Saturday, 18 February 2017

Taylor's Free Universe - Family Shot

"Prog" is a word derived from progressive, so I have always found it somewhat ironic that a lot of prog fans are very conservative in their musical outlook and view anything that wanders even a tad from their comfy parameters with at best suspicion and at worst instant dismissal. A few years ago in the process of reviewing the fine modern fusion album Worn Out by Danish guitarist Robin Taylor's Taylor's Universe, in the course of research - yes, some of us amateur scribblers do actually do that - I stumbled across a dismissive non-review on the prog review site DPRP of an album by the name of Family Shot by the improv extension of Robin's band, Taylor's Free Universe. The review consisted of three words, these being "Noise, not music". That kind of dismissive statement by a cloth eared ignoramus and probable Genesis-clone loving fool only served to pique my interest, but unfortunately I failed to track down the album in question.

Time passed and I developed an online acquaintance with Robin, having gone on to review a few of his many releases, and I mentioned this episode in passing. Robin remembered and sometime last year a package arrived containing the elusive shiny disc of "noise, not music". Wahey...on to the CD player it goes, and no surprises, but it is far more than "noise", and it is certainly "music", albeit of a seriously free and avant variety. The nine minute Nine Nice'n'Easy Pieces might be a jazz take on Henry Cow at their most obtuse, but this is not simply difficult for the sake of it, as the music is structured and themes emerge and reappear.

The instrumentation gives the whole album a feel closer to experimental rock than free jazz, although the sensibilities of the latter are used throughout to good effect. Totally improvised, the opening track Strategy commences with a discussion in Danish of what is or might be about to happen. Robin's treated guitar phrases on Like A Nervous Car Wreck, and his distressed pachyderm impressions on The Elephant Cure, along with the sonic rumble of Peter Friis Neilsen's rubberband bass, especially so on M'Fisto Rubberphunk, Pierre Tassone's expressionistic violin, and Lars Juul's powerful rhythms make for a never less than entertaining listen. The only traditional jazz instruments in the frontline are Kim Menzer's clarinet and trombone, which when they appear add an icy steel to proceedings similar to Chris Botti's incursions on the Bruford-Levin Upper Extremties enthralling live album Blue Nights.

Closing track Z Return riffs for a while on another of Nielsen's sinuous bass lines, with Mezner's trombone zooming in and out of focus amid percussive embellishments of a high quality. The track eventually becalms into a stationery orbit as swathes of synth-guitar ambience wonder at the countless stars, proof if any were needed of the sadly closed mind of that DPRP "reviewer" who jettisoned this fine album in a manner he no doubt thought was clever but really only served to underline his ignorance. There is only one one-line review that was actually funny, and it's pointless trying to emulate it. I refer of course to Mick Farren's caustic but chucklesome opinion of Yes's first album from 1968: "Yes? No."

Sadly, Taylor's Free Universe have long been defunct, but Robin, both as a solo artist and as part of Taylor's Universe continues to make some fine music, as you will find when you visit the Bandcamp page.

1. Strategy (2:26)
2. M'Fisto Rubberphunk (15:11)
3. Angel Stairs (3:37)
4. Nine Nice 'N' Easy Pieces - First (0:23)
5. Nine Nice 'N' Easy Pieces - Second9 (0:20)
6. Nine Nice 'N' Easy Pieces - Third (0:20)
7. Nine Nice 'N' Easy Pieces - Fourth (0:31)
8. Nine Nice 'N' Easy Pieces - Fifth (0:40)
9. Nine Nice 'N' Easy Pieces - Sixth (1:12)
10. Nine Nice 'N' Easy Pieces - Seventh (0:48)
11. Nine Nice 'N' Easy Pieces - Eight (1:36)
12. Nine Nice 'N' Easy Pieces - Ninth (3:58)
13. Like A Nervous Car Wreck (4:05)
14. The Elephant Cure (7:20)
15. Z Return (13:05)

Total running time - 55:39

Line up:
Pierre Tassone - processed violin, percussion
Kim Menzer - clarinet, trombone, strange flute
Robin Taylor - guitars, loops, manipulations
Peter Friis Nielsen - bass guitar
Lars Juul - drums, objects



Saturday, 11 February 2017

Dementio13 - Broxen

A link somewhere on that sprawling canvas of opinions, paranoia, ignorance, daftness, and cute animal pics that is Farcebook connecting the prolific alien funkmeister Colin Robinson with an album by a chap going under the name of Dementio13 led me here.

"Here" is another of those vast discographies by someone I'd never heard of before, not being the slightest bit au fait with the modern electronic music scene. Demetio13, or Paul Foster as he is known to the machinery of State - describes himself on his profile page as a "Musician, producer, remixer, blogger, visual artist", and a highly inventive, not to mention prolific chap he seems to be. Based in Cardiff, he has made, either in collaboration or on his own, a large number of albums, and they are all dangled temptingly before us with a "name your price" tag. Sadly, another case of so much music, so little time.

Broxen presents off-kilter beats and punishing rhythms, alongside skewed ambience and Kraut sensibilities, finger-poppin' to hard synth structures with soft centres, interspersed with four fully formed songs made with collaborators, right out of left field. The first of these is the opening track. No Maps features Jo Whitby, who records as the self-effacingly named Laurence Made Me Cry. Here, with the main man at the controls, she adds more than a touch of Alison Goldfrapp at her most wistful. The hypnotic nature of the melody and rhythms make this song an album highlight.

Robert Halcrow records as Picturebox who make "pop music, indie pop, lo-fi pop", and his Side Out Side is all very Depeche Mode brought up to date, on valium, as it is all nicely wonky. Manfred Hamil gives us a very Germanic offering by the name of Tank Museum, an eerie construct that sounds like something Bill Nelson might have made in the early 80s when he refused to go anywhere near a guitar. All spoken word abstractions on the art of fire raising and impressionistic musically, it takes the album to a different place. Manfred is part of the ambiguously named The Shed Collective. Very interesting, Mr Professor. Colin Robinson should need no introduction from me if you've been paying attention, and his contribution is a fleshed out version of his Jumble Hole Clough sparse funk adventures. Jumble Hole Clough & Taylor, perhaps?

Throughout on the solo pieces and with the backing to his guests' songs, Dementio13 lays down the grooves, be they ambient impressions or unnerving stroboscopic jerky dance workouts, making the album never less than interesting, and often irresistibly twitchy. And, like I said it's "name your price", and we all know what that means, don't we?

1. No Maps (feat. Jo Whitby) (5:55)
2. Jacques de Vaucanson (2:13)
3. In Patterns (6:12)
4. Broxen (4:21)
5. Side Out Side (feat. Robert Halcrow) (4:24)
6. The Plastiscene (5:05)
7. Voices (7:07)
8. Tank Museum (with Manfred Hamil) (7:45)
9. Note To Self (6:49)
10. Artex And Oak (5:57)
11. This Is Freefall (3:44)
12. Will Reign (feat. Colin Robinson) (7:00)
13. Squarepusher - MIDI Sans Frontiéres (Dementio13 Version) (7:07)

Total running time - 74:39

Line up:
Paul Foster - Synths, programming, bass guitar, vocoder and production

Jo Whitby - Vocals and lyrics on 'No Maps'
Robert Halcrow - Vocals and lyrics on 'Side Out Side'
Steve Kelly (Manfred Hamil) - Additional instruments and production on 'Tank Museum'
Colin Robinson - Vocals, lyrics, guitars, soprano sax, tenor sax, ARP 2600 and shouting on 'Will Reign'
Tom Jenkinson (as Squarepusher) - Music and production on 'MIDI Sans Frontiéres'.


