MARCO RAGNI – OCEANS OF THOUGHT – MELODIC REVOLUTION RECORDS

Multi-instrumentalist Marco Ragni (who here provides vocals, guitars,
keyboards, piano, and bass) is back with his latest album. Peter Matuchniak
(Kinetic Element, Gekko Project, Mach One, etc) returns on lead guitar, as
does Dave Newhouse (The Muffins) on woodwind, Jeff Mack (Scarlet
Hollow) on five-string fretted and fretless bass plus Chapman Stick along with drummer Maurizio Antonini. They were all involved in Marco’s last album, ‘The Wandering Caravan’, and the core band line-up also now includes JoJo Razor (Gekko Project) on backing vocals. There are also a few guests who make important contributions on a few tracks, namely guitarists Bjørn Riis (Airbag) and Marius Halleland (Wobbler), plus the incredible Charlie Cawood (Knifeworld) who on this release provides sitar on
“Voice In The Dark”.

Released deliberately on the Summer Solstice, this album ties in with Marco turning fifty this year which has led to serious contemplation, so the songs, cover and even the lyrics underwent changes during the process. But this isn’t a melancholic or depressing album, but rather one of incredible

variety and dynamics. Some songs are almost folk-based, take “The Wind Blows Anyway” as an example. Plucked acoustic guitar forms the basis of this, along with electric piano and some dated synths which weave a tapestry of sound which the bass and drums manage to find their way into,
but there are significant periods where Peter is sat waiting for his moment, as electric guitar is notable by its absence as the fretless bass resounds through whatever room is available. But then when Peter takes the opportunity it is deft, almost Gilmour-like with controlled sustain, which takes the song into new directions, leading into an ending I certainly didn’t expect. This is a very rich album, full of contrasts, dominated by the arrangements which are intricate, delicate, yet incredibly powerful. It is broad, controlled and epic prog, and there are times when one can hear the psychedelic influences which take his music back in time. It feels much more like a classic progressive album than one from the end of the second decade of the 21 st century, and it is one that is both instantly accessible and a grower. This is an album I have thoroughly enjoyed as it moves in so many directions from Floyd through Yes and even elements of Crimson but is very much Marco Ragni.
8/10 by Kev Rowland

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NEAL MORSE – JESUS CHRIST THE EXORCIST – FRONTIERS MUSIC

Listening to the introduction had me checking I had put on the right album,
as the first minute of this 109-minute-long epic had me convinced I was listening to a news release by Clive Nolan. In recent years Clive has moved away from his more overtly progressive releases into musical theatre, and now Neal has followed the same trend. I grew up in a Christian household,
one of my favorite albums as a child was ‘ Joseph and the Amazing
Technicolour Dreamcoat’, the first musical I ever saw was ‘Godspell’, and still enjoy ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ to this day (I thought the recent all-star cast was excellent, Alice Cooper as King Herod? Inspired). So, this is a musical and lyrical style I am comfortable with, and I was intrigued to see how Neal would approach this. The first thing which struck me was just how little we hear from the man himself, in that he has given himself a few minor parts but that is all. In the two main roles of Jesus and Judas we have his fellow Spock’s Beard lead vocalists Ted Leonard and Nick D’Virgilio respectively, and as one would expect they do a mighty fine job indeed, but the biggest change for me is the writing style, which is not what I would expect from Neal at all. Although there are bits and pieces such as the acoustic “Gather The People” and the dramatic “The Madman of the Gadarenes” which does remind listeners of his roots and normal approach, overall there has been a dramatic change in how Neal approaches things. Literally.

This is an album that is designed to appeal to people who wouldn’t normally know who Neal is, and instead, this is a rock musical to be viewed as a logical updated version of ‘Superstar’. Consequently, we have music which flows and ebbs, taking the listener with them. Songs such as
“Get Behind Me Satan” are out and out rockers, while others are designed to get the audience clapping in time, others more prosaic and gentler in style. By now Neal has become a dab hand at producing the odd concept album, and this isn’t the first time he has approached a Christian story either, but here he has moved further in both directions. This is bound to be listened to by progheads and White Metal fans alike, but really this is aimed at a new audience altogether, namely Broadway as opposed to the Garden.

