Damanek’s Debut is Literally (and Metaphorically) On Track

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One of the most satifying things a music fan can do is make a new discovery.  That happened to me lately as I was given a review copy of Damanek’s debut album, On Track.  Lucky me.  On Track is one of the best releases I’ve heard in what has been a pretty good year for prog releases.

A little background here is in order – Damanek is the brainchild of Guy Manning, who among other things is a veteran of The Tangent.  For this release, Manning is the chief composer and lyricist.  Beyond that, there are numerous contributors to the album.  Among them, Manning borrows from his former band to tap Luke Machin on the electric guitar, Marek Arnold contributes on a number instruments (his sax figuring prominently),  and numerous other musicians play their part.

The first track, Nanabohza and the Rainbow, sets the tone for the album.  Beginning with some native-sounding beats, the song evolves into a jazzy looseness (the latter being very pervasive throughout the album).  The aforementioned saxophone makes its first appearance toward the end of the song, along with some superb piano, with the song closing on some motifs that could be described as mid-Eastern.  That’s quite a palette, and it’s only the first song.

Long Time, Shadow Falls follows next, and has a bit more of a new-agey feel to it, with some African rhythms to drive the point home.  Lyrically, the song is a commentary on poaching and preservation (or more precisely, the lack of the latter), and the music is most effective in underscoring the message.

Track three, The Cosmic Score, is largely piano driven and is the most relaxing track on the album.  Arnold’s sax makes an appearance midway through, playing off the piano, followed by a synth solo that harkens back to first golden age of prog in the 1970’s.  Lyrically, The Cosmic Score is sung on a grand scale; musically, it invites you to kick back and relax as you contemplate.

The musical palette widens even further on the next track, Believer – Redeemer.  If you have ever been looking for some funk/R&B influence in your prog, then this is the track for you.  The Santucci Horns (as they are known in the album credits) provide some brass here with trumpet and trombone to further accentuate the dominant influence here.

The following track, Oil over Arabia, begins with some jazzy piano and guitar before the saxophone once again joins in the fun.  Midway through, the pace picks up and the song begins to rock out a bit more, and eventually Arnold provides some excellent clarinet to the song as well.  Lyrically sparse, this is almost an instrumental track, and a damn good one at that.  As with all the songs, the playing is top notch, but this one really stood out to me.

The Big Parade has a somewhat Beatle-esque sound to it, and it’s not hard to imagine John Lennon circa 1968 writing or singing a song like this. The fact that it is an anti-war song makes this all the more so.  This song qualifies as the most quirky diversion on the album, and despite its protesting nature, it’s a fun listen.

The melancholy Madison Blue is up next.  This is a relatively simple track musically, primarily driven by the piano.  Here, however, what sounds like a small string section and the flute beautifully underscore the mood of the piece, which lyrically concerns the loss of someone dear.

Saving the epic for last, the album closes with the 13 minute plus Dark Sun.  The first five minutes or so feature a slow groove with Arnold’s clarinet adding some nice color at various points.  Midway through, the pace picks up dramatically, with excellent guitar work by Machin, some jazz-tinged electric piano and more of Arnold’s clarinet (come to think of it, I can’t think of many prog albums where the clarinet played such a prominent part).  Some very proggy organ is also included before the song slows down and eventually returns to the same groove with which it began.  It’s a quite-satisfying musical journey.

In closing, On Track has some of the best musicianship of any album I’ve heard in quite some time, and that’s saying quite a bit given the plethora of outstanding progressive rock releases we’ve seen this year and for several years running now.  Overall, the music is a, well-balanced mix of styles, including classic and modern prog, jazz, and various world music styles, tastefully and seamlessly combined.  As debut albums go, this one is a smashing success.

I, (Lonely) Robot: Progarchy Talks to John Mitchell

John Mitchell is a busy man.  It was less than a year ago that another one of his projects,Lonely Robot 2 Frost*, was getting ready to drop another album.  And before that, John was busy with another one of his bands, Arena.  To put the parenthesis on then and now … before that he was busy with the first Lonely Robot album, and now we have seen the release for the latest one, The Big Dream (Tad Wert’s excellent review can be found here).  We caught up with John recently, and he generously gave his time to discuss his career, the concept behind the Lonely Robot project, and the creative process, and how to stay busy.

Progarchy: You are in Lonely Robot, Kino, Arena, Frost*, It Bites … (did I miss any?), while your Arena bandmate Clive Nolan is also associated with Pendragon, Shadowland, Caamora, Strangers on a Train, Neo, and Casino.  Are you two having a contest to see who can be in the most bands?

John Mitchell: I can’t remember – it seems like I’m busy enough already! That is indeed a humorous question – and yes, you are absolutely right.  If I don’t win, heads are going to roll!  The honest answer though is that these things don’t run concurrently, they don’t run in parallel, they run in series.  I think if we are going to run a contest, it needs to be the most things done concurrently, and I don’t really win that at all.  Clive Nolan has won, so there we go!

Progarchy: This is your way of keeping busy, I assume.

John Mitchell: Yes, well it looks good on paper.  I have at some point or other have been involved in that many musical projects.  I hasten to not use the word ‘project’.  When I started these things, I didn’t think of them as projects. ‘Project’ to me denotes something that has a finite end, like a table.  A table, once it’s made, that’s the end of the project.  When I went into these things, with the good grace of the Lord, to make a band, and to try to engage that band and do multiple albums with it, so I never really saw it as a project.  Kino I never really thought it to be a one-off thing, but I didn’t realize quite how busy everybody was.  The things I’ve been involved in, they reach a natural conclusion, and they get parked and that’s it.  So I’m really not that busy, just doing a few things these days.

