Category Archives: Uncategorized
That is all.
EDIT: No doubt my erudite co-progarchists will wax lyrical on this release in the near future. I rate it ‘splendid’.
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.
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.
Last 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 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
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.
Yes, 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.
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.
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.
Few bands out there in Progland have a unique power and magic to completely rip up the rule book and make music which messes with your mind, touches your soul and fills you with a joie de vivre, that leaves you ever gasping for more.
As regular readers of my occasional blogs may now be more than aware, I have forged a very close connection with prog’s most original and certainly most exciting live band, Lazuli. Who? Well, if you live in the USA, you may not have encountered them yet but, hopefully, that will change soon.
Having performed in mainland Europe and also Canada, Lazuli’s one US appearance was at Rosfest in 2009 and their first live UK gig was at the Summers End Festival two years ago. They were Friday night headliners, unknown to all – including yours truly – but a handful of the more savvy festival goers.
We were conscious there were some guys resembling the cousins of Legolas, Boromir and Aragorn mingling with the audience but, having noted how striking they looked, thought nothing more of it – until they arrived on stage as the headliners. The rest, as they say, is history.
As well as looking like the good guys in Lord of the Rings down to their goth Masonic attire and elaborate hair styling, including a plaited beard, their inventory of instruments is extraordinary, comprising French horn, mandolin, marimba (more of which later), beat box, assorted guitars, an elegantly angled keyboard,a single hand drum and the Leode (more of that later too). Their other USP (unique selling point) is that they do not sing a single word in English.
Now imagine how all that could look and sound when delivered live on stage. I tell you in all sincerity – it is mind-melting. Central to the sound is the aforementioned Leode, an instrument invented by the band’s original guitarist Claude Leonetti after he lost the use of his left arm in a motorcycle accident back in the 90s. According to the band’s website, Claude had a dream about creating an instrument, literally a sonic box of tricks which he could operate with one hand. This extraordinary electronic device, resembling a Chapman stick can conjure up all manner of sounds, ranging from Middle Eastern mysticism to out and out prog metal.
Their UK debut at Summer’s End was without exaggeration the greatest live performance I have ever seen. Never mind none of us being able to understand a word they were singing, such was the sheer brilliance of their show, it was as if you were being transported away to a parallel musical universe, indeed to Lazuli Land.
It was not just the originality of their music, which owes much to the influence of the Beatles, to whom they listened when they were young Lazulis, but the way they delivered the songs – with a passion, a love, a belief, an intensity and also with great joy and humor.
Frontman Dominique (Domi) Leonetti, brother of Claude, is quite bewitching with his clear, powerful pitch perfect voice and his almost waist length hair secured in a long ponytail which takes on a life of its own when at his most animate. He also plays rhythm guitar, acoustic guitar and mandolin.
His main compadre is the ever-smiling guitarist Gederic (Ged) Byar, a fellow possessor of an extravagant head of braided hair and sculpted beard, but blessed with a fluid, vibrant smooth style which runs in perfect parallel with the cutting edge sounds of the Leode. He even occasionally runs a screwdriver up and down the fretboard,
They don’t have a bass player either. I thought I ought to mention that. The lower registers are left to the laser eyed Romain Thorel and his keyboard, again another instrument which seems to have an endless repertoire of sounds ranging from piano to drums. Oh, and he is the one who also trebles up on French horn and the drums, freeing up regular drummer Vincent Barnavol to play marimba, a hand drum resembling a djembe and beat box.
So, there’s the lowdown on what they do and how they do it.
French prog tends to either veer towards the avant-garde and experimental or the more Celtic. So, in many respects, Lazuli really have broken the mould, their songs centering on subjects important to them such as L’Arbre (The Tree) that is all about nature and man’s evolution (or lack of it).
Their most recent album 4603 battements, released in 2011, had time as its central theme. Many would argue that their adventures in recording are a far different and less exciting proposition than their live shows but I defy anyone to hear the incredible 15H40 (more about this later too) and its depiction of time ticking without a sense of wonderment. The album title translates as 4603 beats because that is how many there are on all 11 songs on the album.
