May - June, 2001
CD Reviews




Listen to RealAudio sample: Metropolitan 

An original from the heyday of the ‘70s European jazz-rock scene, bassist/composer/arranger Pekka Pohjola just released Views, his first solo album in quite some time. Back in the mid ‘70s, Pohjola just about single-handedly invented what came to be known as Finnish progressive symphonic rock. His early albums, (including the ‘76 classic Keesojen Lehto produced by Mike Oldfield) were released in the U.K. on Virgin Records back when the label was in the process of growing an exclusively progressive rock label with groups like Henry Cow, Mike Oldfield, Wigwam (another great Finland group co-founded by Pohjola) and Gong. Recording over a dozen incredible instrumental rock albums, in Finland over the past nearly 28 years, Pohjola now further diversifies his sound with the eclectic, cosmopolitan and jazzy / classical sounds of Views. Compared to his hard hitting rocked-out albums of the ‘80s, the sound on Views could be considered a toning down of the rock-solid guitar-based Pohjola sound boldly witnessed on ‘80s classics like Urban Tango and Space Waltz. Instead, the sophisticated harmonies on Views focuses on Pohjola’s innate skills as a jazz and pop-classical composer-arranger. A number of musicians help take Pohjola’s symphonic sound to the next level including long time Pohjola group members, keyboardist Seppo Kantonen and guitarist Markku Kanerva. With it’s heavy accent on strings and brass arrangements, Views takes a good look back to Pohjola’s trend-setting second album, released on Virgin in England back in ‘75 with the title B The Magpie. In fact the only song to feature a guitar here is a really different-sounding, Zappa-inspired track entitled "The Red Porsche". The first pop vocal track featured on a Pohjola disc since the early ‘80s, the song features a few hot vocalists singing the original lyrics (in english) taken from a poem written (and reprinted here) by Charles Bukowski. Views makes for some pleasant listening indeed. It might not be the album you expected from Pekka (well, what is?), but the music is (still) so good, you just can’t help but enjoy it. 


Flight Of The Surf Guitar

Listen to RealAudio sample: Flight Of The Surf Guitar

Around 1963, the same time as The Shadows were still topping the charts in the U.K. and The Ventures were becoming a surf-rock dynasty in the States, The Atlantics were all the rage in their native Australia. Signed to Columbia Records down under, the guitar instrumental group recorded numerous hits such as "The Crusher" and "Rumble And Run". All but unknown here in the U.S., The Atlantics recently reformed in 2000 and released their first album since 1970. Three of the group’s original members including Bosco Bosanac (bass), Peter Hood (drums) and Jim Skiathitis (guitar) have now joined forces with newcomer Martin Cilia (guitar). Interestingly, Cilia really shines in his role as both album producer and the composer of most of the new tracks here. In addition to fourteen new Atlantics originals are remakes of three of their most popular vintage tracks including their biggest hit "Bombora". Commenting on the current revival of interest in The Atlantics, bassist Bosanac comments, "It has a wide appeal. You can turn it down for easy listening, or turn it up loud and it will blow you out of the room." One listen to the exciting instro guitar sound of Flight Of The Surf Guitar confirms that The Atlantics have returned in a big way. 

(Space Monster Optical Entertainment)

Progressive, instrumental symphonic rock music has been all the rage since the days of albums like the first ELO album or Fragile by Yes, yet it has rarely been done better than the most recent album from Pennsylvania-based North Star. Starting out way back in the mid ‘70s, the early North Star lineup featured founding members Dave Johnson (guitar, bass) and Glenn Leonard (drums). By the close of the ‘70s, Kevin Leonard was added to the lineup which by then also featured Joe Newman (bass, vocals). On the group’s first 2000 album, Newman takes leave of his lead vocal chores, making Tempest an all-instrumental effort. Clocking in at just under an hour, Tempest is without a doubt one of the finest instrumental prog-rock albums in recent memory. The intricate, elaborate compositions from the Leonard brothers and guitarist Johnson really take flight and the musicianship is a marvel to behold. Newman also appears playing sitar on the raga-rock flavored "Raudra". If Tempest is a sign of things to come from North Star, music lovers are in for a real treat indeed. In addition to a dazzling performance, Tempest also features fantastic album artwork. 

