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Advent - 2006 - "Cantus Firmus"

(67 min, 'Advent')


*****+
                 
TRACK LIST:                    

1.  GK Contramundum 2:00
2.  Awaiting the Call 5:10
3.  Parenting Parents 6:45
4.  Utter Once Her Name 5:30
5.  Remembering When 4:00
6.  Rambling Sailor 18:14
7.  Your Healing Hand 8:18 
8.  Firmus Finale 4:40
9.  Rear View Mirror 3:34 
10. Alison Waits 10:40

LINEUP:
 
Alan Benjamin - guitars, basses, stick, mandolin; recorder
Henry Ptak - keyboards; vocals; percussion
Mark Ptak - keyboards; backing vocals
Drew Siciliano - drums

Prolusion. "Cantus Firmus" is this Jersey band's sophomore release, with a 9 year gap between this and their eponymous debut. Together since 1989, ADVENT began as a collaborative effort between Alan Benjamin and Henry Ptak, soon joined by Mark Ptak, Henry's brother. Drummer Drew Siciliano joined the group in 2005.

Analysis. Done in a madrigal style (a cappella), GK Contramundum opens the album strongly with the band's hallmark vocal sound. The voices are clear and strong. The composition is reminiscent of a church bell choir, with spot-on harmonies, as well as attacks and releases. In short, they are very tight. Awaiting the Call is a bright instrumental and the longest stride off the path of the rest of the material, with a strong jazz-fusion feel. The next two tracks are for me a low spot in the album. Vocally dominated, they lack strong melodies and just seem to meander. The problem is not in either the singing or the playing, as the musicianship is excellent throughout "Cantus Firmus"; however these two compositions suffer from a lack of melodic focus. Two thirds of the way through Parenting Parents there is a bright spot, a majestic instrumental bridge, which alas, ends entirely too soon, surrendering to the rather ponderous vocal melody. Utter Her Name Once simply continues what Parenting Parents began in moping along a somewhat melancholy musical rabbit trail. However, the pace picks up again nicely with Remembering When, an instrumental guitar duet - acoustic and electric, with bass joining around midway. Where the previous two tracks seemed compositionally aimless, Remembering When is solid and might belong to Anthony Phillips or Steve Hackett, very restful and beautiful. Though the band is often compared to Gentle Giant (and in fact plays on "Giant Tracks", a Gentle Giant tribute album), other influences would have to be Genesis and Gryphon. Ramblin' Sailor is a good example of the Gryphon influence. (Are these guys influenced by any bands whose names don't begin with the letter G?) Ramblin' Sailor is based on a sailor's song, The Rambling Sailor. The intro is as full of energy as you might expect from an old sailor's dance, with plenty of penny whistle mixed in with the contemporary instrumentation. It tumbles along joyfully for the first few minutes, before the tempo slows into the central instrumental section, which is grander with lots of Hackettesque guitar. When the band returns to the original theme, it is with the sound of rowdy pub laughter and group singing, as if the revelers had joined in song. You can even hear the clank of mugs. This track is the high point of the album, the magnum opus for "Cantus Firmus". In contrast to Rambling Sailor's jaunty romp, the next track, Your Healing Hand, is dreamy and ethereal, restful and almost meditative. Here I wish to interject comments on Rear View Mirror & Alison Waits (A Ghost Story). These tracks were recorded nine years ago, as part of the first CD project, but are released here as bonus material. Not as strong as the strongest material here, but stronger than the weakest, they could have replaced the third and fourth tracks quite nicely. Synth horns begin the fanfare for Firmus Finale, the closing track. Firmus Finale picks up themes from earlier compositions, particularly GK Contramundum, this time played instrumentally and with great flourish, a grand ending. Firmus Finale should have truly had its proper position and ended the album with a bang. One last observation before I conclude. The cover artwork and band logo are very nicely done by Michael Phipps, which stylistically compliment the band's music.

Conclusion. I would recommend this album for lovers of Gentle Giant and Genesis and generally the Canterbury branch of the prog family tree, though this is not retro-rock or derivative. It takes these flavors and mingles them with their own. These guys know and love their roots and are producing musical fruit in that vein. I find "Cantus Firmus" to be more head than heart music (in other words, I am not deeply moved in my soul by their melodies), yet there is much to like here and it continues to grow on me with repeated listens.

KW: July 26, 2006


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