Issue #19 Extra!: Archives, Collections & Reissues

Area - "La Mela di Odessa"
Can - "Box"
Chrome - "Flashback/Live"
Harmonia 76 - "Tracks and Traces"
Roy Harper - "The Unknown Soldier"
Jansen Barbieri Karn - "Medium Label Sampler"
Richard (Leo) Johnson & Jed Martindale - "Creatures of Habit"
Magnum - "Progressive Classics"
Michael Mantler & Edward Gorey - "The Hapless Child"
No Man - "Speak"
Pere Ubu - "New Picnic Time"
Pere Ubu - "Dub Housing"
Todd Rundgren - "A Wizard, A True Star"
Swans - "Cop/Young God/Greed/Holy Money"
Syrius - "Rock Concertek A Magyar Radio Archivamabol"
Tomorrow - "50 Minute Technicolour Dream"
UK - "Concert Classics Volume 4"
Various Artists - "Ambiences Magnetiques Vol.2"
Rick Wakeman - "The Masters"
John Wetton & Richard Palmer-James - "Monkey Business"

VA - Ambiances Magnétiques - Volume 2

(Ambiances Magnétiques, AM045CD, CD, 1997)

French Canadian label, Ambiances Magnétiques released a second sampler of their diverse artist's work in 1997. The disc focuses on various combinations of personnel ranging from solo and duet performances to percussion ensembles, and larger groups. Compiled in part by René Lussier, the wide array of compositions vary from outright clarinet pieces to full band accompaniment and what I'd call: pure pandemonium pieces. Robert M. Lepage is featured across four pieces, which features a jazzy lounge suarez to an intense orchestral fugue reminiscent of Present. Lussier himself duets with Lepage on "Chants et danses du monde inanimé" which I believe has something to do with chants and dances for inanimate objects. "Trois Histoires" is an uncomfortable song with two guitars in somber competition, which also includes some odd random samples. Jean Derome is represented by four pieces ranging from RIO based free jazz, "Navré", an odd recorder piece, to a well-structured jazz piece: all with a certain amount of cabaret and whimsy. Pierre Cartier gets the distinction of the longest piece out of the seventeen the collection. Although the track, "Les Fleurs due tapis" is a slow jazz ballad, it's the most memorable and Canterbury-ish in composition. Not one piece conforms to a droning synthesizer style that is more closely associated with the work of Brian Eno or Robert Rich. I guess if the intent was to display varying styles with nerve and joie de vivre, then these tracks meet that requirement. I have to admit that this is a very experimental label and catalogue which is targeted solely for challenging minds and ears. - Jeff Melton

Tomorrow - "50 Minute Technicolour Dream"

(RPM, RPM184, 1998, CD)

Tomorrow is currently a hot psychedelic commodity on the market: many of the band's English UK singles fetch top dollar on the English collector's circuit. Adding to the frenzy is former guitarist, Steve Howe who found an old live tape from the band's famous New Year's Eve 1967 performance. The group was included in a live set sandwiched in between Pink Floyd, Soft Machine and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. It's still hard to believe that Howe's roots were as a rocker with the fashionable underground. Here's a raw account, forty-five minutes of what the band was like live. You don't necessarily need the drug induced aspects of the scene to appreciate what they were trying to do on stage. The best performances are on the band's hit, "My White Bicycle" and the two unreleased tracks which prominently feature Howe's leads despite the poor sound quality. The studio portion of this disc includes outtakes from the band's unused film songs and unissued outtakes from the band's only album. In contrast to other groups of the scene, Tomorrow was more like the Yardbirds than anyone else. The comparison continues onto the band's exit from Fellini's "Blow-up" movie soundtrack (where the producer chose the Yardbirds instead). The RPM label is building a reputation as a leader in liner notes productions work as well. A miniaturized 4 color page layout (front and back) of band interviews, singles reviews, and old copies of handbills is included too. The disc is as close as you can get now to a scene long dead and buried in the minds of the archivists. For more information refer to the RPM records Website: - Jeff Melton

Pere Ubu - "Dub Housing"

(Thirsty Ear, thi 57069.2, 1978/1999, CD)

