Mexico / Cuba
Titles are arranged alphabetically with recent additions highlighted in yellow.
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This 1986 Mexican instrumental progressive album is an excellent one, featuring violin and flute and emphasizing pre-Hispanic Mexican music. Here is a RealAudio excerpt courtesy of Zoltan’s Progressive Rock Webpage. At Prog Archives you’ll find another audio sample as well as several in-depth reviews.
Gamadion is the 2004 debut by this Mexican progressive rock band. Most of the album is instrumental and comes from the quartet of keys, guitar, bass and drums. The music gets stronger toward the end of the album where there are guest vocalists and a guest on violin and viola.
Sumerios (2008) is Arbatel’s superior second CD. Opera-trained Rosario Maza joined as lead vocalist. Her vocals are often wordless or spoken word; there are no typical pop vocals, and the music is heavily instrumental. There is a strong resemblance to Il Balletto di Bronzo’s famous Ys album and to Le Orme’s Contrappunti, the latter itself influenced by ELP, and Arbatel add an original flavor to it all.
Because a certain chunk of our customer base will skip past this due to the word “avant”, we’d like to rename this band “Symphonic Folk”, even if that isn’t entirely accurate either. Avant Folk is an instrumental ensemble led by Eblen Macari, a 30-year veteran of the Mexican progressive scene. The two other members are Eblen Marcari M., who appears to be his son, and Mauricio Sotelo (ex-Cabezas de Cera). Their sound is a combination of acoustic and electric instruments including 6 and 12-string guitars, Chapman Stick, percussion/drums, electronic effects, and a couple instruments invented by Sotelo’s brother Francisco (also a member of Cabezas de Cera). Their 2011 debut CD (digisleeve) is both lively and lovely, at times a Mexican counterpart to Gordon Giltrap, Anthony Phillips, or Pat Metheny, sometimes quite energetic, at other times spacey. Those who remember the Mexican band Flüght have an even better reference point. We like it a lot.
Los Awakates de Nepantla (1994) is the third album from this Mexican RIO-style band who seem influenced by Henry Cow, Frank Zappa, Spanish prog/fusion band Musica Urbana, and Stormy Six’s Macchina Maccheronica. Guitar, keyboards, bass, and drums are augmented by saxes, flutes, mallet percussion and more. This album was dedicated to the memory of Frank Zappa, who had recently passed away. Now out-of-print and difficult to come by.
Banda Elástica celebrated their 30th anniversary with Aquí, Allá y Acullá (2013), a compilation of live tracks from different stages and line-ups: Knitting Factory (New York, 1994), Museo de la Ciudad (Querétaro, Mexico, 1999), Dokhuset (Trondheim, Norway, 2006), and the FestivAlterNativo (Querétaro, Mexico, 2006 & 2008 with Chris Cutler on drums). This deluxe edition comes in an oversize fat digisleeve and includes extensive liner notes in English and Spanish. Read the Exposé review.
This is a 2007 live CD with excellent audio quality from this adventurous Mexican instrumental band blending folk/ethnic elements and fusion into an original style of progressive rock. They combine acoustic instruments with electric/electronic, including sax and other wind instruments, guitar, Stick, drums and more. The CD comes in an elaborate digipack including a slipcase. 70-minutes.
This is the second CD edition on Sol & Deneb Records of this 1981 instrumental symphonic prog album, with 5 bonus tracks added. Caja de Pandora’s sole album is one of the top few from Mexico. It sounds somewhat like 1970s Italian prog but earthier (given the less polished production), resulting in a unique Mexican flavor that one can hear in other Mexican bands of that era: Chac Mool, early Iconoclasta, Delirium. “If you are familiar with the Mexican prog scene from the 1980s, you probably know that many of the bands produced music characterized by short but intense tracks ranging between 3 to 4 minutes in length. Caja de Pandora were no exception, and the band released an album of high-quality prog. For the most part, the music owed a lot to Iconoclasta’s first album, and the quality also reached the levels of that incredible album. Caja de Pandora rates up there with Iconoclasta’s first album and Delirium’s Primer Dialogo. The music here is quite intense and emphasizes energetic interplay between the guitarist and keyboardist. If you are a fan of any of the classic bands to come out of the Mexican prog scene, I’m sure you will enjoy this band.” [uk70sprogrock.com]
Even without organizing all the Baja Prog festivals, Cast would still have asserted themselves as the top prog band in Mexico. A lack of funds forced them to wait 20 years before releasing their first CD in 1994, but there has been no stopping them since. Cast initially fell into the neo-prog category. They made steady improvement and really hit their stride with 2003’s double-CD Al-Bandaluz, as a new line-up injected new life into the band. You’d think that any band that had been around that long would have peaked already, but this album exceeds their previous work, more instrumental and more complex than any before, with little if anything that could be called neo-prog. Instead, Cast are influenced primarily by 1970s Genesis but ranging quite a bit wider than that, including PFM, Camel, and other classic prog bands. This is an essential prog album.
