There is no doubt we are living in very strange times indeed. The whole world has succumbed to a pandemic, and as for politics, let us just say I am incredibly glad to be living at the end of the world. But there are always people who look to make the best of a bad thing, and the album I am listening to is an example of just that. Stick Men (Tony Levin, Pat Mastelotto and Markus Reuter) with very special guest Gary Husband (on keyboards) had just commenced a tour of Japan and China when the world turned upside down. With some time before their flights out of the country Husband and Reuter, along with producer Leonard Pavkovic, booked a studio in Tokyo and on 3rd March 2020 captured a moment unlike any other. While Husband will probably always be linked with the mighty Allan Holdsworth as his drummer for many years, he is also a jazz keyboard player held in high regard, and here he sat at the studio’s Fazoli Pianoforti grand piano and allowed his imagination to take flight. Many years of playing next to one of the world’s most celebrated improvisors has put him in good stead to work with Markus Reuter, who has expanded the normal guitarists repertoire by his use of live electronics and Touch Guitars® AU8.
The set was recorded live in the studio with no overdubs, and anyone who thinks that improvised music is always unlistenable should hear this. Gary often takes the lead, although not always, but Markus is right there with him providing the support whether it is a few well-chosen picked notes on a guitar or some electronic backdrops for Gary to provide his magic against. It is languid, it is relaxing, and Gary has a deft control of the sustain pedal, allowing the piano’s notes to hang in the air and harmonize against each other. The two musicians may not have played with each other as much as they would have by the end of the tour, but due to each’s own personal musical journey they are able to interpret and react to what is happening in real time and adding to the overall feeling and never detracting. I wish I had been in the control room next to my old friend Leo, as I can imagine for the most part he was making minor tweaks to the sound and just sitting there with his eyes closed being transfixed by what was taking place. This is sheer beauty from start to end, and really is something magical. I am glad it was just the two of them, as if Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto had been there then I am sure it would have been special but there would have been a very different focus to the sound. Here we have the sound of water, sometimes babbling, sometimes a larger sea, but always in motion and never resting. This is music which transports the listener to a better time and place, where there is no pandemic, no death, no hate and while this plays it truly is a blessing.
Although Peter Matuchniak is known for his solo releases, as well as being in bands such as Mach One, Gekko Projekt, Bomber Goggles, and many others, he is also an in-demand session guitarist. This album sees him revisit songs he originally recorded for five different musicians, Marco Ragni, Hamlet Tinae. Shawn Gordon, Steve Bonino, and Simon Strevens, and re-interpret them. This may mean the song has been rearranged, or it may be an earlier draft of what finally appeared on the album itself. Details are also provided as to who played on what track, as well as which albums the songs are taken from. Given his long relationship with Marco Ragni, it is of no surprise that of the 21 songs on offer, 14 were originally on work undertaken for that artist: there is just 1 from Strevens, and 2 each from the others.
Given that the artists are very different in their approach, it is not surprising to discover many different styles at play during the course of the album, which is mostly instrumental with only a few containing vocals. Peter has an incredibly fluid style, and his leads are always in keeping with the music at hand, much more than providing a million notes to the bar. Although there are times when he shows he can be strident with staccato chords and breaks, his most common approach is to provide strong melodic counterparts which emphasise the music and song itself as opposed to “See how clever I am”. The guitarist which has had most impact on Peter’s playing is probably Steve Hackett but given how diverse that particularly musician is in his own playing that is a wide palette. Peter also has the innate melodic understanding and style of both Gilmour and Latimer, while his phrasing is also reminiscent of Gary Chandler at times.
Put it all together and here is a guitarist who adds to the music of whatever performer he is working with, not taking over but always becoming an essential part of the sound while rarely dominating. I must confess to having not previously heard all of the songs on offer but do have many of the albums from which they have been taken. Hearing the songs in this format has inspired me to dust off the likes of Psychic For Radio (Shawn Gordon)’s album from 2012, while I need to check out more of Marco’s material, and one can never hear too much Steve Bonino. This is a great introduction not only to the wonderful melodic guitar work of Peter Matuchniak but also to the albums from whence they originally came. Incredibly diverse, always enjoyable, with Peter being the link between them all, this is a wonderful way to discover his music.
