Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Cure For Gravity

Welcome once again to the Closet Concert Arena fellow progheads!  The search for all things prog continues its westward shuffle as we go all the way to the left coast; more precisely the greater San Francisco Bay area.  This week the Concert Closet checks out the sounds of Cure For Gravity, a relative new comer to the prog garden.  Cure For Gravity recently released their full length debut album while having an earlier EP already on their resume.  Always interesting and enjoyable to check out fresh growth, so let the headphone festivities begin...



Cure For Gravity bill themselves as "...atmospheric Cine-Rock..." so I am expecting a multi-layered, ornate, mind altering  trek of sorts through the prog garden this week.  The band just dropped their eponymous debut in October, so let us step eagerly to the buffet and get this journey started...

The first portion carved from the unveiling is called "Tonight" and there is a bit of a celestial feel to the sound...top notes of Fairport Convention entwined with aromatics of The Strawbs...and all of it encapsulated in a Spock's Beard shell...tasty.  The song isn't dark so much as it is "industrial."  There is a feel to the music as though it is trying to swallow you whole without causing any harm, much like a python soothing you to sleep as it embraces you. The vocals come to the forefront as guitar and keyboards take a step back.  That is not to say they fade--they simply fill the perimeter of your cranium as you take flight...

Moving along the buffet line, I stumble across a healthy slice of "Black Metal."  Closing my eyes as the song opens, I am taken through the eye of the storm ever so quickly as chaos gives way to calm. The guitar work lives up to the description; there is something "otherworldly" about the mood here...
There are aromatics of Radiohead wafting through the air, and perhaps a top note of Psicolorama floating in the headphones as well.  Cure For Gravity can be ornate without weighing so heavily you can't breathe; like the feeling you get from finishing that second burrito--and then catching a glimpse of a banana split in your peripheral vision...you got this!

 Liner Notes...hailing from the Oakland CA area, Cure For Gravity spends time in Berkeley and is comprised of Joe Markert on vocals, keyboards, and guitars, Dave Walcott on guitars and vocals, and Chris Gamper on drums.  There are additional musicians contributing to this album, but Cure For Gravity is ultimately a three-headed beast;  a trio that manages to fill the headphones, and consequently your auditory canals, with sights and sounds that light up the inner lining of your cranium like a pinball machine on tilt.

Cure For Gravity has been a band since 2010 and originally released the EP, "Fallen Stars" in 2012. The next four years saw the band going through line-up changes and defining/fine tuning their sound. Cure For Gravity released their debut full length album this past October--but there is no rest for the weary...Joe, Dave, and Chris are working on album #2 with an anticipated release date sometime in 2018.

Cure For Gravity saunters through the prog garden like a kid walking the aisles at Toys R Us; looking for clues, ideas, and inspiration. Taking all their bushel basket can hold, CFG proceeds to interpret and channel a unique sound that blends top notes ranging from Radiohead to The Clash with a zinger of Atlas Volt blended in just for the intrigue...

My final selection for review has a bit more hitch to the giddyup; "Just Like Candy."  The guitars seem to tease the drums as they dance across the top of the song like Mitch Miller's bouncing ball. Brighter colors spill down the canvas as the mood elevator starts its climb...I get an Ebn Ozn vibe from this tune. Cure For Gravity pulls the curtain back just a bit here, exposing the smooth under belly of simplicity that lies beneath the elaborate trappings of an atmospheric cine-rock exterior...a bit of fun in the science lab...

You can find out more about Cure For Gravity on their website Cure For Gravity and their Facebook page Cure For Gravity FB.  If the sounds you hear meet your approval, please support this--and all the bands I review by purchasing their music.  You can order the album on their Bandcamp site
Cure For Gravity Bandcamp and iTunes at Cure For Gravity iTunes.  You can also follow the band on Twitter, @cfgmusic.

The clip posted below is called "Push."  Perhaps a bit on the melancholy side, this song fills the canvas with soft pastels overcoming clouds of grey...you can feel the emotion rolling off the disc like water droplets falling off rose petals.  There is a touch of Jesse Colin Young floating across the lyrics; the vocals are a bit heavier yet that soft touch while bringing across something deep and thought provoking is almost transcendent...


                     


And once again fellow progheads, a fortnight has come and gone and once again another band has been exposed to the light.  Cure For Gravity may walk the eclectic, atmospheric section of the prog garden, but along the way they discovered the concept of bringing sounds from different sections together and making them sui generis.

Cure For Gravity has started blazing their own path, and the future looks to be bright.  And so too The Concert Closet continues to blaze a trail through the prog garden in search of all things prog...until next time...

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Fire Garden Far and Near

Welcome back to the Closet Concert Arena fellow progheads!  Still making my way down from the high that was our last summit with Jordan Rudess.  More than just a keyboard maestro; he is a true class act.  Of course, that is pretty much the expectation with artists here in the prog garden; something in the water I reckon...

The search for all things prog continues to set the bar high and this week is no exception.  During our interview, you may remember Jordan mentioning Fire Garden; more specifically, he revealed his playing on Fire Garden's newest release, "Far and Near."  Well it just so happens that the Concert Closet has been Chicago way before...Fire Garden has one EP and a full album to their credit prior to this newest release and the Concert Closet has reviewed them both.   Time to catch up with the latest from Zee Baig and Fire Garden, so let us work our way through this prog feast together...


Fire Garden is a music project--I like the images that paints on the underside of my eyelids.  Starting with a spinal cord of progressive rock, Fire Garden brings their sound to life by adding the heart and soul of metal, jazz, rock, and industrial music, creating a beast that may be difficult to label, but oh so easy to listen to...

Being somewhat a "creature of habit," I dig right in with track one; the title cut.  The opening piano with haunting vocals seem foreboding...but this is a staple of the Fire Garden sound; darkness that regulates light, allowing the listener a glimpse here, a jolt there, all the while taking you deeper inside the cavern...

