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Tunnels (USA)
Overall View

Discography:

2000 - "Tunnels" (74 min, "Buckyball")
******

2001 - "Painted Rock" (64 min, "Buckyball Music")
****** (!)

2002 - "Progressivity" (73 min, "Buckyball Music")
******


2000 - "Tunnels" (74 min, "Buckyball")
******

Tracklist:
1. Inseminator 6:09 (Jones)
2. Prisoner of the Knitting Factory Hallway 6:37 (Wagnon)
3. Tunnels 6:56 (Jones)
4. Maxwell's Demon 7:17 (Jones)
5. Bad American Dream (Part 24) 15:29
   (Jones, Wagnon, Katz, Manakas)
6. Free Bender 3:49 (Jones)
7. Area 7:51 (Wagnon)
8. Barrio 9:07 (Jones)
9. Slick 5:39 (Jones)
10. Improvisation 4:35 (Jones, Wagnon, Katz)

Line-up: 
Percy Jones - bass guitar
Marc Wagnon - midi-vibes
Frank Katz - drums
Van Manakas - guitar

Produced by Tunnels.
Tracks 1 to 8 recorded by Mick Cantarella
at "Grampa" studios, Brooklyn.
Tracks 9 & 10 recorded live.

Prologue. As you see, three fourth of the latest / current Brand X line-up have worked on the Tunnels debut album (as well as on the second one, which was released just lately), and the only 'newcomer' Van Manakas, who plays the guitar here (and not only here), is after all one of the original members of Tunnels along with more known Percy Jones, Frank Katz, and Marc Wagnon. Percy Jones, from his side, is the only Brand X original member with regard to the line-up of Tunnels, while the latest Brand X line-up as a whole (i.e. with John G\oodsall on guitar) you can see and hear on Sarah Pillow's brilliant "Nuove Musiche" CD, also released by "Buckyball Music".

