Greg Segal - "Rivers" (Phantom Airship Records 2005, PAle 17)
Greg Segal - "A Play of Light and Shadow" (Phantom Airship Records 2006, PAle 18)
Greg Segal - "The Old Familiar Place" (Phantom Airship Records 2006, PAle 19)
From Aural Innovations #33 (March 2006)
Hold on to your hats friends because here's the skinny on the three latest albums in Greg Segal's PAle series of solo releases.
Rivers consists of 33 tracks, nearly all clocking in at under 2 minutes. However, each track leads into the next in such a way as to make this an instrumental concept album, something that appeared increasingly intentional as the album progressed. The musical styles and ideas certainly do flow in that way, coming across as a 70+ minute stream of inter-related musical thoughts and themes. Yeah… this is one of Greg's prog albums, but progressive rock done up in Greg's incomparable way.
Dulcimer and mandolin are among the primary instruments on the album, giving the music a kind of traditional/country/celtic flavor, but nearly always within a progressive rock and experimental (though not avant-garde) context. But there's also plenty of electric guitar as well, and I like the way Greg combines multiple layers of efx'd electric guitar along with the acoustic instruments. We also get a number of dramatic avant-prog/RIO type pieces (best exemplified by "Rapids" and "Valley of the Stinging Death") that keep the intensity level rising and falling. And speaking of drama, I really dig "Dissolving Surface", which is an ambient/soundscape/experimental piece that serves as an intro to the aptly titled cosmic prog rocker, "Speed Drifting". Some tracks, like "Into Flux Passage/Powell's Echoes", "From the Tree" and "Panic Gorge", are progressive rock instrumentals that combine a more distinctive early 70's influence with bits and pieces of Greg's unique touch. And if you're like me and think Robert Fripp has become dead boring in recent years, you'll really like "Ornith Gate", which combines trademark Frippoid guitarscapes with swirly spaced out efx, bells and varied percussion. And at nearly 6 minutes, "Hidden Falls" is by far the longest single track of the set, and is a very cool blend of atmospheric guitarscapes, progressive rock and psychedelic sitar (I don't see sitar in the credits but that's the sound).
Wow, what a wonderful album! Just a very cool patchwork of instrumentals that work really well together as an album best listened to in a single sitting.
A Play of Light and Shadow consists of 22 similarly brief instrumental statements, again resulting in a collection of varying musical ideas. And while the album doesn't have the continuous conceptual flow that Rivers has, it's nonetheless another excellent collection of creative and often exciting instrumentals.
The title track opens the set and is a dark rocker that blends avant-prog/RIO elements with a King Crimson-ish feel, though the end result ultimately belongs to Greg. Same with the closing track, "A Long Walk Home From Nowhere". Among the other highlights is "Zen After Hours", which sounds like a spaced out rendition of "Stray Cat Strut". It's really got that kind of groove. "Revolving Doors" has a similar groove, though it's deep in space. "The Minds Knows No Country" is a spacey, whimsical and somewhat avant-garde sound exploration. "The Tracks of Ancestors" is an intriguing oriental/meditational/experimental/progressive blend. It's really hard to describe much of what Greg is doing, which makes the music such an adventure to get immersed in.
My favorite track of the set is "The Haunted Pool", the album's one long track (7+ minutes), which is a dreamlike hallucinogenic journey with layers of guitar patterns, eerie atmospherics and a freaky alien vibe. The guitar patterns and atmospherics drive the music, which also has an intense, haunting Roger Trigaux/Present sound. I'm glad Greg took the time to develop this one because this is an excellent ambient/avant-prog number.
Electric guitar dominates on A Play of Light and Shadow, making several of the tracks more purely heavy rocking than Rivers, though it's just as much in progressive rock territory. Much of it is also a bit more on the free-improv/avant-garde side than Rivers, and ultimately a more challenging listen, though anyone into adventurous musical experiences will find the album thoroughly entrancing and accessible.
The latest from Greg is The Old Familiar Place. The album opens as a space-ambient soundscape piece, but with a haunted house theme that instantly drew my attention to the spectral picture of an old house on the CD cover. But then the music abruptly shifts to the acoustic guitar and soaring riffs of "A House With History", a brief interlude before shifting back into the Poltergeist vibe. Wow, we're less than 5 minutes into the album and have already been treated to a variety of acoustic and electric guitar sounds. Some of my favorite tracks on the album feature Greg combining pleasant acoustic guitar passages with a variety of electric guitar sounds and textures.
"Stains" is a standout track, and another dark themed piece that is like a spaced out orchestra of ghosts. I imagined exploring the old familiar place on the CD cover, walking into a large room and seeing all these transparent ghostly beings performing. In fact, I left the CD cover sitting in front of me throughout the album, with this big old Adams Family looking house so perfectly matching the music it apparently inspired, and each track feeling like a step into another room, up the staircase to the next floor and yet more discoveries. "The Clockmaker" is another highlight, being a sort of light jazz-ambient-progressive blend. This is followed by the even more exciting "Processes Unknown", a lively and musically intricate progressive number with avant-garde, jazz, and heavy rock segments. Probably my favorite track of the set. Ditto for the last two tracks, which end the album on a heavy prog note. It blows my mind that Greg constructs stuff like this by himself!
So we've got this great combination of imagery and musical soundtrack. And indeed, I can see this album being the soundtrack to a film, or perhaps better yet, a slideshow of a walk through this house. The album as a whole has a very controlled and composed feel, partly transitioning from one theme to the next, and partly with tracks that function as stand alones.
If you want to really experience Greg's prowess and creativity as a musician, composer and assembler of sounds, any one of these albums are mighty impressive examples. This is an artist who deserves far more recognition than he gets. Be sure and visit his web site because these discs are just a drop in the bucket. Greg has a long history and there's a wealth of information at his site.
For more information you can visit the Greg Segal web site at: http://www.gregsegal.com.
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz