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Saturday, January 27, 2018

King Crimson - Earthbound

Among supporters of one of the first “official bootleg” releases back in 1972 including Nick Cave of the Bad Seeds who worked with Robert Fripp on the second Grinderman project, King Crimson’s Earthbound is perhaps one of the most lo-fi recordings that King Crimson released during the time when the Islands-era line up toured during the states. When it was originally released in the summer of 1972 on the Island HELP label, it topped the mid-price charts in the UK, not on the main album charts.

I wasn’t quite sure for many years if I wanted to delve into the Earthbound album. But when I heard that it was going to be reissued as a part of the King Crimson catalogue in the 40th anniversary series (CD/DVD) by making it the 12th release last year, I was thinking to myself, “Let me give this live album a chance.” Listening to this, I will admit, it has a very rough sound due to being recorded on an AMPEX stereo cassette from a Kelsey Morris custom built mixer.

It’s not bad, but it does a very raw and rough sound. Listening to the bluesy rocker Peoria, the late great Boz Burrell does an incredible job scatting through his vocals as Fripp’s wah-wah on the guitar, lays down the rhythm as Ian Wallace’s pounding drums on the bass drum, follows his textures to get the groove and follow the paths of a mind-blowing trip. Mel Collins’ mellotron on The Sailor’s Tale takes you beyond the sea and heading towards the sun to rise as it sails from Fripp’s guitar work along with Boz and Ian creating these jazz beats between the Bass and Drums.

Even though it fades out in the end from Ian Wallace’s drum solo, I wish they continued more with that. But Ian takes center stage as he, Boz, and Mel’s sax improvisation continue with the Blues on the title-track. Boz scat’s well and channeling the greats of Al Green and Otis Redding. The Soul and R&B roots are delved into this classic. You could see where Boz was about to go into before embarking success with Bad Company.

When you listen to the opener, 21st Century Schizoid Man, you can imagine Boz’s vocals speaking through as if he was a Dalek from Doctor Who. The band in this are tight and keeping the machine flowing on here. Wallace’s bass drums is way too loud on here. Again, the criticism on this, I wish it wasn’t recorded in front of the stage, but on the soundboard instead of being up to a maximum volume.

The DVD contains a new sequence stereo version of the Earthbound album including a very interesting yet staggering version of Ladies of the Road, an intense take of The Letters thanks to the blaring nightmarish saxes of Mel Collins yet in the styles of Coltrane, also on here are two extended versions of both The Sailor’s Tale and Groon. Here, at their best, you can hear them what they could have been on the original release of the album.

The second thing on the DVD contains the original vinyl transfer release, the 11-part sections of Schizoid Men which was originally part of the DGM release of Ladies of the Road the 2-CD set in 2002 in the King Crimson Collectors Club during the Earthbound tour. Listening to Schizoid Men, the compilations between Mel Collins and Robert Fripp, is like a dueling car chase. It’s quite the surprise to hear them really hitting the race track to see they’re going to do next. 

And Ian following suit to be ready the blow the whistle at any moment. It made my arm hairs go up. But the Summit Studios recordings which contains both the New Stereo Mix and the Quadraphonic Mix, makes you realize that this could have been the should have been the Earthbound release.

The 16-page booklet contains liner notes by Sid Smith, including photographs of the band’s performance during that tour in ’72. It also includes pictures of the vinyl from Polydor label, press ads, and the final concert photos they did on April fool’s day in Birmingham, Alabama at Municipal Auditorium. After the tour was done, the band broke up. It wasn’t until they came which would later be their golden-era which was the John Wetton and Bill Bruford-era from ’73 to ’74.

Earthbound is not a great live album, there are some flaws on here, but it’s very interesting that it finally got the King Crimson 40th anniversary release. Would I listen to this again? Not really. But it’s understandable where they were about to go with next until their next live album during the Red-era entitled USA which is consider their best.

Vantomme - Vegir

Dominique Vantomme is a Belgium based pianist, keyboardist, composer, and producer. He’s worked with many of the European Rock and Pop acts while being a Jazz piano instructor at the Music Conservatory in Kortijk, Belgium. That and the collaboration between Chapman Stick and Bassist Tony Levin (Peter Gabriel, King Crimson, and Stick Men), Guitarist Michel Delville (The Wrong Object, Machine Mass, and douBt), and Belgium drummer Maxime Lessens.

It seems like an interesting combination, but it works! The four of them created this ominous, dark, haunting, yet nightmarish to kick 2018 off with the release of Vegir. The origins of the Vegir project started back two years ago when Dominique went to meet with his old friend, MoonJune labelist, Leonardo Pavkovic. And then, he befriended Tony Levin.

