LUNAR WAVES (Spain) no. 8 (2002), pp. 70-71
There is no doubt that Ed Macan is a “rare bird” within the panorama of contemporary music. After having produced, with Rocking the Classics, the most influential literary essay of the history of progressive rock, Macan followed with extreme coherency his particular vision of radical evolution within the progressive genre with his project in trio format, Hermetic Science: bass, drums, and, of course, the impressive list of instruments in the orbit of the keyboard family played by the maestro Macan. In the course of three albums Macan has succeeded in finding his own unique space, where he is able to unite his passion for the different forms of classical music of the twentieth century, religious music, the movie soundtrack, and progressive rock. Macan continues to traverse his own, unique musical universe, trying to find a point of equilibrium between his different compositional approximations, with the hope of gaining the interest of restless minds.
Macan makes, in a good sense, transcendental music, and makes it with the ambition of one who has the technique and talent to make it. It’s ambitious music that alternates between the spectacular and an almost ascetic intimacy, and that requires the support of a production greater than Macan has been able to deliver to us up to this point. En Route is infested with good ideas an moments of extraordinary interpretation, and at the point at which Macan can deliver the leap to a new level in production without betraying his compositional ideals he will without any doubt deliver a classic of its time. Of course that means money, money that is difficult to find for a project “without commercial potential” and of limited distribution.
En Route—the album—is comprised of a version of the immortal composition of Holst, “Mars: The Bringer of War,” and a suite of 44 minutes, titled specifically En Route, which synthesizes perfectly the identifying hallmarks of Hermetic Science without necessarily opening new paths. It’s hard to know what the point would be of an apocalyptic reinterpretation of Holst’s famous work (especially opening the disc). Macan’s interest, from my point of view, probably resides in the work’s potential as a laboratory of experimentation with sonorities and in relation with the more faithful version that Macan included on his debut album. The authentic unfolding of the capabilities of Hermetic Science is given place at great length in the seven sections of the suite En Route. The concept of this suite is based around the work of the (to me) unknown novelist J. K. Huysmans (1848-1907), in the judgment of Macan one of the most relevant intellectuals of the turn of the century, an époque which begins to foreshadow many of the problems that have accompanied us during the twentieth century, and probably will continue to accompany us in the twenty first. His cycle of three novels, A Rebours, La-Bas, and En Route are vistas, for Macan, of a chronicle of death and rebirth of the human spirit that integrates itself in a chronological form as the tracks that comprise the suite. A Rebours is turned into the four parts of “Against the Grain,” after which follows “La-Bas” (“Down There”), then “Raga Hermeticum” which ties together the cycle, and ending with “En Route.”
On some level we should make a distinction between two types of tracks on the album: in some tracks one clearly apprises a use of the keyboards, which are frequently distorted, as an orchestral surrogate, whereas the second type shifts swiftly, almost violently to his more than proven mastery of vibraphone and piano. The first group is the grand gamble of Macan on this new disc, although the results are uneven. It is important to take into account that this album was recorded in two phases: the first half in June of 2000 and the second in July of 2001, and that one hastens to note, that the tracks of the second session demonstrate a qualitative leap, to which the return to the drummer’s position of Joe Nagy, who before had contributed a stand-out performance to Hermetic Science (1997) is certainly not extraneous. Particularly in the first session we encounter a certain lack of homogeneity in the keyboard sonorities and diverse moments in which the work of the rhythm section is too strictly functional, at times almost buried by the keyboard orchestration in the mix. And it is precisely in the moments in which all the instruments struggle to be protagonists that En Route rises to its greatest heights.
We go to the interior of the suite: “Against the Grain” unfolds in four extremely different parts. The first, maintains a clear connection with the sonic textures of “Mars, the Bringer of War,” as well as having some curious passing resemblances to Deep Purple’s “Child in Time.” The second part defers to the already familiar style of Macan, based around the vibraphone and benefiting from a better balance between the parts of the trio. This is a mysterious track that holds itself to a very suggestive moderate tempo. The third part marks a return of the keyboards to the foreground and seems to be intended as the main title theme of an imaginary science fiction film. The “Against the Grain” cycle closes with a passionate but paranoid exercise featuring Hammond organ.
“La-Bas,” the first track of the sessions of 2001, begins with a masterful pipe organ introduction and maintains a notable balance in its orchestral function. (It is this improvement in the quality of the instrumental blend that permits better appreciation of the labor of the drummer, for example.) Before the final assault at the end of the cycle of novels put to music, Hermetic Science surprises us with “Raga Hermeticum,” a track of evident Hindu influence, in which Macan again produces marvels, this time with a sitar-like 10-string lyre, in a track that in the course of its nine minutes evolves hypnotically as Macan changes to his beloved vibraphone. One cannot better prepare the way for “En Route,” the album’s title track, which features an elegant introduction for piano, which during the remainder of the track is protagonist of one of the finest themes of both this album and of Macan’s solid career.
One more step, not yet the definitive one, but little by little closing the circle, En Route represents a strong and necessary gamble in this time of tiresome homogenization. At least it won’t make you complain that all progressive music sounds the same! (3 ½ stars out of 5—Toni Roig)