And so to the present. Lazuli have been more than aware that I have been their UK cheerleader in chief since that epic performance two years ago. Last year, they performed at Germany’s Night of the Prog at Loreley, which clashed unfortunately with the first Celebr8 festival here in the UK.
So it was a masterstroke when the Summers End organisers announced they would be back for this year’s festival, along with German band Sylvan who had been the main crowd pleasers the year before in 2010. When Prog magazine asked me to write a preview of this year’s Summers End, it was a chance to touch base with Lazuli again to get their reaction about coming back to the UK to play.
Thanks to Google’s translation facilities, Domi provided some charming responses to my questions, saying how they grew up on British music so to cross the Channel to play here was very symbolic. Of their 2011 show, he said it was “beautiful and terrifying at the same time.” However, the welcome they received was so warm, they soon forgot their anxiety and enjoyed “this precious moment”. They were very excited and honored to be back at the festival.
Fast forward to Saturday October 5, the night they were appearing at Summers End, following the main headliners Gordon Giltrap and Oliver Wakeman performing the stunning Ravens & Lullabies.
Well, Lazuli rocked up halfway through the afternoon. It was great to catch up with them again and I gave them a copy of Prog magazine with my preview, ending up using my very rusty French to translate back to them the quotes they had given to me!
Cutting to the chase, they finally came on half an hour late and I must admit the ensuing one hour and forty minutes were a bit of a blur, because all that Gallic sorcery and charm was still there. Again, it is that connection they make with the audience which is so special as they give every part of their being to making their performances as dynamic as possible.
One song Film D’Aurore saw Domi with a tiny light on his hand that he shone onto his expressive face, but it is the extraordinary Le Miroir Aux Alouettes which hopefully you can see at the end of this paean, which is them at the height of the powers for many reasons, mainly its immense tempo change halfway through when Romain takes over drums from Vincent, then the whole mood goes from folk to Arabic scales.
Romain is such an accomplished musician, he gets his own solo spot to show off his incredible versatility on the keyboards, all improvised with a bit of jazz and funk thrown in this time. Even Domi and Ged crouch down by the side of the stage to watch him in full flight.
Then when they played 15H40, Domi decided to spin out the tension and to my utter surprise, decided to include yours truly in the song when trying to convince everyone it was “twenty to four” instead of around midnight so he jumped down from the stage and sought my counsel on the time.
Well, the time was ticking away and fast approaching 12.30 when they were called to order because of the lateness of the hour. So, instead of playing the brilliant 12 minute long Naif where audience participation is key to its success, they pushed the marimba to the front of the stage. And this is where the true genius of this band really showed with their Nine Hands Around The Marimba as all five band members simultaneously played chords and melodies, while taking the occasional potshot at each other. And was that a few bars of Solsbury Hill in there somewhere too?
If it was not for some of the throng having to rush out to get the bus back to their weekend lodgings, the band would probably still be playing as no-one wanted them to go.
How can I explain it succinctly? This band has such a positive, humble and uplifting vibe about them that they seem to reach inside and illuminate every corner of your inner being. Even over a week after the show, I am still buzzing about them like a hyperactive queen bee!
If you want further proof then catch their new DVD, Live @ l’Abeille Rode, the first part of which is them performing their live show without an audience but which is so beautifully shot, you feel you are part of the invisible crowd watching – and probably cheering them!
Well, what more can I say about this French connection except that Martin Reijman, who loves photographing them, and I are doing a crash course in French with a view to meeting up with them again next year in France. My aim is to interview them in French which hopefully will further help us all to understand the essence of this truly remarkable, unique band.
If you want to learn more about them, go to: http://www.lazuli-music.com/ and you can tell them Alison sent you.
Otherwise, please enjoy the Summers End encore (courtesy of Pete “Pedro” Waite) or Le Miroir Aux Alouettes shot at the Night of the Prog last year.
