Friday, August 26, 2016

A Piedi Nudi, Italy


A Piedi Nudi were one of the bright lights from the 90s Italian progressive rock renaissance, combining classic early 70s styled compositions with a decidedly more modern tonality. Creazione is definitely my favorite of the 3, but I don't have any notes to share at the moment. Same with Eclissi. As I revisit those CDs, I'll update this post at that time. The band sadly broke up in 1999. Time for a reformation I think!

A Piedi Nudi - s/t. 1994 Mellow (CD)
A Piedi Nudi - Creazione. 1995 Mellow (CD; LP)
A Piedi Nudi - Eclissi. 1998 Mellow (CD); 2006 MALS (Russia CD)

----A Piedi Nudi

A Piedi Nudi's debut album sounds very much what it strove so hard to be: An updated version of Il Balletto di Bronzo, especially from their fabled Ys album (it even opens with 'Introduzione' and closes with 'Epilogo' - not a coincidence). Not as brilliant or groundbreaking (of course... duh), but a valiant effort all the same. We'll start with the vocals of Mirko Schiesaro. Without any doubt he studied Ys intently, as he sings very much in the same way as Gianni Leone did (especially as he truncates the verses and lifts his voice near the end of each stanza). Perhaps not as histrionic - or as effective honestly - but oh yes, the style is basically the same. Now onto the guitar of Nicola Gardinale, who also happens to be the only songwriter here, so it's clearly his show. Gardinale's tone is decidedly 90s metal, with plenty of riffing. It's quite jarring against the expected heavy psychedelic tone of the almighty Balletto, but very exciting all the same, and fits well within the style of music. He also composes sudden breaks similar to Ys. On the downside would have to be the keyboards of Cristian Chinaglia. He's a competent player for certain, but the sounds are exactly what one would expect from the era's plastic digital gear, very typical of the 80s and 90s. Even when the "organ tone" is on, this is no match for the real-deal mellotron and organ of the masters. Lost in all of this is the fantastic rhythm section of the Bighetti brothers, who are perhaps the closest of all to the original Balletto recording, and are up to the task in keeping with the constantly shifting meters. The music, over the course of the album, begins to blur together in a samey sound manner, though a close listen will reveal many differences within. A Piedi Nudi's debut is one of many classics of the 1990s Italian progressive rock scene - and as with the 70's bands - will likely be discovered some 20 to 30 years after the fact. The band would improve from here and include more references from the 70s Italian scene (especially Semiramis), but this debut is outstanding, and I've never tired of it some 20+ years later.

I've seen reviews that only reference UK groups, including 80s neo prog bands (and hair/grunge metal? OMG), and the album was disparaged because of it. That just completely misses the point, and the historical references that A Piedi Nudi were clearly aiming for - and were inspired by. Certainly the original 70s Italian progressive rock scene was heavily influenced by the UK masters to begin with, and so that point is never lost. But the sub-genre cannot simply be written off as copyist, considering the tremendous local culture imprint, all of which has been well documented as such for over 25 years now.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

TEE, Japan


Originally published March 28, 2012 and moving forward to highlight their new album Tales of Eternal Entities.

Time to feature a Japanese band that is current. TEE are absolutely one of my favorite contemporary bands. They have zeroed in on that instrumental European warm progressive rock sound that was most prominent in Spain, France, and Germany during the late 1970s. Few do it as well as TEE. I own the first album as well, and it's just as good as the others. I just didn't have notes to share. I'll update this post on my next revisit.

TEE - The Earth Explorer. 2008 Musea / Poseidon (France CD)
TEE - Trans-Europe Expression. 2012 Musea (France CD)
TEE - Tales of Eternal Entities. 2016 Musea Parallele (France CD)

They also have a CD-R predating the CDs.

----Trans-Europe Expression 

So it appears TEE is going to be an acronym that remains fluid. For their debut album, they were known as The Earth Explorer. And now it is Trans-Europe Expression. Perhaps The Egg Enema won't be far behind...

Let me take you back 20 years to 1992. At that time, much was made of Änglagård bringing progressive rock back to its original splendor. Their appearance at the first Progressive Rock Festival in 1993 only solidified the legend. And I wholeheartedly agree with all the enthusiasm laid at the feet of this great Swedish band.

