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Monday, April 19, 2021

A Tribute to MoonJune Records - 20 Years Later

How would I describe MoonJune Music? Brilliant? Superb? Amazing? Mind-blowing? Or Surreal? If the answer is all of the above, you probably might be on the right track. It’s been 20 years since Leonardo Pavkovic had launched the label which covers Progressive Rock, Jazz Fusion, Avant-Garde, and World Music. Alongside Esoteric Recordings, ECM, Harvest Records, Island Records (the Pink Years), and the swirling Vertigo label from 1969 to 1973 in its golden era, MoonJune Records is still going strong.

I first became aware of the MoonJune label back in the 2010s when I was a student in Houston Community College when I bought Adele Schmidt and Jose Zegarra Holder’s first of the documentary series, Romantic Warriors: A Progressive Music Saga. It was where I first heard D.F.A. and I was hooked. It was this mixture of Italian Prog, Canterbury, and Jazz Fusion rolled into one. And during the summer of 2010, I joined the social media world with Facebook.

That was where I believe I became friends with Leo. If it wasn’t for social media, the blog would’ve been done and dusted. I decided to messaged him during that time by letting him know how much I enjoyed some of the music what he was unleashing and he sent me an envelope of MoonJune releases from Machine Mass Trio, Tohpati, SimakDialog, SH.TG.N, and Mahogany Frog to name a few.

And it’s been an amazing ride to see what Leo will send over. Whether it’s Dwiki Dharmawan, Soft Machine Legacy, Mark Wingfield, Slivovitz, Dewa Budjana, Stick Men, or Markus Reuter, Leo always has a good ear to bringing the world of music to life. For me who has been a supporter of MoonJune since 2010 after watching the Romantic Warriors documentary, I can imagine my ears would be perking to see what Pavkovic will think of next.

In an interview last year with Cedric Hendrix on the amazing CirdecSongs website on June 27th, Cedric asked Leo on how he defined his place in the Music Industry; “I believe I’ve been fairly successful in exposing a lot of great, deserving talents to a much wider segment of audiences. I believe fans of progressive music weren’t afforded the opportunity to become acquainted with so many great, deserving artists and their unique art – from these and other countries prior to the impact of MoonJune.”

“I do not feel the need to address questions as to why I did this or that, or why I am still running the label in such a non-conformist fashion since 2001. My approach to MoonJune has never been framed in any conventional manner. Initially, it just happened. And it’s still happening, and will continue to happen.”

And who knows where the future will be for MoonJune Records. Despite the world coming to a screeching halt last year in March due to the pandemic and COVID-19, the music of MoonJune has always lift our spirits up to make sure not just to mope and groan and be couch potatoes, but music will keep us alive during these tricky times.

To Leonardo Pavkovic, thank you for 20 years of unleashing incredible music from the label. Let’s see where the next 10 years will be in the 2030s to see what you will have in store for us in the near future.

And to top all off, here’s my top 20 MoonJune favorites:

1. I Know You Well Miss Clara – Chapter One
2. Stick Men – Prog Noir
3. SH.TG.N – SH.TG.N
4. Stephan Thelen – Fractal Guitar
5. simakDialog – Demi Masa
6. D.F.A. – 4th
7. Tohpati Ethnomission – Save the Planet
8. Machine Mass Trio – As Real As Thinking
9. Slivovitz – All You Can Eat
10. Yagull – Kai
11. Susan Clynes – Life Is…
12. Ligro – Dictionary 2
13. Zhongyu – Zhongyu
14. Stratus Luna – Stratus Luna
15. Mark Wingfield – Proof of Light
16. Mahogany Frog – DO5
17. Moraine – Groundswell
18. The Wrong Object – After the Exhibition
19. Markus Reuter – Truce
20. Dewa Budjana – Dawai in Paradise

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Jethro Tull - A (A La Mode): The 40th Anniversary Edition

This 3-CD/3-DVD set consists of Jethro Tull’s departure from their Progressive roots into an electronic rocking voyage with their 13th studio album, A. Originally released on the Chrysalis label on August 29th in the UK and on September 1st in the States in 1980, the album was originally going to be an Ian Anderson solo album, but the label decided to be credited to the band instead. While there were two original members – Ian Anderson and Martin Barre – from previous line-up changes, the album did well.

