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Prolusion. The name of composer, bassist and keyboardist Gino FOTI is directly linked with the work of American progressive rock outfit Electrum with whom he produced two albums, "Frames of Mind" and "Standard Deviation". While reading the press kit and browsing the artist's website as well, I could not clarify whether he is still a member of that band. What I know for sure is that a few months after "Standard Deviation" was brought out (in 2002), Gino began working with software samples in an effort to arrange new material for Electrum. Soon however, he decided to concentrate on his solo work which this last year resulted in the release of all four studio creations, "Bhavachatra", "Vedic Mantras", "Sphere of Influence" and "Orbis Terrarum". The latter two of these will be examined within this material, whilst the others lie outside the idiom of progressive music.
2006 - "Sphere of Influence"
TRACK LIST: 1. Infinite Realms of Light & Dark 6:25 2. Amor Y Poder 5:39 3. Heart & Mind United 4:24 4. Dancing on the Edge of a Dream 4:39 5. Degrees of Force 5:05 6. Marirangwe 5:08 7. Within the Circles 4:03 8. Saudade 4:04 9. Seafaring Soul 4:20 10. One Day As a Lion 4:31 11. Paths of the Warrior 4:51 12. Ouroboros 4:41 13. Tender Shadows 4:14 14. Prescient Visions 5:07 SOLO PILOT: Gino Foti - basses, MIDI-bass; keyboards; sampling With: Dave Kuiju - guitar (3 / 1) Chris Rossi - piano (5 / 6)
Analysis. Mr. Foti describes "Sphere of Influence" as all-instrumental music that blends several styles and genres - jazz-fusion, world music and progressive rock with classical, new age, experimental and avant-garde influences. I agree with that definition, but only with one reservation: I haven't discovered any avant-garde devices (e.g. dissonances, atonalities, counterpoint melodies) on the recording, neither those traditionally associated with Progressive Rock. No, I don't cast doubt on the progressiveness of this music - at least regarding the album's overall impression. I just establish the fact that none of the disc's fourteen tracks features a rock component, the matter being explained by the absence of drums in the picture which, in turn, is good rather than bad, taking into account it's a 'one-man ensemble' production. While being unable to manage a drum kit, Gino, thankfully, avoids deploying a drum machine either. Apart from playing bass, midi-bass and keyboards, the artist both actively and resourcefully utilizes several sampled sounds, those of mallet percussion (mainly congas) being an essential part of each of the pieces, save Tender Shadows. With two acoustic guitars and piano diversely interacting with each other throughout it, this is the sole track on the CD that belongs exclusively to European and, at the same time, Classical music. There are four more cuts here that I find to be excellent as well. Amor Y Poder and Paths of the Warrior are both built upon layers of acoustic guitar (some of which are performed in a classical way, some being Flamenco-inspired) and the bravely improvising bass, each of the cuts undergoing several distinct shifts before it is finished - on all levels. These two present the listener with a highly cohesive combination of symphonic, jazz and world music, the latter being certainly Spanish in its origin. Blending together jazz and folk tunes (this time around, Indian and African ones respectively), Degrees of Force and One Day As a Lion both perfectly suit my concept of progressive World Fusion, the latter revealing much more exotic sounds than the former. Filled with sounds of Chinese, Japanese (Koto) and Vietnamese (flute) traditional instruments, Infinite Realms of Light & Dark and Within the Circles both can also be regarded as excellent compositions, yet only as long as they are viewed within their genre category, namely World Music. There are too few even quasi improvisations on each to speak of any stylistic confluences. Contrary to these, Heart & Mind United, Seafaring Soul and Paths of the Warrior all appear with no vivid ethnic colors in their palettes, being rich in jazz ingredients instead, each standing out for its remarkable piano and bass work. Well, the music is not classic Jazz-Fusion, but nevertheless it is definitely related to that genre. Next in turn are tunes most of which I would have omitted if I were in Gino's place. Saudade is the best of these and would've been named among the previously described tracks had it been at least half as diverse as those, whilst in reality this is just nice jazz-tinged New Age. The 'marimba'-laden Marirangwe strongly