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TRIO 96 – Quartet 1999

TRIO 96 – Duo 2003

Musea 2004

Don’t be fooled by the numbers: “clever” doesn’t mean “alluring”.

They may come in two and they may come in four, yet guitarist Ishikawa Kenji and drummer Tanaka Yasuhiro’s collective is called TRIO 96. There’s nothing wrong with their idiosyncratic jazz-buzz-rock, and on-stage the band is undoubtedly impressive – not in your room, though. When the high-octane engine slows down in the quartet-delivered “9 Beats” you’re in, but you’re out of it most of the time with no sign of Zappa’s wry grimace or Fripp’s pop-hook while those giants designs have left an indelible imprint on the Japanese canvas. Jazz fans, still, can ride the ‘Trane improvisatory glides thinking of the output as of backround music, the others should look for their groove elsewhere.

Curiously, it’s the ambient duo’s stuff that was recorded live; these are more restrained cuts, with fresher air in their sparse lines, but the drive’s lost on them, and what pieces like “Kerenmi Afureru Pray” – no matter how charged they feel in places – lack is even a slightest hint of melody to catch onto. So yes, all of it is very intellectual and intelligent, yet tabloid-style: the problem is that, after the first pitch-in, one will hardly pay another visit to any of the two discs.

**

 
UNCLE SID –
Rock In The Universe

Uncle Sid 2004

Theirs is a touch too much but gripping – rock solid.

There’s a hook in you from the guitar woven onto the riff of “Break’n Free”: that’s quite rare now to get to savoring some good slices of blues-based hard rock. It’s rough ‘n’ ready, with Wolf’s predatory vocals which don’t bear any hint of pretension today’s take on the genre got used to. No wonder the Canadian foursome share the stage with old bands who were first at it, Henry Seto’s axe cutting the bars economically, like in “Dance For Me” where a bit of problem pops up: a needless – in the studio – prolongation of coda.

Where a chop should have been, it ain’t, and this concerns the album as a whole, because a debut records one hour long is too much; a couple of songs could be easily discarded, while tracks like “I’m The One” are so insistent you just can’t get them out of your system and the long run of ballad “Let Me Go” is what it takes to push a feeling. Enthusiasm is understandable and all laudable, though, so what the group desperately need is a producer who won’t let them indulge it. Then, they will loom large.

**1/2

 
JOE LYNN TURNER –
JLT

Shrapnel 2003

Read the interview

What’s in the name? In this one, everything.

Nobody expect anything experimental from Joe Lynn Turner except for high-octane hard rock with a lotta soul and, quite rightly so, the man usually delivers. This time, perhaps, more solid than ever, having had a writing hand in each of the tracks that burn slowly yet etch themselves on a psyche. If the kickstart comes with “In Cold Blood”, another go at the eternal “Death Alley Driver” groovy roll, it takes time to get under the obvious to the real matter of the very mature record.

There “Crying Out Loud” shudders and shoulders the deep emotions, and “Hit The Switch” and “Dirty Deal” exquisitely, with panache, approach contemporary urban rhythm-and-blues which, at the same instant, is classically rooted in meaty organ and sharp guitar slices. And, sure ’nuff, no Turner album can do without a gorgeous ballad, piano-led “Love Don’t Live Here” sounding ever too vibrant, like back in the ’70s, though with a desperate grown-up stance, while the immediate follow-up shrouds itself in dark cloth. Yet the acoustic lace of “Blood Fire” makes it breathe life, and “Driving With My Eyes Closed” returns the veteran back on the track. A comfortable, if awakingly bumpy, ride.

*****

 
KARNATAKA –
Strange Behaviour

Immrama 2004

Being natural seems to be strange nowadays. That’s what the Welsh six are about.

Three studio albums have made KARNATAKA the darlings of those who think classic rock can be played by contemporary bands too – without being pretentious – and this love, reciprocated from the stage, is the essence of the sextet’s concert outing which closes the first chapter of their saga. Live, the group may lack some of the sheen but such a loss becomes a gain in emotional load, very clear in “Time Stands Still”, a moving start, with Paul Davies’ guitar cutting across Rachel Jones’ soothing voice. The band’s last record, "Delicate Flame Of Desire" gets the airing here almost in its entirety, and it’s in this environment that the album really breathes.

There’s a new confidence giving these cuts, much improved from the versions on the ensemble’s first DVD, and earlier songs, like majestic “Heaven Can Wait” or “Dreamer” with its fiery instrumental interplay, stronger impact. Bringing in Anne-Marie Helder as a second vocalist and flautist enriched the KARNATAKA’s musical palette: “Everything Must Change” and “I Should Have Known” have received another dimension, while “These Dreams Are Over” and “The Journey” are more sprawling than ever before, and “Strange Behaviour” turns into a luring siren call. Wanting more? – it asks. You bet!

