WONDEROUS STORIES (Italy), June 2000, pp. 32-33
Following their debut release at the end of 1997, behold now the second disc of Hermetic Science, the American trio guided by Ed Macan, keyboardist, vibraphonist and marimbist, and of course author of a highly esteemed book dedicated to progressive rock (Rocking the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture, 1996), not to forget instructor of music (and indeed, the young bassist and drummer who from time to time accompany him on this disc are from colleges in northern California). The music of the group, entirely instrumental, is a sort of “chamber prog” in which very diverse influences are brought together, especially classical music and jazz, but with roots well planted in the prog of the seventies. This music is played with extremely precise technique, perhaps treated a bit academically, but it’s intelligent and suggestive, especially when the musical structure permits space for improvisational whim and inspiration takes the upper hand. The massive use of vibraphone and marimba, which in some cases constitute the only solo instruments, certainly contribute to rendering the sound of Hermetic Science unique, and therefore interesting, with the risk, though, of preventing dramatics and of reducing the music’s impact. Fortunately, Ed Macan is also an excellent keyboardist (the pianoforte is in fact his first instrument), and thanks to the use of Steinway piano, Hammond, Micromoog, and ARP (only “vintage” instruments!) the very complex sound of the group allows for flexibility in attending to the diverse expressive necessities.
The main course of the disc is the more than forty minutes of “Prophesies,” a suite in six movements inspired by certain biblical scriptures. The prophets, inspirers of the long piece, are not seen here as simple prognosticators, but rather as moral consciences of society, non-passive witnesses of its vices and its reigning corruption, above all utopian in their manner of promoting radical change that drives against anything that resists it. Here is a dramatic, epic, and easily realizable concept that is reflected in the music by a continuous crescendo that finds its most principled expression in the three concluding movements, in which musical tonality takes on a great depth and emotional involvement reaches its peak. Magisterial, in particular, is the Prelude and Fugue for pianoforte (accompanied by bass and drums) which constitutes the fourth movement; the extremely dynamic and subtly uneasy fifth, which leads to the final movement wherein very driving rhythmic phrases alternate very effectively with variations of some of the musical themes used in preceding movements. The only weak point of the suite is the second movement, “Hope Against Hope,” which is too repetitive, especially in its rhythmic parts. Completing the disc is a successful cover of Rush’s “Jacob’s Ladder” (in keeping with the biblical theme treated in the suite) and a piece that in its atmosphere recalls the soundtracks of the early James Bond films, agreeable but nothing more. As a bonus track, on the other hand, a complete version for solo pianoforte of ELP’s “Tarkus” is presented, recorded live by Ed Macan in 1992. This recording is more than acceptable, even if not perfect, but above all is an exceptional interpretation that will bring joy to all the fans of the celebrated English trio. Ed Macan is in fact writing a book about the group tentatively entitled “Emerson, Lake and Palmer: the Band and Their Music.” Finally, be informed that at the official web site of the group, http://www.hermeticscience.com, one can listen to some extracts of the CD.