The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard Of (Part Twenty-Seven): October

With a cover that evokes the pastoral simplicity of a Robert Frost poem or Ray Bradbury’s October Country, After the Fall seemed a fitting album to review in this most beautiful month of the year. Although one might expect to hear lilting flute and gentle acoustic guitar on an album like this, After the Fall includes neither; rather, it relies on piano, moog, and violin to create a spacey, jazz-fusion sound.

The album itself consists of only six tracks and is just over thirty minutes in length. The “Intro” opens with the sound of the blowing wind on a cool autumn day before Mark Sterling’s moog comes in to treat our ears to a soft cosmic journey. The three subsequent tracks – “October Suite,” “Earth,” and “Through the Light of Reason” – feature the prominent use of electric piano and violin, both of which are played with skill by Mark Krench and Brad Tolinksi, respectively. Elements of Pink Floyd and Camel are sprinkled throughout, especially toward the end of “Earth.” The fourth piece, “Shining,” features Jeff Rozany doing duty on both bass and vocals, but he sings only a few lines in a gentle voice before the instruments – the stars of the show – again take over. “Charisma,” the longest and best of the six, closes the album. Although the moog, electric piano, and violin continue to shine, and Pat Carson proves himself a steady anchor on the drums, it is Rozany’s bass that relentlessly drives this song forward, giving “Charisma” an edgier sound than the other tracks.

If you are expecting something in the vein of Jethro Tull’s “Witch’s Promise” (as, admittedly, I was), you will be in for a surprise – but a pleasant one. October will not necessarily blow you away (pardon the wind pun), but it does make for a lovely, relaxing listen for a cool autumn day. Fans of symphonic or jazz fusion will appreciate this one.

Stay tuned for number twenty-eight!

The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard Of (Part Twenty-Five): Marsupilami

Hailing from England, jazz-rock outfit Marsupilami released two albums in the early 1970s before calling it a day. Arena, their second and final album, is an exploration of the violence and brutality of ancient Roman culture (the album cover certainly offers a hint of said violence), with an especial focus on the bloody era of the gladiators and the persecution of the early Christians. Here are my thoughts on this obscure gem:

I’ve come here today to rip the veil from your eyes, unhinge your heads, and pull out your BLOODY MINDS!” So begins the “Prelude to the Arena” – fitting considering the topic being explored. If Fred Hasson’s screaming vocals aren’t enough to wake you up, then perhaps the superb musicianship will. After the violent opening, the “Prelude” eventually settles down, featuring lovely interplay between sax, flute, and electric piano courtesy of Leary Hasson.

The black theme continues in the ironically-titled “Peace of Rome,” which opens with the chilling sound of wailing voices. Soon, however, the flute, bass, organ, and percussion pick up the tempo, but it is guitarist Dave Laverock’s searing performance on his instrument that makes this song particularly strong.

If Fred Hasson’s introductory lyrics didn’t make you pause, perhaps part of the opening lyrics to the title track will: “A Christian is a human torch exploding with a scream.” That line is then punctuated by the sound of a, well, screaming flute – again, fitting, but it certainly sends a chill down the spine. Overall, however, “Arena” is a flawed attempt at an epic: it loses much of its luster after an introduction that could have (and should have) been pared down. The lyrics, on the other hand, are never dull: we get references to both St. Peter’s upside-down crucifixion and Nero’s…relations with his mother, among other misfortunes.

“Time Shadows” places flutist Jessica Stanley-Clarke (whose work elsewhere on the album is worth noting) front and center, and she does not disappoint. Like the other tracks, “Time Shadows” remains somber in tone.

The opening thirty seconds of “Spring” – a gentle, pastoral combination of acoustic guitar, flute, and organ – contrast violently with the cacophony of electric guitar, keys, and percussion that follow for the next minute before the song begins to resemble a soft-rock tune out of Camel’s catalogue (as it turns out, original Camel member Peter Bardens produced Arena).