Recorded during the summer of 1980 at Maison Rouge Mobile and Maison Rouge Studios featuring bassist Dave Pegg and drummer Mark Craney along with guest musician from Roxy Music, violinist and keyboardist Eddie Jobson, A is getting the recognition it deserving entitled A (A La Mode): The 40th Anniversary Edition. And with Steven Wilson returning to the mixing table once more for the Tull reissues, it’s time to see what has the maestro has done to Tull’s underrated gem.

Gone are the storytelling structures from Thick as a Brick, Aqualung, A Passion Play, and the Folk-Rock trilogy, into soaring adventures from the Fylingdale Flyer. You can hear Barre’s guitar and Eddie’s synths into the forefront as the doubling-vocal tracks from Ian as he sings “Through clear skies tracking lightly from far down the line/No fanfare, just a blip on the screen/No quick conclusions now everything will be fine.

It does have a little bit of Rush in there as if they were honoring a bit of the 2112-era, but checking the channels on the plane’s coordination to make sure it makes a soft landing with some galloping grooves. Batteries Not Included becomes this intensive synth-rocking explosion into the danger zone thanks to Eddie, Martin, Mark, and Ian’s improvisation on the intro.

With its nod to this incredible strange toy from the Land of the Rising Sun, the question where are the batteries for it to work? Not only Tull can rock, but show some humor in search of the one thing to make it turn the lights on and make the wheels run. Eddie takes us in a darker turn with his electric violin into the working-class Uniforms as he helps Ian on his melodic vocal styles by going upwards and downwards.

But once he returns to the folk-rock roots with some synths leading the way on Working John, Working Joe, Ian doesn’t shy away from Tull’s golden-era for a brief 3 minutes as he goes back the Premiata Forneria Marconi-sque vibrations of a medieval folk turned heavy rock dance for The Pine Martens Jig.

Closing number, And Further On starts off with a nod to the unsung British jazz group Gilgamesh from their Another Fine Tune You’ve Got Us Into period for a minute before Jobson takes us into the deep, dark forest as Ian sings about the pollution level has gotten worse; “We saw the heavens break/And all the world go down to sleep/And rocks on mossy banks/Drip acid rain from craggy steeps.

And the state on Earth has now entered the O-Zone level, but then the dynamics from Barre’s guitar comes crashing in for Craney bringing hopefully a small glimpse of the sunlight to perch through the dark clouds. The situation ends on a cliffhanger on what is going to happen next. And who knows where the next hope for peace will be and will they be there for us?

The bonus tracks on the first disc on contains Barre’s guitar introduction for the extended version of Crossfire. It feels almost like this overture-sque scenario before it goes straight into the original take. For me, I always felt Martin’s guitar on the opener, should have been on the album because it gives us a take on what the danger is to come and how we must prevent it.

Coruisk starts with Ian’s flute by taking us into a darker atmosphere with Jobson’s echoing piano filling up the halls before the bass, dooming guitar, and drums sends the listener into at first these abandoned halls before the unexpected eruptive time changes come charging in with some heavy conga grooves. Since I’ve mentioned about Rush earlier, this is probably their take of an earlier vibe of YYZ from the Moving Pictures period by taking it up a notch a-la Tull style!

The second and third disc is their live performance which had been previously “bootlegged” at the Los Angeles Sports Arena during the A tour on November 12, 1980. I can remember watching the footage of their stunning performance of Aqualung which was on VH1 classic when I got back into the re-introduction world of Jethro Tull in the fall of 2005.

Now with the Slipstream available on the A box set on DVD in Steven’s mix and the Sports Arena’s recording, it makes you feel like you have a front row ticket to watch the band’s performance at their best. From the moment they take the stage with the blistering take of Black Sunday as Ian becomes the storyteller, you can feel they are a part of the journey before Jobson goes into some heavy classical concerto to be flying into a far-away land.

I can hear Dave Pegg laying down the funk on his Bass on Crossfire as he and Martin follow Ian’s pleading on the scene of the crime and portraying his innocence while laying down heavier militant rock vibes to Protect and Survive. This gives Eddie a lot of ammunition he needs during the performance between his violin and Ian’s flute solo. You can feel his appreciation during the times he plays the synths by following Martin’s arrangements.

He is really going light-speed on his violin as he plays nonstop to take center stage for the audience to keep going. I could feel the intensity of Curved Air’s Darryl Way and Mahavishnu’s Jerry Goodman. The band members are following him in hot pursuit to see where Eddie is going into next before Barre lays down some hammering improvisations to give Jobson more ammunition he needs for his keyboard solo.

Now if you think he’s doing a symphonic composition, think again. Eddie’s keyboard solo becomes dark and gothic. He adds enough charges to bring the reverbing effects inside the arena as they cheer him on to add some classical vibrations of Liszt’s last symphony. They also perform two tracks from the War Child album; the dancing sing-along for joy on Skating Away on the Thin Ice of a New Day and the powering punch of Bungle in the Jungle.

But when it comes to the late Mark Craney during the drum solo break on Uniform, he’s almost like a conductor taking the drum exercises to a larger scale. He plays at times between Buddy Rich, Bill Bruford, and Neil Peart. He’s really going into a killer solo on the kit. Jazzy, Rocking, and in your face, Mark deserves a lot of recognition on this number.

The verdict? While it’s not one of my favorite Tull albums, The A La Mode box set is worth the wait. And made me appreciate the album a bit more thanks to Steven’s incredible mixing to show that he may have one more Tull reissue up his sleeve. So who knows what will happen next. But it’s time to fly again once more to delve back into the A album, and finally getting the recognition it deserves.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Remembering Michael Nathanson (1947 - 2021)

I lost my Mom Saturday morning, April 3, 2021. She had been ill for a few years. She was not only Mom, but a teacher, book-reader, writer, editor, watching TV game shows, and loved to shop!

The past five days since her passing have been rough for me, my Dad, and my sister. We not only lost our Mom, but also a friend, someone who listened, understood, helpful, special, witty, and fun. We loved her very, very much.

When I was starting the second semester in the fall of 2005 as a student in Houston Community College after going through a rough beginning in the first semester, I learned how to keep going. I took a course in Commercial Music Forum from Joe LoCascio who became one of my mentors and teacher to go from filmmaking to Jazz Studies. The course of Commercial Music Forum was that you had to write five concert reviews.

And that was where the light bulb lit up inside my head. I have been writing reviews since 2008. If it wasn’t for both Joe and my Mom, I don’t know what I would be doing right now. Since starting my blogsite, Music from the Other Side of the Room, and then writing for Echoes and Dust, and a 2-year ride with The Progressive Aspect, my Mom was always supportive for me to follow my dream in writing.

I know that she would want me to continue writing. And I’m following that dream to keep going.

I remember when the late great film critic Roger Ebert dedicated a special to his partner Gene Siskel from the Chicago Tribune who passed away in 1999 entitled Remembering Gene Siskel for the TV show Siskel & Ebert. In the final segment of the tribute, Roger talked about Gene asking the final question to either an actor or a director, “What do you know for sure?”

Okay Mom, what do I know for sure about you, well you were one of the smartest, polite, amazing, and funny person I got to know and an amazing editor. To quote Ebert, It was almost impossible to tell you anything you already didn’t know. Whether you were watching a movie marathon of the Harry Potter series, Bette Davis, Casablanca, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, or watching either Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune when it come on in the afternoon and evening.

And I know for sure that going to movies as a family seeing The Birdcage or Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood: Men in Tights, it was an amazing time to go. Seeing some R-rated movies like South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut was an extra bonus!

And I know for sure that a book you finished reading whether it was good or bad, your spirit was still high. I know it’s going to be a long and winding road without you, being here, but your spirit and your legacy will never die. Thank you Mom for being a part of our lives. And God bless.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Jethro Tull - Stormwatch: The 40th Anniversary Force 10 Edition

This 4-CD and 2-DVD set consists of the continuing reissues of Jethro Tull’s catalog. This one is twelfth studio album, Stormwatch. Originally released on the Chrysalis Records label, this was the final chapter of their Folk-Rock trilogy which started out with Songs from the Wood, Heavy Horses, and Stormwatch. Here in this amazing set entitled; The 40th Anniversary Force 10 Edition, sees the band at their best, but also the last real Jethro Tull album which marked the end for the classic line-up of the 1970s.

The theme of the subject matter behind Stormwatch deals with the problems with the environment, oil, and money. By this time, bassist John Glascock who joined the band in 1976 replacing Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond, with Too Old To Rock & Roll; Too Young to Die!, was in bad health due to his lifestyle with drugs and alcohol, missed out on the sessions for the album as he appeared three on the tracks, as Ian helped out on the bass during the recording sessions.

While there was tension behind the scenes and soon Dee Palmer, Barriemore Barlow, and John Evan would leave during the end of the Stormwatch tour, this was also the last real Jethro Tull album as well. So how did Steven Wilson do with the new mixing of the album? Well, let’s delve into it.

When you listen to the fanfare of Warm Sporran, you get a feeling that the marching drum beats, bass riffs, flutes and vocalizations are coming right in front of you. Ian’s flute goes into this jazz-like groove before the sound delves into this Italian-like renaissance as if they’re marching into their final battle, knowing that this is the end of their run, but knowing they died as heroes.

I love how Barre’s guitar goes right into the punch for Something’s On the Move. It gives this characterization of the story on the danger of the polluted wasteland has now transformed into a nightmarish ice storm. The brutal yet heavier arrangements, sees that there’s no sign of the sunlight happening and the death warrant has just been signed of the mysterious ladies curse upon the frozen landscapes.

Orion becomes this epic movie inside your head. At times it rises up with the string section, romantic piano and acoustic guitars, and the question on how that the city of once was, has now become this sad place with no sign of happiness while the medieval rocking opener, North Sea Oil tackles with the oiling business and the prices going up, it is going to be a very heavy time for that sign of jackpot in the oil drilling business to get that big money, but coming with a heavy price.

Dun Ringill is Ian’s return to both Wond’ring Aloud and Jack-in-the-Green. It’s about the Isle of Skye as he sings through this echoing effect and playing intensively on his guitar. It feels like a waltz at times as he’s feels the thunderstorm and the waves crashing right in front of him by crying out to the gods at times as Evan’s thunderous piano work on Flying Dutchman which was inspired by a legendary ghost ship that was doomed to set sail the oceans, goes into a sign of warning to be on the look-out for this mysterious ship.

John’s bass line on the bonus track for Crossword on the second disc, sets up a cat-and-mouse chase through various obstacles with Barre’s riffs before rising up to the mountains in the midsection on trying to understand that living the grind of working, can be put a strain between you, your family, and how do you want your future to be in the years to come?

A Stitch in Time is Ian’s response to Frank Zappa’s Over-Nite Sensation with female singers to a mid-tempo heavy rock song while returning to the medieval roots honoring Gentle Giant with these odd time changes for Palmer’s arrangements based on an English Folk song that was written by King Henry VIII, King Henry’s Madrigal. I love how Tull can create this traditional composition and take it up a notch by making not just heavier, but proggier at its peak with some twists to honor the Rock Progressivo Italiano genre at times.

Evan strikes again on Urban Apocalypse as he goes from piano to an attack mode on the organ at times. This deals with the big corporations have taken over the enterprise and it is not a pretty scenario as Palmer’s lyrics showcases the dark side of greed and corruptive leaders have a huge amount of skeletons in the closet they don’t want the public to know.

The eerie synths set up the nightmare that is about to come for the Sweet Dream Fanfare as Tull goes into this ambient moody feel to a fanfare approach, xylophones, heavier guitars, and channeling The Moody Blues’ Procession before getting the crowd to stand up with a brutal take of Sweet Dream. Now on Discs Three and Four contains the full concert at Den Haag on March 16th during the Stormwatch tour at the Nederlands Congresgebouw, which would be later known as the World Forum.

It starts off with a dooming laden for the Prelude to a Storm for the synths setting up the thunder and dark clouds appearing out of nowhere like an overture-sque intro before setting up the dangerous sail into the unknown before the mournful ride towards Home becomes this question on where do we go from here after an exhausting day at work as Elegy fills the halls with an emotional renaissance ride into the Grey Heavens.

As the classics with Aqualung, Heavy Horses, Minstrel in the Gallery, Too Young To Rock & Roll; Too Young to Die!, and the excerpts from Thick as a Brick, it shows that Tull haven’t forgotten the fan favorites along with an intensive guitar solo that Barre does to bring out this brutal reverbing effect that is like a race-car drive into the finish line with some killer improvisations.

But I wished there was some clapping to the rhythm on Old Ghosts that would’ve followed Tull’s groove as Ian becomes this storyteller by describing the structures of the garden at Kilmarie House. Ian isn’t just a flute player, but letting the audience be a part of the journey from the Stormwatch tour before the alarm of danger goes off for the dangerous live take with Evan’s organ taking the ‘60s vibe on Something’s On the Move.

The deluxe edition contains a 97-page booklet containing liner notes by Martin Webb about the making of the album, interviews from Ian, Dee, and Dave while Barre was interviewed by David Rees along with a quote from Barlow courtesy of A New Day magazine. It also includes photos of the tour, multi-track tapes, 45 RPM’s, tour dates, promo posters for the album, and the time they did music for the Scottish Ballet in February, 1981 and one for the Theatre Royal Glasgow on March 7th, 1979.

When the album was released on September 14, 1979, it got mixed reviews in the UK. The NME considered North Sea Oil, the worst record of the week including the Record Mirror who gave it a disheartened review, followed by Sounds. But it got some good reviews from the late Karl Dallas of the Melody Maker. While this album was ahead of its time, and Steven’s mix giving Stormwatch the recognition it deserves, and giving John Glascock the recognition he deserves. Not just his time with The Gods, Carmen, and Head Machine, but the swan song farewell it deserves.

But Stormwatch while it may take time to get into. And whether you get it or not, you have to understand that this closes the book on Jethro Tull’s amazing run they had from 1968 to 1979. And that’s where the ‘80s begins for the group in a different period.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Rosalie Cunningham - Number 149 / Fossil Song

It’s been nearly two years since Rosalie Cunningham has released her follow-up sole self-titled debut album which was my album of the year in 2019. While it’s also been a year since going into lockdown mode due to the pandemic and COVID-19, music has always kept my spirits up and running. But Rosalie shows no sign of stopping as she’s released her single on the Esoteric Antenna label, Number 149 and the B-Side, Fossil Song.

The first track, Number 149, which was named after the house that she grew up in that still photograph, is a trip down memory lane for Rosalie to remember the childhood memories she had as a kid. There’s a bit of course, The Beatles, but with the Mellotron-sque dreamy landscapes that she and Rosco’s drumming brings, it opens the doors up into this twilight zone-sque parallel universe.

I think of the Syd Barrett approaches that are on here while Rosalie channels her brutal riffs in some of the midsections as if she is crying out to the gods up into the mountains of Asgard by raising Thor’s hammer with a battle cry. There’s also the finale where they stomp into the Slade groove thanks to Rosco’s drum patterns, clapping rhythms, and dancing to the beat that Rosalie does by taking the listener into the unknown.

Fossil Song is Rosalie’s tip of her Mad Hatter’s hat to both comic book writer Neil Gaiman and Van Der Graaf's Peter Hammill. I feel this tug towards Marc Bolan’s lyrical arrangements as she does this cat-and-mouse texture between her and Rosco. But while the Beatles inspirations are there, there is the Saucerful of Secrets-era of Pink Floyd in there as the midsection sees her delving into Richard Wright’s See-Saw with some wah-wah effects at the end that is like the finale of a psych-prog take version of Alice Cooper’s Hello Hooray.

While it’s a single, it’s sort of what’s to come on her second album that she’s been working on since last year. Esoteric has been one of my favorite labels since 2008 and for her to be a part of the Cherry Red family, it must be a dream come true for her to see what she has in store with her follow-up for 2021.