Dewa Budjana - Hasta Karma
Saniscara (8:01), Desember (7:32), Jayaprana (8:32), Ruang Dialisis (11:43), Just Kidung (6:45), Payogan Rain (6:44)
You may also recall a time when examining an album cover's design was an integral part of the whole record-buying experience. During the 70s I recall being intrigued by the artwork of Tonto's Expanding Head Band's Zero Time. My attention was captivated and my heart was stolen by the psychedelic, kaleidoscope colours of Isaac Abrams' artwork. As a consequence, I bought the album on a whim. My adolescent brain struggled to get to grips with the emotional and musical concept of "jet sex", but despite that, I somehow fell in love with Tama.
The packaging of Hasta Karma is outstanding. The cover art depicting the emergence of a white lotus flower conveys a subliminal message of tranquility, harmony and purity. If it had been released in the 70s I probably would have impulsively purchased the album. I would have ruminated over the meaning of its artwork for hours. My tympanic membranes would have pulsated with delight. I would not have been dissatisfied in any way!
Indonesian guitarist Dewa Budjana is a magnificent performer and skilled composer. On this, his eighth release, Budjana has created an instrumental progressive jazz fusion album that floats and soars effortlessly with sophisticated and refined elegance. It is an album that also consistently sparkles and fizzes with excitement. Hasta Karma encompasses a range of styles within its six wonderful compositions.
If you enjoy the music of Pat Metheny, then you will find much that resonates within tracks such as Saniscara and Just Kidung. This is perhaps not altogether surprising given that the rhythm section of Hasta Karma have been associated with Metheny's most recent work, in the Unity Band. Drummer Antonio Sanchez's performance is wondrous throughout, showing an ability to be thunderously busy, elaborately complex and spaciously subtle in the blink of an eye. Ben Williams is given many opportunities to improvise, embellish and delight with his astounding technique on the upright bass.
Dewa Budjana's compositions are melodic and complex, yet they often rock with explosive energy. The album includes many opportunities for the performers to provide solos of spell-binding intensity and inspiring technique. Hasta Karma is full of surprises and unexpected contrasts. As a consequence, it is a richly rewarding experience.
Although Budjana's music is beguiling and hugely enjoyable, I often found myself searching for musical pegs to help reference its unique sound. For example, the contrasting melody and intricate drum patterns of the opening piece reminded me of Isotope's Then There Were Four. Whilst the lilting melodica and easy-going nature of Payogan Rain rekindled memories of Jan Garbarek's ability to pen a memorable tuneful melody as displayed on his Visible World album. The extensive use of vibraphone throughout Hasta Karma brought to mind the atmospheric and exquisite work of Gary Burton in Eberhard Weber's Fluid Rustle release.
The contribution of Joe Locke on vibraphone is impressive and, for me, is a major selling point of the album. The use of this idiosyncratic voice in a fusion setting often enables the tempo and delivery of the music to unpredictably change to a slower pace. The fluidity and spacious nature of his superb performance is able to deftly take the listener on a voyage of discovery, where calmer and more serene soundscapes are explored.
Whilst Locke's contribution is impressive and provides many of the album's more reflective and ambient moments, the performance of Budjana is absolutely immense. This is an album that brims with emotion. Aficionados of technical guitar playing will find much to enjoy and will, no doubt, revel in the range of emotional sounds that Budjana is able to portray in his skilful repertoire.
His dark, rock-laden solo in Desember is powerfully unsettling and is crammed full of steaming, gut-wrenching menace. On the other hand, his work in Jayapana, especially when channeling the higher register of notes, is bewitching and inspiring. In this piece, Budjana employs a tone and fluid elasticity associated with Robert Fripp. Parts of the beautifully-constructed and stunning solo in Just Kidung even reminded of Hendrix's highly appealing Pali Gap instrumental.
In Ruang Dialisis, Budjana's piercing guitar cries out in measured emotion. The mood created bore similarities to John Etheridge's moving performance in Soft Machine's Song of Aeolus. It even caused my face to gurn awkwardly in an act of willing submission, as Budjana's beautifully-formed playing produced ripples of involuntary tongue twirling and a varied range of ecstatic facial contortions.
