MoonJune Records: A Decade of Progressive Rock Documentation
Finisterre recorded Storybook live at the ProgDay Fest in North Carolina back in 2001. This Italian progressive rock outfit integrates more than enough jazz riffs to attract fans of King Crimson, Focus and PFM even performing its composition "Altaloma." Keyboardist Boris Valle creates a waterfall of sound for guitarist Stefano Marelli to play artful arpeggios that evolve into warm volum-pedaled solos. Marelli shares vocal duties with bassist Fabio Zuffanti on epic pieces such as "Orizzonte Degli Eventi." Sergio Grazia's flute finds the right places to shine as in the lead off song "In Limine."
Finisterre's brand of progressive rock contains riffs you would expect to find on an older National Health album, but even without the songs sung in Italian, the group evoke a very distinct Mediterranean sound. This is a good place to start on the MoonJune catalogue.
Elton Dean and Mark Hewins
Ex-Soft Machine saxophonist Elton Dean debuted on MoonJune with music that was unlike anything he had made before. Enlisting former Soft Heap guitarist Mark Hewins as his duo partner for the date, the duo create three atmospheric pieces that make up Bar Torque. Dean, known for being split between the structured and the atonal, finds a new way to express the two with Hewins. Lyrical and emotive, Dean plays each piece space and freedom that let his minimalist ideas flow easily. Hewins works as a one man orchestra with his guitar and effects giving Dean enough colors with which o mix his paintbrush. Without label identification, it appears that this could have easily passed as an ECM release in terms of sonics and focus. A great opportunity for any Soft Machine fans who want to listen to the clear thoughts and possibilities of Elton Dean as never heard before.
In 1971, original drummer and sometimes vocalist for Soft Machine, Robert Wyatt left the group. A replacement was sought and the sound of these jazz rockers was about to change dramatically. Drummer Phil Howard makes the ultimate difference in sound on the live recording, Drop, as is explained at length in the liner notes. Howard thrashes frenetically as if he were Tony Williams and Sunny Murray in the same body. Howard changed the time and structure of Soft staples such as "Slightly All the Time" and "Out-Bloody-Rageous." Bassist Hugh Hopper and keyboardist Mike Ratledge struggle to maintain control all through the set trying to keep up with Howard. The drummer happily encourages the enabling saxophonist Elton Dean in the direction found on the first half of the next studio release, Fifth (Columbia, 1972) .
The sound is stunning on a one time documentation of the most free flying version of Soft Machine ever, before Ratledge and Hopper won the struggle resulting in Howard's eventual expulsion from the group, which had Dean soon looking for his own exit shortly afterwards.
Floating World Live
Another true gem to surface for release, recorded back in 1975. After the dissolution of the most well known Soft Machine Lineup of drummer Robert Wyatt, keyboardist Mike Ratledge, and the now deceased bassist Hugh Hopper and saxophonist Elton Dean, talented replacement members crept in one by one. Although Ratledge remained, the group gradually changed its sound with drummer John Marshall, keyboardist and reed player Karl Jenkins, bassist Roy Babbington and virtuoso guitarist extraordinaire Allan Holdsworth. This live release from a German radio broadcast has the band in fine form performing the majority of the set from its then recent studio release, Bundles (Harvest, 1975). The audio quality on Floating World Live has this edition of Soft Machine sounding far less dated than other recordings of the era. A must-hear for Holdsworth fans.
Elton Dean & The Wrong Object
The Unbelievable Truth
With little to no preparation beyond a sound check, Elton Dean took the stage with the Belgian quintet The Wrong Object in 2006, with plans for future collaborations. Seven songs later, it would turned out to be their first and last meeting due to Dean's passing, but the music contained on The Unbelievable Truth beamed urgently, with Dean showing no sign of deterioration. "Seven for Lee," one of the three compositions contributed by Dean, takes on a next generation glow with guitarist Michel Delville and the band adding a very buoyant feel to this classic Dean tune. The Wrong Object holds its own with four compositions where saxophones and trumpet blend together,and with sound effects and chords emitted from electric guitar and electric bass following Dean as he snake charms his saxello and alto way through the music.
Numero D'Vol, by ex-Soft Machine bassist Hugh Hopper and his three other band members, is 100% improvisation. Hopper diverted his usual inclinations towards composition in favor of stretching out with shifting tempos and melodies. For those familiar with Hopper's style the change on this date should stand out. Tenor saxophonist Simon Picard navigates the tunes with Hopper providing support. The Canterbury feel that is usually baked into Hopper's work is left behind far enough for the avant-garde factor to be the dominant. The opening title track, "Numero D'Vol," may be the most accessible piece on this recording. This CD is one of the last solo group recordings made by Hopper before his passing in 2009.