Je vous remercie.
After reading my e-mails this morning, I was left with some burning questions: How did I miss that Anna Calvi had a new album out? When would I get to hear it? Should I write about it?
Answers: I have no idea. Today. Yes.
If you’ve not heard of Calvi (website), here’s my short description: she is like the mysterious, nearly other-worldly, torch-singer-rocker-love child of Jeff Buckley and Kate Bush, or Freddie Mercury and Édith Piaf, with enough mystery, angst, and yearning for an entire band, which may explain why she usually performs as a spare trio (with a drummer and keyboardist/percussionist). A recent review in The Guardian of a live show captures it quite well, at least as well as can be managed with words:
Anna Calvi is a creature of contrasts. She says almost nothing between songs, breathing her thanks in a shy murmur – but when she sings, it’s as if molten lava were pouring from her mouth, a torrent of red-hot emotion. The sounds she conjures up from her guitar are crisp and precise – yet she plays with fluid motions, fingers rippling across frets, hand moving in circles across the strings. She is a vision of decorum, elegantly prim in tailored trousers and a long-sleeved blouse – but her songs drip with lust, voicing the cries of a body rejected, consumed, gripped by obsession.
Or, in other “words”, this (if you’re pressed for time, start watching at about 3:30):
Now, that is a lady with something going on deep, deep, deep inside! The Guardian reviewer further states, “It’s ridiculous that, after 60 years of rock’n’roll, a well-dressed woman wielding a guitar should still be such a rare sight as to be exciting in a primal, nerve-tingling way, but it is. She’s all the more commanding because her playing is so controlled…” Much of the uniqueness of Calvi is that the sum is far more than the parts, as good and unusual as many of the parts are. She is, in my estimation, one of those performers who completely transforms on the stage; in interviews she seems truly shy and almost apologetic (in this, she reminds of that Prince fellow). She has a voice that alternates between husky beckoning, whispered perplexity, and wailing anguish; when she fully unleashes a note, it’s a force of nature. Her guitar playing is both precise and wild, or perhaps it is precise but rendered with wild (but perfectly rehearsed) flourishes. Her appearance is somewhat androgynous and yet, ultimately, deeply feminine, as if she wishes to hide in dress what she prefers to reveal in song. Perhaps she is confused; perhaps she wishes to confuse (again, Prince comes to mind).
Regardless, the music ranges from very good to great, and her second album, “One Breath,” builds impressively on her eponymous debut. The music is again quite atmospheric, lush, and yet focused; the arrangements are intelligent and often complex, but they are accessible and attractive, even when discord and chaos are occasionally introduced. Calvi makes great use of silence; she is one of the few artists I know who will let silence be an obvious part of a song (in a way, this reminds me of jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal and his great admirer, a trumpet player named Miles Davis). Certain songs immediately stand out (“Suddenly,” “Eliza,” and “Tristan”) but this album is best heard as an operatic-like whole. The twist, if that’s the right word, is that Calvi bares her soul with unblinking ferocity and yet makes it warm and attractive and even magical, much like Kate Bush has done on some of her best albums (“The Hounds of Love” and “The Sensual World”). David Von Bader puts it well in his Consequence of Sound review:
The thing that sets Calvi apart from most virtuosic musicians is an ability to spin art out of technique without alienating the listener. Whether it be the percussive hammering of her guitar strings on “Tristan”, the emotional immediacy of her athletic vocals throughout the album, or the lush and occasionally noisy atmospheres, the album offers heaps of aural fiber without pretense or unnecessary complexity. One Breath is a dynamic statement from a young woman who could very well be the next David Bowie or Nick Cave. Much like the gilded aforementioned names, Calvi is an accomplished musician and composer, possesses an exceedingly well-developed artistic vision, and rounds the package out with a striking aesthetic. All that sets her in a class of her own as a young, exciting artist who should have strong material for years to come.
Agreed! As a bonus, here is Calvi performing Bruce Springsteen’s “Fire” live, with just an acoustic guitar to accompany: