More AltrOck Label Releases — 2011/2012
Born in 2005 from an idea by Marcello Marinone, who organized the first edition of the AltrOck Festival devoted to experimental and «on the borders» music, and, together with Francesco Zago, established the homonym label, whose first release was Yugen’s Labirinto d’acqua. The aim both of the festival and label was to produce, promote and propose in various forms the best of what actual underground musical italian (but not only) scene offered, from experimental to avant-jazz, from RIO’s heritage to contemporary classical and progressive rock.
Of course, for those raised on mainstream music in North America, releases from AltrOck might come as something of a shock. A very pleasant shock, I might add. Like all great underground art, AltrOck consistently gathers together and releases albums from bands and groups from as far and wide geographically as they are eclectic, experimental and avant-garde. On the same disc, you’ll discover influences as disparate as prog, RIO, proto-punk, and neo classical. This is not music for the lazy listener. Every track requires the listener’s full attention. There are no cheap hooks or quick gimmicks in these releases. To the attentive listener, the rewards are as myriad and as varied as the music itself.
Over the last year and a half (and up to the present) Urban Graffiti has received the following AltrOck releases which, when taken as a whole, reveal AltrOck’s incredible breadth and scope as an alternative music label:
Autumn Chorus — The Village to the Vale (2012)
The Village to the Vale, by the Brighton-based band, Autumn Chorus, creates moving, textural, and epic pieces by combining folk-esque storytelling, haunting choral sections, and vast guitar and orchestrated grandure. A unique meld between prog, folk, and post-rock. Between past and future.
Robbie Wilson – vocals, guitar & trumpet
Luke Foster – drums, piano & glockenspiel
Peter Evans – bass & wine glass
Chris Lloyd – guitar & thumb piano
Altrock Chamber Quartet — Sonata Islands Goes RIO (2012)
Altrock Chamber Quartet’s CD Sonata Islands goes RIO documents the evolution and different voices of the Rock in Opposition movement: Frith, Zorzanello, Popoli, Giuntoli, Univers Zero, Yugen. This quartet guided by Emilio Galante is amazingly tight and shows endless sound resources. The essence of RIO.
Emilio Galante – flute, piccalo
Valerio Cipollone – bass clarinet, clarinet
Andrea Pecolo – violin
Bianca Fervidi – cello
Stabat Akish — Nebulos (2012)
Nebulos is the second album by acclaimed (former Tzadik) group from France. Stabat Akish confirms their intriguing mix of zappaesque frenzy and humour, eccentric jazz-rock, a pinch of psychedelia, and a twist of progressive rock and avant-prog. A great rhythm section sustains chromatic percussions, keyboards and winds, with sounds ranging over vintage and acoustic. Powerful while still amusing and ceaselessly interesting to the ear.
Ferdinand Doumerc — baritone/tenor/alto/sopranino saxophones, flute
Marc Maffiolo — bass/tenor saxophones
Guillame Amiel — vibraphone, bass marimba, percussion
Rémi Leclerc — piano, Fender Rhodes, clavinet, Moog, Hammond organ
Maxime Delporte — double bass
Stéphane Gratteau — drums
Sarah Roussel — words on “Troide”
Subtilior — Absence Upon A Ground (2012)
The creative force behind Subtilior is keyboardist Michele Epifani, leader of Italian prog rock band Areknamés, but Subtilior’s Absence Upon a Ground has little in common with the music of Epifani’s comparatively conventional prog outfit, which, with its organ-, synth-, and Mellotron-laden compositions and English-language vocals, seems inspired by classic ’70s prog rock. In contrast, Subtilior moves in a more “serious” avant-garde direction, more in tune with the project’s AltrOck label. On Absence Upon a Ground, the album focuses primarily on Epifani as composer of two lengthy suites that walk a line between avant-prog rock and contemporary classical music. The first suite, “Absence,” consists of 13 movements generally ranging in length between two and three minutes; the second, “Upon a Ground,” features three parts, each of four to six minutes in duration. Remarkable arrangements, with electric and acoustic instruments. Darkly fascinating.
