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Progressive Music: Aranis, Ex-Wise Heads, Soft Machine Legacy

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ARANIS: Roqueforte (CD on Home Records)

This release from 2009 offers 58 minutes of lively progressive classical music.

Aranis is: Joris Vanvinckenroye (on double bass), Jana Arns (on flutes), Liesbeth Lambrecht (on violin), Stefan Wellens (on viola), Marjolein Cools (on accordion), Pierre Chevalier (on piano), Stijn Denys (on guitar), and David Kerman (on drums and percussion).

One rarely thinks of classical music as "lively," but Aranis proves to be the exception to that adage. Their tunes are spry and animated, with a hint of potential darkness that will appeal to fans of Rock in Opposition.

Agile strings (violin and viola) establish a fanciful nucleus, generating enticing riffs with universal appeal.

The piano provides a demonstrative voice of frivolity with nimble-fingered chords that leave a lasting impression.

The flutes enhance that jubilation, evoking pastoral fields blooming with smiling faces. At other times, the flutes produce a cautionary voice warning of some menace lurking within the mix.

The guitar provides churning rhythms to energize the flow, an effect that is also achieved by the bass at times.

The accordion's resonance squeals amid the other instruments like a child let loose in a gentleman's club, an engaging disruption.

The bass injects a sense of sobriety with rumbling undercurrents of concrete solidarity.

The percussion serves to ground the music with often ponderous beats, hammering home connections between the music's spirit and the earth.

For all its sprightly nature, however, this music exhibits a latent darkness that seethes just beneath the surface, waiting to creep forth and flood the recital stage. This restrained threat serves to invigorate the tuneage with a distinct air of tension.

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EX-WISE HEADS: Celestial Disclosure (CD on Tonefloat)

This release from 2010 features 50 minutes of ethereal music with jazzy world overtones.

Ex-Wise Heads are: Geoff Leigh (from Henry Cow) on saxophone, flutes, keyboards, and electronics, Colin Edwin (from Porcupine Tree) on fretless and fretted bass, guimbri, and programming, with Rajan Spoila (joining in on one track on acoustic guitar).

Originally a limited edition vinyl release in 2007, this CD reissue features a new twelve-minute third track.

Track one begins with haunting tones and ethnic beats which are soon joined by passionate saxophone. The beats grow more sinuous as the sax expresses celestial sentiments. Amid the mix, basslines provide an almost subliminal liquid rumble that gradually emerges to prominence with molten definition. Flutes enter to generate an eerie resonance enhanced by sawing bass tones.

Track two has a minimal opening of barely audible flute breaths punctuated by very remote beats. The bass slides into play with soft murmurs that establish a ghostly presence amid this sparse and mellow piece. The flute eventually provides some substance with a lithe passage that switches to a winsome saxophone stretch. Underneath, the bass achieves a mysterious presence in tandem with erratic rhythms. Things revert to their minimal stance for a soft conclusion marked by bent bass notes.

Track three offers comfortable acoustic guitar with a distinct oriental flavor accompanying melodic basslines running over a relaxed e-perc thread. This track possesses a more accessible structure and presence than the previous tracks. Toward the end, a flute shows up to indulge in a riff that alternates between a shrill and a pastoral definition.

The majority of this release explores tuneage dedicated to a unique fusion of sonic art and jazz and electronic ambience.

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SOFT MACHINE LEGACY: Live Adventures (CD on Moonjune Records)

This release from 2010 offers 58 minutes of pacific jazz recorded live at Posthof, in Linz, Austria, on October 22, 2009, and at the Village Habach in Germany on October 23, 2009.

Soft Machine Legacy is: John Etheridge (on guitar), Theo Travis (on saxophone and flute), Roy Babbington (on bass), and John Marshall (on drums).

Modern jazz with a progressive touch.

At times the guitar possesses a guttural touch that nicely fits a cafˇ style. While in other instances it twangs with a more traditional sound, lending softly soothing chords that ripple in the smoky atmosphere.

Often functioning as the lead instrument, the saxophone resounds with studious fondness, expressing sultry riffs that are simultaneously chilly and warm.

The use of flute in two songs injects an idyllic air which excellently goes with those tracks' balmy guitar.

The bass rumbles away from a prominent position in the mix, not too buried, nor overt enough to overwhelm the other instruments' balance.

The percussion is complex and energetic, providing the tunes with cozy locomotion. The rhythms cascade in a mellow fashion that doesn't become a driving force, instead suiting the generally almost serene mode characterized by the tunes.

These compositions delve into jazz roots and season those with modern sensibilities in a manner that results in a delightful gestalt. The songs tend to be a nice compromise between old school and fusion, flourishing in the best of both worlds.

The band perpetuates the long heritage of serious progrock maintained for decade by their namesake (Soft Machine).

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