No Substitutions
(Favored Nations)

A recorded souvenir of the Carlton/Lukather November ‘98 tour of Japan, No Substitutions is a guitar lovers dream come true. Carlton, one of the legends of the L.A. session scene, has recorded with everyone from Joni Mitchell to Steely Dan, while Lukather is best known for his guitar work in Toto as well as string of fine solo albums. Recorded in Osaka, Japan, No Substitutions finds the pair backed by top players such as Gregg Bissonette (drums), Chris Kent (bass) and Rick Jackson (keyboards). Kicking the CD off with a fifteen minute cover of the Jeff Beck classic "The Pump", Larry & Luke also tackle the Miles Davis favorite "All Blues" as well as three Carlton originals. Although more moody and atmospheric than most jazz-rock, No Substitutions comes nowhere near to being smooth jazz. Both Carlton and Lukather literally play their axes off while the album sizzles with a sense of immediacy confirmed by the whoops and hollers of the Osaka crowd, who are clearly savoring every moment. Perhaps the album is best summed up by Favored Nations label chief Steve Vai when he states, "This is the kind of music that real guitar lovers live for. These guys have a touch on their instruments and a musical awareness that is both uncanny yet accessible to listeners of all kinds of music." Some of the hottest guitar work ever recorded by these two legends, No Substitutions is topped off by eye-catching artwork and mutually praising liner notes by both Carlton and Lukather. 

You Had It Coming

After nearly four decades as one of the reigning guitar kings of the rock and jazz-rock world, U.K. fretboard ace Jeff Beck returns in 2001 with a vital new album. Unlike his blues-rock and fusion albums from the late ‘60s and mid ‘70s, the recently released You Had It Coming grabs you by the neck with a startling high tech sound and refuses to let you come up for air. While Beck’s ‘99 Epic Records album, Who Else! featured a number of long time Beck cohorts, including Jan Hammer and Tony Hymas, You Had It Coming makes the best of his current group of Jennifer Batten (guitars) Randy Hope-Taylor (bass), Steve Alexander (drums) and Aiden Love (programming). In the spirit of it’s predecessor, You Had It Coming is a penetrating effort that often amazes with it’s sheer brute force of sound. According to the guitar ace, "I view technology as a friend - there’s no use messing around with enemies. I first ran across some electronic music 30 years ago, and I assumed it would be coming along much sooner than it did. I thought, "If only you could get that sound on a guitar." While most of the album borders on a high-tech non-stop over the top sound, there are a few tracks ("Blackbird", "Suspension", "Rosebud") that do let you catch your breath. Beck’s recording of "Nadia", composed by Indian musician Nitin Sawhney, is simply beautiful. There’s also a fruitful remake of the Cream/Muddy Waters classic "Rollin’ And Tumblin’" featuring vocals by Imogen Heap. If you enjoyed Who Else! you’ll definitely dig You Had It Coming. If not, then you can always (still) have a rave-up with his ‘60s albums with The Yardbirds and you can pick up on newly remastered reissues of his ‘70s classics, Wired and Blow By Blow, which have just been reissued by Legacy Records. 


Anyone who remembers the 1969 John McLaughlin album Devotion should give a listen to the most recent album from Long Island-based guitarist Dan Begelman. Recorded at various studios in the N.Y. Tri-state area and released at the tail end of the ‘90s, Birth/Death/Infinity finds Begelman supported by a crew of fine players including John DeCesare (bass) and Tony Gallino (drums). Begelman demonstrates a creative touch on electric and acoustic guitars, Axon guitar synth and bass, while also proving his worth as an ingenious composer with a flair for composing lengthy pieces of progressive instrumental wonder. The 10+ minute title track affords Begelman & company the latitude to stretch their musical muscles. The CD sounds incredible thanks to the superior production by Begelman and Victor Deyglio. When asked about his musical influences the guitarist adds, "Jeff Beck and John McLaughlin. I think that shows up on the CD. My first CD is kinda close to Blow By Blow by Jeff Beck. Blues players, like Johnny Winter is a big influence. I play classical guitar as well. As a matter of fact, I just wrote a seven string guitar book, a method book for how to play seven string guitar." Another high point on Birth/Death/Infinity is a rocked out instrumental cover of The Yardbirds ‘65 classic "For Your Love" which reflects Begelman’s melodic approach to progressive jazz-rock instrumental music. Also worth checking out is Begelman’s first solo album with Project 7 entitled Lost For Words. 

