2. From Fromuz
3. Wax Inhabitants Town
4. Gameplay Imitation
5. Remark #12
6. Spare Wheel
7. Dual Ad Libitum
8. Familiarization Results
9. Harry Heller Theater
10. Babylon Dreams
All tracks: by The Fromuz.
Produced by Mara-Novik & The Fromuz.
Albert Khalmurzayev - keyboards
Vitaly Popeloff - guitars
Andrew Mara-Novik - bass
Vladimir Badirov - drums & percussion
FROMUZ means From Uzbekistan, and the article stands before the band's name because of the existence of the eponymous company. The Fromuz is comprised of members of X Religion and the Vladimir Badirov Project and is definitely the strongest and most important outfit on today's progressive scene of Uzbekistan. "Playing the Imitation" is the first release by the project, though Albert, Vladimir and Vitaly each have solo CDs to their credit. The album was released on DVD and on CD, but inasmuch as the material is musically the same in both cases, I decided to review the DVD, especially since this is a very impressive spectacle. The DVD exists in two systems, PAL and NTSC, and is suitable for all regions. The next releases on the Tashkent Zip-Top label will be "Sodom & Gomorra XXI Live" by Al-Bird and "Pure Fiction" by Vitaly Popeloff.
The DVD was recorded and shot (by 4 moving and 6 stationary cameras) during The Fromuz's live performance at the Youth Theatre of Uzbekistan on April 7, 2005, before an audience of 300. Later on, the material was edited in the studio, but it features very few overdubs. The picture is excellent, the visuals are wonderful, and the sound is crystal clear, revealing any subtle detail of the music. What is especially striking regarding the DVD is that the act unfolds in many ways like a gripping concept movie, due to the brilliantly thought-out combination of the band's live appearance with the play of lights, visual effects and the music as such, as well as the absence of any bonus material and non-thematic interludes either. (Regarding the title of the album, there is no intention to imitate certain bands, of course. It's about the imitation of a game of chess, part of the visual show, which will be described in due time). Albert's equipment counts four modern synthesizers. Vladimir plays Tama drums, big African congas and various exotic percussions. Vitaly plays two electric and one acoustic guitar, and also a digital guitar with unimaginable possibilities to create new sounds. Andrew is the only one who was faithful to just one instrument (his bass) during the show :-) If I were asked to describe The Fromuz's music very briefly, I would say it's exceptionally original, though by attracting a certain dose of imagination, it can be viewed as a cross between Yes, Dream Theater and Brand X, where the profoundness of music and a band's high technical mastery are inseparable from each other. In fact, however, I sincerely regard this stuff as Fifth Element, because apart from the features of most of the classic progressive genres (Art-Rock, Prog-Metal and Jazz-Fusion in this very case), there is a lot of those The Fromuz discovered exclusively on their own, appearing mainly as something atmospheric with a clear, yet, absolutely unfamiliar oriental sense, whose origin as if doesn't belong to this earthly plane. Eight out of the ten compositions range from 8 to 12 minutes in length, the exceptions from this rule being Intro (5:10) and Remark #12 (about 2 and a half minutes). The latter is a solo concerto for acoustic guitar and is the first of the two compositions that lie completely outside the fundamental style. The other is Dual Ad Libitum and is basically a duel between the digital guitar and various metal, mallet and water percussion. No, I didn't make a slip in typing at the end of last sentence, though I am not able to describe the sound of water percussion with words. Generally, this composition doesn't have associations even on the structural level; it's just beyond genre definition. Two more tracks, From Fromuz and Gameplay Imitation, are also notable for some highly atypical maneuvers. The former is overall some jazzier than the other tracks, the middle part being filled with rapid authentic improvisations from each of the musicians. The middle of Gameplay Imitation finds Albert and Vitaly moving imaginary figures on a chessboard (which is cubical in form) to the accompaniment of the driving rhythm section. The other six compositions: Intro, Wax Inhabitants Town, Spare Wheel, Familiarization Results, Harry Heller Theater and Babylon Dreams fully suit the aforementioned conception of the album's primary style, though the last two have also a strong classical sense in places.
The Fromuz is not the Vladimir Badirov Project, nor it is X Religion, although the music is very close to that of the latter band. These guys are my fellow countrymen. Indeed, I have played with two of them - with Albert in X Religion and with Vitaly in Edgar Poe (which existed in the first half of the '90s). However, I am not the sort who would be cunning for the sake of some sense of patriotism, or simply exhibit childish glee over my friends' playing. Quite the contrary, I clearly recognize my responsibility more than ever in such cases. So please don't misinterpret me when you see the band at the height of my current Top-10 of 2005. Your doubts will turn to dust after you get acquainted with the album, but don't take my word for it, read the reviews in the other Prog Rock resources. And don't miss out when it appears for sale.
VM:July 30, 2005
The Fromuz - 2005 - "Playing the Imitation"
The band, The FROMUZ (i.e. From Uzbekistan) is comprised of former and current members of X Religion and Vladimir Badirov Project. This DVD was recorded and shot (by 4 moving and 6 stationary cameras) during their live performance at the Youth Theatre of Uzbekistan on April 7, 2005.
