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(67 min CD + 34 min DVD, ‘7Stones’)
TRACK LIST: 1. Exordium 8:55 2. Lost 6:05 3. Lilly 4:05 4. Mercy of the Sea 6:11 5. The Storm 11:03 6. Beneath the Waves 5:51 7. Sole Survivor 3:26 8. Alone 5:07 9. Il Tempo Grunto 3:08 10. A Moment of Clarity 4:17 11. One Small Step 3:21 12. Reunion 5:45 LINEUP: Rob Reed (Magenta) – el., ac. & bass guitars; keyboards Chris Fry (Magenta) – guitars Steve Balsamo – lead vocals Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree) – drums Nick Beggs (Steve Hackett Band) – Chapman stick Troy Donockley (Iona) – Uilleann pipes, whistles Mel Collins (King Crimson, Camel) – saxophone Christina Booth (Magenta) – backing vocals With: John Mitchell (Arena) – guitar Nick Barrett (Pendragon) – guitar Jakko Jackzyk (King Crimson Project) – guitar BJ Cole (David Gilmour) – pedal steel guitar Steve Hackett (Genesis, solo) – nylon guitar Rhys Meirion – operatic vocals Shan Cothi – operatic vocals Angharad Brin – vocals +: The London Session Orchestra English Chamber Choir Synergy Vocal Group &: Several additional singers and players
Prolusion. Based in England, KOMPENDIUM is a new project by multi-instrumentalist Rob Reed (who is also the bandleader of Magenta), invoving a few dozen musicians of different stripes. The twelve-track “Beneath the Waves” is its first album, representing a splendid packing just like the ‘70s gatefold LPs with several pages inside (remember “Tales of Mystery & Imagination” by The Alan Parsons Project, for instance), but smaller – about half as much as the original one.
Analysis. This is certainly the most ambitiously designed – and probably laborious as well as expensive – progressive rock project to appear in the new millennium. Not surprisingly, most of the music here strongly differs from that of Magenta and can easily be regarded as Rock Opera, considering how many singers took part in it. Instrumentally, the ensemble presents a fairly unique brand of symphonics, much more often appearing as an orchestra enhanced by a chamber rock group (in terms of instrumentation) than a traditional rock band. Using a very diverse assortment of instruments, including a cello and violin on a couple of tracks, the ensemble takes both art-rock and folk-based melodies and song structures and twists them into tight, highly orchestrated Symphonic Progressive. To be more precise, the music on most of the compositions from the first half of the album, namely Exordium, The Storm, Mercy of the Sea and Lost (all of which are the longest tracks here, running for 33 minutes), is a clever balance of elements of both classic and neo Sympho-Prog, ones of Celtic folk, hymns and classical-like orchestral music, albeit the latter two additionally reveal some Art-meets-Space-Rock-evoking landscapes in places. For the most part, these are Uillean pipes (courtesy of Troy Donockley of Iona) that provide a Celtic feel, a distinct one in all cases. Also – besides lead and backing vocals – there are a number of vocal additions by an operatic choir. The compositions and arrangements are both interesting and engaging and are well-balanced between powerful themes and (shorter) acoustic and semi-acoustic interludes. Interlocking arpeggios of keyboards and guitars lend a slight Mike Oldfield influence, while some other parts have a heroic early Ayreon sort of flavor. However, the main reference points are Iona, Twelfth Alfonso and Pink Floyd, the latter most obvious on the last two of the pieces. This is exciting music that swells with melody, counterpoint and rhythm and where anything can happen, figuratively speaking. The compositions also deserve mention for the great performance by all of the musicians involved, moving through a set of vocal and instrumental sections and fairly complex changes with effortless ease. As for the remaining two tracks from the album’s conventional Side A, title one sounds much in the same vein as The Alan Parsons Project (partly due to Mel Collins’ characteristic saxophone playing), while Lily is a refined, achingly beautiful acoustic ballad with a certain medieval feel to it, featuring Steve Hackett on nylon guitar, a female singer, Angharad Brin, and a cellist – don’t remember her name, sorry. Yes, there’s no shortage for variation within the first half of the album, that’s for certain, and that more than anything else keeps each of the first six tracks interesting throughout. The rest of the material, however, consists almost exclusively of balladic tunes, all of which are below par compared to the above one, most of them alarmingly simple in design. Three of those, Alone, Sole Survivor and Reunion, still contain some bits of both sympho-prog and Celtic folk music, although the latter two are in places marred by female vocalizations that, for some uncertain reason, are done in the manner of ethnic African ritual choir singing, to some degree destroying the album’s overall concept. Of the other two ballads, A Moment of Clarity and One Small Step, the former, well, only at times evokes ‘Us & Them’ from Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”, whereas the latter displays the implied style throughout. Thankfully, the remaining track, Il Tempo Grunto (sung in Italian), is a lot more interesting piece of music, although it only features an operatic choir and piano plus orchestral-sounding drums in places. This particular – limited edition – version of the album includes a DVD, which is presented as Bonus Material. The project’s studio work displays consummate professionalism (and a fine attention to detail within its first half), while the bonus material finds its creators delivering the goods in the form of videos: there are three musical clips here, Lily included, two of them full of the beautiful landscapes of nature. The DVD is visually excellent; the audio, recorded and mixed in a very clean Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround system, shines as well. (In fact, the audio is presented in three variants: also 24/96 5.1 Surround and DTS 5.1 Surround mix.)
Conclusion. Rob Reed has always been able to give us bright melody, but this time he has created an album that is much weightier musically than most, if not all, of Magenta’s outings. I only regret that the majority of the ballads here follow one another, instead of being interspersed among more complex pieces.
VM=Vitaly Menshikov: Agst 16, 2013
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