Upon A Ground:
Pierluigi Mencattini – violin
Valeria Cipolione – clarinet, bass clarinet
Cristiano Pomante – vibraphone, marimba
Maurizio Fasoli – grand piano
Michele Epifani – hammond organ
Stephano Colombi – electric guitar
Antonio Marrone – electric bass
Luca Falsetti – drums
upon a ground:
Carmine Ianieri – tenor saxophone
Manuel Trabucco – tenor saxophone
Massimo Magri – cello
Michele Epifani – electric piano, synthesizer
Stephano Colombi – electric guitar
Simone Pacelli – electric bass
Luca Falsetti – drums, percussion
Locanda delle Fate — The Missing Fireflies (2012)
The release of The Missing Fireflies by Locanda delle Fate is a significant event for the progressive music scene. This historical prog band from Italy has released various unreleased songs not included in their first album (Forse le lucciole non si amano più, 1977), here played and recorded for the first time, as well as other live tracks taken from a 1977 concert. It is as though so many years has not even gone by. A really unmissable occasion to enjoy the unmistakable sounds and atmospheres of the prog rock golden era.
Leonardo Sasso – voice
Luciano Boero – Rickenbacker 4001S bass (’74)
Giorgio Gardino – drums, vibraphone (live)
Oscar Mazzoglio – Hammond B3, mellotron M 400, Yamaha Motif XS6, Roland V-Combo VR-760, Korg X50
Max Brignolo – el guitars Stratocaster, Gibson Les Paul (studio)
Ezio Vevey – guitar (live)
Maurizio Muha – piamo, Mini Moog, Mellotron M 400 (studio)
Michele Conta – piano, keyboards (live)
Alberto Gaviglio – flute, guitar (live)
Inner Ear Brigade — Rainbro (2012)
Formed in 2005 in Oakland (California) by multi-instrumentalist and composer Bill Wolter, Inner Ear Brigade was originally a quartet; then, in the following years, the lineup grew into a 7-piece, with a number of honorary members participating in the recording of their debut album, Rainbro. Rainbro was recorded in the summer of 2010, then released on the international market in January 2012. While the progressive rock scene suffers from a glut of acts often hopelessly rooted in the past and seemingly unable to go beyond reproducing the classic Seventies sound, Inner Ear Brigade use the influences drawn from the rich treasure trove of the golden age of prog as a springboard for creating their own sound. The album’s intricate nature will attract lovers of quirky, eclectic progressive rock, while attracting even the most conservative fans of 70s era prog.
Melody Ferris – vocals
Ivor Holloway – tenor and alto saxophone, clarinet
Pat Moran – electric bass
Nick Peck – Hammond B-3 organ, clavinet, Fender Rhodes electric piano, minimoog Voyager, mellotron, piano, Arp String Ensemble, Wurlitzer 200A electric piano
Doug Port – drums
David Shaff – trumpet
Ryder Shelly – vibraphone
David Slusser – Slussomatic, electronics
Andrew Vernon – keyboards, Farfisa organ
Bill Wolter – electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards, electronics
Line-up on “25 Miles To Freedom”:
Shayna Dunkelman – vibes, crotales
Melody Ferris – vocals
Jordan Glenn- drums
Ivor Holloway – tenor saxophone
Curtis McKinney – electric bass
Charith Premawardhana – viola
Max Stoffregen – piano, synth
Bill Wolter – guitar, keyboards
Cucamonga — Alter Huevo (2012)
Cucamonga, an explosive quintet from Argentina, debuted with the AltrOck label with the release of their 2012 debut, Alter Huevo. From the start, it’s evident that their main inspiration comes from a “certain” Frank Zappa. Zappa’s influence on this CD hangs in the balance between jazz, rock and experimentation. Supported by an infallible rhythm section, the band holds together an extremely precise writing and elegant harmonies with an enviable melodic and solistic freshness, balancing modern creative jazz-rock, humor and seriousness in true Zappa-esque fashion. Electric piano, percussions and guitar run after each other through themes and solos, through hard grooves to breathtaking breaks and funny atmospheres.
