Top 10 "e-Prog" Albums

Freshly culled from recent list discussions, I have assembled a listing of the TOP 10 INSTRUMENTAL KEYBOARD PROG ROCK ALBUMS.  I assume you are well acquainted with all the releases from the 'big names' such as ELP, Rick Wakeman, Gentle Giant, Renaissance, etc. so these are some 'lesser-known' acts.  They are all currently available and I have provided a website address for further information on each (if available) and unless otherwise noted they can be found at one or more of the internet mail order sites shown at the bottom. There's always new (or re-released) music popping up, so if anyone knows of any good additions to this list, please let me know!!

In alphabetical order....  (follow the links provided for more reviews of each artist/group.)
If this doesn't quench your thirst, see the Top 50 e-Prog Albums.

1. Ars Nova - 'Transi' (Japan 1994)
You may be familiar with this Japanese female power-trio's most recent release called 'Goddess of Darkness' (1996). Their previous albums were originally released only in Japan and are called 'Fear & Anxiety' (1992) and 'Transi' (1994), but are also distributed by Syn-Phonic. The first album had a different drummer and was a bit lackluster in comparison, but Transi is a stunning keyboard classic. It highlights Keiko Kumagai's formidable skills in both playing and composing some very dramatic, dynamic and symphonic keyboard material. The music has a bit of a dark edge but is so fast and powerful that it would be hard to get the chills except by the sheer brilliance of the music. 'Goddess of Darkness' is more commercial sounding and to some could be a bit overblown, but 'Transi' is just pure keyboard intensity and virtuosity. It is currently out-of-print but last I checked, Syn-Phonic (see below) still carried a few copies. However, fear not because AMP Records (England) is re-releasing the first two albums very soon.

2. Los Canarios - 'Ciclos' (Spain 1974)
If you are at all a fan of adapting classical pieces into a progressive format, consider experimenting on this disc. Using Vivaldi's "Four Seasons," Canarios weaves an amazing tapestry of classical and contemporary themes into a 73-minute work of art. Dual keyboardists use a battery of analog keyboards (several moogs, several hammonds, two mellotrons, arp synth, piano, etc.) combining the classical leanings and traits of Wendy Carlos with the chops of Rick Wakeman. The guitar work is also very tasty, so you can imagine that the interplay between guitar and dual keyboards over 70 minutes gets to be very very intense. There are some vocals in all four movements (mostly English, with some Spanish & Latin), which serve to bridge together all the wonderful instrumental sections. If you are a fan of ELP's "Pictures at an Exhibition" live CD, this one is every bit as sonically brilliant, if not quite as bombastic and over-the-top. This is the only release by the group and was a double-LP, now contained on one CD. There is no website currently available and it is only available at Syn-Phonic (see below).

3. Redjy Emond - 'Sphere' (Canada 1996)
Redjy Emond is a French-Canadian and is an individual keyboard artist who employs a vast array of digital synthesizers and related equipment. He records out of his own studio in Montreal and all his music is composed, arranged, programmed and performed by himself with engineering/mastering by others. This is his sole release to date and it has 15 tracks of pure instrumental keyboard heaven. The music ranges from classical to progressive and he obviously has some real keyboard talent playing everything from delicate piano to pipe organ, harpsichord and some great synth work... along with a strong drum rhythm in most tracks. A couple of tracks have a more orchestral arrangement with horns, violins and bass drums. Some have described Emond as a cross between Wakeman & Emerson and perhaps P? Lindh. As we all know it is very easy for computers to sanitize music and this is where Redjy Emond shows his brilliance in adding "feel" to his music. Sphere is highly recommended to all fans of keyboard virtuosity. This is a real sleeper of an album. Another release is planned for 1999.

4. Goblin - 'Roller' (Italy 1976)
Goblin formed in the mid-70s and achieved their greatest acclaim for their horror movie soundtracks, although they also produced some non-soundtrack releases. They were originally called "Cherry Five" but changed their name to "Goblin" for their first soundtrack called 'Profondo Rosso' (1975) which sold 1 million copies in Italy. They are strongly influenced by Yes, but are heavier and darker, with parts reminiscent of ELP, King Crimson and Gentle Giant, and some eerie sound effects made for the film plots. Their music tends to be atmospheric and eerily evocative, yet still retains traits from symphonic prog. 'Roller', their second release, is a non-soundtrack, entirely instrumental album with a bit more compositional development. It has six long tracks with plenty of excellent minimoog, organ, piano and clavinet by Claudio Simonetti, along with searing electric guitar, crisp drums and strong bass.

5. Metamorfosi - 'Inferno' (Italy 1973)
Metamorfosi is a classical 70's Italian progressive rock band with elaborated melodies where the keyboards are particularly brilliant. They only put out two albums: 'E Fu Il Sesto Giorno' (1972) and 'Inferno' before splitting up. Inferno is the better of the two... with loads of hammond organ, piano, harpsichord, minimoog & mellotron, tight percussion and bass, and light vocals in Italian. They had a different lineup for 'Inferno' which allowed keyboard player Enrico Olivieri to shine through. It is a concept album based on Dante's 'Divine Comedy' and was also a political statement with rock versions of both the American and Soviet national anthems. The first album was more of a highlight for their lead singer, Jimmy Spitaleri, who went on to record with a band called Thor. They broke up because Inferno did not have very good sales at the time and they refused to compromise their style towards the commercial side. Metamorphosi's 'Inferno' is now considered one of the great classic Italian prog masterpieces.

