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Tuesday, November 3, 2020

The Top 25 Albums of 2020

This year has been pretty rough throughout the whole year with COVID-19, Quarantine, and Concerts not happening. And while it's been stressful as well, music can always lift our spirits up. So I hope you got your Christmas and Hanukkah wish lists ready, because here is the top 25 albums of 2020.

1. Ring Van Mobius – The 3rd Majesty (Apollon Records)
2. La Maschera di Cera – S.E.I. (AMS Records)
3. Gary Husband & Markus Reuter – Music of our Times (MoonJune Records)
4. Markus Reuter Oculus – Nothing is Sacred (MoonJune Records)
5. Gazpacho – Fireworker (Kscope)
6. Ayreon – Transitus (Music Theories Recordings)
7. Jon Durant & Robert Jurjendal – Across the Evening (Alchemy Records)
8. Louise Patricia Crane – Deep Blue (Bad Omen Records)
9. Pixie Ninja – Colours Out of Space (Apollon Records)
10. Kansas – The Absence of Presence (InsideOut)
11. Rick Wakeman & The English Rock Ensemble – The Red Planet (Madfish)
12. Kavus Torabi – Hip to the Jag (Believers Roast)
13. Hexvessel – Kindred (Svart Records)
14. Markus Reuter – Truce (MoonJune Records)
15. Ross Goldstein – Timoka (Birdwatcher Records)
16. Deep Energy Orchestra – The Return (7D Media)
17. Amy Birks – All That I Am & All That I Was (Self-Released)
18. Magenta – Masters of Illusion (Tigermoth Records)
19. The Tangent – Auto Reconnaissance (InsideOut)
20. Zoe Polanski – Violent Flowers (Youngbloods)
21. Tim Bowness – Late Night Laments (InsideOut)
22. Jon Gomm – The Faintest Idea (Kscope)
23. Fish – Weltschmerz (Chocolate Frog Records)
24. Jakko M. Jakszyk – Secrets & Lies (InsideOut)
25. Nektar – The Other Side (Esoteric Antenna)

Monday, September 21, 2020

Reuter Motzer Grohowski - Shapeshifters

Recorded last year at the Shapeshifter lab in New York on August 18th, Markus Reuter, Tim Motzer, and Kenny Grohowski participated in an experiment at the sonic laboratory. The premise for the three members who were at the venue last year was; what are the corporate results of three sonic shapeshifters, released from their own prisons? What they will do when they’re behaviors become observed? And how they will assume by creating their own transformation?

And the result is on this recording that becomes this suspenseful drama that the trio unfolds with Shapeshifters on the MoonJune label. Listening to this album, its almost as if you are a part of their experiment as the trio gets down to business by increasing the heat gage level as it gets more hotter for the members unleash the flaming fires they’re about to unleash.

The four tracks that are on the live recording showcases their sinister side. It goes beyond the electronic route and the jazzier sides as well. This is the future that they’re bringing to us at the labs in Brooklyn. There are certain moments where they created an alternate score for Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 classic Stalker and Rainer Weiner Fassbinder’s 1973 TV miniseries World on a Wire.

They’ve done their homework very well when it comes to writing a score for a film that is brought to life. It is a climbing effect in some sections where they would bring the audience to a standstill and not knowing where they will go next. And some of its catchy, but then it returns into the swamps of Louisiana where it becomes dark and very scary.

The reason for that is there are certain area in that location which are dangerous and the areas you do not want to go into. And they take you into those areas and warn you why it’s a place in Louisiana you want to avoid at times. This took me a while to delve into for a few weeks to go back and listen again and again with Shapeshifters. Understand that the trio’s unexpected challenges bring the listener into those hard, intense, and brutal areas right in front of your face. And if you think it’s a story filled with a Disney-story line with fairy dust sprinkle all over to fly with Peter Pan, think again.

Markus Reuter Oculus - Nothing is Sacred

Recorded last year at La Casa Murada in Spain on May 15th, Oculus is one of the most interesting projects that is like finding long lost hidden treasures that haven’t been opened for a long, long time. Released on the MoonJune label, Nothing is Sacred is a challenging release this year that will make your spine crawl. And to be allowed to feature Fabio Tentini, Asaf Sirkis, Robert Rich, David Cross, and Mark Wingfield, it shows that Oculus aren’t just a band, but a family.

Listening to Nothing is Sacred is like walking into an area of the Twin Peaks universe that has never been seen before. With its dissonance, increasing temperatures, and chambering echoes of gothic cathedrals, Reuter takes the listener into the unknown. Solve et Coagula (Ghost I) is a cross between Philip Glass and Andy Summers’ Behind my Camel from The Police’s Zenyatta Mondatta-era.

Fabio’s bass goes upwards as Wingfield and Reuter’s soundscapes take a deeper voyage into some of Schulze’s arrangements. The themes on here are darker, nightmarish, and very creepy. Sirkis’ drums sound like as if they’re locking the doors very tight inside the mental institutions so that the inmates won’t take over the asylum for a while until all hell will break loose.