Bruno Rosado – tenor sax, soprano sax
Mauricio Bernal – electric piano, casio, marimba, accordio, percussion
Oscar ‘Frodo’ Peralta – electric guitar
Adriano Demartini – electric bass, funny voices
Juliàn Macedo – drums, vibraphone, marimba, glockenspiel, percussion
Musica Ficta — A Child & A Well (2012)
Musica Ficta, an Israeli six-piece was formed in Jerusalem in 2003 by guitarist and composer Udi Horev. Their debut album, A Child & A Well (English translation of the Hebrew Yeled Vebeer) was originally recorded in 2005, but only released on the international market in 2012, on the Fading Records subdivision of AltrOck. True to the multiethnic nature of their home country, Musica Ficta infuse their sound with influences that go beyond classic prog. The use of Hebrew for the lyrics (though all of the song titles are in English) adds an exotic touch to the music, whose heady blend of lyricism add heaviness containing suggestions of medieval and Renaissance music, with tantalizing hints of Eastern European and Middle Eastern folk music.
Julia Feldman – vocals
Udi Horev – guitar
Dvir Katz – flute
Yuri Tulchinsky – keyboards
Avi Cohen-Hillel – bass guitar
Michael Gorodinsky – drums
Udi Koomran – electronics
Pocket Orchestra — Phoenix (2011)
What looked like a promising career for one the trailblazers of the RIO/Avant movement in the United States was cut short first by saxophonist Joe Halajian’s family problems (which led to the band going into hiatus), then by guitarist and main composer Tim Parr’s untimely demise in 1988. Thanks to the unstinting effort of Scott Brazieal, leader of Cartoon and a personal friend of the band, the material they had recorded in those short but intense five years finally saw the light in 2005, with the release of the CD Knēbnagäujie (the original name of the band). In the meantime, bassist Tim Lyons had passed away in 1998, while drummer Bob Stearman (who had had a stroke in 2004) followed suit in 2010. In spite of those unfortunate circumstances, Pocket Orchestra’s reputation remained very high in RIO/Avant circles, lending them a near-legendary aura in a context that often thrives on cult status.
In 2011, Marcello Marinone and Francesco Zago of Italian label AltrOck Productions , assisted by such luminaries as Cuneiform Records’ Steve Feigenbaum and renowned sound engineer Udi Koomran, brought to light some of Pocket Orchestra’s unreleased recordings – including almost 80 minutes of live material – which eventually became the double CD set Phoenix, released in the second half of the year.
The album’s title, reinforced by Paolo “Ske” Botta’s striking cover artwork, refers to the band’s hometown in Arizona, as well as to the almost miraculous reemergence of recordings that had seemed fated to remain buried in oblivion. Since Knēbnagäujie was sold out, the release of Phoenix was greeted enthusiastically by dedicated RIO/Avant followers, especially those interested in the US scene. While such archival operations rarely claim to present material in truly organic and cohesive form, Koomran’s state-of-the-art mastering has given new life to those 30-year-old live tapes, as well as to the contents of the original Knēbnagäujie CD. Brazieal’s detailed liner notes, complemented by vintage photos of the band on stage and other memorabilia, complete this lovingly assembled tribute to the “Phoenix reborn”.
The word “anarchic” is probably the best description of Pocket Orchestra’s approach. The average composition can suddenly shift from a laid-back, almost meditative pace to unrelieved chaos. While its blend of dignified chamber rock, wild, wacky all-out experimentation and the occasional foray into sophisticated, Canterbury-style jazz-rock will not fail to appeal to fans of everything RIO/Avant.
Phoenix (In Studio): White Organ Meats
Phoenix (Live): Letters
Craig Bork – keyboards
Joe Halaijan (aka Joe Who)- clarinets, saxes, incidental vocals
Bill Johnston – cello
Tim Lyons – bass
Tim Parr – guitars
Bob Stearman – drums
Craig Fry – flute
Warren Ashford – tablas
Jack Chandler – saxes
Dave Willey & Friends — Immeasurable Currents (2011)
Immeasurable currents is a very ambitious release. Music written to the poetry of Dale Willey, Dave Willey’s late father. Compositions and arrangements highlight with deep insight the sound details, and the inner scenery of every single poem: dreamy, harsh, allusive, desolate. The CD features music by Dave Willey, Hugh Hopper, Elaine Di Falco, Mike Johnson, Jeanne Christensen, Deborah Perry. Wally Scharrold, Dave Kerman, Farrell Lowe are involved too. Immeasurable Currents is bound to make the listener pause and think rather than get up and dance, its musical and lyrical content is a far cry from the contrived doom and gloom of a lot of progressive metal, or the navel-gazing typical of alt prog.