Nimbus (2004) is a massive CD at 79-minutes. No matter how high Cast set the bar with each album, the next one always seemed to exceed it. With male and female vocals in both English and Spanish and improved production, Nimbus showcases a band at the peak of their abilities. There isn’t a real songwriter in the band, so they concentrate on what they do best: lengthy tracks of sophisticated symphonic progressive in the classic style, with lots of instrumental content. The addition of a full-time woodwinds player (lots of flute) and a slight new-found jazz influence have taken their style to the next level. Really, Nimbus ranks with all but the top tier of 1970s progressive bands (though a small amount of metal guitar betrays it as a modern album).
The double-CD Mosaïque (2006) shows that Cast are as prolific as ever. Four of the tracks are older, previously-unreleased compositions, and the rest are new. This new work goes beyond even the remarkable quality level of Al-Bandaluz and Nimbus, featuring lots of woodwinds (flute, clarinet, sax), male and female vocals, and nothing that can be called neo-prog. There is a pastoral, renaissance feel at times, while other material is reminiscent of the top South American 1970s prog bands. The new material is sung in Spanish, while two of the older compositions are in English. Cast established themselves as the premier Mexican progressive band a long time ago, now they must be considered among the top prog bands worldwide. Highest recommendation.
With surprising reliability, Cast have had a new CD ready in time for each year’s Baja Prog festival in March. And every year, one wondered whether Cast could top the previous CD, which they invariably did. Com.union (2007, 70-minutes) begins in the familiar Cast style of old, with attractive bits strung together, though one gets the sense the bits could be rearranged in any order and the song could stop at any time and it would matter little. But this soon gives way to a further development of the more sophisticated style Cast had been developing over the past few albums. The bulk of com.union is 1970s-oriented, devoid of neo-prog, with a slight jazz influence typical of 70s prog bands but usually absent from neo-prog. The big difference is that Cast have learned to leave enough space in the music for it to breathe and to flow naturally, a more organic sound that contrasts with their earlier everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach. With the vocals now in Spanish throughout, several tracks sound very close to Italian 70s progressive, others to the first-generation Argentine progressive bands or to certain 70s Spanish prog bands (minus the flamenco). It seems to take Cast’s live shows a few years to catch up to their studio work, but on record at least, Cast are world-class.
Cast not only had a new CD ready for Baja Prog 2008, but Originallis is a double-CD. It continues at the high level established with the past several CDs. Is it a coincidence that Cast started sounding like a world-class band when they began singing in Spanish, as they do again here? Those who haven’t listened to Cast in years might not even recognize the band now, except for their frequent everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach. Cast’s style is still centered on the keyboards of Alfonso Vidales, here sounding more classically-influenced than ever, as Vidales’ classical piano chops are first-rate. Flute also plays an important role. Cast’s vocals used to be a liability, but on this album they are a real positive and are especially attractive when male and female vocals are used together. Still the album is heavily instrumental, using Genesis-like sonorities, but busier. No point comparing Cast to anyone else now, as they have too many albums to their credit. Read the DPRP review.
Art (2011, 69-minutes, digipack) was the first new Cast CD in three years. Cast’s current guitarist is Claudio Cordero from Chile (check our South American page for his 2007 CD Enlace.) To some extent, Art represents a return to the earlier Cast style, that dense, fast, energetic, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach where if Cast notice a space in the arrangement, they fill it with another instrumental part. Of course there are some more tranquil passages that do leave room for the music to breathe. The other return to the past is that the vocals are in English on this album and male only, though relatively low in the mix. There is a four-part suite and another four-part suite. A lot of modern bands do something like this style but then forget to state any memorable themes or hooks; Cast on the other hand have gotten rather good at it.
