Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Mika Luoto "Seventh Wonder"

Hello once again fellow progheads!  So much happening in the prog garden as 2020 continues to unfold, and I will continue bringing it to you from the Concert Closet one artist at a time.  This week the search for all things prog packed some extra hand sanitizer and surgical masks for an extended flight to Finland to check in with Mika Luoto,  a friend I have not followed up with in way too long...

Mika released his latest album, "Seventh Wonder," in October.  Mika has been playing music almost as long as he has been breathing and his catalog is fairly extensive.  Did I mention he also plays every instrument and every note you hear?  This time around the turntable Mika seems to be in a funky jazz groove, so let's settle into a comfortable leather chair and apply the headphones...

The album opens with "Tottoroo" and flows into "Buck is Duck" as smooth as a single malt over ice.  In fact this entire album is as smooth as a snort of Johnny Walker Blue; Mika absolutely found his praxis and fills the headphones with Finnish prog bliss.

Moving further down the track list I discover a tune called "Country Rock Guitar Stuff."  This time  Mika plays as if he's a Roy Clark/Mark Knopfler hybrid; the sultry sounds of a country bar channeled through the AOR styles of an after hours nightclub jam session.

Liner Notes...for those who missed my first review of Mika Luoto way back in 2016, Mika hails from Oulainen, Finland.  He picked up a guitar when he was a teenager and never looked back.  His music catalog runs deep; 14 releases deep to be exact.  He also records music as his alter ego under the name Musarra...a little bit darker and a heavier edged prog metal.  Mika has performed live in large halls, small clubs, and a lot of venues in between.  Today he seems to enjoy doing his own thing while hanging out in his own section of the prog garden.


Mika plays every note and every instrument you hear--he truly is a one man band.  Not the only one I follow, but they seem be a dying breed.  I for one, am glad they still exist; check out Mika's music and you will be too.  You will find "Seventh Wonder" and his other 13 releases at
Mika Luoto BandcampMika can also be found on Facebook and Twitter @mikaluoto1.

One last song to peel back the curtain on; "What's in That Bag."  This cut is bit harder than others on the album, although the funk, blended with a few top notes of Dreadnaught,  is alive and well.  Mika might have channeled a bit of Musarra on this cut...nothing wrong with that.

OK; time for the ear candy..."Autumn Vibes."  I chose this song because Mika is deep into that late night jazz mood I spoke about earlier.  I pick up top notes of Les Dudek and Al DiMeola running through my auditory canals; Mika Luoto paints a vivid picture with that guitar.  I get aromatics of Gaillion and the Pat Metheny Group cursing through this album as well; enjoy...


                        

So fellow progheads, another entry for the prog garden sprouting up in the jazz section.  Mika Luoto has been traversing the prog garden for quite some time.  While I listen to much of his catalog, I am impressed with his drive and ambition; his determination to bring a new sound to every album he releases.  The search for all things prog has found a "sleeper" in the midst; hopefully that will change with this release.

Now of course it's time to continue the journey and take the search for all things prog on to new adventures...until next time...

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Seconds Before Landing "Cosmonaut"

Happy New Year fellow progheads!  The Closet Concert Arena has finally made its 2020 debut. Apologies for the delay as the Concert Closet changed zip codes; already the prog garden is at flood stage with new, amazing, and absolutely stunning music. 

Since this is my first post of the new year I wanted it to be something special.  Recently I've been in touch with John Crispino, the brains and insightful mind behind the sounds of Seconds Before Landing.  Whenever John has a new album out I am filled with the same excitement a child has on Christmas morning; I know it will be a unique collection of music that John has immersed himself in from start to finish.  On a par with Scarlet INside, Seconds Before Landing is music that I love to get lost in knowing the journey I am about to undertake will be not only like no other I've taken before, it will differ slightly each time I travel the path.  So I bring you "Cosmonaut," the latest independent release from Seconds Before Landing.




This is a concept album...if you're familiar with Seconds Before Landing and John Crispino at all this comes as no surprise.  John is a master at creating a story, painting a most vivid picture with music and song...breathing life into what would otherwise be a two dimensional illustration.  This the tale of Russian cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin and Vladimir Komarov...and so we begin...

