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ARABESQUE

Symphonic Prog • United States


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Arabesque biography
Founded in Pittsburgh, USA in 1973 - Disbanded in 1979

Just when you thought all precious rocks had been extracted from the old symphonic prog mine, comes this incredible gem which practically no one had ever set eyes on. How this band managed to go unnoticed for over thirty years is a mystery. What is not a mystery is that thanks to Shroom Productions - a Texas based label specializing in the re-issue of old lost treasures - the music of ARABESQUE will now delight thousands of new symphonic prog fans. The band members come from a working class suburb of Pittsburgh and were around from 1973 to 1980. Their music is complex, dynamic, well structured and expertly performed, in an early GENESIS-meets-CAMEL sort of style. The band consists of August Smarra on guitar and vocals, Jim Renda on drums, Tom Ketterer on bass, R.J. Ketterer on vibes and percussion, and Budd Kelly on keyboards and lead vocals.

Their album "Tales of Power", issued in cd format in 2002, is made up of recordings dating from 1973 to 1979. Following the great symphonic tradition, they have the fantasy-like lyricism of GENESIS, the instrumental ornery of YES (guitarist Smarra pulls out all the stops in true Steve Howe fashion), the vocal inflexions of STRAWBS' David Cousins (do we detect a slight Scottish, Fish-y accent here?), the ethereal magic of HAPPY THE MAN, and a touch of psychedelia la IRON BUTTERFLY. More than half the tracks clock in at 10 minutes + and all are well constructed and expertly performed. As for the production, it is not perfect but surprisingly good, considering the year these recordings were made.

Highly recommended to all progheads who thought they knew the whole symphonic catalogue by heart.

: : : Lise (HIBOU), CANADA : : :

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3.42 | 42 ratings
Tales of Power
2002

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ARABESQUE Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Tales of Power by ARABESQUE album cover Studio Album, 2002
3.42 | 42 ratings

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Tales of Power
Arabesque Symphonic Prog

Review by Squire Jaco

4 stars Sometimes you have to dig a little deeper to find the finer gems.

I still get a kick out of discovering old obscure prog acts that played the kind of music I've always gravitated towards. On a search of this type, one frequently has to suffer through some bands that remained obscure for valid reasons; but occasionally one gets rewarded with a find like the Pittsburgh-area based band Arabesque. Their 2002 cd "Tales of Power" is actually a collection of songs written and recorded between 1973 and 1979, and compiled by the Texas-based Shroom Records. This is a very enjoyable prog cd in the same class as Cathedral, while drawing inspiration from early Genesis, Camel and Yes (with occasional nods to late-60's bands like Iron Butterfly or Vanilla Fudge). The vocals are warm and well done - for some reason, they remind me again of vocalists from early bands like Sugarloaf, The Ides of March, or The Grass Roots; even a little Jim Morrison in places. They mix in some non-traditional percussion (glockenspiel and temple blocks?!) and a large battery of analog keyboards. They sound like pretty polished musicians, which is sort of amazing because I read a recent message from Budd Kelly (keyboard player and vocals) that claims that none of these recordings were done in a studio - instead, they are mostly basement demos, recorded live in stereo, sometimes in the bass player's clothes closet!

I admit I'm also a sucker for nice cd artwork and liner notes that include a full history of the band as well as photos, lyrics, etc.; I was not disappointed here. With four mini-epics over 10 minutes long, and over 76 minutes of music overall, any traditional proghead will find plenty of original and exciting music to enjoy on this nice compilation. One of a kind band and cd. Recommended.

 Tales of Power by ARABESQUE album cover Studio Album, 2002
3.42 | 42 ratings

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Tales of Power
Arabesque Symphonic Prog

Review by sgtpepper

3 stars The unknown American band recorded several tracks in the mid 70's that saw the spotlight in 2002. All of the songs are ambitious and rarely end before the 10-minute mark. Vocals are decent and keyboard usually dominate over guitar. Bass guitar is not very always very hearable also due to poor sound quality. Music is mainly upbeat and dynamic with great fill-ins. Besides progressive rock inspiration from Europe, you can hear American rock spirit evident from drumming and bass guitar. Keyboards are firmly rooted in progressive rock.

Hammong organ, moog and ARP are used frequently.

The first track has some good complex keyboards less focused on soloing and more on arrangements. Some moments invoke ELP or Collegium Musicum organ moments.

"Cobbler's knob" is somewhat darker thanks to guitar. It has keyboards with more modern seound than the first track - less Hammond and more Moog or synths. There is something jazzy in the air and the guitar+xylophone have Canterbury shade.

