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Friday, March 15, 2019

Third Ear Band - Music from Macbeth



My first discovery of reading about the Third Ear Band was back when I was a student at Houston Community College when I got a special issue of Classic Rock Magazine covering the story of Prog Rock in 2007. They were selected along with Greenslade, Jonesy, and Fruupp as The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard by Malcolm Dome. Their music was so hard to find and I nearly gave up on trying to buy their albums. Until either last year or this year when Esoteric Recordings were going to do the Third Ear Band’s music.

And so my ears told me to go ahead and jump into the bandwagon of the Third Ear Band’s music. They originally started out as a psychedelic band from Canterbury called The Giant Sun Trolley and then changing their names in to the Hydrogen Jukebox.  But then they decided to move away from that scene into something that was a combination between Medieval, Classical, Avant-Garde, Raga, World, and Indian music.

Championed by the late great John Peel who played jaw harp on their first album Alchemy in 1969, when he first heard them in late 1968 at a concert in Guildford at a projected arts lab in which he wrote about them in an article of IT (International Times) issue 45 on November 29, 1968. After the releases of their previous albums including a score for a German TV special based on one of the most passionate true romantic love stories of the 12th century Abelard & Heloise in 1970, Richard Coff and Ursula Smith left the band.

Enter Paul Buckmaster (David Bowie, Elton John, Harry Nilsson) on Cello and Bass Guitar and Denim Bridges on Guitar. One of the Esoteric reissues that made me want to listen to again and again was their score for Roman Polanski’s film of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth. It is perhaps one of the scariest, nightmarish, surreal, and intensive scores I’ve listened to from start to finish.

Music from Macbeth is not for the faint of heart, but for me, it was a challenge. It showed that the Third Ear Band’s idea to crack those doors open wider with textures of aleatoric music, folk, and some of the early structures of what would later be known as the Rock In Opposition movement (RIO). And with a little help from High Tide and Hawkwind’s Simon House on Violin and VCS3 after being recruited by the late great Glen Sweeney, it can make your skin crawl.

With Ambush/Banquo's Ghost, you get these sounds of chaotic noises of guitars, Minns’ Oboe, Sweeney’s percussion, and Buckmaster’s Bass, it goes into this crackling falling down structure by going into those rolling hills and channeling the minds of Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica. The Beach have these sound effects of seagulls and the waves before Simon’s violin screeches to make this noise of giving both the listener and the audience of what is to come in Shakespeare’s play.

The Overture has these aspects of between the early beginnings of Univers Zero and Present. You can imagine Roger Trigaux was listening to the band’s music to follow in their footsteps as if he wanted to make sure to honor them in Univers Zero’s music and breaking all the rules. Blaring guitars, bass lines, percussion, and Oboe’s that crawl through various corners of one room to another.

Fleance, sung by the late Keith Chegwin who was 12 years old at the time, brings this beauty and folk-like structures in the form of a waltz. It has these Acid Folk-sque sound as the son of Banquo sings to Duncan as he enjoys his feast with Macbeth before being killed. Simon’s VCS3 and Violin on The Cauldron sets up the witches potion that Macbeth drinks. The droning sounds from the violin, cello, and oboe sets up these alarming noises from the bubbling synths with some percussion and wah-wah guitars going back and forth.

Dagger and Death goes into this experimental approach for the Third Ear Band as they channel the Krautrock genre and honoring the styles of CAN’s early years to give Buckmaster a bit of a chance to channel the essence of Michael Karoli. The three bonus tracks contains the first versions of Court Dance, Groom Dance, and Fleance which were recorded at Trident Studios on December 5, 1970. Also in the reissue contains a 16-page booklet containing liner notes by Luca Chino Ferrari.