Thursday, 9 February 2017

Deke Leonard - "When we weren't playing, we did some serious lolling about"

Way back in the day, there were two types of music. Pop music and rock music, and I knew from a disquietingly early age that it was rock music for me. Pop music was good for a laugh, but hey, this is serious stuff, man. One of the first rock bands I got into was the Welsh band Man, always at their best when both the ever-present Mickey Jones and his on-off partner in West Coast (of Wales) guitar wizardry, one Roger "Deke" Leonard were flying through the riffosphere, riding cascades of gorgeously molten notes to far edge of infinity. Deke Leonard was in and out of Man during their 70s heyday more times than Rod Stewart was in and out of the divorce courts, but they were something else when he was in the ranks.

Always a much better prospect live than in the studio, my first encounter with Man was via the double live album Greasy Truckers, a recording of a United Artists showcase and benefit concert for a charity for the homeless, held at London's iconic Roundhouse venue in February 1972, released a couple of months later. Man were on the bill behind Hawkwind, another amorphous hippy collective who like the Welshmen couldn't maintain a stable line up for more than two consecutive albums. Side one of the budget double LP was taken up with  Man's jamming vehicle Spunk Rock. Put simply, this is the best recording of guitar band jamming by anyone, period. If you disagree you are very, very wrong. This 20-minute monster of a track puts the interminable noodling of the Grateful Dead and sundry other pale imitators to shame. Legend has it that the first ten minutes are missing because the tape had run out, and time was wasted (maan) running around looking for a new reel.

Man split up in 1976, but I was lucky enough to see them a couple of times after they reformed seven years later. Always a joyful experience, even when the audiences numbered less than three figures, as was sometimes sadly the case. Here they are with an actual West Coast (of USA) legend John Cipollina from the fabulous Maximum Darkness live album:

Deke's seventh string to his famously decorated Telecaster was his ability as a raconteur, and boy, does he have some stories to tell. His three autobiographical "life on the road" books are crammed full of amusing tales of derring-do and general rock'n'roll shenanigans and daftness. Combining coming of age tales, drugs, surreality, drugs and debauchery, and more drugs and loose women, all shot through with a serious lazy streak, it's a wonder they ever got it together long enough to play their endless tours and record albums, Deke's life gives the impression of being one long toke. Deke also takes time out in his books to rail at social injustice and unearned entitlement, being a true old-fashioned South Wales socialist at heart.

Deke had such a joie-de-vivre that it seems almost remiss of me to mention that he died on 31st January at the age of 72, and as he played a formative part in my introduction to Rock's Rich Tapestry, I shall be forever grateful for the hours of fine music, and those gloriously mad books.

Roger "Deke" Leonard 18th December 1944 - 31st January 2017

Deke's books still in print are available HERE

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Riza Arshad, a true talent gone too early...

Not so long ago, Riza Arshad, a visionary Fender Rhodes player who mixed jazz fusion with Indonesian roots music with his band simakDialog passed away far too soon. He leaves behind a legacy of some truly innovative fusion music, and that part of his catalogue that was released through MoonJune Records is being offered for free until February 14th, in an effort to spread awareness of his burgeoning talent.
5 ALBUMS FREE DOWNLOAD (valid until February 14, 2017)

Here is MoonJune's full tribute to Riza Arshad...

"Distance, geography, and marketplace are the only reasons for the Indonesian Rhodes maestro Riza Arshad not being prominently mentioned in the same coversations as Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul, Jan Hammer and other jazz keyboard greats." - Mark Redlefsen, contributor to All About Jazz
Dear Friends in Music

On January 13, 2017, I have lost one of my closest friends, the Indonesian piano and Fender Rhodes maestro, an accomplished composer, arranger and musicologist, the Indonesian music icon  - Riza ArshadRiza was a special friend of mine since 2000, a man of great humanity and immense musical talent. In 2003, on my first of 25+ trips to Indonesia, Riza was the really first person whom I met in the Indonesian capital, and he virtually introduced me to 'everyone' on the Indonesian music scene. 20 releases of Indonesian artists on MoonJune Records wouldn't be possible without Riza's input.

