JAN SCHELHAAS – GHOSTS OF EDEN –  ELEPHANT

To any fan of British progressive rock, keyboard player Jan Schelhaas needs little introduction given that he has played with both Caravan (twice, and with whom he is still playing) and Camel, as well as numerous other sessions. Here we have a remastered reissue of his 2018 solo album with three additional tracks. There is not much information out there about the album, so while I know Doug Boyle (guitar) and Jimmy Hastings (sax) are both involved, I cannot find any other information, so it is quite possible that the rest is undertaken by Jan, including the vocals.

It is hard to imagine that this is a recent album, as this has far more in common with the laid-back Seventies sound of sanitised rock which, although it does have some similarities with The Moody Blues at times, has little with which I would normally associate progressive rock. This is straightforward relaxing middle of the road soft rock which is gentle, never threatening, and consequently it is something which I cannot really see me often returning to as in many ways it is just too sickly sweet. That he is an excellent keyboard player and pianist is never in doubt, but this is not for me.
6/10 Kev Rowland

IONA – EDGE OF THE WORLD: LIVE IN EUROPE – SKY RECORDS

I am finding it hard to believe that here I am in 2022 writing about an album which was released in 2013, yet there is not a single review for it on ProgArchives. Recorded at different venues in the UK and Holland, here we have a double CD set capturing one of our finest prog folk bands in their natural environment, live on stage. I first came across them nearly 30 years ago with their second album, ‘Book of Kells’, and by the time they got to this recording there had been some significant line-up changes, but multi-instrumentalist Dave Bainbridge is still there, along with singer Joanne Hogg (acoustic guitar, keyboards) and drummer Frank Van Essen (also on violin) who was a guest back then, with the current line-up completed by Phil Barker (bass, electric double bass, darbuka) and Martin Nolan (Uilleann pipes, low and tin whistles). Strange to think that both Nick Beggs and Troy Donockley were involved on that album all those years back, wonder whatever happened to them……?

When a band contains a genuine multi-instrumentalist like Dave Bainbridge, it allows the band to have incredible breadth and diversity in what they are playing, here always steeped in the Celtic tradition of the Western Isles along with the Christian message which made the isle of Iona such a focal point for centuries. There is something very special about those islands, as anyone who has ever been will attest to, with powerful communities and a feeling of being in a place removed from much of modern life, and being all the better for it. This is what Iona bring with their music, changing mere notes into something magical and transformative. Whenever I listen to their music I am back on the islands, up in that area of Scotland where my father was raised and retired to.

Joanne has a wonderfully clear voice, similar in some ways to Annie Haslam or Christina Booth, while beneath her we have music that is often built on an incredibly powerful rhythm section with Dave and Martin guiding the melodies. While it is Celtic, it has much more direction and passion than the likes of Enya, and while it can indeed go into the dreamstate, there is a great deal going on and this never falls into the background. There are times when this really rocks, times when we all want to reel, and plenty of others when all we can do is listen and be taken away. This is complex music, with complicated arrangements, yet there is also a sense of space and fresh air within it so it never smothers but instead lifts the listener.

Containing music which does indeed go all the way back to ‘The Book of Kells’, more than two hours long spread over two discs, this is the perfect introduction to Iona for anyone, and is a delight from beginning to end.
10/10 Kev Rowland

2021 THE BEST OF PROG IN PICTURES & WORDS

I am back as years before, struggling to know if I missed any albums on this list, and the answer would be a resounding yes. Every year see thousands of releases just in the prog genre alone. It’s virtually impossible to discover and hear every prog release in any given year, so I did my best to showcase the cream of the crop, but then again I must point out these are one man’s points of view and will vary from publication and reviewer abroad. My taste in music is vast so I hope you all feel I have done justice by showcasing these 21 releases.
The Un-qualified Critic

1) The Blue Door 
First full-length release by Candian Progressive jazz folk-rock act, A Gardening Club Project
CD & Digital
Melodic Revolution Records
http://gardeningclubmusicandart.ca

2) The Uncrowned King (Act 1) 
The third release by US art-rock band, Evership
CD & Digital
Self-released
https://www.evership.com
 
3) We Are The Truth
Sixth studio album by Swedish progressive rock band, Hasse Fröberg & Musical Companion
CD, LP & Digital
Glassville Records
https://www.hfmcband.com

4) Imperial
Fifth album by progressive metal supergroup, Soen
CD, LP & Digital
Silver Lining Music
https://soenmusic.com

5) Altitude
Third album by English progressive rock band, Lifesigns
CD, LP & Digital
Self-released
https://lifesignsmusic.co.uk

6) Vigesimus
Twenty Seventh release since 1994 by Mexican neo-prog band, Cast
CD, & Digital
Progressive Promotion Records
http://www.castofficial.com

7) 5.20
Third studio album by progressive rock band, Nine Skies
CD, & Digital
Anesthetize Productions
https://nineskiesmusic.com

8) Graveyard Star
Fourteenth studio release by progressive rock band Mostly Autumn
CD, & Digital
Self-released
https://www.mostly-autumn.com

