen.

David Crosby - Lighthouse
For a 75-year old man who has for a large part of his life been a lover and liver of the rock'n'roll lifestyle, David Crosby is thankfully in remarkably good shape, and this naturally reflective album shows he still retains his lifelong knack for evocative song writing.

The Sea Nymphs - On The Dry Land
If Syd had written sea shanties they may have sounded like some of this album. The rest of it is "like Mantovani on drugs", and that's only the start of it. Tim Smith's return to any kind of work has been much anticipated and this fine aquatically obsessed Cardiacs offshoot's unearthed and hitherto unissued and now tweaked second album from almost 25 years ago does not disappoint. Apparently there may be enough unused material for a third outing...bring it on!

Gösta Berlings Saga - Sersophane
And last but never least is this intensely heavy and hypnotic Swedish instrumental band with their new album. One more that needs more listening to before putting virtual pen to virtual paper, but it's made a good first impression.

...

Best re-releases/archival releases:

The Bevis Frond - New River Head
This Bevis Frond double album originally released in 1991 is a career highlight of a great acid-fried guitar player and songwriter, covering as it does many stlyes with aplomb, and it is my re-release of the year.

Uriah Heep - Salisbury
Claiming inspiration from the yawn inducing Deep Purple failure Concerto for Group and Orchestra, Ken Hensley takes the lumpen Londoners on a trip to early prog Valhalla with the sprawling title track to this barnstorming album from the very dawn of my lifelong music obssession. Unlike the Purps plodding pudding, Salisbury the track works wonders and then some. Occupying over 16 minutes of side two, Salisbury contains a long and blistering Mick Box solo, a dazzling display only later bettered by his scorched Earth fretwork on The Magician's Birthday. The songs on side one are none too shabby either.

Other archival stuff:

I didn't buy that many re-releases this year, and the ones I got sent for review while mostly very good could hardly be called essential. The two most obvious contenders in the re-release category, namely Jethro Tull's Stand Up and Yes's Tales From Topographic Oceans have never rated high enough on my must-have-o-meter to merit buying again. I have the Tull album on pristine original vinyl, and I bought the Yes album-and-a-bit and a lot of filler the last time it was remastered, thank you very much.

Nostalgia is the only thing that pays in music industry these days, and I don't know who's more worthy of ire - the bands, the labels or the punters. I suppose pension plans in the conventional sense are about as rare in the rock world as a Steve Hackett guest appearance on a new prog album is commonplace, so we'll leave the bands out of it. Apart from Pink Floyd that is, who can't actually need the money. The well trousered Cambridge boys continue to be the unsurpassed masters of parting the 50-60 somethings from their obviously overstuffed wallets with that overgrown shoebox aka The Early Years. Apart from anything else, where the feck do you store such an ugly monstrosity? The trimmed down double CD of highlights may well be worth a punt though, he says grudgingly.

2015 Albums That Got Away:

Homunculus Res - Come si deventa cix che si era, Big Hogg - Big Hogg, GRICE - Alexandrine, Slivovitz - All You Can Eat...and

John Grant - Grey Tickles, Black Pressure
This man knows how to bear a grudge...three albums in and he's still making a "Voodoo Doll" of the unfortunate ex-lover! Encompassing forlorn ballads, torch songs, moody introspection countered by plenty of full-on pop-funk electronica, Grant lays his acerbic wit on with a switchblade. Underneath the unremarkable exterior of the CD cover lies the most gruesome inner album shots I've seen this year, which much like the man himself, reveals a green-eyed monster with bloodlust lurking not far beneath the Mr Everyman surface. Sharp as a slice of lime.

Dawn of Midi - Dysnomia



Electronic dance/trance music played on acoustic instruments...no, really! The discipline in the playing has to heard to be believed!

Gig of the Year:

Circumstances conspired with the result that my gig attendance seemed to take half the year to get out of first gear, but Magma at the Cafe OTO in Dalston, London on September 27th was a superb night out, as was Billy Bottle & The Multiple, again in That London, on November 20th.

Hype Of The Year:

Dream Theater - The Astonishing
You heard it was on its way far too early on, you heard about nothing else for weeks when it arrived, and it hung around forever afterwards like an unpleasant fart the morning after a particularly debilitating curry. A "steaming pile of faux thespian nonsense" sez moi at the time...yep, that'll do.
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If you're reading this bit, then I congratulate you on your stamina...unless you've skim-read it all, ye lazy fecker!

Whatever the arbitrary temporal delineation otherwise known as 2017 dumps on us all, may your world be fluffy and lovely. Happy Holidays! :)

The Best of Years Gone By:
2015
2014
2013
2012
2011
2010

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Martin Archer - Story Tellers

First off - cards on the table. Where jazz is concerned I am no more than a dilettante. I am familiar with the obvious jazz musicians who crossed over into rock in the mid to late 60s and kick started fusion, and the more well known names like Mingus and Coltrane, and of course with Miles Davis, whose musical genius extends far beyond the jazz base camp, a genre that underwent seismic shifts as a direct result of Miles' innovations on more than one occasion.

That said it has been a pleasure partaking of a crash course into Martin Archer's long held improvisational inspiration, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), a collective of Chicago based jazz musicians formed in 1965 to explore new ways and means of composition to counter the rise of pop and rock that back then was threatening the very existence of their musical raison d'etre. My whirlwind tour of the Windy City's finest concentrated specifically on the three musicians Martin lists in tribute in the cover notes to this fine double CD, namely pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell, and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith. Abrams' Young At Heart/Wise In Time is astonishing....must spend some more time in that universe when I have the time.

Martin has released numerous albums wearing different hats, among which are the explorer of the songform with Julie Tippetts, fabulous and massive Deutschrock improv with Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere, and wayward avant electronica with Inclusion Principle, to name but three, but on Story Tellers he returns to his true home, that of composer, arranger and player of reed instruments in a semi-improvised jazz band setting.


