Gravity Fields — Disruption
I guess it is all about mood, time and place.
I must admit that this album did not register fully with me or appeal, when I first heard it whilst travelling. It was only when I sat down and listened carefully on headphones that I became snared by its quality.
Time passes quickly in the company of this affable album.
Disruption has more than enough energy to make goosebumps excitedly tingle, and offers little discordance to make the toes curl with disdain. On the contrary, it possesses many melodic qualities to make the lips quiver in delight.
Gravity Fields are an instrumental band based in Spain. Their rhythmic music draws upon jazz and rock, and it is skilfully presented in a series of eleven tunes. Most of the pieces last for four or five minutes, giving the players plenty of opportunity to exhibit their skills. These precise forays work well and ensure that listener-fatigue is never a factor.
The band comprises Alex Ojea, Toni Munné, Jordi Prats and Jordi Amela.
Apart from Munné, these musicians also form the backbone of Spanish jazz-rock band On The Raw. I have thoroughly enjoyed their work in the past and was fortunate enough to review their second album Climbing The Air.
There are some similarities in style with Climbing The Air, but overall, Distortion has a rawer feel.
Whilst Climbing The Air, prominently featured the flute and sax of Pep Espasa, giving it a wide and varied canvas of sonic colours, the absence of Espasa (except on one piece) ensures that this album has a different ambience and arguably a noticeably harder edge.
Disruption also refreshingly exhibits a modern, contemporary sound at times, and there were several occasions when the introduction of electronics into some of the pieces ensured that the album had something novel and interesting to say.
The album has many passages where the keyboards and guitar soar in harmony to create a forceful voice. The album has many appealing rhythms and some equally fascinating musical detours. These occur most notably during Detuned Love and are also exhibited in a particularly ethereal section during Rage. These interesting forays offer a diversion from the familiarly-satisfying and upbeat nature of most of the album.
The production values are magnificent and the outstanding dynamics and lively sonic qualities really help to make the whole album a wonderful, immersive experience.
All the musicians excel. However, the dexterous drumming of Ojea is a major highlight. It underpins many of the album's shifts in rhythm, and sets a relentless groove when the need arises. In this respect, Ojea is ably assisted by bassist Munné whose exuberant, growling tones push things along with aplomb. However, much of the melodic, heavy lifting is done by keyboardist Amela.
There are numerous moments when Amela impresses. He makes a significant and memorable contribution to the album's success, either as a soloist or as a supportive member of the ensemble.
Much of Diversions' snarl and bite is provided by Prat's guitar. His sympathetic playing enables the prominent keyboard arrangements and embellishments to flourish. However, there are many occasions when the gauntlet is thrown down, and twisted notes, full of gurning expression, are allowed to flourish and take hold. One such track, is undoubtedly The Hard Core.
Several of the tunes appear to have recurring themes or recurring stylistic traits. For example, the main motif of The Escape is notable and stays in the memory long after the tune has fled to silent freedom, only to make a welcome reappearance, in a somewhat altered form, during Ingravity.
Coyote is another particularly enjoyable tune. Its persuasive melody, jazz-rock styling and impressive ensemble playing ensures that it is one of my favourite pieces on the album.
Prime Time offers a different and arguably more varied sound to the tracks that preceed it, by dint of some saxophone bursts and some fulsome flourishes provided by Pep Espasa. This somewhat upbeat and funky tune tips a jazz party hat to the more strident rock-jazz rhythms and crunching guitar lines that are prominent in several of the other pieces.
I guess it is all about mood, time and place.
I urge you to listen to Disruption without any diversion. If you do, I am sure that just like me, you will find much to admire and little that disappoints.
I will certainly play Disruption often.
Steve Lukather — Bridges
Bridges is the latest solo album by Steve Lukather. He is of course well known as the guitar player for Toto. On this album there are a lot of Toto musicians playing and participating in the songwriting, so why is this new album mentioned as a solo album. The reason appears to be a lawsuit filed by Jeff Porcaro's widow. Following this lawsuit Toto are not releasing any new studio material. Since Toto is not releasing any new material, this album is a 'bridge' between Lukather's solo music and Toto.
