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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Soft Machine - Third

This is a special review edition for the Prog Rock review blog site dedicated to bassist Hugh Hopper who passed away of leukemia on June 7th of this year. Their double album simply called, Third, showed The Soft Machine moving away from the Psychedelic freak out scene at the London Underground scene including the UFO of the late ‘60s into more of a Canterbury Jazz Fusion scenery that would make fans of the Jazz scene appreciate the sound of what was known as Jazz Fusion. After Daevid Allen and Kevin Ayers departed to pursue a solo career and space rock techniques, It was up to the Soft Machine to move away the singles and make four tracks up to 18 and 19-minutes long with strange melodies and the beats going up and down and time signatures probably going up to 6/4 or 8/4, you can tell that the band were probably listening to Miles Davis’ In A Silent Way and John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and Giant Steps.
The opening track, Facelift starts out with Mike Ratledge’s droning organ sound that sounds very geary and sneering at the same time and then it goes haywire into an avant-garde taste of organs going nuts by adding the sound the fuzztone. And after that’s going on, the sounds of the late Elton Dean’s saxophone, Hugh’s bass lines, and Jimmy Hastings clarinet taking over the piece while Robert Wyatt is doing an Elvin Jones drum style during the composition. And then the last 2-minutes it becomes almost sax attack and then calms down by doing a Kind of Blue going Jazz Fusion style and then it becomes crazy as a time machine going back to the beginning of the first four bars with a backward tape as if they might play the number again and then it ends in a blackout. Slightly All The Time begins with Hugh as if he’s paying an homage to All Blues while doing an interesting bass rhythm as the drums come in and the saxes coming in to do the arrangement while doing a magnificent solo that would have make Coltrane very proud of as if they were performing at a smoky club in the streets of Paris, France. And then before the breakdown, it becomes a Free-Jazz type of rhythm as the tempo speeds up like a race car that won’t stop going as the band ups the boardwalk as the flute solo comes in. It slows down by creating an ambient movement from the instruments by clocking in at 12-minutes from a wah-wah sound on the organ as Wyatt follows Ratledge’s composition as it becomes more of a Bebop and again, Free Jazz homage than being Acid Jazz.
Moon In June is Robert Wyatt’s moment to shine as he sings on the only track and is the ticket to ride for listeners of Jazz or the Canterbury scene to get a real kick out of. The song is almost a tribute to their first album but then, Hugh comes in as he brings the Bass to a level that no other bass players can’t even do for a split second on this Ballad turned Jazz Rock number about living in New York State as it becomes a scat solo done by Wyatt as the band lay the groove and then it becomes a quintessential statement.
The last number from the album, Out-Bloody-Rageous, begins almost like a Tangerine Dream album like atmospheric quality to it backward tape avant-garde style again for the first four minutes and then it segues into the band as they go into a straightforward jazz piece followed by Mike Ratledge’s organ solo ala fuzztone style that covers the entire piece as they go speed up and down the tempo and close it on a high note and then goes back into the ambient moment again for a short moment. Followed by a grand piano doing almost Thelonious Monk pastique as Elton Dean lays the love song type of moment on the sax as it becomes a psychedelic jazz waltz for a moment while the sax goes all the way and Hugh Hopper is dazzling on the bass as he comes up with some beautiful walking bass lines as they go Magma. And then the last three minutes, they're almost back into the ambient keyboard loops which seems very early take of the french prog group, Clearlight by going into the solar system as Mike does some spacey solos on the organ to come up with that technique.
Ahead of its time and different players coming in to be a part of the machine before calling it a day in the early ‘80s, their third album is one of the true masterpieces of the Soft Machine’s career, and this was something never done before and gained the following that it deserves the respects it needs from beyond the future of jazz and canterbury music.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Dream Theater - Scenes from a Memory

