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Honorary Collaborator
5 stars It's been a good year for fans of the wonderful Canterbury sound! We've had a terrific new album from some of the originators with Soft Machine Legacy's `Burdon of Proof', a winning collection of jazzy improvs and experimental fragments. But for my money, it's been the younger whipper- snappers that have taken the ideals of various Canterbury bands and added their own unique style to the mix to come up with some tremendously exciting modern interpretations of the sound. La Theorie Des Cordes double live album `Singes Electriques' took the manic quirkiness of Gong while adding their own touch of flair, flamboyance, and humour. This one, Phlox's live instrumental album `Vali', adds noisy and frantic energy to the ideas of Egg, National Health and The Soft Machine, and it's no surprise to find another candidate for one of the albums of the year.

The majority of the album is comprised of Canterbury styled jazz, frequently driven by glistening electric piano runs and rapid-fire varied drumming, but there's also plenty of gorgeous slinky bass, fiery electric guitar wailing and dazzling lively saxophone. The whole disc such delivers such an infectious upbeat sound that will really make you smile, but it also knows when to offer more emotional thoughtful passages as well as some wild unpredictablity. Some pieces include added 70's inspired extended fusion workouts and deeply psychedelic excursions. The band show they can slow things down beautifuly, incorpating some slightly uneasy moodiness in the lonely night- time piano spiralling of the opening minutes of `Hulge Hing', and some driving bluesy soloing and punchy drumming throughout `Paigalelend'. `Hunt' is all brisk and blustery noise with some deeply grooving relentless bass behind exhausting loopy wavering electronic experimentation. However, the smoky saxophone musings of `Kurehirm', truly the sound of lonely night-time city streets gradually turning more bent and dangerously unhinged as it progresses, is full of the same daring, experimental, dingy sonic explorations the Soft Machine quickly turned to, and is absolutely thrilling and only hints at the exciting directions the band can head to from here.

Fans of first-rate jazz/fusion and especially the Canterbury sound should look into this disc right away. A completely infectious album, I was on such a natural high hearing the energy and so much joy in the band's performance! It's also hugely satisfying to hear a band throw out the rulebook of a particular genre and mess around with it to take it in fresh and revealing new directions. `Vali' is easily in my top ten discs for 2013.

The inside of the digipack has an illustration of a bomb going off, and that couldn't be more appropriate. This one takes a fuse to unimaginative, stale clinical fusion albums and detonates right in their faces!

Five stars.

Report this review (#1087362)
Posted Sunday, December 8, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars Canterbury, Kent, Estonia

Phlox was formed in Tallin, the capital city of Estonia, in 1999 by a guitarist Kristo Roots, percussionist Raivo Prooso, drummer Rainer Kapmann, and bassist Priit Holtsmann. Despite numerous personnel changes, since its very early days, the band's sound has been shaped by the Canterbury scene bands such as Hatfield and the North, National Health, Gilgamesh, and even Soft Machine. After four official albums, in 2013, Phlox released the live-cut Vali which as of June 2016 is their most recent album. Vali was recorded and broadcasted live for Areaal, Estonian Classical Radio, in April 2012.

There is undoubtedly something that saves Phlox from sounding like just another Canterbury-style jazz-rock outfit. And yet, there is no other way to describe the band's music. Take the best instrumental elements of the music of Hatfield and the North, mix them with the improvisational qualities of post-Wyatt era Soft Machine and soft, mellow smoothness of National Health's music. The dish that is already tasty is seasoned with straight-up jazz-rock influences of Nucleus and Mahavishnu Orchestra. And voilà , you're being served modern Canterbury sound of the highest order! The music of Phlox is largely improvisation-based, Vali is dripping with lengthy saxophone jams and synthesizer solos. In addition, the band has a great dynamic range. They can go from a delicate, dreamy parts on Fender Rhodes electric piano to heavy, noisy, and wild workouts in a great taste. At times gentle, mellow and calming, at times unsettling, loud, and disturbing - Phlox has got a very wide variety of flavors in store for the listener.

