Wednesday, April 28, 2010

two more masterpieces...

Steven Feigenbaum and Tom Scott - Things are more like they are now than they ever were before 1980
Akropolis - Half a million hours symphony 1979

Two more stunning unknown works of classical prog. By classical, I'm not referring to classical music but instead to the classic british style as perfected by Genesis, or for ex. Jethro Tull's Passion Play, symphonic rock full of chord and tempo changes, good songwriting, utterly fascinating switches in style from one minute to the next. Akropolis is sung in English but is Danish, gorgeous hooks and melodies make this very accessible to even the average music fan.

Feigenbaum and Scott is a little more challenging but it's really worth the effort to understand. Basically we get intelligent composition at its best, with various mixtures of acoustic guitar and chamber instruments, flutes, clarinets, some electric guitar, in a style that could be described as similar to canterbury-zappa except it's very different. A slow opening ("And night into day") leads to a surprising a cappella passage like gentle giant ("the earbenders") then an experimental piano piece with some gorgeous hopper-style sustained fuzz bass and guitarwork. It ends with a handful of flutes playing a superb chamber piece a la egg (why isn't this stuff played in the local symphony hall????), then comes some canterbury style singing ("cirrus mist") with electric piano. "Sunday drive" is a bizarre throwaway jazzy beat sax song. In "morning thrash" we get a crazy soprano sax soloing on top of acoustic guitar. Like the other progressive masterpieces, you can listen a hundred times and every time find something new you hadn't noticed before.

Title track is very zappaesque in instrumentation but I dare say more composed than average zappa, less jumpy. Continues on into the oddly titled "egress gnome odd" which is perfection in chamber rock, mixing bassoons, clarinets, flute, in a really interesting little cantata, then "guitar orchestra" with an acoustic guitar duet in the default key of E weaves some really unusual harmonies and dissonances together.

The stunner of the album is the closer, "One's day." Starts with a screeching sax, then henry cow-like blasts of electric guitar, moves on to flutes and reeds on quick strummed acoustic chords, then suddenly stops dead and a beautiful flock of woodwinds plays a gentle melody over an acoustic guitar's A minor chords to close out the work.
And, again, to think that this was put out in 1980!!!

A1 And Night Into Day 3:00
A2 The Earbenders 6:43
A3 Cirrus Mist 2:18
A4 A Sunday Drive 2:33
A5 Mountain Thrash 4:43
B1 Things Are More Like They Are Now Than They Ever Were Before 2:25
B2 Egress Gnome Odd 6:52
B3 Guitar Orchestra 2:40
B4 One's Day 8?

I have trouble finding info on the artists and their work. Any contribution is welcome. Again, a lost treasure of musical composition.

Akropolis - Side A...
Feigenbaum and Scott...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hiatus et Heratius

These 2 are for that amazing mutant sounds guy, I hope he needs.

Two similar named groups, one is avant gardish jazz, the other is avant gardish weird. Ever since the beatles did revolution 9 it seems the collage mix of bizarrity has been a standard through the sixties and seventies. Prog kept the flame alive, the one flame I wish would have been extinguished swiftly with a kick to the tape deck. I'm referring to heratius gwendolyne from 1978. The other, Hiatus, is a really superb example of the eighties style of RIO jazz-rock in France, like abus and eider.

I urge everyone reading to at least listen to the first chord of the first track of Hiatus (assuming the link has not been deleted yet). Ahhh! it's like a punch to the inside of the cerebral cortex. A bass line ensues, then another big polytonal karate chop. It's like being grabbed by the frontal lobes and then massaged in the auditory processing centres. It's like understanding a university level calculus course in a millisecond. If anyone can explain that chord to me I'd love to hear your analysis. It appears to be polytonality but that's all I can figure out. There is no doubt these songwriters knew stravinsky and there are hints of ravel with the whole tone scales later in the first song (in keeping with title 'bleu outrermer'). I hope I'm not the only one who finds this one of the pleasures of progressive, the musical education that springs from these tracks. Things continue along the same vein, 50-50 mix of jazz, RIO, there is enough familiar here to pull us back from frustration with the constant contrived inventiveness. Not the usual jumpy RIO style that gives you torticollis after too long a listen, enough buttery harmony to keep the sauce from separating. The cover is truly a homophobe's nightmare, I don't recommend anyone check it out this time. On the other hand the cover is in my opinion the best part about Heratius.

Addendum-- to the guy(s) who are deleting the rare album links: I promise I will stop sharing these rarities very soon

Gwendolyne electrochoc...
Bleu outremer...


In 'First Contact' we read about the highlands of New Guinea, the subject of the beautiful and mystical Barbet Schroeder movie "La Vallee'.
There was a valley high up in the mountains of New Guinea which was completely unknown to the outside world up until the early sixties. Everyone assumed on either side of the island that the mountains reached a peak in the centre, but on flying over, it was discovered that in reality there was a long 1000 mile valley, fertile, full of life, full of people, roughly one million people it turned out, who had never had any contact with the outside world...
What do you think was discovered when the first westerners (australians searching for gold) came upon the lost valley, the only place on earth that had not been exposed to the outside world at that time?

