Saturday, 31 December 2016

Repulse: Europe at war 2062-2064

So, as 2016 draws to a close, I've spent the last day's of the year reading about the future, and here's a very brief review of it!

What does the future hold? This is a subject that many have speculated about, but when the matter is considered in a combination of science fiction and war reporting it takes on a whole new complexion. In this book, Chris James reports the 'history' of a conflict in Europe between NATO and the Persian Caliphate which lasted (will last) from 2062-2064, told in a narrative style which draws on many 'contemporary' sources; politicians, military leaders and ordinary folk caught up in this troubling conflict.

This is a very believable tale - disturbingly so at times, excellently and engagingly told, but losing none of the horror that such a conflict should rightly engender. I would highly recommend this work (as I would some of the other stuff that Chris has written, which is very different), though be warned, the language can be a little emotive and near the knuckle sometimes.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Music of 2016

Another year end approaches, and I'm conscious this year that it has taken quite a heavy toll on the music world. From David Bowie & Keith Emerson to Leonard Cohen & Greg Lake, many icons of progressive music have passed from this life, but they leave with us a lasting legacy of years of material and of influence for subsequent generations of artists and musicians.

2016 has offered many opportunities to me for enjoying music, both recorded and live. Having a sabbatical of 3 months earlier this year meant that I was free to attend a few gigs that would otherwise have been impossible for me, and the summer was nicely full of live music and its associated camaraderie. Good music seems to have been reasonably profuse this year: I have acquired 127 albums released this year, the top 50 of which I will list below.

Before then though, I usually have 3 shorter categories in my year-end review.

Live Albums of the Year
5. Snarky Puppy - Family Dinner vol 2
4. Heliopolis - Epic at the Majestic: Live at Rosfest
3. Steve Hackett - The Total Experience Live in Liverpool
1=. Tigermoth Tales - Live at Summer's End (Official Bootleg)
1=. Big Big Train - A Stone's Throw From The Line

Discoveries of the Year
Acts that I've only become aware of in the past 12 months, that have stood out for me.
3 from the world of jazz:
Christian Scott, whose trumpet playing is just sublime;
Jason Rebello, a pianist whose album 'Held' is simply stunning;
Dinosaur, a 4-piece of Laura Jurd, Elliot Galvin, Conor Chaplin & Corrie Dick, who together show that the future of the genre is particularly bright.
2 from the Progressive field:
Firefly Burning, who draw together folk, prog, world music and their own particular style, and who brought a particular light to the Sunday morning of Summer's End;
I Am The Manic Whale, who would probably have been Top 3 last year for me if I'd found them in time. Inventive, modern yet rooted progressive music up there with the best of the genre.

Gigs of the Year
As I mentioned above, I've attended a few more gigs this year than in previous years, but here's my Top 5:
5. Soft Machine @ Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal
4. The Power of 3 @The Lexington, London
3. Yes @ Sheffield City Hall - proving that there's life in the old dog yet since the demise of Chris Squire
2. Geoff Banks Memorial gig @ Boston Music Rooms, London - an excellent evening with The Gift; Alan Reed; Andy Tillison. Matt Stevens & Theo Travis; and Francis Dunnery
1. Summer's End  @ Drill Hall, Chepstow

And so to my favourite albums of 2016. Bubbling under the Top 20, in alphabetical order:
Lee Abraham - The Season's End
Aisles - Hawaii
Jacob Collier - In My Room
Edensong - Years in the Garden of Years
The Far Meadow - Given The Impossible
Fractal Mirror - Slow Burn 1
Kristoffer Gildenlow - The Rain
Glass Hammer -  Valkyrie
Steve Hughes - Once We Were part 1
Iamthemorning - Lighthouse
Lazuli - Nos Ames Saoules
Mice on Stilts - Hope for a Mourning
Mute Gods - Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Opeth - Sorceress
Matthew Parmenter - All Our Yesterdays
Tony Patterson - Equations of Meaning
The Pineapple Thief - Your Wilderness
Rikard Sjoblom - The Unbendable Sleep
Damien Wilson & Adam Wakeman - Weir Keeper's Tale
Steven Wilson - 4½

The Top 20
20. Neil Cowley Trio - Spacebound Apes
19. Body English - Stories of Earth
18. Snarky Puppy - Family Dinner volume 2
17. Half Past Four - Land of the Blind
16. Tim Garland - One
15. Farmhouse Odyssey - Rise of the Waterfowl
14. Jason Rebello - Held
13. Frost* - Falling Satellites
12. Dinosaur - Together, As One
11. The Gift - Why The Sea is Salt

10. David Bowie - Blackstar. The final, portentous offering from the rock & roll chameleon, still as sharp as ever.
9. Mothertongue - Unsongs. A gentle melange of madness from Manchester's finest
8. Karmakanic - Dot. More genius from Jonas Reingold and company.
7. Southern Empire - Southern Empire. One up-side to the demise of Unitopia is the appearance of both UPF & Southern Empire from the ashes. Some excellent antipodean prog!
6. Red Bazar - Songs from the Bookcase. A simply delightful collection of songs delivered as only Peter Jones can.

5. Knifeworld - Bottled out of Eden. Sublime progressive music delivered as only Kavus & co can do, building on their success with The Unravelling
4. Andy Tillison Diskdrive - (Machte Es) Durch. Some of the best ambient electronic music around at the moment.
3. Colin Tench Project - Hair in a G-String (Unfinished but sweet). In turns beautiful, sublime, bonkers, lyrical, rocking; some of the best guitar-based prog you'll hear in a long time, and it has Peter Jones' hand all over it too.
2. Big Big Train - Folklore. One of 5 releases by the band this year (including a BluRay, a live album, live audio from the BluRay, and a re-release of English Electric), this collection of new material continues to cement this band's place at the forefront of the English progressive scene. Some quite outstanding material here, particularly 'The Transit of Venus across the Sun'. More to come, along with live shows, next year!

1. Anderson/Stolt - Invention of Knowledge. Progressive music as it has historically been produced, by two of the the finest proponents of the art still with us, yet not fixed in the past. This is, to my mind, the finest music anyone associated with Yes has produced since 'Awaken'.

That was 2016 - bring on 2017!