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Sunday, February 21, 2016

Vasil Hadzimanov Band featuring David Binney - Alive

This live CD released on the MoonJune Records label this year, shows the Vasil Hadzimanov Band at their finest. Since the formation of the band 15 years ago and recorded in October of 2014 during the Serbian tour in Belgrade, it contains eight tracks that you can imagine yourself by closing your eyes and imagine yourself being at their concert and witnessing something special and breathtaking before your very eyes from start to finish.

Keyboardist/Pianist Vasil is a graduate at the Berklee College of Music at Boston. He also performed with artist such as David Gilmore (not the guitarist from Pink Floyd, but a different name), Antonio Sanchez, Matt Garrison, and Nigel Kennedy to name a few. And featuring guest musician Dave Binney on alto sax, the band considers; Miroslav Tovirac on Bass, Bohan Ivakovic on Percussion and Vocals, Branko Trijic on Guitar and Percussion, and Peda Milutinovic on Drums.

The opening 11-minute track, Nocturnal Joy is a riveting Jazz Fusion stunner that starts it off with a gigantic bang. There are bits and pieces that the band pay tribute to Weather Report’s Heavy Weather-era by channeling both Jaco Pastorius, Joe Zawinul, and Wayne Shorter to name a few. At the 5 minute and 10 second mark, Binney’s alto sax goes into arpeggiated sections in a Free Jazz improvisation with Shorter meets Coltrane vibe.

You can imagine the audience being jaw-dropped and also applauding, cheering and standing up for them as Binney is going in for a home run as he blares like a twisting tornado with the driven forces with the Vasil Hadzimanov Band following in to see where he would go to next for the last 2-minutes in a climatic end to roaring cheers. Zulu is this combination fast-driven rhythm between The Mahavishnu Orchestra meets Primus.

There is a lot of mind-blowing improvisations between Branko, Miroslav, and Peda as they pay tribute to The Inner Mounting Flame with the first two minutes that reminded me of The Noonward Race before Bojan creates this insane-like vocalizations that is almost going through a Leslie Speaker as audiences clap for more as tempo changes. Then, Dave Binney does an eerie yet intense sax improvisation with rapid momentum as the VH band give him free-rein on where Binney goes into.

Dolazim starts off with a Bitches Brew-era and Clock-ticking guitar effect that brings into mind of Steve Hackett. There is crescendos on the Rhodes before the African Rock vibration in the midsection as the results for a blending excitement between percussions, bass, and keyboards working like a team while Odlazim reminiscent's The Mars Volta’s Frances The Mute-era with swirling/spooky moog improvisations and a stomping finale to clap along to the heavy riffs.

It’s time to give the electric instruments a chance for a relaxation as Vasil and Dave do a duo together with Razbolje Se Simsir List. It’s classical jazz with the spirits of both George Gershwin and John Coltrane thrown in together with the bits of Rhapsody in Blue meets A Love Supreme featuring a lullaby at the very end and they create magic between each other.

But on Vaiya, Binney is giving the sax the ecstatic energy it needs with a power of voltage as the band gives him a chance to be in center stage. He improvises throughout the movements of various sections sad, emotional, and happy at the same time before Miroslav brings the Bass to a Jaco funk groove to a “T”. Once you add the percussion/drum sections to the mix, it adds in the Brazilian bossa-nova rhythms to close it down and doing one more number with Otkrice Snova.

Vasil creates this futuristic introduction with a Synthesized Organ between the ARP 2500 and EMS VCS3 that the essence of Pete Townshend’s Lifehouse project comes to mind before moving with the Fusion blast that audiences have a blast and closing off the album to roaring applause. I’m very new to the world of Vasil Hadzimnaov and Dave Binney, and I had a blast listening to the Alive album.

MoonJune Records always have scored a huge home run and of course the super bowl for me when it comes to releasing amazing Jazz and Prog music. And this here you can imagine yourself closing your eyes and imagine yourself being at one of their shows just being in awe and jaw-dropped of what is going to happen next of the Vasil Hazimanov Band’s music along with Dave Binney. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Sri Hanuraga - To The Universe

Sri Hanuraga is a name that just took me by surprise. His second album, To The Universe which was recorded in Amsterdam, is a Jazz album that deserves some attention and showing that is growing and surviving from the pianist himself. He has been performing Jazz piano from day one in Indonesia as he studied at the age of 17 with Indra Lesmana. He won the first prize at JGTC competition and performed in various Jazz festivals in Indonesia.