I was looking forward to see simakDialog at the upcoming JavaJazz Festival the first week of March and discuss with Riza 2017 releases of his band's new studio album, as well the release of his new solo album recorded in Los Angeles in two sessions (in September 2013 and November 2016) withErnest Tibbs on bass and Chad Wackerman on drums. It's a sad moment for me, but the life goes on and Riza Arshad's legacy has to live forever.

​​​​​​​There is no better way to celebrate my friend's music than listening to my friend's music, and I invite You all to do the same, to listen to the great music of my dear late friend, and music visionary, Riza Arshad.

Rhodes to Paradise. R.I.P. Riza Arshad (November 2, 1963 - January 13, 2017).

Leonardo Pavkovic
MoonJune Music

To celebrate Riza's Arshad's legacy, MoonJune is offering
FREE DOWNLOAD of 5 simakDialog's album,
4 releases on Moonjune: PatahanDemi MasaThe 6th Story,Live at Orionand the band's third album from the
pre-MoonJune period, Trance/Mission.
​​​​​​​Riza Arshad's visionary music must be heard.

To get FREE DOWNLOADS You have to go to all individual album pages and download all individual albums in format of Your choice: WAV/FLAC/ALAC/M4A/MP3-320.
Valid until February 14, 2017
Riza Arshad  by John Kelman

Riza Arshad (along with Moonjune Record's Leonardo Pavkovic) is the single reason why I have become not just a huge fan of the recently departed keyboardist and his longstanding, genre-defying group, simakDialog; together with Pavkovic, the pair has been responsible for seeding the roots of a rapidly growing tree that - branching out with music of a most contemporary kind from Indonesia - has been further enriched with the introduction of other names from that overlooked country of Indonesia including, amongst others, equally remarkable guitarists like Dewa Budjana,simakDialog's Tohpati and Tesla Manaf; fellow keyboardist extraordinaire Dwiki Dharmawan; and the similarly boundary-busting groups, Ligroand I Know You Well Mis Clara.

Through his work with simakDialogArshad strengthened my growing resolve that jazz is, indeed, a global music; itself a tree populated by an increasing number of intertwining branches that not only represent music from other countries, but the potential that forward-thinking people like Pavkovic have seen to dissolve borders of artifice and encourage music-making that is truly a multifarious cross-pollination of uncommon cultures speaking through a unifying language.

But as important as labels and producers deniably are in helping artists reach larger audiences, first things first: you've gotta have the music. With all of simakDialog's 2007 Moonjune debut Patahanwritten by Arshad, it represented, for me, that wonderful first shot across the bow from a tremendous group and multifaceted keyboardist/composer that deserved - and, to a certain extent, achieved - the international audience they'd have never garnered, were it not for Pavkovic and his label. It also represented a group and artist with so many promises...promises upon which they'd deliver on subsequent albums like 2009's Demi Masa, 2013's The 6th Story and 2014's Live at Orion.

That Arshad left us at the too-young age of 53 only renders the music he would, no doubt, have continued to make that much greater a loss. He may not have the cachet of some of the more well-known jazz names that have passed away in recent years; but for those who knew his work - and for those who will learn of his work in the future - the loss of Riza Arshad is a significant one.

He'll be missed as much for plans already in the works (like an all-acoustic simakDialog album) as he will for the music that no-one - not even Arshad - could have predicted. At the end of the day Arshad's most lasting legacy must be - beyond leaving behind a small but important group of records on which he played with both effortless virtuosity and impeccable taste - the music he wrote. With deceptive compositions that represented a nexus of appealing panculturalism and improvisational unpredictability - and far more challenging under the covers than their eminent accessibility suggested - Arshad demonstrated that great music is where you find it...and that can be truly anywhere in the world and not just in the handful of countries about which most of us are familiar.

