Category Archives: Uncategorized

Original Jethro Tull Bassist Glenn Cornick Passes at Age 67

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I just saw over on the Jethro Tull website that original bassist Glenn Cornick passed away on Friday, August 29, at his home in Hawaii. He died of congestive heart failure. Ian Anderson writes:

It is with great sadness that we learned today of the passing of Glenn Cornick, bass player with Jethro Tull from the band’s inception 1968 until 1970. Of course, he had also played with the John Evan Band for the year during 1967 and so his contribution to the geographical transition from Blackpool to London and into the professional music scene was considerable.

Glenn was a man of great bonhomie and ready to befriend anyone – especially fellow musicians. Always cheerful, he brought to the early stage performances of Tull a lively bravado both as a personality and a musician.

His background in the beat groups of the North of England and his broad knowledge of music were always helpful in establishing the arrangements of the early Tull.

During the many years since then, Glenn continued to play in various bands and was a frequent guest at Tull fan conventions where he would join in with gusto to rekindle the musical moments of the early repertoire.

We will miss him hugely and our condolences go to his wife Brigitte and children.

On behalf of Progarchy, I send our sincerest condolences to Glenn Cornick’s family. He certainly contributed much to Jethro Tull’s first three albums, This Was, Stand Up, and Benefit.

Scorch-ed: The Tin Spirited Triumph of Icarus

A review of Scorch by the Tin Spirits (Esoteric Records, 2014; officially released on September 15).

8 Tracks: Carnivore; Summer Now; Old Hands; Binary Man; Little Eyes; Wrapped and Tied; She Moves Among Us; and Garden State.

The Tin Spirits are: Dave Gregory (guitar); Mark Kilminster (bass and lead vocals); Daniel Steinhardt (guitar, vocals); and Doug Mussard (drums and vocals). You can visit the band at: http://tinspirits.co.uk

Highest recommendation. A must own for any lover of music.

Poor Icarus.  Scorched.  Forthcoming, September 15, 2014, from Esoteric.

Poor Icarus. Scorched. Forthcoming, September 15, 2014, from Esoteric.

A match explodes into flame, and so it begins.

The opening song, an instrumental, possesses the infectious personality of the best of post-Hackett Genesis, especially with “Turn It On Again” and “Abacab.”

Armed with driving bass, soulful guitar, and persistent drums, “Carnivore” moves the listener rapidly into an unknown future, and it does so without a trace of trepidation.  And, yet, it contains a voluptuous kind of beauty.

This description applies specifically to the first of the eight tracks, but it could just as easily apply to much of the album. However one describes Scorch, the Tin Spirits are back, and I, for one, thank the good Lord. These guys are absolutely brilliant, and they seem to be even more so than they were with their first album, Wired to Earth.

This is no feint praise.

Wired to Earth (2011).

Wired to Earth (2011).

That album, Wired to Earth, hit me rather hard when it first came out. As far as I know, I was the first American to own and review a copy. I’m rather proud of this. Greg Spawton, maestro of Big Big Train, had recommended it on his own blog, noting it was a guitar kind of prog.

And, so it was.

Beginning with a somewhat airy instrumental and having a total of only five tracks, Wired to Earth called for full immersion. From airy, it moved quickly to hyper and heavy, then to 1974 Genesis, then to a gut-wrenchingly beautiful Allman Brothers style epic, concluding with a great guitar-pop rocker in the style of Nebraskan Matthew Sweet.

Even after three years of listening to the album, I’ve never tired of it. I play it at least weekly, and, in fact, the entire Birzer family loves it.

Following the intensity of “Carnivore” on Scorch, the second track, “Summer Now” gently guides the listener into a hypnotic state. Most likely, every reader of progarchy has already watched the first video from the album, and you’ve heard and seen what Tin Spirits is capable of. The video, of course, is gorgeous and psychedelic in a late 1980’s Tears for Fears kind of way. All four members look as though they’re having a blast, and Mark (vocalist and bassist) looks surprisingly GQ and non-prog! Guitar god Dave Gregory, who never seems to age, offers what is arguably the most tasteful guitar solo of the last decade. In every way, the Tin Spirits have captured the essence of summer with this song.

***

I’m not exactly sure about what’s going on with the cover (see above). It looks as though two bolts of lightning have fried some poor guy. It’s also possible the guy is shooting bolts of lightning from his body in an explosion of energy. Maybe this is a kind of a “glass half empty” or “glass half full” thing.

With the title, Scorch, though, I suspect that Icarus flew too close to the sun. Gods will be gods, and they generally don’t like man to upstage them. As Worf once explained, the Klingons found their gods more trouble than they were worth, and so they killed them. I must admit, as I look at the cover of Scorch, I’m hopeful for Icarus, siding more than a bit with the Klingons on this issue.

The interior artwork of the CD booklet flows easily from psychedelic to pyrodelic, the flowers of the first pages having become nothing more than swirled outlines of flame by the end.

I choose to believe that through the Tin Spirits, Icarus has finally prevailed against the gods.

