Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Youngblood Brass Band- Pax Volumi

Funk and jazz, hip-hop and punk; these are just some of the places that Youngblood Brass Band have gone to draw inspiration for this latest release.

Pax Volumi, the fourth album from this 10-piece collective from across America. Blending hip-hop rapping with tongue-in-cheek lyrics, jazzy horn lines, punk-y beats and funky bass lines, there really is something to appeal to all audiences about this music.

The album successfully captures the energetic craziness of the live band, and shows off the way the group is influenced by New Orleans Dixieland jazz with the semi-improvised nature of the tracks, and the interaction between the different parts.

Youngblood Brass band really have got some fantastic tracks on this album- the opener and debut single, ’20 Questions’ shows off their Hip-hop stylings to great aplomb. The horn riffs crackle like fire and the lyrics come thick and fast. ‘Wrestlevania’ is a much more jazzy number- instrumental, it shows off the band’s prowess as players. The cover of Chaka Khan’s 80s classic ‘Ain’t Nobody’ is full of life and energy, with some great sections of powerful horns, with a slightly latin beat. ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ takes the feel and sounds of a New Orleans funeral march, slow and sombre, before lifting up into a celebration of life with the segue into ‘His Eye is on the Sparrow.’ The moments where individuals have solos only serves to show how talented the individuals who make up the band are- both tasteful and complicated, these short solos add little bits of individual character to certain tracks, rather than being used as something to have in every song.

Overall, this album crackles with energy, and shows off the talents of the band as a whole; as well as individual musicians. Equal parts jazz, rock, hip-hop and funk, there is something for everyone on this release.


Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Ballard- Pancho Got Soul!

An attempt at soul that seems to have more in common with rock of the 1960s and early punk than strict soul music, Ballard’s 4-track EP (and a bonus demo song), Pancho Got Soul! is a low-tech, guitar-based offering.

Rejecting highly polished production and squeaky clean digitalised sounds, this EP has a raw honesty to it. The crunchy, slightly distorted sound works well for tracks like ‘Race Relations’, which sounds like it is being shouted through a loudhailer. 

However, this dirt does get a bit trying on some of the other tracks, as it doesn’t offer much scope for a variety in sounds. The drums are very low down in the mix- especially as the vocals and guitar are so loud, and sound very loose; at times almost like a child’s toy drum set.

The songs themselves all follow a fairly set pattern, simple structures, no fancy playing, pseudo-socially relevant lyrics, and a few catchy hooks- the chorus in Race Relations is a good example of this- and a humorous take on real-life subject matter. 

Overall, it’s an enjoyable album, and with a slightly tighter production, and a bit more variety in the writing, a next release could be really good.


Thursday, 6 June 2013

Sleekstain- Hard

Opening in the way they intend to go on, Sleekstain’s latest release of pure, un-diluted rock and roll channels the energy of classic acts whilst remaining individual and modern.

The music on Hard is all no-frills and stripped down. What solo sections there are are kept short and sweet, only as added sections to compliment some of the songs, rather than as compulsory, elongated areas for the players to show off for long stretches. However, this does mean that the songs can get repetitive and samey, with very little change in the texture or overall sound of the individual tracks.

The 10 tracks on the album are all high in energy and are intended to be played at a loud volume. The songs are melodic riotous, good-time rock and roll party tracks which showcase the bands ability to write uncompromising songs and great, catchy riffs, along with hooks and melodies which are instantly memorable and inspire you to sing along.

Overall, it’s a catchy album, full of good-time songs and soarin melodies. However the lack of variety can make it seem repetitive and samey. Despite this, track for track, the songs are all storming rock belters.


Thursday, 23 May 2013

Marius Neset Live @ Brighton Dome Studio Theatre 04/05/13

European jazz came to Brighton for the first day of the 2013 Brighton Festival. For the second year, Marius Neset and his quartet brought their modern sound to a packed out Dome Studio Theatre.

Performing mostly numbers from his latest album Birds, the selection of numbers showed off Marius’ virtuosity on both Soprano and Tenor saxophones in equal measure. The songs took inspiration from post-bop players such as Wayne Shorter and Michael Brecker as well as classical music like Stravinsky and Steve Reich.

The set showed off Neset’s solo playing outside of the quartet too, as he explored he full range of the saxophone’s sonic range, from low, multi-tones through to piercingly high altissimo notes. The speed and accuracy of the playing was dazzling, performing complex passages with ease. Neset was also able to take a step out from the limelight, occasionally moving over to the side of the stage to allow the other members of the band to take priority for keyboard and bass solos.

The whole band really got into the groove of the music, giving an energetic performance, showing an improvisational ability and spontaneity which, combined with their togetherness as a group really showed the way in which the quartet reacted and interacted as a group.

If jazz and experimental, self-reflective instrumental music if for you, then definitely check out this young musician.

(Pic from airartistagency.com)

Marius Neset- Birds

This second album from rising Norwegian saxophone star Marius Neset show off all of the aspects of his playing and compositional styles which have enabled his ascent in the European Jazz scene.

On all tracks, the angular melodies, long, flowing runs and long, solo passages all flow smoothly frim under his fingers, whilst supported by an expert rhythm section. Neset’s Tenor and Soprano playing here alludes to his wide range of influences- from Michael Brecker to Stravinsky. The playing is inventive and experimental in places, whilst retaining a style which harks back to earlier players, providing a range of sounds and using repeated passages overlapped with each other to create exciting soundscapes- as can be seen from the immediately compelling title track Birds, which shows off all of the wide technical skills of Neset’s playing and those of his quartet.

The album contains a good balance of more aggressive tracks such as Boxing, and lighter, more flowing numbers like Reprise.

The invention and originality of Neset’s playing seems to leap out of the speakers and definitely compels you to listen to the album over and over again.


Saturday, 18 May 2013

The Skints, Is Tropical, Thumpers & Blaudzun @ The Komedia, Brighton 16/05/13- The Great Escape Festival

The first evening of Brighton’s Great Escape Festival was in full swing when the acts scheduled for Komedia kicked off their night. The sheer diversity on offer from one venue over the course of the evening was astounding, from folk-infused pop, to noisy punk-dance through to dub-reggae, there was something for everyone, and, as the ever-changing makeup of the audience suggested, each group had their own fan base out in force.

