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Friday, May 22, 2009

Rick Wakeman - Journey To The Centre of the Earth

After Rick Wakeman left Yes in 1974 with the infamous Tales From Topographic Oceans Tour, he wanted to do something that was quite interesting and out of the blue to say the least when he released this bombastic concept album based on the Jules Verne story and record it live at the Royal Festival Hall including Blow-Up Star the late David Hemmings to provide as a narrator and of course, the London Symphony Orchestra and the English Chamber Choir to go along with the structures of the live album.
The story of the explorers who decided to come up with a crazy idea to go into a world of science, mystery, and thrills into a fantastic ride to go in the bottom of the earth’s core as if it were a rock musical done by the work of Mr. Wakeman’s keyboards of the Moog and synths that seemed perfect for a theatrical film version of the story and helped by the orchestra and the choir to give it a taste of mass productions to make you feel sure that you are with Rick and the tribute to Jules Verne as if he’s rolling in his grave as if to say ‘This is brilliant! A Rock musical of my story?! What a good idea!’
The pieces are set into four segments; The Journey, Recollection, The Battle, and the Forest. The Journey starts off with Rick and the Orchestra going into bombastic mode with a synthesized classical percussive and horn choir take as the two vocalists Ashley Holt and Gary Hopkins sing like angels to introduce the story for the travelers to go inside the core of our home planet.
Recollection begins with Wakeman’s Moog’s going into an underwater adventure as if the Moog was at the bottom of the sea coming up with some dynamic compositions while the bass and drums do a dramatic pounding to set the scenery and then it becomes pretty for one second and then KABOOM! It becomes a funk mixture ala Yes style throughout the each of the band members while guitarist Mike Egan comes up with a bluesy funk sound on the guitar. One of the most explosive takes in Rick Wakeman’s album of Journey is The Battle, which starts off as a sinister glorious introduction done by Wakeman, pounding, spinning, and around in circles at the same time as the band and the vocals come together into a symphonic pretentious freak-out with Choir and Prog Rock gods coming together as if they were Brothers dueling it out who would win the entire performance throughout the show.
The finale of all finale’s is The Forest which starts off as a calming down moment and then becomes Ragtime for a few seconds while the vocals and the choirs sing like gods to give the Explorer’s singing about their journey and how they felt in sometimes disbelief and shocked over their journey as they returned home to Hamburg and received the good news about the dangerous adventures of the bottom core of the planet Earth. While the band is going on, its Rick’s turn to shine as he plays the Moog like Gandalf and then all of a sudden you could hear at the very end along with the orchestra pieces of Edvard Grieg’s In The Hall of the Mountain King as the percussion and choir while Rick is playing the riff also, mind-boggling isn’t it? And then it ends with a dynamic climax of both the band and the orchestra and choir to reach the high note and then ends with a standing ovation from a roaring applause. Mushrooms, Crocodile Teeth, and Volcanic adventures?
Surely, Rick doesn’t get much attention nowadays, but now he remains a celebrity in the UK doing Rick’s Place on Planet Rock Radio and also a Grumpy Old Men of Keyboard among Keyboard maestros, but he’s still remembered for bringing Jules Verne’s story to life in a Rock Orchestral style.