Ok, back to the review.  After all, shouldn’t a review of a prog album have an interlude?

***

So much better looking than Curt and Roland.  The Tin Spirits, reaping the seeds of love.

So much better looking than Curt and Roland. The Tin Spirits, reaping the seeds of love.

The third track, “Old Hands,” begins deceptively. Starting as a somewhat simple World Party-like pop song, it suddenly morphs into a rather fulsome puzzle about deceptions and realities. The interplay of drums and bass especially stand out on the track.

Returning to the early 1980’s Genesis-like thrumming of “Carnivore,” “Binary Man” simply rocks. Perfectly placed on the album, “Binary Man” reveals not only the excellence of each member of the band as an individual performer, but it also highlights the power of Kilminster’s voice. “Your hypocrisy is deafening,” Kilminster laments.

“Little Eyes” is another beautiful song in the vein of “Summer Now.” Thematically, it deals with fortitude, and the guitar work on it fits wonderfully.

Grungy, angsty guitars explode at the beginning of the sixth track, “Wrapped and Tied.” The entire song has the feel of being caught in a tornado in the intial stages of its formation.

Track seven, “She Moves Among Us,” brings the listener back to the indescribable beauty of a flowering meadow. Imagine a Steve Howe solo without the overbearing flashiness, and you have “She Moves Among Us.” The whole piece whispers “taste.” As the song is an instrumental, we’ll probably never know who “she” is. But, if the guitar matches her elegance, I’m in love.

At a little over fifteen minutes in length, the eighth and final song, “Garden State,” is epic. But, it’s certainly not the length that makes this so utterly brilliant. Every aspect of the Tin Spirits comes to the fore in this finale. The song effortlessly flows from moment to moment, all parts of a coherent and cohesive whole, held together by four instruments and a voice.

Indeed, from confidence to concern to anxiety to a dreamlike state to determination and, finally, back to confidence, Kilminster again proves his sheer skill as a vocalist. There’s not a single thing about this album I could criticize, as it’s, frankly, a perfect piece of music. Still, if some one forced me, I could state with only minor reluctance that “Garden State” alone makes this album worthwhile. It is a song that good and that powerful. This epic even ends with an homage to Elton John and Bernie Talpin and a “Funeral for a Friend.”

A perfect end to a perfect album.  Were I grading it, I’d give in an A+.

***

A few years ago, I proudly proclaimed Dave Gregory one of the three greatest living guitarists. This album only affirms my rather bold statement. Holy Moses. What an absolute delight.  I also proclaimed the lyricists of Tin Spirits to be in the line of Keats, Wilde, and Yeats.  And, again, my declaration has proven true.  Again, an absolute delight.

Fly, Icarus.  Fly.

Kate Bush Concert from Daily Mirror

Aug 27, 2014 13:05 By Mark Jefferies

The star kicked off the first show of her Hammersmith Apollo residency last night and thanked her son Bertie, without whom it wouldn’t have been possible

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Mum and son

Singer Kate Bush has dubbed her son Bertie “my chief consultant, my editor, my confidant” and said her live shows would never have got off the ground without his help.

In programme notes for her first shows in 35 years, acclaimed artist Kate tells her fans of her closeness with her 16-year-old son.

She said: “Without my son Bertie, this would never have happened. Without his encouragement and enthusiasm, particularly in the early stages when I was very frightened to commit to pushing the ‘go’ button, I’m sure I would have backed out.

“Throughout he has been my chief consultant, my editor, my confidant. In order for him to be part of this, which has always part of the deal, he has had to work really hard in order to keep his school commitments as well as his commitments to the show.
Kate-Bush2

Explosive first show

“He is a very talented actor and beautiful singer, as you will witness and he brings something special to the show through his presence. Thank you Bertie. Thank you so much.”

The 56-year-old British star appeared alongside Bertie at London’s Hammersmith Apollo on Tuesday night – the scene of her last live show in 1979.

A three-hour set which was given a standing ovation kicked off a run of 22 shows , titled Before the Dawn, which sold out almost instantly when tickets went on sale.

Backed by seven musicians, Bush opened the show with Lily, from the 1993 album Red Shoes.
Kate-Bush1

Stunning

The show also included the 1985 single Running Up That Hill and, from the Hounds of Love album and hits like King of the Mountain and Cloudbusting.

Singer Kate also admitted in the programme she cancelled planned London gigs at a venue “similar in size to an aircraft hanger” because she “felt physically sick seeing how big a space this was”.

She then discovered Hammersmith Apollo, now called Eventim Apollo, was free.

“The reason I wanted to have one venue for the shows was so that we could be ambitious with theatrical ideas, knowing that we wouldn’t have to pack it all up and move. The space could become ours and we could create ‘worlds’ within that space.”

Kate-Bush

Tears, goose bumps and spine-tingling electricity filled the Hammersmith Apollo on Tuesday evening, when Kate Bush took to the stage to launch her long-awaited set of live gigs – her first in 35 years.