First up, representing Holland for the evening was Blaudzun, a seven-piece group who mixed folk music and instruments with uplifting pop melodies, to create an uplifting and joyous set. The group had obviously won some fans earlier in the day at a previous gig the played in the city, as many in the audience had been so impressed by the first show that they felt a second time was a must. Between the various members in the band, the range of instruments played was staggering, all of them playing at least two or three different instruments (mandolins, banjos, trumpets, accordions and electric violins were amongst the instruments which were brought out at one time or another.) The band’s sound varied from uplifting pop-ish tracks, complete with folk-dance rhythms, to lighter sounds which the various extra instruments gave interesting textures to- creating washes of music which flowed over the audience, creating an ethereal atmosphere. It is not hard to imagine, especially with the make-up of the contemporary charts, this band- the project of Johannes Sigmund, his brother, and various others- rising in fame and popularity, with many of the songs sounding similar to various tracks which have shot into the public consciousness on the back of advertising campaigns.

Band two was London group Thumpers. Their brand of safe, commercial pop which seemed to have less depth than a puddle in the desert, and seemed devoid of much in the way of meaning and thought, won them a small following. The tracks were fairly similar and basic, following more clichés and set formulae than what constitutes “radical new music” than can be found in an issue of NME.

Next up, Is Tropical came to the stage in a blaze of distorted guitars, leather, punk-rock attitude and technical difficulties when it took a while for them to get their microphones to work properly. This additional frustration, however, seemed only to fuel further their angry mixture of rock and synthesised beats, which gradually increased as their curtailed set progressed. The trio, which was expanded by the addition of an extra singer for their final track, performed tracks which mixed thrashing guitar chords, brief solo passages and heavy drums with synth beats, meaning it took a short while to get used to their unusual sound, but once it was in full flow, it was hard not to enjoy their infectious grooves.

The final group was London dub-reggae outfit The Skints, on the first of their two Great Escape shows. The band’s urban, reggae sound, mixed with rapping and ska flavours has won them a large following over recent years, and the club was packed with a full audience, all skanking the night away. It was hard to remain still as The Skints’ upbeat rhythms kept up at an unrelenting pace. Three of the four members at various points took to the mic, each of them with a totally different vocal style, each of which perfectly suited the style of tracks they were singing- from melodious, slow dub-reggae, to rapid-fire ska to rapping over the Jamaica-meets-London mix. This melange of grooves and funky tunes made for a fantastic end to the night, far and away the best band on the bill, offering funky grooves and great sing-along tunes. (Although a brief attempt by an audience member at crowd at a stage dive/crowdsurf met with minimal success).

By the very nature of the Great Escape Festival, audiences are very fluid, moving from venue to venue to see different bands on different bills, which meant that the different groups and subcultures who flocked through the doors of Komedia on Thursday evening each brought with it a new atmosphere and a different energy- each in itself interesting to watch- giving the different bands appreciation. Although it would have been an interesting experiment to have the same audience stay in for all four of the evening’s bands, as at a standard gig as opposed to a festival event, to see what dynamic would emerge then.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Ingrid Laubrock Anti-House- Strong Place

The lines between composition and improvisation have always been ones which jazz musicians seek to blur- from the melodious lines of Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis, to the flights of technical expertise of Charlie Parker and John Coltrane- the improvisational side of jazz has always been important, and on this latest album from multi-national ensemble Anti-House, led by saxophonist Ingrid Laubrock, definitely adds to the blurring effect.

The tracks on Strong Place are a series of compositions which incorporate jazz playing with avant-guard techniques, and inflections of world music. The mixture of flowing melodies which seamlessly merge and combine with sometimes halting, stuttering rhythmic patterns and extended use of harmonies serve to accentuate the heavily improvised nature of the album and to make the individual tracks all distinct, whilst allowing a constant darker feel underlying the whole album.

The tracks are all of a length which allows all the members of the group space to play. This means that the album has a very organic, almost ethereal quality to it.

The musicians all make use of added techniques on their instruments, other than just playing normally- the guitar is played with the tuners, the saxophones squeak and rumble and the piano is played in a percussive style. All of this combines to make an exciting, eclectic and interesting collection of tracks.


Thursday, 9 May 2013

Ant Law- Entanglement

Mixing a virtuosic technique which takes as much from rock shredders as it does from past masters of jazz guitar, Entanglement gives an interesting and exciting selection of tracks which show off a stunning array of styles and techniques. The album feels like more of a whole band effort at times more than a solo release, with guitars being used heavily for rhythm playing as well as lead lines.

Ant Law doesn’t hog the spotlight at all on various tracks other members of his group step up to the plate and take the lead- the sax is prominent on opener ‘Kanda Jhati’, while the piano offers a rippling wash of notes over the top of ‘Entanglement I- Janus and Epimetheus’.  Both these tracks offer different flavours. ‘Kanda Jhati’ in an unusual, groovy piece, feature swinging guitar and sax solos, whilst ‘Entanglement I’ is much more relaxed and has an ancient quality to it- utilising lots of guitar chords, wind drones and a more laid-back beat. The group nature of the album continues, with ‘Silver’ featuring a bass solo accompanied by minimalistic guitar chords.  

The way in which the album allows the whole band to stretch their musical legs through melodies and solos without keeping too much focus on Ant Law’s guitar gives it a much more rounded scope than is often the case with solo releases. When Ant Law is the focus, however, the playing is fantastic, a great young jazz guitar talent.


Sunday, 5 May 2013

CrashDiet, Jettblack, Sleekstain, Hell in the Club, Fallen Mafia Live @ O2 Academy Islington 27/04/13

Most tours have their share of ups and downs along the road. Tragedies and excitement usually come in equal measure, however on the last full night of CrashDiet’s Savage Playground tour, the unfair amounts of tragedy which had stalked this particular group of bands (The tragic death of CrashDiet’s manager barely a week earlier whilst looking around one of the tour venues) was evident in the atmosphere of the venue, but this didn’t prevent any of the acts from putting on a fantastic show.
First up on the bill were Fallen Mafia, a female-fronted hair metal act from Newcastle. This band gave a high energy show, full of motion and heavy riffs, which began the show with exactly what was to follow. Fallen Mafia churned out fast-paced riff after fast-paced riff, showing off their brand of hard and fast rock and roll.

