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TRACK LIST: 1. The Inner Clock 1.51 2. The Long March of the Royal Fifth 22.22 3. Call in S 3.44 4. Aleatorik Suite 10.10 5. Quiet Slumber 4.54 6. 138 1.38 7. Slow Sinking Sand 3.50 8. Return of the Shuffle King 2.40 9. Termites Trip 4.00 10. Overwind 3.14 11. Rody 3.27 12. One Minute Psycho Waltz 1.00 13. Amongst the Trees on a Hill 2.05 14. Monster in My Head 7.17 15. Emoclew 2.40 SOLO PILOT: Hans-Jorg Schmitz – drums; keyboards; some guitars With (The Royal Players): Volker Cornet – bass (1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 15) Dirk Wilms – guitar, bass (2, 8, 11) Tobias Hampl – guitar (6)
Prolusion. KING OF AGOGIK is a project by German multi-instrumentalist, drum teacher and session man Hans-Jorg Schmitz, who has been active on the music scene since the early Eighties. “Aleatorik System” is King of Agogik’s second album, following the 2006 release of “Membranophonic Experience”. According to Schmitz himself, the word Agogik “describes the conscious speed change in the music”.
Analysis. A solo project by a drummer listing his impressive equipment in loving detail in the liner notes of the CD is enough to strike fear in the hearts of even the most dedicated music listeners – especially when the album in question is completely instrumental, and lasts a whopping 75 minutes. The very idea of a one-hour-fifteen-minutes-long drum solo would be enough to send most people running for cover, and even committed drum fans may balk at the idea of sitting through something of that sort. Luckily, “Aleatorik System” does feature actual music rather than an endless series of percussive antics – though it is anything but immune from the flaws that are typical of such projects. Even a cursory listen to “Aleatorik System” is enough to acknowledge Schmitz’s undisputable mastery behind the kit (he is no slouch on the keyboards either). Unfortunately, it is also enough to realize that the artist, in spite of his skill, seems to have some problems when it comes to the actual songwriting. As I have stated on several occasions in my reviews, it is all very well to want to do your own thing, but the results should be up to scratch – and therein lies the main problem. A sprawling beast numbering a no less than 15 tracks, the album could be summarised with the proverbial expression ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ – a breakneck-speed ride through different genres that ends up sounding like just another vanity project by a gifted musician who nevertheless refuses the idea of being a member of a real band. The structure of “Aleatorik System” is unusual to say the least. The album, in fact, is a collection of tracks mostly under 5 minutes in length, yet seemingly built around two compositions that, taken together, make up more than one-third of its running time. Inevitably, this gives the album a somewhat fragmented look, which is not helped by the wildly eclectic quality of the music. What is clearly meant as the piece de resistance, the 22-minute-plus The Long March of the Royal Fifth (rather oddly placed in the second slot, rather than in the middle or towards the end of the disc), is in fact a disjointed effort made up of a myriad different sections pieced together like a sort of sonic crazy quilt. While most of those disparate pieces could even be interesting if properly developed, the obvious lack of cohesiveness makes the whole track appear little more than an excuse for showcasing Schmitz’s drum work. There is a bit of everything thrown together – classic rock, symphonic prog, ambient, even some prog-metal in the second half – with some clearly detectable influences such as Pink Floyd, Genesis and Mike Oldfield. On the other hand, with Aleatorik Suite Schmitz and his Royal Players decidedly reach into prog-metal territory, with occasionally remarkable results (namely some rather pleasing keyboard parts), though once again the patchy nature of the composition proves ultimately annoying. The rest of the album mirrors the nature of those two tracks in its somewhat inconclusive eclecticism. The tracks range from melodic, atmospheric offerings in which the drums occasionally take a temporary back seat in favour of lush keyboard sweeps and Gilmour-like guitar parts (Slow Sinking Sand, Quiet Slumber, Overwind, Rody), to fusion-flavoured pieces (138, Return of the Shuffle King), to a definitely experimental-sounding item like Termites Trip (possibly the most interesting track on the whole disc). However, the album‘s unbalanced structure, as well as its excessive length, make it so that anyone but the most stalwart listener will succumb to weariness well before reaching the end. As a final remark, I would recommend that Hans-Jorg Schmitz follow the example of legendary drummers such as Bill Bruford, Cozy Powell, and even the much-reviled Phil Collins, and consider the idea of concentrating on the compositional aspect of his work rather than on showing off his drumming skills – as well as putting together a band whose members are all on equal footing. Cutting any future effort’s running time down to no longer than an hour would not hurt either.
Conclusion. Though drum practitioners and devotees may find “King of Agogik” interesting – at least from a strictly technical point of view – those who prize songwriting and compositional skills above everything else are likely to find the album disappointing, in spite of the potential shown by some of the tracks. Although Hans-Jorg Schmitz is clearly an impressive drummer with years of experience, he needs to curb his excesses if he wants his output to come across as more than a novelty in the variegated world of progressive rock.
RB=Raffaella Berry: October 25, 2009
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