FRENCH TV

BAND OF DESTINY

"So, Mike, what's  your band sound like?"
"Eh, this and that...fusion...jazzy...you know those progressive bands from the '70s? Yes, King Crimson, that kind of stuff [...yes, I grasp at not particularly perfect reference points. Sorry...]?"
"OH YEAH! I used to LOVE those bands! It's a drag nobody plays that kind of music anymore...by the way, that'll be $249.41, which includes installation, old tire disposal fee, balancing, and road hazard warranty."

Most present-day progressive musicians have found themselves in the above depressing scenario, whether involving the tire dealer of their choice, a brother-in-law at Thanksgiving, that one dad from your kid's Little League team, a bank teller [scratch that, I forgot that we're discussing musicians], etc.
So, here's what you can do: copy this page and carry as many as needed in your wallet at all times, to be presented in the proper circumstances.

MY LIST OF NEWER PROGRESSIVE BANDS PROVIDING AUDIO PLEASURE FOR THE ADVENTUROUS LISTENER
[you'll note that I'm listing bands who are new to the biz and only have 1-2 cds out - in some cases NO cd, but having interesting compositions up at their MySpace page]. This is by no means comprehensive, and will be an ongoing process. Descriptions will be skimpy; I don't want this to be TOO  time-consuming.

ACCORDO DEI CONTRARI: 1 cd; titled "Kinesis": Probably my favorite Italian progressive band these days. A bit of jazz-rock, a bit of fusion, and even some classical touches. Everyone in the band has tons of chops, and isn't afraid to show them off. But the best thing about them is the arrangements-very creative and solid! Similar to fellow Italians D.F.A., Deus Ex Machina, and 70s band Area, except with more of a slightly heavier Hatfield edge. Demos for the next cd sound great, and I'm looking forward to hearing more from these guys.
UPDATE: I HAVE heard more from these guys, as they have a new cd out, and it's fantastic! Many of the tunes have a nice North African vibe to them, nicely integrated with their take on jazz fusion. Also features good old Richard Sinclair warbling on a track. Get it, folks!

CAMEMBERT
: 1 30 minute EP, with a new full cd in the can. My pals from Strasbourg, France. In addition to being a bunch of maniacs, they produce really fun music that combines Wakka Jawakka-era Zappa and maybe Herbie Hancock's Headhunters. To top it off, they have a nice brass section AND a full-time harpist-what's not to like? Furthermore, they really know how to work a room-VERY entertaining. This is a band you could take ANYONE to see, and I can't imagine them not finding something to enjoy about Camembert's performance.

SOUNDCHASER
: 3 self-produced cd-rs. One of my favorite MySpace discoveries, and it's a crime they haven't been signed by some enterprising label. Musically, somewhere in that "nu-jazz" zone, somewhat Medeski, Martin, & Wood or The Bad Plus-ish. But on the other hand, I doubt these bands have even considered covering Olivier Messiaen like Louis & co. have! Earlier in their career they had 1-2 sax players, but are currently down to a trio of keys [mostly distorted Fender Rhodes ala early Zawinul], bass, & drums. Paris-based, but managed to pull off some gigs in NYC and Boston a couple of years ago.

YUGEN: I'd be remiss if I didn't include French TV's "Man in Milano" keyboardist Paolo Botta's ensemble. Keeping the flame of RIO-style music alive, and also maintaining a link to the history of that genre by 1)devoting an album to the compositions of one of the founders of Italy's STORMY SIX, and 2) being the "back-up band for the recent resuscitation of the 70's band PICCHIO DAL POZZO. There's even a recent YouTube clip of Yugen performing Henry Cow's "Living in the Heart of the Beast!" They currently have 3 cds out on the mighty fine AltrOck label.