The most progressive piece of on offer is undoubtedly Ruang Dialisis. The track utilises a mixture of styles including structured jazz rock and chaotic free-formed improvisations. Its varied nature provides an opportunity for the ensemble to display a full gamut of moods. Cultural boundaries are cleverly breached by encompassing a traditional funeral song or Maimuit as a part of its rich palette of sounds.
Overall, I have been greatly impressed by Hasta Karma. I unreservedly recommend it to listeners who appreciate the subtlety, improvisational skills and complexity of jazz, but also enjoy occasional moments of the unfettered power of rock. The album has a freshness and purity of spirit that is hard to describe, but easy to appreciate.
I enjoyed it immensely and as I conclude this review, I am carefully studying the artwork of Dewa Budjana's 2014 release Sura Namaskar. I wonder whether, just like Hasta Karma, its music will match the expectations that its wonderful cover evokes.
Owen Davies: 8.5 out of 10
Elements - Monument
The Ongoing Circle Of Life (6:58), Intimacy (5:48), Values (6:35), Your Way (4:35), I Miss You (7:16), Looking Back For Tomorrow (4:48), Symphony For The Nerds (5:55), Imprisoned Angel (8:49), The Edge Of Time (4:39)
The album is in memory of former drummer Govert Jan Repelaer van Driel who's responsible for all lyrics but hasn't been able to enjoy listening to them on the album because he lost his fight against cancer, at the age of just 35, before the release. It's nice that in this way he still gets posthumous recognition for his work.
The music reminds me mostly of the 80s prog of Pendragon, IQ, Pallas and Marillion (Fish-era). The vocals of Donkersloot also has a touch of Nick Barrett (Pendragon) at times. As usual in prog rock it's mainly all about the guitar and keyboards, and both are in good hands with musicians Alblas and van Oosten.
I liked the guitar soloing in Intimacy and I Miss You, where keyboard player van Oosten also shows his skills. Ongoing Circle Of Life has a Floydian feel, and Symphony For The Nerds has a nice keyboard intro. The longest track, Imprisoned Angel, has some beautiful keyboard sounds and great guitar work, just like us proggers always enjoy.
The only point of criticism is that the production could do with a bit more dynamics. It sounds a bit flat. This is a nice debut by this new band which gets better every time you listen to it. They are not (yet) in the premier league of Dutch prog bands like Knight Area, Silhouette, Sylvium and 'oldies' Kayak, but that might change with future releases? There are already new songs in the pipeline for a second album, so lets wait and see. Meanwhile enjoy listening to their first work.
Peter Swanson: 7.5 out of 10
The Evenfall - The Waiting Room
Intro (1:29), It Must Not Rain (7:14), Freak Show (5:30), P're (Carnival Of Lies) (7:08), Reliable Fate (4:56), Evenfall (Pt. II) (5:12), Mind On The Run (5:38), The Fall Of Men (4:34), The Waiting Room (10:53)
Certainly the opening moments of the second track on The Waiting Room, It Must Not Rain, initially gives weight to the prog metal label with an instant burst of speed that rivals the likes of Annihilator and Accept for intensity. And yet for all the growling ferocity, the moment is (mercifully) brief giving rise to something far more diverse and much less predictable. Melodic and with hints of prog and pop, the sound is a mesh of dreamy guitars and classical piano and soaring vocals. Bizarrely the track totally sheds all reminders of its blistering opening, and at the midpoint in the song, the burst of Spanish guitar over a cool rim shot beat will leave you wondering just what it is you have stumbled across.
As the song fades out it bleeds into the lively Freak Show with horror movie creepiness, and even though the style is heavier it doesn't feel it, especially with the added effects and samples that give the sound a multi-layered sophistication. Intimidating New Zealand All-Black style chanting vocals mix with delicate harmonies and catchy melodies and throughout, the acoustic guitar and jazz-laden piano paints a totally unexpected, pleasurable picture.
With the beginning of P're (Carnaval of Lies) the opening chiming bell - something akin of Sabbath and so many bands that have used the sound - the feeling is that this is due to get hard and heavy, and unexpectedly this isn't immediately the case. This time it is a prelude to mystery and melancholy.