The Album. "Tunnels" (AKA "Tunnels With Percy Jones"), is a debut all instrumental musical entity of a self-titled band, formed by the majority of the members of Brand X's latest line-up a few years ago. While Percy Jones (on bass) and Frank Katz (on drums) still work as tight and extremely diverse as in the past ten years, and Marc Wagnon's midi-vibes, in addition to his wonderful playing real vibraphones, became quite an appropriate replacement for John Goodsall's midi-guitar, Van Manakas's guitar doesn't sound as powerful as John's. On the other hand, it's conceivable that Tunnels have specially refused to have such a hard-edged sound as Brand X had (especially on Xcommunication) so as there were no direct parallels between these two (too) kindred bands. So, only on the album's first track Inseminator, penned by Jones, Van has allowed himself (or it was allowed him) to sound really heavy, especially since the bass lines-riffs come to the front line here and they sound heavy (progressively aggressive!) already in themselves, though, using his own school of guitar playing, Van, with his original, often long, fast and quirky solos, can amaze anyone into Jazz'n'Prog Fusion. But if there is no (or just too little) heaviness in the sound of all the following compositions on the album, you'll find here a lot of very intriguing and interesting arrangements, some of which sound very powerful and bombastic even without guitar's heavy riffs and moves (though Percy Jone's bass brings a lot of 'heavy' energy into music, as always). Also, compositionally, "Tunnels" is slightly more complex an album than Marc Wagnon's "An Afterthought" (which in itself, though, has a lot of other trumps in the sleeve). While each of the album's instrumentals contains such a great number of different themes, changing each other sometimes kaleidoscopically, that it would already be enough for some Neo band to create a whole album, the majority of compositions here contain not only diverse and extensive joint arrangements, but also those that go more than rapidly with all the four soloing instruments at the helm. In such episodes, drums, bass, guitar, and vibraphone (or various keyboards - through midi-vibes) work as fast as high-speed car rushes, but especially impressive are two midi-vibe (electric piano-alike) solos by Marc on Tunnels and Bad American Dream (tracks 3 and 5 respectively) - they remind of the super speed flight of a bumblebee (by the way, The Bumblebee's Flight is a well known piece by the great Russian (Armenian, more precisely) composer Aram Khatchaturian, which is also performed to the speed limit). Although, of course, the main soloing instruments on the album are vibraphones and guitar, whose parts regularly cross each other, the bass guitar works as the soloing instrument often, too, while drums are special solo instruments, whose main purpose is to accentuate a wide-variety of musical changes that go off the reel the album throughout. Here are six (out of ten in all) compositions that contain high-speed joint arrangements (along with fast solos of vibes, midi-vibes, guitar and bass) supported by powerful, tense and diverse drumming: Inseminator, Tunnels, Bad American Dream, Aria, Barrio, and Slick (tracks 1,3,5,7,8,& 9 respectively). Listening to them, I'm amazed with an outstanding, superb musicianship of each band member and with their incredibly tight joint performance as well. Obviously, though, there is no guitar on both the last tracks that, probably, had been recorded before Van Manakas joined the band, so here we have only Marc's high-speed solos, performed first on 'keyboards' through midi-vibes, then on a real vibraphone. Although the remaining four pieces (Prisoner of the Knitting Factory Hallway, Maxwell's Demon, Free Bender, and Improvisation) don't contain those high-speed powerful and bombastic arrangements that I'm especially fond of, structurally and compositionally they're almost as complex and interesting as The Big Six, mentioned above. All well experienced and open-minded Prog-heads are bound to find here a lot of good things to please their ears with each listen to this album, including those four compositions that are less bombastic than the others. There is also more than enough complex arrangements, time signatures, changes of tempos and moods, tasteful solos of vibes or midi-vibes and guitar, as well as fantastic interplays between them and other instruments (don't forget the bass, and especially midi-system). While Van Manakas and Percy Jones can, at best, use special pedals, Marc's midi-vibes help him play virtually (PC talk) all instruments connected with his vibraphone through special midi cords. So Marc's vibes sound by far not only as real vibraphone in all composition of the album, but also as analog keyboards, low register or traditional synthesizers, and even as the mellotron (on Maxwell's Demon) and sitar (on Bad American Dream). Really, there are a few episodes (including even a bass solo) that are full of distinct Eastern and Far Eastern colourings, in the middle of the album. Some of the noisy-alike moments and their following transformation into a real composition should remind you of an atmosphere (only!) that dominates The Waiting Room (track 2 on the second disc of Genesis's "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway" double album of 1974). Also, thanks to the midi-system, even the same solos that Marc performs on the real vibraphone sound in fourth run through a synthesizer, and in fifth - through an electric piano; all these miracles go simultaneously along with Van's and Percy own soloing parts. All in all, these wonderful midi-nuances make the album's overall sound more diverse, rich and colourful.

Summary. The Tunnels debut album (as well as Marc Wagnon's solo debut "An Afterthought", though), representing a real Confluence of Jazz, Rock and Symphonic Progressive, is a true hallmark of the contemporary Jazz-Fusion movement. Actually, this band (and I hope their second album is going to be on the same quality level as the debut) is in my view one of the Top-5 bands that ever existed in the history of (real) Jazz-Fusion, beginning with Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return To Forever, the same (Tunnels' blood, almost a twin brother) Brand X, and Pierre Moerlin's Gong (from "Shamal", 1975, to and including "Leave It Open" of 1981). Among the contemporary bands of the genre, I think Japanese Bondage Fruit could be on par with Tunnels if only there were not too much avant-garde in their musical structures. Other contemporary Jazz-Fusion performers, such as Gongzilla, Project Lo, Allan Holdsworth (let alone Pat Metheny and Lyle May's flirts with new-age) are still able to make good-to-excellent albums, but the music they compose and perform is on the whole not as strong, complex and interesting as the music of Tunnels & Co. This way, I regard Tunnels as the best Jazz-Fusion band of today's progressive scene and their debut album a real masterpiece.

