Orfeas – Reviews

This is a full collection of reviews, 21 in number. They are arranged with the most interesting and perceptive (okay, the favourable ones) towards the top of the page.

Judge Smith: Orfeas, 9 April 2012, on Babyblaue seiten

Orpheus was a singer and a poet of Greek mythology who pacified the wild animals with his music and even made the rocks weep. He is supposed to have come from Thrace – but he actually has his origins in Potters Bar in English Hertfordshire, and tonight he will be playing with his band at the Wembley Arena … these completely new discoveries about Orpheus come from Judge Smith, an old fellow-traveller of Peter Hammill and co-founder of Van der Graaf Generator (a band he had already left before their debut album); these discoveries can now be heard in his new “Songstory” Orfeas in which he offers a kind of modern version of the Orpheus story.

This work was created with an extensive cast; seven different ensembles play (though they partly consist of the same musicians) from string ensemble to metal band. Among them are illustrious names, above all David Jackson, the longstanding saxophone player of Van der Graaf Generator. Also not quite unknown are John Ellis who played in Peter Hammill’s K-Group in the eighties, and Lene Lovich who sang the role of Madeleine Usher in the opera The Fall of the House of Usher, composed by Hammill and Judge Smith.

Judge Smith plays George Orfeas, a rock guitarist who hasn’t lost any of his creativity even at the age of 55 and after a career of over 30 years, having resorted more to improvising in the past years, thanks to an accidentally found old guitar. The latter has a curious, difficult-to-read inscription which Orfeas deciphers as “Furry Dice”. With “Furry Dice” he does the most incredible improvisations (magnificently played by John Ellis), attributing these to his “special brain” in a radio interview.

However, as the years go by, Orfeas gets somewhat bored with the life of a musician and starts thinking about retirement. Then, after a break during a concert, his guitar suddenly disappears! Frustrated, he decides to break off his current tour and starts going home. In his agitated state of mind he causes an accident which puts him into a coma, and he finds himself in the Underworld. There he encounters a woman who introduces herself as Eurydice and reveals to him that she is his muse, and the one who sent him the guitar, through which he received her inspirations. But because he started to turn away from music the guitar was “taken away” from him. Upon his pleading to give him back his guitar Eurydice takes him to a huge table at which, under the chairmanship of Johann Sebastian Bach, musicians and composers of all epochs are seated, from Hildegard von Bingen to Freddy Mercury. Orfeas is to perform in front of them, then his request will be decided upon. And as the antique Orpheus enchanted the gentlemen of the underworld with his music, thus George Orfeas also succeeds in persuading the assembled dignitaries. He gets guitar and inspiration back, however, under one condition: should he ever look back, he will lose Eurydice forever. Orfeas recovers from his coma and discovers that, under strange circumstances, his guitar was found undamaged in his crashed car.

As with the “real” Orpheus the point about not looking back also causes problems for Orfeas; his new musical style (enriched with Hip Hop and Rap among other things) is not so popular with the fans, and his financial situation becomes ever more precarious. At that moment he receives an offer to appear at a festival, on the condition that he plays his old hits; Orfeas agrees, but in the middle of his act he is abandoned by his muse. Orfeas has to break off his stage appearance, which brings upon him the ridicule of the metal band Bacchus appearing after him, whose singer fires up the fans to tear Orfeas apart (in the legend Orpheus was torn to pieces by the maenads, intoxicated followers of the god of wine, Dionysus/Bacchus).

Now I have already written a lot without saying anything about the music. What is the listener to expect here? The music of the work in three acts is very varied, at the beginning perhaps giving the impression of being somewhat patched together, but after a while the concept behind it becomes apparent. Each act starts with a bard appearing and summarizing the coming events, accompanied by dramatic acoustic guitar music (which has a slight Spanish element) with an equally dramatic, but not pretentious voice. Later on too, every element of the story is accompanied by a certain type of music. The “radio interviews” with George Orfeas are set to strings, sounding quite avant guard, whereas his ride into the underworld is set to techno music (“hell is a disco” he blurts out dumbfounded). Of course there are also “Live”- Appearances of the George Orfeas Band, made up of Orfeas himself at the guitar (John Ellis, as mentioned) and bass and drums, as well as accordion and saxophone (David Jackson). The band plays an art rock which, of course, is totally geared towards Orfeas’s guitar solos, with added jazzy and folksy accents respectively from the saxophone and accordion contributions.

The music of the George Orfeas Band is instrumental (“I never sing”, he reaffirms several times), and only in his later phase he has a rapper, “MC Hi Crimes” (David Shaw-Parker, who also sings the bard). Apart from this there is mostly spoken text, monologues by Orfeas (the pieces titled “Soliloquy”), interviews and concert announcements. Only in the underworld does Orfeas change to song, and Eurydice also sings. Judge Smith is convincing, both as speaker and as singer, not because he is technically brilliant, but because in his typically “British” voice there is a note of irony in every syllable which never allows sliding off into pretentiousness.

Included with the CD is a substantial booklet which not only contains the complete text (without the texts you miss a lot here) but also a short outline about the history of the album, a presentation of all participants and many, many pictures. A wonderfully entertaining album!

Rating: 10 (out of 15)

(Source: www.babyblaue-seiten.de/album_12499.html. Originally in German.)

Babyblaue Seiten

Second Review by Dirk Reuter

What the heck does Mister Smith suddenly do? He tells stories in less than 80 minutes and is also very skilled at it.

While the almost exhausting double CD set “Curly’s Airships” resembled the minute-long, meaningless and totally expendable landscape shots in Kevin Costner’s “Dances with Wolves”, “Orfeas” reminds of the almost rapid camera movements of a Michael Balihaus in Barry Levinsons “Sleepers”.

What kind of stupid stuff is Reuter talking about again? Are we here at imdb.com or at the baby blue pages? The parallels to films are almost at hand with albums by Judge Smith. Incredibly, how he manages to tell stories with his music; he should write screenplays, the films, that would be made of them, would be interesting.

However, he never succeeded like that before until “Orfeas”. Here he dares to tackle an antique role model and puts the story of Orpheus and Eurydice in the musical present, processing many musical styles, from rap to metal, highly skillfully, and obviously stays largely faithful to progressive rock in the meaning of Van der Graaf Generator – whose ex saxophonist David Jackson can be heard here now and then.
However, the real star of the album is a further Hammill collegue, namely guitarist John Ellis. I haven’t heard him so unleashed since blessed K-group times. He is also playing the actual “leading role” of the piece, namely the guitar of Eurydice, whose inscription with the same name Orfeas, probably blaming it on his reading disability, deciphered as “Furry Dice” and for this purpose is being reprimanded in the underworld by the divine Lene Lovich (who remembers “Lucky Number”?).

Almost 78 minutes vanish incredibly rapidly and at the last sound you have the great feeling that you have been excellently entertained. And this ‘was not to be expected’.

Judge Smith: Orfeas, 6 April 2012, on Shakefire, a major US media site

Orpheus, is quite literally a rock opera, retelling the ancient Greek tale of Orfeas, the magical musician who traveled to the land of the dead in search of the lost Eurydice. In Smith’s version Orfeas is a rockstar of sorts whose ability to play the guitar is unrivaled and throughout the album you get various doses of guitar styles from flamenco musings serving as the voice of introduction to other instruments mimicking voice overs during faux interviews, it’s actual quite bizarre yet brilliant.

