(All Album Reviews by ffroyd)
Azigza is a young band from San Fransisco that plays a style of progressive rock that is mixed with a generous amount of world music. Many folks that read this will already be very familiar with them because of their numerous festival appearances including BajaProg, ProgWest, The Progman Cometh and ProgDay. I've heard a great deal of praise for the band and finally got the opportunity to hear them.
The core of the band consists of Stephen Junca on all sorts of exotic percussion and drumkit, Aryeh Frankfurter on violins and guitars, Kevin Evans on guitars and synthesizers, and Pierce McDowell on basses. They are accompanied by numerous guest musicians on the album including Cyoakha Grace, who lends her incredible voice and provides lyrics to several songs.
I have to admit when I first put the album on I was a bit skeptical that I would enjoy it as much as I did. Azigza does rely heavily on the Eastern influences but I have to admit that they fit in seamlessly with the rock elements to create a true and unique fusion of modern music. There are several moments on the album that remind me of Peter Gabriel or Trey Gunn. There are also spots where the band just rocks out with a very heavy King Crimson feel. The amazing part for me is that the music is always captivating and never gets boring or tedious.
The disc starts with a 14 minute suite entitled "Bembé" that includes some really beautiful and intricate guitar work. The vocals are provided by MC Rai and Sonja Draculich and there's also a talking drum played by Rasaki Aladokoun. The middle section is very mellow with some nice fretless bass from McDowell. The percussion arrangements on the song are just phenomenal and bring to mind the wonderful drum sounds on Peter Gabriel's Security album.
The next track "Yaman" is a traditional Indian piece arranged by Frankfurter who plays violins, flute, harp and 12-string guitar on the track. Also appearing on the song are Paulo Baldi on tablas and Linton Hale playing the Bansuri, an Indian flute. Not much else I can add other than this is nine and a half minutes of pure bliss! This is followed by another suite entitled "Agadir" that starts out with the mysterious "Orphans of Agdir" consisting mainly of ominous layered strings. This leads into a much heavier section entitled "The Wall" which reminds me a little of King Crimson’s "Fracture" with a little more swing to it. This continues into the third section and gets much heavier with distorted guitars, wild violins and some weird feedback noises.
"Amalgam" is just as the title suggests a mixture of many different elements, especially percussion. Junca plays udu, tom, shakers, rainstick, spring drum, zils and a deff which I believe is a frame drum from Portugal. The vocals arrangement from Grace is very inventive and wouldn't have been out of place on an album like Trey Gunn's The Third Star.
"A Bulgarian Suite" is one of the most traditional sounding tracks on the disc. Very upbeat at times, the band really rocks out on this one. "Shiva Calling" is an Indian raga dedicated to the memory of Florian Fricke. This one contains some sitar and tamboura played by Pierce
McDowell. MC Rai and Sonja Draculich return to provide some beautiful interweaving Indian vocals melodies.
The final track is called "X" and it sounds like the Mahavishnu Orchestra inspired this one a little bit. They are definitely not trying to copy the band at all but I hear quite a few influences throughout the track. At the end there's a noisy sound effect that sounds like a train or something and then there are sirens and a busy street sound effects. This segues into a part of the track that's called "Reflections", a short relaxing bit with vocals from MC Rai and Junca on doumeck. There's about a minute of silence and then a lone mysterious flute plays for a few seconds and the album ends.
Before I finish this I must say I'm very impressed with this disc. I've heard it said by many people that Azigza is the best American band on the progressive music scene today. I can now see why people have made such bold comments. Kriya is an incredibly strong musical statement that incorporates virtuostic musicianship with diverse influences, creating a truly breathtaking listening experience. Don't put it off like I did, check out Azigza today!