They found tribes that were identical in speech, in language, in culture, in music, in appearance obviously, but who were bitterly at war with each other over the tiniest of differences. There wasn't the smallest disagreement that wasn't stupid enough to make war over, even though the people were essentially identical.
And what did they want? Guns and rifles, so they could kill their enemies more efficiently... so the wars, which were so long lasting sometimes no one knew why they had started, became worse and worse, with more deaths and killings, thanks to european technology.
So it's obvious what I'm saying here. Human tribalism has a tendency to magnify slight differences within a group and to create wars on the basis of tiny details, details which are laughable to most people out there in the real world... Let's go ask someone out there what they think. What do you think about this or that fight? Is it really worth it?
I know when I tell my wife about these things, the look she gives me, well it just says it all. And included in that look is, why are you not helping with the laundry. Instead of wasting your time with music.

To me this is the very definition of a lost treasure.
The album (last painting of the master) seems to be a series of vignettes about an apocalypse on earth.
The first couple of songs are highly reminiscent of early genesis with delicate folklike 12-string guitar, zither or whatever the harplike guitar instrument is, surprising chord changes at the end taking flight.
It's amazing, as I said before, how long the progressive tradition continued on in France long after it had died out in its country of origin and been trashed by punk and new wave simplicity. Is it because the french were better educated than the british? They were less fashion conscious? They were not aware of what was going on, as in the case with eastern europe? Maybe it's because it's not that easy to do punk in french, it's awkward, like french hip-hop. Or because they had a strong tradition and band of progressive musicians, having invented the whole genre of zeuhl? Remember, Ange was a huge band in France in the seventies. Or was it because they just love being perverse and different from the rest of the world? Let's not even mention how rude they are in Paris although I hear things are improving a bit. So this album definitely reminds a lot of Ange's "Par les fils du mandarin," being more folk-like symphonic.

Check out instrumental track 'Voyage' which starts inauspiciously with Em, D, C, and a simple harmonics fourth, but then moves into an extraordinary chord change: Bm, Fsharpm, Csharpm, Em, then B, A, D, Dflat, then Bmajor7 and Cmajor7 alternate on a melody based on (the note) B. Wow!! There is probably no other song written with the same chord change, which to me is the essence of good progressive. It's the way these imaginative songwriters managed to put together songs that are different from any other songs in the world, and to still make them sound beautiful.

By the time you read this it will probably be already dead, but try the link below anyways, for fun. Perhaps you can imagine in your mind what a beautiful record this is. Then you can weep in your whiskey, or vodka, as the case may be. You can even put up the link on your wall (use scotch tape) and think to yourself about that chord change I mentioned, maybe even play it on the guitar, if you know how. If you don't I suggest you learn the kazoo, it's easier. Anyways if the link doesn't work I'm sorry, it used to work, I promise it did, although from your point of view, it might as well be random garbage spewed out by a random program on my computer (that speaks hungarian, oddly enough), who knows if the link really worked today, or maybe my preschooler invented it -- he can't spell yet, he just makes up words. Oddly enough, they mean very profound things, like, 'I just pooped.'
Hey wait a minute that's a good idea, I can post albums I don't have and pretend I have them making up a fake link! And no one would know, because the links will be removed so quickly! I can even post an album of my kid's poops!


Monday, April 26, 2010

Aaltonen - Donner

Why am I doing this?
Here is an album that is hopelessly, tragically rare. But I've listened to it for hours and hours over the years and I can't believe how much I can still find in it that's beautiful. Somewhere out in the world there are hundreds of people who can slap the record on to their turntable and listen in privacy too. But because I have small children and worry a lot about the state of the world we're leaving for them, I think this kind of cultural patrimoine (heritage that is), needs to be shared and secured for the future.

And because I'm very sentimental, and was brought up with classical music (forced on me by my dad), strings mixed with good jazz or rock really get to me-- not easy listening schmatzy ones, but tasteful string quartet or small orchestra strings, with a good backbone beat and inventive arrangements. Claus Ogerman was the master at this kind of production. Gate of Dreams is a good ex. of how he did it, I think it can found on magic purple sunshine which I respect and love deeply.

Here we have some very forward inventive fusiony jazz with progressive elements, backed by strings throughout. There are no standards, thank god, although the last song quotes the infamous jazz standard 'my one and only love' poetically retitling it 'my next and only love' -- beautiful. The songwriting is incredible, this is why I say I can always listen to it and find something new and unexpected in it.
I hope those who read this also find something new and unexpected.

And grab it while you can!!!! (the next ten minutes?)

My next and only love...