Judge Smith isn’t alone in his mission to reproduce the ancient Greek tragedy, the production has about sixteen players in all, each playing their own instrument, some of who formerly played alongside Smith in his 70’s Progressive Rock band Van Der Graaf Generator. It’s simply a huge production that runs the gamut of styles from Death Metal to Rock to Classical. It truly is a strange album which runs a contrast with so many different musical idea’s, like the silliness of Frank Zappa to the dark ominous theatrical side of Pink Floyd. With each tune your never quite sure what your going to get, but by the end your pretty sure you’ve just witnessed something insanely good. As always final judgment is yours. Enjoy.

Rating: 4.05 (out of 4.00) Grade: A

(Source: shakefire.com/reviews/cd/judge-smith-orfeas)

Classic Rock Magazine, January 2012

Orfeas – A Song Story
By Judge Smith – Masters of Art
Best known for his role in the formation of Van der Graaf Generator, Judge Smith is clearly not an artist with much interest in toeing the line. Orfeas, a three-act ‘songstory’ in which Smith and a host of guest performers re-imagine the titular Greek legend as he headlines at Wembley Arena, is effectively an exercise in schizophrenic musical theatre, replete with rambling soliloquies and plotrevealing dialogue set to avantgarde chamber music, that takes in everything from jaunty rock radio jingles and ethereal pop. The story itself clings loosely to the original Orpheus myth, wherein our hero descends into Hell (wich ‘… is a disco!’ he exclaims with some disdain, to the sound of skittering drum machines) to rescue his beloved Eurydice (played by new wave songstress Lene Lovich). Weird, witty and resolutely eccentric, Smith’s sense of mischief and disregard for the expected ensures that the whole thing skips briskly along, barking mad and endearingly boisetrous.
Dom Lawson

(Source: teamrock.com/review/2016-10-29/judge-smith-requiem-mass-album-review.)

JerryLucky.com : The Progressive Rock Files

Judge Smith: ‘Orfeas’

The great thing about the progressive rock genre is that its a pretty big tent. By that I mean that a lot of different musical stles are vvelcome. Long been the whipping boy for the ‘dreaded’ concept album, prog has taken ownership of that musical approach and flourished. So here’s another disc to add to the collection – Orfeas: A Songstory by Judge Smith. Smith you may recall was a founding member of Van der Graaf Generator and with this disc he’s challenged himself to retell the mythological story of Orfeas, the magical musician but he’s placed it squarely in the modern world, albeit with some supernatural elements. With an exceedingly large cast that even includes punk star Lene Lovich, this retelling of the Orfeas story is not only engaging, it’s poignant and even humorous in spots.

The first thing you notice is that Orfeas is made up of 34 tracks! Remember this is a rock-opera, a songstory where elements that drive the story along may only take a minute or two as longer songs will link the other parts of the story together. This is a story of a musician so there are talking bits, interviews, and introspective thoughts spoken out loud that propel the story along where the musicai numbers form story accents. Musically, I wouldn’t suggest this is a symphonic’ work, rather it’s based on the rock style with all manner of musical styles and change-ups that project diffferent emotional aspects of the story. So it not a sound-track and it’s not a musical, that’s why the term songstory fits so well. Just in case you didn’t get that, it’s a story set to different pieces of music. In fact there are only maybe ten ‘proper’ songs that are instrumentals and designed to he set pieces, all the rest, are shorter mood pieces that propel the story along.

In some ways this type of disc will sit very well next to the likes of Tommy on one side and The Wall on the other. Although it must be said that Judge Smith has injected a lot more humour into his work than either of the other two recordings mentioned. Still prog fans everywhere will know Judge Smith’s musical pedigree and that alone would merit purchasing this disc, but Orfeas is worth so much more. It’s a wonderful tale, a modern retelling of an ancient story with some very modem ramifications applicable to so many. Well worth looking into.

Sea of Tranquility

The Web Source for Progressive Rock, Progressive Metal,
& Jazz-Fusion

Smith., Judge: Orfeas: A Songstory

Judge Smith, one of the co-founders of progressive rock giant Van der Graaf Generator, has released his most recent solo album, and this time he created an epic, 2 disc CD of his own. (sic.!) He has taken on the epic story of Orpheus, the musician, who took a trip through the underworld to try to retrieve his wife. Smith wrote the words and music for the album. Smith brings along a pantheon of famous talent with him through this “journey”, including: “The George Orfeas Band”, including: john “Fury” Ellis, on lead guitar; David Jackson, on saxophone; Marco Olivotto, on bass; Bert Santilly, on accordion; John Ellis, on rhythm guitar; Lene Lovich, plays Eurydice; David Shaw-Parker plays the Bard Anachronistes; Rene van Commenee, guest lead vocal as the Band in Hell; and the Interview Ensemble, Ricardo Odriozola, on violins and violas; Ben Nation, on cellos; David Shaw-Parker, as Mike ‘Tyger’; Done Jackson, as radio jingle voice; David Minnick, on percussion, keyboards, bass, and guitar; John Ellis, speech-music guitar; and of course Judge Smith as George Orfeas himself.

This is a wild comedic romp with hints of Monty Python – like humour mixed with wonderful guitar and instrumental solos, it is a musical play on history with some of today’s troubles and news mixed in to give you a modem perspective on the story, relating it to our crazy world in chaos existence. The music is what you would expect from such a giant in the progressive world of rock.. .excellence. Very interesting compositions and inspired art. If you are a VDGG fan you will want to snatch this up as soon as possible.

Added: August 10th 2012. Reviewer: Mark Johnson. Score: 4 star. This article comes from Sea of Tranquility
http://www.seaoftranguility.org The URL for this story is: http://www.seaoftranquility.org/reviews.php?sid=13161

Highlands Magazine – France

(Masters of Art, 77’42, U.K, 2012)
Let us recall, for those who have forgotten, that CHRIS JUDGE SMITH was, in 1967, along with PETER HAMMILL, one of the 2 founding members of VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR. This cooperation lasted until 1968, when JUDGE SMITH preferred to pursue a solo career. Since then, he has participated in numerous musical projects as a writer, composer or performer. During the 70’s and 80’s, he wrote several musicals, in collaboration with MAX HUTCHINSON, which were successively produced at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield and at the Lyric Theatre of Hammersmith, where Mata Han, which was written in collaboration with LENE LOVITCH, who interpreted the role, was also produced. He is responsible of the libretto THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, sung by PETER HAMMILL in 1991. ORFEAS is his third Song story, and his 10th piece of work as a solo artist or band leader, including his well-known CURLY’S AIRSHIPS double CD.

Let us look a little further at this Song Story. 34 tracks, 7742 of music and an impressive number of performers: JOHN ELLIS (ex VIBRATORS, STRANGLERS, PETER HAMMILL on rhythm and solo guitars, DAVID JACKSON on saxophone, Marco Olivotto on bass, BERT SANTILLY on the accordion, GlGl CAVALLI COCCHI on drums, LENE LOVITCH for the vocals in the role of Eurydice, DAVID SHAW PARKER, for vocals and on acoustic guitar, RENE VAN COMMENEE, as a solo singer in the role of the Willem & The Singer, RICARDO ODRIOZOLA, on violins and violas, BEN NATION, on cellos, DAVID SHAW PARKER in the role of Mike Tyger, DAVID MINNICK on percussion, keyboards, guitar and bass and JUDGE SMITH in the role of GEORGE ORFEAS.

With such a casting, it would be difficult not to be attracted to this Song Story, especially as the libretto visuals are very catchy, and the libretto being one of the most consistent, the best illustrated and the most informative.

