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PAIDARION...BEHIND THE CURTAIN
12/24/2011 3:10:23 AM



A few days after we posted our review of the Samurai Of Prog album Undercover, we received an email from drummer/multi-instrumentalist Kimmo Porsti who played extensively on the SOP project. He informed us of another project he is involved in called Paidarion. A few days later we received a delivery from Finland of the newly released Paidarion album “Behind The Curtains”. Evident from the outset by merely observing the artwork through the shrink wrap that time money and effort has been spent on the presentation alone. Tearing off the wrapping and flicking through the booklet really is inspiration enough to get the disc into the player and discover if it does what it says on the tin.

Well, it does! Elaborate notes throughout the booklet inform of band members and history, credits and of course the all-important synopsis behind the concept. A concept I must confess to not fully understanding even after reading it on more than a few occasions. Although “Behind The Curtains” is very much a prog album it in many ways defies categorisation. The nearest I can think of is prog with a jazz edge. With the exception of Elina Hautakoski’s silky smooth vocal contributions this album may well appeal to all those who miss new output by Camel.

Everything points the way to life in the circus and of one particular individual within the organisation. The songs seem to reflect this throughout the whole of the CD starting with the title song “Behind The Curtain” (song For Michael). Dark keyboard drones give way to the bass virtuosity of Jan-Olof-Strandberg who not only plays 4,5 and 6 string bass guitars throughout the album  composed this great opener which in my opinion wouldn’t be out of place in a movie soundtrack. Smooth, lilting, and beautifully put together “Behind The Curtain” sets the standard for the rest of the compositions.

“A Small Wish” has to be one of the many highlights of the album blending hectic prog time changes with Syro Gyra type horns courtesy of Risto Salmi with his tenor and soprano sax licks. This continues into “Trapeze” where upon things take on an almost George Benton feel. Not for too long though, Jaan Jaahans Andy latimer-like guitar break the pace for a short interlude whilst keyboards and sax really hammer home a powerful climax before the album takes a Tarrantino twist to the proceedings. “A Springtime Meadow” and “A Vertical Rope” allow Elina Hautakoski to display her jazz diva vocal talents. Whilst at first it may seem too much of a departure from the rest of the album these songs really do work, and the contrasting effect prevents the album from being an all-out, in your face barrage of intense prog thereby making the whole event appeal to a wider audience.

Listening to the album over a protracted period it becomes evident that all musicians involved are playing for the sheer joy of it and the quality unearthed in every song is there in spades. The keyboard skills of Kimmo Tapanainen are highlighted on “Leap Into The Unknown” featuring a proper church organ and flows seamlessly into “A Rose In The Sun” whereupon once again many comparisons to prog legends camel can be made. Elina Hautakoski singing of the song “Paidarion” Whets the appetite for exploring the storyline behind the album such is the clarity of her delivery and Risto Salmi’s sax exploits hark back to the early Dire Dtraits days, compelling stuff.

The penultimate piece on the album “The Magician’s Departure” finds the band in a more blues frame of mind and I did find myself struggling with some of the obviously intentional discords and jazz club style drunken vocals, however, even in such mode it can be heard just how adept the band are at melting different genres into their music. This can plainly be heard on the final piece “The Final Show”. Here a consolidation of all that has gone takes place with the reprise of earlier themes in true prog tradition and American west coast influences such as the afore mentioned Spyro Gyra, Yellojackets et al. Samurai/Resistor cohort Steve Unruh adds yet another dimension to the finale with his violin. Rousing stuff!

I found reviewing this album both a total joy and a total surprise mainly because I knew very little or nothing about the band, their history or indeed the project itself. Kimmo Porsti has brought together quite a dream team himself being a master of the drums and doing so inspires further exploration of their previous album “Hauras Silta” and eager anticipation of further projects. Production is A1 sounding at its best on good quality playback equipment. Well, a grand way to end 2011 methinks. Paidarion just sneaked in before I assembled my list of top alums of the year and receives The Progmeister’s strongest recommendation.

Behind The Curtain can be purchased from www.seacrestoy.com and costs 10 Euro including  postage.