Moving down the prog buffet line, I find an interesting morsel called "White Light."  A soft acoustic mood draws the curtain back as the listener is slowly--almost delicately--doused in tranquility fused with caution...much like a savoy truffle encased in spun sugar...there has to be  away in, but will I want a way out?  The drumming catches you off guard much like the jarring zap of an electric shock...meanwhile the piano continues its tranquil approach to soothing the mind.  An absolutely mesmerizing experience.

This piece moves Fire Garden to an entirely new section of the prog garden, acreage Zee cleared almost single handedly.  Make no mistake; Fire Garden is a prog metal band, an experiment, a group effort--a chameleon of sorts--but at its core, Fire Garden is the brain child of Zee Baig and every new release is a re-birth...making "Far and Near" Fire Garden 3.0 you might say...



Liner Notes...Fire Garden calls Chicago home; a prog metal band with a bent on melding other
sub-genres into a prog melting pot, smack dab in the land of the blues.  I don't believe it to be coincidence or chance; Fire Garden has managed to stand out against the back drop of  the popular Chicago music scene while creating a sound that floats like a drone above the din...much like an eagle scouring the coast for a perch from which to oversee the landscape.

The Far and Near album line-up consists of Zee Baig on vocals, guitars, mellotron, and synthesizers, Frank Lucas on keyboards and piano, Marc Malitz and Barry Kleiber on bass, and Jimmy Keegan, formerly of Spock's Beard, on drums.  Jordan Rudess makes his appearance via the keyboards on the cut "Life of a Drifter."  Having listened to this latest release, I can say Fire Garden is more than just an experiment.  This is a band on the cusp of greatness.  The Fire Garden sound has been echoing through the Concert Closet since "The Prelude" EP first left its mark in 2012.

Following the success of "Sound of Majestic Colors," Fire Garden refused to rest on their laurels. This band prefers--or more accurately burns with the desire--to re-invent themselves with every release. "Far and Near" is but the continued growth of a band that feeds on its own success in a quest to bring to the prog garden a sound that rejects labels and expands the boundaries of the genre itself.

The main course this week is the aforementioned "Life of a Drifter." The song hearkens back to Fire Garden's past while blazing headlong into the future.  The canvas starts out virgin white as Fire Garden proceeds to thrust paint balloon after paint balloon, revealing a striking image that leaps forth and wraps itself around your senses like caramel adhering to a granny smith apple...the union is so much stronger than the individual components.  Jordan's keyboards electrify the mood like an aerial view of Coney Island at night, and Jimmy's drums underscore the entire piece as guitars capture the perimeter and drive the whole song straight through your sense of reality.

Learn more about Fire Garden at the band's website Fire Garden.  Purchase--please!--purchase the music there or at Fire Garden iTunes.  You can follow the band on Facebook at Fire Garden FB and of course on that wonderful cloud known as Twitter @firegardenmusic.

The cut posted below is called "There's Something."  The drums build a solid foundation for the guitar to burst forth from, and Zee's vocals reverberate in your cranium like a subconscious whisper.
Far and Near is an album that should adorn every proghead's collection, nestled comfortably with Gaillion, Seconds Before Landing, Spock's Beard, Marillion...


                       

And so my fellow progheads, 2017 continues to be a year filled with promise, excitement, and a continual cascade of new sounds and emotions.  Fire Garden brings a dimension to the prog garden that exemplifies the beauty of the genre; not only does this band stretch the boundaries of all things prog, they draw from all generations to create a a sound and vision that challenge your imagination.

It has been a pleasure for me to witness first-hand the beginning and growth of Fire Garden.  This is a band that exemplifies what the prog garden is all about; a complete renewal and rejuvenation with each new release.  Progressive rock continues to lead the way for those inclined to rise above.

Of course, the search for all things prog continues onward, and the bar continues to rise.  2017 has set a new standard for the up and coming, lesser-known, and those determined to break through.  Let us continue this journey together and discover the wonders the prog garden has to offer...until next time...

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Jordan Rudess visits The Closet Concert Arena

Welcome to 2017 fellow progheads!  The gifts have been opened, food consumed, and decorations packed away.  The tree has been recycled and some of my resolutions have yet to be broken; so far 2017 is shaping up quite nicely.

In my last post for 2016 I promised you, my faithful followers, big surprises, exciting changes, and a new approach for The Concert Closet in 2017...hopefully this first post lives up to the hype.  The Concert Closet reached out to pianist extraordinaire Jordan Rudess for an interview, and Jordan was gracious enough to accommodate!  Besides being the keyboard master for Dream Theater, Jordan has his hands immersed (no pun intended) in many other projects.  Solo work, guest appearances, a music app, and Facebook Live are but a tip of the proverbial iceberg the Mr. Rudess is involved with currently.  So as the search for all things prog enters 2017, let us set the bar high...

               


Closet Concert Arena: First I want to thank you for taking time out of  your day for this.  Been a fan for a long time and I very much appreciate the opportunity to find out about your world first hand.

Jordan Rudess: Thank you for your time as well.

CCA: Is there a favorite band or artist you enjoyed playing with or being part of?  You really have been involved with so much great music.  I was actually surprised to learn that your journey includes a stint with the Paul Winter Consort.

