Wednesday, 31 July 2013

King Crimson - USA (70's Live Album Series)

This one is a favourite. Recorded at one of Crimson's final gigs before Fripp put the band into storage in 1974. Though I had heard Crimson albums in the early 70's this was the first one I bought back in 1975. I didn't know much about the band and found the album cover, like the others I knew; Lizard, In the Court of the Crimson King and Larks' Tongues in Aspic didn't give anything away about what the band looked like.

I loved the glossy album cover. The womans hand holding the metal bar with the bands name and album title stamped on the front was very appealing for some strange reason. Who came up with the idea? On the back were hands (the same woman's?) holding a Kirlian photograph of a hand. What was it all about?

It's easy to forget that Crimson were on Island records along with Emerson, Lake and Palmer. USA had the classic pink palm tree label.

Musically, this album had excellent versions of material from Larks' Tongues in Aspic and Starless and Bible Black. In particular, Lament and Easy Money had fine guitar solos. In fact, Easy Moneys mid section solo is amongst Fripp's best. The way it builds up to an exhilarating crescendo, where it sounds as if Fripp has run out of fretboard is spine tingling. But the highlight is the improv, Asbury Park. This is perfect and is my desert island disc Crimson track. Though The Great Deceiver box set showed that the foundations of this improv were laid in earlier pieces, by the time the band got to Asbury Park, the telepathy between the band was such that everything came together to produce an instrumental that sounded more composed than improvised. The combination of guitar, bass, mellotron and drums were all in perfect unison. Absolutely sublime!

The first CD version I had was a bootleg, which was just taken from a needle drop vinyl copy. Eventually a proper CD version taken from the master tapes was released as part of the 30th anniversary series, which also included some bonus tracks. This was originally released as a mini LP papersleeve edition, though it had a gatefold sleeve which the original LP didn't. The version I have is the HQCD Japanese papersleeve version, which is based on Simon Heyworths 30th anniversary remaster. The sleeve does replicate the glossy single sleeve of the LP version and even has a replication of the light blue Island insert sleeve. The booklet is the same as the 30th anniversary edition, though it does also include lyrics.

Another point are the overdubs by Eddie Jobson. Not sure on the reasoning behind this. Maybe the mix wasn't sufficient in the violin and piano department. I have heard the original mix, without the overdubs and prefer the USA version. Maybe that's just familiarity, but Fripp's mix decisions for USA did make a better album. Though The Great Deceiver box set and subsequent archival live releases have presented better live Crimson from that period, USA is the first and is still a special album to me.

Addendum on 3/8/13. Panegyric are releasing a 40th Anniversary edition of USA in October. It will be a CD/DVD package and will include a new hi res mix of the album by Fripp/Singleton as well as the expanded 30th anniversary edition and the original concert without overdubs.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Gong - Live Etc (70's Live Album Series)

The live album. All the bands in the 70's had them. Whether a single, double or even triple LP, it was the stop gap between studio albums or the contractual obligation filler. There were good ones and bad ones, just like their studio counterparts. Here, I present some of my favourites from that time of excess packaging and too much vinyl.

This first one isn't really a complete live album. Released in 1977, Gong Live Etc, was a 2 LP compilation of live material from 1973 and 1975, BBC sessions and a couple of studio outtakes. I think this was released as a mid price set. If memory serves me right, I think I paid £3.99 when it was released. Belying its mid price tag, the packaging was quite deluxe. The records were each in their own sleeves, which were covered in pictures of the band. These slipped into the single sleeve, where the band pics could be seen through a die cut outer sleeve.

This was my first experience of Gong, though I knew about Steve Hillage, as his star was in the ascendancy in 1977. I loved the jazzy sound of the band with all these synth whooshes and Hillage's soaring guitar, all backed by the excellent Howlett/Moerlen rhythm section.

Virgin have released a CD version back in the 90's, as shown, knocking off one of the studio tracks to fit the album onto a single CD. It doesn't do justice to the original vinyl edition. There were plans, when Angels Egg and You were remastered back in 2004, to reissue Live Etc as a 3CD box set, but there were licensing issues which halted its release. Shame, it's a great album, with some fantastic performances from Gong's wild and wonderful glory days.



