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(67:17, Kotebel & Musea Records)
TRACK LIST: Concerto for Piano and Electric Ensemble (1-4): 1. Adagio Maestoso 12:03 2. Lento Cantabile 7:13 3. Vivo Scherzando 9:22 4. Allegro Moderato 14:21 5. The Flight of the Hipogriff-1 4:53 6. Dance of Shiva 6:58 7. The Flight of the Hipogriff-2 4:35 8. The Infant 7:12 (b/t) + Bonus DVD – The Making of “Concerto for Piano and Electric Ensemble” LINEUP: Carlos Plaza Vega – electric keyboards Adriana Nathalie Plaza Engelke – grand piano Cesar Garcia Forero – el., ac. & Spanish guitars Carlos Franco Vivas – drums, percussion Jaime Pascual Summers – bass With: Fran Magus – saxophones (5, 8)
Prolusion. Led by keyboardist and composer extraordinaire Carlos Plaza Vega, KOTEBEL is my favorite rock band to come out of Spain, to say the very least. It has been active since the end of the last century, stably delivering one album every three years – normally a masterpiece. “Concerto for Piano and Electric Ensemble” is its sixth release to date. The group’s section on this site with links to reviews of all of its outings can be reached by clicking here.
Analysis. On “Concerto”, it’s the first time in the band’s history that pianos are played by someone, namely Adriana Engelke, instead of Carlos himself – but it works. Anyhow, the music is entirely composed by Vega, so it’s still him who is the main star of the show, and those who love his keyboard prowess will even more enjoy it after listening to this masterpiece. Well, the album consists of eight tracks, most of which are semi-epic multi-part compositions with numerous different sections and a lot of grand piano-driven moves. Throughout the four pieces that form the title one (lasting for 43 minutes, it appears as a full-length recording solely in itself) the material is totally epic-oriented, three of those, Adagio Maestoso, Lento Cantabile and Allegro Moderato, being the highlights of the album. What the listener gets on each of them is sublime keyboards-driven Symphonic Prog with elements of avant-garde Art-Rock, compositionally informed by both Classical and (to a lesser degree) Neoclassical music, along with the classicism of Genesis’s “Selling England by the Pound” and (to a lesser extent as well) the avant-gardism of “Pawn Heart” by Van Der Graaf Generator, though there are also moments of pure classical. On the other hand, Kotebel is now – once again, to be more precise – too original to be compared with anyone else. The Spaniards definitely have their own sound, reaching well beyond the standard fare, and because of that originality and high level of instrumental mastery they are far ahead of most art-rock bands from all over the world, let alone all the neo-progressives, who get far more attention than they deserve. The music is compositionally inspired, with great melodies, arrangements and changes, using a lot of clever embellishments that flesh out the sound, delivered with outstanding musicianship and high energy (in the latter case sans piano- and acoustic guitar-laden interludes which, though, are in all cases several in number). The band is tight, and the wide variety of instrument voices (mini-Moog, Hammond, Mellotron and a string ensemble or rather a virtual string orchestra, besides those listed above) allows for diverse musical explorations, as well as the contrasts and shifts that, from time to time, make me – an experienced listener – return to one or another segment of the epic. The sole such track on the disc, its opener has at times a distinct prog-metallish feeling, while the other two aforesaid pieces are woven exclusively of symphonic fabrics, frequently involving an acoustic guitar in the arrangements, as also do most of the other compositions. The remaining part of the epic, Vivo Scherzando, is for the most part structurally dense. In contrast to the other three, it evokes classic Symphonic Progressive much more frequently than Classical music performed by means of that genre, but is brilliant as it is. The same words are relevant to The Flight of the Hipogriff-1 and The Infant, save the fact that these are additionally enriched with elements of Jazz-Fusion. Loaded with classic keyboard passages, passionate electric guitar, and lots of acoustic one and piano, each of these three exemplifies the same combination of romantic melodicism and driving energy that made ‘70s progressive rock music so great. Cesar Forero is a remarkably skilled six-stringer, frequently switching from electric to acoustic guitar, soloing resourcefully in all cases. Bassist Jaime Summers and drummer Carlos Vivas handle the elaborate arrangements and pace changes with fluid grace, albeit the bassist often lefts his role in the rhythm section and acts as one of the soloists. Carlos’ keyboard work, as well as Adriana Engelke’s grand piano playing, is outstandingly diverse and inventive, and generally, fans of lush keyboard work will find plenty to love here, as the arrangements load up an embarrassment of riches. Running for eleven and a half minutes, the remaining two tracks, Dance of Shiva and The Flight of the Hipogriff-2, each also have moves that are inspired by classical music, but nevertheless, both of them are somewhat out of tune with the album’s prevalent style or rather overall picture. The former piece often uses vibes as its main soloing instrument, and yet, much of it is structurally rather transparent (sometimes only featuring strings and a virtual, sort of angelic, female choir), while the latter is basically slow-paced, coming with no unexpected turns at all. This long, 67-minute album would have lost nothing them. Don’t get me wrong, though: both of them are good tracks; they just aren’t masterworks, unlike all of the other compositions.
Conclusion. Save “Ouroboros” (Kotebel’s sole album of traditional Symphonic Progressive), uniting Art-Rock with Classical music has always been typical of Carlos’ work, and “Concerto for Piano and Electric Ensemble” is one of the brightest examples of the approach, its title composition bringing the genres together closer than ever before. The band’s two previous albums each take the second position in my personal charts of 2006 and 2009, while this one is, well, the best 2012 release I’ve heard thus far.
VM=Vitaly Menshikov: September 21, 2012
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