The story is divided into three acts: ‘Hamartia’ spread over nine titles, ‘Anagnorisis’, filling 14 tracks, and ‘Peripeteia’ closing the album with the last 10 pieces. What is this Song Story (halfway between musical theater and opera) worth musically? As one might imagine, this is a kaleidoscope of musics overlapping each other, in a progressive- rock and art rock context.

The album begins with ‘The Bard-One’, a striking vocal melody of consummate theatricality, supported by a passage of Hispanic-inspired acoustic guitar, just like its three extensions, ‘The Bard Two’, ‘Three’ & ‘Four’ scattered throughout the whole work. In Rudi, as well as in many other themes, you can hear very rocky patterns, through very catchy guitar riffs, while the guitar solos that are heard intermittently are brilliant in every respect (‘Rudi’, ‘Orfea’s Audition’). From time to time, the string section offers a set of lush arrangements. Please note also that the rhythm parts are often very impressive in their power and realism. The bass has a tremendous power, together with an exceptional clarity. The diversity of arrangements is a delight at all times (the marimba ‘Don’t Look Back’ or the soaring saxophone of ‘Seven Yard Promenade’). ‘Orphic Lullaby’ offers a theme of a touching beauty, played solo on electric guitar with tact and feeling, a theme which is soon taken up on the saxophone and is found in several more places. Also, this is the way the album was developed: a sequence of themes, melodies, soaring also instrumentals, dialogues, interviews regularly returning to create an impression of unity and consistency in style.

The vocal melodies are pure happiness, performed by LENE LOVITCH with extraordinary talent. The relevance of certain musical themes and disco rhythms (‘In Flight Movie part 1, 2, 3 & 4’) is more questionable, but their brevity, and their place in the context – and they have their place – may justify them, without them ruining the party. The vocal dialogues between JUDGE SMITH & LENE LOVITCH in Orfeas & Eurydice, done in the style of a musical, are delicious, while the narrative sections, ‘Interview One & Two’, are supported by string quartet arrangements of the greatest inventiveness and creativity. ‘Fishin’ In The Styx’, with its very fresh, inventive and invigorating guitar arrangement, with some jazzy, or even dance overtones is refreshing, offering an unbridled instrumental part which is constantly changing, and a festive central theme of first class splendor. ‘Don’t Deafen Me, Persephone’ is, moreover, a great moment of offbeat jazz-rock, with a great part for soaring guitar, and JACKSON’S signature crazy saxophone, even if the rapped vocals can leave us more doubtful.

‘The Bard Three’ reintroduces a very intense acoustic guitar sequence, of high quality, combined with a passionate vocal part. Short parts follow on then, resuming earlier themes, and putting wrenching guitar solos and off-the-wall saxophone on the menu. ‘Tear Him Asunder’ is a futuristic metal or trash sequence in steamroller style, with howling guitar and surging bass, and the vocals are extremely powerful in proportion. With ‘The Bard Four’, it is with an intense, Hispanic-sounding, rhythmic acoustic guitar sequence accompanying a lyrical and theatrical vocal that closes this Song Story, as it began: the circle is complete. For its degree of ambition, the inspiration for its compositions, the quality of its performers, a grade of 18/20 is required. You have to order it, to discover it, and to listen to it. To be enjoyed urgently!


JUDGE SMITH – Orfeas, March 2012, on DMME, an Israeli site

An ancient Greek hero, as a Wembley-straddling guitar hero: a VAN DER GRAAF originator twists the myth with much verve and imagination.

Lurking in Peter Hammill’s shadow, Judge Smith is no less adept with a word and a tune, a string of albums and stage productions under his belt, so his “songstories” gained a certain following which is bound to grow after this, the British veteran’s third one. To see Orpheus in the modern spotlight is, perhaps, not that original an idea but to project a dilemma of an artist, who has to deliver his crowd-pleasing money-making hits while longing for creation of something, on the famous “to hell and back” anabasis – where a glance behind one’s shoulder means losing the Muse – is interesting move, indeed. That’s all theory, yet Smith shaped it in practice as a rock opera, a tag that Judge’s quite unwilling to apply, even though one can see similarities between his protagonist being unwell and staying at the hotel instead of playing a big festival and Pink in “The Wall”, but there’s more experimentation in the George Orfeas near-death experience.

Great librettist as he is, Smith makes unnoticed the absence of rhymes on most of the songs as well as the melodies and recital unison, a result of speech transformation into music so gripping feel the story’s peripeties and so strong is delivery – in a broad variety of genres – which involves Lene Lovich plus, in instrumental compartment, another VDGG alumnus David Jackson on brass and guitarist John Ellis, formerly with THE VIBRATORS and THE STRANGLERS. Of course, idiosyncrasy reigns o’er the proceedings, but it’s of a tasty kind with Judge as an arresting rhapsode backed by a fantastic band who bend “Seven Yard Promenade” into a classic sax-oiled rhythm-and-blues piece in Act One and don a death metal group masks in dry metal of Act Two’s “Carpet Of Bones”, a thematic relative of “Carpet Crawlers”, and “Tear Him Asunder” from Act Three. There’s even a power ballad here, “Orphic Lullaby”, whereas “Orfeas’ Audition” rides an orchestra-drench twang. Less seriously, “Wolfman George” parodies a famous riff in swinging fashion of a Zappa canon, “In-Flight Movie” comes on in a disco inferno form, and “The Crab Nebula” glides on lounge electronica – all organic, even the Mediterranean fusion and rap of “Don’t Deafen Me, Persephone” or theatricality of Smith and Lovich duets in “Orfeas and Eurydice”.

An immersive tale that’s never boring and bearing a happy end – not to everyone’s taste yet daring in its scope and fun to listen to – “Orfeas” might be Judge’s best work yet.

(Source: dmme.net/reviews/reviews49.html#judsm. Originally in English.)

Album : Orfeas : Judge Smith, 19 March 2012, on Musicwaves, a French site

Rating: 7.5/10.

Judge Smith’s name rings a bell in the minds of many people. He was the co-founder of the group “Van de Graaf Generator” together with Peter Hamill. Judge Smith left the band in 1969 prior to the beginning of their 33 city tour. He produced libretti for modern operas and music for TV shows as well as working on various musical projects, ranging from writing stage musicals, composing for other artists and directing a movie.

In 1991, Judge Smith released his first CD with a collection of old songs which were written from 1968-1977 (Democrazy). In 1993 his first original album Dome of Discovery finally saw the light of day. In the 2000’s, he moved up to another level in his music with the release of seven CDs. “Curly’s Airship” being one of them and his first ‘songstory’ (music in a narrative form) which was described by him as, ‘The most ambitious rock album that has ever been produced so far’. The “Orfeas” is the third of his ‘songstories”. The man himself is complex, as an analysis of his music shows.

“Orfeas” indeed is an ambitious and complex concept. The main idea (revisiting the myth of Orpheus by using a modern interpretation, where Orpheus is a rock superstar guitarist and Eurydice is his muse whom he eventually loses), it is quite different from the regular structure of composition. Judge Smith chooses to have it performed by several ensembles, each playing an entirely different kind of music.

They appear on the CD in the following order:
– a Greek bard singing in a strong pompous manner and playing arpeggios on a Hispanic guitar;
– the Orfeas rock band;
– Judge Smith using his “speech music” technique through the Orfeas’ soliloquies which are accompanied by a string sextet, techno music that symbolizes the transition of the heroes from dream to reality and by Orpheus and Eurydice’ (Lene Lovich) conversations through classical opera;
– the tragic end of the story is paired with a heavy metal band.

While the bard who plays the role of narrator is the most entertaining figure, the string sextet which fuses romantic and contemporary music doesn’t successfully tell you a lot about the transition (from dream to reality) which is expressed through techno and heavy metal.