(In fact, there is more, in the form of uncredited encores…)

*****

 
IQ – Dark Matter

Giant Electric Pea 2004

No Subterranea now. Dark means depth.

There was a light beaming out of the last IQ album, "The Seventh House", but since then the ways of the world have gone wrong, and “Dark Matter” is imploding like black hole, boiling inside, fire hidden deep within. A monumental yet beautiful creation, the new record pulls a listener in, into its sparkling, anxious core, by the “Sacred Ground” insisting organ-and-guitar riff with only a hint of serenity in Peter Nichols’ croon. From this, springs an acoustic lull of “Red Dust Shadow” that has a strong decadent, claustrophobic. though warm due to Martin Orford-delivered orchestration. lining to it. The classic prog influences flashing on the band’s collective sleeve now, the melodies, all great, feel understated, and John Jowitt’s to-the-fore bass brings the needed punctuation on more than one occasion.

And here’s an epic beast, a brave step these days: six-part “Harvest Of Soul” clocks in 24-odd minutes and posesses enough themes to become an album in its own right. Subjects, too – for the second chapter, “The Wrong Host”, IQ break out of their abstract world to sing about America, with tremulous drift of the opening piece, “First Of The Last”, turning into Paul Simon-esque dry irony wrapped into the frenetic aural swirl. The tension grows, and if not for the sonic tapestry tunefulness, the anti-war stance might have been too heavy, but the music wins the day. A glorious achievement.

Let’s just hope they won’t go wrong, Roger Waters-way, after such a dark matter.

*****

 
HUGHES-TURNER PROJECT –
HTP2

Shrapnel 2004

Read the interview

Though the number is two, the soul brothers have grown into one.

It’s all about the feeling, even more than the first time around. Joe Lynn Turner and Glenn Hughes have always posessed soul – and in HTP they found a perfect vehicle of pouring it out – upwards. If their first studio effort presented a fine collection of DEEP PURPLE – the band both artists worked with – cliches, it’s the intergrity that this album pushes forward. Not only the record is seamless in terms of stylistics, but from the sharp and groovy “Revelation” there’s a contemporary hard rock buzz about it, and the two voices blend, or even blur, to an extent where separation between them is barely audible. The veterans are still growing strong, with heady, Eastern-ornamented “Goodbye Friday” sounding more like “Hello again!”.

So it’s a friendship rather than need of reinforcement that brought the Chili Pepper Chad Smith and Steve Vai onto JJ Marsh’s “Kashmir”-esque axis of “Losing My Head” to pinpoint the divergency between the verses’ quirky desperation and the chorus’ lyricism. Glenn’s typical trick demanded Joe’s pop verve follow in “Going My Way”, and the vocal harmonies-filled trembling “Hold On” shoots the emotion ever higher. This time trademark ballads weave themselves into the record, not just leave a space to take a breath: Hughes comes to the fore with dramatic soul of the duo’s “Burning The Sky”, while Turner delivers soothing, Hammond-smoothed “Time And Time Again” on his own. “There is no master plan”, they sing in “Sofia” that wraps around the psyche, and there was no need for thought indeed. It’s all about the feeling.

****2/3

 
KALO –
Spiral Dream

Musea 2004

Higher and higher, up to the crystal sky where a warm star shimmer.

That’s how a debut album should sound like. With a solemn parading of “Dharani” you’re immediately drown into a landscape drawn by the young quartet: springing from organ bedrock, guitar builds an immense tension to loose the reins and then start again – Masahiro Uemura who plays both instruments surely knows what a gentle yet gripping touch is. Like raindrops, in “A Voice In Blue” his synthesizers fondle Miori Naritomi’s silvery vocals, weaving a magic carpet of fluid Japanese words, while “Sunset” is an etherial guitar flight Santana would be envious of.

The music mostly drifts towards new age – “Sensitive Air” feels an exemplary electronica dance cut – but there’s a hint of panache in it which gives romantic pieces such as “Into Existence”, shot through with jittering bass, a lot of gusto. Escaping the usual trap of overstretching, Uemura doesn’t go for epic, he opts for the mood and excels at it. To not love the record, thus, is impossible.

*****

 
SILVER LINING –
The Inner Dragon

Musea 2004

Fairy tales go back to prog – and get lost on the way.