JR:  You're familiar with Paul Winter?  A lot of people don't know that, but a lot of people do know my background is classical piano; I was going to be a classical pianist.  I spent so many years being so serious in the classical music world, so focused.  At the age of nine I went off to Julliard, and later I began to want to learn other types of sounds, other kinds of music.  Then people turned me on to Genesis, Gentle Giant, Yes, and I loved that stuff!  I felt I needed to focus on that for a while, and as things came around and I became more comfortable with who I was, I realized I enjoyed doing a lot of different things.  Later I was introduced to Eugene Friesen, the cellist for the Paul Winter Consort. He brought me in and at first I was playing piano.  I really enjoyed that gig because it wasn't just one thing; it was more of its own blend of jazz, world music...it had a rock energy at times, and of course a classical side; very sensitive music.  I met the man I would take over for, Paul Halley.  He wrote a lot of the music and I was really inspired by his music and his "musicality."  I learned a lot from him and I think about him often when I'm writing.  There is a piece on Dream Theater's "The Astonishing" album that has that Paul Halley feel; choiry, open, slightly classical.  That was a fun experience and I really enjoyed being part of it.  

But to name a favorite would be difficult to impossible; I've played with so many and they've all been so different.  Of course playing with Dream Theater--which is my "day job"--is terrific and I love it, but I also worked with Marco Minnemann and Tony Levin on "The law Offices" album which was a great experience as well.    

CCA: With your classical training, what led you to the rock 'n' roll arena and progressive rock specifically?

JR: I was always a "closet improviser" when I was a kid, even when studying the serious stuff at Julliard.  I would bring some of the other kids into the practice room and play some blues or rock; something that wasn't Chopin or Bach and we would have fun--but we had to be sneaky about it! (laughs).  My mom  would bring music from show tunes, songs from movies...just the sheet music.  I would play parties and it was fun.  When I hit seventeen or eighteen years old I finally had my "teenage rebellion" and decided it was time to go off track and check out what else was out there.

Not sure about you, but right about now I could use a shot of Jordan doing what Jordan does best; playing the piano. Here is a sampling of the "Closet Improviser" off on a tangent from the prog metal world.  There really are no words, just allow the sound to permeate your soul and embrace it...

                                       

CCA: You've been the keyboardist for Dream Theater for 17 years, yet "The Astonishing" is the first album to highlight your influence over the music.  The album is also a big step off on a tangent for the band.  Was this a planned directional shift for the band to push the music in a different direction, or does the music follow its own lead?

JR: This is the first album to be credited as written by Petrucci and Rudess; I have been a composer since being in the group.  John and I basically write the music, but the main difference on this album vs. all the others I was involved in is John and I were in a room together; there was nobody else there and we worked very carefully on structuring and composing this piece.  As the producer, John felt that what we wanted to do with "The Astonishing" could be better accomplished if it was just the two of us in the room doing just this, rather than everyone being there.  That was the main difference, the biggest change.  

Now that we have done "The Astonishing" I believe we will go back to doing things with everyone together in the studio.  It's usually very open and the other guys bring their energy, and everything is really good.  One of the things about Dream Theater--even in the Mike Portnoy days--is John and I were the composers of the music on the instruments.  Mike was certainly influential in the music, he had a big voice in the music, and he produced, but as far as composing, that came down to John and I.  
Seems like the perfect place to insert a Dream Theater fix.  This cut is one of my favorites from "The Astonishing," a piece called "Ravenskill."  Let Jordan's delicate keyboards wash over you like waves lapping the shore as the song opens and James LaBrie's vocals rain down like a summer shower...of course the the sky opens and Mike Mangini's drum work rolls out a burlap carpet for John Petrucci's guitar to pour down like thunder from Mount Olympus, kept true by John Myung's bass work.  Yes, the magic continues and it is so real...  


                        


CCA: Dream Theater is about to head off on a European tour; will there be a leg through the United States once you return stateside? 

JR: We are heading to Europe very soon yes, and while  we haven't finalized any dates as of yet, I think we probably will plan some shows in the US.  Nothing is finalized or scheduled, but I think the idea to do that is there.

CCA: How does a tour with Dream Theater affect other opportunities to perform/tour with other artists?  You mentioned the album with Levin and Minnemann among others; do you try to schedule other tours; exactly how much time do you want to spend on the road?

JR: Yeah, I love performing but it is a lot of road time.  I've actually put out some energy to do more piano things.  I love when I work with orchestras; I was in Poland not that long ago doing my explorations piece with one of the city orchestras there.  That kind of thing is something I would like to develop more of.

CCA: You were voted "Best New Talent" in 1994; what affect did that have on your career path?

JR: That was Keyboard Magazine, and it was very helpful.  They used to follow me; all the writers and editors.  Before I had my career, I used to play all the big music conventions and I would write something kind of progressive and cool, and they would say, "Hey, this guy's cool!" (laughs).  But it was helpful because it got my name to other musicians who were already in "the door" of the music business, which I wasn't yet.  The guys from Dream Theater noticed, and it's one of the reasons they called me.  

CCA: Do the demands of the different bands you play in affect your style or how you approach your music? 

JR: It all does, I mean music is my life, my hobby, it's what I do.  I kind of "morph" through different stylistic things for every situation I'm in and whatever musician I'm in it with.  I will call on different techniques and flavors that I can offer, so yeah it is different each time.  

CCA: You have a software company called Wizdom Music, which is very innovative in the electronic music app industry.  You actually "create" different instruments and sounds for musicians of all ability levels; can you elaborate on this?

JR: I started Wizdom Music some years ago because when I discovered the multi-touch surface 
thing, mostly through my experience with the iPhone and even before that, with a product called the Lemur,  the items were very expensive.  Today things have shifted to where we are all walking around with multi-touch devices.  There is a fairly well known story where I got my first iPhone and it had  a very preliminary kind of sound "thing" where you could make silly little wave form sounds. I was sitting around with it and became  inspired because I thought, "What could I do with my fingers to express sound?"  This was around my 50th birthday and my wife and I had just purchased a beautiful Steinway grand piano, and she sees me playing with this ridiculous sound and she has no idea what I'm doing and she says, "Why are you playing with that horrible noise when you have this beautiful piano in the other room?"  I'm telling her I have something in my mind, and she thinks I am absolutely crazy!  Of course it was the one time I could say, "I was right!" (laughs).  

