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(53:21, ‘Net Dot Music’)
TRACK LIST: 1. Internal Combustion 4:42 2. Don't Mind Me 4:35 3. Hieland Road 4:32 4. Pleiades 5:38 5. Depth of Autumn 5:57 6. Picnic at the Slag Heap 2:19 7. The Main Attraction 5:18 8. Somnium 15:16 9. The Water Discipline 4:59 SOLO PILOT: Dave Kulju – el., ac. & bass guitars; drums; keyboards; programming With: Frank Basile – drums (4, 5, 6, 7) Bryan Powers – drums (1, 2) Ian Cameron – violin (4) Doug Upton – organ (8) Joel Mahalthy – Theremin (6)
Prolusion. Multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Dave KULJU is known to many for being one of the masterminds behind the US band Electrum, which released two CDs back in 1998 and 2002, respectively. “Abstract Expression” is Dave’s first solo album, whose title, in my opinion, isn’t too appropriate as regards its content, because not a single of the musical expressions here exceeds the framework of the concrete, whichever way you choose to approach the matter.
Analysis. While being almost a purely solo effort, this recording is sufficiently sonically saturated to take it as another Electrum outing, in particular also because Dave’s signature composing style is instantly recognizable. On the other hand, there are no vocals here, and the arrangements, though not without keyboard patterns (provided usually by a string synthesizer, piano and organ), are noticeably more often focused on guitars than are those of his band. It is a difficult affair to describe all the characteristics of this musical material, since the nine tracks present, while all having a lot in common between them, each features at least a little bit of something that distinguishes it from the others. I’d like to detail each, but since I’m not positive whether I’ll be able to do that (if so, I’ll most likely view the recording exclusively from its stylistic perspective), I’ll begin with what I see as the most significant aspects of the album as a whole, and then we shall see. The general style is guitar Art-Rock that, as hinted above, remains quite steadfast almost throughout, the two more or less patent digressions from it to be specifically touched on for sure. All the compositions also display some leanings towards the symphonic side of the genre, some of which, however, are either occasionally or generally indistinct, others paralleling the heavy guitar riffs. Six pieces include a distinct hard rock component, namely Internal Combustion, Don't Mind Me, Somnium, Picnic at the Slag Heap, Hieland Road and Pleiades, of which the last two both contain only one brief movement in the implied style, only these revealing some obvious influences. The introductory theme of Hieland Road (to be repeated two times over the course of the piece) reminds me of a cross between Discipline and Mamma Gamma from the King Crimson outing of the same name and “Eye in the Sky” by The Alan Parsons Project, respectively, while Pleiades is in places reminiscent of Kansas at their softest, due to a greater degree to the guest violin player Ian Cameron’s approach than Dave’s piano playing. Among axemen as reference points can be named Ian Bairnson from the aforesaid Project, Russ Ballard of Argent or, maybe, even Mick Rogers at the beginning of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band’s activity. Now, however, I must note I never have an impression that Dave is imitating other guitar players, and therefore his performance style is probably even more particular than the songwriting one. There are few classic, genuinely sympho-prog moves on the disc, its longest piece Somnium (15:20) collecting, that being said, most of those. This is a solid, varied composition with quite a few different musical storylines as well as dynamic transitions. However, it’s the shortest cut here, Picnic at the Slag Heap (2:20!), which I like most of all. The only one with a movement belonging to the jazz-fusion genre, this, the most diverse in general and stylistically so in particular, track embraces also all the other styles present on the recording and is in all senses a wonderful composition. Another standout is the final track, The Water Discipline, the only basically mellow tune here, with a drum machine instead of a drum kit, which, yet, possesses something that makes it weightier than any of the first two tracks, both of which are aptly placed in the album’s very beginning, as they’re most repetitive and relatively conventional as well.
Conclusion. While there is nothing ambitious or earth-shattering on “Abstract Expression”, this is a well-crafted and in many ways refreshing recording, demonstrating its maker as a truly versatile musician who furthermore has taste. Even a few tracks with him doing all alone have a comparatively full-fledged and, as with Hieland Road, a near-perfect full-band sound. If moderately accessible instrumental Progressive with the emphasis placed for the most part on guitar is your cup of tea, you won’t miss with Dave Kulju’s effort.
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