I recall when I first heard this LP, I was honestly paralyzed by the discordant synthesizer which underpinned a Velvet Underground groove on the first track. There was vocalist David Thomas and his almost excruciating drivel pushing me to find the stop button on my cassette recorder. Boy has time added a new appreciation or what? It's obvious that Pere Ubu was an innovator of a transitional time when pop tunes were getting clever interpretations with a Punk or New Wave approach. This was the time of re-invention: The Clash, Elvis Costello and Devo and still these guys still didn't quite fit in. They were unsettling and just this side of the avante garde with their use of electronics exposing an uncomfortable undercurrent to their melee attack. Plus there is more than a passing resemblance to the Residents with their twisted approach and mysteriously shrouded attitude. "Thriller" has to be the most memorable piece on the album if only for it's grinding closing section over a droll voiced recitation. Plus the band is just as fun now as modern counterparts Olivia Tremor Control (who somewhere must acknowledge an obvious debt). Amazing how unshocking this album is twenty-one years after shaking up the music community with a love of desperate attitude. This is difficult music at it's most poignant: raw and uncorrupt of preconception. Again that useful website for current reference: - Jeff Melton

Harmonia 76 - "Tracks and Traces"

(Rykodisc, RCD 10428, 1997, CD) 1976 was a transitional year where Brian Eno changed his context for working with electronics to an ambient perspective. This was due in part to his meeting with synthesizer duo, Cluster (Moebius and Roedelius) with whom he would later record two albums. This collaboration together with Michael Rother was one where tone and atmosphere were as important as actually playing a single note on a keyboard or guitar. This explains the lack of rhythmic development across the album's nine pieces. The opening piece, "Vamos companeros" is a rackety rework of the backing track for "No One Receiving" from Eno's "Before and After Science". The tempo has been slowed down and dark treatments performed on the song, which alters the complexion dramatically. Eno's role is not as leader since his contributors were already working together as Harmonia for two albums prior to this. Instead he adds bass, and synth although it's difficult to determine who is playing what on which track. "Luneburg Heath" is the lone vocal track which describes a location where you obviously don't want to get lost, while "Almost" is the most calming and serene piece on the disc. Also included is an early version of "When Shade was Born" which would later surface in full pastel arrangement on "After the Heat". Overall the album is relaxing and evokes dream like images but doesn't force you to passively count sheep. For a lost project which had been unreleased for over twenty years, I'd say it's as current any techno project if only for the strength of the collaboration and the blurring of egos. - Jeff Melton

Roy Harper - "The Unknown Soldier"

(Science Friction, HUCD031, 1980/1999, CD)

Typically Roy Harper doesn't fall into a progressive rock vein, preferring to create an English version of Bob Dylan's never ending hippie dream. But in 1980 he amassed several friends whose collaboration brought about a mature focused work with more complex arrangements and dynamics than any solo album performance to date. Fellow contributors included Dave Gilmour (Pink Floyd), Kate Bush, Tony Levin(pre- Crimson, Peter Gabriel), and Dave Lawson (Greenslade). To say that the album has a distinct edge to it is an understatement considering that Gilmour co-wrote several pieces on the album including an alternate version of "Short and Sweet" from his own first solo album. Sung by Harper on this version, the piece is entirely more creditable and forceful. Also falling into the aggressive song category is "You (The Game Part II)", an ominous duet with Kate Bush. "Ten Years Ago" is driven by Tony Levin's stick bass and describes a forlorn look upon dreams which passed unrealized from the sixties. The real scorcher on the album is the album's closer, "True Story" with Gilmour's galloping guitar segueing into the mix after a dark synth intro. Harper is at his most expressive relating the story of William Wallace (also chronicled by the movie, 'Braveheart') and his brutal demise. In contrast there a few ballads as well as the acoustic title track which works as a contrasting element in the overall mix of compositions. This is the first time the album has been available on CD from Harper's own label. "The Unknown Soldier" is an overlooked classic that will also appeal to fans of Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull. - Jeff Melton

U.K. - "Concert Classics Volume 4"

(Renaissance RRCD00704, CD, 1999)