Room 137
(If 6 Was 9)

Continuing his phenomenal capacity to integrate jazz, rock and even pop instrumental and soundtrack music, California-based guitarist Curtis Fornadley returns with his new album. The cryptically titled Room 137 recommences the fine fretboard work featured on the guitarist’s self-titled ‘99 release. Curtis often cites a number of influences on his playing and composing - from Jeff Beck and Hendrix to the moody atmospherics of David Gilmour and Pink Floyd. On that front, Curtis does not disappoint with Room 137. Recorded in L.A. at the end of 2000, Room 137 finds Curtis in fine company with Scott Shepherd (drums) and Don Mouck (bass). Perhaps the most intriguing thing about Room 137 is it’s wide range of guitar sounds and styles. It’s got a jazzy feel, yet it’s firmly anchored with an up-to-date, high-tech studio feel. It’s got a rock vibe, yet it doesn’t waste notes and clearly benefits from added attention to melody and arrangement that goes way beyond most instrumental and heavy metal guitar CDs. Among the Curtis originals is a groovy cover of the Duke Ellington favorite, "Caravan". Innovative guitar music that rocks, rolls and moves your spirit, Room 137 further establishes Curtis as a main player on the instrumental guitar front. 


Keeping the spirit of progressive instrumental guitar-based music burning brightly, the recent CD compilation from Illinois-based Fossil Records introduces music fans to some outstanding, trailblazing guitarists. Already established among fans of the genre, names like Goocher, Alien Cowboys and Denis Taaffe are represented here alongside like-minded artists such as Rod Laschanzky, The Franklin-Neumann Project and Project Alcazar to name a few of the 14 artists here. AXcavation, subtitled Fossil Records Instrumental Compilation 1, goes a long way to giving these rising guitar heroes some well-deserved exposure. Musically, AXcavation has little to do with New Age, scorching heavy metal, smooth jazz or mainstream jazz. Instead the 14 track CD focuses on superb, progressive melodic guitar soundscapes. AXcavation is a picturesque, thinking mans approach to instrumental rock - music in search of a scenic backdrop. The one thing all these like-minded guitar-based artists and groups have in common is a passion for their guitar-driven instrumentals to really be listened to and above all, to be taken seriously. With that in mind, AXcavation succeeds beyond all expectations. Fans of 21st Century instrumental electric guitar music owe it to themselves to hear AXcavation. 

(Sticks & Stones)

To quote Albert Einstein from one his sayings posted on the Chasm web site, "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious." One listen to the latest CD from California-based Chasm substantiates Einstein’s phrase perfectly. Filled with enticing musical imagery that skillfully combines acoustic folk and jazz with various Latin-tinged sounds and even some rock influences, Panorhythmica picks up from where the first self-titled Chasm record left off. The group centers around the skillful guitar wizardry of Mark Esakoff and the flute of Michael Whipple. As relaxing as a warm breeze rolling in from the South Seas, Panorhythmica is filled with 13 tracks of picturesque musical scenery. Esakoff demonstrates his mastery on classical and acoustic slide guitars, Lute-tar and ukulele while Whipple adds to the exotic backdrop with his impeccable work on flute, recorder, stick, hand drums and various keyboard touches. Assisting the pair are several guest artists appearing on bass, marimba and percussion. When you feel like experiencing an exotic tropical vacation without leaving your living room, Panorhythmica can arrange the perfect audio getaway. 

Laika Sex Machine
(Yep Roc)

Last year, Yep Roc Records released the most recent studio album from Finland’s legendary guitar-based instrumental rock group, Laika & The Cosmonauts entitled Absurdistan. Now Yep Roc follows up that great CD with the first live album from Laika. Featuring long time Cosmonauts Matti Pitsinki (guitars) and Janne Haavisto (drums), Laika Sex Machine captures 26 live tracks recorded by the group during the past few years. Long considered one of Europe’s best surf-rock combos, Laika brings a wealth of influences from film music, lounge and electronica to the fore on Laika Sex Machine. In addition to long time favorites from the group’s repertoire, Laika Sex Machine also showcases rousing live Laika covers of classic music from Joe Meek ("Telstar"), Laurie Johnson ("The Avengers") and Bobbie Gentry (an adaptation of her ‘60s hit "Ode To Billy Joe" called "Sauna-Soul"). Clocking in at over 75 minutes, Laika Sex Machine proves why Laika is every bit as compelling before an audience as they are in the studio. 

