Posts Tagged ‘ world fusion ’

Album of the Week 47-2017: Steve Hackett – The Night Siren


After spending a lot of time touring with new interpretations of old  Genesis material, Steve Hackett finally found the time to release a new album of all original material again earlier this year. And that is great, because his last couple of albums were all really good. ‘The Night Siren’ is no different. In fact, it may be even better than the already impressive ‘Beyond The Shrouded Horizon’. Here, Hackett tries to create a world fusion/progressive rock hybrid that works a lot better than earlier attempts at such a blend. Not just by Hackett himself, but by rock musicians in general.

What makes ‘The Night Siren’ work so well is that it is not the work of a western rock musician trying to show off how exotic he can be; Hackett really creates his own style with all these foreign influences, no doubt helped by the great arrangements and gorgeous, often Arabic sounding orchestrations of his keyboard player and co-producer Roger King. While exploring all corners of the world, Hackett and King keep the bottom end firm and relatively heavy, creating a record that is much more consistent than albums with such a journeyman mentality genereally tend to be.

Most of the songs on here could have been on any one of Hackett’s records and because of that, the songs do not sound like huge departures from what he usually does. Tracks like the amazing opener ‘Behind The Smoke’ and the lengthy guitar exercise ‘Fify Miles From The North Pole’ sound memorable and muscular, while the orchestrations give them a ‘Kashmir’-like atmosphere. Hackett’s work on the classical guitar makes ‘Other Side Of The Wall’ feel like a familiar, trusted song, while the folk morphing into prog approach of ‘Inca Terra’ would not have sounded out of place on Genesis’ ‘Wind & Wuthering’.

That does not mean that ‘The Night Siren’ is without surprises. ‘Martian Sea’ starts out sounding like one of the sixties pop inspired tracks that Hackett is known to be fond of, but turns into a somewhat psychedelic song with distinct Indian influences halfway through and the celtic folk-inspired first half of ‘In Another Life’ sounds unlike anything Hackett has ever done before. It also illustrates best how much Hackett’s vocals have improved recently: he sounds powerful and confident here. ‘Anything But Love’ slowly builds from a latin and flamenco inspired track to an inspired uptempo, but not too heavy rocker and ‘The Gift’ is almost cinematic in scope.

Honestly, 21st century progressive rock does not get much better than this. There is a spontaneity to ‘The Night Siren’ that is very rare in the meticulously composed genre. Of course, Hackett’s tasteful and not too flashy lead guitar work would make any album sound better, but compositorically, he has been in the shape of a lifetime for the last decade. ‘The Night Siren’ is a new highlight in the guitarist’s already impressive body of work. It is also one of the brightest gems of 2017 music. Highly recommended to everyone.

Recommended tracks: ‘Behind The Smoke’, ‘El Niño’, ‘Fifty Miles From The North Pole’

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Album of the Week 47-2016: Robert Plant and the Strange Sensation – Mighty ReArranger


“My peers may flirt with cabaret / Some fake the rebel yell / Me, I’m moving up to higher ground / I must escape their hell”. Sure, these words may come across a bit arrogant, but they’re very true first and foremost. Not a single member of any legendary group had a solo career that has been so consistently focused on constantly reinventing himself the way that former Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant does. Not even George Harrison and Paul Simon. Hungry to discover folk music from all the corners of the world and determined to stay relevant, Plant’s solo output is consistently amazing.

What is it that makes Plant’s discography so good? Mainly that he stubbornly refuses to repeat himself. Whether he does a contemporary take on the Zep sound (‘Manic Nirvana’) or immerses himself completely in different styles (‘Shaken ‘n’ Stirred’), he is convincing rather than embarrassing. ‘Mighty ReArranger’ manages to be both extremes at the same time. There are big, beefy Zeppelin-esque riffs and Plant’s voice is of course one of a kind, but the textures and rhythms borrowed from Middle-Eastern, American and North and West African folk music give the record a clear identity of its own, not to mention a layered approach that slowly reveals its secrets over repeated listens.

Plant was in his late fifties when ‘Mighty ReArranger’ was recorded, but his backing band The Strange Sensation consists of people with indie, jazz and trip hop backgrounds, while guitarist Justin Adams grew up in Egypt and produced Mali’s mighty Tinariwen and brings a knowledge of the African music that Plant loves so much to the table. All these influences blend in a way that shouldn’t work, yet it does. Songs like ‘The Enchanter’ and the brooding ‘Tin Pan Valley’ sound like Massive Attack jamming with Led Zeppelin, while ‘Takamba’ and ‘Somebody Knocking’ have distinct desert blues leanings.