Story Tellers is played by a sextet, the double CD comprising six long suites, or "Books", each approximately 20 minutes long, and each with linking themes to create one long cycle. The six Books are divided into five or six Chapters, through which the common themes evolve. Within each Book, "each "Story Teller" has their own solo Chapter...and each of these individual themes are also combined in different pairs with additional textural material and improvisation models to form more Chapters...Some Books end with a Shaman Drone; others have an individual coda as a fifth Chapter." Martin describes all this in the cover notes as a "simple" idea! Well, he may say that, I couldn't possibly comment.

Improvisations on the common theme, rhythmic sections and duets link around a basic structure that gives free reign to all the individual players' not inconsiderable skills. With my knowledge of this area of jazz music being about as deep as the President Elect's intellect, I therefore confess that any insight I may be able to give is and can only be, impressionistic. Ah...that's a good word, this music transfers from the steam powered hi-fi's speakers to this listener as an aural impressionist painting, a place where the ground is constantly shifting and nothing is quite as solid as it may seem.

I particularly dig the odd staccato rhythms of the Like It Is (and Was or Will Be) sections, as it flirts with conventional tuneage in an impish fashion. Another highlight is the minimalist conversation between flute, sax, and later numerous percussion items on the band version of The Barbarian, that ramps up the intensity during a clattering and fraught Shaman Song #2, a piece that ends in a calm medative state, many miles from its cacophonous beginnings. Much like the album as a whole, where you end is not where you begin, but a river runs through it.

The twists and turns continue into Book 4, as Anton Hunter's abstract guitar pushes the raft away from the shore, soon to be joined by tribal drums and sonorous reeds for Like It Was as the ensemble revisit the by now familiar theme, from yet another angle. The transition from the intensive sax parping of Story Tellers #5 to the bass rumble of Like It Will Be moves the listener from one small room to a wide open space of avant-rock expansiveness. You may guess that the Like It... chapters are my personal sonic centres on this album, as they connect most easily to my rockist sensibilities. If there are any jazzers reading this, I make no apologies! Anton Hunter's treated guitar prowls, grumbles, screeches and snarls while drummer and percussionist Peter Fairclough, who may well be the true star of this ensemble, lays down a devilishly blue shuffle that leads proceedings from A to B via deep caverns and dirty ginnels, before taking his own brief solo spotlight with some deft runs and fills on The Wayfarer's Bastard. Just what the doctor ordered!

In the final book, the thrum of the band version of The Wounded Healer rides tumultuous waves before a rare gap in proceedings into Anton Hunter's solo spot, which commences in a considered manner, tension rising incrementally on echoed single notes. Then The Casuist returns to the simple theme, pursued by demons cackling away on percussion and guitar, all the while the sax admirably sticking to its guns. A suitable way to end before the final dedication, this time to Roscoe Mitchell, Martin Archer blowing and bowing out on a smoky blues.

This has been a fascinating trip, and for me an education, and music does not get much better than that.

Tracklist:
CD1

Book 1 - The River Follower
i Story Tellers #1 (1:22)
ii Like It Is (7:00)
iii The River Follower - solo Corey Mwamba (1:33)
iv The Casuist - band version (8:11)
v Shaman Song #1 (7:52)

Book 2 - The Barbarian
i Story Tellers #2 (4:00)
ii Go Heavy (5:05)
iii The Barbarian - solo Kim Macari Stone-Lonegran (3:43)
iv The Wayfarer's Bastard - band version (7:55)
v Dedication Coda - Muhal's Way (2:53)

Book 3 - The Wounded Healer
i Story Tellers #3 (2:14)
ii Like It Is (remix) (3:10)
iii The Wounded Healer - solo Mick Somerset (7:17)
iv The Barbarian - band version (7:32)
v Shaman Song #2 (9:51)

Total running time (75:57)

CD2

Book 4 - The Casuist
i Story Tellers #4 (2:09)
ii Like It Was (5:330
iii The Casuist - solo Martin Archer (3:49)
iv The River Follower - band version (6:04)
v Dedication coda - Leo's Dream (5:41)

Book 5 - The Wayfarer's Bastard
i Story Tellers #5 (4:53)
ii Like It Will Be (8:08)
iii The Wayfarer's Bastard - solo Peter Fairclough (1:55)
iv The Rain Maker - band version
v Shaman Song #3 (10:13)

Book 6 - The Rain Maker
i Story Tellers #6 (4:16)
ii Time Twist (3:53)
iii The Wounded Healer - band version (5:00)
iv The Rain Maker - solo Anton Hunter (3:35)
v The Casuist (exit, pursued by demons) (3:34)
vi Dedication Coda - Roscoe's Blues (2:22)

Total running time (79:12)

Line up:
Martin Archer – The Casuist - alto, sopranino and baritone saxophones, bass clarinet, bass recorder, flute (B7 only), shaker, chimes, loops & electronics

Mick Somerset – The Wounded Healer - C, alto, bass, meditation, geisha and drone flutes, chalumeau and bass clarinets, shawm, shruti boxes, shaman drums, bells, rattles, gongs, trine, jews harp

Kim Macari Stone-Lonergan – The Barbarian - trumpet

Corey Mwamba – The River Follower - vibraphone

Anton Hunter – The Rain Maker - guitar and electronics

Peter Fairclough – The Wayfarer’s Bastard - drums and percussion

Links:
BUY HERE - Discus Music

Martin Archer - A man following his muse...

Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere - album review


Friday, 14 October 2016

Autumn Roundup - Part Two

Part Two of my rummaging about in the "to do" box...

Virus – Memento Collider

As any collector knows, back in those most fertile of times in the early 70s, buried deep within the German culture bunker that I prefer to term Deutschrock was a freaky acid rock-jazz collective by the name of Virus, who had the benefit of one Konrad Plank at the controls. This modern identically named band bear little musical comparison, but for all that I can detect a definite link to the loose limbed rhythms of classic Deutschrock.

