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ISKANDER

Supersister

Canterbury Scene


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Sean Trane
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Folk
3 stars Following the usual public fave Pudding album, Iskander produced a concept album, one describing Alexander The Great building of his Greek Empire over much of the mid-east and IMHO went in over their heads with it. I am always a little wary of historical concept ala Triumvirat and others, much preferring a full blown concept of the Brick or Selling England type, because it sounds cheesy, hollow and incredibly pretentious at "adapting" music to Alexander's endeavours some 25 centuries ago. I don't think much more of rock operas of JC Superstar or JJ Savarin's works much either?. Preferring to these Townshend's Tommy or Quadrophenia or eventually some of The Kinks' deliriums, which are entirely invented.

Iskander is the Turkish name for Alexander The Great and it is a bust of him on the cover and much of the music (produced by Georgio "Jools & Trinity" Gomelski) is instrumental, especially early in the album. After a short unconvincing "eastern" Introduction on clarinet, the album jumps on the Persian side to describe Darius (or Dareios if they wish) whose sparse vocals are imbedded into a frenzied sax-led jazz-rock. A happy synth then an "eastern" clarinet marching to war open up the 7-minutes Alexander track, but the whole things gets a bit blurry once the slow sax almost stops the tune, leaving the electric rekindle the flame, until an organ comes in to an almost ELP fashion, but the tracks veers dissonant for a while? I never knew Alexander did drugs!!

Thunderous drum rolls announce the 8-mins The Battle and right after them, the tracks slows to a near-stop with an interesting lo-freq slow tempo crescendoing sometimes abruptly to reach a very fast movement that will fall back to the slow tempo again, this time building back up quicker. Rather impressive, but it's not sounding like a war, Crimson doing much better in the Lizard suite. Bagoas is probably the weakest track on the album, the finally-present singing not helping much?. This thankfully short track is not only too loud; it's simply sticking out like a sore thumb from the rest of the album. I can't say much more of the following flute-filled Roxane, preferring her in a red dress at night, but it fits the album a tad more. Babylon is an 8-mins track that relies on a descending riff, broken in different places by several interludes, some jazzy, some dissonant, almost free. The closing Looking Back is probably Alexander looking back at his travels and conquest, wishing he was in Egypt instead of Babylon, but the atrocious eastern sax is just cringing, once more.

While Iskander is still a worthy album, I personally find it paling in comparison to the group's previous works, the group failing to convince when they need to be exotic or ethnic, this being mainly the fault of the wind instruments, but the group as a whole does not fare well in that department. Iskander is filled with small cringing moments that sort of ruins mthe pleasure of listening, so you'll have to understand that I can't be generous, despite some impressive passages as well.

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Send comments to Sean Trane (BETA) | Report this review (#24135)
Posted Wednesday, January 05, 2005 | Review Permalink
loserboy
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars Based loosely on the life of Alexander the Great, this was SUPERSISTER's 4th album released and their concept album contribution. Clearly this was a departure from their earlier Canterbury'ish sounds being replaced by a more free jazz direction which works well for me... somewhere in the later SOFT MACHINE sound. Regardless in the change in direction, there is still a strong organ and bass interplay on this album with some great sax and flute work. Line up was Robert Jan Stips (keyboards, lead vocals, vibes), Ron van Eck (bass, guitar), Charlie Mariano (saxophone, flute) and Herman van Boeyen (drums, percussion). In many ways "Iskander" ebbs and flows more like a movie soundtrack than an album. Overall a pretty cool album and a good one for the headphone listening fraks out there.