I was pleasantly surprised to find a copy of this live series disc at a local SF Bay area shop in the bin with the regular monthly releases. Considering that "Volume 4" had supposedly been pulled by none other than Eddie Jobson, it's possible that the disc is not in wide circulation. The recording comes from the heavily booted Boston 1978 FM radio show featuring the first line-up of the group with Allan Holdsworth (electric guitar) and Bill Bruford (drums). The most important tracks are three pieces which were re-worked on the next studio LP, "Danger Money": "The Only Thing She Needs", "Carrying No Cross", and "Caesar's Palace Blues". Each of these songs contains wildly different group arrangements and is worth hearing in their initial form. It is no surprise to identify the jazz elements injected specifically from Bruford and Holdsworth that give each track a noticeable guitar context. "The Only Thing She Needs" benefits from Bruford's adept top kit drumming style and a looser tempo. "Carrying No Cross" includes a Latin midsection which is quite impressive, while "Caesar's Palace Blues" is more syncopated rhythmically with Holdsworth's leads playing off Jobson's pizzicato violin during the intro. The disc liner notes include pictures of other boot CDs: twenty-three total by my count, which could explain Jobson's concern with potential lost revenue. Together with another missing track, "The Sahara of Snow", this recording provides distinct clues as to how close the original quartet was to completing their second album before the band split. If you can find a copy of the disc, snag it while you can since you may not get another chance. - Jeff Melton

Michael Mantler/Edward Gorey - "The Hapless Child (and other inscrutable stories)"

(WATT4, 831-828-2, CD, 1976/1999)

It's a rare project that extracts elements of the written word and transfers them eloquently to an audio performance. Composer/trumpet player Michael Mantler's first major success with this approach was with 1976's star-studded adaptation of the twisted children's stories of Edward Gorey. Who better to relate the tales of woe than Robert Wyatt with Terje Rypdal on lead guitar backed by a crackshot jazz rhythm section including Steve Swallow on bass and Jack DeJohnette on traps. Mantler's then wife, Carla Bley handled the keys on the album, providing a solid piano foundation (and her use of fuzz clavinet). Rypdal's tortured guitar adds a presence of tension and dismay to each track on the album. His brief solos on "The Insect God" and the title track are some of the highpoints of the disc. The interplay of Bley/Swallow/DeJohnette is also a constant joy especially on "The Doubtful Guest". Probably the most upsetting pieces on the disc are the final two if only for their imagery and impassioned delivery: "The Remembered Visit" which features an odd promise made after meeting with an old man. While on the title track Wyatt is at his more dire and forlorn as he croons the tragic story of Charlotte Sophia. Regardless, the album is a seminal work and holds up to the test of time as high art with an unsettling vision of its disturbed characters. The six stories can also be found separately in Gorey's bound work, "Amphigorey" where the imagery is visualized with his drawings. "The Hapless Child" is one of my top ten re-releases of the year. - Jeff Melton

Jansen Barbieri Karn - "Medium Label Sampler"

(Medium Productions, MPCD11, CD, 1999)

Medium Productions is a low profile label from the UK, which represents the muse of three former members of Japan. The trio is alternately creative within varying contexts and combinations of personnel; their specific parameters of change focus on remixes and techno variations of rhythms and tones. Collectively, the label has released ten discs in the last five years; each with a similar mood brought by the artists themselves (which could explain why so there are so few products. The trio is represented by three pieces, the most unique of which is a live version of a rare Japan B-side, 'Life Without Buildings". The track is a spirited rendition with Steve Wilson of Porcupine Tree providing some heavy guitar phrases. Steve Jansen's collaboration with Yukihiro Takahashi (Yellow Magic Orchestra) is also represented by a remix and an original track from "Pulse", from 1998. Jansen and Barbieri's joint endeavors correspond to two tracks showing the close connection between percussion and texture they have been refining over the years. The duo also teamed up with a Japanese DJ on "Spaced", a track from "Changing Hands" which adds a modern remix slant on the atmospherics. "Only Forward" is a piece from Indigo Falls (Barbieri and wife) which contains the most memorable intro and performance on the disc. Overall, Medium Productions puts out remarkably good product despite poor distribution. Hopefully this problem has been rectified by their new deal with Polydor and will result in improved artist awareness. For label info: - Jeff Melton

Syrius - "Rock Koncertek A Magyar Radio Archivumabol"

(Premier Art Records PAR97105, 1997, CD)

