EXPOSE (U.S.A.) no. 19 (May 2000), pp. 41-42
Author, educator, and musician extraordinaire Ed Macan is back with his band Hermetic Science for their second CD, Prophesies. This disc is a clear winner, and Macan significantly enlarges the sonic palette here. He includes vintage keyboards such as Hammond organ, ARP string ensemble, and Micromoog as well as soprano recorder in addition to the mallet instruments and grand piano that were featured on the debut disc. The result is a much fuller sound while still retaining the “less is more” advantage of the trio format. Hermetic Science takes what is essentially a jazz trio instrumentation (vibes/bass/drums) and applies it in a classically-influenced progressive rock context. The result is a fresh and original approach that puts the emphasis on intricate and compelling melodies. Macan’s compositions show the same attention to detail that he displayed in his groundbreaking analysis of British progressive music, Rocking the Classics. His second book will be on Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and not surprisingly their influence is heard at times here. The bonus track is a stunning version of “Tarkus” that Macan arranged and played on solo piano. You have to hear this to believe it! The six-part title suite occupies nearly two-thirds of this lengthy disc, and it progresses through multiple permutations and features virtuoso vibes, marimba, and keyboard work from Macan. The bass is often featured in a prominent role and at times is the lead instrument. The final movement ties the suite together nicely with a re-statement of themes. Overall this is an outstanding disc with thoughtful compositions, strong ensemble playing, and a crisp sound quality. It will easily make my top ten list for the year and is enthusiastically recommended for fans of instrumental progressive music.
Ed Macan here leads a bassist and drummer through a lengthy site of Biblical themes, as well as a version of Rush’s “Jacob’s Ladder.” His compositions are well thought out, and the man has talent to burn behind keyboards, and keyboard percussion as well. I score him big bonus points for bringing us the wonders of marimba, vibraphone, etc.—the most underrepresented and underrated melody instruments to be found. The problem I find is his support: bass and drums merely follow, nothing more essentially, as if just playing exactly what is written in a score, leaving Macan to do all the work himself. They really don’t contribute anything stylistically to the work. Imagine ELP (the most prominent influence I can determine here) with a studio musician as bassist instead of Greg Lake. The production as well, is very dry, flat; no attempt is made to present the music as anything more than the sum of the parts. You may say that it’s not important, but in this kind of dramatic style, where three people are trying to create the impression of a large ensemble (as with, again, ELP), a robust and beefy production quality really can save the day. I keep thinking of what a producer like Ken Scott was able to do for Happy the Man’s Arista releases. So, not to demean in any way Macan’s efforts—not a compositional problem at all, but simply a need for greater emphasis on production, and strong musical personalities on bass and drums.