However, for myself and a few others, there was another album that had as much impact, but is not as well remembered. Two years prior to Änglagård, a band from Hungary released their second album: The mighty 2 LP opus 1990 by Solaris. It was a jaw dropper, a truly complex progressive rock album, with outstanding keyboards, guitars and flute. Perhaps it's only downfall for the revisionists is its lack of 1970s vintage analog equipment. And while I too would have enjoyed that, it has zero impact on my enjoyment of that amazing album.

Trans-Europe Expression is the second coming of Solaris' 1990!

This is a magnificent work, with some of the most melodic flute and guitar driven progressive rock I've heard in over 20 years. I find music like this irresistible. Love the European hill town photograph artwork as well.

----Tales of Eternal Entities

The fluidly named TEE this time stands for Tales of Eternal Entities, and this is the Japanese band's 3rd album. I had feared that TEE's involvement with French TV's latest album may have given the group a new found rigidity. Fortunately that is not the case, and TEE return with their distinctly mid to late 70s warm European progressive rock sound. Flute, guitar, and analog sounding synth lines dominate the melodies, while the rhythm section mixes things up often to keep the music from becoming static. As in the past, you'll hear traces of Asia Minor, Solaris, Gotic, and perhaps more pointedly than ever, the godfather of such a sound: Camel. TEE could also be seen as an instrumental parallel band to Spain's L'Herba d'Hameli. 'Epimetheus' is a brilliant opener, and it appeared this album may well in fact be their best work to date. 'Mother Earth' is another standout track. There is nothing less than what I would consider an "excellent" track here. I would offer that Tales of Eternal Entities is a hair off the pace from the prior Trans-European Expression, but all of their albums are outstanding and not to be missed. Borderline 4.5 stars here, but will stay conservative. One of the best albums from 2016 so far for my tastes.

Side Steps, Japan


Like Gerard, Side Steps are a long running Japanese band, though this time coming from the jazz fusion genre. They received some attention in the Western world, mainly due to their association with Musea Records. As you will see in my notes below, not all is great. I even debated adding them here to UTR, but there's just enough good at the end of their career to at least consider. From a technical perspective, these guys are fantastic. But I tend to like a bit more grit and grime in my music. In giving full disclosure, I only kept the last two albums I featured here. The last activity on their website goes back to 2012, and their final release was 2007, so it does appear the band may be kaput.

Side Steps - Out and Out. 1997 Musea (France CD)
Side Steps - Alive. 1999 Musea (France CD)
Side Steps - Points of View. 2001 Musea (France CD)
Side Steps - Steps on Edge. 2003 Musea (France CD) 1993 recording. see write-up for more info regarding this release
Side Steps - Verge of Reality. 2005 Poseidon (CD); 2005 Musea (France CD)
Side Steps - Alive II. 2007 Poseidon (CD); 2007 Musea (France CD)

Highly likely this discography is incomplete. RYM lists at least 5 other releases, but details are scant. The above more or less comes from Discogs. And given what I've learned about Steps on Edge, I'm not certain all those albums were actually released in a physical medium. Side Steps' own website does list all of these other albums, but it does appear they were digital only. The exception being Steps on Edge which was released posthumously by Musea.  Also, of their early albums released by Musea, it does look like Marquee (Belle Antique) may have issued them in Japan domestically. It's not entirely clear if they are a co-production, or released separately. Same with the Poseidon releases, but I'll leave those for now.

----Steps on Edge

Steps on Edge is an early work from Side Steps, recorded in late 1993 and reputedly released in 1994 (see  below for more info). Recently I reviewed their 2001 album Points of View, and commented that the album produced every late 70s fusion cliche, but faster and more technical. I thought it was quite good on the whole actually. Steps on Edge also mimics the late 70s - but as produced in the middle 80s. The tones here are really painful to endure. There's only so much slap bass and 80s synthesizers a person can take at once (I think?). Not to mention the chromatic scale guitar runs. No, I'm not trashing the album you understand. If these things don't matter to you - or even better, you enjoy that particular sound - then Steps on Edge will easily go into your win column. The compositions are not bad, though it's definitely more show-offy than the Points of View album. I think they were to mature greatly from here, but as an early fusion effort, it's not bad truthfully. Just not one for me to keep.

While I've read in a few places that Musea's CD is a "reissue", I'm finding no evidence that this album was actually released in 1994 in Japan (or anywhere). Now, as you all know if you've followed my CDRWL blog, Japan can be the most mysterious of lands, and no doubt countless albums have fallen completely out of sight over the years. But these are more modern times, and no longer the disconnected 1970s. My guess is this was recorded in 1993 just as the album notes of the CD suggest (and it certainly sounds older than the other Side Steps' I've heard). And the Musea (France) / Poseidon (Japan) release is its actual first pressing. The CD itself mentions no other pressing either. Proof to the contrary is certainly welcome. I just couldn't find any.

