I can’t believe there are any progheads out there who don’t have at least one copy of the ELP album in their collection, and if they are anything like me then they probably have it on vinyl, a couple of different CD releases as well as the accompanying DVD.
But of course the music which is the inspiration for this album is from far earlier, in fact in many ways it dates all the way back to 1868 when composer Modest Mussorgsky first met artist, architect, and designer Viktor Hartmann, who gave him two of the pictures that later formed the basis of the inspiration. When Hartmann passed away at the age of 39, Mussorgsky was affected quite badly, and this led to him writing the score in just three weeks. However, a version wasn’t published until some five years after his own death, and it wasn’t until the 50th Anniversary of that event that a complete score was produced.
Over the years it has been recorded multiple times, and within the progressive scene, it was, of course, the inspiration for ELP’s 1971 live album.
Now, nearly fifty years on from that, and some 150 years since the original paintings were given to Mussorgsky, we have a new version from German quartet Voyager IV. The line-up is Marcus Schinkel (piano and keyboards), Johannes Kuchta (vocals and drums), Fritz Roppel (bass) and Wim de Vries (drums). That they have been inspired to undertake this piece of work due to the ELP release is never in doubt, as although they do have ten tracks inspired by the original classical work, they also include both Lake’s “Lucky Man’ and King Crimson’s “I Talk To The Wind” which of course also featured Lake on vocals.
In some ways it is an album which confused me quite a great deal, just because they have been inspired by the original score, just as Emerson was, which means that some themes are familiar yet others are quite different as apart from the two numbers already mentioned the rest were all composed either by Schinkel or in collaboration with Kuchta. Also, there is no use whatsoever of guitar on the album (although there are two drummers it doesn’t sound to me as if they are both playing at the same time, although that could be different in concert), plus this is a studio album which has allowed some layering. Then in Roppel they have a bassist who uses a six-string as his instrument of choice, and sounds to me as if he is approaching music from a jazz background and is certainly not content just to be pinning down the bottom end but is adding his own styles and runs.
It is as bombastic as one would expect, but not heavy-handed, and songs such as “Bydlo” are incredibly accessible, exciting and invigorating. It would also be wrong of me not to mention the packaging on this release – as it comes as a hardback digipak containing multiple pages of photos and lyrics, quite something for what I believe is a debut release. This really is the total package, and fans of the original, ELP, Isao Tomita or any of the many other artists who have taken this as inspiration will find much on here to enjoy. Well worth discovering.
by Kev Rowland