Stone Circus - s/t. 1969 USA-Canada

Here's another Mainstream label gem, and possibly my favorite album on the label. These Montreal based musicians (save one), decided to journey south of the border to New York to find their scene. Known as The Funky Farm, Mainstream decided to change their name for the release of the album. In typical record business style, Mainstream didn’t even inform the band of the name change! Featuring an outrageous psychedelic cover of a very colorful and oversized clown engulfed in flames emerging from an earthquake, it certainly would catch ones attention even for 1969, when such a sight was more common. I probably listened to the album 5 times in a row, as the music is the closest I’ve heard to that most magical of 60s psych bands – Strawberry Alarm Clock. Stone Circus possess the same songwriting qualities, and period instrumentation (fuzz guitar, old organs). It does miss that magic ingredient of naivete, that SAC was able to tap into so perfectly. Whether it’s the California sunshine, or the late date of 1969, it’s clear there's a little somethin' missing. Maybe a bit too much Velvet Underground? 'What Went Wrong', 'Adam's Lament', 'Mr. Grey', and 'Carnival of Love' are the more obvious tracks where the comparison holds to SAC. Side 2 does deviate from that particular harmony psych unfortunately. Stone Circus ends wonderfully with a fuzz psych jam in 'People I Once Knew'.

Personal collection
CD: 2007 Fallout (UK)

I just purchased an original LP of this one, but unfortunately it was over graded significantly and I had to send it back. It was just too expensive to rationalize keeping. As for the CD, we already know the Mainstream label is locked up tight by Sony, and they've shown zero intention of reissuing these important works. So this reissue is of suspect provenance as they say. And that would apply to just about every other LP and CD reissue as well. Tragedy that. There is one intriguing reissue out there from P-Vine of Japan. Now it is very possible they entered into an agreement with Sony Japan for this reissue. They are an entirely a legit concern, so that would have to be considered the definitive reissue at this point. Or at least on the surface it would seem that way.

Saluki - s/t. 1976 Norway

So.... I completely blew the call on this one. My initial review some 8 years ago tagged this as a failed funk attempt by Norwegians emulating a distinctly American style (which Norwegians are wont to do on occasion). And ya know, after hearing opener 'Come Down', few among you will disagree with said claims, though it's pretty good for the style if pressed. Then comes 'Autumn', and I could already see my story breaking apart. Some sort of Muffins confusion on whether to go Canterbury or Henry Cow-styled avant prog annoyance. I'm sure that was the internal band debate anyway... (sure). 'The Awakening' is a waste of time, I think we can all agree on this - including the band. 'Love to the Sun'. Yea, OK Mahavishnu John, where are we taking this? There apparently. With a funk angle. Hmmm. 'Uranus in Cancer' is a title already asking for trouble. It's kind of emotional proggy, a bit AORish, and pretty good actually. 'Fantasy Suns' is a waste of time, I think we can all agree on this - including the band (sound familiar?). At this point, I'm OK with my initial assessment. Then comes 'Hidden Path III'. Ah damn, this is really good. Deep jazz with a bit of funk in that Miles Davis sort of way. But more toward Kraut Fusion (1970s /early 80s) actually. And this leads us to the closer 'Take the Road Across the Bridge'. I swear I recognize this music! So time to Google for a reference per chance. I KNEW IT! It's a cover of a Junipher Greene track - in fact the opener to their landmark/brilliant 1971 'Friendship' suite. I mean, who covers Junipher Greene? In 1976? Oh yea, author Freddy Dahl was in both bands. I could not find another reference to this observation on the internet. A job well done, ashratom. And how about that naked genie-out-of-a-bottle cover? These guys had it going on, that's for sure. Problem is, I'm starting to look like the dude with the magic book. Uh-oh.

Personal collection

I was looking to ditch the CD-R until this revisit. This one needs a legit reissue for certain. I should get the original vinyl in the meantime.

Arbatel - Sumerios. 2009 Mexico

Following the debut comes Sumerios, their unheralded follow-up. Released under the cover of darkness in Chile by the excellent Mylodon label, the album has thus far seemed to completely escape notice. And that’s a tragedy really. There’s even a bit of encouragement from no less a luminary than Gianni Leone (of Il Balletto di Bronzo fame) with his enthusiastic liner notes (translated to Spanish). Gone is the violin and in its place is the key addition of soprano female vocalist Rosario Maza Hernández, who adds a bit of exotic narration as well. The music is primarily keyboard based, and has now gone decidedly analog, with copious use of Hammond organ, Mini-Moog and good old fashioned acoustic piano. Electric guitar, bass and drums provide the usual backbone and the rhythm section reliably lays down odd time signatures to keep everyone guessing.

The album starts off with an Indian tribal/religious bit that unfortunately isn’t revisited. I suspect its purpose is to tie the theme to the ancient Sumerians, but I love the atmosphere it provides. Once the rock instrumentation kicks in, there is no doubt this is a 1970s influenced progressive rock album. Like Gamadion, the Italian progressive movement of the early 70s seems to be the main influence here (thus the Leone narrative I suspect).  In the early to mid-1980s, Mexico possessed a burgeoning progressive rock scene with such stalwarts as Iconoclasta, Delirium and Praxis all putting out very good albums. None seemed to cross the threshold to greatness. It seems to me that Arbatel has accomplished everything those bands had originally set out to do. And if you’re familiar with these acts, then the raw Mexican production qualities shouldn’t bother you on Sumerios. It adds to the charm. This is a deep, complex album that requires a few listens to penetrate. And it’s an album that needs more of an audience.

Personal collection
CD: 2009 Mylodon (Chile)

Arbatel - Gamadion. 2004 Mexico

On Gamadion, Arbatel are an instrumental rock quartet with electric guitar and digital keyboards (including some cool pipe organ sounds) providing most of the input, with guests on vocals and violin rounding out the sound. Sure, it's not a crystal clear sound, and a muddied production (especially the drums) mars this slightly - though it's also part of the charm really. Apparently the band at one point covered a few classic Italian progressive rock songs by Le Orme and Il Balletto di Bronzo, so clearly their influences are a bit more interesting and researched than just the usual suspects from England. There's an excitement to listening to music such as this, as you're really not sure what's going to happen next, yet it's all within a comfortable progressive rock context.

Personal collection
CD: 2004 private

Forgas Band Phenomena – Acte V. 2012 France

Patrick Forgas continues on with his 5th namesake Band Phenomena album. No surprises here if you're familiar with the great trajectory Forgas' career has taken since his early solo career from 1977 (has it been that long!?). What makes the Forgas Band Phenomena so great is the synergy of an instrumental 7 piece band. So in addition to the standard rock quartet of guitar, keyboards, bass and drums - you also have dedicated members providing violin, trumpet and sax/flute. The music is tight and energetic, while never forgetting that their main premise is to rock your britches off. How many progressive bands today forget this last component? Anyone familiar with the early to mid 1970s European jazz rock scene will find much to enjoy here. Forgas, in addition to writing and arranging all the compositions here, keeps everything moving forward with his fine drumming precision.

Personal collection
CD: 2012 Cuneiform (USA)

The CD cover is a nice homage to their debut Roue Libre album. Along with the CD, there is a full DVD of their NEARFest 2010 performance.