9) Common Ground
Fourteenth album by English progressive folk-rock band, Big Big Train
CD & Digital Self released
LP Plane Groovy
https://www.bigbigtrain.com

10) Harvest
The third release from Greek Progressive rock band, Ciccada
CD, LP & Digital
Self-released
https://ciccadabem.bandcamp.com/album/harvest

11) The Absolute Universe Forevermore
Fifth studio album by multinational progressive rock supergroup, Transatlantic
CD, LP & Digital
InsideOut (Europe) Metal Blade/Radiant (US)
https://www.transatlanticweb.com

12) Kites
Third album by English progressive rock band, This Winter Machine
CD & Digital Self released
LP Plane Groovy
https://thiswintermachine.uk/about/

13) Presence Of Life
Seventh album by Norwegian progressive folk group, Kerrs Pink
CD, LP & Digital
Self-released
https://kerrspink.com

14) Forsaken Innocence
Eight studio by UK-based Progressive Rock band, Drifting Sun
CD, LP & Digital
Self-released
https://driftingsun.co.uk

15) Snakes & Angels
The second release by US progessive metal artist, GorMusik
Melodic Revolution Records
CD & Digital
https://gormusik.com

18) Playing House
2nd release by progressive art-rock band, Meer
Karisma Records
CD, LP & Digital
http://meerband.com

19) The Forgotten Earth
Debut solo release by Scarlet Hollow prog band bassist, Jeffrey Erik Mack
Melodic Revolution Records
CD & Digital  
https://www.jeffreyerikmack.com

16) Copeland King Cosmo & Blew, Gizmodrome Live
First, live album and second release by progressive rock supergroup Gizmodrome formed in Italy
Ear Music
CD, LP & Digital
https://www.facebook.com/Gizmodrome

17) A View From The Top Of The World
Fifteenth studio release by US prog metal pioneers, Dream Theater
Inside Out Music
CD, LP & Digital
https://dreamtheater.net

20) One to Zero
Eleventh studio album German progressive rock band, Sylvan
Gentle Art Of Music
CD, LP & Digital
http://www.sylvan.de/home/

21) Aphelion
Eighth studio album by Norwegian progressive/avant-garde metal band, Leprous
Inside Out Music
CD, LP & Digital
https://www.leprous.net

A GARDENING CLUB PROJECT – THE BLUE DOOR – MELODIC REVOLUTION RECORDS

In many ways it is hard to realise that up until the 2017 reissue of ‘The Gardening Club’, originally from 1983, Martin had only been recording a few albums over the years for his own interest, concentrating instead on his day job of illustrating. That reissue and consequent interest has lit a fire under this septuagenarian which puts many musicians half his age to shame. Since then we have had two more albums by The Gardening Club, multiple EPs by A Gardening Club Project, and now here is their first album. The line-up is Drew Birston (fretless, acoustic and Moog bass), Wayne Kozak (soprano saxophone), Kevin Laliberte (drum programming, keyboards, and gut string guitar), Sari Alesh (violin) and Martin (vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, bass). Mention must also be made of the extensive wonderful illustrations Martin has provided for the 24-page full colour booklet which also contains the lyrics.

When I first read a review of the original ‘The Gardening Club’ I was incredibly intrigued, and soon got my own copy and consequently wrote a review saying just how much I enjoyed it. It was only after that had appeared that Martin tracked me down and we became friends, so I loved his music before I knew him. I need to put that out there, as many will be aware that Martin has since provided the wonderful designs which adorn my books ‘The Progressive Underground’, and I don’t want you to think I am biased. I have always believed in being honest in my reviews, as there is too little time in this world to spend on bad music, so I say what I think (although of course my opinion may change over time), and I know that Martin and I would have a private debate if I ripped this to pieces, but if that is what I felt then that is what I would say (I did once have a keyboard player tell me we were still friends after I had slated his latest release as he understood where I was coming from). However, this is not a debate I need to have with my fellow ex-pat, as to my ears this is the most complete album he has released to date.

When starting with Martin’s work I always think back to two very different artists, namely Roy Harper and Camel, as he manages to bring them together in an incredibly compelling manner. He also likes to keep pushing the boundaries, and by using different musicians to those in The Gardening Club he has done just that. For the most part this is Martin, Drew, and Kevin, but somehow, they manage to create the feeling of a much bigger band, and while everyone involved in this release recorded in different studios, there is a togetherness which defies belief. They bring middle eastern themes in when the time is right, slip into symphonic prog at others, back into singer songwriter, and that there are no real drums are not noticed just because there is so little percussion on the album at all. The a capella layered introduction to “The Turning of the Glass” is simply delightful, while the phased electric guitars in the background add to the acoustic picking in the foreground.

