ProgressoR / Uzbekistan Progressive Rock Pages


Cast - 2007 - "Com.Union"

(70:16 / Musea Records)

TRACK LIST:                   
1.  Orogus 4:03 
2.  Al Bello 3:15 
3.  Fantasmas Y Demonios 6:09 
4.  Elfonia 11:16 
5.  Sensacion Arabe 7:46 
6.  Damajuana-II 4:48 
7.  Donde se Visten las Serpientes 7:28 
8.  El Cojin Verde 5:40 
9.  Cosas Simples 5:48 
10. Hogar Dulce Hogar 3:55
11. Lobos 4:27 
12. Io 5:27


Alfonso Vidales - organ, piano, keyboards
Pepe Torres - saxophones, clarinet 
Lupita Acuna - vocals; percussion
Dino Brassea - vocals; flute
Flavio Miranda - bass
Antonio Bringas - drums
Claudio Cordero - guitars
Jose Monje - trumpet, horn

Prolusion. Veterans of Mexico's progressive scene, CAST will next year celebrate their 30th anniversary. Meantime this very fruitful band continues to enlarge their discography, "Com.Union" being their nineteenth release to date. It would take too long to list here even the fourteen studio albums Cast have to their credit, but those curious to know my rating on each of them and, maybe, read some reviews as well, can easily do that by clicking here.

Analysis. Not unlike a bottomless well, Don Vidales' compositional source seems to be inexhaustible, as he continues writing new songs for Cast from year to year, all the music on "Com.Union" also coming from Alfonso's 'exclusive' pen. Unlike any of the band's previous three albums however (all of which are very long too), this 70-minute recording contains a few pieces whose sound is quite distant from the one we normally expect from this group. "Com.Union" includes seven instrumentals and five songs which in most cases alternate with each other, the latter usually featuring both male and female vocals, from Dino Brassea and Lupita Acuna respectively. Personally I find the first five tracks, Orogus, Al Bello, Fantasmas Y Demonios, Elfonia and Sensacion Arabe, to be the most enjoyable, although I had to revisit the CD to make certain of that, since most of the subsequent compositions are also impressive. One way or another, the said five pieces run for 33 minutes, thus forming nearly half of the album's content. One of two tracks revealing the influence of Cast's early passion, Genesis, the opening number Orogus is 70's-inspired / classic symphonic Art-Rock at times bordering on Prog-Metal, though aurally it is probably as dark as Van Der Graaf Generator or King Crimson (which is typical also of the next two pieces). Orogus turns into its follow-up without pause, so Al Bello first continues in the same style, but soon takes the shape of quasi Jazz Fusion whose hardness may though bring to mind the concept of Jazz Metal. These two are followed by Fantasmas Y Demonios, the first song in the set, which however can hardly be described as a song as such, since the vocals are in minority here. While bringing together all the three styles present on its predecessors, this is probably the band's heaviest composition ever and has a strong gothic feeling throughout. At the same time however, the music is very eclectic, a sort of maelstrom where impetuous improvisations adjoin swirling symphonic patterns and chugging guitar riffs as well, all of which much more often merge into one unique whole than alternate with each other. Nonetheless it is the fourth track, Elfonia, on which Cast reach a culmination in term of profoundness, the long instrumental where the thematic development and chord progressions are almost completely unpredictable and therefore very interesting. Stylistically Elfonia represents a complex cocktail of Art-Rock, Classical music, Folk Rock (Flamenco included) and Prog-Metal, with plenty of mixed electro-acoustic fabrics. There also are several classical interludes, most of which have a distinct baroque sense, some bearing a strong resemblance to the work of J. S. Bach. This is completely unique stuff, but it wouldn't be a crime if I suggested you imagine The Enid, Jethro Tull and Threshold jamming together to have a general idea of that epic. Sensacion Arabe concludes the line of so to speak pronounced highlights of the CD, suggesting a cross between Symphonic Progressive and Rock Opera in the presence of numerous oriental tunes. Yes, this composition is quite rich in singing, but since the players weave their soloing patterns both ceaselessly and inventively, the music remains eventful in all cases and never loses its attractiveness. This remark is relevant regarding each of the yet to be named songs as well, and most of those are inferior to the said one just because that 'Arab' is indeed sensational, meaning sensationally original. Cosas Simples, for instance, is also striking for its stylistic diversity, combining jazz-fusion, art-rock and classically inspired arrangements with colorations of the music of Mexican Indians. Lobos ranges from progressive Hard Rock to orthodox Art-Rock, reminiscent of both classic ELP and Jethro Tull circa "Benefit". A ballad with a recurring refrain (something about homo sapiens), Donde se Visten las Serpientes is relatively vocal-heavy in general, but nevertheless it doesn't sound annoying - still thanks to the efforts on the part of instrumentalists who, as mentioned above, are tireless in providing their solos, alongside concurrent vocals in particular. Of the remaining four tracks, all of which are instrumentals, El Cojin Verde and Io are both interesting. The first is an art-rock piece approaching Genesis's Firth of Fifth in style and beauty alike, while the latter steers somewhere halfway between Art-Rock and Jazz-Fusion without arousing associations. So it is certainly the remaining two cuts, Damajuana-II and Hogar Dulce Hogar, to which I've secretly shown the black mark:-) in the beginning of this paragraph, each combining standard pop-jazz approach with Bossa Nova and Rock-&-Roll respectively.

