MELLOTRON ( Argentina ) no. 35, December 2006
Long-time readers of Mellotron have had opportunity to familiarize themselves with our reviews of the first discs of this very personal trio. Led by Ed Macan, a fabulous and ambitious multi-instrumentalist and writer (responsible for the excellent book Rocking the Classics ), the band has passed through various lineups and sounds since the first album, Ed Macan's Hermetic Science (1997) which developed the idea of distributing the parts between bass, drums, and vibraphone, with the latter as lead instrument (and to a lesser extent, the marimba). Next was the second disc, Prophesies (1999), based on the book of Jeremiah from the Old Testament, on which the keyboards—piano, Hammond organ, and ARP string ensemble—or even the soprano recorder—become protagonists as much as the vibraphone. And in 2001 they released their last album to date, En Route . Here was realized the idea of an album in the classic progressive style, almost as a revival, with keyboards analogous to the seventies. The disc was based largely around a trilogy of novels by the French novelist J. K. Huysmans (1848-1907): Au Rebours , La-Bas , and En Route .
Crash Course , a new double CD, includes a majority of tracks from these first three albums, but remastered and with some newly-added instrumental tracks recorded in 2002 (like on “Fire Over Thule,” where we encounter new sitar and lyre tracks, as with other tracks). It is very interesting to return to the initial track of Crash Course , “Esau's Burden,” with the new sound, where Macan's immensely original idea first took form. The vibraphone creates an almost disconcerting effect in the context of a progressive track, suggesting a certain relationship to jazz and equally with certain structures and ideas traceable to the music of Keith Emerson. It isn't coincidental that this year Macan published a most profound book about the English keyboardist and his band ELP, Endless Enigma: A Musical Biography of Emerson, Lake and Palmer . His musical ideas begin with a profound analysis both of progressive music and the social circumstances that contributed to the rise of the genre. And his music expresses the complexity of the style, leading to a sound that cannot be compared to any other progressive artist. If it is a matter of originality, this body of work is one of the more important ones of the past number of years. The gradual growth of the expressive palette of the group achieves sublime moments as in “Lament,” from Prophesies , where Macan's opening solo piano work is ultimately joined by the band, the superb bassist Andy Durham and Matt McClimon on drums and percussion, who weave a suitably sober accompaniment.
For its part En Route encounters some of its best moments in the marvelous final tracks “La-Bas,” and its gothic organ atmospheres, “Raga Hermeticum ,” with its expansion toward oriental sounds by means of the sitar and exotic percussion, and the closing “En Route,” where Macan utilizes an immense series of keyboards, such as piano, Rhodes, Hammond, Micromoog , and ARP, without abandoning the marimba. This notable final series of tracks shows the evolution of an artist who always attempts to navigate winding paths, allowing little self-indulgence, with obscure melodies and intricate chords, creatively harnessing the virtuosity of his musicians in order to soar with his own technique.
Crash Course documents only the first leg of Ed Macan's journey. With a new lineup, he finds himself at this moment working on ideas for a new disc. Where will he take us? Nobody can know; this journey has many more surprises ahead. Only they that accompany it and share it can enjoy it.