The quartet recorded the album back on October 29th, 2016 at Studio Jezus in Hoboken as it was mixed by Fritz Sunderman and mastered by guitarist Mark Wingfield (Kevin Kastning, Dwiki Dharmawan). Listening to Vegir, it’s almost as if you were at the recording sessions being in awe of the masters to bring the genre of experimental, jazz, and progressive music back to life, but done in the scariest way possible.

Not only that, but it is almost as if someone was creeping up behind you as if someone is lurking underneath your skin. And that is what Vegir does. Not just to give you the creeps, but being prepared to fasten your seatbelts. Because the music will chill you from beginning, middle, and near the end.

Vegir begins with Double Down. The opening track that clocks in at 7 minutes and 37 seconds, Dominique gets the car running between both the Rhodes and Mellotron before Tony and Maxime come into the seats between the back and the front of the station wagon. And then, Michel comes in last before Dominque gets the car started with these hypnotic effects.

Delville does these psychedelic wah-wah effects in the background as if Vantomme was driving through an endless passageway that is something straight out of David Lynch’s Lost Highway or Twin Peaks. Michel and Dominique go into this haywiring mode as Delville screeches through the instrument as if at any second he’s about to boil the kettle with a high pitch scream.

Part Agitation Free, part Soft Machine’s Third-era, it is an intensive introduction to start the album off as if Vantomme has already lit the fuse to let the Cannon erupt at any second. Sizzurp has this reminisce of the opening of the late ‘60s and ‘70s Italian Giallo films. It’s Dom’s synths channeling the VOX organ plus the spooky vibrations of Goblin’s Claudio Simonetti and Italian Progressive Rock band, Unreal City.

Then at 1 minute and 54 seconds, Dom and Michel go into some hard heavy walks followed by Levin’s bass riffs as if the three of them are walking into some deep, dark alleyway. However, in the midsection, the hay wire voyages of space comes in at light speed before Maxime calms everything down with his drum patterns as Delville screeches in the reverb effects. You can tell that Dominique is paying homage to Steven Wilson’s 2009 debut as a solo artist with the release of Insurgentes.

The grooves really give the quartet to feel all of the power and the energy flowing with its sections that can be terrifying. Levin and Lenssens keep it together for a texture of a dooming approach. Then, near the end it heads back into the VOX organ finale of the Giallo films. Now we’ve come to The Self-Licking Ice Cream Cone.

Here, the quartet brings their hats to a bow of the Canterbury scene. You can imagine them showing how much their appreciation of the movement to make sure the flames don’t burn out in the water. Dom’s nod to both Mike Ratledge and Dave Stewart (Egg, Hatfield and the North, and National Health) is shown as he channels both of the keyboardist doing some of the Hatfield and Soft Machine’s improvisation.

But the three of them, give Tony a chance to come center stage. With Agent Orange, Levin’s Chapman lays down the tracks as if he’s on a dangerous tightrope. And you may never know if the rope is going to be cut or not. But the composition, it’s a film-noir story in a movie inside your head.

You can tell that Levin’s Chapman is dealing the situation on the aftermath of a horrific scene for the agent to find out what really happened in the gruesome murders while the music increases on the right track. There’s the King Crimson motif’s that flow between 1973 and 1995 from Larks Tongues’ in Aspic and THRAK.

MoonJune Records really kicked it off this year with this amazing release. I have listened to this three times now. It’s quite surprising to see what the label will think of this year for me to be a part of their train and seeing where they will stop and what my ear will come up with next.

Whether it would be a band or artist, Leonardo Pavkovic knows his stuff and I can imagine that he’s not just the train conductor, but he’s also riding the train to see where the magic and mystery lies ahead in those tunnels the train is about to go into.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Magma - Live/Hhai

Magma for me, are still one of my favorite bands for nearly 13 years after my Mom bought me the Supernatural Fairy Tales: The Progressive Rock era 5-CD box set whilst I was in College along with the ProgArchives website also. Magma is a band whether you get it or you don’t. Magma always were often overlooked in the history of the Progressive genre and again they’re this mixture between Opera, Avant-Garde, Jazz, and Rock rolled into a big gigantic smoothie.

That and the 2-CD reissue of Magma Live/Hhai which was recorded on June 1st and the 5th of 1975 at the Taverne De L’Olympia in Paris showing them at their finest. The band at the time released their fifth studio album entitled, Kohntarkosz in 1974. During the autumn of that year, Bassist Jannick Top departed the band along with some of the members. So it was up to Christian Vander to find some new blood to fill in the shoes of Magma.

