Airbridge — Openings
It's not often a band releases albums with gap-years that last almost four decades. Which is precisely what Airbridge did when they released their sophomore effort Memories Of Water in 2021, as successor to their debut Paradise Moves from 1983. Doing it twice would be pushing it on many levels so thankfully Airbridge have only taken two years to give us a follow-up in the form of Openings. And once again I'm well surprised for the lovely digi-pack with artwork by Martin Cook, in all ways Openings offers a lot to admire.
First off because Airbridge, aided by Andy Glass of Solstice in mastering, have been able to capture and preserve their sound's uniqueness in a much brighter harmonious mix with clarity and depth of fidelity. This major improvement without doubt makes Openings their best sounding album so far, although depending on your playback system there is still some unevenness detectable which I presume is caused partially by the recordings still taking place in different situations over two countries. But as I previously stated in my reviews of Airbridges back catalogue that to me is part of the band's charm and appeal and only broadens my appreciative smile.
The second aspect to admire is the album's overall progressive nature. No two songs are the same and with the general exception of technical metal the threesome line-up of Lorenzo Bedini (guitar, vocals and more), Dave Dowdeswell-Allaway (drums, vocals, and lots more) and James Compton (synths, melodica, piano, harpsichord) have covered most of progressive rock's scope with this delightful variegated album. Thereby leaving many of their trademarks fully intact!
One of those instantly surfaces for everyone to hear in opener Burning Sun which exhibits a closeness to a rocky version of Barclay James Harvest, complemented by irresistible cowbell. In light of vocals, guitar play/sound, echoing reverb and the song's slight psychedelic undertone I however feel strongly inclined to say that I normally would have mistaken this fine opener for a recently discovered Randy California (Spirit) gem from the 80s.
Europa, on the other hand, is a prime example of authentic Airbridge enchantment. And a beautiful highlighting one at that, because this anthemic composition oozes a divine uplifting ambience with a delightfully cheerful pop feel that includes great guitar play and lovely harmonies that all combined shares a brilliant upgraded likeness to the material as presented long ago on Paradise Moves. Which isn't so surprising when one realizes this delightful euphoric song was originally written in celebration of continental Europe way back in 1983, when the Cold War was still a thing and Brexit wasn't invented yet. As a band-reworked fan favourite from around the same days of old the wonderful Dreams (Deus Ex Machina) expresses equally attractive New Wave inspired atmospheres and elegant melodies provided with a sprightly colourful bridge. And together these two songs provide a brilliantly satisfying finale to the album.
Prior to this Airbridge successfully hop across the progressive spectrum. First off with Hey There! that starts out small and which through children voices and horns reminds me somewhat of Syd Barret's Pink Floyd. It soon after transforms into a fine Canterbury inspired composition with uplift of lyrics backed up by brass sections, sweetness of harmonies and subtleness in play and I reckon Caravan would be well proud of such a song. As I imagine Woolly Wolstenholme (BJH) and John Lennon might have been with Twylight Worlds which, written by Crompton and lyrics from Bedini, brings three minutes of intricately piano guided contemplative pastoral warmth embraced by melancholic sadness.
To this Dead Man's Porn adds a nice autobiographical Canterbury inspired singer/songwriter composition with quirkiness of rhythms that contemplates the consequences of suicide. While the impressive That Big Small Step speaks of enlightenment and letting go. Or rather sings about, because it is sung completely a capella and through a multitude of soothing vocals from Dave harmonising heavenly with the mesmerising angelic voice of Trudi Brunskill. Highly commendable as it pushes at prog's boundaries.
Amongst these finer tracks one finds the peculiarly titled The Unwholesome Peregrinations of Erasmus Gloome. This is not a musically interpreted 'Lemony Snicket' adventure, although in an imaginative way it does rival its contents with a series of adventurous musical events and captivating changes in atmosphere and mood. Divided in three parts it starts off with 'Open Road' which opens darkly with a touch of blues and authentic Airbridge refinement complemented by lovely musical ideas. Gliding stridently onward with depth of sound and engaging melodies embraced by Melodica play from Compton, part II ('Exiles') then adds palpable intricacies of BJH solitude to this. Followed by melodies that segue into an oriental ambience embellished with delightful tribal percussive elements. These slowly turn into flavours of the Middle East once the instrumental third part 'Desert Djinn' starts. From here on in the music slithers enticingly into Space rock areas close to Hawkwind's Warrior On The Edge Of Time and rounds off most satisfyingly with a powerful bombastic hypnotising passage featuring all round formidable play and stunning guitar work.