Bubble Bubble Bubble Bath (Wink) gives Reuter go into this psychedelic trance as we hear film-noir mellotrons with vocalizing whispers while David’s violin adds the beat with Asaf’s heart-pounding bass drum. And once Wingfield follows Markus in hot pursuit, he follows him into those eerie rabbit holes with a morse code.

The Occult (Dice I) has Asaf’s click-clacking percussion effects to fill up the entire studio by channeling Nine Inch Nails meets Gong’s You-era. The bass section that Fabio does, channels two unsung bass masters; Mike Howlett and Paul Jackson from the Head Hunters-era of Herbie Hancock. With an echoing effect, it has this intensive drive between Markus, Fabio, and Mark driving 900 miles per hour.

Nothing is Sacred is one of a kind. It may not be everyone’s cup of Joe, but Reuter and Oculus take you into those areas that are surreal, mythical, and Lynch-like. But the twists and turns can keep you guessing to see what will happen next.

Markus Reuter - Sun Trance

 The genesis behind this incredible project came when Dennis Kuhn came across Markus Reuter’s work six years ago as he contacted him about collaborating with his ensemble team, the Mannheimer Schlagwerk. It was almost as if Don Corleone from The Godfather once said, “I’m going to make you an offer you can’t refuse.”

Dennis has been around since 1979. He founded the Basler Schlagzeugtrio in 1984 and joined the Deutsches Schlagzeugensemble (German Percussion Ensemble). He collaborated with two composers, Wolfgang Rihm and controversial figure, Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Sun Trance was written quickly for Reuter to compose after finishing up Daimon Fu a few months earlier. Recorded three years ago at Alte Feuerwache in Mannheim, Germany on May 23rd and released on the MoonJune label, distributed my Iapetus Media, Sun Trance gives you the front-row seat to unveil this incredible live recording that has been unfolded and finally brought to life.

You can feel this lullaby going into a deep, dark area from the dissonance that is like a pin dropping at any second. It’s like something straight out of two films; Spike Jonze’s 1999 classic, Being John Malkovich and Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides. It has these mysterious edges towards the composition as if the ensemble has given audience members pieces of the puzzle set on to their tables.

And for them, they have to put the pieces together to see what happens next. The vibraphones that Ti-Hsien Lai and Dennis Kuhn are doing while the Glockenspiels between Luis Andres, Lukas Heckmann, and Chavarria Baez go into this dangerous maze that is very challenging.

It turns into a Goblin-sque approach that is deepish red and following into the Suspiria sessions that the ensemble challenge. Reuter’s instruments walk upwards on this spiral staircase by raising the temperatures up a notch. It has a walking dance in 4/4 with some shakers going in hot pursuit, and moody atmospheres to channel Jean Sibelius’ The Swan of Tuonela.

Sun Trance is a mesmerizing composition by Reuter and the Mannheimer Schlagwerk. It will keep you guessing until the very end. And for MoonJune, they’ve got something special, and it is the ultimate trip.

Monday, June 29, 2020

MevsMyself - Mictlan

There’s something that has crept upon the waters of vocalizations with a man named Giorgio Pinardi and his voice solo project, MevsMyself. Since 2015 with the debut release of Yggdrasil, he had begun music when was very young by studying opera singing and sung in the child choir of the La Scala Theater in Milan, Italy. After playing with bands, he decided to bring his voice from different perspectives – extended vocal techniques, body percussion, improvisation, and experimentation.

That and his second album, Mitclan which was released last year, showcases Pinardi’s arrangements by travelling through the various improvisations of Mongolian, African Indian, and Bulgarian music. Now, mind you I was very with this type of sound from hearing Herbie Hancock's Watermelon Man from his twelfth studio masterpiece, Headhunters. And two others; Crystal Beth, and the late great Paul Pena.

Who not only wrote the hit song Jet Airliner, but delved into the world of Tuvan throat singing which was covered in the 1999 documentary, Genghis Blues. For Pinardi, he channels those three masters and takes his own spin of vocal percussions with the twists and turns on Mitclan. Giorgio does well on just his voice, but taking us to these various landscapes that structure on where he’s going to land.

Sometimes the genres crossover between Jazz, World, Electronic, Scat, and a touch of Ladysmith Black Mambazo with some tribes of middle-eastern music thrown into the middle. And mind you, it is quite unexpected, but this album is quite a journey from start to finish that Pinardi has taken us into these unbelievable results that you might want to take note on.

While this album took me a long, long time to get into, Giorgio Pinardi’s arranging and composition was really worth exploring into the music of MevsMyself. But it was really something that made me wanted to go back and revisit it again. I don’t recall how many times I listened to, but I went back again and again to give this album my full stamp of approval for 2020. And I hope to hear more from Pinardi in the years to come.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Gary Husband & Markus Reuter - Music of our Times

While we’re living in these tricky times in 2020 with the Quarantine situation and COVID-19, music is our comfort zone to get away from those rough moments that we are going through right now. That and the latest release from MoonJune Records with pianist Gary Husband and Touch guitarist/live electronics Markus Reuter entitled, Music of our Times. This is the labels 101st release. Recorded at NK Sound Studio in Tokyo, Japan, Husband and Reuter create these visual soundscapes to capture the structures between loneliness, superstition, beauty, and chambering echoes.