It had been a long time coming – and it certainly didn’t disappoint.

The concert was described by BBC 6Music DJ Lauren Laverne as a ”wonderful mix.”

“intimate, adventurous, avant-garde but entirely unpretentious, so clever but so warm and inclusive,” she said.

My nano-review of Tin Spirits: Scorch

Completely brilliant.

Buy it.

Now.

That is all.

 

EDIT: No doubt my erudite co-progarchists will wax lyrical on this release in the near future. I rate it ‘splendid’.

 

 

Chevelle – “La Gárgola”

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Chicago rock band Chevelle released their seventh studio album back in February of this year, and boy is it good. Don’t get me wrong, in the fifteen years since their first album, Point # 1, Chevelle has yet to release a bad album. La Gárgola (which means the gargoyle in Spanish) just happens to be amazing. While Chevelle isn’t prog, it is certainly very good hard rock/metal music. Interestingly enough, they have been compared to Tool for years, so they sort of have a Prog connection, although I don’t really hear the similarity. Chevelle has also released a few “concept” albums, most notably 2009’s Sci-Fi Crimes and 2014’s La Gárgola. By concept, I mean the whole album more or less revolves around a particular theme. In Sci-Fi Crimes, it was aliens, supernatural beings and other cool stuff like that. In la Gárgola, it loosely draws upon themes that a gargoyle might conjure up.

So who are Chevelle? Pete Loeffler – guitars and vocals. Sam Loeffler – drums. Dean Bernardini (Pete and Sam’s brother-in-law) – bass and backup vocals. Chevelle has always been a family affair, with Pete and Sam’s brother Joe originally playing bass for the band until 2005. All are very proficient with their instruments, and Pete’s voice is incredibly unique. He has a great range, and when he screams, it is not “cookie monster” screaming. His screams come from passion and anger, and never just to please screamo fans (Chevelle in no way, shape, or form resembles anything remotely related to screamo). His voice, instead, is very mellow yet powerful. One of the things that I like best about Chevelle is they, unlike many metal bands, are not obnoxiously or overly loud. While they are loud, you can still hear each individual instrument, which is great for someone like me who loves to hear and feel the bass. It’s also difficult to believe that their sound can only come from three musicians, because the interplay between the guitars, bass, drums, and Pete’s voice make it sound like so much more. Very impressive indeed.

LaGargola

Earlier I said that Chevelle have yet to release a bad album. While I believe this is true, I think that La Gárgola is their best album since their second album, 2002’s Wonder What’s Next, which was brilliant in its heaviness. 2007’s Vena Sera came close (in fact it is probably their most popular album), but La Gárgola is the only album to equal Wonder What’s Next. This album beautifully combines elements from each of their albums. It brings in the raw edge from their first album, the heaviness from their second, third, and fourth albums, the idea of a “concept” and the ability to do quieter songs from Sci-Fi Crimes, and the drive of 2011’s Hats Off to the Bull. It is as if Chevelle took the best bits from their past and matured into a totally new sound that is still very familiar.

La Gárgola also sounds more technically complicated than their previous albums, especially in the percussion department. Sam (and Dean, who recorded drums on one of the songs) certainly experimented with different drum sounds and instruments. The guitar takes you on all kinds of wild adventures throughout the album, but the driving bass keeps you grounded. From songs like “Take Out the Gunman,” which addresses the recent media attention at different mass shootings, to “One Ocean”, which is by far Chevelle’s best quiet(er) song, it is hard to get bored listening to this album. La Gárgola has so much to offer, from heavier metal songs typical of past Chevelle albums, to quieter rock songs which force you to really think about what is being said.

One of Chevelle’s best traits is the lyrics, written mainly by Pete Loeffler. Unlike so many rock bands, who are blatantly obvious with what they are talking about in their songs, Chevelle’s lyrics are cryptic, yet simple with repetition of certain lines throughout the song. I know some people don’t like repetition, but the way in which Chevelle work it, it really doesn’t feel like there is any repetition at all. While some bands use expletives to convey that they are… well, pissed off, Chevelle conveys that through tone of music and lyrical undertones. Chevelle rarely swears in their songs, unless it is absolutely necessary, and none of their songs (in any album) are labeled as explicit. Also, Chevelle is not one to talk about relationships and dating and crap like that. They prefer to keep their lyrics conceptual and open to interpretation, which forces the listener to think. La Gárgola certainly continues the Chevelle tradition when it comes to lyrics.

While Chevelle certainly isn’t prog, they come close in many respects, and they deserve respect from progressive rock fans. Chevelle is one of several bands throughout the early 2000s, along with Disturbed, Avenged Sevenfold, System of a Down, Three Days Grace, and many others, who were able to keep rock and metal popular even while the musical atrocities of the pop and country genres rose in popularity. Chevelle have been very successful, yet they have never sacrificed what they do best – rock. So far, La Gárgola is one of my favorite albums of 2014, and I will certainly be listening to it for years to come. If you like metal, hard rock, and prog, give Chevelle a listen. They have many great songs across their expansive catalog, and their albums are a joy to listen to.