Virus have been extant since 2003 and Memento Collider is the group's fourth album. The songs within are a combination of guitarist Carl-Michael "Czral" Eide’s dissonant chord riffing, Petter "Plenum" Berntsen’s surprisingly melodic bass parts, and Einar "Einz" Sjursø's propulsive elektolurch on the drum kit. Czral is aided in the guitar department by Voivod’s Dan Mongrain making a guest appearance.

Czral also sings in a similar portentous style to Pete Murphy, lending an inevitably air Gothic to proceedings. However the real star on this rather fine and very alt record is drummer Einz whose flailing rhythms are the thing that keeps this Virus infectious.

Virus are  a part of the growing stable of Norwegian label Karisma Records, who are carving quite a name for themselves on the prow of their longship, with acts such as the fabulous Seven Impale, Airbag, Magic Pie, and others.

Virus Bandcamp

Karisma Records


TRAM - TRAM

This album came as part of a slim package from that home for stray north western stoners, the aptly named Stone Premonitions label. There was no PR sheet and the cover gives very little away, but if that's not John Simms' guitar then my ears are in a worse state than I thought. The singer has to be to be Tim Jones too, so this sounds like it's the fabulously wiggy Census of Hallucinations under another name.

The music is mostly fairly languid, featuring much acidic guitar and drifting synthscapes with occasional bubbling pulse beats and noises off. Well trippy in fact...

Unfortunately neither band nor label appear to have a Bandcamp or Soundcloud page, and I can't even find a YouTube clip, so no samples.

Stone Premonitions


Kevin Heard - Cydonia

One piece of info on the card cover of the TRAM promo CD was that the fab sleeve was designed by one Kevin Heard, who it turns out is a musical polymath. On this solo album he plays everything from flutes, saxes, guitars to synths, electronica and various percussion as well as signing, designing the cover, and writing and producing and engineering the thing. I hope someone made him a cup of tea now and again.

What comes out of the glorious stew of instrumentation is a well-crafted space opera with high production values that belies its DIY "bedroom" origins. With nods to Charisma-era Hawkwind and Sendelica the opening rocker of a title track flies by at warp factor 5, changing down the gears to drift idly by on the following Kingdom Come. With many "mission control" snippets between the tracks, this is a fun ride into deep space, exploring many different grooves on the way, from the rocking Cydonia to the space dust whimsical funk of Ice On The Pyramids to the space pop of Under Blood Red Sands, Kevin Heard proves that this pony knows much more than just the one trick.

Another fine shiny piece of plastic from the Stone Premonitions stable, who really should get themselves a Bandcamp page, but at least Kevin has put a few tracks up on YouTube...


Facebook

Stone Premonitions


Gary Lucas & Jann Klose - Stereopticon

I picked this up having appreciated ex-Beefheart guitarist Gary Lucas' collaboration with Peter Hammill, Other World, from 2014. Suffice to say this album with singer Jann Klose, who among many other things was the voice of Tim Buckley in the film Greetings From Tim Buckley is as different as can be, but hey, my taste is nothing if not catholic. A collection of acoustic songs occasionally featuring close harmony singing, and drawing on Americana, this is a charmer of an album, and to be honest, I'm sorry I've let it slip by - I received it in February!

Downhome and with a warm heart, it is easy to get lost in Stereopticon's welcoming arms after a hard day at the computerface. And, it's as far from Prog as can be, so what's not to like?


Website


Ashley Reaks - If I Hadn't Become An Artist And A Musician I Would Have Been A Serial Killer Or Killed Myself

Quite...

Ashley Reaks the artist makes strangely unsettling and uncompromising collages usually featuring cartoon depictions of various sexual practices featuring our glorious rulers in sundry states of debauchery.

Ashley Reaks the musician makes albums that take inspiration from classic pop, ska, reggae, and punk where the music is in innocuous and complete contrast to the stark lyrics that narrate various ill-begotten strains of the lives of the disenfranchised, all for your enjoyment. For his sins he is cursed with supporting Sunderland AFC, but we all have our crosses to bear.

Assisted by a full band and the complimentary tones of Maria Jardardottir, the music makes this pleasantly listenable but if you listen too closely the lyrics will
deliver a sucker punch to your conscience. Oddly, it works!

Bandcamp

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Autumn Roundup - Part One

In this wunnerful whorl of reviewing, one struggles to come up for air as wave upon wave of new music is delivered to your inbox, or in rarer cases now, your physical mailbox. Inevitably due to the constraints of available time some releases become sidelined. Whether this happens intentionally or not, a sense of duty brings me to this, the first time I have attempted a roundup of those poor waifs and strays that have fallen by the wayside. Herein may be that lost gem you are searching for, or it could just all be entirely forgettable. That is for you to judge, but to assist these be my thunks on the matter...

The task in front of me will start with actual physical releases as the labels or bands concerned have gone to the expense of having a shiny disc made and posted to me, so first up is:

Meson - 5c4l3

A release on Martin Archer's Discus Music of itself indicates experimentalism and no truck with conventionality, and this one is most decidedly an oddity.

Bo Meson gives his name, itself derived from particle physics, to the improvisational collective Meson. Bo is described as "...a metaphysicist whose poetic musings reinvigorate those around him."  "His constantly evolving and apparently self-contradictory world view..." informs lyrics which "...are inspired by both mundane and celestial issues of scale, ethics and dogma" "With Bo, what seems simple is often complex and the difficult is as easy as 1, ב, ξ."

What we end up with is an improvised inner and outer space opera with Mr Meson declaiming portentously on top, not afraid to lapse into semi-pretentious prose. One feels that criticism of his esoteric style is mere space dust off the cosmic duck's back. In places this reminds me of the also singularly driven NYC-based poet-cum-band leader Copernicus, but with a far more avant outlook.

kem-na mazda features what one assumes is Bo (actually Wolfgang Seel, says Martin) singing in a rather fine baritone that somehow lends an almost religious air to the track, He also uses a female lead voice  - possibly the beguiling frostlake (it is, says Martin)- for some of the recitals, and a chorus of voices here and there make for a multi-dimensional vocal melange, thoroughly in keeping with the rarefied intellectual subject matter. Musically this album rises and falls on waves of cosmic radiation, attaining a quality akin to a Deutschrock version of Hawkwind. Violins, synths, reeds, electronic treatments and standard rock instruments from a cast of 14 combine with Bo Meson's distinctive words for an atmospheric but highly unusual whole.