I Could Eat You Up
Deborah Perry – voice
Hugh Hopper – bass, loops
Farrell Lowe – guitar
Dave Willey – accordian, bass, drums, keyboards, percussion, guitar, mailing tubes, backup vocals, piano, accordian, bells, zither, whistling, electric guitar, folk guitar, organ, guitarron, harmonium
Mike Johnson – guitar, electric guitar
Wally Scharold – vocals
Elaine di Falco – voice, piano
James Hoskins – cello
Emily Bowman – viola
Mark Harris – clarinet
Bruce Orr – bassoon
Dave Kerman – drums
Dale Willey – lyrics are from the book, The Tin Box Papers and Other Poems (Oregon Sunrise Press, 2001)
Camembert — Schnörgl Attahk (2011)
Camembert are a six-piece hailing from the city of Strasbourg in north-eastern France, where they formed in 2005. Schnörgl Attahk, their first full-length CD, which marks the beginning of the band’s collaboration with Milan-based label AltrOck Productions, was preceded in 2009 by the release of the 6-track EP Clacosmique. Most of the material that had originally appeared on the EP has been included on the album, though in almost completely rearranged form. Like the best examples of progressive rock (modern or otherwise), Schnörgl Attahk is a quintessentially eclectic effort. The band’s handling of their main sources of inspiration eschews derivativeness, moving rather along the lines of incorporating those sources into the fabric of their own original sound – whose foundation is a sinuously intricate brand of jazz-rock with roots in Frank Zappa’s output circa Apostrophe, as well as Shamal/Gazeuse!-era Gong. An exciting slice of sparkling eclecticism, combining melody, complexity and zany humour in an irresistible mixture, Schnörgl Attahk is necessary listening for fans of modern jazz-rock and RIO/Avant prog.
El Ruotuav Ed Sram
Fabrice Toussaint – tenor trombone, xybraphone, congas, tam-tam, triangle, other percussion
Bernard Eber – trumpet, didgeridoo, cowbell, whistle, voices
Pierre Wawrzyniak – bass, acoustic guitar, voices
Philémon Walter – drums
Guillaume Gravelin – harp
Vincent Sexauer – electric guitar
Julien Travelletti – bass trombone, tuba
Francesco Zago – electric guitar
October Equus — Saturnal (2011)
With the release of Saturnal, there third, October Equus from Madrid, reinforced by Vasco Trilla (drums) and Alfonso Munoz (saxes) from Planeta Imaginario, establish themselves as the point of reference for the iberic avant-prog scene. Edgy, hypnotic, fascinating, often with a leaden atmosphere, sometimes even gloomy. Saturnal explores intricate harmonic solutions, in an endless counterpoint between Angél Ontalva’s guitar (author of the remarkable cd artwork too), saxophone and keyboards. The result is greatly solid, with unexpected melodic passages, in the middle between Starless and Bible Black by King Crimson and Henry Cow structural density. The thirteen tracks of Saturnal show a dizzy chasing of ideas, carried out with conviction and care.
Sutiles Ecuaciones Vivientes
Ángel Ontalva – guitar
Víctor Rodríguez – keyboards
Amanda Pazos – bass
Fran Mangas – saxophone soprano tenor, flute
Alfonso Muñoz – saxophone soprano, alto and bariton
Pablo Ortega – cello
Vasco Trilla – drums
The Nerve Institute — Architects of Flesh-Density (2011)
Behind the name of Nerve Institute is Mike Judge, composer and multi-instrumentalist (and a writer as well) from Kansas City, creator and collaborator of many projects with a clearly avant and experimental mark. Architects of Flesh-Density is a proper one man album: Judge composes, sings and plays all the instruments, skillfully and without the typical naïveté of some self-sufficient production. RIO, Zappa, avant-prog and contemporary music have a clear influence. As in the previous album Ficciones (released as Sinthome), Judge is inspired by other extramusical worlds: in this case, Alain Robbe-Grillet’s writing and G.W. Pabst’s cinema. A lively work, result of a deep and relentless compositional research.