Italy’s Hell in the Club were the next to take to the stage, showing off their own take on the much maligned genre of melodic glam metal. (for some reason these days known as “sleaze metal”) The songs were uniformly exciting, melodic and powerful, exciting the growing audience, and adding fuel to a growing belief that there is still a future for melodic metal. The band’s repertoire of upliftingly anthemic songs won them the audience, and it was evident from the sheer frenetic energy on stage that a good time was had by all.

Last of the “support acts” were French rockers Sleekstain and their brand of melodic, slightly dressed up hard rock. Supporting their new release Hard, Sleekstain’s balls-to-the-wall hard rock set included classic sounding driving riffs and ballads which made the audience reach for their lighters. The band’s tight sound brought a touch of a more classic heavy rock sound to the night, with more bluesy riffs and an exciting brand of rock n roll, as opposed to the hair-metal which prevailed over the night.

The penultimate band was London’s own Jettblack, mixing their heavy 80s metal riffs with a melodic edge, complete with a more rocky flavour (and a slightly mixed metaphor), they played a barnstorming set of catchy rock/metal numbers. Jettblack’s fans were truly out in force, with large numbers of the audience clad in their t-shirts, and chanting the band’s name long before they were due on stage, and long after they were off. The band were on top form, moving around the stage constantly, climbing up onto specially placed boxes for solos in order to make them stand out even more. The playing was all fantastic- riffs and solos all leaping out of the band like nobody’s nobody’s business. The highlight of the set was definitely the closing number, 'Raining Rock’ which had the crowd singing along the whole way through.

Finally, Crashdiet took to the stage, offering their high paced, high energy, high glam brand of punky hair metal. Playing a set mostly taken from their new album The Savage Playground churning out some fantastic melodic tracks which whipped the audience into a frenzy- starting up the night’s only mosh pits, and encouraging a (shortlived) bit of crowdsurfing from kids in the audience- coming before singer, Simon Cruz, climbed atop a speaker stack to stage dive as part of the band’s finale. The emotional significance of the gig on the band was clear to see, and the sheer energy and the way that CrashDiet played through the show. The crowd was, by this point, at capacity, and without exception, having a great time- all arms raised and jumping around as much as the space would allow. Track after track were fantastically executed, including a short bass solo which was full of a simplicity and tastefulness which went totally against any concept of a virtuosic solo segment. Of course their highlight track was the bluesy Cocaine Cowboys which shows off acoustic slide guitar playing as well as short bursts of harmonica before kicking in as a fantastically over the top hair metal anthem that simply oozes sleaze and hairspray.
The whole show was a brilliant, energetic, night of unabashed rock and roll.

 All photos (c) Nick Webb Photography 2013

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Voodoo Six- Songs to Invade Countries to

Modern rockers Voodoo Six have been championing a form of all-guns-blazing music which has been recognized by members of the rock and metal elite from Steve Harris of Iron Maiden to Mike Portnoy formerly of Dream Theater.

Songs to Invade Countries to provides a great balance between heavy, guitar based epics and melodic moments which show off a more light-hearted side to the band. The tracks also have a groove and definite blues-based kick which, along with the fantastic guitar solos, played with a gnarly tone shows how Voodoo Six are masters at a very traditionalist form of hard rock.

The vast majority of the album falls firmly into a category of earthy hard rock, which meld with groovy hooks to create a gritty atmosphere. The tracks are all strong rockers; riff laden and driving, which keeps the album moving forward without becoming repetitive.
The album perfectly shows off the musicianship and song-writing skills of all the band members, offering opportunities for all to shine.

Overall the album is a great rock and roll album which draws heavily on classic influences, whilst still managing to maintain a modern sound which allows it to fit in with the 21st century’s rock and metal scene without sounding outdated.


Friday, 26 April 2013

Voodoo Vegas- The Rise of Jimmy Silver

The Rise of Jimmy Silver is the new release from young blues rockers Voodoo Vegas. Their brand of high-octane guitar rock is both melodic and heavy at the same time.

This album is, from start to finish, a storming album. The 11 tracks, including a brief intro and an interlude track, the Voodoo Vegas definitely have one foot firmly in their roots, with their blues-oriented tracks talking about girls, cars and folk-heroes. The album even includes a once-compulsory acoustic track (what happened to the days when every rock band tried to have one acoustic track on their albums?) The haunting ‘What I Pay’ simply oozes with a spooky, swampy air which sounds like something a 70s Southern Rock band may have come out with. ‘Ferry Song’ furthers the classic vibe of the album and the band’s overall sound with a wailing harmonica solo, imitating train-like sounds and pushing the track along as well as any old-school bluesman. ‘Lost in Confusion’, a pain-drenched ode to pointlessly lost loves goes to show that Voodoo Vegas have a softer side, and can write a heart-rending ballad as well as any 80s arena superstars.

This album is a joyous rock and roll romp, which goes to show that guitar-based music can still kick, yet remain soulful and be played with plenty of feeling.  Definitely a band to watch out for in the future!


Sunday, 21 April 2013

Phil Demmel Jackson Guitar Clinic at GAK Brighton 20/04/13

A taste of the San Francisco Bay Area came to Brighton last night, as Phil Demmel, lead guitarist from modern thrash metal band Machine Head, gave a Jackson guitars clinic at the GAK music shop.

Along with a brief history of Jackson Guitars from the company representative who has been touring Europe alongside Phil Demmel, the modern thrash legend gave a brief talk about his guitar playing history, his influences (announcing his love of KISS), and the players who have inspired him to play- Angus Young and Randy Rhoads being the most stand out figures. The talk also traced his relationships with various guitars and members of his bands.

Of course, whilst there, a few Machine Head songs were played from the extensive back catalogue of tracks that he has worked on, along with a jam with Chris Cannella from the Jackson guitars workshop. Between these two players and plenty of choruses of “F**k yeah!” from the audience (complete with the horns \m/), the spirit of metal was certainly in residence, as huge riffs and crazy shred guitar solos were in abundance.  In that small room of barely 50 people, there was much more of an intimate atmosphere which helped bring Phil Demmel over as a really down to earth person who just happens to be in one of the planet’s biggest metal bands, touring the world. Although weeks on the road seemed to be taking their toll as my own question to him about musical influences outside the world of metal (i.e. Would one ever catch him listening to Beethoven or Miles Davis etc.) spawned a statement of solidarity with Lamb of God’s Randy Blythe in his manslaughter trial (a worthy cause in itself, but not quite what I was after as an answer).

