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Higher & Higher - 2006 - "A Tribute to The Moody Blues"

(210 min 3CD, Mellow)


******

Prolusion. Mauro Moroni, the manager of Mellow Records, is both consistent and productive in his purposeful movement towards the realization of his dream to bring out tribute albums to most if not all the so-called Titans of Prog - at least those that he finds to be such. This project, HIGHER & HIGHER, having been worked on for more than two years, has become the seventh release in that label's 'tribute' series. It is dedicated to the creative legacy of The Moody Blues - a remarkable English band whose second LP "Days of Future Passed" from 1967 is internationally recognized as one of the first creations (if not the very first) of the Progressive Rock genre. 40 bands from all over the world present their versions of 40 classic tracks by the Moodies.

Disc 1 (70 min)
******

TRACK LIST:

1.  London is Behind Me 2:58 
2.  Go Now 8:18 
3.  Cities 5:45 
4.  Dawn is a Felling 3:33 
5.  Peak Hour 8:24 
6.  Tuesday Afternoon 4:55 
7.  The Sun Set 3:17 
8.  Twilight Time 3:44 
9.  Nights in White Satin 4:22 
10. Legend of a Mind 8:58 
11. Voices in the Sky 4:18 
12. The Best Way to Travel 3:25 
13. Visions of Paradise 4:45 
14. The Actor 8:00 

Analysis. I have to confess I've heard only two albums from the vast discography of the heroes of this occasion, which moreover had taken place many years ago. Inasmuch as I am unable to collate the presented versions, adaptations, variations, renderings and all the other interpretations:-) of the Moodies' songs with the originals, my comments on them will be strictly generalized, excluding cases that are explained in the booklet. The first disc opens with London is Behind Me by Ryan Guidry. This is a bright, groovy, vocal-based piece with a nice catchy tune, but at the same time, with a certain synthetic feeling. The point is that Ryan's virtual one-man ensemble:-) uses too many sampled and programmed sounds, only vocals and acoustic guitar being performed naturally. The other two simple-and-sunny, typically Beatles-que songs, Tuesday Afternoon and The Best Way to Travel, are rendered by 'solo pilots' too (Joe Turner and Jeff Bragg respectively). These however are warmer in sound, and are more convincing in execution. Voices in the Sky by Faveravola and Mystery's Visions of Paradise are already proto-progressive in character, the gentle acoustic guitar line on the latter being nigh-irresistible. All the other songs might be interesting even to those versed in everything that concerns their favorite music. Quarkspace's Legend of a Mind and The Sun Set by Sonic Pulsar work strongly as Space- Rock and Metal interpretations with obvious oriental intonations and some hints of Hawkwind and Eloy as well. Also expressive are the dark, mysteriously sounding Twilight Time by Cinnamonia and the Moodies' classic Nights in White Satin by Gap Party, the latter standing out for its surprisingly harmonious combination of gentle viola passages and maniacally heavy electric guitar riffs. The best performance of Disc 1 is definitely Mikromidas, and their Go Now is pure progressive delight. The booklet says only the vocal sections here are basically close to those in the original, while the instrumental ones are expanded, being heavily re-arranged in addition. All the qualities that this Norwegian band is famed for are here in abundance: an array of vintage keyboards, sudden transitions, intricate avalanche-like maneuvers, and so on. Art-Rock, heavy Progressive and a few Classical interludes delivered in one package - absolutely brilliant! The Actor by Floating State is nearly on a par with that composition, steering towards classic Van Der Graaf Generator in sound. The other high points include Yolk's Peak Hour and Hamadryad's Dawn is a Felling, both representing vintage Symphonic Progressive, and also In The Labyrinth's Cities, which features Sitar, Viola Da Gamba and some other chamber instruments and is imbued with oriental flavorings.

Disc 2 (71 min)
*****+

TRACK LIST: 

1.  Lovely to See You 4:18 
2.  Dear Diary 3:04 
3.  Never Comes the Day 5:18 
4.  Lazy Day 3:12 
5.  The Dream 5:01 
6.  Have You Heard 8:55 
7.  Watching & Waiting 7:44 
8.  Out & In 3:52 
9.  Question 4:38 
10. And the Tide Rushes In 5:45 
11. Tortoise & the Hare 3:27 
12. It's Up to You 4:34 
13. Melancholy Man 7:36 
14. The Story in Your Eyes 4:13 

