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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Djam Karet

Live at NEARfest 2001

Review by Gary Hill

Djam Karet's particular form of progressive rock is very guitar dominated, and is really about instrumentals that showcase atmospheric themes, soaring guitar patterns and intricate song structures. This is not the progressive rock of bands like Yes and ELP, but probably most closely resembles a natural outgrowth of some of the experimental work of Robert Fripp, or perhaps a harder edged take on the types of things that California Guitar Trio does. This album showcases their set from 2001's NEARfest, and it is really a great display of what the band's music is made of. The recording is impeccable, as is the choice of selections. I guess the only downside is that I would have edited out a lot of the talking before and between songs. That stage banter is usually far more effective for those in attendance than it is for the masses listening to a live album. Despite that small complaint, this one would be a fine introduction to this great band, or a welcome addition to the collections of their current fans.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2004 Year Book Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Forbidden By Rule
This is killer catchy prog based in a bluesy groove. This one is a dynamic piece, changing and realigning itself throughout, and it features some soaring guitar work. This is a great way for the band to start off the set. It ends with a short riff that feels a bit like early Rush.
The Red Monk
The one starts with a percussive rhythm section, and the band start building layers over the top of this in a noisy, but accessible fashion. This alters after a time to a fast paced, more melodic prog section that has a wonderful texture. This serves as an excellent change of pace. They drop it back to an almost funky bass groove before heading into a jam that feels a bit like a Southern rock take on the more exploratory side of Jimi Hendrix.
Night of the Mexican Goatsucker
The riff that drives this one out of the gate feels almost Zeppelinish. It shifts gear later to something more akin to the battle sequence from Rush's "Bytor and the Snow Dog", then a slightly off kilter, almost Primusish mode takes it. This one has a ton of changes and even gets a little funky at times. It is a real smoker. This one gets very heavy toward the end, feeling a bit like a cross between Jimi Hendrix and Black Sabbath. They really tear it up on this one.
No Man's Land
It's amazing how much this feels like mid period Rush in the beginning. The band eventually begin to change it over into a more jazzy jam, then moving into almost Satriani like zones with it. The Rush modes return, though, especially in the rhythmic patterns, which feel a lot like Peart's timings. This is another smoking number that shows a lot of versatility and dynamic song structuring. This gets quite heavy in places. The guitar soloing certainly screams throughout a lot of the piece.
The Hanging Tree
A bit of a breather, this one is more laid back, and feels a lot like a modern take on Procol Harum. This one carries on in fairly organic movements, the band creating some intriguing waves of movement with the soaring soloing, but it never really gets very heavy. That shows the versatility and sense of restraint the band has. This is a tasteful and tasty number that still has plenty of drama.
All Clear
This one comes in funky and jazz oriented, with a fast paced fusion oriented progression. This one is based firmly in a killer retro texture. This gets quite intense in terms of power, but without becoming extremely hard edged. This cut is a standout number that again shows that Djam Karet is far from a one trick band. Indeed, this jam, slightly re-worked, could easily be imagined to show up on an album by Al Dimeola or Alan Holdsworth. It drops to a cool fun, bluesy riff later. From there it shifts gear into some seriously spacey material, and the first dissonance of this extended piece.
Web of Medea
This is a highly dramatic and dynamic cut that probably features some of the most traditional prog the band does. It is quite mysterious at times, and the bass work gets incredibly fast and potent in places. This one even features a tasty segment that feels a lot like James Bond music. It is a definite highlight.
Feast of Ashes
Feeling like two different songs, the first part of this is a fairly consistent and fun jam that runs through for a while in fairly unvarying format before ending down to silence to begin the next movement. This section starts off quite mellow, with ambient textures and slowly builds up from there. At times this one feels a lot like Pink Floyd (Wish You Were Here era). It doesn't make any sudden changes, instead moving gradually into new patterns, eventually morphing into a fairly quick paced jam, first in the form of a guitar solo segment, then in a more oddly timed group effort.
Burning the Hard City
This is an incredibly dynamic number, the group moving nimbly through rather major stylistic changes. At times this comes across as a bluesy Zeppelinesque rocker, while at other points it takes on a full on jazz arrangement. They speed it up in places, and slow it way back at others. This one is a musical showcase for just how well these guys can create and manipulate a soundscape, while still maintaining a coherent texture. What a powerhouse way to send the set and the disc!
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