After the talk Phil took the time for signings and photos with all the fans in the building and seemed genuinely willing to take the time to chat, despite his road-weariness.  

Friday, 19 April 2013

Subservience- Ripped in Half

Brutal, extreme and violent, Ripped in Half is a decleration of war from Brighton-based metallers Subservience. This 4 track EP shows that British death metal is healthy and remains a force to be reckoned with on the metal scene.

Subservience’s songs are all fast-paced, riff-led and full of double-kick drum barrages which never let up. The music is loud and in your face. The songs are all stripped back and no frills, 3 of them clocking in at little over 3 minutes, and the bonus track ‘Round 1, Fight!’ is only 10 seconds long.

There are few compromises or areas where they give in to technical wizardry alone- solos are minimal, and the majority of the album focuses on the angry, tight sound of the band as a whole.

Overall this EP is as good as any other extreme metal that I have heard recently; completely brutal, understated and unrelenting.  


Diemonds- The Bad Pack

            This female fronted Canadian hard rock outfit is yet another example of a modern resurgence in music steeped in the legacy of 80s American hard rock and heavy metal. Full of driving riffs and loud choruses, The Bad Pack definitely has the feel of a good-time metal album.

Infused with a punky attitude, but retaining the more metal side of the music, from the “widdly-widdly” (technical term there…) solos, through to the spandex and hairspray, Diemonds are definitely takes a modern look at hair metal, whilst creating a different attitude with the use of a female singer. The songs don’t try to do anything mind-bending and drastic to their genre, however, they provide a definite shot of ‘Loud N’ Nasty’ energy to it, and don’t seem to take themselves too seriously, acknowledging that it’s  fun, noisy party metal which is great for a good time.

The songs on The Bad Pack stick with the traditional themes which are followed in classic metal- night time parties, escapism and generally having a good time. The music is also very much what you would expect- fast paced riffs, melodic lead guitar lines, over the top solos and chugging rhythmic patterns.

Overall, whilst the invention is kept minimal, Diemonds have produced a bombastic album that’s full of pure, good old fashioned rock music.


Pink Narcissus- Blood on the Page

Described as “David Bowie meets Rage Against the Machine”, Pink Narcissus’ album Blood on the Page does provide a heavy dose of noisy, artsy rock music, which matches the poetic vocals and deep voice of David Bowie and a heavy, electric side with a funkier edge, which is more associated with Rage Against the Machine.

Full of fuzzy guitars and experimental sounds using feedback, the album provides a heavy rock riffs and rapid beats, whilst covering it with semi-choral lines and a frantic style of singing which brings across an eloquent form of anger and angst which is more effecting than other forms of “angry” music.

The six tracks presented on Blood on the Page are an interesting mixture of heavy, effects laden rock, complete with nods to more synth based styles from the 1980s, which makes the album engaging and eclectic. Pink Narcissus’ songwriting allows for massive changes in feel, tempo, and style, even within songs, with ‘The Great Divide’ alternating between heavier sections and occasional melodic areas. ‘Kingdom of the Blind’ also, starts with a series of seeming noises before a stricter rhythm begins, whilst a powerful bass which gives more than a passing nod to more electronic forms of music slowly builds up. This creates a powerful and atmospheric piece of music which really shows off the experimental nature of the band.

Overall, this is an interesting album, with off kilter-rhythms and occasionally disturbing sonic passages.


Friday, 12 April 2013

Spock's Beard- Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep

Complex, atmospheric, yet undeniably heavy, this new release from a leading light in the Prog world doesn’t let down fans of odd time signatures and ever-changing song structures. None of the songs on the album clock in at any less than 5 minutes long, which means that within each song, there is plenty of room for every member of the band to stretch their musical legs.

It is hard for a band to replace any member, however the greatest challenge or both band and listeners must be a change in singer. However new boy Ted Leonard does a great job as replacement for Nick D’Virgilo, continuing with the soaring, melodic vocal lines which are a staple of Spock’s Beard’s style and retaining the spirit of classic Progressive bands which Spock’s Beard hold as their obvious influences.

Each track’s length means that there is able to be a definite sense of development; many of them starting with a more relaxed feel, gradually building to a climactic section of riffs and solos. The track ‘Afterthoughts’ even includes an a cappella refrain, just to add something even more different to the mix.

Overall, the album is great for a more interesting, challenging take on rock music. The mixture of atmospheric sound effects and technical passages allows for a great blend of modern sounding and more traditional styles of progressive music.


Sacred Mother Tongue- Out Of The Darkness

High speed heavy metal, thrashing riffs and insane guitar solos, it’s no wonder that people are saying that Sacred Mother Tongue are a band to watch. This second release continues in the same vein to which fans of SMT are used to.

Every song is a high-speed exercise in precision riffing, and the quality of the guitar solos (of which there are a great many) shows that it is no wonder that guitarist Andy James has been nominated as “Dimebag Darrell Shredder of the Year” in 2013’s Metal Hammer Golden Gods awards.

The band shows off an ever more complex writing style, with riffs which require a great deal of rhythmical interplay, along with heavier, slower sections in which the whole band falls into a solid groove.

A standout track which shows off all of this is ‘Seven’. Opening with an extended instrumental introduction section in which the tight rhythmic playing of the band, followed by a burst of technical guitar virtuosity. 

Between verses, the band falls into a tight-knit groove, guaranteed to get heads nodding along, fists pumping, and generally infusing the listener with as much energy as is evident on the album.

Really though, there seems to be little variety in the way Sacred Mother Tongue writes songs. Many of the tracks are of a very similar high speed, and follow the same formula which, by the end of the album can seem to have become a little tired.  The good thing about this though, is that the tracks are all great numbers, and any of them stand alone as great examples of modern heavy metal.


