Tag Archives: Progressive Rock

Guapo – Elixirs from R.I.O

Guapo is a British experimental rock band formed by drummer Dave Smith and guitarist/vocalist Matt Thompson, joined by Guy Siddle also known as “Pid” they released their first CD “Towers Open Fire” in 1997. The album is sophisticated hardcore/punk, quite interesting, but not really symptomatic of the Guapo that I’m writing about today.

The first major step away from their Hardcore/Noise rock came with the album “Great Sage, Equal Of Heaven” (2000) taking the band into avant-garde rock territory. At this point “Pid” was no longer in the band but the album features free music improviser and saxophonist Caroline Kraabel.

On “Perfect Blue” Caroline Kraabel’s partner John Edwards plays Double Bass.

Another major development was the addition of multi-instrumentalist Daniel O’Sullivan, later know to have joined Norwegian experimental band Ulver in 2011.

Daniel O’Sullivan joined Guapo ‎for Five Suns released in 2004, adding Guitar, Organ,  Electric Piano (Fender Rhodes), Mellotron, Harmonium, Electronics. There was no woodwind instruments on this album.

What we got now is basically a power trio creating music that point in the direction of a mid-70’s instrumental prog rock. The inspiration is clearly King Crimson and the better 1970’s Jazz Rock albums, but that said Guapo finds their own unique style to make the journey interesting and not just a celebration of past times.

Most of the album is the title track, one long epic (the first 46 minute) split into 5 parts.

The trio made another album Black Oni (2005) but after that founding member Matt Thompson left. Guapo continued as a duo.

They released the next album Elixirs in 2008, besides some vocal the only guest was German Actor, Violinist and Viola player Sara Hubrich. Playing on the first track “Jeweled Turtle”

The direction of this album is less aggressive, we now got a slower atmospheric sound, leaving an overall dreamy, mystic and spiritual impression, although the album also explores harder styles and even a bit of Zappa’ish sounding passages.

When the “Rock in Opposition” festivals reappeared in 2008 and 2009 headlined by avant-garde names like Magma, Faust, Kōenji Hyakkei, Present and Univers Zero, Guapo was invited and have also played on several later editions of the French avant-garde festival.

Guapo continued with shifting lineup all the way up to present day, releasing albums in 2013 and 2015, sadly I do not know those albums and can’t comment on them, the band was playing on the The 10th Rock in Opposition festival September 2017.

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June part II

40 years ago – June 1978

Box office high score trucker movie Convoy starring Kris Kristofferson & Ali MacGraw was released.

That was obviously hugely overshadowed by the release of Romantic musical-comedy Grease released the same month, with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. The soundtrack as you may well know did rather well too.

Dead Kennedys perform for the first time, Mabuhay Gardens, San Francisco

One of my all-time favorite albums was released this month and that is Peter Gabriel’s self-titled 2nd album known as Scratch.

Besides some of Gabriels strongest and most emotional songwriting the albums features a killer cast of musicians: Fripp, Levin, Jerry Marotta, Sid McGinnis, Tim Cappello and others.

The album was produced by Robert Fripp, and part of his trilogy.

 

50 years ago – June 1968

U.S. presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy is shot

Roman Polanski’s psychological horror movie Rosemary’s Baby is released

Anti Việt Cộng and pro Saigon Vietnam war film The Green Berets staring John Wayne was released, the film stirred up some controversy and poor reviews but did fine at the box office.

Pink Floyd released their 2nd studio album “A Saucerful of Secrets”

Otis Redding died Dec. 1967 in an airplane crash, a posthumous studio album somewhat dramatically named  “The Immortal Otis Redding” was released in June 1968, recorded by Redding shortly before his dead.

“Hard to Handle” have been covered by a number of artists since.

American rock band The Black Crowes had a hit with the song as a single from their 1990 debut “Shake Your Money Maker”

 

60 years ago – June 1958

American restaurant chain Pizza Hut is founded.

Imre Nagy, Prime Minister of Hungary and leader of the failed Hungarian Revolution of 1956 brutally brought down by the Soviet invasion, was executed based on charges of treason. In 1989, Imre Nagy was rehabilitated and his remains reburied on the 31st anniversary of his execution.

