Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Transatlantic's "Kaleidoscope" and a Tale from the Sea

When I stumbled across Transatlantic in the late 90s through my sputtering dial-up internet, I had already been a longstanding fan of Marillion and had developed a healthy respect for Dream Theater. I was completely unaware, however, that other progressive rock bands existed. My eyes opened, and suddenly The Flower Kings and Spock’s Beard displaced my power pop agenda, rekindling an interest in the style that I so strongly identified with in my youth. This carried me for quite a while, but a huge rupture occurred when Neal Morse announced that he would be leaving Spock’s Beard to more ardently pursue his religious beliefs. While Spock’s Beard sauntered on, it seemed that without Morse, Transatlantic would cease to exist.

I was quite surprised, then, when a couple of years ago, Transatlantic announced their reformation. They concomitantly released The Whirlwind, their finest work to date and an album that which solidified their identity as a self-sufficient band, distinct from the member’s home groups. It would have been a fitting final act for this “supergroup” to end on. If anything, however, Transatlantic seems to be gaining more momentum. Early this year, they released Kaleidoscope, their fourth studio album. Kaleidoscope isn’t as immediately impressive as The Whirlwind, but it is still an incredible statement that displays Transatlantic’s evolution into true masters of the symphonic style, at least as it appeared at the end of the 90s.

Initially, Kaleidoscope seemed to be a throwback to Transatlantic’s early releases. Morse’s characteristic compositional style provided the framework upon which the other members realize their own contributions. Certainly, the album’s overall structure, with two multi-movement epics and a few shorter form songs, has more in common with their first two albums than the hour-long song cycle that makes up The Whirlwind. Like its predecessor, though, Transatlantic’s lyrics have a noticeably heartfelt conviction (not reflected in their lip-synching abilities) that was not always present in Morse’s earlier work.

Despite Morse’s influence on the album’s large-scale construction, however, Kaleidoscope is a step forward for the entire group in terms of their unified chemistry. Gone are the days where Transatlantic ground its gears between the stylistic preferences of its discrete members. The album definitively consolidates Transatlantic as a unique, distinctive band, with members displaying an intuitive understanding of each other’s compositional and technical strengths. Like a lot of the best progressive rock, Kaleidoscope takes some patience. There is a lot of material on the album, and it really has to be “learned” for its vast harmonic and melodic nuance to have full impact.

Kaleidoscope’s prominence in my current listening just happens to coincide with an increased interest in progressive rock in general due to the release of Yes’ new album Heaven and Earth. While my opinions on the album are best relegated to their own post, it is safe to say that the progressive community is sharply divided on the album, due in no small part to Jon Anderson’s absence as lead vocalist. This topic has been a hot one for several years now, and I would imagine hung like an awkward cloud on the Progressive Nation at Sea, last year’s at-sea progressive rock festival.  For all the attention that Yes has been enjoying, thanks to Transatlantic, Anderson was afforded his own chance to shine at this event.

The Revealing Science of God is the side-long opening track from Tales from Topographic Oceans, an album that is notorious in Yes' catalog for its conceptual density.  The current iteration of Yes is forging their own path, and it is unlikely that this composition will find its way onto their set list in the near future. With Transatlantic as his backing band, however, Jon Anderson performs as good of a rendition of this piece as one could wish for. 

Particularly with limited rehearsal time, performing a song as complex as this one requires more than just cohesion - it takes a cooperative awareness cultivated in mutual respect and trust.  With the synergy that they exhibit both here and on Kaleidoscope, however, I see virtually no limit to their mastery.  They could conceivably function as the “house band” of multi-band progressive festivals, backing any number of walk-on musical legends with deferential, high-energy performances of classic progressive material.

No comments:

Post a Comment