THE NEAL MORSE BAND
Prolific prog musician Neal Morse seems to emanate a bountiful profusion of new music. Last year, for example, saw the release of new Transatlantic studio and live albums, the sophomore Flying Colors full-length, and his 'Songs From November' solo release. That's not to mention a whole load of live shows, including the inaugural, two-day MorseFest extravaganza. Just where he finds the time for each one of his musical outlets is anyone's guess, not to mention the consistent high quality of each and every release. Now we have a brand new album, 'The Grand Experiment', under the guise of The Neal Morse Band, featuring his Transatlantic/Flying Colors comrade Mike Portnoy (whose drumming ubiquity is unprecedented since parting company with Dream Theater); bassist Randy George; guitarist Eric Gillette; and Bill Hubauer on keys. Morse assumes guitar, keyboard and lead vocal duties, while Gillette and Hubauer also share lead vocals between songs. And it's a full-on ensemble effort, with an ambitious, progressively daring, and fully natural creative process that entailed all five musicians entering the studio with not even one small part of the material composed. Instead, they embarked on the creative process from scratch, as a collective, to see exactly what could, and would, transpire when starting with a blank canvas. Hence the album's more than apposite title.
You would never realise the experimental genesis of this album's creative approach as the five tracks that constitute 'The Grand Experiment', while there's a naturally progressive vibe to the material, sounds so perfectly structured in its reification. These are some truly talented peeps at work here. And I mean talented beyond the technical side of their virtuosic abilities. Sure, the playing is technically accomplished as you would expect, but what they've collectively created is a naturally progressive masterwork that showcases the innovative adroitness and artistic trust between five men whose creative visions gel in the most exciting of ways. During so many passages of music, be it within the context of a shorter piece, such as the rocked-up title track, or the lengthy closer, 'Alive Again', their playing compliments each other to perfection, bouncing off the creative flair of each individual performance at every twist and turn. That's not to say this is an album about individuals, though; rather, the results sound like a bunch of players who are wholly comfortable, trusting, and thriving through their combined efforts.
A melodically rich beast too, the album is an engagingly accessible listen from start to finish, as much as it is an innovatively fresh one. Again, that's quite remarkable given the more spontaneous nature of Morse's decision to indulge in no prior preparation. As such, the melodies themselves also sound remarkably natural through their emotive effusion. It's not simply an album about hooks, but more one of affective depths... a progressively immersive experience, if you will. And with a polyvocal approach to the singing, with a triumvirate of lead singers, 'The Grand Experiment' is a vocally varied work too. I have to say, if this is how magnificent music can sound when Morse adopts such a spontaneously creative approach, then let's hope it becomes The Neal Morse Band's modus operandi.
THE GRAND EXPERIMENT
Review by Mark Holmes
16th February 2015
1) The Call
2) The Grand Experiment
5) Alive Again
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...a naturally progressive masterwork that showcases the innovative adroitness and artistic trust between five men whose creative visions gel in the most exciting of ways."