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TRACK LIST: 1. Marco Polo 5:23 2. Christopher Columbus 7:33 3. Vasco Da Gama 5:58 4. Ferdinand Magellan 8:11 5. Francesco De Orellana 7:54 6. James Cook 9:15 7. John Franklin 6:31 8. Richard Francis Burton 6:19 9. Ludwig Leichhardt 6:52 10. Robert Scott 6:22 11. Thor Heyerdahl 6:34 SOLO PILOT: Mike Oldhill – all instruments
Prolusion. MIKE OLDHILL is an artistic pseudonym of German multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Michael Altenberger who, according to him, continues the tradition of progressive rock music and realizes it in 100% original compositions, where all instruments are recorded live and no synthetic drums or programmed sequences used. The eleven-track “Eleven Explorers” is his debut album, dedicated to some of the world’s greatest travelers-pioneers. When describing the pieces, I will write “Vasco Da Gama sounds so, and Marco Polo so”, although I realize it would sound absurd in a way.
Analysis. Most of the music on this CD is vintage-like Art-Rock of a moderate compositional complexity, with influences ranging from Camel-style sympho-prog arrangements (circa “Rain Dances”) to mid-‘70s Mike Oldfield’s symphonic ‘stomping’ (emphasizing keyboards) to early ‘70s Pink Floyd, although its creator avoids the majority of the obvious cliches. Unlike most of the other one-man ‘bands’, Oldhill attempts to offer a more graphic and dynamic sound, as would a full-fledged prog-rock outfit, and does indeed play exclusively real instruments. It’s quite another matter how he plays them. The overall musicianship is second-rate. To be more precise, the man masterfully handles both keyboards and flute, but is so-so as a guitarist, whereas his drumming is only semi-amateurish: at times merely awkward, at times obviously weak – such as on James Cook, the longest track here. Only when playing in a simplistic manner, using standard measures, and also when beating a march-style tattoo (which he does on a couple of occasions), does he sound acceptable as a drummer. Back to the album: the tracks Marco Polo, Vasco Da Gama, Francesco De Orellana, John Franklin and Robert Scott seem to exhibit all the hallmarks of a progressive rock band raised with the legacy of the above big names of the ‘70s. In all cases, there are plenty of changes in theme, structure and mood; fine acoustic interludes (mainly in the form of interplay between piano and flute) are followed by full-blown art-rock arrangements, etc and so on. On the other hand, the pace changes rarely (it’s moderately slow almost everywhere on the disc), due to the Oldhill’s problems with the drumming, so there are no unexpected turns in direction, let alone sudden ones. In the end, in spite of all their virtues in terms of both composition and arrangement, the pieces are only on a par with those from Camel’s 1982 release, the properly titled “The Single Factor”, which is largely performed by Andy Latimer alone. Christopher Columbus (which has a tango feel in places), Ferdinand Magellan and Thor Heyerdahl (both of which contain some really fine passages of acoustic guitar) are creations of practically the same compositional-stylistic approach as the above five, and while somewhat less diverse than those, all of them are still weightier than merely decent art-rock creations. Richard Francis Burton is also basically Sympho-Prog in style, but has an avant-garde feel to it in places, which is a virtue to my way of thinking. Ludwig Leichhardt is generally a standout, my favorite track here. While performed without drums, it is a full-fledged symphonic art-rock piece, a sort of mini-suite, deploying a large palette of – both acoustic and electric – instruments. On James Cook the music runs from Sympho-Prog in the vein of The Alan Parsons Project to sitar-driven World Music to swingy Jazz-Fusion to post-Pink Floyd space rock-evoking landscapes. Unfortunately, it turned out to be beyond Oldhill to properly jump from one style to another, above all because of his drumming, which is a real disappointment here. This piece was obviously designed to become the highlight of the album, but was ruined by the man’s lack of mastery. Finally, I must note that the sound of the recording is pretty flat.
Conclusion. On the whole, the album doesn’t break any boundaries for Progressive Rock, though it’s hard not to like the sheer enthusiasm and conviction it gives off. All in all, this is one of the best one-man ‘band’ albums I’ve heard in years, hence the rating. Next time, Mike, take a few musicians aboard (a drummer above all), reserve a professional recording studio, and your compositional talent will get a proper setting.
VM=Vitaly Menshikov: January 16, 2012
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