Sunday, 28 July 2013

Anima Mundi - The Lamplighter

Another great find. This band play symphonic prog and hail from Cuba no less. Prog is a world wide phenonomenon indeed! What I love about this band are the bold sounding, sumptuous arrangements based around the vast orchestral keyboards of Virginia Peraza and the fluid guitar lines of Roberto Diaz. This is colourful, energising prog as reflected in the beautiful cover artwork by Ed Unitsky. This is their fourth studio album I believe and I will be searching out the others.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Trion - Funfair Fantasy

Another great slice of instrumental prog rock. This is the third album from Trion, a sort of side project by members of Flamborough Head and Odyssice. Though to be honest this album is just as good if not better than the members main outfits. The first two albums were released on Malcolm Parkers* excellent Cyclops label. I really liked the homage paid to Roger Dean by the cover design of the first album, even down to the balloon moniker aping Deans flying plane which he uses as his signature. The second album, "Pilgrim" had a cover more in the style of Hipgnosis's "Going for the One". Not sure if the new album is in the style of any established album however. The music though is beautifully realised keyboard and guitar based instrumental music in the style of Camel and Steve Hackett. Nothing too innovative maybe, but very well executed nonetheless.

*I am not overstating the fact that Malcolm Parker is one of the unsung heroes in rejuvenating the profile of progressive rock in the 90's. Through his mail order company GFT and recording label Cyclops, he enabled a whole new generation of bands and artists to be heard. It was the only place I knew where you could get stuff like Spocks Beard, Flower Kings and Anekdoten.

I have fond memories of leafing through his catalogue, stuffed with his comments and recommendations. Then there was his mail shots, sheets of new releases with his typed written comments marked up with his hand written annotations. How he managed to run GFT and the Cyclops label at the same time I don't know. Many times I would phone through an order (this was the pre internet days) for Malcolm to be on the end of the phone taking orders. Usually the order was on my doorstep by the next day. The mail was good in those days too! It was Cyclops who brought us Pineapple Thief, Mostly Autumn, Andy Tillison's pre Tangent Parallel or 90 Degrees, Manning, Citizen Cain and Karda Estra. My personal favourite band was Lands End. I believe the label is still going, but it seems on a much smaller scale. I really do think Prog Magazine should do a profile of the man.


Vangelis - Blade Runner SACD


Simply put, Blade Runner is one of the best soundtracks ever produced. Not only is it great music in its own right, but it emphatically is part of the movie. You can't imagine Ridley Scott's future vision of Los Angeles and replicants without Vangelis's beautiful music.

Vangelis is a wonderful synthesist and this is ably demonstrated on this soundtrack where he makes extensive use of the Yamaha CS80 keyboard. This instrument was a favourite of Eddie Jobson too, who used it on both UK albums. This SACD really does bring out all the nuances of Vangelis's recording which he made at his own Nemo Studios in London. This recording is a master class in reverb and all the layers of keyboards and percussion are really well defined. What I found remarkable is, when listening on headphones, how almost 3 dimensional the reproduction is. Kudos to Kevin Gray for producing such an involving, immersive remaster. Praise also to Audio Fidelity who seem committed to the SACD format again. The packaging on this release is not too bad. Nice touch in the red CD, mimicking the recent red vinyl release. Another winner from AF.


Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Yes - High Vibration SACD Box Set

Here are the details for the upcoming SACD box set of Yes albums that Warners Japan are releasing in September.

The price for the whole shebang is about 39,800 Yen, about £260. Though I have seen one UK supplier advertising it for a whopping £400!

What we have is all albums up to and including Big Generator, the live Yessongs but not Yesshows.

I think that the production of this box set shows how strong the SACD market is in Japan. They do love their formats and physical product. Hence why stores like Tower and Disk Union are bucking the world trend and doing great business there. They also seem to be oblivious with the overseas market. Not only are Audio Fidelity in the US releasing SACD editions of Yes albums, but Panegyric in the UK start their campaign of Steven Wilson mixed hi res surround and stereo Yes albums with Close to the Edge in October. All of a sudden the market is being saturated with hi res Yes. This box set will be attractive to the mad Yes fanatic, who will probably have the SHM papersleeve editions of a few years back. Those too were mastered by Isao Kikuchi. Those have generally not been held in high esteem in some quarters. For me they are generally the best Yes I have heard on CD yet. But that's just my personal choice. I will be interested to read the reviews of this when it is released. It's going to be an interesting few months.