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Send comments to loserboy (BETA) | Report this review (#24137)
Posted Saturday, February 26, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars It is said usually that "Iskander" is less listenable album of Supersister than early albums of this band. As though, "Iskander" is "avant-garde". I do not think so. Yes, this album is more difficult for perception and understanding. Yes, this album is closer to "avant-prog" or "RIO" than early Supersister works ("Present from Nancy" and "To The Highest Bidder"). But the same situation took place with music of the other leading prog-bands of those years. "Tales From Topographic Oceans" is more "avant" than "The Yes Album"; "A Passion Play" is more "avant" than "Aqualung"; Crimson albums of 1973-74 are more "loading" than early albums; and so on. In other words, "Iskander" was natural, organic product of musical evolution of Supersister, and this evolution was, to some extent, similar to the evolution of some British prog-bands in this period. "Iskander" is the concept album which is devoted to Alexander the Great. Please do not forget that 1973 is the year of the prog concept albums. Music continuously develops, and this album is the most monolithic, coherent work by the band. Moreover, this development is symphonic by its nature. Therefore reviewed album is not "avant- garde" like Frank Zappa, Henry Cow or Soft Machine (although the general features can be found). Yes, we face with a lot of "avantish" dissonances, breaks and changes in tempos, rhythms and measures, but symphonic component matters. It is more symphonic music than works by any of Canterbury or RIO bands. Moreover, symphonic and avantprog elements are very closely interlinked (like in the best albums of Yes, King Crimson and Gentle Giant). Another important thing is the presence of Arabian "motives". Arabian elements in the progressive rock are the extroordinary rarity. Possibly, therefore many reviewers strongly emphasized such ethnic elements in the famous "Rajaz" album by Camel (1999). But 26 years before there was the album containing much more organic mix between European prog-rock (and also jazz) and Arabian music. "Iskander" is opened by brass wind solo which creates "Near-Eastern" mood from the beginning of the album. And further Arabian "motives" are intertwined with many themes and "pieces" of this album. It is almost impossible to mark out the best tracks. As I already noted, the album is very monolithic; it is breathtaking from the beginning till the end. But it is necessary to mention marvellous and wonderful melodies in "Roxane" and "Looking Back", and also really progressive development of themes in "Alexander" and "The Battle". "Iskander" is not only very good album which is both melodic and grooving. It is not only highly imaginative and very eccentric work. It is indeed innovative album which has surpassed time. Unfortunately, this absolute masterpiece is underestimated up to now. Nevertheless, "Iskander" album by Supersister is the Beautiful Brick in the Wall of the World Progressive Music which is important not less than "Larks' Tongues In Aspic", "In A Glass House", "Tales From Topographic Ocean", "A Passion Play", or the other famous Bricks. "Iskander" is a must know for any lover of prog.

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Send comments to felonafan (BETA) | Report this review (#82029)
Posted Monday, June 26, 2006 | Review Permalink
Gooner
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars Musically, _Iskander_ sounds quite similar to Godbluff-era Van Der Graaf Generator before the fact, since it came out in 1973. Especially the jammy parts. No lyrics or vocals like Peter Hammill, mind you...but musically similar. Charlie Mariano as guest on sax. sounds quite similar to Elton Dean of Soft Machine fame, and it was rumoured at one time that it was Mr. Dean himself. When I heard this album, I could tell right away that it was not (no slight to Charlie Mariano, though). He does a great job on sax. As an aside, check out Charlie Mariano's work on Eberhard Weber's LPs Yellow Fields and Silent Feet(both on ECM)...escpecially if you like Soft Machine.

If you like mid-period Soft Machine and mid-period Van Der Graaf Generator, check this out. Worth mentioning is that Supersister gives _Iskander_ its own stamp. The last great Supersister LP from the '70s.

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Send comments to Gooner (BETA) | Report this review (#162846)
Posted Thursday, February 28, 2008 | Review Permalink
ZowieZiggy
PROG REVIEWER
2 stars Exit Sacha van Geest and Marco Vrolijk. Only two founding members remain and this has had a deep influence on Supersister's sound. Their Cantebury style is definitely over.

I have always had some difficulties with almost instrumental conceptual albums. How the hell can we reasonably figure out how the storyboard is constructed? I can't. Even less when it consists of an epic story about "Alexander The Great".

And when I listen to "Confrontation Of The Armies" I can't really imagine the scene. Maybe that this album should have been designed as the support of an historical documentary? And the quiet "Battle" contrasts seriously with its theme.

The pastoral and light Roxanne is one of the very rare track that I can cope with. Almost the only one featuring some fluting, which was one of the attractions of the band previously.

The music played here is rather difficult to swallow. Their famous humour is all gone and we are only facing a rather technical and hermetic music (Babylon).

