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Nathan Mahl - Shadows Unbound (c) 2003 Guy LeBlanc (SOCAN) www.nathanmahl.com A lot of talent and compositional skill is showcased on this Canadian progressive rock band's seventh release. Although led by keysman Guy LeBlanc, who wrote all the music, this truly is a band effort where everyone is allowed room to strut their chops. The band members are also credited with arranging the tunes. LeBlanc uses many different keyboard sounds here, taking care that each is appropriate for the songs' different parts...very nice. Drummer Dan Lacasse has contributed some dynamic, tasty odd time beats and grooves that add to the progressive edge of the tunes. The compositions have a lot of dynamics and the band knows when to turn it up...and down, when needed. Mark Spenard's guitar solos have a very improvised vibe and it sounds like he's truly "going for it" on every one. However, I wished he would have used a smoother tone rather than the "scratchy" sounding one he went with. The mostly instrumental CD does feature two songs with vocals where Jean-Pierre Ranger's voice is reminiscent of Ian Anderson's in spots. Overall, it's the musical ideas that really shine here along with musicians that can pull them off with fervor and finesse. - Joe Nardulli Musicians: Guy LeBlanc: Organ, Synth, Clavinet, Piano, Recorder, Vocals Mark Spenard: Guitar, Vocals Don Prince: Bass Dan Lacasse: Drums & Percussion Jean-Pierre Ranger: Lead Vocals, Bass Pedals
Nathan Mahl Heretik Volume III: The Sentence (NMA, 2002)
Nathan Mahl, the Canadian prog rock / fusion band led through two decades by keyboardist/ composer/ producer Guy LeBlanc, offers this third installment of their musical saga Heretik. The title of the single hour-long song of this concluding third volume, "De Mortuis Nil Nisi Bonum," translates to "of the dead, speak nothing but good."
Between an intro of wailing vocals and an outro of mellow organ chords, this single song is over fifty minutes of continuous instrumental prog. The sections move through tempo and key modulations at periodic intervals, but the feel of guitar-drenched, organ-based rock never changes. Several melodic themes and rhythmic patterns are reprised in later sections, and guitar solos fill a large amount of the time, but the different sections of the song are all related, rather than a suite of varied compositions. Although the single long track with no CD indices is a daunting format for the listener to absorb, this fifty minute instrumental holds up surprisingly well as a piece of melodic prog rock. The themes become catchy after repeated listens and even the extended guitar solos mesh into the work as a whole.
Thick single-coil guitars dominate one stereo channel and a wide range of keyboard and synth textures fill the other. Both use many different sounds to good effect, including raucous whammy bar, shrill slide guitar, crunchy synths, and mellow organ. They both also drop into the background while the other takes solos, comping subtle rhythm parts. The drumming shifts seamlessly from accenting 3/4 time into shuffling 6/8, but the drum sounds have the sterile timbre and the constantly identical velocity of a sequencer, even though the liner notes credit a real drummer. The guitars and keyboards sizzle, and the high end of the bass guitar twangs, but the low end of the mix sounds thin.
Beyond the music itself, the artsy prog trappings don't seem to have much connection. The few vocal lines in the intro attempt to show the conclusion of the heretic's trial from Volume II, but they feel more like a token reference of pompous prog rather than a cohesive segue. The hangman's noose graphic on the CD and the translated song title suggest a dark mood for this piece, but more than half of the song is in major keys. If this music is supposed to represent a prison sentence, or even an execution, it's the bounciest pan-flute major key prison term in the history of musical incarceration. The single track format does preserve the artistic integrity of the entire work, but it increases the commitment required from the listener.
Heretik Volume III: The Sentence doesn't communicate a story as Nathan Mahl intended, but it does stand as a cohesive fifty minute prog rock instrumental, which is no mean feat of songwriting. Fans of long instrumental music should shrug off the prog trappings and check out this CD.