The metal parts contained in this largely progressive number, are melodic and crisply precise, in the way Dream Theater have influenced so many prog metal bands that have followed them. Unfortunately, the only downside of this piece is the brief and unwelcome death growls close to the end. With such virtuosity and sophisticated songwriting prior to them, the style feels as out of place as a fire at a swimming pool. Mercifully, the moment is brief and doesn't eliminate the overall feeling from the piece. This is clearly one of those times where the question mark hangs over why this style of singing was added to the sound and would it not have been better if it was left out? Guest vocalist Facundo Batista provides the toneless intensity on four of the nine tracks; much of it is unnecessary and oddly used.
If there is ever a reason to question it further then the Iron Maiden influenced Reliable Fate is a prime example of what singer Denis Kormakov can do. Similarities to Geoff Tate are very obvious and impressive to hear. The dual guitar histrionics on this track match the vocal style and the result is an exciting 80s style headbanger harking back to the likes of Judas Priest, Helloween and others in that genre.
The style continues in Evenfall Pt. II with an opening melody that again echoes the likes of Maiden at the height of their powers. However this doesn't remain. As with so many songs on this album, there is little predictability or certainty in the way the piece progresses from the way it begins. Folding into the metal is a dose of loose jazz and some slick funky riffing. Without question the growing sense of sophistication and variety takes hold with this clever instrumental.
The latter portion of the album plays out stronger than the start. Mind On The Run, The Fall Of Men and The Waiting Room are softer with deeper progressive and symphonic tones. The quality of songwriting and performance in these pieces keeps delivering surprises, particularly in the album's 11-minute final track. Primary singer, Gonzalo Quintela shows his emotive vocal abilities, albeit occasionally struggling with some pronunciation. That said, hats off to him and the band for performing the whole album in English, making this more accessible and a good international selling proposition.
What the band have achieved here is a debut album full of scope and likability. Categorising them as metal does not do justice to their range of writing and musical abilities and falsely pigeonholes them, with one exception. If the band want to broaden their appeal they should consider losing the death growls that sit badly amongst some sublime compositions. But don't let this steer you away. This successful release will appeal to fans across the progressive genre and is a real grower. Check it out.
Eric Perry: 8 out of 10
Little Tragedies - At Nights
At Nights (11:59), In the Library (4:52), Forrest. Darkness (3:16), Dawn (4:54), Comrade (9:43), Sekhmet (6:27), Late Autumn Time (4:31), Spring Chatter (2:59), Walking Stick (7:56), There Are Many Good Things In the World (4:07)
Little Tragedies (the band's name probably was borrowed from Alexander Pushkin's four short dramas) was founded back in 1994 in the Russian city of Kursk, when Gennady Ilyin, graduate of the St. Petersburg Rimsky-Korsakov Conservatory, assembled a few fellow musicians to make what he called "different combinations of classical, contemporary and rock music without lyrics and vocals". Gennady Ilyin moved to Freiburg in Germany shortly afterwards, where he still lives with his wife Natalia Ilin, who is responsible with others for the English translations of the Russian lyrics. Gennady, who wrote all the music on this album, does his composing work in Germany and travels to Russia a couple of times per year to rehearse and record his music with the other band members, most of whom still are based in Russia. Little Tragedies thus always has been a "distant band project".
The line-up on this album, besides Gennady Ilyin (vocals and keyboards), consists of Yury Skripkin (drums), Oleg Babynin (bass) – both being from the starting days of Little Tragedies -, Alexander Malakhovsky (electric and acoustic guitars) and Aleksey Bildin (saxophones) plus a few guest musicians on trumpets and trombone. The songs were recorded in August 2011, but the album released only in April 2014.