The third track "We the farmers' song" is the most catchy number. It is also more straighforward to give a break after two extended track. Briefly, Yes-inspired guitar can be heard. The synth solo is awesome. "as the novelty wears" is closer to classic rock than progressive rock. Noteworthy is a great electric piano solo.

"Except for dreaming" is the most doomy and dramatic piece, maybe a trip to the King Crimson realm? Unfortunately, the sound is even worse than on other tracks. Band members found inspiration also in more exotic rhythms as can be heard in the instrumental busy section.

This album does not bring anythin revoluationary or unforgettable to the progressive rock table, be it in the world's or American context. Moreover, the sound quality might put off some listeners with a very good audio equipment. Three stars ensured.

 Tales of Power by ARABESQUE album cover Studio Album, 2002
3.42 | 42 ratings

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Tales of Power
Arabesque Symphonic Prog

Review by Magnum Vaeltaja
Special Collaborator Eclectic Prog Team

3 stars The sole release from American symphonic prog basement band Arabesque that was recorded at band members' homes. The album, though released in 2002, was recorded in the mid 1970's. As a result of the time and place the album was recorded, it shows on the production. Luckily, though, the quality of the music saves it.

There are many lovable qualities to Arabesque's "Tales Of Power". The album art, for one, is intriguing and the music itself is incredible. The album contains 7 songs that span a total of almost 80 minutes and in this hour-plus musical journey there are no discernibly weak tracks. The musicianship is strong from all 5 members and the compositions, although following many of the symphonic prog cliches, are still very well-done. The musical influence of Arabesque lies in the great symphonic giants of the 1970's, most notably Camel, though Genesis and Yes makes their rounds in the album's sound.

"Tales Of Power" is perhaps the best lo-fi, self-released album in prog (that I've heard so far, anyway) and Arabesque, unlike many other small American prog bands from the time, is very good at avoiding sounding derivative. Overall, a pretty good little-known album that wouldn't be out of place in any symphonic prog collection.

 Tales of Power by ARABESQUE album cover Studio Album, 2002
3.42 | 42 ratings

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Tales of Power
Arabesque Symphonic Prog

Review by Mellotron Storm
Prog Reviewer

3 stars ARABESQUE were an American Prog band from Pittsburg (Go Steelers!) who were never able to get a record deal so they created their own music over the years in a basement with 4 track tape.This is a compilation of those songs which were created between 1973 and 1979. Unfortunately the sound quality isn't top notch but man the music sure is. It's sad really that a label didn't give these guys a chance to do it right because they were a very talented group.

"An Epic : Krail Mountain" was started in 1975 but not completed until the next year. Again recorded on 4 track tape so it doesn't exactly sound that great. Nature sounds early then music followed by vocals. Spoken words 2 minutes in then keyboards and drums start to lead before it settles again.Vocals are back before 4 minutes. An impressive instrumental section from after 5 minutes to before 10 1/2 minutes. "Cobbler's Knob" is an instrumental and a top three track for me.This was the last tune recorded in the basement in 1979. Percussion to start as sounds come and go. Some nice guitar before 1 1/2 minutes.The drums are prominant followed by chunky bass 4 1/2 minutes in.The guitar is ripping it up a minute later. "We (The Farmers Song)" is simply a good song that could have been a single if shortened. Catchy and meaningful with excellent vocals. A top three. "The Forgotten Pond" opens with intricate sounds that come and go then it picks up and gets fuller before 2 minutes.

"As Novelty Wears..." is sort of a shot at the music business who at the time were only interested in disco and pop music because they sold records.This is really all over the place.Tempo changes galore as in "in your face" music business (haha). Good song. "Arcanum Of Atlantis" is the other top three for me.The sound builds and the tempo picks up.Vocals 1 1/2 minutes in. I like this one a lot. A nice long instrumental section on this one too. "Except For Dreaming" is the first original song they created but it was under a different name and it has been spruced up. I like when it turns dark and fairly powerful 7 minutes in.The tempo then picks back up with guitar. Nice.

A good album that more importantly allows us to get a glimpse at a talented band doing what they loved.

 Tales of Power by ARABESQUE album cover Studio Album, 2002
3.42 | 42 ratings

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Tales of Power
Arabesque Symphonic Prog

Review by toroddfuglesteg

3 stars As Budd Kelly , former vox & keys of Arabesque has explained in his own review of this album, this is a collection of songs from 1974 to 1978. Which explains the variety of styles on this album.

This is sadly the only album from this American band, not to be confused with an Austrian metal band with the same name. The music comes across as a blend of Genesis, Yes, Cathedral, Strawbs and King Crimson. There is even some hints of ELP and the Canterbury scene here. The latter (ie Caravan) comes across on the instrumental bits of the most commercial catchy song on this album; The Farmer Song. A great song which breaks up the symphonic melancholy which ferments the rest of this album.

