Stephan Thelen, Fractal Guitar, 2019

stephan thelen - fractal guitarThird Moonjune release in a relative short time for me and still very different than other artists on the label. As is fairly usual for Moonjune, this release incorporates many other musicians. Markus Reuter is one of them, and a busy one. Other names are David Torn, Matt Tate, Jon Durant, etc. Thelen himself provides guitar, organ and samples.

Recorded over a 3 year period all over Europe and North America, this album is based around recurring themes over which layers and layers of guitars have been recorded. The drums (excellent sound by the way) lay down a groove and add fills, but this is all about guitar. I think the bass is coming from the 8 string guitars. Because of the constant repeating of especially the bass / base, a kind of hypnotic feel is created. The guitars are used in many different ways. Some sound are highly processed, with tons of reverb and echo, thus creating a certain mood. Other parts add colour, lightness, percussive elements and of course solos and or melodies.

After repeated listen I am still asking myself how I feel about the album. Main problem for me is that the constant repeating of the bass riff seems a bit one dimensional. Especially since the 5 tracks together generate 67 minutes of music. On the other hand, the drums and guitars often create nice moods and make me enjoy the tracks.

Fans of King Crimson (especially their instrumental side) will enjoy this. Fans of intelligent instrumental music should also listen in. I am curious how this will develop in the future.

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Dewa Budjana, Mahandini, 2019

dewa budjana - mahandiniFrom all Moonjune artists, I think Dewa Budjana is one of my favourites. He not only is a gifted guitar player, but  he also writes songs that appeal to me because of their fluid melodies and intricate arrangements. And on his new album he surprises with enlisting Marco Minneman on drums, Jordan Rudess on keyboards and the (just as) fabulous Mohini Dey on bass. Also John Frusciante sings on 2 tracks and plays a solo. Other guests are Mike Stern (solo) and Soimah Pancawati (vocal).

Opener Crowded is a bit of a surprise, but of the pleasant kind. A rather rocking track that shows another side. Queen Kanya is a more complex but still melodic gem where Hyang Giri marries East and West in a way that should please both sides too. All musicians also shine in a solo spot here.
Well, actually these musicians not really need a special spot to shine, because their talents are unmistakeable. But where several label mates prefer free form improvisations, with Budjana’s music it always seems to be composed. This gives the music a more clear direction and makes it more easy (for me) to enjoy it. So you try listening to Jung Oman and resist the beautiful playing, fuelled with emotion.

Yes, every of the 7 songs on offer highlights different aspects of the mix of  progrock and fusion. With releases like this, Budjana firmly remains high on my favourites list.

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Xavi Reija, The Sound Of The Earth, 2018

xavi reija - the sound of the earthSpanish maestro drummer Xavi Reija is giving us another insight in his musical world. And if you are familiar with his previous releases, you will already know that his world is one of complex ideas, based on inventive rhythms and jazzy notes and free form jams.

Accompanying him on this album are the ever so wonderful Tony Levin on bass and stick and on (touch) guitars Markus Reuter and Dusan Jevtovic. All of them no stranger to the Moonjune label.

If anything, this is another album that you will have to digest slowly and repeatedly. Well, at least for me that is certainly the case. Should you be familiar with the Three Of A Perfect Pair album from King Crimson, I am getting the same kind of vibe from several of the songs here. So lots of sound and noise things happening in seemingly random order.
So where opening track Deep Ocean surprises me with riffs and hooks I can immediately identify with, others like From Darkness make me look over my shoulder to check if I am still alone…

Of course there is no debating the quality of the musicians here. This is just a matter of taste and the willingness to invest a lot of time of getting to know and appreciate the music. Which is too rare a thing sadly in today’s world of fast everything. But if you regard yourself an exception to that rule, enjoy this trip!

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Cody Carpenter, Force Of Nature, 2019

Cody Carpenter - Force Of NatureMaybe not everybody will agree, but I think, when done right, instrumental music can be just as exciting as vocal music. There are already numerous examples on these pages.  And now we can add Cody Carpenter (keyboards) to that list.