With Little Tragedies, things are fairly straightforward: you get what you expect. Once one has become familiar with the overall pattern, there are few surprises in this music; and it is up to you to consider this as positive or negative. This album provides a mix of very complex, fast and virtuous tracks, with some shorter, simpler songs, all of them being dominated by Gennady's keyboards, which are mainly Moog, Hammond and grand piano, and deeply rooted in classical music, especially from those Russian composers from the romantic period. The title track, At Nights (I think without the "s" would have made more sense) is a frantic opener with lots of harmonies and melodies borrowed from classical music. Gennady's keyboards roar through this song with such speed, virtuosity, variety and complexity (some may call it overloaded) that one is inclined to pause with the listening after the 12 minutes to take a deep breath and cool down. However, that is not necessary, as At Nights is followed by three shorter, quieter songs. All are fairly similar in nature, featuring chanson-like music, dreamy piano playing and melodious synthesiser and saxophone lines. Sometimes this is slightly too cheesy for my ears. Once in a while, it reminds me a bit of lounge music with progressive touches (especially Sekhmet, which is just piano and singing).
Speaking of singing, the Russian lyrics are something that one has to get used to. It is a distinctive feature on each of Little Tragedies' albums. They sound poetic, but rather remind me of "emotive speaking" (thanks, Gerald, for that expression). English translations are provided in the CD booklet.
With Comrade, it is back to the virtuosity and the complexity experienced in the album opener, as is the case later on with Walking Stick (my favourite on this album). The song pattern quickly becomes recognisable: the fast and complex tracks are always followed by a couple of quieter ones, and everything exceeding the seven-minute mark falls into the complex category. Everything below that is simpler, albeit with 'simple' being a relative term with respect to Little Tragedies' music.
The songs on At Nights are accessible, melodic and tuneful, even the more complex ones. On that basis, the music is quite predictable and none of the tracks blew me away, although the musicianship is outstanding. However, I very much enjoyed listening to the album, even repeatedly. It is highly probable that anyone into Keith Emerson-oriented keyboard playing and symphonic prog with classical music influences will like this one. But that probably also holds true for any of Little Tragedies' albums. So, nothing new in that respect: you get what you expect!
Thomas Otten: 7 out of 10
Navigator - Phantom Ships
Life (17:04), Open Air (8:22), Burned (5:44), Beautiful River (5:44), Now That You're Gone (7:58), Snow Angel (5:18), Phantom Ships (13:47), Rinascimento (2:01)
The influences for Navigator are the big prog bands of the 70s such as ELP, Genesis, Pink Floyd and Yes. That certainly comes out in their music, but what I heard most was old-style IQ. Navigator has played as support to acts like Kansas, Saga, Nazareth and Queensryche. Phantom Ships is my first contact with Navigator.
The opener, Life, is over 17 minutes in length with a recurring theme and with a lot of instrumental parts with nice soloing. The solos are not over the top. There is some technical playing amid some great melodies mostly by the guitar, but also some nice layers of keyboard sounds.
Open Air and Burned are more rock guitar driven, accessible songs. I would have preferred these two songs at the start of the album. Life is a big piece that might make listeners loose interest on a first spin. If you do, then give these next two songs a try first, and try the opening song later.
Beautiful River is a nice, mellow instrumental song, again no technical, crazy stuff but some nicely woven, mellow melodies. Now That You're Gone is a nice ballad with a vocal line that sticks in your head, and that mood continues in Snow Angel. The title track is the second song that is around the 15-minute mark. For the first time on this album there is more technical stuff and more flashy soloing. This song reminded me of the neo prog style of old IQ. The closing song, Rinascimento, is a nice acoustic guitar outro.
Navigator brings us back to the time when symphonic rock was filled with nice melodies. The title track has more technical playing but the best thing I remember about this album will be the countless great melodies throughout the album.
Without sounding old-fashioned, and with a very well produced album, Navigator has delivered a very fine neo-prog album.
Edwin Roosjen: 7.5 out of 10
Nathan Parker Smith - Not Dark Yet
Mega (1:04), Interstellar Radiation Field (2:17), Dark Matter (3:46), Rhetoric Machine (3:29), Fog Over East (5:04), Creature Rebellion (4:20), Solace (3:49), Spin (4:25), Build and Destroy (2:45), Monsters (2:20), Carrington Super Flare (3:23)
Well, before I get into that, exactly who is Nathan Parker Smith? A native of California, Mr. Smith headed to the jazz mecca of New York, where he has made a name for himself in the jazz world by winning various prizes and accolades, including the Billy Joel Scholarship for composition. Since 2009 he has also headed up the Nathan Parker Smith Large Ensemble. This 18-headed monster quickly set about blazing a trail on the NY live scene with its 'unapologetically aggressive and engaging style'.