Discus Music

Listen & Buy HERE


Inclusion Principle - Third Opening

Another CD from Discus Music, Inclusion Principle are a trio comprising a myriad of electronics, found sounds, laptops, keyboards, reeds, drums and percussion. They make minimalistic experimental music focussing on incremental change and micro-detail, often ruptured by noises off and rhythmic shifts, both humanly and electronically generated.

This strange hybrid produces a world where the space is as important as what fills it. Oddly hypnotic, but far from meditative, Third Opening maintains the Discus tradition of sprawling double albums where time ceases to have meaning. The oft used electric piano and the nature of the beats puts this album firmly in a nu-jazz bracket, a pigeonhole that seems to me to have no boundaries, and is therefore more than fitting in this case.

Third Opening is described aptly on the PR sheet as "CD A - mainly abstract, some rhythms. CD B - mainly rhythm, some abstraction." Definitely one for the adventurous among you!

Discus Music

Bandcamp

Listen & Buy HERE


Vasil Hadzimanov Band featuring David Binney - Alive

A name virtually unknown outside of the countries that were formerly known as Yugoslavia, and their immediate neighbours, pianist and keyboard player Vasil Hadzimanov has a strong musical heritage, and has played with David Gilmore and Nigel Kennedy, to name but two of a long list from his CV.

With the addition of saxophonist David Binney, Vasil and his band, consisting of guitar, bass, drums, much percussion, and occasional wordless vocals, turn in a consummate performance of ethnic-flavoured jazz fusion recorded on a Serbian tour in 2014 in front of an appreciative audience.

This is the band's sixth album, which explains why they are well rehearsed, but in a genre which is prone to such things, they are never sterile or flash for the sake of it. Vasil's synth work on Zulu alone is a delight, and all in all this album is a good listen.

MoonJune Records

Bandcamp


Zombie Picnic - A Suburb of Earth

A while after I reviewed his rather fine acid-folk offering The Ranger & The Cleric, Irish guitarist and composer Jim Griffin sent me a CD of his band's latest waxing A Suburb of Earth which turns out to be a melodic acid rock extravaganza of some merit. In places Jim's guitar has a similar melodic quality akin to that of Eric Bell during his Thin Lizzy days, and opening track The B141 Frequency uses Jim's expressive style to good effect. Intermittently spacey and occasionally garagey, The Adamite Bomb lights up a big one before getting on the charabanc...and so she blows, and so she blows...

Occasional voiceovers invoke beat poets and sci-fi writers as the the music takes the well-used cosmic bus to the terminus over four long but not excessive tracks, giving the band time to stretch out. No envelopes were pushed during the making of this record, but after the first two albums in this article, that can be a blessing!

Bandcamp
...

That's it for now...more to come...

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Dennis Rea Tanabata Ensemble - Black River Transect

Dennis Rea is a guitarist and musical free spirit who resides on the north western edge of the USA up there in Seattle where he is a well known presence in that far-flung city's left field music scene.

In the past I have ventured deep into the densely populated hinterland of Dennis' musical legacy, a never less than interesting journey that has spotlighted some real musical gems, the common thread being a quest for new and innovative ways of expression.

The latest chapter is Black River Transect, an intriguing album of stark contrasts, recorded live in Seattle's Chapel Performance Space on two different dates in 2013, by Dennis' Tanabata Ensemble.

The opening four tracks where recorded on 25th February of that year, and the album opens with the lovely and romantic piece ASJ (septet), named for Dennis' life partner Anne Smith Joiner. The gentle and cosseting opening tune is in full contrast to the guided improvisation of the title track that follows, which opens with the unsettling airs of a didjeridoo, accompanied by odd sounds with a likeness to a barking wild dog, and later something akin to a distressed elephant, and of course Dennis' steely sharp guitar, sustained on scything notes that gradually up the ante to arrive at a rhythmic cacophony deep in the jungle. A transect is "a straight line or narrow section through an object..." and the schism between ASJ (septet) and Black River Transect illustrate that perfectly.

The line is re-crossed for the lilting but edgy Swaylone's Island, Dennis' keening guitar melody leading the ensemble in a slow waltz across glowing embers. We return to improvisation for Harmoniker, a guided piece during which "each improviser played only those scale degrees that occurred within the spelling of their name; e.g., Beth Fleenor = B, E, F." Good job the band were not of Polish origin, eh? Joking aside this is an intriguing piece that is as different from the coruscating improv of title track as can be, slowly revealing a sense in the madness, before becoming loud and righteous in its final section.

The final track was recorded later in 2013, on 6th July, and features Dennis' colleague in the marvellous furious-prog instrumental band Moraine, James DeJoie, who arranges a "trombone choir" in an extended and beautiful "slight return" to the theme of the opening track. 

Unfortunately I cannot find any samples to link to, so this is just like one of those reviews from the pre-internet daze...you'll just have to take my word for it!

Bookending an album of typically single-minded experimentation merged with composition, Dennis Rea has made a musical sandwich with a highly unusual filling that is neither "jazz" nor "avant" nor indeed any convenient post-hole, but stands on its own, just like the rest of his singularly individualistic canon. Most definitely one for the adventurous!

