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HUGH HOPPER –
Numero D’vol

Moonjune 2007

The bottom-line machinist stokes the engine and takes his time.

Hugh Hopper is not your Jah Wobble, and his solo albums don’t feature much risque sub-aquabatics. This one, bottomless “Straight Away” aside, heads for the comfort of cubistic lounge where experimentalism takes on a classic shape and gets under the skin of smooth jazz to prick it when it feels too cozy. Hence, the main man calls the shots from the back seat for Simon Picard’s sax to blaze madly over Steve Franklin’s piano splashes in “On The Spor” or sooth, as angularly, the dishevelled nerves of the morning after the sleepless night in the title track.

Here, Hopper keeps further from the edge than he allows himself in any of the SOFT MACHINE incarnations, lining the dots in “Free Bee”, but safe heaven this isn’t, with “Shovelfeet” tiptoeing one minute and running amok the other. Still, Devil doesn’t dwell in “Numero D’vol” either: it’s a solid work from the veteran who enjoys himself and lets the listener go along for the ride.

****

 
BEGGARS OPERA –
Close To My Heart

Ricky Gardiner Songs 2007

Another age, the spirit’s still alive. Old grandiosity in a new millenium.

They were one of those great progressive rock bands who never hit the big time – and didn’t seem to want to, as it was music that mattered more than success. The BEGGARS OPERA leader, guitarist Ricky Gardiner, had a bite of it, though, having played with Bowie and Iggy and composed the famous “Passengers” riff for the latter, yet again, his old band were always close to his heart. This may be the real meaning of the new album’s title, the group’s first since 1981. Ten years in the making due to Ricky’s electrosensitivity which prevents him from dealing with recording equipment for a long time, it finds the master in a warm environment of his wife, the OPERA vocalist and keyboard player Virginia Scott, and their son, Tom, on drums. Not the same ensemble, then.

But from the opening cosmic guitar lines of “Secret” that break into the urgent singing and on, to the fantastic folk swirl of instrumental “Here Comes Everybody”, there’s the same sparse lushness that, in the early ’70s, took them from the Victorian extravaganza of “Act One” to the “Waters Of Change” futurism. While the new output is very modern, transcending “Apparently Uncontrolled” even fit for the trance-danding, ambience packs a punch in the slow funk of “A-Ha” with its salient bass. And if sometimes this spaciness renders the voice detached from the music, like in the title track, too ghostly to like and saved only by tight piano part, “Senselessness” feels fabulously creepy. whereas “You Stranger” welcomes good pogoing. The depth that’s there demands repeated listening that’s rewarding.

****

 
SOFT MACHINE LEGACY –
Steam

Moonjune 2007

Revving up for the rave-up, the old vehicle leaves the streamline young pretenders behind.

There’s a contradiction in the band’s name and their output: picking up where the classic MACHINE left off – if there ever was a classic period with such an ever-shifting music – the quartet led by bassist Hugh Hopper and featuring the ’70s stalwarts John Etheridge on guitar and John Marshall on drums, plus ex-GONG reeds player Theo Travis who replaced the departed Elton Dean, are SOFT MACHINE, what with tracing their roots back to Canterbury in the hazy daze of “So English”. What’s the use in the LEGACY part is anyone’s guess, but the foursome do remain true to their glorious past while casting a glance into the future on this collection of studio jams recorded by COLOSSEUM’s Jon Hiseman.

From the lead-off, “Footnote”, they’re footloose and fancy free, with a spotlight for every instrument, but – and this is a surprise – the improvisations sound very disciplined and grounded. The grip on the tune feels firm and caring even for a casual ear to not get lost, if only in a dream as breezingly romatic as “In The Back Room” is. The band are really steaming, never more so as in the chugging collective co-write “The Big Man”, which in itself comes as a just cause to get rid of the third word in the name.

****2/3

 
MAGELLAN –
Innocent God

Muse-Wrapped Records 2007

Innocence’s lost, ambition’s bust, here comes a time to rip this joint and whatnot. And why not?