La Desooorden - Ciudad de Papel. 2007 Chile

La Desooorden are very much a modern progressive band, that utilize current production techniques as well as some dark, atonal metal guitar. So elements of Tool and Porcupine Tree can be discerned on a quick glance. That alone would not make an A-list group, but underneath this superficial view, we find a group exploring all aspects of exciting music. You find Latin percussion, jazzy bits, RIO inspired avant progressive, folk melodies, early 70s Italian progressive rock and a host of other exciting ideas. The list of instruments utilized would take forever to type out. La Desooorden are an intriguing, complex and deep group - a group that reveals something different with each listen.

Personal collection
CD: 2007 private

The CD is a private release with no catalog number. It's a beautiful package with a tri-foldout digipak and a nice insert.

Leger de Main - The Concept of Our Reality. 1995 USA

Leger de Main were a trio from Erie, Pennsylvania made up of the Rodler brothers (Brett on drums, and Chris on everything else), along with Melissa Blair on vocals. It's quite astounding then, with such a small lineup, what a racket these 3 were able to create. I first bought this CD toward the end of 1995, not too long after its release, and it quickly rose to one of my favorites of the year. I played it often - seemingly having a permanent place in my Mitsubishi Eclipse as I drove through various parts of Denver with this blasting away in the background (as an aside - still the best car stereo I ever had, including today). After fully immersing myself with the music over a 2 to 3 month period, I finally filed the CD. Where it stayed until tonight, when it finally was chosen for a random listen some 22 years later (if there was ever an argument for not trying to collect too much, this would be it...). On this note, I was just about to meet the future Mrs. Ashratom, and the days of cranking tunes everywhere I went were coming to an end - not that I knew it at the time... Sigh... In any case... back to Leger de Main.

So what made this album special, when many others made a similar attempt? It's the blend, the secret recipe that has patrons lining out the door, while someone else's similar restaurant remains empty. Leger de Main's primary ingredient is that of 1980-81 Rush, and Blair's shrill voice more often than not recall Geddy Lee's when in a similar mode. Though presumably hers are more grounded in estrogen... Now with that in mind, immerse the music of "Moving... Waves" right smack in the middle of 'Gates of Delirium'. And then have that played by Yezda Urfa. Yea, exactly. It won't take long to know if this is an album for you, because the opener 'To Live the Truth' is an overview of the entire album. It's the rhythm section that really makes it work, with Chris' woody bass and Brett's hyperactive drums propelling the proceedings along at a rapid rate. And then Chris will overlay all sorts of guitar and keyboards on top in an exciting fashion. Leger de Main are kinetic, jumpy, and on fire here! I would imagine some folks will struggle with Blair's voice, but I think she fits perfectly considering the manic nature of the recording.

The Concept of Our Reality is yet another great example of the fantastic music that we were lucky to hear in the 1990s, an album that received attention back then among the faithful, but has now been long forgotten. Will this era be recaptured just as the 70s were? I submit yes, but it will take much longer (probably past my lifetime), as the original audience was just a tiny fraction of the 70s heyday. For the 3 people who read my reviews, I highly encourage you to pick this CD up (or the 2 CD comp A Lasting Impression that includes both their albums).

Personal collection
CD: 1995 Progressive Music Management

Nova Express - Once in the Blue Moon. 1991 Germany

Following on from Space Khmer, Nova Express' second album is a bit more aggressive and, dare I say, punk-ish if you will. But it's still very psychedelic, especially in the ferocious guitar work and with some atmospheric distant/narrative vocals employed. The album gets considerably freakier and psychedelic as it goes. Without knowing they were from Germany, you could be forgiven to thinking they were influenced by the Bevis Frond neo-psych camp (which I think they were actually). About the only other band I've heard like Nova Express, from Germany at least, is the equally obscure Der Kampf Gegen den Schlaf.

Personal collection
CD: 1991 Heartache Transplant Records

The CD features one bonus track: 'I Wanna Know' (7:54). After many years of searching, I finally secured the LP. Not long after, I found the CD too, and I decided to part with the LP.

I really should scan my cover of this. There's not one decent scan out there.

Nova Express - Space Khmer. 1987 Germany

Nova Express are a band I first heard about from Freakbeat in the early 1990s. Their two albums were quite difficult to find back then (surprisingly not so difficult nowadays). Space Khmer reminds me a lot of early Amon Duul II - especially the shorter songs as found on Tanz der Lemming and Carnival in Babylon. This element becomes apparent in the psychedelic guitar work and the heavily accented male vocals. The organ they employ is actually an older vintage than what Amon Duul II used! No doubt they were also influenced by the post punk crowd of the early 80s, and it shows in some of the songwriting. Overall, a very good neo psych album that time has forgot.

Personal collection
LP: 1987 Syndicate

Not reissued on CD as I write this.

Barrett Elmore - Woodlands. 2012 Sweden

The first significant track here, 'The Creek', gives us a sleight of hand, as it purports that Barrett Elmore are coming from the neo-psych / shoegaze camp. But my fears were quickly removed by 'The Nixie', and the album manages to get weirder, more psychedelic and even progressive with each track. By the end of the album, on the 12 minute bonus track 'Psilocybe Semilanceata', Barrett Elmore are firing on all the right cylinders (or dropping all the right tabs). This is the kind of album one would expect to come out of the Subliminal Sounds stable with Gustav Ejstes writing the songs and Reine Fiske providing acid fuzz leads. File next to your three Smell of Incense albums.

Personal collection
CD: 2012 Trail (USA)

Rayuela - s/t. 1977 Argentina

Rayuela's sole album is a fine example of combining the laid back Latin/Mediterranean style of pastoral progressive rock with that of the edgier jazz fusion fad that had swept through the Southern Cone region during this era. Where there's separation, however, is the high quotient of melodic interplay, giving it that strong symphonic feel. 'Los Ultimos Grillos' is an absolute stunner, clearly operating within the Celeste/Errata Corrige school of Italian soft progressive rock. In one case, Rayuela extends their stylistic brush a bit too far, such as the awkward singer songwriter blues number, right from the Louisiana bayou, complete with harmonica. No matter, as that's the only shortcoming found here. The instrumental tracks are well executed, and the guitar/sax playing here is superb, along with the passionate vocals. It's like stumbling over some lost Italian reels from 1975. Excellent album.

Personal collection
LP: 1977 Orfeo
CD: 199? Rayuela

The LP comes in a fine gatefold cover and is a good pressing for the region. The CD is of suspect provenance, but sounds good all the same. It's never been reissued legit unfortunately.

Birth Control - Plastic People. 1975 Germany

Birth Control were one of those bands that managed to survive the various musical movements of the 1970s and 80s. In order to do that, a group must be flexible and change with the times - for better or worse. Birth Control were always an outlier when discussing the best music of the Krautrock era. In reality they were more of a UK/North American styled hard rock band, one that avoided the trappings of phasing, cosmic tripping, and long psychedelic jams. By 1973, Birth Control tried their hand at more commercial material, including dragging along a horn section, to mixed results. Then the obligatory live album brought out the band's inner Deep Purple. And now it's 1975, it's Germany, and you do what?

You go prog. Not Krautrock styled prog mind you, but the UK variant of such. Eloy went forth with Power and the Passion, and Jane coughed up Fire Water Earth and Air. And so Birth Control came out with Plastic People. When considering their pedigree, and the fact they weren't really ever the best at what they did, one would presume Plastic People would fall on its face, in an almost laughable Spinal Tap way. Wrong again. Birth Control pretty much blew away the competition (it was Eloy who ended up with egg on their face).