Supersister's heydays are past history and this Iskander is by far their most experimental work so far. I have never been a deep fan of avant-garde or experimental music. And this one won't be the exception. Two stars.

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Send comments to ZowieZiggy (BETA) | Report this review (#171288)
Posted Saturday, May 17, 2008 | Review Permalink
Cesar Inca
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars If I made a list of my favorite prog albums that I find to be grossly underrated, this one would definitely be part of the Top 5 if not no. 1: Iskander is a special album in Supersister's history, since it's the one not featuring the original flautist and drummer. Stips and Van Eck remained in the fold, summoning a heavily jazzy drummer and a wind player who preferred the sax over the flute. The latter factor influenced the band's sonic development in a crucial manner, since it implies that the wind input can be louder than ever before in a Supersister album, and the keyboard input must necessarily adopt new tricks in order to establish a new form of dialogue with their partners in melody and soloing (the sax and the flute, of course). The brief intro is a real statement of what is going on: an exotic sax solo that properly announces the life of Alexander the Great as a champion in Greece and a hero in Asia. The sung parts are diminished, and so are the displays of musical humor, which makes the sense of musical intelligence become a major asset. What we can still notice clearly is that combination of warm dynamics and extroverted vibe that makes Supersister such a genius in the history of prog-jazz. The aforementioned sax solo gives way to "Dareios the Emperor", a piece elaborated with similarities to Weather Report and the jazzy side of compatriot band Focus (I won't go as far as to say that Focus was an actual influence on Supersister). Mariano does a big deal of Elton Dean chops, which makes for one of a few Soft Machine references for this remodeled Supersister. The title track continues in a similar vein and takes it to a more epic atmosphere: there is also an added touch of grey textures in places, which helps to make the sinister martial drums and organ layers really dark. It is a pity that the ultra- neutoric sax solo should be so short, since it reallly creates an amazing climax while it lasts. Once the electric piano comes to the frontline, the sax stops being intense and becomes quite evocative. The last two minutes are symptoms of pure jazz-prog majesty in a most orchestrated fashion. Despite its explicitly menacing title, 'Confrontation of the Armies' actually happens to be quite playful, as a nod to what the band used to do in their first two albums. 'The Battle' starts with a tympani-driven orgy (reminding us of Carl Palmer's individual highlights in the classic era of ELP), which deceitfully serves as a prologue to an eerie passage of soaring organ layers, soft baritone sax and vibraphone touches. The first main motif arrives like a mixture of Weather Report and Egg (the Canterbury element is a thing that this band can't seem to take off itself): the resulting development states an alternation of languid and furious moods that eventually lead to a bombastic closing section in which the drums and the saxare literally on fire. This one and 'Alexander' have to be the pinnacles of "Iskander". But there's still more. The following two tracks slow down a bit in order to deliver a more gracious mood: 'Bagoas' has a soft colorfulness to it, adorned with exotic percussions and flute; 'Roxane' takes a romantic approach to the bucolic side of jazz, with very tender lines on flute and stylish piano bases. 'Babylon' brings back the Weather report reference, only this time with a stronger focus on jams delivered on various mid-tempo structures (unlike the more epic 'Iskander' and 'The Battle'). The rhythm section is just superb, with a drummer who knows exactly the right place for each ornament and how to establish a whole sound with the bass player. This piece, while not as composed as tracks 2 and 3, can match their incendiary stance in many passages. 'Looking Back' fills the album's last 4 ˝ minutes, with moderate Latin-jazz tones (a trick that was also used in previous releases): the connection between bass, flute and electric piano lands on a coda of the intro. That's how this circle is closed, and this is what Supersister decided to become after the original line-up's crisis: "Iskander" is a peculiar opus in Supersister's world, yet still retaining proficiently the same level of musical excellence in the writing and performing areas. It is reasonable to miss the magic of Mr. Van Geest for this one, but it is a fact (at least to me) that this album is not a letdown at all.