Tracklist:
1. ASJ (septet)
2. Black River Transect (for Princess Angeline)*
3. Swaylone’s Island
4. Harmoniker 
5. ASJ (trombone choir) 

Line up:
Tracks 1-4:
Dennis Rea – guitar
Stuart Dempster – trombone, didgeridu
James DeJoie – bass clarinet
Beth Fleenor – clarinet
Kate Olson – soprano saxophone
John Seman – double bass
Tom Zgonc – drums

Track 5:
Dennis Rea – guitar
Kate Olson – soprano saxophone
John Seman – double bass
Paul Kikuchi – drums
Trombone choir: Sara Mayo (alto trombone); Stuart Dempster, Moc Escobedo, Masa Ohtake, Naomi Siegel (tenor trombones); Steve Harreld, Jen Hinkle, Chad Kirby, Greg Powers (bass trombones); Benn Hansson (contrabass trombone)

Links & Info:

I have scribbled various articles about the works of Dennis Rea in the past, type his name in the search box at the top of the page, and take your pick! Essentially though, you should at least have a gander at his vast discography, my overview of which can be found HERE.


* From Dennis' notes: 

The title invokes the vanished Black River that once drained Lake Washington from its southern end into Elliott Bay in the Salish Sea, before the excavation of the Ship Canal in north Seattle lowered the level of the lake and left this once-vital transportation corridor and its Native villages nothing but a memory. The track’s dedicatee, “Princess Angeline” (Kikisoblu), was the daughter of Chief Sealth; she spent much of her life in a hovel on the tide flats where, like her dispossessed people in general, she was subjected to callous indignities by the fast-growing city’s residents.

**Adendum 4th October 2016
Dennis has informed me that snippets of the tracks from the album can be listened to on Amazon, iTunes, etc.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

The Courage Of Others

You know me, I don't particularly like Prog, a style of rock music that rather than move on from its roots regularly exhumes the corpse to take it on yet another Bryden Two Step into the dance hall of nostalgia...or summat.

Apart from its musical museum curating, another problem with Prog are its lyrics, which for the most part delight in telling us in oft repeated ways how shit everything is...really? I had no idea..., mixed with a generous helping of "woe is me". There are exceptions to this rule of course, which would seem to apply to prog metal more than anything else. Modern prog lyrics also shy away from anything directly political, preferring to remain in the field of personal politics, or occasionally making vague ironic generalisations along the lines of "We don't need no educashun". Not that Floyd were a Prog band anyway, but that's another discussion.

For a long time now, one of the bands that seem to me to epitomise this ginnel for backward looking navel gazers is The Tangent, a group mysteriously revered by men (and a few ladies) of a certain age. To them, their leader Andy Tillison can do no wrong, and the comment "Tillison is God" has cropped up in many a forum and YouTube thread over the years.

I've had a few run-ins with Tangent fans and indeed Mr Tillison in the past, but as often occurs, the man at the centre of this turns out to be a decent chap, for Andy is a bloke whose worldview is from the heart, and his taste in music is almost as good as mine! When I heard recently that he had unleashed yet another twenty-minute epic on the world, although obviously it was good to see him fully active again after his health problems, I inwardly groaned...o gawd, not another one, I thought.


And there it is, A Few Steps Down The Wrong Road in all its glory.

Mr T's lyrics have often ventured into social commentary in the past, sometimes more successfully than others, but I don't want to drag up that album again. However with this new one he goes for the jugular in the manner of the old punk rocker he really is with an outpouring of justified righteous anger that burns down post-Brexit Britain like an unstoppable flow of molten lava. Yes, some of his arguments are over-simplified, but this is Yorkie plain speaking, telling it straight like Boycott minus the grating irritation factor. What Andy venomously spits out, looking uncannily like an unhinged Arthur Brown in the video all needs saying, and it is 100% spot on. I have not heard a prog rock song this angry since...ever? There was a moment just before Gustav Holst's Thaxted is wrung out of Luke Machin's guitar, when Andy's rising tide of anger and frustration at his fellow Brits' calamitous decision on 23rd June hits an emotive crescendo that made me well up, and sent a shiver down my spine. I never in a million years suspected that anything by The Tangent would be remotely capable of getting that reaction from the cynical old bugger that is yours truly. Knock me dahn wiv a fevver, Clevor Trevor!

The music is almost secondary, painting a fine canvas, with the reed blowing of Theo Travis being a particular highlight. In typical overblown Tangent fashion this epic probably would have worked better as two songs as there is a natural split not long after the Thaxted section. Frankly though, that criticism is irrelevant, as Andy Tillison has written a lyric that will send ripples out across the Progpond for many a week to come. There has already been some averse reaction from conservative-minded fans saying he should leave the overt politics alone, and that they have no place in Prog, or that it makes them feel "uncomfortable", poor lambs. Bollocks say I, all good art, let alone music, takes risks in dark times to expose the heavy manners it was created under, otherwise an anodyne bland Hell awaits.

All good art also requires an open mind to enable its creation, and frankly I have never understood how anyone who purports to be a lover of art, in this case music, can have a closed and conservative (big and/or little "c" optional) mindset, thus leading to the kind of criticism mentioned. You may not agree with the politics (boo to you!) but surely you can only admire the heart-on-sleeve honesty? This song is a courageous move by Andy Tillison, and I salute his bravery, flying in the face of the cosseted outlook of a lot of his own fans. More power to him, I say!

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Pulling Fish Through Grandma's Eyes

Lunch, day two of Inglund's Test Match at the crickball against Paraguay, and Inglund were holding up rather well against the long feared world beaters at the intricate game, as fortunately Paraguay's propensity for conjuring reverse swing in 19/8 time on any surface you care to imagine had yet to rear its maniacally grinning head.

