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TRACK LIST: Disc 1: 1. Viajero Inmovil 7:09 2. Jerezcali 8:53 3. Encrucijada 17:25 4. Lamento del Gato 9:55 5. Damajuana 4:18 Disc 2: 6. Viento 5:01 7. El Puente 22:02 8. La Ballesta 8:46 9. Ensamble Al-Maya 5:27 10. Ansia - Anguista - Desesperacion 7:10 All tracks: by Vidales. LINE-UP: Alfonso Vidales - keyboards; backing vocals Francisco Fernandez - lead & backing vocals Carlos Humaran - electric & acoustic guitars Kiko King - drums & percussion Flavio Jimenez - bass With: Pepe Torres - saxophone, clarinet, & flute Jose Luis Algaba - bass Produced by Vidales. Engineered by R. Rodriguez, D. Berg, & J. C. Perez.
Prolusion. One of the most prolific contemporary progressive bands, Mexico's Cast, is back with an output, which became their first double studio album and the first with lyrics in their native Spanish (which is just great, keeping in mind their English). Counting "Infinity" (2002), which, as far as I know, features several previously unreleased tracks and a couple of new, "Al-Bandaluz" is the eleventh studio album by Cast. If you wish to read the reviews of all of the band's previous studio albums (except for "Infinity", which was released as a limited edition and without a promotional campaign), click >here.
Analysis. For a start, here are quotes from one review of "Al-Bandaluz", which, by the way, has been written by a very established reviewer. "[This is] complex keyboard-heavy Neo Progressive with lots of odd meters. [:] The arrangements load up an embarrassment of riches, maybe even too much at times. If I have one complaint it would be to wish for more moments of quiet and simplicity." As you can see, the author roughly contradicts himself, and of course, "Al-Bandaluz" has nothing to do with Neo Progressive. (Does anyone really consider Cast being on the same stage as Neo bands: Arena, Jadis, Fruitcake, etc?) If someone's expectations for this album won't come true, it's not the case to confuse readers. Even though one used to call Neo everything created within the Prog Rock genre after the seventies, then he should also use the term regarding all the contemporary RIO performers for example, which would be ridiculous. Neo is just a sub-genre of Classic Progressive, its more accessible manifestation, which concerns only the oldest three genres of Prog: Art-Rock, Prog-Metal, and Jazz-Fusion and doesn't concern RIO and Fifth Element. After all, Neo was 'invented' not in the 1980s (if it has ever been invented): just recall the Canadian band Saga, for instance, though the music of such earlier bands as Roxy Music, Kayak, and even Procol Harum can in some (if not many) ways be regarded as Neo, too. An accessible Prog was more or less recently labeled Neo just in order to shortly define it, while it has existed since the earliest days of the genre. Back to the hero of this review, there are, in reality, lots of quiet moments on "Al-Bandaluz", but as for simplicity, the album is free of it indeed. I can assert that Cast's new work is as complex and diverse as any of the classic albums by Genesis, Camel, and Yes - of course, those released in the first half of the 1970s. Furthermore, this is the most complex and the most freshly sounding album by Cast, and by originality, this is one of the most unique Classic Symphonic Art-Rock albums released after the heyday of the genre. Well, "Al-Bandaluz" is a concept album (its title is part of the lyrics of all of the songs here), each of the parts (discs) of which features five tracks. What's especially notable is that all ten of the album's tracks have an obvious classical feel to them.
Synopsis - Disc 1. Three out of the five tracks here are full instrumental compositions, and two of them: the 17-minute Encrucijada (3) and Damajuana (5) have a very strong reference to Classical Music. The first of them is especially rich in 'classical' arrangements represented by the constantly developing interplay between passages of acoustic piano, those of a string ensemble (sounding very lush), and solos of flute. The genre essence of this epic is nothing else but Contemporary Classical Music performed both traditionally and by dints of Progressive Rock. Both of the said compositions are just incredibly original and can't be compared with classic Prog of the 1970s, something else, and even everything we've heard from Cast until now. Though perhaps the latter of the said pieces, representing Classical Music performed exclusively by dints of Progressive Rock, has a bit in common with >X Religion:-), which has a similar stylistic disposition. However, quite a sharp deviation towards Classical Music isn't the only innovation Cast disclosed on their new output. Another concerns Jazz-Fusion, and elements of this genre can be found almost everywhere on Disc 1, though they're especially evident on the tracks where a guest wind instrumentalist plays not only flute and clarinet, but also saxophone. The music on both of the songs here: Jerezcali and Lamento del Gato (2 & 4) and the remaining instrumental piece Viajero Inmovil (1) is a highly diverse and complex, mostly intensive Classic Symphonic Art-Rock with elements of Classical Music, Prog-Metal, and Jazz-Fusion. And while the songs here have something in common with those from the earlier Cast albums, the instrumental compositions don't arouse any associations at all. By the way, Jerezcali features something sounding not unlike a real violoncello, though this instrument isn't credited in the album's booklet.
Synopsis - Disc 2. Although the second part of the album is free of elements of Jazz-Fusion, it also features highly innovative works that are atypical for Cast, as well as Symphonic Progressive in general. Performed with piano, flute, acoustic guitar, and a string ensemble, Viento and La Ballesta (6 & 8) have a distinct acoustically symphonic sound, and Francisco Hernadez's almost operatic and very touching singing is eminently unique here. These two I perceive as romances sung to the accompaniment of Chamber Classical Music, which is both complex and very beautiful. Until now, I've never heard anything like this within the framework of Progressive Rock. Another epic on the album: the 22-minute El Puente (7) consists of persistently changing, highly diverse and complex arrangements and represents Classical Music performed by dints of Progressive Rock with elements of Prog-Metal, though there are episodes typical for a pure Classical Music, too. This is also somewhat the benefit performance of the band's main man Alfonso Vidales whose mastery of playing piano and other keyboards is just mind-blowing. He is undoubtedly the most virtuosi keyboardist on today's progressive scene, and what's especially significant is that the distinct originality of his style of playing is beyond any doubts. Although the stylistic definition of both of the instrumental pieces on Disc 2: Ensamble Al-Maya and Ansia - Anguista - Desesperacion (9 & 10), which is Classic Symphonic Art-Rock with elements of Classical Music and Prog-Metal, sounds already familiar to you, they'll hardly remind you of anything you've heard on the album before. This remark is especially topical regarding the first of them, which, in addition, is just filled with flavors of music of the East.
Conclusion. Cast is certainly the only contemporary Symphonic Progressive band and one of the few bands in the history of genre whose music is getting more original, wiser, and stronger with years, and not the wrong way out. I know that I experience this sensation not for the first time in the new millennium, but at least for the moment I think that "Al-Bandaluz" is the best Symphonic Art-Rock album since UK's "Danger Money".
VM: October 9, 2003
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