Described as the world's only heavy-metal horn band, just what kind of music will you find on this album? Obviously the instrumentation is not dissimilar from any typical jazz big band, but Glen Miller this is not. Harnessing the full power, range and volume of their instruments, the ensemble packs a serious punch. But that's not to say there isn't space and dynamics. If one was to agree that this is indeed heavy-metal horn music, it's much closer to djent and math-rock than thrash or death metal.
The music is extremely complex, with stabbing rhythms, ever-changing meters and odd phrases coming at you from all angles. It's all underpinned by an angular, ultra-compressed guitar, which accentuates any comparison to djent, or the guitar tones of Tesseract, for example. This is not guitar-based music at all though. The guitar sits at the back, and for the most part is not heard above the raucous onslaught of the small army of horn players on the front line.
Mr. Smith declares that the music relies heavily on collective improvisation, but to my ear, this is not evidenced on the record. This is meticulously crafted music, nanosecond precise in parts, and the composition and musicianship are commendable to get such a large group to pull this off as a unit. No doubt, being of a jazz bent, they are all reading dots; playing this stuff from memory I don't think would be an option.
The band makes a great racket, but I do feel that their 'big band djent' does let them pale by comparison to some of their jazz luminaries at times. Jazz is known for its extended soloing, and there's sadly not too much of that on offer. I also find that the rigidity of the rhythms stifles the band at times; They could 'cut loose' a bit more, and dare I say, swing a little. I'd love to see them live, as I'd wager they put on a great show, and no doubt stretch out a bit more.
If you already listen to a fair bit of noisy jazz, or are just up for something a bit different, then check this out. It's really good stuff, and very impressive. I for one will be keen to see what the Nathan Parker Smith Large Ensemble has to offer for their next album, and whether they will address any of the quibbles I listed above. If you don't stray too far out of your prog comfort zone, then this album is probably not for you.
Matt George: 8 out of 10
Plastic Knives - Both Sides of the Atlantic
Housewife Stash Party (5:59), Crossfire [feat. Diyala] (4:00), Big Bag of Tricks (8:26), Dying Kings (7:19), Crta [feat. Sara Renar] (2:50), Broad Stroke (1:59), Both Sides Of The Atlantic (6:39)
They begin with the fun and varied Housewife Stash Party, which, when I was previewing the album, helped me decide immediately this was an album I was willing to spin for a week. Their exquisite use of dissonance catapults this song well into the progressive realm.
Crossfire is a hip song, were this 1998. But in a retro way it works (imagine thinking any musical genre reflecting on itself would see 17 years as an era of time and style). This would be perfect for the Trainspotting soundtrack. As a piece of progressive, or even modern electronic music, it's on the thin side, but it does have a nice distraction quality to it. Not every track has to wow.
Big Bag Of Tricks is a very pleasing, energetic, and thoughtful instrumental. It meanders through several stages of an underlying theme. The drumming is exceptional and the way in which the song comes to a semi-chaotic climax reminds me of THRAK-era King Crimson. There's very little restraint here, a true measure of its prog goodness. At over eight minutes in length, it's their longest track and never gets tiring.
Dying Kings is more 'techno'-centric. It's certainly more dance-able than their other tracks. It has a great melody but I do think it could have been condensed. It isn't until 4:40 that something 'new' happens.
For me, the album starts falling apart at Crta, possibly in part because I don't have a translation of the lyrics and more likely because it sounds similar to Crossfire. The songs drags its feet and never really goes anywhere.
Broad Stroke comes across as a musical sketch, not a complete song idea.
The final track Both Sides of the Atlantic is very well performed. There's lots of stop action and odd time signatures, however the lack of any unifying hook and the blandness of what melody is there leaves me feeling indifferent about it.
The weight of this review rests solely on the strength of the three or four strongest tracks. More on this to be discussed in the review for their other EP, Tongue In Cheek.