Being the son of actress Adrienne Barbeau and the maybe even more famous John Carpenter, Cody sure is coming from a talented gene pool. And it shows throughout this album. A mix of progressive rock with fusion elements, the songs on this album all are examples of how to write songs that have melodies that make you sit up and pay notice. Also the interaction between the musicians and the arrangement details here and there show the quality involved. It surely helps when people like Jimmy Haslip and Virgil Donati get involved, even when the keyboards form the base of the tunes, without forgetting about guitars.

Just listen to Fantasy Of Form, where 2 melodies react to each other and weave an intricate web that fascinates. For me every song on the album is worth mentioning. So I won’t. This is an album that fully deserves its title. If you are a fan of this type of music, you have to go and have a listen. And if you are not, this might be the album that proves you wrong. So have a listen and see what happens…

I love this to bits.

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Pymlico, Nightscape, 2018

pymlico-nightscapeOriginally a project that served as an musical outlet for Norwegian drummer and multi-instrumentalist Arild Broter (with a / through the “o”), Pymlico have since evolved into a 7 piece band and with Nightscape have released the fifth album. You can find these (and the live EP) also on these pages, with the exception of debut Inspirations (2011)

The most accurate description of the music I have read so far is instrumental progressive rock, mixed with fusion and with added cinematic textures. Another way of describing it is tasty, smooth, melodic and sophisticated.

That is not saying this is middle of the road typed stuff. They are too good musicians to play it safe all the time. Yes, I would not mind a little more energy here or there, but overall this is another damn fine listening experience with songs that stick. So you will again not miss vocals at all. And as usual this is an album that grows with every play. They know how to arrange their songs to the extent that you keep discovering.

But since the band have just released a new video of the track Tofana 10AM, here you have a simple way of finding out how you like what they do. I know I will enjoy to keep listening !

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Dialeto, Live With David Cross, 2018

dialeto - live with david crossBrazilian band Dialeto teamed up with David Cross and recorded and released this set. Both the band as well as David Cross have been featured before so you might know that this is a kind of avant garde / progressive rock / fusion album. And live or not, no doubt there will be improvisations…

The album opens with 3 Roumanian Folk Dances, numbers 3, 2 and 4 to be precise. Since these are kept fairly short, I think (not knowing them) they stick pretty close to the originals. Folk Dances usually have a leading melody, and these are no exception. Next are 3 Mikrokosmos tracks, 149, 113 and 78. Here the subtitles refer to Bulgaria, so I suppose this are more original folk tracks, adapted. And of course, being from the East, the rhythms are often more complex than you might expect. Also the improvisations seem to be flowing more.

During playback of the album, I am sometimes reminded of the soundscapes King Crimson is known for. Like the opening of An Evening In The Village. But then we are back to more faster playing. Exiles is another piece that moves around from soft to wild and frantic.
And talking of KC, the album closes with 2 of their tracks, Larks’ Tongues In Aspic part 2 and Starless. And even when I miss John Wetton’s voice (it is still sung right), this will always be a song that hits home.

So maybe not for everybody, there is a lot to enjoy here for the right people.

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Ally The Fiddle, Up, 2018

ally the fiddle - upOf course the violin is an instrument that is no stranger to progressive rock / metal. Think Kansas, David Cross or Apocalyptica. Let alone all arrangements involving orchestrated music.

Ally the Fiddle is a band around classically trained violinist and singer Ally Storch. For Ally, progressive means spinning things around. So expect prog rock and metal, but don’t be surprised to hear parts beyond that. A dash of fusion here or a bit of folk there, etc.

Opening track Sisyphos is an up tempo melodic track with multi layered vocals and the violin adding all kinds of extra’s. The song is expanded with an instrumental section full of breaks and solos, adding the metal to it. Aphotic Zone continues in that mould, going from gentle to fierce and back. Solos are exchanged between violin and guitar. The choices of tones in the melodies do create a jazzy sense to the track. But the metal guitars keep you grounded. The title for The Bass Thing suits the song well as the bass gets a leading role, supported by the rest of the musicians. Well, with a bass player as well as a chapman stick player in the band, you do get the chance to expand.
Because of the 6 instrumentalists in the band, there was no need to add keyboards…

Overall the album is more melodic than you might expect. Of course there are lots of instrumental parts and solos, but a lot of those keep an eye on melody as well.

