Although Peter Banks sadly died in 2013, this new studio album features some of his work which has never been released until now. On 10th August 2010 he and David Cross got together for an afternoon of improvisation and all guitar and violin parts are from that time. Banks had expressed his desire for this music to one day be made available, so over the last few years Cross asked some friends to become involved and help in making this album a reality. Included here are some musicians who had worked with Peter during his lengthy musical career, as well as other notable names, Pat Mastelotto, Tony Kaye, Billy Sherwood, Randy Raine-Reusch, Andy Jackson, Oliver Wakeman, Jay Schellen, Jeremy Stacey and Geoff Downes. David Cross says “The response from the guest musicians was truly wonderful in the way that they gave their time and talent to this project and I would like to thank them on behalf of Pete and myself. They were asked to ‘interpret the music as freely and creatively as you wish’ and they have turned in incredibly skilled and inspiring performances which were not easy given the improvised nature of the starting material and the spontaneity of the structures.”
Due to the nature of the album, in being that it was improvised to begin with, and then other musicians have added other parts later, it is somewhat surprising in that it feels as cohesive as it does. Although it does have that improvised feel, it doesn’t sound as if it was recorded by musicians who weren’t at least in the same room as each other, even if they had no idea where the music was going to take them. However, apart from Cross and Banks everyone else did have the luxury of playing the music multiple times to work out where they could fit in their parts, and I expect some judicious editing has also taken place. That being said it is an enjoyable album, with plenty of light, with fluidity from both Banks and Cross, exactly as one would expect. One gets the impression this has been a labour of love for Cross to get this finished to a standard where he felt happy releasing this to the public. It is worthy of investigation for progheads who enjoy their music to be somewhat relaxing yet always moving in new directions. I’ll leave the final words to David, ““When I recall the original recording session with Pete I remember his fresh almost naïve approach, his positive energy and his constant and restless search for something new. It was a joy to know Pete Banks and an honour and a privilege to play with him: I think he would be pleased with the way our album turned out.” 7/10 Kev Rowland
This is the fourth album from Different Light, who were originally from Malta. They released their debut back in 1996, but it was only after moving to Prague that singer/keyboard player Trevor Tabone decided to create a different version of the band in 2009 and release a new album. Only guitarist/singer Petr Lux has survived from those days, and on this release the line-up is completed by Jirka Matousek (bass) and David Filak (drums). Listening to this takes me back roughly to the time of the debut, but not to Malta but instead to America. Back then there were a few progressive bands making new strides and pushing boundaries, yet there were also quite a few who were mixing American melodic rock with commercial progressive rock to create something which was very different indeed to most of the prog coming out of Europe. Indeed, when I saw a review of this album saying it sounded almost as if REO Speedwagon and Mystery had come together to form a single unit, I had to smile as I had been thinking a very similar thing myself.
Some of this may well indeed be down to Trevor Tabone, who is similar in many ways to Kevin Cronin, and one wouldn’t think he wasn’t American from his performance. The piano is very important to the overall sound, much more than the rest of the keyboards, and this combines with multi-layered guitars and loads of hooks to create something which is melodic, poppy, AOR and crossover prog all at the same time. It has been four years since the last album, but one can only hope that given the title the next album will be out sometime soon, as although this style of music was briefly popular some twenty odd years ago it is quite unusual indeed these days, and I found I really enjoyed this. A very easy album indeed to get into on the very first listen, it only gets better with repeated plays. For those who enjoy the American melodic rock style with a tinge of prog, along with great vocals and songs. 8/10 Kev Rowland
Gerd’s 2014 album really does want to take us on a journey, as he brings us five numbers where the shortest is more than 21 minutes long, with a total album length of more than 135 minutes. He states they were all recorded live, with the exception of “Landscape and Memory”, which was recorded live in Wiesbaden with the guitar later being added at home. The immediate reaction on hearing this that he is a fan of Tangerine Dream, with long repeated sequences which are built upon and layered. More progressive than ambient, there is definitely a foot in both camps with krautrock having an important part to play. I discovered this is music which has a dark side, an experimentation which takes it away from what normally expects and is far more challenging than I thought it might be and was consequently far more interesting.
The atmosphere builds, swells and recedes, and simple steps such as having “cymbals” flick between different speakers is very effective. I found there was no issue with keeping my attention on the music, even though all the tracks are incredible lengthy, and while in many ways the constructs are quite simple it is also complex in its reach and approach. The journey is an interesting one, with some interesting side paths and uphill challenges, and while not for everyone, is one I am glad I went on. Fans of keyboard soundscapes may well find this intriguing. 6/10 Kev Rowland
Gerd’s 2018 album, ‘SubTerraMachIneA’, is quite different indeed to ‘Journey’. Here he took some five years on the three tracks (again two are lengthy while one is “only” 12 minutes), which has allowed him to produce an album with far more in the way of layers. Whereas on the other he played mostly keyboards with just some guitar overdub, here he has been able to provide piano, different guitars and bass, as well as the sequencers. Consequently, it is musically far removed from the other album I have heard, and indeed “The Tree” is more reminiscent of Mike Oldfield than Tangerine Dream. Here he combines multi-layered piano and bass guitar to create something which is minimalistic, simple, and modern classical with disconcerting edges which makes the listener to think. The acoustic guitar plays its part by providing melody and a rhythm far removed from the syncopation and staccato elements taking place in the forefront.