Interview with Seven Impale

Seven Impale - City Of The SunLast week on Progarchy I reviewed the new Seven Impale album, City of the Sun (http://progarchy.com/2014/08/21/seven-impale-basking-in-the-city-of-the-sun/).  It’s a tremendously creative record with energy to burn, worthy of the accolades it’s getting as its early September release date approaches.  The band graciously granted an interview, which I am including here and in the original review.

Progarchy: City of the Sun is an impressive full-length debut, following a fairly tremendous EP in Beginning/Relieve.  It feels like a leap forward.  How did you get from the EP to the LP, and what kind of progress has it been for the band?

Seven Impale: We feel that we’ve come far, both as musicians and composers, in the ~4 years we’ve been playing together. Even though it has only been a year since Beginning/Relieve was released, the material was made in the space between when the band was formed and when our current line-up had just been assembled. Wind shears, the second track on the album was actually composed around that time, but it’s been revisited and rearranged many times since then. The best thing is that we feel like the process has just started when we continue working together, making music that we enjoy, which challenges both the listener and us.

Progarchy: There is a lot going on in these songs.  What’s your writing process like, and how would you describe the narrative of the album?

Seven Impale: It differs a bit between the songs, but generally we start off with some guitar riffs or a rhythmic idea, and we jam for a while. Each of us gets to know the new parts and start to find our places, while we figure out what kind of musical landscape we are aiming for. And the songs take their form, one way or anther, often over the course of a few months.

Progarchy: City of the Sun makes the connection between modal jazz and heavy rock seem effortless.  The spirits of both inhabit this record seamlessly, as if John Coltrane and Deep Purple are smiling down benevolently.  This is what I hear, and it’s wonderful, but was this your intention?

Seven Impale: We have always enjoyed a lot of different music, but I think the progress and musical direction of Seven Impale has been more based on randomness than intentions. It has been our intention from the very start to make complex and exciting music, but the sound we have today has more to do with the individual musicians and what they bring to the table. A lot of details on the album came about through experimenting and/or “mistakes” during the recording process.

Progarchy: How did the band come together, what are your backgrounds?

Seven Impale: Fredrik and Benjamin are brothers (that’s the obvious one), and have grown up in the same area as Håkon and Tormod. The four of them have worked a lot together in various projects for a long time. Fredrik got to know Stian and Erlend through mutual friends, many years before Seven Impale, and the rest of the story is mostly random and about being at the right place at the right time, with the right instrument.

Progarchy: Is there a story behind the band’s name?

Seven Impale: Stian found the name before the band even existed. It came about kind of randomly when he was thinking about what to call the next project, and thought it has a nice feel to it. Also the number seven is often associated with religion, and the word “impale” brings more of a dark or heavy feel. And we are all somewhat critical towards religion, so it fits quite nicely.

Progarchy: What music are you listening to?

Seven Impale: We listen to a lot of different things, and we agree on most things musically. Stian has a bit more of the opera/classical music side, he is currently studying to be a classical singer. We listen to alt./prog rock like Mars Volta, King Crimson, Zappa, Motorpsycho and Porcupine Tree as well as heavier stuff like Tool, Pantera and Meshuggah. And then there’s the weird avant-garde/jazzy side of it, with Jaga Jazzist, TrioVD, Shining(NO), WSP, Ephel Duath, Nik Bartsch’s Ronin. In between there is some hip-hop: Hopsin, Side Brok, Bustah Rhymes and then there’s the electronic music like Noisia, Justice, Aphex Twin, Todd Terje and Venetian Snares.

Progarchy: Do you see yourselves as a Norwegian band, that is, do you have a sense that geography makes a difference in your music?

Seven Impale: Not really. But being from Norway means that we’re probably more exposed to and inspired by Norwegian bands, adopting what has been known to be the “Scandinavian sound”. Otherwise I don’t think it is significant, but what do we know?

Progarchy: Is there a city of the sun?

Seven Impale: There is a fictional book about a “City of the Sun”, by a 17th century Italian philosopher. In reality, I don’t think it ever will be.

Progarchy: What’s next for Seven Impale?

Seven Impale: Get rich or die tryin’

Progarchy: Please don’t die. We like your records too much.

A Love of Lingering: Salander’s STENDEC (2014)

A review of Salander, “STENDEC” (2014, independent release). Tracks: Pearls Upon a Crown; Book of Lies; Ever After; Hypothesis 11/8; Situation Disorientation; Controlled Flight Into Terrain; and Zeitgeist. Total time: 65 minutes.  Recommendation: HIGHEST; MUST OWN

Salander's second album of 2014: STENDEC.  Even better than the amazing first album.

Salander’s second album of 2014: STENDEC. Even better than the amazing first album.

From the moment I first heard “CRASH COURSE FOR DESSERT” by Salander, I knew I not only loved the music, but I also knew I would love the musicians as well.

And, so it came to pass.