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Send comments to Cesar Inca (BETA) | Report this review (#172981)
Posted Wednesday, June 04, 2008 | Review Permalink
5 stars Wow... another wonderful album from R.J. Stips and company although the exit of Sacha van Geest and Marco Vrolijk, this is their most mature and complex work. This is a concept album about Alexander the Great life, in which the typical and famous vocal parts are in background and there is no trace of the humour of their first albums, they concentrate all their effort in the instrumental part and the final result is impressive. This is the supersister album more close to the RIO, If you wanna enter in the Supersister world, surely this is not the right entrance, but once you entered in the magic Supersister world, take your time and be patient and at the end you will love this album.

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Send comments to bungle77 (BETA) | Report this review (#266684)
Posted Wednesday, February 17, 2010 | Review Permalink
friso
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars Supersister - Iskander (1973)

Supersister is a major progressive rock act from the Netherlands during the progessive haydays of the early seventies. Their style was hugely influenced by Frank Zappa (mainly the rhytmical proto-Canterbury approach) and by the Soft Machine (the distorted organ based rock sound with repetative rhythms and psychedelic vocals). With a keyboards, bass, flute and drums the band had an orginal line-up with very talented musicians, with Robert Jan Stips being one of the best keyboardplayers in Dutch rock/pop history. On the first three albums Supersister impressed fans and critics with their fast jazzy approach on progressive music with some space for great flute melodies and solo's and nice hippi vocals of Stips. On the fourth album the band had to cope with line-up changes and a change of style in general.

Robert Jan Stips still plays his fast keyboards and organs and the bass is still played by Ron van Eck. Flute player Sacha van Geest only appears on one track, the paino-flute duet called Roxane. The drums are taken over by Herman van Boeyen wit some assistence of Pierre Moerlen on percussion. The new solist is Charlie Mariano on saxophone. His style is that of a fusion musician who seems to be influenced by the style of Alton Dean of the Soft Machine.

The fact that supersister suddenly has another solo-instruments makes a huge difference on Iskander. The style of Mariano pushes the band toward that of a progressive fusion group of it's days with slight avant-garde influences. The organs of Stips are less on the foreground and the scarce vocals of Stips are almost lost in the mix. One can also find some world-music influences, for this is a concept album about Alexander the Great (named Iskander in Greece). The world-music influences remind me a bit of those of Palepoli by Osanna (from the RPI division). The drums of Boeyen are very good, but I must admit I preferred the unstoppable repetative/psychedelic jazz drums of Marco Vrolijk. Somehow Supersister lost it's vibe without the continuity of the high pace he laid down for the band.

With all these changes in line-up, sound and style I can conclude that this is not an album that is representative for the Supersister brand, but that doesn't make it a bad album. The wind-section of Mariano is very strong and most of his solo's are really great. The composition is fine, though a big more aggresion would not have hurt. My only real complaint is the bad mixing of the vocals, one can't almost hear what Stips is singing. The duet of Stips and Van Geest on 'Roxane' is a great reminder of the former Supersiter sound, it also reminds me a bit of the great atmosphere of Pudding & Gisteren's ending section. The concept is bit lost because of the low volume vocals, but when reading the inner sleeves a lot of the the band's thoughts on the subject are revealed.

Conclusion. This will perhaps never be my favorite Supersister album, but it's still recommended to fans of Canterbury, classic fusion and rare progressive rock. The album does have a strong atmosphere, though a bit sophisticated at times (unlike the happy, bombastic & crazy vibe of the first three albums). Perhaps it'll take me some more spins to nail it down completely. Three and a halve stars, but I'm a bit unsure wether it's going to be rounded up or down.

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Send comments to friso (BETA) | Report this review (#461916)
Posted Wednesday, June 15, 2011 | Review Permalink
5 stars One of the most brillant and daring albums of Dutch progressive rock and the major work of Supersister. For their last album they have assembled a great line up, consisting of master mind and band genius Robert-Jan Stips on keyboards, bass player Ron van Eck, drummer Herman van Boeijen & jazz-ace Charley Mariano on saxes and similar stuff. Iskander is, as the name well implies, a concept album about the life and times of Alexander the Great. The music on the album isn't easily accessible and it misses the familiar sense of humor, so well known from their previous albums. I think, that just because that absence of this often too adolescent "humor" the "Iskander" sounds far more mature than the other albums. The playing is impeccable and the compositions and arrangements are perfect. The music on "Iskander" ranges from complete Crimsonian chaos in "The Battle" to soft and gentle songs like "Roxane" & "Looking Back" with some fine flute parts to enjoy.The flute part in "Looking Back" is still played by the band's previous flute player Sacha van Geest. The album even contains a track that was released as a single "Bagoas", but that one didn't really reach the charts, although the band could be seen playing it in several rock shows. The band is classified as Canterbury, but I think they sound different. I can advise anyone who wants to discover the Dutch masters of progressive rock and who isn't affraid of a solid dose of jazz added, to try out this great album. Erik de Beer.