The beginning is blissful. A gently gripping piano line gives way to wailing guitar, but once the story of a sprite called Robin Goodfellow – is there any other name for such a critter? – starts to unravel, the instrumental prowess gets the better of this French band, and if not for Annie Morel’s frenetic violin, part folk and part baroque, the synth orchestration thrown onto heavy riffing would fall flat. And mightily – like dragon.

The quintet make only one, but serious, mistake: they want their music to have a rock edge, which it doesn’t really need, so softer passages, like those comprising “Opaline”, come across nicely, while unimaginative singing and pop metal games of “Castaways” can chase away any monster without killing it. Save for anthemic “Lovestalgia”, there’s no Mordor depth in the music, so won’t you, please, leave the dragons to Ronnie Dio?

**1/3

 
QOPH – Pyrola

Kaleidophone 2004

Scandinavian cool. Be cautious: it’s boiling under.

Prepare to get drown into this album, it’s a slow but relentless process not rendered easier by the fact this time the Swedes sing in English – that just adds to the deep impression. There’s quite a time to be taken to cut through the contemporary feel of opening “Woodrose”, and fall for its mighty swing. The Frippian progressiveness of Reviews3 is concealed now under a hard surface blinking with classy Moog in a delicious rhythm-and-blues of “Stand My Ground” and sprinkled with bluesy harmonica in the “Half Of Everything” tongue-in-cheek treble.

And if the pastiche of heavy-weight “Korea” sounds a bit over-the-top with no sign of ironic glam in it, Eastern guitar part and the groove win the day, yet even it pales before the acoustic drones, sitar splinters and vocal chorus that spawl “Fractions” into the Universal: an epic masterpiece, this piece – if only there’d be less Belew-isms in it… A glorious record anyway.

*****

 
JACK FOSTER III –
Evolution Of JazzRaptor

Musea 2004

Heavy aides for a light start. Will a debutant fly high?

Having MAGELLAN’s Trent Gardner interested enough to offer his producer skills and Robert Berry to play on this, Foster’s first, album should mean something. Once “Bohemian Soul” sways into the picture, the promise is obvious, and one can easily be forgiven for thinking here’s Chris Farlowe in disguise: the arrangements are big, the melodies sweet, the trumpet and sax duel gripping, yet with all the prowess there’s just not enough grit and dirt in the music to keep the appeal.

While “The Shy Ones” feels like a Nick Drake tune grown posh, the production’s too polished to make the “Cat’s Got Nine” acoustic blues convincing despite its Cajun fiddle, it spoils blissful pop balladry of “Every Time You Smile”, and placing “Dream With You” QUEEN-like extravaganza techno buzz of “Tiger Bone Wine” doesn’t help the album either. Not cramming the record so densely would do it much more good. “Nirvana In The Notes” could be a strong argument if it wasn’t a title of an epic piece – fortunately, jazzy and piano-led. Get rid of those helpers, Jack lad, on your own you could soar higher! To the ecstasy of harmony.

****

 
J.A.M. – J.A.M.

Liquid Note Records 2004

Abbreviation means brevity. Brevity means eloquence. The three guitarists mean it.

Note the dots in the title: J.A.M. comes from the names of Joel Rivard, Alessandro Benvenuti and Milan Polak who throw in their resources together to throw these dots away. In other words, they play solo on each other’s pieces, though the cuts are too restrained to be called a jam – if the word ‘restrained’ can be applied to the top-notch fusion. Still, like a jam, it’s all about the mood, and there could be no better opener than “The Usual Unusual” which swings and kicks before pulling the heartstrings apart in memory of another guitar master, Shawn Lane. After this, letdown is off the cards, with only highs on display, with an acoustic pop delicacy in “Lydian Field” and a mighty pinch of rock in “2 Sides Of The Same Trouble” that, despite their musical literacy and progressive un-brevity, come brimful of feelings.

From Benvenuti’s wah-wah to rockabilly strum – Polak’s “Back On The Track” a masterclass in style – and enveloped by Lale Larson’s keyboards, there’s a flight of thought and fingers, while Rivard’s cuts are more of contemplative kind. But “General Relativity Jam” embraces it all and bends for fun. Getting jammed in such a spaciness is welcoming.

*****

 
STEVE HOWE’S REMEDY –
Elements

InsideOut 2003

How Howe cures his sores and soars.

With a broad stylistic palette Steve Howe’s solo albums demonstrate, the only reason for gathering his sons, drummer Dylan and keyboardist Virgil, Israeli reeds player Gilad Atzmon and bassist Derrick Taylor into a band was meaning to take it on the road. Which leads to the album’s title: the guitarist, indeed, is in his element creating his unique kind of rock. There’s more riffing this time, though, with “Whiskey Hill” a rock ‘n’ roll that Howe seemed long to abandon and “Load Off My Mind” almost a metal, while unpretentious singing is more in the face for warm country of “Where I Belong” to feel a confidential conversation rather than just a blistering steel picking.