A rather significant part of my 2014 has been the sheer joy of getting to know Dave Smith, one of the two Daves who make up Salander. Sadly, I’ve not had the chance to get to know Dave Curnow, the other Dave, but I trust the judgment of the first Dave. So, per my respect of Dave, Dave must also be great.

Ok, now I’m getting confused.

There are a thousand things to appreciate about Salander. First, the level of professional artistry is as good as it gets. The two Daves not only play each of the instruments on the album, they do so with elegance and perfectionism.

Second, the lyrics move and flow powerfully as an integral part of the entire art. These are not add ons, nor are they the rock equivalent of an “um” or an “err”: “baby, baby.” No, these are fine, deep, thoughtful words integrated with the notes and the lines.

Salander and the two Daves: Words, notes, lines.

Third, Salander are willing to linger. That is, they take their time to build their art, to build anticipation, and to explore an idea. Rushed, hurried, and superficial are not descriptions applicable to anything this extraordinary band does.

Beginning with Spirit of Eden-esque sounds of nature, cries, pings, wind, and waves, the opening track, “Pearls Upon a Crown,” lingers and hovers for almost six full minutes.  Very Talk Talkish, it also reminds me of the best of Pure Reason Revolution and Spiritualized. Space rock atmospherics at its best. A gorgeous Gilmour-like guitar comes at 2.59 into the music, but no vocals emerge until 5.57.

The words open with a Socratic moment: “Can you feel the power.” Essentially, the Daves ask, how far can you allow your imagination to soar? And, will you trust your deepest and best part to another?

Regardless of style, Salander has invited you into their art.  The choice to enter is yours.  But, once you’ve accepted, there’s no turning back.  Indeed, no mere sprinkling or christening here.  They demand full immersion.

The second track, a bitter folkish wall of sound tale of deception, is as epic as the first track. At 11 minutes, “The Book of Lies” again shows Salander at its most diverse and epic. 

The third track, a much sweeter (or so it seems, musically) take on life and music, “Ever After,” takes us back to the end of “Pearls.” Who do you trust, and how far are you willing to trust that person with what matters most to you?

Not surprisingly given its title, “Hypothesis 11/8,” the fourth track is instrumental and serves as the perfect interlude for this rather heavy album. The first minute has a Vangelis feel to it, and it could certainly serve as the cinematic soundscape to much of Blade Runner. The final three minutes of the four-minute track allow the two Daves to demonstrate their excellence at drums, bass, and guitar. This is really prog at its finest. Listening to this track for the twentieth time or so, I’m still reminded of Cosmograf in terms of expertise and craft.

“Situation disorientation,” the fifth track, follows the interlude with more atmospherics slowly resolving into an angsty and contemplative space rock song, pulsating and pounding by its end. The lyrics swirl around a love affair gone terribly wrong, with the protagonist plagued with guilt, pride, and doubt.

The longest song of the album, “Controlled Flight Into Terrain,” comes in at just under fourteen minutes. The Daves have broken it into four sections, the name of the album coming from section three, STENDEC. Interestingly enough, STENDEC was the last word coming from a Chilean plane that mysteriously disappeared in 1947. Over the last seventy years, STENDEC has become synonymous with UFO abduction. The story and riddle of the word fits perfectly with the themes of the album: confusion, gravitas, and loss. Section III, STENDEC, is perfectly creepy, spooky, and claustrophobic.  It gives me chills with every listen.

The album concludes with “Zeitgeist,” a tune that could have come out of the best of rock’s moment of New Wave in the early 1980s and the walls of sound of the end of that decade. As with Salander songs, the vocals are captivating, demanding the full attention of the listener. The song’s lyrics deal with the mystery of time and the loss of the past without surety of the future. Rather brilliantly, Salander presents a wall of sound, full of anxiety, with heavy but tasteful guitar and a lush angelic background soundscape.  Of all the songs here, this is the most reminiscent of the best of their first album.

I’ve had a copy of STENDEC for almost two months, and I’m sorry I’ve not had the chance to review it before now. But, it’s an incredibly important album, and it deserves as much attention as possible, inside and outside of the prog community. Without question, this is one of the best albums of the year. No person who loves prog or music should not include this in her or his collection. Certainly, a must own.

STENDEC also caught me by surprise, coming out so closely following the release of CRASH COURSE. I gave CRASH COURSE my highest recommendation. Amazingly enough, STENDEC is even better, as it’s even deeper and more coherent as an album. Even after 20 or so listens, I’m still stunned by its excellence and the ability to draw me into and immerse myself in the album. While I don’t want to seem greedy, it would be an understatement to state: I can’t wait to see what album three will bring.

To order it, please go here.