Now let’s return to the other three ensembles.
The Orfeas Band plays classic instrumental rock, with two wonderful soloists John Ellis and David Jackson. John Ellis (the “hands of Orfeas”) treats us to subtle guitar solos while David Jackson shines through with his powerful saxophone interludes in a more sophisticated way than in VDGG.
The duet of Judge Smith and Lene Lovitch is created by vocal improvisation in the form of a conversation where no structure exists. In these songs performers express themselves as in musical comedies where the music follows the text and not the other way.

The final six monologues and two conversations use an innovative technique called “speech music” to capture every inflection of the voice and then converted into its’ musical equivalent. The “score” is created and played by instruments whose sound is superimposed over the voice. This creates a subtle echo which resonances through the musical arrangement. The effect is amazing and with short soliloquies you will find it astonishing but not overwhelming.

All the styles are intertwined in the album, making it less chaotic and personal. It isn’t necessary to search for separate titles of songs, “Orfeas” is an inseparable unit that is either appreciated as a whole or completely rejected. However, you cannot deny its’ creativity, inventiveness, attention to detail or the factual quality of the interpretation. It is also sprinkled with a healthy dose of humour. As for assessing the results, it’s just a matter of personal taste.

(Source:gonzo-multimedia.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/Judge Smith.
Original review, in French: www.musicwaves.fr/frmChronique.aspx?PRO_ID=8141)

Orfeas: A Songstory By Judge Smith, 18 March 2012, on Keysandchords, a Belgian site

Christopher John Judge Smith is an English composer and co-founder of the band Van der Graaf Generator. Initially he was successful under the name Chris Judge Smith, but ultimately he chose to be known simply as Judge Smith. He was the original drummer for Van der Graaf Generator, but when Guy Evans took over the drumsticks Judge’s part in the band was limited to the vocal parts. After recording the first single “People You Were Going To” Smith decided to drop this project.

Along with saxophonist David Jackson, he formed the band Heebalob. But unfortunately this was also short-lived, and so Smith eventually decided to embark on a solo career. Of the many songs he wrote in that time, a few beauties can be found on his solo debut album “DemoCrazy” from 1991. This album was only released in a limited edition and is now a real collectors item. Two years later “Dome Of Discovery” was released. The strange thing about this album is that except for his own vocals Smith used sampled sounds from real instruments for each note. In 2000 he completed the double CD “Curly’s Airships”, a project that dealt with the R101 airship disaster in 1930. We had to wait for eight years for “Long-Range Audio Device”.

On 9 May 2011 “Orfeas” appeared, and this is Smith’s third Songstory. It is actually an interpretation of the myth of Orpheus, performed by seven separate ensembles. Apart from Judge Smith a lot of famous artists have cooperated. How about Gigi Cavalli Cocchi (drums), the Dutchman René van Commenée (percussion), John ‘Fury’ Ellis (guitarist for Peter Gabriel and The Stranglers a.o.), David Jackson (saxophone), Dorie Jackson (backing vocals), Lene Lovich (vocals), David Minnick (guitar), Ben Nation (cello), Ricardo Odriozola (violin) and Bert Santilly (accordion). The song story is neatly divided into three acts. Together these account for 34 tracks or 77 minutes and exactly 42 seconds. Smith eagerly makes use of wild contrasting music, which is a melting pot of Southern guitars, classical string orchestras, meditative trance sound and metal rock. Some describe it as ethereal pop, though I would seriously consider this term.

Judge Smith is a magical musician who’s telling a coherent story.

(Translated by Mark Uwland.
Original review, in Dutch: www.keysandchords.com/6/post/2012/03/orfeas-a-songstory-by-judge-smith.html)

CHRIS JUDGE SMITH – Orfeas (2011), 17 March 2012, on Afterglow, a Dutch site.

Co-founder of Van der Graaf Generator, made ten albums and now provides us with “Orfeas”, a retelling in a modern style of the classic story of Orpheus, the mystical musician who travels to the Land of the Dead in search of the lost Eurydice.

In this “movie for your ears”, as the accompanying letter states, the legendary Chris Judge Smith is assisted by David Jackson (nice to hear him again after his forced departure from VdGG), guitarist John Ellis (Peter Gabriel, King Crimson, Stranglers), drummer Gigi Cavalli Cocchi (Moongarden, Mangala Vallis) and Lene Lovich (the famous new wave singer).

Smith’s love for a combination of song, spoken word and music is extensively demonstrated in this 34-piece “three act-songstory”. It’s something not everybody will like but it appeals to me very strongly: good musicianship, excellent production and great songs, although the good and fairly heavy musical interludes, a sort of mixture of death metal, trance, rock and classical music, sometimes are just a bit too short to my ears. Smith also brings us a novelty in which he, with a relatively unknown technique, transforms spoken word [in the Dutch original it says “singing” but that is clearly not what the writer wanted to say, MU] into music and melody. I find it intriguing but it is hard to explain. You need to listen to find out.

Orfeas is an excellent and successful attempt by Smith to retell this wonderful, classic story, wrapped in a fine musical coat in which creativity and humour have found their place. The sleek layout and the booklet complete the whole.

Harry ‘JoJo’ de Vries (what a week 11)

(Translated by Mark Uwland.
Original review, in Dutch: www.progopinion.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/wat-een-week_6913.html)

Classic Rock Magazine, June 2011

Judge Smith, a founder of Van Der Graaf Generator, is never dull. His music has a daft, dense other worldly timbre, while always delighting in a macabre humour. He draws from all sources for Orfeus (Masters Of Art). This recounts the mythic story of Orpheus, with help from the likes of Lene Lovich, John Ellis and Dave Jackson. It’s the most famous of all tales about Orpheus: how he travelled to the Underworld to persuade them to release his dead wife Eurydice back to the land of the living, succeeds only for his own foibles to eventually foil him. Judge Smith does it with a resonant sympathy yet also a darkly devious humour.

(Source: www.classicrockmagazine.com/news/classic-rocks-new-releases-round-up-48.)

www.mimia.nl  Mimia, Netherlands, 12 May 2010

‘The myth of George Orfeas’ – Review – Mark Uwland

On his latest CD Orfeas (2011) Judge Smith tells the well-known story of rock-guitarist George Orfeas. Everybody knows Orfeas became world famous and played extremely well after having found an electric guitar with the words “Fury Dice” on it. But one day he lost Furydice and had a terrible car crash. During his recovery he was under the impression that he was in the underworld, and there he met his muse Eurydice. Only now he understood that the music he played was not his.

Eurydice told George Orfeas that he would return to earth. But Orfeas only wanted that if he could take his muse with him. After having heard his guitar playing, the Powers of Music allowed it, on the condition that he would not look back. After his recovery George Orfeas was changed, and so was his music. His former fans didn’t go and see him anymore and he found very few new fans. Orfeas refused to look back, until he got a tempting offer to play his old hits one more time. So the true story of George Orfeas resembles the ancient myth of Orpheus, but I guess that’s just coincidence.

Of course we all know how the story of the famous Orfeas ends, but somehow Judge Smith has succeeded in keeping the story exciting. On first listen the CD Orfeas is a kaleidoscopic piece of music. It features many different sorts of compositions, but also many different instruments. There are saxophones and electric guitar, often playing the melodic lines as lead instruments together, but also less usual rock instruments like accordion, violin and cello. And it features folk, rock, techno, hip-hop, metal and even speach music, in which the music followes the spoken word word by word and note by note, a technique Judge Smith has mastered really well over the past years.