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Send comments to Life Line Project (BETA) | Report this review (#762149)
Posted Saturday, June 02, 2012 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Major changes for this album as original members Sacha (flute) and Marco (drums) have left the band. Enter a jazzy drummer and also Charlie Mariano who is fresh off playing on EMBRYO's "We Keep On" album. Charlie will play sax, flute and clarinet on this record. His stint with SUPERSISTER will be just this one album then he'll go back to Germany and play with Eberhard Weber ( "Yellow Fields" & "Silent Feet" ). This is a concept album about the life of Alexander The Great and the band seemed to take the approach here to make a serious jazz record with avant leanings much like SOFT MACHINE. I think when Sacha left he took the band's humour with him.

"Introduction" is a mournful, almost dissonant clarinet solo. "Dareios The Emperor" is a top three for me. There's this cool rhythm with electric piano and horns. Love the deep bass lines as the sound turns fuller. An uptempo lighter section is contrasted with this then the vocals come in after 2 minutes as it settles. It kicks back in. Intense after 3 minutes as the sax blasts over top. A calm a minute later to end it. "Alexander" opens with light keyboard sounds as a rhythm then dissonant horns take over. I like it ! Piano only after 2 minutes then the organ and sax joins in. This is fairly dark and still laid back. Passionate sax 3 1/2 minutes in and then silence before 4 1/2 minutes. Electric piano comes in followed by bass, drums and sax that kick in after 5 minutes. Some crazy sax late. "Confrontation Of The Armies" opens with flute then the piano joins in. It kicks into an uptempo soundscape before a minute. Vocals follow. Lots of fun !

"The Battle" is a top three. It opens with drums rolling then the clarinet and floating organ takes over in a melancholic manner. A beat 2 1/2 minutes in then it picks up after 3 minutes. The drumming is fantastic ! Horns too. Silence before 5 minutes then it slowly builds with bass, organ and more. It kicks back in at 6 minutes. Great sound ! The sax is blasting a minute later. "Bagoas" is excellent. I just love this one. It becomes uptempo with vocals and chunky bass. "Roxane" is led by flute and piano throughout and there's more passion late. "Babylon" is my final top three. Electric piano as chunky bass as crisp drums join in. Vocals too and this sounds amazing ! Sax a minute in as the vocals stop. Drums only after 3 1/2 minutes as the bass joins in. Sax follows and it's dissonant. Electric piano joins in too. It's speeding up after 6 minutes. The dissonant sax sure bring SOFT MACHINE (Elton Dean) to mind. Some killer drum work during the final minute. "Looking Back" is a mellow and dreamy track with reserved vocals.

An easy 4 stars and one that might be closer to 4.5 stars. Just a killer record that should be rated much higher than it is. A classic that SOFT MACHINE fans should check out.

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Send comments to Mellotron Storm (BETA) | Report this review (#788311)
Posted Sunday, July 15, 2012 | Review Permalink
Warthur
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Iskander represents Supersister taking a more serious turn than usual, delivering a Canterbury concept album about Alexander the Great's Eastern conquests ("Iskander" being how Alexander was known in some of the regions he conquered) that draws more from the third Soft Machine album (sans Moon In June) than the whimsy-heavy first two. Those who prized Supersister's playfulness and sense of fun in their previous albums may find this stab at serious prog rock credibility dull by comparison, but to my ears they actually do a decent job of delivering a quieter and more thoughtful take on their sound which doesn't deserve to be in the shadow of Pudding en Gisteren.

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Send comments to Warthur (BETA) | Report this review (#1153442)
Posted Tuesday, March 25, 2014 | Review Permalink

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