Live at the Cleveland Agora (80, Live 12" EP)
Splitting Ions in the Ether (98, Live, contains all of EP plus new material)
Artifacts of Passion (01)
St. Elmo's Fire circa 1980 - Paul Kollar, Elliot
Weintraub, Mark Helm, Erich Feldman, Steve Stavnicky
St. Elmo's Fire was a band from Cleveland, Ohio who played in the early '80's. This was a combination destined to make this a short-lived band, but while they were together, they made some pretty good music. The roots of their style were definitely in Lizard-era King Crimson, but their branches stretched out into lots of new territory.
They have two CD releases available. Splitting Ions in the Ether is their first. This is a live album of a concert recorded in 1980. Some of these tunes were put out on a limited-edition EP entitled Live at the Cleveland Agora, but they were remastered for CD in '98 and also contains some additional tunes. Some of the guitar work actually anticipates King Crimson's 1981 release Discipline, with its sequencer-like arpeggios. The tunes are mostly instrumental with a couple of exceptions, and except for the 2 bonus tracks, this CD is mostly a recording of a single St. Elmo's Fire concert. This concert featured excellent technical guitar work, good synth parts, and fairly drips with Mellotron in most of the songs. I wish I could have been there ... this is some excellent material.
There is one low point on Splitting Ions ... "Aspen Flambe", a metal rocker with almost no progressive content (except for some paranoid guitar fills and solo) and hackneyed cookie-monster growling vocals griping about his insane girfriend. I really hate it that this song sometimes gets stuck in by mind and I can't get rid of it.*
St. Elmo's Fire disbanded for many years, but have recently "reformed" for a "reunion" of sorts. 2001 has seen the release of their first "studio" album entitled Artifacts of Passion. These words are all in quotes because I'm not using them in the traditional way. The band has "reformed" by long-distance, since they are all living in separate cities now. The "reunion" is an electronic one, made in a "studio" composed of recording facilities in California, North Carolina and Iowa. Original members Erich Feldman, Elliot Weintraub, Mark Helm and Paul Kollar are joined by new members Philip Wylie (drums and perc) and Miner Gleason (violins). This CD was mostly being made by mailing ADAT tapes between members so that each could add their own part. This can work very well, or it can result in a catastrophe, depending on how comfortable the musicians are with working in the studio, how careful the composition is, how well people can adapt their parts to unforseen quirks of the other players parts which they hadn't heard yet, and how compatible the studios equipment is.
In this case, it's worked out quite nicely. Artifacts of Passion is a very cool CD. The musical range of the individual cuts is quite a bit more diverse than the Splitting Ions CD. The King Crimson influences are definitely still there for some cuts, especially in "Contortions of the Balrog" and "The Abduction of the Adolescents" which also appear in their live versions on the Splitting Ions CD. "Balrog" especially is a fantastic piece, the spirit of Robert Fripp is obviously energizing this Balrog. This one cut alone is worth the price of the CD.
But other cuts go off in very different directions ... for example, "The Nemo Syndrome" is a mellow piece with an almost Beatles-like storybook feeling, and has a very nice psychedelic ending that reminds me of "Little Neutrino" from Klaatu's first album. "Erin and the Green Man" is an acoustic instrumental with a Celtic folk dance feel, and "Dog-Eared Page" sounds like ... well, Kollar says his intention was to invoke a Led Zeppelin III vibe. Or maybe "jammin on a front porch of a shanty on the river in the evening in the summer with a bunch of kinda drunk friends in the early days of the 20th century". I'll buy that. On the other side of the musical planet, the first cut, "The Dead Sea Scrolls" begins with a plaintive middle eastern prayer caller and then moves into a heavy Mellotron part. Definitely not an easy album to to pigeonhole. But all the songs are interesting in their own way. I would have never guessed this CD was done piecemeal by musicians who couldn't even see each other for the most part.
Both albums are recommended. -- Fred Trafton
Paul Kollar has since told me that this song was
supposed to be a joke. He says, "It was designed to be annoying, simple, crude and
just catchy enough to get stuck in your head. You see, back in 1980 most booking
agents and club owners wanted the trendy punk and new wave acts on their stages
and we were regularly admonished to create works like The Dead Boys or The
Plasmatics if we were to have any hope of getting booked with any regularity. Thus,
we unleashed 'Aspen', this was as far as we were willing to go in this direction,
we used to introduce this song as 'a bad song about a bad girl'. In the end, it
proved to be an act of futility ... One recent reviewer compared this tune to
Spinal Tap. He hit the nail on the head with that
one but he seemed to miss the point entirely." So I was right not to take it seriously.
Glad to know my ears aren't that burned out.
[See Brain Forest |
Click here for Sprawling Productions web site
The Man In The Bowler Hat (74, a.k.a. Pinafore Days)
Mr. Mick (76)
Do The Stanley (78)
BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert (92)
|Witty folk/chamber-music/prog mix from England. This, their first album is probably best known for "Slark," one of the few 14-minute prog-epics which includes no synth, no Mellotron, and no electric guitar, relying solely on violin, flute and acoustic guitar to carry it along. There is some electric guitar on the album, but the only keyboard-instrument on the album is piano, and this album includes one of the earliest known uses of an acoustic bass-guitar, at least that I know of, although most of the bass is electric. Augmented by cellos, trumpets and oboes on a few tracks, it's on these (notably the instrumental "Essence of Porphyry") that the band becomes a veritable mini-chamber orchestra. Add to this a cheery Caravan-esque attitude, and clever, silly lyrics that alternately suggest 10cc ("Grande Piano," "The Three-Legged Table") and The Bonzo Dog Band ("Percy The Penguin," "Marzo Plod"). A joy to listen to, and lots of fun. (A good deal more Stackridge albums followed. After the band broke up, the central writing/singing axis of Andrew Creswell-Davis and James Warren became The Korgis, who made three albums in the early '80s.)|
|The only Stackridge album I have heard is Pinafore Days. I can't say I'm very impressed, particularly from a progrock viewpoint. The album is an eclectic style of mix of basic '70s rock, with influences ranging from classical to country-rock to folk. About half the songs are in the 2-3 minute range and the other have are only 4-5 minutes long. There aren't any prog overtones on this album, and I found it boring even from a rock standpoint. This experience hasn't made me eager to check out their other albums. -- Mike Taylor|
If any one phrase can be used to best sum up this West Country band it
would probably be "King Crimson with
a sense of humour". They were a group with a tremendously loyal
following, "The Stackridge Rhubarb Thrashing Society", their fan
club had sub-groups all over the country. Essentially Stackridge were a
group with, what remains to this day, a unique line-up of guitars, drums,
flute and violin. There was always Jethro
Tull with flute, of course, and Curved
Air and It's A Beautiful Day with
violin, but no-one had combined the two instruments within the confines of
a rock group. They remain a group who almost made it big; they had the
essential loyal fan base already mentioned, their third album, "The
Man in the Bowler Hat," hit the charts for one week at number 25 in
early 1974 and was listed in Melody Maker as one of the month"s best
albums on its release. In a Melody Maker "Brightest Hope" poll
they finished fourth above Genesis, Wings
and Beck, Bogart and Appice amongst others. They were also a great stage
act and their recorded output does nothing to reproduce the tremendous
sheer exuberance of their live performance.
The band was idiosyncratic, offbeat and humorous, eschewing the standard stage "uniforms" of the times and opting instead for an eccentric assortment of what looked like Oxfam cast-offs, (baggy trousers, tweed jackets, bri-nylon shirts, suit waistcoats, plimsoles and carpet slippers). "Early gigs were a bit ragged." according to guitarist James Warren, but they were spotted in their home base of Bristol and signed to MCA in 1971. Their first album, cunningly titled Stackridge soon followed. Despite receiving favourable reviews the album initially sold a mere 4,000 copies, largely due to delays concerning the cover artwork (which featured a flock of eyeless seagulls, whether they were intentionally eyeless remains a mystery to this day). At the time the band were receiving plenty of exposure touring as support to Wishbone Ash. A review in Bristol underground magazine "Pre-View" had the following comments to make. "It offers an amazing spectrum of sounds and lyric ideas ... In all these songs the highly inventive music never swamps the simple tale-telling. The flute, fiddle, mainly acoustic guitar and tasteful percussion explore intelligently and with maximum light and shade ... it's a fine record and will find favour with everyone with a liking for high grade pop."
The band set about building up a larger following through countless one-nighters and appearances on major UK tours as support. The results were favourable, though it took some time for the bands highly stylised approach to sink in with rock punters, particularly when they threw in such items as "She Taught Me How to Yodel" with vocals by Mike Evans which cause both amusement and bemusement at the same time. With Mike "Mutter" Slater as manic frontman dragging some amazing sounds from his ancient flute the band made a virtue out of their stage eccentricities. Dances, rambling stories by Mutter, long and meandering introductions by James Warren ("If you can't make out the words to any of the songs it's probably because it's an instrumental.") and props such as dustbin lids (for banging) and rhubarb stalks (for "thrashing") were part of the repertoire and a growing number of dedicated fans turned up to gigs with their own lids and rhubarb. In December 1971 the band ran a wildly successful series of 15 "Christmas Parties" where during a 30 minute rendition of their magnum opus "Slark" violinist Mike Evans would emerge dressed as Father Christmas and drift into a chorus of "I'm Dreaming of A White Christmas" and distribute presents to all and sundry.
The traditionally "difficult" second album received critical praise in the music press with comments such as "... typical of Stackridge's ability for combining the ... hilarious with the musically stunning." Despite all this chart success seemed to elude the band. The Man In The Bowler Hat proved to be a tour de force for Stackridge. The producer turned out to be none other than George Martin, famous for his work on all the Beatles albums. Geoff Brown's "Melody Maker" review noted various similarities and influences ranging from The Beatles through Frank Zappa to English Classicism (remarking that "God Speed The Plough" was very evocative of Hardy's Dorset). It seemed typical of Stackridge to go through a change of personnel just when hard won financial success was guaranteed (the album charted briefly soon after its release). It also saw a move to Elton John's new Rocket label.
The fourth album Extravaganza saw not only a new record label but also a change in direction for the band. Their quirky humour was still in evidence the highlights being the distinctly risque "The Volunteer", the Zappaesque "Who's That Up There With Bill Stokes?" (the title being taken from an old joke about someone, Bill Stokes, who is recognised wherever he goes and eventually appears at the Vatican with the Pope, to be greeted by, the title of the song!) and "No One"s More Important Than The Earthworm", written by ex-King Crimson bassist and vocalist Gordon Haskell, who had joined the band very briefly. Once again the critical response was very positive. Geoff Brown in "Melody Maker" reviewed the album thus "... Theirs is a two tiered music. Outwardly the subjects are whimsical, rhythmically they plod like the archetypical jovial country copper - much of the time they sound like ... all those lighter songs off Sergeant Pepper. Beneath the tunefully familiar surface however is a sly, smiling cleverness, which reveals itself as a fondness for cloaking the commonplace in a whimsical fog blurring the edges just enough to mark it as something extraordinary ..." However the album failed to meet with the expected commercial success and it was next year that the fifth album hit the streets. Yet another lineup change included Dave Lawson (formerly of Greenslade) on keyboards.
It was probably no coincidence that Mr. Mick started with a Beatles song, the comparisons had been made for such a long time, but this was a reggae version of the old favourite "Hold Me Tight". The rest of the album was a concept built around the theme of an old man, Mr. Mick, who was cared for and loved by no-one. "Fish In A Glass," the last song on the album, contained the lines "So it's the end of the story, It's time for us to go, We've told you everything We want you to know" and that was just about it. There were no more public appearances and Stackridge disappeared. Two years later a compilation of album tracks, singles and a previously unreleased "live" crowd pleaser "Let There Be Lids" was released.
In many ways Do The Stanley was a fitting tribute to the demise of Stackridge, its release was unheralded, to describe it as low-key would cause accusations of hyperbole. It served the purpose of putting on an album, some tracks which were not available in that format, "Purple Spaceships Over Yatton", a real crowd pleaser at live gigs in the early years, their very own dance craze song "Do The Stanley," "C'est Lavie," the dustbin lid bashing, "Let There Be Lids" and the single, a stripped down and in many ways castrated version of "Slark". As the album notes so rightly pointed out, "They made you laugh, they made you dance, they overwhelmed you with the brilliance of their instrumental abilities, they made you sad, they made you think, they made you nostalgic for our vanishing culture. At all times they entertained you." Just when everyone thought they had finally heard the last of Stackridge, in 1992 Winsong International released BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert which their fans never got to hear.
Success finally came the way of Davis and Warren when they teamed up to form The Korgis and had a number 4 hit single in the USA. They made four albums before splitting. Davis has to date issued one album Clevedon Pier under his own name, it contains a hauntingly beautiful rendition of "Woman of Ireland". -- Gerry Prewett
Aquamarine (??), Moonstone (88), Songs Of The Heart (??), Medicine Dance (92)
Formed by Jim McCarty and Louis Cennamo, two of the main movers in the first Renaissance lineup. The music here is typically ethereal and drifty, mostly instrumental, with catchy melodic hooks, and very little edge. This is ostensibly new age music, although the presence of Jane Relf's voice and the keen melodic sense would make it appreciable to any fans of Illusion or the first edition of Renaissance. All albums are late '80's to present.
[See Armageddon (UK) | Illusion | Renaissance]
Andre' Sulla Luna (79)
E Il Pavone Parlo' Alla Luna (87)
Racconti Brevi + E il Pavone Parlò alla Luna (94)
Rings - il decimo anello (02)
Syriarise is a solo instrumental effort by the keyboardist of Pierrot Lunaire, a pretty well regarded Italian prog outfit from the '70s. The keyboard/piano style on this is influenced by the French Romanticists.
[See Pierrot Lunaire]
Click here for Arturo Stalteri's web site
Curses and Invocations (96)
Emmaus (98, Promotional release)
Standarte - Machele Profeti (keyboards), Davide Nicolini (guitar), Daniele Caputo
(drums, vocals), Stefano Gabbini (bass)
Very much Hammond based music, with a big slab of Mellotrons, harpsichord and Moog synths. The bass guitar takes on the role of the electric guitar. Add to that a singing drummer and you´ve got Italian Standarte. Not so much a symphonic prog band as a true retro band. Incredibly "authentic" early 70´s sound that could fool anybody who didn´t know they were a 90´s band. And it´s not just the sound, it´s the way they play that all contributes to the genuine retro feel of the records.
All records consists of basically the same kind of music: hard rock, a little psychedelia, with a hint of kitschy rock opera/art rock approach to the songs. Long songs with many parts and subtitles, and on the first album you´ve even got spoken narration to link it all together. The lyrics leave a little to be desired; a lot of repetition and crummy english, but in a way you forgive them ´cause they´re so damn cool. Really groovy riffs and distorted organ solos, plus suprisingly catchy melodies.
Stimmung is half live, half studio. The live parts were partly recorded at the progressive rock festival in Stockholm 1997 (I was there, and I fell in love on first sight). All warmly recommended, and it doesn´t matter what record you buy; the songs differ a little, but the sound and the style stays the same. -- Daniel
|Links||Click here for the Standarte web site|
Stanza Della Musica (78)
Very bad acoustic band.
The Sadness of Things (91, w/ David Tibet)
Revenge of the Selfish Shellfish (92, w/ Tony Wakeford)
Musical Pumpkin Cottage (96, w/ David Tibet)
|The Sadness of Things and Musical Pumpkin Cottage are Steve Stapleton/David Tibet collaborations and Revenge is a Steve Stapleton/Tony Wakeford collaboration. These have classic Nurse With Wound touches and thus should appeal to Nurse With Wound fans.|
|Sadness of Things is more ambient than almost anything Stapleton (Nurse With Wound) or Tibet (Current 93) have done before, two very long abstract tracks of drone that unreel slowly and have a Japanese feel to them. Musical Pumpkin Cottage seems inspired by krautrock, two long tracks with weird drones under building rhythms and unrelenting beat and unique psychedelic guitars and electronics and a lot more of Tibet's vocals, and is one of the best works by either of these artists. Octopus reworks completely the two pieces from Musical Pumpkin Cottage, adds a couple other long tracks of electronic doodling. All are recommended for the experimentally inclined. -- Rolf Semprebon|
|Links||[See Current 93 | Nurse With Wound]|
Fountains Of Light (77)
Reel To Real (78)
Concert Classics Vol. 5 - Starcastle (99, Live) *
Chronos I (01, early demo & unreleased material)
Shine on Brightly (02, Live) *
Song of Times (07)
* These albums were released without authorization from the band, and are not legitimate releases.
A Yes clone. I bought their self-titled album on the recommendation of Yes-fans, but I never expected them to sound this much like Yes. Perhaps a bit more new-age flavored, hence the common nickname, "Yes-lite."
|A six-piece band. The only one I have is the first, self-titled album. They sound quite a bit like Yes, and have very vocal music. The lyrics also are reminiscent of Jon Anderson. The lineup consists of two guitars, bass, organ/synth, drums, and vocals. The lead vocalist sounds a bit like Chris Squire. If you're really into Yes, then you have to check the first album out.|
|They started out as a pretty faithful Yes clone, but had, by their third album, Citadel, begun to develop some of their own unique idiosyncracies. None of their albums are bad, but the first one is very derivative for the most part.|
|While sounding at first listening like a Yes clone, careful listening will reveal these musicians were NOT Yes wannabees, and are very talented players in their own right. Comprised of two guitars, keyboards, bass, drums and a lead singer with an apparent bass-heavy sound due to bassist Gary Strater's melodic approach. Substantial poly-rhythymic and poly-chordal writing. Exceptional clarity of tone with all instruments, and a tremendous resource for those musicians studying this style of music. Well worth locating usable copies of [the first] four albums. -- Andrew Woodard|
|I know it's been said before, but they're the ultimate Yes clone. The first album and Citadel even attempt to copy Roger Dean's distinctive cover art style. The only album I have is Fountains Of Light. Not original for a second. Keyboards are definitely patterned after Rick Wakeman, with ascending Moog runs a la "And You And I" (to which "Portraits" bears more than a passing resemblance). The inclusion of two guitarists presumably makes up for the lack of anyone as talented as Steve Howe. The singer, while he doesn't have Anderson's range, is clearly trying to impersonate his phrasing (too many examples to give, but "True To The Light" and "Portraits" are the best ones). Only if you've run out of Yes albums to collect and don't give a damn about originality. -- Mike Ohman|
|Trivia: Vocalist Terry Luttrell was the original lead singer for REO Speedwagon.|
Click here for Starcastle's
Stardrive (73), Intergalactic Trot (74)
Vogt Dem For Efterligninger (78)
[See Burnin' Red Ivanhoe, Secret Oyster]
Starglow Energy (93, self-distributed LP and CD)
Time Machine (95 LP's issued in black, brown & yellow vinyl, also CD)
100% live (96, 2LP and CD)
Gate to Celdan (98, LP and CD)
Abschiedskonzert (01, Video of their last concert)
Starglow Energy started as a 5-piece for the first album, but then lost one
member and continued as a 4-piece band for the remaining albums. They did a
lot of live gigs in Germany and Switzerland, but broke up in 2000.