Arsis (2014, digipack) returns to Spanish vocals (male and female), and if you’ve been reading the above, you know that for whatever reason, Cast are a better band when singing in Spanish. Polish violinist Michal Jelonek (who records under the name ‘Jelonek’) guests and adds a new element to the Cast sound, which also includes flute, sax, and clarinet from Pepe Torres. Torres first appeared on Al-Bandaluz and has been an important feature of Cast’s sound since. Alfonso Vidales may never get the recognition he deserves as both player and composer, but he really is in the top tier of progressive rock keyboardists.
Even after so many albums, Cast found a way with Vida (2015, digipack) to take their music to a new level. Roberto Izzo, violinist of GnuQuartet as well as orchestra director and violinist of New Trolls, is now a permanent collaborator both in the studio and live. The full GnuQuartet (violin, viola, cello, flute) plays on much of the album, as does woodwind player Pepe Torres. Now with members from Mexico, Chile, and Italy, vocals in English, and cover art by Paul Whitehead, Vida introduces Cast as an international band who are supporting the album with concerts in England and Germany. Watch the album teaser on YouTube.
Imaginary Window (67-minutes) is from 1999. This is the 2009 mini-LP edition released by the MALS label under license, which comes in a heavyweight gatefold cardboard sleeve.
Delirium was a Mexican symphonic prog band in the vein of early Iconoclasta, Caja de Pandora, and Chac Mool. First is a new remastered CD edition of the album originally released as El Teatro del Delirio. Mostly instrumental, it was recorded live in the studio in 1984 but not released until 1997, which explains why Delirium’s 1985 second album was titled Primer Diálogo (First Dialog).
Delta Red is a Mexican guitar/bass/drums trio playing instrumental progressive hard rock partly influenced by Red-era King Crimson, but more varied than that. Varied in style that is, but as with any band with this lineup, the sound palette doesn’t vary much. Their first album Gama de Espectros (2009, 67-minutes) should please fans of Japan’s Baraka and Show-Yen or the electric side of Chile’s Tryo.
Deep Limbic System is a five-man Mexican prog band with a lineup of vocals (in English), guitars, keys, bass, and drums. There’s a guest sax player. (If you don’t like sax, just skip the first 1:58.) The Embryo: Extended Version (2015, mini-LP sleeve) takes Deep Limbic System’s 2014 The Embryo EP and adds the two tracks from their 2015 A Ceiling of Stars single for a total of seven tracks and 44 minutes. Read reviews at Prog Archives.
Elfonia are a modern prog band out of Mexico whose main attraction is female singer Marcela Bovio. She can also be heard singing on Ayreon’s The Human Equation and Stream of Passion’s Embrace the Storm CDs, and Arjen Lucassen returns the favor with a guitar solo on one song here. Elfonia’s keyboardist Alejandro Millán is also a member of Stream of Passion. Marcela has a beautiful voice with a great range, able to sound angelic one moment and powerful the next. The rest of the band consists of keyboards/concertina, guitars, bass, and drums, with Marcela also adding some violin. This Sonic Landscape (2005, 57-minutes, digipack) is their second album, and it is quite similar to that Stream of Passion album. The production is excellent and the music is not what we’ve come to expect out of Mexico. Because of the female voice, Elfonia sound closer to several European bands. Elfonia do have a gothic element and there are some heavy guitar riffs, but metal is only a minor aspect of their style. Overall their sound is dark but lush symphonic prog with touches of jazz and folk. Lyrics in both English and Spanish.
Prog-metal band singing in Spanish, released in 2005 on the Chilean Mylodon label. Crunchy guitar, double-pedal drumming, symphonic keys, exactly the same as on every other prog-metal album.
