Issue #18 Extra!: New Releases

Andre Andersen - "Changing Skin"
Corrosive Media - "Speakeasy"
Deathwatch Beetle Repairman - "Hollow Fishes"
Energipsy - "Tamborea"
Final Tragedy - "Trial of Tears"
Kenziner - "Timescape"
Ian McDonald - "Driver's Eyes"
Mother Gong - "The Best of Mother Gong"
Ken Pedersen - "Deja Views"
Simon Phillips - "Another Lifetime"
Porcupine Tree - "Metanoia"
Praxis - "Collection"
Rumblin Orchestra - "Spartacus"
Sebastian Hardie - "Live in L.A."
Matthew Shipp Duo - "DNA"
Sylvan - "Deliverance"
John Tavener - "Eternity's Sunrise"
Terra Firma - "Earthbound"
David Thomas - "Mirror Man"
Threshold - "Clone"
Dave Weckl Band - "The Rhythm of The Soul"

Porcupine Tree - "Metanoia"

(Aether 003, 1997, LP)

This hard-to-find treat was released after the live album “Coma Divine” but prior to the latest album “Stupid Dream” as a limited edition gatefold double 10” vinyl-only release. Recent interviews with band leader Steven Wilson indicate that it will most likely be issued on CD at some point in the future although no plans are in place as of yet. “Metanoia” is a collection of improv jams recorded on two different dates during the sessions for “Signify” in 1995 and 1996. The recordings were then later mixed and edited by Steven Wilson at his home studio. The album is in every way the antithesis of “Stupid Dream”, and simultaneously every bit as brilliant. The opening track “Mesmer (i)” showcases drummer Chris Maitland and bassist Colin Edwin really opening it up in a masterful display of finesse and energy. The syncopated groove continues to build, leaving the listener with a profound sense that this band must have really meshed into a cohesive unit in order to pull of difficult riffing like this in an improvisational setting. Chris and Colin easily steal the show from Wilson throughout this album, and it’s a pleasure to hear. Wilson spends a lot of time noodling with guitar effects and keyboard atmospherics, all to great avail. Occasionally, he steps out front with some soloing, but for the most part the emphasis is on the full band sound rather than individual performances. The last portion of “Mesmer (iii)” is positively sublime, easily one of the band’s finest moments. A more raw, intense version of “Intermediate Jesus” is contained here as well (but without any of the shortwave radio samples and overdubs). The band shows quite a sense of humor here, too, as “Metanoia (ii)” builds into a frenzy with Maitland going completely out of control until the tape unwinds into a hilarious mock interview at a crowded restaurant in Milan where the guys are discussing what to order and how they feel stupidly overdressed. If this doesn’t recall Spinal Tap for you, then the hand-etched phrase “None More Black” in the run-out groove of Side 4 ought to do it. Unlike anything they've done before, “Metanoia” is a very unique release and comes with the highest recommendation. It will feel like an eternity waiting for this to reissue on CD, so even though the vinyl may be a bit pricey (if you can even find it), it’s well worth it. – Dan Casey

John Tavener – “Eternity’s Sunrise”

(Harmonia Mundi, HMU 907231, 1999, CD)

The British composer, John Tavener, has struck a chord with a significant cross-over audience. Like Arvo Part, Tavener creates a sumptuously gorgeous music infused with his belief in God and a desire to create music which honors and glorifies Him. And this is glorious music; indeed the composer admits to find this his most beautiful release yet. As does Part, Tavener works with an overtly tonal (or modal) language, but he is no neo-romantic. Rather, his style, both musically and performance-wise, derives much from the Renaissance. In fact, this music was commissioned and performed by the Academy of Ancient Music Orchestra and Choir for their 25th anniversary. Invoking the British tradition of the High Renaissance, including composers such as Thomas Tallis and John Taverner (note the difference in spelling, though it is thought that they are distant relatives), composers whose sweet and resplendent music falls in the same category as that of Palestrina, Tavener uses modernisms and departs from the Renaissance style as he sees fit. Thus, there is a timeless and reverent quality about his music that appeals to a broad audience without pandering to it. The crystalline, pristine performance by the Academy of Ancient Music, the pure and exacting singing, sans vibrato, by soloists Patricia Rozario, Julia Gooding, George Mosley and Andrew Manze are simply magnificent. Stunning. - Dean Suzuki