----Out and Out

Slick as a butter dish instrumental jazz fusion, all digital - all the time. The playing is at a high, very technical level, and these guys will impress their music school instructors. Some by-the-numbers mellow pieces offset the perfectly placed "scorchers". A few attempts at actual composition and melody writing make this one worthwhile to hear, but otherwise unless you're a budding musician who subscribes to all the music magazines, this one will probably leave you a bit bored.

----Points of View

Japanese ensemble Side Steps continue on with Points of View, an album that brings forth every single late 1970s fusion cliche you can think of... except faster and more technical. Ya know, I've heard of worse concepts than that. Like the 70's era, melody actually matters, and there's more than a nod to fellow countrymen Kenso here. Not an analog sound within earshot mind you, so file that away. Good one, despite that.

----Verge of Reality

Verge of Reality is Side Steps' last studio album. Starting with 'Roppongi Night', it appeared the band were headed more for tropical waters, like their forefathers before them, with a light and breezy fusion sound typical of the early 80s era for example. But it was a head fake, and the abrasive hard guitar was back on the appropriately named 'Edge Trigger'. 'Parallel Reality' amps it up further and includes a couple of nice breaks adding to the excitement. 'Evergreen' is another mellow track, though ultimately more classy in that 5 star hotel lounge sort of way. Throughout, the synthesizer tones remain a problem, with their Nintendo-like sound, but overall the music is on par with some of Kenso's more fusion oriented works. Not going to change your world, but if looking for a solid jazz fusion album, one could do far worse than Verge of Reality.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Gerard, Japan

Fan site (more info than official site)

Gerard are a long running symphonic progressive rock band lead by keyboardist Toshio Egawa. I presume they are still a functioning unit, though the last activity I could find is 2015. Not sure if they have a Facebook page, but I couldn't find one if they do. My history with the band goes back to their very beginning, and I once owned their first two albums on LP. I sold them, though I'm not sure I'd do that today. In addition, I have heard Irony of Fate and Pandora's Box, but never owned them. I currently only possess The Ruins of a Glass Fortress and the album we're featuring today: Live in Marseille. No matter if I ever buy more Gerard, or not, for certain this album will be a keeper deep into my lifespan. I'll update this post when I revisit Ruins/Glass, or any others I decide to pick up along the way.

Gerard - s/t. 1984 Nexus (LP); 1988/92/99 Crime (CD); 2001 Spalax (France CD); 2011 Nexus (mini-LP)
Gerard - Empty Lie, Empty Dream. 1985 Nexus (LP); 1988/92/99 Crime (CD); 2006 Altavoz (mini-LP); 2011 Nexus (mini-LP)
Gerard - Dream of Dreaming (EP). 1985 Nexus (LP)
Gerard - Irony of Fate. 1991 Crime (CD); 1993 Spalax (France CD); 2013 Crime (mini-LP)
Gerard - Save Knight by the Night. 1994 Nexus (CD)
Gerard - The Pendulum. 1996 Musea (France CD); 1997 Trycle (CD); 2010 Sky Station (mini-LP)
Gerard - Pandora's Box. 1997 Trycle (CD); 1997 Musea (France CD)
Gerard - Evidence of True Love (EP). 1997 Trycle (CD)
Gerard - Meridian. 1998 Made in Japan (CD); 1998 Musea (France CD); 2000 Avalon (CD)
Gerard - Live in Marseille/Battle Triangle. 1998 Made in Japan (CD); 1999 Musea (France CD)
Ars Nova / Gerard - Keyboards Triangle. 1999 Avalon (CD); 1999 Musea (France CD)
Gerard - The Ruins of a Glass Fortress. 2000 Avalon (CD); 2000 Musea (France CD)
Gerard - Keyboard Triangle II. 2002 private (CD); 2013 Musea (France CD)
Gerard - Sighs of the Water. 2002 Avalon (CD); 2002 Musea (France CD)
Gerard - Power of Infinity. 2004 Avalon (CD); 2005 Musea (France CD)
Gerard - Ring of Eternity. 2010 Altavoz (CD); 2012 Musea (France CD)
Gerard - Visionary Dream. 2011 Ultimate (CD); 2012 Musea (France CD)
Gerard - Gap Moe (EP). 2012 Ultimate (CD)

Meridian is often considered a compilation album, but it's actually re-recorded versions of their first two albums, so it should be considered a unique release. Some of this discography info is likely to be incomplete, as details are sketchy at best on some of their releases.