Jonners Agnew is in the talkbox, once more regaling us all with his lifelong post-Gabriel Genesis and Phil Collins obsession, flummoxing his listeners with reams of useless information pertaining to the once all-conquering purveyors of pop-prog for Sunday golfers and upmarket car salesmen. Joining him is Archjook Geff'ry Boycs, ex-crickballist and pugilistic student of cutting edge avant garde progressive music. Back in the 14th century Duke Geff'ry legendarily held onto his wicket throughout the entire course of the Six Week War, scoring a mere 57 rounders in the time, until Sire Iron Broth lost his by then tenuous grip on patience, and had Boycs run over by a groundsman with a roller. No-one cared that this was strictly illegal as Boycs was mightily pissing off everyone, thus laying the ground for a career invoking unreasonable irritation in even the most mild-mannered of peasants up and down the land. As we know to our cost this continued after he retired from the game, with his ongoing and seemingly endless stint in the talkbox. These days Boycs maintains his knack of annoying those of a reasonable dispostion, as his grating natter is now into its 67th season, and shows no signs of stopping. Mind you, he knows his minimalist avant-funk, amongst other wilfully obscure musical ginnels.

Jonners: Good Morning to you Geff'ry, how are are you on this fine sunny day?

Boycs: Ah'm grand. Ma dad used to work six days a week down t'pit tha knows, so ah'm grand. And tha can stop thy blather about Genesis, they split up centuries ago. There's some reet proper music being made by folk who still function, and it's about time tha was educated.

Jonners: Whoever you are referring to are not popular, are they? They have not had megatastic hits of such splendiferousness as Invisible Crutch, or Cheesy Lover, or Ps-ps-pseudio, or...

Boycs: Oh do shut up Jonners. It's our job to put bums on seats, and ah knows you were one of those intolerant johnny-come-lately dolts throwing furniture at Devo at Knobwerth in 1978. Ah recommend the new album by that Colin Robinson fella. He's from ma neck o' t'woods, although ah'm none too sure about all those arty anarcho-hippy types who live up thar in 'Ebden Bridge, 'appen. Jumble Hole Clough is name o' t'band and Bela Lugosi's Dad is name o' t'album.

Jonners: Are they anything like Genesis, then?

Boycs: Aye, well, is David Steele like Viv Richards? They both played crickball. Imagine another band from God's Own County, them Gang of Four chaps, mek 'em stop being gloomy buggers and hide their trenchcoats and well-thumbed copies of Das Kapital, and you'd be absolutely nowhere near, as Jumble Hole Clough also dabble in fragile ambience inspired by their lovely locale.

Jonners: Gang of who?

Boycs: Ah'm sorry, but you av to tell it straight. That is simply not good enough. In ma day the captain would av you up against the lockers for ignorance like that. By 'eck you mek me feel reet old. Now then lad, this is going to take a while, let's start again.

Jonners: (Giggling) Did you know I've just bought a second home by the sea?

Boycs: How old are you? Twelve? Pay attention son, you might learn something. This Robinson chap must be some sort of socialist, he releases all his music for nowt. Not a bean. Now, tha knows me, ah'm no fan them socialist types. Only t'other day ah was moaning about why can't ah get my groceries delivered at two in the morning. If there's a market for it, it should be provided for, ah reckon. Ah'm sure some nice Polish fella'd be up for it. Anyway, this Robinson chap, he's very prolific, ah can't keep up with him. But while we're at lunch ah thought ah'd mention his new album as it's nay bad at all. Ah never realised...or ah forgot, ah'm not as young as thee...but Bela Lugosi's Dad has some proper songs. Aye, that means lyrics, and reet bloody surreal they are too:

"53 men, huddled in the hall 
To all intents and purposes, there’s no-one there at all 
Just a little up the road, that’s where it will end. 
Forgotten men around the bend 

Get the mucus moving"

Tha's from a snappily titled tune called A cardboard box containing my mother's hair.

Jonners: That makes no sense at all...

Boycs: Spot on...'appen that's the point son. It means whatever you want it to. You should see Sailing with me on the Zuider Zee. Insanely catchy and quite nonsensical, it'll get tha singing in the shower.


Jonners: I can't imagine you singing. Shouting, yes, but not singing.

Boycs: Tha cheeky young whippersnapper. I'll have thee know ah was in t'school choir.

Jonners: I'll bet you unintentionally slowed the beat down. Or deliberately, come to think of it.

Boycs: Ah avn't come here to be insulted...

All: Oh yes you have, that's why we pay you!

....

Tracklist:
1. I reached into the chimney and pulled out a sewing machine (25th October 1415) (5:03)
2. A cardboard box containing my mother's hair (3:20)
3. Abandoned Lunch Invokes State Of Nirvana (3:21)
4. Twilight of The Mods (3:23)
5. En prélude à une entorse au poignet (6:34)
6. Henry is still missing (4:21)
7. Ikarus preparing to leave the Great Synagogue (4:10)
8. Mother surrounded by silence (2:22)
9. Neglected Crazy Golf Course (3:51)
10. Rain / train / aeroplane (2:05)
11. Wedding car outside a chip shop in Halifax (3:04)
12. Sailing with me on the Zuider Zee (2:33)

Line up:
All songs written, played, recorded and produced by Colin Robinson, with:
Richard Knutson - microKorg (track 1)
Liam Robinson - electric double bass and bass guitar (tracks 2,4 and 12)

Links:
Jumble Hole Clough Bandcamp


Monday, 1 August 2016

BBC Proms 2016 - David Bowie

Opening with Warszawa was a smart move, as it is probably Bowie's most symphonic piece, and segueing into the atonal chug of Station To Station seemed only natural. The vocals were led by Neil Hannon who was giving it his best Thin White Duke impression, ably abetted by Amanda Palmer.
Bowie was one for never doing the obvious,  and looking down on the increasingly surreal world he has left behind, can only have approved of the scope and daring of this secular celebration of his musical legacy.

A percussive arrangement of Life On Mars was fronted by a typically full on Marc Almond, the drama of song and singer being a perfect fit. Anna Calvi put Lady Grinning Soul firmly in the Berlin cabaret with a portentous arrangement from the orchestra that was my favourite interpretation of the concert. She ended it with some cacophonous slide work on her Telecaster. Marvellous stuff!