Want to know more check out www.paidarion.com  or contact them at paidarion@gmail.com

 

 

NINE STONES CLOSE...FALLING TO PIECES EP.
12/16/2011 7:18:34 PM



There is not a doubt in my mind at the massive talent behind Nine Stones Close. Guitarist Ade Jones recorded the first NSC album in 2008 as a totally solo project. Since then he has collaborated with Riversea nucleus Brendan Eyre and Marc Atkinson as well as bassist Neil Quarrell releasing Traces in 2010. It is from the Traces album that three of the seven tracks on the Falling to pieces EP are taken. For the faithful, a Traces EP accompanied the album for all those who pre-ordered the album. It is from this EP that the re-recorded acoustic, version of Innersense Threads (rewoven) and Traces (reconstructed) are taken. Only two of the original tracks from the Traces album didn’t get the remix treatment “Reality Check” and “Thicker Than Water” at least that is on this occasion.

The title song of the new EP “Falling To Pieces” has been designated the Indian summer version and benefits from some different keyboard sounds which create an almost bolero effect adding a little drama over the original whilst the acoustic version of Innersense takes on an altogether lush openness when compared to the original. Marc Atkinson’s voice seems almost pleading whilst Ade Jones beautifully voiced acoustic guitar appears to chime in a semi percussive way. The revisions made to the originals again add new vigour giving the listener a choice and the option to form a preference.

“Threads (rewoven) is a re-working of an already excellent song. This provides an opportunity for those NSC fans that weren’t fortunate to receive the re-traced CD with the original album. Lyrically it is a fairly gloomy tale with Marc Atkinson taking on the role of balladeer lending a certain feel of despondency to the piece. Ade Jones nails the whole song to the wall with a shooting from the hip blues lick terminating this particular version much sooner than the original.

Traces (reconstructed) does beg the question “Why re-hash what was already a great track? Well, because they can! Today’s technology allows musicians to reconstruct, add, extract or change elements of recorded music much easier than in previous times. This allows them to paint in different colours and add new sounds and textures as and when they become available. This version of Traces dispenses with the guitar crescendo replaced instead by Brendan Eyre’s fine ear for texture and his superb perception of depth and breadth within the given soundstage. This piece majors on atmosphere with a great sense of timing, proving that sometimes less is more.

The reprise of the title track adopts a more natural piano sound than the more rounded and treated electronic tones of the opening gambit. A little more power and raw energy is added to the mix courtesy of Ade Jones playing a frantic guitar outing with aplomb. Marc Atkinson’s voice adds to the potency of an excellent musical collaboration.

The inclusion of very two very dark and eerie remixes of Threads make for a very interesting listen. These two remixes have been honed by friend of the band Michael Simons. The first of the two is Threads The Red Earth Mix. So dark that you may need a torch just to listen to it I can best describe it as ambient. Best appreciated via quality headphones it really grows on you. Whilst Threads Re-threaded rolls out a huge soundscape. I would happily recommend to followers of the band not in possession of the Re-traced EP to visit www.ninestonesclose.com and download themselves a copy of Falling To Pieces. At the time of this review a CD version of the EP was in production. I would be torn as to which version to recommend the most to be honest. The CD comes with artwork by the amazing Ed Unitsky whilst the download is available in both MP3 and high quality FLAC files. Whichever version is acquired I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed.

Falling To Pieces EP £5.99 from www.ninestonesclose.com

THE SAMURAI OF PROG...UNDERCOVER
12/5/2011 4:40:17 PM



Covers of classic works tend to leave me underwhelmed at best and downright appalled at worst. Over the years there has been some shockingly bad prog covers to exceptionally good ones. Colin Bluntstone’s rendition of the Genesis classic “Absent Friends” represent the latter ,so it was with some trepidation that I unwrapped and examined the latest offering “Undercover” from Finland based coalition The Samurai Of Prog. I must admit to being a tad ashamed of myself as I had pretty much fallen victim to my own thoughts and preconceptions. That said, this album is best enjoyed in the presence of you, your soul and memories of better days. So for full enjoyment of the album don your Ben Sherman, tank top, flares and platforms, switch on your lava lamp and sit back with a bottle of real ale.

Like many of you I suspect I had never heard of The Samurai Of Prog until this nicely packaged CD arrived from Finland for review. It is hard not to be impressed when you read through the beautifully put together CD booklet. Eight of the fourteen tracks included on the album are covers whilst the remainder are original compositions albeit from different incarnations of the band. TSOP are in essence Marco Bernard armed with his Rickenbacker 2004 bass and multi-instrumentalist Steve Unruh playing guitars, flute, violin and vocals. Such a venture needs the best musical augmentation possible and throughout the album a whole army of serious prog warriors wielding Moog’s, Mellotron’s, Bosendorfer piano’s indeed anything that they could get their hands on.