The Fromuz Concert DVD, "Playing the Imitation" begins with the mostly tonal (a-melodic) intro of the Intro, utilizing quite a number of sampled sounds. Photos of the four musicians, with their names, slide in from the side over a black screen. The lights come up on stage, as the musicians take their places and send the music into an up-tempo jazz/fusion piece. (This is an entirely instrumental DVD/album.) Throughout the concert, The Fromuz prove themselves to be first rate players with much versatility. From Fromuz (track 2) runs the gamut, beginning in jazz/fusion, segueing into guitar blues, followed by some blistering guitar work and then later through some classic jazz keyboard styling with walking bass, before returning to the original theme and sound. The sound quality throughout the DVD is excellent, which is sometimes a complaint I have with live recordings, but not here. Everything is crystal clear. As a band, their sound is very fresh and crisp. It is somewhat difficult to put a label on their music, because they move fluidly from style to style, sound to sound. Comparisons to Djam Karet and even Gordian Knot could be made, but the similarities are transitory. The music of The Fromuz resembles them in their ever shifting compositions, yet the band definitely retains a flavor of their homeland, as could be compared to the work of X Religion. Certainly there are flavors in this delicious recipe from Badirov's "Greetings from Nostradamus" and Al-Bird's "Sodom & Gomorrah XXI", yet The Fromuz remain distinctly themselves. Gameplay Imitation is the track whence the DVD/album derives its name. During this track, Popeloff and Khalmurzayev leave their instruments, draw back the gauze curtain and proceed to pantomime a game of chess over a cube that is painted like a die on 5 sides, but like a chessboard on the 6th. It is a rather minor moment in the concert and seems rather an obscure basis for the title. Remark #12 is an acoustic guitar strum-fest, which provides a bit of a breather for the audience from the complexity of the music thus far. Indeed, it is played while Khalmurzayev, Badirov and Mara-Novik wet their whistles at a table off to one side while Popeloff strums. The ending has a nice slow motion fade before Spare Wheel gets rolling with its funky bass and drums intro before Khalmurzayev's synthesizer solo establishes the infectious theme, which I have found going through my head numerous times since I first viewed the concert. This is a high-energy number, which goes through numerous sections, Khalmurzayev and Popeloff trading the spotlight. Dual Ad Libitum is just as the title implies, ad-libbed, with two players, Popeloff and Badirov. The track opens with flowing chords and the sound of blowing wind. Popeloff is playing a guitar synth sounding like keyboard for the first phase. Badirov meanwhile is playing a variety of percussion, including cowbell and cymbal, whose pitches are altered by partial immersion in water. Visually, this is one of the more interesting tracks, particularly due to Badirov's constant moving from instrument to instrument: congas, bodhran, small chimes, shakers and even something that looks like a helmet which he drums barehanded. Popeloff uses a variety of sampled sounds, even some that sound like breathy exhalations and vocalizations, besides the synthesizer-like keyboard (remember, this is the guitarist) to produce the melodies which play cat and mouse with Badirov's percussion. The shots of the players are occasionally superimposed and inter-cut with artsy, grainy graphics: degraded type, sometimes numbers and geometric shapes on a distressed field of blue or illegible alphabets over warm hues of orange and sienna. The drumming is excellent. Dual Ad Libitum focuses on the two stars of the show, guitarist and drummer. I say this in no way wishing to demean the contributions of either Khalmurzayev or Mara-Novik, but merely as observation of which players received most attention by the close-up cameras. I would like to have seen these guys get more screen time, especially Khalmurzayev, who appears the victim of bad camera angles (most shots over his shoulder). Mara-Novik is extremely understated in his stage presence, especially considering the edgy and energy filled music the band plays much of the time. He is the least flamboyant of all, deceptively relaxed and sedate in his posture, as his fingers do all the work, unlike some players who seem to use their entire body to pull music from their instruments. Familiarization Results is another high-energy piece that moves kaleidoscopically through sections of various themes and tempos. This is another track, which should delight fans of LTE, with the frequent changes and John Petrucci-like guitar work. The playing is extremely tight in its precision, yet very fluid. A beautiful classical theme, played by strings via Khalmurzayev's keys, opens Harry Heller Theater. The pastoral setting doesn't last long, though, as a heavy, driving percussion with tape loops of crowd sounds sets up for a the next section, a soulful guitar solo. This piece is, as the saying goes, as changeable as the weather. Visually, the concert is shot from a variety of angles (as noted above), sometimes through a course, gauzy curtain (eventually drawn), which hangs between the band and audience. Slow motion and delay effects are used a bit too frequently, when I would have preferred to see more real time playing. The lighting is ever shifting and gives a good feeling of being at a live performance, which many of us may never have the good fortune to attend. (I would love for The Fromuz to come to the States for some of the Prog Festivals.) Since there is no spoken interaction recorded between the band and the audience, the viewer is left to just the music, though Badirov has much charisma working his drum kit and assorted percussion. He exudes joy through his playing. Popeloff has a quiet intensity in his playing, moving freely around the stage, but never affected as are some guitar heroes. As mentioned, Mara-Novik comes across like George Harrison, the quiet Fromuz. His stage presence is confident and assured, but unassuming in nature. Khalmurzayev, wearing a neckerchief, appears to be, perhaps the most flamboyant of the group, seeming to enjoy his time at center stage during the act with the chessboard. In any event, there is no doubt that this is a group of musicians serious about their craft, who enjoy sharing their talents with the crowd.
This is extremely fresh Prog, chocked full of tempo/time changes, with lots of variety in style. It should be a sure pleaser of fans of Dream Theater (without the dark and heavy sound), Spock's Beard and LTE, or on the other side of the Atlantic, the Alexander Kostarev Group. This is definitely in the vanguard of the new prog sound with top-notch improvisation within interestingly structured compositions ranging in power and precision. The Fromuz is inventive and yet also pull in some of the ethnic flavor of their region. There is just a touch of Symphonic Prog (some soaring melodies that should please fans of that brand of prog) and dashes of standard and fusion jazz. I highly recommend this video.