This is an album I'd owned for many years without much recollection, until about 6 years ago a focused listen while driving through South Dakota (there isn't really much else to do...) opened this up for me. Tonight's listen just reinforced that experience. It's a blend of their hard rock past, mixed in with solid songwriting and real progression in the compositions. The title track is 11 minutes, and seems half of that, which is a good sign. 'Tiny Flashlights' is brilliant, perhaps the best song in Birth Control's entire canon. There's some really great synthesizer work throughout the album in addition to the usual organ/guitar display. Even a track with a dumbo title like 'Rockin' Rollin' Roller' is much better than it seems at the beginning, and the song is memorable in a good way. I see some bellyaching around the band's use of commercial styled singing and "lounge" moves. To me, that's another half point positive, as I really appreciate the melodicism brought forth, and works well as a contrast to the otherwise mathematical complexity. It's not that dissimilar to how the American groups approached progressive rock in the mid 70s. BTW - there are only horns on one track for those who break out in hives at the mere sound of them.

It's been ages since I heard my copy of Backdoor Possibilities, but barring an enlightening listen (similar to the one I had here), then Plastic People would be my definitive choice as Birth Control's best album.

Personal collection
LP: 1975 CBS
CD: 1995 Columbia

Not only is Plastic People an excellent album, but the original gatefold cover is also fantastic, and I have it displayed on my "wall of faces and eyes".

For whatever reason, the Columbia CD switches the places of 'Rockin' Rollin' Roller' and 'Tiny Flashlights'. Odd.

Rag i Ryggen - s/t. 1975 Sweden

Råg i Ryggen's sole album is a great representation of that perfect meeting place between progressive and hard rock. The instrumentation is pure fat analog, with organ, mini-moog, woody bass, loud electric guitar, and powerful vocals. Early 70s Uriah Heep would seem to be the main influence here, along with a good dose of Deep Purple and even fellow countrymen Trettioariaga Kriget. And on the folk based instrumental 'Spångaforsens brus', Kebnekaise rises to the fore. The lyrics are a mix of Swedish and English, though surprisingly there's no downturn in quality when utilizing the latter, as would be normally the case. I think those that dig bands like Blakulla and Saga (post November band), will find plenty to enjoy here. Easy recommendation for genre fans.

Personal collection
CD: 2005 Transubstans

Typically great reissue from Transubstans with informative liner notes, photos, and good sound. There's also 3 bonus tracks, 2 from 1975, and the last from 1976 called 'Land Over the Rainbow', and it sounds very similar to the album proper. The sound quality on these are OK, given they appear to be an audience recording.

Ako Doma - Aliens are Good for Sale. 2003 Slovakia

Aliens Are Good for Sale finds Ako Doma playing in a modern fusion mode. Gone is the saxophone, and with that, the charming Slovakian dance hall sound of their debut. In its place is a late era King Crimson sound, replete with angular guitar - at times with a metal crunch - modern synthesizers, and plenty of difficult music to plow though. If you like guitar oriented fusion, then this will be well worth your time. It's an instrumental style of modern music done countless times since the 90's, and Ako Doma prove to be more than capable to pull it off. Despite their obvious musical acumen, I miss the simple local flavor of the debut. One fellow collector calls out the Racine, Wisconsin based Kopecky as a reference - which is an excellent observation!

Personal collection
CD: 2003 Lizard (Italy)

Ako Doma - s/t. 1999 Slovakia

Sometime in 1990, not long after the fall of the Berlin Wall, I managed to slip into Bratislava (though Visa's were still mandatory, who was paying attention?). At the behest of my gracious hostess, she insisted I catch a "local" instrumental band at a municipal concert venue (juke joint?). It was what can be best described as a "dance hall" - brightly lit, smoke filled, and slightly (OK, mostly) dingy inside. The audience was made up of primarily overweight middle aged women, all wearing knee hemmed black skirts and calf high pantyhose. On stage was a heavily mustachioed gentleman wailing on the sax, while a drummer and stand-up bass player briskly kept the pace. The melodies all had a certain popular music base, some Western, mostly Central European - and all based in another lifetime. They were immensely popular with the women as they gyrated wildly on the dance floor. The men drank tall steins of beer and puffed away on pipes and cigarettes, anticipating (perhaps dreading) what was in store for them that night. For this (then) 25 year old, it was an eye-opener. I was witnessing real-time something that I personally saw disappear quickly from the landscape once freedom was attained. For an American in 1990, it was anachronistic to say the least. And I loved every minute of it.

When I first heard the sax player from Ako Doma squonking her notes out, I was immediately brought back to this event. Her playing and melody choices are primarily based in Slovakian pop folklore. Pop, as in 1950's smoky dance jazz-pop. The remainder of Ako Doma apparently spent their wasted youth snubbing their noses at the Authorities and smuggled in King Crimson's Red album, perhaps hoping that if they did get caught, at least the album title would keep them out of hot water. And to say anything further would be redundant: You now know the music of Ako Doma's debut.

It should be noted that the final track, the 22+ minute 'Hrdzavenie', is from a different era of the band (sans sax), and is more rooted in typical progressive rock themes.

Personal collection
CD: 1999 Mellow (Italy)

Alphataurus - AttosecondO. 2012 Italy

AttosecondO once again is adorned with a stunning painting. I don't usually collect LPs for modern releases, but I may need to make an exception here. Still, the mini-LP packaging is as fine as it gets for a CD issue.

For the music, AttosecondO finally closes the book on their unfinished second album, the previously titled Dietro L'Uragano. The Live in Bloom (CD version) concert demonstrated very competent versions of two of these tracks, and it seems the band was in top form. AttosecondO adds the final important track 'Claudette' (13:40), to complete the mystery of "what if these tracks were recorded properly"? For those who bought the Live in Bloom for the same reason as I did - that is to hear the second album performed properly - fear not. The versions found on AttosecondO have been radically reworked from the Live in Bloom concert, to arguably greater success. But that's only part of the story here, as Alphataurus have added two entirely new tracks to open the album 'Progressiva Menta' (8:29) and 'Gocce' (9:27), both of which sound like the best of the modern Italian progressive rock bands that are striving to recreate the past. Of course, it would make sense that Alphataurus would be experts at this  - since they actually were one of those original bands! However, as we all know by now, most of these reunions haven't been near the level we'd originally hoped. Alphataurus is the exception. They clearly have recaptured the spirit of their youth, and seem on the cusp of releasing another monster album like their 1973 debut. Even though the founding two members are in their 60s, let's hope they don't quit just yet and prove that the older guys can be as creative as the youngsters - of which now three of said youth are part of the Alphataurus machine.

Personal collection
CD: 2012 AMS/BTF

Alphataurus - Live in Bloom. 2012 Italy

I bought the CD mainly to hear the fully realized versions of 'Ripensando E…' (7:36) and 'Valigre di Terra' (12:02), both tracks from the unfinished second album. As it turns out the former composition is an instrumental and so it wasn't quite as different as I expected. But 'Valigre di Terra' was the highlight of that archival release, and to hear it with vocals, makes this well worth the price of admission by itself. That along with the beautiful cover art (the CD is in the mini-LP format), painted by the same gentleman who impressed everyone with the brilliant triple fold out of the original 1973 album.