Reviewed by Scott Andrews [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Nathan Mahl: The Clever Use of Shadows (CD, 62:10); independent release NMA004, 1998 2696 Farriers Lane Gloucester, Ontario, Canada KIT IX8 E-mail: email@example.com Cyberhome: http://www.spiralwave.com/natmahl.htm The Clever Use of Shadows by Nathan Mahl is one of the better progressive rock/jazz fusion releases I have had the joy of listening to in 1999. This group wowed them at NEARfest 99 with a dazzling array of keyboard artistry and fretboard gymnastics. If any band should win the time signature diversity award it is this one! This is tight prog with a healthy dose of energetic fusion. This Canadian act is well worth checking out! And now the specifics . . . Nathan Mahl is Guy LeBlanc on keys, odd percussion, (I wonder if that includes the fiery attack on the keyboards I’ve seen him do live), and voice. Besides being a giant in song composition, with superb execution of a wildly, whirling maze of jazzy, proggy, rockin’ and delicate notes, LeBlanc has a great voice. My being an “instrumental only” fan was not put off at all in the brief moments of vox as it was strong and without that prog-snobbish bombast and pretense. LeBlanc is simply put, one impressive dynamo -- right up there with the best of Canterbury, Fusion, and Prog. He knows his classic art-rock. Now José Bergeron on guitar, effects, and vox French was a monster! He easily sailed through progressive rock, jazz fusion, shred, and classic rock riffage. He is smooth, speedy, creative, technically precise yet with that gnarly bite that grips you deep in your soul. I reviewed another Nathan Mahl release awhile back that was essentially keys handling all instruments. I suggested then that LeBlanc was full of enormous potential but his ideas needed the “fleshing out” with real people on real guitars, bass, sax, etc. When I heard José Bergeron’s axe attacks accentuating LeBlanc’s keys my brain did that “Ah yeah man!” thing. Brother Alain Bergeron on drums and percussives is fun, fluid, and flawless. Need I say more? Claude Prince on 4+5 string bass is a multi-styled, multi-faceted, boogieman. He plucks, picks, slaps, taps and flows on the low end of things and adds a very tight rockin’ and jazzy framework to it all. He was my favorite bassist of all the bands playing NEARfest 99. And yes, there was a real sax man, Paul Desgagné. He did a great job guesting on two cuts. Of eight songs, seven were 100% excellent but one tune, the 5:47 “The Rubber Cage” by guitarist José Bergeron, was for me -- sophomoric, too pop-oid, a filler with token juvenalia profanity and such. It was totally out of the heady and classy flow of the disc. Perhaps it was tongue-in-cheek or facetious commentary on the “loser” mentality rampant in pop culture. Whatever it was -- it didn’t float my boat. If this was re-worked with no lyrics but Bergeron melodic guitar leads inserted-- it would be a decent syncopated-funky-jazzy-rock-cool kinda groove. With that said, I must reiterate clearly -- grab this CD for wonderful, end-of-the-age, art-rock and fusion with the flair that only Nathan Mahl can do so well. ~ John W. Patterson
Guy LeBlanc: Subversia (CD, 64: 09); independent release NMA005, 1999 2696 Farriers Lane Gloucester, Ontario, Canada KIT IX8 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Cyberhome: http://www.spiralwave.com/natmahl.htm Canadian Guy LeBlanc is the keyboardist, vocalist, composer, and driving force behind the highly gifted, prog/ fusion, rock group, Nathan Mahl. Subversia is LeBlanc's solo release. First off, I have to say, this release is on my top ten list for fusion/ progressive rock releases for 1999. So if you want to skip to the next review, ready to buy this, great. Still curious? Read on. Subversia is much more fusion overall than LeBlanc/ Nathan Mahl's The Clever Use of Shadows. Progressive rock is still present with LeBlanc's excellent keys! Jazzy sax is strong as well. Guesting on four extended tracks out of seven total, is the phenomenal, consummate, fusion guitar wizard, (drum roll please), Scott McGill. His contribution to this release alone is well worth the purchase for fusion-heads. But remember, McGill jams in LeBlanc's well-designed compositional spaces. It is LeBlanc's genius that makes this release so strong. That Nathan Mahl feel is evident but Subversia leans heavily towards that Bruford/ Finneus Gauge gestalt in many songs. Lots of good trade-offs 'tween LeBlanc and McGill here -- good fusiony conversational soloing like the days of classic Mahavishnu Ork stuff. Subversia has all the strong points of Nathan Mahl and more melodic, lyrical, well-placed riffing by McGill. The sonic storms of legato/ ostinato riffage are there for sure but McGill is delightfully even-paced and solos right on like Holdsworth/ Goodsall/ "Unknown" John Clarke did with Bruford. "Yeah Baby!" The CD tells a tale so it is a well-done concept album. LeBlanc is a great songsmith. Plenty of variety here and loads of great instrumental breaks in songs with lyrics. Vox is strong and pleasant. No Geddy Lee screeching or symph-prog bombastic falsettos here -- thankfully. I can't remember anything noodling-lame or meandering-weak here -- just a solid, 9.2 outta 10, keeper overall. And hey -- I gotta openly support great artists like Guy and Scott anyway. They are the type musicians that do stuff worth buying again and again. Highly, firmly, and easily recommended. ~ John W. Patterson
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