VM. August 28, 2001
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2001 - "Painted Rock" (64 min, "Buckyball Music")
****** (!)

Tracklist:
1. Painted Rock 5:25 (Wagnon)
2. Land of the Hazmats 5:23 (=)
3. House of Marc 7:38 (=)
4. Quai des Brumes 4:45 (=)
5. Neuro-Transmitter 6:50 (Wagnon, Katz)
6. Boyz in the UD 5:46 (Jones, Wagnon, Manakas)
7. Black Light 6:56 (Manakas)
8. Bad American Dream 2001 10:39
9. Lilly's Dolphin 4:58 (Wagnon)
10. Unity Gain 5:40 (Katz)

Line-up (same as on the debut Tunnels album):
Marc Wagnon - MIDI-vibes
Frank Katz - drums
Percy Jones - bass
Van Manakas - guitar
With:
Sarah Pillow - vocalize (on 3)

Produced by Van Manakas.
Recorded & mixed by Marc Wagnon & Matt Hathaway
at "Buckyball Music" studio, NYC.
Mastered by Katherine Miller
at "Current Sound" studio, NYC.

Prologue. Well, I am now going to review the second album by Tunnels. Meanwhile, the third album from what I regard the best contemporary Jazz-Fusion band, will be released in a month or so. By the way, the line-up of Tunnels 'Mk-III' is the same as the latest one of Brand X.

The Album. Being familiar with the creation of all of the contemporary Brand X-related bands and projects, I knew that the six masters of music, who are the core of this unique community (these are all of the participants of this album and guitarist John Goodsall), are more than skilful to work successfully on the different platforms of Progressive Music. Nevertheless, it turned out to be that I've underestimated their scope. Only four of the ten compositions that are featured on the "Painted Rock" album can be named as typical (tracks 1 & 10) and relatively typical (tracks 2 & 9) for Tunnels and the 'Brand X & Co' community as well. So, Unity Gain, which is the last track on the album, is one of Frank Katz's especial pieces "for drums and cymbals" (another pattern of which can be heard on Marc Wagnon's second solo album "An Afterthought"). The album's opener and title-track, Pointed Rock, is the only composition on the album where the jazzy solos and improvisations (performed mostly through the MIDI-vibe) play a prominent role. Land of the Hazmats and Lilly's Dolphin, the second and next to last tracks on the album, are the remarkable examples of these veterans' indefatigability in searching of new ways in their creation. While there are the purely Art-Rock-ish structures in the basis of both of these pieces, their arrangements consist of very original, diverse, and often contrast interplay between mostly slow symphonic passages of a 'synthesizer' (the MIDI-vibe, factually), rather harsh solos and riffs of an electric guitar, and fast jazzy improvisations of a vibraphone. The real miracles are, however, featured the Middle Tunnels of "Painted Rock". All of the remaining six tracks (3 to 8: with 45 minutes of playing time in total, which, by the way, is the average statistical length of a full-fledged album) consist of very innovative and unique combinations of dissimilar musical structures. All of these compositions are brilliant, though, musically, most of them are rather different among themselves. Opened with the beautiful passages of 'strings', reminding of Classical Music, House of Marc mostly contains rather slow and dramatic symphonic arrangements. From time to time, however, these mellow parts interchange with very unusual episodes that are filled with short yet highly eclectic arrangements, created by atonal, kind of spontaneous solos and interplay between varied instruments and special sound effects as well. Stylistically, these strange and almost indescribable arrangements (which, by the way, in a few of the following pieces are much more evident than here), don't fit any of Progressive's four 'chief' genres (Art-Rock, Jazz-Fusion, Prog-Metal, and RIO), as well as the other known musical manifestations, including even Avant-garde. So, in such cases like this, I feel that Progressive's Fifth Element has been not in vain "discovered" by me. Beginning with House of Marc, at least the bits of Fifth Element can be found on each of the said Middle Tunnels of "Painted Rock", though Neuro-Transmitter and Bad American Dream 2001 (tracks 5 & 8) are especially rich in them. What is interesting is that each of the following five tracks (4 to 8) contains at least the bits of Eastern music (please stop searching for the tautologies in my reviews!), though Black Light (track 7) is richer in them than any of the tracks 4, 5, & 8. However, Boyz in the UD (track 6) is just filled with (not just Middle Asian in general or Kazakh, etc in particular, but precisely) Uzbek and Indian Classical Music-like arrangements, performed just marvelously virtuosi by any of the band members, among which, though, especially shines Van Manakas. Hey boys, how have you managed to create such a mind-blowing piece as Boyz in the UD? This is not only the best of the Eastern-music influenced compositions I've ever heard. This is also the most 'magical' music I've heard for a few of the last years, to say the least. Sorry, almost forgot: Quai des Brumes (track 4) is in many ways similar to House of Marc, though it contains also such fast solos that cross each other like the parallel rays from the non-Euclidean spaces.

