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Friday, August 27, 2021

Memories of meeting Stan "The Man" Lee at Comicpalooza 2014


I am not a morning person, mind you. Whenever I would wake-up between 9 or 10am to get ready for Comicpalooza, I would take a shower, get cleaned up, and have a small amount of breakfast so that I could get ready to go the George R. Brown convention. Whether my Mom or Dad would take me from 2013 to 2018, it was a magical time to go for those Memorial Day weekends.

The construction can be tricky for them to take a different passageway, and sometimes we would go a different route so that I can enjoy my time from 10am to 6pm. I would look and see the cosplayers looking down at their phones, going as a family, talking to their loved ones, friends, or whatever they might do when they enter the building to enjoy the fun and forget about all the craziness that is going on in the outside world.

When I’m at Comicpalooza, I am free from everything. I have a great time, it can make my feet tired during the afternoons from all that walking, but it becomes a safe haven. When I show them my badge whether it’s a 3-Day pass or a Speed pass, I’m in to have a ball.

I never cover Comicpalooza. I don’t want to ruin the moment for everyone during my time at the Convention. This is their moment to shine. It’s sort of like other cons or expos from San Diego Comic-Con, New York Comic-Con, E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo), Wizard World, or Anime Expo where they launched the new dubbed version of the original Sailor Moon back in 2014 in all of its uncut glory.

But it would be a whole expose to cover those and all those travel expenses to go from area to another. It was the summer of 2014, I had just graduated from Houston Community College and getting my Associate’s Degree for Music in Performance for a nine year run. It was announced prior to the convention that Stan “The Man” Lee was going to be there.

Meeting an icon like Stan Lee, was like meeting The Beatles when they first arrived in the States on February 7, 1964. He along with Bernie Wrightson, Peter Mayhew, Armin Shimerman, Jim Cummings, Sigourney Weaver, Neal Adams, or Jim Steranko was the person I wanted to meet. I grew up watching the animated series of both X-Men and Spider-Man on FOX Kids back in the ‘90s when animation was cool then.

Then reading comics during that time frame. I stopped reading comics until I got back to reading them again in the summer of 2012. But I digress. The line for Stan was long, I my Superheroes PBS Blu-Ray docuseries for him to sign. I couldn’t tell if I was in the middle or at the back. But I could imagine it was long.

When he came in, the crowd went crazy as he sat down and signed autographs. I came in and as he signed my Blu-Ray. We shook hands, and I said to him, “Thank you for coming to Houston.” He replied back, “You are very welcome!” Then came for the Photo Op. I always get starstruck whenever I meet the people I wanted to meet. But I always keep my cool and not go ga-ga over them. Just like those crazy people who are autograph seekers who sometimes hide under the bushes and invade their privacies to get they’re signatures and use it to sell on auction websites.

I was wearing my CAN Future Days shirt as I showed my Blu-Ray he signed, the photo was taken and I thanked him again. I felt like it was winning the lottery at times, but that was the moment I will never forget.

It was a moment in time that Comicpalooza during the mid-2010’s like looking through your old scrapbook for a long, long time. Now in the pandemic, it’s almost as if the dream is over and going through conventions on your computer. But I look back on it now, and it was the memories that I will never forget.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

PAKT - PAKT


It’s quite a strange concept that Dr. Leonardo Pavkovic would create some strange experiment inside his laboratory at the basement of MoonJune Records. But something has lurked underneath the curtains that is waiting to be unleashed. It is a form of live music from one of the most important quartets that has unleashed all of its ammunition, and bring it to life at the Shapeshifter lab where originally Markus Reuter, Tim Motzer, and Kenny Grohowski had recorded their experiment live for a MoonJune release back on August 18th, 2019.

Brand X’s Percy Jones, Testament’s Alex Skolnick, Kenny Grohowski, and Tim Motzer, have brought enough fuel to light the fires up for this amazing 2-CD live recording at the same venue. Recorded last year during the lockdown, you can imagine yourself being in the venue, being free from the craziness that’s going on in the outside world.

Listening to the first act entitled The Unsilence, you can feel the tension cut with a knife. You have Alex and Tim going at it by creating this beautiful sculpture as if they were channeling either Jackson Pollock’s art design or creating more magical spells to show off to their friends instead of pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

For Alex Skolnick, he’s more than just a Metal head, and a member of Testament, but he can create these visual scenarios on his instrument while Percy’s fretless bass goes into a counter clockwise as he climbs each ladder with challenging results. I love how Kenny’s drumming goes on this rampant whilst Alex channels the Krautrock masters, Manuel Gottsching and the late great Michael Karoli from Ash Ra Tempel and CAN.

