Gayle Ellett & The Electromags — Friends
Gayle Ellett (guitar, organ, keyboards) makes a welcome return with his Electromags, Mark Cook (bass) and Craig Kahn (drums) on the follow-up to their superb debut album Shiny Side Up. However, as the title, Friends, may imply, this time the album contains a host (22 in total) of international musical luminaries that Ellett has become friendly with over the years. Obviously, it would have been prohibitively expensive to get everyone to come and join the trio in California (not even the band record together in one place) but thankfully modern technology and high speed broadband meant zipping digital files around the world for people to work on in home studios was not an issue. Ellett, who composed all the material, limits himself to playing rhythm guitar, the sole exception being on opening track Viewer Discretion Advised in which Ted Price adds some mighty swelling Hammond organ.
As with the debut album the focus is on 70s style West Coast rock, the type of music that Ellett and his contemporaries grew up and fell in love with. However, along with producing great music the aim of the group is simply to have fun and enjoy the experience of making music. Even though the inspiration may have come from half a century ago, the results are contemporary. Alright, the keyboard sounds on The Many Moods of Morgan may have a Supertramp influence but the incorporation of soundscapes (courtesy of Mark Cook) gives the piece a more modern edge. The moody Via Valencia features five-time Grammy winner Alfonso Rodenas on guitar, electric piano and bass, not bad for someone whose principal role is as a sound engineer. This languorous piece has a typical laid-back Californian vibe and flows gently along.
The delights continue with American Marc Ceccotti and Monégasque Joee Corso trading delightfully different styles of guitar solos on the wittily titled It's all San Andreas' Fault while the heavier and aptly named TransPacific Highway features the Japanese guitarist and bassist from Baraka a progressive trio that in their 25 years have released 11 original albums, a collection of Beatles covers and a complete rendition of Queen's A Night At The Opera. They also, rather unusually, think it is important that viewers of their website know the bloodtype of each of the members Takami is AB and Ichikawa is B in case you are interested. A more bluesy guitar sound is generated on Splitting Hairs, not surprising considering they are played by renowned blues guitarist Dudley Taft, although I have to state that Ellett's keyboards on this piece are an absolute delight. This is in contrast to Maximum Connection where the synths of Thierry Payssan (from French band Maximum Vital) don't do it for me sounding too "poppy" and eighties for my preference. But his bandmate Aquiles Magaña and American Bill Polits go some way to providing redemption with their guitar work.
One could go on, but suffice to say the remaining six tracks all provide a plethora of delights with Maria's Lakeside Drive and Guitar City showing that Ellett's Californian neighbour Barry Cleveland and Paul Richards of the California Guitar Trio, respectively are clearly masters of their instruments. However, the best is saved for last with the magnificent Frédéric L'Épée showcasing a guitar feel reminiscent of early Peter Green on 1960 Ocean Front Walk.
An overall delightful album where the individual friends stamp their own mark on Ellett's, as always, masterful compositional skills. The contrasting styles of the lead guitarists brings a freshness to the album with each track offering up a unique twist to proceedings. Nice.
Victor Go — In A Trap Of Anticipations
As if nothing has changed, Ukrainian multi-instrumentalist/composer Victor Go, after a prolific release rate of five albums in a three year timespan, returned with In A Trap Of Anticipations in August of this year. In light of global affairs and a deeply affecting inhumane conflict, obviously a lot has changed. But besides a conceptual approach that thoughtfully addresses the latter, In A Trap Of Anticipations' delightfully vibrant crossover-prog shows that Go's musical integrity is still perfectly uncompromised.
One significant change has taken place though. And all for the better. Because where Go (vocals, instruments) used to rely on his own (programmed) drums, In A Trap Of Anticipations welcomes the percussive dexterity of Viktor Syrotin and Lefteris Glitsos. In analogy to In A Torrent from Tales From McIntyre Lake, this on a whole gives a wonderful organic warmth to the joyously upbeat rhythmic compositions which, aided by guesting appearances of Stas Bandurko on bass and Roma Datsyuk / C. George on cello, sound marvellously Go-familiar.
Screen Behind brings memories of ELP before flying off into a playful funky fusion laced with synth-pop like Flame Dream. The uplifting positivity grows even higher in the subsequent Headwaters. George's cello introduces a nice touch of FM. The current of synths, guitar, and vocals evoke AWBH.
Harvest Anticipation also shows sparkling fusion with a rhythmically driven wanton of guitar and synths. Misled By Echo follows this with a resourceful diversity that includes a subtle touch of world music and rocking riffs that seamlessly floats through 70s symphonic melodies. A similarly attractive arrangement is also presented in Wind Anticipation's classical entrance, before taken over by catchy pop melodies.