Summary. I could endlessly tell you about the wonderful details that are featured at least those six killing Middle Tunnels that I was just talking about. I only wish that such a unique masterpiece as "Painted Rock" will be heard by as many Prog-lovers as possible. Don't deprive yourself to listen to one of the greatest albums created in the history of Rock music (and not only). "Painted Rock" is a complex album, but there are no those 'indigestible' things that are usually recommended to "most adventurous", etc categories of the listeners. Believe me, this music is very close to Progressive's masterworks in a traditional, classical sense. If you greatly appreciate such eclectic albums as Yes's "Tales From Topographic Oceans", King Crimson's "Larks' Tongues In Aspic", Jethro Tull's "A Passion Play", etc, you will love "Painted Rock" to death.

VM. January 25, 2002
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2002 - "Progressivity" (73 min, "Buckyball Music")
******

Tracklist:
1. Syzygy Incident 7:32 (Wagnon)
2. Wall To Wall Sunshine 4:28 (Wagnon, Goodsall, Katz)
3. Frank's Beard 9:26 (Wagnon, Katz)
4. Diabollocks 6:00 (Jones, Katz, Wagnon)
5. Progressivity 6:35 (Wagnon)
6. 7,584,333,440 Miles Away 20:28 (Wagnon, Jones, Katz)
7. Same Things Must Last 5:02 (Wagnon)
8. Fusionauts 4:45 (Wagnon)
9. Orfeo's Demon 5:17 (Jones)
10. High Tea at 49th and 10th 4:03 (Jones, Wagnon, Katz)

Line-up:

Marc Wagnon - MIDI-Vibes
Frank Katz - drums & percussion
Percy Jones - bass guitar
With:
John Goodsall - electric guitar (on tracks 2, 6, & 8)
Mark Feldman - violin (on 2, 3, 5, & 7)
Sarah Pillow - vocalize (on 4 & 9)

Recorded, & mixed by Marc Wagnon at "Buckyball" studios.
Mastered by Katherine Miller.
Produced by Marc Wagnon.

Prologue. John Bouille of WSHA said, "Progressivity" is "an incredible CD, and it's been getting a lot of airplay". If so, I am seriously anxious for the state of ears (not only, though) of those passengers who listened to this music while flying on airplanes. IMHO, this music can be played only for the passengers of starships. And I doubt that all those who call this music Fusion have really listened to it. A 'common' meaning of that word is well known. Well, "Progressivity" is the third album by Tunnels.