Nina Simone released her debut album “Little Girl Blue”

 

 

 

From World’s End to Believe

Go to the first post in this series

Pendragon cover from “Belive” 2005 (by Simon Williams)

After 5 year break where Nick Barrett went through a divorce Pendragon was back with a new release in 2001 “Not Of This World” another fine album although a bit too much of the same. Could have expected a bit more development after 5 years but did not see that much on this one, that said it is not a bad album actually on of the better amongst the early ones.

 

More interesting in terms of creative development, the band released a recording from Polish radio in 2002 “Acoustically Challenged” mainly based on Vocal and Acoustic Guitars, some keyboard but no drums.

Whether you like these kind of acoustic sets or not, It is both daring and interesting when a band normally relying a lot on a highly produced prog sound, strips it down like this.

The above mentioned sound somewhat made it into the next album “Believe”, coming out less symphonic or pompous than their earlier albums, the sound was turning a little more in a Pink Floyd direction with more room for the guitars and less for the keyboards.

The Blake Album

“The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” is an illustrated book by the influential English poet William Blake created 1790 to 1793

“Themes from William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” is an 1998 album by Ulver, sometimes reffered to as just “The Blake Album” where the illustration’s by Blake is replaced by music, the text/lyrics is exactly the same.

For those interested in the entire text and William Blake’s impressive etched plates, click here

In 1998 Norwegian music collective ULVER led by vocalist Kristoffer Rygg, was known mainly as a black metal band with some acoustic elements from classical and/or folk music, after the release of their three first albums. The Marriage of Heaven and Hell saw a huge change in their artistic direction.

There is a black metal vibe left from the previous album, but this is a magic mixture of elements from other styles like Industrial, Electronic and Ambient etc that you won’t really find anywhere else, that combined with those mysterius and spiritual lyrics provide for a  very avantgarde rock to say the least, a complex music that demands a lot and rewards equally too those patient souls able to dig deep enough.

While this album at first glance seems very dark and almost scary, there is something very beautiful in the interaction or contrast of those acoustic moments and vocals clashed with passages of brutal distorted sections of hard industrial rock and dark vocals – perfectly illustrating “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”.

To me personally it is that kind of album, that I don’t visit too often, but when i do I always spent the entire hour needed to hear it all at ones.

Im not an expert in Literature and this is just by own interpretation: In reflection of the above mentioned harmony of contradictions, it is my believe that William Blake’s idea was exactly to highlight that Heaven and Hell or rather The Natural Element and The Civilized Element, was not contradicting and “The Marriage” of those are  needed.

 

and the time is…then

After their eponymous debut, Yes  released “Time and a Word” in summer 1970.

The line-up was unchanged, but this time the album features a brass and strings orchestra on almost every track, which leaves the listener with a more Progressive Rock sound, pointing towards the future Yes. They were thinking about using a Mellotron but the idea was dropped and Mellotron would not be introduced to a Yes album until Tony Kaye would be replaced by Rick Wakeman

Then

 

The album opens with a Richie Havens cover of “No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed”, a track that showcase the entire album quite well even though it is not a Yes original. Together with “The Prophet” and “Astral Traveller” the tracks that most clearly shows the direction towards Symphonic Rock Yes was heading for.

Yes cover of “No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed”

Richie Havens 1968 original of “No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed” from his 2nd album “Something Else Again”

Production wise as well as artistically, I guess most Yes lovers would agree that the two early albums stands out as the weakest of the 70’s catalogue at least up to Tormato. Personally though I find “Time and a World” to be clearly the better of the two. Without being perfect I believe the orchestra addition works quite well and overall the album contains quite a few strong tunes.

Time and a Word may sound very cheesy especially to those that prefer their rock to be hard and punchy but when in the right mood I find it to be a fine song.

There was increasing tension between Peter Banks and the Band, mostly due to his opposition against the use of orchestra and the direction the music was taking, something he felt would reduce his options as a guitarist and he left the band or rather was sacked, before the album hit the record stores. This provided an absurd situation where the US cover featured a picture of the band with future guitarist Steve Howe although he was not playing on the album and not mentioned in the credits.

TimeAndAWordUS

On a side note there was another important contributor to the album, David Foster a long-time friend to Jon Anderson who was playing with Jon in The Warriors, a band that also included Ian Wallace who would later join King Crimson playing on their “Islands” album and Live recordings from 1971-1972.

David Foster sings on “Sweet Dreams” and plays acoustic guitar on “Time and a Word” he also co-wrote both tracks.