Seven Impale – Basking in the City of the Sun

sevenimpaleOne of the many strands of the golden hair of art rock is rooted in John Coltrane’s epic India, where the mighty ‘Trane and Eric Dolphy so caught the attention of a young Roger McGuinn that the Byrd lifted the song’s theme whole, filtering it through his twelve-string Ric and overlaying it on his band’s psych pop masterpiece, Eight Miles High. It was a sincere embrace, in spirit, of modal jazz, and helped launch rock into territories beyond the blues, to points further east, to lands that Coltrane remapped as an astral plane. Four years later and three after Coltrane’s death, the Soft Machine’s album Third became the purest rock expression, from what remains art rock’s best “fusion” record, of what Coltrane had been searching for. Side-long pieces of heavy fuzz bass, driving organ, wailing horns, and Robert Wyatt’s inimitable drumming. This kind of music, like Coltrane’s, is hard, riffy, insistent, will not be denied.

It’s metal.

And it’s little wonder that progressive bands with a harder edge often integrate jazz phrasing in their music, particularly in terms of unfathomably weird time signatures and a reliance on a degree of technical proficiency that can solo across maddeningly complex changes. What we don’t hear much is the actual sound of the kind of hard jazz Coltrane and his generation created, a focus on the free and open tunefulness, or dense walls of sound, that their modal searching could create. Disciplined, melodic, challenging, lovely. All of this Norwegian band Seven Impale offer on their new album, City of the Sun. It is a masterpiece debut, its complexity never out-shouting its tunefulness, its heaviness wound round a shimmering swing, and its vocal lines, from singer Stian Økland, beautifully integral to the songs, soaring but with a vulnerability heavily reminiscent of Jeff Buckley, at times even containing the kind of emotional anger/terror that Roger Waters brought to Pink Floyd. Coming on the heels of (fellow Norwegians) Gazpacho’s heavy, heavy Demon, City of the Sun charts a similarly individual terrain anchored by a strong singer who treats his vox like a stringed instrument, with gorgeous results. This is a leap forward from Seven Impale’s EP, where Økland tended more towards a Robert Plant wail that, while powerful (and quite wonderful in its own right), lacked the tonal subtleties he brings to City of the Sun.

And while Økland’s vocal delivers its organic and shivering moods, the band reels and dances in great rotational swirls, aligning before spinning off into distinct orbits. Økland’s and Erlend Vottvik Olsen’s thick guitars join Håkon Vinje’s growling organ — screaming like a malevolent Jon Lord one moment, a whorling Mike Ratledge the next — and Benjamin Mekki Widerøe’s wall of saxophones, to create a tumult as rapturous as the rhythmic foundation of Fredrik Mekki Widerøe’s drumming and Tormod Fosso’s bass. I’ve extolled the virtues of a good Ben Allison record in the pages of Progarchy before, and as a point of reference I would mention Allison again, in the sense that if what Allison has been doing lately is taking his version of jazz closer to rock, what I hear in City of the Sun is a band taking their unique vision of rock closer to jazz, finding the metal possibilities within. The comparisons to Soft Machine hold up, I think, although a parallel might also be early 70s German band Out of Focus, who saw in the free jazz maelstrom a beautiful design, which City of the Sun’s dynamics and melodies generously provide. Take for example the alternately gentle and keening Oh My Gravity!:
https://soundcloud.com/karisma-records/seven-impale-oh-my-gravity

This fitting opener segue’s into the mellowing Wind Shears, a breather before the noodly, Zappa-esque Eschaton Horo. Extraction follows, unfolding like an existential Highway Star, full of dark female mystery and a weird groove that persists and tumbles and turns. God Left Us For a Black Dressed Woman continues the theme established in Extraction, and closes the album across fourteen minutes of terrain as intentional and intense, and catchy, as Crimson’s Starless and Bible Black. Økland’s dry vibrato wrings and works his words, and Jeff Buckley turns to Tim Buckley turns to Billie Holiday and back towards Zeppelin swagger. But far from imitative in its eclectic-ness, this music is instead far ranging, expressive, and whole.

I’m glad albums like City of the Sun are still possible, where you know that the artists have been to the well but that they’re also joyously creating their own thing, and making something real and new, something you want to hear more of.

Seven Impale generously answered some questions for us, about how this album and their music come together.

Progarchy: City of the Sun is an impressive full-length debut, following a fairly tremendous EP in Beginning/Relieve.  It feels like a leap forward.  How did you get from the EP to the LP, and what kind of progress has it been for the band?

Seven Impale: We feel that we’ve come far, both as musicians and composers, in the ~4 years we’ve been playing together. Even though it has only been a year since Beginning/Relieve was released, the material was made in the space between when the band was formed and when our current line-up had just been assembled. Wind shears, the second track on the album was actually composed around that time, but it’s been revisited and rearranged many times since then. The best thing is that we feel like the process has just started when we continue working together, making music that we enjoy, which challenges both the listener and us.

Progarchy: There is a lot going on in these songs.  What’s your writing process like, and how would you describe the narrative of the album?

Seven Impale: It differs a bit between the songs, but generally we start off with some guitar riffs or a rhythmic idea, and we jam for a while. Each of us gets to know the new parts and start to find our places, while we figure out what kind of musical landscape we are aiming for. And the songs take their form, one way or anther, often over the course of a few months.