A year or so later I partnered with a guy named Kevin Chartier, a brilliant programmer, and we created an app called MorphWiz.  MorphWiz was my first app and it won the Billboard Best Music App Award when it came out [October 2010].  That helped get the company on the map, and the idea was to be able to express notes on the touch surface of an iPhone, and much like a violin your finger would remain in contact with the sound, and you could affect the tambour of the sound, create different pitches; it helped showcase my vision of what the future of musical instruments would be. That was the beginning of a whole adventure for me which still goes on to this day. 

My latest app, called the GeoShred, is a big focus for me because I partnered with some people I met at the CCRMA (pronounced karma) Institute at Stanford University.  I was able to work with some very interesting people by going to Stanford and showing whatever new musical instruments I was involved in.  GeoShred is really cool and winning a lot of awards; it just won the Electronic Magazine Editor's Choice Award.  It is the one instrument you can really shred on that is a serious musical instrument for the iPad, and soon to be available for the iPhone as well.  I use it a lot; I used it on the Levin Minnemann Rudess and the Dream Theater  albums, I play it live, so it has been a big focus.  The latest feature is an update which includes Midi, which for musicians is important, both the standard and the MPE.  The MPE allows for a lot of flexibility in the way it controls and receives sound.  

Wizdom Music is important to me and I also do consulting with other companies.  I endorse Korg instruments as well as consult with Roli,  a company which makes an instrument called the Seaboard. And I work with CME, which makes an incredible mobile keyboard called the Xkey.  I stay busy keeping my hands in that arena, working with and developing instruments that interest me. 

CCA: You have been a guest musician on several albums and had many guest musicians on yours; is this something that helps expand you as an artist or is it just a fun way to release energy?

JR: There are lots of reasons to do it.  There are a lot of young artists that are extremely talented; Zach Kamins with An Endless Sporadic is one.  If I find a gifted artist that I think stands out and I can help them get noticed or support them, I'm happy to do it.  I also played on Fire Garden's latest release and Zee Baig is another guy that is very talented.  I have played with Billy Sherwood on several projects, so there is always something out there to be involved in.  Even Steven Wilson, I am happy to work on his records, and if the opportunity presents itself he would play on mine. 

OK; one more clip for those so inclined.  I hearkened back to "An Evening with John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess" for the song "State of Grace."  The guitar and keyboard flow so beautifully together on this piece...every time I hear it I just close my eyes, sit back, and become one with the stereo as my headphones melt into my auditory canals...Jordan and John feed off each other's energy in a way that is almost cosmic; you feel as though you are party to something not just special, but poignant.  In Dream Theater world, these guys tear it up like no other.  Yet here, they display a magnificent "alter ego" if you will, a duet that encourages one to lift the other, making both larger than life.  An absolutely sublime piece.

                                        

CCA: Any musician dead or alive you would like to play a gig with?

JR: It would have been fun to be alive in the Jimi Hendrix era and trade solos with him; that would have been amazing.  I thought it would have been fun to play with Steve Vai.  We never really had a chance to make that happen; maybe one day we will.    

CCA: Any words of wisdom or encouragement for those starting out and seeking to make it in the prog rock world?  As you may know, my blog is aimed primarily at the up and coming prog artists who are trying to get their foot in the door; anything you can offer them?

JR: This is a very interesting time in the music world as I am sure you know.  I have so many friends that have really good bands yet they are having so much trouble trying to find their way...it's like  "Where are you going with this?  How do you survive, get gigs?"  It is difficult and I don't have a magical solution but I do have, even in my own musical life, challenges and difficulties because we do live in an age where people expect music for free.  Everybody is grabbing as much as they can without paying for it, and that makes for a very difficult situation.  I may be guilty of that myself; I give away music because everybody loves music and I love to share music.  Just last night I turned on the camera and started playing the piano for about 25 minutes.

As far as tips for young people; I don't want to discourage anyone because I have seen and heard so many good bands that just couldn't do it.  What I do think is that it's really important to understand what is going on; there are different ways, different avenues to get into music.  It helps to get some education; you may want to go to school and learn about how the music business works and the many ways you can survive in it.  You can work for a house that does music for licensing, get involved in something related to music, and discover all the possibilities out there waiting for you.  But if you just focus like an arrow on one thing it is a little tricky in today's world.  

You also need to understand the Internet and the different ways to get your stuff out there, realizing people expect more than just the "sound;" they want to see you and have something visual.  There a lot of good cameras that have good audio now and you can record your band so it will sound good and look good as well.  Put some imagination into it, make sure people know what you're doing.  You don't want to waste your shot so be certain there is enough information and it's well produced enough to showcase who you are and what you do.  One of the mistakes I made starting out was making a demo tape that had about eight different styles on it and I sent it out to people.  The response I got was they didn't know what I did, what direction I was going; it was too confusing.  

CCA: You mentioned Facebook Live; I wanted to talk about that with you also.  This is a great outlet; you play beautiful piano and it really is a pleasure to listen to.

JR: Facebook Live is really a great thing, whether you are a musician or anyone really.  You just turn on the camera and broadcast to your followers. For me, I appreciate this fan base I've been lucky enough to have built over the years, and because I love to make music...it is a way to heal myself and become in tune with what's around me.  

Part of the beauty of making music is sharing it; I really do love to do that.  If I can play something and people connect with it that's great.  The problem is this is how I make my living.  I know a lot of people think, "You guys in Dream Theater have it made, you're rich."  But things have changed; it's not like that anymore.  The internet and things like Spotify make it more challenging.  I'm not starving--don't get me wrong; that is not what I'm saying.  What I mean is there needs to be a way to bring it all together.  Perhaps I will continue to stream live, but after a minute or two a pop-up will ask for payment, a dollar or two, to continue listening....maybe a subscription type thing if people want to continue watching.  Of course I will continue to post things on Facebook Live for the fans, but the whole idea of music for free has got to change.  Otherwise it will get harder and harder, even impossible, for people to make a living making music.  

