Tag Archives: circuline

Cruising the Progressive Seas

ctte2017_slide_fish_lodgeFresh air, exceptional, challenging music, calm seas, good fellowship: this year’s floating concert spectacle, Cruise to the Edge 2017 was undeniably one of the best yet. It’s the forth time progressive rock heroes Yes have sponsored this particular festival and it was smooth sailing in almost every respect. This time we were afloat on the Brilliance of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean cruise liner which experienced travellers said was above average though not the best craft in the league. Made little difference – the real attraction of these trips is the exciting lineup of progressive rock bands new and old, fresh or reconstituted, and this year’s collection of artists ensured there was something for every fan.


Yes has been joined in the past by their 1970s contemporaries Marillion, Steve Hackett, Carl Palmer, PFM, Three Friends (Gentle Giant), Tangerine Dream, UK, Caravan, and Martin Barre (Jethro Tull), along with newer prog acts Anathema, Enchant, Moon Safari, Lifesigns and many others. Each festival has had something to offer, and has been successful despite each running into a storm during the voyage!

ctte2017_flyingcolorssm_144dpiThis year’s lineup included returning mainstays and new acts: Yes, Steve Hackett, Kansas, Mike Portnoy, The Neal Morse Band, Spock’s Beard, Stickmen, Haken, IO Earth, Patrick Moraz, Bad Dreams, District 97, Anglagard, Curved Air, Frost, Electric Asturias, Focus, The Fringe, Dave Kerezner, Pain of Salvation, and Scott Henderson. An excellent lineup made even better with a special appearance by Dixie Dregs/Kansas/Deep Purple axe-man Steve Morse who surprised the crowd on opening day with a great but short set from Flying Colors, staged during Mike Portnoy’s 50th birthday bash.


wettonjohn2017_withuk_72dpiMissing this year but certainly not forgotten was prog legend John Wetton, who passed away just before the cruise was to depart, a very short time after announcing he would not be able to make the event. John Lodge from The Moody Blues stepped in after the unfortunate announcement. There was a moment of silence for John at the opening event, and a number of tributes to him by the other artists on the cruise – possibly the most touching when Steve Hackett dedicated the Genesis mainstay “Afterglow” to our fallen friend. We miss you more …as well.

Once again Jon Kirkman was our eloquent master of ceremonies. Jon is so deeply studied in the prog arts and music in general that his many interviews with band members during the course of the cruise are a always a highlight. Jon’s new book, Yes Dialogue (@TimeAndAWordTheYesInterviews) is hitting stores now. We had the brief chance to take a look at this excellent book, which sports numerous never-before-seen photos and lots of inside information on this enduring band.


Roger Dean was in attendance again this year, with Michael and the team at Trading Boundaries at his gallery top deck. This was another chance for cruisers to obtain one of Roger’s stunning prints, from the Yes and Virgin Records logos, to the cover of Gentle Giant’s Octopus (UK), or the magnificent cover for Yes Tales From Topographic Oceans. Roger kindly displayed a copy of my new book Rockin’ the City of Angels at his front desk with postcard ads as this tome contains licensed shots of the Yes Relayer tour taken by Martyn Dean in addition to a couple of Roger’s legendary album cover images.

Roger Dean’s Gallery

One of the fantastic features of this cruise is the Late Night Live sessions. As the name implies live music fills the wee hours from about midnight into the early morning. Organized by broadcaster Rob Rutz and a team of dedicated proggers, this event gives attendees who can play or sing a chance to take the stage and perform with other fans, sometimes with one of the professional musicians who come to cheer them on and lend an occasional hand. This afforded us a chance to see and hear Jon Davison (Yes), Nad Sylvan (Steve Hackett) members of Circuline and others perform side by side with many talented fans, as they work together often for the first time, through long set lists that cover tracks from our prog favorites old and new.

Late Night Live: Yes “Heart of the Sunrise” Andrew Colyer (keys), Darin Brannon (drums), Rose Danese (vocals) Joel Simches (bass) Tom Maltose (guitar)

As mentioned, there was something for fans of nearly every style of progressive rock music from the big acts to the newer lot. As usually there isn’t time to get to all of the bands. Here are some snaps from the top acts I was able to see:

Yes: Continued their album-pair set that included the hard-driving Drama record and two sides of masterwork Tales From Topographic Oceans. Jay Shellen was there to assist Alan White on drums, and Billy Sherwood was absolutely on fire, visibly happy, relaxed and just nailing bass parts that were absolutely reminiscent of Chris Squire yet still colored by his own unique palette. I could have watched the whole show again just to see and hear Sherwood at that level of excellence. It had to be part of what drove the whole band, including guitarist Steve Howe to perform at the top of their game. That Drama was featured surely inspired keyboard wizard Geoff Downes who was a part of that era’s lineup. Jon Davison also mentioned in interview that it was liberating for him to do some vocals not originally recorded by founder Jon Anderson as this allowed for some stretching out, on material that is more strident and modern (added Howe and White).