I've only heard Gate to Celdan. It's an interesting album with lots of catchy tunes, but it skirts the edges of what I would call "Progressive". Starglow Energy is really a psychedelic retro "Classic Rock" band. They sound like groups that played FM-radio AOR with heavy Hammond organ in the mix, like Uriah Heep or Deep Purple, walking the fence between Rock and Prog, but never quite falling over into Progland.
That being said, there's plenty to like about Gate to Celdan. You have to admire the audacity of a band who starts an album with a long '70's-style drum solo! There's also some good Rock'n'Roll guitar work and some scorching Hammond organ, though both are more about rockin' sound than demonstrating technical dexterity. The songs are mostly verse-chorus structure, but have that "Classic Rock" tendency to break into lengthy solos for both guitar and organ. Plus, as I said, catchy melodies that stick in your head and a sort of overall psychedelic science-fiction feel, though I can't say I can really put a story to it, so I wouldn't call it a concept album. Lyrics are sung in English, quite powerfully, with barely a hint of German accent. If you want to "flash back" to the "good old days", try this CD out!
If you're interested in that sort of thing, it also comes in an interesting "gimmick" CD case that folds out, reminiscent of ELP's original Brain Salad Surgery album cover. -- Fred Trafton
|Links||Click here for Black Rills Records, where you can order Gate to Celdan and Abschiedskonzert, the concert video|
Gin No Tsubasa (85, a.k.a. Silver Wings)
Song of Silence (92)
Wish (92, EP)
Those expecting a band named Starless who once had a private label called Bible Black
to sound like King Crimson can stop reading now and go back
to their Bi Kyo Ran albums. Osaka-based Starless instead
looked up to the Kansai superstars Novela as a musical model.
This is not surprising, since bassist Jutaro Okubo was once member of
Scheherazade, the group that supplied half of
Novela's genome, and Novela
leader Terutsugu Hirayama produced Starless' first album Gin No Tsubasa in 1985.
I have not heard that one, but their 1992 releases, the album Song of Silence and the EP
Wish, now both on one CD (Musea FGBG 4269.AR), are a bit more mainstream take on the metallic
progressive sound prevalent in the Kansai area in the 1980s.
Half the songs on Song of Silence are eighties-style pop-metal tunes stretched with Novela's method of incorporating angular riffs, symphonic synthesizer textures and extended solo breaks from both guitarists and occasionally keyboards (Gerard's Toshio Egawa lends a hand on two tracks). The rest are ballads giving a lot of room for acoustic guitars and vocalist Mayumi Minematsu's high-register rhapsodising, moving to areas where Renaissance and Heart meet. Minematsu's vocals are confident and quite restrained considering the aggravating mannerisms of heavy metal and the sometimes hair-raising standards of Japanese female vocalists. All the lyrics are in Japanese, though some songs use the old Eurovision Song Contest trick of dropping a few English-sounding words in the chorus.
The five-track EP Wish keeps the same overall style, but is a bit more aggressive and adventurous. Its highlight is the two-part title track. The first part uses vocals and weepy guitars on a solemn, "Hairless Heart"-like melody, while the second part orchestrates it with synthesizers and serves it as a pseudo-classical instrumental. Put together, this is 77 minutes of nice, melodically attractive, metallic progressive rock music whose main problem is that it probably is not nearly heavy enough for progressive metallers nor progressive enough for the symphonic rock crowd.
Starless themselves did not survive the economic and psychological aftershock of the Kobe earthquake in 1995 but disbanded. Okubo and keyboard player Shouichi Aoki later joined Teru's Symphonia, lending a bit more metallic edge to the group's 1999 release The Gate. -- Kai Karmanheimo
|Links||[See Gerard | Novela | Scheherazade | Teru's Symphonia]|
Wrong Line (??)
Hard-rock/prog with modern sound.
Curse Of The Pheromones (87)
Lifepulse (91, Soundtrack)
Skin (94?, w/ Biggie Tembo)
|This album [Curse ...] has no lineup listed, although it sounds like a four-piece of dual synthesizers, guitar, bass and possibly electronic percussion. No vocals. Hard to describe, electronic oriented and a little edgy, but essentially harmless. Reminds me of Kit Watkins and Coco Roussel, but less pretty and with guitar and bass added to the mix.|
|Links||Click here for Startled Insects page within the Second Sight Records site|
Hot Ice and Wondrous Strange Snow (99)
Stealing the Fire - Chris Bond (Keyboards, Drums), Saff Edye (Vocals),
Tim Lane (Guitar, Keyboards, Bass, Percussion). Not Pictured -
Chris Phillips (Bass)
Stealing the Fire's only (so far) release is sort of a follow-up to Earthstone's Seed, though this one is Chris Bond's brainchild with Chris Phillips helping out rather than the other way around. If you've heard Seed, Hot Ice and Wondrous Strange Snow is along the same lines, but Hot Ice a lot more interesting in several ways.
The most obvious improvement is the addition of Saff Edye's vocals on most of the tracks. She likes to double-track her vocals, singing 2-part harmonies. Like Seed, the music is symphonic, emotional and hypnotic by repetition, though on this CD there's more variations on the themes within the repetition than on Seed. There are also real drums on this CD, which is another big improvement.
Imagine, if you will, Ozric Tentacles with some Floydian guitar solos and female vocals on top, singing lyrics that often allude to mysticism. If you can imagine this, you'd be in the ballpark of what this music is like. There's also one piece, "The Moriarty Cube" which has a guitar part that reminds of Discipline era Crimson, at least rhythmically.
If you care, Seed was said to be a "techno-pagan" album, and I'm guessing by some of the lyrics that one of the band members of Stealing the Fire may be a follower of Thelema or some related spirituality, but I'm not sure.
The album is crisply recorded and performed ... some of the songs are a bit too long for my taste, especially "Unknowing Angel", but on the other hand I haven't had a chance to really sit quietly and space out to this CD, which it seems like it would be very good for. Bottom line is that I recommend it. Check out their web site for ordering info or the Kinesis site for some song samples. -- Fred Trafton
Ancient Leaves (78)
Sustaining Cylinders (78)
Planetary Unfolding (80)
Lyra Sound Constellation (83)
Light Play (83, re-released as M'Ocean in 1984)
Chronos (84, Soundtrack)
Novus Magnificat (86, guest on this Constance Demby album) Floating Whispers (87)
Desert Solitaire (89, w/ Kevin Braheny and Steve Roach)
Baraka (92, Soundtrack, w/ L. Subramaniam, David Hykes & Dead Can Dance)
Sacred Site (93, Soundtrack)
Singing Stones (94, w/ Ron Sunsinger)
Kiva (95, w/ Steve Roach & Ron Sunsinger)
The Lost World (95)
Collected Ambient and Textural Works 1977-1987 (96, Compilation)
Collected Thematic Works 1977-1987 (96, Compilation)
Spirits of the Voyage (99?, Soundtrack)
The Middle of Time (99?, Soundtrack to Anna Sofaer's documentary "The Mystery of Chaco Canyon")
Sorcerer (00 w/ Ron Sunsinger)
Although much of Stearns output would probably be categorized in the "New Age" genre (and that's where you'll find his CD's in the record store), if Sorcerer is any indication, it's very GOOD New Age music. This is a difficult enough ambient CD that I would think it would turn off many of the "goody goody" New Age types. It would be very difficult to put on this album and ignore it, therefore one can hardly call it "ambient" music. This is a CD to put on and listen to, not let go into the background, and you won't want any background noise to ruin the more delicate parts, so headphones are highly recommended to shut out the outside world.
This album is dedicated to Carlos Castaneda, and before you roll your eyes and mutter "not another one", let me just say that this is an excellent lyric-less atmospheric composition and you don't need to care about Mr. Castaneda one way or the other to enjoy it. Since I do happen to love the Castaneda books, this only improves my personal experience when listening to Sorcerer.
There's not much melody in Sorcerer, it's mostly a "collage of sounds" type of album. But no synthesizer bleeps, tweets and swooshes here, these are very organic sounds, from thunderstorms to wood blocks to shakers and skin drums. It's very dark and mysterious, and a perfect soundtrack for Castaneda's books. I like this album a lot, and I think anyone who likes Steve Roach (with whom Stearns has worked) or Jorge Reyes should find this album to their liking as well. It's as good for your head and spirit as Mescalito, but it won't make you lose your lunch like He does. -- Fred Trafton
[See Braheny, Kevin |
Dead Can Dance |
Demby, Constance |
Roach, Steve |
Subramaniam, Dr. L]
Click here for Michael Stearns' web site
Steamhammer (69, aka Reflection)
Mk II (69)
|Early British band that included future Tangerine Dream member Steve Joliffe. Classic UK rockers.|
|Links||[See Mogul Thrash | Tangerine Dream]|
Green Eyed God (75)
Grinding guitar hard rock.
Hark the Village Wait (70)
Please to See the King (71)
Ten Man Mop (71)
Below the Salt (72)
Parcel of Rogues (73)
Now We Are Six (74)
Commoner's Crown (75)
All Around My Hat (75)
Rocket Cottage (76)
Storm Force 10 (77)
Time Space (77)
Live at Last (78)
Sails of Silver (80)
Back in Line (86)
Tempted and Tried (89)
Tonight's the Night ... Live (92)
Horkstow Grange (98)
Bedlam Born (00)
The Very Best of Steeleye Span - Present (02)
They Called Her Babylon (04)
Steeleye Span 1974
Who on Earth put them on this list? Ok, ok, they are a good band, and the "progressive"-minded will find some good syncopes here, and not forgetting the world's only heavy-metal track without drums, the amazing "Alison Gross" on their Parcel of Rogues. But seriously, this is folk rock, so be warned if you are a very conservative "progressive" fart who can't stand lyrics about broken love, because Steeleye has plenty of them. Of course, since their lyrics come a different era they are quite different from the standard rock cliches, so the lyrics are one more reason why they are fun to listen to from time to time.
Not prog. First albums are electric folk, later folk-rock. Good stuff, just not prog. I'd recommend Please to See the King to those interested. Maddy Prior has a great voice, but she had better not creep up in the next edition :-).
I certainly don't blame the above reviewer for his resistance to seeing this band in the GEPR. They are not prog rock, it's true. But they are quite progressive and there are many other artists listed that are more out of place. In fact, Span achieves one of the most successful blends of Celtic folk with hard rock in history and if I didn't know better, I would recommend them to anyone who likes Jethro Tull. But I do know better and the two bands have a much different impact. Steeleye Span are essentially acoustic players with a traditional Elizabethan foundation that incorporate rock, blues and jazz into the mix. It is a more refined music than Tull's and they bring an authenticity to their compositions that Ian and the boys don't quite match. The albums are delicately crafted and arranged into real collections of solid songs, and the music has a courtly quality that American folk-rockers like CS&N can't touch. Best period is probably anytime between 1973 and 75, with Parcel of Rogues and Now We Are Six especially good. An easy contender for Britain's best Celt-rock band, SS remain an underappreciated outfit with much to offer those wishing for less bombast in the progressive experience. -- David Marshall
|Links||Click here for an unofficial Steeleye Span web site|
The Simon Lonesome Combat Ensemble (93)
The Zombie Hunter (95)
Led Circus (99)
|If categories are necessary, Simon Steensland is easy to classify as a Univers Zero-lovin', Daniel Denis-diggin', Stravinsky-admirin', this-ain't-prog-it's-classical-music musician. Said only half tongue-in-cheek, The Zombie Hunter comes squarely from the Univers Zero/Daniel Denis axis of musical dimensions. Steensland cites influences of Zappa, King Crimson, Magma, Univers Zero, Art Bears, Stravinsky, Bartok, Ives and Schnittke. A percussioninst by nature, Steensland plays a variety of instruments, including guitar, keyboards, bass, harmonium, accordian and quadraphant, whatever that is. Of course, a variety of percussion instruments are heard. His work is supplemented to a small extent by additional musicians but most of the playing is largely his own, making The Zombie Hunter a solo effort rather than an ensemble cast. Still, with few solos, the effect is very much as an ensemble. Steensland has also focused on writing difficult compositions with a "contemporary classical attitude." Themes are stated, mutated and tortured into new existences as the compositions move from start to finish. I will say straight up that The Zombie Hunter is a great album chock-full of excellent compositions but I have two problems with it. At 60 minutes, I could rarely listen all the way through without the music getting somewhat tedious. This relates to my next problem. I always have to be in just the right frame of mind to get into Univers Zero properly. To me, this means that I'm only a passing fan of the style, not an ardent fan. As I already have all of Univers Zero's albums, and find enough diversity among them when I am in the mood, I don't really feel I need another album of the same style. Bear in mind that this is just my perspective. If you are an ardent fan of Univers Zero and Daniel Denis, then by all means, you will want to hunt zombies with Steensland. -- Mike Taylor|
|The Simon Lonesome Combat Ensemble is made by ex-Landberk drummer Simon Steensland and released by Musea. Steensland plays most of the instruments (drums, percussion, keyboards, programming; but also accordion, berimbau, cello, cittra, flute, fretless fuzzbass, machines, marimba, and tapes). He also get some help from, among others, the keyboardist Mats Öberg and the drummer Morgan Ågren (both have played with Zappa). It is an instrumental album, some kind of progressive fusion with occasional elements of electronic or industrial music. -- Gunnar Creutz|
|A musician whose mind is the most polluted with Univers Zero sound and appearance, what me doesn't perceive as negative at all. While Simon usually intermingled sound of UZ with the least humourous Zamla M. M., Led Circus is a bit more his own, though it does not screaming that. This "ownness" starts to envelop after "certain" number of listens, but what is "certain", me cannot tell exactly. Recommended anyway. -- Nenad Kobal|
|Links||[See Agamon | Landberk | Sandell, Stan]|
Opening Act (83)
The Abyss (06)
From Stencil Forest management 10/11/04:
I have noticed reference to Stencil Forest on your Encyclopedia site. Stencil Forest Opening Act has been remixed and remastered and released on CD for the first time. The original LP frequently brings $150-$250 used on sites such as Ebay, and is in high demand in Europe. We have produced 1000 copies, and from the looks of things will have to go back to the duplication house within 45 days for 1000 more. Stencil Forest will also record The Abyss a new CD by end of the 1st quarter of 2005. -- Ron Perron
[Editor's Note: The following was written for the Ambrosia "Travellers" message board, which explains all the references to their work. This is the same article that is published on the CD Baby site where the album is being sold, so beware: this is an advertisement. But it also seems to be a heartfelt article written by someone who really likes the band. I've asked the band to send me a promo for review, and if they do, I'll try to give a less fanatical review of the album. But in the meantime, here ya go:]
It was in 2003 that I was invited round to a fellow Ambrosia fan's house to listen to several Ambrosia tracks as well as other obscurities on vinyl and tape. That friend was Mike Jones, an AOR aficionado who knew about many more "Good Music" albums and groups than I could ever hope to discover. After pleasant hours listening to Mike's rarities, he played a couple of tracks from a rather battered old cassette tape. In my amazement, I asked him why he had not told me about these tracks, which I insisted were previously unknown early Ambrosia songs. "Not so, kennyboy" he scoffed. "It isn't Ambrosia at all, it's Stencil Forest".
That was my first encounter with Opening Act, Stencil Forest's first (and at that time only) album. Now, after the impossible has happened, and Stencil Forest has re-formed, I am sat here reviewing SF's new album, The Abyss. If you haven't heard it, I have not the slightest doubt that, after this review, you will want to hear it. It is an amazing assembly of songs put together as if the band had woken from a quarter-century of cryo-sleep and continued without realising that the band had been in the freezerinos all this time. It is continuity to the "N"th degree.
Only last week I wrote about Ambrosia and how the guys needed to put aside their apprehensions about a new album and just "get out there and DO it". Joe, if you are reading this, get ahold of The Abyss and see how Stencil Forest just got out there and DID it!
Track 1: "Lifetime Suite" (11:01) -- This one starts with a tinkling piano accompanied by the wash of the sea on a faraway shore ... with the vocal kicking in courtesy of Doug Andresen ... after this intro there's a terrific piano-drum hectic session which you will slap you around the ears and shout "top that, Ambrosia" ... if you loved "The Brunt", you'll die for this. Around the 5:00 mark, Doug returns with a wistful vocal accompanied by some beautifully understated background harmonies along with the recurrent "Life is a bitter pill" ... theme.
Track 2: "You Pull Me In" (5:26) -- I got half-way through this track and had to go back to the start ... it was so good ... especially the bridge of the song ... I just couldn't wait for the end of the track ... I had to hear the beginning again ... right now. This track has a guitar-drum-orchestra mix to die for ... it alternates from accoustic rock to sweeping rock to semi-orchestral silky smoothness. The vocal has so many hooks that you could go deep-sea fishing ! Thanks, Doug Andresen, for a superb track. If your feet and fingers don't tap along to this, then double-check to see if you are still alive!
Track 3: "The Captive Heart" (4:57) -- This reminds me very much of Ambrosia's Somewhere I Never Travelled album. It's sparse in places, poppy in places, but with piano and guitar segments that show Stencil's musical taproot source in the heady days of late 70's / early 80's "new music".
Track 4: "Morning Glory" (4:30) -- Again and again, Stencil Forest fashion a song using all the ingredients of the great 80's. It's like they have found a cache of musical memories that have lain frozen in time ... and they have thawed them out, brought them back to life, nourished them and are now parading these songs as fully revived musical mammoths for all of us to hear, gawping in astonishment.
Track 5: "Our Little Secret" (3:33) -- A thudding piano intro that could have been written by Brian Wilson himself opens this quirky, lyrical track. It has a spiritual feel to it which reminds me of all my favorite bands (Sneaker, Player, and, yes, Ambro too). This tune is a real grower and it's yet another song for me to karaoke along to in the car.
Track 6 "Here Today" (4:10) -- No, not the old Beach Boys toon ... This song starts with a cute little intro and bursts into life when the vocal kicks in with a plaintiff cry ... but what appears to be a straightforward song belies the slightest hint of menace in the song ... (well, I thought so!).
Track 7 "Broken" (4:35) -- Another wonderful tune, with soaring vocals and that now-familiar piano with a hint of double-vocals and that oh-so-catchy arrangement which begins with a harmonica-sounding intro. This brought more than a tear to my usually bone-dry eyes. This song sums up Stencil Forest perfectly ... a band that released a stunning first album in 1980 and then broke up and disappeared from view, only to find each other again at the cusp of the 21st Century. The liner notes of this album very generously credit me (Ken Whowell) with "precipitating all of this". I'm truly flattered, honored and proud to be involved in the ressurection of this fine band. And this track symbolises, better than any other, the joy and enthusiasm of these guys getting back together and continuing where they left off, some thirty years ago. A magical, joyous track which celebrates the rediscovered camaraderie of Stencil Forest. This is my favorite of the whole album.
Track 8 "Room With a View" (4:38) -- The jangling guitar, percussion and thudding bass along with a great angst intro propels listeners into a thumping rock track with a knockout keyboard mid-section.
Track 9 "Is Love Enough to Save You" (5:24) -- A light, airy confection filled in with a eerie, ethereal vocal from Doug, another "spiritual" feel permeates this penultimate track. It's so much more than just another song about drifting apart ... the lyrics describe an almost forlorn, nay, lovelorn plea for another start, a fresh beginning. Great track.
Track 10 "The Abyss" (24:16) -- When I saw the running time for this track ... (24 minutes) ... I thought to myself ... this conjures up all the old images of those groups who inflicted those unbelievably dull 20-minute drum solos ... the sort of self-indulgent pap that tolled the death-knell of "progressive" music in the late 70's and 80's. So, fearing the worst, I resigned myself to 24 minutes of endurance. Well, I have been wrong before, and boy was I wrong this time. "The Abyss" is a slap-your-face-told-you-so ride on a harmonic roller-coaster that I haven't heard since Ambrosia's "Cowboy Star". It has everything you could wish for ... pipe-organ, accoustic guitar, piano, "ol' west" country-n-western segment ... you name it ... it's there. So many other groups and songs are evoked ... but don't get me wrong ... this isn't an attempt at copying Ambrosia, Player, Sneaker, Steely Dan, early Genesis or any of the other eclectic heroes of my youth ... this is clearly Stencil Forest. Just close your eyes and relax ... and suddenly you are on a journey ... full of adventure, discovery, danger, excitement and thrills, but right from the start ... you feel instinctively that you are in safe hands, as Stencil Forest Tours Inc take you on a journey around the musical world ... and you know all along that you will reach that safe haven, that rainbow's end, of harmonic heaven. I enjoyed the trip immensely. You will, too ...
The whole album was written by Frank Cassella with additional lyrics by Doug Andresen on "Face in the Mirror", part of track one. But this is no one (or two)-man job. Jim Cassella on percussion, and Rick Cassella with additional keyboards, plus groupmeister Ron Perron on bass and additional guitar ... combine to make this a true group effort. And Doug can certainly hold a tune, too. How can guys who have been apart for so long just get back together and pick up where they left off twenty-five years ago? I don't have a clue, but if I was pushed to answer, I'd say that these are wandering friends who went their own separate way, but who, eventually, heard that inner voice telling them that they had "unfinished business" to attend to ... and they certainly have heeded that voice. I have one hope ... and it is that Stencil Forest have many more albums to release before that "unfinished business" is well and truly finished.
You really should give this album a try! -- Ken Whowell
Click here for Stencil Forest's web site
Click here to order Opening Act from CD Baby
Click here to order The Abyss from CD Baby
Step Ahead (82)
A great band that will appeal to neo-prog fans and sounds like Marillion, but is much more talented that any neo-prog ensemble. Sort of like Marillion crossed with Drama-Yes. Get it.
Step Ahead is one of the better regarded progressive releases of the '80s, by a French band with an Irish vocalist. The music combines some of the aggressiveness of the early-eighties prog revivalists such as Marillion and mid-period Yes with a melodic and atmospheric style reminiscent of the '70s style. The LP was originally released in pretty limited quantities in Japan, but the Musea CD reissue surpasses that in all respects, with an extensive booklet (characteristic of most Musea products) and five additional tracks. The quality of the bonus tracks is variant, but they are included "as documents and for their musical value -- and for the benefit of all [their] fans...."
Step Ahead was one of France's best symphonic bands and their only release was a quite a rarity, not only in availability but also in quality. In the early '80s, few bands kept the progressive flame alive while all too many decided that sounding like Genesis was the best way to appeal to progressive music fans. Step Ahead managed to derive a certain amount from Drama-era Yes and some others but remains original in composition and atmosphere. Driven by Christain Robin's searing guitar work, the band created and pleasant yet powerful symphonic album that deserves a listen by prog-heads and neo-proggers alike. Keyboardist Claudie Truchi plays with a wonderful style -- she doesn't just bang chords during guitar solos or vocals lines -- instead she plays complex multi-threaded semi-classical lines. Her rhythm playing is fantastic. Perhaps the best since Keith Emerson. Vocalist Danny Brown has a high pitched, strong tenor, and the band is rounded out by a solid rhythm section, capable of making the album worth listening to for the bass and drums alone. This disc contains five extra tracks, two of which are previously unreleased, destined for Step Ahead's second album, which never was finished. These two and the three live tracks are mediocre quality and not worth buying the Musea pressing for if you already have the out-of-print Japanese pressing. However they do add a nice touch for completists. Step Ahead may have been a precursor to the Marillion sound that dominated the mid-eighties, but I maintain that they are the most worthwhile of all bands that adopted that sound. They were original, yet their music contains a familiar flavor, thoughtful lyrics and listenable groove that makes its underlying complexity almost deceptive.
This CD includes Step Ahead's only album recorded in 1982, three live tracks recorded at the Theatre de Verdure, Nice, November 1982, and two previously unreleased tracks recorded at Step Ahead's rehearsal studio in 1982. The additional five songs are not of the same technical quality as the rest of the songs. Step Ahead was Christian Robin (electric guitars), Danny Brown (vocals), Gerard Macia (Ovation Adamas acoustic guitar), Claudie Truchi (keyboards, Bosendorfer Imperial grand piano), Antoine Ferrera (bass), Jean-Yves Dufournier (drums), Alain Lejeune (keyboards), Philippe Recht (bass), and Emmanuel Riquier (drums). Together they produced symphonic progressive music along the lines of Yes, FM, and Rick Wakeman. Christian's voice sounds like Jon Anderson with more body. If you appreciate middle of the road progressive music, Step Ahead is an album to explore.
Step Ahead's self-titled album was released in 1982, the year generally credited as giving birth to neo-prog. Led by the fiery guitar of Christian Robin, Step Ahead represent what "neo-prog" should be: a tasteful blend of old styles with new ideas and technologies rather than a mere imitation like so many mid-'80s neo-prog bands. While there are arguably Genesis influences, Step Ahead show strong French tendencies and influences such as Asia Minor. The guitar work is very up-to-date (for 1982) and the keyboard work treads the narrow line between modern digital and mid-'70s analog. When the singing starts, the band falls into more simplistic rock rhythms that characterize the neo-prog genre but the instrumental passages are well-crafted blends of old and new ideas into very creative progressive rock. The Musea CD release contains five bonus tracks, three live versions of songs from the original LP plus two previously unreleased cuts. -- Mike Taylor
[See Carpe Diem]
Stereokimono - Alex Vittorio (bass), Cristina Atzori (drums, percussion), Antonio
Severi (guitar, midi guitar)
Italian instrumental ensemble, consisting of Antonio Severi (guitars and keyboards), Alessandro Vittorio (bass and keyboards), and Cristina Atzori (drums and percussion). So far, Ki is their only release, but it has been enough to catch the attention of many European prog magazines and e-zines during 2001: in fact, it has been acclaimed to the point of being awarded by many of these as one of the top prog releases of the year. The musicians themselves prefer to label their musical style as "psychophonic oblique rock" - or something like it -, which may seem humorous and self-satirical, but may as well serve as an accurate description, after all. Let's focus on the terms "psycho" and "oblique". Their tracks are usually semi-free-form jams (some of them more extended than others) performed on the basis of a few sequences of atonal chords, which give a kind of "crazy" mood to their music in the energetic numbers (e.g., "Eh! Ah!", "L'Altra Marea"), and a somber air of obscure mystery in the slower ones (e.g., "Phileas Fogg"), an occasionally, even some exotic atmosphere (e.g., "Istanbul Di Giorno"). Major influences in Stereokimono's music are 80's King Crimson and Henry Cow's less aggressive side, plus some touches of contemporary jazz fusion.
Even though their repertoire shows a high level of proficiency in the performance aspect, there is not a display of over-the-top exhibitionism here: it is the musical ensemble as an organic unit what is emphasized here, and the solos are not as prominent as the harmonic textures, which are more featured and fill every single space in each track quite efficiently. A couple of supporting musicians (an extra guitarist, and occasionally, a violin player) manage to help successfully in building the sound textures. In short, highly recommendable for anyone who can properly appreciate the jazzier side of progressive musical tradition, which Stereokimono so wisely absorbs and recycles for the new millenium. -- Cesar Mendoza
Stereokimono's second CD Primosfera is an excellent blend of
symphonic prog, fusion
and more than a little space rock. The recording
quality is excellent, the songs are well composed and superbly executed, and the overall
impression is ... well ... impressive. To my ears, they don't sound particularly
"Italian" in the usual way, in fact they probably sound the most like a mixture of
spacey Daevid Allen-era
Gong and fusiony
post-Allen Gong (in
particular some Allan Holdsworth-timbred guitar solos)
with some contemporary jazz leanings thrown in. In addition to Tim
Blake-like synth swoops, pulsations and electro-flatulence, there are also some excellent
high-speed melodic synth solos.
The songs are all longish, the shortest being about 4:30, with most clocking in at around 7-8 minutes. There's plenty going on in each piece to maintain interest for the duration of the songs. The pieces are all mostly instrumental, though there are some spoken voice sections rambling about odd subjects occasionally. One of my favorite cuts is the last one which contains a long "homage" sound collage consisting of sound effects from many famous progressive rock albums. I've identified parts of Yes' Close to the Edge, Gentle Giant's In A Glass House, Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, Tangerine Dream's Rubycon, ELP's Brain Salad Surgery, Camel's The Snow Goose, Gong's Angel's Egg and probably a few more I didn't recognize. After this, it's hard to deny being "prog". An excellent album that needs to be in every prog fan's collection. -- Fred Trafton
|Links||Click here for Stereokimono's web site|
Stern Combo Meissen (77)
Weisses Gold (78)
Der Weite Weg (79)
Reise Zum Mittlepunkt Des Menschen (80)
Live (96, Live, Recorded 1976)
... several compilations
Stern Combo Meissen 1965: Werner Bertram, Gottfried Sieber, Martin Schreier,
Detlev Hesse, Werner Kunze, Norber Jäger
Stern Combo Meissen (SCM) started way back in 1964. After numerous changes in musical style and personnel, they settled on classically influenced prog in the mid-1970s. Finally, after 13 years, their first eponymous album was released in 1977, which is actually a live recording from that same year. Highlight of the album is the opener "Kampf um den Südpol" ("Battle for the South Pole"), about Scott and Amundsen's race for the South Pole. As most of their music, it is characterized by a strong keyboard presence. Even though ELP are cited as an important influence, most of the time the keyboard sound owes as much to Wakeman as to Emerson, I would say. The most notable exception is side two of this first album, with some true ELP-style organ work, especially on the first track "Eine Nacht auf dem kahlen Berge" ("A Night on Bald Mountain"), which is (again in true ELP style) a Mussorgsky adaptation.
The second album is a concept album, dedicated to SCM's hometown of Meissen in East-Germany. Entitled Weisses Gold (White Gold), it tells the story of the 17th century alchemist who in his quest for gold accidentally invented the china ware that the city is renowned for. It's a great album with lots of classical influences, and again a keyboard-heavy sound. The only negative point would be the dull narrator at the start and middle of both sides of the record. And take a close listen to the end of side one: there's a bit in there that I could swear comes right out of "Watcher of the Skies".
The third album Der weite Weg (The Far Journey) is slightly inferior to the first two. Although it contains some nice songs in the vein of the previous albums, there are also a few poppier songs that are less interesting. The highlight for me is the keyboard interpretation of Vivaldi's "Spring" from his Four Seasons concerto. You've got to hear it to believe it, but it actually sounds quite nice. Die-hard Vivaldi fans will probably be appalled, though. I'm a bit surprised they got away with the album's opener "Die Sage" ("The Legend"): the lyrics are clearly about dictatorship, which must have made the band rather unpopular with the East-German leaders, I would think (allegedly some of their concerts were indeed banned, but I don't know whether this song had anything to do with it), but it nevertheless got released on the state owned Amiga label!
SCM's (or rather SM's, as they had dropped the "Combo" from their name by then) fourth, Reise zum Mittelpunkt des Menschen (Journey to the Centre of Man) is my favourite. It relies even more on keyboards, which have a more electronic feel to them than on their previous work. It's a concept album about ... er ... a journey to the centre of man, whatever that may mean. Listening to the lyrics is not going to help elucidate the strange title I'm afraid, even if you understand German. How about this bit, for instance: "Menschenzeit im Tropfsteinkleid, bizarr und starr, was lebend war" ("People's time in stalactite dress, bizarre and rigid, what was alive"). Never mind those lyrics, though: the music is excellent.
With the next album Stundenschlag (Striking of the Hour) their sound starts to change, but – you guessed it – not for the better. The first side contains some good stuff with the nine minute "Das Paar" ("The Couple") as a highlight. The music here is still rather progressive. The second side on the contrary, is filled with pop material. The music is still palatable and well executed, but progressive it's not.
After some personnel changes SM recorded their next album Taufrisch (Dewy Fresh). There's only very mediocre pop music on this one, and a different singer (pity, as the original singer had a very characteristic voice), which can lead to only one conclusion: to be avoided at all costs. I haven't heard Nächte (Nights), but it's supposed to contain the same kind of rubbish as Taufrisch, so I don't think I want to. After this album they disbanded, but in 1995 the band was reformed, with most of the original line-up (including the lead vocalist), and under their original name (including the "Combo"). They're still touring (only in East Germany), sometimes together with two other East German bands, Lift and Electra, under the moniker of "Sachsendreier" (which means something like "Saxony threesome"). Material from their concerts has been released on a CD with the same name. I haven't heard this one, though.
A live recording from 1976 was released in 1996, with two original compositions (their concert favourite "Der Kampf um den Südpol", sounding very much like the version on the debut album and the previously unreleased "Wenn ich träume" ("When I Dream")) and three adaptations: Sibelius' "Finlandia", Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" and Brian Auger's "Happiness is Just around the Band" (sic!). I don't know the originals, so I really can't say how these adaptations relate to them. The overall sound of this live album is very much like SCM's debut album that was released the following year. It's a nice enough album, though not essential: the songs sometimes tend to go on a bit too long, and hearing the vocals on the Auger composition I'm glad they chose to write the lyrics for their own songs in German. The sound quality of this release is outstanding, though. There's also a couple of best-of albums. I get the impression it's all a nostalgia thing these days for SCM, so I don't think there'll ever be any new material unfortunately.
Overall conclusion: all albums up to and including Reise ... come highly recommended, buy Stundenschlag only if you can find it at a budget price, and don't bother with Taufrisch or Nächte. -- Bas Janssen
Click here for a Stern Combo Meissen web site
Click here for another (also in German)
[See Cosmic Jokers, The]
One of the foremost progressive keyboardists, you owe it to yourself to own at least one album from each band he has played with, from Arzachel to his work with Bill Bruford. Once you own one, you'll want the others. His Stewart-Gaskin collaboration with Barbara Gaskin, is well-crafted pop in its own right but not at all like his work for which he is most famous among Prog fans. Stewart was a master of the Hammond organ and its vast tonal palette. In comparison to Stewart, Emerson had no idea of what a Hammond was capable of sounding like. My personal favorites are National Health and Khan (which is essentially a Steve Hillage project), but his work with Egg and Hatfield are also essential. If, out of all the bands in this list, you have not heard works by Dave Stewart, you have indeed found the place to begin. -- Mike Taylor
[See Arzachel |
Campbell, Mont "Dirk" |
Egg (UK) |
Hatfield and the North |
Hillage, Steve |
National Health |
Click here for the "progressive section" of Dave Stewart's web site
Up From The Dark (85)
The Singles (86)
As Far As Dreams Can Go (87)
The Big Idea (90)
Selected Tracks (93, Compilation)
Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin
Adult-oriented, intelligent pop with a whimsical recall for the '60s. Not at all similar to his early Prog work for which Dave Stewart is most famous. Gaskin is Barbara Gaskin, one of the Northettes for Hatfield and the North, and a vocalist for the folky band Spirogyra. -- Mike Taylor
[See Arzachel |
Egg (UK) |
Hatfield and the North |
National Health |
Click here for the Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin web site
Still Life (70)
|Hammond-organ hard rock with enough twists and turns to justify their presence at GEPR. I really like the songs on this album; they're a little different from a lot of the early 70's rock music. The Repertoire release doesn't give many clues about the band, but the band photo suggests a quartet, although there's seemingly no guitarist (some acoustic guitar on "Love Song No. 6"). The main thing here are the songs, with some nice vocal harmonies and well-balanced organ- and piano solos. The track "Dreams" starts of with quiet organ and some theatrical speaking ("No more dreams!!!") in a manner no conventional pop/rock band would do it. Probably nobody's favourite band, but good enough. -- Daniel|
Telenn Geltiek (59), Reflets (70), Renaissance de l'harpe celtique (71), À l'Olympia (72), Chemins de terre (74), E Langonned (74), À Dublin (75), Trema'n inis (Vers l'île) (76), Raok dilestra (Avant d'accoster) (77), Journée à la Maison (78), Tro ar Bed (International Tour) (79), Tir na nog (Symphonie celtique) (80), Terre des vivants (81), Légende (83), Harpes du nouvel âge (86), The Mist of Avalon (91), Again (93), Brian Boru (95)
A Breton harpist with a slew of albums of Celtic Harp music out. One of his albums may be of interest to prog fans, esp. fans of Celtic/folk progressive stuff like Mike Oldfield's Ommadawn, Rare Air, or Fairport Convention's early work. A symphonic work for 75 musicians in three movements, ranging from quiet harp and orchestra textures to fairly decent Celtic rock as well as some other very interesting elements. Hard to get into, and can sometimes be even cheesier than Yes' Tales from Topographic Oceans, but an interesting thing to check out nonetheless.