Energipsy- “Tamborea”

(Alula ALU-1012, 1999, CD)

This one sounded quite promising... a mixture of flamenco and fusion? With a wonderful heritage of bands such as Iceberg, Triana, Guadalquivir and Gotic the Spanish fusion scene has been extremely fertile. And with guest appearances by members of Iceberg I was quite excited to hear this disc. As it turns out, this is actually a vocally-oriented effort firmly in the style of the Gypsy Kings. A more cynical listener might even dismiss it as an effort to cash in on the commercial success of the Kings whose music blares from the sound system of many Spanish and Mexican restaurants. The album is a spirited one, with elements of flamenco, gypsy rumba, and Europop. The vocals are all in Spanish, and many of the melodies are quite catchy with plenty of acoustic guitar and percussion pushing the tunes forward. There are four instrumental tracks out of the thirteen songs, and they are very tuneful and are imbued with a romantic Spanish flavor. If you like the sound of the Gypsy Kings it’s a safe bet that you’ll enjoy Energipsy. If you were looking for the next Iceberg, however, you’ve come to the wrong place. David Ashcraft

Dave Weckl Band - “The Rhythm of the Soul”

(Stretch Records, SCD-9016-2, 1998, CD)

Back when I was in college Weckl was God to every star struck drummer who ever picked up a pair of sticks. His years behind the kit in both of Chick Corea’s bands allowed him ample opportunity to display his surfeit drum chops and sky’s-the-limit outlook -- a sort of Steve Gadd pushed to greater technical extremes. Here he appears fronting his own ensemble, and though I know not how many previous albums he has completed, I no longer relish the thought of another slice of his music. To make my biases known: I prefer fusion with a sting of uniqueness that makes Brand X, Dixie Dregs, or Mahavishnu Orchestra so special. But Weckl’s CD sounds like it could have been made by any random set of studio musicians you'd care to stick in a room together, at any time between 1982 and 1999. Eleven instrumental tunes, co-penned by Weckl and keyboardist Jay Oliver, make up the recording, which seems aimed at drummers wishing to study Weckl in detail, credits listing every piece of equipment, even down to his brand of sticks, heads, and shoes! If I had to capture the essence in one word, I would choose “orthodox”. His band, consisting of guitar, bass, sax, and keys, plays in a commercial Tower of Power mode of 80s funk/fusion that leaves hardly a nook or cranny of room for originality. Behind the kit, Weckl usually keeps a steady supportive backbeat, complemented by the odd snare accent on an off-beat. At a certain point in each tune (almost without exception) you can expect that either he, or the bassist, will burst into a flurry of two or four-bar solo phrases. These highlights however are a sort of double-edged sword insofar as the flashy fills and soloistic drum breaks (impeccably executed though they are) inexorably serve to reveal the uneventfulness of the compositional substance. Furthermore, I had hoped a player of his stature would show a bit of cavalier, daredevil risk-taking, whereas here everything comes across as strictly calculated; as if every moment were rehearsed. Some of the quieter moments are perhaps more original, and more to my liking, but on the whole only those whose motive is to study how Weckl approaches a certain tempo or meter (how he works his fills and solos into these kinds of grooves) will benefit from a recording like this. - Mike Ezzo

Simon Phillips - “Another Lifetime”

(Magna Carta, MA-9033-2, 1999, CD)

