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FromUz - 2011 - "Quartus Artifactus"

(250:20 2CD+DVD, 10t Records)


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Prolusion. FROMUZ is perhaps the best known progressive rock band operating out of Uzbekistan, a country once a part of the Soviet Union that now has a substantial history as an independent nation. Fromuz was formed back in 2005, and since their debut effort "Audio Diplomacy" they have four full-fledged albums to their name, of which "Quartus Artifactus" is the most recent and most massive, I might add, as this production contains two CDs and a DVD.

Disc 1 (54:32)
*****+

TRACK LIST: 

1.  Stone Salad 13:26
2.  Familiarization Results 7:45
3.  Harry Heller Theater 12:11
4.  Perfect Place 1:37
5.  Parallels 19:33

LINEUP:

Vitaly Popeloff – vocals; guitars
Albert Khalmurzaev – keyboards; guitars; flute
Igor Elizov – keyboards, piano; vocals
Ali Izmailov – drums, percussion
Sur'at Kasimov – bass 
Analysis. There is a theory amongst some that if artists really are to showcase how able they are as musicians and how talented they are as songwriters, they should perform their material in an acoustic setting. A theory that gained popularity some years back when MTV decided to invite artists to do just that, resulting in a fashionable trend amongst well known and lesser known artists alike to produce albums containing acoustic versions of their previously released material. And while the theory itself can be argued on a pro and con basis for hours on ends, one of the positive results of this trend was that many music fans developed a taste for songs performed without layers of studio magic and with arrangements of a more sparse nature. In addition, quite a few songs came across as substantially different in nature and expression when given this down-to-earth treatment. And while I don't suspect that Fromuz is amongst those inspired by this older trend in the music biz, I do find it intriguing when they choose to release such a massive production containing alternative versions of their previously released material. Unlike the trend described above, Fromuz doesn't abandon their electric equipment altogether. The electric guitar has been locked in the closet however, replaced by its acoustic sibling, and the use of keyboards has been toned down extensively, replaced in part or in whole by the piano, which does lead to an altogether different dynamic in the rather complex compositions of this band. The arrangements are sparse, at least when compared to the previous incarnations of these creations, but hardly ever to the point of appearing fragile and naked. Izmailov's elegant drum and percussion work and the frequently jazz-oriented fretless bass guitar courtesy of Kasimov add energy and elegance aplenty, be it of the hectic fireworks variety or the dampened, careful and sophisticated arrangements that are just as much a part of this band's repertoire. But the shining star throughout is Popeloff's acoustic guitar, freely wandering through leading motifs, underscoring on the odd occasions when keyboard, piano or flute take the lead or combining with the tangents for themes of a more compact and energetic nature. Most songs do take on slightly more of a jazz-oriented feel on this occasion, and a regular feature throughout consists of inserts with more of a folk-tinged, eastern-inspired sound. Apart from that, fans of this band will find it intriguing how different the associations they receive from encountering these alternative versions are. The flute sequences on opening track Stone Salad easily reminds of a band like Camel, the more careful synth- and piano-based themes reminding the listener ever so slightly of Jeff Lynne'sElectric Light Orchestra, to name but two bands whose names you wouldn't normally think about when immersing yourself in the back catalogue of Fromuz. When that is said, these compositions are just as sophisticated and eclectic as they were in their previous versions. The relatively sparse nature of these semi-acoustic arrangements does result in songs slightly more accessible, but the careful nuances and details have all been kept intact. As with the different albums these songs first appeared on, the end result is generally above the ordinary throughout, most impressive of all on final epic Parallels in my opinion, a composition that to my ears is subtly more interesting in this version than the original. A solid first disc out of three.