Simiente - "Indoamerika" {El Salvador} [1980] Andean Folk

at the end of 70s for cultural exchange some musicians from japan to usa visited el salvador, together they formed a band, simiente. this shortly lived band did two albums. when the war began at el salvador, other musicians turned back to their countries. album has the typical elements of andean folk in a nice atmosphere.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Esa Helasvuo Q 1977

In 1998 an american college student in Boston, Mass. named Shawn Fanning invented a program to share the newly invented mp3 music files with friends in his dorm. He named it napster-- his own nickname, referring to his hair. He made it public in the summer of 1999 and pretty much changed the music world forever. He had no idea how huge his invention would become. For true music fans like me and probably everyone reading this it was like the heavens had opened up. After spending a lifetime buying records, cassettes, CDs (ironically, back to records now), to be exposed to such a wealth of riches and rarities was like being in a warehouse in imagination, like a platonic cave of shapes, a mathematician's universe with not just reality but all realizable entities in one place, like being in a planetary library of congress, like the famous ancient library of Alexandria maintained through the ages to now. What was really amazing was not to have so many well-known albums for free, but instead to be accessing rarities, out of print stuff, old soundtracks never rereleased. Those who had old records started to rip them, a simple cable from radioshack and a free program being all you needed. I scoured the record stores and sat by the record player recording to mp3. It was a time-consuming work and it felt a lot like a community service, since the rewards were so intangible-- a faceless person you’d never meet somewhere in the world could listen to your record instantly...

When Shawn invented his system he would never have foreseen that some people would hoard their rips and not share them, or that some people would leech records from others continuously, nonstop, without ever contributing to the pile. Of course according to mathematical game theory, this is inevitable in any complex process. There are cheaters who will evolve to take advantage of the trusting members of the group, there is a minority who remain extremely selfish, but as long as altruism persists in the majority, the system remains in an equilibrium.

Well I've been on both sides now, I've spent my life's income half on life, half on music. I’ve ripped records and hoarded, I’ve freely given and shared. But because there are so few of us who love this style, it now seems to me ridiculous to hold anything back. We should instead be trying to hold back the mediocrity that surrounds us. I am limited in time by real life and small children, but I think it is important to disseminate this music as much as possible, even if it means a number of people out there are stealing and leeching and not sharing what they have. Why is there music? You can't doubt that it evolved in humans along with all other culture, as a social bond, like humour and laughter. It is innately enjoyable for intellectual and mathematical reasons, as Pythagoras discovered so long ago, but its primary purpose, unquestionably, has been as a social strengthener, connector. Share freely, in the spirit of Shawn and napster. Now I'll stop the preaching.

Esa Helasvuo is one of the greats in Finnish jazz, here he plays with Vesala in Q from 1977. From dusty groove:

"Drum and piano duets -- handled in a really wonderful way! The core of the album features acoustic piano from Esa Helasvuo and drums from Edward Vesala -- both strong players on the 70s Finnish scene, jamming together here in a style that's always inside, and touched with modern piano experiments of the 60s generation that includes Bill Evans, Steve Kuhn, and Keith Jarrett -- with plenty of interesting tones and colors from Esa, supported by lightly snapping, almost melodic drums from Edward. But added to all of this are some gentle shadings from a small string section -- used in a way that almost recalls Charlie Haden's best string backings -- never intrusive, but just at the edge to inflect a bit more spirit to the tunes"

Again I have to mention the cover, what a work of art!! It just gives me chills to look at these beautiful covers.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Magog. Haxmjolk. OP and the phantom band. Groep Ohm Skokian. Aardvarks. Atrium Color Seed. St Erhart paprika. Everybody's own hand.

The story goes like this. Somewhere sits the man who has almost everything. He spent years since the beginning collecting gems, since the dawn of mp3s and napster, the commonest through to the rarest. In a few years, he will have them all. Only a few remain elusive but thanks to the stupendous set he has assembled he's confident he’ll get the last remaining private pressings, even one-off albums like a legendary cassette or acetate recorded by a completely unknown yet brilliant band in the seventies, through trades and diligent searching. He is aided by a set of far-flung henchmen-- obscure toilers who purchase the records and rip them, then trade them, all unaware of the enormity of their task, like the Mesopotamian scribes who each knew only a part of the text they were working on. He is financed by a wealthy venture capitalist who is equally obsessed but more limited in time than money, to whom hundreds of dollars for one rarity are nothing in pursuit of the shared dream of owning all the historical progressive albums in the entire world-- which obviously constitute a mathematically finite set-- although approaching the exact number requires a calculus which should approach an asymptote, or limit, perhaps around an order of magnitude ten to the power 4, possibly 5, depending on definitions. Day by day he amasses more through the work of all, until one day he has everything-- though no one knows he has this power, this uniqueness in a world of almost seven billion humans. To be alone in such a possession is unusual, it is as special as being the richest man in the world. What does it mean if everyone is unaware? We are all alone in our own consciousnesses. Picture him working in the depths of a hospital by day, in the evening coming home to a package-- the last gem left to listen to. Surrounded by the discs of sound he is complete at least, task finished.