Throughout this album there are surprises, as the band move in different directions, staying true to their core yet also understanding there is a need to keep shifting so the listener never knows what is going to happen next, just that they are in the presence of beauty. The first time I listened to this I played it back-to-back three times, and each time I gained more from it. Since then, it has been a regular, as there is something magical about this, with a complex simplicity, or simple complexity, which means the listener is transported to a time and place where nothing else matters apart from the music.If you have never discovered the incredible music of Martin Springett, then now is the time to do so, if not sooner.  

10/10 Kev Rowland

TRANSATLANTIC THE ABSOLUTE UNIVERSE – FOREVERMORE – INSIDE OUT

In September 2019 the four-piece of Neal Morse (vocals, piano, Hammond organ, Minimoog, Mellotron, acoustic guitar, charango), Roine Stolt (vocals, electric & acoustic 6- & 12-string guitars, ukulele, keyboards, percussion), Pete Trewavas (vocals, bass) and Mike Portnoy (vocals, drums & percussion) met up to discuss what would be their fifth album. After a couple of weeks of working on material and mapping out songs each musician returned to their own studio to work on the recording. It was during this period that the album kept growing, and discussions were had as to whether this should be a double or single CD. Pete and Neal favoured the shorter version while Roine and Mike preferred the longer, so in the end they decided to do both. But it is important to understand that one is not a shorter/longer version of the other in that there are alternate recordings, new recordings, and even different singers on the single album.

While they are different albums, they are also the same, which makes it hard to write different reviews for each one, but life is never easy is it? When Transatlantic first came together more than 20 years ago I was blown away, as this was the first prog supergroup of the new generation and ‘SMPT:e’ is still a delight to listen to. Here we had musicians from Spock’s Beard, Marillion, The Flower Kings and Dream Theater combining in a way which brought in influences from all these bands, taking the music in a vast symphonic manner which was both massively over the top yet also contained simple to understand melodies.

Given all those involved are also in other active units, Transatlantic have never been the most prolific of bands, and it has been six years since ‘Kaleidoscope’, which in itself was five years from ‘The Whirlwind’ while that was in itself eight years on from ‘Bridge Across Forever’ (although Morse had removed himself from popular music during that period as he concentrated on his Christianity). Morse feels this album has more in common with ‘Whirlwind’ than any other, while Trewavas states simply that it is the best thing they have ever done, and he may just be right. Transatlantic have a reputation of pushing boundaries and limits, sometimes extending where they might be better of trimming, which I am sure is due much to the influence of Stolt as this is something he has also been guilty of The Flower Kings. Yet in recent years they have definitely cut back, and the same is true here with this band, as while the album is 90 minutes long, there are 18 songs and only 3 of them are eight minutes or longer. This means we get shifts in approach far more often, and while at times it feels more like one continuous piece of music than a series of songs, there is no doubt that they are shifting melodies and lyrical ideas.

Since this band came into inception, I have often wondered what Trewavas thinks when he goes back to the day job, as I would take any Transatlantic album over any Marillion album released during the same timeframe as here we have a band that really is taking symphonic prog in new directions, lifting the listener. The 90 minutes of this release just fly by and listening to this version it is hard to imagine how it could work in a more abbreviated form. Transatlantic are back, and it is a masterpiece.

10/10 Kev Rowland

TONY ROMERO’S VORTEX – NOISE MACHINE – MELODIC REVOLUTION RECORDS

Tony Romero is probably best known as being a long-time DJ on the best internet radio station around, House of Prog (in full disclosure I’d better mention that I also review for the site). He has long had an interest in all forms of progressive rock music, has interviewed literally hundreds of stars within the scene, and when it came time for him to record his debut album, he was able to bring some of those into assist. One of those is Steve Bonino, whose input into the album is considerable, providing vocals, bass, keyboards, guitar as well as working with Tony on mixing, arranging, and producing the album. Tony provides keyboards throughout, although he is also assisted in that regard by Robert Schindler while there are also three guests who are on one track each, namely singers Liz Tapia and Sophia Baird and guitarist Peter Matuchniak.

Tony is the only person who appears on every track, as one would expect, and this is very much his album, working to combine his interests in different types of music. This means that although he has involved musicians I very much admire, they have been working with his guidance, so this is very much a Romero release as opposed to Bonino etc. Tony has an approach to keyboard playing which I understand, but to be honest am not a huge fan of, which means I am coming to this review being able to appreciate what is taking place while not actually enjoying it. This is because Tony is coming into prog from an area of electronica, so the keyboards being used have sounds and styles from the Eighties, and while there is some guitar, there isn’t enough for me. The keyboards can be quite staccato as opposed to sweeping, which can be at odds to the vocals.

There are also quite a few instrumentals on the album, and Robert Schindler’s keyboard solo on “House Arrest” sounds like a shredding guitarist, but it is played against sounds which to my ears don’t work as well as they might. However, I am also fully aware that this is because I am not a fan of this style of music as opposed to anything wrong with the music itself. The music has been well performed and recorded, but it is just that I am not the target audience. I truly hope that Tony manages to get this to the right listeners, as it is definitely more electronica than progressive, and it is always interesting to find people releasing music that is somewhat unexpected.  

7/10 Kev Rowland