Disc 2 (45:48)
*****+

TRACK LIST: 

1.  Influence of Time 10:22
2.  Crashmind 9:57
3.  Desert Circle 15:51
4.  Babylon Dreams 9:38
Analysis. As with most double features made by the same artist, the second disc of this production is a direct continuation from the first one. Semi-acoustic versions of previously released material are the topic at hand, and like the first disc they pull the material from different parts of their back catalogue rather than sequencing the compositions in chronological order. If you were to note down a subtle difference between these two CDs it might arguably be that the second one may contain slightly less jazz-tinged material, depending on one's point of view as to what constitutes that description, obviously. Other than that, the two shorter tracks appear as the weaker ones here, the dramatic, staccato inserts that are so much of a dominating feature of Crashmind never quite coming into their right element in this dampened, alternative arrangement, and final track Babylon Dreams to some extent suffering tendencies towards the same issue. Many of the themes, motifs and inserts on these two compositions demand a darker and more forceful approach than the semi-acoustic arrangements utilized on this production can deliver. In short: on these two tracks the electric guitar is found both missing and needed. When that has been said, I might add that the free-flowing, non-impact sequences on Crashmind in particular represent some of the finest moments of this production as a whole. Other than that, opening track Influence of Time is a fine display of mostly jazz-tinged material in this arrangement, and while the slightly more challenging second half of this piece is an effective one too, the almost avant-garde touches that come to the forefront on this number halt a continuity that was close to magical, leaving this track as one just shy of an exclamation mark according to my personal perception. But for Desert Circle, the longest piece on this second disc that clocks in at just under 16 minutes, the aforementioned exclamation marks are in high order, a fantastic display of folk and symphonic themes and motifs that sound all the better in the dampened, toned-down arrangements resulting from the semi-acoustic nature of this album. A high-quality effort in its original guise and a magical one to my ears in this revamped form, equal or perhaps even slightly more intriguing than Parallels on the first audio disc in this package, which adds up to a good quality grade also for the last of the audio CDs in this massive package Fromuz and 10t Records releashed in the spring of 2011.

DVD (150:00)
*****

TRACK LIST: 
 
1.  Live at Ilkhom Theatre (23rd of June 2009) 104:00
2.  Additional footage 46:00
Analysis. The DVD part of this triple package doesn't come with any surprises. It's a two-part show, where the first 104 minutes add images to the sounds explored on the two audio CDs, while the following 46 minutes will be a treat for anyone interested in rigging and preparations for a concert, as conveyed by a handheld camera without any commentaries or interviews. Just raw footage, the only sounds being discussions, orders and conversations overheard by band and staff, which means that this latter part primarily is of interest for the chosen few I imagine. The concert, held in a relatively small theatre, is the main course. And it is a decent production. The image quality is a bit so-so, not sharp enough to impress anyone with a large television set but of decent-to-good quality. The four cameras are used effectively, one conveying full-stage shots, while the remaining threesome focuses on the individual musicians and frequently zooms in to let us see details of their performance. Black and white shots appear now and then, an effect that functions well in adding a bit of diversity to the proceedings. All in all the footage is well-assembled, but connoisseurs will find the general image quality to be slightly wanting in quality when compared to other independent DVD productions I surmise. An interesting detail revealed by the video footage is the part played by band member Khalmurzaev, his supplemental role as second guitarist and keyboardist revealed to a much greater extent than what you grasp from the audio material alone. The latter is the best part of this package, and as far as quality goes this is a high-quality one through and through. Raw footage, mix and production are all top notch. This part of the DVD is exactly the same as what is heard on the audio CDs after all, and that it sounds like a studio production rather than a live recording is probably the main and most telling praise I can give this part of the package. As a stand-alone DVD this disc would have been a decent release in itself, and as a supplemental addition to a CD release it is a fine bonus for fans and new listeners alike.

Conclusion. This fourth artifact from the Uzbekistan act Fromuz takes the band full circle to some extent, as this production is made with the same approach as most of their other releases are: a live recording supplemented with a DVD documenting the concert itself. One might even suspect them of doing the same as a band like the Canadian act Rush, who have used live albums to mark the end of each of their musical eras. Be that as it may be, for fans in particular the alternative, semi-acoustic arrangements used on this album will be the most important reason to purchase and explore this triple package. Most songs work fairly well explored in this context, and some are revitalized and arguably better than the original ones. Like the three albums previously released by this band, "Quartus Artifactus" is a high-quality release, and one easily recommended to existing fans and newcomers alike, the latter in particular if they would like to explore an eclectic, hard to define band, operating within a fusion/symphonic/folk framework on this occasion.

OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: December 21 & 22, 2011
The Rating Room


Related Links:

10t Records
FromUz


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