It's tempting to say that Alan Stivell was France's answer to British bands like Fairport Convention, Horslips, and Steeleye Span, but that would be incorrect. Stivell was fusing Celtic folk music and rock long before those guys, even though he did not release any full-length albums until the early 1970s. His earliest albums Reflets, Renaissance de l'harpe celtique, Chemins de terre, and the live À l'Olympia are widely considered to be his best, containing a compelling blend of rocked-up traditional music and original compositions ranging from hard-edged psychedelic folk to delicate acoustic pieces only lightly flavoured by the occasional organ or electric guitar flourish. Much of the music is instrumental, with Stivell playing harp and bombarde with a band that uses a mixture of rock and folk instruments, although Stivell does sing in Breton, English, and French on several tunes. Many other French prog-folk musicians, including Dan Ar Braz and Gabriel Yacoub (of Malicorne) and Dan Ar Braz, got their start playing with Stivell. The music from this period is highly melodic, tightly constructed, with rhythms and melodies clearly derived from Breton, Irish, and Scottish folk traditions. Towards the end of the '70s and in the early '80s, Stivell's music started to move into what would probably now be called "new age." Raok dilestra, a concept album about the history of Brittany, is still pretty rocking, as is Tro Ar Bed and parts of Symphonie Celtique, but Trema'n inis, Journee a la Maison, and especially Harpes du nouvel age are much softer-edged, featuring loosely constructed, mostly-acoustic harp pieces with a faint Celtic influence. It's pleasant enough, but a lot Stivell fans think it pales in comparison to his earlier work. Since the late '80s, Stivell has been returning to his Celtic rock roots. The Mist of Avalon has a definite rock feel, although it isn't quite as melodic or as Celticky as his earliest stuff. Again consists of a number of remakes of his classic material and is quite hard-edged. It also features a number of guest musicians, including Kate Bush and Shane McGowan (of the Pogues). A good introduction to Stivell's music would probably be one of the numerous compilation disks that are available. Currently, Polygram France has a CD on its Master Serie label that features a collection of Stivell's early material, including a number of pieces were only released as singles and do not appear on any of his studio albums, and I heartily reccomend this. Any of Stivell's three live albums would also be a good introduction for a prog fan who likes Celtic-influenced progressive folk. (Many people, including several Celtic rock musicians, feel that the three live ones are Stivell's three best releases.) Outside of France, Stivell's later work is generally a lot easier to find than his classic material, but it's definitely worth it to seek out the early stuff. One final discographical note: Stivell's albums have often been released with translated, or in some cases, completely changed, titles in different countries. For instance, in the UK and Australia, Chemins de terre was released under the title From Celtic Roots. A complete list of Stivells albums, and the different titles that each has been given is available in the discography on the Alan Stivell web server.
Behind the Walls (85)
The Lonely Heartbeat (89)
The Flower King (94, Stolt solo album that started The Flower Kings band)
Wall Street Voodoo (05)
The Flower King is a very good symphonic progressive album by ex-Kaipa guitarist Roine Stolt. "We believe in the light, we believe in love". This little portion of the lyrics sums the feeling of the whole album. Stolt believes in the Good Powers and the whole album is about love, peace and happiness in good Yes fashion. Hans Bruniusson (Samla Mammas Manna) play some of the drums. -- Gunnar Creutz
Stolt is a veteran of the Swedish scene with multiple talents. He is producer, engineer, composer, bassist, keyboardist, singer (in English) but most of all an accomplished guitarist. He is surrounded by excellent musicians on drums, bass, vocals, keyboards and saxophone. The style of the compositions (very melodic symphonic rock) is deceivingly simple but contains expert performances with rich, tasteful and meticulous arrangements. The Flower King is a superb production that serves the best elements of accessibility and virtuosity. Deserves a close ear by a large variety of listeners. -- Paul Charbonneau
Roine´s all instrumental '98 solo-album [Hydrophonia] was reportedly a way for him to clear away with some old songs, and put to use all those little ideas that weren´t good enough for The Flower Kings. Whether that is entirely true or not, this sure sounds pretty tired. I think Roine is an amazing guitar player and a great improviser, so if you have him soloing over some new age-like music it would still be worthwhile listening to, but that´s about as interesting as this gets. Some new age, a little nordic folk music, some minor progressive-light elements, and a lot of great soloing. If that´s the kind of music you like to listen to, go right ahead and buy this, but don´t expect this to come anywhere close to The Flower Kings quality-wise. The upbeat happy happy-feel gets annoying after a while, but it would probably be impossible for Roine to record an entire album without stumbling on some great melodies, but what I really miss are the odd chord progressions that make a great prog band. Jamie Salazar and Ulf Wallander are the featured flower guys on this release. -- Daniel
Roine cut a couple of pop albums between Kaipa and the Flower Kings, and Fantasia and The Lonely Heartbeat are two of them (haven't heard Behind the Walls). Main vocalist on Fantasia is Mats Löfgren who sang on Kaipa's Solo, and personally I think he's a great singer. The vocals are in Swedish, and sometimes the subject matters are prog in the Swedish sense of the word, namely politically left-oriented (as were a lot of Kaipa's lyrics). Second half of the album is instrumental. Fantasia isn't too poppy; it's actually not that different from Solo, but it has a few sappy ballads that aren't very successful, and the overly peppy ditties tend to get on my nerves. This is around the time when Roine starts to come into his own as a great guitar player, which makes for fun listening. "Grodballetten" ("The Frog Ballet"; reminiscent of many a Kaipa title ...) is very prog (in the international sense of the word)!
The Lonely Heartbeat makes you wonder who the hell the guy fronting The Flower Kings is. This simply isn't very good, with its pseudo funk-pop, cheesy radio-pop, some 90125ish rockers (that's not a compliment!), cocktail lounge jazz with a little dixieland clarinet choruses thrown in for good measure. The sole profit from this sordid affair is Roine's guitar solos.
The Flower King comes from another part of the universe. Amazing songs and musicianship throughout. For about two years this was my favourite album and I still listen to it frequently. Symphonic in a way that doesn't get pathetic (as so many neo-prog bands tend to do). The central thing is the incredibly strong songwriting, but the fact that it's dressed in flawless progressive rock makes it perfect. Roine has never sung better, and the climactic finale of the 21 minute epic "Humanizzimo" gives me gooseflesh like you wouldn't believe. When his voice dramaticly cracks and he hits the falsetto-shout -- now that's safe-sex if I ever had any! When I interviewed Roine in late '97 he also held that piece of music in very high regard. Take some of your favourite Genesis, your Yes, even your melodic King Crimson, season it with a little Kaipa, and you've got one of those rare 90's must-have albums. Consistently better than the Flower Kings outings (although Retropolis comes close), I cannot recommend this enough. -- Daniel
[See Agents of Mercy |
Bodin, Tomas |
Endless Sporadic, An |
Flower Kings, The |
Click here for Roine Stolt's MySpace page
Le Idee di Oggi Per la Musica di Domani (69)
Un Biglietto del Tram (75)
Macchina Macceronica (80)
Pinocchio Bazaar (80, EP)
Al Volo (82)
Megafono (82?, '76-'82, double live)
Un Concerto (93, reunion live)
|Started as a left-wing political folksong group. But fortunately they met Henry Cow, and the music changed to a very interesting fusion between classical music, North Italian folk music and Henry Cow. Georgie Born appears on Macchina Macceronica which reminds me of Henry Cow's Concerts, but with a stronger melodic feel. Al Volo is more electric and compositions are less complicated, this was the last one. The singer Umberto Fiori has a strong interesting voice, maybe the result of classical training. Members of the band appears on a Recommended Records Quartely volume 1. nr 3. 1986, playing one side live, together with Chris Cutler. -- Michael Bohn Fuglsang|
For my opinion the most peculiar and at the same time the least opposing band
from RIO movement. Their first two albums from sixties may suite well to
completists. Although I read of L'Unita as having early
Soft Machine influences, I usually skip it
when I trace it in a catalogue of my favourite vendor. In six years long hiatus
they ascertain how they would like to sound.
Since including Biglietto del Tram, Stormy 6 reared sounds within primeval Giantish pastoral fashion of blending non-rock idioms such as medieval, barocco, classical, folk, etc., albeit in north-Italian and Mediterraenean loam. Such approach continued through release of Cliché, written for movie of the same title, and culminated with L'Apprendista, for me personally their best ever. L'Apprendista is in essence indigenous lyricism combined with vernacular traditions and spiced with chamber contempo sonorities. It is, perhaps, the most beautiful recording to emerge from the difficultest camp of progressive rock forms, with the possible exception of Henry Cow's Leg End. This album is definitely a slow-grower. Its sonic appearance is not striking, but certain quantity of listens define it as a nice and important album. At times it can overcome Giants at their most dissonant, other times at their most lyrical. This could also be Giants taken on the next, higher level.
Macchina Maccheronica is their RIO classic and incorporates plenty of characteristics of Henry Cow at their most shamelessly experimental, but S6 went furtherly into weirdness, which at first even to me seemed too zany. I prepared myself for headfirst jump into dissonances and quirky rhythmics, but ... eponymous opener served me something completely different. Just like one would listen to one small-town wind orchestra on march through their very town. Next track, "Le Lucciole" sounds very contemporary, but along with the rest of similar tracks may be heard as if circus orchestra performs it. As I haven't heard any of Italian contemporary classical (Nono, Dallapiccola, etc.) I don't know whether this is derived from them, but again I'm suspicious about such un-gravity of mentioned composers. "Madonina" is a title for four differently arranged miniatures, which heavily mock San Remo festival musics. There's also one theater tune inspired by Samla (a lot of mumbling, tittering and childlike/gnomic conversation). So, RIO-maniacs and other interested, what more do you actually want. Here's everything and even more than such a genre can deliver.
Al Volo is another one of a kind. It (still) puzzles me beyond the limit of usual. Perhaps straighter, but also stranger than previous efforts. While somewhat sable, it embraces features of post-punk (Killing Joke), synth wave (Ultravox), early 80's era King Crimson, Italian lyricism, etc. I don't know how close it is to albums of bands like early XTC or early Godley and Creme. "Opposing" features have gone, god alone knows whither. Seems that they take wavy trend of the era a bit more seriously than Etron Fou. Instead of Gentle Giant, which inspired Stormy 6 more than any other band, I hear something I easily mistake for Genesis circa Lamb. Sunken, classically trained voice of Umberto Fiori comes unbelievably close to that of Peter Gabriel. While recording Al Volo band relinquished both Giant and folk inspirations. Well, almost, as only one track includes choral medieval singing from the whole band fortified with lute-like guitar playing. As a farewell studio album this one is the oddest of all. As all their albums are "slow-growers" this one is no exception. With many patient listens it's slowly revealing all the beauty which usually permeates Stormy releases. Somewhat inferior to previous recordings but still quite good when taken into account alone. Live recordings are said to be quite necessary for fans, but I haven't heard 'em yet. L'Apprenista, Macchina and Al Volo all come highly recommended!!! -- Nenad Kobal
Stormy Six were part of the cultural-political-musical movement Rock
In Opposition. Considering the musical radicalism and astringency of many releases that the original
RIO bands produced,
L'Apprendista is surprisingly lyrical and accessible. That doesn't mean that it isn't
challenging, it is just that the band show their colour in their openly political lyrics (or
liner notes at least) and the riotous innovation and hybridisation that subtly subverts many of
the diverse styles they draw from. The sound is predominantly acoustic and open, with acoustic
and clean electric guitars, mandolins, tuned percussion and especially a nimble string quartet
and an occasional woodwind supporting the restrained male vocals, which are prominent on every
track. The first couple of songs are pretty melodic and straight-forward in the verse-chorus
format, yet accentual and rhythmic irregularities, touches of dissonance and sudden
interjections, like the contrapuntal string intermezzo on the title track, keep things slightly
out of kilter; the mock-stately vocal style on the title track also suggests the influence of
contemporaneous agit-prop songs.
Things get more experimental from there on, but an underlying influence of Italian folk follows through the Gentle Giant-ish "Carmine" and "Rosso", a Slapp Happy-style skewed chamber work with processed vocals. The only thing holding "L'Orchestra dei Fischietti" together is an infrequently recurring power chord guitar riff, between which you can find folky violin, an acoustic ditty, Samla Mammas Manna-style percussion weirdness and even a three-voice vocal fugue. At the other end, the stately, Hackett-like guitar melodies, solemn vocals and subtle string-synth flourishes of "Il Labirinto" could be at home on many of the more traditionally symphonic Italian prog albums, but the band have to disrupt this with a wonky piano bridge and a saxophone solo that owes more to psychedelia than to contemporaneous prog.
Overall, a cheerfully irreverent album that may also evoke the Canterbury scene in its ability to make things both ear-pleasingly catchy and subversively experimental at the same time. While hard-core RIO fans may not consider it extreme enough, those who normally wouldn't venture near the genre are advised to give it a try. -- Kai Karmanheimo
|Links||Click here for Stormy Six info on the BTF CD distributors page|
Maida Vale (79), Figli dei Figli della Guerra (82)
Get Straight (78), My Time Hour Time (79), Flying Straight (81), 5 (83), Movin' Outside Movin' Inside (84)
German hard-rock band featuring ex-Streetmark vocalist Georg Buschmann who supposedly incorporated prog elements on early albums. My Time is supposedly the best. I only have 5, which includes no prog elements and really sucks. -- Mike Ohman
9 Parts To The Wind (75)
Four-piece UK progressive band led by guitarist/songwriter Graham Ward. They released one album and faded into oblivion. Their music encompassed folk, rock, pop and classical influences, but could be conveniently categorized as none of the above. Each side of the album started off with an intelligent pop cut, rounded out by two longer progressive tunes featuring multiple parts with interesting changes, yet even these were fairly accessible in a lot of ways. For those who need comparisons, the Strawbs circa Ghosts could be a starting point, yet Strange Days folk element was not as obvious, residing just below the colorful melodic surface. Excellent lyrics and vocals. This is an outstanding album, one that appeals on many levels.
The Key Part I: The Prophecy (90)
The Key Part II: The Labyrinth (93)
The Key Part III: The Revelation (Not recorded yet)
Strangers On a Train circa 1990 - Karl Groom, Tracy Hitchings and
Most of the tracks feature the strong and rather dramatic vocals of British neo-prog's diva-in-residence, Tracy Hitchings. While some may find her pop mannerisms irritating, I think the theatricality of her delivery complements the music perfectly, with only "From the Outside In", a torchy duet with Nolan, sounding a bit too much like Mariah Carey's garage band days.
While a bit sketch-like in its arrangements, I find The Key Part 1 an infectious little album that seems to endure where many more bombastic works fail (e.g. Arena's first two albums). It may have trouble finding a right audience, though: neo-prog fans, who would be the obvious target group, may be turned off by the austerity of the arrangements, while those who want their prog with more complexity and depth will find the music far too simplistic. Note that there are three versions of this album, of which the Verglas version is a 1997 remaster of the out-of-print 1994 SI Music version, which itself was a remixed version of the now long out-of-print original release, also on SI and titled simply The Key. Confusing, isn't it?
The Key Part 2: The Labyrinth (Verglas VGCD013) adds a heavier palette of synth patches, a bit of electronic drums here and there, and the voice of Pallas' Alan Reed to complement Hitchings and to please all those who believe neo-prog and gruff Scottish vocals are a match made in heaven. The sound is now more expansive and the music consists of just three long suites and two shorter compositions, but otherwise little has changed and several themes from the first album are reprised. It makes for a more accessible album, but somehow also a less compelling one. Highlights include the mock-orchestral instrumental "Hijrah" with its contrapuntal chamber approach that stands pretty unique in Nolan's oeuvre. "The Vision Clears", on the other hand, is a relatively standard rock tune, and could be a rough demo version of Hitchings' later adventures with Landmarq. An ear-pleasing album as this is, the first one had the kind of simple charm that this just doesn't have.
A third album, The Key Part 3: The Revelation, supposedly exists but has not seen release yet. With Nolan getting his hands on just about every neo-progressive project in the British Isles, I wouldn't hold my breath for this one. -- Kai Karmanheimo
|[Regarding The Key Part I, which the reviewer evidently thought was their only release:] This one-off project by a bunch of neo-Pendragon dropouts isn't even remotely progressive. Only redeeming factor is Tracy Hitchings' vocals.|
[See Arena |
Hitchings, Tracy |
Neo (UK) |
Nolan, Clive |
Cantare la Voce (78)
Rock and Roll Exhibition (79, Live)
Recitarcantando (80, Live, w/ Lucio Fabbri)
Le Milleuna (90, Recorded 1979)
Concerto all'Elfo (95, Live, Recorded 1978)
Stratosfera box set (02, 5CD Compilation)
Stratos, singer in Area, recorded these four albums after he left Area (around 1976). He died of leukemia in New York in 1979. All four feature solo voice improvisations by Stratos, like he did to a lesser extent on some Area songs (e.g. "Cometa Rossa" on Caution Radiation Area). You will find no Area music or band members here! Only on Recitarcantando (a live recording from 1978) he is accompanied by a violin player (Lucio Fabbri). Strange and difficult stuff!! -- Achim Breiling
I have Metrodora and Cantare la Voce. Both of these, on the Cramps label, are experiments in vocal technique, in which Stratos exhibits sounds which often do not sound vocal. At some points he gets diplo- and triplophonic (Cantare la Voce), and at others he will use an obstacle like a cigarette paper in front of his mouth in order to alter the sound to his liking (Metrodora). Paolo Tofani (of Area) contributes on Metrodora in an accompaniment that complements Stratos' voice. Both albums reflect the work that he was doing with John Cage at the time. You might wish to note that these two albums are VERY likely to be irritating and highly annoying to the uninitiated. -- Matthew
No, not Demetrios or Demetrious as it is often mis-interpreted, but simply Demetrio. Stratos came from Greece, but I have listed him in the GEPR as Italian because he did his recording work both solo and with Area in Italy. -- Fred Trafton
Ice Nine (86)
Stratus (circa 1985) - Brian Hull (drums & percussion), Paul Chester (guitars), Dave Nichols
(bass) and Ted Wenglenski (keyboards)
Stratus' ex-drummer Brian Hull sent me a nice compilation CDR with music from their Ice Nine and Hyperbole releases. His initial e-mail to me self-consciously said, "Not sure if you are aware of the band but maybe you have already rejected it as not a 'progressive rock' band". Not to worry, Brian, the only reason for Stratus' lack of inclusion in the GEPR was my lack of awareness. To be nit-picky, Stratus actually wasn't a "progressive rock" band -- at least not in the sense of Yes or Genesis. They were, however, an exceptional fusion band, a genre the GEPR happily includes.
Stratus should appeal to those who like bands like Bruford, Al DiMeola or Return to Forever circa Romantic Warrior, though Stratus is, perhaps, a bit more mellow than any of them. Musea still carries Hyperbole, and compares Stratus to Canterbury bands like Hatfield and the North, which should also give you a point of reference. I found their music to be enjoyable and exciting, particularly the tasty guitar with occasional Allan Holdsworth-like passages. Easily recommendable to people who like the bands I've just mentioned.
