DFA – Kaleidoscope (Moonjune)
DFA (Duty Free Area) is an extremely talented quartet consisting of keyboards (Hammond B3/Mellotron/synths), guitar, bass and drums from Verona, Italy. This double CD set contains the band's first two albums on Mellow Records "Lavori In Corso" (1996) and "Duty Free Area" (1999), remastered and with three bonus tracks. (There is another album from 2001 "Works In progress, Volume 1", a live album put out on Moonjune). The remaster does sound brighter and cleaner compared to the originals and sports three bonus tracks, recorded live in Italy in 2003.
DFA gives us mostly melodic, highly complex progressive rock songs which often break down into prog-fusion workouts. Songs are in the 6 to 20 minute range, with only a few extended tracks, and those mostly experiments in phase shifted space rock. The music is very original, based on a distinctive style of establishing and embellishing of musical themes. This style is favored by bands such as Japan's Kenso or Venezuela's Tempano using an overwhelming, modern sound. Compared to similar Italian bands Finisterre or Le Orme, they pump out more intricate melody and are more mindful of their solos than either. Another point of reference might be Echolyn's style of instrumentalists composing apart then coming together for a blended structure.
DFA use their propulsive drumming and bedrock bass on tracks like "Escher" and "Esperanto" to highlight some jazzy interludes with the guest vocalists or move into a bass heavier direction.
It may take a few listens to find the melodies and song structures well hidden in the mix. Songs take on shape using great segues and crafted dynamics. The music reminds me of more recent Deux Ex Machina (in fact, their singer Alberto Piras guests on a few tracks), but without the vocal gymnastics. The singing is in Italian. DFA's vocals are adequate but much better when multitracked with backup vocals. This helps the sometimes faltering voice of Alberto De Grandis stay on note.
There are a few great and full symphonic epic songs, such as the 16 minute La Via which has instrumental solos nicely interspersed among the melodic sections. The organ solos are especially heavy and blend in other keyboard sounds, most notably the mellotron, when the time is right. DFA avoids the pitfall of filling the epics with long solos which often lose the interest of the listener. The listener is brought along for the ride, easily remaining attentive to the many sections of the song, as well as hanging in there during the transitions. This is a songwriting quality not often mastered by artists more experienced than DFA.
Les Claypool – Fancy (DVD)
If you are wondering what the draw is with the jam band scene today, take some time with this new DVD from the former Primus front man Les Claypool. Taking his highly accomplished bass playing into the alt rock and space rock veins, Claypool crosses genres and expectations during this first live concert DVD from his 2006 summer tour. He brought with him Mike Dillon on vibes, marimba and percussion, long time associate Skerik on sax, Paolo Baldi from Cake on drums and multi-instrumentalist Gabby Ya Ya who mostly played an electric sitar.
The material is mostly from his recent excellent release "Of Whales And Woe", the latest of his long string of releases with new band members. One can see Claypool continue to grow and change - experiment in the best sense of the word. To me, he is one of the few artists consistently compared to Frank Zappa with regard to his changes in personnel and direction.
The sound ramps down during Claypool's vocals, allowing that distinctive "southern twang through a distorted blender" vocals come through. The Primus references abound - the masks and hats, the storytelling, the disdain of chord changes. Claypool trades solos with Dillon, Skerik and with Gabby La La, who seems hesitant and more restrained than any of the rest of the band, except for the wild Theremin playing on "Holy Mackerel". Dillon's marimba / xylophone solos are particularly entertaining and melodic, whacking sustain out of his instruments to underscore Baldi's frenetic drumming. Skerik's sax is more psychedelic and exciting than the rest of the group. On "One Better", it's frighteningly fantastic.
Claypool's fun banter with the audience, storytelling, mugging, focusing on the mundane like his sausage sandwich reminds me of how comfortable he is with the audience, and how great his shows are. In addition, this one, every Claypool DVD, is instructive to bass players with his wide handed style and furious right hand technique. Although the limited camera angles kept missing some of the best bits, the DVD is entertaining and holds your interest all the way through. Best yet from Claypool.
Sense / Going Home / Ozeta Productions
The Quebecois band Sense has released their fourth CD "Going Home" - a wonderful journey using symphonic rock to recreate places and times. The lyrics focus on homecomings - after war, after a concert tour, after a life of traveling - and how to break the loneliness and regain one's roots. The music is consciously formed in the tradition of grand seventies bands, and it shows. But you won't find mindless pandering to rock stars here. The arrangements and music is quite original, incorporating influences instead of plagiarizing them.
"The Sweater" starts off with a wild rock ride, reminiscent of Yes' entrance to "Going For The One". "Stone in the Sky" mutates from Wind and Wuthering Genesis to a jaunty Beatles number with Starcastle vocal harmonies. "Going Home" becomes an interesting toss game between acoustic guitar/flute and a heavy rock band. "Aftermath" is a singular achievement. Featuring bass parts that could have been written by Tony Levin and an organ - drums workout half way through. The Starcastle vocal harmonies take over again. ending up throwing in an Irish Jig at 8 minutes in. It is worthwhile reading the story behind the song on their website relating to the WWI experiences and poetry of Seifreg Sassoon.
The final track "Stranger Coming Home" goes back to a pastoral sound from Harmonium, Cano, or Celeste with a 6/8 flute lead and mellotron flavorings into another jaunty melody. I was transported to a walk in the country fields, with birds taking flight and the sun on my shoulder. The music ends up being very listenable because it avoids jerky transitions between musical variations, such as Yes does so well. My only faults would be that the too speedy guitar solos lack cleanliness, and the songs could be a little tighter written, but the length never gets tiring.
Members of the band have connections with numerous other progressive rock bands such as Ere G, Willowglass, Red Sand and The D Project. This shows in the professionalism of the recording and the depth of their arrangements. Sense should feel very proud of this accomplishment and it is hoped that this release will spread their fame far outside of Quebec.
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