The LP leaves off these two aforementioned tracks, and IMO detracts from the primary reason to own this. The renditions of the debut album are all excellent, but not dramatically different.

Personal collection
CD: 2012 AMS/BTF

Alphataurus - Dietro L'Uragano. 1974 Italy (archival)

Similar to many Italian bands of this era, Alphataurus seemed to flare out after one release. But Mellow Records turned up a complete album minus the vocal sections. Apparently the band was looking for another singer when they finally gave up. 1974 was the end of the line for most of the Italian scene, so ultimately this should come as no surprise. On Dietro L'Uragano, the music is more playful, slightly less complex, and far more dependent on keyboards than the debut effort. Parts of this remind me of the heavy but simple tracks found on The Trip's Caronte album, though overall Alphataurus is more engaging here. ELP circa Tarkus, is another obvious influence. Unfortunately it's apparent the music was written with a vocalist in mind, so there are some gaps to be found.

Personal collection

I sold the CD a few years ago to no regrets. The good news is that these tracks were re-recorded on their two 2012 albums, and are fantastic.

Omnia Opera - Red Shift. 1997 England

What separated Omnia Opera from the others of the scene (and it should be noted the band themselves state they weren't really part of the movement much at all) is they were one of the very few, if not the only one, to actually be heavier than the Ozrics. Omnia Opera were an aggressive bunch with thrashing guitars in the Hawkwind style, mixed with the ripping solos that Ed Wynne and crew are also noted for. While their debut received positive reviews, Red Shift was generally panned. In retrospect, their sophomore followup is no less worthy of recognition. Where some of the dissatisfaction came from, I’m sure, is the inclusion of techno elements, which many felt was the direction that killed the festival movement itself. Delerium Records seemed to almost insist every band on their roster at least incorporate some bits of electronica into their albums (Note: Omnia Opera has exonerated the label, stating they had nothing to do with Omnia Opera’s choice of utilizing techno). Now I personally see the rejection of Red Shift as more of an audience’s turning-the-back on the new electronica styles being force fed to them, verse an actual objective viewpoint of the album itself. I suggest everyone who has a fondness for this style to give it one more listen.

Personal collection
CD: 1997 Delerium

Omnia Opera - s/t. 1993 England

With Omnia Opera, we get a glimpse into the possible scenario of what would Ozric Tentacles have sounded like had they used Hawkwind as a blueprint rather than Hillage era Gong. Omnia Opera is a seriously heavy bunch, with over-distorted riffing guitars leading the charge. But they're also quite cosmic, with early Pink Floyd style build ups, wordless voices, psychedelic ambient guitars - and finally ferocious climaxes with wild fuzz guitar soloing similar to Ed Wynne and crew. Best tracks are 'The Awakening' and 'Each Day', but every track is a winner.

Personal collection
CD: 1993 Delerium

Mona Lisa - De l'Ombre à la Lumière. 1998 France

De l'Ombre à la Lumière is, in effect, the 5th Versailles album. Due to the presence of charismatic vocalist Dominique Le Guennec, the band opted to name themselves Mona Lisa out of respect. Not to mention that Le Guennec co-writes 8 of the 9 tunes here. My guess is he's the lyricist, but there's no definitive proof of my assumption. In addition to Le Guennec the band recruited Philippe Maury, formerly of Quidam (Reflets Rocks), to perform bass duty. No matter, as Versailles' fingerprints are all over this. Not quite the instrumental powerhouse of the last 3 Versailles albums, which in addition to the Ange/Mona Lisa sound, also were profoundly rooted into the Pulsar space rock motif. The music of De l'Ombre à la Lumière is a bit more straightforward, similar to classic era Mona Lisa albums like Le Petit Violon de Mr. Gregoire and Avant Qu'il ne Soit Trop Tard, perfect for highlighting the histrionics of Le Guennec's front-man routine. Plenty of great flute and mellotron points to Mona Lisa's 70's heritage - and Versailles' intentional retro instrumentation. Interesting to note that Le Guennec sat out for the last Mona Lisa album (Vers Demain), only to return some 10 years later with Versailles in tow and the other members of Mona Lisa nowhere to be found.

Personal collection
CD: 1998 Musea

Versailles - Blaise et Benjamin. 1998 France

Taking the sound of Le Trésor de Valliesres even further along their 1970's French heritage, Versailles have now fully embraced the space rock sound of Pulsar. Especially on the two opening lengthy epics  'Blaise et Benjamin' (15:21) and 'Poison de Passion' (19:19), whereas the two shorter tracks (short being a relative term here as both tracks clock in well over 9 minutes each) return to their theatrical Ange and Mona Lisa roots. There is more room given to the instrumentals, and space is created for guitar riffs and solos, along with keyboard atmospheric sequences and organ demonstrations. If looking for English equivalents, or bands you may be familiar with, what you have here is classic Genesis meets Pink Floyd, both within their respective most progressive era. However, there's no mistaking Versailles' Gallic roots, and to repeat what the true influences are: Ange meets Pulsar. 'Poison de Passion' I believe to be Versailles' most 70's inspired track of their career.

This was to be the last album from the great Versailles, and they fortunately finished at the top of their game. However, the band essentially continued under the legendary Mona Lisa moniker for one final album, as they fulfilled the instrumental sections for lead vocalist Dominique Le Guennec. And Versailles' de facto leader Guillaume de la Piliere pushed on with three solo albums, though all missed the synchronicity of a full band effort.

Personal collection
CD: 1998 Musea

Versailles - Don Giovanni. 1992 France

All that was wrong with the debut was corrected here. Versailles put everything together on Don Giovanni for a mature progressive rock album in the theatrical French language tradition - itself a nationalistic response to the immense popularity of those pesky English and their blasted Genesis. So, in effect, Versailles are to Ange and Mona Lisa what IQ are to Genesis. And vocalist/guitarist/flautist and overall ringleader Guillaume de la Piliere is their spiritual heart, in the same way Peter Nicholls is for IQ. His vocals are the centerpiece to the compositions, but since most of the tracks clear the 10 minute mark, plenty of room is given for the most impressive instrumental work.

What was so striking about this release in 1992 was the pointed use of analog equipment, something that was highly unusual in its day. Hammond organ, string synths, Rickenbacker bass (or similar), acoustic and compressed electric acid guitar solos are all out of the 1978 French cookbook. If you've heard the private press French albums from this era (Arachnoid, Archaia, Nuance, etc...), then you'll know exactly the type of guitar sound I'm talking about here. 1992 is also the year Anglagard burst onto the scene, and yet Versailles went by with barely a mention. The good news is they continued on from here with two more albums (really 3 if you count the last Mona Lisa album), which are arguably even better and more powerful.

Personal collection
CD: 1992 Musea

It – Order Through Chaos. 1984-1993 USA

It were an obscure group from Chicago led by guitarist Todd Freeman and the keyboards of Scott Munson. These recordings are spread across the period from 1984 to 1993, with the majority of the material coming from the 1980s. Somehow these ended up in the hands of Mauro Moroni who promptly issued them on his excellent Mellow label in 1994 (though it appears The Wild Places' Michael Piper may have been involved as well). I've spoken at length on prior reviews about the Midwest progressive rock scene, and It seems to have inherited many of the traits, carefully balancing complex instrumental passages with FM radio friendly verses. In Chicagoland terms, they are by no means as progressive as Yezda Urfa or Pentwater, but not as commercial as Styx or Neuron either. And there's a bit of a modern edge here, suggesting that perhaps It was aware of what Cheer Accident may have been up to during the same period.