After long rehearsals, Vander knew right away the magic and mysterious vibrations he brought, it was time to do a live album. When you listen to Magma Live, you can feel their presence. It’s not just Christian himself, but the band coming together as one. And you can imagine yourself at the concert just in awe of how they brought the harsh tones, menacing vibes, powerful structures, and operatic arrangements thanks to Christian’s vocals.

The first disc begins with the 2-part suite of Kohntark. With the cry of “HAMATAI!” and the blaring crescendo between Didier Lockwood’s violin and Christian’s drumming that sounds like a gigantic cannon blast waiting to happen at the right moment that is expected to happen. Paganotti’s bass keeps the tempo following the fuzztone sound that is dooming.

He follows Vander wherever he goes and during the approach or reaching the fast sections of the piece, he follows him wherever he goes. On Part 2, it brings the audience’s approval as the temperature level goes up. It goes into a frenzy, but with an intensive vibe on the last six minutes of the piece. Federow and Lockwood show their nod to both John McLaughlin and Jean-Luc Ponty a-la Mahavishnu Orchestra style ending before the crowd cheers and applause erupt.

On the second disc, Hhai starts with this soulful sound on the Rhodes that feels at times like a ballad. And it’s Christian not just singing Kobaian, but the roots of the Soul/R&B flows in his vocals as he gives his nod to the sound of both Motown and Otis Redding. And then, the instruments come pushing the door down as they go into this dashing race towards the finish line.

As I’ve mentioned before it’s the nod the sound of the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Magma know their Jazz Fusion very well. When you listen to the first track on the second disc, you can tell they’ve done their homework very well. It’s this essence of the Mahavishnu’s debut album, The Inner Mounting Flame.

Lihns is a real treat. The listener is walking into a maze thanks to the Organ and the Bass. With the Clock ticking, Magma sets up the clues for them to see where they will head into. It’s almost as if they’ve done a score to one of the episodes for the 1992 classic, Batman: The Animated Series. The Rhodes creates these walkthroughs on their inspirations.

With call-and-response between Christian, Klaus, and Stella, you could tell there’s some snippets of Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh. While the last two tracks on the second disc contains the excerpts of piece incuding Da Zeuhl Wortz Mekanik, the 18-minute piece, Mekanik Zain contains the two pieces Nebehr Gudahtt and Mekanik Kommandoh. This is where they bring the Taverne to a standstill as Klaus and Stella come together with Christian as they bring, a big gigantic push.

It is a great version of the excerpts on the second disc as Didier follows the melodic line on the vocal arrangements with his violin. And in a full speed run, he keeps up the pace as Christian follows suit of making sure he’s in the lead. It ends with the audience clapping and chanting for another encore. 

So if you want to be prepared to put your toes in the water of Magma’s music, then close your eyes and imagine yourself being at those two shows at the Taverne in June of 1975 and seeing Magma at their best.  

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Crocodile - His Name is Stan and He's a Bad Motherf**ker

For me, Austin has always been on my radar from some of the best progressive bands to come from the Lone Star state. Whether it’s Proud Peasant, Opposite Day, Thirteen of Everything, Stop Motion Orchestra, and this new band that launched two years ago of this new up-and-coming quartet called, Crocodile. The band considers; Greg Seale on Drums, Philip Spann (since replaced by Thomas Shaw) on Keyboards, Kevin Sims on Vocals and Guitar, and Ted Thomas on Bass Guitar and Vocals. They’ve released their debut album this year entitled, His Name Is Stan And He’s A Bad Motherf**ker.

Crocodile’s music takes a lot inspirations from the realms of Gentle Giant, Haken, Jethro Tull, and Rock Progressivo Italiano band, Premiata Forneria Marconi. The quartet honors the legacy and the spirit of the genre by making sure the flaming fires of Progressive Rock keep burning more and more and never hitting the water. Their debut album is also a concept album, about a story that Kevin Sims wrote about a man named, Stan when he was 16 years old.

Stan is a Workaholic. And obsessive. What he wants to do is be the type of person who wants to get the job done right and making sure that Stan wants to reach towards the light at the end of the tunnel to survive and see how much he’s accomplished from a young age to adulthood. I’ve picked a few highlights on the album that really got my attention and keeping an eye out for this band that will hopefully get the word out.

You have this almost wacky time change of 3/4 along with some other odd changes coming through the xylophones and guitars on I Was a Worker. There are these Carousel-like arrangements from Stan’s like as a working man as the nod to both Gentle Giant and Haken’s background vocal arrangements flow well as if forming a tight circle as the walking up-and-down section of the stairs that is part of the melodic mode format.

