Following in the footsteps of 2013’s instrumental solo-release Banshees and Harpsichord, Hurricane Esmeralda finds guitar virtuoso Niko Tsonev at his creative peak, assembling an all-star cast featuring the likes of keyboard wizard Adam Holzman (Steven Wilson, Miles Davis, etc.), and flautist Theo Travis (Steven Wilson, Robert Fripp, etc.) to ultimately form the progressive-rock venture that is Moonparticle. In addition to said sidemen, whom he’d already worked with in past endeavors on Steven Wilson’s 2012 Grace For Drowning tour – documented on recent re-realese Get All You Deserve – Moonparticle furthermore comprises Frost* Drummer Craig Blundell, violinist Samy Bishai and vocalist Grog Lisee – her raspy vocal-timbre adding an essential note to the general sound of the record.
The music presented over the 40-minute recording is colourfully diverse, ranging from classic rock tunes such as the bluesy The Strength Of A Thousand Year Rose over flute driven intermezzi to jazzy tinged fusion undertakings, as exemplified on the stellar Michelangelo Don’t Stop. Even hard-hitting metal-flavored riffs find their rightful place on this album, leading to a truly extravagant show of versatility and skill by all involved.
The catchy chorus of the opening title track doesn’t leave hold of the listener for the entire duration of the remaining journey, aptly demonstrating Niko’s gift for compact and hook-oriented songwriting. And still the nearly three and half minute rocker finds room for some swirling synthesizer and guitar leads.
Instrumentals Helium I and II contrast the speed racer of an opener by means of pace, instrumentation and structure – lending a folk-jazzy mood to the album. The former introduces a twangy electric guitar melody while the latter presents itself as more exotic – flute and acoustic guitar carrying the torch while dreamily accompanied by an intimate string arrangement.
The highly polyrhythmic Winter Mountain is a highlight of this particularly versatile album, mainly driven by constantly alternating 8/8 and 10/8 time signatures drenched in varying sound carpets. Grog Lisee’s already spooky vocals accompany the haunting atmosphere most effectively and are enhanced by multiple overdubs.
White Light’s where the metal is. Not unlike some of Steven Wilson’s endeavors, Tsonev candidly introduces a sudden burst of heavy distortion on a decisively thunderous riff, only to be relieved by a fine 8/4 jam based around a wet guitar-lick. Craig Blundell constantly shifts his rhythm patterns until Tsonev goes off on a captivatingly affectionate solo, accompanied by smooth yet divine organ voicings. Holzman then leads the way back into the deafening White Light.
On Michelangelo Don’t Stop Tsonev goes full-fusion on a bass-line anchored 6/8. While some of his guitar work here is reminiscent of many of Allan Holdsworth’s ventures, the general atmosphere doesn’t concur but moves into more easy going territories, driven by an unburdened melody played by the flute. Humming voices, arranged in intervals of thirds, guide the main harmonic progressions as well, furthermore adding to the lighthearted ambience.
While the afore mentioned blues-rocker The Strength Of A Thousand Year Rose recalls late grunge acts of the early 2000s, the instrumental Reverend Mum once again disagrees completely in tone by introducing a sparse arrangement of a thoughtful guitar solo accompanied by programmed drums.
Hurricane Esmeralda closes on a definite high with Leon’s Experiment – the albums longest track. The first sequence of the composition is introduced by another fat layered guitar riff that subsequently recurs and guides the entire piece in periodic intervals. In-between, contrastingly quiet sections, led by atmospheric synthesizer spreads by Holzman, open up the soundscape for wistful contemplation. The final sequence slowly rocks the album to sleep – in an ambient way.
Hurricane Esmeralda is not far from being a perfect progressive rock album. The stunning musicianship paired with intriguing and versatile compositions profit from being presented in a bed of crisp sounds, which also has to be attributed to Tsonev, who not only composed and played “Guitars, Bass and everything else” (as mentioned in the booklet) but also produced and mixed the record. Due to these circumstances, slightly questionable choices concerning the mixing, such as exaggerated panning, can easily be excused and lead to the imperative conclusion: Hurricane Esmeralda is a great start to a progressive 2018 and Niko Tsonev is a voice to be reckoned with in the future.
01. Hurricane Esmeralda (3:20)
02. Helium I (2:16)
03. Helium II (1:24)
04. Winter Mountain (5:20)
05. White Light (5:00)
06. Michelangelo Don’t Stop (6:51)
07. The Strength Of A Thousand Year Rose (4:23)
08. Reverend Mum (4:06)
09. Leon’s Experiment (7:16)
Total Time – 39:16
Adam Holzman – Keyboards
Craig Blundell – Drums & Additional Drum Programming
Theo Travis – Flutes, Saxophone & Flutescapes
Samy Bishai – Strings & String Arrangements (track 3)
Grog Lisee – Vocals & Additional Vocal Arrangements (tracks 1, 4 & 7)
Niko Tsonev – Guitars, Bass & everything else
Record Label: Independent
Date of Release: 20th January 2018