In quantum mechanics we speak of the wave function (which governs all subatomic entities and by extension all reality) 'collapsing' due to interaction with other processes. The elucidation of this collapse to this day is one of the mystifying aspects of the standard model. There is no complete theory to explain it, though many philosophical interpretations. Some, perhaps most physicists, believe that each event, governed by a certain probability, splits into a separate parallel universe. Thus the world and the future are indeterministic in a very deep and decisive manner. At that time the LHC in Europe, through a freak extremely improbable hadron beam black hole creation event, leads to a vacuum instability that is lower in energy than our current universe. The result (as was warned before many times before the accelerator came on line) is that at the speed of light a wavefront destroys the current structure of the universe and drops it to a lower energy vacuum of obliteration. Utterly lost in a millisecond are the man who has everything and his collection of everything.

But, in another earlier split parallel universe, the man who has everything sits back and relaxes after acquiring the last progressive album from Germany and picks up a book on the suggestion of a friend: Sir Martin Rees' "Our Final Hour." He reads about the doomsday argument-- the argument that we are all born, here and now today, because it is the statistically likeliest time for a human to be born (10 percent of all humans who ever lived are alive today), or to put it differently, the population is about to crash suddenly: we are in the middle of a bell curve-- and he's jolted into the chilled realization that humanity is in peril, time is short... He can't sleep anymore, it hits him over the head like a hammer. Of course, it's obvious, there is no future of traveling the stars and exploring galaxies, the population curve is about to negative slope soon... So he starts a blog and dedicates himself to sharing all his tens of thousands of hoarded gems with all the fans who can appreciate them, few as they are proportionately under the integral of that gaussian. He has just started, having shared Anubis (Fra 1984), when the aforementioned LHC vacuum instability wipes him out and all the other fans, atomizing and quantumly randomizing all the culture and progressive music humanity has ever created as well as that great record collection.

Addendum: the parable is not about me!!!!!!

Magog - Lock...
Häxmjölk - Eskimo Heat ...
O.P. & The Phantom Band....
Groep Ohm - Skokian...
Aardvarks - Aardvakistan...
Atrium - Vierwetterhaus...
St-Erhart - Cuando se come aqui...
Hand - Everybody's Own Hand...

Brave New World - Oh Calcutta!! 1970

This album is interesting, not because of the music, but because of the story behind it-- forget the music, it’s rubbish. Oh Calcutta was a musical which featured all nude performers. As expected, it was a sensation, since it was the first such nudist live act or one of the first. Think about how shocking that must have been back in the late sixties before there were strip clubs and video stores on every big suburban city block. Even now it’s a little risqué to think you’d force your whole cast to perform naked, as a producer. And what kind of audience are you looking to attract??

I’m surprised to see how many soundtracks were released from the same musical. Obviously that testifies to how popular it was. This one is notable in my opinion because its cover is such a remarkable Magritte-like work. The cover really is everything with this record today, although there is such a history behind it. Here are some excerpts from the write-up on wikipedia to give you an idea.

"It ran in London for over 3,900 performances, and in New York initially for 1,314. Revivals enjoyed even longer runs, including a Broadway revival that ran for 5,959 performances, making the show the longest-running revue in Broadway history.

The title is taken from a painting by Clovis Trouille, itself a pun on "O quel cul t'as!" French for "What an ass you have!".

Peter Schickele (aka "PDQ Bach"), Robert Dennis and Stanley Walden were the revue's composers.

An excerpt from a sketch:

A boy and a girl who just met are in their own playland, with the boy constantly trying to find ways to seduce the girl who is afraid of him because he's a boy. The girl is eventually raped by the boy at the end of the sketch and is comatose from the experience ("Jack & Jill")."
( --I think all of you will have the same reaction as me— “What the +++ ????”)

Anyways, this record sells for a lot of money. Whatever possessed me to buy it???
Like so many of these vinyl artefacts, the price has nothing to do with the quality of the music, everything to do with reputation and rarity and record shops. In the days before mp3s it was perhaps a cheat tactic to sell these with a caveat emptor, the buyer had no idea he was being ripped off. Nowadays of course we can listen beforehand and decide for ourselves if we want to buy the vinyl. What other art genre can you overprice like this? I have never heard of a great novel being sold for a lot of money, in fact, you can get them free at the library and I usually see Charles Dickens selling for a couple bucks at barnes and noble. In art the high price for van goghs is a reflection of how much we value his art, it would be like paying millions for Genesis' Selling England album, which in theory is what it is worth. In any case we can go to museums, galleries, or buy a book of his paintings. Otherwise, we might as well be stamp collecting, where rarity defines price, not quality.

Oh! Calcutta!...

Friday, April 23, 2010

Mixture (US 1980)

This album is for the mighty osurec who has laboured so amazingly to unearth lost treasures from the north american continent of 30-40 years ago with the archaeological skills of a trojan Schliemann in the gold vinyl racket, time and again chiseling out lost species of dinosaurs out of the badlands for exhibit online.
As one who has gorged myself at his trough like a hippo at a mud-bathing watering hole swatting away the flies of real life at the apex of hours of prog fulfillment and satiation I think it's important to acknowledge his incredibly generous services.
This is another private-pressed american record, lost without a trace seemingly in the sands of time, of the jazz-rock genus. A type as common in those days as the trilobites in the paleozoic and apparently as outdated. Similar to Esagono Vicolo in the ingeniousness of some chord changes, patterns, and the mix of rock and jazz.