Conclusion. Overall, this new release by Cast once again proves Alfonso Vidales is not one to slavishly copy his past and still continues to change his songwriting style. However not everything has gone off swimmingly this time around, and what is really beyond me is his decision to include those two standard cuts in the CD. Anyway, Cast remains one of the strongest bands on the contemporary prog scene, and it would be a wrong move for anyone liking them to miss "Com.Union" which, despite all its flaws, is still more than merely a good album.

VM: September 3, 2007

Cast - 2007 - "Com.Union"


Prolusion. It was not until this year that I became aware of the music of Cast, despite their existence for nearly 30 years. This is a tragedy, as their music deserves to be known to a wider audience. I've been missing out and I'm guessing many of our readers have been, also. The band uses a broad array of instruments, time signatures and styles to create their sound. I'm particularly fascinated by their instrumentation, because it is not often that you encounter clarinet or trumpet in prog, but you'll also hear flute, sax and bagpipes. As all the lyrics and liner notes are in Spanish, I'll make no attempt to comment on these and content myself with the music.

Analysis. After the count to begin, Cast wastes no time in getting down to business. Orogus and Al Bello come out of the starting gate like an energetic racehorse. One acts as an intro for the other in a smooth transition from first to second track. The theme of Orogus is heroic, but intricate in its rhythms, with a fusion feel. Al Bello shifts into a jazzy 4/4 beat. Alfonso's keyboards are central to their sound of Cast, though it is difficult to single out anyone player, as Cast is a very tight ensemble, with all members of a very high caliber. Throughout the album, the spotlight shifts from player to player, but especially Vidales, Bringas and Cordero, shine strongly and provide a triumvirate within the band. I say this with no disrespect to the other players, because as I said, they are all of a high caliber and all make an invaluable contribution to the conglomerate sound that is Cast. Fantasmas Y Demonios (Ghosts and Devils) is a wild ride that gallops along propelled by Antonio's machinegun-like drumming in the fast passages. Vocals are sung by a chorus, rather than by an individual lead; the woodwinds mournfully wail and howl intermittently throughout the song. It there were a Mexican version of the movie Ghostbusters, this might have been on the soundtrack, as it has an eerie timbre, but retains a certain lightness, so that it never becomes overly dark or heavy. Some of the lightning that flashes in this storm would have to be Alfonso's keyboards. Elfonia begins with a chamber-like intro with piano, bass and acoustic guitar. There are some very nice acoustic guitar and flute passages interlaced with stirring electric guitar and bagpipe work. Truly, the piece continues to swirl and mesmerize throughout. There is a sense of swirling winds and great activity with elves hooting with laughter at some unknown hilarity. Piano, bass and acoustic guitar return midway as they began, though the tempo has increased (like a taste of An Evening With John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess), but the players involved with the theme continue trading places, like a frenzied dance in which partners are continually trading off one another. There is almost a Celtic quality to the theme and its repetition, as are Irish dance pieces, but the instrumentation's continual morphing manages to maintain momentum and animation. Sensacion Arabe has a pretty theme played on piano with a sitar-like accompaniment. With the entrance of the vocals, traded between Lupito and the guys, Pepe's clarinet intertwines. Although the title declares this to be an Arabian Sensation, at times the melody and use of the clarinet resemble gypsy or Yiddish music. Dumajuana II is a cheerfully breezy, Latin-jazz infused, instrumental number with a relaxed extended sax solo and contrapuntal trumpet. Donde Se Visten Las Serpientes (Where They Dress the Serpents) is a multi sectioned, vocal driven son. The guitar is used in places as percussion, lightly but rapidly picked along with delicate drum work and swirling woodwinds. Time signatures and instrumentation changes through the song, bring varied moods. El Cojin Verde is a more majestic symphonic piece with some very nice piano and guitar and synthesizer turns. Cosas Simples is rich with vocals, moving between a dramatic male voice and group vocals, including Lupita. Io closes the album with a strong instrumental track, featuring Alfonso's fine piano work and Claudio's guitar.

Conclusion. "Com.Union" is Grade A - Choice New Prog. Cast should be a household name among prog lovers with their varied instrumentation and styles, which continue to demonstrate their virtuosity and versatility after all the years they've been together. "Com.Union" is kaleidoscopic in approach, yet retains a feeling of continuity and consistency throughout the album. There are moments that remind me of Proto-Kaw or Happy the Man or PFM, but never in imitation, simply similarities in instrumentation or key. Being a Latin American band, as they do with Italian or Slavic groups, minor keys figure prominently in the compositions of Cast, which I find particularly beguiling. Within our format at ProgressoR, we like to give a song-by-song description, but I find this particularly difficult with Cast, with the breadth of their instrumentation and stylistic metamorphoses. Suffice it to say, Cast is a very strong band with great versatility. Strong keyboards, guitar and woodwinds (especially flute) are staples of their sound, with vocals moving in and out of single voice to group harmonies. Their sound is well rooted in their part of the world, which is also a large part of the charm of their music. They play so well as an ensemble, that every track is like a highly choreographed dance, with multiple participants swirling and weaving in and out, among the others, so that no one musician dominate, yet each has their time in the limelight. I would recommend the addition of "Com.Union" to enhance any prog collection.

PS. Cast is the host band for the Baja Prog Festival, in their hometown of Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico (a couple of hours from San Diego, California, USA). If you ever have the opportunity, I highly recommend attending this 4-day festival, as it is truly an international smorgasbord of progressive rock. Having attended for the first time this past March, I recognize the desert scene and robot character used in the cover art as their landscape and the icon of this year's festival.

KW: September 29, 2006

Related Links:

Musea Records


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