Posts Tagged ‘George Andrade’

Now I Know:
1. Fateful Days (7:37)
2. Grounded (5:29)
3. Kites (3:19)
4.  Flight (6:36)

5. Current Events (5:24)
Winds of Change
Winds of Change II

Book of Airs:
6. History (instrumental) (1:22)
7. Heritage (4:39)
8. Experiments (3:12)
9. Floating (instrumental) (1:34)

The Flyer:
10. Annabelle (5:02)
11. The Center (4:39)
12. Fateful Days II (1:16)
13. Hannah (4:00)

14. The Great Salt Pond (5:53)
15. Grounded II (5.11)
16. Kites II (2:14)
17. Flight II (5:00)
18. Owen (1:33)

The Singing Cast:
Paul Adrian Villareal – Owen (1, 18)
Gordon Tittsworth – Owen (2, 5, 7, 8, 11, 15), Derrick (2), The Narrator (7)
Cornelius Kappabani – Owen (4, 13, 17) Craig (4, 5), The Islanders (5)
Tilman Eckelt – Owen (3)
Jan Oving – Owen (10)
Antila Thomsen – Hannah (12, 13, 17)
Floor Kraaijvanger –Annabelle (11, 17), The Narrator (14)

The Spoken Cast:
George Andrade – Owen
Seann Jackson – Craig
Leigh Andrade  – Rachel
Nicolette Collard-Andrade – Annabelle
Tony Kost  – Coleman Burke

The Band:
Steve Brockmann – guitars, bass, keyboards
Jochen Ohl – drums
Dave Meros – bass (10, 17)
Alan Morse – guitar (17)
Christoph “Luppi” Brockmann – bass (14)
Phil Robertson – drums (15)

In spite of a venerable tradition stretching back to the glory days of the late Sixties and early Seventies that gave us iconic works like The Who’s Tommy or Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar, rock operas seem to have lost quite a bit of their luster in recent times, and acquired instead a rather embarrassing aura of cheesiness. On the other hand, while rock operas may be pretentious by definition, this is not necessarily a bad thing – as long as it is not overdone.

For New England writer George Andrade (who is also the author of the lyrics of The Anabasis’ debut album Back from Being Gone), AIRS – A Rock Opera was the proverbial labour of love, developed over the years, with a storyline (based on the subplot of one of his novels) that dealt with a forgotten episode in the history of his native Rhode Island. The historical fact, however, became a deeply personal story of guilt, loss and ultimate redemption, focused upon the character of Owen Deane and his complex relationship with his family and his troubled past. It was only when, in 2008, George met German multi-instrumentalist and composer Steve Brockmann on a music discussion board, that his dream of turning the story into a full-fledged rock opera became reality.  In the intervening years, Brockmann and Andrade drafted in a number of distinguished musicians and vocalists (as well as family members) to give voice to the various characters. The completed album finally saw the light in the early months of 2012.

The project’s structure, in five movements conceived like the chapters in a novel or the acts in a play, reveals Andrade’s literary background. The story moves from Owen’s return to his island home after six years in prison to his final liberation – symbolized by being lifted high up into the air by the biggest of his father’s kites, made of sails. The Doane family had gathered their knowledge  of wind currents in a book, called the Book of Airs (hence the title), handed down through the generations, and found by Owen in an attic after years of neglect. Andrade’s approach remains endearingly humble, focusing on the characters’ often flawed humanity rather than adopting the grandiose approach of much-touted efforts like Ayreon’s The Human Equation, and avoiding those often badly handled fantasy/supernatural overtones that invariably spell cheesiness.

In order to convey all the different facets of Owen’s personality and his emotional journey, Brockmann and Andrade decided to recruit a range of singers with different vocal characteristics  instead of just one – a choice that, though it might come across at somewhat odd, works surprisingly well. The music is mostly performed by Brockmann himself with the help of drummer Jochen Ohl, though a couple of songs feature contributions from Dave Meros and Alan Morse of Spock’s Beard – not surprisingly, since their shared love for the influential Los Angeles band was the catalyst for Brockmann and Andrade’s meeting.