Toto members Joseph Williams and David Paich are mentioned on many things for this album, playing their instruments and songwriting. The drumming business is nicely split between Toto drummer Simon Philips and Toto touring drummer Shannon Forest. Leland Sklar plays bass guitar on a few songs. My finger hurts from scrolling through his discography page on Wikipedia!
The music on Bridges is very Toto-like. On previous solo albums Lukather can be more experimental and jazzy but this new album mainly features the rock sound of Toto. It is not the poppy rock from their hit-single career but more like the accessible rock songs on for instance the album Toto XIV, an album that I really like.
Bridges does not have lengthy songs and if you are looking for songs with complex parts, then this album is not the one for you to pick. Of course there is the usual variation in music, just like on any of the Toto albums. With Someone, All Forevers Must End and I'll Never Know there are some love songs, some more powerful than the others.
With Take My Love there is a more jazzy playing and Burning Bridges is the bluesy rocker. The album is about 35 minutes and eight songs in length, perhaps a bit short. But with Bridges, Lukather released a good album. If you like Toto music then this album will certainly be to your liking. It has not the length or depth for prog-heads to really sink their teeth into, but if you are looking for a nice rocking album then Bridges will do just that.
Steve Negus — Economy Of Motion
Let me start by stating that as far back as 1982, if my memory serves me right, I have always had a soft spot for anything Saga. This most likely started when part of their 1982 Pinkpop festival performance was aired on national TV. An event I most likely watched because of my Y&T heavy metal addiction (see video), after which the televised Humble Stance effortlessly urged me to buy Saga's debut album. This was followed by a copy of their magnificent live album In Transit the minute it went on sale.
Saga's immaculate first album made quite an impact on my 13-year-old music brain. It's nothing short of a miracle that the one purchased vinyl copy sufficed with my record player's needle wearing it dangerously thin. After an actual live introduction to the band when in support of the exquisite Heads Or Tales album, the band visited Amsterdam in November 1983; my first ever prog concert experience. It was safe to say I was seriously in love with the band and their music.
Something which I still am today, although as with any good relationship, it underwent ups and downs over the years. One such instance being Steve Negus and Jim Gilmour's temporal divorce from the band in 1986. Although this yielded, amongst other pleasurable albums, a fine GNP effort in the form of Safety Zone. An excellent AOR-Prog/pop inspired album now freshly remastered and available again for those interested! A happy reunion in 1990 resulted in some memorable Saga moments until, to cut a long story short, Saga and Negus each went their separate ways after 2003's Marathon. This allowed Negus to focus on his first solo album, Dare To Dream. An album he eventually released in 2007 and which is still available today.
Ten years later, Steve now gets to independently present his follow-up, Economy Of Motions, for which he takes care of drums, percussion, keyboards, acoustic guitar and vocals. Assisting him one finds Mike DeBenedictis (basses) and Kelly Kereliuk (electric guitars), both also involved as composers, and a host of special guests. This short list includes William Hare (keys, piano), Al Langlade (vocals) and Nicole Negus (vocals), and surprisingly also features Peter Rochon (piano, keys) — Saga's "original keyboard guy" and co-author to such classics as Will it Be You?, Tired World and the aforementioned Humble Stance.
Although not necessarily a concept album, Steve's advice is for the music to be listened to from start to finish; a recommendation I wholeheartedly agree with.
The Gathering / Let The Games Begin opens proceedings with a cinematic intro that segues into charging bombastic melodies complemented by symphonic theatricals and sublime choral vocals (the only vocal parts on the album by the way). The second part of the song then goes into a gamely world of fusion where keys and melodies sparkle vibrantly. The crystalline production makes sure all instruments can clearly be identified. A combination that sets up anticipation for the challenging songs that follow.
At the other end of the spectrum, The Celebration, featuring Rochon, provides a grand final chord. Spacious atmospheric synths glide into guitar melodies that twinkle with prime Saga impressions. This glorious composition has a beautifully designed bridge that settles shortly into jazz melodies with sensitive bass parts. It then wades into a championing Chariot Of Fire-like arrangement (Vangelis), until driving play and stunning guitar/key interaction finalises this victorious song.