Il Balletto Di Bronzo - YS

Its one of those albums that would make you be surprised over what the hell they were doing and how they could push the prog button a little further when they released their second album originally released in 1972 with their take of a concept album based on the 15th century city that was mysterious in the heart of Brittany, France but was destroyed by the sea and it remains a mystery and became a legend for medieval historians. For il Balletto Di Bronzo, YS remains one of the most strangest and heart-pounding albums that this short-lived band released among the Italian Symphonic Prog scene and there’s no excuse about this from beginning to end.
But when you listen to this, you might get the feeling that Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez of the Mars Volta fame were listening to this album during their At The Drive In days and knew they wanted to push that experimental market and give the mainstream music scene the middle finger. But let’s talk about the album and the maestro of di Bronzo. Giani Leone is almost a god on the keyboards as he goes ramming speed to give you the tension and the tendency of proto-heavy metal and paying an homage to King Crimson at the same time also that remains inside the pudding while Gianchi Stringa is almost Keith Moon meets Bill Bruford style on the drums, Lino Ajello is a mad scientist on the guitar and Vito Manzari plays some crazy notes on the Bass. The music of course, is fantastic.
The concertos on YS are strange but mind-bogglingly fantastic: The 15-minute Introduzione starts off as a haunting soundtrack to a Mario Bava movie as it begins with a ghostly female choir crying in the background vocals and then the organ comes in to give it a deeper sound and then it becomes like a chaotic scenery gone horribly good with the Moog and then the sneering heavy guitar work that is like a bat out of hell while the organ and the scat solo goes into a freighting mode to make you go for more. Primo Incontro is very high voltage as time signatures and instruments go together like a shredded splicer going up the walls very fast and then the last few seconds sound very baroque Italian classical music that seemed perfect for Mozart, Secondo Incontro reminded me a bit of the Jazz Fusion band Area meets King Crimson at their stop-and-go moments that includes a freak-out moment at their peak, Terzo Incontro is actually a guitar going haywire but in a weird magnificent way as the music is more of a driving force 4-minute and 33-second tribute to the Scandinavian symphonic band of the ‘70s Trace and to Dario Argento’s Profondo Rosso, Hard Rock fusion style, and the 11-minute finale, Epilogo, could only be described as the sound of Italian young men who had a degree in Music in Performance ala King Crimson style that’s very avant-garde and almost paying an homage to The Sailor’s Tale by the Crimso in this haunting melodic beauty. You could almost hear a pin drop as the band go into a scary mode attack that is the perfect choice, you couldn’t let go of it as they blow the door so fucking hardcore, you are 100% scared shitless from this point on.
So far, a new generation of fans who are getting into the Italian Symphonic Prog scene need to get heavily into bands like; PFM, Banco, Le Orme, and Murple’s Io Sono Murple before going into the deeper waters of obscure Italian prog rockers; but YS is the definitive album of Bronzo’s career before calling it a day in 1973. So if you are ready to listen to this album, be prepared and turn this motherfucker up really loud!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Fruupp - The Prince of Heaven's Eyes

It almost sounded like a fairy-tale progressive rock album for children and it was very different while listening to Fruupp’s music for the first time. For me, I am now a huge fan of Fruupp and their third concept album, The Prince of Heaven’s Eyes is a miraculous
Album from beginning to end, most of it almost reminds me of an Irish version of Genesis in 1974. Now if you love the PG-era of Genesis, this is a band that you need to get into. The music is very Christian, Jazz, Folk, and Classical at the same time if you like that type of genre. The story of the album is about a little boy named Mud Flanigan who is searching to find the end of the rainbow after the death of his parents. As he begins his journey, Mud meets some various characters throughout the entire album that are strange, angelic, riders, and sometimes mudgy at the same time. But don’t take my word for it, this is a beautiful story and the songs and some instrumental pieces are exaggerating.
The opening number, It’s All Up Now, which is about Mud’s beginning of the journey. It has a mellowing tone as the drums and keyboards come in like a golden horse flying up in the air while the guitar is doing a medieval homage while it becomes very 19th century from keyboardist Stephen Houston while bassist Peter Farrelly comes up with this angelic voice coming out of nowhere. He has this voice like no other as he comes up with bass patterns to fit the song and then it becomes a happy-go-lucky broadway number in the midsection with the lyrics ‘Hold On, Hold On, What’ll I Do, I don’t want to end up in a pot of stew’ which seems very comedic of the Irish folktales and then it goes back into the finale of the mellowing ballad. Prince of Darkness, which starts off with the horse riding into the night, gives you goosebumps in Fruupp’s narration when Mud meets the Black Prince and gives him a lift on the horse and would take him where the fairies were preparing a feast to wine and dine on.
The song about the Prince of the Night is mysterious, dark, and strange, but superb in an astonishing way. The 2-minute country rocking instrumental piece Jaunting Car which was released as a single, but part of the album, it becomes a twangy piece very Johnny Cash meets Genesis mellotronic piece as Mud drives along with the driver into the valley of the Mudgemen.
Annie Austere, which has a very fast tempo, as the band do a little bit heavy turned symphonic classical piano, the lyrics are fun also as they’re quirky and also kind of romantic beauty for a little boy’s own taste of love and romance as it segues into Knowing You, a 10-minute epic which is the heartfelt pieces on the album which has a sound that has an emotion and kind of wedding music turned proggish at the same time almost very Yes like.
Crystal Brook, which is very church like boy choir sound, has Peter doing an operatic voice while Stephen is playing very emotional on the grand piano for the lead vocalist. It almost sounded like if Peter was fighting back tears while singing this while the background effect of the ocean breezes into the sunset. Seaward Sunset is very has the homage of Camel’s Moonmadness and then becomes symphonic again which has a piano doing some Mozart like sound while the guitar becomes Latimerish done by Vincent McCusker while drummer Martin Foye calms the drum very smooth in this folksy love tune.
The Perfect Wish which ends the story as Mud becomes a rich man to find the gold at the end of the rainbow, has a great melodic tone which is almost a reprise of It’s All Up Now in a dynamic climax with a ragtime quicky and then becoming the ending of all endings in to bid our hero Mud, a final farewell. Fruupp broke up in 1974 after the release of their fourth and last studio album with Modern Masquerades which didn't feautre Houston because he wanted to puruse his christianity faith to become a Reverend. Buy all of the Fruupp albums, you won't regret it!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Bo Hansson - Lord of the Rings