Like the best rock operas of the past, AIRS encompasses a wide range of musical influences, though it is more of a song-based, AOR/classic rock effort with prog overtones than a full-fledged prog album. The occasional spoken parts inject a dramatic dimension, complemented by the thorough booklet illustrating the story. From the point of view of the average prog listener, the first half of the album is definitely the most interesting, while the second half emphasizes the catchier, airplay-worthy side of the project. Prog-metal fans will surely appreciate the epic sweep and intensity of the Iron Maiden-tinged “Grounded” and “Grounded II”, as well as the heady tempo changes of “Heritage” – all masterfully interpreted by Gordon Tittsworth , vocalist with US band Images of Eden (who also appeared on The Anabasis’ debut). The lovely power ballad “Fateful Days” (later reprised as short instrumental, and as “Owen” at the very close of the album) showcases Paul Adrian Villareal’s confident, melodic tenor, already appreciated in Sun Caged’s The Lotus Effect, further enhanced by Brockmann’s splendid guitar and keyboard work.

Singing is of crucial importance for any rock opera, and on AIRS instrumental tracks only appear in the form of short interludes between the narrative parts. Though the overall quality of the singing is quite high, two vocal performances stand out from the rest. Cornelius Kappabani’s poignant turn as Owen in “Flight” spotlights his rugged baritone, oddly reminiscent of Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder (and the musical accompaniment also suggests some of the songs on the Seattle band’s debut Ten); while his sinister, menacing Craig in “Current Events” hints at a typical extreme metal growl, and pinpoints the character’s rather unpleasant nature. On the other hand, Floor Kraaijvanger’s stunning, soulful contralto renders Annabelle’s mix of strength and vulnerability in impressive fashion. How refreshing to hear a vocalist that sounds more like Aretha Franklin or Tina Turner than the umpteenth Annie Haslam clone! Finally, young Antila Thomsen’s pure, sweet voice is a perfect fit for Hannah’s wounded innocence.

Clocking in at around 74 minutes, AIRS is definitely not a short album – though, being essentially narrative in nature,  its length can be readily justified. As hinted in the previous paragraphs, it is not an album for those who are looking for cutting-edge material, nor does it pretend to offer anything other than well-executed music with plenty of melody and catchy hooks and choruses, performed by a group of outstanding artists. Indeed, even though the mainstream component is more in evidence than the progressive one, AIRS is a very pleasing listen – especially for those times when more complicated, demanding fare sounds like a slightly exhausting prospect. The genuinely moving storyline is also masterfully conveyed by Andrade’s keen sensibility and skill with words. While AIRS is probably not the right choice for prog elitists and anyone who resents mainstream influences, I can think of much worse ways to spend 74 minutes.


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1. Rome (14:11):
I. Prologue
II. Back To The Future (Part 1)
III. The Sands of Time (Part 1)
IV. The Final Word
V. Playing With Fire
2.  Fly (6:47)
3. Carpe Diem (5:47)
4. Vikings (17:28)
I.  Lindisfarne Abbey 793 AD.
II.Mercia 877 AD
III.Along The Fjords
IV.A Price To Pray
5. Epiphany (5:54)
6. Egypt (23:52):
I.  The Sands of Time
II. The End and The Beginning
III. Along The Nile
IV. Back To The Future
V.  The Sands of Time (Reprise)

Barry Thompson- guitar, bass guitar, keyboards, lyrics (5)
George Andrade – lyrics, arrangements
Ryo Okumoto – keyboards, arrangements
Per Fredrik “Pellek” Åsly – lead vocals

Gerald “Mully” Mulligan – drums
Gordon Tittsworth –  lead vocals (5), backing vocals
Plini – lead guitar (1, 4, 5)
Brian Hong – violin (1, 5)
Lee Abraham – bass guitar (2, 3)
Jeroen Hendrix – keyboards (2, 3)
Brick Williams – lead guitar (3)
Christopher James Harrison – lead guitar  (4)
Stefan Artwin  – lead guitar (6)
Josh Sager – lead guitar (6)
Mark Higgins, Nicolette Collard-Andrade, Hannah Andrade, Taylor Andrade, George Andrade – spoken words

In spite of my long-standing relationship with progressive rock, I have never been a huge proponent of concept albums or rock operas. With few exceptions, these ventures are often underwhelming, resulting in overambitious pastiches that do no favours to the career or reputation of any act. For this and other reasons, I could not help approaching The Anabasis’ debut album, Back From Being Gone, with a feeling of trepidation.

