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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Dennis Rea

Giant Steppes

Review by Gary Hill

I've reviewed several things featuring Dennis Rea in the past, from his work with the band Moraine to his solo catalog. This new album is quite an intriguing and unusual one. It seems to almost have a split personality. The first half is centered around world music with some rock and fusion in the mix. The second half seems to flip that around with the rock and fusion elements dominating, but flavored (particularly "Wind Of The World's Nest") by world music. However you label this, or perceive it, it's compelling and unique music. I heartily recommend it for those with adventurous musical tastes.

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Track by Track Review
Live At Gaochang (Uyghur Suite)
I love the world music vibe as this piece comes out of the gate. It grows upward with those elements taking on hints of jazz. Still, this is nearly purely world music. By around the three-minute-mark, this song is over 16-and-a-half minutes long, the number drifts into something not far removed from space rock. From there we get into world-based space without the rock aspect. Around the five-and-a-half minute mark it gets into some Eastern toned guitar zones as the world music elements continue to drive the piece. This composition works through a number of themes and textures, with the world music always on the menu, but at points it shares it with some rock or jazz music. Both seem present on a movement around the 12-minute mark. This a dynamic and particularly effective piece of music.
Altai By And By
There are world music vocals on the first part of this tune. The music that accompanies them is of the traditional variety. The electric guitar work later brings more of a progressive rock vibe with some definite fusion angles. The vocals remaining at that point bring a real sense of something otherworldly. That eventually drops away and there are multiple layers of world music vocals along with some electronics at various points. Then the vocals coalesce into sort of a non-lyrical choir, and more substantive music begins to rise upward. Another acapella section comes in later with a chorus of voices delivering lyrics in another language. Eventually some music rises up to join after a time.
Wind Of The World's Nest
Throat singing is on the menu here. That's paired with something that feels like a traditional music take on heavy metal. In fact, the whole song feels like metal, and a full rock band approach comes in after a time to really drive that home. When horns join it takes on an almost King Crimson vibe. They wander out from there into some killer jazzy prog jamming. It switches back to the metallic zones for the re-entry of the throat singing. They turn that concept proggier again, and this is very much a progressive rock piece, even though it does have world music in the mix. I absolutely love the extended guitar solo on this. The throat singing and the instrumental sounds, take on an almost menacing vibe late in the piece. It eventually makes it back to the song proper to take it out.
The Fellowship Of Tsering
A huge change, this is more pure progressive rock. It has some driving energy and classy jamming built into it. By around the half-way mark, this instrumental has shifted to spacey music that has world elements built into it. This gets downright mysterious and creepy at times. It eventually makes its way back out to more of a prog rock jam. This part feels a little like Frank Zappa to me for some reason (think "Peaches in Regalia"). At over 14-minutes of music, this is another epic.


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