'The Eternal Timeclock' (9:34) from 1984 demonstrates best It's coherent mix of progressive rock and commercial sensibility. The late 1980s finds It at their most radical and progressive, demonstrated best by the 9 minute aggressive guitar driven 'Armageddon' (1987) followed by the lengthy 18 minute space rock feast 'Fictition' from 1988, and is arguably the highlight of the album.

The final 1992/1993 material (though spread evenly across the disc) shows It with a much better production but is far more introspective in nature, with a decidedly mellower tone.

Personal collection
CD: 1994 Mellow (Italy)

Under the Dome – The Demon Haunted World. 1998 England

No country took more to the classic 1970s Tangerine Dream trio than did England. Especially during the Berlin School renaissance of the 1990s, when a flood of bands came onto the horizon. Under the Dome weren't one of the headliners, though they most certainly held their own against some of the bigger names of the era like Radio Massacre International, Redshift, and AirSculpture. Neu Harmony was the CD arm for premier electronic music mail-order house Synth Music Direct and were one of the leading lights of the day.

Under the Dome on their debut The Demon Haunted World combine haunting and desolate atmospheric tones with crunchy and wedgy sequences. Each of the 4 tracks navigate through a variety of moods and textures, and in that way, are almost progressive rock like. I found the shorter tracks (short being a relative term here) to work best, like the thumping Moog Modulater (simulated) opener 'Flüssiger Vier-Takter' (8:34). The third piece 'The Bridge' (13:35) starts off in tranquility mode, but eventually the sequencers arrive to ensure this isn't going to be a waltz in the park. The appropriately named closer, 'Hell' (24:00), has some of the darkest textures since Klaus Schulze's Cyborg. I was hoping for a sequencer blitzkrieg to burst out of the depths, but they stayed mostly subdued and mid-tempo throughout. Worth noting there is quite a bit of guitar here (no real soloing though), adding much needed color to the usual barrage of electronic keyboard equipment. All in, The Demon Haunted World is a finely crafted Berlin School album.

Personal collection
CD: 1998 Neu Harmony

Holy River Family Band - Haida Deities. 1996 Sweden

Haida Deities is an excellent debut album by Holy River Family Band, a group born from The Spacious Mind, and shortly thereafter also bred Kundalini. The album starts off, perhaps predictably, more peaceful and tranquil before launching its first full force acid guitar fronted jam on 'Eztetl'. The 29 minute closing track is like eating only the frosting on the cake - especially if you're a psychedelic instrumental freak. There's quite a bit to take on at once, and watch out for the sugar rush if not careful. Guitars, organs, synthesizers, hand percussion, and a slew of exotic stringed and percussive instruments are on display. If you love the 1990s Swedish psychedelic sound, itself spawned from the early 70's works by Flasket Brinner, International Harvester, and Algarnas Tradgard, then Haida Deities is a no-brainer purchase.

Personal collection
CD: The Wild Places (USA)

Mind Over Matter - The Colours of Life. 1988 Germany

Klaus Schulze's Innovative Communications label turned up a great many progressive rock and electronic gems throughout the 1980s - that were hardly noticed even back then (I was a major fan of both genres back then, and only a few of their albums surfaced - mainly from Schulze himself). I believe it's a label that will be mined for many years to come.

I've been a fan of Klaus Hoffmann-Hoock for a long time, but as Cosmic Hoffmann rather than as the leader of Mind Over Matter. Word on the street said these albums were more geared towards the New Age crowd, than the Berlin Electronic / Ashra inspired Cosmic Hoffmann works. Perhaps that's true to some extent, but at least on Colours of Life, Hoffmann demonstrates a wide variety of world music, both in texture, melody, and arrangements. The tones are clearly late 1980's sounding, but in the good sense. And Hoffmann still provides some wonderful lead guitar lines right out of the Manuel Gottsching cookbook. The Colours of Life is a rich, beautiful album.

Personal collection
CD: 1988 Innovative Communications

The CD has 4 bonus tracks, that are as good as the album itself.

Nine Invisibles - Soundbombing. 2000 England

About a year ago we featured an excellent space rock / festival band called Ship of Fools. Nine Invisibles is Ver 2.0 of Ship of Fools. I had picked up Nine Invisibles' debut Pureheadspace not long after it was released in 1997, but Soundbombing was an album that never made it to these shores back then. In fact, other than money maker Porcupine Tree, this album was the last hurrah for the great UK psych label.  By this time, almost all CD's on Delerium had an electronica/techno angle to their sound - and quite frankly I think they lost their core audience because of it.

So when The Laser's Edge managed to secure a copy recently, I jumped on it. What separates Nine Invisibles from your garden variety techno dance act is the synergy of having a multitude of people involved, along with the occasional use of analog instruments (guitar, bass, flute, etc...). In this way I'm reminded of another space rock band that incorporated techno into their music late in their career: Mandragora on their final release, Pollen.

Personal collection
CD: 2000 Delerium

Novalis - Sommerabend. 1976 Germany

When Sommerabend was chosen as a random album to listen to, I was quite excited to catch up with it again. It's probably been 20 years since I last heard it, but my recollection and grade at the time was quite high. Recently I finally penetrated the debut Banished Bridge, capturing a drifty Krautrock vibe that I had missed prior. And the second album is the one I'd always held in the highest esteem (another one I need to revisit). As the years go by, I value melodic songwriting more and more, and that's right in the wheelhouse of this era of Novalis. So with all of that as background context, and the fact Sommerabend is typically rated the highest by fans, I figured this would be the listen where the album opened up for me in a big way.

Nope. In fact it took a step back. But at first I was highly engaged. The instrumental 'Aufbruch' is exactly what I was expecting, with memorable melody lines, and creative breaks. It is on 'Wunderschätze' that the albums begins to break down. At first, my positive bias carried it through. But a second listen had me realizing where the problem lies. And that's because the side longer title track doesn't hold up as well, and reveals this material weakness. Now I'm not suggesting it isn't any good - of course it maintains that melodic and spacey vibe Novalis is known for - but it gets a bit... dull on occasion. Whereas Banished Bridge maintains this Dom like downer mysterious vibe, Sommerabend just sounds mopey dopey at times. Perhaps the band is too sober by 1976. It's more like same era Eloy / Pink Floyd verse the more sprightly sound that Novalis seems to have patented, and exploited more on their sophomore effort.

For certain a worthy album for the collection, but it's a definite 3rd place in their canon as far as I'm concerned.

Personal collection

LP: 1976 Brain (green label)
CD: 1992 Brain

The album is a single sleeve but features wonderful cover art.

The Muffins - Open City. 1977; 1979-1980 USA (archival)

For my tastes, The Muffins are an entirely frustrating band. Their best work IMO is the archival material pre-1978, which is heavily influenced by the Canterbury movement, and is mostly represented on the fantastic Chronometers CD that came out some 17 years after the fact. The Muffins proper debut, Manna/Mirage, is an album of contrasts mixing lucidly composed, highly melodic, jazz rock tracks - with some of the most annoying tuneless/structureless improvisations ever put to vinyl. In effect, The Muffins moved from Soft Machine II to Henry Cow's In Praise of Learning.