The catchy beats on Sawhorse, rides off into a new chapter in Stan’s life as if he’s on the rocket ship ready to hurl through the cosmos while Kevin and Philip bring the puzzle pieces together by creating magic and working hand-in-hand as a band of brothers to know they got each other’s back. Then, there’s the gothic folkish nightmare lullaby instrumental with Mellotron chords with a Danny Elfman-sque score that is straight out of Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands on the short instrumental Interlude (lunchtime).

Stan, is a real killing composition. It describes the main character as if it was told through Samuel L. Jackson’s wallet from the 1994 cult classic of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Kevin’s guitar goes from and rhythmic structures that at times has some bluesy vibes as the opening riff between him and Phillip’s keyboards shows how much hard work Stan goes through day and night.

With Stir the Stain (F**k the Door), there are these mysterious tones almost as if Crocodile are searching for more clues to see what the criminal left behind. Not to mention a late ‘60s vibe on the guitar chords with a psychedelic vibe, hypnotizing sounds, and bass-picking by Ted Thomas as if he and the band mates are picking up the pace to know they are on the right track.

The closer, I am Stan begins with this Bluegrass electric intro featuring the harpsichord. The song takes place 25 years later as Stan has accomplished for all the work he’s done, through the thick and thin, and the heart that he has inside of him. And it goes to show that he’s come full circle. The band come together to bring Stan walking off into the sunset and knowing that it is time for him to relax and take a long vacation.

Crocodile have really got something that not just took me by surprise, but how their debut album works on different levels. Whether it’s hard, gothic, progressive, or odd time signatures, they've completely brought it all to the table. And while this is my ninth time listening to their first album, the beginning for them to walk on the Yellow Brick Road is only just the beginning.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

A Tribute to Cuneiform Records

This year, Cuneiform Records are going to take a long hiatus this year due to the direction of the falling sales and deciding if they want to continue on where the future for the label to go into or not. Since launching back in 1984, Steve Feigenbaum is the heart and soul of Cuneiform Records. I’ve first discovered the label alongside MoonJune Records back in the 2010 documentary of Romantic Warriors: A Progressive Music Saga by filmmakers Jose Zegarra Holder and Adele Schmidt.

Cuneiform were on my radar list to be on the lookout for. I’ve discovered a lot of great music from the label. It wasn’t just a Prog label, but also Avant-Rock, RIO (Rock In Opposition), and Jazz at the same time. It was for me, as the late great Harvey Pekar mentioned about his views on collecting both Comic Books and Jazz Records in the 2003 film, American Splendor; It’s like the Treasure of the Sierra Madre or something. You go to Thrift Shops, you go to garage sales, because you go to find something that’s real rare and most of the time it’s a total waste of time, but once in a while, you’ll come up with something that’ll wet your appetite.

That’s the same thing with me, it wasn’t just the big names like Pink Floyd, ELP, Genesis, and Yes to name a few, but for me, it was supporting the little guy or some of the bands I’ve never heard of that would peaked my interest. Whether it’s Cheer-Accident, Present, Univers Zero, The Microscopic Septet, The Cellar and Point, and Alec K. Redfearn and the Eyesores to name a few, it’s always a treat to see what the label would peak my cup of coffee. Not to mention hitting the big gigantic push with the 12-CD/2-DVD set of Art Zoyd’s 44 1/2: Live + Unreleased Works.

Not only that but both Sid Smith's Podcasts from the Yellow Room and Prog Rock Deep Cuts with Ian Beabout, was making my wish list grow and grow even more to open my eyes up of what Cuneiform would think of next on their upcoming releases. I hope they’ll continue. We can’t let real good music die and keeping Independent music growing strong by not letting the flames in the water, but keeping the flames up and going more and more. So to Steve Feigenbaum, Joyce Nalewajk, and all the crew at Cuneiform Records, I tip my bottle of water to you. Here’s some of my top 10 lists of the albums from the label that were one of my favorites from them.

1. Bent Knee – Say So
2. Led Bib – The People In Your Neighborhood
3. Chrome Hoof – Chrome Black Gold
4. Pixel – We Are All Small Pixels
5. Robert Wyatt – ‘68
6. Zevious – Passing Through the Wall
7. Present – Le Poison Qui Rend Fou / Triskaidekaphobie
8. The Muffins – Manna / Mirage
9. Happy Family – Minimal Gods
10. Alec K. Redfearn & The Eyesores – Sister Death

But Wayside Music is still up-and-going. Please show your support to buy music and keep the music train going more and more.