When you listen to this second album you can get a feel of the inspirations he has from his instrument from the realms of Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, and Dwiki Dharmawan to name a few. And a few of the center highlights on here, shows how much he is bringing the spirits and influences like a flaming fire that just won’t go away and keeping the smoking flames go for a long time and seeing where it would head into for the years to come.

Opener, Teka-taki is a reminiscent of Thelonious Monk’s Monk’s Quartet as Sri captures Monk’s essence and momentum on the Grand Piano. It reminded me of Well You Needn’t as the band come into play to create the magic with the beats and rhythm as if Sri is a conductor and letting them know when the time comes into hit the right notes on their instruments.

The two tracks Amadeus and Schoenfeld, here Sri brings the sounds of Vince Guaraldi on here. I can imagine Sri doing the score for The Peanuts Movie and staying true to honor both Guaraldi and Peanuts creator Charles M. Schultz. There’s a gentle warmth beauty with a very relaxing classical mid-tempo structure. It’s almost as if you are walking in Central Park and watching the leaves fall to the clean-cut grass as the Autumn is about to begin.

Suwe Ora Jamu starts with a concerto-classical intense piano thump as Sri hums along to the Melody whilst going into a whole new world. Kristijan Karanjncam is going all over the drums as the intense string bass playing in the midsection by Mattia Magatelli as they reach loud climatic finale battle between both the Bass and Drums before Sri comes to calm down with a gentle calming end.

But it’s the three-part suite of Ever Changing that is the center highlight and almost like putting cherry on a hot fudge sundae. The first part starts with Rodrigo Parejo Mateos folky flute improvisation with an ascending beat before Kristijan’s galloping drum section with the cymbals while the second part has an ominous mourning atmosphere for the sun to come down as the flute is crying in the sky for a loss one. But it’s third part that is the real killer.

Sri goes into the sounds of the Canterbury scene with the Fuzz-tone sound from the Rhodes as he channels both Dave Stewart and Mike Ratlege as if the two of the collaborated with each other of The Polite Force-era of Egg working with the Third-era of the Soft Machine. It is a reminiscent as if it was recorded in 1971 with time signatures going off the wall and you can hear between Facelift and A Visit to Newport Hospital.

Released last year on the Indonesian record label De Majors Records and distributed by MoonJune Records. When something from MoonJune comes in for me in the mail, I know something special comes in through my ears when I put it in my portable CD player. 

With To The Universe, it is for me, a mind-blowing and breathtaking Jazz album with a touch of Folk, Classical, and bit of Prog into the mix. Sri brings it and nails it down very, very well. I can’t wait to hear more from Sri Hanuraga. So if you love Hancock, Guaraldi, and Canterbury Prog, this is the real deal!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Billy Sherwood - Citizen

Billy Sherwood is a bassist and vocalist who worked with bands and artists such as Motorhead, Deep Purple, Air Supply, Paul Rodgers, Def Leppard, and Yes. He is also following in the footsteps of the late great Chris Squire and it’s a huge amount of shoes to fill in the mastermind of the heart and soul of Yes. And he knows to make sure to stay true and honor Chris’ legacy and keep the flaming fire of Yes, going on for years and years to come and making sure it doesn’t burn out.

Now I’m very new to Sherwood’s music. It has a symphonic, pop, and progressive flavor to it when I listened to his eighth album released last year on the Frontiers Records label entitled Citizen. And this is a very emotional and breathtaking album to feature alongside Chris Squire, but also; Geoff Downes, Jon Davison, Steve Hackett, Alan Parsons, Rick Wakeman, and Tony Kaye to name a few and giving Sherwood a helping hand.

It’s also a concept album in which it deals various histories, time travel, and infinite universes. The opening title track begins with a dystopian fanfare symphonic introduction that gives a reminiscent of Within Temptation’s Mother Earth-era. Yes members that include Organist Tony Kaye and Bassist Chris Squire, play on this composition as Sherwood himself plays not just Bass, but Guitar and Drums. And he plays them very, very well which is not bad at all.

Kaye’s Organ is momentum as the song deals with the historical times through the different centuries the travelers go through those moments in time. The Great Depression deals with the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the piece goes into a moving ballad of the downfall. Rick Wakeman’s piano sets the emotional tone on what was happening during the crash while Empire has this mid ‘80s atmosphere that delves into the sounds of Pink Floyd’s A Momentary Lapse of Reason.

Alan Parsons takes over the lead vocal arrangements as the song touches on someone taking over the city. At first it seems that everyone can live their dreams, but it comes with a heavy price. It crashes down like a ton of bricks as the story has the similarities between Ayn Rand and George Orwell mixing in together of them writing a story together that would make the novelists very proud of.

