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Progrock: Absolute Zero, Krakatoa, The Red Masque, Robert Walter's 20th Congress

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ABSOLUTE ZERO: Crashing Icons (CD on Recommended Records)

This release from 2003 offers 63 minutes of searing progrock.

Absolute Zero is: Aislinn Quinn on keyboards and vocals, Enrique Jardines on bass, and the legendary Pip Pyle (who has worked with countless UK bands, from Gong to National Health) on drums and percussion, with guests Keith Hedger on trumpet, and Jim Stewart on additional percussion.

Most of the tracks on this CD are long, affording the melodies the opportunity to suitably evolve, and granting each performer the chance to show off via dazzling solos.

The thunderous and frantic percussion is unavoidable. Drums enunciate complex rhythms that utilize power-pounding as effortlessly as they provide engaging minor distractions. The beats frequently come so fast as to meld into a pattering drone that becomes a unique instrument unto itself. The drum solos are quite enthralling, mesmerizing the audience with their novel and hyper intricacies.

The bass does more than rumble and seethe, it fulfills the role a guitar does in conventional rock'n'roll, generating blazing pyrotechnics and contorting those chords into variations with blinding velocity. Growling like an electrified beast, the basslines produce a wondrous undercurrent that habitually emerges into the forefront of the dense mix like a boisterous elephant, majestic and mighty, but embodying rapid riffs that smolder like spirited lava flows.

The keyboards provide dreamy-eyed sweeps and slippery definition. Keys are struck with jubilant passion, generating nimble-fingered passages that cascade like the overeager gushing of a mountainside stream. Sometimes the keyboards cook with the steamy resonance of a classic organ; other times they belt out liquid chords with the tremulous vibration of super-charged honey. In a few instances, electronics are employed, twisting sounds into garbled-but-tasty distortion.

Vocals surface periodically in the songs, lilting and often quite demanding, adding lyrical threads to the jam-frenzied intensity of the rest of the instruments.

Trumpet appears in one track, it's emphatic cries lending a solid jazz flair.

As with most decent progrock, the compositions are fiery and powerful. Riffs overlap each other, leaving little breathing room. Jazz collides with rock, compressing melodies into an enthusiasm that can be quite exhausting even for the listener.

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KRAKATOA: We Are the Rowboats (CD on Cuneiform Records)

This CD from 2003 offers 50 minutes of diverse-but-engaging music.

Krakatoa is: Ted Casterline (on bass and guitar), Valerie Opielski (on piano and bass), Glendon Jones (on violin and piano), and Ely Levin (on drums), with a host of guest musicians fleshing out the quartet's sound with synthesizers and cellos.

Krakatoa delves into a kitbag of novel musical genres, producing tuneage that is lively and invigorating, blending prog roots with classical overtones and rock demeanor. The pace is generally quite frantic, as if the musicians are trying to win a race against the very notes they are playing.

The guitar grinds out riffs that are picked up by the violin which flings the notes into aerial spirals. Dramatic drumming propels the unpredictable melodies into a frenzied state, accentuated by the emphatic and omnipresent violin. Basslines rumble underfoot like a foundation of burrowing creatures determined to remain unseen but trembling the ground with their thick-noted expressions.

The 16 tracks on this CD are all brief and compact, packing emotional tuneage into each song with passionate performances and clever compositions that defy classification.

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THE RED MASQUE: Beggars & Thieves EP (CD EP on> Big Balloon Music)

This CD EP from 2003 features 40 minutes of searing progrock with heavy gothic overtones, and is intended to generate interest in the band's forthcoming album "Feathers for Flesh."

The Red Masque is: Kiarash Emami on guitars, mandolin and keyboards, Brandon Ross on bass, acoustic guitar and keyboards, Lynnette Shelley on vocals and percussion, and Vonorn on drums, percussion, theremin, didgeridoo, flute and bass.

There are two tracks on this release. The first ("Beggars & Thieves") is nine and a half minutes long. It begins with lilting acoustic guitar laced with rich vocals, and establishes a renaissance air that is tinged with non-pastoral sentiments. There is a passage during which a meticulous mandolin is harassed by harshly straining noises. The tune finishes up with the reemergence of guitar and vocals, accompanied by a funereal drum as Shelley's voice explodes into an emphatic dose of non-verbal emotion.

The second track ("Yellow Are his Opening Eyes", at a length of 30 minutes) was recorded live on March 29, 2003 at the New Jersey Proghouse. It explores a grittier, more savage side of the band's electrified minstrel sound. For the first few minutes, Shelley recites dark verse over a backdrop of cacophonic abstraction. Outbursts of electric guitar and didgeridoo punctuate the slow evolution from experimentation into melody. Eventually, all the instruments emerge to plunge the tune into a cimmerian abyss of growling cohesion. The drums pound out demonstrative tempos, the guitarist tortures his strings, and the keyboards trickle like a mountain waterfall across a flowered escarpment.

The Red Masque's music exhibits an incensed energy that impresses a sense of malcontentment on a genre that is generally idyllic and pastoral. Progrock from the dark side--for adventurous audiophiles.

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ROBERT WALTER'S 20TH CONGRESS: Giving Up the Ghost (CD on Magnatude Records)

This CD from 2003 features 56 minutes of lively progrock.

A founding member of the Greyboy Allstars, Walters' keyboards are joined on this recording by Cochemea Gastelum on saxophone, flute and clarinet, Will Bernard on guitar, and Chuck Prada on percussion, with appearances by Joe Russo and George Sluppick on drums, and Chris Stillwell and Mike Fratantuno on bass.

Versatile keyboards are the backbone of this tuneage, providing sweeping chords and peppy organs, the latter attributing a nostalgic aura to the music with throaty resonance and fog-shrouded skims that harken back to the endeavors of Seventies jazz fusion bands. There's a pronounced element of celebration in the tunes, the type of sonic edge that prompts the audience to wave their hands over their heads as they dance for the joy of it.

Snappy rock'n'roll drums mix with fanciful horns and jazzy woodwinds, while eager basslines swarm underfoot. The guitar injects a funky mood that fits nicely with the optimistic, uptempo frivolity that embodies each track.

The slick compositions reflect this exultation, conjuring euphoric enthusiasm with each gregarious riff and stylish melody. The horns imbue these harmonies with a feeling of triumph-in-action, as if the music has proven victorious over some severity and now flourishes in the light of a confident sun. The clever percussion enforces this festive mood with attractive rhythms that propel the songs to even greater pinnacles of delight.

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