In between these impressive pillars, the trinity of musicians performing as "Negus the band" ravishingly work their way through a collection of outstanding compositions, with distinctive elements of Saga, world-music and jazz-rock fusion. The latter frequently reminds me of Tribal Tech, courtesy of Kereliuk's virtuous guitar-work, which next to a potent injection of Ian Crichton-style, resonates vigorously with a supernatural sense of Scott Henderson, Alan Holdsworth and Frank Gambale (Vital Information).
Narrowed down a specific Saga-point in time, the sound, feel and vibe experienced over these eight challenging exercises lies closest to Saga's Worlds Apart. Almost uncanny when it comes down to Turnaround, which offers a funky, resounding work-out with twisting and turning musical structures and excellent harmonic conversations between guitar and keys.
The groovy Warning shows similar rewarding values as it slides into funk-fusion environments where a combination of riffs and synths creates images of the Crichton brothers, while Steve gets physical with counter rhythms and other dexterously played forms of percussion.
I find that these tracks provide a captivating glimpse towards Steve's compositional significance in Saga's early creative process.
If one composition acts as the perfect illustration of Negus' team spirit then Latino Seven surely claims the gold medal. Injected with a healthy dose of lively world music influences, this exceptionally playful and meticulously tightly arranged and focused composition allows everyone to individually shine, which results in a triumphant composition where Kereliuk's gamely guitar runs sets DeBenedictis' solid bass aflame, while Steve sprints off in a dazzling demonstration of his athletic percussive ability. Marvellous stuff.
All of the above leads to the sole conclusion that Negus' Economy of Motion represents the outstanding work of well-seasoned champions and comes highly recommended for those interested in top-notch progressive jazz-rock fusion spiced with exciting Saga dynamics and lively world music elements. Hopefully Steve Negus will return to the playing field at a regular two to four-year intervals like some major sporting event, for this sublime album has whetted my appetite for more.
My advice? Head on over to Steve's social pages and order your signed copy today. On your marks, get set, go...!
Paskinel — Maraude automnale
Maraude automnale blends a diverse range of influences including Canterbury and Zheul. It satisfyingly combines some of the stylistic flourishes of bands such as National Health and Magma, to create a truly excellent release. Overall, it is a mesmerising listening experience.
The album is the solo project of Alco Frisbass' Pascal "Paskinel" Dufour. Paskinel no doubt take their name from him. Dufour is joined on the album by fellow Alco Frisbass member Frédéric 'Tourneriff' Chaput. The third member of Alco Frisbass, Fabrice Chouette provides organ on the opening piece.
The performers on the album are: Pascal Dufour (synthesizer and keyboard, drums programming and composing), Frédéric Chaput (electric guitar, bass guitar, mixing), Jacques Bon (bassoon on One O'clock and L'echo noir), Fabrice Chouette (organ on La danse des feux follets), DAG-Z (transverse flute on Tartempion), Franck Dehaut (electric guitar, lap steel on La danse des feux follets), Mickael Fellmann (saxophone on La danse des feux follets) and Jun Gui Kwon (violin on L'echo noir).
The mastering was completed by Minimum Vital's Thierry Payssan. The album's excellent production values reflect the meticulous attention to detail that exemplifies every aspect of this release.
I had the pleasure of reviewing Alco Frisbass' debut album back in 2015. Alco Frisbass have an impressive track record, and to-date have released a trio of outstanding albums, including Le Bateleur (2018) and Le Mystère du Gué Pucelle (2021).
Consequently, my expectations of Maraude automnale were set very high. Dufour's latest project does not disappoint in any respect, and provides a natural progression of Alco Frisbass' mesmerising and distinctive sound.
After playing it on many occasions, Maraude automnale is without doubt one of my favourite albums of 2023 so far.
The album begins strongly with La danse des feux follets. Guest player Franck Dehaut's lap steel guitar is prominent in the opening section. However, it is the combination of Dufour's carefully chosen keyboard tones and Chaput's throbbing bass lines that ultimately makes the piece so satisfying.
