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The Autonomous Region “Forbidden City”

16 Aug, 2009 Michael Diamond

the-autonomous-region_forbidden-cityThe phrase “from a scream to a whisper” provides some insight into the range of the eclectic San Francisco band know as The Autonomous Region. Composed of five veteran musicians from diverse backgrounds, their music embraces influences of alternative rock, metal, punk, jazz, urban, R&B, and reggae.

Vocalist Caroline Cabading, who is the driving force behind a lot of the CD’s writing and production, fronts the group. The band also includes Chet Canlas on guitar, drummer Tyrone Davis, Phil Ergina on bass, and Ron Quesada who was added as a second guitarist after the making of this CD.

 

Forbidden City opens with a heavy rocker called “Don’t Tread On Me” which highlights the harder edge of the group’s musical spectrum. Aspects of Caroline’s singing style have been compared to 70’s punk era vocalist Patti Smith’s, and this song is a good example. The band puts the pedal to the metal and gets the album started with some serious attitude. This song as well as a number of others on the CD, reflect a high level of social awareness and political empowerment. From there, the band drops out of overdrive into a considerably more laid back ska-influenced tune called “Took My Breath Away that goes through some interesting changes as it evolves. The album’s third track “Sunset Beach” also follows the pattern of introducing some unexpected elements in the various parts of the song. Starting out as a jangly alt. rock ballad guitarist Chet Canlas kicks on the fuzz and wah pedals adding some razor’s edge tone that provides an interesting contrast to what we’ve been hearing up till then. At this point, one begins to get a sense that The Autonomous Region is a multi-faceted prism capable of reflecting light through it’s various surfaces.

 

The range of styles exhibited in just the first three songs is definitely expanded on as the album unfolds. From jazzy grooves to heavy rock, the band explores diverse musical terrain with intensity and spirit. On an album of all original music, one of the big surprises, for me was their interesting cover of the Jefferson Airplane’s psychedelic classic “White Rabbit.”  Starting out with a quasi-Eastern vibe, it soon ignites into a heavy metal-influenced rocker before evolving into yet other stylistic changes. One of the more unusual aspects of their version is that after going through all the lyrics of the song followed by a mystical sounding guitar solo, Caroline creates another verse, adding to the song with some of her own original lyrics.

 

The band sounds like they have been playing together for a while and in addition to some nice guitar work by Chet, who was also active in the album’s writing and arranging, I was impressed by the rhythm section of Tyrone Davis and Phil Ergina who provide a firm foundation for the group to groove on. But much of the spotlight here is focused on the powerful and expressive vocals of Caroline who brings a lot of the spice and above-mentioned “attitude” to the full range of material on the album.  Although they have been compared to PJ Harvey, The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and others, The Autonomous Region has their own distinct sound which screams at one moment and whispers in the next yet maintains it’s own brand of musical autonomy throughout.

Reviewed By Michael Diamond

Marc Beziat “Consolation”

16 Aug, 2009 Michael Diamond

consolation2It’s hard to imagine that the intricate classical compositions that grace “Consolation” were created by someone with not much more than three or four year’s of experience as a composer. But it is true. Marc Beziat, a native of southern France, is partly self-taught. He also spent two years at Polyphonies, a school of musical composition, where he studied polyphonic music, the simultaneous sounding of two or more melodic lines, a musical style that dates back to the late Middle Ages and Renaissance. “Consolation” is the sequel, or as he calls it, the “soul mate” to his well-received first CD “Victory Of The Spirit”. His album titles, as well as the names of the songs, reflect the beauty and harmony that he seeks to express in his music.

 

If I had to choose one word to describe Marc Beziat’s music, it would be cinematic. When I first put on the CD, I kept waiting for an imaginary film to start any second. With eyes closed it was easy to visualize movie scenes that would go perfectly with this evocative music as the soundtrack. It’s not surprising that one of his biggest influences is Canadian composer Howard Shore, and in particular, his work on Lord Of The Rings. While also being influenced by contemporary composers such as Daniel Balavoine and David Nevue, Marc cites composers from the Baroque Classical era such as Beethoven, Bach, and Vivaldi as having made a deep impression on him.

 

However, unlike the classical composers of old who wrote out their music on parchment paper with a quill pen, Marc makes use of the wonders of modern technology such as computers, notation software, and synthesizers. While the term “synthesizers” may bring to mind other-worldly sounds and contemporary electronic music, Marc uses them for strictly realistic sounds such as piano, flute, woodwinds, strings, and choirs, as would be found in classical music. He pays particular attention to the creation of the choral sounds, which play a prominent role in his music. One of the most interesting things about modern music software is that it allows one to make adjustments in notes, dynamics, feel, etc., which in Marc’s words, “makes composing in this form more related to sculpting than to performance”.

 

Another aspect of the music that makes it more unique in the classical genre is the relatively short length of the compositions. Of the eleven tracks on the CD, the longest is just under four minutes. However, they often flow from one to another creating the impression of movements in a symphony. Although the song length may be condensed, there is a great deal of animation, dynamics, and thematic evolution within the structure of each piece, and the album overall evokes a wide range of feelings from serene and comforting to dramatic and powerful. It is precisely this yin/yang counterpoint that creates the magic of the music. According to Marc, “whether our experiences are sometimes painful or sometimes exhilarating, everything can be transformed into beauty, and in the process, we are ourselves transformed.”

 

Music is meant to be experienced, so a written description of it cannot adequately convey the nuance and impact. Writing about music is like dancing to architecture. Marc speaks eloquently about his music, but finally concludes: “what else could I say… eventually, music always speaks better than the words.” Indeed it does.