resembles the aforementioned One Day As a Lion in sound and style alike, but lacks pace changes, quickly getting me bored. The only one track featuring sampled drums, Prescient Visions, turns out to be overloaded with these, to put it mildly. However, it is the remaining two cuts that are really disappointing. These are Dancing on the Edge of a Dream and Ouroboros, each sounding derivative without being influenced by anyone's work. The contradiction is explained very simply: both are moulded on some of the most orthodox musical styles whose iron-cast laws are nearly inviolable. Time is not a healer regarding memory, so I am already unable to determine whether the former is Samba or Rumba, but is certainly one of these. I can suppose the latter was initially designed as a kind of benefit performance for Gino's bass, but the result is groovy, repetitive Funk. Nonetheless, I find "Sphere of Influence" to be a good effort overall (its good and excellent pieces running for more than 40 minutes), the truly significant matters that prevent me from considering it an excellent album being as follows. First: Gino Foti's main strength, namely his ability to creatively blend elements from several musical disciplines into his compositions, is not obvious on all of the tracks present, even some of the best ones included. Second: Since bass and keyboards are the only real instruments used, the music never has a sound that would resemble a genuine ensemble playing - even at its most saturated moments. Otherwise the album would've been on a par with most of those by Ancient Future (whose leadership in the field of progressive World Fusion is beyond doubt, IMHO). In such cases, I see no other way to conclude an article otherwise than as follows. Recommended to those who like the idea running all through the review.
2006 - "Orbis Terrarum"
TRACK LIST: 1. Dionysian Stream 4:21 2. Kujichagulia 4:05 3. Privilege of the Strong 4:26 4. Essence of a Noble Soul 6:25 5. Ultradian Rhythms 5:44 6. A Bridge Between Time & Eternity 5:09 7. Credo 4:12 8. Disciples of Life 5:20 9. Disciples of Death 4:21 10. A Brief Eclipse 4:17 11. Vivir en Alegria 3:39 12. Panta Rhei 4:55 13. A Smile for Every Tear 3:54 14. Apollonian Stream 5:22
Analysis. In terms of style, sound, values and flaws all alike, "Orbis Terrarum" has very much in common with "Sphere of Influence", but anyway, the hero of this occasion finds a more positive response in my heart. Why? None of the fourteen tracks here is a mediocrity, and even the one abundant in African ritual-like exclamations, Kujichagulia, has its specific charm. Unlike the previously examined album, "Orbis Terrarum" contains tunes possessing a vivid rock component (although drum kit-related sounds are still absent - everywhere on the recording). These are Dionysian Stream, Essence of a Noble Soul and Disciples of Death, the latter having even a metal feeling in places. The point is that on these, Gino plays his midi-bass which is usually connected with an electric guitar, though the former cut is also notable for its bright synthesizer solos. The music is close to Jazz Rock/Fusion of the first water, meaning with no other stylistic references. One may disagree with me in this respect, pointing me out the 'congas', but while these emit some ethnic emanations indeed, they are the only representatives of World Music here, thus having no power to influence the tunes' fundamental style. The piano- and bass-driven Credo is another noteworthy jazz-fusion piece. Disciples of Life and A Brief Eclipse are both structurally similar to that track, whilst musically these lean more towards Jazz-Ambient. Very rich in the sounds of acoustic guitar and piano, Privilege of the Strong, Ultradian Rhythms, A Bridge Between Time & Eternity and Vivir en Alegria, each is a fully-fledged World Fusion - a generous mixture embracing symphonic, jazz and folk colorations (mostly of a Spanish origin), the former two being highly progressive, each revealing several effective transitions, as also is in the case of the Saz-laden Panta Rhei which represents a juicy cocktail of various types of Middle-East and Central Asian music flavored with refined quasi improvisations. The other two of this disc's five highlights, A Smile for Every Tear and Apollonian Stream both conclude the album evoking exclusively European Classical music. In all, "Orbis Terrarum" is sincerely recommended to those with an interest in World Fusion.
Conclusion. I believe there is no need to fill up this paragraph in this particular case.
VM: March 11 & 12, 2007
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