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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.
TRACK LIST: 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 SOLO PILOT: Tommy Zvoncheck – keyboards; guitars, bass; drum programming With: 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
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