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Focus, The Focus Family Album, 2017

the focus family albumDon’t mind listening to Focus, and even better when it is a double album. But wait, it’s a “family” album. Isn’t that supposed to be a kind of best of from Focus and related bands? Well, in this case that is only partly true. Because this is in fact extensive unreleased and new material! On offer are 20 tracks, of which 15 are unreleased, some are alternate versions of the Focus X sessions, solo tracks from current members and tracks from the beginning of the Focus 11 sessions. All wrapped in a cover that can only be from the one and only Roger Dean.

And does that mean that quality is an issue here? Of course not, we are dealing with world class musicians here. They care too much about music to release anything under par. So you will get: 2 songs by Thijs van Leer on flute, over some nature sounds. Very relaxing. 10 Focus songs, all in their usual mix of instrumental and vocal, fusion, blues and or rock. Also 2 songs from drummer Pierre van der Linden, 2 songs by guitarist Menno Gootjes (definitely check Hazel, beautiful), 2 songs by Swung, who are Focus without Thijs and 2 songs by new bassist Udo Pannenkeet, who takes over from Bobby Jacobs.
Besides the art work from Dean, another thing of note is that this is released independently on their In And Out Of Focus label! With their status I guess that is not a really bold move, but still.

Anyone familiar with their output can buy this on sight, class us usual.


Wingfield Reuter Stavi Sirkis, The Stone House, 2017

Yes that are 4 names and thus four musicians. Mark Wingfield is an innovative guitar player who constantly is trying to create new sounds with his instrument. Markus Reuter plays TouchGuitars (put simple: 8 string guitar played like a stick) and is also a member of The Crimson ProjeKct and The Stick Men. Yaron Stavi plays fretless bass and Asaf Sirkis is the drummer in this collective. All are seasoned players with many years of experience.

And if Moonjune Records and or The Crimson ProjeKct rings any bells, you will already have a feeling about what you can expect from this album. Indeed there is a King Crimson influence floating around. Not the song aimed melodic KC, but the free floating soundscape version. Maybe with a little more guitar. Because these cats just set up shop in a studio and began improvising and recording. In that sense this is a 100% live album, resulting in 6 songs from 5 to 14 minutes each and a total playing time of an hour.

And while I applaud the stunning capabilities of these men, I also reckon this is not for everyone. It probably takes a certain level of listening experience to appreciate this. So for the adventurous a treat, others better listen in first.


Tohpati Ethnomission, Mata Hati, 2017

tohpati ethnomission - mata hatiIndonesian star guitar player Tohpati has been featured here quite a few times with all he is involved in, and now he is back with his band Tohpati Ethnomission. Since this is released on the Moonjune label, yes this is an instrumental fusion / jazz rock album.

First thing worth noticing is that opening song Janger is accompanied by the Czech Symphony Orchestra. Besides that it is another fantastic slice of music, full of power, groove and melody. Next track Pelog Rock might be one of the more heavier moments ever recorded by Tohpati. But it is another corker! Tanah Emas is more mellow, the flutes give it that Eastern and folky feel. And the combination of folky melodies, rocking jazz and of course solos on all instruments involved can be heard throughout the album.
The result is another Moonjune album that is fairly easy to digest. All songs have melodies to identify them with and still enough going on to make the album grow on you with repeated play. Hey and in Amarah you sometimes think a prog metal band joined! So yes, also the solos are more flashy here than ever before.

So happy to report this album is a worthy addition to the Tohpati catalogue, Moonjune fans can buy on sight, but I would recommend to give it a try to everyone who likes fiery guitar coupled with a keen ear for melody.


Dewa Budjana, Zentuary, 2016

dewa-budjana-zentuaryOne of my favourite Moonjune Records artists, Indonesian guitarist Dewa Budjana, has found a new home in Steve Vai’s Favored Nations label. And while I don’t know if that was such an extra inspiration, the result is we now have a 2 disc album on our hands. And looking at the guest musicians list, things must be going well! I mean, Gary Husband, Tony Levin, Jack Dejohnette and Guthrie Govan to name a few. Not bad!