Hull's e-mail implied that there were other Stratus albums beyond the two he participated in, but I have been unable to find any further information on them. I'll try to find out and update this entry with a complete discography (and info on how to find them!) if and when I can find more info. -- Fred Trafton
Click here to order Hyperbole from Musea Records
All Our Own Work (Sandy and the Strawbs) (67), Strawbs (69), Dragonfly (70), Just a Collection of Antiques and Curios (70), From the Witchwood (71), Grave New World (72), Bursting at the Seams (73), Hero and Heroine (74), By Choice (74), Ghosts (75), Nomadness (75), Best of (78), Deep Cuts (76), Burning For You (77), Deadlines (78), Don't Say Goodbye (87), Preserves Uncanned (90), Ringing Down the Years (91), A Choice Selection of Strawbs (92), In Concert (??, recorded '73)
I heard Deep Cuts, which isn't especially progressive but has gobs of nice Mellotron work. Earlier albums are reportedly more prog orientated. -- Mike Ohman
The Strawbs started out as the Strawberry Hill Boys, a bluegrass trio, in 1966 with Dave Cousins, Tony Hooper and mandolin player, Arthur Phillips. By 1967, the name had been shortened to the Strawbs, Phillips had been replaced by Ron Chesterman on double bass and Sandy Denny had joined the band. The repertoire changed from bluegrass to a mixture of folk and originals written mainly by Cousins. Since then, the line-up has changed multiple times and the folk-based material has evolved into something a lot more like rock but Cousins remains the major songwriter.
The usual knocks are against Dave Cousin's vocals, but it doesn't take too much to get over them. An interesting folk/progressive blend, the Strawbs have gone though a lot of personnel changes, so every release brings something new. Grave New World is probably the most overt progressive release, but Rick Wakeman fans will probably want to pick up From the Witchwood or A Collection of Antiques and Curios. Antiques... is a live album which has a Wakeman solo - an interesting precursor of things to come.
These guys originally started out as a British bluegrass band back in the late '60s. In those days they were called the "Strawberry Hill Boys," but they soon adjusted their sound to a more traditional British folk style blended with enough rock to make the sound interesting, much like other bands of the time (most notably Fairport Convention), and shortened the name to the Strawbs. An early lineup featured Sandy Denny, who would later achieve fame with Fairport, Fotheringay and her Solo Projects before her untimely death. They have recorded over 15 albums through the years, with various lineups around the core of Dave Cousins, Who is the main driving force in the band and main songwriter. Keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman got his start with the Strawbs back in the early days before joining Yes on their third Album (he is featured on the albums Strawbs, Dragonfly and Just A Collection). Many other musicians have come and gone and some have come back again (Tony Hooper and Richard Hudson left for a long period from '72 to '82, but have since returned). Cousins has also released a couple of excellent solo albums. Because of all the personnel changes throughout the years, their sound has been in a state of constant evolution, from electric folk to a more progressive rock sound, then to an almost straight-ahead rock sound in the late '70s, then back to a more folk-rock sound which is where they are at today. Readers of this survey would probably enjoy the mid-'70s output the most, beginning with Grave New World, which still tends to be very folky, on to the overtly progressive Bursting At The Seams and Hero And Heroine, and finally Ghosts, which shows the band moving into a more accessible rock direction, but still contains some of the band's best work. Nomadness through Burning was a very commercial period for the band, although each of these albums contains a few hidden gems. With Deadlines they started to recapture their progressive past, but it also killed their record deal. The last two albums are more in-line with their pre-progressive sound, a folk-pop with strong melodic leanings. Oh yeah, one more thing: The 2CD live set Heroes Are Forever documents two excellent live shows in London in '73 and '74. I guess the really amazing thing is that these guys are still together after 25 long years !
Too many people approach the Strawbs, knowing that they were Rick Wakeman's first group, with the expectation that their music will a) sound like Yes b) sound like Wakeman's solo stuff, or c) feature lots of pyrotechnic keyboard stuff. In fact, Wakeman had very little impact on the Strawbs sound, and anyone buying their early stuff mainly to hear him will be disappointed. In fact, the Strawbs didn't really start their move toward a "progressive" sound until after he left. On the other hand, Strawbs would appeal to fans of bands like Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, Pentangle, etc. who wish the sound of those bands were a bit more progressive. The Strawbs most interesting period began with Grave New World, and ended after Ghosts, the best probably being Bursting At The Seams.
The Strawbs have been around since the late '60s and Dave Cousins, the leader of the band, continues to release material under the Strawbs name. I have only one album, Grave New World. It's a very nice album of electric folk with some Progressive tendencies. For example, you'll hear Mellotron, organ, acoustic guitar, dulcimer and autoharp. They even recorded parts of one song and played it backwards to record the vocals, Mellotron and other parts (just one example), so there is a degree of experimentation here and there on this album. As a whole though, it's folk that wanders near the Progressive style here and there. Very nice if you are into the folk end of the spectrum such as Ithaca, Gygafo, Fairport Convention, etc. -- Mike Taylor
[See Fire | Intergalactic Touring Band, The | Lambert, Dave | Wakeman, Rick]
Nordland (75), Eileen (78, aka Wolfgang Riechmann with Streetmark), Dry (79), Sky Racer (81), Dreams (87, comp.)
[See Deutsche Wertarbeit | Riechmann, Wolfgang | Straight Shooter]
String Cheese (71)
|Similar to It's A Beautiful Day.|
|Excellent Californian but very UK-sounding folk-rock with some early prog and psychedelic tinges, comparable to a folkier Curved Air circa Air Conditioning, with hints of Trees and The Pentangle. -- James Drayson|
String Driven Thing (72), The Machine That Cried (72), Keep Your 'And On It (73), Please Mind Your Head (74)
[See Smith, Grahame | Van der Graaf Generator]
The Encounter (02, Live)
I almost turned this album off after the first five minutes, when it was becoming
obvious to me that this was an Escapade-style
pointless noodling album. Yeah, everyone's playing real good, but the music's
just not going anywhere. Well, don't be fooled! This is just the intro song.
Most of the album is excellent fusion, sounding
like a blend of Dixie Dregs,
Mahavishnu Orchestra and
Al DiMeola with occasional flashes of
Jerry Goodman on violin.
The violinist is KBB's Akihisa Tsuboy, who also recorded this performance on his DAT recorder. Considering the primitive recording technique, The Encounter sounds pretty good! Most of the other band members are from a band called Six North, featuring Hideyuki Shima on bass, Shinju Odajima on guitar and Hiroshi "Gori" Matsuda on drums. There's an additional guitarist who's not from Six North as well, Hirofumi Okamoto. The Encounter isn't a polished studio album, but a nice warm recording of a bunch of really great musicians getting together and having a good time playing lots of notes. There are a lot of composed sections and also lots of room for soloing and improv. Recommended to all fans of fusion. -- Fred Trafton
|Links||[See KBB | Theta]|
Talk To The Wind (73)
Heavy underground jazzrock.
See Beyond the Sun (91)
The Circle Never Ends (94) Alienation (97)
Stromboli (87), Shutdown (90)
Czechoslovakian progressive rock band led by multi-instrumentalist Michal Pavlicek, with exceptional female vocals by the seductive Bara Basikova, who at once can belt out the lyrics with amazing power and intensity, or deliver shivers with whispered poetics. Michal Pavlicek's guitars have similar powers, influenced by mainstream rock, jazz, electronics, and a progressive ideology. The first album is a double: One disc studio, one disc live, all different material, with lyrics in czech. Shutdown, with lyrics in English, is a little more hard-edged in parts, but overall every bit as good as the first one. Both are excellent.
[See Basikova, Bara | Pavlicek, Michal]
Misterio (89), Primal Magic (91)
The acoustic guitar duo of Jorge Strunz and Ardeshir Farah play what might be called acoustic world gypsy music, pulling in influences from Strunz' native latin America and Farah's native Persia. They also add guest musicians on percussion, violin, etc. I Think a close comparison might be Al Di Meola, in fact the first time a friend played Primal Magic for me, I thought we were listening to a new Al Di Meola disc. The only thing bad I can say is that at first listen their music has a sameness throughout that wears thin over the course of a whole album, which upon repeated listenings disappears as you become more familiar with the subtleties of their music. Good Stuff.
Acoustic guitar-oriented fusion. Fans of Di Meola/McLaughlin/DeLucia will enjoy this. Dueling guitars with strong Latin and Arabic influences.
Steppin' Out (88)
Live & Learn (98)
Another Side of Genesis (00)
Guitarist with Genesis' touring lineup. His solo album Steppin' Out is some fairly good fusion, although, like many guitarists (Allan Holdsworth comes to mind immediately) the material is more technically oriented than brilliant on a songwriting level.
Before joining Genesis, Stuermer played on
Jean Luc Ponty's Aurora, Imaginary Voyage
and Enigmatic Ocean albums. He joined up with Genesis
in 1977, but never recorded with them, though his guitar work can be heard on the live
albums Three Sides Live and The Way We Walk.
When Phil Collins embarked upon his solo career, Stuermer became a member of his solo band. He can be heard on nearly all of Collins' solo albums, including Face Value, Hello I Must Be Going, No Jacket Required, But Seriously, and Dance into the Light. Stuermer has guested on other Genesis members solo albums, including Mike Rutherford's Acting Very Strange and Tony Banks' The Fugitive and Still. His name can be found spelled both Daryl and Darryl, though the 1-R version seems more prevalent. -- Fred Trafton
[See Banks, Tony |
Ponty, Jean Luc]
In Concert (70)
Subject Esq. (72)
Early progressive; similar to Out of Focus.
Fantasy Without Limits (79)
Spanish Wave (83)
Indian Express (84)
L. Subramaniam en Concert (85, Live)
Magic Fingers (86)
Mani and Co. (86)
Raga Hemavati (90)
India's Master Musicians (90)
Live in Geneva (91)
Indian Classical Masters: Three Ragas for Solo Violin (91)
South Indian Strings (92)
The Virtuoso Violin of South India (92)
In Praise of Ganesh (92)
Master Music (93)
Southern Indian Violin (93)
Masters Of Raga: Shree Priya (95)
Electric Modes, Vol. 1: (??)
Electric Modes, Vol. 2: Summer Sessions (95)
Pacific Rendezvous (96)
Violin Of Southern India Vols. 1 & 2 (96)
From the Ashes (99)
Global Fusion (99)
Garland (00, original release 1978)
Time Must Be Changed (00, a.k.a. Subramaniam in Moscow, originally recorded 1988)
Expressions Of Impressions (??)
Indian Classical Music (S. Indian Classical Ragas) (??)
The Irresistible Dr. L Subranamian (??)
Dr. L. Subramaniam
I got Subramaniam in Moscow to review from Boheme Music ... the only thing I kept thinking as I listened to it is "why haven't I ever heard of this guy before? He's spectacular!" After researching his discography, it's certainly not because he hasn't released any albums. Maybe it's because he works so much in the Indian Classical music field that he's not considered to be a "prog musician".
Well, whatever the reason, anybody into jazz fusion needs to hear Dr. Subramaniam play! He's a violinist, so it's easy to compare him with Jean-Luc Ponty or Jerry Goodman. I don't say that because of the fact that he's a violinist, but because the Indian flavorings would have made him a perfect match for John McLaughlin in Mahavishnu Orchestra. Actually, it's just possible that Subramaniam is better than either of these other virtuosos, no kidding. His playing is emotional, firey, complex and can go from blazing fast and screaming to sweet and dreamy in an instant. If he and McLaughlin ever played together, Mahavishnu Orchestra would be reborn. This particular album also features a bunch of "local" musicians playing with Dr. Subramaniam (in this case, "local" means Moscow) who do a very nice job as a backing band, also playing up to par with any European or American jazz fusion ensemble you'd like to name. This is just a topnotch album in anybody's book. Oh, yeah, the recording quality is excellent too.
So, I highy recommend Subramaniam in Moscow. I plan to keep on the lookout for more of his stuff and see if it is all consistently this interesting. Even the Raga albums might be cool ... he once toured with Ravi Shankar, and I definitely enjoyed him. If I hear any others, I'll let you know. -- Fred Trafton
Surely the name of this remarkable master of true and essential Progressive
Jazz-Fusion Lakshminarayana Subramaniam is familiar to many Prog-lovers,
including Russians, thanks to whole 3 LPs of his released by "Melodiya" in the
late 1980's. As for me, I've heard several other works by this giant of the
genre. In the early 1990's small batches of original foreign LPs of absolutely
varied music were often brought to a place called "Gorbushka" in Moscow and they
were bought right away by the habitues of the then immense Music Lovers' Club,
that was yet to become the country-wide cultural centre. So you had to pay too
much. Like if an original LP's price was $4-6 all first-hand buyers had to at
least pay twice as much (Patricia Kaas's discs, that didn't concern me, went at
a top price of $10). Subramaniam's album ranged from $6 to 8, which I felt happy
about (though this "feast of life" on "Gorbushka" - a real Mecca for the CIS
music aficionados - continued for only a year and a half).
I've listened to enough of Subramaniam's, including his early works of the late 70's and early 80's with no more than just good "Blossom" as the peak of this super-Hindu career. His return to traditional Indian music in the 1990's - drawing not too positive associations with the "Narada" label - I wouldn't bother with that. I can assure that two of Subramaniam's "Melodiya" releases are among the best works he ever created.
In my view, his only pure masterpiece is Conversations, made together with European violin genius Stephan Grapelli. Another magnificent one is Time Must Be Changed which, in fact conditionally, is a half star behind (and only in my point of view) because of a lesser passion and speed as compared to Conversations. Nevertheless Time Must Be Changed, recorded in Moscow with guest appearance of our best, internationally acclaimed musicians is the second best album in the violinist's discography. But if we rate it in terms of the genre then this one is a masterpiece. And keep in mind, music on Time Must Be Changed is not Jazz Fusion: this is a wonderful, unique mixture of Jazz-Rock, Indian Raga and Symphonic Art-Rock, with the latter brought a bit more to the foreground than the others.
This in particular means that Indian Raga is ruled by the same melodic and harmonic sonata laws of European Classical music as good old Classical Art-Rock. (Art Rock is Art-of-Rock and I don't care for specialists who once and for all confused everything and use the term just to identify some glam-rock!). Well, speaking of the album, I don't see Lady Improvisation anywhere except for a pair of humorous recitative passages while the percussionist repeats the themes (but see late Deep Purple concerts where maestro Lord and witty Steve Morse do a sort of dueling of solo improvisation!). The "Miss Melody" composition is, of course, the most mellow, calm and full of melody and an appropriate track to its obliging and even effeminate title. The rest of the pieces are filled (like we reviewers love to say) with every "progressive ingredient needed". Needed to seize the listener's attention, who is fond of Progressive music with real savour and wizard arrangements, frequent tempo and mood changes and other details of "the musical action". For all that rather sober complexity of the album, music is superbly charming (really a rare Classical, not neo-progressive release can boast such a variety of tasty and generally acceptable melodies including, first of all, of a purely Eastern "spicy" kind). So, if Time Must Be Changed is touted as a Progressive masterpiece (no matter what genre or a blend of them) by experts, why shouldn't followers of Neo-forms love it equally, even after 3-4 sessions?
Devoid of any cliches, real Progressive music can hardly be your field. However such rare and unique albums as Subramaniam's "Time Must Be Changed" manage to unite different Prog-lovers like "Adepts of Complex Forms and Surprises" and "Supporters of Melody and Expectancy" in full harmony and mutual consent on Our Genre. -- Vitaly Menshikov
Click here for Dr.
Subramaniam's rather austere web site
Click here to read Vitaly Menshikov's full review on his ProgressoR web site
Click here for Boheme's web site
You can mail order Boheme titles by e-mailing to email@example.com
Sombras de Invierno (01)
Subterra - (not necessarily in order) Claudio Momberg (keyboards), Pablo
Perich (drums), Leonardo Basso (guitars), Maximiliano Sánchez (lead
and backing vocals), Andrés Saavedra (bass), Gonzalo Sánchez
One interesting fact about the emerging Chilean prog bands since 1996 is that there's a great variety of subgenres. There are those King Crimson-influenced, the symphonic ones, the prog-metal ones, etc. So, in this scenario, Subterra are the neo proggers of the pack. Their debut is close to the perfect marriage between Clutching at Straws-era Marillion and Ever-era IQ. These guys know and play very well all the formulas (and clichés, I have to say) of the genre. I would have liked more freedom and ambition in the instrumental sections. Though the whole thing is well written and arranged, faultessly played and produced, you are left with the sensation that "THAT great keyboard passage" or "THAT guitar-keyboard interplay section" never happened. But, then again, Sombras de Invierno stands really well against most of the neo prog releases coming out these days. Two tracks, IMO, are above the rest: "Preludio" and "Fragmentos": simply world-class neo prog. One note about the vocalist: the guy plays the role of the "charismatic - dramatic - front man". Which is really a hard job. He gets the job done quite well, without doing a cheesy copy of Gabriel or Fish, and, in fact, handles nicely some vocal resources and techniques. BUT ... I can´t help it, I don´t like this guy´s voice. It a matter of taste, you might very well like it, but I've had a hard time getting used to it. Bottom line: Better than average neo prog, some brilliant moments, interesting "mise en scene", but I somehow expect more from them. -- Rodrigo Farías M.
|Links||Click here for Subterra's web site (in Spanish only, English is under construction)|
Noema (90 - LP-only)
To Go Out (94)
Palma Vira (99)
Maina Vira (00)
In 1980, with flutist Alexander Voronin and drummer Mikhail Plotnikov, Andrei
Suchilin formed the band Do Major, for which he composed music influenced by the
European avant-garde and progressive rock scenes. Suchilin’s complex and
distinctive guitar playing contributed heavily to the early band’s success.
In 1990 the Russian label Melodiya released the first LP of Do Major titled
Noema with musical styles ranging from classical romanticism to lush
In 1992 Suchilin left for the USA where his style developed in both composition and free improvisation in working with many great musicians. He is perhaps the only Russian guitarist who has studied under Robert Fripp at his Guitar Craft school. He also became attracted to the computer technologies as well as increasingly drawn to electronic music and noise experiments. Making Do Major's To Go Out, the band took the more open material and generated a remarkably seamless ensemble vision which allow for spirited interplay and dynamic variety.
In 1994 Andrei Suchilin returned to Russia to start his own recording studio and art agency called "Objective Music" designed to bring musicians together on a variety of levels in performing, teaching, exchanging ideas and sound creation. Subsequent releases Palma Mira and Maina Vira were reviewed in Russia as "techno-jazz". These albums are sort of free jazz, but fairly avant-garde. For Palma Vira, imagine Frank Zappa's compositions being interpreted by The Residents, guest starring Robert Fripp on guitar and Robert Calvert (of Gilli Smyth's Mother Gong, not the same one who played in Hawkwind) on sax. There is also lots of use of tape loops (or maybe these days it's a sampling synthesizer or House remix machine, who knows?) and "found sounds" like conversing voices, creaking doors, etc. Excellent stuff, but not for the faint-hearted or symphonic-prog-only fans.