Simon Phillips is a drummer who has little to prove nowadays, what with the monstrous level of playing ability he has cultivated over the years. Terry Bozzio is perhaps his closest competitor musically speaking. But whereas Bozzio blazes uncharted trails in percussion styling (often at the expense of what is musically appropriate), Phillips makes up for a less groundbreaking spirit by a style that speaks with a fluidity unmatched by Bozzio’s stiffness. (Odd -- Bozzio was once quite the feel-oriented player that he now is certainly not). “Another Lifetime” follows in the footsteps of Jeff Beck, from the days back when Simon was his drummer, showing us a work somewhere between rock and jazz, where guitarists always want to imitate Allan Holdsworth. This is no exception in that on the surface, the guitar does parallel Holdsworth’s sound. But comparisons stop there, as in content we are in utterly different terrain. His last release, “Symbiosis”, was a lot more technical, giving Simon the chance to show what he’s got up his sleeve at the kit. But not so much here. There is almost no improvisation for starters. And little is very thematically dense, but rather it gives primacy to atmosphere and groove. Backing Simon up are two guitarists, bass, sax, keyboards, and a percussionist. Keyboards though keep well to the background, and percussion is largely tacit. Simon himself however uses the odd percussive color to spice up his work and it is always tasteful and immaculately executed. His finest effort here must be “Euphrates” where his drumming is actually melodic. Exquisite! But for the most part the band plays in a safer mode, offset by sections of unison melodies whose dynamic peaks and valleys are propelled by Simon’s drums. Whenever anything of a technical nature pops up, it is always a simple unison passage, with no counterpoint or contrast. In other words -- not much interplay. As if all the parts were recorded by each member separately, an aesthetic more in line with rock music. Thus you'll find no stretching out in the way that Chad Wackerman and his boss do to such intense extremes in all of their work. After 8 pieces in this style I began to wonder whether Phillips would give us any kind of spontaneity, i.e., improvisation. It finally came on the very last piece, but it left me realizing what I was missing up to that point. So, I would recommend “Symbiosis” before coming here. - Mike Ezzo

Mathew Shipp Duo (with William Parker) – “DNA”

(Thirsty Ear, this57067.2, CD, 1999)

Mathew Shipp has paid his dues in the eastern US jazz circles for the past several years and “DNA” is his first for Thirsty Ear Records out of New York. Two traditional pieces are included on the disc in addition to five of Shipp’s compositions embellished by Parker’s upright bass lines. Both of those pieces are spirituals interspersed with songs which reflect a subject matter of the dichotomy between the religious and scientific impulse. Shipp himself appears to be a “spurious” composer - a believer in dissonant interjection, but with less spasmodic emphasis as Keith Tippett or Keith Jarrett. The dialogue between pulse and dynamic is the key in which to exact a crucial interaction if the players are up to the task. How listenable is it then to live in the moment of live spontaneous combustion? I would say it’s both revealing and an exercise in the discipline of listening. Rhythmically the interchange between these two musicians is stark and perpetually shifting. “Orbit” is probably the most successful track since Shipp keeps emphasis on the rhythmic chorusing he’s establishing with Parker punctuating the bottom line. The opening track, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” is propelled by Shipp’s restatement of the main theme amidst a controlled, if somewhat frantic bass solo. Seven minutes into “Mr. Chromosome” a simple repeating melody is invoked to signal a time to change to a cross sectional improvisation which finishes with an almost calypso like figure and sad resolution. “Amazing Grace” comes as a proud closing statement to the disc, bookmarking the album so to speak. Overall “DNA” is a successful new excursion for Shipp and Parker and definitely a must see performance in your local jazz club. - Jeff Melton

Terra Firma – “Earthbound”

(Def Ear 98001-9, 1999, CD)

