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Concert For George
WSM / Warner Bros 2003

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Some things don’t pass: George was too shy about himself to admit the love to him would last.

“What a night! I loved George and George loved me!” If it was somebody else who shouted these words, they might sound pretentious, but Ringo Starr pinned it all down, because an evening of George Harrison’s music which took place at Albert Hall on November 29th, 2002, a year to the day after the Quite One passed away, was a celebration rather than mourning. It’s easy to notice the similarities between this event and Concert For Bangla Desh, with Ravi Shankar’s indian orchestra opening both; this time, though, the sitar solo had been passed to his daughter Anoushka and Jeff Lynne organically squeezing “The Inner Light” into the enchanting mantra. That wasn’t the only unlikely choice from the Fabs’ catalogue – Tom Petty dusted off “Taxman” and Gary Brooker went for “Old Brown Shoe” – so there’s a good attempt of reinstating Harrison’s role in THE BEATLES, even though Billy Preston couldn’t keep from finishing “Isn’t A Pity” with a “Hey Jude” singalong. Yet the time and the place were right for that.

Too right – even Paul McCartney became overshadowed by George’s spiritual presence, and maybe not only George’s, as it was John Lennon who played an original slide guitar solo in “For You Blue” McCartney started his little set with before proceeding with doing “Something” on ukelele, the way Harrison loved, rousing “All Things Must Pass”, and reproducing, with Eric Clapton and Ringo, their original piano, guitar and drums parts on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. What could turn into a big mess, with six guitarists and six drummers playing at the same time on some songs, didn’t and it’s a top playing throughout, particular highlights being Albert Lee and Gary Brooker’s incandescent solos on “Honey Don’t” and Petty, Lynne and Dhani Harrison take on TRAVELING WILBURYS’ “Handle With Care”.

The meaning of many lyrics, as Starr remarked, have changed – in “Photograph”, in Clapton-delivered “If I Needed Someone”, in Petty and THE HEARTBREAKERS version of “I Need You” – and that’s, perhaps, the greatest example of universality of George’s songs that they can be sung in sorrow as well as in joy and revealing more and more of their depth.


Swan In The Monsoon
Rattlesby Records 2003

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There’s no deserting from the desert and no soothing from the seething.

It took the Atlanta group three years to come up with a successor to "World That Surrounds You", but the new record turns out somehow different from what those struck by the debut album have been expecting. Not that the boiling pot of the band’s edgy hard ‘n’ folk cooled down – “Dragon Fly” rings as fine as it gets, taking in a groovy reggae section – the strangeness lies with the singer Keith Johnston’s newly found Plant-isms, something this collective don’t really need. That prevents the first-time listener from diving headlong into sunny pop chorus of “Shine Halo”. There’s no immediacy now, many a song just drag with no hook to catch with, Middle Eastern motifs slowing down to their natural caravan flow, yet the depth is still here, hidden in “The Wheel” punky jig and “The Hummingbird Song” drones. A mature work this is, yet easy it ain’t: perhaps, three years were too much for the kind of music to brew up. But, folks, does “Bedouin Sky” rocks!


(Morning Machine & Soft Musume)
Musea 2003
The name and the album’s subtitle betray the style, but do the Japanese have a groove?

Canterbury scene in the Land of the Rising Sun? Don’t go giggling, because these Japanese guys embrace the SOFT MACHINE spirit ever so well to shape the Anglo quirkiness comfortably in under-two-minutes opener “Cos”, yet what they’re hardly capable of, with their all-too-disciplined minds, is go wild into a lunacy, no matter how hard they try in an angular “Dada” or a four-part reverie of “Heap Suite”. Mikio Fukushima’s contemplative saxes and Noriumi Uchida’s loping bass are pulling a listener in, though, very insistently in “UnderDog’s Blues”, so yes, there is a groove – if you like grooving languidly. Still, the album brings out a lot of passion – in the Eastern way, of course – and feels enjoyable enough to return to once in a while.


Martin Road
Perpetual Tree Music /
Socan 2003
Hushed little “stories full of ghosts” to carry on with your way.

