In the world of progressive rock these days there continues to be some kind of artificial strata where some bands seem to be very high profile and others toil away in obscurity. Some bands are always being talked about but others names are rarely uttered. IZZ is a band trying to push their way to the top and they’re doing it in tried and true fashion by creating truly memorable music and looking for every opportunity to perform live. The media kit that came with the latest CD Ampersand contains numerous reports of their live prog festival performances, all proclaiming well-deserved praise.
Ampersand is the third CD release for IZZ and the band’s distinctive sound is immediately identifiable. Their musicianship and in particular vocal style have quickly become trademark identifiers, which to my ears is a very good thing. Included here are eleven tracks, which for lack of a better description are seven tracks that never quite made it on to either of their first two releases, as well as four songs recorded live. The fact that these tracks are so strong is yet another testament to the band’s writing strength. These are the ones that didn’t make it…wow.
The music of IZZ has always struck me as deceptively simple. This is because the melodies are so strong it’s easy to miss what’s going on behind the scenes. While not overly complex, their compositional style does contain many musical twists and turns…a Beatles influence here as in “The Bar Song” or a Celtic influence there as in “Molly’s Jig.” The four live tracks show that IZZ are able to translate their sound in a live environment in fine form as well. Especially on “Star Evil” one of the band’s more complex pieces where there’s almost a Gentle Giant counterpoint going on.
Ampersand is intended to fill that space before the band’s next full-fledged studio recording and as such, it does an admirable job. Unlike some “b-side and rarities” releases, the material here is strong and holds up well with repeated listening. What you get here are a few more great songs anywhere from two to nine minutes that will more than satisfy any IZZ fans prog craving until that next studio release.
(All Album Reviews by Boceephus)
This is a hard one to rate. It should be somewhere between two and three stars. Since the stars have five points I'll give it a 2.3/5 rating. Why? There are some great songs here that are strong and deserve a wider audience than just a collectors/fans only rating.
Ampersand is a collection of studio tunes that did not appear on Sliver of the Sun or I Move and a few ‘live’ versions of other songs. This amounts to an EP with the ‘live’ tracks used to flesh it out to a whole LP.
The good stuff: basically the best parts are the new full band tracks, the EP part of the disc. “Ancient Memory” has some CSN styled harmonies over a nice tight chord arrangement, which blossoms into a wild keyboard solo and syncopated drumming then a blistering lead from Brems. It's one of my favorites here.
“Afraid to be Different” has a very Beatlesque vibe, straight from Abbey Road. A solid track, but could have used some harder moments to break up the rhythm.
“The Wait of it All” features some vocals by Ann Marie Byrnes, which elevate the tune above the electronic drumming. Tom Galgano's keyboard solo brightens things up using some Keith Emerson style patches.
“Confusion”, a concert regular, finally gets the studio treatment and is one of the best tracks to sum up the IZZ sound. It places an emphasis on their vocal harmonies, Ann Marie Brynes guest here too. Galgano plays some piano here, before adding some synth sounds during the middle section and melts into ambient washes on the close.
“The Bar Song” flows along with introspective lyrics, more wonderful harmonies, this time Laura Meade fills in. This is the type of song that gets stuck in your head, slow but melodic and thoughtful. Understated solos flow through the sections, never really hitting hard. This could have been opened up with some stronger soloing and a keyboard break.
The problem here is the lack of continuity, the pieces don't fit together. The full band tracks are strong and have some wonderful moments. Guitarist Paul Bremner's solo piece "One Slice to Go" is a jazzy acoustic number that seems so out of place that I regularly skip it so as not to break up the flow. Maybe it was an attempt to add a Steve Howe-like guitar piece to add some diversity to the album? Here it just doesn't work.
“My Best Defenses”, a solo vocal and piano piece by Laura Meade, really makes you scratch your head. It's a beautiful song, but it's a Laura Meade tune, no IZZ members play on it. Is she now a full member? It just doesn't fit.
The live pieces are great re-creations of older IZZ tunes, but the standout here is “Molly's Jig” from Paul Bremner's solo album Wombsong. Similar to the “Mists of Dalriada” from I Move, this Irish flavored tune is really uplifting and shows the facility of Brems playing.
This is not THE place to start with IZZ, but it's still a good rewarding listen that has regularly found it's way back into my CD player.