As best I can tell (my Hungarian is a little rusty) this release is an archive recording from 1975 that was originally a Hungarian radio broadcast. The band has a "big band" line-up, complete with a 4-piece horn section, bass guitar, Fender Rhodes, drums, vocals, and congas. The music is a blend of early 70s rock, funk, TV show theme, and jazz. The vocalist is a graduate of TJVI - the Tom Jones Vocal Institute (Hungarian Branch Campus.) And I mean that in a good way. Much of the music is instrumental, but when the vocals are present, they're solid and fit the music perfectly. The music... well it's remarkably good too. All the instrumentalists take plenty of solos and each player is more than competent. The Fender Rhodes keyboard player is especially impressive. He (at least I think it's a "he") is just super-bad! In a James Brown kind of way. The funk aspects of the music are what stand out as highlight-reel material. The grooves are there. The solos shred. Owww!! Dude, forget watching Hawaii Five-O repeats for that radical 70s funk, break out the Syrius! This is some great stuff. - Mike Grimes

John Wetton & Richard Palmer-James – “Monkey Business”

When was the first time you heard “Exiles” or “The Great Deceiver” and were taken aback about the lyrics? It’s a pretty strange role to find yourself by trying to fill the shoes of Peter Sinfield with King Crimson. Richard Palmer-James took that job and has been a long time school friend of John Wetton as well as contributor to the wordier side of some of the best-loved Crimson songs. This disc is an odd collection of early demos, unfinished recordings and updated versions of songs from Wetton’s career including Crimson, recent solo work and a few aborted projects. The most enticing pieces are those with Bill Bruford: “Confessions and “The Good Ship Enterprise” recorded during the interim between the 1974 King Crimson and UK. These could be the long demos for the Wakeman, Wetton and Bruford project which A&M derailed which ultimately led to UK. Both tracks show signature time keeping from Bruford and some tricky word play from Wetton in what could have been some promising pieces. A few pieces have undergone some lush arranging to wind up in current form on the album including, “Starless” and “Doctor Diamond”. But it’s the rough versions of “Book of Saturday”, “Easy Money:” and “Magazines” Which give you an account of Wetton’s songwriting process where he enlisted Palmer-James to flesh out ideas and come up with the compelling verse. “Monkey Business” is for Wetton collectors primarily and those who want to peer into the looking glass of his early writing process. - Jeff Melton

Chrome – “Chrome Flashback / Chrome Live – The Best of”

(Cleopatra CLP 0472-2, 1999, 2CD)

When I first heard Chrome back in the early 80s, my initial reaction was “Ouch!” All I heard was a wall of distortion and mangled vocals – their brand of art-punk was too much punk and too little art for me. Now, almost twenty years later, Chrome doesn’t seem so extreme, and in fact need more hyphens than art-punk contains. Industrial-space-art-goth- punk is more like it. They invented a genre all to themselves, combining raw guitar, tape manipulation, and sci-fi themes. Many others have come along afterwards, borrowing pieces of their unique sound, from Nine Inch Nails to Sonic Youth to later incarnations of Hawkwind. Guitarist Helios Creed and keyboardist Damon Edge were only together from 1977 to 1982, but they produced more than seven albums’ worth of material and developed a sizeable cult following. The last few years have seen virtually all the band’s work re-released on CD, including 1982’s Chrome Box set (now a 3 disc set), which includes the majority of the band’s output by itself. The Flashback half of this set serves as a sampler for the box, presenting many of Chrome’s better known tunes, fairly evenly distributed through their history, and as such is a good introduction for the Chrome novice. As an incentive for the Chrome aficionado, there is the second disc, a live recording from 1998’s reunion tour, which included only Creed from the original lineup, helped out by some of his newer cohorts. My main criticism of this collection is the lack of credits, failing to detail the origins of the individual songs or the changes in personnel through the tracks. - Jon Davis
[Cleopatra, 13428 Maxella Ave #251, Marina Del Rey CA 90292]

Swans - "Cop/Young God, Greed/Holy Money"

(Thirsty Ear, thi57059.2, 1999, CD)