Govea is a keys/bass/drums trio led by keyboardist Salvador Govea, formerly of prog-folk band Gallina Negra and later Iconoclasta. Drummer Victor Baldovinos is also Iconoclasta’s drummer. Govea’s 2009 debut CD Danza Urbana also features a guest guitarist on one track. The music is primarily symphonic rock, covering ground from ELP to fusion to avant-prog (the latter characterized by modern classical influences). Read reviews at Prog Archives.
Iconoclasta are a Mexican progressive band and one of the most important from that country. In the 1980s, they were the leading Mexican prog band, and though they continued throughout the 1990s, the quality dropped off. Iconoclasta blend symphonic prog, usually with similarities to the Italian 1970s bands, with some fusion and traditional Mexican music.
The Soliloquio / Suite Mexicana CD combines Iconoclasta’s third full-length album Soliloquio with the Suite Mexicana EP that preceded it, both from 1987, plus four bonus tracks. Soliloquio and Suite Mexicana are arguably the best things Iconoclasta have done, so start here. (Can’t argue about the price either.) This CD was first released on the Art Sublime label in an LP-size jacket. This is the Sol & Deneb edition, which comes in a standard jewel box.
Adolescencia Cronica (1988) and En Busca de Sentido (1989) are Iconoclasta’s fourth and fifth full-length albums. While their subsequent albums can be a bit fatiguing to listen to, Iconoclasta was still a good band on these two.
La Rencarnacion de Maquiavelo is from 1991, instrumental save one track. The line-up shrunk to a quartet on this album, and it was the first line-up without a pure keyboardist. It’s by no means a bad album, but Iconoclasta start to repeat what they’d done before. It lacks the freshness of their earlier work.
Since it’s been nearly a decade since the previous Iconoclasta studio album, Resurrección (2009, 60-minutes) probably refers to the band. Iconoclasta’s 1990s albums were a bit fatiguing to listen to. They were instrumental or mostly so, but the band no longer had a dedicated keyboardist, the production was slightly lacking, and their sound could be somewhat strident. While there still is no dedicated keyboardist on Resurrección, there are two female singers in the lineup now, singing in Spanish (English translations in the booklet) and sometimes wordless. The music is more lyrical than it has been since the early albums, with breathing space in the arrangements and some welcome folk elements.
Praxis were an offshoot of Iconoclasta, and this 1987 album is their only one. This instrumental album is one of the best progressive rock records from Mexico, similar to but more intense than Iconoclasta, with stunning duels between guitar and keyboards. The tempo is usually fast. You have to subtract a point for the sound of the keyboards and drums, but otherwise this is a great one.
Saena - Saena ($13.99)
José Luis Fernández Ledesma is one of the most important names in Mexican progressive rock. He was the founder of Nirgal Vallis, one of the best Mexican progressive bands ever. On most of his work under his own name, he teams with Margarita Botello, who has a wonderful mezzo soprano voice. Ledesma’s output can be divided into his symphonic prog work and his more experimental ambient-ethno work.
Designios (2003) might be considered a new Nirgal Vallis album, as after a few albums of his more experimental progressive music, Ledesma returns to symphonic progressive rock. On this CD, Ledesma has re-recorded a couple Nirgal Vallis pieces and added several new compositions. The beautiful voice on this album is Margarita Botello (lyrics in Spanish). Other musicians add violin, cello, flute, clarinet, drums and percussion, while Ledesma handles all manner of guitars, keyboards, and bass. The music blends classic progressive rock with powerful world music, using ancient instruments alongside analog synths, and is bound to remind listeners of the Spanish band Amarok. One can hear similarities to Renaissance (female voice, classical keyboards), pastoral Genesis, Gryphon, a bit of Mike Oldfield, and some slightly jazzy, complex prog between Camel and However. Ledesma is certainly a world-class talent.
Sol Central (2000) is a substantially different work for Ledesma, more intense and rhythmic, combining symphonic prog with the experimental approach of RIO; nonetheless it stays well-grounded in melody and form. Vocalist/percussionist Margarita Botello is featured. The ambitiousness and uniqueness of this work are astounding.
Al Filo (2001, 70-minutes) is in Ledesma’s instrumental ambient-ethno style, using a wide range of acoustic instruments in addition to electric. There is one prog instrumental, but most of the music is impressionistic, mystical and other-worldly.