Kevin Heckeler: 8.5 out of 10
Plastic Knives - Tongue In Cheek
Eyes on the Prize (1:24), Future Ex (3:04), Milk Teeth (3:46), Pleasure Delayer (3:48), Hooker Hickey (2:26), You Get The Worst Of Me (2:35), Tongue In Cheek (5:53), Residue (1:37)
Despite being longer by one track, it's over 12 minutes shorter in duration than the other EP. There are four tracks under three minutes, and only one greater than five minutes. This is a signal that several of the tracks are snippets rather than what I would consider full compositions.
Overall, I'm disappointed in this collection of songs. They come across as leftovers. Most of the charm, complexity, and hooks found on their other EP appear, for the most part, missing here. There's still the same over-the-top use of synths, unconventional (for electronic music) guitars, and capably played non-electronic drums. It just never meshes in the same way it did on several tracks from their other EP. There's rarely any build and fall, there's vaguely anything new or interesting introduced.
The one song with vocals suffers a similar fate of being overly subdued like the other EP's tracks with guest vocals. Too much reliance on the fact there's a singer seems to steal their inspiration for writing those better-crafted parts found elsewhere in their music.
The title track is the longest and probably strongest song, but tends to be repetitive with several sections cut-and-pasted or going on for longer than they need to. Put in the right place in a stronger song list with better material before and after would probably help elevate it.
I feel that they could have taken the best tracks from the two EPs and made one really decent album, either shelving the remaining tracks until more content was written (Residue) or just tossing them altogether as substandard. While I would recommend Both Sides of the Atlantic I don't come away with anything lasting from this effort.
Kevin Heckeler: 5 out of 10
Progoctopus - Transcendence
Transcendence Part 1 (6:34), Transcendence Part 2 (6:19), Like Stone (3:56), Carousel (9:02)
That musical flexibility is delivered courtesy of band members, Alistair Bell (guitar, piano), Samuel C. Roberts (bass), Tim Wilson (drums) and Jane Gillard (lead vocals). The technical ability of the instrumental core of the band is significantly on display here and the chord changes often come fast and furiously. Interestingly, the band are at their most compelling when they are more focused on melody than flexing their musical muscles.
The EP begins with the two-part title track, Transcendence, which presents the band at their most diverse. After opening with an interesting jazz-lounge-style riff, the song quickly moves into more traditional prog metal territory. That is not a criticism as overall, the song works well. It is a diverse offering and contains a chorus that is contagious. Not quite as successful are the moments when the band (and most particularly, Alistair Bell) seem to be summoning their inner Liquid Tension Experiment. The talent and technical skill displayed is striking, but the results seem to distract a bit from what really works about the song. Those moments sometimes feel like an opportunity to show off the level of skill rather than adding an essential element to the song. Gillard proves herself to be a talent of note and her strong and distinctive vocals often rescue the track from falling into areas of cliche. It is also engaging how the metal elements shift from darker and more modern in tone to a Rush-inspired classic rock style.
Like Stone showcases the band in a more straightforward way that at times resembles the work of Magenta. The song, a ballad, is effective and wisely displays a range that almost opposes the metal stylings of the opening track. Carousel closes the EP in a way that best represents what the band are capable of. Clocking in at just over nine minutes, the song is proggy, but with a hard rock edge that mostly eschews the speed metal trappings found on the title track. It is entertaining and effectively leaves the listener wanting more.
Using an EP as an way of introduction can make it difficult to fully assess a band. With that said, Progoctopus show enough range onTranscendence to assume that a full-length album would offer even more variety. This is a very talented group of a musicians and Jane Gillard is an excellent lead singer. Though the EP isn't without its shortcomings, it does provide a glimpse into a new band that is worth keeping an eye on.
Patrick McAfee: 6 out of 10
Purposeful Porpoise - Purposeful Porpoise
CD 1: Crossing Into the Unknown (20:46), The Air Pirate (12:23), Cycles (12:20),
CD 2: Unexplored (5:36), Iphone (6:06), Lost (7:19), Serena Song (9:24), Nowhere bound (5:43), Which Way Is Up (4:22)
CD 2: Unexplored (5:36), Iphone (6:06), Lost (7:19), Serena Song (9:24), Nowhere bound (5:43), Which Way Is Up (4:22)
This album has a very odd pretext, in that it is the first part of a planned trilogy detailing the story of Jeux D'eau which literally translates as "water games". It details the futuristic story of the aquatic world of Nommos. The story is contained on the website and so the musical pieces relate to the story.
