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Mandoki Soulmates - 2019 - “Living In The Gap / Hungarian Pictures"

(111:40; Red Rock Productions [2019] / Purple Pyramid Records [2020]


I believe this album was originally released in Germany last year, but it has now been made available through Cleopatra Records’ imprint Purple Pyramid. The release details I can find all show this as a double CD, but it is possible that it was originally released just as ‘Living In The Gap’ with the second album being added to the original. Leslie Mandoki escaped communist Hungary many years ago to live in Germany, and over the years has had a varied musical career. The drummer/singer formed Soulmates back in the Nineties, bringing together a who’s who of musicians and singers, and since then people such as Ian Anderson have been a constant. There are 8 singers on this album, which as well as Mandoki and Anderson includes the likes of Chris Thompson (MMEB) and Bobby Kimball (Toto). Interestingly, Jack Bruce is listed as providing both bass and vocals, and although he was involved with Soulmates over many years one has to wonder how old some of these recordings actually are, given he died in 2014. The second album is a concept piece which apparently is based on a musical concept originally developed by Deep Purple’s Jon Lord & ELP’s Greg Lake, and when viewed as a complete piece of work the 19 songs are just under 2 hours in length. The issues I have with this album is that due to so many well-known and instantly recognisable singers it is very easy to start playing “spot the star” as opposed to listening to the album as a whole, as well as then bemoaning that singers I have loved for years are really showing their age on the vocal front (which is not at all surprising given that Anderson is 73 and Thompson is 72, for example). Using different singers and a host of musicians means it is hard for the album to stay on track, as there is little in the way of continuity within it, no set pace. This is really frustrating as when treated on an individual level the songs and performances within it are really quite delightful. The music is broad, with liberal use of horns and lots of different types of percussion, which means that often it feels almost as if we are veering into world music as opposed to rock. This feels as if it belongs in the Seventies as opposed to the current day as the music is lush and refuses to pander to any current fashion. The harmonies are delightful, and none of this feels forced, which makes one wonder just how long it took to sort out the arrangements. There is jazz rock, fusion, progressive, classic rock, world music and so much more all placed into this one album. In some ways I found it hard to listen to all the way through just because there is so much going on but going in and out of it is a real delight. I do think I would have enjoyed it more with just a single singer, but this format has been a staple of the releases since inception so I am sure he is not going to make any changes now. It is certainly worthy of investigation for those who enjoy ensemble-style albums which touches many musical bases.

Progtector: December 2020

Related Links:

Mandoki Soulmates Red Rock Productions Purple Pyramid Records


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