Writing it down like this, it looks like a chaos. But after a few listens it appears to be a whole, in a masterly way. Each sort of music describes its own part of the story, and in that way music and story reinforce each other. It appears that techno is the music of the underworld. And in hell, where Orfeas says he has cast a glance, it’s all about death metal. But the larger part of the CD Orfeas is dedicated to the music the George Orfeas Band used to play, the rock music of before the accident as well as the rock/hip-hop combination of the later period. The album offers a good overview of George Orfeas’ carreer. Some parts of course had to be made up. Orfeas in the underworld plays guitar for the Powers of Music, which in Judge Smith’s version of the story is his best performance to that date. At least, so we hear.

John Ellis plays the role of the guitar god remarkably well. Besides John Ellis as George Orfeas, David Jackson performs as Maxwell Blow, the saxophonist of the George Orfeas Band. Lene Lovich plays a brilliant role as Eurydice, and David Shaw-Parker is the narrator on acoustic guitar.

The story of Orfeas can be interpreted on different levels. Of course it is a warning to not keep looking to the past too much, to not repeat oneself as a famous artist but to try and come up with something new again and again, even if that means losing your fanbase. Because of that George Orfeas started to play hip-hop with an accordion in his band, a bizarre combination that cost him the multitude of his fans but resulted in a very beautiful sound.

Orfeas is also a story about the ease with which fame and money can lead to corruption. And the album shows how hard it is to retain an independent mind. Finally it is a story about getting older. Old and in the way. A time will come when your fans will know your tricks, and other guitar gods or other gods will surface. From an artistic point of view it is better to refresh yourself, even if that means that only thirteen people will come to watch, than it is to repeat yourself in a large, sold out stadium.

The albums of the George Orfeas Band are increasingly difficult to come by these days. But it is very easy to order Orfeas from the composer Judge Smith himself, at www.judge-smith.com. And that way you will not only at last get hold of the greatest hits by the George Orfeas Band, but also of a biography of the man himself. All this thanks to the independent, artistic mind of Judge Smith.


Fireworks Magazine

Judge Smith was the co-founder of Van dêr Graaf Generator (oh yes) and has since released ten albums as a solo artist or bandleader. Out of these releases, three have been songstories (otherwise known as concept albums) including his current album, “Orfeas”. Orfeas (or Orpheus as known by the Romans) charmed people with his music, went to the underworld to retrieve his wife and was later torn apart by following of Bacchus.

The album commences with a flamenco guitar-driven track with a very clear and half spoken introduction confirming Orfeas not as the Greek mythological character but a bandleader from Potters Bar. The next track, ‘Rundown Rudi’, is a nice instrumental with a meaty guitar and sax sound which depicts Orfeas live on stage at Wembley Arena. The following short tracks depict the band at subsequent gigs and again are instrumentals interspersed by a half-spoken narrative. Of note, the vocal is matched note for note in places by a number of different instruments (think of a folk-rock version of Blackmore/Gillan interplay).

The album has multiple contributions from a range of eclectic musicians including Lene Lovich who joins in Act 2 on the song ‘Orfeas and Eurydice’. The half-spoken dialogue becomes a duet, Lenes part sung in her distinctive way. ‘Orleas Audition’ towards the end of Act 2 is a very rock guitar based instrumental with nice playing and a bit of high suspense thrown in leading to the final track depicting an escape from hell entitled Don’t Look Back’. The famous part of the Orpheus story is narrated where he turns around to look at his wife and of course she is then lost for ever.
Act 3 (the final act as per all good Greek tragedies) features instrumentals based on numerous musical themes from rockabilly to an Eastern sounding duel between sax and guitar. One of the more accessible tracks is Don’t Deafen Me, Persephone’ which features an authentic sounding rap. The final track, ‘Tear Him Asunder’, depicts a Death Metal band called Bacchus entreating the audience to kill Orfeas.

In all, this is an interesting concept album which has clearly been a labour of love for Judge Smith. It takes some perseverance though as it is quite unstructured and quirky, as you have probably determined from my comments!

Judge Smith – Orfeas: A Song Story, June 2012, Music Street Journal, Review by G. W. Hill

While this album didn’t completely blow me away in terms of being something I’d listen to a lot, I was quite taken by the artistic nature of it. The term “rock opera” certainly applies, but this is even more theatrical than that. I love the story, what I can figure out of it, and its modernization of classic mythology. There are bits here that are purely theatrical and then other parts that rock. The truth is, though, those who like a continuing story with their music will love this. It’s really musical theater gone prog. It’s also very well done. Considering Smith was a founding member of Van der Graaf Generator, that kind of quality is to be expected, though.

Track by Track Review
  1. The Bard – One This is a weird little old worlde section, like something you’d expect to hear at a renaissance faire.
  2. Rundown Rudi After a stage introduction, the group launches out into something akin to serious 1970s hard rock sound. It works to more progressive territory as it drops back a bit. This instrumental works through a number of changes and feels a little like Pink Floyd at times. There’s a section later that feels a bit like Focus.
  3. Soliloquy – One Bouncy and fun, this is very British and rather like English pop music that was common in the early part of the 20th century – you know, the kind of thing Queen often referenced in their music.
  4. Seven Yard Promenade This is similar to “Rundown Rudi,” but has its own identity, too. It’s also an instrumental and runs through a number of shifts and changes.
  5. Interview – One After a little radio jingle introducing the “show” we get classical instrumentation dancing around behind an “interview” that’s part of the show.
  6. Orphic Lullaby This instrumental is rather Beatles-like, but the proggier side of The Beatles, think later period. It’s quite tasty.
  7. Soliloquy – Two Bouncy little bits of music are the backdrop for a spoken bit.
  8. Wolfman George Somehow this instrumental, while a lot like the others, feels a bit more playful and light-hearted. It’s got some smoking hot guitar soloing. There’s also an accordion solo.
  9. Soliloquy – Three The music to this spoken section is much more progressive rock, being playful and fun at the beginning. Then, as the main character realizes his prize guitar (much of the interview discussed it) is missing, the music becomes frantic.
  10. The Bard – Two Here we get another of the renaissance faire numbers.
  11. Soliloquy – Four Some world music is built into this spoken piece. Still, it’s some of the most pure prog of the set. As it ends in the sound of a car crash, we realize that the main character’s day just keeps getting worse.
  12. In-Flight Movie – One Delirium or crossing over to the afterlife make up this piece. It starts with very spacey music, but then works out to energetic electronic sounds. Then it turns out to dance club elements.
  13. Orfeas and Eurydice – One Our hero seems to wind up in heaven, but it’s unclear if he’s supposed to be there. The music is very much old-fashioned theatrical textured sound. It gets more electronic as it continues. This is campy, but also fun in a real musical theater way. It’s basically a dialog delivered as a duet.
  14. In-Flight Movie – Two This one feels more like traveling music. It’s bouncy and a little funky, but also very cool.
  15. In Hell – One Less than half a minute in length, this is just a quick bit of female vocals over some music.
  16. Carpet of Bones Dark and atmospheric, there are some seriously theatrical vocals. There are also bursts of metallic guitar. There are some later sections that really fit under the heading of “heavy metal” quite well.
  17. In Hell – Two The story continues with this theatrical dialog bit.
  18. In-Flight Movie – Three This is more traditional progressive rock in texture. It’s a cool bit.
  19. Orfeas and Eurydice – Two We get more theatrical dialog over playful music.
  20. The Crab Nebula More theatrical prog, the lyrics to this talk about a lot of famous musicians hanging out together in the after-life.
  21. Orfeas and Eurydice – Three This is more theatrical dialog.
  22. Orfeas’ Audition Starting with some seriously hard rocking guitar, this instrumental is a killer progressive rock jam. It works through a number of changes and alterations and is just plain tasty. After some guitar soloing later, the bass leads into a section that is almost like surf music turned prog. It’s great. This might be the most effective piece of the whole thing.
  23. Don’t Look Back Here’s another that’s more like musical theater, but with some progressive rock added to the mix.
  24. In-Flight Movie – Four We have another bit of traveling music here. It’s like electronica.
  25. Interview – Two And, now we get another interview segment, starting with the same jingle. Like the previous one, classical strings swim in the background as the interview is conducted.
  26. Fishin’ in the Styx This proggy jam has some hip hop scratching in the mix, but is also quite fusion-like at times. It wanders out into some seriously soaring progressive rock later.
  27. Soliloquy – Five Another spoken bit with some interesting guitar based music continues the story.
  28. Don’t Deafen Me, Persephone Here we get another jazzy tune. There is a rapper on this thing. There’s some extremely tasty guitar soloing on the cut.
  29. The Bard – Three This bard bit is quite short and the guitar playing is in the mode of Spanish guitar.
  30. Soliloquy – Six This spoken section comes with some harder rocking music mixed with Latin sounds. It’s interesting and short.
  31. Catastrophe in Czecho Fast paced prog jamming with accordion makes up this one.
  32. An Announcement This is just a spoken bit on stage.
  33. Tear Him Asunder We get some seriously weird, thrashy metal for this cut.
  34. The Bard – Four The final bard song closes things much the same way as it began.