Check out the beautiful drawing on the cover.

Sicilianska frojder...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

(Mike Hugg) Hug - Neon Dream 1975

Here's a treat for all those who like the latter half of the progressive rock continuum, a fantastic lost album of funky-ass rock with the prog dial turned low, but with just enough heat to give us that caffeinated kick we addicts love. Reminds me a lot of the albums featured on the growing bin, such as the just released mystic syster (and I say that with total respect and awe with regards to his work). You'll love this 1975 output of excellent songwriting full of fast throbbing funk and synth solos, odd greek scales starting off into explosive dancing energy, unusual modulations, chords, singable hooks, boosted with enough energy to power a ford pinto on a round trip from new mexico to the moon (the fake moon landing in the nevada desert, that is). In terms of comparisons, reminds me a lot of public foot the roman or neutrons but with more funkishness. Very typical for this period in anglo-prog, the sunset of the great age of progressive music for england and english-speaking countries, 1969 to 1976. I think it's around at this point that the first inklings of punk started to blast away our treasured type. Here's the full info on this little lost (no more) gem:

"Mike Hugg was, with Manfred Mann himself, the longest surviving member of the group known as Manfred Mann. Born Michael Hug in 1942, he came of age in England during the early '60s as a jazz enthusiast, leading his own quartet, which, in addition to himself on drums, included organist Graham Bond in its lineup. Hugg managed to hook up with South African-born pianist Manfred Mann while playing at Butlin's, the English holiday resort, in 1962. The two took a liking to each other and formed the Mann-Hugg Blues Brothers, which became the core of the group that was eventually christened Manfred Mann, featuring Hugg on drums and percussion. Much of Hugg's career for the next decade was linked to Manfred Mann as bandmate and frequent collaborator as a composer. Apart from their work together in the band, the two were responsible for writing and producing a great deal of film music (Up the Junction, Venus in Furs, etc.) and television music, as well as commercial jingles, although Hugg also emerged as a highly successful songwriter in his own right in 1966, when a composition that he'd written with his brother Brian, "You're a Better Man Than I," became a hit for the Yardbirds.

When the group Manfred Mann split up in 1969, Mann and Hugg remained together, forming the more progressive jazz-rock outfit Emanon, which later became Manfred Mann Chapter III. After parting company with Mann in 1972, Hugg cut a pair of solo albums, Somewhere and Stress and Strain, for Polydor, on which he switched from drums to keyboards. He formed the quartet Hug in 1975, which cut one LP, The Neon Dream -- a strange mix of funk and progressive rock -- and then the Mike Hugg Freeway, which only ever released one single, in 1976. Hugg also played piano and organ on Lo and Behold by Coulson, Dean, McGinnis, Flint, which was produced by Mann. He has written some movie and television music (including the original theme for the British television show Minder). In the early '90s, Hugg was reunited with his former Manfred Mann bandmates Paul Jones, Mike Vickers, and Mike d'Abo, for what was supposed to be a one-off event promoting a hits compilation, but proved to be so musically satisfying that it became a regular part-time gig. The Manfreds, as they became known, have delighted audiences around the world with their revival (and expansion) of the old repertory, which has allowed Hugg to keep his hand in performing and jamming as a keyboard player. " ~ Bruce Eder, All Music Guide

As an addendum, I would say I find this album much more interesting and enjoyable than the MM albums, which are more poppy and simpler. Link to follow shortly...

Star Traveller...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Nordvision 1975

I've thought a lot about why these albums from the seventies were so good, so incomparable and unique, when side-to-side you listen to earlier and later artistic periods. Of course some people will disagree right off the bat. I think it boils down to exposure, the musicians from that time grew up educated in classical music, almost invariably, and often knew jazz very well. The early environment was so different from what young musicians today grew up with. Then, when rock came around, it was still new and there was a willingness to play with it that is absent today except in the progressive scene itself, which is old enough that nowadays a musician doing this style is really just imitating past masters. Rarely do we hear them combine all three streams, jazz, rock, and classical into one harmonious whole. There is a demographic explanation too which I think should not be dismissed, this was the peak creative years of the infamous baby boomers. In fact I think at the time, the average age over the entire globe was in the 20s -- it was a young world back then (compared to late 30s to 40s in the western world now.) I think demographics at least explains why there has never been a band as popular and creative as the beatles. Then my friends the peak oil people will say that the seventies were the height of energy availability per capita and overall well-being.

Well it's obvious what I'm leading up to here: on a basis of folk rock and folk music from northern europe, the musicians, which include the famous Mats Vinding on bass, incorporate a lot of jazz elements, and some classical, baroque compositions. There is nothing awkward about the melding, which is why I think this album is fantastic. A couple of tracks feature some gorgeous electric piano, one in particular starting with a strange melody in F minor transitions a couple of times before, in the middle part, turning into a 70s soundtrack sound in D major, complete with spacey female voice wordlessly singing lalala (think rosemary's baby or emmanuelle). Several tracks start acoustic and turn electric in a wonderful way.

