VARIOUS ARTISTS – EMBRACE THE SUN : THE LION MUSIC JAPAN BENEFIT PROJECT

Out now on Lion Music

In what has seems to be somewhat of a trend amongst record labels since the terrible earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in March 2011 here we have the first benefit album to be announced in the metal community from Lion Music.

Whilst it may not have been the first to be released when you delve into its 2CD contents you realise that perhaps more care and true feeling has gone into this release than many of its ilk.  For starters the vast majority of the material here was written specifically for this release which sees all label, publishing and artist royalties being donated to the Japan Red Cross.  This key difference to many other benefit albums (which you felt just culled together any old unreleased tracks from artists to get it out as quickly as possible), “Embrace The Sun” lends a higher quality of material, not to mention a more personalised and sincere sound to the music on offer.

With 28 of some of Lion best known names contributing there is a plenty to enjoy here across a wide spectrum of artists on the labels roster with tracks coming from Mattsson, Iron Mask, Anthriel, Dreyelands, Mastercastle, Overdrive and Section A amongst others.

Guitar fans are well catered for with tracks from Milan Polak, Jennifer Batten and Marco Sfogli not to mention the closing guitar jam track which sees contributions from notables such as  Francesco Fareri (Virtual Mind), Daniel Palmqvist (ex The Murder Of My Sweet), Simone Fiorletta (No Gravity), Dave Martone and Borislav Mitic.

Highlights are often and plentiful making this 28 track collection a real joy to listen to.  Personal favourites include  Milan Polak’s excellent “End Of Time” sees guest appearances from Kip Winger, Ron Thal, Pete Lesperance, and Harry Hess, whilst Dreyelands continue the excellent work heard on last years debut with new track “Life Is Worth The Pain”.  Mastercastle throw a trademark metal slant on the album with “Sakura” which has a great vocal performance from Giorgia Gueglio.   MindSplit serve up a tender ballad in “Guardian Angel” and this really strikes a chord of how the devastation seen in Japan has hit people worldwide.  Emir Hot contributes the epic “Fear Of The Storm” with orchestra and backing choirs adding depth to the track whilst Iron Mask see a successful outing with vocalist Carsten Schulz at the mic for “Sons of the Sun”.

The album also showcases some home-grown Japanese talent in new label signing, progressive rockers Early Cross whose melodic prog rock is a classy number, whilst the direct influence of the aftermath in Japan can be heard on Jennifer Batten’s track “Sakura Season” was written after her visit to the country in April 2011.  Despite highlighting these tracks there are moments of enjoyment in all tracks and congratulations go out to all involved.

Overall “Embrace The Sun” not only manages to hopefully make some good money to aid with the recovery in Japan but also serves as a strong compilation album full of great tracks, musicianship and comes highly recommended.

Do your bit and pick up the album now at http://www.lionmusic.com/cd/embracethesun.htm

Rating – 90%

 

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JORDAN RUDESS – RHYTHM OF TIME (ARCHIVE)

Out now on Magna Carta

Jordan Rudess is best known as the keyboard player of Dream Theater with Rhythm Of Time being his second solo album on the Magna Carta label. Much like Derek Sherinian (whom he replaced in DT) Rudess has decided to call in some of the hottest guitar players to guest on the album. Lending their six string talents to the album reads like a “who’s who” of modern rock guitar with solo spots from Joe Satriani, Vinnie Moore, Steve Morse and Greg Howe.

The bass guitar is courtesy of Steve Morse sidekick Dave LaRue, with drums coming from ex Winger drummer Rod Morgenstein whom Rudess has collaborated on numerous occassions.

Stylistically Rhythm Of Time is sure to please any fan of Dream Theater. This is predominantly progressive instrumental music, yet although being keyboard driven has its fair share of guitar work. The keyboards as such take the place of vocals and in all honesty this material would work rather well were James LaBrie to provide vocals over. However, Kip Winger does crop up on vocals for 2 tracks.

Perhaps one of the most remarkable aspects of Rhythm Of Time is that it was made a reality in 14 days before Jordan left to start Dream Theater’s Train Of Thought world tour. The making of the album may well see the light of day on a ‘making of’ DVD; in the meantime on the CD there is an interview with Jordan about the making of the album.

