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Progrock: Astrakan, Holdsworth/Pasqua/Haslip/Wackerman, Present, VRiL

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ASTRAKAN: Astrakan (CD on Astrakan Music)

This release from 2008 offers 40 minutes of jazzy progressive music.

Astrakan is: Michael Garcia (on keyboards), Raymond Hardy (on saxophones), Jerry Wigens (on guitar), Oli Mayne (on bass guitar and bass pedals), and Dave Fowler (on drums).

Tight tuneage with energetic improv interplay results in engaging progressive rock.

The guitar can be quite hyperactive, delivering searing notes in a rapid cascade of delightful riffs. At other times, the guitar adopts a secondary status in which staccato plucking evokes a brewing chaos.

The drums provide jazzy rhythms that effortlessly switch from steadfast tempos to inventive variations, keeping things lively and unpredictable.

Sweet keyboards delineate chords that slide between the rest of the instruments, supporting a cohesive union of the band's components. At times the keyboards sashay into the forefront with shrill melodies that harken back to progrock's formative days.

The basslines lurk deep in the mix, but frequently muscle forth to enhance the music with their throbbing presence.

The impassioned outcry of horns enhances the jazz demeanor of the music. Fevered passages of agile brass serve to capture an aura of classic jazz.

These compositions are a tasty blend of preplanning and improvised aspects, producing tunes that possess solid cores embellished with fanciful impromptu expressions. A serious mood is conveyed, then tempered with a suitable frolic that can be quite appealing.

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HOLDSWORTH/PASQUA/HASLIP/WACKERMAN: Blues for Tony (double CD on Moonjune Records)

This release from 2009 features 90 minutes of modern jazz music.

Paying tribute to their tenure with mid-70s fusion band Tony William's Lifetime, guitarist Allan Holdsworth (who has played with everyone from Soft Machine to UK to Gong) and keyboardist Alan Pasqua (who has been a session musician for Bob Dylan, Alice Cooper, Santana, and more) joined forces with Yellowjackets bassist Jimmy Haslip and drummer Chad Wackerman (who started out with Frank Zappa in the mid-80s and has done session work for a wide range of people from Barbra Streisand to Andy Summers) to record a live set in 2007 which comprises this release.

Modern jazz of superlative quality.

The guitar seethes like a living beast, wailing with cultured restraint in a shrill voice capable of searing paint from the walls. Passion is harnessed and converted into auditory vibrations of chilling fusion, leaving lasting impressions on the listener's psyche.

Lively keyboards belt out slippery riffs in all sorts of modes: classic progressive organ slides into nimble-fingered piano, then diverts off into fiercely crystalline chords. Agile melodies are established that shimmer with celestial scope.

The basslines achieve a molten undercurrent whose pulsed rumbling provides a groove-based foundation. The instrument is often allowed to take the lead, generating expressions that burble with smooth eloquence.

The percussion delivers hyperactive rhythms of smart complexity. Beats fly from all directions, coalescing into tempos of bewitching beauty. At times the drums generate a presence that goes beyond basic locomotion, swamping the tuneage with their compelling influence.

These compositions abound with spry intentions that fully accomplish a dual goal of mesmerizing and getting one moving, whether it be feet or bobbing head. Ecstasy flows freely in these tunes, an infectious bliss full of robust fervor. This music offers a tasty dose of cerebral stimulation.

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PRESENT: Barbado (Ma Non Troppo) (CD & DVD on Ad Hoc Records, distributed by ReR USA)

This release from 2009 offers 45 minutes of feverish music on the CD, and nearly three hours on the DVD (including performances from the Rock in Opposition France Event on April 14-15, 2007, the Gouveia Art Rock Festival in Portugal in April 2006, and 40 minutes of various archival videos).

Present is: Roger Trigaux (on guitar and keyboards), Reginald Trigaux (on guitar), Pierre Chevalier (on piano and keyboards), Dave Kerman (on drums and percussion), Keith Macksoud (on bass), Matthieu Safatly (on cello), and Pierre Desassis (on saxophone), with special appearances by Ward de Vleeschhouwer (on grand piano), Daniel Denis (on drums), Christian Genet (on bass), Dominique Ntoumous (on trumpet), and Fred Becker (on saxophone).

Intensity reaches new dark depths with this new studio album by Present, presenting an ominous dose of gothic chamber music.

The guitars squeal in pain amid a dire pastiche of moody urgency. At times they belt out searing riffs, and on other occasions they chirp with single notes that emphasize startlement. Their outcries achieve a fiery fury of delightful mien.

Monstrously rumbling bass establishes a subterranean presence that manages to bluster its guttural behavior to the forefront again and again.

The percussion provides a seething wall of rhythms, flickering between cohesive tempos and discordant cacophony. Momentum becomes a constant force.

The keyboards generate thunderous melodies of compelling gravity. Electronic keys serve to provide a modern edge, while piano passages evoke an antique flavor. Together they merge into a thrashing union of stygian proportion.

Cello plays a vital role here, injecting an orchestral flair that is often relentless.

The saxophone adds a fevered brass voice that flitters through the mix like a malevolent wraith.

These compositions present a compressed fusion of classical and electronic sentiments filtered through a distinctly dark lens. A sense of crisis is created and maintained with frenzied determination. Civilizations topple, and the tuneage carries on with furrowed-brow devotion.

Both the CD and DVD offer different versions of the classic Univers Zero song "Jack the Ripper."

The DVD provides a visual glimpse of the musicians who craft music of this soul-scorching nature. And loads of additional tuneage guaranteed to scare children and leave adults gasping in apprehension.

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VRIL: The Fatal Duckpond (CD on ReR Megacorp, distributed in USA by ReR USA, and in Japan by Locus Solus)

This CD from 2009 features 38 minutes of bouncy music.

VRiL is: Lukas Simonis (on guitars), Bob Drake (on bass and guitars), Pierre Omer (on guitars), and Chris Cutler (on drums).

Numerous guitars have tons of fun; and there's drums too.

Several guitars belt it out simultaneously--but in a coherent and rather peppy fashion. The twangy riffs slide and cavort with entertaining delight, blending influences from spaghetti westerns and surf music to produce a head-spinning dose of adventurous tuneage. The musicians are having a lot of fun, and that sentiment is excellently conveyed in their performances and the spry melodies.

There's bass too, providing an essential bottom that is often lost in the driving guitar cascades.

The drums are solid and enthusiastic, laying compulsive locomotion for the bouncy melodies. The rhythms glisten with complexity and fever.

Most of the tracks clock in at 2-to-3 minutes long, with some even shorter, compressing melodies into tight snippets that exude an engaging intensity.

These compositions are animated and cheerful, brimming with a contagious jubilation. A series of inventive melodies are delivered in rapid succession which could leave the listener breathless and gasping for more.

According to the liner notes, this is the award-winning soundtrack for a European art-house film classic by Horst Gack (which appears to be a visionary reworking of the 1956 Hollywood western The Bloodsoaked Revenge of Escobar Beppo).

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