Chinese Checkers

Subtitled A Tribute To Memphis Soul Instrumentals, Chinese Checkers revisits the great instrumentals recorded by Booker T. & The M.G.’s back in the ‘60s and early ‘70s. A couple years back, Wildebeest Records issued a top-notch surf-rock tribute disc to horn master Herb Alpert and now the label has issued an equally cool thirteen cut homage to the great Booker T. & Co. Some of the hottest up-and-coming names on the guitar-based surf-rock scene are on hand here including Pollo del Mar (a spellbinding cover of "Time Is Tight"), I Cosmonauti ("High Ride"), Slackmates ("Green Onions") and The Tiki Tones ("Chinese Checkers"). The great sounds Booker T. brought to the instrumental music scene back in the ‘60s will live on forever and the proof is in these time-honored covers featured on Chinese Checkers. 


The latest CD from Finland-based Hurmio continues in the finest tradition of guitar-based European instrumental rock and pop. Playing vocal and instrumental music together since the ‘70s, the quartet takes their sound to the next level on the all-instrumental Instruducing and the results make the album the group’s best yet. There are countless European groups who, still inspired by The Shadows and Ventures, go on recording albums of original guitar instrumentals and numerous covers of classics from years gone by. After all, the reason that surf-rock instrumentals really took off in Europe was that there were no vocals to translate. Even the Jewish standard "Hava Nagila" was big in Finland, thanks to instrumental guitar music! And so it goes since the late ‘50s. Guitar-based instrumental music will never disappear. And with records like Instruducing still being made, let’s hope it stays around for a long time. 

A Different Prelude

The music on A Different Prelude comes together in the space where New Age meets classical. What we have here are eleven esteemed New Age musicians and groups, such as Patrick O’Hearn and Val Gardena (still featuring Chris James and Jeff Leonard) performing classical pieces by icons like Bach, Chopin, Satie and Gershwin with a contemporary vibe and at times, a new vision altogether. The music on the album is accomplished with such subtlety and grace that it’s nearly impossible not to be seduced by the languid and appealing grooves. Produced by Dawn Atkinson (noted for her work for the Windham Hill and Imaginary Roads imprints), A Different Prelude also features sterling contributions from guitarist Steve Erquiaga, Chris Botti (assisted by a full band including guitarist Dominic Miller), keyboardist Clara Ponty (daughter of the great Jean-Luc Ponty) and New Age favorite Tim Story. Clearly one of the finest composite recordings of New Age and Classical music, A Different Prelude admirably follows in the footsteps of A Different Mozart, an album also released by the Universal Music Group in the late ‘90s. 

So Flows The Current

North Carolina-based music sculptor Patrick O’Hearn has been a main player on the New Age music scene since the release of his solo debut on Private Music back in ‘85. In retrospect, many music lovers first tuned into Patrick’s intriguing instrumental style on the first Group 87 album released way back in 1980. Those early years of high density symphonic rock sounds have been replaced by a more stately, sedate approach to instrumental music, a sound quite noticeable on Pat’s recent disc So Flows The Current. One connection between So Flows The Current and the first Group 87 album is Patrick’s reunion with Group 87 guitarist Peter Maunu, who adds some fine fretboard work to the landscape of the new album. Pat’s ingenious efforts on acoustic/electric bass, piano, drums and synths are superbly enhanced by Maunu’s nimble work on Nylon string and steel string acoustic guitars, solid body and semi acoustic electric guitars and lap steel. Also appearing here are guitarist David Torn, Robin Tolleson (drums, cymbals and shakers) and Pat Johnston (cello). Certainly one of most superbly meditative efforts in O’Hearn’s repertoire to date, So Flows The Current rates highly as one of the finest New Age releases of the new century. Word is out that O’Hearn is set to record a new album with guitarist Maunu for future release. Wouldn’t it be great if that would lead to a full scale Group 87 reunion? 




Attention Artists and Record Companies: Have your CD reviewed by Send to: CD Reviews Editor Robert Silverstein, P.O. Box 630249, Little Neck, N.Y. 11363-0249


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