For those of you unfamiliar with this ensemble on this reissue two disc set, Swans is an artsy cult band who blazed a trail of punishing punk metal which is fairly popular in certain circles. The band is now recent history, the members having finally moved onto higher ground from the carnage remaining after over ten years of violent musical expression. Disc one is Cop/Young God and indicates a certain fascination with heavy themes, but in an experimental tone which fits into a more punk approach unique for it's time. I guess you could say when Van Halen was coaxing an audience to "Go ahead, Jump", these guys were blazing away with a new sound which wouldn't surface until much later. From the band's early influences (Black Sabbath and techno primarily), it was clear that the group was pounding, it's way into a pulsing and purlverizing, musical warzone. This two disc set collects their most influential early work from the mid-eighties onto two almost eighty minute discs. There is an almost subversive Jim Morrison-like prose delivery from Michael Gira on "Another You" which showcases the group's ability sustain aggression. This set is the most crushing ambient approach I've heard yet within a band context: the stuff that major label reps analyzed to determine if they wanted to sign the band to their mainstream label. That probably tells you why indie label, Thirsty Ear scooped up these recordings long after the group decimated their own musical landscape. And should this appeal to a progrock enthusiast, you ask? There is some grungy heavy material on the albums which should long ago have found an inroad into modern progressive attitude. From that point alone I believe there is a relevant viewpoint to acknowledge the band in addition to influencing other modern bands such as Tool. - Jeff Melton

Richard Johnson and Jed Martindale - "Creatures of Habit"

(11, el-0113, CD, 1993)

For those interested with tracking down the roots of master acoustic fret bender, Richard Leo Johnson, look no further! Uncovered from the independent release catacombs is a 1993 gem from Johnson and percussionist, Jed Martindale on an obscure label from Arkansas. All twelve tracks were recorded live with minimal overdubs from Johnson and showcase his then already great dexterity which can now be confirmed prior to his Metro Blue Note label release, "Fingertip Ship" from last year. Johnson's "habits" on this disc are just as spectacular as you'd expect. There are many notable pieces from the album's bright opener, "Men' Jahbo" to a few opus pieces including "Brick Dust and Fish Oil/Iron Mountain Waltz". The guitarist is adept at adding his own distinctive flair to the ten-minute track by using a shuffle rhythm counterbalanced by an Ozark Mountain motif. The second half of the piece has some added backing from electric sitar which adds a unique texture to the mostly acoustic outing. By tapping and utilizing an aggressive picking action, Johnson places himself on a plateau with the Michael Hedges high energy work. Too bad the two of them never had a chance to exchange a healthy musical dialogue. Percussionist, Jed Martindale is at his best when not just time keeping by emphasizing the melodic context of the guitarist' backside so to speak. Overall, this disc is a welcome find to lovers of tasty acoustic guitar playing without self- indulgence or too much introspection. - Jeff Melton

Can - "Box"

(Spoon, Spoon041, 2CD, Book and Video, 1999)

Can's legacy in the progressive rock/experimental field is nothing short of legendary. What has been lacking is any real tangible support for the myth in the form of easy access for present day consumption (besides re-issue of the band's uneven catalogue). True to the task then is "Box" which collects three valid media types together and puts flesh to the fleeting ghost of times gone by. I've broken this review into three segments to reflect the unique elements of the packaging:
Video: This is the real meat of the set with many facets of the band visually represented. Included is a complete live free festival performance by the group circa 1972 with Damo Suzuki on vocal with a juggler as visual complement. This is the real reason to own the set in itself along with various live performances on the BBC and the documentary film chronicling Malcolm Mooney's return during the "Rite Time" sessions. Overall the tape is 133 minutes of pure ecstasy and a must for die-hard fans to see.
Book: Also included in the set is a multi-page tome, which describes various impressions of the band by contemporaries as well as fans. Brian Eno's uncertain commentary is notable since it originates from the fan base rather than by peer. Unfortunately there is far too much detail in languages other than English which biases the text, but does give it a multi-cultural flavor.
Discs: Archivist, Andy Hall has collected some of the bands more interesting bootleg performances of the seventies period and presented them in a slightly cleaned up fashion. Featured are a few definitive performances by the quartet including "Vernal Equinox" from 1975 and a wild improv as a closer for a show in Colchester '72. These discs are also available separately for purchase.
This set is easily the best pick for box set of the year. It is highly recommended to fans and newbies as a channel into an overlooked, but rewarding group and their unique forms of art and impressionism. As of this writing, the package is sold out and only individual pieces are available for purchase. For current info consult the band's website: - Jeff Melton