"The concept behind their album was to give a new twist to traditional Nordic folk songs from Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Finland. All 11 tracks are tastefully arranged instrumentals (with acoustic and electric guitars to the fore) with strong jazz influences, almost like Björn J:son Lindh's records stripped of the flute (which really is inconceivable). Not really progressive music, nevertheless displaying hummable melodies and supreme instrumental competence. (S.G.M.)"
I disagree with the last remark, if this isn't progressive I don't know what is. It may be the writer was put off by the baroque and folk basis, but the songs sure get pretty ingenious and interesting.

Please enjoy this little example of pure seventies beauty. Any comments (negative or positive) regarding what I've written are appreciated!

I Min Ungdom Det Gladde Mig...

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Human. Un certain pays. 1985.

Overture: a certain land in the near future. Among the ruins of industrial civilization (everywhere plastic home depot bags and starbucks cups) people scrounge for leftover tomato soup cans, and lawns with dandelions to eat or the last ounce of petrol in the bottom of deep pits dug into the sites of old gas stations. In the dark, treeless, concrete infested parts of the land people swollen close to starvation, survive like vultures on the already gone. Then they celebrate by taking a flatscreen plasma tv and smashing it on the ground to see the sparks. Not a single cat or dog or squirrel is to be seen here.

Ricochet: an alien spaceship flashes by, slingshotting around the sun like a comet, long tail of fusion carrying it towards the land. Inside they watch a Nat Geo video of the forests of indonesia teeming with orangutangs.

Amalgame: One intrepid human manages to grind maple seeds into flour with an elliptical machine. Another is seen to slice and dice some grass and water into soup, but it quickly breaks. One is chopping up pigeons with a lawnmower. Another marks his territory with a printer toner cartridge, getting it all over his True Religion Jeans. He curses, takes a bite out of a kraft "fun cheez shapes". Still tastes good, centuries after it was made! Another human is vacuuming up ants from the sidewalk to eat with a still-working dustbuster with batteries. When the batteries run out soon he uses it to dig himself a home in the ground. Another walks by with rotten crabapples in a wheelbarrow made of a small filing cabinet on top of two large rolodexes full of important business contacts. One pulls in a fishing net with 2 dead oysters, no fish, with rope made of linked rolex watches. Next to him, a woman with several toilet plungers is catching tiny crawdads.

Depression: Time has passed, but badly. Few are left by now, scraping by on the last pizza pockets and whole foods granola mix bins forgotten by the others. Thank god they didn't like the mix, they say to themselves. Mothers cry as they watch their children die before their eyes, reaching to give them a plastic waterproof Thomas the Tank Engine in comfort. They give them sweet splenda packets to suck not realizing it has zero calories and will not sustain them.

Albatros: Everywhere birds-- mostly pigeons and sparrows-- fill the sky. The age of dinosaurs passed to the age of mammals, which has now ended, but the age of birds is now set to start. An albatross lands outside a shelter made of lego. Inside the last couple left alive looks out. He throws his golf putter weapon towards it but misses: "oh damned sport!" he says next, activating a golf ball shooting machine, but of course, the balls bounce harmlessly off the bird. Instead the bird starts to peck at the too weak to move woman clothed in tattered Furstenberg head to toe. It turns away disgusted by the taste of her recycled-plastic crocs.

Hiver: The aliens armed with impossibly powerful laser guns land from their ship, millions strong, to conquer what years ago they saw was a green and fertile land of forest and fish-filled seas, ready to enslave the population just like the conquistadors did with the natives of the new world. Instead there is nothing left alive to enslave. The leader kicks away a still-working ipad in disgust. "Not even any fossil fuels left here..." he-she says. His-her second in command comments: "How ironic... They escaped their fate, through self-destruction." The leader promptly shoots him dead. He hates irony, as indeed all good leaders should.

This album is a bona-fide masterpiece. As I've mentioned before, and repeated before, again and again, someone spent a lot of time writing this music, and it shows. What makes it great is the quality of the composition and the cohesiveness of the whole, it plays out like a long symphony, the pieces connect together perfectly. A digital piano performs like a concerto with a very odd sounding orchestra full of echoes and soundtrack effects, occasionally even duetting with an acoustic grand. The orchestra is not annoying in the way for ex. The Enid's is, because it is subjected to so many effects like reverb and because thankfully the string section has been given the day off to brush up on their dumb mozart. Very dramatic crashes of brass and woodwinds and punctuations of huge chords make for a really interesting auricular experience. There is no guitar at all. The melodies are very original, sounding like my man Igor S trying to create a rock album. The dark, very characteristically pessimistic style of advanced french prog is in evidence here, like Yves et Alain Lorentz, Shylock, Yog Sothoth, Carpe diem. The closest similar album is probably British Craft from the eighties, or russian Horizont's two albums, whose digital piano use is very similar. It's shocking this came out in the 1980s, at the same time as Duran Duran et al. What were these musicians thinking?? Thank god they couldn't have cared less about the zeitgeist of dance dance dance and I want my MTV and neon green short shorts...


