Sunday, 26 February 2017

Prog Sphere Promotions - Progotronics

It is thanks to Nikola Savić of Prog Sphere Promotions that six or seven years ago my ceaseless witterings about music no-one listens to got a wider audience, for it was via his site that my reviews first found an outlet beyond my then near-invisible blog, customer reviews on Amazon, and occasional contributions to Prog Archives.

Over the years Prog Sphere Promotions has released many compilations featuring bands from all over the world, covering all the countless musical tributaries that feed into this thing we call Prog. The quality of the participants in these Progstravaganzas, as they were known, varied wildly and much fun was had over at DPRP reviewing these unruly monsters as part of a small team of scribblers.

Gradually, Prog Sphere and I parted ways, as I found new outlets for my incessant ramblings, and Prog Sphere disappeared below the horizon, no doubt due to the intervention of the real world into the life of its founder, following his nuptials.

In recent months, Prog Sphere has started to re-appear in my newsfeed, and now comes Progotronics, the first Prog Sphere compilation in quite a while.

I was looking forward to revisiting a track-by-track review full of pithy one or two-liners, but unfortunately, as this compilation is almost exclusively populated by the bludgeon riffola of tired cliché-ridden prog metal, that would be a pointless exercise of repetition. Much like the compilation, in fact! Prog metal still seems to revel in recycling the same old tired formula until the cows run home, their ears bleeding, demanding it stop now, or send us to the abbatoir post haste.

It takes until track 5, Ressurgence (sic) by Burnt City before anything makes enough impression not to have me reaching for the skip button. To be fair to all the artists here, I did actually listen to every second of this sheet-metal grey slab of conformity, not an experience I wish to repeat in a hurry.

The Crawling Chaos by Increate is of passing interest from a technical standpoint, and at least it is not blighted by grunting, or the other favourite which seems to be an angelic warble from a female singer. To be fair most of this compilation is instrumental, with only one or two examples of grunting. Listen to Koronal's Usurper and tell me what the point is of singing an entire song like you've had your larynx replaced by an aircon outlet pipe. I can imagine when grunting first appeared in a metal album it was a "wow" moment, but now it's just annoying, and somehow comically juvenile to boot.

A welcome break from the prog metal comes with Echo Of Your Voice by Konstant Singularity, the first half of which has a slow Mahavishnu vibe going on - heck there's even a jazzy bass break in the middle! Of course, they have to change tack to a Sabs sludge riff halfway through, which is fine actually, as this is by far the best track on the album so far, which admittedly is not saying a lot. Pretty soon we're back to the "look how fast I can play" school of rawk. Dream bloody Theater have a lot to answer for. Later another break from the metal comes with Aeonic Impulse and Existing Within The REM. There's a joke there...but I can't be bothered. Vaguely spacerock, and a singer who can't doesn't stop me enjoying this as the dynamic is so different from that which surrounds it. Thankfully the vocals are later taken over by someone who can sing, and inevitably the "REM" part involves a heavy nightmare, maan, but even the Animal-like drummer isn't going to put me off. An island of sulphurous mists in a sea of battery acid.

Nowadays it is so easy to record and release music via cheap recording software and the web, that the rising tide of aural sludge, be it prog, country, pop, metal or whatever makes it increasingly difficult to spot real talent as it struggles for air above the tsunami of the average. Forty years ago very little of this would have seen the light of day, and stayed in its drummer's dad's garage, where it belongs.

I have no idea how much Nikola Savić has to do with Prog Sphere Promotions these days, but as his first love was always metal music in all its myriad forms, I suspect he has more than a hand in this. To truly live up to the Sphere part of their name, the next compilation, if there is one should really be all-inclusive, like the old days. Progotronics is far too prog metal obsessed for me, and I can't say any of this is progressive in the true sense. If you like your metal you might find something to like here, otherwise avoid! At least Prog Sphere Promotions don't expect you to pay for it, which is something, I suppose.

Prog Sphere Bandcamp

Prog Sphere Facebook

Prog Sphere website

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

2019, the insanity grows...

Odd title for an annual music review, but them's the times. With these words I aim to provide you with an escape from the creeping madne...