Steve Hackett: played a few stellar new tracks, along with a set list that included several from Genesis masterwork Wind and Wuthering, now 40 years on. These songs included “Eleventh Earl of Mar,” “One for the Vine,” and EP B-side “Inside and Out” along with the oft-played suite that ends the album. During that coda, Hackett dedicated “Afterglow” to fallen friend John Wetton leaving not many a dry eye in the house. Hackett and his band continue to stage innovative progressive rock concerts that are second to none.


Kansas took the stage for a pair of first time CTTE performances, receiving many standing ovations from the audience. With the addition of Ronnie Platt on vocals and keys, and additional expert musicians, the band is able to present new and old Kansas music with the level of instrumental and vocal prowess once championed by retired founders Kerry Livgren and Steve Walsh, albeit without the handstands!


Mike Portnoy celebrated his 50th birthday, and for his fans and admirers this was a key event on the cruise. Of the various bands he’s been in, my top vote goes to Flying Colors and they were the toast of the launch.


Haken: They get the award for continuous improvement. I’ve seen them over the years and each time their performances just get tighter, both instrumentally and vocally, fronting compositions that increasingly achieve balance between light and dark for a melodic and powerful form of prog.


Anglagard: Similarly this exceptional Swedish band continues to amaze as they endure. Their first performance was cut short by late night rain, but the full set the next day found them astutely blending electric and acoustic piano/sax/flute against electric frets for a compelling strain of prog, most reminiscent of the 70s era while still sounding new and all their own.


IO Earth: beautiful compositions and performance that blended middle eastern motifs with rock instrumentation.


Focus: They sounded better than any time I’ve seen them – great sound and performance by this Dutch band, fronted by the always entertaining, Thijs van Leer.


Curved Air: Legendary British band fronted by long time inspiring vocalist Sonia Kristina closed the cruise with the final set late Friday night.


Electric Asturias: Exceptional blend of jazz-fusion and prog forms hailing from Japan.


Stickmen: Masters of dissonance Tony Levin/Pat Mastelotto/Markus Reuter were fantastic as always.


Patrick Moraz: legendary keyboardist on his own at the piano…. Magnifique!


District 97: Highly talented band, brilliant set.


Neal Morse and Spock’s Beard were crowd favorites I ended up missing, but everyone I talked to who saw them, John Lodge, Bad Dreams, Alex Machacek, Frost, The Fringe, Dave Kerzner and Pain of Salvation loved those sets.

Back on dry land this week …vive le rock (y tambien, terra firma)!



goodnight proggers…

Circuline’s Counterpoint

circuline2017_counterpoint_72dpiNow that we are in the new year, I am compelled to catch up with some reviews and activities that unjustly fell off the plate during a very busy period leading up to 2017, right when my new book was released. To begin, one of the best new albums I heard last year was the excellent second release from prog rock band Circuline, titled Counterpoint.


Circuline was founded three years ago and released Return in 2015. That debut garnered positive reviews and the group moved forward to produce this spectacular follow up. Counterpoint features Andrew Colyer (keyboards, sound design, vocals), Darin Brannon (drums, percussion, keyboards), Natalie Brown (lead vocals), William “Billy” Spillane (lead vocals, rhythm guitars), Paul Ranieri (basses) and new guitarist Beledo. What’s really unique about the sophomore outing is that there are no less than seven guest guitarists contributing to the album, including Randy McStine (The Fringe, Lo-Fi Resistance) who also contributed lyrics and vocal melodies, Doug Ott (Enchant), Alek Darson (Fright Pig), Ryche Chlanda (Fireballet, Renaissance), Alan Shikoh (Glass Hammer), Matt Dorsey (Sound of Contact, Dave Kerzner) and Stanley Whitaker (Happy the Man, Oblivion Sun).


Occasionally I find modern prog music a bit wearing as so many new bands employ the ‘wall of sound’ approach that grates as the years go by. Yet on Counterpoint while there is epic prog intensity it is all balanced out with a deft use of dynamics. There is a separation in the field of sound, lots of space for us to hear bass or drum led passages, and meaningful lyrics delivered by beautiful vocal leads and multi-part harmonies; the warm vibrato of Brown/Spillane shines throughout. Critically, Colyer’s default keys are played on real grand piano (courtesy of Yamaha) layered with warm synth patches atop Brannon’s well-tuned toms. It’s not by accident that the music is so listenable – Brannon/Colyer write most of it and you can hear the result of how much thought and effort they put into their choices. It leads to a set list that is melodic and rhythmic in the way that a focused pairing of keys and percussion can achieve. Yet expert frets abound both at the low and high end – there is ample room for Ranieri/Beledo along with everyone that contributes.