Maina Vira is similar, though arguably a bit less experimental and more like "normal" free jazz, though it's still far from easy listening. More great improvisation here, but with Tracy Drake on Stick replacing the sax player from Palma Vira (whose name I can't read because it's only in Cyrillic). Actually, Drake played on Palma Vira as well, but his Stick lines seem to play a more major role here.
In the past ten years Andrei Suchilin has scored for many of Russia's independent film directors. The 2001 album entitled Iki, is a retrospective of the composer's recordings for films and theater. Featuring a dark and brooding electro-acoustic work, this is not easily categorized. The music evokes a variety of ambients, noises, classical miniatures, rocky grooves and improvisational madness.
I've only personally heard Palma Mira and Maina Vira, but these albums at least I can definitely recommend for fans of jazzy avant-garde experimentation.
This music will be hard to get your hands on ... there are no mainstream distribution channels for this Russian Indie music. But if you e-mail Igor Gorely at the address below, I'm sure he will be able to find a way to get these CD's to you. -- Fred Trafton (with additional material from Igor Gorely)
|Links||Send e-mail to Igor Gorely of RAIG (Russian Association of Independent (Music) Genres) for ordering information|
Pequenas Anecdotas Sobre las Instituciones (7?)
Confesiones de Invierno (7?)
Adios-Live 1975 Part One (75)
Adios-Live 1975 Part Two (75)
Antologia (??, Compilation)
|Pequenas... is one of my favorite albums. It combines Italian style symphonic, a dash of jazz and South American folk with great results. Excellent Spanish vocals and intelligent lyrics (if you understand Spanish). This one I recommend highly. I cannot say the same of their other albums. I have listened to another of their albums (Vida?) and it was too pop oriented for my taste. Pequenas, however, is a must. -- Juan Joy|
|Links||[See Máquina de Hacer Pájaros, La | Polifemo | Séru Girán]|
Inuit Nunaat (74)
|[Regarding Sumut]: Prog Jazz/Rock concept album.|
Sun Caged (03)
Sun Caged - Paul Adrian Villareal (vocals, acoustic guitar), Rene Kroon (keyboards),
Roel van Helden (drums), Roel Vink (bass) and Marcel Coenen (lead & rhythm guitars)
Several years ago, I downloaded some MP3's from a band named Sun Caged. I was pretty impressed and have been vowing to do a GEPR entry ever since. But it's been so long since I downloaded these, I'm not sure what MP3's I have. I've checked out their web site and I'm pretty sure my MP3's are from a 2002 demo disc the band released with a different vocalist than they have now, so this is what the first part of the entry is based on. I haven't heard either of their subsequent "real" albums, but their MySpace page has 6 songs I've auditioned ... which makes up the remainder of the entry.
Sun Caged is a progressive metal band, or at least they have lots of elements of this. The first 2 songs are very Dream Theater-ish, circa Awake. Since Awake is one of my all-time favorites, this is pretty high praise coming from me. The vocalist (at the time, André Vuurboom) sounds so much like James LaBrie it's uncanny. But the third song departs from this style and becomes more "extreme fusion" style like Liquid Tension Experiment. All the songs are spectacular, and anyone into this kind of progressive rock should check them out ... you can download this demo (and two more) from their web site.
The band has gone through several line-up changes, and is currently made up of the folks in the photo above. I've recently listened to the samples on their MySpace page from their latest album Artemisia. They don't have that much resemblence to Dream Theater any more, except perhaps for the guitar stylings. It's certainly still prog-metal, but the newest vocalist Paul Adrian Villareal doesn't sound much like LaBrie, and there are some nice clean keyboard parts exchanging licks with the metal-styled guitars, plus some nice vocal harmonies in places. Very good, original, well-constructed and well-recorded songs, and with some thoughtful sci-fi lyrics too. Hard to ask for more. -- Fred Trafton
Click here for Sun Caged's web site
Click here for Sun Caged's MySpace page
Other Way Out (91), Reflector (92)
One of the leading bands in the '90s UK psych scene. Long, mindbending tracks.
Trio led by Morris Pert (percussion player, you may know from Brand X or Jack Lancaster's Marscapes). Here you find fusion/jazzrock ala Soft Machine or Nucleus. Good stuff! -- Achim Breiling
[See Brand X | Lancaster, Jack and Robin Lumley]
Moje Bube (77)
The Sound Of Sunforest (71)
Jazz/progressive (?) outfit by guitarist from excellent fusion outfit, Iceberg.
[See Iceberg | Pegasus]
Moral Alliance (89), Bright As Night (90), Timeshift (93), Superior (95)
First two cassettes are straight heavy rock, Timeshift cassette marks change in style to hard prog, Superior is first CD in same style.
Uno Punto Infinito (98)
Lleva El Brillo Del Sol (02)
Regarding Uno Punto Infinito:
Supernova started their careers as an all-instrumental power trio from Argentina, with a clear symphonic direction in their progressive style, sometimes elegant and subtle, some other times bombastic and pompous. The original line-up consisted of: Alejandro Kordon on keyboards and flute, Mariano Sánchez on electric bass, and Norberto Barcala on drums and percussion. They have since added a female vocalist to become a quartet.
Though ELP is one of their major influences, Supernova clearly doesn't settle down to being just a mere ELP-clone. You can also notice some Wakeman-like melodic approach, as well as some obvious hints from MIA (a much celebrated Argentinean keyboard-centered band from the 70's). Supernova keep loyal to a melodic tradition common to many South American and Italian bands from the past. Their symphonic sound is actually very rich, due to their complex compositions and well crafted arrangements. The electronic ambience provided by the digital keyboards is at times counterbalanced by effective lines on flute (which may remind the listener of Focus' van Leer). The drummer also uses a bunch of electronic drums, which serves as a complement to the keyboards' wall of sound. Meanwhile, Sánchez exhibits his performance skills on a 6-string bass to fill a bridge between the melodies played on keyboards and the intricate rhythm signatures.
The tracks' titles show right away the band's intellectual/literary concerns. Three examples: "Excalibur", "Apocalipsis II", "La Náusea" (after Sartre's La Nausée): actually, these are some of the highest points in Uno Punto Infinito. There is also a cover of "Fortuna Emperatrix Mundi", the most popular section from Orff's Carmina Burana. This sort of pretentiousness (I'm not using this term pejoratively) manages to build a sense of correspondence with the material, which is, obviously, very much academically driven. "Ganso Verde" and "Supernova" are also quite impressive tracks. The overall result is even, with a high level of imagination and skill. One minor flaw is the sound production, which sometimes seems to fail to capture the band's strong energy.
This CD was self-produced and independently distributed back in 1998, so I guess that it must be quite hard to find currently: anyway, if you happen to find a copy of Uno Punto Infinito in some record store and you're a prog-head with a symphonic heart, you may want to give it a try. -- César Mendoza
|Links||Click here for Supernova's web site|
Metaluna (78), Roboter Werk (79)
Crazy German electronics.
Present From Nancy (70), To The Highest Bidder (71), Pudding En Gistern (72), Superstarshine (72), Iskander (73), Spiral Staircase (73)
I have two Supersister albums, Present from Nancy and Iskander. I've also heard parts of To the Highest Bidder and Spiral Staircase. To the Highest Bidder and Present from Nancy are generally the recommended starting places. Showing strong Canterbury (e.g., early Soft Machine) and some Wigwam influences in the organ department (lots of organ), Supersister blend their own Dutch ideals and a touch of humor into a unique mixture of progressive rock. Plenty of flute or sax or both can be heard weaving in and out of the varied organ and piano. Sax is very prevalent on Present from Nancy. On this album, and the similar ...Highest Bidder, the music doesn't sit still very long, shifting constantly through different times and keys yet always developing. When the lyrics are present, they seem breezy and carefree, even playful, the melody often echoed by sax or flute. There is no guitar. Iskander steps down a small notch. The sound continues on in the vein of Present from Nancy but the sax is gone. This helps to give the band more of their own unique sound. The flute is much more prevalent now. However, some of the writing is a bit weaker. There are fewer time changes and so forth. There are many excellent moments but a few times I noticed I wasn't "into it' as much as I was with Present from Nancy. It's also more experimental and meditative (i.e., spacy) for about half the album. Based on what I've heard of Spiral Staircase is the weakest of their albums. It seems they ran out of good musical ideas and relied more on the humor. One song is based on a rhumba! Supersister doesn't play the most complex music you might hear, but the first several albums are very good none-the-less. Supersister is a good band for Canterbury/UK fans to break into the Dutch and Scandanavian scenes. Start with the first album and work your way forward.
[See Sweet'd Buster | Transister]
Indelibly Stamped (71)
Crime of the Century (74)
Crisis? What Crisis? (75)
Even in the Quietest Moments (77)
Breakfast In America (79)
... Famous Last Words (82)
Brother Where You Bound (85)
Free As A Bird (87)
Live '88 (88)
The Very Best of Supertramp (91)
The Very Best of Supertramp 2 (92)
Some Things Never Change (97)
Slow Motion (02)
|First two albums were financed by a Dutch millionaire. Fronted by the wistful, childlike tenor of bassist (later guitarist) Roger Hodgson, the debut album imitated the melancholy mood of other British progressives of the era (mainly Cressida). Lots of organ and acoustic guitar give it a familiar folky ambience, use of odd instruments like flageolet, balalaika and cello give it distinction. "Maybe I'm A Beggar" and the intense 12-minute "Try Again," the former being the only track featuring lead vocals by original guitarist Richard Palmer, are the finest songs here. Indelibly Stamped followed a lineup shift which found Hodgson moving from bass to guitar, and more important yet, the addition of sax/flute player Dave Winthrop (who sings lead on "Potter"). While the first album was mostly Hodgson's and Palmer's affair, this album spotlights the budding singing/songwriting skills of keyboardist Rick Davies (who only sang backup on the first). Obviously his roots are in blues and conventional rock (listen to "Your Poppa Don't Mind" or "Coming Home To See You" for examples), but he does contribute some of the better songs to the album. The minor-chorded "Times Have Changed" is probably the best of them. "Remember" is an infectious hard-rocker, while the catchy "Forever" presaged their hitmaking days of the future (Not surprisingly, it was their first ever single). Hodgson provides the two songs most like the first album: "Travelled" and "Rosie had everything planned." The seven-minute "Aries" is a nice acoustical jamming kind of tune with lots of flute. The band then broke up, it seemed for good. But three years later, Hodgson and Davies resurrected Supertramp with a totally new lineup (Bob Benberg--drums, Dougie Thomson--bass, John Helliwell--sax/clarinet). A&M was apparently impressed with their new sound, as they gave their new album, Crime Of The Century, a big push promotionally. They seem to be flirting with Pink Floydian conceptualism, what with songs about madness, school and such. The sound is a sort of melancholic yet melodic prog using lots of piano (electric and acoustic) and reed instruments. "School" and the seven-minute "Rudy" are the best songs, "Dreamer" the most popular (a top-ten hit in their native England). Crisis? What Crisis? is one of their best albums, one that flows well, like a concept album, yet isn't. Some of the songs are less dark ("Sister Moonshine," "Poor Boy") and it only helps to improve the overall tone of the music by adding different nuances. "Another Man's Woman" features great piano playing and a superb, crescendoing horn arrangement, while "Poor Boy" includes a nifty scat-sung impersonation of a trumpet and a jazzy clarinet solo backed by brushed drums. "A Soapbox Opera," with its very British-styled lyrics, voice-effects and orchestral arrangements, resembles Selling England-period Genesis. One of my favourites. Even In The Quietest Moments includes the band's first major American hit, "Give A Little Bit." Also another good album, the epic ten-minute "Fool's Overture" make this the most enticing for prog-heads. "Lover Boy" is a delicious Davies song with a terrific guitar solo, the intimate, folkish title song is another gem. Breakfast In America celebrated the band's emigration to the States, the title-song featuring lyrics about stereotypes/misconceptions about the United States in the U.K. It's the most commercial album to date, so odds are you've at least heard of it. Still, not a bad album. "Goodbye Stranger" is another ace track. -- Mike Ohman|
|English progressive pop band most famous for the 1979 hit "The Logocal Song" and Roger Hodgson's high, Jon Anderson-range vocals. Piano-driven, accessible, '70s classic rock with progressive tendencies. At their best, heavy with an edge and good arrangements. At their worst, lightweight pop. Founded in 1970 by keyboardist and singer Rick Davies, first album, Supertramp, featured Roger Hodgson (bass/vocals), Roger Millar (drums) and Richard Palmer-James (who would later go on to write lyrics for the Robert Fripp-Bill Bruford-John Wetton era King Crimson) on guitar and vocals. Self-produced and sounds like it. The usual blues influences, melancholy, but with some good organ playing and some progressive elements. Palmer-James was pushed out and Hodgson moved to guitar and keyboards for the 1971 Indelibly Stamped, more famous for its cover, a shot of tattooed breasts, than anything else. New cast: Kevin Currie (drums), Frank Farrel (bass), and Dave Winthrop (sax). More upbeat. An unsatisfactory blend of jazz and heavy metal. Hodgson and Davies ditched their sidemen once again and took on Dougie Thompson (bass), John Helliwel (sax) and Bob Siebenberg (drums). This line-up would last until 1983. Released a single ("Land Ho"/"Summer Romance") that has yet to appear on album or CD. Perhaps the most important addition was Ken Scott, who would produce 1974's breakthrough Crime of the Century. Superb sounding album and their most progressive. The poppy song "Dreamer" would find some chart success. Classic songs include "Hide in your Shell," "Asylum," "Rudy" and "Crime of the Century," all dark and featuring great arrangements. Songs from this album would dominate their live set till their eventual dissolution. The follow-up Crisis? What Crisis?, put together during their '75 tour, was a disappointment, featured few progressive ideas, was generally less coherent and the good songs lack the weight of those on Crime - "lost in the mix" Hodgson would later say. Some orchestration. Having made good, they all moved to California and put together Even In the Quietest Moments, an uneven album featuring the pop hit "Give a Little Bit" but saved by the symphonic-prog epic "Fool's Overture" and the quiet folkish title track. The 1979 follow-up Breakfast In America was a radio-friendly smash with good pop songs but no progressive elements. An obligatory double live LP (Paris) followed in 1980, featuring seven songs from Crime of the Century, a clutch of hits from Breakfast and "Fool's Overture." Good sound, if a little overproduced. A long layoff followed until the very mediocre Famous Last Words. Worthwhile only for the two last tracks (neither would be out of place on Crime). Overall, lightweight (get The Very Best of Supertramp 2 instead, which has both tracks). Supertramp was always at their best when on the heavy side, something which Roger Hodgson in particular seemed to recognize less and less as time went on (analagous to late '70s Yes and Jon Anderson). Hodgson split to do two solo albums: In the Eye of the Storm, which starts off promisingly with the excellent nine minute "Had a Dream," but quickly descends into wretchedness and climbs out of the abyss only in time for the last track, and Hai Hai, a write-off. Supertramp, now solely in the hands of Davies, recovered some of its heavyness on 1985's Brother Where You Bound, which featured the 16-minute title track, a Pink Floydian extravaganza complete with David Gilmour guesting for some fine solos. Their final album Free as a Bird returned to straight ahead pop (the single "I'm beggin' you" topped the Billboard disco chart). Live 88, an unremarkable live album oddly recorded to 2-track was released the following year. Innumerable compilations followed. Recommended: Crime of the Century (get this first!), The Very Best of Supertramp 2 (features FoolUs Overture and the 2 great tracks from Famous, among others good and bad, 76 minutes), Brother Where You Bound.|
|Keyboard/Sax based band, good vocals (high pitched), good drumming, many sound effects in their music. Superior sound production. Founded in UK at late 1969 by Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies. Their debut album, Supertramp, is very strange and one of their more-sophisticated. At times it sounds like a King Crimson early album. Each member is using as many musical instruments as he can handle (a la Moody Blues), i.e., bass player (Hodgson) plays cello and flute and acoustic guitar., drummer plays harmonica, etc. On their next album only Hodgson (now lead guitar) and Davies (always keyboards and some harmonica) remained, and three new group members joined. The album is less progressive. After two more years Supertramp reformed with Hodgson, Davies, bass player Dougie Thomson, drummer Bob C. Benberg and sax player John Anthony Helliwell. This formation released six albums between 1974 and 1982. The most "artistic" album is Crime Of The Century which carries heavy influences of concept albums and is a unique progressive-pop album. Their next albums became poppier as they became famous. In Even In The Quietest Moments there is a well known musical piece "Fools Overture" which is quite long and mostly instrumental. Breakfast In America is their most commercialized album, and the less progressive of them all. Paris is a probably the best live record ever made (one should only listen to it for a couple of times, get to know it, and feel the intense emotions carried from this performance). They never lose their perfect sound when doing music live. Their next album showed the weight of the coming break-up of the band, and it is more artistic at times. After Roger Hodgson left the band in 1983 the band had three more albums. Brother Where You Bound has a 16 min. title track featuring David Gilmour on guitar solos, but it is not very strong. Their next albums don't relate to any progressive style. Roger Hodgson released two more albums, his first, In The Eye Of The Storm, is recommended, as a very moving pop album, with most songs over seven minutes long, but with (mostly) electric drums. His next one is purely pop, but features lots of well-known musicians in guest appearance. Most recommended as progressive are Crime Of The Century, Even In The Quietest Moments, and Paris. Supertramp is a good record which stands on his own, and really has nothing to do with the rest of the band's albums. This band is recommended for their sound achievements (great production on all their 1974+ records), and for those who like sax solos. For those of you who can't get to like sax-oriented bands (as Van Der Graaf Generator!) this is a good way to start (I heard it from many who did start with them). -- Ofir Zwebner|
Click here for the "Official" Supertramp web site,
which appears to be mostly a now-stale advertisement for their 2002 album Slow Motion
Click here for a fan web site, which is more focused on Roger Hodgson's activities subsequent to Supertramp
Zeeraude Klanken en Heel Nieuwe Gelurden (73)
|Sur Pacífico is the closest thing to a supergroup in Southamerican prog. Features Marcos Ribas (ex-Rael) and Ismael Cortez (also on Tryo). This is another consequence of the Guitar Craft Seminaries that Robert Fripp conducted in 1998 in Chile (where Ribas and Cortez met). Two acoustic Ovation guitars (with the New Standard Tuning) plus a cello are the equipment here, and with the clear intention of practicing the principles of Guitar Craft. So, you don't need anybody to tell you this, but I will: this will remind you of California Guitar Trio, or The League [of Gentlemen], or many of the last Fripp solo works. It's very good and interesting, for what it's worth: the characteristic minimalistic fifths-based chords and arpeggios as a basis of the melodic element, in charge of the cello. Being all-acoustic, it could be even easy to mistake this for new age or "relax music", but it's progressive in its origin, course and, using a Frippian cliché, in its AIM. -- Rodrigo Farías M.|
[See Rael |
Click here for Sur Pacífico's
Assault On Merryland (77)
|This is about a group I haven't found in GEPR, it's called Surprise, an American band from St. Louis, Missouri that have released only one album in 1977 called Assault On Merryland, a concept album based around a fantasy land called Merryland. I am hearing it right now and I find it a nice SURPRISE indeed, musically I would put them among Sebastian Hardie and the Breathless-era of Camel, and I think they have made a very good progressive rock album that almost everyone will not be sorry to add to their CD collection. -- Juan Carlos Rangel|
... more releases, but these are the only ones featuring Steve Howe
|New age wimp that had Steve Howe featured on [two] of his albums. Jeez, this crud will put you to sleep, or worse. Really dreadfully boring synth crap. And after it's over, you'll ask yourself "where was Steve?"|
Un Peu de Pass dans l'Avenir (77)
[See Alice | Sandrose]
Human Carnage (79)
'70s melodic prog, fluid guitar & haunting vocals.
