Saturday, 2 February 2019

January's Music

We're already a month into 2019, so I thought I'd share something of what I've been listening to since the turn of the year. This broadly falls into 3 general areas: Christmas pressies; catch-up; and (can I come up with another 'c'?... no!) this year's music.

Christmas 2018 brought an interesting array of stuff, all of which was older material.
Camel's Rain Dances was a noticeable gap in my collection, and I love in particular the influence of Richard Sinclair on this album - I'm never sure at some points whether this is Camel or Caravan. As with much of the band's output, it grows with every listen.
I'd come across Pat Metheny many years ago on OGWT (possibly 1986), and on the strength of that had purchased his collaboration with Ornette Coleman, Song X, which I must say took some work (and still does). I persisted, however, and purchased a few more of his albums, adding Imaginary Day this time, which is more along the lines of what had drawn me to Metheny in the first place. An excellent collection of great fusion music.
I've been an admirer of Joni Mitchell for many years, but noticed a few gaps in my collection, mostly her more recent releases, and 'Santa' brought me a copy of her 2001 album Travelogue, which contains some quite sublime re-workings of some of her classic songs - at times better than the original versions! The package is further enhanced, as are most of her albums, with some of her stunning artwork too.
The final Christmas haul was a copy of an album that I'd owned digitally for a number of years, but now have a physical copy of: Montpellier by the Harrogate band Wally. Harrogate is my home town, and the music is a kind of prog/ blues/ country melange. Their first couple of albums came out in the 70s, but we had to wait until 2010 for number 3, and the wait was worth it, though perhaps not quite with the edge that their earlier releases had, which endeared them so much to the likes of Bob Harris & Rick Wakeman.

Christmas money was spent on a bit of catch-up. The two albums missing from my Joe Bonamassa collection - 2014's Different Shades of Blue, and last year's Redemption - both lived up to expectation with Joe's usual brand of hard-hitting blues. The one gap left in Joni Mitchell's catalogue was her last release, 2007's Shine, and that did not disappoint at all - an outstanding addition (end?) to her recorded output. Finally there was Vangelis's Albedo 0.39, an album I'd not heard since just after its release 43 years ago, and a fantastic example of early electronic music at its best.

Other Catch Up was stuff that was released towards the end of 2018 that I hadn't got around to checking out yet, but now have. And perhaps if I'd been a little more patient in drawing up my year-end lists, some of these may well have featured.
All Traps on Earth are a band with strong links to Scandinavian prog giants Anglagard, and this is evident in their debut album A Drop of Light, which captures the darkness and forboding of Anglagard in a captivating way in its five tracks, four of which are over 10 minutes in length.
Simon Godfrey seems to be a very busy man these days, since his relocation to the USA, and his latest digital-only release from Bad Elephant Music, the fourth of his Black Bag Archive collections of out-takes etc from his many bands, shows something of his variety, vitality and virtuosity. Material from his time with Tinyfish, as well as solo stuff, and out-takes from Valdez & Shineback give us an insight into his creative and at times crackpot mind. I must confess that I'm one of those deluded people who buy anything that BEM put out, but so far I've not been disappointed (see below), and it opens my mind, ears (and wallet) to some wonderfully diverse, eclectic and weird stuff.
Topos is the third offering from Methexis, a project of Nikitas Kissonas (formerly of Greek band Verbal Delirium), and is another wonderful instrumental work of two 20 minute pieces with a variety of light, shade and tempo.
Phaeton are a 4-piece instrumental prog metal collective from British Columbia, and I stumbled upon their eponymous debut by chance. Not my usual fare, this is a strangely attractive album, reminiscent at times of Riverside.
Another Swedish band that crossed my radar were the wonderfully-titled Sarcophagus Now, another eponymous debut instrumental album, but this time more grounded in the Scandinavian progressive school with some jazzy overtones.
Closer to home are Liverpool's The Swan Chorus, who have produced an album (another eponymous one) that really should be huge if there was any justice in the world. Fronted by John Wilkinson, who otherwise is the vocalist with Genesis tribute band Mama, there is a definite Genesis influence to the songs, but Genesis as I would have liked to have remembered them, rather than as they ended up.
Dean Watson produces a catchy and professional brand of instrumental progressive fusion that has so far delighted my ears. Track of Days, his fifth offering, is no exception: a 3 minute opener leads in to a 6-part, 51 minute magnum opus that entertains and enthrals in equal measure.

So, a lot of catching up: but what of this year's releases? Well, so far I've only got 3 to mention...
My first 2019 album was Guy Hatton's I Am Concentric. Guy is a multi-instrumentalist with historic connections to Andy Tillison (collaborating on the 1987 Gold Frankincense & Disk Drive album 'Where Do We Draw The Line'). Guy consistently produces some fine electric jazz fusion with a proggy edge, and this album continues that tradition, and in this he is ably assisted by Phil Meadows on saxophones and the aforementioned Mr Tillison on keyboards. A great collection of 5 epic-length tracks that are well worth checking out, which you can do here.
Steve Hackett released his latest album, At The Edge of Light, toward the middle of the month. At times quite hard rocking, at others quite mellow, and drawing on a number of influences including some strong world music ones, this album shows why, some 40 years after he parted company with Genesis, he is still a driving force in contemporary Progressive Rock music, and still has the licks as one of the genre's leading guitarists.
The first release from the Bad Elephant stable for this year is Lost Crowns' Every Night Something Happens. As I mentioned above the output of this label is 'diverse, eclectic & weird', and that could certainly describe this album, which has some strong links to Knifeworld and others on the more eccentric side of progressive music. This is certainly an album that takes time to develop, but persistence pays off.

So, that was January. February is already shaping up well, but more on that later...

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