The Album. The more I travel in Tunnels the more I become amazed with their unique architecture. Though, of course, I am especially excited each time I launch a new journey to the wonderful world of Tunnels. "Progressivity" most of all reminds me of an interstellar Tunnel, which leads to a distant and very unusual musical dimension. Certainly, having returned from there to Earth to describe this journey, I have to use those conceptions and terms that would be understandable for you to be ready for a leap through the hyperspace of the third Tunnel. Overall, the stylistics of the music that is presented on "Progressivity" is, in my view, nothing else but a very innovative manifestation of Academic Music. (The point is that the arrangements develop constantly throughout each of the tracks that are featured on the album, which is typical for Academic Music.) This, however, is neither Classical nor Avant-garde Academic Music. None of the moods, that this music is filled with, fits our typical (i.e. Earthly) specter of emotions. Since the creators of Tunnels are Earthly entities ("Are you sure?" - ask me my inner voice), I can't call it Extraterrestrial Academic Music. In that way, I think that Futuristic Academic Music (FAM hereinafter) should be the best general definition of the contents of this album. And here is a definition of FAM itself: a blend of a real (i.e. progressive) Jazz-Fusion, real (i.e. improvisational) Jazz-Rock, and real (i.e. rather heavy) Space-Rock with the elements of Symphonic Art-Rock and Avant-garde. Of course, in the process of creation of the album, all of this was raised to the power of Fifth Element (which, though, is typical for Tunnels) to transform all those "real" Jazz-Fusion, Jazz-Rock, and Space-Rock into the unique ones. However, "Progressivity" was created not within the framework of a unified stylistics. So it needs to be examined more thoroughly than the albums of a monolithically unified stylistic concept. Though, such details as the constant development of musical events, the hard-edged and, often, very eclectic arrangements, contrasts, atonalities, complex time signatures, and a harmonious dissonance (huh? yeah) are typical for the album as a whole. These are the compositions the contents of which are completely conform to the above definition of FAM: Syzygy Incident, Wall To Wall Sunshine, Diabollocks, 7,584,333,440 Miles Away, Same Things Must Last, Fusionauts, and Orfeo's Demon (tracks 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, & 9). I have to admit, though, that the contents of both of Diabollocks and Orfeo's Demon (4 & 6) devilishly remind me of a spacey abstract algebra. A jazzy Space Rock that is present on Fusionauts and Same Things Must Last (8 & 7), is enriched by solos and passages of real and 'synthetic' violin. The 20-minute 7,584333440 Miles Away, a fantastic Space Rock saga, told in a mixed dialect of Jazz-Fusion and Fifth Element, can be regarded as an explosion of supernova in our Prog galaxy. Of course, this is a real centerpiece of the album. Well, on tracks 2, 6, & 8, is featured the excellent guitar work by John Goodsall. However, have you ever heard the virtuosi and very persuasively sounding solos of electric guitar and 'classical' passages of acoustic guitar that were performed on the vibraphone? There are lots of them on Syzygy Incident. Also, a hybrid vibe-guitar is heard on Same Things Must Last and Orfeo's Demon. The parts of brass instruments of the same origin are present on Wall To Wall Sunshine and Same Things Must Last. While the masterful solos and passages of various keyboards (including a piano), all of which Marc Wagnon performed on the vibraphone as well, sound throughout the album. (I hope that you dear readers don't think that the play on the MIDI-vibe differs from the play on a usual vibraphone.) All three of the remaining pieces, - Frank's Beard, Progressivity, and High Tea at 49th and 10th (3, 5, & 10), - feature all the 'genre' constituents, that I've listed above, but Space Rock. Of course, it must be mentioned that the solos of Percy Jones's bass guitar play a significant role in the arrangements of almost all of the tracks that are featured on the album. And Frank Katz has even a separate drum solo closer to the end of the track, which is dedicated to his beard.

Summary. As you see, all four of the members of Brand X's latest line-up are here. However, years have no power over these veterans, and the creation of Tunnels, which is undoubtedly one of the greatest and most innovative bands in the history of Progressive Music, clearly proves it. As for "Progressivity", it comes highly recommended to all the lovers of Prog (in general), who, however, are not only profound, but also open-minded and adventurous enough to pioneer this extremely unusual musical dimension.

VM. May 23, 2002
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Related Links:

Backyball Music online: http://www.buckyballmusic.com/

Tunnels online: http://www.buckyballmusic.com/tunnels/


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