Various - Leonardo: The Absolute Man

Year of Release: 2001
Label: Magna Carta
Catalog Number: MAX-9029-2
Format: CD
Total Time: 65:52:00

Ever since I heard the very first Magellan album, I was impressed with the writing skills of Trent Gardner, let alone his original way of integrating trombone! For some time now we were informed that Trent was working on a prestigious concept album and was being helped out by some big shots from the glorious world of prog. To say the final release is a true masterpiece certainly will be an understatement because this really has to be one of the all-time best albums of its kind ? ever! (unless of course a real orchestra could have been used throughout the entire recording).

Whilst the band itself is based around a nucleus of five musicians it's mainly the impressive selection of vocalists which turns this album into a unique experience. Imagine Dream Theater's James LaBrie rubbing shoulders with Under the Sun's Chris Shryack, and Robert Berry standing next to Kansas' Steve Walsh. Let's not forget ex-Mastermind singer Lisa Bouchelle and the talented Michelle Young. In fact, every single voice plays the role of a character out of the life of Leonardo da Vinci. You won't be surprised to know that James LaBrie is the modern version of Leonardo da Vinci. His father, Ser Piero da Vinci is portrayed by Davey Pattison (Gamma, Robin Trower), whilst his mother Caterina is performed by Michelle Young (Glass Hammer). The subject of Leonardo's favourite painting, the Mona Lisa, is game for Lisa Bouchelle. King of France, Fran?ois I, is a role for Bret Douglas (Cairo), whilst Chris Shyrack becomes Ludovico il Mora Storza, one of the most elite and powerful princes of Renaissance Italy. Leonardo's personal friend Giovan Fransesco Melzi is the person for Mike Baker (Shadow Gallery). Lorenzo de Medici is a role reserved for Josh Pincus (Ice Age) whilst the advisor to Sforza, Bartolomeo Calco, is performed here by Steve Walsh. Andrea del Verrochio accepted Leonardo as an apprentice in his workshop, a role for Trent Gardner, whilst Robert Berry portrays Salai, Leonardo's protégé and adopted son for over twenty-five years.

Not only has a lot of research gone into this concept, so you get a true historic piece, but all of the music is superbly crafted, offering a perfect balance between vocal and instrumental parts. The album opens with the grand and cinematographic instrumental "Apparition" which kind of could be used for the likes of Titanic. Not really sure if a real orchestra is at play here, but if not, then those synths have been programmed in a wonderful way! A mere four minutes into the track and Trent's unforgettable trombone is already in full swing, nicely blending with the lush orchestral sounds. James LaBrie really is outstanding in "With Father" which suddenly turns into a heavy ball of energy by means of some Phil Collins-like drum breaks that are part of the aggressive "Reins Of Tuscan." The harmonies get very close to the pure Magellan concept, whilst some great jazzy piano creeps in as well. His technical skills and classical tuition come to the foreground when James LaBrie tackles "Mona Lisa" [though not literally - humor ed.] before the chorus becomes more mainstream, paving the way for a great guitar solo. Guitars are switched to synths, giving way to a daring solo in the instrumental "Il Divino" before guitars are once again allowed to enter. A resting point is introduced by means of the short medieval inspired "Inundation." But then it's once again all systems go when guitars and drums unite in pure heavy metal mayhem, introducing the backing vocals of "the students." "First Commission" introduces the "classic" voice of Steve Walsh together with Michelle Young. The acoustic nature of the song soon has us think of "Dust In The Wind," as this is also a wonderful, fragile song including all the right moves. Another commercial sounding composition with a very strong chorus certainly has to be "This Time, This Way" a duet between James LaBrie and Lisa Bouchelle, the latter slightly reminding me of Cher.

Where "Inventions" is a powerful rocker giving way to the combined vocal talents of both LaBrie and Steve Walsh, piano and voice introduce yet another calmer, more classical inspired resting point by means of "Shaping The Invisible". But then the song builds and builds, adding more and more layers of strings and guitars whilst James' voice steps higher and higher on the musical ladder. With "Heart Of France"comes Leonardo's death. Some of the voices don't blend very well together for my taste here. The short "Sacrament" kind of depicts the death of a great artist and person. With "End Of A World," the entire cast sings both in English and Italian, as an ode to Leonardo da Vinci with Steve Walsh almost taking over the entire cast single-handedly.

Dare we say that Leonardo: The Absolute Man is not for the faint hearted but for those who want to take out some time to wander into the historic depths and truths of the unique talent of Leonardo da Vinci. Trent Gardner has done an outstanding job and even if it becomes rather predictable that a lot of Magna Carta artists help out on a Magna Carta release, it still is a tour de force to accomplish something as complex and daring as this. Mixed by legendary producer Terry Brown (Rush), approximately 100 musical tracks had to be put together in order to restore on disc what had been living in Trent's mind for over a long time now. I'm sure everyone involved in this project deserves the highest respect. Pity for the rather "usual" sleeve design which, from a distance, looks more like a design for a pure classical album. Or was that the main idea in the first place?

Apparition (Instrumental) (5:42) / Aria For Italy (Instrumental) (0:49) / With Father (1:48) / Reins Of Tuscan (5:49) / Reproach (Instrumental) (1:11) / Mona Lisa (7:11) / Il Divino (Instrumental) (3:22) / Inundation (Instrumental) (1:08) / Apprentice (6:56) / First Commission (3:47) / Mother Of God (Instrumental) (1:06) / This Time, This Way (6:05) / Inventions (5:13) / Shaping The Invisible (4:54) / Introduction To François I (Instrumental) (1:20) / Heart Of France (5:57) / Sacrament (Instrumental) (1:11) / End Of A World (2:12)


James La Brie as Leonardo da Vinci
Davey Pattison as Ser Piero da Vinci
Michelle Young as Caterina
Josh Pincus as Lorenzo de Medici
Lisa Bouchelle as Mona Lisa
Mike Baker as Melzi
Trent Gardner as Verrochio
Robert Berry as Salai
Steve Walsh as Calco
Chris Shryack as Storza
Bret Douglas as Fran?ois I


Trent Gardner - keyboards, trombone
Wayne Gardner - guitar
Jeremy Colson - drums (Dali's Dilemma)
Patrick Reyes - guitar (Dali's Dilemma)
Steve Reyes - bass (Dali's Dilemma)


Joe Franco : drums and orchestral percussion (1, 11)
Luis Maldonado : guitar and bass (11)

Leonardo: The Absolute Man (2001)

Genre: Various Genres

Origin VA

Added: June 13th 2001
Reviewer: John "Bobo" Bollenberg

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