Just as Rush brought the sound of heavy metal and progressive rock to the core with 2112, A Farewell To Kings, and Hemispheres in their hometown in Canada, one of the bands from Long Island, New York took that quality and made the music a gigantic crossover and what is now considered Progressive Metal. That band is Dream Theater and their fifth album had made a time machine story set in a dreamland like story in 1928 between; love, death, betrayal, and murder. The result was a classic and dark magnificent beauty of a rock opera.
Formed in 1985 by drummer Mike Portnoy, bassist John Myung, and guitarist John Petrucci, they started out as a group called Majesty. The group recorded some demos on the Majesty-era before settling on the name Dream Theater with the release of their debut album, When Dream and Day Unite featuring the dynamic Charlie Dominici on vocals as he soars from the songs like a cross between Geoff Tate and Robert Plant. After Charlie left, James LaBrie came into the scene and was a perfect match for his vocal ranges. The sounds of the Prog and Metal strengthen when they released Image and Words, Awake, and Falling into Infinity as if they couldn’t back down and never turning back on their fans, but it was time to do something that no other band could have done, a concept album. Scenes from a Memory: Metropolis Pt. II is like no other. Clocking in for 77-minutes, this is a mysterious story told through the mind of Nicholas, who has a love for a woman who lived in the past by the name of Victoria Page in the late ‘20s. The songs which have a highly organized environment in a free rein environment of the sounds of Frank Zappa, Queen, ELP, Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin while Jordan Rudess who replaced Kevin Moore as a keyboardist shines on and delivers some magnificent keyboard sounds including the pounding drums of Portnoy, the shrieking guitar sounds of Brian May and Zappa of John Petrucci and the melodic vocals of James Labrie and then bassist John Myung is doing a Chris Squire like sound on the bass.
There aren’t any lacking excuses on the songs and instrumental pieces, though; but there are four centerpieces of the band’s finest work that would close the ending of the ‘90s. The militant rockin’ instrumental of Overture 1928 mixed army metal, keyboard, drums, and guitar swirls that seems very Math Rock like sound and very World War II like quality that came straight out the soldier’s diaries. More balladry lukewarm textures is the acoustic emotions on Through Her Eyes, featuring Pertucci on guitar, Portnoy slowing down the beat making it more of a smooth jazz sound on the drums while LaBrie is almost crying during the number as if he was singing a song to an alternate soundtrack to a romantic movie.
Similarity to the sounds of grunge and thrash metal, Home has more of a difference with 90s experimental metal band Tool and grunge heroes Alice in Chains than Metallica, while Beyond this Life describes a dedication musical montage that could have been lifted from the minds of Brian May and Frank Zappa as if they could have done an album and tour together in the mid ‘80s. It maybe that Scenes from a Memory would have had a new generation of fans who admire the sounds of metal and ‘70s rock bands that would have appreciated the music of Dream Theater and their heroes for over 10 years now.
After the album was released, the band went on tour to support the album and did a live version of the piece in its glory featuring actors to do the story as they were the conductors to perform it in the background in 2000. Also, the music was also used for the soundtrack to Funimaton's Dragon Ball Z story on the History of Trunks for a TV special. To this day, the music sounds fresh and its hard to explain why its one of their finest pieces of work.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Genesis - Trespass

By 1970, Genesis were moving away from the Psychedelic-Pop songs that paid tribute to The Bee Gees and The Beatles after the release of From Genesis to Revelation in 1967. They decided to go beyond the abyss and created an album that was; medieval, folky, hard, and epic at the same time also with the release of their second album, Trespass. “We set out as songwriters, and we were sort of happy to write that, but I always think there is something inside of us a yearning of an exploration and to mix styles and as we set out to adventurous and push the boundaries” claims lead singer Peter Gabriel during the making of Trespass on the Genesis box set 1970-1975 DVD. The album started off inside a Cottage which Mike Rutherford simply referred it as “The Cottage Era” where the band spent six months in Dorking as they were beginning to write music for the Trespass album. The album itself was a starting point for Genesis because they wanted to go beyond the scenery and an underground sensation that would have made which simply known as the Peter Gabriel-era a huge buzz and word-of-mouth.
The album’s opening introduction to Trespass, Looking For Someone, is certainly a dazzling production for 7-minutes, also, featuring the heavy guitar solos done by Anthony Phillips and the pounding drums of the late John Mayhew that would have made Genesis almost a cross between Procol Harum and Family, as Peter is doing a Roger Chapman type of vocal while Tony Banks is coming up with some battlefield sounds on the organ that seems very fantasy like. White Mountain which is based on Jack London’s novel White Fang, is almost a tribute to the British Folk and Celtic scene of the ‘60s. A finger picking sound on the acoustic guitar which sound very similar to Zeppelin’s acoustic second side of Led Zeppelin III, the track then becomes a marching Sound with the drums and the organ while the flute becomes a death cry as well as Gabriel’s bullhorn sound as he describes about Fang’s battle between the wolves before it dissolves as a haunting moral piece with the humming and the organ. The two objects of Folk and Christian Music set to an alternate soundtrack of children’s novels, seemed almost out of place, but it fits well, Visions of Angels has more of a mysterious pastoral sound that has a lot of similarities of Fantasy on Edith Nesbit’s The Enchanted Castle than C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia that is almost 19th century if you want to prefer to it in a roundabout way while the 8-minute ballad turned explosive symphonic beauty Stagnation pays a tribute to J.R.R. Tolkien’s character, Gollum, and it could have been used as a part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy which features in the midsection a glorified organ solo done by Tony Banks and then it becomes whimsical for a moment as Peter explains about the creature who wants to drink the slimy water as he revisits his past and then, BAM! The last 2-minutes is an explosive power tour de force as the band go maximum by going psych and then fairport convention for a moment and then it goes back to the symphonic piece again into a dynamic climax. Four minute-pieces just don’t come out of nowhere for any pop band, but on Dusk, it again has a Celtic movements with 12-string acoustic guitars done by Phillips, Rutherford, and Banks as Peter goes Christian again in this lukewarm beauty. The last number is almost a tribute to Keith Emerson and the Nice in which Peter Gabriel mentions while the band were doing in which is to become a live favorite in the early days with their dynamic militant political prog taste of The Knife, an homage to Rondo and Bolero. Ahead of its time, sometimes odd, it remains one of Genesis’ all-time favorite progressive rock album.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Fruupp - Seven Secrets

