Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Celebrating the Holidays Prog Style

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Solstice, and of course Happy Festivus fellow progheads!  I want to be all inclusive this holiday season so as to wish everyone  sincere seasons greetings no matter how you choose to celebrate!  I appreciate your taking time in the middle of this hectic holiday rush to spend a few moments with me here in the Closet Concert Arena.

If you have followed this blog long enough you know I am loathe to write a "best of" column to wrap up the year. While I respect those who do put one together, I find they tend to be subjective, personal, and usually leave someone out...resulting in fans of a particular band or artist feeling slighted.  I would much rather applaud every band and artist for producing all the great progressive music we have enjoyed here in the Closet Concert Arena during 2015 as well as those I may have missed.  I know my search for all things prog unearthed some true gems these past 52 weeks, but I am not naive enough to believe I found all there was to find...at least I hope I didn't...

So to finish 2015 in style and bring in 2016 with a flourish I thought it would be fun to listen to some progressive holiday music.  So grab a mug of whatever warms you up, sit back, relax, and enjoy...

To open the celebration I chose a favorite with a twist; Greg Lake's  "I Believe in Father Christmas." This is a live version recorded in London with Ian Anderson on flute, David Arch on keyboards, and Florian Opahle on acoustic guitar...and the St. Bride's Church Choir backing them up.  A beautiful piece of music; the guitar floats on that flute like the first dusting of Christmas snow...

Moving down the holiday buffet line, I came across a song that surprised me when I first heard it...but have since come to appreciate.  Dream Theater's rendition of "O Holy Night" starts out slow and gentle like one would expect--until the "Professors of Prog Metal" quickly put their stamp on it. James LaBrie nails the vocals and Mike Portnoy stomps on the edge of burying the entire piece with drumming--but ultimately keeps his ego in check.  I like that this song is played hard because the message is so pure and real.

This next song is one I have only heard a few times yet I believe is one of the better versions recorded; Jon Anderson performing "I Saw Three Ships."  Anderson's vocals are unmistakable, the drum/percussion work fits like a pair of warm slippers, and the keyboards slide right through the entire piece like the silky smooth caramels Santa leaves in your stocking...

We have time for a few more, so let us listen next to a song that is beautiful in its own right but taken to a new level of magnificence; "O Come All Ye Faithful" performed by keyboard master Rick Wakeman.  I don't know that I could add anything of value to the music, so please wrap yourself in this like you would your favorite blanket...

My final selection for this holiday season is a piece of music that is as traditional for me at Christmas as "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" is at Thanksgiving.  King Crimson fans know Robert Fripp has
re-invented himself more times than the Energizer Bunny and always seems to come through a better, years-ahead-of-his-time version of himself.  This was recorded during his Frippertronics days and is quite a stirring rendition of "Silent Night."  Please to enjoy...

As this is my last post for 2015, I would like to sincerely thank you my faithful followers for making the Closet Concert Arena a joy to write.  Listening to and reviewing great prog music is the best therapy, extremely fun, and quite a blessing.  I also need to applaud all the bands whose music I was honored to review these past twelve months.  The Concert Closet traveled to--in no particular order--Norway, Sweden, Italy, England, France, Germany, Portugal, Argentina, Latvia, Mexico, Greece, Spain, Peru, Scotland, and Canada.  I also managed to spend some quality time checking out local bands here in the United States; logged lots of frequent flyer miles and put a hurtin' on my GPS...

For me the pleasures are twofold.  First, the experience of listening to and hearing some absolutely fantastic progressive rock from new, up and coming, and well established bands is nothing short of a Utopian experience for me.  Watching the prog garden flourish and expand has been rewarding as well...knowing that the genre continues to reach new fans is part of my motivation.  Second, the opportunity to talk with bands and artists about how they go about their craft and what makes them tick...for someone who was only able to master playing the stereo, this truly is a treat.

Of course all of this is moot if not for you my faithful followers.  Look for more interviews, new bands, new releases from established bands and artists, and a few surprises as we move into the unknown that is 2016.  As the prog garden expands, so too will the approach the Closet Concert Arena takes to presenting it to you the listener.

I sincerely wish everyone reading this the Happiest Holiday season--no matter how you bang that drum.  I hope to see you all back here in the Closet Concert Arena when I return January 12th, 2016...until then...