So on the the music. Both disc’s hold 6 songs and clock around 50 minutes. The reason I like Budjana’s music so much is that he always writes great melodies that easily capture your attention. Not something simple as this is mostly instrumental music. Yes some tracks have vocals, but for the larger part they serve as an extra melody instrument. From disc one I totally enjoyed songs 4-6, Suniakala, Dear Yulman and Renangat Langit. These are prime examples of the beautiful music these men are capable of.
Alas the rest of disc one, and most of the music on disc two, is of a more abstract level. The musicianship is of the highest quality (as usual), but the themes are just less obvious and there are tons of improvisations going on. This makes it harder for me to connect to the music. Of course parts here and there are still attracting my attention fairly easy, like in Manhattan Temple and Dedariku, but overall I think I still need to spend more time with the music to let it sink in.

So am I disappointed? Not really, even if I would have preferred a single disc with the best songs on it. But the quality on offer is always too high to ignore. It just needs time and effort!


Pete Oxley Nicolas Meier, The Colours Of Time, 2017

pete oxley nicolas meier - the colours of timeThe latest solo album from Nicolas Meier was discussed here not that long ago. I loved that very much for its richness in melody and fabulous guitar playing. And now he is back already with partner in crime Pete Oxley, who turns out to be of the same calibre. And together they serve a double album no less.

The first CD is the aptly titled Duo with 10 songs with them both playing a wide variety of guitars. Electric and acoustic, nylon or steel string and even a fretless one. Their playing is full of warmth and feel. It is obvious they are both extremely talented as they shine in their solo spots. But to me they keep their eyes and ears firmly on the song and deliver some tasty tunes here. Special mention for A Piece For Peace, which is carried once more by heavenly melodies and is soooo beautiful. The fretless playing sounds a bit Eastern, but is intriguing none the less.
The second album is named Quartet for obvious reasons. Yes, they are joined by Paul Cavaciuti on drums and Ralph Mizraki on all sorts of basses. This leads to 8 songs of the same exquisite playing, but understandably more bottom and rhythm. At the moment my favourite song here is Tales. the melancholy here one can almost taste.

So I can recommended this set for anyone who appreciates guitar playing, melody and doesn’t mind a bit of jazz thrown in.


X-Panda, Reflections, 2016

X_Panda_Reflections_2016Second X-Panda CD that made it into my player. And like first time around, I find myself pretty impressed by the album. But since it has been 5 years since that album, a few things have changed. Bass player Tamar Nugis now functions as the full time vocalist and Roland Jairus is added to take over on the low end. Not sure about all the other guys, although I am fairly sure that Kaarel Tamra on keys was around first time as well.

Style wise this another slab of prog that ventures into metal and a dash of fusion. But what has stayed are songs and melodies that are impossible to resist and make it once again easy to connect to the album. Nugis has a pleasant voice so I don’t mind him taking centre stage. Especially since Jairus isn’t a slouch either. Opener The Game will conquer you in a heartbeat. What a great opener and addictive song. Denial is a great epic (12+ minutes) that never tires. On The Way is full of great playing and a prime example of intricate fusion arrangements. Several songs are graced with the company of the Tartu University Symphony Orchestra. Thus creating an even more impressive audio palette.

So I guess it is fair to say that the 5 years have been worth it. Fans of the genre should not hesitate and buy it on sight.


Dwiki Dharmawan, Pasar Klewer, 2016

dwiki-dharmawan-pasar-klewerThe Moonjune Records label continues its quest to deliver challenging music from around the globe to its customers. And here we have the second Dwiki Dharmawan (Indonesia) album Pasar Klewer on offer. The first one got reviewed here by the end of last year, so this, a double disk nonetheless, is arriving pretty quick after that. Again with a lot of guests, with amongst them several artists from the label, like Mark Wingfield and Nicolas Meier.

