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Sordel (United Kingdom)
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Gomory: The Book Of Angels Volume 25
Gomory: The Book Of Angels Volume 25
Price: £12.80

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unity In Diversity, 3 Jun. 2015
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Back in 2010 I gave Mycale's first album three stars. This vocal quartet did a nice job with a short set of Zorn themes and it's a disc that I occasionally revisit for its artistry and generally relaxed feel. Five years later, they are back for a second - and clearly superior - take on the Masada second book.

Where the first album tended to leave the Jewish modalities of Zorn's material largely undisguised through a succession of short songs, the new album follows the trend across the entire Book Of Angels series to explore broader musical influences. The first track "Huzia" has a pronounced Latin American feel, while the second sounds African in origin. The fourth (thanks to Sofia Rei's gorgeous setting of a Borges poem) has a dramatic, Spanish feel. As a result, the one track of the first four that has an explicitly Jewish feel is also the one that sets the words of contemporary Jewish poet Almog Behar.

Not only are the cultural reference points of this album more impactful, but the vocal arrangements feel more elaborate, with good use being made of average track lengths that are about a third longer than the first album. First & foremost the appeal of this music is the extraordinary technique of the vocalists, and these settings display each voice to even better effect than the first disc. "Grial" - where they open up on more percussive mouth sounds evocative of the North African background of singer Malika Zarra - is just another track where the breadth of their expertise shines through.

Add a crystal-clear sound quality and you have an album that will be keenly enjoyed by anyone interested in unaccompanied singing at the highest level. Another enjoyable addition to a series that has really grown in stature with its later volumes.


Simulacrum
Simulacrum
Price: £16.61

4.0 out of 5 stars Molten, 19 May 2015
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This review is from: Simulacrum (Audio CD)
Anyone who found the Moonchild band hard going thanks to the presence on vocals of Mike Patton may find easier access to John Zorn's more Metallic musings in this new trio. Organist John Medeski is perhaps the best-known of the three, but drummer Kenny Grohowski (borrowed from Abraxas) and Mark Hollenberg (guitarist from Cleric) play equal part in a surprisingly well balanced band.

Simulacrum is all about fire. The guitar riffs are massive & angry though what sounds like straightahead Hard Rock can just as easily change to chaos or Jazz at a moment's notice. Thanks to the file card style of composition and Zorn's presence as conductor, the longer tracks here ("The Illusionist" and "The Divine Comedy") temper brutality with invention. One section in "Snakes and Ladders" sounds suspiciously like the band have broken off in order to smash their instruments, but in the blink of an eye they are back to playing at full tilt.

Quieter moments are rare on this album (it closes with one of them) and you won't come away whistling any tunes: it's a mean, aggressive sound yet, oddly enough, not difficult to listen to because the Rock idiom is so well established. Those who enjoy the Nova Quartet albums will recognise similarities of approach between the two projects, although the sound world is far removed.

Overall, this is an album for listeners on the outer edge of Hard Rock who want to stretch into more adventurous territory. Genuinely progressive (without being Prog) Simulacrum demonstrates once again Zorn's ability to bring a consistent bag of structural and compositional tricks to bear while working within radically disparate genres.


The Epic
The Epic
Price: £12.99

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Talk Of The Town, 19 May 2015
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This review is from: The Epic (Audio CD)
It is difficult not to get carried away by one's own admiration when confronted with this prodigious release. For a musician in his early thirties to release (as what is effectively his debut album) a three-hour box set is already impressive, but Washington produced the album, arranged everything for large ensembles including orchestra and choir, composed most of it and plays tenor sax throughout. What we have here is a grand venture that threatens to define mainstream Jazz for the next decade.

Washington may succeed in that aim, for there are certainly some great pieces here. "The Magnificent Seven" is one of several tracks here that have a soaring, uplifting energy that combines the drive and excitement of a Rock beat (albeit in this case 7/4) with the harmonic intensity of Jazz. At over twelve minutes it is one of no fewer than eight tracks to break the ten-minute mark and you wouldn't want it any shorter. The piano break on this track - by Cameron Graves - is one of many moments on the album when a young soloist breaks from the pack and uses his time in the spotlight to great effect.