Thursday, 11 April 2013

March The Desert- March The Desert

March The Desert’s latest release contains all the trademarks of the psychedelic metal which they claim to be attempting to emulate. Thick, distorted guitars playing groovy, slow riffs give the music a bounce, whilst the harsh vocal sound suits the science-fictional element of the lyrics.

The production side of the March The Desert EP leaves a lot to be desired. The vocals are at times overpowered by the rest of the band, which has a muffled sound, and at points the words are incomprehensible- even when they’re not meant to be. The whole album sounds very compressed, and could do with being made a lot clearer sounding. The drums at times blend completely in with the rest of the sound, which means that the album seems to lack the punchy rhythm that would hold the album together. The cymbals however seem to be left in prominence, creating a splashing, rhythmic sound which highlights the minimal drumming. In the points where the drums can be heard, they sound very loose and spongy, lacking any kick or punch.

The tracks have a slow, bluesy groove feel that has been drenched in distortion and various effects, giving the songs a trippy, stoner rock feel. These 6 long tracks all have a very similar feel: Slow and laid-back with a heavy, doom attitude. From time to time, the band let’s go and begins to show a technical side,

 Overall, the album has some fairly large production issues which seriously detract from the actual content. Musically, the band seems tight, but if felt like many of the tracks were using recycled ideas as the tracks lacked lots of individuality.


Live Review- The Von Hertzen Brothers @ Assembly Hall Islington 05/04/13

Whilst a room attached to a town hall doesn't immediately look like it lends itself to being a venue for a rock gig, Islington’s Assembly Hall gave the event a sophisticated atmosphere.

Opening up the proceedings were Barbe-Q-Barbies, a Finnish all-girl rock band. This seemed like an odd choice in comparison to the other two acts- playing more straight-up rock and roll with a mixture of punk and glam thrown in for good measure. Their set was fast paced and full of energy, with no frills attached. 

When Haken took to the stage with their complex and highly involved music, the atmosphere became more serious. With their faces set in concentration, it was still plain to see that they were revelling in their constantly evolving and changing music. The music, which took ideas of progressive rock and metal music, with the added element of instrumental Jazzy, circus-metal breakdowns, during which the singer- following on the tradition of Jazz musicians- left the stage to allow the instrumentalists to have the full glare of the spotlight. The band’s high level of musicianship was shown by their use of more unusual guitars- 7 strings and 8 strings, along with a 6 string bass, which added to the texture and range of the music. Debuting a new track which went down well with the audience, the constantly changing time signatures still ensuring that people trying to keep up with the music were kept on their toes.

The Van Hortzen Brothers’ set took in many tracks from their latest album, Nine Lives as well as tracks from their earlier releases. Live, the Von Hertzen Brother’s showed that intelligent music does not have to be flashy or ostentatious, which allowed them greater freedom of movement on-stage, whilst still playing intricate parts and taking full use of the vocal harmonies which are part of their trademark sound. Highlights of the set included an electric performance of the lead single from Nine Lives, ‘Flowers and Rust’, which proved to the audience that underneath the intricate and exciting effects played on an old fashioned Moog synthesiser, The Von Hertzen Brothers are still most certainly a rock and roll band.

(All photos Nick Webb, 2013)

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Live Review- Jeff Scott Soto @ Camden Underworld 06/04/13

A far cry from the heady days of performing to sold out stadium audiences, Jeff Scott Soto nevertheless played an energetic and high-octane gig in Camden’s Underworld nightclub in support of his 2012 solo release, Damage Control.

The self-proclaimed “Soto-palooza” package of bands with which Jeff Scott Soto has a direct connection began with Greek glam-metallers Danger Angel who’s loud and proud brand of metal began the night with a high energy set. Soto had contributed backing vocals to Death Angel’s most recent album, Revolutia, and it was definitely possible to hear the similarities in the musical styles of the groups, a similarity which continued right through the whole event. Death Angel’s music melded melodious vocal lines with cranked up guitar riffs, blistering guitar solos and a keytarist who’s synth harmonies added an extra layer to the band’s sound, as well as allowing for an extra body to be running around the stage at all times.

Second on for the night was a trio fronted by Soto’s own guitarist Jorge Salán. The guitar work for which the band was really the vehicle was stunning, with Salán firing of solo after insane solo with flair and showmanship, whilst allowing the remaining sections of the songs to complst birthday only a few days before.  
ement the very showy solo playing which featured so heavily. Impressively, Salán was able to keep up a strong vocal performance whilst still playing complex guitar lines. The band was full of old-fashioned rock and roll spirit, and ended with a rousing rendition of the Gary Moore Celtic
 rock classic ‘Over The Hills and Far Away’, as it would have been the late, great guitarist’s 61

The main attraction of the night was, of course Jeff Scott Soto himself. Fronting his multinational band, JSS delivered a stunning performance in what he described as a “homecoming gig” in a “second home.” The set consisted mostly of tracks off his latest solo release, Damage Control, from 2012, (my review of which can be read here) but also featured tracks from earlier in his career. Moving about the stage almost constantly, JSS was able to engage with his audience a lot better than would be possible in a bigger venue, giving this sold out gig a more intimate feel. The only moment that the gig really slowed down was for the brief period that Soto played keyboards on a mellower track. In a moment of spontaneity, the ‘compulsory’ vocal back and forth was interrupted by a fantastic bass solo from the last minute stand in replacement bassist David Z, who’s single-handed rendition of Billie Jean brought a funkier element to the whole event, followed by a stunning cover of Ozzy Osbourne’s classic ‘Shot in the Dark’.  After an epic set which went on for the best part of 2 hours, and coming against the noise curfew in Underworld, Soto introduced his friend, Nathan James (made famous on the ITV show ‘Superstar’), fresh of a tour with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, which Soto also sings for, in order to duet on ‘Stand Up and Shout’ from the soundtrack to the 2001 film ‘Rock Star’, for which Jeff Scott Soto had recorded all of the vocals for the fictitious metal band Steel Dragon. Finally, the riotous set closed with an a cappella verse of Steel Panther’s sleaze-metal track ‘Community Property.’ The whole night was electric, boding well for Soto’s set at Hard Rock Hell AOR later in the week. 