Ferrari is not only an underground writer covering folk/rock musicians including Captain Beefheart, Syd Barrett, Tim Buckley, and Robyn Hitchock, but also an official archivist and biographer on the Third Ear Band’s music. He also contributed the reunion for them in the 1980s. He also runs an incredible website covering the band’s history entitled Ghettoraga Archive (http://ghettoraga.blogspot.com).

Also in the booklet, it contains the original sleeve text, biography, Japanese promo of the band, snapshot of the band’s appearance in the film, and a picture of Roman Polanski during the making of the movie who at the time in 1970 before it came out in 1971, was going through depression because of the way the media handled the incident from the loss of his second wife, Sharon Tate who was brutally murdered by members of the Manson family on August 9, 1969.

When The Tragedy of Macbeth was released in 1971, it premiered on January 31st at the Plaza cinema in London after receiving some excellent stasis from Movie Critics including the late great Roger Ebert who gave it four stars in his article on the first of January that same year in the Chicago Sun-Times by calling it, “the most pessimistic films ever made.”

But when it was released in the States, it tanked after losing $3.5 million dollars at the box office. The soundtrack however was very positive from the music press and even was nominated for the 1972 performance awards. The award went to Nino Rota for his score to the 1972 classic, The Godfather.

After listening to Music from Macbeth, my ears were intrigued from start to finish. It was like searching for the lost and hidden treasure that Long John Silver had hidden for many, many years. And I hope to discover more adventures to Third Ear Band’s music to come from Esoteric Recordings to see and hear what I was missing for many years.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Godel Codex - Oak



Michel Delville is more than just a member from the bands with Machine Mass and The Wrong Object. And this one, took me towards a very interesting level that combines electroacoustic, post-rock, and jazz into one. It’s a project called The Godel Codex. Released via Off Records and powered by MoonJune Records, Oak is one of those combinations that follows into the footsteps of Avant-Pop.

While they’re background is in Jazz, The Godel Codex takes it a step further by creating these trippy effects that goes beyond the Machine Mass sound. And as Derek Bailey would say, “Improvisation is not knowing what it is until you do it, composition is not doing it until you know what it is.” When I was listening to Oak, it was a very interesting take for Michel to tackle those genres. And it was a challenge for me to tackle.

And these four centerpieces that are on the album, is like walking on a tightrope from Mount Rushmore to the Grand Canyon. And walking on those structures between the two mountains are very dangerous. And you never can tell if someone is about to cut the rope or not.

The Needle’s Eye is a late ‘60s psychedelic trip and The Godel Codex’s answer to the early Soft Machine as Michel’s vocals is a nod to both the lyrical structures of Syd Barrett and Robert Wyatt. It takes you towards that amazing time period when London was swinging back then. Plumer’s ride cymbals and drumming give insights of a surreal-like ballad on Stand or Fall.

Guenet goes into the styles of Mike Garson’s piano playing that he honors the era’s between David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane and Outside. The electronic hay-wiring effects gives us some insights of insanity as Delville, Guenet, and Bailleau create some of the most intensive moments throughout the electronic loops before Guenet closes it off with a wacky Keith Tippett-like finale with a harsh-like sound.

The first two minutes of Can it Be starts off with some minor piano chords and electro loops before Guenet’s voice channels the style of William D. Drake as if it was recorded during the sessions for The Rising of the Lights. Antoine channels Drake’s haunting arrangements with some unexpected changes from the piano to raise the temp up a little quicker.

Guenet takes the listener on One Last Stand as he takes them into these abandoned hallways as if the pin itself has already dropped. The composition can make you feel a little at ease as he hits those alarming notes before the vocals come in as you are reaching the last final door to be opened. It then crossover into the styles of Radiohead with a pounding rhythm that Antoine does by creating these uprising adventures while Michel channels Jonny Greenwood’s playing before the pulsating beats change.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, this was a challenge for me to tackle with The Godel Codex’s Oak. Michel, Antoine, Etienne, Christophe and Phillipe Franck have embarked on this surreal ride. And while it was worth tackling, this will whet your appetite for embarking ideas that The Godel Codex will take into the next journey that awaits you.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Wrong Object - Into the Herd



It’s been about six years since I’ve listened to The Wrong Object’s music. There’s been so many great music out there that I had my ears delved into. And I had almost completely forgotten about The Wrong Object. Until now. This is their follow-up to their 2013 release, After the Exhibition entitled Into the Herd. Released via Off Records and powered by MoonJune Records, this brings them back for another welcoming return for the Belgium sextet.