“We are in the process of moving out of traditional ’70s-style progressive rock”, says the band’s leader, Trent Gardner, and he’s being earnest. The Californian trio do veer away from the ground they’ve been proudly holding for many years and, ditching long intros, cut short to the matter that’s the world’s injustice and hypocrisy. Now it’s more songs than epics, with a memorable hooks in “Invisible Bright Man” and good-time rocking of the closer, “Slow Burn”, though the pieces are still long enough. But if the rhythm section indulge in a tempered soloing in “Found”, some sections of it are dance-floor friendly and there’s a soulness in the title track. So much for the seriousness, especially with a cheesy ballad “Who To Believe” in tow. The album smells of a guilty pleasure, and is all the better for it – quite an achievement for a neo-prog outfit.

****

 
simakDIALOG –
Patahan

Moonjune 2007

There’s no mistake, there’s no refrain: freeform flow from Jakarta.

The album’s title means “faults”, but it’s hard to go wrong with an airy fusion like this. Nothing special about this live performance, it’s a pleasurable shower of ivory tinkling and guitar ebb-web in the sprawling “One Has To Be”, and there’s no exotica in the beginning, so one will be forgiven to not notice the band are from Indonesia. Even in the globalisation era it comes as a surprise that musicians from the far recesses of the world can embrace such a Western form of music. But then, the jazz roots go back to the humanity motherlode, so there’s a certain logic in African grooves which reveal themselves little by little and turn into a charged chant in “Spur Of The Moment”.

Elsewhere, “Kemarau” seems verging on dramatic mess but method never leaves whatever madness there is, yet baroque is the least expected styling to pay a visit here – more kudos, then, to the band leader, composer and keyboard player Riza Arshad. Still, the most divine moment comes when his Hancock-like Fender Rhodes backs Nyak Ina Raseuki’s tribal vocalising in the humid jungle midst of almost 20-minute long “Kain Sigli”. More of this, and Indonesia will be put on the fusion world map.

***3/4

 
VANILLA FUDGE –
Out Through The In Door

Island 2007

The seal of approval on the cover, Robert Plant sending his blessings to the old friends who sing the songs that aren’t the same.

It’s good when a song is covered by an artist who’s not been influenced by an original performer, the best realization of this being Paul Rodgers’ stint with QUEEN, but when it comes to THE FUDGE taking to the holy cow that is ZEPPELIN, there’s a catch. On their first US tour, in 1968, Jimmy Page’s band opened for these American giants, and now, almost 40 years later, one mighty quartet pay a homage to another. The project’s backround is explained in Chris Welch’s extensive liner notes, where everything feels reasonable – until it comes to listening whereupon two problems arise. The one is ZEP’s music doesn’t lend itself to others easily, the other is that today’s FUDGE, comprising all original members, have almost lost their unique sound. Progress is good, sure, yet a cover version demands applying one’s identity to it while retaining its author’s intent.

FUDGE’ve tried and tried hard, and wisely kept off from scaling the heights of “Stairway” and “Levee”, but let themselves play around with “Rock And Roll”, propelled by Tim Bogert’s bass, and “Immigrant Song”, infusing it all with deep soulness and funking it up. There’s a great attention to detail in finding new layers in the classics and revealing them for all to see; that’s why the band remain humbly cool for the most part to serve the song and not show off the players’ brilliance. Carmine Appice is rather reserved in “Moby Dick” yet bravely raps on “Trampled Underfoot”. Still, it’s the least obvious choices where the veterans really shine – in the “All Of My Love” dramatic flow topped with Vince Martell’s crystal guitar solo, in expansive samba of “Fool In The Rain” taken to the moon by Mark Stein’s organ and voice, in vocal harmonies-filled “Ramble On” – while the “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” posh folk and cod-orchestration of “Dazed And Confused” seem too dull: not FUDGE’s cup of tea, they’d’ve been better left unturned. These misfires aside, the fun is undeniable and the masters’ enthusiam is infectious.

***1/3

 
TROUBLE –
Simple Mind Condition

Escapi Music 2007

Twelve long years on, the original mavericks are back in the pen. Cozy and warm.