Climbing out the morass of thrash bands and Pearl Jam clones ascends a new Seattle area group with its feet rooted in Terra Firma and its head in the cosmos. Forget your preconceived notions of space rock (Hawkwind, Ozrics, et. al.). Terra Firma has redefined the genre combining elements from grunge, goth, psychedelia, and sci-fi/space rock in a revitalizing pangalactic gargleblaster. Earthbound is space rock with a razor edge, more attuned to the world of Bladerunner than interplanetary flight. Terra Firma borrows freely from Bladerunner and includes samples from the movie¹s climax in “Electric Sheep” as well as references in other songs. The Legendary Pink Dots sci-fi masterpiece “Andromeda Suite” is another point of departure for Terra Firma, just listen to “Strange Hallways”. Then there is the Jefferson Airplane¹s drug anthem, “White Rabbit”, which Terra Firma takes into territory where the Airplane feared to tread. Other similarities are the Stones¹ “Sympathy for the Devil” in “Darker Days”, Fields of the Nephilim¹s “Celebrate” in “Earthbound Traveler”, and “Also Sprach Zarathustra” in “Odyssey”. At times darkly violent and others beautifully ambient, Earthbound delivers more than expected. Earthbound could easily be one of this year¹s best new releases! But beware, Earthbound is addictive and you may find yourself unable to stop listening. Highly recommended. - Henry Schneider
[Def Ear Recording Co., 2603 Pacific Highway East, Tacoma, Washington 98424, USA; ]

Threshold - “Clone”

(Giant Electric Pea GEPCD 1023, 1998, CD)

Given that this is a Karl Groom project, and that it’s on the GEP label, and that the first tune is called “Freaks”, you would be pretty safe to assume this is another tired and unwanted neo-prog album. But, you would be least about the neo-prog part. Threshold are purely a prog-metal outfit, whose highest aspiration appears to be emulating Dream Theater in the fullest. The aptly-titled “Clone” is a complete knock-off, caring not a wit about displaying any shred of originality but rather focusing completely on making a solid prog-metal album, no matter how derivative. To which end, it must be confessed, they succeed due to the talents of guitarists Groom and Nick Midson, keyboardist Richard West and drummer Mark Heaney. Vocalist Andrew McDermott isn’t quite in the same league as many of his peers, but he avoids the grating high-pitched operatic wailing in favor of some occasional harmony vocals. Other than that, his voice fits the style like a glove. “Clone” is so full of gimmicks that it’s hard to take it seriously, but I have no doubt that fans of the prog-metal genre will find countless reasons to heap praise after praise upon it. – Dan Casey

Ken Pedersen - “Deja Views”

(Skymark SYM0503, 1999, CD)

“Deja Views” is a collection of 12 piano instrumental pieces based upon various classical themes. Many of the tracks are piano solos, and some have wind or string accompaniment. The songs list people ranging from Bach to Beethoven to Copland to Foster as sources of inspiration. Some of the tracks like “Birth Of Hope” or “Reunion” really resemble the listed inspiration composer and piece (in this case Bach’s “Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring” and Pachelbel’s “Canon in D"), while others aren’t as easy to connect. The style of playing is squarely in the New Age camp, and the Pedersen favors sticking with traditional major and minor chords and progressions for the most part. Even in the MacDowell, Glass, and Copland-inspired pieces where you might expect the unexpected, the arrangements are fairly harmonically confined. On an up note, the recording quality of the album is actually quite good with the piano sounding well-balanced and smooth. Pedersen is obviously very comfortable playing in this style too. It would have been more interesting had he played the songs in more varied styles though. Instead, what he presents on “Deja Views” is a homogenized view of the music based on these diverse composers. - Mike Grimes

Praxis - “Collection”

(Doouglas Music ADC19, 1998, CD)