(Source: www.musicstreetjournal.com/index_cdreviews_display.cfm?id=103510.)

Judge Smith, Orfeas, May 2012, The Rocktologist

In how many ways can you tell the myth of Orpheus? Well, Judge Smith, the original Van der Graaf Generator drummer, has set the tale of Orpheus in the world of modern rock music. His songstory or speech-music tells the story of George Orfeas and his band. In this story, George loses his guitar, aptly named Eurydice.

The album is divided into three conceptual segments and all of these segments contain soliloquys, interviews, the bard’s storytelling, interviews and other interludes. The biggest musical contribution comes from the segments when the George Orfeas Band plays (instrumental), while the rest of the tracks serve more narrative purposes.

When the George Orfeas Band plays, we can often be reminded of Van der Graaf Generator’s music, with a sort of progressive punk vibe going on. Of course, David Jackson’s saxophone also doesn’t hurt. There are some more emotional segments as well, where Judge Smith really shows off his song-writing craft. Judge Smith also parodies rock music on some of the pieces, with a Madness-like wackiness in certain areas. Even the interludes display a nice variety, with jazz, rock, metal (In Hell, Tear Him Asunder), Flamenco, techno and classical music coming to the fore. Still, the most intense workouts and ideas come on the band sections.

The idea of Orfeas as a songstory is very well executed. The interludes do tend to get a bit tedious on occasion, but it’s worth getting through them to keep the flow going and get to the real music, which will appeal to fans of Van der Graaf Generator. Just think of VDGG without the vocals and with a bit more guitar instead of the keyboards and you’ll get the idea. Judge does have his own style as well, which is a bit more humorous than with VDGG.

Judge has made quite a few friends over the years, who have helped create this impressive work of art, despite its small budget. The list includes David Jackson, Lene Lovich, David Minnick, Ricardo Odriozola and John Ellis. Judge Smith himself portrays a foul-mouthed rock star, who’s not afraid to speak his mind and curse. Most of the text is spoken with some regular singing occurring here and there, mostly by Lene Lovich.

It’s worth noting that the CD comes equipped with a lavish 32 page booklet, explaining the basic concept of the album. It also contains full lyrics and a list of who played what and who helped make this album happen.

Orfeas is an eclectic work of art – a bit of poetry, a bit of prose and quite a bit of music. The music itself is all over the map. Sometimes you have to wait quite a while before a real music section appears, but it’s worth the wait. Fans of good old British intellectual humour will also get a kick out of this. No one does it quite like the Brits. This isn’t really music as we know it, but if you like different types of art, this is bound to appeal to you.

7 out of 10.

Interview with Judge Smith: www.therocktologist.com/interview-with-judge-smith.html.

(Source: www.therocktologist.com/smith-judge—orfeas.html.)

Orfeas, a songstory by Judge Smith, 27 April 2012, on Rock Times

Orpheus loses his beloved muse Eurydice. He descends into the Underworld and gets her back. Under one condition: He must not look back on his way back. This is how far Greek mythology goes.

And this evening he plays at the Wembley Arena. Welcome at the ‘Song story’ by Judge Smith. The former VDGG-Co-founder transplants the myth into our present time in a musical story play of nearly 78 minutes duration. Orpheus, the enchanting lyre player, is transformed into George Orfeas, legendary British rock guitarist who has influenced several generations and still fills the arenas. But always with the same old hits, only interpreted in a new way. He improvises, and is never short of inspiration, as if he had been kissed by the muse. “I think I must have a special brain. All I know is I pick up old ‘Furry Dice’ and off I go. I don’t have to think about it much.”

However, he is nothing without his special guitar which had turned up out of the blue, lying backstage on a table. ‘Furry Dice’ was written on it in somewhat unclear letters …Eur(r)yDice… The fans love him, and he loves his expensive cars. Until one day his strange instrument vanishes without trace.

End of the first Act. Judge Smith tells his story, following the pattern of the classical tragedy, in three acts, the Hamartia (the fault of the hero), Anagnorisis (recognition of the truth) and the Peripeteia (turning point). There are 34 scenes, some running through the whole work in several categories: monologues, dialogues and of course music. The ‘George Orfeas Band’ represents instrumental rock music with a mix of classical rock and natural jazzy prog rock with saxophone and accordion. The hooks and hymns are at least as cool as their names: “Rundown Rudi” or “Seven Yard Promenade”. And “Wolfman George” – this is unbelievably zippy! A cute accordion riff rocking to and fro; and above the polka-style, you have guitar and saxophone squeaking in Southern-Rocky double leads. It’s really quite forceful what Judge Smith has written here for ‘his’ band under the leadership of John ‘Fury’ Ellis alias ‘The Hands of Orfeas. The audience atmosphere and the magnificently British announcements see to it that everything flows, again and again, into the music and out of it again… and into the monolog “Soliloquy” speech sequences with instrumental ‘commentary’. Depending on the mood, this fluctuates between rock, jazz, funk and semi-orchestral slapstick film music snippets.“Off they go. Look at their little heads bobbing up and down. Like a bunch of meerkats. It wouldn’t matter what I played. I could be doing complete crap, and they’d still think it was the voice of God…”… and into the dialogues: George Orfeas’s radio interviews with Mike Tyger, the host of ‘The Hour of Rock’. Here the hero behaves with less arrogance; people are listening! And we listen even more, since Judge Smith makes use of his special trick in a very striking manner. He calls it ‘Speech-music’: A string sextet imitates and comments on the voices, portraying rhythm and speech melody. This is crazy stuff!

