MARK WINGFIELD & GARY HUSBAND – TOR & VALE – MOONJUNE RECORDS

Even before I started listening to this album, the omens were good. Firstly, the two improvisers recorded it in its entirety on my birthday, and then we have the title. For non-Brits, tor is a hill or rocky outcrop, while a vale is a valley, so they co-exist side by side and it is not possible to have one without the other. I grew up in South Devon, spent as much time as I could on Dartmoor where there is Hound Tor, Yes Tor, and so many others, and my parents named our house Haytor after one of the most well-known granite outcrops. Mark Wingfield has been making quite a name for himself in recent years with his stunning guitar albums, while Gary Husband will always be thought of for his long relationship with Allan Holdsworth, which started all the way back in 1979. Although Husband has always been primarily thought of as a drummer, he is also a very accomplished pianist and it is in that role he provides the counterpoint to Wingfield.

Some of the songs were written by Wingfield ahead of time, others were improvised on the spot, but this is all about two musicians playing call and response, listening to the other and instinctively reacting. Husband explained that the intuitive nature of this Tor & Vale session has been part of his modus operandi for years. “I actually have the infuriating habit of listening to initial instruction or some kind of plan, only to then completely disregard it and let instinct and intuition take over,” he said. “I love the conversational, instinctive process to make its own way and present itself through us.” The result is something quite magical, as two players intuit what the other is going to do before they even know it themselves, as they move and guide each other through a journey where not only is the destination not know, there is no map. This freedom can be paralyzing to some, but here there is no hesitation, no looking back, just always pushing onwards to a final result which is as yet unknown.

This is music without a net, no room to hide behind others, just two guys in a room with the red light on and concentrating intently on what each of them is doing and letting the music spirit guide them on the path. Intense, dramatic, powerful, this is a wonderful album in so many ways. Production is top-notch, as is everything that comes out of the Spanish La Casa Murada Studio, which has been a base for so much of Wingfield’s work. Yet another essential release from Moonjune.

9/10 Kev Rowland

KAPREKAR’S CONSTANT – – ALL YOU WISH YOURSELF – TALKING ELEPHANT

Here we have a two-track digital single from one of the best new prog bands around, Kaprekar’s Constant, with all proceeds going to the charity Crisis. While the title cut is a new song, the second “Call It A Memory” was their debut single back in 2017. Their mix of folk and prog, with complex arrangements and layerings, have made Kaprekar’s Constant a great many friends, and their debut ‘Fate Outsmarts Desire’ is simply stunning (to my shame I still haven’t played the follow-up, ‘Depth of Field’, but it is on my list, honest!). These two songs remind me just why I love that album so much, as while the arrangements are huge and complicated there is also a simplicity contained with which make them such a delight. One can certainly see why David Jackson is so involved, and his use of various saxes, flutes, and whistles breaks through to provide an edge while the twin vocals of Bill Jefferson and Dorie Jackson are sublime and comforting. This single should become a new Christmas classic, and by buying it not only will you have an incredible musical experience but you will be helping those less fortunate as well.

10/10 Kev Rowland

OPERATION: PAPERCLIP – THE RETURN OF THE STANISLAUS COUNTY KID – HIGHLANDER

Here we have the debut release by Operation: Paperclip, another project put together by Bob Madsen (he has a few on the go at the moment, check out https://www.thehighlanderco.com for more information) along with keyboard player/singer Tony Carey (although Tony has had a successful solo career as well as the Planet P Project, I always think of him as the keyboard player for classic Rainbow). Here we have a 20-minute rock opera co-written by Bob with Kenny Steel 41Point), based on characters originally created by Tony Carey in his first few solo albums. They also brought in Gregg Bissonette on drums and Frank Rosato on engineering, and it was only after it was all finished that they decided to also add a cover, namely Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”.

Here we have an album that feels firmly rooted in the Seventies, where it didn’t matter what influences one brought into the songs, and with no-stick within particular boundaries. It rocks along when it needs to, with twin guitars, sounding a little like The Band, or even The Boss, or it can be reflective with layers of keyboards. It doesn’t sound modern in any way, this is rock music that is honest and feels full of sweat and power, organic and full of passion: it is hard to realize the main players were either side of the Atlantic pulling this together (Carey lives in Germany). Carey’s voice is gravelly, and sounds its age, but that works well in this style of music which needs to be far removed from single-note vocal perfection. There is even the use of film clips to add additional depth and elements to the music, while Bob ensures his bass is never too far from the surface.