The magnificently crafted Last Swallow continuously alters atmospheres. Go gets really serious with Evil Must Be Buried that starts off with an all-telling air raid siren. Complemented by a sense of victory, with symphonies that has some Saga moments, it doesn't take a genius to figure out the message behind this ingeniously composed song. Overall it acts as a demonstrating testimony to Make Prog, Not War!
The successive Height and Equilibrium Anticipation bring additional examples of easy approachable yet inventive musical complexities. As does album highlight Axis, which is styled with a classical symphonic bridge of jazz and ambient melodies. This borders on a musical triangle of Yes, Peter Gabriel and Karfagen. And the ensuing instrumental Anticipation Of Advance shows images of Saga once again.
Finally, Anticipation Of Insight's ending statement, in which Go shares his believes that those in power will one day come to their senses, delivers a peaceful serene ambience buzzing with life. On the CD-version, this finale is beautifully elaborated upon with Point Of View's rhythmic challenges and the magical Unbelievable.
As a wonderful showcase towards Go's steady progression as composer, arranger and musician, it once again borders on the impossible to find fault within Go's wellspring of easy approachable, yet musically complex, melodic compositions. From a musical and production perspective I indeed don't have any, but I do have one final remark about the digipak. Because after opening this dangerous contraption the booklet unexpectedly dropped on the floor as there was with no place reserved for it to hold it in place.
This by no means should stand in your way in securing/reserving a copy of this excellent recommendable album. Especially if Go is already on your radar and crossover prog that meets the likes of Yes and ABWH and those mentioned within this review are to your liking.
Rob Gould and Friends — Nursery Cryme
In the year 1938, Argentinian writer extraordinaire Jorge Luis Borges (Borges is unequivocally prog!) wrote a speculative short story Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote, in which the imaginary protagonist recreates word after word several extracts from Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote, precisely the same text, but written and "lived through" by a XX century man, based on his own experience and knowledge.
Honestly, I can't think of a better parallel with Rob Gould's Nursery Cryme, released this year. Surely, Dream Theater played live The Number Of The Beast and Master Of Puppets and some other albums in their entirety, Les Claypool did his versions of Floyd's Animals and Rush's songs. Progheads will immediately remember Steve Hackett's Genesis Revisited albums, which had put the light of hope into many fans' hearts in the dark 90s. Even Gould himself reinterpreted VDGG's Pawn Hearts back some years ago. This time it is something different. Gould's take on Cryme is not so much an interpretation, as it is a recreation of the same Genesis material, using the sound techniques of the 21st century. Saying “21st century” I do not imply banal triggered drums and tight-middle sound of guitars. On the contrary, the quality of recording is awe-inspiring here, and I have to acknowledge that I haven't heard a more perfect sound in at least couple of years. It is rich, warm, and equally friendly to a HiFi system and to earphones. There is depth, nuances, audio scene all over the playtime. Imagine going to a 3D trip to the world of Roger Dean's artworks, and you'll catch my meaning.
What has not been covered by the recording craftsmanship, has been covered by the arrangements, which are as careful and thoughtful, as mural restoration techniques. I can see the tremendous respect toward the original and a clear intent to play as many right, proper notes as possible. Sceptics would probably assume that such approach doesn't leave a lot of space for true creativity, but this is not a fair judgement in this case. If you look at the undertows in the arrangements of The Musical Box for instance, it is easy to see the amount of underlying work.
Conservatives, on the contrary, would probably assume, that the world is perfectly happy with the original, and there's no reason to record it one more time. But for me, Cryme has never been a real favorite, although I have a lot of respect to the release. Rob Gould's effort made me reconsider many of my previous impressions from the album and give it a fresh look. Which was probably the ultimate mission all along.
Best tracks? The opener is nearly perfect. I also loved Gould's more atmospheric approach to operetta-styled Harold The Barrel. And of course prepare to cry your eyes out on the gorgeous Fountain Of Salmacis.
Weak tracks? None, I think. Maybe Seven Stones could have been arranged differently, there's more potential to the song – but this notion should not be treated as criticism.
I would say that this is a “not-to-be-missed” release. At least, I urge you, listen to The Musical Box 2.0.
Ishkero — Shama
Ear friendly melodies summon listeners to participate in bouts of breathy humming! In addition, crisply executed syncopated beats, create a smile. Fingers tap, tip, tap; earlobes and eyebrows wobble with delight.
The tunes, the tunes; they twirl and tilt my torso, they slacken and stiffen toes. They gush and trickle, sparkle, and twinkle. Their glint shimmers through the grey back lit silence, gilt-edged, gracefully-garnished with polished precision. A twisted-twirling carousel of melodies weave captivating patterns around me and upon me. They tease and tickle, ebb and etch. Quick edged rhythms rattle against me, skin-seep, sonic swirls enter my consciousness and enrich every sense.
Wow, the tunes!