Most likely an alternate soundtrack to the Peter Jackson films, the Ralph Bakshi and the animated made for TV movie release of the Rankin/Bass versions of Tolkien’s trilogy fantasy novel, Swedish Keyboard maestro Bo Hansson went a little further from being a blues rock band in the Merrymen, to go beyond the musical horizon with his fingering on the keyboards. But with his first solo album, he didn’t become just a keyboard player, he pushed the envelope so far, he wanted to take it to another direction with the composing score to pay tribute of JRR Tolkien.
It all started back in 1969 when he received a copy of the book from his girlfriend and then he decided to give it a shot. Hansson twiddled some interesting sounds on the organ at his friend’s apartment, but then was evicted because of the neighbors were complaining about the noise he was making. So, he moved into a small cottage in an Island in Stockholm where he would start coming up with the pieces with drummer Rune Carlsson, flute player, Sten Bergman, and on woodwind Gunnar Bergsten. But for Bo Hansson, he was a virtuoso. He played the Bass, Guitar, Hammond Organ, and the Moog as the group were recording some sessions in the small house in the island. And so, the Music inspired by Lord of the Rings was born in 1970.
The opening number, Leaving Shire seems to have a strange taste for Hansson: an eerie Spaghetti Western soundtrack that sounded like it was recorded in a dark and cavernous place which features a floydian guitar sound while the organ has a haunting chorus in the background with an Indian tribe sound on the drums and the tambourine to the core, The Old Forest and Tom Bombadil has that ambient ‘70s experimental movements with Organ, chugging rhythm guitar, slide guitar going down, and dark flute solos, homage to Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. Fog on the Barrow-Downs is atmospheric: the moog birds setting the scenery while the guitar is doing some howling Spanish classical guitar work while the organ is mourning in pain to search for the precious Ring. The Black Riders & Flight to the Ford starts off with the Organ setting the tension and then it becomes a train-sped tempo from the drums and keyboards with an African tribe to the mix. To have you running to the ford, listen to Hansson’s bass, organ, and guitar licks deliver a punch – the last few minutes its him doing a psychedelic fuzz tone on the guitar, sometimes its crying for help or leading to Frodo Baggins final showdown with the Black Riders.
While the album is a dynamic epic of sci-fi proportions, Lord of The Rings is weird and strange: At The House of Elrond is a crystal mellower downbeat while A Journey in the Dark and Lothlorien have a taste for the gothic cathedral to go haywire with the Keyboards making them sound like its Halloween all over again. Shadowfax goes back to the Indian tone with the drums, guitar, and organ to make it really fast for about 50 seconds. The Grey Havens in which Frodo leaves with Bilbo, the three elves, and Gandalf to search for new land, is a mourning instrumental ballad which sounds very David Gilmour like on the guitar while the keyboards set the emotions for the three Hobbits saying goodbye to their friend as they start a new chapter in their life as the ship sails for Frodo to a new adventure one more time with his uncle Bilbo Baggins. For a concept album, LOTR was a huge hit in Scandinavia and in the UK where Tony Stratton Smith of Charisma was blown away and released it in 1972 as it reached the top 20 in the UK album charts. Wizards, Goblins, Elves, Dwarves, and hairy legs of Hobbits, and the volcanic demon of Sauron? Music doesn’t get much better than this!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Camel - Moonmadness