I imagine he would feed Motzer some strange idea as they open up the soundscaping location before they take us into Andrei Tarkovsky’s wasteland from the sci-fi epic, Stalker. It is very chaotic and very hay-wiring at the same time. PAKT would do some strange experiments as Motzer uses bits and bobs throughout his electronics to go all over the Shapeshifter lab like there’s no tomorrow.

He and Skolnick are hammering down those Egyptian-like textures in the hottest part of the Sahara desert. They work well together as a team while Percy and Kenny go into a little Space Jam (no pun intended) as they take a trip into the Isle of Everywhere from Gong’s You-era meets Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters period.

The second act is called The Sacred Letter. Now this is where we really get those boiling waters bubbling. It adds a virtual landscape into an unknown wasteland that is waiting for us. Motzer’s eerie textures sets up the illustration while Jones walks back and forth by giving Grohowski more intense ideas on his drum kit.

There is a moment where I believe it’s Alex tipping his face mask to Mike Ratledge’s composition on Facelift from The Soft Machine’s Third album originally released in 1970. It’s quite a treat from Alex making his instrument sound like a wah-wah organ that would have gotten Mike’s stamp of approval to create something like that.

Meanwhile, they walk into Sonar’s territory as Alex and Tim go for the jugular. They walk into David Torn’s sonic voyages, but carrying more of the Irrlicht-era from Klaus Schulze. Percy is a madman to go crazy throughout his bass exercise as Alex, Kenny, and Tim follow him in hot pursuit.

The climatic ending is where all hell has broken loose for PAKT. They raise the roof up by going into a nuclear explosion by giving it a mind-boggling finale with a sigh of relief. But I can imagine there’s more to where it came from. I just wish it had continued more instead of a cliffhanger ending by leaving us dangling on top of the Grand Canyon.

Contributor to All About Jazz’s own Mark Sullivan who wrote the liner notes for the 2-CD set, watched the livestream performance during the pandemic. And I could imagine that it was quite a revelation for him to watch these four amazing geniuses bringing listeners on an adventure that we will ever think of dreaming about. I hope to hear more from PAKT in the years to come from the MoonJune label. I can always wait and hear to see what not just the quartet, but what Leo will have in store for us in the roaring ‘20s.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Dewa Budjana - Naurora


It’s been three years since Dewa Budjana has made another album after the release of Mahadini. He’s been quite the busy man. Collaborating with Tohpati, Tony Levin, Jack DeJohnette, and Peter Erskine, he has shown no sign of stopping to bring his spiritual textures to life. With the release of Naurora, he’s bringing the circle in full.

Released on the Mehsada label from Indonesia on the MoonJune label internationally, the album was recorded remotely during the Pandemic. Naurora takes you away from the craziness of the outside world into the unknown. With help from Simon Phillips, Joey Alexander, Jimmy Johnson, Gary Husband, and Carlitos Del Puerto, they’re just band members, but a band of brothers lending Dewa a helping hand to bring his latest creation to life.

The opening title-track features Imee Ooi’s vocalizations to bring the curtains to rise with snarling guitar sections. Featuring Goblin-sque atmospheres with its Epic sounding vibrations, it becomes a duel between Dewa and Mateus Asato before they go into an exhilarating bossa-nova metallic groove! As Puerto’s bass sets in the grooves, Joey takes center stage by laying down some piano vibrations of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.

Swarna Jigga has these spiral staircasing improvisation as Dewa and Mateus share a duel by duking it out a Zappa-sque midsection. Soaring arrangements thanks to Philips’ helicopter like drum work, the landscaping textures go for some time changing melodies while walking towards these mystical forests to see what the future will have in store for us on Kmalasana.

Sliding acoustic double-tracking guitars from Dewa, we as listeners are waiting for the sun to shine as he turns this composition into crossover combination of ambient electrical rain power to cry out in the middle of a heavy thunderstorm. When you listen to Sabana Shanti, at first, Dewa tips his hat for a brief second to Procol Harum’s Grand Hotel.