His may be a sunset world, but this is a comfortable place that Ken Baird inhabits and shares with those tired of life-traveling. Rippling “Paved Over Summertime” perfectly catches this bitter-sweet weariness, and if opening “Brave Anna” feels a bit unsettling, the soft voice, touching piano line and gentle whistles are very sympathetic, though its widescreen unfurling comes far removed from the exuberance 2000’s "Orion" brimmed with. This time Ken handles most of the parts himself, which surely accounts for the record’s intimacy, his friends – usual suspects, vocalist Susan Fraser and guitarist Steve Cochrane among, them – not disrupting the mood yet infusing “She Takes One Step” with strains of life-affirming magic. The title cut does even more miracles: it grows into a classic progressive rock piece and just makes one wonder where the artist’s road leads him to.


Self-Portrait As A Venerable Shrub
Dogfinger Recordings 2003
An aural watercolor, in a minimalist way.

Six-Fing Thing is a brainchild of James Cobb, not only a visual artist but an aural too. That makes sense: a painting doesn’t allow to call for a bunch of friends to join in the fun. If only there was fun. You’ll hardly want to live in this densely idiosyncratic, Beefehartian world where, in “The Basic Nobility Of A Small Boy” flute sounds fly around the ears and strange voices fill your head, while the title track’s Coltrane-esque kitchen-sink acid-jazz wraps hangs on quite comfotable. With all the musique concrete noizes and splashes, it’s a sober kind of buzz, though, to relate to with no chemical aid, and lazy guitar and sax of “Banana Tree Roots And Ants” swirling around the light percussive axis demand no explanation, yet one needs a lot of imagination to cotton on as to what’s behind psycho bubbling of “Passing Back And Forth The Same Old Fish” or the “Wisdom Returns” madful dirge. And in this enigma lies an appeal.


Illusions Of Everyday
Yellow House 2003
Use your illusions, no matter straight or on the rocks.

Once the “Red Light Diamond” theatrical intro gives way to incendiary rock ‘n’ roll riff, you can breathe out feeling easy: there still are people who revere the ’70s hard rock and don’t think it needs any contemporary smut to be infecting. Appealing it is and sometimes unexpected too, funky strut making “Signs” taut, but killer tunes of “The Silent Screaming” or “Babylon” get killed by Jensen P.’s pounding vocal delivery. The singer just doesn’t have the stretch of Hartmut Kreckel’s guitar which can rip one instant and acoustically ripple the other. More or less balanced feel psychedelised “Land Of Lightning” with its spacey harmonies and woozy soloing and murky anthemic “Ain’t No Cure”, sliding on Matze Pfund’s swell bass. So there’s all the makings of a smash – if only the band cut the album in two, 71 minutes being too much to enjoy – the guys know it, finishing it all with a sound of snoring – and picked the best cuts. It’s a start though, and next time they’ll surely do.


3 Months In Fat City!
Hooka-Jooka Vol. IV
Dogfinger Recordings 2003
The listeners digest concept of condensed hearing? The definition sounds much more scary than the music.

Recorded during four shows in the fall of 2002, the four epic pieces woven into one richly textured tapestry hold the whole Universe in them. The sonics, both electronic and live, encapsulate everything from raga drones shot through with bass and pucntuated with tabla to guitar-led jungle anxious shatterings, Crawling King Snakes taking on Interstellar Overdrive. Different parts move in and out of focus but never get in the way of one another, that’s why no matter how complex the music is in places – and it is quite sophisticated – it grows into a listener’s psyche being plucked out of soul in the first place.

It’s all in the mind, as said George Harrison who’d approve of “October 4” – yes, all cuts are titled according to the date when they’ve been commited to tape – the most earthy track of the set, arising from Eastern mirages; the tempos are slow yet the music gracefully slides rather than irritatingly drags on. What comes hard to believe is the fact these are live recordings, because while “strange telepathy” is clearly in operation here, “confusing blemishes” seem to exist only within the brains that concocted all this. Looking inside oneself is what it’s all about – but don’t take it too serious…


Live At The US Festival
TML Entertainment 2003

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Twenty years on since the power trio went down like a storm, their historic set still trumpets a triumph.

