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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Rama

Andy West With Rama-Rama 1

Review by Gary Hill

For this album Andy West (Dregs) has compiled an intriguing bunch of musicians who join him at various points on the recording. Among those he has a cast of drummers composed of Rod Morgenstein (Dregs), Jonathan Mover (GTR) and Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater). Besides himself on guitar, he recruited Toshi Iseda and Mike Keneally (Beer For Dolphins). Both he and Keneally provide keyboards, as do Kit Watkins (Happy The Man), Jens Johansson and T Lavitz (Dregs).

The booklet states that all songs are "composed by Andy West with individual parts composed by each player". All of the tracks presented here are instrumental except one (with vocals by Keneally), and the disc is composed of fairly brief (by prog standards) compositions, the longest weighing in at only 5 minutes and 55 seconds. The overall format is of a dynamic, slightly off-kilter hard edged prog probably closest Liquid Tension Experiment, and the like, but it also shares links to King Crimson or Frank Zappa and even the Dregs, although none of those comparisons truly fits like a glove.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2003 Year Book Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Mad March
Screaming out of the gate, this comes across metallic at first, but then as the other instruments join the frantic jam changes to something more akin to King Crimson or even Frank Zappa. This one stays pretty true to its origins until a staccato segment that feels almost like a symphonic metal take on fusion serves as a short respite. A full on metal jam comes in later, complete with chunky guitar solo. This segment evolves into something that rather resembles Dream Theater. It drops in speed to end in noisy fashion.
Meetings
This one comes in slower and heavy, again feeling a bit like DT, but as the instrumental themes begin to emerge, the fusion characteristics return, bringing in a slight eastern tinge with them. The cut alternates between various modes, and includes a fairly frantic, bass heavy segment that has the keys nearly screaming out. Then an interesting rhythmic structure emerges and the piece goes into a wholehearted fusion excursion. It gets rather noisy and chaotic later, with more metallic tones emerging before shifting towards something a bit more melodic. This is a very dynamic number, but sometimes test the limits of melody.
Hard Instinct
An odd sort of jazz sound is the basis for this unusual composition. It feels almost normal, but still with a strange sonic texture. This again feels rather Zappaish. A great playful groove emerges later as one of the cooler sections of the whole album. In fact, this is actually one of the stronger and more accessible pieces presented here.
Bloomsday
Atmospheric tones start this and effects quickly join. After a time an ominous and meaty bass line enters and accompanying percussion makes its appearance. Then a crunchy guitar starts weaving lines over top of this foundation. The cut eventually shifts toward a different fusion excursion, but only for a short time, returning from whence it came. This pattern serves as the motif for the song, the chunkier rhythmic pattern giving way to the frantic, then back again. It gets quite metallic at times.
Old Meat Frame
Effects start this one, and the texture is a bit odd once the percussion enters. The tune explodes to Crimsonish metallic crunch and the vocals are distorted, feeling a bit like those on KC's "21st Century Schizoid Man". This one has some intriguing instrumental patterns, but is one of the most straightforward on the disc. It drops to a drum solo, with only effects for accompaniment before the previous segment replaces this.
Memento Mori
Drums start this, and a metallic fury enters, and for a time this feels rather garagey. Then a haunting sort of texture takes the piece, creating an intriguing mode. It explodes from there to a fast paced, more classic prog type of jam, built on a surging bass line and frantic, but melodic keys. This then shifts to the slower mode and keys still provide the melody. Then a faster movement comes to play followed by one of the most melodic and jazz-oriented segments of the album. It shifts to a metallic, somewhat noodly instrumental trip for a time, but tasty elements emerge again after that. Another slower segment features new, exceptionally cool, keyboard tones, then a shift to another rather old school progressive rock path. A short percussive burst ends this, one of the most dynamic and strongest pieces on display here.
Qubit
Percussion in a rather playful mode begins this. Eventually the other instruments join, seemingly playing games around this basis. A short piece, this is also cool and fun.
Government
Hard edged, frantic, fairly metallic prog, again feeling rather like Dream Theater creates the motif for this. The keys dominate much of the jamming here, and as it carries on it feels a bit ELPish in places. A later guitar solo is based on meaty tones and leads to a straight up metal stomp portion. Then the cut shifts to a mellow jazz wandering for a short time before a syncopatic bit of instrumental weirdness takes over. Then an almost Zeppelinish guitar sound dominates before that metal segment returns. This again gives way to more sedate and melodic sections. Another fast paced jam takes over from there, and this again leads toward the sounds of Dream Theater.
Resonate
Mellower tones start this, and the band begins to build on this in a fusion oriented mellow progression that contains the most melodic passages of the album. This is truly much smoother and a nice break from the chaos that is the majority of this recording. It feels almost like a modern take on the jazzy stylings of groups like Spyro Gyra. It does drop to a more dissonant section, but still this is fairly sedate, with only the rhythmic structure catching the listener off guard. It includes a tasty piano solo, too. It makes for a satisfying conclusion to the CD.
 
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