The keyboardist Pearu Helenurm could very well be regarded as the engine of the band, allowing it to go to the Canterbury scene-oriented territories. His virtuosic style shows evident inspiration of keyboardist such as Dave Stewart, Alan Gowen, and Mike Ratledge. His extensive use of electric piano is intermingled with a synthesizer, usually used as a solo instrument. Kalle Klein, a virtuoso saxophonist, handles alto and soprano saxophones with great ease. His playing may remind one of that of John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman, especially on the dissonant, free-form parts. Ravio Prooso with his "thumpy" bass guitar tone provides great grooves for the rest of the band to work on. Madis Zilmer's is characterized by heavy and dynamic rhythms. The band's guitarist, Kristo Roots, rarely finds himself playing rapid Phil Miller-like guitar solos, his guitar most often plays a role of a rhythm instrument, which lays down a theme for the rest of the band to work on. Allan Prooso enriches the group's sound with percussion instruments such as wood blocks or a triangle. All in all, Phlox without a doubt consists of skillful musicians with great amounts of technical know-how.

Vali opens with "80 000 ljööd Maa All", a heavy Canterbury-inspired jazzy jam, which at one point or another displays work of every instrument. Next up, "Almus" begins with an almost pop-like intro on Fender Rhodes, which dissolves into improvisation with a loud distorted guitar, synthesizers, and a high-pitched saxophone. "Küttearve Päikeselt" is another one that opens with a mellow passage on electric piano, this time put through a tremolo effect. Then, drums and saxophones kick in and the track loses itself in improvisational madness and a great interplay of Roots' guitar and Klein's saxophone. Later on in the piece, Pearu Helenurm gets a brief synthesizer solo. "Hülge Hing" is the first track to feature a grand piano - a much-welcome variation. "Paigalelend" opens with a dry guitar riff, which returns in between jams throughout the tune. "Hunt (5 Minutes to Armageddon Version)" starts with a somewhat mellow feel, which slowly descends into heavy, noisy, jazz-fueled mayhem. The last track on Vali, "Kurehirm (Doom Night Ornithology Special)" begins with a quiet interaction between percussion (which sounds a bit like frogs in a swamp), Rhodes, and a saxophone. Being the lengthiest piece on the album, saxophone gets some naked solo parts without any other band members accompanying.

Vali is by far the only live release from the Estonian outfit Phlox, showcasing their energetic, inspired, and vigorous sound. It raises a smile to see a contemporary band play fresh, interesting jazz-rock to a high degree inspired by Canterbury scene bands such as Hatfield and the North, National Health or Gilgamesh. Highly recommended to fans of the Canterbury scene!

Report this review (#1574322)
Posted Friday, June 3, 2016 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
4 stars PHLOX are from Estonia and they play an Avant Jazz style of music. I discovered them around 2009 with their 2007 release and became a fan. I have their next two studio recordings plus this their only live album released in 2013. This album is taken from a live broadcast they did for a radio station in Estonia with a small audience on April 25, 2012. Interesting that of the seven tracks five were previously unreleased while the final two songs are from that 2007 album called "Rebimine + Voltimine". A six piece here with an extra percussionist and typically it's the sax, guitar and electric piano soloing over the rhythm section. The sax player is quite the performer taking the music into Avant territories at times with his experimental and dissonant playing.

These guys did it right as the first two tracks are killers and then it ends with the two known songs that are taken into more extreme regions compared to the studio versions. I guess that's why they added to the titles as in "Hunt(5 Minutes To Armageddon Version)" and "Kurehirm(Doom Night Ornithology Special)" haha. While the sax blows me away the guitar isn't far behind, the man can play. The keyboardist plays mostly electric piano and the rhythm section with the added percussion is very cool and certainly a lot of the Jazz greats started to add multiple percussionists in the 70's like Miles Davis. This isn't the first time I've heard this band live as I have 2 bonus tracks on that 2007 release that are live tracks recorded in 2006. A lot more fuzz and heaviness on the 2006 concerts but that second bonus track shows the band going deep into the Avant. I noticed the band seemed to be getting away from the fuzz and Avant as they have progressed through the years. The Canterbury flavour isn't here either in 2012 compared to 5 years earlier.

I think my favourite song on here is "Almus" the second tune with that KING CRIMSON heaviness that is brief early on to the quiet sections. Man they can get chaotic on this track with walls of sound to the beautiful sounds of the electric piano playing over top with so much going on. I should mention "Hulge Hing" with that UNIVERS ZERO-like piano that is quite dark to open. While the first two tracks and the final two numbers standout for me, it's all really good making this easily a 4 star album in my world.

Report this review (#2546940)
Posted Sunday, May 30, 2021 | Review Permalink

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