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Mohai Experiment

Greetings from the last month on the 2015 calendar fellow progheads!  The sand has almost run its course through the hourglass as the end of the year approaches.  These past twelve months have proven to be quite an odyssey; band interviews, introductions to up and coming bands, album release parties, Kickstarter campaigns, and some great progressive music have all graced the Concert Closet this year.

Before it's time to flip said hourglass and start the clock on 2016, I thought it be might fun and interesting to do something a little out of the ordinary.  It is often said that all good things must come to an end...this is as much true for the calendar we are about to flip as it is for a band...so this week the Concert Closet checks out a prog band that had its swansong and moved on, leaving some great music as its legacy. One last trip to Italy for the year as we check out the great audition that was; the Mohai Experiment.

I admit reviewing a band that no longer exists is both unusual and a tad to the left of what one would expect from a music blog...but that is part of what separates the Concert Closet from the pack--a burning desire to stand out among my peers and grabbing the opportunity to go against the tide.  I believe it will be a fun week giving you my loyal followers something atypical to ponder...so let us march straight to the buffet before it is pulled down for the last time...

The first course served up this week is a hard hitting piece of music called "Part I: Utopia."  An electronic display of sorts strikes you as the curtain draws back; Mohai Experiment seems to lean toward the Adrian Belew days of King Crimson--but just as suddenly the band swerves hard left and you feel as though you sailed through a time warp into an Alan Parsons Project jam session.  The guitars bleed so profusely into keyboards you are hard pressed to detach one from the other. Meanwhile the drumming keeps you in lock-step.  Mohai Experiment pushes boundaries with this piece; I sense aromatics of Transatlantic, Psicolorama, and perhaps a hint of Barock Project folded in to keep you entranced.  Not sure why Mohai Experiment chose to call it a career, so let us keep digging...

Diving into the second course finds me ears deep in a cult-like slice of "Part I: Mud."  As the headphones begin to pour forth with sound, I am immediately hit with images and musings of Pink Floyd's "Careful With That Axe, Eugene."  The tension mounts and your skin gets all goose bumpy...but the screams of terror never materialize.  What does shine through is darkness as smooth as the night sky during a lunar eclipse...the guitar and bass work so well together you almost sense one pair of hands playing both simultaneously.  The drums and percussion cut through the base of your skull like a Sawzall cuts through plywood--with little effort and uneven edges.  Mohai Experiment tests your senses with this piece; are you walking through darkness fending off terror, or simply walking through a tunnel with the promise of light as you approach the exit?  Complex as King Crimson, intrinsic as Jethro Tull, and straightforward as Liquid Tension Experiment--the multiple personalities of a prog band...

Liner Notes...Mohai Experiment hailed from Turin, Italy, kept a relatively tight lid on who its members are/were,  and released one helluva  digital download CD in April.  Peter Hamer is credited as Mohai Experiment's manager and the label under which the band records...my guess is Peter is also the one keeping Mohai Experiment alive via Twitter and Reverbnation--and quite possibly Mr. Mohai Experiment himself...

The band originally formed in 1993; not sure what led to the band's demise, but as prog artists--or performers in any music genre for that matter-- can attest, succeeding in the music world is extremely difficult.  The ugly truth is it can sometimes take much more than talent...the list of bands that are in and those yet to be inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame proves my point.

The upside is Mohai Experiment left a permanent mark with the release of "The Finite Infinity."  Strong top notes of King Crimson and God Is An Astronaut permeate the band's sound...and I detect aromatics of Psicolorama and hints of Electric Mud buried between the layers.

The final selection for review this week is a heavier piece called "Part II: Follow the Blue Rain." Mohai Experiment hits hard with the keyboards and guitars here; the music pours down like  heavy New England snow as your equilibrium takes small hits from all sides.  Mohai Experiment lands some solid blows with this cut and the experimental side takes center stage for a while as sounds float across the top accented by a counter balance weighing down the foundation.  Paint splattered on a dark canvas with accents of bright hues burning through at the edges...Mohai Experiment uses most of the colors on the pallet and mixes them together quite well.  