If a guitarist who calls himself Buckethead wearing a white mask with a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket on his head and claims he was raised by chickens doesn’t frighten the crap out of you, then maybe this handy little collection will. The other two-thirds of this trio are the very well-known bassist Bill Laswell and the lesser-known drummer Brain. 8 of the 10 tunes compiled here are pulled from the band’s second and third albums “Sacrifist” and “Metatron”. There must have been a good reason (perhaps legal) that nothing from the groundbreaking debut “Transmutation” is included, although the liner notes don’t give any clue. It would have been nice to have some history or other info given with this CD. Most of the tunes are dominated by Buckethead’s wild, self-indulgent, screaming-mad, million-notes-a-minute guitars over rudimentary machine-gun riffing. Sometimes it gets fairly mindless, as on the half-step ping-pong riff of “Skull Crack”, but perhaps anything else would ruin the sharp contrast. A few guests appear here and there, but their contributions are fairly insignificant, especially the squawking sax of John Zorn. Two tracks really standout, however, and both of them are essentially all Buckethead. “Maggot Dream” is a somber acoustic-driven mood piece with a melodic solo that really shows off Buckethead’s formal guitar training under Paul Gilbert. The other is a lengthy piece called “Dark Hood” which includes a massive amount of signal processing and seemingly computer generated tones in a dark ambient style not too far removed from Djam Karet’s “Suspension and Displacement”. Overall, Praxis has got to be one of the best examples of “you either love it or hate it”. As a collection, this release is too incomplete to warrant a high recommendation, but the two tracks mentioned above make it worth hearing. – Dan Casey

Rumblin Orchestra – “Spartacus”

(Periferic BGCD022, 1998, CD)

“Spartacus” by Rumblin’ Orchestra is led by Hungarian keyboardist and composer Ella Bela. This release is technically fine, but is somewhat a rehash of things that have been done better before. Bela is obviously a huge ELP fan which is cool, but unfortunately he tends to quote a bit too much. Something most annoying here is the chorus segments. The chorus sounds a bit stiff and parodying. The concept of the CD flows well and is interpreted in good form, though. The instrumentation is varied and includes flute, cello, trombone, oboe, and violin. Bela’s own keyboard work is very good, and his compositional skills are impressive even though a bit trite. Simply, Bela needs to get away from the past and look to his own voice. - Carol Hammett

Final Tragedy - “Trial of Tears”

(Independent, DCJLM 7117 1998, CD)

Once upon a time there was a French thrash metal band called Etheric Soul which included among its original members multi-instrumentalist Jean-Luc Millot. Then one day, singer Delphine Cochand appeared to replace the original vocalist and from that moment things went to hell. The band eventually fell apart, leaving only Millot and Cochand to carry on under the new moniker of Final Tragedy. This EP is the result of a year’s worth of work and includes four tracks, each running in the 5+ minute range, with Millot covering all keys, guitars and programming while Cochand handles all vocals. The sound has been reformulated into a more melodic and romantic style of goth-prog-metal, with swirling synth washes and arpeggiated guitar over which Cochand spins out her romantic verses, contrasting against all too familiar aggressive metalish forays. While I could wish them well, Final Tragedy have two very major strikes against them: the songwriting and arranging are extremely mediocre and Cochand’s singing is nothing less than awful. Plus, the poorly handled drum machine tracks are rather annoying and further accentuate the impression that these two need to spend much more time refining and honing their craft. Lyrics like “Please don’t go, ‘cause baby I need you near.” and “I can feel my body heat/turned on by your beat” aren’t going to endear these two to Exposé readers and Cochand’s cat-in-heat keening have earned Final Tragedy the top slot on my Worst of ‘98 list. Consume at your own risk. - Paul Hightower

Sebastian Hardie - “Live in L.A.”

(Musea FGBG 4272.AR, 1999, CD)

“Live in L.A.” is taken from part of Sebastian Hardie’s headlining Progfest 1994 set, and represents their first, and only, show since their previous “final performance” in Melbourne way back in 1976. This track listing for this release is slightly strange since it is essentially a live version of the entire “Four Moments” album with a guitar solo and the last four minutes of the song “Windchase.” Considering they played about a two-hour show that night, it’s interesting that the set list for this CD isn’t more varied. Maybe technical reasons played a part? Speaking of those, listening to the first couple of tracks, the familiar feedback that plagued the early part of their show that night is present on this CD too. Millo looked like he could just kill the monitor guy that evening... The overall performance? Thumb sideways. It’s fairly representative of what my impressions were from being at the gig. Parts are good and parts are so-so. The only previously unavailable track, “Millo’s Bizarre Bizet” is an unaccompanied guitar solo that is pretty cool. For the most part, the live versions of the songs presented here closely resemble the studio versions. While that’s fine if you're at the show, it doesn’t necessarily make for several repeated listens - especially since it wasn’t a stellar show. On the plus note, the sound quality, forgetting some of that annoying feedback which isn’t their fault, is actually really good. Fans of the band will surely want to get this CD, but newcomers interested in checking out Sebastian Hardie would be better off buying the reissued “Four Moments.” - Mike Grimes

