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On the Rise

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 On the Verge
 Mick Skidmore

Klangstorm (London, England) is a British band with an original and innovative sound. Formed by visual artists Phil Cervi and Jim Roberts in 1996, the band has since gone through some changes while releasing four esoteric and highly interesting studio albums. The first album, Isiscrisis, is a conceptual piece on the 1956 Suez Canal Crisis; surprisingly enough, it was an underground favorite. While Britain doesnít really have a jam scene, Klangstorm has emerged as one of the forerunners of improvised music. The band is presently a seven-piece with Gid Johnson (guitar), Rob Wood (guitar), Tim Tolkien (bass, and the great nephew of the Tolkien), Jim Roberts (drums), Phil Cervi (analog keys and soundscape construction), Vic Jones (sax) and Mick Oliver (guerilla poet).
The ensemble creates a myriad of cinematic soundscapes that have origins in peculiar places. You can hear searing acid-rock guitar, hints of the better elements of Ď70s progressive rock, exotic industrial-type percussion as well as spoken passages and ambient electronics, snippets of Frank Zappa-like eccentricities and some Kraut-rock. Jim Roberts says the band loves the music of the Grateful Dead and the West Coast but also cites European electronic outfits Can, Faust and Neu as influences. In addition to their spacey instrumental music in concert, he says they incorporate visual projections as well as choreography to match the music.
Each of the bandís studio albums contain some majestic music thatís interactive and improvisational and shows that these are accomplished players who are not afraid to experiment. In some ways they bring to mind early experimental Pink Floyd crossed with Can or Faust with melodic guitar passages. Thereís a strange juxtaposition of sounds but thereís also a symbiotic relationship between everything they do - thereís a lot going on but it doesnít sound chaotic or cluttered.
If you enjoy the "space" explorations of the Grateful Dead, Djam Karet or any of the bands already mentioned, Klangstorm will provide you with some satisfying listening. Start with their last studio disc, 2HiTek4LoTek, which includes the exploratory, 18-minute "Piece Of Cake" and the quirky, Middle-East-meets-electronic grooves of "Gidís Bazaar." The bandís CDs are available in the U.S. through

The John Butler Trio (Melbourne, Australia) is led by guitarist/songwriter/vocalist John Butler, who was born in the U.S. and moved with his family to Australia when he was 10. JBT is already very successful in Australia, having sold over 70,000 CDs (this equals platinum in Australia). Butler has a warm, raspy voice and writes intelligent songs with environmental and political concerns that are laced with searing slide guitar work. The trio draws on blues and folk as well as incorporating more eclectic Indian and other ethnic flavors. Butlerís guitar work has a distinctive feel with a sense of openness. Itís more what he doesnít play that makes it interesting, but he does like to stretch things out. For the U.S. market, the band has combined its mini-album JBT and its latest disc Three, which provide a good overall picture of what is probably the best band to come out of Australia in many a year. Watch for them opening for the likes of Govít Mule, the Dave Matthews Band and others. Highly recommended.

Dinosaur Construction Unit (West Palm Beach, Florida) is an eccentric trio that performs unpredictable and experimental music. Its sound is much less structured than the average jamband - kind of fusion-meets the most experimental areas of progressive rock, and to this they add jazz and avant-garde; certainly one for the more adventurous souls out there. The trioís latest album is From the Caves Volume I, a three-track live set. In it DCU push the limits of the guitar/bass/drums format with some sparkling improvisations. The first is the 47-minute "First Improvisation," which is followed by a beautiful version of Miles Davisí "Nardis." The closing cut is the 17-and-a-half minute "Second Improvisation."

Spookie Daly Pride (Boston, Massachusetts): Supercharged, high energy funk is what this eclectic quartet delivers, although it goes through its own musical blender first. Vocalist Spookie has a voice thatís not a million miles from Dr. John or a more tuneful Captain Beefheart with a hint of Tom Waits singing from the bottom of a well. The bandís music is super-lively, with lots of danceable rhythms and a big, fat sound. Thundering rhythms are punctuated by soulful horns and snazzy guitar and keyboard fills, running the gamut of sounds from Dixieland to big band and from soul to rock and hip-hop, with a pastiche of European pop and pre-World War II cabaret. Since forming about two years ago, SDP has been touring to rave reviews throughout the country. When the band writes songs, it leaves plenty of room for improvisation and during a live show, thatís what the audience gets. On record, they keep it in the four- to five-minute range; in concert, theyíre apt to go off on some sparkling and unexpected improvisations. The most pleasing aspect of this band is that they have a vibrant and energetic sound that really isnít like anything else out there. They have one highly recommended album, Marshmallow Pie, which was released last year.

Stuffis (Boston, Massachusetts) is a quartet that with an atypical sound. Twin guitars are propelled by super funky bass, while songs have a good guttural groove thatís kept pretty tight. The band shows it has a sense of humor with its debut album, Call It What You Want - and most people probably will. Itís a promising, solid effort without jam-scene improvisations and itís decidedly more appealing than whatís termed "alternative" (actually, just another moniker for "commercial radio"). The band has good musical chops and some good songs - not unlike some shorter moe. songs. Stuffis can be found playing in clubs around Boston as well as throughout New England.

Hacha (Encino, California) is a hard hitting four-piece rock band with a bluesy undertone. Thereís nothing modern about the bandís sound yet they drink from the same musical well as the likes of The Faces and the Black Crowes with a tad of Govít Mule influence. The band actually formed back in Connecticut in 1997 and eventually moved to the West Coast where they currently reside. Their music is simple but energetic and in-your-face rock thatís laced with some impressive guitar work. Hacha keeps most of its songs within the four-minute range but packs a lot of power into them. The vocals are a little on the raw side but the band has some memorable songs with strong hooks and guttural grooves. They have two albums out to date and are presently working on material for a third disc. Their self-titled album has some good material, especially the cacophonous tones of the instrumental "Take A Bow" and the infectious "What About Bo," which features impressive guitar work.

Ten Ton Chicken (Berkeley, California) is a funky five-piece jam/improvisational band from the Bay Area. Like many of their predecessors from the area, they add a tad of psychedelica to an infectious jazz-rock sound. The band features bass, guitar, drums, keyboards and sax. Its recent album, Just Like in the Old Country, shows much promise. This mostly live set demonstrates that Ten Ton Chicken can jam with the best of them, although the vocal cut "Handle" is the highlight. More vocal cuts would certainly balance out the sound but nonetheless some of the improvs are quite superb, in particular the swaggering grooves of "Soup Is Good Food."

Nero (Ottawa, Canada) is a trio that fuses jazz, improvisational rock and electronica. Since its inception four years ago it has steadily made a name for itself playing clubs and festivals throughout Canada (theyíve also played some U.S. gigs.) David Lauzon is a guitarist with vision - he wrings some eerie and unusual tones from his guitar, sometimes flowing and melodic, other times sonic onslaughts, while the rhythm section lays down hypnotic, ever-changing grooves. The band has an interesting studio album available called Is it Morning, thatís well worth investigating.

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