The opening "Weightless" bleeds right into "Life."  The technical sounds of an engineering room give way to a softer mood...a gentler tone.  Female vocals/spoken words spill through the headphones as a young wife tells her husband she has given him a son...and the saga begins.  You are then totally engrossed in the soft sounds of life, much like the opening of the Yes classic "Close to the Edge."  The guitar work is mesmerizing; close your eyes and be swept away on a journey through time and space... Seconds Before Landing pulls you in as few others can.


Moving along I discover more inspirational visions poring forth from the headphones; "My Best Friend" and "March Into Klushino."  John truly has a gift when composing an album; his ability to delve so deep into the story he's telling makes you feel as though you're right there with him.  As these two pieces give the back story to the relationship of Yuri and his brother Boris, what come through the headphones is so much more than music--the story truly is coming to life...

Liner Notes...Although Seconds Before Landing has many hands and faces behind the microphone, the band truly begins and ends with John Crispino.  He is so much more than simply the man behind the music and his music is so much more than simply notes played  together.  There are a few members of the prog garden I categorize as artist first and then musician; John is a strong representative of that select group.

Despite taking on the role of composer and vocalist, playing drums and synthesizers, John would be the first to say his work would not be nearly as good without the contributions of others.  He has assembled an impressive group; two-time Grammy winner and Pink Floyd engineer Andy Jackson mastered the album.  Musicians include Eric Maldonado, Steve Schuffert, and Rick Witkowski on guitars; J.D. Garrison and Guy Bar Tor on bass; Jamie Peck on piano and sax; and Vanessa Campagna does all the female vocals.  But they aren't the life source of Seconds Before Landing--John Crispino is, and it's his vision being realized as the sound pours through your headphones.
                                                                                                                                                             
It is difficult to do a concept album such as this justice by hopping around and reviewing intermittent songs, yet I find myself doing exactly that.  The album moves in a timeline and I am making but a humble attempt to present that to you.  This next song, "One Minute to Launch," reminds me of Pink Floyd in their "Atomic Heart Mother" and "Meddle" days...interludes that connect the songs to each other, giving the canvas a third dimension which allows the listener to ride along on an incredible journey.

The final song to grace the headphones this evening is "Oh How I Miss You."  Vanessa is stunning as she gives the perspective of Komarov's  grieving widow.  Her voice pierces the membrane in your eardrum and flows directly to your heart...you can almost see her sitting in a chair wearing one of Vladimir's favorite shirts, staring into the void that took the love of her life.

If you haven't already, you can follow Seconds Before Landing at Seconds Before Landing and also on Facebook and Twitter @SBLOfficial.  You can purchase the album at SBL Bandcamp

I offer you but a teaser this week...one minute plus that sets the tone for what you will find when you make the purchase.  The air is solemn and dark...the mood foreboding.  Modern day prog has a classic storyteller you will want to hear again and again. 


                   

I put Seconds Before Landing in a category with modern day prog artists Scarlet INsideDeep Energy Orchestra, and even Kaprekar's Constant and Dreadnaught.  Not because they share similarities in sound, tempo, or mood--but because they choose to stand alone.  Direct comparisons are difficult despite the fact that the musicians have been in several bands prior to joining this latest group.  Indeed every song, every lyric, even every note is unique unto itself.  John's ability to leave all of his previous musical accomplishment at the door prior to entering the studio and create something solely for itself to stand alone among the masses is truly remarkable.

I hope the wait was worth it fellow progheads!  Seconds Before Landing can be an acquired taste, but well worth the investment.  With so much more on the horizon I feel a sense of urgency to continue the journey...so the search for all things prog continues...until next time...

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

'Tis the Season to Celebrate All Things Prog

Season's Greetings fellow progheads!  I am absolutely dumbfounded with how fast the sands of  2019 fell through the hourglass.  This is the time of year the Concert Closet takes a look back at everything discovered these past 12 months, thanks you my faithful followers for coming back week after week, and posts some holiday music to keep it festive.

Before I begin with words...I think a joyful musical opening from Jon Anderson is appropriate; a perfect Christmas singing voice if there ever was one...

