I must confess that I was more than a little surprised to discover that this is the debut album from Maurice Frank, as not only not the youngest talent on the block, but he sounds as if he has been recording and performing for many years. He has a fine voice, and obviously grew up listening to the likes of Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, and wants to take everyone back to the Fifties and the slow ballads of those performers. Pianist John Di Martino has put together a great band, but the arrangements sometimes overpower the feel and style that Frank is attempting to portray. Take “Slow Hot Wind” for example, the Latin undertones of the backing almost overpower the vocals and totally change the mood.
This isn’t really my style of music, as it is just too laid-back for me, but I can recognize that Frank has a fine voice and isn’t afraid to go for long-held notes, as he nails them every time. Sat on a stool, in a solo spotlight, I can imagine Frank holding a jazz room in the palm of his hand and if you like this sort of thing it could well be worth investigating. For more details visit www.mauricefrank.com
6/10 – Kev Rowland
Multi-instrumentalist and singer Marco Ragni is back with his latest album, and what an album it is. While he provides vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, bass, keyboards, mellotron, piano and mandolin he has also been joined by Dave Newhouse (sax, clarinet, flute, keyboards and woodwinds arrangements), Peter Matuchniak (lead guitar), Jeff Mack (bass) and Maurizio Antonini on drums, plus a few guests adding different nuances. This means this album includes members of The Muffins, Bomber Goggles, Scarlet Hollow and Barock Project, so it is a given that the guys all know their ways around their instruments. What this has enabled them all to do is to relax completely, and the result is an album which in many ways is the loosest I have ever come across. We often talk about how tight a band is, how they are right on top of each other, but here they sound as if there is a great space between them all and between the layers, allowing the music to fully breathe and go where it desires.
The album title is apt, as there is a feeling of a great sky and a bleak landscape, and the travelers knowing not where they are going when they are likely to reach the destination, or even if it really matters. This is a musical journey that is given a very middle eastern feel at times with the use of the oud, while it is also often reflective, with a great deal of restraint. It is an album which demands to be savored like a fine brandy: take the time and let all the nuances and textures hit every sense. It is progressive, it is psychedelic, it is nearly New Age (but not quite, they don’t inhale), it is World, it is delicate, but there is an inner strength and core which keeps everything moving in the same direction.
Often it is just Marco singing in a reflective manner, but during “Promised Land” there is even room for many singers and for Peter to become more direct in his approach. Maurizio is also one of those drummers who understand that there are times to play, and time to listen to the band with everyone else, and that restraint also has a key part to play. This is quite some album and is well worth discovering by all good music lovers.
8/10 Kev Rowland
This is the third of four studio albums released by this Norwegian band and was released in 2014. I have only just come across this group, so this was all totally new to me, and having played it and then started working out what on earth I could try and say about it! They have been listed on PA as a progressive rock group, in the eclectic sub-genre, and I can understand why that is as these guys are truly trying to move music into new areas and are progressing the sound, as opposed to attempting to regress to something that was popular 40 or 50 years ago. Firstly, the music is incredibly theatrical, timeless and also dark, yet with levity and life coming through at different stages. So let’s think Clive Nolan, but also throw in Alabama 3, some Nick Cave and possibly Tom Waits, while Johnny Cash would be stirring the pot. Then let’s add some accordion-driven pirate metal just for the hell of it, and see what the punters make of it. Clive would be the only one that I’ve mentioned that people would generally think of as prog, but all of those named have been key players in their own musical fields and have never been afraid of stretching out into different areas.
If I was going to think of just one prog band, then the approach does remind me in some strange way of classic Twelfth Night, but of course, they sound nothing like them at all! This really is an album where the more attention that is paid to it, the more rewards can be obtained as the music is incredibly dense, multi-layered and faceted, and the more I listen to it the more I find within it to enjoy it. There is a darkness thrown in, as if instead of performing on a stage, the guys are on a becalmed sailing galleon at night, with lanterns providing the only lighting. There is so much happening in each song, with switches in tempo and musical approach taking place so frequently that one often loses track as to what is going on, but who cares? It is a staccato abrupt journey both into the absurd and the unknown, and I am all the richer for having heard it. Miss this at your peril.
10/10 – Kev Rowland
The complete title of this album is ‘In The World of Fantasy? … And Other rarities’. It was actually released prior to ‘In Search Of The Perfect Chord’, so the final epic song on that album features as the opening song on this collection, a taster for what was to come. Of course, reviewing this some four years later means that some of the impacts of that is rather lost. All of the other songs are either rare songs taken from singles, alternative versions, demos or unreleased songs. It goes all the way back to the band’s beginning in 2014, and then right up to date with an unrealized theme from the next album.
Normally with an album of this type, reviewers would say that this is a nice set for completists and those who are already fans of the band, and move smartly onwards and not bother listening to it. But, what we have here is one of those rare instances of a rarities collection that is actually a bloody fine listen indeed. One of the real joys on this one is “Born In 67”, where keyboard player, bandleader and label boss Ryszard Kramarski provides lead vocals on the demo. Contrast that to the Beatles-like “The Prose Of Life” that follows it, and I can guarantee that any listener will be smiling (at least I was). I believe this CD was only released as a limited numbered edition, so I don’t know if it is still available, but all progheads should grab this if they come across it. These days, most progheads when they think of Poland always think Riverside, but in truth, there has been a great deal of wonderful bands out of that country in the last 20 years, and to my ears Millenium is right up there with the very best.
8/10 – Kev Rowland
Some fifteen years on from their debut, and the 2014 version of Millenium still featured four of the five musicians who had played on ‘Vocanda’. Of all the wonderful progressive bands I have heard from Poland, it is with this one I feel the most affinity, as they have consistently released great albums throughout their career, and this shows no sign at all of that changing. As with their previous album, they brought in some guests on vocals and additional instruments (interestingly both Darek Rybka ( saxophone) and Grzegorz Bauer (drums) joined as full members in 2017), to add additional polish and effect. The use of saxophone in modern progressive music still feels fresh, and that is again very much the case here.
This neo-prog outfit takes cues from the likes of Pink Floyd, but IQ is obviously also very much an influence, and there is always a firm concentration on songs and melodies. Singer Łukasz Gall has a wonderful voice and is always kept to the forefront of the sound, and the female backing singers add a touch of finesse, with “Girl From A Glass Sphere” in particular managing to be beautiful, modern and timeless all at once. The last song on the album, “In The World Of Fantasy” is also one of the longest in their canon, stretching in at twelve minutes. It tells the story of a composer obsessed with the desire to write the perfect tune and ready to sign a pact with the devil to achieve this goal. The band see this as a tribute to Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, Handel and Wagner and also to “legendary art-rock bands and timeless compositions such as Genesis, “Supper’s ready”, Pink Floyd “Echoes”, Yes “Close to the edge”, The Alan Parsons Project “The turn of a friendly card” or Marillion “Grendel”.”
This digipak is a fine addition to any prog lover’s collection, and I feel so fortunate that I have been able to hear so much of their work. This is the ninth album of theirs that I own, and is either their 10thor 11thstudio release (depending as to whether you consider the debut Millenium album to actually be the second Framauro album or not), and all of them are very high quality indeed. Truly one of the great Polish progressive bands.
8/10 – Kev Rowland