Sylvan - “Deliverance”

(Angular Records, SKAN 8213.AR, CD)

Here’s a well-recorded album by an obviously polished German group filled with interesting ideas. I'm sorry to say that those ideas don’t always work, such as “A Fairytale Ending,” but I appreciate the effort behind them. Sylvan’s sound on this album varies widely, from near “space music” to true metal prog. There are lots of momentary jewels sprinkled throughout, like the infrequent keyboard “hook” with a choice patch selection, or fat overlapping vocals with tons of effects. The album is very listenable overall, but I feel the band’s best songs are at the beginning and in approximate descending order until “A Fairytale Ending” at the end, a concept piece that re-tells the Tolkien story of Beren and Luthien, beginning with what sounds like drunken bards chanting (yes, really), and moves on to include driving electric guitar parts, oddly pronounced character names, just plain bad acting, and… other things. Obviously, not my favorite song, but it does have some cool moments.
However, I did enjoy “Golden Cage,” Unconsciously,” and “Safe.” The intro section of “Unconsciously” seemed a bit awkward to me, but after that it’s like two or three songs in one because it does so much in it’s 10-minute length. Leave a few combinations of notes for the rest of us, guys! (Just kidding.) I loved the tempo change in the lighter-waving “Safe,” an attention-getting, mood-altering device that is very under-used in prog. The nine-minute “Those Defiant Ways” wasn’t very exciting at first, but it’s like playing a video game where the music is different in every room - just run around a corner and it will be a different song for a little while… until it changes again. The keyboardist’s skill really shines out on this album and the guitarist’s talents are also obvious, but I thought the vocalist was too forceful at times when subtlety would have made a particular section more poignant. I wouldn’t recommend this album, but your mileage may vary, especially if you like heavier prog. - Willow Polson
[ (909) 784-1712]

André Andersen - “Changing Skin”

(Rondel RRCD RR0101, 1999, CD)
Anderson is the keyboardist of Royal Hunt, a progressive metal band from Denmark that released the album “Paradox” on Magna Carta a couple years ago (and four more on other labels before that). The songs on “Changing Skin” could best be described as keyboard driven symphonic metal-ballad, with a powerful vocalist in Kenny Lübcke, coming at you front and center with a nod to Coverdale era Purple. With anthemic power ballads like “A Thousand Miles Away” and “In My Arms” regularly punctuating the song sequence, no singular stylistic tendency becomes overbearing - though the ballads add a far more commercial slant to the proceedings that is reminiscent of MTV bands of the early to mid-eighties (no judgement here, there are many out there who really dig that stuff, and obviously Andersen is one). The keyboard sound is heavily synth dominated; one will hear very little piano - only occasional synth piano patches, and very occasional organ. The drumming is straight ahead, heavily gated/ processed (or maybe even sampled and programmed a-la early Magellan). Guitars are provided by a number of different players, including Royal Hunt mate Jacob Kjaer. Andersen’s compositions and arrangements are quite good, but tend be ‘safe’ and stay well within the confines of the subgenre, reinforced by Lübcke’s voice (often multi-tracked to get that ‘big’ sound). While the musicianship and writing here are top notch (for the market they aim to reach), this writer found it to be a little too safe and commercially oriented. Your mileage may vary. - Peter Thelen

Kenziner - “Timescape”

(Leviathan 199832 1998 CD)