Arti E Mestieri
First Live in Japan
The legendary Italian progressive rock group Arti E Mestieri, from the 1970s, returned to music after a ten year break back in 1998. This 2005 performance in Japan is its first release on MoonJune and marks a renewed vigor from the group. The material played is mostly from two classic albums, Tilt (Cramps, 1974) and Giro Di Valzer Per Domani (Barclay, 1975), and sounds as relevant now as it did then. "Strips," the second song in the "Tilt Suite," and one of the only vocal songs which truly displays the dramatic and chilling moods that Arti E Mestieri is capable of. Keyboardist Beppe Crovella fully drives his bank of keyboards into leading the charge, most notably exploiting the mellotron to the fullest extent.
The other standout among these talented players is drummer Furio Chirico, who almost duels the music at some points, and shadows some of the most subtle piano playing by Crovella, such as on "Marilyn," featured in the "Giro Di Valzer Per Domani Suite." This album is essential listening for fans of this genre and an accessible entrance way for newcomers and the curious.
Phil Miller In Cahoots
Guitarist Phil Miller is a veteran of the Canterbury scene that played in such influential groups as National Health, Delivery, Matching Mole and Hatfield & The North. In Cahoots is his jazz rock group since the 1980s and Conspiracy Theories is his first on MoonJune. Miller works primarily as a colorist throughout the album rather than a riff master or soloist, similar to how tenor legend Wayne Shorter conducted the proceedings on his High Life album (Verve, 1995) . He displays his best fretwork on the last track, "Lydiotic," where he opens up in full bloom. Miller employs some superb players, such as bassist Freddy Baker, who provides solid support and lyrical solos several times throughout the album, reed player Didier Malherbe, his old Hatfield & The North mate John Sinclair for bass on one track, and other usual suspects from this scene.
Conspiracy Theories is a well balanced recording that tips its hat to the past while looking forward in terms of contemporary jazz.
Work In Progress Live
DFA is a fusion quartet hailing from Italy. This recorded live performance captures its first American live show, at the NEARFest 2000 in Pennsylvania. This was the group's first disc to be distributed in the US. The passionate proficiency projected by this group is astounding. The keyboards, guitar, bass and drums played by these musicians paint an aural collage throughout seven compositions with vocals appearing on the eloquent "Caleidoscopio." The blazing riffs from keyboardist Alberto Bonomi are wonderful. His tragic accidental death by auto crash in Italy ended a very promising career. Work In Progress Live is an opportunity to hear DFA's truly great music in full flight.
The Indonesian group simakDialog formed almost twenty years ago. Patahan, a live album recorded at the Goethe Haus in Jakarta in 2005, is its first international release and its first for MoonJune. Keyboardist, primary composer and founder, Riza Arshad, provides an overall melodic feel that would not be out of place on an ECM release, however the clever attack of guitarist Tohpati Ario Hutomo ( Tohpati ) and the rhythmic way in which the rest of the group pushes the music seems to embody the MoonJune ethos of creating music that is not easily identifiable. The percussive quality that pervades the entire disc may seem towards the world music end of the spectrum, but it is Arshad and Tohpati that maintain a complexity that speaks of something else. This is a recommended start for listening to this group.
Soft Machine Legacy
Soft Machine Legacy has contained original Soft Machine members since it was created earlier this century. Live Adventures is a product of the latest lineup and was recorded live shortly after the 2009 passing of bassist Hugh Hopper. Bassist Roy Babbbington, another Soft Machine alumnus, joins drummer John Marshall and guitarist John Etheridge, along with saxophonist Theo Travis, who was recruited in 2006 after the passing of Elton Dean. No matter how much change in personnel has occurred, a very identifiable and distinct sound is maintained all around.
The balance in this music, as with the original different versions of Soft Machine, has always been about having just enough jazz fusion, grounded by very rock-like rhythms, that follow stated recurring and melodic themes. Add the right amount of soloing and the resulting music is what continues to appeal to fans of cerebral, instinctive instrumental music on the modern jazz, rock and jamband scenes. Live Adventures provides a nice listen back to the past, along with present suggestions of even more new promising music still ahead.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: In Limine; Orizzonte Degli Eventi; Hispanica; Altaloma; Macinaaqua, Macinaluna; Asia; Phaedra; Canto Antico
Personnel: Fabio Zuffanti: bass, vocals; Stefano Marelli: electric and acoustic guitars, vocals; Boris Valle: keyboards; Sergio Grazia: flute; Andrea Orlando: drums.
Tracks: Bar Torque; Sylvan; Merilyn
Personnel: Elton Dean, saxello, alto saxophone; Mark Hewins, samplers, Casio PG 380 synth guitar, Y Tatay Thomas acoustic guitar.