Jerry Goodman from the Mahavishnu Orchestra, his electric violin ascends into heaven from the improvisations in the midsection and the sounds through Sherwood’s backing vocals and futuristic keyboard sections gives he and Jerry, creative shining freedom between each other. And they work along with Parsons himself, wonderfully together. It’s not just Billy, but lending a helping hand with one another.

All in all, this is perhaps one of the most mind-blowing and powerful albums Billy has released. I have returned more than a few times of listening to Citizen so far and it shows that he really shines a light throughout the album as a professor of time travel with amazing conceptual brainstorming ideas.

Monday, February 8, 2016

La Curva Di Lesmo - La Curva Di Lesmo

La Curva Di Lesmo is a side project by Fabio Zuffanti (Finisterre, Hostsonaten, La Maschera Di Cera) and Stefano Agini (La Coscienza Di Zeno). It is a concept album based around the erotic comic strip series that launched back 51 years ago by the late Guido Crepax on the character Valentina who is based and inspired by the looks of silent film actress Louise Brooks. The music that duo created, is to share the elements of mystery and the darker side of the character.

Released last year on the AMS Record label, the album is an emotional, strong, and fascinating concept that would have made Guido Crepax himself very proud of what Zuffanti and Agini have done. And with help from people such as members from Analogy, Latte e Miele, il Tempio Delle Clessidre, and Saint Just to name a few, it is an album that will be played for years and years to come. When I first heard about it and listened to some samples of the album, I knew this was the album I was looking for and I bought it and I fell in love with it.

The textures of Progressive, Electronic, Avant-Rock, Orchestral, Pop, and Folk, blend in very well together. For example on the 17-minute composition of L’isola Delle Lacrime, is one of the most electro-experimental turned soaring pieces that capture the late ‘70s/early ‘80s that Fabio and Stefano created. An homage to the late great David Bowie’s Low-era, which starts off as a surreal atmospheric introduction between Electronic Drums, Organ and Moog creating a spooky melody that reminded me of Warszawa.

And then Jenny Sorrenti of Saint Just and Max Manfredi of Latte E Miele come into the picture on the vocals, knowing that it’s a special moment before the dooming guitar rhythm and riffs by Laura Marsano, brings the elemental wonder of Tony Iommi. Jenny sings beautifully on her vocals and reaches those notes higher in the different areas of the song that she reminded me of Doris Norton and Annie Haslam combined into one in a surreal interesting way.

The last 7-minutes of the track begins with an operatic rock between Max and Jenny duetting with each other and it just hits you very well for the goosebumps and chills on where they hit the note before the driven forces with the thumping tempos come in. I can hear the Celtic Folk with an electronic vibe thanks to the flute of Edmondo Romano of Eris Pluvia. Unexpected, but at the same time just for me, one word: Wow!

La Posa Dei Morti in which opens the album off, Beatrice Antolini who gives an astonishing performance to start the composition through her beauty and ecstatic vocal arrangements as the warmth and vivid surprising keyboard work between Mellotron, Moog, and Organ, it’s almost like opening the doors to see what will happen next to see what will give us a real special treat. And Beatrice who is a part of the Indie underground scene in Italy, she nails it down to a “T”.

The closing 26-minute five-part suite Ho Rischiato To Di Vivere, begins with ominous organ sounds, militant funeral drum beats, hypnotic keyboards, and mellotron-like vocalizations before Claudio Milano of NichelOdeon comes in with his voice that almost gives it a darker atmosphere. His voice reminded me at times of Alessio Calandriello of La Coscienza Di Zeno and it just took me to a level that I’ve never heard before in my entire life. Then we delve into the essences of the late ‘60s adventure into space between Guitar and Moog that has a psychedelic twist to the piece before a stirring piano piece comes into play.

Through the mysterious orchestral rock vibration thanks to the string arrangements, followed by a hard guitar-lines, keyboards, and vocal-lines through the instrument, makes me almost saying more of the composition. Fabio and Stefano brought a lot of energy and amazement with this side project and the help from the various band members along with Beatrice Antolini, it is a spectacular dark, and mind-boggling album they brought here.