Friday, 19 July 2013

Willowglass - The Dream Harbour

Here is another excellent self financed recording. The third release by Willowglass (which in essence is multi-instrumentalist Andrew Marshall). This is his third album under the Willowglass banner and it certainly is his best. The music is definitely of the symphonic, Genesis kind of thing, but Andrew is such a wonderful musician and composer that he takes his influences to different levels. Although his previous albums are very good, I did find that sometimes the compositions seemed to lack some cohesion. No problem with this new album. All tracks are very well structured and have a clear sense of development. He is ably assisted on this by Hans Jorg Schmitz on drums and the very talented Steve Unruh (The Samurai of Prog) on violin and flute. Excellent instrumental album this is indeed.


Saturday, 13 July 2013

Vienna Circle - Silhouette Moon

Every so often an album comes out of nowhere and hits you for six. Vienna Circles second album is one such album. I knew nothing about them and can't even remember how I was led to their web site. But I was and ordered their CD and very pleased to have done so. The core band seem to be brothers Paul and Jack Davis. Musically, it is a bit neo prog, a bit symphonic, nicely melancholic, but it has that certain something that sets it apart and makes it special. Very strong songwriting and arrangements, embellished with flute and strings to give a wider, sweeping feel to the tracks. The highlights are the epics "Dreams Presage" and "Ballad of Night". The whole thing is beautifully recorded and mastering is by the legendary Denis Blackham. It's hard to believe that this seems to be a self financed project considering the quality of the recording, the beautiful digipak packaging and that there is also a bonus DVD included on the making of the album. Overall very special indeed.

Friday, 12 July 2013

White Willow - Ignis Fatuus, expanded remastered edition

White Willow were one of a few bands from the Scandinavian regions who helped to regenerate interest in progressive rock in the early 90's. Along with Anglagard, Anekdoten, Par Lindh Project and Landberk they wholeheartedly embraced the core essence of 70's progressive rock, utilising the intrumentation of that period like analogue synths, mellotrons and bass pedals.

This new edition of their debut album has been expanded with an extra CD of outtakes, demos and live cuts. The quality of these is actually very good and includes a rather sprightly version of King Crimson's "Moonchild". As can be seen from the photo the artwork has been completely revamped. The original CD had some very nice artwork, but the new design is more streamlined and you can actually read the lyrics! Nice notes by Sid Smith too. The original CD was mastered by Bob Katz and sounded pretty good, but the album has been analogue remastered and sounds very detailed and warm. The tracks on the bonus CD were transferred as is. More reissues are promised soon, which is welcome news.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Going For The One SACD

Confusing times indeed! Not only are Audio Fidelity seemingly reissuing SACD versions of Yes's back catalogue, starting with "Close To The Edge" a few months back, but news has just come out that Steven Wilson, yes him again, has been remixing Close To The Edge, with new stereo and surround mixes to be released in October. So another version of CTTE! It will be interesting to compare the new version with Steve Hoffman's SACD remaster.

The Steven Wilson version is being released by Panegyric who release the King Crimson 40th anniversary packages and it's the same team doing it. The feeling is that there will be other titles in the series. In the meantime Audio Fidelity carry on and release "Going For The One". Again this is remastered by Steve Hoffman and again I conclude this to be the best sounding version yet. Whereas His remaster of CTTE highlighted the shortcomings of the master tapes, with GFTO there is a sense of clarity, finding new details in the mix previously hidden. The lack of bass was always a grumble about the production of the album, but that has been enhanced sufficiently without overwhelming everything else. A really good job on this. I wonder if Wilson will tackle this one in the future!

Friday, 5 July 2013

A Couple of Crackers

Here are two very impressive new albums.

The first is Andy Tillison's The Tangent, newie "Le Sacre Du Travail". This is simply Tillison's Topographic Oceans. Hugely ambitious and pushing everything to their limits like Yes's double album did back in the 70's. Tillison has always produced large, complex work. For me his "Afterlifecycle", made with Parallel or 90 Degrees is a modern epic prog classic. But nothing he has produced in the past matches this new album for its breadth of compositional dexterity. Like Yes's major work, Stravinsky is a big influence here, using big sound colours to generate a rich tonal tapestry. Luckily he is aided by musicians capable of handling the task of this major work, like Gavin Harrison, Theo Travis and Jakko Jakszyk.

The second release is the second by US duo, Days Between Stations. Not a well known band but this new album will change that. Again an ambitious, complex work like The Tangents album and with some great guest spots by Rick Wakeman, Colin Moulding, Tony Levin and the late Pete Banks. The music is beautifully played, instrumentally very strong and well produced with the help of Billy Sherwood who also handles vocals and drums.