CCA: I believe the smart fans know and understand that.  One of the things about Spotify is the fact that an artist needs so many hits to get any kind of compensation from it, and it becomes a moral dilemma for people like me; do I listen for free--or at a low monthly rate--or do I buy the music and support the artist directly?

JR: But at least people are paying a monthly subscription rate for Spotify, it's better than expecting music for free.  Because really it goes deeper than that; managers, lawyers, producers, and all the people taking their cut off the top while the musicians are the ones out there touring and performing. Musicians need managers, and we are fortunate in that we have great ones, but the system has to change.  

CCA: Well, I believe I have taken about 45 minutes of your life and I appreciate you giving me your time.  I think it is great that someone of your stature is willing to give your time so freely.  

JR: As I said, thanks for the interview, I appreciate the opportunity. 

And that my fellow progheads, wraps up one of my bucket list items.  Jordan Rudess is arguably one of the most respected keyboard players in the progressive rock world, and he graciously took time out of his schedule, right before starting a major European tour, to spend time in the Concert Closet.  I hope this was as much fun for you my faithful followers as it was for me.  

Jordan's music and talents speak for themselves; I was just grateful he was willing to share his thoughts, insights, and feelings in a such a humble setting.  I know I've said it many times and I probably sound like a mundane tape loop, but one of the things that separates the prog garden from other sections of the music world is the connection the artists make with the fans.  That Jordan Rudess would make time and be so readily available to talk with me (after one simple Tweet) speaks volumes of his character.  To rise to his level in the prog world and not forget those who helped him get there, makes me realize the prog garden is truly in good hands.   

There are multiple options for connecting with Jordan Rudess;  his website Jordan Rudess, the Dream Theater website Dream Theater, and his Wizdom Music website Wizdom Music.  Jordan also has a Facebook page FB Jordan Official and Twitter @Jcrudess.   

To sum up my conversation with Jordan Rudess I would say it was refreshing to talk with someone who has achieved so much success in the prog garden that is so unassuming and at such a grass roots level with his fans.  My mother-in-law is now one of his newest followers thanks to Facebook Live! So a sincere and  heartfelt thanks to Jordan for granting me this interview.  

Now as the Concert Closet moves deeper into the unknown realm of 2017 in search of all things prog, there has been a  few other changes. First, the search for all things prog is now a Facebook page where I hope to build a following of bands and artists looking for another outlet to get their sound out to the masses...of course it will help to follow the advice Jordan offered earlier...and a Closet Concert Arena Instagram account to follow and help promote as much as I can the bands I review here in the Closet Concert Arena.  Of course none of this means anything without you my faithful followers, so thank you for staying the course and helping me live this dream...and as always, until next time...

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Decorating the Concert Closet for the Holidays

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Joyeux Noel, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Boxing Day, and of course a most boisterious "Festivus for the Rest of Us" fellow progheads!  As you can tell, I am all inclusive here as "Holiday Season 2016" plays out.  And as my loyal followers most assuredly remember, I am loathe to write a post ranking the best artists/songs/bands/blah blah blah of the year...



Lists are subjective and I usually hear someone complain about a great band or song being left off the list while some blithering noise or talentless hack has been incredulously added to the list.  The search for all things prog searches out the finest progressive rock music I believe is worth listening to and bands/artists worthy of your support. The prog garden is alive and well and fertile breeding ground for standard bearers and new comers alike.  I encourage you my fellow progheads to support those you find laudable and to continue meandering the garden in search of others.  With that in mind, I present the annual Closet Concert Arena Holiday Music post...please to enjoy...

Since it is impossible to avoid the elephant in the room I will walk right up and twist its trunk...2016 was a tough year for musicians and fans alike.  The prog garden was not immune to the Grim Reaper's scythe as David Bowie, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake and others passed through the veil. However; I choose to celebrate the memories and music of these and other prog giants as 2016 lowers the curtain for the final time, so let us rejoice and play loud some holiday cheer...

The opener this year is a Keith Emerson rendition of "Silent Night."  This song is one of my personal holiday favorites and Keith does it justice.  Ever the showman--and always able to back up the bravado--Keith kept a low profile here.  Not to say the keyboards were hidden or muffled; they just laid down a festive carpet for the vocals and soft percussion to elegantly glide across...



Next up on the holiday buffet is a cut from Chris Squire's Swiss Choir, "Three Kings."  Another master humbly placing music before self as this song flows smooth and gentle through the headphones, much like melted chocolate cascading down the sides of a New York style cheesecake...yes please!  The backing choir bring an elegance to the entire piece as delicate keyboards move through the center and waft into your auditory canals...

                                     


One more slice from this holiday feast comes from the Moody Blues; "The Spirit of Christmas."  This is a band that seems to generate extreme emotion on both ends of the metronome; people either love 'em or hate 'em.  I tend to love 'em I guess, since I don't hate 'em.  This song pours out like a fine brandy...keyboards cascading with silky smooth vocals, all wrapped up with gentle acoustic guitar as the vocal master John Lodge brings it home...



This next song is simply an homage to Mr. Bowie...David was many things; artist, singer, musician, actor, chameleon, genius...I can hear the arguments against inclusion of this song already; hence my inclination to avoid best of lists and greatest of all time collections.  David Bowie was a visionary and true trail blazer, not only in the prog garden but many other art forms as well.  He will truly be missed, and one more tip of the hat surely won't hurt...