Fruupp decided to go more pastoral and symphonic after the release of their debut album, Future Legends. Their first album was deeper and sometimes classical meets Yes in a distinctive way. But they decided to not back down and made their music a little bit more polished and a bit baroque in the direction they wanted to do go further with. By the time they released, Seven Secrets released in 1974, it was more positive and to a great extent in a strong musical margin.
I wouldn’t whine and bitch about the 8-minute opening number, Faced with Shekinah, because it begins with a mourning harpsichord and oboe introduction that seems very Johann Sebastian Bach meets Beethoven as if they were joining these guys, and then it becomes of shifting piece from the players in the group as they play like a soccer match and the mood becomes a tension of high maximum volume of wizardry sounds of the guitar, keyboards, and the vocals as they were telling the story in a complex-song that is almost very Genesis-like. I was always wondering from beginning to end, that either I was going to love or hate this album. In the end, this is a shattering piece of work even though some fans might tend to enjoy their music in a glorified way.
They started to use a string quartet with a backing orchestra to make it more of a symphonic ballad while the band do a classical rock technique on Wise as Wisdom and then it becomes a passage statement when the band do their composition as the guitar and keyboards do a Floyd-like sound as if they were paying a tribute to the space rock legends. Despite the Tolkien-related title, White Eyes is a pastique and lovely song, not to be as a tribute to The Moody Blues Justin Hayward-era, the tracks develops from the classical symphony to dinner jazz music with people talking in the background and then dissolving into an acoustical ditty and then back into the Bo Hansson relative keyboard sounds that are done by Stephen Houston.
The similarity with its chugging speed and an eerie quality tone, Garden Lady has a common taste of German Progressive Rock space rockers Nektar and Yes’s Fragile album than Pink Floyd while Three Spires is almost like a painting of A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. With its acoustic and again symphonic prog moments that could have been easily fitted from a Gordon Lightfoot song. Elizabeth brings back the string quartet sound as they go back into the Genesis mode as they indicate the ballet music scenery with its lukewarm vocals done by bassist and vocalist Peter Farrelly as the music becomes sounds very pastique again as the group do a time signature in ¾ ala symphonic prog jazz that would have made Coltrane and Miles Davis including Amaedus very, very happy with to hear such a magnificent beauty out of.
And if you think Elizabeth was the finale of the album, think again.
The closing title track that is just 1-minute song which is done by a background vocals done by Peter as he’s doing a folky John Martyn fingerpicking guitar work as the narrator deals with what the listener with what the secret is about. It’s about wonder and mystery of different songs, sounds, sights, and looking at it closely of wonderful things that is almost done by Bilbo Baggins which I think the narrator is actually Stephen Houston. All of the sounds and mysterious chord changing provocative key moments in the song that includes a strange album cover of an angelic woman from the future who looks like Elizabeth from the song who wants to help out for peace? Not a bad idea from a four-piece from Ireland.