                             

If you've been following this blog for any length of time, and I certainly appreciate all of you who do, you know I am not one to post a best of, top releases of, favorite albums of, or any other subjective list that arbitrarily ranks 2019 prog music releases.  I started this blog more years ago than I can believe to help promote the new and up and coming prog bands and artists looking to stake out their acreage in the prog garden.  I also enjoy those that have been around the Concert Closet a while, managing to somehow stay low under the radar.  So to that end I prefer to shine a brighter light across all the wonderful music the prog garden has to offer and let you the listener decide.

However; a slight twist this year as I take a look back at the music that filled the Concert Closet these past 12 months and look ahead to what 2020 has in store...so much good prog and so little time...

I opened 2019 with a review of Kaleidoreal, a hard charging eclectic group from Sweden.  This is the type of band that challenges the naysayers who claim prog is dying a slow miserable death.  If you truly are a proghead then you live for the next incarnation of the genre..."Prog Yet to Come" if I am allowed to paraphrase another Christmas classic...

What followed was some fun music; Shineback, Kinetic Element, The Inner Road, The Steve Bonino Project, and Sproingg to name but a few.  These are bands and musicians that truly enjoy their craft, don't take themselves too seriously, and yet are able to bring quality prog to the listener.



Of course the prog garden also has those that are quite meticulous; Lonely Robot, Deep Energy Orchestra, Abstract Aprils, and Coma Rossi come to mind.  Serious in craft but not so much that emotion and feeling are lost in translation.

Still others fall somewhere on either side of the prog garden divide; Crocodile, Sir Chronicles, Oceanica, Machines Dream, Pattern-Seeking Animals, Apostles of Chaos, Nad Sylvan, and The Emerald Dawn take up acreage here.  Prog that can get under your skin, flow over your consciousness, or just relax you after a long day.

And so we reach another break in the deluge of words for a second holiday treat for the ears...Trans Siberian Orchestra is masterful at taking timeless classics and bringing them into the modern world...enjoy...


                       

As 2019 draws the curtain for the final time I want to first thank all of you for immersing yourself in my world.  Progressive music is so much more than a respite from reality--it's an alternate universe that allows the listener to get lost in a world of sound that fills the mind and spirit with a soothing balm...

One last holiday clip, an updated version of a personal fave.  It just isn't Christmas without King Crimson and some Frippertronics...
 
                   

As 2020 draws closer, I hope to bring you more new bands, new releases, and (hopefully) interviews with some of the up and coming prog musicians of today.  Look for new music from Seconds Before Landing, Scarlet INside, Hats Off Gentlemen It's Adequate, Different Light, Happy Graveyard Orchestra, and more.

So celebrate the holiday season however you choose.  Relish the time with family and friends, and please come back when the curtain rises on the continued search for all things prog 2020...

Happy Holidays...until next time...

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Mark Rowen "Radiance"

Glad to have you back fellow progheads!  The search for all things prog is quickly honing in on 2020 yet there is still so much of the 2019 crop waiting to be harvested.  Wandering across the prog garden I am awash in so many great artists and bands offering their sound for your listening pleasure, I almost don't know where to begin.  However; I did stumble upon an independent artist with a great debut album; join me in checking out Mark Rowen and "Radiance," released in September.


Getting right to it, I begin with "My Shadow Walks Alone."  Strong guitar opening bleeding right into crisp female vocals, a pleasant surprise.  A solid percussion foundation keeps the song balanced with top notes of Animal Logic echoing through my headphones...an excellent way to start the week...

Moving down the playlist I notice an interesting song title; "Lure of the Siren."  As the washing up on shore intro fades to a beautiful acoustic guitar, I am once again mesmerized by Lisa's vocals; they are quite alluring.  The canvas darkens; the mood changes while the tension rises.  The atmosphere goes from sultry dark to the brighter colors of the night as drums and guitar once again fill out a song reminiscent of Gandalf's Fist with a good healthy pour of early Kansas added for effect.  The name on the album cover may be Mark Rowen, but he has surrounded himself with quite the supporting cast, which leads me to...