I really enjoyed this album and I hope they do a follow up for the Valentina stories because it’s almost a continuation on what happens next. Even though it ran from 1965 to 1996, it would be neat to see where the character goes into next and the music itself is like the soundtrack, score and movie inside your head. I imagine that the Valentina stories could have been used for the adult illustrated fantasy magazine, Heavy Metal, but off-topic, this is Italian Prog at it’s best!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Yuka & Chronoship - The 3rd Planetary Chronicles

Launched seven years ago from the Land of the Rising Sun, Yuka & Chronoship are a quartet featuring keyboardist and vocalist Yuka Funakoshi who is the driving force behind the band which considers; Shun Taguchi on Bass, Takashi Miyazawa on Guitar, and Ikko Tanaka on Drums and Percussion. The band have released three albums so far from 2011 to 2015 in which their new album released on UK label, Cherry Red Records in the fall of last year entitled, The 3rd Planetary Chronicles.

This was an album that just not only put me on the edge of my seat, but it completely took me by surprise and blew me away from start to finish. Throughout the entire album, it is magical, visionary, and ingenious. Almost like an alternate score for Hayao Miyazaki’s 1984 classic, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Yuka is in the realms of composer Leopold Stokowski when she conducts and arranges the compositions, knowing where the band will go into with harmonizing melodies.

The evidential ambient structure, are shown with the atmospheric and calming piano warmth to On the Radio. It starts off with radio static as Yuka’s piano is heard in the background during the dystopian society that is shows on what the future shows what it was once fine, now it is not. Takashi Miyazawa’s guitar playing, is eye-brow lifts, jaw dropped, and blaring on what he gives to the listener.

It’s shown on pieces like the symphonic adventure of E = C#m. Here, Takahi channels both Steve Howe and Franco Mussida where the two combinations meet and blend between the Yes Fragile-era and Premiata Forneria Marconi’s Photos of Ghosts while channeling the birth of the blue planet with Birth of the Earth (Magma Ocean). He then delves into the styles of David Gilmour with a tribute to the Wright brothers on Wright Flyer 1903.

Here, Shun Taguchi gives some talent of the ascending bass lines he shows to the forefront as Ikko himself, lets his drums go into a relaxing mode before the Moog workout with a Wakeman-sque touch. Yuka is no fluke when it comes to the conducting and orchestral side of the beginnings of planet earth. She goes through various motions whether it’s Progressive Rock, Post-Prog, and Classical boundaries.

Here on Stone Age, you have a pastoral-orchestrated beat with dramatic percussion work, synths between Moog and Flute. It’s a flying rhythm showing the creation of the dawn of man as if James Horner was in awe and imagine working with the group to create ideas for James Cameron’s 2009 sci-fi film, Avatar. The lyrics in the booklet for Age of Steam, is uplifting and spiritual and Yuka sings beautifully through the Acoustic Guitar, Flute touches and Mellotron wonders that makes it staggering and stunning.

The Landmarq influences are in there followed by the Arena Rock late ‘70s reminiscent of Kansas. Finale, Birth of the Earth – Embryonic Planet, begins with a quiet haunting piano introduction before kicking into high gear with a volcanic rhythm section, waltz-bluey part with a progressive punch. The lead and rhythm sections that Takashi gives driving beats with hypnotic results.

I have listened to The 3rd Planetary Chronicles about 10 times now. I was blown away again, and again, and again. Yuka & Chronoship are the real thing when it comes beautiful Progressive Rock sounds and Yuka herself is a master. So if you love the late ‘70s Prog and bands and artists such as Landmarq, Steven Wilson, Yes, Gentle Giant, and Kansas, then delve into the world of Yuka & Chronoship.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Bruce Soord - Bruce Soord

Bruce Soord is one of the driving forces behind The Pineapple Thief that launched back 17 years ago and the group have released ten albums so far. This year, Soord has released his first solo debut album on the Kscope label with help from Darran Charles of Godsticks on Guitar. He recorded the album in his own studio last summer whilst he premiered some of the material he did on the UK tour with Sweet Billy Pilgrim. His sole self-titled debut, shows a softer and dreamland side to Soord.

There are moments that show the essences of Steven Wilson, Radiohead, David Bowie, and early Pink Floyd that really bring the ingredients to different level. It’s more acoustic, layered, catchy, and pop. Both Soord and Charles are amazing musicians and have captivated the beauty and the inner side of the emotional spiritual momentum that is brought on here.

The Odds is a captivated rhythm section. Between the chugging train sounds by the acoustic guitar, catchy drumbeats, and a bluesy-funk guitar lead section. It has almost the ‘80s sound that it feels like it was recorded in 1980. The encouragement between the two of them shows a lot of power and collaborations that will make you dance to. And I really got a kick out of the song not just because it’s exciting, but it’s the wonder, and the power of what will happen next.