La Paciencia de Job (2006, 70-minutes) is another of Ledesma’s more experimental works, though here ‘experimental’ does not imply dissonance or improvisation, as the music is highly-structured and classically beautiful. The album again features Botello’s beautiful voice and a number of other musicians. The music is subtle and complex, combining classical, ambient, and ethnic music with progressive.
Hibridos (2007, 62-minutes) falls into Ledesma’s experimental ambient-ethno category, a successor to Sol Central, Al Filo, and La Paciencia de Job. Hibridos is predominantly-instrumental, often with an other-worldly feel. Ledesma and Botello are aided by two other musicians on violin and sax/trumpet.
Saena is José Luis Fernández Ledesma’s new band, featuring Margarita Botello (voice, piano, accordion), Alejandro Sánchez (violins), Hugo Santos (Stick, bass) and Adrián Zárate (drums). All have appeared on previous Ledesma albums, and Sánchez was a member of both Decibel and Nazca. Ledesma himself plays acoustic & electric guitars and keyboards, while Botello sings both wordless and in Spanish (English translations in the booklet). Those who’ve heard other Ledesma albums know Botello has a beautiful voice. Saena is one of Ledesma’s symphonic prog works. In fact, Saena could be considered the new Nirgal Vallis, and this 2008 CD the logical follow-up to Ledesma’s Designios album. The music is jazzy symphonic progressive rock, with elements of chamber-rock and ethnic-folk. The violin plays a major role, while the playing of the rhythm section is nimble and nuanced. When the violin and accordion play together, the effect is sublime. Warm, melodic, and colorful, this album contains much of Ledesma’s best work. 68-minutes. Read reviews at Eurock and Prog Archives.
Eblen Macari is a 30-year veteran of the Mexican progressive scene. He is Lebanese-Mexican, which probably explains the title of his ensemble’s 2011 CD De Beirut a Cosamaloapan (digisleeve). The Eblen Macari Ensamble is a quartet including Macari on 6 and 8-string guitars, his son on various ethnic percussion, Olga Martinez on clavecin (harpsichord), and Yusuf Isa Cuevas on various ethnic wind instruments. Their music has some elements in common with Avant Folk but fits more neatly in the world music category, generally lacking the rock elements of Avant Folk, with the harpsichord and the wind instruments a big difference.
First released in 1991, this is the remastered second CD edition on Sol & Deneb Records. MCC was an unheralded but first-rate Mexican progressive band featuring a mix of instrumental and vocal tracks, partly symphonic rock, partly more Canterbury styled. From 1979-1984, the group consisted of Mario Rivas (vocals, acoustic guitar), Humberto Alvarez (electric piano, synths), Jorge Velasco (bass), Enrique Quezada (synths, acoustic guitar, piano) and Cesar “Perico” Calderon (drums). YouTube has the songs El Muro, Nuestra Historia, El Ángel de Sodoma, Unicornio, and El Jardin de las Delicias.
Despite the French name, Jacques Menache is a Mexican guitarist/composer who leads a large contingent of musicians including a female singer on this 2004 symphonic prog album. Read the Prog Archives review. Now out-of-print.
Metaconsciencia is a Mexican band in existence since 1996, and Bestiario (2003, 61-minutes) is their debut. Two guitar players (Ricardo Moreno also plays a few keyboard parts) and a rhythm section (bass/drums) create a warm, colorful instrumental music that mixes eclectic influences: 1970s progressive rock, jazz-rock, and Mexican music. You could lump this in with more recent Iconoclasta. It is a player’s album, not a writer’s album -- there’s nothing that qualifies as a song here -- and the tracks were recorded live in the studio. One guitar player is usually playing acoustic or classical guitar. The other is sometimes soloing in hard rock guitar mode (distorted tone, lots of notes, no point) but more often with a warmer jazz guitar tone. When the classical and jazz guitar technique shines through, or when you can hear the Mexican music underneath, Metaconsciencia are at their best.
This is a very good, mostly-instrumental King Crimson style band from Cuba, also reminding one of the French band Tiemko at times. There are also touches of Present or Univers Zero. The album is a 53-minute collection of their best music, recorded in 1993. Read the Progressor review.