(all photos by Nick Webb)

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Jeff Scott Soto- Damage Control

Vocalist extraordinaire Jeff Scott Soto, whose previous credits include Journey, Yngwie Malmsteen, Talisman and W.E.T., released his latest solo album in 2012. His music remains faithful to the era that he started in: Loud, brash, 80s rock and metal.

JSS’s voice here is as powerful as it ever is, showing that despite over 30 years of singing melodic hard rock, he can still hit the high notes.

The album is well balanced with anthemic, thundering guitar tracks, complete with shredding guitar solos, and more melodic tracks which are intended to get lighters rising up in audiences.  Track by track, there are few duff numbers,

Although some may label the whole album as radio-friendly cheese-rock, complete with power ballads and ostentatiousness which wishes that 80s success would once again return- I am partial to 80s bombast, so I am not going to hold that against the album. However the album does feel nostalgic at times, almost refusing to acknowledge any musical developments since Arena Rock stopped getting significant airplay.
Lyrically, the album focuses on standard radio rock themes of love and cars, with little attempt at lyrical depth, the purpose of the songs being to get a crowd rocking, not thinking.

Overall, this is an album for the 80s written in the 2010’s. The album keeps up a rock attitude the whole way through, but does feel at times very much like a nostalgia album of a star still trying to cling onto a bygone era. The album isn't bad at all- it just feels a bit cheesy and nostalgic, and doesn't quite have the same modernised rejuvenation that some similar artists have managed in recent years.


Wednesday, 3 April 2013

The Von Hertzen Brothers- Nine Lives

Progressive and melodic, yet at times heavy and more doomy, Nine Lives shows that The Von Hertzen Brothers have a very broad view of what Rock Music can be. Their compositions range from atmospheric, Pink Floyd-esque sci-fi trips, to heavy rocking ball breakers. During all of this mix, however, this Finnish group remain very melodic and soulful.

The band uses their great musical talents to make interesting and complex music which doesn't come across as ostentatious or too flashy. They make use of more interesting scale choices and unusual harmonic progressions and folky aspects of music from their native Finland. Lyrically, they are influenced by as diverse subjects as the works of William Blake and Indian philosophy. Musically, the band relies upon atmospheric songwriting and vocal harmonies for their progressive edge, staying away from million note solos and ridiculously fast passages.

Nine Lives is VHB’s 5th album, and their biggest to date, coming after 2011’s Stars Aligned, which began to break them in the UK, and gained them recognition with nominations in the Classic Rock awards.

The album opens with the groovy rocker “Insomniac”, which shows that the band can remain melodic whilst playing heavy music. This is followed by the album’s lead single, “Flowers and Rust”, which flows and spins from light melodies to harder choruses. These differences in styles continue throughout the rest of the album, each track showing a different side of the band, yet remaining a coherent whole.

Overall this is a fantastic modern prog album which manages to avoid falling into many of the traps which contemporary progressive music tends to fall into (Putting far more emphasis on harsh vocal sounds or being much more over the top with speedy passages and complex instrumental and solo sections than is necessary.)


New Jersey Nights- Theatre Royal, Brighton 30/03/13

Set in a bar in the early 1960s, “New Jersey Nights” brought the sounds of Frakie Valli and the Four Seasons to Brighton over the Easter Weekend.

The production showcases the hits of the band, and Frankie Valli’s solo tracks from the early 1960s right up to their most recent recordings. From early close harmony pop to more funky and rock and roll numbers from the 1970s and 80s, the four singers and their band had much of the audience up and dancing.

The show was, however, stuck somewhere between a tribute act and a full-blown show, without really being either. The band was mostly hidden at the back of the stage as if it wasn’t there, apart from the odd number which featured their saxophone or guitar player, whilst it was still acknowledged that it was there and still in full view, suited up in order to retain a coherent image. There was a small troop of background dancers who joined in on many numbers, but on the songs when they weren’t dancing they seemed to be milling around onstage, or half playing background characters.
Along with the music of the Four Seasons (As it’s Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, doesn’t that mean there should have been 5 of them in total?) The show also showcased the music of some of the acts which were closely associated with them in the 60s- other bands which profited from Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound”, such as the Crystals and the Ronettes. Their songs were performed well, although one of the three members was absent from the performance which I attended which gave their performances and dance routines a very lopsided feel.
Overall, the performance was all about the music, and was played more as a tribute show than as a full musical-style show with a plot, and as such, the songs were well performed (despite a bit of corpsing over issues with the key in which they sang “Blue Moon”).


Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Vega- What The Hell!

Whilst being kept firmly out of the mainstream, British melodic hard rock is in a state of great health. The number of new albums being released is increasing and younger bands are breaking through onto the scene. Vega are at the forefront of this new rise.

Opening with an eerie, circus-esque intro, not entirely in keeping with the rest of the album, Vega really kick in with the second track “White Knuckle.” This track is a lot more melodic than lots of their earlier work, moving slightly away from the harder-edged sound, with soaring vocals and thick keyboard harmonies. The chorus however is a belter, and definitely sets the tone for the rest of the album. Full of belting tracks, and heavy, melodic riffs, Vega are coming into their own, creating a loud, brash sound which retains all the big, crunchy riffs, but extends the melodic approach of the band. Instrumentally, the band is tight, as musical complexity is not at the forefront of this band’s mind, which means that the parts are kept stripped down and basic, any solos are kept short and tasteful. Rather the main focus is on the quality of the songs, all of which are big and aimed at keeping an audience on their feet.

Overall this album contains a few gems of songs (“White Knuckle” being a particular favourite), however there is little variety in the sound, which gives the album a fairly one-dimensional feel. But it’s pure rock and roll nonetheless.