Many won’t remember TRIUMPH now or, if they do, the Canadian band will get dimissed as something too showy, and that would be a mistake. TRIUMPH, following in the wake of GRAND FUNK, played straight heavy rock, and it couldn’t be the other way, with just three musicians on-board. Mighty this trio was – here’s a document: to send half a million punters rolling to “Allied Forces” riffarama seems quite a feat now, let alone in 1983 when this kind of music had all but lost its soul. Yet the crowd is heard hungrily latching onto “A World Of Fantasy” harmonies, so the key might lay in the purity brought forth with the interplay in “Lay It On The Line”, perfectly fashioned for a stage, and “Rock & Machine” with Rik Emmett’s fantastic guitar solo – marred by voiceovers flown in from the video footage. Live, “Magic Power” doesn’t sound too dated and even the reggae of “Never Surrender” holds up well, Mike Levine’s bass and Gil Moore’s drumming driving the engine all along. The musicians feed off the audience’s reaction – strip the performance from the glorious cheers, and it can go sour, especially when Emmett’s voice soars to the Californian skies, like in pathetic “Fight The Good Fight”. It didn’t though, and twenty years on the fight feels as good.


In Technicolor
Rockular Recordings 2003
Treat yourself to some colorful rock: complicated it ain’t.

It takes three to do that, you know? What with the latest tendency of rocking duos, they’re more about pretension which leaves little space for real music and humor, and the Oxford trio masters both. The artwork – even the CD itself remindful of the Atlantic Records LP label – tells about the latter, while the former, driven by Mike Hyder’s guitar and voice, takes a listener on a mindtrip to the times when rock ‘n’ roll was something primeval. Opening “Burnin'” is a good specimen of it, a cross between ZEPPELIN and CLASH not only in terms of style but also in its depth. Unlike many modern bands, THE TREAT know a way with a melody – a garagey way theirs may be, yet bubbling with the same mid-’60s energy that introduced technicolor to the sonic brew: “Hypertonic” lays it all out in declarative detail, and single “Agent 555” has enough wah-wah in the solo and vocal harmonies in the chorus to bite into the charts, so contract shouldn’t be too far away. That may mean an end to Hyder’s Rockular Recordings though… but his combo deserve more.


Fragments Of Light
Musea 2003
Spanish grands do a grandiose return to prog basics.

KOTEBEL is a rare bird: a band led by keyboardist Carlos Plaza seemed to start at the same place from where the progressive rock heroes began their quest yet without those heroes’ influence. Here, the heroes are classical composers, though another RENAISSANCE the Spaniards aren’t, and Caroline Prieto’s operatic vocals tend to be another instrument in the heady mix of the original elements making this, the ensemble’s second, album sound so fresh. In “Hades”, piano, guitar and flute pitch a camp of jazzy angularity and slight dissonances and set the anxiety to reign. It reaches the emotional heights in “Fuego” but is present even in “El Quimenista”, a series of Cesar Garcia Forero’s acoustic guitar sketches, and poignant yet deceptively pastoral “Memoria”. Towards the end, all simmers down still, yet if “Children Suite”, a solo piano piece, brings on a strange finale, it shows a base on which the fragments create a light. Murky but charming.


More Jack Than God
Sanctuary 2003
The second installment of the meister’s Latino trilogy. And no, God doesn’t mean Clapton here.

Did Jack know he had a cancer when he took to this album? Most likely, as “More Jack Than God” is the darkest record of his canon, there’s no playfulness of its predecessor, "Shadows In The Air": the shadows have thickened. The subject matter of the songs is so serious – alienation, murder, death – that even old CREAM numbers took on a new meaning: “Politician” sends a menacing aural arrow towards those who lead the world astray, desperate “We’re Going Wrong” sounds like a sentence to this world, while “I Feel Free” lost its joy due to too many vocal lines being exposed. Yet no matter how much pain pours out from acoustic majesty of “Kelly’s Blues”, the record’s Cuban groove is massive, “Follow The Fire” bringing breeziness into a humid jive.

Claustrophobia prevails anyway, from the anxious buzz of opening “So They Invented Race” to the closing “Lost In The City” jam, eerie pre-War chanson of “Progress” balanced with poignant romanticism of “The Night That Once Was Mine” in which Jack duets with himself, and it’s all this that makes an album burn slow – and do magic, as each new spin reveals more light hidden inside and more pulse in the bass veins, like in “Cold Island” dedicated to the late Cozy Powell. Very Bruce-like. As for the title, God is Godfrey Townsend whose guitar had to be lower in the mix than that bass.


UBP International 2003
Progressive rock with the rhyme and the reason.