In 2002 Morse was responsible for what is undoubtedly one of the finest concept albums of all time, ‘Snow’. He followed it up the next year with his first solo release since leaving the Beard, with ‘Testimony’, which is still my favorite solo album. That told his personal story, and I don’t think anyone who saw him performs it in London and hears him talk about his daughter Jayda could fail to be moved. She is referenced again in this album, just briefly, but it shows again just how personal this for him and just what it means. Regarding the idea behind the musical, Neal explains, “Sometimes providence comes with a whisper; sometimes it comes with an unexpected phone call. A friend of mine who works in the music business called me from New York one day in 2008 and said, “Hey man, a friend and I were listening to Jesus Christ Superstar last night and were saying, ‘Man, somebody ought to do a new rock opera based on the Jesus story’. I told my friend, ‘I know the guy!’ He went on to tell me I ought to write an epic prog piece based on the gospels. With a New York accent, he said, ‘Ya gotta do it!’ I laughed and said, ‘Well, I’m busy right now, but I’ll think about it.’ Over the next couple of months, I began to feel that “yes” inside and spent a few months writing the first draft. The strong sense that I was onto something continued to grow and the people that sang on the original version were really into it.” For me, this is an interesting idea, and there are undoubtedly some good songs on it. But there are times when it feels clunky, something I never expected from him. The story is pushed very hard, as one would expect, but sometimes this is to the detriment of the music. On a personal level, I have always enjoyed his vocals, but here he is asking to be judged as a songwriter and arranger as

opposed to a performer. The result is something which is probably going to gain him a much wider audience than normal for his work and is a very good album indeed, but from a personal perspective I think I’m just going to go back to ‘Testimony’ and pass on this for now.
8/10 Kev Rowland

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MILKY WAY GAS STATION – SOMEWHERE/ANYWHERE – INDEPENDENT

Call me an old proghead if you like, but any album which starts with a
Hammond organ firing up is going to have me engaged from the first note to the very last. Songwriter and singer Rob Ijpelaan (who also provides acoustic and electric guitars, bass, and additional keyboards) contacted me some time after he had originally sent this through to me, and I did my normal apologizing for being too busy, disorganized, etc. which meant it was taking longer than I would have liked to get to it, but his response was not to worry as he has been selling African Art for more than 20 years so is good at exercising patience.

I had also told Rob I was quite prepared to work from a download (I live at the end of the world after all), but he also wanted me to have the full release so I could experience the whole thing. So all in all
I was impressed long before I got into it.

This is the debut from Dutch act Milky Way Gas Station, and the quartet also includes Niels Hoppe (lead guitar), Harald Veenker (drums) and Jeroen Vriend (bass). There are also a few guests helping out on the album, and one of those keyboard players is none other than Joakim Svalberg (Opeth),
not bad for a little-known band. As I write this there isn’t even a single review of this on Prog Archives, so somehow they have managed to slip through the net, which I certainly can’t explain, as this is a polished and inviting album which drags the listener into their world and refuses to let them go. It is highly melodic, yet also has symphonic tendencies, while the CD comes in a simple digipak but I love the artwork and the way it has all been put together.

Most of the songs are fairly short, just a few stretching the ten-minute mark until you get to the last number on the album, “Telescope Sight” which is more than 25 minutes long. Right from the beginning and the acoustic guitar, one is taken into a world where the music has been highly arranged and space is an important additional instrument. There are no drums for the first few minutes, and when they do come in they provide addition rhythmic support for the melody at the front. Vocals are strong, electric guitar moves and sways, totally changing the musical aspect when it makes an entry. In some ways, it reminds me of ‘The World’-era Pendragon, yet with additional lightness and a style of singer-songwriter which for some reason makes me think of The Levellers each time I play it, and I have no idea why (good old subconscious is picking up on something I’m
missing). Highly polished, compelling, superb soaring progressive rock with elements also of Big Big Train, this is an album I highly recommend. 8/10
Kev Rowland

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Voyager IV – Pictures at an Exhibition – Melodic Revolution Records

I can’t believe there are any progheads out there who don’t have at least one copy of the ELP album in their collection, and if they are anything like me then they probably have it on vinyl, a couple of different CD releases as well as the accompanying DVD.

But of course the music which is the inspiration for this album is from far earlier, in fact in many ways it dates all the way back to 1868 when composer Modest Mussorgsky first met artist, architect, and designer Viktor Hartmann, who gave him two of the pictures that later formed the basis of the inspiration. When Hartmann passed away at the age of 39, Mussorgsky was affected quite badly, and this led to him writing the score in just three weeks. However, a version wasn’t published until some five years after his own death, and it wasn’t until the 50th Anniversary of that event that a complete score was produced.

Over the years it has been recorded multiple times, and within the progressive scene, it was, of course, the inspiration for ELP’s 1971 live album.

Now, nearly fifty years on from that, and some 150 years since the original paintings were given to Mussorgsky, we have a new version from German quartet Voyager IV. The line-up is Marcus Schinkel (piano and keyboards), Johannes Kuchta (vocals and drums), Fritz Roppel (bass) and Wim de Vries (drums). That they have been inspired to undertake this piece of work due to the ELP release is never in doubt, as although they do have ten tracks inspired by the original classical work, they also include both Lake’s “Lucky Man’ and King Crimson’s “I Talk To The Wind” which of course also featured Lake on vocals.