And now we review Open City, which is in reality another archival release. I've owned the CD for many years, but never the LP. This is an important distinction because up until today, I hadn't paid much attention on how different they are - at least in terms of how to approach the album and its final result. As it turns out, the first 7 tracks are (mostly) unique to the CD and come from a concert in 1980. They're in full blown Henry Cow territory here. Since it's compact, it does bring out some of the better attributes of said band, that is to say there are actual songs here to enjoy with wonderful passages and even some fuzz bass, a vestige of their Canterbury past. But it also contains the mandatory checklist that includes monotone female vocals, noisy improvs, and a certain melodic structure that is so predictable, it's laughable - and yet that audience will tell you it's radical and unique and no one else has ever done it. LOL, yea OK clique boys. Tracks 8 & 9 are from 1979, and again, we're treated to the Manna/Mirage side of the band. So as I was earmarking the CD for my next sale comes....

The lion's share of what was on the original LP, itself an archival release from Cuneiform back in 1985. Tracks 10 to 14 are from 1977, and is a wonderful warm and sunny, yet complex, jazz rock with Canterbury overtones. I thoroughly enjoy this era of The Muffins. What a contrast to the edgy atonal later material. 'Not Alone' is the highlight of the entire disc, and it comes at the very end, nearly 50 minutes into it. No wonder I could never figure out why I kept this CD!

In some ways, Open City may be the definitive Muffins album. It captures both of their styles at their best, and is likely to please one or the other type fan, and in many cases both. For me, it's only the jazz rock/Canterbury side that works.

From a rating perspective, I will keep two grades: The LP is a half point higher than the CD - though I recommend the latter oddly enough to obtain the whole experience.

Personal collection
CD: 1994 Cuneiform

Nuova Era – Io e Il Tempo. 1992 Italy

Probably more than any other band, Nuova Era can be credited with bringing back the classic early 70s Italian progressive rock sound... kicking and screaming into the 90s. They started their career with the rather tepid L'Ultimo Viaggio, but by the time of Io e Il Tempo, their 3rd album, Nuova Era were firing on all cylinders. The basic foundation of the classic Italo sound are here: Classically based compositions, turn-on-a-dime rhythms, impassioned vocals (in Italian of course), and expertly played instruments. And it's the usual palette of sounds with organ / synthesizer, guitar, flute, bass and drums. Two long suites with plenty of unexpected turns; ferocious rocked out parts are offset by tranquil piano interludes which keeps this an exciting listen throughout. The vocals are similar to Sithonia - another standout early 90's Italian band. Despite all of the parallels, there's no mistaking Nuova Era as a purposefully retro band ala La Maschera di Cera. The guitarist can fall prey to "rock star" ambition on occasion, and the overly bright production screams early 90s. But the thoughtfulness and density of the compositions is what makes albums like this stand the test of time, the lack of an abundance of analog equipment notwithstanding.

Personal collection
LP: 1992 Contempo
CD: 1992 Contempo

The LP features a beautiful gatefold cover, another trademark of the 1970s Italian heyday.

Pentwater - Ab-Dul. 2007 USA

Already a charter member of the Pentwater fanboy club, I just had to get the new album, even though these guys haven't released anything in 30 years and the album cover art leaves much to be desired. With most reunions, I duck for cover, figuring the band had long forgotten why anyone wanted to hear them in the first place, ergo the irrational desire for a quick FM hit. As if all the 18 year old girls will start swooning for 55 year old geezers singing about lost loves, or worse, some sort of fairy queen eaten by a jester elf... But this is Pentwater, and these guys were an intellectual bunch even amongst the intellectual, so its no surprise they came up with another winner. It's not perfect, and there were a couple of tracks that seemed to imply that maybe Neil Diamond had it right all along. But they catch themselves, and throw something in 13/8 with a mellotron on top and the world is all perfect again. Very few groups can pull off melody and complexity like Pentwater.

Personal collection
CD: 2007 Beef

Cauldron - The Sanctuary Suite. 1998 Sweden

Another random pull from the collection. I bought this in 1999, not too long after it was released, listened to it a few times, and filed it. 13 years later, we return.

Cauldron is a dual collaboration of members from The Spacious Mind and Holy River Family Band. Both were already releasing albums on Michael Piper's The Wild Places label. Cauldron's music is geared towards the psychedelic far out reaches of The Spacious Mind's canon. Long spaced out journeys with droning organ, psychedelic jazz guitar, hand percussion, sitar, trumpet and other sundry instruments are used to create the aural journey. Catches a late 60's Pink Floyd vibe. Put away your jam kit, Cauldron is for late-night zone outs. Excellent album if in the right mood.

Personal collection
CD: 1998 Wild Places (USA)

Strawberry Alarm Clock - Wake Up... It's Tomorrow. 1968 USA

The band asks: How many tomorrow's can you see? They almost let this one get away. They almost revealed themselves right here and now. They were partying with the psychedelic set, and who better than with a bunch of turned on kids with a name like Strawberry Alarm Clock. Who are they you ask? Extraterrestrial's of course. Duh.

The debut had already displayed more hair raising harmonies per second than any album in history, so why not up the ante, and mix that with a 6th dimension sound? Real time upon release, few in the world got it of course, and after realizing their potential mistake, this particular strain of ET's left to never return in our time and space. And Strawberry Alarm Clock went on to become an easy listening band based on "advice" from industry execs. Poor kids. They never had a chance.

Don't believe me? Just listen to 'Curse of the Witches'. That sheer burst of fuzz bass, celestial vibes, and harmony all arriving at once is a vision into heaven, followed by all sorts of disorientation including the just-slightly-off-kilter rhythms, but mathematically calculated perfectly to alter your mind. Meditation... "Oooo" is a lyric of pure genius. In fact the song it comes from 'Sit With the Guru', along with hit 'Tomorrow', are the two tracks here that resemble most the pop psych brilliance of the debut. The entire 5 song sequence that ends the album predicted all sorts of music movements to forth come. They were able to do that in 12 minutes.

Perhaps only 'Soft Skies, No Lies' and 'Go Back You're Going the Wrong Way' are "normal" songs, and even they are excellent.

Look at the artwork and understand who you're dealing with.

Wake Up... It's Tomorrow.

Personal collection

LP: 1968 Uni
CD: 2005 Collectors' Choice

It wasn't until the mid 90s that I truly "discovered" SAC, though I had a comp going back to the late 80s. I would argue that Strawberry Alarm Clock are the single greatest band from the late 60s.

Oresund Space Collective - Dead Man in Space. 2009 Denmark-Sweden

Dead Man in Space is Oresund Space Collective's 6th proper album. It is also their very first LP vinyl release. It's a significant trend, as the medium demands an editor to distill the very best parts. And while Oresund Space Collective certainly does do that anyway, this forces them to think a bit harder on what goes in and what stays out. OSC is a band that is a natural fit for vinyl, and it's not surprising to see they have continued this trend since (though they may release the album as a 3 LP set somewhat defeating this purpose anyway).

On the music front, Dead Man in Space is one of OSC's more coherent and focused releases - no surprise given the context provided above. Improvisational space rock jamming is still the name of the game, though here there's a bit of a jazzy bent in the rhythms and sounds. And I felt there were more poignant psychedelic guitar bursts than normal, giving the album just the bite it needs to be successful. If looking to start somewhere with OSC, Dead Man in Space is a good one to consider.