FINNEGAN'S WAKE
: To quote their entry in the Progressive Archives, "FINNEGANS WAKE is a progressive rock band whose main influences go from CARAVAN, UNIVERS ZERO, and HENRY COW to today bands such as U TOTEM or UZ JSME DOMA. There are four members in the band: Richard Redcrossed (lyrics, vocals), Jean-Louis Aucremanne (piano and keyboards), Alain Lema�tre (bass and keyboards) and Henry Krutzen (vocals, piano, keyboards, saxophone, recorder, ken and shanai). In 2003, Alexandre Moura-Barros (guitars) joined the band as Jean-Louis Aucremanne left. So now it is a Belgo-Brazilian band!" Lovely modern chamber music, thoughtfully played and executed. 6 cds to date: YELLOW; GREEN; PICTURES; 4TH; BLUE ; and their new one, THE BIRD AND THE SKY ABOVE.

GURTH
: This band from Barcelona has 2 cds, the 2nd of which [TORMENTES"] is the best. Very guitar-centric [3 guitarists!], and falls along the jazz-rock end of things, along with a dose of 80's Crimson. Very enjoyable band-they don't attempt to cram as many notes into a phase or solo as most bands of this ilk do, instead going for a relaxed feel that edges towards a "jam-band" sensibility. Great variety to their songs [and I mean SONGS, not "compositions"]-one minute they're rocking out, the next a quiet ECM-Ralph Towner tune or passage. Vocals a presence, but used casually, and there's one tune in particular that comes across as a frantic tongue-twister [in Spanish]. Love 'em.

PIKAPIKA TEART
: Excellent Siberian (!) chamber band with exciting, quirky arrangements in the Julverne/Volapuk vein. No cds yet, but it's rumored the Russian label RAIG may be interested.
2011 UPDATE: I'm happy to say they have put out a new cd [FINALLY!] on the always-excellent AltrOck label-haven't got it yet, but it's on the list!

SPALTKLANG
: My Swiss buddy Markus Stauss's project. Sax, viola, plus rhythm section. More chamber prog like the previous entry. I'm pretty fascinated by this somewhat recent development by bands to do away with chordal instruments and still come across as intricate and engaging. Anyway, they have 3 great releases on Markus's FAZZUL MUSIC label, along with many other of his other projects, ALL worth checking out.

MANOGURGEIL
: One of my favorite releases of the past 2 years, this Finnish band covers all the bases: a nice mix of RIO, Canterbury, and avant soundscapes. Great compositions, played with great abandon and a sense of humor to boot. Overall vibe reminds me of Supersister. Can't wait to see what they offer in the future!

NEOM
: Part of the current Magma revivalist school, and one of the better practitioners of Zeuhl in general. The guitarist in particular stands out nicely. Great sense of dynamics and foreboding, all building to ballsy payoffs. They finally put out their 1st cd, Arkana Temporis, on the FRENCH SOEIL ZEUHL label, which is also responsible for many of the better cds I've heard over the past few years.

ABRETE GANDUL: Chilean band which is part of a current branch of prog that I haven't really seen defined as yet. Elements of noise, post-rock, shoegaze, and Miles Davis "Bitches Brew"-era, where tricky arrangements aren't so much of a factor as gradual dynamics and Steve Reich-style repetition. Whatever it is, I like it! One thing these guys bring to the table I don't hear elsewhere is the guitarist's penchant for League of Crafty Guitarists-type patterns-a welcome element to the mix.

DEFORMICA: Very similar to the previous band Abrete Gandul. Maybe a larger keyboards presence, lots of distorted Rhodes. Like I said, I can't get enough of these type bands! They seem to play out fairly regularly in their native Buenos Aires-good to see they aren't shunned by their community. Just released their 2nd cd in 2010.

AQUARIUM ORCHESTRA
: Pretty happenin' large jazz ensemble from Grenoble, France, led by guitarist Romain Baret. Especially like the flute and bass clarinet lines. Thoughtful, ornate, "downtown" Zappa-esque compositions, very nice!

OCTOBER EQUUS
: Listening to this Spanish band is like hearing the history of RIO music--the dark tension of Present, the menacing chamber-rock of Univers Zero, the angularity and abrupt changes in atmosphere of Henry Cow [I hear a lot of Hodgkinson in the keyboardist's textures]---you get the idea [I hope...]. 3 excellent releases that you need in your collection.