In some ways it is an album which confused me quite a great deal, just because they have been inspired by the original score, just as Emerson was, which means that some themes are familiar yet others are quite different as apart from the two numbers already mentioned the rest were all composed either by Schinkel or in collaboration with Kuchta. Also, there is no use whatsoever of guitar on the album (although there are two drummers it doesn’t sound to me as if they are both playing at the same time, although that could be different in concert), plus this is a studio album which has allowed some layering. Then in Roppel they have a bassist who uses a six-string as his instrument of choice, and sounds to me as if he is approaching music from a jazz background and is certainly not content just to be pinning down the bottom end but is adding his own styles and runs.

It is as bombastic as one would expect, but not heavy-handed, and songs such as “Bydlo” are incredibly accessible, exciting and invigorating. It would also be wrong of me not to mention the packaging on this release – as it comes as a hardback digipak containing multiple pages of photos and lyrics, quite something for what I believe is a debut release. This really is the total package, and fans of the original, ELP, Isao Tomita or any of the many other artists who have taken this as inspiration will find much on here to enjoy. Well worth discovering.
8/10

by Kev Rowland

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MICHAEL GREGORY JACKSON CLARITY QUARTET – WHENUFINDITUWILLKNOW – GOLDEN

To say that Michael Gregory Jackson is a well-known guitarist who has influenced many others is something of an understatement. Pat Metheny said, *”I have always considered him to be one of the most significantly original guitarists of our generation,” while another guitar icon, Bill Frisell, noted, “I first heard Michael Gregory Jackson in 1975 when I moved to Boston. He blew my mind and influenced me a lot. I believe he’s one of the unsung innovators.” And legendary music critic Robert Palmer wrote of Jackson in Rolling Stone, “By the time he was twenty-one he was already the most original jazz guitarist to emerge since the Sixties.” Here he has been joined by Niels Praestholm (bass), Simon Spang-Hanssen (alto & soprano saxophones) and Matias Wolf Andreason (drums), and between them, they created an album based on jazz but moving in many different directions. Jackson states his influences are Jimi Hendrix, Wes Montgomery, Son House, Igor Stravinsky, and John Coltrane in equal amounts, not a mix of musicians one would normally put together. Jackson isn’t content with playing “just” guitar, and there are times when it is blues harmonica which is adding the most important dynamics to a section. For the most part, he is happy for Spang-Hanssen to take the lead role, just sitting behind him and then adding touches and solos when the time is right. Praestholm is the person who keeps it all tied together, while Andreason switches between keeping the perfect beat and creating dramatic percussion rhythms which takes the music into new directions. This is fresh, exciting, sometimes built around repeated melodies (such as on “Blue Blue”), while at others it is avant garde and extreme. Far easier to listen to than many albums which attempt to stretch boundaries, it is full of light and joyfulness which is palpable. This is also available through Bandcamp, so why not have a listen and then decide for yourself.
8/10 Kev Rowland

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LOST WORLD BAND – SPHERES ALIGNED – SAMUM PUBLISHING

It has been many years since I came across Lost World Band and their debut album ’Trajectories’. The three founder members all met at the Moscow Conservatory, and Andrey Didorenko (guitars, violins, vocals) and Vassily Soloviev (flute) are still there while original keyboard player Alexander Akimov has taken on the production role. Their last album (‘Of Things and Beings’) was just the duo alongside drummer Konstantin Shtirlitz who had joined in time for the previous album ‘Solar Power’. However, it does feel that the guys have become a band at last, as the trio have been joined by Yuliya Basis (keyboards) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (bass). All the songs are still by Andy, but what has really amazed me is the way the band have taken all their complex musicality and made it incredibly commercial. There is a groove running all the way through this, and songs such as “Running In The Sun” cry out for major radio airplay as it is full of hooks, as well as complex layers and musicality. The vocals are smooth, the harmonies spot on, the violin and flute just so in the background, while the bass drives along, the drums are all over the place, and when the electric violin comes in to take a solo it is short, sweet, and full of edgy power.

Here we have a Russian band who have moved so far away from their debut to be almost unrecognizable, yet still, use flute and violin as key instruments to keep their music rooted to the past. The album itself starts with an instrumental, and as the keyboards and guitars swap chords, the violin and bass are off and running and we are being thrown headlong into a rushing progressive number where it feels like everyone is in flight, the harmonies switching and swirling as different musicians take the lead and everyone is charging to the same destination. The first time I played this I actually stopped what I was doing to check that I had loaded the right album as this is both dramatic and melodic, joyous and dramatic, strident yet harmonious. They have expanded in many directions in this album, which may mean that some listeners won’t be completely satisfied with everything they hear as there are so many different styles at play. Me, I think it’s glorious and easily their most complete, accessible and incredible album to date. Lost World Band are back with a bang, and this should be searched out by all progheads.
10/10 Kev Rowland

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