Pere Ubu - "New Picnic Time"

(ThirstyEar, thi 570702, CD, 1979,1999)

The third album in the Pere Ubu canon is one where the group appears to be in a more playful mode rather than on their acclaimed sophomore album, "Dub Housing" (1978). They had matured a bit since their Cleveland inception, and still managed to remain uncategorizable, thus why the five piece was dropped into the New Wave of the day. David Thomas gives the ten track proceedings a Tiny Tim pandemonium vocal styling, which is more whimsical rather than abrasive on this album. Maybe that comes from adjusting your earpiece or more likely due to tastes changing in the past twenty years. Probably his best singing is on "49 Guitars & One Girl" with a twangy guitar and sick synthesizer accompaniment. Thomas is both beat poet and performance artist, embracing opposing sides of recitation and prose. Another notable, mostly instrumental piece, "A Small Dark Cloud" opens with bird chirps underpinned by tympani shots, indicating the band branching out into "freestyle" arrangements. They were keen to use squawks and toys as well as stabbing organ swirls in their small world of controlled chaos, with bleak effect. "Goodbye" is a great contrasting piece, which shows a stretch into the mode of the disturbing and ominous. Thirsty Ear has done an excellent job preserving the packaging of the original release as well improving the sound quality with CD transfer. To track the curious activities and Thomas in particular: refer to their UK website: - Jeff Melton

Todd Rundgren - "A Wizard, A True Star"

(VICP-60807, CD, 1973/1999)

For those of you - the uninitiated, Todd Rundgren holds a unique place in the annals of progressive rock. In the early seventies, the man had left the power pop innovators, The Nazz and strove to make new inroads in what was an open territory for composing artists of the day. Rundgren was also curious composer of electronic music (much like Roger McGuinn of the Byrds) who also had a driving purpose to further mesh technology within a popular music. "A Wizard, A True Star" is thus Todd's shining beacon of creativity, humor and experimentalism. The nineteen tracks hold as a rock (progressive or otherwise) icon against many more popular and trendy artists in the past three decades. Despite weird sound and recording techniques, the album is a clever mish mash of R&B medleys (including "Ooh Baby Baby"), rock and roll anthems ("Just One Victory"), and pop sensibility ("I Don't Want to Tie You Down") depending on Todd's muse of the moment. The epic is side one's twelve segment "International Feel" which encapsulates among other elements, electronic noodling ("Dog Fight Giggle", "Flamingo") and comedic putdowns ("Just Another Onionhead"). The piece predates Todd's 1974 heavy prog masterwork, "The Ikonn" by one year, but contains more warmth than the aforementioned classic. That's the prime reason that this album occupies number twenty-one on my top twenty- five of all time. This re-release is one in a series of seven twenty-bit remasters from the Bearsville catalogue available from Japan. The mere miniaturization of the original multi-color sleeve and liner notes is a major accomplishment in of itself. Highly recommended for collectors and connoisseurs. - Jeff Melton

Magnum - "Progressive Classics"

(Purple Pyramid, CLP 0563-3, 1999, CD)

This English "pomp-rock" (as those silly British metal mags used to call it) band has been around for donkey's years. Wide spread fame always seemed to elude them however, but given the disdain of the popular media it is little surprise. Indelibly impressed in my mind are the record jackets of Magnum's early 80's albums "Chase the Dragon" and "The 11th Hour", decorated by the great Rodney Matthews. The fantasy world depicted by Matthews however is not matched by the down-to- earth music Magnum has been pumping out. Originality seems to have held little virtue for them : Bad Company, Uriah Heep, Styx, Jefferson Starship, and more; elements of all these are discernable in these kinds of dramatic keyboard-embellished arrangements that were wiped out by the late 80's. Where Magnum shine most are in the vocals -- recalling David Byron, Bowie or Elton John, they are always belted out with conviction. What this group really were in dire need of is some production savvy. The sound quality fluctuates from song to song (understandable as it is compilation of many years' work I suppose). A couple songs are little more than demo quality, and the drums on most of the studio-recorded entries here sound poorly mixed. The two live songs suffer no such affliction. I'd need my sanity checked before I ever called Magnum a progressive band, but if 80's British hard rock is your game you may want to give a listen. - Mike Ezzo