Shama is Ishkero's first full-length album and boy oh boy, it is very impressive. Their previous work was an EP and was released in 2019. I enjoyed their fresh sounding approach in Brume with its varied mix of afro beats and other rhythmic elements. Their latest release however, takes Ishkero's distinctive sound to another level. On the evidence of Shama, the band have undoubtedly developed their easily identifiable style of progressive flute jazz.
The band's music skilfully combines jazz with a fusion element and many other contemporary influences, including beats, post-rock and prog and all points in between. Recurring melodies and themes enrich several of the beautifully constructed compositions. The bands excellent use of repetition ensures that several of the compositions stay in the memory long after they have ended.
The performers are all fine players, but it is perhaps as an ensemble that their sound really achieves its highest points. Nevertheless, there are many occasions over the course of the release when individual members of the band have a prominent part to play. Therefore, the album contains some exciting solo sections. In this respect, the fender Rhodes of Arnaud Forester has a major part to play and his solos during Leviosa and Bis are simply magnificent. Similarly, guitarist Victor Gasq adds some delightful textures and subtle embellishments to several of the pieces and his tasteful solos in Tchoutchoupa and Garde add a burst of different colours.
However, the most prominent voice of the band is undoubtedly flautist Adrien Duterte. His beautifully executed flute delivers many wonderfully constructed melodies over the course of the album, not least in the wonderful and invitingly enchanting Ikigai.
Duterte's tone fits the mood of individual pieces. It is wistful and tuneful, or powerful and robust, or breathy and shrill when the need arises. The impact of Duterte's flute upon the music is increased by the way he utilises a range of effects which morph his sound to create some unusual tonal layers. Reverb is put to good use; on occasions this gives sections that utilise gentler tones an added emphasis when necessary.
Nevertheless, although Duterte's contribution undoubtedly has a vital and influential role to play in Ishkero's sound, it does not dominate. It is rarely totally assertive or particularly strident in the way perhaps, that some flautists who use a forceful breathy style such as, Jeremy Steig or Naissam Jalal or Magick malik can be. On the contrary, Duterte's flute is an integral part of the whole ensemble's sound and the music that Ishkero create.
There were times however, as a contrast with Duterte's pure sound and largely fluid and melodic approach, that I would have preferred a more over blown and red-raw approach. This would provide some tunes with an extra layer of aggressive, fiery-fluty, breathy-oomph.
Tao Ehrlich is an excellent drummer and his measured and dextrous approach provides a strong rhythmic scaffold that regularly introduce motifs and when need arises to quicken the pace and move things along. In this respect, Antoine Vidal's role on the bass is equally important in filling out and embellishing the ensembles sound and adding an extra layer of interest.
The combination of drum and bass sets the mood of the album in the opening stages of the delightful Tchoutchoupa. It is a piece that captures many of the positive traits that this album possesses. Although it never strays too far from its predetermined path, it has a memorable melody, and as previously mentioned a delightful guitar solo.
Kneelo is an interesting piece; conventional melodies coalesce with some appealing rhythmic effects.it seems that in this piece, Ishkero are channelling some aspects of Ethio afro Jazz, complete with an assortment of complex beats. The treated flute solo which rises and falls in the middle of the composition is particularly impressive. The main motif of the piece undeniably swaggers and swings.
There are no obvious week compositions in Shama and indeed there are many standout moments to be experienced along the way.
My favourite piece is probably Leviosa. It wears its many colours and diverse moods with consummate ease. Its opening section is full of tranquillity. A delicious flute melody offers a reflective mood and sets the scene like a tranquil dawn that casts listless tree shadows in the calm waters edge. The mood changes when the Rhodes emerges and stirs the waters with menacing aggression and skillful aplomb. It is an impressive composition.
There were times during Shama when I was briefly reminded of the work of other flute led bands. The aptly titled Retro had me at various points reaching for comparisons with a host of bands including Grovjobb and Camel. However, the music in this piece whilst still being distinctive of Ishkero was most reminiscent of the Japanese band Qui.
Another standout piece, is undoubtedly Bis. Its main riff works superbly well. This composition not only includes some magnificent ensemble playing, but also incorporates a fine solo notably on the Rhodes. The piece imaginatively segues into Bis Bis which offers Duterte an opportunity to tear things up a bit to good effect on the silver tube.
6 H is probably the most interesting and progressive piece. Its treated and mesmerising flute forays beckon towards flute prog utopia. Its mix of moods capture the senses and its vivid array of interesting guitar embellishments add an extra layer of interest. However, it is the gorgeous main melody that is undoubtedly the compositions crowning glory. It is fascinating how the band develop and explore its possibilities over the course of this track.
To say that I have enjoyed Shama is an understatement. It is a very accomplished release and is one that I will continue to enjoy for many years to come. That is in no small way down to the quality of the compositions and the impressive musicianship of the performers. I guess there is nothing else to add except to declare once again with a wry smile
Wow, the tunes!