Another asset of ‘Mighty ReArranger’ is that a lot of attention has been spent on its flow. This isn’t just a collection of songs, it is designed for a listener’s maximum attention span. It builds up from the acoustic-based ‘Another Tribe’ and the accessible rocker ‘Shine It All Around’ through some more experimental moments like the folky ‘All The Kings Horses’, the Byrds-inspired hippie rock tune ‘Dancing In Heaven’, the aformentioned ‘Tin Pan Valley’ and the subdued, yet rhythmically throbbing ‘Let The Four Winds Blow’ until it ties all ends together in the title track. And the bar boogie Ray Charles tribute ‘Brother Ray’ is a nice epilogue.

Despite the consistently high level of Plant’s solo output, ‘Mighty ReArranger’ is the record I revisit most. Possibly the presence of an actual backing band gives Plant a solid basis to work with and as a result, it’s about the music as much as it is about his performance. It speaks volumes about his versatility that everything sounds equally convincing, no matter if it touches upon hardrock, blues, indie, folk or world music. If you’re into one of those genres, you will do yourself a favor by checking this record out. You’ll probably end up liking the others as well.

Recommended tracks: ‘Tin Pan Valley’, ‘Let The Four Winds Blow’, ‘Freedom Fries’

Album of the Week 44-2016: Toto – Falling In Between


Forget all the massive hits Toto had in the eighties, regardless of how good some of them were. Forget all the secret hits they had backing other artists. Now put on ‘Falling In Between’. It’s good, isn’t it? I’m sure that selling millions of records considerably softened the blow, but Toto was never taken as seriously as they should have been. Every musician in the band is top class and the band is obviously skilled at crafting good songs with melodies that keep lingering in the back of your mind. ‘Falling In Between’ adds a somewhat more adventurous approach to that and ends up sounding spectacular.

Despite touring behind this record with guitarist Steve Lukather and singer Bobby Kimball as the only original members, chief songwriter David Paich can still be heard on keyboards here and longtime bassist Mike Porcaro makes his last appearance before falling victim to ALS, which sadly eventually cost him his life. Drummer extraordinaire Simon Phillips had been in the band since Jeff Porcaro’s death in 1992 and Steve Porcaro may not be mentioned in the lineup, but has contributed synths and sound design to practically every song, making experienced keyboard player Greg Phillinganes the only “new kid”. And there seems to be some magic in the interplay here.

Of course such a lineup isn’t a guarantee for a good Toto album, but it helps that everyone involved has experience with the sound that makes Toto so good. And it’s all there: the songs are melodic and recognizable, a lot of styles are touched upon without sounding incoherent and there are some displays of virtuosity without sacrificing the catchy nature of the compositions. The relaxed ‘Dying On My Feet’, the exuberant ‘King Of The World’, the uptempo ‘Taint Your World’, the slightly kitschy ballad ‘Spiritual Man’ and the somewhat funky ‘Let It Go’ all sound different, but are unmistakably Toto.

Most interesting are the moments when the band experiments with world music. The suprisingly heavy, proggy title track has a chorus with a vaguely Middle-Eastern flair, while the downright spine chilling ballad ‘Bottom Of Your Soul’ – which features former singer Joseph Williams in its chorus – has a strong African vibe due to its choir arrangements and Lenny Castro’s percussion. Closing slow burner ‘No End In Sight’ ties together all the styles and becomes a strong progressive rock song in the process. ‘Simple Life’ is a short, but moving ballad sung by Lukather.

While latter day Toto didn’t have the huge hits they had in the eighties, their releases have been consistently strong. ‘Mindfields’ was a little overlong, but had a few really strong songs and ‘XIV’ is a pleasant record to listen to. ‘Falling In Between’ is just a tad better than those two and stands as one of Toto’s best records yet. Personally, I enjoy it as much as my early favorite ‘Hydra’. And just like that one, it’s at times progressive and unpredictable, but always melodically strong. And with all the genres they touch upon, it’s never boring. Highly recommended to just about anyone.

Recommended tracks: ‘Bottom Of Your Soul’, ‘Falling In Between’, ‘No End In Sight’

Album of the Week 26-2016: Yossi Sassi Band – Roots And Roads


Ever since leaving Orphaned Land, Yossi Sassi seems to be more productive than ever. In fact, now that he only has his own band to mind, it looks like the last obstacle was broken down and he’s really not holding back anymore. How else can you explain the sound of ‘Roots And Roads’? Not only is the Israeli string wizard bringing east and west together again with a musical scope that borders on the incredible, it’s also the heaviest and most song oriented record he has made under his own name yet. A progressive work in the truest sense of the world.

Once again, ‘Roots And Roads’ finds Sassi and his excellent backing band combining the traditional music of the middle east with progressive Rock and Metal. There’s a distinct difference between this album and its predecessor ‘Desert Butterflies’ though; where that record focused mainly on instrumental works, about half of this one features vocals. It’s not like Sassi has toned down the sound of his band – quite the opposite actually – but there does seem to be a greater deal of memorability here. His instrumentals were always fairly well-written, but the melodies really have a way of getting stuck in your head this time.

