Various - Leonardo: The Absolute Man

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

There is so much to talk about regarding Leonardo: The Absolute Man. Do we talk about the music, the vocalists, or the history behind the story? And how can we really do justice to all three in a short paragraph? Well, obviously I'm going to write more than a short paragraph, I can't help it, but whether I will still do it justice...I'm not sure.

What will become immediately apparent is how distinctive a composer Trent Gardner is; the rhythm to his writing is no different from how he writes for Magellan. His sentence-lyrics style is put to best use here, as in most operas the dialog is sung rather than spoken. While it didn't work for me with Magellan's Hour Of Restoration, Gardner has found the medium for which it makes sense. One might suppose then this should be credited as Magellan, as two-thirds of the band is represented -- Trent and his brother Wayne (guitars) -- but the cast of characters played by the likes of James La Brie (Dream Theater), Mike Baker (Shadow Gallery), Chris Shyrack (Under The Sun), Bret Douglas (Enchant), Michelle Young, Lisa Bouchelle (ex-Mastermind), Steve Walsh (Kansas), Josh Pincus (Ice Age), and Robert Berry --- for the most part, the Magna Carta roster. Magna Carta's Peter Morticelli, who produced the album along with Mike Varney, initiated the concept. There are 8 instrumentals of the albums 18 total tracks, some of which are classically influenced, others pastoral, and others rock based. The roster of musicians is, along with the Gardners, Jeremy Colson (drums), Patrick Reyes (guitar) and Steve Reyes (bass), all members of Magna Carta artists Dali's Dilemma.

The album opens with a rolling classical movement, full of the sounds of violins, kettledrums, drums, percussion, trumpets. You can almost see the verdant Italian countryside as we move closer and closer to where the story begins, but not before we are given a birdseye view of 15th Century Italy. You can almost feel the cool Mediterranean breezes, see the crystal-clear sky... One thing that stands out musically is Gardner's use of trombone here, as it is an uncommon lead instrument in classical music. Well, it seems uncommon to me, as one usually expects cello, violin, flute, piano, etc. Far from sounding odd or misplaced, it sounds quite good and fits well into the orchestrations around it. As usual Trent Gardner's tone is very warm, very sweet...and I would have loved to hear more of throughout the album, though there weren't points where I thought the music was lacking it. But, perhaps a solo instrumental album is waiting in the wings for Gardner. It does reappear in "This Time, This Way" which could easily be released as a single, as it is a complete chapter or scene in itself. (Maybe because I know Gardner is a Chicago fan, I can't help but hear a bit of Chicago in his playing on this track.)

Cold synth-electronics begins "With Father" which starts us off on our journey through Leonardo's life. James LaBrie plays the titular character and I have to tell you he sounds wonderful! The best I've heard him sound since Images And Words, though Scenes From A Memory runs a close second to this. Two minutes or so into "Mona Lisa" you will think of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," though a bit later, it reminded me of something from Cats or some other exuberant Andrew Lloyd Webber score. "Il Divino," another instrumental is a rock-based piece that begins with a bubbling synth refrain that gives way, but isn't subsumed by, sharp guitar leads. Drums and bass rumble beneath. The last lingering keyboard note is Emersonian in tone, and this leads us into "Inundation," a more pastoral piece with acoustic guitar that sounds more like a lyre and keys. Dark-throated squonks and bleeps open "Apprentice" which is a chugging metal piece, the dark, digitized voices of the students starting us out. "First Commission" features the vocal talents of Kansas' Steve Walsh as Calco, whose voice seems deeper than usual, but all the more to contrast against the lighter tones of Michelle Young as Caterina. This is an acoustic guitar based piece that is one of many highlights on this album. We find that La Brie's voice meshes well with ex-Mastermind vocalist Lisa Bouchelle as Mona Lisa, and her voice seem very suited to the character, who we learned by this point has done a fair amount of living, if you know what I mean.

I thought a bit of Kansas with the first few seconds of "Inventions," which is a very cool track. I really like the drive and punch to it, the keyboards, La Brie's performance, everything. Except, though, that when Chris Shyrack as Storza and Walsh as Calco sing in harmony. Because they aren't totally in sync, it just seems that the timing is off. This seems to happen only once, am I'm sure was done on purpose. "Introduction To Francois I" seems very much like classical-prog, keyboards becoming the orchestra a la ELP for example.

The historical backdrop to the story is drawn by Gardner's foreword, in which he summarizes Leonardo's life and tells us that "discovering the 'essence' of Leonardo for myself was a privilege which led me to a more personal progression -- musical and otherwise."

A lot of time and effort has gone into it, as one can tell at a glance. The booklet includes all the lyrics, sketches of the various characters that don't look like Renaissance versions of the vocalists portraying them, but rather as line drawings, perhaps influenced by paintings or other drawings from the period. Time will tell what place in musical history this work will have, but for right now, I can tell you that it comes recommended.

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 21st 2001
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 737
Language: english


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