Paskinel's intricate compositions, fluid instrumentals, and thoughtfully crafted melodies will undoubtedly resonate with many fans of the Canterbury genre. Several of the tunes contain the easily identifiable and distinctive blend of jazz and rock, that is often associated with that style.
As the music unfolds, the duo and their guests travel an intriguing journey through shifting time signatures and unexpected harmonic turns; thus, always leaving the listener eagerly anticipating the next musical twist. By turns, the album recalls the rhythmic complexity of Hatfield and the North, and the low-end resonance of Magma, while the guitar lines in tunes such as Au forum des commerages and Tartempion add a touch of punchy discordance reminiscent of Phil Miller and National Health.
There is even a riff that is reminiscent of Larks Tongues-era King Crimson that is dominant in the disturbing, toe-crossing opening section of One O'clock. Later in this piece, a Zheul vibe emerges and the influence of Magma can again be discerned.
My favourite track is probably Tartempion. It highlights the band's talent for crafting intricate musical structures. This piece displays punchy bass lines, fluid guitar parts and a distinctive keyboard melody. It is wonderfully enhanced by a series of ethereal flute embellishments. The use of the flute offers a different set of pastoral colours, that contrast with the rest of the compositions. This ensures that Tartempion has a memorable and a truly distinctive air.
In Tartempion, the flute gracefully floats above the melodies, weaving delicate tendrils of sound that add a majestic touch to the overall composition. One of the strengths of Tartempion lies in its ability to evoke vivid imagery without relying on words.
With its emotive phrasing and lyrical quality, the flute creates a naturally vibrant and verdant canvas which offers a fine balance to the deeper shape-shifting keyboard textures that underpin the structure of the piece. The tight interplay between Dufour's keyboard wizardry and Chaput's dexterous bass and guitar lines is a joy to experience.
Paskinel acknowledge their homage to the past, while forging a distinct musical path into the future. In this respect, Bille en tete ticks many boxes. Familiar and not-so-familiar stylistic traits and melodies clasp hands and entwine, to create something compelling and unique.
Dufour's ability to breathe new life into a genre is impressive. The result is an amalgamation of classic prog, Canterbury complexity, and tantalizing hints of fusion, creating a style that acknowledges the past while carving its own unique path. Maraude automnale is a timely reminder that the Canterbury influence on contemporary progressive music is far from exhausted.
With its masterfully-composed and performed tracks and its immersive atmosphere, this album serves as a testament to Dufour's enviable talents as a musician and composer.
The title track is utterly spellbinding. It rises, falls and cascades. It has many facets that recall not only National Health but also Magma and many Zheul points in-between. The drumming is excellent in this piece and is also an integral part of the album's overall appeal and undoubted success.
It is hard to comprehend that this aspect of the rhythm section was generated by a drum programme and I certainly was not able to easily discern that the drum sound was artificially generated. It is convincing, and simply complements every aspect of the music. It is undoubtedly a near perfect foil to the prominent and boisterous full-toned bass playing of Chaput. However, it would be interesting to hear what a creative kit player could also bring to the table, if he or she were given an opportunity to lay down a groove.
This combination of machine and human ingenuity and creativity, plays a full part in the atmospheric and Zheul-influenced L'echo noir. This is an immersive tune with recurring themes that purposefully grabs you by the ear lobes and holds you firmly in its twisting, mesmerising grip for nearly seven throbbing minutes.
My only minor criticism of the album is that I would have liked some variation in its pace and mood. It is overall an upbeat affair. I personally would have enjoyed a reflective interlude or two to break things up and provide a contemplative pause before the glow of the keyboard, driving bass embers and sparking guitar shards were kindled once again.
Nevertheless, Maraude automnale is a captivating musical journey that rewards repeated listens, revealing new intricacies and emotions with each play. I thoroughly recommend this release to aficionados of Canterbury-influenced prog. Maraude automnale informs and extends the boundaries of the genre.
This album is very satisfying on every level and is an absolute joy to experience.