I chose carefully the clip posted below--this is my best chance to convince you the listener that Mohai Experiment is worth the investment.  "Part II: Eclipse" opens with heavy percussion that is kept afloat with keyboards and guitars that refuse to be weighed down.  Think Transatlantic meets Under the Psycamore meets Atlas Volt...now you're feeling it!  Although Mohai Experiment no longer exists in the "putting out new music" sense, you can still check out "The Finite Infinity" in its entirety at
https://www.reverbnation.com/mohaiexperiment.  The band also has an active Twitter account @MohaiExperiment ...perhaps if enough progheads "poke the bear"  who knows...maybe more music will be forthcoming from the Turin region of Italy...


Well fellow progheads, December is kicking into high gear as 2015 prepares the banquet hall for her final bash...hopefully you get the connection between the year coming to end and my desire to review a band that did the same.  The Mohai Experiment may no longer function as a living breathing prog band, but fortunately for the masses their music still has a pulse thanks to modern technology.  Mohai Experiment will still be relevant (I believe) twenty years from now because the music has depth and character; a personality if you will.  There is a Brian Eno "ambient sound" feel to the music...and like a good pair of Levi's--that never goes out of style.

The search for all things prog continues toward its 2015 climax, so please spend some time enjoying the sounds of Mohai Experiment for a while...until next week...

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Up Close and Personal with The Alea Dilemma

Hello fellow progheads!  Time is running out on 2015 faster than people's faith in government--and I thank you for carving out some of that precious time to join me back here in the Concert Closet.  The search for all things prog these past 11+ months traveled many a tangent road discovering many great, new, up-and-coming prog bands along the way.  The Alea Dilemma is no exception--I had the privilege of reviewing the band's debut album "Within the Clamor of Voices" when it was released in October.

Now that Danny, Ryan, and Todd have had an opportunity to let everything sink in, it seems only fitting that the Concert Closet take one more jaunt to Kansas City and talk with the guys behind the instruments.  So I bring to you my fellow progheads the final interview for 2015 as the Concert Closet talks with Danny Brymer and peels back the curtain on The Alea Dilemma...

Closet Concert Arena: First of all, congratulations on the release of  "Within the Clamor of Voices!"  How have sales been, and what does it feel like to have your work out there for the world to hear?

The Alea Dilemma: Thank you Vinny!  Sales have been OK.  We are a new band playing
non-mainstream music so there are definitely some challenges.  However; we have been seeing a steady increase in sales and awareness.  We recently had some sales in London and a radio station in Sweden contacted us interested in promoting our music among other stations and publications.  We are very glad to discover our music has global appeal.

Closet Concert Arena: Why progressive rock; what led you guys to this genre?

The Alea Dilemma: There is no one style of music that completely satisfies me; I love the artful excellence of classical, the harmonic complexity and intensity of jazz, and the sheer power of
rock 'n' roll.  Progressive  comes the closest to being a complete style for the three of us having come from all those backgrounds.  We wanted to craft a powerful yet aesthetically excellent art form. Progressive rock is such a profound medium with which to accomplish that while remaining unique within the genre, as shown from the artists who have influenced us.

Closet Concert Arena: You're based in Kansas City, MO; any plans to expand beyond that region when touring?   

The Alea Dilemma: It is definitely in the works, yes.  I used to play in the Aaron Clift Experiment out of Ausitn, TX and I still remain in contact with them.  There is the possibility of a Texas "mini tour," performing with them for one show among others.  The Alea Dilemma absolutely wants to break out beyond the Kansas City area and expand.

 Closet Concert Arena: There are definite jazz and metal influences scattered throughout your music...what bands/artists have made the biggest impression on your playing style?

 The Alea Dilemma: The jazz is unquestionably there.  As for metal, I think hard rock more accurately defines that side of us.  Ryan our bass player is the most metal of the three of us, but I believe "rock-wise" we hail more from the school of Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, and Van Halen than we do the school of Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden.  However; I would not say our music is devoid of metal.  Ryan digs the bottom of Tool and Rage Against the Machine/Audioslave, so there is that presence bass-wise.  Our influences go well beyond hard rock though...we love the classic prog bands like Yes, King Crimson, Kansas, Rush, Pink Floyd, and ELP, as well as latter day prog artists such as Dream Theater, Spock's Beard, and King's X.

All three of us have played jazz so that element is strong.  As far as jazz influences, we love Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, Weather Report, Miles Davis John Coltrane, and Pat Metheny among others.  I also studied classical music extensively while working on my Master's Degree in music theory and composition, so Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel, Messaian, George Crumb, and Bach are powerful influences on me compositionally.