Personal collection
LP: 2009 Kommun 2

Discogs and RYM have 2010 as the date of release, but the label clearly denotes the copyright as 2009. Perhaps it didn't hit the shelves until 2010, this I cannot say.

There's a CD version of the album (with different artwork), and it's about 20 minutes longer (of course it is), so much of what I said above probably doesn't apply to that version.

Mashmakhan - The Family. 1971 Canada

Mashmakhan's sophomore effort is light on songwriting skills, and the vocals sound a bit strained. The appeal? The instrumental breaks, where the organ, flute, and psychedelic guitar gather for some fine jamming. Here the band sound a bit like Jethro Tull meeting Santana, with a hippie vibe throughout. The album sort of peters out on Side 2, mainly due to the lack of any instrumentals. Relying on their compositions will not get them very far. The album ends with the band's most overtly progressive rock track, which isn't really any better than the songs on side 1 - just stretched out a bit. The Family is like many North American bands from the turn of the 1970 decade: They can't decide what they want to be. Psych, hard rock, prog, jazz, blues? No one seemed to know, and off into oblivion they went in a couple of years after three more singles.

Personal collection
CD: 1999 Collectables w/Mashmakhan

The CD combines both albums, but leaves off 'Mr. Tree', which is the 10 minute proggy track. Of course they did. Who would want to hear them stretch out, when there's perfectly bad 3 minute tracks to provide instead? Argh. Funny how the mainstream never could accept progressive rock, no matter what. Well, it's a happenin' now dummy's.

I still have the LP in my possession (1971 Columbia) just due to this omission. But it's not really that great of a track to hold onto by itself. And the album isn't exactly a favorite. So it can be sold (in the next Purple Peak Records sale in fact!).

Garden Wall - Assurdo. 2011 Italy

For those folks that are constantly asking to hear an album that is truly "progressive" rather than "it's progressive in the 1970s sense of the word", then I offer up to you Garden Wall's Assurdo. Garden Wall has always been a creative bunch, but they've really upped the ante this time. After about 5 listens, I cannot possibly describe this album. Many others have attempted to do so however. All of them very thorough, and quite excellent. No two are alike. I don't think it's possible for anyone to hear this album the same as someone else. About the only continuity in the reviews I've read is that Assurdo is unique. That's for sure.

They still have the Van der Graaf Generator meets thrash metal backbone of Forget the Colours, but do not be scared by that description. There's so much at play here, that at times you imagine you are hearing the classic Italian progressive rock scene being played out 200 years from now. Is it genius? How could I know - I'm for certain not one, but it is impossible to deny that Garden Wall continues to push the boundaries of progressive rock. This isn't tuneless cacophony in the name of Avant Garde, but rather a fully realized and coherent work. Check it out for yourself. Write a review. It will be different than the others you have read.

Personal collection
CD: 2011 Lizard

Garden Wall - Chimica. 1997 Italy

On Chimica, Garden Wall’s 4th album, the band had really progressed to new levels of intensity and intelligence. It wouldn’t be too far out of place to state that Garden Wall are a few branches of further growth from the Semiramis tree, demonstrating their Italian progressive rock heritage. Lead vocalist/guitarist Alessandro Seravalle is truly one of the more creative minds to emerge on the progressive music scene in the last 20 years. He pretty much just marches to his own drummer and could be seen as a genius, or insane, depending on one’s perspective. His vocal style is best described as strange, somewhere between Peter Hammill and a madman (some would argue that’s the same thing). It’s a style that’s very appealing for the chaotic music he and the band create. Keyboardist Mauro Olivo plays almost entirely in counterpoint mode, giving the music a disorienting feel. While Garden Wall always had a heavy streak, Chimica is the album where they leaped whole hog into the metal camp concerning the guitar tone. Which is not to say they are a Dream Theater style prog metal group, not even close. This is real progressive music, in the true sense of the word, not just a genre tag. The 34 minute multi-part opening track ‘Chemotaxis’ goes through many different sections while still maintaining the sense of a whole composition (something that is rare to find in modern bands). For fans of their earlier style, Chimica is seen as an album going in the wrong direction, but since there are plenty of keyboards and acoustic sections, it was passable. For folks like myself who love this kind of creativity while still rocking out, Garden Wall were continuing to progress into new exciting realms. It would be five years until their next album, and not only did they continue to polarize the progressive listening audience, they blew a hole in the universe.

Personal collection
CD: 1997 WMMS / Music is Intelligence (Germany)

The Jack Hammond Group - A Fatal Beauty. 1982 USA

From Chicago comes The Jack Hammond Group, an inventive fusion band. On the double LP A Fatal Beauty, the album opens with a fantastic sequence of tracks, lead by guitarist Hammond, which is ultimately based in progressive rock, including a side long epic as found on Side 2 (of 4). Side 3 finds the group experimenting with many disparate styles (classical, blues, and funk primarily). Then they close strong on the final cut with the addition of horns. A solid album throughout, and a great find for US private press seekers. The cover is also quite suitably creepy.

Personal collection
LP: 1982 Fatal Beauty Records

Double LP set. Never reissued in any form.

October Equus - Saturnal. 2011 Spain

Saturnal is the 3rd album from arguably Spain's most complex rock band. Their first album was almost like a psychedelic Present (Belgium), a very interesting combination that I found highly appealing. With each subsequent release, October Equus ups the ante on complexity, while toning down the more jamming aspect of their sound. It's pretty clear this is a band that now must play live with scored music charts, rather than rehashing more simple material and letting loose on occasion. On Saturnal, October Equus has entered the realms of a new force of music - one that was pioneered by Thinking Plague - and now mastered by many more. Sophisticated, dense, mathematical, academic are a few adjectives that can describe the music within. It's the blueprint sound of the AltRock label. Avant progressive at its most pure. And for me, each new album becomes a little less exciting but more intelligent. The fun and creative high school kid is going to be a doctor. His mother would be proud.

Overall, I still find October Equus to be an excellent band. I just wish they'd loosen up a bit.

Personal collection
CD: 2011 AltRock (Italy)

The Group - s/t. 1978 Finland

When a band decides to come up with a moniker, it makes a statement about who you are. And in this case, this collective of veterans called themselves The Group. When you go forward with a name like that, you're telling the world that you are - in fact - The Group. Perhaps in Finland, at least coming from the jazz world in the 1970s, not such a preposterous notion. For the rest of the world - huh? And in today's modern search engine heavy world, one can only regret having had a name like The Group. Or perhaps grateful that you can hide longer than others... While all the players were quite experienced by 1978, the 2 big names here are Olli Ahvenlahti and Pekka Pohjola. The former was more known in jazz circles, and Pohjola was probably the foremost name worldwide from Finland. All they needed was Jukka Tolonen at this point.

So with all this pomp and circumstance, including a cover of no less than the Great Pyramid, what bold musical proclamation does The Group make? A jazz fusion album. Imagine that? In 1978 no less? Wow. I mean who did that? Let me rephrase minus sarcasm. Who did not do that in 1978? I know, you're still thinking...

