Gleb Kolyadin will be familiar to fans of Russian chamber prog duo iamthemorning, whose three studio albums have earned them increasing critical acclaim amongst fans, critics and musicians alike. The respect and admiration that pianist Kolyadin and singer Marjana Semkina have earned accounts for the number of star prog guests their albums entice. Here on Kolyadin’s debut solo album his guests are Marillion’s Steve Hogarth, Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess, Nick Moss from Antimatter and both Nick Beggs and Theo Travis from Steven Wilson’s band. Porcupine Tree and King Crimson’s Gavin Harrison is here too, having already featured on two of the iamthemorning albums.
For those who have not already listened to iamthemorning’s impressive oeuvre, Kolyadin is undoubtedly one of the greatest classical pianists ever to grace the world of prog and, with only two and half of the album’s thirteen tracks featuring vocals, his playing is given all the room it wants to breathe. The range of the material is rich and varied; classical, jazz, ’70s prog and more contemporary rock all jostle to catch the ear of the listener.
The album’s structure sees two collections of pieces sandwich a single long track, Confluence, in the middle. There are a few musical themes that reappear in variations throughout the album giving it the feel of a single overall concept and some of the tracks, White Dawn and Kaleidoscope for instance, are clearly intended to be complementary to one another. My personal preference is for the tracks that make up for the first half of the album because the melodic themes in those tracks work so well against the rhythm section.
The album opens with Insight, a four-minute tour de force which starts with a dramatic chord progression that builds up the rhythm section before moving into an upbeat jazzy piece, ably supported by the extraordinary drumming of Gavin Harrison. The rest of the track is very reminiscent of early Camel in sound, texture and style with the keys calling to mind the late Pete Bardens. This barnstorming introduction is then followed by a slower, ballad-y introduction to the first of the vocal tracks, Astral Architecture, which begins very like something from iamthemorning’s debut album. The delicate vocal and piano melodies are beautiful and married to wonderfully understated drumming and subtly added strings. Underlying this fragility are some haunting chord changes and the song is allowed a crescendo two-thirds in, powered well by guest Nick Moss’s voice.
The next two tracks work together as a pair. White Dawn is a short piece with a repeated piano refrain that is rounded off with strings, Kaleidoscope takes the theme and transforms it into one of the album’s most intense and involving pieces. Starting as a jazz track a la Dave Brubeck, it moves into a slower mid-section of female voice, xylophone and piano before returning to its jazzy feel. The playing is exquisite, brilliantly accompanied by Harrison’s versatile drumming. Theo Travis then treats us to a flute solo in the style of Ian Anderson, suiting the jazzy theme, before Kolyadin takes over again with a keyboard solo reminiscent of something from Rick Wakeman’s White Rock. A treat, albeit an exhausting one.
Eidolon and Into the Void also form a pair. The former is short with a walking bass line from the piano and a melody which also has shades of Rick Wakeman to it, while Into the Void takes the melody forward with a more urgent tempo and dramatic chord patterns. This may sound odd, and it’s certainly no criticism, but this piece made me think of the musical scores to old black and white silent movies. It’s followed by The Room, a track with a moody instrumental ‘verse’ preceding a very melodic ‘chorus’ of piano and flute. The time signatures on this track are very complex; if I’m right, I think I picked out 5/8 and 11/8. I love the energy and the melodies here and it might just be my favourite on the album.
The album’s central opus, Confluence, then follows. A ten-minute track, it starts as a very tranquil piece with a gentle voice-over from Steve Hogarth. Around the four-minute mark it starts to build up the piano voices and then the bass parts are brought in for a lead out that shares a kindred spirit in more recent Riverside. I’ve no doubt that this will be the favourite of some listeners, but I feel that it takes too long to build into what it becomes in the second half. I recognise, though, that the change of pace may be welcome after pieces like Kaleidoscope and The Room.
The next five short pieces are spread across two of the album’s tracks. There is an emphasis on classical pieces here and in Echo there is a return to the opening theme from Insight. Penrose Stairs is clearly intended to be disorientating: rhythms break down, piano, guitar and sax collide with one another and like Kaleidoscope, this is another intense piece. Jordan Rudess guests on the quirky Storyteller, before the album concludes with Steve Hogarth singing The Best of Days, a track that echoes the chord triplets of Astral Architecture. Hogarth’s distinctive voice elevates this delightful ballad into one of the album’s highlights.
Kolyadin’s solo debut is a virtuoso masterpiece and one which rewards repeated plays; it’s a little too involving for casual listening, but undoubtedly worth taking time over. The quality of the writing and musicianship here is truly awe-inspiring. Fans of iamthemorning are sure to love this latest effort which is at once unmistakably Kolyadin but, at the same time, branches out into new musical soundscapes.
01. Insight (4:12)
02. Astral Architecture (6:30)
03. White Dawn (2:34)
04. Kaleidoscope (5:52)
05. Eidolon (2:12)
06. Into The Void (1:46)
07. The Room (4:13)
08. Confluence (10:22)
09. Constellation/The Bell (3:23)
10. Echo/Sigh/Strand (2:29)
11. Penrose Stairs (5:04)
12. Storyteller (3:20)
13. The Best Of Days (3:24)
Total Time – 55:21
Gleb Kolyadin – Piano
Gavin Harrison – Drums
Nick Beggs – Bass
Theo Travis – Flute & Saxophone
Steve Hogarth – Vocals & Lyrics (8 & 13)
Mick Moss – Vocals & Lyrics (2)
Jordan Rudess – Keyboards (12)
Record Label: Kscope
Date of Release: 23rd February 2018