Liner Notes...Calling Harrogate UK home, Mark Rowen has spent years playing guitar and building his reputation.  All that hard work paid off in September with the release of this debut.  Mark plays guitar along with keyboard programming and providing backing vocals.  Joining him on this endeavor are Lisa Box with those superb lead and backing vocals, Leigh Perkins on keyboards and backing vocals, Paul Teasdale on bass and backing vocals, and Barry Cassells on drums.  Mark came to play music the way most do--the sound of a guitar hero pulling him in.  For Mark it was Robert Fripp at first then Django Reinhardt and Pat Metheny.  Go big or go home as they say...

You can purchase the album at Bandcamp and follow Mark on Facebook and MarkRowen.

One last drop of the laser, this time on a cut called "Trick of the Light."  The percussion stands front and center here, balanced perfectly with Lisa's vocal work.  The top notes are The Inner Road and
I Am The Morning.  This song is so simple yet so deep; as it pours through the headphones you just want to fall into the sound.

The clip below is "Carousel" and it is the perfect piece to close out with...the curtain falls slowly as the piano plays gently, once again allowing Lisa's haunting vocals to echo on.  When the album ends you will want to start it again and let it  play on a continuous loop while you sink deeper still...

                         

So fellow progheads, a new entry to the Concert Closet that defies a hard label.  Staying mainly in the experimental and symphonic sections of the prog garden with hints of AOR and jazz, Mark Rowen appears to be an artist who avoids being defined absolute and forced into a pigeonhole.

Now once again the search for all things prog continues...until next time...

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Nad Sylvan "The Regal Bastard"

Hello fellow progheads!  Extremely grateful to find you back here in the Concert Closet; with all the holiday chaos and mayhem starting to take up your time I appreciate the  inclusion.  This week the search for all things prog took me once again to Inside Out Music and the latest release from Nad Sylvan.  Back in 2017 I reviewed "The Bride Said No," the second part of a vampirate concept trilogy.  This past July, Nad completed the set with album #3, "The Regal Bastard."  Remembering the pleasure derived from his previous work, I am very eager to dive into his latest creation...
Timing a vampirate concept album review to coincide with the holidays is atypical for some perhaps, but it fits right in with my "don't follow the crowd" way doing things.  First song to pulse through the headphones is the title cut.  Not an ominous outpouring as you might expect; this is a much more eloquent piece.  The keyboards flow like billowing satin, wrapping themselves around strings that are as relaxing as they are intoxicating.  As Nad's vocals fill your mind, the guitars and percussion come from below and envelope the entire piece.  The tempo picks up as does your pulse...just ride it out... 

Now the mood is set--this is not a commonplace album dealing with the world of vampirates...not at all.  Going farther along the playlist I discover "Oahu."  Here is that dark, "walk through the haunted woods" song I was anticipating--but nothing on this album is as it seems.  Nad confounds your senses as he continually builds a tension that threatens to tear the veil between two worlds, only to calmly settle back into a solemn, restful serenity...

Liner Notes...Nad kept "the family" together for this album; just about everyone from "The Bride Said No" turns up on one or more tracks on "The Regal Bastard."  Steve Hackett, Tony Levin, Guthrie Govan, Nick D'Virgilio, Jonas Reingold, Nick Beggs, Sheona Urquhart, Jade Ell, and Tania Doko and more make this not only a crowded studio, but an A-List one as well.

For this album Nad not only played guitars, keyboards, percussion, and laid down the vocals--he also wrote, arranged, produced, and mixed the record.  Even the album art was his inspiration brought to life.  When you know what you want...

Nad Sylvan also has quite the resume; in addition to his solo work, he has performed with Unifaun, Agents of Mercy, Karmakanic, and Steve Hackett's Genesis Revisited. 

The final selection for review this week is "Honey I'm Home."  Quite the ornate piece; I'm reminded of Spock's Beard and (ironically enough) early Genesis. For an album whose concept is the world of vampirates--the final chapter in the trilogy--it is extremely upbeat.  Perhaps that's the point; the final song in this three album set brings you home, and isn't home supposed to be your sanctuary?  Hackett's guitar work on this cut is absolutely brilliant.  Wrap yourself in this instrumental send-off and feel the grime of the world wash away...    