From the Classical touch to the Mediterranean – “The Bard” appears as an outsider and commentator, ardently fingering the strings of the acoustic guitar, and skilfully, affectedly, and with captivating theatricality, plays the turns and twists in the fate of Orpheus and Orfeas. He doesn’t differentiate much here – the borders become blurred and timeless. The multi-stylistic music medley becomes even crazier in the second act. After losing his beloved guitar the great George Orfeas cancels his tour in a panic. Deeply upset, he has a car accident, lands up in a coma and has a near-death experience. The way into this ‘underworld’ leads through an imaginary tunnel, accompanied by brutal trance-music (!) which only hurts George Orfeas. Judge Smith lets us musically feel the pain and desperation of the protagonist. Has he gone mad? No. The full blast of electronic music is a dramaturgical effect. And George Orfeas’s only comment is to yell: “Oh no, I knew it; I’m dead. And Hell is a disco…”

The hilarious moments of the musical audio play now obviously increase. Orfeas is received by an annoyed Eurydice. She explains to him that ‘his’ guitar comes from her, his Muse. With it she has given him his talent: “You don’t think that you’ve made it all yourself, do you? You and your ‘Special Brain’? No one makes music out of nothing. You pick stuff up on the solar wind, then change it and improve it, or change it and spoil it.”
Orfeas pleads (for himself) but wants to take the opportunity to have a quick look at hell – one floor below you can find trashy, aggressive metal music of the type originated by ‘Mekong-Delta’ with hellish evil speech song to the rhythmic rattling of the dungeon chains.

What an acoustic show… an amusing highlight is “The Crab Nebula” where Frank Zappa and Mozart outdo each other with groupie stories, and Freddie Mercury sips champagne with Schubert. And with it goes a driving surreal organ in a ‘Lamb’ -like mood.
Of course Orfeas gets another chance and gets his Eurydice – sorry – his ‘Furry Dice’ back… A year after his nearly fatal accident he celebrates his comeback. But not looking back is an awkward matter. No longer any of the old songs, but quite new ventures instead: The George Orfeas Band performing with a rapper on stage:
“With the message he brought back from Hell
That he’s compelled to tell, so listen well. He say
Don’t look back. (Yo, Big ‘O’)
Don’t look back. (Word up, y’all)…”

Only, the idea of ‘not looking back‘ is not so easy when the fans go on strike, the clubs become smaller and, sooner or later, the offer arrives to play the old hits just once more at a big festival…

Impressive: “Orfeas” is not a rock opera, not a musical, not a concert album and not an audio play – or is it a bit of everything? Well, it’s a ‘Songstory’, Judge Smith’s story telling technique… That just cannot be performed, as he says himself; instead it is a ‘fantastic’ acoustic thing of the brain, brilliantly produced. Admittedly: not something for every day. But certainly something that you would want to slip to your friends, saying: ‘You must treat yourself to this!’ Not something to listen to as background music – but luckily not complicated either, not heavy going, a lot of gags are included. The fun factor is not limited to the story, but continues in the thick, detailed booklet, where all the participants are depicted. With the exception of the fictitious Death Metal-Band ‘Black Path’ which at the end of the piece, celebrates the demise of George Orfeas in song (Mal-Metal Band Black Path don’t release photographs or personal information. Guitarist Colonel Infernal says, ‘We are faceless Evil’).

With his fictitious and exemplary ‘Orfeas,’ Judge Smith describes the dilemma of aging rock stars, and this he does with a refreshing combination of style and profundity. The myth of ‘Orpheus’ becomes a contemporary story; and the story of an old rocker becomes a myth.
“One thing that distinguishes a Myth from a mere Story is its resilience. It’s easy to spoil a story, but it’s almost impossible to ruin a Myth. A Myth can be recounted in a thousand different ways, over thousands of years, and still remain a good story.”

(Source: www.rocktimes.de/gesamt/s/judge_smith/orfeas.html. Originally in German.)


Judge Smith’s ‘Orleas’ is a unique, elaborate, & enjoyable musical -reimagining.
Jordan Blum

Judge Smith was never one to shun away from ambition and multitasking In the decades since he co-founded (and almost simultaneously left) Van Der Graaf Generator. Smith has worked on many projects with dozens of artists, including several concept albums and musical theatre pieces Therefore, it comes as no surprise that his latest offering, Orfeas, is a three-act reimagining of ancient mythology. While its lyrics/narration can be a bit tedious and amateurish at times, it still managers to survive thanks to its humor, subtly intricate arrangements, reprises and grandiose scale.

In essence, Oneas modifies the classic tragedy of Orpheus, “the magical musician who travels to the Land of the Dead in search of the lost Eurydice.” In this version he loses his guitar. Orreas is Smith’s third ‘songstory’, and he explains his interest in such schemes by saying that they’re “more complex than song-cycles or ‘rock operas’.” Arguably. the biggest difference is that “this songstory uses wildly contrasting styles… including instrumental rock, Mediterranean guitar music, modern classical string sextet music, classical trance dance music, and death metal-” As usual. Smith uses several guest musicians, including Lene Lovith. David Jackson John Ellis and Gigi Cavaalli. Overall, it feels quite unique. although comparisons to ‘The Who Sell Out’ (radio jingles) and Those Men’s ‘Theman Simpulse’ (absurdist meta-commentary) are valid.

The album is mostly made up of repeating narrative and musical devices, including several soliloquies, radio interviews. “In-Flight Movies” (where Smith indulges in techo prog), and narration courtesy of The Bard: For example, ‘The Bard – One’ opens the album and ‘The Bard – Four” closes it. Outside of that, Smith provides plenty of retro rock jams and silly songs. Standout elements include the dramatic arpeggios of the “Bard” pieces, the beautiful yet dissonant string arrangements during the interviews (where Orfeas and the host—who sounds a lot like Ian Anderson—discuss what it’s like to be a middle aged rock star). and the way the production truly makes it feel like a cinematic experience. The rock songs are quite addicting thanks to their breezy, affective guitar work, occasion eruptions of horns, and delightful percussion. There’s plenty to like here.

Of course. an album like this is rarely perfect, and Otfeas certainly isn’t. The main issue is that the melodies (when there are actual songs) aren’t very memorable or involving, and sometimes, the lyrics and performances are cringe-worthy. This is especially true during the middle of the album. when Orfeas and Eurydice discuss the plot; their exchanges feel a bit clumsy repetitive, and histrionic (on purpose. no doubt, but it’s still a bit of an irritant). Also, while the diversity of the record is quite appealing, each style gets repeated several times. and those sections sound a bit too similar.

Even with its flaws. Orfeas is quite enjoyable. At almost eighty minutes in duration, it can be quite a chore to digest in one sitting, but if approached one section at a time, it’s pretty fun and impressive. The most rewarding aspect is how elaborate and lively the music is when the characters speak: similar to the work of Frank Zappa, there’s a lot going on in the foreground and in the background, and it’s definitely worth studying over several listens. Smith’s opus may not rival music’s most revered conceptual albums, but its uniqueness and experimentation deserve attention. It’s fair to say that you’ve never heard anything quite like this before, and that alone makes Smith’s vision and execution commendable.
Jordan Blum, Progressive Metal Examiner
Jordan is a 22 year old musician from Northeast Philadelphia.

Ragazzi: German Website

‘Orfeas’ is a diverse assortment of styles, from a not-so-hardrock opening, to prog, jazzy rock, rock’n’roll, diverse pop styles and harrowing techno (the development of the story…) to ballad-like rock, jingles for the radio, rap, punk, folk rock, banging sounds and happy drifting pop. Not only the vocals are typically British, but also the different styles, brilliantly sung by many different people. When the dramatic low point of the story comes, where Orfeas doesn’t want to compose anymore and is fed up with music, it is more interesting to follow the text in the booklet while listening than just listening to the music itself.