 

Reviewed By Michael Diamond

 

 

 

Linda Wood “Duel”

16 Aug, 2009 Michael Diamond

linda-wood_duelAlthough Australia-based singer-songwriter Linda Wood has been compared to Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Rickie Lee Jones, and even a bit of Doris Day, she is a true original with her own style – described, perhaps tongue in cheek, but somewhat accurately, as “quirk pop.” In truth, her music is a melting pot of divergent spices and flavors that come together in one of the most unique sonic blends that I’ve heard in a long time. Threads of jazz, blues, Latin, hip-hop, techno, pop, and cabaret, create a musical tapestry on which her diverse vocal stylings are embroidered. On the title track an ambient synthesizer sound and slide guitar open the album, providing a brief intro reminiscent of Pink Floyd, which soon dissipates into a groove of bongo drums and a funky hip-hop beat, with subtle flourishes on accordion providing a surrealistic touch. At this point, you know you are in for something out of the ordinary.

 

The rest of the album doesn’t disappoint. Besides being an extraordinary vocalist, Linda Woods is a talented and imaginative songwriter and storyteller, with her compositions and arrangements enticing the listener through unexpected twists and turns. Choosing a few highlights on the album is difficult, because there are so many worthy choices, and I genuinely loved everything on it. From the Santana-like vibe of “Goodbye Perfectionist”, to the jazzy Stray Cat Strut jive of “Get Out Of My Life” with it’s Andrew Sisters style harmonies, to the driving techno tribal beat and middle Eastern-inflected vocals of “Peter Pan”, there is so much to like. There’s also an unlisted bonus song at the end – a poignant ballad about loss and healing.

 

One of the most quirky, yet endearing songs is “Bittersweet,” a psychedelic carnival ride of a tune, complete with yodeling, triangle, and tuba that would not have been out of place on an early Frank Zappa record or Fellini soundtrack.  While there are some offbeat combinations of instruments and elements on the album, they are artfully integrated and add textures that put a stamp of originality on the music. But it is clearly the vocal talent of Linda Wood that is the shining star here and illuminates an emotional gamut from sassy and sultry to longing and vulnerable. She is seemingly capable of handling any style with ease and grace, as well as having done an outstanding job of multi-tracking background vocals and harmonies in interesting ways.

 

“Duel” is a very professional sounding and extremely well produced CD with a lot of obvious attention to detail in the musical production as well as in the album’s artwork, which has a bit of a Stevie Nicks ambience.  Some of the arrangements are intricate yet accessible. The deeply expressive and artistic nature of “Duel” is no surprise considering Linda’s extensive background in musical theatre, having been involved in productions in Australia, England, and New York. This album reveals an impressive talent with great potential, and one that will, I’m sure, develop a loyal following as listeners discover the genre blending alchemy of Linda Wood’s music.

Reviewed By Michael Diamond

Dale White “Fade”

16 Aug, 2009 Michael Diamond

dale-white_fade1The sub-title of Dale White’s “Fade” – “Music for the Mind Traveler” couldn’t be more appropriate. One of the most outstanding features of his music is the way his compositions constantly morph and evolve in unexpected directions taking the listener on a journey of sound. A blend of new age, ambient, and electronic; Dale’s music is meticulously crafted, multi-layered sonic artistry that should appeal to fans of musicians such as Jean Michel Jarre, Tangerine Dream, and Kitaro.  While his electronic excursions are often sophisticated, there is a sense of playfulness that pervades throughout the album. And just when you think you’ve heard all that a song has to offer, he’ll throw in a little surprise at the end that brings a smile. Although the album is relatively short at just under forty minutes, its’ nine songs provide such a rich feast for your ears that you feel comfortably full after listening.

 

The CD opens with “Better Days” which grabs you from the first notes and whisks you away on a bouncy groove that brims with positive energy. Interspersed around the rhythm track are strings, an evocative piano melody, children’s voices, and a variety of electronic sounds and ear candy. I also enjoyed the change up in the last movement of the piece. This is one of the happiest-sounding songs I’ve heard in a while, and perhaps my favorite track on the album. It obviously also appeals to others, as evidenced by the fact that it was licensed for use in a documentary produced by the University Of Wisconsin.

 

The upbeat vibe continues with “Faded Trip”, which kicks off with a funky bass line that reminded me of 70’s era Herbie Hancock. I don’t know if there is a musical genre called “new age funk” but if there were, this song would fit right in. It also has a nice breakdown towards the end where the drums drop out and the song builds back up again. In typical fashion, it’s full of unexpected little touches including something as unlikely and esoteric as Tuvan throat singers. Dale describes this piece as being inspired by “all the trips we plan in our heads, talk about, but never take.” This song certainly sets sail for exotic lands.

 

Ethnic influences are also evident on the next piece, “Eastern Signs” which includes Thai and Japanese voices. One thing that stood out to me on this song, as well as in other places on the CD, is Dale’s interesting use of digital delay effects, where the echoes of notes create rhythmic patterns, oftentimes bouncing back and forth between the speakers – very cool, especially with headphones.

 

“Fade” is a diverse album, which in addition to the ethnic flavors offers a dash of other spices from up-tempo Euro-dance music to 80’s-style synth-pop. However, all these various elements are well integrated and the album has a cohesive feel overall. I really liked this CD a lot and particularly enjoyed all the little random sounds and sonic tidbits in the mix. There were quite a few “wow” moments while listening to it. Unlike a lot of music that is built on a predictable verse/chorus/verse structure, you never know what’s going to happen next with Dale’s compositions, and it keeps you listening to hear what delights are around the next corner.

 

Reviewed By Michael Diamond