All of this to say, had the band been called Aavenpohtylathi Temppeli (it's got to be a word. I think any combination of letters work in Finnish right?), the music is all one would focus on - but a cool name helps. And the music here can best be described as classy and professional. The compositions are well thought out, highly melodic, and are not just skeletons for jams and solos. And since it's a straightforward guitar, keyboards, bass, and drums lineup, there's no annoying soprano sax or other irritants popping up from the speakers behind the plastic palm trees in the local strip mall sauna. In this respect, the album is reminiscent of Pohjola's own late 70s work, plus perhaps some of the music you've heard on those Jazz Liisa series of albums. This isn't the album to buy if looking for sick chops or a dynamic change in how one views jazz fusion. But if looking for another quality album in this space, The Group won't disappoint.

Personal collection

LP: 1978 Dig It

The original comes in a fine gatefold cover with detailed liner notes - in English actually. Which sort of indicates they'd hoped bigger things for the local boys. But one and done it was for the band known simply as... The Group.

George (Joji) Hirota - Sahasurara. 1976 Japan

Joji Hirota's debut album, going with the more anglicized George here, is a fascinating blend of jazz fusion, progressive rock, experimental avant garde combined with indigenous tribal Japanese elements. Plenty of flute, chanting and manic vocals, acoustic and fuzz guitar, piano, vibes, and a variety of percussion are the primary ingredients. At times, especially during the middle of side 2, it strays a bit too much toward the avant-garde, perhaps similar to J.A. Caesar in that way. Overall a very unique, but satisfying album.

Personal collection
LP: 1976 King

Avel Nevez - Service Compris. 1979 France

There's a fine line between electric folk rock and folk influenced progressive rock. With Brittany, the majority of the bands are the former (Malicorne, Gwendal, etc...). Avel Nevez, on Service Compris at least, is probably the most clear example of the latter, at least from this most unique of French regions. There's no mistaking the patriotism and indigenous melodies that define the Breton area (the regional map in the trashcan says all you need to know politically). However the guitar, and in particular, the synthesizer work points to a deep 1970's knowledge of French and UK progressive rock. If you're familiar with the mid 90's band Kadwaladyr, then Avel Nevez is probably closest in sound to that high spirited bunch.

Personal collection
LP: 1979 Arfolk

Pop Instrumental de France (Laurent Petitgirard) - s/t. 1971 France

With a corny name like Pop Instrumental de France, one would think this was going to contain happy organ covers of 'Eleanor Rigby' and 'Paperback Writer'. But this being France in 1971, insiders know it will be something entirely different. A splendid romantic instrumental rock album, with a large palette of instruments creating different moods, atmospheres, and rhythms. Somewhere between William Sheller's Lux Aeterna, Jean Cohen-Solal's two albums, and Alain Goragues La Planete Sauvage, you'll find Laurent Petitgirard's Pop Instrumental de France. A must pick up for fans of early French progressive rock.

Personal collection
CD: 2006 Vadim

The CD on Vadim comes with great liner notes from Laurent Petitgirard, sports new artwork (second scan), and features an excellent sound.

Master Cylinder - Elsewhere. 1981 USA

(Now this is crazy. I'm working with a random number generator going through my collection, and it picked Bloodrock followed by Master Cylinder. Both from Fort Worth. Both with already penned notes, and neither in UMR until now. OK then... spoooooky)

Not much is known about this Fort Worth based jazz rock group (even though they're from my neck of the woods, their album wasn't exactly a staple of local jazz or rock radio). On the usually soulless Inner City label, Master Cylinder was anything but that. Their album has a strong melodic sense, and it seems the group must have been informed by the Canterbury groups like early Soft Machine or National Health, as well as the DC based Happy the Man. While ostensibly a jazz album, it's these rock elements that bring Master Cylinder to the next level. A very good album that time has forgot.

Personal collection
LP: 1981 Inner City

Ken from Laser's Edge tells me he had every intention of reissuing this album on CD when it was discovered that the master tapes were lost. Bummer.

Bloodrock - Bloodrock 3. 1971 USA

Solid workman-like blue collar hard rock album from my current hometown of Fort Worth, with grungy Hammond and heavy guitar leads. At least 4 tracks here are total winners. Only pitfalls are 'You Gotta Roll' which is their only foray - this time - into what seemed to be the mandatory boogie/good time rock-n-roll number. And 'A Certain Kind' is the type of ballad Bloodrock should have avoided altogether. CSN&Y album closer doesn't do the band any favors either. But otherwise this one is solid hard rock fare and a must for fans of the genre. These "Cats" (residents will get it) are local boys who done real good. Makes me want to go to Kincaid's Grocery on Camp Bowie, and get a cheeseburger and a real (chocolate) ice cream shake. In a Chevy Mist Green painted grocery. And I did just that today... (I really did! On the day I wrote these notes which was Nov 7, 2015. Just never added to UMR until now).

Personal collection
LP: 1971 Capitol

Flying Island - Another Kind of Space. 1976 USA

When I think of Flying Island, I tend to categorize them as a fusion band. But this listen proved to me that's not really the case. Even though there's a little funky business (especially on their debut), I would say that Flying Island are more of an instrumental progressive rock band. The lead instruments are violin, guitar and organ, and this is definitely no chops fest. Compositions are first and foremost, while instrumental dexterity backs up the highly melodic, but complex music charts. The violin in particular will remind the listener of Curved Air and Darryl Way's Wolf. Instantly recognizable cover art, another fine trademark of the Vanguard label. I miss the days when a label could be identified in this way.

Personal collection
LP: 1976 Vanguard

Salem Mass - s/t. 1971 USA

For such a relatively remote place like Idaho - especially in the early 1970s - it's hard to imagine that not only one, but two bonafide underground rock albums emerged. One is the archival Stone Garden, and the other did manage to get released on LP privately, and that's the one we're talking about today. In reading other reviews of this album, it's clear few are taking into account the remarkable progression this album portrays, given the circumstances from which it arrived. Comparing Salem Mass to Black Sabbath or any other major label British or American band from 1971 is comparing things as all things equal, when they had no chance to be. And yet Salem Mass is quite an accomplished record on its own accord. It is definitely heavy, with fuzz guitar galore, and also plenty of fat organ sounds. And I kind of like the raw vocals that fits the music perfectly. But the shocker here is the use of the Minimoog (don't forget the Minimoog went into production only in 1970). Where the heck did they get one of those? In Caldwell, Idaho? I mean it's one thing for ELP to break one out, but for a local hard rock band playing the outlaw cowboy beer bar scene? Are you kidding me? Just for this alone, the album should be held in high esteem among those who look for quality more thoughtful underground albums. What other underground hard rock band (non major label) used a Minimoog this early? The music is quite melodic, and definitely has a late psych era vibe, which was more common here in America during that time. This one is a must listen.

Personal collection

LP: 1999 Akarma (Italy)

This reissue comes in a fine heavy textured cover. As I stated on Discogs recently: Akarma has a checkered past, no question about it. But not this title. It was licensed directly from Gear Fab and even includes their insert! Unfortunately someone had removed the Gear Fab association without backup data and now nobody can sell the album on Discogs because of the (once) incorrect appellation (I changed it back to legal). Though to be fair, it's the label's own fault, as they had far too many questionable releases. Guilty by association I guess.

Stone Circus - s/t. 1969 USA-Canada

Here's another Mainstream label gem, and possibly my favorite album on the label. These Montreal based musicians (save one), decided t...