In the metal fold, time machine has little space to operate which is arguably not bad: at least there’s someone to rely on. So, when Eric Wagner declares “I’m going home” to the chime and the tar of double guitars, you feel like joining the Chicago band on their anabasis. That’s a funny endeavor sometimes, with the “Kashmir”-like figure the axis of “Trouble Maker”, the ZEP call of “Ride In The Sky”, the “Hair Of The Dog” riff in “Mindbender” and SABBATH-shaped sarcasm of the title track. All this draws the quintet into the classic hard rock territory – “Pictures Of Life” is an infections example – rather than doom metal domain they’re supposed to belong to. Style doesn’t matter, though, when the sharpness is so enjoyable.

****

 
LIARS – Liars

Mute Records 2007

A moment of truth is farther than ever, yet everybody loves their lies sweet.

If the music is an ordered noise, then this Oz-Am trio stopped half-way of ordering it all for their fourth album and left a lot of aural fringe to hang down. But the sonic rags seem slipshod only on the first spin, as that’s a part of the chic modern design. Here lies the LIARS’ real deceit: in the hi-fi pop behind the grit. Whereas the Iggy spectral presence cuts it on the trance floor, in the urgency of the opening “Plaster Caster Of Everything” where guitar call mutates into electronic delight, the short “Cycle Time” is filled with hypnotic and viscous sound, but the both pieces’ tunefulness imprints itself in the convolutions.

Yet there’s a lot of seriousness, too. The anxious, tense “Leather Prowler” rattles with explosions and jazz piano splashes on the primitive march backdrop: it’s almost musique concrete, and only the repetitive figures distance it from the true avant-garde that the band don’t risk reaching for but are capable of. For a while, their audience has to get used to the thought that a ballad shouldn’t be banal but, like “Sailing To Byzantium”, combine a lush melody with the delicate multi-layered arrangement with instrumental vignettes from out of this world. From the same place comes the “Freak Out” muddy rock ‘n’ roll, while all could do well without the noodling of “The Dumb In The Rain” and “Pure Unevil”. Don’t mind, though, the velvet final that is “Protection” feels so delicious, it begs to repeat the spin and dig deeper.

***3/4

 
OVERKILL –
Immortalis

Bodog Music 2007

More of the same but why fix what, if broken, is broken deliberately, in the name of art and fury?

Inventiveness can’t be a forte of a band approaching their fourth decade in metal, and that’s quite a good thing – to be sticking to one’s own guns and be conservatively old-school when it comes to sonics. And that’s what the New Jersey quintet do on their eighteenth longplayer: no nu-compression and histrionics, just straightforward thrash with unbridled bile and tempered aggression, and all the better for it, as unlike many of their ilk, this band go for communal feeling rather than alienation. Cue the chant of “What It Takes” and letting the collective hair down in “Chalie Get Your Gun”. There’s a right combination of sludge and speed on the album, but sometimes the patterns’ sameness jars a bit, of what the group seem to be conscious enough to slow down a spooky rock ‘n’ roll of “Hellish Fire” to a glorious effect and keep changing their pace in “Shadow Of A Doubt”. Relentless factor may slack a tad but OVERKILL are still a force to be reckoned with.

***1/4

 
RICHARD & LINDA THOMPSON –
…In Concert, November, 1975

Island 2007

The royal couple out for all to see – for the first time ever.

No doubt, Richard Thompson had his reasons to leave FAIRPORT CONVENTION to play music somewhat unlike folk rock, revolutionary in its traditional nature, yet no matter what the reasons there were, he hasn’t done anything so new. And there’s no reason to blame it on sufism that the guitarists and his wife Linda embraced at the time, as the Islamic mysticism didn’t seep through into the pure English music of the couple, especially on-stage. Still, to feel it, you had to be there – but there was no live albums from the band, until now.

The band here, alongside the Thompsons, are Richard’s former colleagues, Daves Pegg and Mattacks comprising the rhythm section, and the great John Kirkpatrick on the accordion. Their contribution to the proceeding is immense, even though the ensemble perform rather reservedly. But that’s what it takes for the unhurried opener, “I Want To See The Bright Light Tonight”, to be cheerful, and slow and transparent “Night Comes In” to feel dramatic. And while there seems to be no guitar miracles, it’s the leader’s instrument that propels most of the numbers – except for “Morris Medley”, where each of the musicians has a сhance to shine.