The final decoration to adorn the Concert Closet this year is Greg Lake's "I Believe in Father Christmas."  This is one of my favorite songs for the holidays, and I chose this version so as to highlight Greg's vocal and guitar skills.  The acoustic opening clears a path traipsed heavily with strong vocals and drums that leave no room for indecisiveness.  The upbeat mood bellows, and--this year especially--the prog garden  cannot have too much upbeat and happy...



...and that is a wrap fellow progheads, as the curtain is drawn for the final time on 2016!  The swansong has faded to black...the fat lady has sung...and thus begins anticipation for the search for all things prog 2017!

I would like to sincerely thank everyone for coming back week after week to see and hear what the Concert Closet has to offer.  This journey is truly a fun ride and it is an honor to captain this ship...something I assure you I do not take for granted.

The prog garden produced a great crop this year; interviews with up and comers and stalwarts, new bands, new releases, bands that have been pouring it out for decades, artists that bleed prog...I have been astounded, impressed, surprised (pleasantly), educated, and humbled by what I have learned. The prog garden is so much more than music--it is a living breathing thing, and it continues to grow and thrive.

Of course without you my loyal followers I would not be on this astonishing journey.  The search for all things prog is made that much more enjoyable by the feedback I receive weekly from you.  I sincerely wish everyone a safe and happy holiday season.  Celebrate any way you see fit--just make damn sure you make it back in 2017...

The Concert Closet will be grounded for a short while as I add some much needed upgrades.  2017 promises to be even bigger and better than previous years, with many surprises, changes, and improvements.  Lots happening; much of which is still in the design and construction stages. However, when January arrives I believe you will like what you find.  Please join me on January 17th, 2017 as The Closet Concert Arena 2.0 is unveiled.

Thanks again fellow progheads, and a safe and happy holiday season to all...until next time...

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Coalition

Thanks for coming back fellow progheads!  Page twelve has been turned on the 2016 calendar as the final grains of sand drop through the neck of the hourglass...quite a year indeed.  As the search for all things prog sets out on the last odyssey of 2016, I am reminded not only of the great artists and musicians that have passed through the veil, but also the up and coming bands that continue to keep the prog garden flourishing, thriving, and bringing bountiful  harvests to the prog faithful season after season.

With that thought in mind, I decided to load up the Concert Closet for my final journey this year, setting the GPS for England and a relaxing interlude with Coalition.  Like most prog bands discovered here in the prog garden, the story behind the story of Coalition will leave as much of an impression as the music itself...so into the tale we plunge...



Many of my loyal followers will remember my review of Inner Road back in July 2014, a prog band that "...rose from the ashes of Coalition."  Fortunately the fire was not fatal and the embers continued to smolder, because Coalition has risen once again and released a new LP, "Bridge Across Time" in October.  So let us cozy up to the buffet and sate our prog appetites...

Coalition refers to themselves as an "...international symphonic prog rock band."  Coalition is also but one plot in the prog garden tended by Steve Gresswell;  The Inner Road is another along with some very strong solo work.  However my focus this week is "Bridge Across Time," so let us have a seat in the Concert Closet, apply the headphones, and have a listen...

The first offering from the album is an upbeat tune called "Across the Sea."  Coalition uses bright colors to fill the canvas as the piece opens with the serenity of high tide gently caressing the shore. Guitars and percussion quickly take the baton and fill your auditory canals with positive energy. Keyboards break on through, riding the drums as they cascade across the disc.  There are top notes of Hats Off Gentlemen It's Adequate and (ironically) Transatlantic wafting through the air.  I am detecting aromatics of Pandora as well.  Coalition hits you straight on with a positive vibe that rides the top of this song all the way.

Selection number two as we carve our way through this download is "Land of Dreams."  The song opens with a subdued flourish--not bursting with the energy of "Across the Sea" but not hushed or gloomy either.  Coalition may have grays and dark hues in the paint box, but they fuse them with pastels and brighter shades to enhance the mood on either side of the pendulum.  There are top notes of The Strawbs and It's A Beautiful Day coming through, and I detect aromatics of Tirian Flame permeating the Concert Closet on this cut.  Coalition leans on synthesizers to build that symphonic sound, while the drums and guitar push everything to the edge.  The vocals lay on top like a narrative, pointing out to the observer the scene taking place below...serene and numinous...

Liner Notes...Coalition--of course--the brainchild of the aforementioned Steve Gresswell, who plays keyboards, drums, and bass.  Blake Carpenter is lyricist and lead vocalist and Colin Tench plays guitars.  An earlier line-up included Phil Braithwaite and Paul Bulger, both of whom appear on the 2012 release, "In Search of Forever."  Members of the band trace their roots to Sweden, the UK, and the United States, hence the international descriptor.

Coalition travels the same basic path in the prog garden as The Inner Road, albeit with a slight tangent to the trajectory.  Steve pays homage to the full sound of prog in all he does, and Coalition is no different.  The songs burst with energy, run through time and tempo changes, and fill your auditory canals with robust sound.  Coalition doesn't explode through your speakers--but they don't crawl with barely a pulse either.  The music is high carb with an emphasis on the stuff that sparks your musical taste buds--but no artificial sweeteners here; just the good ol' natural stuff...

My final selection from this calorie laden buffet is, "Valley of Shadows."  Once again the trademark thrust that hits your cranium like a Tabasco shooter oozes through the headphones then tapers back; much like waves crashing the jetty as a storm brews.  There is a Marillion vibe riding the under current, and a taste of Fire on Dawson hits the back of the throat.  Coalition is not as ornate as, say, most Italian prog bands, but they have read the playbook.  Learn more about Coalition and purchase their music at Coalition Bandcamp.  Their earlier release "In Search of Forever" along with "Bridge Across Time" can be found, purchased, and downloaded here.  Coalition also has a Facebook page at Coalition FB and can be followed on Twitter @CoalitionRocks.  Steve, Blake, and Colin each have their own individual Facebook pages so you can learn more about every member of the band.  Please expand your library as well as your knowledge by making a purchase!

