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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Anthony Phillips - Slow Dance

This 2-CD/DVD set consists of Anthony Phillips release of Slow Dance. Originally released on the Virgin label, this showed his orchestral side to him. And it is a very interesting release that embarked on. Reissued this year by Esoteric Recordings, it is time to give Slow Dance another chance and give Anthony the recognition he deserves. He’s been overlooked from the history of his time with Genesis as an original founder.

Anthony Phillips appeared in the first two Genesis albums which were the 1969 debut of From Genesis to Revelation which showed their psychedelic-pop, Bee Gees, and pastoral baroque music. But it wasn’t until they released their second album and signed to a new label with Charisma Records in 1970 with Trespass that showed their beginnings of their progressive rock roots digging deep into of complex music with a story that had a beginning, middle, and end.

Anthony left the band to pursue studying Classical Music. While he lacked Theory-based music, he practiced eight hours. But let’s get straight to Slow Dance. It started back in June of 1988 when he worked on the album. He wrote the pieces for the material very quickly. Just as Slow Dance was almost done, Ant went to the States for a few days to be with his family. And then the news came to him that Passport Records in which they released his solo albums, ceased.

This wasn’t good news. Not only Anthony was without a record company, but he had to pay a debt to management of repaying the money. Now he had no idea whether or not he wanted to delay the album and look for other work, but he decided to plow on. After Tarka was completed with guitarist Harry Williamson, Engineer Simon Heyworth who worked with him since The Geese and the Ghost, helped him out on the Slow Dance project.

He also used a real string section on his album during the recording at CBS studios in February of 1989. And then, he signed to Richard Branson’s Virgin label at the spring of 1990 as the album was released in September of that year. It was a long process in the making to bring it to life. As I’ve mentioned, Anthony Phillips’ music is different from his time with Genesis.

It was very different from his previous albums on Sides, The Geese and the Ghost, Wise After the Event, and 1984. It showed Anthony’s orchestral side that showed elements between Mike Oldfield, Vangelis, and Jean-Michel Jarre. It took me a few listens to delve deep into Slow Dance, but it grabbed me more and more to understand why he was ahead of his time. It may not be everyone’s cup of coffee, but it grows on you.

The first movement begins with ambient strings coming in with a heavenly introduction. Ant’s classical guitar sets gentle tones along with wind instruments. It feels that you have walked through the forest of lost hope as the images come through your head of what’s happening. There are some moments of early Genesis and bits of The Enid’s In The Region of Summer Stars.

Phillips takes you for a ride towards scenes for a fantasy film that’s been done right. The synths delve deep, deep into the watery tunnels with no chance of escaping. There is some alarming organ notes, percussion, and clapping rhythm sections. Along with the vocalizations from the keyboards and fanfare sections, Phillips brings the sombering electric-classical guitar for this melancholic sound.

It’s almost at times from the first movement. set to a scene of the continuation of Disney’s Fantasia. The last three minutes of the pieces shows Anthony giving the listener a chance of hope of knowing that a new day will happen and it will start over again to be back of where you were.

The second movement starts to open doors to another parallel infinite universe as if you can imagine something terrible has happened with ascending and descending guitars and militant drums. But all of a sudden, it rises up from the ashes of the electronic drum pads. There is this very interesting Jazz section for a little bit as Anthony shows a teensy-weensy bit of a Allan Holdsworth-sque vibe into the mix.

It changes at the 14 minute and 17 second mark as it becomes a battlefield featuring the string section. It’s a bloody uphill battle. Epic fanfare horns and knowing its going to be hard, difficult, and brutal and thanks to the drum program it is again an epic moment in the second act. You can imagine Ant is a conductor at heart to create this scenario of what’s happening.

Now let’s be honest Anthony is not Leopold Stokowski, but he is bringing the magic and ideas in his head come to life. You can imagine the men who are making the sacrifices in the battle sequence, knowing whether or not it is going to be their last goodbyes they say to their families. It then changes into an aftermath of what has happened. The strings come forth near the end of watery effects to give the second movement, a mourning farewell.

The second disc which is Slow Dance Vignettes. It contains nine pieces during the making of the album. And three of them stood out for me. The Guitar Adagio from Slow Dance is a penultimate section from the first movement that has the gentle tone. You can close your eyes and imagine a sun rising through the west as Anthony channels Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi’s acoustic side with both Laguna Sunrise and Fluff.

With Clarinet Sleigh Ride, Ant delves into the waters between both Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk in the background. It’s an unearthed track from the sessions that I’ve never heard before and it’s very interesting to have some of these melodic rising pieces as if Anthony Phillips was doing a score in the late ‘80s for a special on PBS.

