Izz - Ampersand

Year of Release: 2004
Label: Doone Records
Catalog Number: DR4-669563
Format: CD
Total Time: 00:00:00

New York's Izz will make a repeat appearance at this year's CalProg festival (and I hope they play some these live (or live again); it was at the 2004 festival that I picked up their latest release (to date) Ampersand, a collection of tracks that didn't make it to any of their albums. But I'll tell you that that is purely because of space considerations because all of these tracks are certainly strong enough. It's not trimmed filler that's being used as... filler. These are fully realized pieces that, at least as the liner notes indicated, maybe didn't fit with the feel of their first two albums, or their upcoming third. Though, given the completeness of this one, I'd say really that'll be their fourth. This is a wonderful album, and one with such space that you can get lost in (some cavernously spacey sections on "Confusion" for instance), but also the music is immediate... the use of acoustic textures helps with this, giving a warmth to all the pieces. Actually 7 of the tracks fall in the "previously unreleased" category, as one is from guitarist Paul Bremner's solo album (though here in a live version), and three are live versions of pieces from their first two albums.

Izz play a style of progressive rock with a pop rock accessibility, not unlike many a UK prog rock band stylistically (those lumped in the ... ahem ... "neo" category) but even more so, I think. I mean, Izz is prog rock band that has enough non-prog appeal that your girlfriend/boyfriend (whichever the case may be) will be drawn to their music, and may not even believe that are prog (if their impression is formed by having heard the likes of ELP, Yes, Genesis, etc.). Of course, this also means they flirt on the edge of progressive rock, such that those who love prog might feel that there just isn't enough prog in Izz's prog mix to make them prog. (And that's a sentence that should take the award for most uses of the word prog in a single phrase). Of course, fans of the third wave of prog (e.g., Spock's Beard), will be drawn to "Confusion" (yes, it's a track with two characteristics).

Part of this pop-ness is due to the sunny voice of Tom Galgano, which would fit well in the mainstream rock world. But the parpy keyboard phrases (also Tom), the shimmery and glistening guitar phrases from Paul Bremner, the bass work from John Galgano, the drumming of Brian Coralian and Greg DiMiceli, and the extended arrangements all belie their proggy intentions. One notices all this with the opening track "Ancient Memory," a wonderful track that ends too abruptly. They show another side with sparse, voice and guitar mostly, "Afraid To Be Different." It reminded me a lot of... later day Marillion, especially the vocals (very much Hogarthy) [Post-CalProg, I should mention that it's John that sounds Hogarthy, as he also sings on the album - SS]. For the bridgey-closing section, percussion and bass are added, adding some punch to the otherwise mellow piece. The piece that stands out for me is "The Wait Of It All" - and I believe this is one of those that has been played live before, as there was a hint of recognition when I first heard it. It's a mix of atmosphere, techno, jazz and pop all at once and features lovely vocals from Annmarie Byrnes.

Other nuggets? The folksy, acoustic guitar "One Slice To Go" which is all Bremner. It's a happy little tune, full of sunny warmth. The almost 60s feel of "The Bar Song," which has just enough grit that it isn't quite as light as... "Seasons In The Sun" or that oh-too-chirpy Oliver "classic" ("A Morning Song"?... I used to know). But, if Izz had included some cheese, then I'd be singing a different tune. No, it's fluffy, yes; a very open and airy arrangement. But it's not fluffy in a cotton candy, sugary way. "My Best Defenses," with vocals and piano by Laura Meade made me think for a moment of the Patti Smith rendition of the Bruce Springsteen song "Because The Night." But, this remains a mellow piano and vocal piece... and I wonder why Meade isn't right up there with Alicia Keyes, Fiona Apple and others. It's a beautiful piece and was recorded live in Pius Hall of Manhattanville College, which makes it even greater, that she can deliver live. This is followed by a live rendition of Bremner's "Molly's Jig" from his solo album Wombsong. All followed by a trio of live versions of "Razor" (a bit so-so vocal-wise, but the power and energy is there), "Another Door," and...

... And if you think Izz are a pop-prog band, one listen to the explosive, fiery "Star Evil Gnoma Su (live)," recorded live during The Dividing Line webcast (as were the previous two live pieces), and you'll know that there's much more to this band. Originally on I Move, it goes from angular and choppy keyboards and jazzily throbbing bass, to breathy, light and fluffy keyboard passages, to more avant-garde jazzy fusiony passages. (By the way, if you're wondering what the title means, I don't know, but backwards it's "Us Among Live Rats"... which is equally cryptic if not taken literally). [It has been pointed out to me since I wrote this that it could also be "Rats Live Among Us"... SS]

These may be "leftovers" but it's material that stands strongly on its own, making Ampersand one of the strongest releases I've heard this year (well, 2004, I mean).

Ancient Memory / Afraid To Be Different / The Wait Of It All / One Slice To Go / Confusion / The Bar Song / My Best Defenses / Molly's Jig (Live) / Razor (Live) / Another Door (Live) / Star Evil Gnoma Su (Live)

Tom Galgano - keys, vocals, acoustic guitar
Paul Bremner - electric guitar, acoustic guitar, nylon string guitar
Brian Coralian - acoustic drums, electronic drums, programming
Greg DiMiceli - acoustic drums
John Galgano - bass, vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, piano


Anmarie Byrnes - vocals
Laura Meade - vocals, piano

Sliver Of A Sun (1998)
I Move (2002)
Ampersand (2004)
My River Flows (2005)
Live At NEARfest (2007)
The Darkened Room (2009)
"Places To Hide" (2009)
"Red Rain" (2011)
Crush Of Night (2012)
Everlasting Instant (2015)
Ampersand Vol 2 (2016)

Izz Live (DVD) (2011)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: January 31st 2005
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website: www.izznet.com
Hits: 1529
Language: english


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