Prussian Blue Persuasion
Mike Judge – electric and acoustic guitars, bass guitar, drums, percussion, piano, Rhodes electric piano, Wurlitzer electric piano, organ, synthesizers, Mellotron, banjo, mandolin, bowed strings, thumb piano, scrap metal, tin cans, tenor saxophone, vocals, tape loops, electronics, digital manipulation. Composed, performed, and recorded by Mike Judge.
SKE — 1000 Autunni (2011)
1000 Autunni is the first solo album by Paolo «Ske» Botta, keyboard player from Yugen. From the CD’s twelve tracks, an unexpected compositional maturity emerges, able to alternate with great conviction between styles, from a more traditional sympho-prog (Gentle Giant, Genesis, Anglagard) to Canterbury and bolder avant-prog (Picchio dal Pozzo, Henry Cow, Hatfield and the North). The presence of various Yugen members (just to mention a few, Fasoli, Cipollone, Zago) confirm the «chamber rock» setting of the album: beside the unmistakable Botta’s vintage sounds (Hammond, Arp, Rhodes, mellotron, but with no rétro complacency) you can find violin, harp, voice, reeds and woodwinds, percussions, and a sophisticated sound treatment. An extremely enjoyable surprise, that will satisfy the most demanding palates.
La Nefazia Di Multatuli
Paolo Ske Botta – compositions, organs, electric pianos, syntheisizers, electronics
Fabio Ciro Ceriani – sansula, percussion
Valerio Cipollone – clarinets, saxophones
Enrica di Bastiano – harp
Maurizio Fasoli – piano
Elia Leon Mariani – violin
Nicolas Nikolopoulos – flute
Giuseppe Jos Olivini – Theremin, percussion, effects
Roberta Pagani – vocals
Valerio Neth Reina – vocals
Matrtia Signò – drums
Markus Stauss – saxophones
Fabrice Toussaint – idiophones, trombone, percusion
Pierre Wawrzyniak – bass
Francesco Zago – acoustic & electric guitars
Abrete Gandul — Enjambre Sismico (2011)
For their third album Enjambre Sismico (released by AltrOck imprint Fading Records), Chilean prog rockers Abrete Gandul settled on a quartet configuration of guitar, keyboards, bass, and drums. Marked by an evident Crimso vein, both in the harmonical geometries and in general for the sound, the band proposes an instrumental formula that ranges over ethereal atmospheres and granitic tangles, a perfect synthesis of electric and electronic, in an ongoing game of references between guitars, keyboards and the sax of Leo Aries (Akinetón Retard, from Chile as well). Warmly recommended to fans of the King Crimson school of angular, eclectic and intellectually challenging progressive rock, Enjambre Sismico shows Ábrete Gandul’s considerable potential as purveyors of high-quality instrumental music.
Antonio Arceu – drums and percussion
Aime Acuna – keyboards
Rodrigo Maccioni – guitars, flute and effects
Pedro Santander – bass
Leo Arias – saxophone and clarinet
Given the prodigious output of the AltrOck label since its founding, it’s truly difficult to pick an absolute favourite among their releases, especially since I am very much a proponent of Avant-Prog/RIO (Rock In Opposition), myself. By definition, common elements which may or may not be displayed by specific avant-prog artists that include: regular use of dissonance and atonality; complex and unpredictable song arrangements; free or experimental improvisation; fusion of disparate musical genres; polyrhythms and highly complex time signatures.
Any number of the CDs reviewed here certainly do fit that definition. I suggest to anyone with a further interest in Avant-Prog/RIO, they comb through the AltrOck catalogue, YouTube, and then purchase their favourite Avant-Prog/RIO bands and their CDs.
- Mark McCawley