But then, McCandless’ sax gives an insight of a spectacular beauty while Dewa and Dave Weckl go for a samba segment. It gives Paul a chance to relieve the stress that people are going throughout the pandemic before Joey returns for another Gershwin showdown by sending us into the clear blue sky.

Blue Mansion closes the album with an ominous Indian tribe. With its Magma-like riffs, it becomes a celebration before Husband lays down some Mars Volta-like grooves as Carlito’s upright bass becomes a cat-and-mouse chase.

Naurora is Dewa’s message for a chance of relaxation. While everything came to a screeching halt last year in March, this album is definitely a sign of hope. It makes us go through the tricky times during the pandemic that would make you want to dance, punch, and sooth yourself throughout the situations that we're going through.



Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Molesome - Are You There?

 

Whenever Roth-Handle Studios cooks up something strange inside their laboratories, you know that Dr. Mattias Olsson’s experiments are out there when it comes to Molesome. He’s very much like a mad scientist by creating more strange inventions that is waiting to be unleashed. And he’s pretty much done that with the latest release, Are You There?

Listening to this album is like going through the structures of Hardcore Devo, Post-Punk, Chamber Music, Tori Amos, Bill Fay, The Faust Tapes, The Residents, and the independent music production library, De Wolfe Music. Mattias has followed Zappa’s advice by throwing the rule book into the fire. While we might abide by them, it doesn’t mean we have to follow them. For Mattias, he broke the rules, one by one.

Sometimes the grooves are trapped in this dystopian house that is trapped between the 1950s and the futuristic ‘70s. For Olsson, it’s almost that he had written the alternate score for the German Sci-Fi miniseries from Fassbinder’s 1973 classic, World on a Wire. You have the surreal Cinevox Italian Psych lounge take of Long Island, Booji Boy returning to the post-apocalyptic sequel from Tunnel of Love with Naturales while Mattias channels the Faerie Symphony-era from Tom Newman on Vernon.

Meanwhile Tanaka is speaking through the intercom in the styles of Laurie Anderson between Spacestation Funeral and Spirits before Molesome raises the roof on Tim (Original Soundtrack). And then, the nod to Delia Derbyshire flows in the string quartet in the melodic textures of Ziwzih Ziwih (OO-OO-OO) on Blues Soaked Hope before the string section takes us to our home planet with our Boxes.

Molesome’s latest release this year may not be everyone’s cup of Joe, but Olsson is always opening doors to see what the 22nd century might be waiting for us. Challenging and insanely beautiful, Olsson is quite the mad scientist that we really need for many years to come in the near future.



Saturday, June 26, 2021

Quel Che Disse il Tuono - il Velo Dei Riflessi

Quel Che Disse il Tuono are an Italian progressive rock quartet that considers members of Unreal City and Cellar Noise. Last year, they released their debut album on the AMS label entitled, il Velo Dei Riflessi. Inspired by T.S. Eliot’s poetry The Wasteland which was originally published in 1922, the poem tackles themes on religion. Not only that, but how the modern world itself is not impacted from the landscape as it was before.

Francesca Zanetta, Roberto “Berna” Bernasconi, Niccolo Gallani, and Alessio Del Ben are keeping the spirit of the Rock Progressivo Italano genre alive. You can hear aspects of Camel, il Paese dei Balocchi, Celeste, La Coscienza Di Zeno, Phideaux, and il Balletto di Bronzo’s YS.

The opening track il Paradigma Dello Specchio, fires up their engines with mellotron, guitar, and flute. By the moments the clouds are parting, we are driving in a deserted highway with the four members channeling the Mirage-era from Camel with its organ fanfare by travelling into the unknown as Zanetta channels the Marquee Moon-sque vibes from Television’s Richard Lloyd and Tom Verlaine.

As the call-and-response comes crawling out the soil, Figlio Dell‘Uomo is a terrifying nightmare for Zanetta and Gallani adding more fuel to the fire. Featuring some lyrical textures of Jacques Brel’s Port of Amsterdam and My Death, it has some Murple-sque textures for Quel to rescue the penguin to being free from being a sideshow performer and going back to his home land in the North Pole.

Moog snarling monsters coming in to terrorize the city, we are in the battlefields to go into aspects between Van der Graaf Generator and Le Orme as it segues into this post-apocalyptic Twilight Zone atmosphere that Rod Serling had envisioned right before our very eyes.  