Then, there’s this newly mixed version of the string parts with an emotional heart-tugging stir between the crossover of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite and Bach’s Air on the G String with Lenta Chorum. There’s also a DVD containing a 5.1 mix of the album by also. When Slow Dance was released in that year in the UK on September 24th, it was the last album to be released on Vinyl, Cassette, and CD. It’s been considered a fan favorite along with Ant himself.

I hope one day Anthony Phillips goes back and revisits this album and moving from the electronic parts he used on the album and bring a real orchestra to give Slow Dance a chance to be reborn. The package is amazing. It contains the 2-CDs and the DVD, followed by a replica poster, a 16-page booklet containing promos of the album in Japan, original master tape, liner notes by Jonathan Dann interviewing Phillips about the origins, making, and release of the album, and a note written on manuscript paper that says “NO WAY OUT. PIECE V”.

If you love the music of Anthony Phillips, then Slow Dance is really worth exploring and highly recommended to show again Anthony’s orchestral, new age, and symphonic side to him.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Rachel Flowers - Listen

Rachel Flowers is for me one of the most brilliant composers and multi-instrumentalist I’ve discovered. I first became aware of Rachel after discovering one of her interpretations on YouTube of Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s Tarkus, The Endless Enigma, and Trilogy. And I was blown away by her. This was mind-blowing of her to take on a huge challenge of playing their material and not to mention playing Keith Emerson’s modular moog which I can imagine it was an honor of her to play it by getting permission.

For her, it is a blessing. She’s performed with Dweezil Zappa with Zappa Plays Zappa in April of 2015 in honor of the 40th anniversary of Frank Zappa’s album, One Size Fits All. There are clips of her performing on keyboards with Inca Roads, Evelyn, A Modified Dog, and on guitar with Montana. She played when she was 10 years old, for the late great Ray Charles, and meeting people including Stevie Wonder, Greg Lake, and of course, Keith Emerson.

Rachel lost her eyesight when she was very young, but she never gave up. She has an amazing ear, and a perfect pitch. That and her debut album entitled, Listen, Rachel has created her own sound, beauty, and textures. The genres of classical, jazz, and progressive rock is all here on Listen. It is at times an emotional journey that Flowers herself will take you on.

Greg’s Favorite which is a tribute to the late great Greg Lake, has this 3/4 time signature of a ballad and waltz. It has some symphonic touches. Her vocalizations at times brings to mind of the Canterbury scene with The Northettes who appeared on Egg’s The Civil Surface and Hatfield and the North’s sole self-titled debut album. She plays beautifully on the piano and rising sounds from both the strings and drums.

The spirit of Keith Emerson is flowing in her and is letting Rachel know that he will always be with her wherever the yellow brick road will take her into. You can imagine Flowers is doing her own style of doing a score to the follow up of The Peanuts Movie showing some essence of Vince Guaraldi.

Goes To Eleven is almost a nod to the 1984 cult classic, This Is Spinal Tap’sMarshal Amps going up to 11 spoken by Nigel Tufnel. This is a cross between Jazz, Fusion, and Prog-Rock. With melodic elements between guitars, horn sections, and string section, Rachel playing guitar is jaw-dropping. She is a virtuosic master carrying the styles between Frank Zappa, Allan Holdsworth, and Steve Vai rolled into one.

The two-part suite Aloha is an orchestral jazz atmosphere. The first part has this classical touch and you can imagine the sun coming over the horizon for a brand new day. With glowing moments from the symphony between the fanfare and its epic touch. You can imagine Rachel bringing Disney’s Fantasia back from the dead and making sure they were continuing a follow up to Fantasia 2000.

It then moves onto the second part in the Jazz world with a Bass playing a simple line. It is this cross between Miles Davis and John Coltrane if he hadn’t passed away as if the two of them were working together and creating something that was beyond their Bebop Jazz roots and delivering the spirituality journey to continue. Rachel is taking the listener to the spiritual adventure that is special and finding their inner selves.

She is very much like a painter drawing a simple line and never knowing she will stop. And the bass improvisations that reminisce between Stanley Clarke and Jaco Pastorius followed by a flute improvisation she does. And then there’s, Run For Miles. Rachel shows her nod to the late great Miles Davis. You can hear the howling of the trumpet calling for a sign.

You can hear some Holdsworth-sque improvisation on the keyboards. Not only it is a nod to Miles, but she pays a nod to Kind of Blue as if Rachel was using the SynthAxe to carry the torch for Allan Holdsworth and keeping his legacy alive. I had an amazing time listening to Rachel Flowers’ Listen. This is a very good release that unleashed last year.

