It’s probably best to let singer and keyboard player John Paul Strauss describe the rationale behind this album. ‘During the time we were working on the most recent Ten Jinn release, ‘Sisyphus’, came the very sad news about the passing of David Bowie. At the time (though we were very busy with working on the album and dealing with the upcoming release in 2017) I suggested to the other Ten Jinn members that as soon as ‘Sisyphus’ was completed, we should record a David Bowie tribute record before preparing for live shows or recording the next Ten Jinn record, ‘Worlds (the Four Worlds of the Hopi)’. While I was very excited about the prospect of playing live again and getting on to ‘Worlds’ (I even completed the first draft of the score) I felt very strongly about taking this detour in order to pay my respects to an artist, who was probably the single most important influence in my development as a musician in general and vocalist in particular.
I can’t be the only person who never expected an album like this from Ten Jinn. Since their second album, 1999’s ‘As On A Darkling Plain’, they have cemented a reputation as one of the most interesting progressive rock bands around, so a Bowie tribute album isn’t exactly what one would expect. There haven’t been many progressive bands who have recorded whole albums of covers (Dream Theater of course taking it to the extreme by re-recording complete albums, often very well indeed), let alone of music that us so far away from what one would expect.
What I also found interesting was the track selection, as while of course there are many hits, there are also many missing which one may expect on a collection like this, such as ‘Ashes to Ashes’, ‘Space Oddity’, ‘Suffragette City’, ‘Rebel Rebel’, ‘Young Americans’ etc. There is the feeling that here is a very personal collection, one that has a collective cohesiveness which works incredibly well. What I really enjoyed about the album is that although they have stayed close to the originals, they have also allowed themselves to put their own stamp on the songs. They have played it fairly straight, and consequently it has worked exactly as it was supposed to, namely as a tribute.
One of the real stand outs has to be ‘Dead Man Walking’, which originally featured on the 1997 album ‘Earthling’. While much focus will be on the wonderful acoustic guitars, funky percussion or superb vocals, what really makes this such an essential song is the wonderful fretless bass which adds so much class, warmth and emotion to it. Strauss’s vocals throughout are exemplary, and the whole band sound as if they have been performing Bowie songs their whole lives, such is the skill and joy they bring to this collection. This is a must for any lover of Bowie, as rarely is his material treated with such care.
Ten Jinn have taken upon themselves a monumental task. It’s one thing to do a cover song of a famous artist and quite another to do an entire album covering that one artist. And when the artist being covered is someone as huge as David Bowie, the mountain to climb looks pretty forbidding. Additionally, when that artist has recently left us and everyone is quite likely wanting to do tributes but at the same time perhaps having second thoughts about touching the sacred shrine so soon, there’s every reason to leave the notion well alone. Ten Jinn, however, have boldly decided to pay their respects to Mr. Jones by following their hearts and recording an album entirely of Bowie covers.
They say that the best way to do a cover song is to either make it totally your own and arrange it in a completely different style (as Deep Purple used to do with Beatles‘ songs) or to strike that delicate balance between capturing the original song’s motif and its appeal while simultaneously putting the covering band’s own stamp on it. I have never been a Bowie fan (I totally respect his talent and what he gave to popular music but I just never became a fan) but I am familiar with many of his hit songs. So it’s very interesting for me to hear what Ten Jinn has achieved with their Ziggy Blackstar album because I can hear the Bowie in the music, and even at times in the vocals, but at the same time these songs sound fresh and new to me. Some of the songs Ten Jinn have covered are unfamiliar to me so they sound like new material, and if asked for my opinion I might say that they have a Bowie-esque quality to them. Vocalist John Paul Strauss manages to affect some very close Bowie-isms but never sounds like a hopeful mimic. He is confident in his own voice and that’s one of the reasons the songs come across not as copycat tribute songs but as interpretations by John Paul Strauss and Ten Jinn.
The music nearly all sounds original to me. I don’t know most of the original songs well enough to say how close Ten Jinn‘s versions are to the originals, but from my perspective, they have gone ahead and arranged the music to their capabilities and once again I am hearing fresh new music. I admit I was surprised by the album opener “I’m Afraid of Americans” because that is one Bowie song I have always really liked thanks to Trent Reznor‘s involvement. During the first listen to Ten Jinn‘s version I felt that they made a valiant effort but could not beat the original. But after the second listen I changed my view. They still can’t beat the original but what they have done with the song is, once again, made it their own and in the end, their result is a stand-alone effort. It’s like when you hear Paul McCartney praise a band for their personal take on a Beatles cover; I think Mr. Jones would have approved.
Other moments that caught my attention were the insane piano solo in “Aladdin Sane” (I don’t know if that’s in the original but it’s very cool here) and the surprising (to me) intro to “Future Legend” because it sounds so Ayreon.
Basically, I’ll say this: Ten Jinn‘s album sounds great to someone who does not have a deep familiarity with David Bowie‘s music. It can be enjoyed as an album on its own. Bowie fans might be more critical and zero in on details that go past me. But I think Ten Jinn have done a splendid job of doing an album entirely of Bowie cover songs. They struck the right balance between tribute and originality.
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
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.
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.
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.