Analysis. Sweden's Darxtar are well-known 'astral travelers', reputed not only within the Space Rock circle. But what it was they were guided by while remaking The Dream is a complete enigma to me. This is pseudo-psychedelic stuff with a robotic voice narrating some gibberish against a terribly monotonous spacey landscape, all of which lasts for the whole 5 minutes. I haven't heard the original, but I don't believe it can be anything like this. Lovely to See You by Extreme Reaction Force and Fantasy Factory's It's Up to You both are simple, yet effective songs with rich vocal harmonies and driving guitar solos. Never Comes the Day, rendered by veterans of the German progressive scene Rousseau, is similar, although it begins as a piano- and acoustic guitar-laden ballad. The adepts in vintage Progressive, Akacia from Canada appear as psychedelic rockers this time around: perhaps just following the nature of the song they've chosen, And the Tide Rushes. Marco Masoni's Out & In and Algebra's Dear Diary are emotionally saturated Art-Rock ballads, instantly attractive. While both are basically slow, their structures are noticeably more complicated than those of the aforesaid songs. A thought-provoking interplay between saxophone and acoustic guitar is a true embellishment of the former and is one of the most memorable episodes on the second disc. Conqueror's rendition of Question features a female singer with breathtaking vocals. The music, while being for the most part both fast and rocking, undergoes quite many changes during the song, and no 4/4 meters. The Story in Your Eyes by Spirits Burning has a Church organ-like prelude, but otherwise it falls into the same category. Next in turn are the highest points of Disc 2. In the vision of Italian band Goad, Have You Heard appears as symphonic Space Rock with large-scaled instrumental maneuvers, and while there are some distinct echoes of Pink Floyd, the aura of this composition is just insuperable. Steve Tassler's rendering of Watching & Waiting and Tantra's version of Melancholy Man are both essentially vintage Art-Rock with plenty of swirling arrangements and undercurrents. The latter stands out for its excellent dramatic vocals, and in general is the most ambitious composition here. Sarax's Tortoise & the Hare and Lazy Day by Ines Tremis are, in their turn, the most intriguing. Both are near-unbelievably diverse for songs that are so short in duration (3:27 and 3:12 respectively), each successive section being done in a different progressive style.

Disc 3 (69 min, Musea)
******

                                                               
TRACK LIST: 

1.  New Horizons 8:29 
2.  You & Me 4:38
3.  I'm Just a Singer 7:27 
4.  Stepping in a Slide Zone 4:58 
5.  Driftwood 5:20 
6.  Veteran Cosmic Rocker 3:53 
7.  Blue World 4:48 
8.  The Other Side of Life 8:45 
9.  I Know You're Out There Somewhere 3:27 
10. Bless the Wings 6:30 
11. Words You Say 8:48 
12. December Snow 4:57 
13. Twilight Time 2:48 

Analysis. If Disc 3 were about to declare itself the culmination of this project, I would be the first to support it - just in accordance with my progressive platform:-). Most of the disc's musical constituents are equally impressive, the entire thing appearing as almost a perfect selection of Prog-related pieces. Even the slow ballad December Snow rendered by Scope (the only simple song here by the way) does not associate itself with any pop style. The Yleclipse's I'm Just a Singer gives an example of an exact antithesis to that track. This is sophisticated guitar- and organ-driven heavy Progressive, which, surprisingly, has a certain common ground with Kansas circa "Leftoverture". That being said, an intensification of harsh textures is another factor that distinguishes Disc 3 from the other two. Most of the tracks here are basically rockers, whether they belong to vintage Hard Rock (Veteran Cosmic Rocker by Ubi Maior, You & Me by Ajalon, Blue World by Tired Tree and The Lysergic Act's variation on Twilight Time), Space Rock (Church Of Hed's Stepping in a Slide Zone and The Other Side of Life by Time Traveller) or even a sort of heroic Jazz-Fusion (The Rob Sbar Noesis's I Know You're Out There Somewhere, which is the only instrumental on the album). The former of the Space Rock-related tracks would be another highlight here, even though it didn't manage without some 'side effect' in this case as well, the closest point of comparison being Motorway City from Hawkwind's "Levitation" LP. Flamborough Head present Bless the Wings in their typical manner. In short, this is solid rich-sounding Neo Prog with some remarkable flute work. Farpoint's New Horizons and Driftwood by Elegant Simplicity both are on the mellower side of vintage Art-Rock. Words You Say by Roz Vitalis is very interesting, developing from Baroque-stylized 'harpsichord' passages to Symphonic Progressive with lush string arrangements. The only major defect of this piece is a terrible-sounding drum machine - mercilessly it's often out of the action.

Conclusion. I believe this collection of 40 tracks gathers together most if not all of the essential compositions The Moody Blues had created. On the other hand, I can say for sure that most of the project's participants displayed a truly creative approach to the classics. All in all, "Higher & Higher" documents the Period and is a fresh view on it at the same time. Edifying. Cognitive. But, just interesting.

VM: Agst 12, 13 & 14, 2006


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