Starting with “Before The Lamia”, an intro to the following “The Lamia”, David Myers deft of touch with the afore mentioned Bosendorfer piano really makes you think, hey, these guys aren’t messing. At only 2:08 minutes long the round and crisp piano sound gives way to one of the most underrated sections of the 1974 Genesis album “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway”. Joined by Flower Kings and Transatlantic guitarist Roine Stolt I never once thought of the band trying to emulate the original players. Instead I was given the impression that such important and classic prog songs had been given a spring clean and a new slant. For example, I could understand every word of the lyrics without looking at the album cover.

It isn’t just the songs that come across so well, it is the choice of songs that set this album apart from other such attempts. Yes classic Starship Trooper, Marillion’s “Assassing” Flower Kings  “World Of Adventure” all seem fresh and interesting. Pink Floyd’s “Dogs” from their Animals album included Nathan Maal keyboard guru Guy LaBlanc and benefits from a modern approach. Elsewhere there were some minor disappointments though on the whole they pale into insignificance. Of the original songs on the album my favourite by far was “The Promise” written by drummer Kimmo Porsti. Kimmo himself plays everything but the kitchen sink on this fantastic morphing of prog and folk with a cast resembling the final credits of Star Wars. I think it ticks all the boxes and well deserves an audience.

Many albums of this nature make their way to Progmeister Towers and only very few ever provoke a comment. With the exception of Antony Karlugin ( Karfagan ),  The Samurai Of Prog are perhaps one of the best I have heard at merging the classic prog sound with an element of more traditional instrumentation in a folky way. If you want something a little different and something that will please you in both a nostalgic and an exploratory way why not venture into the world of some great musicians creating some great moments. Money time and effort has been poured upon this project and it shows. I think it will divide opinion though I think it worthy of a fair trial. I was very pleasantly surprised.

Undercover is available from....

www.thesamuraiofprog.com and costs 13 Euros.

 

ALAN REED...DANCING WITH GHOSTS EP
12/2/2011 9:41:52 PM



I must admit to knowing little about Alan Reed before receiving his promo download of Dancing With Ghosts. An EP containing five excellent songs by ex-associates Able Ganz and Pallas as well as two new original songs. Starting with “Sanctuary (The Return)”, the original of which harks back to 1985’s “Knightmoves” EP by Pallas, the 2011 spring cleaned and dusted down version sounds clean cut and finely etched by comparison. Despite its fairly high resolution the song retains a beguiling nature and contains a keyboard patch I haven’t heard for many years. Indeed the keyboard sounds augment Alan Reed’s voice beautifully throughout this piece lending the only hint of a prog heritage on the whole of the EP.

The instantly memorable “Who’s To Blame” represents a folk ballad methinks and it is here that Mr Reed proves himself to be more than a vocalist. He is also a great guitarist and wordsmith. The depth and timbre of his guitar sound is exemplary and the sitar sound generated in some way by Mark Spenser adds a great touch to an already delightful song.

Although I dislike comparison and avoid it whenever I can, I couldn’t prevent myself being reminded of the Beautiful South and Gregson/Collister whilst listening to “Kean On The Job”. Jennifer Clark’s sumptuous double bass also reminded me of Mary Black’s rhythm section. Mark Spenser’s somewhat muted piano interlude insinuates that room has been left in these compositions and presented as something of a sketch which with no doubt will later include a full palate of colour and texture.

A sheer delight is the naked transparency of “Teardrops In The Rain”. Bolting headlong again into  folk and dispelling all notion of a prog artist gone array, Alan reed displays astounding vocal range laid bare and untreated my means of digital interference or otherwise. Keeping with the theme of simplicity, the earthy and somehow Scottish sounding “Begin Again” finds Alan in protest mode employing Scott Higham’s (Pendragon) percussive talent to hammer home the lyrical message supported by the apt and powerful Boderan. The vibrato in Alan Reed’s voice in this song being very reminiscent of Men At Work’s Colin Hay.

Some or all of these compositions are destined for inclusion on the forthcoming “First In A Field Of One” album and as such will receive a makeover and a grandiose production. As they are now they represent uncut diamonds and I for one see the beauty of their raw nature and have no hesitation in advising their acquisition immediately. Hopefully more thought will be given to artwork and presentation as the mundane nature of the picture included with the download leaves a lot to be desired. We look forward to hearing the new album very soon.

 

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