MELLOTRON (Argentina) No. 26 (April 2000), p. 45
The following commentary was realized without having previously listened to anything by the performer or to the work under review here. It is almost an experiment, an exercise in real time, in which the impressions suggested by Prophesies are annotated even as its music goes surging into the air (we could say, like the saying on some discs, “no edits or overdubs . . .”)
First Impression: “Jacob’s Ladder” begins with a certain air of Ravel’s Bolero that turns towards an evocation of the spirit of Spanish music. Only vibraphone, bass, and drums. But an unexpected change of direction makes the track drift towards a region admittedly unfamiliar for the progressive auditor (Mike Oldfield, Gong?). The reason? Certainly the appearance of the melody, interpreted by recorder and sustained by a cushion of ARP string ensemble chords, that is reminiscent of certain albums from the beginning of the seventies. But, the music?
Second Impression: “Intrigue in the House of Panorama” is almost music for a spy series of the sixties. But once again, the austere instrumentation moves the track away from the detached cinematic approach with which John Zorn, for example, tends to season his musical experiments appearing under the rubric of “music for an espionage series.” At this point it is possible to question how nearly eleven minutes has passed on a progressive music album on which the dominant instruments are only vibraphone, marimba, recorder, string ensemble (in minimal doses), bass, and drums.
Third Impression: Prophesies is a suite in six movements. “Barbarians at the Gate,” its first part, commences with a powerful and pounding “riff” (there is no doubt that it represents barbarians in all the senses that this word has been musically depicted throughout history). The obvious thing, one more time, is that the beginning and continuation of the track is realized with the same instrumentation of the preceding tracks. “Hope Against Hope” is a dialogue between recorder and bass, until the dramatic entry of the string ensemble. Beginning with this moment, the lyrical melody is carried by the bass, while the keyboards and drums support in a subtle manner, lending coloration to the distinct harmonic passages until the appearance of synthesizer (Micromoog!) which begins to share the lead role with the bass in the unfolding of the melody. At this point of listening, and while the recorder returns to finish out the track, one can now draw some conclusions, but . . . “Last Stand” appears, and one more time the vibraphone, bass, and drums launch out with a theme of a great dynamism, with sudden shifts, changes of rhythm, and all that which reminds one of the purest style of progressive rock (with some discrete and subtle touches of jazz). But where are all the keyboards, the effects-laden basses, and that powerful drumming that is foregrounded in the most representative progressive? “Lament”: a Steinway piano deposits us in a track with an incipient impressionism, in which Debussy and Ravel are recalled in some passages. After “Prelude,” the first half of “Lament,” comes “Fugue” (“en memoriam Glenn Gould 1932-1982”—one of the most virtuosic and at the same time controversial performers of classical and contemporary music on piano in the last century) builds up to a counterpoint with the simplicity of Bartok’s Mikrokosmos, until it climaxes in a crescendo to which the bass and drums also contribute. A limpid, clean-sounding Hammond sonority introduces us to “Leviathan and Behemoth,” a track of nearly ten minutes in which distinct dynamic sections transform this piece in an example of almost chamber-like arranging controlled by the same austere instrumentation that at once enriches and lays bare this track. “State of Grace,” the final part of the suite, possesses similar characteristics to the preceding movement. But, moreover, reminiscences of all the suite’s previous movements appear here, giving a brilliant close to a musical piece of forty one minutes that seems short, if we keep in mind that it is a matter of forty one minutes in which the quality of the music, summarized by an intelligent instrumentation and a superb performance, makes the actual time pass in an agreeable dimension.
Conclusion: Progressive rock, and especially symphonic progressive, for better or for worse, suffers from a certain musical “arrogance.” The only virtue of having access to keyboard-controlled orchestral sonorities, the fact that it provides many musicians with a classical apprenticeship and the possibility of realizing works of great duration, can deceive some of its cultists into thinking that it is “this” that will give them an eternal guarantee of being heirs of the great musicians of history. But progressive rock doesn’t work like this (not even a little). Even as many groups and interpreters achieve with (and in spite of) that grandiloquence the ability to mold works of great value whose sound deservedly is remembered with the passing of time, the style as a whole succumbs to swallowing its own tail. With Hermetic Science, Macan demonstrates how with limited musical resources and with intelligence, one can realize a work that escapes the classic conception of progressive rock. The first impression that the music doesn’t lend itself well to being written about leads one to refer oneself to the music of the past in order to find some reference. It is there where the names of Dave Brubeck, Jacques Loussier, Astor Piazzolla (why not?), and without doubt, the Modern Jazz Quartet suggest themselves. Why this “involuntary” association? Because those musicians are referents of that music made with knowledge, good taste, and passion. Precisely, The Modern Jazz Quartet were the “creators” of what is called chamber jazz. In the same way, Macan is generating a chamber progressive style, which can open a fascinating panorama for a music that doesn’t resign itself to losing itself and that can, through this new door that is opened up, encounter a path that can elevate this style to a superior category in its creative aspect. In this sense, Macan has taken the first and decisive step.
(To round off an impeccable work, as a bonus track, Macan offers us a magnificent live version of Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s “Tarkus” for solo piano. Without overdubs or edits of any type, it remains to demonstrate a saying from one of the preceding paragraphs: the works that really are valuable are the ones which can and which do offer distinct types of readings.)