Close study of the song list reveals an acrostic, which reads “shaping”, so you don’t expect anything except highly ordered music inside the package. And it can’t be anything other than that, the Bulgarian band members all being educated chaps who already dipped their toes in the rock water before getting their skills together to make this album. Taking off, gently, with classical piano piece, the title track turns into very literate prog, tasty and rather sharp in the riffing department yet hardly original in its complexity – when a jazzed up acoustic lace shifts in, revealing some pure feeling under the shadow of virtuosity, so clear in “Alone”, there’s much more gusto in the brew. Meshing it all up into an almost orchestral epic of “Painting Soul” shows where the band’s heart is, measured sophisication paving a road to a bright future – hopefully, they won’t pull a rock opera next. An impressive debut.


ENSEMBLE 4’33” –
Solid Records 2001
Get drowned in melancholia with old age meeting new age.

Alexei Aigui is known in Russia for his experiments with sounds and his soundtrack works. This time, still, there’s nothing close to the cutting edge: just an ambient suite in six parts, all called “Equus” after the theater performance they were written for. Recorded live, the moody pieces played by cello, piano and two violins – Aigui himself is one of the violinists – are pitched somewhere between John Cage and John Cale, with a heavy shadow of Fripp / Eno excercises hanging over. Not in short “Equus II”, though, shaped like a dramatic classical minuet. All in all, the music’s meditative yet, out of the stage context, rather strangulating in places, best avoided by those in depression and desperation. Romantic souls will value that.


2001 – Live
Greenslade 2002
Don’t call them a dinosaur: they’re more live than most of their young followers.

You can feel it when a long-disbanded ensemble gets resurrected to make a quick buck then go off again, but “be quick and be dead” isn’t the rule GREENSLADE live by. Starting the show with “Cakewalk” from reunion album, 2000’s “Large Afternoon”, they lay claim to the present and, switching right after to “Feathered Friends” which in 1973 opened the band’s self-titled debut, simpy stitch together the quartet’s history. Well, there are ghosts – a slight delay in Dave Greenslade’s synthesizer and John Young‘s piano unison creates a haunting effect – yet like breezy rumba of “Catalan” shows, age didn’t mellow Tony Reeves‘ fluid bass that provides a solid tightrope for keyboards to tread. Not the beaten path, though: even classic epics “Joie De Vivre” and “Sundance” are re-tooled to incorporate Young’s contributions and sound as modern as groovy “In The Night” or “No Room – But A View”, where two pianos intertwine quite tightly. Bordering with Greenslade’s typical easygoing new age, the music’s fresh, much fresher than that of the most of neo-prog bands GREENSLADE inspired. There’s a soul in the combo’s today’s material, both in terms of style – witness John’s singing in Dave’s unreleased “Wherever I Go” – and life energy. A new album looms large, then.


Phil Lynott’s
Live 1984
Zoom Club 2003
The grand performance from the grand man – grand to the very end.

They were a live band, as no official recordings of this project was released during the band’s short lifespan, so these are to represent SLAM’s real forte. And the set culled from the combo’s first three dates proves that ensemble could be as good as THIN LIZZY. LIZZY it wasn’t though, the answer as to why Phil discarded commercially profitable name lying with SLAM’s dance groove which lurks in-between Doish Nagle and Lawrence Archer’s cruchy guitar lines of “Nineteen” or almost disco of “Yellow Pearl” that pushes forward Mark Stanway synthesizers and Robbie Brennan’s electronically enhanced drumming. That must have been hard to crack up the crowd not familiar with new songs, yet cheers heard throughout say much of enthusiasm shared, while “Parisienne Walkways” and closing “Whisky In The Jar” have understandably better reception showing Lynott on top form and his combo not ramshakle either.

Yet they were still to gain the momentum – Phil was still to define his new position as a black singer, not the Irish hero anymore, “Like A Rolling Stone” coupled with “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” an evidence of his doubts. The artist, nevertheless, went to re-shape the anger of “Black Boys On The Corner” into ringing “Crime Rate” and “Young Boy” (called “Look In These Eyes” on Lynott’s "Live In Sweden") which reflects here LIZZY’s “Cold Sweat”, and poured his sadness into “Night In The Life Of A Blues Singer”, all brisk with energy SLAM studio recordings were lacking. The band still had to become a full force, yet it wasn’t to be – by the end of the year it folded and in another twelve months Philo would be dead.