At this 1967 clip of The Warriors – Jon Anderson have taken over lead vocal after his brother Tony who left in late 1965.

from Jewel to Masquerade

Pendragon: literally Head-Dragon, meaning  Chief of Warriors. Often refers directly to legend of “Uther Pendragon” father of “King Arthur”

Pendragon is a band, formed in the late 70’s in Stroud, a medium size town about 10 miles south of Gloucester England. After some years living in obscurity while developing their progressive rock sound, the band got a first minor breakthrough in 1982 being offered to open for the upcoming stars of 80’s prog Marillion. Pendragon and Marillion became friends and from here they would tour a lot as Marillion support act.

Pendragon cover from “The Masquerade Overture” 1996

(by Simon Williams)

In 1984 Pendragon released their first recordings on “Fly High Fall Far” a 23 minutes EP . In 1985 the first full length album “The Jewel”.

On the above mentioned releases the band are:
Nick Barrett: Vocals, Guitar, Lyrics – Peter Gee: Bass, Guitar – Rik Carter: Keyboards – Nigel Harris : Drums

The music was very much inspired by the sound of 70’s Genesis. I personally likes Barrett’s quite unique vocal a lot, but that said admittedly you may well find that the music relies a lot on something you have heard before. On the other hand if you like 70’s prog and want more, this may be it.

Pendragon got new drummer Fudge Smith and Nick Barrett’s long-time friend and schoolmate Clive Nolan took over the Keyboards before releasing second album “Kowtow” (1988)

Pendragon got their own record label Toff Records up and running and Simon Williams who had created album covers for EMI’s “The Classic Experience” was contacted to create the cover art, laying the foundation of a unique “Pendragon” album design.

“The World” (1991), “The Window Of Life” (1993) and “The Masquerade Overture” (1996) saw the band harvesting more and more fan’s and some approval from critics. Not to mention increased record sales.

The style is symphonic rock, or as some would call it “Neo-Prog” to reflect that it is a 2nd wave.

Where the 70’s symphonic prog giants King Crimson, Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and  Genesis, were performing a highly complex music, Pendragon’s compositions are not that complicated, but never the less building on a simple formula they are able to create a pleasant melodic music, with some fine individual highlights.

 

direct to the next post in this series

Milky Way Six & Streng

I you havent already read the first post suggest that you start here

After Lambertland bassist and founding member Måns Groundstroem left Tasavallan Presidentti and was replaced by Heikki Virtanen, before the band made their final album “Milky Way Moses”. At first glance not much difference from what we had on the previous recording, but there are some important changes.

Music writing no longer only in the hands of Tolonen, this time Pöyry and Koivistoinen participates. There is a new lightness and you may say Milky Way Moses is much more straight forward than any of the previous albums.

I’m sure many listeners will find it pleasant especially if you already love typical 70’s progressive (Jazz) Rock, personally though I’m a fan of the oddity and unique moods of the previous albums that to some extent was lost here, never the less a great and special album from the early Scandinavian rock scene.

This was the end at Tasavallan Presidentti, or more precisely the end for a long long time, as the band reunited in 2005 to release their 6th album in 2006.

Frank Robson was now back on vocals and also creating the lyrics. Jukka Tolonen writing the music, besides two tracks completely by Robson. Another founding member Juhani Aaltonen also back as Pekka Pöyry who was suffering from manic depression tragically committed suicide in 1980.

The new album was another step in the direction of a more mainstream sound, fine Blues/Jazz Rock but anything distinctly “Tasavallan” is almost gone.

You may wonder why this is the 6th album, as I have previously only mentioned four, the reason is that there is an 1970 album by Pekka Streng & Tasavallan Presidentti called Magneettimiehen Kuolema.

The reason I did not mention in the Tasavallan Presidentti chronology is that the album was very much a Pekka Streng album.

Very interesting album in its own right though. An album I see as experimental or psychedelic prog folk, stylistically far from all the other albums.

Streng work was not recognized much in his own lifetime, but received some attention later on. Streng died of cancer in 1975 just 26 years old

President of the Republic

Finnish “Tasavallan Presidentti” released their self-titled debut in 1969, the band was formed by the 17 years old guitarist Jukka Tolonen, drummer Vesa Aaltonen, English vocalist and keyboard player Frank Robson, Juhani Aaltonen (saxophones, flute) and Måns Groundstroem (bass, organ).

The debut is an interesting mix of many elements from blues rock jazz folk and even some minor classical inspired sections, it is all very interesting but that said it is also bit unfocused, can’t say the album turns out as a united piece of music, but definitely not bad either.

