North Star: Tempest (CD, 58:00) Space Monster Optional CD-0500-4, 2000 Space Monster Optional Entertainment P.O. Box 43 Glen Mills, PA 19342 Put one part Keith Emerson (at his most pretentious), one part FM (you remember. the band with Nash the Slash), and a dash of Ravi Shankar in a mixing studio. Press record vigorously, pepper with pointlessness and you' ve got Tempest, the new release from North Star. To say that these guys are eclectic is like saying Dean Martin used to like a drink or two (Thank you, thank you - I'll be here all week.). North Star seems intent on being as unpredictable as possible, and at that they succeed wildly. Whether or not that unpredictability is enjoyable is another question all together. This CD is certainly a tough one to pin down - perhaps a quick tour through some of the song list would help you understand the sonic confusion of Tempest. On one hand you've got a plodding (tongue-in-cheek I expect) hard rock tune called "Bathroom by the Bongos". This is followed by "Prelude in C" by none other than J.S. Bach played entirely on keyboards using what sounds like a xylophone sample. Skip ahead two tracks and you run into a little sitar-dominated ditty by the name of "Raudra" (which I think means sloppy sitar player in Indian [bada-BING]). Next up is yet another take on a Bach piece, the brilliantly titled "Getting Gigue Wit It" (gotta like that), which has some excellent bass work but some real strange "circus clown" keyboards. A couple of forgettable pieces later and you find yourself at a keyboard-dominated remake of the ol' Roman standard "March of the Centurions" retitled "Colossus". See what I mean when I say these dudes are eclectic? Now while I do applaud North Star for being brave enough to release a CD with so many different styles of music on it, I think their songwriting could use a little work. Most of the tracks go absolutely nowhere, so what you're left with is some nice keyboard and bass work with no direction. Even the 10 minute Indian-influenced piece "Raudra" - which you'd expect to end in an emotional frenzy of tablas and sitar - sort of peters out towards the end. "Goodbye Mom" rolls along nicely with some very nice jazzy guitar work over an attractive keyboard soundscape, when out of nowhere the guitarist decides to switch over to a B.B. King blues riff that doesn't work at all within the context of the song. Incredibly obnoxious and discordant keyboards overwhelm the interesting time signatures and drum work of "Opus V". It just seems that when North Star latches on to something interesting, they immediately do something else to ruin the effect. The additional fact that the production value of the CD is a bit sub-par doesn't help matters either. The poor production is apparent from the get go, as the opening track "Tempest" sounds muddled and buried. that is until the guitar leaps in and hit you over the head like El Kabong (canned laughter). All is not lost however. The two J.S. Bach covers are pretty fun to listen to - this tells me that when the band is forced to stay within some one else's song structure (and who better than Johann himself!), they can be effective and entertaining. Keyboardist Kevin Leonard has some nice chops, but needs to obtain some less annoying samples to work with. The musical highlight of the CD has to be the bass playing of Dave Johnson, who really peppers the CD with some wicked bass lines. Unfortunately, Jaco Pastorius couldn't have saved this release - the tracks simply don't go anywhere and fail to retain the listener's attention for very long. With some songwriting help and a little more direction North Star could be a formidable band, but until then the band will most likely continue running to stand still. - Michael Askounes (firstname.lastname@example.org) CREDITS: Dave Johnson: Guitar, Guitar Synthesizer, Bass Glenn Leonard: Drums Kevin Leonard: Keyboards Joe Newnam: Sitar (Track 6) TRACKLIST: 1. Tempest (6:54) 2. Yes, I Know (5:02) 3. Bathroom by the Bongos (6:23) 4. Prelude in C (2:38) 5. Opus V (6:00) 6. Raudra (9:09) 7. Getting' Gigue Wit It (3:21) 8. Plastic Bombastic (7:00) 9. Goodby Mom (6:09) 10. Colossus (4:43) More information on North Star can be found at http://www.audiogalaxy.com/bands/northstar
Kevin Leonard: Automatrix (CD, 44:16); independent release CD-0995-3, 1992 Space Monster Optional Entertainment P.O. Box 43 Glenn Mills, PA, 19342 USA Email: email@example.com Kevin Leonard's created a delightfully quirky, peppy, set of keyboards curiosa here. If you enjoyed the dissonance and tensions Keith Emerson created in Tarkus and the ELP debut release, or if you appreciated early solo releases of Happy The Man's Kit Watkins -- get Automatrix. The eight pieces here to range from fast paced free-for-alls to lilting sonic sonnets recalling Peter Buffet's The Waiting. I also hear snippets of Nathan Mahl a.k.a.Canadian keysman, Guy LeBlanc. With the synth drums/ bass keeping the pace, Leonard does a great job on keyboard leads, chordal passages, and atmospheric embellishings. His compositions are straight forward but engaging. There is a certain simplicity inherent in this one-man, keyboard extravaganza, which I find cerebrally relaxing. A lot is going on in each song but things never get cluttered. Leonard's fast-paced drive pushes each song past any chance for ennui. My favorite piece was "The Talon", a swirling, building, Balinese-tempo, soul ascension, a 6:54 pilgrimage to the heights of imagination. Leonard's best effort at a W. Carlos "Timesteps" with Copland's modern classicism crashing head-on into an ELP fever-dream fugue has to be his "Quickstep". It seems the album's culmination of other bizarre moments heard earlier in Automatrix. Just when you think you can relax, Leonard outros on "Final Run" echoing his thematic, whole-tonal, dissonant, cacophony in a reprise tribute to Keith Emerson's finer "whacked out" moments. Recommended to ELP, Bartok, Britten, and Schoenberg fans. ~John W. Patterson
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