That said, there are things on the album that are frankly less enjoyable. Although Washington's tenor playing is very competent, at times it can be the least interesting solo work on the album: when he resorts to repeated, overblown phrases he can disappoint. Also, the vocals by Patrice Quinn will divide opinion: I don't care for them myself, and I am relieved that she is used sparingly. Finally (and it's not a small niggle) while every track here is somewhat interesting it is very much a type of Jazz ... and not the most accessible type of Jazz at that.

These misgivings may seem pretty serious, but even despite them this will probably, rightly, become regarded as one of the essential albums of the year. Jazz fans pretty much owe it to themselves to hear it, and curious outsiders can approach with the confidence that there is enough Rock & Funk here to make Washington's a big tent. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see this album garlanded with quite a few awards by the end of the year.


Puzzle and Dragons Super Mario Bros Edition (Nintendo 3DS)
Puzzle and Dragons Super Mario Bros Edition (Nintendo 3DS)
Offered by Gameline GmbH.
Price: £17.90

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Puzzles & Dragons ... Unleashed!, 19 May 2015
= Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars 
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Puzzles & Dragons (P&D) started life as a fantastically lucrative Free-to-Play game which became the world's top-grossing app in 2013. Now the 3DS plays host not to one but two P&D games on the same cart, and as far as I can see (from 13 hours in) there are no in-game purchases at all. You buy the game and you're set (which will be refreshing to anyone irritated by Pokemon Shuffle and its constant prompts to pay to win). Given how much gameplay here, that means that it's already a considerable bargain, but - more's to the point - the game itself is superb.

Both games on the cart are gem-matching RPGs. Most players will head straight for the Super Mario Bros. edition which, just as you would hope, is a loving makeover in Mushroom Kingdom livery with all the expected enemies and, importantly, sound effects. The underlying engine is the same as that for P&DZ, but typical Nintendo magic has been added to turn it into a charming, pick-up-&-play pleasure. The difficulty curve seems to be better on this version as well (P&DZ goes from trivially easy to quite tricky in the blink of an eye) and this is the more polished of the two games.

P&DZ, by contrast, came as a surprise to me. It's a bland Japanese RPG along the Pokemon line where a teenager goes around defeating enemies and collecting, evolving and levelling a collection of monsters. It's the same core game from a different angle, very nicely put together and featuring some great music (along Final Fantasy lines) and inventive enemy character models. Although I love the Mario version I think that it will be here that I spend more of my time.

The gem-matching mechanic, by the way, is difficult to describe but is certainly more satisfying than is seen in many games of this sort. There's no time limit (except in the Score Attack mode) and you plan how you will move one gem around the field of play, displacing other gems as you go. Then - once you touch a gem and start moving it - a fast countdown timer starts, meaning that speed & dexterity form an important part of the game. Crucially, this is not a game where you get two lines and then depend on luck where the lines shake out: there's more skill to it than that.

As a package, this is fantastically complete and - just as long as you don't mind grinding to level the monsters that you collect - it will soak up as much of your time as you can spare for it. This is the perfect mobile game for 3DS (nice 3D visuals as well) and is a strong candidate for the ten best games on the system.


Gyo 2-in-1 Deluxe Edition
Gyo 2-in-1 Deluxe Edition
by Junji Ito
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.48

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fishy Business, 16 May 2015
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Having been deeply impressed by Ito's Uzumaki, I came to Gyo with high hopes. While, however, Uzumaki is a brilliant premise worked through to great effect Gyo is an absolutely dreadful premise that the author clings to tenaciously to the point that it almost works. Almost.

I won't spoil the plot - it begins with a disagreeable odour clinging to a scuba diver but very quickly becomes a sort of apocalyptic body horror - but it's the stuff of B-movies ... if a B-movie could be this appallingly horrific and visceral. You'll want to laugh with derision, possibly you'll be sickened and you'll probably want to put the book down in sheer frustration at the fanciful nature of the tale. Ito spares us little, but ultimately his narrative is insoluble, having an unsatisfactory conclusion and yet hardly providing any basis for a follow-up.