Sadly, the live versions of the nervous “Calvary Cross” and “For Shame Of Doing Wrong” come off too relaxed – Linda is no Sandy – but it’s more than made up for with the brilliant takes on classic country material, Buck Owen’s “Together Again” and Hank Williams’ “Why Don’t You Love Me”. To resist the charming gush of “Jet Plane In A Rocking Chair” and, more so, “It’ll Be Me” rendered rockabilly – as well as the pull of the whole concert – is even harder.

****3/4

 
TOKYO DRAGONS –
Hot Nuts

Escapi Music 2007

The rising sons not from the Land of the Rising Sun. Hard rock youth growth – engrossing.

Lately, young heavyweights tend to forget that rock ‘n’ roll is fun – but, fortunately, someone has an antidote to sour wailings, and that’s this London band whose second album swings the metal chain. The opener, “On Your Marks”, and “Rock My Boat” are cut for singalong and solders sharp guitars to the soulful brass: so much for the ambition. That’s a good-time foot-stomping music with simple yet infectious licks, and “If I Run You Run” sounds more like an invitation than a threat, though the riff-fest that’s “Slade Alive” drags a bit and comes not in the Noddy & Co tradition at all until the dual-axe solo explodes gloriously.

A little bit of variation in tempos would do the collective good, yet maybe it’s better to pass on the ballads and belt out another rocker curiously called “The Ballad Of Ballard”. There might be a bright future ahead for the guys. If those clowns, THE DARKNESS, made it why not TOKYO DRAGONS?

***3/4

 
JASON SMITH –
Tipping Point

MoonJune 2007

Classics thought anew, a jazz Bermuda triangle to go adrift and get lost in a hazy reverie.

A trio of piano, double-bass and drums is not a unique format to explore the jazz idiom, but as they say, it’s a singer not a song that matters, and here all three instruments are all but singing. Led by drummer Jason Smith whose dynamics set the mood, the soloist at this gig, recorded at LA’s “Jazz Bakery”, in May 2006, is another sticks master, Gary Husband, as adept with the ivories as with the skins, while the bottom line comes from Dave Carpenter. With a fusion in their DNA, it’s most surprising the threesome choose the pure form and enjoy the quiet ripples of Keith Jarret’s “Star Bright” and relaxed yet urgent shuffle of John McLaughlin’s “Follow Your Heart” where the bass lets rip and Fender Rhodes goes groovy, Hancock-way.

The percussive feast unravels in Husband’s own “Three Lies”, the wildest thing on offer, which is understandable with no need to be reverential and a possbility to go, though sparsely, all over the place, with Jimmy Webb’s “Up Up And Away” as a calm resolution. If a storming might can be serene, there’s a testament to this.

*****

 
NOIR – Strange Desire

Angel Air 2007

The Men in Black are made for walking, and this is what they do.

Electronic duos aren’t that rare a commodity these days, and there should be something special about them to stand out of the crowd – and to make the Angel Air roster as well. But it’s not what Georg Kajanus, the SAILOR mastermind, and Tim Dry of TIK AND TOK fame had in mind when, in 1997, they recorded a jerky groover “Walking” which made it to the TV screen with no proper release and no album to follow, a situation rectified 10 years later. But it was very tongue-in-cheek even in the beginning: with an Eastern European tune in-between the clangy beats of the duo’s initial hit, the funky strum and church organ of “Believing”, and the processed slide guitar of “Continental At Heart”, the technicolor bursts through the monochrome disguise to a shoe-tapping effect.

Some of the tracks, like “Travelling”, seem done on the “Walking” template – pathetic, if melodic, raps strung over thunderous refrain – yet raving to the catchy guitar riffs can make a good discotheque pastime. The “Wings Of Desire” etherial motif provides a much-needed relaxation break before “Genie” pulls the feet back to the dancefloor. The neon-lit delight.

***1/3

 
ARTI & MESTIERI –
First Live In Japan

MoonJune 2007

From the Apennines to the Fuji: to the past and back again.

