Advent - Cantus Firmus
Year of Release: 2006
Catalog Number: n/a
Total Time: 69:21:00
Cantus Firmus is the first new release from Advent in nine years, and after an absence of so many years, I wondered if the band was still capable of creating great symphonic rock in the style of their beloved Gentle Giant. Could they still master complex, multi part, madrigal type vocals? And what new musical avenues had the band explored in the intervening years?
The first listen to this very solid and enjoyable new release will answer all these questions. Yes, the G.G. influence is still there, both in the bands intricate instrumental work and the Shulman/Minnear inspired vocal parts. Yet the most compelling moments on Cantus Firmus come when the band takes a few steps away from the shadow of the Giant. These moments often center on guitarist Alan Benjamin, who takes a more central role here than on the groups 1997 self-titled debut. Another notable addition to the sound of Advent is the addition of an excellent drummer in the person of Drew Siciliano. Unlike most of today's drummers, Drew can actually lay back and play softly, showing great dynamic control and yes, he can also knock the stuffing out of his kit.
On Cantus Firmus the group's main songwriter (and keyboardist and principal lead vocalist) Henry Ptak continues in much the same vein as on the bands self-titled debut disc. Henry is a trained classical composer and, notwithstanding their clear G.G. influence, the reason that Advent's music sounds so sophisticated and so reminiscent of the finest of the 70's progressive music is that Henry is able to draw directly from the same pool of inspiration as the writers of the golden age without ever just aping their works. Most of Henry's compositions are slow and deliberately paced, full of rich and harmonically developed motifs that blend and shift subtly throughout quiet sections of lush keyboard strings and orchestral samples only to explode in brilliant ensemble interplay with guitarist and multi-instrumentalist (guitars, Stick, bass, keyboards, violin, recorder, mandolin) Alan Benjamin and new drummer Drew Siciliano providing a strong counterpoint to the twin keys of Henry and Mark Ptak. Taking a different path than Henry, Mark and Alan each provide one song to this collection; Mark's being the instrumental second track "Awaiting The Call", a swinging, jazz/fusion piece that sounds like Ambrosia meets Pat Methany. Alan's contribution is another instrumental, "Remembering When" that showcases his acoustic and electric guitar work as well as his fine bass playing.
The highpoint of this disc is the eighteen minute masterpiece "Ramblin Sailor" which was adapted from an English sea chantey. To say it is adapted is probably to give too much credit to whoever wrote the source material, "The Rambling Sailor". Only one short melodic line still remains from the original ditty, and when the bulk of the original lyrics did not fit the music written by Henry, they were discarded as well. The initial theme, which is reprised several times throughout this work will remind the listener of Gentle Giant with its Derek Shulman-like vocal delivery and its synthesized recorder melody. The great majority of this lengthy number is, however, centered on the interplay between the two keyboard players and the rest of the band. The song develops with majestic force and its growing tension is only broken by interludes of passionate and bittersweet classical guitar accompanied by keys. There are numerous changes of time and tempo and the band is further complimented by Kenso bassist Shunji Saegusa sitting in on this recording. His presence seems to energize the group as they shift effortlessly through powerful themes that may call to mind some of the best bands of the seventies but sound like none of them. The songwriters of Advent seem to have completely absorbed and integrated many sources of fine music whether it be from Gentle Giant and classic prog, jazz or Bartok and Bach.
Other sweet spots on this release include another of Henry's gems, "Parenting Parents" and the surprising "Firmus Finale," in which Henry provides the opening fanfare, Mark composes the main theme and the songs first half and Henry returns to finish everything after the guitar solo. It sports some pulse pounding cathedral organ and a brilliantly phrased guitar solo that blends and joins the two very different writing styles of Mark and Henry.
The album concludes with two bonus tracks, both from the bands self titled debut disc but this time presented in their originally intended 24 track glory. "Alison Waits (A Ghost Story)" is further improved with a powerful new drum track played by Ken Serio, and is one of the most thrilling and satisfying moments on this disc, coming across with far more impact than on the first album.
When I first heard Advent a couple of years ago, I had high hopes that with further releases the band would show themselves to be one of the finest progressive bands operating today. Cantus Firmus is much more than I had hoped for and as such I give it my highest recommendation.
GK Contramundum (2:00) / Awaiting The Call (5:10) / Parenting Parents (6:45) / Utter Once Her Name (5:30) / Remembering When (4:00) / Ramblin Sailor (18:14) / Your Healing Hand (8:18) / Firmus Finale (4:40) / Rear View Mirror (3:34) / Alison Waits (A Ghost Story) (10:40)
Alan Benjamin - guitars, basses, stick, mandolin, recorder
Henry Ptak - keyboards, lead vocals, backing vocals, percussion
Mark Ptak - keyboards, backing vocals, percussion
Drew Siciliano - drums
Shunji Saegusa - bass (6)
Ken Serio - drums (10)
Cantus Firmus (2006)
Genre: Progressive Rock
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