Listening to their new album, I almost get the feeling that Michel Delville, who launched the band back in 2002, hasn’t forgotten his roots. He’s making sure that the wagons on the wheel don’t accidentally come off. And the wheels themselves haven’t come off for The Wrong Object. And right from the moment I listened to their follow-up release, it shows that they are still going strong and they’re showing no sign of stopping.

From the moment you listen to the opening title-track and Mango Juice, you can tell that Michel channels the styles of Brian Godding (Blossom Toes, Magma). From Pierre’s wah-wah bass introduction, you can tell that the band are going straight back into the Egyptian’s tombs of Emehntehtt-Re to see where the missing clues are hidden.

The snarling tones that Deville brings into the opening composition is almost a revelation on what secrets did the Egyptian king has hidden from every historian buff. And then on the sixth track, it becomes a mysterious thickening plot. And when Melia and Lourtie begin to write down the final pieces of the puzzle from the sax’s, Antoine Guenet’s take of a Terry Riley-sque keyboard section begins to close up the book and finally heading out to see the sun rising.

Another Thing sees the two sax’s going into this surreal fanfare before Delchambre and Delville kick the door down with a gigantic battering ram whilst going into some Twilight Zone-sque sections by seeing and hearing of what the late great Rod Serling will take the viewers into tonight’s story. There is that tidal wave section from the drums that Laurent does to increase the tension for Delville. He begins to release the flaming fires that was inside his heart as he lets it all out on his guitar.

And then Laurent’s drumming closes it off by going into this crescendo as Antoine finishes up the piece by taking his keyboards through time and space. Antoine’s composition of Many Lives, sees him going into a mournful piano section that fills up the void as Laurent, Marti, and Francois go into this unexpected waltz-like figure that have these odd time signatures.

The two saxophonists go into this spiral staircase-like arrangement that nearly goes into a brief section of the Canterbury scene as Antoine goes into the heart and soul of Vince Guaraldi. But then, The Wrong Object time travels into the 1950s as if they’re performing the closing track, Psithurism at a smoky nightclub either in New York or in Paris at around midnight.

You can imagine it’s getting the crowd’s attention to know that they’re into something special of what the band are doing before Antoine channels the styles of Keith Emerson’s clavinet section on Tank and Kerry Minnear’s medieval sections from Gentle Giant as Antoine tips his hat to the two masters.

It is an odd section, but it works well. And then the last minute of the composition at first goes into this clattering section from the drums, but then they come together as one by reaching the finish line as they bring the house down to releasing their energy in their instruments before reaching to an abrupt end.

I have to say that The Wrong Object’s Into the Herd gives the band a chance to be back in action once more. It’s almost as if the band have finally unleashed the hounds to come back with a vengeance. Now if you are a newcomer to The Wrong Object’s music, I would definitely recommend both After the Exhibition and their new release, Into the Herd.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Stephan Thelen - Fractal Guitar



Stephan Thelen is someone you may or may not recognize. He’s probably best known for his work with Sonar. They’ve been around for nine years who have burst through the flood gates with their minimal, darker, and nightmarish sounds that is dynamic, brutal, and very mysterious. He’s an American-born Swiss musician who can write, compose, and perform his own music.

Alongside Sonar, Stephan has worked on projects including Radio Osaka, Root Down, License to Chill, and Broken Symmetry. And CD productions for Andy Brugger’s No No Diet Bang and Peter Scharli Sextet while composing music for dance, film, and theater productions. Stephan is a very, very busy man.

