On The Raw -
Climbing The Air

(CD 2019, 53:42, Red Phone Records)

The tracks:
  1- Climbing The Air(8:53)
  2- Red Roses(4:43)
  3- Resistance(7:45)
  4- Moneypenny(7:56)
  5- Herois(8:25)
  6- Blackmail(6:56)
  7- Skeptic(8:44)

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On The Raw is a new name to me when it arrived at my desk. Shame on me, because it turned out that it was already the second album of this instrumental progressive jazz-rock band from Barcelona. Now, Spanish prog is not the best-known in general, even they do have some interesting names. On one side there are the typical Spanish, Flamenco-influenced groups as Triana, but Spain also has a rich tradition with jazz-rock groups, including Iceberg, Pegasus and more recently Onza. And over the years there has been a slow trickle of neo prog groups, including Dracma that released two passable albums in the mid-1990s.

Now, the latter group is one of the groups that in the end led to the formation of On The Raw. Some members went through other groups first, honing their skills in Harvest and Apple Smell Colour. A few years ago, they decided to do something new and turn instrumental and more jazzy, as well as more contemporary influences. In 2017, they debuted with Big City Awakes, an album I had to get right after hearing Climbing The Air.

On the second album, the band is the same as on the debut: Alex Ojea (drums and percussion), Jordi Amela (keyboards and piano), Jordi Prats (electric and acoustic guitars), Pep Espasa (tenor, alto, soprano saxophones and flutes), and Toni Sanchez (electric and fretless bass) with guest musicians Cristina Falcinella (voices) and Samuel Garcia (trumpet and violin).

The CD contains seven tracks, mostly longer than ordinary rock songs, and that we do like. The title track opens the album, starting with proggy jazz-rock, then has a short section that sounds like Dark Side Of The Moon from Pink Floyd before continuing with flute-led jazz (rock). And that is only two minutes into the piece! Also, the third track, Resistance, is a bit Floyd-like thanks to the saxophone.

Most of the music is very much grounded in tasty jazz-rock with strong touches of 1970s progressive rock, rarely a small touch of neo progressive sensitivities and definitely a Spanish and Latin flair on a few pieces like Red Roses. And there are other side steps. So are we treated by a purely jazzy bass solo in Sceptic, and although On The Raw is an instrumental group, there are some word-less female vocals to be found.

As a whole, I found this second disc a lot less like Camel than the debut, most likely because they chose different keyboard sounds this time. If I had to give any references, I would say Dutch prog legend Alquin in the way rock and jazz is combined and the saxophone and flute appear in the sound, and sometimes the riffy unison play of saxophone with other instruments also reminds a bit of Colosseum. But both bands are only intended as a rough indication. On The Raw is quite different, mind you!

I would not be surprised if this album ends up in my Top of 2019 at the end of the year! And I am looking forward to their third album!

**** Carsten Busch (edited by Dave Smith)

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