Other successes were Conor O'Brien giving a heartfelt and soulful performance of The Man Who Sold The World, Paul Buchanan's querulous AshesTo Ashes, and John Cale's suitably avant Valentine's Day. Cale and Calvi got together for Sorrow, but it was more like a rock band backed by some strings and seemed rather out of place, even though Calvi in particular made a marvellous racket!

The expansive and anthemic pop of Heroes perhaps did not work so well, although ultimately the strength of Amanda Palmer's delivery won the day. A lot has been said about Marc Almond's delivery of Starman. Let's just say it was nowhere near as bad as I was expecting given some of the more barbed comments I have seen. He might have got a bit carried away, but he never has been quite on the note, has he? Bless him.

The only way to take on songs as recognisable as these is to reinvent, and of course the chamber orchestra takes it halfway there, it then becomes the task of the singer to complete the remodeling. Most of the time that was the approach taken, but conversely Laura Mvula's take on Fame stayed faithful and the sound of a chamber orchestra getting funky was a delight.

Laura stayed for the moving Blackstar trilogy, joined by Paul Buchanan and Anna Calvi. These songs are still fresh, so radical reinterpretations are no real shock, more than maintaining the raw emotions of the originals. Amanda Palmer and Anna Calvi channeling Blackstar while both wearing black and crowns of thorns was particularly moving, with a superb arrangement from the orchestra to top it off.

The most adventurous reinterpretation has to be David Lang's complete restructuring of Always Crashing In The Same Car, led by an electric harp and sung in the upper register by classical countertenor Phillipe Jarousky. Quite enthralling I must say.

The large cast assembled for Space Oddity, led by John Cale's iconic baritone, backed by the House Gospel Choir. Despite the numbers on stage it was a tastefully restrained, unhurried, and unusual rearrangement that worked a treat. The entire cast plus the RAH organ assembled for the grand finale of After All, started off by the slightly wayward Marc Almond. A typically unobvious song to end an evening out of left field, just as David Bowie would have liked. The celebration ended with a crowd singalong to Let's Dance, proving it wasn't all high art.

Overall the concert was an undoubted artistic success, as long as it was approached with an open mind, which is exactly what is needed where any format of progressive music is concerned, as this Proms certainly was. Mr Jones would have approved...now, please can we have some of the reality back that you seemed to have taken with you when you left our beleaguered planet?

Monday, 18 July 2016

Markus Reuter - Fool In Music

Markus Reuter is a name you may have heard of, but likely as not, you haven't. Those of you to whom the name is unfamiliar are in for a treat, as Markus Reuter is one of the most innovative musicians of our time, and has played with many, many people, and composed hundreds of pieces of music. His favoured instrument is nominally the touch guitar, but that is only the start of it. Markus has extracted noises out of his various stringed instruments via all kinds of manipulations and in tandem with varied exotic electronica, that those of us musically challenged twangers who barely got beyond 12-bar blooze have nary the capacity to even dream of.

Those of you who are familiar with the name will, like me initially, probably know him as a member of Stick Men, where he plays the studious foil to founder members Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto's more animated presence, and on this compilation his trusty touch guitar never seems too far from the picture.

What really grabbed my attention was catching Markus' documentary on the recording of his modern classical tone piece Todmorden 513. The documentary was broadcast a few years ago on BBC4, and is a captivating if understated film, rather in tune with Markus' low-key personality, telling the story of a truly fascinating piece of music, composed for a full orchestra by our unassuming hero.



Here's the full documentary...well worth watching, save it for later!

Sorry, got slightly sidetracked there for a moment! The point of this article is Fool In Music, which is a two and a half hour long career-spanning compilation, naturally including one of the movements of Todmorden 513. Everything on this compilation is a delight to listen to, and all facets of Markus' many-sided musical personality are revealed. Beginning with the Rypdalesque creeping black wash of ambience that is Mundo Nuevo, Part 2 from the titular album of collaborative soundcscapes released last year, we are taken on a journey guided by the satnav of Markus' never obvious muse into strange but always interesting sonic lands.

Getting the more well known Stick Men in early, this time featuring David Cross, is a good attention-grabbing move. From last year's rather fine Midori live album, the second track on this compilation is the rollicking Hide The Trees, and it tells you everything you need to know about this great band's intuitive chemistry.

In case you were worried that I was going to go through this thing track by track, fear not, I am not that cruel, or of an inkling to write endless Joycean-length sentences in that prosaic reviewing style, you will no doubt be pleased to hear! No, suffice to say in summary that everything between the two opposite poles of those first two tracks is present and correct on Fool In Music. I will however make honourable mentions for a few highlights, which in itself is difficult enough as there are no obvious low points to avoid...here goes:

The Inner Voice is from Lee Fletcher's Faith In Worthless Things, a fab album to which Markus contributed a major part of the writing, and on this track we hear his touch guitars doing their thang with aplomb. This tune is a the first of only a handful of fully fledged songs on the compilation, which for the most part is entirely instrumental. This time out, we find Lisa Fletcher's lovely unaffected vocal taking centre stage. If Lee is reading this, please get out from behind that mixing console and make another album!

The Wedding is the first of four tracks by Markus' post-everything electronic experimental band Centrozoon, who first peeked over the horizon in 1999, and who are still occasionally releasing music, their last album being the tumescently titled Boner in 2012, which I have yet to hear. Obstensibly a duo, with Markus' touch guitars and electronic manipulations being joined by fellow German Bernhard Wöstheinrich on synths, electronic percussion and other weird and wonderful effects, Centrozoon have added guests along the way including Tim Bowness, Tobias Reber, and Markus' long-time musical colleague Pat Mastelotto. Pat crops up on numerous offerings on this compilation.

How Things Turned Out, Part 7 is taken from a nine-part rule-based minimalistic improv, and perhaps points the way to Markus' grand opus Todmorden 513. For me the best example of ambient here is Markus' collaboration with Zero Ohms aka Richard Roberts whose "wind-controlled synthesisers & over 50 various flutes, saxes, & other woodwinds" added to Markus' touch guitars and some weird thing called a "recursive accumulation device" create a stately construction of meditative contemplation during the unfolding mystery of Indescribable. This is contrasted completely with the following brief atonal cacophony of Amsterdam. Modus 7, from the superbly named Quartet for The End of Time play out an Escher staircase of strange ascending scales that reaches a plateaux nervous thrumming pent up energy, before carrying on ever upwards.