Tone and mood go hand in hand here, the liquid melody of “Bee Sting” shaped into a boogie and into blues in “Inside Out Muse” that leans to a ’30s jazz permeating the album with the light fusion, so tasty in “Smoke Silver”. Elsewhere, the low notes undercurrent to brass surge brings a picturesque quality to “Pacific Haze”, but “Rising Sun” pulls off thrice as much energy and bears a Hank Marvin imprint on its powerful twang. Well, element can be a storm – oh, a tubular sound of “Sound Devil”! – and Steve Howe’s storm is the one you just enjoy a surrender to.

*****

 
IGZIT-NINE –
Igzit-Nine

Musea 2003

Spaced-out sarabande from the gates of dawn.

For some artists it’s as if the ’70s are still here; fortunately, there’s enough jazz fusion in the Japanese band’s prog. With Noboru Inoue’s prominent slide guitar and Emi Hatsusaka’s piano boogie jive in “Honet’s Nest”, their instrumental music comes breezy to sound appropriate on both a sunny and a stormy day. They might fall into quite a tedious groove sometimes, like in “Day Of The Nautilus”, but an odd catchy line always keeps one’s attention afloat, and it’s hard not to fall for a little march looking out of “Easy Going” – a telling title.

It flows rather than ebbs, the energy swirling to sprawl blissfully in the “Sagent Staine” folky court dance shaped in the European tradition, not Oriental. “Aerostation” approaches a freefall jump which catches the breath and leaves a listener gasping for some more. Quite an achievement.

****1/4

 
BLOODSTAINED –
Greetings From Hell

Cult Metal Classics 2004

Greek gory stories. No new mythology though.

That’s an old skool heavy metal with some speed thrown in for a good measure. The question, then, is, What’s good? And the answer: the playing. While other seem to have forgotten how is it, playing with only one guitar, this quartet don’t mind leaving the space in their aural cloth, which makes the music breath. Yet when it comes to the lyrics, the band fall on their faces with a clashing bang, and the primitiveness tends to mar Theodoros Gourlomatis vocal lines.

Thankfully, Giorgos Kalavrezos’ axe cuts it big time riffing and ripping and rippling, and effectively lifting the outcome above the dark receeds of a teenager’s mind. Daggery swagger of “Burn The Sky” and waltzing with “Prisoners Of Time”, still, let the hope shine on, and that’s what a debut album must have in it.

**

 
EDGUY –
Hellfire Club

Nuclear Blast 2004

“Welcome to the freak show”? What, again? No point in declining the invitation.

Power metal is a thing too cliched, and these days the winning formula lies in melodies, which are aplenty there. Having closed the first chapter of their existence with 2003’s Reviews27edguy”>”Burning Down The Opera” live album, the invigorated quintet let it rip afresh: the opening “Mysteria” hooks a listener up with its big chorus and easy-rolling groove that convicts a deceptive drama to quite a jolly exile for humor to pop up full-size in “Lavatory Love Machine” rock ‘n’ roll and turn into a glorious PET SHOP BOYS-like pop of “King Of Fools”.

Singer Tobias Sammet, a main writer, does a formidable work here, and if “The Piper Never Dies” alludes to the one at the gates of dawn, there’s an obvious progressive tradition in choir harmonies, Dirk Sauer and Jens Ludwig’s guitar solos and orchestral lining to the operatic finale, “The Spirit Will Remain”. What with originality, EDGUY have something to contribute to the style: “We don’t need a hero” sounds like a great apostasy. Sounds great.

****1/2

 
ELECTROCUTION 250 –
Electric Cartoon Music From Hell

Liquid Note Records 2003

The most perilous performance ever devised by mortal musicians without the use of a safety net? Exactly that – a gig with a giggle.

“Let’s go crazy!” is the record’s idiom. To cram frenetic riff-a-ripping, madful march and righteous boogie into one track and call it “Fletcher The Mouse” takes some schizophrenia – or three of the most skilful fusioneers on the scene having watched some ol’ animation series and re-telling the experience at 250. Beats per minute, that is. Guitarist Todd Duane, keyboardist Lale Larson and drummer Peter Wildoer sure had a lotta fun recording this extravaganza, and even though each of three solo workouts may pull knots on the nerves, the sheer exuberance and excitement gets through to make the most-respected bow-tie go pogo.

