SCIENCENV – THE QUEST FOR PRESTER JOHN VOLUME ONE – INDEPENDENT
ScienceNV was formed in 2005 by Larry Jay Davis (guitar and bass guitar), David Graves (keyboards), Jim Henriques (guitar and keyboards) and Rich Kallet (drums). They released their debut album, ‘Really Loud Noises’ in 2008, following it up with ‘Pacific Circumstances’ in 2010 and ‘The Last Album Before the End of Time’ in 2013. Whereas those albums were instrumental, this time they have expanded the band and expanded the concept, so instead of releasing one album every two or three years, they have now released two albums in 2018 which tell the story of Prester John. Apparently, Prester John was a ruler of legend in the ancient world. His kingdom was rumored to be in various parts of the world ranging from India to Central Asia and Ethiopia depending on the century. A letter purporting to be from Prester John circulated around Europe late in the twelfth century and at least one expedition was sent to bring greetings to the ruler and his kingdom.
I must confess to being new to both the story and the band, and although this is an independent release it would have been nice if they could have stretched to a booklet explaining what was happening, instead of just an insert. What I do know is that after a short introduction “Fanfare” we are treated to the longest song on the album, the thirty-two-minute “Eloise’s Tale”. The total length of the album is 55 minutes, with eight songs, so it shows just how dominant this is. The quartet has added a number of additional singers and musicians to this album, and in some ways, it is hard at times to understand exactly what is going on in terms of musical progression. They definitely have more in common with bands from the Seventies than today, with Gryphon probably being a top pick, but there is also a great deal of jazz, as well as more medieval themes and styles. It is a complex, layered, piece of work, often with an acoustic guitar at the base.
There are sometimes when the vocals appear a little sharp, but that must be by design as generally, the singing is very good indeed. The more I listened to this album, the more I felt quite enthralled by it, as it is just so very different to everything else I listen to. I could imagine a young Robert Wyatt being involved with this, with gentle orchestrations also bringing an additional edge. There are times when it doesn’t work quite as well as it could, but overall this is an intriguing and interesting album.