The dark, somber lyrics will recall to some listeners Aphrodite’s Child’s 666; the soft-rock and jazz-inspired riffs will remind others of Camel’s early work; and the screaming vocals will most likely bring to mind Peter Hammill’s distinctive screeches. Arena has its faults – the vocals are somewhat flat, and the random appearance of harmonica here and there disturbs the melodies (and not in a pleasant way) – but the lyrics are captivating, the musicianship top-notch, and the passion evident. It is one worth adding to your catalogue.

Stay tuned for number twenty-six!

The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard Of (Part Twenty-One): Gnidrolog

An enormous and menacing hand looms over a graceful yet defiant swan: here is an album cover fit for a symphony orchestra. Yet Gnidrolog’s Lady Lake, despite it’s romantic artwork and title, features neither orchestra (a la Camel’s The Snow Goose) nor keyboards imitating the sound of an orchestra (a la nearly every symphonic prog band) nor even the prominent sound of a stringed instrument (guitars notwithstanding, and they are not the driving force behind this work). Instead, Gnidrolog relies on a blend of saxes, flutes, and recorders to create a full, rich sound that provides the foundation for one of the stronger obscure prog albums of the 1970s.

Lady Lake is the second of three albums produced by Gnidrolog, an English quintet consisting of identical twin brothers Colin and Stewart Goldring (lead vocals and guitar, respectively), John Earle (flute and saxophones), Peter Cowling (bass), and Nigel Pegrum (drums, flute, and oboe). Although each member is clearly talented (all of them, like the members of Gentle Giant, play several instruments), Earle is the star on this album, and he puts his woodwinds – a refreshing substitute for keys or mellotron – to good use. Here are some of the highlights from this under-appreciated gem:

Released during the Vietnam War (1972), Lady Lake opens with the idealistic epic “I Could Never Be a Soldier.” The longest piece on the album, it opens with some superb flute courtesy of Earle and the multitalented Pegrum, giving the song a Jethro Tull-like feel. Colin’s vocals, however, sound nothing like Mr. Ian Anderson’s: think Peter Hamill without the “apocalyptic” quality and grittiness. (The vocals are not bad, but neither are they the strongest element here.) Colin’s twin Stewart enjoys some time in the limelight with a brief guitar solo about ten minutes into the song, followed by some funky bass work by Cowling, before the epic finishes just shy of twelve minutes with a flourish of sax courtesy of Earle.

The title song is perhaps the best on the album. After Cowling and Pegrum lay a solid foundation with bass and percussion, respectively, Earle’s layered saxophones add a welcome richness and texture. Toward the middle of the piece the layered saxes are blended with the smooth sounds of recorder and oboe. Cowling’s ominous pounding bass reminds us, however, that the looming hand continues to threaten our (false) sense of tranquility. The frenetic ending hits with the force of Van der Graaf Generator thanks to Earle’s talent on the sax, which would impress any admirer of David Jackson.

“Social Embarrassment” may be one of the stranger finales on any album, progressive or not. Earle sings lead vocals on this one (his voice sounding a bit like Jon Anderson’s). Cowling again demonstrates his chops on bass guitar, and Stewart Goldring unleashes a furious electric guitar solo toward the end of the song before he is overwhelmed by the screams (yes, screams) of the Colney Heath Male Choir: perhaps the hand has conquered! Now that’s a memorable way to close an album.

Despite my reservations concerning the vocals, Lady Lake is nevertheless an excellent example of early progressive rock. The songwriting is above average and the musicianship top-notch. It would be a worthy addition to any serious progger’s catalogue.

Stay tuned for number twenty-two!

Rob Reed and Peter Jones Resurrect CYAN Band

Press Release:

Magenta’s Rob Reed and Camel’s Peter Jones come together to resurrect the band CYAN with reimagined and reworked material from the band’s debut album. CYAN features Luke Machin, Pete Jones, Dan Nelson. New album ‘For King and Country’ due out on Sept 24th.

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Keyboardist and composer Rob Reed, known for his work with Magenta, Kompendium and Sanctuary solo albums, is pleased to announce a brand-new album from Cyan – For King and Country, due out on the 24th of September 2021.