BIRDS AND BUILDINGS/DELUGE GRANDER: Two of the many musical projects of keyboardist Dan Britton, possibly the busiest guy in prog-land. Frantic without being bombastic, I guess you could call it ELP-ish or perhaps a more symphonic VdGG, but that doesn't really do the music justice, as it's not very derivative at all. The tunes unfold nicely, and they keep the "riff-a-rama" elements to a minimum. My only gripe is that I wish Dan would splurge and cut this stuff at a real studio, as things are a bit under-produced, but I'm quibbling. Well worth checking out.
 
CALOMITO: Another one of those crazed small chamber ensembles I adore. They were supposed to play at a festivel with us in Milan a couple of years ago, but pulled out-too bad, I woulda loved seeing them. Juleverne/Cro-Magnon/Volapuk-like, with the crazy energy of Etron Fou or Krakatoa.
(Editor's note) HUZZAH! They've just released a new cd as of March, 2011! Time to squeeze the wallet again...

PHLOX: Hot new Estonian RIO band that my pal Pierre raved about when they played in Germany together recently. I guess they're somewhat on the Zeuhl end of things, but have a pretty aggressive guitarist [NOT shred metal] and some great sax arrangements. I also hear bits of the legendary Italian band Area's use of intricate, extended, 100mph unison melodic lines. Great use of tension and dynamics; definitely a group to keep an eye on.
 
JOHN SLADE BAND: Serious Zappa-philes. To be precise, their music is very 80's period Zappa, complete with Tommy Mars brass patches, loads of sampled marimba, and a heavy Steve Zai-type presence. Lots of fun gee-tar workouts and a nutty sense of humor. Coming soon to a Gail Zappa court document near you! But then, they're based in Paris, so maybe she'll leave them alone.

DISSONATA: The latest operation from my pal Francois Thollot, who sticks with playing drums on this outing, despite being a gifted jack-of-all-musical trades. It kind of reminds me of ZAO when they added the string quartet to their music, only perhaps not as intense and driven. Of course, the music isn't TOO removed from Francois's previous solo releases. Only two songs up on their MySpace page; let's hope we see some more music from this talented outfit.

FAR CORNER
: The most worthy successor to Dave Stewart's vision for the late, lamented EGG as a keyboard-driven fusing of rock and modern classical music. It also helps that they add great fuzzed-out cello and a virtuosic bassist by the name of Bill Kopecky. Two cds from this Milwaukee quartet, and hopefully more on the way.

GOSTA BERLINGS SAGA; KLOTET
: I have to lump these two Swedish bands together, as they share a lot of musical similarities. The starting point would be early to mid-period SAMLA MAMMAS MANNA, with crazed Rhodes-based compositional assaults. In the case of Klotet, there's also a goofy New Wave, as in Stranglers or Gang of Four, presence, due to the Farfisa organ and the danceability of many of their pieces. Really enjoyable stuff!
 
GILLIAM: More quirky chamber music, with good Klezmer elements-after all, they're from Tel Aviv! Apparently a bunch of lazy sods--I've been following them off and on for a few years, and they have yet to get off their butts and put out a cd of their delightful Muffins-like tunes, or even update the MySpace page -COME ON, GUYS! WHAT'S THE DEAL? Check out their version of Zappa's "Peaches en Regalia", in which they switch genres on EVERY line, from surf to ska to atonal to whatever else-I'm certain The Central Scrutinizer would approve.

POCHAKAITE MALKO: I have the same problem identifying this Japanese group's music as I do FAR CORNER--first inclination is to drop them into the "ELP meets Schonberg meets Bad Brains" category, but, nah...all I know is they can make an almighty racket with a lot of emphasis on harsh keys and fuzz bass, with the added attraction of a full-time electric violinist on their 2nd cd. Maybe a dream trio of Emerson, Paganotti, and Yoshida? Well, I tried...