Progarchy: City of the Sun makes the connection between modal jazz and heavy rock seem effortless.  The spirits of both inhabit this record seamlessly, as if John Coltrane and Deep Purple are smiling down benevolently.  This is what I hear, and it’s wonderful, but was this your intention?

Seven Impale: We have always enjoyed a lot of different music, but I think the progress and musical direction of Seven Impale has been more based on randomness than intentions. It has been our intention from the very start to make complex and exciting music, but the sound we have today has more to do with the individual musicians and what they bring to the table. A lot of details on the album came about through experimenting and/or “mistakes” during the recording process.

Progarchy: How did the band come together, what are your backgrounds?

Seven Impale: Fredrik and Benjamin are brothers (that’s the obvious one), and have grown up in the same area as Håkon and Tormod. The four of them have worked a lot together in various projects for a long time. Fredrik got to know Stian and Erlend through mutual friends, many years before Seven Impale, and the rest of the story is mostly random and about being at the right place at the right time, with the right instrument.

Progarchy: Is there a story behind the band’s name?

Seven Impale: Stian found the name before the band even existed. It came about kind of randomly when he was thinking about what to call the next project, and thought it has a nice feel to it. Also the number seven is often associated with religion, and the word “impale” brings more of a dark or heavy feel. And we are all somewhat critical towards religion, so it fits quite nicely.

Progarchy: What music are you listening to?

Seven Impale: We listen to a lot of different things, and we agree on most things musically. Stian has a bit more of the opera/classical music side, he is currently studying to be a classical singer. We listen to alt./prog rock like Mars Volta, King Crimson, Zappa, Motorpsycho and Porcupine Tree as well as heavier stuff like Tool, Pantera and Meshuggah. And then there’s the weird avant-garde/jazzy side of it, with Jaga Jazzist, TrioVD, Shining(NO), WSP, Ephel Duath, Nik Bartsch’s Ronin. In between there is some hip-hop: Hopsin, Side Brok, Bustah Rhymes and then there’s the electronic music like Noisia, Justice, Aphex Twin, Todd Terje and Venetian Snares.

Progarchy: Do you see yourselves as a Norwegian band, that is, do you have a sense that geography makes a difference in your music?

Seven Impale: Not really. But being from Norway means that we’re probably more exposed to and inspired by Norwegian bands, adopting what has been known to be the “Scandinavian sound”. Otherwise I don’t think it is significant, but what do we know?

Progarchy: Is there a city of the sun?

Seven Impale: There is a fictional book about a “City of the Sun”, by a 17th century Italian philosopher. In reality, I don’t think it ever will be.

Progarchy: What’s next for Seven Impale?

Seven Impale: Get rich or die tryin’

Progarchy: Please don’t die. We like your records too much!

https://soundcloud.com/sevenimpale

https://www.facebook.com/sevenimpale?sk=wall

Chicago Symphony Orchestra – The Return of the King -Live-

2981_Show_PageYes, I know this is a “progressive rock” website, but please allow me this opportunity to share with you my wonderful experience last Thursday at Ravinia, in Highland Park, IL. And besides, Tolkien is beloved in the prog world anyways, just look at Led Zeppelin IV. The more I listen to that album, the more I think the whole thing is about Middle Earth, except for the first two songs. I digress… already.

For the past few years, the amazingly talented Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) has performed Howard Shore’s musical score to the Lord of the Rings live along with a showing of the movies. The last two years were The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers. This year was The Return of the King, which I had the great pleasure to attend. Just the idea of an orchestra playing a movie score live with the movie is astounding, but to do Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings score live?! Incredible.

The conductor was the talented Ludwig Wicki, the first person to conduct a live performance of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. A native of Lucerne, Switzerland, Wicki spent time studying his trade in Bern, Dresden, and Pescara, Italy. Since forming the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra in 1999, he has spent much of his time performing live film music. Needless to say, he is a master of his craft.

Ludwig Wickie

Ludwig Wicki

The CSO is probably one of the top 10 orchestras in the world. They are simply fantastic. I saw them perform George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, along with other shorter symphonic pieces, a few weeks ago at Ravinia, and it was breathtaking. Their ability to play the LotR soundtrack with the movie was nothing short of magnificent. I listen to the complete soundtracks from those movies on a regular basis, and the CSO was every bit as good as the original soundtrack. In some respects, it was even better. There are certain scenes in the movie where the music blends into the background, but when it was played live, the music in general was much louder. It brings a great deal of emotion to the forefront.

Not only did the CSO perform the score live, but The Lakeside Singers and the Chicago Chorale sang the choral pieces to the movie. They were every bit as good as the choirs used in the score. Most astounding was the lovely miss Kaitlyn Lusk, a soprano who soloed for the required pieces. Her performance of the credits song, Into the West, was, in my opinion, better than Annie Lennox’s original recording. She never once missed a note throughout the night, and this was a long movie, and those are high parts to sing. Well done miss Lusk. (She’s so good, she was invited by Howard Shore himself to sing Into the West in 2005 as a part of his Grammy honors.)