Kronos Quartet recorded one of his compositions entitled Circular Lines which was commissioned by the Kronos Arts’ Association and Carnegie Hall for this visionary project called, Fifty for the Future. And the percussion ensemble from Germany called Mannheimer Schlagwerk also premiered one of his compositions called, Parallel Motion. Stephan has released his debut album via MoonJune Records called, Fractal Guitar.

What Stephan wanted to do was record and compose pieces of music with an integral side to it. He used this effect that worked on before Sonar called, Fractal Guitar. It is this rhythmic delay with high feedback levels that creates this surging delay of patterns from 3/8, 5/8, or 7/8.

Recorded from various locations between Europe and North America from August 2015 and April 2018, Fractal Guitar has all the ingredients that’s in there. Post-Rock, Experimental, and straight out the films of Alejandro Jodorowsky, Thelen is bringing out more of the energetic forces with a little help from David Torn, Markus Reuter, Barry Cleveland, and Manuel Pasquinelli to name a few. And they lend Stephan a helping hand with more gigantic sounds by going into a ramming speed.

Radiant Day is Stephan’s answer to Krautrock masters Agitation Free’s Haunted Island from their 2nd album released in 1973. It shows Thelen going into those perplexing tunnels to see what’s inside. From the booming sounds of Matt Tate, Cleveland and Reuter, it give Thelen going into those surreal voyages by swimming across parallel universes by creating their own score for Werner Herzog’s 1972 classic, Aguirre: The Wrath of God.

It has these watery effects that begins to climb upwards to the heavens as the skies suddenly become red and very alarming before Stephan, Markus, Matt, and Barry begin to chart the dangerous landscapes. The opening track, Briefing for a Descent Into Hell, which took its name from Doris Lessing’s 1971 novel, the collaborations between David Torn and Stephan Thelen, shows that they have each other’s back.

When I was listening to the piece that kicks the album off by clocking in at 18 minutes and 37 seconds, I can hear them going into the styles of Post-Rock, Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma-era, and King Crimson’s The Talking Drum. They can take you towards the edge of the cliff as the heat level increases more and more.

Torn is playing some incredible feedback and loops while his guitar becomes this snarling beast that is getting ready to attack with a vicious hunt for raising hell on their prey. With those territories that go beyond space and time, Tate’s bass playing goes into the works of Tool’s Justin Chancellor to have the doors opening more and more by going into a middle-eastern twist.

Listening to Road Movie is like a journey down the desert highway. Stephan lets his band members not just to go with the flow, but prepare to make the jump by surging towards sub-light speed and engage themselves into space madness. I can imagine Reuter, Kaiser, Walker, and Thelen going into the waters of Ash Ra Tempel’s Manuel Gottsching as they tip their hats towards the master by flying into the outer limits.

The title-track begins with some of the sections between the looping and soundscapes that Markus, Barry, and Stephan do on the third composition. Kaiser’s drums create this roller-coaster ride with some challenging measurements. I can definitely hear some aspects of Aphrodite’s Child’s All the Seats Were Occupied from their third and final album, 666.

The final track Urban Landscape, brings David Torn back to the forefront again as Stephan helps him out once more by racing to the finish line. Reuter takes you back again into his soundscapes as the droning sounds come crawling underneath your spine.

It has these film-noir vibes that adds up the final pieces of the puzzle as if Thelen and Torn are detectives are finally catching to the criminal's hideout and bringing him to justice. You could tell that Markus is doing this split-second fast guitar solo with a mighty crunch. But that was an unexpected moment that worked very well.

And Kaiser, his drumming crosses over between Bill Bruford and Buddy Rich’s playing and he is on a full-scale assault. David and Stephan are a band of brothers by working together and taking the listeners into town with some unexpected results as they climb upwards more and more to see what will happen next.