Modern technology played a big part in this album being completed, with guest musicians adding their solos at their home studios and then either emailing or snail mailing their parts back to Jordan. That the album sounds such a cohesive unit only goes to show the high caliber of all involved.

Opener Time Crunch is begins with a fast tempo before settling into a more mid paced groove. Over the basic riff Jordan lays down numerous keyboard motifs before taking us through instrumental pastures that go from ambient to pure metal. Dream Theater fans will feel instantly at home here with the track being the closest on offer to the prog metal sound of Jordan’s main gig. Vinnie Moore (UFO) provides guitar here and his first main solo sees restraint that mixes blues with jazz fusion licks before heading into some complex string skipping. A great opener that will make you want to explore the album further.

Screaming Head is less metal and more rocked up jazz fusion with a slight funk feel. A basic riff lays the foundation for Rudess’s keboard experimentations which see good use of the pitch wheel. The track does take a complete u turn for a dark gothic vibe before launching into the main melody once again. Guitar here comes courtesy of Joe Satriani and it has to be said his style of space age lead work is the perfect compliment to the track.

Track 3 Insectamongous initially has a big Frank Zappa vibe to it. A quirky motif lays the foundation for a myriad of odd time signatures and bizarre musical twists. Zappa’s own ‘G spot Tornado’ could be seen as similar turf to Insectamongous, but this is a little more accessible than Zappa’s piece. Once you think you have the track summed up it launches into a big riff over which Joe Satriani throws done one of his most aggressive leads in several years. This fires Jordan up who lays down another impressive workout.

Beyond Tomorrow sees the tempo and ambience drop considerably for the first vocal number on the album. Initially piano led this is soon enriched by some acoustic guitars (by newcomer Daniel J) and the warm vocal timbres of Kip Winger. This is just a great song – period. The track has a timeless quality about it and is as good as any of the slower numbers Dream Theater have produced; lead guitar here comes courtesy of Greg Howe.

Track 5, Bar Hopping With Mr Picky has a futuristic vibe, thanks to lots of complex synth samples; many in the lowest bass registers which add an eerie space age quality to the track. The unmistakeable guitar work of Steve Morse (Deep Purple/Dixie Dregs) works well here with Morse’s chromatic heavy style blending in well within Jordan’s frameworks.

What Four is home to another groovy vibe, partly due to the slap bass inflections. Yet again this is mixed with a darker vibe and the piano led motif at around the 1:10 mark is a nice contrast to what came before. Greg Howe contributes a pretty gonzo solo here, that is mixed a little lower than the other guitar solo breaks for some reason. This does not make for any production faux pas’ as its still audible but I would have liked to have heard it a litte louder in the mix. Jordan compensates for this by laying down a short but great singing solo on his keyboard.

Ra sees the Dream Theater “feel” come back into play with a good rocking riff that leads into an eastern tinged section, that then flys to Europe for some French sounding accordian work, before jetting back to Asia. Vinnie Moore throws down more solos full of string skipping and legato delights, and trades back and forth with Jordan – cool stuff. The rocking nature of this track takes a few spins to fully digest, but once digested tastes totally satisfying.

The final track Tear Before The Rain (cool title) goes back to the vibe of Beyond Tomorrow and has a definite Pink Floyd feel to it; maybe due to Kip Winger sounding a little like Roger Waters. Regardless this is a sublime song with great structure, great melody, and great peformances from all involved (Kip Winger is a seriously underrated vocalist) and closes the album in fine style.

What Jordan Rudess has served up with Rhythm Of Time is similar to what Derek Sherinian achieved with Black Utopia – that is a predominantly instrumental album that manages to hit all the right notes. However, the presence of two superb vocal tracks adds an additional element to Rhythm Of Time that gives it further strength.

As mentioned in the track by track details there is a lot of variety here, although it never strays too far from what you are likely to hear in Dream Theater. Rudess doesn’t get an awful lot of songwriting credits in DT, but Rhythm Of Time proves that he is now an integral part of the band, and I hope that he is able to get a few more of his ideas in on the next record.

In summary, Rhythm Of Time is a worthy addition to any Progressive music fans collection.

Hot Spots:Time Crunch, Screaming Head, Beyond Tomorrow, Ra, Tear Before The Rain.
Rating: 92%