‘Roots And Roads’ features an impressive list of guest musicians. And while some of them really put their mark on some of the tracks – Harel Shachal’s clarinet on the enchanting ‘Winter’ is mindblowing, while Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal yet again makes an appearance in the awesome ‘Palm Dance’ – it is Sassi himself who steals the show. If he’s not churning out powerful riffs and passionate leads, he’s rocking the bouzouki, saz, oud or chumbush like no one before or since. When those instruments appear, they usually carry the melody – ‘Root Out’ and opening track ‘Wings’ are the most obvious examples – which makes sense, given the pioneer status he has when it comes to incorporating Middle-Eastern elements in Rock music.

Another thing Sassi has done really well on this record is using many different vocal styles throughout the album. The line-up of his band has a male singer in himself and a powerful female singer in Sapir Fox, although the similarly-voiced Diana Golbi lays down the best performance on the record in ‘Root Out’. Myrath singer Zaher Zorgati, on the other hand, provides a strong contrast to Sassi’s voice with his Roy Khan meets Mats Levén performance on ‘The Religion Of Music’, marking his second appearance on a masterpiece in 2016.

If all that musical brilliance wasn’t enough, ‘Roots And Roads’ has a very pleasant flow due to a perfect sense of climaxes and light-and-shade workings. It’s the final polish on an album that is worth hearing by any music fan all over the globe, which seems fitting, given that it’s obviously Sassi’s mission to break down boundaries and letting the music speak for itself. The musicians are from different continents and so are the musical influences that can be heard throughout the album. And while any other musician would turn such a myriad of influences into an incoherent mess, you can leave it up to Yossi Sassi to make one of this year’s finest records out of it.

Recommended tracks: ‘Palm Dance’, ‘Winter’, ‘Root Out’

Album of the Week 03-2015: Yossi Sassi – Desert Butterflies


One of the saddest bits of news from the world of music in 2014 for me was the fact that founding guitarist and main songwriter Yossi Sassi left Orphaned Land. As a big fan of the Israeli Metal pioneers, this was sort of a shock to me; Sassi was almost solely responsible for their instantly recognizable fusion of Metal and traditional Middle Eastern music and therefore, I wasn’t exactly confident about their musical future. I still am not, but at least Sassi is still making fantastic music. His second solo record ‘Desert Butterflies’ is even a vast improvement over his already impressive debut ‘Melting Clocks’.

As always, Sassi has recorded the album with a wide array of stringed instruments. And while he has mastered many of them quite perfectly, the most dominant instruments in his arsenal are the guitar – both acoustic and electric – and the bouzouki. ‘Desert Butterflies’ is also the first record Sassi ever recorded with the bouzoukitara, a double necked combination of the two instruments that he helped design. It’s quite obvious from the beginning why such an instrument was necessary; the material finds Sassi switching between the instruments a lot. Even moreso than with Orphaned Land.

It’s not much of a surprise that ‘Desert Butterflies’ continues Sassi’s quest to fuse the musical tradition of his home region with the Rock leanings of the west. What is surprising though, is that Sassi slowly but surely seems to be steering towards a total world fusion. Sure, the oriental themes and melodies are still the most prominent ones, but listen closely and you’ll find references to southern Europe and the far east as well. Plus, the Blues tendencies that were always creeping underneath his compositions are technically African-American Folk music.

If there’s one thing that makes ‘Desert Butterflies’ a commendable job, it’s the sheer scope of the material. The album moves from electric tracks with triumphant melodic themes such as ‘Orient Sun’, ‘Azul’ and the uncharacteristically funky ‘Neo Quest’ to more traditional sounding songs as ‘Inner Oasis’ and the beautiful ‘Azadi’ through combinations of the two, such as ‘Fata Morgana’. There are only two songs with lyrics, one of which (‘Believe’, with Tristania singer Mariangela Demurtas singing them) is particularly reminiscent of Orphaned Land’s traditionally flavored ballads. There are guest solos by Marty Friedman and Bumblefoot, but Sassi definitely keeps his signature sound firmly intact even when they appear.

Yes, I still think it’s a pity that Sassi left Orphaned Land, but if anything, the band’s very genre specific sound would have proven ultimately too limiting for him. That much is clear when you listen to ‘Desert Butterflies’. The man himself often describes the album as a journey and it certainly feels like one just listening to the album. Not only because of the exotic influences, but also because we hear a musician here constantly exploring his own boundaries and restlessly trying to stretch them beyond what he already has done. Judging from the progress he’s made throughout his carreer, I think the end is nowhere in sight.

Recommended tracks: ‘Azadi’, ‘Fata Morgana’, ‘Orient Sun’, ‘Inner Oasis’