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2016 – A Year of Joy and Sadness

To say 2016 was a turbulent year would be an understatement.  For good and bad, the events of 2016 are going to ripple for years, if not decades to come.

Fortunately, one area in which 2016 was not a turning point was in the trend of excellent prog releases, which kept coming without any letup from 2015 … or 2014 … or 2013 … you get the picture.  Like those years, 2016 saw a bumper crop of excellent releases, and in a few cases, saw bands hitting new highs.  Truly, this was one area where we can be unequivocally thankful for what 2016 brought.

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Still Abiding:  Progarchy Talks Again with The Duda (Mariusz, that is)

It would be an understatement to say that this has been an eventful year for Mariusz Duda and Riverside.  As the year began, they were riding high on the success of “Love,

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Fear, and The Time Machine,” and it seemed things couldn’t be going better.  But life doesn’t always cooperate, and February saw the tragic gut-punch of losing Piotr Grudzinski, which left Riverside’s future indeterminate for a time.

Duda himself, as I found out in the interview, lost his father some time after that.

It’s a lot to take, but some how Duda and Riverside soldier onward, as their recent announcement to continue as a three-piece attests.  I was fortunate enough to be connected to Duda for another conversation (my first one can be found here), as we discussed what he and the band have been through and where they are going from here.

Progarchy: Well, it has been an eventful year for you guys … how are you holding up?

Mariusz Duda: Thank you so much, every day better and better.  You know, time flies, and time also heals our wounds a bit.  This year for me, personally, has not been good because I lost my father in May.  So if you just imagine three months after Piotr’s death, I had a death in my family. Piotr was also my family.  Anyway, this year was not so happy, and I just needed time to recover.  But now I feel better and I have the strength to talk about Riverside and some other stuff, both in the past in the future.

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Progarchy’s* Interview* with Jem* Godfrey* of Frost*. Seriously.*

On May 27th of this year, Frost* returned from an eight-year hiatus to release their latestFrost album, Falling Satellites (Progarchy review here). In conjunction with this release, Frost* … ‘s mastermind, Jem Godfrey, was willing to sit down with us for a chat (where do you put the apostrophe with the asterisk already there??). We discussed the new album, mused philosophically about life, talked more about his the formation of Frost* and his activities outside of the band … and asterisks. Those pesky asterisks.

 Progarchy: What would you say is different in a musical sense relative to the two previous Frost* albums?

JG:      We have a different bass player and drummer from the previous recorded album we did. I think that in and of itself adds a whole new sound to the band, because they are playing in a different sort of way than JJ [John Jowitt] and Andy [Edwards] did. That’s the first thing. The second thing is that John Mitchell was very keen on not doing classic John Mitchell on this, he was really up for taking his rule book and throwing it out the window, and that was brilliant. He was trying out new, different sort of effects and putting his guitar through all kinds of plug-ins and interesting sort of sounds, trying different guitars, so he was really up for experimenting. I think kind of also just that it’s eight years later that our sound palette is slightly different as technology has sort of moved on. So you know it’s the same band but it’s definitely sort of moved on, I think.

Progarchy: Now with John (Mitchell), you say he threw out his rule book, so how would he define his rule book?

JG: Well, he has got two settings, loud and quiet normally. He’s not normally one for heavily effecting his guitars, but he got some Valhalla plug-ins and stuff, and was running it through his laptop and doing all sorts of non-John things this time out, and it really worked.

Progarchy: So I guess his classic John Mitchell sound is what you hear more on Arena or Lonely Robot then?

JG: Yeah, I think so. There are a couple of bits where it’s obviously him doing that sound, because you have to have a bit of that in there, but he was very up for trying different things. There are a couple of bits in there that you wouldn’t know it’s guitar, but it’s actually guitar, he’s gone quite experimental in some places.

Progarchy: And what about you, how would you say your sound palette has changed?

JG: I’ve got sort of a lead sound I’ve developed over the years which has sort of become my signature sound, and which I didn’t really mean to do that back in the day. There are a couple of times I sort of “wheel it out.” I sort of liken it to how Tony Banks does his Pro Soloist … it’s quite nice to get a sound in there that you recognize. But again, I’m not wedded to any particular synth, I just use whatever is around at the time and put it through effects.

Progarchy: You also mentioned something about using a Chapman Railboard on this album, can you elaborate on that?

JG: It’s a kind of Chapman Stick, sort of a Tony Levin classic 10-string guitar thing. It’s basically one of those but it’s made out of solid aluminum, so it’s basically a single machined piece of metal. It looks like a Stick, but it’s a metal Stick. It’s got different tones, it’s quite tubular, it’s really nice. It’s really good for arpeggio stuff. You can hear it on Numbers and Closer to the Sun, there’s a lot of Railboard on those two tracks.

Progarchy: Can you delve into the concept behind this album a bit more?

Continue reading “Progarchy’s* Interview* with Jem* Godfrey* of Frost*. Seriously.*”

Bassworks: My Top 10 Chris Squire Bass Performances

Bass legend Chris Squire may be gone, but he is most definitely not forgotten. During the time we were lucky enough to have him in this life, Squire produced some of the most innovative and interesting bass work of any genre of music. Not content to simply keep time along with the drums, Squire put the bass guitar square in the center of the melodic discourse of Yes music, with a unique picked sound that was thick yet trebly.

Compiling a list like this is no easy task when you are dealing with the level of talent that Squire possessed. While there are a few in the list that I knew would be on here, paring it down to just ten was a difficult task. Of course, any list like this is going to be subjective and your mileage may vary. These, however, are my 10 favorite Squire performances.

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