Il Bastone e il Serpente goes into The Mars Volta’s territory while Francesca channels her vision of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez. Bernasconi slaps some funky bass introduction to honor Bootsy Collins as we head into the city with no chance of escaping with some swirling synths and car revving percussion works by Alessio Del Ben.

Zennetta hammers those frets down with unexpected changes before travelling into space and time of Phideaux’s Snowtorch-era while the final duel between good and evil on Loro Sono Me has some of the most intensive battle sequences for the quartet to head out into the battlefield for honor and bravery.

Il Velo Dei Riflessi may not be everyone’s cup of coffee per se, but while this Quel Che Disse il Tuono’s debut, they really done their homework very well during the pandemic while everything came to a screeching halt last year. So I will be on the look-out for this incredible band to see what they will come up with next.

Friday, June 25, 2021

SKE - Insolubilia

It’s been ten years since Paolo “SKE” Botta, best known for his partnership between Yugen and Not a Good Sign has released a follow-up to his 2011 debut 1000 Autunni released on the AltrOck/Fading Records label. It received critical acclaim and then went out-of-print until 2018 when it was reprinted as 1001 Autunni as a double CD set featuring an additional live recording.

Now in 2021, SKE has released a follow-up entitled Insolubilia. Produced by Marcello Marinone, the second album is a return to the melodic waters once more by following in the footsteps of Gryphon, Latte E Miele, Gentle Giant, Present, Wojciech Kilar, Univers Zero, and Le Orme’s Felona E Sorona, Paolo’s follow-up is like a flaming fire that simply won’t burn out.

And to be allowed to have 25 musicians from Stormy Six, Wobbler, Ciccada, Isildurs Bane, Loomings, and Shamblemaths to name a few, they aren’t just band members lending Paolo a helping hand, but a band of brothers working together both as a team, and as a family. Not only have we had the five-part opus of the title-track, but some of the most incredible highlights that SKE has taken their listeners close to the edge.

Opening track Sudo features an intensive organ and synth exercise with melodic horn arrangements. Martino Malacrida’s climatic drum patterns takes us into a tidal-waving climax featuring a spine-tingling folk background done by Tommaso’s mandolin. Insolubilia II has Evangelia Kozoni’s angelic voice soars through the skies as we hear Airport announcements throughout the building ready for another plane flying to another city.

Jacopo’s mallet percussions has some complex time changes while Francesco’s heavy guitar lines go through a RPI (Rock Progressivo Italiano) momentum with an arrangement done in the styles of Van der Graaf Generator. Lo Stagno del Proverbio takes place in the aftermath of a mob riot gone horribly wrong. Luca’s trumpet takes us into the bloody streets by crying out to the gods above the heavenly skies with some fanfare arrangements.

La Nona Onda is a heavy, nightmarish, and brutal composition. Paolo channels the Pawn Hearts period by continuing where A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers had left off. As the snarling textures of the guitar and mellotron lifts-off into outer space, it continues of the reprise for the final battle on Sudo.  

Insolubilia IV at first begins with some 8-bit video game synthesizers, but goes in depth of the RIO movement. Camembert’s Melanie Gerber is giving the sermon inside a gothic cathedral as she channels the vocal styles of North Sea Radio Orchestra’s Sharron Fortnam with some Wyatt-sque vibes as a mournful arrangement.

Scogli 4 feels at times like a Univers Zero composition. Honoring the late great Roger Trigaux with some late ‘60s Giallo themes from Mario Bava’s Blood & Black Lace, the dooming harpsichord, clarinet, and rain pouring effects leaves us on a cliffhanger not knowing when the killer will strike again.

The operatic choirs and horror themes on Insolubilia V comes at you with an eruptive explosion for the shocking finale. Almost making an alternate score to the 1975 unsung gem of Day of the Locust, the bell tolls with some ghostly synths before Fabio’s bass brings the fuse to explode at any second by going into a crossover between the first two albums of Banco del Mutuo Soccorso and Black Sabbath’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath rolled into one.

Insolubilia is quite an adventure from the complexing stories by Paolo “SKE” Botta. He has a headstrong view on where he wants to take the next logical step by following into a dangerous tightrope. But for Paolo, he’s brought a lot of ammunition and brutal textures to life on his second release during the pandemic.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Gentle Giant - Free Hand


In 2012, during the time at the beginning of promotions for Prog Magazine’s compilation of Prog Rocks! Ray Shulman describes the origins on their seventh studio album Free Hand. “The idea was to kind of get back to our roots. We lost my brother Phil. He left for the fourth album. And so it was an idea to get back to our roots and go back to the kind of writing style in our earlier albums.”