Remember when a “shredding guitar” player was the exception? Seems you can’t turn around these days without knocking one over. Kenziner is another one of these small-label guitar bands. The focus is the axe playing of one Jarno Keskinen. (The inside cover offers a glimpse of Mr. Keskinen at his pouty best.) However, the guitar isn’t Jarno’s only credit; besides electric and acoustic guitar, he plays bass and keyboards. His guitar playing is good, not exceptional. And since he is playing them, the keyboards are up in the mix, which is nice. Regardless of my feelings for this album, one cannot question his abilities. Vocalist Stephen Fredrick’s style is akin to Graham Bonnet’s - very raw. The material he is singing isn’t the greatest either, as “Walking in the Rain” or “Land of Shadows” will attest: they repeat the chorus five times. Drummer Dennis Lesh is a speed player, getting every bit out of his playing time. Most of this is pretty generic rock; it really went nowhere. In reading the back of the CD you see what a “project” this is: the drums were recorded in Indiana, the vocals, bass and keyboards in Georgia and the guitar parts in a different studio in Georgia. In the world of guitar rock, one must stand out to be heard. For me “Timescape” didn’t have much of anything that stood out. I've heard it before and heard it better. - Dane Carlson

Corrosive Media - “Speakeasy”

(Corrosive Media Corp., CM 002 1998, CD)

“Speakeasy” is a maxi-CD single of three techno-house tracks from German duo Benedict Wyneken and Uwe Wienke. Tracks 1 and 3 clock in at just over 5 minutes each while the centerpiece, “Tommy Gun,” clocks in at 21 and a half minutes, though length means nothing here since all three cuts are slices of pure, unadulterated techno-house pie. This is the kind of thing found pouring from huge PA systems in dimly lit dance clubs, while throngs of sweating bodies bob about under the flickering lights. If you love dance music drenched in the deafening bass, bubbling and throbbing synths, and rhythmic stops and starts, then this may be a disc you'll want to pick up. Find more info at - Paul Hightower

David Thomas – “Mirror Man”

(Cooking Vinyl, COOK CD 175, 1999, CD)

From a dizzy blurring pastiche of commentary and cadence comes a curious project, extremely artsy with obscure socio-overtones. The former lead vocalist of Pere Ubu, David Thomas has assembled one of the oddest collections of musicians for his “Pale Orchestra” project and this is only Act 1: Jack and the General. Starting out with poetry and recitation as the key focal point of the disc, political statements about the drift of priorities of the US are rampant. I can’t help the obvious comparisons to a Captain Beefheart/Lou Reed/ Residents/Tom Waits event. Support is provided by several interesting participators including Linda Thompson (ex-Richard Thompson) who hasn’t graced a live performance in almost fifteen years! Her lead vocal on “Nowheresville” is almost a Patti Smith style approach. Two prog heavy players, Peter Hammill and Chris Cutler are utilized in instrumental support roles as part of the band: Hammill as second guitarist and harmonium player, Cutler on electric drums. Pieces such as “Ballad of Florida” benefit from a folksy motif with some brash echo trumpet from Andy Diagram. Plus there appears to be many more portions to this conceptual work as one part of the four day festival, “David Thomas: Disastrodome”, how do they link? Missing the visual aspect of this work can be a bit disproving of the concept by making the proceedings more beat poetry than major multimedia event; hopefully there could be a DVD release? Overall, “Mirror Man” is a clever puzzle with many onion layers to peel. But I have no idea how long it takes to get to the center. Further info on the festival and a detailed context of the album’s focus is available at - Jeff Melton

Deathwatch Beetle Repairman – “Hollow Fishes”

(private release, DBM777-001, CD, 1998)