Colour Vision sees Markus teaming up with renowned alt-electronica figure Ian Boddy, a collaboration that has produced many albums over the years. It is another twist on ambient technique, that unusually features a guitar...that sounds like a guitar. Icily calm and crystalline, it is another dreamscape of seemingly effortless assemblage.

TUNER are Markus and Pat Mastelotto, and they function both as a production team and as a wilfully strange "rock" band, the unsettling rhythmically propelled lurch of Up, Down Forward and Return being yet another compilation highlight. Centrozoon return with the slinky funk of Pop Killer, featuring the last vocal on the album, delivered in typical swoonsome fashion by the unmistakable Tim Bowness.

Most, if not all these tunes seem to come from Markus' more recent output of the last few years, and Velveteen by Nocturne Blue is part of a work in progress, being a song-by-song release as they are individually crowdfunded. Aiming to be completed by 1st October 2016, the album is titled I Came for the Light and Stayed for the Shadows. Nocturne Blue are Markus, Adrian Belew Power Trio bassist Julie Slick and audio-visual artist Dutch Rail. The track itself is an unhurried revelation of serenity, giving one pause for thought.

Ehkor by Namgar is a fusion of traditional Mongolian instrumentation, with Namgar's haunting vocal, married to modern studio techniques. The end result is quite beguiling, and draws inevitable comparisons with Peter Gabriel's "world music" (gawd, I hate that term, how about "Non-Anglo"?) influenced output.

After the atypically heavy Impulse Response by Adrian Benavides, we end where we almost began, in the more familiar terrain of the Stick Men. Despite promising not to do a "track-by-track" dissection, it has been hard omitting anything, as these two and a half hours have flown by, and none of it is wasted time. I have highlighted less than half the album's 28 tracks, but hopefully that has been enough to tempt you to at least follow the link below and give Fool In Music a listen.

Get this FREE compilation of a truly individualistic talent, pick your favourite and buy a download, it's the least Markus Reuter deserves.

Tracklist:
No chance! Go to Bandcamp and get it HERE.

Line up:
Ditto!

Links
Markus Reuter website
Markus Reuter Bandcamp
Centrozoon Bandcamp
Stick Men Bandcamp
Lee Fletcher Bandcamp
Nocturne Blue Bandcamp

Saturday, 25 June 2016

The Bevis Frond - New River Head

At the end of the 1980s I discovered this strange psychedelic rock band called The Bevis Frond. I cannot now remember how or exactly when I came across this fabulous noise, it was the 80s you see. That decade was my version of the old mantra about the 60s "if you can remember them, you weren't there". The Bevis Frond was actually one bloke and a portable studio, at least for the first couple of albums, not that I knew that then. They/he made a noise out of time, transposing 1967 psychedelia with a heavy Hendrix fixation into the modern age with the help of Nick Saloman's world weary lyrics and careworn nasal London intonation. The second album proper Inner Marshlands released in 1987 remains a classic of the psych genre.

By 1991, and by now a proper touring band, the Frond were up to their fifth album, and when you include two additional collections of early and unreleased recordings, this prolific songsmith had released seven albums in four years! With New River Head, the Frond hit creative heights, cramming every imaginable style into four sides of vinyl, from folk influenced tunes featuring violinist Barry Dransfield, to Stoogian punkarama with honking sax, to grungy pop, and angry psych-punk, via full on guitar freakouts, to reflective singer-songwriter fare, and not forgetting a lysergic ambient trip though imaginary landscapes. Those latter lunar undulations feature in the ten minute plus excursion on side three under the title of The Miskatonik Variations II, probably the trippiest thing heard back in 1991 since well before punk broke cover.


Ramalamafafafa...with chips...


The universe in eight minutes...

Producing countless albums and playing hundreds of gigs up to a hiatus in 2004 brought on by the death of his mother, Nick Saloman and his trusty band of cosmic warriors played music that was simultaneously nostalgic for scuzzy late 60s hippy/proto-punk noise, but brought bang up to date with the furious energy of modenistic outsider blues narrated with a drawn out sigh, or a cynical sneer. all played out well below the radar, the preserve of a select few. Consequently, The Bevis Frond have been something of a best kept secret, but with Fire Records ongoing reissue program getting attention in the mainstream music press, hopefully Saloman's rightful place in Rock's Rich Tapestry is now assured with the re-release of New River Head, his most all-encompassing work.

Tracklist:
Side 1
1. White Sun
2. Drowned
3. She's Entitled To
4. Waving
5. Down In The Well
6. New River Head
Side 2
1, Solar Marmalade
2. Wild Jack Hammer
3. He'd Be A Diamond
4. Undertaker
5. Stain On The Sun
Side 3
1. Motherdust
2. Cuvie
3. Thankless Task
4. The Miskatonic Variations II
Side 4
1. It Won't Come Again
2. Blurred Vision
3. Son Of Many Mothers
4. Chinese Burn
5. God Speed You To Earth

This track listing is from my original Woronzow double LP. The tracklisting on the Bandcamp download after the end of "Side 2" is in a different order, and also includes bonus material.

Line up:
Nick Saloman - All instruments, principally guitar, vocals
Martin Crowley - Drums
Cyke Bancroft - Sax, Harp 1.1, 3.4, 4.4
Barry Dransfield - Violin 1.4, 3.3, 3.4
Adrian Shaw - Bass 2.1, 3.4
Bari Watts - Lead guitar 2.2, 3.4, 4.2
David Tibet - Chanting 3.4

Links:
Fire Records Facebook
The Bevis Frond Bandcamp

"I got no point I wish to make. I just wanna be your undertaker"


2017 - A Year In Review

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