Apparently this was a childhood dream come true for Madsen, who used to listen to Tony’s albums a great deal when he was younger and let’s hope they undertake further work for a  full album release (this is only 24 minutes long in total), as I for one would like to hear more.

7/10 Kev Rowland

AGNOSTIC FRONT – GET LOUD! – NUCLEAR BLAST RECORDS

Any fan of Agnostic Front will look at the front cover of ‘Get Loud!’ and immediately recognize the characters from their 1986 classic ‘Cause For Alarm’, and have an idea of what they are going to find inside. But when a band has been at the forefront of a musical movement for nearly 40 years, with a line-up that has been incredibly consistent in recent times, then everyone should already know what to expect. The godfathers of hardcore are back doing what they do best, mixing hardcore aggression with thrash to create a metallic mosh of sweat and energy. There are 14 songs on the album, which is only 31 minutes long, with only one breaking the three-minute barrier yet there is no need for length when it is as powerful as this. Roger Miret has been at the helm since 1982 and he has lost none of his aggression as he has matured, just become more focused. Miret says, “Something real. I think that’s the secret to our longevity. People see us, and they see something that’s real and genuine, and they want to be a part of that. Who wants to be a part of something that’s fake? If you feel a connection to something and it feels real, you wanna know about it and be a part of it.” This is real, this is hardcore, and to understand what the scene is all about then you need Agnostic Front who show no signs of slowing down yet and are still producing incredibly solid albums indeed.

8/10 Kev Rowland

MINDSPEAK – ECLIPSE CHASER – INDEPENDENT

One of the nice things about writing about music for so many years is that I am often sought out by bands asking if I will review their latest release. I don’t take everything I am offered by labels or PR companies as there are only so many hours in a day, but one of my personal rules is that if I am approached by band or artist then I will always accept the offer of the album and write about it honestly. One of my favorite sayings is “so much music, so little time”, and it never ceases to amaze me how much great music is out there by bands I have not previously come across. When I started writing about prog some 30 years ago there were very few, and it was rarely covered by magazines – these days it is possible to buy music mags which do feature this style of music but we don’t get many at the end of the world, so most of the time I find myself in isolation and have no idea what is happening outside my own sphere. But I do hope these guys have been getting the attention they deserve.

This is the second album by this Austrian quintet, who comprise Alex Clement (guitar, additional vocals),  Christoph Kasparovsky (grand piano, keyboards, organ),  Gabriel Lahrmann (drums, percussion),  Simon Nagy (bass) and Viktoria Simon-Lukic (vocals). It has taken five years from the release of ‘Pictures’ to get to this space and let’s hope it doesn’t take nearly as long for the next album as this is a delight from start to end. Although the album is made up of lengthy numbers, none of them ever feel like they are dragging on as they are compact and concise and everything makes musical sense. It is quite an intense album, in that the music is coming at the listener in a fairly frenetic and overpowering way. One of the reasons for that is the guys at the back are not prepared to sit still and just provide a bedrock for everything else but rather want to keep driving the music forward and providing their own musical counterpoint. Then you have keyboards and guitars which are reminiscent of the Hensley/Box interplay of old as they keep competing with each other for dominance, but never at the detriment of the song as a whole. Viktoria Simon-Lukic is a good singer as opposed to great, but she holds her own with the very powerful music taking place around her.

While there is some fairly obvious Spock’s Beard influence here and there along with IQ, bands such as Mythologic and even Pink Floyd and Mostly Autumn also get a look in. This is a highly melodic crossover progressive rock with neo tendencies which is a blast from start to finish. No navel-gazing prog elite here, but rather a band out having fun and taking the listeners along with them for the ride. Highly polished, this just doesn’t seem like a second album, as it is way too controlled for that. I am somewhat surprised they haven’t been picked up by a label as yet, but possibly that will change after this. They have been touring in mainland Europe, as well as playing some festivals, so hopefully, they will get the attention they deserve. With a very strong rock element to their music, these complex simple songs are going to be appreciated by those who want their prog to take control in a very direct manner indeed. Strong stuff.

8/10 Kev Rowland

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