Above all, the lyrics are what make this concept album interesting. The best tracks are the acoustic numbers played by David Shaw-Parker. These self-composed phrases exhibit a drama and vitality that are impossible not to enjoy. New Wave Siren – or rather, Icon, Lene Lovich, whose albums meander between avant-garde and cheap pop, has a unique style – although it might have prevented her from becoming famous like other pop singers, it’s an asset to her performance of the role of Eurydice. Not as acute and dramatic as when she was younger, her style has aged into an almost “Canterburylan” jazz lyricism. Her voice has it all (the lady is crazy [in an arty way] and thus fits perfectly into this eccentric selection.)

The jamming sections in the beginning have all but faded away by the middle of the album as we follow a story that, in typical British fashion, will have you smirking, even in the quirkier “technoid” sections. Amusingly, John Ellis, an old punk rocker who in his youth would have chased away any hippie over their endless jams, is now the man on the guitar. The art of rock music has its own age and brings the different generations of musicians together.

One of the wildest songs is track 16 ‘Carpet of Bones’, where metal, the chains of hell and pleasurably scary lyrics bring much joy. In track 22, Orfeas has his guitar again and begins a new song, whereupon the warning about not looking back is given, and the third part of the story begins. In the second “Interview” the rap part is arranged with a string accompaniment just like the first, which was simply a great idea. The story is full of life and also linguistically suited for an audience that has lower English skills, and it goes without saying that the musical styles for the differing sections and people are impressively well executed. Heard individually, the sections do not have the same appeal that the whole composition has – this is an album to be listened to in its entirety!

And, of course, Orfeas screws up. He looks back. At a festival in Czecho there’s no way forward. The guitar doesn’t obey him, he can’t play it anymore (very impressively done!) and it leaves him. The concert has to be cancelled. In the track ‘Tear Him Asunder’ the metal band Bacchus conveys the lyrics of ‘The Singer’ with trashy speed metal (‘Tear him asunder!’). It’s all over for Orfeas. At the end, the bard appears again to tell the conclusion of the story. Again, the dramatic and terrific David Shaw-Parker (who wrote a book about Van der Graaf Generator, I believe, and who does a lot of varied artistic work) plays and sings after 34 tracks and around 77 minutes, and the end of Orfeas. His end? The bard knows better!

Volkmar Mantei www.ragazzi-music.de

Blue Bottazzi Beat – Italy

Probably not everybody is aware that…., the mythic Van Der Graaf Generator was not founded only by Peter Hammil. Together with him, there was also the drummer and singer Chris Judge Smith. However, with the entry of Guy Evans, Judge’s role within the band was limited to vocal parts. As a matter of fact, after recording the first single “People You Were Going To”, Smith decided to leave.

After a short and unlucky adventure with the group Heebalob (together with David Jackson), discographically speaking, he disappeared from the scene for more than 20 years. During this period he was mainly involved with music for theatre, television and some collaboration with other artists including of course Peter Hammill (he wrote the libretto for “The Fall of the House of Usher”). For his first album it was necessary to wait until 1991. Since then, even if with rather slow pace, he began producing work with some regularity.

‘Orfeas’ is his fifth album as a solo artist and, for the second time after “Curly’s Airships” in 2000, he challenges himself to a rock opera. He decides to tell again, in a modern style, the legend of Orpheus, the greatest musician of ancient times, who has travelled to the world of the dead to find his Eurydice. In the present day Orfeas is a guitar player without rival, with the great dilemma to needing to satisfy a large public and not betray his inspiring muse Eurydice. A dilemma that reminds us of Pink in “The Wall”: to sell, or not to sell, the soul for success.

This time he decides to do the thing in great style. He enrolls a large number of rather well known musicians, among them his friend D. Jackson cannot be missed. There are also the guitar player ex P. Gabriel and K Group John Ellis, the new wave singer Lene Lovich and many others. There are also present, highly respectable Italian representatives: the bass player Marco Olivotto and the drums player Gigi Cavalli Cocchi, who we see from the cover notes has played with the best Italian prog bands such as: Ligabue, Clan Destino e CSI(sic).

The musicians are subdivided into several bands that come one after the other as the album develops and each band is characterized by its own sound. Obviously the main role is that of the Orfeas Band, oriented towards a classic rock, even if, rather unusually, with the presence of an accordion player. The music of the band develops mainly through the two soloists of the group, David Jackson and John Ellis, who often play the same melodic lines. The latter also interprets the role of Orfeas, or rather the hands of Orfeas, as the voice is that of Judge Smith. Ellis with his guitar is the true focus of the record. He plays a noteworthy role demonstrating his ability to go around the musical universe 3600, in order to be able to cope with the schizophrenic needs of Smith. The role of Eurydice instead, is taken by Lene Lovich, but perhaps a bit too strongly defined. The more extreme metal pieces are taken by Black Path for whom is not permitted to know any biographical information, and on whom I avoid expressing any judgment. The background to Orfeas’ “interviews” are played by a string ensemble from the world of contemporary chamber music who play in a very mannerist way. The soliloquies, on the other hand, are handled by the multi-instrumentalist David Minnick with John Ellis and his guitar that mimics the melodies and speeches of Orfeas. Finally, we find David Shaw- Parker, the sole interpreter, with guitar and voice, of the songs of the Bard that narrate the events of the story. These pieces have a very “hammillian” flavor, with the voice of Shaw- Parker very reminiscent of the great Peter.

The record is therefore very ambitious, and unfortunately the music is not always able to maintain the ambitions. It is rather a inhomogeneous stylistic pout pourri. And the desire to include multiple musical genders seems forced. Flamenco, Avantgarde, Death Metal, Techno, Rock, Prog… and sometime one has the impression of eating carbonara with nutella and shrimps. Even if a good dose of humor makes the whole a bit more digestible.

Hammill’s shadow is present and often cumbersome, but this also recalls Waters at his most pretentious and long-winded, as in “Radio Kaos” to be specific. In some points it is rather verbose and redundant, a fact that somehow can be forgiven to a rock opera. Certainly, some interesting aspects can be found, almost all attributable to John Ellis, who with his guitar is able to be more communicative than many of the singers present on this recording.

A record that is half successful, in which Judge Smith perhaps demonstrates that he is better as a librettist than as musician. Despite all that, “Orfeas” has its insane charm, it is a bit crazy and, even if with its high and lows, to tell the truth more lows than high, is able to somehow intrigue the listener!

Io Pages – Netherlands.

Orfeas, A Songstory
By Judge Smith

It’s a bit disappointing when after 45 years your first and actually only achievement is the fact that people will remember you as one of the founders of Van der Graaf Generator (VDGG). So that is emphatically printed on top in the CD-information that came with it. Not that Judge Smith, who left the band after only one record, has done nothing since. But most of his activities were outside the scope of prog-lovers: stage musicals, operas, music for television shows and two previous songstories, of which Curly’s Airships is the most well known. Orfeas tells the story of the Greek hero Orpheus in three acts who for this occasion is the leader of a band that performs in Wembley – don’t ask me why! This album wasn’t called Orfeas, A Songstory, for nothing, because it is a mix of narrative voices, radio play and music. Normally I find this horrible, and that is really also the case with Orfeas. So… away with this CD, but there is one problem. Because the music is filled with the playing by amongst others ex-VDGG saxophone player David Jackson, ex-Enter K Group [sic!] and Stranglers-guitarist John ‘Fury’ Ellis, drummer Gigi Cavalli Cocchi (Mangala Vallis, Moongarden) and singer Lene Lovich, well known because of her new wave hit single Lucky Number. Especially Jackson and Ellis make themselves heard that they are present and that sounds fine, so you keep listening. But I just don’t care for all this horrible operetta-like drivel!

André de Waal