Rick Wakeman - "The Masters"

(Purple Pyramid CLP 0565-2, 1999, CD)

Between 1982 and 1995 Wakeman released a staggering 35 recordings! None of these are known to more than a few people (I have only seen about four of them myself), so the convenience of this compilation of 20 tracks from 13 albums of that period is certainly a foregone conclusion. Disc one blasts off with a surprisingly commercial pomp-rock tune with absolutely astonishing production quality, and a singer who could have replaced Steve Walsh in Kansas! Who is he?? A pair of flashy prog instrumentals follow; nice, if cliched, but great keyboard work. A jazzy piece from his "Zodiac" CD follows but seems unfinished, like a demo. Later he cranks up the drama on two more instrumental prog numbers. Then there is a poorly executed pop song which doesn't match the production quality of its predecessor. Closing out this half are a completely remade suite from "Six Wives" which features loads of new material; and a beautiful piano-based song with percussion accompaniment. Disc two starts with another stab at radio play, but quickly (and fortunately) abandons it in favor of more instrumental piano and synth-heavy pieces from Rick's relatively recent concept albums: "Romance of the Victorian Age", and "7 Wonders of the World". A couple veer nigh a light new age side; others are deadringer Brahms/Beethoven piano material. A live reworked suite from "Merlin" (again with a ton of new twists added) provides contrast. Based on what this CD offers I'd choose "Tapestries" and No Expense Spared" as the two recommendables. But this leaves another 23 recordings -- including three soundtracks -- that (probably like you) I have never heard, so my judgement is of limited value. - Mike Ezzo

Area - "La Mela Di Odessa"

(Black Hole BH001/2, 1977/1998, CD)

First off: to the best of my knowledge, this is a bootleg recording, of dubious legal origin, and the sound quality is marginal at best. If that scares you away, no need to read on further. Area fanatics, however, may be able to look past these shortcomings and successfully ingest this double CD taken from two Area concerts recorded in Italy in 1976 and 1977. The set lists from the two shows are nearly identical, and heavily feature tracks from their Maledetti album, which I've always felt was their most avant-garde, difficult outing (and unsurprisingly, one of my favorites). The song structure on these tracks ("Il Massacro di Brandenburgo Numero Tre en Sol Maggiore," "Gerontocrazia," "Scum," "Giro, Giro, Tondo") is quite abstract, even by Area's standards, and I believe the bootleg level sound fails to bring out the best in these already-weird pieces. The sets also contain older favorites like "Cometa Rossa," "La Mela di Odessa," and "Luglio, Agosto, Settembre," but as Area fans know, fine live recordings of these seminal works appear elsewhere on legit releases. If you listen carefully, the peculiar magic of Area's avant-jazzy instrumental attack and the heretofore unmatched skill of Demetrios Stratos's vocals are here in abundance, but this set is recommended to completists only. - Steve Robey

No-Man – “Speak”

(Materiali Sonori MASO CD 90111, 1988/1989/1999, Media)

No-Man began back in 1987 as a collaboration between Steve Wilson (pre-Porcupine Tree) and vocalist Tim Bowness. Over the years since then, the band has released a number of albums and EPs, mostly in what might be called an intelligent dance-pop vein, rather like an updated version of Japan or less world-beat Cocteau Twins. The Japan comparison is especially apt since Bowness’s voice sounds quite a bit like David Sylvian’s. In addition to their pop side, the band has always had another face, a lush, romantic, near-ambient sound, first documented on a cassette-only release in 1993 called Speak: 1988-89. Now some of that material is seeing its first appearance on CD, but apparently the band were not content to leave the past alone: two songs from the original have been dropped, and one (a cover of Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon” from the same time period) added. In addition, all of the vocals have been rerecorded, and two of the songs are completely new performances of songs from the original tape. In any case, it makes for a very interesting listen, and there’s no reason the history of it should be more than a tiny note in the credits. The music is achingly beautiful, with occasional bits of edginess, and many inventive arrangements. I’m particularly glad to hear the contributions of former No-Man violinist Ben Coleman (though he’s only on three tracks) – his flashy playing provides a nice contrast to the spacious atmosphere and generally slow tempos. This is great music for moods of quiet alertness, but not recommended for those allergic to reverb. - Jon Davis