Prior to Magenta, almost 30 years ago, Reed release three albums with his then band Cyan. Out of the ashes of that band, Magenta was borne.  Now, on this new Cyan album, Reed has rewritten, rerecorded and reimagined material from the early days of Cyan, and this time with a brilliant new lineup. The group features vocalist Pete Jones (Camel, Tiger Moth Tales), guitarist Luke Machin (Maschine, The Tangent), and bassist Dan Nelson (Godsticks, Magenta).  The band will be playing their first show at Summers End Festival, Sunday, Oct. 3rd.

The album is available for pre-order here:
https://www.tigermothshop.co.uk/store/Cyan-c117062595

Watch the video for the 15-minute opening track and first single “The Sorceror” here: https://youtu.be/x578hquw9nw

Rob Reed on the new album:  
Little did I know in 1983, sitting at the school piano writing these songs, that almost 40 years later those same songs would sound like they do on this album. I remember the original Cyan, made up of school mates, pooling our money, £35 to record them at a local 4 track studio with basic equipment. It’s been amazing to finally hear the songs at their full potential, with modern recording techniques and an amazing line up of players.
  
I’d held off releasing this album because I couldn’t find a vocalist to do it justice. Meeting Pete ticked that box, as soon as I heard him sing the first track. His voice just blends so good against Angharad Brinn, who I’d worked with on the Sanctuary solo albums. Having Luke play the guitar parts was just the icing on the cake. He is such a great player, with technique and feel. What a line up!
Pete Jones had this to say about the project:
I had known about the reworking of For King And Country for a while, so it was a great thrill to be asked by Rob to work with him on the project, alongside the other amazing musicians such as Luke and Angharad. The songs are fantastic. They have a youthful and yet vintage quality to them, as well they might, given that they were first done in the early 90s. But with the benefit of Rob’s experience, they have been reworked into an album which I feel is right up there with the classics.
 
Tracklisting:
 
1.The Sorceror
2.Call Me
3.I Defy The Sun
4.Don’t Turn Away
5.Snowbound
6.Man Amongst Men
7.Night Flight
8.For King and Country
 
Featured in photo:
Rob Reed
Dan Nelson
Luke Machin
Jimmy Griffiths
Peter Jones
Magenta/CYAN/TigerMothTales Website
https://www.tigermothshop.co.uk/

The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard Of (Part Nine): Gotic

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The ninth band featured in this series hails from the land of monstrous windmills, otherwise known as Spain.  Gotic, the brainchild of Catalonian flautist Jep Nuix, released one album, the instrumental Escenes, in 1977.  Escenes benefits from a wonderful mix of keys and flute, which drive all of the songs.  The pastoral cover of the album reminds me of the fantasy landscapes of Roger Dean.  The album is not very long: there are seven songs, all of which but one are under 6 minutes in length.  There are four that I find especially pleasing to the ear:

Imprompt 1: the second song is up-tempo compared to most of the other pieces, with solid, fast paced drumming and a brief guitar solo.

La Revolucio: the fourth song is probably the heaviest piece (the songs are no heavier than any of Camel’s works) with solid bass throughout and, about halfway through, a brief fife and drum duet.

I tu que ho vienes tot tan facil: the sixth song and probably the best; features acoustic guitar, more fantastic flute work, and even some synth.

Historia d’Una Gota d’Agua: the final song on the album and also the longest (about 10 minutes in length); opens with beautiful classical guitar and flute which, combined with piano, make this song a relaxing listen.

Escenes is most certainly worth a listen, especially if you enjoy softer prog with a jazz feel to it. You won’t regret it.

Here is La Revolucio:

The Tangent, SNOW GOOSE PROJECT–now available

The Tangent -snow goose

Progarchists, our good friend and hero, Andy Tillison, has just released a video and a special download, The Snow Goose Project, inspired by Camel.  The money raised for this will go to help those fighting cancer.  A worthy cause if ever there was one.  Please support Andy and Sally and their wonderful cause.  Plus, you’ll get some fabulous music.

Eric Perry did an excellent job introducing the project yesterday.  Go here to see it.

http://thetangent.org

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=7iKgFTYTBBo