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

De L'onde a L'infini (Canada1974)

The ondes martenot were invented by (who else) Maurice Martenot in 1928, one of the first electronic instruments created. The sound is very similar to the theremin: eerie, soundtrack type stuff, and is mostly associated with Olivier Messiaen, who went overboard with it in the early twentieth. The sound is actually produced by oscillations in vacuum tubes, believe it or not. A vacuum tube was a big glass tube that functioned the same as one transistor -- just one. I remember my dad's big laptop-sized homemade radio made of vacuum tubes, one of which would blow like a light bulb every time you turned it on. In Canada, Quebec has long had a tradition for playing and using this instrument. So, in 1974 a group of classical composers worked together to create a more accessible introduction to the instrument and compositions for it for popular enjoyment. Considering the degree of open-mindedness and willingness to experiment in music in the early 70s this idea was not as crazy as it seems today.

The instrument is still played and practiced in France, though it is considered a historical curiosity, its rarity due mostly to the legendary difficulty of playing the instrument -- it uses a normal keyboard, there is a sliding ruler or ring worn on the finger which is used for vibrato or glissando effect, but no sound is produced until yet another set of controls is pushed to increase volume. Sounds ridiculous? I think so, and today we would have no patience for an instrument like that, especially considering it is not quite as pleasurably melodious as the mellotron, which few can resist.

On this record Sylvette Allart plays the ondes, backed by piano and harp. Four classical composers, including the famous Dompierre (who wrote soundtracks for Quebec films), Eduard Michaels, Georges Guinot, Luc-Andre Marcel contribute pieces which they wrote in the past (mostly from the 50s). The compositions range widely, overall level is comparable to the earlier posted Giuntoli and Mertoli on this blog, or more well-known Julverne, Conventum, bearing in mind the unusual instrumentation, i.e. chamber progressive. The first composition by Dompierre is a sonata with some ravel movements around a very beautiful rachmaninoff like middle adagio movement. Eduard Michaels contributes a gorgeous piece called "Through a small window" a duet with harp I think. Several pieces relate to birds, which I believe is an homage to Messiaen's obsession with ornithology.
The last, "l'oiseau de java" is the standout virtuoso piece, using many ondes together, making the instrument sound at different times like flutes, violins, cellos, bassoons, clarinet, and that crazy lady who plays variously-filled wineglasses with her fingers.
Check out the review from rateyourmusic (which actually misses the point of the album entirely):
"Who would've thought that after so much crate-digging, after enormous efforts that the ProgQuebec label is doing to promote the progressive music of the French-Canadian scene of the 1970s, there'd still be treasures to unearth in this particular region? And then out of the blue appears this little gem of an album, full of chamber rock elegance and weird experimental twists..."
In fact it's not out of the blue, being very much a part of modern classical music, but I agree that it's shocking that crate-digging still produces such amazing gemic surprises for us fans.

As I've said before the abandonment of this beautiful music is a tragedy for the world and human culture which has become swamped in mediocrity-- think of how many fewer people, especially proportionate to the current population, can enjoy this now, than did in the seventies when it appeared. One in a million people? Ouch. This is why I think it's really imperative for all of us fans to share this music as much as possible with each other and the outside world... We should not be hoarding this like gold. Shame on those of you who do! There are so few of us! Our only hope is that, like the monks in the middle ages, we can keep the flame alive until a time when people will rediscover and reappreciate the incredible ingenuity and mastery expressed in this artform, like the writings of the classical poets and playwrights copied by hand by the same monks who invented champagne and my favourite, dark Chimay. God bless those trappist monks! But I doubt that moment will ever come. So let's have a leffe brune and listen to this now.

L'oiseau de Java...

Monday, April 12, 2010

Bahamas - Le voyageur immobile (Fra 76)

I almost want to feature this just because of the cover. As I've said before these 70s albums are always worth checking out for their cover art-- the ingenuity and artistry that went into them is astounding. Nothing like today's stuff, although the alternative records from the 90s really came close with a very fresh spirit towards art. Here we have a beautiful homage to Rene Magritte, complementing the album's title.
A bit like countrymen Ocean's hard rock style with prog, on the dial going from jazz to rock to prog to chamber, it's a bit on the right side of the rock setting. The songwriting here is really masterful and interesting, sometimes achieving pop rock greatness with the basic rock quartet of bass drums guitar and piano, some really inventive guitar melodies are woven together with bashed out piano chords. Eerie synth figures occasionally make an appearance, but those are very lightly used unlike the traditional french sympho-prog.