Sweet'd Buster (77), Friction (78), Gigs (79), Shot in the Blue (79)
R.J. Stips band after Supersister with all new members. Continues with a jazzy fusion sound.
[See Focus | Supersister | Transister]
Beyond The Ox (70), Child Of Light (71)
Artificial Paradise (04)
|Even if Sylvan could be classified as Neo-Prog it is more than this. Their debut was as stunning as their development on the second album and they prove their skills in complex composition and emotional melodies. Sylvan consists of five members from Hamburg. -- Karen Bernadot|
|Progressive Metal. Emphasis is on the "Metal" part, but there are some pretty good prog touches, including some nicely intricate guitar solos, keyboard sections and unexpected changes in direction and tempo. This isn't the most progressive band I've ever heard, but it's far from the least. Not bad; a somewhat reserved recommendation. -- Fred Trafton|
|Links||Click here for Sylvan web site|
Symphonic Slam (76)
Timo Laine (78)
Note: Timo Laine is actually not a Symphonic Slam album, but a solo album released by one of its members.
|I have the self-titled release from this Canadian band. Killer stuff for good ol' rock, not bad for prog. Basically what you have is a three piece: Timo Laine on guitar, guitar synth and vocals; John Lowry on drums and vocals; and David Stone of keyboards and vocals. The keyboards are analog heavy with plenty of exciting moog work. That's what makes the album for me. In some ways, these guys could be thought of as a trio version of Mastermind. There are killer guitar riffs and solos and huge doses of moog, Mellotron and maybe even Oberheim synths (I'm not positive of the latter). There are odd time signatures such as 5/4 and 6/4 but nothing overly complex. The songs are on the short side, ranging from just under three minutes to a little over six minutes. Most are in the four minute range. Basically, these guys ROCK with several progressive tendencies. There's a fair amount of vocals but nothing annoying. Lots of long instrumental passages. If you're looking for complexity and interplay, stay away. But if you want some jammin' prog with heavy moog work, ample Mellotron and rockin' guitar, check out Symphonic Slam. They jam!|
|This Canadian band's sole album is very good rock music with some highly progressive tendencies. They opened for Rush a few times on their 1975 tour. It is mostly guitar-driven, but the synthesizer and keyboards play almost an equally important role. Some of the vocals date the music, but in most of the songs you can overlook that (the first song actually reminds me of early Scorpions if you can believe it, but it's not bad). There are some guitar riffs that take you by surprise (such as the intro to the song "I Won't Cry"), and some fantastic instrumental parts (in the intro to "Days", there is a tight guitar-keyboard interplay, even with some Frank Zappa-inspired backing vocals!), so overall the band does a good job for a three-piece. Apparently, the band broke up due to financial problems, and keyboard player David Stone next surfaced in Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow for a bit in the late 70s. -- Simon Karatsoreas|
Symphony X (94)
Damnation Game (95)
Divine Wings of Tragedy (96)
Twilight in Olympus (98)
Prelude to the Millenium (99, Compilation)
V: The New Mythology Suite (00)
Live On The Edge Of Forever (01, Live)
The Odyssey (02)
Paradise Lost (07)
Iconoclast (11, available as a single CD "standard" version, 2CD "deluxe" version or 2LP vinyl version)
Symphony X - (Not in photo order) Russell Allen (vocals), Michael Romeo
(guitars), Michael Lepond (bass), Michael Pinnella (keyboards), Jason Rullo (drums)
Original entry 8/15/04:
While the first self-titled album featured some good material, it was obvious that the band had yet to find their niche. After dumping the original singer and replacing him with the excellent Russell Allen, the band recorded the strong Damnation Game, which featured many future Symphony X classics such as "The Edge of Forever" and "A Winter's Dream." Suddenly, the band developed a knack for delivering extremely melodic songs with soaring vocal harmonies, heavy guitars, and mind bending instrumental passages.
The same formula was followed with even greater success on Divine Wings of Tragedy, considered by many to be one of the bands strongest of the early efforts. This CD is filled with melodic tunes, such as "The Accolade" and "Candelight Fantasia", but also brutally heavy tracks such as "Sea of Lies" and "Pharoah." Fans of epic progressive songs will love the twenty minute title track, which contains fantastic guitar work courtesy of Michael Romeo.
Twilight in Olympus continued from where Divine Wings of Tragedy left off, and contained tracks that were even more progressive in nature, especially the epic "Through the Looking Glass." This album saw a more pronounced use of keyboards and grandiose vocal harmonies, and let up slightly on the metal touches, but still packed a punch.
After a "best of" collection, the band released a superb concept album, titled V: The New Mythology Suite, which would turn out to be their magnum opus. Based on a story inspired by the long lost city of Atlantis, this CD is an intriguing tale of the battle between good and evil. In addition to some of the longer tracks, the band includes many short, instrumental sections that add an aura of classical music, or Sci-Fi soundtrack orchestra themes. As concept albums go in the prog-metal genre, it is one of the best. Symphony X is definitely a band on the rise, as no other groups combine melody, power, and complexity together quite like they do. -- Peter Pardo
Symphony X 2011 - (Not in photo order) Russell Allen (vocals), Michael Romeo (guitars), Michael Lepond (bass), Michael Pinnella (keyboards), Jason Rullo (drums)
Symphony X did not fade from sight over the next five years, embarking on several more tours including Asia, North and South America and releasing music videos for the songs "Serpent's Kiss" and "Set the World on Fire". However, fans were clamoring for a new studio album, and the band insisted that one was in the works, but that they were going to take their time and do it right. The result was the 2011 release of Iconoclast. This release is available in several versions, including a single CD "standard" version, a 2CD "deluxe" version or a 2LP vinyl version. Note that the "standard" 1 CD version is actually incomplete! The additional 3 songs on the 2CD/2LP version complete the story left hanging in the so-called "standard" version. For what it's worth, the iTunes download is the complete 2CD version, 12 songs clocking in at 83 minutes of music (which is, of course, why it won't fit on a single CD) plus a PDF of the CD insert, including all the lyrics and artwork.
Iconoclast is a departure from the classical mythology themes of previous albums, taking us instead into a dark future. It's the first Symphony X album I've heard in its entirety, purchased on the strength of a promo cut on a CD that came with Classic Rock Presents Prog Issue 17. As I've said before, I'm not usually that big of a prog-metal fan, but this ... WOW! Incredible songwriting, fantastic soloing on both guitar and keyboards, powerful/ornate drumming, amazing vocals and production quality second to none. Yes, it's also as intense as a solar flare and as heavy as depleted uranium. It is prog-metal after all. But the only album I can compare it with is one of my favorite Dream Theater albums, Awake, mostly because of the way the drums sound. In my opinion, one of the best albums I've ever heard, in any genre of prog. It's been called a "masterpiece" by many reviewers. I hesitate to use that word in most cases, but here, I must agree. A completely awesome album. I just found out I missed them in May at a small club in Dallas. Damn. I wish I had known then what I know now. I can only hope they'll be back sometime soon. In the meantime, Iconoclast will be on my playlist for some time to come. -- Fred Trafton
|Links||[See Adrenaline Mob]|
Sympozion - Ori Ben-Zvi (Guitars), Boris Zilberstein (Drums), Erez Kriel (Guitars),
Dan Chapman (Bass) and Arik Hayat (Keyboards, Composing). Not pictured - Elad
Abraham (Guitar, Composer), worked on Kundabuffer, but is no longer part
of the band. Photo by Raya Kosovsky
Original entry 1/19/06:
Kundabuffer is complex and heavy on counterpoint, with lots of tight drumming and bass. Most of the songs are instrumental, but when vocals are used, they are in Hebrew (I'm assuming) and heavily harmonized, though not in that Gentle Giant "madrigal" style. Flutes and recorders, along with the usual guitars, bass, drums and keys give this music a very pretty, pastoral feel in spite of the classical-style counterpoint, yet without sounding the slightest bit like Jethro Tull flute or "Stairway to Heaven" recorders. Maybe like Gentle Giant playing Camel? But I need to stop drawing comparisons, because they lead you astray more than they illuminate. Sympozion has really created a new sound all their own ... though there are some resemblances to their countrymen Hot Fur. Darn, I said I was going to stop doing that, didn't I? Just stop reading and get this album, it's fantastic! Figure out for yourself who they sound like ... and don't sound like.
Since the album was self-released, currently the only way you can get it is directly from the band (unless you live in Israel), so click below for their web site. This album has already been "in the can" for awhile, but is finally being released now. Sympozion has already been composing new material and trying it out on Israeli audiences. They'll think about a second album when the time is right. -- Fred Trafton
Sympozion signed a year ago with Unicorn Digital in Canada for worldwide distribution. This move made it much easier for the band to have their product available at a reasonable price in the States, Canada and in Europe. -- Robert Dansereau
Sympozion's URL now goes to some sort of Japanese aggregator site
Click here to order Kundabuffer from CD Baby or
Click here to order Kundabuffer from Unicorn Records
Spleen (92), Inca (93)
Syndone are a trio from Italy who carry on the tradition of ELP with a virtuosic gentleman named Nik Comoglio manning the keyboards. His lead lines and comping bring to mind the heydey of Keith Emerson. This is mixed in with a steady beat and strong bass, all of which combine to fine effect. Vocals are in Italian, which, to these ears, is preferable to delivering lyrics in a second language to reach a mass audience. The overall sound is almost unrehearsed, conveying a live energy that adds another dimension to the music. If I had to offer an opinion, I would rate this as one of the better releases of 1992.
Their sound is a mixture of modern prog, fusion, jazz, and high energy chaos, like Arti E Mestieri in overdrive. Vocals are excellent (in Italian), and the album covers a vast amount of territory in a three to four minute short-song format. Recommended.
Spleen is a mix of Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso and PFM.
This double-keyboards, bass and drums outfit is another production under the supervision of Beppe Crovella. The context of Inca is essentially the one of a ELP type "power trio" but here, two keyboardists share the spotlight. The composition show strong classic influences, symphonic arrangements, but the performance remains rock and sometimes pretty heavy. Numerous organ and synthesizer solos with intense rhythms are common but more relaxed passages with vocals (in Italian) are also present. Music for fans of keyboards with a sound from '70s. -- Paul Charbonneau
Equal Reaction (01)
Evolution for a Party of One (02)
Synema is Steve Nellessen (guitars, synths & vocals) and Mike Adkins (electronic percussion
& synths). They describe their style as "a cross between Symphonic, Electronic and Neo
Prog". OK, I can buy that. But they left out that they're very pompous and pretentious
in a Styx sort of way. I just love that about them! I mean, can you believe someone
would straight-facedly deliver a lyric like: "Would you like to see the stars in heaven
over me? Would you like to be among the stars over me?" Is that pretentious or what?
But it really works for this epic, cinematic orchestration, composed mostly of heavily
layered keyboard work and overdubbed vocals but with some pretty nice guitars and drums
in there too. I love the ending of Track 4, a great analog synth special effect, just an
odd way of moving between two notes that creates a cadence of its own. A variable-width
PWM selects between two pitches an octave apart, and as the pulse width changes, the lower
pitch or the upper one is what you hear as the pitch. Ah, the good old days ... I love
synth effects like this, and nobody seems to do them any more. This is so analog!
Synema describes their influences as several of the usual suspects: "Yes, Tangerine Dream, Renaissance, Gentle Giant, Tull, Pink Floyd and Rush." Yeah, I can hear most of those (not much of Tull or Rush though) and more, but once again they failed to acknowledge any of their pomp rock influences, and there must be some. (Well, Rush has been known to be pretty pompous in their time. If that's what they mean, I'll buy that too.)
This review is a little stream-of-consciousness I know, but I'm listening to the CD on a portable player over headphones as I write it, and so you're getting my impressions immediately as I hear it. I think Steve and Mike would like it that way. That's what the music is like ... stream of consciousness ... there seems to be a story of some sort, a sort of album concept, but what it is escapes me. It's something fantasy-like, though. If you get this album, make sure you listen on headphones at least once. It has some great '70's stereo "effects" that 2003 studio gurus would describe as "tasteless", but I love sounds that move around in the stereo field or are panned "hard left" and "hard right".
With all this prog content, there's still a banjo picking section and some reminiscences of '80's techno-pop dance music. But don't hold that against them ... this is still really interesting music.
OK, enough stream of consciousness. I really like this CD, but it did take about three listens before it grew on me. There is just a bit of amateurish "I did it all myself in my home studio" sound to the CD, but after a few listens, this really becomes part of its charm. I haven't heard their first album, Equal Reaction, but it's available from MP3.com [MP3.com is out of business, this is no longer available. -Ed.]. I may have to part with eleven bucks and download the D.A.M. thing (I've always wanted to say that ...) -- Fred Trafton
|Links||Click here for Synema's web site.|
Electronic Realizations For Rock Orchestra (75)
Computer Experiments, Volume One (81)
The Jupiter Menace (82, Soundtrack)
Semi-Conductor (84, Compilation w/ 2 new tracks)
Metropolitan Suite (87)
Reconstructed Artifacts (02, Re-recordings of old Synergy compositions)
Outstanding synthesizer instrumental work by wizard Larry Fast. His first album, Electronic Realizations for Rock Orchestra, is sheer genius. I'm not sure why he gave it that title, though, since there is neither rock nor orchestra involved. My other favorites are Audion and Sequencer. The Jupiter Menace soundtrack is pretty good too.
Synergy is the pseudonym of synthesist Larry Fast, who played with Nektar, Peter Gabriel and others. The Synergy albums are all besed entirely on electronics, and offer a wide scope of styles within the electronic realm, sometimes successful, sometimes not. Electronic Realizations and Audion are probably the best, both offering a colorful and melodic robust symphonic approach. Sequencer and Games are the weakest, more transparent and lacking emotion, but even these do have some great moments. Cords is a very stark and other-worldly album, and stands alone among his output, lacking any of the catchy classically inspired melodics, very minimal and dark at times. Computer Experiments is awful, lifeless and generally irritating. Metropolitan Suite is not bad, and is a good introduction to his stuff.
Synergy is one Larry Fast, who does all the composing, playing, and sequencing on his albums. You may recognize his name from sessions with other famous names, including Peter Gabriel. Synergy's music falls squarely into the electronic music and is generally well composed and involving. As with most electronic music, the emphasis is on the texture and atmosphere, to which I think he succeeds admirably, though each album varies in quality. Probably his most representative work would be the excellent Metropolitan Suite. Computer Experiments is an early experiment in computer (Apple II) composed music, and is rhythmically conservative, though interesting for what it attempts. Though not on a par with Klaus Schulze or Steve Roach, Fast is an important member of the electronic music community.
Synergy is Larry Fast. I've got Games and Sequencer. Games is very good; lively instrumental work, while Sequencer is more mellow and new-agey.
I own one album: Electronic Realizations .... It's an incredible tour-de-force of symphonic synth and Mellotron. Among the original songs is a cover of the theme from "Slaughter On Tenth Avenue", which is one of the best. Synth fans take note. -- Mike Ohman
GEPR Editor Fred Trafton and Larry Fast - Photo by Grace Kirby
Synergy has always been one of my favorites from the '70's, being a synth fan. Larry Fast's output as Synergy is adequately discussed above, except that I must take issue with Sequencer being called "new-agey". Not to my ears at all. It's very nicely done, though certainly not terribly "difficult" in an RIO sense or hallucinogenic in a Berlin School way.
But since this entry is about Larry Fast as well as Synergy, it should be mentioned that he played on a Nektar album (Recycled), and has become re-involved with them since their 2002 reformation to play at NEARFest. He also recorded on Peter Gabriel's early solo recordings, and takes responsibility for introducing Peter to the use of drum machines, which have influenced his work ever since. Most recently, Fast is touring with The Tony Levin Band, and will appear in the 2006 NEARFest pre-show with them. -- Fred Trafton
Fast did indeed play with The Tony Levin Band at NEARFest 2006. It was an excellent concert, though perhaps some GEPR readers might have found it to be too lightweight in a Peter Gabriel sort of way. In fact, they played a couple of Gabriel songs. Personally, I loved it! My only regret: that I didn't get a picture of me with my longtime electronic music idol and unwitting mentor, Larry Fast.
Fortunately, I got a chance to fix that in 2008, when Fast returned to NEARFest as Synergy to do a one-man show, the first time ever playing his Synergy compositions live. Well, of course, he wasn't quite alone. He had "the boys" helping him, a pair of Mac laptops to help sequence patches, and, I suppose, play some of the notes as well. But I don't begrudge him this ... the Synergy compositions are so complex there's just no way for one person to play all the notes by themselves. Which, in fact, is what he has always said, and why this was the first time he had ever tried to perform these pieces live. A spectacular show, it had me in tears for parts of it. And, I got to shake his hand, have him sign my CD copy of Sequencer, and get a photo with him (left)! -- Fred Trafton
Photo by Fred Trafton
[See Gabriel, Peter |
Intergalactic Touring Band, The |
Levin, Tony |
Click here for the Larry Fast/Synergy web site
Xantipa (73, Mini-album)
Formule 1 (75, Mini-album)
Slunecní Hodiny (81)
Flying Time (85)
|Synkopy is a Czechoslovakian five-piece (2 keys, guitar, bass, drums, vocals) whose leader and primary songwriter, Oldrich Vesely, was once a member of another great Czech band: Modry Efekt. Many comparisons can be drawn between Synkopy and Modry Efekt, not the least of which is a penchant for experimentation and bringing other styles (hard rock, blues, powerful rock vocals) into the sound and giving them their own progressive twist. Of course, Synkopy, with two keyboard players (Vesely and Pavel Pokorny), are more keyboard driven than Modry Efekt. Slunecni Hodiny burns with powerful melodic vigor, but does suffer from a somewhat substandard production. Kridelini and Flying Time are Czech and English vocal versions of the same album, an outstanding one, maybe even their best: It's one of the few cases where a foreign band sings in English lyrics and really pulls the feat off without sounding shallow. Zrcadla is also a strong one, but far more direct than the others.|
Synkopy 61 emerged from Brno in the late 1960s and over the years produced a string of
singles, EPs and two mini-albums, just never a full-length long play. Their music is
described as beat music with a few progressive touches, and the 10" songs as
Uriah Heep-influenced heavy rock. I have not heard any of
this early material, but apparently most of it can be found on the Valka je vul (Best
of) CD compilation.