 Closet Concert Arena: What brought this trio together and what is the story behind the band's name?

The Alea Dilemma: Ryan and I have known each other for ten years; we met in Denver, CO while studying music in college.  We had a prog band during that time called Strativarium.  In fact one of the songs that survived from this era and made the journey to The Alea Dilemma is "The Catalyst." Strativarium ended amicably and we all went our separate ways in 2009.  By chance, Ryan and I met up again in Kansas City in 2013 and immediately decided to start another band.  We both wanted a new and fresh start, so with the exception of that one song, we set out to write completely new music. We picked up Todd our drummer in the spring of 2014 and started rehearsing soon thereafter.

As for the name, I liked "Aleatoric," the term for an avante garde genre of classical music where the element of chance is used in the performance.  Ryan suggested using the root word, "Alea," which is Latin for "dice" or "a game of chance."  Nobody remembers where the "Dilemma" part came into play, but that is how we managed to name the band.  We were doing something new and adventurous so we thought Alea Dilemma fit us well.

Closet Concert Arena: There is a definite "dark feel" to the music, yet I never sense anything macabre or foreboding.  Is there a style to your writing and/or any life experiences that affect the final product you put on vinyl?

The Alea Dilemma: I write all the lyrics and they are drawn from my personal experiences and observations of the world around.  "Forsaken Pawns" and "Altars" were written about the media and people of influence that subject the general public to homogenized thought.  "Betrayed Brilliance" was written about people I've known who have traded dreams for temporary fixes, and "Survive Another Mile" is about a little girl I knew who underwent abuse at the hands of her adoptive parents.  "Beyond the Realm" was deeply personal; written during a time of darkness and trial in my life.  I am drawn to the profundity of lyricists like Kerry Livgren and Roger Waters, and how they are able to challenge your perceptions of life.  That is something I also try to do in my writing.  I want to challenge the listener to think, and although that may lead to some dark moments, I am not into angst, hate-filled lyrics, or the use of profanity.  In anything dark I write I like at least a glimmer of light, because oftentimes that is all it takes for a good balance.

Closet Concert Arena: What band(s) and/or musicians--living or deceased--would you like to play a gig with if you could?

The Alea Dilemma: Hmmm....that is a tough one.  If I was playing guitar, I would have Chick Corea  on keyboards, Jaco Pastorius on bass, Bill Bruford on drums, and Steve Walsh doing the vocals...and perhaps Wayne Shorter on sax.

Closet Concert Arena: That is a show I would wait all night in line for tickets to see...

Closet Concert Arena: What else do you want the world--or at least the Closet Concert Arena faithful--to know about The Alea Dilemma?

The Alea Dilemma: That we got here with lots of coffee, so drink more coffee!  Also, please check out our new record, look out for a gig near you, and there are some wild ideas cooking for upcoming music as we speak!

So there it is fellow progheads, one more prog band exposed to the light.  The Alea Dilemma has elements of old and new prog, fused with some strong jazz top notes, all blended with a tinge of metal/hard rock.  A prog band that seemed decades in the making, Alea Dilemma came together the old fashioned way--their paths crossed randomly years later by chance.  Prog music draws on emotion, and as Danny so eloquently points out, sometimes you use the darkness in your life to shine a light on the path that leads you out.

Please give the clip below a listen so as to peel back a layer on Alea Dilemma yourself--and expand your prog listening library. Check the band's website at http://www.thealeadilemma.com/ to get your copy of "Within the Clamor of Voices."  You can also follow The Alea Dilemma on Twitter, @TheAleaDilemma.  Facebook updates include tour dates, music clips, and other band information https://www.facebook.com/TheAleaDilemma

As 2015 makes her final curtain call and 2016 prepares to take center stage, I find myself appreciating bands like The Alea Dilemma because of their bare bones approach to music generally and prog specifically.  The prog garden has acreage dedicated to many different subplots within the genre, but ultimately they all share a common thread--the ability to dig deeper, peel back another layer, and go behind the curtain.  The Alea Dilemma brought their sound to the masses two months ago, but their music has been years in the making...which is one of the traits that separates prog from other genres.

Just a few grains left in the hourglass, but the search for all things prog continues...until next week...