Although this album is pretty instant pleasing to the ear, I think this probably ages as fine wine. In other words; enjoy it over several decades and never ever let it fade away in the record collection. I have only been listening to it for a couple of months and I am not so sure if I am getting it. The music, as the blend of the great prog masters it is, is very good. I think most symphonic prog rock fans will find it very pleasing and a lost treasure. But maybe not a diamond. The music is very epic, but it does not take me the places I want to go. The music is also very intense and a bit fractioned, this being a compilation album.

Besides of this, this is a good album for those into the above mentioned bands. It really should be a treasure in the same vein as the Cathedral album from the same decade. I think this album is like a bottle of fine wine and it should be stored and listened to carefully over the next decades. I believe both myself and those who heed my advice will get a lot of pleasure from it in the future.

3.75 stars

 Tales of Power by ARABESQUE album cover Studio Album, 2002
3.42 | 42 ratings

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Tales of Power
Arabesque Symphonic Prog

Review by manofmystery

5 stars Seeing as ARABESQUE hail from da' Burgh (Pittsburgh for the lehman) this would be my home town prog band (give or take a 30 miles) and I must say; they don't disappoint. Easily some of the best vocals from an American prog band (a voice with character!) and true to the British well balanced instrumental sound that symphonic prog was built on, this band really had something cooking back in the late 70s. This is not the watered down, more pop friendly, Kansas' style American prog, this is the real deal. It is always a wonder how a band so clearly possessing top-of-the-heap chops can quitely appear and just as quitely disappear without releasing so much as an album during their active years. Either way, I am glad an album was eventually put together as this is a dynamite listening pleasure. The entire project is very alive with excellent composition, musicianship, and vocals with all the character of an English band of the time. This album should also serve as yet another example to the modern prog bands of how to fill an album full of 10+ minute songs without boring anyone. You know you;ve done a fine job when you release a full hours worth of music that seems to fly by like it was half that length and leaves you wanting more. While much different in style this is the best/most-interesting stuff I've heard thus far from an American prog band outside of Zappa (having not yet aquired any Yezda Urfa) and I don't see any way around giving them a 5 star rating, even if it is mostly because we have so little critical breathing room on a 1-5 star rating scale. More of a 4.5-4.7 star album it would be very unfair to round down (and wouldn't make much sense either) so 5 stars it is!
 Tales of Power by ARABESQUE album cover Studio Album, 2002
3.42 | 42 ratings

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Tales of Power
Arabesque Symphonic Prog

Review by b_olariu
Prog Reviewer

3 stars Arabesque is a forgotten band from USA progressive movement from the '70's. The album Tales of power is released in 2002 but containing recordings from 1973 to 1978. When I first listen to this album I was kinda shocked how '70's they sound, didn't know that this pieces are originaly composed in the '70's. After digging in their history I found out that they coudn't manage to put on market the album in first place, and Shroom records trace the album and re released him in 2002. The music Arabesque playes is eleborate symphonic prog with excellent musicianship, long instrumental passages and brilliant interplay between guirat and keys. Over this instrumental arrangements the warm voice of August Smarra make this album worth investigate if you are in this kind of music. Sometimes they remind me of Genesis or Camel but not a copy , they have their own sound. All the pieces stands as good , not a weak moment. So a good album, deserve 3 stars for sure.
 Tales of Power by ARABESQUE album cover Studio Album, 2002
3.42 | 42 ratings

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Tales of Power
Arabesque Symphonic Prog

Review by jmpk

3 stars This isn't a review, just a note from Budd Kelly , former vox & keys of Arabesque.

Since the release of Tales of Power by Rich Patz at Shroom , I've been really really appreciative of so many kind words about the music. Likewise I enjoy as well , the not so positive stuff too! It's all good, as we all , players and listeners alike, are part of a greater collective, a brotherhood/sisterhood in a great form of expression and communication - it's just great to share the music after so many years. Important to note regarding the recording, is that it's not a studio one. "Tales..." is made up primarily of early basement demos, with music recorded live in stereo (only 2 mics) onto an under-exploited Dokorder 4-track reel-to-reel. Vocals were then overdubbed with myself literally crammed into bassist Tom Ketterer's bedroom closet, clothes and all, with the door slid shut. Of the few other overdubs(BGVs and acoustic piano on the NOVELTY , synth & guitar jungle FX on the POND ) they were also in Tom's room , ac.piano and full band were in the Ketterer's basement. One track, as credited, is Live at Allegheny Community College to 2 track but perhaps is a live mic (2) and direct signal from mixer blend - , that would be Except for Dreaming (aka The Last Remake of Sredni Vashtar) the final version of the first song we ever wrote. Other points of post-Arabesque interest to anyone still curious : In summer of '81 I moved to State College PA and joined local favorites "RED ROSE COTILLION" (see redrosecotillion.com and jamie thompson. net) . We did a final, groovey version of THE FARMER SONG which became an RRC fan favorite. All live recordings from The PHYRST etc..