Rush - Snakes & Arrows

2007 was a magical year for the Canadian Prog Metal trio Rush in full magnetic power. It had been a while since Rush released a studio album since Vapor Trails and their 30th Anniversary Tour and the R30 DVD, but with the release of Snakes & Arrows, it remains one of their finest albums since 2112, Signals, and Permanent Waves.
The lyrics from Neil Peart are definitely on the top of Rush’s game. Dealing with excuses from Religious bullshit on; Armor and Sword, Workin’ Them Angels, and Faithless, he acts as an intercessor to the issue on Religious worshipers to God and Jesus Christ and acting to say what is going wrong with the situation with lyrics including: ‘Confused alarms of struggle and fight/blood is drained of color’ and then later on the struggling to go up above the clouds and the damage is too disturbing with; ‘No one gets to their heaven without a fight/the battle flags are flown/at the feet of a god unknown’ and ‘Sometimes the damage is too great/or the will is too weak/what should have been out armor/becomes a sharp and burning sword’
What I loved about Neil’s rants is that he’s absolutely right on what is happening. If you don’t like what he’s saying, than don’t listen to them or the music itself, but if the music seems a little political, they could give the band a huge massive attack they couldn’t destroy. It’s almost the middle finger to the issue. Depending whether you agree or disagree with the way Neil’s lyrics, it might contain some controversial taste on the debate. If it wasn’t for Rush, we wouldn’t even be here today.
The opening introduction of Far Cry which was released as a single before the album came out during the Summer of 2007, is heavy guitar riffs and the pounding drums that sounds like a race car that won’t stop going fast around in circles, is the instant fundamental track. It’s also the prototype of Rush’s career: A cross between Test for Echo and Circumstances, lead vocalist and bass guitar player Geddy Lee’s high-pitched vocals added a taste of color that would make you cry for joy, well sort of, the stealthy manner of the first track.
During the ‘70s, Rush always has a taste of doing some epic prog instrumentals that seem very heavy and a taste of the folk music turned metal. This time, they brought it back from the dead. The 6-minute track, The Main Monkey Business has very similar touching taste that remains a tribute to the Moving Pictures album with its hard rocking guitar sounds done by Alex Lifeson who’s doing a cross between Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin that is almost dangerous but very experimental. Malignant Narcissism is Geddy Lee as he does some heavy fuzztone fusion like bass work on his trademark Fender Jazz Bass, and then comes the Folk music turned into Sabbath’s Laguna Sunrise which is definitely on the top of Rush’s favorite instrumental tracks, Hope starts off with an acoustical lukewarm guitar solo done by Alex Lifeson as he puts the heavy licking solos away for now the way that Zep would do every performance as they would sit down and do a magical bluegrass sing-along song that would have audiences stomp their feet to. But the real grinders are the mind-boggling tracks such as; the blues turned power metal turned sinister track on The Way the Wind Blows, the soothing melodic rhythm on The Larger Bowl, and the atmospheric tension of haunting menaces on Spindrift. All in all, Snakes and Arrows is their greatest comeback and the best of the best Rush albums they’ve done. And the meek shall inherit the earth for the Temples of Syrinx. The prog metal gods are back in a big, big, BIG way!

Marillion – Early Stages Official Bootleg Box Set 1982-1987

It’s been a while since I’ve listened to some new Progressive Rock bands from the present and future, but there’s one band that I’ve really gotten heavily into since 2005 and that band is Marillion and their new 6-CD live box set simply called Early Stages The Official Bootleg Box Set 1982-1987 is their rare live recordings that focuses on the Fish-era as he became the driving front man and force of Marillion and doesn’t pull any punches throughout the whole set and would make a huge fan favorite among their fans to hear unheard performances at the right place at the right time at your own risk.
Disc One starts off with their performance at the Mayfair on December 12, 1982 in Glasgow, Scotland for Radio Clyde and it was around that time that they were signed to EMI records and Market Square Heroes was released as a single in October of that same year and also the early days as they were getting ready to work on their debut album, Script for a Jester’s Tear. Featuring explosive live takes of; Three Boats Down from the Candy, audiences clapping along to the rhythm of an earlier version of Garden Party and She Chameleon as it goes to show how Marillion weren’t like any other Prog Rock band, but more of a dimensional rock band that would take the music to a new level.
Disc Two and Three is their entire performance at the Marquee on December 30, 1982 and also the end of an era as a club band as Fish explained because they were about to enter the big festivals and at Arena concerts also including the Hammersmith Odeon. During that night, you can feel the crowd was blown away in a jam packed small club during each number the band would do including a extraordinary live version that clutches around 19-minutes of Grendel which features a very Hackettish like solo from the guitar and the keyboards almost a tribute to Genesis 23-minute epic, Supper’s Ready. Also, they key moments on this recording. Audience’s were congratulating the band as they have their heads shaking on The Web, singing along on He Knows You Know and Market Square Heroes while closing it out along with them with fast upbeat hard prog classic, Margaret.
Around Disc Four, they are performing in Festivals including this one at Reading in 1983 around the time their debut album was released. It is also one of the best live recordings ever and around eight songs, they proved they couldn’t back down. It includes the ‘80s like take of the Rush Signals sounding on the new song Assassin which was featured on their third album, Fugazi. And then you can hear the atmosphere in the audience at the festival were jumping and clapping for joy on pieces like; Forgotten Sons and Charting the Singles and also the titled track, Script for a Jester’s Tear.
Disc Five is the entire performance at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1984 by the time they were on tour promoting Misplaced Childhood and of course, Fugazi. Most of the songs were classic radio friendly including the love ballad Kayleigh , but it’s the killing technique on Punch and Judy and the 10-minute Fugazi blew the crowd away as it shows to you that these recordings remain a high note classic.
The final and sixth Disc is them performing at Wembley Arena during the summer of 1987 for the Clutching At Straws tour which was the last album to feature Fish while the band go full speed as they perform parts of the album and Misplaced Childhood including some heavy emotions on Warm Wet Circles, Lavender, That Time of the Night,White Russian, and The Last Straw. All in all, this is by far one of the most best live albums to be released from Marillion’s career as they remain a part of ‘80s Prog.