Nice album to get to know the band (even when this is their second album) and certainly a band that manages to add a fresh colour to the densely populated prog scene.

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Mark Wingfield, Tales From the Dreaming City, 2018

mark wingfield - tales from the dreaming citySeems Mark Wingfield loves to keep himself busy. So here is his next release on Moonjune. Joining him are the familiar faces of Yaron Stavi (bass), Asaf Sirkis (drums) and special guest Dominique Vantomme (keyboard solos on several tracks).

Alas the recently discussed Dwiki Dharmawan album (also from Moonjune, and same rhythm section) did not do much for me. Thankfully this one is a lot easier to get into. Here songs do have structures and hooks I recognize after a few plays, making my listening a much more pleasant experience.
Mark has a very fluid style, vaguely reminiscent of one Jeff Beck. But there is room for all involved to shine. Because we all know these are experienced musicians whose playing capabilities are beyond any doubt. So besides the intricate solo (and rhythm) parts of Wingfield, there are also some expert bass playing and drumming parts to enjoy.

What also helps is that most songs range between 5 to 8 minutes, staying away from endless improvisation. Still, at least for me, the most important part is that the tracks resonate with me after a couple of plays. The moods are often a bit melancholic, with Mark’s guitar really ‘singing’. Try for instance Sunlight Cafe.

Maybe not for everyone, even when they like instrumental guitar music. But sure worth checking if you have an open mind!

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Cross & Jackson, Another Day, 2018

cross & jackson - another dayWhat we are talking about here are David Cross (a King Crimson member in the Seventies on violin and keyboards) and David Jackson (from Van Der Graaf Generator on flute, saxophones and keyboards). Joining them are Mick Paul on bass and Craig Blundell on drums.

The 2 Davids met in 2010 and discovered they shared a mutual vision on music, based on improvisation. And so they set out to create this, playing anything from fierce avant garde to somewhat rocking riffs and everything in between.
And like with a lot of improvisational music, you will need time to get into the moods and songs on the album. This is no dinner ready plate, this is music to dive into and suck your teeth in. While I do realize this is not music for everyone, the beauty of it is that when you stick to it, the melodies and themes start to reveal themselves more clearly and you start to realize what an amazing quartet this actually is.  Yes, on first listens this album can make you nervous and restless, but tracks like Anthem For Another Day will help you discover the mastery at work. Here the melodies prevail from the opening segments, thus making it much easier to enjoy. Compliments to producer Jake Jackson for giving the album an awesome sound.

So if you enjoyed either of their heritage bands, make sure you check this out. And if you are open minded and don’t mind a lot of things happening at any second, you might like this too. A grower for sure!

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Vantomme, Vegir, 2017

vantomme-vegirAh, another Moonjune Records release. And featuring none other than the mighty Tony Levin (King Crimson, Peter Gabriel, Stick Men) on bass! Vantomme is the project led by Dominique Vantomme (keyboards, Ana Popovic, Vaya Con Dios, Viktor Lazlo)) who wrote all the songs/ jams that Tony contributed to, together with Michel Delville on guitar (The Wrong Object, Machine Mass) and Maxine Lenssens on drums.

Now this introduction should tell you a couple of things. First, yes it is instrumental and probably falls into the jazz / fusion category. Yes, this music takes time to digest as most of the themes incorporated in the songs will not show themselves in the first (few) rounds. Still, some songs do have a fairly quick impact, like opener Double Down or the haunting Sizzup. Other songs remind of the soundscapes King Crimson do. Something Levin is of course very familiar with.
Guys like this are ace players, capable of taking everything that is thrown at them into their own hands and turn it into something special. Yet in all honesty, the result is not always easy on the ears. So people expecting  straight forward songs should be beware that this might disappoint them. For the adventurous amongst us, this is a discovery that will last you a long time. And not only for funny song titles likes The Self Licking Ice-cream Cone!

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