Tangent, The - The Music That Died Alone

Year of Release: 2003
Label: InsideOut
Catalog Number: IOMCD 136 / SPV 085-65992
Format: CD
Total Time: 44:41:00

Wow. Where to start? There is so much that can be said about this release from the "supergroup" The Tangent (though "supergroup" is a term the project shies away from). Words like lovely, vibrant, energetic, nuanced, cool, hot, and fiery crop up at various points during the album. Sometimes all at once in some tongue-twisting jumble of letters and sound, as you breathlessly try to find the one word that captures the essence of what you are hearing. It's a little daunting trying to write a review of the album without giving you a play by play (which has already been excellently done by David Winter at the Tangent website). I can see why Guy Manning (acoustic guitars, mandolin, vocals) was anxious to hear my opinion of this album.* It's a piece of work that he, nor the other participants, need feel hesitant bragging about. And brag they should, because they have created a very solid work. There's a reason why, as they trumpet on the intro page of their website, this was rated "best of the year" only two weeks after its release - it very possibly will be! All of which makes The Music That Died Alone an ironic title for an album that you will find yourself listening to over and over again just to capture every nuance. I know I am, and I'm not done yet?

This lovely tribute to progressive rock - progressive music -- began life as an Andy Tillison-Diskdrive (keyboards, vocals) solo album. Soon, through the efforts of Ian Oakley (webmaster and editor of The Flower Kings' website), Roine Stolt (guitar, vocals) was made aware of the project and became involved. His suggestions lead to the participation of ex-Van Der Graaf Generation sax player David Jackson (who also contributes flute). At the same time, Tillison-Diskdrive's Parallel Or 90 Degrees cohort Sam Baine (piano) joined up, followed by The Flower Kings' bassist Johan Reinholz and drummer Zoltan Csörsz, also on the suggestion of Stolt. The final addition to this potent mix of talent was Guy Manning.

So much is going on in and between tracks that things shift before you can truly describe them - and yet everything flows seamlessly, perfectly - nothing chaotic or jarring. Rarely are there albums where every second is worth examining, where one feels compelled to describe every note - looking at it from the perspective of sound, of imagery, of taste (if it were possible)? forgetting that the easiest way to express it all is to direct the listener to listen for themselves. It's like getting your favorite dessert placed before you, taking one bite (in this case, the classic and classy sound of a swirling Hammond**), and then hoping that each bite could last a lifetime, hoping that you can enjoy enough lifetimes to savor the whole piece. This is well deserved hyperbole. You see, I love sax and flute and piano and guitar and there is enough of that such that if it were a sugary dessert, I'd have gone into a diabetic shock before the first track had ended - not to make light of a serious health concern, mind you (and being diabetic, I personally wouldn't take offense), but this particular dessert is especially rich and sugary? and very, very tasty. Worth dying for, and yet, because it's music, one can indulge without that or any adverse side effects (it's fantastically produced, too.). The artwork by Ed Unitsky captures it best, as artwork should -- the whole mood and feel of the album is there - a mix of pastels and darks, and a bird on the wing. It is both peaceful and edgy.

You are drawn into the vortex from the opening moments of this album, where you will be pleasantly buffeted by the first suite, "In Darkest Dreams," a tour-de-force way to open an album full of keyboards, guitars, bass and drums. The influences are all mixed in, but in that you can extract a bit of ELP, a bit of Yes, a bit of Genesis, a bit of King Crimson? of course, also a bit of PO90 and The Flower Kings. Elsewhere, Jackson's saxes honk and skronk, driving this music around a few sharp corners, only to come gliding easily out the other side into moody, jazzy "Night Terrors." Here we find an appealing chorus that lightens a track with a dark subject - one of those ironic sing-alongs, that shies away from being anything near pop - or should I say has the good sense to stay away from anything near pop. And despite Stolt's presence, only sounds occasionally like something that could be found on a Flower Kings album, and is maybe to "sunny" to be found on a PO90 album? making it a nice blend of the two. Stolt plays a lovingly screamy guitar solo in "The Midnight Watershed," which is given a jazzy flavor from Baine's elegant but driving piano. More driving Hammond, a la a Brain Salad Surgery period Emerson (with just a hint of Styx, at least to me), leads the way into the mellower "In Dark Dreams" that features some shimmery percussion from Csörsz, subtle and slinkly guitar from Stolt and bass from Reinholz, all seasoned with Jackson's sax. All with vocals from a deepish voiced Tillison-Diskdrive (his first lead vocal performance, I understand). This is a lovely and warm, nearly pastoral, piece.