But where I was very excited with the previous release, because of it’s melodies and accessibility, this album proved to be a lot harder to get into. Especially the long songs (no less than 4 pass the 10 minute mark) are very free in form, with lots of improvisation. Make no mistake, all these guys are very capable musicians. It is just that for me, those songs lack the hooks to quickly attract me to them.
On the other hand, songs like Forest, Bubuy Bulan, Frog Dance, Life Its Self and Purnama still have that magic touch that makes me want to hear them over and over. Forest even has vocals and lyrics! A song like Spirit Of Peace is the best of both worlds. It has some wonderful melodies and couples that with another demonstration of musical display from the instrumentalists.

So for me, one disk with the songs mentioned would have been another hit. Now it leaves me a bit twisted. Maybe over time, after even more plays, I will get the whole of it…


Pymlico, Meeting Point, 2016

pymlico-meeting-pointI think a lot of people do not want to listen to instrumental music. And I suppose the main reason for that will be that they expect it to be overly self-indulgent, masses of notes from someone trying to prove how good they are at their instrument of choice.

So for those, and for the ones that do listen to non vocal music, here is the band Pymlico to prove you wrong. For those who are familiar with the name, yes the project from drummer and composer Arild Broter has grown into a full fledged band now. Previous albums already were very good (read for instance this post) but it seems the mix of fusion and progressive rock on this fourth album has never sounded so mature and exciting.
Mixing elements from bands like Pink Floyd, Toto, Joe Satriani, Porcupine Tree and Tears For Fears (and more) this album is a showcase of groove, melody and class. And because of the melodies, these songs speak loud and clear to anybody who wants to listen. Still, the musicians amongst us will still find enough challenge to admire the players.

Speaking for myself, I have found this album to be a serious addiction risk. I think it is absolutely fabulous and I want to encourage every reader to have a listen, this will not disappoint!


Nicolas Meier, Infinity, 2016

nicolas-meier-infinityIf this album is anything to go by, I even more deeply regret that the previous album from Nicolas Meier somehow got lost in the mail. Because as far as instrumental (guitar oriented) music goes, this should count as the prime example of how to do that. And while part of that might be attributed to Vinnie Colaiuta on drums and Jimmy Haslip on bass, the sounds, melodies and solos coming from Meier are a feast for the ears. Amongst the instruments he uses are fretted and fretless nylon and steel stringed guitars, synth guitars, the mysterious glissentar and baglama and of course the usual electric guitar. There are also some guests on violin to further expand the sound.

Whether it is on nylon stringed guitar on Riversides, on the heavily influenced by Eastern music opener The Eye Of Horus, or the surprisingly rocking JB Top (for Billy Gibbons), this album is filled to the brim with exciting musical ideas and expert craftsmanship. And where a lot of players go astray in trying to demonstrate just how good they are, here the plot never gets lost and the songs remain focused. Which results in an album that is easy to get into. The melodies keep dancing and seduce you to hit play again after the CD has finished rotating. Which should also make it attractive for people who rarely listen to instrumental music to give this a try.

So a warm recommended for this awesome collection of songs!


Zhongyu, Zhongyu, 2016

zhongyuAnd finally time to write some words on Zhongyu. Okay, that was a play with words, as Zhongyu apparently means finally in Mandarin Chinese. The band is composer Jon Davis (chapman stick, guzheng, mellotron and arp 260), teaming up with 3 members of Moraine, and an experienced jazz drummer. The aim is to balance opposites: composition and improvisation, serenity and chaos, harmony and dissonance as well as simplicity and complexity.

Well, one thing is for sure, all those words pass by in your mind when you start listening. Some themes have a distinct Eastern flavour and sometimes you wonder what the heck is happening. So parts of this are easy and beautiful, and at times you are lost without a clue. As often is the case with Moonjune Records releases, this takes time and is not for those looking for an easy fix.

This will grow on you with every spin, but a Marco Polo attitude comes in handy…