Overall, this is a far more diverse and experimental piece of work, with electric guitar making its presence felt (and even some feedback) when the time is right to change the dynamics. This is the album where I feel newcomers to his work may find it both more interesting and enjoyable and a good way of discovering his music. It is obvious that Gerd is strong both on keyboards and guitars, and this comes through much more on this release which feels more accomplished because of that. All his works are readily accessible on Bandcamp and he is worth seeking out. 7/10 Kev Rowland
Outside In are a rare beast indeed, as not only are they a progressive rock band, but they are a progressive rock band from New Zealand! Our wonderful country has a geographical mass a little larger than the UK, but less than five million people live here, and while a third of that population can be found around Auckland, realistically there is an incredibly small market for both live work and recorded material. But there are some who cannot help themselves and just have to perform, whatever cost and hard work that entails. The band came together with a while back, releasing an EP as long ago as 2015, but there have been the usual issues with any new group and it is only fairly recently that the line-up stabilized around Mikey Brown (vocals and harmonies, lyrics, synthesizers, keyboards, guitar), Jonnie Barnard (guitars), Adam Tobeck (drums), Elliott Seung Il Park (bass) and Joe Park (guitar). Here is a band that are determined to do things their way, so even before they had an album deal they recorded a series of three videos that tell a story and should be watched in the correct order (to see what I mean take a trip over to https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLWIwBrxGaiovJ9_nG7-BaLSq96fJbfebg). They have since signed a deal with TeMatera Smith at AAA Records, and the result is ‘Karmatrain’.
The obvious musical influences are Porcupine Tree and Radiohead, although some have also been pointing towards the likes of A Perfect Circle or Karnivool. In many ways, the album revolves around the vocals, and Mikey Brown is one of the most exciting new male singers I have come across for a while, with the music swirling around so it all comes together. Just listen to the outro of “Mushrooms” to hear what I mean, where the vocals mingle, rise and swell. But the reason the vocals are allowed to shine is due to the music, which is always the perfect accompaniment, so guitars can be staccato in one place to provide some emphasis or they can be more in the background. There is not much space in the production, but somehow there is still a great deal of clarity and no muddiness in the sound, it is just that to get the correct effect it needs to be all-encompassing. When going through a collection of potential songs for the album, Mikey realized a few were lyrically influenced by a novel he had read while on holiday in Nice about ten years ago, Hermann Hesse’s ‘Siddhartha’. The themes being fairly universal he decided to incorporate more of the book’s influence into the writing process until eventually, it was obvious that this was becoming a concept album. The album has ended up with each of the 12 songs representing one of the 12 chapters from the book. Each song has a story that relates to that chapter but also has a parallel story from his own experiences. It just gradually became a more conceptual thing that provided a framework to pin ideas against.
I’ve sat and listened to the album back to back four times today, and each time not only do I get more from it but I am amazed that the music is so polished and finessed from a band that very few have come across before this. I had not, and I work in the same city! It was also self-produced by guitarist Jonnie Barnard (then mixed and mastered by Dave Rhodes), yet this sounds as if it could have come from a top studio. There are strong dynamics, shifts in tempo, and powerful performances from all the players. Listen to what is going on behind the lines and there are some simply stunning bass lines from Park while Tobeck is never settled and is constantly shifting the percussive approach. This means that some bars may be hi-hat/snare, others may just be cymbals, and he is putting in fills everywhere. Then on top of a complex foundation, the two guitarists mix and mingle.
This is crossover progressive rock for the 21st century, influenced by more recent acts than many within the scene, creating a sound that is looking both to the recent past and also for the future. Outside In, the prog band from the end of the world you have never heard of. Outside In. Karmatrain. Investigate them on YouTube, then get the album. 9/10 Kev Rowland
In 2015, after a gap of some sixteen years, Drifting Sun returned with their third album. Keyboard player Pat Sanders had decided it was time, and created a brand-new version of the band, with himself being the only person who had appeared on the two albums in the Nineties. Making up for lost time they have released four acclaimed albums since then, as well as a number of singles which have often included bonus songs which were not available on a physical CD and were only available as downloads. So, a decision was taken towards the end of 2019 to release a physical album (and download of course), containing 12 songs ranging from solo piano pieces to full-blown band numbers, plus some interesting demos and various outtakes. Full details of where each track originally appeared are included in a 6-panel Digipak along with a full-color 12-page booklet.
In my humble opinion Drifting Sun’s last album, ‘Planet Junkie’, is their best album to date and one of the few to get full marks from me, and I am sure many people have discovered the band because of that release and hopefully, they will be looking back through the catalog. But there are distinct and different areas of the band, and this collection only includes rarities from the time when Peter Falconer was singing with Drifting Sun, who appeared on the albums ‘Trip The Life Fantastic’. ‘Safe Asylum’ and ‘Twilight’. Having played this a lot now, one has to wonder just how so many of these songs did not make it onto a full album yet given their release rate they are already putting many other bands to shame. Yes, some of them are solo pieces, and to my ears, there is probably more piano than normal, but there are some real delights on here. It is a nice bookend to Falconer’s time with the band, as he is a wonderful singer, melodic and emotional, and while there have been a few line-up changes even during that short time, there is a restrained beauty as everyone comes together.
Musically it is often based on piano, with those lush vocals, and then the other guys coming in and out as the need arises. Sometimes their contribution to the music is by not taking part at all. Take for example “Atlantis” which originally featured on the “Remedy” single: this song is basically Peter and Pat who provides piano (plus there are some strings) and is simply stunning. Harmonies abound and I fall into the music headlong, immersing myself in the emotions. I really enjoyed the solo piano pieces such as “Bubble” – I could listen to a whole album of music like that (Pat – are you reading this?) – and although the album is slightly more fractured due to coming together from different musicians and time periods the overall result is something which is a delight from start to end. There are some gems on here to be discovered, and it is great they have not been “lost” in the world of digital downloads but are available in a physical form all in one place. More crossover to my ears these days then neo-prog, this is a rarities compilation worth discovering for the quality of the music and not just the scarcity of the material. 8/10 Kev Rowland
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