Barclay James Harvest - Once Again

Whether it’s the tribute to the Moody Blues with Poor Man’s Moody Blues or the radio friendly rocker I Thank You, Barclay James Harvest always released some interesting albums in the 1970s. They have a very atmospheric and guitar layered background to set the fans wanting more of the sounds of BJH. But one of their albums took a surprising lift with their second album. Released in 1971, Once Again is up the musical anty. And it also gave the four-piece to do have a taste of lukewarm love stories, haunting fantasy and sci-fi tales, and British Folk music to go along with the whole ingredients of almost structured experimentations that were too dangerous for a single off the album and make it a single version in which these guys didn’t want to do.
Among the single of the poppy-psychedelic song Pools of Blue and Once Again, which was produced by the late great Norman Smith, who worked with; The Beatles, Pink Floyd’s first album, and The Pretty Things S.F. Sorrow, it gave the group to focus to push forward and it gave the members in the band including keyboardist Woolly Wolstenholme, guitarist and vocalist John Lees, bassist Les Holroyd, and drummer Melvin Pritchard the opportunity to designate and lengthen their instruments that isn’t hit by the mainstream from these four guys.
There are some amazing centerpieces that are never dull and never boring at the same moment by the time you listen to this in all of its glory. There are five of the highlights that would make your heart sink for joy; The 8-minute opening introduction of She Said which features Woolly doing some magnificent ambient keyboard sounds while John Lees is coming up with some heavy guitar sounds and a magnificent accompaniment including an eerie recorder solo that is almost straight out of an 13th century English Castle.
More out of the haunting elements is the Isaac Asimov influence on Happy Old World, which features John Lees playing a narrator about a life-form alien who comes to Earth who wants to deliver peace and freedom instead of hate in this glorified mini opera production. The love song acoustic crisp on Vanessa Simmons as if BJH were writing a love letter to their girlfriend and deciding who is perfect and who is the right person to date or is it all just a game. One of the songs that has become a live favorite among BJH and their fans is the symphonic explosive ballad Mockingbird, that includes a symphony orchestra which was done by the composing musical director Robert John Godfrey (before he formed The Enid) who was the bees knees with Harvest from concerts to BBC Sessions until 1974. It probably remains one of my all time favorites it almost reminded me a little bit of The Moody Blues Days of Future Passed album, but in an exquisite way!
And one of their tributes to the lovely princesses and the orchestral rock arrangements that seems very Last Unicorn orientated is Galadriel, which has more of the symphonic rock sound and it has an acknowledgement a tribute to Justin Hayward and it could only be done by the work of these guys who’ve been reading stories from CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, and Peter S. Beagle. The band are still going strong. Woolly has a new band simply called Maestoso and they were touring under the title of “John Lees’ Barclay Hames Harvest” but it took a toll for one band member. Mel Prichard passed away six years ago. Today, the group are now a trio and they have a cult following in their home town and in Europe. Still one of the most magnificent bands to come out of the Harvest Label and the band that refuses to die in the underground-era.