The clip below is designed to whet your prog appetite and stimulate the neurons in your brain that cause intense cravings.  This is a teaser of sorts for the "Bridge Across Time" album.  Just a snippet of each cut to give you an idea of what Coalition is about.  Listen as the keyboards stream across the top like spun sugar, raining down on a solid base of guitars and drums...coming together like the perfect trifle dessert...



Well fellow progheads, we have just about concluded our journey through 2016--and what an experience it has been!  The search for all things prog has crossed oceans and continents while traveling through many countries.  It has been an eye opening, ear pleasing, mind expanding expedition, as well as an extensive walk through miles of the prog garden.  Coalition is unique in their own right, as are most bands of the progressive rock genre, mainly because their music takes on the traits of the artists.  There are no steadfast rules or formulae to follow; prog music simply carves its own path.

I am looking forward to what 2017 holds for the prog garden as Father Time begins to draw the curtain on 2016.  The search for all things prog is alive and well, and I thank you for staying the course...until next time... 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Lost In Kiev

Hello once again fellow progheads!  The calendar has almost run out of pages as we prepare to say goodbye to 2016.  With excitement for the future of the prog garden and a bit of pride in all the new growth thus far, I have loaded the Concert Closet for a journey to France; a land I have not spent enough time in this year.  Gotta change that going forward, but right now let's just focus on taking the search for all things prog to a band that understands what it means to follow your own path.  Time to check in with Lost in Kiev...



Lost in Kiev refers to themselves as "...a four piece band with visual effects on stage...write and record their own texts...progressive energy leads to oneiric post rock while emitting massive energy..."  No way I can pass up that introduction!  Let us wander into the "dreamworld" of Lost in Kiev...

My initial stroll to the buffet as we open this feast brings me to "Narcosis," an intricate "mind-bender" from their latest release, "Nuit Noire."  This first cut stays true to the album title; it is an extremely dark piece.  The percussion is reminiscent of a tribal beat as a narrative creeps in gently from behind. Different sounds come at you from all sides...your head is almost overloaded with deliberate, forceful thumping.  The guitar and keyboards work in tandem to keep you off kilter until you are unsure whether you are traveling in a parallel universe or simply wandering the outskirts of your own psyche...

Lost in Kiev has a keen sense for the abyss that is the imagination; an almost macabre approach to orally illustrate the inner workings of the mind.  My second selection for review, "Somnipathy," hits right at the epicenter of my point.  The song starts out hurling dark colors at a canvas sitting blank on the easel; the ominous grays, blacks, and dark hues running down slowly, creating an eerie
still-life...like a distorted caricature of normalcy.

The music of Lost in Kiev encourages you to take a deep introspective of the musical landscape and all that you fill it with.  They emit top notes of Beardfish, Atlas Volt, and Tool on a mild day.  I remember when deejays were not sure what to make of Talking Heads when their music first came out; way far off the beaten path of corporate radio...so too Lost in Kiev challenges those who prefer life in pre-labeled compartments.

Liner Notes...Lost in Kiev makes their home in Paris, France and is comprised of Maxime Ingrand on guitar and synthesizers, Dimitri Denat on guitar, Jean Christophe Condette on bass and synthesizers, and Yoan Vermeulen on drums and samples.  The band formed in 2007 and dealt with all the usual growing pains of life in the music world; namely personnel changes.  "Motions," their debut, was released in 2012, followed by "Nuit Noire" this past September.

Lost in Kiev tills ground in the prog garden where sun and water aren't necessarily plentiful--but strong healthy growth is vibrant.  Think Radiohead with David Byrne and Brian Eno adding a new slant while Robert Fripp does the mixing...eclectic and reality-changing all at once.  This is a band capable of putting together concept albums with imagination, time travel, and different states of mental awareness as the central focus.  Lost in Kiev is progressive rock that tips its hat to the standard bearers of the genre while foraging through virgin jungle at the same time...

My final serving from this celestial, other-worldly buffet is from their debut release, "A Mere Shift of Origin."  The bass and guitar open the song with guarded trepidation as the drums methodically move through to take control, working in tandem with that steady bass line.  Lost in Kiev manages to wander into your subconscious and get "lost" as they pierce the veil separating thought and action. The narrative floating over the top is but a subtle blade that cuts as smooth and delicately as a surgeon's scalpel through cartilage.

Learn more about Lost in Kiev and add to your music collection at Lost in Kiev Bandcamp and
Lost in Kiev Instagram.  As is the custom these days, the band has a Twitter account @LostInKiev and a Facebook page  https://wwwLost in Kiev FB.  Lost in Kiev can also be found on YouTube and Spotify, but my loyal followers know my plea at this juncture--please purchase their music and support this band!

The cut posted below, so as to whet your appetite,  is the aforementioned "Narcosis." Using just dark colors, Lost in Kiev manages to paint a vivid picture of the machinations of the mind.  Blacks and grays come to light as bright as the sun on a summer picnic as Lost in Kiev breathes life into the song.  Stay to the end and then play it back one more time...you want to be sure to squeeze all the life out of it...

                     

Once again the calendar seems to be turning pages much too quickly...the sand is flowing through the hourglass at much too rapid a rate as 2016 looms much larger in the rear view mirror than on the horizon...and yet despite the the mind-numbing speed with which it all is happening, the search for all things prog did manage to uncover many absolute gems hidden about.  Lost in Kiev is but one crop in an astounding haul from the prog garden this year.