To purchase this latest release and more go to NadSylvan or InsideOutMusic.  You can also follow Nad on Facebook and Twitter @SylvanOfficial.     

Your ear worm this week is  "I Am the Sea."  Fittingly, the song opens as if you're in the attic of an old Victorian mansion and the light of the full moon fills the room, accented by a flickering candle.  This is that eerie, obsessive song you want from a vampirate trilogy.  Nad is a master at making each song--even on a concept album--entirely unique unto itself.  Guthrie Govan is the guitar virtuoso on this cut, and he works with the drums to create an atmosphere that strikes you from all around.  Let this song creep into your head and melt your subconscious... 

           
                

Another seven days, another great prog garden discovery.  As a fan of the concept album, I was especially intrigued by this "concept trilogy."  Nad had a vision and carried it all the way through; the fact that it took four years to complete while he was involved with other projects just speaks to his desire and determination.

Much of prog music dives deep, getting into one's soul and finding the nerve that drives you.  Sometimes it's just a relaxing stroll through the inner workings of the mind; other times the music just explodes all over the inside of your head.  Regardless of the reason why you came to the prog garden, it is the pleasure and joy you find that keeps you coming back.  Nad Sylvan seems to get that; even when he goes deep he still seems to absolutely enjoy what he's doing.  When the artist exudes positive energy--even on a vampirate concept album--the music can't help but be good.

And now the part of the blog where I tell you the search for all things prog continues on...until next time...

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Rise Twain

Welcome once again fellow progheads!  I have been trying to keep up with all the prog garden has to offer, but with so much new music out there I may never get ahead of the curve--not that I'm complaining.  The Concert Closet has been open 24/7 lately and it seems the new crop of music continues to fill all the available space.  This week I dove headlong into an album released in September by Rise Twain. 



Recording on the Inside Out Records label, Rise Twain brought two prog greats together to create something uniquely their own.  Not exactly a new practice in the prog garden, but it does usually result in some great prog music...

The Concert Closet opens with "Death of Summer," a song that starts out quite poignant; floating on a serene lake reflecting moonlight in early autumn.  The guitar sits just outside the perimeter and tugs at your inner ear while the drums underscore full vocals that penetrate deep.  This is the type of song you leave on a loop and let wash over you repeatedly all night...a soothing balm for all the ails the day manages to hurl at you.

Moving along the disc I found "Into a Dream."  The solitude that pours from this song is striking.  Vocals harmonize beautifully in front of a guitar pulling emotions from every note.  Rise Twain take up acreage in the thought provoking section of the prog garden; I sense top notes of Echolyn (no surprise) lolling about on this cut.  The music enters your soul via the headphones and quietly permeates your entire being, slowly flowing out through your pores...let it flow...


Liner Notes...hailing from the metropolis known as Philadelphia PA, Rise Twain is the duo of Brett William Kull on guitar, bass, keyboards, percussion and vocals, and Jeremy David Beck on piano and lead and backing vocals.  Having worked together previously, they both knew that a joint project was inevitable and bound to be something special.  Both artists have extensive solo and group work in their respective catalogs; this debut is but another feather in two well defined caps.  They remind me of Eno and Byrne in that their sound draws from each of their careers yet takes a somewhat  different trajectory.

One more song in the queue; "Falling Skies" is the right elixir to end the evening on.  Jeremy's vocals are smooth like corduroy and soothing like a single malt.  The canvas displays an ever-so-genteel colorscape of moods; the bright lights fade to subtle hues before washing into soft pastels.  There is an intimacy on this album that echoes Jonny Lang and Atlas Volt.

You can find this album and more releases under the Inside Out label at Inside Out Music.  The band also has Facebook  and Twitter @RiseTwain for those so inclined.

Please enjoy this week's musical interlude, "Golden."  The guitar opening here is a bit racier than other cuts on the album; just another example of the vast range Rise Twain has.  The tempo reins itself in quickly and the mood settles into an AOR experience.  There are hints of latter-day Peter Gabriel; thought-provoking music that the prog garden never gets too much of.  A brooding throughout rises deliberately and with just enough force to fill your spirit with positive energy.  Dim the lights, settle in, and fuel your mind...