Tracks: Neo Caliban Grides; All White; Slightly All the Time: Drop; M.C.; Out-Bloody-Rageous; As If; Dark Swing; Intropigling; Pigling Bland.
Personnel: Mike Ratledge: Lowrey organ, Fender Rhodes electric piano; Elton Dean: saxello, alto saxophone, Fender Rhodes electric piano; Hugh Hopper: bass; Phil Howard: drums.
Floating World Live
Tracks: The Floating World; Bundles; Land of the Bag Snake; Ealing Comedy; The Man Who Waved at Trains; Peff; North Point; Hazard Profile (Part One); J.S.M.; Riff III; Song of Aeolus; Endgame; Penny Hitch (Coda).
Personnel: Mike Ratledge: Lowrey organ, electric piano, synthesizers; Karl Jenkins: oboe, soprano saxophone, recorder, electric piano, acoustic piano; John Marshall: drums, percussion; Allan Holdsworth: electric guitar, violin; Roy Babbington: bass guitar.
The Unbelievable Truth
Tracks: Seven For Lee; Millennium Jumble; Baker's Treat; The Unbelievable Truth; A Cunning Catastrophe; Cunnimingus Redux; The Basho Variations.
Personnel: Elton Dean: saxello, alto saxophone; Laurent Delchambre: drums, assorted percussion; Fred Delplancq: tenor saxophone; Michel Delville: guitar, voice; Jean-Paul Esti venart: trumpet; Damien Polard: bass.
Tracks: Numero D'Vol; On The Spot; Earwigs Enter; Free Bee; Get That Tap; Bootz; Shovelfeet; Bees Knees Man; Straight Away; Twilight; Some Other Time.
Personnel: Simon Picard: tenor sax; Steve Franklin: keyboards; Hugh Hopper: bass; Charles Hayward: drums.
First Live in Japan
Tracks: Tilt Suite: Gravita 9, 81; Strips; Corrosione; Positivo/Negativo; In Cammino. Giro Di Valzer Per Domani Suite: Valzer Per Domani; Mirafiori; Nov Luna Prima; Mescal/Mescalero; Nove Lune Dopo; Aria Pesante; Dimensione Terra. Kawasaki; Glory; Marilyn; Arcenciel; Alba Mediterranea; 2000.
Personnel: Beppe Crovella: Hammond organ, piano, mellotron, Moog synthesizer; Furio Chirico: drums, percussion; Marco Roagna: electric and acoustic guitar; Iano Nicolo: vocals; Roberto Cassetta: bass, vocals; Lautaro Acosta: violin; Alfredo Ponissi: soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones, flute and clarinet.
Tracks: Conspiracy Theories; Press Find Enter; Flashpoint; 5s & 7s; End Of The Line; Freudian Triode; Orinaca; Crackpot; Lydiotic.
Personnel: Phil Miller: guitar, synth guitar (1-9); Pete Lemer: keyboards (1-9); Fred Baker: bass (1-9); Mark Fletcher: drums (1-9); Simon Finch: trumpet, flugelhorn (2-4, 8, 9); Annie Whitehead: trombone (1, 2, 4 6, 8, 9); Didier Malherbe: soprano sax, alto sax, flute, doudouk, ocarina (1, 2, 4-8); Simon Picard: tenor sax (1, 3, 4, 8); Doug Boyle: guitar (4); Richard Sinclair: bass (9); Dave Stewart: tuned percussion (4); Barbara Gaskin: vocals (4).
Work In Progress Live
Tracks: Escher; Caleidoscopio; Trip On Metro; La Via; Pantera; Ragno.
Personnel: Silvio Minella, guitars; Luca Baldassari, electric bass; Alberto Bonomi, keyboards, vocals; Alberto De Grandis, drums, vocals.
Tracks: One Has to Be; Spur of the Moment; Kemarau; Worthseeing; Kain Sigli.
Personnel: Riza Arshad: acoustic piano, Fender Rhodes, synth; Tohpati Ario Hutomo: electric, synth and acoustic guitars; Adhitya Pratama: fretless bass; Endang Ramdan: Sunda kendang, toys; Emy Tata: Makassar kendang, ceng-ceng, kethuk, vocals, Bahasa Indonesian poetry reader; Nyak Ina Raseuki Ubiet: vocals (2, 5); Marla Stukenberg: German poetry reader.
Tracks: Has Riff; Grapehound; Nodder In The Back Room; Song Of Aeolus; Relegation Of Pluto / Transit; Gesolreut; Facelift; Last Day.
Personnel: John Etheridge: electric guitar; Theo Travis: tenor and soprano sax, flute; Roy Babbington: bass guitar; John Marshall: drums.
Photo Credit All Photos: Courtesy of Leonardo Pavkovic, MoonJune Records.