Highlights abound across these ten songs – lush harmonies on “Who I Am,” Colyer’s gorgeous piano intro leading into long form suite “Hollow,” Darson’s searing guitar solo during “Forbidden Planet.” “Erosion” builds tension before “Nautilus” kicks in with more major tones, and great solos on frets and keys. “Stay (Peter Frankenstan)” is a favorite of the set – jazz-infused chord progressions, rumbling toms, impactful lyrics, and a smooth, winding lead from ace-guitarist Whitaker – a cycle of vocal harmonies to finish it off. “Inception” and “Summit” finish the set in a way that will please fans of prog and all-round creative music. The latter opens with a slow build and jazzy riff that pins down each verse, the chorus is set to dramatic phrasing as the band comes together, building on the themes rather than overwhelming them. The instrumental conclusion includes a section with intricate grand piano atop more tuned toms, building a theme that grows in intensity before easing it all back down to end the album. Lyrics reflect the ascent:

I left my life there
And laid my soul bare
Scaling the summit for truth

The song is a powerful coda to this excellent album – if you missed it, now is a good time to remedy that and add it to your playlist.


Circuline Emerge

CIRCULINE_RETURN_CD_COVER_72dpiCirculine was founded in 2014 by Andrew Colyer (keyboards, vocals), Bill Shannon (guitars, vocals), and Darin Brannon (drums, percussion). Each had played with groups that covered progressive and classic rock masters along with original material. For this new band the desire was to make a concerted go of it – to write and record new original material to bring to the stage.  Lead vocalists Billy Spillane and Natalie Brown joined the group, having performed countless times as singers, actors, dancers, and rock musicians. Paul Ranieri plays bass along with Matt Dorsey on a handful of tracks as well. The band are about to release their debut album, and are booked for a series of concerts this spring.

Circuline-PromoPhoto#1Circuline’s debut album is filled with modern progressive rock gems. Its sound is dramatic and technically advanced, yet accessible and melodic. The balance of dramatic dark and light tones that can be so difficult to achieve seems to come easy for this outfit. Tracks like the opener, “Return” shine with tight vocal harmonies, well-tuned toms, and bass, grand piano, and clean synth leads. Follow up “Nebulae” draws the listener in with it’s ambient intro building to a tight fusion style guitar lead, all ending in the sound of crashing thunder and the sound of rain fading away. “Imperfect” shines with beautiful melody followed by “Fallout Shelter” which sports a monster sized dissonant jam on guitar, atop crashing drums, sounding as frightening as the title implies. Instant favorite “Silence Revealed” (click here for YouTube audio) closes the album with a compelling summary of all that comes before, ending a journey that is challenging and appealing.

Circuline_AndrewI talked to Andrew Colyer one of the founders of the band and it’s keyboard player and backing vocalist. Andrew came to the world of progressive music a bit later in life than some, which affords him a balance of pop and prog influences. I started by asking him about these influential bands, and wanted him to elaborate just a bit about artists as disparate as Happy The Man, and Ambrosia:

Andrew: My favorite keyboard players include the greats: Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson, Tony Banks, Jan Hammer, Jordan Rudess, Chick Corea, Lyle Mays, Herbie Hancock, Bruce Hornsby, Keith Jarrett but Eddie Jobson is my favorite. I’ve seen Eddie live several times –when they played on CTTE in 2013, everyone was stunned into silence. At the end of the show, when people are usually chit chatting, nobody was saying a word – they were so awesome you couldn’t speak. As far as I’m concerned, Eddie is the man to beat.

Jan Hammer was the first guy to use the pitch bend wheel to really make the keyboard sound expressive, like a guitar player. I think it was Jeff Beck who said his favorite guitar player is Jan Hammer.

Kit Watkins was a phenomenal synth player, who worked with Frank Wyatt and Stanley Whitaker in Happy The Man. Frank and Stan went on to form Oblivion Sun. What I really like best in this music are Frank’s chord changes – it all starts with the chords and song for Frank, and he and Stan come up with these odd rhythms. I know Frank, am in contact with the band and may record and play with them live in the future.

I liked Ambrosia in the 70s and they were on the first Cruise To The Edge. Before that show, I didn’t know they had those progressive origins. I grew up listening to Kasey Casem’s top 40 and movie soundtracks and so in the late 70s “Biggest Part of Me” and those soft rock hits caught my ear with their 5 part vocal harmonies, interesting chord changes – today they still sound terrific – just like on the record.