After replacing Juhani Aaltonen with Pekka Pöyry (saxophones and flute), Tasavallan Presidentti recorded their 2nd album in 1970. This album was originally only released in Sweden and very rare, but in 2002 it came out on CD and in 2014 it was released as “Limited Edition” on vinyl by Finnish Svart Records.

The album is in my opinion a steep up from the debut, the band are finding a more streamlined sound and style, still very varied but overall the album works better as “one piece of music”. The style is now very close you what I would for most parts call Progressive Rock with a clear jazz twist.

After the 2nd album Frank Robson was replaced by already established Finnish vocalist Eero Raittinen. Another important change is that Jukka Tolonen now took over the music writing that were a more shared process on the previous albums, something that might be the reason why we now has a huge development in the direction of the music and for the first time a style that is unique to Tasavallan Presidentti.

This is clearly Jazz/Rock but not in the American style where Jazz musicians take in elements from rock, this is the opposite way around, rock musicians taking in elements from Jazz, it makes a huge difference – I LOVE IT.

Lambertland was rather successful, number 7 on the Finnish album charts. It was released in UK and provided the band with some high profile concerts in UK and other countries.

As you may have already guessed Tasavallan Presidentti translate into President of the Republic.

to be continued…….

Shouldn’t throw stones!

In my series of early 70’s masterpieces, I have come to Gentle Giant.

As with most of the 70’s masters, I could easily have picked another album first, especially Octopus would fulfil the masterpiece requirement perfectly, in fact most Gentle Giant albums would.

The reason I pick In a Glass House is that this was where I first heard them.

The first few times I thought it was Genesis, can still remember saying “play some Genesis” – “which one” – “the one with the glasses”. I was of course corrected, but everyone knew what I was talking about.

Gentle Giant originated from a series of different named pop band formed in 1966-1969 by the Shulman brothers, Phil, Derek and Ray.

In 1970 they teamed with Gary Green and classically trained Kerry Minnear to form Gentle Giant, one of the less famous but highly talented, complex and sophisticated progressive rock band, a band that I have personally listened to uncountable times, every time surprised just how great they really are.

Looking through the window can you tell me what you see

You’re sure you’re really seeing what is meant to be a Glass

A mirror to reflect what I conspire a vision, image I desire  

 

Older brother Phil quite the band before they started creating In a Glass House, the remaining four members was multi instrumentalists, but even so it meant a slight change towards a more rock orientated sound compared to their older material.

But even if In a Glass House is a bit friendlier to the Rock orientated ear, there is no lack of unfamiliar time signature, tempo changes or mysterious ancient moods. Gentle Giant did not change much they just evolved a little.

You’ll try to question her, 

Does she believe in the choice of Your life.

So you have to try to ask her, when you are away, left 

Behind, out of mind; away.

 

 

Yume no Fusion

Japanese Kenso was originally formed in 1974, but founding and the only consistent member to this date, Yoshihisa Shimizu departed for Kanagawa Dental College and the band went on hiatus, but reformed in 1979 to released their first self-titled vinyl in 1981.

Yoshihisa Shimizu often comes to stage in a lab coat, to reflect his daytime trade.

The style on the debut was instrumental and very inspired by early 70’s British Progressive Rock.

 

Over the next few albums Kenso’s music changed towards a more Jazz Rock inspired style, British acts like Brand X or Bruford comes to mind, but also Return to Forever and many others.

That said Kenso is far from copying anyone, they have their own sound and style and I believe you can also sense something very Japanese in their music.

 

Besides the wonderful Hiromi Uehara  (a very different story altogether). Kenso is as far as I know the most well-known Jazz Rock artist coming from Japan and for very good reason, their music is very varied and complex, touching many subgenres of (prog) Rock and Jazz fussion, mostly instrumental but never boring or one-sided.

Current lineup:

清水義央  (Yoshihisa Shimizu) Guitars

小口健一 (Kenichi Oguchi) Keyboards

光田健一 (Kenichi Mitsuda) Keyboads

三枝俊治 (Shunji Saegusa) Bass

小森啓資 (Keisuke Komori)Drums

 

 

Kenso have made 10 studio albums, the latest in 2014, and a serie of live albums. They are also featured with 5 tracks on “Live at Progfest-2000” DVD released by Musea.

Kenso played NEARfest 2005