JADZOOID, RUGAZAWAK, and KWADRAT NODNOLL Hate to lump all these French bands together, but I'm too lazy and too poor a writer to give them separate descriptions. Besides, they seem to be part of a terrific new French musical movement that shares a great honking woodwinds-based, crazy Dada-esque, funky approach to composition, with shades of Canterbury her and there to boot. Great sense of humor to all their tunes, and frantic, split-second-stop-on-a-dime arrangements, plus they groove like m*****f*****s. Fun, entertaining tunes, and I bet they are all a blast to see in action.

L'OEIL DU SOURD: It's funny; I previously had the in the grouping listed above, but decided to re-visit their MySpace page, and sonuvagun if they didn't have new music that boots them from that list. While their older tunes could be described as belonging to the movement I talked about in the previous entry, their new tunes are quite different. They've added a female vocalist who sounds classically-trained and definitely pushes things into avant territory. They've also added a contrabass player, which also emphasizes the avant edge as well as adding a modern classical sheen. I can't tell if there's been other line-up changes, but the music has also taken on some Gong-ish aspects-repetitive trance-like structures that evolve and shift while the singer wails, babbles, and freaks out on top, along with some nice acid guitar soloing to boot. Spooky! Still lots of tricky extended unison bits, however, which makes me happy. Their cd is available from the French MUSEA label.

TIME TRAVELLER-Wonderfully retro one-man band [almost-he subbed out the drums] from Finland, Juhani Nisula comes up with a rockin' good time cd. Think if Robin Trower and a solid keyboardist like Tony Kaye or Jon Lord did a record together. I hear a bit of SRV and Beck in his guitar playing as well. When I mentioned "retro" earlier, I wasn't kidding. Juhani didn't just utilize vintage keys like ARPs, Oberheims, and clavinets, he recorded using tape machines and tube-oriented outboard gear. Definitely a cd to put on for that guitarist you know who moans about the lack of "guitar player" cds out there.
UPDATE: Juhani has now released a 2nd cd, which expands on the sound from his previous cd. Added sax, and maybe a larger keyboard presence.

GARGANTUA-Polish chamber ensemble who aren't as "dry" and "academic" as many practitioners of this form. Great guitar work on this, there are a couple of solos in this where I couldn't even BEGIN to guess how it was precessed, being as whacked-out as it sounds. Occasional goofy vocal noises that don't irritate, plus a pretty novel version of Stravinsky's "The Augurs of Spring (Dances of the Young Girls)". Can't wait to see what they come up with next!

LOST WORLD- Russian combo [although 1/2 of the band resides here in the US now] who have 3 releases since 2006. I hear elements of the '90s Crimson, particularly in the guitar patterns, but the main difference is that they have virtuosos manning the violin and flute-in some ways, it also calls to mind a more raucous AFTER CRYING. The violin work is STUNNING, and if I have my way, he'll be on the next French TV record!
 
ARGOS-Germany's answer to The Tangent. An excellent combination of clever pop via Caravan and ambitious extended melodic arrangements that develop nicely. Like The Tangent, they give the Canterbury scene a courteous nod, while not sounding dated at all. There's not a lot of bands who offer such pleasing vocal tunes that I want to hear more than once, but Thomas Klarmann and company is quite the exception. These guys will be stuck in your head long after you've walked away from your stereo [or Ipod, as the case may be].

FLAT122-What a delight this Japanese trio is! Very much in the spirit of the late Cartoon, particularly their [Cartoon's] 1st album. Modern classically-influenced keyboards [mostly piano], a Fripp-ish guitarist, and a wild drummer who reminds you there's more to drumming than time-keeping. There's a Satie cover on one of their 2 cds, if that tells you anything. Sadly, they've recently decided to call it quits, but that shouldn't stop you from checking them or any of their future projects out.

AMOEBA SPLIT-I've been listening to their cd CONSTANTLY since receiving it a few weeks ago. FABULOUS! It sort of sounds like a long-lost retro companion album to Khan's SPACE SHANTY. But that's not quite right either. Distinctive female singer who's never intrusive, an organist who isn't just stuck on Jon Lord Hammond patches, terrific woodwinds [mostly flute], and a guitarist who rips it up like the 2nd coming of Peter Banks! A bit on the jazzy side, in the same way many proto-prog bands were. Yet more talent from Spain, which is quite a progressive hotbed these days.