6. P? Lindh Project - 'Mundus Incompertus' (Sweden 1997)
'Mundus Incompertus' is a brand new release from the Swedish master of composition and keyboard playing. Three long tracks of over 9 minutes, 6 minutes and the title track at nearly 27 minutes. P? Lindh plays Churchorgan, Grand piano Blutner, Harpsichord, Hammond Organ B3, C3 & L-100, Mellotron Mark V & 400, LSE synth, analog & digital synth, additional percussion & 12 string guitar. Other main members of the P? Lindh Project are Magdalena Hagberg on vocals, Nisse Bielfeld (Drums & percussion), Marcus Jaderholm (Bass) and Jocke Ramsell on Electric & acoustic guitars. Other guests help out on recorder, violin, oboe, trombone and the Singillatim Choir. The same high standard of classical and progressive styles that featured on 'Gothic Impressions' is also a feature of 'Mundus Incompertus'. However this time P? takes no part in the vocals, leaving this department to the incredible voice of Magdalena Hagberg. Jocke Ramsell shreds some great guitar work within the compositions. The music of P? Lindh is less technical and more 'feel' than that of another great keyboard wizard, Keith Emerson. This is a must have for any progressive music fan's collection.

7. Romantic Warriors - 'Battlefield' (Italy 1993)
Romantic Warriors are the reincarnation of the 70's Italian jazz-rock group "Arti E Mestieri" featuring keyboard great Beppe Crovella and drummer Furio Chirico along with several guest performers. Crovella had been manager for such notable Italian prog groups as "Calliope", "Syndone" and "Il Castello Di Atlante" before taking this symphonic rock trip down memory lane. Armed to the hilt with a battery of keyboards, he recreates the glorious sounds of the 70's with a strong keyboard emphasis... Hammond, Moog, Mellotron, Arp, Yamaha, Roland, Proteus, Emu - you name it. There are some vocals which are in English and are perhaps the only weak point. The 12-track album is mostly pure instrumentals which are truly impressive. The packaging is a beautiful triple-foldout digipak with medieval warriors in armor on their steeds and carrying instruments instead of lances. No website is currently available.

8. Solaris - 'Martian Chronicles' (Hungary 1983)
Solaris is a Hungarian band that has been around since 1980 but have split and reformed several times. They are all instrumental and sound like a blend of ELP, Camel, Eloy and even Jethro Tull, with lots of analog synthesizers and flute. Their music has a strong melodic content, often laced with Eastern European themes, and is highlighted by the use of dynamics and extended thematic development. There is a great deal of interplay among the lead instruments which is used to good effect in developing their themes. Their first release 'Martian Chronicles' (1983) is a classical prog rock masterpiece. Their other releases are '1990' (2CD, 1990) and 'Live in Los Angeles' (2CD, 1996) which was performed at Progfest '95... and despite being a live recording, it has exemplary sound quality, and the performances given of their studio material seem to have an added dynamism and immediacy which breathes new life into them.

9. Standarte - 'Curses and Invocations' (Italy 1996)
Standarte is a 90's band with a 70's sound reminiscent of Atomic Rooster. They are an Italian trio featuring the strong keyboards of Michele Profeti, solid percussion and vocals from Daniele Caputo and scorching bass guitar (and additional keys) by Stefano Gabbani. They produce a 70's retro sound complete with Hammond organ, harpsichord, piano, 2 Mellotrons, 2 Moogs and vocals sounding like The Doors (or actually more like Atomic Rooster from 'In Hearing of...'). Both albums are hard driving but with a smooth structured feel and the concepts are very dark and surreal, but yet the music is surprisingly uplifting. The first self-titled album (1994) is dedicated to the late Vincent Crane, keyboardist from Atomic Rooster. Both have some spoken words (English w/British accent) interspersed with some excellent vocals that set the tone of gothic horror. The Hammond organ dominates almost every track, followed by hard-edged vocals, scorching bass and tight percussion. There is good change of pace and plenty of variety to keep you on your toes. Maybe one thing that is intriguing about this group is the stark contrast between dark and light, old and new, etc. A third album called 'Stimmung' is due out in September.

10. Trace - Self-Titled (Holland 1974)
Trace is lead by keyboard master Rick van der Linden who left the highly successful Dutch band Ekseption to pursue a style more to his liking. They are an instrumental trio incorporating many jazz and classical stylings into a virtuostic rock format. The main classical influence seems to be Baroque in nature, although later classical forms emerge at times. The self-titled first album contains the most overt jazz influence along with the greatest degree of technical proficiency. 'Birds' (1975) is dominated by the 20+ minute title suite, which demonstrates a greater degree of thematic development than their previous pieces allowed. There are also some sparse English vocals here, which are mediocre. Birds also has a good Bach adaptation with Darryl Way guesting on violin. 'White Ladies' (1976) is one long conceptual piece which emphasizes theme and arrangement even more, with the core trio expanded to include additional musicians including various wind instruments. One track has female vocals, while another two contain a kind of awkward dramatic narration. There's also some nice lead synth lines using unusual voicings. For pure keyboard virtuosity, the first album is symphonic progressive rock at its finest.  No website is available at this time.

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