This is the debut solo release from Jargon (who provides vocals, keyboards, and piano), the lead singer from Greek band Verbal Delirium. He has been joined on the album by Nikitas Kissonas (guitars), Leonidas Petropoulos (bass) and Verbal Delirium drummer Wil Bow. Another very important part of the album is the use of a string quartet, whose music was arranged by Kissonas who is also ex-Verbal Delirium but who I will always think of as Methexis, whose debut album ‘The Fall Of Bliss’ I reviewed some 12 years ago (and I note Jargon provided piano on one track). This is very much a singer’s album, a songwriter’s album, based primarily around the piano. Sung in English, the album revolves around Jargon and there are times when he is the only player involved, or just with strings to accompany him. There is no need for the band to all be involved, and the result is an album which has room to grow and develop.
There are times when it is incredibly layered, others when it is quite simple, so much so that one never really knows what is going to happen next. Bow is happy to provide rim shots as much as simple snare, often playing more in a jazz fashion than normal rock, while Petropoulos has a strong approach which keeps it all tied together. This allows Kissonas to do whatever he likes, which even could be nothing at all, or providing string riffs or solo. Even the use of electric piano at some points does not come across as twee, but rather something which is being used for a particular sound. The use of a real string quartet as opposed to using synths definitely provides more depth and breadth, allowing for more force and presence to be deployed.
Strong vocals, rough and anguished at some point, delicate and almost playful at others, centre the album. The band I kept being reminded of this is Discipline, as there is something about this which really makes one think of Matthew Parmenter, although possibly with even more piano. It is theatrical, passionate, emotional, and one of the best albums I have heard from Greece in some time. Jargon may not be a name known to many but based on this album that will soon change.
I was somewhat surprised when I started playing this, as while I knew it was a re-imagining of a song originally written as an instrumental back when Gandalf’s Fist was first starting out, I had no idea this had more in common with folk music as it does with the progressive form for which they are so well known. It has been issued to create awareness of the forthcoming 10-year anniversary special release of ‘The Master and the Monkey’, which promises to be something very interesting indeed. Uilleann Pipes and whistle are provided by Faliq Auri, but everything else is by Dean Marsh (vocals, guitar, mandolin, bass, programming, synths). He says this is a special song to the band, being recorded multiple times over the years (and on the single is available in four different versions). Gandalf’s Fist continue to push musical boundaries and here they are doing so by going back in time. This is definitely one which will appeal to folkies as much as it will to the progheads who think of them more for ‘The Clockwork Fable’. It certainly ties in very well indeed with the folk singles I have been listening to this week! -Kev Rowland | 8/10
After hearing and really enjoying the recent second album from This Winter Machine, ‘A Tower of Clocks’, I have worked backwards and am now playing their debut from 2017, ‘The Man Who Never Was’. This does have a slightly different line-up from the next album, as here they were a five-piece which later expanded to have a second guitarist, but Al Winter (vocals), Mark Numan (keyboards, backing vocals) and Peter Priestly (bass) are still in the band , while this album also featured Gary Jevon (guitars) and Marcus Murray (drums). Much has been made of fact that the band only got together the year before, and then managed to produce an album like this, and rightly so as it is a delight.
What we have here is a very songs-based neo prog album which could have come out some 25 years earlier. The guitar is used rather sparingly, with somewhat Hackett-like tendencies and nuances, only providing riffs and power chords when the time is right, while the piano/keyboards often provides the melodic lead and the bass provides a different melody altogether. Then on top of it all here are the delicate and delicious vocals of Al Winter, bringing the listener in. While Final Conflict, Pallas and earlier Galahad are obvious reference points, there are also some Genesis and Camel influences as well and the result is an extremely well-crafted and enjoyable album which only gets better with repeated playing. Both this and the follow-up are incredibly immediate, and anyone with a fondness for the Nineties progressive rock scene being brought up to date needs to seek out both albums immediately, if not sooner.
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