Debuts albums from obtuse solo acts can be difficult to ascertain on the surface. The first few listens of this disc from the Toronto based artist sound very much like an alternative to some of the more ominous darkwave acts which are sprouting up across the world. Mr. Repairman is in actuality Mathew Riley who has many alter egos including such modern heroes as Trent Reznor, (NIN), Peter Murphy or even Jim Morrison (The Doors). The best atmospheres are created on pieces which emphasize grandiose synths using an almost Ultravox type approach as on “Season of the Dead”. The real odd tone, which I’ve come to appreciate, is that this project also reminds me of elements of the late Kevin Gilbert’s work “thud” but with a more electronic shift. Acoustic pieces such as “Violet and Green” use varying instrumentation such as mandolin and acoustic guitar as well as Arabic motifs or even sitar (as on “Kings of the Rooks”). The artist is also the graphics designer and layout specialist for his own disc too. The cover inlay depicts an angel statuary with strange blotches and serene facial expression: creepy! From the opening strains of “Dream of the Hollow Fishes” to the music box intro to “The Carny of Mr. Dark”, a new musical identity appears to have been realized. This album should find’s it way into the hungry hands of darkwave and Goth fans looking for that strange but accessible artist to champion. - Jeff Melton

Ian McDonald – “Driver’s Eyes”

(Camino, CAMCD18, 1999, CD)

Let us take a long journey back through the ether to advent of progressive rock. Who do you see lurking around in the shadows? Well one person was Ian McDonald who’s group, King Crimson was a magic band by definition: forceful and radical approach. McDonald’s role was as contributor, but vague in most aspects related to the actual creation of the concept of that influential quartet. Now thirty years later, we have his first solo album with a myriad of alumni on Steve Hackett’s Camino label. Save for 1970’s McDonald and Giles album and his three year stint with Foreigner, the gifted saxophonist, multi-instrumentalist writing and arranging work has been largely undocumented until now. It appears that his recent involvement with Hackett’s Tokyo Tapes and Crimson “Epitaph” projects has kicked some life into those savvy bones. Most of “Driver’s Eyes” is upfront rock with overtones of the checkered past. John Waite croons “You Are Part of Me “ with a solid rhythm held down by the drumming of none other than Michael Giles. Several other singers give competent vocal readings including Lou Gramm (Foreigner), John Wetton (Crimson, UK, Asia) and Gary Brooker (Procol Harum) on album’s closing track. Other notable contributions come from Hackett, lead guitar on “Straight Back to You”, Peter Frampton on “If I Was” and former Hall and Oates sideman, G.E. Smith on “Saturday Night in Tokyo”. The instrumental tracks, “Sax Fifth Avenue”, “Hawaii”, and “Demimonde” feature good melodic content across basic arrangements and 4/4 tempos. Overall, this successful MOR album should find a home with classic rock stations that have been playing “Feels Like the First Time” in their seventies time warp. And what’s wrong with that really? - Jeff Melton

Mother Gong — “The Best of Mother Gong”

(Purple Pyramid CLP 9983-2, 1997, CD)

I suppose there’s a large segment of the record-buying public (not many Exposé readers among them) for whom the concept of “The Best of Mother Gong” would be a strange one: that there should be a band called Mother Gong, let alone a set of music which could be called their best. Well, Mother Gong does exist, and have in fact existed since 1978, releasing 16 albums of material on a variety of labels. Mother Gong is a sort of collective centered around vocalist Gilli Smith, and consisting of a variety of musicians (13 incarnations of the band are featured on this collection). Making appearances here are Robert Calvert, Guy Evans, Didier Malherbe, Mike Howlett, Steve Hillage, and many others.
And the music? If you’ve heard Mother Gong you know what to expect. If not, you’re in for the prime exponents of spaced-out pagan Goddess-worshipping goofy hippie music in the world. Gilli Smith’s trippy voice is the centerpiece, breathily reciting her stream-of-consciousness poetry about Mother Earth, love, and religion. The background music, largely improvised, tends toward the jazzy, with violin or sax solos over spacey grooves. From time to time the band will come together for a tight composed section, but the general feel is quite loose. I’m not sure if it’s possible for most people to take Gilli Smith seriously, but even if you don’t, there’s some good music here. - Jon Davis