Thursday, 28 March 2013

Howarth's Chiltern A900 Alto Saxophone

    The first thing that people comment on about this sax is the way it looks. And that’s before they hear the way it sounds. The matte, dark lacquered body with green mother-of-pearl keywork means that this saxophone really turns heads.
Having played this horn exclusively for the past four years, gigging it regularly and playing a wide variety of styles: classical, jazz, rock, funk, strange experimental fusion… I can say this sax can handle it all. The tone is clear as a bell, allowing for piercing high-register sounds and growling lows. Each note which comes out of the instrument is distinctive, allowing fast passages to sound like a series of individual notes, rather than a wash of sound. The action is incredibly light, so little or no effort is needed to press down the keys, and makes playing faster passages all the easier. Tonally, this horn is extremely flexible, giving off a warm, rounded sound, suitable for flowing, slow classical passages as easily as a rawer, raunchy sound, perfect for funk and rock styles. There can be a few issues with control over large leaps and longer low notes, leading to occasional unwanted harmonics.
The vintage finish on this horn is surprisingly robust and, despite four years of hard service, shows little in the way of every day dings and scratches which other instruments collect in day to day use.
This sax is incredibly light-weight, making for very comfortable playing, and meaning that carrying the horn around is a lot less effort with many other, similar quality horns, which is fantastic for touring and gigging musicians. The horn comes in a snazzy zip-up, hard shell case, moulded closely to the body of the sax. This closeness does mean that there is no room for any of the extras which anybody keeps in their cases- spare reeds have to be kept to a minimum, and your sling has to be kept inside the bell of the saxophone. The case itself, whilst strong enough for standard use, does scratch and graze with any unusually heavy duty use. The hard shell is quite thin which means that some deeper grazes feel like they have cut quite close to the inside of the case.
Overall, I love this horn. It has everything that the modern player really needs. An easy playing instrument which can handle any genre and survives the rough and tumble of heavy use and being thrown into the backs of vans and cars, this is a professional standard horn which is very competitive in its pricing.
(Played using a Mayer Rubber Mouthpiece, Rovner “light” leather ligature and Vandoren Jazz 3 ½ reeds)


Friday, 22 March 2013

CrashDiet- The Savage Playground

This fourth release from Swedish Melodic Sleaze Metallers writhes with the spirit of LA’s Sunset Strip circa 1989, adds a healthy extra dose of punk and a hefty coating of melodic, arena-filling sounds to create a positive soup of good-ole’ rock n roll energy. (I apologise for the half-hearted food analogy, but it got the point across I think)

This latest album, The Savage Playground definitely shows off a much more melodic side of CrashDiet’s sound, without losing any of that hard edged pedigree that people expect of this hard working group. Almost constantly on the road since the release of their previous 2010 album Generation Wild, this album has a more live feel to it, and keeps the edges rough and the sound raw.

The band’s hard rock edge can be seen with sleaze-filled tracks like “Cocaine Cowboys” and “Drinkin’ Without You”, a firm nod to the types of larger-than-life bands who influenced CrashDiet. However, on tracks such as “California” you can hear a much more melodic approach to song-writing (although no less rockin’), complete with catchy choruses and multiple guitar tracks which make the song sound huge and creates a sense that the band has musically matured- not just throwing out heavy riffs- but also writing melodic songs.

Overall, this is a great album, especially if you are looking for something which sounds new, yet would equally fit in with the heyday of 80s melodic rock and metal.


Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Godsized- Time

Mixing heavy riffs, old-school hooks and a certain traditionalist approach to recording- live, full band takes as much as possible- this debut album from the heavy metal beast that is Godsized serves up exactly what their fans have been waiting for. No nonsense, balls-to-the-wall, old fashioned, no frills heavy metal.

As a result of the nature of the recording process, the album has a powerful, raw, live feel to it. However there are places where it feels like the lower frequencies of the album have been slightly muffled.

The album shows a variety of songs, ballads and more up-tempo rockers. All of which are heavy and groove-laden. Full of huge guitar sounds, pounding drums, an ever-present bass line and powerful vocals, the album offers nothing but pure, simple, rock and roll, complete with duelling guitar solos.

Listening to the album, it is easy to hear how they were picked up to tour with Zakk Wylde’s Black Label Society, the powerful riffs, screaming solos and loud vocals reminiscent of many classic metal acts through the ages.

The 12 tracks offered up here clearly show the band’s roots in classic rock and metal, steeped in the lineage of the groups who influenced them, creating an album of truly classic sounding metal, yet managing to remain up to date.

Whilst a head-banging, fist-pumping rollercoaster ride from start to finish, Godsized have not managed to make a hugely innovative album here. However, what there is a definite sign of promise to come, and a taste of their high-energy live shows.


Robert Mitchell- The Glimpse

This latest album from UK Jazz and classical music star Robert Mitchell shows an experimental side to his playing. Not in the way that most “experimental” music is experimental, but because this album was recorded with Mitchell using only his left hand for the whole album. This “limitation” which he has placed upon himself gives the left hand the ability to be more creative and means that the player has to find new ways of filling the sound.

This gives the music a much more sparse texture and a lighter feel to it. The pieces, which draw on a range of classical and Jazz influences, from  Leopold Godowsky’s arrangements of Chopin’s etudes to Bill Evans who played left hand only for a time due to injury.

The music on The Glimpse is largely improvisational, which gives it a very free, relaxed feel. Opening with the light improvisation “Amino”, which slowly builds from a few sparse chords to a series of rippling single note passages one can sense the feel of the rest of the album, swinging gently between calm classical Preludes, Nocturnes and Lullabies to complete improvisational pieces.

This album highlights the creative possibilities thrown open when limitations are placed on the performer, giving it a unique feel and a minimalistic feel.


Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Wayne Shorter- Without A Net

As far as elder statesmen of Jazz go, you can’t get much higher than Wayne Shorter, an alumnus of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Miles Davis’ groups for years in the 1960s, as a member of fusion band Weather Report in the 70s and 80s as well as leader of his own successful quartets and bands alongside those, there are few in the world who deserve the term “living legend” as much as Wayne Shorter. This new release sees him return to the renowned Jazz Blue Note label after a 43 year absence, and his first full album since 2005’s Beyond The Sound Barrier Now 80 years old, Shorter’s playing is as inventive and exciting as it ever has been.

This album returns to the post bebop style that Shorter was associated with in the 1960s, a quartet, all playing loose arrangements with plenty of space for improvisation across extended passages. This album sees Shorter playing predominantly Soprano Saxophone with a beautiful, warm tone, flying around the horn with a dexterity that few can match.

Many of these recordings are taken from his 2010 and 2011 live shows, and therefore show the great man at his best- in front of an appreciative audience, baring his soul in a way that only a true improvisational genius can.
It can be said that this music is very self-indulgent and ostentatious and flashy, with long periods of time where the individual musicians are given free rein to play how and what they want (in the context of the improvisation of course, but an article on Jazz theory could go on forever)  at the expense of longer, memorable melodic passages. However the style of post bebop, which is here shown to great effect has rarely been about long melodies. Although, the on “Pegasus”, the quartet is joined by The Imani Winds, giving the track a long, classical feel, almost like an extended piece of chamber music.

This album is absolutely wonderful. A form of Jazz which was close to being consigned to the history books, has made a welcome return. Back to the abstraction and imaginative freedom which years playing with greats like Miles et al has allowed him to practice, Shorter continues to be a truly inspirational player and still shows that what made this music so timeless in the 1950s and 60s is still alive and strong today; it just needed to have the fire rekindled underneath it, which has been done here with great success. Welcome back Wayne Shorter.


King Tut's Revenge- Finally

This Somerset ska group have Finally released their first album. A collection of summery, reggae and rock influenced numbers. This album is consistently upbeat and lively, keeping the horn riffs and punk-y guitar parts pounding along.

Each track on this album, whilst quite similar, in the way that they are all very heavily punk based ska tracks, including punchy saxophone lines, rhythms that will, in a live situation (or sat in a bedroom) cause any audience to be skanking in no time, the occasional simple yet tasteful solo from any of the members. The opening number, “Not Content” shows exactly how the album pans out, opening with a line that could only come from a ska band, and can only conjure images of summer parties on long, warm nights (exactly the sort of time that British weather rarely offers up). The album allows for all the members to stretch their song-writing wings even, as is proudly advertised in the song title, the drummer, in the great number “Sketch’s Song” (Sketch being the band’s drummer, and drummers often being very much side-lined when it comes to writing songs in many bands).

The highlight of the album is the Anthemic “South Coast Girls”, a ditty singing the praises and virtues of the band’s chosen favourite group of women: Those from the South coast of England (As opposed to The Beach Boys or Katy Perry, all of whom who preferred “California Girls”).

From time to time, there could be those who claim that the tracks can be fairly repetitive, with some of the riffs and tunes being reasonably interchangeable. However, this is as much the nature of the genre of the music; light-hearted ska-punk has never been particularly innovative.

Overall, this is a great first full-length album. The songs are all belters, with great melodies, fantastic riffs, and the whole thing just screams of the summer. Get ready to dance.


Friday, 8 March 2013

Lazy Habits- Lazy Habits

Mixing Hip-hop beats with New Orleans Dixieland Jazz, Lazy Habits’ sound definitely keeps a mixture of the old and new well and alive.
Opening with an instrumental, New Orleans style funeral march “Processional”, Lazy Habits opens in a calm, sombre style, which is immediately revoked with the first full number, “Ashes”, showing how the group mixes rapped lyrics and brass jazz licks and riffs which creates a hard hitting style and enables the group to get a range of textures, fusing funky bass riffs, and piano melodies with the horns.
“Surface Dirt”, shows a more mellow side of the band, opening with a lilting piano solo before coming in with the rest of the band.
Lyrically, Lazy Habits retain just the hip-hop, rap style of vocals and tend to write about diverse subjects such as modern life, drug problems, and broken families.
The album is, at 16 tracks, a bit long, which means that there are some tracks that feel a bit like fillers, which could be taken out to still leave a fill length album. The tracks follow largely the same pattern, other than the opening and closing instrumental numbers (“Processional” and “Ghosts (On My Way/Small Screen)”- which closes the album in a lonely, melancholic style).

Overall, the album is very well written, and the quality of musicianship good too. But it could have done with a few fewer tracks in order to retain a high quality and more contrast between the songs.


Thursday, 7 March 2013

Steve Reich- A lecture from the legendary modern classical composer

As far as guest lecturers go, Steve Reich, a legend of contemporary composition, and “The greatest living composer of our time” (New York Times) is up there with the best of them.

Reich, who, from the late 1960s, was key in the moving classical music into the 21st century, pioneering the use of electronics, minimalist and experimental styles, came to Sussex University to talk about his work WTC 9/11. Written in 2009 in memorial to the World Trade Centre bombings, the piece uses a mixture of a string quartet with samples of documentary audio taken from the day of the World Trade Centre attack and interviews he conducted in the years afterwards.

The talk was conducted in the style of a mock interview between him and Andrew Burke, Chief Executive of the London Sinfonietta. Questions asked gave a fascinating insight into the processes that Steve Reich goes through when composing his music: what he does to treat vocal samples so that they can work with a musical ensemble; how he treats historic events that he composes about, and if he treats more recent events (such as 9/11) any differently to the way in which he approaches ones further in the past.

Steve Reich’s talk comes ahead of a concert at the Dome Theatre in which he, along with the London Sinfonietta, are performing a series of his seminal works, such as Clapping Music and Double Sextet along with a performance of a new work, Radio Rewrite, a new major work which takes its inspiration from the music of Radiohead.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

José James- No Beginning, No End

Laid back, groovy and soulful, this latest release from José James shows the continuation of the musical journey begun on his previous albums Black Magic and The Dreamer. The opening track, “It’s All Over (Your Body)” starts the album in exactly the way it goes on, with an unusual off beat rhythm and an overall laid back grooviness.

Other stand-out tracks include the much more pop-influenced “Heaven On The Ground”, which features the vocal and acoustic guitar stylings of Emily King, the addition of her to the group creates an interesting, more accessible take on José James’ music.

Being attached to the Blue Note Record Label means that José James is affiliating himself with the long line of Jazz classics which were released them, whilst simultaneously keeping one foot in the modern camp. This music mixes soulful Jazz melodies, allusions to hip hop influences, and a completely groovy feel.

Much of the music on the album is immensely relaxed. Creating a sophisticated mood; infusing Jazz beats with soulful melodies.

The music manages to retain the feel of classic Jazz acts who's influences can be heard throughout the album, with a large dose of soul and gospel thrown in for good measure. James is definitely an act who keeps one eye on the past, whilst remaining up to date with his more urban vocal style. 

The overall album is a great, “Cool” album, remaining current without being obtrusive, stylish and sophisticated, José James knows how to pen a soulful groove, and how to keep them coming.