Lost in Kiev tills acreage in a section bordered by bands that expand the width and breadth of the entire garden; King Crimson, Gentle Giant, Genesis, Tool...and allowing new growth is what keeps the prog garden relevant and thriving.  Of course the search for all things prog must continue--if for no other reason than it is necessary for the survival of the entire genre...until next time...

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Il Rumore Bianco and the release of "Antropocene"

Eastern Stand Time greetings fellow progheads!  Setting the clocks back is always bittersweet for me; while I love the extra sixty minutes Sunday morning lying prone and unconscious, the pre-dinner sunsets get me feeling melancholy for summer.  The best cure for the "lack-of-daylight" blues
is--what else--a prog music album review!

Although I asked you to adjust your reading habits to a bi-weekly format, I am (as usual) going off script and posting a new entry in this, my "off week."  My loyal followers will recall a review I wrote  in March 2014 for Il Rumore Bianco; a band with but one EP at the time, "Mediocrazia." Dedication to their craft has paid off  as the band--just as I predicted-- will be releasing their second album, "Antropocene" November 11th and asked me to write a new review.

Having been on the search for all things prog over three years, it is still personally gratifying when a band or artist asks for my humble opinion of their work; a responsibility I never take lightly.  So join me in the Concert Closet as I set the GPS for a return trip to Verona, Italy and embark on some quality time listening to "Antropocene."



First serving on the buffet platter is a calorie laden serving of ""Al Crepuscolo Dell'anima."  In keeping with complete transparency and full disclosure, Italian is not my mother tongue.  However; in the prog garden, music speaks to your heart and soul...and the depth and emotions are bursting through loud and clear.

The song opens with a jazzy, "Transatlantic meets Jaco Pastorius" feel to it.  The bass line draws you in throughout the entire piece while drums and guitars work in harmony to create a sturdy yet fragile foundation to relay a message of hope.  There is an urgency permeating the music as it enters your auditory canals and runs the length of your spine.  Not intended to be a spoiler alert--but the gunshot following the spoken word at the end will chill you...and make you want to go back and right the injustices the world never seems to run out of...an extremely moving piece...

Going back for a second serving, I find "Tempio Pallido" flowing gently through the headphones. The soft piano opening belies a gentler, softer side to the band...top notes of Under the Psycamore and Sir Chronicles waft through the air like cotton candy threads at the county fair.  Il Rumore Bianco plays with an understated intensity...the ability to strike so many affecting chords and thrust so many conflicting colors at the canvas while maintaining a sense of calm and serenity is rare and appreciated.  Il Rumore Bianco shares acreage in the prog garden with Seven Impale, Gentle Giant, and Gekko Projekt.  This is a band that, while seeming to prefer the rain, can have a lot of fun in the sunshine as well.

Liner Notes...originating in the aforementioned  Verona, Italy in 2012, Il Rumore Bianco is Allesandro Zara on lead vocals, Giacomo Banali on guitars, Michele Zanotti on guitars and saxophone, Thomas Pessina on keyboards and synthesizers, Allesandro Danzi on bass, and Andrea Sbrogio on drums.  If the studio is not crowded enough, the band includes additional musicians Federico Lonardi on guitar, Eddy Fiorio on synthesizer, Umberto Sartori behind a second drum kit, and Carlo Cappiotti on backing vocals.

Il Rumore Bianco released their debut EP "Mediocrazia" in 2013.  Having poured forth a solid foundation of sound, the band supported the album with extensive touring throughout northern Italy. Three years after the fact, "Antropocene" is the band's sophomore release and first full length album.  Il Rumore Bianco stays mainly in the deeper, though-provoking section of the prog garden, but they are quite capable of straying "outside the lines" and pushing a button or two in your limbic system.  You may be tempted to focus on the smoky haze that seems to have settled over their sound but just keep walking...the lens clears as the big picture comes into focus.

My final selection for review this week is called "Tephlon."  This particular cut hits harder and strikes deeper as Michele's saxophone comes right at you from the start.  Top notes of Weather Report, Chick Corea,  and Traffic flow through the headphones like an electric current firing up an amplifier.  The sound comes at you from all directions...building layer upon layer with keyboards and drums that underlie the sax as the bass keeps you mesmerized from just outside the light's bright arc...Il Rumore Bianco is a band well worth expanding your music library for.

"Antropocene" will be available November 11th and I ask all my loyal followers to peel back the curtain and check it out for yourselves.  You can learn more about Il Rumore Bianco at the band's website Il Rumore Bianco.  Their debut release is available now at IRB Bandcamp in case you cannot wait for  "Antropocene" to drop Friday.  As always, social media makes it easy to contact and follow the band at IRB Facebook  and get the latest musings and rumblings from Twitter @IlRumoreBianco. The band also has a YouTube channel at IRB YouTube where I suspect additional videos will be posted following the release of "Antropocene."



Since the new album is not out yet, I cannot post a clip...but rest assured that when the clock strikes twelve Friday morning, it will have been well worth the wait.  Il Rumore Bianco is adding an impressive entry to their resume, which will continue to grow and expand as the band reaches a wider audience and extends their reach through the prog garden.  Following a band as they grow, watching and listening as their sound evolves and matures (like a fine Italian wine), is really why I started the search for all things prog in the first place.

Those of you who have been following my journey know that prog rock is the center of my musical universe, and discovering new and lesser known bands and artists are the driving force behind why I do what I do.  The search for all things prog is more than just a catch phrase; for me it truly is a journey that been as fun as it has been educational.  Il Rumore Bianco is but a snapshot of the ever growing paradise that is the prog garden.

Now the search for all things prog continues on its global quest to bring to you my loyal followers the latest editions to the prog garden.  Updates such as this make it especially rewarding; I hope you enjoy the success stories as much as I do.  But now is not the time to wax philosophic; there is too much undiscovered acreage in the prog garden.  The search for all things prog marches on...until next time...