As a physical book, this is produced to the same high standards as Uzumaki, with which it is uniform. The illustrations - black & white throughout - are of course of a high standard, well printed & translated. Of the two stories added as a bonus one is barely a story but the other ("The Enigma Of Amigara Fault") is possibly the best thing here.

Overall, it's hard to deprive this manga of four stars since it is certainly a bold work of imagination, and uniquely odd. I didn't enjoy it much but I can respect the obsessive & unflinching nature of the author's work.


UZUMAKI 3-IN-1 DLX ED HC (C: 1-0-1)
UZUMAKI 3-IN-1 DLX ED HC (C: 1-0-1)
by Junji Itō
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.39

5.0 out of 5 stars Twisted Tales, 13 May 2015
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The premise for this horror masterpiece (a town cursed by a spiral) may sound abstract, but be warned: Uzumaki's chills are deeply unsettling and genuinely nasty. Early chapters feel like old-fashioned "uncanny" stories, but about midway things (literally) wind together to produce a surprisingly coherent & compelling narrative.

Some Amazon reviewers seem to have criticised the art style negatively, but I found many of the images to be stamped indelibly on my mind, and the art style certainly makes the most of the visual nature of the horror. Bonuses in this volume include the nicely coloured pages, the (trivial) Afterwords from the original magazine publication, and a lost chapter that adds little to the main story.

Characterisation is thin, but that is to be expected in this genre.

Highly recommended for fans of horror; virtually compulsory if you are interested in Manga.


Sorabji:Trans. Studies [Fredrik Ullén] [BIS: BIS1853]
Sorabji:Trans. Studies [Fredrik Ullén] [BIS: BIS1853]
Price: £14.54

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rhapsodic, 5 May 2015
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As a composer, Sorabji has elements of the Romantic, Classicist and Modernist combined. The technical difficulty of his piano music is such that it has been impossible to regard him wholly aside with his developing reputation as a "difficult" and esoteric figure, but this fourth volume of Fredrick Ullen's premiere recording of the complete Transcendental Studies may surprise those listeners who only know of Sorabji by that reputation.

This volume, though close to eighty minutes in length, contains only nine études, and those seeking pianistic bravura may find it in the brief No. 70, with its assertive rhythmic phrases and abstract form. That piece, however, is the exception, since by far the longest tracks on the disc are three extended, rapturous and deeply romantic works: 63, 69 & 71. Together these pieces account for over 55 minutes of the disc and each one of them should be considered a major work in its own right.

"Aria" (No. 71) has an improvised feel, unfolding an anxious, bittersweet song against a typically uncentred backdrop of chords. New listeners might do well to start here for a sense of Sorabji's tonalities and his often unresolved gestures towards musical climax. The more ambitious "En forme de valse" (No. 63) has a dreamlike feel in which snatches of waltzes appear fleetingly, like nostalgic memories in a deeply serious but sentimental setting. (Allen's technique is especially effective on this piece, keeping the various musical elements distinct in what could easily have become a contrapuntal soup.) The longest work on the disc, "La punta d'organo" (No. 69) is also perhaps the highlight: against the reiterated pedal point of A Sorabji pursues modal ideas that begin with an extemporised feel but develop a solemn, almost tragic character as the work progresses.

This disc is unquestionably the one of the four (issued so far) that comes closest to feeling like a satisfying concert programme rather than a mere succession of technical riddles. It joins a short list of the most enjoyable single-disc releases in Sorabji's often intimidating catalogue.


The Velvet Trail
The Velvet Trail
Price: £12.72

6 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Winter Sun, 9 Mar. 2015
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This review is from: The Velvet Trail (Audio CD)
I suspect that how you feel about this Marc Almond album - his first very clearly "pop" album for many years - will depend on how you feel about the contribution of writer/producer Chris Braide. Braide's background is in mainstream pop (Britney Spears, Sarah Brightman, Lana Del Rey, Olly Murs, Westlife) and he has created with Marc a sunny, thin-sounding confection of an album overrun with '80s-style drum machines. It's like Soft Cell or the Pet Shop Boys with all the edges carefully filed off.