A watery, atmospheric keyboard interlude, "The Half-Light Watershed," fades into a delicate mandolin solo from Manning. In "On Returning" we get an especially warm Manning vocal and more sax from Jackson can be heard here, too, leading right into the Jackson/Manning spotlight track "A Sax In The Dark" (where Hammond also returns) - a blissful moment, to be sure. All this brings us back to "Night Terrors Reprise" (and if ever played live, you can be sure the audience would be encouraged to sing along and clap their hands when the instruments fall off for a bit, leaving only vocals). The suite ends with one of those "frozen moments" where a sustained keyboard note roots you in pace, while the sound of sax hangs in the air, tickling your ears... (re-stating elements of "The Half-Light Watershed").

A different mood is achieved on "The Canterbury Sequence: Cantermemorabilia," which sounds, well, Canterburian, right down to a bit of scatting from Tillison-Diskdrive. It's a light-jazzy, upbeat number with lots of trilling flute and soft-focused, understated, vocals. Listen here for references to Canturbury bands, though this is far from being a novelty track of "spot the reference." This piece features a nice, somewhat throaty bass solo from Reinholdz. The second segment, "Chaos At The Greasy Spoon" brings throbbing bass and keyboards to the fore for a little interplay, before flute and piano duet over the jazzy drumming of Csörsz. Another very nice moment appears in "Captain Manning's Mandolin," which also features Stolt's guitar and Tillison-Diskdrive on keyboards, on a piece that sometimes has a Spanish flavor.

"Up-hill From Here" is a fiery, driving piece, that is so high energy that you will be left breathless when everything comes to a conclusion. It underscores the "rock" part of the progressive rock style, full of screaming guitar solos, heavily throbbing drums and bass. It is, in a way, the kind of piece we'd hear from Spock's Beard, without sounding like SB? but there is something in the joyous abandon that makes me think of that band's material. And, of course, that same sense in The Flower Kings. It's a rave up prog rock style, a jamming tune that'll have you air guitaring or air saxing, while your feet are a-jumping. You can't dance to it, other than whirling around like a whirling dervish on some chemical high (only you don't need the chemical part). Smokin'!

Whew. The cool-down comes with the lyrical, classical "A Serenade" that opens the closing suite "The Music That Died Alone." Lovely, with a hint of night-club/bar jazz (in particular, I thought for a moment of Billy Joel's setting in "Piano Man") - this time from Tillison-Diskdrive rather than Baine (according to Winter). "Playing On?" brings in flute and percussion, recalling at times Camel very strongly, even down to the vocals.

One of the best things you'll hear this year, hands down. Buy it!

Rating: 5 / 5 (but really more like 6 / 5)

*not to suggest that it was my opinion alone he anxiously awaited, mind you; or that my opinion would validate the effort.

** didn't want to clutter the review with this comment, but on one of several listens, I popped the disk into my car player just as a Hammond-filled Boston track was playing ("Foreplay/Long Time," I think it was) and I noticed how, at least to me, very Boston-like that opening keyboard passage was?

Released also in North America by the now defunct InsideOut Music America (IOMACD 2067)

In Darkest Dreams: Prelude - Time For You (2:26) - Night Terrors (3:26) - The Midnight Watershed (3:03) - In Dark Dreams (4:01) - The Half-Light Watershed (1:16) - On Returning (0:47) - A Sax In The Dark (1:13) - Night Terrors Reprise (3:37) / The Canterbury Sequence: Cantermemorabilia (3:19) - Chaos At The Greasy Spoon (3:01) - Captain Manning's Mandolin (1:39) - Up-Hill From Here (7:08) / The Music That Died Alone: A Serenade (1:36) - Playing On? (1:50) - Pre-History (2:36) - Reprise (3:43)

Andy Tillison - keyboards, vocals
Sam Baine - piano
Roine Stolt - electric guitar, vocals
Jonas Reingold - bass
Zoltan Csörsz - drums
David Jackson - saxophone, flute
Guy Manning - acoustic guitars, mandolin, vocals

The Music That Died Alone (2003)
The World We Drive Through (2004)
Pyramids And Stars (2005)
A Place In The Queue (2006)
Going Off On One (2007)
Not As Good As The Book (2008)
Down And Out In Paris And London (2009)
Comm (2011)
Le Sacre Du Travail (2013)
A Spark In The Aether (2015)

Going Off On One (DVD) (2007)
Going Off On Two (CD/DVD) (2010)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin VA

Added: November 16th 2003
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website: www.thetangent.org
Hits: 687
Language: english


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