After the band broke up, its keyboard player and primary composer Oldrich Veselý joined Modrý Efekt for their two classic albums, Svitanie and Svet Hledacu. It was Svet Hledacu's combination of twin keyboards, heavy guitars, drums and no bass guitar that he used as the blueprint when he set out to re-form his old band, now known simply as Synkopy. Slunecní Hodiny's (CD Bonton BON 493163 2) powerful sound maintains Modrý Efekt's brawny mixture of spacey, symphonic and plain hard-rocking styles, but with inflated melodic splendour and keyboard arrangements. The album forms one unbroken suite with four vocal sections in the middle of synthesizer, guitar, organ and (occasionally) violin blowtorching minor-dominant riffs and melodies across slabs and slabs of metallic string synthesizer chords, while the drummer, subscribing to the Alan White/Jurgen Rosenthal philosophy of hit hard-hit often-hit everywhere, provides most of the impetus with minor help from the clanging Clavinet or the buzzing Micromoog which cover for the absent bass guitar. The music can be majestic but the bombast also veers dangerously close to ponderous and overwrought at times, especially when Veselý's distinctive voice, high-pitched and rough-hewn without being shrill or gruff, is belting out the solemn melodies with a thick wall of harmonies fattening the tone. However, the music has enough variation and energy to avoid slipping into the abyss, and the calmer instrumental sections, such as "Intermezzo", a neatly elegiac cello/violin duet that emerges out of the ashen synthesizer murk, and "Vodopád", a funkish fusion tune with scat vocals, provide well-timed diversion. Sometimes the instrumental sections will remind of Solaris' Marsbéli Kronikák, but with the relative absence of metallic power-chord guitar Slune ní Hodiny is not as heavy as that album (and, frankly, not as good either), though both share the same kind of dark high-tech mood, a technical but not too complex instrumental approach, and a clear grounding in blues-based that gives the symphonic sound a muscular edge. Slunecní Hodiny is rough, tough and on a par with most Modrý Efekt albums (also seems to take some inspiration from the works of the Czech artist Jirí Kolár).
Krídlení is another album-length work with a unifying lyrical theme (just don't ask me what it is), but has a slightly more up-to-date sound than its predecessor, especially on the drums and guitars. It also isn't as cohesive or well-written, winging its way through almost straight-ahead hard-rock ("Kyvadlo"), bluesy rock with cigarette-smoky vocals ("Blues O Výcepu"), or a matter-of-fact unaccompanied guitar solo ("Kytarové Extempore") which are increasingly removed from the symphonic centre of the band's sound. The playing is still energetic and the more dynamic sound allows for more grit and glitter to come through, but the mundane moments proliferate in writing, and what the band could get away with in the acetylene-lit darkness of Slunecní Hodiny tends to sound more conventional and pompous in Krídlení's brighter colours.
Krídlení still has fine musical moments, especially on side two, but overall it sounds like another victim of the same malaise that West European progressive groups had started succumbing to five years earlier: recycling their old glories with more pomp, pop and polish in trying to cope with lack of new ideas and changed musical expectations.
An import version of the album with English vocals overdubbed on the original backing tracks was produced two years later as Flying Time. The new lyrics and vocals are actually pretty successful (the lyrics were written out phonetically for the musicians to get the pronunciation), you just can't hear them very clearly, as they are somewhat smudged by the mix. The CD re-release of Krídlení includes all these vocal tracks as a bonus, slightly edited to account for the missing instrumental tracks and segues. -- Kai Karmanheimo
|Links||[See Modry Efekt]|
First and only album ever done by Estonian duo Igor Garsnek and Nevil Blumberg. This LP
has recently been re-released on CD by the Russian
Boheme label. Depending on your attitude, the
music on this album might either be said to be quite varied or you might say that the band
can't figure out what their musical identity is supposed to be ... there are many different
styles on this album, but all of them in the progressive range.
Songs range from the first cut, "Masks", which is an obvious Yes homage (or ripoff depending on how cynical you are) to the creepy electronic ambient sounds of "Meditative Landscape". Along the way, they also manage to sound like Jethro Tull (particularly in the cut "Minstrel") or Todd Rundgren's Utopia, and then surprise you with the easy-listening jazz cut "Loneliness" which sounds like Pat Metheny on acoustic guitar playing with Jaco Pastorious on fretless bass.
Overall a good CD, though the recording quality does vary dramatically from cut to cut. Oddly, one of the worst quality cuts is "Romantic Ballad" which is noisy and has a badly-recorded piano, though it's obviously a studio recording, while one of the best cuts both musically and sound quality-wise is "The Snake King", a live cut which starts out sounding like Utopia, and then adds some great synth leads that sound like Keith Emerson and also has some echos of Schicke, Führs and Fröhling.
My synopsis of Synopsis: a good band, a good CD. They won't set the progressive world on fire, but the music is quite listenable and is worth hearing. It does have a few exciting moments (I especially like "Masks" and "The Snake King"), and even the worst moments are OK.
Garsnek and Blumberg eventually reunited in a later formation of Ruja. -- Fred Trafton
|This recording from 1986 is a classic Estonian prog rock album highly regarded by prog lovers. The instrumental music features keyboard (Igor Garshnek) and guitar (Nevil Blumberg) as the main instruments with guests on recorder, bass and sequencer. The music is in the vein of the first In Spe. -- Pierre Tassone|
[See Garsnek, Igor |
Minuit Ville (79), Gamme (80)
Typical French prog band, lots of lush keyboards. Their first album is the best one. The band mentions Genesis as their basic influence, and it surely shows, but as most French bands, they're not derivative, and they build their own sound. Anyway, most French bands of this epoch (late '70s), developed a very characteristic sound, based on lush keyboards, romantic themes, etc. This band follows this rule, and due to the presence of two keyboardists, they made an amazing first album. My only gripe is with their vocalists. They had one for each album, and none of them were so good. Well, if you can stand other French vocalists, you won't be bothered with this one! On their second album, they changed the sound a bit, as the formation changed. They're still into prog, but now there's an emphasis on guitar, with some *amazing* solos. The overall of the album is not as positive as the first, as there are some real bad songs, but the best songs are sure to please you. -- Luis Paulino
Syrinx - The musicians remain anonymous
Original entry 10/31/03:
The music is amazing ... 100% instrumental, both avant-garde and beautiful at the same time. They refer to their compositional style as "Metamorphic Music", in that it evolves from idea to idea without any jarring changes, sometimes below the level of the listener's perception. The instrumentation is almost the standard rock line-up of guitar, bass, drums and keyboards, but there's no electric guitar, only acoustic, which gives this group a unique sound. The music begins to decay into dissonances, but just as you start to think it's too much, it resolves into a sweet melodic chord, only to begin becoming dissonant again the next measure. The music sounds highly improvised, yet with such complexity that it must be highly composed. Each of the musicicans is a master of his instrument, and you can listen to any one of them at any point in the album and hear something amazing coming from them, yet they also play in excellent ensemble without anybody hogging the spotlight. No egos here, just incredible musicians channeling the same energy from some higher source.
Some of this has a bit of a zeuhl sound, and it wouldn't surprise me to learn that one or more of these guys is a Magma alumnus. It's also got traditional jazzy sections and definite avant-garde jazz dissonant/noisy parts, though they never just play random notes ... each note is always in its exact place in the piece. Reification is an incredible album, and I get the definite impression of "having a religious experience" when I listen to it, just as I used to with early Magma. These guys are the real deal, and I hope to hear a lot more from them in the future ... their plan is to evolve their concept over several albums. Highly recommended! -- Fred Trafton
I have trouble describing this music. My previous review called it "both avant-garde and beautiful at the same time". I'd actually have a hard time calling Qualia "avant-garde". I'm frequently reminded of '80's Crimson because of the sequencer-like interlocking note patterns, but this has a far more "epic", symphonic sound with synth pads and (keyboard-generated) choirs. Like Reification, it's also purely instrumental, but unlike Reification, which had no elecric guitars, Qualia does. But the acoustic guitars are still in the forefront, giving every song a lot of warmth. Also like Reification, Qualia strikes me as a very spiritual music, but of course with no lyrics, you can make this be about any spiritual path you wish. Heck, just trying to navigate their web site is like delving into an arcane book of mysteries. And just as hard to understand ... but I love this sort of thing.
This album is high on my list for "Best Releases of 2008" ... it is something truly special and unique, without getting so weird that it's incomprehensible on first listen. But subsequent listens reveal ever deeper layers of structure, variation and subtleties. I'm so glad these guys (whoever they might be) haven't given up on this band. They're just amazing. My highest recommendation. Order from their web site (see links below) in CD or electronic form. -- Fred Trafton
[See Nil |
Click here for Syrinx'
Devil's Masquerade (72)
Most, Mult, Lesz (73)
Szettort Almok (??)
Mag. Radio Concert (??, rec. 1970)
|Excellent underrated 5-piece progressive jazz/symph band which is equal to many of the classics from Italy and England in 1972. Syrius would eventually disband and some of their members living in Australia from Hungary. I only have Devil's Masquerade which an excellent nostalgic album from the glory days of prog. Musically it blends scenes from old Chicago (ala Terry Kath vocals), Soft Machine (ie, Syrius has a great saxophonist), Egg (sometimes using an organ similar to that of David Stewart), etc. Devil's Masquerade is unimpressive at first but this album (if you give it a chance) may grow on you in a big way. It did for me and is in the upper half of my favorite albums from 1972. -- Betta|
Realm Time Tales (83)
Essentially the same band as Vail.
[See Realm | Vail]
A harder rocking progressive five-piece from the Pacific Northwest (Seattle area, I think) on the "for art's sake" label. The album Perspectives was a decent first effort, but not great. Their one-song contribution to the Beyond Rock compilation is another matter, though, a very stunning and powerful rock track by a band that seems to be defining itself on the harder edge of the progressive scene, along with Rush, Animator, and others.
Demos 1999-2000 (Unreleased Demo)
Demos 2001-2002 (Unreleased Demo)
Soundtracks for Imaginary Movies (04)
Steven Davies-Morris of Systems Theory calls himself a "Twenty-First Century Schizoid
Man". He is one-third of the band, the other two being Greg Amov and Mike Dickson.
When Steven e-mailed me to say he was hoping his band might be deserving of a spot on the GEPR,
I never guessed that I would be getting promos of perhaps the best electronic music recording to be
committed to recording media since the Rubycon days of Tangerine
Dream. I'm serious. This is the best electronic music I've heard in a long time. Steven sent
me their debut release Soundtracks for Imaginary Movies and also two CDR's they call Demos.
Steve said of these Demos, they "should have been released as proper albums in retrospect".
There's an understatement, Steven. They're as good as the "proper album" (and as long), and even
more experimental in places ... it would be criminal to not release these, or at least make them available
as downloads on their web site (they may have already done so by the time you read this). I just
love these albums!
All three of the members play a huge array of electronic keyboards (mostly) but there's also some quite nice guitar and drum work. Some of the drumming sounds like drum machine, but much of it certainly has the sound and feel of real drums. There's a whole lot of Tangerine Dreamy vibe due to the extensive use of Mellotron and short sequencer arpeggios that mutate slowly as they progress. But there's far more here than just a Tangerine Dream clone (though just that would have been good enough for me). In fact, if I had to give a short description of Systems Theory (and I guess that's my job), I'd say they're 30% Tangerine Dream, and 20% Enigma, with the remaining half made up of bits and pieces of Ozric Tentacles, Klause Schulze, Steve Roach-like Desert Ambient, Residential chaotic racket, health-food store natural-sound meditation soundtracks, Chris Franke's Babylon 5 scores, snippets of death metal guitar and a huge amount of their own personal stamp. Even the more "accessable" bits like the Enigma or Franke-like parts and the natural sounds should not be taken negatively ... these work great where they're used, making the band sound modern and not dated like the Berlin School forefathers they've clearly been listening to.
So far, Soundtracks for Imaginary Movies is at the top of my list for albums I've heard this year (2005). Now I have to decide who to kick off my 2004 "Top-Ten" list to get Systems Theory on it. Hard choice, but someone's got to go ... for fans of Berlin School electronics and beyond, order this album now! Move over, Redshift. There's a new kid on the block. -- Fred Trafton
|Links||Click here for Systems Theory's web site.|
Cosmos and Chaos (93, as Witsend)
The Allegory of Light (03)
Realms of Eternity (09)
From the pre-2000 version of GEPR Witsend entry:
A Cleveland area band that fits snugly (albeit quietly) in the present American prog rock scene. The band on Cosmos and Chaos is a three-piece, consisting of a drummer, guitarist, and keyboardist. Don't let the lack of a bassist turn you off; these guys are really worth listening to. Only one song has vocals, which have a Ian Anderson-type feel. There are some etudes for classical guitar or piano, which are really nice. Half of the songs are 2 or 3 minutes long, the others are around 6-8. Most songs, particularly the longer ones have many themes and time changes in them, but it's not overdone. I hear hints of Yes, Rush, Djam Karet, and others, but you wouldn't say, "Oh, they're just like _______". The talent is there, and the music is very enjoyable. Check them out. -- Doug Maynard
Syzygy 2009 Line-up (Cover of Progression Magazine Issue #58) - Al Rolik (bass, vocals),
Sam Giunta (piano, synthesizers), Carl Baldassarre (guitars, guitar synth, vocals) and
Paul Mihacevich (drums, percussion). Not pictured: guest vocalist Mark Boals sings lead
vocals on Realms of Eternity.
But I must admit that Cosmos and Chaos pales in comparison to this group's second album. In 2003, Witsend changed their name to Syzygy and released a new album, Allegory of Light. This album goes from the "very good" of Cosmos and Chaos into some just plain jaw-dropping moments. Whereas Cosmos and Chaos tended to have songs that featured one or the other of the band members, the melodic movement on Allegory of Light jumps often from instrument to instrument during the course of each piece somewhat like a Gentle Giant song, but without the classical or "English medieval" sound of Gentle Giant. They still stick to the positive, major-key modalities like Camel, Happy The Man or Greenslade, with upbeat lyrics that sometimes sound like someone in the band may have dabbled in Christian mysticism. Or new-age philosophy. Either way, it's not preachy, so don't be concerned about that. And, though I can't resist throwing in a few comparisons to other bands, I have to say that Syzygy doesn't sound like anyone else for more than a few notes, or a general "feel" to a phrase. They've developed a sound all their own, and it's brilliant. Any fan of '70's prog should find a lot to like on Allegory of Light, and I recommend it highly.
Then, in 2009, after several years of relative silence, the band returned again with an expanded line-up (adding pre-Witsend bassist and friend Al Rolik to the line-up as a full-time member) and a new album, Realms of Eternity. Clearly tired of being noted for being "the best prog band you've never heard" (from their Progression Magazine cover, Issue #58), they have pulled out all the stops in advertising themselves, with several full-page color ads in each of the last few issues of Progression Magazine, and a full-court press to get Syzygy into the prog media (the GEPR got a very nice professional press kit with the CD promo for Realms of Eternity), and playing live at Three Rivers Progressive Rock Festival in 2009 (they're scheduled to play again in August of 2010). While it is, perhaps, a shame to have to go to all the trouble and expense to get noticed for an album that should clearly stand on its own merits, the effort has been successful ... I doubt there's too many prog fans out there today that haven't at least heard of Syzygy ... though they may still have trouble pronouncing it. As they used to say on Wheel of Fortune, "I'd like to buy a vowel". OK, I don't really have trouble pronouncing it, I'm just being a smart-alec ... anyway ...
Realms of Eternity continues the idea of a "spiritually-themed" concept album, this time discussing "various aspects of the afterlife". I can't say the lyrics made much of an impression on me, though the vocals are powerfully delivered by session vocalist Mark Boals. The music, on the other hand, does make an impression. Perhaps there are fewer "jaw drop" moments on this album than on Allegory of Light, but the compositions are rich, well-produced and continue to reveal new interesting layers with subsequent listenings. This is one of those albums I didn't really get into much on the first listen, but subsequent plays continue to sound better and better. It's very "mature" in its production and composition, staying far away from the "bombastic" end of the '70's symphonic prog spectrum. A great album that deserves time in any symphonic prog fan's player.
Syzygy is currently putting the finishing touches on a live album ... a CD/DVD combo of their 2009 3RP concert, complete with a 5.1 Surround mix. It's supposed to be available sometime soon as of this writing. -- Fred Trafton
Click here for Syzygy's web site
and to order CD's
Click here for Syzygy's MySpace page
Click here to download a PDF version of Progression Magazine (#58, Fall 2009) cover story
Some Deaths Take Forever (80), Superficial Music (81), Brute Reason (83)
Heldon-like synth music.
Ritual of a Spiritual Communion (86, as Sándor Szabó and Balázs Major Duo)
The Clear Perception of Provenance Within (87, as Sándor Szabó/Balázs Major/Gilbert Isbin Trio)
Sanctified Land (91, as Sándor Szabó)
Opus Magnum (96)
Alexandria (97, as Sándor Szabó)
Gaia & Aries (98, as Sándor Szabó)
Sándor Szabó, one of the guitarists in SzaMaBa. Count the strings ...
Hungarian RIO music which features saxophones, flutes, guitars and some exotic eastern euro instruments. Fans of classic Henry Cow and Art Zoyd may like this. All instrumental though. Very dissonant. Sometimes so dissonant that it's painful to listen to. If you liked "Providence" from King Crimson, then you should like this album [Opus Magnum] as it's like 70-minutes worth of "Providence". -- Betta
The name SzaMaBa is comprised of the first letters of the last names of the group founders, Sándor Szabó (guitar), Balázs Major (percussion) and László Bagi (guitar). -- Fred Trafton
|Links||Click here for Sándor Szabó's web site|