---- Live in Marseille/Battle Triangle

Gerard had 7 studio albums prior to this, their first live album. All the tracks have been culled from their studio recordings, and there's an additional cover of a Banco del Mutuo Soccorso composition from Darwin. Generally live albums bore me, as they're nothing but a run-through of the studio material, but recorded in front of a live audience. That's not the case here. First of all, it's just the keyboard trio. As such, no vocals or guitars are present. Rather it's a non-stop blitzkrieg of Hammond fueled* instrumental workouts with fuzz bass and hyperactive drumming - and where each track has been turned up to "11". The album is just relentless in its intensity. Those looking for color or nuance will need to skip right over this one. Imagine the 1970 UK group Aardvark on a non-stop bender without vocals. Not for the fainthearted.

*This is absolutely the sound they obtain, but in reading the liner notes and the internet, it appears all the keyboards used were modern day Korg synthesizers run through Leslie pedals. If only other contemporary bands had adopted such a thick and meaty sound!

I own the Made in Japan CD (first scan - the second is the Musea release), and the only date copyrighted is 1998. The album is titled Live in Marseille, subtitled Battle Triangle, and further it says "Ltd. Edition for Fan Club", as the indigenous release features one short bonus piece called 'Revenge', which sounds just as great as everything else on the album.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Amoeba Split, Spain


First published on April 25, 2011 and moved forward to highlight their new release Second Split. Dance of the Goodbyes was the second post for this blog, and absolutely represents the spirit of what I'm trying to do here. I really do hope more folks discover these type of  bands. They have so much to offer.

Amoeba Split - Dance of the Goodbyes. 2010 Creative Commons (mini-LP); 2011 private (2 LP); 2014 Azafran (Mexico mini-LP)
Amoeba Split - Second Split. 2016 Azafran (Mexico mini-LP)

----Dance of the Goodbyes

Amoeba Split are one of two current Spanish bands (that I'm aware of anyway) playing in the Canterbury styled jazz rock space. The other is the more known Planeta Imaginario. Of the two, I'd say Amoeba Split are the more purest when referring to the classic bands of Soft Machine and National Health. The instrumentation is right out of the 70's: Hammond organ,piano, Mellotron, Mini-Moog, flute, sax, guitar, bass and drums. The major differentiator here is the female vocals, which are admittedly a bit shrill. Her slightly accented delivery is a bit odd, but I have a feeling that will add to the charm on repeated listens. She's really not that far from some of the early 70's shrieks of Sandrose and Joy Unlimited. But it is unusual in this setting, where we're used to the soft affected tones of The Northettes. 'Dedicated to Us, But We Weren't Listening' and 'Turbulent Matrix'. Amoeba Split score well on both of the style's major attributes - melody and complexity. A no-brainer pickup for fans of the 1970's UK Canterbury scene.

----Second Split

Amoeba Split are a band from Galicia, in the far northwest of Spain, who play a decidedly UK form of progressive rock: That of the Canterbury movement. Second Split is appropriately enough the band's sophomore effort. It's been 6 years since their debut, and they're now missing one key component - the female voice of Maria Toro. And with that, the late Canterbury sounds of National Health have fled the scene. No matter, as the all instrumental Amoeba Split have stayed the course, and have arguably released an even better album, demonstrating their experience over style. Opener 'Clockwise' is a clear homage to Soft Machine's Third, at that perfect point in 1970 where psychedelic, progressive rock, and jazz meet. Further in the album, 'Backwards all the Time' is once again a tribute to Soft Machine, this time emulating their 1971 sound, and thus tilts more towards the jazz side of the equation. 'Those Fading Hours' blends Canterbury with David Cross like violin, that gives an odd King Crimson vibe, which is unique and very satisfying. 'About Life, Memories and Yesteryears' once again marries Canterbury sounds with something unusual - this time symphonic progressive rock. Perhaps even a trace of Genesis can be heard. But the best for me was 'Sundial Tick' where the band finally demonstrates a bit of their native heritage, though further east towards Catalonia. And hear they blend their trademark sound with that of the classic Gotic album, and is truly splendid. Overall, a fantastic second album, and hopefully we hear from the band more frequently than every 6 years.