On the Raw – Climbing the Air

[Red Phone Records, 2019]

Intro: Giannis Zavradinos
Translation: Alexandros Mantas
20 / 06 / 2019

It is widely known that it was the audience’s love that brought progressive music back to the fore, creating the suitable conditions which deemed its continuation and consistency necessary. Aside the occasional nostalgic mood spawned by vintage scenes and music groups that fueled the beginning, time showed that the dusty years of disfavor and marginalization are gone and the constantly increasing interest of music lovers and musicians rendered the need for new perspectives imperative.

With technology, knowledge of the past, talent and zeal on their side as precious allies, the contemporary representatives keep producing remarkable albums even to this day. An important factor in this renaissance is the incorporation of a multitude of influences and the good shuffle of the cards which during the implementation leave no other choice to the listener but listen to the music again and again and cater for sentimental stimuli and spiritual challenges, some things that clearly lacked for many years. One such band is On the Raw from Barcelona and their new album Climbing on Air is called to win this bet.


 

When fusion is flattered by prog (and vice versa)

On the Raw could well be described as a Spanish prog super group, since Jordi Amela and Jordi Prats (keyboards and guitar respectively) have collaborated before in Dracma and Ηarvest (the drummer Alex Ojea played on the latter, too) and Pep Espasa (wind instruments) was a member of Applesmellcolour. These are bands which have offered a lot to the Spanish neo-prog scene and we are hopeful that things will carry on like that. Let’s focus on Οn the Raw and their second release –also through Red Phone Records- after their magnificent debut album Big City Αwakes.

The title-track that kicks off the album is impressively groovy with interesting interchanges between prog and fusion, before winding up in a Latin climax with the saxophone and the flute of Espasa as the main outlet. Red Roses takes a jazzier slant and the solid rhythm base provides the space for the guitar and the flute to add a romantic dimension, pretty much as the song title predisposes us. In Resistance spirits get higher in spite of the nostalgic mood that initiates the song and the aggressive, at times, jazz/rock outbreaks take place when and where they must allowing the “battle” between the violin and the keyboards to take the cake here. Moneypenny follows next with a staccato guitar riff that sets free melodiously the themes and the soloists who support them in a sentimental fashion until it winds up in an anthemic prog fade out. The piano is the protagonist in Herois and determines the changes, allowing room for female vocal harmonies to create the appropriate atmosphere in a song that nods to recipes of the past. The reliable rhythm base of On the Raw is ever-present here in an almost dancing formation in action and the rock manifestations pass the button to an atmospheric sequel that force the wind instruments and the guitar to come up with lyrical phrases to take the song off once again before they round off Blackmail in the same way it started. Still, they saved the best for the end. Skeptic, assembled by the ingredients that constitute the long-standing palette of the band influences, functions as a musical summary (or trailer) of their overall work, with beautiful passages of the rhythm guitar and the base lines of Τoni Sanchez more liberated, something that, one way or another, was not unexpected.

The artistic intention of On the Raw is more than evident in Climbing the Air. Well-crafted ideas, tight arrangements, restrained improvisations, sensible and accessible changes but never predictable. They achieved the maximum in an absolutely even production that fits their style and sound. Less ambient and merrier this time, they are in the mood for games, as regards development.

To sum it up, it is a band that is well-aware of its strong points and knows how and when to highlight and utilize them in such a way that the final outcome will be digestible and enjoyable every time we listen to it. The element of surprise is absent but this is not due to limited imagination or skills; it is rather a conscious decision to present their musical vision. The technique, as well as the consensus that permeates the band is undisputed and their direction makes perfect sense, a fact that renders them respectable. One of the most beautiful releases so far.

8 / 10

Giannis Zavradinos

 

2nd opinion

 

Who would ever have thought that the most interesting prog/jazz album of the year up to now would be courtesy of a Spanish band? The second album of On the Raw finds them in artistic maturity and transubstantiates in seven lengthy compositions replete with various ideas and quite many climaxes. Their best achievement is that they pull off to permeate their three basic components of their music (jazz, rock, progressive) to all of their songs through their numerous influences. With their technical skills as their main weapon, they weave wondrous melodies and build complex structures, always in totally instrumental surroundings. From the jazzy title-track with the Latin passage to Red Roses where the flute and the saxophone take the reins, from the out-and-out proggy Resistance and Moneypenny with their numerous changes of rhythms and moods to the mild Herois and from the groovy Blackmail with its 70s vintage keyboards and the saxophone that set the stage to Skeptic which summarizes elements from all of the above, everything leads to one conclusion: Climbing the Air is one of the most fascinating albums of the year.

8.5 / 10

Paris Gravouniotis