                          

Alas my fellow progheads, we have reached the end of another incredible week one ore time.  Rise Twain is a wonderful blend of two stellar artists, each that much better for the collaboration.  There are many great bands and artists in the prog garden, but it is a select few that inspire the way this album has...at least for me.  Rise Twain is music to get lost in, much the way Robert Fripp's soundscapes just take you away.

Of course the Concert Closet is always happy to keep the search for all things prog on the move, so the journey continues...until next time...

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Oceanica "One Dark"

Hello once again fellow progheads, and welcome to another leg of the journey on the search for all things prog!  This week the Concert Closet took the intensity up a notch or two as I decided to spend time with my friends over at Progressive Gears Records.   Recently, Ben Harris-Hayes, who many of you will recognize from Enochian Theory, released his debut solo album "One Dark" under the name Oceanica.  There is always something afoot over there at Progressive Gears, so I was very eager to give this a spin...

Being somewhat familiar with Enochian Theory, I am expecting nothing short of a wild ride through emotions, tempos, time changes; just another day in the prog garden you might say...

I open things up with "Start From The Start" and the  immediate imagery is striking; a carnival ride to chaos perhaps.  The guitars start out slow but quickly pick up the tempo as drums fill the song out and lead the listener across the many emotions of the prog garden.  Ben's vocals are strong enough to ride the current, but his guitar work shines the brightest on this cut...stings you right at the base of your auditory canals.  I get the feeling Will Geraldo has his fingerprints on this album somewhere...

Next up is "The Rose, Abloom." Right away the canvas bursts with bright colors that run pale as emotions pour through the headphones...guarded for a split second--then leaving nothing behind.  The "leaping all over the prog garden" style reminds me of Gentle GiantOceanica takes you crazy high and gloomy low; it is an extreme mood elevator ride--an experience you will relish. The keyboards on this cut are like a veil between two worlds; delicate and soft as you ride a gentle wave of serenity, then screeching through the headphones as you fall into a boisterous abyss...

Liner Notes...Oceanica is Ben Harris-Hayes, hailing from Brighton UK.  This really is a one-man show; Ben wrote the songs, played the instruments, laid down the vocal tracks, and even did the mixing and mastering.  I believe the only thing Ben didn't do was design the album cover...but I could be wrong...

When he isn't setting the standard for what it takes to make a solo album, Ben also plays guitar and keyboards for Enochian Theory.  He even handled vocals and song  writing for the band's swan song album in 2013, after which  Enochian Theory took an indefinite hiatus.  Following that, Ben put all his effort into creating this solo album.  You can follow Ben on
Facebook and Twitter @BenHarrisHayes and find the link to purchase his music at the Progressive Gears Records website PGR Oceanica.


Third in line for review this week is another song that fills your head with wonder, "Oubliette."  There are aromatics of Opeth laying atop this song, blending nicely with hints of Porcupine Tree  and New Order.  Ben is very good at leading the listener down a path lined with so many alternate routes and allowing you to lose yourself deep in the music...enjoy the free fall...

The ear worm this week is "The Oblivion Tree," a song that opens with a dark canvas gently bleeding.  The keyboards and strings flow so delicately, like ribbons of sound floating though your head.  There are top notes of Under the Psycamore in this piece...let them caress your spirit...


                             

Once again fellow progheads we've reached the other side of the rainbow.  Oceanica was seven days awash in abundant waves of emotion.  Ben Harris-Hayes crossed so much of the prog garden with this album; striking a gentle chord one minute and snapping a guitar string with ferocious intensity the next, all the while keeping the listener enthralled with music that runs miles deep.

If Enochian Theory returns from hiatus I will be very intrigued as to the journey their sound takes...if not, Oceanica is sure to keep Ben busy for the foreseeable future.  The ability and desire to strike out on another path made this album--at least for me--a must listen.  Having allowed the music to wash over me, I am grateful for the opportunity.

And once again the Concert Closet takes the search for all things prog onward.  The journey (hopefully) never ends...until next time...