A limited edition of the package comes with a video CD recorded illegally at The Nostril Priory Festival in August 1984, a historic value overshadowing poor quality. The rest of GRAND SLAM live output is spared for “Live 1984. Part Two”.


Dance Of Death
EMI 2003
There’s nothing portentous in the band’s thirteenth album, whatever meaning of “portentous” you may choose.

Well, the intentions are clear from the off, “Wildest Dreams”, quite a simple rock ‘n’ roll stating, “I’m on my way! Out on my own again!” But that’s good: who the hell wishes to see MAIDEN experimenting? They’re the same, which in the time of change makes them something solid to cling to, even though the beautifully folk-tinged and orchestrated title track comes dangerously close to “The Number Of The Beast” – crawling and then riding. This easiness of gallop and their melodic gift set the band from other runners with the pack, making an epic like “No More Lies” hummable and doing a pop song such as “Rainmaker” demand a lot from heavy metal group. Thankfully, the progenitors of the genre are no your regular heavy metal group.

Yet for them, this record is rather regular indeed, and leaving more standard rockers – “Gates Of Tomorrow”, for example – on the cutting room floor would benefit the album by packing the impact strong, especially when there’s an occasional crack in Bruce Dickinson‘s voice. Filling the disc with epics doesn’t help much, shorter “New Frontier”, drummer Nicko McBrain’s first co-write, stealing the air from dramatic “Paschendale”. Still, grandiose “Jorneyman” serves as a great finale; its “I know what I want, I say what I want,
and no one can take it away” message reels MAIDEN’s intentions further into the future – and gracefully bids farewell to the stage.


MoonJune Records 2003

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A highly experimental jumbo standing on its own three legs.

The fact there’s no guitar here means nothing, really, with Clint Bahr’s 12-string bass pulling it off in the range department; what matters is the NYC trio’s relentless intensity and idiosyncrasy that cover all the emotional bases. Outside of the “Ghosts” soundscape, it’s wild and jazzy, the method in use close to that of CRIMSO – the evidence lies in the opening “Jerome’s Spotlight” heavy angularity smoothed over by Keith Gurland’s reeds. The saxes jitter and flutter, yet whatever progressive it sounds, peeling under the surface of “Trip The Light” reveals blues roots. Here’s the solidity, but the romanticism of humorous “No Diamond Cries” is deceptive and a surprise that the ensemble had been discovered in the legendary CBGBs dissolves in the undercurrent aggression of delivery – hear Steve Romano’s percussion work throughout. Spicy stuff able to cure faint-hearted.


Four Corner’s Sky
Musea 2003
Reaching for the sky doesn’t mean finding it angular. And square it isn’t too.

Following the dancing violin down stately “Discontinuous Spiral” into the marching drums spot, one will hardly tell it’s a Japanese band drawing this magnificent and slightly anxious landscape which, with its Celtic tune, might depict Isengard’s return to beauty. Sometimes it gets too intense, and “I Am Not Here” indeed may cause a hurried escape, but if you’re looking for a successor to CRIMSO’s David Cross, Akihisa Tsuboy is a real contender, being in posession of the bowed instrument as ferocious one instant as serene the other, and having Dani’s soloing bass and guitar for sparring partners. So yes, that’s progressive rock at its best, with the classical music element very obvious to compete with the jazz leanigns in, like in “Kruken’s Brain Is Blasting”, or step back before Toshimitsu Takahashi’s keyboards in “Backside Edge”. Sprawling as the sky, the storm of an album.


Thirteenth Step
Virgin 2003
Not a simple re-tooling but something new from the TOOL camp.

The hushed buzzing of “The Package” may seem a cold welcome, but the title somehow reflects what the band is: a new venture for TOOL singer Maynard James Keenan and former TOOL guitar technician Billy Howerdel. Add here James Iha who helps them live, and anger and anguish will jump on you, yet “nothing new” will hardly be the verdict when the ensemble’s debut album’s over. Amongst all the stylistic predictability lurks an acoustic nerve that’s so pleasant to touch, “The Noose” pulling you in into a hibernation: getting frozen to death feels a bliss, and this sets APS apart from the post-grunge stomach-tingling bunch. Not very far apart, but we’ve already seen punk’s transformation into new wave, so this may well be the similar process, as signalled by tasty slug of “Vanishing”.

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