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Tommy Zvoncheck - 2008 - "ZKG"

(50:10, 'Zvoncheck')


Prolusion. Tommy ZVONCHECK is an American multi-instrumentalist and composer, with keyboards as his specialty. He has been active since the early ‘80s and has worked with a number of high profile artists. In progressive rock circles he may be best known for being the keyboard player in Blue Oyster Cult, but he has also worked with Bruce Springsteen and, as documented on this CD, Jon Anderson. His debut solo release "ZKG" was initially released in 2001 and was reissued in 2008 after being out of print for some years.

1.  Off the Coast 2:35
2.  Storm FX 0:26
3.  Storm Chaser 4:10
4.  Infratech 4:41
5.  Daddy You're the Bomb 5:59
6.  Indinaja 5:32
7.  ZKG 6:48
8.  Quadima 4:51
9.  The Wizard 4:03
10. Piano Improvisation 2:56
11. The Evil That Lurks Within 3:57
12. The Rain in Florida 3:24


Tommy Zvoncheck – keyboards; guitars, bass; drum programming
Keith Crane – drums
Jon Anderson (Yes) – vocals (12)
Donald Roeser (Blue Oyster Cult) – lead guitar (3, 5)

Analysis. Somewhat surprisingly for a solo album by a keyboard player, this creation is not totally dominated by keyboards. Indeed, on quite a few tracks they are given very much a subordinate role in the proceedings, while the dominating instrument on much of this album is guitar. When that is said, there are a fair number of compositions at hand that do showcase Zvoncheck's main instrument as well, and the album as such is a rather diversified piece of work. Off the Coast opens the proceedings with lush, warm and ambient textures in a distinct new age manner, with dramatic drum patterns and bombastic synthesizers added at the halfway point for a build-up for Storm FX, a 20-second or so mood piece that is used to let the previous melody fade away amidst sounds of thunder and rain. This track leads directly into the third song, Storm Chaser, a tune going back and forth between bombastic symphonic segments in the ELP tradition, ambient mellow moments and slow grinding guitar riff parts, the former and latter combining towards the end: a sort of mini-suite in three parts, lasting for 7 minutes total. Daddy You're the Bomb, Quadima, The Evil That Lurks Within and the title track ZKG are compositions that resemble this opening suite in style, all these creations coming across as a sort of ELP-meeting-Joe-Satriani as he sounded in the late ‘80s – bombastic and flamboyant symphonic rock blended with melodic, atmospheric guitar soloing and shredding. Infratech and The Wizard showcase other facets of Zvoncheck's register: the former a jazz-tinged, slick melodic exploration and the latter an AOR-sounding affair flirting with symphonic art rock. The last of the compositions released on the original edition of this album, Indinaja, is rather different from all the other works. On this one Zvoncheck incorporates many oriental-sounding themes and passages in a mellow and rather lush composition. There are some tendencies towards new age styles of music here, also, but careful use of dissonances and contrasting musical elements in the second half of the composition keeps the exploration interesting and worthwhile. This 2008 edition of "ZKG" includes two new songs, Piano Improvisation and The Rain in Florida. The former is exactly as described: improvisational piano wanderings, while the latter is a political ballad featuring Jon Anderson on vocals. None of them something really worth writing home about, but okayish additions to the album, more important for showcasing another dimension in Zvoncheck’s compositional and performance repertoire than for the artistic merit of the songs themselves I guess. This is a varied outing in styles as well as quality. Zvoncheck is a more than able performer and gets to showcase what he's good at in a variety of different styles. His compositions don't always strike gold though. Many of the songs are rather intriguing, but to my ears they also appear as being somewhat dated, with a sound and atmosphere that makes me think of mid ‘80s mainstream progressive rock. Not a negative trait per se, but an aspect of this production that may limit its appeal somewhat.