The second song is the prog masterpiece, starting with an eerie scale on top of the classic augmented fourth that is so essential to this genre, it passes on to a more traditional rock composition soon enough but without leaving the progressive roots. The third song painfully reminds me of 10cc's big hit "I'm not in love," which because it came out in 1975, predates this album by a year. Same sustained major chord moving into its minor counterpart with long background curtains of vocals throughout. By mentioning this I hope I don't ruin it for anyone. Could be a coincidence, but 10cc's hit was a number one I think-- hold on, I'm probably wrong about that, please no comments.
Really enjoyable album with enough progressive to keep us happy, very much indebted to mid-70s rock-pop, sadly and unfairly forgotten. These are the songs that should be played on your local AM radio station, not more led zeppelin and "I've got a brand new pair of rollerskates". No tracklist, I apologize.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Vindharpen - Rejsen til Yenan (Denmark, 1975)

Antoine de St Exupery disappeared on a night flight over Africa in the second world war, presumably shot down in the desert. This is what makes it so ironic that he is best known for "Le petit prince" the greatest of all children's books, in which the prince dies in the desert to return to his home planet. The work is great because it can be read on so many levels. On the one hand it's clearly a hallucination, on the other it's a fable about a homesick space-traveling child, mainly it's about the overwhelming sadness of losing your childhood in the world of adults. It's odd that no other artist (to my knowledge) has used the story for a concept album, but here we have one from Denmark. Curiously absent is the planetary or sci-fi angle. Instead we get a very varied instrumentation with some accordeon, fiddles, a lot of basic acoustic stuff, piano, guitar, flute, plus sitars, mandolins.

It starts strong with a gentle intro leading into hard and fast piano with xylophones, congas, some synthesizer in a subtle use. Some songs evoke the bazaars of north africa, which never really make an appearance in the book, maybe this belongs to the hollywood version of the story. But there are very delicate acoustic folk ballads, with the melancholy so typical of northern european music, which reflect the sadness of the book. The overall quality is similar to Camel but slightly less sophisticated and smooth and with a middle eastern vibe.

Aasteroide b612...

Friday, April 09, 2010

Sensazioni - "Doctor Faust Suite" {Italy} [1981]

It amazes me that there are still true progressive gems out there to be shared, not yet released to cd, not well known. I wonder just how bottomless the pit is, of 70s albums in this genre, or when we will finally start scraping the bottom of that barrel. One thing I do know is we're close to the end when it comes to St Pierre et Miquelon progressive bands.

Regarding Italy, here is a true late progressive treasure which to my knowledge is not out generally for the fans. It is mostly memorable for a fantastic side-long track, which recounts the famous story of Dr. Faust in symphonic style, beautiful arrangements with string synths, guitars and piano, a dark atmosphere, reminiscent of masters Banco in the way the themes are worked and redeveloped throughout. Starting out with three notes of a minor scale then an augmented fourth, very atmospherically it moves into some mysterious sounds, some piano invention, then some sung passages... A gritty uptempo end part full of minor seconds harkens back to the energy of Banco's Darwinian album. How odd, to hear this true-blue prog in 1981 Italia! I guess this band exchanged their afterlife in posterity for the ability to write great music -- exactly the opposite of most pop bands. Their curse was to write advanced music no one would like, at least no one but maybe a couple thousand in a population of almost 7 billion now.
A couple of tracks are poppish or discoish in a way that reminds me of Il Volo's albums, still some progressive elements pull us fans back from the edge of nausea, well, maybe some of you will require antiemetics on the third track. A fourth track of reflections of autumn really hits the spot in good songwriting. The last track incorporating some 80s beats makes me feel sad since the band was really trying to come up with a single style of radio-friendly unit style-shifting song.
Fabulous side-long though all in all makes this worth a listen or twenty.

Doctor Faust Suite...

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Xalph Demos 1975-1980

Touchdown. We've landed on planet zeuhl.
Volcanic bass erupts in repetitive lava flows and atmospheric drones swirl in the dark and methaned scratchy air.
A dim dark sun, pregnant with red hydrogen, casts for radioactive nuclei in the brass rocks that pump up a strange and discordant, disharmonious wind, full of unfamiliar dreams and memories... Snatches of keys and chords break through the magmatic surface of this cratered planet, continental drift passes in fast-forward, thundering through hurricanes to a smashing closing... Far, far in the future, where we travel the galaxy clusters and walls and voids of deep space to eerie planets of ghostly life, gloriously insane, S. J. Gould Wonderful Life, our starship powered by the amplification of bass, drums and guitars, we discover a sonic boom that makes our long, long hair trail in the solar wind and cosmic rays...

An unknown masterpiece of this french style, released only on cassette, I think this should be ranked and evaluated next to the other musical masterpieces of the 20th century like The Rite of Spring or Prokofieff's ballets, studied in music schools and conservatories, the compositional quality is not inferior in any way. I hope I'm not the only one who will hold this opinion...
Actually the music is not as dissonantly difficult as Yog or Yochk'o or Shub, more similar to early Abus or later Eider.

One track from this band appeared on the zeuhl compilation "Enneade". I find it odd that musea has not rereleased this yet to CD. Tracklist is as follows, the rip here is continuous from the cassette:

01 - Gya Tei 1-2
02 - Exorde
03 - Morceau D'hommage
04 - Mi
05 - Ballade A Xalph
06 - Passage Du Peuple Joyeaux
07 - Ter
08 - Xessamdereleph
09 - Migrations
10 - Entree
11 - Suite A L'Entree

Xalph Demos...