SENOGUL - And, speaking of that Spanish hotbed, here's a band I should've said nice things about a little sooner. If nothing else, I should thank leader/keyboardist Eduardo Garc�a Salue�a for turning me onto Amoeba Split! Senogul have put out 2 cds so far and have shown a commendable willingness to jump styles radically. The 1st cd is a stunner; tight compositions full of imaginative twists and turns highlighted by Eduardo's John Tout-like piano [with a bit of organ and string patches here and there]. Maybe Banco, circa Canto di Primavera, minus the vocals? The 2nd cd is more of a soundtrack-like affair; more "mood" music along the lines of Eno's "MUSIC FOR AIRPORTS". They've now got a track on the new COLOSSUS theme collection on E. A. Poe that promises even better music to come!

MENTAT ROUTAGE: Hmmm, what have we got here? Vibes, violin, woodwinds, no guitar, tap dancing...TAP DANCING?? ON RECORD?? And they pull it off! A funky outfit courtesy of Tours, France whom I'd love to see sometime-their videos show them to be a very visual bunch of performers. Musically, they seem similar to FORGAS BAND PHENOMENA, with shorter tunes and quite a sense of humor. They've snagged a few awards for best debut cd recently, and they're certainly on MY list!

KOSTAREV GROUP
: Another Russian group similar to LOST WORLD, in that they have virtuoso violinists and flute players who play a prominent role in their compositions. But the star of the show is band leader Andre Kostarev, who plays a pretty mean Zappa-esque guitar, but less of the 2-chord or modal vamps and more with the tricky arrangements. They've got free downloads on their site, along with pretty cool vids from the "INPROG 2003" festival they played. Very fun to watch!

PROGRESSION BY FAILURE: Oddly enough, I can't really think of too many "keyboard-centric" prog releases these days-Lalle Larsson and the recent Anders Helmersson [both Swedes, interestingly] cds are the only that come to mind. Strange, considering this used to be a prog cornerstone for much of the 70s. Well, here's a young Frenchman named Nicolas Piveteau who embraces that approach wholeheartedly! A bit on the "heavy" side via Dream Theater in places, but not oppressively so. Solid compositions, no "noodling" or "LOOK AT ME! I'M RICK WAKEMAN!" moments whatsoever. Nice palate of keyboard sounds, and I hear more new things I hadn't noticed on previous listenings every time I put it on, which is often. How this release seems to be such a secret, I'll never know...

TEE: For fusion fans, this would seem to be a golden age, as one can't throw a rock without hitting one these days. The problem is, while technically proficient, the vast majority of these bands unfortunately sound IDENTICAL, with none of the individualism of a McLaughlin, Zawinul, or Percy Jones. Compositionally, it's a similar story. Happily, the Japanese band TEE dodges this problem with their cd "The Earth Explorer", which boasts very unique arrangements and a tendency to have each tune stand on its own two feet, preventing the album from becoming an audio blur. Their leader, guitarist Katsumi Yoneda, comes up with solid melodies, usually enforced by flutist Kenji Imai. Similar to fellow Japanese bands Kenso and Ain Soph.
 

ASTRAKAN: New British group you could loosely file in your "modern jazz" Medeski/Martin/Wood" section, but they also have an enjoyably  perplexing "proto-prog" feel as well, in particular the horn-based bands such as The Web or Samurai, minus the blues-rock stylings. Lots of long and ornate sax/guitar unison lines, plus cool retro-organ [NOT the usual B-3]. Very subtle; be sure to give it the multiple listenings it deserves.

TO BE SPOTLIGHTED AT A LATER DATE OF MY CHOOSING,
OR WHENEVER MY REVIEW VOCABULARY IMPROVES:


MIRTHKON
EVIL GIRAFFES ON MARS, AGENT MOOSEHEAD,
LILLIPUT ORCHESTRA
MICHEL DELVILLE
MUROS DE AGUA
OLIVE MESS
PANZERPAPPA
SETNA/XING SA
TAMANDUA