Another cool part of the evening was my opportunity to meet Doug Adams, a Chicago native. He is known far and wide for his book, The Music of the Lord of the Rings Films. He was invited by Howard Shore, during the recording of the original scores, to document the process of creating the scores and recording them. He has also written the liner notes to the scores for LotR and The Hobbit soundtracks. I left my copy of his book at home (DOH!), so I had to buy another one and have him sign that. He was very friendly, and it was very generous of him to hold a book signing at the performance, when I’m sure he was there to enjoy the concert himself.

I don’t know much about the technical side of music, but I know that I love these soundtracks, and Mr. Wicki and the CSO performed the music perfectly in sync with the movie. It was such a joy to watch. Ravinia is also the perfect place to showcase something like this. It is easily the best venue in the Chicago area, if not in the whole Midwest. Highland Park is a beautiful (and expensive) suburb on the north side of Chicago, mere blocks from Lake Michigan. It is outdoors, with a covered pavilion and expansive lawn area. The park itself is over 100 years old, and the CSO have been playing there since the beginning. Quite the history. All throughout the summer, Ravinia has amazing concerts of all different genres (I saw Ian Anderson there last summer). I had a wonderful time, and I certainly hope the CSO does this again in the future, maybe with The Hobbit next year.

Last year's performance of The Two Towers, which I unfortunately was not able to attend

Last year’s performance of The Two Towers, which I unfortunately was not able to attend

 

B.B. King Live in Joliet, IL

b-b-king

Saturday night (May 31), I had the great pleasure and honor to see the King of the Blues, Mr. B.B. King, live at the Rialto Square Theater in Joliet, Illinois. As soon as I found out that he was going to be doing a concert so close to my house, I knew I had to go and that this would be a once in a lifetime experience. Boy, was I right. At 88 years young, Mr. King still sings with such effortless power, it astounds me. His playing on the guitar is simply incredible. As my Dad described it, B.B. King doesn’t just play the guitar, he makes the guitar sing. He brings out the best that the guitar has in it, in a way that only a select few people, such as Eric Clapton or Buddy Guy, are able to do.

The concert itself was around two and half hours long, but the first hour of that was a sort of “warm-up” by Anthony Gomes and his band. Gomes, originally from Toronto, is a very skilled guitarist, but his style of playing created more “noise” than anything else. He did not have the finesse or style to make the guitar sing and come alive. It was clear that he was trying to show off. The best part of that segment was when he brought Ronnie Baker Brooks onstage to play. Brooks is a Blues musician local to Chicago, and he is the son of Lonnie Brooks, who was rather famous in Blues circles in his own right. Both Ronnie and his father were invited on the stage by Mr. King later on in the show.

After Anthony Gomes and his band were through, the stage hands came out to get everything ready for B.B. King and his band. His band came out first and each member demonstrated their technical skill in a very jazz-like fashion. The band had four guys on trumpets, horns, flutes, saxophones, etc., a drummer, a keyboardist, a guitarist, a bassist, and of course B.B. King. When he came onto the stage, supported and surrounded by rather large security guards, he received a well-deserved standing ovation. Mr. King made his way to his seat, and he was given his guitar and microphone, and the magic began. You could tell that he really enjoys what he does. At 88 years old, there is nothing keeping him touring other than sheer love of the music. He was very thankful to the adoring crowd for their applause and respect, and he made sure to introduce each member of his band.

Once he settled down and began to sing (both vocally and through his guitar), I was simply amazed. His voice had such power that was simply effortless for him. Once he began to play his guitar, it was pure pleasure to listen to. His ability to allow the clear sound of the guitar to take over is incredible. While Gomes was clearly using all sorts of effects and pedals for his guitar, Mr. King kept it simple and just let Lucille do all of the work. As he played his way through several of his hits, such as “Thrill is Gone,” “Rock Me Baby,” and “Why I Sing The Blues,” he continued to stop and share stories and interact with the audience. At one point, he claimed he forgot the lyrics to “Why I Sing the Blues” during the song. While some people in some places might be mad at that, it was clear that most of this crowd had nothing but respect for Mr. King. Just being there seeing him perform was enough. As the man who revolutionized the Blues, and rock and roll, he really is a legend, and he commands respect by his very presence, in a way unlike any other performer I have seen.

After several songs, Mr. King’s security guys came out and handed him stuff (like guitar picks and other trinkets) to throw out to the audience. As a crowd assembled down front, someone held up a poster. Mr. King glanced over at it and made eye contact with one of his security guards, who then went over, took the poster, and brought it to Mr. King for him to sign. I found that totally awesome, that he would take the time to do that at the end of his concert. As everything was winding down, B.B. King said several times how he wished he could stay and play all night, and I really wish he would have. When he got up and made his way off the stage, I realized that I was watching a legend and a living piece of history walk away. It was truly an honor and a privilege to see B.B. King play live, and if any of you ever have the opportunity to see him, I highly recommend doing so. You will not regret it.

th-3

http://www.bbking.com

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