What is this beauty? Typical ideas and interesting new background music for a children’s lullaby music from listening to Camel’s music like discovering your parents record collection and listening to it by accident and falling in love with it. For me, I’m a huge fan of Camel’s music and their fourth album, Moonmadness, released in 1976, is a dynamic piece of work, from their previous album with no vocals on the essential instrumental album, based on the children’s novel by Paul Gallico of The Snow Goose, the band decided to go a little beyond the sound of the Canterbury scene with astonishing passages and heavy guitar work. The first five albums are progressive rock masterpieces, story wise, epic, and even more of a rock music score to an animated movie if you might find it interesting to listen to.
The short opening number, Aristillus, which is almost a flying instrumental number which features the late Peter Bardens on keyboards doing some dazzling keyboard passages throughout the number. He does some up and down beats on the Moog Synthesizer as he keeps the tempo going in 4/4 and then he does a little eerie moment on the synth. Then, he brings the tempo back up again as it ends on a high note. Song Within A Song is laid back and calm down with a virtuoso guitar work done by Andy Latimer and also doing a folky story tone on the flute. The lyrics are almost a love song and how to follow the lyrics and the chords at the same time. Camel sometimes would have an out of the blue structure for arranging and composition with a magnificent chugging synth, drums, bass, and guitar going together in one to come up with a spacey music that seemed that it was set in the 30th century.
Chord Change gives you a chance to see Camel coming up with unusual time signatures in strange moments. Starts off from more guitar like sound as a trio as Andy takes over as he harmonizes the vocals and then it becomes more of Hackett solo. And then, it becomes a mourning bluesy arrangement and then the music becomes a climatic high note as the organ raises up the volume as Bardens plays the notes very Wakeman like and then becomes a Jazz Fusion finale throughout the piece. Spirit of the Water almost sounded like it was recorded in a dark and watery cave as Bardens comes up with a sinister piano ballad as the vocals talks about the nightless beauty for the unicorn to drink her love the pond.
Another Night which deals with bassist Doug Ferguson, begins with a guitar waking up from its sleep and then becomes a sneering dark tale, it reminded me of a lost Pink Floyd track that David Gilmour wished he could have recorded for the Obscured By Clouds sessions, but it’s a mixture of sneering and a darker emotional tone and then it becomes a bass line which seems nonstop in the mid section as the guitar is doing an ambient sound along with the Hammond Organ with a mysterious tone. Air Born which is inspired by guitarist Andy Latimer, he takes the stage as he comes up with an unbelievable guitar work which sounds like an underwater submarine to look at new life at the bottom of the sea. I always wonder that Camel grew up reading fantasy novels and decided to give this a shot.
The final number, Lunar Sea is based on drummer Andy Ward as he closes up the album with a drum solo. It starts off with an atmospheric moog composition and then it becomes a ship to a new land in another dimension. The first half begins as an experimental mind-boggling adventure and then becomes a freak out passage as it ends with the synths sounding like an ocean to give its final wave. And then it becomes a blast off to say goodbye to its loved ones. It almost as if it was as if a soundtrack to the 1982 animated classic, The Last Unicorn.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Rare Bird - Born Again

After the release of their fourth album, Somebody’s Watching, Rare Bird decided to call it a day, but they decided to release one more album as a farewell to their fans with Born Again. On this album, released in 1974, this shows Rare Bird moving away from the eerie glorious days of the first two albums; Rare Bird and As Your Mind Flies By, into a little bit of commercial and mainstream appeal. But what their final album does, is to have the band to do have a good time and just enjoy the music in the highway of the past, present, and future.
I always felt that lead singer Steve Gould was trying to be more of singer-songwriter, but he kept the tempo going while the other musicians Dave Kaffinetti, bassist Andy Rae who replaced Nic Potter of VDGG fame on Somebody’s Watching were trying to come up with some beautiful movements on here including drummer Fred Kelly. Amazingly, along with the first three albums were heavily magnificent, coming together with harmonic melodies along with ‘70s rock beauty that would be perfect to dance with, the reissue on Born Again is all in all exhilarating as previous Progressive Rock bands that tried to make it in the limelight, but received an underground following today.
The beginning track, Body and Soul, is an upbeat acoustic electric piano dance number that would definitely be a fitting piece that could have been on Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors. What the song is about even though life is hard through stormy weather, you still have your own choices with your soul no matter what the cost depending how you control the situation. Also, they bring their eerie sounds to the core with the organ to pay homage with an almost tribute to As Your Mind Flies By on Peace of Mind which is their tribute to their song, I’m Thinking as an emotional ballad with Kaffinetti’s Organ setting the scenery of the piece.
For all of its lukewarm pieces that comes through Born Again, there are some wonderful songs that would make the ladies ballet to this. The dazzling chugging acoustic Redman has some characterization between Steve Gould and the harmonizing background vocals while Harlem sounds almost like a lost Elton John song from Empty Sky. Almost as if Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac could have been a part of Rare Bird, the electric piano and the Moog synthesizer comes in the picture again as an elegant soul tone on All That I Need that provides a love story.
Meanwhile, Lonely Street is motivated by slick guitar chords, warm bass lines, and a dark tone on the keyboards which almost the song is telling about the streets of San Francisco, California and is almost a Todd Rundgren song and the final number, Last Tango in Belulah which starts off as a Fusion Medieval number in 4/4 time signature and then becomes a smooth jazz ballad about living in the streets to do one more tango for a beautiful night in the fictional town of Belulah. While the bonus tracks Don’t Be Afraid sounds very Steely Danish from the Aja sessions and Passin’ Through becomes a mourning ballad.
Still, Born Again is an admiring and an exciting recording that could still be a part of the Rare Bird catalogue and part of the Esoteric family for Prog lovers to enjoy the music like a time machine that won’t stop forever.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Brain Salad Surgery (Deluxe Edition)