Circuline_live2Doug: You mentioned the focus Circuline also takes with vocals and harmonies, making space within the compositions for vocals to shine.

Andrew: That was one of Darin’s rules. Billy Natalie and I met before this band was formed and both of them are great singers – the three of us together have a really nice sound. And Bill (guitar) also sings so we can do 4 part harmonies. For this band we definitely want to feature the vocals – I think it makes the music more accessible. It doesn’t matter how great the music is – if you don’t have great vocalists I don’t believe people are going to come back again to see a band. You can do enough marketing to get people to come out and see a band once, and you want that reaction where they want to come back, and bring their friends with them. For us to have the caliber of vocalists in Billy and Natalie and not feature them would be a wasted opportunity. We’ve already been labeled “crossover” prog, which is good with us, because we would like to be more accessible, more viable as an ongoing band. We know that when you see an artist like Steven Wilson or Sound of Contact you can relate to the music and come away ready for more.

Circuline_live3Doug: When it comes to performing these songs live, we’ve discussed the theatricality of a concert – the range between simply a powerful emotive presentation and costumes, staging and lights – how do you approach your live shows?

Andrew: Besides Billy fronting No Quarter for 6-7 years he has also performed all over the world as an actor and dancer. Natalie had a 30-year career as an actor – she had the lead in Evita twice – that was her full time job. First, our dress is different – we have a rule – no t-shirts, blue jeans, and tennis shoes. It s a personal thing – we believe that if we are going to ask somebody to leave their home, and pay money to see us we should at least try to look good. None of us care for the “rock n roll” thing where the band looks like they haven’t had a shower for a week, and are wearing ripped up t-shirts and jeans. We are going to try to look like we belong on stage. Second, some of the theatricality has to do with the way Billy and Natalie present the music, either their facial expressions or gestures while singing – they have the ability to play off each other while playing to the audience at the same time. Because they are trained they have a way of doing that and make it part of the performance. It’s just who they are.

In the 70s having the music being progressive was new enough – in todays world, people see things like Katy Perry and the Super Bowl halftime shows, Taylor Swift with her huge stage sets, Billy Joel who has a big rotating stage, lights, and show – what people can see live or on YouTube has them used to getting some kind of visuals with the music – something happening on stage. Some musicians can still come out and stand still, just playing their instruments. We are looking to include some movement, and drama to benefit us, and our audience.

Circuline_live1Doug: By the way, what happened to your Trumpet?

Andrew: For 10 years, I played in Jr. High, High School and college in multiple bands and there is just no time to keep up with my horn, but I really miss playing. The big band stuff is really fun. People make fun of “Sussudio” by Phil Collins, but listen to those horn lines! Maybe I can incorporate it playing the horn my right hand, and keys with my left. Pat Metheny did a long composition live and the trumpet player had a mic, and a bunch of guitar effects pedals – reverb, delay – he could do a bunch of great effects. It would be great to incorporate an approach like that in the future.

Doug: The keys sound congruous throughout the record – lots of patches within a tight family of sounds. Bill stretches out on Fallout Shelter with that dissonant guitar passage. It comes just after “Imperfect.” Was there a plan to its placement on the record?

Andrew: I tried to use different keyboard patches on every song – and Bill was conscious of his tone – we tried to blend these together. We are very particular about our parts, and dial things up and back in service of the song.

Imperfect was “the pretty song” on the record. Bill and I had the idea in the studio and we recorded it and forgot about it for about 3 months. Near the end of the recording we thought, “lets go back to that ballad we were working on.” We played it back and decided to include it – no mixing, no overdubs – the performances were flawed – I have plenty glitches and notes, but we did not want to go back and redo it – we captured a moment, and we thought, let’s put it on the record and call it “Imperfect.” For Fallout Shelter the working title was “Brand X Jam” – Darin gets to do his Billy Cobham drum solo – so it was a jam we recorded at The Cave (recording studio) and we kept Bill’s original guitar track as the basis. Later I wrote the big kind of epic chords and the synth part ending. We put “Fallout Shelter,” the most demented song, after “Imperfect,” the prettiest one!


Circuline-PromoPhoto#2Circuline feature the new album in concert on April 24-26, on a double-bill with Glass Hammer, and are filming and recording the show for DVD at the Bearsville Theater in Woodstock, New York. Additional gigs with Glass Hammer include the New Jersey ProgHouse, and Orion Studios in Baltimore. They also have three nights in May for the Sonic Voyage Festival with a great lineup of bands, and are looking to start their second album this summer. Circuline will also record additional videos, which are to include short videos for Internet TV, some of which will be videos of their social time together. Next year they are planning to get into some of the summer festivals, which book at the beginning of the year. Watch for these events from this new and engaging progressive rock band!