There’s no denying that Free Hand is quite a leap forward for Gentle Giant to take it a step further by having all the creativity they had done. From the swirling label of the Vertigo label to signing with Chrysalis Records, Free Hand was also one of their most successful releases. Reaching the top 50 in the Billboard album charts, this shows how much they have come a long way.

Now in a new reissue from the Alucard label and remixed by Steven Wilson who had done their previous work including Octopus, The Power and the Glory, and the Three Piece Suite, it is time to take a trip down memory lane by focusing on why this band are deserving more recognition and were often under the radar in the Progressive Rock genre.

From the moment you listen to groovy introduction of Just The Same you feel the synthesizer solo work done by Kerry Minnear taking it a step further by channeling his Herbie Hancock approach before the vibrations of the clapping rhythm going back and forth, it is quite a swinging tune that Derek sings in that style as if it was returning to the 1930s of vaudeville and a bit of Leonard Bernstein to kick things off.

On Reflection starts with the introduction of the vocals going back and forth between Ray, Derek, Gary, and Kerry going into this complicated approach on the acapella sequence as if they were returning to their Octopus-era before the melodic piano, glockenspiel, and vibraphones done by Kerry, gives some insight to honor the grand wazoo himself, Frank Zappa.

The first two minutes gives you an insight on a trip to the medieval period for Kerry reflecting the good memories of school friends, and the best parts of your child hood as if Minnear himself has become a multiplicity version of himself that Wilson goes for the jugular to bring the two versions of Kerry singing a duet before the heavier rocking approach done by Gary and Ray go into a duel with his keyboards.

The title-track becomes a cat-and-mouse introduction between Kerry laddering effect and Ray’s climbing upwards and downwards on his bass before it transforms a dueling clavinet battle to be free from the torture and learning how to fight back once and for all. I can tell throughout on the new mixes on the third composition shows the guitars, drums, and bass are really cooking as it goes into a hot boiling temperature by giving Gentle Giant’s way of cooking, a hot and spicy flavor with some renaissance-like twists for the lemon that is pouring into the soup!

Time To Kill features I believe the first video game with the sound effects of Atari’s PONG before the sinister nightmares of the pounding piano, thunderous drums and guitars setting up the crime scene on what just happened. Derek is our detective lending our help with his Mundy partner on foot, seeing where the criminal has left some clues and mysteries to solve the case by bringing the killer with some complexing justice in an operatic approach. As Gary brings some of the most brutal arrangements into the forefront, Weathers and Minnear make their instruments sound like a gun battle between the police and the criminal in a final showdown.

His Last Voyage gives Steven a chance to have Kerry come into the forefront in his mixing. With a bit of the reverbing effects, it is a journey into the man’s life as he goes on his last journey into finding his inner self. He and Ray blend well in this mournful waltz-like sequence, knowing that there’s no turning back once he leaves his country to one day find peace with some unexpected changes throughout Gary and John’s motif throughout the song.

And then it becomes a Miles David-sque ending for the band to come out swinging with a Kind of Blue finale channeling the introduction of All Blues. Gary knows how to nail those wah-wah bluesy effects by nailing the hammers down as he makes his guitar cry out to the gods at the end as it becomes a climatic finale with a fanfare vibration.

Talybont. Now this is where the medieval vibrations come into the center. Channeling the styles of Gryphon’s Red Queen to Gryphon Three, Gentle Giant haven’t forgotten their renaissance roots from their first two albums as it comes out swinging. Between Clavinet, recorder, and violin goes from medieval, classical, and heavy rocking vibrations that gives the band a lot of team work.

Mobile is a nod to the Celtic Rock influences that has a Folk-Rock arrangement. You can imagine Derek is dancing the jig town to town. With a nod to Steeleye Span and Horslips, they have a way to show respect to the genre by taking it a whole new level of moving forwards into the future.

Steven’s mixes on this album are quite intriguing. I loved how he would bring the instruments and vocals through various locations on the EQ by honoring the band’s legacy. There will be a dividing line in the sand on whether they will accept Steven’s new mix on the album or not, but here, Free Hand is the real deal.