ELP were one of the most superb and the best supergroup to come out of England and probably the gods of the Progressive Rock genre in the early 1970s. They received a dynamic performance at the Isle of Wight after ending the Mussorgky’s piece of Pictures At An Exhibition by using cannons to fire out of the audience, wowing them, and of course having a love-hate relationship with the music critics who either gave them an superb review or calling them snobby or pretentious. And also, the punks who called them boring dinosaurs as they were on the wanted list to be killed. But they never stopped as their Tarkus war machine slammed down on them as they run to the fucking hills.
Keyboardist Keith Emerson, who was one of the most controversial musicians during the late ‘60s, put knives in the organ to give it a disturbing noise and most infamously setting fire to the American flag when he was in The Nice at the Royal Albert Hall after performing Leonard Bernstein’s America. Greg Lake, bass and guitar player, had already achieved a following while he was in King Crimson on the first two albums and then comes Carl Palmer whose dynamic drumming blew the bands of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and of course the Heavy Prog Rockers, Atomic Rooster.
The band knew they wanted to push the buttons and give the classical music composers the middle finger after performing Pictures and Nutrocker from Classical Music into a mind-boggling sneering work of bombastic proportions, but on the 3-CD deluxe edition reissue of Brain Salad Surgery, their fourth album, shows them to go where no band had gone before with Synths, an explosive piano concerto, and folky ballads rolled up into one. Disc 1 is the original album which begans with the explosive take of religious rebellious of controversy with William Blake’s Jerusalem. When then band decided to release it as a hit single, it wasn’t released in the UK and by the BBC because they felt that doing a religious song and turning it into a bombastic rock song was a disgrace of their Christianity. ELP’s homage to Alberto Ginastera’s 7-minute Piano Concerto first movement Toccata, gets a run for the money with using drum synthesizers and bombastic keyboards done by Emerson and Greg’s bass playing scaring the shit out of listeners with its eerie time signatures that go off the wall. Meanwhile lukewarm watery acoustic ballads done by Greg Lake with Still You Turn Me On, Ragtime brawl Scott Joplin piano lovers with Benny The Bouncer, and the 35-minute Space Rock Opera with a little help from King Crimson’s Peter Sinfield on Karn Evil 9.
Disc 2 features two singles that were featured on Works Vol. 2 the jazzy fusion of When The Apples and the erotic operation of the title track, unreleased versions of Karn Evil 9, and the first mixes of Jerusalem, Still You Turn Me On, and Toccata while the backing track of Karn Evil 9: 3rd Impression is a glorious instrumental piece. Meanwhile, in comes the NME Flexidisc 1973 RPM of Excerpts from Brain Salad Surgery which came with the newspaper as to let the music lovers heard what they were going to be excited with.
Disc 3, is actually the 5.1 Super Audio CD format of the album. I was hoping for a New Stereo Mix of the album in its glory, but its not bad, but really fucking good. The inner sleeve talks about the making of the album including the meeting of HR Giger who famously did the work on Ridley Scott’s Alien, designed the sinister front sleeve of BSS. 35 years of bombastic music and Karn Evil 9? Not bad for a show that never ends over and over again.