The Bedini composition Cry From The Deep finally is clearly inspired by BJH/Maestoso. This especially comes to the fore in the song's classical symphonic opening statement and the combination of vocals and guitar-sound which chimes with poetic sadness as found in BJH tracks like Dark Now My Sky and After The Day. Not to mention Bedini's magnificently poetic solo that emotionally touches and matches John Lees to a tee. Provided with caresses of comforting 80s electronic vocal psychedelica, familiar melodic pleasantries, and lush alterations between dreamily glowing passages and ambient nightmarish movements that shimmer with a circus of eerie synth passages and spoken messages this diverse composition captures Airbridge in their finest hour and as such creates high anticipation for future efforts.
Considering the promised digital re-master of Paradise Moves, which is still in the works as we speak, and the shortness of time that has passed between the issuing of Memories Of Water and Openings I'm fairly convinced a new endeavour won't take long. Until that time comes I'll happily visit this majorly surprising treat on a fairly regular basis.
Overall my conservative favouritism does still lean towards Paradise Moves, but on a whole I rate Openings as Airbridge's strongest and proggiest effort to date. One that delivers a wealth of twists and turns along the way to keep many a prog fan suitably entertained. A fine recommendable album worth discovering!
Fuchs — Too Much Too Many
Studies as recent as March of this year show that music has a unique capacity to evoke both strong emotions and vivid autobiographical memories. As a willing guinea pig for well over four decades this conclusion doesn't really come as a surprise and several lively examples of the latter have indeed made their way into several of my reviews. A high school related one for instance surfacing in my words about Fuchs' 2020 live album One Lively Decade.
The highly enjoyable progressive rock of Too Much Too Many, which sees Hans-Jürgen Fuchs (keyboards, guitar, background vocals) team up with Ines Fuchs (keyboards, backing vocals), Baggi Buchmann (lead vocals), Michael Wasilewski (lead vocals), Andy Bartzik (guitar), Florian Dittrich (drums) and newcomer Henrik Mumm on bass, also musters a delightful trip down memory lane. One that this time recalls a memorial involving my favourite natural science and social studies teacher Mr. Maas.
My classmate falling victim to Maas' penalty resolution will probably have a different recollection of his kindness, being summoned to fetch a detention slip the minute we both entered the classroom far too late, whereas I was kindly required to sit directly beside Mr. Maas fronting class. We quickly learned our lesson and both made sure to always be perfectly on time for Maas' masterly entertaining classes. Extrapolated to today I do however hypothetically wonder, providing music teacher "Hansi" Fuchs uses a similar correction method during his lessons, which of the two highly anticipated punishments I would happily enjoy the most? In light of the beautifully crafted, richly detailed and meticulously arranged musical masterclass given on Too Much Too Many a combination of both most likely.
The album, conceptually addressing the true values of life and our ongoing search for happiness and satisfaction, starts off strong with Don't Get Me Wrong which next to Saga-like dynamics offers irregular time signatures and excellent (polyphonic) harmonies. Supported by backing vocals from Sabine Albinus and Kaddi Heine this song stylistically also reminds me somewhat of Eloy, while the elegant transition that shifts the song's atmosphere from darkness into light imprints images of IQ. Demonstrating one of Fuchs' finer musical qualities the composition furthermore brings soothingly relaxed melodies highlighted by lush synth play and ends with pristine harmonies in a symphonic coda.