She will be performing near the end of July in Birmingham, England entitled, Keith Emerson – A Musical Celebration of his Life and in October 13th to the 15th of this year for the three-day ProgStock festival in New Jersey with Echolyn, Glass Hammer, Karmakanic, EchoTest (featuring Julie Slick), The Tea Club, and Rani Chatoorgoon to name a few. She is going to be very busy this year. So please check out her debut album, Listen. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Magma - Wurdah Itah

In 1974, after the release of their mind-blowing concept album, Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh, Magma went back into the studio and released their fourth studio album entitled, Wurdah Itah. Originally released on the Egg label, and reissued this year on the Seventh Records label, it was initially released as a Christian Vander album in the late ‘70s as the film score to Yvan Lagrange’s Tristan & Iseult, but it’s considered as a Magma album.

It was recorded in one month just as the band were getting ready to work on their fifth album entitled, Kohntarkosz. And it is also their second movement of the Theusz Hamtaahk. When translated in Kobaian, Wurdah Itah means “Dead Earth.” It has this dystopian atmosphere of Earth now turned into a nightmarish planet that has gone straight to hell and no chance of finding peace. Now since I’ve mentioned this as a film score of Yvan’s take of the tragic tale between Tristan and Iseult.

I’ve seen some clips of the film on YouTube. It is bizarre and surreal take. Imagine Ken Russell teaming up with Alejandro Jodorowsky and creating this tale and blaring the sounds of the story up to 100. Believe me, when you watch the clips, it is not the best adaptation of the story, but the music which features some of the core members of the band, it’s gothic, surreal, avant-garde, classical, operatic, and jazz like no other.

Christian Vander, Stella Vander, Jannick Top, and Klaus Blasquiz are at their best. While they are singing in the Kobaian language, they have given the intensity and the power to perform at maximum volume. While Christian not only plays drums and sings, he plays piano brilliantly. Following in the steps of Coltrane’s pianist McCoy Tyner, Christian plays some menacing chords.

At times he goes from mid-tempo speed to relaxing moments throughout the sections of the second movement. You can hear the aspects of the third movement which would be Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh and parts of their Kobaia album thrown in there. You can imagine feeling the tense moments of listening to Wurdah Itah as if you, the listener, are on a tightrope and you can never tell if the rope is about to be cut or not.

Christian himself is very much a composer and conductor and giving cues for Klaus, Stella, and Jannick knowing when they are coming in for the right moment. The bonus track in which is a 25-minute rough version of the suite. It is an early development of the movement. It’s rough, raw, sinister, weird, and brilliant. This is also the original demo that was used in the Yves’ bizarre film.

Wurdah Itah is not for the faint of heart. Again when you listen to Magma’s music whether you love it or hate it, it is challenging music. For me, admiring the Magma machine, their fourth album reissued this year and hearing the raw demo, it’s spellbinding. And I had goose bumps all over my arms hearing the 25-minute piece. Again, I recommend checking out Wurdah Itah. 

Friday, July 7, 2017

Top 20 Albums So Far and the Update

To everyone, I deeply apologize for being in shutdown mode due to family emergencies. My family is more important right now. I will be back, I just don't know when. It will be either late July or in August of when I will come back. But it's been rough for me since of what's been going on. Again, I.Will.Be.Back. It will probably be in August when I'll come back to review. Again, I'm deeply sorry for the long delays.

I will be back on the review train, when I'm ready. I just have to find when the time's right. But, as I've mentioned, Family comes first. Anyway, here's my top 20 albums so far of 2017. I know it's early before December's top 30 albums of 2017, but here's my picks of the top 20 albums so far of 2017.

1. Schooltree – Heterotopia (Self-Released)
2. Bent Knee – Land Animal (InsideOut)
3. White Willow – Future Hopes (Laser’s Edge)
4. EchoTest – From Two Balconies (Self-Released)
5. Magenta – We Are Legend (Tigermoth Productions)
6. Gentle Knife – Clock Unwound (Bajkal Records)
7. Galley Beggar – Heathen Hymns (Rise Above Records)
8. Richard Barbieri – Planets + Persona (Kscope)
9. Tohpati Bertiga – Faces (deMajors Records)
10. Ayreon – The Source (Mascot Label Group)
11. Wingfield Reuter Stavi Sirkis – The Stone House (MoonJune Records)
12. Led Bib – Umbrella Weather (RareNoise Records)
13. Blackfield – Blackfield V (Kscope)
14. Kevin Kastning – A Connection of Secrets (Greydisc)
15. Bullet Height – No Atonement (Superball Music)
16. Cheer-Accident – Putting Off Death (Cuneiform)
17. il Tempio Delle Clessidre – il-Ludere (Black Widow Records)
18. Hedersleben – Orbit (Purple Pyramid)
19. Pixie Ninja – Ultrasound (Apollon Records) 
20. Ides of Gemini – Women (Rise Above Records)