"Demon Lover", which opens like a throwback to "Baby Where Did Our Love Go?" but has a chorus reminiscent of The Turtles' "Happy Together", is a case in point. It's well executed but feels cobbled together, and is sadly lacking a real hook. The drum machine and keyboard sounds are retro, but Marc did all this stuff better first time around. The instrumentals have a drama that is sadly absent from the actual songs and there are hints of past glories on some of the later songs, but they never go anywhere: "Winter Sun", for example, has a nice verse but throws it away with a dire chorus.

After the boldness of 2010's Varieté Marc appeared to have found a way to carry the seedy glamour of his early work into the songwriting of his maturity, but The Velvet Trail is just bland.


Hand.Cannot.Erase
Hand.Cannot.Erase
Price: £9.99

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lives of Quiet Desperation, 3 Mar. 2015
This review is from: Hand.Cannot.Erase (Audio CD)
For many Progressive Rock fans a new album from Steven Wilson is an automatic opportunity to ask questions about where Prog is heading next and whether Wilson in particular will be leading the march. The Raven That Refused To Song was the perfect album for that sort of debate - a masterpiece of retrospective cherry-picking that seemed to renew the entire genre - but Hand.Cannot.Erase. is something completely different. Although still identifiably Steven Wilson, it is an album with a broader appeal: an attempt, perhaps, to create an album that seeks to define not just a year, but a decade.

Hand.Cannot.Erase. still has room for some exceptional soloing from guitarist Guthrie Govan and keyboardist Adam Holzman but it is not fundamentally an album of big instrumental performances. Where the rhythm section of Nick Beggs and Marco Minnemann ran riot on The Raven, here they play with a restraint demanded by the emotionally-involving story. Although the songs are massively prolonged in places, with three songs above nine minutes, the length of songs is unimportant when the album feels so much of a piece. There is no album-distorting "Raider II" here, and I think most people are going to end up taking the full, 66-minute journey of this album rather than picking out highlights.

That said, there are highlights here. The first three tracks form a superb opening sequence, giving what feels like a long overture culminating in the upbeat title track. Towards the end of the album the equally compelling sequence of "Ancestral", "Happy Returns" and "Ascendant Here On..." form a similar unit. Wilson uses long stretches with little or no singing to set up the emotional punch of the main vocal songs here: both "Hand Cannot Erase" and "Happy Returns" are strikingly moving, and many will find the same of "Routine" although the operatic drama of that song may equally prove too much for some.

The music moves from a singer-songwriter feel to outright Progressive Metal in places, but it's difficult to pin the album as a whole down in terms of genre: it feels closer to Rock than Prog in places, and this is why a lot of Prog fans may end up that this isn't specifically "their" music. Never (since, perhaps, Stupid Dream) has a Wilson-penned album felt closer to the mainstream and more likely to be adopted outside his fervent fan base.

Hand.Cannot.Erase. is an album about a woman slowly erasing herself from society, yet it also becomes, surprisingly, an album that is emotionally warm, even oddly life-affirming. It might just prove to be Wilson's best to date.


Amon: Book of Angels Vol. 24
Amon: Book of Angels Vol. 24
Price: £6.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brio & Invention, 25 Feb. 2015
Amon falls more towards the "World Music" corner of the Book Of Angels series, inviting comparison with the volumes by Roberto Rodriguez, Banquet Of The Spirits and 2014's stellar set from Zion 80. This time out the arrangements are consistently interesting and the Latin dance rhythms compellingly "groovy". For wit & charm, this album feels like a potential highlight of the series.

Klezmerson is a large ensemble from Mexico, but the sound they produce draws on wide influences. While the Roberto Rodriguez volume has a very strong "Cuban" feel, this album is no more clearly "Mexican" than Zion 80s's album was "African". Instead, it feels like a fresh blend of influences held together by particular stylistic elements such as the powerful horn section, which trades licks nicely with other instrumental groupings. The arrangements are detailed and well thought-out, leaving surprisingly little room for solo spots but nevertheless providing plenty of instrumental detail & contrast.

At one point it was starting to feel as though it was beginning to take a certain amount of determination on the part of the listener to see the Book Of Angels series through to its final volume, but this disc is one of several recent releases that have brought it to new heights.


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