Saturday, 31 January 2015

Grand Tour - Heavy on the Beach

Being Scottish myself, I am always on the look out for prog from my homeland. There never was a prog scene in Scotland as such. In fact it wasn't really till the time of neo-prog that a band from Scotland got any notice. Pallas sort of followed the template of Marillion, by initially signing with a major label. In Pallas's case this was the legendary Harvest label, where they released The Sentinel album. Produced by Eddie Offord of Yes and ELP fame and sporting a cover by Patrick Woodroffe, this was a major prog statement. Well, maybe in the 70's it would have been, but this was 1984 and times had changed.

Anyway, back to 2015 and here we have an album by a new Scottish band Grand Tour, which is the brainchild of ex-Abel Ganz keyboard player, Hew Montgomery, backed by musicians from excellent Scottish band Comedy of Errors. Both bands existed in the mid 80's but failed to make much impact as prog was off the radar. But now, prog has come out of the shadows and both bands have become active and produced some very good music. This new project is in a similar territory to both Abel Ganz and Comedy of Errors which is not surprising. It is very strong melodically, musically tight, with Montgomery's keyboards very much to the fore and the guitar of Mark Spalding adding a harder edge. Vocals by Joe Cairney are excellent and it is good to hear a slight Scottish accent in the delivery. I do hope Montgomery can develop this project further as bands like this and others are showing that Scotland can produce very good and distinctive prog.

Here is a quick list of some of my favourite Scottish prog.

Abel Ganz - Abel Ganz
Comedy of Errors - Fanfare & Fantasy
Pallas - The Sentinel
Citizen Cain - Somewhere But Yesterday
Crooked Mouth - Hold in the Sun

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Edgar Froese 1944 - 2015


Yesterday the sudden death of Edgar Froese was announced. It was reported that he died on Tuesday in Vienna. Surprising in this day of instant communication that his passing wasn't known to the general public for around 3 days. Anyway, since then twitter, facebook etc has been awash with comments about the effect of his life's work. That shows the influence and affection there is for the founder of Tangerine Dream. Apart from Kraftwerk I don't think there is another name to have such a profound influence on modern music that Tangerine Dream and specifically Edgar Froese has. TD's early albums for Virgin Records are classic works and were surprisingly big sellers, always at the top of the album charts. For me Ricochet is my favourite and remains one of my most cherished recordings since I first heard it back when it was released in 1975. Froese was not only a pioneering synthesist but a wonderful guitarist as well. His fluid, melodic guitar lines added another dimension to the Tangerine Dream sound. Although we are saddened at his passing, we can take joy at his long lasting influence and the legacy of recordings. Thank you Edgar.


Friday, 23 January 2015

Zuffanti & Zband : Il Mondo Che Era Mio

After last years spectacular solo album, Fabio Zuffanti and his band follow that with this live album. Well, it's not really a live album. Logistics prevented him recording an actual live album, but he went into a studio with the band and recorded the material that was played live. It's a mixture of tracks from his solo album and other material from Zuffanti's various projects including Finisterre and Hostsonaten. It's really interesting hearing this current band play these earlier compositions, in some cases in versions which Zuffanti prefers to the originals. The band reminds me of Steven Wilson's current outfit and Zuffanti's solo album has a similar feel to Wilson's current work; modern, angular sounding prog, with a jazzy feel, although all done with a typical Italian flourish.

This is a very well recorded disc, probably better than an actual live recording would have sounded like. It just misses the ambience of an actual live setting. But it is a good record of the band as the guitarist has since departed.

Zuffanti is a large presence in Italian progressive rock and this recording acts as a very nice overview of the styles of music he has created over the years.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

King Crimson - Live at the Orpheum

First release of the year and it's by my favourite beat group King Crimson. This is the first recorded output of the new lineup, the one with three drummers! More on that later. But first things first. The material presented is not the whole concert, but 41 minutes of edited highlights taken from two nights at the Orpheum venue in Los Angeles. This harks back to the classic days of live albums needing to fit into one vinyl record! It's a bit strange that Fripp has used this lineup to go back in time to cover older material in such a way. Fripp has always used the various lineups of the band to look forward as he did with the Belew based versions of the band. He would introduce things like Red or Larks' Tongues in Apsic II into the repertoire, but the emphasis was always on new material or improvs. This lineup does feel more like an updated version of the 21st Century Schizoid Band which Mel Collins and Jakko Jakszyk were members of. But these are early days for this lineup and Fripp is using this release as a taster of hopefully what is to come.

Now for this recording. It is mixed very, very low in volume. The mix was done by Jakko and here he has gone for a straight representation of what was recorded. I take it there was no mastering as no one is mentioned in the notes. This seems to be a flat transfer of the tapes as mixed. Now, I know over compression of recordings is a bad thing. The results are loud and can be abrasive and aurally tiring and even painful! But this recording is the lowest volume disc I have heard in many a year and I think the result is a flat and not very dynamic listen to be honest. Yes, you can turn the volume up, but overall the sound to me is still fairly neutral.

It is good to hear this lineup with Mel Collins in the fold adding a different, organic dimension to the band, but the results here don't seem to represent a very energised band. In fact you can't tell there are three percussionists here. Compared to the fury of the double trio where Bruford and Mastelotto would work so well off each other, here the combination seems a tad restrained. There are some great performances, like Collins sax playing on One More Red Nightmare and the material from the Islands album in particular sounds really fresh and relevant. But if you compare this disc to the recent District 97 live album of Crimson covers with John Wetton, the latter presents a much more electrifying performance, whereas KC themselves are more sedate. But that may be due to the mix as reports from the live shows themselves were of a much more energised band than represented here. But as I said, it is early days and it will be interesting to see where they go with some new material. For me this live album is just a bit cautious, which is not the Crimson I am familiar with.