On a sad note, Arabesque drummer Jim Renda , dearest friend, died suddenly in November of 2005. He was a beloved gentle soul and a great drummer. Deeply missed every day by this arabuddy. More recordings exist and are in the Shroom archives. Three 16-track real studio tunes from 1980 as well as more basement demos. PLUS a huge archive of personal music from 1974-2006 from everybody in the Arabesque lineage: Schizm, Spectra, Jirus, Tuberunity, free-form jams and solo projects.....

I can be reached via Red Rose or Jamie Thompson or temporarily at [email protected] THANKS AGAIN for all the kind feedback -- BK.

The craft continues .....

 Tales of Power by ARABESQUE album cover Studio Album, 2002
3.42 | 42 ratings

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Tales of Power
Arabesque Symphonic Prog

Review by Trotsky
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

3 stars With a ripple of organ appeggios an epic unfolds. And the epic tale is not just that of Krall Mountain, but that of this Arabesque album itself. Recorded over a period of years (from 1973-1979) this decent set of songs remained in the vault for a quarter of a century, only seeing the light of day in 2002. Remarkably Tales Of Power is on par with, and in the odd case, even stronger than, many more acclaimed lost American albums that I've heard.

Lead vocalist Budd Kelly (who is also the keyboardist) has a narrative vocal style that seems clearly influenced by Peter Gabriel, although his vocal timbre is closer to that of Dave Cousins of The Strawbs. Indeed the opening track An Epic - Krall Mountain seems like a multi-dimensional audition for a place in Trespass-era Genesis, with Kelly throwing in a fair bit of Banksian organ. There are also some decent synth moments and a bit of an overly frenzied guitar solo from August Smarra.

Other highpoints include We (The Farmer's Song) which is simply, a great rock song. Sure the sound may not have much depth (remember that this music sat on the shelves for a couple of decades), but the flow of the music and the melodies of keyboards, guitar and lead vocals are excellent. There's also As The Novelty Wears, which is more of a jazz-rock piece with Kelly moving to the electric piano, and the closer Except The Dreaming which has a mock-horror opening (they go through great lengths to create that sterotypical Gothic feel), then a gentle folk passage, and then a high octane jam to conclude it all.

It's not all plain sailing though. Like numerous other 70s symphonic American acts, Arabesque occasionally seem a little overly influenced by Yes. Also some of the songs could have used some editing. The instrumental Cobbler's Knob is definitely overlong. When it starts off with a nice little synth solo, one expects great things. One does not expect to have to listen to a series of mediocre passages for nigh on 11 minutes with scarcely any variation to speak off as keys and guitar alternate lead. Believe me the vibe playing of R.J. Ketterer doesn't add enough ... particularly during the last 6 minutes when a single riff just goes on and on!

Thankfully the other instrumental The Forgotten Pond is better, with a more memorable melody although even at just under 5 minutes, it seems to repeat itself, and indeed starts sounding a bit too much like Cobbler's Knob! Arcanum Of Atlantis is pretty decent and some great synth leads, but by this time, everything is a little too familiar.

Indeed, I must admit that I used to be a little bit more enthusiatic about this record. It's still pretty good, but I would definitely go for the essential Kansas, Utopia, Yezda Urfa, Pavlov's Dog and Cathedral albums before seeking this one out. ... 58% on the MPV scale

 Tales of Power by ARABESQUE album cover Studio Album, 2002
3.42 | 42 ratings

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Tales of Power
Arabesque Symphonic Prog

Review by erik neuteboom
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Altough I'm a proghead from 1975, I own a large collection and I write many reviews for this site, almost every week I discover progrock gems after reading the reviews on Prog Archives: Marsupilami, Red Sand, Rain, Indian Summer and... Arabesque, what a beautiful Seventies prog! The 7 compositions (most around 10 minutes) have a wonderful typical Seventies symphonic rock sound featuring compelling shifting moods, strong breaks and great soli on guitar and keyboards, fine assorted percussion (like Glockenspiel and temple blocks) and, last but not least, a good singer with a warm and distinctive voice. The music has echoes from early Genesis, Yes, King Crimson and Camel and often reminds me of the other great USA band Babylon (also Genesis-inspired) and some early psychedelic Floyd (Farfisa organ play). Despite this flood of references, Arabesque doesn't sound as a clone and manages to keep my attention for the whole CD, I'm delighted about this discovery!


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