The subsequent Of Hopes And Dreams And Bitter Tears opens evenly relaxed with intricately construed melodies reminiscent of Collage. Elegant guitar riffs and excellent drums then gently sets the composition in motion to reveal a lovely synth solo. Challenge Of Lifelong Waiting progresses equally natural with fine harmony vocals and Marillion melodies, with a bridge that adds elements of pop and new wave. The song's symphonic coda is also very tastefully designed with warmth of Mellotron and richness of synths, although after several visits I still marvel at its unexpected ending.
Slightly darker in mood and atmosphere, Mad World, is another slow-paced composition that in a Fuchs-formula kind of way gains dynamics halfway. Attractive 80/90s Eloy-flavoured prog with pleasurable synth-guitar interplay and formidable guitar work. Closing song My Life presents a touching melancholic composition which not only speaks lyrically of inner satisfaction but breathes this as well through musical ethos, vocal accomplishments, sultry saxophone and gradually intensifying melodies that include a moving guitar solo could have lasted me some more.
In between these fine songs, Fuchs has reserved places for three outstanding works of art. The first one being Here In My Void, which thrives upon intricate play and lush individual performances that excel in depth, variation and excellence in instrumentation. To avoid repeating myself I gladly refer to my review of their live album One Live Decade for a more detailed description of this exquisite multi-structured song .
The second triumph is presented in form of And Once Again which in an early 70's Genesis way starts off with selling Germany by the Deutschmark through lush synth work and emotional slide guitar. It goes close to the edge of Yes, with impressions of The Flower Kings, and a delightful bass driven passage of neo-prog in IQ style. This marvellously crafted composition finally flutters onwards with a symphonic coda of animated keys in the best Antony Kalugin (Karfagen) tradition and soothing vocals.
The third and final trump card in Fuchs' eight-song selection, out of an apparent 32 (!) possible choices, is The Middle Years. This masterpiece begins with an instrumental EM styled sequence that smoothly flows into early 90s Marillion with synths and mellow seductive sax from Armin Schönert. A lecture in expressive conceptual word-play on outlines from lush synths, seamless transitions and melancholic interplay over heartwarming organ. This ultimately leads into a concluding passage aglow with accents of Alan Parsons.
Captured in a warm production, I did initially find some of the compositions a little too well-mannered and safe. But this turns out merely a schoolboy error on my part because Fuchs have most certainly done their A-level homework. The rich melodies emotionally grew on me. So much so that nowadays I frequently indulge in self-disciplined detention with this highly recommendable album. If you're a fan of thoughtfully crafted and exemplary performed progressive rock that shows refinements in likeness to Genesis, Marillion, Red Sand and other neo-progressive acts operating in the light-hearted spectrum of prog, I suggest you do the same!
Giant The Vine — A Chair At The Back Door
Giant The Vine are approaching their tenth anniversary in existence and yet A Chair At The Back Door is just their second album. This probably stems from the fact that for the first five years of their existence they were not so much a band but two guitarists, which is kind of limiting if you are aiming to create the fuller sound normally associated with progressive rock. It wasn't until 2019 that Fabio Vrenna (electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards, Mellotron) and Fulvio Solari (electric and acoustic guitars, lap steel) were joined by first Daniele Riotti (drums) and finally Antonio Lo Piparo (bass).
Almost as soon as the line-up was complete they headed into the studio to record their debut album Music For Empty Places. As you will no doubt have observed, none of the quartet are vocalists so that album, along with this latest release, are totally instrumental. Their sound borders on a post-rock ethos, although they are somewhat more expansive and have a rather wider view than many bands in that genre. The use of saxophone, played by guest musician Gregory Ezechieli, particularly on Protect Us From The Truth, adds a different dimension particularly as the piano playing of another guest, Ilaria Vrenna, generates a lightness of touch one would not necessarily associate from a band based on two guitarists.
Piano is quite a prominent instrument within the sound spectrum as it also features on Glass, The Inner Circle and Jellyfish Bowl, with the latter of these three tracks utilising the ivory-tickling talents of Simone Salvatori. In fact, The Inner Circle really only features piano with sundry sound effects and a smattering of Mellotron washes but is quite gorgeous. Glass is another slower song that starts with a repeating phrase played on the electric guitar accompanied by a steady drum and bass beat and subtle acoustic guitar. The track gradually builds with various keyboards being added before a complete break to just the acoustic guitar and finally the appearance of the piano. This acoustic interlude is short-lived and soon the other band members rejoin replicating the songs opening but with the piano also present. A simple but effective composition.
The last of the "piano" tracks, Jellyfish Bowl features some very proggy moments with a selection of delightful chord changes. There is also lots of space when needed which is enhanced by the superior production and clear separation between instruments. Although Riotti's drumming does tend to be somewhat simplistic and straight forward he comes into his own in the middle section where is subtle percussive flairs and rolling toms are great touches.
The remaining three tracks are the ones with more meat on the bones as it were. The Heresiarch has something of The Fierce And The Dead about it and packs a lot into its three and a half minutes. The Potter's Field has several different sections that take the listener through a variety of moods, but it is the title track that holds the key to the album. A well-thought-out and constructed piece with some truly exciting moments utilising the talents of the guitarists to their full. The group don't often go full tilt but about half-way through they let fly and invite Ezechieli to blow his sax with wild abandon. A couple of guitar solos, and before you know it you are at the end. I found that wasn't enough and so each time I have played the album it gets repeated at least once, a sure indication that there is a lot to be discovered within the music.
Giant The Vine are no doubt my favourite discovery of the year!
Quicksilver Night feat Dikajee — Ptichka
The person behind Quicksilver Night is guitar player Warren Russel. For his projects he works with a small but widening circle of musical collaborators. For this album the collaboration is with Dikajee, a vocalist from Russia. She is influenced by Kate Bush, Nightwish and Björk. Quicksilver Nights previous album, Asymptote, was reviewed for DPRP. Asymptote is an instrumental album mainly focussing on guitar. If you like an album influenced by guitar heroes like Joe Satriani then you might give that one a try. The new album Ptichka sounds very different from that instrumental guitar hero album. First of all it is not an instrumental album but all songs feature the chanting vocals of Dikajee. There is more piano, and it is more like a progressive rock album with ambient influences.
Monochrone Memories, featuring Marco Lacobini, is a very nice progressive rock song to open the album. It has a nice pace and a steady groove, it is one of those songs where you cannot stop slightly nodding your head to the rhythm. Previous album Asymptote featured many guitar solos, and although a bit more in the background, this element is still present on the album Ptichka. Each song has a guitar solo and most of them are technical and on this opener it nicely fits within the song. The next two songs and the closing song on the album feature Andrew N Project.
The song Ptichka starts more gentle with some acoustic guitar. A more gentle song than the opener and because the guitar solo really shreds this time, the guitar solo does not really fit the song. Technically great, but in a fragile song as this is, a shredder solo is not really what I was expecting.
Nihil Tactum needs some more attention from the listener, more difficult progressive elements in this song. Odd schemas and many layers of chanting vocals, so many layers that at times I truly thought my player was playing two songs at the same time. Do you know that feeling when you have too many internet tabs open and one of them is playing music, and you do not know which? I got that from this song, lyrics are all over the place. So not a song to have playing as a background tune but surely enjoyable when it grabs your attention. The guitar solo again is a bit too heavy and technically orientated to my liking.
For You is an easier song to grasp. This song features Farzad Golpayegani. Very nice gentle instrumental part at the centre with a relaxing bass and piano melody. The guitar solo is again heavy but more balanced with the rest of the song. Latibule starts with piano and a nice contradicting bass line. Just like the opener, this is a nice progressive rock song. Good melodies with some eastern influences. This song has a short guitar solo, but it still kicks in with too much contrast.
The more progressive rock album Ptichka is quite different from its predecessor. With the chanting vocals of Dikajee this album sounds very different, both more ambient and more progressive. The guitar is still a prominent instrument, and on some songs it sadly does not fit the rest. Where on Asymptote it was core business, on Ptichka it sometimes interrupts the flow of the song. With an EP with only five songs, there is just not so much you want to skip.
The EP is short, and if you like the heavy solos, then this album is a nice introduction to the band Quicksilver Night and the vocalist Dikajee.