1. One Cloud (3:35)
2. The Long Circle (11:05)
3.Conscious Dream (5:15)
4. Cloud Dispersed (2:16)
5. Differential (5:27)
6. Turbulence (1:25)
7. Mighty Distant Star (6:10)
8. The Third Enigma (13:15)
Rob Martino – Chapman stick
Released in May 2010, One Cloud is the recording debut of Chapman stick virtuoso Rob Martino, a talented artist who came to the attention of prog fans for his appearance in the documentary film Romantic Warriors – though he also guested on Phideaux’s career-defining Doomsday Afternoon in 2007, and participated in the 2009 edition of the 3RP Prog Festival. A fellow resident of Northern Virginia (as well as a fellow cat lover), Rob is very active on the live front around the US Northeast, performing both his own material and covers of other artists’ music. While an accomplished multi-instrumentalist with an extensive musical background, since 2004 he has chosen to focus exclusively on the Chapman stick, one of the most versatile instruments on the current music scene, which has been enthusiastically adopted by many progressive artists.
Though Rob Martino is first and foremost a dedicated follower of progressive rock, the music showcased on One Cloud transcends the boundaries of prog as it is commonly perceived, its distinctive style hard to label. In fact, his compositions display a wide range of influences, from folk to classical music, which makes them more likely to appeal to a broader audience than just the so-called “prog community”. In any case, the artist’s personal imprint emerges quite clearly, so that the music does not feel as derivative as is unfortunately the case with a rather large slice of current “mainstream” prog releases. More than anything, however, the album spotlights the enormous expressive potential of an instrument that can, to all intents and purposes, almost replace a whole band. Its unique nature (it is played with both hands by tapping the strings, rather than plucking or strumming them) allows for multi-part arrangements, in which the Chapman stick acts the role of piano and percussion, as well as guitar and bass.
Even though I had already experienced music played solely on the Chapman stick, I was deeply impressed by the the sheer beauty of the compositions featured on One Cloud. Understated, yet fluid and full of melody, the music possesses surprising clarity coupled with a feel of engaging warmth. While there is plenty of complexity involved, the tracks often as multilayered as anything you would find on most full-fledged prog albums, the music suggests a sense of elegance and purity rather than the sometimes overblown lushness of symphonic prog. All in all, the album is anything but a showcase for empty virtuosity, the focus being on composition rather than technique.
Clocking in at about 48 minutes, the album strikes a nearly perfect balance between shorter pieces and longer numbers with an almost epic scope. A superficial listen may give the impression that the tracks sound rather similar to one another, and somehow this may hold true even after repeated listens, as One Cloud (whose title is in itself very suggestive of the music’s nature) – unlike albums that involve conventional instrumentation – hinges on subtle contrasts of light and shade, rather than on the impact of powerful guitar riffs, soaring vocals or towering keyboard sweeps. While, in some ways, it is more accessible than the average prog album, at the same time it demands the listener’s full attention in order to avoid fading into the background – as is often the case with “mood” music.
The title-track opens the album with a tune that, while not exactly upbeat, is quite catchy in its own way, and immediately introduces the listener to the captivating textures that the Chapman stick allows a musician to create. The two “epics”, 10-minute “The Long Circle” and 13-minute“The Third Enigma”, share a similar structure, gradually gaining intensity from a sparse, subdued start; both exude a melancholy, meditative feel, and the frequent tempo changes that break up the flow of the music add further interest, together with the quasi-orchestral effects that help to flesh out the sound. On the other hand, on a couple of tracks, notably “Conscious Dream” and the aptly-titled “Turbulence”, the instrument takes on a sharp, almost percussive tone.
Though, if you felt inclined to nitpick, One Cloud may occasionally come across as slightly one-dimensional (which is probably inevitable for an album based on a single instrument), it is also a lovingly-crafted effort with a strong crossover appeal, and an outstanding example of committed music-making. Highly recommended to fans of the Chapman stick and its close relative, the Warr guitar, as well as anyone who appreciates any recordings featuring acoustic guitars and other stringed instruments, it will offer a deeply satisfying listening experience to lovers of instrumental music.