Willow Tree has a mid-tempo acoustic guitar rhythm followed by a brass section. There’s a soft and tender warmth vibration on here in which Soord nails it on his vocal arrangements. The closing finale took me by surprise. I could imagine both Bruce and Darran were paying homage to film composer Ennio Morricone for an orchestral vibe in the Italian Spaghetti Western scores with a mariachi end for The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

Opener, Black Smoke is a piano composition that Soord sings well and emotionally, touching. It deals with finding true hope and remembering the loss of innocence while the two-part Field Day brings a moodier and calmer folky-sque Floydian background. It features wailing cry from the electric guitar that Darran does in the style of David Gilmour to pay honor and homage to the legend as the lyrics deals with regret and falling into darkness and never being afraid.

Buried Here is another slowed-down rhythm, but a heavenly and ominous atmosphere. It does remind me of something straight out of Steven Wilson’s earlier days with Porcupine Tree, but adding the spooky keyboard sounds from the organ gives it a frightening and effective. I have so far listened to Bruce Soord’s sole self-titled debut about three times now. Now I have to admit, I’m new to Soord’s music and he brings energy here.

He’s also a very busy man when it comes to mixing. He worked on the 5.1 mix for Opeth’s sixth album, Deliverance reissued last year along with Steven Wilson's mix of Damnation in a 2-CD/2-DVD set, Tesseract’s album Polaris, and collaborated with Katatonia’s Jonas Renkse with 2013’s Wisdom of Crowd project. You never know what to expect from Soord and what he and Steven Wilson in which they are almost for me, the Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson of musicianship. Go ahead and check Soord’s solo album, you’ll get a kick out of it.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Homunculus Res - Come Si Diventa Cio Che Si Era

It’s been three years since we’ve heard some fantastic Canterbury music from the mind of Italian group, Homunculus Res. They came back last year with a follow up to 2013’s debut album, Limiti all’eguaglianza della Parte con il Tutto with a second album called, Come si diventa cio che si era. The AltrOck label have never disappointed me of Italian Prog, and the Rock In Opposition movement and for me Homunculus Res show no sign of stopping here to prove they can take it up a notch in the Canterbury tales with amazing results.

When you mix those three ingredients together, it’s an interesting, dazzling, and out of this world combination that the band themselves bring into more of what’s to come. The lyrics have a whimsical, ironic, and amusing sense of humor and while the concept is based around a city hospital, it’s almost as if what to expect when you enter inside the emergency room to meet insane, weird, and mind-boggling people that makes you wonder that Alice went into the Wonderland and let the music help her be who she is.

The 17-minute centerpiece, Ospedale Civico which features David Newhouse of The Muffins and Wyatt Moss-Wellington on the choir, it is an unexpected mixture between the sounds of a Jazzy-RIO-Canterbury groove. With unexpected time changes that will remind you of Soft Machine’s Third-era, Gilgamesh, Egg, Picchio dal Pozzo, and Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica-era in there with insane synths, guitar melodies between D’Alessandro and the bass he plays on the composition, and the Thelonious Monk-like walking rhythm for the last five minutes with a ‘60s spooky organ, makes it sound like you are in the groove before the last 26 seconds gives it a sun lifting finale.

The swirling outer space adventure of Vescia Piscis sets the lounge groove between the keyboards with a buzzing synth, ascending rhythm, melodic guitar and electric piano, out of the blue drum patterns before going into mid-layered sounds as the mellotron, sax, and synth take into the heavens whilst the crescendo beats, takes the listener into unbelievable results. Ottaedro brings into the elements of a combination between early Caravan and Hatfield and the North as if they were working together for Nine Feet Underground as if Richard Sinclair gives the band instructions on where to go next in the composition at the right moment.

Bossa-nova grooves can be out of the blue. But with Dogface, it works into the humor blender. Here along with Paolo “Ske” Botta on the synths, he adds into the underwater sounds for a brief second and the Symphonic-Brazilian fun side to the core, you could tell that Homunculus Res are having a blast on this piece and almost as if they are dancing into the groove as Botta soars into his magical hands. And never forgetting the homage to Sgt. Pepper-era and Harry Nilsson on the short instrumental, Paum.

This is my fourth time listening to Homunculus Res’ second album. I’m very impressed of what is done here. Not only the inspiration based around the city hospital which I could imagine they admired the sound of Egg’s The Polite Force for inspiration, but they came back for wild imaginative beauty that you might want to reach into more of the Canterbury adventures on what it’s to come.

AltrOck has scored another home run for me. I can’t wait to see what Marcello Marinone has in stores for the label and the Fading Records label for 2016.