The story goes like this, Leonardo Pavkovic booked a block of studio time in Tokyo after Stick Men were stranded by finishing off a performance in Nagoya at Blue Note. So what he did was to construct a plan “B” idea for both Gary and Markus before their return flight. And it was all recorded in one night.

Similar to what John Coltrane did with A Love Supreme being recorded for one night at Van Gelder Studios in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey on December 9th, 1964, Music of our Times carries that torch, but with a strength of surreal beauty that is finally brought to life. With the usage of Fazioli F212 Grand Piano, Husband creates some of these darker passages with an echoing hallway effect.

For Markus, he follows Gary by becoming like a painter of sorts as they’re following in the footsteps of both Jackson Pollock and Julian Schnabel. They’re looking through their exhibitions between both original and plate paintings that are brought to life as if they’re walking through the stories inside those portrayals that are unleashed for the first time.

Some of the pieces including the intensive title-track, channel the crossovers between Keith Jarrett’s playing, meets the soundscapes of Klaus Schulze’s Irrlicht while delving into the dooming structures of Manuel Gottsching’s playing on Ash Ra Tempel’s Traummaschine. They work well together to create these mournful scenarios. On White Horses (For Allan) you can feel the spirit of the late great Allan Holdsworth in this arrangement.

Reuter channels his visual styles to make his own take of the SynthAxe while Husband follows him by going through the loops and walking towards some cavernous reverb effect as Markus’ instruments cries out to the gods by making sure that Allan is watching up from above and understanding that he’s got their backs, no matter what will happen next.

Colour of Sorrow at first sounds like the bass riff intro on Justin Chancellor’s Schism from Tool’s Lateralus. But it becomes different the way Husband goes into the abyss while walking down the stairs to see this glowing light approaching the duo at the right exact moment for them to fly off into the distance.

Now this was a big challenge for me that MoonJune Records have unleashed in 2020. It took me about six to eight listens. Mind you, I had a few albums that I listened that were very challenging at times. And my ears had no idea on whether or not this album was either going to sink or swim. 

But for me, Music of our Times is the perfect swimming exercise to listen from start to finish. MoonJune Records have never disappointed me with some of the greatest releases they’ve unleashed. And who knows what the label will think of next. But for Husband and Reuter, in the words of Steve Winwood, “Who knows what tomorrow may bring?”

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Andrea Scala - Coming Back, Leaving Again

Andrea Scala is an Italian born, Toronto based drummer and composer that has unleashed his debut album this year on the Shifting Paradigm label entitled Coming Back, Leaving Again. This was a big challenge for me to listen to his new album from start to finish. It was like walking into this other room and seeing what Andrea is going to do next.

I had no idea on what to expect as I was putting my earphones on, but I was up for that kind of challenge with Andrea’s debut. It’s electronic, fusion, progressive, and very whirlpoolish. Everything on this album is very much like the ultimate trip for Scala to push the envelope even further.

While this is my first time discovering the Shifting Paradigm label, some of the centerpieces that are on here, would shivers down your spine to see and hear what Andrea would think of next. There are moments of Avant-Garde, Soul, Electronic, Classical, and Atmospheric noises to make the cycling flower come to life.

Towards Oxygen sounds like the swirling guitar that is in a hay-wiring effect that Manilo Maresca channels the midsection sequence of Mark Mothersbaugh’s guitar on Devo’s Too Much Paranoias. Plus diving into the droning effects between Eno, Cluster, Stockhausen, and the Zeit-era of Tangerine Dream.

With Out Here, Scala goes into this Trip-Hop effect as he walks into these big gigantic steps with Tarenzi’s intensive piano exercise that goes from this cliffhanger effect into a Thelonious Monk approach. He along with Puglisi’s double bass, walk into this garden of dream-like beauty that has been unleashed to its own amazement.

Overnight Walk sees Nicola Costa’s guitar carrying this bluesy effect by channeling some of the early Floyd sounds while Raponi’s Wurlitzer soars into this R&B/Soulful twist with Liberti & Santodonato’s horn sections to take us into a midnight dance with some incredible grooves to give us a chance to see the sun in all of its glory. Cracked at first sounds like these complex challenges with some odd time textures thanks to Mareca’s guitar lines going up and down the rabbit hole.

It becomes this spiraling staircase into the wacky worlds of Mr. Bungle, Frank Zappa, and Kerry Minnear’s keyboard work from Gentle Giant. Now for me, Andrea Scala’s debut album is like a powder keg that is ready to explode. And he’s not backing down without a fight. He along with his team mates have worked well together to bring this album to life. So for me, I might peak my interest with not just with Scala’s work but the label itself to see what ideas they might have in store for me.