After listening to his album, I was very impressed on how Stephan Thelen goes beyond the structures and shows that he’s more than just his work with Sonar. But he takes a leap forward with the challenges that awaits him. Fractal Guitar is one of those ingredients by having a huge amount of carte blanche. And it shows that Stephan is having a lot of fun of bringing his music to life.

Kentish Spires - The Last Harvest



Kentish Spires are this up-and-coming band from England that takes inspirations from the Canterbury scene. Now for me, I had absolutely no idea on what I was about to expect when I was listening to this album from start to finish. I have a very peculiar ear, mind you. And from the moment I listened to their debut release of The Last Harvest, I was quite intrigued.

The band considers Lucie V on vocals and violin; Danny Chang on Guitar, Keyboards, and Backing Vocals; Paul Hornsby on Reeds and Keyboards; Rik Loveridge on Keyboards and Guitar; and Phil Warren on Bass Guitar. Non-member Tim Robinson plays the drums on here also.

The origins behind the album’s title came from Danny Chang himself. According to an interview he did with Urban “Wally” Wallstrom for the Rock United website last year, Danny grew up in a small village called Cliffe in Kent. He went to St. Helen’s Primary Church School and remembered the Harvest time where he and his classmates took along local produce that filled the big harvest festival services where the whole village turned out.

While it’s not really a concept album, but three of the tracks cover the aspects of Kent’s violent tribal pre-history, the centerpieces on the album almost took me to a different level on their storytelling compositions. Spirit of the Skies is a cross between Ramsey Lewis’ The “In” Crowd and Camel’s Lady Fantasy brings some of the finest flute and guitar playing that gives a chance for Lucie V to ascend her vocals.

Hornsby channels the late great Ray Thomas by keeping his legacy alive in the song. He takes you through those various improvisations by seeing and hear what the magic carpet will take you into. I love how the piano is channeling Ramsey Lewis’ style and going into the Organ by following into the structures of Andy Latimer. It’s really quite a journey.

The riffs on Introception that goes between the guitars, reeds, and the thumping bass lines, gives Kentish Spires their tip of the hat towards Elton John’s Madman Across the Water and obscure prog legends of Jonesy’s Mind of the Century. Lucie can really hit those notes as the lyrics have these Bernie Taupin like structures that shows the reflections and describing all the damages they’ve done.

Clarity goes into a medieval ballad in 3/4 time. Lucie sings through this melodic section with her vocals and her violin before Hornsby lays down some warm-like gentle jazzy arrangements before dancing ‘til the sun rises with an unexpected change throughout the song.

Hergist Ride is the band’s nod to the title of Mike Oldfield’s Hergest Ridge. Paul’s smoky sax brings his reminiscing of John Coltrane and Dexter Gordon for a couple of seconds before the mood suddenly changes as Lucie takes the listener into the battlefield on what is happening next. But the mood suddenly changes as Lucie and Paul work well throughout their improvisations to capture the aftermath.

The title-track clocks in at 13 minutes and 09 seconds beginning with two flutes. One from Paul and the other from the Mellotron setting up this scenario of a dystopian landscape that is straight from the minds of Ayn Rand, George Orwell, and Aldous Huxley. It then becomes this spiraling riff between guitars, growling sax’s, organs, and drums that becomes this increased nod to Van Der Graaf Generator's H to He Who Am the Only One.

Everything changes as the guitar soars upwards into this Gilmour-sque heaven structure that beings a sign of hope of  bringing peace throughout the city. It's also Kentish Spires nod to Rush’s final section of the suite towards Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres. I have to say that Kentish Spires debut album didn’t grab me that much.

Now am I saying that this is a bad album? No, absolutely not. But I would love to hear more from them in the years to come. I wished that they would not try to strain that much and give Lucie V a chance to relax on her vocals. But The Last Harvest is quite the journey and I might keep my eyes and ears out for them.