You've just gotta find that single connection, and I'll never forget Riza Arshad for being that connection, for showing me an alternative way of making music and for introducing me to a foreign culture whose music continues to fascinate and thrill, the more of it I hear.

R.I.P. Riza. You will be missed.
​​​​​​​When I initially came across the musical goldmine of Leonardo Pavkovic' Moonjune Records, the first band that really turned my head around was simakDialog. The wonderfully sophisticated compositions of Riza Arshad, paired with the inspired and seemingly effortless playing of the band, brought me great joy.
His musical vision for simakDialog was steadfast but allowed for extended amounts of soloing, comping and unison playing. The complex arrangements, given extra sharp focus with the piano over his usual trusty Rhodes and paired with the unique tones and textures of the Indonesian percussion, made for a truly transformative evening of music as language. Over the years I came to see Riza as a musical ambassador for his country bringing with him a truly effective method of expressing compassion, honesty, truth and beauty. I am still in shock over the sudden loss of someone so young and full of vitality. He was a gifted soul and will be greatly missed by family, friends and the musical world at large. - Dan Burke

Monday, 9 January 2017

Winter Round Up

Another dust disturbance in the darkest corners of the virtual music shelf reveals these three collections of zeros and ones, and finds me wondering why I've not as yet had anything to say about these albums, and in the last instance how I even came across the album in the first place.

Ukandanz - AWO
Three years after the joyous romp of Yetchalal, their debut album, Ukandanz, purveyors of "Ethiopian Crunch Music" - see my review of Yetchalal for more info - return with AWO, which carries on the party in fine fashion.

A thumping mix of almost Zeuhl-like heavy rock and African stlyings, with a jazz topping, AWO is an even heavier beast than Yetchalal, and opener Tchuhetén Betsèmu will shake the neighbours awake with its Afro-Crimsoid jazz menace. Singer Asnaké Gèbrèyès goes for the jugular throughout in a style reminiscent of Skin from Skunk Anansie, as he also has a similar register to the aggressive follically challenged chanteuse.



Willie Oteri - Spiral Out
Finally given a digital release last year, this is an album I've long been after, featuring as it does Tony Levin (bass), Pat Mastelotto (drums), and Mike Keneally (keys) amongst its contributors. Originally released on CD in 2003, the album is, as you would expect given its line up, a scorching seat-of-pants rollercoaster ride through heavy prog and fusion. As well as the three illustrious sidemen mentioned, Ephraim Owens' trumpet joins the fray, along with another Crimson contributor Ronan Chris Murphy on keyboards, who also plays the role of producer.

Willie Oteri is a much travelled guitarist who has played with or supported artists as diverse as Chaka Khan and Neil Young, but here he sticks to eclectic heavy prog-jazz fusion, occasionally straying into David Torn-like avant teritory. Oh, and there's a fantastic 20-minute plus trip on here too! What's not to like?


The Silver Reserve - The Silver Reserve
I cannot recall how I got hold of this...was it sent unbidden or did I ask for it? Whatever, it seems that this band are from Otley, and were once known as Rusty Bear.

They proclaim themselves purveyors of "Alternative Existential Folk", which is fair enough, although buried in this quiet, reflective and contemplative album are some neat songs. I can hear Kevin Ayers in Track Record, and elsewhere snatches of Marr-like guitar jangle inevitably invite Smiths comparisons, but really this is a dream-like confection of winsome pop for daydreamers, and there ain't nothing wrong with that at all.

Oddly, I can't seem to find a link to buy the album, the Bandcamp page only has two tracks on it, and although there are samples on the band website, that seems to be it. It seems they like hiding under the radar. If any of the band read this, please do enlighten me so I can post a link!




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 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's only a list!

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

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.'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, 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.

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:

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.


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)


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

BUY HERE - Discus Music

Martin Archer - A man following his muse...

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