A surprisingly good album out of Cuba. Naranja Mecánica play a 1970s style progressive rock sounding closest to a mix of Jethro Tull and Banco, with influences of King Crimson, Van der Graaf Generator, and various other 70s Italian and South American bands. There are vocals in Spanish but instrumental passages dominate. In addition to the standard keys/guitars/bass/drums lineup, they use flute extensively. Read the Progressor review.
This is the CD reissue of an excellent Mexican progressive rock record from 1985, plus 28 minutes of additional material recorded in 1995. Nirgal Vallis was the first band of José Luis Fernández Ledesma, who is the principal composer. The music is mellow symphonic prog with folk touches, a beautiful album and one of the best from Mexico. This is the MALS edition, produced under license from Musea.
Perfume de Mujer is a long-lived Cuban progressive band. El Monólogo de él Carocol was recorded between 1997-2000, continuing their blend of progressive rock and avant-garde tendencies, mostly instrumental, with some decent vocals. Actually, if you ignore the 21-minute improv toward the end of the disc, most of this is no more ‘difficult’ than King Crimson or Gentle Giant, both of which are influences, but the level of originality here is very high. Perhaps surprisingly for a Cuban band, there’s very little here that could be called Latin, and the arrangements are as sophisticated as the best European prog bands. With a playing time of 70-minutes, there’s still an album’s worth of quality progressive rock here. The material on the excellent Pollos d’Granja (75-minutes) was recorded between 1995-1998 and uses Spanish vocals, violin, keyboards, guitars, bass and drums. Read the ProgressiveWorld.net review of Pollos d’Granja.
Simbiosis (2013, digipack) is the debut album of electronic music from this Mexican musician. Read the Exposé and Progressor reviews. Listen to Caos on YouTube.
Septum are a Cuban symphonic metal band with female vocals (in English). They add some Celtic folk to the mix, using flute, bagpipes, and violin. Quiet... Listen! (2013) comes in a mini-LP style sleeve. Read the Progressor review.
This is the CD reissue of a legendary 1978 album plus two bonus tracks. Not only the best first-generation progressive rock record from Cuba, this is one of the best from all of Latin America. It has influences of Genesis, Yes, Pink Floyd, and Italian progressive.
“Prog from Cuba that is as good as the best from England, Italy, and Spain. The music on En Busca De Una Nueva Flor reminds me a bit of the Spanish prog band Crack. The listener is treated to tons of classically-inspired themes led by Moog, piano, and even harpsichord, along with guitar, bass, and drums. There is a romantic Latin American feel to many of the themes that will mostly appeal to fans of Italian prog. The Spanish vocals, both male and female, are also excellent and vary from solo, to choir, to male/female unison. Sintesis produced one of the top albums from the late-70s prog scene.” [Zoltan’s Progressive Rock Webpage]
Circe (2005, 70-minutes) is the debut by a Mexican quintet playing bombastic symphonic prog with a powerful female vocalist singing in Spanish. For that reason, Toccata may remind some of the Argentine band Nexus. Nexus have more ELP influence, while Toccata place more emphasis on guitar. Toccata generate most of their instrumental interest through the interplay of keyboards and guitar. Even though there are plenty of 1970s influences, the guitarist plays in the metal idiom often enough to leave no doubt this is a modern record and a young band. You wouldn’t call Toccata a prog-metal band, but their instrumental work tends toward the flashy and demonstrative, at times contrasting heavy riffing and classical orchestration. Toccata’s keyboardist is very good, but the guitarist appears to be the bandleader and principal composer, so there’s probably little chance of getting him to mix himself lower. Nevertheless, Toccata are at their best during the vocal sections, which greatly outweigh the instrumental sections, and during which they can give Nexus a run for their money.
Eight different musicians contribute avant-garde/experimental pieces to this collection on the Luna Negra label.
This is the 2009 debut CD by drummer and composer Adrian Zárate, who is a member of the Mexican symphonic prog band Saena. The album contains a mix of proggy jazz-rock, RIO, and chamber music, varied but quite interesting, more sophisticated and better recorded than a lot of what comes out of Mexico. The label compares it Daniel Denis’ Les Eaux Troubles and to Frank Zappa during Terry Bozzio’s tenure as drummer. Digipack.