ACID DRAGON (France)
When I first reviewed Ed Macan's Hermetic Science's music way back in 2000 on AD #27 Ed e-mailed me to thank me for the review and particularly for spotting the Egg influence. (Ed has just finished a book on ELP and they are his main influence. In fact his solo rendition of the whole of ‘ Tarkus ' recorded live on solo piano in 1992 is included on his 1999 CD ‘Prophesies'). Listen to ‘Leviathan and Behemoth' and ‘State of Grace' and you'll hear Egg and ELP at work many years beyond their prime in a completely new and very distinctive way- I wouldn't mistake Hermetic Science's music for anything else on the planet for this simply isn't anything else like this on the planet! Ed is actually a mallet percussionist as well as an accomplished keyboard player and he also uses a 10-string lyre on this CD. The music is really 20 th century classical music with what is described in the press release as ‘elements of 70s progressive rock, ECM inspired spatial jazz and Eastern musical styles'. Another distinctive feature of the Hermetic Science sound is the use of an ARP string ensemble.
‘Crash Course' is a two CD package with extensive sleeve notes consisting of 20 tracks spanning 135 minutes with seven tracks from their second album ‘Prophesies' (1999), all of ‘En Route' (2001) and 5 tracks from their eponymous debut (1997) where the band appears ‘in their most unique configuration, as a vibes-bass-drums power trio with elements of bands like ELP, Egg and UK, ECM artists like Terje Rypdal , eastern and contemporary chamber music'.
The ‘Prophesies' suite concludes with the two movements referred to earlier and is described overall as ‘edgy chamber rock' with much use of acoustic piano, Hammond organ and ARP'. Moog is also used on ‘En Route', its suite beginning with the four part ‘Against The Grain' and it gets pretty rocky in places (for example in the dramatic part three where Jason Hoopes is prominent on bass guitar and Ed makes use of various voices and analogue keyboards and Matt McClimon's thunderous drumming propels things forward). The fourth part is an even more explicit all out ELP inflected rocker with, as you might expect, Hammond organ prominent. .Listen carefully and you might just hear something familiar in there! The suite actually starts quite peacefully in comparison with Jason Hoopes doing an admirable job on piano in the first movement and Ed's ARP making a distinctive contribution with Matt McClimon doing a fantastic job on percussion. The second part starts with some shimmering vibes, there's more vibes and a fabulous- dare I say it?- funky bass passage (Reminded me of The Sadistic Mika Band's ‘ Funkee Mahjong ' for some strange reason!) and a cheeky little keyboard solo (ARP/Moog?) again ‘softens us up' for the heavier stuff to come.As you might have guessed Hermetic Science will appeal to lovers of classical and rock music and also to jazz buffs who will admire its structures and improvisations.
Still to come on CD2 is a solo piece by Macan ‘(La-Bas') comprising a toccata, a dirge and a fugue with digital pipe organ and Hammond organ both used and a very catchy eastern sounding piano led section, Joe Nagy on drums this time. A section of the fugue with drum rolls and ARP reminded me of Procol Harum's ‘Magdalene, My Regal Zonophone '- indeed rock connections keep popping up! Jason Hoopes adds sitar to ‘Raga Hermeticum ' and Ed shows his instrumental versatility and virtuousity by playing not only 10-string lyre but also soprano and tenor recorders. Jason's bass line takes the track into a fine groove with Rhodes electric piano and vibes providing the improvisation. Some ingenuous ‘stabbed' Hammond organ that blends in surprisingly smoothly and an electric harpsichord are used at the end of the piece. Joe Nagy also shows his own versatility by playing a dumbek on this very authentic sounding number.
Back to CD 1 then and some early works which include different bass players and drummers and the sitar of Jason Hoopes . ‘Esau's Burden' and the two ‘House of Panorama' tracks have the band's most straightforward line-up- a vibes/ bass/ drums trio in fact. As the tracks go on lyre, sitar, marimba, glockenspiel, even tubular bells are added. Indeed the first two named instruments were added as part of the remixing. However, I must say I do prefer the music from the later period when more keyboard instruments were added. Having said that you can hear the origins of what was to come in the fantastic rhythm section of Andy Durham and Joe Nagy on the splendid ‘Fanfare for the House of Panorama' and the tongue in cheek ‘Intrigue in the House of Panorama' is a treat! The music really begins for me on ‘Barbarians at the Gate- think not ELP but Egg- I can almost see Mont Campbell and not Andy Durham standing there! And the clever thing is that Ed does all the lead lines on marimba and vibes- a fantastic piece of music. I also enjoyed re-hearing Durham and drummer/percussionist McClimon's contributions on the 7 minutes ‘Hope Against Hope' (especially the cymbal work) where they give admirable backing to Macan's solo soprano recorder and ARP.
It still strikes me that ‘Last Stand' would make an admirable addition to Baddelamenti's ‘ Twin Peaks ' soundtrack! Great bass playing and jazz drumming! I also enjoyed hearing again McClimon's entry on drums in the fugue section of ‘Lament' which has Macan on solo Steinway- ah, those glorious arpeggios! Most of the music is written by Macan with some help from Jason Hoopes in the ‘En Route' suite. I would need to write an essay to comment on all the music here and you could argue that this serious, commendable body of work deserves just such an approach- one for the future perhaps! The only non-original is an appropriately portentous ‘Mars'- this would be good music for the next Dalek invasion in Dr Who (Listen and you'll hear why!) Ed always brings something different to the most familiar of recordings which is why his covers are totally justifiable- he does the same on ‘ Tarkus ' but you'll have to track down a copy of the original ‘Prophesies' CD for that one!
The most remarkable thing about ‘Crash Course'. Is how Ed Macan and Mark Mayo have done such a remarkable job of remixing and remastering - the sound is so vivid and alive and much better balanced! It did take these gentlemen between 2002 and 2006 and it was well worth the effort.
‘Crash Course' is an absolutely essential release for all lovers of progressive rock music influenced not only by the classics and jazz but also by two of its prime exponents ELP and Egg. Trust me you won't hear anything quite like this anywhere else! I cannot recommend the music of Hermetic Science highly enough. This is not mere cerebral music- the visceral impact is quite stunning!