Born in 2009 from the collaboration (and personal friendship) between two New England residents – multi-instrumentalist and composer Barry Thompson and professional writer George Andrade – The Anabasis is a project that was conducted and developed almost completely over the Internet. Though neither Thompson nor Andrade may be household names for the majority of prog fans, their extensive network of contacts on the international scene has helped them to gather a sterling team for the realization of their debut album. While the presence of keyboardist extraordinaire Ryo Okumoto (of Spock’s Beard and K2 fame) – as well as the support of 10T Records, one of the leading independent labels on the current scene –  is the most likely to attract the average prog fan, the other musicians on board are all equally talented, though perhaps not as well-known.

The Anabasis’ very name rings familiar to those who, like me and many of my contemporaries, have got years of classical studies under their belt. Meaning “advance”, it is mostly known as the title of Greek historian Xenophon’s most renowned work, concerning the feats of Persian prince Cyrus the Younger  and his army of ten thousand Greek mercenaries. Though Back From Being Gone bears no direct relation to Xenophon’s work, the connection with ancient history is very much in evidence on the album –right from the lush imagery contained in the stylish, very thorough booklet. The artwork superimposes Roman architecture and sculpture, Egyptian pyramids and Viking swords with computers and other trappings of modernity, and the striking cover suggests that our own very advanced civilization may soon go the same way as its predecessors.

The whole album, indeed, is a reflection on modern society and the legacy of the past, with its seemingly endless cycles of ascent, decline and fall – closely intertwined with an intensely personal story of fall and redemption. The six songs are split between three historically-themed epics and three shorter numbers based on the main character’s individual journey. Although such a concept might have turned out into a terminally cheesy, contrived mess, it radiates instead a palpable sense of  genuine emotion that characterizes a true labour of love, but all too often eludes undertakings of a similar nature

For an album entirely recorded over the Internet, Back From Being Gone is a surprisingly cohesive, organic-sounding effort. While the three epics follow very much the traditional, multi-part template, employing a recurring leitmotiv (both musical and lyrical) to emphasize the fil rouge running through them, the three free-standing songs, though obviously connected by topic, are quite distinct from each other in musical terms. “Fly”, with its sprightly, dance-like pace and bright guitar/synth alternation, is followed by the melodic yet riff-heavy texture of “Carpe Diem”; while the dramatic “Epiphany” veers sharply into metal territory, propelled by Gerald Mulligan’s acrobatic drumming and slashed by sharp guitar and whistling synth, Gordon Tittsworth’s ominous growl providing a perfect foil to Pellek Åsly’s melodic, well-modulated high tenor.

At 14 minutes, “Rome” is the shortest of the epic pieces, and also the most cohesive, with a haunting, Middle Eastern-influenced theme developed slowly but steadily by violin, guitar and Okumoto’s tapestry of keyboards – including the unmistakable rumble of the Hammond organ. A series of quotes from ancient and modern historical characters (from Julius Caesar to George W. Bush) anchor the lyrical content to present times, providing ample food for thought; the grandiosity of the piece, appropriate to its topic, never descends into mere pretentiousness, and the instrumental interplay always keeps melody at the forefront. “Vikings”, introduced by Gregorian chant and a narrating voice, takes on a darker, more aggressive tone – culminating with a dramatized account of the attack on a village in Mercia underscored by tense, cinematic riffs and crashing drums. Guest guitarists Plini and Christopher James Harrison contribute blistering fretwork, complementing Pellek’s passionate vocal performance. “Egypt”., at almost 24 minutes, is the longest and most ambitious number on the album, and, in my view, also the one that would have benefited from some editing (especially as regards the last part, catchy and upbeat but also a bit run-of-the-mill). Not surprisingly, it reprises the Eastern influences of “Rome”, though in a heavier key, with plenty of riffing and dramatic tempo changes; guest guitarists Josh Sager and Stefan Artwin (of German outfit Relocator) provide solos that range from shreddy, almost discordant to slow and melodic, with echoes of Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour.

Clocking in at about 74 minutes, Back From Being Gone is a long album, even for today’s standards. As clearly illustrated in the previous paragraphs, it also possesses a solidly traditional vibe that might put off those looking for more left-field listening material. It is, however, a lovingly-crafted effort, full of genuine warmth and enthusiasm, as well as outstanding musicianship – and a cut above the rest in terms of lyrical content, which is genuinely thought-provoking and accurately researched without being overly pretentious. Even if I am generally oriented towards more challenging stuff, I found Back From Being Gone a very enjoyable listen, and I cannot but applaud the effort and vision behind it. It is a pity that we will probably never be able to see this work performed on stage… Then again, who knows?




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