“Immanuel Kant (22nd April 1724 – 12th February 1804): German philosopher widely considered to be a central figure of modern philosophy. Argued that fundamental concepts structure human experience and that reason is the source of morality. His thought continues to have a major influence in contemporary thought, especially the fields of metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, political philosophy, and aesthetics.”
“Sigmund Freud (6th May 1856 – 23rd September 1939): Austrian neurologist who became known as the founding father of psychoanalysis.”
“Franz Kafka (3rd July 1883 – 3rd June 1924): German-language writer of novels and short stories, regarded by critics as one of the most influential authors of the 20th century, he strongly influenced genres such as existentialism. Most of his works are filled with the themes and archetypes of alienation, physical and psychological brutality, parent–child conflict, characters on a terrifying quest, labyrinths of bureaucracy and mystical transformations.”
Heavy stuff indeed, but what does it say about an artist who chooses to use these three icons to name his musical endeavours?
Drummer, singer and composer Javi Herrera is that man and, perhaps surprisingly, he is not of Germanic descent but comes from Barcelona. Kant Freud Kafka is his prog rock project, No Tengas Miedo being the first recording to emerge, and philosophical themes indeed come to mind on an album that is described as “a story about light and darkness, fear and anger, expressed through music”. Elements of the music can certainly be placed in the symphonic rock realm but there is much more to this as classical and jazz influences emerge, Herrera assisted by a long list of musicians playing many different instruments. The result is a very impressive album that is sure to find favour with a wide range of listeners.
Fear and darkness certainly have a lot to do with opener Principio, unsettling sounds and key drones giving a mysterious feel. Strings emerge in a cyclical pattern, a la Philip Glass, before everything dies away with the introduction of a gorgeously romantic solo piano from Herrera himself. The pace changes as jazz rhythms take things in a new direction, punctuated by insistent stabs of guitar. As synths and organ are added the track lifts off with a soaring and aggressive guitar solo – “anger” no doubt – before scaling back into a particularly ’70s influenced section that reminds me a little of The Flower Kings. The jazziness returns, staccato guitar and piano, the rhythms becoming more Latin as the piano solos. Jazz is key to several parts of this piece but the way it switches between them is executed with real panache. The unsettling drones and stabs of brass return before a crescendo of soaring guitar and orchestration straight out of The Enid, a brief piano coda continuing into the next track, Dama.
As an opening salvo Principio packs a lot in and is nothing short of a delight, but if you think you’ve now got a handle on No Tengas Miedo – which translates, appropriately, as “Do Not Be Afraid” – think again as Dama changes the pace and style completely. This one is all about light, the airiness of the acoustic instrumentation giving it wings. From solo piano to start, the piece moves through a number of phases as cello joins and then violin. This is a classically beautiful combination which when done well, as here, can be exhilarating. Clarinet adds a new tone, taking up the pastoral melody, the relaxing nature of this piece – completely at odds with Principio – all enveloping. With acoustic guitar over washes of strings, the mid-section features bells, woodwind and eventually drums. The Enid and early Genesis at their most pastoral spring to mind but this is a quite beautifully realised piece that is a complete joy from start to finish. An electric guitar solo with a jazz edge over Hammond organ changes the direction, petering out into a murky fog of strings and keys which evaporates to leave solo flute, stark as if against a skyline at sunset on a still day. Strings build as the piece flows beautifully to a mellow conclusion with glockenspiel, solo acoustic guitar and a recapitulation of an earlier theme with strings and wind. Just gorgeous.
Herrera shows a lovely touch with the classically influenced piano parts and the way he has melded this with his jazzier drum style is particularly impressive, the supporting cast being deployed in just the right way to benefit the music to the full. This is an album that certainly bears repeated listens and reveals itself in full over time. The melodies are enchanting and the arrangements pristine; there is definitely a skilled hand at work here. Although not a one man project per se, Herrera is to be applauded for the way in which he has been able to realise his singular vision so eloquently at the first attempt.
Viajes opens with solo cello, electronics throwing the listener off track before piano picks up a contemplative melody. Flute joins and soars over strings and rhythm emerges, Moog with jazz rhythms giving a ’70s feel. The piano takes on a jazzy turn as the tempo firms up, the result being a particularly strident and driving section. Soloing Hammond organ gives way to an unsettling section of woodwind and strings with subdued keyboard accompaniment until insistent guitar gives direction and the pace picks up, Hammond soloing for a classic prog finale.
The music of No Tengas Miedo has a very cinematic feel and takes you on a journey through various scenes, emotions and feelings. Antitesis is probably the best example of this, the longest piece it opens with a sweeping melody, again built on the acoustic instruments; it’s all wonderfully arranged strings, wind and piano. The rhythm that emerges is completely at odds but works very well as the track leaves its opening section behind and moves into an uplifting jazz odyssey. Solo sections from flute and guitar are tasteful, well realised and perfectly in tune with the backing. All drops away for a twinkling section of electric piano and cymbals, strings adding real depth. Piano emerges, added to oboe it gives a film noir feel to the mid-section, before light jazz takes us to a swirling pit of repetitive sounds that loop around. A strident chord of keys fades into a flight of fusion, Moog flourishes again reminding of older Flower Kings. A lovely blend of top quality jazz fusion with ’70s style Genesis, the soloing is superb. And suddenly it’s gone, a solo acoustic guitar and flute taking us to the close. Antitesis is quite breathtaking, the twists and turns executed with such passion and precision that you can’t help but love it.
Hombre brings the album to a close, a sombre and reflective intro moving into an uplifting flute and piano section. The mood soon changes and darkness falls, sinister lines emerging. Lamb… era Genesis is in there but it doesn’t tell the full story, picked guitar and piano over a brooding backdrop building as the intensity rises to a climactic burst. A romantic melody emerges but with an edginess to it, again “cinematic” would be a good way of describing the ebb and flow of the music. The final section successfull ties the album together by recapping some of the styles that we have heard throughout No Tengas Miedo
A real melding of styles, No Tengas Miedo is a beautifully arranged work of which Herrera should be justly proud. His contributions are central to the music but he has surrounded himself with the right players and instruments to fully realise his goal. I can’t recommend this album enough, there is plenty to get your head around but it lures you into its orbit without any fuss or stress. You don’t wrestle with No Tengas Miedo, just let it wash over you and work its magic. Another fine album that will no doubt be in many people’s best of 2014 lists and is sure to be appreciated and frequently played for years to come. How Javi Herrera will top this I can’t imagine but I’m looking forward to hearing what he comes up next.
01. Principio (7:44)
02. Dama (12:33)
03. Viajes (7:52)
04. Antítesis (16:02)
05. Hombre (10:55)
Total Time 55:06
Javi Herrera – drums, percussion, keyboards programming, vocals
Lluìs Cabal – viola
Esteve Cardús – flute
Gora Casado – 12-string guitar
Alia Herrera – violin
Andrea Herrera – flute
Gemma Llorens – cello
Xavi Padillo – clarinet
Alejandro Pérez – Spanish guitar
Xavi Piñol – oboe, English horn
Jordi Frontóns – Moog synthesizer
Jordi Porcar – bass
Pol Sánchez – electric & acoustic guitars
Toni Sánchez – bass
Dick Them – bass
Pep Mendoza – guitars
Ewa Pyrek – violin
Year Of Release: 2014