Conclusion. On "ZKG" Tommy Zvoncheck highlights his skills as a composer and multi-instrumentalist in a diversified production exploring different types of music and instrument utilization. About half the album consists of songs with a strong emphasis on symphonic progressive in a manner not too unlike ELP, in most cases mixed with guitar explorations from Satriani’s school of melodic shredding. The rest of the album explores different styles of music, with the keyboards as the common denominator. This is first and foremost an outing that should be of interest to people who enjoy virtuosic instrumental explorations, but fans of art rock in general and the symphonic varieties of this style in particular will find quite a few interesting works here as well.

OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: July 17, 2009
The Rating Room

Tommy Zvoncheck - 2008 - "ZKG"


Analysis. Tommy ZVONCHECK was to a certain degree a multi-instrumentalist already back in the mid-‘80s when he joined the renowned American progressive hard rock band Blue Oyster Cult as a replacement for Alen Lanier, who combined the duties of keyboardist and rhythm guitarist with the outfit. So it didn’t come as a surprise that, except for drums, the artist plays all instruments on his – so far only – solo release, “ZKG”. Save the closing tune, The Rain in Florida (a fine reflective ballad featuring Tommy on piano and Jon Anderson on vocals), this is an all-instrumental, primarily symphonic album, though only two of the twelve tracks here are rich in the grandeur that sympho-prog fans will be pleased with, namely Storm Chaser and the title piece. The music is very much in the style of the self-titled Emerson, Lake, & Powell release from 1986 (even with some hints of Mars – The Bringer of War in the latter case) where, though, massive symphonic arrangements are interspersed with heavy guitar riffs-laden moves which evoke something halfway between “Club Ninja” (1985) by Blue Oyster Cult and Kansas‘s “Power” (1986). Unlike both the winners, the rest of the material comes across as being fairly original musically, but is less (at times much less) progressively saturated. Alternating hard rock and art-rockish, hmm, segments, Daddy You're the Bomb, Quadima, Infratech and The Wizard are structurally similar to the previously described tracks. (The Evil That Lurks Within would’ve been listed along with these had it not been slow-paced throughout.) Compositionally, however, all are much straighter than those, particularly Infratech and The Wizard, both of which are performed by Tommy alone, with the use of a drum machine. Okay, he deploys a variety of keyboard tones there also but, besides their afore-hinted textural contrasts, it is only because the guitar soloing lines often well complement the synthesizer ones (yes, there are quite a few unison leads on each, too) that the pieces avoid sounding monotonous. On two of the remaining three tracks, Off the Coast and Indinaja, Tommy also appears as a one-man outfit. The first of these is a synths-based piece which, while being richer in pathos-laden/anthemic symphonic passages (accompanied by ‘marching’ programmed drums) than in what comes across as a semi-textural/semi-electronic approach, is nonetheless more reminiscent of Vangelis and Jean-Michel Jarre than ELP or Rick Wakeman, for instance. Indinaja, however, is a pretty pleasing thing: a semi-acoustic (think fairly refined acoustic guitar and piano patterns besides synthesizers, sitar-like sounds and a drum machine) symphonic ballad with elements of world and space music. Despite its title, Piano Improvisation doesn’t have a distinct jazz feeling and is a quasi-symphonic piece in fact. As for the 20-second Storm FX, my workmate describes it above – in an extremely picturesque manner that (with your permission) the cut itself can only dream of.

Conclusion. Although I personally dislike those a la full-blown pieces that seem to be done under the motto “I will easily do it all on my own”, I realize that there are no overly weak creations on “ZKG”, three or perhaps even four of the tracks being truly interesting and compelling. Tommy is a more than competent keyboardist and about half of the disc’s contents will likely, if not surely, please those who are fond of lush symphonic passages, some of which, moreover, are highly virtuosic. Nevertheless, the album is too dissimilar in terms of style, composition, performance and instrumentation all alike to be enjoyed by anybody else in its entirety, at least in my view.

VM=Vitaly Menshikov: July 17, 2009
The Rating Room

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