CD reviews: Up Dharma Down swoons, Schon shreds

By Jackie Dosmanos

Posted at Mar 17 2013 03:47 PM | Updated as of Mar 18 2013 05:10 PM

Up Dharma Down
"Capacities"

The four piece ensemble was once critically acclaimed by no less than Time Magazine to be one of the top five Filipino acts with international market potentials. That rave was made based on Up Dharma Down’s excellent debut for Pinoy label Terno Recordings.

Their sophomore album thereafter retained the eclectic flair of the first record. The band’s live performances however ditched the stiff upper lip appeal of their pretty-sounding music as front person Armi Millare became more comfortable peeling away the myriad skins of the thing called love before local audiences.

Third time’s the charm and on "Capacities," Up Dharma Down’s album number three in a decade of existence, whittle down their fashionably diverse permutations of jazz and progressive music to pop essentials.

The crucial tracks, “Indak, “Feeling”, “Thinker” and “Tadhana,” are right smack in the middle of the new album but don’t dig right into them. Start with the tasteful new wave revisionism of “Turn It Well” and the prog-rock props of “Parks” then descend into the breath-taking new world of Up Dharma Down. “Thinker” could even be a lost track from Fleetwood Mac’s genre-bending “Rumours” from 1976!

It’s time to rave again for the once and future messengers of the next age of Pinoy pop.

Neil Schon

"The Calling"

Journey lead guitarist Neal Schon takes a break from his day job and services his inner guitar god for another solo outing, his eight since 1981.

People forget that Schon started playing with Santana in the early ‘70s and that in the not so dim past, Journey began as a jazz-rock outfit. The other Journey men may have junked their original progressive roots in favor of hot air pursuits, but on his own, band co-founder Schon manly shreds within the framework of a trio, the best format in delivering high-energy rock & roll.

A smart student of trends, he applies a surfeit of influences on his latest solo album, from the high tech-enhanced tonality of Joe Satriani (illustrated in the title track) to the classic hard rock riffing of Jimmy Page (“Blue Rainbow Sky”) and the electric mojo of modern bluesmen like the late Steve Ray Vaughn and Jeff Beck (“56,” “True Emotion”). Keyboardist Igor Len supplies sparkling breaks in heavy rock jams such as those in “Carnival Jazz” while drummer Steve Smith is a dynamic player able to get funky or loose as demanded by the swashbuckling guitar man. Even as Schon plucks wave after wave of spine-tingling chords, he leaves enough space for his sidemen to work out their own magic.

All you got to do is to sit back and enjoy the abstract beauty of Neil Schon living it up to his true calling.

Emeli Sande

"Our Version Of Events"

It’s been years since breakbeats were last heard in pop music and the frenetic intro to Emeli Sande’s first album can make jaded hearts skip a beat or two. There’s something weirdly attractive about ubër-upbeat rhythms in a vocal album and the track “Heaven” reached number two in the UK charts in 2012.

Six tracks later, breakbeats push the tune “Daddy” to a faster pace almost in opposition to the symphonic swirls enveloping the song. The same adventuresome spirit slithers around “Lifetime” where insistent beats battle doggedly with spirited synth atmospherics.

In between these noteworthy tracks are ballads that would be at home in a Mariah Carey or Alicia Keys album. Or, Adele’s next project in case she gets afflicted with new-album-after-a-mega hit jitters.

Emeli Sande has the aptitude and attitude to sing the phone book and bring a smile to the deaf. After all, her debut "Our Version Of Events" was the critics’ choice at the 2012 Brit Awards (for British Female Solo Artist and British Album of the Year).

There’s no mistaking the album is a labor of love with L-O-V-E itself being the stuff of 80% of its 19 songs. The rest are drills in empowering the loveless, which leads to lessons in setting oneself up for love.

The album ends in a heart-broken quivery rendition of “Imagine” which does not re-make the anti-war classic but it points to an alternative future for this excellent singer-songwriter. Taking up just issues other than affairs of the fickle heart may yet give new thrills to her excitable music.