One of the finest Italian progressive rock bands have a steady following, and their 30th anniversary world trek couldn’t be anything other but a glorious romp. For that special occasion, the septet brought on-stage – almost in full – their first two albums, 1974’s “Tilt” and 1975’s “Giro Di Valzer Per Domani” with some later compositions, a couple of previously unreleased among them, thrown in for the good measure. And it’s really good on the sane side of Frippian nightmare, with “Strips” violin-brushed lull overshadowing the brazen brass storm of “Gravita 9,81” and, in its turn, paling before the guitar flight of “Positivo / Negativo”.

If that’s serious, “Valzer Per Domani” takes it waltzy circles to the bar-room floor, while “In Cammino” rocks as hell – where else boogie titls as much if not in front of the audience! But it’s “Aria Pesante” that’s unmistakably Italian in its operatic pop vocal clothed in warm instrumentation which is shot through with dramatic piano, the one so poignantly tinkled in “Kawasaki”. The doings are a bit too histrionic but the Hammond in “2000” is tasty, and that’s what the stage demands anyway, so with such energy level, this is a proof of the veterans’ vitality.

***4/5

 
PHIL MILLER –
IN CAHOOTS –
Conspiracy Theories

MoonJune 2007

Something light’s brewing up: get let on in the delicious collusion!

Whatever you might make of the Canterbury scene these days, it’s not the same anymore, there’s not much progressiveness in it now, which is not to say it’s worse than it was before – but Phil Miller’s band were latecomers anyway. With a new album to mark the group’s 25th year in the business, they bring on the top-notch fusion, the title track wrapping round the listener’s ears like a cozy pillow to lay a head on and rest yet not sleep, only drift away. Save for brooding “Crackpot”, the main man tends to keep behind his reeds-blowing cohorts – veterans such as Didier Malherbe and Annie Whitehead as well as Simons Finch and Picard – for most of the time, and when he sends a tune to wallow amidst the waves of Fred Baker’s bass he also sends the shivers down the spine.

Thus, the elegy that’s “End Of The Line” descends as a delicately electrifying sensation where Pete Lemer’s piano sings so poignant. It’s clearly the effortless endeavor for the players, and all the better for it, so it’s tempting to rush headlong into the breezy romp of “5s & 7s” and do the groovy African walk in “Orinaca”. So whatever the conspiracy is the secret is not advised to be kept.

*****

 
DIESEL PARK WEST –
Damned Anthems

Angel Air 2007

The two decades of the Leicester square-nots brought alive on-stage.For those who think U2 are unique in their class, here’s a proof of their wrongness, it’s just that DPW faled to shoot as high, and the band are still trying. While a new album, “Blood And Grace”, finds them here and now, this collection of concert recordings spanning 1988-2004 serves nicely to remind all how the quintet got there. The tapes may be ragged and the songs sometimes incomplete but it’s impossible to deny John Butler and the lads know too well how to engage the punters with the “Like A Rolling Stone” romp of “Like Princes Do” and the Orbisonesque drama of “Fall To Love”, though 1989’s version of the former isn’t as catchy as that from 1992 – and here are not one but two electrifying sets from that year.

Yet “When The Hoodooo Comes” and “Waking Hour” sounded like a real anthem even in the early years of the group’s existence, while equally anthemic “Walk With Mountain” marked the end of DPW’s EMI period as well as the inspired take on THE BYRDS’ “Turn! Turn! Turn!”. All cold classics pale, though, in comparison with 2004’s acoustic set with “Rock And Roll Woman” shaped as heartfelt ballad. Still, all of these present the good rockin’ band. Time for a breakthroгgh has come.

**

 
ELTON DEAN
& The Wrong Object
The Unbelievable Truth

MoonJune 2007

The last blow from the great late golden sax machinist – the bow in style.

Elton Dean was a British music giant, and his death in February 2006, preceded by the sad demise of another sax colossus, Dick Heckstall-Smith, robbed the stage of the old-school discipline in the much looser times. But both could be loose when the music demanded, and Dean is heard here flying high in Paris just four months before his leave, with THE WRONG OBJECT, the Belgium’s finest SOFT MACHINE followers. But there’s no Canterbury classics in the set, save for the vertiginous panorama of Elton’s own elegy “Seven For Lee” and “Baker’s Treat” from his recent collaboration with old friends, yet the septet boppingly throw themselves in the swing of Grieg’s “Hall Of The Mountain King” in “Cunnimingus Redux” – so much for the classicism!

The band gently underpin the leading reeder and let him soar even on the selections of their material, written by guitarist Michelle Deville. He goes all funky beneath the sax on “Millenium Jumble” and, in “A Cannery Catastrophe”, makes his instrument dance around Damien Polard’s elastic bass and ever-sensitive drumming of Laurent Delchambre. There surely was more playing but what’s on the disc is a fantastic testament to a marvellous talent’s last steps.

*****

 
SPLIT ENZ –
Live In America

The Store For Music 2007

Spreading the truth all over the world, the Finn brothers break through – and through.

It was 1980, and the New Zealand band went surfing the new wave, and so confident Neil and the main sonwriter Tim Finn and their compadres were in their then new album, “True Colours”, that the sextet took on stage no less than nine songs out of it. At least, so it was in Denver where this fine, though not great sound-wise, recording comes from. The extravagant Zealanders got style to strut the piano jive in “Hermit McDermitt” and wax artily in “Ghost Girl”, two shadows of their prog rock past which allow for some nice improvisations: quite a brave thing to feed their new admirers – but self-irony shines through “Nobody Takes Me Seriously” soloing.

Fantastic tunes and warmth set the group aside from the rest of the new wavers, and with fresh cuts SPLIT ENZ emerge sparkling as “Hard Act To Follow” is not mere braggadocio but a conquest declaration and “Poor Boy” an irresistible crowd softener. Yet the punters could rock hard to the infectious “I See Red” and “Twist And Shout”. Later, the Finns might move on to a bigger fame with CROWDED HOUSE but they would never be as uninhibited.

****

 
AFFINITY –
Origins:
The Baskervilles 1965

Angel Air 2007

Nothing but the hound dogs rockin’ all the time – before their time has come.

Some bands are so interesting – at least to their fans – that it makes a perfect sense to search for their roots to find out where this peculiarity comes from. That’s how it is with AFFINITY, dug quite deep by Angel Air. Hailing from the University of Sussex, the group was a result of two earlier combos coming together, THE JAZZ TRIO and THE BASKERVILLES, and it’s the latter the focus of this CD comprised of a full Christmas Ball gig at their alma mater and some curious extras. Enough to see what the quintet were like.

As with many successful recipes, the AFFINITY ingredients are nothing special yet good, and THE BASKERVILLES couldn’t go wrong with a repertoire of contemporary hits such as the opening “She’s Not There”, “Love Potion No. 9” and more than a fistful of the Fabs songs. But the more famous the piece is the easier it is to screw up, yet these five lads had honed their act alright – there are fragments of two earlier rehearsals to have a peek at the process – and showed great enthusiasm in peforming. No personal touch was given to the performance, though, save for melding “Sweets For My Sweet” and “Hang On Sloopy” into “Get Off Of My Cloud” for the encore, and no originals were played. which might explain why four members of the ensemble saw music as just a hobby. Not so with the drummer, very sensitive to the “Peggy Sue Got Married” groove, who reverted to his previous instrument, the bass, when AFFINITY came about. That was the real start of Mo Foster‘s career, a story more interesting than some bands’. A nice historic document.

***1/2

 
THE TUBES –
Live In America

The Store For Music 2007

The appliance to experience the California sun and some lysergic nostalgie.

It’s a bit of a perversion to be listening to this Frisco band’s performance rather than watching it. But when it comes to the recording from 1976 when the group have just released their second album, the rarity prevails over sound quality and the fact that’s not everybody is a Los Angeleno to react to the act like the audience captured on this CD did. Still, it’s very easy to get caught in the double-guitar web of the overwhelming “Grandiose Instrumental Overture” and not so easy to crack a smile to Fee Waybill’s incantations in “What Do You Want From Life”, even though the backing”s as cheery as it gets to have fun on the reasonable side of Zappa.

Fortunately, the level of musicianship equals satire level here, with Neil Sedaka’s “Love Will Keep Us Together” pre-faced with madful harmonica-oiled blues, and “Don’t Touch Me There” is a masterpiece of quirk. The hippy times were over by then, but what THE TUBES do with the fans on “Stand Up And Shout” harks back to that communal thing. A bit of a miracle… Yet the band mention a camera here, so where’s the video?

***

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