I do think the concept is somewhat barking mad, but as a vehicle for theses pieces it is largely unobtrusive and doesn't spoil the enjoyment of the music; that when coupled with the calibre of the musicians involved, has the potential to be astounding. To be fair the band largely accomplish this feat, using top class muso's like Derek Sherinian and Vinnie Colaiuta, these guys and gals can certainly play. But as we all know from those self-indulgent guitar shredding albums that were all the rage in the 1980s, with their flash-speed arpeggios and diminished minor myxilodian and pentatonic scales, it is all very impressive but lacks a key ingredient of melody. Such talent doesn't always equate to a great listening experience.
Here you can rest easy, as whilst they may have chops-to-die-for the band also has the good taste to know when to reign that prowess in a little. For under Alex Cora's guiding hand they have crafted an album that has moments of greatness.
Opening Track, Crossing the Unknown, which lasts for over 20 minutes, sets out the stall perfectly, opening with some very delicate guitar from Alex Cora and restrained keyboards from Derek Sherinian, with the violin from Ginny Luke adding a very melancholy tone to proceedings. It sounds a tad Windham Hill to begin with, but makes for an impressive sequence, before the vocal begins, which is very strong and clear.
I would also add the bass work by Ric Fierabracci is exemplary throughout. He knows where to be at every twist and turn, and adds a great bottom-end to proceedings, especially in the extended workout at the ten-minute point of this song. Backed by the awesome drums of Vinnie Colaiuta this is one terrific rhythm section, and to hear them grooving away is really a thing of beauty.
The latter part of the piece has the soraing synth's of Derek Sherinian adding "colour and tone" to proceedings, all of which make this a superb opener.
Next up is The Air Pirate which is fully instrumental and predominately features Alex Cora's guitar work and Derek Sherinian's keyboards. In what is a rather meaty, 11-minute jam, this piece of full of buzzing and soaring synths and big powerful guitar riffs and lots of fretboard frenzy. The main motif that is recurrent throughout is certainly memorable enough and gives the piece balance and stops it being completely overblown and excessive.
Cycles quickly follows and this time we commence with very ethnic sounding instrumentation, before a sole acoustic guitar strums, and vocals and full supporting music enters. This is a brisk and uptempo piece again, with good use of Ginny Luke's violin adding variety and colour.
Disc Two has the shorter "songs", starting with Unexplored which is actually rather good and features some great violin taking the main solo before some speedy playing à la PFM.
The balanace of the more vocal pieces on the second disc works very well, but it is a marked contrast to the more fusiony elements that exist on the first disc. These songs are epic in their scope with a big sound and a great balance making a clear distinction between the instruments. Lost is a good example of this, opening gently with acoustic guitar and a gentle, restrained vocal, before increasing in intensity to a big and memorable chorus. This is good quality music.
Serena Song is an altogether different animal, opening with a popping, rumbling fretless bass that sounds very reminiscent of the like s of Spyrogyra with a very light vocal overlayed on top. Nowhere Bound has more than a hint of The Beatles' White albun to it, with its use of a sitar and other ethnic tones and almost a touch of the Dave Mathhews Band. This is a versatile and enticing song, and one can almost ignore the concept and just enjoy the sheer quality of the music, especially with the dancing synths of Derek Sherinian ringing out clear and loud.
The album closes on a more gentle tone with Which Way Is Up drawing proceedings to a graceful conclusion with an almost wistful, folkish tone.
I have to say that this album has grown in stature and depth, and as such I have revised my original viewpoint. It has proven to be a worthy listen, but it will require several listens to really grasp what is going on, so roll on parts two and three, whatever they may be called and whenever they may surface.
However I must also point out that this has a truly dreadful cover to it, looking like one of these god-awful thrash albums from the early 80s. What it really needed was a classy sleeve from the likes of Ed Unitsky or Mark Wilkinson to do the music justice. This artwork will not, I fear, draw potential listeners in.
John Wenlock-Smith: 8 out of 10