Running the style gamut from the ’20s to 21st century and from ragtime through raga to reggae, you-name-it-they-play-it, the trio cook a tasty mash to laugh over, the title “Ridiculosous” putting the wire straight to catch onto. Get burned and cheer up!

*****

 
DAIMONJI – Improg

Musea 2003

“Improg” isn’t in Japanese, it reads “improvissation in progressive”. The music isn’t that simple, though.

A thought shot down in flight is what a concert extermporizing committed to tape looks like. Before, those stunts were the speciality of jazzmen and CRIMSO, and the trio of keyboardist, bassist and drummer posess the quality of both entities. Four epic tracks recorded live in 2002 have a groove in them yet a melody comes so elusive that concentrating on it for long seems impossible. A mold of operatic and yodel vocals in “Glimpse” leads to some spine-tingling which dissolves in a spaced-out sprawl of “Mongolian Bandits” – forget your HAWKWIND, then, there’s another madful drama going on, the one you can’t help but feel a stranger to. “Night Dust” shows organ-driven strains of relative sanity and welcomes some meditation until idiotic quarreling fires anew, and “Ombre Moned” sombre dragging puts an end to 21st century schizoid man’s reverie. Not the album to start a career with.

*1/3

 
JOHN HACKETT –
Velvet Afternoon

John Hackett 2004

Read the interview

Warm and calling, the flute shines. Follow the Pied Piper.

The major surprise this albums brings is that it took so long for its creator to start a solo career. It’s not been unexpected though, after the Satie album John recorded with his famous brother. Here, the partner is different – Sally Goodworth’s rippling piano gives Hackett’s gentle flute a wave to surge on – but the feel is the same: the modern spirit of classical music, which means fans of new age as performed by Rick Wakeman or Steve Howe can add another name to the list.

There’s no rocker’s antics, only pureness which lifts up “Vergenbung”, balances out ragtime of “Oily Rag” with Mozart-esque “Allegro Molto Moderato”, and brings to life the “Pastures Green” out of superficial bucolic painting it might be had it been forced just a bit. But it’s not, the definition ‘relaxing pieces’ reflecting not only the listening experience but also the recording process. Disciplined and tongue-in-cheek, three-part “Minuet” comes off as Satie meets Bach, a Cheshire cat smile hangs amidst the notes that touch the heartstrings as well as brain cells. A soul food, indeed. As for autumn leaves on the cover, a title track melancholy leaves a wish to start the musical journey from the beginning.

*****

 
RICHARD HALLEBEEK PROJECT –
RHP

Liquid Note Records 2004

Futuristic jazz in the old way, grab this with the velvet glove.

That’s been a wrong process: fusion parting way with rock, but now old Mahavishnu John can be happy, as in Richard Hallebeek he has a successor, the one whose feel overshadows the obligatory mastery of an instrument. There are many sides to Rich’s guitar, and he makes the words ‘return to forever’ take on another meaning from what springs to mind with music that his quartet play. Sprawling panorama of “Prescription Stregth” may be a calling card for the project that involves two guest six-stringers, Shawn Lane and Brett Garsed, alongside the core of Hallebeek, keyboardist Lale Larson, bassist Udo Pannekeet and drummer Bas Cornelissen, all demonstrating their verve of unhurried groove.

The groove means all here, where concentrating on liquid melody changes isn’t easy, yet following them is rewarding enough, and it’s hard to not like Larson’s airy “Good Food”, smooth enough to work your jaws to, and then glade off blissfully with acoustic epic of “Enigma”. There’s no showing off, and though it’ll make for library music for good, cutting the surface tension reveals a real pulse.

***4/5

 
WAPPA GAPPA –
Gappa

Musea 2004

Musical hieroglyph: an aesthetics of meaning.

Here’s a gridlock you should squeeze out of to get where you’re going to. Whether the opening “Souk” bears a genuine Japanese traffic stamp is one’s guess, but it pushes and shoves agoraphobically enough to scare the uninitiated away from this bowl of scalding riffs, splashing synths and Tamamo Yamamoto’s idiosyncratic singing. Bold will have their reward, though, in magnificent operatic ballad which is “Ranja”, lacquered yet seething like the Land of the Rising Sun’s landscape, and there’s a real passion in “To Soldiers” that unfurls on a warm surge of bass, drums and ripples from Yasuhiro Tachibana’s guitar.

Simplicity and sentiment carry the music into the sublime, unlike the funkyfied rest, too cerebral and psycho to register with the psyche, even though meaty organ solo in “Exquisite Blue” does the trick of the tick on good nerve. So here’s a freedom in the end, in soaring “Etranger”, no one can feel a stranger to, because if the meaning is elusive the beauty is at hand.

****

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